MarkBernstein.org
Nov 03 1 2003

lemon curd

It's berry season. But, you need something to put under those fresh berries, right?

Squeeze a lemon. Peel some of the zest, chop, add it to the juice. Add 4tsp of sugar, and two eggs. Whisk. Then plop it in a double-boiler (or a heavy saucepan inside a water bath in your big skillet) and stir for five minutes. It will thicken suddenly. When it does, you're set.

Cool the lemon curd. Stir in a little creme fraiche if you have some lying around. Spoon into bowls, put the berries on top. Eat. Smile.

Oct 03 31 2003

MacOS X Con

Gordon Meyer reports on MacOS X Con.

iSighting
From Boinx Software (great name!), iRecordNow is a handy little tool for the iSight camera. For $15, it records desktop movies.

In Germany, according to Anja, Hallowe'en is too American, or too pagan, or something. "Halloween is not the tip of an iceberg of New Heathendom that's sweeping central Europe. German Halloween has been created a) by Halloween-specials in US-sitcoms and more importantly b) the sweets-industry."

Is a new heathendom sweeping central Europe? The revenge of Buffy, im Bann der Dämonen on Transylvania?

Experimenting with macros suggests some interesting little tricks. For example, the little "badges" I use to tell people about RSS feeds and such look like pictures but they're actually complex little bits of stylesheet magic. Here's an example:

XML

This used to be done by typing a long and messy bit of magic HTML, but now all I need to do is type a macro

^do(badge,XML,"news.rss".....)

And Tinderbox does the rest.

Supposedly, the online-carolinesque serial web story, PlanetJemma, is intended to encourage girls (ages 13-16) in Britain to study science. It's a first person episodic story, featuring a young astrophysics student, with aspects of (simulated) weblogs. In an interview in The Guardian (which mentions Jill's useful paper, How I Was Played By Online Caroline), creator Tim Wright says we should ""think of [Jemma] as Buffy the astrophysicist," Wright jokes, showing that Wright doesn't understand Buffy, either.

I've only followed the first four days, but thus far PlanetJemma is incredibly, dismayingly sexist.

First and worst, we've not had the slightest hint of why Jemma likes science, nor seen her excel at it. Her given reasons are the reasons of a ten-year-old: she likes to look at the stars. But she's a grad student in astrophysics, she's already spent years slogging through tensor calculus and thermodynamics, and if she doesn't absolutely adore the abstract theory, she'd be long gone.

Jemma is constantly reassuring us that you can be a scientist and also be attractive, feminine, and have a boyfriend. She talks too much about clothes and too little about wave functions. Her priorities are a mess.

Today (day 4), we see "the lab". Jemma and her friend Rolf show us an "experiment" with liquid nitrogen, which Jemma thinks is really cool. (The real Jemma, by now, would be bored by liquid nitrogen) Rolf does the experiment, which is just a science museum parlor trick, while Jemma watches admiringly. Then Jemma tries, the liquid nitrogen boils over and splashes, Jemma leaps back, and her friend shouts "Take off your pants!" as the screen cuts.

This is stupid, prurient, and idiotic. It's poor safety advice -- probably the wrong response to a spilling nitrogen on your clothes -- and it sets a lousy example. If you're in the lab and you have a spill and you waste one second on the way to pulling the safety shower being embarrassed about your wet t-shirt, you're a danger to everyone.

Day three seemed to be about the horrors of pinup girls on the wall of our TA's desk. This is how you make science more attractive? If you ask me, this is a generic workplace problem; you're going to meet it in astronomy and you're going to meet it in auto mechanics and you're going to meet it in politics. We're also spending ridiculous amounts of time worrying about boyfriends and dates and snogging, whatever that is.

Earth to PlanetJemma: sex, to astrophysics grad students, is what you do when you can't do science right now. (Cloudy nights are hard on astronomers. Data collection takes time.) If you want to make science more interesting to girls, show them the science.

Missing the point
like a goat looking at a watch....
Oct 03 27 2003

New Hampshire

Joshua Micah Marshall asked his weblog readers for contributions to support a reporting trip to the New Hampshire primaries. Within a day, readers had sent more contributions to the project than he could budget. (He's going to send back the extra money)

This is extremely interesting. First, it's a sign that Seymour Hersh might be right in predicting that this election is "going to be the most interesting political year since Hoover vs. Roosevelt."

