MarkBernstein.org

Registration for Tinderbox Weekend has been open for about two days, and we're already getting close to capacity. (If necessary, we've got some ideas for getting extra space)

Some people have written to lament conflicts. Yes, if you're getting married or your kids are graduating that weekend, we understand. Another time.

But, if you'd like to support us and receive the handouts and such, we've added a "corresponding membership" signup. You'll receive the handouts, and maybe we can set up some electronic links for a session to answer your questions. I'm hoping these will include a CD with a bunch of sample files, unsupported examples of interesting ways to use Tinderbox. Not nearly as good as being there, but it's a start.

Diane Greco has some interesting comments about What You Like, Because You Like It (26 April).

...At the very least, I discover what I like. (Mark's Number 10, for instance. I like that one a great deal.
Knowing what you like, and why you like it, is important. For years, I used to gravitate toward light blue and blue-grey sweaters even though those colors do not flatter me and the clothes would tend to stay in the closet. I collected about a dozen of these sweaters (along with jeans, t-shirts, and dresses) before I looked in the mirror one day and realized the pewter-colored sweater I was wearing matched -- exactly -- the color of my mother's eyes.

And don't miss Diane's nifty review of Digital Art, by Christiane Paul, in the new issue of Tekka.

I've been slogging the last few days through the depths of Microsoft Windows internals -- specifically, the MFC DocTemplate mechanism, which (ironically) is neither a document nor a template. It's not that it's bad, just that it's not very well documented. Is there a better resource than Prosise? Let me know!

Meanwhile, thanks for all the nice cards and letters on Tinderbox 2.2. Everyone here really appreciates the email notes, and the weblog notes, and everything else. (We do get some strange mail, too. One guy, for example, lit into me personally and then, wanting to be sure everyone get the point, started flaming Dave Winer for good measure. It takes all kinds.)

  • A big problem out West has been the impending extinction of various species of salmon. The Bush administration has just solved that problem permanently (Washington Post). They're going to redefine hatchery salmon as "wild", so the wild salmon won't be protected any more. That'll eliminate restrictions on logging, mining, and development. With luck, the pesky wild salmon will be extinct before the election, and then the whole problem will be solved for good. Thanks, Kathryn.
  • Reviewing the bidding: the current plan for Fallujah really to set up a new, private army and to surrender the town to it? Does that sound like victory to you?
  • Apparently, US Army soldiers have been torturing and sexually abusing prisoners — and taking souvenir photos of themselves while they do it to send home. Does that sound like victory to you? Does that sound like America to you?
  • In World War II, the US relieved its most effective combat general, George Patton, for slapping two soldiers. IMHO, a bunch of people should go to jail for this, including the responsible general officer. The 800th MP Brigade is commanded by Brig. Gen. Janice Karpinski. (If I were General Karpinski's advisor, I'd be thinking right now about having myself arrested, because I might prefer to face a court martial in upstate New York than a war crimes trial somewhere else.)
Apr 04 29 2004

TEKKA 5

Issue #5 of TEKKA is out today.

One of the things we need most urgently in New Media is simply discussion: a lot of us are interested, a lot of us have jobs in New Media, but there's not nearly enough dialogue. One symptom is the number of interesting books that have appeared -- books that aren't discussed nearly enough. TEKKA's taking a big step to fix this; we're commisioning lots of reviews.

Of particular note in this issue: George Landow takes a close look at Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency. That's a new book by Jay David Bolter and Diane Gromola. Landow's title (and the book's theme) is wonderful and important: Against the Info-Puritans.

The registration page for Tinderbox Weekend, May 22-23, is up and running. Please register right away!

From time to time, I tidy up my hard disk. I delete useless old files and excess Tinderbox notes. I weed out the worst snapshots, the redundant images and the blurred pictures and the pictures I accidentally took of someone's feet.

This is probably a mistake. It often costs more to decide to throw something away than to save it forever.

Let's run the numbers. Suppose I have a Tinderbox note containing a grocery list . Should I throw it away after I've bought the groceries?

