Apple, the world’s most valuable company, hit the $600 billion level for the first time Tuesday.

-Washington Post

*sigh*. I can remember when the stock price was ~$5.00 back around 1996 or so, and I’m fairly certain it hit a low around $2.00 prior to that. Now it’s over 100x higher (at $600/share)! Hindsight…

The Walters Museum in Baltimore has some leaves from the Archimedes Palimpsest on exhibit (through Jan 1, 2012). I took the kids to visit the exhibit today.

Very nice venue, and the exhibit was well laid out. While the museum is kid-friendly (they hand out satchels with crafts/activities related to the exhibit for the kids to work on), looking at “old books” didn’t hold the attention of a 5-year old for more than 30 minutes (which I thought was a lot). Granted, about 10 of those were a video presentation. Little Olivia fell asleep in her stroller…

The Archimedes Palimpsest is a Medieval parchment manuscript. The currently visible part of the manuscript is a Byzantine Prayer book, written around 1229 AD. What makes it interesting is that the parchment used for the prayer book is actually comprised of previous manuscripts from about the 10th century. The scribe in the 13th century used a knife and scraped off the older text so as to reuse the parchment for the prayer book (“Palimpsest” is from the Greek, meaning “scraped again”). You can do this with parchment (sheep skin) as it is quite durable. The previous manuscripts comprise some 7 treatises by Archimedes – and for 2 of these there was no known existing text. Now there is!

The underlying Archimedes text is revealed via a technique called “multispectral imaging”. Basically, many digital images are taken of the parchment, each at a different wavelength of light – some in the ultraviolet, invisible to the eye. These images are further processed to get the best resolution of the underlying text. Not every page of the manuscript was in great condition, so sometimes images were enhanced by using high-intensity X-rays (which would basically scatter off the iron in the older ink). All-in-all this was a very time-consuming process, not the least of which was actually dismantling the palimpsest so the imaging could be done.

Non-flash photography is allowed, so:

Archimedes Palimpsest
Normal (left) and multispectral (right) image of a leaf from the Archimedes Palimpsest. Archimedes’ hidden text shows up in red (in two columns, vertically) on the multispectral image. In the right-hand image you can make out a mathematical diagram in the bottom of the first column. Click to enlarge…

Why is the older Archimedes text perpendicular to the overlaid text? Because the previous manuscript was folded/creased, so the scribe would cut it in half for re-use, then re-fold it again after turning it.

When She Woke

Amazon's KindleUpdate 10/18/2011: Finally, a publisher (other than Baen) that is bundling a free ebook version with the hardcover! See When She Woke (Includes Free eBook) by Hillary Jordan at Powell’s Books in Portland. I’m not interested in this particular book myself (mainly due to the pro- “choice” bias towards abortion), but I find the bundling of an ebook copy a wonderful practice! I just wish it were a better poster child. But, it’s a start.

I’ve thought for years now that it would be a great business practice to give a customer a free electronic version of any book they purchase in physical form (say, hardcover). The logistics of getting the ebook into the hands of the customer would have to be worked out, but it’s not a technical problem. I guess most publishers think (erroneously) that doing this would result in more piracy, or more accurately, in lower revenues. I hope the publishing industry as a whole figures out that this is a fallacy and they implement the practice of bundling ebooks.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Seriously: you buy a hardcover, and you get a code to download the ebook version. Do they really think this would add to book piracy? It is trivially easy to remove the DRM (Digital Rights Management, i.e., copy protection) from a purchased ebook. Once DRM is removed, an unscrupulous person could then put the book up on “sharing” (pirating) sites and make it available to anyone with an internet connection. I’d venture a guess that most (popular) books can be found on such sites.

If this were a real problem for the industry, would we have seen:

In the first five months of this year sales of consumer e-books in America overtook those from adult hardback books. Just a year earlier hardbacks had been worth more than three times as much as e-books, according to the Association of American Publishers. Amazon now sells more copies of e-books than paper books.

-“Great Digital Expectations” in The Economist, Sept 2011

This is no more a (real) problem than music-sharing (again, pirating) sites: Apple’s iTunes music store is hugely popular, and millions of people *buy* music there. Pirated music is a very small subset, and I’m not convinced that music piracy has lowered revenues to any significant extent. I’d have to say that ebook piracy would be an even smaller subset of the Book industry.

Honor Harrington series by David Weber

Baen Books (a great Science Fiction publisher) already does this. For example, many of the recent books in the Honor Harrington series by David Weber include a CDROM in the hardcover. The CD has ebook versions of the current book as well as all the other books in the series and related books by other authors. AND none of the content is copy-protected. Obviously, if piracy were an issue they would have stopped this practice. As a matter of fact, they encourage you to share the content! They figure it will ultimately lead to more readers actually buying Baen books. I know I do! They also have a “Free Library” where you can download free books. If only the rest of the industry would embrace such practices!

There’s an interesting article in The Economist on the transformation of the publishing industry, “Disappearing Ink“. Seems the Movie industry was also worried about piracy (hah!), so they have started including versions of movies, etc. that you can download (for your iDevice or computer) when you purchase a DVD (see my emphasis):

They are doing some things right. Having watched the record companies’ impotence after Apple wrested control of music-pricing from them, the publishers have managed to retain their ability to set prices. But they are missing some tricks. The music and film industries have started to bundle electronic with physical versions of their products—by, for instance, providing those who buy a DVD of a movie with a code to download it from the internet. Publishers, similarly, should bundle e-books with paper books.

