Jan 04 31 2004

Long Stories

These days, on the way to work I'm listening to a wonderful, dramatic reading of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. It's a grand reading (by Pullman, assisted by a large cast) of a grand tale; the first volume of a trilogy, this runs almost 11 hours. The effect is marvelous, a gradual unfolding, like a bedtime story for grownups.

I'm spending many evenings these days with Linda, watching Babylon 5 from start to finish. We're at the crossroads now, War Without End, and the tales of the Night Watch are a good reminder that politics matter.

And then my night-time reading is Russell Meiggs' Roman Ostia, a textbook I'm revisiting after many years because, next month, I'm planning to actually be there, to spend some time at the intersection of the Decumanus and the Cardo. In my book, Roman Ostia defines the term 'masterful'. But it, too, is a big story -- 722 pages, closely printed and closely reasoned.

Jon Buscall is preparing a lecture on essay writing, using Tinderbox.

I've been using Tinderbox actively in the classroom for over six months now --two to three times a week. As a consequence of this, even some of my colleagues who are suspicious about ICT and computers in general are beginning to ask me for a demonstration of the program.
Jan 04 28 2004


If it's important to study the materiality of electronic art -- a matter of which I'm no longer convinced -- then is it important to study game boxes? Are the boxes as important as the game? Should Game Studies be running a special issue on cover art?

This question has immediate practical importance because, at Eastgate, we've got a lot of old game boxes and too little space. If you're interested in a collection of computer games from the late 1980's through the present, with or without boxes, email me.

Gavin Sade is exploring Tinderbox for project planning. (Jan 24: no permalink) Key affordances include:

  • the use of agents to sort and organize notes
  • the program's ability to reorganize hierarchy and linking quickly
  • prototypes for flexible inheritance

Sade also uses the Roadmap, which is often overlooked even by experienced Tinderboxers.

Jan 04 27 2004


I just spent two very solid days revamping my paper files. Some of this involved pleasant trips down memory lane, such as finding the originals for Bernstein & Thorsen 87, my first hypertext paper. But lots of it was simply dusty.

It's amazing how files pile up.

Congratulations to Derek Powazek and Heather Champ. (Observe how, in a word-saturated medium, silence says a lot)

Bill Cole observes a bit of grumpiness in the blogosphere, ranging from his own reprimand of GrandTextAuto:

Andrew [Stern] claims he doesn't want to start a terminology debate, but it would seem that he is doing just that. . . . It's the same smug superiority with which many second-generation hypertext/e-literature/game studies critics (including, I believe, some of the GTxA drivers) have rebuked first-generation hypertext critics for those critics' smug superiority when comparing hypertext to print.

There's plenty of discontent at misbehaving, and elsewhere.

I guess it's not a party until something gets broken.

For the past two weeks, I've been up to my elbows in Tinderbox For Windows work.

We've turned a big corner on this construction project. We've poured the foundation, now, and in the last two weeks we've made tremendous progress on the frame. It's still a long way from being Tinderbox, but now, when you look around, you can see the outlines of the way it will be. "This, here, is the living room -- the fireplace is over there, and right there you can see where the window overlooking the pond will go."

I'm hoping to reopen the Peekhole shortly, now that the all the work isn't technical and obscurely sub-fusc.

Curt Rosengren, who works as a passion catalyst, writes about Capturing Your Idea Gems.

" How do you make sure those idea-gems don't disappear? I often use what I call a "Daydream Catcher

Gordon Meyer expands on using Tinderbox -- and paper cards -- to get ideas down before they slip away.

t will come as no surprise to regular readers that I use Tinderbox to gather, record, and mine my ideas longer-term. As this article from Innovation Tools points out, if you use an analog method of capturing notes, eventually you'll want to move them into your computer. For me, that mostly means Tinderbox.

James Vornov has some interesting thoughts as well.

Dutch Physicist Joritt Wiersma shows us his first Tinderbox sketch, a plan for a research paper he wants to write.

