MarkBernstein.org
Jul 06 31 2006

Better Bacon

Savenor's had some slabs of bacon from feral pigs -- real wild boars. I grabbed a pound. It's terrific.

I used some with a pork tenderloin that night, improvising a simplified sauce Robert. Sunday brunch, we had some nice streaky rashers with buttermilk pancakes. ("Do you want round or funny=shaped?") At dinner, I put some crispy lardons in a nifty succotash salad with fresh corn, sauteed onion and summer squash, some bits of pastrami-cured salmon I made last week, and a bit of smoked chicken breast. Yum!

It costs about twice as much as regular (good) bacon. That's not necessarily a bad thing: I need to treat bacon fat as expensive anyway. I understand that wild pigs are an unpleasant menace, too, so we're helping to control a potential hazard, and probably also providing some amusing afternoons for people down in Texas.

Is it just me, or has Technorati's database succumbed to the barbarian hordes? Lately, my technorati feeds are filled with inappropriate hits. Some are link farms -- the link farmers are getting cleverer, creating bogus pages that look superficially real -- but others seem inexplicable.

Perhaps the link farmers are pinging technorati and then swapping out the page and replacing it after the technorati robot visits? Wouldn't that be clever?

It's late-afternoon on the East coast, and the top 5 entertainment posts are all in German. Hmm.

T. F. Serna, an attorney from Madrid, is blogging some interesting comments on Tinderbox and on Tinderbox Weekend.

Traveler's Insurance is running a big ad in Inc. Magazine, headlined "“To catch a geek, you have to think like a geek" and discussing how well they protect businesses from the threat posed by geeks and hackers. Joel Spolsky has the right response.

I'm sorry, Travelers, maybe the current Bush presidency has given you the idea that it's ok to make fun of the scientists, inventors, researchers and programmers who are creating the future, finding cures for your diseases, building the spreadsheets you use to figure out how much commission you're making, and educating your idiot progeny. Maybe a know-nothing in the White House has given you the idea that it's somehow acceptable now to poke fun of geeks and nerds, in big two-page ad spreads on the inside front cover of a magazine for founders of startups. But you know what, morons? You probably forgot that most of the people that read Inc. are geeks. And we buy insurance. Lots of insurance. Like me. And in fact I used to buy it from you. But not any more.

Linda Muse interviews Pamela G Taylor (Virginia Commonwealth University) on teaching art with hypertext tools.

Many Tinderbox features turn out to be useful in unexpected ways. Autofetch is perhaps the outstanding example.

Originally, Autofetch was intended to make it easier to do two jobs:

  • Provide a nice way to integrate RSS feeds into your Web pages. This is the syndication mission in really simple syndication. The catch is, almost nobody uses RSS for syndication! They use RSS as a personal information dashboard, a menu of Web news. So, this role is nice to have but not, I think, very much used.
  • Provide a clean way for teachers to include assignments in student work -- and to make sure that changes in the assignment get passed to students. It's a great idea! I'm not sure that many people actually use it.

So is Autofetch a spare wheel? No! Autofetch turns out to be a terrific way to spread information between Tinderbox documents.

For example, from type to time we release a new version of Tinderbox. This information gets used in lots of places. In the old days, we had to change the version number each time we mentioned it -- and that led to mistakes. Now, whenever we want to mention the current version, we just say

^include(/config/version)

(Or, more likely, we put that in a macro and say ^do(TinderboxVersion). You get the idea.)

But different sites use different Tinderbox files! How do we make sure that all the different sites get the news about a new version? We can use AutoFetch. The Tinderbox site exports its configuration notes in simple text format; for example, the current Tinderbox version is always at

http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/config/version.

Other Tinderbox documents can simply AutoFetch from this URL and get the current price.

What happens if I'm offline? When I'm working on a plane or in the forest, Autofetch can't check the version, so it uses the old version. All is well.

Linda spent an hour yesterday, trying to get Photoshop to export a jpeg.

This represents a great business opportunity. Lots of smart people run up against small, simple technical hurdles. It happens all the time. You need to use some application that's not in your daily repertoire but that everyone uses occasionally. You want to do something simple.

