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June 2005

Words, words, words

Well …

hamletworks.org offers deep levels of information on Hamlet and related works for scholars, students, theater practitioners, and fans. The site, a continuing work in process, already allows users to

Compare early Hamlet editions from the First Quarto (Q1, 1603), Second Quarto (Q2, 1605), First Players' Quarto (Q6, 1676) and First Folio (F1, 1623)
Build a Shakespeare concordance
Survey textual notes in editions from Q2 to the present
Compare commentary notes from the eighteenth to the twentieth century by clicking on a line number
See Hamlet facsimiles
Explore Global essays on Hamlet around the world
and much more!

Via an essay by Gregory M Lamb, 'How the Web changes your reading habits', who comments:

When completed, the site will help visitors comb through several editions of the play, along with 300 years of commentaries by a slew of scholars. Readers can click to commentaries linked to each line of text in the nearly 3,500-line play. The idea is that some day, anyone wanting to study Hamlet will find nearly all the known scholarship brought together in a cohesive way that printed books cannot. Even that effort only scratches the surface of what's possible, some researchers say. Since people are still largely reading the way they always have, they ask, why not use technology to make reading itself more efficient?

Lamb reports on Dr. Chi, of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in California ('birthplace of technologies such as laser printing, Ethernet, the graphical user interface, and ubiquitous computing'), who is working on ScentHighlights: 

The reading experience online "should be better than on paper," Chi says. He's part of a group at PARC developing what it calls ScentHighlights, which uses artificial intelligence to go beyond highlighting your search words in a text. It also highlights whole sections of text it determines you should pay special attention to, as well as other words or phrases that it predicts you'll be interested in. "Techniques like ScentHighlights are offering the kind of reading that's above and beyond what paper can offer," Chi says. … the software could help students, academics, and business people quickly extract specific information from other written material. ScentHighlights gets its name from a theory that proposes that people forage for information much in the same way that animals forage in the wild. "Certain plants emit a scent in order to attract birds and bees to come to them," Chi says. ScentHighlights uncovers the "scent" that bits of information give off and attract readers to it.

Then there's BuddyBuzz, 'a project of a small group within the Stanford Persuasive Technology Laboratory, (which) flashes text to the viewer a word at a time. BuddyBuzz is based on a reading technique called RSVP (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation) that's been around since the 1970s, says Matt Markovich, editor in chief of BuddyBuzz (www.BuddyBuzz.org). Using it, people can learn to read with good comprehension up to 1,000 words per minute, Mr. Markovich says. … Users who sign up can download news from Reuters and CNET, a technology news website, and postings from several popular Internet bloggers. More content is on the way, Markovich says. Users can also feed their own texts into the website and have them sent to their mobile phone, or offer their content to other BuddyBuzz users.' My italics: something to try out for teaching.


Desolate places

I remember Dom David Knowles' book, Bare Ruined Choirs, a celebration for, and lament over, the empty, roofless monastic buildings of these islands. Now, Alex has set me looking at Abandoned, a site where Uryevich collects pictures of 'abandoned plants, unfinished buildings, industrial sites. Most of them situated near to Moscow' — haunting, silent, empty places that have a melancholy weight to them, as does this one, an unfinished and abandoned Moscow hospital:

Another of Alex's links was to an abandoned psychiatric facility in Whitby, Ontario. I suddenly remembered the psychiatric hospital where, as a schoolboy, I had sometimes made occasional visits, organised by my school, to chat to patients: Powick Hospital, Worcestershire. Formerly the 'Worcester County Pauper and Lunatic Asylum', it was shut down in the 1980s but is still talked about because of the experiments with LSD conducted there. (In 2002, the NHS settled the claims of 43 former patients out of court, at a level well below the expected.)

Even without reports now online about forgotten children, Powick lives on in my mind as somewhere unhappy and disorienting. I see there is a website, British Asylums ('looking at the era of the “Lunatic Asylum” system during the 19th and 20th centuries. The site largely focuses on the asylums themselves from their origins as providers of sanctuary and care through to their demise in the dying days of the 20th century'), and a Middlesex University index of English and Welsh lunatic asylums and mental hospitals (and a lot more information besides, including a Mental Health History Timeline).

I think of John Clare (1793–1864), committed in 1837 to a private asylum and then, in 1842, to the Northampton County Asylum for the remainder of his life.

I am — yet what I am, none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:—
I am the self-consumer of my woes:—
They rise and vanish in oblivion's host,
Like shadows in love's frenzied stifled throes:—
And yet I am, and live — like vapors tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise:—
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
Even the dearest, that I loved the best
Are strange — nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes, where man has never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God;
And sleep as I in childhood, sweetly slept,
Untroubling, and untroubled where I lie,
The grass below — above the vaulted sky.