I like the way this first experiment worked out. The map creates a nice visual representation of how the information that I want to put in the article might be ordered and it gives me a hold how to go from one concept to another.

It's alway fascinating to see how people use spatial hypertext tools like Tinderbox in the field. For years, the only way to study spatial hypertext usage was in the lab; now, we can see all sorts of people using the tools for work.

In an amicus curiae brief, a group of military lawyers argue that the government's claim to try "enemy combatants" in Guantanamo, without recourse to the courts, is identical to one of the reasons the United States rebelled against King George III:

"The colonists who wrote our Declaration of Independence penned, among their charges against King George, that "[h]e has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power"; "depriv[ed] us

Salon has excerpts from the brief.

so far as Amicus is aware, the American Government has never before consciously created a trial process, courtroom, and other accoutrements of judicial process outside the battlefield and housed them all in an area calculated to divest civilian jurisdiction.
The most direct precedent comes from 1660s England, where Lord Clarendon shipped prisoners to military "garrisons" to evade habeas corpus. Clarendon's actions, which became part of his impeachment trial, were rebuked by Parliament's 1679 Habeas Corpus Act, and form a crucial event in the development of the writ [of habeas corpus] .
Jan 04 17 2004


Friday, the Cambridge Museum of Fruits and Vegetables had a special on albacore tuna. Since Thursday's dinner had been Diane's string beans with crispy prosciutto (5 January), and since Kathryn has been learning alarming things about fish, it seemed like a good change.

So, I got home at 8 and threw a pint of vegetable stock in a saucepan, along with a minced shallot and couple of cloves of garlic. Leave simmering.

Then, while Linda asked about the fish (the Museum tells you so much about the food that Linda now expects to hear where it grew up and what school it attended), I patted dry a couple of 4oz tuna steaks, dusted them with kosher salt and cayenne, and dredged them in a plate of freshly ground rosemary and pepper.

I warmed a couple of skillets. The cooler burner got a little oil, some more minced garlic, and a colander of spinach to wilt. The hot burner got some olive oil and some butter and some high heat to sear the tuna. (These were really thick -- about 2" -- so after 90 seconds/side I finished them for 7 minutes in a 275 over).

The spinach goes in the bottom of the bowls. Top with a couple of anchovies. Spoon the reduced broth over the spinach. Top with the seared tuna, hot from the over. The bottle of Julienas worked out well, too.

Jan 04 16 2004

The Great

Joshua Micah Mitchell (Talking Points Memo) won a journalism award yesterday, but the highlight of his day was meeting legendary historian Arthur Schesinger, Jr. at the party.

Anja Rau met her film hero in the street. ("Who is it?", we wonder. A clever narrative hook...)

It's always special to meet someone you've read for years. When I was about twelve, I went to a AAAS convention in Philadelphia. Waiting in line at the hotel pharmacy, I found myself right behind Louis Leakey, the paleontologist...

A year ago, lots of people though Apple was going nuts.

I wrote a note on Reading Apple, where I suggested that Apple's 2003 moves were fundamentally strategic and farsighted. (Back then, a lot of people thought Apple was tilting at silly windmills)

That note looks awfully good in retrospect. iLife was a Microsoft defense, and it worked: Keynote and Safari did turn out to be successes, they demonstrate that Apple could survive the loss of Office, and they apparently managed to communicate this without infuriating Microsoft. And Apple quietly reinforced the message in Panther, in where TextEdit demonstrates that Apple is prepared to field a Word-compatible word processor if it must.

But there was one thing I'd forgotten: iTunes/iPod/GarageBand. I still don't quite see where iPod is going, but I'm enjoying mine.

While the whole business press crowd was rolling their eyes and giggling, Apple's design and marketing crew got very, very good. They've got the white machines; the cool Microsoft machines are black; the hoi polloi wear beige.

