Falsehoods programmers believe: a list of lists about false assumptions on names, addresses, geography, time, and more. Great stuff. Via Michael Tsai, via Jeff Atwood.

When you see a list like:

  1. There are always 24 hours in a day.
  2. Months have either 30 or 31 days.
  3. Years have 365 days.
  4. February is always 28 days long.
  5. Any 24-hour period will always begin and end in the same day (or week, or month).

You veer between “oh, that would be stupid” and “oh, that would never really come up.” You’d be amazed how often you really bump into these things. There’s a bug in the Tinderbox tests that panics the day before Daylight Savings Time. We used to have a February 29th bug – and my next-door neighbor has a Feb. 29 birthday, so you’d think I’d know about that. And – fast! if it’s now 12:59:00 PM on December 24, what’s the date exactly sixty seconds from now?

Megan Heyward

A lyrical erotic story for the iPad by the Australian hypertext writer-filmmaker who wrote the haunting dreamscape Of Day, Of Night. This isn't a hypertext, precisely, but a series of vignettes, artfully typeset against (mildly) interactive illustration.

It’s published for the iPad. It costs $4. You should get a copy.

Not every image works here, and not every gesture does everything we might wish. That’s OK. Not every little work needs to be a perfect gem or a revelation. A youngish women rediscovers desire; it's been said before, but it’s not been said this way. And so now our language is a little bigger and a little better.

Em Short has, as usual, a well-wrought review.

Gamergate’s Wikipedia tactics have soured and hardened as Gamergate slowly accepts that, to take over the Gamergate page, they’re going to need to take over Wikipedia. That’s a tall order, but it might be realistic, and given a few years of hard work, observers think it they might pull it off. But hope springs eternal and there’s a bitter rump that still hopes they can succeed right away if they can simply get rid of one or two more editors whom they think are standing athwart their road.

It seems that I’m one of those editors.

The favored tactic has been to threaten and harass the target off-wiki, trying to find a sensitive area, while hounding and baiting them on-wiki. The outside threats are often sufficient to drive volunteers away. If that doesn't work, some sign of impatience or bad temper can be trumpeted as a terrible violation of Civility, or some grumpy insistence on an issue can be proclaimed to be Battleground Behavior.

If nothing else works, Gamergate can point to the editor's persistence in the face of all this hounding and argue that they must have ulterior motives -- that no one who merely wanted to build an encyclopedia would put up with this. Yes, I know what you're thinking: who would fall for that? It actually works, sometimes.

Arbcom is determined to ignore off-wiki harassment – especially sexual harassment – unless the outside harasser can be tied to a specific, anonymous Wikipedia account beyond a shadow of a doubt. This standard can, in the nature of things, almost never be met because it typically requires an anonymous Wikipedian to confess a crime for which they could be prosecuted. The Wikimedia Foundation appears disinterested unless the Foundation is vulnerable in court or actively derided in the press.

The result is that Wikipedia and Gamergate have apparently worked together to create a system in which argument is simultaneously advanced in two places: anonymously but “civilly” on-wiki, and off-wiki, also anonymously, with the greatest venom and bile that can be achieved.

We are rapidly approaching the point where schools are not only going to need to dissuade students from relying on Wikipedia, they're going to have to warn students not to volunteer for Wikipedia as a matter of safety, just as schools used to warn kids to stay away from chat rooms and not to accept rides from strangers. I would also warn teachers, including untenured college professors, to avoid editing Wikipedia using either their own names or using a pseudonym; opponents can and will track you down, and some Wikipedia opponents will stop at no lie or invention to gain a small rhetorical advantage or simply to punish an opponent.

Wikipedia today is a dangerous and unhealthy place. It’s especially unhealthy for women, children, and anyone else who feels vulnerable, but it’s dangerous to all.

The interesting question here is how, if Wikipedia wished to fix this, they might proceed? Getting rid of anonymous editing would solve the problem, but that’s politically infeasible. Many Wikipedians would like to ban talking about Wiki outside of Wikipedia, the first rule of Fight Club. But that’s not practical: Wikipedia is not a cloistered order.

I've been wondering if an organized effort to support people who are being harassed might help, a squad which would follow targets, reassure and support them on-wiki, and that would seek to dismay and disarm their opponents. This feels a little like those campus programs that offer late-night escorts to walk from the library back to the dorms, but it also has a certain Batman superhero feel: there’s a risk you’d wind up replacing the original conflict with a battle of superheroes. But maybe that’s better: the superheroes can take a punch, that’s why they’re getting the big bucks and the colorful capes.

