Sharing knowledge about data and stories – Loveland Reporter-Herald

A few decades ago (actually almost six, but who’s counting) I started a career in electronic data processing — as it was called then.

Today, the same basic science is known as information technology (IT jobs apparently pay better than IT).

Put the brakes on “electronics” and let’s look at “data”.

Data is a collection of discrete states that convey information describing quantity, quality, facts, statistics, or other basic units of meaning. So basically it’s “tricks” for other means of analysis.

The Latin word “data” is a plural of the word “datum”. We rarely see “datum” mean just one thing. My favorite son deals with what is now called “Big Data”.

It describes databases (collections of things) so large that new words must be invented to accommodate their size. Words like terabytes – not yet billions of bytes – kids in the 1950s would know that a billion bytes is a lot.

Go further. Data, information, knowledge and wisdom are closely related concepts.

Knowledge is understanding derived from information about a subject. So the knowledge could advise people how to climb Mount Everest.

Practical climbing of Everest based on this knowledge could be considered wisdom. Don’t ! Or if you pick up your trash on the way out (down?).

Now that we’ve dealt with data, let’s move on to another Latin term that I’m more familiar with.

Anecdotes are information – dare we say data – that is considered of little value (unless you write a column called “Trivially speaking”). The singular of “Trivia” is “trivium” – I never refer to a single piece of trivia as a trivium, although I may start just for novelty.

The ancient Romans (apparently the present-day Romans did nothing of note) called trivialities the three lower “Artes Liberales”: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. These were the themes of basic education, the foundations of the quadrivia of higher education.

Just to complicate matters, these same ancient Romans used the word “anecdotes” to describe where a road split or forked into two roads (all roads lead to Rome?). It is not too great a step from that Rome to Shakespeare who wrote of a famous Roman or two; it’s curious that these guys were called the Romans and not the ancient Italians.

Anyway, the meaning “mundane, banal.” Unimportant, slight” appears from the late 1500s, especially in the writings of Will.

Another Brit picked up where Will started. In 1902 the British aphorist Logan Pearsall Smith published “Trivialities, bits of information of little concern”. It only became popular in 1918, but LPS jumped on it and followed it up three years later with “More Trivia” – there’s literally no end to the possibilities, believe me (have you- am I misleading in this journey so far?).

I love Smith’s quote from his book: “I KNOW too much; I stuffed too many facts of history and science into my intellectuals. My eyes darkened on the books; Believing in geological periods, cave dwellers, Chinese dynasties and fixed stars aged me prematurely.

To his thoughts, I would add sports, film and television to my personal repertoire. He didn’t have to worry about them. My friends have often said to me “Jim, you know a lot of things (or an equivalent euphemism)”.

Decades passed until 1960s college students grew nostalgic and began informally swapping questions (and answers) about the popular culture of their youth — spoiler: Lassie was played by male collies.

The first known documented labeling of it as a board game as “Trivia” was published in the “Columbia Daily Spectator” in February 1965. This column was written by Ed Goodgold, co-author of a “Trivia” book, which hit the New York Times Bestseller List (unlike “TrivBits”).

This started the movement and they followed it up with “More Trivial Trivia”.

In this volume, the authors criticized practitioners who were “blind enough to confuse the flower of trivialities with the weed of minutiae”.

“Trivia is all about tugging at the heartstrings” while the details simply tackle such less than evocative questions like “Which state is the biggest consumer of Jell-O?”

Trivia has grown over the past decades. The game of “Trivial Pursuit” burst onto the pop culture scene in 1982 (three years after creating “Who Knows, Who Cares?”, but that’s another story). The quizzes have gone up the ridge and are now on the down slope.

Trivia is played mostly in bars (or on a few remaining TV shows).

At best I think the challenge would be remembering anything after a few rounds, but I guess some people find the combination amusing. In fact, Alex might have found Jeopardy’s contestants more fun to watch under the same circumstances.

As for me, I still find a lot of “stuff” stuck to the wall of my Velcro memory so I guess I’ll keep writing; please keep reading.

Donald E. Patel