Susan Gibb opens her new copy of The Tinderbox Way. Thanks.

Conn O Muineachain posts a video interview with me on NeoVictorian blogging.

Jun 08 28 2008


After the wonderful fish at a Chalandra — tiny clams in broth, a rich portuguese fish soup freshly made for us, a lovely (though surprisingly costly) grilled snapper, and a positively medieval pudding — we returned to the hotel to find great crowds gathered in the square, singing traditional songs (in harmony) and parading in mock-traditional workers' garb. Wine growers gathering grapes, bakers and their bread trays, sailors and their wenches — all singing and dancing and flirting with friends in the crowd or playing with the six-year-olds (or the sixty-year-olds) in costume parading with them.

A very impressive dinner for the program committee at Sessenta Setenta (60/70, a pun on "sit and try"). I had a tasty ceviche with a very nice vinho verde, and then a beautifully roasted rack of borrego with a lovely red blend, and then a plate of fresh cheese with a honeyed fig, a bit of honey, and a glass of vintage (!) port.

Why do we indulge in this sybaritic luxury? Of course, it's nice to thank busy scholars and scientists for taking time to read so many papers. Some of us have read twenty, and then sorted through other reviews and discussed the paper in depth with colleagues, and now of course we're about to look at every paper again. And then, of course, the inconvenience of travel is significant; I happen to like to travel, but not everyone does. And even for me, spending a long night in a middle seat, next to an infant who has boundary issues and likes to kick — well, you can imagine.

But, aside from that — and beyond the social lubrication that sharing a meal or two lends to the ideological and methodological disputes we are going to need to address to arrive at a program — conferences are held in specific places. And, if we’re going to travel to these places with our colleagues, we really ought to pay attention to their particularity. We may be coming to Porto, basically, because this is where Professor Aguiar happens to teach. But because Professor Aguiar teaches here, not Barcelona or Berlin or Bangkok or Biloxi, the wiki world is heading for Porto this September. It behooves us to experience and enjoy Porto while we're here.

Besides, the wine is really good, and the sommelier has a farm nearby and will be bottling his sparkling wine in September, and he invites us to drop in when we're in the neighborhood.

I'm chairing a meeting for WikiSym in Porto on Saturday. I'm here on Thursday, so that a plane cancellation won’t leave my meeting unchaired.

But no time or resources are wasted; the early arrivals are sampling food, tasting drinks, and discussing many esoteric topics to make sure that WikiSym will be everything it can be.

Much depends on dinner. It always does. If you think Google makes you stupid, try skipping a few meals while flying across an ocean.

For dinner, we had veal transmontane (very tasty — we kept calling it lamb— with kale and new potatoes and olive oil) and fluffy fresh cod (more new potatoes). A glass of white port with the charcuterie, and a bottle of vinho verde with dinner. After dinner we checked out a drinking establishment where we might take the conference after the banquet. Research continues: is the local beer OK? What is the aguardiente that the characters in my Portuguese mystery keep drinking? (It's distilled, it's somehwere between brandy and grappa I think, and the top-shelf brand I sampled was very good indeed) What will the band be playing? (Several amplified traditional fretted strings, from lute to bouzouki, and two kinds of bagpipes, and a front singer) What happens if it rains? How will people get there, and how will they find their hotels?

update: the link below to "Mader on WikiSym" was suggested by Tinderbox and its link apprentice. Tinderbox suggested this before I mentioned that Mader was at the dinner; he ordered the codfish. Sometimes, the link apprentice is too smart for its own good.

Writing in the July/August number of The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr asks whether Google (and the Web) are making us stupid (or, rather, inattentive and distracted).

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Short answer: don't be silly. Thanks for playing.

Dept. of “What were they thinking?”: Carr finds it harder, lately, to read long articles and long books.

I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

Carr, who is rapidly approaching 50, has obviously forgotten what it was like to be in fourth grade. Kids talk like this all the time. They can’t concentrate. The book is boring. Those girls are making too much noise. There’s gonna be a ball game in the park at 3. Is it 3 yet?

Carr’s forgotten what it's like to be young, and look up at old people — your parents are likely to supply good material — and wonder what they do with their time. When I was in college, I used to wonder about this: my professors, for example, knew a lot more than I did, but they were also a lot older. In the previous four years, I'd learned the rudiments of three or four languages: how come none of them spoke a dozen? They'd read a lot more than I, but it didn’t really seem to be twenty or forty years worth of reading, not at the pace we were getting used to at Swarthmore. What was wrong with these people?

What was wrong, of course, is they had kids. And jobs. And some of them were tired. Some of them were bored now. Some of them wanted to go dig ditches or design cities or write. Some were old, some ill, and some were distracted by one thing or another. Life gets in the way. And there are other things worth doing — even I admit that. Sometimes, you need to put down the book and pick up the girl.

