Screenwriter Charles Deemer wanted to storyboard an August 3rd shoot. He usually uses Storyboard, a dedicated app for the film industry. But this time he tried Storyspace:

…and I discovered what I suspected, that Storyspace is much more versatile, even though it doesn't have the built-in elements relevant to storyboarding. It's also quicker to use. It's one of those programs I always find new uses for.

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Winner of the Hugo and of the Nebula award, this fantasy leaves me in two minds. On the one hand, it’s a serious and thoughtful construction of a world in there really are Gods, and they really do care intensely about Their children even though the Gods cannot intervene very effectively in the world of matter. It’s attractive and interesting, but these gods are attractive and interesting by construction, in the same way as the handsome noble who Gets The Girl is attractive and interesting.

Tasty but too much::

  • Pork plates: wild boar ribs, tiny BLTs, salami, finnochio, guanciale
  • Paella on the barbeque
  • Lamb barbacoa, grilled corn, asparagus vinaigrette
  • Mixed berry fool

The pork plates sounded like a good idea, and they were tasty enough. But it's hard to get the BLT's small enough, and assembling the parts for seven was a big of a pain. The wild boar ribs were excellent, though!

I hear that we're about to have a pork crisis. The price of corn is now so high (thanks largely to the Republicans) that people can’t afford to feed there hogs. I understand there are fears of a massive sell-off, leading to a crash in pork futures and then, inevitably, to supply shortages.

The paella didn't really work; needs a bigger grill. I made a fresh batch of stock to go with it, based on some poultry carcasses in the freezer. Turducken stock!

For the barbacoa, I got a lovely bone-in shoulder roast from Savenor’s. It was good, and the soup was also terrific.

Ed Tufte urges people to use sparklines — small, memorable data displays embedded in text. How might we add something like sparklines to Tinderbox?

One interesting idea is to let containers and agents show a simple chart of some property of their contents. For example, this note happens to be inside a container called "Jul0801", which contains all my weblog posts for July 2008. With the new feature, we set the Pattern of the container to be plot($WordCount), and now the container looks like this:

Sparkline Plots: a Tinderbox Experiment

This gives me a sense of the rhythm of long and short posts. Or, I might plot the note's Modification date; since the notes are sorted by publication date, downturns in the plot follow posts that were revised after publication.

Sparkline Plots: a Tinderbox Experiment

I can readily imagine applications to personal productivity (plotting the dates when things are added to Done) or personal dashboards (like Alwin Hawkins’ diabetes management Tinderbox). I expect we’ll find unexpected uses, too. For example, I grabbed the statistics for major league baseball rookies from Baseball Prospectus, dragged them into Tinderbox, and made an agent to collect all rookies with at least 100 at bats and sort them by their value above the value of a replacement player (VORP). Then, I plotted the player's slugging percentage:

Sparkline Plots: a Tinderbox Experiment

The graph generally declines from left to right; the most valuable rookies often hit for power. But there's an interesting spike near the left edge — what’s that? It turns out to be Detroit’s Matthew Joyce, who has only 123 plate appearances but who has hit ten homers for a gaudy .661 slugging percentage. That’s the sort of anomaly we want to notice, and it's easier to see in a graph then in a big table of statistics.

Jul 08 22 2008

The Iowa Review

Stuart Moulthrop (author of Victory Garden) is the guest editor of a new issue of The Iowa Review Web on Instruments and Playable Text.

Over in the Tinderbox Forum, Jim Delaney reports an interesting discovery: dragging entries from BibDesk into Tinderbox turns out to automatically create and populate suitable attributes. It's a by-product of Tinderbox support for dragging tables from spreadsheets — a free bonus.

Conference talks are usually governed by simple rules of civility, which equally bind employees of vendors and their surrogates, whether customers or academics.

  • You can point to your own strengths, even if perhaps arguable. But if you point to your rival’s weakness, that weakness must be conceded by all.
  • You can point to your own virtues (a fun place to work! free food! massages!), but if you talk about your rival’s vices, those vices must be conceded by all.
  • You can talk as much as you like about your own motivations, but if you discuss your rival’s motives, you’d better have strong documentary evidence.

In other words, if you’re speaking for Gimbel’s, you are expected to behave as if Mr. Macy himself were sitting in the front row.

Open source advocates routinely break these rules. You hear this all the time. They impugn the motives of their competitors, from Microsoft to Twitter. They argue from deficiencies that cannot be demonstrated (they're proprietary, so might not add new features you want) and virtues that will be implemented any day now (we're going to replace Twitter, except without downtime!). This makes our conferences worse. It drives good people and good firms away from conferences. And there's no way to push back: when some junior sales rep crosses the line at a trade show, you can send a note to his management, but there's no one to sit down with OpenSource surrogates and explain how to behave.

