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My talk at OZ-IA this morning discusses False Intentions and the Fallacy of Finding. Couldn't make it to Sydney? You can look at the slides on the Lecture Notes page.

False Intentions and the Fallacy of Finding
False Intentions and the Fallacy of Finding

Some time ago, I made a sketch called Guantanamo Study for this weblog, based on Hiram Power's once-famous statue of The Greek Slave. It's been seen by a lot of people. That's good: it's political art, and it's meant to be seen. But did those people intend to see this image, or to think about The Greek Slave and American torturers? Where does this meaning lie, anyway?

Fact checking is simple, so it's simple to study. That's not why most of us read hypertexts — not even on the Web.

Filling out forms is simple, so it's simple to study. That's not what we do on the Web -- not even when we're shopping.

The street finds its use for things: this is the message of socially-constructed sites, of the sites we sometimes call "Web 2.0". We can't impose simple structure; a Web site is not a zoo, and even zoos no longer rely on simply classifying the subject. (If you stop people in a zoo and demand that they tell you what they're doing and justify themselves, they might say that they're trying to find the polar bears. Is this the whole answer?)

False Intentions and the Fallacy of Finding

We need to move beyond a simplistic reliance on classification and search. Hypertexts have rich structures, and flattening them with search or simmering them into folksonomical tag stews doesn't serve real readers or real writers. Whether we're teaching students, convincing voters, or acquiring customers, we require rich and flexible structures that can say many things at once.

Architecture began as the defense of art against engineering. IA began as an effort to help Management reign in the wild creatives. It's time to move on, and to find ways to design structures that offer real returns to writers, readers, customers, and investors.

  • It appears that I started my beach stroll a few minutes too late: just before I arrived, there was a shark at Bondi.
  • If you want to hear from everyone you know in or near Australia, lose your camera. Thanks, everyone: Martin Pluss, Fazal Majid, Dave Phillips, Robert Black, High Nichol, and more. Lots of great tips.
  • Australian breakfast preserves the tradition of thick slices of toast. The café down the street serves a fruit-laden quickbread that they slice about an inch thick, maybe more, and toast. They keep it chilled and the toasting doesn't quite warm the center; I suspect this is a Grave Flaw but it's actually an interesting effect.

I just got back from a lovely fried trout in red curry, eaten at another communal table. This one was at Sailor Thai Canteen. The guy across from me turned out to be a physician from Brown University, which is essentially down the road from home. The nice lady on my left had a daughter at Harvard. It's a small world, but the trout was big and crispy and that curry was extraordinary.

Last night at the Sydney Opera House, waiting Shiraz in hand to see I Am My Own Wife, I shared a table with two delightful Sidneyside theatre fans. One was about to head to the US; she'd planned to go leaf-peeping in Vermont but was frightened by the prospect of her husband's driving on the wrong side of the road. She's doing Connecticut with friends instead, which will be fine, but Vermont is better.

There was an old rule that a roof, or a hull, was an introduction. One meets people on trips, but how often does one keep the resolution to follow through later? Maybe this time.

After dinner, it was another long walk home. Too long, so I stopped into the Art House Hotel. (In Australia, a hotel is always a bar and only sometimes a hotel; this one used to be an art school). The original plan was to go there for dinner -- they have a four-course cocktail degustation menu on Tuesdays, but it was booked up.

Jade of the South served with hand made scallop ravioli and citrus beurre blanc

On Mondays, they have figure drawing and discounted cocktails for the artists: this could be either a very good or a very bad idea. The notice actually says, "bring your own media". I had a nice glass of Australian verdehlo (!) and was not quite the only person of the male persuasion in the room.

I left my Canon A40 on a cafe table in Bownal. Ouch, though one of the reasons I picked the A40 was that it wouldn't be tragic if I lost it, and some of the mechanism is getting a little creaky.

Suggestions for a new midrange camera for Web work are welcome. Email me.

A personal highlight of Sydney's Powerhouse Museum was an exhibit case devoted to Rosie X and her 'zine/site GeekGrrrl. I've lost touch, but GeekGr+l used to run intelligent reviews of new hypertext fiction.

