Dec 01 30 2001


The Singapore Art Museum has a very interesting show on Histories, Identities, Technologies, Spaces, with many galleries of electronic installations and net art. The exhibition is gorgeous, with lavish use of space, and it's curated with a very selective eye.

When do Web sites and hypertexts belong in art museums? A hypertext on a plinth seems beside the point, and too much concern with packaging can send us back to bibliolatry and Birkerts. Art museums sometimes seem to have lots of money (although few curators would agree!) and so might be ripe targets for exploitation by clever Web artists, but what then of people (like painters and sculptors) who really have no other hope of having their work seen, or their groceries bought?

In my case, of course, it's a blessing. I'm trying to find a distinct hypertext spirit in Singapore, and here we have a big exhibit custom-made for my research needs. It's convenient for me, but I do wonder whether this will prove, in general, the best way to spread the word.

Dec 01 28 2001

Jane's spaces

In hypertext parlance, a Jane's Space is a part of a hypertext that you can't find in the usual, link-following way. A Web page that's not linked to your site and that's hidden from the search engines is a Jane's space; you can only get there if you happen to know the URL. Jane's spaces are named for Jane Yellowlees Douglas (it's a long story)

I recently wrote a small program that scans Storyspace documents, looking for spaces with text but no inbound links. Of 28 published hypertexts, at least 16 appear to have Jane's spaces. I knew some of these, but the overall total seems extroadinarily high.

Dec 01 26 2001

Book pile

Not long ago, I described the pile of books that totter next to my bed, clamoring urgently to be read. In the National Post, Jeannie Marshall looks at ways people cope with this anxiety. "This late in history,' what shall we choose to read? A simple calculation shows that none of us has enough time left."

"His own advice to people who feel overwhelmed by reading is to try to read for two or three hours every day. And then he laughs. "I have never been able to work out a way to do that," he says. "I do read a lot and I might read for three or four hours one day and might not be able to read at all the next."

A charming Christmas letter from Torill Mortensen on grandmothers, diaries, and memory.

I have descriptions and short notes in a long list of note-books, which I have always used while doing academic work, but I never picked up that leather-bound, gold-edged beautifully printed diary, even to write my name in it.

She mentions that her son is dyslexic. Me too -- or I used to be, anyway. A lot of computer scientists are compensated dyslexics; I spent four years in remedial reading. (Thanks, Mrs. A!)

Dec 01 25 2001


The "yellow-brick road" is a long, twisty corridor that runs through most of the buildings on the NUS campus. Because the campus is build on a ridge, the corridor is usually high above the ground; in my building, it runs through the fourth floor.

The corridor is important because, when it's hot in Singapore, it's very very hot, and walking to class in the shade is a good thing. When it rains here, the rain means business, so walking to class undercover is important even when it's not hot.

Much of the corridor is lined with picnic tables, power sockets, and internet connections, so you can take notes or do Web research anytime you like. The internet sockets (there are thousands and thousands) may soon be replaced with WiFi (802.11b) connectivity.

The Singapore Zoological gardens take the open zoo concept about at far as it can go. Lots of animals appear to be perfectly free to go wherever they want; signs indicate that they are "conditioned" to stay within appropriate parts of the zoo. This means we're walking down a concrete path, gawking at a troop of chimpanzees doing amusing chimp schtick, when ZOOP! down the path goes a little brown furry thing that turns out to be a lemur, swiming from the shrubbery. Then ZOOP! there goes another. ZOOP! ZOOP! ZOOP! ZOOP! go the rest of the gang. Way cool.

Presumably, the free-flying peafowl know that it's OK to hang out with the gibbons, but not so cool to bother the lions. How they learn this is a mystery.

The lay of "Hrodulf, readnosa hrandeor" (Rudolf, Tundra-Wanderer), by Philip Chapman Bell. Thanks, Meryl Cohen!