  • I can buy a terabyte firewire drive for about $1000. That's not the optimal price-performance, but the numbers are nice and round. That drive ought to last at least 3 years. That works out to $1/Gb.
  • Even a very large grocery list is going to be less than 100Kb. But we'll allow 1Mb, just to be liberal.
  • The "rent" of storing an extra 1M on our hard disk, for three years, works out to about a tenth of a penny.
  • If Moore's law holds out, in 3 years our $1000 will buy us a 4Tb drive. And 3 years from then, it'll be a 16Tb drive. Say 'hello' to our old friend, the geometric series. 1+1/4+1/16+.... This never gets above 1.333. So, if Moore's law held forever, we'd never spend as much as a penny to save the grocery list.
  • Even if progress stopped immediately and storage costs never declined, the rent for 300 years of drive space is only a dime.

In practice, storage costs will be dominated by the time you spend maintaining the system, copying files every three years to a new disk, and pruning unwanted files.

This has interesting implications for software design. Frank Shipman's VKB, for example, saves your undo stack forever, so you can go back and look at the state of your document last October. You never know what you might need.

Discussion: realkoshDoug Miller

Salon's headline story says it all:

The Bush administration is arguing that it has the right to lock up U.S. citizens forever -- without evidence, witnesses, lawyers or trials. If the Supreme Court agrees, will this still be America?

How did we get this far? (Apparently, Congress no longer needs to declare war. But can Congress declare peace to free enemy combatants? Or are enemy combatants confined at the pleasure of the president? Wasn't there an entire war fought over this issue, back around 1776?)

Apr 04 26 2004

Tinderbox 2.2

Tinderbox 2.2 is out. You can download a free demo. The upgrade is free if you bought Tinderbox in the last year. If not, you can get another year of free upgrades for just $70.

This is primarily an infrastructure release, paving the way for Tinderbox for Windows. But there's plenty of great new stuff here for everyone:

  • Quick lists (like this)
  • Much faster interactive spell checking
  • Lots of new, advanced HTML export features
  • Support for richer syndication formats -- both RSS and Atom

Update: early feedback.

  • Jon Buscall: "Finally, something to put a smile on my face! Tinderbox 2.2 is out today. This note was written in 2.2 and exported to TypePad within 2 minutes of downloading.... In the two years I've been using Tinderbox it's become the application I open first every day. It was an integral tool for drafting and redrafting my doctoral thesis, rewriting my second novel and it's the application I use most as a teacher and writer both in and out of the classroom."
  • Doug Miller: "Tinderbox has become so ubiquitous to how I work that it's nearly become something I don't even notice anymore. Every day, I continually have three to four Tinderbox documents open. I would be far more difficult to run my business without out it. Aside from my Day Book document, which I use to keep track of all the myriad calls, documents, and personal interactions I have throughout the day, and my web log, I use Tinderbox to track the details of every home I show to every client"
  • Gordon Meyer: "Yet another reason I have this app as a login item, it's nearly as important to me as my email program."
Apr 04 25 2004

Galleries

On the Web, it's nice to share things you've made. Even if they aren't the best in the world, your sketches and paintings and photos are yours. That makes them intrinsically interesting to people who know you. Hi, Mom!

And, you never know when something you have handy might be useful to someone else. If it's here, perhaps they can find it; if it's in your attic, that's less likely.

Tinderbox made it pretty easy to build a simple picture gallery. It took a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon, hours when I might have been painting had my studio not been torn out to the rafters for rebuilding. Maybe, next week, I'll do a Tinderbox-Flash gallery.

Galleries
Apr 04 24 2004

Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning
The Season When Software Gets Written (otherwise known as the time of year between the Super Bowl and Opening Day) has passed. Lots of software was written. Lots remains to be done.

But Spring is here, the wildflowers are blooming in Texas, my old studio is in the dumpster out back, and everybody is revamping their weblogs. (Powazek, Jill, and Anja seem to have kicked off the current cleaning frenzy)

I'm slowly fine-tuning things and trying to locate sources of breakage. Pictures have better margins. Fagerjordian links are formatted more appropriately in the monthly summaries. The RSS book feed includes cover images, and the links to latest books go directly to the book in question. Stuff like that.

