Sunday, February 5, 2012

An Example of How the Internet Has Changed Everything

Dr. Mary Spanner (not her real name) is in New South Wales, Australia.
Kevin McLaughlin is in Dublin, Ireland.
I am in Boulder Creek, California, USA.
I have never met either of the other people in this interchange.

The suspension pedestrian bridge across the River Camcor, Birr Castle Demesne. Built around 1820, this may be the oldest wrought-iron suspension bridge in Europe.

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January 11, 2012, 1:52pm PST (= 8:52am January 12 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia)
To: Sherwood Harrington
From: Dr. Mary Spanner
Subject: Birr Suspension Bridge

Dear Sherwood,

I am writing a book about Thomas Waters, who designed and built a suspension bridge in Tokyo in 1872. Tom grew up next door to Birr Castle [in Ireland -- SH], and I expect he modelled his bridge in Japan on the Birr one.
I would really love a high res. copy of your photo. Please let me know the cost, etc.

Best wishes,
Mary Spanner
Honorary Associate:
The School of Humanities
The University of ****
NSW, Australia

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January 12, 2012, 7:30pm PST (= 2:30pm January 13 in Sydney)
To: Dr. Mary Spanner
From: Sherwood Harrington
Subject: Birr Suspension Bridge

Dear Dr. Spanner,

I will be happy to give permission for one of my photographs of the Birr suspension bridge to be used in your book without charge. My only condition is that it be properly credited.

However, I'm not sure which photograph you mean! I have a few out there at different places on the web. Let me know which one you're interested in and I'll make the highest-resolution file I have of it available to you.

Best wishes,

Sherwood Harrington
Astronomy Department
DeAnza College
Cupertino, California

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January 12, 2012, 8:00pm PST (= 3:00pm January 13 in Sydney)
To: Sherwood Harrington
From: Dr. Mary Spanner
Subject: Birr Suspension Bridge

Great to hear from you!

Thanks, Sherwood.

I have decided on the attached photo [at end of this message -- SH], which can be compared easily with the version that Tom Waters built in Japan (also attached) [not included in this post -- SH]. Of course, the Japanese bridge is much bigger! Waters never did anything by halves!

It wasn't an easy decision, as you have several nice ones.

My husband and I were at Birr, also staying at the Bothy, several years ago! I see you are with the Astronomy Department -- no wonder you were interested in Birr!

I do appreciate your generosity, and will, of course, add the appropriate credits.

With best wishes,
Mary Spanner

Kevin McLaughlin's straight-on view of the bridge. Photograph courtesy of and © Kevin McLaughlin, all rights reserved.

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January 12, 2012, 9:00pm PST (= 4:00pm January 13 in Sydney)
To: Dr. Mary Spanner
From: Sherwood Harrington
Subject: Birr Suspension Bridge

Hi, Mary -

I'm afraid that isn't one of my photos. Can you send me the URL where you found the one you want?

Best,
Sherwood

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January 12, 2012, 9:05pm PST (= 4:05pm January 13 in Sydney)
To: Dr. Mary Spanner
From: Sherwood Harrington
Subject: Birr Suspension Bridge

Hi, Mary -

Just following up on my e-mail to you of a few minutes ago -- I found the photo you want on Flickr, and it belongs to a fellow named Kevin McLaughlin. Here is his profile page, from which you can probably contact him:

http://www.flickr.com/people/harve64/

Good luck to you -- your book sounds intriguing!

Sherwood

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January 12, 2012, 10:04pm PST (= 5:04pm January 13 in Sydney)
To: Sherwood Harrington
From: Dr. Mary Spanner
Subject: Birr Suspension Bridge

OK. Sorry about that. One I really liked was in fact yours, a side on view of the bridge. I must have got confused after that, when I decided on the lengthways version.

If I can't get anywhere with Kevin McLaughlin, I will get back to you.

Best wishes,
Mary

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January 14, 2012, 12:02am PST (= 7:02pm January 14 in Sydney)
To: Sherwood Harrington
From: Dr. Mary Spanner
Subject: Birr Suspension Bridge

Hi again, Sherwood.

I got into the web page you mention below, but unlike yours, it does not seem to have an email address for Kevin McLaughlin.

I don't want to sign in to anything, which Flickr seems to want me to do. I wonder if you could please contact Kevin via Flickr and give him my email address so we can talk. Is that possible?

Don't worry if it is too much of a nuisance, and I hope you don't mind me asking this favour.

Mary

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January 14, 2012, 10:11am PST (= 6:11pm in Dublin)
To: Kevin McLaughlin (via Flickr message)
From: Sherwood Harrington
Subject: Author Requesting Permission to Use a Photo

Hi, Kevin -

Dr. Mary Spanner of the University of **** in Australia would like to use your photo of the Birr Castle suspension bridge in a book she is writing. Since she is not a Flickr subscriber, she has asked me to pass along her e-mail address to you so you can contact her if you wish.

