Apr 08 3 2008

Small World

by David Lodge

Aaron Swartz raved about this book, even though he says he doesn't usually like novels. It was short-listed for the Booker. In the end, I don't see the attraction. Lodge chronicles the sexual escapades of Jet-Setting English Professors as they fly from conference to conference. None of them seem particularly interested in their research, all of them seem surprisingly interested in misbehaving, none of them seem to enjoy it much or learn anything at all. Some of the characters, I expect, are wicked caricatures of noted critics; Morris Zapp is apparently based on Stanley Fish, I suppose Michel Tardes is Michel Foucault, and I can see how that might turn into an amusing game.

The excellent discussion on novel planning in the Tinderbox forum led me to think about assembling some screencasts on the subject. Here's a rough introduction.

For a much better-quality movie, download the file (45M) and view it on your desktop.

I'd like to know what you think. Personally, I think this is too elementary. But your mileage may vary. Something like this might go onto the Tinderbox site someday; what do you think?

You could do better. I'd like that. Nothing here took special equipment, or knowledge, or very much time; it's a couple of afternoons of work with ScreenFlow and a microphone and the Tinderbook Air.

Have a better approach? Let us know how we can help. Equipment? Software? Money? You never know what we might be able to find. Email me.

Last week, I roasted a whole leg of lamb. It was on sale at the store, I needed to cook something, and I wanted leftovers. It was good. So were the leftovers. But there was still a lot of lamb left over, and my steady lunch slate of roast lamb sandwiches is not making inroads.

So, I took the remaining 1,5 lb. of meat and chopped it into bite-size chunks and put those in a large sautée pan with just a little oil. While they gradually heated, I roasted 6 cloves of garlic in a hot dry skillet for 15 minutes, and toasted four largish dried pasillas (stemmed and seeded) for maybe 20 seconds a side in the same pan. The pasillas went into some water for a 30-minute soak, and the garlic cooled and waited to be peeled.

Then, I threw the peppers, the garlic, and about 1/2c of the soaking liquid into the blender with some pepper and cumin seed. Much whirling, then straining. The sauce goes onto the lamb. I wanted 2c of stock to add to the lamb at this point, but (shame!) I'm out of stock. "Water will do!" says Michael Ruhlman. So water it was, and it did fine. Also throw in a peeled, cubed sweet potato. Simmer for about 40 minutes.

If you were starting from raw lamb pieces, I'd just brown them well before adding the sauce, and simmer an extra 30 minutes or so before adding the sweet potato.

Then, add some honey. About 1/4c, maybe a bit more. Mix well. You want it to be sweet, but just barely sweet. Give it another stir, toss in some fresh cilantro, and make tacos with the lamb, some home-made guacamole (since a container of guacamole at the museum of fruits and vegetables was $11!), some sour cream, and some raw onion. Very nice with a Magic Hat #9!

It's an interesting dish (adapted from Bayless): distant memories of the Alhambra with a strong Indian accent.

The political sites have evolved a notion of diary rescue, in which the editors “promote” especially interesting comments from the weblog and place them on the main page. Here is Diane Greco, from way down the page in the dreary IF:Book “hypertext is boring” thread; upon further review, it's one of the best notes ever written on hypertext reading, and it would be terrible were it lost.

What we're talking about, I think, is appreciation. All I can add to this is my personal appreciation of so-called classic hypertext. I spent some years deeply involved with it, so I'm probably dismissable on that basis alone. Nonetheless, the stuff's stuck with me, the way literature just does stick, sometimes. When it's good.

One long, sentimental example: After my daughter was born, during a time when I was feeling very inside-out, I went to the mountains with my fledgling family, and all weekend I was thinking, on one hand, about how unsettled I was by my new role, by mothering, and, on the other hand, wistfully, of this line from Michael Joyce's Twilight: Mountain the first home.

The line was my refrain for the weekend: it soothed me like little else did at the time, and as I reflected on it, I found that I had deepened my sense of what we, as a family, were all doing out there in the middle of the woods, trying to make ourselves a home in the world in more ways than one.

