A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Friday, April 22, 2005

Issue 6

Text with a view
The largest horde of classical texts, the Oxyrhynchus (sharp nosed fish) Papyri, boxed in eight hundred cartons, can be found in the Oxford Sackler library, where it lay unreadable since its discovery at the ancient homonymous rubbish dump in central Egypt. An article in the Independent on Sunday discussed how experts at the University used a new technique to read the texts from pieces of papyrus where the ink had faded or was overwritten since paper was a very expensive commodity in the ancient world, which meant that quite often the ink would be scratched off to use the sheet again and again, resulting in several layers of text one on top of the other so that the original was completely lost to the naked eye.

The scientists used a technique called multispectral imaging to bring the ancient texts to life. This technique was developed in order to successfully analyse and enhance satellite images. Satellites measure energy at different wavelengths in the infrared spectrum. Different combinations of wavelengths, superimposed to create a composite image highlight different areas in a photograph of a city or a landscape from space. Drawing the analogy and by photographing the ancient parchments, the scientists in Oxford were able to read successfully, and at an impressive speed a first sample from the horde. A tutorial of multispectral imaging can be found in classzone.

Athough that there are probably no complete new texts that will come to light as most papyri are fragments, the reading of the texts will significantly enhance our understanding of the classical world, to the point that the researchers like to think that it would be the classical antiquity equivalent of finding the Holy Grail. Although similar techniques have been used to read texts, this is the first time this has been successfully applied to manuscripts.
Oxford University Papyrology
The Independent on Sunday
Multispectral Imaging (tutorial)

Text with an attitude
In the current issue of the Economist, just out today, there is an article in the business section quoting Rupert Murdoch saying that the end of journalism as we know it is imminent and that newspapers (like the Economist) should take heed of the new trends in reading and responding to news publications. Most people no longer buy a newspaper on a daily basis, whereas the younger generations do not like to be told what to read and prefer the plethora of sources available on the internet. Blogs along with podcasts are mentioned as some of the increasingly more powerful media of communicating news. Younger readers and writers in blogs are resistant to patronising editors who decide for them what they should read and will more likely post a comment to be followed up as a discussion thread on a website than write a letter to a newspaper, hoping that an editor will choose to publish it. Much as the article is well rounded and interesting, there is no mention of RSS as a tool to gather information from traditional newspapers' online editions and blogs alike.
The future of journalism

The night of the long horns
Jim Allchin, Microsoft group vice president, gave more details of the new Microsoft operating system, now five years in the making, in an interview in CNET. It is intriguing how eager he is to compare Longhorn with Tiger and emphasise that although the two may look similar, Microsoft is groundbreaking in the “under the hood” enhancements of file handling, GUI, and other features. It is open wars again with deadlines to meet and (bets welcome) deadlines to miss so that a service pack two will actually be a complete (re)download of the OS minus the security black holes new security features will have introduced…
Allchin interview

Rebels without a pause
Revelations is an independent film in the Star Wars storyline which was done completely by volunteers who were not paid and is distributed freely on the internet. It was done on a minimum budget and with equipment bought on ebay.
Panic Struck Productions

Where does your laptop come from?
The geopolitics of global operations ensure that four days elapse from the moment you click “pay” to the moment your (Dell) laptop arrives at your front door. A number of countries ship each individual component to the assembly line, and this sort of global co-operation can be the cause to eliminate war from the face of the earth.
Guardian article

Chartreuse is away next week
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