MarkBernstein.org

Adrian Miles is writing a paper for the Video Vortex Symposium in Brussels next week, and writes an intriguing report on the process of drafting the work in Tinderbox for presentation variously as a hypertext, a Keynote presentation, an interactive video vog, and a research paper.

But I’m now at the pointy end. It’s time to really start to nut out what I mean by crystalline structures and faceted video. I have it sort of sketched in my head, but right now it looms before me as a whole other essay on top off, or along side, of the current 5000 words. Which is why I’m writing about this particular knot here, rather than there.

These are good knots. This is where my writing moves from reporting or just joining the dots of my thinking out loud to be a thinking in the writing.

by Eric Sink

This series of basic essays on starting and running a small software business says what you'd expect it to say. I didn't find much news here, but I've been running a small software business for a long time. I also didn't find mistakes or distortions.

Inevitably, some of the lessons are just repeating the author's prejudices ("business instincts"). Sink likes trade shows, and thinks advertising is often ill-advised. Fine. What is needed in this argument are two things — income and expense — about which Sink essentially waves his hands. Rogue Amoeba did a series on exhibiting at MacWorld last year that provides the necessary detail; Sink, essentially, likes working a trade show and so finds arguments that the intangibles are worth the cost.

More important, Sink thinks that very small ISV's, including one-person companies, can be very successful. This is interesting, and somewhat contrary to conventional wisdom. It's one thing, though, to argue that software companies that actually make software and make money can be worth building; it's another thing entirely to figure out what the right size is. Sink seems to say that the right size starts at a headcount of 1/2, but a lot of the businesses he talks about have 1-3M of revenues and employ 10-30 people. Which really makes sense? Do you need to build out to 30? Should you want to? I think there's a real difference between aiming at $300K and aiming at $3M, and it's not obvious how to follow the money.

  • Seeds: spicy candied squash seeds (see dessert). Failed; either this species of squash has the wrong kind of seed, or they need to be cooked more, or cooked more slowly, or something. Oh well. The margaritas meant for this course and the next were tasty.
  • Pork Pork: a small cube of wild boar bacon, dusted with ancho, smoked paprika, and adobo and carefully sauteed, with a small serving of picadillo and some jicama sticks.
  • Salad: boucheron, fresh figs, warm sauteed hedgehog mushrooms, apple, mesclun from Maggie's farm, with warm sherry vinaigrette.
  • Comfort food: a duck confit leg, sitting on a scallion dipped in hoisin sauce, sitting on a corn cake; potato-fennel gratin; carrot-coriander puree.
  • Trout, wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon, on a bed of crushed grapes (olive oil, pepper), with roasted baby summer squash.
  • Squash pie.
Too Much, but Tasty

Too much! Too much! There's something satisfying in that old-country invocation: it's company, there ought to be too much. Someone might be hungry. And, once committed to the picadillo and the pie, you're going to be in the kitchen early: why not. And those white trout looked great in the market (and they were pretty good, while providing a dramatic demonstration of the ability of the fume hood to handle a lot of drama).

I kept the picadillo in the first course to a mere taste. But it's still a lot of food.

Sep 07 27 2007

Noting The News

More excitement for Tinderbox Weekend San Francisco (Dec 1-2): Michael Fitzhugh is going to talk about Noting The News.

From pitching editors to proofing pages, Tinderbox is an indispensable tool for journalists. It brings order and ease to reporting by tracking story assignments, ideas, sources and interview notes.

Michael Fitzhugh, a reporter covering technology and biotech for the weekly East Bay Business Times, will show how he puts his notes to work, helping him meet deadlines and keep up with the news.

A highlight of Hypertext '07 was j. Nathan Matias' panel on Hypertext and Tragedy, with Emily Short, Nick Lowe, Dave Millard, and Kieron O'Hara. (Dave Millard's trip report is terrific; read it.) Matias has some interesting notes in preparation for the panel, and we've already touched on the topic leading up to the conference.

One very interesting point: O'Hara, exploring the differences between ancient and modern tragedy, argued that the Greeks were interested in the tragic process while modern tragedy focuses on a state, on a moment. His illustration for this point was The Awakening Conscience, a painting by William Holman Hunt.