Update: I'm reminded that software sales people break these rules when talking about Open Source competitors, too.

Jul 08 20 2008


I talked about NeoVictorian Computing at a very well-attended PodCamp Boston yesterday. John Wall liked my argument that the debate about amateur journalism is usually presented in specious form. Journalists in mainstream media are workers, not professionals. Rupert Murdoch can make you a professional journalist by giving you a job, but he cannot make you a physician or a lawyer or an engineer. John Herman thought the NeoVictorian connection was promising, though he found the talk too crowded. Another interesting discussant, a self-described ninja queercaster whose name I missed (she doesn’t put her name on her business card, either) and who is skeptical of my concerns about comments and flame wars, has a very nobitic blog.

John Cass from Forrester comments on my arguments regarding our NeoVictorian misery.

I think we all woke up one day to find ourselves living in the software factory. The floor is hard, from time to time it gets very cold at night, and they say the factory is going to close and move somewhere else.

More coverage: (in German), Steve Garfield (video), David Seah (whose elegant time-planning forms I use all the time), John Wall (Ronin Marketer).

Down the road at ReaderCon, John Clute brought down the house with a wonderful 30-minute precis of John Buchan's 1916 Greenmantle in support of an argument on coherence in fantasy.

Techsty, a Polish review of hypertext news , looks terrific. The latest piece covers the recent work of Susan Gibb.

Jul 08 18 2008

Halting State

by Charles Stross

It's 2012. Scotland is independent. Gaming is big. And a band of orcs has just, impossibly, broken into the central bank of Avalon 4, a massively multiplayer role-playing game, nerfed the guards, and stolen the contents of the vault — which, if they were sold on eBay, would be worth €26 million.

Someone calls the cops, who send a baffled investigator. Someone else calls the VC's, who send a forensic accountant. The accountant wants a native guide, and hires an unemployed game designer. Together (more or less) they try to get to the bottom of a crime that turns out to be much bigger than the game.

Patricia Niehoff wants to write poetry in Tinderbox, but is worried by the possibility that the form will distract her. S

he's been watching the dance scene in Goddard’s Band of Outsiders, which she describes as the opposite of An American In Paris.

Which, as it happens, is exactly what I listened to this morning on the way to the office.

by Karen Abbott

An entertaining account of a famous Chicago brothel, the Everleigh Club, which flourished in the early twentieth century and which was ultimately closed by growing opposition to prostitution and concern over White Slavery. Abbot is chiefly concerned with the proprietors of the Everleigh, Ada and Minna Everleigh (born Simms), and their relations with their rivals, their employees, with Chicago's colorful political machinery.

The whole White Slavery question strikes us today as a strange mix of naïveté and hypocrisy, mixed with prudery and class friction. This is, pretty much, Abbott’s diagnosis, and because she has little real sympathy with the reformers, nearly half of her book is devoted to preachers and reformers she clearly views as colorless and dull. I think more could be done with this material.

  • Why, exactly, did white slaves feel enslaved? This was Chicago, not Corleone or Eiseshok; if you slept with your boyfriend in the village then maybe you'd be discovered and cast out, but Chicago could keep a secret. The White Slave agitation comes a mere ten years before the flappers.
  • Was there a White Slavery conspiracy at all? It seems to me that this was the birth of the notion of Organized Crime, of a great industrial trust that managed petty crime throughout the nation and, indeed, the world. To what extent was this real and accurate concept? Or was it a myth fostered by governments and lawyers and churches to extend their power?
  • The Everleigh sisters, with their managerial acumen, their fluency with all classes and ethnicities, and their deep disinterest in men, make an interesting comparison with Jane Addams and her colleagues. Hull House (800 S Halsted) was a short walk from the Everleigh at 2231 S Dearborn.

So, opportunities were missed here. But it’s still a hell of a good yarn.

Jason Jones (author of Lost Causes ) submitted a paper to WikiSym. The paper was rejected, but he’s not entirely dismayed.

I will say, though, that it was rejected in a really classy and useful way.  Mark Bernstein, from Eastgate, is program chair for WikiSym 2008, and he’s developed a full series of guidelines for how to vet conference proposals.  You can read it here.  Rather than just a flat rejection, I got comments from 4 or 5 members of the program committee, explaining *exactly* why it was rejected.  (In part, it was the fit issue described above; others pointed out, correctly, that as yet there’s not a mechanism for comparing its effectiveness to other approaches.  One or two also pointed me to useful references in other disciplines.)  What that actually left me with was a clear revision plan for sending the paper out to a different venue (e.g., one orientated toward teaching, especially English) for publication.  It was certainly the most productive rejection I’ve ever received.

