MarkBernstein.org
Jun 04 29 2004

Authenticity

Elin wrestles with authenticity: would you rather have the nice Greek Revival on Brattle Street, or the real 18th-century house next door?

If you start with a photograph and paint a picture of the interplay of light and dark, letting the paint and paper do their thing, is that really more real than working it up in Photoshop?

That's a big question for bloggers.

Adrian Miles was kind enough to send me the notes for his Lugano lecture (see his trip report) on "Blogs, Disruption, and Reflective Learning". He's got an interesting definition of weblog:

a public Web based side that utilizes a content management system to publish a provision front or index page and a series of temporal and thematically defined archives.

That's consistent with what I see as a key trend in weblogs and weblog tools for 2004: this is the year of the archive, the year we get our old work linked and organized and connected to all the new work. Lots of weblogs have tremendous value locked away in the archives, and lots of tools (RSS, Tinderbox, Atom, mt3, blosxom) are helping us unlock that value.

Miles also uses the term, cognate post. I don't think this is his intended meaning, but isn't "cognate link" the perfect description of a WikiLink, a link that connects two posts because one mentions the title of another?

In his Lugano talk, Miles emphasizes the importance of weighting blogwork seriously. "It is common in my teaching," he writes, "for a blog to be worth up to fifty percent of the final mark for a subject."

Frankly, if I'm serious when I say to students that I expect them to use their blogs consistently, I need to demonstrate this seriousness by weighting their assemement value accordingly. If I'm serious about students writing with diligeence and regulatiry, then it must be worth their time to do so.

A key step here, I think, will be the emergence of the weblog as a professional academic forum. I'd look for two phenomena to emerge as markers of this change:

  • We'll come expect that major researchers have weblogs or their equivalent, just as we now expect any substantive enterprise to have a Web site.
  • The network of linkage, reference, and citation in these blogs will become professional in the technical sense of the term: some kinds of linkages (being linked frequently, or blogrolled, or whatever comes next) will become a mark of professional acceptance and accomplishment. being accepted into the fraternity of research blogs may come to have the significance that receiving a fellowship once held.

This development might repair some disciplinary frayage which currently creates professional anomalies. In some fields, people with doctorates are not yet ready to contribute professionally. In others, graduate students are frequently among the leaders, in contribution and in influence, for several years before they complete their degrees.

Diligence and regularity

Before I'm accused of elitism: I'm talking about accomplishment and contribution. Before I'm accused of quelling freedom, I'm talking about recognizing achievement, not credential-checking. And before I'm accused (again) of fascist twaddle, please refresh your understanding of what fascism is, beyond a term of abuse.

Kottke has redesigned, and seems headed even more emphatically for HTML minimalism with a number of thoughtful and interesting features.

Cederholm offers a selection of nice Web icons for sale.

Kathryn Cramer is working with Dramatica.

Get Well Soon wishes to Doug Engelbart, who is spending a few days in sunny Churchill Hospital, Oxford, with a spot of pneumonia.

Best wishes, to, to Rosemary Simpson, who is out of the hospital (at last!) after leg surgery and entering a stay at rehab.

Jun 04 24 2004

OEDILF

From Eric (founder of redsoxhaiku) via Meryl comes a pointer to OEDILF, the OED In Limerick Form.

One rule which deserves strict adherence:
From pointy things, keep a safe clearance.
I dislike, in particular,
Any object "acicular"
Or "resembling a needle in appearance."

Dylan Kinnett has two blogs. The official blog describes his work at Eastgate. The unofficial blog describes his work at Eastgate. Are the two blogs identical? Of course not. Are they fictions?

I've also received email from people who disagree with me on the subject of a flight risk. I wrote that "I'm not sure she's real, precisely, in the sense that you and I are real", and several (unreal) people sent email asserting that they weren't real. Well, really, what can you say?

Smoothie Metaphysics

It's a busy morning here; Technorati and Feedster and the rest are making my ears red. Nothing beats scolding the blogosphere for getting the blogosphere talking.

