Jun 10 1 2010

Carr again

Nick Carr thinks links are distracting and is encouraging publications to eschew them lest they damage our brains.

He calls this “delinkification”.

If you find links distracting, don’t display them. Turn them off while you read. Your Web browser can do it. Any decent web browser can do that, even MSIE. It's called a user style sheet. Anyone can do this. Do you? Does anyone you know?

If you are that easily distracted, maybe you are not doing what you ought to be doing. Plenty of people read books with bad typography. Plenty of people read handwritten manuscripts, and books written in strange languages, and even books with equations and stuff. We used to call these people, “educated”. We used to call these people, “folks with work that needs doing.”

Delinkification indeed.

Carr writes, "You may not notice the little extra cognitive load placed on your brain, but it's there and it matters. People who read hypertext comprehend and learn less, studies show, than those who read the same material in printed form."
He's mistaken. The "cognitive load" canard comes from a good review article that Jeff Conklin wrote in 1986. It was plausible at the time. There's no good evidence. The additional cognitive load that studies sometimes reveal comes (a) bad writing, and (b) additional information. That’s it. End of story. We’ve been a bit lax in letting people publish these "hypertext is hard to read" studies without really proving their case. Most of them, however, are either very early or appear in marginal journals.

My grill enjoyed Memorial Day with in someone else’s yard. I hope they had a good dinner!

I spent Sunday choosing a grill and a smoker, which suddenly I find I want quite unreasonably. I spent hours dithering between the good smoker, which costs too much, and the really good smoker, which costs even more and weighs a ton and was originally recommended by a venture capitalist, which probably tells you all you need to know.

But I probably can’t have either.

So, I got some local sausages and baked my own hot dog buns, using Ruhlman’s buttermilk dinner rolls as a starting point and making New England style top-split rolls which are still bizarrely exotic to me. Why does everyone in Boston split their hot dog buns the wrong way? Look — they’ve even got me doing it.

Memorial Day, it seems, is now international. The Hidden Kitchen people in Paris had the same idea. They made their own hot dog buns.

^ quote("Baking some hot-dog rolls for butter poached langoustine rolls for dinner tonight.")

Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?

It seems to me that, 40 years ago, we’d all be clustered around the television listening to Walter Cronkite explaining every intricacy and detail of the efforts to stop the leak. Want to know what that bendy thing in the live video is? Walter would find out and tell you.

Or maybe it would be David Brinkley, with Frank McGee on location. They’d have models and mockups and they’d be showing us live feeds from Mission Control and they’d analyze everything we could see in the video.

Just five years ago, we had Katrina and no one knew what was happening, but I could point you to five blogs that were piecing together the picture, blogs that knew as much about what was going on as anyone, anywhere – including people on the scene.

For some reason, even the scattering of science blogs covering the Big Leak are, let’s face it, lousy. They’re filled with acronyms and jargon, or they just generalize and speculate, or their horizons are limited to the writer’s specialty. They all seem to be wasting enormous amounts of time with commenters who have a Bright Idea (pump mercury into the pipe/nuke the well/fill it with metal kristals) or want to tout a conspiracy theory. Comments kill blogs; just turn them off.

Here’s an example from the best of the best — “Heading Out” at The Oll Drum. He’s an expert. He’s explaining why the top kill failed. Here goes:

Now, unfortunately that diagram left a significant part out, and that is that there are three sets of pipes leading down into the well. These are the well outer casing, which, surrounded by a layer of cement, holds the BOP in place. Then there is the production casing, which had just been set to the full depth of the well. And then there is the drill pipe that, at the time of the incident, extended down 8,367 ft from the platform, or roughly 3,367 ft below the BOP. That drill pipe (DP) had previously been used to locate the production casing at the bottom of the well, and itself now rode inside that production casing. In most normal operations it is closed at the bottom by a drill bit, but (and I’ll come back to this later), it had just finished the cementing of the production casing into position, and once it detached from that and was being pulled from the well, it was an open pipe all the way up to the rig floor. And in that condition, it could be used for other things. By pulling mud out of the DP and transferring it to the mud pits (or standoff vessel), the level in the riser would fall and be replaced by seawater flowing in at the top. Unfortunately this also lowered the weight of mud in the well, and that is what caused the oil and gas to flow into the well.