Second, it's an interesting insight into the developing Web economy. People are notoriously reluctant to subscribe to Web magazines, but here they're rushing to pay for content. Why? Perhaps because they're part of the content creation end, not merely consumers. If you contribute, you help ensure this talented writer will be covering the primary. Interesting...

New Hampshire
Nine months ago in the snows of New Hampshire...
Oct 03 26 2003

Macros

The latest experiment in Tinderbox Labs is macros. From time to time, I find myself adding repetitive HTML to a Tinderbox note, just so I can get a specific effect when I export.

For example, the movie list on the main page is a nice souvenier but it's got to be compact and easy to extend. Right now, I wrap each new title in a span and apply a corresponding style. The macro tool lets me write this more simply

^do(goodMovie,The Red Violin)

This tells Tinderbox to plug the movie title into the appropriate markup, and gives me a single place to tinker with the markup.

It's a small convenience, and it adds substantial complexity; it will be interesting to see if it proves worthwhile.

update: Gordon Meyer comments:Such a good idea that I wish I had suggested it ....The complexity will surely befuddle some users, but I'm hoping it makes it out of the lab and into the product soon. "

One of the interesting observations Pullman makes in his Isis lecture concerns a symmetry between audience and artist. "What I mean", he writes, "is that the audience (readers, or whatever) have to feel that this is a game or a process or a craft or an activity which they themselves could take part in too , if they wanted to. If they don’t want to, fair enough; they can just enjoy it. But if they do want to take part, then they need to feel that there’s nothing to stop them. "

David Mamet writes:

The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that."

Anyone can write a story; we know that, had we world enough and time, we could write. Little boys play second base or silly mid-on; grown up, they watch and know what it's like. They could have done it themselves, they still could do it, except for the accident of being a little too slow or a bit too old. I can't draw half as well as a talented seventh grader, but it was only when I began to try to draw that I really began to enjoy long afternoons in galleries and museums.

Symmetry

An observation: Hardly anyone can write a computer game. Hardly anyone thinks they could. How seriously does this interfere with the growth of the art? Is this part of the reason that computer games so rarely touch serious topics?

Greg Costikyan lists 300 Games Every Game Designer (and Gamer) Should Know. One of them is afternoon, a story.

Philip Pullman's Isis Lecture (link updated) takes a fascinating look at the "low-level dread" that enfeebles education. "So, first of all, " he begins, "I'm going right in to the glowing radioactive core at the heart of the engine that drives the whole thing: the National Curriculum and the SATs."

"Then there is the Reading Journal, which children have to keep. Among other things, they have to:

  • List the words and phrases used to create an atmosphere
  • Write a fifty word summary of a whole plot
  • Pick a descriptive word from the text and, using a thesaurus, write down five synonyms and antonyms for that word
  • $6
  • $7
  • $8
  • $9

"And so on. What concerns me here is the relationship this sets up between child and book, between children and stories. Stories are written to beguile, to entertain, to amuse, to move, to enchant, to horrify, to delight, to anger, to make us wonder. They are not written so that we can make a fifty word summary of the whole plot, or find five synonyms for the descriptive words. That sort of thing would make you hate reading, and turn away from such a futile activity with disgust. In the words of Ruskin, it's "slaves' work, unredeemed."

Teaching and Storytelling
Oxford, Dust and Magic, 2003

RedSoxHaiku.com is the subject of a Scorecard feature in The October 27 issue of Sports Illustrated (p.30).

Going, going, gone
In the eleventh inning
Winter has begun.

Tantalus. Red Sox.
Eighty-five years, still thirsty.
Do we need a straw?

Oct 03 23 2003

Mole Day

National Mole Day is today, beginning at 6:03 on 10/23. Say hi to Avagadro! Thanks, Meryl!

Zeldman and crew have completely redesigned A List Apart. Very nicely done, with lots of style and plenty of stylesheets. Several intriguing new articles, too, especially Douglas Bowman's "Sliding Doors of CSS," a classic example of the I didn't know you could do that! school.

There's a terrifically violent scene in Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen, a scene without weapons or blood or even contact, Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), the out-of-control 7th-grade protagonist, really, really wants to hurt her mother (Holly Hunter). She adopts a combat stance, full of threat -- balanced on her toes, leaning slightly foreward, hands free. And, in a low voice, full of threat, she says, over and over again, "No bra. No pants." She takes a step forward. "No bra. No pants."

In the new issue of TEXT, Sabrina Achilles discusses Performative Pedagogy and Hypertext.

