Nov 06 27 2006


The other day, I was doing a talk for a class of graduate students down the road. They're studying artistic practice in the world of computers. One young woman asked me if I thought artists needed to master the technology.

I think artists need to master everything. It all counts. You need vision and you need execution; you need immediacy and spontaneity and control and polish. Neatness counts. Everything counts.

It doesn't matter that these imperatives contradict each other. That's art. If you don't like it, there are other things to do.

The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

The hope that we can be excused from mastering programming is the child’s plea to the teacher, "Will this be on the exam?" It's the hope that we may be permitted to fail, and that our failure will be overlooked because we're so cute and wonderful. We don't need to master programming (or hardware, or graphic design, or information architecture): we're just artists and either someone will buy us an expert to do the work or they'll simply ignore any shortcomings because we are so intrinsically wonderful.

The film world is not a model. People sometimes point to movies as an ideal, a world where specialists in different crafts work together, where you've got the sound guy and the lights guy and the camera guy and the acting guy and the directing guy and the money guy and the effects guy and everyone works together. But that's an artifact of the capital demands of film's tie to real estate.

Until very recently, films needed to pay rent for lots of elaborate buildings in every city and village in the world, filled with comfortable chairs and exotic equipment. If you're renting that much real estate, fixed costs like adding another assistant producer don't matter. Direct-to-video is going to change that forever, but it's only just beginning.

If film people could work without all those specialists, most of them would.

Nov 06 26 2006

How To Fight

Paul Boutin takes one of the most interesting of the Ten Tips for weblogs and discusses ways and means: Choose Good Enemies. (Thanks, Dave Winer!)

  1. Only fight with opponents bigger than yourself; let the little people pick on you.
  2. Stick to the arguments you know.
  3. Don't talk about the fight.

by Sasanna Clarke

A terrific novella can be found here, perched uncomfortably at the end of an 800-page chapter book for adults.

In Clarke's England of 1811-1814, magic is a memory but not an impossibly distant one: in the Middle Ages, Northern England had been conquered by a Faerie King and the modern United Kingdom now holds the North in stewardship for the absent Northern monarch. Faerie is thus historical memory, lost in much the same way as Welsh independence or the barony of Calais. Spells actually worked in the Middle Ages, and 19th century antiquarian societies avidly collect old manuscripts of magic instruction.

When Gaiman calls this, "unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years," he pays himself a disservice because his American Gods is a much better (and far more concise) novel. Perhaps American Gods is too American and not quite English enough, and perhaps Lord of the Rings is not precisely a novel. (Seventy years is a strange number: what happened in 1936? The Once and Future King? Lud In The Mist?)

Hundreds of pages are spent on forgettable episodes of mildly amusing magic, vaguely reminiscent of Harry Potter but written in a slightly more ambitious tone. I enjoy long narratives, but Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell cost me weeks of reflection on the issue of abandoning a book in midstream. It seemed, literally, interminable.

And then, at the very end, we witness a transformation. The nature of magic itself changes: instead of vague and mysterious gestures, the magicians of the title seem suddenly to be studying a real subject and thinking about the properties of something complex and poorly understood but nonetheless important and tangible. They sound less like Harry and Hermione and more like Watt and Stirling -- and that must be precisely what Clarke set out to do in the first place. Instead of cardboard antagonisms, we have a real reconciliation of two enemies who find themselves together in a country house on a desolate moor under Perpetual Darkness. They neither trust nor understand each other, but they will work together because there is work to be done.

I was reading last night about how the young painter Frédéric Bazille wanted to rent a studio, and had to hit up his pals (Renoir and Monet among them) to make the rent of 600 francs. And I wondered:

  • How much money was 600 francs?
  • Was this per month, or per year?

Similarly, when I read that Edouard Manet persuaded his mother to advance him 28,000 francs against his inheritance in order to rent a gallery in the Avenue de l'Alma, I'd like to know was this for rent alone, or a year's living expenses, or for rent and salaries for a staff of shop girls?

