Tag Archives: books

Google PhotoScan and Google Books

One of the mobile apps I’ve had the most fun with lately is Google’s PhotoScan. Basically, it lets you use your phone’s camera to scan printed pictures rather than take a picture of a picture. Here’s how it’s described on the app page:

Don’t just take a picture of a picture. Create enhanced digital scans, wherever your photos are.

– Get glare-free scans with an easy step-by-step capture flow

– Automatic cropping based on edge detection

– Straight, rectangular scans with perspective correction

– Smart rotation, so your photos stay right-side-up no matter which way you scan them

Scan in seconds

Capture your favorite printed photos quickly and easily, so you can spend less time editing and more time looking at your bad childhood haircut.

The way it works is you fire up the app, make sure the picture you’re scanning is in the “frame” you see on your screen, and then when you tap the shutter button four dots appear on the picture and the app instructs you to move a circle from dot to dot in a certain order. I wondered why the app requires this action, but not enough to acturally research it, but I think I might have stumbled on the answer in this article about Google’s massive book scanning project:

The stations—which didn’t so much scan as photograph books—had been custom-built by Google from the sheet metal up. Each one could digitize books at a rate of 1,000 pages per hour. The book would lie in a specially designed motorized cradle that would adjust to the spine, locking it in place. Above, there was an array of lights and at least $1,000 worth of optics, including four cameras, two pointed at each half of the book, and a range-finding LIDAR that overlaid a three-dimensional laser grid on the book’s surface to capture the curvature of the paper. The human operator would turn pages by hand—no machine could be as quick and gentle—and fire the cameras by pressing a foot pedal, as though playing at a strange piano.

What made the system so efficient is that it left so much of the work to software. Rather than make sure that each page was aligned perfectly, and flattened, before taking a photo, which was a major source of delays in traditional book-scanning systems, cruder images of curved pages were fed to de-warping algorithms, which used the LIDAR data along with some clever mathematics to artificially bend the text back into straight lines.

I don’t know for sure, but it sure sounds like the technology developed for the book scanning project translated nicely to an app that could be used by average people armed with smartphones to scan gazillions of old photos into the great Googleshpere in the sky. Amazing.

Oh, and you should read that article on the book scanning project. It’s a fascinating exploration of a copyright conflict that has resulted in Google having a database of 25 million scanned books that no one is allowed to read.

North Carolina’s Literary Capital

It seems that Hillsborough, NC is where the writers want to be:

At Christmastime each year, Michael Malone, a longtime TV writer, and Allan Gurganus, a bestselling novelist, put on a production of “A Christmas Carol” at an Episcopal church in Hillsborough, N.C. Mr. Gurganus plays Scrooge, and Mr. Malone plays nearly all the other characters. Jill McCorkle, another bestselling novelist, holds the record for perfect attendance.

In fact, more than two dozen of their fellow writers live in Hillsborough, population 6,087, where government meetings are held in the “town barn,” and the Wooden Nickel serves up fried green tomatoes. “Under the Tuscan Sun” author Frances Mayes lives in a 4,500-square-foot Federalist farm house here, and David Payne, author of the Southern saga “Back to Wando Passo,” lives in a renovated former clubhouse for local businessmen in the town’s historic district…

So what is it that draws writers to this small Southern town? Mr. Malone says it speaks to the nature of a writer’s work. Hillsborough allows writers to be at once isolated and close to friends and peers; while intensely focused on their next book or script, they still belong to a community that hosts barbecue festivals and a cemetery walking tour.

“Writers can get very isolated,” said Mr. Malone. “This is a real community. This is a real town, and it’s been a real town since the mid-18th century. That is the stuff of fiction.”

This tight-knit feel is attracting others to Hillsborough, said local Coldwell Banker real-estate agent Tom Sievert, driving up home prices. The median sales price in Hillsborough was $238,000 in July, up 25% from five years earlier, according to Triangle Multiple Listing Services.

“While we have this mecca for the authors, you’ll see them in front of Cup A Joe just having a cup of coffee. They’re just members of the community,” said Mr. Sievert. “I think that’s what drives people here. It’s a real friendly town.”

By the way, I highly recommend you read any of Malone’s books. They are great, entertaining reads and I particularly enjoyed Handling Sin, Time’s Witness and Uncivil Seasons.

Slow Reading

The September 16, 2014 issue of the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about the “slow reading” movement:

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

What’s interesting is that slow reading isn’t just about relaxing, it’s also about better comprehension and learning because it seems that our digital-intense lives are turning us into a bunch of scatterbrained wrecks.

One 2006 study of the eye movements of 232 people looking at Web pages found they read in an “F” pattern, scanning all the way across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines, eventually sliding their eyes down the left side of the page in a vertical movement toward the bottom.

None of this is good for our ability to comprehend deeply, scientists say. Reading text punctuated with links leads to weaker comprehension than reading plain text, several studies have shown. A 2007 study involving 100 people found that a multimedia presentation mixing words, sounds and moving pictures resulted in lower comprehension than reading plain text did.

Slow reading means a return to a continuous, linear pattern, in a quiet environment free of distractions. 

In something of a side note there was this little tidbit about folks who read fiction:

A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships.

Come to think of it this helps explain some of the people I know who only read “serious” stuff like biographies of obscure roman generals or 1,200 page studies of minor Civil War skirmishes.

Minds Like Empty Rooms

Harper Lee, in a letter to Oprah Winfrey about her love of reading books, talks about working to learn and having things happen on soft pages:

Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it.

And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up — some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.