MarkBernstein.org
Sep 03 30 2003

Imagery

What is the role of image in the weblog?

The traditional photo web journal, pioneered by Dan Bricklin, includes photographs as illustrations. You went to a wedding? Put some wedding shots in your weblog. You went to Paris? Why not get the Eiffel Tower. (See below)

That's fine for occasional images. But what do you do if you'd like images all the time? And what do you do when the topics you want to discuss don't lend themselves to illustration.

McCloud observes, in Understanding Comics, that in comics the words and images are free to support each other or to move independently. When they dance apart, their relationship may be immediately obvious, or it may be obscure at first, to be clarified gradually in time.

Sep 03 29 2003

More tastiness

Lovely eggs en meurette at Moissonier, followed by sausages that were approved by the Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Athentique Andouilletes. Amazing, crispy vegetable ravioles (how do they pan-fry the dumplings without evident grease?) in an incredibly light and fresh cream sauce at Chez Toutonne, and then by a nice fish-and-fennel. Lovely oysters at La Coupole with a nifty condiment of shallots and vinegar, with by a racasse and a nice Sancerre.

And even a very decent (and spicy) tagine in the fast food court of the carrousel du Louvre. How can good food possibly exist in a museum food court?

Paris is rich in small, specialized shops. They often cluster together, as they did in the Middle Ages. Rue Dante, today, is a center for comics and role playing games. You constantly bump into specialized bookstores. And, of course, the bread store, the pastry store, the vegetable store, the butcher -- all separate.

I was asking a professor at the American University of Paris (where I gave a talk and enjoyed some interesting discussions) about the economics of retail in Paris. How do small stores resist the pressures that have turned the US into the land of Wall Mart and Barnes and Noble? Perhaps, I suggested, labor costs are less, permitting stores to stay open with less overhead?

"But surely," she answered, "your labor costs are lower!"

That's a tremendous change. From Mark Twain's time on down, US labor has been famously expensive. An empty continent, insatiable competition between agriculture and factories, the land of opportunity -- all contrasted with the huddled tenements of Europe.

But one conspicuous absence during my strolls has been Web design boutiques and studios. You see plenty in London, for example. And I've seen plenty of WiFi cafes, computer stores, internet access points, interactive game sellers. But fewer galleries than I'd expected -- rents are high, I hear -- and many fewer interesting signs for trendy Web firms. Perhaps they're in another street.


Sep 03 26 2003

Tasty

Well, tonight we met Jacques Cagna, a really fine chef, at his rôtisserie en la Face. It's very, very impressive. And densely packed, in the textual sense, from Chagall posters on the walls to the pastilla (b'stilla) with guinea fowl, honeyed onions, and a very refined sauce in a delicate pastry crust. Not to mention the wild snails from Burgundy: no effete intellectual farm-raised snails for us! And a charming Brouilly.

Last night was Allard, and a plainly spectacular shoulder of lamb, followed by an even more spectacular apple tart that was carefully designed to be (a) delicious and (b) inform you, if you cook, that this particular tart had to have been prepared minutes before, just for you, because there's not enough thermal capacity in that thin crust to keep it this hot for more than a minute without turning it all to caramel and charcoal. Nice chats with our neighbor, too, who turned out to be Jane Smiley's proud uncle, and though a Cardinal fan had intelligent observations to make about the excellence of Don Kessinger. And a simple St. Estephe.

The Red Sox have clinched the wild card.

As the late Ken Coleman would say, "Mercy!"

Charles DeGeorge's Young Aristotle, now in the Orsay, was a hit of the Salon of 1875. It's one of those sculptures from the racy Victorian era that we can hardly see anymore, now that the fundamentalists are in charge.

Boy Aristotle sits around on a nice morning. He doesn't bother to dress properly (lucky us), he doesn't sit properly, he's just reading from a bucket of books.

My talk at Paris 8 on Software Aesthetics was, I think, a complete failure. The big issue may be that I've got a fundamental problem with the argument that I'm unable to see. The mid-size problem may be that I'm ignorant of French, and that's a larger obstacle than I'd realized.