Dave Winer has a charming post (written at 1am) about our talk, and about his mentor, Doug Engelbart. It's interesting that Dave is an Engelbarter. At the first Hypertext Conference, lots of hypertext people met for the first time -- we knew each other's work and ideas, but we'd never seen each other in person. Back then, almost everyone could trace their genealogy to Nelson or to Engelbart. Chemists, like Russians, are invariably introduced by their academic pedigree: your dissertation supervisor, and usually their dissertation supervisor as well, become your professional patronymic. (Bernstein worked for Kevin Peters, who worked for Ken Wiberg, who worked for Doering...)

" Once Silicon Valley was an engineering mecca, land of the truth revealed by the ones and the zeros. You can't lie to a compiler. Then it became easier to lie, and then lies became the way we worked. It's not surprising that the Valley is still struggling to get back on its feet, but I strongly believe that until you're willing to hear things you don't want to hear, it will never happen. It can't." -- Dave Winer's letter to SuperNova
Karl Martino: "It's not the tools fault. It's the people who refuse to come a little closer to talk. Just like so many other problems in this world." Steve Pilgrim: "Civility is one thing that's been lacking. I discovered as much yesterday!"Jon Buscall: "one of the most important posts I read this week .... We need to slow down, think more carefully about what we're saying and how we're saying it."

Elsewhere, mostly in comments, various people regard this as an intrusion of a newbie unacquainted with the wild ways of the internet and interfering with the natural desire of weblogs to emulate the notorious excellence of usenet. Or as inconsistent with free speech. Or as 'fascist twaddle'. It might be nice if aggregators could distinguish between weblog posts and comments, so one could ignore the anonymous cowards or take them, at any rate, with a grain of salt or a stiff belt of good scotch.

I spent the morning with an old friend. We both sense, frankly, that something is wrong in the weblog world.

We've endured a series of bitter internal storms. The Atomic Recriminations were bad. The MovableType Pricing Storm was worse. Then, a free hosting service goes down for a bit and people were screaming bloody murder. Literally.

"And you know," Old Friend reminds me, "dispassionate talk about comment technologies isn't going to fix this." I hate to admit it: he's right.

I assume that, when we blog, we're all looking to discover and explain important ideas. We're not just trying to get attention at any price, we're not just chasing popularity. In the blogosphere of ideas, we've got to change the way things work. Fixing technical mistakes (for example, repairing or dropping comment tools) is a start, but it's not enough.

Civility is the foundation. Yes, one of the Ten Tips suggests that you find good enemies, but when you've found a really good enemy you need to treat them really well. The more you dislike and disagree with them, the more polite and respectful you need to be. Civility lets us focus on truths and ideas, not shrieks and moans.

Never write something you know to be untrue. Just don't. Period. It's bad for you, it's bad for your friends, it's bad for your readers, it's bad for weblogs. It's wrong.

Write about ideas, not personalities. When we're talking about servers and services, protocols and pricing, let's stick to the subject. Stop dragging personalities into it. Facts are facts: if the idea is right, it's still right even if you can't abide the other guy.

A plague on both your houses makes everyone queasy. We try too often to find middle ground, as if everything were politics. Science isn't political: the molecule doesn't care if you're nice or pretty.

Give credit. We're standing on the shoulders of giants, and we're all using infrastructure that was patiently and generously cobbled together by people who worked hard to make it. Tip your cap. Do it now, and often. Especially to your rivals.

Slow down. Take the time to write well. Think things through. Relax.

Finally, we need a process, a custom or a ritual in the blogosphere that let's us tell someone, without terrible loss of face, that they've been uncivil. The process probably requires third parties -- seconds, if you will. It needs us to discard the notion that we can never revise what we have written.

While I agree that the new federal regulations prohibiting interstellar travel are ill-advised, I think Archibald was out of line when he blamed everything on Mehitabel's physiognomy.

We need to think seriously about whether slashdot and its ilk have contributed anything lately, because it sure does plenty of damage. It may be time to pull the plug.

Keep the blogosophere beautiful. It's not that bad, yet, but there's a lot of crud piling up, and a lot of bad feeling. Let's not drive the good people away; instead, let's get rid of these old pizza boxes.

