From Now On

Vol 5 . . . No 3 . . . November, 1995

Mucking About the Web:
A High Performance Art

by Jamie McKenzie

"When you're in the muck you can only see muck. If you somehow manage to float above it, you still see the muck but you see it from a different perspective. And you see other things too. That's the consolation of philosophy."

David Cronenberg (b. 1943), Canadian filmmaker




Truth and insight often hide where we might least expect to find them.

If we limit our search to all the "obvious" places, we are blinded by our prejudices.

Most times we embark upon research, we do not know what we do not know.

We know so little about the question (if it is an essential question), that we have no idea of where we might begin or what is missing or where we should look.

Lack of knowledge rarely inhibits the planning urge in this culture. Rather than "mucking about" in the topic for an extensive period in order to figure out the issues, we sit down and build a nice outline with Roman Numerals or a list of hypotheses.

Mucking about means lifting up slime-covered rocks to discover what crawls below. The Web as tidal pool!

Mucking about means sifting through the info-garbage to figure out what is valuable and worth keeping. The Web as garbage bin!

Mucking about means skimming and learning enough to figure out what is missing and what more needs to be understood or found out. It means letting one's intuition rule while one's reason and logical capacities complain. Mucking about requires a suspension of critical judgment, a letting go and a letting down.

Effective mucking about calls for an open mind and a roving eye. Suspension of assumptions. And patience!

More than half of those who reply to the "From Now On" subscription response letter confess that they cannot remember how they found the site. They were obviously "mucking about."




This issue was written with the intention of providing text for a hyperlinked WWW issue, somewhat non-linear and three dimensional. The reader is invited to hop skip and jump around, as all the sections which follow were meant to be tasted non-sequentially, as the spirit or your curiosity moves you. Scroll to (or click on) the section which interests you the most.





What does it Mean? Mucking About
The WWW as Yard Sale?
Rubbish (words)
Raking (Inquiry words)
Comparing Rakes


What does it Mean? Mucking About


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition provides the following definitions for "muck about" and "muck." These definitions are, of course, PWWW (Pre World Wide Web).

muck about
To spend time idly; putter. Chiefly British - phrasal verb.

muck up Informal.
To bungle, damage, or ruin.
[Middle English muk, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse myki, dung.]

- muck[[hungarumlaut]]ily adverb
- muck[[hungarumlaut]]y adjective

muck (mùk) noun
1. A moist, sticky mixture, especially of mud and filth.
2. Moist farmyard dung; manure.
3. Dark, fertile soil containing decaying vegetable matter.
4. Something filthy or disgusting.
5. Earth, rocks, or clay excavated in mining.

verb, transitive
mucked, mucking, mucks
1. To fertilize with manure or compost.
2. To make dirty with or as if with muck.
3. To remove muck or dirt from (a mine, for example).

From the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition in Microsoft BookShelf.


The WWW as Yard Sale?


In what ways is the WWW like a rummage sale? a yard sale? a garage sale? a bazaar?

1. Anybody, ANYBODY! can do it!

Almost anybody can publish a WWW site. It is inexpensive. It is simple. You pay your money. You pump some HTML. You're up and running.

2. Anything, ANYTHING! can be sold, published, advertised and displayed.

This is not a juried art show. The owner of the site decides. Velvet paintings. Jelly glasses. Old research papers from 5th grade that won a "D" and were written in 1976 and researched with dog-eared books published in 1946.

3. You can drive by, DRIVE BY! without stopping.

How many times do you actually stop at a yard sale? Five per cent of the time? Unless you're a collector or yard sale junky, you pass up most opportunities. A single glance tells you this isn't your kind of stuff.

4. There are not many jewels for sale. FEW JEWELS!

If they have anything really valuable to unload, they go for the big bucks and advertise it separately or go through a dealer on consignment. They don't put it own on the front lawn with a big discount. The lawn sale is for the threadbare, the worn, the overused, the out-of-date, the hand-me-down, the barely-working, the in-need-of-repair, the chipped and broken, the sentimental treasure, the tourist trinket, the forgotten bauble, the broken down toy, the cracked rattle, the knickknack, bric-a-brac novelty item, and yesterday's kitsch.

With a few notable exceptions, most people withhold their best information from the WWW. Their sites are "come-ons" to convince visitors to buy the real car, the real CD, the real movie, the real book, the real vacation site or the real magazine.

Exceptions: publicly funded sites such as the Library of Congress, NASA, ERIC and various NSF research reports. Some museums and other institutions are also making portions of their collections available on-line, although few attempt to offer a full collection.

For now, at least, the traditional, hard copy publishers and media moguls still hold quite a strangelhold over much of the best the best writing and thinking being done.

5. There are few antiques, heirlooms or treasures for sale. FEW ANTIQUES!

The WWW is at its best and its worst with breaking news developments and current events and issues. When the earthquake hit Kobe, the WWW was flooded with information. The same with Jerry Garcia's death. But as many have pointed out, information is not necessarily truth.