I returned to New York to find Mark had linked to David Ciccoricco's dazzling essay (no longer available, it seems) on Twilight. The essay contained the whole lovely quotation ("Atom recalling granule, granule stone, stone the great mountain, mountain the first home"), and also drew a fascinating connection between the pile of stones that, for better or worse, is Eastgate's logo, and a different pile on Michael Joyce's home page, which was, and still is, like a lot of homes, abandoned.

And then, writing all of this down, I found, for the first time in a decade, that I could not remember the first lines of Joyce's afternoon, a story, except for the words "beset by fear" and "echoing off far ice," even though I had heard the words in my head -- all of them, very clearly -- for years and years. (I even heard them when I was pregnant, and I forgot lots and lots of things then!) At last the line came to me, and when it did I recognized that it was (of course) about memory, or more precisely the loss thereof ("I try to remember winter" "As if it were yesterday?"). And then I remembered that the word is not "remember" but "recall," and the difference had to do with hearing things, with echoes, which don't usually sound the same as the original anyway. (To make the doublings even more elaborate, in afternoon, there is also the matter of the two beginnings, true and false.) So: mountains, stones, homes, abandonments, forgetting, misremembering, beginning and beginning again. Story of my life, in other words, at that moment.

When people ask me why I "do" hypertext, or (alas) sneer at my involvement in it, and I reply that the stuff speaks to me, this is what I mean. It inhabits me. When I read the stuff, I'm amazed at how quickly the associations pile up, and how relevant, how apposite everything having to do with hypertext suddenly seems; I rediscover, through the experience of reading, say, Twilight or afternoon, a vital sense of how interconnected we all are, or might be, and how personal such associations are, how intimate.

Maybe it's just me. Or maybe readers who resist hypertext are resisting this. If it is, that's just too bad, I suppose. I really don't know how other people feel about hypertext (it seems like mostly people don't feel the way I do, or if they do, they're not talking about it.) In this stuff, like so much else, it's all YMMV. I've only got my own experience to go on. I'm not an academic, I don't have a critical agenda. I'm just a reader of the stuff.

I think we need an anthology of articles about writing (and reading) hypertext. Have favorites? Email me, even if they're obvious. Have something in your drawer? Email me, too.

As I'm burning through audiobooks at a ferocious clip, I thought I'd reread this middle novel of Pullman's great trilogy. I still agree that it's stronger than the first book — itself a remarkable achievement, since middle books have intrinsic problems that I have always thought intractable. I'm not quite to sure that the usual consensus, that holds this to be stronger than The Amber Spyglass, is correct; if we didn't know the marvels that were coming, would this book be quite so fine?

The sly, slow disclosure that life here is not entirely fun and adventure is literally wonderful.

J. D. Hollis and I had an interesting dialog on Twitter today.

JDHollis: Working on the architecture for a friend's site in Tinderbox. I'm surprised that the UX community hasn't caught on to Tinderbox. Maybe a Windows version will change that

Eastgate: Tinderbox as a tool for experimental information architecture?!

JDHollis: Not necessarily experimental. Tinderbox handles just about every IA deliverable beautifully in a single document. In Tinderbox, the deliverables are alive—you can export directly to a prototype (which encourages you to update your deliverables). You can even collect client feedback via email and automatically incorporate that into the prototype.

That's why it surprises me that Tinderbox hasn't replaced Visio et al as the de facto IA environment. Visio is for dead trees.

Mar 08 28 2008

Unread Books

The moment when you know that The Year Of Living Dangerously is going to be something special is the is when Billy Kwan speculates that Hamilton might be the Unmet Friend. A close corollary of the unmet friend is the Unread Book, and those are kicking up a ruckus of late.

Matt Selman's Prime Directive declares that

It is unacceptable to display any book in a public space of your home if you have not read it.