At Eastgate, we're in the midst of major hardware upgrades. A new laptop, a shiny new G5, a better WiFi system, a new printer -- and some important infrastructure.

The new blender just arrived. There was no old blender. When I was hot and thirsty, I've borrowed one of Elin's cokes. This is a bad management (and nutritional) strategy. So now we have a heavy-duty blender and, here at Camp Eastgate, we've been sipping smoothies at afternoon meetings.

Hardware Acquisition

My current theory is that this sort of ambient infrastructure is a good investment -- that spending money on a good blender encourages people to use it (instead of running out to Starbucks and the 7-11) and to use it better. Eastgate's got a better blender than I do.

Next up: replacing our horrible old coffee maker. What kind should we get?

In A Flight Risk today, Isabella has a long and thoughtful discussion of weblog fiction. She takes me (and others) to task for supposing that she is herself a fiction.

One correction: Isabella at one point refers to people like me and jill/txt as "detractors". I'm no detractor: I think Isabella is terrific! I'm not sure she's real, precisely, in the sense that you and I are real. But, really, does that matter to her, or to me?

Isabella: any tips for visiting Vienna? Things to do, people to see, pastries to sample? Let me know!

Update: Isabella emailed me to pass along the Viennese travel tips. She justly upbraids me for sloppy reading: my mistake. I still think she's terrific. Isabella: do you have any friends you'd like me to say 'hi' to, while I'm in Vienna? Errands you'd like me to run?

For those following along at home, there are wheels within wheels here. In her Vienna notes, for example, Isabella calls Kärtner Straße 'the Michigan Avenue of Vienna.' Now, you probably don't know that I grew up in Chicago. But Isabella does! If you're from Bergen or Bangkok or Boston, you might not even know that Michigan Avenue is the Michigan Avenue of Chicago. This is very nice writing, done very quickly and playing to multiple audiences really nicely.

Or maybe everyone knows it. Maybe it's a shot in the dark, or I'm missing the point entirely. In Chicago, we always assumed we were the second city -- and suspected we werere really the 22nd. But I wouldn't have known that Michigan Avenue is the Kärtner Straße of Chicago, and I sure wouldn't have planted my cue so deftly.

Jun 04 22 2004

Game Business

Cokstikyan writes seven rules for succeeding in marketing a massively multiplayer game. The first is Never, ever ship before you're ready.

That's interesting, because the usual wisdom in software today is the opposite: ship early and often. But it's probably the right answer, Iterative design works because it helps you elucidate exactly what the business customer wants, but that may be hopeless in games because the game just isn't worth enough to the customer. Perhaps massively multiplayer games are the last refuge of waterfall design...

On the other hand: Ed Blachman writes to say that my thinking here is probably out of date. In fact, "the software industry" might not exist any more, and it's certainly not one industry; the dynamics of shrink-wrap end-user software are very different from corporate open source, corporate non-open-source, and all of these are different from Web services.

The email meltdown continues; megnut can't sort her spam anymore.

Louis Menand takes on Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: hold on to your hats!

....About half the semicolons in the rest of the book are either unnecessary or ungrammatical, and the comma is deployed as the mood strikes. Sometimes, phrases such as “of course” are set off by commas; sometimes, they are not. Doubtful, distracting, and unwarranted commas turn up in front of restrictive phrases (“Naturally we become timid about making our insights known, in such inhospitable conditions”), before correlative conjunctions (“Either this will ring bells for you, or it won’t”), and in prepositional phrases (“including biblical names, and any foreign name with an unpronounced final ‘s’”). Where you most expect punctuation, it may not show up at all: “You have to give initial capitals to the words Biro and Hoover otherwise you automatically get tedious letters from solicitors.”

Menand takes advantage of the occasion to explore just what it is about the details of writing that make some writing such fun -- that makes us want to read, for example, James Agee's reviews of inconsequential 1940's movies.

