Apr 03 30 2003

Clement Mok

Writing in the new Communication Arts, AIGA president Clement Mok argues that the design profession took a wrong turn in the last two decades.

In the ensuing years, the deadening effects of social turmoil followed by stagnation and, later, the sheer volume of work created by waves of economic expansion engendered an environment of complacency. Designers increasingly just scrubbed and brushed what they already had for each successive client and project. They added more bells and whistles as was required by their clients, and chimed all the way to the bank.

Tough words.

There has clearly been a steady decline in the design profession for over 30 years, and the source of that decline is the profession's intractable stasis.

For Mok, the core problem is one that will sound familiar to Information Architects as well as to hypertext theory folk: designers have concentrated so much on developing a personal, branded vocabulary that their customers are no longer convinced that designers actually know anything at all. "The design profession functions as if each individual designer is selling his or her services in some sort of terminological vacuum, with nothing more substantial than his or her personal charisma or taste to serve as the foundation for vast edifices of public influence."

This is why we need to take stock, to compile an inventory of what we know about hypertext and new media. (As a convenience for students, we could also compile a list of questions for which we don't have answers. I remember, when I was an early grad student, it sometimes seemed that everything in my field was either well known or over my head.)

Update: Beth Mazur (thanks!) of IDBlog has found that Mok's article is now online.

Apr 03 29 2003


The local farm store had a deal on baby artichokes. So we took home a dozen, chopped some shallots, and then added the artichokes, salt, pepper, thyme, 3/4c white wine, a little water. Let it sit in the oven for an hour or so. Eat some now, save some for later. Yumm.

Tinderbox is mentioned in Computerworld, which runs a short piece on weblogs this week.

I'm in the market for a portable computer projector, suitable for small rooms. Do you have advice? Favorite models? Email me!

The sweet song of our youth, the song of power that once we held and lost, gentle poetry of elegance and understanding:

(mapcar ...)

You had to have been there. (It means, "do something to each item", it makes a loop a thing, and that's grand alchemy indeed. Lately, I've been trying to reach more often for STL's foreach and to stroll less often down those familiar garden paths of childhood that lead through for loops to the ancient comforts of DO 100 I=1,50).

This was LISP of the Lisp-machine era, an elegant and powerful language and system that let us build what had been impossible before. It's better now for most of us, we've moved on, and two decades of Moore's Law and integrated development environments means that we seldom pine for the tools of long ago.

This came back to me reading Tim Bray's self-responsive Why XML Doesn't Suck, in which he points out in passing that XML's notation is close to LISP's underlying S-expression -- and that LISP's notation, though fixed in the 1960's, might actually be better.

t's crystal-clear that you could have used S-Expression syntax for XML and it all would have worked about as well. Maybe it's because S-Expressions were too closely identified with the tattered dreams of the AI community?

Good point. But, now that the fight is over and forgotten, now that developers needn't fight for $30,000 personal computers because there are no $30,000 computers on offer, are those dreams so very tattered? And who tattered them? Dave Winer is taking no prisoners:

P2P was the last gasp. I remember getting breathless invitations to keynotes where this or that luminary was going to finally tell us what it is. In the end it wasn't the technology that made a difference, but ironically, the people . Apparently the promoters of Social Software were listening.

It's wrong. We don't need this.... Pfui!

But technology does make a difference, Dave. It's the promise of something better, something can let the people do what, before, they could not. It can let us build what, before, we could not. Yes, the people are what matter in the end, but if we rely on the people alone, we'll have know-nothings and Bushies and tyrants from now 'till the people destroy the planet out of frustration and just not giving a damn. T

The poetry of mapcar.

Apr 03 25 2003


Next month, I'll be visiting Maastricht for the Personal Publishing Pandemonium at Jan van Eyck Academie. I'm speaking at 20:00 on May 13. They event starts the preceding weekend; the list of links and resources is impressive.

It looks like I'll have a little spare time in Maastricht that week, too. Do you have advice on how best to spend it? Email me!

Apr 03 24 2003


One of the guiding policies for Tinderbox -- and an uncharacteristic policy for Eastgate -- has been to favor clean implementation over speed. Tinderbox can stay simple, we hope, because machines continue to double in speed and capacity every eighteen months. So, though your Tinderbox files will grow every year, we expect your computer will grow even faster.