The punctuation adopted here is based on that in Robinson's & Powell's 1984 Oxford Authors Series edition and aims to present 'I am' as Clare wrote it. (The poem was written in the Northmapton County Asylum when Clare was in his mid-fifties.)  Helen Vendler: '… because Clare was unschooled in standard grammar and punctuation, his manuscripts presented his publisher [Taylor] with the problem of "corrections." By himself, Taylor transcribed the cascade of almost illegible manuscripts (a scribe failed at the task), changing misspellings, inserting punctuation (Clare used almost none), rectifying Clare's dialect-grammar, and suggesting cuts. Clare reacted to the corrections sometimes with gratitude, sometimes with irritation. Increasingly, he wished to assert his independence; yet he depended on his publisher to see his works into print. He went so far as to try to leave Taylor and solicit subscriptions by himself for a volume that he could himself control, but he could not manage to collect enough subscribers.'


Context Photography

Trying out Picture This! software from Future Applications Lab, Sweden. I love the Brecht quotation that heads up their home page:

New problems appear and demand new methods. Reality changes; in order to represent it, modes of representation must also change.

'Picture This! explores the future of photography. The mechanical and optical constraints specific to analogue cameras have disappeared with the advent of digital technology but still limit the way we conceive photography.This project aims at taking digital photography to the next level by developing new types of physical interaction with cameras, of visual representation and of hybrid picture-viewing.'

Much more on the background to all this here.

So, what I should be able to produce is the four effects pictured above (left to right):

  1. Traces of coloured shadows follow the movement and the colour of the shadows changes with the frequency components in the surrounding sounds.
  2. The part of the picture with most movement is zoomed in, and rendered on top of the actual picture with the amount of transparency determined by surrounding sound volume.
  3. Small white dots follow the movement as a decaying trace. The picture is pixelised with the size of the pixels determined by sound volume.
  4. Movement makes the picture look like liquid. As in 3, the picture is pixelised with the size of the pixels determined by sound volume.

Very cool. I've fired off a number of first (public) photos to Flickr. They're pretty awful. Last night, I got some much better ones around the school where I teach, but these raise inevitable issues of privacy. So for now these first shots will have to do. More (better ones) to follow, I hope.


That memo

The Downing Street Memo:

The Downing Street "Memo" is actually a document containing meeting minutes transcribed during the British Prime Minister's meeting on July 23, 2002—a full eight months PRIOR to the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. The Times of London printed the text of this document on Sunday, May 1, 2005, but to date US media coverage has been limited. This site is intended to act as a resource for anyone who wants to understand the facts revealed in this document.

The contents of the memo are shocking. The minutes detail how our government did not believe Iraq was a greater threat than other nations; how intelligence was "fixed" to sell the case for war to the American public; and how the Bush Administration’s public assurances of "war as a last resort" were at odds with their privately stated intentions. … More than two years after the start of the Iraq War, Americans are just learning that our government was dead set on invasion, even while it claimed to be pursuing diplomacy.

Also, After Downing Street:

ADS is a coalition of veterans' groups, peace groups, and political activist groups, which launched on May 26, 2005, a campaign to urge the U.S. Congress to begin a formal investigation into whether President Bush has committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war.

Links via small flightless bird, which also picked up on this Sunday Times piece (12 June, 2005: 'Ministers were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal') and this Washington Post article (same date: 'A briefing paper prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq concluded that the U.S. military was not preparing adequately for what the British memo predicted would be a "protracted and costly" postwar occupation of that country').


UK bloggers

Post-Reboot, the UK is in self-reflective mode: is the UK blog-shy? I like bottom drawer:

I like (and spend too much time) browsing blogs, but almost none of my UK friends seem to do the same. I think that the UK sees the internet as a resource for information rather than a medium for personal expression, and the perception currently is that blogs are more vanity publishing than information resource. I think they could learn, as I have, that blogs are a great way (thanks in no small part to RSS) to keep up with developments in many different areas without having to shell out for expensive magazine subscriptions. I think that it may require more collaborative effort, and perhaps paid blogging/blog management, to kickstart a wider UK blogging/blog-using culture as to be frank, we don't all have time to start an altruistic blog on a subject of common interest. …

I'm also glad that in England people still talk to each other. We don't need to blog about politics or our daily trivia when we wake up to Radio 4, read the paper on the way to work and can't go for a drink without bumping into someone who works in the same field as you, and who will give you the gossip. Isn't the really important thing not whether the general population is writing blogs, but whether they are reading them - and reading them is all about reading outside of your own world, finding out new stuff, not the opinion of the guy who you sit next to at work all day.


