Archive for May, 2009

On Demand Books from Blackwell Publishing

recent broadcast on US radio (National Public Radio – NPR)  looks at a revolutionary approach to just-in-time publishing.  British publishing house Blackwell has created a machine that can create a bound paperback book in around five minutes, from a database that currently holds over 500,000 titles and will soon be expanded to one million plus.  It’s known as the “Espresso” machine – which is more about it’s ability to quickly print and bind books than any presumed talent for making a decaf Mocha.

Blackwell calls the publishing system On Demand Books, which kind of says it all.  NPR’s Rob Gifford quotes ODB’s CEO, Dane Neller – in full hyperbolic mode – saying that this  is “the biggest revolution in publishing since Gutenberg started printing more than 500 years ago”.

The concept of just-in-time publishing is not particularly new – we do it every time we send a PDF document to the printer, but what’s a little different here is that the end product is a bound book identical to one we would find on a bookstore shelf.  Blackwell believes that books offered in this way can still give e-Readers such as Amazon’s Kindle reader a good run for their money, and I agree, given that the visual quality of printed text is still around seven times higher than the best commercial computer screens available.

Here’s a BBC broadcast about On Demand Books.

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WolframAlpha: a computational knowledge engine

If it’s computable knowledge, WolframAlpha wants to know about it. This knowledge engine is a bit like Google on steroids. It was developed by Wolfram Research, the makers of Mathematica, which is one of the drivers of the knowledge engine. Have a look at this Screencast where Stephen Wolfram gives you a “quick introduction” to WolframAlpha and the types of queries it can handle.

Here’s an article on ZDNet that dissects WolframAlpha from more of a geek perspective.  Wolfram Research is building a  knowledge base of computable data that ranges from musical scales complete with audio playback to complex formulae and graph displays on the physical properties of matter.  Ask WolframAlpha about the melting point of copper, for example, and apart from computing the answer in Celsius  (1084.62 deg C) – or Fahrenheit or Kelvin if you prefer – it will also offer the fact that this is 190 deg.  hotter than a large log fire, and offer spectral radiance graphs based on frequency and wavelength over a range of 6000 degrees.

You can download a WolframAlpha add-on for IE 6+, Firefox 2 or 3, or as an iGoogle Gadget, from the WA downloads page.

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