Miskatonic University Press

Thirty years


I wrote this on 13 March 1994:

I’ve been working on some hypertext, with HTML, and chatting on the IRC a fair bit.

That was on Internex Online, the famous io.org. As K.K. Campbell wrote in “Party’s Over: How Internex Online Fell Afoul of the New Internet” in Eye Weekly on 9 November 1995, when IO was collapsing:

IO was the place to be in Toronto cyberspace. The digital generation flocked to it and lit up its modem lights all day and all night. It was the mother ship that launched thousands of netters and dozens of Internet service providers (ISPs).

The next month I noted I was getting three and a half hours a day of free access for working on the hypertext help system, which was built with the text browser Lynx.

The access was with a 2400 bps modem. My current download speed, tested through a VPN on the other side of the country, is 17,500 times faster, which means that averaged out the speed has gone up well over 50,000% annually. I pay about $90 per month (it should be less, but TekSavvy gets hosed by the big telcos), but I get unlimited access all day, and I don’t have to work on the help pages.

I drifted away from IRC but I’m still working with hypertext.

On another note, looking back at some old IO files I saw I’d posted this to the Usenet group sci.logic in October 1994, with the subject “Productivity of Turing machines.” I’d learned about Busy Beaver machines.

I’m doing a metalogic course, and we just finished doing Turing machines. We did the “Busy Beaver” machines - the nth BB being the machine of n states that produces more 1’s on the tape given input of only blanks than any other machine of n states. (Then we went on to prove there is no machine that, given input n, figures out the productivity of the BB of size n.)

We figured out that the productivity of the BB of size 1 was 1. The prof mentioned some work had been done to figure out productivities of bigger BB’s - the 7th is in the thousands, I think he said.

Does anybody know any more about this? Any references I could check? I searched on the Web, but couldn’t find anything. Any further information would be appreciated - I find Turing machines very interesting.

Herb Enderton (a math prof at UCLA) replied:

Yes. Start with the review of Brady in The Journal of Symbolic Logic, vol. 56 (1991), page 1091. That gives the known scores for the Busy Beaver game, and references to other papers on the subject. It’s a fun topic.

Incidentally, I am told by people who have translated works on recursion theory from English into other languages that the phrase “busy beaver” gave them a lot of trouble!

Enderton was the reviews editor of The Journal of Symbolic Logic, so he had overseen this review three years earlier.

And Peter Suber (then a philosophy professor at Earlham College) replied:

A BB of size 5 already has a productivity in the thousands. In 1984, George Uhing constructed a BB(5) with a productivity of 1,915. Of course, we can’t prove that this is the most productive BB(5). But Uhing says he conducted a brute force search of all the 64,403,380,965,376 possible BB(5)’s to find his. (Source: Ivars Peterson, The Mathematical Tourist, W.H. Freeman, 1988, pp. 197-99.)

(Suber used underscores before and after the title. Markdown turns that into italics: plain text from 1994 formats nicely thirty years later!)

I had no idea who either was. They both gave generous and informative answers to a stranger. It may still be September 1993 (who am I to complain? I’d only got in a few months early) but that helpful spirit is still out there, though it’s a lot harder to find.