If you’re done with school and you don’t want to read Little Dorrit today, you don’t have to. There won’t be a test. Just don’t blame Google.

Roger Ebert discusses the challenge of reviewing Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl's notorious masterpiece.

Whether it is truly great or only technically qualifies because of its importance is the question. As faithful readers will know, I have been avoiding this particular opportunity with dread. I felt it would involve grappling with the question of whether evil art can be great art. Since moral art can obviously be bad art, the answer to the flip side would seem to be clear enough, but it took me a fearsome struggle to thrash out 'Birth of a Nation,' even though many more excuses (of time, place and context) can be offered for Griffith than for Riefenstahl.

Meanwhile, we're getting ready for The New Knowledge Forge a one-day colloquium on wikis, links, and social software next Monday in Porto. J. Nathan Matias will be talking about “Ethical Explanations: Creative Approaches to Software Documentation”, asking how we ought to document the ethical and social questions of software.

George Landow will speak on Moving Beyond The Hammer of the knowledge forge. I'll be talking about my NeoVictorian program and especially about nobitic information gardening — the knowledge sickle. And Stewart Mader (WikiPatterns) will be there too. It’s open to the public — and surprisingly inexpensive. You can pop into Porto from all sorts of places — England, Ireland, France, Germany — for almost nothing. Join us!

Ebert ☙ Criticism ☙ Morality

We're getting ready for the Program Committee Meetings for WikiSym.

Reviewing Conference Papers

Assembling the program for a research conference is a complex and serious matter; careers sometimes hinge on whether or not a paper is accepted, and I think it is quite common for a single year’s program to significantly change the direction of an entire field.

Despite its importance to research — especially in computer science, where conferences often replace journals as the primary medium — people don’t write much (or teach much) about refereeing. In the process of preparing for WikiSym — which has an unusually eminent and diverse program committee — I wrote some notes on the purpose and process of Reviewing Conference Papers (pdf). I've lightly adapted this draft for general use; your suggestions and additions will be very welcome.

Update: The download link now has the advantage of, well, working.

Susan Gibb wonders what took her so long.

Jeremy at explores software as craft.

At the end of the talk, Greg asked a few people if they’ve ever written software that they’re proud of, and I could tell from the blank stares in the room that no one was able to come up with anything of significance.

Hypertext '08 conference chair Peter Brusilovsky just paid a lovely tribute to Tinderbox in his ex tempore remarks opening today's session on social linking. He wanted to announce a Tinderbox demo during the coffee break this morning, observing that Tinderbox is "a lovely implementation of spatial hypertext" and wished that more ideas from this research community had been implemented as effectively.

A growing problem in our world of computing is the disconnection — perhaps even hostility — between research and development. People who build software systems and brands listen less often to research; Adapative Path CEO Peter Merholz recently observed that

The moment an academic takes the stage, the conference screeches to a halt.

I think we’ve got to fix this.

Some interesting outdoor applications of Tinderbox are being discussed today in the Tinderbox Forum.

First, a new Tinderbox fan uses Tinderbox to brainstorm a camping trip. Here's the improvised Tinderbox map, courtesy Skitch. On the one hand, the application is just for fun, but it’s also a real challenge: collaborative planning for multiple participants over time and space constraints is not an easy management challenge. It's nice to see how well Tinderbox supports an improvised agile-ist solution.

The Tinderbox Gardening discussion is flowering again Rafter T. Sass explains:

I use Tinderbox for ecological landscape design. I've entered a few hundred plants into a TBX file, with User Attributes for everything from human uses (like food, medicine, or coppice) to habitat and native range, to ecological function (like N-fixing, groundcover, insectary, etc.) to soil pH, light and moisture preferences.

I've used the amazing Edible Forest Gardens, Vol II, by Dave Jacke, as my main source for plant info.

Then I create custom agents for different site characteristics, and use the results to create polyculture guilds, with every ecological function taken care of by at least one plant species, and some food and medicine produced to boot.

Again, we might at first think this a fairly simple, casual application — the sort of task that leads some of my colleagues to believe that people mostly need simple software because "most people have simple needs." If you give people tools that let them address hard problems, they’ll take on the problems. If you don’t, they’ll just mow the lawn, or they’ll let the damn garden go to seed.

Steve Ersinghaus put together a superb hypertext writing workshop with a fascinating range of talks — including hyperdrama and hypertext dance. Detailed blog coverage from Dennis Jerz.

Let's suppose you have a Tinderbox document that has some notes about customers. And those customers have addresses. You might like to be able to locate the customers on a map — and nowadays, there are plenty of nice Web 2.0 services like Google Maps that will draw you nice maps. But, generally, you'll need to know the latitude and longitude of the customer, and what you have is an address.

