December 29, 2003


Last night, before Finding Nemo and The Lady Eve and after a very nice Beef Bourguignon, Meryl made a bunch of Clotilde's lovely chocolate truffles. They were great.

Note to North Americans: Meryl reports that the ganache required rework with extra cream, and that a melon scoop is the Way To Go.

Celebration via weblogs. I wanted to get you a picture, but the last batteries of 2003 were too pooped to pop.

Mark Bernstein: Learning Tinderbox
December 27, 2003

Learning Tinderbox

Doug Miller writes a superb overview of recent discussion of the challenges and rewards of learning to use Tinderbox.

I began to realize that the Web was a poor stepchild compared to what I could do with Tinderbox. Tinderbox is closer in spirit to Vannevar Bush's Memex or Ted Nelson's Xanadu than it is to the Web. Like the Web, Tinderbox presents a whole new canvas, a new landscape of thought space. Unlike the Web, which is primarily public and collaborative, the Tinderbox landscape is primarily private and maps to my own internal thought processes.
...Herein, I think, lies the challenge for the new Tinderbox user: it's a true hypertext writing and thinking space, and hypertext, real hypertext, not the subset of it we have on the Web, requires a different, non-linear thought process.
Mark Bernstein: Booker
December 26, 2003


I'm particularly enjoying James Booker's jazz piano album, Spider on the Keys (iTunes).

iTunes makes it possible for me to run into James Booker's music. I don't go to music stores much, and rarely by anything when I do; it seems too risky. I'm not a big jazz fan, and I don't even know what barrelhouse is or exactly what stride sounds like -- and these, it seems, are the things Booker does.

The free samples at iTunes help a lot, and the immediacy helps even more. In a world where I seem to need to plan for two weeks to buy a pair of trousers, getting music has to be fast or I just won't do it.


Steve Johnson in The New York Times cites curatorial culture -- being able to exchange ideas through blogs and playlists -- as the most underrated idea of 2003.

Mark Bernstein: Tech Support Rangers
December 26, 2003

Tech Support Rangers

Saturday night. Holiday weekend.

A customer has a Tinderbox file that won't parse. They're stuck. So we drop everything, postpone Babylon 5, and fix it.

People say we have pretty decent tech support.

Mark Bernstein: Desk Drawers
December 25, 2003

Desk Drawers

Cleaning out some clutter in the desk up in my studio, I find lots of change and a few bills that used to be money, in currencies that nobody uses any more. Some of them come from places that used to be countries. Mixed into the debris are ATM receipts from banks that no longer exist and boarding cards from now-vanished airlines. All of this from the last decade or so.

What happened to the end of history?

Mark Bernstein: Lists in Tinderbox
December 25, 2003

Lists in Tinderbox

Also of interest to Tinderbox folk: a new wiki page about making lists, and John Buscall's important notes On Using Tinderbox:

I use Tinderbox as a teacher of Creative Writing. To give a better indication of how I work with Tinderbox, I thought I'd respond to a few recent requests and give an overview of how I work with this superb application
On my desktop I have an alias to a file called "CW10" which is the Tinderbox [hereafter Tbox] in which I store all the details about this course. This gives me immediate and quick access to:

Mark Bernstein: Topical feed
December 25, 2003

Topical feed

Doug Miller offers an interesting post about designing a site that offers several different news feeds, each automatically updated and covering its own topic. Tinderbox makes it easy; you just build an agent that gathers the relevant notes, sorts them, and then exports them in a special template.

Mark Bernstein: Competition
December 22, 2003


Torill makes a gingerbread house, and seven kinds of cookies. Jill makes a gingerbread house, too, and blogs a cool Parisian cooking weblog. Just back from Norwegian Christmas porridge (yum!) at Elin's. And, tomorrow morning, Dori Smith's french toast.

Alwin has cheesecake, too.

I'm glad those gingerbread people don't need to worry about the housing shortage!

Iron Chef at Hypertext '04?

Update: Now, Elin has a gingerbread house, too!

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox and LeCarre
December 22, 2003

Tinderbox and LeCarre

Pat Delaney understands why linking is so important. "First kudo to Tinderbox: It is liberating to be OFF the net while still able to link....And I don't mean within the hive. Not even within the community. Before anything else, linking within the writing, before the publication." He goes on to observe that it's not just linking that makes Tinderbox so nice for writing, but all the different ways Tinderbox lets you structure and restructure.

