May 05 3 2005


To go with last night mussels (Basquaise, this time, with roasted pepper and onion and garlic and wine), I took a stab at tartiflette.

  • Preheat oven. 350°.
    • Or whatever. We should have a notation for "this recipe really wants 350°" vs "you're gonna want the oven to be on, so turn it on now".
  • Peel a couple of large potatoes. Boil 20 minute. Drain, cool, dice.
    • I used russets, because I had them on hand. I suspect that Yukon Gold's or red Bliss potatoes would be better. I'm learning that there are really two families of potatoes, waxy and floury, and though they're both good they aren't interchangeable. We really need two names, dont we?
  • Dice a medium onion. Saute until brown. Add 4oz pancetta (slab bacon was called for, pancetta was what I had). Cook until brown.
  • Add the potatoes, and a cup of wine. Cook 10 minutes.
  • Spoon half the mixture into a souffle dish. Add a good handful or two of cheese. (The recipes calls for a pound (!) of reblochon, which is currently out of stock at the museum. I ended up using about 3oz of parmesan and a little creme fraiche) Add the rest of the potatoes. Top with some more cheese. Oven, 20 minute.

Eat. Drink nice wine. Worry tomorrow about serum cholesterol, which may in any case be highly overrated and not tied to dietary cholesterol anyway. And you aren't gonna eat this every day.

The interesting thing: I have absolutely no idea how this is supposed to look or taste. Pretty much like Clotilde's parmentier, but there I had a picture and there weren't enough ingredients or steps to wander very far from the straight and narrow of Clotilde's intention. Here, I'm wandering so far that I might not even be in the right township. It's late, the store has no reblochon, what's in the frig?

Every year, we spend an afternoon at the Somerville Open Studios. It's a very interesting mix -- lots of talents, relatively little kitsch, and an interesting mix of attitudes. The highlight of the day was a room full of Richard Chase's new (and very large) portraits.

Interesting discussion continues on the subject of how links for weblogs (see Blog and Identity for the backstory)

Even if I study just the grasshopper I’m doing a serious act of reductive science if I think I can ‘understand’ the grasshopper by ignoring where it lives, the systems it participates in and which define it.

Links are these relations.

I agree that treating the blogosphere as an ecology makes excellent sense both politically and analytically. But I also think it's important to accept that we can study the grasshopper in isolation. We do it all the time; often, it's the only way to get a handle on the parts of complex systems. Find a component that you can study, roughly, in isolation, and accept that you're missing the interactions. Know that you're not getting the whole picture (assume a spherical chicken), but use approximations to avoid mere paralysis.

Eastgate finally received a fresh load of Storyboard Moleskine notebooks. (Getting these nearly required an international incident) You can get yours here.

Dylan responds to my discussion of Kottke's New Internet by suggesting that new-generation blog tools are the key.

By offering state-of-the-art html output, quality designs, and syndication, these [blog tools] offer more technological sophistication than the average user would ever have the patience to develop on their own.

I don't buy it.

Yes, some tools tend to give you ugly pages, or bad syndication, or obscure permalinks. But, seriously. has any weblog, anywhere, ever looked worse than Drudge? In fact, few of the top-traffic blogs are special to look at.

And, almost by definition, a really well-designed weblog is way back in the tail. The tail is where magic can happen, it's the place where you find everything that isn't commonplace, the place where you can make a statement with a new look.

Does Weblog Design Matter Much?

An Ivory-billed Woodpecker, long believed to be extinct, has probably been sighted in Arkansas. The biggest birding news since the Neyburyport Ross's Gull of 1975. Google news.

Clotilde — whom I missed seeing in Paris, alas — proposes an amusing variation on hachis parmentier, which occupies the place in French cuisine that is reserved in US college life for baked ziti and which, in another era at least, was occupied by creamed chipped beef on toast: institutional comfort food.

Clotilde's rescue mission replaces the beef scraps with smoked herring and the potatoes with broccoli and creme fraiche. I went a little further: I couldn't get kippers but the Cambridge Museum of Fruits and Vegetables does stock some lovely chunks of whiskey-cured smoked salmon that just don't work for bagels but which I've always wanted to try again.

It was delicious. You boil -- yes, boil -- the broccoli florets from two stalks until they're soft. Then you mash them with a potato masher, together with 1/3c of creme fraiche. Grab a small round baking dish, cut the smoked fish into 1/2" chunks, pour the broccoli over the fish, top with breadcrumbs or panko. Into the proverbial 350° oven for the proverbial 20 minutes until browned, and eat.

Apr 05 30 2005

Who Are You?

One common and irritating blog mistake is, simply, forgetting to tell us who you are. Yes, you already know. Your mother knows, too. Yes, you're modest. That's fine. But we don't know you, we just showed up through a link or a search engine, and we want to know who you are-- if only to be able to say 'thank you'.

Mark Boulton (thanks Anders Fagoerjord!) has a lovely home page design that combines a weblog, portfolio, and resume.

Jason Kottke reports on Web life now that the money's back.

Now that the money is back, the focus will necessarily shift even though, as Janice notes, we'll be a little wiser about it this time around. There will be less innovation and activity from individuals because they'll be snapped up by companies to work on their projects for their customers.

I don't think the money's back yet, and I'm more sanguine than Jason about the effects of corporate development. He points out, for example, that working for Six Apart has had a bad effect on lots of weblogs as people have become busier -- and busy with things they can't talk about.

But it's important that the blogosphere change. Change is inevitable -- people get old -- but change is good, too. We don't want a static A-List where ten pioneer bloggers become the next Rupert Murdoch and everyone else is perpetually consigned to LiveJournal; we want variety and novelty and excitement and, yes, we want a blogosphere where you can grow to be Kottke if that's what you want.