Storyspace is a hypertext writing program, created by Eastgate Systems. It has several possible applications but it is widely employed for writing fiction. The hypertext program changes the way in which texts, including fiction, may be written and read....

Hypertext.... is a fluid environment, it is 'theoretically infinite, open-ended, variable and disorderly', as Mireille Rosello writes (Rosello 1994: 147 ), and so no frameworks and models can be achieved. As Rosello says, for certain specialists, hypertexts would not be seen as 'inherently liberatory' because of their open-endedness. The question remains, then, can hypertext be used for 'shaping the social and cultural environment'?

Oct 03 22 2003

Irony Patrol

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he "didn't want to see any stories" quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.

Thanks, Paul Frankenstein!

In 1896, William Jennings Bryan led the first Populist crusade, a campaign of farmers and workers against Wall Street, the gold standard and the Establishment. He lost, but the memory of that crusade fueled the Progressive Era, much as the memory of working for McCarthy or for Bobby, or walking with Martin, colors our own. Vachel Lindsay remembered the joy of that crusade in the middle of a long poem, written long after the returns came in:

She wore in her hair a brave prairie rose.
Her gold chums cut her, for that was not the pose.
No Gibson Girl would wear it in that fresh way.
But we were fairy Democrats, and this was our day.

Question: The last line is, I think, an allusion to something else. I can't place it. I can't figure our a Google strategy to uncover it. Coleridge? Swinburne? Let me know.

Question: Trying to Google this, I noticed that Time apparently misquoted the last line in a 1996 article by David Mamet, from whom I found it in the first place (in his 1986 Writing in Restaurants), emending it of "Prairie Democrats." Does anybody know the story behind this? Time, under Luce, was notorious, but 1996 was only yesterday.

It's fascinating to watch the spreading rings of readsoxhaiku.com rippling through the Web pond. The domain was registered Friday night, the page appeared Saturday morning. Now, all over the world, it seems people are writing Red Sox Haiku.

I want to see that 7-act Jacobean revenge drama....

Oct 03 19 2003

6e6

(Revised) In his weblog, Gregg Easterbrook (a journalist who should know better) foolishly singled out greedy Jewish studio executives as responsible for a violent movie, Kill Bill, that Easterbrook disliked. (Lots of people liked the movie; Ebert thinks it's brilliant.)

His story is a distillation of the universe of martial arts movies, elevated to a trancelike mastery of the material. Tarantino is in the Zone.

Easterbrook's debacle illustrates one great hazard of the weblog: without an editor, you can publish stupid, hurtful, career-ending words before you realize you're making a terrible mistake. It can be good to Find Good Enemies, but it's never good to merely embarrass yourself.

Don Park, in his own weblog, suggests that "Semitism [sic] seems to have a very powerful forcefield that protects it". This, to sensitive ears, echoes the belief in a Global Jewish Conspiracy . Some of the comments are worse.

There's no need to invent a Jewish conspiracy to explain why ESPN would be eager to fire Easterbrook. Remember a former ESPN employee named Limbaugh?

Dave Winer offers a good perspective. So do Gillmor  and Hawkins. Joshua Micah Marshall offers a convincing and reasonably sympathetic appraisal of Easterbrook -- one I find convincing.

"Try as I might to explain to myself how Easterbrook could have unwittingly walked into such an unfortunate formulation, I still find it a bit difficult. What was he thinking? I go back and forth. I’m not sure.

"Jews have some license to engage in intra-communal polemic along these lines, just as blacks do within their own community. Gentiles don't."

I think this is a textbook example, incidentally, of the danger of weblog comments. I'm now convinced that comments are the usenet of weblogs.

It's really very simple. All through Europe, you walk through neighborhoods and towns and farmlands where millions of Jewish children used to play. Those kids were killed, often by their neighbors, because their ancestors were Jews. Because their neighbors whispered at night that the Jews were rich, were powerful, that they controlled everything.

You can hear echoes of those neighbors today, in your neighbors' weblogs.

Oct 03 18 2003

Jesper Juul

Congratulations to ludologist Jesper Juul on the completion of his doctoral dissertation, "Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds".

The city is strangely quiet, the weather suddenly cold. Our friend from the trading post, visiting this weekend with a van of merchandise, sits almost alone with the kachinas. Nobody in Boston leaves home today.