This is, I think, a nice example of how you can use Tinderbox to talk to all sorts of Web 2.0 services — especially those with RESTful interfaces.

Converting an address to geographical coordinates is called geocoding. Google Maps has an API that does this for you; here's how we can let Tinderbox do all the work.

Step 1: you'll need to sign up to use the Google Maps API, and get a free "key" — a long code string that identifies you to Google Maps. (This lets Google figure out what's going on when someone's runaway program starts making millions of requests.)

Step 2: We'll make a container to hold configuration information — user names, passwords, stuff like that. Call it config. In that container, add a note to hold the API key. Call it key, and paste the key Google assigns you into its text window.

Tinderbox Geocoding

Step 3: We might need to add some user attributes, if we don’t already have them. We’ll want an address (a string), as well as latitude and longitude, which are numbers. We'll also make a prototype called place, and give it some suitable key attributes.

Tinderbox Geocoding

Step 4: We'll make a place or two, and enter addresses. I chose Eastgate’s offices, the White House, and Julia Child’s former apartment in Paris.

Step 5: Now, we’re going to write an agent that asks Google to figure out the address’s latitude and longitude. This is a lot of work; we don’t want to ask Google to do it over and over. So, our agent looks for notes for which we don’t already have this information:

Query: Prototype=place & address!=""&RawData=""

That is, we want all the places that have an address to look up, but for which Google hasn’t yet provided any data.

Step 6: Next, we send Google a request to look up a Web page with a really long and complicated URL like this:

URL=" key"

To do this, we ask the Unix program curl to run itself, getting the URL you want from stdin: "curl -K - ","url="+$URL.

Why not just put the URL on the command line, as we usually do with curl? Because the shell treats ampersands specially, and I don't want to get tangled up with escaping the ampersands.

So here's the agent's action:

Action: URL=""+urlEncode($address)+"
&output=csv&key="+$Text(/config/key) ;
RawData=runCommand("curl -K - ","url="+$URL)

In the first step, we assemble the URL we want to send to Google; the second step sends it to google and stores the result in RawData. That result will be something like the following:

200, 8, 48.860642, 2.319756

The first number is the error code; 200 means all was well. The second number estimates how accurate Google thinks the results are; 0 means Google has no clue, and 9 means that Google knows exactly where the address is located. The third number is the latitude, the fourth is the longitude.

Step 7: Finally, we want to extract the latitude and longitude from RawData. This is a piece of cake! We make a second agent that looks for places that have already received data from Google but don’t yet have a latitude:

Query: Prototype=place&latitude=0&RawData((.*),(.*),(.*),(.*)$

The last clause looks for places that have several comma-separated values in RawData. Finally, the actions are easy: we put the third value in latitude and the fourth in longitude.

Action: latitude=$3;longitude=$4

And we’re done. Now, we can pass these latitudes and longitudes to stick pushpins on maps, or calculate how far apart the addresses are, or whatever else we need.

Here's 81 rue de l'Université, Paris 75007 France ( 48.8606 N, 2.31976 E)

Tinderbox Geocoding

If you want to try it yourself, the file is here — you’ll need to enter your own Google Maps Key.

Delicious: ht08

Questions? I'm going to be at Hypertext 2008 this week. I'm especially looking forward to the writing workshop. If you’re in the area, stop by and ask in person. If not, email is fine, but answers might be slightly delayed. Or try the Tinderbox Forum.

Cathy Marshall gets a good seat to see Josh Kornbluth interview Ben Katchor.

Ben Katchor live and off the page! Josh Kornbluth live and on purpose! All this, and dessert too.

Of course, sitting in the fourth row does not ensure that the fellow sitting in the third row won’t turn out to be seven feet tall, with preternaturally good posture. Customary Marshall hilarity ensues, and (surprisingly) I end up playing a bit part myself.

Anja Rau ( is intrigued by wiki mystery 2. If to name is to link, how do we link ironically, or lyrically? She argues that feints are possible in wikis.

But irony is all about breaking the rules, saying the improper(*), taking an unexpected turn. Especially in longer pieces, the unexpected turn will be taken somewhere along the road, perhaps at the very end, but rarely in the very beginning. Thus, a seemingly ordinary wiki-link that leads to a page titled according to the link’s name, may not be ironical at face-value, but if the article at its target is ironic towards its title, isn’t the link?

This needs more exploration, I think — and perhaps this needs demonstration in actual wikis. But it's a promising line to pursue.

