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

by Robert Gottlieb

I’m working on a book chapter about the challenges of publishing interactive narratives, and this has offered a chance to get Gottlieb’s fine autobiography off the reading stack. Gottlieb started at Simon and Schuster, then led Knopf, and then replaced the legendary William Shawn at The New Yorker. He’s a terrific writer, too. Gottlieb recalls the joke that “all editor”s memoirs basically come down to the same thing: ‘So I said to him, ‘Leo! Don’t just do war! Do peace, too!’” He is not wrong, but it’s a lot of fun anyway. It is fascinating to hear about changes in the book world that are seldom discussed: the declining effectiveness of book advertising in the 60s, the invention of the author tour in the 80s.

Nov 21 12 2021

The Big Short

by Michael Lewis

I asked my Twitter followers to suggest some non-fiction books from the past decade that had become proverbial, in the way that Hersey’s Hiroshima and Carson’s Silent Spring were books that everyone knew and that shaped everyone’s conversation. This was one of the suggestions from Mark Paul.

It’s a terrific book, a vivid look at the 2008 collapse and the forces that drove it. The book brightened my commutes, something I greatly needed. It’s very occasionally repetitive, but that’s likely inevitable in a book that necessarily deals with financial derivatives. It certainly makes me furious, which is the intended effect.

by Edward Wilson-Lee

Hernando Colón was the illegitimate son, traveling companion, and biographer of Christopher Columbus. He amassed a vast library, perhaps the last effort in the West to create a library that would contain everything. The remnant of that library still exists, and though many of the books have been lost to time and the Inquisition, we still possess much of the catalog. Colón didn’t have much precedent for how to manage a library of some 15,000 volumes; no one did. The catalogs alone are a fascinating window into the transition for the medieval to the early modern mind.

Nov 21 2 2021

No et Moi

by Delphine de Vigan

A delightful novel about Lou, a sophisticated 13-year-old student who has to do a term paper on teen homelessness. Lou walks over the the train station and interviews a homeless girl, No, who is just a little older and is willing to be interviewed in exchange for a drink or two. The girls get along well. More meeting follow; Lou is something of a loner, and her parents are miserable after the sudden loss of Lou’s infant sister. Lou asks if No can come live with them, and (astonishingly) her parents say, “Oui.”

This is the first book I have read in a language that is not English, which I read simply because I wanted to.

Oct 21 25 2021

Redeployment

by Phil Klay

A collection of fine short stories about life in the US Army during the later years of the occupation of Iraq. Now that the twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over, we can perhaps reflect on how, at great expense, they wrecked the American military and destroyed the standing of the United States across the globe.

by Naomi Novik

A fun and fascinating school story set in a college for magicians. In Novik’s world, young magicians are in terrible danger from a host of supernatural beings that want to feast on their magical power. Babies and mundanes are safe, because they’re not very nutritious. Grownups are fairly safe because they’re tough and leathery. But college students have plenty of nutrition, and taste like they’re coated in crunchy sugar shells. Despite lots of wards and precautions, roughly half of each class gets eaten before they graduate.

If the death toll recalls The Hunger Games, this book’s atmosphere is different because its superbly-drawn protagonist is very different. Galadriel “El” Higgins doesn’t want to get eaten by unspeakable monsters, even if that would mean she could blow off her term papers. She has a hard time making friends in college. There’s as reason for that: each magician has a special aptitude for some kind of magic, and her aptitude is for spells of mass destruction. She doesn’t enslave multitudes, but everyone can see in her face that she could. This doesn’t encourage people to hang out. In addition, El was raised in a commune and her mother has no use for money, but magic school is intensely class-conscious: rich kids have good equipment and a head start, and so they’re less likely to be eaten by unspeakable horrors.

Here’s one approach to doing Daily Notes In Tinderbox.

Daily Notes: One Solution

To begin, we have three prototype notes: Year, Month, and Day. I’ve chosen some styles for these that look nice in outline view.

All our journal notes reside in a container called Journal. That container expects to contain instances of Year. When you create a new note inside Journal, it’s automatically named for the year that follows the previous Year note. If there’s no previous Year note, we name it for this year.

Each Year expects to contain Month notes. Each month note has a StartDate of the first day of that month. We get the year from the name of the parent. The month is the month that follows the StartDate of the previous sibling. If there's no previous sibling, it’s January. If it turns out that the $StartDate is no longer in the expected year — if we’ve added a note beneath December 31 — then this note isn’t a month at all and doesn’t inherit from the Month prototype.

Each Month expects to contain Day notes. These work much as months; we get the year from the grandparent and the month from the parent. Our day of the month is the day after the day of our elder sibling; if we have no elder sibling, we’re the first of the month. If it turns out that the $StartDate is no longer in the expected month — if we’ve added a note beneath June 30 — then this note isn’t a day at all and doesn’t inherit from the Day prototype.

If we want some writing prompts or reminders to be added for each new Day, we simply write the template text in /Prototypes/Day.

You can download the sample Tinderbox file.

