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  • How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet recounts the Soviet Union’s failed attempts to construct its own Internet during the Cold War. Benjamin Peters discusses his book and considers the implications of the Soviet experience for today’s networked world. 

    What was the OGAS project? What role did it play in the development of computer networks?

    The OGAS project was the most ambitious attempt to network the Soviet Union—to construct a national computer network. Viktor M. Glushkov, whose New York Times obituary dubbed him the “king of Soviet cybernetics,” considered the OGAS his lifework between his appointment as director of the Institute of Cybernetics in Kiev in 1962 and his death of an apparent brain hemorrhage in 1982. “OGAS” is short for the obshchee-gosudarstvennaya avtomatizirovannaya system—or the all-state automated system, which itself was a shortening of its full train-length name: the All-State Automated System for the Gathering and Processing of Information for the Accounting, Planning, and Governance of the National Economy, USSR. This heroic or gargantuan project, in Glushkov’s 1962 proposal, sought to build incrementally on preexisting and new telephony networks until it would go fully online 30 years later, offering up in the process a real-time decentralized hierarchical computer network for managing all the information flows in the command economy. He envisioned it reaching from one central computer center in Moscow, to several hundred regional computer centers in prominent cities, and then to as many as 20,000 local computing centers in factories and enterprises stretching over all of Soviet Eurasia. Its higher purpose was to realize “electronic socialism” technocratically, guiding the socialist experiment another step toward communism itself. However, the project encountered significant obstacles on the path to its realization in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1980s, the OGAS project had splintered into a patchwork of unconnected and non-interoperable local factory control systems spread throughout the country.

    Posted at 11:10 am on Tue, 24 May 2016 in history, information science, technology
  • The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues, including desertification, land degradation and drought, and water and sanitation. In The Arid Lands: History, Power, Knowledge, Diana Davis challenges the image of deserts as barren, defiled, worthless places, wastelands in need of development. She argues that estimates of desertification have been significantly exaggerated and that deserts and drylands—which constitute about 41% of the earth’s landmass—are actually resilient and biodiverse environments in which a great many indigenous people have long lived sustainably. The following is an excerpt from The Arid Lands.

    Posted at 05:00 am on Sun, 22 May 2016 in environmental studies and nature
  • Today’s ubiquitous bicycle lanes owe their origins to nineteenth century versions, including New York City’s “asphalt ribbons.” Long before there were “rails to trails,” there was a movement to adapt existing passageways—including aqueduct corridors, trolley rights-of-way, and canal towpaths—for bicycling. Old Wheelways: Traces of Bicycle History on the Land by Robert McCullough explores how American bicyclists shaped the landscape and left traces of their journeys for us in writing, illustrations, and photographs. In honor of Bike to Work Week, Robert McCullough recounts how efforts by early cyclists led to better rural roads and bicycle paths.

    American cyclists, whether pedaling along commuter corridors or roving cross-country, deserve recognition as valiant adventurers steadfastly exercising their legal and moral rights to use public roads, and their story is a heroic one—all the more so for the absence of respect accorded the bicycle by so many American motorists. Their story is also a time-honored one that begins more than a century ago, and today’s cyclists can summon resolve knowing that they join an august body of men and women who have long recognized that self-propulsion on two wheels can improve our productivity, personal health, outlook, and general ability to observe our surroundings in attentive ways. In turn, those qualities can influence our choices about the way we shape, consume or conserve our built and cultural environments. No small role for a seemingly-modest invention, the fundamental form of which has changed very little over the past century.

    Posted at 09:00 am on Mon, 16 May 2016 in environmental studies and nature
  • The death in April of Wei Zexi, a Chinese cancer patient who died after mistaking an ad for an experimental cancer treatment for medically reliable information, should give pause to anyone who thinks that searching online for health information is, at worst, irrelevant but harmless.

    Posted at 09:13 am on Wed, 11 May 2016 in information science, web / tech
  • On Derby Day, Holly Kruse discusses how horse racing has adapted to interactive and social media technologies. She is the author of Off-Track and Online: The Networked Spaces of Horse Racing.

