e-tat / digital wasteland

Friday, February 17, 2006

What's a permalink?

Over the last few days I've had to fiddle with my Firefox config, so, in addition to a slip in attribution, I decided I would look into options for finding permalinks, copying URLS, and pasting them.

Turns out things aren't quite as straightforward as I'd hoped. Permalinks are not just a matter of pasting a URL into a comments field. The URL has to be in a particular format. In addition there are the questions of how to copy, format and paste the URL.

First, permalink is a reference to a format, not the fact of copying and pasting a link, nor even to the idea of acknowledging sources. Permalinks come in a variety of formats, such as this one used with Word Press: http://<site-specific prefix>/<4 digit year>/<2 digit month>/<2 digit date>/<article name>/, but some are quite a bit different to this.

Here's the nub:
Permalinks typically consist of a string of characters which represent the date and time of posting, and some (system dependent) identifier (which includes a base URL, and often identifies the author, subscriber, or department which initially authored the item). Crucially, if an item is changed, renamed, or moved, its permalink remains unaltered. If an item is deleted altogether, its permalink cannot be reused.(via)

The point here is the permanence of the URL, in which the format is secondary.
For example, if you look at the URL for this page, you'll see it's in permalink format, but is slightly unusual because it's got '#comments' tacked on at the end. So if I were to simply copy the URL and post it somewhere, the link brings me to the post page, but at the top of the comments rather than the top of the post. That's a trivial thing to deal with, given that Pete's posts conform to a permalink format, whereas the vast number of webpages will be in some 'chaotic' format, which defeats the secondary aim of 'permanent' access.

The issue here is whether the URL is in a stable format, which is not something I have control over - unless I copy the page to my own archive and link to the copy. Not a great scenario for interactive things like blogs..

Second, my Firefox context menu (right-click) doesn't include a 'copy URL' function. I'm not sure why. Maybe there's some extension I need to get. So even when the URL is in the correct format I have to mouse over to the address bar to copy the link. Again, not a big deal, but it would be sweet to have a function that did it from the context menu or keyboard.

Third, once I've got a clipboard copy of a correctly formatted URL, I need to tag it with HTML, by embedding the URL in a (<a href="">via</a>) tag. This is actually the most time consuming and annoying part, particularly when trying to use the small (~300px) comment fields in many blogs: the link itself is usually wider than the field, which means it's easy to make formatting mistakes. So if anyone were to develop an extension or context menu function that simply added the URL to the 'via' tag shown above, it would ease the entire process and probably facilitate a lot more acknowledgement of sources.

Another thing to keep in mind is that unformatted URLs can take up a lot of space, and can even distort the blog they've been posted to. So it's a matter of etiquette to keep the link short, either by using TinyURL or by using the HTML tagged format as above. So there are two good reasons for this step of putting the link in an HTML format. But if it's time-consuming and error-prone, how many people are going to bother? Easier to leave the link unattributed.

Fourth, I need to paste the thing. If I were simply dropping unformatted URLs into a comments field it would be trivial. But if I'm trying to be considerate and doing the HTML tagging, then it's a question of editing the tag, then copying and pasting it.

That's it. Four steps, but how many individual actions? How many mouse clicks, how many routines or applications to open for cutting, pasting, editing, cutting and pasting again?

It looks to me like it's worth putting into script or extension form. But do I have a clue about what's involved? It's not straightforward. I haven't come across an extension-builder, a wizard that'll do the job for me. Handcrafting links is also not straightforward. And there's the issue of whether the URL is truly permanent or not, or whether permalink has two meanings: one for the format and one for the practice of acknowledging sources.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Highways of Death

See Pruned and Roadside Memorials for details of what prompted this.


From Wikipedia
The Highway of Death refers to a road between Kuwait and Basra on which the retreating Iraqi army was attacked by American aircraft during the Gulf War, on the night of February 26/27, 1991.

