ESP Legal Notifications: Cookies
This policy was last updated 21 Dec 2016.
A web cookie is a small piece of data sent from a website and stored on the user's computer by the user's web browser while the user is browsing.
Cookies work sort of like reminder notes, written by the server, for the server. The server creates these notes, then sends them to your computer. Every time you go back to the server, or go to another page, you send the cookie back to the server. That way, the server can keep track of information from your earlier visits.
Every time you go to a web page, it is a new experience for the server. Using just basic web protocols, the server has no way of knowing if you have just spent an hour picking out 22 things to buy, or wherther this is your very first visit to the web site. But, with cookies the server can keep writing reminders to itself about what you did earlier (where earlier might mean two seconds ago).
Cookies can keep track of whether or not you are currently logged in, if you have put goodies in a shopping basket, and many other details.
A cookie includes instructions from the server about how long the client computer should keep the cookie before discarding it. Originally, most cookies were used to maintain current information about a particular session on a particular web server, so there wasn't much use in having them stay around forever.
However, programmers realized that by having cookies stay around longer and by having them be able to share information among different web servers, they could be used to create a more coherent experience for users, across multiple web servers. Because these kinds of cookies can keep long-term track of where a user had been, they are called tracking cookies.
Tracking cookies are one of the reasons why, when you visit, say, a newspaper site, you see often ads popping up offering to sell you things that you just investigated using a search engine, or that you just looked at on Amazon.
Tracking cookies can be useful, but they are also a little creepy — kind of like having someone follow you around constantly, taking notes on every place you go and everything you do, then calling ahead to let the folks at Macy's know that you just spent an hour at REI looking at camping gear.
The term "cookie" for these little web-server reminders was coined by a programmer named Lou Montulli, based on the idea of a magic cookie (which is what Unix programmers called a packet of data that a program receives and sends back unchanged). The phrase "magic cookie" came from the idea of a "fortune cookie" — a cookie containing an embedded message. For more information on Lou Montulli, the creator of cookies, click HERE
In the early 1990's, Robert Robbins was a faculty member at Johns Hopkins, where he directed the informatics core of GDB — the human gene-mapping database of the international human genome project. To share papers with colleagues around the world, he set up a small paper-sharing section on his personal web page. This small project evolved into The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project.
In 1995, Robbins became the VP/IT of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. Soon after arriving in Seattle, Robbins secured funding, through the ELSI component of the US Human Genome Project, to create the original ESP.ORG web site, with the formal goal of providing free, world-wide access to the literature of classical genetics.
Although the methods of molecular biology can seem almost magical to the uninitiated, the original techniques of classical genetics are readily appreciated by one and all: cross individuals that differ in some inherited trait, collect all of the progeny, score their attributes, and propose mechanisms to explain the patterns of inheritance observed.
In reading the early works of classical genetics, one is drawn, almost inexorably, into ever more complex models, until molecular explanations begin to seem both necessary and natural. At that point, the tools for understanding genome research are at hand. Assisting readers reach this point was the original goal of The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project.
Usage of the site grew rapidly and has remained high. Faculty began to use the site for their assigned readings. Other on-line publishers, ranging from The New York Times to Nature referenced ESP materials in their own publications. Nobel laureates (e.g., Joshua Lederberg) regularly used the site and even wrote to suggest changes and improvements.
When the site began, no journals were making their early content available in digital format. As a result, ESP was obliged to digitize classic literature before it could be made available. For many important papers — such as Mendel's original paper or the first genetic map — ESP had to produce entirely new typeset versions of the works, if they were to be available in a high-quality format.
Early support from the DOE component of the Human Genome Project was critically important for getting the ESP project on a firm foundation. Since that funding ended (nearly 20 years ago), the project has been operated as a purely volunteer effort. Anyone wishing to assist in these efforts should send an email to Robbins.
With the development of methods for adding typeset side notes to PDF files, the ESP project now plans to add annotated versions of some classical papers to its holdings. We also plan to add new reference and pedagogical material. We have already started providing regularly updated, comprehensive bibliographies to the ESP.ORG site.
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