Dec 10 1 2010

Multiple Blog

I’m looking for a lightweight, web-based CMS that can easily support two or three blogs on its main page – that is to say, two or three separate, reverse-chronological streams of posts, each with its own archives.

Tinderbox could handle this in its sleep, but in this case Tinderbox isn’t an option. Ideas?

I'm enjoying the American football season this year. I think I’d enjoy it more if I understood the modern game better. (It’s been a long time since I was the world’s most inept JV TE, our school coaching was incredibly bad, and this isn’t the same game anyway).

What I’d really like is the Roger Angell of football.

But what I’d settle for – and surely this must exist – is a good book or video in which you watch a game closely with someone who really does understand the game and who explains what he sees. A detailed commentary, in other words, explaining what they wanted to do.

Suggestions? Email me.

David Mamet reminds writers that

Someone has to make the scene dramatic. It is not the actors job (the actors job is to be truthful). It is not the directors job. His or her job is to film it straightforwardly and remind the actors to talk fast. It is your job.

People from the network ask for more clarity and more information. Mamet replies

Any dickhead with a blue suit can be (and is) taught to say “Make it clearer”, and “I want to know more about him”.

When you’ve made it so clear that even this bluesuited penguin is happy, both you and he or she will be out of a job.

I was watching Julie and Julia again last night and it struck me: the Bernard DeVoto who wrote that wonderful passage about the martini and the unicorn

This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow again and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen magically along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn. But it would not be a martini if we should see him.

turns out in fact to be the husband of Avis DeVoto , who was Julia Child’s friend, confidante, and de facto agent.

Small world.

Let’s take a moment to look at one of the tricky corners of Tinderbox. How can one note find out about its neighbors, or about other notes in your document?

Usually, a Tinderbox note is chiefly concerned with what it says and with its own properties. But sometimes, a note needs information from other notes – either for exporting that information, or to use in an action. Collections of notes, each with their own simple and small actions, can work together to do make your notes organize themselves in surprisingly effective ways.

When might a note be interested in other notes? Let’s imagine some examples:

  • If a note is a task in a list of tasks, it might highlight itself if it’s the first task in the list.
  • If a note needs to use a Web service – Google Maps, say – it needs to know about the note where you store your user key.
  • If a container represents a section of your new book, it might be interested in knowing when you most recently updated something in that section.

Let’s look at the mechanics. For example,


is the text of this note. We can export it:


or we can test it

if( $Text.empty ) { ... do something ... }

or we can set it.

$Text="....something -- perhaps results from another program...";

But suppose we’re interested in the text of some other note. We might, for example, want the text of our container:


Or, we might want the text of a particular note whose location we know


If we know that we have a child note called "references", then


will look first for that child note. If there isn’t a child named “references”, we’ll look for the first note in the document that is named “references”.

We can combine these designators, too.


gives us the text of the parent of our parent.


gives us the younger sibling of our parent – our “uncle”.


gives us the note named “references” that is a child of our parent.

Carleton University is looking for a Canada Research Chair interested in the production of literature – especially framed in terms of either New Digital Media or issues related to globalization.

I usually don’t post job openings, even for jobs that look really good. But perhaps I ought to. If you have an opinion pro or con, Email me.

At Hypertext ’87, Ted Nelson memorably deplored the Macintosh computer as an elaborate paper simulator and urged researchers to build new literary machines, not simply to reproduce old ones in new media.

At Multimedia 2010, Chunyuan Liao and his colleagues at FXPAL describe a clever system in which people read paper documents while a computer (equipped with a camera) looks over their shoulder. The computer recognizes margin notes and proofreaders’ symbols and is prepared to take appropriate action:

The user can choose individual words, symbols, figures, and arbitrary regions for keyword search, copy and paste, web search, and remote sharing. FACT thus enables a computer-like user experience on paper.

Thus, we are now recreating the affordances of new media in old. We are building simulated web pages on paper!

Update: Another fascinating approach: Les Éditiones Volumiques by Bertrand Duplat and Étienne Mineur. (needs Flash)

Nov 10 28 2010

Retreat, Hell!

by W. E. B. Griffin

The tenth and, apparently, the last of book in The Corps, this brings the saga up to the Chinese intervention in Korea. Griffin excels at finding a good story about soldiers who are sitting around and waiting for things – bad things, most likely – to happen. He is a master at generating plot from the commonplace, capturing the tension of waiting for something to happen, and the frustration of coping with omnipotent, arbitrary, and erratic superiors.

