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Notes from late December, 2001. Latest notes

The Singapore Art Museum has a very interesting show on Histories, Identities, Technologies, Spaces, with many galleries of electronic installations and net art. The exhibition is gorgeous, with lavish use of space, and it's curated with a very selective eye.

When do Web sites and hypertexts belong in art museums? A hypertext on a plinth seems beside the point, and too much concern with packaging can send us back to bibliolatry and Birkerts. Art museums sometimes seem to have lots of money (although few curators would agree!) and so might be ripe targets for exploitation by clever Web artists, but what then of people (like painters and sculptors) who really have no other hope of having their work seen, or their groceries bought?

In my case, of course, it's a blessing. I'm trying to find a distinct hypertext spirit in Singapore, and here we have a big exhibit custom-made for my research needs. It's convenient for me, but I do wonder whether this will prove, in general, the best way to spread the word.

In hypertext parlance, a Jane's Space is a part of a hypertext that you can't find in the usual, link-following way. A Web page that's not linked to your site and that's hidden from the search engines is a Jane's space; you can only get there if you happen to know the URL. Jane's spaces are named for Jane Yellowlees Douglas (it's a long story)

I recently wrote a small program that scans Storyspace documents, looking for spaces with text but no inbound links. Of 28 published hypertexts, at least 16 appear to have Jane's spaces. I knew some of these, but the overall total seems extroadinarily high.

Not long ago, I described the pile of books that totter next to my bed, clamoring urgently to be read. In the National Post, Jeannie Marshall looks at ways people cope with this anxiety. "This late in history,' what shall we choose to read? A simple calculation shows that none of us has enough time left."

"His own advice to people who feel overwhelmed by reading is to try to read for two or three hours every day. And then he laughs. "I have never been able to work out a way to do that," he says. "I do read a lot and I might read for three or four hours one day and might not be able to read at all the next."

A charming Christmas letter from Torill Mortensen on grandmothers, diaries, and memory.

I have descriptions and short notes in a long list of note-books, which I have always used while doing academic work, but I never picked up that leather-bound, gold-edged beautifully printed diary, even to write my name in it.

She mentions that her son is dyslexic. Me too -- or I used to be, anyway. A lot of computer scientists are compensated dyslexics; I spent four years in remedial reading. (Thanks, Mrs. A!)

The "yellow-brick road" is a long, twisty corridor that runs through most of the buildings on the NUS campus. Because the campus is build on a ridge, the corridor is usually high above the ground; in my building, it runs through the fourth floor.

The corridor is important because, when it's hot in Singapore, it's very very hot, and walking to class in the shade is a good thing. When it rains here, the rain means business, so walking to class undercover is important even when it's not hot.

Much of the corridor is lined with picnic tables, power sockets, and internet connections, so you can take notes or do Web research anytime you like. The internet sockets (there are thousands and thousands) may soon be replaced with WiFi (802.11b) connectivity.

The Singapore Zoological gardens take the open zoo concept about at far as it can go. Lots of animals appear to be perfectly free to go wherever they want; signs indicate that they are "conditioned" to stay within appropriate parts of the zoo. This means we're walking down a concrete path, gawking at a troop of chimpanzees doing amusing chimp schtick, when ZOOP! down the path goes a little brown furry thing that turns out to be a lemur, swiming from the shrubbery. Then ZOOP! there goes another. ZOOP! ZOOP! ZOOP! ZOOP! go the rest of the gang. Way cool.

Presumably, the free-flying peafowl know that it's OK to hang out with the gibbons, but not so cool to bother the lions. How they learn this is a mystery.

The lay of "Hrodulf, readnosa hrandeor" (Rudolf, Tundra-Wanderer), by Philip Chapman Bell. Thanks, Meryl Cohen!

A nice Jewish boy in Kathmandu seeks enlightenment on the path of the perfect Buddha. In Books.