Disciplines and conferences advance through excellent handling of papers that are not yet excellent.

Through extensive discussion among paper reviewers, through really thorough paper reviews, and through providing good reports to authors, we express a consensus. What might be seen as a cabal of the fortunate and connected instead becomes a discussion of ideas and methods.

It may be simpler to simply dismiss the papers you don’t select with praise and apologies and a brief, bland note. This does no one much good. Wrestling with ideas is what we do.

Adam Berhringer of Bee Documents Timeline — an interesting and highly-specialized Macintosh application — has a nifty blog about artisan software, He’s recruiting his family to help screenprint Gocco thank-you cards to all his new customers.

Speaking of Peter Merholz, he's been summering with the cool kids at O'Reilly's FOO Camp. Of particular interest to me is his interest in tools for understanding what you are doing — personal dashboards. Here's a nicely-produced lecture by Tom Coates and Matt Jones on personal informatics that are "Polite, Pertinent, and Pretty." And I’m reminded of Jon Kleinberg’s terrific Hypertext '08 keynote on link structures, information flow, and social processes.

In Porto, George Landow mentioned offhand that Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student describes five ways to open an argument and, by extension, to start a hypertext.

They are:

  • Introduction Inquisitive
  • Introduction Paradoxical
  • Introduction Corrective
  • Introduction Preparatory
  • Introduction Narrative

by Chip Conley and Eric Friedenwald-Fishman

Peter Merholz told me I should read Conley, and he was not wrong. This interesting book explores marketing in socially-aware organizations. Conley runs a chain of small hotels that try to be great places to work, in an industry that is not known for its enlightened employment policies. I really like his Hotel Rex, and we’ve had Tinderbox weekends there several times; an aside in this volume explains what I like about the Rex and another aside explains what the plan for the Rex actually was. Eric Friedenwald-Fishman runs a socially responsible bank. How do these organizations use their social stance in their marketing — and how do they use their marketing materials to advance their cause?

Many of the recommendations here are familiar. Most, indeed, are common sense. Too much is made of success; like most business books, we assume that the bottom line justified (and is explained by) the practices we’re studying. There’s not much attention to thing that go wrong. (In my experience of business, things are always going wrong. Why do people in case studies never have that problem?)

We're working on a new Tinderbox. One of the details of the update is improved support for some seldom-used HTML entities. If you need to export ∆'s or traffic in ∑'s or µsecs, you’ll be happy.

Sanya Weathers is annoyed that game studios can’t deliver well-written MMORPG games on time. After all, people do produce plays.

And I don’t want to hear about how sometimes shit happens, or that the creative process cannot be regulated. My ASS. I used to do theater. If you’ve got good designers and actors, and adequate preproduction time that isn’t spent at a pool hall or in endless “conceptualization” mental masturbation sessions, you can sit down with a calendar and say “if we start on this date, we can deliver an enjoyable product on this date.” And that’s taking into account a workforce consisting of A) people who periodically have mental breakdowns to demonstrate their artistic purity, and B) people who are more emotionally stable but also more prone to “I double dog dare you to chug the rest of that Jagermeister.”

Part of the problem, of course, is the pointy-headed manager — the residual American belief that Good Management is a skill independent of deeply understanding the task you’re managing.

But part of the problem is deeper and more complex; software design and implementation is research. The finished game depends on engineering and art that do not yet exist, and while you can make intelligent estimates of their scheduling, you will sometimes find that your estimates are wildly wrong.

Weathers thinks the design problem maps onto the question:

We open Shrew in Venice on September 15; what schedule gets us onstage on time?

But the real question game designers face is something else — something that theater people know all too well:

I've told Tony that we loved Shrew and that we want to do Shrew Two, but he’s stuck with a problem in the second act, and now he’s talking about throwing away the whole third act and starting over. And something about roller skates.

Theatrical train wrecks happen all the time. Just in the last few years, the American Repertory Theater — an unusually well-funded and professional organization — has had a bunch of productions that went off the rails far enough that outsiders heard the crockery breaking.

  • A Lysistrata was restarted with a new script because the originally-commissioned original script was (in some way) so obscene that the lead actress simply refused.
  • One of the leads in Romeo and Juliet was recast at (or beyond) the last minute.
  • A one-man show was postponed for an entire season, after tickets has been sold.
  • A pair of productions were swapped in the repertory schedule, without much explanation, after tickets had been mailed

These are the episodes that were visible to the front of the house; I'm sure there were plenty that we never heard about. Project management is hard, but art is harder.