I can’t follow this. Some of it’s muddled, like that first sentence which seems to explain that the diagram he used in a previous post was wrong. (How come? Where was it wrong?) Some of it’s just awkward writing: why is DP preferable to “drill pipe”? At the heart or the matter, the writer is trying to establish some sort of causal chain, but after a dozen close readings I can’t quite figure out what the forces involved are. HO is doing terrific work — this is the best I’ve seen.

This is just not good enough.

I know nothing about oil drilling, but I have a Ph.D. in a physical science (from Harvard, forsooth) and I work in a technical profession and I have no idea what Heading Out is saying. And, damn it, this shouldn’t be that hard: we’ve got some pipes, some valves, a few fluids, and a reservoir under pressure. This is not rocket science, and it’s not quantum mechanics. Draw a diagram, show the flows, identify the forces.

By the way, is there a Mission Control? Where is it? Who is in charge? If something goes sour right now, who decides what button to push? Don’t you think that would interest people? More than today’s Globe front page, which featured a story about a kid who lied on his Harvard application and two stories about Cape Cod summer houses? The Big Leak was on page A8, which explained that the information in yesterday’s stories was wrong (again) and BP was confident that this time everything would probably be under control soon, much as they said yesterday. (Remember when lying to major newspapers had consequences?)

Where the hell is our press – amateur or professional? Where did the blogosphere go?

Who told the bloggers they could go home? Yes, it’s a technical story with numbers and everything, and it’s inconvenient to cover and there are no cool pictures of naked ladies or stolen Apple products.

C’mon folks: we’re better than this. Do the work.

We had a dandy dinner to celebrate Linda’s terrific transcript at Bergamot, a new restaurant on the Cambridge/Somerville line. It was terrific.

We started with cocktails, mixed by Amy of Linda liked her Orchard a lot. I know nothing much about cocktails and Amy is certified, so I said “surprise me” and had a Lawn Party, which involves Knob Creek, Pimm's, mint syrup from one of the waiter’s personal wild mint plantation, and Yuzu. “Yuzu? you ask. I didn’t know, either. It’s a cross between the sour mandarin and a fruit that’s even more obscure.

The Orchard has Tequila, Peach & Pear Liqueur, Basil & Lime.

Then on to dinner, which involved fresh sardines (very tasty) and rainbow trout over asparagus and scapes and some very, very nice sauces. A nice Anjou with the fish, and a dandy half bottle of Chateuneuf-du-Pape with the trout and Linda’s lamb.

Seriously good food, and (if I’m follow their moves correctly) a remarkable wine list.

A nice visualization of of “A History of the World in 100 Objects", by Nate Matias using Tinderbox and Emberlight.

The first 30 of the British Museum + BBC4 "A History of the World in 100 Objects"
May 10 29 2010


BP’s short-term PR damage control campaign seems remarkably effective, but I can’t see how this will help them in the long run.

First, we seem to have a classic case of celebrating tentative success each morning (in time for the morning news shows), with gradual doubt emerging and confessions of failure (and resolve) timed after the East coast evening news. And we’ve got classic information containment, keeping unescorted press from getting good photo opportunities while confusing everyone with contradictory (and slow-coming) information.

Who is doing a good job of science blogging the disaster? The Houston Chronicle is said to be on top of the story, but I find their coverage superficial and surprisingly non-technical. Everyone points to the live feed the government compelled BP to share, but what, exactly, are we seeing (on those occasions – rare in my experience – when the feed is actually working)?

Email me.

