August 2, 2003

More Arm-Waving

The Republicans are again trying to gerrymander Texas, the Dems in the Texas state senate have headed to Albuquerque, the Texas governor is authorizing bounty hunters to bring 'em back, and the New Mexico governor has told his state troopers to arrest any such bounty hunters for kidnapping. "Meanwhile," writes Joshua Micah Marshall, "House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the ultimate author of all this ridiculousness, is off on a tour of the Middle East where, one would imagine, he'll fit right in."

Those bright bunnies at the TSA -- the people who can steal whatever they like from your checked baggage -- are cutting back on air marshals on high-risk flights if the air marshals would have to stay in a hotel.

Meanwhile, everyone has had a field day lambasting the Pentagon's silly plan to start a futures market and terrorism gambling parlor. (Nobody seems to have mentioned that this plan, when rolled out next month, would have violated gambling and racketeering laws in addition to common sense) The same DARPA site boasts a number of other strange research projects that seem to have slipped through the radar. Genisys, for example, "will reinvent database technology" and obsolete today's relational databases -- and plans in one year to invent, code, deploy, and field-test large-scale systems that, were they possible, would dominate multi-billion dollar markets.

Mark Bernstein: Innovation
August 1, 2003


Igor Bazdyrev asks, "Does OS X make developers more innovative?", citing Clutter and Tinderbox.

The best feature of Tinderbox is Tinderbox's agents automatically scan your notes, looking for patterns and building relationships. Agents help discover relationships and help make sure important things don't get lost. Agents are easy to make and easy to modify. They're flexible and powerful.

I don't think the operating system makes developers innovative. But the Macintosh side of the world tends to be livelier for software developers right now. People tend to buy Macs with their own money, while many of the Wintel boxes are purchased with other people's money. People who invest in exciting new computers are perhaps a little more likely to invest in exciting new software.

Mark Bernstein: Hand waving
August 1, 2003

Hand waving

In today's Boston Globe, David Mamet skewers his favorite target.

Last week I was at my daughter's summer camp. The camp is found in an area long recognized as the epicenter of the silly liberal.

Its latest outrage was a display of signing during the camp pageant.

There were the kids, got up as various papier-mache deities of some hunter-gatherer group, and there was a concerned parent, signing away, merrily as a grig, to an audience of parents - none of whom were deaf.

Why, then, was this woman signing?

Mamet draws the inevitable conclusion. "She was not signing to the deaf, she was waving her arms to make herself feel good."

The question before us is not ''Who misled Bush?'' the question is how long we Americans, Democrat and Republican, will continue to engage in self-delusive behavior and call it democracy.

Mark Bernstein: Fetish Amish
July 30, 2003

Fetish Amish

Jane Pinckard describes this year's otaku craze, Fetish Amish or Goth-Lolita. (Otaku or cosplay -- costume play -- is a Japanese pop phenomenon involving elaborate costumes of media characters or other imaginary people. See also Elvis)

The creepy cuteness is meant to disturb, to provoke. The "Lolita" is alluring, but the "Goth" says you might not like what you get. The Goth is twisted, in control of herself and of the Lolita. She's a little girl, but a fake little girl, because she's actually Death disguised, decay clothed in innocent frills. This over-elaborateness is meant to be attractive and repulsive at the same time.

Reversing out the title picture spoils it, and the piece gets off to a slow start, but if GameGirlAdvance's new zine, Play, can keep this up, it will change the game world.

Mark Bernstein: Persona
July 28, 2003


Victor Lombardi has a thoughtful reaction to Marshall's brilliant Tekka essay on the abuse of personas. "Personas, unlike guns, don't shoot unsuspecting children, it requires a designer to do that "

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox Meetup
July 28, 2003

Tinderbox Meetup

Michael Wilson has opened a Tinderbox Meetup page . Go to and arrange a Tinderbox rendezvous! Wilson hopes to plan one in New York next month; I might just grab a ticket and head down.

Also on the Tinderbox front, Stephen Pieper has a nice screenshot of a Tinderbox vacation planner .