"in spite of the arrival of the web...., the rise of multimedia, new media, net media, networked media, and nmedia, the role of a tool like storyspace remains unchanged. and all that hypertext theory and writing explored and explores remains as relevant now as it did then for teaching, learning, and critical practices." -- Adrian Miles

I've been reading a variety of Singapore web logs lately. My favorite right now is by Pearl Pan, a student here at the University. It's curiously titled "Smelling Good Today". Pan write with energy, and she paints with even more energy -- and nearly every web log entry is capped with a cartoon of her eponymous character. Just when the web journal settles down into the mundane, it takes a sharp detour:

"hey! did you know that we went to chua chu kang grave yard to plant two trees yesterday morning just before the rain started pouring there!! well, it's nick's late grandpa. he was killed by some hostesses in his 30s... sad drama right? "

Richard Lanham's The Electronic Word is probably the least well-known of the early hypertext classics. A new journal, ECi, features Lanham's superb new essay on The Future of Text.


-- Beatrice Ward

A side-effect of having my hard disk crash while I'm half way 'round the world from my backups was a forced system upgrade. It went smoothly, and almost everything works as well (or better) than before. I'm an experienced user, of course, and even then I spent several hours getting everything just right, but operating systems are big and complex upgrades.

Changing the OS seems to have broken only one application (EndNote, my footnote manager). I'm writing a lot here in Singapore. So I went ahead and downloaded the upgrade -- something I'd been putting off for some time -- and again everything went well. Not only are the problems fixed, but the application works better than before.

Investing $89 in improving a tool I use all the time is common sense. Software upgrades are a bargain.

Lou Rosenfeld has lots of intriguing ideas about Information Architecture Components -- elements "that get users to content". His newly revised taxonomy includes Browsing Aids, Search Components, Content and Tasks, and "Invisible" (infrastructural) components.

The problem here, as in the Rosenfeld's earlier book, is that the architectural elements are chiefly limited to signage -- labelling systems that identify where you are and tools for instrumental navigation. Architecture isn't about applying labels to spaces, it's about building spaces that label themselves. Louis Sullivan (for follows function) is the classic source, and he famously insisted that the windows of large buildings should indentify what happens inside them, rather than following some arbitrary Palladian scheme.

Trying to separate content from navigation is usually destructive of both. The most important content a hypertext offers is often its self-image, its mental map, the promise it offers the reader. What can I learn here? What can I buy here? Am I welcome? (Who are you? What do you want?)

Even more interesting in Rosenfeld's recent writing is a speculative combination of links and search. Morville's ideas are close to the essence of what Microcosm called Generic Links, although the actual flavor feels like HyperTIES (and, de facto, a little like Ward Cunningham's WIKI). I suspect the oldest implementation was Rosemary Simpson's Gateway, for the LMI Lambda.

Dave Weinberger speculates on some factors that contribute to Web log success. Many of his conjectures are familiar, but the final point is intriguing: do Web logs that focus on a specific topic last longer and grow faster?

There's remarkably little good information on cultivating a good Web log. There's also too little information on measuring your Web log's impact. How do you know whether your Web log is earning its keep? What should you take into account when thinking about this?

Jill and Torill have been talking about the Turing Test, and the odd way Turing poses it in terms of gender.

I think it might be a mistake to read too much into this. Turing was a genius, but also a desperately unhappy gay man who, in the end, killed himself. The gender test is idiosyncratic, but not ridiculous or pernicious as applied in Turing's paper. and most subsequent references place little weight on this particular aspect.

"OK," he drawled. "OK. So you can't be tempted. Well, bully for you. Just one last question, though. What I wanna know is this: who gives you license to sit here and decide what you know, what you think you know, is worth hearing, let alone with teaching?....What gives you the right?"

"Siddhartha reached down with his right hand and lightly touched the earth. There was a stillness in the grove, and Mara could see the eyes staring at him from all directions. Bird eyes, rabbit eyes, snake eyes, mole eyes, bug eyes, tree eyes, stone eyes, all peering at him, surrounding the Buddha, and the wind through the trees whistling."

--Jeff Greenwald, Shopping for Buddhas (Thanks, George Landow)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is broadcast in Singapore every Tuesday night, with Mandarin subtitles.

One interesting difference is that Singapore TV omits the long commercial break that follows the opening credits. This has dramatic impact because we're accustomed to the interruption. Bochco did this in one of his series a few years back, with great impact.

