Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New blog

A note to any subscribers out there. I'm now writing at a new blog called Coppers for a cat. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Online Microscope Tools

I just purchased an old microscope on eBay. It hasn't yet been shipped to me, but I've begun to wonder about online tools which would satisfy someone's curiosity about the microworld. I found one such site (Online Digital Microscope) interesting, but limited in scope.

What would be nice is a site where researchers and amateurs can upload photos of microscope slides. Photos could be accompanied by comments, a description of how the sample was obtained, an image of the original sample, pointers to interesting coordinates within the slide, etc.

Even nicer would be a website that allowed remote operation of a microscope. A bank of prepared slides could be accessed by a robotic arm, and the microscope would be controlled by clicks on a web page. A network of microscopes distributed across the globe would allow for a rich collection of slides.

If anyone is aware of other online microscope websites, please comment.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Helping Gutenberg

I recently came across Distributed Proofreaders while reading a post at the O'Reilly Radar Blog and have started contributing my time to the project.

There are a number of activities that members can partake in: proofreading, formatting, post-processing, and contributing, among others.

The site could use some updating; it really has a 90s feel to it. However, I love the goal of the project, and will continue using it. (I just finished proofreading a page of old French poetry.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bookmarks 2.0

At present, the common bookmark fulfills one purpose: marking a reader's current location in a book, by cutting the book into a "read" section and an "unread" section. Today's bookmarks do this quite well, with a few exceptions:
  • bookmarks fall out of books (Exception #1)
  • a bookmark's sides may be similar or identical, thereby marking pages n and n+1
  • bookmarks only mark a page number, with no further line-granularity
After re-reading this very short list, I realize that these points are quite lame, save the last, in which the key word is only.

There is much being done about replacing paper-based books with e-versions. While this may occur at some point in the far-flung future, it seems quite possible that the average consumer will continue buying the p-version, thereby maintaining a high p/e ratio. (...whatever that means.)

Perhaps an intermediate step before completely electronifying the book would be to add an electronic accessory to it - the electronic bookmark. This would be a very thin device, shaped like a typical bookmark, but perhaps a bit wider. The e-mark would allow for input (stylus or finger) and output (thin-display technology) through some form of mini-browser, and would be wirelessly connected to the web.

What would this then allow for?
  • searches
  • tagging
  • annotation
  • definitions
  • social reading
  • virtual book clubs
  • custom illustrations
  • immediate access to outside sources or references
  • bookmarking
Searching for character names, author biographies, location references and word definitions would be a snap, even more so with direct access to a book's skeleton file, a document containing relevant indexing information for all aspects of the book (content, index, publisher, bibliography, etc.)

Tagging of chapters, pages, paragraphs and sentences would allow content hunters to search for their results in a less algorithmic (ie. typical search-engine-like) manner.

Annotation lets you make virtual margin notes on any page, regardless of how small the actual margins are. Glance at other readers' annotations for tips, insights, and different points of view. (No more of this type of Fermatian excuse: "The proof is quite simple, but I don't have enough room in the margins to demonstrate it.")

Any number of social book applications could be built and accessed through the e-mark: virtual bookclubs, social reading, custom illustrations, errata lists, etc.

Assuming a project such as Google Books allows for snippets (or a bit more) to be pulled out, references and outside sources (primary, secondary, ...) could be fetched to elucidate and illuminate various passages.

And of course, bookmarking. A higher level of bookmark granularity could be achieved using a mechanical slider to indicate which line you're stopping at. This could be a backup to the digital version: a small pointer, enabled by a quick tap of a fingertip.

But, all of this neat functionality literally flies out the window if "Exception #1" occurs above. The bookmark may fall out of the book (and it might be an expensive bookmark). So, another non-digital technology, the elastic band, could be used to secure the e-mark to the p-book.

I think e-marks would be more quickly adopted by readers as an extension to books than would e-books themselves. Asking people to completely replace a proven "technology" (books) with a new one (however cool it may be) can be met with frustrating non-compliance (think Segway). However, boosting the typical reading experience with a new gadget may be a welcome stepping stone to Books 2.0.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Today I tried leaving a comment at Yahoo's search blog. I filled out the info fields, entering the address of this blog in the weblog field (http://web201.blogspot.com) and hit post. I was quite surprised to be greeted by the following screen:

If you look at the line of text starting with "Your comment could not be submitted..." you'll notice that Yahoo is objecting to the fact that my blog is hosted at blogspot.com and I'm told to correct the error and repost. I suppose I could transfer my blog to another company's weblob servers to satisfy Yahoo's request and to have my comment posted there, but I opted against this.