Dr. Spanner's e-mail address is *******@****.edu.au

Thanks, Kevin, and best wishes from
Sherwood Harrington

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January 14, 2012, 10:25am PST (= 5:25am January 15 in Sydney)
To: Dr. Mary Spanner
From: Sherwood Harrington
Subject: Birr Suspension Bridge -- Followup

Hi, Mary -

I just passed a message along to Kevin. I hope he gets back to you, but there is a notation on his account that he is busy with other things for a while and may not check his messages right away.

If it doesn't work out that you can use his photograph, please let me know. I have developed some photographer contacts in Ireland through Flickr, and one of them might be willing to take a shot from the same vantage point for you. Also, you could try e-mailing Lady Rosse for help -- since you've stayed in the Bothy, I'm sure you know that she is very nice and very helpful.

You've tweaked my interest in Thomas Waters, a fellow I'd never heard of before. Please let me know when your book sees print; I'd very much like to read it. I just read the Wikipedia entry about him, and thought of another famous Irish civil engineer: Michael Tubridy, who was responsible for the reconstruction of the great telescope at Birr Castle (and for the recently-replaced passenger terminal at the Dublin airport.) Tubridy wasn't famous for those things, though. He was famous for being the original flute player for the Chieftains!

Best wishes,
Sherwood

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January 14, 2012, 10:27am PST (= 6:27pm in Dublin and simultaneously written with the previous message)
To: Sherwood Harrington (via Flickr message)
From: Kevin McLaughlin
Subject: Author Requesting Permission to Use a Photo

Dear Sherwood,

I'll get on to that, thanks.

Regards,
Kevin McLaughlin

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January 14, 2012, 10:32am PST (= 6:32pm in Dublin)
To: Kevin McLaughlin (via Flickr message)
From: Sherwood Harrington
Subject: Author Requesting Permission to Use a Photo

You're welcome, Kevin. She seems like a very nice person, and the fellow she's writing a book about -- somebody I'd never heard of before -- seems to have been a very interesting guy according to the little I've read about him online this morning. I hope she does wind up using your photo of the bridge.

Sherwood

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January 14, 2012, 11:20am PST (= 7:20pm in Dublin)
To: Sherwood Harrington (via Flickr message)
From: Kevin McLaughlin
Subject: Author Requesting Permission to Use a Photo

For me, people just have to ask and I'm usually happy to give permission. Courtesy goes a long way.

It's good to know that there are people writing about these great 19th century guys, recovering their stories and making them known.

All the best,
Kevin

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January 14, 2012, 2:28pm PST (= 9:28am January 15 in Sydney)
To: Sherwood Harrington
From: Dr. Mary Spanner
Subject: Birr Suspension Bridge -- Followup

Thanks very much Sherwood,

Kevin has just contacted me! Great. I will certainly put your name on my list of people who want the book, and he has requested a copy too.

I have not yet found a publisher, which is (as you probably know) not easy these days. **** **** Pess in NY is presently considering the proposal, but I will believe it when I see it.

It is certainly an extraordinary story, and hopefully someone will take it up.

Don't take too much notice of the Wikipedia bit about TJW. Some of it is quite wrong. You should really read a book by Mary Spanner and Susumu Yamashita if you want to know the truth about him. Hopefully it will be available in the not too distant future!

Mary

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Total elapsed time from Dr. Spanner sending the first inquiry to me, through her acquisition of the photo and its permission, to summary chat: three days.

Critical part of that (first contact with the photographer to Dr. Spanner's acquisition of the image and its permission): less than four hours.

Total great circle distance involved (Boulder Creek - Dublin, Dublin - Sydney, and Sydney - Boulder Creek): 22,900 miles.

Wow. Just wow.

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PLEASE NOTE:
I have used "Mary Spanner" as a fictitious name for a real person. In the interests of her privacy and confidentiality, I have not used her real name, or that of her institution or her co-author.
Kevin McLaughlin lives in Dublin and goes by the handle "harve64" on Flickr. His beautiful landscape photographs (and the occasional one of Eric the Cat) are well worth spending some time with.

6 comments:

Ronnie said...

Like you said: Wow!

Great fun to follow all that - thanks.

BunnyHugger said...

I enjoyed the little story. I like these kinds of epistolaries.

ronnie said...

Amazing. I say on a regular basis that I don't know how *anyone* got *anything* done before the WWW.

A great illustration. Thanks for sharing.

Brian Fies said...

Great story and exchange. You're a good sport.

My favorite first-hand story of that sort was the time I checked my e-mail in the morning and found a note from an Austrian radio host asking for an interview. I e-mailed back: "How about now?" A half hour later we connected on Skype. I had no idea when I woke up that morning that I'd be on Austrian radio by lunchtime.

What a world...

Adam said...

Fascinating! Sounds as though Kevin (like you) has had his photos ripped off and published without permission before.

Curious if you sent a link to this blog entry to them both?

BTW does Wikipedia get anything right?

Margaret Ryall said...

This is a great example of how the web has changed our lives and made miles into minutes. Ours is a similar story. I've never met you but I feel I know you because of a shared interest.