Diane Greco (14 Jan, no permalink) picks up on Jon Buscall's use of Tinderbox for mapping out his next novel.

This is cool. He's got the manuscript in chunks and now he's using Tinderbox for rewriting.
He uses links to keep track of cuts. He uses these links visually. When he cuts something, it goes in a little box that is linked to the prose chunk it came from. This is important for a novelist because you need to know where things come from as you write. If a character has a boyfriend in chapter 4, she can't be single again in chapter 7 unless a breakup has happened in the meantime.

In other Tinderbox news, Rosario Fernandez has an iKey macro that copies a clipping from a Web browser and pastes it into a Tinderbox note.

Scott McCloud's micropayment experiment continues with the second part of The Right Number.

Jan 04 14 2004

Help Wanted 1

Eastgate's looking for an advisor who

  • Uses iChat or AIM quite a bit
  • Can field questions on C++, especially STL
  • Can field questions on MFC
  • Can help solve puzzles in CSS
  • $6
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This doesn't all have to be one person. From time to time, we'll buzz you with quick questions -- things that will take from 30 seconds to five minutes to sort out. Recent examples include:

  • C++: do functors get passed by value or reference? How do you declare them?
  • CSS: what's the attribute, again, that tells the browser to discard whatever doesn't fit?
  • $6
  • $7
  • $8
  • $9

Incentives include really good chocolate chip cookies, free software, and modest fees. Interested?  Email me.

Jon Buscall, who wrote the novel, discusses novel writing in Tinderbox. He shows us a picture of part of the Tinderbox map of his new novel.

Some nice examples of information farming in research, including some lovely Tinderbox maps from active notes, are on view at Gavin Sade's site on Envisioning Our Cybernetic Environments.

Jan 04 13 2004


I left the office, late last night, to find I had a flat tire.

In fact, I had two flat tires. One of the flat tires is less than a week old.

Jan 04 11 2004


The new Railroad Tycoon III is a lot like the 2nd-generation game, but with a 3D graphic engine and a new economic model. Since the 2nd-generation game was, in my opinion, the best business sim written to date, it's a promising development.

In Tekka 4 (coming very soon), I have an essay about the problems of business games. Business should be a wonderful topic for dramatic games:

The world of work is filled with conflict and tension, with difficult decisions we're expected to resolve instantly, with casual choices of the gravest import. Shall we obey our boss, someone who rightly expects our loyalty, if betraying her would be more profitable? If our boss is a tyrant, a sadist, a fool, is our betrayal justified? What are we to do when our leader is following a course that can only lead to her destruction? What are we to do when we find ourselves hopelessly in love with a subordinate, or a vendor, or a customer?

But you won't find any of this on the game shelves. One reason, of course, is the apparent inability or unwillingness of games to address emotional questions. Another reason, of course, is that people don't seem to find the work world very interesting these days.

An interesting feature of the game site is an Official Fansite Kit, which you're invited to download.

Having a good laptop bag is really handy; if you have plenty of place to put things, odds are you'll actually find you have those things when you get to Aarhus or Atlanta or wherever you suddenly discover that you need a different dongle.

The TiBook has a wonderful, big knapsack, but I'm looking around for a suitable bag for Progress, the new Sony TR2. That's tricky, because the TR2 is so small that most laptop bags don't hold it securely. Suggestions? Email me!

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Jan 04 9 2004

Laptop Lessons

Just before the end of the year, I discovered that the Windows laptop we'd pencilled in for 2004 had to be purchased Right Now. (I use a TiBook for most of my work, but Eastgate needs a supplementary Windows laptop)

As it happened, Dave Winer had just been through much the same experience: his laptop failed in the middle of a trip, and he reported his subsequent experience in some detail. Scoble went shopping with Winer. Ultimately, Dave chose an IBM T40, which he likes a lot.

