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Compound documents, multimedia, and edible information.

Focus on Imaging

Compound Documents, Multimedia, and Edible Information

Think of multimedia. What comes to mind are video, graphics, photos, sound, text, and numerical data. Yet today, multimedia really is "compound information processing, and an expensive plethora of applications destined to unravel all systems architectures, from operating systems to LANs to DBMs to spreadsheets," said Raimund Wasner, senior VP, BIS CAP International, during Imaging '90.

Imaging, the compound document, and multimedia received intense attention during the Imaging '90 Conference and Exhibition held last October in New York City.

A new computer imaging event established to serve the New York Metropolitan area--said to be the country's largest document management market--Imaging '90 featured displays of cutting-edge document storage and retrieval products and technology. The conference was held jointly with the Info '90 show and exhibition.

Semantics and Perceptions

The terms "compound documents," "compound information processing," and "multimedia" are often used interchangeably. Each claims as its territory the integration of a wide variety of information contained in multiple formats and from a variety of sources into a unified information system. While the word multimedia has been around for a while, the new perception is that the document is changing from static to dynamic with the inclusion of voice, video, and real-time data, explained William E. Clinton, director, Compound Document Services, BIS CAP International.

The compound dynamic document throws a whole new and challenging perspective not only on information content, preparation, storage, and distribution but also its access, retrieval, and transfer over networks. As the planners of Online Information '90, held in December in England, predicted, we're just beginning to realize the full potential and the problems inherent in multimedia documents and its changing perception from static to dynamic.

Issues raised by multimedia or compound documents, according to Clinton, are:

Information: source, generation technology, formats, standards, integration Technology: investments, integration, standards, interoperability Process: creation, revision, exchange, management Industry: productivity, competitive advantage, investments, technology directions, information access/Management

Mapping Your Information

One Imaging '90 exhibit that intrigued me was desktop mapping. Computer mapping technology has been around for many years; it's often called GIS--Geographical Information Systems. Until recently it was available only on mainframe or minicomputer systems. While those systems still have a place, mapping systems have now moved to microcomputers.

An estimated 85 percent of databases are said to contain some sort of geographic information, such as cities, states, or zip codes, even telephone numbers with their area codes and exchange numbers. Even if you have a conventional bibliographic database, you might want to investigate using desktop mapping to analyze some of the information in or related to that database. For example, look where organizations producing most of the work on a topic are located. See where things are rather than just what they are.

"The points on the map are linked to information in your database," explained the Map Info people. "When you change the database, the information on the map changes. When you change the map, the information in the database changes." There's much more to say about this system than editorial space allows.

The Technical Challenges of Multimedia

Multimedia poses several technical challenges. In an August 1990 "Overview of Multimedia Computing," DataPro a McGraw-Hill publication, listed these challenges as Storage Issues, Compression, Faster Processing, and Resolution and Standards.

Storage: The success of multimedia applications is linked to the evolution of efficient optical storage methods. Chief concerns: standard drivers for optical media are still lacking; operating system support has a long way to go.

Compression: The search for fast compression with high quality decompressed images on the screen will doubtless continue.

Faster processing: Multimedia data is abundant and must be moved quickly. There is a need for wider data buses, faster processors, and mass storage devices with faster access times.

Resolution and standards: Determining the markets into which multimedia can move is the availability of moderately-priced, high-resolution graphics monitors; graphics, video-capture, and sound capture boards. Also needed are computer-ready video and audio players and recorders; and standardized, inexpensive, and widely available interfaces and device drivers.

As you might expect, multimedia also deals with color. Computers designed to handle display information which represents pixels (dots on the screen) as RGB values (combinations of red, green, and blue lights) are ill-equipped to manipulate analog data, DataPro explains. Yet information input for a multimedia project usually includes sound, video, or film--all analog formats. Analog devices often attached to multimedia development systems include videodisc players, VCRs and videotape players, microphones, and video still cameras. Some devices are capable of transmitting multimedia data in digital form directly into computers, for example, scanners, digitizing cameras, and magnetic disk drives.

A number of products and services are available to compress digitized multidata. There are also a spectrum of editing systems available. In developing interactive multimedia products, there is a need to incorporate authoring software to govern interactions with users.

In selecting a multimedia development platform, the choice, as might be expected, profoundly influences the type of multimedia development that is feasible and the costs involved. Cost varies with the type of computer, graphics resolution supported, storage devices, software library, capture, and playback facilities.

