Saturday, September 17, 2016

BPN 1727: The Jaguar of the real-time video phones

With some aplomb the device was put on the conference table. A company disposed of it with the message that it might have been used as a high-tech projector. The device was accompanied by a printed manual from 2003.

After some deep pondering, there was recognition: Exo'vision, a company founded by Eckart Wintzen, the early Dutch evangelist of sustainability. In 1976 Wintzen started the IT company BSO. It was not just a traditional computing company, organised in a holding, divisions, subsidiaries and departments. The management style of Wintzen was based on the principle of cell division. If a company had more than 50 employees, a new company had to be split off to preserve the creativity and independent thinking. In 1990 BSO merged with the IT division of Philips in BSO/Origin, later on part of ATOS.

After the merger Wintzen became a social serial entrepreneur and initiated several companies. Sustainability was one of the themes of his philosophy. He was irritated by the Dutch disease  of traffic congestion, promoted glass fibre infrastructures and put money in the car sharing project Greenwheels. And to reduce the traffic of the business sector he built the Jaguar under the real-time video phones: the Eye-catcher. This was in the second half of the nineties when just a start was made with separate cameras, which could be used in combination with laptops. Around 2000 Sony presented with a Vayo sub-notebook which featured a built-in camera. But the quality of these cameras was low. Eyecatcher, however, was a stand-alone device with a high resolution. The device could be connected to other low-grade video cameras, to PCs in different places. The Eye-catcher could present 1 to 4 people. Besides the visual and auditive contacts also  presentations and data could be transferred and shown.

The Eye-catcher was a slick device with a wonderful picture quality. Yet it never became a hit. That had to do with the crossing of the technological paths. Telecom was in the transition from ISDN to broadband. The low quality cameras for PCs were installed and the configuration became common. Eyecatcher became a device for niches in the business market, broadcast market and for companies with a large geographical footprint. The development of the technology was also costly. In short, the company and the device were not given a long commercial life.

This Eyecatcher device came from a warehouse, where the manager did not recognise the device and thought that it looked like a projector. In the meantime we avail ourselves of real-time low resolution video traffic via Skype and FaceTime. 

See the presentation of the Eyecatcher 3.0 by Grootlicht from 2004.

Monday, September 12, 2016

BPN 1726: Farewell to my pre-computing era

This month it is 50 years ago that I flew for the first time, with a second primer  I flew to the USA. I was going to study theology at Notre dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. The flight was a long one, from the old Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam, to London, Washington DC and Atlanta for a transfer to New Orleans. Some 13 hours. The first leg to London was with BEA, British European Airways, the precursor of British Airways, the rest of the flight was made with Delta Airlines. In  Washington the passengers were picked up by a bus which looked like it was made for the moon surface, before being unloaded to pass passport control and immigration authorities.

I studied four years in New Orleans and picked a Bachelor and Master. The study was rather traditional. The lectures were listened to. Only the homiletics (preaching and public speech) were done with new media by recording with a video camera.For the rest, you used notebooks, read books and typed your papers. Books could be borrowed from the extensive library, these days called the Rev. Robert J. Stahl S.M. Memorial Library, named after the librarian during my stay.

During my study, I noticed that my scholarship was paying for my tuition and campus facilities. Yet there were other costs to be covered, So I looked around what I could do to create an income. I came up with a solution. As Dutch theology was hot at that time I got in touch with a publisher of religious books, the Paulist Press in New York, and offered my services. And I was accepted as a lector delivering reading reports about new Dutch books and after a while as translator from Dutch into English. These functions had an additional advantage; by passing on the lector’s reports and eventually the translated books to the staff, I picked up extra merits.

Above the translations: left: The sacrament of the Eucharist by G.T.H. Liesting S.S.S.; above right: The Prophet in the Nearness of God by H. Renckens S.J. (note that on the cover there is a misspelling: Renkens without a -c-); below not a translation of my hand, but I acted as the foreign rights consultant. In the USA I used as my name James M. Boumans.

During the translation work, I became acquainted with the newest piece of office appliance at that time: the IBM Selectric, a typewriter with the golf ball. Jesse R. Ortego, a fellow student, typed the manuscripts on this device. The Selectric mechanism was notable for using internal mechanical binary coding and two mechanical digital-to-analog converters to select the character to be typed. The Selectric was faster, the correction mechanism was efficient and a range of letter fonts could be used by changing the golfballs.