The footnote raises another facet of wiki mystery 2: if to name is to link, how do we handle linguistic drift in multi-language wikis. Rau glosses improper:

(*) In German, the mathematical term “improper” translates into “uneigentlich” and the adjective “uneigentlich”, as in “uneigentliches Sprechen” is also used to characterised ironical speech-acts.

The impropriety of an “improper fraction,” or the fantasy of an “imaginary number,” may not travel well across languages. This is always the bane of translation, but surely it will be much worse in wikis with large-scale structure. If the payoff to an ironic allusion appears two or three links downstream, what are we to do in other languages that don’t happen to combine the same meanings?

Elsewhere, Tom Hoffman agrees that the wiki encyclopedia just now seems discordant with the intellectual trends. “The whole idea of an encyclopedia,” he writes, “seemed antiquated. It is an enlightenment idea, certainly not a post-modern one.”

Wikipedia isn't a typical wiki. Indeed, in WikiMystery 1 I asked whether MediaWiki, its software, still has WikiNature. But Wikipedia is a very big wiki, and so it naturally is sometimes the first to encounter problems of scale and governance that will eventually confront lots of wikis. It's a test case, in the way that Ward's Wiki was a test case for wikis back in the day.

A problem with Wikipedia as a test case is that some of its core principles are probably incoherent, but there seems no good way to fix them. The whole notion of the universal encylopedia is one example: Wikipedia bursts triumphantly on the scene just as everyone had pretty much abandoned hope for the memory of Mortimer Adler's grand project to revive the encyclopedia. Everyone compares it to Brittanica, but few people remember that Brittanica’s last hope was Adler’s fresh arrangement, the ill-fated 15th edition, which debuted in 1974 to no great acclaim.

Second, there's the whole question of NPOV, the Wikipedia rules about "neutral point of view." Obviously, without NPOV you'd fill Wikipedia with advertisements and polemics and propaganda; NPOV is a useful club with which to chase the cranks and the cooks. But the New Journalism is about to celebrate its fiftieth birthday, and I think it's been a full generation since people really believed that a neutral point of view was either possible or desirable.

Third, the tradition of anonymous editors means that a zealous high school student carries the same weight in any subject as the world's leading expert — and the world's leading experts, when they participate, must write everything — including their editorial memos, sources, and rationales — in terms the high school student will find convincing.

And then there's the doctrine of Notability.

If a topic has received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject, it is presumed to be notable.

The defenders of Notability are the legions of deletionists. They see themselves as defenders of wikipedia from vanity and advertising, and from children who want to add their little rock band to Wikipedia. But it's hard to distinguish things are are not notable from things that you simply know nothing about. Tim Bray points this out without mincing words:

Deletionists are knuckle-dragging droolers, walking vacant spaces, and as a side-effect generally, well, what’s the word I’m looking for? “Wrong.”

I think that the problem with deletionism is not that it’s wrong; in my experience, deletionism is often dishonest. Mildly controversial engineers and academics, and niche companies and products, get deleted in what is essentially a political contest — one that is notionally open and transparent, but that in reality is conducted by a cabal. In the case that roused Bray's ire, "Guest9999" apparently decided to delete the page of a well-known pseudonymous writer on the Ruby language, taking a moment away from editing pages on Harry Potter and on “The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader.”

A side effect of deletionism is that anything covered in celebrity magazines and dimestore tabloids — minor actors, retired Asian porn stars — winds up as notable because it's been covered in mainstream media. Important businessmen? Prominent scholars, engineers, scientists? It can be a dice roll.

On the whole, this has been a rough year for Wikipedia governance, beset with flaps and minor scandals. I suppose Wikimania is the place to address the problen (good luck with that); the broader WikiSym conference includes lots of wikis that have tractable management strategies: a corporate blog, for example, can decide whether a page’s value exceeds its storage cost.

But the underlying issue remains: to the extent that wikis reduce the role and diffuse the responsibility of authorship, what principles should regulate relations between writers? The Wikipedia principles attempt this, but can we believe them? And if we don’t believe them, are they more than the law of force, cloaked in rhetoric?

Roger Ebert sometimes talks about movies that rely on The Woman In Peril; when you need to ramp up the tension, do something frightening to the female lead. (I can't find the pertinent Movie Glossary entry. Fie!)

Juno is a screenwriter in peril movie. The witty script makes you identify with the writer, and the plotting is constantly skirting the edge of a precipice. Every major plot point turns on a scene that you know will be trite and predictable and much too long. And nearly every time, the scene unfolds along the lines you expected, but not quite that way — and it always veers away from the terribleness you expected.

Harold McGee has a blog, and explains why white pepper sometimes develops nasty flavors. Short version: they ferment away the fruit and keep the seed, and when you ferment barrels of fruit outdoors in the tropics, sometimes things get out of hand.