It's cool that there's space in the museum for zines. Also, they have some fine exhibits of design history and ideas, including good treatments of current designers and design firms, and even an intelligent section on the history of marketing in Australia.

by Jo Walton

A wonderful country house mystery, set in a Britain that accepted the Hess mission and made peace with Germany in 1942. Six years later the Continent is Nazi, the Wehrmacht is still bogged down at Kursk and Stalingrad, the US is isolationist, and Lucy Eversley, niece of a Duke and daughter of a cabinet secretary, has married a Jew. She's home for one of Mummie's political house parties, but things are getting awkward for Jews in England. When one of the guests is murdered, suspicion soon falls on the son-in-law.

It's a wonderfully well-imagined world. Walton makes occasional blunders: at one point we think the Cook, a Polish refugee, is being blackmailed by Bolshevik terrorists when Poland must actually be occupied by the Germans. I can envision the USSR collapsing, and I can see the Soviets grinding down the Wehrmacht single-handed, but could the war bog down this way, six years of stationary slogging? Only, I think, if winter were perpetual or if some technological change suddenly negated the armored division.

I'm made anxious by the position of terrorists in this world. This is, after all, a social history of a terrible, sudden slide into right-wing extremism where Jews and union leaders are pariahs, Labour is outlawed, and the politics have become, essentially, a Kabuki combat between the right (Churchill), the extreme right (Eden's government), and fascist aristocracy (the heroine's family). The parallel to contemporary America is frightening , but Walton muddies the issue by making treating terrorism as a myth. Her terrorists pick off occasional targets with Molotov cocktails and popguns; they're less effective than the IRA. That cannot be right, and it can't be an accident. Cui bono? It's a mystery.

But it's a fine mystery, engrossing and intelligent.

Sep 06 23 2006

Beach

Did I mention that there's something in the Australian air that makes me want to do too much?

Today was a lovely Spring weekend morning and I thought it would be the perfect day to see those legendary beaches. OK, I did that at Waikiki and I didn't really have that much fun. But still: when in Rome. So I bought a ticket on the (overpriced) Bondi Explorer bus and headed for the exotic East.

Beach

I spent an hour walking around Nielsen Park, which was nice enough and had lovely views of Sydney, and was surrounded by impressive houses and by cars with enigmantic bumper stickers. NoBirds..com.au -- the extra period in the URL is not a typo. Huh? Then off to Watson's Bay and Doyles for a lunch of nice fried Barramundi and a nicer oaked Chardonnay.

And then to Bondi, which was chock full of cheerful people, just like you see in pictures of Coney Island from the old days.

Beach

And then I walked from Bondi to Tamarama, Brontë, and Coogee. The cliffs were scenic: this means they were high. The beaches were lovely: that means they were at sea level. Everyone was having a terrific time, mostly because they weren't wearing many clothes and they were staying in one place rather than walking up bluffs.

Beach

There were some nice aboriginal rock carvings, and in one place by the path I stumbled across what seems to be a scatter of potsherds. Ward-Perkins points out that pottery, once broken, is just about indestructible and so most of the poetry pottery that has ever been made is still kicking around. But still: who breaks pottery on the beach in Australia?

Beach

Coogee was a sight for sore eyes, and also sore muscles. It was interesting, in this short stroll, how different each beach seems to be. One had lots of teens and tweens doing athletic things, one had lots of little kids, one had lots of people from far away. There was a crowd of Japanese tourists who were playing a game of one-legged chicken that attracted participants from up and down the beach.

Beach

Not long ago, if you wanted to go from Boston to Sydney you spent months en route, and ran risks comparable to undergoing a coronary bypass. Now, it's just a long plane flight followed by a very long plane flight. (Even this is going to vanish shortly; when the next Boeing comes online, it'll be one long flight.) The time difference, of course, is ferocious.

Jet Lag Day

My hotel turns out to be an auxiliary function of the Masonic Club, which is interesting because Linda and I spent last Sunday at the Lexington Museum of Our National Heritage, which is a Masonic headquarters.

I arrived early in the morning, checked in, and thought it best to keep moving. I walked over toward the Art Gallery of New South Wales, passing this uniquely Australian statue of Burns.

The Gallery has some magnificent rooms of Victorian era art, mostly British but with some very fine representatives from France and Germany. Here's a wonderfully sentimental statue about dead kids; we used to make fun of the Victorians because their art harps so on how you are supposed to feel about things, but sometimes stuff happens and you don't have the foggiest idea about how you ought to feel about it, and that makes deciding how you do feel about how you feel even harder than it might otherwise be.

