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Sat, 26 January 2002

Agrippa Info
Cyberpunk author William Gibson has been writing about technology,
but until now, his books were physically conventional paper and
binding. Now, to borrow a phrase from Buckminster Fuller, his
medium is also his message.

"Agrippa: A Book of the Dead" by William Gibson and Dennis Ashbaugh, illustrates the intangible nature of memory as air exposure cause Agrippa's chemically treated etchings to change and a Macintosh disk with a story on it to hopelessly encrypt, once read.

On the subject of memory and how it mutates and changes, the focal point is the story on the disk is William Gibson's father, who died when he was six. The title of the work is not from King Agrippa, a figure from Roman history, but instead is the label on the 1919 family photo album containing photos of Gibson's father.

Agrippa comes in a case that resembles a laptop computer, with book inside surrounded by copper honey comb-shaped forms and cut-outs in the inside pages to contain a 3.5-inch floppy disk. The disk contains Gibson's story which is encrypted a scheme based on an RSA data encryption. The story can be read by a program which unencrypts the text on the fly and then self-destructs after one reading, leaving only the encrypted text on the disk. Once the reading of the text on the disk is started the story cannot be stopped, copied, or printed.

A representative for the artists, Kevin Begos, told Newsbytes Gibson expects people to attempt to unencrypt the data or try to capture the story. Some people have already started on the task of breaking the encryption scheme and Begos said some are reportedly using the Touchstone Delta supercomputer at Cal Tech to do so. Others are not using high tech means to save the story. One poet whom Begos described as computer illiterate, said he would simply read the story aloud into a tape recorder.

Agrippa costs $450 for a copy with reproductions of the etchings, $1,500 for the real etchings by Ashbaugh himself, and a $7,500 edition offers velum binding, drawings by Ashbaugh, a custom box, and real etchings, Begos said. Only 10 copies of the $7,500 version are available, Begos added.

No paper form of Agrippa will be available. However, a fiber optic transmission of the Gibson story is planned for September of this year to sites worldwide, Begos said. While an IBM and compatible personal computer (PC) version of Agrippa was planned, Begos said the preponderance of orders have been for the Macintosh version. "We just haven't gotten to the PC version yet," Begos added.

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