Radical changes coming later -- maybe.

If you'd like to use Tinderbox to draft a document that's destined for Microsoft Word, consider exporting to a single big HTML file. Though Word's HTML export is problematic, its import is clean -- and it's smart about things like heading styles.

Just export to HTML, import to Word, and apply your company's or your publisher's stylesheet. This will get better, once Word's highly-touted XML interchange format becomes real, but it's very useful right now.

Texas A&M
photo:Anna Zacchi
I had a great time at Texas A&M, where Frank Shipman, Andruid Kerne, Richard Furuta, and John Leggett are all doing fascinating work out beyond the frontiers of hypertext. I spent a delightful hour with Dr. Haowei Hsieh, who's currently the master programmer for VKB -- one of the systems that inspired Tinderbox -- discussing a variety of technical and implementation issues. And Luis Francisco-Revilla does things with Javascript you won't believe.

I spoke a bit about Software Aesthetics. We often regard aesthetic concerns as decoration, a quality to added onto software to make it more marketable or, if you play in that world, to make it more suitable to art museums. That leads to a host of mistakes. For starters, information architects and usability experts treat ornamentation as a violation of Louis Sullivan's famous adage, "form follows function", ignoring the great importance of ornamentation in Sullivan's own work. Then, there's the confusion of open source with social justice, the tendency to call any Big Bag of Data a "database", the morass of confusion and opprobrium that surrounds the the term "postmodernism".

The beauties of software come from within the software — just as do the beauties of drama and painting. Understanding this deeply generally does require direct experience of the medium. How much facility with computing does an educated person need today? I think you've got to be able to make the machine do your bidding — that is, you need to be reasonably fluent in designing and building.

Apr 04 20 2004

Lanyards

Lanyards
Tekka editorial assistant, Elin Sjursen, designed a batch of key and namebadge lanyards. They're great! Tekka subscribers will no longer lose their name badges or misplace their keys. Very cool!

Another Hypertext Meeting dinner note: Kung Fu Kitchen, a 'net movie by Jeffu Warmouth.

Christophe is thinking out loud about Tinderbox agents, which he's using to help plan a shooting script.

I have a file that contains notes about a forthcoming Blowfish Video production. Each scene has a note. Each scene-note lists the cast required for that particular scene. I also have an agent that scurries around and creates a note that lists the entire cast. Thus, if I add a cast member, the cast list is automatically updated. Same for locations, props, etc. Whee! It’s quite magical watching it go.

Jan Walker
Hypertext pioneer Janet Walker has sailed into new and interesting waters.

Walker is also an accomplished potter and painter; the other night, Doug Engelbart was recalling her portraiture. Here's one of her ceramics, which lives on our living room shelf.

Apr 04 18 2004

Gates of Hell

Empire Notes reports daily from Baghdad. Impressive writing:

  • I have some nice old books, some of them passed down from my grandparents. Now and then, I'll come across a volume with uncut pages. What's the best way to cut the uncut pages of a good book? (The point of a book is to be read; it's wrong to leave them sitting forever on a shelf)
  • I'm really enjoying some of the piano work of James Booker, especially "Papa Was a Rascal". What is this stuff called? Where do I find more music like his? This is a classic task for a recommender system, but when I've tried I seem to wander aimless paths through jazz or R&B. (All paths ultimately lead to Barry Manilow or Britney Spears, but that's another story)
  • I'm also enjoying a collection of fiddle tunes in the Dudley Street style. Is that Dudley Street in Boston, the far end of the #1 bus? If so, where do you go in Boston/Cambridge to hear it played? And while we're on the subject, is Money In Advance really a strathspey, and does it have lyrics? (Update: it's a clog tune.)

Tinderbox makes it easy to make and organize lists. You can make a note into a container instantly -- just drag another note into it. It's easy, too, to move notes among containers. And if you're not sure exactly where a note goes, you can use the Map view to arrange notes in piles and clusters.

