Jun 06 3 2006

Clouds of HTML

Several beta testers wanted to export the new Tinderbox word clouds to HTML. Here, for example, is the word cloud for the current month.

Here's the cloud for the entire weblog. Since we're exporting to HTML, it's easy to adapt the cloud's appearance by adding a little extra style information.

Linda has an old Apple Studio CRT display with an ADC cable that she really likes for its color fidelity.

She'd like to use it with her new G5. But Apple's DVI-to-ADC adapter does not support CRTs. Ideas, anyone? Email me.

There's a fresh fashion for my 2002 piece on Ten Tips for Writing The Living Web.

Darren Barefoot calls it "the best article I've read about writing for the Web", but takes me to task for mentioning Tinderbox. Commenter Melanie Watts says I'm "glibly dashing off a piece filled with clichés and platitudes" Karen Munro finds it a refreshing contrast to people who just don't like weblogs, but argues that a well-wrought weblog might be more work than it's worth. John Matthew calls it "Manna for Internet writers!"

A fresh installment in Ted Gornason's About This Particular Outliner emphasizes workflow, but includes a thorough survey of current outliners. Goranson's series is arguably the most intelligent and thorough examination of a software sector ever attempted.

He says some nice things about Tinderbox, too.

Tinderbox is the most capable of the power outliners in most respects. It has remarkable smart agent capabilities, clones, and links. It can shift between outline view and several graphical views, most notably a “map” view where headers are boxes that “contain” other boxes. Since its appearance, it has always been the king in terms of most features plus its internal scripting language...

...We think this has the best user interface conventions for the things that matter: dragging, cloning, linking. The map view is the most Mac-like spatial thing we’ve ever seen.

We went to Craigie Street for Tony Maws' chef's whim again this week, along with our friends visiting from Thailand.

It was a distracted meal. We paid more attention to our friends, whom we haven't seen in ages, than to the food. My car had gone dead in the parking lot, and so I had to call AAA and try to time the rescue and the meal and worry about how we'd get home.

And, while every course was tasty, some of the courses were adventurous. Craigie Street has a lot of respect for its patrons! One course featured cockscomb (in a broth flavored with spruce and pine nut oil). One course was cervelles, beautifully browned, with a delicious and perfect duck egg. But, slice it how you will, it's still offal. Very tasty, though.

How My Cooking Has Changed : part 3

I happened across Sally Schneider's A New Way To Cook in a chain bookstore one day, just about three years ago. It's very big and very broad, and The Joy of Cooking is clearly not far from its mind.

But while Joy of Cooking is a vast collection of recipes, A New Way To Cook is trying to explain a much smaller core of ideas, expressed in the form of recipes with variations. We have, for example, a core recipe for "braising small fish" or "rustic fruit tart", and then examine a host of ingredients that we can add or subtract -- and the changes that these additions and subtractions will require. In the fruit tart, for example, we might use apples or pears or strawberries (less water, more flour, add rhubarb) or blueberries (try a little thyme) or raspberries (even frozen -- add more flour because they're wet) or reconstituted dried apricots. It's all the same idea.

And that's a powerful idea, especially because a generation of home cooks raised to respect recipes can easily forget how forgiving food can be. Some things (baking) must be measured and timed, but tasty ingredients are bound to taste good whatever you do.

Schneider also recognizes that a generation of US cooks have grown up with a weird, religious antipathy to fat, which became to us what unclean foods were to our ancestors. But fat is also one of the things that makes food worth eating. It can make you crazy.

Schneider solves this brilliantly: fat's just an ingredient. An expensive ingredient. You aren't going to eat lots of fat, so you've got to make it count: you want the fat you eat to be the tastiest, freshest, most wonderful fat you can get. Schneider has you hoarding the fat from your duck, to be doled out carefully over weeks or months for cooking potatoes. You use less fat because you'll run out, and you really enjoy the fat you use.

For Memorial Day, Garrison Keillor sang a lovely little repurposing of Eric Bogle's protest, "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda".

And how well I remember how at Anzio
We strolled to the beach through the water
And the counterattack was a powerful blow
And we fell like lambs at the slaughter.
Who misread the enemy? Too late to tell.
We were pounded by bullets and bombs and by shell
And in two days they blew us to hell
Nearly blew us right back to New Jersey.

The full lyrics are here (though someone forgot to credit the original song). They've been softened, alas.

In a field north of Rome I raised up my head
And when I awoke in my hospital bed
And saw what had happened, I wished I was dead
And I lay there a month without talking.

The original is a hell of a lot better:

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead.
Never knew there was worse things than dyin'.

