Monthly Archives: September 2012

Technical Manuals and Documentation Are Never Going To Be The Same,…

A new app recently developed by Luminary Digital Media is just now starting to make waves. The premise is simple: taking Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, the inventors developed a means by which digital copies of the original text can be readily found and read. For example, say the instructor tells you and the classroom:

“Good morning, class. I’d like you all to open your books to Act I, Scene 2, Line 398.”

“Usually there’s a whole lot of shuffling,” says Bryn Mawr professor Katharine Rowe. But not if the class is using an app she and Notre Dame professor Elliott Visconsi built. In their app of Shakespeare’s Tempest students can just enter “1.2.398” and be transported there immediately. Or, alternatively, search for the words: “Full fathom five thy father lies.”

That tool “gets my students on the line, at the same time, almost instantly. That’s a big deal for a Shakespeare prof,” she says. “We get our brains faster into the text that way.”

And that’s not all:

And this is just a simple search. The features of their Tempest app go far, far beyond search. Readers can listen to actors perform the script (and the text will scroll along as they do). For key passages, they can compare a set of alternative theatrical interpretations. They can see expert commentaries embedded in the text’s margins. Teachers can leave their own comments and questions for their students. Students can respond, ask questions, and chat about the text. It is a fully realized digital book, an embodiment of a pedagogy that values interaction between a reader and an author and among readers themselves. “It’s premised on the idea that you learn best when you create,” Visconsi told me.

It’s this not just another Kindle / Nook or whatever reading tool / app: it’s another way of experiencing works that previously were not easily enjoyed:

With the ability to embed actors’ interpretations, the app is well-suited for other plays, but the hope is that they can expand it beyond drama to novels, essays (“of course, the form of the essay is itself an intensely social genre” Rowe says), and religious texts, which, because of their long history of commentary and debate, really stand to benefit from the way the app incorporates other scholarly perspectives.

So it’s more than just a helpful app for the college student and professor:

The most immediate value of their work lies in the greater understanding and enjoyment students of The Tempest will gain in reading the play on their app. But at least one professor in Denmark has another reason for bringing it into the classroom: as a primary source for a course on apps as the next generation of classic literature, looking at how they are rewriting, or, at least, revisiting classic texts. In part because such texts tend to be public domain and therefore available for innovation, these older texts are at the heart of contemporary innovation on what the book will become.

There are entire libraries of classics waiting for this application to come (“The Gallic Wars” by Julius Caesar or “The Satyricon” by Petronius come to mind). Finally, now there’s a way in which I can parse my copies of “War and Peace”,…

On the market / productive side, imagine the impact that this offers for technical manuals or documentation: we’re moving beyond just hyperlinks, we’re talking about a true enhancement for industry as well as for government. Most solutions offer, at best, a key word search or perhaps a phrase: if Visconsi and company does this right, they have a tool on hand that will revolutionize the way technical manuals and documentation is handled electronically.

And the application possibilities don’t stop there: proposals, specifications, plans, grants as well as contracts can readily use this approach.

Now let’s take this one step further: add a voice  / speech control capacity / interface and we’re truly talking (!) about a great tool for both the average user and the advanced professional.

Guess there is a good value inherent with a humanities educational background, after all,…!

For more on this, read the following:

Faster Than Light Travel is Actually Quite Possible In Our Lifetime

Sure, who hasn’t seen – or at least is familiar with – the Star Trek series (or, for the matter, Battlestar Galatica, Babylon 5, Firefly and, well, you get the idea). The plot(s) usually revolve our cast of characters dealing with a problem / challenge, answering it with style and bravado – and all the while the biggest character in the show(s) is usually overlooked: the spaceship.

Let’s face it: regular space travel is boring. NASA estimates that if we were to take a trip to say, Jupiter (ala “2001: A Space Odyssey”) it’d take over several years to go there and back. But hey: enter ‘Deus Ex Machina’ – aka “FTL” (Faster Than Light) travel – and we got ourselves a show! Bring on Spock with the goatee with the agonizer and the wild west flair of Firefly!

After all, it’s just science fiction – right?

Think again.

