Imaging technology restores 700-year-old sacred Hindu text from PhysOrg.com
Scientists who worked on the Archimedes Palimpsest are using modern imaging technologies to digitally restore a 700-year-old palm-leaf manuscript containing the essence of Hindu philosophy.
Nov 28, 2006
Nov 26, 2006
A bright starry night and Petone beach was deserted except for some joggers and idlers. All five of us trotted out on the beach in the night, and proceeded to have some firecracking FUN. It's not necessary describe it further than the pictures shown below...
(click to see larger image)
See more photos here
Nov 17, 2006
So somebody must have had a brainstorm to go an deliver the whole publication as a printed page look alike. There was an grand announcement that the publication is tying up with India's Bodhtree software company to apply their Pressmart ePaper solution to deliver their publication in much more amazing way.
Now that it has been done, though this solution is interesting, it's mostly a flashy novelty. It delivers the print page onscreen to view, and the user can move the mouse over any of the article areas to get a hover-view popup of the summary. The article print is an image and usually too small to be readable. So to actually read it, you have to click the dang thing which opens up a pop-up page which is lo-and-behold a normal HTML page. "Why couldn't they have normal HTML pages anyway", you ask? Good question. In addition there are also the following faults. The whole paper is delivered through a standard application that - get this - doesn't work in Firefox! They seem to have used .Net technologies but in a way that's not cross-browser compatible.
The application delivers one edition of the publication at a time on screen. Though you can use a calendar drop-down to navigate to previous editions, note that only the edition which is currently visible is actively loaded in the application. That means that the searches that happen only search the current edition, and there's not archival search available. That makes a very poor tool for researchers. Then their are RSS feeds which are non-dynamic. No kidding, the RSS feeds provided correspond to a single page on a single date. Sooo, that means that you can load that RSS link to your RSS reader and the contents will never change!
Recently I read someone saying that "the current delivery of data has to be at the point where the user needs it". But this novelty application absolutely refused to confirm to this principle. I've noticed that some of the other clients of this software such as Times of India, mainly provide a normal HTML website with this as a side feature.
On top of all this the publication which as basic-HTML was free for the community, now requires a subscription fee before it lets you take a look at its precious contents. What must have happened was that now that they are using this propriety software to deliver their publication, they have to pay a recurring license fee, and that cannot be handled by a simple community budget.
In the end I was roused up enough to send them some feedback about it :
I would like to offer the following suggestions.
1. Provide an RSS feed URL for all the news, that gets updated automatically when each new editon is published. Your current RSS Url's seem tied down to a specific page on a specific date. This defeats the very purpose of RSS which are supposed to remain constant and their content is dynamically updated. It's ridiculous to be expected to manually copy the RSS each time for a new edition from the site.
2. You are no doubt aware that the current site application architecture does not allow it to function in Firefox browser. As Firefox is currently considered to be the most advanced browser and it's use is rising - you are severely limiting the accessibility of this publication. I would recommend that an alternative simple HTML equivalent of the publication be also made available, or that Java applets be used to deliver the application which are compatible across all browsers.
3. I understand that you are focussing on delivering a print equivalent of your publication online, but it is important that you want to make the contents available on the web so it would be good to follow basic web conventions and standards.
In a competitive environment it would not be in your interest to have publication whose accessibility is restricted, while there may be other more easily available sources of equivalent news. The fact that I have to pay for it is another factor that increases your responsibility to provide responsible access.
My father who used to follow your publication with keen interest, has been so frustrated with your current interface, that he has given up reading it."
Hope somebody's listening, else I see a failed publication.
Nov 15, 2006
Bangalore was a name which I loved because it packed a phonetic bang. "Bang-a-lore" I would sing riding around on my trusty motorcycle. When I first arrived in Bangalore, the head of the state goverment was Chief Minister Bangarappa (Bang-a-rapper?). I got my college degree from 'Bangalore University' a name that's known internationally. Believe it or not, Bangalore is an globally recognized (pronounce-able) brand associated with the information technology revolution of India. Due to its loss, the city will take a hit.