Melodrama
William Holman Hunt, The Awakeningt Conscience, Tate Gallery, London

There's a lot of stuff packed into this picture; the core point is that this woman has just realized that this affair cannot and will not come to good. It's a "what am I thinking?" moment, the moment when we realize that things have gone off the rails.

I'm very interested right now in the power of an image and a handful of words to spring an entire narrative. If you're working this vein, we need to talk.

But in this case, I think O'Hara's illustration is wrong: this is a narrative moment, but it's not tragedy. We are not ruined: our clothes are intact, the door is open, we have not yet been discovered. And, more to the point, we knew this wasn't going to work. The young man is already pudgy. His clothes are too good. He is a slob, and doesn't pick up his things. This can't work, we couldn't really be thinking of risking everything for him.

He's not the dangerous, tragically wrong boyfriend who makes modern parents stay up and pace the hall. He's a phase.

And this isn't a tragic moment: it's a melodramatic one. "Melodrama" is so often a term of abuse that we forget the point: melodrama creates drama from heightened circumstances, thrilling the audience by creating tension even though we all know that the tension will be resolved. Lots of great art is melodramatic: it's natural to expect extraordinary lessons from extraordinary events.

Melodrama
Elna Borch, Death and the Maiden, Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, Copenhagen

Plenty of art moments are about tragedy. This one, I think, is specifically about cholera.

(Yes, you can have a melodrama that ends unhappily. And I'd suggest that Don Giovanni is a tragedy that ends happily: D. G.'s point is that you take your pleasure and pay the bill and behave as a gentleman by your own lights. If the Commendatore absolutely insists on fighting then you must oblige him, and if his angry ghost invites you to dinner then you really cannot refuse and besides, with the score mounting to 640 Italian women, 231 Germans, and so forth, Hell is at least an undiscovered country.)

by Tim Powers

A lovely little ghost story, a 19th century cozy gothic in jeans and a sweatshirt. A used book scout who drinks too much and who likes to restore the pennies to Jean Harlow's pavement in Hollywood meets a young woman who he knows at once is entirely too good to be real.

A Tinderbox user in the Bay Area justly complains that we're again having a Tinderbox Weekend for Writers on the East Coast.

Why not the West coast?

Let's start thinking about a Tinderbox weekend for creative projects — writing, film, comics, theater! Email me.

I've been invited to speak at OOPSLA, which is of course a terrific honor and a daunting challenge. (OOPSLA is Object Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications; it's the conference where language happens)

I'll be talking about NeoVictorian Programming — the flip side of Postmodern Programming — and the way it relates to nobitic information, the intimate, everyday information for which Tinderbox is intended.

Remember the software factory? You know, there are people who still believe in that vision. Hell, I must get a call every week from someone in Bangalore who wants me to rent their software assembly line. Meanwhile, my academic colleagues are worried by declining computer science enrollments. My favorite physics professor told me that Kids Today Don't Program. I think we can build a better software world; I'm going to look back at 19th century art and industry to find a path.

OOPSLA
Sep 07 25 2007

Costikyan Plus

Manifesto's Greg Costikyan has a new site that offers daily profiles independent games and game culture. Bookmark Play This Thing.

One of the key things about the iPhone design is that you have to get the Internet package, and there's only one Internet package: unlimited. So, you don't worry about connect time, you don't worry about using up your quota. It's just there.

Tim Bray offers a fascinatingly contrarian perspective, suggesting that in the long run we'll all be better off with some kind of metered service.

Once the telco has your money they really want you on the network as little as possible; there’s no incentive to make it run faster or have better apps or lure you into using it more.

One thing seems very clear from the iPhone launch: telephone companies make awkward partners to customer-centered vendors. Every time there's news about the iPhone, Apple is out there to reassure people and invite them into the store, and ATT is out there urging the customers to go away and leave them alone.

by Thomas Geoghegan

A brilliant, fascinating look at the state of Labor in the U.S., or actually at the state of social justice, by a man who fell into Labor Law in the '60s and now wonders if it's been a sensible way to spend his career. This was an Aaron Swartz recommendation, and a very fine one. Geohegan despairs of the future of working people in the US, and foresees an increasing third-world underclass emerging inside the US without help for horrific workinbg conditions and oppressive legal constraints. Yet, in the end, he observes that the difference between oppressive restraint of labor and a vigorous social movement in the US rests upon several small legal obstacles, details that could easily be removed. And while Geohegan, writing a 2004 epilogue, foresaw no hope, the collapse of the Bush regime and the apparent realignment of the electorate, in which the Democrats have traded the inveterately anti-Labor solid South for the old Republican and Union bastion of New England, the old home of bread and roses, perhaps there is hope after all.