    The 142nd Kentucky Derby will be run today, May 7th, 2016, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The first Derby was run in 1875 and was won by a horse named Aristides. Churchill Downs’ founder, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., was inspired to create the Kentucky Derby after attending the 1872 Epsom Derby in England. Every May since the inaugural event, three-year-old Thoroughbreds have met on the track in Louisville; and since 1886, when the race was shortened from 1½ miles, the race has been run at the “classic” distance of 1¼ miles.

    Posted at 05:00 am on Sat, 07 May 2016 in information science, technology, web / tech
  • The MIT Press was well-represented at the 59th Bookbuilders of New England Book Show on May 3rd. This annual event serves as an opportunity to gather and recognize the outstanding work done by New England publishers, printers, graphic designers, and developers. Senior Production Coordinator​ Kate Elwell was in attendance and reports back.

    I look forward to the Bookbuilders of New England Book Show every year. It's my favorite event because you get to admire, touch, and interact with the winning books. As a total production nerd, I love scouring the Book Show catalog to look at the printers, specs, and print runs for the beautiful books. One of the student winners this year printed on the Espresso Book Machine at Harvard Book Store!

    Posted at 08:33 am on Wed, 04 May 2016 in design
  • Happy Independent Bookstore Day! Remember to visit your favorite indie bookshop today. We are celebrating with bookstore memories from our staff.

    David LePere, Sales Representative:

    Great bookstores are transformative places, and I was fortunate enough to work in a wonderful independent bookstore in Harvard Square for about 12 years—WordsWorth Books. This was in the 80s when I was young and absolutely dedicated to books and book-reading customers, as was the entire staff there. It was a crazy, fast-paced environment with extraordinary inventory and rapid turnover, so everyone worked hard and had a ball. The mental and physical stimulation, along with the unparalleled camaraderie, made me both a better person and a decidedly more knowledgeable sales rep. I look back on those times with affection (and naturally some relief), but it's a great comfort to know that new generations of committed booksellers will have that opportunity going forward—to learn from and teach their peers, to transform themselves and their customers, all through the communal power of the printed book.

    Posted at 05:00 am on Sat, 30 Apr 2016 in
  • Running since 1997 and continuing today, the Townsend Thai Project has tracked millions of observations about the economic activities of households and institutions in rural and urban Thailand. The project represents one of the most extensive datasets in the developing world. Chronicles from the Field by Robert M. Townsend, Sombat Sakunthasathien, and Rob Jordan offers an account of the design and implementation of this unique panel data survey.

    Posted at 08:10 am on Wed, 27 Apr 2016 in economics
  • What does sustainability really mean? On Earth Day, Kent Portney explains why it is up to humans to face up to the role that their behaviors—as consumers, citizens, and political actors—play in creating and solving the planet's environmental challenges. He is the author of Sustainability and Taking Sustainable Cities Seriously: Economic Development, the Environment, and Quality of Life in American Cities.

    Earth Day provides an opportune time to reflect on the state of the planet, the quality of the biophysical environment, and the directions in which these conditions are moving. Perhaps equally important, it provides an opportunity to reflect on the actions that humans have taken—personal and collective actions—that affect these conditions. As I see it, this is the heart and soul of what sustainability is all about. Despite the politicization of the concept of sustainability, the fact is that concern for how to provide food, water, energy, and the general ability to improve human well-being will be the overriding concern for the rest of this century.

    Posted at 06:00 am on Fri, 22 Apr 2016 in environmental studies and nature
  • In Civic Ecology: Adaptation and Transformation from the Ground Up, Marianne Krasny and Keith Tidball offer stories of emerging grassroots environmental stewardship, chronicling how local environmental stewards have undertaken such tasks as beautifying blocks in the Bronx, clearing trash from the Iranian countryside, and working with traumatized veterans to conserve nature and recreate community. They make the case for how humans’ innate love of nature and attachment to place compels them to restore places that are threatened, destroyed, or lost. In honor of Earth Day, Marianne Krasny reflects on recent civic engagement projects in China, South Africa, and beyond.

    Posted at 05:59 am on Fri, 22 Apr 2016 in environmental studies and nature
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Books, news, and ideas from MIT Press

The MIT PressLog is the official blog of MIT Press. Founded in 2005, the Log chronicles news about MIT Press authors and books. The MIT PressLog also serves as forum for our authors to discuss issues related to their books and scholarship. Views expressed by guest contributors to the blog do not necessarily represent those of MIT Press.