Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Towards Simplified Egyptian (March 2012)

I first mentioned Simplified Egyptian on this blog back in 2010, Simplified Egyptian: A brief Introduction, although the idea goes back several years before then.

The basis of Simplified Egyptian is to embed standard rules inside a font or functional equivalent (typically OpenType font) to instruct font rendering to combine hieroglyphs into predefined groups (much like the ligature ‘e’ with ‘acute’ normally combines into é e-acute).

So, why is it taking so long to implement? The first prerequisite to making Simplified Egyptian available in useful form was adding Egyptian Hieroglyphs to the Unicode standard (initiated 2006, finally released with Unicode 5.2 in October 2009). However a standard is necessary but not sufficient, popular Operating Systems (e.g. Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, and Android) need to adequately support the standard. It is also essential that tools such as internet browsers, word processors and so on support standards compliant behaviour. Progress has been slow on all these fronts, disappointingly so.

Two positive developments during the last few months.

1. OpenType now (almost) formally recognizes the ‘egyp’ tag for fonts containing Egyptian Hieroglyphs (see http://www.microsoft.com/typography/otspec/scripttags.htm updated October 4, 2011 to bring the standard up to date, matching Unicode developments in recent years).
2. Firefox now recognizes ligatures in Egyptian fonts (not sure exactly when this happened but my test font was first seen to work correctly in Firefox 10 on Windows). Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari haven’t seen any progress in the 18 months since I published Egyptian Hieroglyphs on the Web (October 2010).

One minor negative two weeks ago. The Windows 8 consumer preview really ought to have worked since Unicode 6.x support is part of the design. However my Egyptian tests failed for Internet Explorer and several other programs and software interfaces. Hopefully those bugs will be shaken out before release and similar progress will be seen in OS X, iOS and Android before the end of 2012.

Looking at the trend it seems likely that by this time next year there will be enough pieces of the puzzle coming together to enable some useful Simplified Egyptian use scenarios on a variety of fully up to date systems with up to date software. Realistically, however, for most people 'up to date' is unlikely. Android phones are often stuck with obsolete versions of Android. Windows computers last for ages nowadays yet the cost of upgrading a version of Windows and Microsoft Office is normally prohibitively high for most people and organizations. As a rough estimate, it is going to take 3+ years before 25% of PCs (including tablets, excluding phones) are Simplified Egyptian capable.

Moving forward. Despite the apparently slow opportunities for uptake it seems worth starting the ball rolling now. Last year I created a list of about 1200 candidate rules for an implementation of Simplified Egyptian to test against the dictionary database and some sample documents. Further work is needed but I hope to provide a test implementation in InScribeX Web along with a Simplified Egyptian font this year, initially using a draft specification for the rules. IXW can be used to make sample web pages (using a downloadable version of the font) which we now know will be readable in Firefox at least. This work to be followed by ample time for comment and feedback on the specification from all, including experts in the subject. Timescales depend on when I can find some spare time (unless anyone knows of any funding!) but if all goes well, by around this time next year there will be a useable Simplified Egyptian system with at least some PC systems and a few standard apps that can use it. Then, as people upgrade systems and developers upgrade apps SE can reach out to an increasing audience.

Unfortunately a slow process with pitfalls e.g. web pages that only look correct on modern browsers unless we see a change in the habits of Apple, Google, Microsoft and other PC and device manufacturers. Most people working with hieroglyphs in software will continue to mainly use MdC-based solutions for some years to come on desktop/laptop systems. A topic I'll return to shortly.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

InScribeX Web 3.5 available

The InScribeX Web software is now updated to preview version 3.5, replacing the previous version 3.4. The software now integrates about 30,500 references in the Egyptian dictionary database, and the accuracy level of the database has been substantially improved over 3.4. Apart from some minor performance oriented changes, there is no change to software functionality.

3.5 is the last of the 3.x series. I hope to continue the periodic update process every two to three months during 2012 as was done last year. I'm currently shooting for a 4.0 version in the Spring.

4.0 contains some usability changes and continues to support Windows and OSX platforms via Silverlight. It drops any attempt to support Linux desktop. My main objectives moving IXW forward this year are to 1. incorporate tools to enable use of Simplified Egyptian and 2. Make it easier to use Egyptian with Unicode in an up to date HTML5 Web browser context.

A note on Linux. When I started writing InScribeX Web the situation with Linux on desktop and laptop PCs looked fairly promising. Moonlight (the Linux equivalent of the Silverlight software used to deliver InScribeX in a web browser) was under active development by Novell. Since then, Linux has been very successful as the foundation of the proprietory Google Android operating system for mobile devices but interest in Linux desktop as an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple OSX has declined, not grown. The demise of Novell as an independent company caused Moonlight development to stop in an incomplete state meaning it is no longer realistic to take the current implementation of InScribeX Web onto the Linux desktop. This fact is only one consequence of the fact that the whole cross-platform perspective has changed in recent years thanks to low power microelectronics enabling interesting mobile devices. A topic I'd like to return to in the near future.