Sep 07 20 2007

Spikes

Norwegian Torill Mortensen is spending the semester in Umeå, Sweden, where students who have completed their theses nail them to the wall at a public spikning. Of course, Luther nailed his thesis to the door.

At a loose end last night, I decided what I really wanted to do was to get a leftover single and see The Theatre de la Jeune Lune's Don Juan Giovanni again. (I don't do this a lot, and we've also got tickets to their Figaro, so you can gather that I really like this production and that you really should see it if you can get to Boston in the next couple of weeks.)

The Theatre de la Jeune Lune works in mines of which I'm not usually fond: opera, and roots of French theater. They do fascinating things with video on stage; in the first act, for example, we have Don Juan and Sganarelle sitting in a drive-in movie theater, eating popcorn and watching Don Giovanni and Donna Anna sing (I think) Non sperar, se non m'uccidi on screen. But they're not just on screen: they start just offstage, were you can half see them, and the video is live. But it's not just live video on the screen: the camera position is perpendicular to the audience's point of view, so you see the action from the point of view that Don Juan would have if he were watching the action, and not the screen.

This is just a detail, a moment, but it's the sort of theatrical moment that displays the depth of thought that underpins what might seem a frivolous adaptation of a Great Hit. There's a ton of circus fun here (an aria on a bicycle, orgasms in lá ci darem la mano) and some good satire, and some terrific singing.

It's the singing, in the end, that really does it. The whole enterprise is built to get these songs back into a moderately-small theater. Small orchestra (a string quartet and synth), small ensemble; you're right there. It's great.

Two new Tinderbox Weekends are coming up:

  • Boston: November 15-17, 2007. Focus: Tinderbox for Writers!
  • San Francisco, December 1-2, 2007. Focus: Tinderbox Management (with Doug Miller on Tinderbox and Rails)

Registration is open, and you can save a little money if you register right away. (And you'll be sure of getting a seat: I think Boston is already about half full.)

Got an idea for a session? Call me, or Email me.

Sep 07 18 2007

Musings: TNG

Steve Ersinghaus muses on what the next generation of Storyspace might look like.

Storyspace is, in my mind, the best conceived hypertext writing environment I know, and I know the system pretty well. As a connectivity metaphor, it’s brilliant and prescient. The numerous ways of building relations and seeing how they can be built and abstracted are the reasons I wanted to go to Manchester. I have a stake in the future of hypertext both as a writer and teacher. The weblog is okay as a means of delivering info to my students. But it’s really not all that I want.

by Arthur Phillips

I like to think that Angelica is a response to Sarah Water's Fingersmith. Both are stories of lower-class Victorian women thrust into loveless luxury and tormented by forces they do not precisely understand. Both are rashomon tales, told from one perspective and then retold, transformed, from other points of view. Both wonderfully recreate a fresh view of the Victorian world.

Angelica is, I think, Fingersmith done straight — not merely in the sense that it's about heterosexual protagonists, but also because Fingersmith is a Victorian novel about postmodern concerns and Angelica is a Victorian novel about Victorian concerns. 19th century science was working out exactly what difference meant: were women (or Frenchmen, black men, working men) deeply and intrinsically different, as dogs are from cats, or are they pretty similar? Do women think and feel as men do, or are they truly alien? At the same time, 19th century psychiatry is filled with treatments of maladies that simply don't occur much anymore. Were these cases spurious, or fraudulent, or misunderstood? Or did madness once adorn itself in very different garments?

One beautiful moment concerns a group of old actors who habitually call each other by the name of their best or most characteristic part. One aged Shakespearean, who plays an important role in this story, is known as Third.

The concluding chapter, in which the toddler at the center of these events tries to discuss them as an adult with her psychiatrist, seems unecessary to me. Nonetheless, this is a very fine book.

Robert Fisk reports in The Independent on the pillage of archaeological sites in Iraq.

It appears that essentially everything in Sumeria is being systematically plundered and ruined, even now. Contractors get grants to build mud-brick factories, but don't make bricks: they mine them from 2,000-year-old Sumerian cities. Bonus: all the artifacts they find, they sell secretly to wealthy collectors.

