Archive for May, 2006

Google Notebook

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Google has launched a new service that could be immensely useful for researchers.

gnotebook.jpg

You sign in to your Google Account, then install the Google Notebook application (for Firefox it's an extension).

You can then select text or images from any page, and a right-click menu option lets you copy that snippet to your notebook. Alternatively, you can keep a notebook window open in your browser and click its “Add note” button. Google Notebook keeps track of the URL from which your snippet came.

You can have one or more notebooks, and you can keep them private or tell Google to make them public. You can organise your notes by dragging, and you can add your own text and headings. You can also directly edit the clipped text. Naturally, there's a search box (for your own notebook or for all public notebooks).

Whenever you're logged in to Google, the search results will have an added “Note this” link. When clicked, this changes to “Duly noted” and the link (and search result snippet) appear in your notebook.

This is a great way to collect information for a research task!

(via Google Blogoscoped)

Project blinkenlights

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

The Chaos Computer Club, a group of early (founded 1981) computer enthusiasts from Hamburg, Germany made a very special event to celebrate it´s 20th birthday some years ago.

They setup the biggest interactive “computer display” on a building in Berlin, Germany and named the project blinkenlights.

“The upper eight floors of the building were transformed in to a huge display by arranging 144 lamps behind the building’s front windows. A computer controlled each of the lamps independently to produce a monochrome matrix of 18 times 8 pixels.”

Quote from the blinkenlights page.

At night a number of animations could be seen, including the chance of playing pong, a very old computer game with your mobile phone on the building.

This was a really fascinating project, somewhere between arts, nonsense and extremely creative ideas. A video, giving an impression of the performance is available as well.

More prehistoric civilization – Jomon

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

While in the last post we explored Catal Huyuk, the world’s oldest known city, we will now head to the Far East to explore a civilization even older. No city is involved this time, at least no city older than Catal, but other cultural artifacts demonstrating early civilization, and even some small settlements, are certainly much older.

Are you ready for 500,000 years older? Yep, that is half a million years.

While we are not ready to call this a “civilization” yet, the sheer age of the settlement makes it a worthwhile place to begin our study of a later prehistoric civilization known as Jomon.

“A archeological find in Kantho Dsitrict[sic] announced on Feb 21 may shake up established theories about Homo erectus. Huts thought to be 500,000 years old and built by primitive humans were found in Saitama Prefecture-Kantho Dsitrict,[sic] the prefectural board of education said. The discovery that strongly suggests Homo erectus constructed buildings is likely to overturn the established theory that they were constantly on the move hunting for food without staying in one place, experts said.” You may want to read more about this: – http://www2.inforyoma.or.jp/~mitsubo/english/english_news.html

You may also wonder why a find of that magnitude is not widely known outside of Japan. It is a sad affair for Japanese archaeology that very little attention is paid to it outside the country, though they are doing exciting things, not only in Japan, but worldwide. Waseda University is conducting marvelous research projects in Egypt, but we hear mostly about American and European researchers instead.

I hope that situation changes and the sooner the better.

Now we will jump forward in time to about 16,500 BCE and the beginnings of the culture and civilization known as Jomon, in Japan.

In the beginning, Jomon was a ceramics society. While agriculture and metal technology reached Japan rather late, pottery technology developed quite early. “Jomon” is, in fact, the name of the era’s pottery and that name is applied to the culture as well.

The Odai-Yamamoto site has yielded 46 pottery sherds that have been dated by the radiocarbon method to 16,500 BCE.

Along with the sherds, there was found a stone tool assemblage which included axes with polished stone edges, stone drills, arrow heads and shaft smoothers.

By the end of this earliest Jomon period, several types of pottery had been developed and found at various locations in Japan.

It must also be noted, that while pottery is found at this time in early Japan, it is not a well developed technology. It is usually very rough and poorly fired. And, there is not very much of it.

But that was only the beginning of what later developed into a full fledged prehistoric civilization.

By about 5000 BCE, Jomon villages begin to take on a more long-term nature. While evidence points to most of these settlements being relatively sedentary, evidence does not imply that they were used year round. Study of lithic assemblages from various settlement sites suggest that the villages only had seasonal occupation. Jomon civilization was still generally a hunter, gatherer society. In fact, the Jomon Culture is said to be one of the most affluent hunter-gatherer civilizations to ever exist.

While evidence does point to limited plant cultivation during the final Jomon era in parts of Japan, its impact was minimal. First of all, these plants only supplemented the daily diet, while a large percentage of the daily calories are still believed to be gotten from hunting and gathering.