Jet Lag Day
Jet Lag Day

To continue my Australian theme of trying to do too much, I followed this by a stroll through the botanical garden and bought some theater tickets at the Opera House. Then home, quick change, and an early feast at CBD (across from the Grace Hotel, Macarthur's headquarters and apparently the only building in the world influenced by the Tribune Tower in Chicago). The highlight was a very well-made and well-cooked pheasant sausage, served with one fondant potato.

Jet Lag Day

by Bryan Ward-Perkins

As he watched the monks walking amidst the ruins of the Capitoline, Gibbon saw a tale of decline and fall. Recent historical fashion has tried instead to visualize a continuous process, a gradual transformation from late Roman Antiquity to Germanic rule and the early Middle Ages.

Ward-Perkins makes an elegant and convincing argument that the new fashion is fundamentally wrong. This was no gradual transformation where things changed, sometimes for the better and perhaps sometimes not. Things fell apart. The transition was, for almost everyone in the West, a prolonged misery. Fourth century Roman peasants, from Spain to Syria, lived in solidly-built stone houses with good tile roofs. Even poor folk cooked with imported olive oil, drank imported wine, and ate off well-made, imported tableware. A few centuries later, few kings could say as much, and tech didn't get back to Roman-era standards for nearly a thousand years.

New from J. Nathan Matias: the Tinderbox Stretchtext Writing System .

Stretchtext is a form of hypertext where following a link extends the text -- adding more detail -- rather than moving you to an entirely new place. Matias' system is an elegant set of Tinderbox templates. Matias describes it as "one part in my attempt to use Tinderbox as a complete solution for brainstorming, researching, composing, and publishing print and electronic academic material."

Tinderbox Stretchtext Writing System

What shall we explore at Tinderbox Weekend Boston? It's next month: 28-29 October 2006.

We'll want to spend some time, of course, on concepts and mechanics and The Tinderbox Way. And we'll doubtless want to take a look at new features from Tinderbox 3.5 (already out), Tinderbox 3.6 (soon), and perhaps some from Tinderbox 4.

But I'd like to spend a lot more time exploring tools and techniques for Tinderbox in practice -- actual tasks and actual notes. What's easy (so we can share the path of least resistance) and what's more difficult (so we can work together to make it as simple as we can).

For example, Kathryn Cramer plans to be there with the latest version of her investigative reporting notebook, “Distilled Essence”. And Alwin Hawkins, too, with his great ideas for Tinderbox in health care.

How about you? Got an idea or an application? Have an interesting puzzle? Email me.! (If you don't receive a reply, email again: I'm on the road, and I don't trust my spam filter.)

I'm starting Ward-Perkins recent study on The Fall Of Rome And The End Of Civilization . It sets out on a disheartening note:

I also thank the very many students at Oxford, who, over the years, have helped make my thinking clearer and more direct. The career structure and funding of universities in the UK currently strongly discourages academics and faculties from putting any investment into teaching — there are no career or financial rewards in it. This is a great pity, because, in the Humanities at least, it is the need to engage in dialogue, and to make things logical and clear, that is the primary defence against obscurantism and abstraction.

Defense against abstraction might not invariably be a good thing, but the point is well taken.

Torill is being offered a deal: money and power in exchange for not doing research.

No research, no travel for conferences, no time to write and explore, no books, no articles, no research- or writing leaves for 4 years. At least. The maximum time, if I get caught up in this, is 12 years.

I'm off to Australia today, for OZ-IA. It looks like an exciting conference. I'm planning to talk about why Search is still a last resort, why clearly labeling the elements of your site is bound to confuse people, and why people lie when you ask them what they're doing when they read the Web.

Australia Again

I just discovered that I inadvertently turned off the topic agent for last year's Australian journey. That's easily fixed!

On Flickr, John Manoogian shares images of Tinderbox in action: meeting notes (another view) from Future Of Web Apps 2006.

Sep 06 19 2006

Changing Planes

The Post reports that a Canadian computer consultant, Maher Arar, was tagged by Canadian police as a possible terrorism suspect. He was detained by American police while changing planes in New York in September 2002, questioned for twelve days, and flown to Syria where he was tortured and kept in a coffin-size cell for ten months.