A cylinder seal, a sculpture or a cuneiform tablet earns $50 (£25) and that's half the monthly salary of an average government employee in Iraq. The looters have been told by the traders that if an object is worth anything at all, it must have an inscription on it. In Iraq, the farmers consider their "looting" activities to be part of a normal working day.
Sep 07 16 2007

BLT

An amusing appetizer: serve small bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches centered on a nice big plate. I had a couple of slices of cob-smoked bacon on hand, not enough for breakfast and threatening to get old. Our farm share this week had a lovely green tomato that was ready to be sliced, and we've had caprese three nights running. And the farm share also had a bag of nice arugula (rocket). So: a killer little BLT, and a quick and easy appetizer.

It had to be quick, because we spent the afternoon at a wonderful performance of Don Juan Giovanni, performed by the Theatre de la Jeune Lune at the ART.

BLT

It's a fascinating, complex collision of Moliere's Don Juan and Mozart's Don Giovanni, set as a road trip gone wrong. The orchestra is a string quartet with keyboard. It works remarkably well. Notice, above, the interesting interplay of the play and the video projection in this scene, which takes place in a drive-in movie in which the characters watch themselves. Director Dominique Serrand does fascinating things with video on stage.

Back to dinner:

  • little BLT sandwiches
  • roast chicken, sauce piquante (but using lemon juice in place of vinegar and omitting the gherkins)
  • potato gratin with Sonoma Dry Jack cheese
  • roast carrots
  • pumpkin pie

The arugula, potatoes, carrots, and pumpkin all came from our farm share.

Sep 07 15 2007

Plenitude

by Rich Gold

Gold explores the four hats of innovation (science, art, engineering, design) and the seven "patterns" of innovation (necessity, genius, deduction, extrapolation, colonization, improvement, and redefinition). Perhaps it is inevitable for discussions of first principles to seem deceptively elementary, but Gold depends heavily on hand-waving and the argument rests lightly on observation. Some of his details are wrong.

As an example of "colonization", he looks at Campbell's line of “Home Cookin’” soups, which he says take something free (homemade soup), reprocess the concept, and sell it back to the consumer. But homemade soup is not free: when I make corn chowder from fresh Wilson's Farm corn, wild boar bacon, and potatoes and herbs from The Farm School, the ingredients cost a lot. So does my time. He says,

What makes real homemade soup wonderful is the variation and the work.

How about the taste? The aroma? Color? Texture? The interesting folks to whom you serve it? This is notpicking, yes, but if you're this wrong in the Theory of Soup, how far can you be trusted in the Theory of Art?

Gold is similarly confused about the position of originality (which he also calls creativity) in what he calls "our culture".

There are cultures where the telling of stories means retelling the same stories that your parents told you. The power of the story, in fact, comes from the retelling of it over and over again. In its consistency, its sameness, it provides the eternal. In our culture, this is called copyright infringement.

I read this after seeing a production of Henry V in Manchester, a production filled with allusion to old events (when Prologue speaks of war, a single poppy petal drifts down from above). This contradicts Gold: we're always telling old stories. But, worse, "retelling the same stories that your parents told you," to someone whose birth certificate read "Richard Goldstein", surely must be an allusion to the duty of Passover, the responsibility to tell the tale. So, yes, we've got a complex issue surrounding originality and storytelling, just as we've got complex issues that surround all sorts of ownership of physical things.

Gold isn't just oversimplifying; he must know, here, that he's misrepresenting. When he writes,

The sense of eternalness in our culture in our culture comes from everything being ever new.

he knows that this is not true of his culture or my culture but only of some imaginary parody of Valley Girl culture. His contempt for those valley girls is here matched by his contempt for his reader, whom he apparently considers too lazy or too ignorant to see the vast range of objections. When Gold muses about the morality of the Plenitude and its confusion of the real and the simulated, the sign and the signifier, he seems to think that Plato's cave is not already jammed with tour groups.

Gold thinks that all university students are learning to make stuff for the Plenitude. But what of those who will, next year, be actors? Psychiatrists? Sex workers? And while farmers and cooks make stuff, that stuff is promptly consumed.