You can organize both hierarchically and in less tightly top-down fashion. This is all complemented by (the anticipated) ease of promotion to public viewing. (Otherwise known as blogging.) Check it out: 'Aliases are one of the most powerful tools in Tinderbox, and one of the most flexible ways for organizing your notes in ways that a hierarchy doesn’t permit. A note can have many aliases, or none.' A note, then, is a little like a le Carre character.

He wraps up with an eloquent plea for Tinderbox training.

I think Mark Bernstein offered to do a 'how to' Tinderbox session at edBlogger SF. Why, oh why why why,  didn't I take him up on it? Mark, if you come back to SF in late spring or early summer, we'll put you and yours up for free, find you workshop participants and a free workspace get you tickets to ALL the city musuems, lend you a car (or a truck) for the duration, and take you to a Bernal Heights bar that has Duval on tap. If that doesn't work, are you (or anyone else) doing Eastgate trainings anywhere anytime soon?

This is very flattering, of course, and we hear it a lot, and yes, next month we're going to announce some Tinderbox workshops. But we won't tell you the Right Way to use Tinderbox. There isn't one. And we won't tell you all the Tinderbox secrets, because they're still being discovered. Tinderbox is right at the edge of research, but it's also easy to get and easy to use.

Mark Bernstein: More Tinder
December 22, 2003

More Tinder

More intriguing Tinderbox notes: Blake Burris uses Tinderbox for CRM in the oil and gas industry, and Bob Stepno observes how Fagerjordian Tinderbox weblogs are being used to emphasize categories and themes.

Mark Bernstein: Contests
December 21, 2003


The trAce Online Writing Centre in Nottingham is running a New Media Writing Competition, with £100 prizes for various categories of articles on new media. It's good to see activity in new media, and good to see yet another journal working to encourage people to investigate possibilities and ask questions.

The place of contests and competitions in new media annals is, at best, mixed. Much of the time, you're entering a lottery where the prize is a publishing contract. In this case, by submitting work you're agreeing to buy a pig in a poke:

2. Prize-winners will be published on the trAce website. By entering the contest you agree to abide by a regular trAce writing contract, which will be provided to the competition winners and selected entrants only.

This seems a stiff price, considering that the winner will receive about twenty cents a word.

Now, economic realities might make this price the right price for trAce. But does it make sense to spend the money this way? £100 is nice, but it's not likely to change the life of the people who are likely to win this kind of prize. It's entirely possible that the money might mean a couple of tanks of petrol, or a nice dinner, or a couple of tickets to a play.

It seems to me that, if you're putting together a contest and you simply don't have any money to offer as a prize, you might be better off trying an old-fashioned approach. In the old days, you'd offer the winner a ceremonial dinner, with toasts and speeches, or you'd give them a nice piece of commemorative silverware. This would work today. Or, we might try a modern variant:

Mark Bernstein: They weren't all fools
December 19, 2003

They weren't all fools

They weren't all fools
Among the worst, and most popular, historical myths is the belief that people used to be idiots. It's always tempting for historians to fall into this because the historian knows how things turned out, and because our inner adolescents perpetually remind us of what fools are parents were.

One symptom of this mistake is sudden descent from something very interesting into unreadable politics:

Orientalism serves as a safety valve for gender friction by providing imagery for male wish fulfillment and idealization. This function was signaled early on by Hiram Power's The Greek Slave, which depicts a nude woman chained and sold into harem slavery by the Turks during the Greek War of Independence. This unprecedented sculpture came to epitomize the nineteenth century cult of pure womanhood, with its ideals of chastity, piety, and quietude.

This is Holly Edwards channeling Edward Said, and though her catalog of Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America 1870-1930 is full of delightful work, the text is often marred by this sort of carping. The artist's politics were not ours -- or at least not Said's -- and so we have to hold the artist (and the buyers, viewers, and critics who were all fellow travelers) in a certain contempt. (Edwards does do an important service in explaining why France's imperial issues were not America's, and that Orientalism in American painting does not have to mean the same thing that it meant in Paris)

They weren't all fools
Mark Bernstein,
Guantanamo Study,
Poser sketch after
The Greek Slave

But if of politics we now would speak, what were the artist's and the viewer's politics, anyway? No, the Greek Slave isn't the girl next door. If she were, this would be unbearable. Terrible things happen; art gives you some distance. Sooner or later, it is going to happen here , and it's easier to plan and to prepare if you begin by thinking about what's happening over there.

