Viewport width =
August 13, 2007 | by  | in Games | [ssba]

How Stuff Works

We might as well face it, the real reason why many of us decide to attend university is not just to get a job, but to continue an innate desire to continue learning all the wonderful things about the world. If you’re idealistic enough to believe that then you will love How Stuff Works. Created by one Marshall Brain (yes it’s his real name), a former computer science teacher in the computer science department at North Carolina State University, it shows in simple terms the way many things work.

In its early days before the founder marshalled his brain and cashed in by selling it to Convex Group, the website focused on science and machines, from the usual geek things like submarines and kitchen appliances. Since then the range of stuff covered has entered the realm of ‘pop’ science with more non science related articles on entertainment, home and garden, and travel to name a few.

Just like what happened for the …for Dummies publishers, How Stuff Works has spawned a nice little earner for Convex Group as they have jumped onto the coffee table book industry bandwagon. To date there have been four books published, with predictable titles like More How Stuff Works.

If you are a knowledge geek that embraces everything from Wikipedia to Digg and Reddit, then you will get a lot out of adding How Stuff Works to your favourites folder. One good one I came across was ‘How Swearing Works’ which is straight to the point, for instance:

In early childhood, crying is an acceptable way to show emotion and relieve stress and anxiety. As children, (especially boys) grow up, Western society discourages them from crying, particularly in public. People still need an outlet for strong emotions, and that’s where swearing often comes in…

Internet Archive

Considering that you will all be having a two week break from next week, with no assignments (well the lucky few among you!) you might want to have a good browse around the Internet. The best way to really get a good handle on what the Internet is actually really about is to check out the Internet Archive (IA).

Run by an entire bunch of nerds and librarians since 1996 it is an on-line library and archive of Web and multimedia resources with the goal of archiving the entire Internet. Like any library you start by wondering what to look up, but you can go through and unearth some really obscure stuff like a series of 1950s short films about how to survive a zombie holocaust.

The archive includes snapshots of the World Wide Web (archived copies of pages taken at various points in time), software, movies, books and audio recordings.

So why do we need an Internet Archive, why not allow the market (e.g. Google) do this for us?

Firstly as the Internet Archive website mentions:

Most societies place importance on preserving artifacts of their culture and heritage. Without such artifacts, civilization has no memory and no mechanism to learn from its successes and failures. Our culture now produces more and more artifacts in digital form. The Archive’s mission is to help preserve those artifacts and create an Internet library for researchers, historians, and scholars. The Archive collaborates with institutions including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian.

Secondly, in regards to leaving it up to the market, supercomputer designer Danny Hillis at a Digital Continuity conference in Los Angeles as far back as 1998 put the problem into perspective when he explained the dangers of what could happen were we to enter a digital dark age:

Back when information was hard to copy… people valued the copies and took care of them. Now, copies are so common as to be considered worthless, and very little attention is given to preserving them over the long term… thousands of years ago we recorded important matters on clay and stone that lasted thousands of years. Hundreds of years ago we used parchment that lasted hundreds of years…

Eerily, to ensure the stability and endurance of this archive, IA is mirrored at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, the site of the ancient Library of Alexandria…

Just like something out of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and particularly Nightfall:

It’s 3000 years in the future, long after the great Russian Zombie Army has wiped out most of mankind (as the mythical Gonzo the News Mole alerted a few survivors to), as an archaeologist you unearth two great libraries on top of each other. One has clay tablets, but you notice that the other has what appear to be primitive hard disc drives, some of which still work…

YouTube Video of the Week: Smosh – Quest for the Scooter

Think you can do better than this lame effort by YouTube’s top video making duo? Well there is a short film contest coming to Vic soon called the Vic Aquila Short Film Awards, the quickest way to get details is to check out


About the Author ()

Comments are closed.

Recent posts

  1. VUW Halls Hiking Fees By 50–80% Next Year
  2. The Stats on Gender Disparities at VUW
  3. Issue 25 – Legacy
  4. Canta Wins Bid for Editorial Independence
  5. RA Speaks Out About Victoria University Hall Death
  6. VUW Hall Death: What We Know So Far
  8. New Normal
  9. Come In, The Door’s Open.
  10. Love in the Time of Face Tattoos

Editor's Pick

Uncomfortable places: skin.

:   Where are you from?  My list was always ready: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, puppy dogs’ tails, a little Spanish, maybe German, and—almost as an afterthought—half Samoan. An unwanted fraction.   But you don’t seem like a Samoan. I thought you were [inser

Do you know how to read? Sign up to our Newsletter!

* indicates required