I've been pondering exactly what we can do to make sure the tail remains a good place to be, and to make sure that there isn't a sign at the big end of the tail that reads "Sorry: we're full." Lots of equations today, and some mathematics I haven't seen since Swarthmore.

Megnut's had a lot of visitors drop by her Paris flat this month. She writes a witty description on Americans In Paris and the impact of their varying language skills.

Some who speak no French at all: They do things like: drink from the wine carafe rather than their glass; they walk up to the window of an ice cream shop and say, Au Revior!; or they bump against a woman's breast on the dance floor and when she slaps them, they respond with Merci!

I get spam from people with outlandishly faked name. I get spam from people with plausible fake names. Julie (Jellybean to her friends) has been sending me a lot, lately.

Juan Cole (or someone) just sent me what might be spam -- or might be broadcast email -- about a passionate debate he's been having with Matt Haughey. The email took the form of a "look at this" forward from someone even more famous than Cole or Haughey -- in this case, from Tim Berners-Lee.

Thing is, I do sometimes get mail from Tim. He used to be another guy who went to the hypertext conference, back Before It Changed. It's plausible. Hell, maybe it's exactly what it appears to be. (After McLuhan, everyone knows someone who is kind of famous. One of my little sister's playmates grew up to be Darryl Hannah.)

The other thing is that Cole is a professor (at Michigan), and forging email is pretty unambiguously a lie. You can lose your tenure over a lie. Cole is already an A-list blogger, so the reward doesn't seem to balance the risk.

Perhaps it's a third party, hoping to do Cole a favor -- or an unfavor?

Apr 05 29 2005

The Molecule

Jill picks up on a general blogging malaise to inquire about gender and scholarly discussion. She's intrigued by a study that reports:

Men’s posts lacked social softeners and relationship-builders like please, thank you, do you think so, I hope this helps you. They rarely asked questions and often gave answers. They rarely referred to themselves or gave personal information. They tended to present their statements as absolute, unquestionable, correct, and they often used put downs to other people in the group.

A little later, Jill observed that the next ReBoot conference is advertising only one female speaker. When the organizer claimed it wasn't intentional, she replied:

There is no such thing as selection from strict quality criteria and nothing else.

One of the nice things about cooking (and chemistry, and mathematics, and -- I think -- scholarship) is that, at the core, we have facts that matter. Dinner is ready. Or it isn't. The molecule you made is the molecule you set out to make, or it's something else. You've got the proof, or you don't.

Scholarship isn't a party. It's terrific if you are good with social softeners and build relationships and look great and schmooze well. But if there is no food, well, then people will be hungry. We're trying to discover stuff that will matter deeply, long after we're gone and nobody remembers if we were wonderful or not.

Apr 05 28 2005


Doug Miller has a detailed tutorial on building a better blogroll with Tinderbox.

Charles Stross looks at recent American and British SF, and observes that the Americans are so suffused with pessimism that they generally can't bring themselves to write SF right now. Thanks, Doug Miller.

I picked up the habit of thanking the source of interesting links from Dave Winer. Who else does this? And what is this custom called? I'm playing with some mathematical models of weblog dynamics, hoping to find ways to pose questions like this: If everyone always thanked their sources, would that help the Long Tail? Would it help Feedster and Technorati? Do we need a more complex rule, like 'always thank your source unless it's MSM or A-List?'

I couldn't make it to Les Blogs, alas, but this page collects lots of notes.

Doug Miller and Scott Price weigh in on Montage in Tinderbox.

I think working in this way, and not becoming wedded to a particular Tinderbox view, is a critical step towards living in Tinderbox. It takes a bit of getting used to at first, particularly if you're coming to Tinderbox from a Windows background, where I've observed many users really stuck in the single, full-screen window paradigm. The benefits are huge...

Gordon Meyer finds a novel Tinderbox application:

I maintain a professional interest in divination systems, which includes the Tarot. I recently came across an interesting spread that I wanted to remember. For the uninitiated, a Tarot spread is a pattern of cards designed to answer a specific inquiry....I decided that the best way for me to hang onto this spread would be to add it to my catch-all outboard brain; Tinderbox. A couple of minutes later, with just a few adornments and the use of v2.4's enhancements to map view, I had a graphical representation that captured all the essential elements.

Lisa Firke describes a powerful Tinderbox task: organizing your client's changing, and sometimes contradictory, change requests. Tinderbox on a white charger.

Peter Hershberg (with whom I used to romp in rompers) gives us an witty but also insightful tutorial on positioning, based on Benedict XVI's opening moves and tech marketing experiences ranging from Apple to Gloss.

It's April, the days are getting warmer, the grass is getting greener, and people are playing baseball. Yesterday, we had a good day for my fantasy baseball team, as great pitching by Pedro, Smoltz, and Buehrle propelled us back into first. It's a long season, you can't trust it , and it won't last .

But though we are not now that strength which in 1998 won pennant and series, yet that which we are, we are. And, so far, we're not in the cellar.

I continue to think that fantasy sports would be a fertile field for exploring issues new media narrative. Good thesis topic. Might be a good novel, too.

Landow's Victorian Web got 17 million hits last month. Interesting.

Megnut (who reserves tables under the name of Madame Megan) blogs Balzar, where we ate last week in Paris.

I had a kir and a plate of aile de raie. It had a lovely, unashamedly buttery sauce. I'd never had skate prepared this way, still with its cartilaginous stiffeners, and that took a little getting used to. As it happens, I was jealous of Meg's choucrotte St.Jacques, which looked even better and more various. But since, in a subsequent visit, it seems she was working on the pronunciation of raie, the sentiment might have been mutual.