Michele Pasin discovers David Kolb's wonderful essay on Twin Media: Hypertext Under Pressure. He likes the use of Storyspace and Tinderbox for representing knowledge. "Very cool!", he says. "I think it’s interesting how these structures could resemble classes and relations in an ontology based system…without the hassle of taking out first order logic!"

Martin Spernau is excited by new Tinderbox work on automatic link discovery.

Mark Bernstein writes about something I deeply care for and have been experimenting with for a long time now: Automatically linking related/similar entries in a hypertext (eg a blog)

He observes that the academic papers on associative linking (including mine) can be dry and confusing. But perhaps it pays off in the end.

I've never been completely convinced by associative linking, even though for some years this was probably my best-received research. But these last experiments might be changing my mind: it's still computationally intensive, but blogging seems to be made for associative linking, and weblogs really, really benefit from links. The apprentice does some stupid things -- linking this week's sale to an old sale -- and sometimes it's just inscrutable, but at other times it seems to be at least as effective as an expert human.

SMGCT is struggling to find a good treatment of hypertext fiction. (She's been reading Writing for New Media, which is probably not the best starting point.)

by Ali Smith

In this interesting and amusing bagatelle, a London family vacationing in Norfolk finds that a young woman has walked into their vacation house and made herself at home on their sofa. Eve, a popular writer married to an English Professor, assumes that she's one of her husband Michael's students and that, moreover, that they're having an affair. Eve resolves to be very, very nice to her. Michael assumes that she's something to do with her publicity department. Michael wants to please her and cooks her his best chocolate pears. The teenage kids, of course, find her fascinating.

It's an interesting formal experiment with five points of view, five very distinct voices, and lots of opportunity for Ali Smith to turn writerly handsprings. At times, I found myself watching the acrobatics when I should have been thinking about Eve and Michael. But it's all show business in the end, and the show is good.

How My Cooking Has Changed : part 2

I started to cook one hot Pennsylvania summer, living above the movie theater on Chester Road with Thorsen and Bayer, because everyone was supposed to take a turn. None of us knew much. I made spaghetti and steak and stir fried chicken.

The Joy of Cooking saved the day, though not the soft-shell crabs.

I taught myself the basics in graduate school, in a terrible Joseph Sert kitchen. I had a pot and a pan. I gave bring-your-own-fork dinner parties. I made twice-boned duck from Julia Child and Kung Pao chicken from Joyce Chen.

About two years ago, I think, my cooking changed. I've been cooking more, and cooking differently.

What changed? And why? It's a long story. I think I'll explore it in a series of posts. They'll be collected by a Tinderbox agent (which you can find here with RSS here), so if you're entering late you can easily catch up.

How My Cooking Has Changed : part 1

"Don't take shortcuts!", chef Bryan Polcyn urges the crowd at Barbara Lynch's Butcher Shop as he nears the end of a sumptuous 3-hour demo/banquet/book signing of Charcuterie . He's making a chocolate paté, into which he's mixed the pulverized pralines that he just made with gentle care. "Take the bowl off the mixer, take a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Don't do this on the mixer. Don't take shortcuts."

This is the silent but essential difference between cooking for joy and being a pro. In the professional kitchen, everything is about speed because everything is about cost: food cost, labor cost, turns. Pros need to take every edge and every shortcut they can get away with. But they must not take any shortcut that will be caught, a shortcut that will reveal that this dish was hurried or cheapened or careless.

Cooking at home, cooking because you want to cook, shortcuts are something else entirely. Doing things right can make sense, even if nobody will know. Your kids may not care whether the shallots were rough minced or brunoised or just run through the Cuisinart. But you'll know. Like that medieval stonecutter, you know what's in back of the food, you know whether the prep was right.

And that's why you're in the kitchen tonight, and not in a restaurant or grilling a steak out back on the Weber.

You're doing this because you want to. Don't take shortcuts: that's not why you chose to be here.

I was downunder when we drafted for our Fantasy Baseball League this year. As a result, the 2006 Mallards are a bit of a mess.

But we have some terrific new names. Ty Wiggington. Dan Uggla. Rocco Baldelli. Yuniesky Betancourt. Boof Bonser.

Boof, Ty, and Uggla! As Dan Brickhouse would have said, 'Holy cow!'

Memorial Day kicks off the summer season this weekend. Time to start new projects. Time to write stuff down.

Eastgate's got a great sale on Tinderbox.

Also at Eastgate, we've had terrific interest in Barbara Stecher's Sketchbooking: How to create a delightful journal of your travels at home and abroad. That's led us to stock some handy tools for sketchbooking, including some nice watercolor sketchbooks and a terrificly-priced watercolor travel kit.

