We're safeguarding the world's seeds in the Arctic, why not our most precious data?
- Buried underground near the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the Arctic World Archive safeguarding humanity's books, documents, and data.
- The Archive includes the massive GitHub library of software code behind the world's open-source applications.
- Information in the vault is stored on special media said to be durable for 1,000 years.
For a place that's so cold, Norway's Svalbard archipelago is downright hot when it comes to safeguarding some of humanity's most precious stuff. We've written before about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that holds the world's backup supply of seeds capable of replanting our planet's flora should some horrible catastrophe occur. Since 2017, there's been another critical repository embedded about 91 meters down in that Svalbardian mountain: It's called the Arctic World Archive (AWA) and it holds the world's books, documents, and data from across the globe.
The Arctic World Archive
The AWA describes itself as "home to manuscripts from the Vatican Library, political histories, masterpieces from different eras (including Rembrandt and Munch), scientific breakthroughs and contemporary cultural treasures." Government and research facilities can store their data at AWA, as can private companies and individuals, for a price.
"Our ambition is to be a secure world archive to help preserve the world's digital memory and ensure that the world's most irreplaceable digital memories of art, culture and literature are secured and made available to future generations." — Arctic World Archive
AWA's first deposits were made by the National Archives of Mexico and Brazil, and have been joined by a growing number of entities from over 15 countries. These include the National Museum of Norway, the European Space Agency, the Museum of the Person, and major global corporations.
GitHub’s vault with a vault
Within the AWA is the GitHub Arctic Code Vault, located roughly 76 meters below the Svalbard surface. GitHub is the preeminent library of programming code for those who develop open-source software applications. Each directory — think: folder — of code is a GitHub repository. Together, it's a massive resource used continually by countless programmers storing and sharing their source code. GitHub says it has 37 million users and holds over 100 million repositories.
21 terabytes of GitHub data have already been moved to the code vault — or copied, presumably, since GitHub remains an active day-to-day resource — beginning with the 2019 deposit of 6,000 of the most important repositories GitHub held at the time. The latest transfer contains a snapshot of all of GitHub's active libraries as of February 2, 2020.
Says GitHUb's director of strategic programs, Julia Metcalf, "Our mission is to preserve open-source software for future generations by storing your code in an archive built to last a thousand years." It's hoped that the source code in the vault will provide insight into today's programming and provide a trail of bread-crumbs that reveals the workings of apps from our era, apps that may become foundational for future applications.
How to store data for the future
The lifespan of any given storage medium is brief. Gone the way of the dinosaurs are floppy disks, cassettes, and so on — a 10-year-old may even wonder what a CD was. "It is easy to envision a future in which today's software is seen as a quaint and long-forgotten irrelevancy, until an unexpected need for it arises," says the GitHub Archive Program website. So, AWA data is stored on a specially developed, digital archival film called piqlFilm — GitHub alone has filled up 186 reels of it so far. This may at first seem sort of a retro approach, but it's not.
piql, one of the two partners behind the AWA, developed the film. The company claims it can "keep data alive" for over 1,000 years, so long as one has an app that can read it, such as the open-source app GitHub has created. piql asserts that their film has undergone "extensive longevity testing," and can withstand electromagnetic exposure.
piqlFilm is made up of layers of silver halide on a polyester backing. The data, when written, looks similar to a QR code, although it can hold far more information: Each frame in piqlFilm can pack about 8.8 million microscopic pixels. A reel of piqlFilm loaded with these frames is almost a kilometer long and can thus store a truly massive amount of data.
Of course, it remains impossible to guess the capabilities of future humans (presumably) trying to decode all this data, so GitHub has a backup plan, a human-readable document called the "Tech Tree," which they describe as "a roadmap and Rosetta Stone for future curious minds inheriting the archive's data."
Warming up to Svalbard
Svalbard has a number of attributes that have made it attractive as a permanent storage site. It's a demilitarized zone by agreement between 42 nations. It's also quite remote. Plus, it's very cold and dry, for now.
When the seed vault was first contemplated, Svalbard seemed a place that could be counted on to remain frigid, with the underground vaults dug deep into the area's permafrost safe from moisture damage. However, conditions are changing more rapidly than anticipated thanks to climate change. The Arctic, says NOAA, is warming at "twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe."
