Adrian Miles makes several interesting observations about The Two Towers. First, that it's essentially a New Zealand film, and second, that it's Gollum's film.

"so gollum, the heart of the film. the rest is smoke and mirrors."

It's fascinating to read Miles on Tolkien, because he knows film and doesn't know The Lord Of The Rings backwards and forwards. I've read and reread Tolkien many times over the years, I used to be able to quote long passages by heart. For me, the first view of the film is inevitably exegesis; every speech that's moved to a new scene, every set detail that doesn't match the text, clamors for attention. (Remarkably, almost all the changes do work. I have no idea why Jackson added the elven archers at Helm's Deep, but the detour to the Fall of Osgiliath gives the art department a wonderful opportunity)

Edoras in the movie is beautifully, brilliantly done, and the equation of Wormtongue and Richard III is perfect shorthand. One thing that's missing, I think, is the shock readers should feel as they enter Meduseld, for here alone in the entire Trilogy we leave the realm of fantasy and touch upon the field we know: none of us knows what became of Gondor or Mirkwood or Buckland, but someday in the distant future another visitor will come to Edoras, a fellow named Beowulf.

Dec 02 28 2002

Bolter Test

Some people think that new media cannot prosper because books are easier to read in bed or in the bathtub. This line of reasoning has been known as the Bolter Test since it was first identified in Writing Space.

One publisher, perhaps taking the Bolter Test way too seriously, has made books that are engineered for reading in the tub -- with a friend! Aqua Erotica.

Scott Johnson is skeptical that people will pay Technorati to find links to their weblogs, because "Right now it's damn hard to get people to spend additional $$$ on something that they aren't making $$$ from.  (For 99.9934367% of us, blogging is a labor of love)."

I think that almost everyone underestimates the weblog economy. It's true that few people write their weblogs for a salary. But almost nobody makes real money from writing books, and obviously all sorts of important, busy people write them. Weblogs are an important professional tool.

The indirect rewards of weblogs are substantial, and many of the people who write successful weblogs have a fairly evident professional stake. Software developers -- Dave Winer, Dan Bricklin, Mitch Kapor, me -- rely on weblogs to explain new product ideas and to learn what people really need. Journalists and political operatives -- Gillmor, Steve Johnson, Joshua Micah Mitchell -- use them to raise awareness, promote discussion, and recruit support. Consultants write weblogs to demonstrate their expertise and their judgment: Scott Johnson's weblog generates lots of attention, as do Jakob Nielsen's, Peter Merholz's, and Jeff Zeldman's. Scholars and researchers like Mortensen, Miles, Fagerjord, and Lester use weblogs to do their work -- the dissemination of knowledge and the instruction of the young -- and to enhance their reputation and promote their field.

What often misleads people into thinking that weblogs are games is the preponderance of webloggers who take seriously Robert Frost's invocation (from Two Tramps In Mudtime):

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done

Phil Gyford (who has a weblog) is publishing The Diary of Samuel Pepys as a weblog. One entry a day, starting January 1. Cute. RSS syndication feed, too.

Many people, including Gyford, essentially duplicate each weblog entry in the RSS feed. I think that's a waste; in particular, it prevents using Really Simple Syndication for syndication! I could envision running a headline or summary from the Diary at the bottom of this page every day, for example, but surely reprinting the whole thing is Too Much.

Dec 02 24 2002

Block Buster

Ebert reminds us the Blockbuster Video is not on the side of the angels.

It's my belief that no true movie lover has any business going into Blockbuster in the first place, since its policies have done so much harm to modern American cinema. By refusing to handle NC-17 movies, Blockbuster has all but destroyed the freedom of American directors to make studio pictures intended for adults. At the same time, by killing the safety valve of the "adult" rating, Blockbuster has contributed to the downward leakage of unsuitable material into the R and PG-13 categories. Thus it corrupts youth while appearing sanctimonious.