Contrary to much popular belief, a hunter-gatherer culture does not necessarily equate with a primitive and backward civilization. For a non-agricultural society, the Jomon diet was quite extensive and varied; rich in fact.

The Jomon use of plants, land animals and fish varied greatly with time and location. Hunting was mostly with a bow and arrow. Fishing included the use of hooks and lines, nets and traps, and spears. Later in Jomon civilization, an excellent harpoon technology appeared. Plant harvesting included digging sticks for roots, and grinders and querns for the many kinds of nuts and seeds that were available.

There was an extremely wide range of land animals, fish, plants, shell fish, molluscs and birds. A generalized list of the foods of the Jomon would give deer and boar, sea bream, sea perch, and other types of fish, chestnuts, walnuts and acorns, clams and oysters, tuna and sea mammals. The Jomon people used almost all available food plants and animals, taking a sustainable number of those things they liked and using the rest to fill out their diet. There is growing evidence that, at least in some times and some regions, the Jomon ‘managed’ their natural resources for best productivity and for sustainable exploitation. Ancient Japan was so naturally rich and abundant there was no real need for an agricultural society to emerge.

A variety of crafts and ritual objects were also created during the Joman. Red and black lacquerware was developed. Ritual ceremonial centers and stone circles were constructed.

One of the largest, and now one of the best known Jomon sites is Sannai Maruyama. You will find an extensive amount of information about it here:
http://apti.net.pref.aomori.jp/sannai-en/sannai.html – From AOMORI Prefectural Government

For additional Jomon information:

Yayoi and Jomon – From Richard Hooker – http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/ANCJAPAN/YAYOI.HTM

Jomon Period – From Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jomon

Jomon Japan.org – http://www.jomonjapan.org/

Till next time

Digs

I can see you!

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Probably one of the most widespread, yet also most overlooked phenomena of the Internet Age is that almost everybody has at least a vague idea of the incredible amount of information that can be found online, while hardly anyone can imagine that he/she is leaving footprints in Data Desert anyone can find without being a hacker.

Some days ago, for example, I met the sister of a friend of mine. Being of Indian descent (India in the Orient, that is), her name is not exactly an everyday name one would stumble across at every corner of the street. Just for fun, I googled her name, and I instantly knew what she was studying, at which university, and some other details. Nothing spectacular. The next time I met her, I casually mentioned what I knew and she was utterly surprised.

At another occasion, when I was working on a question for Google Answers, I started with the name of a little-known, highly specialized medical journal a customer desired to contact. After half an hour, I did not only know who the publisher was, I also had his exact address, a photo of his house and I knew what kind of wood the floor in his living room is made of, to mention only some things. And I'm pretty sure I could have found out even more about him.

It is a bit frightening how much information about ordinary private individuals you can find if you only know how to search for it and how to combine the bits and pieces. And the amount of information puzzle pieces available to the experienced online researcher seems to be growing enormously. Next time you walk in the street, look at the people around you and ask yourself: Do they have the slightest idea of what you could find out about many of them, without even having to leave your computer desk at home?

Maybe it's better they don't know. Bismarck once said: “People can sleep peacefully as long as they do not know how sausages and politics are made.” And what can be found about them on the Web, I'd like to add.

The Global Mosaic

Monday, May 15th, 2006

broth.jpg

The Global Mosaic is a collaborative art application at The Broth.

Anyone can move the tiles – and everyone can see it happening in real time.

Sometimes the mosaic looks rather random, but sometimes the people online “get it together” and create some beautiful images, especially in the public and private side-rooms.

I’d love to have a full-screen version of this as a screensaver – never twice the same image!

(via Google Blogoscoped)

For the Greater Google…

Monday, May 15th, 2006

All right, Google. You and Yahoo are cloning each other’s services (gigabyte e-mail, anyone?). Microsoft’s breathing down your back. AltaVista’s looking to make a comeback with cool, new, knock-yer-socks-off search features.

How do you stay on top in the searching-for-everything business?

There are a few things I’d like to see added to Google searching that can really make a difference. I’ll begin by mentioning a few today, and will grow the list over the course of a few posts.

It would be nice to also see the list grow with comments from fellow bloggers…I can’t be the only one with an unrequited yearning for new and cool power-search features, such as…

Special characters

No, I don’t mean Donald Duck or Donald Trump (not that they’re not both special). I’m talking about keyboard characters that we all use a zillion times over, but that no search engine on the face of the planet has opted to fully index.

