Aug 02 30 2002


My font of the month is Fabrizio Schiavi's new system font, Sys. It's a condensed TrueType font, designed to look good on the screen and to use screen space efficiently. That makes it great for maps -- and for Tinderbox. Because it uses screen space so efficiently, you can keep more windows open -- and see their contents. (Tip: buy it from MyFonts, since the exchange rate on the Euro is so unfavorable to the dollar just now)

In a weblog note titled Sex, Anja Rau longs for an iMac.

"If you focus on the big screen, you can't keep your mind from wanting to jump forward to catch it when it topples....But just pull the screen toward you ... right - like you need to get any closer to the crystal clear screen to see well. Then push it to the side so the person next to you can see."

This is interesting on several counts. First, Dr. Rau assumes that computing is a social activity, that it could suggest intimacy. Researchers have been speculating about this for ages, but this isn't about someday, it's about now. Second, the whole point of the iMac design is to reduce the desk footprint, but Rau sadly concludes, "Honestly, if I had anymore desktop space ..."

Aug 02 29 2002

Labor Day Sale

Eastgate is offering excellent prices on Storyspace and Tinderbox, through the Labor Day Weekend.

A famous economist (and a very old friend) recommended Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens over coffee at Sharples, where we had coffee together some decades ago.

She was right. It's a hilariously British account of the final days, replete with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, riding down the highway on their Harleys pursued by the real Hell's Angels while the angel Aziraphale enjoys a glass of thin, vinegary Beaujolais that he transforms into a perfectly acceptable (albeit astonished) Bordeaux.

Aug 02 28 2002

Storyspace 2.5

We've begun work on finish carpentry for Storyspace 2.5 for MacOS X. The chief goal is to make Storyspace work smoothly and natively with MacOS X. We'll also pick up spell checking and a few other long-awaited features.

One of the joys of traveling in the U.K. is the pub. Americans got their drinking fouled up under Prohibition and still can't get it right. Here's one, on a rainy Belfast street corner.

If ever want and need were one, it might well be in Passport To The Pub: A Guide to British Pub Etiquette by social anthropologist Kate Fox. It's a lively look at pub behavior which grew, I suspect, from a field notes in a more serious study -- this work wasn't played for mortal stakes, but I suspect there's an examination of violence and male bonding somewhere in the vicinity. Passport is published on the web by Fox's Social Issues Research Centre (Oxford), and has interesting observations on types of pubs, types of patrons, and the elaborate rituals and gift economies that lubricate social, political, and economic exchange in the public house.

Over at the Weblog Kitchen Wiki, Southampton's Tim Miles-Board has launched an interesting exploration of Link Structure In The Web.

Aug 02 27 2002


The islands of the Outer Hebrides are nearly treeless, nearly barren, and their winters are cold and clammy. The old black houses were simple winter shelters with thick stone walls, a room, and a byre.

Standing outside this black house, now preserved as a museum, the bus driver launched into that familiar story known round the world: Those Kids. "The problem is the TV. We used to sit around for hours and tell the stories. Now, the kids watch the television and play with the computer. Now, kids don't even really know who their relatives are."

Tales told in winter.

I saw High Art again last night. It really is a spectacular movie. Lisa Cholodenko's screenplay is quiet, elegant, understated to a fault. Radha Mitchell (who?) is brilliant as Syd, a beautiful, ambitious, and impossibly-young editor. Ally Sheedy acts rings around herself as Lucy Berliner. She's got power and experience: Sigourney Weaver meets James Dean.

What really drives High Art is its conviction that all these people had lives before the camera crew showed up, lives that will (for the most part) continue after they pack up and leave, but that important, dramatic things are happening to them right now. Some of those things are happening offstage, some aren't, and those choices aren't conventional or convenient. Brilliantly done.

One of the nicer surprises about The World was the ship's library, a large and comfortable space with a fine collection of books. I expected a closet of best-sellers and travel guides, but this was clearly selected by someone who reads. There's a complete run of Everyman's Library, a fine assortment of modern fiction, and a very good bookcase of recent biography. Plenty of best-sellers and literary hits, of course, but there were also a surprising number of fine books by writers who aren't terribly well known.

This is, I think, an example of thinking a concept through. If you're planning a floating apartment building that sails 'round the globe, bookstores are going to be a problem. Amazon is going to be a problem, too, because you need to have books shipped ahead to where you're going to be later, and if they're late, the books have to chase you. Since the passengers have already paid handsomely for their apartments, the ship owners don't need to maximize revenue from every square foot of deck space. And, since a big ship necessarily employs a lot of people, you're bound to find someone who can double as a resident book critic if you look hard.

