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Category: Updates

An end of summer update

I have now settled into my new home with my beautiful wife and wondrous baby boy, who is now in nursery 3 days a week and the shock of loosing my father has turned into a deep sorrow I understand from friends who have been through it I will simply have to learn to live with, and I accept that to a degree. This all means that I have 3 days a week of relative calm to work, in my new home office without domestic or other obligations pulling at me.

Liquid | Author

I am continuing to develop my Mac word processor Liquid | Author but now with a more commercial angle since I can no longer expect the odd, random investment from my father, now that his estate is being broken up and starting to come out of probate I feel more like the money he left for me, and thus my family, is like holding a bag of sugar; I am very concern that it should run out, little by little, and my focus in life now is of course to provide for Edgar. Author is receiving some work to make sure that citations are handled as cleanly and clearly as possible and then work on Author will pause so that I can market it and make it at least some kind of level of sales success. The only other thing we are adding to Author is the ability to post to WordPress and this is because of the jrnl project:

jrnl

I am co-hosting the 50th Anniversary of Doug Engelbart’s demo with ‘The Engelbart Symposium’ on the 9th of December in Silicon Valley (Wendy, I think we’ll be asking you to be on a panel, it’s almost all panels, no real presentations, but we have not finalised the program yet). The other hosts are The Engelbart Institute under Christina Engelbart, Vint Cerf of course and The Computer History Museum who are also our hosts. I will be hosting a panel discussion that day and we will have an area set up for demos, of which my work will be one station. We will also produce a book of the day, which will contain all the contributor’s transcribed presentations/panel discussions and a short pre-or-post written statement by them, along with monochromatic pictures. It’ll be nice. We will also be posting this contents online in a way which honours and demonstrates some of Doug’s ideas, primarily high resolution addressing and viewspecs:

For this I the started the jrnl project (pronounced Journal, I just could not get a good domain name with all the letters showing up for duty) which recalls Doug’s Journal and is based on WordPress for rapid opportunities for actually making something useful. There was an earlier project started when I hosted http://doug-50.info/index.html which I hoped could produce something wonderful from a diverse group of people but it became a 100% knowledge graph effort due to the passion of the strongest contributors so whereas I am still involved in some of their dialog and they will exhibit on the 9th, this is not something I feel strongly connected with or able to understand. There is one important overlap between their work and the jrnl project and that is hyperGlossaries http://thefutureoftext.org/hyperglossary.html

I am working with Chris Gutteridge of Southampton on the jrnl project and Gyuri Layos who is also actively involved with the knowledge graph work, on the hyperGlossaries and Chris is also working with me on the jrnl project along my coders in the Ukraine who built the current version of Liquid | Flow, my Mac text-interaction application. I am also hiring external wordpress expertise to make sure we are going about the plugin system in the best way.

I further had a meeting with professional, full-time wordpress developer Shane Gibson who is considering donating some time to the project since I told him I have no money for this but he is excited to be working on a project with Vint’s name attached, which shows commitment to the ideals here I think.

The interaction method is a blue dot which appears when user selects text. Point to it to get a menu of options. This is what used to be called the Hyperwords Project and was developed for Mozilla and Chrome as well as for wordpress which is the code we will be using now: https://jrnl.global/2018/09/21/refined-blue-dot/

What I feel would be the minimum features inspired by Doug to demonstrate (as in show fully working and let people download and install as robust plugins for their own wordpress setup) are high resolution addressability (in the form of the ability to Copy As Citation which provides at least a paragraph level address in the form of an anchor so that anyone can use the link in any context and it will work) and some ViewSpecs, likely an Author style Find In Page (which re-draws the page to show only sentences with the selected text) and/or Flow (which redraws the text with line breaks after , and double line breaks after . as discussed in: https://jrnl.global/2018/09/09/visual-syntactic-text-formatting/

PhD

In an advisor meeting with Les when I was still fully active we agreed that my interest in what Doug Engelbart called ViewSpecs should be the focus of my research but with a focus on the act of changing views, not just on the views themselves.

The act of changing a view should certainly not be a removed act like clicking a button but rather an action where the user is manipulating the shape of the information. I came up with the notion of Compressed Scrolling this week. The idea is that when the user starts to scroll past a certain speed (going from positional scrolling to navigational scrolling in Chris Gutterdidge’s words) then currently all the user sees is a grey block of illegible text. What I propose is that on this threshold the view changes to hide generic text and highlight useful text since the user is now in seeking mode. The user does not start to scroll because they want to move the document up and down, they start to scroll to see another part of the document.

