Welcome to the Library of the Future

Years ago I conceived a desire to read Hamilton's Elements of Quaternions. This was part of my independent study of geometric algebras inspired by working on molecular dynamics and reading David Hestenes. There's a geometric algebra desk calculator lurking around here somewhere, desperately in need of a rework which I promise should happen real soon now.

But back to this craving to read Sir William Rowan Hamilton in the original. Reading the original works of scientists is unfashionable. Academics would much rather you read their redactions of the originals, for which they imagine they will get fame and royalties, than you look to the actual words of the scientists who made the discoveries in the first place. It's quite the racket. Search for "probability" on amazon.com and you'll find lots and lots of books by professors and others professing to explain everything you need to know, and almost nothing by the mathematicians who worked out the rules of the game that all these professors, and others, are making their livings off of. I cornered a professor of mine about this, and he squirmed, noted that St Johns College used original works for their science classes, but that most people considered the originals too hard, or too dated, or too ....

Reading original works is also damned difficult. In the case of Hamilton, there weren't that many copies in the world. As it turned out, I needed to move to a large university town and cultivate a relationship with a large university library if I ever wanted to see a copy of Hamilton's Quaternions. This was too much work on top of the day job. Then I found a digitized copy at the Cornell University library on line. But they were serving it up a page at a time, a real winner of a user interface for a book that was 800 to 1200 pages depending on the edition. And when I attempted to gather the pages with an automatic script, I ended up blocked from access entirely. Sigh.

Those days are now officially over. In the past few weeks, as a result of looking up original sources in probability, in showing my mom how to provision the Sony EReader I gifted her, I happened to search for "hamilton quaternions" at http://archive.org and I found multiple scanned copies available for download, first and second editions. And I found Populäre Schriften and Vorlesungen über Gastheorie von Dr. Ludwig Boltzmann. And I found the Mathematical Papers by William Kingdon Clifford, along with copies of several less weighty science works. And I found Elementary Principles of Statistical Mechanics, Elements of Vector Analysis, and The Scientific Papers of J. Willard Gibbs. And I found Hermann Grassmann's Gesammelte Mathematische and Physikalische Werke, as edited by Friedrich Engel, not to be confused with Friedrich Engels. And I found The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell. And I found all these sources in probability: Cardano, Bernoulli, Pascal, Fermat, and Laplace. Finally, I found a copy of "one of the most quoted and least read books" in the world, von Neumann and Morgenstern, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. Thank you, Osmania University Library, where ever you are, and thank you, Google, for doing the really heavy lifting.

And if your tastes run to less technical topics, well I found copies of Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake which are going onto my cell phone and laptop for those moments when watching cat fights on YouTube just doesn't satisfy.

So the library of the future works like Samuel Clemens reading newspapers -- you can download anything that's greater than X years in age, and whether it's a load of manure should be clear by the time you get around to reading it. For the privilege of pawing through more recently manufactured manure, thou shalt pay the manufacturer his or her due, or visit the public library and borrow a copy. But almost everything that has really contributed to our understanding of ourselves and our world should soon be available to those who can read and can download. Amazing world.