A novel by Julian Stockwin about a young wig maker who, just before the start of the war against Napoleon, has the misfortune to get caught by a press gang and finds himself an unwilling sailor.

An interesting perspective of life before the mast in Nelson's Navy, Kydd may well launch a series. It's not a terribly auspicious launch, but it's possible we'll look back on this as the clumsy start of a very pleasant saga, just as we excuse The Godwulf Manuscript and The Hobbit. Kydd makes a fine corrective to Hornblower (though Jack Aubrey is a better and more interesting response, and Richard Henry Dana was actually there) There's a good deal wrong with Kydd -- problems with characterization, seemingly-miraculous improvements in our hero's sailing skills, and the suspicion the Patrick O'Brian might step out from behind a storage cask at any moment.

Aug 02 24 2002


The new adaptation of Byatt's Possession is everything you could fairly ask of the movie. It's a shadow of the book, because there's no way for a film to convey the exuberance of Byatt's creating the literary work and generations of scholarship of two distinct but entirely imaginary Victorian poets. The film is just a romance, but it's a good romance.

The screenplay makes Roland Michell into an American, which works brilliantly, and makes Maud Bailey into a lovestruck young professor, which works less well because she ought to be significantly older and more powerful than her hapless Roland.

Possession is a better movie than The Name of the Rose, makes an intriguing pair with The French Lieutenant's Woman, and it's well worth seeing.

Dolly keeps a secret safer than a friend,
Dolly's silent sympathy lasts without end.

Jarno Virtanen turns Writing The Living Web on its head and uses it as a self-assessment tool. An unexpected but nice thing about this article: quite a few people seem to have found in it a reason to pick up a discarded or neglected weblog and try again. Then, Photodude provides a wonderful list of additional reading, starting with Orwell! Thanks, everyone!

Not far from Belfast, there's a place where Finn MacCool built a road out to the islands. Or a volcanic lava flow cooled very, very slowly, forming a pavement of hexagonal columns. Or something like that.

People have been making pictures of this for a long, long time. For years, I didn't travel with a camera, preferring to limit my picture-making to my own (inept) watercolors. Digital cameras are too much fun to leave behind, and -- after all -- it's in keeping with the spirit of the place.

There's been a good deal of discussion about Writing The Living Web, and it seems that, while sailing in the Hebrides I missed the joy of seeing my piece in the Daypop hotlist. Lots of thoughtful discussion emerged. J. E. Warren assembled a thoughtful overview of the discussion, with updates (and more updates), and Al Macintyre published his detailed reading notes in his weblog.

New in Books: notes on a collection of academic essays on Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.

Now in Zeldman's A List Apart: my essay on Ten Steps for Writing The Living Web. It's an approach to thinking about better weblogs. The reception for this article has been overwhelming: generous, sympathetic, and engaging. Some folks thought the piece was too long, or that the writing was less tight than it might have been. My suggestion that people avoid worrying about correctness was unexpectedly controversial. A sampling of other links:

Mark focuses on the dynamic nature of weblogs (or, better yet, of any site that represents frequent personal input and guidance), and gives ten good rules that aim to help writers both understand that dynamism and shape their creative energies accordingly. It's the kind of essay that I'll bookmark and send along to anyone who asks me about weblogs; it may be the best example yet of capturing the reasons why weblogs have become such a success. -- Q Daily News

Some of Bernstein's tips are old hat, but I found a few of the tips to be illuminating - in particular: tip # 5, "Make Good Enemies", and tip # 8, "Be Sexy". That's what the edublogging community needs - more enemies and more sex! -- AlterEgo  

Mark Bernstein remains, even amongst Webheads, a relatively unknown person and that is shame. Those that recognize it generally do so because of his work with Eastgate. But he is also one of the few people who have been seriously advocating hypertext -- which, ironically enough, seems to be a dying artform on the Web.... His ten tips are simple, but all have well-articulated reasons that any writer should take to heart. -- 

The most authoritative instructional guide to blogging that I have read -- erin 

Truly a wonderful piece of writing. -- Andrew Synowiez 

This article inspired me to renew the weblog I'd abandoned earlier this year. -- J.E. Warren

For the last ten days, I've been aboard The World, a brand-new ship that's designed to be apartment building that sails around the world. (I thought I'd have net access. I didn't. Have you missed me?)

