Tuesday, February 20, 2024

It’s a Beeping Problem


Mick Jagger says “When you call my name, salivate like Pavlov’s dog.”  He could have said “When the toaster pings…

The relentless beep-beep-beeping of electrical appliances has become the soundtrack of our daily lives. And it’s not that these notes are soft and soothing; they seem designed to strike deep in your central cortex. The sound is not even rhythmic, more like an overeager nine-year-old banging away at the triangle in the annual school concert. And, honestly, we all know they were always the least talented.

From microwaves to washing machines and toasters to seat belts, machines are all hard coded to create the worst kind of interruptions. Machines are not sentient (yet, so they say) but, somehow, they’ve gained a capability which engenders blind rage in plain ordinary householders. These buzzers, pings and beeps cannot be turned off. Call customer service and they tell you: “It can’t be done, Mr. Pavlov. It is considered a feature, not a bug.”

The sound of a bell triggered salivation in Pavlov's dogs and, in a direct correlation, the ping, beep, buzz of an appliance signals that – somewhere somehow – you’ve screwed up. Forget to remove the laundry: Buzz. Left your tea in the microwave: Ping. Sitting in an exit row: Beep! Who’s really in charge? The machines have undergone their own bizarre form of behavioral training and we are running around the house all day chasing beeps.

Why does the microwave feel compelled to announce its victory so loudly? Perhaps it believes that, without fanfare, we mere mortals would be unable to muster the responsibility or recall necessary to retrieve our leftovers. Every laundry cycle is punctuated with a series of beeps even less meaningful than those from the toaster. Maybe they’re communicating with each other?

Anyway, perhaps there's a deeper lesson to be gleaned from the incessant beeping of our household appliances. Just as Pavlov's dogs learned to associate the sound of a bell with the promise of food, we too have formed an attachment to the beeps that punctuate our daily routines. They serve as markers of progress, reminders of tasks completed and signals of impending action. In a world filled with chaos and uncertainty, the predictable rhythm of electronic beeps provides a sense of order and control, however fleeting it may be.

Nooo!!! That paragraph was written by the chat machine. They’re conspiring!  Make it stop!

I often wonder if the engineers and designers of these machines actually use them themselves. Perhaps they’re all washing their clothes down the river and making toast on a fire. It cannot be that they are not irritated as all fuck by the incessant buzz, ping, tings just like us ordinary folk. It’s enough to endure the quirks and idiosyncrasies of modern living without these ridiculous “emergency” signals making us salivate like a dog. Please make it stop.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Time for A Publisher ID?


In the 1870s R.R. Bowker began publishing The American Catalog which collected publisher titles into one compendium book. The first edition of this book was surprisingly large, but its most useful aspect was that it organized publisher books into a usable format. The concept was not sophisticated: The Bowker team gathered publisher catalogs, bound and reprinted them so that they were more or less uniform. In subsequent years Books In Print became three primary components: The Subject Guide, Author Guide and Publisher Index (or PID). Each was separated into distinct parts, but it was the PID which held everything together.

When a user found a title in the author or subject index they would also be referred to the PID index to find specific information about the publisher including (the obvious) how to order the book. At some point, Bowker began applying an alphanumeric “Bowker Id” to Publisher names so that the database could be organized around the publisher information.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the ISBN was introduced to the US retail market and Bowker was (and still is) the only agency able to assign ISBN numbers in the US. Included in the ISBN syntax was a “publisher” prefix such that a block of numbers could be assigned specifically to one publisher. The idea, while good in concept, did not work well in practice. For example, in an effort to encourage adoption of ISBNs the agencies assigned some large publishers a small two digit publisher prefix which resulted in a very large block of individual ISBNs (seven digits plus the check digit). Even after 50 years, many of these blocks are only partially used (and wasted) because the publisher output was far less than anticipated. A second problem was that publishers, imprints and lists were bought and sold which made a mess of the whole idea. (In the above image the prefix is 4 digits).

At Bowker, we recognized that our Publisher Information Database was a crown jewel and a key component of our Books In Print database. Despite many requests we never licensed this data separately and this was a significant reason retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Borders, Follett and others licensed Books In Print. Because the information was so important, we spent a lot of time maintaining the accuracy and the structure of the data.

Publishers who acquired ISBNs from the Bowker agency were a key input to this database – beginning in the 1980s but continuing to the present. Not all new ISBNs go to small independent publishers and there remains consistent demand from established publishers for new numbers even today. To be useful, this publisher information needs to be structured and organized accurately and is only possible with continued application of good practice. During my time at Bowker, the editorial team met regularly with publishers to both improve the timeliness and accuracy of their book metadata but also to confirm their corporate structure. We wanted to ensure that all individual ISBNs rolled up to the correct imprint, business unit and corporate owner. This effort was continuous and sometimes engaged the corporation’s office of general counsel and was frequently detailed and time consuming.

