This is a tardy thank-you note to some too-long remote friends. Cleaning out the basement last week, I found a pile of correspondence. The letters concerned various free-text information retrieval (IR) programs that I wrote during my ill-spent early-middle-age. They dated from the pre-Web era, 1988-1991 — when mailing lists, USENET newsgroups, and Compuserve fora were the dominant dinosaur species. (What will today's newest new things look like in retrospect a decade from now? To imagine is to laugh (^_^)....)

Some quick context: beginning ca. 1984, with encouragement and support from colleagues, friends, and the (now defunct) corporate library at Apple Computer, Inc., I wrote indexer/browser software in my spare time. The programs were designed to help people take huge disorganized collections of textual data and make them useful for personal high-performance research. (See also = "Notes on Free Text Information Retrieval" and the = "Free'Text Archive", as well as the 1999 Nov 27 ^zhurnal entry.) The earliest and crudest of these chunks of code were named "indxr" and "brwsr". (I wasn't much of a naming wizard!) The software then evolved through "qndxr.c", "Texas", "Tex", "multindxr", and finally several "Free'Text" instantiations of the same fundamental ideas.

The hobby of IR programming taught me a lot and occupied many pleasant months of my life (thanks to the near-limitless tolerance of my wife, Paulette Dickerson — to whom I owe more than I can express). But the best part was that it let me meet and help many nice people. Here's a core sample of names from the letters I received. If you find your name below, please drop me a line and let me know how you're doing these days. And thank you, belatedly, for writing!

  • Germany: Andreas Vichr (Munich = München) was an enthusiastic early user who did a complete graphic redesign, vastly improving the user interface of my early Hypercard IR system. Jochen Teufel (Cologne = Köln) suggested many extensions and improvements. Peter Wasserbäch (Bietigheim Bissingen) wrote a nice note exhorting me to persevere.
  • Switzerland: Georg Hess (Zurich) built upon it for searching large databases of email at his company, Comnet AG; he also gave me an account on his computer system. Matthias Wuttke (Münchwilen) of the Swiss Bible Society modified it to build Biblical concordances in German and French. Jean Michel Karr (Geneva) dropped me a friendly letter. Heinrich Arn (Wädenswil) of the marvelously-named Swiss Federal Research Station for Fruit Growing, Viticulture and Horticulture used it in his research.
  • Japan: Scott Pugh (Fukuoka) on the Faculty of Literature at Kyushu University applied it to searching novels and large linguistic corpora.
  • Australia: John Lim (Victoria) used it to build and sort indices based on language and word occurrence frequency. Lance Chambers (Perth), a Civil Engineering (Transport) Ph.D. student, used it in his simulation software development.
  • Norway: Espen Ore (Bergen) of the Norwegian Computing Centre for the Humanities indexed the complete works of the Greek philosopher Philodemos. Steinar Tyvand (Oslo) of the Center for Industrial Research sent a kind letter.
  • Italy: Augusto Lamartina (Palermo) used it to browse corpora of multilingual texts in the Department of Foreign Languages. Simone Albonico (Pavia) wrote an encouraging note.
  • Austria: Klaus Dethloff (Vienna) modified it to work with Hebrew and Arabic texts.
  • Netherlands: Niels Damgaard (The Hague = Den Haag) applied it to Danish and Norwegian documents in his work as a librarian. Wim Honselaar (Amsterdam) of the Slavisch Seminarium, Universiteit van Amsterdam, sent a friendly message.
  • Sweden: Lisa Holm (Gothenburg) of the Department of Computational Linguistics, University of Gothenburg, modified it to build Swedish concordances and used it in her studies of other Scandinavian languages. William Rankin (Stockholm) mailed me a helpful letter.
  • Singapore: Alain Polguère (Kent Ridge) at the National University of Singapore, Department of English Language and Literature, asked about work on versions to handle foreign (accented) characters for his research.
  • Spain: Ignacio Garcia Sainz (Valladolid) of the Collegio Mayor Universitario Loyola sent a helpful message of support.
  • Northern Ireland: John M. Kirk (Belfast) at the Queen's University, School of English, used it for concordance-building research.
  • New Zealand: Andrew Weir (Auckland) congratulated me and endorsed further work.
  • Iceland: Jón Gunnarsson (Reykjavik) converted the program to handle the Icelandic language, and shared his work with colleagues at the University working on the humanities. (He also spoke with my wife on the telephone, and generously sent her some excellent information about knitting and the fiber arts in Iceland!)
  • Finland: Heikki Arppe (Helsinki) suggested UNIX versions.
  • Brazil: Joao C. Portinari (Rio de Janeiro) of the Projeto Portinari, Pontifícia Universidade Católica used it in his work to document and catalog information on the life of the Brazilian artist Candido Portinari; his correspondence was enthusiastic and helpful.
  • France: Yves Kirchner (Paris) used it in the preparation of critical editions of French literature.
  • England: Dr. Norman Cohen (London) tried it in his personal research and learning experiments, and wrote multiple friendly letters. Peter Bradley (Cumbria) used it to experiment and develop his ideas on free-form databases. David Zeitlyn (Oxford), a social anthropologist, experimented with it on data from his research travels in Cameroon. Lloyd D. Mansfield (Cambridge) applied it to index and cross-reference his personal notes. Bill Coumbe (Oxford) of English Language Teaching at Oxford University Press, and Ron Hardie (West Sussex) sent good thoughts.
  • Canada & USA: (see NorthAmericanTexasHistory)
  • unknown geospatial locations: (No return addresses or canceled envelopes) Geof Hope used it on French, German, Spanish, and other non-English texts. Steven P. Hassman (US Army Russian Institute) asked for Russian alphabetization — a tough task which I only did incompletely some years later. People at the USA Today newspaper reputedly used it to index and search their image library. Tony Simons applied it to analyzing transcripts of meetings and interviews as part of his Ph.D. thesis research. John Young and Bill Spivey sent me nice notes.
  • Publications and Reviews: Paul Delany (Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada) encouraged (and nagged) me to write a chapter for his book The Digital Word: Text Based Computing in the Humanities (edited with George Landow; MIT Press, 1993). Bill Cook (Apple Hyperforum Administrator) endorsed it for organizing large information collections. Claude Bédard reviewed it nicely in Language Technology/Electric Word magazine, and wrote me several gracious letters. Steve Michel (MacWEEK) reviewed it favorably and applauded its open-source philosophy (free software, under the GNU GPL). Larry Pina (MACazine) reviewed it kindly. Peter Coffee (PC TECH Journal) commented on it as a valuable large-scale free-text manipulation system. Caryle Hirshberg (Mac'Guide) described it in his "Browsing in the Stacks" column. Pat Soberanis of Online Today magazine gave it high marks.
  • Honors: The Boston Computer Society gave it the BCS Mac Software Exchange Award. The Berkeley Macintosh Users Group praised it, as did the Arizona Mac Users Group. The Apple Library of Tomorrow (ALoT) sponsored its development and helped distribute it to librarians around the world.

Belated thanks to you all — and apologies to those whose kind letters and messages have not survived the friction of my household filing system. (Please forgive inadvertent typos and garbles.) To those who have been forgotten: remind me gently. And to those who enjoyed Free'Text (and Tex, Texas, qndxr/brwsr, etc.) but who never got around to writing: drop me a line ... it's never too late.

(see NorthAmericanTexasHistory for further thanks and acknowledgements)

Monday, May 15, 2000 at 07:58:35 (EDT) = 2000-05-15

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicProgramming

(correlates: FreeTextFriends, IdeaGardening, KwicsChinksAndChunks, ...)