The creme caramel for dessert was flawless, but it was still creme caramel. You can ask a dish to be good, but it's still going to be what it is. Should've tried the tarte au citron. Next time.


On her subsequent visit, Jason was intrigued by andouilletes, but the waiter forbade it. I've had them a couple of times, most recently with Jean Clement at (I think) Moissonier. They're offal, and strongly-flavored offal at that, but they make tasty sausages. Their fans have a group called L' Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique which promotes real andouillettes in the face of piddling modernisation. See also lutefisk, haggis.

I'm hoping to write more about the meal -- not the food, which was nice, but on the metasubject of hacking food. Needs space and time. Probably I'll submit it to TEKKA. But it was a nice meal, and why not blog it too?

Adrian Miles says that we are written by our blogs. Lilia Efimova responds, suspecting that Adrian overestimates the importance of incoming links for shaping weblogs.

I'm not sure that the way others could construct my identity from links to me is the same as my identity... From my perspective 'incoming links' matter, but it's me who decides what role they play...

In a (formerly) separate conversation, Blogtalk Downunder speaker Chris Chesher argues the opposing view:

In the speculative era of cyberculture criticism in the early 1990s, many authors claimed electronic text would destabilise the institution of authorship (Poster 2001; Landow 1994; Bolter 2001). They argued changes of material form of writing would decrease the power of the author. They connected this claim with critics such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault who had questioned conventional assumptions about authorship, and speculated on the possibilities of texts without authors. While the claims of these electronic writing advocates were contested theoretically (Grusin 1994), the popularity of blogs empirically demonstrates the persistence of authorship, and how progress often works backwards.

This is problematic on a few fronts -- surely the place to reach for Bolter's view is his 1991 Writing Space? Later, Chesher say that authorship emerged "alongside a range of economic, technological, social, political and legal changes associated with the rise of individualism, capitalism, rationalism, democracy and rule of law." This might surprise Archilochus, the 7th century poet whose authorship is sufficiently recognizable that we can find 30 new lines of his work in a scrap pile, some 2,600 years after he died, and say "By George, this is Archilochus!" (Democracy isn't on Archilochus's radar -- Pericles was born about 150 years after Archilocus died -- capitalism is a problematic term two millenia before the Medicis, and as far as rule of law goes, the handy Oxford Classical Dictionary reports that Archilochus's most-remembered poems were biting satires of the sexual habits of his former fiancée and her younger sister, written by Archilochus as a form of revenge after their dad broke a marriage contract and reneged on the wedding.)

But Chesher assumes that the natural boundary of the blog excludes the pages linked to the blog, and the pages to which it links. The critics he denounces -- especially Landow -- assumed the opposite, and so reach a different conclusion. Miles assumes that the linked pages are the essence of the blogosphere, that they flavor the blog so intensely that they set its key, its tonality. Lilia demurs; I fancy, though, that if Lilia were slashdotted more frequently, the slashdotting would change things. If your blog inscribes your calendar -- adding speaking engagements and consulting trips -- does it inscribe you? If it inscribes your bank account, does it change who you are?

For example, I have just posited a debate between Miles, Efimova, and Chesher, outlined their positions, and demonstrated some weaknesses each writer exposes. Who made this debate? Adrian, who wrote the first post? Chesher, who began it? Perhaps I am the author of the entire affair.

Can't make it to Australia for Blogtalk Downunder? Ton has announced Blogwalk 7 in Mechelen, Belgium on 20 May.

Blogwalk Mechelen
Apr 05 22 2005

Character Blogs

Steve Rubel says that character blogs are a complete waste of time.

A character blog is a giant missed opportunity to have real humans – whether they be employees, customers, or even distillers and bottlers - engaging in a real dialogue with consumers. I am all for using characters in TV commercials and even micro-sites, but having them blog is just a lame, lazy idea. In fact, it's an insult to blogging and bloggers everywhere.

Rubel wants to encourage companies to market with less patent insincerity -- to encourage them to put a more authentic, human face on their advertising.

Rubel doesn't really object to characters: his beef is with badly drawn characters. Captain Morgan, the rum mascot, was a silly blog character. He's not especially interesting in himself, he doesn't relate to the product, he doesn't improve the brand or build the relationship. But his problems is not that he's a character; Captain Morgan's problem is that he isn't enough of a character.

Want the voice of a ship's captain to explain your product? How about Dirty Shirt George Price -- a captain John McPhee talks about. (There were, it seems, two George Price's who captained freighters in the same time, and they became generally known as Clean Shirt George Price and Dirty Shirt George Price). He's a character. So is Paul McHenry Washburn, captain of the Stella Lykes on which McPhee sails. Yes, they're real, but their realness doesn't matter to us. They're interesting.

I'd be interested in reading Jack Aubrey's blog, anytime. Or Richard Henry Dana's . Or how about Samuel Eliot Morison's ?

The point is to communicate. If you can communicate best with a voice that is more or less your everyday voice, then that's the right choice. If you'd do better by borrowing another voice, that's called good writing.

We really need to get past the notion that bloggers can, or should, speak only in their 'authentic' voice. This insistence makes blog pundits sound like people who don't get out enough -- like people who missed the last generation of fiction, film, and theory.

Jon Buscall describes his approach to using Tinderbox to create a newsletter.

I spent the day creating a template for a newsletter in Tinderbox. I subscribe to a number of daily news emails mostly covering technology and the Nordic business markets but I’ve got an idea for a newsletter within a particular niche market. I want to put something together to visualize my ideas and I’ve discovered Tinderbox is the ideal application to create this project.

Steve Ersinghaus calls for an enterprise version of Storyspace.

