Thursday, February 7, 2008

Google Reads Fraktur

Yesterday, German blogger Archivalia reported that the quality of Fraktur OCR at Google Books has improved. There are still some problems, but they're on the same order of those found in books printed in Antiqua. Compare the text-only and page-image versions of Geschichte der teutschen Landwirthschaft (1800) with the text and image versions of Antigua Altnordisches Leben (1856).

This is a big deal, since previous OCR efforts produced results that were not only unreadable, but un-searchable as well. This example from the University of Michigan's MBooks website (digitized in partnership with Google) gives a flavor of the prior quality: "Ueber den Ursprung des Uebels." ("On the Origin of Evil") results in "Us-Wv ben Uvfprun@ - bed Its-beEd."

It's thrilling that these improvements are being made to the big digitization efforts — my guess is that they've added new blackletter typefaces to the OCR algorithm and reprocessed the previously-scanned images — but this highlights the dependency OCR technology has on well-known typefaces. Occasionally, when I tell friends about my software and the diaries I'm transcribing, I'm asked, "Why don't you just OCR the diaries?" Unfortunately, until someone comes with a OCR plugin for Julia Brumfield (age 72) and another for Julia Brumfield (age 88), we'll be stuck transcribing the diaries by hand.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Progress Report: Four N steps to deployment

I've completed one of the four steps I outlined below: my Rails app is now living in a SubVersion repository hosted somewhere further than 4 feet from where I'm typing this.

However, I've had to add a few more steps to the deployment process. These included:

  • Attempting to install Trac
  • Installing MySql on DreamHost
  • Installing SubVersion on DreamHost
  • Successfully installing BugZilla on DreamHost
None of these were included in my original estimate.

Name Update:

I've finally picked a name. Despite its attractiveness, "Renan" proved unpronounceable. No wonder my ancestors said "REE-nan": it's at least four phonemes away from a native English word, and nobody who was shown the software was able to pronounce its title.

FromThePage is the new name. It not as lovely as some of the ones that came out of a brainstorming session (like "HandWritten"), but at least there are no existing software products that use it. I went ahead and registered and under the assumption that I'd be able to pull off the WordPress model of open-source software that's also hosted for a fee.