For some reason, it's not.

So here's the plan: you hang out a shingle on AIM that says, "Photoshop" or "Excel" or "graphic design". Customers buzz you with questions. You respond right away with an offer.

Customer: I need to export a jpeg from Photoshop.

You: OK. I think I can help. $25 if things work out, $10 if they don't.

Customer: here's my credit card....

To make this work, I think you need two features:

  • Availability: you've got to be there on AIM when the customer gets bogged down. There's a significant group of people, though, who can be available online intermittently for hours and hours. They're taking care of kids or invalids at home. There are lots of shady schemes to exploit these people; I think this one would be fairly satisfying.
  • Kill fees. It's dangerous to do fixed-fee consulting, but nobody wants to give a stranger a blank check -- least of all when they're stuck in software hell. So we set two fees. The "kill fee" tells the consultant, "any time this gets to be a pain -- the client asks for too much, or the client is unreasonable, or the client didn't really understand their own problem, or Billy's school called and needs me to run over and get him -- I can bail out. I get paid something. If I stick around until the client is happy, I get paid more.

Kill fees are used in magazines. The editor assigns a story to a freelance writer; they agree on a price for the article, and a kill fee. If the magazine takes the piece, they get the rights and the author gets the price. If the magazine doesn't take the article -- the article is lousy or the editor was replaced or the subject of the article is suddenly radioactive -- the writer gets the kill fee and keeps the rights. It's a good way to draw a line around a small project that might blow up; get the kill fee right, and everyone can stay friends and work together next time.

Jul 06 26 2006

Timeline

Simile Timeline is an elaborate javascript widget for building interactive timelines on Web pages. One Tinderbox customer wants to use it for investigative reporting; to try it out, I've added a timeline to my list of lectures and talks.

Timeline

This turns out to be quite easy. First, I need an agent that gathers up all my talks.

query: Prototype=protoTalk
sort: Date

This has the pleasant advantage of adding upcoming talks to the timeline as soon as they appear on the main page,

Now, the timeline javascript needs its own custom XML file. That's easy enough to write; we just take the example file and replace the sample data with placeholders for the Tinderbox templates.

<event start="^get(Date,"*")" title="^title" <br> ^if(^get(URL)) link="^get(URL)" ^endif>
^text
</event>

The rest is all boilerplate -- mostly javascript stubs and some scripts. I'll try to wrap this up for the Tinderbox file exchange if there's interest.

Dave Winer has heard that, "they have parties where someone says to the host that if they invite Dave Winer they won't come." Of course, we all learned to pretend to get over this in high school. And of course we never did. Not really.

Tim Bray points out that the phrase, "user-generated content," is ugly and incorrect. It's not generated, it is written and spoken and sung and crafted. They aren't users, they're people.

And they are us.

People lie, cheat, and steal. They can be selfish and destructive and sloppy. And they can be brilliant and generous and delightful. It's a big world. Don't assume that people always mean what they say.

Jul 06 25 2006

Half Life

by Shelley Jackson

Congratulations to Shelley Jackson on the publication of her new novel, Half Life . Booklist writes that

Jackson's reputation has been built on experimental fiction, including the hypertext Patchwork Girl. But here, in what is being billed as her first novel, she reveals herself to be adept with traditional narrative as well, although the story itself is far from typical.

It's Tinderbox Video Week! Hard on the heels of

we've got a nifty new 4-parter from Alwin Hawkins on how to build a simple diabetes manager in Tinderbox.

Terrific!

Tim Bray observes that programmers like us have lots of ways to make objects, but we can't seem to agree on which is best. In Java, you'd say new Pony("black")

Over dinner (duck confit, spinach and mushrooms sauteed in garlic) last night, Linda and I were talking about Tolkien. (We were talking about Tolkien, too, that Valentine's Day night in Willets 2.) The question last night was a new one to me: where does the legend entwives come from?

