MarkBernstein.org
Sep 02 30 2002

Bath House

Miyazaki's Spirited Away, now released in the US, is simply gorgeous. It combines a wonderful look with a truly haunting visual vocabulary, familiar perhaps to Japanese kids but wonderfully alien to me. Delightful. (RottenTomatoes | Ebert | Miyazaki site)

Is the notion of a bath house of the spirits an innovation, or is this an old tale? How does it relate to the Zuñi dance hall of the dead, where the kachinas live when they go home?

Sep 02 28 2002

Excitement

I've been thinking lately about excitement and tension in hypertext narrative. What makes a hypertext exciting?

She tried to remember winter. As if it were yesterday. As if she weren't the daughter of the ambassador. As if she'd not yet met the lovely, loving young man who now lay, unconscious, on her bed. As if the drone overhead were not the engines of American nuclear bombers, nearing their destination.

Images are exciting, but pictures don't need to be limited to illustrating what the words say, or to providing "background" to reinforce the context of the words. Beyond McCloud, I don't think much is known about the rhetoric multimedia images. (McCloud, incidentally, is offering a one-week course in storytelling. October 11-15. Anyone can register.)

Sep 02 27 2002

Point of View

The new IKEA commercial, by Spike Jonze, has been getting lots of great buzz. It's a fine demonstration of a new aspect of the Media Equation, which originally argued that people treat speaking machines (like computers) as if they were people. We're programmed to assume that, if something speaks or writes and asserts identity, then it probably is a person. As a result, people -- even people who know better -- tend to do be polite when addressing a computer, or will tend to be less critical of a program when speaking in its presence.

You might think the music and the weather are the key to the ad, but note the camera angles; much of the film is shot from the lamp's point of view. If a machine has a point of view, we assume it has feelings.

Sep 02 26 2002

What If?

I'm enjoying Robert Cowley's anthology, What If, a large collection of counterfactual essays. What if the Assyrians hadn't gotten sick outside Jerusalem in 701? What if the Persians won Salamis? What if Churchill had been killed, and not merely scared, by a car accident in the 30's? What if Chang Kai-shek hadn't tried to dislodge the Communists and had let them remain Soviet clients in Manchuria?

It's a fun parlor game, but also cuts to the essential questions underlying historiography. Interestingly, even the pros play by two sets of rules. The counterfactual scruffies consider what might have happened if mistakes were not made, or if different decisions had been taken. Had Hitler attacked the Middle East instead of Russia, might the war have ended differently? The neats won't allow this: according to their rules, counterfactuals must depend on factors outside human control. The weather is everyone's favorite; it's possible to believe that Hitler had to attack Russia, or that Napoleon had to be emperor, but it's no longer tenable to believe that the Normandy invasion storm had to clear up. A butterfly might have decided otherwise....

A number of people have been asking me about Tinderbox training. Would you be interested in a day of Tinderbox, in Boston? Perhaps on Saturday, October 26? If this appeals to you -- even if the date or city aren't right for you -- let me know. email bernstein@eastgate.com.

Sep 02 25 2002

Cool Kitchen

In ClickZ, Sean Carton reminds us that the net is still an exciting place. "Innovation hasn't stopped, it's gone underground.", he writes, and offers a list of "the leading edge of online innovation."

Heading Carton's list: The Hypertext Kitchen!

The best speech I've read in year: no whining, no waffling, no weaseling. "Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another." (Thanks, Cam)

A new issue of ThisIsAMagazine is out. It's titled, Fashion = Fiction. (I'm not convinced there's much about fiction in this issue, but it has its moments....) Thanks, K10K.

Sep 02 22 2002

CVS consulting

We can't seem to get CVS running as a server on MacOS X (10.2.1). Can you? We'd love a hand -- email consulting, perhaps iChat handholding? Please email Eastgate.

I've been thinking about the problem of tension in hypertext lately.

Just for fun, take a look at The Big List of RPG Plots by John S. Ross, a work of considerable erudition and wit. Filled with lovely technical terms like Don't Eat The Purple Ones. Thanks, Liz Klastrup.

Last night, we saw Kate Mulgrew (Capt. Janeway) at the A.R.T. in Tea at Five, a one-woman show about Katherine Hepburn. Matthew Lombardo's play is, perhaps, rather slight, but Mulgrew is a phenomenal Hepburn. One act is set in 1938; she gets the voice right and the movement exactly. The second act is set in 1983, and again she gets the voice, the sense of soldiering on, and the gesture: an impressive technical display.

Sep 02 21 2002

Firefly

Buffy creator Joss Whedon has a new series, Firefly, on the Fox network. It's a space western, set a few years after the Civil War. The jury is still out.