You can't simply convert historical currency to modern equivalents, the way you can convert dollars to euros. Different things cost different amounts at different times. Clothes, for example, used to be fantastically expensive by our standards; in the 19th century, workers bought clothes as if blue jeans cost maybe $1000 and an overcoat cost perhaps $10,000. Servants and unskilled labor, on the other hand, cost less: according to Mrs. Beeton (1861), if your household income was about 750 pounds sterling, you ought to employ a cook, a housemaid, a nursemaid, and a footboy, and this staff would set you back about 50 pounds per year.

In 1861 London, a 5lb leg of lamb went for about 5 shillings. The cook would make perhaps 500 shillings per year. In the U.S. today, a supermarket will sell you a nice leg of lamb for $25 and a very top-quality organic roast might cost $80. You’d have a hard time finding a full-time, trained, professional cook for $8000/year.

To make sense of everyday history, though, you need some idea of what money means. When you took the King's Shilling in 1580, how much money was that? How much did Howard's End cost? What was cab fare from Montmartre to Montparnasse in 1860? In 1798?

An authoritative compendium of prices would be a terrific Web site. Does it already exist? This seems like a great opportunity for an Masters Thesis in humanties computing, or for a doctoral student who wants to accumulate IOU's from a broad community of historians.

(Update: Robert Sahr has a thorough look at US consumer prices, 1965-present. Thanks Fazal Majid!)

Nov 06 23 2006

Stock and Broth

This weekend, I'm making a big batch of demi-glâce. This is terrific stuff to freeze in ice cube portions for the long winter of stews and braises and rich, warm sauces.

It's a lot of trouble, Mrs. Pedicaris. You start with veal bones, which are hard to get, and roast them slowly. You chop onion and carrot and celery, and you roast them, too. Then you simmer them all day, and all evening. And you filter it twice through cheesecloth.

And then in the morning you simmer it some more, with lots of red wine and shallots. And simmer. And then you simmer it. All very gently, so it doesn't boil.

You start with a big pot full of cold water. At the end, you have a few ice cube trays of demi-glâce.

But it could be worse: Moishe Lettvin describes how he was the developer responsible for the Windows Vista shutdown user experience, along with a program manager, an assistant, 3 testers, a UI designer, and a UX expert -- plus input from the kernel team, the shell team, and many, many layers of management. It's a lot of cooks.

Torill has been reading the tea leaves on upcoming changes in World of Warcraft. Some of these changes are going to require players to get lots of gold; this seems to be good news for people (many of them working in Asia) who make a living gathering WoW gold and selling it on eBay. Does this signal an alliance between the game vendor and the gold farmers?

The answer may be simpler: perhaps Blizzard simply wants to adjust the internal economy of the game. If there's too much gold in circulation, you need to find a way to draw it back out. You give people new stuff to buy, or you increase prices, or you install taxes. Whatever you do, it makes some people livid. And, inevitably, economic policies have unforeseen consequences -- including windfall profits for profiteers.

City of Heroes has a chronic economic problem. It's clear that, in the authors' initial vision, a secondary market would encourage people to trade "enhancements" acquired from the villains they arrested. Nobody does this: you sell the enhancements at a deep discount and buy the ones you need. It's just too hard to find a buyer and a seller. CoH was designed, in part, to be more fun by eliminating some of the tedious bits of WoW, so there aren't rare items to camp and you don't need to craft stuff. A side-effect of the design has been that there's too much money in circulation and nobody is very careful about spending.

A serious puzzle about macroeconomic manipulation in game worlds is achieving your policy goals without unwanted side-effects, and also without the seams showing so badly that they disrupt the narrative. Last year, the designers concluded that they'd accidentally blundered on character design: the best characters max'ed out damage, so it was a losing strategy to emphasize speed or agility or endurance. They fixed this with a technical rule change that reduced the damage of characters that specialized in damaging villains, and this provoked loud howls of pain. "They have nerfed my blaster! I quit!"