There are writers loved for their humor who are not funny people, and writers admired for their eloquence who swallow their words, never look you in the eye, and can’t seem to finish a sentence. Wisdom on the page correlates with wisdom in the writer about as frequently as a high batting average correlates with a high I.Q.: they just seem to have very little to do with one another. Witty and charming people can produce prose of sneering sententiousness, and fretful neurotics can, to their readers, seem as though they must be delightful to live with.

When you come right down to it, the whole thing is worthwhile just for Menand's image of the slow, careful writer, composing "at the pace of a snail after a night on the town."

Joshua Porter observes that, when Web Designers comment on new designs, too often their comments privilege surface over deep design.

It seems that other designers do, too. Many designers with blogs often post comments about other sites. Two recent redesigns, those of mezzoblue.com and blogger.com, started countless conversations on the merits of each. Designers were making judgments like 'looks great' or 'the white space needs to be rethought'. Too many of these judgments are superficial, focusing only on a quick visual inspection of the site. They use terms like 'look' and 'feel'. They also focus on things like color palette choices, validation, which tags were used, or which technique was used to round the corners. They deal with how the site looks or how the code looks.

One reason design discussion gets reduced to bumper sticker duels is that so much of it has to be typed into bumper-sticker-sized comment forms, instead of posted in thoughtful weblog essays.

Jun 04 21 2004

Commentary

Within the last few weeks, we've seen two major storms in which the weblog community turned fiercely upon its benefactors. First, Ben and Mena Trott were denounced for the new MovableType pricing policy. Then, Dave Winer was roundly excoriated for the weblogs.com transition.

In both cases, a ringing chorus of abuse questioned the motives, the abilities, and even the sanity of the very people who had done the most to create weblogs. In both cases, cooler heads eventually prevailed -- but not, I expect, before lasting damage was done to the relationship between the blogosphere and the very people on whom it most depends.

And, in both cases, it seems to me, the real culprit were comments and trackbacks -- technologies which allowed and encouraged flaming.

  • Less delay between initial impression and publication encourages violent reaction
  • Public disagreement within your own weblog invites rhetorical exaggeration and compels response
  • Because you can't ignore an insult in your own home, writers feel compelled to respond to pernicious claims that appear in threads they contribute to. Remarks that otherwise might have been ignored ("He said what? I didn't know -- never heard of him!") are instead hotly contested.
  • People who enjoy fighting duels find a natural audience in comment threads. If they wrote on their own weblogs, the constant, acid hostility would distinguish trolls from their victims. .

The full-day delay of traditional weblogs is a good thing; the mistake the Trott's made was not in raising their prices but in popularizing comments.

Weblog comments incite duels. Duels are bad for society. We should all forego comments and return to carefully blogging responses -- including responses we disagree with, but excluding responses we cannot tolerate.

"update: response from Brian Bailey , Mathemagenic, Colin Brooke ...)

Jun 04 20 2004

Fast Business!

A Berlin conference sponsored an intriguing twist on the old cool site in a day marathon -- build, promote, and sell a new Web service dotcom in 24 hours. dozomo.com netted over $2000 in their ebay auction. Looks like fun, and the returns aren't beneath notice -- it looks like the participants walked away with a couple of hundred bucks. Thanks, Anja.

This sort of exercise can be a silly stunt. Or, it can be a useful change of pace, like McCloud's 24-hour comic -- a way for creative people to break out of a rut, to break down inhibitions and habits, to cut to the essence without bothering with surface polish.

I wonder, though, whether in the wired world this isn't also a sensible way to build stuff. Envisioning and sketching a new service and a new organization is a skill, like others. Running the damn thing is, often, entirely different. Why not split it out? This seems like a stunt, but it might be a sensible way to make a living.

At a glance, I think the eBay price is not silly. It's depressed a little by the deadline, but a high-turnover, low-margin microbusiness boutique might be a viable little business.

Jun 04 19 2004

Orkut is Over

Well, that was fun for about 10 minutes. All my orkut mail now comes from the friends of a "friend" from Iran, I'm buried in their spam.

So, it seems, is everyone else: the orkut servers are timing out left and right.