This lets structure emerge gradually, organically over time. That's a big improvement over conventional database and knowledge management tools, which often expect you to get the structure right before you start.

One interesting side-effect is that the organization of Tinderbox files often improves over time. A common experience using "New Years' Resolution" tools, the sorts of organizers that encourage you to get everything all neat and wonderfully tidy, is very different: things always seem to get messier and messier as you try to use them on-the-fly to do real work. You can never get the structure just right at the outset — you can't, you just don't know enough. So, the initial structures is always wrong, and the more elegant the system and the more polished the tools, the sooner the scars and scratches appear.

It's very easy in Tinderbox to make a container, or to move things out of a container you no longer want. But, sometimes, you aren't sure whether you want a container or not. And, sometimes, maps aren't right either. And, here, the separator can be a terrific asset. A separator is just a plain old everyday note, but it's just used to mark a boundary.

Informal Lists

There are lots of Web sites I check often, or want to remind myself to check, or that someone tells me to check. Sometimes, especially after a good meeting, the backlog gets complicated: I've been offline for several days, I've got to catch up on my reading, I've promised a bunch of people I'd look at sites they'd recommended, I've got a bunch of research ideas or marketing questions that need to be researched.

The first problem is just to get everything written down. That's the David Allen Lesson: get it out of your head and into your system, so you can use your head for important things. Any Tinderbox system is better than just trying to remember. The simplest thing that could possibly work is, for this, just fine.

The second problem is setting priorities — what Cathy Marshall and Frank Shipman call "information triage". Some things can't, or shouldn't wait. But the boundaries are bound to be fluid, and you want to be able to see across them.

Lately, I've been marking boundaries like this informally with a separator note. I often use a different font for separators, as in the screenshot above, by setting NameFont. (It's good to choose a font, or a color, that suggests less emphasis than normal notes carry; separators are apparatus and shouldn't call too much attention to themselves.

Hypertext meetings

I'm in Santa Cruz, California, for planning meetings for Hypertext '04.

A while back, I heard Susan Cheever give a delightful interview about her new book, My Name Is Bill . But I wasn't really that interested in a biography of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, so instead I grabbed a used copy of her Note Found in a Bottle .

This is a memoir of a drinker, but it's a remarkable book in part because drinking plays such a small role. The vulgar mythology right now is that drugs are wonderful if they're prescribed (Prozac, Xanax, Lipitor) or if they're "natural" (St. Johns' Whortelberry) but evil if you really like them or if they help you break the Home Run Record. Make your own steroids, you're a hero; eat 'em, you're a goat. Go figure.

Anyway, this delightful little book avoids all the predictable scenes of trial and temptation preceding sainthood and sobriety. Cheever liked to drink. So did lots of people -- her dad (famously), her friends (trendily), everyone. No ghastly scenes, no skid rows, nothing so terrible. When she stops drinking, that's when bad stuff happens. Drink doesn't really get her into trouble: love, on the other hand, sometimes does.

But, it turns out, maybe the good times weren't so good. And maybe the bad stuff has to happen for the good stuff to get better. Cheever is always interesting, amusing, and witty, and though one might still detect traces of wry ironic foreshadowing here and there, she tells her story with a plain, unassuming craftsmanship that's enviable and original.

Do you have a Tinderbox map that's really big? Or especially good looking? Or just a Tinderbox map you especially like?

I'd like to see it, and perhaps use it in a research study. Just send your Tinderbox file -- or a screen shot -- by email. Thanks!

One of the silliest, most self-indulgent affectations among bloggers is forgetting to sign your own weblog. Who is writing this? Your readers want to know -- especially new readers. Does this person know what they're talking about? How do I thank them?

Who?
A surprising number of weblogs make is hard, or impossible, to find out who is responsible. That's silly and wasteful. It's like not introducing yourself, assuming that of course everyone knows who you are.

When I first started to meet really famous scientists -- people who had won The Prize, people who had written the book -- I noticed that most of them took pains to explain who they were and what they worked on. They didn't assume, even though everyone in the field, even beginners, knew their work.