Griffin is a guilty pleasure but also a more thoughtful writer than may first appear. He can make it fun to read about sitting around, preparing for something to happen, trying to find out what is going on; this was Michener’s territory (Tales of the South Pacific) and in a way it was Wouk’s (The Caine Mutiny), and though they were there first, Griffin deserves a place beside them.

It seems clear that at least one more volume was intended – we’re left with loose ends in several subplots and the middle of the Korean War seems a strange place to leave off. But illness and other commitments may have intervened, and we should be grateful for what we have.I disliked this volume on first reading and bumped into it accidentally because I wanted something light and engaging to read on a cold and gloomy November evening and, though I can't disagree that this is the weakest volume of the series, it’s still tons of fun.

Sketchbook Pro

Sketchbook Pro, a drawing program for iPad from Autodesk, is currently available for $0.99. That’s an astonishing price for a remarkably sophisticated drawing package. Even if you almost never have a use for drawing on the iPad, it’s a lot of software power for a buck.

Nov 10 26 2010

Contested Will

by James Shapiro

For two centuries, people have argued passionately over the vexed question: who wrote Shakespeare’s plays? James Shapiro writes a fascinating intellectual history of the authorship question, ranging from early hopes that the plays could be traced to Francis Bacon, thence to wishes that Christopher Marlowe survived his murder, and finally to those who have long argued that Edward DeVere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays. Much has been made of various biographical similarities between Oxford and Shakespearean characters – Oxford had three daughters and was once abducted by pirates — but Shapiro observes this entire line of argument has always assumed that fiction is essentially autobiographical, and that this Romantic notion was deeply alien to Elizabethan and Jacobean thought.

The Oxfordian cause has attracted a strange crew of followers – Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Antonin Scalia – many of whom have come to doubt that a common man with common experiences could write these plays. Shapiro suggests what these proponent have held in common, too often, has been a longing for a vanished world in which the authority of fathers held sway.

Nov 10 23 2010



It’s always a good idea to write stuff down. I don’t do this as much as I should, though Tinderbox helps.

About a month ago, we were chatting at Eastgate about social media marketing and the rush to Facebook and Twitter and the like. It’s an interesting phenomenon for people interested in hypertext, obviously, and it also has interesting implications for journalism and new media in general.

“How many followers do you have?” someone asked. I didn’t know. And I had no idea whether anything I was doing had any effect on followers. (Yes, political comments doubtless make some Republicans decide never to look my way again, but at some point one must live with that, and today’s anti-science Republican party is way over that line.)

So, I’ve been keeping track each morning in a little Tinderbox document. Open the document, add a note, type in the Follower number for that day, and I’m done. Miss a day? Not a big deal. It’s not rocket science.

I built a little dashboard, just for fun.

by Gail Monaghan

The food stores were jammed this weekend, even the Wine And Cheese Cask had a long line. I hear that retailers fear a very difficult season is coming and that the early signs are very bad. I suspect that lots of people are planning to have terrific family feasts and few presents, like in olden days.

I recently made a delightful, lemony cheesecake from Lost Desserts . Much of Lost Desserts recalls fancy New York and Los Angeles restaurants of the fifties and sixties, but this one is based on memories of old Harvard Square and the introduction of creme fraiche to the U.S. by Sol Zausner by way of Sages and Cardullo’s. The tasty cultured cream came with a booklet of recipes, and this was the best. Or at least the best-remembered. The scale was prodigious, and this was the first time I was truly thankful to have the big KitchenAid 600. (I should have read more closely: “serves 20” means what it says.)

Also on the docket for Sunday was a batch of Sunday scones, a loaf of pumperknickel in my nifty new (and covered ) Pullman pan , and a big hunk of double-cut brisket that’s merrily corning away.

Nov 10 19 2010

Ads and Stats

Dear LazyWeb:

Let’s suppose we have two ads running on the same ad network.

  • Ad 1 has been shown 59,000 times, and has 37 clicks.
  • Ad 2 has been shown 51,000 times, and has 39 clicks.

So, it looks like Ad #2 is a more effective. Its click-through rate is .077% vs .062%. It’s gotten two more clicks, even though it’s had 8000 fewer impressions. But how sure are we that it’s not a random fluctuation, and that both ads are equally effective?

