FBI finally goes digital, stops using paper

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have finally ditched paper files for a new computer system, an effort that took 12 years and cost more than $600 million.

The system, called Sentinel, includes elements resembling Web browsers, with tabs and movable windows, and forms that are filled out in a question-and-answer format similar to consumer tax software.

An FBI special agent demonstrated the system, which went live July 1, to reporters Tuesday. Agents can share files electronically and can track changes made by others. RSS feeds, commonly used in Web browsers to aggregate news topics, can be used to track updates on files.

Agents can also use a search feature, entering a phone number, for instance, to see if it occurs in other active cases or leads.

One of the biggest hurdles to getting agents to accept the system, Mr. Johnson said, has been their reluctance to believe it’s really happening.

 

Source: The Wall Street Journal – FBI Files Go Digital, After Years of Delays

 

 

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History of Olympic Pictograms overcoming the language barrier

Pictograms for the 1968 Mexico Olympics, designed by Lance Wyman (image: Virtual Olympic Games Museum)

 

Of all the instances in which graphic communication is necessary to transcend language barriers, the Olympic Games are, if not the most important, probably the most visible. We take the little icons of swimmers and sprinters as a given aspect of Olympic design, but the pictograms were a mid-20th Century invention—first employed, in fact, the last time London hosted the games, in 1948 (some pictographic gestures were made at the 1936 Berlin games, though their mark on international memory has been permitted to fade because of their association with Third Reich ideology).

The 1948 London pictograms were not a system of communication so much as a series of illustrations depicting each of the competitive sports, as well as the arts competition, which existed from 1912 to 1952 and included architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. In 1964, the Tokyo games took pictogram design to the next level by creating a complete system of typography, colors and symbols that would be applied across Olympic communications platforms.

In a paper on the history of Olympic design and national history, Jilly Traganou, an associate professor at The New School, writes:

Since Japan had not adopted the principles of the International Traffic Signs, introduced at the United Nations Geneva conference in 1949 and accepted by most European countries, the Olympics were regarded by graphic designers as an opportunity to establish a more unified and internationally legible symbolic language across the country. It was along these lines, searching for universally understood visual languages, that pictograms (ekotoba, in Japanese, a word used prior to the design of pictograms) were for the first time designed for the Olympic Games, embodying at the same time [founder of the International Olympic Committee] Baron deCoubertinʼs aspirations of universalism.

 

Keep reading: Smithsonian – The History of the Olympic Pictograms: How Designers Hurdled the Language Barrier

Kanji and the art of calligraphy

The Japanese name for calligraphy is sho do, which most directly translates as “way of writing”.

I really want to go to Japan but not because I want to go on vacation. I want to go for the Imperial Gardens and the tasty noodles. You could say that I am utterly fascinated with this country and its culture.

Which is sad because it seems to be ultra trendy right now. As if Japan is so huge in America (not, I’m so huge in Japan). I guess this makes me a yuppster (hipster, yuppy) or just a really big dork.

Either way, I’m going full bore into the hole starting with learning the language. Having recently become bilingual (english/spanish) I’m feeling very haughty right now. It feels like any language no matter how complicated is within my grasp.

They key is knowing how to get into it. In high school they figured this was memorizing the alphabet and taking lots of vocab tests. Which failed even after  5+ years of Spanish classes. In the end what worked for me, believe it or not, was reading the newspaper out loud.

For about 6 months I read two newspapers from Spain that I subscribed to on my Kindle. In the beginning my comprehension was so limited that I barely knew the topic of each article. Then I started reading each one out loud and it clicked.

I suddenly began thinking in Spanish and my comprehension shot through the roof. In fact, it reached a tipping point where I just know Spanish and its not like how they say that if you don’t practice you lose it. Spanish is a part of me and I occaisonally do random things, like daydream in Spanish or randomly converse with people in Spanish.

This was pretty funny at first because I didn’t know I was doing it and I would get all embarrassed. Then I got into it and just went with it. It really is cool to have folks think you are a foreigner, or escape American drudgery by randomly talking with someone in Spanish.

The best book out there for Japanese calligraphy (click the picture to see it on Amazon)

With this newfound success I’m attacking Japanese and the key is calligraphy. The ancient art of writing things down. For some reason the Chinese and Japanese elevated writing to a high art form and they get all crazy about it. The book I ordered is teaching me about the “Four Treasures” and the cheap calligraphy set I ordered has meticulous detail on every piece.

In some ways it feels like painting, you know that feeling you get when focusing intently on making something beautiful envelops your mind pushing out all other distractions. But, there is no color and it’s all about technique. Hold the brush vertical, descend onto the paper at a 45 degree angle, slightly turn the brush, and lift off.

That makes a dot. A simple dot (called a ten). It’s the most basic of all moves and it requires four steps, a degree change, and a turn. Complicated but not hard. It’s more like an entry into a world of perfection where the goal is not to get it done but to marvel in the mastery of even the simplest move.

I have to say I love it. All throughout the book are the words: meditation, peace, zen, focus, perfection. I get to take a break from computers and websites by banishing all from my mind except the ten.

All the way I am learning Japanese. I have these dreams now of visiting Japan and being able to read street signs and store fronts. For some reason it awes me to simply be able to read Japanese street signs…so weird.

No matter though, I am learning a language through enjoyment and fun. I have found my key.

My Shumi Calligraphy Set (click the picture to see it on Amazon)

calligraphy papers (photo at top) by matsuyuki