April First (and Second)

We take so much of the web for granted today, we often forget how very contingent it all is. Without the very specific work by Tim Berners-Lee inventing the http protocol, perhaps some sort of hypertext communication standard would have come along, but it’s hard to believe that it would be quite the same. Berners-Lee has always advocated a still more open “read/write” web, and about the closest we come to that is, of course, the weblog. Well, blogs were arguably launched ten years ago, on April 1, 1997, by Dave Winer. Scripting News was an outgrowth of his DaveNet emails, but had all the usual hallmarks of a blog: short items, lots of links, and, crucially, reverse chronological order. Dave has gone onto a career as a general computer pundit and curmudgeon — and also invented RSS (that orange “XML Feed” icon over at the side).

Of course, the first of April has another name. If you read this blog regularly, you know that we physicists have a fantastic collective sense of humor, as evidenced here, here and here. Funny, huh?

My own April Fool’s incident came a bit early, last Thursday night, unable to make my way from the arrival hall of Rome’s Fiumicino airport to the airport Hilton. I arrived around midnight, after the trains stop running into town. What they don’t tell you is that all the passageways between the airport buildings are also shut — without signs to tell you where to go. After conflicting information from three different sets of people, I found myself staggering around the deserted parking lots searching for the warm bed I had booked (I did eventually find it, and the front desk took pity on me in the form of an upgrade to the “executive suite” floor). The next day, although a bit sleepy, was at least a productive discussion of the next step in our proposal for a new mission to measure the polarization of the microwave background — in about 2015 or 2020.

But since today is really April 2, you can also read a real blog post by Amedeo Balbi, my cosmology colleague (on MAXIMA and Planck and probably more in the future) over in Tommaso Dorigo’s blog; he’s got one of his own, but it will only make sense if you read Italian.