Mar 10 31 2010


Jean Goodwin launches a thread on Tinderbox and the Craft Of Scholarship with an intriguing quotation from Scott McLemee’s appreciation of C Wright Mills’ “On Intellectual Craftsmanship.”

For Mills, there is a kind of bench where all of this crafting takes place. He calls it "the file."...

For one thing, [the file] includes reading notes and other such documents generated in the course of your research. But the file is also something like a journal. It's where you hammer out the coherence between the different projects that absorb you, and brainstorm new lines of inquiry. "In such a file," Mills writes, "there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned." It is where you hash out the complications in any given work-in-progress, and take notes on stray possibilities that might be worth exploring down the line.

One benefit of this is that it can help subdue, or at least reduce, anxiety over writing. (Mills suggests adding something to the file at least once a week.) And it "encourages you to capture 'fringe-thoughts': various ideas which may be by-products of everyday life, snatches of conversation overheard in the street, or, for that matter, dreams. Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as intellectual relevance to more directed experience."...

"You will have to acquire the habit of taking a large volume of notes from any worthwhile book you read," writes Mills, "although, I have to say, you may get better work out of yourself when you read really bad books."

Apart from taking notes and drafting memoranda-to-yourself, Mills suggests that your files ought to include charts and diagrams. As a sociologist, he was used to presenting some of his findings in that format. But Mills's point is that the intellectual craftsman shouldn't wait until writing for publication to experiment with visual display. Tables, charts, and diagrams "are not only ways to display work already done," he writes; "they are very often genuine tools of production."

by Allegra Goodman

A terrific book. I don’t know just why I reread it now, especially as my stack is prodigious. My original review is here.

by Scott Westerfeld

A courageous Jeff Abbott recommendation, paired with Wolf Hall. This YA title has snap and vigor and a neatly-imagined world in which Darwinist biotech super-powers in England, France, and Russia face down the Steampunk forces of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Amidst the storm of war, a boy meets a girl. Drama ensues, as the girl has pluck and initiative and the boy has dash and a very interesting title.

Wolf Hall, I think, is clearly meant to open a series, and our impression of the book will change when the next book appears. Leviathan is explicitly the introduction of a series, and perhaps is best seen as a story fragment.

Yet here we are in 2010, and it seems the very definition of YA is a subplot that teaches us that a girl can be anything she wants to be and that gender doesn’t matter. OK: fine. But, if we’re going to restate this against the First World War, might we spare a moment or two to think about class and poverty, about the misery of the shtetl and the pogrom and the terrible nationalism that still torments the Balkans? Might we mention the trenches and the machine guns? The idiot generals? Our heroes are isolated, but their isolation also shields us from the meaning of the Great War and their desire for peace is just a prissy preference, not the burning pacifism of 1914.

The fresh debate over whether the world would have been better had Great Britain sat on its hands and let the Germans win is not mentioned, either; the War is treated as a mistake compounded by German perfidy. At one point, our Austrian noble remembers that he speaks many languages – French, English, Latin – more fluently than he speaks the language of his villagers: but which language do his villagers actually speak? Yes, it’s YA and that burdens us with some constraints, but the kids don’t need to understand every detail. They like not understanding, the like working it out. Even Piglet lived under the sign “Tresspassers W”.

Still, it’s a richly imagined world filled with likable characters and entertaining action. By the end, Westerfeld has sold us on nobles and commoners in the 20th century and – even better – has us understand why it is a grand thing in this world to be a ship’s captain or a Lord of the Admiralty but a much grander thing to be the Keeper Of The London Zoo.

A brief, yet helpful, lesson on elementary resource-locking strategy.

Hilarity will ensue.

In The New Republic (!), Adam Kirsch writes Against Beauty, reflecting on Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and her later essay, “E.M. Forster, Middle Manager”. I like On Beauty more and more; it’s a vast book, it’s Howards End in modern dress, and yet it’s also a larger and deeper book.

Meanwhile, I’m rereading Allegra Goodman’s wonderful Intuition.

Suburban frontiersman Phil Houtz has looked at lots of personal information managers, but before Tinderbox always went back to the reliable old Rolodex®.

When I discovered that Tinderbox notes yellow with age, I decided then and there that this was the personal information manager I had been seeking for many years. In particular I wanted an application that would help me see who I should be talking to as much as what I should be doing next.