I introduce myself a lot at conferences. This leads to embarrassment now and then. I get into a rhythm, and before I know it I'm introducing myself to people I've met before. Or people who were in the front row of a talk I just gave. But, I figure it's better to err on the side of knowing.

Derek Powazek's new redesign bends over backwards to avoid looking like a weblog. But it's a good weblog design, and it's got plenty of space to answer that important question, Who? Thanks, Anders Fagerjord.

Apr 04 15 2004

Conference

I'm off to the planning meetings for Hypertext '04, in Santa Cruz.

My main job this year will be to coordinate the panels, but -- like dozens of others in the field -- I've been asked to review a bundle of papers submitted to the conference. (The Hypertext Conference is very selective in the papers it accepts)

I just printed my referee reports for the meeting. I didn't have a particularly heavy load this year -- once (in my gaudy youth) I read every paper submitted, more than 100 papers -- but all told I've written 12,500 words of commentary and critique. As I recall, that's twice as long as a full paper.

Conferences are a lot of work.

Speaking of which: want to help out with Tinderbox weekend next month? Got ideas for fun and interesting topics? May 22-23, in Boston. Email me!

Rahul Mahajan describes American soldiers as they ignore the caretaker's pleas ("We can help you. We can have custodians unlock the doors") to trash a thousand-year-old mosque.

The way the soldiers searched for illicit arms in the ceiling was first to spray the ceiling with gunfire, then break out a panel and go up and search. They even went and rifled through students' exam papers. A feeble old man with a limp who is a 'guard' at the mosque (actually a poor man with a large family who is given housing by the imam of the mosque) was hit in the head with a rifle butt and then kicked when he was down -- all because he was a little slow in answering the door.

Now, make all the allowances you want for partisanship, for anti-Americanism, for whatever: this is bad news. The first time I visited London, I was struck by the lasting bitterness that's still commemorated on plaques all over the City. "Built by Christopher Wren. Destroyed by the barbarians, 1942."

Hearts and Minds
a statue in Maastricht

One of the strangest facets of current administration policy, it seems to me, is a determined effort to do and say things that are un-American, that seem calculated to make Americans feel ashamed of themselves. Cui bono?

A new Tinderbox weblog: Nathan Matias' Notebook of Sand.

Tim Bray has a new job at Sun, and it comes with a big 1920x1200 flat panel display to plug into his TiBook.

...a whole lot o’ pixels. I haven’t really figured out how to use ’em all effectively just yet, but it’s a nice problem to have. Mind you, when I lean back at my chair and look up at this horking thing, it occurs to me to say “On-screen!” in a clipped English accent and see if I can get the captain of that Romulan Warbird up there.

How much screen is enough? Perhaps 8'x6' at 72dpi? We spend a lot of time in the software world, talking about clever visualization strategies -- 3D, VR, fisheye views, animation, spatial hypertext. How will really big displays change this?

In Tinderbox, Jon Buscall creates a set of thirty seven "lesson" for a young poet.

I chose Tinderbox because within one space I could create an outline of seven lessons. Each note thus becomes a container for the "instructions note" which in turn is linked to a "WriteAssignmentHere" note.

Fascinating work. Another place to find lots of interesting thinking about teaching with a tools like Storyspace and Tinderbox is Landow's classic Hypertext 2.0 .

Yesterday, we needed to send email to a customer who'd given us a special email address so, if the spammers got a hold of the address he'd know to blame us.

Only problem was: the address didn't work. So he'd complain "why aren't you answering my mail?", and we'd send another copy, and it would bounce again.

Another email bounced because an overzealous server somewhere thinks we're a spammer.

Then, I wrote an email note to a colleague half way round the world, answering a question and offering a nice price break. It bounced, because he doesn't know his own email address.

Email is in trouble; busy people don't have time for this stuff. Want to kill email even faster? Just keep trying to beat spam with silly address games. If you can't remember your own address long enough to configure your email software properly, don't be surprised when you colleagues seem to ignore you.