Friday, 14 October 2011

InScribeX Web 3.4 available

The InScribeX Web software is now updated to preview version 3.4, replacing the previous version 3.3. This uses the latest version of my word list/database for the dictionary feature. 3.4 contains over 30,000 references, representing an increase of about 2000 new entries since 3.3. There are also about 1500 corrections and clarifications to references present in the previous version. In short the database is getting close to my objectives for the first draft.

References in the dictionaries are as follows:

  • AEM refers to Ancient Egyptian Medicine by J F Nunn (1996).

  • DME refers to Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian by R O Faulkner (1961).

  • EG refers to Egyptian Grammar by A Gardiner (Third edition, 1957).

  • GHAD refers to Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch-Deutsch by Rainer Hannig (2006).

  • ME refers to Middle Egyptian by J P Allen (2000).

  • Wb refers to Wörterbuch der Aegyptischen Sprach by A Erman and H Grapow (1926, 1971).

The largest single sub-collection of references is that from Wörterbuch which accounts for about 46% of the total number of references. Here my selection has been strongly guided by the ‘Beinlich word list’ although the German-English translations and transliterations into MdC machine coded hieroglyphs are my own.

The second largest sub-collection is from the Concise Dictionary, 38% of the total. The organisation of this Faulkner material largely follows the ‘Vygus word list’ though I’ve made a fairly large number of changes and MdC transliterations were done from scratch.

The smallest sub-collection currently is that from GHAD. This is only being used to add references relating to use of some of the rarer hieroglyphs.

I’d like to repeat and emphasise that InScribeX Web dictionaries are not intended to substitute for use of the various publications referenced. The user will want to refer directly to the Faulkner, Gardiner and other books to understand the context in which my dictionary entries are given. For instance Wörterbuch gives many alternative ‘spellings’ beyond those included in IXW at present. Egyptian Grammar has many instances of words not referenced in the current list, along with far more about the language and words beyond that of a simple list. Faulkner gives many references to the sources of his material.

To complete the first draft of the word list/database, I still have a parcel of work to tidy up references using rarer hieroglyphs so as to have a solid footing from which to tackle some practical issues of what to do with signs that are not in the Basic Egyptian Hieroglyphs set standardized in Unicode 5.2 (2009).

There is also a batch of references that needs re-checking and/or revised German-English translations.

I am therefore expecting several hundred more references and a bunch of corrections to the current set before drawing a line under this phase.

My current plan is still to incorporate these changes in a version 3.5 this winter to complete the IXW preview 3 developments. It also remains my intention to defer software changes (beyond anything of a minor technical nature) until this work is completed.

Friday, 9 September 2011

InScribeX Web directions (September 2011)

Next week Microsoft will be making announcements about Windows 8 and I expect this will raise speculation on software futures in the press. So now seems like a good time to forestall any questions about any implications for InScribeX Web directions over the next year or so.

In short, Silverlight/.Net has been a successful technical choice for development of IXW to date and I plan to continue to use Silverlight through 2012 to further evolve IXW and explore more aspects of Ancient Egyptian in Unicode as a cross-platform Mac OSX/Windows (XP and later) solution.

Nevertheless there are some other desirable developments in Ancient Egyptian on computer that don’t fit into the IXW cross-platform approach, for instance deeper integration with other applications and efficient support for a variety of low power and touch screen devices. I’d like to share some thinking on these topics here in the near future.

Meanwhile IXW is currently at Preview 3.3 (the third update this year) and I’m on track for a 3.4 release next month. The ‘preview 3’ series to wrap this Winter with 3.5 which completes the first draft of the word list/dictionaries and incorporates more analysis on sign lists.

I’ve been holding back user interface changes until Preview 4 which is intended to enable continuation of the step by step approach I’ve taken this year. Whereas the 2011 theme has been building a more comprehensive dictionary, the main 2012 theme is teasing out the relationships between ‘Simplified Egyptian’, hieroglyphs in Unicode, and MdC encodings and I hope to continue the dynamic of updates every 2/3 months in the 4.x framework. More on this closer to the time.

Monday, 22 August 2011

InScribeX Web 3.3 now available

I've just released the latest version of InScribeX Web. Version 3.3 is the third update this year following version 3.1 (April) and 3.2 (June). The dictionary now contains over 28,000 references, an increase of around 50% from the 3.0 version released last year.