(indent,"A better solution might have been to change the villains, so they were better at taking damage -- perhaps especially from damage-heavy heroes. ")

Either way, economic policy yields complex chains of cause and effect.

It was cold and gray, and it had been raining since dawn. I was nervous about the bird. I briefly considered resorting to the oven. I checked the index of Cooks to see what they said about rain. On the subject of grilling in the rain, Cooks is silent.

Cooks does recommend cooking the turkey upside-down for the first half hour. This charred the turkey skin badly, but otherwise the turkey turned out very nicely indeed -- and right on time. (The turkey has been running late for years, but this year's fire was hot, lest it sputter out in the rain entirely.)

I stuffed this year's turkey with a quartered onion, a quartered apple, and a quartered lime in place of the conventional orange. It worked well. Kathryn used limes, too, and had the clever idea of tracking the turkey tag for flickr through the course of the day!

  • cheese and paté (Lustau dry oloroso sherry)
  • grill-roasted turkey (brined, organic, free-range)
  • salt-roasted sweet potatoes
  • Rootmus Rotmos (sp? no corrections last year. I know Swedes and Norwegians read this. Email me..)(Thanks, Petter Jönhagen, for the spelling typ)
  • green beans
  • fresh cranberry orange relish (which we forgot to serve. oops!)
  • stuffing (with fennel, and the last of the good chicken stock)
  • Chard Farms Finla Mor Pinot Noir (very, very nice, and folkloric: see below)
  • apple pie (the new Joy of Cooking flaky crust wins applause) (Pindar Cabernet port)

We followed up with The Fellowship of the Ring.

After Action  Report
Chard Farms
Nov 06 21 2006

99,000 trailers

More than 99,000 families in Louisiana and Mississippi are eating their Thanksgiving turkeys in FEMA trailers. A national disgrace.

Adrian Miles talks about the new Storyspace 2.5 for MacOS X.

It is software that I am very fond of. I find it very easy to write in, much easier than Tinderbox (which I tend to use to collect information in, but not for writing longer pieces). I’m looking forward to getting this, and once again writing hypertext, hypertextually. (That is, writing in a purely hypertext environment where my practice is concerned with writing, and writing as hypertext. Design, which is what happens when I write in html, can come later. In Storyspace things get pared down, words, links, nodes, link structures, maps.)

It's interesting that Miles finds it easier to write in Storyspace than Tinderbox; my impression is that, for the process of composing, Storyspace and Tinderbox are very similar. They share the same text engine, for example, and Tinderbox and Storyspace map views are equally expressive.

Tinderbox does give you more export options, though, and the presence of those export options might in fact be a hurdle. Knowing that you might be destined for HTML can lead to to start working on graphic design too early, before you really get down to writing, perhaps before you're certain that there's something to be written. More than once, I've been left with a nice design for a project that didn't pan out.

But perhaps I misunderstand Miles's issue.

Last year, I wrote about cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving.

This year, we were eating a little earlier, and the turkey was smaller, and there were lots of cooks doing things at the last minute. I wanted to double check. Answer: 11-13 minutes per pound, more or less. Tinderbox will find this for me next year.

And so it did.

Even better, I'd left a note there to think about using a lime or two to stuff the turkey. I usually use a quartered apple, a quartered onion, and a quartered onion. Lime sounds good. Would I have remembered to try it?

Mark Anderson sends word of a new (free) tool from Adobe Labs, Kuler. It should be great for making fresh Tinderbox color schemes.

Dr. Leavitt has a new mobile variant of his weblog, optimized for viewing on mobile phones.

The vast majority of the world's population has limited or no access to computers, but they do have mobile phones which they use for text messaging.

This is the 21st-century version of Video Night in Katmandu : everyone knows someone who has a cell phone.

Tinderbox makes it easy to adapt a site -- even a rapidly-changing, volatile site like a weblog or news page -- for mobile phones. First, you create an agent that picks off the parts of your content you most want for mobile users. For example, phone screens are small; a blog wants fewer stories.

