Mar 06 28 2006


The Flemings have two charming alpaca, Zach and Cherokee. After meeting these kindly camelids, I might have alpaca too, if I had the requisite grass, space, and climate.


When the alpaca are paying attention to you -- when, for example, you're holding an apple from the tree that's just outside their pen -- they look at you and make sure you know they care about you. When they aren't paying attention, they make it clear that they're doing something else right now. Being gentle, kindly, and helpful beasts, they'll be happy to pay attention to you if you want, of course.

That's a lesson for airlines and hotels and customs officials. Coming into the US seems to get worse and worse.

  • The passport inspection station at LAX has a whole bunch of nifty, new multi-color LED displays. The displays have wireless. They're easy to program. I know this because nobody has bothered to read the instructions, and so they're running their demo program instead of helping visitors stand in the right line. If you don't know how to use them, turn them off.
  • The customs form, we are told, must be filled out in English and, if you make a mistake, you will be sent to the back of the line. This invites retaliation by countries and individual airport staffs who feel like getting even. Would you like to go to the back of the line for making a mistake in your Mandarin, or your Turkic? And isn't it a diplomatic custom to accept French in all such circumstances? US passports are bilingual French-English, and I don't think that has anything to do with Quebecois sensibilities.
  • The roof at the LAX terminal was leaking. I know it doesn't rain that much in LA, but still -- it makes the US look like a third world country, and it can't be doing the structure any good.
  • The luggage carousel at the LAX customs terminal stalled, and the second carousel also had some mysterious problem. As a result, almost everyone's bags were delayed, and the economy-class bags started to arrive before the business-class bags. The AA rep tried to explain everything, but made things worse when she said that they didn't want to delay the economy class bags just so the first-class luggage would arrive first. This indicated the idea had arisen; a better stance would pretend that the thought would simply never have ocurred to anyone. Everyone understands that first-class passengers pay for priority service, but everyone should be served as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  • A physician standing next to me was doing a slow boil (and his partner was way past simmering) because he was coming close to missing his connection to JFK. So were we. "There are lots of flights to New York", I said. "You don't have to operate on someone at 4am tomorrow," he answered. With lots of running and the help of a very efficient AA desk rep, we did get on the flight. When last seen, the doctor was a customer relations time bomb with a short fuse: getting someone to stand there, listen to his problems and to be seen trying to make arrangements would probably have solved it. Push the panic button and get someone to pitch in and lend a hand.
  • The AA rep called across to the TSA checker, "Maria, I've got two hot pax!" and she sent us right upstairs. There, however, the AA rep was a distant memory and we faced long, long lines and very slow inspections by slow-moving and slouching people in uniforms who smiled when talking to each other and looked bored when talking to the public. I am unconvinced that the TSA inspections are effective at anything but creating inconvenience and scaring people who might vote Republican. Inspectors seem to be getting slower and less polite again -- perhaps because it's not an election year, or perhaps because their unpopularity is grinding them down.
  • Two of our bags weren't loaded at Kennedy. The AA rep handled this fairly well, but dropped the ball twice. First, the instructions for following up were printed out on a 12x7 dot matrix printer that must be 15 years old; this is an airline, and and airline doesn't want its customers thinking 'old, unreliable, obsolete equipment.' Spend $50, buy a modern printer, keep the old equipment backstage.
  • Then, she explained that "Sometimes, they can't get all the bags" on the small jets they use for this run. That's the B answer (and it's much better than 'we'll trace the bags and let you know', which you usually hear.) The A answer is to have circumstantial detail: 'We're incredibly sorry, but we simply had to get a transplant organ on the very first plane, and we ran out of space, but we'll drop you bag at your house tomorrow morning." Or whatever. I'd be delighted to be inconvenienced if I knew it was really helping someone, or even if I was making the airline a lot of money or helping them out of a jam. "The post office contract says they can always ship two bags, but today the two bags were 500 pounds of gold bullion" is fine, too.

It's only really annoying if nobody seems to care much, if they delayed your bag or inconvenienced you because they didn't feel any particular interest in paying attention.

Diane Greco picks up on cheese sandwiches -- and jump down a few days to a wonderful cheese sandwich about her daughter, JJJ, and the Pantheon.

Spring break in Rome. Not sure I need to say more... As usual Jane was a stellar traveling companion - stoic through the boring bits (like the 9-hour return flight, about which she made not a single complaint) and an amusing conversationalist on a variety of subjects. She loved the Hello Kitty store just off the Campo as well as the zoo, the gelaterias, and -- unexpectedly -- the Pantheon. The hole in the ceiling deeply impressed her and she had all sorts of ideas about how to fix it and what to do with the rain when it comes in.

Nick Tyler, who has Diane's aversion to permalinks, says that the smell of cheese sandwich is heavy in the air.

Lynsey Gedye explains something that puzzled Linda and I as we drove to Wellington and noticed that the high desert roadside was lined with small cairns, some of them elaborate and creative.