I don't know much about this site — it might be disinformation, it might be polemic. The author is certainly bitter. But it appears to be a detailed account to daily life in Baghdad and Fallujah. Empire Notes.

Starship
Another relic from the studio: Roger Garrett's The Complete Star Ship: A Simulation Project. This 1978 paperback describes a wildly ambitious scheme to write a multiconsole simulation of a starship bridge that would let a team of players work together to go where nobody was going anytime soon.

In an era when networking meant 300 bps RS-232 lines and a 16K kit-built computer was state of the art, this book's ambitions were wildly over the top. Page after page of drawings of console displays, schemes for representing Federation space in a handful of bytes, lists of subsystems everyone is supposed to monitor. Energy Supply, Medical Equipment Inventory, Reject-Peace-Offer subroutine...

Surprisingly, neither this book nor its author casts much shadow on the Web today. But amazon has some used copies .

Apr 04 12 2004

Wargle

Wargle
Cleaning out my studio, I came across lots of dust .

Fixing up a bad filing system offers unique puzzlements. Perhaps an Information Architect would have come up with a better solution than to file various letters under Girlfriends: Other? Oy.

Here's the cover of Wargle, a computer game I wrote back before Eastgate. Incredibly, Google uncovers a bunch of cheat codes. Who would have thought?

I'm toying with the idea of posting some of my sketches. Not because they're good — they're awful, my ambition in the whole Learn To Draw program has been to eventually catch up to your middle-of-the-road talented high school kid. But it seems to me that it's nice to share little sketches and paintings, that it's pleasant to offer something to look at in the odd spare moment, perhaps to improve yourself or stick for a day on your wallpaper or your corkboard if you feel like it.

Or is it all a waste of bandwidth?

Apr 04 11 2004

Blueprints

An ad I just saw asks, reasonably, why is the baseball pitcher's mound 60' 6" from home plate?

Blueprints

Think about it.

According to the ad, some workmen misread the blueprints in the 19th century, the distance was supposed to be 60' 0", and the mistake stuck, Can that be right?

I just spent a cranky hour trying to figure out why my WiFi network would appear, then vanish, then flicker back, and then vanish again, every few seconds.

The airports looked happy -- and busy. And I could see other networks in the vicinity (including a new network, another neighbor no doubt). But good old extreme porch kept flickering on and off.

Eventually, power cycling seems to have cured the problem. But it wasn't fun -- and who're you gonna call?

Seriously, this is an interesting business problem. All sorts of things we all use all the time can break, and sometimes it's not obvious, even to a pretty technical guy, what might be broken. This will only get worse, as our phones use the internet, our cars use WiFi to fill up their MP3 players and to tell us about the maintenance needs, and everything wants to sync with our calendars. Meanwhile, my Treo tells me that today is Easter, twice.

I think this is a business opportunity...

The front page of today's Boston Globe has a picture of an American tank, burning in an Iraqi street.

Tanks don't get killed by fanatic children who just grabbed a rifle or a bottle. What's going on here? The press seems adrift, unsure what script we're in. We thought we were in Fighting Crazy Terrorists, or maybe Arab Street Revolt. People talk about Vietnam, but only as a metaphor; who is there to play the part of the Russians and the Chinese?

But are we really in the Mutiny? Or the Boer War?

Burning Tanks

Elin recounts her (rigorous!) audition for Stambandet. a Scandinavian vocal ensemble.

The Evening Standard reports on Saddam Hussein:

Some of the FBI interrogators who had hoped he would crack through techniques which have included sleep deprivation, being subjected to rapid changes of room temperature and being offered rewards for co-operation have lost hope. They have concluded he was so surrounded by sycophants he had no real idea of what was happening in his country.

Does this sound right to you?

After the American Civil War, did we torment Jefferson Davis? Did interrogators try to crack Robert E. Lee? These guys led an armed insurrection to overthrow the government, enslaved millions, led an entire generation of boys to slaughter.

After the end of the Second World War, did the Allies torture Goering and Doenitz? Were Hidekii Tojo and Masaharu Homma ill-treated? Tried, yes. Executed, yes. But tortured?

