Making Hyperscripts


The Idea

Written around 2000
When the first Hyperscript was started, the naive view was that it would be easy to take existing word files and produce HTML files from that. This view did not last very long! It soon was replaced with the feeling that the generation of a real Hyperscript would be very time consuming and expensive.
But that was not true either. Today (2011), counting the experience of several thousand files produced in the meantime, a differentiated point of view prevails:
It is just as easy to write contents in HTML with embedded simple graphics and edited pictures for a hyperscript, as to write conventional notes and make viewgraphs. It does require an initial period with much wailing and sacrifices on the altars of Bill Gates and the Internet gods, however.
However, and this is a big however, success depends entirely on a suitable structure for the total project. This structure needs to be implemented and - this is particularly important!- must be religiously adhered to.
A simple HTML script akin to the old-fashioned printed lecture notes then is easily produced. A real hyperscript, however, is a different matter for the following reasons:
A real Hyperscript must contain a lot more prose than a script. If it is to be suitable for self-learning, it should be able to replace voluminous textbooks. Moreover, everything contained in a textbook, even if it is bulky one, may at best be considered to be a subset of a real hyperscripts.
A real Hyperscript can only be conceived and written by a "professor" or a congenial team, just like regular textbooks. Otherwise it is not university level. Sorry, but if you are not a pilot you can't fly commercial aircrafts either. It thus will require a least as much time and effort on the Professors part as a text book.
A real Hyperscript must be started with having a real Hyperscript in mind from the very beginning, again demanding a special structure. But more important, it demands a flexible structure with due allowance to modules not yet finished or existent. This is especially true for JAVA modules "doing" math and "Exercise" modules and anything requiring more than writing and doing coarse graphics.
Now the Professor needs expert help because to upgrade a Professor to that level of computer cmpetence is almost impossible. The helpers must be highly qualified because they must be able to understand the subject and to program JAVA, JavaScript and so on - hard to find, but with some nursing growing up in the student body.
In short, a real hyperscript is a lot of work, contains many unknowns, and requires at the same time phantasy and discipline - possibly complementary properties. Phantasy, for envisioning novel modules yet to come (and leaving room for them), and discipline in sticking meticulously to the rules dictated by the structure and for not loosing track of what one is doing (which is remarkably easy).
But, in contrast to a printed book, a hyperscript does not only exist in the final form. It is an evolving entity that can be used long before it is finished - if that ever should happen. It lives, it grows, it ages and is rejuvenated; in short: It is fun!

The Reality

It will take some more years before the Hyperscripts of AMAT are real Hyperscripts. The biggest obstacle today (around 2000) are:
There is still no good way to represent mathematical formulas in the Web (it has been promised for more than two years by now!)
While this is quite annoying for the not-so-mathematical scripts, it makes math-oriented Hyperscripts at present simply impossible. But there is hope: Browsers start to understand XML, and in a year or two this problem will have gone away.
The biggest problem, however is: JAVA modules "doing" math are unexpectedly difficult to introduce for several reasons:
Even very good applets available in the net are not all that easy to adopt to the specific needs of a hyperscript.
Applets are easily (not to say definitely) killed by switching between a Windows and a Unix platform which, on the other hand, is almost impossible to avoid for a simple-minded "user".
Many text book formulas, if implemented, lead to unexpected problems. You may have to think about numerical values for some "general constants, e.g., and what may happen if "unsuitable" values are fed into the applet. An example can be found in the treatment of the dielectric function (not yet properly implemented).
Now you can plot functions that are too complex to treat on the black board - e.g. the concentration of three kinds of coupled point defects. What are you going to do with it? Ideally, this should now be part of an exercise or should lead to deeper insights as the old procedure - not always easy to conceive.
If you want to go beyond the graphical representation of equations, you have to do your own programming, e.g. for a simulation of random walk or the numerical calculations of the Fermi energy in semiconductors. This does not only mean you have to find somebody who understands the issue and can do the programming, it also means that you have to change the way you teach and the students have to change the way they learn.
Nevertheless, here lies one of the big potential advantages of Hyperscripts. Simply allow for some time so evolution has a chance to optimize the making and the using of your product.

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