It’s a good little movie (and a very fine book). Lisbeth Salander is a terrific character, brilliantly imagined where it would have been easy to reach for a familiar stereotype. I can’t recall a movie that was willing to admit so clearly that sexual violence is violent.

Don’t miss this just because it’s in Swedish.

Tinderbox, like many programs, let's you find things in a complex view by simply typing the first few characters of their name.

Question: a number of programs – QuickSilver and TextMate come to mind – let you type other kinds of abbreviations. SAF4, for example, could get you Safari 4. MBernst could get you Mark Bernstein. You get the point.

Do you know a good algorithm for doing this? A research paper proposing the Right Way? Email me.

The original idea for a map grammar – and really the start of spatial hypertext – can be found in "Searching for the Missing Link: Discovering Implicit Structure in Spatial Hypertext," Marshall and Shipman’s Hypertext ’93 classic. It’s interesting to observe how sophisticated and mature this work already is, remembering how feeble our computers (and our programming environments) were back then.

Of course, Marshall and Shipman were working in PARC paradise then, and Dandelions were nicer than Think C. Still, it was an era of stone knives and bearskins.

More Map Grammar

I’d forgotten that adornments — drawing on the background of the map — go all the way back to NoteCards. The idea didn’t get much traction for a long time; Tinderbox adopted it via Dan Bricklin’s Trellix, in which adornments seemed to be a sort of chartjunk for executive summaries but actually were capable of better things. One unexpected effect of Tinderbox adornments has been the design pattern above: it's easy to use OnAdd actions to assign instrumental or declarative meanings to particular areas. Instead of deducing a note’s type from its position and neighbors, we can declare that some regions will contain one kind of note and others will contain another kind.

by Michelle Huneven

I have been reading too few mysteries since the demise of The Drood Review. I looked at the Edgar nominees, ordered a bunch of books, and somehow got this National Book Critics Circle nominee mixed in. Patsy, an effervescent and young English professor, hits two Jehovah’s Witnesses in her driveway one drunken night. She goes to prison, gets sober, and gradually puts most of the fragments of her life together. It’s a familiar tale, albeit one Huneven tells with grace and a nice sense of place.

Formally, the book is intriguing. The opening chapters are told from the point-of-view of a 12-year-old minor character; she's brilliantly drawn but completely peripheral and, once Patsy goes to jail, she’s neglected. The story is formally a mystery, but constructed in such a way that almost the entire book is prologue.

At Tinderbox Weekend Boston, my own talk took a look at Tinderbox Maps. Much of this talk surveys some of the fascinating Tinderbox maps that people send me – especially beautiful maps that were created to get stuff done. There’s one gorgeous set of reading notes from Julie Tolmie, and Robert Brook’s observations on how Tinderbox maps let you acknowledge disagreements that you can’t resolve within a meeting. There are Tom Smith’s fascinating observations on using Tinderbox in child custody hearings, and Michael Bywater’s sketch of a developing lecture. (You can hear this part on a nice screencast on the CD).

I also talked a bit about a tentative grammar of Tinderbox maps.

Tinderbox Weekend: Toward A Map Grammar

I’m very reluctant to tell you how to organize your work: you know your work better than I do! The structure of a Tinderbox map should emerge from the data and should evolve as your understanding improves and as your needs change. Tinderbox gives you great tools and gets out of the way. We try to leave the Methodological Snake Oil™ to others.

Still, people do ask all the time. And when I started to sketch some simple example, I found parts of the exercise were surprisingly interesting.

Tinderbox Weekend: Toward A Map Grammar

This is not the only way to show an exception or a conflict. Here’s a homework problem:

Extra Credit: show three other ways to represent conflict in a map. Explain how your solution differs, and in what situations it might be better or worse.

It’s a more interesting topic, really, than I’d realized. We just finished the program committee meeting for Hypertext 2010, and something like this would surely be a terrific topic for research papers. In fact, there’s room for everyone! Want to collaborate? Write me. Want to work the topic on your own? Be my guest!

Another terrific segment at Tinderbox Weekend Boston (and yes, registration for London May 8-9 is now open) was Steve Winnick’s introduction to Summary Judgment. Winnick is a litigator with a diverse practice that he describes as “everything except truly specialized areas like bankruptcy”, and he’s been looking for a comprehensive case management tool for ages. Tinderbox lets him build a framework for developing, resolving, and billing, for organizing the workflow of his practice.