Query: #first(mainPage,3)
Sort: PublicationDate (reverse)

Then, you let the mobile agent use a streamlined export template, one that has a simple page design suited to the small processors and small screens of the mobile phone,

To access Jonathan's Coffeeblog Mobile Edition, I made use of Mozes, a startup website that enables fans to send a keyword via their mobile phones to get a text message back from their favorite band. The keyword is sent to M-O-Z-E-S on the phone's keypad, which translates to the number 66937. To get the URL to Jonathan's Coffeeblog Mobile Edition on your phone, you just write a text message with one word: coffeeblog, then send it to M-O-Z-E-S.You get a text message back in a few seconds. Scroll down to the URL (which happens to be, select it, and go. The sleek, readable text version of the Coffeeblog will download fast. Hopefully, within days, Coffeeblog fans living in the vicinity of Kathmandu and Timbuktu (Tombouctou) will be able to read the last Coffeeblog post without having to hike 15 miles to an internet cafe.

Social scientists -- sociologists, anthropologists, and archaeologists -- have always liked Storyspace and Tinderbox. Indeed, their needs were one of the original considerations in the first design proposals for Tinderbox.

Coding and analyzing irregular data gathered from interviews, field observation, and artifacts is an important route to understanding, and we need better tools for finding structure in complex data.

Next April, it looks like I'll be going to a London conference on Advances in Qualitative Computing. It should be interesting! Do you use Tinderbox or Storyspace for qualitative research? I'd love to hear about it! Email me. me.

How about a Tinderbox day on 21 or 22 April, 2007, in or near London?

Thanksgiving Sale

It's Thanksgiving in the US, and time for Eastgate's big Thanksgiving sale. This year it's a humdinger.

  • Save $43 off Tinderbox -- and Tinderbox upgrades are just $77
  • Save $100 on the new Storyspace 2.5 for MacOS X
  • Students and teachers: save $100 on Tinderbox

Adrian Miles asks whether ubiquitous tagging, as in the Yojimbo clipping manager, makes a good substitute for hierarchical filing.

Update: SpotMeta, spotlight, and the why tagging and searching are different.

Nov 06 16 2006


More fallout from Jessica Lacetti's review of Figurski and her incidental claim that

[T]he prefix, "hyper" problematizes feminist thought (which has sought to destabilize hierarchies such as mind over body and vision over touch) as it adds inscriptions of hierarchy to an already seemingly hierarchical and male-dominated field
  • In Network World, Adam Gaffin questions whether those inscriptions of hierarchy are actually hierarchical.
  • Michael Becker grants that the field may be male-dominated but wonders if that matters, or if hypertext is actually hierarchical.
Nov 06 14 2006


Last night, I was standing at a subway station in City of Heroes when a twin sister I'd never met walked out of the train, said hello, and flew off as if nothing happened.

Now, clothes shopping is not my favorite thing, but a part of this game turns out to be dressing the role. In a world of superheroes, I'm an oddity -- a small and mundane young woman with blue manga hair, a cool leather jacket, jeans and mirrorshades.

Don't ask me about shoes. I actually had a total stranger walk up to me in Atlas Park and tell me that my outfit was great but I just had to do something about those shoes. I can't get shoes right. Sue me.

Every day you see cat-women and spiny hulks and lots of people in tights. You see green fox-headed heroes and cowled crusaders. But you don't see a lot of characters who are dark-skinned (blue, yes. Asian, no), and you don't see that many characters in street clothes.

And here Except she was someone else, and she was 14 levels more powerful, and her clothes were even more expensive than mine. But it was uncanny: the same blue-black hair. The same sunglasses. The same leather jacket and jeans. (She had a different shirt, a better shirt: I'll have to figure out how to get one like it.)

How? Why? And where will this end?

Laura Carlo, this morning's announcer at Boston's classical music station, introduced Mozart's Symphony 40 in G minor (K. 550) as an example of Mozart at his most light and graceful.