One of the interesting touches: the wealthiest and highest-status person onboard the Serenity, our tramp freighter on which our heroes scratch a living from the outer planets, is a Licensed Companion -- a prostitute. Everyone defers to her. She's a proper lady -- and has the papers to prove it.

Sep 02 20 2002

Get Better Card

Cam Barrett, one of the original webloggers and author of the ever-fine CamWorld, has Castleman's Disease.

"Enough readers have asked that I might as well just tell you. Yes, I am sick, but I am not going to die."

Sep 02 19 2002

MacOS X Upgrade

The upgrade to MacOS X 10.2.1 went smoothly and cleanly. Tinderbox works fine. The new Tinderbox 1.2 release is on track for next week. Relief all round.

I'm finding iChat a handy work tool, incidentally. (Click here)

Question: In old MacOS, we associated an application with a protocol through Internet Config. How do you do this for OS X? Please email me if you happen to know.

An Italian translation of my essay, Ten Tips for Writing The Living Web, now appears in Il Mestiere Di Scrivere. Translated by Luisia Carrada. Thanks!

Or not. Either way, this is oddly attractive. (If your connection is slow, download the "takeaway issue")

A graduate symposium on The Buffyverse has issued a call for papers for a one-day meeting on Buffy the Vampire Slayer on 12 November 2002 in Melbourne, Australia. Selected papers will be published in The Refractory, a refereed e-journal of the University of Melbourne Cinema Studies School. 500-word abstracts are due by 12 October to Angela Ndalianis.

Sep 02 17 2002

Fluid

Anders Fagerjord blogs intriguing narrative experiments with Fluid by Polle Zellweger, Anne Mangen, and their colleagues (17 Sept 2002; no permalink?).

What I actually said at DAC 2000, I think, was that Anne Mangen's hypertext mystery story in Fluid appeared to be the first attempt at a stretchtext narrative in many years. I do think (pace Fagerjord) that this is possible. But it's intrinsically difficult. The state of a Web hypertext, for example, is its URL (and perhaps your cookie jar); the state of a stretchext hypertext is contained in all the links you have expanded, or not expanded, or expanded and then put away, anywhere in the text. Figuring out what to do with this beyond excursus is, I think, a very interesting problem. (The Fluid paper in Hypertext 2002 is very good, by the way, although I do not believe its critique of contemporary hypertext is entirely convincing. I've argued elsewhere that mystery stories are especially difficult for hypertext. Your results may differ.).

Sep 02 16 2002

Performance

Yesterday, I said something half clever -- and didn't even notice until Aaron Swartz jotted it down in his IRC commonplace book. Helen Whitehead had asked, "What's the difference between weblogs and journals?" My answer:

Blogging is a social, public act. Scribbling on paper in your back room isn't, unless your mom finds your diary.

Sep 02 15 2002

Home Page

Today, I'm a guest at an online chat event hosted by ELO.

The advance publicity for this chat seemed chiefly concerned with asking whether weblogs are a fad. Weblogs are simply a natural outgrowth of the old home page. David Siegel's popular Killer Web Sites book, way back in 1996, popularized the notion that frequent updates were important and that it made no sense to waste all your most-visible screen space on corporate logos or pictures of your cat.

Everyone needs a net presence.

Everything we hear from ELO lately seems to be about preservation and box office. But who care about permanence anyway? Make something that matters, and preservation will take care of itself.

Let's write the best stuff we can. Let's build great tools ([1] [2] [3][4][5][6]), and think about them, so we can things better, and make better things. Then let's make them. And let's enjoy them. Let's have fun.

Firefly is a new series from Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy. The show has its own weblog.

Sep 02 13 2002

Good Grief!

Professor Torill writes an interesting note about griefers -- online gamers who delight in causing mischief, grief, and annoyance for other players.

"It gives the griefers a sensation of power and control when their victim is annoyed or hurt. . . . Since the sport of griefers is to make life hell for others, it becomes very unpleasant to stay where they are."

Griefers (also called snerts) also afflict the software industry, where they convert user communities like Slashdot and VersionTracker into cesspits of misery and grousing. The griefers focus on some small fault, real or ideological or illusionary, and complain venomously and endlessly. The garbage soon crowds out everything else. As Mortensen observes, the costs are real and significant. But this isn't entertainment; it gets in the way of building and using serious tools that would benefit everyone, and it drives people to stop developing software for people and switch to corporate software, or investing, or teaching.

The wonder of designing software tools is the chance to take ideas (the gossamer of dreams) and commodity hardware (rust) and create something completely new that helps people do wonderful things. If you're lucky and skillful, you can sometimes make this happen. Sometimes, you might be well paid for doing it.