Tinderbox Weekend: Summary Judgment

A core idea here is that, while each case is unique and is bound to develop unexpected information demands, the overall structure of a firm’s workflow can be represented systematically. The firm may offer a variety of fee arrangements, but those can be anticipated; the fee arrangements might change for a specific matter, but the changes, too, can be readily represented as an adaptation of standard practice. Similarly, while each case has its own schedule, statutes of limitations wait for no one, and we can anticipate from the first client meeting what those critical dates might be.

Summary Judgment will shortly enter beta testing and is expected to be commercially available in 2010.

An interesting day spent at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s a big museum that’s taken an interesting gamble: many of its galleries are organized thematically rather than chronologically, so you can find contemporary painting next to Picasso and Rembrandt next to Lucian Freud.

Bedford Street Gang
Martin Lewis, Bedford Street Gang, Art Gallery of Ontario

This amazing etching is from a temporary exhibit of American Depression Etchings, one otherwise populated by more familiar images. Oh my: Buffy and Lyra, meet the kids from the neighborhood. (Notice, incidentally, how carefully the image walks right up to the line. Make the girl on the left just a little older, or just a little younger, and it’s too terrible. There’s a skinny girl in the gang, too, and she’s right in the foreground, and she isolates the heroine while giving us a chaperone. The corner store will shortly make its appearance in Hopper, who studied with Lewis.)

Also on tap today (besides lots of preparation for the Hypertext 2010 planning meeting): a trip to the Bata Shoe Museum. Yep: a three-story museum of the shoe. I now know a lot about shoe fashions in the Venetian Republic and on the Great Plains. I still don’t understand Manolo Blahnik.

Mar 10 19 2010

Paradise Lost

Fine production of the seldom-produced Odets play, Paradise Lost, at the American Repertory. The Playgoer has a terrific discussion, well worth reading, that recapitulates the play, the director, and the critical reaction this production has received. It is indeed a very big play; we don’t see these very often anymore.

My view is that that play’s got two terrific acts and a finale overcome by the fervor of its desires. It’s an enormously difficult play to produce, with lots of threads and complications, buckets of plot and barrels of exposition and finely-drawn characters who also double as Symbols of Art and Intellect. History was not kind to the third act, which did not know what Stalin was up to or where Hitler was headed or that 1989 would come.

But it’s an important play by an important playwright, intelligently and lavishly staged at the right historical moment. When are you going to see this again? Last chance: get there before it closes on March 20.

At Tinderbox Weekend Boston, Mark Anderson explored the construction and exploration of particularly complex links networks in Tinderbox. Here, for example. is an excerpt from McChrystal’s Afghanistan Counter-Insurgency Planning document. Here’s a detail of one section:

Tinderbox Weekend: Complex Networks

This doesn't look quite as elegant as the beltway think-tank version:

Tinderbox Weekend: Complex Networks

Anderson pointed out it does have some advantages. It’s malleable: you can correct it and manipulate it, you can add notes and explanations. Significantly, several nodes and links in the original version are literally impossible to see, having been obscured by labels. That’s a hint: some steps are important enough to represent in the briefing, but not sufficiently important that they actually need to be seen. More seriously, Anderson showed how new Tinderbox features, like link animations, translucent notes, and column displays, can not only help construct complex networks, but can also help verify that the network in the file is actually the one you intended to represent.

From the Flickr group, here’s Sumner Gerard’s sketch of “Blame Flows” in the ongoing financial crisis:

Tinderbox Weekend: Complex Networks

Again, we’ve got a complex network. It’s tangled, but it’s not merely tangled: the connections are real, they can be understood, and clear thinking requires that we explore and understand them. We can’t just throw up our hands and cry, “it’s complicated,” because sometimes things simply are complicated. Lots of things are connected, but not everything; we can use Tinderbox to explore these networks and, perhaps, to master them.

Coudal’s Steve Delahoyde puts together a wonderful critique of the Rovian attack ad in the form of a home-made video on behalf of Rework .