After a tricky day of family web design and home sysadmin, I wanted to keep dinner fast and simple. Fortunately, I had a skirt steak that I'd been marinating. So, dinner was no production:

  • grilled skirt steak (rubbed with a paste of minced garlic, ancho powder, brown sugar, cider vinegar and marinated overnight)
  • burnt vidalia onion and fresh cilantro relish (salt, pepper, sugar, wine vinegar)
  • Clotidle's homemade pistachio gelato (substituting cream for mile and 1T brown sugar for the agave (!) syrup)

The gelato is a nice example of a cooking principle: if you don 't have the equipment, just do it. I don't have an ice cream maker. Did that stop me? No! I just mixed the ingredients, cooled them on the counter, stirred them, cooled them more in the freezer, stirring occasionally. By dinner, the cream was nice and thick and cold.

Next time, I'll cut back a little on the limoncello, and perhaps I'd serve this with a bit of crunchy pastry or maybe candied nuts and orange zest.

I'm going to have a weekend in Paris in September, in transit after WikiSym. Oh, the possibilities! I'm tempted to plan nearly every meal. This is madness.

But what do you think? Email me.

by Cory Doctorow

Kathryn said this was a drop-everything book. Pat Murphy liked it. Kelly Link blurbed it. I didn’t like it quite that much, but don’t be fooled by the YA packaging: this is entertaining and important fiction about the near future, extrapolating Bushite homeland security toward its logical consequences.

The YA convention holds that a gang of multi-talented kids need to work together to save the world. Here, the gang is largely a formality: we have a hint of a gang, the plot formally calls for one, and there are editorial scars suggesting that the gang played a larger role in some other vision. But this is at heart a romantic thriller — the story of a kid who found himself leading The Resistance against the surveillance state.

The Department of Homeland Security is an important theme for a thriller, not only because Resistance may be in all over our futures, but also because Doctorow captures exactly how gradually and naturally a teenage kid can be converted from a moderate troublemaker into a political force. Marcus and friends are ditching school — pursuing a live-action role-playing scavenger hunt — one day when the Bay Bridge is blown up. The kids are caught up in the security panic, detained, interrogated — and radicalized. Doctorow captures perfectly how the security people can convince themselves that they're doing a necessary job with necessary force — lives are at stake! — and suddenly we’re detaining suspects, subjecting them to stressful interrogation, running intrusive background checks, suborning them, and eventually somehow we’re torturing children.

I took the demo data for Tinderbox and Google Map, turned it sideways. and exported it as an HTML Table. Now, it's a draft conference schedule grid for WikiSym. (This is not the official schedule! It's just a working document, a proof of concept.

But it makes a lot of sense. Lots of people do things like this in Excel. But Tinderbox is good at moving things around, which is one thing you need to do when juggling schedules. And it's good at reformatting — another schedule-making need. Want a different style? Just change the stylesheet, or fix the export templates and try again.

Somehow, I misplaced this weblog's pages from January 2003. I finally got around to grabbing them from an old backup — going way back to the TiBook era — and pasting them back here.

Notable, perhaps, is the Apple strategy note on the introduction of Keynote and Safari, two projects that were initially regarded as absurd. It's five years later, and boy was I right: not only did Apple get Microsoft's knife away from Apple's throat, the consensus seems to be that they kicked the knife pretty much out the window. Jobs gets the credit, the the Keynote and Safari teams deserve statues at One Infinite Loop.

Apple is telling everyone that, if they have to, they'll build a word processor that will replace Word and a spreadsheet that will replace Excel. They don't want to do this; if they did, they'd just launch the products. Keynote and Safari don't gore Microsoft's ox; they attack dead markets where there's no money to be made. They demonstrate capability without starting a war.

Apple is also making sure they can pull it off. If they can't -- if this is Cyberdog all over again -- it's just a footnote like the Cube. Management wants to be sure that, if total war breaks out, their weapons go boom. If they do, fine: Apple has deterrence. If they don't -- if Keynote and Safari turn out badly -- then management knows to avoid war at any cost.

So, today they launch the iPhone 2. They have everybody running huge ad campaigns to catch them; Verizon is buying space in the Boston Globe from wall to wall, Microsoft just announced a huge campaign on the theme that Vista is not really that bad. They roll out a new synchronization service at the same time. People get glitches; they complain on Twitter that if another company had these glitches, everyone would be complaining.

Remember when everyone left Apple for dead on the side of the road?