Take the almighty dollar sign. Sometimes Google recognizes it, sometimes not. Google has a splendid number range feature, that can search for all numbers between, say, 5,000 and 10,000. But suppose I’m not interested in all numbers. Suppose I just want to zero in on webpages that mention prices and costs…and not in Yen or Pounds or Euros. Just good ol’ dollars. A search that consistently recognized $ could distinguish between ‘5,000 people spent $100 dollars each…’ and ‘100 people spent $5,000 each…”. And of course, the same feature for Yen and Pounds and Euros makes just as much searching sense in this globally-connected age of ours.

Percents. Same, thing, sort of, for the percent sign. It would be very cool and very convenient to be able to specify that a search is looking for numbers-as-percents, rather than any old number that happens to happen by. The percents issue also brings up the topic of symbol and numeral ‘translations’ (for want of a better term), of which, there is more below.

Escargot. Bet you didn’t know that’s what the French sometimes call the @ sign. It does look like a snail, non? The nefarious, ubiquitous, emminently spammable at-sign…Why the hell can’t we search for it? Obvious, you say? Because the spammers will then be able to get email addresses off the internet? Well…big news flash!…they already can, using specialized harvesting software. But for all the rest of us, searching for the occasional email address is made overly difficult by the inability of search engines to recognize @ as part of their searches. I, for one, would love to be able to find some @paypal.com addresses, so I could contact a few of their customer service humans when I’m feeling the need for some human-to-human customer service.

Symbol/Number/Name/Abbreviation Translations.

Have you ever wanted to search for an exact hit on 10% ? I have. But how many ways can 10% can be written…! 10%. 10 percent. 10 per cent. Ten percent. Ten per cent. And there are probably a few that I’m missing. So, not only should Google learn to recognize the percent sign, it should learn to ‘translate’ some mainstream items like %, so that my poor carpal-tunneled fingers don’t have to type the same phrase six different ways. In addition to percents, Google should be able to translate “a hundred dollars” as “100 dollars” and “$100”. Bob and Bill should translate as Robert and William. Corp as Corporation, Ltd as Limited. “Baltimore & Ohio” as “Baltimore and Ohio” In essence, Google already ‘translates’ misspellings, so why not take the next logical step?

That’s all the brain dump I’m dumping for now.

‘Till next time…

Dave aka pafalafaga

Prehistoric Civilization

Monday, May 15th, 2006

When the term “prehistoric civilization” is used, for some, perhaps even many, it creates visions of Atlantis, or some other “fabulous” place, perhaps even civilizations surpassing our own. “Alternative” or “fringe” archaeology even tries frequently to make known historic civilizations older than they really are, or at least artifacts from them. The controversy about the age of the Great Sphinx is just one example. Some try to place its creation several thousand years earlier than current accepted knowledge. (it isn’t older, it dates from Egypt’s 4th Dynasty – and there is no controversy within the ranks of ‘orthodox’ Egyptologists)

But even without the help of the alternative theorists and fringe archaeology, there really were civilizations and cities which predate the historic (written) record of humanity.

We will begin with the archaeological record of Catal Huyuk (or Catal Hoyuk – Chat-al Hoo-yook) a temple city in prehistoric Anatolia and the central hub of a Neolithic civilization.

Today, Catal Huyuk, which is the oldest known city ever found, is hardly an impressive sight. Eight thousand years of history have left it a pitted mound in a rolling agricultural plain. Little remains to show that this Neolithic metropolis was a center of civilization, trade, and a development point of ideas for over 2000 years.

The oldest levels of Catal Huyuk yet studied, have been dated to 6,500 BCE, and virgin soil has yet to be reached.

The twelve layers of buildings so far excavated, each representing a different stage in the city’s development, show that the most recent buildings were erected about 5,600 BCE. For some unknown reason the city was abandoned and a new city called Catal Huyuk West was founded several miles away. Catal West has yet to be investigated in any great detail but it seems to have been occupied for another 700 years before it too, was abandoned.

After 4,900 BCE, there are no further Neolithic buildings in the area. The region seems abandoned till much later in history. It also seems reasonable to believe that for several hundred years, perhaps several millennia before 6,500 BCE, the site was was occupied, developed from a village into a town, and finally a city.

During a period of time when a “big town” such as Hacilar may have had up to ten houses, Catal Huyuk was a cosmopolitan city of more than 10,000.

While a city of 10,000 may not seem like much to us who can live in cities of millions, at the time it was the largest known concentration of humans on the planet – there was simply nothing else like it.