I took the opportunity of a warm early spring day to work on what, for me, is one of the most tranquility provoking activity I know - stacking stones. There’s something essentially calming in stacking stones - the minor dents and bulges have to be dealt with by turning and slight movements to find the balance points.

Update: There's an entire Web site on the "rock balancing art of Bill Dan".

After Queensland, we drove over the the West coast of the South Island. That's got to be one of the most spectacular drives I've experienced. Beautiful weather -- sun, nice clouds, fresh air. Open roads. One-lane bridges.

We had too little time in Franz Joseph, our hiking boots had been sacrificed to Travelling Light, and it was Linda's birthday. So first we walked up Sentinel Rock for early-morning glacier-gazing


and then we took a backseat helicopter spin up to the top of Fox Glacier.


The glacier itself is a lot of snow. A lot of snow. The pinnacles and chasms are impressive. And you see a lot of blue in the glacial ice -- a color which, as I understand it, comes from a 2nd-harmonic absorption band (meaning that the blue is incredibly weak and requires a lot of path to be noticeable. (Or is the blue in glaciers Tyndall scattering? )


That's Linda at left, camera in hand. She's got some good shots; she'll be working on the prints for months.

Mar 06 27 2006


Another fresh site based on Flint: the National Community-Based Research Networking Initiative.

Because it's good to know what you're doing, I make lists of movies I see and books I read. In case you might find this useful or interesting, the recent entries on these lists are in the left-hand column of this page.

  • If more people kept these lists and shared them, we could build interesting aggregators that would be better (and much smarter) than best seller lists.
  • Sharing your reading or viewing might seem vain: who would care? Your family might be interested -- your parents or your Aunt Ethel or your great niece in Tokyo. Lots of people won't care that you saw Elizabethtown on the plane from LAX to JFK, but that's OK: the handful of bits you're using won't cause a shortage. For more, see cheese sandwiches.

Speaking of Elizabethtown, David Mamet describes a malady of the third act he calls the 11pm speech, otherwise known as "the death of my kitten" -- the deeply significant lecture a playwright inserts to add gravity to a third act in trouble. Even the great playwrights resort to death of my kitten: alas, poor Yorick. And this movie is all death of my kitten, entirely montage and monologue. It does have two terrific speeches: a Susan Sarandon funeral standup and a long, long travelogue voiceover that must run 20 minutes and is never far from idiocy but that manages to get boy and girl together while not calling our attention to the fact that he's a blinking idiot and she's a force of nature and a drama that needs this much help to get the lovers together is not much of a drama.

A passage from my commonplace book: from A Book of One's Own: people and their diaries by Thomas Mallon.

Of Samuel Pepys: "Along with a great job, he's got a swell wife. She's prettier than Princess Henriette, so pretty that he's jealous of first her dancing master and then her painting instructor. The Pepyses argue over the accounts and they bite and scratch and belt each other, but they always call a truce and end up "pretty good friends." .... Goodness knows Elizabeth Pepys has her hands full, mostly because her husband's always are -- of the pliant flesh of servant girls and married ladies about town.

....When you're twelve and someone offers to show you a dirty postcard, you're interested. But when you're told it's a dirty French postcard, then, boy, you're really interested. In matters of the flesh, Pepys was permanently twelve.

From the weblog of Headhsift, a London social software firm, comes an intriguing contributuon to our collective study of weblog writing: Come back cheese sandwiches: all is forgiven.

I think it was Donald Matheson who pointed out, after my talk at Christchurch, that my approach to blogs was primarily literary where a lot of people approach weblogs through sociology. It's a useful distinction.

Another way of looking at this: I prefer to investigate specific weblogs closely, where a lot of weblog research tries to learn from weblogs in the aggregate -- from their patterns of interconnection, or their population in the wild. And in a Belgian Bar in Wellington, I think I came close to grasping the root of Torill's position on games and on weblogs, which does focus on what people do with games rather than on what games can be.


How do you move from research to action? I like to try to make things better by making better things -- to look at that things like weblogs want to be, and then to make tools that try to bring out new facets and new affordances, tools that help people do new things. Those tools are always going to be challenging and quirky and strange, at least at first, because their new tools to do new things.

If you innovate from sociology, you get polished tools that help people do what everyone is already doing, but that use new shapes and new techniques to make things simpler and more comfortable.


A delightful day driving in and around Queenstown, viewing vistas and carrying Linda's tripod. Dinner at The Bunker. Linda had a vertical Caesar salad for dessert (and I had a fig creme brulée for a second dessert) and she enjoyed a very nice goat cheese entrée, and the roast lamb with lamb shoulder confit was really delightful.

Last night, we had a lovely venison at Solera Vino, with a bottle of Chard Farms pinot noir. The road to Chard Farm today was a challenge.


On the roadmaps here, you find some strange places. Amon Hen. Isengard. Someday, people will wonder where these names came from.