Apple, IBM and Intel

I read Kottke and watched the video of the keynote. The best commentary I've read so far is in Ars Technica, from John Siracusa — as recommended by Marc Orchant on … theunofficialmicrosoftweblog ('his assessments are sound. In a long post today, he explains some of the history behind Apple’s CPU decisions in the past and then presents an excellent Q&A about the ramifications of the decision'):

A lot of people are excited about the prospect of a future Apple without the dark cloud of CPU uncertainty over its head. I like that idea too, but I only wish it had come to fruition through IBM. After the G5 introduction, I thought it had. I was actually encouraged by IBM's game console contract wins. It seemed like the PowerPC ISA had a bright future. Maybe it does, but apparently not with Apple.

I've also heard this transition compared to the 68K-to-PowerPC change. Emotionally, nothing could be further from the truth. As technically risky as the PowerPC move was—arguably a lot more risky than moving to the dominant x86 ISA and the dominant CPU maker—it at least had an air of technology-based excitement. Apple was moving to a new, better ISA. The x86 ISA is anything but new, and few would call it "technically better" than the PowerPC ISA. Yes, Apple is assured a steady stream of competitive CPUs as long as Windows targets the same ISA, but at a cost. Apple's CPUs may no longer be slower than the competition, but they also give up any hope of being faster.

That, in a nutshell, is why this is a dark day for Apple. It's yet another little thing that Macs used to do, if not always better, then at least differently than Windows PCs. Macs are now slightly less special.

If all goes as planned, the Mac platform will be stronger in a couple of years than it is today. (Who knows, maybe Doom 4 will even get decent frame-rates.) I'll buy a multi-core, multi-CPU x86-64 Mac and I'll like it because it'll be fast, good-looking, and it'll run Mac OS X. But I'll still think of what might have been...and what someday might be again. Call me a hopeless romantic. I'll miss the PowerPC.

(My emphases.)

Update — this from Jay Savage from tuaw.com:

Looking over the responses to yesterday's Stevenote, the only person I think has got it right so far is Jonas Luster.  I'm with Scott in not really caring, objectively speaking, whether my computer runs on PPC, Pentium, rabid weasles, or a rack of 2,5000 1.023Mhz Motorola 6502s.  Intel Machines are fine with me.  I have several running a variety of OSes. I don't think the performance of the Intel dual cores is as good as the performance of the IBM dual cores, but if Apple is confident in the road map, ok.

What I do care about is my computer spying on me or telling me what to do.  I don't like DRMed software, and I detest DRMed hardware.  But that's exactly where Intel is headed, and it's silly to think that the Pentium-D and 945 chips or their successors won't make it into transistioned hardware.  In fact, it's probably a large part of Apple's interest in Intel to begin with.  The RIAA and the MPAA like on-board DRM, and Apple has a cozy relationship with both.  Far from a move to Intel being a poor plan on Apple's part, I think it could easily be the first step toward taking iTunes to video and exapanding Fair play into a multimedia, harware-based solution compatible with the Microsoft DRM the Pentium-D is designed to support.

And that sounds like a pretty good business plan.  What it may not sound like is something I'd want on my desktop.

And also from tuaw.com, 'when Apple is selling Macs with Intel in them AND Macs with PowerPC's in them how are they going to deal with the Megahertz Myth (in reverse)?'.


RepRap Project

I blogged about Dr Adrian Bowyer and his RepRap Project back in March. Now, the Project has its own site and CNN has (finally!) got round to reporting the news (link via Boing Boing). From the front page of the Project's site:

A universal constructor is a machine that can replicate itself and - in addition - make other industrial products.  Such a machine would have a number of interesting characteristics, such as being subject to Darwinian evolution, increasing in number exponentially, and being extremely low-cost.

A rapid prototyper is a machine that can manufacture objects directly (usually, though not necessarily, in plastic) under the control of a computer.

The project described in these pages is working towards creating a universal constructor by using rapid prototyping, and then giving the results away free under the GNU General Public Licence to allow other investigators to work on the same idea. We are trying to prove the hypothesis: Rapid prototyping and direct writing technologies are sufficiently versatile to allow them to be used to make a von Neumann Universal Constructor.

Martin G commented on my original posting, 'Don’t we have to ask ourselves, 'What’s new here?'. Anyone who’s bought an off the shelf Rapid Prototyping machine can of course feed in CAD files of anything they wish — including parts for new RP machines . . .'  As I noted back then, Dr Bowyer (private communication) said, 'As far as I am aware, I am the first person to suggest using rapid prototyping to make a von Neumann Universal Constructor'.

There's also a RepRap blog — and it has a feed.