Aside from the petty annoyance, I think this goes to the heart of Spolsky's argument about Web-based applications. We could, in principle, but up with the UI baggage that server-side computer imposes. But trying to manage spam mail when every "skip this!" requires a round-trip and refresh is intolerable. And it's not something you can easily fix -- it seems to me the problem is baked into the architecture.

Joel Spolsky's lengthy and profound meditiation on the future the the software industry is profoundly interesting.

The cornerstone of Microsoft's monopoly power and incredibly profitable Windows and Office franchises, which account for virtually all of Microsoft's income and covers up a huge array of unprofitable or marginally profitable product lines, the Windows API  is no longer of much interest to developers.

Almost no Microsoft-watching is worth reading, but this is an extremely intriguing technological analysis that just happens to touch on Microsoft. Tim Bray comments.

Whatever issue may come before me as president, if I should be elected — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise. -- John F. Kennedy

Thanks, Josh Marshall, who points out, "what a difference 45 years makes!")

The BlogTalk 2.0 program promises some really interesting talks. The Trotts (MovableType) are going to talk on Blogs, Bandwidth, and Banjos: Tightly Knit Bonds in Weblogging. Torill Mortensen's topic is "Dialogue in slow motion", which (when you think about it) is exactly right. Slow food; slow dialogue: the 21st century virtues. Merelo and company are going to revisit the Spanish Blogosphere.

I'll be talking about The Social Physics of Weblogs. If you're in the neighborhood of Vienna, stop by. (I'll be in Vienna all week, since it's new territory for me. Email me if you'd like to get together,)

It's been a tough couple of weeks for the Tinderbox Windows project. Lots of niggling problems in the windowing system, all touching on the HypertextView class, piled up. And then, perplexingly, we started getting a really nasty crash when quitting.

It turns out that Tinderbox for Windows was tearing down the window structure and deleting the parts of its data structure in a different sequence from the Macintosh version, and this led to subtle memory reclamation disasters.

And, after everyone, Windows XP eagerly offered to tell Microsoft all about it. Sigh.

All better now. Thanks for asking.

Tinderwin Unstuck
These are the stairs that lead up to the second-story flats over the shops in this apartment house from Ostia. It was built about 1,900 years ago.

I guess I've gotten used to the luxury of modern computing. Remember, I started out on machines with 32K of memory and stacks of punch cards; a box of cards holds about 240K, and we used to think that was a lot.

Today, I was working on Tinderbox weblog import and, when a customer's MovableType server started to complain, I wanted to know "What's the problem? I'm only asking for a lousy megabyte!"

But, while a meg is nothing much on a personal computer, it's a bit much to ask for when you're sharing the computer with hundreds of others. Another reason the Tinderbox client-side architecture is better for serious weblogs: your data is yours, and your processor and memory is all right there when you need them.

But, on the server front, we're rewriting the import code so that it no longer asks for anything big from the server. Instead, we ask for lots of little things, one at a time. That's slower, but it keeps the server happy.

Jun 04 14 2004

Test Driven

One of the biggest factors in making Tinderbox possible, and practical, has been the development of test driven development.

Professionals don't like to talk much about the practice of programming. It used to be fashionable to say that you were an analyst or an architect or whatnot, not just a programmer; I remember with Ian Ritchie won the Turing Award and started his acceptance speech by saying, "I am a programmer", and this triggered a sudden outburst of surprised applause.

Times change. Tim Bray has a nice discussion of test-driven development and its potential to change programming from a craft to a discipline. He's right: test-driven development a simple change, it's not intellectually or mathematically complicated, and it's transformed the way I build software and -- more importantly -- the sorts of things we can make software do. In the past, new systems were malleable and exciting but, as they matured and stabilized, they became progressively harder to change and improve. Eventually, they were what they were; you could make small fixes but you couldn't do anything radical without courting disaster. It looks like test-driven development may change that.