We talk about the Sox and the Cubs, and about the time he and his friends climbed a mountain, back in the 50's, so he could plug their radios into the new FAA antenna and listen to the Yankees play the Dodgers. Some of the others spoke only Navaho or Zuni, but they knew enough English to hear the numbers. They knew the score.

A new Web site: RedSoxHaiku.com.

Going, going, gone
In the eleventh inning
Winter has begun .

photo: istockphoto

A very interesting aspect of Giles Foden's recent Method and Medium (in the Guardian), on the relationship between writers and technology, is that Foden by no means sees technology as the writer's ally.

You think of fonts and hard drives, software packages and printer cartridges. Or you footle around the internet, calling it research.

All this is wrong-headed: obsessing about the technology of literary production is generally displacement activity for production itself. Like the washing-up or ironing - astonishingly satisfying when you are trying to start a book.

So Foden is no technophile: he isn't inclined to rush out an grab all the latest software. Nonetheless, he sees the importance of Tinderbox -- an unsual and sometimes formidable new program. He doesn't only pick up the obvious points, like the way Tinderbox's multiple views make it easier to reorganize as your understanding grows, or the way Tinderbox agents can help keep track of emerging patterns and connection. Foden intuitively zooms all the way to a nice point about spatial hypertext:

In some ways, Tinderbox is a little like the Copydesk/Quark Despatch system used for making up these newspaper pages: each article is both a quasi-analogue visual object on the screen and a digital file in itself. Of course, it is all digital really, but human beings aren't. Which is why this sort of programming is becoming more and more common.

Making writing concrete -- working in small, movable chunks you can pick up and hold rather than a in one long, tangled scroll -- is sometimes the most liberating aspect of Storyspace, of Tinderbox, and of weblogs.

Oct 03 17 2003

Management

Jeff Angus writes a column, in weblog format, on management lessons from baseball.

The thesis (non-explicit but totally obvious) underlying Moneyball is "Everything Baseball Needs to Know About Franchise Management, it Can Learn From Wall Street". . . . The thesis of my work, about 170 degrees away from Lewis', is: Everything You Need to Know About Management You Can Learn From Baseball. It applies lessons I learned as a baseball reporter and management consultant. The work takes those lessons and shows how people can become better managers in any kind of organization by applying lessons learned from the National Pastime.

Anders Fagerjord has published a Web Design Course (in Norwegian). It's made with Tinderbox. Notice particularly the nice sidebar navigation scheme. The three-column layout is entirely stylesheet-based, with no tables or frames. Overall, extending and revising this with Tinderbox should be exceptionally easy and pleasant.

The knights of the keyboard were the first bloggers.

Pressure: writing a newspaper story, due within a minutes or hours of the event, which can define the rest of your career. Gammons wouldn't be Gammons today if not for the Hallelujah Chorus after Fisk's home run:

Globe beat writer Peter Gammons started typing, "And all of a sudden the ball was there, like the Mystic River Bridge, suspended out in the black of morning." In 1975, typewritten pages were filed to the Globe on a telecopier, and it took six minutes for each page to transmit. Employing more than one telecopier, Gammons would file eight pages of new copy in 15 minutes. He was writing faster than the machines could transmit. -- Dan Shaugnessy

If Updike hadn't been there in the bleachers of that lyric little bandbox of a park to see the Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, would he have been Updike? Or, listen once more to Red Smith after the Miracle at Coogan's Bluff:

Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.

Down on the green and white and earth-brown geometry of the playing field, a drunk tries to break through the ranks of ushers marshaled along the foul lines to keep profane feet off the diamond. The ushers thrust him back and he lunges at them, struggling in the clutch of two or three men. He breaks free and four or five tackle him. He shakes them off, bursts through the line, runs head on into a special park cop who brings him down with a flying tackle.

Here comes a whole platoon of ushers. They lift the man and haul him, twisting and kicking, back across the first-base line. Again he shakes loose and crashes the line. He is through. He is away, weaving out toward center field where cheering thousands are jammed beneath the windows of the Giants' clubhouse.

At heart, our man is a Giant, too. He never gave up -- Red Smith

If you get it right and get it in, it goes into your collected columns when you retire. If you don't, maybe there isn't a book at all.