In yet another fascinating Tinderbox Weekend talk, Tom Lowe and Gordon Christie addressed the shortcomings of legal education. They argue that the case system of legal education, while not without strengths, leaves students ill-equipped for the actual practice of law; in particular, Prof. Christie observed the importance (and scarcity) of innovative and critical thinking before it’s time to file an appeal.

Tinderbox Weekend: Tom Lowe and Gordon Christie

Here’s a closeup of a small part of their example Tinderbox, which explores contracts and the uniform commercial code (UCC). More ambitiously, they’re working on a Tinderbox map that recapitulates, in essence, the full semester of Commercial Paper.

Tinderbox Weekend: Tom Lowe and Gordon Christie

And here’s another snapshot of my copious but inadequate notes. We see here the aspect of Tinderbox weekend I enjoy most: the free movement between pragmatic technical detail (using color and shape to clarify spatial hypertexts) and broad intellectual concerns (reforming legal education so that new-fledged lawyers would more often know what they were doing). Of particular interest here is the proposal to encourage students to build practical frameworks that they can use not merely to prepare for classes and examinations but that will also serve them well when taken into their new legal practices.

Harvard’s alumni folks set up a two-part lecture series on Don Giovanni by Thomas Forrest Kelly, whose book on First Nights I really enjoyed (back in 2004: thanks Tinderbox) and whose First Nights At The Opera I had overlooked. He’s a famously fine lecturer and this was an opportunity to see for myself.

Wow. Without being over-prepared, he worked without notes or slide cues and without a pause, never losing the thread never losing his grammar. He was by turns funny and engaging, rigorous and scholarly, relaxed and demanding. He managed not to assume that everyone knew the opera but was open to the expectation that part of the audience had probably performed or produced it. He paid his audience the compliment of expecting them to be able to read Italian while being sure to provide subtle plot hints that would suffice to make sure everyone understood without ever suggesting that you might not know Zerlina from Donna Elvira.

You seldom see this quality of lecture at conferences and symposia, even in the aery, expensive realms of TED or the trendy world of SXSW. It’s good to see what can be done.

Mar 10 16 2010

The Redbreast

by Jo Nesbø

In 1943, a small group of Norwegians volunteer to fight for Germany against the Bolshevik menace. Two years later, the war is over and the survivors serve jail terms for betraying their country. Years pass, and in 1999 detective Harry Hole, depressed and alcoholic, pursues a serial killer whose life seems impossibly tangled in this forgotten corner of the war. An accomplished mystery, perhaps over-plotted but nonetheless filled with energy and incident.

By the way, you can get the Tinderbox Weekend CD for just $35 from Eastgate. There’s a lot of new stuff, and plenty everything’s been brought up-to-date for Tinderbox 5.

At Tinderbox Weekend Boston, Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General John Stephan discussed Tinderbox and Litigation. One key theme, which recurred throughout the weekend, was the utility of the Tinderbox map for talking colleagues through an issue, an alternative to writing (and reading) a 15-page memo.

Here are some of my Tinderbox notes on John’s talk. Let’s give it a try. (If you've got a nice screen, go ahead an open the full-size image)

Litigation gets complex. Even simple cases become complicated: Tom Lowe later recalled a simple medical case that ramified through dozens of physicians, health care providers, and secondary injuries, while Steve Winnick mentioned a simple homicide appeal that soon became a tangle of forensic and eyewitness contradictions. At the beginning of a case you don’t know what you have; the key is to keep track of what you’re learning.

Some prototypes are bound to be useful: issues, events, authorities, people, documents, and rfp’s are bound to enter into any legal Tinderbox. The new “favorites” scheme, and Mac OS X’s handy (but little-known) stationery facility, makes preloading these standards easy.

Another recurrent theme was the utility of the Explode tool. Grab some head notes from Westlaw, mark the seams, explode, and you’ve got a terrific starting point for research, for team coordination, and for argument building.

Finally, the one common theme I actually flagged during the talk (the yellow tag note) is the problems posed by contingent, uncertain, or suspect data. We don’t have terrific tools for representing lies and uncertainties, but a spatial hypertext tools with Tinderbox’s rich visual vocabulary gives you lots of choices for jotting things down.

Terrific Tinderbox Weekend! We were really packed into the historic old farmhouse that’s Eastgate world headquarters and it rained, day and night, without pause. But the talks were terrific, and the breaks and meals were fascinating.