Mar 06 21 2006

Flint, Farm

On Monday, I'm hoping to visit New Zealand truffle farmer Gareth Renowden. His farm's weblog, On The Farm, has recently been reengineered with Flint.

Update: visit blogged here.

At BlogHui, there seemed to be a good deal of interest swarming around my contention that the blogger/journalist debate over professional standards is a red herring, because journalism is not a profession. This sparked even more raised eyebrows last night at my talk at Christchurch.

Lots of blogging, too, about the role of journals and journal-making in everyday live. Marica Sevelj has a lovely tribute to her new Florentine journal. Lynsey Gedye suggests that adopting an elephant is a great way to spark your partner's interest, but barring a handy elephant, starting a journal will do. Lindsey suggests making a strong cup of tea, and then drawing the teacup in tea....

Mar 06 16 2006

Six years

This weblog is now six years old. (HypertextKitchen, now folded into Tekka, started earlier, but was more narrowly focused on hypertext community news.)

Mar 06 14 2006


Within a few kilometers of dowtown Wellington, the Karori wildlife reserve is making a remarkable effort to reclaim some land formerly used for reservoirs. New Zealand's wildlife has been transformed by the introduction of species from elsewhere that have tended to crowd out the native species; at Karori, very clever efforts are being made to redress the balance.

Here's a Tui; they wear bow ties and sing a lot.


The key is a fence -- a very sophisticated fence that keeps mammals out. Cats and possums can't climb it. Stoats can't cross it. Mice can't burrow under it. So, the inside of the sanctuary is essentially free of small mammals -- just as New Zealand used to be. And that means lots of species that had been isolated on scattered, remote islands can no come back and flourish.


Quite a day of birding -- especially since all the birds are new to me, as is the field guide.

  1. Black shag
  2. Mallard
  3. Silvereye
  4. Paradise Shellduck
  5. Fantail
  6. Tui
  7. New Zealand Robin
  8. Stitchbird
  9. ?Chaffinch
  10. Blackbird
  11. Kaka
  12. Bellbird
  13. New Zealand Scaup
  14. Welcome Swallow

Last year, I mentioned the clever naturalist who named the Superb Blue Fairy-wren. I think the author of the Welcome Swallow deserves some credit, too.

Mar 06 13 2006

100 Stories

The morning began with a quick trip to the University for email and a quick trip to the shoe repair store for an urgently-needed hardware patch. Then, off to the City Museum, which has a wonderful room on 20th century Wellington, explained with a tiny little story for each year. There's the year of ghastly murders, the year the All Blacks beat Australia 11-6, the year of ill-advised urban renewal, the year of the failed (but influential) general strike.

There's also a nifty exhibit of Plimmer's Ark, which started out as a nifty new sailing ship, ran aground, was salvaged and beached to make an important downtown store. The store was eventually replaced by sturdy brick buildings, and when these buildings were renovated in the preservationist aftermath the the year of ill-advised urban renewal, there in the basement was the keel of the ship that ran aground so many years before.

Then, quite by accident I ran into the Gedyes -- the BlogHui organizers -- on Cuba Street, and somehow we spent the afternoon going to a succession of dazzling places all around the harbour. Terns, gulls, shags (shags!) and, yes, that was a penguin, sitting on a rock!

Mar 06 12 2006


Wherever I go, it seems that soon after I arrive people start asking me for directions. Here in Wellington, it took about six hours.


Just for fun, I cooked up a quick RSS feed for this Bloghui expedition. I don't have an net connection right now, so breakage might occur.

Mar 06 11 2006

Long White

And here we are. We left LA at Sunday dusk and arrived twelve hours later. It's early morning Tuesday.

Long White

Auckland! Back in the long white zone -- the part of the world where coffee is long white instead of au lait or white or melange or, in the old Boston parlance, regular. Waiting in the Qantas club for my short hop to Wellington, I listen to a televised interview with the new physician for the All Blacks. (All Blacks, as I understand it, are Red Sox of a different color)

The morning sky is just beginning to turn light grey and the hills are growing distinct across the bay.

Long White

by Thomas Mallon

A brilliant, generous, and comprehensive study of journals, Mallon reads everything in sight: little girl's locked dimestore confidantes, Degas' sketchbooks, Weston's daybooks, Nixon's tapes. He builds a taxonomy of diaries that consitutes an invaluable antidotes to the facile dismissal of weblogs as indulgent and adolescent. Mallon finds an intriguing range of diarists:

  • Choniclers
  • Travelers
  • Pilgrims
  • Creators
  • Apologists
  • Confessors
  • Prisoners

He wears his erudition lightly and understands that literary taxonomists need to look beneath the surface: the chapter on prisoners ranges gracefully from Dreyfus to Anne Franck to Albert Speer to Alice James.

I'm off to New Zealand and BlogHui.