Gordon Edes gets tonight's amazing matchup exactly, and does it in a quote! (For visitors joining us from remote lands where Mudville is but a distant rumor, tonight's 7th game is the best 7th-game pitching matchup in history. The best Red Sox pitcher ever takes the mound for the feared and detested Yankees tonight in what may well be his final game, ever. His opponent is only half-way through his career, but may well be even better; if Pedro retired today, he'd still be the third best pitcher in Red Sox history. The other great pitcher is Cy Young, in whose honor the annual pitching award is named, a legend of antiquity. Notice, too, how a pitcher alludes to the internal fantasy game of baseball -- and perhaps, indirectly, to Robert Coover; it's a small world and a long season.)

"It's going to be unbelievable," Sox reliever Alan Embree said. "You now have your dream matchup.

"Several kids have lived this dream 100 times. Some of them are Pedro. Some are Roger." -- Gordon Edes

Winter came, in the end, to the Cubs. Again, we wait for next year.

This couldn't happen to any other team. The Cubs have not won in my lifetime. Or my mother's. My grandparents saw the Cubs in the series, but they never saw them win. But -- the history! The stories!

"Turn back the hands of time,
Give me the youth that once was mine:
Where the hell is Clem Labine?
Let's do it over again."
--Lament, on the occasion of the Miracle at Coogan's Bluff

Fans of classical tragedy -- that is, the followers of Brooklyn and Boston -- can conjure a host of tiny changes that alter everything. If Torrez bears down on weak-hitting Bucky Dent, if Bill Buckner can reach down just one more time, if Buckner can simply manage to fall down and stop the ball, decades of failure end in sudden joy. Moments like these, polished in memory, themselves form patterns, instantly recognizable by fans. Merkle's boner. The homer in the gloaming. Pesky holds the ball. The shot heard 'round the world. Mays' catch. The Sixth Game. -- hypertext narrative and baseball

The Cubs are not tragedy. They are something else: the victims of fate.

Meanwhile, in another field entirely, the greatest pitching matchup of modern history, perhaps the greatest ever, happens tonight. Walter Johnson - Christy Matthewson? But that was an exhibition game. Pete Alexander-Cy Young? Koufax Ford? Mercy.

In The Guardian, Giles Foden writes about technology, Tinderbox , and the challenges of writing. fiction and journalism.

Windows and other graphical user interfaces might offer enlightenment to some, but for one such as myself they are just another distraction: something else between the writer and language.... I run Eastgate System's amazing program Tinderbox for research and note-taking. It is effectively a relational database with a graphical user interface: so one is able to display or map all the various levels of one's notes, as well as links to the internet and other material.

As a content management system, Tinderbox is very clever and elegant. Tinderbox can automatically scan your notes, looking for patterns, and these can be marked on the screen. Since pattern-making is essential to novel writing, this is quite useful when building up fictional material. It is also very useful for non-fictional, academic and journalistic researches, enabling one to log references efficiently.... Tinderbox can rescue you from information overload.

Yesterday, Microsoft was issued a patent for "customization of network documents by accessing customization information on a server using unique identifier numbers."

The patent appears to cover most shopping carts, as well as nearly all Internet-capable adaptive hypertext systems. Research in adaptive hypertext is expected to resume in November, 2020. Thanks, Rosemary Simpson.

Well, that could have gone better.

I've been a Cubs fan since Blake convinced me that the White Sox were for superficial front-runners, that the Cubs were the only sound choice for a thinking person. I've been a Red Sox fan since I arrived in town for grad school and The Gerbil blew out the best Sox team in history. The ghosts of Don Young and Bill Buckner and Leon Durham and where's Bernie (Carbo) loom large. And, with John Burkett starting for the Sox tonight, there may be lots of beer to cry in.

Or not. Generations of beer and tears could be redeemed in the next few hours. It could still happen. Holy Mackerel.

Oct 03 13 2003

After Holzer

Jenny Holzer has been much discussed in the Scandinavian hypertext weblog cluster.

Anne Hollander (in Feeding the Eye) writes that

"Artists make art by absorbing the effects of other artists' productions, transmuting them through a personal effort inflected by circumstance, and the rendering a newly shaped thing... Original genius consists in the ability to do this most boldly, deliberately, and imaginatively, so that the public can perceive the works (maybe not immediately) with both recognition and surprise."

This is why critical discussion is so much more than Consumer Reports, and why getting it right matters so much. And it's why it's such a shame that so much new media stands apart from other work, hands in its pockets, silent.

Laurent Sauerwein sends this photo of the last slide of my talk at the American University of Paris.

Tinderbox is now sponsoring Joshua Michah Marshall's Talking Points Memo.