Arttransition '90

Multimedia systems emphasize that the computer is no longer just a tool for manipulating numbers or characters. It has evolved into a multipurpose tool for communication and for the expression of ideas.

Expression of ideas was a central feature of Arttransition '90, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) October 29-November 1. This conference dealt with multimedia, and principally artwork in new media, including laser, holography, computer art and music, and on recent collaborations between artists, scientists, and engineers.

The conference also addressed the growing number of art and technology centers and new media departments in colleges and universities worldwide. This international conference on art, science, and technology, organized by MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS), represents the first large-scale international conference on this subject to be held in the U.S.

Of particular interest to information professionals were presentations concerning networking and telecommunications, the architectural design of new buildings that are self-energizing, self-maintained, and incorporate the concepts of the information age, and, for the information hungry, edibles with embedded holographic information. Nothing like eating your information to process it.

Putting Yourself Into the Computer

Information professionals are beginning to explore artificial--or--virtual--reality. Myron Krueger, a computer scientist and artist, created the term "artificial reality" in 1973. It involves a type of human/computer interface that enables users to become participants in abstract spaces that do not exist in reality, or, in other words, communicating with an image on a screen as if you are inside the screen. You can, for example, interact with someone at a distance who also appears within the scene of the screen.

It's difficult to translate these experiences to print. Artificial reality is a simulated experience where, say, you can see yourself on the screen interacting with an object such as drinking a cup of coffee or playing tennis with a friend who is in another space, perhaps in another room. Krueger's work and that of others emphasizes that the perception of the eye is dynamic, affects behavior, and brings in a higher conceptual level.

Undoubtedly we will be using artificial reality in time to "feel" during training, during comprehensive indexing, or in describing a perception translated into cognition. Fantastic? Perhaps. Still such new developments are not just on the drawing board--artificial reality is here.

This conference illustrates that perception, cognition, and psychology come together in the need to understand new connections of inner mind and outer environment. These are also some of the frontiers of interest, in information science.

Project Athena

Included as part of the conference were tours of MIT's AI Laboratory and of Project Athena, a multimedia project.

Initiated six years ago as a vision to provide ubiquitous and high quality computing for education on the MIT campus, Project Athena is now a distributed workstation system in use 24 hours a day with 7,000 users and 900 workstations. It includes a mail system, electronic conferencing system, a network file system, and an online consulting system.

One example is Dans le Quartier St. Gervais, a French foreign language project which is a "discovery-learning environment" in French with visual, textual, and audio information collected from the Quartier St. Gervais in Paris. The core of the system is a database of 30 interviews and site visits accessed through three distinct frameworks:

A topics index: Interviews with residents of the neighborhood are indexed according to the topics they discuss. A framework of maps: Students are provided with a set of maps that zoom in on different sections of the neighborhood and are allowed to jump into any of the site visits directly from the map. "On foot": The quarter can be approached via a surrogate travel of "movie mapping" facility. This feature lets students explore the neighborhood, move up and down streets, and decide which way to turn at intersections.

Fundamental Differences Among Media

Motion video and audio data are fundamentally different from text documents due to their temporal structure, as explained in "Musings on Multimedia" (UNIX Review 8: (2). Video can be a stream of individual frames just as text can be a stream of individual characters. When the video stops, a fixed image must be considered. Audio is different; when it stops there is only silence. In handling multimedia, these factors as well as space, dimensionality, simulation, and navigation must be considered.

Eating Your Words

Consuming information can be hazardous to your waist. The application of holography into food processing deals in a literal way with media. Dimensional Foods can put 3-D color images on food or pharmaceutical products. They have produced Sci Fi Yummies and Ingesticonic substances with icons. A serious aspect to the work is to fuse identity of a product to its pharmaceutical qualities.

Holographic edibles aside, this was almost the most intensive hunger-producing conference I ever attended--almost no coffee breaks, no time scheduled for lunch or dinner, and the conference continuing from 9 AM to 10 PM or later. Truly an abundance of new multimedia information and food for the mind.

The conference included individual speakers, panels, performances, and exhibitions.

One last word: the "Information Shower" showed us being bombarded with information. Just imagine: if we could see and hear radiowaves, TV signals, and telephone transmissions all at once our minds would blank out. Conferences like Arttransition '90 bring us to a vastly different frontier of information and its communication.

Lois F. Lunin is an information scientist, consultant, editor, and writer based in Washington, DC.
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Title Annotation:Focus on Imaging
Author:Lunin, Lois F.
Publication:Information Today
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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