What I think: If we scale these both to 50,000 impressions, we have about 31 vs 38 clicks. The standard deviation of a Poisson distribution with expected value of λ is √ λ. So random fluctuations might easily account for a difference of √36=6 click. We might even see a difference in 12 clicks: for comparison, I think the Giants winning the 2011 World Series was about as likely as seeing a difference of 12 clicks if the ads were actually equally effective.

Rule of thumb: Show two ads until each have 25 clicks, or conversions, or whatever metric you’re using. If one ad is clearly superior, it will have 10 more clicks that its rival. Or go to 100 clicks; if one ad is clearly better, it will beat the other by 20 clicks.

Am I right? The Poisson distribution is a long ways in my rear view mirror. I’m surprised this isn’t discussed all the time, since (a) you’d think everyone who buys ads from Google would need to know this, and (b) my impression is that the Poisson distribution is even farther in the rear view mirror of the typical advertising agency.

Let me know if you’ve got a better way. Email me.

Louis Menand has a wonderful piece, looking back on the late-night talk show through the ages.

Vidal feigned perplexity at Mailer’s distress, joined forces with Flanner (who clearly found him très gentil), and made Mailer look ridiculous the way a cat makes a dog look ridiculous.

Mailer’s fatal insult, though, was to Cavett. “Why don’t you look at your question sheet and ask a question?” Mailer said to him at one point, after the swords had been drawn all around. “Why don’t you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don’t shine?”

Nov 10 18 2010

Odd Jobs

It’s been a support-heavy week as we lead up to the release of Tinderbox 5.7.1 . Today’s amusements have included

  • repairing a mysterious broken file for a colleague who is visiting Australia.
  • finding ways to automatically extract the first line from a collection of sonnets.
  • automatically numbering those sonnets.
  • speeding up agents in some large documents . (This weblog is made with Tinderbox, and agents are about an order of magnitude faster. Improvements for smaller documents will be much more modest, but they’re already really fast!).
  • fixing a keyboard focus mishap in the Find window.
  • discussing hypertext argumentation with a student of Eastern and Western philosophy.
  • routing around an ambitious crack for Eastgate products. Someone out there is paying a lot of attention to stealing our work.
  • fine-tuning a slate of Google ads.
  • updating (which is really good, IMHO)
  • planning a book, an elaborate Tinderbox tutorial, and trying to choose among two paper topics for Hypertext 2011.
Nov 10 17 2010

Course Planning

I’m toying with a case study on planning a new college course with Tinderbox. It’s not simply that professors are a big Tinderbox market (though they are), but also that the work strikes me as a reasonable placeholder for a bunch of things that arise in the business world:

  • Planning a trade show or internal sales conference
  • Managing a new product launch or special promotion
  • Planning and managing a major software product release
  • Running a local political campaign

The first two map fairly directly onto course planning. The software product release is more of a stretch, but the underlying resource management questions are similar – especially when the release date is fixed in advance. You’ve got (say) 14 weeks. You know what you want to cover. You know what you’ve got to cover – things you can’t skip because everyone expects you to cover them. Unexpected things happen: a guest lecturer falls into your lap, a developer says “Look! I stayed later last night and finished the whole feature, which turned out to be a lot easier than we thought!” Or, you spend a lecture talking about the term paper, and the dev team stalls out for a week to fix a bug nobody knew existed, Either way, you’ve got familiar issues.

I’ve always thought Tinderbox would be a terrific tool for people running for Town Council or for managing a small-town mayoral race. If you’re gearing up for something like this, Email me. We should talk.

We’ve recently done several screencasts to demonstrate aspects of Tinderbox and Twig. A correspondent wrote yesterday, urging us to do still more.

And of course we write quite a bit about Tinderbox and Twig in case studies and tutorials and in the new series of profiles on Tinderbox At Work (1 2 3 and more coming soon). And there’s the whole Romero story on information gardening and legal work.

Are screencasts useful? Effective?

QUESTION: How should be allocate resources between screencasts and Web work? And, in either medium, how do we optimize investment in extended discussions vs. brief illustrations? Is there good evidence – not mere conventional wisdom – about the comparative efficacy of screencasts and written explanations?

I’ve read a few references to vinegar pie. It sounds intriguing. If you know anything about vinegar pie, I'd like to hear from you!

P.S. When it comes to lunch, even peanut butter and jelly is acceptable if you make it with your own fresh-baked rye pumpernickel.

