Parallax View

A different view on things

The work and profile of Tony Proctor.

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Science and Philosophy

Progress in theoretical physics has slowed down markedly since the heyday of the quantum revolution. I'm certainly not the only person to have suggested that we need to re-evaluate what we know and what we think we know but, too often, our core concepts and notions are taken for granted. This means that we become guilty of a cognitive bias, clinging to what we believe is real. Notions such as a passage of time, change, free will, causality, are hard to shake off.

However, the evidence is there for all to see, and it suggests that all of these (and more) are entirely subjective, and that the objective reality (that without our conscious observation) is fundamentally different.

The repercussions of this view go far beyond a simple revision of our physics, and challenge both the ultimate goals of physics and the nature of knowledge.

A recent book (On Time, Causality, and the Block Universe) examines this necessary change to our thinking in detail, and reconciles it with thermodynamics, quantum theory, probability, causality, our psychological attachment to time, consciousness, and free will.

 

STEMMA Project

STEMMA® is a generalised data model and source format for genealogy, family history, and micro-history. This serves several different purposes, including:

         Definitive source format (see Glossary) for historical data.

         Import/export or exchange format (including over the Internet).

         Database load-format.

         Long-term preservation and general backup format.

         Non-sequential historical "document" format (see STEMMA Mark-up).

See FAQ page for specific questions.

Genealogy and family history — irrespective of whether you consider them to be the same or different — are part of the bigger circle of micro-history, alongside One-Name Studies, One-Place Studies, personal historians (as in APH), military history, house histories, etc. (see What is Genealogy?) Trying to compartmentalise these pursuits can be artificial when we're looking at real history, so why shouldn't there be a single, consistent approach to their data representation?

Free Software

SVG Family-Tree Generator (SVG-FTG)

The initial goal of this free tool was clean and crisp visualisation to accompany narrative reports (even at large magnification) rather than lots of swirls and scrolls, or gratuitous colours. But there was also an intention to share trees, biographical detail, images, etc., with extended family. In principle, the research, data entry and design of your family history is a separate thing from its sharing for viewing purposes. The online sites are good at the former but not the latter because they rarely have a separate, subscription-free interface for non-members, and many families do not want the complexity and cost of such sites.

The tool allows you to graphically (i.e. with a mouse) design such trees, which are then converted — using a combination of HTML, SVG, CSS, and JavaScript technologies — into a form that will display in all modern browsers. Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is a core part of this as it allows trees to be drawn that will scale indefinitely rather than going all fuzzy at high magnification.

The tool is now free for all to use: SVG-FTG Summary. It allows you to graphically (i.e. with a mouse) lay out a tree the way you want it, and enter historical or biographical details, and images. It also supports GEDCOM so you can publish a tree that you have already created elsewhere. An important feature is that these trees are interactive, and there are several packaged applications that you can add to them, ranging from simple image or biography manipulation to timeline reports and hyperlinked trees.

The design tool is Windows-based but the output works in all modern browsers. The above article mentions an installation kit, documentation, samples, and a Facebook group with instructional videos.

Decision Tree Generator (D-Tree)

D-Tree is a design tool for creating decision trees intended for deployment online. It allows you to design a network of simple yes-no questions, multiple-choice menus, and data inputs. At any point, your design can be used to generate an HTML version for the web, and allow it to be tested locally. Such decision trees can be used to guide an end-user around resources, find something in a catalogue, identify something, implement a hierarchical help system, or construct something (e.g. a citation string). It tries to be as general purpose as possible, but without being overly complex.

See D-Tree Summary for latest information.

MetaProxy

MetaProxy was originally developed to demonstrate the difference between indexing and physical organisation of resources. It uses a low-tech solution called "buddy files" to viewing and maintaining meta-data (e.g. captions, annotations, archival descriptions) for images and other file types. Because it does not involve any changes to the images then it is an ideal way of annotating digital photographs and images of historical documents, and so it is used by SVG Family-Tree Generator for its image albums.

Other advantages of this solution include:

See MetaProxy Summary for latest information.

Blog

An eclectic mix of articles, the Parallax View blog looks at issues in the software representation of micro-history, philosophical considerations within genealogy and historical research, and write-ups of several research projects in genealogy, local history, and software.

The blog was initially intended to convey the ideas and possibilities relating to the STEMMA project. Increasingly, though, articles about the genealogy of selected families (sometimes unrelated to the author), some purely historical research, and even one on place-based research, have been posted to illustrate the level of real-life research detail that the STEMMA data model had to address.

More recent articles have announced developments of free software tools made available to genealogists by the author.

Bio

Graduated in physics but entered computing in late 1970's. Software architect since 1987. Born in Nottingham but currently working from rural Ireland.

Worked in areas of language compilers and associated tools (creating 3 proprietary language systems), computer architecture and operating system development, OLAP databases (registering 2 US patents), cross-platform portability, business intelligence, encryption, workflow, multi-tier distributed servers, locale systems and globalisation.

Entered genealogy in about 2004. Still heavily researching the history of all branches of my family (i.e. many different surnames). Working independently on a research project for a universal data model and source format for micro-history data (STEMMA). Former Vice Chair and Acting Chair of FHISO.

Writing on philosophy and fundamental physics; in particularly, the nature of time and reality with a view to reconciling quantum mechanics and perception with a block universe.