As usual in gift-rich seasons, our exquisite Italian leather journals are thriving, too.

Lisa Firke discusses a research summary in the form of a Tinderbox document.

Another Tinderbox feature that was important in this case was the fact that I didn't have to determine the structure--the outline--before I'd done the research. I could begin to gather information willy nilly and with confidence that I could order and organize it all later, with a minimum of fuss. In this case I attempted to illustrate the trajectory of my brainstorming on the topic while at the same time compartmentalizing the different tangents.

Another nice touch: an agent that scans the 20,000 word document and creates an instantly-updated, dynamic index of all the notes that contain picture.

Lots of bloggers have seen tag clouds and similar displays. Here's another from this weblog; the size of each word is proportional to the number of notes in which the word appears.

Where did tag clouds come from?

Where do tag clouds come from? Someone made them. Wikipedia credits Jim Flanagan. The underlying idea -- displaying lots of words and using many different font sizes and weights -- is associated in my mind with Cranbrook in the early 1990's, but probably derives from vernacular posters of the 1980's. But there's more to this story.

J. Nathan Matias likes TextArc, a dense alternative format that's marred by a patent claim.

Last night, Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn did a wonderful demo at Barabara Lynch's Butcher Shop. It was, in part, a celebration of Ruhlman's new book. And it sure was tasty!

Eastgate's helped to arrange lots of readings and signings over the years, but I've always been skeptical of their utility. Sure, Lauren Bacall will bring people into the shop, but do bookstores really benefit from signings by authors who aren't movie stars? I was impressed by this approach: at $125, the event was sold out. The restaurant was filled on a Tuesday night, there was money in the till, books went to eager readers likely to spread the word. Still, when you add up food costs, plane fare (Polcyn brought his chef de cuisine too), and wine, I'm not sure it's a great deal for either the publisher or the restaurant.

It was great to meet Ruhlman. And meeting Brian Polcyn is like meeting a character in a novel you've read. "Fat is our friend!" he reminded us. "Embrace fat!"

  • Jaegerwurst, Tuscan Salami, Sopresseta, Prosciutto di Michigan
  • Grilled vegetable terrine with all night tomatoes
  • Chicken Galantine
  • Pan roasted duck breast
  • Chocalate Paté

The duck course was a brilliant little plate. Here's how it was constructed, starting at the foundations.

  1. wilted spinach
  2. red currant sauce
  3. a small slice of crispy home-made pancetta
  4. a perfecty-cooked little seminola dumpling
  5. a 1" sphere of sage-garlic duck sausage ("Cook sausage gently!", Ruhlman interjects. "Cook it to temperature. Everyone overcooks sausage.")
  6. one leg of duck confit
  7. four slices of medium-rare, pan roasted duck breast

The duck leg leans against the dumpling and shelters the duck breast, the sausage guards the other side, the pancetta provides a crispy accent.

It was inspiring. I want to rush out and make my own bacon and hang salamis from the rafters.

A fringe benefit of the Link Apprentice experiment in Tinderbox is that the apprentice generates some interesting textual statistics. Here, for example, is a snapshot of the most common words that appeared in this weblog from May 1-23.

Common Words

Writers might find this information useful. How might we best present it? The image above is based on the Technorati tag cloud, which has to work inside browsers and so has lots of limitations on layout and performance. Might we squeeze more information into the view?

The hard-working WikiGardeners have assembled a nifty new page for the Tinderbox Wiki on Using Map View.

Quite a few useful tips and examples. You can play, too!

May 06 24 2006

Jerk Salmon

On a lark, I bought some alder planks for the barbecue season. For dinner, I made a jerk paste (allspice, garlic, brown sugar, lots of ginger, and a toasted chipotle for lack of a more suitable pepper) for a pound of salmon filet and grilled it on the plank for thirty minutes or so.

To go with it, I large-diced a small mango, small-diced a half of an onion, and chopped up a little fresh coriander. All went into a bowl with a little raspberry vinegar. Nifty.

I missed it again! The Finns, it seems, have won the Eurovision Song Contest, though apparently the Russians think that the Finns benefited by receiving protest votes.

What the voters were protesting is not entirely clear.

I first heard about this song contest over beers -- many beers -- at a Hypertext Conference. The Southampton Crew was rooting, at I recall, for Scotland in the World Cup, and to skeptical Americans the explained that their partisanship in football was nothing like the annual Eurovision Song Contest. A few years later, by chance, we turned on a TV in Brussels, mostly to demo our cousin's nifty new media center, and found ourselves watching a group from Croatia drift slowly and inexporably off key, to the horror of my cousin the opera singer.