Walking into the airport is always exciting: now you're home in Boston, but in a few hours you'll be somewhere else. But this somewhere is especially else: first Dallas, then Los Angeles, then Auckland, then Wellington. For Jack Aubrey, it'd be six or seven months. It's still half way 'round.

Last year, I argued that we need to take care to cultivate and nurture the long tail of weblogs that receive modest traffic.

It's really important to make sure we can glance at the other 5 million blogs when we want to. Adding one or two additional regular readers to every blog in the Long Tail makes a huge difference in the economy of the blogosphere: if everyone gets that reader or two, then most of the weblog reading that happens will happen in the Tail and the Tail will matter. If people don't generally get that extra reader or two, then all the reading is concentrated in the A List and, well, it'll be Mr. Murdoch and his five best friends, all the way down.

I now suspect I was completely wrong, and that the Long Tail was a mistake or a fraud. My worries about ensuring discoverability (and so an audience) for low-traffic weblogs ignores two obviously key facts about intimate or nobitic weblogs:

  • Intimate weblogs recruit their natural readers. Your mother is going to find your weblog. It doesn't matter whether people link to you or not; she's been finding your stuff since you were two. And you'll find the weblog of your graduate advisor, your favorite writers, and of people who share your esoteric interests. Between Google and the telephone, intimate weblogs will find their natural readers.
  • Valuable writing tends to seek the right readers, not merely a lot of readers. Whether we're talking about public policy or graph theory or scissor-tailed flycatchers, the audience that matters is the group of people who understand and care about the topic and who can do something with it or about it.
  • Advertising is a good way to reward some weblog writers, but one advertising broker now owns so much attention that it distorts many people's vision of the economics of the blogosophere. Advertising is merely one of many routes to economic reward.

Journalists (and politico-journalism exiles) wanted to watch the Long Tail because, if you're financing public service news coverage through advertising, circulation makes everything possible and your rival's circulation can make everything futile.

The A-List likes to measure the Long Tail because it reassures them that they matter. The romantic myth of weblogs -- that weblogs succeed because we ourselves are so intrinsically wonderful -- creates a sort of redemption through blogging. When that reassurance stops delighting them, they give up and go home and the Technorati 100 shuffles slightly.

I got fooled because I spend a lot of time thinking about hypertext publishing -- especially hypertext fiction -- and fiction is anomalous.

  • Anyone may read a story about a girl who died or the the plate that time forgot. The jump (just a few letters!) from "anyone" to "everyone" tempts lots of writers.
  • A few fiction writers do get everyone, or nearly everyone. and that vast box office drove the fiction world in the 80s and 90s even though none of the hypertext people write the sort of work that can become a Hollywood blockbuster.
  • The people for whom The Old Neighborhood or Sons and Lovers are going to make a huge difference are not a huge crowd but they could be almost anyone. And you don't know you need Ulysses until you've read it.

Anyone, everyone, someone, the right one. BOS->DFW->LAX->AUK->WLG.

Long trip.

For the long trip, I downloaded a set of Bach motets and a performance of the Goldberg variations. I don't believe I've heard Jesu, Meine Freude since grad school. Too long.

Is it just bad luck, or are the motets spectacularly unfashionable? You never hear them on the radio.

The day before I leave for New Zealand, Linda and I hop over to the Gardner for a one-day symposium on "Pirates, Pizza, and Painting" -- a discussion of cultural interchange in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 14th and 15th centuries -- especially the interchange between the Ottoman court after the fall of Constantinople and Venice.

At the request of a Sultan who was, apparently, deeply interested in the new advances in representational art in the barbaric West, Venice dispatched a prominent artist (Gentile Bellini) with their embassy, along with an assortment of prints. We still have Bellini's work, and we still have those prints. Someone colored them, and someone pasted them into an album of Turkoman patterns resused as a sort of scrapbook, and there they are still.

Lots of interesting questions, asked by some intriguing scholars. Kathryn Kopman-Appel asks, "what did the Jews think of all this art stuff, that seemed so intriguing to the Muslims?" The answer is that they decided early on that two-dimensionsal art wasn't forbidden, but they also decided that Christians were idolaters (though one commentator observed that Byzantine art was do bad that, apparently, Christians were no longer very good at idolatry!) Ironically, the 13th-century Christian attack on the Talmud led Jewish scholars to learn more about Christianity, and that led Jews into using illustration much more freely in their manuscripts.

Nancy Jenkins gave a delightful tour of the development of pasta -- often ascribed to Marco Polo. She believes the Chinese origin of noodles is a mix; once you have wheat cultivation, she thinks, both bread and pasta follow inevitably. You're making porridge as usual, the goats get loose, by the time you catch the goats the porridge has begun to ferment but it's too late to start over and so you cook the stuff and hope no one notices. Put it in the fire and you've got bread; boil it and you've got pasta.

