^z 17th July 2023 at 9:36am

During the early 1990s I began a voyage through Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, both for the history and for the wonderful use of language. I read with highlighter in hand, and circa 1995 I posted my collection of favorite Gibbon quotations to my web site It quickly became the most popular of my pages, probably because it attracted hordes of lazy, desperate students who had been assigned to read the "damned, thick, square book" and wanted a short-cut. Maybe the title I gave the excerpts — The "Best of" Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — also helped. (Note those deliberately ironic quote-marks!)

A few years later Paul Heller (the owner of HIS.COM, my ISP at the time) mentioned that some of those witty Gibbonic pearls might be fun to deliver via the same random-selection message that generated a constantly changing proverb-of-the-day on the HIS.COM main page. The mechanism of producing that random quote was a relatively standard, simple CGI-BIN script running on the web server. It took a symbol-delimited file and, when triggered by an HTML request, returned a pseudo-randomly chosen chunk of text. This script was called a "fortune cookie" generator in the UNIX world where it originated.

So I picked out several dozen of the "best of the best" (shortest, most stand-alone, politically-relevant, whatever struck my fancy) aphorisms from my set and put them into a text file with some standard delimiter between quotations. I sent that file to Paul and he modified the default fortune cookie program and put it to work. I added an HTML framework so that a page counter and a link back to the main Decline and Fall page could be displayed with each selection.

According to the Internet Archive's "Wayback Machine" the Gibbon-o-Matic had registered ~5,000 hits by late 1999. It added ~15,000 hits/year through most of 2005. At that point it appears to have broken, probably due to system upgrades or server changes. Now all that's left is the counter, mindlessly incrementing.

Rest in Peace: the "Gibbon-o-Matic"

(cf. Gibbon _-_Table_of_Contents, ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicProgramming - TopicPersonalHistory - 2007-03-15

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