This could mean a huge expansion in the use of Storyspace as an institutional tool and more dramatic presentations to other colleges in the state of Connecticut, for the Federal Government, and to our regional accrediting agency.

The next Digital Storytelling Festival will be in San Francisco, October 7-9, 2005.

Next month, the best way out of a bad plane connection seems to be to accept a really bad plane connection and spend the night at Heathrow.

So: if you had about 11 hours of possible sleeping-time overnight at Heathrow, where would you stay? Email suggestions, please.

Update: John Tolva suggests the Heathrow Hilton. For a small fee, you can also work out at the Hilton during long layovers. Michael Bywater suggests catching the train into central London -- now a quick trip -- and trying the Paddington Hilton (convenient) or Hazlitt's Hotel . Hazlitt's looks wonderful. Their Web site says it's popular with writers, but from the rates I imagine those writers must sell rather well. For the moment, I'm booked into a concrete box call Jury's just off the airport.

Jim Heid points out that using fake text (such as the graphic design favorite Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet) can be dangerous, since people tend to overlook it and, sooner or later, it gets published.

A Fortiori: Never, ever, write your own jokes as fake text. Those fake headlines might amuse you for a moment, but you're not going to be happy when someone published them accidentally. Especially because the butt of the joke is bound to find them right away.

For example, right now there's Lorem Ipsum in the Competitions sidebar of the Journal of Architecture and Computation.

And here's the useful FAQ page about the Arapaho and Roosevent National Forests.

I bet Clan McCord's bylaws shouldn't really be dolor sit amet.

Scoble suggests always using xxxxxx xxx xxxxxx. That's easier to pick out, true -- which makes it less effective for greeking.

Nothing beats having a fresh pair of eyes check things.

It's reported that, using IR imaging technology and photenhancement, a great quantity of previously-illegible pieces of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri can now be read. Researchers have already found most of a lost Sophocles play, Epigonoi.

This could be really, really big. The Oxyrhyncus papyri have long been a treasure trove -- essentially a big, preserved rubbish bin. A substantial improvement in our ability to read these scraps would likely be the biggest advance in Greek and Roman history in this generation. Thanks to Michael Druzinsky for telling me.

Tinderbox Weekend in Paris went very well indeed! The lab at AUP worked very nicely, with a good projector and lots of new iMacs -- and plenty of power strips. The weekend had to be scheduled around a noon start on Sunday, but we met early for lunch at a café down the street and worked through five, and I think things worked out OK.

Tinderbox Weekend Paris
Getting Started: Sunday Morning at Tinderbox Weekend

Tinderbox Weekend Paris
Anja Rau did a great introduction to Tinderbox, covering some elements even I didn't know about. We should get the introduction on tape someday.

I missed having the Tinderbox dinner. We didn't attempt this, for fear that the logistics of arranging dinner for a large and varied party, in a strange city, in French, would lead to disaster. Next time, I think we'll take the risk.

Interesting fact: a significant fraction of Tinderbox Paris attendees mentioned that they would have come to Boston or San Francisco, except that they are no longer willing to enter the U.S. -- at least, not under the current administration and while the Patriot Act is in force.

Apr 05 19 2005


Exhausted after an exciting first day of Tinderbox Weekend, Linda and I made our way to a 10PM pilgrimage to Les Bouquinistes, the stylish Guy Savoy outpost on the banks of the Seine. (Dinner is late in France. Dinner is late for us at home, too, since I work late and buy fresh groceries on the way home and even fast cooking takes time. But, when do French people sleep?)

I started with a terrific risotto with torteau (a crab), followed by a really excellent plate of marinated duckling breast served with a terrific, low-guilt rendition of potatoes dauphinoise. Linda had a wonderful tempura of langoustines— a revelation — and then a plate of foie grad poêle. That was even better -- creamy, rich, crusty, spicy, comforting and challenging at once. For dessert, I had a brilliant pear cappuccino -- a layer of rich, creamy, coffee-tinged flavor sitting atop a mixture of chilled pear, pear sorbet, and a lovely syrup.

What's really working here, I think, is interest and attention. The dishes have an mixture of temperatures and flavors and textures, often unexpected. The risotto was hot, and less saucy than you'd expect; you might think that a mistake, but the plating declares that it's intended to be that way, that's how we want it to be. The potatoes were served with two perfectly-roasted whole cloves of unpeeled garlic. Unpeeled? I don't know, but it works (and tastes) fine.

Apr 05 18 2005


The theme of my talk at American University this afternoon was a simple puzzle.

When we make exciting new software, we aren't just trying to make things slightly better. We're trying to change everything, to make things a lot better. These are big aspirations, but we've sometimes succeeded.

  • Get on a plane, and everyone around you is using a souped-up version of Alan Kay's Dynabook. I remember when laptops were someone's doctoral dissertation.
  • Go to a store, pick something up. Chances are good, it's got a URL on it. The salad has a URL. They're scanning Harvard's library. The Web is, literally, everywhere.
  • Everyone on the Metro has an iPod. More iPods than cell phones. That's a ton of music, and (I expect) a ton of Web-delivered art.
  • That's not to mention things like the number of people whose lives were changed after reading a novel that wouldn't have been written if the author had to wrestle with typescripts, or the number of business blunders prevented by ubiquitous spreadsheets.

So, this is what we're trying to do. But we also want to know we're making things better, we want to know when it's right. We want to know it.

And our techniques for measuring software quality, while good for measuring incremental improvements, are essentially blind to major successes. Terrific outcomes are bound to be rare: it's just too much to expect to make a terrific difference for nearly everybody. Statistical methods -- drag races, usability studies -- will never see more than one. And, if you see one terrific outcome in a sample of, say, 25 tests, you're almost certain to reject it as an outlier or a special case or a failure.