It's even funny to know what Bengaluroo may actually mean. There's a popular story that a king from the Hoysala dynasty, while on a hunting expedition, stopped for a meal break and was fed boiled beans by a kindly old lady, and thus he named the old hamlet after that dish - benda kala ooru (in Kannada), the village of boiled beans. However some historians seek to console us that it's not true and that the name actually derives from some specimen of flora.
Indian cartographers have been tearing out their hair vigorously for the past decade or so. Trivandrum became Thiruvananthapuram (even Indians have problems saying that out loud). Bombay (now, did't that sound explosive) became an uninspiring Mumbai. Madras became Chennai (which sounds like another food item). Calcutta became Kolkata (in Hindi that would sound like 'I bit [something] yesterday'). And I haven't even started discussing individual street names yet.
"But it's all the Britisher's fault", protests the Indian politician, "because they couldn't pronounce the Indian dialect, they twisted it into a English sounding word". Granted, but that does not mean that you are doing anyone favours by renaming these cities 40 years after Independence. When the true generation of Indian freedom fighter did not have any problem with these names, why do you?
These names have become identities or brands in their own right, with long histories. A Bombay or Madras does not get located in Britain because of its name. There are no other places in the world with theses names. These names also belonged to India, in fact the India of your fathers and grandfathers. Bangalore had been named thus since 1537.
The politician thinks he or she can go down in history as the person who got the city's name changed. Let me tell you - history doesn't care. In another 100 years your contributions will be judged on other criteria. And what would happen if other politicians got the same idea? Even worse, what would happen if the latest pundit, numerologist, psychic or guru-ji decided that the current name is 'cursed with bad luck'? Well, we'll go skipping along singing another name-changing tune.
See also article in the Economist
Oct 28, 2006
I rate it a full '5 stars'. If you can see it, see it on a big screen, that's where the scale of the presentations make an impression. I went with my wife today, on a Saturday morning, and found the cinema empty. It was a fun exclusive screening.
Though many of the facts are popularly known, this movie meets the challenge of presenting these in their true context while making an impact. Along the way, Al Gore explains his life-long involvement in the issue, and that this is not a new fad that he has picked up. Examples of worldwide glacier reduction and desertification are very shocking. Many areas neglected in the popular media, show some of the most disturbing illustrations.
This movie may have an effect where everything else seems to have failed - changing the perception of the US public. Most of them don't really care, think that environment concerns are questionable, don't affect them, or is just another way to spoil their economy. Strangest of all the US administration seems to agree with this. Perhaps its just that US government is heavily swayed by mercantile lobby. The movie does acknowledges that US accounts for more carbon dioxide emissions than most of the earth's continent combined. The refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol is highlighted. It is also noted that some states of the US are disagreeing with the central administration and trying to pass smarter emission regulations. Most of the states shown seemed to be democratic.
But its more than that - Asia is rising and following on the same paths that developed countries have. With all the talk of leapfrogging technology era's, perhaps Asia can leapfrog over the industrial irresponsible practices and be more environment friendly. Japan is shown to have the worlds best car emission regulations. In New Delhi, the public transport system buses and autorickshaws have been converted to Natural Gas engines, perceptibly improving the air quality of the city.
With India and China joining the fray in rapid industrialisation, and with their increasingly affluent populations being able to afford more consumption, the pressure on the earth's resources is higher than ever.
And meanwhile the amount of greenhouse carbon dioxide gas being released into the air is increasing.
Dr. Carl Sagan once remarked, a couple of decades ago, in the series 'Cosmos' that we have an example of an extreme greenhouse effect planet in our solar system itself - Venus, the evening star. It is a planet which is a neighbour of Earth, entirely covered in a haze of dense cloud 2 km thick, the top of which is carbon dioxide. On sending probes into the planet's atmosphere, it was discovered that these clouds rain down concentrated sulfuric acid onto the surface. The clouds also trap all the heat coming onto the planet, and the surface temperature stands at 380 degrees celsius (900 degrees fahrenheit). Dr. Sagan remarked that 'Venus is the one place in the Solar System most like hell'.
Responsibility and leadership on environment initiatives is expected from the most developed countries who have contributed the most to this problem. Unfortunately, that is still lacking, in fact it is the less developed countries who are addressing this problem.
