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Omnilogical Resource Pavilion

Abstract
In this study I investigate the potential of a resource pavilion inspired by museum experiences as an approach to informing and educating the indigenous people of Botswana. My proposed museum of global information, which I have called the Omnilogical Resource Pavilion (ORP), will have the potential to present information in various fields of study in a relatively neutral, unbiased manner, regardless of limitations in language, literacy, and formal education. The ORP will serve as both a sustainable information resource center and a research center wherein social scientists can study the learning patterns of the users and the effectiveness of the presentation. For the users, the ORP will have the capacity to deliver global information in a hands-on, interactive, and unobtrusive approach for the purpose of empowering underprivileged masses, particularly the indigenous people in less developed countries.

Executive Summary
The increasingly rapid development of technology in recent years enables one to communicate with diverse communities around the world. The changes brought about by globalization affect the relationships between societies, especially in political, economic, and cultural areas. As resistance to the notion of a global culture and anxiety over social identity increases, especially in countries consisting of various indigenous groups, there is a widely need to preserve ways of life and belief systems.

Considering the importance of communication in finding solutions to various global dilemmas, recent technological advances can provide a bridge for communication gaps brought about by linguistic and ethnic differences. It is important to provide access to information to societies severely impacted by globalization. This lack of information can partly be seen as a result of inadequate communication tools.

The problems of information access in societies with a substantial indigenous population as well as disadvantaged societies widely considered to belong at the bottom of the pyramid in the global social strata, include the barriers of literacy and of access to technical skills and equipment, and the need for the presentation of information to be adapted to the natural and cultural environment in which people live. This adaptation should be a process; the information system should have the capacity to evolve along with the people in the environment. The literacy boundary and the fact that indigenous people in general, which is the target population of this proposal, are a pragmatic and nomadic people also make acute, as I will show, the need for a multimedia, experiential approach to information access and for one that allows for the freedom to select items of interest and the ability to learn in a leisurely and even recreational manner. The internet is one model for an information access system that has these advantages, but it requires literacy, technical skills, and access to computers. It is therefore an incompletely adequate model for the kind of information system I propose.

The purpose of this proposal is to promote the establishment of institutions along the lines of what I am calling the Omnilogical Resource Pavilion (ORP), which utilizes a museum-like setting to present information. The word "omnilogical" is my coinage; it comes from the prefix "omni-," meaning all, and the suffix "-logy," which signifies a science or branch of study. An ORP is a kind of museum of global information, which is a sort of physical version of an internet in the sense that it is a space that has a global reach by virtue of the information communication technology (ICT) that it makes use of. The ORP will have the potential to present different kinds of information from different fields of study and tell a story with this information so that a user will experience it instead of having to read it, and will present it in a relatively neutral and unbiased manner, thereby overcoming the barriers of language, literacy, and formal education. The ORP as I understand it will also play a role in maintaining a sustainable information environment within the society it serves.

The input and participation of various development enterprises and non-government organizations will enable the ORP to facilitate the ongoing participation of its target audience so that it can continue to meet their information needs as these needs evolve. Furthermore, the ORP will aim to integrate all fields of study (such as history, science, religion, and current events) and deliver global information in a hands-on, interactive, and unobtrusive manner, as opposed to the existing proposals of various development enterprises for empowering underprivileged masses, particularly indigenous people in the least developed countries, such as the museum-in-a-box, mobile schools, distance learning, and the $100 laptop. The purpose of this proposal is to create a new technology to empower a potential market base that basically comprises a huge percentage of the global population and to enterprise their potential to innovate, which will then aim to create a new market base. I will present a program framework prototype for the ORP which will serve as an initial basis in designing a prototype that can be transported and franchised in various countries. The ORP is based on the model of experience-based museums, which are museums that are designed not just to present information but to facilitate experience through the use of multiple and interactive media. They are museums in which the presentation of information is organized not according to the subject matter but in terms of mode of presentation. The ORP can also be localized, .i.e., designed according to the environment it serves, and therefore can be implemented in various least developed countries, including sub-Saharan Africa.