Dan Bricklin wrote earlier this year about tablet computers. He uses the Fujistu, and so I wrote and asked him for advice, too. Dan, in turn, pulled Bob Frankston into the discussion. Then, I had a great talks with Feedster's Scott Johnson, hot Tinderboxer (and ex-CTO) Doug Miller, Avaki's Philip Werner, and lots of other people, compressed into about three days. In some way, the discussion was as interesting as the laptop shopping:

  • Dell is radically out of favor. Last year's business genius, perhaps inevitably, is this year's old news.
  • $9

The big surprise was that busy and important computer professionals love to talk about laptops. These are pros, computers are everyday tools for them, many have had laptops for decades, but people were simply interested in these machines. There's an important lesson about the market here.

I started out looking for a big, honking 8-pounder and wound up with the smallest laptop on the table -- a Sony TR2, weighing in at 3.1 lbs, with a 1280x768 screen, onboard WiFi, and a combo drive.

It's called Progress.

Jan 04 6 2004

More Lists

Jeremy Cherfas has started his own film list on his Tinderbox weblog.

Jan 04 5 2004


Most operating systems represent dates, internally, as a length of time since a fairly recent date. For example, the Macintosh counts the number of seconds that have passed since midnight, January 1, 1904.

What is the best, most convenient representation for old dates -- say, January 1, 1660/1?

Aaron Swartz suggests TAI64.

A danger of improving linkage in your weblog is that doing this improves linkage in your weblog -- and leads people to take a fresh look at some things you wrote that look silly in retrospect. Like this prediction, from 2001:

The GOP will lose the Senate (and probably the House) in 2002, but by then the damage may already be irreversible.

And here's an update on Kaycee Nicole:

Web professionals all over the world are smiling today, because KC is not just in remission -- she's even off her IV!

You read it here first, perhaps; if so -- sorry! Thanks, Aaron Swartz! A lot!

A problem with conventional weblog category schemes is that they're a pain to set up. When you add a category, it's empty. So it's one more thing to worry about, and remember, every day -- and an empty category is merely a liability.

A nice thing about Tinderbox agents is that they let you add a category page to an existing weblog, populate it with relevant posts, and automatically update it every day. For example, over the past year I've discovered the work of Louis Menand, who Diane Greco brought to my attention. In Tinderbox, I can quickly make an agent that collects everything that mentions Menand (except not anything still filed among my private drafts).

In 45 seconds, I've built and populated a new category. Here it is. And I made a discovery: months and months before Greco told me about Menand, I'd blogged his marvelous New Yorker analysis of The Cat In The Hat. I didn't know that!

"But that was then, a long time gone. Now we have something different: we have "anything goes" without the spirit. "Transgression

Agents aren't completely free. Since agents constantly scan your writing, a large array of agents operating over an extensive body of text -- such as a weblog that goes back to 2001 -- can slow things down. And, if agents make it easy to create lots of categories, that could lead to new kinds of confusion. There's no free lunch. But it's a new set of affordances and a new set of tradeoffs, and that's the name of our game.

Will Richardson asks whether weblogs improve writing. He thinks "the jury is still out on that one." But we already know the verdict.

Frequent writing improves writing. We've been teaching this lesson since time began: writers write. The streets of the city are full of people who wanted to write, but never could manage to do it; instilling the habit of frequent writing is the indispensable first step. Weblogs require regular updates; weblogs improve writing.

Writing for an audience improves writing. Why else have we developed our elaborate apparatus of writing workshops, seminars, student magazines, and literary magazines? Weblog provide an audience; weblogs improve writing.

Writing that matters improves writing. Writers only develop by attempting work that matters to them. You can, perhaps, develop voice and technique by writing grocery lists, but writing about things that matter is, ultimately, essential to a writer's development. So, too, is developing a facility for shifting among topic and genre, lest the writer become an ad-writer or an obit-writer or an insurance writer. To be effective, weblogs cross genre. To be timely, weblogs cross topic. Weblogs improve writing.