Old habits are hard to break, and Tinderbox is already a small and swift application.

Still, we just couldn't resist a few experimental tweaks in the new release. I'm working right now with a daredevil build, one that takes all sorts of crazy risks to improve performance. The release version will probably be slower, but right now my weblog file updates its agent in 433 msec (instead of 4500 msec) and loads in 13 sec (instead of 43 sec). Cool.

In other words, today I'm experiencing the Tinderbox performance I'd expect in a year or two. That's interesting in itself. Sometimes, speed transforms your entire perception of the program. Sometimes, speed is incidental. Finding a good way to decide which applies here is an interesting puzzle.

Jill set the cat among the pigeons in the greater Scandinavian weblog cluster, evoking lots of discussion about weblogs, writing, honesty, candor, and authenticity in the pages of weblogs all over the world and, if my mailbox is representative, giving rise to a flood of correspondence as well. One of the many sidepaths Jill raises is the question, "How personal should professional weblogs be?" When should we write about ourselves, not about things and ideas?

In my ten rules for weblog writers, I treat this as a matter of taste and sensibility. That's the consensus, too, of this years' weblog books. I think that consensus may be wrong.

Bernstein's 11th Conjecture: When blogging about things and ideas, injecting yourself is distracting. It adds unnecessary words, and blurs focus. But, when writing in your weblog about the body, the realm of the senses -- about sensation, feeling, and experience -- write about yourself as directly, vividly, and candidly as you can.

Consider food. Flat declarations about food -- "Bordeaux is the noblest of wines" -- easily seem ridiculous. Perhaps you like Burgundy, or once shared a perfect glass in California meadow with your first lover, and that vintage (of course) can never be equalled. But nobody can fault you for saying, "I had a wonderful wine last night!" We can only hope you'll tell us more.

We see the Eleventh Conjecture in action all the time. Many of the debates about weblogs turn on it -- and on the way superficial readers such as reporters, entering in the middle of a long sequence, sometimes find weblogs too immersed in self. Weblog writers often use personal observation as a metaphor -- letting their job, say, represent The Workplace -- and in that context their emphasis on memoir is exactly right.

Interestingly, Jill's elliptical approach to writing about her troubles is explained neatly by the eleventh conjecture. Relationships are about the ideas and practice of partnership. Relationships are also about the body, literally and in a deeper, spiritual sense. To obey Conjecture #11, you either have to divide aspects of the whole, ignore one aspect or the other, or find a multivalent expression that lets you write with yourself at the center and with your self outside the picture entirely.

We're making progress on a new Tinderbox beta. Probably in time for eNarrative 5 -- which is shaping up nicely. If you're interested in games, art, weblogs, and narrative, eNarrative 5 next month is going to be a good place to be!

I've been reading a fascinating biography of Benjamin Franklin, whom H.W. Brands argues to have been The First American. What we often forget, between the politics and the color commentary, is how important Franklin's science was. He was, quite probably, the leading scientist of his generation -- the first colonial to return to Europe as a leading scholar. In addition to vital work on the nature of electricity, he discovered the Gulf Stream, lead poisoning, and a great deal more. In books....

If you need to know about computers and semiotics, Peter Bøgh Andersen is the fellow to see. I believe he works in the same department, now, as Peter Nürnberg, which must make for some interesting discussions. (Nürnberg is slated to give a much-anticipated keynote at Hypertext 03)

Andersen uses The Lord Of The Rings as an example narrative and makes a better job of it than Celia Pearce  another student of games who relies on Tolkien. It's an interesting paper, suggesting just how difficult interactive narrative can be and laying out some interesting scaffolding for bridging the roughest sections of the narrative path. (Thanks, Klastrup!)

But there are problems. Andersen is (justifiably) worried about ensuring that interactivity is honest, that reader choices matter, and seizes on chaos theory as a possible salvation.

"If neither the game designer nor the consumer, for principled reasons, can predict the reaction of the system to their manipulation, then the reaction cannot be said to be intentionally caused by them."