Between 1971 and 2017, the temperature in the Svalbard area has risen by 3-5° Celsius. Svalbard's current average temperature is -8.7° C, but models suggests that with moderate global emission levels going forward it will go up by 7° C, and with heavy emissions up by 10° C.
Already, there has been at least one incident of ice melting and then freezing in the entrance to a seed vault tunnel. Also, less snow and ice means more rain, which can cause landslides in the previously stable local environment, and glaciers nearby are breaking up more frequently.
The seed vault's managers say, for now, that it looks like their vaults will be okay, and the people running the AWA and the GitHub Arctic Code Vault are also optimistic.
The Omni Calculator site is a stunning treasure trove of free calculators.
- 1,175 calculators attempt to solve every everyday math problem for you.
- All free to use, it's amazing how many aspects of life get a calculator.
- Bookmark this collection — it's hard to imagine you won't someday need it.
It's true that high-school calculus teachers torture their students with them, but it's also true that once some degree of mastery is in hand. Mathematicians love a good — efficient, clever, and useful — formula.
These things aren't just for classrooms or advanced scientific applications, either. While it's amazing that formulas predict what will happen if we slingshot a spacecraft around some distant celestial body, they can also be part of our earthly lives calculating all sorts of everyday things.
In any event, for many math heads (carefully typed), slinging formulas together and inventing new calculators is just plain fun. Last week, for example, UK physicist Steven Wooding sent us the link to a calculator he and a friend constructed that predicts contactable alien civilizations. That was fun, but the site to which he directed us is nothing short of dazzling: It's called Omni Calculator, and it's a mind boggling repository of 1,175 calculators whose purpose is to help everyone get to the right answers in their personal and professional lives.
A mathematical treasure chest
Image source: Alexey Godzenko/Shutterstock
Want to know exactly how many balloons it would take to send your house airborne, as in the Pixar's "Up"? No problem. Hate running unexpectedly out of toothpaste en route to bed? Live your best life. Ditto toilet paper.
Some of the calculators are pretty profound, too, such as the Every Second calculator that shows just how much happens in the world every 60th of a minute — it's an enthralling set of numbers.
Fun stuff aside, Omni Calculator is an absolutely staggering collection, an incredible resource for normal people and professionals—from doctors, to chemists, to financial advisers, to construction teams, and more.
Who is behind Omni Calculator?
Image source: rawf8/Shutterstock
Omni Calculator is the project of a Polish startup of 24 people dedicated to helping others solve all of the small math problems in their daily lives. The company manifesto:
"In a surprisingly large part, our reality consists of calculable problems. Should I buy or rent? What's my ideal calorie intake? Can I afford to take this loan? How many lemonades do I need to sell in order to break even? Often times we don't solve these problems, because we lack knowledge, skills, time or willingness to calculate. And then we make bad, uninformed decisions?"
Omni Calculator is here to change all that — we are working on a technology that will turn every* calculation-based problem trivial to solve for anyone.
The asterisk says, "within reason."
It all started when founder Mateusz Mucha built a unique web calculator. It could calculate in any direction without a fixed input or output. He invested $80 in translating his Percentage Calculator into 15 languages and stood back as the app was downloaded 4 million times, and counting.
At some point Mucha changed his goal: "Instead of calculating one thing, we'll calculate all of them — for everybody." To serve this aim, all of Omni Calculator's calculators are free to use, developed by the company in collaboration with all sorts of experts.
Go spend some time looking around and bookmarking tools for your own use. You're pretty much guaranteed to find something that solves a problem with which you're struggling. At the very least you'll come across some amazing calculators that will get you thinking about unexpected things.
Omni Calculator also provides a special set of calculators that allow you to crunch COVID-19 numbers for yourself, from a social distancing calculator to one that can predict when your next stimulus check should be due.
Gallup found that in 2019, movie attendance didn't even come close to library visits.
- Of all public cultural destinations, libraries are the most often visited.
- Libraries' expanded offerings make them more attractive than ever, especially to lower-income groups.
- Women are far more likely than men to visit a library.