Update: Suggestion: The Oil Drum (thanks Zon Owen) ☙ GulfBlog (thanks Doug Holschuh)

by Aryn Kyle

Strange and fascinating stories about love among very young people. A middle school girl from England finds herself friendless and adrift in an American elementary school and learns why her Mum has no friends. A middle-school boy is invited by one of the Cool Kids to come along on a Mediterranean cruise along with his divorced dad and Dad’s new (and very young) girlfriend. A gin-drenched recluse who works for a term paper mill befriends the battered 14-year-old goth girl who lives downstairs until Goth Girl’s mother warns her off because she’s a bad influence on her daughter.

Kaleido, a spatial hypertext tool for programming the the Processing language. By Agnes Chang at MIT.

May 10 25 2010

Tinderbox 5.5

Tinderbox 5.5

Now available: Tinderbox 5.5 for Macintosh. Simplenote syncing, better outlines, better maps, better text. You can easily add your own badges, too.

$90 upgrade from any previous version (and free if you've upgraded in the past year).

May 10 24 2010

Fresh Pasta

I made fresh pasta last night. It’s just flour and eggs. That’s it. Mix them up real well, and then roll them out. (My sister gave me a pasta roller decades ago, Linda found it in the basement, and it works fine)

I made a three-egg batch, and we had fresh fettucini last night and there’s a bag of fresh spaghetti in the freezer for later in the week.

May 10 23 2010


by Anita Shreve

A spectacular novel that examines how lives fly off-course in even the most conservative and protected environments. I found this through Caitlin Flanagan’s superb and thoughtful essay in The Atlantic, which you may read without fear of spoilers. Avery Academy is a prep school in rural Vermont, populated by rich kids from the city and a few deserving sons and daughters of local farmers. The headmaster, who is a nice and thoughtful fellow, has just received a distressing videotape in which three boys from the school are having sex with a freshman, and he knows at once that nothing will ever be the same again. He is not wrong. Shreve does an exceptional job of capturing the sound of real people in a real school, and of making it all matter outside the gates. The story is told from every point of view, and though it centers on the headmaster, some of the most memorable chapters are told from such unexpected angles as the school cafeteria cook, the town real estate agent, and the freshman girl’s roommate.

by Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve’s new and fascinating Testimony tells the story of an unfolding academic scandal from many points of view. Each character has their own voice and their own implicit framing story. One, the headmaster, is writing a memoir. Another, the mother of a boy who has just been expelled, is described in second person present. A freshman girl speaks in rambling dialogue with a silent interviewer.

One important question about which we know nearly nothing is how point of view affects hypertext narrative. Most hypertext narratives use third person, though afternoon famously floats into second. A lot of IF adopts second person, which is comparatively rare in fiction. Michael Joyce’s “WOE” has a dexterous point-of-view shift. Bill Bly’s We Descend is all about archives and artifacts (and its sequel promises to be even more interesting).

There’s ample room for superb research on this topic at any level. This is, in fact, an area where a hard-working undergraduate could make a real impact on the field, while it allows plenty of room for a doctoral dissertation.

May 10 19 2010

Bitter End

Which end is the bitter end?

It turns out that the “bitter end” of a rope is the end you secure or bend to the bitts of a ship, while the other end secures the anchor. If you are hoping to anchor in very deep water, you pay out more and more line and hope that the anchor will hit the sea floor. Instead, your line runs out all the way to the bitter end, and then you are up a creek without a paddle. Thanks, W.H. Smyth, The Sailor’s Word Book, 1867.

Mike Wrenn, writing from Chiba, responds to the shiitake mushrooms in my Sunday supper.

by Phillip Pullman

In a small town in Judea, the young wife of an old carpenter gives birth to twins. She names one boy “Jesus,” the other, “Christ.” It doesn’t much matter which is which — and anyway, the two infants get mixed up right away. Jesus is a handful; his parents love him but can’t quite control him, he confounds his teachers, he even raises havoc in shul and talks back to the authorities. Christ, of course, is a good boy who follows his brother, staying in the background and out of trouble and taking copious notes. Jesus becomes a preacher, and Christ becomes a writer. It doesn’t end well.