But a very real problem is that there seems to be no place to speak about new media where we can safely assume that we're all familiar with the relevant bucket of books. This is very bad. I'd assumed, by now, that at a specialist conference I was safe referring to Joyce and Aarseth, Landow and Manovich, McCloud and Laurel. How can we stand on the shoulders of giants -- or on each other's shoulders, if not giants are handy -- if we haven't done the reading?

Sep 03 22 2003

Louvre

In Paris, they find extraordinary things in their basements.

When excavating for the Grand Louvre project with I.M. Pei's entrance pyramid, they found the foundations of battlements right where they'd left them. There's a lot of this going around; here's a 16th century porch, unmarked and unremarked (except, luckily, by a delightful Paris Walks by Alison and Sonia Landes).

Here's a simple little bakery, on an off-street, not very busy. Walk in, buy a plain old cheese sandwich for €1.50. Nothing much: just a lovely little baguette, baked a few minutes ago, with lots of lovely brie.

It's not that hard. Flour, water, yeast, cheese. It's exactly what I get at the pizza shop twice a week. But simpler (no sauce), and infinitely better. Why can't we do this?

We didn't go to Le Reminet for desert, but when the proprietress mentioned that the roasted figs had been picked this morning, it seemed to be a really good idea. It was. (I've been playing with grilled or roasted figs from Wilson's Farms, but I'm always suspicious of their freshness) One key seems to be quartering the figs before serving; this makes them look good, and makes them easier to eat. And the coulis (which I assumed was an effete intellectual garnish) worked really well.

The rabbit pastilla for starters was tasty, though about as far removed from the Moroccan pigeon pie as you can get, and still be in the same ballpark. Tiny packets, like flat spring rolls, nicely sauteed, and garnished with some sweet little tomatoes and some very tasty toasted almonds.

Sep 03 20 2003

To Paris!

I'm off to Paris, for H2PTM: Creating Meaning in the Digital Era, and for a visit to the American University. I'm planning a fresh 60-slide set piece on software aesthetics, one of the core ideas for TEKKA; lots of people grasp the concept immediately, but some think the concept of aesthetics is simple alien to software.

(Want to meet for dinner? Email me)

Updates may be infrequent, as connectivity will be chancy.

I wasn't surprised when Kathryn alluded to a fannish controversy some 40 years old -- after all, she's an expert, and that's what experts are for. But a little link following led me to the outline of a projected book, by Richard Lynch, on Fan History Of The 1960's. Want to know what happened when Asimov, del Rey, Harlan Ellison, Fred Pohl, and company unwisely tried the hotel restaurant at the 1967 WorldCon?

Lynch covers the history of fan conventions in incredible detail. It's amazing what people remember. This could be a great resource for any ongoing conference -- years and years of conference crises, disasters, logistics, politics, and infighting, laid bare for all to see. And, because it's 40 years on, you know how things turned out.

Anja Rau, writing in the new Tekka, really strikes a chord when she says she wants to be reborn as a Windows user -- just so she can experience the full joy of switching. "It's never as good as the first time."

The answer to yesterday's question: 4294967295 is 0xFFFF FFFF, It's the largest 32-bit unsigned integer.

4294967295 is the new 65535.

Walking Directions To Mordor: powered by Quest Maps. "Find out whether any wares are brewing and, if so, whether agents of the enemy are pursuing you."

Tinderbox was a finalist for the 2003 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards in the Best Creative Application/Technology category! Thanks!

A very advanced Tinderbox user reported a very obscure (but very disturbing) under-the-hood problem. I spent many hours staring at the problem with specially-instrumented test-builds of Tinderbox and elaborate test files. The symptom: Tinderbox.

Why, oh why, would several different notes -- all of which had would read the test file, and several different notes would end up with the same (purportedly unique) internal ID. 4294967295 different IDs in the XML file, all end up with the same ID? Why 4294967295?

If you're a software pro, you should know the answer by now.

Going to England, I brought some British coins with me from the Strange Coins Drawer, leftovers from previous trips. It turns out that some of these are No Longer Money.

I'm not talking about shillings and sixpence from before decimalization, either.

I understand that Americans are strange about changing their money -- no obverse in common circulation has changed in since I was a very small boy -- but making money into something else seems dangerous, scary. You might undertake this in the service of some Big Idea. Europe is a big idea. But, do you want remind people that money can turn into metal disks?