He was innocent of any wrong-doing. A Canadian judge has concluded that "categorically there is no evidence" against him.

What a country.

by Stephen Lekson

I'm writing a talk on hypertext style and the way we write history. I took this book down from the shelf to check a quote, and spent much of the weekend reading it again from cover to cover. Lekson's thesis -- that the early Southwestern regional capitals of Chaco, Aztec, and Paquime are linked -- has not been widely accepted, but it's brilliantly argued here and deserves careful thought.

We do not know, and probably cannot know, just what happened at the end of Chaco. Something happened at Mimbres too, at just about the same time. Something bad enough that a culture that had always decorated pots with elaborate designs and sacred figures suddenly switched to making pots that were unpainted, polished, and black. This was more than fashion: something was being rejected or embraced. We see the symbols but we don't know the slogans or the platform.

The north-south alignment might be a coincidence, but Lekson has a good point: these three sites are unique, and their uniqueness is significant without reference to the other sites. Each was the center of a regional system. Each was constructed shortly after construction ceased at the other two. The symbols and technologies and material of each site differ -- we're talking about a 500 year span here, the distance from Marathon to Actium or from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Eleanor "Nell" Gwyn. Lekson's argument is intriguing without the alignment; it might even seem stronger since alignments have such an unsavory New Age tinge.

The endless joy of this volume, though, is Lekson's wit. He's writing to catch the attention of his colleagues, and he's writing to exclude wannabes while including the serious amateur and scholars from allied areas. In place of the customary retreat to jargon, he adopts an elegant casualness, filled with puns and significant allusions that professionals will recognize and students can politely ignore.

Does all this sound anthropologically familiar? If I were describing a neolithic center in Turkistan or Shansi or Wessex or Bolivia or Illinois, what would we think? Chaco was socially and politically ‘complex’ — that is, a hierarchy with definite haves and have-nots. Hierarchy, not heterarchy: A few people at Chaco regularly and customarily directed the actions of many other people, and those few lived in more expensive houses and had more baubles (at least in death) than the many. Were they chiefs, priests, kings, queens, duly-elected representatives? Who knows? And, for now, who cares? They were elite leaders, Major Dudes: that much seems clear. If ever anyone in the Pueblo Southwest were elite, it was those two guys buried in the famous log crypts of Old Bonito. Those boys had power.
The Chaco Meridian
Sep 06 17 2006

Mee!

Anne Bogart and her SITI gang have a new Charles Mee play at the A.R.T., bobrashenbergamerica. It's fresh out of mothballs, a reflection on America that was originally produced right before 9/11, when everything (or something) changed (or not). In any case, it's back, and it's pretty good.

I think, though, that to write a study of The American Character at this particular moment, when pious Congressmen are debating whether Justice's bare breasts should be hidden and whether torture should be permitted in secret CIA prisons, is to risk being ridiculous. There's a hint of this, perhaps, in one scene in which a character uses an aluminum baseball bat to smash a shiny new garbage can. This is, in any case, an impossible task -- like writing about Germany in 1931 and having the work performed in 1936, or writing about the Republic in 49 BC as Caesar fretted in Spain and having the work performed in 44BC while Antony praised Brutus' honor.

Sep 06 15 2006

Potatoes

For brunch tomorrow, I'm smoking a brined turkey breast over pecan chips. With luck, it will be ready before midnight.

We've got some B&B french toast to go with it, and (knock wood) a terrine of grilled vegetables and goat cheese. In case we're still hungry, I'm planning to improvise a little fig clafoutis.

But, watching the turkey smoke, I thought that maybe we might want a potato.

Now, home fries are good and they're fairly virtuous, but brunch comes with a special dispensation for Things That Might Not Be Particularly Good For You, and so I started thinking about a galette or something of that ilk. But which of that ilk?