Mark Bernstein: Desktop Film For Pros
July 27, 2003

Desktop Film For Pros

New term: a Bonifer is a film, produced with skeleton crew and miniscule budget, that seeks to show what the 'real' film will be. Both Mike Bonifer and J. Michael Straczinsky have argued, convincingly I think, that we're approaching the point where this is a sensible course for professional film makers who need to show their ideas convincingly to agents and studio executives.

An intriguing Bonifer is Hangar 7, a scene created by special effects artist Yannick Dussealt.

"On a Sunday afternoon," he writes, "a group of friends and I set out to shoot the test scene in one of the studio's car parks. Personally financed, this particular scene takes place in the early 1940s, on the German military base of Peenemuende. Using a standard digital video camera, the resulting footage was captured onto the computer, to be sorted and edited into a 3 minute format. "

If you've got the bandwidth for a big quicktime movie, take a look. It sure doesn't look like a guy and his friends in a parking lot. It looks like Hollywood. Thanks k10k.

Mark Bernstein: Getting Things Done
July 27, 2003

Getting Things Done

A fresh Tinderbox application on the Tinderbox Wiki: Ryan Holcomb on Getting Things Done. (This has been a big week on doing unexpected things with Tinderbox!)

"The simple premise behind "Getting Things Done" or GTD (as best I can paraphrase after reading the introduction) is that a project consist of actionable items and you DO the actions, NOT the projects. Additionally, ala Covey, you rank projects and actions according to importance rather than urgency. Allen also urges the maintenance of an ongoing Action List as opposed to a constantly renegotiated to-do list. And that seems to be working well for me. "

Holcomb makes two key points that shouldn't get lost in the technical details:

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox, RSS, and Personal Organizers
July 25, 2003

Tinderbox, RSS, and Personal Organizers

Dave Rogers discusses an interesting technique for using Tinderbox to keep track of appointments and tasks. He then publishes the result to RSS, and reads the latest data on Net News Wire.

As it happens, Doug Miller is doing this too.

It's a great example of using different tools together to get a job done. Tinderbox's agents and spatial hypertext capabilities let you gather and organize. RSS provides net awareness, that your favorite syndicator can then put on your desktop -- or on desktops throughout your organization.

Mark Bernstein: Chair
July 23, 2003


We're thinking of buying a serious chair or two at Eastgate.

I remember reading a cautionary tale from one of the Web pioneers -- was it Zeldman? -- who ruined a hip by working too many hours in a bad chair. And Tinderbox for Windows is approaching the mountains.

Does anyone have an opinion on the Aeron vs the new Mirra chair? Are there better options?

Mark Bernstein: Mapping
July 23, 2003


Kathryn Cramer followed her new GeoURL link, and discovered it links to good, high-resolution satellite imagery. I checked mine, and discovered a rounding error in our GeoURL. Fixed now: here we are. You can see us from orbit!

Mark Bernstein: Bulwer-Lytton
July 23, 2003


The 2003 edition of this prestigious writing award is carried off by Mariann Simms.

They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white . . . Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn't taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently.

Mark Bernstein: The Ruin
July 23, 2003

The Ruin

Lisa Firke recalls her first encounter with one of the oldest of Anglo-Saxon poems.

"I first found this book while babysitting, so I was at most sixteen. The parents had a wonderful study where the wood was all oiled and the books marched up every wall to the ceiling. I don't know how I happened to notice The Earliest English Poems , a small, slender volume, but I read it straight through after my charge went to bed. "

Bright were the buildings, halls where springs ran,
high, horngabled, much throng-noise;
these many meadhalls men filled
with loud cheerfulness: Wierd changed that.

Mark Bernstein: Intern
July 23, 2003


Eastgate is looking for an intern. Challenging work. Some money.

Mark Bernstein: Comparison
July 22, 2003


One of the nice things about Ruby is that it's got an extra comparison operator. We're familiar with our old LISP friends EQ and EQUALS, which ask "are these two things the same object" and "do these two things have the same value, even if they're different objects." My new red pail is equal to yours because they're exactly the same thing, but it's not eq because it's not the same pail.