Sometimes, things don't work. Maarten Hekkelman wrote a text editor called Pepper, meant to be better than BBEdit. He gives a long, detailed, and frank interview to John Gruber, who used to work for BBEdit. Together, they explore what went wrong, and why in this case rust and dreams remained rust, and dreams. (Thanks, Aaron Swartz!)

Sep 02 10 2002

Show Me

Writing in Trace, Sue Thomas questions how new media writers are to buy groceries. She begins by quoting me:

"It is time - past time - for new media writers to abandon the childish hope that the web offers them a sanctum outside the economy, untainted by the spectre of publishers and booksellers and money."

So says Mark Bernstein, president and chief scientist of Eastgate, established in 1982 and probably the oldest hypertext publishing company around. But can new media writers and artists ever seriously hope to make a decent income, or are they forever relegated to the role of the "starving artist" model? What’s the equivalent of an unheated attic in cyberspace terms?

Many (though not all) of Thomas's suggestions focus on patronage -- arts councils, foundations, and academic departments. Personally, I'd rather publish.

Apple has just shipped iCal, its new calendar program. A free download, for MacOS X 10.2 (Jaguar).

iCal and .Mac may be more important to technoculture than you'd think. Apple's plan seeks to lower the barrier between the net and the local system by building network awareness into lots of local applications. You've already got built-in photo downloads -- and easy snapshot sharing over .Mac. Easy sharing: WebDAV as a hotkey, ftp and windows servers on the desktop, Rendezvous discovering your LAN on its own. iChat transfers files to your buddies by drag and drop. Next, calendars. Many-to-many sharing.

It's brilliant marketing. Microsoft's message, right now, is all about security and copy protection, patches and Palladium. Apple's message is about sharing. Dell and IBM ship Windows in black boxes. Apple wears white. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

Sep 02 9 2002

Tinderbox News

Just shipped a new Tinderbox beta to the beta testers. This one had a humdinger: a miserable headache with Jaguar, traced ultimately to the spelling checker (of all things). Very rough debugging, in the teeth of a cold. I'm ready to collapse.

We were talking yesterday about Tinderbox consultants -- people who'd help other people set up their Tinderboxes. (Interested? Email me.) What would you call them? Tinderboxers? Tinder-lighters? Boxcutters?

Sep 02 8 2002

Rhythm

Anja Rau makes two interesting observations about rhythm in electronic writing.

First, she's trying a weekly column in place of irregular postings. She found Blogger inhospitable, and finds daily postings in Tinderbox uncomfortable. (Why? Let me know and I'll fix it!)

Next, she finds an intriguing note from Douglas Hofstader on the problem of the end of the book: you know from the physical artifact that the book is about to end, and so you also know things about the plot that you shouldn't. This can foul up suspense and morality; it's a chronic plotting problem. Hypertexts don't suffer from this malady because you don't know when they end -- until afterwards when, looking back, you realize when it was over.

Then, taking a clue from Hofstader's fascination with strange loops and reflexive reasoning, she explores a site called "That's Me!" (das-bin.ich.de), which targets young, dynamic. wired women.

Adaptive Path guru Peter Meerholz is photo weblogging from Tokyo.

Sep 02 7 2002

Jaguar tip

Ken Bereskin's weblog provides daily tips on Apple's new Jaguar operating system. Some of the these tips demonstrate great, unexpected features. For example:

"FTP servers mount in the Finder. Go to the Connect to Server... command in the Finder and type in a valid ftp URL (ftp://ftp.mozilla.org for example). Voila, the server is available as a mounted, read-only volume."

Sep 02 3 2002

Police State

One the way to Chicago last weekend, I was singled out for extra security screening. In the process, the screener carefully ran his thumb across the delicate screen of my TiBook. I mentioned that some people might find this upsetting, as screen repairs are costly. He snapped back, "We've never had any complaints."

So, I asked him for the name of his employer so I could write a complaint, and he summoned the police to "deal" with the "situation". The police came, the screeners searched everything again (but this time they didn't fingerprint the screen), and I didn't quite miss the plane.

Is this how police states gather momentum? With a "reasonable" intrusion, but one without responsibility or accountability or recourse? With summoning the police to punish anyone with the temerity to question an employee of Globe Services -- the private company who, I learned at last, is responsible for these imperious, ill-trained, and ignorant screeners? (How long before we hear about theft rings at security checkpoints? It would be easy to palm small valuable or cash, people must leave valuables behind every day, and we're all being trained never to question a screener, never to ask them for identification or to see a supervisor)

In the end, this is Dubya's fault. Decent leadership would set a better tone and a better example. But he's busy chopping down the forests to prevent forest fires, and busy trying to finish his Daddy's quarrels.