I've done three different talks in three different cities over the last three weeks. I’m bushed. So in place of a grand overview, I plan to simply point to a few ideas and memories from the weekend over the next few days.

Tinderbox Weekend: How To Handle The Networks

Certainly among the most memorable talks from all the years of Tinderbox events we’ve hosted was Terrorists and Talibs — How To Handle The Networks with Tinderbox. Felix Kuehn and Alex Strick van Linschoten discussed their studies of personal networks in Southern Afghanistan and the various ways they use Tinderbox to try to understand the complicated networks of personal, family, tribal, and historical forces that connect people and organizations. Here, from the Tinderbox Flickr group, is an overview of their sketch of relationships between the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Tinderbox Weekend: How To Handle The Networks

The adornments, interestingly, are smart adornments that automatically gather together individuals from different regions. Particularly interesting to me was the importance of identifying individuals – not necessarily conspicuous or well-known – whose importance lies in their connections, in the way they link different groups, tribes, and interests. And, naturally, it’s fascinating to hear about using Tinderbox not only for gathering and analyzing data but also for writing their recent book and for planning two new books already under way.

Michael Druzinsky’s Roslyn Place, a short work for clarinet, horn, marimba,harp, viola, and cello, will premier on Saturday, March 20, in a Chicago performance by the Oistrach Symphony Orchestra. Highly recommended.

Mar 10 11 2010


I've just been to two really good conferences on hypertext and new media (Florida and Mexico).

A dynamite new issue of Genre, filled with serious and thoughtful new papers on hypertext writing, just arrived.

Over at HTLit, we've got Jim Whitehead (Mr. WebDAV) on literate computer games and Elizabeth Bear on the pleasures of writing hypertext.

People from all over the country (and Europe) are heading to Boston this weekend for Tinderbox Weekend. We’re really going to fill every nook and cranny of the room. (Want to come? Call! We might be able to squeeze you in somehow.)

It’s spring in Hypertext.

Will Slocombe guest edits a big issue of Genre with lots of exciting new papers.

  • Marie-Laure Ryan: What has the Computer Done for the Word?
  • Mark Bernstein & Diane Greco: Designing A New Media Economy
  • Jaishree K. Odin: Collage Aesthetics Hypertext and Postcolonial Perspectives
  • David Parry: The Ethics of Code in a Simulation World
  • Rita Raley: On Locative Narrative
  • Ruth Page: Gender and Genre Revisited: Narratives of Illness on Personal Blogs
  • Megan Owen: Illusions of Democracy in Hypertext Fiction

(Eastgate is working to obtain some copies for interested readers.)

Felix Dencker explores Tinderbox for visual display of character points of view

Tinderbox and Character Design
At first (and second) glance, Tinderbox is very daunting, since beneath the treacherously simple design it hides literally endless possibilities and it really takes time to find your way through it. What I showed here is merely a scratch on the surface of this thing. But I think the approach to explaining what Tinderbox can do is similar to the approach to actually using it: Take one problem at a time and see how you can solve it using Tinderbox.

Mike Taylor: Whatever Happened To Programming? 

Today, I mostly paste libraries together.  So do you, most likely, if you work in software.  Doesn’t that seem anticlimactic?  We did all those courses on LR grammars and concurrent software and referentially transparent functional languages.  We messed about with Prolog, Lisp and APL.  We studied invariants and formal preconditions and operating system theory.  Now how much of that do we use?  A huge part of my job these days seems to be impedence-matching between big opaque chunks of library software that sort of do most of what my program is meant to achieve, but don’t quite work right together so I have to, I don’t know, translate USMARC records into Dublin Core or something.  Is that programming?  Really?  Yes, it takes taste and discernment and experience to do well; but it doesn’t require brilliance and it doesn’t excite.  It’s not what we dreamed of as fourteen-year-olds and trained for as eighteen-year-olds.  It doesn’t get the juices flowing.  It’s not making.

I do a lot of work to paste libraries together too, but I do get to do a fair amount of exciting code as well. Artisanal software matters: it's our way to stop having to sleep on the cold floor of the software factory.

Steve Waddell describes a variety of interesting network visualizations for understanding policy and its environment – links among NGO’s and financial regulators, say, or social networks in South African business.