Ruby has another comparison operator, ===, which means (as I understand it) "the same thing for the purpose of argument." For example, thisObject === aClass if this object is a member of that class. This is nice semantic sugar. After all, how often do we need to compare two classes?

But it's more than sugar, as I just discovered the hard way in Tinderbox. We're polishing the new release. It's in good shape, but yesterday I noticed that something was not quite right with my weblog. Stray items were showing up in the RSS feed, and Aaron observed that my unique identifiers weren't unique. It all ties down to DateValue::equals, which I'd special-cased to make it easier to tell if two dates were on the same day.

The natural way to compare dates days "these dates are different" if they're more than a second apart. That makes sense here, but it's not what you expect if you're asking whether this note goes on Today's Page or not.

The special comparison made things better in many places, but slightly broke the XML engine. Not enough so it wouldn't run, just enough so that some dates leaked out of the weblog.

Another reason you're soaking in it is a good idea.

Mark Bernstein: Remediation
July 21, 2003


Now that I have a CD in my car, I've started using WireTap to record audio streams on my computer, burning them on CD so I can make use of drive time. (How much sports talk can anyone stand?)

This morning's feature was Samuel Becket, Your Ride Is Here, a radio play by J Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) .

The net could have interesting impact on radio theater. This is the dramatic genre where desktop television production is already here; you can put together a professionally-produced audio play without big financing. Everything is going this way; at Digital Storytelling, Bonifer said that the best way to sell a movie to a studio may be to go ahead and make it. On a shoestring. Do what you can, show it around; at that point, even studio executives will understand what you want to do. Then you get big money, hire stars, and make it again.

iTunes and the Apple Music Store change the terrain for radio drama yet again. The Straczynski drama is an audio stream, which is so 1999. It gets past the broadcast problem -- you can't broadcast things that specialized audience want -- but it's still tied to listening to the stream. What we want to do now, I think, is download the file and stick it in our iPod or burn it to a disc.

The big point here is that this is perfect for genre fiction and niche audiences -- like serious drama. Write the damn play. Meet some actors. Just do it. And the Music Store paradigm makes micropayments for this simple.

Mark Bernstein: Listen
July 20, 2003


I stumbled across Goldie Hawn (of all people) singing an amazing slow version of A Hard Day's Night. Now, this song has always been around, and the lyrics were never the point anyway, but when I get home to you, I find the things that you do make me feel all right.

And somewhere or other, Pvt. Benjamin picked up a nifty knack for ornamentation. June Tabor, anyone?

Mark Bernstein: AppleScript
July 19, 2003


I've still not found the ideal Applescript reference for professionals, though quite a few people have sent helpful suggestions.

The most common suggestion was Bruce Perry's book, Applescript in a Nutshell, which I have ordered. Lots of people also recommend MacScripter, an excellent portal.

The Apple documentation isn't bad, but much of it is trying to teach programming. The language guide is adequate but it's a catalog. I know how to program; I'm looking for the short story. The Applescript Sourcebook is a useful, advanced guide to semantics and common wisdom, but it emphasizes commands, not the language per se. Bill Brigg's MacCentral Primer is an intro-to-programming -- exactly what I don't want to puzzle through -- but it does seem well done.

Mark Bernstein: Sculptural
July 18, 2003


How can we tell stories in sculptural hypertext -- hypertexts where almost everything is connected to almost everything, where we write by removing links?

A priest, a minister, a rabbi, and a computer scienist walk into a bar.

David Mamet has a clever scheme, in On Directing Film, of moving between storytelling and jokes. Jokes, he observes, are stories -- and they're stories we tell directly, concisely, without trying to be interesting or lyrical or fancy. We can learn good technique from bad jokes.

We've got the clergy and the bartender, and maybe there's a guy drinking at the bar.

We know where we start, and where we're going to end up. The computer scientist is going to have the last word. He's got to: he's the one that doesn't fit.

The minister, the priest, and the rabbi have interesting things to say. Not the punch line, but worth hearing.