In my various Tinderbox projects, I find I often have containers of people or companies or other Things With Addresses. Sometimes, it might be useful to see a quick summary of the geographical distribution of those addresses.

For example, this morning I was looking at the list of accepted research papers and practitioner reports for WikiSym. Might it be interesting to see where those papers come from? Here's how we can do this in a couple of minutes.

Step 1: We need an address for each paper. I needed to sort through the accepted papers to make sure we have all the co-authors listed correctly, so in passing I also jotted down the address of one author — usually just the city in which they work. (This can be arbitrary, as some papers have co-authors on three different continents. It's a quick study; we accept some compromises.)

Step 2: We ask Google for the latitude and longitude of each paper. Details are covered in any earlier note; I just copied the geocoding agents from that demo.

Step 3: We need to build a URL for Google maps. The instructions are here; in essence, we want to send Google maps a URL like this:
  & markers= coordinate 1|coordinate 2| coordinate 3 |
  & key=^getFor(/config/key,Text)^

So, the only task left is to build the list of pushpins for the map.
  & markers= ^justChildren(coordinates)
  & key=^getFor(/config/key,Text)^

Step 4: What remains is to make an export templates named coordinates that exports the latitude and longitude of each note in the container. The template is simple:

^get(latitude), ^get(longitude) |

Finally, we wrap this up in an HTML page so we can preview it. Here's what we see for WikiSym:

Tinderbox and Google Maps

This is nice. It might be useful. It’s only practical because it’s fast; it took almost no time to get this working. Looking up the geographical coordinates was easy, a matter of copying a couple of agents from the demo and checking their actions to use the attributes from the new file. The new export templates are trivial. Testing was just a matter of looking at the generated URL and fixing obvious problems, and then hitting Preview a few times to tweak the results.

Jul 08 8 2008


by Stewart Mader

This interesting manual addresses a business problem of the moment: how can you coax an organization to use a wiki? Mader is convinced that contemporary organizations frequently need wikis in order to facilitate necessary collaboration — that people often do badly through email what they could do effectively through wikis.

Wikipatterns shares a nearly universal weakness of contemporary business books: it assumes that its audience knows nothing about business. In chapter 1, the virtues of collaboration are introduced with the familiar anecdote of Toyoda Kiichiro's epiphanic vision, while visiting a Ford plant, of the Toyota Production System with its emphasis on collaborative teams and diffused responsibility. The story is told as if the reader hadn't heard it before, and didn't know that Toyota has gone on to become the world's largest automotive manufacturer. It's also told as if the the status of Labor and the anxieties of Management were, in 1950, pretty much interchangeable in Japan and in Detroit. And, finally, it's told as if decentralized responsibility, having reportedly worked at Toyota, was therefore clearly a Good Thing, that it would play no role in the collapse of so many once-great firms, from WorldComm to Bear Sterns, from American steel to the great US accounting firms, from TWA and Pan Am to DEC and Compaq.

This weight of history might not bother the uncritical reader who just wants to get on with the jon. The assumption that current success indicates intelligence and virtue is endemic to American business books. I find both disconcerting.

Moving closer to wiki concerns, Mader assumes that fellow employees of an enterprise naturally share common goals and so will work toward the same end unless misled or thwarted by evil managers or ill-designed tools. This may sometimes be true, but to believe it universal is to ignore what we know of the workplace and what we know of people. When choosing vendors, can we neglect the possibility that Roger may have a job offer from vendor A in his back pocket, perhaps understood to be contingent on A getting the deal? That Ellen's brother-in-law stands to get a hefty commission if B gets the contract? That Sandy simply likes the sales rep for C? That Justin knows the VP will choose D, whatever the committee recommends, and so the VP will be grateful to whoever backed D? We all know these things happen; there is no sign of them here.

Mader is quick to dismiss CSCW tools and formal methods, preferring the lightweight informality of the unstructure wiki.

Status quo often becomes the norm when the tools available to people are difficult to use, highly structured and only meet a narrow set of needs, and don't elicit a positive emotional response from the people that use them. (p. xxxiii)

One might object, though, that the status quo is, by definition, the norm! The sentence, despite its prominence, is awkward; the first conjunction, acceptable on its own, is unhinged by the addition of the second “and”.

Could this be a general hazard of editing on wikis?

Darker questions that surround "knowledge management” are glossed over as well. Consider layoffs and benefits. John, the delivery man, has worked for us for 16 years. He has always been an adequate, but marginal, contributor. If he stays another two years, he will be entitled to a pension that will cost $N, where N is substantially more money than John is likely to earn for us in the next two, or twenty years. If he happens to leave the firm, or to be dismissed, before that date, he would receive no pension. Because John suffers from lung cancer, he is unlikely in any case to work for us for twenty more years — indeed, his illness (and ill humor, which we understand but which is not without its own adverse impact on the firm) will likely make him a more marginal contributor going forward than he is now. Today we are all collaborating on wiki pages about GroundsForTermination, PensionPolicy and GrievanceResolution. Do we indeed share common goals?

The “patterns” in WikiPatterns are actually tactics — managerial and social techniques in encourage workers to use a wiki — rather than patterns in the sense more common in computer science, structures and connections in the wiki. Understanding the structure of wikis (and indeed of constructive collaborative hypertexts of all sorts) remains a core WikiMystery.

Yet, despite these hesitations, doubts, and objections, this is a fine treatment of a common problem. How do you plant and grow a successful wiki? How can you attract supporters and defuse rivals? How can you detect weeds in your wiki, and how can you remove them without creating an EditWar or a WikiMeltdown? We have surprisingly little guidance to the contemporary workplace, and if Then We Came To The End brilliantly shows us the downside of the cycle, WikiPatterns gives us hope that spring can come again.

At Salon, they've lined up an entire week of essays on pork. Pork week. Wow.

On Day Two, Rebecca Traister reflects on why she cures her own bacon.

Well, to be fair, it's really my boyfriend, into whose apartment I have recently moved, who cures his own meats. His interest in this enterprise developed in the late fall, soon after I met him. Before me, there had also been an extensive flirtation with duck confit, a dalliance that explains the surprising number of duck carcasses in our freezer.

I like her boyfriend.

I fell for a guy who, when he says he's going to make soup, takes out one of the 12 kinds of homemade stock he has frozen, and when he says he's going to make burgers, starts considering what kind of bun he'll bake for them.

I love the idea that there's an site where you can find a perfect match with a farmer who will have a particular breed of pig on a particular day. “When you hold an animal's insides in your hands, big and fresh and smelling of nothing but flesh and fat, you feel a certain responsibility to put them to good use.”

Hypertext writer Deena Larsen has built an interesting site for high school students about hypertext writing. It's an ambitious and exciting project.

I think this builds in interesting ways on the ongoing Ersinghaus-Gibb dialogues.

One could quibble with lots of details. Is all electronic literature ergodic? Is the emphasis on sound and graphics really congenial to literature? (Someday, a critic should explore the great impact Deena has had on visual hypertext from Marble Springs on, a remarkable development in light of Deena’s near-blindness.) Does the page on montage actually discuss collage? (This may be my own fault; I confused the terms in Patterns of Hypertext and even Adrian Miles’ magisterial correction hasn’t completely repaired the damage. Sorry. )

But these are details, and the syllabus is marked as being "in beta" anyway. It should be exciting to see what develops.

I really like this Obama poster, created by Shepard Fairey of ObeyGiant:

Obama Poster

by Jean Bethke Elshtain

An intelligent and readable survey of Jane Addams' thought. Jane Addams created Hull House, the most famous and most successful settlement house and long the model for urban reform and renewal throughout the world. After World War II, though, critical details of Addams' thinking were lost, and social services came increasingly to be delivered to clients. Addams never thought of her neighbors as clients; they were friends, they were all invited to dinner, to tea, to whatever entertainment she happened to have arranged that evening. If Miss Addams happened to have a larger house than the neighbors, that was simply the same sort of chance that gave the Romano’s more boys than the Schwartz's downstairs, and so a little more spending money than nice old Mrs. O'Reilly who lost her husband to the fever in '96.

Elshtain teases out the philosophy, moral and theoretical, that underpins the Addams approach. She chooses not to look too closely at Addams personal relationships with her fellow residents at Hull House. I have some sympathy for Elshtain's belief that the private sex life of such a relentlessly public person is beside the point, but Elshtain drives this point home at the cost of largely ignoring the personalities of the other residents and indeed the specificity of the place. For Hull House was, literally, a house; I’d like to know more about the routines, the sounds and smells, about what people ate for dinner and with whom.

Jul 08 5 2008

More Daybook

Responding to but she's a girl, Jack Baty describes his own daybook, also kept with Tinderbox. Baty keeps a separate container for each day, inside a monthly container, and ties everything to an online, collaborative issue-tracking system. Tinderbox handles the overhead of keeping it all organized by automatically naming the containers and assigning prototypes.

There’s also a screencast.

I’ve been doing this since the beginning of this year and have a total of 1235 entries so far with no apparent impact on Tinderbox’s performance. My Tinderbox Daybook has become a surprisingly valuable resource. It’s amazing how much information is available over time simply by recording minor events each day. I haven’t started mining this information in any formal way yet. Who knows what I’ll find!

Still too early for corn, but not too soon for serious grilling!

  • cedar planked salmon (marinated in dill, herbs de Provence, lime, and white wine)
  • barbecued baby-back ribs (marinated 150 min in brown sugar, extra cayenne, cloves, garlic, allspice, soy sauce; roasted in foil for 90 minutes; cooled, grilled 30 min over hickory while basting with the boiled marinade)
  • red cabbage, onion, peanuts
  • deer-tongue lettuce salad
  • raspberry fool
  • a chilled bottled of Wrongo Dongo (a Spanish red, and very nice too once it had time to breathe)

Every year on this day, the Boston Globe runs the same editorial. "When in the Course of human events,” it begins, “it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Linda and I went downtown this year to hear the Declaration read once again from the balcony of the old State House, the site of the Boston Massacre and of the first reading of the Declaration in Massachusetts.

There was a good crowd. There was a fife and drum corps. There was a small contingent of sailors from the USS Bataan. And the affair was wrapped up by a bunch of green-uniformed, kilted bagpipers from the Department of Homeland Security.

What the hell is the Department of Homeland Security doing here? They have no business: they didn't fight across the river at Bunker Hill, they didn't launch their little frigates from the Harbor down the street to challenge the greatest fleet the world had known. They aren’t our armed forces; they're the folks who x-ray the pilots’ shoes every morning.

What’s next? The Dept. of Interior marching band? The buglers of the Department of Agriculture? The kazoos of the Bureau of Reclamation?

Three eminent research groups — eminent colleagues who have participated in Hypertext conferences over the years — could not attend this year’s Hypertext Conference in Pittsburgh because these people kept their representatives out of the country. They weren’t refused visas; the visa applications, submitted months in advance, were merely ignored until they were worthless.

They don’t have time to get their job done; but apparently they have plenty of time and money to march around pretending to be soldiers and drumming up support for restrictive immigration policies.

Update: Not quite as bad as I thought, since the Coast Guard has long had bands and they moved the Coast Guard into Homeland Security. Still, Border Patrol uniforms and the banner of Homeland Security have no place in a 4th of July Parade, not while the Statue of Liberty claims to lift her lamp beside our golden door.

Claus Atzenbeck interviews me for the Summer issue of the ACM SIGWeb Newsletter. We discussed hypertext research, nobitic tools, and the next big thing in IT technology. Here’s the pdf.

CA: What will be the next big thing in IT technology in general?

MB: The next big thing in IT technology is amost always a buzzword, standing for a concept that everyone knows to be sound or that never has or will exist. So it hardly matters what it will be called; it won't mean much.

J. L. Bell, who writes about children’s books, observes that there seem to be two Shelley Jacksons, both of whom are accomplished novelists and illustrators, and both of whom live in Brooklyn.

The second Shelley Jackson maintains a website called Ineradicable Stain, which includes a rundown of other Shell(e)y Jacksons. Though two Shelley Jacksons who are Brooklyn-based novelists and illustrators would surely get mixed up a lot, this list pointedly does not include the first Shelley Jackson.

The second Shelley Jackson is, as it turns out, the same person as the first Shelley Jackson; at any rate, the author photograph of the first Jackson looks just like Jackson #2.

Post-Adversiting Guru Jeremy Greenfield lights into Advertising Age over Ruben Steiger’s attack piece, "Has The Internet Failed as a Storytelling Medium?

Steiger, an ad-agency CEO, has an adman’s approach to the story.

Creating great stories regardless of medium is expensive. This means content creators need seed capital, which can be repaid either by transactional revenues from selling content -- not too effective on the Internet -- or from advertising, which works well. But until the net proves itself able to attract a large audience to great content built expressly for the web, advertisers will continue to be difficult to bring aboard to underwrite that content.

This sounds good, but of course it’s complete nonsense. Storytelling seldom requires much seed capital. Novelists and screenwriters work in garrets, they write on kitchen tables. Painters work in attics and basements and garages. The garage is the proving ground of rock and roll; when the band’s prosperity permits, perhaps it will rehearse in a disused light industrial space. Steiger is simply wrong on the facts.

Internet Stories

And, as Greenfield points out nicely, he sees no stories on the internet because his eyes are shut. Greenfield reminds us of Joyce’s wonderful story afternoon, which turns 25 this year, and points to wikis and MMRPG and home-made net videos for inspiration.

Fernando Moreira talks about the recent Porto colloquium on wikis, links, and social software. In Portuguese.

