Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA Space Media Science

NASA Requests Help With Von Braun's Notes 148

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the yes-actually-it-is-rocket-science dept.
DynaSoar writes "NASA is soliciting ideas from the public on how best to catalog and digitize the collected notes of Wernher von Braun. 'We're looking for creative ways to get it out to the public,' said project manager Jason Crusan. 'We don't always do the best with putting out large sets of data like this.' The PDF notes are those of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, the first director of NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and are typed with copious handwritten notes in the margin. According to the official request for information, NASA needs ideas on what format to use (PDF), how to index the notes, and how to create a useful database. The unique nature and historical value of the data, literally discovered in boxes six months ago, is what motivated NASA to ask the public for ideas."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NASA Requests Help With Von Braun's Notes

Comments Filter:
  • NASA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dov_0 (1438253) on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:18AM (#28513657)
    Seems to have a habit of just dumping things in warehouses and forgetting about them.
    • Re:NASA (Score:5, Funny)

      by HalifaxRage (640242) on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:22AM (#28513709) Journal
      Next week: What to do with this big golden box thing? We tried opening it and some guy's face melted.
      • Re:NASA (Score:4, Funny)

        by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:36AM (#28513895) Homepage Journal
        "...those of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, the fist director of NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center..."

        Wow...I didn't know they had that position?!?!

        I'm not sure I'd WANT to be fist director....sounds like more of a strange pr0n thing than a NASA office.

        • Don't say that he's hypocritical
            Rather say that he's apolitical
            "Vunce ze rockets are up, who cares vere zey come down
            "Zats not mein department!" [suite101.com] says Werner von Braun

          • by dov_0 (1438253)
            Tom Lehrer in his album, "1964 That was the Year that was" IIRC. Used to listen to the LP when I was a kid.
        • by Ihlosi (895663)

          I'm not sure I'd WANT to be fist director....

          What, you don't want total freedom to punch whoever you feel appropriate? Sometimes, that's the only way to get a bureaucracy moving.

      • Next week: What to do with this big golden box thing? We tried opening it and some guy's face melted.

        Guy 1: It's the Ark of the Covenant!

        Guy 2: No, it's a spare reactor core. Same effect.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Blakey Rat (99501)

        NASA: We already have top men on that.
        Slashdot: But wh--
        NASA: Top. Men.

        (My favorite line. Uttered by the actor who played Porkins, IIRC.)

      • by lennier (44736)

        "We tried opening it and some guy's face melted."

        WONTFIX. This behaviour is by design. RTFM.

    • by Ragzouken (943900)

      I assure you that they have top men working on it right now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by digitalhermit (113459)

      Not sure if I can really blame them.

      This past weekend I had a garage sale and, as I was clearing stuff, realized how much junk paperwork I had stashed in the garage. There were books, manuals, class notes, lecture notes (from those I attended and those I gave), meeting notebooks, documentation on long obsolete processes (Token Ring MAU reset procedures, Novell Netware rebuild procedures). I had notebooks of stories, embarrassing journal entries from college ("DH has the most beautiful eyes!!"), and all sort

      • by dov_0 (1438253)

        NASA generates less than one hour what it's taken me a lifetime to accrete.

        The only real difference is that research and exploration is actually (ostensibly anyway) NASA's goal and reason for existence. When you do research or exploration, it goes without saying that you need to catalog the fruit of your exercises. Unfortunately though, in reality NASA's main goal is and always has been to play a very expensive game of keeping-ahead-of-the-Jones's. First against the Russians, and now maybe he Chinese and the EU. Data is secondary to getting lovely expensive shiny machinery to far

    • by db10 (740174)
      come on guys, it's not rocket science!
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      Ironic, since Von Braun had a habit of just dumping jews in his factories and forgetting about them.
  • Just use one of those companies that is always spamming me to do piecemeal typesetting... though i'm betting there's someone in North Korea who could do it for even cheaper.

  • by mwilliamson (672411) on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:19AM (#28513667) Homepage Journal
    group-iv tiff + ASCII, key-value metadata descriptor in XML. Keep it generic.
    • obviously, bittorrent to distribute the resulting set far and wide.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tomhudson (43916)

        obviously, bittorrent to distribute the resulting set far and wide.

        ... with the files labeled as "Porn_Video_Michael_Jackson_And_Bubbles_Beat_It.rar" ...

        Might as well get MediaSentry and the RIAA in on the act ...

      • by unfasten (1335957)

        obviously, bittorrent to distribute the resulting set far and wide.