The afternoon was spent with some fine close-reading of drawings and paintings. It's good to know there are people who know so much stuff. There was lots I didn't follow, like the lovely drawing of a Venetian galley attributed to Raphael (and labeled on Deborah Howard's slide "But surely not!" for reasons doubtless immediately evident to those in the audience who belonged there and who weren't software designers out of their element.

Attending symposia out of your field is often more fun and more instructive than sticking to what you know. People worry too much, I think, about what they won't understand. If some of the talk is too technical or too sophisticated, the odds are good that the preceding parts will have been new and fascinating.

Yes, sometimes is gets out of hand. Humanities people in their element sometimes assume that everybody speaks English, French, and Italian. Occasionally in the sciences you'll hit a talk that absolutely requires some math you don't possess. But these mishaps hardly ever happen.

Tinderbox Day Chicago will be at The Drake, a Chicago landmark. It's at Walton and Michigan, and we'll start at 10am sharp on Saturday, April 22.

The focus this time will be on education and research. We'll cover lots of introductory material, and look at a variety of Tinderbox tasks and applications.

Mar 06 7 2006

Old Notebooks

Diane is finding fine things in old notebooks.

Bats. "Filmy shapes that haunt the dusk" (Tennyson). Wearable on lapel as boutonniere. May be transported in bunches by packing them into socks.

Lots more gems like this -- and I expect she's saving the best for her next novel.


Torill is already in sunny New Zealand. She got half way 'round the world quickly; her luggage didn't.

Romantically rewriting my plight, I imagined myself a heroine running from the government spies - only I left WAY too many card-purchase traces.

Speaking of which, what happened to isabella v?

On March 2, 2003 at 4:12 pm, I disappeared. My name is isabella v., but it's not. I'm twentysomething and I am an international fugitive.

She's been silent since November. I've often speculated that She's A Flight Risk is a weblog thriller; going dark seems the most spontaneous and unexpected move she's made. It's way out of character -- which, curiously, adds to the sense of authenticity.

I tried the butternut squash risotto again last night. It was much better this time, sweeter and richer with more depth. What was the difference?

  • Half of the broth was fennel broth I made the other night. The other half was chicken (from a box: I'm drawing down supplies before the New Zealand expedition).
  • The recipe uses a lot of wine -- 1.5c. I used some Lindeman's chardonnay, also left over. From my earlier comments, the wine's acidity balances the squash's sweetness, but this wine isn't striking acidic.
  • It's a lot later in the season, so perhaps the squash was a bit sweeter.
  • It was a big squash.

I had forgotten how fussy this recipe is, even allowing for the Cook's shortcut of adding half the broth at once. The little preliminary steps -- cleaning and chopping the squash, browning the squash, sauteeing the seeds -- don't look like much on paper but they do push dinner toward the late side.

Drop-stamp adornments

Rob McNair-Huff is intrigued by Scott Price's new tutorial on drop stamp adornments in Tinderbox.

As of Tinderbox 3, adornments can have actions. This is huge! Since adornments cover an area of the map view (without taking up space in other views), this means that you can make a section of a Map View a functional 'drop box'. Make a note; drag it so that it touches the adornment; the action is applied to the note. Now drag it wherever you really want it.

Bly on Of Day Of Night

Bill Bly, musician and author of We Descend, writes about Megan Heyward's of day, of night :

I really enjoyed my first reading of "of day, of night." It's certainly immersive: it took me a little over an hour to read, and I only got up once to refill my coffee cup.

I was captivated by the overall visual appeal of the piece, and found the reading apparatus welcoming and engaging. I always like to see if I can figure out how to move around inside a hypertext without resorting to the directions, and here that was easy as well as rewarding. Thoughtful wandering seemed to work best, and it was gratifying to find, when I finally did read the directions, that wandering was what the author recommended. The interface itself encouraged the best way to read.

The music is dreamy, all bottleneck & pedal steel guitar. The rest of the soundtrack consists of the natural sounds of objects and critters -- matches rattling inside a paper box, a rusty tin opening, pages being turned, a pencil scribbling in a notebook, treefrogs, birds, insects. Human sounds (except for the narration and a single line of dialogue in what may be Chinese) are of the same order: atural sound, like footsteps on different surfaces and in different (or no) shoes, breathing, laughter, sighing. To me, this was the most enchanting dimension of the piece.

I was especially delighted by Sophie's gambit, once traditional therapies had failed to "wake up" her ability to dream, of wandering around town picking up objects and imagining their stories. The sketchy fragment she writes to accompany -- not explain -- each artifact invites the reader to come up with more details, fill the fragment out.

There's a lot of new stuff in Hypertext 3.0. Landow says that there's something new on almost every page. I'm enjoying the new sections on hypertext phenomena that hadn't happened back in the Hypertext 2.0 days. Like the intersection of search and engines and intimate weblogs.

I've been talking lately about weblogs written for a circle of friends or colleagues or like-minded individuals -- a family or a professional society or a team. They aren't read by millions, and aren't meant to be. They're intimate weblogs.