And if you don't, the reviewers will.

Perhaps the model here should be medicine -- another discipline that, like computer science, is essentially a craft (and sometimes an art) with aspirations to scientific seriousness -- to know and to demonstrate that the solution is good rather than simply to believe it so. The medical literature has long had a place for rare diseases and unexpected outcomes.

Perhaps I'm reading the wrong literature. But it seems to me that we're a lot better at finding out whether this widget is 5% faster than that widget, than we are at learning about programs that can sometimes change everything

Apr 05 17 2005


We spent much of the day wandering through the Centre Pompidou, exploring the vast spaces and vast collection. The building's not new anymore -- it must be nearly twenty -- but it's stood up remarkably well. Not just in terms of the general shabbiness that sometimes creeps up on modern architecture, but also in terms of the way the building still reads as new, exciting, and sensible. Moving all the circulation to the exterior was a stunt, yes, but it does leave you with huge, uncluttered spaces.


A show of newly-commissioned Dionysiac art left me completely cold. This was fun to discuss in college, sure, but I'm not sure these works teach us a lot that we didn't figure out back then.

The real gems, of course, are the vast rooms of wonderful early moderns. It's amazing to see how quickly people picked up Cubism. 1912 must have been an interesting year.

Apr 05 16 2005

L'Os a Moelle

L'Os a Moelle
We arrived in Paris, checked in, ran to the Marmottan which has, in addition to its customary splendors, a fascinating show on Paul Guigou, who (to my untrained and untutored eye) seems to stand in an interesting place between Corot and Millet, and between Corot and the some of the American regionalists. He's got lovely pictures of isolated riders on a long, dry road that anticipate Remington. He's got lovely broad landscapes that could be Bierstadt.

L'Os a Moelle

The confit du canard at lunch didn't hurt, either. One of the sidebar goals for this trip was to touch base with a number of dishes I've been learning to cook but for which I'd never tasted the prototype. I've had good luck with Sally Schneider's revisionist confit du canard, but I've never had the real thing and so I might have wandered far into left field. Verdict: I'm probably spicing it too high, but I'm in the right ballpark.

L'Os a Moelle
Dinner at L'Os a Moelle (3 rue Vasco da Gama, 15e) was remarkable. No a la carte at all, which suited us just fine -- especially on jet lag night. A bowl of beef bouillon with thyme flowers was pleasant, and the foie gras foêle was spectacular, tasty and sweet and crunchy and soft. A lotte rôtie with a buttery herring caviar sauce and a a small pile of spicy peppers was wonderful and complex.

L'Os a Moelle

A small agneau rôtie with a nice hint of garlic worked very well indeed, and the desert was a gratin of fresh fruits (how?) and a vanilla sauce that really hummed. €38.

These dishes contain a lot of work and complexity, complexity one could easily miss. An extra sauce here, a second coulis there. Vegetable that are cooked and tasty. Lots of corners that could be cut but aren't.

Apr 05 15 2005

Tinderbox Paris

I'm off to Tinderbox Weekend Paris. Hoping for lots of tasty dinners, and lots of stimulating Tinderbox talk. Thanks again to the American University Paris for their help in setting this up!

Tinderbox Paris

Incidentally, the AUP web site's home page is quite interesting. Most universities use their home page as a directory (Texas A&M, Bergen, ITU-Copenhagen) with perhaps a little amateur branding. AUP has what amounts to an institutional blog, with lots of interesting news about specific people and projects. Swarthmore does this too. Uncharacteristically, Harvard's also ahead of the game.

A new Theory community and blog, from Mark Marino: WriterResponse.Org

Yes, it's visually wild. Yes, it's beautiful and violent and very, very strange. And yes, I agree with Ebert when he writes that Sin City "uses nudity as if the 1970s had survived."

He captions the opening shot, "There are a million stories in Sin City, and this is several of them." That's even better than it looks, because the opening and closing scenes don't obviously cohere with the rest of the (tangled, braided, convoluted) plot.

I sent out an Eastgate-list note today to mention that Noah Wardrip-Fruin is teaching a hypertext workshop at the Summer Literary Seminar in St. Petersburg.

I thought this was the first time this seminar had offered a hypertext workshop, but Noah tells me it's not: Jeff Parker and Robert Arellano have taught hypertext workshops before.

Oops. Sorry, everybody. (Posted here, because people these days hate multiple emails)

by Harold McGee

A classic of cooking and technical writing, McGee is the definitive English-language kitchen reference. Vast, systematic, thorough, and written with clarity and humor, McGee explains the source of ingredients common and rare, their customary handling in the cuisines of various cultures, and explores the essential chemistry and biology that underpins cooking.

If you need to know whether your stock should be boiling (it shouldn't) or whether you should refrigerate that extra fresh basil (don't), you can look it up in McGee. Every spice you've ever heard of, and many you haven't, is described, botanized, its properties and history and uses succinctly discussed.

A remarkable achievement.

The other night, we saw a Harvard student production of Carousel, the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.

It's a very strange show, when you come right down to it. I hadn't seen it since high school -- I missed the Broadway revival a couple of years back. In high school, I didn't really appreciate how strangely pessimistic this show is, despite all its sunny tunes. After all, this is a show about abusive relationships and ill-matched marriages, about an unusually intelligent young millworker who marries a wife-beater and her unimaginative, dim pal who marries a nebbish.

Common sense may tell you
That the ending will be sad,
And now's the time to break and run away.
But what's the use of wond'ring
If the ending will be sad?
There's nothing more to say.