Gold thinks the Plenitude "creates a world that any dispassionate observer would have to say lies somewhere between bland and ugly." Sounds right. Isn't. What lies between bland and ugly? What Gold means, I think, is that the Plenitude lies somewhere between common and vulgar. That might be true; but common is not bland, and if you find that the vulgar is necessarily ugly, then you are a snob.

I wanted to like this book. I first saw it while leaving the Coop, and though late for an appointment I grabbed a copy and marched right back to the cash register. De mortuis nil nisi bonum. He did some good work, and funded some good work, and was on the front lines reconciling art and computing for many years, working in the best and most visible post for the task in the world.

Susan Gibbs reminds readers that my trip from Edale to Hope might not be a cheese sandwich completely unconnected from Hypertext '07.

Congratulations to m. c. schraefel, who won the Hypertext '07 Engelbart prize for her (wild and crazy) paper with the surprisingly tame title: "What is an analogue for the semantic web and why is having one important?". Intriguingly, schraefel argues that emphasis on the semantic Web as a publication medium (like the Web) obscures its real nature, which lies in intelligent personal data, such as the notebook.

The Reading Room prize, for best hypertext, was won by Steve Ersinghaus for The Life of Geronimo Sandoval.

Don't miss Diane Greco's ongoing story of her trip to Japan.

Sep 07 14 2007

Edale to Hope

On Sunday, I took a little stroll in the Peaks District, planning to follow the conference chair's advice and walk from Edale to Hope. Walking to Hope sounded nice.

It was a good deal more exciting than I'd planned.

Edale to Hope

I'd expected a gentle stroll amongst country lanes, with views of gardens and summits and declivities. A walk suitable for the Miss Bennets, or Mary Russell at the outermost. I was equipped with sturdy shoes, a bottle of water, a tomato and Taw Valley Cheddar sandwich, and an Ordnance Map of the district. I was fit. I was prepared. I was feeling salty as hell.

Edale to Hope

There were a good many sheep along my walk. They come in many varieties. Most were a bit reserved, but some were very curious about hypertext.

The very helpful gentleman at the visitor's center gave me printed directions to the most suitable trailhead, explaining that perhaps the signposting might be less prominent than I was accustomed to in the States.

It appears that, when a trail crosses a pasture, there is no perceived need to indicate the trail at all. Having entered, you must exit; you're simply expected to find the other exit and proceed. Or, perhaps there's another secret.

Edale to Hope

And so I arrived at the trailhead and set out, and here things began to go badly wrong, for the simple reason that I had set out on the wrong trail. Or, I think, on no trail at all. I have read about following a sheep path on the moor. I know about this. Didn't stop me. So I started to climb, following this nice little footpath, clinging to the side of a steep and increasingly narrow little valley, clambering up a tall ridge.

It was the wrong ridge.

But, far above, I could see lots of people on the trail. They were happy people, on a busy trail. Many had walking sticks, which it seems are all the rage in the Peaks District these days. I pushed on and up. I wanted to join them.

I discovered an interesting fact at this point.

In Colorado, say, you get boggy swamps in lowlands. In Derbyshire, you can be at the bottom, the top, or in between, standing on a steep, steep slope, and you carefully set you foot to keep your balance in a patch of dirt that looks a little muddy, and glop! you're up to your calves in glutinous brown mud.

There were lots of sheep. There have been lots of sheep here for a long time. In consequence, approximately every plant has thorns, or little prickles on its leaves, or burrs. I soon had legs covered in mud, hands covered in bleeding scratches, with a cloud of pursuing midges who had discovered true love.

Edale to Hope

So, at this point I'm getting quite high up the slope, which is getting much less passable, and the trail has given out entirely. But, at the ridge, there's a steady stream of hikers: that's were I ought to be. There were still occasional sheep about. I did reflect, frequently, that "if Linda were here, she would have said, 'This is not a trail!' several miles back." And she would have been right.

It was tiring. I made it. Eventually. Hooray.

Lunch. Another tomato baguette, or six, would have been welcome. Never mind; I was at the top of the ridge, and some small privation — a few cuts, some scrapes, a cloud of midges, a shortage of baguettes — are only to be expected.

Confidently, I set out, smiling and nodding at each encounter with a fellow rambler, restored to society once more. Good times, good road. Everyone was cheerful. A group of fresh young fellows, led by a wiry older man who looked like he knew just where he was and where he was going, walked past.

"Is this the road to Hope?" I asked.

"Hope?"