In today’s Boston Globe, Kara Miller decries the poor state of student writing and calls for vague reforms and ill-defined rewards for writing teachers. Kara Miller, as it happens, is a writing teacher. She writes:

Which leads to a serious question: why do so many students come to college without a command of fundamentals?

To some degree, it’s a mathematical problem. If it takes me all weekend to correct 40 papers, how can a high school English teacher begin to tackle 120 papers (four sections, 30 students per section) in a detail-oriented way?

Should a teacher tackle those papers in a detail-oriented way? I think we might simply read them in detail.

The problem statement is rhetorical and insubstantial. The response to the stated problem is clear: either the high school English teacher must grade more rapidly that Kara Miller, or the teacher must spend more time grading.

More seriously, is fast or slipshod grading the reason that many students come to college without a command of the fundamentals? One might argue that this is true, but Miller doesn’t actually present an argument. My own experience argues the contrary. I remember that I seldom paid a great deal of attention to detailed edits in high school, and that I skipped straight to the grade and the summary comment.

Snarking about the quality of writing in editorials about the quality of students is altogether too easy, but I keep returning to that telling phrase, “in a detail-oriented way”. I’m reading Anita Shreve’s Testimony right now. She has a wonderful knack for sketching a character’s occupation and attitude in a few lines of interior dialogue, and we both know that “a detail-oriented way” is not a good sign.

May 10 16 2010


I set out to make what seemed a fairly ambitious dinner in an hour. I did this because (a) I’m still bothered by the “nobody has time to cook” meme, and (b) I looked up at the clock and said to myself, “Whoah, dude!” and I was too stubborn to change my menu in light of the sudden discovery that, yes, time flies.

I figured that an hour for Sunday supper would be reasonable. I dropped the ball; it took an hour and a half. Here’s the plan:

  • goat cheese and crackers
  • shiitake mushroom risotto, prepared with home-made chicken stock
  • home-smoked pork tenderloin, sauce Robert
  • profiteroles

The great thing here is that, aside from the tenderloin, everything is is a staple or a leftover. So it’s a nice dinner, but it costs surprisingly little. There’s nothing green, admittedly, but it is Sunday and it’s not summer here in the North.

I'd prepped slightly: this morning, I dumped two frozen chicken carcasses in a pot, filled it with water, brought it to simmer, and stuffed it in a 200° oven. Other than that, this was a standing start.

I tried to get everything done in an hour and, yes, it took and hour and a half. In retrospect, there was no way around it: the vegetables in the stock need to simmer for an hour, and then the stock goes into the risotto which takes at least 17 minutes. So it’s 90, not 60.