-“Disappearing Ink” in The Economist, Sept. 2011

I’m a lover (and collector) of physical books; no iDevice will ever provide the same tactile experience as curling up in a comfy chair with a real, nicely produced Book. The Kindle does the best job of mimicking paper, and is the best eReader in that respect, but it still doesn’t “feel” like a book. That being said, I am also an avid *reader*, and no physical book is going to be as ever-present with me as my iDevice or Kindle. It is just so convenient to have a whole library with you wherever you go – and to have all your reading notes, bookmarks, etc. follow you in the cloud.

I love eBooks too. Don’t make me choose!

Arthur Phillips at Politics and Prose, 5-24-2011

I went to see Arthur Phillips give a talk on his latest book, “The Tragedy of Arthur“, tonight at Politics and Prose Bookstore in DC. As usual, he gave a very engaging talk/reading of the book. I’ve been to a few of his talks now (he’s one of my favorite authors), all at Politics and Prose: for “The Song is You” , “Angelica“, and “The Egyptologist“.

See previous posts: Arthur Phillips Reads “The Song is You” and Walter Isaacson, Arthur Phillips recent events.

His latest book (The Tragedy of Arthur) is different: the premise is that this is a memoir of his (actual) life with his (con-artist) father and sister. He has written the Introduction to a newly discovered Shakespeare play, “The Tragedy of Arthur” (discovered by his father, a convicted forger – see where this is leading?). I was really drawn into this novel (memoir). Ok, it’s not a real memoir, but it reads like one. Just go with it. I haven’t read the play at the end yet, but Mr. Phillips mentioned it has been staged by a theater company in NY for the audio book. That would be interesting!

At one point tonight Mr. Phillips asked if anyone in the audience was a “real” Shakespearean actor and would like to read one of the soliloquies. Turns out someone was there who was with the Shakespeare Theater Company, and he came up to read. Not sure if that was a coincidence. :)

Arthur Phillips at Politics and Prose, 5-24-2011

Arthur Phillips signature on my iPad 5-24-2011

One different thing about tonight is that I asked Mr. Phillips to sign my “ebook” version – i.e. my iPad. He smiled and did so, though he hesitated to “mess up Machu Picchu” (I have a Gelaskin on my iPad, from a photo I took on my honeymoon at Machu Picchu). Turns out that signing ebooks is a real possibility now, though it hasn’t really hit the mainstream yet. Soon? Hopefully it can be done in realtime, as part of the fun of getting a book signed is meeting the author. A “virtual” signing isn’t the same thing. We’ll see. For now I plan on adding more signatures to the back of my iPad. When the back is filled I’ll come up with something…

Pope Benedict XVI
From the Vatican Information service:


VATICAN CITY, 21 MAY 2011 (VIS) – This Saturday, Benedict XVI held a
conversation with the group of cosmonauts and astronauts aboard the
International Space Station, on the occasion of the space shuttle
Endeavour’s last mission.

From a room in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace the Pope could see the
astronauts on a television screen while they could only hear his voice on an
audio channel.

During the conversation, the Holy Father asked the astronauts five
questions. The first: “When you are contemplating the Earth from up there,
do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here,
or about how science can contribute to the cause of peace?”.

Mark Kelly
United States astronaut Mark Kelly answered that, from space, you cannot
see the borders between the nations, but “we realize that people fight with
each other and there is a lot of violence in this world … The science and
the technology that we put into the Space Station to develop a solar power
capability, gives us pretty much an unlimited amount of energy. And if those
technologies could be adapted more on Earth, we could possibly reduce some
of that violence”.

While emphasizing “the responsibility we all have towards the future of
our planet”, the Pope asked how the astronauts see Earth’s situation from
their “extraordinary observation point?”.

International Space Station
United States astronaut Ron Garan answered that, “we can see how
indescribably beautiful the planet that we have been given is; but on the
other hand, we can really clearly see how fragile it is”.

Benedict XVI asked if, “in the midst of your intense work and research”,
the astronauts ever stop and reflect on the mystery of creation – perhaps
even to say a prayer to the Creator? The Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori,
who before leaving for space had received a medal from Benedict XVI
representing the Creation of Man as painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine
Chapel ceiling, responded. On seeing the beauty of the planet, he said, “I
do pray: I do pray for me, for our families, for our future”.

The Pope addressed his fifth and final question to the Italian astronaut
Paolo Nespoli, assuring him of his prayers for the astronaut’s recently
deceased mother and asking him how he was living through this time of
sorrow; if on the station he felt “far away and isolated, if you suffer a
sense of separation or if you feel united to and included in a community
that accompanies you with care and affection?”.

Thanking the pontiff for his prayers on the death of his mother, Nespoli
agreed that, being outside the world, “we have a vantage point to see the
Earth and to feel everything around us”.

The Holy Father concluded the conversation by thanking them for “this
wonderful opportunity to meet and dialogue with you. You have helped me and
many other people to reflect together on important issues that regard the
future of humanity. I wish you the very best for your work and for the
success of your great mission at the service of science, international
collaboration, authentic progress, and for peace in the world”.

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SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
   by Mary Beard