"I've been waiting to ask this question for many years."

"Hope. No, I don't think so!" He looked concerned and pulled out his map. Much study ensued. "I think you have gone wrong. Down here," he said, pointing to an indistinct spot on the map, "you would have lots of choices. There's a very nice pub in Hope, you know." A pub sounded very nice to me, right then, since pubs tend not to have gelatinous brown mud, thorns, or precipitous ridges. "But you're up here. If you want Hope, today, I think you really need to go down this clough."

And so I set off down the clough. It was a nice clough. A stream runs through it, as streams will.

Edale to Hope

And here, again, we find ourselves in a muddle. There was no trail to be found. Much of the descent was steep, and much of it was wet, and lots of bad things can happen when clambering over wet rocks in a stream in a hidden and obscure defile in which one was not expecting to be. I observed to myself that, if someone at Hypertext '07 was wondering where they had mislaid their track chair, this particular clough would not be the first place they would look.

I was sure there must be a trail. Somewhere. Unfortunately, I was at the bottom of the clough, so any attempt to find the trail involved struggling up its steep and thorny sides. My ordnance map made an excellent sail, but did not offer any clear advice. The clearest thing it told me was that no feature in sight conformed to the place my advisor had told me this was.

I decided the trail couldn't possibly lead down the wet boulders, so I climbed the ridge to what looked to be a trail. It was a disused pasture wall. I climbed some more; but this was getting serious. As the view improved, I realized that my revised itinerary had almost certainly been proposed by a fellow who, like me, did not know where he stood: the clough I was clambering was distinctly curving, and the Ordnance map clough had no curve.

Edale to Hope
I did not fall off cliff, or down either clough. I did not spend night on moor, though was thinking very seriously of making provisions.

And so, eventually, I got back down, and now I was again on real footpaths. I was also far from Hope, and night was not that far off. But there were sure to be some hours of daylight left, and on I went. And then, the map said that if I were only to follow a spur and climb this little ridge, there'd be a Roman road.

Edale to Hope

By this time, I really must have been tired, as I did notice how the trail up the ridge crossed quite a few of those little brown lines on the Ordnance map but somehow failed to understand exactly what this meant.

I am still sore.

This must be Tolkein's Eriador: barren hillsides with lovely views, crossed by The Road and The Greenway and dotted with ruined walls and strange, deep holes. Somehow, I managed to notice the cairn that marks the path that winds slowly down the ridge and into the lovely hamlet of Hope, Derbs.

Edale to Hope

Henry V at the Exchange is a terrific production in a unique and fascinating space, probably the most convincing Shakespeare in the round I've seen (though Epstein's Lear in a ruinous BU office building that was soon to be remodeled was very fine, too)

But Noel Coward's Private Lives and the Library was amazing. You read about nights like this, nights when everyone just hits their timing perfectly. At one point, two divorced lovers just looked at each other — they were talking about an old fight back when they were married, interrupted by their French landlord — they just looked for a second and the entire room erupted in laughter. It's not even a joke (and the show has plenty of them), but that's the way it worked.

Sep 07 6 2007

Manchester: Ouch

My internet bargain hotel was no bargain: they have big banners outside advertising my "special" rate. The lobby is being demolished and smells overpoweringly of damp plaster dust, and the reception desk is plastered with details about credit accommodation that suggests the hotel finds a number of its guests are unable or unwilling to pay their bill.

They gave me a key card; I carried my bag upstairs. It didn't work. I carried it down again; they gave me another. It didn't work. They gave me a different room: success. I took a shower, kicked the bed, and gave my toe a nasty whack. Ouch.

So, I'm jet lagged and limping through Manchester. Urbis is a cute little museum of urban design, with a nifty little show about play in the city. You couldn't do some of this in the US: the brochures on "how to arrange a flash mob" would open up too many worries about liability.

Their café makes a nice sandwich with goat cheese, pear, and sliced fig. It puts PB&J to shame.

I've got wicked jetlag.

I've got tickets to Henry V tonight, and to Private Lives (Noel Coward) tomorrow.

Sometimes, I think I do too much.

Richard Holeton (Figurski at Findhorn on Acid) sends word of two new publications. His short story "Product Placement" appears in the 2007 Prize Issue of the Mississippi Review (Spring 2007, Vol. 35, Nos. 1 & 2), where it was selected a runner-up for the MR Prize by editor Frederick Barthelme.