Is there any Mozart symphony that is less light and graceful? (Wikipedia reports that Schumann "regarded it as possessing Grecian lightness and grace." But, surely, Schumann is thinking of Greece in terms of nostalgia and loss, not in terms of Arcadian sweetness and light.)

You can say all sorts of things, and they may seem to make sense.

Nov 06 13 2006

Storyspace 2.5

Storyspace 2.5

Storyspace 2.5 for MacOS X is out.

J. Nathan Matias weighs in on the question of Stories in MMOGs and the End Which Never Comes. A very useful point:

When I go to the cafeteria and meet my MMORPG-playing friends, they never tire of telling me about their adventures hunting Chinese farmers, or taking out some monster. WoW has renewed the oral tradition. When I hear them, I imagine it as a taste of the storytelling in Mead-halls during the time when stories like Beowulf were first told....Some stories aren't even about the battles or quests -- did you hear? Ed just sold his helmet and bought two hundred fireworks. It happened this way....

The bottom line for Matias is a response to Michael Joyce's "Closure is a suspect quality":

Goals....leave us with a satisfying place to stop playing.

Are we reading yet?

Nov 06 12 2006


Bennett Morris creates an intriguing world of alien environments. (Update: link fixed)

Jill writes about World of Warcraft's aversion to endings:

However, Onyxia can be killed again and again, as can every other mob in the world. It’s a MMOG, and Blizzard’s goal is to get us to play for as long as possible, just as the creators of Lost want us to watch for as many seasons as possible.

Diane thinks this might not be quite right.

There are few, if any, endings built in. As Jill says, they "simply pose puzzles and defer closure for as long as they can."

I worry about this "simply." Setting up a framework in which the same, or similar, interactions can happen over and over, with enough differentiation to keep participants interested, isn't simple; and I wonder what the opposite of mere puzzle-posing might be, what Jill has in mind here.

While old-fashioned soap operas do go on forever, the better television dramas do not -- except in the real sense that life does go on. Someone will still be King of Denmark. Stuff will happen to the Darcy's.

It's not just an endlessly repetitive puzzle. I think classical music has a lesson for us: a lot of the 19th century was an exploration of how you could slow things down and build bigger and bigger forms out of the cadences of the sonata structure. But Wagner isn't endlessly repetitive, even when he spends an entire opera movement on a single cadence.

I think it's important, too, to distinguish different kinds of work in long television. (Jane Espenson, a televison writer and Buffy veteran, has a worthwhile blog "intended to help new writers tackle the job of writing those all-important spec scripts")

This is the distinction that makes Babylon 5 and Buffy work. Things change -- and when they have changed, there's no going back. (Yes, in Buffy they kill you off and you can still get work, but the C+ you get on Friday's test does go on your permanent record) And we know things change: they tell us from the beginning. The kids are all going to grow up, and Buffy is going to die. We learn this early in the first season: we just don't know exactly when she will die or what the other kids will be like when they're grown.

Odyssey and Battlestar Galactica seem like they would be easy to extend forever. But it's not easy -- not within the framework established at the outset. Ithaca is real, and while we can have plenty of adventures on the way home, it means nothing if we don't get home in time for Penelope. In Galactica, Earth is real (or it isn't). We will find it, or not. The cylons will beat us all, or we will win. The cylons will, finally, understand themselves: the kids will grow up, they will know who they are and what they want.

Earth seems to be the Ithaca of BSG, the Black Bird. But remember: the Maltese Falcon is about finding who murdered Sam Spade's partner, and the bird, like Earth, is meant to keep your eyes off the ball.

That's the promise of a long arc: the kids will grow up. If the show were to ignore the promise, it would be an endless series of chase scenes. (his is what makes the modern arc matter in a way that endlessly episodic television -- Star Trek or The Avengers -- does not.

And this is one of my misgivings about MMPORGs today: do they go nowhere? Or are we just harvesting gold and arresting 500 villains?

The story of City of Heroes and World of Warcraft goes on and on. As Jill says, Onyxia dies every day, and Onyxia goes on forever. On the fifth day, she'll be back.

