courtesy Travis Hardin Home : Essays : Alabama's Gift

Aug 2005

From the LocSec

by Travis Hardin
This article originally appeared in the newsletter of North Alabama Mensa.


Along with low taxes, Alabama offers its citizens a corresponding savings on educational achievement, the entertainment of watching maverick judges, and a state legislature as responsible as a group of ninth-grade boys with the teacher gone. The state also provides free housing for many of its drug-using and other felonious citizens, 25,000 in any given month, through its Department of Corrections, while teaching them to enjoy life without the false pleasures of drugs, sex, and family, and while providing employment to nearly 4000 at any given time. People on both sides of the fence can use the benefit described below.

For a number of years, the legislature and governor have made possible (using our money, of course, and at the urging of librarians and educators, taking charge again) a service called The Alabama Virtual Library. The AVL is an on-line research library, a collection of about 66 databases, each containing hundreds of magazines, newspapers, books, encyclopedias, and refereed journals, including back issues into the ‘90's (occasionally earlier and occasionally later). The databases are accessed on the Web at WWW.AVL.LIB.AL.US . To access them, any Alabama holder of a library card may go to their library and ask for a free AVL card, then go home and start surfing.

Right away you need to know that many publications are available with full text and pictures in PDF format, but probably not the ones you are interested in. Ten databases show citations only. I liked a long-running feature in "Electronic Design" magazine called "Ideas for Design," yet the all-important illustrations and schematics are not available. EDN magazine’s "Design Ideas" are available with graphics.

The main Web page now has a search for a specific magazine. I did *not* find: Mensa Bulletin; Wired; or CQ (amateur radio).

I found The New Yorker; Electronics Now (just HTML, no graphics); CQ (Congressional Quarterly). A search on Law + Review yielded 49 magazines; a search on Journal + Medicine returned 63 journals.

The Alabama Virtual Library is a great tool for researchers and homework. It is less useful for the casual browser because the interface must be learned and the amount of information is stifling.

As a simple example of what can be done, I set out to find when computer viruses started getting press. In PC magazine 1985-90 there were 20 issues containing the word "virus." in 1989, 10; in 1988, 5; and in 1987, zero. Next I found Funk & Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia and read that the earliest documented transmission of a virus by floppy disk was in the early ‘80's.

The first virus to infect an MS-DOS floppy disk boot sector was developed in 1986, reportedly by two Pakistani brothers. "The earliest case of large-scale damage caused by a virus transmitted over the Internet occurred in 1988, when a worm made by Cornell University graduate student Robert T. Morris, Jr. (1965- ), infected thousands of computers, shutting many down and causing millions of dollars of damage . . . The first virus distributed by e-mail to produce widespread disruption was the macro virus Melissa in 1999." How time flies.

The Alabama Virtual Library is an exceptional service. The down side is that you can get sucked in for hours at a time.

I hope to see many of you at the Alabama Regional Gathering right here in Huntsville August 12 - 14, if you’re not still on line.

Send comments about this page to Travis Hardin,

Last updated March 2016