Jan 08 30 2008

Chase: Hannah

Photographer Richard Chase has a new photo-essay.

I no longer trust my email. If you send me mail, I will probably receive it, but I'm far from certain that it won't be lost in the vast deluge of spam.

Meanwhile, Eudora is obviously past its sell-by date; my spam bucket overflows every month, and apparently Eudora crashes when it has more than 32,768 messages in a mailbox. With a mere thousand spam messages a day, that's suddenly a very real possibility.

Do grownups rely on Is there another option?

Bad times.

I no longer trust the eighth amendment; the US Attorney General says that any interrogation method is justified if it might save lives.

I no longer trust the fourth amendment, either; the government is currently free to read your email, or to listen to any telephone call that happens to be routed internationally. Whether there is probable cause or not is, apparently, not relevant.

Bad times.

Steve Frank gets today's tech journalism exactly right in his review of Trees. Thanks Kottke!.

Pros: Oxygen; Can be nice to look at; Fruit sometimes

Cons: Sometimes messy; Walking hazard; Can fall on house/you

Overall Verdict: Good, although not without flaws

Jan 08 28 2008

Audible Spam

It looks to me like Audible, the audiobook download service, is being spammed by its suppliers.

The listings of new releases in 20th century History, for example, are swamped by listings of tiny "audiobooks", many of them running a minute or two, of individual articles from the Britannica. I was looking for a biography of Gen. Bernard Montgomery, but if I need to wade through a hundred spam listings, I can always read my email.

The main page "what's new" is likewise swamped by many copies of a phony "Valentine's Day Astrological Gift Guide" in separate "editions" for each sign of the zodiac, and perhaps for each birthday and hair color.

And the site is slow. It's always been slow. It's worse.

It's a pain. But they already have my money, so I'll put up with it until my subscription runs out. Sigh.

The Clinton-Obama horserace obscures an important and interesting dynamic: American progressives and liberals will like either candidate more than any candidate in recent memory.

A fact of life in US politics, essentially for as long as anyone can remember, is that the Reform and Progress was always allied with the South — a region that cared only about the preservation of its peculiar racial practices. The GOP owned New England; the Southern alliance was the only way an opposition could operate nationally.

The last vestige of this system gave us a serious of compromised candidates who were the mildest of progressives, the most tentative and safe of reformers. Humphrey — not the firebrand of 1948 but the timid veep of 1968 — gave way to Carter, Clinton, Kerry. Except for the hopeless crusade for McGovern, you could go back a long way indeed as a Democrat without a presidential candidate who was really someone you could wholeheartedly support.

And by this I don't mean a perfect candidate. I mean a candidate who was basically right on most of the key issues and core values.

This year, it's different, because either way this year we get a choice between a truly terrible administration and a Democrat who is right. You might prefer Clinton, you might prefer Obama. Either one is miles better than Bush.

And, this time, there won't be a Dixie anchor to impede Progress. New York and New England are the Solid North. It's going to be hard; Bush is determined to leave lots of wreckage in his wake and to deplete the treasury before he leaves. But, either way, it's going to be the first time since Roosevelt I that progressives had a nominee with which they could be entirely at home.

Jan 08 25 2008


It's Meyer lemon time, and so I grabbed Lost Desserts and made some almond tuille bowls to fill with lemon curd. Linda pointed out that making almone tuille bowls is not really something one ought normally to undertake at 10pm; she herself had once made crêpes for her French class with her mother at that hour, the crêpes hand turned out badly (and late), and so she'd had to avoid going to school at all the next day. Mother was not pleased.

And the almond tuille bowls turned out to be more or less planar, because the tuille was not spread thin enough. Too timid! Alas! But I bet they'll go with the lemon curd anyway.

Eric Meyer pulls off a spectacular stunt: a nice timeline (here's a sample) built entirely in CSS, using only simple and straightforward markup. Here are his notes on the CSS style sheets. Wild.

Jan 08 24 2008


I'm playing with following Rachel Cunliffe's trend of the moment and formatting the post date on these weblog items as a calendar page. This is all done with Tinderbox templates and (fairly simple) standard markup.

In the old template, we had a simple date tag:

<div class="date">24 Jan 2008</div>

All we do now is add a little extra markup to pull out the separate field:

<div class="date">
<span class="month">Jan 2008</span>
<span class="day">24</span>

The actual formatting is handled in CSS, and I'm not entirely happy with the details. But it's not really very difficult, it's a change from the conventional format, and perhaps it saves some space.

by David Lodge

Aaron Swartz raved over this book's sequel, Small World . Since his 2006 booklist led me to Thomas Geoghegan's wonderful Which Side Are You On?, I read this year's list with special care, and followed Swartz's suggestion to begin with the first book in the series.