A few years after I left Bowker, one of my consulting clients presented me with a proof of concept to programmatically create a publisher id database. In concept it looked possible to do; however. I pointed out all the reasons why this would become difficult to complete and then to maintain. They went ahead anyway but after a year or so abandoned the work because they could not accurately disambiguate publisher information nor confirm corporate reporting structures.

Today there is no industry wide standard publisher id code but the idea comes up frequently as one the industry should pursue. As with many new standards efforts it will be the roll out and adoption of the standard which will prove difficult. Establishing an initial leap forward could represent a promising start by using data which might already be available or available for license.

Bowker (and all global ISBN agencies) are required to publish all new publisher prefixes each year and this information could also be a useful starting point. Bowker is not the only aggregator with publisher data (we were just the best by a significant margin) and another supply chain partner might be willing to contribute their publisher data as a starting point. This could establish a solid foundation to build on, but realistically any effort will fail if the maintenance aspect of the effort is not understood and recognized, and a strong market imperative isn’t widely agreed and supported.

When (I)SBN was launched in the UK in the late 1960s it succeeded because the largest retailer (W.H. Smith) enforced the strong business case for its adoption. Globally ISBN has gone on to become one of the most successful supply chain initiatives in (retail) history and the entire industry is dependent on this standard. (It has even survived Amazon’s cynical ASIN). If there is a business case for the publisher id this needs to be powerful, obvious and accord universal benefits: Mutual interest and money can be powerful motivators but having a policeman like W.H. Smith will help as well.


The ISBN is Dead

ChapGPT "thoughts" on the history of identifiers.

Note: I ran R.R. Bowker for a while and was also Chairman of ISBN International.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

History of Company Identifiers

As a recent conversation unfolded about the need for a publisher id, I was curious about the history of company identifiers. So, I put the following question to Chatgpt.  Interesting that without prompting the machine cited ISBNs and ISSNs among other relevant examples.

Ask: Write me a 1000 word article on the history of company identification numbers








Title: The Evolution of Company Identification Numbers: A Journey Through Business Registration


In the vast and intricate landscape of business, company identification numbers play a pivotal role in establishing order and transparency. These unique identifiers, assigned to each registered business entity, serve as a cornerstone for regulatory compliance, financial transactions, and overall business operations. The history of company identification numbers is a fascinating journey that mirrors the evolution of business practices and the need for standardized systems. Let's delve into the origins and development of these crucial identifiers.

Early Beginnings:

The concept of assigning unique numbers to identify businesses can be traced back to the early 20th century. As economies grew and industrialization took hold, the need for a more organized approach to business registration became evident. Governments and regulatory bodies recognized the importance of tracking and regulating businesses for taxation, legal, and statistical purposes.

In the United States, for example, the precursor to modern company identification numbers was the Employer Identification Number (EIN) introduced by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 1936. Initially designed for tax purposes, the EIN provided a unique identifier for businesses and other entities, streamlining the taxation process.

Global Standardization:

As business transactions became more global, the need for standardized identification systems transcended national boundaries. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recognized this necessity and introduced the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for books and the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) for periodicals. While not directly related to company identification, these standards laid the groundwork for a broader understanding of unique identifiers in various domains.

The Birth of the Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S Number:

In the 1960s, the business world witnessed a significant development with the introduction of the Data Universal Numbering System (D-U-N-S) by Dun & Bradstreet. This proprietary system assigned a unique nine-digit number to each business entity, facilitating credit reporting and other business-related information. The D-U-N-S Number gained widespread acceptance, becoming a de facto standard for businesses engaging in international trade.

Government Initiatives and Social Security Numbers:

Governments worldwide began recognizing the need for standardized company identification to enhance regulatory oversight. In the United States, the Social Security Number (SSN) initially designed for individuals, started being used by businesses for identification purposes. However, concerns about privacy and security led to the introduction of the EIN as a dedicated identifier for businesses.

The Rise of Digitalization and Legal Entity Identifiers (LEI):

With the advent of the digital age, the business landscape underwent a profound transformation. The need for a more comprehensive and standardized identification system led to the creation of Legal Entity Identifiers (LEI). Introduced after the 2008 financial crisis, LEIs are unique 20-character alphanumeric codes assigned to legal entities engaging in financial transactions. The LEI system aims to provide a universal identifier that enables regulators and businesses to obtain a clear and consistent view of a company's financial transactions.