This is intriguing, but Andersen proceeds to construct an illustrative example of chaos in a game setting that is, regrettably, not chaotic. The self-organizing narrative of Middle Earth is not, as far as I can see, self organizing. Why scare people with math and formal machinery, if you aren't going to actually turn the crank?

I wish I knew whether the absence of Genette (or Walker '99) from Andersen's discussion was principled, a sign of disagreement, or simply an assumption that of course we all know this. It's a short paper, perhaps confined by constraints of space or schedule, but I wonder about these and other missing voices. Someone has got to reconcile Michael Joyce's "Nonce Upon Some Times: Rereading Hypertext Fiction" (MFS 43 579-597) with Schankian formal (or formulaic) analysis: I think Andersen might be perfect for the job, and this might be the right place to do it.

Andersen does get most of his Tolkien right, or close enough that the summaries aren't unbearable. Some details are rough. Orcs are said to always act to oppose Frodo's quest; what about Shagrat? Indeed, Sauron's allies are always frustrating him and each other; "I don't trust all of my boys, and none of yours" is the language of Mordor. Andersen says that "few other objects can be 'claimed' in the book" as Sauron would claim the One: what of Anduril, Glamdring, Shadowfax, Sting, the Three, Durin's Bane, Khazad-dûm, the Throne of Gondor, or the Sackville-Baggins spoons?

More seriously, Andersen concentrates exclusively on Frodo's story. His analysis is silent, for example, on the linguistic depth of the trilogy. The class tensions that divide and ultimately unite the four hobbits -- mirrored later in the historical conflict among the Wild Men, the Riders of Rohan, and the descendants of Nûmenor -- don't fit into Andersen's schematics of motivations and agencies, any more than they fit into Schank or Propp. Perhaps this is asking too much of a new theory, but it might be a sign that the edifice will collapse at the first big storm. And if you don't understand why four hobbits set out from the Shire, you don't understand the story.

More seriously, in my opinion, Andersen skips entirely over the twin problems I call My Friend, Hamlet. First, the imaginative reader is bound to think of things the creator never envisioned, and the reader's best thinking inevitably generates the dullest response: "I don't understand." And, second, if we let a sane and sensible person like you onto the stage, everything may melt.

Tragedy requires that the characters be blind (as we ourselves, at times, are blind), and if you let a sane and sensible reader into the room, everything is bound to collapse. Take Hamlet: it's absolutely obvious that he should go back to school, get roaring drunk, get laid, and await his opportunity. He knows this. Horatio knows this, Ophelia knows this. Even Claudius and Gertrude know -- why else send for his college pals? Nobody can bring themselves to say the words -- that's the tragedy. But what's to stop the reader? Only brute force and error messages ("You can't do that") that call attention to the arbitrary boundaries of the world. If you make Hamlet a game, it has to be rigged.

Pearce thinks Tolkien is a story for kids, and I'm not certain that Andersen doesn't make the same misreading. On the one hand, he's clearly influenced by Schank's early work on representing childrens' stories, and he does mention reading Tolkien to his kids. On the other hand, though, Andersen knows and respects his Viking lore, and his closing speculations on Ní∂ingr in the user interface may be the most interesting aspects of the paper.

Writing in Usability News, Ann Light focuses on part of my Dust Or Magic talk. The headline is fierce (and oddly capitalized): "Web ignored Lessons from Hypertext, says Expert Bernstein."

On the plane to Portland, I spent some time thinking about lessons. It's time, I think, to take stock: what do we know about hypertext? I'm very tired of theories built on air, without real criticism of real hypertexts. And I'm sick of papers and monographs whose authors are too busy (or too lazy) to build on what has gone before, to respond to what we already know, and instead spend their time coining new terms and hauling in new theoretical systems from outside.

The challenge is that, in hypertext research, we have different kinds of knowledge. Some aspects of hypertext are math and science: we know, for example, the algorithmic issues behind one-way vs. two-way links, or the utility of transitive closures. Some aspects are engineering and design knowledge, like Akscyn's Law and colored links; not provable in the same way as science, but still knowable and known. And some aspects are literary knowledge; de gustibus non disputandum, but we know that some works matter and some techniques of craft are effective.

Taking inventory might be a good idea.