So what could happen is that:

  • All the body text becomes greyed out and reduced in size making headings more prominent
  • All names in the document stay black and the rest of the text greys out
  • All the names in the document become icons if they are for companies and pictures if for people
  • Doug Engelbart suggested colour coding text based on the category words. For example we did a fun test together where all the words about tech were coloured yellow, companies blue, people green and so on. It really did give an insight as to what sections discussed what since it didn’t really take that long to learn the colours but it was ugly and not so readable when you stopped to read. In this scenario however, the colours would only be applied when scrolling, not when reading

We are further working on realising a powerful hyperGlossary in this environment: http://thefutureoftext.org/hyperglossary.html

These are potentially powerful views to help the user move around their own or other’s documents. I have been in touch with Howard Oakley who blogged about macOS Mojave’s text analysis APIs and we’ll try to look at some of this for Author, while Shane might look into the for jrnl wordpress and Chris is interested in both. I met Howard through Twitter, having Mark Anderson as a mutual friend. This is the post I read which opened my eyes and got in touch with him: https://eclecticlight.co/2018/10/01/getting-word-frequencies-by-lexical-class-nalaprop-gets-more-useful/

I think this line of enquiry could be useful and a good PhD, but it would real user testing so I will need to get some research funding, which I am working on.

 

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‘Kindle Opens The Book with deep-links’ (proposal)

Kindle books have revolutionised reading on tablets and computers but I would like to point out an area of potential great improvement with a relatively small and well protected investment: 

Pointing is a way of communicating we have had since childhood and which originates much earlier in our evolution than even homo-sapiens. An important type of pointing is a citation, where an author points to a specific section (such as a page, in a printed book) to refer to a specific point. Although printed citations were slow to follow, since the reader would need to find the book cited and then the page number, this is actually more convenient than with digital books; A digital book does not have page numbers and a commercial book, with copy-protection, does not allow a citation to point inside it. This means that not only does the reader need to find the book as before, it also means that once the book is found the reader will have to trawl through the book to find the passage cited. 

This constrains the dialog between books, one of the fundamental building blocks of intelligent, reasoned conversation. Not only can authors cite incorrectly, they can also ignore the context of any citation with impunity due to the effort to check.  

This opens up opportunities for what has become called Fake News. An author can make an assertion and bolster the assertion with multiple citations which gives courage to the converted yet no access for analysis for the critical reader, not only for the first citation, but also for the citations cited in the source–the network of discourse becomes opaque and intellectual curiosity constrained.  

The reasons for this deficit in intellectual capability comes from the copy protection of the books, which is an important aspect of their production and distribution so is not an issue in itself. The proposed solution offered here does not interfere with copy protection because it will be a solution built in to the Kindle reader, not by third party reading systems. 

The proposed way it would work#

The core functionality would work like this: 

    • The user comes across a section of text which she would like to cite and she selects the text and a new option appears: Copy As Citation.
    • The user then goes into her word processing application or web design application and Pastes this Citation which appears as text in quotes with a URL appended, to make sure it will be active/clickable in any reader application.
    • Once she publishes, a reader can then click on this citation and it will appear as a deep-link into the Kindle book and the user’s software will ask the reader if he would like to open it in Kindle. He can choose to do this (with the opportunity of purchasing the book if not already owned) and the Kindle reader will interpret the coded deep-link information and jump to that part of the book.
    • Kindle books could optionally show a larger section around the cited text as a preview before the purchase, allowing the reader to look inside the book, as is possible when purchasing the book through the Amazon store.

A software extension to open the book further could then add this: 

  • The URL which is Copied As Citation would always include all the bibliographic references to the book (encoded in plain text after the main address for any software to be able to read it, separately from the proprietary and protected Kindle location) so that if the book is no longer sold by Kindle or is available through the users library, the user can still click on the link and choose to open another instance of that book.
  • Therefore the Kindle deep-link becomes a convenient and value-added feature, but does not preclude access to other means of accessing the book and would therefore be more politically valuable.
  • The way the internal link would work in this scenario would simply be as a keyword search based on the cited text.
  • For this the reader software would need to be updated, something that an ‘Open Kindle’ system would encourage and show leadership with.

 

Benefits#

The end user benefit for the author would be more credible writing, since citations can be accessed instantly and provide the full context (in a purchased book) and for the reader it would make it much more efficient to really get to grips with the text. 

The societal benefit would be an increased standard of intellectual discourse. 

The benefit for Amazon would be doing something concrete to fight Fake News and support clear and open academic and political dialogue.  

In Summary#

In summary, I am offering this as an academic at the University of Southampton and a software developer who is working with the co-inventor of the Internet, Vint Cerf, on making electronic text ever more powerful.  

We host an annual Future of Text Symposium http://futureoftext.org and this year we are putting together a special Symposium honouring our late friend and (practically speaking) inventor of personal computing, Doug Engelbart http://doug-50.info/index.html If this is agreed to then the 50th Anniversary of Doug Engelbart’s ‘mother of all demos’ event could be a great announcement day for this, since what he called high-resolution addressing was core to his philosophy. 

We have discussed this approach with numerous libraries, including representatives of the Library of Congress with the response always being that this would be a capability of great social and intellectual value. 

Frode Hegland, 

London 

 

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