It seems to me that, if we are making war against barbarism, it's a mistake to act barbarically. America should stand for something. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.

Comments don't belong in weblogs.

The measured pace of weblog response, and the distance between rival weblogs, makes measured discourse possible. Comments let idiots deface your weblog, and that's intolerable. Because you can't tolerate it, you have to do something. And that means the idiots have to do something, too.

For example, Kathryn has been doing some interesting sleuth-work on last month's mysterious African rent-a-coup, and so her weblog has been immersed in spam, bickering, and legal threats. (You know it's getting complicated with you see Comments (158) | TrackBack (0) )

New on the wiki are several fresh pages of Tinderbox tips, notably Agent Cookbook and Macros Cookbook. For instance, there's a little macro that lets you say ^do(define,phlogiston) and you get this: phlogiston*.

Tim Bray asks Microsoft to discontinue its silly ads for “Great Moments at Work” -- the ones that features slow-motion ads of office workers celebrating like college athletes. Except that they've done something perfectly mundane, like use some feature of Word, where the college kids won a championship or something.

The message, insofar as there is one, is that people who work in offices are clueless doofuses....Microsoft is a smart company, and smart companies shouldn’t run dumb ads. It disgraces our whole profession.

For some reason, Google Ads thinks this is a great page to advertise ovulation predictor kits. Go figure.

I quite enjoying Getting Things Done, but in Ready for Anything, David Allen skips over the close and specific observation of actual business behavior that grounds the earlier book. Instead, we have 52 edifying and uplifting generalities here, in short and easily-digested essays that are quickly read and easily forgotten.

My Treo 600 finally arrived.

I came late to the cell phone dance — I switched from a Palm to a Treo only when my Mom got ill, and in some months I make only one or two calls. I broke down and upgraded from my original Treo, which I quite liked, for two reasons:

  • The battery life of the new Treo is said to be far better than the old — despite its color screen
  • The built-in camera might be a good fallback for situations (e.g. meals in odd restaurants) where I'd like to make a visual note but don't have my camera.

So far, the surprise is that the luminescent color screen is vastly superior to the old, reflective monochrome. I no longer think about ambient light when reaching for the Treo, and that's a change. And, the GPRS internet link seems to work well, out of the box.

Treo Two

One problem is figuring out the translation between the service provider's brand names ("t-zones") and actual services. I used to get 2M of metered internet per month for $10; the Web site says that t-zones gives me unlimited internet for $5, But what, exactly, is a t-zone? I didn't know, and neither did the customer service rep. We ended up changing my service package by guessing what might work; that's not sound engineering.

After dinner last night, I was talking with open source software engineering guru Walt Scacchi, and with Doug Engelbart, the guy who invented outliners, the mouse, and lots of other things you use all the time.

It was a Memory Lane kind of evening -- Frank Halasz was there, too, a guy who had a huge influence on my career though I'm sure this would surprise him.

Someone recalled the early personal computer flea markets. "I was there," said Doug. "I saw Bill, in a little flea market booth, selling software off his tailgate," Scacchi recalled. "I saw Adam Osborne on his soapbox, telling us to give away the computers, to give away the software. 'How can we do that?', people asked him. 'We'll all make money selling them the manuals!'"

"Well," I said, "it turned out that it was Bill who got to buy the big house." That might have been the real start of open software, right then and there. Scacchi's almost convinced me that the open software economy might work, even without the cost-shifting arbitrage that currently seems to supply so much of its fuel.

And that's still, in a way, the core of the problem. 'Indirect economies suck,' said Diane Greco, and she is not wrong. Computing may have become a service industry, but the needs of a service industry are not the needs of research and innovation and progress. It's a puzzle and a problem.

Osborne

Adam Osborne was a wonderful tech writer. He built a terrific business on his model, writing a wonderful series of books on microprocessors back when microprocessors were new. I still own mine. It was brilliant: from sentence structure to production, everything was right. Osborne, and Brian Kernighan, and maybe Bob Horn (who was at Hypertext '87, though not at dinner) pretty much defined modern tech writing. Or so it seems to me.