Wired News describes a "book tour" in which Dennis Hensley travels from weblog to weblog.

I'm of two minds about Newsgaming, Gonzalo Frasca's intriguing site about serious games, a place where "Simulation meets political cartoons. " The premier game is September 12, in which you try to blow up Arab terrorists and wind up killing civilians whose mourners transform themselves into new terrorists. "Periodically," the site's authors say, "we will use games and simulations to analyze, debate, comment and editorialize major international news." (A recent Boston Globe has a long article about Christian games, including some big-budget efforts)

September 12 is small, well crafted, and timely. It makes a point. It displays fine craftsmanship. It's scaled right: on time, on budget, on your desktop.

September 12th isn't a simulation, not in any serious sense. It doesn't really look at tactical problems; it asserts that they are intractable. It doesn't really examine the political or ethical issues; it lets the wailing of women pass as judgment.

These issues are important, and the answers are less apparent than September 12 wants to make them. In 1943 the U.S. intentionally assassinated Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. Radio intercepts had uncovered information about his travel plans, and Roosevelt specifically authorized a mission to shoot down his plane. It can be argued that this was murder, not war -- and indeed this objection was weighed very carefully in the Oval Office. On the other hand, many believed -- and might have been right in believing -- that Yamamoto could have led Japan to inflict, and to suffer, far greater casualties in the remaining years of combat, fighting a war that Japan had already lost. Yamamoto's murder, if murder it was, may have avoided many thousands of deaths that would, in the end, not have changed the outcome a whit.

I was a conscientious objector during the War in Vietnam. When soldiers who embraced or acquiesced in that war came home, we called them baby killers. This was ungenerous and unkind, but -- and this is too rarely remembered today -- it was true and it needed to be said. My politics, in short, may well be close to Frasca's -- and, after all, I'm the guy who keeps complaining that games fail to address serious questions. I'm not unsympathetic to either the artistic or the political agenda.

Simulation, or Propaganda

But the kind of statement that September 12 makes can be made with very similar force in purely visual media, in Guernica, say, or in poster art -- and without implicitly (though, I suppose, necessarily) reducing the Arab Street to a small set of automata. Indeed, that's one thing the visual plane does better: it tends to affirm the individuality of each figure, their essential humanity contained within their differences. Interaction and algorithm should give us opportunities for depth and nuance, and for exploring complexity, that the visual plane can't describe.

Roger Ebert denounces a scheme to reduce the number of independent films that get Academy Award nominations under the rubric of preventing piracy.

Oct 03 7 2003

Style

A Diane Greco special: Louis Menand, writing in The New Yorker, on the stylistics of end matter. Menand's prose is nicely spiced, and Diane writes, "Louis Menand, I adore you."

Whatever you do, incidentally, do not look for guidance in the pages of The New Yorker , where house style requires quotation marks for book titles and the insertion of commas in places where other periodicals don’t even have places.

And Menand makes an important point about the experience of using complex software.

When, in the old days, you hit the wrong key on your typewriter, you got one wrong character. Strike the wrong keys in Word and you are suddenly writing in Norwegian Bokmal ( Bokmal ?).

This isn't conventional Word-bashing; it's the nature of powerful tools. The more we can do, the more likely that one ill-advised button will change the character set to Hittite, or break all your permalinks. People say, "there are too many features in Word", but of course everyone uses different parts of the program; the Norwegians won't thank you for making it harder to use Bokmal.

Of course, Menand enjoys Word-bashing too -- it's too much fun to pass up entirely.

Few features of Word can be responsible for more user meltdowns than Footnote and Endnote (which is saying a lot in the case of a program whose Thesaurus treats “information” as “in formation,” offering “in order” and “in sequence” as possible synonyms, and whose spellcheck suggests that when you typed the unrecognized “decorums” you might have meant “deco rums”). To begin with, the designers of Word apparently believe that the conventional method of endnote numbering is with lowercase Roman numerals -- i, ii, iii, etc. When was the last time you read anything that adhered to this style? It would lead to sentences like:

In the Gramscian paradigm, the "intellectual”lxxxvii is, by definition, always already a liminal status.lxxxviii .

In Carpeaux's Les Quarte Parties Du Monde (Luxembourg Gardens, maquette in the Orsay), we have four women -- Europe, Africa, Asia, and America, supporting the globe. Africa's leg is shackled, and America just happens to be stepping on her chain.