Nov 10 14 2010

Baking Support

King Arthur’s Flour provides legendary tech support for home bakers. Not only do they publish an exceptional collection of recipes and provide discussion forums for people who try them, but they provide a toll-free support hotline to advise people whose baking didn’t turn out.

I wonder what the business case for this might be. Typically, support tries to salvage a sale that’s going bad or to encourage future sales in the face of a setback. But fielding a tech support call can easily cost $25 or $50, and that’s 25 or 50 pounds of flour.

Admittedly, getting people into the habit of baking their bread would be a good thing for King Arthur. But it’s not that exciting for the flour vendor; you could bake a loaf of bread twice a week for a year, and you’re still only a $100/year customer at retail. A lot of that $100 gets paid to the farmer who grew the wheat, the freight companies that move it to the mill and again from the mill through the distribution network, and of course to the retailer. Of course, if you do convert a customer into a 100 loaf-per-year breadmaking fan, you’ve probably got them signed up forever and have a decent shot at their children, their sisters and their cousins and their aunts.

Still, it’s a tricky proposition.

Meanwhile, the software industry has done such a good job of discouraging tech support calls that we have to shout to get people to send us an email if they’ve got a problem.

by China MiƩville

This extraordinarily proficient fantasy involves a film-noire police procedural in the Eastern European city of Beszel. The odd thing about Beszel is that it is divided, not by a Wall as was Berlin but by cosmology: Beszel intersects and, in places, cross-hatches the faery city of Ul Qoma. From childhood, the citizens of Beszel learn not to wander accidentally into the parts of town that belong to Ul Qoma and not to see the buildings, parks, cars, and people that belong to that other city. It’s the eternal Balkan crisis turned on its head and spun like a top, but now the body of an apparent prostitute turns out to be a graduate student from Ul Qoma, and the Poliiczai has an international incident on its hands. Miéville does a fascinating job of building an entirely authentic and delightful mystery in this spectacularly fantastic world, rendering it plausible and even gritty, and quietly using that mystery to explore the limits of mystery and the borders of fantasy. Nominated for a Nebula and shared the Hugo with The Windup Girl, this book deserves everything it’s won and more.

by Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes takes Pullman’s “demons” – visible animal manifestations of the soul – and translates them from high fantasy to gritty realism in this story of Zinzi December, a South African woman who writes the copy for email spam. She is cursed with the memory of having accidentally shot her brother and blessed with the partnership with a sloth. With the sloth, she gains a knack for finding lost things, and also gains the scorn of fear of a society that treats the animalled as a dangerous subculture, leaving them to live in derelict ghettos at the margins of a crumbling urban culture. Adventurous, engaging, and sophisticated.

Zoo City
A sloth I met a few years ago on the Rio Negro

I do wish that people did not always feel it necessary to place the heroine in extreme physical danger in the penultimate scene. Zinzi finds lost things; there's nothing in the job that says the case needs to involve gunfire and hand-to-hand combat. Her animal is a sloth! It’s not Beukes’ fault: Parestsky and Kellerman do it too. There’s nothing wrong with the way things work out, but I think we might get to the same place more credibly if the union did not strictly require all heroines to be placed in peril.

A colleague of mine is planning a move and would like to donate a collection of seminal books on hypertext research to a young researcher, or to a library in need of these volumes. They include:

  • Barrett, Text, Context, Hypertext
  • Barrett, The Society of Text
  • Birkerts, Gutenberg Elegies
  • Birkerts, Tolstoy’s Dictaphone
  • Brand, The Media Lab
  • Brook & Boal, Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information
  • Holtzman, Digital Mantras
  • Landow, Hyper/Text/Theory
  • Landow, Hypertext
  • Negroponte, Being Digital (signed)
  • Rheingold, Virtual Reality

If you’re interested, Email me. and I'll pass along the information.

It seems to me that choosing what to read is a very big deal. My niece Morgan was just visiting to look at colleges. She’s putting a lot of thought into where she’s going to go and what she’s going to study when she gets there, and everyone agrees that these are questions that deserve time and thought. Ask people how they plan their personal curriculum, on the other hand, and you get blank incomprehension — even from publishing professionals.

Everyone is always behind on their reading, but how many of us know where we ought to be?