Dan Bricklin justly rebukes Big Music in his essay, "How Will Artists Get Paid?" He argues that

an ecosystem which looks to a mixture of the traditional amateur, performance, patronage, and commission forms of payment is a requirement. Depending upon rigid enforcement of performance payments will disrupt the balance.

As Bricklin observes, publishing is not the only business model for artists. However, it remains the best business model for artists, the business model that gives them the greatest independence and dignity. Patronage is better than starvation or giving up, but the zealots (not Bricklin!) who want to save art from commerce would return it to the Prince and the Priest, making artists subservient one more to the whims of government agencies and the desires of deep pockets.

It's nice to have a grant, but it's nicer to have lots of grants; it's good to have the support of your management, but it's even nicer to have the support of customers. If your funding, however lavish, depends on one or two powerful people, how free can your work be?

Bricklin's case study of Buskin and Batteau cuts both ways. He sees a healthy ecosystem that gave two talented folksingers a variety of job opportunities. I see two talented performers who spent the 90's writing jingles to sell Chevies and recruit kids to join the US Army.

Not long ago, I heard an interview with Pete Seeger in which he recalled a long car ride he took "with Martin" (Luther King) back in '57. The Reverend mentioned a song he'd heard Pete sing the previous night. "That song really sticks with you, doesn't it?" The song, of course, was "We Shall Overcome."

Apr 03 14 2003


Matt Kirschenbaum has a nice trip report from the exliterature organization meeting. He had a great time.

Everyone remembers "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Ebert, interestingly, chooses Network among his 100 great movies. (I'm slowly and unsystematically revisiting these, but it's a daunting project)

One remarkable aspect of this 1976 Hollywood movie is that it is an allegory, its characters know that they are symbols, and in the end the allegory leaks into real life to drive the action. "You are television," Max tells Diana as he leaves her. "There's nothing left in you I can live with."

I'm reminded of the Doonesbury cartoons about the infant Vietnamese refugee being flown to her adoptive parents in the USA. "You'd better not hurt me", the infant thinks, "I'm a symbol!" Meanwhile, Norwegian 6-year-olds are playing Americans and Iraqis.

Apr 03 13 2003

Tiny Types

Refactoring guru Martin Fowler has a nifty column in IEEE Software on When to make a type (pdf). His general advice:

On the whole, I'm inclined to say that when in doubt, make a new type. It usually requires little effort but often provides surprising results.

Proliferating types is not without a cost. I've been experimenting lately with interfaces between Tinderbox and Web services, looking at how one might use Tinderbox together with MovableType or the Google API. Error handling gets complicated when you're talking to another machine, using a fairly arcane and ad hoc protocol. The other machine might be down, or busy, or claim that you're talking nonsense, or its response might be nonsensical because it's decided to change its services. It's tempting to define lots of types for each step along the way, but then a mass of ad hoc protocol knowledge becomes a mass of ad hoc types. It can get ugly.

Apr 03 12 2003


It's Saturday morning, a good time to keep my system up to date. Right now, I'm downloading MacOS X 10.2.5, and test driving a new Tinderbox beta.

The old wisdom was: don't update until you know the need. Updates, after all, can create new problems, and they take time. The old wisdom is, I think, no longer wise. Modern software development techniques make updates safer and better -- not perfect of course, but less hazardous. And, today, you're unlikely to know every corner of the system that will improve when you update.

Improvements that seem minor and technical can often lead to big changes. Recently, we discovered that one of Tinderbox's support classes lacked a clone method: LongValue::Clone() was using the algorithm it inherited from Value::Clone(). This works fine -- it's a little slower than it needs to be, it does a little bit of extra work, but it's fine. Except that, obscurely, it leads numerical attributes to be sorted in lexicographical order and not numerical order. Fixing this took seconds, Tinderbox is now slightly faster, the code is a little sounder -- and a sorting problem has been solved as a side-effect. For most people, only the sorting question is going to matter. But it's entirely possibly that the update documentation wouldn't mention sorting, because that wasn't the problem Development set out to cure!

So set aside some time each week. Update your system. Get the current versions of your programs. And budget for a new computer, keeping in mind that computers wear our in 3 years -- 2 years if you're a pro.