Oops.

Oct 03 5 2003

Trot's Homer

Game 3: a weird, amazing game -- the kind of game that makes you remember why you used to stay up late, why you used to hope for unreasonable things. Why you cared when, in 1968, the Cubs flag appeared for a time at the top of the scoreboard pole in Wrigley for the first time, in August, that anyone you knew could remember except your grandfather who saw Ruth call his shot and was there for the Home Run in the Gloaming.

When Garciaparra booted the ball, as it dribbled into left and the runners circled the bases, I was already thinking of Leon Durham letting the Cubs' 1984 championship slip away in Game 5. I was already thinking of Bill Buckner. And then things got weird, as Tejada forgot to finish running before he began to complain.

A weird, weird game -- and the second great game of this series.

Over at Grand Text Auto, Andrew Stern posts that my question about games is obvious. In the comments, Wardip-Fruin says that it's just not an interesting question. (Jason Rhody, writing on his own weblog, found Stern's restatement more interesting, and his response, from Asheron's Call, is very useful indeed.)

It's interesting that Andrew's note has, in the course of a weekend, generated one of the longest comment threads in the site's history.

Another interesting observation is the inherent tendency of comment threads to become usenet flamefests (an observation Winer made at Bloggercon, though this thread isn't yet very toasty).

"You're all a bunch of fancypants. My response to the question: Syndicate" -- arch stanton

That's interesting, too. I know the work of many of the other contributors, but I don't recognize Stanton's name offhand. I don't know whether the post is written by the musician, or by an admirer, or if if the eponymous domain represents this musician or another one. Perhaps its another arch stanton entirely. Isn't Google interesting?

But, if I understand the intent, this is real criticism of real games -- or at least a gesture in that direction. Like real criticism of real hypertexts, by other means.

And that's always interesting.

Bloggercon I was about energy. It was, above all, an energetic meeting -- lots of enthusiasm, lots of idealism, and boundless ambition.

The weblog, Chris Lydon argues, is something Emerson would have seen as uniquely American. But it's not uniquely American today because -- in this sense -- we have now all become Americans. Openness to change, individuality, and distrust of arbitrary superstitions and borders were distinctly American once, just as the rights of man were, once, distinctively French. Freedom fries, not potatoes dauphinoise.

It's intriguing how unimportant technological determinism has become among the big-name, high-traffic bloggers. At the moment, we don't much care about the way tools shape form, because we don't much care about form. (That's going on elsewhere, fortunately, but Bloggercon needn't do everything)

The weblog world is also a great believer that it will muddle through whatever the world throws at it, and Bloggercon really, deeply, assumes that if you just trust all the people, good things will happen. Lies spread quickly, but the truth, they say, catches up even faster. I worry about what the blogosphere would have been like, if they'd all had weblogs in 1938; Leni Riefenstahl would have made a great chief blogger, and Nikita Kruschev's war journal could have generated amazing flow. But this concern gets no traction; people figure it will work out, and that the new world will be better. Nor are people very worried about power law distributions of audience.

Same story with money. Bloggercon-ers agree that the weblog world has lousy economics now. People agree that the economy is more complex than it seems, and probably that "it's even worse than it looks". But there's lots of economic energy in the room. There's Esther! There's Amy Wohl! And, if Greenspun (who is not hurting for lunch money) wryly notes that, for all his traffic, his site earns about $400 in Google ads, everyone smiles and assumes that we'll work this out, too.

Money doesn't come first to the BloggerCon audience. They're not starry eyed: there are a lot of people in the audience who've made a lot of money by creating very challenging and technical businesses. But money isn't the point. And that, as Dave Winer observed at the outset, is priceless.

Though it masquerades as a trip report, Esther Dyson offers an insightful and complex look at the nature of tech industry communication -- in weblogs and in person -- in her own weblog. Metaphor detectors on stun.

Oct 03 4 2003

Bloggercon

My Bloggercon notes are here.

Charlie Bennett writes, “It started with a typewriter and a knife…and a girl. Always a girl, I guess.”

Walking through an urban park in a Dutch city, we happen upon a stylishly goth young woman, comforting a giraffe. "There must be a story here," we tell ourselves. And there is -- but no sign tells us.

People find narrative. That's what they do. Relax, help if you can, go on about your work.

This matters to blogging. Weblogs are narratives that unfold over time. Everyone writes stories; that's why they call them stories. If you don't want to write tomorrow's fish wrap, you need to masters the narrative before it masters you.