(Note the early pomo gesture: as we approach the mid-point of the last act and are wondering how this can possibly end well, the heroine starts to argue that is might not. Carousel famously ends in a realistic muddle; everyone remembers skipping the happy ending liberated music theater, but nobody seems to have much noticed this odd, early reflexive move. Routine today, perhaps, but this is 1945.)

  • In 1945, New York theater could treat coastal New England -- towns like Gloucester and New Bedford -- as archaic and exotically distant lands.
  • Writing about Showboat, Lahr pointed out a few years ago that when musicals seem to be about the plight of Negros or Asians or Irish immigrants, they're often also talking about New York Jews. Carousel, in this reading, is again boarding the train at a very early hour; it's a show about how terribly mixed our feelings must be for the vexing, opinionated, self-destructive, vindictive, and often dangerous people who made the journey to a new world and, incidentally, turned into our parents or grandparents.
  • Harvard student productions have the benefit of a sizable student body that's selected to excel in extra-curricular activities. I still think that's an odd way to run a college, but it means that, when you do musicals, you can find some really good voices. The performance was heavily miked, but really didn't need it. Jennifer Rugani does a nice job with Julie Jordan, and Jennifer Brown's Carrie Pipperidge has power to spare.
  • That extra-curricular roster also lets you do things that would be exorbitant elsewhere, like an orchestra with the full original instrumentation. Three french horns, doubled oboes, trumpets, two flutes and a piccolo, a full string section. Unfortunately, the horns and the piccolo had a rough night of it. Those are the breaks.
  • Lots of the undergrads dressed up. Lots of young women in their very best dresses, which were very good indeed; the student production was classier than opening night for the ART. Blazers and bermuda shorts seemed popular with the men. I don't know what that was about.
  • The Harvard production favors Southern accents, which is odd. But Liam Martin plays Jigger Craigin in a fine, menacing South Boston.
  • The show didn't come off as well as Cabaret did the other year, in part because Cabaret's staging is so confined. Carousel really needs great dance (though you could do it in concert, I suppose). The Carousel Waltz, for example, might have worked better as an overture with a closed curtain than it did as a dumb-show. While you can find terrific voices at Harvard, it's a lot harder to find terrific singers who can also dance (and time to rehearse). Joss Whedon has a comment on this, to the effect that it's a lot easier for an actor to learn a little singing than to learn a little dance.
Apr 05 12 2005

Books Bought

A month starts, a season starts, Tinderbox Weekend Paris looms. A bunch of new entries in Books Bought (yeah -- over there on the left of the main page, near the top)

I know, I know. Look at all those books! Ouch! It's not as if there's anywhere to put them. It's not as if there's any time to read them. Especially if I continue to indulge in silliness like today's adventure (boeuf a la ficelle, and oatmeal cookies too).

But, what can I do without? Gene Wolfe's Knight got an amazing review in NYRSF, from Gaiman no less. A later issue argued, seriously, that Eileen Gunn's Stable Strategies for Middle Management is the best short story of the decade. Aaron Swartz, who isn't given to handing out bushels of praise, says Hawkins has figured it out. I saw a really great review of the new Ishiguro. I've never read Brooks, but this sounds wonderful.

Apr 05 11 2005


by Jeffrey Eugenides

This slow, strange, compelling exploration of gender and of narrative form starts from a remarkably little-known fact: a huge number of people, perhaps one in 2000, are neither clearly male nor female when they are born.

The narrator, Cal (formerly Calliope) Stephanides, was raised as a girl and discovered, at 14 and to everybody's astonishment, that she was a boy. He's now a very literate, soft-spoken bureaucrat in the foreign service, posted to Berlin.

Calliope's journey (and the long journeys of her parents and grandparents whose formidable problems led to her complexly tangled genetics) gives Eugenides plenty of scope to explore the meaning of gender, and even greater scope to wander through the corridors of history, from the burning of Smyrna to an astonishing theory of the identity of Fard Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam.

But all this, in the end, is occasion rather than substance, the raw material with which Eugenides constructs a very complex and intriguing experiment with plot. There is no melodrama: we know from the first page where we'll wind up, and we soon learn why, and yet Eugenides slowly, gradually coaxes us into excitement. Eugenides appears uninterested in linear plot -- he's a Coover disciple, after all -- and yet he's got the entire framework of a full-scale Dickensian braid expertly humming.

We move from the flames of Smyrna to the burning of Detroit in 1967, from the scarcity of eligible women in the failing Greek colony of Asia Minor after the First World War to the scarcity of straight men in Berlin who want to go out with a self-assured Japanese-American. The American is the bicycle-toting Julie Kikuchi whom Cal sees, one day, on the tram and with whom he reluctantly (but rapidly) falls in love.

As a special dessert, Eugenides writes an extended love story about Calliope's first passion, an adolescent crush on a fellow schoolgirl (one of the set she calls The Charm Bracelets) who she can't name and so calls The Obscure Object. For pages on end, we have The Object in class, at her summer house, in bed. We have her father, the hard-drinking "Mr. Object". To pull this off even briefly is a stunt; to make it work over a span that would make a small novel in itself is astonishing.

Feedster helps me keep track of interesting new notes about literary hypertext.

One remarkable opening to a blog entry that turns out to discuss narratology and Patchwork Girl opens thus:

January 3, 2003 the police show up looking for my brother, for questioning.

That's where we begin. Somehow, by way of a call girl, we end up here:

'The syntheses of the modern Graphical User Interface with Patchwork Girl's narrative structure and the traversable topography of Her's human form allows Jackson to create a virtual body of text which the reader must approach intimately to engage with at all, thus making manifest in her narrative the psychic and physical intercourse readers perform with all narrative texts' [Paez, Illuminations 4].