The typical model lifestyles marketed by western nations are now known to be unsustainable. If the typical UK household water consumption was mirrored in every other nations, the rivers would have run dry long ago. In India, in many cities municipality water is pumped into houses for only a few hours a day - this is usually collected and stored, and then used carefully for the rest of the day. Naturally, it is not something people are happy with and many of the better-off have installed groundwater pumps to pull up the groundwater for domestic use. As this increases, is it any surprise that groundwater levels are also dropping?
David Suzuki once remarked in an interview "we are all having a big party with the earth, how long will it last?". Carl Sagan said "we are using up the Earth's resources, as if they are only for this generation". Again due to the increasing affluence of world citizens, and their ability to consume more - manufacture has been increased.
The earth was made with all it's riches embedded together. Human civilization is based on the separation of the elements from each other and using each for its unique qualities. But once we have used these, we leave a complete mess, perhaps even more entangled than when we found it. Consider that a used and disposed computer contains a 1000 toxic elements in it, all melded into a tight micro-technology. Recovering the components from our creations is usually more costly than the creation itself.
I took the Karnataka Express in the summer of 2001 from the southern Indian city of Bangalore to the North-Central capital New Delhi. It's the longest passenger train in India going on a 2-day and 2-night train ride. I had a nice window seat where I spent much of my time looking at the landscape outside. I found the state of the land disturbing. During the entire trip, the land looked dry and whatever streams and rivers we crossed were either small trickles or entirely dry. I wondered if the country would one day become a desert.
I recieved a sort of confirmation a few days ago when on TV a panel of experts started discussing the increasing desertification of certain areas. Many of the world's intelligence agencies are reported to be saying that all future wars will be over water. There are worries in India that China is diverting the Brahmaputra river that runs from it into India. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states routinely enter into dispute over the Cauvery river that they both share, including violent protests by students.
This brings me to 'the good old days', when we weren't really damaging the environment. What were we doing right. First of all, the population today is three times what it was in 1940 - we didn't need so much. Second is that the technology of that time didn't have the range of materials we have now. Third, is that we couldn't exploit the world at the scale that we have perfected at present. Fourth, is that we could't afford so much.
What happens when the resources start running out? Will we go back to the ration-system of war-time, with the government controlling how much we are allowed to consume. Will this require a regression from democratic systems of government.
The environment is who we are and we will be affected in every way from it. I don't think we can afford space suits for each of us to live on earth.
Sep 12, 2006
Ever considered the amount of travelling you would have to do if you wanted to research a particular subject, let's say 'the global cross-cultural effect of the British Empire'. The records and artefacts which may contribute invaluably to your research are housed on dusty shelves distributed all over the world (and they are not found on, or made available to, Yahoo/Google). The only way to access them is to visit all these places and spend time browsing the artefacts and book pages one by one to get what you need.
Perhaps that was an ambitiously large subject. We can probably find other research topics covering a smaller area, but no matter what - you will probably have to travel. So you may ask, "Why don't all these people just get together and create one website and show everything in a searchable format there?"
New Zealand had that opportunity. It is a much more compact nation, with a lot more scope of intra-cooperation. The organisation of a National Digital Forum, allowed an opportunity for the various institutions to communicate their common set of concerns. One of the outcomes had been a requirement to create the kind of website I mentioned previously.
Thus came the idea of Matapihi, a very interesting website produced as a result of collaboration among several knowledge institutions. It is hosted by the National Library of New Zealand, and contains contributions from many partners. It was launched on 8th September 2004 with five contributors presenting their collections on this site - Alexander Turnbull Library, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland City Libraries, Christchurch City Libraries, and Otago Museum.
Recently, the popularity of the site has attracted more contributors such as New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, and The New Zealand Film Archive.
The result has been to provide one central location that 'Opens the window' to the amazing collections of New Zealand information. This has empowered all the partners who have become part of it, rather than taking interest away from their own websites.
We need more knowledge institutions throughout the world to come together and provide convergence points that allow deep exploration of their collections. After all, we would like to save our travel money for sight-seeing rather than distant shelf-browsing.