See the bottom-right of Diane Greco's weblog for DG'S VIRTUAL BOOK CLUB, a collection of capsule reviews. Very cool, this has already changed my reading plans. (Where will the archives go? Permalinks?)

Dec 02 23 2002

Airport Terror

Nicholas Monahan tells a horror story of airport security. From arrogance to rudeness to perjury is a short step, if you're a poorly-educated and ill-trained official. The customary behavior of security personnel at US airports has travelled that distance in less than a year.

Unfortunately, I'm going to be flying a lot this year.

Thanks to Prof. Mortensen, we revived a lapsed family tradition (Linda's) last night and made immense amounts of gløgg. (I just love typing that word. )

We mixed and matched from all of Torill's recipies. We did ignite the brandy to carmelize the sugar; Linda's father was a maitre'd, flaming was part of the holiday ritual, and sacrificing a small bit of brandy for the sake of carmelizing the sugar seemed a reasonable trade.

There was plenty more brandy left for fortifying the gløgg. Gløgg, by the way, is potent stuff; Linda's first reaction was, "I'm still not old enough to drink this." Insidious, too: the second and third and fourth cup go down very easily.

Next year, I wonder whether we might try adding some dried cherries and blueberries, to go along with those tasty raisins and almonds? Or is that a heresy?

Dec 02 21 2002

Cake On A Rake

Do not miss Louis Menand's brilliant analysis of The Cat In The Hat in the December 20 New Yorker.

The children hate the cat. They take no joy in his stupid pet tricks, and they resent his attempt to distract them from what they really want to be doing, which is staring out the window for a sign of their mother's return. Next to that consummation, cake on a rake is pretty feeble entertainment.

This is the fish's constantly iterated point, and the fish is not wrong.

Menand mentions in passing that The Cat In The Hat Comes Back is the Grammatology of Dr. Seuss.

An important genre in design circles this year has been the photo portfolio. Just as self-promotional work from designers often features their purest vision, the web portfolios of professional photographers (and, even more, those of serious amateurs) offer lots of food for thought.

Sometimes, simply the word of someone you respect is enough to change your experience. Ross Evertson's snapshots, Heading West, wouldn't have impressed me much if, say, my niece had shown them as an example of what her Kodak could do, but when mschidt recommends a site at K10K, I look twice. Take a look, for example, at this image. If it were my work, I might have tossed it aside without a second thought. But there's something interesting working here, and it's not just the formal balance of the diagonal composition.

Who is she? What's she doing in these pictures? Why is the camera blurred -- what was the rush?

Sebastien Paquet presents new review on Weblogs as research tools, Personal knowledge publishing and its uses in research.

Dec 02 20 2002

MacOS X 10.2 3

I upgraded to MacOS X 10.2.3 today. Everything went smoothly. Just in case you were wondering.

It's interesting how common netborne updates have become, and how reliable they seem to be. Given all the things that could go wrong, the success rate seems extraordinary.

Norton Internet Security is blocking hypertext scholar Jill Walker's weblog as "occult/new age".

Does that mean Norton can be used to "protect" children and library patrons from non-Christian websites? Will this weblog soon be on a list of Jewish Sites?

For shame.

One of the big challenges for Another World is to find some new way to reconcile computer games and sex.

For the most part, games flee from sexuality. Partly, this is politics: game players are often young, and the game audience is drawn from countries (US, Japan, Korea) where the sexuality of young people is a sensitive topic right now. Partly, this is marketing: a small but vital part of the American audience are early adolescent boys who are famously allergic to overt displays of sexual feelings.

But part of the problem, I expect, is that the novelty of computers has tended to push artists toward the extremes: extremely literal representation in games and extremely allusive metaphor in hyperfiction.