The poem itself doesn't seem out of place. I think, together with the Bombadil rhymes, it represents a possible starting point from which, after many generations of abrasion and simplification, you might get one of the Child Ballads. It's not that far from Chaucer, on the one hand, or Tennyson, on the other.

But the story is very strange.

Where does it come from? Does it have an Aarne-Thompson number? (Has anyone written a useful book with the AT index and a guide to classification?)

My wild speculation: Fangorn is one of the places where Tolkien looks at Oxford. What distinguishes Fangorn from Bombadil? They're both immensely old, they both have turned their backs on modernism as well as modernity, they both are shepherds. But Bombadil is uninterested in those passing through his old forest; he has a duty to take care of injuries inflicted by his d good humor.

Steen Christiansen (Aalborg) has a long and fascinating essay on identity in Shelley Jackson's hypertext, Patchwork Girl .

Here it seems that the Girl is narrating, reflecting on her own status but it also serves as a form of meta-commentary on the text itself, something which seems inherent throughout the text. This seems an obvious choice, as the Girl is presented as a patchwork in the same way the text is. Metaphorically speaking, then, we can say that the Girl is the hypertext we are reading and not a fixed subject or person. In other words, her identity is fluid and changes with every reading depending on which narrator we attribute the different lexias to, and in which sequence we read them. As such, the Girl is shaped by our gestalt of the text, to use Iser’s concept, and that gestalt always changes.

It's an intriguing essay, more useful (I expect) to hypertext theorists than to newcomers. Fine work.

One important element in cooking is just doing it -- and then doing it again. It's hard to learn from isolated efforts. Megnut hits the nail square, as she strives to bone a rainbow trout.

I carefully and slowly removed the bones. I .... Though I cursed a lot, it turned out OK for my first attempt. The bummer about this is that the next time I do it, it will be equally as difficult. I enjoy the repetitive nature of restaurant work, at least as a beginner. You do something so many times each day that after a week, you're boning trouts like a pro. But unless we start eating a whole lot more trout (which may happen) it will be a long time before I get proficient at boning trout.

This leaves me wondering, why is Meg boning the trout? I usually grill or sauté them whole; you can remove the bones at the table if you like.

TiddlyWiki is a clever one-file wiki that runs right in a Web browser. You don't need to install software, or even have a Web server.

New in the Tinderbox Public File Exchange: Tinderbox TiddlyWiki lets you write in Tinderbox and export your notes to your own, custom TiddlyWiki.

Update: the download link is fixed now. Sorry!

Earlier this month, I was on an interesting panel at Readercon. Kathryn Cramer and Sarah Smith talked about using Tinderbox to help writers plot novels and to track plots.

Here's a 5-minute demo, distilled from the panel.


Comments? Questions? Email me.

A couple of months ago, I ran into a little research problem for which I had no time. I asked for a hand right here, and a bunch of people offered to help.

A few days later, I had the information I needed and the chosen candidate had some spending money and everyone was very happy indeed.

I've got a fresh problem -- this time, requiring a survey of Web techniques and tools for sharing lectures and software demonstrations. I'll be emailing details to people who expressed interest in this sort of work later today.

Would you be interested in short research assignments? The pay isn't incredible, but it's better than scooping ice cream or babysitting. And the work is interesting. Email me.

by Alex Prud'homme and Julia Child

Perhaps the most striking thing about Julia Child's life was how late it started. She was born in 1912, in the midst of the great Roosevelt-Taft-Wilson election campaign. Mastering The Art Of French Cooking didn't appear until 1961, and the first episode of The French Chef ran in 1963.

M. F. K. Fisher was only 4 years older than Julia, but Serve It Forth appeared in 1937. By the time Julia Child began to cook, MFK Fisher had published five volumes. Elizabeth David was a few months younger than Julia; by the time Julia's first book was published, Elizabeth David's writing career was just about over.

It's important, too, to remember that Julia Child's influence is much greater than the mere discovery that Americans would watch television shows about cooking. Before Julia, most Americans thought cooking a menial chore and preferred food that was familiar, safe, and unchallenging. The French Chef was an extended argument that food should be something more, and that you yourself could take some good ingredients, work with diligence and attention, and make something much better than your mother could have made.