Bray thinks this may move software development from an artisan craft to an engineering profession. I'm skeptical:

  • We've been talking about making software more like civil engineering for a quarter of a century. It hasn't happened. It's not for want of trying, or lack of economic incentive.
  • An important skill in the craft of software design is to listen to the code; if something is consistently hard or painful or unreasonably expensive to implement, it's a good idea to listen to what the code is trying to tell you. Twenty five years of failing to discipline the craft might be trying to tell us something.
  • The information revolution is facilitating a return of craft-like customization and work practice to all sorts of industries, from clothing to cars. While we're talking about software factories, everyone else is mothballing the factory and building workshops instead.
  • Attempts to professionalize software development -- to establish credentials and gatekeepers like the bar exams -- keep failing because the people who want to hand out credentials turn out to be eons behind the times. The gatekeepers end up on the wrong side of the gate, and we end up with mere credentialism.

Arts and Crafts is a growth meme for the new decade.

Test Driven
Jun 04 13 2004

Lanyard

The editor of Mac Net Journal just received his Tinderbox Weekend Remote Membership. He mentions it in his 2,779th Tinderbox note:

I received my materials from last month's Tinderbox Weekend yesterday, and I love the way that the folks from Eastgate put the package together. It includes everything I would have received if I could have attended, including a TEKKA lanyard that I can now use for holding my City of Tacoma employee badge at work during the week.

Eastgate is updating its compendium of hypertext courses. If you've taught a relevant course, or are planning one, please let us know. No need to stand on ceremony: just send us a URL if that's the easiest starting point.

We're interested in a wide range:

  • literary hypertext and new media
  • hypertext literature in its historical context
  • information architecture
  • hypertext writing
  • weblogs in education

We're also interested in hearing about related degree programs, about hypertext in primary and secondary education, and in research and experiences of interest to hypertext instructors.

Marisa Antonaya has been hard at work on a collective Tinderbox site, the PeaceLit Network. She sends an interesting observation on how it's not always a question of what Tinderbox does that matters: it's also what Tinderbox doesn't do. Being able to make private notes in your public space is often invaluable.

Jon Buscal received his Tinderbox Weekend Remote Membership.

Those wonderful folks at Eastgate have done it again: a wonderful little array of goodies arrived today with the CD & papers from the Tinderbox Weekend that I missed. Having begun to explore the contents of the CD in my den, the rest of the household were amused to hear my whelps of joy.

Buscal also suggests a Tinderbox Weekend in Europe. Good idea! But, first, it's looking good for October 2-3 in San Francisco.

Web design critic Curt Cloninger has opened his commonplace book as a weblog.

Joshua Micah Marshall, following the Wall Street Journal, reports that a Justice Department memorandum, planning strategies by which officials accused of torture should defend themselves, claims that the President of the United States has inherent authority to set aside laws. This is breathtaking.

That claim alone should stop everyone in their tracks and prompt a serious consideration of the safety of the American republic under this president. It is the very definition of a constitutional monarchy, let alone a constitutional republic, that the law is superior to the executive, not the other way around. This is the essence of what the rule of law means -- a government of laws, not men, and all that.

Is this the end of the American experiment, that last best hope of mankind?

Jun 04 3 2004

TinderWest

We're starting to plan a West Coast Tinderbox Weekend.

How does October 2-3, in San Francisco, strike you? If that's particularly good or especially bad, please let me know right away!

TinderWest
Jun 04 2 2004

Notes

Today, the plasterer came to start the walls of my old studio, which means kitchen demolition can't be far behind. Last weekend's feat might just be the last big meal from the official Worst Kitchen of 1960. Just for the record, the menu was:

  • roasted orange peppers with garlic and anchovies
  • crispy, spicy confit of duck legs
  • oven-roast mackerel with cilantro-coconut chutney
  • stewed fiddlehead ferns and mushrooms
  • skillet-roasted potatoes
  • blueberry pie with robiola al due latti

Update: commentary from Mr. 12.

Welcome, Dylan Kinnett
Welcome to Eastgate's summer intern, Dylan Kinnett, who got a running start today. About an hour after he walked in the door, he was writing copy for a new postcard about Eastgate's next hypertext fiction.

He's a student at Maryville College, and he'll be sending reports back through the college's Reports From The Field weblogs. Weblogs for interns -- now that's a good idea.