Sep 7, 2006
Though the core technology has changed - from the 8088 Intel Chip made of 29,000 transistors, at 3.0 micron1 density performing at 5.0 MHz2 using 8/16-bit3 computing to the currently available Intel Core duo made up to nearly 300 million transistors, at 0.065 micron (or 65 nanometres) density performing at 3,000 MHz and above, using 64-bit computing - the abstraction still remains the same. Nano-technology has already arrived, and is sitting on your desktop.
I still remember how I came across my first computer. It wasn't an IBM PC, it was the Apple II.
It was around 1983, I was almost a teen and one of the lucky lads. I was studying in an American school in a communist country. The American teachers missed everything from back home. So much that they decided to ship everything to the small school in Romania. There was American candy, hot chocolate while playing in the winter snow, American movies and TV shows, shiny stickers on papers achieving good grades. It was paradise! But most of all, my fingers touched a computer keyboard.
Several Apple II computers had been imported and some of the teachers were having a wonderful time fiddling around with them. Particularly the computer teacher seemed obsessed. Whenever walked by him in the central library area, where these machines were set up, and he was always there, staring intently at the tiny lights on the screen. After he had learned enough, he introduced us to his hobby.
But what did we do first? We played games. This time it was the Atari. We were each given a turn on the joystick playing PacMan, Frogger and others I can't remember. I was so mesmerised by the sound and vision that I couldn't play the game properly.
Then during the year, each month a different class was given a turn to write the school paper. Here finally we used the Apple computers. We used a Print program to draw up the layout of the page, and add graphics and various fonts. Here I learned, for the first time, the ability to exercise control of technology, and I just loooved the feel of all those buttons on the keyboard. We also learned to write simple programs in BASIC language. It was too late, I was bitten. Computer fever had me.
After our newspaper turn was over, we never touched those computers again, and I would walk pass the computer section always looking longingly at the machines.
Last chance I had was when I joined the chess club. Though there were enough members to play against each other, the teachers also set up 'Battle Chess' game on the computers. Just in case we got bored playing each other.
Then there was the school book fair where I picked up my first programming book on BASIC. Then I flipped through the pages and found out all different things I could have done on the computer. AAArrrggghhh! If only I had a computer now.
I would pester my poor Mum and Dad for the next 5 years. "Mama - Papa, I want computer!" I was too spoilt to realise that the cost of these wonder machines was beyond any reasonable working man's means. Years later, the prices became lower, more people starting buying these and my parents said 'yes'. When we got the machine (Intel x286 PC) set up at home, I immediately locked myself up in the room, installed BASIC, got out my old book and it all started from there.
I remember pestering the local dealer for some 3-D graphics development tools. He gave me a disappointing 'Harvard Graphics'. It took me some time to understand that the machines of that time could not handle that kind of processing power.
Over the years, especially in India, I have noticed a difference in the way various people approach this technology. Whereas for me it was a total joy, others seemed indifferent. People get computer science degrees without having any real interest in computers. It's all for the money.
Over time the desktop computer will probably disappear. It will become part of the media box under the TV or a small portable hand held device. However, as long as it is here, it will play an increasing part in our lives.
Happy B'day PC!
1micron: length equal to 0.000001 of a meter
2MHz: MegaHertz, measure of frequency
3bit: smallest unit of computer memory
Sep 3, 2006
I guess, we don't like anybody having too much power over us. Google almost exclusively controls our window to the internet, our digitised knowledge universe. It maintains this blog website. School children don't research library books any more, they just thumb their noses up at books saying 'whatever', and search on Google for the topics of their essays. Few question if the results of their searches are facts from authoritative sources. So when they get bad grades, they may grow distrustful, disillusioned and frustrated.
Same applies to Wikipedia. Though Wikipedia does not open a window onto the internet, it opens a window onto a storehouse of contributed knowledge. Anybody can enter this site and make a contribution, by writing an article or sub-article on any topic they fancy, anonymously. Wikipedia has grown bigger than the Encyclopedia Britannica (the knowledge storehouse king in the print world) in the number of articles it contains. It's usually the major reference point in the internet for those seeking knowledge. Though it can be usually accurate, there are no factual guarantees on the information and no accountability.
Yet still, how can these web services and presences grow so important and powerful? Simple answer - you made them. The internet is very democratic, it makes leaders of those whom we vote for. The more of you that use the website - the more important it becomes. To what extent can these web presences control you? They try to make it easier for you to get what you want from them.