And somehow, speaking of politics, we've managed to forget that we're in New England in 1843 and we're talking about people who knew slaves, people who could (and did) say that some of their best friends had been slaves, people who were 17 years away from busting up the last, best hope of mankind and walking out of their New England parlors all the way to Georgia, in order to destroy slavery at any cost.

If you convince yourself that those old folks were fools and louts who just wanted to do the male gaze thing to the Orient, you're fooling yourself. They may have been wrong, there were lots of things they didn't know, but they weren't merely greedy simpletons and perverts.

They weren't all fools
In Carpeaux's Les Quarte Parties Du Monde (Luxembourg Gardens, maquette in the Orsay), we have four women -- Europe, Africa, Asia, and America, supporting the globe. Africa's leg is shackled, and America just happens to be stepping on her chain.

I spent a couple of hours this afternoon, sketching The Greek Slave in Poser, to sort out two different ways we're distanced from this girl. One is intentional -- she's a hunk of silicon dioxide. The other, though, is partly an accident of time. Her hair is antique, and that's a powerful source of distance. (Anne Hollander points out that, in historical movies, the stars almost always have modern hair.) And her body is antique, too; nude statues, from the Greeks on, are almost always distorted by the forces of the underwear that the subject is not wearing . (Poser has the same problem -- and it gives her the abs of a kouros -- but because it's modern we don't see it so prominently)

The unexpectedly interesting parts of this exercise in new media remediation were the hands. I wanted to change the right arm just a little, moving the girl a little away from the column and letting her put more weight on it. Hiram Powers probably couldn't do this because the marble wouldn't withstand the shear force, but we can benefit from the magic of virtuality. The Poser 5 slave isn't conscious of the corset she's not wearing, she's accustomed to jeans or skirts or to the little black dresses that Coco Chanel will invent for her granddaughter, and I wanted some muscle tension somewhere.

The left hand, I thought, was a bit of silly 19th-century nonsense. It turned out to be a headache, because small changes in gesture end up reading very differently, and I didn't want to wind up in Fleshbot. It was murder to get anything close to acceptable, and to do that I pretty much abandoned the attempt to mimic the original angles. (There's a reason you never see hands in user interface icons: nearly every gesture is obscene, somewhere)

It's a hell of a note that we're now more puritanical than the 19th century Boston Brahmins. But, let's face it, we are. Gender friction? Male wish fulfillment? The viewers were often women, the tastemakers were even more often women. Those women didn't have much political power, but they had some -- and they could easily have preferred something else. And the whole point of the sculpture is that you're obviously supposed to identify with the slave girl.

And this is becoming the sort of thing of which plain folks, in 21st century America, dare not speak.

Mark Bernstein: Losing The War
December 18, 2003

Losing The War

We could well be losing the war in Iraq.

Such is the bind that the Bush Administration has led us into in Iraq. Appalling, intolerable—in all senses, maddening—as the terrorist tactics of the Iraqi insurgents may be, their truck bombs, donkey-cart missile launchers, and sniper rifles are tactical political instruments that have steadily and systematically succeeded in isolating American forces in Iraq.

Philip Gourevitch, writing in the New Yorker, argues out that the insurgents are getting what they want, they're forcing the American army to do what they'd like it to do, and sooner or later -- probably sooner, since attention span is not one of Dubya's strongest points -- the Americans will leave. Algeria, indeed. Thanks, Talking Points Memo.

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox Kindling
December 17, 2003

Tinderbox Kindling

The new features of Tinderbox 2.1 are lighting fires under a few weblogs. James Vornov writes about Jazz and Tinderbox, and Doug Miller writes about Tinderbox Examples -- especially about multiple, topical RSS feeds.

Mark Bernstein: Editors considered helpful
December 17, 2003

Editors considered helpful

One advantage of weblogs is that weblog writers needn't have editors. Dave Winer, for example, defines the weblog as "the unedited voice of a person." Writers and editors, of course, famously resemble lambs and lions. Or vice versa.

