The Sunday Post for August 2, 2015

(A collection of pieces we noted this week.)

The Last Days of Kathy Acker
Her books were also fever dreams of escape and reinvention, and Acker’s own forbidding physical appearance—she could look, alternately, like a deranged kewpie doll, a pirate from the future, an alien courtesan—embodied such transformations. She spent years turning her body, simultaneously a source of pain and possibility in her work and life, into a protective carapace.
Reverse Logic

An amazing story about Webster's editor Philip Gove, and how he used symbolic logic and other programming-esque tricks during the revising of Webster's dictionary, when it was time to update the famous 1934 second edition.

Structure was paramount to Gove. He was a linguist who used the logic of a programmer, and in the 1950s and ’60s he seems to have been thinking about the dictionary with the extreme rigor of a software engineer. Though he could never have imagined search as we know it today, he would have been among the first to intuit its uses for lexicographers. So as work on the Third was winding down he took another step to address a kind of question that only a computer could easily answer: he set the typing staff the new task of creating a 3”x5” slip for virtually every word that appeared in boldface in the dictionary typed backward, each letter followed by a space (and spelled normally, without the extra spaces, below its backward spelling).
A true digital recreation of Borges's Library of Babel

This one might take a month of Sundays to even start browsing. Borges’ Library of Babel is now real, on the internet, created by Jonathan Basile. In fact, we were able to find the phrase "the seattle review of books recommends this virtual reconstruction of borges library of babel"

From the About page: is now in its second iteration. When the project began, I thought that even a virtual universal library faced insurmountable limits that made its realization impossible. But with the help of some advice I received from friends and visitors to the first version of the site, I’m happy to say that I’ve proven myself wrong.

The library originally worked by randomly generating text documents, storing them on disk, and reading from them when visitors to the site made page requests. Searches worked by reading through the books one by one. It was a method with no hope of ever achieving the proportions of the library Borges envisioned; it would have required longer than the lifespan of our planet to create and more disk space than would fit in the knowable universe to store. I wrote about the cosmic proportions of this shortcoming in a former theory page.

Because the virtual world often inspires suspicion, I feel I should explain how the new library functions, to reassure anyone who might think some chicanery was at work. I would be the first to be disappointed if this site did not truly contain what it claims to: every possible page of 3200 characters. I encourage those who prefer a sense of mystery, rather than knowing what goes on behind the looking glass, not to read on.