        Well they're off to a good start as they're already running a torrent tracker [nasa.gov] for their Blue Marble [nasa.gov] image collections...

        Off topic, but this quote from their FAQ is refreshing. They should share it with media companies and ISPs

        I thought P2P and Filesharing were illegal!
        This is a common misconception. BitTorrent, and peer-to-peer (P2P) are protocols, like HTTP and EMail. It is true that they can be used to share files illegally, but the same is true of HTTP. Our use here is legitimate, however, so you should have no need to be concerned.

  • They got that million dollar touchless scanner that can digitize the papers with ease, then put them into either Open Source or PDF formats.

    • Isn't the PDF format open source?

      • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:57AM (#28514161) Homepage

        yes it is. but many whiners here will argue against it.

        The thing is, dont half ass the pdf by simply encapsulating images. they need to do a real OCR on it and separate things out to images that are not typewritten.

        then donate the boxes to the Smithsonian.

        the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of the documents is that it is easily searched. which means all text must be text and not images. Yes that includes his handwriting.

        • The thing is, dont half ass the pdf by simply encapsulating images. they need to do a real OCR on it and separate things out to images that are not typewritten. ...the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of the documents is that it is easily searched. which means all text must be text and not images. Yes that includes his handwriting.

          I agree, but the second most important aspect is that the images of the original get preserved too. The ideal way to do it is to have the image be displayed, but with the OCR'd text linked t

        • Doesn't PDF support metadata? They could provide a PDF which displays the raw scanned texts (no OCR) and then have the OCR text linked as metadata for indexing. Where can I go to pick my paycheck?
        • Well, let ReCaptcha do it. If it is German, this should pose no problem to German users.

        • Let me fix that for you:

          the SECOND MOST IMPORTANT aspect of the documents is that it is easily searched.

          The FIRST is of course making a high fidelity digital copy of the original pages, that will serve as the authority on all questions of possible ambiguity in the handwriting, or whether a figure in the margin is a thumbnail sketch or a mere doodle.

          A 600 or 1200 dpi .png image of each page in full color would do as the master digital archive. The .png format is an excellent choice since it is open, well understood, and going to be around for a long, long time. Its accuracy is more than adequate for this work. That it supports lossless compression is a bonus: images of pages usually compress very well. Copies of the master digital library should be kept at various institutions and made available on request to anyone.

          Then for public and research use, convert each page to HTML 4.01 strict, (since it is universally available, will be around for a long, long time, and Google, etc, can do the indexing for us). UTF of course, especially since Werner used some German and Greek glyphs in his handwriting.

          Suggest using OCR to handle conversion of the typed notes, and volunteers or cheap student labor to transcribe the handwritten material (use consensus of several transcribers to assure accuracy). These can be incorporated into the main pages as divs and spans inserted into the correct place in the flow (use classes like "left margin" and "rightmargin"). CSS can use absolute positioning to make them marginal accordians (expand from the margin on mouseover), etc.

          Treat sketches like the handwriting: put an img of the sketch into a div or span at the right place in the flow, then also add a searchable text description of the sketch in that div.

          A simple script can process the final HTML fragment of each page and insert id="unique" attributes on each paragraph, etc, and <a name="unique"> targets where these would be useful.

          The finished NASA product should be a simple online database using server side scripting to compose and serve out pages on request. It should be built with cooperation from Google and other search platforms so that spiders will have good access to the body of the work without causing excessive bandwidth problems. It should be possible for any researcher to develop his own custom search engine. Ideally, it will support not just the notes, but also concordances, wiki discussions, etc.

          I once did a lot of this kind of work in moving sermons and such that were circulated by mimeograph in the 1960s and 1970s to web pages. I digitized the pages with a Minolta Z1 camera on a reverse tripod using indirect lighting, and converted to OCR with OmniScan (IIRC). The OCR came out in Word 97 format, and I used Perl scripts to transcribe to HTML. If the technical quality of the originals is good, this can go pretty fast and is highly accurate, even as a basement project. If the original notes use consistent formatting, which I would expect of Werner, then scripting with good use of regular expressions cna do the bulk of the HTML markup.

        • Has anyone thought to ask the opinion of a museum curator? Any of the major institutions should have a network of document preservation specialists they can tap.
      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 29, 2009 @12:29PM (#28515405) Journal
        No. There is no such thing as an open source format. Open source is a term that can only apply to an implementation of a standard, not to the standard itself. Things like xpdf/Poppler are open source implementations of the PDF standard. The term 'open standard' applies to formats but is badly defined. The common definitions of an open format are:
        1. Can be licensed under nondescriminatory conditions (e.g. MPEG formats).
        2. Freely available specification, can be implemented by anyone (e.g. PDF).
        3. Future versions of the standard controlled by a a standards committee (e.g. HTML).

