Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Joy of Ping

I have been learning about trackbacking, and as the observant reader will note there is now a new trackback link beneath each post. So for those as uninformed as I was "trackbacking" is the name given to creating links to blog entries containing content relevant (hopefully) to the post you have just read. The purpose is really to keep a record of links that didn't make it into the post, principally because the links were created after the post. If you find that last sentence confusing, then don't think twice about going to see the movie Primer (incidentally, I watched it yesterday and found it very confusing, but I'm enjoying thinking thorugh its time-travel paradoxes, so forget my comments and go and see it and then tell me what happened). In short it is a blogger's duty to trackback to articles that have inspired comment.

How does one do this? Well, first you can only trackback to an article if you include a link to that article in your main post. And second you can only do this on blogs that support trackbacking - so standalone blogger blogs which do not support trackbacking have to use an external program, I am using haloscan. If trackback is supported then beneath a post will be a trackback link that gives a URL to ping. In essence, pinging means sending some information to another server to let it know you are there. One pings and is pinged, but one is never punged nor panged, one briefly can be pinging and one can certainly pong. If you keep a trackback-supported blog, then you can use your trackback software to ping other blog articles to let the world know you have something to say about that post. Some blogs have automated trackbacking (e.g. WordPress) where the software automatically pings every link in a post. This is almost enough to motivate a change of blog software...

Why all the sudden fuss about trackbacks and pings I hear you cry/sob? Well as you may have read here, here, here, here, here and here the arxiv is trying out trackbacking. On each abstract page there is now a trackback link, if any exist, so that it would seem that anyone in the blogosphere can comment on any paper. There is some manual checking of trackbacks so that supposedly only bloggers with legitimate comments about papers can add a trackback. It remains unclear how a comment may be judged legitimate, but probably a commen-sense test will suffice. Apart from this it would seem there are few safeguards and I can't decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. For example, in the past I have attended seminars and attempted to understand a particular paper from the arxiv. Often I have understood a little of the beginning of a paper and have posted comments about that on this page. Now it seems I, along with others, will face the dilemma of whether sparse comments on a paper warrant a trackback to the abstract page of the paper. My feeling is that all legitimate discussion is positive and merits a trackback to the arxiv. I imagine that, if it takes off, trackbacking on the arxiv will offer a connection to debates about the papers content as well as earnest readers' descriptions of their attempts to understand (parts of) papers. To me it sounds utopian, but we'll have to see how it works out. Furthermore it may make the physics blogosphere lose its orbit, so to speak, after all will anyone who wants to make a comment about a paper and have it recorded on the archive also have to keep a blog? Recently there have been several bloggers sending posts from the midst of a conference, and at least one case of specific conference blog. Inclusion of comments from such blogs on the archive would seem to be a very exciting development since these are usually fairly technical, and hopefully useful. Perhaps this will motivate conferences to keep such blogs, and give an indirect link from the archive, via a blog entry, to footage or slides from relevent talks at a conference. Well let's hope so.

Elsewhere, the debate about the greatest physics paper ever trundles on, and still no-one has argued on grounds of simple beauty in favour of Kaluza's 1921 paper about the fifth dimension! Well except yours truly that is. Nevertheless similar to the BBC's series of greatest ever lists, cosmicvariance's lists have begun to hyperbole. Now the debates for the greatest ever physics textbook as well as the greatest popular science book are in full swing. Also Lubos has posted an updated link to the video footage of the talks from Sydneyfest. Also as reported here, here and here a second physics blog has become a book(let's not forget this trend was started by Lieven Le Bruyn)! Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong will be available in UK bookshops from 16th March, 2006. It promises to be an honest review of the toughest problems faced by string theory, and probably a critique of studying string theory with blinkers on. There has been some discussion about the merits of a non-string theorist writing a popular science book about string theory, but you can read them on Not Even Wrong the blog and, probably, the book in due course. Have no fear, I foresee no situation where this blog will become a book, although Tangent Space wouldn't be an awful title for a sci-fi novel (all suggestions for plot are welcome, in return for an earnest acknowledgement in the foreward)...


Jacques Distler said...

If you're really worried about whether your comments on some paper are "well-baked" enough to warrant sending a trackback to the arXivs, then the simple answer is ... don't.

Turn off the automated sending of trackbacks (well, that was never really an option with Blogger, anyway, was it?), and send "manual" trackback pings to those papers where you feel you do have something interesting to say.

(If, perchance, your post ends up generating an interesting discussion, you can always change your mind and send a trackback later.)

Many people have argued (not in this particular context, but more generally) that automated "ping everything you link to" trackbacks are a debasement of the whole idea in the first place.

Some blogging software will take a post of yours, extract all the links (and do the requisite trackback autodiscovery), and then present you with a list of potential trackbacks to send. You click on the checkboxes next to the ones you want to send, and then hit POST.

Plato said...

Clifford, in cosmic variance is giving us lots of good examples of this from the creation of one post to the next.

While the fabrication of such links might have been called, and made into the title of "trackbacks," the very idea of this is very important.:)Our "neuronic developemental mode" we now assign computer expansion capabilties for our minds. The continual upgrade of a post you developed a week ago, now has this many links?:)

Sort of like the "synapse" being the point where divergent phenomena might create other possibilties in our apprehensions of the natural world.

Some might of related the idea to the "spider" whose web almost relates to some computer program develope in relation to word press's capabilities of linking all links?

I wonder what blogger will do now that it is in competition. "Google" has taken some stance in relation to Microsoft and Netscape developemental attitudes that have move to the college campus in Word Press?

These functions are driven by early interest sought in the establishment of a free internet?

I was thinking of the "Cathedral and the Bizzare" here. While some will attribute Microsoft to the capitalistic features of copyright, one sees where the "poor man" will come out developing, an attitude of copy left.

These are idealistic approaches, that have blosssomed, into the wonderful world of blogging potential, where access is given to the poor man who studies from his little hovel.:) While the educated man seeks consorts with the college scene.

Who shall win the hearts of the college campus in the expression of the internet?

Maybe even Jacque can be changed?:)

Imagine a concept, given into the ethers of the computer world, to have found a home in the poor man on the street?

Plato said...

oops sorry, I gave the skeptic view.:)

Here is the right one

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