Not even close<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNzEzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzE0NTcwOX0.aUVez6i0tSzKXXd33GhZcGerTk45HQXtXX6fCevTJio/img.jpg?width=980" id="680d7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4721a3d934dde95f3544adde2a3b7a37" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Tobias Messer/unsplash<p>The overall average number of trips we made in 2019 to various cultural resources:</p> <ul> <li>Go to a library — 10.5</li> <li>Go to a movie at a movie theater — 5.3</li> <li>Attend a live sporting event — 4.7</li> <li>Attend a live music or theatrical event — 3.8</li> <li>Visit a national or historical park — 3.7</li> <li>Visit a museum — 2.5</li> <li>Visit a gambling casino — 2.5</li> <li>Go to an amusement or theme park — 1.5</li> <li>Visit a zoo — 0.9</li> </ul>
The survey<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNzE0Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NzIwMDU3MX0.2SB5_vUC6pUN0Gs7cqHjumjDMWiHmhQqt802LVpveFU/img.jpg?width=980" id="03d0c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a1a62fe51d4d9b10dda1a4ae683950d2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Robert Bye/unsplash<p>Cellular and landline telephone interviews were conducted December 2-15 of last year. There were more cellular respondents than landline, which seem right these days. 1,025 adults were questioned from all 50 U.S. states, and the results have a sampling error margin of ±4%.</p><p>This is Gallup's first survey update since 2001, and reveals a 1,3-trip reduction in the number of movies attended, though again, this could simply mean we're choosing to view them more often at home.</p>
Who’s making all these trips to the library?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNzE0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDMxODY2MH0.YU_qEQbh7B11r7mjnlA75jrF3jVcyVcbzFvAoIABCfE/img.jpg?width=980" id="fb44c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0c060991ad9f6465431b51c1153efd25" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Danny/unsplash<p>Gallup found that women are almost twice as likely to visit la bibliothèque, with 13.4 visits as apposed to men's 7.5. On the other hand, men were more likely to frequent casinos, sporting events, and parks.</p><p><strong>Income insights</strong></p><p>Today's libraries offer, of course, more than books, most notably, computers for internet access and WiFi, and so it's not surprising that lower-income respondents paid them a greater number of visits. They're also the group most often visiting casinos.</p><p>The people who use libraries the least are those who make more than $100,000 annually. These people, conversely, are the most frequent attendees of events that carry higher ticket prices such as movies, shows, and concerts.</p><p><strong>Age</strong></p><p>While it's no shock that the age group most likely to visit a library are those of student age, 18-29, the group with the highest overall attendance record for all cultural activities are those from 30-49. Their average, 7.4, is more than three points higher than older adults and more than twice the number of visits for younger adults. Gallup suggests this may reflect a time of life when one is still relatively young but is more likely to have the money to pay for entertainments.</p><p><strong>Regional variations</strong></p><p>Gallup found certain clear regional preferences among the cultural destinations they tracked. Residents of the eastern U.S. are the most frequent museum-goers, while those in the West, more often visit parks and casinos.</p>
Exceptional U.S. libraries<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNzE1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTc4MTMxMH0.LjujPx9KNu6Oi2MTaATWszCEueqqhkQ-LVfv6gwqpes/img.jpg?width=980" id="f74cb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="db300d24af793b42e9b91e9b2e1b78ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Checubus/Shutterstock<p>Gallup's not the only organization with an interest in library attendance, and <em><a href="https://lithub.com/the-12-most-popular-libraries-in-the-world/" target="_blank">Literary Hub</a></em> has identified the 12 most popular libraries globally, three of which are in the U.S.:</p> <ul> <li>New York Public Library, New York, NY — 18 million visitors annually</li> <li>Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, NY — 8.1 million visitors annually</li> <li>Library of Congress, Washington D.C. — 1.9 million visitors annually</li> </ul> <p>The American Library Association publishes a list of the <a href="https://libguides.ala.org/libraryfacts" target="_blank">25 biggest</a> U.S. libraries, and some of these places are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, as demonstrated by <em>Curbed's</em> list of the <a href="https://www.curbed.com/2017/2/9/14551106/best-libraries-architecture-united-states" target="_blank">20 most beautiful</a> American libraries. <em>Huffington Post</em> tells you where to find the best library <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-best-library-in-every-state_b_59b6e4b7e4b0465f75880935" target="_blank">in each state</a>.</p>