People bet on the outcome. Israel and France were 150/1 underdogs. If Keren Ann were performing, would the odds be better? And would she be Israeli or French?

The contest attracts an astonishing amount of news coverage. I wonder what happens to the bands? Do the winners get to retire to Branson?

Cathy Marshall had a lousy hotel in New York:

By the way, I wouldn't stay at the Park Central New York if I were you. Even if you aren't paying a premium because you didn't make reservations 'til the last minute. The place'll just bum you out. Better to sleep on the cot in the Ladies Room of some nice office building.

and this leads, naturally, into her experiences living in the Most Depressing Apartment in the World.

The Coughing Man was dying. You could tell. You don't cough like that if you're going to survive. The young black woman next door to me had just moved to LA from the South, and after spending a week at the YWCA, she'd moved into the Leon Capri Apartments. You could tell that her earnestness and shining-through goodness would just lead to stunning disappointments. You could tell. The fact that she'd rented an apartment in the Leon Capri was an omen: nothing good was going to happen for her in LA.

Useful business tip (attention Guy Kawasaki readers!): the Paramount may be too hip for you and I, but they have someone ready to amuse you when you're waiting in line to pay the bill.

I had a friendly conversation with a beautiful hotel staff member whose only job seemed to be to chat with the hotel guests waiting in line. To keep 'em happy. She and I speculated on which movie or TV series was being filmed on 46th Street the night before, right outside the hotel entrance. She even went to check on this for me to resolve the mystery. She never found out, but not knowing made my trip even better...

Labor is expensive, yes, but annoyed customers are expensive, too. A helpful floater, ready to grab a bag or tell a story, can probably make you a lot of money in the long run -- especially if they're fixing stuff and prepping whenever nobody's around.

Michael Ruhlman's The Reach of a Chef arrived, hot off the press. It's tons of fun.

Ruhlman says that you should toast spices, not throw them raw into your food. This morning I was preparing the spice rub for duck confit (see below for the rest of the duck) and so I toasted the coriander seed and the allspice (but not the juniper berries) before grinding them. As I was doing this extra work, I realized that I have some research work I can't find time to do.

This time it's art history: I need a quick survey of ways that painters and graphic designers have found for using words as compositional elements. Especially people who use a lot of words. It's not a big project. Maybe just a couple of hours. There's not a ton of money in it. But I bet there are people who'd think a couple of hours of Internet research or library scrounging would be a lot more fun than scooping ice cream or babysitting. I don't need a full-time research assistant, but I sure could use some occasional help. There must be a sensible business model for this....Email me.

In other news, Meg Hourihan, one of the Blogger founders, has decided to convert megnut to a food blog and will devote herself to full-time food writing.

Last night, I seared a duck breast.

In point of fact, I seared the living daylights out of the duck breast: I knew I wanted a hot pan but I went overboard. The skin side, when I turned it, was nearly black.

Oh dear.

Another 4 minutes to sear the underside, and then onto the cutting board to rest. This was headed for disaster: it was already cleared for landing. Call in the sauce!

So, I poured out the fat. The burnt bits were burnt and black, but desperate times: I kept them all. I added:

  • 3T of cheap balsamic, which vaporized. (Did I mention that the pan was too hot?) and then another splash.
  • an ice cube of veal demi
  • 3T of honey, mixed with 1T of freshly minced thyme, brought to a simmer and allowed to infuse for ten minutes

After the initial cloud of steam, I let this cook down gently. After five minutes, I went to slice the duck, only to find that the too-hot pan had left the inside too rare. So, I sliced the duck, fanned the sliced into the skillet with the sauce, cooked for a minute on each side, and hoped for the best.

It was pretty good! Interestingly, the sauce was not terribly sweet, and the thyme really helps keep things in balance. The smoky burnt overtones played well with the balsamic and honey.

May 06 22 2006


by Jonathan Rose

Jonathan Rose's wonderful book on The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes examines not only the reading and research undertaken by miners, weavers, and servants, but also asks what they thought about their reading. You'd think this was impossible to know, but it turns out that we have a surprisingly large store of journals and diaries and letters.

It's interesting, for example, that working class people quite liked The Forsyte Saga but that they tended to sympathize with Soames, the villain and Man Of Property who married a woman who doesn't love him and who eventually asserts his marital rights. You wouldn't necessarily expect this: there was plenty of radical politics and feminism in autodidact culture. But the general sentiment seems to have been that Irene was too harsh, that she didn't make the best of her (admittedly bad) situation, and perhaps also that she simply attached too much importance to sex.