Another short-short ("flash fiction") story, "Calling Fruits and Vegetables," was a runner-up for the 2007 Fish One-Page Prize. It's in the 2007 Fish Anthology, A Paper Heart is Beating, A Paper Boat Sets Sail.

Sep 07 4 2007

Away

by Amy Bloom

Lillian Leyb, a young Russian Jew, flees a pogrom and winds up in a New York tenement, sharing a bed with angry young Judith and finding work sewing costumes for the Yiddish theater while the theater owner and his son, the star actor, share her as a mistress. In New York, though, she hears that her daughter, lost in the pogrom, might have been saved by a neighbor and taken to Birobidzhan, the Russian Jewish enclave. And so, Lillian plans to travel back to Russia — not by sea, as she came, but overland to Seattle, the Yukon, and across the Bering Straight to Siberia.

Bloom is a lovely writer, and perhaps feels free in the broad vistas of this small novel to stray further from the fascinating pathology of her short stories. Away is a fine series of stories and tableaux, string together by a shared character and by her long, long journey.

Tinderbox 4.0.1 is out.

Despite the small version bump, it's got some important infrastructure. Get it. As usual, you can upgrade from any previous version for $90, and it's free if you upgraded in the past year.

  • Notes and Agents check syntax of rules and actions
  • Comparison and equality operators in actions are more flexible
  • New numerical operator for modulo arithmetic
  • More control over inheritance of prototype children
  • Better handling of email sent to Tinderbox

Lots of other improvements and fixes, too. See the release notes, in the Help menu.

A fascinating and important blog post by Steve Ersinghaus, ostensibly about disappointment over missing Hypertext '07 but really about the experience of writing hypertext — specifically his The Life of Geronimo Sandoval. It's featured in this year's Reading Room.

I found editing in Storyspace a deep, rethinking process, one that is almost impossible to share or explain. In TLGS, there are many areas of the text the reader will never see because they are simply bypassed. They are a sort of idea-based archaeology, bits of broken pottery that over time, I found no use for in the paths of the novel, such as a stretch of action that appeared at one time to supply the answer to a quandary, but that become too burdensome to keep in the possible flow.

by Ray Lemoine and Jeff Neumann

The authors are two young men who make their living selling YANKEES SUCK t-shirts on the street outside Fenway Park. They like to travel. In 2003, they decide to travel to Baghdad, and somehow find themselves running a small office providing liason between the CPA and non-governmental organizations. They have few or no qualifications for their job, and so they fit right in to the rest of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

It lasts for several months of hard drinking, hard partying, and somewhat effective distribution of cartons of used clothing. Indeed, their efforts to actually truck the cartons to Sadr City and get it into the hands of kids, and not politicians or scam artists or mosques, is one of the success stories of the occupation. They cope with all the usual enemies, and fly under the radar of “the Bremer youth” — the endless stream of inexperienced Young Republicans dispatched through the Heritage Foundation to administer Iraq. But it was a minor and ineffective gesture, and Lemoine and Neumann will be the first to admit.

There is no point in romanticizing what we did. We thought we were helping Iraqis. We were wrong. Because of our failure, we'd leave the Middle East in a state of regret. But our story does offer a window into the misguided ideals and rank ignorance that drove us.

A fine and (now) seemingly-inevitable epitaph for the entire American effort in Iraq.

I'll be in Manchester, England from September 7-13 for Hypertext '07. It's the main place to hear about new hypertext research.

Shall we have a Tinderbox meeting, or perhaps a Birds Of A Feather session, at Hypertext? It might be fun. Manchester is two hours from London, 3.5 from Edinburgh, and has some nice discount air service from various places on the Continent.

Interested in a meetup before the conference? Know something I must eat in the Midlands? Or want to participate in a conference BOF? Please Email me.

OZ-IA

I couldn't quite manage to get to this year's OZ-IA conference, alas. Early registration closes next week, and it should be tons of fun. Nick Cowie recently blogged that I'd tried to make people's head explode with my 8:30am keynote last year.

I'm hard at work, polishing my café scientifique talk for Manchester about how the Iraq reconstruction effort found itself unliked and entangled, and how new media might have made things both worse and better.

It sounds like I may also be doing a strange, new talk at OOPSLA. Stay tuned.