  1. The risotto is cooked in chicken stock. Who wants to buy chicken stock, when you can make it by leaving some old chicken carcasses from the freezer in a pot of water and throwing it in your oven while you do other stuff? I started that in the morning.
  2. On the clock, I started by adding some tasty vegetable goodness to the stock. I chopped an onion, a couple of carrots, and some celery. They went into a hot sauté pan with some olive oil until softened and slightly brown. I preheated the oven, which takes forever to get hot. I praise myself for thinking of this right at the start.
  3. While the vegetables were browning, I tied two strips of really good bacon to the Niman Ranch tenderloin and threw it in the stovetop smoker. I used applewood, because that was the first container that came to hand.
  4. While the smoker got hot, I dumped the vegetables in the stock, and let them simmer at a lazy boil for the next hour on the (wait for it...) back burner.
  5. I’ve got two burners going now and nothing to do. So, I chopped some onion and garlic for the risotto. (I should have gone for saffron into the risotto, but I didn’t. Oh well.)
  6. I mixed up the paté a choux for the profiteroles. A half batch -- 2oz flour, 2oz butter, and 4oz water, 2 eggs, a little salt, a little sugar. Boil the water and butter, add the flour, sugar and salt, stir. Cook it just a little, and let it cool before adding the eggs. Meanwhile, the smoker is smoking and the vegetables are simmering
  7. Eek! I preheated the oven first thing – to wrong temperature. Our oven is terrific, but it handles like a truck. Abandon hope of 60 minutes. Adjust oven, and expectations.
  8. Slice shiitake mushrooms for the risotto. Sauté the caps for garnish, mince the stems and add to the sofrito. Now the smoker is smoking, the paté a choux is cooking, the stock is simmering, the mushrooms are sweating, and the oven is preheating. I am cooking with gas.
  9. Self-congratulation soon palls, and I have nothing to do. Time to jump on that sauce Robert. Chop and sauté a shallot, add some white wine, salt, and some vinegar, reduce, strain. Grab some ice cubes of demi glace from the freezer, and mix them into the sauce. Put that on the other back burner on very low heat.
  10. I’ve now got all four burners going, so its time to pipe the paté a choux onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. This means you put it in a plastic bag, snip off a corner, and squirt it out into long strips. Calling this “piping” sounds salty as hell. These blobs will go into the oven when the oven is hot, and when they come out they are (surprisingly) eclairs.
  11. Start risotto by cooking the onions and mushroom stems in olive oil, and then the rice. Add a cup of white wine, reduce.
  12. At this point I notice that my simple Sunday supper now has sauce on one burner, risotto on one burner, stock cooling next to it because it no longer has a burner, a smoker on one burner, mushrooms on one burner, and that the oven is racing to get to baking temperature for the dessert. Shake head. Reach for the white wine; apply liberally to the cook.
  13. Filter stock through cheesecloth. Ladle it into the risotto.
  14. Tenderloin out of smoker. Heat a big skillet, and sear each side over substantial heat, then into the oven to finish.
  15. Start adding stock the the risotto. Put the profiteroles into the oven. Find bowls and plates. Grab silverware, set table.
  16. Linda finishes her Sunday writing. We talk about her course on the history of capitalism. She grates some Parmesan.
  17. More stock into risotto. I grab some slightly out-of-date strawberries from the refrigerator and purée them. Whip some cream left over from this morning’s breakfast scones with the immersion blender, which (it turns out) is not the right tool.
  18. Heat the risotto bowls in the oven. Take out the profiteroles, let them cool, split them in half. The whipped strawberry cream goes between the halves. Plate and refrigerate.
  19. Sit down and amuse wife with goat cheese and sauvignon blanc, hoping she won't notice that dinner is late. Dinner isn’t really late. We’re eating, right?
  20. Risotto still not done. But now the bowls are hot. Really hot. Take out bowls, perform acrobatics to amuse and distract patient and increasingly hungry spouse. Tell story of Covent Garden jugglers.
  21. Finish the sauce, adding a little mustard and swirling in a pat of butter.
  22. Serve risotto. High time.
  23. Serve tenderloin.
  24. Serve profiteroles.

That’s lots of steps, but (fortunately) they overlap, so you can so two or three at once. Also, I made lots of extra risotto (which means risotto cakes later this week) and there was plenty of extra tenderloin, so one could argue that this counts for two dinners.

The key here is something I did learn in the Chemistry lab: keep several burners busy and divide your attention between them. Get some prep (like the chicken stock) out of the way early, and do last-minute prep while keeping an eye on your the rest. Multitasking is your friend.

Tinderbox Weekend was held at a delightful little hotel called The Rookery, cobbled together from several old butcher’s shops and charmingly remodeled. Unfortunately, last week they’d decided to upgrade their hotel software, and this created a raft of problems. Every morning, for example, I was thoughtfully provided with the Racing Mail, which I would think would strike the innkeeper as a very odd choice for a visiting American who was running a software conference all weekend.

And, thanks to the upgrade, the Internet didn’t really work. So, I was pretty much offline all week, and these posts are displaced in time. Of course, they’d be displaced anyway, and who knows when you will read them. (Thanks, Google!) But, still, this sort of remediation is interesting.