Readers of weblogs and of edited journals know who to blame when they read something that's foolish or false. If I write something here and it's wrong, you'll find my name at the top of the page. If we publish something in TEKKA that you don't like, you know from the masthead that you disagree with Bernstein or Rau.

Academic journals often rely on peer review in place of editors. This works well in the sciences, where the most important thing -- the only really important thing -- is to get the science right. But it's a mess in the arts, and I think it's breaking down in computer science; it's just too convenient for reviewers to go along with publishing incomplete or mediocre papers, especially in Web journals. After all, nobody will blame the anonymous reviewers. If the paper is bad enough, nobody will read the paper either, so nobody will be blamed.

Of course, this quickly leads to nobody reading the journals, and shortly thereafter you don't have a field anymore, you just have a bunch of people with tenure.

Janet Walker once wrote instructions to referees that contained the core of a good idea. "Imagine that, when an accepted paper is delivered at the conference, the reviewers who recommended it will be required to stand at the side of the stage." (Some scientific journals used to require papers to have a sponsoring member who served much the same function -- I think PNAS still does this. Such systems can be conservative and corrupt, but that might be better than the building a literature that is itself corrupt.)

Mark Bernstein: Whoosh
December 16, 2003


Rosemary Simpson passes along a pointer to Keeping Found Things Found, in which William Jones and colleagues investigate ways to preserve and reuse the results of information retrieval searches.

Tinderbox is great for keeping found things found. Lots of early hypertext work, too -- especially Aquanet, a hypertext tool to hold your ideas in place!

Mark Bernstein: Sidewinder
December 15, 2003


Anja Rau's Flickwerk now has company. Frankie Chu has redesigned his tin_the_fatty weblog using ideas from Rau's "sidewinder" style of weblog, which presents as much as a year of posts on a single, side-scrolling page. (Both made with Tinderbox, which is an especially nice tool for radical web experiments)

For another interesting sidewinder design, see Mac LA van den Huevel's Radio Zen from the CSS Zen Garden.

Mark Bernstein: Loobylu
December 15, 2003


Loobylu's weblog is four years old. She writes that the weblog changed her life. "Here is what loobylu first looked like when I drew her/me a month after starting my site...Since then, she's grown a little taller and looks a lot happier." Thanks, Barbara Bean!

This use of an iconic image, representing the writer but open to change over time, is interesting in itself.

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox 2.1
December 14, 2003

Tinderbox 2.1

Tinderbox 2.1 is out. Download it right away; in addition to a bunch of nice user interface improvements, it adds Export Macros which make complicated Web export problems a breeze.

Some of the macros I'm finding most useful include:

Mark Bernstein: Line length
December 12, 2003

Line length

The usability experts tell us you must use liquid layouts when designing Web pages, layouts that adjust the line length to fit the screen.

The usability experts tell us you must use fixed width layouts when designing Web pages, because excessively long or short lines are harder to read.

Isn't that interesting?

Mark Bernstein: Hubble
December 12, 2003

Hubble in Australia assembles some impressive imagery from the Hubble telescope into a Flash movie. It's pop science kitsch, but it's good kitsch. Thanks, Norman Walsh.

Mark Bernstein: Dead Ends
December 10, 2003

Dead Ends

Dead Ends is an interactive horror anthology. Its implementation is interesting (View Source!), making extensive use of CSS for tasks that, last year, we'd have done with Flash. Plus, A List Apart this week has a lovely making of essay, Night Of The Image Map.

Mark Bernstein: Happy Birthday, Eastgate
December 10, 2003

Happy Birthday, Eastgate

Eastgate is 21 years old!

Mark Bernstein: Dr Fagerjord
December 10, 2003

Dr Fagerjord

Anders Fagerjord is finished. Congratulations!

Mark Bernstein: Print Club
December 8, 2003

Print Club

Print Club
Digital Storytelling
Sedona, 2003
Heather Champ is launching a photographic print club. For $100, you receive a monthly 5x7 print, plus a unique 4x5 polaroid pinhole photograph on your birthday.

This is a very interesting approach to reconstructing the art economy. The museum-and-gallery circuit may not be quite as pathological as the music industry's star-making machinery, but it's clearly unsatisfactory. There's no good way for people who aren't wealthy to participate. It's easy to find a good million-dollar painting, but it's really hard to find a good hundred-dollar painting.