Apr 03 10 2003

Opening a vein

Jill Walker opens up entire new vistas in our understanding of weblogs in two very short paragraphs.

Blogging is about hiding. It's about partial truths and a voice that is binding as well as freeing.

When my partner tells me he's unsure about our relationship I write about protesters rallying for peace . When I don't know whether we're partners or not I write that I'm tired . When he leaves me I write about civilian casualties and how untrustworthy and partial reports of a war can be .

At IA Summit, I think Stuart Moulthrop was approaching this very point when he asked, at the end of the panel on Wayfinding and Spatial Navigation, whether the underlying problem is that we no longer learn to read James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, that people expect meaning to lie on the surface. I fast enough on my feet to see this, then.

It's time for weblogs to grow up, to move beyond their obsession with authenticity and to get over the panic that accompanies any hint that a weblog writer might not be exactly what they say they are. Who is?

Apr 03 8 2003

No Fly

A number of American citizens have been placed on a list that forbids them to fly. Another list singles them out for extra searches and interrogation when they arrive at an airport. They have committed no crime, are accused of no crime, and have no legal recourse. May I see your papers? (Wired)

Flurblewig, a fairly new blogger with a nifty purple hue, read my notes on the Five Silly Reasons people give for the impossibility of hypertext. She sees the point right off. Even better, she immediately sees why weblog clusters are hypertextual and recognizes the importance of narrative time in weblogs, something that experts often miss.

(Note to Shelley of Flurblewig and to all new webloggers: tell us who you are. New bloggers, having heard people complain that weblogs are self-indulgent, too often forget to identify themselves at all. Your readers do want to know about you -- even if you're not the center of you weblog.)

Meanwhile, it looks like we're having our own weblog enactment of the Rise and Fall over at Agonist, a wildly popular war news site. Sean-Paul Kelley has had a complex month: he got married, he launched a wildly successful weblog, and now Wired reports that he got caught lifting data without attribution from a subscription service,

James Vornov, who has a weblog about decision making, received his new PowerBook last Wednesday. By Saturday, he'd downloaded Tinderbox and Aquamind's NoteTaker, and was trying to make up his mind. He found Tinderbox more challenging:

Tinderbox is nowhere near as transparent. It's probably a function both of the deeper, more abstract metaphor and the opaque nature of the presentation that I see online.

But, he thinks he's willing to accept the burden of complexity if it will let him work more effectively.

At this point, it seems like Tinderbox will suit me more. as long as I can build up knowledge of its functionality slowly over time. I'll probably use my "Getting Things Done" organizational style to create a map of projects and file plans

I think Vornov succinctly displays two important keys to a better software lifestyle. First, deep products are not transparent: a simple tool can explain itself quickly, but a deep tool (like a deep pool) can only show you its surface at first glance. The plea, "Don't make me think!", only works at the shallow end of the pool. Sometimes, wading is fine, but at other times deep water is what you want, and you've got to swim.

Just as important is the determination to use deep software continuously and continuously to improve your knowledge. Andrea di Sessa (co-author of Turtle Geometry, one of the landmarks of computers in education) used to talk about the importance of continuous incremental advantage. You don't need to understand Tinderbox (or Word, or Keynote) completely to use it everyday. It's important, though, to keep learning, to improve your skills.

Lord Peter, examining the evidence, once remarks that "If all the pens that ever poets held had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts, they could not write so much solid fact as you can hold in a pair of calipers."

I knew, reading this, that it was an allusion. But to what? There's not a word before the calipers that's unusual, and who wants to plough through Bartlett's on poets, or pens? Google gets it in one: Tamburlaine part I, V.i.

Nobody would build something like Google because it's a wonderful allusion cleaner. But it's a good thing to know.

The second installment of Baldur Bjarnason's trip report on Dust Or Magic is everything you can ask from a trip report: detailed, thoughtful, judicious, and opinionated. He titles it Hypertext, and Other Ways of Lying (April 6, no permalinks), and he disagrees with me quite on a number of topics.

Eastgate's more famous hypertexts were an interesting exercise but if you want confusion then Pynchon and Paul Auster did it in a more emotionally effective way.