“But She’s A Girl…” – a biologist who teaches at Birmingham — gives us a detailed look at her Tinderbox-based daybook.

I’ve tinkered with various ways of keeping a record of the various things I do, people I talk to or ideas I have throughout the day, including a simple little plugin I wrote for Textmate to keep a journal in a plain text file. That worked quite well, but it wasn’t as easy as it might have been to find things again.

Her approach emphasizes simplicity — the DIY ethos of trying with the simplest thing that could possibly work and getting on with the job.

Once I’d been using the setup I described above for a few days, I realised that it would be nice to collect my notes on articles I’d read in a separate place so that I could find them more easily. The infinitely flexible structure of notes meant that I didn’t have to create a different kind of note to do this, or even go back and edit my previous notes on reading. When I make notes on a paper I’ve read, I tend to first paste in the reference and the link to the entry from the Papers application, so that I can find the original article easily from my notes. So all I had to do was create another agent called ‘Reading’ which searched for notes with the string ‘papers://’ in them, which is the start of the Papers URI format.

In a rare example of productive comments, the first commenter is also a biologist who is using Tinderbox to build Grinnel-style field records. “Although the overall system is tedious”, he says, “Tinderbox might remove some of the tedium.”

by Arthur Upfield

Can Arthur Upfield truly be out of print?

Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte is half Abo, half white-Australian, and has risen to be Australia’s top detective. Upfield writes well, and with a certain sensitivity: when Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie touched on race, what remains is a blemish, while Upfield says his piece well and dexterously. I think Upfield’s influence on Hillerman is very clear, for example; compare, for example, Man of Two Tribes with Hillerman’s Thief of Time. Another reminder in this surprisingly-fresh 1955 procedural proves instructive: at one point, our hero finds himself in a tight spot with a group of assorted murderers who, having been spared the gallows and served long terms in prison, are now on parole. They are led by a psychiatrist who was condemned as an abortion provider.

Despite a hot room and a busy day — two other colloquia were scheduled at FEUP on the same day! — Monday’s colloquium on The New Knowledge Forge had terrific energy. It was great to see such a good crowd, and to hear so many good questions — especially the enthusiasm that Stewart Mader’s practical ideas on wiki adotion generated.

George Landow’s talk on Moving Beyond The Hammer is a great introduction to the impact of Web 2.0 ideas on scholarship — and on the invisible machinery of the printed book. And J. Nathan Matias’s discussion of Ethical Explanations made an extremely interesting connection between the way we describe laws (in his case, documenting the procedures of rules of order) and the ethics of software documentation.

Lots of good discussion in the breaks. What do the cosplay images in my NeoVictorian slides mean, exactly? And why are there so many Asian women?

New Knowledge Forge

I don’t pretend to fully understand cosplay. The simple answer is that ground zero of cosplay is in Tokyo, and that I was able to find more images of women (often images they took themselves) than men, and that they make a good illustration of NeoVictorian programming as something new, not just nostalgia for old technologies. The ways in which cosplay is not authentic — is better than authentic — are fascinating: cosplay is all about the rules of decorum, design, ethnicity, and class.

Even better were the discussions of the workplace. Who has fun in the mill? The mechanic — the fellow who fixes stuff! But software maintenance is ghastly, and operations is worse: can this be fixed? Would our workplace be better if we insisted on using our own tools: if it were a worker’s right to own and use her laptop, and to replace it when she sees fit with whatever brand of computer (and whatever software) lets her produce the best work? Should designers demand the right to sign their software, and writers insist on their right to be credited for — and to show prospective employers — the documents on which they work? Above all, do workers have a right to publish a professional blog?

In the Tinderbox Form, Prof. Greg Ibendahl starts a discussion of Tinderbox as a writing tool, showing how to use Tinderbox's export templates to build self-organizing texts.

by Robert Wilson

In 1941, a German factory manager named Klaus Felsen is forced to play poker with SS-Gruppenführer Lehrer. Felsen wins, and in Lehrer punishes the winner by forcing him into the SS where he runs an operation buying Portuguese tungsten.

In 1998, a teenage girl's body is found on a Lisbon beach, not far from Inspector Zé Coehlo’s house. The inspector finds no clothes and no clues. A strange new partner with no skills has been forced upon him by the inspector’s superiors.

These events, of course, are intimately related, and their inexorable and surprisingly-sensible unfolding makes this a delightful, unsentimental mystery with a superb sense of place and time. A friend suggested Wilson recently when I mentioned that I wanted to read something about Portugal, and I found that I’d purchased this book five or six years ago and somehow forgot to read it.