Alvin Ray Smith says, "At Pixar, they have a word for almost human but not quite: monster." Monsters are interesting. Movies about monsters (Toy Story, Spirited Away, Ants) are fun. But sleeping with monsters is another thing. Cultures tell lots of stories as guides to sexual behavior, but almost everyone has the story about sleeping with monsters. It never ends well. (Occasionally, the monster is divine, but even then it's usually a mixed blessing for everybody)

Hyperfiction, hypermedia, and cybertext have tended to run in the other direction, and where love and desire appear, they have often been metaphors or generalizations. Though Shelley Jackson wrote My Body, the titles read merely the body and though the body in question is hers, it's not obvious that she'd have written a very different story if she had another woman's body instead.

This is yet another case where immersion is a suspect quality, where My Friend Hamlet is in for a rough time. April is in my mistress' face. My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun. (more on AnotherWorld)

Dec 02 18 2002


Want to know what people are saying about your weblog? For $10/year, Technorati will scan a big list of weblogs whenever they're updated and will email you about new links to your weblog -- or provide you with an RSS feed you can use in Tinderbox or another aggregator.

Interestingly, Technorati, Blogdex, and Daypop each tend to find different things.

Starting a magazine is a lot of work. Who knew?

But that doesn't matter. What does matter is, Tekka is going to be fun.

There's not been enough fun in hypertext, lately. For that matter, since the crash, there hasn't been a ton of partying anywhere near the net. I, for one, am tired of the long faces. (I've been as grumpy as the next person) Sure, times are tough. Remember: now you'll be able to tell your grandchildren stories about what things were like back in the Depression.

Tekka will be fierce, because these are frightening times. And Tekka will be sexy, because people are sexy. But, above all, Tekka is going to be fun. Enjoying new media. Beautiful software. For people who want to know what to build, not just what to buy.

I like my Brenthaven TiBook knapsack, but sometimes it seems like overkill. It's great for travel, but is all that capacity really right when I want to throw the TinderBook in the car and bring it home for the evening?

So, these days I'm trying the TiBag, a messenger-style bag engineered for the TiBook. It's very nicely planned, although I've never carried a messenger bag before and it took some getting used to. (I think the prominent logo might be a bad idea, though; the TiBook is an obvious target for thieves, and advertising that you're carrying a nifty computer in your messenger bag instead of some boring old bearer bonds seems a little ill-advised. Still, they're a tiny company, so I don't begrudge them a little bit of advertising)

Dec 02 16 2002

Wisdom For Sale

Peter Merholz, in a much-discussed post, is astonished when organizations adapt their business to newly-purchased software in order to "purchase wisdom."

Part of the reason they bought this software was for the "wisdom" the software was meant to have embedded within.... There was a "wisdom" in how the software presents work processes, and that the company ought to learn from that wisdom and adjust their work accordingly, taking advantage of this "wisdom."

This totally took me aback. How on earth could this enterprise software tell you how to do your work? It's your work!

These organizations aren't crazy. At least, not necessarily. They're merely trying to implement the apprenticeship strategy familiar to many small business people.

Most fields of business have a host of arcane trade customs, practices, and rules of thumb. If you want to start a sandwich shop, there are lots of things that everyone knows, but you don't unless you've already worked in the business. How tall should the tables be? How much cash do you keep on hand? How much change? When do you pay your food supplier? What sorts of tricks will an experienced, dishonest cashier try to play on you? What kinds of political favors are you going to need? In some glamor businesses, you can look this up in books. The rest of the time, you need to hire experience or acquire it.

If you hire experience, you're going to be relying on whoever you hire. You'll be at their mercy. They'll know this. (Lots of tech acquisitions in the 90s followed this scenario, and we all know where that led)

The alternative is often to go out and get a low-level job, working for a friendly business like the one you're starting (but far enough away, or different enough, that you won't be a future competitor). In other words, you can hire expertise and hope it works out, or you can become an expert and hope you can learn what you need quickly enough.

Enterprise software embeds all sorts of implicit knowledge about a business. If you're a startup or you're a mess, the way someone else does it may well be a whole lot better than what you're doing now. You wouldn't use this strategy for a core competency, of course, or in a facet of your work at which your organization really needs to excel. Often, though, clawing your way back to average is fine.