There are no changes to system requirements to run InScribeX Web so virtually all Windows and Intel-based Mac machines are supported.

As far as the draft (EGPZ) word list used as the basis of the dictionaries is concerned, references to Egyptian Grammar (Gardiner) and Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian (Faulkner) are regarded as complete for the time being with this version 3.3 (aside from any remaining corrections required).

For development of the word list, I currently have a hit-list of 580 existing references needing further research and about 2500+ further references to be added before reaching my target of what to include in the first draft. In practical terms, I'm aiming for an updated 3.4 release in the Autumn as a stepping stone to a completed first draft.

Aside from the word list/dictionaries, there are other topics such as MdC and InScribe document editing, Simplified Egyptian, Egyptian in HTML, expanding the Unicode repertoire, and mathematical modelling of Egyptian. None of which are planned for 3.4 although I'm still actively prototyping in these areas.

Note. InScribeX Web is still based on Silverlight 3 (or later) in the (possibly forlorn) hope that 'Moonlight' (the Linux equivalent to Silverlight for Windows and Mac) will catch up this year. However the whole cross-platform question has moved on since the first 2009 version of InScribeX Web most visibly with the growth of the smartphone user base, and the profile of first generation mass-market Tablet/Slate devices. I'll try to address some of the questions of how this affects Ancient Egyptian in the digital world, and InScribeX in particular, in future blog posts.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Simplified Egyptian: Numerals

This is the second of a series of notes on a systematic way of working with Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs in Unicode, following up from Simplified Egyptian: A brief Introduction.

What follows makes a lot more sense if you have a hieroglyphic font installed, see my post Egyptian Hieroglyphs on the Web (October 2010).

Ancient Egyptian, in common with other early mathematical systems, had no notion of negative integers or the digit Zero. The Egyptian numeral system is not positional in the modern sense. It is nevertheless straightforward to decode. Examples:

Egyptian 𓎉𓏻 is 42 (𓎉 represents 40, 𓏻 represents 2).

Egyptian 𓆿𓍣𓎉𓏻 is 4,242 (𓆿 represents 4000, 𓍣 represents 200).

Our modern decimal system uses positional notation where the numerals 0, 1 … 9 are used to represent units, tens, hundreds etc. by virtue of position. The Ancient Egyptians used different symbols based on a tally system as should be obvious from the examples. Fortunately, one similarity to modern notation is that the higher magnitude quantities were normally written first (i.e. to the left in Simplified Egyptian, which is always written left to right).

Normalized forms of numerals

The following list gives the preferred representation of hieroglyphs in Unicode for numerals in Simplified Egyptian.

1 to 9: 𓏺, 𓏻, 𓏼, 𓏽, 𓏾,𓏿, 𓐀, 𓐁, 𓐂.
10 to 90: 𓎆, 𓎇,𓎈, 𓎉, 𓎊, 𓎋, 𓎌, 𓎍, 𓎎.
100 to 900: 𓍢, 𓍣, 𓍤, 𓍦, 𓍦, 𓍧, 𓍨, 𓍩, 𓍪.
1,000 to 9,000: 𓆼, 𓆽, 𓆾, 𓆿, 𓇀, 𓇁, 𓇂, 𓇃, 𓇄.
10,000 to 90,000: 𓂭, 𓂮, 𓂯, 𓂰, 𓂱, 𓂲, 𓂳, 𓂴, 𓂵.
100,000: 𓆐
1,000,000: 𓁨

Each of these forms is available in Unicode as a unique character. For instance hieroglyph 2 is the character U+133FB 𓏻 EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPH Z015A. Use these ‘normal’ forms for basic writing of numbers in Simplified Egyptian and avoid practices such as repeating 𓏺 for 𓏻 unless there is a compelling reason.

Note that large numbers such as 𓁨𓁨𓆐𓆐𓂮𓆽𓍣𓎇𓏻 2,222,222 were not generally encountered in ancient texts so replicating the 𓁨 and 𓆐 is rather anachronistic. An alternative multiplicative notation evolved for large numbers although uses are apparently rare so I’ll defer this topic for now.

Alternative forms of numerals

The use of normalized forms as given above makes it easy to find a number such as 𓎉𓏻 (42) in web documents, word processor and spreadsheet documents, and so forth (so long as software is sufficiently up to date of course). Unicode provides some alternative forms such as U+13403 𓐃 EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPH Z015I (numeral 5) but these alternates should be avoided for numerals in Simplified Egyptian where at all possible (𓐃 actually has a specific use as a fraction).

Other arrangements are found in Egyptian texts, such as the following form of 35 ( from Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, p194).

Simplified Egyptian takes the position that these kinds of numeral groups are a matter for more elaborate treatments of hieroglyphs where it is not acceptable to take license and write the number as 𓎈𓏾.