Work done by one Burkhard Heim is now serious gaining traction and attention by physicists. Heim was a colleague of one Albert Einstein, working on a number of Einstein’s postulations (principally dealing with Einstein’s Unified Field Theories) and theorems so much so that today some of Heim’s calculations are still in use today. Heim took off where Einstein stopped in regards to linking electricity and gravity (believe me, there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye, but suffice to say Heim is no piker when it comes to his mathematics).

Seems as though the Higgs boson search (the so-called “God particle”) re-ignated interest in such matters and Heim’s work actually makes some rather compelling mathematical approaches that are both viable and realistic – i.e., hyperdrive can be made into a mechanical reality and not just some mathematical discussion. So much so that some officials as NASA considered utilizing Heim’s work for possible space propulsion, including that of the original Apollo moon missions (Heim’s work was later on considered for other applications – primarily Mars)!

But as with many governmental programs, the inevitable cutbacks took place and what we wound up with was a bunch of science fiction shows – but we’re still going nowhere.

That may not be the case anymore.

Heim postulated a system by which FTL travel could be attained without a massive energy consumption to the order that (according to Heim) we could very well develop a means of FTL travle enabling us to reach the nearest star system within 2 months.

Designing a FTL ship is not so much the challenge as it is coming up with the means to propel the damned thing. Sure, some designs are “easy” and merely require using a lot of mass – like, take the entire mass of the planet Jupiter or just casually capture and encapsulate a small black hole within a magnetic bottle. Sure, no problem; piece of cake (!). Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to place an entire planet the size of Jupiter and LaMachine it to hell to convert the mass necessary to go from point A to far away point B into energy, let alone try to capture a black hole and place it some magnetic bottle.

So consider this: we’re (that is, our Sun and Solar System) part of smaller star cluster and many of the nearest to Earth stars are within a sphere approximately 51 light years in diameter (a light year is 5,878,625,373,183.61 miles; multiple this by 51 and you’ll get 2.9981E+14 – or 2,998,100,000,000,000,000 miles, give or take an odd million or so).

Heim’s estimated that a “typical” hyperdrive vehicle could travel roughly this full distance within two years time.

We’re talking about being able to have an immediate human sphere of interstellar influence no more than 2 years (earth time) travel. In other words, the farthest stars within this sphere could (theoretically) take about 2 years of travel (from Earth).

Suddenly, those stories of interstellar adventures doesn’t seem so far fetched – not to mention having a summer home on Mars or a palace amidst the rings of Saturn seems so weird (kudos to Kim Stanley Robinson “On the North Pole of Pluto”).

But consider this: what kind of government ultimately would all this entail? What manner of trade would take place, outside of the usual colonial / mother base trade of raw materials for essentials / specialties? Would people be selected to go (the best of the best) – or, like the Australia of old, would a number of these interstellar outposts become mere dumping grounds for the unwanted (think Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven)?

Historically speaking, it is rarely those democratic societies which fostered expansion; for those who did (think Athens of ancient Greece following the Peloponnesian Wars, or the Roman Republic becoming an Empire) in time they eventually became despotic in nature. Some would argue that things are heading in that direction anyway,…

Does such thinking border on lunacy?


Aren’t there far better things to dwell on?

No doubt. But as history has shown every society that entered into a period of expansion beyond it’s physical domains underwent radical changes both within itself and for those whom they interacted with (think Jared Diamond’s seminal work “Guns, Germs and Steel”). It’s also worth noting that the technological age which we are now living in actually took off following the Apollo moon missions, with the introduction of semiconductors and other advances, later on appearing in calculators and home computers.

We may very well stand on the verge of a societal jump – and one that’s badly needed: as our planet faces growing problems – dwindling resources, over population and climate changes – it may be wise to consider our options and see where else we can set up shop.  Rather than pay off a bunch of bankers who are morally bankrupt or financial institutions consistently losing money, maybe it’s a far better – and wiser – idea to invest into a new future.

Here are some links for consideration:

Cable is Dead. Period. And FIOs and Satellite TV Had Better Watch It, Too.

Happy Yom Kippur!