The WWW is a great place for hearsay, rumour, unverified news, unconfirmed reports, gossip, "talk of the town," tittle-tattle, hoaxes, and canards (Roget's Thesaurus). It is a vast electronic grapevine - a sprawling bush telegraph.

One commentator compared network news coverage of Oklahoma City with the Internet and found speculation rampant on the Net. It is the home of conjecture, unverified suppositions, guesses, and suspicion. No news editor will check over most of the material before it "hits the press." Stories need not pass tests of validity and reliability. If you have a theory, post it. "All the rumors that are fit to e-mail or post!"

High quality, reliable historical information and interpretation is especially hard to locate. Perhaps, as suggesed in "When a Book? When the Net?" this void is explained by a lack of funding for the digitization of such work. Hopefully we will see a migration of such research into online sites as the WWW becomes a primary source for information as all kinds.




There are many different words for rubbish, according to Roget's Thesaurus. How many have you encountered while conducting research on the WWW?

refuse, trash, garbage, rubbish, load of old rubbish, stuff
waste, lumber, junk, scrap, litter
spoilage, wastage, bilge, waste products, wastepaper, mullock
scourings, sweepings, shavings, LEAVINGS
chaff, husks, bran
scraps, bits
offal, carrion
dust, muck, debris, slag, clinker, dross, scoria, scum, DIRT
peel, orange peel, banana peel, deadwood, stubble, weeds, tares
odds and ends, bits and pieces, rags and bones, old clothes, cast-offs
reject, throw-out
rubbish heap, garbage dump, garbage pile, slag heap, dump

*Roget's Thesaurus of English words and phrases




Not so long ago, "muck-raking" was a phrase used to describe the uncovering of political wrong-doing and corruption.

With the sudden proliferation of information resources on the WWW, "muck-raking" may take on new meaning, as earnest researchers find themselves wading through acres and acres of mudflats with rake in hand, digging for something of meaning hidden in the mud and muck.

While AI (artificial intelligence) folks promise us personal assistants, knowbots and intelligent agents which will sort through the info-garbage and hand us gleaming jewels of insight, most search mechanisms today still leave much to be desired.

Even so, some provide the user with better searches than others. Some "rakes" are more discerning than othes.

Compare and contrast each of the following "mud-rakers." Which ones leave you with enormous undifferentiated lists that require endless opening and closing? Which ones leave you "without a clue?" Which ones provide abstracts that help pick and choose? Which ones support Boolean searches with some rigor?
Lycos search
WebCrawler Searching


Inquiry: search*


search, seek, look for
conduct a search, rummage, ransack, comb
scrabble, forage, fossick, root around
scour, clean out, turn over, rake over, pick over, turn out, turn inside out, rake through, rifle through, go through, search through, look into every nook and cranny
look or search high and low
search high heaven
sift through, winnow, explore every inch, go over with a fine-tooth comb
pry into, peer into, peep into, peek into
overhaul, frisk, strip-search, go over, shake down, search one's pockets, feel in one's pockets, search for, feel for, grope for, hunt for, drag for, fish, go fishing, fish for, dig for
leave no stone unturned, explore every avenue, EXERT ONESELF
cast about, seek a clue, follow the trail, PURSUE
probe, explore, go in quest of, BE TENTATIVE
dig, excavate, archaeologize
prospect, dowse, treasure-hunt, embark on a treasure hunt

*Roget's Thesaurus


Comparing Rakes (WWW Search Engines)


Which Rake Rakes Best?
Comparing WWW Searching Tools

Imagine you were researching strategies which have been used to protect or restore the salmon harvest and salmon stocks in the Pacific Northwest. What happens when you feed "salmon endangered species" into each of the four search mechanisms below?

InfoSeek and Lycos proved themselves the most helpful, both because they actually identified sites with great content but also because they provided annotations which helped make it easy to decide which site or document to visit.

-------The Least Helpful . . . . . . . . . . . . .WWWW WORM

This service was unable to process the request for "salmon endangered species." It returned no "hits."

-------Not Much Better! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . WebCrawler

The query "salmon endangered species" found 14 documents and returned 14, Most of these article and items are only tangentially related to the research question. With a 14.4 modem connection, it might take 30 minutes to open the entire list and determine its worth (or lack of same).

100 Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Research Section
082 (a list of telephone #)
075 Clark-Skamania Flyfishers (political slant - not much info)
067 Animals Project (a list of animal URls for 7th graders which pointed to the Salmon Page)
040 ORCA What's New
037 D. James Baker Speech "My First Year at NOAA"
028 Sierra Club Web Directory
028 Prince Edward Island: Come on out, you'll love it!
025 Bureau of Land Management
008 FAQ

----------- Infoseek - A winner!

Note the quality of the sites in the sample below as well as the instructive selections from the text. They even tell you the size of the page so you know what "you're getting into."