If I were well equipped, I guess I'd just get out Larousse. But I don't have Larousse. I did happen to remember this page, though: Tallyrand's Guide To The Potato. It's a nice piece of tech writing: a guide to lots of classical French potato dishes, sorted by shape and ingredients. For example, potatoes lorette are simply

As for dauphine potatoes but shaped into short cigars

I've been working hard on my Sydney talk, "False Intentions and the Fallacy of Finding", which explores the limitations of search and signage on the Web. This is a great example: how do you use Google to find "that well-written page comparing all those classical French potato preparations"? It's not easy! I eventually found a route, via a deliberately incoherent search: "pommes anna fondant".

by Charles Stross

If The Merchant Princes is Stross's Amber, this is his response to Clifford Simak's City. More broadly, Stross is recreating old themes and visions of the future, but approaching them in light of what we learned from Gibson, from cyberpunk generally, and from the computer age.

More than any other book I've read in ages, this volume sent me back to the summer lawns of Cornell's quad, where I once spent a summer reading Heinlein and Harlan Ellison, Simak and Asimov in afternoons borrowed from Sienko and Plane..

Accelerando follows four generations of a family (and their friends, habitats, and pets: this world is filled with things that think) across the Singularity and into a distant future where the descendants of humanity have become incomprehensible computational agents. As a story, it's strongest in the early years. The first story, "Lobsters", is the most interesting vision of ubiquitous computing I've seen, and is also an able and interesting defense of extreme Open Source ideology.

Tales of the very far future are always a problem, because it's very hard to find a story in a world where the actors are so smart that they're incomprehensible. "Elector" has its moments, to be sure -- especially a political campaign conducted by forking millions of computational copies of the candidate, so each copy can sit down for a chat with each individual voter. And the final story, "Survivor", is a wonderfully twisty conclusion.

Sep 06 13 2006

Making Comics

by Scott McCloud

How come you didn't tell me that McCloud's new Making Comics is out? 264 pages, and it looks terrific.

He's speaking tomorrow, September 14, at MIT.

In New England, Spring produce comes late and harvest time really doesn't get going until Fall. The farm stand was really hopping this weekend. There's still fresh local corn and some lovely little summer squash, but we also have heirloom tomatoes, lots of green tomatoes, early pumpkins, nectarines, and apples.

Yesterday, I improvised a corn chowder with some wild boar bacon, a couple of big ears of fresh corn, the corncobs (roasted and carmelized with some carrots), some carmelized onions, and a few duck bones I grabbed from the freezer and roasted off.

It went nice last night with a bit of duck confit and a bottle of Basa Rueda. I have hopes for even better things tonight, though, when it'll be the prelude to a hot-roasted chicken with fried green tomatoes .

Last weekend, we found ourselves in the proverbial country house on the proverbial rainy day. Before we began prepping the home-made pizzas (carmelized onion, sweet potato, goat cheese, mozarella), we played a round of Hamlet: A Game In Five Acts by Mike Young.

It's a sculptural hypertext, rather like Card Shark. Each player has a separate goal -- mine was to wind up with Polonius on the throne and Laertes as prince of Denmark -- and each player chooses actions from a global pool in order to move closer to their desired outcome.

Sometimes, this worked. In our game, nobody seemed to have any long-term plans for Ophelia, but gradually everyone figured out, in order to get other characters to budge, they needed to drive Ophelia nuts. So, everybody was working at cross purposes on everything except tormenting poor Ophelia. That's an odd way to look at things, but it's worth the candle.

Overall, the mechanics got in the way: too much poring over lists of preconditions, too little poring over something rotten in the state-vector of Denmark.

We also played several rounds of Bone Wars: The Game of Ruthless Paleontology, by James Cambias and Diane Kelley, which I bought at Readercon from Kelley Link's Small Beer Press. They're working on a new game, Parasites Unleashed. Sign me up! (But they can't, because there's no way to sign up on their web site.)

Sep 06 8 2006

Tishomingo Blues

by Elmore Leonard

I ran across Elmore Leonard's good old Ten Rules of Writing the other day, and that got me thinking about literary hypertext and its many discontents. Leonard's goal is "to remain invisible when I'm writing a book." I wonder what that kind of invisibility would like like in a reflective and self-aware hypertext?

As Tishomingo Blues shows, it's a prominent kind of invisibility. We don't have much folderol here, and we've got some truly wonderful bits of dialogue. Here, two Mexican gunmen, pistols casually on a table in the hot Mississippi sun, are confronted by a Arlen, a redneck ex-deputy.

Hector turned his head to Tonto. "Fucking High Noon, man."

