March 6th, 2013 by Michael Sauers

One computer expert working alone has built a historic newspaper site ( that’s orders of magnitude bigger and more popular than one created by a federal bureaucracy with millions of dollars to spend. Armed only with a few PCs and a cheap microfilm scanner, Tom Tryniski has played David to the Library of Congress’ Goliath. 

Tryniski’s site, which he created in his living room in upstate New York, has grown into one of the largest historic newspaper databases in the world, with 22 million newspaper pages. By contrast, the Library of Congress’ historic newspaper site, Chronicling America, has 5 million newspaper pages on its site while costing taxpayers about $3 per page. In January, visitors to accessed just over 6 million pages while Chronicling America pulled fewer than 3 million views. 

Thanks dad.

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February 2nd, 2013 by Michael Sauers

A few weeks ago I blogged a very bad example of the type of e-mail I’m somewhat often sent along the lines of  “please link to my article”. In case you missed it, the short version is, there’s a right way and a very wrong way to make such a request.

Well, I don’t know if  Jason Feifer of Fast Company read that post or not, but he sent me a request and he did everything right. He included his name, the name of his publication (one I’m already aware of, so bonus points for that,) and pointed me to an article that is actually relevant to me, my job, and this blog.

So, congratulations Jason, I’m doing something that I rarely do on this blog, linking to an article that I was asked to link to.

The article is “The Predecessor To Google Books, Facebook Graph Search, And–In The Early 1900s” and is a very interesting read. Here’s an excerpt:

You want an idea to survive hundreds or thousands of years? Step one: Don’t write it on paper. Alexander Konta believed this deeply. Paper yellows and withers and crumbles; it is the printed form of Alzheimer’s. “Why not make [text] imperishable by photographing the written word after it has been printed in books and newspapers and preserve the plate in a fireproof vault?” he asked the New York Observer. It was a hell of an idea, considering he said that in 1911. A century later, that’s more or less how those words of his were preserved: They had been scanned and stored on Google Books.

Konta was just getting started.

He was a wealthy New York banker, and in 1911 founded a group called the Modern Historic Records Association. It billed itself as “the first society ever organized to provide a living history of the times,” and its goal was wildly ambitious: It wanted to marshal the power of the day’s technology–new, exciting machines that captured moving images and recorded voices–to document everything, or at least as much as they could, so that time wouldn’t erase their era as it had at least partially wiped out all of preceding human history.

Between then and now, so much of its vision has come true. Google Books, the Internet Archive, Rewind.Me–it’s the archive system he craved. He argued that cameras and recorders should bear witness to great moments–a wish granted by everything from C-Span toYouTube. “I spoke in my original letter of the historic value of a moving picture of Lincoln at Gettysburg,” Konta once told a reporter. “Would you not like to see him and listen to him on the Fourth of July? Would you not like to be able to bequeath these records to your children’s children? Would that not be far more impressive than the printed speech alone? And would not the speech be doubly guarded against being lost?”

It’s a great article and a wonderful bit of history I’m sure none of my readers were aware of. Please take the time to check it out.

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March 7th, 2011 by Michael Sauers

It turns out that I’m not the only one in my family to miss something by a day. Here’s a story of my 7th great grandfather:

According to his pension application, Aden Palmer enlisted at Boston in January 1776, as a private in the company commanded by Captain Christopher Smith in Colonel James Mitchel Varnum’s Regiment under General Green, Rhode Island Line, of the Continental Establishment.  Aden participated in the Battle of New York Island (the "Orchard Fight"), the Battle of Trenton, and the Battle of Princeton, NJ.  Aden served for more than one year, being discharged at Springfield, near Morristown, NJ.  

Varnum’s Regiment took part in the Battle of New York in August 1776, where they were on the losing side.  Aden would have been a part of Washington’s retreat from New York, across New Jersey to Pennsylvania.  The regiment then joined George Washington’s main continental army under the division of General Nathanial Greene.  Aden would have been there in Pennsylvania as the army prepared to cross the Delaware River to attack Trenton, NJ.  Aden’s unit, however, was sent to cross the Delaware at Bristol, PA, 12 miles below Trenton as a diversionary tactic.  Unfortunately, ice jamming the river at that point made the crossing impossible.  Aden’s unit was therefore not with Washington’s army during the famous crossing of the Delaware River overnight Dec. 25-26.  That main force under General Washington made a surprise attach on Trenton, NJ, on December 26, 1776, in a major victory for the continental army.  

Varnum’s Regiment was able to cross the river and join Washington in Trenton the following day.  The Regiment helped Washington to set up defensive lines around Trenton, and Aden would have participated on January 2, 1777, when British and Hessian reinforcements attempted to break the lines.  

Varnum’s men were placed on the left flank, near the Delaware River.  The assault was repelled and Washington left a few men to create a diversion as the continental army quietly withdrew and headed for Princeton, NJ.  On January 3rd, on the way to Princeton, the army met a British force bound for Trenton and forced them to retreat.  Aden may well have participated in the successful bayonet charge led by Washington himself.  It was now deep into winter and the army went into winter quarters near Morristown, NJ.  Aden received his discharge and headed back to Connecticut and family.  

He missed the famous crossing of the Delaware by one day!  

Thanks mom!

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January 8th, 2009 by Michael Sauers

History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.

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