A nice Jewish boy in Kathmandu seeks enlightenment on the path of the perfect Buddha. In Books.

Dec 01 21 2001

On Storyspace

"in spite of the arrival of the web...., the rise of multimedia, new media, net media, networked media, and nmedia, the role of a tool like storyspace remains unchanged. and all that hypertext theory and writing explored and explores remains as relevant now as it did then for teaching, learning, and critical practices." -- Adrian Miles

I've been reading a variety of Singapore web logs lately. My favorite right now is by Pearl Pan, a student here at the University. It's curiously titled "Smelling Good Today". Pan write with energy, and she paints with even more energy -- and nearly every web log entry is capped with a cartoon of her eponymous character. Just when the web journal settles down into the mundane, it takes a sharp detour:

"hey! did you know that we went to chua chu kang grave yard to plant two trees yesterday morning just before the rain started pouring there!! well, it's nick's late grandpa. he was killed by some hostesses in his 30s... sad drama right? "

Richard Lanham's The Electronic Word is probably the least well-known of the early hypertext classics. A new journal, ECi, features Lanham's superb new essay on The Future of Text.


  -- Beatrice Ward

A side-effect of having my hard disk crash while I'm half way 'round the world from my backups was a forced system upgrade. It went smoothly, and almost everything works as well (or better) than before. I'm an experienced user, of course, and even then I spent several hours getting everything just right, but operating systems are big and complex upgrades.

Changing the OS seems to have broken only one application (EndNote, my footnote manager). I'm writing a lot here in Singapore. So I went ahead and downloaded the upgrade -- something I'd been putting off for some time -- and again everything went well. Not only are the problems fixed, but the application works better than before.

Investing $89 in improving a tool I use all the time is common sense. Software upgrades are a bargain.

Lou Rosenfeld has lots of intriguing ideas about Information Architecture Components -- elements "that get users to content". His newly revised taxonomy includes Browsing Aids, Search Components, Content and Tasks, and "Invisible" (infrastructural) components.

The problem here, as in the Rosenfeld's earlier book, is that the architectural elements are chiefly limited to signage -- labelling systems that identify where you are and tools for instrumental navigation. Architecture isn't about applying labels to spaces, it's about building spaces that label themselves. Louis Sullivan (for follows function) is the classic source, and he famously insisted that the windows of large buildings should indentify what happens inside them, rather than following some arbitrary Palladian scheme.

Trying to separate content from navigation is usually destructive of both. The most important content a hypertext offers is often its self-image, its mental map, the promise it offers the reader. What can I learn here? What can I buy here? Am I welcome? (Who are you? What do you want?)

Even more interesting in Rosenfeld's recent writing is a speculative combination of links and search. Morville's ideas are close to the essence of what Microcosm called Generic Links, although the actual flavor feels like HyperTIES (and, de facto, a little like Ward Cunningham's WIKI). I suspect the oldest implementation was Rosemary Simpson's Gateway, for the LMI Lambda.

Dave Weinberger speculates on some factors that contribute to Web log success.  Many of his conjectures are familiar, but the final point is intriguing: do Web logs that focus on a specific topic last longer and grow faster?

There's remarkably little good information on cultivating a good Web log. There's also too little information on measuring your Web log's impact. How do you know whether your Web log is earning its keep? What should you take into account when thinking about this?

Dec 01 19 2001


Jill and Torill have been talking about the Turing Test, and the odd way Turing poses it in terms of gender.

I think it might be a mistake to read too much into this. Turing was a genius, but also a desperately unhappy gay man who, in the end, killed himself. The gender test is idiosyncratic, but not ridiculous or pernicious as applied in Turing's paper. and most subsequent references place little weight on this particular aspect.

"OK," he drawled. "OK. So you can't be tempted. Well, bully for you. Just one last question, though. What I wanna know is this: who gives you license to sit here and decide what you know, what you think you know, is worth hearing, let alone with teaching?....What gives you the right?"