Writing on a computer improves writing. We've done the experiment, and the advantage was so overwhelming that today, just about everyone who writes professionally, whose work depends on writing, either writes on a computer or writes elsewhere as an dramatic, performative statement. Weblog tools are computer tools -- especially client-side tools like Tinderbox and City Desk: weblogs improve writing.

Lots of kids don't care. That's not news, or evidence. They never did, they never will. Not everyone wants to be a writer. Especially not when they're 15. Teaching is a tough racket.

Do Weblogs Improve Writing?
Pat Delaney, in his library, preparing for EdBlogger 2003

For the post below, I wanted to know, "how old is this weblog?" This weblog is older than Tinderbox, but the oldest Tinderbox note turns out to be a discussion of the Scandinavian-flavored weblog cluster, triggered by the debut of "an intriguing weblog by comparative media scholar Elin Sjursen." (Her weblog has since moved)

Since last August, Elin has been working here at Eastgate.

You never know.

Jan 04 1 2004

Beyond Weblogs

We know how important weblog are. And we have learned, gradually, that traditional weblogs aren't enough.

Simple chronological order gives new things prominence, and that's important. This is the great contribution of Blogger and its kin. But, in time, posts pile up. Soon, they wind up in the archives -- and weblog archives are almost useless. Making new things visible -- and encouraging frequent updates, is terrific. But, alone, it's not enough.

Google makes a difference, because Google finds a use for weblog archives. That's real value. But it's not enough.

Categories make a difference, by providing topical archives. That's important, because categories help isolate some posts of lasting value. But category pages just postpone the original weblog crisis, because eventually the category pages themselves fill up. Categories are great -- and Tinderbox agents make categories (like this one) really easy to assemble on the fly -- but categories aren't enough.

Links make the difference. That's the lesson of Fagerjordian weblogs, which add a network of meaningful connections to extend and restructure weblogs into organic and lasting resources. From Channel Z to Fagerjord to Miller's remembrance agent, rich linking is the new direction in weblog design.

When Pat Delaney question weblogs as a writing environment, writing that "it was clear from the beginning that a blog's potential as writing space was matched by its limitations," the big limitation is the intractability of that long, long scroll. We're used to it, we've adapted to its limitations and we've designed around it.

So, here's the seed of a new beginning. Not much visible change -- just some dim links that follow some posts, links that look pretty much like category links. But there's more here:

  • I've set Tinderbox to export a separate page for each post, blosxom style. This adds a second permalink, and makes direct linking to posts much easier.
  • The hypertext links are built with Tinderbox links, which means we have the power of fast searching and point-and-click linking. That's important, because we've learned that, unless it's easy to link, links will get left out.
  • All this is an experiment, and a work in progress. Pardon the dust, and please let me know about problems.
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I watched about 33 movies last year. Most of them were pretty good. I know this because I have a little corner of my Tinderbox weblog where I jot down their titles. Why do I do this?

It's good to know what you're doing. Thirty-one movies sounds like a lot of movies. Especially when some are very long: Band of Brothers runs ten hours, a season of Buffy runs about 14 hours. But it's not. For example, I've been thinking that it would be good thing to have seen all of Ebert's 100 Great Films. But, if we figure that at least ten movies a year are must-see new releases, that project either requires a lot more movie time or a five year plan.

It's easy. All it takes is a moment to open the note named movies and add a line.

^do(movieGood,Finding Nemo)

It's good to look back, too. Adaptation and The Apartment and Picnic at Hanging Rock seem so long ago. It was only last January. Tempus fugit.

It's resolution day, of course.

If you're using Tinderbox this morning to jot down your resolutions and plan their implementation, remember not to be too hard on yourself. Make sure some of the resolutions can be achieved -- soon. Sure, your reach should exceed your grasp, but sore arms are a pain in the neck.

Remember that some of your resolutions need to be fun -- fun to work on, and fun to accomplish. If everything on your New Year's List inspires guilt, you won't see it again until next year.

And remember, everybody: have a Happy New Year!