September 2, 2003

What Professors Do

Ed Ayers asks, "What do professors do all day, anyway?", and provides a detailed answer. Thanks, Matt Kirschenbaum!

Mark Bernstein: Navigation In The Dark
August 27, 2003

Navigation In The Dark

As I'm walking home, a fellow pulls over and asked me for the best way to drive to Paddington. I'm from Boston, I have no idea where Paddington is, and I'm striding confidently down Gower Street because I narrowly escaped from being enmazed in Russell Square. I'm not that confident anyway: I've been up for 40 hours, I just walked about 15 miles or so through Bloomsbury and Notting Hill (see below), before that I flew across the ocean, and I have just enjoyed two of those excellent (but preternaturally large) pints of real ale.

Someone always asks me for directions. Lately, someone always asks on my first day. Often, in a language I don't speak, in a place I've never been.

Why, exactly, did we think hypertext navigation was a problem?

I had those two pints (memo: special is worth the 15p premium) at a very pleasant, unremarkable pub just down the street from where Foundling's Hospital used to be. It's a park now, for children -- Foundling's is. Not the pub. The pub has always been there, and it's always been a pub.

I did have some trouble, ordering a pint. even though I read an entire thesis on how to act in a pub. Spending more time in Britain and among Britons abroad has left me nearly deaf to accents. I forget that, where I hear a charming trace of an accent I can't place, the other person hears me speaking broad and incomprehensible Chicago with overlays of something nobody can identify anymore as a speech problem (thank you Mrs. Horowitz). Like the Minbari, Britons may sometimes sound like us....

The pub seems unremarkable, but Robert Elms did remark (in London Walks v2) that it's not much changed since his schooldays -- or since the 18th century -- "complete with snugs and engraved screens." So, back in 1775 or so, a couple of medical workers probably sat in the nook where I was reading Hiromi Goto and complained about their caseload and worried together about the troubles over in Boston.

Everything in this post is about hypertext. It has no links.

Mark Bernstein: An observation
August 27, 2003

An observation

I spent twenty minutes hunting for a garbage can (I mean an rubbish bin) at St. Pancras Station, I didn't find one. In the end, someone had left their wake-up beer at a table outside the pub; I left the four dead batteries from the camera and skittered away,

Mark Bernstein: London
August 27, 2003


When I arrive in London, I walk too much.

First, there's the jet lag problem. Flights these days are always full, sleeping is hard, and Boston-London is just too short for sleeping well. So, on the first day, it's good to keep moving.

Then, of course, it's London! There's always something, just around the corner. And even if there isn't something, there used to be. This is the wonder that Sarah Smith captures so well in Chasing Shakespeares; everywhere you look, there's an office block where Dudley and Cecil liked to play tennis. Or there's the bar where Tom Browne left for Rugby. Or something.

Today, everyone seemed to be headed for the Notting Hill Carnival. So, for the afternoon, having misspent the morning among the Egyptian oddities of the British Museum and the Bloomsburians in Beford Square, I headed for Notting Hill.

I always seem to hit street festivals on jet lag day. The best part of street festivals is street food, but here I'm afraid Britain beat carnival; even the plantain were expensively awful. Lots of people watching, dancing, and wishing from the windows of their flat.

I ran off 190 shots today -- a new record. Perhaps I'm finally learning that bits are renewable.

Mark Bernstein: Trust
August 25, 2003


A good, short essay by net pioneer Bob Frankston exposes the misinformation and fear spread by most media accounts of the current computer virus outbreak. Building thicker walls to isolate our machines isn't an answer, Frankston reminds us, because we need to get work done.

But what does a computer firewall do? It blocks messages between machines. MSBlaster uses the "DCOM" port which is fundamental to computers working together -- if you block that port programs like Exchange can't work. The "solution" is to move all the remote calls to the same port used by the web so you can't distinguish between web activity and a remote call. All that does is up the ante so that you will have to block all web use in order to "protect" the computers.

What's worse is that in order to get any work done we must find ways to create passages through the firewall. The VPN (Virtual Private Network) allows people to "safely" connect their home computer to the corporate network. In reality it is a mechanism for defeating the firewall in order to get work done but it means that the kid (of any age) running a malicious screen saver has entrée to the entire corporate network. One can ban people from working outside the corporate offices but that doesn't help because that same screen server works fine in the office too. There is also a heavy cost in limiting the ability for people to do work.