Social Benefits Of The Proposal
The indigenous people considered in this proposal, as a sample population of the proposed prototype, are nomadic populations, and specifically groups of hunter-gatherers/pastoralists. I am using the term "indigenous" because in societies such as the one I am studying the nomadic populations are the original natives. These nomadic populations are an extreme case of the world's poor. It is generally known that nomadic/indigenous societies have the lowest rate of literacy and of enrollment in public schools due to the failure of educational and social institutions to address concerns pertaining to their unique and traditional way of life.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) outline a set of objectives ranging from halving extreme poverty and providing universal primary education to developing a global partnership for development by 2015. Some argue that these goals are too ambitious, considering the timeframe indicated. Others, such as Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, optimistically maintain that they are achievable; indeed, Annan thinks that the achievability of the MDGs is one of the things that make them unique. There may be cause for optimism insofar as recent events show that there are various movements worldwide to address these issues. Although access to education is the second most important goal of the MDGs, what is missing in these goals is, in my opinion, the need to provide access to information, including information about history and current events; and they do not include the goal of making human knowledge available to all people, including indigenous people. The increasingly rapid development of technology in recent years enables one to communicate with diverse communities around the world, and the introduction of the internet has offered relatively unlimited access to information. A museum of global information can play a critical role in making readily available information which has the potential to empower indigenous people and aid in development.

Changes brought about by globalization affect the relationships both between and within societies, in all areas of political, economic, and cultural life. As resistance to the notion of a global culture and anxiety over social identity increase, the preservation of threatened ways of life and belief systems becomes an issue, especially in countries consisting of various indigenous groups. If indigenous people become better informed about these changes and ways of dealing with them, the likelihood of conflict will be reduced. Among other things, this is likely to increase tolerance towards other cultures. Considering the importance of communication for the solution of social problems, there is a need for resources which bridge the communication gaps brought about by linguistic and ethnic differences. The ORP will be considered in this context.

The ORP aims to empower nomadic communities through the power of information, which may eventually contribute to sustaining the country's competitive edge or to the creation of new markets through innovations made possible in part by indigenous knowledge and skills as they are incorporated into the global information system.

In the age of globalization, where markets are global, there are repercussions of competition, which by definition entails that there are winners and losers. Often, countries lose because they are not equipped with the right tools to compete. Taking this into consideration, there is a need for nation-states, individuals, and communities to defend themselves from the negative effects of globalization. Such a defense depends both on the development of local strengths and on the need to be informed, particularly with regard to recent global changes and technological advances, in order to sustain a competitive edge. The proposed ORP aims to provide "accessible" knowledge-based information to aid indigenous groups and place them, with their own developmental strategies, on a level playing field in relation to mainstream development. Accessibility will be provided through the utilization of ICTs that are specifically designed to bridge language, literacy, and economic barriers.

Existing Competition:
Museums & Other Information Media

The Educational Function of Museums
Taking into consideration recent developments of the museum experience, as well as the rapid growth of information technology, the question arises, what do people expect to learn from museums, particularly those which include ICTs? Is it possible to foresee a cutting-edge potential for learning through a museum of global information? I have taken the museum as a model because museums give the user an opportunity to determine for himself what he wants to learn. A museum is an unobtrusive and dynamic learning environment because there is no teacher and it is a space one has to move around in. Although the museum shares these features with, for example, the internet (and in contrast to, for example, schools), the internet has the literacy and technical limitations mentioned above, which render its utility limited for the societies under consideration. The museum also promotes interaction with other users and with the environment. These aspects of museums have accrued to them increasingly over time, but were always present.

The ORP is designed to both educate people and empower them to make changes in the natural and social environment, and it can do so without dictating to them the ways in which they should understand or act upon their environment.

The Limitations of Other Information Media
The existing media that are being used or that are proposed for use to educate and empower the indigenous people in Botswana provide limited access to information. For instance, the Botswana National Museum in Gaborone functions as a post-colonial nation building institution and aims to research and help preserve Botswana's natural and cultural heritage. The Botswana National Museum also spearheaded the museum-in-a-box program, designed for Remote Area Dwellers (RADs) and sponsored by UNICEF. The program focuses on cultural issues to help augment the enrollment and retention of RAD students. Although the museum provides a variety of programs essential to Botswana's cultural heritage, it does not provide options for the user to seek further information. For that, users would need to go to the Botswana National Library; however, although the National Library is an excellent information resource on Botswana, the design of its information interface is once again too sophisticated for nomadic communities to utilize.