May 06 21 2006


Kathryn Cramer is a fiction editor and anthologist by trade. Her weblog has led to a good deal of investigative journalism, as she's been tracking the strange world of private security firms and mercenaries.

At the recent Tinderbox Day, Cramer showed us a Tinderbox framework she has developed for tracking news stories.

click for full size

Strikingly, it's very close to what you'd want to use when plotting a novel! There's even a category for MacGuffins.

Congratulations to Kate Murphy, winner of the RMIT 2006 Eastgate Prize for Hypermedia. Here are her weblog and her flickr site. She makes vodkasts. Her rhizome movie Success was accepted by the ACMI "Real Life On Film" festival. (Update: fixed links)

Eastgate has sponsored the Eastgate Prize at RMIT for years. Does your university need something like this? We might be open to sponsoring others.

by Charles Stross

Stross's multi-volume fantasy romp proceeds with intelligence and skill. Recalling Zelazny's Amber, Stross builds an epic of parallel worlds around a tech journalist. In the alternate earths, technology is less advanced -- one is barely post-Medieval, the other is early industrial. Are the other earths romantic havens or miseable hovels? Stross takes a close look. Why are the other earths as they are? The historical forces are complex (as they should be), and at the end of two volumes we know the background but have not yet found a simplie explanation. Whatever the explanation for the differences between worlds, Miriam Beckstein sets out to do well by doing good, brining development to these backward worlds through intelligent business practice.

An irritation of this pleasant, readable, and interesting volume is that is ends, as did the first volume, in a flurry of excitement and gunplay. Stross has plenty of plot at all times; I think it's unnecessary to supercharge the narrative simply to propel the reader across the chasm between volumes.

Stross has a knack for building rich worlds, though here the fantastic story of Miriam Beckstein seems less rich than the true story Esther Dyson, who in 1989 set out on a similar mission without the benefit of being a lost Duchess.

Weblogs create archives of valuable and interesting writing. Some of that writing is ephemeral, but even cheese sandwiches can have lasting interest. But when old posts wind up in linear archives, they're effectively lost to everyone but Google.

Three Links

This doesn't have to be true: we simply need to use the power of hypertext. The old TINAC manifesto said, "two links per note or it's not a hypertext!" Adding just a few links to a weblog lets us invite readers more deeply into our work.

Three Links

Categories and tags and the like are all efforts to build value from archives. They usually fail, because they ask you to work now to get benefits later, and because their value diminishes if you don't use them every single day. Perhaps some automatic links might help.

The Link Apprentice suggests: File Wear.

The original Link Apprentice, designed for the original Macintosh, had to run in very little memory and on a processor that was slow indeed by today's standards. It turns out that even my laptop can index the full text of the 3200 notes in this Tinderbox -- about 389,000 words -- in seconds. That surprised me, but it means we can dispense with a lot of the performance hacks and heuristics the old Apprentice had to use.

There's still a lot of moving parts in link discovery, even if you want to link to similar notes. What's "similar"? We start with the text: if two notes use the same unusual words, that's an interesting clue.

But because we're in Tinderbox, we have other clues, too. We know how long each weblog post is; we boost the similarity of notes that have roughly the same length. We know what kind of note each note is, because we have prototypes; if two notes have the same prototype, they're more similar than if they have two different but related prototypes, and even more similar than two notes than have completely different prototypes.

I've been deep into experimental code, backing an automatic link discovery mechanism based on my old Link Apprentice into Tinderbox, chiefly to see how it works as a weblog tool.

Think about it: a lot of us have a ton of writing in our weblog archives. Finding a way to dig it out would be nice. Tools like "a year ago today" are a help, Fagerjordian links are a help, but most archives pretty much just sit there and wait for Google.

One catch is that it's hard to know when the algorithm is being very clever, and when it's simply broken. Right now, it's suggesting a few links for this note:

  • Category Factory (another attack on the same problem)
  • Scallops (part one of this post)
  • Airport Security Silliness (I have no idea what it's thinking)

Similarity is, in general, a greatly overrated reason to link. But weblogs need more links; it's worth an experiment.

Screenwriter Greg McQueen has a new MacBook Pro and Tinderbox, and is giving us a peek at his latest draft (April 21: permalinks fouled up)

The screenshot represents a map view of all the notes, thoughts, and scenes being worked on in the screenplay. The clay coloured boxes are scenes, while the light yellow boxes are notes or ideas. To access a scene, note or idea, I just click the box, which opens up a floating text window. I can create and open up as many text windows as I like, adjust their size and appearance and look at different scenes and relevant notes or ideas simultaneously.