The writer is (I think) Richard Paez, a student at the University of Florida.

Apr 05 9 2005

Greco to Russia!

Diane Greco has won the 2005 Summer Literary Seminar prize for fiction. Congratulations!

I need a digital voice recorder asap, primarily for helping with the occasional on-the-road interview.

If you've got a recommendation -- especially if you're a writer or journalist, or if you're in the DVR industry -- I'd love to hear it right away! Thanks!

Update: the consensus choice seems to be the Olympus DM-10 . There's a newer DM20 with more memory, but 22 hours of voice recording should be ample, and the price break on the smaller model is nice.

This morning for breakfast, I made myself some coffee (Sumatran dark roast, fresh ground), squeezed a glass of fresh orange juice, and made a couple of slices of french toast (whole wheat bread, a free-range, organic brown egg, Madagascar vanilla) with real maple syrup.

That's kind of unusual: I used to skip breakfast entirely, and then for years I was a coffee-and-donut kind of fellow. Partly, the Tuesday morning breakfast follies are just another chance to play with the new kitchen. Partly, the new kitchen means it doesn't really take much time — especially with the nice new nonstick pan Linda bought me after the year of the hot plates.

But there's also something in the air, in the spirit of the age: a lot of people are paying a lot more attention to food. I know one software guy, for example, who spends days evaluating whether his company really, really needs to spend $100 on a software package, but give him a chance to go to the French Laundry and he's jumping into the car and heading to Napa. The engineers at Linda's software outfit unwind with Friday afternoon extravaganzas of hors d'oeuvres and baking and wine tasting. Meg Hourihan, the blogger co-founder, gets a new job as a cook. There's a lot of eating going on.

Adam Gopnik has a nice column in this week's New Yorker about food writers. (You've got to hand it to Remnick: the New Yorker once again has a knack for running articles on unusual topics that happen to be exactly what you've been thinking about that week)

There are two schools of good writing about food: the mock epic and the mystical microcosmic. The mock epic (A. J. Liebling Calvin Trillin, the French writer Robert Courtine, and any good restaurant critic) is essentially comic and treats the small ambitions of the greedy eater as though they were big and noble, spoofing the idea of the heroic while raising the minor subject to at least temporary greatness. The mystical microcosmic, of which Elizabeth David and M. F. K. Fisher are the masters, is essentially poetic, and turn every remembered recipe into a meditation on hunger and the transience of its fulfillment

The two styles can’t be mixed. If we are reading, say, about Liebling’s quest for the secret of how rascasse are used in bouillabaisse, we don’t want to be stopped to consider the melancholy lives of the remote fishermen who seek them out. And if we are reading David’s or Fisher’s sad thoughts on the love that got away on the plate that time forgot, we would hate to find, on the next page, the writer handing out peppy stars in modish kitchens.

"Sad thoughts on the love that got away on the plate that time forgot." Wow.

Of Cheese Sandwiches

Why are we eating so much? Why do we write about these cheese sandwiches?

Perhaps because we're paying attention. We've outgrown the sensational thrill-a-minute goldrush of the first net boom. We've outstayed the depressing gloom of the aftermath. Now, we're listening and we're tasting and we're thinking.

Librarian Derik A. Badman has a new blog made with Tinderbox. A host of interesting sections -- see the About page -- run the gamut from Buffyology to Oulipo.

Another nice refinement in the latest Tinderbox is in the map view. When a note contains text, Tinderbox draws a dog ear in the corner of the note. Now, the background color of that dog-ear reflects the note's age.

Fresh notes are a very light, pale blue. After a day or so, the note "dries" to white. Then, over the course of a year or two, it gradually ages to a pale, golden yellow.

The colors are sufficiently subtle that they don't dominate the display, but they change just enough to let you know what's new and what's old. They've been available in Tinderbox outlines all along, but in Tinderbox 2.4 they're now visible in maps.

Did I mention that Tinderbox is on sale? You can save $40 this week.

Everyone likes candy sometimes, right? People make money selling candy. Why don't spammers sell candy?

It seems to me that you would expect spammers to be proficient, on the whole, at what they do. You'd think that spammers would gravitate toward better and better propositions. For example, if you make more money selling candy than imaginary drugs, you'd expect in time to get more candy spam and fewer fake drug ads.

Why don't we have spam for hit music? Everyone likes music. Why don't we have spam for cleaning products? Everyone has dirty dishes.

What makes sense to spam? I'd say, products that almost anyone might want, but that aren't trivially available at local brick-and-mortar stores or high-profile, legitimate Web dealers. SPECIAL candy, for example -- either really tasty candy, or candy for diabetics, or retro candy with nostalgic brands, or candy at great prices. SPECIAL FOOD INGREDIENTS would work too: truffles, dried mushrooms, spices that your local store doesn't stock. ART should work well too -- stuff for your wall, stuff for your screen -- stuff you want. CUSTOM EROTICA, which has always supported some fine writers, should work as well.

But, somehow, people seem to do better with snake oil. I don't get it.

Apr 05 6 2005

Mussels 2

Mark Anderson from Portsmouth, reading about my fun with mussels, writes:

If you don't have to cook the mussels right away, take a large vessel and fill it with cold water (i.e. Atlantic temperature ) and add a good handful of rolled (porridge) oats. Left in the cold water the mussels will respire and the oatmeal helps (I know not how) clean out the mussels. You don't, as you might think end up with a grain mush in the shellfish - they stay clean, but the activity does help flush out detritus like sand from the animals' shells.