The proposed $100 laptop developed by Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is another medium that could in principle be used for indigenous communities. However, this medium also limits access to information due to literacy, language, and operational limitations. Using the laptop as an information resource requires mastery of keyboards and internet browsing, which requires basic literacy and technical skills. Hence, it also assumes that its users can read and write, which usually means having had a certain level of formal education.

The Omnilogical Resource Pavilion: A Prototype
I am taking as a model for the ORP what I am calling the experience-based museum, which engages the user of the exhibit in terms of his experience of the exhibition space rather than in terms of the objects being exhibited. Experience-based museums tend to use interactive media. They present information in an unobtrusive, non-authoritarian manner as opposed to spaces that seem to dictate a certain perspective. They are designed for maximum accessibility, so as to reach a mass audience within a controlled environment. They can challenge or call into question existing social practices and can present a diversity of world-views. They are spaces that many people are likely to feel more comfortable in than traditional object-based museums. The ORP will have all of these features.

The ORP has the potential to provide greater accessibility than other consumer-dependent media and tools. It is more accessible because it depends neither on special technical knowledge nor on literacy. Moreover, in order to ensure maximum accessibility, the ORP will be located where tribal and nomadic communities reside. The ORP will also resemble mobile museums in providing ground transportation for users.

The goal of the ORP is to provide a universal framework for learning opportunities delivered through a museum-like experience, with access to global information through the aid of ICTs. The ORP will specifically target communities in which formal educational institutions are not applicable due to specific knowledge barriers involving language and culture (and also because, although there are educational programs for adults, due to considerations of practicality and lifestyle many adults in this society do not feel motivated to make use of them), and in which existing and proposed ICTs exacerbate the digital divide instead of breaking down these barriers. ICTs are useful, however. McLoughlin and Oliver (2000) argue that, perhaps on the analogy of an electronic amplifier which enables sounds to be heard more widely, the internet serves as a "cultural amplifier." Similarly, ICTs as "cultural amplifiers" enable features of cultures to be shared across distances.

The learning framework of the ORP is based on the concepts of constructivist learning and situated cognition (McLoughlin and Oliver 2000). Constructivism in learning theory is indebted to the work of the Jean Piaget, who "suggested that through processes of accommodation and assimilation, individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences. Assimilation occurs when individuals' experiences are aligned with their internal representation of the world. They assimilate the new experience into an already existing framework. Accommodation is the process of reframing one's mental representation of the external world to fit new experiences (Wikipedia)".

In short, "the theory of constructivism suggests that learners construct knowledge" (ibid.). Constructivist theory suggests the utility of situated cognition, which is learning within the context of everyday situations and includes learning by doing and through participation in social environments (McLoughlin and Oliver 2000).

Instructional design models are the basis of various forms of online learning, on which the ICT framework of the ORP is based. Instructional design models and paradigms take account of cognitive, social, and pedagogical issues (McLoughlin and Oliver 2000). Henderson (1996), arguing that "instructional design cannot and does not exist outside of a consideration of culture," identified and critiqued existing instructional design models in terms of their limitations with respect to the cultural dimensions of learning and pedagogy. He identifies three mean models. First is the "inclusive or perspective approach, which imports the social, cultural, and historical perspective of minority groups, but does not challenge the dominant culture and is therefore cosmetic" (McLoughlin and Oliver 2000, 4). Second is "the inverted curriculum approach which attempts to design an instructional component from the minority perspective but fails to provide the learners with educationally valid experiences as it does not admit them into the mainstream culture" (ibid.). Lastly, there is "the culturally unidimensional approach which excludes or denies cultural diversity and assumes that educational experiences are the same for minority students as they are for others" (ibid.). These limitations of existing instructional design models points to some of the elements that are needed in providing a culturally-inclusive learning environment. Consequently, the ORP will make available information about the social environment that will enable members of indigenous communities to develop their own critical perspectives on their society and culture. It will also bridge minority perspectives and the mainstream culture. And it will be open to cultural diversity. It will also provide users with the capacity to interact globally with other communities.

I will not discuss the physical and spatial design, planning and organization of the Omnilogical Resource Pavilion (ORP), but will present the design of a sustainable program framework for this prototype of the ORP.