But there are lots of painters who would be perfectly happy to make you a painting for a hundred dollars. Some of those paintings will be dreck, but some might be exactly what you'd like to have around your home or office. There's no good way for you to find them.

This is, at heart, a business problem, specifically a channel problem. Distribution channels are like conveyor belts, built to move product of a specific size. Hundred dollar images just won't fit in the gallery channel.

Perhaps, the combination of weblogs and feeds and web sites can give artists a channel. Thanks to the k10k RSS feed.

Mark Bernstein: RSS and News
December 7, 2003

RSS and News

How many people read articles in their RSS readers instead of going to the Web page? How can we find out?

Mark Bernstein: Reader's Choice
December 7, 2003

Reader's Choice

Macintouch is looking for nominees for their 2003 Reader's Choice Poll for best Macintosh software. Alwin Hawkins chose Tinderbox.

Mark Bernstein: Too much
December 6, 2003

Too much

We had so much snow yesterday, that even natives of Bergen got stuck in our driveway. Twice.

I hear that Malden got 25 inches (63cm) of snow.

Too much
my kitchen

This extra, unexpected foot of snow posed an interesting set of cooking problems. My planned Sunday morning marketing was impractical, so the menu needed drastic revisions. Who knew how many people might be unable to come? I'm thrilled that everyone braved the snow, and all made it to Malden save for poor Professor Blustein, who was stuck at Logan.

When the nice little fire on the grill turned out to be incapable of melting snow, much less cooking the turkey, I got worried. This was a mistake; I ended up building the fire too hot and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to moderate the fire with smoke chips and vent.

Years ago, I gave a memorable dinner party in a newly rented apartment where, to avoid this, I gradually turned up the oven bit by bit. This was safe, and the roasted filet was tasty, and the dinner was three or four hours late. We're always fighting the last war.

Too much
The Doctor of Weblogs insisted I blog this.

Thanksgiving is about memories, and so we wind up with too much baggage and too much food. Ritual dishes, dishes we always like, dishes we want to attempt, dishes that we always make because Aunt Hazel of blessed memory was once thought to like them. Linda and I descend from two separate traditions that separately insist on cooking too much. This time, it was:

Mark Bernstein: Kirschenbaum Plays Games
December 4, 2003

Kirschenbaum Plays Games

Matt Kirschenbaum confesses to having been a teenage gamer.

Wargames fed my interest in narrative, which in turn has something to do with why I eventually went to graduate school in English and not military history. Here, I realize, I’m treading on a raging debate in contemporary game studies (that may or may not have taken place according to the latest accounts), but my wargame experience compels me beyond a shadow of a doubt to believe that games can be, can become, narrative. A key move or assault, a well-played defense, a deft maneuver or a tenacious holding action ... would take on a life of its own as the rest of the game ebbed and flowed around its aura.

Of course, narratives like Kirschenbaum's Squad Leader vignette are precisely what people wish war games did better. I'm playing Europa Universalis II right now. It's reviewed in the upcoming Tekka, I'd abandoned it after a brief look as inept and over-complicated, and now I'm trying to reconcile my impressions. I've nursed Castille through the 15th and 16th centuries, we're all Spanish now, and we've got a nice empire in Africa and a foothold in Northern North America. It's interesting, to be sure, but it's just the bones of history. Without the stories of young Maria and her little hacienda on the prairie, what's the point?

I think, incidentally, that the theorists who are not now (and never have been) debating the question of narrative in games might want to relax some weekend and debate the question of narrative in music.

Mark Bernstein: Snowier
December 4, 2003


It's cold. There's lots of snow. And this is expected to be the first -- and lightest -- part of the storm.

Digging out the car will be a challenge. Digging out the grill will be a challenge. Challenge is a tradition. It's a traditional meal.

Mark Bernstein: DrJill/txt
December 3, 2003


Jill Walker is speaking at Brown today, and nicely summarizes her talk in advance. I can't be there today -- my car's radiator sprung a very expensive leak yesterday, and a blizzard is scheduled to roll into town any moment. It sounds like a nifty summary.