A whimsical 1975 novel about two English professors who exchange their chairs for a semester. One chair is at the University of Rummidge, somewhere in the Midlands; the green tile on the English building suggests Lincoln. The other chair is at Berkeley — I mean Euphoria State, which is located across the Bay from the city of Esseph. It's the sixties, and this book was probably sexier (and more shocking) when it was new, but it's a funny little piece and it certainly has its moments.

Update: I'm told that the green tiles are a red herring: Rummidge is Birmingham.

Jan 08 23 2008

Web Evolution

News just arrived of a really interesting workshop, prognosticating the evolution of the Web. It's in Beijing on April 22, and chaired by David DeRoure and Wendy Hall.

Why is the Web the way it is? How will the it evolve? What will it be like in 5 years time — or 20, or 100?

Rachel Cunliffe and cr8d Design identifies some blog design trends of the moment:

  • calendar-page dates
  • handmade elements
  • wide layouts
  • right-hand sidebars

She also finds less demand for the big, rounded typefaces that characterize the Web 2.0 look.

Jan 08 18 2008

Meta Review

Scott Rosenberg celebrates the one-year anniversary of his book, Dreaming In Code, which just had its fifth printing, with a nice discussion of my review.

Observe: critical community in action — at net speed.

I particularly love the way he refers to Chandler, the software project his book examines, as "Beckettian".

I'll be speaking this March at Blogtalk 2008 in Cork, Ireland, about "NeoVictorian, Nobitic, and Narrative: ancient anticipations and the meaning of weblogs."

Want to get together while I'm in Ireland? Should we set up a Tinderbox day in Dublin, or London? Email me.

The New York Times, reporting that Europeans and Asians know more basic science than Americans, explains that

Many Americans remain ignorant about much of science, the board said. Many are unable to answer correctly when asked whether Earth moves around the Sun (it does).

I'd love to know exactly what led to that last parenthetical. Do the editors of the Times really think that their readers don't understand that the earth orbits the sun? (Thanks, tristero on digby)

Jan 08 15 2008

Signed Software

Mark Mzyk of Lulu agrees that software designers should sign their work.

It's MacWorld keynote day. Bound to be interesting.

Tim Bray makes a great point: small improvements in the operating system quietly make a very significant difference. Like Tim, I made a mistake a few days ago and thought I was in Big Trouble, only to realize that Time Machine would undo to blunder in a minute or two. It's just a backup tool, but it gets things done.

For small offices: do you backup all your computers to one Time Machine drive, or does each computer still have its own backup disk? Email me.

I'm also intrigued by the Drobo, an external enclosure for network backup drives.

Bray also mentions that

But what’s really cool is that these days, if there’s a date or a time in an email message, you can click on it and it’ll make an effort to figure out event details and jam them into iCal automatically. It gets lots of things wrong, but usually not the time, so at least you get an event opened up at the right place in the screen, so you can fix up any mistakes and put the details in the “Notes” field.

I didn't know that! This is an interesting aspect of design for a changing system: how does the program tell you about new things, without interfering with getting your everyday work done?

Another interesting hack: DTerm lets you pop up a tiny terminal with a hotkey, giving you a command line anywhere. Now, I know some people who live on the command line and really care about Terminal, but I visit the command line for special tasks (and nostalgia). I'd never have thought about this, if Gordon Meyer hadn't mentioned it on Twitter the other day. But perhaps this would work. Perhaps it might be something you'd use all the time. Also interesting because the product page is completely centered on a video demo, and that demo really zips.

Jan 08 14 2008

Annual Report

I like to use Tinderbox to keep lists of things I do, in part because the lists are so useful for reflection. Feltron's annual report combines elegant reflection with interesting record-keeping — and unusual categories:

  • Burglars confronted at apartment window: one
  • Teeth lost by cat: one
  • Museum visits: 8
Annual Report

Jeff Abboot (whose most recent book is Fear has started a particularly intriguing discussion of using Tinderbox to plan novels (and nonfiction books) is under way at The Tinderbox Forum.

Jan 08 11 2008

Writing Spaces

I again call your attention to fascinating dual weblogs by writers Steve Ersinghaus and Susan Gibbs, describing their experiences writing hypertexts with Storyspace.

Here’s one of the writing spaces that developed from a thematic link on the irrevocable in Paths. One of the beauties here is that the link is used to develop a strong force in story. Things get lost and we miss what is no longer in place.
Jan 08 8 2008

Shadow Unit

Shadow Unit is a Web serial thriller, by Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette & Will Shetterly.