Arlen said, "I didn't hear you."

"I tole him," Hector said, "you want to pull your guns, but you don't have the nerve."

The one with the tobacco stains in his beard said, "What'd he say?"

But the one, Arlen, was louder, telling them, "You think that's what we come here for? To shoot you? Jesus Christ."

"Our Lord and Savior." Hector said. "No, I don't think to shoot us. Maybe scare us so we go home."

A circus high-diver, a small-town hit man, the Dixie Mafia, and some dudes from Detroit all get mixed together in the midst of a Civil War reenactment. It could only be Elmore Leonard, but he's carefully invisible.

From Elmore Leonard's ten rules:

Avoid prologues.... A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

A commonplace weapon to have ready to hand, the next time a Birkertsian tries to mug you by arguing that hypertext narrative can't work.

Sep 06 6 2006

Critical Details

Critical Details

In her new Avatars of Story , Marie-Laure Ryan makes an interesting argument about Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl. Ryan sees Patchwork Girl as a link between Storyspace and the Web:

Patchwork Girl is one of the last major hypertexts written with Storyspace, and its general design hints at a departure from the complex labyrinths for which the Storyspace toolbox was conceived....The clear separation of the major constituents of the text, as well as the absence of hidden tricks in the linking strategy — no use is made of guard fields — allows for the type of goal-oriented navigation that we find in well-designed Internet Web sites. Abandoning the metaphor of the labyrinth so prominent in early Storyspace hypertexts, Patchwork Girl looks toward a narrative structure that will flourish under a new generation of computers systems [sic] and authoring programs: the structure of an open archive.

This sounds plausible, but it turns out to be wrong.

As it happens, I spent the morning working on a new edition of Patchwork Girl, using a new implementation of Storyspace. Recalling this passage, I asked Storyspace 2.5 to check for any guard fields in the hypertext. What do you know? Patchwork Girl has 18 guard fields:

trunk---
us "revised"|"disguised"
Aftermath "revised"
Aftermath "disguised"
chancy "Aftermath"&"revised"
chancy "Aftermath"&"disguised"
chancy "disguised"
chancy "revised"
guises "disguised"
guises "revised"
an accident "revised"
an accident "disguised"
armadillo "revised"
armadillo "disguised"
fame "disguised"
fame "revised"
body ghosts "disguised"
body ghosts "revised"

This is a limited embrace of guard fields, to be sure, but guard fields are used, and they're used with some care. Without the argument about guard fields, the proposition falls aparts: Victory Garden has a Storyspace map that is even more clearly segmented than Patchwork Girl, and Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse actually is an open archive.

Ryan sees the Storyspace map as a route for access, but doesn't seem particularly interested in its metaphorical (or anti-metaphoric) role, the way its narrative limbs are stitched together around a tenuous core much as the protagonis herself is stitched together. The echo between the frontispiece and the Storyspace map has not been widely discussed, perhaps because it's obvious to everyone but me.

Critical Details
“My body is both insinuating and naive: moments of knowingness of art ... punctuate my abandonment.”

Unfortunately, Ryan seems not to have used Jill Walker's fine study of afternoon , which leads her to focus on that hypertext's apparent tangledness rather than on its underlying coherence. Patchwork Girl is more lightly linked than many hypertexts (for which see my "Storyspace I" in Proc. Hypertext 02), but the early Quibbling is also lightly linked.

Who is writing the next major hypertext written with Storyspace?

It's time to look back.

What ended this week was not dream. Martin's dream still lives -- not least in the outrage expressed throughout the country, from the redneck forests to the Berkeley waters, over the shabby negligence with which the victims of storm and flood were treated. And the big dream's still there, too. Somewhere in the Astrodome tonight, there's a little boy or girl who is tired and hungry and frightened, and who will grow up to be president. You can bet on it.

by Laurie R. King

Kate Martinelli is Laurie King's contemporary, San Francisco detective. She's been pushed into the background in recent years by King's more recent creation, the stunning Mary Russell who, as a young woman, befriends and marries the aged Sherlock Holmes. In this adorable novel, Martinelli is faced with the unsettling murder of a man who was a passionate collector of Sherlockiana; one of the central hints is a beautifully-composed lost story that might be the work of Conan Doyle himself.