The HTML hypertexts in Eastgate's Reading Room do not look promising. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

But, in contrast to so many new media pundits, Bjarnason doesn't try to stack the deck. He does a fine job of reporting, and teases out the ideas in which he finds merit and the identifies the arguments he thinks incomplete. He's got a theoretical slant -- he thinks open source matters more than I -- but he doesn't let it override the discussion.

It's only recently that the web began to, in my mind, fulfill its promise of being a public medium. The well crafted equivalent of a good pub chat...Mark Bernstein's talk ( The Eastgate Story ) on the second day of Bob Hughes's Dust or Magic conference makes me think that the same might be happening to hypertext literature.

Bjarnason emphasizes one key point that has, I think, been insufficiently addressed in the long debate about the position of Storyspace and Eastgate,

Being indebted to a large corporation and tied to a closed proprietry format is destructive for a small scale, cottage industry, digital publisher. You are not independent anymore. You are just another soiled organ, a serf in our world of corporate feudalism.

Which highlights how advantageous it has been for Eastgate to be in control of their own main authoring tool. That's what allows them the luxury of being a small publishing house in an industry full of worn cogs.

Control is empowering, and knowing that you can exercise control can be empowering even if you never have to actually use your power. I've long argued that people actually do control their authoring tools -- that whether you work in Flash or Director or HyperCard or Storyspace, you can easily retain the power to jump ship if your platform is sinking. Perseus showed us how to do this back in 1987.

But, though people should know this, and though I've certainly shouted it often enough, I don't think people really believe it. I've stripped Storyspace to the bare bolts, spread it out on the floor, and built it back again. Twice. I know its a manageable task.

But really believing is another story. I've built computers from parts. I used to build lasers from parts -- sometimes from parts I machined from brass and steel in the basement of the Harvard science center. But, when my car starts to act up, I'm terrified; I can work out the thermodynamics of internal combustion, but I've got no idea how to change a spark plug because I've never tried.

Bjarnason's paraphrase of Bob Stein's peroration is worth repeating.

It's only a matter of time before we get too subversive and they come down on us. The great firewall of China proves that the internet's freedom of speech is an illusion they allow us because it sells. Believing in technology does not make sense. People—not hardware—change the world.

The IA Summit Panel on Wayfinding and Navigation really caught people's imagination, it seems. Rashmi Sinha, the moderator, caught the right topic at the right moment and nicely crystalized a new meme, paraphrased prettily by Dorelle Rabinowitz:

We talk about navigating when we mean understanding.

Matt Jones, catching up on the action from afar, seizes on this as a crucial point -- and I think it is an emerging consensus. Amy Lee's notes are an interesting record here, capturing both shifting nuance among the panelists as well as developing opinion in the audience and community.

In particular, Lee captures an aspect of my own position that I had not yet fully understood myself. I was taken aback to read her precis of Susan Campbell's position:

Spatial metaphors can work (opposite of Mark).

"How can this be right?", I ask myself. After all, I work in spatial hypertext, I build spatial hypertext systems, the highpoint of my slides was a snazzy glimpse at a Tinderbox map of Jill's weblog.

But Lee is right: I believe in space, but not in spatial metaphor. Tools like Tinderbox let you use space directly: you can, for example, put things next to each other to say "these are related", or arrange things in messy clusters to say "all of these belong together". This works. It's important and effective. But when you start making the screen stand for something else, when you start pretending those piles are papers stacked on a desk of volumes neatly arranged on shelves, when you start drawing shiny wire bindings on the edge of your notes -- that's a sign that you're not using space, you're simply representing it.

I've made a CD of my panel slides, along with slides from my IA Summit talk on Gardens and Manifestos and my Dust or Magic talk about "Ideas in a Non-Ideal World" -- a rant about hypertext criticism. Keynote, PowerPoint, and pdf versions of everything, so you shouldn't have too much trouble reading them on your favorite platform. If you'll send me your postal address, for a limited time I'll send you the slides on CD. Email

Apr 03 2 2003

Summit Summing

Boxes and Arrows sums up this year's IA Summit with a superbly detailed, collective trip report. This is a brilliant idea, and also a brave one -- some of the talks were controversial and the writers express opinions with just enough vigor to be interesting and just enough tact to avoid explosion.