Titles: 1 through 4 of 100

Educational Bookmarks
Migration . The Salmon Page . Journey North: Migrations 1995.Journey North: Student Observations . Journey North: Satellite Telemetry . Endangered Species . Endangered Species Home Page . Endangered Species by U.S. Region . ...
--- [61] (5K)

Protect Canada's Biodiversity
Eastern Prairie White-Fringe Orchid - Canadian Wildlife Service . Prevent a Biodiversity Crisis . Species Extinct and At Risk . Canopy Biodiversity-Discovering the Wealth of Life in West Coast Rainforest Treetops . Major Threats to ...
--- [61] (57K)

Office of Protected Resources Brochure
Protecting the Nation's Marine Species . U.S. Department of Commerce . National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration . National Marine Fisheries Service . Office of Protected Resources . June 1994 National Marine Fisheries ...
--- [60] (8K)

House GOP Turns Sights on Endangered Species Act / Bill would erase protections ...
The San Francisco Chronicle Wednesday, September 20, 1995 . Page A8
(c)1995 San Francisco Chronicle . All Rights Reserved . All Unauthorized Duplication Prohibited . Search The Chronicle Front Page The Gate . House GOP Turns Sights on Endangered ...
--- [60]


--------- Lycos - Another Winner!

This search engine also found great sites, the first five of which are reproduced below. The search measures "adjacency" of the search terms as well as frequency. The abstract is quite detailed, providing a good idea of content as well as descriptions of major graphics and their sizes.

Found 13301 documents matching at least one search term.
Printing only the first 10 of 12430 documents with at least scores of 0.010.

Found 88 matching words (number of documents): salmon (3991), endangered (4634), species (12606), ...

1) US FWS Wildlife Species Pacific Salmon [1.0000, 3 of 3 terms, adj 0.9]
Outline: Pacific Salmon, ( Oncorhynchus spp. )
Abstract: US FWS Wildlife Species Pacific Salmon Pacific Salmon, ( Oncorhynchus spp. ) salmon1 (3.6 K image) salmon2 (3.6 K image) The upriver salmon migration is one of nature's most exciting dramas. But to the five species of Pacific salmon (chinook, chum, coho, pink, and sockeye), it is a long, strenuous, desperate race against time, with every obstacle taking its toll. Pacific salmon belong to a group called anadromous fish that includes Atlantic salmon, sturgeon, lampreys, shad, herring, sea- run cutthroat trout, and steelhead trout. These species hatch and live the first part of their lives in fresh water, then migrate to the ocean to spend their adult lives, which may be as short as 6 months or (8k)

2) CERES Topic: Rare and Endangered Species [0.8352, 3 of 3 terms, adj 1.0]
Outline: CERES Topic: Rare and Endangered Species Organizations Concerned with Endangered Species Endangered Species Law Data, Reports, and Other Information
Abstract: CERES Topic: Rare and Endangered Species Updated 8/23/95 Organizations Concerned with Endangered Species The California Resources Agency * California Department of Fish and Game * Wildlife Protection Division * Natural Heritage Division * Bay-Delta and Special Water Projects Division *Department of Forestry and Fire Protection * Strategic Planning Program U.S. Department of the Interior * National Biological Service U.S. Department of Commerce * National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration * Office of Protected Resources * National Marine Fisheries Service Endangered Species Law * The Federal Data, Reports, and Other Information (4k)

3) State of the Environment Norway [0.8042, 3 of 3 terms, adj 1.0]
Outline: Endangered salmon stocks
Abstract: State of the Environment Norway - Biodiversity Endangered salmon stocks 1988-1992. Source: Directorate for Nature Management. The Atlantic salmon Salmo salar L. is ecologically the most important fish species in North Atlantic rivers. Norway manage large parts of the Atlantic salmon, and is also member of the North Atlantic ... Acid rain and the salmon parasite G. salaris have been the most important reasons for eradication of salmon stocks during the last century. About 70 salmon (2k)

4) Investigating Endangered Species in the Classroom [0.7881, 3 of 3 terms, adj 1.0]
Outline: Investigating Endangered Species in the Classroom
Abstract: Investigating Endangered Species in the Classroom This page includes starting points for teachers and classrooms to use in investigating endangered species issues. Curricula and lesson plans, information about ongoing projects students can participate in, and current conservation efforts by various organizations will help involve classrooms in learning why species become endangered and will help students participate in reversing those processes. EE-Link is interested in gathering more information on lesson plans and curricula that could be formatted for WWW. Please contact Kim Bayer if you know of curricula or lesson plans we could add here. Curricula Birds: Our Environmental Indicators An entire (9k)

5) State Lists of Endangered Species by FWS Region [0.7812, 3 of 3 terms, adj 1.0]

Click here for a Clickable Regional/State Map of the United States State Lists of Endangered Species Under Fish and Wildlife Service Jurisdiction * (by Service Region) * Region 1 - Pacific Region: *California *Hawaii *Idaho *Nevada *Oregon *Washington *American Samoa *Guam *Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands * Region 2 - Southwest Region: *Arizona *New Mexico *Oklahoma *Texas * Region 3 - Great Lakes-Big Rivers (4k)

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