Thursday, 20 May 2010

Lost in Hieroglyphs

One evening in February 2006, I noticed there had been a huge number of downloads of a draft specification I'd written about the encoding of Egyptian Hieroglyphs in the Unicode Private Zone (EGPZ=EGyptian in the Private Zone). Over 10,000 downloads within a week. A little detective work yielded the discovery that some hieroglyphs had appeared in the TV series 'Lost' and in the thirst for knowledge ... well, goodness knows what the legion of Losties made of such a dry document.

A proposal for Basic Egyptian Hieroglyphs in Unicode by Michael Everson and myself was starting to take shape at that time. I had also begun drafting a presentation entitled Hieroglyphs Everywhere for the Informatique et Egyptologie (I&E 2006) conference being held in Oxford that Summer. So the timing of the 'Lost event' was coincidental, indeed an encouragement to explore further the notion of making Ancient Egyptian more accessible in popular culture beyond the academic dimension.

Four years after. The EGPZ specification was released in 2006, The Unicode 5.2 Standard (October 2009) now contains Basic Egyptian Hieroglyphs. The process of making Ancient Egyptian more accessible continues. I&E 2010 is being held in Liege this July and I've just started writing a minor revision of the EGPZ specification and a followup to the Hieroglyphs Everywhere talk.

And 'Lost' is coming to an end on Tuesday 23rd May after six seasons. Perhaps the full significance of the statue of Taweret will be revealed. Most likely not and thats a good thing in my opinion, the world is a better place for some notions to remain wrapped in mystery.

Then there is the fact that 42 is one of the 'Lost Numbers'.  The mathematics and science of coincidence. Another day!

Monday, 10 May 2010

InScribeX Web Preview 3 released

I have just released Preview 3 of the InScribeX Web software on This version replaces Preview 2 for Windows and Mac users and works with Silverlight version 3 or 4. Linux users will probably want to stick with Preview 2 which runs with Moonlight 2 for the time being (see note below).

As illustrated, the user interface has been changed to require less screen space. This is very useful on low resolution displays, especially those found on netbooks. I have also chosen this two page view for the dictionaries so English-Egyptian and Egyptian to English can be viewed simultaneously (although it is probable that additional ways of working with the dictionaries will follow at some point).

Some features I had hoped to include in Preview 3 have been deferred in order that the software works with the current pre-release of Moonlight 3 (Moonlight is the equivalent to Silverlight for Linux systems). I hope to update Preview 3 over the summer to track Moonlight development and make a few additions and changes to functionality, the most interesting being  to add some basic UMdC editing features and include some revised dictionary content.

Preview 3 is about 25% smaller than preview 2 so loads faster over the web.

Coming soon ... InScribe Web Preview 4
Preview 4 is being developed in parallel to Preview 3 and I've adopted a development approach to allow components to be shared between the two versions. This sounds rather complicated but makes sense from my development perspective as part of the strategy of making InScribeX cross-platform over a range of computers and other devices. For the majority of Windows and Mac users, all this means is you should use Preview 3 for the time being then switch to Preview 4 when it is available (best guess sometime this summer).

Preview 4 takes advantage of new features in Silverlight 4 to enable printing and rich text editing of Egyptian texts among other enhancements. Watch this space.

InScribe Web on Linux
Moonlight 2 was released in December 2009 as a Linux FireFox plugin (this can be downloaded for popular modern Linux distributions from Moonlight 2 enables InScribe Web Preview 2 operation on Linux systems.

Pre-release 'alpha quality' Moonlight 3 plugins for Firefox and Chrome browsers on Linux can be downloaded from InScribe Web Preview 2 appears to work as with Moonlight 2. InScribe Web Preview 3 mostly appears to run okay on the most recent (April) plugin versions. However one unavoidable problem at the moment is the full dictionaries take an extremely long time to load. I've therefore limited the dictionaries to 100 entries under Linux for the time being until the Moonlight bug is fixed (a good reason to stick with InScribe Web Preview 2). I'm planning to track Moonlight 3 pre-release versions towards release, updating Preview 3 if necessary and feasible.

All being well, Moonlight 3 will be released by Novell by Autumn with full Silverlight 3 compatibility so I can retire InScribe Web Preview 2 leaving Preview 3 a fully cross platform solution for Windows/Mac/Linux.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

HTML5, Fonts, and the Web Open Font Format (WOFF)

WOFF is a file format intended to enable downloadable fonts to be used on web pages. Developed during 2009, WOFF 1.0 was submitted last month (, April 8th 2010) by Microsoft Corporation, Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software to W3C, the standards organisation for web technology.

WOFF is not the first technology for downloadable fonts but it is the first to carry strong industry support. An implementation is already available in Firefox 3.6. WOFF is expected to be supported in new versions of Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari. In my opinion it is likely that WOFF will become the preferred way of including specialist fonts in HTML5 so a very positive development.

This is significant for applications of Ancient Egyptian and other specialist scripts since WOFF provides an effective way of displaying those scripts on web pages without expecting suitable fonts to have been installed on the host device. WOFF files are compressed and subsets can be used to keep download sizes much smaller than if the original (e.g. TrueType) fonts were used. There are indications that font suppliers will be open to distribution of fonts in WOFF format (in most cases commercial fonts are not licensed for distribution in TTF etc. formats although there are rules that in many instances allow embedding in documents such as PDF files).

It is impractical to use WOFF for published web sites today except for experimental purposes since the vast majority of web browsers in use do not know how to use WOFF. However software tools already exist. As far as my own work is concerned, I’m working on the assumption that over 70% of web browser usage will be WOFF compatible by the end of 2011 (though this is a pure guess!) at which point it becomes appropriate to make web pages that rely on WOFF for Egyptian.

I’d like to state the short to medium term status for my work concerning Ancient Egyptian on the web relating to WOFF.
  1. InScribeX Web integrates a version of my InScribe font so doesn’t rely on browser support. I expect WOFF support will become part of the InScribeX story at some point in time, but not during 2010.
  2. Meanwhile I'd be pleased to hear from anyone also looking at WOFF applications for Egyptian in Unicode and HTML5.
  3. I’m interested in the use of ligatures and combining rules to enable ‘Simplified Egyptian’ to be written without markup so will be testing some WOFF implementations to try and detect any bugs in OpenType feature handling so these can be eliminated by the time browser support for WOFF is widely available.