It's easy to long for the big box office, the mass audience of broadcast. But the 20th century taught us that's a temptation best avoided. The mass audience can only hear the brutal, the stupid, the squalid -- the simplest messages of sensuality and fear.

That's the promise of hypertext -- and of the weblog. Not broadcast -- not the mass audience or the Great Cause. But not a retreat, either, into the vain, vapid Hippiy hope that all you need is love, that living well by a pond somewhere is all that matters.

The curse of the twentieth century was our collective rush to embrace broadcast media -- industrial-scale publishing, radio, mass marketing -- without thinking things through. Suddenly, one Leader could Lead millions astray -- and only the worst messages, dressed in the brightest finery, could be heard. And, just as suddenly, everyone could experience the best (reproduced) paintings, the finest (recorded) musical performance, the greatest (filmed) theater -- and, with that wonderful opportunity, we forgot (for a moment) how we treasure contact and immediacy and spontaneity.

They knew they'd never seen him on their TV screen
So they passed his music by.

Hypertext lets us speak together, each to each -- writer and reader, not equivalent, but sharing dialogue and jointly carrying the burden of understanding. The Web lets us each get an audience of willing listeners -- some more, some less, but it's a big world and there are plenty of listeners for all of us. If we have learned anything from a half century of the postmodern, it is to hold two ideas together at once. Much nonsense is said about the nature of the digital, but this is the real lesson we must learn. Not ones and zeroes, but particle and wave -- together, one thing.

Not the girl, not the cause, but both, together, at once. Not the struggle, nor the triumph. Both, and neither -- as they really are, not as the romantic or sentimental illusion or the forced dream, Art and science -- one thing. Together. Five billion voices. One by one.

Same theme, with variation: Winer.

Clarification: by "mass audience", I mean the attempt to address everyone at once. Not, as pdg reasonable interpreted, the world at large. The difference between all the people -- who I think are usually good -- and crowds and mobs -- who I find are often dangerous.

Almost two years have passed since I issued "Bernstein's Challenge" to the game theory community.

Let me try a probe, just to make a little tsimmes. Take the last twenty years of computer games -- the whole kit and kaboodle. Put them on a shelf. (Yeah, it's a big shelf) Now look over the shelf, and tell me everything we learn about, say, sexuality. (House rules: no arguments from silence, no metaphors, cigars are just cigars unless it's apparent to players who aren't Professors that they aren't. Chatroom romances don't count; I'm looking for what's in the game, not what the audience brings to the table, and yes, I see the theoretical shortcomings of the previous clause. You understand what I'm getting at. Play along at home; it's that kind of movie )

This inspired a lot of email discussion, which I enjoyed. Obvious extensions to the question were raised. Fathers and sons. For that matter, how about not having enough money? Or the setting of the best meal I've had this decade -- pace last week in Paris?

Bernstein's Challenge

Lots of questions. Few if any answers. And then everyone seems to have gone home and hoped the problem would go away.

Two years later, next month, and there's still not much of an answer.

Surely, if we can't answer the question, it's interesting to ask, "Why not?"

And, surely, with a question this big lying on the table, you'd think people in the field would engage it?

Scholarship proceeds through dialogue, by finding questions and then finding answers. We're waiting, folks.

On Sunday, we walked to a little market in Montparnasse where artists come every week to offer their work. These are, by and large, modest works, but they aren't schlock -- and even the work that borders on tourist kitsch is nicely executed. Shown here is Hannah, from whom we bought a charming little bronze.

One thing that's clearly broken about the art world today is that there's just no good way to buy, or to sell, small works that don't aspire to be the centerpiece of a museum or the foundation of a corporate collection. A simple, abstract landscape by Mdm. Joyce, who is now infatuated with bamboo and whose son might soon go to MIT, cost us €50 and will cheer up our back room for years. We can do that. It's good for art to be seen. So, it's nice all around.


Sep 03 30 2003

Of apologies

A store in the Marais reminds me of the season. Roch Hachana, Souccoth et bien sûr Sim'hat Torah. Offrez des merveilleux plateax garnis de fruit enrobés de chocalat.

Of apologies

A plaque at the Memorial for the Deportation goes out of its way to remind us that, though the deportation was deplorable, nevertheless more Frenchmen of the Resistance were sent to camps than Jews. Even if this were true, is this place the place to say it?