In Jill's comments, Dennis Jerz writes that

Our literary passion for a long, detailed plot with a beginning, middle, and end, with a protagonist who changes slowly, over time, across several reading sessions (unlike, say, a Greek drama, which happens in one sitting) is a relatively new phenomenon, and form and content are joined in the development of the bound codex and the novel.

It’s also probably worth looking at the economic publishing environment that led Dickens to write exaggerated characters for his serialized novels.

I think it's too easy to remember that Dickens was paid by the word, and too hard to recall that someone was signing the cheques for all those words. People like the detail, the richness, the conviction that the story is not a passion play staged for our moral instruction but a continuous action that started before we opened the book and will continue after the last page. (Think of The Forsyte Saga: how old is very young Fleur today? Is she still living on grandma's farm South Africa? This is a different kind of hyper-fiction, a sort of ultrafiction: she never existed, Galsworthy never wrote about her, but we can still talk about her and we both know who she is.)

Some old stories do have beginnings and endings. The stories of the Exodus and of Saul are recorded in multiple books because they don't fit on one scroll or in one afternoon. Other long stories before the codex include Gilgamesh, Homer, Exodus, Saul, The Peloponnesian War, The Aeneid, The Synoptic Gospels, and Beowulf. I’m not certain that Roland was composed to be a codex, or Gawain and the Green Knight, or Mortu Arthure. I assume that Mohammed, Dante and Chaucer composed in codices? (I expect there are examples from China and Japan with which I’m unfamiliar. The Eddas might be pertinent. I’m sure I’m missing other things.)

Might the multi-day Navaho chants (Kinaalda, say, or Ye’ii bicheii/Night Way) be considered as outside “relatively new”? (Do we have any idea of their age?)

Let's not forget:

Closure is a suspect quality -- Michael Joyce
Nov 06 11 2006


Cameron Barrett (CamWorld) and Salim Ismail (ex PubSub) have just started Confabb, a site for tracking conferences and conference speakers. It's a big database of conferences, with opportunities for discussion, conference blogs, speaker ratings, and programs.

It was almost 5 before I got around to grabbing some groceries, and since both Linda and I have been traveling lately the cupboard was bare. Or, more precisely, it had some gaping holes and some science experiments.

I had some smoked duck left from Vermont, and some seedless black grapes from last week's grilled trout with crushed grapes. So that made a salad.

I wanted to do something rich and wintry, but was already too hungry to wait for a braise. So, I bought some short ribs to braise tomorrow and splurged tonight:

  • salad: greens, red onion, black grapes, slices of smoked duck
  • potato gratin, topped with some grated parmesan
  • rack of lamb, crusted with mustard
  • improvised sauce (deglaze pan with some leftover shiraz, reduce, add a cup of chicken stock, reduce to almost nothing)
  • a cheap, unfashionable, but nice Bordeaux

The lamb is an indulgence, but everything else is staples and leftovers. The cream in the gratin is a caloric indulgence, but we don't need to have much. It makes a lovely foundation for the lamb, with a spoonful of that nice wine sauce ladled over everything.

I'm rusty and the kitchen is all ahoo, but it's still an hour meal. Lots of code to write: tempus fugit.

Know a good source for some inexpensive duck legs? Email me.

Nov 06 8 2006


The Eastgate Development Peekhole is back, refocused and revamped.


From Wilson to LBJ, the Democratic Party in the United States was an awkward hybrid creature. On the one hand, it was the home of progress, reform, and populism, of the workers of the industrial North and the progressives of the new West. They allied with defeated Dixie against the old-money Republican dominance.

The alliance worked at the polls, but it made no sense. What partnership could exist between the most progressive and the most reactionary groups in the nation? For decades, the party couldn't even outlaw lynching. Civil Rights bills were brought to each session and died in committee.

Nixon changed that by turning Dixie red. The South was no longer solidly Democratic. The transition took a generation, but it was completed last Tuesday: the solid south is now solidly Republican, and the Republican party has become the party of the south.

