Burnt Biblical Scroll Deciphered by Digital Technology

A burnt scroll discovered inside in the synagogue at Ein Gedi, Israel can finally be read thanks to new technology. At first considered a lost cause because it was both wrapped and burnt, University of Kentucky Professor Brent Seales were able to digitally “unwrap” it to reveal the oldest lines of Leviticus (Lev 1:1-8) discovered since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The combination of high-resolution scanning and the team’s “unwrapping” software made the discovery possible. The scroll was discovered in 1970 at an excavation of Ein Gedi, and is dated to the 6th century AD.

The research team at UK produced the flattened, readable text from the micro-computed tomography of the Ein Gedi scroll via the following successive stages:

1. Volume preparation

The data scan from the micro-CT machine is processed in order to enhance the ability to see the structures in the scan: the surface of the material, and the ink that is written on that material.

2. Surface segmentation

The data scan is carefully partitioned into the surfaces on which there is writing.  This partitioning is automatic and uses computer algorithms that are being developed through research. The result is a 3-D surface that is positioned exactly in the data volume where there is evidence of surfaces and writing.  Because the surfaces are rolled up layers within the scroll, they are shaped like tightly coiled sheets of paper.

3. User guidance

The user revises and improves the surface estimates that were made automatically by the surface segmentation step. The user is guided by views of the data scan and a draft view of how the surface appears in the scan.

4. Texture rendering

The completed surface is rendered as a high quality 3-D surface with the texture (markings, structure and ink evidence) from its precise position in the original data scan. The rendering step also produces a flattened version of the 3-D surface texture. This unwraps the potentially curvy and coiled 3-D surface so that it is a single flat page.

This video explains the process using the tasty medium of pastry.

How I Work: Will Duquette

Will Duquette completes the ora et labora circuit by adding a How I Work to his How I Pray entry. Here’s a little bit:

I use Evernote for storing general notes I’ve got no better place to put—ideas for blog posts, for example. I’ve drafted a fair number of blog posts in Evernote as well; it’s conveniently available no matter what device I’m using, and then I can copy the post into WordPress. Although, one of the reasons I’ve been using Scrivener more is that I can copy Scrivener’s rich text formatting into the WordPress “visual” editor pane. That doesn’t work well with Evernote, for some reason (or it didn’t last I checked).

When I’m brainstorming, my go-to application is a mindmapping tool called FreePlane. It enables me to get complicated ideas down quickly; and (crossing over to my day job for a moment) it’s a great tool for taking notes on a meeting and working out details, plans, and action items with a group. I put it on my laptop and display it on a big screen, and it’s easy to move things around and add things until consensus is reached. That’s another killer app.

I use the Kindle app on my desktop to search for things in e-books I’ve purchased; and the kindle.amazon.com web site makes it easy to access the passages I’ve highlighted, which is handy when putting together blog posts.

I use Verbum on all devices for scripture study and other theological reading. It’s expensive; I bought it in a weak moment a couple years ago, and so I use it, but I’m no kind of power user.

Oh, and Pandora. Pandora is absolutely essential.


Read it all at Will’s blog, Cry Woof.

Read more entries in the How I Pray series.

Tech Website Gets Access to 4.6 Million License Plate Scans

If you drive in Oakland, California, Ars Technica knows where you’ve been:

In response to a public records request, we obtained the entire LPR dataset of the Oakland Police Department (OPD), including more than 4.6 million reads of over 1.1 million unique plates between December 23, 2010 and May 31, 2014. The dataset is likely one of the largest ever publicly released in the United States—perhaps in the world.

After analyzing this data with a custom-built visualization tool, Ars can definitively demonstrate the data’s revelatory potential. Anyone in possession of enough data can often—but not always—make educated guesses about a target’s home or workplace, particularly when someone’s movements are consistent (as with a regular commute).

The article is long, detailed, and chilling to anyone concerned about privacy. Data is power, and being able to track a population’s movements gives the government, corporations, and individual citizens too much of it. Where you live, shop, worship, congregate, and sin are exposed on the very thin pretext of public safety.

How I Work: Jeff Miller, The Curt Jester

As a counterpoint to the How I Pray series, I’ve challenged other bloggers to answer Lifehacker’s How I Work questions on their own blogs for a kind of ora et labora thing. Now my uber-techie friend Jeff Miller, The Curt Jester, steps up and shames all geeks with his mad power-user skilz, yo. Jeff was my first How I Pray victim subject, so there’s a kind of symmetry in having him here again:

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?

In one of the first questions it asked me to use one word to describe how I work and that was Edison. I chose this word not through prideful bravado or thinking I am any kind of genius, but because of my stick-to-it-ness. Supposedly Edison just kept trying different filaments until one worked. How true that is I don’t know. But I do know that in coding and other situations I don’t easily give up regarding a frustrating problem not easily solved and keep trying different alternatives until I find one that works. In the past this allowed me to do some rather surprising things with software development not envisioned by the authors of the tools.

As for doing this better than everybody else, well I wouldn’t want to put any money down on that proposition.

Read the whole thing.

Watch Pope Francis Speak to Children on Google Hangout

The Holy Father talked with children who have special needs or certain disabilities that they are overcoming with technology. A braille reader, a video camera, and an adaptive bike were some of the technologies highlighted by kids from around the world. Some of them asked questions, while others just talked about their lives and how they learn. The program was hosted by Scholas, an “educational entity, launched by Pope Francis, where technology, arts and sports are used to encourage social integration and the culture of encounter.”

He spoke with them for about twenty minutes. Here is the video. Turn on the closed-captioning for a translation.