This wasn't a long-planned expedition, and I thought I'd have net access and would blog en route. A few glitches slowed that, and I decided to wait for my return. So I'll be talking about last week in Skye and Lewis, Derry and Dublin in the coming days, mixing present and past.

Aug 02 10 2002

We've Got Blog!

New in hardcover, We've Got Blog, a collection of famous essays about weblogs, chiefly by weblog writers. From Cameron Barrett to Derek Powazek, from the Kaycee Nicole FAQ to the Blogma 2001 diatribe, this slender volume collects a variety of key documents about the early history of weblogs.

If you study weblogs, you read most of these essays when they first appeared on the Web. Still, a nicely bound collection is a pleasant reference tool.

Writing in the Weblog Kitchen, information architect Victory Lombardi praises SnorComments and Tinderbox.

"Set up was painless, it doesn't require any additional Perl modules, the interface is highly customizable, and it even has its own little admin interface. Within Tinderbox, I set up a Boolean attribute for notes that let's me turn on comments or not for each note."

Ambrosia Software's new game Pop-Pop is surprisingly good. It's a competitive variant of Breakout.

Aug 02 9 2002


Filling the void left by the retirement of Lines and Splines, Typographica is a weblog about type.

Charles Deemer presents The Seagull, a hyperdrama based on Chekhov's play. Follow characters offstage, and witness the rest of the story.

Media scholar Torill Mortensen is hard at work in the kitchen, introducing visiting Greek students to Norway's summer food. She writes about the vegetables that grow in Norway's blonde nights, of venison with fresh chanterelles, of fenalår. I'm already hungry.

"In desperation I started baking cakes. No Norwegian housewife can endure having her cakes rejected, that is the final test of your skill in the kitchen: to be able to make a light, tasty, elegantly presented and irresistable cake. Finally, I found something they could endure. So the girls here have, for 9 days now, been living on bread, lefse and cakes - chocolate cake, apple cake, cream cake, a progression of cakes which they never sit down to eat. They eat on the run: grab a packed meal and then spurn any healthy looking food we might have packed for them, and clean out the cakes.

I've got to get an invitation to Norway, one of these days.

Aug 02 8 2002

Email woes

Some anti-spam vigilante is mad at a company upstream from our ISP. This is pointless; the company is already dead, bankrupt, dismembered. But, because they're having this quarrel, we can't send email to a handful of people.

One of those people is my distinguished colleague, Anja Rau, who has some interesting things to say about tension and hypertext fiction .

Of course, it's not precisely the entertainment industry that brings color to Pleasantville, is it? See original discussion here.

I think we can find a fair amount of tension in Victory Garden and In Small & Large Pieces, not to mention Figurski at Findhorn On Acid. But her point is well taken -- and the best form of disproof, obviously, is a counter-example. Where Are The Hypertexts?

A brand-new, 28-page chapbook of flash fiction by Magdalen Powers published by So New Media, complete with a mini-CD audio recording of the author reading selected stories. It's a small book, but intriguing. Powers can write, and Anna Lord's illustrations perfect.

"I want to be somebody's wife in the '50's: so I could move on; grow up; put my head in an oven; get over it."

(Confidential to publisher: there's a typo in the first sentence of the promotional tuck-in.)

Christopher Moore's A Killing Smile has been on my stack for two years. I bought it because one of Moore's friends mentioned him. A lousy cover and an unpleasant opening got me off on the wrong foot. At length, I picked it up again.

It turns out to be a fine book, though not the book I expected.

This strangely-conceived, creepy, and moving story about expatriate life in '90s Bangkok hinges on the meeting of old two college friends: a Los Angeles lawyer whose wife has just died, and the man she left to marry him. They meet in a Bangkok joint. They snarl, scheme, and each plots his revenge against a backdrop of bar girls and Mekong whiskey. The story is (or should be) about those bar girls, from whom Moore's attention rarely strays far, but he is reluctant to focus on them; as soon as his prose brings one girl into focus it retreats in terror, as if Moore's text is deeply afraid of commitment. This is a story of men without women, even though women are literally jumping into their laps.

Aug 02 6 2002


Zoetrope has an online writing workshop. It's a fine magazine, and I'd heard intriguing things. The price of admission, though, is reviewing five short stories. This seemed a lot of trouble, but lately I've been wondering: what is the "average" short story like?

It's not a pretty picture, at least not a Zoetrope. None of the writers seemed capable of finding a character or a voice. Two or three wandered into weird racial theories. Two ended in spectacularly unjustified murders. Several of the writers wanted to describe a romance, but seemed not quite sure what happens after boy meets girl.