The F.B.I.'s Behavioral Analysis Unit hunts humanity's nightmares. But there are nightmares humanity doesn't dream are real.

The Behavioral Analysis Unit sends those cases down the hall.

Welcome to Shadow Unit.

Might be a ton of fun.

John Tolva picked NeoVictorian Computing for one of his top links of 2007.

Kathryn Cramer finds a mouse festival in her spare room.

Jan 08 2 2008


We kicked off the new year with Chef's Whim at Craigie Street Bistrot, the tiny little Cambridge restaurant where Tony Maws cooks. Jan. 1 poses some problems for restaurants after the explosive bash of New Years Eve, and so the proposition was simple: you reserve a table, the chef will make something.

I've had good luck with this in the past. Usually, they plan out interesting wine pairings, but last night was more whimsical than usual: every table was being sent different things, so no standard wine pairings. "We find out what he's making you a few minutes before you do," they explained. "But we can make some general recommendations based on what he's working on in the kitchen."

It was great fun. Lots of courses — the spec said six, but Linda counted nine. Lots of surprising and interesting dishes. Some Wellfleet clams with squid-ink dashi emulsion. A lovely bean ragu with a perfect little egg, bits of chicken confit, and a delicious sauce. A meltingly-tender, calvados-braised pork shank. (We'd never have ordered this off the menu, but it's really good; that's the point of Whim.)

Eight Things Meme, via Cathy Marshall.

  1. I took remedial reading from first through fourth grade. Our Gillingham class was actually quite strong, and I guess in lots of ways it was, for me, crucial. I'm still a slow reader.
  2. I played tight end. And 2B. Badly.
  3. I used to shoot very fast lasers at small molecules, and listen to the sound waves made by the fragments. First, you'd have a flash of ultraviolet light, and then you'd have a flash of visible light just a few picoseconds later; if the ultraviolet light created some exotic, short-lived molecular fragment that happened to absorb visible light, the fragment would absorb some of the second flash and make more noise. It worked surprisingly well.
  4. The great classicist Russell Meiggs once called a paper of mine "a plucky effort:" a much nicer compliment, in its way, than all those big numbers on science exams.
  5. My basement is full of machines I couldn't part with, until they became impossible to unload. Including an Ohio Scientific 6502 with 8K of RAM and a cassette drive, which cost about as much as today's iMac.
  6. I wrote a computer game, Wargle, that was a minor hit at Harvard in the 80's and was published by Hayden, back when Hayden was expected to be a Force in the software industry because they had distribution.
  7. My great grandfather stepped out of the house to pick up some milk one day, and nobody in the family knows where he went or what happened next.
  8. As a child, I was convinced that it was important to pay attention to airplanes you are on, lest they fall down. This conviction found its way into the psychiatric literature. But have you noticed how turbulence frequently accompanies tea and coffee service? They serve coffee and suddenly nobody is paying attention: instead, we have a lot of distracted people fiddling with their cream and sugar, and the plane begins to shake.

Rail programmer Zed Shaw has lost patience with management and, for our New Year's entertainment, has burned his bridges in a blazing indictment nailed to the wall of the Web 2.0 industrial complex.

He calls it, "Rails is a Ghetto." This is wrong: he's not arguing that Rails is a place where the authorities confine people like him, walling them off from the rest of the populace. He's arguing that the Rails neighborhood is turning into a slum. That's a different thing.

But it's sobering to read that a consultant/hired gun, working in a very hot technology, could write that

During 2006 I was effectively homeless for about 4-6 months out of the year and made no money at all. During the rest of the year the little money I made was impossible to get, and many times I was simply not paid.

See also Richard Saunders, who received a letter from a former colleague urging him to never code again.

Please especially never write an EJB to facade and EJB that facades a utility class that facades a hack to do something. Please never leave someone with a mound of code that has methods which each have 4 lines in them. Please never write code that is unaccompanied by even the most trivial unit tests.

This might be a legitimate beef, or it might be a style conflict. Layering a facade on a facade is certainly a code smell, but it might be the right thing if it isolates some ugliness that you can't immediately banish. Four-line methods used to be deplorable but lots of people now consider them respectable and even desirable, especially if the object is going to have lots of clients or lots of variation. Short methods can require less documentation — that's the point of “the source is the doc” — and sometimes short methods can let you scrimp on unit tests as well.

A good new year's resolution for all: tech flames are not necessarily good for your inner light.