Without Julia, I think, there would have been no real audience for Chez Panisse, and hence no Alice Waters, no restaurant-farmer nexus, and the modern generation of American chefs would have be very different indeed..

This pleasant and engaging posthumous volume can't always decide to focus on people or places or on food. At times, anecdotes and letters are tossed in a bowl -- plop! -- and then briskly whisked to a froth. But never mind: it's all suffused with Child's voice, curiosity, and enthusiasm. Bon appetit!

Jul 06 18 2006

You never know

One of the joys of blogging is that you never know what people will devour, and why. And -- with links -- it's never too late.

You never know
Guantanamo Study (2003)

Back in 2003, I wrote a post about our tendency to think that we face terribly complex problems while previous generations were fools.

I called it They weren't all fools, and decorated it with a modern-dress variant of Hiram Powers' famous statue of The Greek Slave, which I named Guantanamo Study. I thought it was an important political issue, wrapped around a useful critical observation: art, politics, media, and technology. Just the ticket for MarkBernstein.org .

Nobody particularly noticed.

No email, no fuss, no links, no arguments, no citations. OK. Next.

You never know
Hiram Powers,
The Greek Slave

Now, 30 months later, this image gets yanked out of the fishwrap. It's being viewed a few thousand times a month. (The site serves about 200,000 pages per month, but most of that's concentrated on new posts.) Right now, it's the 5th-ranked image for Guantanamo on Google.

Go figure.

The important lesson, though, is that links are the best way to keep old things discoverable, to give them time to find their audience.

Before you dismiss this as a porn-traffic artifact, please take a moment to think about the way Power's statue helped create the whole idea of 'white slavery', and the way it argued for the Graeco-Roman West against the Ottoman East while also arguing for the urban North against the slave-holding, agrarian South. Not to mention the role the female body plays in the contemporary religious-political debates, or the fact that the prisoners at Guantanamo turn out to include kids who, apparently, were sold to the U.S. by feuding Afghan leaders.

(The experiment in Fagerjordian linking does seem to be effective. For example, another 2003 post, on barbecued ribs, got a fresh 100 readers via my recent note on Sally Schneider. The link apprentice in Tinderbox 3.5 makes these easy to discover...)

Tinderbox 3.5.2

A new little Tinderbox upgrade is out the door, with some nice (if small) fixes and improvements. For example, Tinderbox now lets you have rules that change themselves, which can be handy if you want a rule to fire once and then vanish.

And you can drag things into Tinderbox from your Address Book, or other vCard-standard applications.

Michael Ruhlman revisits a revelatory moment in cooking -- his first encounter with Michael Pardus' Sauce Robert.

It didn’t taste brown anymore, it taste light and clean and delicious, smooth on the palate, bright from the wine and mustard, sweet from the mirepoix used along the way and now the minced onion. That something could go from drab brown to deeply delicious in a few moments was the first part of the revelation; the second was confronting the fact of my own deep ignorance. That was the moment I realized how little I knew about food and cooking and how vast this new country that I’d just set out to explore was going to be.

Ruhlman's veal stock really is worth the effort.

Jul 06 15 2006

The Night Watch

by Sarah Waters

Like the author's brilliant Fingersmith, this historical novel wraps a lyrical and detailed historical fiction around a formal experiment. Waters has a superb feel for historical detail, and her interest in understanding the varieties of Lesbian experience in the era before Stonewall illuminates the book. The formal experiment in Fingersmith was intriguing, although in retrospect we might wonder whether it grows organically from the needs of the story. In The Night Watch, the formal experiment almost seems grafted on. Perhaps there's a point about our generation's experience of the War, which for us must always lie in the past. The war was the cradle of our world, and so all our cradle stories flow backwards.

USB memory sticks are attractive! But what happens if you lose it?

Is there a good, cross-platform approach to password-protecting a memory stick? I don't need industrial-strength protection, just a challenge to deter casual villains. Cross-platform Mac/Win a big plus.