Eric Ripert, simultaneously, blogs about why he likes white pepper. Meanwhile, Ruhlman's reminding us that chilli peppers are spelled with a double 'l' (a borrowing from Nahuatl.

by W. E. B. Greffin

Continuing a review of the historical novel, I dipped again into that guilty pleasure, W. E. B. Griffin. He’s not Patrick O'Brian, but Griffin can write a bit, he keeps a rein on his politics, and he has a knack for sketching memorable characters with short touches of dialogue. Like O'Brian, but running against genre, Griffin writes war stories in which the war is almost always offstage, even though he’s never very interested in those who only stand and wait.

Jun 08 12 2008

Section Hiker

Philip Werner is systematically hiking the Long Trail, part by part. Here’s Clarendon Gorge to Bromley Mountain.

This is, I think, a really interesting example of pro blogging done well, designed to give value to advertisers and readers alike without making either party feel like a fifth wheel.

Jun 08 11 2008


Yesterday, I repaired some breakage in the timeline that decorates my list of recent talks. This led to a fresh visit to the SIMILE project at MIT, which produces some nice AJAXy widgets.

Today, I ran up a quick demonstration of using Simile Timeplot with Tinderbox to embed time series graphs in Web pages, with live data fed straight from your Tinderbox document.


In the example, the number of posts for each month is automatically gathered, formatted, and exported in a handy form that Simile can read.

I'd love to hear about other projects like this, whether for gardening, for the quantified self, or for something completely different. Would a screencast be useful? A webinar? A workshop?

In the Tinderbox Forum, Andreas Vlach kicks off a sudden flurry of interest in Tinderbox for planning your garden. "The notes for the plants contain also information about when to seed/plant/harvest etc. them, which is then used by agents to give an overview of the monthly work to be done."

Tinderbox Gardening

Michael Kamber, a news photographer, reviews a digital camera (the Leica M8), comparing the tool to his needs. He discovers some important shortcomings, but that's not the point: neither you or I are shopping for a camera to take into a war zone next week. The design issues he raises, though, are fascinating to consider.

  • You can trip the self-timer (which you seldom need in combat) on the edge of your flak jacket (which Kamber often needs in combat). As a result, when you need to get a picture, you may find the camera patiently counting down the self-timer interval.
  • Because the controls aren't recessed, it's easy to accidentally activate a button as you’re running. This is especially awkward if you’re on a night patrol and the button activates your LCD display.
  • Low light matters. I think this is the most common oversight in everyday cameras for the tech crowd: pixels are nice, focus is nice, but using all the available photons is what really makes a difference. “In Iraq”, Kamber writes, “I have shot hundreds, possibly thousands, of frames of soldiers by the light of a streetlight or by flashlight.  Raids are also dimly lit; Iraqi homes frequently have a single bare lightbulb or a small florescent strip to light a room.”
  • Small differences are not always small. A quiet camera is a nice thing, but for most people it's not a huge consideration. (Indeed, the camera phones generate artificial noise to deter creepy people from sneaking shots where they're unwelcome.) For a journalist, though, “unobtrusiveness may mean the difference between getting the picture or not, or even getting home safely or not.”
  • Time expands and shrinks. This comes every few weeks in tech support: people will say things are “really slow”, but neither you nor they know just how slow they are. “In any breaking news situation, seven seconds is an eternity.”
  • Some ergonomics matter more than others, but it’s hard to know which ones will be crucial. Kamber observes, for example, that being able to discretely swap flash cards makes a big difference. “In Baghdad I frequently cover the scenes of car bomb.  It is illegal to shot these scenes until they are completely cleaned up, and the Iraqi police frequently confiscate flash cards and cameras if they see us shooting.  Occasionally a photographer is beaten bloody.  One of the ways around this is to try to sneak a photo and have a spare SD card to swap out; the police end up confiscating a blank card and the images are safe in your pocket.” Do you think this came up in a design review? Me neither. 

Books about Good Design make it seem that the designers of successful products simply thought things through, while the people who made other things were idiots and scoundrels. That’s sometimes, but not always, the case. You can’t optimize everything, and I think it’s hard to know in advance what people will do with whatever you make.

by Alice Waters

I fancy that, in the introduction to this inviting volume, we hear an echo of Isak Dinesen's "I had a farm in Africa."

My delicious revolution began when, young and naïve, I started a restaurant and went looking for good-tasting food to cook.

