Algorithmic Text in “Gulliver’s Travels”


From “Gulliver’s Travels”, part 3, chapter 5:

“The first professor I saw, was in a very large room, with forty pupils about him.  After salutation, observing me to look earnestly upon a frame, which took up the greatest part of both the length and breadth of the room, he said, “Perhaps I might wonder to see him employed in a project for improving speculative knowledge, by practical and mechanical operations.  But the world would soon be sensible of its usefulness; and he flattered himself, that a more noble, exalted thought never sprang in any other man’s head.  Every one knew how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas, by his contrivance, the most ignorant person, at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, might write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, laws, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study.”  He then led me to the frame, about the sides, whereof all his pupils stood in ranks.  It was twenty feet square, placed in the middle of the room.  The superfices was composed of several bits of wood, about the bigness of a die, but some larger than others.  They were all linked together by slender wires.  These bits of wood were covered, on every square, with paper pasted on them; and on these papers were written all the words of their language, in their several moods, tenses, and declensions; but without any order.  The professor then desired me “to observe; for he was going to set his engine at work.”  The pupils, at his command, took each of them hold of an iron handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of the frame; and giving them a sudden turn, the whole disposition of the words was entirely changed.  He then commanded six-and-thirty of the lads, to read the several lines softly, as they appeared upon the frame; and where they found three or four words together that might make part of a sentence, they dictated to the four remaining boys, who were scribes.  This work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn, the engine was so contrived, that the words shifted into new places, as the square bits of wood moved upside down.

Six hours a day the young students were employed in this labour; and the professor showed me several volumes in large folio, already collected, of broken sentences, which he intended to piece together, and out of those rich materials, to give the world a complete body of all arts and sciences; which, however, might be still improved, and much expedited, if the public would raise a fund for making and employing five hundred such frames in Lagado, and oblige the managers to contribute in common their several collections.

He assured me “that this invention had employed all his thoughts from his youth; that he had emptied the whole vocabulary into his frame, and made the strictest computation of the general proportion there is in books between the numbers of particles, nouns, and verbs, and other parts of speech.””

Above: an illustration of the text-generating machine, from the text.

Network Interaction and Andrew Blum’s “Tubes”

Andrew Blum’s recent book Tubes, describes the way that networks interact with each other.  A few interesting examples, the first from page 30:

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority gives out the prefixes, but anyone can put up a sign pointing the way.  And sometimes that does go horribly wrong.  In one well-known incident in February 2008, the Pakistani government instructed all Pakistani Internet providers to block YouTube, because of a video it deemed offensive.  But an engineer at Pakistan Telecom MegaPath, receiving the memo at his desk, misconfigured his router, and rather than removing the announced path to YouTube, he announced it himself – in effect declaring he was YouTube.  Within two and a half minutes, the ‘hijacked’ route was passed to routers across the Internet, leading anyone looking for YouTube to knock on Pakistan Telecom’s door.  Needless to say, YouTube wasn’t there.  For most of the world, YouTube wasn’t available at all for nearly two hours, at which point the mess was sorted out.”

Another example, discussing “peering”, where one network physically connects to another and what can happen when the process breaks down (from page 123):

In one famous peering de-peering [disconnecting] episode in 2008, Sprint stopped peering with Cogent for three days.  As a result, 3.3 percent of global Internet addresses ‘partitioned’, meaning they were cut off from the rest of the Internet, according to an analysis by Renesys, a company that tracks Internet traffic flows and the politics and economics of connection.  Any network that was ‘single-homed’ behind Sprint or Cogent – meaning they relied on the network exclusively to get to the rest of the Internet – was unable to reach any network that was ‘single-homed’ behind the other.  Among the better-known ‘captives’ behind Sprint were the US Department of Justice, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Northrup Grumman; behind Cogent were NASA, ING Canada, and the New York court system.

Also mentioned in Blum’s book is the brief mention of the URL for Facebook’s peering policy, which is not hidden or behind a password.  The screenshot at the top is from that page, including the information needed to connect to its network.