McQueen works in Map view, and is getting lots of traction from agents that gather all information about each central character. McQueen concludes:

I have come to view Tinderbox as a three dimensional writing tool. I can work using its basic functions one day, then dive into its more diverse functions the next to examine my thoughts and ideas from many different angles.

I have had the privilege to be able to call myself a professional writer for at least the past six years, and in that time I have wasted money on two dimensional writing tools like Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, and numerous others. With Tinderbox, I have finally found a tool that I can customise to the way I work - I think in three dimensions, and Tinderbox allows me to write that way too.

Last night, I made a variant of Megnut's recipe for scallops with a clove beurre blanc. Meg's source adds apples; I had no apples so I finished the sauce with a little bit of sherry.

I've been thinking again about similarity measures and automatic link discovery. It's an old research interest of mine, and the old technology might well be useful for keeping archives linked with new posts. I don't cook scallops very often -- they've gotten horribly expensive around here and Linda's not a big scallop fan -- but it seems I've mentioned them here and here and here and here and here. Who knew?

Then again, my old Link Apprentice mostly wants to link this note to posts that seem irrelevant to me, though Food Writing is at least on topic.

A while ago, Kathryn Cramer and Diane Greco shared the downstairs office at Eastgate. Though they each have wonderful weblogs, their weblogs are very different (and though Greco speaks German and Italian but not French, her weblog begins with the declaration that ceci n'est pas un blog).

Today, though, Cramer is writing a la Greco in a long and wonderful rant about immigration law, her first husband, and also (I think) about the difference between surface and structure. Things are seldom what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream.

Back when I was young and naive and he lectured me about Marx and Lenin, I signed up for a philosophy class on the Philosophy of Marxism and I read all that. And then I discovered that his Communism was not about philosophy at all, but about lecturing to a young blonde who hadn't read what he'd read. Once I'd stolen that high-ground and started asking questions about the base and the super-structure, he retreated into computer stuff, which he was much better at than I was.

I took the Fortran course; he got the point.

Meanwhile, Diane (May 10) is almost finished with a short story:

The process is hellish, however. I've got a narrator whose favorite phrase is shut up shut up shut up, and her voice in my ear is insistent and terrifying, but that's what's so powerful about her and so I'm pressing on, getting my words in edgewise. It's a first-person story, too, so I can't even write around her....

....The Red Sox were so disappointing tonight.

Meanwhile, I'm slogging away at my chapter on the history of links.

Mark Anderson writes a new Tinderbox tutorial for the wiki on Making A News Feed.

Tinderbox is a tool for working with ideas. It's good for sharing ideas, of course, and that's important, but the central point is to make a powerful workshop for capturing and analyzing important and difficult concepts.

It's not about pretty pictures for the boss.

Still, it's always useful to have plenty of visible dimensions. I've just spent two days on an experiment that lets me create outlines where different items are larger and smaller.

Outline Text Size

Now, lots of outliners let you adjust the size in some rigid way -- usually, top-level items are one size, and second-tier items are smaller, and so forth. That's nice, but you already know what's indented and what isn't.

The Tinderbox experiment lets different kinds of notes inherit a font size -- so pages can be bigger than blog posts and other page components. Or, agents and rules can set the font size, so urgent things can be very big.

I'm not sure this is useful enough to justify the cost and complexity. (You'd think this would be easy, but I missed my saving roll....)

Dr. Leavitt replies to yesterday's diatribe on the notion that "strong webloggers no longer link".

Just how strong should a web blogger be if a web blogger could be strong? Spending hours on Technorati has brought me no closer to the answer. Is Boing Boing the Charles Atlas of web blogging?

But he asks a good question: If you offer a link, then some readers will follow it and miss the rest of your argument.

If you have already clicked on my link to Bernstein, you are no longer reading this, your attention having already wandered. If that happened, one (Goldstein, to be exact) might believe that I am a "weak web blogger."

How do we solve this problem of the premature exit?

  • Link later. We're often tempted to annotate the first occurrence of a name or term, to push links to the top. Sometimes, it may be better to link later. A good example is the convention of "further reading" links that follow an essay or weblog post.
  • Link more quietly. Some links advertise themselves, while others fade into the background. Choose link anchors with care. Short links to a name or a noun, for example, suggest annotation -- things the reader can pursue later. Long links to vivid and contentious phrases suggest argumentation -- background you might need to follow the coming argument.
  • Shift the context. Links that open a new window or tab are less drastic than those that replace what you're currently reading. Stretchtext, if it's short, is even gentler. Rollovers and popups can display linked material in context, or can preview the destination.
  • Link types. Providing iconic or textual clues to identify the link's notional role or purpose can guide readers to use them more effectively.