This might be a blip, but it probably is not. The 2008 senatorial lineup favors the Democrats. So do the changing demographics of the country. Virginia, capital of the Confederacy, grows annually more suburban and more tightly connected to the great corridor city that runs from Boston through New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. Colorado it turning blue. And New England's once-staunch Republican enclaves are gone now. Lincoln Chaffee closed a door on an era of liberal Republicanism yesterday with a gracious comment worthy of the party of Lincoln.

Asked if deep down, despite his personal disappointment about the outcome of Tuesday’s election, he felt the same way, Chafee looked into the TV cameras and said: “To be honest, yes.”

“When you enact a divisive agenda, don’t talk to the other side, I don’t think that’s good for the country,” Chafee said. At least now, “I think the president is going to have to talk to the Democrats. I think that is going to be good for America.”

Free of the South, the Democrats should be able to move toward the future, toward an era when we'll look back in astonishment at the Bush era just as we wonder how McCarthyism could possibly have flourished. It won't be easy. There will be setbacks. But we have at last turned the corner.

Digby's essay on Southern Comfort and the new alignment is well worth reading.

Nov 06 7 2006


Not everything you hear is true. Meryl sent me this wonderful quote:

We trained hard...but every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing...and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralization. --Petronius

I bought it completely. I wanted to share it, but I figured I could get a tighter date.

It's an urban myth! An classical urban myth! Who would have thought such a thing would emerge at this late date?

Nov 06 6 2006

Four Years Ago

It's always good to remember. Josh Marshall, November 6, 2002:

Well, that really could have gone better.

Let's be honest. On the Senate side, the Democrats lost basically every race that was even remotely losable. Not that much different on the governor side.

Not too much time for comment right now. But a few thoughts. There will be a lot of talk about poorly executed tactics in various races. And there does seem to have been a late wave for Republicans -- probably just enough to seal a number of contests, and quite likely related to the president's election swing. But I think the issue here isn't poor tactics so much as an over-emphasis on tactics in general. The Democrats have lots of long-term political and demographic trends in their favor. But they don't really have a politics, a vision, or a message -- or perhaps, better to say, the courage and imagination to get behind one. And I suspect that that is the underlying issue.

The reaction among professional Democrats is one of profound shock. And a lot of heads are going to roll over this. Starting at the DNC, moving on to the leadership on the Hill, and likely spreading out from there.

Nov 06 5 2006

New Video: Maps

A new Tinderbox video debuts on the Tinderbox screencasts page. This one looks at Tinderbox map views.

New Video: Maps
click to view movie

A new Tinderbox-driven weblog from J. D. Hollis: Button Down Design.

10 Conseils pur un site vivant! 

(Fresh precis, discovered by accident)

by Craig Johnson

A refreshing and readable mystery with a fine sense of place and superb characters, major and minor. Walt Longmire, a veteran sheriff in small-town Wyoming, is hoping to retire from a fractious department when a body is found on nearby BLM land. Johnson is funny without silliness, bizarre without absurdity, and captures the West without sentiment or contempt. The Cold Dish merits consideration as one of the best mysteries of the year, in what seems to be a strong year.

I'm working on a new subsite, and of course there's got to be a copyright notice. As I typed yet another copyright line, I asked myself, "Am I going to remember to change this next year? In January of 2011?"

Tinderbox, it turns out, can do this automatically. I just write

©Copyright ^today(y)...

and, whenever you export to update the page, Tinderbox will update the copyright notice.

Oct 06 31 2006

Ten Tips

Leah from 9 lives blog liked my Ten Tips.

The latest entry in the very popular Tinderbox tutorial series: Tinderbox Views.

Video: Tinderbox Views
Oct 06 30 2006


In the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies (at the University of Maryland San Francisco), Jessica M. Laccetti reviews Richard Holeton's hypertext, Figurski at Findhorn on Acid.