Got the answer? Email me..

Jul 06 13 2006

Tinderbox Zen

Doug Miller reviews Tinderbox 3.5.

A common criticism of Tinderbox is that the UI is very spare and not “Mac-like”. I think Mark has addressed much of this with the sidebar and access to the Services menu. What he’s also managed to do is maintain the clean, uncluttered UI that I’ve always appreciated in Tinderbox. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the utility of this application. Tinderbox really is wonderfully Zen.

Miller's favorite new feature is the Services menu; I'd love to hear more about applications of Services in Tinderbox.

The new wiki research list— part of the ramp up to WikiSym in Denmark (August 21-23), where I'll be talking about intimate information — has been avidly discussing the need for WYSIWYG editing for wikis.

Is wiki markup a barrier for wider usage of wikis? Certainly, many reluctant wiki users tell us so. But should we take their advice at face value? I have grave doubts on two fronts.

First, should EverybodyWriteWikis? Wikis have been remarkably successful as a technical forum and as a convenient, lightweight collaborative medium. Wikipedia is famously popular and notoriously controversial. As Ward Cunningham reminded us in the mailing list, an important part of WhyWikiWorks is that the code can be very simple, easy to understand and to adapt to business needs. But the argument for the utility of wikis does not require them to be useful to everybody, and certainly doesn't require that everybody write.

Obstacles and constraints embedded in writing systems can sometimes lead to better writing.

Second, I'm a publisher, and everything we know about criticism in the arts tells us to look beyond naive reactions. People (sometimes) tell you what they think they like and why, but they're often mistaken.

Specifically, the insistence on WYSIWYG features (which must work exactly as Microsoft Word does, but without the complexity and cost of Word) is often a comfortable explanation for deeper, inchoate anxieties. In a large organization, workers asked to contribute to and cultivate wikis may foresee trouble. They are asked to devote resources and invest credibility in the wiki. Eventually, praise or blame will be assigned -- and since communication ROI is difficult to measure, that praise or blame may well depend on the organizational climate at some future date, on whether the stock is performing well and revenue targets are being met. But, rewards may well accrue to the instigators, to top management, to consultants, or to Ward Cunningham's invention of the wiki. Blame, on the other hand, might well be passed along to those who have spent the most time on the perceived failure. In the face of uncertainty, the familiar and comfortable complaint that "it's not like Word" frees us from unwanted burdens.

The WYSIWYG response can be adapted to almost any circumstance; it's the equivalent of "I know what I like!", or "Katherine Hepburn is box-office poison," or "Democrats are intellectual and indecisive." It's another way for the audience to elect themselves superior to reason. If a system provides basic WYSIWYG functionality, the need will shift to high-fidelity WYSIWYG; you don't just need bold and italic, you need stylesheets and callouts. As advanced features are added, their cost and complexity can be recruited to aid the argument: we already paid for Word, now you want us to buy and learn another editor?

It may sometimes be preferable to stay away from elaborate presentation, which in some contemporary businesses has become an arms race.

Andrés Valenciano has a nice example of design brainstorming on paper and in Tinderbox.

Jul 06 11 2006

Services

Robert Brook explores the Services menu in Tinderbox 3.5.0 .

While I was at Readercon, unfortunately, Linda was flying down to Philadelphia for the funeral of her niece's five-year-old stepson, who drowned in an above-ground pool in his mother's yard.

The devastated families want very much to spread awareness of the dangers of accidental drowning. Almost 1,000 children die each year in drowning accidents, many of them (like Georgie) too young to swim well or to appreciate the hazards.

I've spent roughly every discretionary minute of the last two days editing our 1-hour Readercon panel on Tinderbox for Plotting down into a five-minute Web demo. It's not quite finished yet, but here are a few things I've learned along the way.

