Not the most popular ebook, surely

I’m not admitting anything, but what exactly does it tell of Internet that you can plug the ISBN of a dense, obscure and monstrously reader-unfriendly book of research mathematics from 1968, never reprinted, into Google… and immediately see at least three sites of questionable legality where the book’s up for download as a pretty PDF scan?

I mean, I’ve heard of textbook piracy, but this is a book that has, in the whole wide world, maybe one thousand people that’d find a use for it other than that of a particularly soporific doorstop. Is this some curious mass grab off Google Books or some other digitizing effort? Or sheer unrestrained infophilia above and beyond what one will ever read? Or an Indo-Chinese revolt against the revolting pricing practices of academic publishing?

But given that an academic access to an article database tends to give you no-nonsense PDFs, are there forums where one can request articles one’s institution does not… wait, I know this one. But what about mass piracy? Is there somewhere floating a massive BitTorrent file with the entire output of Elsevier’s mathematics division in it? There’s something conceptually terrifying in the idea. An old-school Transformers fan will know what I mean when I say the idea reeks of the Underbase. (Grad student: “The Underbase is mine! All mine! Advisor! And Dean! You shall be the first to experience the unlimited power of —“*)

One can’t avoid the feeling an enterprising attorney could get everyone under 40 in just any university into the slammer just by asking pointed questions about the sources of various e-articles and books, and the photocopies of the paper ones. What joy no administration berk has thought to worry about this. (…and now that I’ve said it, on Monday there’ll pop up a buggy system for tracking every single PDF on your workstation. In 15-minute chunks, 24/7/365 until the end of time.)

Glod, Internet’s a weird place.

* * *

*, about Transformers, Starscream and the Underbase. Lo many years ago I was a callow Transformers fan, a fan of it above all other comics; and one line from the Underbase-powered and -maddened Starscream really struck and amused me. It was something like “Optimus Prime ja Scorponok! Te saatte ensimmäisenä tuta Starscreamin voiman! Hajotan teidät alkutekijöihinne ja ripottelen ne ympäri galaksia!” — i.e. “Optimus Prime and Scorponok! You two shall be the first to experience the power of Starscream! I shall break you to your component parts, and scatter them across the galaxy!” The joke is the Finnish phrase used could just as well mean “I shall decompose you down to your prime factors, and scatter etc.” — which raises the question, “Optimus Prime — a prime, really?”

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