        PDF, since its creation, has been an open standard according to definition 2. Some people don't like it because it doesn't meet definition 3 (Adobe are the only ones who can create new versions of the PDF spec).

    • by mr crypto (229724)

      NASA's responsibility is not formatting the data so much as making it available. It should be available at least as images so that others have access to the raw data. Beyond that, OCR'ed to simple text to facilitate search by others. Whatever OCR fails to reliably interpret should be fed to reCAPTCHA.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:22AM (#28513719)

    Gather round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun
    A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience
    Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown
    "Ha, Nazi schmazi," says Wernher von Braun

    Don't say that he's hypocritical
    Say rather that he's apolitical
    "Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down
    That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun

    Some have harsh words for this man of renown
    But some think our attitude should be one of gratitude
    Like the widows and cripples in old London town
    Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun

    You too may be a big hero
    Once you've learned to count backwards to zero
    "In German oder English I know how to count down
    Und I'm learning Chinese," says Wernher von Braun

  • "Wernher von Braun, the fist director of NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center"

    Nasty..

  • by codeButcher (223668) on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:25AM (#28513767)

    On the next thing that goes up to space (or even just a suborbital flight), crank down the window at about 20km up and throw the stuff out (or have some automated thingy with an explosive bolt that distributes it into the atmosphere). Now THAT would be a "creative way to get it out to the public".

    Then again, maybe that would be TOO creative.

  • Scan it at high resolution, OCR what you can, and load it into Distributed Proofreaders [pgdp.net]. Or if the material is too technical for the layperson, ask for a copy of the web-based software and set up your own private site. Let bored grad students work on it in exchange for some kind of minor credit on the final digitized work. (I believe that the bored grad students phenomenon produces half of the highly-technical articles on Wikipedia.)

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Captchas.

      There are projects that use captchas to digitize old texts, NASA could put those parts which don't lend themselves to OCR as captchas on their webpage.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Seriously?
        "Please enter proper LaTeX syntax for the following equation..."

        • by sznupi (719324)

          There are far more individual numbers/letters/etc. in those notes than equations.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Unfortunately, the notes are full of non-words, like (RTG), SNAP-10A, B70, n.mi
        At least, that what i'm assuming they say, because some of them are rather unreadable. Now, slashdotters may recognise some, but many people won't see the "words"

        • by sznupi (719324)

          That's a very valid criticism in the case of reCAPTCHA, unfortunately...

          However, I seem to remember something similar to reCAPTCHA that operates not on whole words, but on individual symbols. Might work. Even if doesn't exist (can't find it...) it shouldn't be too hard to implement.

        • by oasisbob (460665)
          Assuming that these "terms" appear multiple times in the notes, it seems like one could assemble a corpus of them after the initial data entry, and use statistical methods to try and track down mistakes. (eg if SNAP-10A appears 20 times, and SMAP-10A only appears once, its probably worth review by an expert)
  • Just scan everything and allow private companies, individuals, and non-profits to come up with their own scheme, then combine the best non-proprietary techniques and make your own.

    • Only do this for notes that are in the public domain or which the copyright-holder is willing to license very liberally.

      For encumbered notes you'll want some other idea.

      • by Verdatum (1257828)
        In general, if the notes were made while working for NASA, they would be considered public domain.
  • > the fist director of NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama

    Boy do I not want to work for that particular department.

  • TIFF FTW (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alta (1263) on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:31AM (#28513835) Homepage Journal

    Lets go with a format almost anyone can read. As soon as their all scanned in as high res TIFFs THEN you can begin to OCR them and create hybrid PDF's which CAN be indexed. From there we have a good start with high quality originals and searchable dirivitives. Then people can start rolling whatever custom solutions they want to.

    Yes, I know that OCR is going to be very crude, especially for anything hand written. But what it will do is get us a very good starting point. Id like to see a wiki set up with the OCR'd text as the beginning text, a link to the document and then the public can begin to go in and correct the OCR mistakes, and fill in what just flat out couldn't be OCRd.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:32AM (#28513843) Journal
    Well, considering they host over 6,000 pdfs [google.com] and the RFI is in PDF with the title of the document being "Microsoft Word - WvB RFI 6-24-09.doc" by Jason Crusan who used Acrobat Distiller 7.0.5(Windows), I think we know what everyone uses at NASA. Fine. I'm not going to bitch about that. Instead I'm going to point out that if you're already dependent on Adobe Acrobat Reader & Microsoft Word being around until the end of time supporting your old doctypes, you might as well release these in PDF from DOC sources too.