Mark Bernstein: When we lived in the castle
August 25, 2003

When we lived in the castle

My grandmother used to begin stories about the old days in Highland Park, Illinois, in the Depression while my mom and her siblings were growing up, with the preface, "When we lived in the castle." Ian Gilman and Christina Willott moved to Germany and lived -- in a castle.

"It seems a bit of a dream now, looking back. In real life, people don't live in castle."

See also, "I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills." Thanks, Diane!

Mark Bernstein: Republican Ridiculousness
August 25, 2003

Republican Ridiculousness

For his high school Web design class, Brian Roberston wrote an imaginative short story about a violent assault on a school. As a result, he faces ten years in jail.

His mom has a Web site.

Mark Bernstein: Gender Genie
August 25, 2003

Gender Genie

Gender Genie is a fun toy, and it discovers Jill's gender correctly. I seem to confuse it badly. It classifies my casual writing as female (except for Huckel Finn), but thinks the more technical papers like Patterns of Hypertext and Storyspace I are written by a male. That's a little worrisome.

Mark Bernstein: HT03 Photo Drop
August 24, 2003

HT03 Photo Drop

The Nottingham folks have set up a WebDAV server for sharing photos at Hypertext '03. The URL is http://ht03/ ; login ht03 password nottingham.

(MacOS X users: just choose Connect to Server from Finder, enter the URL, and then enter the login and password when asked. The server mounts just like a hard disk. Very cool)

I 've already added some snapshots from the program committee meeting. For more ways to join in the Hypertext Conference -- even if you can't make it to England -- see the new backchannels page.

Mark Bernstein: Hypertext Maps
August 22, 2003

Hypertext Maps

Les Carr sends the URL of this very interesting citation map of the papers from Hypertext '03.

Mark Bernstein: Postel
August 21, 2003


Postel's Law (which is actually a rule) says that a system that participates in a protocol should "be liberal in what it accepts and conservative in what it emits." Aaron Swartz has come to believe that XML was wrong in requiring that XML parsers simply fail when asked to parse anything that is not legal XML.

I'm not sure Postel's Law applies here. Postel talks about what the participants in a negotiation should do; XML is the language in which the negotiation takes place.

The problem with liberally accepting something that's nearly OK, but isn't, is that you're introducing ambiguity in a situation where it may not have been anticipated. Because nobody was expecting ambiguity here, there may be no opportunity later to discover that we're not speaking the same language.

Swartz suggests a social sanction, a warning visible to the user. Netscape did this for forms, and ended up convincing an entire generation that The Internet Is Dangerous. iCab does this with a smiley that frowns on bad HTML, but the social sanction of the iCab smiley face is merely social. Social sanctions are set by whoever has clout or whoever seems cool right now -- by the in crowd. How are we going to feel about Microsoft systems that smile whenever they see a page created with Office and frown whenever they see a page created with something else? And how do we communicate smiles for an interchange without a user interface -- which, after all, is where XML is chiefly useful?

These social sanctions generate lots of bulletin board arguments, but they encourage people who to crusade on behalf of issues they half-understand. Look at validation and the Web. First, we said "Works Best With Netscape" was a Bad Thing and set the standard that sites should work well in all browsers. Then, the consensus turned 180 degrees and said, "Use Web Standards" even if some browsers foul things up. But those pointy-haired managers are still tuned into the fashions of 1997 and still want their sites to look good in Netscape 4.

One of the most pernicious aspects of Web culture is the tendency to assign moral roles to technical questions. Adherence to standards isn't Good. It's just adherence to standards.

Mark Bernstein: The Rabbit's Thesis
August 20, 2003

The Rabbit's Thesis

A true tail of a furry creature's doctoral dissertation on the superiority of rabbits to foxes and wolves.

Mark Bernstein: Photos in Paris
August 19, 2003

Photos in Paris

Where, in Paris, does one go to see classic photography? Serious contemporary photography? (Linda is hoping to join me in Paris next month for HT2PM...)

Update: some Web leads from François Granger

Mark Bernstein: In Mem
August 19, 2003

In Mem

Walter J. Ong, SJ. Thanks, Kirschenbaum

Mark Bernstein: Paying for Review Copies
August 19, 2003

Paying for Review Copies

Publishers give free copies of books and such to the working press. It's their job, after all, and reporting is a tough racket without having to pay for the stuff you have to review.