From CNN: Sri Lanka reopens 'highway of death'
"The road from Colombo to the rebel stronghold of the northern Jaffna peninsula is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) long. The media here dubbed it the "highway of death" because more than 3,500 soldiers and rebels died along the road while fighting for its control."

From Unexplained Mysteries.com
One of the best recorded examples of strange phenomena concerning car crashes, occurred directly after the construction of a new motorway section in Germany in 1930. The section was a completely straight area of flat roadway, on the side of which was a small stone kilometer marker known as kilometer marker 239. During the first 12 months of the roadway's existence, over 100 cars crashed on the carriageway near the jinxed marker. An extreme example of this occurred on a very clear dry day in September 1930, when a total of 9 separate cars left the road right next to the accursed marker.

US of A

New Hampshire
New Hampshire Route 101
"Most of the eastern section of Route 101 used to be super-2 until the mid 1990's. This highly travelled road had numerous accidents, prominently advertised on large signs at the start of the super-2 segment between Exit 5 and 6 in Raymond; "XX Highway Deaths next XX miles." Locally this road was known as the "Highway of Death" for the unusally high number of accidents and the sign"

Highway 22, Polk County, Oregon
"Simple crosses of white, surrounded by flowers and stuffed animals, stand as silent sentinels to the memory of loved ones who have died along its path. School bus drivers and combine operators cringe as they attempt to cross its narrow lanes and dodge the high-speed traffic headed west to the Oregon Coast."

Wyoming, Highway 287
(October 2004) Nearly three years ago in Laramie, Wyoming, eight student-athletes from the University of Wyoming were killed in a head-on collision while driving on U.S. Highway 287, a two-lane, 24-mile roadway between Laramie and the Colorado border. This accident was one of many fatal crashes that has haunted this stretch of highway that some refer to as the "highway of death".

Rawlins WY Haunted House -> Bighorn Medicine Wheel
Rawlins: Dean/Summer house. This innocent-looking duplex was the scene of a terrifying haunting in the 1970's.

Medicine Wheel
One of North America's most sacred places is located here, but no one knows who constructed it. The eighty-foot-diameter medicine wheel has been used as a site of worship for hundreds of years. Crow Indians say it was built "before light came." Shoshone legends say it is at least twelve thousand years old and attribute it to a race of Little People. The state of Wyoming calls it their most baffling unsolved mystery. The wheel is made up of hundreds of limestone slabs and boulders laid out in a circle with twenty eight spokes, which is the number of ribs in a buffalo, and the number of day in the lunar cycle. Buffalo skulls on the projecting slabs face the rising sun. Five holy cairns that stood over six feet tall are said to reach down to bedrock mark the center and four directions of the wheel. A sixth cairn located just outside the circle is intended for sacred ceremonies and rituals.


There are several trajectories here. One is the road as battlefield eventually transformed into a way of peace. The Kuwait-Baghdad highway and the Jaffna highway may in time become peace parks. There's a good argument to be made in favour of roads as peaceways, but there's also an interesting peculiarity in the presence of so many roads commemorated as places of war and suffering, from the Seminole Trail of Tears to the Iraq highway of death, but little or nothing in terms of such roads rededicated to peace and co-existence. Peace parks exist in a variety of forms and for a variety of reasons, yet no roads are included in their number.

Another trajectory is the highway as a metaphor for paranormal and spirtual experience. The German marker, the Wyoming haunted house and the Bighorn medicine wheel each reflect some aspect of life, death and spirituality to places on or near highways. As Trevi says, "we should definitely reinstitute the ancient practice of siting cemeteries along traffic arteries, the celebration of death again a part of daily life". But we can also use the iconography and architecture of the recent past, the roadscapes of America to accentuate the relationships of life, death and the highway. We can use these as points of departure for thinking about re-engaging travellers with the landscapes they move through. Specially-constructed landscapes addressing the spiritualities and mortalities of motorists are one way of developing a dialogue between the particulars of locality and the reflective contemplation of passers-by.