Now, bear with me for this paragraph. Imagine the knowledge sum of humanity organised in an internet based tree of classification. The trunk of the tree is 'everything', and the branches are the various diversifications of interest - say, Science, Humanities, Religion, Philosophy etc. Then the branch of Science may create several sub-branches - Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology and so on. Let this tree be planted by a foundation of eminent world citizens, and then each branch of knowledge be given to an acknowledged expert to maintain, let them then give each sub-branch to further specialised expert of that branch to maintain. The expert controls her/his domain, and allows contributions to be manifested on that branch that the expert knows to be authoritative, factual and relevant. Instead of expert per branch, we are also allowed expert committees. Too good to be true?
Enter the Digital Universe. Yes, that's not a term - it's a name. I recently had the good fortune to attend a presentation by Joe Firmage, CEO and founder of ManyOne Networks, and founder of the Digital Universe Foundation. I felt a bit guilty opting out of a rare department lunch happening at the same time, but I felt there was something compelling about the invite I had recieved.
Joe explained that the internet world that we experience today is very commercial and biased towards the interests that control it. It is time to take the controls of that experience back in our hands. This is initially enabled by creating portals for every area of our conceivable interest and placing these as our primary entry points into the internet. Any commercial interests would then have to address us through this unbiased medium. Other interests that are don't have commercial backing but have importance to the topic at hand would have equal representation. An example given was global warming.
These portals are like the branches that I outlined a couple of paragraphs ago, and they would be able to connect to sub-portals of more specialised interests. And the experts building these? These are called stewards. Stewards can be a single expert or a committee of experts who sign an agreement to be responsible for their portals in an unbiased way. The list of stewards already signed on so far is an intimidating list of the best-in-the-field Professors and Phd doctors. People who know what they are talking about and won't let us down with unreliable knowledge. There will be no anonymous people on this network, everyone has to provide a name and details - so there's accountability. Aside from the expert managed area, there's a public area for registered users, but it is expected to have a ratings system to determine its validity.
I was still sceptical about this whole idea, being pretty sure that the real-world scenario would not let such an idealised scenario to exist. Then I went further through their list of team members and found more impressive names. There are people from NASA, Nokia, Cisco, Morgan Stanley, and even a Hollywood Producer. Most deliciously there's Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia. So visionaries tempered by actual achievers. In the Board of Directors, there are very recognisable names like Jane Goodall, a famous primatologist and Ann Druyan, author and wife of Dr. Carl Sagan of the landmark Cosmos TV Series fame. There are a lot of significant believers in this project.
In the presentation Joe wowed us with very impressive graphical interfaces (in fact reminiscent of Cosmos TV series) that were able to present the classification (or taxonomy) of the Digital Universe and led through hyperlinks into the various platforms that have been built so far. There was also a very interesting Geographical Viewer (akin to Google Earth) that works through the browser.
It's all very interesting, though time will ultimately test whether this initiative acquires the momentum required to become a major web presence. I wish it all the best.
There may be several weaknesses. There seemed to be a sense that the Digital Universe will act as a valve that controls commercial interests taking up the internet users' mindspace. This will not make the business world happy, so will commercial interests be able to kill it? That probably depends on how many users sign up for this. If the mass of users exceeds a critical volume then businesses will have no choice, otherwise the Digital Universe will be bypassed. Currently, Joe said, that the target audience is the college going population - students and teachers. It sounds like they intend to skip current mature generations and aim for the minds that can still be moulded in their context, furthermore it's logical since they are the most likely to find this useful in their necessary research. Another point that I sensed was that it projects as a 'high-brow' site controlled by denizens in academic ivory towers. Now what determines who is qualified to be a steward? So far, it sounds that one would have to have a pantheon of academic qualifications, so non-academic experts and commentators would be unnoticed.
The internet is supposed to be, after all, the great equaliser.
Aug 28, 2006
While we have become experts at preserving and disseminating the written and printed word, we are still unsure about what to do with anything else. For example, see the following - One giant blunder for mankind: how NASA lost moon pictures
If NASA can get it wrong, then what about us. It's possible that all those files you keep on your computer may, through some accident, get deleted. You'll lose a bit of your history, especially if lost data includes all the photo's you've taken with your digital camera. Not many of us print-out photo's or keep photo albums anymore. But more than that - there may have been some article, novel, or any project you were working on. Some of you may even keep a daily journal in their computers. The value of information stored in our computers is becoming higher as we move more media into digital storage.
One commentator states that we live in the digital dark ages, as we are losing our cultural history by anything that gets deleted and modified everyday on computers worldwide.
As always there is hope, libraries and other memory institutions worldwide have become aware of this growing problem and are preparing to create Digital Archives, that shall permanently store digital records. Even tougher is that they are planning to provide public access to this storehouse. They have a near impossible task ahead of them.
Then, there's the famous call by a user to a customer service centre - 'I want to download the internet, do I need a bigger hard disk?'
Jul 11, 2006
In the newly independent India and even some time before that, the British education pattern had been adopted and is still largely followed today. There are a lot interesting stories about how the clever Indian folk grappled with the King's English.
My dad told me this one ...
One of them is when a young schoolboy approached a book shop and spent some time searching for a book. After a while he scratched his head asked the shopkeeper "Kya aapke paas 'Maimne ki dum se hilti Naashpati' hai?". The shopkeeper quietly picked up a book handed it to the boy, and pocketed the payment. Once the boy had left, the shocked shopkeeper's assistant asked, "Which book did you give him?". "Lamb's Tales of Shakespeare", replied the shopkeeper.
For my non-Hindi speaking readers, the boy had asked (rough translation) "Do you have the book - lamb's tail shakes the pear (tree)?"
Shakespeare's work in now out of copyright and available to the general public, without any lawyer breathing down their neck! Yaaay! This now also means that anybody can now repackage Shakespeare's content in their own context and present it. Uh-Oh!
Some of the sites offering Shakespeare's work are
- Google Books
- Project Gutenberg
- The Literature Network
- Internet Public Library
- Interestingly Shakespeare Oxford Society, The Shakespeare Society, Britannica, Encarta and so on do not seem to provide the texts freely or easily. Perhaps they are avoiding a duplication of effort.
- and so on ...
I wonder when Mickey Mouse comes out of copyright! ;)
Define a book.
- Is it that paper thingy we hold in our hand full of printed words, which does not need any batteries.
- Or is it a sum of an author's output compiled into a structure for an audience.
Think carefully, because the ground beneath the literary world is undergoing a major shift.
Outside the Media/Publishing/Librarian world, not many realize the battles being fought in for the future of the book. Who will be the major publishers of the future? What is the best format for books to be published - digital text or printed or audio? Who controls the experience when books are sold/retailed or sampled-before-selling? Who catalogs these books? Who reviews and rates these books? Finally, who reads them?
Also, one could also wonder how the Nobel Prize for Literature is defined 20 years from now.
Though large publishers (like Random House, Penguin, McGrawHill, Wiley, O'Reilly)
There are only two sets of people who
Jul 7, 2006
There are a lot of alternative media competing for my attention - TV, DVD/Video, Internet - each engineered to be more captive than the other. If before providers were after your money, now its your time as well.
It's a multi-tasking world, even in your spare time. After all, it is said we are only using upto 10% of our brains - so it can be deduced that nobody need care about an information overload.
I grew up reading books, used to be my favorite passtime. Best way I find to read a book is a quiet place or at most instrumental music in the background. It would also be good to have a tension-free hour. The fact that I have to work at creating that, shows me how much the world has changed. My modern multi-tasking nature does not let me sit still doing one thing - I feel too nervous, that I'm missing something else somewhere.
From the author's point of view, books take time, usually months to write those hundreds of thousands of words, formed into a coherent structure. Newer generations don't have that patience. Modern books tend to arise from a collection of previously published smaller articles.
Is it any wonder that blog site such as these generate so much more participation and output.
Jul 6, 2006
Scio - Latin word meaning to know or understand
Sphere - English word with many meanings, one of which - an area
Scio Sphere will be a place where we'll see if any meaning can be brought to bear.
I hold my nose, squeeze my eyes shut, and I've jumped into the Blog World!
Hello! Hola! Bonjour! Namaste! SatSriAkal! .... Splash!