The fragile world of online research tools

It’s after lunch on a rainy Saturday, the central heating is on, and it’s New Year’s Eve.  I have my can of diet coke and some crisps.  Time to download and collate some more manuscripts of John the Deacon!

First, off to the Bollandists site, the BHLms, here, to find out which manuscripts are next in the list.  Then to the Bibliothèque Nationale Français site to find them!

But what is this!?!  Aaargh!  Woe!  Eheu!

The front page is up, but clicking on “Recherche” gives an error message!  It’s not there.

What now?  Panic panic!

There’s an email address on the bottom of the front page.  Together with a “last updated 1998” (!)  I don’t have a good feeling about this.  I email anyway.  It bounces.

I go to the Bollandists main site and send an email.  No reply.  They’re probably busy monking out or something.  No doubt the site is actually maintained by some underpaid Belgian who’s off for the weekend.

I try again at the BHLms site.  This time I get the sign-in page!  But it just spins after that, then gives a 500.  The database is probably down.

I have a directory of manuscripts.  Luckily for me, I did a copy and paste of the results for BHL 6108 and stuck it in a Word document.  Phew!  I am saved!  I can proceed.

But what if I had not?  My work would have been completely stopped.

The world-wide web is a fragile,ephemeral thing.  When we rely on tools which are online only, we rely on the continued perfect functioning of the most complex and fragile machine in human history.  All it takes is a power outage and it is gone.

“The Cloud” is just a marketing lie.  There is no “Cloud”.  There is just a bunch of computers in a room somewhere, owned by someone else, with a  power supply and a network connection.  That’s it.  It is madness to rely upon this.  Especially in days when the most powerful people seem determined to ensure that there is not enough power to sustain society.

Update: it is now back. Clearly there is an automatic script to restart these things.  But… it’s a warning.


2 thoughts on “The fragile world of online research tools

  1. And there, you were lucky ! Some research tools have already vanished… Tha is why i usualy try to get a copy, if possible : internet is so volatile…

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