Publishers Weekly kicks off the Season Of Lists with its list of 100 best books of 2010. There are lots of good books on this list. It’s a long list; few people will have read all these books, and of course there are some other fine books that appeared in 2010. In addition, plenty of “2009” books only reach their audience after winning an award, like China Mieville’s The City & The City ,

There are plenty of good books that didn’t make the list. Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question won the Booker Prize, and doesn’t crack the top 100. I loved Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector , and it’s missing, too. And this doesn’t begin to address the question of more specialized books, like Sarah Smith’s new atmospheric, Bostonian YA, The Other Side of Dark , or Peter Heather’s massive history of the end of Rome and what came after, Empires and Barbarians .

One interesting judgment call in the PW list is the way it apportions space: mainstream fiction(30), mystery(6), romance(5), poetry,(5) sf/fantasy/horror(5), comics(10),religion(10), lifestyle(5), and nonfiction(24). This could represent the trade’s estimate of bookstore sales, I suppose, but surely romance outsells poetry. It might represent the accident of the PW org chart. It might be old established habit.

But perhaps this is a proposal for how a thoughtful reader might apportion their attention. In some respects, I think this makes sense. I “don’t read” lifestyle books, but lately I’ve started to read some books about food and cooking and 5% of one’s reading list seems about right. Poetry, comics and religion all seem high, and both mystery and nonfiction seems wildly low. The border between mainstream and mystery is, at any rate, so permeable here that Le Carré and Scott Turow both show up in mainstream; mystery is mainstream.

For example, let’s think about Science Fiction and Fantasy. Though this genre has a mixed reputation, we can agree that an educated reader ought to know some of its key works: you really do need to know Tolkien and Asimov and Verne and Gibson if you want to know what’s going on around you. But, suppose you’ve done your homework and have a decent background; about how many SF/F books do you need to read this year to stay abreast of the world?

How many books on programming should a computer professional read?

Sure, we can all join the Republican Party and pretend that we don’t need to read anything at all – that if we close our eyes and believe in good things, we’ll create a wonderful reality of prosperity and happiness. And, ues, there’s no excuse for ignorance: whatever you don’t know, whatever you haven’t read, that’s a failing. We agree: we should be reading more (if there were world enough and time). But what? How do we choose?

I know this is a juvenile question, the question of a kid who sees his first library. But still: lots of kid’s questions get lots of attention and lots of thought. There’s a guy on every street corner eager to answer Job’s question (“Why me?”) for you.

What should we be reading?


  • James Vornov: “I've always read as part of extended personal projects. Must be the academic in me, but my goal is always some level of mastery.”
  • William Cole: “Read the Scott Pilgrim series.”

A sermon about The Children

I had an interesting exchange this morning with Andy Campbell, the accomplished artist behind He is developing a digital fiction "Changed" for the iPad, based on a script by Lynda Williams, and notes that

In contrast to the influx of 'child picturebook' releases offered by publishers on the iPad, this work will be rated 15 for its adult content and theme.

On the same morning, many voices were calling for Amazon to ban a book about pedophilia.

Aren’t these simple common-sense positions that protect children?

My grandmother had a first edition of Lady Chatterly’s Lover. To read Lady Chatterly when it was new, you simply needed to know someone who was going it Italy and would bring you a copy.

This meant, in effect, that every American could read Lawrence, provided they were rich or knew someone who was. The same thing was true about birth control.

There is a great deal of ignorance in the world. We should not add to it.

Norman Mailer came back from the war, determined to write the real story, not Hollywood lies. He wrote The Naked And The Dead , a book in which soldiers talk the way soldiers actually talked, and do things that soldiers actually did. This made sense, because a few million of his readers had, like Mailer, recently been soldiers and knew perfectly well how soldiers talked. But you couldn’t put that on the page, not in 1948, and so Mailer’s book reads like this:

The Jew had been having a lot of goddam luck, and suddenly his bitterness changed into rage, constricted in his throat, and came out in a passage of dull throbbing profanity. “All right, all right,” he said, “how about giving the goddam cards a break. Let’s stop shuffling the fuggers and start playing.”
“Pretting fuggin funny,” Gallagher muttered half to himself.

Admittedly, this set up one of the great meetings of all time: when Dorothy Parker was introduced to the young Mailer, she quipped, “So you’re the man who can’t spell ‘fuck.’” Still, the subterfuge permanently defaces Mailer’s best novel. (It is worse, of course, is that Mailer had to be so elliptical about homosexuality that the modern reader can easily miss the crisis that drives the whole story. But the prissy fuggery is bad enough.)

Now, all this might be tolerable if, in fact, Mailer was conflicted – if he couldn’t bear to say fuck or to think about what a lonely general on that fugging island might want to do with his favorite lieutenant. But if that’s the Norman Mailer you believe in, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn just for you.