As sit before my computer, creating a post while watching that rare – and somewhat bizarre film, “The Saragossa Manuscript” (Polish, 1965). From the IMBD website:

In the Napoleonic wars, an officer finds an old book that relates his grandfather’s story, Alfons van Worden, captain in the Walloon guard. A man of honor and courage, he seeks the shortest route through the Sierra Morena. At an inn, the Venta Quemada, he sups with two Islamic princesses. They call him their cousin and seduce him; he wakes beside corpses under a gallows. He meets a hermit priest and a goatherd; each tells his story; he wakes again by the gallows. He’s rescued from the Inquisition, meets a cabalist and hears more stories within stories, usually of love. He returns to Venta Quemada, the women await with astonishing news.

So I’m watching a weird and obscure film. So what? Well, considering that it’s a film that is:

1) rarely, if ever shown in a cinema (I happen to see it at the Prince in Philadelphia, PA back in 2002);

2) Is one of those films that doesn’t get too many DVD sales;

3) is NEVER seen on cable, and is hard to find even on iTunes;

…and yet I am now watching it on YouTube – the entire 2 hour 55 minutes. In the original polish with English tag lines. For free. At my leisure, on a big 60″ screen at my home during a holiday.

Cable is flawed technology: it’s based upon the old Token Ring technology developed by IBM in the late 1970’s / early 1980’s for computer networks. Sure, there have been some improvements but the fact remains, the security on a token ring system is not too hard to penetrate (ah, fond memories of my younger days ‘scamming’ and ‘cracking’ into HBO for our free cable shows!) (Thanks to the Highland Avenue Gang).

Now enter Verizon’s FIO’s. Cool; debonair: FIOs is to James Bond as Cable is to Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry PD: nice guy and somebody we’re all familiar with, but who’s going to be better able to beat the bad guys and get the really hot chicks?

And now the real meat of the situation: FIOs is also flawed: it’s merely cable but in a different technology (and for that matter, so is satellite TV).

Let’s face it: you sign up and get some 400+ channels (whoopee!) – but do you really see these channels?


Chances are you’re more likely to focus on shows and topics of interest, rather than channels. Channels are merely an ends to a means: you’re likely going to spend more time bouncing around looking for those older episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” regardless of what channel they’re on, rather than “gee, I’ll just sit here and watch anything that appears on channel whatever” (to be sure, there are the Food Channel fanatics or maybe the SciFi – excuse me, SyFy channel – people, but frankly, it get’s tiring watching Lake Placid Part 18).

Now, enter the wireless realm and the direct linking of hardware through a truly uniform series of software platforms ala Apple.

As Apple has demonstrated for the past several years, it’s all about the ecology, stupid: you’re no longer buying hardware for the sake of hardware: you’re buying systems for the sake of platform – but to the Nth degree. When you buy an Apple system, you’re buying into iTunes, music, movies, phone services / apps as well as hardware and software (Lutz prediction #467: be wary of Apple, for in the coming years, chances are they will also become yet another Evil Monopoly – but for now, it’s pretty cool).

And where does that leave cable and FIOS? Sure, Verizon sells phones, but there’s no there there – no ecology: it’s just hardware. I buy Verizon for generic transmission services (I note that when I had cable I could tell when the late night action was going on and folks were busy downloading their porn: the service got r-e-a-l-l-y S-L-O-W) but not for anything else. The pricing for FIOs movie’s is now being matched by Apple TV – along with the number of movies.

Regardless, Apple is not the entire solution, but they are on to something.

And add into this mix the odd bits and truly make this stew into something really tasty: the latest efforts by Nigerian and other African expat’s who, while abroad and homesick for movies, they turn to,…YouTube. And YouTube has been rather cool about all of this, allowing folks to download entire film libraries for viewing. So, if you’re abroad, and want to watch a Bollywood special, you can – for free. More are following suite. So why should I bother to worry about where I have my copy of the The Saragossa Manuscript” when I can upload it on YouTube and view it anywhere I can so long as I have Internet access?

For free.

As the great (and sadly, largely forgotten) media sage Marshall McLuhan once said, “The medium is the message.”

Get the picture?