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Published Saturday, November 26, 2011 @ 11:31 PM EST
Nov 26 2011

"There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness."
-Dave Barry

The KGB Quotations Database is 25 years old this month.

It began as the cookie file of the Fido computer bulletin board system (bbs) I started in 1986.

When a user logged on to the bbs, the software would access a file called cookie.txt, pick a record at random, and display it. It might be something silly, like "ME WANT COOKIE!" Most system operators populated their cookie.txt file with quotations, and some labored mightily to improve their quality and quantity.

I had always been a quotations fan, although I really can't explain why. I've been a compulsive reader since about the age of four, and even then I remember encountering certain phrases or sentences that would cause an intellectual or emotional epiphany, a feeling of delight in its structure, rhythm, or density of meaning.

I knew some people "collected" quotations, transcribing them to notebooks or index cards. Pre-1986, that struck me as self-indulgent and a waste of time. My computer consulting business and monthly column for DEC Professional magazine left litle time for such diversions.

Ah, but the cookie file provided both a mechanism and, more importantly, a raison d'être to begin my own collection. Visitors to my BBS system began to expect more than the stale cookies of default Fido installations, and I began using the quotations in my magazine column.

For a few years- between the time I shut down the BBS and began this website- there was no online presence for my quotes file. But I continued to maintain it, because I knew it would reappear someday.

It did, in October, 2002. The "KGB Quote-A-Matic" at the top of the right column of this page has been present in some form in every iteration of this website.

I've never really considered quotation collection a hobby. A hobby implies a discrete activity unto itself. Quotation collection is a full-time activity, albeit an almost subconscious one.

There's a part of my brain that seems to constantly run a wetware equivalent of a pattern recognition program. It's like an anti-virus program on a PC- I'm not aware it's running, but when a new, interesting pattern passes by, it sets off an alarm alerting the conscious part of my brain to record the quotation that triggered the response.

The other day I decided to calculate how much time I've invested in this activity. I estimated that each quote added to the list requires about an hour of reading.

That works out to 15,000 hours, or 625 days, or 1.7 years. In other words, I've spent 6.8% of the last 25 years of my life collecting quotations.

Wow.

Before you label me a lunatic, consider that the A.C. Nielsen Co. estimates the average American watches four hours of television a day. While I may have spent 1.7 of the last 25 years reading and accumulating quotations, during that same period the average American spent 36,500 hours- 4.1 years- staring at the television.

For my efforts, I have a database of 15,000 quotations, a witty comment for just about any occasion, and exposure to some of the greatest minds in history.

You, my average American friend, have a large, butt-shaped dent in your couch.

Here's hoping for another 25 years. And a new couch.


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