The national library picture<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNzE2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTUwNDM1Mn0.DXzPEDguagRgo-xQ6shOEmAjvDHD_rD3RU_vl8GFQ0s/img.jpg?width=980" id="eacc0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="817cb662622fb82e07cb9a79b891b3f7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: American Libraries Magazine's April 2019 Special Report<p>Libraries' ever-expanding offerings have likewise expanded their importance as community centers in addition to being a place from which to borrow books. <a href="http://www.ala.org/news/sites/ala.org.news/files/content/2019-soal-report-final-accessible.pdf" target="_blank">American Libraries Magazine's April 2019 Special Report</a> concludes that library attendance is on the rise. 2016 saw 1.4 <em>billion</em> visits to public libraries, which works out to 4 million visits a day and roughly 2,664 visits per minute. There are more public libraries (16,568) than Starbucks (14,606).</p><p>In line with Gallup's findings that libraries are of particular importance to people with lower incomes, some of the largest U.S. libraries are <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/library-late-fees" target="_self">abandoning fees for overdue books</a> to ensure that they're not penalizing — or worse, turning away — the people who most depend on free books and the other services libraries supply. </p><p>Though ample data supports the benefits public libraries provide to communities, the rise of anti-science, anti-education, and anti-diversity attitudes are posing new challenges for libraries, ranging from conflicts over acceptable content to budgeting. The Trump administration, for example, has advocated the last three years running that Federal funding of public libraries be <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/for-third-year-in-a-row-trumps-budget-plan-eliminates-arts-public-tv-and-library-funding/2019/03/18/e946db9a-49a2-11e9-9663-00ac73f49662_story.html" target="_blank">eliminated </a>. Fortunately, the proposal faced sufficient opposition that funding was <a href="http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2019/12/fy-2020-library-budget-signed-final-bill-includes-increases-lsta-and-other" target="_blank">increased</a> in the final legislation. Funding for public libraries on the state and local levels continues to be often insecure even as libraries continue to assume their place as brick-and-mortar community centers for the modern world.</p>
With the realization that overdue charges disproportionately affect access for low-income readers, libraries are reconsidering the value of fees.
- The Chicago Public Library found that a third of their economically disadvantaged members had been denied borrowing privileges due to overdue books.
- Overdue fines account for a tiny fraction of library funding, so the ramifications of ending them are more social than financial.
- Though 92% of U.S. libraries still charge late fees, the number is shrinking.
The purpose and history of public libraries<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE5NDA3OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3Mjk2ODcyM30.LPrlfJTYJHQjXguRupsTYrTtw4ihQ7_mYX8qsPmkTKo/img.jpg?width=980" id="cd9e8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="38e8716e68bd4b592813725a62bebe29" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Boston Public Library
Image source: Mark Zhu/Shutterstock<p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"Of all the human arts, that of writing, as it was one of the earliest invented, is also one of the most important. Perhaps it would be safe to pronounce it, without exception, the most useful and important. It is the great medium of communication between mind and mind, as respects different individuals, countries, and periods of time. We know from history that only those portions of the human family have made any considerable and permanent progress in civilization, which have possessed and used this great instrument of improvement." — First </em><a href="https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951000831516z&view=1up&seq=1" target="_blank"><em>trustees report</em></a><em>, Boston Public Library, 1854.</em></p><p>The <a href="https://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2236/how-did-public-libraries-get-started/" target="_blank">first public library</a> in the U.S. was the Boston Public library, and the quote immediately above laying out its purpose — as well as the quote in the previous section — were written in its report to library trustees as the library opened its doors to the general population in 1854.</p><p>Prior to this, libraries were mostly personal book collections, at best available only to an owner's family, friends, and associates.</p><p>Benjamin Franklin owned over 4,000 books, and in 1731 created the first subscription library, or "social library," as a means of exchanging books within Philadelphia's literary society. In 1762, William Rind in Annapolis, Maryland, opened the first circulation library, an innovation that saw print shops and bookstores renting out books. School libraries provided reading materials to their students.</p><p>In 1833, the first organization we might recognize as a public library was started in Peterborough, New Hampshire, as the result of an unexpected windfall. New Hampshire had raised tax money for a state college that never made it off the ground and had to find something education-related to do with the money — they disbursed it to towns around the state. Peterborough used its share for a library for its citizens. It was a well-received idea, and in 1849, the state became the first to enact a law empowering municipalities to raise tax money for libraries.</p><p>Just five years later the first truly public library opened in Boston.</p>