But Google indexes intimate weblogs too, along with everything else. And, though your interests may be special, you might talk about things that interest others. Or you might seem to talk about things that interest others; everyone who has studied their web stats has marveled at the strange things people ask search engines to find, and wondered what possessed the search engine to send them to you. Norwegian Bokmal?

This can be a problem: fear of discovery led Elin to give up blogging, or at any rate to take her weblog underground. But it's also an opportunity for building bridges to new readers and to discovering new interests and allies.

Landow puts this nicely:

The edges of a blog, like the borders of any document on the Internet, are porous and provisional at best. Most of the time when we consider the way digital media blur the borders of documents, we mean that links and search tools limit the power of authorship. In blogs we encounter a new prose genre that also unsettles our long-standing assumptions about public and private.
Mar 06 6 2006

Double Homicide

by Jonathan and Faye Kellerman

Twin novellas about pairs of police investigators, set in fun locations where visiting writers can easily and enjoyably add local color. Santa Fe here is tourist Santa Fe, with a sprinkling of Hillerman and McGarritty; we spend a lot of time in the Plaza and on Canyon Road. Boston is the city of Robert B. Parker and Dennis Lehane. Though the Boston story could easily be set in Indianapolis or Chicago or Odessa, Texas, it's the stronger tale.

A passage for my commonplace book: from Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed.

When people come to Spigolizzi in summer they are often heard to exclaim: "Qui c'è un vero paradiso" and they sometimes receive the Sculptor's reply, "Ma l'inferno purtròppo è tanto più comodo". (Here is a real paradise. But Hell is so much more convenient!)

...In summer young people come to test their aspirations against a way of life which is the outcome of working in marble, working in stone, and working in metal. Not an easy one, it starts at sunrise in summer and in winter, with no electricity, hot water or telephone, no libraries to hand, no postman and no dustman. It is absorbing work — our own and agricultural. There are good neighbors by day, they vanish into distant villages at night.


The recipes in this book belong to an era of food grown for its own sake, not for profit. This era has vanished. If cooking and eating were all I had in mind when writing them down, the pleasure they might afford would be largely nostalgic.

BlogHui: Farmer

I met James Farmer at BlogTalk Downunder, and it will be terrific to see him again at BlogHui. His paper, just posted, is going to explore the constraints that organizational weblogs impose on weblog tools.

Universities want ultimate control over the content that might be published on student (and staff) sites, businesses want commercially-in-confidence information to be blogged securely on the intranet and most corporate and institutional users want greater degrees of customisability, control and flexibility than these services are able to offer.
Mar 06 5 2006


Added to calendar (right): I'll be going to WikiSym this summer to talk about "Intimate Information: organic hypertext structure and incremental formalization for everyone's everyday tasks".

Hepworth on Of Day, Of Night

Rose Hepworth writes from Goldsmith's College, University of London:

Re-reading [Of Day, of Night], it struck me again how 'I lost the ability to dream' is such a beautifully simple premise for a fragmented narrative. It just dovetails so perfectly, for me, with the experience of reconstructing the text, which is dream-like in itself.

Fragmented narrative is one of the hallmarks of much electronic writing. It's not just an artistic challenge: weblogs are fragmented narratives. Memorable weblog arcs unfold over days and weeks -- whether we're talking about Drudge's pursuit of sex scandals or Kaycee's fight against leukemia or Badger's struggle to put her life back together.

Sooz Kaup makes a big splash in today's Boston Globe, which highlights her role as yenta to Boston's boardgame community. (Not online, oddly)

J. Nathan Matias has some interesting schemes for using Tinderbox and the Tinderbox Presentation Assistant (based on the CSS magic of Eric Meyer's S5) as a tool for language learning.

Tinderbox is now a system for my language study which can be developed at the speed of type! By storing all my vocabulary, grammar notes, and translations in the same space, I can also search quickly if I don't remember the meaning of a word or concept. No page-turning or card-fumbling.

You can download Matias' notes on Wheelock's Latin, but he recommends that you use the structure, not the data; building your personal toolset is part of the process.

Jill Walker has won a Meltzer Foundation Prize for excellence in research dissemination, thanks to her influential weblog.

I write mostly about making technology, making art, and making food, and so my weblog correspondence is more varied and nicer than the political bloggers get. Some days, it's terrific: one day last week I found myself moving from the politics of Handel's oratorios to the utility of prototype inheritance, and then on to Tinderbox and its role in film. (Is this a great job, or what?!)

Sometimes the mail gets a little political. I just found myself answering one complaint about Why Porn Matters . The writer was very upset about kids today; he's 70 and thinks nowadays any boy can sleep with just about any girl and this leads to abortion, unfaithfulness, and probably drowsiness. I'm pretty sure that kids today find love about as hard as kids ever did. And it's always been hard: I don't think my Dad carried Marvell's To His Coy Mistress half way round the world (they threw a World War) because girls were so pliable. I ended up quoting Dover Beach.