"Siddhartha reached down with his right hand and lightly touched the earth. There was a stillness in the grove, and Mara could see the eyes staring at him from all directions. Bird eyes, rabbit eyes, snake eyes, mole eyes, bug eyes, tree eyes, stone eyes, all peering at him, surrounding the Buddha, and the wind through the trees whistling."

--Jeff Greenwald, Shopping for Buddhas (Thanks, George Landow)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is broadcast in Singapore every Tuesday night, with Mandarin subtitles.

One interesting difference is that Singapore TV omits the long commercial break that follows the opening credits. This has dramatic impact because we're accustomed to the interruption. Bochco did this in one of his series a few years back, with great impact.

Once a dramatic form establishes a rhythm, small deviations can shock.

Dec 01 18 2001

Meal mishap

Singapore has been non-stop delicious, but we had a misstep last night, wandering into a seafood restaurant where we were simply at sea -- unable to figure out what to order, or in what sequence, how (or whether) things should be eaten.

"Nothing was virtuous." she said afterward.

"We had ma-po tofu. Tofu is virtuous."

"It was deep fried."

Gonzalo Frasca writes that "The only place where play and narrative can coexist is on the PLAY button of your VCR."

This is nicely put, and the point is well taken, but it's not quite right. (The post is dated 3:15 AM). Play and narrative coexist all the time.

Can foreplay be foreplay without narrative? I don't think so. And it's more fun with play...

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day; the score was four to two, with but one inning more to play. And when Cooney died at first, ...

Tosca once told me of a live role playing game in the streets of Barcelona. A player, seeing another gamer, shouted, "I'm going to kill you!" The opponent, surprised, headed swiftly away from the scene, pursued by Tosca, pursued by the constabulary who took a surprising interest in the affair. Everyone ran into a local establishment, where...

The artist, always a canny player, had a pair of eights and an ace showing, and when the lawyer opened his ladies with a quarter, she raised without blinking. So, naturally, I saw them both with my flush, and then ....

Have I ever told you about the time when, terrified of a brutal gym coach, I lost my shoe in the midst of a mile race and continued to run in one shoe and one sock, resulting in mass hilarity and...

The miracle of Coogan's Bluff. Ruth's shot. Merkle's boner. Havlicek stole the ball. The Immaculate Reception. Kerri Strug.

Stories are everywhere. Play is everywhere. Everything is deeply intertwingled.

A new office, mine for the month. It's a short walk from a student canteen that serves all sorts of food I can't (yet) pronounce, and three kinds of tea: with milk, without milk, and Chinese. For lunch I had a tasty Thai soup at the faculty club while discussing academic journal publishing with Prof. Allingham. Joy.

A room of one's own
Dec 01 16 2001

Fast Food

Eric asked for food photos. Here's the first, a S$5 fast food lunch, the Dosa Masala meal. Lots of onions and potatoes and saffron -- which must cost less here than in Boston.

Yesterday's big task was food shopping, stocking our new kitchen with wonderfully strange new things. Linda keeps asking me, "do you know what that stuff is?" I don't, of course, but it's often stuff I've heard about (garam masala) or fairly easy to decipher. Last night, I threw together sauteed salmon with sweet Thai chili sauce, and roasted potatoes with peri-peri spice.

The wet markets look exciting. Piles of little sharks. Varieties of crabs. Shellfish I've never seen. Smoked ducks, whole. I'm still too chicken to buy much, but I'll improve in time.

At the grocery, I saw something labelled "black chicken". It seemed to be raw chicken, but was colored very dark blue-black. It was too flaccid to be tea-smoked, which is what I'd guessed; what is this?

I grew up in Chicago, rebuilt after a disastrous 1871 fire as urbs in horto, the city in a garden. Chicago was planned -- not as the new Paris and Brasilia were planned, but still with deliberation and intent, striving to build an efficient and graceful city at the edge of the already-vanishing prairie.