The restaurant was Chez Panisse in Berkeley, the year was 1971, and the revolution was complex. The first part is now well known: Waters found that she couldn't buy the ingredients she wanted and, unlike American chefs before her, she wouldn't make do with substitutes or imports but built a network of growers who cultivated produce and raised meat specifically for her. Nor was she content with simply getting great ingredients to her restaurant: she lobbied everyone else in sight to do the same thing, and to patronize the same growers, and so the growers made more money and their neighbors began to emulate them. Out of her kitchen, she set up a series of former employees as bakers and suppliers. And, while she was at it, she made her kitchen the training-ground for a generation of American chefs and restauranteurs, many of them pioneering female chefs, and they went on to transform the industry Unless you know the story, that line about "my delicious revolution" could get lost.

This manifesto masquerades as a recipe book in two sections. First, we have about 30 pages of introductory essays: what to have in your pantry, what to keep in your kitchen drawer, what to cook. These essays are lively and engaging reading for any cook, and they can open your eyes. Waters is the Prophet Of Fresh, but after explaining what staples you absolutely need in your pantry (garlic, onions, shallots, celetery, carrots...), she takes time out to list about fifty dishes you can make using nothing but the stuff you have in your pantry — dishes you can make for dinner when you just couldn't manage to get to the store. It's terrific to be reminded of what you can do when you have nothing to cook tonight: whip up some carrot soup, a cheese souflée, roast shallots, and finish with lemon curd or butter cookies, and who would know that you couldn't be bothered to shop?

The second section of the book discusses "foundation" recipes, exploring food groups and styles through a few exemplary recipes. We start, characteristically, with salads: how do we make a decent salad? The breads, broths, beans, pasta, and on to baking, satueeing, braising, poaching, and grilling. The book then concludes with hundred and fifty pages of recipes that can be treated more concisely because the foundations have been covered.

This volume, then, is a mirror to the new Ruhlman: where The Elements of Cooking supplements some essays with a glossary, The Art of Simple Food supplements some essays with a recipe book. In both cases, the author (or their editors?) are trying to hide those unpopular, unsalable essays in a more palatable and familiar melange. In both cases, I think, the essays are by far the strongest point. The foundational arguments can be done as well by Sally Schneider (The Improvisational Cook ), but only Waters can tell us about her delicious revolution.

by Edmund Morris

In 1908, as he prepared to leave the White House after seven extremely popular years, Roosevelt convened a national conference on Conservation to address the deterioration of the environment. “We should not forget,” he said in the opening keynote, “that it will be just as important to our descendants to be prosperous in their time as it is to us to be prosperous in our time.” At lunch, he was delighted to talk with The Great Commoner, William Jennings Bryan, who personified the Other Party (and who would run and lose, once more, in the upcoming election). The two got along famously; Roosevelt still lived in a world where Republicans were reality-based and if the environment was not yet much of a Democratic cause, everyone could see the importance of preserving forests and waters and minerals would hold for the future.

At the start of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt created a new synthesis of American politics — an energetic, reform-minded, and conservative Republicanism. He was terrifically popular and surprisingly successful, and when he left the White House in 1908 it seemed that the Republicans would continue to be the party of Progress, leaving the Democrats the sad consolation of the solid South, the religious crazies, and a few anti-government tycoon extremists. Roosevelt's future took a century to unfold, and required the other party will pick up the banner his successors cast aside in the early twentieth century and tried to trample underfoot in the first years of the 21st.

Of special interest to hypertext readers and writers, don't overlook the writing workshop at Hypertext 08.  It's on Thursday, June 19, in Pittsburgh, and it's got a terrific program.

Stick around for Hypertext 08 on Friday and Saturday, and then on Sunday drop in on Tinderbox Day Pittsburgh — now in cooperation with the Hypertext Conference.

Tinderbox day attendees who are also attending Hypertext '08 save $50 on Tinderbox licenses, household licenses, and upgrades. Register here.

Now available from Netflix, this indie film is all Julie Delpy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset). She wrote, directed, produced, composed, and sang. As Ebert says, "When a woman takes that many jobs, we slap her down for vanity. When a man does, we call him the new Orson Welles.”

I've had my eyes on this Rick Bayless recipe for some time, because the technique seems so completely improbable that I came to suspect it might actually work. This is a very free adaptation of the sort of outdoors tropical cooking that you really can’t do in your backyard — the sort of cooking that begins with spades and machetes and ends with lemon leaves.

But this turns out to be really easy, and good.

We begin with an tinfoil roasting pan that we're going to nestle between the coals of our Weber grill. But, instead of using it just to catch and discard grease, we fill it with three very nice carrots (diced), a biggish white onion (small diced), a few Yukon gold potatoes (large diced), , about ten cloves of garlic (peeled) and about a quart of water.

Over this bowl of soup-to-be perches a lamb shoulder roast. Salt it really well before it goes on the grill. At either side we have hot coals, and some soaked hickory chunks. The whole thing is covered and the fire is kept on the low side of moderate, and it all goes for a couple of hours. My fire was excessively moderate, and so it was like three hours. You're taking the lamb shoulder all the way to well done -- 170°F or so. From time to time, add water to the pan, and add coals to the fire.

When the lamb is done, you take it off the grill and let it rest for twenty minutes. Then you pour the soup and vegetables into a pot, rush it into the kitchen, separate out the fat (there is less than you'd think), add about 3/4T of salt, one minced chipotle, and a handful of chopped cilantro.

And so you can sit around the fire and sip cups of this really tasty, smoky soup, eat hunks of this tasty roasted lamb (I made a bowl of tomatillo-chipotle salsa which played the role normally played by barbecue sauce), and drink lots of beet.

I've put a lawn sign up on this blog's main page.

Hilary Clinton would have made a fine candidate and a fine president. She may still make a fine candidate and a fine president, someday. But not today.

Decades have passed since we had a presidential candidate as promising and as exciting as Barack Obama. When he wins, he will have the greatest opportunity to restore the United States since FDR's first term. And, after this reign of Republicans, he will need every opportunity of we are to avoid disaster and repair our dishonor.

I'd like to urge you to add a lawn sign to your weblog. Sure, it's probably bad for business. Sometimes, you accept that important things outweigh marketing strategy. This is one of those times.

Today, we know how to use wikis to compose an encyclopedia, or a collection of programming patterns, or an employee handbook. But there's a lot we don't know. (Or maybe it's a lot that I don’t know, and you do. That's why I'm writing these Wiki Mystery tales.)

For example, how do we write a wiki narrative that extends over many wiki pages?

Homework: write a narrative account of a historical or fictional event as a collection of wiki pages. You must spread the narrative across the wiki — don’t have the story on one page and lots of annotations elsewhere. Nor should you take the one-page story and merely split it into segments named PartOne, PartTwo, and so forth. The wiki structure should contribute the the narrative organically; don't reformat a conventional narrative.

This ties to Mystery Two: if to name is to link, how do we link to moments in time? And, if to name is to link, how do we preserve narrative direction when each mention of AbnerDoubleday or JuliusCaesar takes us to the same place?

I have some ideas of ways it could be done, but I'm not sure how well they’ll work — or whether the problem has better solutions.

Update: Morbus Iff sends a link to Ghyll — a wiki game that offers a strange combination of the encyclopedic and the narrative. Based (I think) on a role-playing game proposal called Lexicon, bu Neel Krishnaswami.

Rick Perlstein (Nixonland) reminds us just how important Obama’s nomination is, by going back to Paul Douglas’s last campaign for the senate. Douglas held the seat that Obama now occupies; from 1948 on he was a liberal lion who fought indefatigably for civil rights against a Democratic Party that was still in thrall to the solid south. Perlstein opened up box 722 of the Douglas archive — the letters he received about Open Housing in Chicago, the hottest of hot topics in that hot summer.

They are filled with frightful racism. The mildest letters would make a modern Republican blush today. But that is how people felt, and so the working men and women of the cities began a forty-year embrace of the Republican cause.

This was The Backlash. And today, at last, it is over.

Here is the fundamental tragedy of the backlash: Voters like this empowered a party that decided they didn't need protection against predatory subprime mortgage fraud. Didn't need affordable, universal health insurance; made it easier for companies to rape their pensions; kept on going back to the well to destroy their Social Security; worked avidly to shred their union protections. Fought, in fact, every decent and wise social provision that made it possible in the first place for mere factory workers to live in glorious Chicago bungalows, or suburban homes, in the first place.

Now a black man from the city King visited in 1966 and called more hateful than Mississippi is running for president, fighting for all those things that made the mid-century American middle class the glory of world civilization, but which that middle class squandered out of the small-mindedness of backlash.

Let’s have a Tinderbox Day in Pittsburgh on Sunday, June 22.

Theme: Building With Tinderbox: using Tinderbox as a foundation. I’m thinking of things like:

  • Getting started with Tinderbox
  • Writing a screencast script with Tinderbox (export templates; working with word processors and layout tools)
  • Moving information through Tinderbox (from spreadsheets, into XML, and on to visualization tools)
  • Hooks for extending Tinderbox; opportunities for experimentation and collaboration

Have an idea for a session? Want to reserve a space? Email me.

You can register here.

When exporting to HTML, Tinderbox converts a whole slew of characters to HTML entities. Your curly quotes will stay curly, and won't generate mysterious black boxes in Windows or Linux. Your trademarks™ will be preserved and your © copyrights reserved.

But perhaps there’s an entity you want to use, that Tinderbox leaves alone. You might use a macro. I say ^do(check) and you see ‘✓’. But perhaps that's too ugly. You could tell us what you need — we’re usually happy to add new entities that people fine helpful — but perhaps you need this today.