This seems a reasonably sensible precaution against pretense and coffee table books, but it won't work — not, at any rate, unless you are willing to keep all your books in private spaces, or simply not have any guests. Ezra Klein responds that

Bookshelves are not for displaying books you've read — those books go in your office, or near your bed, or on your Facebook profile. Rather, the books on your shelves are there to convey the type of person you would like to be. I am the type of person who would read long biographies of Lyndon Johnson, despite not being the type of person who has read any long biographies of Lyndon Johnson.

Actually, I have read one volume of a very long biography of Lyndon Johnson, but it's on the bottom shelf of my bedroom bookshelf. But I'm not really eager to make you think that I'm that sort of fellow, whatever Klein might imagine this to mean. Scott McLemee retorts, in turn, that

The word “poseur” is still around, after all, even if the people who study consumer behavior, and try to channel it, have coined the kinder and gentler term “aspirational taste” for this sort of thing. David Brooks could probably get a best-selling analysis of the American middle class out of the contrast between Seligman’s moralistic injunction and Klein’s jaunty expression of dandyism.

McLemee has much the best of the argument, in which he observes that "their superegos have taken on the qualities of a really stern accountant — coming up with estimates of what percentage of the books on their shelves they have, or haven’t, gotten around to reading. Guilt and anxiety reinforce one another.” This is silliness.

But there are lots of reasons to have books that you haven't read. Some of these include:

  • Reference books. There's a copy of the Oxford Classical Dictionary in my office, and a copy of Fowler, and a complete run of The New Yorker. I'm not Ross; I haven't read Fowler from cover to cover, and I'm not about to read the entire OCD. It's nice to have them handy when you need them
  • Marriage. Sometimes, people live together; they wind up with complex book collections. "I understand why we have two copies of The Once And Future King,” Linda observed only last night, “but how did we wind up with three?” The definition of a Modern Relationship used to be that you owned two copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves.
  • Marriage, the fragility of. Two old friends, when they got married, put little colored dots on their books to distinguish His from Hers. Now, some of Hers still have dots, in the house she shares with her new husband. People combine and separate in odd ways, and you can easily wind up with the books of old lovers.
  • Ancestors. My grandfather made a point of owning a really nice edition of the complete Thoreau. I haven't read it all. I don't know that he read it all. It's nice to have. Should I hide it? He had a complete McCauley and a complete Froude, too. If there were world enough, and time. My father took Archie and Mehitabel to war, along with Damon Runyan, Notes From Underground, Lord Jim, and Through The Looking Glass. I've never quite gotten Don Marquis myself but he's still welcome on the shelf; it was a terrible war and he did his bit.
  • Abandoned Books. Sometimes, things don't work out. Sometimes, the book is not what you hoped, but sometimes you're not quite up to it right now, and so it makes sense to save it for a rainy day. (A special case is that you might want to save some books — the last novel of a favorite writer, say — for spiritual emergencies)
  • School books. Linda's currently taking a course with Nial Ferguson that involves a great deal of reading chapter 10 and 12 of this book, and pages 43-121 of that one. This might in other contexts be lazy, but in this case it's a concession to human frailty: there's just no way that you could read all these books in a semester. But you are going to read them eventually right? Where do they sit in the mean time?
  • Reminders. I read a spectacular review of a book about insect paleontology. It's a lovely book. The reviewer says that this book contains roughly everything you should know about insects; this would be good because I know very little about insects and —look! — there's time's winged chariot hurrying near! So I lay it out on a table, along with that infernally huge Mozart and a few other books I want to remember to taste now and then.

Updates: William Cole cites more reasons to have unread books, including gifts, desk copies, review copies, and books you've that are interesting because of their covers, their illustrationsm or their former owners.

Gordon Meyer recalls another incarnation of that damned winged chariot: books go out of print. So, if you're going to read it, perhaps you'd better get it now.

Matthew Josefowicz recalls a fine lesson from Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: “The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there.”