I'd assume that most of these stories were written by kids, but how many kids have the patience to review five short stories in order to get permission to submit their own? When the only reward is the promise that you might get reviews from other kids. If these are kids, they must be the stars of their class, the kids who do extra work, not the ones just trying to get by. It makes you wonder how people who teach Creative Writing manage.

People complain about the quality of writing in weblogs, but the average weblog is much better than any of the Zoetrope stories I was assigned.

Anja Rau's Flickwerk explores the real meaning of a German cellphone ad in which a chameleon escapes into the city -- and the city changes color. Release of tension? Denial of [b]orders?

Or perhaps this is about the sensual liberation of Pleasantville, the grey city of our isolation brought back to life by the wild little creature? Recall Bricklin's observation: cell phones replaced CD players as the Things We Carry on the street because phones give us direct contact with people we care about. Audio discs and radios gave us broadcast contact from the stars and the music industry, and that's not nearly as alluring as the chance to make contact with people we know, to flirt or play games or simply to phone home.

A critique of US foreign policy claims that the Bush Administration are too much like the Scoobies.

A surprising side-effect of MacOS X may be the liberation of Web typography from the constraints of Verdana and Times. Apple systems now ship with a range of real fonts; for example, Magdalen Power's weblog Fools Paradise gets a lovely archaic feel from Hoefler Text. You couldn't attempt this without GIF's last year; next year, this may be perfectly familiar. For now, though, there's lots of easy impact to be had.

Yes, the Mac's a minority platform. But if you can get lovely pages for a third of your readers and pretty good pages for the rest, it's a win. Plus, you know the MacOS X people have fresh, CSS-compliant browsers and plenty of rendering power.

Dave Winer argues that the Microsoft/Open Source dichotomy serves us poorly.

" I know, Eric Raymond told you that there were other ways to make money developing software. Unfortunately, those techniques don't work for end-user software, the easy to use stuff, for individual people. The only thing that works there is developers charging users for the product. "

Winer half-jokingly refers to Open Source as "slavery", but the real question is whether people who make software should be proprietors or service-workers. The free software economy dictates that you can charge for consulting but not for software; software professionals are supposed to earn their keep by providing installation, advice, and support. That doesn't work for end users, as Winer notes, but it's also bad for the profession: the skills of consulting are not the skills of a great software crafter.

SIGGRAPH, the behemoth conference and trade show for computer graphics, is planning to change its policy on interactive arts. Noah Wardrip-Fruin calls the new policy "a printmaking show" and speculates that his trip report on SIGGRAPH 2002 will be his last. He writes that

"The reason given, as with the rumored cuts to the Art program, is budget difficulties. But I believe it's a big mistake. I know I won't attend a SIGGRAPH with no panels, no art papers, and no interactive art. And I know others for whom these programs, singly or in combination, are primary reasons for their SIGGRAPH attendance. Cutting these programs entirely, rather than paring them and other programs back more incrementally, will only lower SIGGRAPH attendance."

My college roommate was Math Advisor for A Beautiful Mind.  It was striking to see Dave's handwriting again on blackboards, notebooks, and dorm windows. But it was more surprising to see how thoroughly Russell Crowe channels Dave's mannerisms in scenes meant to communicate "brilliant mathematical intoxication." (Good model)

We're used to seeing actors do Roosevelt or Churchill or JFK, but it's very unsettling to see a great actor do this guy with whom you used to share a double in Willets and Worth.

Everyone knows times are tough, especially for e-business.

Interestingly, web traffic at Eastgate last month was up 100% from the good old days of 2000. Visitors to the Hypertext Kitchen doubled, too.

In MTIV:Processs, Inspiration and Practice for the New Media Designer, Hillman Curtis recalls a story about the painter Robert Rauschenberg.

Rauschenberg would frequent two bars: one full of visual artists like himself; the other with dancers, choreographers, and musicians. After splitting his time between the two for a while, he gravitated more and more to the second bar. He said he was inspired by the energy of the people there and the music they listened to,

Is this story a tale of a lost world, or nostalgia for an imagined past? I live in Boston/Cambridge -- not Paris, but not Peoria -- and I have no idea where I'd find a bar filled with artists, or one frequented by dancers. I don't know that there's a bar where the graphic designers go after work, or if they do. I don't know where the knights of the keyboard joust after hours. (In Chicago, they used to go to Ricardo's, or so I was told; do they still?)