Cathy Marshall spends a couple of hours talking to the IT Support guys.

Her call, too, is very important to them, just like yours. But she works for Microsoft, so you'd think it'd go better.

It used to be, you'd have the IT Support guys on site, and you'd be nice to them. You'd offer them Red Vines and M&Ms. That way, if you had them work on your computer, they wouldn't accidentally reformat the hard drive when they were reconfiguring your email.

More and more, when I answer the phone at work I find that callers are surprised -- and sometimes a little frightened -- to discover that I'm not a voicemail tree.

...It's not just that they won't engage in small talk (or Smalltalk); they never even tell you why they're having you do the seemingly meaningless sequences of steps. Over and over. You're just right-clicking and left-buttoning and poking at this tab and opening that window and going to this website and double-clicking on that icon.

In Jamaica, I had a nice chat with the executive chef of a family of resorts about the challenges of managing lots of kitchens -- especially kitchens in places where motivation and discipline are sometimes in short supply. He said that one big lesson in recent years, which he attributed especially to Ritz-Carlton, was simply pushing authority to fix things down the line.

The only time I had a real conversation with one of these guys was one Thanksgiving Day, when I spent 6 hours on the phone with David in Colorado. The thought of all that togetherness elsewhere -- all that warmth, all those turkey smells, all those dysfunctional families breaking bread -- while the two of us sat at our respective computers trying figure out why my Smart Card had suddenly become a Downs Syndrome Card (a 'tard card?) threw us into conversation....
May 06 12 2006

One Page Sites

37 Signals comes up with an interesting survey of one-page web site designs.

The one-page site is an interesting kind of minimalism. And since minimalism is 37 Signals' stock in trade, the survey makes a lot of sense. If you're thinking about a Personal Information Page (and if you don't have one, you should think about it!) and want design ideas, it's an interesting place to start.

One of the keys to one-page sites is that they need to be beautifully honed and extremely well written. At the same time, the one-page site probably needs to change often; even a minimalist has a lot to say. Tinderbox might help a lot.

Fifteen years ago, after a lecture on the exotic new technology of hypertext to a conference of tech writers, I was asked, "What sort of document won't work as hypertext?" I replied, "Business cards!"

But a one-page site is a business card, or (if you're not a business person) a visiting card. You never know.

by Robert A. Caro

In today's American political world, with its executive incompetence and superficial Congressional posturing, it's hard to recall how bad politics were in the very recent past. This volume, part of Caro's monumental biography of Lyndon Johnson, reminds us how impossibly backward the nation's political life once was, and what strange men (and they were almost all men) once dominated it.

Johnson was difficult, dangerous, and bigoted. Cruel to his rivals and unkind to his allies, he seemed to make a point of seeking out the insecurities and weaknesses of his staff for the pure joy of making them ever more miserable. He forced blushing secretaries take dictation while he sat on the toilet, he made devoted family men work unceasingly, and in a city not then noted for feminism his unconcealed contempt for his wife Lady Bird shocked his colleagues (and their wives). He ruined good men in order that his wealthy contributors could make a few extra dollars. He was a red-baiter and a toady.

But yet, when no one had been able to pass a civil rights bill despite decades of effort, in an era in which the South was entirely segregated and expected to remain forever segregated, Johnson passed the bills that changed everything.

It's hard, now, to realize how incoherent the Democratic party was before Johnson, or how completely the protection of segregation in the South had come to dominate US politics. Half the party was blindly reactionary, and that was the powerful half. The liberal Democrats -- what we would otherwise call the 'real' Democrats -- were a powerless rump. LBJ kept them powerless until he needed them, and then -- when he needed them -- he did the right thing, a thing that very much needed to be done.

Caro's vast biography, of which this is the third installment, is not concise. Like Johnson, some parts of this long book are insufferable. But Caro takes the space and time to tell you everything, and everyone is here: the young Hubert Humphrey, the old Richard Brevard Russell, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Leland Olds.

Once Roe goes, American politics may well return to this strange era in which strong, stable, but fractious minorities fight so desperately that nothing at all can be done about anything. Whether we look to LBJ as a caution or as a way out, he'll grown even more interesting.