At Tinderbox Weekend and eLitCamp in Boston, I’ve been bringing currant scones right out of the oven. This would be difficult abroad, since the scones would cool off during the long plane flight and would probably be confiscated in Customs. Anticipating this, Gowan Clews filled the void with superlative Tiger Scones, which have mandarin orange and chocolate and are wonders to eat. And he’s just posted the recipe in the Tinderbox Forum!

He posted some extra recipes, too. Gotta try “Peash scones,” which are made with peaches marinated in schnapps.

I wanted something fast and nice last night. I was tired, having spent the previous night at JFK. Linda had an exam the following morning and was anxious. So, I grabbed a hanger steak and some asparagus, threw them on the grill, and made some béarnaise.

Béarnaise is just a Hollandaise seasoned with some shallots and fresh tarragon. It’s great with steak, and Hollandaise is great with asparagus. And it’s surprisingly easy. It came together fast. The steak was charring nicely. I grabbed a bottle of wine, and opened it, and checked the steak.

And — eek! — my lovely sauce was an ugly curdled mess. I don’t mean, “It had some lumps.” I mean that, while my back was turned, it had become a pool of melted butter floating atop lots of gray granules of coagulated egg. It was incredibly ugly, and whisking accomplished nothing.

I thought this was probably beyond repair, but Ruhlman says, “start with another egg yolk and a little lemon and water, and beat the broken sauce into it.” I figured, maybe I’d just pour off the butter. That worked fine. But what about the seasoning? I put a little of the ugly curds into my nice new sauce; it looked OK. I put a little more. It still looked OK. This was quite a racket!

So I added the whole shebang, and whisked a little, and it was fine. You really can save a broken sauce – even if it’s going way past broken.

We had almost no internet at Tinderbox Weekend. The hotel has switched Internet providers and had also installed new management software. This meant that I received the Racing News every morning – you’d think someone would wonder why an American computer scientists ordered that paper – and could neither post nor email.

As a result, these posts are displaced in time. But of course they would be displaced in time anyway. In any case, this sort of re/mediation is an interesting issue in weblogs as it always was in published journals. I can go back and edit what happened, knowing what happened later.

by George R. R. Martin

This second novel follows hard upon A Game of Thrones. Like the first book, it is sprawling, long, exciting, and inconclusive. I think we all know how this unfinished series will finish, but it’s fun to see how we get there, and Martin has a knack for drawing interesting characters, especially interesting villains. The plotting here is elaborate and shaggy, with numerous plot lines that will pay off in future volumes, if indeed they are not merely diversions.

What place and period does Martin have in mind as his setting? We are, of course, in faerie: dragons are real, magic is a recent memory, and seasons span many years. The castles seem to be late medieval, and the armaments (of which we hear a lot) are roughly 15th century. The society, on the other hand, seems much earlier and much simpler, and the federation of numerous small kingdoms that are occasionally united by a strong king of kings sounds a lot like our new understanding of the 4th century German tribes. The religious undertones of the struggle, where it seems we have Celtic, Norse, and Christian pantheons in play, also suggests a setting in, say, the sixth century.

Outside Covent Garden, we watched a very amusing and elaborate juggling act by two older men who did surprising things with balls, pins, unicycles, umbrellas, and a six-year-old girl named Olivia.

It was interesting to watch them shape their space, urging some people to come closer, others to back off, making jokes at the expense of pedestrians who walked across or through that part of the pavement on which they defined their invisible stage. This has, of course, a utilitarian component: when you're juggling on unicycles while retying your bow tie, you don’t want some bystander stumbling into your path with an armful of art glass and meringues. But at the same time, pulling people closer (but not too close) knits the crowd’s experience together and makes them more alert and engaged.

Covent Garden Jugglers

At Tinderbox Weekend, Michael Bywater made some very interesting observations about maintaining this balance. He is currently working on a musical, and he explained that one wants the dramatic tension to increase gradually through the course of the first act, and then again to increase through much of the second act. In addition, though, local tensions increase in each scene until the characters can no longer speak, and the challenge is to extend this tension as long as possible until the characters must burst into song.