A correspondent observes that many of these could be done very nicely in Tinderbox. One benefit would be that Tinderbox isn't just a diagramming tool: after planning your network and presenting it to your sponsors, the tool remains ready to gather information as you build, refine, and react to the realities of your project and the results of your research. It doesn’t gather dust in the corner after the dog-and-pony show.

Mar 10 9 2010


by Owen Shears

It is 1944. The Eastern Front has collapsed, a rushed landing at Normandy has been repulsed, and Britain is facing invasion. Its government is calling on citizens to stand firm, struggle on, and perhaps to perish in the common ruin. Late one night, all the men from the seven farms that occupy a remote valley on the Welsh border leave their beds and vanish, leaving behind puzzled wives, one daughter, a guerilla manual disguised as an almanac, and far too many farm chores. This sophisticated but disarming tale of the first winter of the Occupation displays exquisite sympathy for each of its many characters.

HADOPI is the French authority charged with prosecuting illegal downloads and other intellectual property infringements. Unfortunately, is appears that their new logo was designed using an illegally downloaded font.

As you walk approach Teotihuacan, you run a gauntlet of booths that sell silly “Mexican” souvenirs. As you walk through the ruins, you are continually approached by people selling toys and trinkets. No one sells, or gives away, a guidebook or a map, not even the little (but often fairly good) “self-guided tours” that the U. S. Park Service hands out. The outdoor signage is trilingual but mediocre. The new museum signage is good but sparse, the old museum signage is even sparser and, since I was able to read it, is likely written in rather elementary Spanish. There are said to be tour guides, but where? And how good? There seems to be a bookstore, but it was small, oddly situated, and closed for inventory.

Teotihuacan and Information

I don’t know much about Teotihuacan, beyond visits to the Field Museum and what one picks up here and there. I was limited to a very short visit. I had lots of questions.

  • What’s restored? How do you tell? How solid is the restoration?
  • Where are the potsherds? The metates? The hearths? We see lots of lovely figurines, jewels, and spectacular burial goods, but there’s surprisingly little bread and butter archaeology. And, simply walking around, I’m not seeing the scatter of potsherds that you see, for example, at Chaco.
  • The peak population hit 100,000, so this was, for a time, the largest city on earth. How do we know the population? How solid is the estimate?
  • What signage there is seems pretty confident about construction dates. How do we know? (Does dendrochonology work here? )
  • Are there ballparks?
  • A lot of this architecture seems to be designed for display paintings. Is that right?
  • A number of buildings are said to be elite political-residential structures. How do we know that? How are they distinguished from religious structures?
  • Teotihuacan is much larger than Pompeii or Ostia. The public spaces are vastly more impressive. But where are the bars and brothels and workshops? Where are the macaw pens and turkey corrals? How did people get water for cooking and drinking? Is that big open plaza really a market? Are there other markets? (Was there money?)
  • The last phase of Teotihuacan is termed “Metapec”. Does this refer to the Tolucan town where, the previous night, we’d had such a nice dinner of beer and queso fundido with chorizo and some micheladas and some quesadillas and more beer and dominoes and some more beer? Why Metapec?
  • There are stairs everywhere, and their risers seem to me to be uncomfortably high. Is there a “standard” riser? Is it in fact too tall, given the stature of the inhabitants? If so, why?
  • What are the current controversies and recent developments?

True, you don't want to bury a site in signage. When you first encounter a site so clearly intended to evoke an emotional response, it would be a shame to have your nose in a book. But, still, there is so much to be explained (and so much to be gained from better understanding) that more needs to be done. An iPhone/iPad solution seems natural here – not so much for showing reconstructions (though this would reduce the temptation to deface the site with reconstructions to impress casual visitors) but rather to provide lots of additional information to the curious.

by James Chace

A good introduction to the American election campaign of 1912. Ex-president Theodore Roosevelt led a third-party crusade to seek to recapture the White House from his former protegé William Howard Taft, facing Democratic challenger Woodrow Wilson and a serious socialist candidate, Eugene Debs. Chase is strongest in taking Debs seriously and giving a careful airing to his views and constituency; we know now that this was the Socialist Party’s high water mark, but in many ways it seemed as if the Socialists were gradually moving to greater and greater strength and that their future role might be more like the British Labour Party than the fringe element they became.