It’s not a good answer, but it’s all I’ve got. I’d like to hear a better one.

by Naomi Novik

Trafalgar meets the Battle of Britain as a Napoleonic-era British frigate captures a French ship bearing a valuable dragon egg. Britain’s Aerial Corps has been sadly depleted and, if air superiority is lost over the channel, Napoleon will be able to drive the Navy from the sea and ferry his invasion to Dover. It’s Jack Aubrey in Pern, and it’s a ton of fun.

Getting Started With Storyspace

When we started with Storyspace, personal computers were new and the idea of literary machines was controversial. Lots of people assumed that computers were for numbers, for accounting and business, and the idea of working toward something better than books seemed both crazy and strangely intriguing. Still, a lot of what we needed to do to get started was mechanical: this is a mouse, this is a file, this is a menu.

Today, the mechanical problems are much slighter, but the rhetorical problems are even greater. In the 1980s, postmodernism was fresh and (fairly) new and the horizons of critical theory glittered in the distance. Now, the path to that particular Emerald City is well-trodden, though lots of people no longer have much interest in going there. We’ve been reading and writing with links for twenty years: surely we know everything, right?

But we don’t: there’s a lot about plain old node-and-link hypertext, about writing with plain old static Web pages, that we don’t understand. There’s even more that we don’t understand about dynamic links, links that change as you read.

And what about the kids? There’s a new crop of freshmen coming in September, right? There always is. By definition, they don’t know How To Do It – and the best of them, of course, will shortly demonstrate that we don’t know, either.

I’m collecting exercises for teaching hypertext writing, in the hope of guiding Storyspace 3. If you’ve got a good assignment or lesson plan or a workshop segment that work, I’d love to hear about it. Email me.

Jul 15 20 2015

Storyspace 3

Storyspace 3

I’ve been burning the candle at both ends for the last few days, and we now have a rough working build of Storyspace 3 – a new version of Eastgate’s classic tool for writing hypertext narrative.

Storyspace 3 is entirely new, built on the same foundation as Tinderbox. Much remains to be done, but it’s reading afternoon and Lust and everything looks like it’s coming together.

There’s lots of good news. Typography is far better. The editor is much better. Old limitations -- no multiple selection, no resizable writing spaces – are gone for good. (Remember 32-character titles? Remember when Victory Garden took five minutes to load?)

I believe this is the fourth time I’ve written a Storyspace, and in recent days I’ve passed a number of old familiar landmarks, places where famous bugs used to hang out. The code is all new, but you can see in the new code the shadows of long-forgotten issues. Over here is Deena’s Default Bug, which changes the behavior when you press [Return] without selecting anything. That recalls another of Deena Larsen’s famous bugs, Deena’s Kelly Green Bug, where following a specific link in a specific document turned all the text a painfully bright green. That one arose because, back then, we had no memory protection at all: if you dereferenced a null pointer, you go whatever was located at 0x0000, and if you used that pointer as an object, you could accidentally reset the clock, change the operating system jump table, and turn everything green. Speaking of bugs, there was “Storyspace ate my links,” which took two years to track down, and the Exam Week Bug, a rare file corruption bug that cropped up annually and which almost exclusively afflicted people pulling all-nighters right before the end of the semester. That one involved editing while printing an unsaved document -- the sort of thing that people are most likely to do right before a deadline.

There will be more. I’ve got ideas for nice new things – greatly improved guard fields, and some nice new actions. There’s a ton of writing to do.

I really need to get some sleep sometime.

by Cecilia Tan

The first in Tan’s series on Magic University – a hidden faculty at Harvard for the study of magic. Tan, a Readercon regular, writes erotica, and the central conceit of the series is David Mamet’s essay on his experience of college: “Sex Camp.” In Tan’s world, magicians generally have a very specific talent, a special proclivity that they discover in looking for their college major. Some are soothsayers, some healers, some conjurors. Kyle Wadsworth, though he doesn’t know it when he arrives for his Harvard interview, is very good at sex.

One thing that surprised me is the clean simplicity and charm of the sex scenes. Romance writers have developed a ghastly stylization of language to signal romantic intensity: one sure sign is the switch from talking about “his strength” to writing about “the strength of him.” Tan avoids this, and gets college twin-bed sex right while (for the most part) sparing my maiden blushes.

Jul 15 13 2015


by Edan Lepucki

A postmodern post-apocalypse, a world in which civilization has slowly puttered to a stop. Our hero and heroine have fled slowly-rotting Los Angeles for a verdant strip of green somewhere in the Central Valley, a place they call “the afterlife” where they eek out a life in nearly total isolation. Back home, the cities are slowly collapsing into stagnation and decay, while everyone with money has retreated to gated “communities” behind fortified walls defended by private armies and threatened by marauding land pirates.