My copious notes of Bywater’s talk were made by iPad. I had exhausted the laptop’s battery, and so Tinderbox was, briefly, not an option.

The notes frequently burst into song, or at least into nonsense. One reason is that I’ve become used to being able to make notes is multiple streams. Here’s a small example from a conference earlier this year:

Covent Garden Jugglers

Reviewing a long list of text notes, I’m finding it hard to sort out which of my notes follow or extend the previous notes, and which introduce an entirely new topic. Simple layout lets me add a quick clue to this without taking any time, or giving the matter any particular thought.

Also interesting was the sheer number of implementation details that must be considered in the book of a musical or the screenplay of a film, and how small changes can resolve complication and expense if the issues are foreseen.

Bywater opened with an example – a stage direction in a screenplay. He’d written,

Steam rises from a treacle pudding.

Production costed this shot at $12,000. You need a cook to prepare the pudding, a gaffer to light it, an electrician to take care of the cookstove, a props man to carry the pudding to the set, a teamster (who knows why), and lots of things I’ve forgotten.

On further review, the same effect can sometimes be achieved by having the actor complain that there’s no damn pudding.

When we planned Tinderbox, we didn’t specify that it ought to keep track of the number of costume changes you’re requiring the members of your chorus to undergo . But it’s nice to know we can do it.

May 10 6 2010


Today was the day of the general election, but though the headline of The Times was portentous and the lead of the Guardian was despairing, we saw only one polling place (St. Giles, Cripplegate) and no other political activity at all.

Stacey Mason and I took a break from Tinderbox Weekend preparations to spend the afternoon in Kensington with Adam of London Walks, walking from garden to garden — from the roof gardens of a vanished department store to the 17th-century gardens of a residential square, a Victorian churchyard, and the palace gardens of William of Orange. On the way, we passed plenty of notable houses. Here was Ezra Pound’s little house, and Burne-Jones’s much grander place. We had lunch at a bakery near some white-columned houses where Wendy might once have waited for Peter Pan – I have no network and cannot check but surely Becky lived in Kensington? And on the way, Adam pointed out a residence of “England’s second-greatest 19th century novelist – William Makepeace Thackeray”.

“I’m surprised,” I told him, “that you aren’t intimidated by Austen’s fierce supporters.”

“They do sometimes claim second place, or first. And people often say ‘Sir Walter Scott’, though fewer now than twenty years ago. ”

I marveled at twenty. I’d have thought fifty, or perhaps eighty, and Adam was hardly old enough for that. But before I could find a tactful way to pose the question, he let me off the hook. “Of course, he was Scottish, not English!”

“But what about Trollope? Or Hardy?”

“Hardy is really a twentieth century writer, in his sensibility.”

“If I give you Hardy, then, will you give me Galsworthy?”

“No better guide for foreigners to our class system.”

The hotel has a hotel cat, and places real books in each room. One of mine, alas, is a Reader’s Digest Condensed Edition, doubtless chosen for its binding. But there’s also a charmingly-written Old Inns of England by A. E. Richardson, a fellow who can write a bit and who found is possible, in 1934, to get his publisher to allow a chapter on “The Inn in Literature ” to occupy the final third of the volume. The publisher was Batsford, of whom I know nothing, but the printers were Unwin, who (I presume — the hotel internet is down) would later be Tolkien’s publisher. )

May 10 5 2010


Packing for Tinderbox Weekend London has been complicated – the most difficult run up to an excursion in ages. It’s almost all my fault, too.

  • Memo to files: Do not decide to install a fresh compiler update immediately before you make the final build for a conference.

But Tinderbox is built, the Tinderbox Weekend CDs are mastered, the exciting schedule is planned and printed.

Away we go.

Don’t forget to register for Hypertext 2010, June 13-15 in Toronto. Early registration closes today. I’ll be there. My paper this year has a short title: Criticism.