And it doesn't really matter which in order they speak -- as long as it's the right order. Tonight, maybe, it matters that the rabbi gets in the first whack. This time, maybe, it works best if the priest comes last. But, whatever we do in the middle, it's still the same story.

There was this farmer who had to sell his pig.

There was this farmer. Had a daughter. Pretty.

So we know where we begin, we know where we're going, but we can improvise a little on the road. There are limits -- you've got to know the chords, you've got to know the changes -- but you can improvise.

Mark Bernstein: Readercon
July 15, 2003


"Readercon always makes me want to write," Linda says as I'm chopping the cilantro.

"That's why they call it Readercon." I answer.

It was especially good this year to have a long talk with Kathryn Cramer, whose babe is somewhat more in arms (and less in crisis) than last year. And with Sarah Smith, whose new novel Chasing Shakespeares I am enjoying immensely. And Cathy Asaro, with whom I went to grad school and hadn't seen for a long time.

Readercon always hosts the James Tiptree Jr. Award Bake Sale to support the annual prize for science fiction that explore gender roles. (Shelley Jackson's Anatomy of Melancholy was short-listed). The Tiptree Award also supports a wonderful idea:

In addition to presenting the Tiptree Award annually, the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council occasionally presents the Fairy Godmother Award, a special award in honor of Angela Carter. Described as a "mini, mini, mini, mini MacArthur award," the Fairy Godmother Award strikes without warning, providing $1000 to a deserving writer in need of assistance to continue creating material that matches the goals of the Tiptree Award.

What a fine idea! How does it work? Do we need a Fairy Godmother Award for hypertext?

Mark Bernstein: Up To Date
July 15, 2003

Up To Date

Spring cleaning for my hard disk, it's time to update lots of utilities I use all the time. Eudora 6 is in beta, looks pretty solid, and the spam filter is terrific. LaunchBar 3.2.11 -- a clever utility that lets you invent keyphrase abbreviations for launching rarely-used programs -- starts faster and scans better, (It's also the only software I can think of from Austria) Watson has a new release. So does DropDrawers.

Keeping current used to be risky, but the equation has changed over time. It's well worth while to bne up to date.

Mark Bernstein: Eggs?
July 14, 2003


Kathryn Cramer discusses the hypertextual issues that underpin blogrolls.

I won't go into my principles of hypertextual aesthetics right now, since what I'm on about now is blogrolling and I have to pack for Readercon, otherwise I will have no clothes when I get there, but the main principles are more links are better, the best nodes are ornamented like easter eggs and I hate the encyclopedic linking style . On this last point, I've really lost the war, so most of the time I don't even try for the kind of surprising linking strategies that I most admire, since they are hard work and if done badly would really annoy people.

I'm not sure I understand the easter eggs.

Mark Bernstein: Agriculture
July 14, 2003


Tim Bray debugs agriculture.

And if the industry did shrink, and some parts of the Prairie went back to the eternally-waving grasses, and some valleys in Switzerland were filled in by forests; well, would that be such a bad thing? Particularly if at the same time the African basket-cases were struggling from the ground to their knees and maybe their feet, and we were paying less for commodity foods at the supermarket, and saving a few bucks on taxes.

Mark Bernstein: AppleScript
July 12, 2003


Is there a concise Applescript reference -- online or in print -- suitable for use by a professional? Email me!

Mark Bernstein: Lovers' Waltz
July 10, 2003

Lovers' Waltz

Strike The Band
The RSS Waltz

We just want all the software to dance.
What we write on our weblogs we want to appear
On each browser, syndicator, newsreader, and such
That our readers install. Is that asking too much?

I'm distressed to confess: we're all in a mess,
But nEcho is getting arcane,
If it's not really simple it's bound to go wrong
And we'll never get dancing again.

Now dancing's not really that hard,
But folks have their limits, their doubts and their faults.
The point's not to show that you're modern and smart,
The point is to get them to stand up and waltz.

I know that its tough, but enough is enough
And politics isn't our game.
If some folks don't like chilis, then leave out the spice
Or we'll never get dancing again.