The ORP will both draw upon experience-based museum exhibits and make use of various ICTs as well as interactive media and exhibits, visual presentations, and virtual spaces, in order to address issues pertaining to knowledge barriers stemming from cultural and linguistic differences, in cases where existing educational mediums are deemed inappropriate, particularly in poverty-stricken communities.

The following framework explains how the presentation of information within a museum-like experience and with the use of ICT media can empower indigenous people. This proposed framework incorporates the essential features of other existing media. Learning through the ORP is neither limited nor restricted to a specific level. The ORP is designed to provide a two-way learning portal for both users and researchers, as well as to encourage local initiatives that reach out to subset groups. There is a need to establish and maintain constant communication between local and foreign research groups and the nomadic communities in order to identify appropriate information that may be of interest to them and/or vital for their empowerment.

The Ten Design Principles of the ORP Framework
The following framework explains how the presentation of information within a museum-like experience and with the use of ICT media can empower indigenous people. This proposed framework incorporates the essential features of other existing media. Learning through the ORP is neither limited nor restricted to a specific level. The ORP is designed to provide a two-way learning portal for both users and researchers, as well as to encourage local initiatives that reach out to subset groups. There is a need to establish and maintain constant communication between local and foreign research groups and the nomadic communities in order to identify appropriate information that may be of interest to them and/or vital for their empowerment. (See Table 1)

The ten principles, which I have adapted from McLoughlin and Oliver (2000), are presented in Table 1, which also contrasts other media in terms of their incorporation of these design principles. The table shows the advantages of the ORP in these terms.

No. Design Principle
ORP
$100 Laptop
Distance Learning
Mobile Schools
Museum-in-a-box
1 Experience-based approach; learning by doing; based on a theory of knowledge consistent with constructivist learning.
X
X
X
 
X
2 Authentic, existentially designed learning activities.
X
X
X
   
3 Flexible learning environment.
X
X
X
   
4 Help desk features, including guides, tutors and mentors.
X
       
5 Simplified and clear communication tools; universal language and literacy capabilities.
X
   
X
X
6 Interactive capability: function as a two-way portal to external and global communities.
X
X
X
   
7 Capacity to provide self-directed/self-determined tasks, learning paths, and contributions.
X
X
X
   
8 Provide a strong and visible support system in terms of maintaining locally trained guides and staff.
X
X
X
X
X
9 Multiple perspectives and access to varied information resources.
X
X
X
   
10 Sustainable research environment.
X
       

It is worth discussing each of these principles, all of which are central to the ORP, and which, taken together, both distinguish the ORP and constitute its usefulness for indigenous communities.