Like many hypertext and web fiction narratives, the story evolves through glimpses of nodes and altering reading paths. A summary of the entire story is almost impossible, mainly because I am not sure if I have indeed found all the nodes, my reading paths will invariably differ from another reader's, and my piecing together of the experience will be personal and subjective (as with any reading experience one might argue)

Laccetti is not always sure what to make of hypertext.

Reading Figurski is not like reading Tristram Shandy or Pale Fire, and in my view it does not share the same wit as Monty Python.

Holeton's response is thoughtful and not a little self-critical.

This pair of essays is worthwhile. Laccetti does include a footnote that is spectacularly wrong-headed; I'll discuss that separately because it's irrelevant to the review.

Richard Stockton College of New Jersey has a tenure-track position in New Media Studies. Contact Robert Gregg, Dean of Arts and Humanities.

In the first paragraph of her review of Figurski at Findhorn on Acid, Jessica Laccetti interjects a footnote that (fortunately) has little to do with the review but which is, I think, completely wrong. (Updates: Diane Greco wants to stick her head in the over. David Silver thinks I'm too belligerent and that "hypertext studies is, like all academic fields, a field where males occupy the most privileged places, positions, and voices." )

She writes that

Theorists like Landow, Bolter, Joyce, and Moulthrop, have appropriated and moulded ideas from Barthes, Derrida, Deleuze, Iser, et al. in order to illustrate the parallels between print and hypertext fiction. The very term, hypertext, is loaded, suggesting a textual work which is beyond usual or established forms thereby immediately casting it in direct opposition to print discursive practice and traditions [1].


[1]Additionally, the prefix, "hyper" problematizes feminist thought (which has sought to destabilize hierarchies such as mind over body and vision over touch) as it adds inscriptions of hierarchy to an already seemingly hierarchical and male-dominated field. The theorists are male (Bolter, Landow, Amerika, Lanham, Joyce, Aarseth, Moulthrop), the hypertexts often discussed are written by men (Landow, Bolter, Joyce, Coover, Amerika), and the visions they present us with are distinctly male.

This sounds good, but it's wrong.

First, the "hyper" in hypertext does not inscribe hierarchy: it distinguishes linked text from unlinked text. When Nelson first wrote about linked cybertext in the 1960's, he naturally wished to explain how it differed from print. The argument begins with a non-sequitur; a distinction does not create a hierarchy.

Second, Ms. Laccetti manages to argue that "the theorists are male" by a simple expedient: she ignores every woman in the field. I could use the same technique to show that hypertext is dominated by Norwegians.

This means she has to pretend that her female colleagues don't exist. Of course, she cites Kate Hayles and Marie-Laure Ryan. The characterization of feminist thought in the footnote is childish when set next to Diane Greco's "Hypertext With Consequences: Recovering a Politics of Hypertext" (cited here in a redaction by the prominent Singaporean scholar Irina Aristarkhova). She affects not to know the work of Anja Rau, Wendy Morgan, Susanna Pajares Tosca (head of Digital Design at ITU-Denmark) and Jill Walker (head of Humanistic Informatics the University of Bergen), all of whose works seem directly relevant to Laccetti's approach. In the technical end of the field, the most influential industrial researcher is very probably Cathy Marshall (long at PARC, now at Microsoft) and the largest academic research group is directed by Prof. Wendy Hall, who is also president of the British Computer Society.

The list of authors of "hypertexts [that are] often discussed" is constructed to be exclusively male by even weirder means. The most surprising thing about Robert Coover's one hypertext, Heart Suit (McSweeney's 16) , is how seldom it has been discussed, and neither Bolter nor Amerika are best known for their hypertexts. The hypertext with the largest secondary literature is surely Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl; the English curriculum of New South Wales sets Patchwork Girl alongside Deena Larsen's Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts.

We could go on, but let's not. -- not least because by making a big deal of "women in hypertext" we act as if it's remarkable. (I'm not wild about ELO's new anthology creating a special category of "women authors" either.)

Electronic journals need an editor. The editor in this instance is David Silver (University of San Francisco), and I hope he did try to save the author from this embarrassment.