And 'doing it right' isn't wise,
If that means the new standard has three APIs.
If it does, every system will tread
On the toes of the others. It'll come to a head.

We need to cement the consent that we meant
To secure, or we'll never sustain
The hope of community. You've got to herd cats
Or we'll never get dancing again.

We're all building with dreams and with rust.
And the faith of the writers who trust us to know
How to build things that work, made from magic and dust.
Mr. Safe is a phantom: get on with the show.

To advance, to enhance, to seize on this chance
To get everything general and neat
At the cost of complexity will lead to perplexity
And our systems will soon get sore feet.

We all want all our software to dance.
But the harder the dance gets, the more people stand
On the sides, looking on. Keep things simple and small,
Get them out on the floor and then strike up the band.

I liked Pie, my oh my, it was simple, and (sigh)
It was something we call could acclaim.
Let's go back to small, simple formats, and then
We'll invite them to dance once again.

It's a way just to say what you've said
And to tell the machines that you've said something. Plain
And simple are plenty. Just don't try too hard
And we'll soon get them dancing again.

Mark Bernstein: Guam
July 10, 2003


Guamanian Tom Strohmeyer grabbed a Tinderbox during the July 4th sale. "Hopefully," he writes, "Tinderbox will help me organize my thoughts and discrete bits of data on my computer. "

The July 4th sale sure was busy. Lots of Tinderboxes, and lots of Tekka subscribers. The 90-day subscription was popular, but lots of people opted for the full year at the usual price, anyway. Makes you wonder; should we have one-week subscriptions? Do we need 2-year subscriptions, too?

Mark Bernstein: Product Research
July 10, 2003

Product Research

Peter Merholz observes people who are trying to select a complex product -- a digital camera, a mutual fund -- and notices that they tend not to proceed in a systematic breadth-first mode. Instead, they plunge deeply into the data, then loop back to glossaries and overviews, then head back to specific products. This is our old friend, the Cycle pattern:

Websites tend to be designed rather rigidly and hierarchically, assuming visitors will be good little shoppers, and get a sense of all the basic concepts first (learn about megapixels, memory cards, battery life), then figure out their specific needs (I need a camera with 3 megapixels, using CompactFlash, that can take 50 pictures on a single charge), then find the products that meet those needs, and then choose one and be done. My observations suggest that the process is in fact much messier, and requires constant re-orientation on the part of the shopper to remember which variables are important and which qualities they want.

This is the real thing: real criticism of real hypertexts! In this case, the hypertexts are the commercial webs we all use every day -- book sites, web stores, weblogs. Very interesting....

Mark Bernstein: nEcho and consensus
July 10, 2003

nEcho and consensus

nEcho continues to fly off the rails. I'm afraid this process is broken; perhaps, irreparably. (Roger Benningfield, Doug Miller, Zeldman) In the absence of any sort of agreement on the desirability of junking XML-RPC, it seems that people decided to 'declare consensus'.

This sure ain't the consensus I learned about at a Quaker college.

The upshot of requiring every server to support three separate interfaces will be to ensure that none of the interfaces will actually be definitive. This leads, in turn, to the standard being "whatever works". People will write software to cater to bugs. People will write clients for programs, not standards.

nEcho, which launched to a chorus of enthusiasm, has managed to make almost all the people with active, shipping projects feel very queasy. At the very least, someone needs to reaffirm that the "100% vendor neutral pledge" means what it says, and that the process is not a sham. A summit, or a conference call, and some olive branches might salvage this thing.

In the meantime, the Blogging Together Alliance sets out to unite developers.

Mark Bernstein: Ribs
July 9, 2003


The core problem in barbecuing ribs (spin not, O ancestors!) is cooking them enough. If you leave them on the grill for enough time to render out the fat, they end up burnt. This is bad.

My rehearsal dinner was held at the Golden Dome Hickory Pit, as I mentioned once before. You had to say the magic words there, to get the right ribs. The magic words were "extra crispy, basted in hot sauce, with hot sauce on the side."