  • At one of the first eNarratives, video curator George Fifield observed that there are lots of things you can do to fix bad video, but bad sound is just bad sound.
  • That said, my little Olympus voice recorder, stuck arbitrarily on a table near the computer, did a perfectly adequate job of capturing all the speakers. Not ideal, but everything is comprehensible.
  • Eastgate's microphone was kaput, a fact revealed only after an hour of futzing with the interface failed to fix things. The new microphone is much better, though we need a desktop stand. It's true; spending a little money on a microphone helps the sound a lot.
  • I'm trying to edit the film the way I plan my talks, saying one thing but frequently showing something else. Why should the visuals merely repeat what you're hearing? My impression, though, is that this works better in talks than in short film.
  • Audacity does a nice job as a sound editor (should I have tried GarageBand?), and iMovie seems fine for assembling the visuals. Tools that everyone has, and perhaps more of us should use.
Jul 06 8 2006

Readercon

Tomorrow (10am), I'm on a Readercon panel with Sarah Smith and Kathryn Cramer, exploring Tinderbox for plotting novels. We might also see some of Kathryn's work using Tinderbox to track plots. They're doing exciting work!

Readercon is always a fascinating conference. Its roots lie in fantasy and science fiction, but many years ago it drifted away from pure fannishness and toward a delightfully relaxed seriousness. First thing this morning, I walked into the middle of a session titled "From Within Us It Devours", exploring the formal roots of horror, and John Clute launched right into a wonderful discussion of Beowulf as a horror story driven by terror of social change and dread of our younger selves. China Miéville launched straight from Sheridan Le Fanu (on "the grief-stricken recognition of the malice of the world"), through the Nightmare on Elm Street, and washed up in Jane Eyre.

Another nifty panel on "Embracing the Uncomfortable" wound up with Kelly Link crossing swords with R. Scott Bakker over whether formal experimentation tends to exclude too many readers. Bakker tried to establish a defense for experimental content within familiar forms, but Link sparred tellingly by challenging whether content can possibly be divorced from form. "What's wrong with comfort?", Miéville asked. "I have some fairly clear ideas..."

Jon Leavitt surveys word clouds, including the new Tinderbox 3.5 features, in his Coffee Blog.

Jul 06 7 2006

Alwinism

Alwin Hawins ran into domain problems, so for now he's blogging at alwinism.org.

Rocketboom hadn't been on my radar before the current dustup, in which the partners behind this daily video-blog have fallen out. (he said | she said) Similarly, PubSub reports that minority shareholders are blocking a financing deal.

One observation, based on no special knowledge of this affair: partnerships end. If you're going to form a partnership, your first concern should be to make sure everyone clearly understands what happens when the end comes. It will come, and the end may be heralded by tears and broken crockery and woes that nobody would have anticipated.

Charles Nelson offers an interesting look at different approaches to learning, in the context of learning to adapt Flint to his weblog's needs. He's color-blind, so choosing a color scheme is tricky! He also decided he wanted a fluid layout, where Flint's current styles are all fixed-width.

Prof. Nelson isn't the first (or the last!) person to spend a couple of days puzzling over the vagaries of cascading stylesheets (CSS). He got hung up on positioning: when do you want to float elements, when do you want to reach for absolute positioning? These are tricky bits that confound even CSS experts; indeed, you could compile an interesting history of the changing "best practices" for 3-column layouts.

by Sarah Waters

I'm starting The Night Watch , a new novel by Sarah Waters (Fingersmith). It opens in London shortly after WWII, and it's interesting how Waters gets the tone exactly right even though that tone must have been a terrible authorial headache.

It's the late 1940's. Lots (all?) of the central characters are gay, but they don't say that, because the word hasn't been invented. They can't be butch or Nellie, because that wasn't the way people talked. Of course, it's what they want to talk about, and they do talk about it constantly, but even in the arms of their lovers they're elliptical. It's not just a question of the words. A lesser writer would have invented ways to have the characters talk about this stuff without using post-Stonewall terms. But Waters won't settle for that; they're just forming the ideas, they don't just lack the vocabulary. (Twenty years on, they'll be giving us those concepts, but they haven't yet had time to think it all through)

It's impressive detailing.