  1. Experience-based exhibits in museum education are a model for the ORP. Experience-based learning emancipates students because it empowers them to construct their own knowledge, and provides them with the opportunity to discover new information according to their needs and to draw upon their prior experiences, such as, in the case of indigenous peoples, their traditional ways of knowing. It allows users to choose what they want to learn, and to learn by doing.
  2. Existentially designed learning activities are essential for the culturally inclusive instructional design of exhibits within the ORP, which is inspired by the culturally inclusive aspects of internet design. By existentially designed I mean that the information curriculum is designed in such a way as to accommodate self-determined needs and progressions. Its content will be designed through a joint collaboration of local and foreign researchers, who will manage the ORP in order to provide a balance of indigenous and modern information inputs. The assessment and evaluation of learning, on both cognitive and affective dimensions, will be similar to that used in the experience-based museum discussed above.
  3. Flexibility in all aspects of the functions of the ORP is key in the creation of the atmosphere of this learning environment. Each learning program should be sensitive and adaptable to the learning capacity and cultural makeup of its users. Instructional design for indigenous communities must take account of the skills and values of the community, and the presentation of information should be sensitive to the community’s cultural traditions and also flexible enough to accommodate developments in the learning capacity of members of the community individually and collectively in response to changes in the socio-economic landscape. Custom-designed learning activities may play a key role in this context.
  4. Help desk features, including guides, tutors, and mentors are important because the need for support, conversation, and direction is vital to the ORP; and the roles of the mentors, tutors, and guides are crucial to its progressive development. Flexibility and support can be built in by ensuring that a physical presence is available without necessarily making the user dependent on it. This feature is unique due to its hands-on and user-oriented approach, in the sense that these guides will observe and engage users in conversation in order to identify their interests, instead of just answering questions. The roles of tutors, mentors, and guides needs to be flexible in light of user responses. Their receptiveness in addressing the needs of the user is vital in the sense that this is where the initial assessment and evaluation of what kind of learning is of interest to the user can be made and expressed. A hypothetical example would be: A nomadic person would enter a specific exhibit space which features various religions, with certain traditions and practices, and which could virtually narrate the history of a specific religion through an experience-based exhibit. A guide could observe provocative images, which could be identified as a possible stimulant that could spark some interest from the user. The guide could note the visitor’s body language, facial expressions, focus of attention, and other physical manifestations, which could be visual signs that questions may arise from the visitor. Guides can strategically position themselves so as to allow for the possibility of engaging in a conversation with the visitor. Their mere presence within an exhibit space increases the likelihood that they will be approached.
  5. There is a need for simplified and clear communication tools utilizing universal language capabilities. Interactive media, visual techniques, and video presentations are some ways to bridge literacy gaps. Providing access to multiple channels of communication through interactive visual media and an experienced-based museum setting provides an easy and simplified access to information.
  6. The interactive capabilities of the ORP enable it to function as a two-way portal to external global communities, for example through video- or teleconferencing. Participatory interaction between users (both local and foreign) is encouraged through an informal, virtual meeting place, which provides the potential for a real-time video chat.
  7. The ORP will have the capacity to provide self-directed or self-determined tasks, learning trails, and contributions. A hypothetical example would be that of a pastoralist encountering an animated 3-dimensional space depicting images or a virtual presentation about the different varieties of farming techniques. He could either agree or disagree that such techniques would be good for his livelihood. Information about the development of farming techniques from ancient to modern and contemporary times would also make him aware of other kinds of farming. In the event that he agrees with a specific technique, he could choose to further explore information about it. If he does not, he may nonetheless stumble on other information that could possibly stimulate the creation of ideas on how to make use of his indigenous knowledge about farming.
  8. There is a need to provide a strong and visible support system by maintaining locally-trained guides and staff. Through its help desk feature, the ORP can engage its users in dialogue through discussion forums between participants, and can provide examples of communication protocols and other learning processes required for a specific activity. Locally trained guides and staff must have the capacity to understand, interpret, and speak the languages of these indigenous communities. Guides who understand the languages and can represent these indigenous communities could also provide a more familiar learning environment for members of these and similar communities due to their presence.
  9. By providing an internet interface through touch screen monitors and other interactive visual media, the ORP will allow the learner to choose the information to be accessed according to his needs. Unlike typical museums, where information is limited according to the curriculum set by the museum educators, the information provided within the ORP will be relatively unlimited in a manner similar to the design of the internet. This information will be made available according to the user’s self-determined progression. The ORP will also feature the inclusion of indigenous perspectives.
  10. The ORP will be a sustainable resource environment. The input and participation of various development enterprises and non-government organizations will enable the ORP to facilitate the ongoing participation of its target audience so that it can continue to meet their information needs as these needs evolve. The ORP will be a controlled environment that will allow researchers to carefully observe and document the likelihood of users being interested in a specific branch of knowledge. This should be done in consideration of traditional ways and customs after the user’s basic information needs have been temporarily met at a specific point of the visit. The advantages of a physical space include the fact that it can be a manageable environment in which to observe user’s responses to exhibits. The ways in which users visit and use exhibits, and evidence as to their motivations for being interested in the exhibit, can be studied and evaluated to determine if this orientation is primarily cognitive, imaginative, or emotional (in addition, of course, to the orientation to satisfying basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing, which is assumed). This could be useful in tailoring the design of exhibits. The incentives of satisfying these basic needs provided by development enterprises and nongovernmental organizations are essential to the ORP because they encourage users to visit the ORP. The ORP also functions as a sustainable venue for communication and learning between organizations; because development enterprises and non-government organizations are involved in helping the target populations meet these basic needs. The ORP is a communication and distribution hub for these non-profits organizations, which will distribute needed goods and resources within its space. These distribution programs will contribute to providing a sustainable venue for development within the ORP. The ORP is sustainable in the sense that it incorporates all necessary needs of the users, since it provides access not only to information but also to other livelihood programs offered by various development enterprises.