Mar 08 26 2008


I've spent an enormous amount of time in the past two weeks in reviewing research papers for a variety of conferences and scholarly journals.

Reviewing or refereeing research is an important part of the process of scholarship; it keeps specious results out of the literature, helps detect mistakes, and works to keep conferences interesting and worthwhile.

Unfortunately, a surprising portion of the work submitted to journals and conferences is a hopeless mixture of dullness and incompetence. You expect to see papers that are not very good: this vale of tears, let's face it, has plenty of things that just aren't very good. All the children can't be above average.

But we're not talking about mediocrity here, but absurd, pointless papers. Papers that propose systems that no one will build, that construct and evaluate systems no one will use, that draw elaborate statistical conclusions from a few hastily-scribbled surveys filled out by graduate students. Papers in arcane pidgins that — even if you cleaned up the grammar — would remain poorly written because the sentences are so fuzzy and their arrangement so dully pedantic.

There's plenty of good research out there: unless you're a reviewer or an editor, you don't see these papers. That's what reviewers do: they try to make sure you don't need to wade through this stuff, while still making it possible for a really good study by an unknown scholar, working at some small institution or tiny company in a seldom-visited and distant place, to have the same chance of publication as the lions of the Ivy League.

But, it's not a lot of fun. And it would be a lot easier on everyone if people would simply not submit papers they know are embarrassingly bad.

by Peter Carey

A strangely delightful book about The Boy, who is eight and who is being raised by his grandmother because his parents were radical extremists in the 1960's. It's also about how a bit of friendly gossip about old friends after your successful Vassar job interview can lead an assistant professor of English to wildly unexpected places — in this case, the remoter corners of Queensland.

This book features what is probably the best fictional phone call ever written.

Steve Ersinghaus takes a whirlwind tour of critical theory in Reading Hypertext: Diversion I.

Is this a diversion, a distraction, or a divertimento?

Time begins , strangely, at dawn and in Japan. And with the start of Time we have, also, the start of the season for the Malden Mallards, my cellar-dwelling fantasy team. Fantasy Baseball helps make it possible to root for players without wishing too many good things to befall the corporate titans who own their contracts.

Our league has 15 teams with 28 man rosters, which means that, for adjusting your roster to the inevitable in-season disaster, one must pay a great deal of attention to the 421st-best player in the major leagues. This means that you spend a lot of time looking at players like Boof Bonser (oh! what a baseball name!) and Conor Jackson, which is really more pleasant than endlessly contemplating Manny Being Manny.

Manny, incidentally, is a Mallard. Pedro Martinez, however, is not, having been swept away by the new team on the block — The Sleep Deprived — whose team logo is a baseball cap emblazoned with the letters, "NEW". I believe we've had Pedro every year since he was wearing Dodger Blue in 1993 — that;s about 2500 innings for the Mallards.

Mar 08 22 2008

Personal wiki

I'm program chair for WikiSym, the ACM research conference on wikis.

We're going to have papers on corporate wikis, and public wikis, and wikipedia, and we'll have plenty of papers on microformats and social media and community building. But I also want to see some papers on wikiblogs and personal wiki.

And what better place to mention that than this place? I don't want the conference to go all pedantic about what is or isn't a wiki; if it's fast and light and has lots of links and you think that people interested in wikis will be interested in what you're talking about, then maybe for our purposes it is a wiki.

It's a very selective conference, but it's also unusually broad in its interests and unusually engaged in practice and implementation as well as theory.

Papers are due May 3. Want to talk about ideas? Want help with a draft? I'm the guy to see.

Linda and I had been toying with the idea of making hamantaschen to bring to a friend's dinner this week. Making them: what an idea! No bakery involved. (In my family, if you really wanted to make an effort, you'd schlep up to Ashkenaz to buy stuff.) But then we heard our friends talking about the relative merits of different crusts, or the comparative desirability of poppy as opposed to apricot, and we knew we were out of our league.