My former approach involved parboiling the ribs in a rich spice mixture. This reduces the fat. But you have two problems. First, you need a lot of water to parboil a rack of ribs, which means you need a LOT of chili and paprika to season the water, and spices are not cheap. This is bad. And, after you take the ribs out, you have boiled meat. This is bad, too.

New approach: slather the ribs with your secret sauce. Then wrap them tightly in tinfoil. Wrap them like you're going to poach them in the dishwasher. (Yes, my mother taught me to poach fish in the dishwasher,) I mean wrap, not loosely cover. OK?

Now, toss them on a baking sheet or whatever, and pop them into a warm (325F) oven for 90 minutes. Yes, I said 90.

Take the ribs out. Open the package (careful -- live steam!). Remove ribs. Discard the copious quantities of hot fat (careful -- the color it's extracted from the paprika is a really effective oil pigment that will turn anything orangish. Permanently. Trust me; I'm a chemist; I've done the experiment.)

Now, put the ribs on the grill. (We're barbecuing, remember -- not grilling. Indirect heat) Baste them with secret sauce from time to time. Wait 30 minutes. Turn them over. Wait another 30 minutes. Yes -- a whole hour more.

Astonishingly, the ribs were not burnt. But they were as lean as ribs can be. Very, very nice. (Thanks, Sally Schneider, A New Way To Cook, for the basic approach)

Mark Bernstein: Good Times, Tough Weekend
July 8, 2003

Good Times, Tough Weekend

Al Hawkins expected the July 4th weekend to be rough. Hawkins is a cardiac care nurse. But things went better than he expected:

...and hit the discharge button.

Ch-kow! Patient yells, arches, settles back onto the stretcher. Normal heart rhythm, color almost immediately looks better, sleeping and breathing normally. Congratulations all around along with a highly unprofessional high five or two ...

It’s always cool to be able to get to use the quick fix. Very dramatic and satisfying, even when you know of all the work that has to be done to make the repair permanent. Kind of amazing, too; to see somebody crumping in front of you and heal them with a modulated man-made stroke of lightning.

A little reminder that my profession is just like yours.

Mark Bernstein: Buffy
July 8, 2003


"How many apocalypses is this for us, now?"

I'll be part of a panel on Buffy at Readercon next Sunday. I have this premonition of, like, "it’s hard for me to say anything cool , or witty. Or at all. I can usually make a few vowel sounds, and then I have to go away."

According to the program:

you need to come hear why folks who read high-falutin' postmodern literary Readercon-correct imaginative literature widely regard BtVS as the greatest TV show ever.

Oh,dear. It's much too hot for tweed. "Things involving the computer fill me with a childlike terror. Now, if it were a nice ogre or some such, I'd be more in my element." Also scheduled: Michael A. Burstein, Craig Shaw Gardner, Connie Hirsch, Donald G. Keller, Resa Nelson .

Mark Bernstein: Contour
July 8, 2003


One "is no longer maintaining a public online presence" (as if you could ever really be "present" on the Web). The other blogs away like it's going out of style (and some can only hope). I'm referring here to Michael Joyce and Mark Bernstein, two of the most instrumental figures in what Joyce himself once described as the "earnest, even heroic" project of bringing together the "disparate concerns of scientist and humanist - without sacrificing their particularity".

David Ciccoricco offers a detailed analysis of the notion of contour in hypertext in Contour of a Contour.

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox Wiki
July 8, 2003

Tinderbox Wiki

We're putting together a new Wiki to help people learn about Tinderbox. It's still very new and very rough, and might not work out at all. But the old Tinderbox web forum wasn't working out; time to try a new approach.

I'd like to talk more about (and to hear more about!) ways to use Tinderbox in practice:

Mark Bernstein: Mystic Pizza
July 7, 2003

Mystic Pizza

When Mystic Pizza came out in 1988, Roger Ebert gave is 3.5 stars and wrote

I have a feeling that "Mystic Pizza" may someday become known for the movie stars it showcased back before they became stars.

Good call, since the old-sister sidekick is Julia Roberts. Plus, 40 seconds of kid-brother from a kid who would grow up to be Matt Damon.