Oct 21 7 2021

Daily Notes

Daily Notes

I'd like to propose a modest Tinderbox puzzle. If you’d like to play on the forum, you can respond there. I hope people will share their solutions. Or you can just Email me. Or follow along at home.

The Problem: Build a “journal” or “daily notes” facility that will make it easy to record notes about your progress on a project. The general structure might be something like this:

2021
	September
		1
		..
		30
	October
		1
		2
		5

Things that would be nice:

  • When you make a new daily note, initialize it with some template text, or display some important attributes, to remind you of things you ought to record.
  • Don’t require that the note for October 5 be written on October 5; make it easy to write on October 8 if that’s when you have time.
  • Don’t leave lots of empty notes lying around with nothing inside (e.g. notes for the future).
  • When you add a new note, make sensible assumptions for its name. (For example, if you add the first child to November 2021, it might default to November 1.)
  • Use $StartDate and $EndDate sensibly.
  • Think about what we might record in the notes for each month, and for each year.
  • Format these so they look good in outline view.
  • Arrange these usefully in map view.
Oct 21 6 2021

1914

1914

Why might a debt-ceiling crisis cause havoc? Let’s look at a precedent: the world financial crisis of July 1914.

July was a frightening time: the guns of August could be seen on the horizon. Lots of people and lots of companies wanted money in hand — not contracts and promises from counterparts who would be hard to reach in the event of war.

In this era, almost all international financial transactions were conducted in pounds sterling, chiefly through bills of exchange. If you wanted to pay off a loan, you’d go to your bank and buy a bill of exchange. If someone paid you for a shipment of ore from your mine or wheat from your fields, they’d send you a sterling bill of exchange and your bank would exchange it for dollars or yen or whatever. It was international money: every bank was happy to buy and sell them.

Then, on July 24, so many people wanted to move money around that there simply weren’t enough bills of exchange in the entire world. So, perhaps your factory in (say) Chicago is supposed to settle an invoice or pay off a loan that day. You’ve got plenty of money — no problem! But there are no bills of exchange available: they’re all already in use in other transactions. In a few days, those transactions will settle and the bills will be available again, but that takes a few days. Your company has contracted to pay this loan today, not tomorrow, and to pay in letters of exchange, not cantaloupe. You could offer a premium to chase the last few letters of exchange, but someone else already tried that. There were no letters of exchange left anywhere near Chicago. And the clock was ticking: you contracted to pay today!

For some firms, a missed payment would create reputational damage. Failing to honor the terms of a contract might trigger penalty clauses. It might leave your assets subject to seizure. You might be liquidated. Financial firms would lose their right to do business. You have plenty of money, your business is doing splendidly, but you can’t pay your bills or honor your contracts.

This gets worse. You have plenty of money and your failure to pay is merely technical. But the people you intend to pay don’t have their money, and they may need that money to fulfill their own obligations. So they may be in trouble, and they may incur penalties. Some of those penalties might be severe.

Hardly anyone foresaw this. Even recognizing what was going wrong took quite a bit of doing. In the end, it got solved: essentially, everyone called a time-out and the Bank of England found ways to get lots more letters of credit into the system. It was a near-run thing.

US default might be like that.Yes, eventually, the Social Security checks will be issued and Boeing will get paid for the fighter jets it’s delivered. But in the meantime, all sorts of secondary havoc could happen and those consequences would be permanent.

Oct 21 2 2021

Tabs

Daring Fireball heaps scorn on the implementation of tabs in Safari 15:

From a usability perspective, every single thing about Safari 15’s tabs is a regression. Everything. It’s a tab design that can only please users who do not use tabs heavily; whereas the old tab design scaled gracefully from “I only open a few tabs at a time” all the way to “I have hundreds of tabs open across multiple windows”. That’s a disgrace.

In a footnote, Gruber mentions that the new tabs break conventions stemming from the start of tabbed browsing, 20 years ago.

But tabs have a longer history than that: researchers began to explore tabs before the Web was invented. I used tabs in a 1986 paper for the Intl Technical Communications Conference, though my tabs were landmarks in the document — what we'd now do with breadcrumbs or a hamburger menu, and my tabs were usually beneath the text pane rather than above it. But I don’t think I invented the “tab” metaphor: I think I got it from an electronic encyclopedia project by Ben Shneiderman and Alan Borning at the University of Maryland. Shneiderman’s lab was responsible for a ton of important UI/UX work. I believe NoteCards at Xerox PARC had tabs, too, and NTERGAID (then called Black Magic) did as well. (I did coin the term “breadcrumb”, but I’m pretty sure my tabs were taken from earlier systems.)

The evolution of the modern browser tab is closely tied to the question, “what precisely does the back button do?” What is the difference between a browser tab and a bookmark? A tab has a browsing history, a record of your trajectory. A bookmark is just a record of a place to go. Getting this right was tricky: you’d think the right answer was obvious, but it there were tons of plausible alternatives and, of course, only a relative handful of people who had systems that were browsable before the 90s. One of the top students of the backbutton question was Michael Bieber at NJIT.