So, instead we made Baba Beh Tamur, which is (apparently) what you make for Purim if you're a Jew in Baghdad, provided you can get flour and oil and dates and nuts and fire. Which is probably more than somewhat difficult these days. Thanks again, Republican voters.

And they're pretty good. The yeast pastry might seem scary, but it's very easy and fast-moving; we made the dough before dinner, it rose during dinner, and we rolled it out right afterward. (The recipe calls for fresh yeast, which of course no one has on hand. I used 2T of instant yeast, and it was fine)

Ammon Shea has read the entire OED. He finds some remarkable definitions.

Trondhjemite is defined as ‘Any leucocratic tonalite, esp. one in which the plagioclase is oligoclase’. I have my doubts as to whether anyone has ever thought to themselves ‘I wonder what trondhjemite means?’ But if someone did, and went to look it up in the OED, it seems unlikely that this definition would clear things up much.

He also has a category called, "What were they thinking?" For an example, look up unpoetic.

Tinderbox 4.2.2

Tinderbox 4.2.2 is out. (The previous release, 4.2.1, only lasted overnight.) Get it while it's fresh. Internal templates now work much more smoothly; I think they'll quickly become standard practice for people with demanding export needs.

I taped a podcast of the first part of my NeoVictorian talk from Cork, Ireland. It's an interesting exercise on getting to know ScreenFlow.

I'd welcome comments on whether these are a worthwhile supplement to writing, or whether this is (as it seems to me) just a slower way to say what I'm writing on the blog.

Mar 08 19 2008


by A. S. Byatt

A wonderful, thoughtful romp through the thickets of poetry and thorns of romance. In this amazing book, Byatt has imagined and written the works of two eminent (but fictitious) Victorians and imagined the contemporary academic industry that flourishes in their wake. The 19th century prose and poetry is stunning, the 20th century criticism is real, the academic satire superbly biting.

Jonathan Leavitt discusses weblogs, NeoVictorian and nobitic.

The grocery had a bunch of blood oranges at a decent price. So dinner was simple:

  • salad of blood orange slices, warm roasted almonds, red butter lettuce, parmesan curls. Drizzled with walnut oil, sprinkled with the nice French sea salt that Karen gave us.
  • codfish, gently poached in wine, saffron, blood orange zest, and fresh dill
  • turnips, browned in a little duck fat and then simmered with white wine, spring onion, cilantro, and garlic

Walking down a rainy street in Cork, I wanted to reread Howard's End. And then I asked myself, have I actually read Howard's End? Or, having seen the movie and read so many discussions of the book, do I simply feel like the book is an acquaintance?

Because I have this blog, I do know that I haven't read Howard's End in the last eight years.

Kim Acker makes a nice point about the literary conversation between weblogs. She's reading MFK Fisher, and came across my notes:

Fisher has a skilled, elliptical knack of leaving the big emotions and the impossible scenes offstage. She acquires, then loses, a husband suddenly and without much comment.

Acker turns to Amazon comments, which seem wrong-headed and small minded. "i felt that some of the most important events in her life lacked the background information for the reader to truly understand the significance they had on ms. fisher's life."

The soulful mystery that irks these Amazon reader is exactly what I'm loving. Thank God for Mark Bernstein.

I want to talk about the books I'm reading preferably with people who are reading them at the same time.

Notice, too, how the post begins with an interesting photograph of a dancer, a lovely image that pays off many paragraphs later (when an ex-boyfriend's new wife "served us an elegant dinner of mushroom risotto and asparagus, stood like an elegant dancer over her stove.”)

Books, Bodies, Blogs

Here's a slide from my Cork talk. The press almost always gets sex in blogs wrong, confusing blogs (which are doing one thing) with the quick-buck porn industry (which is doing something else entirely). Here, Acker moves gracefully from reading about food to eating with old lovers and their lithe, forgettable new wives ("maybe she was a dancer, I forget") with their unforgettable risottos. Then on to reading in bed beside her husband, who is gobbling up a golf book while she savors and sighs over Fisher's prose. But even this scene is redeemed, in the end, as we're off tonight to the Fan Francisco Ballet to celebrate his birthday, although "his buddy Dougie says to him .... ‘You actually like ballet?’"