I'm convinced that studying the art of hypertext isn't merely a game -- that we can progress, learn, and understand by carefully examining good work. The examination, of course, has to be careful and well-judged. In the current Tekka, Diane Greco considers Kate Hayles' recent monograph, Writing Machines, and finds a good deal with which to disagree.

It goes without saying that Hayles' equation of a "literary tradition" with best-selling novels is absurd, not least because she blithely confuses merit with sales.... Hayles' concern with celebrity comes up again and again in the course of the book, and it does more than a little methodological mischief.

There's some real value in Writing Machines (although the faux autobiography is strangely coy, and I do wish Hayles had resisted the temptation to rename hypertext something else). And there's real value in Greco's critique.

Understanding is hard. We need to get on with the work. Serious discussion helps.

More nice writing: Greco's weblog, Sept. 16: Life is not a pie.

Microsoft recently lost a patent suit which, in principle, could force it to eliminate plug-ins -- destroying Flash, Real, Java, and essentially everyone else in the Web client space. Zeldman suggests that Microsoft wanted to lose the case.

I think it unlikely that the Eolas patent will stand up, but it's perfectly plausible that Microsoft might try this on the off-chance that it could use its browser monopoly to get de facto ownership of broadband media. That's the upshot of making Windows/MSIE/MediaPlayer a monolithic standard; Windows would effectively have to be built in to every TV system. The target here wouldn't be Macromedia and Real, but CBS and ABC/Disney; Microsoft could end up owning a toll-booth on the broadcast and cable television highway, and that's a mighty big brass ring.

My, oh my. Adam Gopnik can just flat out write. From the current New Yorker:

Historians of retail will tell you that it was Wanamaker, more than anyone else, who transformed the department store from a place where women bought stuff to a place where they simply and necessarily went.

Nice.

Sep 03 16 2003

Zen Judaism

Wherever you go, there you are
Your luggage is another story.

Drink tea and nourish life.
With the first sip, joy.
With the second, satifaction.
With the third, Danish.

Thanks, Barbara Bean!

One article you do not want to miss in Tekka is the second part of Mark Meadows' report from post-war Baghdad, Loot.

I would have liked to have been in Baghdad when the museum was looted.

Tekka also has a very interesting note on Iranian weblogs: Blogs Make Them Feel Free, by Hossein Derakhshan .

Live from outer space: super-rapid scan imagery of Isabel from GOES-12, assembled into Java animations and accessible from any computer. The satellite has a web site.

This is what we used to call The Future. Way cool. Thanks, Kathryn Cramer.

Sep 03 15 2003

Good bits

The critical moment in Dr. Torill's account of her defense comes when the First Opponent (Stuart Moulthrop) asks his final, climactic question:

The concluding question almost threw me off my heels! How did I envision a study of games should be organised? What did that have to do with my thesis?

I'd love to hear the answer!

We don't have Dr. Torill's answer to that, yet, but we do have an interesting hint at a first step in her essay for the new Tekka, which is out today. In Tracking The Digital Juggler, she argues that defocused concentration is key to successfully mastering the digital world.

Often, the good jugglers would be the children who were not able to focus in class. The teachers would frown, and say they were bad pupils, that they were not making enough of an effort to focus. Their minds would wander, their hands would fiddle with different objects, their attention would leap from one node of information to the next.

This is a daring line of argument, since is appears to play straight into the hands of the critics who (mistakenly) believe hypertextuality to be a symptom of attention deficit disorder (or depraved, decadent laxity). That's not the story we're telling here; getting the details right, instead of cramming them into pop-psych stereotypes, leads to a very different conclusion.

Somewhere, somehow, we told people that everything about computers should be easy and intuitive. That you shouldn't have to learn anything, or read manuals. That you should be able to grasp everything in ten or fifteen minutes.

What nonsense.

Some things just aren't easy. Quantum mechanics. Tensor calculus. Navajo verbs forms. Old Norse. Getting rich.

Yesterday, I received mail from a stranger about a fairly esoteric Tinderbox design question. The issue is interesting -- it involves scope rules for UI design of hypertext composites -- and lies at the very edge of current research. It could, for example, easily be the subject of a top-rated research paper. As far as I know, my correspondent isn't a computer scientist -- he might not even have any computer science training at all.

