Tuesday, May 10

More bureaucratic waste.

Imagine my surprise. I pop over to Language Log for a dose of interesting linguistics, and instead find this tale of the EU flushing our money down the loo:

Of course, the EU sometimes seems to run according to a different system of arithmetic. According to this recent article on book digitization technology for European libraries at another French geekoid publication, 01net:

It's in this context that Infotechnique, a subsidiary of Getronics specialising in the electronic administration of documents, especially for the European Union, has just inaugurated Eurodema (for "Europe Dematerialization") at La Walck, 40 kilometers from Strasbourg. The first large contract collected by this center deals with the digitization of 32 million pages of books of certificates notarized in Alsace-Moselle over the past century. Adding up the bill: 23 million euros, divided among Gilfam, the public-interest group made up of the departments of Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin and Moselle.

This looks like an extraordinarily good deal to me -- for Infotechnique!

32 million pages for 23 million euros -- €0.72/page = $1.05/page. If I could get that contract, I'd be tempted to take a leave from Penn and do the job myself. I often scan articles and book chapters to put on reserve for students in my courses. Using my cheap, unautomated commodity scanner and Adobe Acrobat, I generally allow for a rate of 2 scans per minute. For most book formats, each scan is two pages, so I can do 240 pages per hour. Thus at Infotechnique's rate I could earn $252/hour, which I view as a pretty good wage. Since 32 million pages would get tiresome, even at that sort of rate, I'd be happy to split the work with some colleagues and friends.

And in fact we could do much better for ourselves. We could invest in one of those Kirtas scanners for $150K. Then all we need to do is load a new books in, one every 15 minutes or so, and the scanner would earn us up to $28,800 per day, making its cost back in less than a week. So we could easily buy several such scanners. At the rate of 25K pages per day, the whole job would take 1280 machine-days. With four machines, and (say) a dozen congenial partners to do the work in shifts -- in a nice place, with all the amenities -- we could do it in a year, and divide more than $29M among us, or almost $2.5M each.


Note that Google is projecting 4.5 billion pages for $150-200M -- between $.033 and $.044/page. If we call it $.04/page, that's 26 times cheaper than Infotechnique's rates.

How do I go about getting a government contract?


Someone from Infotechnique has, to my amazement, turned up and explained themselves here. I had no idea I was so controversial.

Just a comment from Infotechnique : the project is more complex that only digitisation : books of certificates notarized are handwritten and we process all scanned pages using dual data input with encryption to optimize data confidentiality. The result of this data input is stored in XML files that are used within the new electronic Property Register. Please have a look on http://www.infotechnique.com/main_en.htm to a better understanding of the scope of the project AMALFI.

And you can't say fairer than that.

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