The concerns of the body are conspicuous in weblogs, whether couched in confessional autobiography or expressed in cheese sandwiches.

Mar 08 14 2008

BlogTalk Video

NextWeb Japan has video of my BlogTalk lecture on NeoVictorian Blogging. Hand-held video, shot from the audience, and spending far too much time looking at me instead of my slides. 22 minutes.

I'm thinking of cleaning up a screencast of this, with slides, in the next week or two. But this is the raw event; it's an interesting — indeed fascinating — development in the conference scene.

We do not ask truly Victorian questions, which often were questions of starvation: “Please, sir, I want some more.”

But old questions do come back to haunt and taunt us. The problems of the late age of print echo the problems of the late industrial revolution. We can do things we have never done: what is worth doing? What is worth writing? Who are we, and what do we want?

BlogTalk Video

Last night, I topped some grilled salmon with a bit of sauce:

  • A big spoon of creme fraiche
  • A small spoon of Dijon mustard
  • A couple of sprigs of dill, quickly chopped up

That's it. No cooking, no fussing. Terrific. And, you know, it's got the classical parts of a classical sauce: an accent flavor, some acid, and some fat.

A keeper.

Mar 08 12 2008


While the compiler churned through a vast rebuild (a minor but hilarious bug fix having required a small change in class Hypertext and class Node which means, [pretty much, recompiling the world), a pondered what to cook for dinner.

Thanks to Kevin Kelley's Cool Tools, we have an AeroGarden, which means we have some cilantro that needs pruning and using. And I had a duck breast in the frig. Here's what I did.

  • Take the duck, season with more salt and pepper than you think quite right. Sprinkle a spoon of sugar over both halves. Score the skin.
  • Squirt a couple of spoons of honey into a small saucepan. Prune the cilantro. Chop the nice leaves and put them in the honey, and set over moderate heat until the honey starts to boil. Keep the scraggly leaves and stems. (Want to use thyme? Go ahead!)
  • Heat a skillet, add a very little bit of oil, sautée the breasts skin side down for ten minutes.
  • Boil some water in a pot. Add more salt than you think quite right.
  • Wash a big russet potato. Trim it into a rough brick shape; leave a little of the corners (skin and all) so you don't waste too much potato. Now, slice into 3/4" rectangles, and then slice those until you have roughly 3/4" cubes.
  • Toss the potato into the boiling water for about ten minutes. A little more or less, it won't matter. Drain them in a colander
  • Get out the stovestop smoker. A wok or anything that has a rack and a cover will do. In the bottom, put some black tea; I cut open two teabags of English Breakfast. And toss in that handful of cilantro leaves and stems. I also had a little pecan sawdust, but you don't need it.
  • When the duck is nicely brown on the skin side, turn it over and cook another 2-3 minutes. Then put it on the rack of the smoker.
  • Pour some of that cilantro-infused honey over the duck. Save some for later. Close the smoker. Smoke on the stove for 20 minutes.
  • Pour the rendered duck fat into a nonstick pan, and heat it up. Add a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil. When hot, add the potatoes. (I know. Fat? Ick! But this is expensive fat. They sell it for lots of money in fancy stores. It's good for you. We like it.)
  • After a few minutes, the potatoes will begin to brown on one side. Shake them or tip them so another side (mostly) is face down. Sprinkle in some salt. Don't obsess; they'll all get cooked eventually. Keep turning the cubes every few minutes.
  • Add a very little oil to that pan where you were cooking the duck breasts. Heat. Got some leftover wine -- maybe dessert wine? Or some stock? Deglaze the pan. Nothing like that? Just add 1/4c or so of water. Stir things up. Toss in whatever vegetables come to hand — maybe some asparagus, or spinach, or carrots. Cook for a few minutes.