Chicago Public Library’s announcement<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE5NDA4MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Mjg5Nzc1Mn0.pIOoUgXMx2-R0Lvo8LzJK4t4p27kWx58WK4YrUc0X1E/img.jpg?width=980" id="49f8d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="274af2a3a54fe667ef1cb8e0617c463b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Mural on Chicago's South Side
Image source: Terence Faircloth/Flickr<p>Chicago Public Library Commissioner Andrea Telli told the <a href="https://chicago.suntimes.com/2019/9/30/20890138/chicago-public-library-eliminate-late-fees-fines" target="_blank"><em>Chicago Sun-Times</em></a>, "I think our staff members are going to be practically jumping over their circulation desks to tell people that fines have been eliminated."</p><p>They'll also want to get word out to the 343,208 former patrons who've lost their library privileges to overdue fines. Data recently collected by the library reveals that one in three cardholders in the city's low-income South District is among that number. One in five of those is under 14, children who would benefit from access to the library's books. In more affluent areas, by contrast, just one in six cardholders has been penalized.</p><p>Eliminating the fines aims to return the library system to those most in need of it. Telli said, "We're removing one of the most important barriers."</p><p>Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who supports the change, said in a <a href="https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press_releases/2019/september/EliminateLibraryLateFees.html?fbclid=IwAR0Sk3G4LDXFSHtFhkQxGjGXSIL3D3WGF2aWw8_R6lxrzI2qgCcqamUR6yo" target="_blank">statement</a>, "Like too many Chicagoans, I know what it is like to grow up in financially challenging circumstances and understand what it is like to be just one bill or one mistake away from crushing debt."</p><p>Chicago is not alone in finding late fees disproportionately affecting its less-monied cardholders. In San Francisco, whose own San Francisco Public Library got rid of late fees last month, 5% of members could no longer borrow, with the majority of them living in low-income communities, African-American communities, and areas with fewer college graduates. Each of those who'd lost library privileges, on average, owed about $24 in late fees.</p><p>Curtis Rogers of the Urban Libraries Council told <a href="https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/10/public-library-late-fees-chicago-san-francisco-equity-access/599194/" target="_blank">CityLab's</a> <a href="https://www.citylab.com/authors/linda-poon/" target="_blank">Linda Poon</a>, "Overdue fines are not distinguishing between people who are responsible and who are not. They're distinguishing between people who can and cannot use money to overcome a common oversight."</p>
Why bother charging late fees anyway?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE5NDA4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMTc1OTkxMn0.POcCL7iVBkqzzLg4mdDXEP0kS1yQLIlg7dsDwJEY0zw/img.jpg?width=980" id="7f34e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1240f6efbf284100505ba1b1bb6c7b69" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Thought Catalog/Unsplash<p>Libraries cost money. Books must be purchased, facilities paid for, and staff compensated. Nonetheless, late fees constitute just a tiny fraction of a library's budget. As a big library system, the Chicago Public Library collects nearly a million dollars each year through fines, but that represents less than 1% of their annual budget. Rogers says the impact of fees' elimination has proven negligible for other libraries, and may even save them money since personnel and time no longer need to be allocated to collecting them.</p><p>Some consider overdue fees a form of discipline that can reduce the number of books lost to people who never return them, though a 1983 study found that this <a href="https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdelib/removingbarrierstoaccess" target="_blank">isn't so</a> over time. And, in any event, says <a href="https://www.ted.com/talks/dawn_wacek_a_librarian_s_case_against_overdue_book_fines" target="_blank">Dawn Wacekof</a> of La Crosse Public Library in Wisconsin, "I don't think it's our task, or that it's mission-centric, any more than teaching people manners is. Our role is to provide access to information."</p>