Once a dramatic form establishes a rhythm, small deviations can shock.

Singapore has been non-stop delicious, but we had a misstep last night, wandering into a seafood restaurant where we were simply at sea -- unable to figure out what to order, or in what sequence, how (or whether) things should be eaten.

"Nothing was virtuous." she said afterward.

"We had ma-po tofu. Tofu is virtuous."

"It was deep fried."

Gonzalo Frasca writes that "The only place where play and narrative can coexist is on the PLAY button of your VCR."

This is nicely put, and the point is well taken, but it's not quite right. (The post is dated 3:15 AM). Play and narrative coexist all the time.

Can foreplay be foreplay without narrative? I don't think so. And it's more fun with play...

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day; the score was four to two, with but one inning more to play. And when Cooney died at first, ...

Tosca once told me of a live role playing game in the streets of Barcelona. A player, seeing another gamer, shouted, "I'm going to kill you!" The opponent, surprised, headed swiftly away from the scene, pursued by Tosca, pursued by the constabulary who took a surprising interest in the affair. Everyone ran into a local establishment, where...

The artist, always a canny player, had a pair of eights and an ace showing, and when the lawyer opened his ladies with a quarter, she raised without blinking. So, naturally, I saw them both with my flush, and then ....

Have I ever told you about the time when, terrified of a brutal gym coach, I lost my shoe in the midst of a mile race and continued to run in one shoe and one sock, resulting in mass hilarity and...

The miracle of Coogan's Bluff. Ruth's shot. Merkle's boner. Havlicek stole the ball. The Immaculate Reception. Kerri Strug.

Stories are everywhere. Play is everywhere. Everything is deeply intertwingled.

A new office, mine for the month. It's a short walk from a student canteen that serves all sorts of food I can't (yet) pronounce, and three kinds of tea: with milk, without milk, and Chinese. For lunch I had a tasty Thai soup at the faculty club while discussing academic journal publishing with Prof. Allingham. Joy.

A room of one's own

Eric asked for food photos. Here's the first, a S$5 fast food lunch, the Dosa Masala meal. Lots of onions and potatoes and saffron -- which must cost less here than in Boston.

Yesterday's big task was food shopping, stocking our new kitchen with wonderfully strange new things. Linda keeps asking me, "do you know what that stuff is?" I don't, of course, but it's often stuff I've heard about (garam masala) or fairly easy to decipher. Last night, I threw together sauteed salmon with sweet Thai chili sauce, and roasted potatoes with peri-peri spice.

The wet markets look exciting. Piles of little sharks. Varieties of crabs. Shellfish I've never seen. Smoked ducks, whole. I'm still too chicken to buy much, but I'll improve in time.

At the grocery, I saw something labelled "black chicken". It seemed to be raw chicken, but was colored very dark blue-black. It was too flaccid to be tea-smoked, which is what I'd guessed; what is this?

I grew up in Chicago, rebuilt after a disastrous 1871 fire as urbs in horto, the city in a garden. Chicago was planned -- not as the new Paris and Brasilia were planned, but still with deliberation and intent, striving to build an efficient and graceful city at the edge of the already-vanishing prairie.

Singapore is only a little older than Chicago, and its transformation in many ways is no less remarkable than the growth of the City of Big Shoulders, in which individuals who settled in a sleepy six-house outpost lived to see it become the home of the World's Fair. It's greener than Chicago (though the equator helps!), and the university campus has some lovely gardens.

Cyberspace is younger, more populous, and stranger than either city. There, too, we need gardens and parks. The frontier was never a good metaphor for the net, but the bordertown and entrepot are, perhaps, images worth a closer look.

A mere 28 hours in seats 38HK, and here we are in Singapore. We're unpacked and settled, our windows overlook the university on one side and the port on the other. Our internet connection won't be installed for a day or two, but we're here.

Orchard Road is lined with 80,000 holographic mylar tubes that shimmer in the sunlight. It's an interesting effect. A few hours ago, there was snow underfoot; now I'm just a few miles from the equator and Christmas decorating requires serious tech.