The Selectric was the closest device to the beaconing era of computing. For the rest life still was analogue. Television and radio were still analogue. Contact with my parents and friends was done by handwritten airmail letters. Stamps had to be bough at the post office and be licked before applying them to the envelop. Sometimes I sent an audio-cassette as a spoken letter and seldom a photograph, as development was critical of a full roll of film. Tickets for flights had to be ordered from a travel bureau. You had to dial a fixed line telephone number and for speedy messages you sent a telegram. If you wanted to know something, you had to look it up in an outdated printed encyclopaedia and for telephone numbers you had to consult a printed telephone directory.

Having completed my studies in 1970, I decided to return to the Netherlands and after some months picked up a job as editor Humanities in a reference department of a publishing company, which just had started a publishing project of 25 volumes of a general encyclopaedia. Not the regular way with library cards with references and the clippings of the last edition.This encyclopaedia project did not have a precursor and became the first European encyclopaedia project using a (mini-)computer to assist the editorial staff. For me this became my entrance into the digital world and, without being really aware of it, the farewell to the analogue world.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

BPN 1725: Dutch db Delpher is Mount Serendipity

At several places in and outside the Netherlands Dutch language newspapers, books, magazines and other text media were digitized and made accessible. The National Library of the Netherlands , university libraries, Google Books and heritage institutions have brought these files together and made them accessible. For example, more than 30 million pages of original texts from more than 1.3 million newspapers and 1.5 million magazine pages and more than 320,000 books from the 15th to the 20th century can be accessed via a single Internet address: www. You can delve into this mountain with digital pages, browse and search for relevant information, if you can read Dutch. The database has no English interface.

Digitizing books, newspapers, magazines and other text media has already become a tradition in The Netherlands. The National Library of the Netherlands  has a number of major projects to its name. The book selection Delpher emerged from e.g. National Library projects Early Dutch Books Online and Metamorfoze, but also the Digital Library of Dutch Literature and Google Books, in which Google collaborates with National Library of the Netherlands . The historical newspaper and magazine collection is now also impressive in terms of quantity and variety. Interesting are also scanned radio news bulletins from 1937 to 1989.

What can you do with such a mountain of information? You can spend much time to browse and jump from one article to another article and achieve surprising results. And a targeted search for eg. study purposes can yield a multitude of relevant results. Furthermore, the database is not only accessible to study - and professional purposes, but also individuals can retrieve a lot of information about their family and environment.

 In a study on the history of digital publishing you can find a lot of material. The rise of the newspaper archives, such as nationl paper NRC Handelsblad archive. Tap Viditel and a newspaper article in the Leeuwarder Courant about the launch of the first Dutch public online information service Viditel by former state secretary Neelie Smit-Kroes in Sneek on August 7, 1980 comes up as well as the radio bulletin that day with the notification of the launch of Prestel like videotext system Viditel. And tap Electronic Publishing and an article in the NRC Handelsblad will appear marking the publication of the book by Joost Kist, a later member of the Board of Directors of Kluwer. Likewise search for CD-I and articles appear about the launch by an enthusiastic Philips CEO Jan Timmer, doubts about the success of the medium and the death blow in 1996 by Cor Boonstra. The introduction of the Internet is marked by the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden with an article of October 15, 1994 under the title: Netherlands struggling on the electronic highway. Apart from this kind of interest, one can also look up items from his/her professional life: companies where they worked, publications, published or ads from a former employer.

For individuals Delpher is a place for self-abuse. Tap your own name and look at the result. For me there was a real surprise. I was born in January 1945. My parents lived under the bridge of Arnhem in 1944, but had to evacuate to the east part of the Netherlands. When I was born, no birth announcement could be sent to relative elsewhere in the Netherlands, because there was no working mail service. But in Delpher I found a kind of birth announcement in two newspaper items. I was not aware of the existence nor had I ever seen them in my life.

Top item of May 7, 1945: my grandfarther requests information on family members. Item below of May 12, 1945: my farther responds telling where he is with his family and announces my birth.  

Delpher is an ongoing project. New books are added. The Google Books scanning program adds files. Archives of post 1990 newspapers and magazines will be merged with the older archives. Delpher can be called Mount Serendipity: you will always find something unexpected and useful material, while you're actually looking for something completely different.