So, we've got herb-infused, tea-smoked duck, some very nicely fried russet potatoes, cooked in duck fat (the best kind), and some sautéed veggies. Nice for a school night.

Over in that dreary lowbrow barfight at if:book over whether hypertext is boring, Sebastian Mary proposes that interactive fiction is better because it can make you cry. What hypertext can make you cry?

The question makes me cry.

Alert: this is for insiders. I'm assuming you know the hypertext canon.

Here's my answer:

Victory Garden, obviously.

The teariness of afternoon, a story is actually an interesting question. When do we cry for that son whom we might have seen die this morning? Or for the father? And when might we cry? Perhaps we feel we ought to be sad, but are not in fact very sad, not as sad as, in common decency, we ought to be. And perhaps that's precisely how Peter feels. “I understand how you feel. Nothing is more empty than heat. Seen so starkly the world holds wonders only in the expanses of clover where the bees work."

I also think there's a tearful climax in Falco's A Dream With Demons. And his "Charmin Cleary" will evoke tears of a different kind, especially when the protagonist thumps her English professor with the Complete Works Of William Shakespeare.

And there's that lovely moment in "Conventions" in Samplers where we're sitting on a convent bench, talking with our old schoolfriend from whom we've been separated by years and by war, and we all suddenly understand what's happened to her. Plenty of tears of frustration, too, once the police get involved.

And there's another kind of tears in Cyborg when Diane Greco warns us, "You arent going to like this."

This is a silly game.

by Richard K. Morgan

A 25th century thriller, set in a world where people can easily upload and download their consciousness into new bodies or "sleeves", but where (contrary to David Brin) there's a very strong convention that you should only have one body at a time. Zesty, full-throated and hardboiled, the story keeps moving even though the whodunnit is not particularly strong. The world building is wonderful, with a terrific background of Martian archaeology, holidays like Translation Day (when we learned at last how to talk to whales, after which "as rare as whale meat" became proverbial), and a richly-imagined history that leaves eons of proverbial wisdom washed up in the streets of Bay City California, along with an artificially-intelligent hotel that longs to have guests but at which, because it is artificially intelligent, no one will stay.

The Village Voice is a fine paper. It can afford to run long and thoughtful pieces like this new Mamet essay on the nature of politics. They then tart up the Web page with so many bad ads that it is nearly unreadably, and deliver it from servers that are far too slow. (Here's the unpaged version, which is preferable to the normal one).

The right is mooing about faith, the left is mooing about change, and many are incensed about the fools on the other side—but, at the end of the day, they are the same folks we meet at the water cooler.

But, in what Mamet calls the essence of liberalism and “these saddest of words: ‘. . . and yet’”.

I don't meet anyone at the water cooler who thinks torture should be legal. I don’t meet anyone who thinks the Justice Department should be run as part of the spoils system and should prosecute the political enemies of the current administration. I don’t meet anyone at the water cooler who thinks we’re better off having fought the Iraq War than having sent those thousands of dead soldiers to Harvard and, with the left-over money, funded Social Security into the 22nd century.

Another New York writer said that "These are the saddest of possible words: Tinkers, to Evers, to Chance." Curious.

by William Styron

A very strange novel, populated by characters who are not like anyone I know but who, I suddenly realized while walking down a rainy Irish lane, do resonate with dim childhood memories: these are the people that folks at my parents' and grandparents' parties used to talk about. They drink prodigiously, they swap partners carelessly but with great vigor, they think very seriously about the position of art and philosophy in contemporary life.

It was a strange generation, in the 40's and 50's. And it cast a long shadow: when Springsteen recalls “Roy Orbison singing for the lonely”, these are the people he's thinking of.

The backdrop of this 1959 novel is the making of John Huston's 1953 film, Beat The Devil, which was shot on location while the Huston and Truman Capote pretty much made things up as they went along. Like The Naked and The Dead, this is a book that wants to be about gay men, and tries occasionally to come out of the closet, but that can't quite work itself up to the point.