What are the alternatives? Yahoo's Search Blog could institute a slightly more demanding authentication scheme. Currently, a commenter is asked to type the word "Yahoo" in an input field. And they wonder why they're getting spam? How about a captcha or something?

Another alternative is to use Yahoo Mail's spam filtering tools. Anything's better than blacklisting an entire domain!

When these kinds of things happen, I just get depressed about the Internet and technology in general. Can't someone spend a little bit more time thinking things through?

(I ended up posting, but entered my website instead of my blog address instead.)

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Another little experiment:

I've set up a blog that anyone can (anonymously) post to. Why? To see what the YubNub community (and hopefully many others) are thinking about, worrying about, hoping for, love, hate, etc., etc.

This is currently done via YubNub using the tell (or netsend) and look (or netread) commands. For example:

tell I'm listening to some old David Bowie and I'm loving it.

This will (almost) immediately post the "I'm listening..." message to the MultiBlog.


This will forward you to the MultiBlog website to read the posts. If you're not familiar with YubNub, see my YubNub post. (These commands must be typed in to a YubNub command field.) Also, if you subscribe to the RSS feed you can avoid the "look" command altogether.

If anyone wants to help spruce up the site's graphics or template, please contact me.

Have fun!

Cellphone Dreams

Last night I had a strange dream. Someone asked me to do a web search on my cellphone. I slowly went through some tiny screens and finally got to Google. I entered a search term (I wish I could remember what it was) and selected "Search".

Cut to the next scene, where all of a sudden the someone and I were now huddled about some kind of very old micro-computer looking at a screen which seemed to be displaying Gopher or Lynx.

Does this say anything about the future of web access via mobile phones?

I hesitate to jump into either of the two futurist camps. One which says that the PC is dead. And the other which says that the cellphone is the future of web access. I have no doubt that handheld devices will play an integral part in our lives, but I can't see the PC leaving us any time soon. Evolving, yes. But dying? No.

For the future of mobile web access, I prefer to imagine a device made of electronic paper which unfolds/unrolls to the page-size of a standard hardcover book (or larger), which hooks up to the web wirelessly, is touch-sensitive, and is very easy on the eyes, both in terms of design and display quality.

I think that was my first tech dream.

My del.icio.us attic

I think I use the del.icio.us social bookmarking service as much as the average user. "I gotta read that later..." "I definitely gotta check this site out..." "That looks kinda neat..." I bookmark all this stuff, and what do I do with it? Nothing!

Well, that's a mild overstatement. I do occasionally search for a site within my del.icio.us tags, but this typically occurs only when I remember that I had previously bookmarked it. So, this is like putting a bunch of paraphernalia up into the attic, and afterwards, never rummaging around up there. I need someone to climb up to the attic on a regular basis, dust off a few boxes, and present me with something of interest. Why did I put them up there in the first place?

With this in mind, I'm working on a del.icio.us randomizer. Some kind of tool that will alert me in some way about the neat links I've bookmarked there.

Codename: randel

More info once it's close to being done...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

dogear: in-page bookmarking

One of my very early posts was about creating bookmarks within a web document. Most, if not all, of the current bookmarking web applications allow you to bookmark a page, but not a sentence.

As I was bookmarking articles to my del.icio.us account, I became frustrated by the fact that I would probably never get to them, as I was being forced to read them in a linear way. Read one article, then move to the next. I don't work like that, so I decided to something about it.

Ta da! dogear.

After dogear parses through a web page, the reader can click on almost any sentence to bookmark it. The sentence is highlighted and its location is sent to the dogear database.

Now you can take breaks while you read, read out of sequence, survive browser or computer crashes, and bring your readings with you wherever you go.

dogear is in its alpha stages at the moment, but I'm trying to get everything to work properly (some sites just won't go through the dogear engine; others don't display properly), and to add some "social" features: Who else is reading this? What else are people reading who are reading this? I want to review this. Et cetera.

dogear is looking for some alpha users to test the concept and provide feedback.

Contact me at www.eigology.com.

unblokt: 2nd George W. Bush speech begins

An unblokt user has requested another go at a collaborative George W. Bush speech. The first Bush speech was completed a few weeks ago and can be read here. Some quotes:
"We should put our faith in God and in whatever our leaders say."
"Anyone who disagrees with us is a terrorist."
"The terrorists hate babies. They hate apple pie. They want to destroy the American dream. Not only do they want to destroy it, they want to squash it and mash it up like a bug."

I think Bush's speechwriters must be getting in on the unblokt action too.