If you've got, say, a design agency and your accounting and bookkeeping people are always fouling things up, doing things Just Like The Other Guys sounds pretty good. You weren't expecting to conquer the design world with superior accounting, right? If you're a retailer and starting out Web commerce site, you probably don't need great fulfillment, you just need to avoid terrible fulfillment. PeterMe's CIO isn't demented, she's just applying a small-business heuristic in a big-business environment.

If you enjoy toasty-hot coverage of US politics, you can't beat Talking Points Memo. Fine writing, great sources.

Torill Mortensen writes a nice panegyric for Tekka editor Anja Rau.

Christina Wodtke offers the blessings of Information Architecture to software design:

After hunting for "check spelling" in Adobe InDesign, Macromedia Dreamweaver and MS Word, I can tell you a little IA in software design would go a long way. And I never know what I'm going to find when I look under the "file" menu, beyond "save."

It's always tempting for brilliant amateurs, having mastered one corner of a field, to jump on some real or imagined oversight. Information Architects know hierarchies, and so extending this expertise to application menus seems straightforward.

Life isn't that simple.

First, menus aren't that important. Regular users learn to use menus quickly, good and bad alike. Occasional users are occasional users; your menus, however ill-conceived, can't waste much of their time because you don't have much of their time in the first place. It's easy to imagine yourself moving menus around, but harder to envision getting your hands in the code; this means that everyone thinks they could design better menus. Good design moves the menu items where they belong, great design sometimes eliminates them entirely.

Second, the answer is not clear. If your application is a text editor, then spell checking might be part of editing and belong on the Edit menu. But, if the spell checker is a dialog, you might think of the spell checker as a special machine to which you bring your work to be processed, checked, and folded. In that case, perhaps spell checking belongs on a Tools menu. If your application only concerns text peripherally or part time, spell checking might belong on a Text menu. If spelling is an exotic concern (as it might be in an editor for programmers) but your application does a lot of search, then perhaps it belongs on the Search menu, alongside searches for bookmarks, syntax errors, and section headings.

It's easy to convince yourself (or some managers) that designers are clowns. The real work, though, is to understand what the design is trying to do, to analyze it with sympathy and clarity, and then (perhaps) to show how it could have been better.

Dec 02 15 2002


At Eastgate, we're starting a new Web magazine, Tekka.

Tekka will be about enjoying new media and creating beautiful software. Serious reading for serious readers. Ideas and tools.

Tekka is going to be fun. We're going to create a market for good writing and solid thinking about the art of software and the craft of hypertext. Tekka will be edited by Anja Rau, the immensely-talented young hypertext critic whose skillful probes have inspired so much discussion this year. (Her weblog, Flickwerk, is fine reading)

Tekka won't be for everybody. No kid stuff, no management fluff. Tekka will assume you know how to use your computer. If you just want to know what to buy at the mall, Tekka's not for you. If you need to create a new program, a new Web site, or a new company, Tekka assumes you can get it done.

There's nothing more important happening right now than the great flowering of software that's about to unfold. You don't want to sit back and watch this. You want to be a part of it. (Odds are, if you're reading this, you are.)

Charter subscriptions are $50. Someday, lots of people will say, "Oh, sure, I was part of Tekka from the start." Subscribe right away, and you can feel good when you say this.

Dec 02 14 2002


Take a few potatoes. Yukon Golds work great. Wash 'em. Slice them very thin, with your handy mandoline or your favorite Popeil product. Toss them in a big bowl with a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil, some thyme, maybe some rosemary.

Get out your tart pan. (Don't have one? I didn't, either. Back of your local kitchen store. Even the good ones are cheap. $5-10 tops) Arrange the potatoes on the bottom, overlapping, to form a nice layer. Salt well.

Grate some cheese over these. You'll need about 3 oz in all. A nice French gruyere works really well here; I also tried an cave-aged Swiss gruyere, but the French was better.