Doc Searls, Robert Anderson, and Steve Gillmor are arguing about the value of links.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Links are not currency. Links are part of the grammar and punctuation of writing. It's literally ridiculous to say (as Seth Goldstein claims) that

strong web bloggers no longer link

It's like saying that "strong bloggers now write in Korean", or that "strong bloggers prefer short sentences." Yes, some of them do, sometimes. Some don't.

Strong writers write well. Omit unnecessary words and needless links. Don't omit necessary words and useful links.

Attention is not the problem. Yes, we're talking a lot this year about getting things done and personal productivity and trimming your inbox and your subscription list. But all this is secondary. The problem is not that we have too much to read; the problem is we don't know enough and so we've got a lot of reading to do.

This is not a link.

That is blue text. Don't confuse the passing habits (and bad design choices) of 1994 browsers with the link. Blue links were a mistake; we can live with the mistake or fix it. Either way, we're fine. (The qwerty keyboard was a mistake. Lumber dimensions were a mistake. We all live with plenty of mistakes.)

We know a lot about links. Landow's Hypertext 3.0 is one good place to start. My patterns of hypertext might be another. The best use of links on the Web is within the site, not among sites.

And, underlying all this talk is the mistaken notion that it's all about traffic. Newspapers need circulation: weblogs don't. The economics of distribution and manufacturing mean that newspapers must dominate or die. It's just not true of weblogs; lots of weblogs can achieve their goals with a very small audience indeed. Even if one of those goals is money: the right readers are more rewarding than merely numerous readers.

Links explain relationships. And relationships -- in the data, and between people -- are stuff we've got to talk about.

by Kelly Link

The special spirit of this collection of strange and often disturbing short stories is nicely captured by Shelley Jackson's cover illustration, a strange updating of Da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine. The title story brilliantly centers around a cult TV show -- Buffy, The Vampire Slayer meets The Footage -- its fan circle and its intersections with the kind of mundane reality where you can be a teenage kid whose dad writes horror stories and whose aunt leaves you a Las Vegas wedding chapel.

Kathryn Cramer, taking notes in Tinderbox for a research project, reports that she discovered part of her Map View reflected "a sort of map to the dynamics of private-sector 21st century greed."

Adaptive Pather Ryan Freitas takes issue with the Wikipedian optimism that communities will naturally develop trust:

Jimmy [Wales] also stressed that the design of the community space was important. To demonstrate the flaws in typical thinking about designing for community, he riffed on what a restaurant designed with those principles would be like. You’d start with a “feature”, like wanting to serve steak; figure out an implication, such as, well, if you serve steaks, you need steak knives; worry about an edge case, so that, if you have steak knives, people could hurt each other; and devise a solution, which is to put diners in individual cages so they can’t stab one another.

Freitas considers this.

The problem is… uh, guys, have you been to a steak house recently? I helped a friend design one, a couple years back.

In fact, cutlery is chosen carefully, and the designers do think about angry and inebriated customers. People will surprise you: they may be surprisingly good or suprisingly bad, but they're bound to astonish you.

You hear about that World of Warcraft guild that gathered in-game to mourn the real life passing of a friend? They were ambushed and slaughtered by another group of gamers.

Thanks, PeterMe.

Boris Gordon has a nifty new Flinty weblog.

Doug Johynston's DIY*Planner discusses its "official" software suite, including Open Office, Illustrator, InDesign, and Tinderbox. It's an interesting look at sophisticated and thoughtful workflow design.

Diane Greco is working on an interesting new story. (Her prize-winning "Alberto, A Case History", is on my stack; I saw it the other day at Harvard Books). She writes that

After three years of exclusive use of MS Word and BBEdit, I'm composing in Storyspace again....It's so easy to write scenes in Storyspace. The little boxes beg for set pieces, and I can keep all my incidentals -- lists of details and ideas -- in another box, which I leave on the screen so I don't forget about it.

Read the whole thing: Diane makes a very interesting point about episode and scene in narrative. I want to hear more on her critique of Manovich, too:

Manovich says new media's all about constructing an interface to a database. So is old media, it's just the interface is familiar and invisible. "Story arc," "transition." There's more to this thought, but it's 2:30 AM and I need to go to bed.

I pick up all my memes from Jill, who says she doesn't like them. I don't really like pie, either, which explains why in Jamaica I finished lunch every day with a little slice of three or four different kinds of pie.

The latest meme is, "What was the last word of your dissertation?" I can't find the rules, so I'm uncertain whether you're supposed to pick the last word of the main text, or the last word of the final appendix. Maybe humanities folk don't have appendices? Surely, not the last word of the last footnote -- that would be something like "(New) York" or "(Englewood) Cliffs", and who needs that?

The last word of the last appendix of my dissertation was: