1992 work by seminal cyberpunk
author William Gibson
, Agrippa is about the vagaries of memory
and evidence. The work originally consisted of a large book of photo-reactive paper and ink concocted not only to fade over time to exposure of light and thus be a little less readable every time the book was opened, but also to have some few new words appear in the place of the old ones in homage to false memory
The book, named not after King Agrippa but rather from the label on his family's 1919 photo album, contains a number of photographs, etchings and text; the text deals with Gibson's real and lost memories of his father, who died when William was 6, and the background of the text contains Dennis Ashbaugh's etchings, strings of genetic code which, when "sequenced", spell out the text of the book's words.
In this place, the work is doubtless best known for its easter egg - within the book's bindings was contained a floppy disk for Macintosh computers which, when loaded, would run a rather postmodern executable displaying a poem. Once. Upon completing the display and a generous one minute of reading time, the disk would eat itself away backwards, self-scramble (based on RSA encryption - leading to interesting export/arms-smuggling issues) and the poem ("which speaks of loss, the process of reintegration, and completion") would be lost in the vagaries of the reader's memory. Hope you were paying attention.
The publisher was noted as saying that the scrambled text could be revived by a mainframe with little difficulty; shortly after the book's release in 1992 cypherpunks all over the world successfully pirated the text of the poem utilizing methods ranging from high-tech (using the Touchstone Delta supercomputer at Cal Tech for decryption) to medieval (reading the poem out loud off the screen into a tape recorder as it displayed.)
The piracy was in part an homage to Gibson, then the percieved inventor of "the Grid" of online life; it was also a response to the challenge posed by the text's remaining in a scrambled form (rather than utter eradication) but most of all, beyond the platform-incompatibility issues, this posed a tricky supply-and-demand problem: everyone who was anyone online wanted to get their grubby mitts on a copy of the book, but the lowest-scale (with reproductions of the etchings) versions of it ran $450. For the 31373, copies with the real etchings were available for $1,500 while a limited-edition run of 10, featuring velum binding, actual hand-done drawings by Ashbaugh and a spiffy box cost $7,500 - a great gift for the Bill Gates on your Christmas list.
In September of that year the text was made available (through, gasp!, fiber-optic technology!) to the public for free for one day at participating museums, but by then the text, as follows, had long since entered the illegal-but-public domain, a copyright violation noted as a high point in the computer culture of 1992.