    But, if I were doing this: Assuming these are all in images, put the images in whatever format you want and make a generic wiki page for each of them. Then let users log in (NASA fans should pour in) and translate the pages to annotated wiki pages with the footnotes (normally references) being all the side notes that were penciled in. They can categorize them by related missions and maybe even tag them ... you will need at least one or two people on your staff to administrate. Diagrams and drawings will probably need to be cropped and retained as images. Keep those in a lossless format but distribute whatever saves you bandwidth.

    Once that's done, ideally you'd put it in some XML standards based format (ODF or OOXML, yeah, that's another argument to be had) that you will always be able to read even if you have to build your own viewer/converter. Keep these sources indexed and provide for people the rendered PDF/PS/PNG/whocares and then you could probably build scripts to rebuild all from sources if you want. New technology comes out or people want to view them in HTML 5--no problem, just build a neat little XSLT for them.

    As for indexing them, I can tell you one way not to do it. Don't do the thing that curators of classical music did [stason.org]. Man, that's like speaking another language to me. Arrange the notes by mission or date if you can and any natural titles that arise for the favorites, add to it as an alias.
    • Also, it would make sense to be able to tag it, ala GMail or Firefox 3.x bookmarks
    • by esme (17526)

      As for indexing them, I can tell you one way not to do it. Don't do the thing that curators of classical music did [stason.org].

      With any decent metadata format, that kind of system (or even more complex) is perfectly fine. Every one of those is meaningful to someone, and maybe they want to search using it. For example, lots of cataloged materials have barcodes which would be a colossal pain to type in by hand (and no one would remember them anyway) -- but they're great for scanning in if you happen to have the thing i

  • Why don't they release it in the open standard PDF, with annotations for the handwritten notes, which I believe are in the in the standard. (I might be wrong.)
  • by g34rs (1583313) on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:39AM (#28513923)
    Thanks NASA for making me feel like my opinion is valued and useful. Kind of like that, oh what was it called? The vote for the name of that satellite thingy? When really you're just passing the buck because your budget didn't include "digitizing old notes."
    • by Anonymous Coward

      instead of focring people to pay taxes on some project of dubious desirability, they are trying to see if the public has any support for their idea, before they thrust headlong into it.

      government workers should ask the opinion of the taxpayers more often, we are after all , their bosses. i have a lot of respect for the government employees that remember this, and nothing but contempt for those who want to 'play social engineer and tax waster' without regard for what the public thinks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrchaotica (681592) *

      Even if NASA did do it itself, "society" would be paying for it anyway...

      Actually, this should be better in two important ways: not only could crowd-sourcing could accomplish the task much more efficiency than $50-grand-space-pen-NASA could to begin with, but also the cost would be distributed across the entire Internet, rather than being shouldered only by American taxpayers! It's a win-win-win* situation, I'd say.

      (* for NASA, and for space geeks, and for taxpayers)

  • Anonymous Coward (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You guys clearly do not read enough electronic media. PDF and Djvu are the more widespread and relatively ubiquitous modern electronic book formats. Djvu tends to be vastly superior to PDF in terms of file size though.

    Read all about it here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djvu

    Discuss.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Red Flayer (890720)

      Read all about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Djvu [wikipedia.org]

      Discuss.

      Any post that ends with the command, "Discuss", should be taken out back and shot.

      It's pretentious, annoying, and detracts from whatever valid points (if any) are contained in the post.

      If the topic of the post is worth discussing, it'll be discussed. If not, it will be ignored.

      And just to note, djvu is better for file size... at the cost of lossy compression. In my experience, the lossiness isn't really that bad, but we are dealing w

  • Zoom! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Monday June 29, 2009 @10:43AM (#28513979)

    We're looking for creative ways to get it out to the public

    By rocket mail!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_mail [wikipedia.org]

    • I have an account at rocketmail.com, but I never get my email by rockets. I'm disappointed now.
      • by eln (21727)

        I have an account at rocketmail.com, but I never get my email by rockets. I'm disappointed now.

        Of course you don't, sending rockets to individual users would be cost prohibitive, not to mention really bad for your lawn. No, rocketmail actually only uses rockets to deliver mail between them and your ISP.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Call me selfish, but I'd love to search Von Braun's notes for one particular name: my late grandfather worked for him at MSFC for over 30 years.