Repeating numeral 1 twice may look very much like numeral 2 in a hieroglyphic font but this practice should be avoided in Simplified Egyptian unless there is a good reason. The rationale is because most Ancient Egyptian mathematics survives in hieratic rather than hieroglyphic writing and the numerals were often simplified into a less tally-like glyph appearance. The fact that modern discussion of the hieratic often uses a hieroglyphic presentation should not detract from the original character-like behaviour. There is the important practical point that web searches and text processing work far better with normalized forms.

Rotated versions of units (e.g. 𓐄, 𓐅 …) and tens (𓎭 and 𓎮) are used in hieratic (and sometimes hieroglyphic) to number days of the month. Simplified Egyptian also adopts this convention (I hope to return to this on a topic about calendars).


The stroke hieroglyphs U+133E4 𓏤 EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPH Z001 (representing unity and ideogram) U+133FB 𓏺 EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPH Z015A (numeral 1) are distinguished in Unicode. Fonts usually make the numeral stroke taller then the ideogram stroke, reflecting Ancient Egyptian conventions. Texts encoded in MdC often do not make this distinction but it is strongly recommended to do so in Simplified Egyptian so as to enable accurate text processing.

Likewise, the plurality signs U+133E5 𓏥 EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPH Z002 and U+133E6 𓏦 EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPH Z002A should be distinguished from numeral 3 U+133E5 𓏼 EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPH Z015B.

In some fonts, characters such as U+0131 ı LATIN SMALL LETTER DOTLESS I and U+006C l LATIN SMALL LETTER L may look very similar to the Egyptian stroke. There are various other opportunities for confusion, for instance numeral 10 𓎆 can look very similar to U+2229 ∩ INTERSECTION and some other characters.

Other examples are the special forms for 1, 2 and 3 used in dates potentially confusable with MINUS SIGN, HYPHEN and other dashes (1), EQUALS SIGN (2), and IDENTICAL TO (3) but should never appear in a context where the meaning is unclear. The special form of 10 looks rather like SUBSET OF.

Simplified Egyptian hieroglyphs should never be written with any non-Egyptian characters just beacause they look similar.

Mathematics beyond numerals

Cardinal numbers, fractions, weights, lengths, and other measurements are matters for future topics about Simplified Egyptian.

Update. Apparently, according to Google, this note is the first writing of 𓎉𓏻 on the web, a reminder it will be interesting to see how use of hieroglyphs grows in months and years to come.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Silverlight in the News

Silverlight made it onto the BBC News on Tuesday – Coders decry Silverlight change. Take an unfortunate choice of words by a senior executive or two; add the reactive and ill-informed commentators on some web message boards; then mix in some natural concerns from developers. Bang! Tempests in teacups, the media love them.

Personally speaking, I find it reassuring to observe that the amateur tradition is alive and well in Microsoft and at least one major multinational company is not self-wrapped in a cloak of PR and spin-doctoring. That being said, the last few minutes of Doctor Who The Christmas Invasion ought to be made compulsory viewing for all senior executives.

As a developer I'm happy so long as .Net is treated as a strategic family of products. Thanks to Novell it may become so on Unix/Linux too (even if the Linux ‘community’ is slow to recognize what the third wave of Unix is really about). Hey theres another tabloid headline: C/C++ is dead!

I hope I'm not alone in being pleased to learn Silverlight 5 is not being rushed out. Especially if it means some of the niggles are resolved and the SL/WP7/WPF portability model improved. And Unicode 6.0 of course! A Mix 2011 Beta with Summer release please.

Two real news stories for developers:

An interesting talk at PDC 2010 for C# developers: ‘The Future of C# and Visual Basic’ by Anders Hejlsberg – don’t be put off like I almost was by the Visual Basic tag, it is hardly mentioned so we are not subjected yet again to the irony implicit in the keyword Dim. The main theme is simplification of Asynch programming with the new await keyword for the next .Net revision. Along with parallel constructs, this pattern brings very useful ways of exploiting multi-core processors to .Net in a clean software design. The talk is summarised here.

Developers in the .Net/WPF/Silverlight space should also check out PDC 2010: 3-Screen Coding: Sharing code between Windows Phone, Silverlight, and .NET by Shawn Burke. I alluded to the value of portable code last month in Of Characters and Strings although I didn’t highlight the .Net 4 changes that enable sharing of binary assemblies (a topic in its own right). The new tooling for Visual Studio to assist in creating Portable Assemblies, as previewed by Shawn, should be very helpful in managing the shared assembly model. It should also help focus Microsoft development on removing some of the irritating incompatibilities between Silverlight and WPF.

I just can’t wait for await.

Bob Richmond