Cal and Frida have a shed in the woods, a subsistence garden, a few supplies, and each other. They’re young and loving and resourceful. They trust each other. Naturally, they have small secrets: who doesn’t? From those tiny, trivial secrets, fissures spread. This is the way Lepucki’s world ends, crack by tiny crack.

This is the second apocalyptic dystopian California to have appeared this year, though The Last Days Of California never quite makes it to the California border (or the Rapture).

Tinderbox: Rules for Writers

Micah Joel writes about Tinderbox Principles For Writers.

  • Don’t throw anything away
  • Make it easy to store things
  • Let emergence happen
  • Don’t fear the docs
  • Be part of the community

Great stuff -- and stay tuned for more.

Jul 15 2 2015

In The World

A surprising number of people live as in a cloister.

At Wikipedia, I’ve been trying to get a peace agreement on Gamergate. The facts on the ground are now clear. It’s time to end the conflict which has raged over nine months, a dozen Wikipedia pages, more than a million words of debate, and dozens of blocks and bans and sanctions extending from Gamergate Controversy to “Campus Rape” and Lena Dunham’s sister.

  • Gamergate wanted to use Wikipedia to launder its reputation while using other parts of Wikipedia to smear its enemies.
  • Wikipedia has pretty much decided to say “no, you can’t do that.”

It took too long, it cost too much, the resolution was too uncertain, but here we are. Even if Wikipedia again lost its mind and gave Gamergate what it wants, the outcry of a watchful would soon restore reason. There’s no need for 50,000 words of wrangling and five banned zombies every month; it's just vexation and waste of effort.

The Gamergate attack on Wikipedia has failed. What could they do now? They could make their way in the world. If they did – if Gamergate actually accomplished stuff, if (for example) they published insightful studies of ethics in games – then newspapers would report it, scholars would write about it, and Wikipedia would eventually cover it. That’s their best move, the only productive move I can see that’s left on their board.

So, why does Gamergate stick to the current operation, which pairs sliming women in the software industry with a flood of complaints intended to wear down the referee Wikipedia admins?

The explanation, apparently, is that Gamergate fans don’t think it’s possible to actually participate in the world of ideas, the world outside fandom and Wikipedia. This also explains their peculiar outrage at me: when I took the case against Wikipedia to you and then to the world, I was using my super-powers to cheat. One editor actually wrote that I “accidentally set the Internet on fire.” In their view, I’m the comic-book character who somehow summons up lightning bolts in the middle of a basketball game to help my team win, and that’s just unfair.

We might dismiss all this with a nod to Gamergate HQ in Mom’s Basement, but it’s not just Gamergate. I keep bumping into grad students, for example, who regard living writers as if they were all inaccessible rock stars. Yes, there are some writers who won’t talk to you, but most will. The same is true for scholars: not only will most professors take your phone calls or give you interviews, asking them will make their day. “You can be the most famous Chemist in the world,” Frank Westheimer used to say, “and you’re still not going to be on Johnny Carson.”

Linda says this is a class issue, that the knowledge of these open doors is a secret of privilege. She is not wrong: class is part of the story.

My own initial theory was that it’s literally a matter of experience. When I was in grad school, Mom used to drive me nuts with suggestions that I stop sending stuff to tiny computer magazines and start aiming for places like The New Yorker. I thought then she was clueless, but before she was Mom she’d worked for McCalls and for Hearst, and 25 W 45th St was just another address. Lots of stuff seems impossible until you do it, and the typical Gamergater is probably a bit younger than I am.

Some of it’s a matter of education, of knowing (at least in theory) how things work. In grade school, one teacher – maybe Helen Doughty in 2nd grade – required everyone to send a fan letter to a contemporary writer. “Contemporary” was quite a word for second graders! Somewhere I’ve got a nice form letter, signed by Ted Geisel/Dr. Seuss. (The Cat In The Hat remains a really interesting book when you think about it.)

I was texting yesterday with one of my fellow software artisans about the software economy and all our woe. He pointed it that it’s not just software. His friend the famous novelists isn’t making big money. His friend the rock star isn’t making much money, either. One of my big surprises in The Way The World Works was seeing Amanda Palmer, not that long ago, Twittering for couches in cities where she was touring. The same thing happens fictionally in Wonderland, Stacey D’Erasmo’s nifty and thoughtful novel of a rock tour. Even for rock stars, I slept last night in a good hotel ain’t necessarily so. It’s not just us: it’s the world. Knowing that matters. (More on the software economy coming soon.)

It’s one thing to renounce the world and choose to live quietly by Walden. It’s another to renounce the world and then to stew endlessly in your powerlessness, and to avenge your renunciation with talk page diatribes and mean little exposés and incessant gossip in chat rooms and image boards about Gamergate’s arbitrary victims.