Jill and the rest of the first generation of weblog scholars took a risk; if everybody had decided that weblogs were a fad, their field would be up a creek. Instead, just as they are getting their degrees, weblogs are transmuting. When hypertext theory people ask, "Where is the interesting link structure in the Web?" this time next year, we may at last have a good answer.

Mark Bernstein: Why Porn Matters
December 2, 2003

Why Porn Matters

My niece told me, over breakfast, that "they" shouldn't permit TV stations to broadcast today's shows. The Justice Department won't bring people in Guantanamo to trial, because telling them what we think they did might inform hypothetical terrorists about what we know. Downstairs, one of the lawyers urged me to stop complaining about detentions, and the FBI's new power to secretly review your library records and online purchases; if I keep complaining, she warned, I'll wind up on a list.

Is someone in Washington channeling Orwell?

When I wrote, "it's your choice: support the Democrats in '04 or the Resistance in '06", I didn't think I was being quite this literal.

The Web world is thinking a lot about porn lately, what with Peter Merholz's endorsement of Greencine and Nick Denton's monetization move, Fleshbot.

Right now, “Porn” is what the industry calls films that don't get an R rating. Blockbuster won't let you rent them, newspapers won't advertise them, theaters won't show them. So, if a movie won't get an R rating, it usually won't get made.

It might be nice to restore 'pornographic' to its art-historical meaning -- imagery that's merely about the beauty of the flesh. I suppose that's a lost cause.

The current movie rating system is pernicious, because sometimes you'd like to make a movie that really is for grownups, that talks about things you don't want to discuss around the children. And, today, you can't.

Ratings are dangerous, too, because the people who hand out R ratings do it without rules or reason or accountability. Lately, for example, I've heard that they won't pass anything that suggests females under 21 can have orgasms. What's going to happen to us when a film can't get an R rating (and so you can't see it in theaters or on TV or rent it from Blockbuster, even if it somehow gets made) because it talks about secret American prison camps? Or portrays the American military in an unflattering light? Or advocates a criminal act, like taking a drug the FDA hasn't approved -- perhaps a contraceptive or a cancer treatment that some influential lobby dislikes?

What's to stop them?

Mark Bernstein: Fish Story
December 1, 2003

Fish Story

Finding a reject coffee grinders for $10, I bought a spare to use as a spice grinder. And then, I came home from New Jersey to discover that the store had some nice trout, but the pantry had no corn meal.

Solution: take a quarter cup of arborio rice. Put it in the coffee mill, grind it for ten or fifteen seconds. Pour the nice, coarse-ground rice flour onto a plate. Add some salt and spices. Dip the trout filets in egg, then dredge in the spiced rice meal, Saute. Better than corn meal!

Mark Bernstein: Puzzling
December 1, 2003


A really good math puzzle, implemented neatly in Flash at a soft drink promo: Think Clear. Thanks, Meryl!

I confess: I don't see how this works. Number theory, anyone?

Mark Bernstein: Flown Coop
November 30, 2003

Flown Coop

Eric Wagoner asks, "Have you heard from Jorn Barger?"

Jorn Barger, for those unacquainted with him, is the inventor of the term "weblog." For many years, he was the very model of the usenet troll. But, obviously, everyone hopes he's OK.

Mark Bernstein: Flight Risk
November 30, 2003

Flight Risk

In Esquire (!), John H. Richardson describes his quest to meet Isabella, the star of the blog-thriller A Flight Risk.  Very interesting writing. Thanks, Jorn Barger.

"I've never been amused by the thin line between reality and illusion and never really got why artists and philosophers think it's so damn interesting. It's annoying. Getting things right is hard work. You have to stop clicking and cutting and get out the yellow marker. Because rational thought is sequential, like Marshall McLuhan said. And now that I'm running my e-mails through an encryption technology called Hushmail, the runaway heiress is giving answers that must be studied,,,"

Mark Bernstein: Outliners
November 30, 2003


Ted Goranson continues his outstanding (and detailed) study of outliners in Outliner Use Patterns.

Mark Bernstein: 'tis the season
November 30, 2003

'tis the season

First snow. Incredibly ghastly traffic. Gridlock. Nasty fires in the neighborhood. Hyperactive heating systems at work.


We're hard at work, putting the finishing touches on Tinderbox 2.1 and polishing Tekka 4. Long, long winter nights.