  • How about take a page from the Talmud? [wikimedia.org] Seems a perfect format, and there's been thousands of years of indexing of that document.
  • Who cares where they come down.
    That's not my department, says Wernher von Braun.

  • personlly, i'd love a printed hard copy on my book shelf. right there with my Goddard books.

  • by nbauman (624611) on Monday June 29, 2009 @11:32AM (#28514617) Homepage Journal
    How about something like this? http://tobaccodocuments.org/ [tobaccodocuments.org]
  • NASA needs ideas on what format to use (PDF)

    Why do I have this subconscious urge to suggest.... PDF?

  • They might know a thing or two about dealing with historical items, and they do have a museum devoted to air and space flight [si.edu]. (That said, the fact that NASA are asking for suggestions at all is encouraging.)
  • I'm all for saving historical documents and everything. But with the economy the way it is right now, is this really the best thing for our _space_ agency to focus on? Don't we have some government departments just for handling historical records? Can't we just turn this over to them and let NASA focus on its basic mission?

    • by tomhath (637240)

      ...is this really the best thing for our _space_ agency to focus on? Don't we have some government departments just for handling historical records? Can't we just turn this over to them and let NASA focus on its basic mission?

      You've never worked for a government agency, have you? Giving up budget dollars is unthinkable.

    • by decsnake (6658)

      correct. It sounds like a job for the National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/) to me. Why is NASA doing it themselves? Because NASA invented Not Invented Here.

    • Because Von Braun's notes probably remain relevant today. Von Braun is one of (if not the) most important/influential rocket scientist of the modern era.

      Derivatives of the pulse-jet engines on the German V1 rockets are now being seriously examined for re-use in modern aircraft, as they use fewer moving parts and offer greater fuel efficiency than conventional engines today, despite having fallen from favor after WWII.

      Just because the science and technology is old doesn't necessarily make it irrelevant. Ol

  • Post them via twitter. Get Ashton Kutcher involved.

  • I went to the Space Camp place. They have only one area for Von Braun. While others wandered in Gemini, Apollo, I was captivated by this single video of Von Braun. How could this man raise that much money on two continents and with opposing sides of a war. My friends from Huntsville agree. This man was above war, knowing perhaps that only war could fund space exploration. I am only imagine him saying, "war will come and go, come and go", we must build a new rocket!
  • If they put the scans up in high-res TIFF files, but put them in the public domain for anyone to use for any purpose, then good things will happen. And then send the originals to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum and let the professionals curate them. But if you don't get the rights right, then you could easily end up with the content all locked into some screwed up Windows-only access or via Silverlight or some other lock-in technology. Let's not fall into the same trap that the British Library did
  • I would suggest putting it on Wikipedia, but it wouldn't pass WP:OR [wikipedia.org].
  • by gatkinso (15975)

    Let other people format them to their hearts desire.

  • The National Security Agency must have algorithms for storing and the intelligent retrieval of large amounts of text data. Maybe they could help.

    But it would probably be easier to just convert it into HTML and let Google's spider index it all.

  • Rather prescient some 40 + years later...

    Wernher von Braun
    by Tom Lehrer

    Gather round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun
    A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience
    Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown
    "Ha, Nazi schmazi," says Wernher von Braun

    Don't say that he's hypocritical
    Say rather that he's apolitical
    "Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down
    That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun

    Some have harsh words for this man of renown
    But some think our attitude should be one o

  • to commorate allthe people gassed, and killed, partly with the help of Dr. von Braun
    Oh, and lets not forget something to commeorate the hypocrysy of the US - maybe make all viewers where rose tinted glasses
    This is not dead history, there are still living people with tattos on their arms with the jew number

  • Sorry I would like to sit this one out, on the count of who Werner von Braun was, however when you need help deciphering the notes stolen from Nicola Tesla, you can count on my "help".
  • Go see the galaxyzoo [galaxyzoo.org]
    website where people like you and Me catagorize galaxies.
    Its human powered picture clasification.

    Perhaps looking at cool space images are quite the draw
    that Von Braun's Notes can't live up to.

  • "According to the official request for information, LINK[NASA needs ideas on what format to use]LINK (PDF)"

    Should be

    "According to LINK[the official request for information]LINK (PDF), NASA needs ideas on what format to use"

    .

    Otherwise it looks like someone's implying that PDF is a proposed/preferred format. Also, links should be attached to the text of what they are, not what they say!

  • This is the sort of thing that Project Gutenberg does all the time. Why not see if they are intrested?

  • "Once rockets go up
    "Who cares how they're writ down?
    That's not my department!"
    Says Werner von Braun

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky

Working...