This is one of the great things about computer science right now: you can walk in off the street, roll up your sleeves, and with a little hard work and fortitude you can be right at the research frontier.

But the terms of the correspondence were also all too familiar: since the interface didn't work intuitively, we must all be idiots or scoundrels.

As far as I know, only two research groups have ever thought about the question. As far as I know, nobody has ever discussed it in a journal. This is one of the sad things about the computer world right now: everybody knows better, and hardly anybody seems willing to do the work.

Sep 03 13 2003

Looking Back

Dr. Torill writes that "Science Fiction, even when it is good, rarely looks back, only forwards, an optimism of the technological development which causes a progress-induced blindness to the cause of present crisis."

Now, I've fallen a decade or so behind in my SF reading, but does this theory stand up to scrutiny? Babylon 5 -- which is about as techno-optimistic as you get ("Faith Manages") -- is all about the past: World War II and the Balkans. Asimov's great story, "Nightfall", looks straight back to the fall of Rome and of the Bastille. James Tiberius Kirk on the bridge of NCC-1701 is all about Jack F Kennedy on the bridge of PT-109. Whedon's Firefly is transparently about Reconstruction and the Old West.

Science Fiction seems always to be looking back at something -- often at childhood. Standing baffled and dazzled in the imperial spaceport of Trantor, we recall the trip from the shtetl to the City and on the the New World. Dreaming of Electric Sheep, we're alone in the long city night, our parents gone, and we feel inexplicable attraction for something alien and dangerous and forbidden.

I'm not really qualified for this discussion, but Kathryn can give us chapter and verse. But I keep having to say this: if we New Media folk are going to talk about literary genre, we've got to get the facts right.

As for Spider Robinson's concern that "SF is paradoxically in sharp decline", I just heard David Hartwell argue at Readercon that SF was in the middle of a second golden age -- and Hal Clement was sitting right there, nodding. Hartwell is looking at the work, Robinson is looking at the audience. They might both be right (though the work is more important than the box office).

But Robinson's conclusion is wonderful:

People still believe that men fished the Grand Banks, once. Some even dream of going back.

Sep 03 12 2003

Cube

Help wanted: I'd like a beauty shot of a Macintosh cube for an upcoming talk. Ideally not from an Apple ad, but I'm flexible. Happy to provide photo credit. Email bernstein@eastgate.com.

Congratulations to Torill Mortensen on successfully defending her dissertation on Pleasures of the Player: Flow and Control in Online Games . Dr. Mortensen is the first doctor to graduate from Volda College.

Anders Fagerjord's fascinating redesign continues apace with a manifesto of Hypertext Blogging.

"But to me, it isn't really hypertext or hypertext writing unless the text is authored with nodes and links, so there are lots of forks and cycles ."

"To state it bluntly: each node should offer at least two equally natural places to continue reading. "

For a nice, concise HowTo, see How I Do It. And, for a clever way to use CSS to vary style from note to note, see How I Change The Stylesheet.

Sep 03 10 2003

Technical Debt

Martin Fowler explains Technical. Debt.

"Doing things the quick and dirty way sets us up with a technical debt, which is similar to a financial debt. Like a financial debt, the technical debt incurs interest payments, which come in the form of the extra effort that we have to do in future development."

Technical debt is a self-evident phenomenon that is often ignored in school and universally ignored in the trade press. This often leads to unrealistic pressures, unreasonable customers, and to bad decisions. Everything has costs; you can't add features (or quality, or polish) without creating an offsetting liability.

Jan is out of intensive care (hooray).

Someone, please call an ambulance for my schedule :)

Sep 03 7 2003

Classics

When I wrote that "classicists are going to love hypertextual writing once they get the hang of it," I was forgetting the obvious fact that classicists have already gotten the hang of it, thank you very much.

Oops.

The point, I guess, is the distinction between exceptional practice -- achievements like Stoa and Perseus -- and everyday practice. When I visualize the Oxford Classical Dictionary, I still envision that wonderfully thick, blue volume. But perhaps, even in this, I'm behind the times.

Thanks to Alwin Hawkins and to many other well-wishers. Sister seems to be doing pretty well, at the moment. I, on the other hand, am not. Sick with worry, it seems, is not always a metaphor.