Modern Company Identification Numbers:

In contemporary business environments, various countries have adopted their own systems for company identification. For instance, the United Kingdom employs the Companies House Registration Number, while the European Union introduced the Value Added Tax Identification Number (VATIN) for businesses engaged in cross-border transactions.

In the United States, the EIN remains a crucial identifier for businesses, particularly for tax-related purposes. Additionally, the Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S Number continues to be widely used in the business community, especially in the context of international trade and credit reporting.

Challenges and Future Trends:

While company identification numbers have come a long way, challenges persist. The rise of cyber threats and identity theft has raised concerns about the security of these identifiers. Governments and regulatory bodies are continually exploring ways to enhance the security and efficiency of company identification systems.

Looking ahead, blockchain technology holds promise in revolutionizing the way company identification numbers are managed. The decentralized and secure nature of blockchain could provide a tamper-proof and transparent system for maintaining business records. Some countries and organizations are already exploring blockchain-based solutions to address the evolving needs of business identification.


The history of company identification numbers reflects the dynamic evolution of business practices, regulatory requirements, and technological advancements. From the early days of tax-focused identifiers to the modern era of digitalization and blockchain, these unique numbers have played a crucial role in shaping the business landscape. As we navigate the complexities of the global economy, the continued refinement and innovation in company identification systems will be essential for fostering transparency, accountability, and efficient business operations.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Ulua Beach, Wailea 1978

Ulua Beach, Wailea Maui Hawaii 1978

 The PND family was very lucky to move to Maui in 1977.  This was the view from our apartment where we lived in the hotel PND Senior managed.  The beach on the left is Ulua and it is one of a series of crescent beaches that stretch all the way up the coast.  This is roughly a view looking north.  The tower building on the water is about 1.5 miles away and the there and back was a great beach run.  The following year, the on-going condo development at Wailea spread right through the middle of this image but that's progress and without the development we wouldn't have been there in the first place.

Originally posted July 20, 2012

Friday, December 15, 2023

Spear Fishing in Tahiti

Spear Fishing in Tahiti, 1974

I've only a vague idea where this is but the series is interesting. This fisherman is first seen standing on the shore, then we see him launch this spike into the surf and pull out this purple, blue and grey fish. Looking at his spear it seems like he couldn't miss however there's probably more to it than that.

I've dim recollection of my father traveling to New Caledonia, Fiji and Tahiti for business development in the mid-1970s and in the set of three rolls of film there are a lot of pictures of beaches and shots from aircraft but no identifiable landmarks. This one could be anywhere but I'm guessing Tahiti.

Originally posted July 15, 2011

(Subsequently, my father told me he followed this guy around for ages to see if he would catch something - which he did).

Friday, December 08, 2023

Photo: Gone fishing - Not Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea

Taken from my hotel room window while on a quick two and a half day visit to Mumbai in 1996. Looks like three guys are out to do some fishing. This was my first and only visit to India and it was a real eye-opener but most strange to me is that I seem to have taken only three photos!

No alternative; I'll just have to go back.

Orginally posted September 2, 2011

Friday, December 01, 2023

Queen's Spiral

Queen's Spiral

Not too far back this week. I visited Greenwich for the first time in twenty years when I was in London in July and this image is from the Queen's house. Visit if you get the chance. While the 'complex' was busy with many tourists - especially the Royal Observatory and the surrounding park - Queen's house was very quiet. There's almost too many pictures of boats for me but I really enjoyed some of the pictures from Cook's Pacific excursions.
There's no magic to this photo either: I sat on the ground and turned the camera upwards, but it came out quite well. I wanted to take one from the top but it was closed off.
I may be incorrect but I think the scene at the Circumlocution Office in Little Dorrit was filmed here (from last years PBS television production).
Originally posted August 19, 2011

Friday, November 24, 2023

High Up Parking Lot

Haleakala Crater Parking Lot 1991

This is a parking lot. Seen in the background is the sweeping vista of central Maui which spreads out over 10,000 feet below where this picture is taken. As the sun rises, you can just about see the shadow cast by the mountain in the middle left of the frame.

It is pretty barren at the top of Haleakala crater but on most mornings there's a lot of life and activity. On the outer edge of the parking lot you can see the tourist bikers who have come up to the crater in a van to watch the sunrise and then ride their rented bikes down the approximately 35miles of road back to town. If you look carefully you can see they have color coded each group based on the colors of their rain slickers.

They have gravity working with them.

From this vantage point we did an about face and hiked down into the magnificence of the crater. No sissy bike riding for us. It's a parking lot but I like it just the same.
Originally posted September 22, 2011

Friday, November 17, 2023

Frankfurt Mondrian

Sun rises on Deutschmark city

Less of an archive photo since I took this from my hotel bedroom this morning (2011).  Still, quite pretty.