“The neolithic civilization revealed at Catal Huyuk shines like a supernova among the rather dim galaxy of contemporary peasant cultures” states James Mellaart, excavator of Catal Huyuk and a leading expert on the ancient Middle East.

Mellart also maps out several village sites stretching over a trade route network reaching for hundreds of miles. The city seems to have been the center of a wide spread population.

While “daily life in Catal Huyuk” material here is thin, we simply don’t know that much about it beyond conjecture, we do know a few things.

The city was colorful, murals have survived to this day and indicate that much of Catal was brightly painted. They created a wide variety of sculptures out of clay and stone, had a sophisticated pottery industry, polished stone tool industry, worked with obsidian, bone and other materials in their daily lives, as well as carrying on an extensive trade.

The houses were made of mud brick and placed close together. As houses were destroyed and new ones built, the city became a terrace of houses rising one above the other. Humanity had built its first man-made mountain. And with the evidence of external muraling and painting, the city may have flashed and glimmered with color above the surrounding plain.

The full lifespan of this prehistoric civilization ranged from about 7000 BCE to 4,900 BCE, some 2,100 years, a time equal to what has passed between Julius Caesar’s Rome and our own. Not bad for a people who could not write.

I hope this opens a door to the fact that civilization did not begin with the great monuments of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

In fact, when the civilization represented by Catal Huyuk had finished its run and faded into history, Egypt and Mesopotamia were still more than a thousand years in the future.

Prehistoric civilization reaches far back into the mists of time. Perhaps even further than we already know.

Till next time

Digs

For additional information see: – Catalhoyuk – http://www.smm.org/catal/

Catalhoyuk Homepage – http://www.catalhoyuk.com/

Focus on Catal Hoyuk – http://www.focusmm.com/civcty/cathyk00.htm

catalhoyuk.jpg

(This photo of Çatalhöyük is copyright the Çatalhöyük Research Project, and is licensed under a Creative Commons License)

The Mind of a Web Researcher

Monday, May 15th, 2006

How does the mind of a web researcher work? How should you prepare before you research online?

First of all, don’t worry if you are not an expert on a subject. In fact you don’t have to know the subject very well to perform good research.

Let us start with this premise since this is one of the most important lessons I learned as time went by. The web is a very vast repository of knowledge that it is hard not to find anything on something that has been discussed before. If ever you will be asked something that is not very familiar to you, read on the very basics first.

One example will be finding new trends about “usb drives”. Here are the necessary steps:

  1. If you don’t know what a usb drive is then to know its basic definitions first. If you need to go to a kids website to understand it then do it. There is no shame in that since it’s your own PC anyway.
  2. After that know its history so you could appreciate the trends you will find out later.
  3. After getting a good historical perspective, we can now find new articles about the topic. Again treat this on a case to case basis. Usually for technology related subjects, an article done one to two years ago will still be good but the more recent the better. If you’re looking for trends as to social issues like “parent teen relationships” then even a seven to ten year span can be acceptable.

Next time we will discuss what your mindset should be when you use search engines.

Usenet Timeline

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Forgotten or unknown to many young internet users is a historical part of the web, the usenet. Before the graphic oriented browsers and usage of html became common messages and discussions were led in the usenet.

Google offers access to about 800 million messages dating back to the early 80’s, some funny and interesting examples can be found here.

The whole archive of the usenet is reachable via the google groups.

Online databases

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Usually the publishing of databased dynamic web content requires quite a lot of programming skills. Widespread and almost standard is the MySQL / PHP combination.

Several years ago I found another, very simple way of publishing dynamic content. A german programmer from Berlin by the name of Christoph Bergmann developed the baseportal system which is available in multiple languages. I’ve been using the system for several purposes for about five years now and I’m impressed by the ease of use, power and flexibility.

There´s an easy start section where new users are led in an easy, five minutes lesson to the publishing if their first online database.

The documentation will allow users with a little advanced knowledge to realize almost any kind of dynamic content, the Perl language is the key to the realization of anything you may want to do.

“What can I do with baseportal?”

Everything… ;-)

At least everything you need for your website. Here are some practical examples:

  • A dealer of Model Railways administrates his sale offers with baseportal.
  • A simple database like a list of airlines is created fast and easy with baseportal.
  • Arbitrary complex applications can be programmed, like a content management system with several categories, mail and news dispatch, user registration and much more.
  • A portal of the German Hockey League uses baseportal to maintain and archive its news.

“Those are only some few examples from thousands web applications realized with baseportal!”
Quote from the baseportal documentation.