Singapore is only a little older than Chicago, and its transformation in many ways is no less remarkable than the growth of the City of Big Shoulders, in which individuals who settled in a sleepy six-house outpost lived to see it become the home of the World's Fair. It's greener than Chicago (though the equator helps!), and the university campus has some lovely gardens.

Cyberspace is younger, more populous, and stranger than either city. There, too, we need gardens and parks. The frontier was never a good metaphor for the net, but the bordertown and entrepot are, perhaps, images worth a closer look.

Dec 01 13 2001

We're here

A mere 28 hours in seats 38HK, and here we are in Singapore. We're unpacked and settled, our windows overlook the university on one side and the port on the other. Our internet connection won't be installed for a day or two, but we're here.

Orchard Road is lined with 80,000 holographic mylar tubes that shimmer in the sunlight. It's an interesting effect. A few hours ago, there was snow underfoot; now I'm just a few miles from the equator and Christmas decorating requires serious tech.

Dec 01 11 2001

Fresh Styles

The most challenging and thoughtful Web design book of 2001. In Books.

Frank Rich, in the NY Times, writes "While I wouldn't dare call it treason, it hardly serves the country to look the other way" as Bush and Ashcroft claim that upholding the law amounts to aiding terrorism. "If questioning our leader's competence at a time of war is treason, take me to the nearest military tribunal."

Dec 01 10 2001


eNarrative now features an interview with Information Architect Peter Merholz, creator of PeterMe. Merholz will be at eNarrative 3 San Francisco next January; you can still register!

"One of the big failings of the organization and presentation of content on the Web is that sites offer up information when people aren't receptive to it. "

Jessica Pressman gives a mixed, but essentially positive review to the Cybertext 2000 Handbook. Pressman finds many of the essays of great interest, and if she thinks that some of the arguments might have been expanded or extended, that only shows that her appetite has been throughly prepared for next year's volume.

Pressman does complain of what she calls "the disdainful tone for hypertext that seeps into the editorial spaces," wishing that the editors would maintain "respect for the scholars whose work preceded and prompted [their] own". Editors Eskillinen and Koskimaa take this critique to heart in a furious rejoinder:

In this context it is almost arrogant of Jessica Pressman to imply that we (or the contributors coming from eight different countries and equally heterogeneous intellectual and scholarly traditions) should submit to the same code of ancestral worship that may or may not be in one's best interests while specializing in electronic literature and hypertext narratives at certain US Universities.

I hate bad reviews, too. But this wasn't a bad review, Pressman rather liked the work, and if anyone questioned the accuracy Pressman's perception of disdain, the rejoinder removes the doubt.

The important thing, in my opinion, is to focus on ideas that matter without worrying about personalities and "ancestral worship". Scholarship -- helping readers understand sources and trace the genesis of ideas -- isn't worship. Nor is civility. Academic discussion has acquired an encrustation of formal courtesy not merely because scholars are pompous, but because formality helps keep personalities from contaminating our theories.

A nice article about Eastgate, by D. C. Dennison, appears in the business section of today's Boston Globe.

Driving out of Boston on Route 20, I wasn't really sure whether I was headed into the World Wide Web's past or future. That's because hypertext pioneer Eastgate Systems, which is located in a small professional building just outside of Watertown Square, definitely has a role on both sides of the spectrum.

Gilmoor gets it exactly right on Ashcroft. "It was frightening to hear the nation's top law-enforcement official repeatedly refuse to answer basic questions, especially about the kangaroo courts they're calling military tribunals, where people could be put to death on the vote of two people with no appeal."

Lovely little motion graphics gems from elout de kok. See especially the java-based t4. Thanks, Zannah!

Why have design tech sites gone so cryptic? Look at this site. Look at praystation. I wish we knew whether these gems are also useful. I wish I knew who made them, and why. I wish I knew how they were made. Why not tell? I wonder if this is another side-effect of the Web design board meltdown that closed k10k and dreamless, or a different aesthetic entirely.