Originally posted October 14, 2011

Friday, November 10, 2023

Novice Monks on a Boat, Bangkok

Novice Monks on a Boat - Chao Phaya, Bangkok 2001

It's all hustle and bustle on this river that flows through Bangkok and there are all manner of ferries and passenger boats chis-crossing the river in all directions. It's certainly not uncommon to be on one of these ferries standing next to one or a group of these young men wrapped in their golden robes while you both admire the intense activity all around you.

Most boys receive religious education in Thailand and when they turn 20 they are eligible for ordination. Temporary ordination is the norm among Thai Buddhists, and most young men traditionally ordain for the term of a single rainy season and then return to lay life and go on to marry and raise a family.

Originally posted December 9, 2011

Friday, November 03, 2023

Close Shaved Iranian Boy

Boy, Tehran September 1972





From September 1972, an Iranian boy wonders where his hair has gone.  I was traveling back home to New Zealand with my father and grandfather after having spent almost three months in the UK with my grandfather.  While this was a great vacation for me and I got to miss some school, I think it was a cunning plan by my parents that relieved my mother of having to deal with three boys all by herself while my father went to summer school at Cornell.     

Originally posted February 3, 2012

Friday, October 27, 2023

Milan Cathedral 1961

Milan Cathedral August 1961

The PND seniors went to Milan and Florence for their honeymoon and this is one of the images from that trip.  Unfortunately, when I visited Milan in 2004 I didn't know this image existed in our archive otherwise I would have my own more recent image.  However, if memory serves from that trip the building is now far cleaner and the area in front of the cathedral is less like a bus depot and more like a pedestrian precinct.

Originally posted December 16, 2011

Friday, October 20, 2023

Fish Story

One day in January 1974, my father went out ocean fishing for the first time and came back with this fish.  It was the first of the Marlin season and he got himself a nice silver plate.  Earlier in the day, I am not sure he even knew such an award was in the offing.  Almost right after this picture was taken, the whole fish fell off the back of the boat and started to float out to sea.  One of the fishermen (that is, someone somewhat more expert than my father - said fish excluded,of course) had to jump into the harbor, chase it down and lung it back to the boat.

Several years later a cleaner took Ajax powder to the awarded plate and it had to be re-plated.  So there you are our family fish story.

Originally published May 18, 2012

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Flamingo Las Vegas 1971

The Flamingo Las Vegas 1971
I was in Las Vegas last month and purposely went over several images from my fathers trip their around 1971.  There's another I've posted here which I named Caesar and the Pinto and was taken across the street from Caesars Palace.  My thought was that I could revisit these spots and take an updated new image.  Well, as anyone who has been to Vegas recently there's been a lot of building and the old locations were barely recognizable.  This neon sign is no-where to be found (unless it's in the Neon museum) probably subsumed under one of several new tower blocks that is the new Flamingo.

I wonder what that show would have been like; Sergio Franchi and Lonnie Shorr.  This image was from a batch that had no date stamp so initially I was guessing at the date but thanks to the interwebs I searched the show team and found some ads from 1971.

Originally posted July 27, 2012

Friday, October 06, 2023

Best & Co, Fifth Avenue 1968

Fifth Avenue and 51st - August 1968

Close watchers (and there are several) will know there have been several images from this roll taken while my parents were visiting in 1968.  My father took in some summer classes at Cornell - where he also met the guy that hired him for his next job - and then met my mother in NYC.  I am pretty sure this is a late morning/mid day shot and if you have visited NYC at anytime in the past 15 years you probably know this area is always swarming with tourists.  Here the sidewalks look quite manageable.

Originally posted August 3, 2012

Friday, September 29, 2023

Kabul Girl and a Dark Spectre 1973

Kabul girl and her mother 1973
This is a spooky image taken out of our car window as we drove by.  (That's the door edge on the right).  The girl is smiling for my father and perhaps catches a glimpse of one of the three boys in the car but it is the mother standing behind this girl that you wonder about.  Her face dark she looks like an evil apparition.  Is that her hand coming around the child's back to ward her away?  With all that happened in this country since then you can only wonder what happened to this young girl.

Originally posted September 21, 2012

Friday, September 22, 2023

Photo: Beirut The Corniche 1972

Beirut: The Corniche 1972
Yesterday I met someone who had grown up in Beirut but moved to the US just as the civil war started in the late 1970s.  The PND family only visited (for real) once in 1968 and I recalled to him how we had stayed at The Phoenician which is the larger oblong shaped building facing the water.  My friend told me that this hotel became sniper central and that there was intense fighting for control over the hotel because you could see in every direction.  A lot different from our visit in 1968 when we sat on the pool deck and I was fascinated by our host the hotel manager who was eating a green banana.   Rumor had it he was assassinated during the war.  Strange the things you remember.

Originally posted November 30, 2012

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

When A Standard is The Law is it Fair Use?

A recent ruling by the DC Circuit court of appeals may challenge the business model of many trade associations which sell business and technical standards specifying the technical requirement for everything from rubber mats to air conditioning. In a significant ruling for fair use, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that that non-commercial use of standards incorporated by reference into law is fair use and not copyright infringement. Many (if not the majority) of technical standards are created in collaboration with industry experts, associations and other subject matter experts and a primary objective is to have the standard adopted into common use; while the ultimate goal is to have the standard incorporated into legislative law.  

And therein lays a conundrum. If complying with a specific technical standard is de-facto a legal requirement of business, then the business needs to know what the standard is in order to comply. Historically, technical standards must be purchased to reference, understand and comply with the technical specifications in question.

In 2020 Public.Resource.Org, Inc (PRO). was challenged in court for making technical standards free to down load for non-commercial use and also annotated their standards lists with the logo of the organization which originally published the standard.  PRO is non-profit corporation dedicated to publishing and sharing public domain materials in the United States and internationally. It was founded by Carl Malamud a well-known public domain advocate.

In a partial win in 2020, the Georgia court agreed with PRO that because these (specific) standards had been incorporated into law then the concept of ‘government edicts’s applied and that they were also within their rights to associate logos with the standards incorporated into law. However, the court paired their ruling to exclude any of the standards (and associated logos) which were not currently incorporated into law.

Subsequently, American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) appealed the Georgia ruling to the DC Circuit court which applied the four requirements of the fair use doctrine: what was the purpose of the use, the nature of the work, the amount used and the effect of the use. The DC court also compared the purposes of use of each of the two parties. In this latter regard, the court found that technical associations such as ASTM are primarily facilitating the advancement of science and industry by the creation and publication of specifications versus PRO which is focused on providing free access to the law. The court ruled that PRO may provide access to standards which the government has incorporated into to law. 

“If an agency has given legal effect to an entire standard, then its entire reproduction is reasonable in relation to the purpose of the copying, which is to provide the public with a free and comprehensive repository of the law.”

With respect to the fourth criteria the court dryly notes that despite PRO having provided access to these standards for many years, the plaintiff did not provide anything but generalities regarding the financial damage caused.

“Public Resource has been posting incorporated standards for fifteen years. Yet the plaintiffs have been unable to produce any economic analysis showing that Public Resource’s activity has harmed any relevant market for their standards. To the contrary, ASTM’s sales have increased over that time; NFPA’s sales have decreased in recent years but are cyclical with publications; and ASHRAE has not pointed to any evidence of its harm.”

While this is a significant win for the public interest and fair use it is not a harbinger of business model collapse for most of these standard’s organizations. For those organizations with comprehensive standards databases with full archives of historical standards information including revisions and technical specs, related and associated technical standards, functional experts and other community benefits will be insulated in the short term from any negative impact from this ruling. If your use case is a one off or you have an infrequent need for a standard, then you will be more likely to visit PRO than purchase or subscribe to a comprehensive service such as ANSI or ASTM. Regardless, there is speculation that the plaintiff may ask for a re-hearing in this case to the whole court.


Hat tip to Todd Carpenter.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Tin Roof: Auckland City and Harbor 1972

Auckland New Zealand 1972

This is taken from across the bay from Auckland city which is on the other side of the water towards the right.  There's no question this view is probably almost recognizable today but I wouldn't know since I haven't been back since 1976.  The large tower building in the center is the city hospital and just to the left of that is the One Tree Hill and Eden Park.  Sharp eyes will also recognize the museum just to the left of the green patch.

On the right edge of the photo there is another tower building which is the Intercontinental Auckland where we were housed for almost five years.

(And yes, there is a big thumb print on this image; part of the charm and no charge).

Originally posted October 5th, 2012

Friday, September 08, 2023

Waikiki, Kapiolani Park and Diamond Head 1975

Several years before we moved to Hawaii a photo from some arduous business trip taken by PND senior. In the early eighties, I ran around Diamond Head occasionally both for fun and in the Honolulu Marathon. The outbound leg goes off to the left and the return comes back on the sea side to the right. The finish is in the park about center frame. I ran the marathon again in 2005 and beat my previous 1980 time by 10mins. Not that I was satisfied with that of course.

Originally posted on November 16, 2012