Just getting information is a trial. I've been placed on information rationing. I can generally receive direct answers to direct specific questions, I can get vague emotional reassurances. But what I cannot obtain, perversely, is what (in my unschooled and therefore perhaps irrelevant and certainly, in the opinion of my in-laws, undesired opinion) is most urgently needed here: a succinct review of the salient facts and prevalent theories, updated at appropriate intervals.

This is not (for once) the fault of the Medical Establishment. The blame (if blame there be) lies with a part of the family with whom I guess I'm not going to be speaking much, once this is resolved. They seem to view Medicine as an extension of God's Will. I always looked at it as What Dad, and Uncle Mike, Uncle Fred, Uncle Lionel, Aunt Hazel, and Cousin Tom did at the office when they weren't home playing with the kids. It's an art and a science, nothing more.

This is, I think, a fundamental chasm in our world that is more real and more important than left vs right, or rich vs poor. Just a thought.

One reason I enjoy Alwin's sketches so much is the way they recall my Dad's stories of his residency at County. News Years Eve in the ER: new residents come on duty just in time to let the old ones celebrate. New Year's at County was inclined to be busy. Dad used to recall that his fresh doctorly expertise lasted about five minutes, and after that it was one crisis after another, with the nurses constantly, patiently, knowingly bailing him out.

Sep 03 4 2003

Pancreatitis

Just as Hypertext '03 was wrapping up, word reached me that my little sister is ill. She's suffering from pancreatitis, and I've been pacing the ICU here in Seattle. Web access from Borders and Starbucks is great, but obviously updates are hit or miss.

An interesting aspect of the proposals for The Next Big Thing -- a highlight panel at Hypertext '03 -- was that the next big things weren't too big.


The next big thing: Ted Nelson, Cathy Marshall, Peter Nürnberg, Paul De Bra.

If this panel had been held a few years ago, I think people would have plotted revolts against the Web and the overthrow of the military-infotainment complex. These proposals were ambitious, but also small enough in scale that you kept telling yourself that this could work. I liked Marshall's Time Machine, for preserving and organizing all your journals and notebooks and such. The clear audience favorite, though, was Rust's proposal to build an open database of research data to liberate science from the publishers.

The first sentence of this book is a marvel: "This book is the first full-scale study of libraries in the ancient world."

Think about that. People have been talking about libraries since there were libraries. People have been talking about Ancient Libraries since the Renaissance -- and the ancients talked about them, too. Nobody's written a book, collecting what we know, Until now.

I miss working in a field where, if someone makes a claim like this, you can take it to the bank.

Here, neatly laid out for us, is everything we know about libraries West of the Ganges and East of the Ocean (...more in Books)

Sep 03 1 2003

On the dorms

At Hypertext '03, I decided not to stay in the dorms. Instead, for half the cost I stayed in a distant, vast Victorian "cottage" built by the 10th Duke of St Albans. I spent half the cost difference on taxi, but I still saved some money and enjoyed better breakfasts and some extra walks in Sherwood Forest.

This was the lovely morning view from my (remodeled, enlarged) room in what was presumably servants' quarters.

The problem with Fairly Fancy cooking in England, in my experience, is that it gussies up what doesn't need it, and at the same time is leaves bare what really cries out for some thought and skill. (Really Fancy and Really Plain cooking in England, on the other hand, each careen from wonderful to truly bad, usually without warning)

My lamb last night was served on a bed of aubergine and something else, with lots of spears of toasted something-or-other scattered artfully about. The lamb didn't need this -- certainly not from where I'm sitting. Good lamb is nice, this was good lamb, probably local lamb. The palest lamb I remember, but very good,

The side dish of various vegetables, on the other hand, was silly in its lack of adornment. Plain potatoes, of no particular variety or interest, boiled. Once-adequate snow peas, steamed into oblivion. Plain carrots, indifferent at best, sliced lengthwise and steamed. And steamed broccoli.

I don't get it. Why not roast the carrots with a little pepper and a herb? (We're in Sherwood Forest; surely they can have a herb garden?) I'm down on broccoli this week, but it's a sauce magnet -- and, hell, you're a restaurant, you've got drippings of every sort. This is cheese country as I recall; use a touch of it. Or a flavored oil. Sage, rosemary, or thyme?

And this was a very unbusy time and a small restaurant; it's not like the kitchen was pushed over the edge.