Now, add another layer of potatoes. Salt. Cheese. Keep going. Three layers is probably good.

Bake at 400F (200C) for about 45 minutes, until nice and brown on top. Let it cool for 15 minutes. Remove from pan; marvel at how easily it leaves your new tart pan, and how nice it looks. Serve with a sauteed veal scallop and some wild mushrooms and a nice country white.

decafbad wants to work toward an RDF-based Tinderbox. Interesting. He's interested in promoting "recombinant growth." I think this is the right idea: build experiments on what we have, don't try to start from scratch. (Under the hood, we're working on new Tinderbox files that will be closer to RDF; that way, we'll be prepared to play nicely with some tools that are coming)

Dec 02 12 2002

Another Garden

Eric Scheid writes about another secret garden:

The scene was a Japanese furniture store, lots of interesting bits and bobs, knicks and knacks. Towards the back, obscured by a rather large cabinet composed of rather small drawers (many of), was a half open door.

Stepping through I found a Japanese style garden nestled in the nook between two buildings. Delightful. Would never have known, since there was no obvious sign posted, not visible from the street, etc.

Curiosity and interest rewarded.

Conjecture: the purpose of secret gardens on the Web is not merely decoration or rhetorical texture. Secret gardens distinguish interior and exterior, inviting a selected (or self-selected audience) to an special space. The secret garden makes community tangible, taking the ephemeral notion of "regular visitors" or "frequent customers" and representing it explicitly in the structure of the site. Powazek's Rule (bury comments and bulletin boards deep in the site to improve the quality of the community) is a special case of secret gardens.

A message to the world from the USA: we're having technical difficulties. (Flash)

Support the Democrates in 2004, or the Resistance in 2006. It's your choice.

Kikkoman, superhero: a very strange animated ad, in Flash. Great pacing, weird imagination. "Don't try this at home, kids!"

William Slawski read my note about Secret Gardens and went hunting secret gardens in the real world -- the built environment. He finds a mermaid in the back of his neighborhood skateboard shop.

A great way to put the architecture back into Information Architecture is to look for complex structure -- especially rhetorical structure -- in buildings and cities. There's a danger of being overly literal here: three-space is not linkspace. Still, it's easy to find useful examples that have unexpected counterparts.

Slawski's mermaid is one of those examples. It's decoration; it doesn't hold up the roof, nor does it make transactions more efficient. It's not conspicuous; Slawski says you have to look for it. Decorations like the mermaid are common: drive down a street in Levittown, or walk down any dorm corridor, and you'll see all sorts of decoration. Before we finish declaring non-conforming Web sites to be wicked, it might be a good idea to understand this.

Cup of Chicha bookmarks this weblog. Thanks.

markpasc responds to my claim that users are not Muggles, arguing that many people seem incapable of learning to program. His professor told him that "software engineers are lucky, special, etc because it takes a certain mindset to design and write software."

Some people don't read very well, but we expect just about everyone to learn to read. Some people can't write fine prose, but we expect that just about everyone will learn to write. Programming is just like reading and writing. It's not a rare gift, like being able to hit a fastball. It's a simple skill, like driving a car.

(There are some people who can't read or write or drive cars, but that's unusual and not what we're talking about. There are some people who program exceptionally well, just as there are people who write effortlessly and read with incredible speed; that's not what we're talking about here. If you can hack college, you can learn to hack. But if you're a muggle, you simply are not going to Hogwarts, period)

Dec 02 10 2002

Muggles Indeed

Jakob Nielsen (thanks Wodtke) sums up an amusing note about the magical things that new media are making possible, In The Future, We'll All Be Harry Potter, with a chilling conclusion:

In the Harry Potter books, the ethical wizards have agreed to leave the Muggles alone and not do magic tricks on them. It seems that computer wizards have something to learn from Harry Potter, because they often use their power in ways that are harmful to regular people.