Just received — and making my day: Reading Network Fiction by David Ciccoricco. Close reaings of Victory Garden, Twilight, The Unknown, and The Jew's Daughter, among others.

Very promising at first glance.

Martha Rotter (Microsoft) has an excellent trip report from BlogTalk.

I spent the most of the day walking the windy shores of Kinsale, poking around ruined fortifications, cottages, and a nifty High Modern glass box whose architect I can't seem to find. Then the wind kicked up, and I ducked into a wonderful little pub with a sunny window, a warm fireplace, a pint of the local lager and a William Styron novel.

BlogTalk remains a very interesting conference, but one unmoored from its roots in the academe and, indeed, from weblogs. Pretty much gone, now, are the papers on the characteristics of national blogospheres, on effective blogging practice, or on the scholastic uses of weblogs. Instead, there's a lot of interest in social networks, in new standards for exporting lists of friends, in OpenID and mashup plumbing.

Several talks showed the same slide, diagramming a succession of Web 2.0, Web 3.0, and Web 4.0 technologies. As far as I can make out, Web 1.0 represents the bad investments you made and wrote off, Web 2.0 is whatever revenue you're generating now, and Web 3.0 (labelled "the semantic Web") is the promise of whatever stuff your engineers are building. Web 4.0 is labelled "Web OS", is based on "artificial intelligence", is scheduled to arrive between 2030 and 2040, and is, basically, magic. This discussion of the semantic Web tended, to my ears, to be radically naïve; people pretty much rehashed the TBL CACM paper, except that they now expect that the metadata will be added automatically through tagging and natural language parsing. It's such a retro view that I wasn't quite certain whether the proponents had never left 2002, or had learned something new that led them back again.

Fortunately, there remains a core of real work. Salim Ismail (no longer at Yahoo) and Joe Lamantia (Keane) kicked things off with interesting talks about, in essence, the place of advertising and deception in the Web business. Most people talk about spam and deceit and wring their hands, or plot ways to punish wrongdoers and clean up the world; both of these speakers accepted corruption as our lot and urged us to reflect on how much dirt we can accept on our own hands.

Anna Rogozinska (Warsaw) has a fine bit of Web scholarship in a critical study of Polish diet blogs. There's a lot to be learned, here, both descriptive and prescriptive; I'm not sure we know a lot more about cultivating Web and Wiki communities than we did when Powazek wrote the book. This was pretty much the only critical scholarship in evidence, and so the paper was in its way a saving grace, a proof that this is still BlogTalk.

Jeremy Ruston and cohorts have an open source lab at BT. They're building lots of TiddlyWiki infrastructure for a variety of collaborative tasks, and have interesting things to say about insurgent tech in a conservative corporate host. The wiki/weblog connection is far more interesting than people understandl Ruston didn't address the issue, but it's clearly one foundation for their work.

Brian O'Donovan and Gabriela Avram have been studying a formerly-conservative corporate host, IBM, and its embrace of groupware, blogs, and related tools. Andera Gadeiv (Dialego) does qualitative analysis of virtual market research focus groups — an unexpected and interesting application of groupeware. And Jon Hoem (Bergen) presented a nice Javascript framework.Memoz, for spatialized weblog-as-collage; there's other pertinent work in this vein (Shipman and Revilla, J. Nathan Matias), but this is certainly interesting and useful.

A weakness of BlogTalk has always been its assumption that software happens, and that our job is to find good uses for whatever tools the software companies provide, or to study the way typical users adopt them. I think that's short sighted, and it's good to see some timid steps toward new systems or, at least, new facilities. The semantic Web handwaving will, I suppose, subside in another year or two, replaced either by some new form of handwaving or by real work with real metadata. But I still think the turn to include "social software" with blogs was a mistake; when any ploy (however ineffectual or dishonest) that spreads through a buddy list or address book is equally pertinent to the conference, BlogTalk tends to become another meetup about marketing on the Web.