In the midst of my Sunday morning politics browse, I came across an unusually nice Weblog design at the AFL/CIO blog.

Pieters on Of Day, Of Night

Brendan Pieters has been teaching English and new media at Santa Fe Community College for more than a decade. Reading of day, of night prompted him to look back:

Of Day, Of Night combines oral narrative, words onscreen, music, and video to create a rather sensuous détournement through a person's life. Amazing how hypertext has evolved since Patchwork Girl, or afternoon -- they were more like traditional stories with the capacity for the reader/user to interact. Of Day, Of Night is very accomplished.

When I read this, my initial reaction was that Professor Pieters was wrong -- that Heyward's of day, of night is indeed unlike Patchwork Girl and afternoon, but that the effort to measure them in this competitive way is wrong-headed. The critical corridor, I think, always has a cluster of sourpusses eager to complain that last year's new media is too old and too full of words, that they want the shiniest new thing.

But I think there's something else here, something deeper than "Heyward has more pictures". Heyward is sitting right at the border of artifactual hypertext; she gives the reader a range of objects, links the objects to moments, and knits this together in a young woman's quest. It's not just the intrusion of film into text, it's the singular appropriateness of these dreamy images in a struggle to dream again.

Or maybe not. My point is that we should be talking about hypertexts, new and old. What's fun? What isn't fun, but turns out to repay the effort? What bits of craft can we note down to use in tomorrow's weblog, or next year's electronic fiction?

Last night, I had a couple of biggish trout filets. I smoked them over a mixture of cherry and rosemary, and served them with a pesto of parsley, garlic, and pine nuts.

This wasn't extravagance. One of the problems with buying fresh herbs at the Museum of Fruits and Vegetables is guilt: you spend all that money of fresh herbs, and then you don't use them up! There are starving children in China who are going to bed after inadequately-seasoned dinners, and here you are ignoring the tired remnants of last week's thyme because they aren't really first-rate fresh spices any more.

The pesto was left over from early in the week. The garlic (I used a lot of garlic) had mellowed a bit, and it went very nicely with the smoky trout.

The smoker gives me something tasty and new to do with the remnants. I find this is one of the advantages of cooking more: you wind up with bits of things -- fresh spices past their sell-by date, yesterday's once-fresh pesto, a bit of fennel broth or veal stock you forgot to use up -- that you can repurpose. Instead of wasting the ingredient, you can use it for some luxurious new thing. You wouldn't buy herbs to see them go up in smoke, but if they're old and have already lost a step, why not?

Ryan Singer runs down a handy CSS trick I've found useful in Flint and elsewhere.

All HTML files enclose the page content in a tag. If you have a site with different kinds of pages -- a weblog with a Main Page and individual Post Pages, perhaps -- you add a class or ID to the body tag. Then, your stylesheet can easily say things like "pages are red, except the main page is blue".

Blogging, Fun, and Flow

At BlogHui, Dan Fleming has an intriguing exploration of the role of flow and fun in blogging. In particular, what happens to blogging fun when you find yourself blogging a war, or when the men in trench coats and black suits start hanging around?

The latest chapter of Ted Goranson's masterful study of outliners is now on line. Of particular interest in this column is a peek Goranson provides at another project he's undertaking:

But the third project that involves something like blogging is the one—the big kahuna—I usually use to put the ATPO power outliners through their paces. I’m doing a study of movies. I have a huge amount of background information for this study, everything from film clips to notes. Everything. And it really is huge and extremely structured. In fact, the resulting structure is the very point of the study, which in short is how to categorize film narrative. The report will be an incrementally created online book, which is hardwired to Tinderbox.

All this research moves around among my test outliners (and other applications). I budget no fewer than four hours and often six a day to produce an entry in my "blog” of sorts, regular comments for ordinary readers on specific movies I watch. Each day I receive many feedback e-mails on these comments, all of which I store and many which I use later.

It is an enormous undertaking, and one that depends on the ability of deep manual and automated structure. Smart folders and lots of ways of assigning metadata are useful for this. Each new tool teaches me something else about organization.

37 Signals quietly transformed tech publishing yesterday, selling 1750 copies of their new manifesto, Getting Real, at $19 on the first day. It's a very favorable case -- a high visibility company, riding a wave of popularity, in a sector with little or no resistance to electronic delivery. Still, it's a watershed.

Via Diane Greco, an outfit called Blurb will format and print extracts from your weblog in a handsome, hardcover book for about $30, quantity one. This isn't aimed at the vanity press crowd: it's a way to share an artifact with people who want it. When I make an iPhoto book for my mother, it's not because I'm pretending to be Ansel Adams. Mom doesn't want to see more Stieglitz, she wants to see her grandchildren. We only need one or two copies, but it's nice that we can make them -- and the codex book is a good format.

Atchley on Of Day, Of Night

Denise Atchley is a multimedia producer who has convened a long and important series of Digital Storytelling Festivals. Recalling Megan Heyward's reading of of day of night in Sedona, she recalls:

The sumptuous quality of the artwork and the story line behind the piece. Also, the hidden little surprises that made the whole piece feel a bit like a treasure hunt, but because it was personal, that we were being also being voyeuristic.

Let's talk a little more about intimate or nobitic weblogs -- web writing that's intended for specific audiences though perhaps not for everyone.

Not everyone reads the latest hypertext fiction. Not everyone who reads it will have much to say about it. Some will be busy, some will be puzzled, some might be unsure of their reaction or inclined to mistrust their judgment. The same is true of the latest tax policy proposals and the most recent developments in ornithological research and the Boston Red Sox.

The long tail is measuring the wrong thing entirely. Mass market writing is often uninteresting -- even economically. Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona sold millions of copies in the 1880's, It was a sensation; people named their baby girls, they remodeled their houses, they built new towns that looked like Helen Hunt's descriptions of an imagined past. When you look at those lovely red-roofed Victorian enclaves of Old Southern California today, you're seeing Ramona.

But nobody reads Ramona, or G. M. W. Reynolds' Mysteries of London, or the works of Marie Corell, or Mrs. Humphrey Ward's Robert Elsmere. People bought lots of copies of Elsmere, they named their towns for it. George Landow described it the other day as

A story -- a very long story -- of a Victorian quest for faith. Written by a niece of Matthew Arnold. Hugely popular.

Down in the marketplace of ideas, you always find a few commodities that everyone seems to be buying today, and of course there's of stuff that nobody buys. The activity that matters is in the middle.

Fleming on Of Day, Of Night

One of the nice parts of my job is that I have the pleasure of reading notes that people send us about new hypertexts. Professor Dan Fleming writes from Waikato about Megan Heyward's new of day, of night:

The more time I spend with it, the more I think it's one of the best pieces of new media narrative I've encountered.

At times, on a formal level, it recalls Peter Gabriel's Eve, but where the latter invites the reader/viewer to reconstruct a lost paradise by puzzle-solving, of day, of night doesn't so much offer puzzles as narrative 'knots' that loosen and reconnect themselves just by having time spent over them. There's a delicious sense of reconstructed memories that gently exert pressure from underneath somewhere until you can't stop them from flowing back together in unexpected but wholly satisfying ways.

That rising flow of connectedness is very rare in hypertext where connection often doesn't shake off the arbitrariness of user interaction. Here the interaction shifts gradually away from the physical encounter with the interface and onto a conceptual and emotional plane where I found myself, in the end, in a state of stillness and apparent non-interaction with the computer - but very much engaged by the dreamlike flow of interconnecting memories. Powerful stuff.

Through August 6, there's an interesting exhibition of Technologies of Writing, from clay tablets to Storyspace hyperfiction, at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas.

by Patience Gray

The Writer told me to read this, and she was right.

In many ways, Patience Gray stands firmly in the tradition of M. F. K. Fisher: this is a book of adventurous cooking in places you aren't likely to live, under conditions you aren't likely to endure. Gray lived and travelled with a sculptor, Norman Mommens, who wanted to work right where the stone was quarried, and so Grey finds herself cooking over open fires outside a succession of precarious quarryside cottages, cooking whatever the spare daughters of her peasant neighbors can teach her to cook.

Fisher wrote to describe her experiences of a vanished time and a world now beyond reach. Gray cooks, and expects you to cook too, and in her approach lie the seeds of the empirical revolution that gave rise to Cook's and Chocolate and Zucchini and the rest of today's "let's try it!" food writing. Her approach isn't quite narrative and isn't quite systematic, but chapters become ad hoc explorations of a food idea -- pounded sauces like pesto in their various forms, or approaches to taking advantage of the plentiful herbs that grow like weeds in places where those herbs are weeds.

Gray had a wonderfully elliptical approach to writing. She doesn't alternate between narrative and recipe, she doesn't introduce or explain, and her prose is almost always in transition, as she was, from place to place, from the challenges of the always-inadequate supplies and perpetually peculiar ingredients to the mysteries of dialects and customs in her latest fastness.

Torill Mortensen at BlogHui

Torill Mortensen's speaking at BlogHui, too. A lot of her work, lately, has been studying the way people act in Worlds of Warcraft.

She leaves for New Zealand on Sunday -- a week earlier than I -- in order to see a bit more of the nonvirtual world of the fabled South Pacific.

Torill Mortensen at BlogHui
The 10 days before Blog Hui will be spent in a campervan with a friend. I am excited and happy, [will] carry a digital camera and hope for internet connections on the way. Prepare for travel-blogging of the 'what can possibly go wrong with two middle aged women driving a camper van for the first time on the other side of the road in a foreign country?'-kind.