Mark Bernstein took charge of the space and his presentation much the way a sideshow barker commands that you attend his latest show. Mark was entertaining, provocative, and at more than one point downright antagonistic .

.... When he was finished, many in the audience were stunned into silence. A few people asked some very good questions, but most folks left with a lot to think about.

Generating trip reports this good, and this detailed, is another example of what IA Summit does right.

Apr 03 1 2003

A Fine Review

Jessica Pressman reviews My Name Is Captain, Captain. in "The Very Essence of Poetry" for the Iowa Review.

"the reader of My name is Captain, Captain. experiences and accepts the fusion of poetry and design, rhythm and animation as synthetic and symbiotic. The subtle collusion of print and programming exploits the pleasantries of text while throwing them into an alien environment....Meet My name is Captain, Captain. , electronic literature which, in focusing on the work as 'literature,' foregrounds the "electronic" as a space for future literary work and study. "

Mar 03 31 2003

Dust Or Magic

I spent two delightful days at Dust Or Magic in Oxford, en route to the Hypertext 03 program committee meeting.

The theme of this conference was, I think, a mutual exploration of the great effort required to create important multimedia in a world that seems uninterested in, or inimical to, new media. Some obstacles were obvious: a war which nobody I met seemed to support, an American administration whose attitudes made most attendees shudder, a general absence of resources for creative work, the difficulty of finding an audience or a day job. Despite the obstacles, an scent of optimism could be detected -- especially among those who had found ways to harness corporate energy to drive creativity and to harness that creativity to improve the world.

In my own talk, a touched briefly on the set topic of Eastgate's history and the role of ideas in a non-ideal world. (What an honor to have been set such a topic amid the dreaming spires!)

It was interesting (to me) to reflect on Eastgate's research agenda, our desire that it remain a place where we can do serious research on new systems. What is distinctive here, I think, is that our research is supported by and answerable to the numerous body of users, rather than to a corporate vice president or a foundation officer.

I also spoke about the deplorable state of hypertext criticism -- about theories founded on air, reviewers unwilling to read and unwilling to understand, tolerance of sloppiness and imprecision, and a general shoddiness of argument. I had spent a pleasant hour Tuesday at the top of Blackwell's, leafing through shelves and shelves of ancient history. These writers know and use every source, weighing each one with sympathy and judgment. In new media today, if an article or book troubles to mention a handful of titles, it is an occasion for celebration.

Though participants included many multimedia pioneers -- Roger Gregory, inventory of the Hands-On Science movement and progenitor of the Exploratorium and its kin, Voyager founder Bob Stein, Expanded Book designer Colin Holgate, and convenor Bob Hughes (below) among others -- nobody seemed overly obsessed about preservation. Perhaps that's because it's not a big problem. Greeting us all as we walked into Wadham's Old Refectory for a demo session was a Macintosh screen with Inigo Gets Out, Amanda Goodenough's ancient (but still delightful) HyperCard stack about a cat on the loose.

I mention this because ELO is holding some sort of a meeting this week about e(x)Literature, which is meant to anchor an inquiry for "preserving and archiving" electronic literature. It's funny that the people who worry most about this don't actually seem very interested in titles or systems that aren't brand-new. (The obvious exception is David Durand, grand FRESSer, and I really want to read his talk)

Edith Frost's weblog is lots of fun to read -- including a day by day, blow by blow diary of using Tinderbox. (This is ecological testing in action, big time)

Henry Lieberman: The Tyrrany of Evaluation.

Victor Lombardi blogs my talk on Gardens, Manifestos at IA Summit.

Bernstein later tried hard to anger the crowd with his condemnation of information architects, but I think everyone was too mesmerized by his gorgeous presentation while realizing some of his criticism was fair: we need to consider the larger view of user experience as physical architects do, start making beautiful, pliant, artifacts, and stop only whining about what's wrong. Jesse echoed this last sentiment during the five-minute madness, asking if we might celebrate our successes more often.

What surprised me about IA Summit was the enthusiasm and openness of this conference, its embrace of new ideas. It was very generous. That's a good sign, especially at the start of a war and in an economy so bad that even the IA's who still have Fortune 500 jobs were often paying their own way to the conference. A refreshing change from the usual dreariness.