A new release of the Boost library is available. Boost is a pre-standard collection of C++ libraries. This is itself an interesting development, a sort of quasi-standard organization that's more agile than an official standard but has the clout to make the library ubiquitous, reliable, and trustworthy.

Dec 01 7 2001

Shelf watch

Derek Powazek stops by his local bookstore to see whether his books are selling. In San Francisco Stories.

Note to Derek: ask the store owner if they'd like to you autograph the unsold copies.

In A List Apart, Adam Greenfield explore the mysterious meltdown that plagued the major Web Design community sites this summer, leading perrenial icons like Dreamless and K10K to shut down.

Between unchecked misogyny, the impotent fantasies, the retread gangsta speech stylings, and the ruminations on which portal does or does not suck, these places have started to feel more like a junior high school cafeteria than creative communities.

Greenfield draws a very useful distinction between design and style. "I think there’s a common misperception, especially among the younger cohort online, that design is an endeavor that concerns the decoration of a surface in an attempt to achieve aesthetic distinction or beauty," he writes, contrasting decoration with "the broad movement towards utility, simplicity, and clarity."

Ken Tompkins compares Ceres, City Desk, and Radio Userland (6 December: no permalink) He likes them all.

Ceres is my favorite. I have to use it on a borrowed -- I got it on loan just to run this software -- Mac running at 120mhz. I like Ceres primarily because it is visual; it inherits the visual modality of StorySpace.

Of course, you don't need to choose. Software isn't either/or, and none of these tools is very expensive.

Tompkins isn't confident that his non-Ivy college students will have access to computers for writing and taking notes. I believe this is a fading concern. If you're serious about college, you need a computer. Students are investing years of their lives and a small fortune from their family (and, through grants and government, from their neighbors). They're investing time they'll never find again and opportunities that will never be repeated. To impair all this for the sake of a $500 computer is, at best, short-sighted.

The new New River has new hypertext poems by Deena Larsen and Edward Falco.

Veteran weblogger B!X reports that Highbridge just cancelled a book contract on his sister's novel, Delilah of Sunhats and Swans. He's started a new weblog about The Battle For Delilah, launched by reprinting the publisher's cancellation letter.

And now, with everyone's attention focused on the events related to the terrorist attack on September 11....the opportinity for a new author's book to receive any type of media coverage is virtually non-existent. Without media coverage, it's impossible to sell books.

B!X calls this "spineless." In reality, though, Highbridge may simply be stuck: business is terrible. Small press publishing is challenging even in good times, and it's a very spotty retail Christmas. The big discounters appear to be making their numbers, but people are cutting back and skipping Christmas: bad news for booksellers.

This must be a brutal time to be a publisher's rep. iPublish, the big AOL/TW ebook division, just closed. Random House dropped their ebook imprint.

Anja Rau tangles with Floran Cramer on whether digital art should be "Code Werk". Cramer (at poesis in Erfurt) distrusts multimedia because it's tied to commerce:

Much digital art and literature became testbed applications for new commercial browser features and multimedia plugins like QuickTime, ShockWave and Flash, but by this locked itself into industry-controlled closed code formats, thereby assuming an uncritical, after all affirmative role in the proprietary reformatting of the Internet.

Cramer's work is very interesting, but this line of argument is problematic. The recent capture of the internet by Microsoft was effected by different means entirely.

Rau, in turn, distrusts "this general condemnation of all that is not text-only, made by and for the pale and lonely graduate student... that I have seen so often in the German scene."

Misplaced concern with the trappings of open source was the strangest aspect of poesis. Only the wealthy can practice their art (or write tools for artists to use) while pretending to exist outside the economy.

Dec 01 6 2001

Tests and Toys

The Web toy of the moment is D. P. Morgan-Mar's Art Test, which likes to think that I'm like a Mondrian.