The latter is very useful if doing a dish, e.g. Moules Marinière, where the cooking liquor is also the 'sauce' as otherwise the latter can be gritty with sand released as the mussels open in cooking. Some maintain the mussels plump up a bit on their oatmeal 'food', though personally I doubt it.

If leaving the mussels to soak I find it is also good to do the cleaning phase early - removing barnacles, byssus threads etc. - pre-soaking. It helps give time to identify 'bad' mussels - any that float, are cracked or don't close.

New Tinderbox blog from Vlad Spears: 2 second fuse.

Well, we have the occasional mishap, too.

Today, I thought I'd grab the old waffle iron and fire up a batch of tasty waffles. Unfortunately, it seems that the old waffle iron is, well, old. Graduate school era, I think. Which means it was the waffle iron at the hardware store or the Coop that week.

After prying lots and lots of waffle bits -- tasty, but fragmentary -- from the wreckage, I'm open to tips on waffle irons.

Fortunately, yesterday's excursion into oatmeal cookies (from the current issue of Cook's) was more successful, even though I failed to keep the freshly-toasted pecans sufficiently separate from the bittersweet chocolate chunks. Now they tell me.

WordPress is an open source weblog tool. Its lead developer tried to raise some money from an advertising scheme that amounted to Google spam. There was an outcry. There was an apology. Things are mostly better now.

Roger Cadenhead argues that Open Source development has to be a hobby — that it has to be done by people who don't need the money, or you're bound to get this sort of mess.

Our grandparents had a name for people who did work because it was fun, people who didn't need the money. Back in the old neighborhood. They used to call them the rich.

We need, at some point, to think through the implications. Follow the money. Everybody gets paid. Who gets the big bucks? Who gets the benefits? Who pays? Who is living off hope that someone will see their name in the comments?

When you IM someone for work, how much small talk is expected and appropriate?

I recently IM'd a colleague call her Esme, with a question:

Me: Hello! Quick question: Do you know if....
Esme: Sorry, no idea
Me:Thanks anyway! Talk to you later.

Esme took me to task: was business all I cared about? Why didn't I stop to talk?

My assumption has been that business IM's are interruptions -- like poking your head into someone's office -- and so they should be polite but terse. Terser than a phone call, anyway -- otherwise, why not pick up the phone?

Mar 05 31 2005

Tinderbox sale

Tinderbox sale
There's a Tinderbox sale over at Eastgate.

Great price. If you've been thinking about getting down to work with Tinderbox, now would be a good time. Because, when the sale is over, it's over -- no latecomers, no rainchecks.

Megnut's in Paris. "It's spring here, with daffodils and dandelions sprouting from the grass, and trees exploding with buds and bright greens."

Clotilde's usually in Paris. I'm having trouble making contact with Clotilde, whose chocolate and zucchini suggests a new vision of food criticism . I want to set up an interview later this month.

I'm not in Paris, yet.

Over at KoderSoftware, there's an intriguing peek at the Storyspace plans for a big Flash project.

New media artists sometimes focus so tightly on the technical challenges of the medium that we forget how useful tools like Tinderbox and Storyspace can be for the process of planning and refining the vision.

Programmers can forget, too; Aaron reminds me that I've forgotten to look into TextMate. People get wedded to their editors -- that's why you get silly, religious debates about EMACS vs vi. It's been going on since the dark ages: when I was at DuPont, an old and accomplished chemist lectured me on how visual editors like vi were obviously inferior to a good command-line editor like sed.

Over the years, I've become so broad in my taste for editors that I no longer am really good with any editor. That might not be terrible: from Tinderbox tech support, I've learned that lots of tech folk often spend an hour of hard thought to automate a boring, repetitive ten-minute task. Now, the automation might make sense if you're going to reuse it, or if it reduces errors, or even if you learn from it. But that's not really why we do it.

The baseball season starts this weekend.

The 2005 edition of the Malden Mallards starts the year with high hopes and low expectations. We're in an incredibly skilled league -- the very best league in the Stats Inc galaxy for the last two or three years, during which time the Malden Mallards have been firmly ensconced in the cellar.

Rebuilding this year, we tried to get lots younger. Farewell Frank Thomas, hello Dallas MacPherson. Except MacPherson is hurt, so he's in the minors, so we've got a problem, Houston. Our backup catcher is Charles Johnson, whose new position (I don't understand this) is Tax Shelter for the Boston Red Sox. We've got Rocco Baldelli not playing center, Dallas MacPherson not playing 3rd, Adam Kennedy not playing second, and Orlando Hudson not playing second, either. One of our starters (Mark Buehrle) is pitching on a broken foot.

In other words, we seem to have replaced our injured, creaky veterans with injured, unproved rookies.

But nobody is taking any steroids that aren't home made. Nobody raised their ticket prices. Nobody answers to the whims of a foolish, rich real-estate developer.

Ed Ward concludes The Wrong Fight in the new Tekka with The Revenge of the Fifty-Quid Man.

All the alarm about file sharing, all the posturing and politics, is wrong -- it's running catch a mirage.

Mass-appeal popular music, consumed by the youngest demographic of consumers, is in crisis, but since this music is largely a transient phenomenon, the result of a culmination of trends which have reached their highest level and, therefore, have nowhere to go, its crisis is almost totally one of marketing.

The music industry learned, for a while, to exploit the increasingly-global tastes of a cadre of preteens who all want the same music at the same time. That was especially convenient for distribution, but the channel isn't what it used to be and neither are the kids.

Meanwhile, it's a big world. Lots of people listen to lots of music. There's a much bigger opportunity now -- people who have real, individual taste and passion and intelligence. People who have wallets (!) instead of an allowance.


Google introduces Auto-Drink. You can opt out. Here's the FAQ.

Big news at wikpedia. Read all about it here.