But I still remember the first time The New Yorker phoned Eastgate to say they needed a few review copies sent to West 43rd Street. We'd have sent them everything, of course. Overnight, gift wrapped -- anything. This, after all, was The New Yorker.

But they insisted on paying for the hypertexts. It wasn't that much money. But publishing is naturally a small-scale business and, especially in those days, every penny mattered. A lot.

Now, with Tekka, we're on the other side of the street. Those free review copies matter to us, too. They let us look at books we'd probably not see otherwise. Not all of them get reviewed -- but some of them turn out to be wonderful gems. (We've got an economics book in the next issue, of all things, that the reviewer ranks with Kernighan and Plauger!)

But, still, some of those books that appear on the doorsteps of Tekka reviewers are actually bought -- especially those from small presses. Seed corn.

Mark Bernstein: Flickwerk
August 18, 2003


Anja Rau's Flickwerk has a stunning, juicy new design. It's Made With Tinderbox.

Flickwerk now has about 75 notes and folder, a stylesheet and 8 templates, all pulled neatly into 1 output-file, permalinks, automatic time-stamping and everything. .... And because content, styles and HTML-container are held separately, you can fiddle a lot without breaking much or losing the overview. But it's also better than a web-based blog-tool. I'm taking notes into Tinderbox all day, anyway. Now I can blog into it, too, even when I'm offline, without having to log into a web-service first.

The new Flickwerk is the first really new weblog design I've seen in a while. A whole year of archives in a big side-scrolling overview: fascinating.

Mark Bernstein: Blueprint
August 18, 2003


Martin Fowler points out that:

When people use the term 'software architect' they are using a metaphor from building construction to help people understand the architect's role. Ironically in doing this they misunderstand the actual role of a building architect.

He also observes that "architects have, on the whole, won the battle to take charge of building design. Sadly ... they are usually the lowest paid of the skilled workers on the job. Software Architects: be careful what you wish for."

Additional Reading: Putting the Architecture Back Into Information Architecture

Mark Bernstein: Al can cook
August 18, 2003

Al can cook

Cardiac care nurse Al Hawkins just taught me something about cooking. He blogged that roasted carrots with tarragon was a Good Idea.

The previous night, I'd run out of vegetables and was reduced to preparing a pear sauce for the pan-fried trout in order to have something green (braise with olive oil, pepper, star anise, vanilla bean, a little leftover desert wine, and finish with a teaspoon of poire william).

So, to make up, a brought home a Peter Rabbit bunch of carrots from the Cambridge Museum of Fruits and Vegetables.

Quick: what's the difference between baking and roasting? As I understand it, roasting is about two things: high heat, and salt. We're talking about a hot, hot oven.

I washed and trimmed the carrots and popped them into a 475F oven with a very little bit of olive oil, lots of salt and freshly-ground pepper, and a smidgeon of butter. 45 minutes, then top with a handful of chopped tarragon.

Very interesting! The carrots were not even slightly sweet; spicy, savory, delicious, and nothing at all like the carrots you get in stews. If I'd had them in a restaurant, I'd have wondered what strange Asian vegetable this was, that looked so carrot-like.

Mark Bernstein: Tekka
August 17, 2003


We're hard at work on issue three of Tekka. This Tekka is going to be remembered as our Middle East Issue, with features on blogging in Iran, media looting in Iraq, and on the hypertextuality of 11th-century Byzantine manuscripts.

We'll have original Flash fiction from 6amhoover's Donna Leishman, a new essay by Torill Mortensen, a report on Digital Storytelling. And we've got a slew of reviews.

Keeping up with the reviews has turned out to be a major editorial problem, I hadn't foreseen how many reviews Tekka would need, but to cover the world of new media ideas you simply have to take a close look at a wide range of books, journals, games, and tools. In this issue alone, we've got two important books about bugs, breakthrough game hardware, several high-profile books and collections about new media, and a fascinating guide for young researchers. Finding the right reviewer for everything is a challenge -- just keeping track is a challenge. Fortunately, Elin Sjursen is finding clever Tinderbox solutions to tracking and managing review needs and reviewers.

Mark Bernstein: MacWorld
August 16, 2003


I've not yet seen the article, but the September MacWorld gives Tinderbox 4.5 mice.

It's been a long, long time since the mainstream computer media took a hypertext tool seriously -- much less, liked it. Very good news. Thanks, everyone!

