The Single Most Valuable Document in the History of the World Wide Web

Subject to debate, but according to this article in the BBC, the claim of the “most valuable document in the history of the World Wide Web” belongs to a legal document that made the web publicly available in such a way that no one could claim ownership of it and that would ensure it was a free and open standard for everyone to use.

A team at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) has launched a project to re-create the first web page.

The aim is to preserve the original hardware and software associated with the birth of the web.


The Exact Location Where the World Wide Web Was Invented

David Galbraith wrote to Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who explained that the Web was was technically invented in France, not Switzerland:

I’ll bet if you asked every French politician where the web was invented not a single one would know this. The Franco-Swiss border runs through the CERN campus and building 31 is literally just a few feet into France. However, there is no explicit border within CERN and the main entrance is in Switzerland, so the situation of which country it was invented in is actually quite a tricky one. The current commemorative plaque, which is outside a row of offices where people other than Tim Berners-Lee worked on the web, is in Switzerland. To add to the confusion, in case Tim thought of the web at home, his home was in France but he temporarily moved to rented accommodation in Switzerland, just around the time the web was developed. So although, strictly speaking, France is the birthplace of the web it would be fair to say that it happened in building 31 at CERN but not in any particular country! How delightfully appropriate for an invention which breaks down physical borders. ]

There is a plaque in a corridor in building 2, but no specific offices are indicated and there is some ambiguity as to what happened where, in building 31. Thomas Madsen-Mygdal has a gallery showing locations in building 31 and 513, but there are very few places on the web documenting these places. I took photos of the plaque, such as the one here, with Creative Commons licenses, so that they could be used elsewhere.

Wikipedia is currently updated on the invention of the World Wide Web:

The first web site built was at CERN within the border of France, and was first put online on 6 August 1991:

“ was the address of the world’s first-ever web site and web server, running on a NeXT computer at CERN. The first web page address was, which centred on information regarding the WWW project. Visitors could learn more about hypertext, technical details for creating their own webpage, and even an explanation on how to search the Web for information. There are no screenshots of this original page and, in any case, changes were made daily to the information available on the page as the WWW project developed. You may find a later copy (1992) on the World Wide Web Consortium website.” -CERN


The Mystery of the Faster than Light Neutrinos

I’ve been following this story of “faster than light neutrinos” since the news first came out in late September:

CERN says a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 454 miles (730 kilometers) away in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds, making the difference statistically significant. 

To date, there have been more than 80 papers published trying to explain the 60-nanosecond discrepancy. But according to one physicist, Ronald van Elburg at the University of Groningen, the scientists at CERN neglected to consider nuances of the time mechanism. In particular, in order to synchronize the two locations (they are more than 700km apart, after all), the team used GPS satellites, which each broadcast an accurate time signal from orbit some 20,000km overhead. But herein lies the problem, according to van Elburg:

So what is the satellites’ motion with respect to the OPERA experiment? These probes orbit from West to East in a plane inclined at 55 degrees to the equator. Significantly, that’s roughly in line with the neutrino flight path. Their relative motion is then easy to calculate.

So from the point of view of a clock on board a GPS satellite, the positions of the neutrino source and detector are changing. “From the perspective of the clock, the detector is moving towards the source and consequently the distance travelled by the particles as observed from the clock is shorter,” says van Elburg.

By this he means shorter than the distance measured in the reference frame on the ground.

The OPERA team overlooks this because it thinks of the clocks as on the ground not in orbit.

How big is this effect? Van Elburg calculates that it should cause the neutrinos to arrive 32 nanoseconds early. But this must be doubled because the same error occurs at each end of the experiment. So the total correction is 64 nanoseconds, almost exactly what the OPERA team observes.

Here is the full paper (PDF). And the conclusion:

We showed that in the OPERA experiment the baseline time-of-flight is incorrectly identified with the Lorentz transformation corrected time-of-flight as measured from a clock in a nonstationary orbit and in fact exceeds it by at maximum 64 ns. The calculation presented contain some simplifying assumptions, a full treatment should take into account the varying angle between the GPS satellite’s velocity vector and the CERN-Gran Sasso baseline. We expect that such a full treatment will find somewhat lower value for the average correction. This is because the velocity of the GPS satellite is most of the time not fully aligned with the CERN-Gran Sasso baseline. In addition full analysis should be able to predict the correlation between the GPS satellite position(s) and the observed time-of-flight.

We know from special relativity that time is reference frame specific. This paper shows that Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) happens to be less universal than the name suggests, and that we have to take in to account where our clocks are located. Finally, making all calculations from the correct reference frame might also lead to further improvement of the accuracy of GPS systems as the errors reported here for the time-of-flight amount to a ±18 m difference in location.

I am skeptical. This is rudimentary physics, and I can’t believe that the OPERA scientists would have neglected to consider such a triviality. I’ll be paying attention to how this story unfolds…