Financial Sustainability
Financial sustainability for the ORP will be privately funded and will not be consumer-dependent. The indigenous communities will serve as the beneficiaries, but the funding will come from a mix of non-profit and for-profit sources. Ideally, the ORP will seek funding from private foundations and corporate donors for operational activities and will generate income from corporate enterprises for technology research, idea creation, and exchange between research institutions, since one of the goals of the proposed ORP is to make it transportable to other countries.

Potential Market & Return of Investments (ROI)
The profitability of the proposed ORP is primarily the franchising aspects of providing a sustainable resource environment. The participating development enterprises utilizing the ORP are the potential market base of the ORP. Examples of these are as follows: UNESCO, UNDP, UNCDF, WHO, Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross, etc.

The Usefulness of the ORP for Indigenous Communities
The reliance on participation, collaboration, and shared experiences will give the ORP the potential to enable communities belonging to various tribal groups to break down social barriers, for example, regarding territorial issues, that are creating conflicts between them. Also, the ORP could enhance the possibility of partnerships or interdependent relationships between tribes in the pursuit of entrepreneurial interests. Further, the ORP’s ICT infrastructure brings the potential to create a new market base within these challenged communities.

Why are mainstream development programs considered inappropriate and intrusive for indigenous populations? I would argue that it is not because of the attempt to release them from “backward” conditions but rather due to the failure to empower them through education and information that will enable them to respond to changes in ways that draw upon, protect, and enhance their strengths. I would suggest that modernization is good for indigenous groups but that it needs to be done in such a way that it is autonomous and not implanted. The idea is not to pressure them to change their way of life but to bring in information that enable them to make choices and changes through self-determination. The target population of the ORP is not limited to indigenous people. If nomadic communities, who are isolated and marginalized due to the assumption that they resist change or mainstream development, utilize the ORP and are in some ways empowered thereby to participate in meeting the challenge of global competition, it is likely that it could also work for the rest of the world’s poor who are marginalized due to poverty. Due to its efficiency and sustainability, if it can work for nomadic communities, it can probably work for the rest of the world’s poor.

The point being drawn upon here is not that the goal of modernizing indigenous communities is a mistake, but that attempts to empower indigenous communities through various development enterprises have largely failed. The unique culture and sense of identity of indigenous people needs to be acknowledged and made use of in such a way that it functions as their competitive edge against other nations as they, inevitably, take part in the global marketplace.

The information curriculum of the ORP will be designed according to the self-determined needs of the community it will serve, with the joint collaboration of the local and foreign researchers who operate the ORP. The ORP needs to, and can, combine in a balanced way its indigenous and modern information inputs. The use of multiple channels of communication, inspired by experience-based museum exhibits, will provide an easy and simplified access to information. The sustainable research environment of the ORP will provide a controlled environment that will allow researchers to carefully observe and document the extent to which visitors are interested in specific branches of knowledge. Finally, the proposed ORP also function as a communication and distribution hub of various advocacy, NGOs and corporate groups.

Conclusion
There is a need, which is especially acute in indigenous societies such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, for forms of information access which are highly accessible despite the barriers of language, literacy, access to technical skills and equipment, and affordability. An approach such as that of the ORP, based on experience-based museums and incorporating information communication technologies, meets these needs, and it meets them more effectively than the available alternatives. It also contains a number of features which will enhance opportunities for learning within its space. Moreover, it is ideally suited to the cultural environment of societies such as this and to their indigenous populations.

Directions for Further Research
In order to realize the ORP concept, further research pertaining to architectural and industrial design of the physical space, and appropriate ICTs and information technology, is needed, in conjunction with experiments on various communication and presentation approaches that could be incorporated into the ORP. Also, space programming, design, and strategic planning should all be investigated further.

 

 

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This is an abridged version of a research proposal by April Dequito entitled "OMNILOGICAL RESOURCE PAVILION (ORP) A proposed museum of global information; an unobtrusive approach to informing and empowering the indigenous people in Botswana." To request for the unabridged version, send an email to research@omnilogyinc.org