Police Targeting Waze

wazeSome police think Waze is dangerous and want Google to pull the plug on one of its key features. The social/traffic app is designed to provide drivers with information on highway congestion, accidents, and construction, but also allows them to tag the location of police speed traps with an icon indicating whether or not the police are hidden or visible from the highway.

This function, according to some in law enforcement, amounts to a “police stalking app.” LA Police Chief Charlie Beck wrote to Google CEO Larry Page last month urging him to disable the feature:

I am concerned about the safety of law enforcement officers and the community, and the potential for your Waze product to be misused by those with criminal intent. I look forward to opening a dialogue with you as to how Google can prevent the future misuse of the Waze app to track law enforcement officers, thereby avoiding any future deaths or injury. I am confident your company did not intend the Waze app to be a means to allow those who wish to commit crimes to use the unwitting Waze community as their lookouts for the location of police officers.

There is nothing to link Waze to any deaths or injury, but police are concerned because last month Islamic radical Ismaaiyl Brinsley posted a picture from Waze which showed the police icons. Brinsley disposed of his phone long before he ambushed and murdered two police officers in New York, but the connection is too close for some.

But not all police are buying the anti-Waze argument because, as Sgt. Heather Randol told the San Jose Mercury News, “We want to be seen.”

And that is the point, isn’t it? A visible police presence is part of the purpose of law enforcement and helps keep the peace. Cops aren’t ninjas, and the circumstances in which they need to remain unseen for legitimate public safety reasons are fairly limited. And, no, I don’t consider speed traps “legitimate public safety reasons.”

The police function in various ways: to discourage crime by their visible presence and intervention, to investigate crime after it has been committed, and as an armed revenue collection wing of the government. It’s this last function that rankles the public, because they realize the minor citations and tickets have minimal relevance to public safety and are just there to fill government coffers. When New York police stopped writing these nuisance tickets for a few weeks in protest over the murder of two of their brother officers, the city lost $5 million by some estimates.

The idea that Wave is some kind of Grindr for cop-killers kind of misses the main point: it shouldn’t be hard to find a police officer. They should be visible. Many people feel relieved when they see an officer. Well, at least many white people do: the experience of policing among minority communities is considerably more troubling, particularly for black men. Indeed, looked at from the perspective of a young, innocent black man, Waze may be key tool for avoiding harassment and potential police brutality.

In ordinary practice, the police have few legitimate reasons to conceal their presence. And they have no right at all to tell people they cannot share information with others about that presence any more than they could tell someone not to flash their lights to indicate a speed trap or use a CB radio for the same purpose.

Law enforcement routinely claims that anything happening in public has no expectation of privacy, yet want an exception for their own behavior under some vague and hazy fear about “police stalking.” They’re already deploying licence plate scanners, and are preparing to introduce facial scanners. The gulf between the rights of the watched and those of the watchers is growing ever-wider

Aside from the admittedly horrifying and tragic, but also isolated, case of the New York police murders, is their any indication that “police stalking” is a widespread practice? And if so, is it such a dangerous and immanent threat that it warrants a constitutional challenge about free communication among citizens?

Have I Mentioned Lately How Much I Hate Robots?

This is the latest dumb thing no one needs:

What a load of nonsense.

First, it’s not handwritten. It’s machinewritten, which means even though someone built an elaborate bit of gizmoditry to go through all the trouble of dipping a pen in ink and “writing,” it’s no more personal than running off copies on a printer. It just creates an illusion of being personal, which is actually so much worse.

The dude in the video brags about how fast brides can knock off wedding invitations that appear handwritten by using his service. The point of thank you notes is that they were held by a person who wrote them by hand to express delight at a gift, not that they texted a generic thank you to some machine which wrote, stamped, addressed, and mailed them because the lazy bint couldn’t be bothered.

If you’re not the president or the pope or Taylor Swift, you don’t have to write so much you can’t do it yourself.

Oh, wait, Taylor Swift does do it herself. Do you have more people who write to you than Taylor Swift does? No you do not, so stop acting like you’re better than her already.

Second, the video shows a pen being dipped in ink, which is clearly not what the machine does. It’s using a Montblanc (at least for the video), which has a reservoir. But OMG it dips its pen just like old-timey writers had to! Let me tell you something: if old timey writers had plunger-driven ink converters like this replacement I just bought for my Waterman, they would have used them. Hell, they probably would have bought a box of Bics or a damn laptop if they could. Some nostalgia is sweet and useful. Some is just dumb. And jamming together nostalgia and useless technology is pointless.

Third, why is it using a $500+ Montblanc? Please.

Fourth, for a couple hundred dollars it can write letters and notes in your very own handwriting. You know what else can write letters in your very own handwriting. Your hand!

Fifth: MyScriptFont.com is free.

Sixth, Autopen, anyone?

I don’t like this kind of “gee-whiz let’s get a robot to do it because it’s cool” thinking. You want to send a robot to Mars or the bottom of the ocean or out to defuse a bomb? Fine, but there is no reason on earth to build robots to do things humans do perfectly well but are too damn lazy to do.

This is a lot of technology and slick marketing being deployed in the creation of illusion, and no doubt it will sell to executives and moneyed twits like the woman in the video who talks about how good sending “something tactile” is for her business. Of course, a laser-printed letter is also “tactile” unless it’s made of some magical anti-haptic material like unicorn farts. What she means is that they have a machine create a forgery of something touched by human hands. You can run off a letter on a home printer, have it done by a professional printer, or write it yourself, but this is just a lot of showy silliness.