Jul 06 4 2006

On my plate

I've been coding up a storm for Tinderbox 3.5, but in spare moments I've managed to cook a little. Today's July 4 fireworks started with a breakfast of home-cured Norwegian salmon, but the main meal plan includes

  • grilled flatbread (Moroccan tinged, because I was reading El Moro last night)
  • homemade pickles
  • veal paté (or maybe not: the preliminary indications point to abject failure)
  • Italian sausage crusted with mango chutney, fresh cilantro, and pecans
  • baby back ribs, marinated, gently roasted in foil for two hours, and then slowly barbecued
  • home-made cole slaw
  • berry tarte (thanks to Meryl!)

Saturday night, we started with fresh figs. I brushed them with olive oil, salted them liberally, and threaded them on a metal skewer. Onto the hot part of a very hot grill for a few minutes, until they just begin to blister. Off skewer, whomp each fig in half, serve with a slice of fresh goat cheese. (The branzini was good, too, rubbed with olive oil and aggressively seasoned with kosher salt and cayenne, and then grilled over that very hot fire until sizzling and lightly singed) Sunday's potatoes, parboiled and then finished in duck fat, were tasty, accompanied with a mixture of 3T butter, 3T bleu cheese, 1 minced shallot, and a little salt.

Paté update: Dance 10, Looks 3. Or, in this case, taste fine, texture terrible. It seems I need a proper grinder. Ouch. But Cumberland Sauce turns out to go well with cold chicken.

Jul 06 3 2006

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are great for lots of things, but some people keep everything in a spreadsheet. Some of those spreadsheets might be useful starting points for Tinderbox.

Spreadsheets
This might not be a good example

I'm experimenting today with importing spreadsheet tables into Tinderbox. We can to some interesting things! For example, a lot of spreadsheets put column labels across the top; we can use those to define new user attributes (or even to associate spreadsheet data with Tinderbox built-in attributes). We can set the key attributes of the imported notes automatically. We might do more -- automatically guessing at the type of each attribute, automatically recognizing separators.

If you've got some spreadsheet data you wish were in Tinderbox, this might be a good time to tell us about it. Email me.

Microsoft has a page that offers to estimate the demographic breakdown of a page's audience. (Thanks, Lilia Efimova!)

Microsoft thinks my audience skews mildly female (52%) and wildly young (25% of my readers, it thinks, are teenagers and 45% are under 25). By comparison, Efimova's readers are more female (64%) and somewhat older (only 35% are under 25). Guy Kawasaki has a 50:50 gender split, and like me most of his readers are young.

Of course, you can put up any numbers you please here. No links to the methodology in sight. Small sample sizes can say the darndest things.

by Charles Stross

Stross undertook the series of The Merchant Princes in order to have a very big story to tell, and this third volume of the big story is caught in the middle. It can't have the joys of introducing the new world, because after two volumes we can assume that introductions have been made and we've all got something to drink. But we don't have the joys of resolution -- not yet, at any rate. Everything has to hang on incident, and on our interest in the characters.

That's enough: Miriam Beckstein, who is the Countess Helga when she's visiting her other home, is good company for a summer afternoon.

Marriage is not always easy. Jason Kottke recently married Meg Hourihan, but writes that his wife has become overly concerned with eating locally-raised food.

At first it was just little stuff, like buying local produce and banning foodstuffs made with high fructose corn syrup. But then there was the fist-fight at the greenmarket about the sausage that Meg suspected was not humanely made because the woman selling it did not know the names of the pigs that supplied the meat. 'Just one name, you heartless bitch!' she screamed as security escorted her from Union Square.

The strain of caring for Megnut is clearly telling on Mr. Kottke; a little later he writes that

Meg has completely forsaken her marital duties, turning her evening attentions elsewhere. It took me a few weeks to discover what she was up to, but she finally admitted to tending a hayfield in an empty lot in Queens. Oh, didn't I tell you? Meg has purchased a cow. I don't know where this cow is located, but his name is Arthur. She's taking me to meet him...

Now Arthur might be a Holstein or Guernsey, a Longhorn or Charolais.

But I'm pretty sure that Arthur is a bull or a steer.