Perhaps the test is mistaken and I'm more like this Courbet.

You can't see the pearls from the broken necklace in this tiny picture of the huge painting, but they're important)

Morgan-Mar used to study quasars, and now works for IBM doing Web site coding and back-end integration.

Courbet's "Sommeil" appeared in 1866, a year after Manet's Olympia caused a furor. Few remember why Olympia was upsetting, or why Sommeil wasn't.

It's interesting to see how Web journals create an audience for Web toys by building a community of interest. It's not merely the common topic, but also the unfolding narrative, the way ideas move and intersect across the Web.

Gonzalo Frasca says games shouldn't make statements, though Klevjer isn't so sure. People once argued bitterly whether pictures should tell stories.

I am not a Mondrian, and this is not a page.

Dec 01 5 2001

Scam Jam

I've been receiving another batch of the Nigerian Fraud Letter -- the now-familiar plea for help defrauding a third-world government by lending a stranger your bank account. They used to come in the post, now they come in email. I get one every week or so.

But I had no idea how many people fall for the scam. According to

U. S. Secret Service agents have been assigned on a temporary basis to the American Embassy in Lagos to locate and rescue potential victims. In one month alone, in the summer of 1995, agents extricated seven U.S. victims from Nigeria, though one American was murdered while pursuing his lost money and numerous other foreign nationals have been reported as missing.

The key difference between Ceres (used as a web log tool) and traditional web log tools (Blogger, Gray Matter, Moveable Type) is that Ceres runs on your machine. That makes some things harder to do, but other things are much easier.

One of the easy things, much of the time, is adding new features to your site.

For example, I've always typed a "new stuff" note at the top of this column, pointing to new items on other pages on this site. Starting today, lots of the "new stuff" is entered automatically by Ceres. Whenever I add a book, an agent adds a link. Whenever something new goes to TechnoCrit, an agent adds a link.

This didn't require any programming or scripting. You can do it yourself. And if you don't like the way it works here (perhaps you'd like to list three books instead of one?), you can change it.

Adrian Miles contributes a fascinating hypertext garden, exploring what links mean in "Realism and a General Economy of the Link"

Diane Greco has called for a critical practice in hypertext that engages with political and ideological problems of representation, that looks inside of (or behind) our assumptions about why hypertext appears in the forms that it does. This essay is a preliminary beginning along the path she described. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.

Victor Lombardi observes that the best part of Wodtke's new Elegant Hack design is its adoption of topical categories. Indeed, the ability of organize notes by topic rather than dumping them into a big chronological scroll was one of the key talking point for Ceres.

A year ago, this aspect got no traction in the Web community. I'd talk about categories and Web journals with leading webloggers and information architects and they'd look blank, where the other advantages of Ceres (visual tools, your data is yours, XML, extensible, fast) got an immediate and enthusiastic response.

Now, categories are coming into style. And Ceres is coming soon: we're on schedule.

Does anyone know a close reading of Uncle John's Band? I think I understand Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and (perhaps) 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I'm still can't get the big picture of the Grateful Dead classic.

It's a buckdancer's choice my friend -- better take my advice: You know all the rules by now, and the fire from the ice.

Dec 01 3 2001

The Look

At the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, an intriguing collection of fashion photography by classic Vogue photographers Horst and Hoyningen-Huene. Don't miss this if you have any interest in photography, even if commercial photography leaves you cold; this is the real thing.

Looking at these images, it's striking how subdued their sexual energy is. Horst and Huene were gay, and the point of fashion photography was to emphasize the dress, not the woman, but these are portraits of bodies at rest in a world in motion. It's true of the pictures of men, too; aside from one early portrait of Horst (and, perhaps, a boyish and very young Katherine Hepburn), there's nothing here with the sexual energy of Man Ray or Stieglitz.

I do hope this impression arises from the work, and not because someone cleansed the file of homoerotic images in the wake of Mapplethorpe.