Chase draws an interesting portrait of Wilson, whom he views as dangerously incurious, rigid, and personally volatile. In fact, this Wilson seems to share many of the failings of George W. Bush while lacking Bush’s talent for seeming to be likable. We are left to wonder how Wilson managed to be taken seriously by anyone, and this judgment seems to require either moderation or more enthusiastic defense.

Today was the wrap-up day for the First International Congress on Web Studies, hosted by the Tecnológico de Monterrey and capably chaired by Prof. Everardo Reyes-Garcia. This was an intriguing conference of unexpected design; if the Future Of Digital Studies had its feet planted firmly in the literary, this congress on Web Studies was centered in the art world and heavily flavored by its intriguing exhibition. And if the Florida conference was largely American in flavor, this event had very strong ties to the active (but often separate) Francophone hypertext world.

Robert Logan opened the proceedings with a nice review of McLuhan’s approach to new media. He believes that reading on the screen differs deeply and inherently from reading in print, to the extent of primarily involving an entirely opposite hemisphere. I find this surprising, to say the least, and I think the result must be mistaken: if we were reading something like the iPad and the screen very gradually switched from transmissive to reflective, would our underlying neural process need to switch entirely at some point in the process? Nonetheless, the hypothesis is driving him to investigate new hybrid eBooks with rich multimedia, and with so many trivial demos circulating these days it will be nice to see more real work.

I opened the second day with a big setpiece review of hypertext narrative, gluing together strands of “Where Are The Hypertexts?”, “NeoVictorian Computing,” “On Hypertext Narrative”, “Everyone’s Everyday Knowledge Work”, and “On Criticism”. It’s a brisk talk, especially since my odd speaking patterns are especially challenging for some for whom English is a second or third language. I was surprised to find serious resistance to my NeoVictorian argument from some of the artists, who seem to prefer a gift economy with vehemence that surprised me.

Imad Saleh, who now directs Laboratoire Paragraphe at Université Paris 8, gave a fine overview of his laboratory’s research and, indeed, of the state of hypertext and the Web. He has a lot more faith in semantic Web technologies, especially RDF and OWL, than I’ve been able to muster lately; it’s good to revisit.

1st International Congress On Web Studies

Prof. Garcia arranged a post-conference trip to Teotihuacan, which was wonderful. I think these followup events are too easily dismissed as junketing, and serve some very important purposes. First, it’s very good to mix attendees and speakers, especially in a medium-sized conference where students might not be able to meet all the people they’d like to see. Second, long walks and informal chats are a good way to work off any rough edges that might be left from conference drama, and they’re a great place to explore collaboration plans. And finally, it’s essential to effective conference-going to actually see the places you visit, and you don’t want to skip conference events to do this. I have a terrible sunburn and lots of unanswered questions – where are all the cooking pots and metates and hearths? – but it was lots of fun.

Aaron Swartz offers candid tips for reading more books. Some are straightforward: always have a bunch of interesting books on hand so there will always be something you want to read. Other tips are effective but unusual:

3. Alienate everyone close to you. The biggest consumer of time is undoubtedly other people, in large measure because talking to other people is so fun that you don’t notice time going by. By keeping yourself away from other people (living alone is a good start), you free up an enormous amount of time for reading.

Aaron reads more books than I do, so he's on to something.

Mar 10 4 2010

A Bintel Brief

by Isaac Metzker, ed.

This collection of letters written to the advice column of Forvertz, the Yiddish-language New York daily, offers a lovely snapshot of the concerns and trials of immigrants in the early 20th century. A striking letter, for example, records the problems of a freelance Jewish detective hired by the NY police in 1908 to investigate a restaurant that was serving liquor without a license. “I ordered a complete dinner and a schnapps,” he recalls. “I finished the meal, the drink, paid the sum of eighteen cents to the man, and looked around. I saw the owner’s seven children with their pale, emaciated mother, and I felt I could not be so heartless as to take the father away from them.” Can a good socialist and a good Jew work for the police? The Forward editors said, “Run from the job as from a fire.”

Book designer and chronicler of the Japanese art world Craig Mod offers some thoughtful speculation on book design in the age of electronic books. We won’t abandon physical books, but we’ll concentrate on well crafted codexes and let electronic books handle the disposable tomes.