Here's how to do it yourself: add an HTMLExportCommand to filter the exported output. One correspondent needed to export the character Δ (option-J), which can be encoded as Δ or Δ . An HTMLExportCommand that does this is simply:

perl -pi -e 's/Δ/Δ/g'

Perl tends to be cryptic, but this is easy to follow. The "s" means we want to substitute one string for another. The string we're looking for comes between the first two slashes, and its replacement comes between the second and the last slash.

But who I was, or where, or from what cause,
Knew not; to speak I tried, and forthwith spake;
My tongue obeyed, and readily could name,
Whate’er I saw. — Paradise Lost VIII.269-71

Slightly revised to remove some unintended condescension. Sorry. One of those days.

The archetypical WikiLink creates and summons a page by writing its name. If the page doesn't exist, the wiki makes one. Following the link brings us to the page. What could be simpler?

One consequence is that links on wikis tend to be nouns, noun phrases, or commands. In Ward's wiki, this led to the characteristically polemic style of the Patterns world in which scriptural chapters have names like "YouArentGonnaNeedIt" and "AdoptUnitTests". Because the link always leads to what it names, wikis are attracted to transparent sincerity: what you see is where you go, and what it means is just what it says.

Another consequence is that it's hard to use links ironically, lyrically, or metaphorically in a wiki. A link to SomePage goes to that page; it can't easily lead to a commentary or a rebuttal or an alternative or an analogy or an anecdotal illustration of your point. You can use richer markup to effect feints, but as the markup grows more complex, the site becomes less and less like a wiki.

Therefore: wikis are hypertexts, but they tend to confine themselves to a restricted hypertext rhetoric.

If this were true: If these arguments were true, we'd expect wikis to thrive in pedagogical environments, where clarity/brevity/sincerity rule the day and where irony and lyricism might confuse students. We’d also expect wikis to thrive in areas where meanings ought to be univalent, such as product reviews, employee policy handbooks, and project management reports. On the other hand, we'd expect wikis to be less suitable for fiction, poetry, scholarship, and science.

Arguably, these expected consequences are what we observe in the field.

Discuss. (This is the second in a series of wiki mysteries — challenges to the wiki and hypertext community. The first wiki mystery asked whether MediaWiki, the foundation of Wikipedia, is really a wiki.)

by Edmund Morris

I've got a problem. Perhaps you have the same problem, more or less. It's been going on a long time. I can't find a solution.

I'm currently in the middle of Edmund Morris' Theodore Rex. It's a fine book. I need to read up on the turn of the century, because I might want to write something next year. Behind that, I've got two biographies of Jane Addams, who was a childhood hero and about whom I have learned approximately nothing since second grade.

I've got to read Cory Doctorow’s new novel, Little Brother, because Kathryn told me to. I’ve got to read Sarah Water’s Affinity, because George told me to. I’ve got to read Michael Bonifer’s Game Changers, because he’s a really interesting guy with a really interesting background and I really want to see what he's got to say for himself.

I'm already in the middle of Chip Conley’s Marketing That Matters. because Peter told me he’s a really smart fellow, even though Peter wanted me to read Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow which I expected to irritate my allergy to pop psych. I’m already in the middle of Stewart Mader’s WikiPatterns, because it's said to be the best book about growing a wiki.

And Linda just spent a semester studying with Niall Ferguson. I ought to read The Pity of War because it's an Important Book. Or maybe War of the World, because I'll have an easier time following the WW2 volume.

Oh — and there's my Amazon list of summer reading. Why the Allies Won, which Ferguson went out of his way to praise. Chocolate and Zucchini, because I've been rooting for Clotilde from the beginning. Jill and Hilde have Digital Culture, Play and Identity out; I ought to read it before Aspyn, my green-haired illusionista, solos her heroic way to level 50 in City of Heroes. I want to read Owen Sheers’ novel Resistance. I want to read Michael Polllan’s In Defense of Food.

Oh — and I've heard that Gabriel Zaid’s So Many Books: Reading And Publishing in an Age of Abundance is very good. I heard that in the TLS; I'm about four months behind in my TLS reading.

So, here we are. That's something like 16 volumes that I seriously want to read, right now, all stacked up. You think I'm not going to hear about anything interesting in the next three months? Nah, me neither. But if you ask my Tinderbox blog — I'm asking it now — just how many books I read last summer:

^value($ChildCount("/Books: Summer 2007"))

Tinderbox will answer: 16. 2006? 16.

2004 16

What was different in the summers of 2003 and 2002? For the life of me, I don’t know. But I think I ought to find out, fast.