Mark Bernstein: Social Hypertext
August 14, 2003

Social Hypertext

One session at Hypertext '03 is going to be devoted to an experiment in social hypertext: we're going to watch Minority Report and Sliding Doors -- two accessibly hypertextual films -- in a conference session with live blogging, IRC/iChat, and perhaps some other social hypertext technology.

Query: is there already any literature on socially interactive phenomena like this? Perhaps in film studies? How about the use of SMS in theaters and classes?

Mark Bernstein: *protoTyping
August 10, 2003


Ryan Holcomb's *protoTyping, a weblog about Tinderbox, has moved to a new server.

Not that I've stopped using Tinderbox! In fact, my newly crafted GettingThingsDone Tinderbox template has already become an indispensable tool for tackling the innumerable moving related action items now on my plate. Hopefully, I'll have time to clean it up a bit and share it with others who have expressed interest on the TinderboxWiki .

I also want to share how I used the power of ^host^ to ease the pain of my *protoTyping site migration.

Mark Bernstein: Delacour on ethics
August 10, 2003

Delacour on ethics

Jon Delacour's weblog is back, with a long and interesting discussion of weblog ethics. Thanks, Adrian Miles.

Mark Bernstein: Updates
August 10, 2003


It's a busy season for software updates. No sooner does Tinderbox 2 leave the building, but we're installing new versions of Quark (which has an obnoxious copy protection scheme), Painter 8 (which has some great new watercolor tools and a nifty sketch filter), and Poser 5 (an amazing, albeit specialized, program for modeling human figures).

Mark Bernstein: MacNetJournal
August 9, 2003


Mac Net Journal is digging Tinderbox 2:

After downloading and starting to use this new version a few days ago I am impressed how the program has grown even more useful. Content management, idea management, weblogs, outlining, text clippings - so much to grasp and so little time. Add the fact that the new version is much faster and Tinderbox is really becoming a tool for anyone who needs to organize thoughts and make sense of their data."

Giles Turnbull, writing for the O'Reilly MacDev Center, detours from a review of "yellow-sticky widgets" to mention Tinderbox:

Tinderbox has an almost cult following. While it makes more demands of users and has a steeper learning curve than other apps we've covered, it's also a lot more powerful.... It's a great brain helper, but at 140 dollars, by far the most expensive piece of software covered here. Fans would no doubt argue that you get what you pay for.

And David Harvey, a member of the Water and Environmental Management Research Centre, has a new weblog where he hankers for a Macintosh.

Ever since MacOS X was released I’ve hankered after a Macintosh. The ability to run all my favourite Linux programs alongside Microsoft Office (some which has merit, and which is necessary anyway) and various OS/X only software such as TinderBox is a compelling reason to favour the Mac over a PC running either Linux or Windows.

Mark Bernstein: New at Eastgate
August 7, 2003

New at Eastgate

Elin Sjursen is a new editorial assistant at Eastgate. Welcome.

Mark Bernstein: Namespaces
August 6, 2003


Dave Winer (who sees namespaces as one factor that divides programming-XML from literary XML) opines, "There is no equivalent of namespaces in prose or poetry." He's making a good point about the remarkable variety of things different people see in XML.

But, of course, there are namespaces in prose and poetry.

Once upon a time, ...

We use all sorts of cues in prose (and especially in poetry) to establish what things that come later are going to mean. Notoriously, an American war story begins with a claim to having the real, inside information:

Now, this is the straight dope. One time...

When the patrol winds up in the parlor with the priest, the prostitute, and the policeman, all hiding from the panzer, we know precisely what kind of dope we're drinking with.

This isn't genre -- it's not formal, it's not establishing the shape of the tale. It's about setting vocabulary and linguistic expectation -- it's a namespace. Same thing with dialect in poetry; when Robbie Burns begins

THERE was a lass, they ca’d her Meg

we know that we're in a different place than when Donne sets out

"Tis true, 'tis day; what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?

We're in roughly the same place here -- sex and work -- but we need the cue to establish how to interpret the simple words.

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox 2.0
August 4, 2003

Tinderbox 2.0

The major new Tinderbox release is out at last. Tinderbox 2 is even faster than before, has lots of new features for better export and smarter agents, and talks to lots of weblog tools.

All the upgrade requests have been keeping us on our toes!