I typically argue against poor Internet usability because it reduces a company's ability to generate business value from its website. Bad customer service equals fewer customers. However, the bigger picture is even worse: Every page that doesn't conform to expected behavior and design conventions undermines users' ability to build a conceptual model of the Web, and thus reduces their ability to use other sites with ease, confidence, and pleasure. Designers who inflict poor usability on the world and its Muggles are wicked wizards indeed.

This is fundamentally wrong in several ways.

First, inconvenience and evil are not indistinguishable. Poor usability is chiefly a matter of inconvenience: making things take a little longer, making users take unnecessary steps. It's not nice, but there are worse things. Let's keep some perspective.

More substantially, conforming to 'expected behavior' is not the mark of a varied, rich, and sophisticated intellectual life. The urge to insist that expressive media conform to the imperatives of expectation and efficiency has had a sorry history in the past century or so. Usability is nice, but conformity is conformity.

Finally, to regard users as Muggles is, I think, fundamentally wrong. In fact, Rowling's "ethical" wizards are, if you take them seriously, mere cowards. Why do they hide magic from the Muggles? Yes, some Muggles are small-minded, mean, ignorant, and superstitious: does this relieve the ethical wizard from an obligation to treat muggles with decent respect? Where were the ethical Wizards in 1938-45? What are they doing about AIDS, global warming, hunger?

Equating users and Muggles is a symptom of believing yourself to be a programmer. If you believe this, you are mistaken: Nobody is a programmer. There are people who know how to program, just as there are people who know how to write, or to read French. There are no non-programmers; there are only people who have gaps in their education.

Make me think, please! If you're going to talk to me, surprise me, delight me -- you've got to make me think. That means, from time to time, you want to astonish, inconvenience, surprise, shock, and delight. There's a time for conforming, and mastering conformity is a vital skill, but let's not pretend that conformity has a patent on virtue.

Dec 02 9 2002


Hypertext publisher Eastgate Systems, Inc. was founded twenty years ago today. Happy Birthday!

Dec 02 7 2002


"The traditional Christian said fuck the world and love thy neighbor; Auden said love the world and fuck thy neighbor, a related but distinct thought" -- Adam Gopnick, The New Yorker, 23 Sep 02

Mark Irons has proposed a number of Patterns for Personal Web Sites. Some are old standby's. Some are aspirations, not patterns. But some are intriguing.

Take secret garden:

When your site is large enough that a visitor can't read it in one visit, consider adding some pages that aren't mentioned elsewhere on the site and require some effort (or a little luck) to discover.

These 'hidden' pages form small secret gardens, each of which is reachable only through one seemingly innocuous page.

This is interesting and architectural; we're talking about actual hypertext structures that we can use, actual effects we can enjoy. Commodity, firmness, delight. (Confidential to IAs: yes, this might be an anti-pattern. Bear with me.)

This particular idea mixes together two separate notions: hypertext gardens (organic link structures designed to create experience and to reveal vistas, not merely for efficient access) and enclaves -- places designed to be difficult to access and whose seclusion adds to their delight.

Easter eggs are enclaves. So are Victory Scenes. Sometimes, archives or back issues can be enclaves, too. In fact, entire weblog clusters can present themselves as an enclave, a hidden discourse community.

Why would we want to build an enclave, other than for the sheer delight of its creation? Could enclaves be good business? Yes! Enclaves filter out especially promising customers. If you know people have found the enclave, you know they're motivated, engaged, and have seen a lot of what you offer. Any time you can get your customers and prospects to self-segment, you've got a great opportunity. Enclaves are destinations, at which your visitors arrive after extensive preparation. You know where they've been, and you've had plenty of time to set the mood and to provide motivation, back-story. You've got a good crowd, in short: go to work.

Dec 02 5 2002

Nowhere Girl

There's no problem at all with the second part of Justine Shaw's web comic, Nowhere Girl. It's absolutely gorgeous. Thanks to Neil Gaiman, quoting an email from Scott McCloud who says "her colors are delicious."