The effect of worrying about this stuff – fussing over the fact that people have parts and sometimes use them – distorts publishing, criticism, and writing. The impact on artists is unknowable but severe. To Have and Have Not (1937) may well be Hemingway’s worst book, but surely part of the problem is that Hemingway was trying (in part) to write about a perversely self-centered and selfish woman and, in setting up a really ugly and unpleasant sex scene in which nothing at all can actually be described, Hemingway ends up with so much bitterness spilling around that the finale gets whacked out of shape. Hemingway is trying to do Molly Bloom for some ghastly value of Bloom, but he ends up at sea with Harry Morgan, and taste is left bobbing around in the ocean, waving for help.

The same novel cleaned up just fine to make a wonderful movie . Howard Hawks can’t think about showing what Hemingway couldn’t describe, so the whole unpleasant character goes out the window. In her place, we get Lauren Bacall. I haven’t worked out the dates, but if Bacall was 18 when they shot the film it was a close-run thing. Today, you probably couldn’t have cast her, and Zeffirelli definitely couldn’t have used Olivia Hussey as his Juliet.

And maybe you think that’s all fine, and we can throw this art away to protect the kids. Besides, it’s a voluntary rating system, right?

I sympathize with the people who want warning labels. I’ve used them here at Eastgate, once or twice, at the request of authors.

But three generations of talented writers worked tirelessly for the right to write what we say and do every day, not what some self-appointed preacher tells us is safe for kids. When we “voluntarily” rate artwork, we inevitably suggest that those aspects we call out are in some way suspect. If we want to cast suspicion, the right place to do so is within the work itself. Otherwise, we betray not only our own work, but the sacrifices of generations who fought for our right to write – and we make it harder for other artists to say what must be said.

Lots of people think that homosexuality is bad for kids. What are you going to do when they ask you to “voluntarily” label It Gets Better for 18+? Lots of people think that birth control is bad for kids – or, indeed, for everyone. An entire political party (and its television network) thinks Islam is wrong. A big party of that party thinks that evolutionary biology should be rated 18+.

Theaters now have signage to warn the audience that loud noises will be part of the performance, or that characters in the play will smoke, or that there will be flashing lights. This is not unreasonable, since a few people experience extreme discomfort from sudden noise or smoke or flashing lights. I think it would be preferable, however, to post a stock notice for all performances:

Some performances in this theater involve strobe light, smoke, and/or loud or sudden noises. If you are concerned, please consult the box office for details of this performance. No photography or recording is permitted.

This would avoid revealing that someone is going to be shot in Act III when that ought to be a surprise, while people with epilepsy can get needed information easily enough.

What, precisely, is gained by trying to prevent children under the age of 12 or 15 or whatever from hearing certain words? Especially when these are words in which, it seems to me, children chiefly delight?

The impact of simulation has always been important to art, and it always complicates the erotic in art. Olympia was controversial not because she was undressed, but because she didn’t see to care.

Should Hypertext Fiction Be Rated?
Edouard Manet, Olympia (1863) photo: Wikimedia Commons
Should Hypertext Fiction Be Rated?
Hiram Powers, The Greek Slave

It was fine to show naked women being spied upon, surprised in the bath, tormented by slavers, or executed by heathens; these were familiar subjects. Showing a woman who was comfortable and in control was deplorable. Art galleries that post warning signs to alert visitors that an exhibit contains nudity are aiding those who would love to reproduce that forgotten time when women knew their place.

I once took a phone call from a teacher at a Catholic school in New York who wanted to teach hypertext fiction but was fearful of objectionable content that might cost him his job. We spent a considerable time discussing the woodcuts in Patchwork Girl and the iconography in afternoon. Only after we hung up the phone did it occur to me that the naked drawing of Patchwork Girl is in fact an allusion to medieval (and Victorian) martyrdoms. The priest and the publisher had just spend a half an hour discussing whether Catholic high school should be exposed to an image that might not be very out of place on a 12th century icon.

We were so concerned with the question of breasts that neither of us spared a thought for the saint. Here endeth the lesson.

Susan Gibb recruits a new hypertext writer, Finnegan Flawnt.

by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton

In Cartographies of Time (p. 44), Grafton and Rosenberg write:

Some of the dynasties recorded in these [16th and 17th century] lists had existed before the date when the Bible set Creation, a fact which inspired both the playwright Christopher Marlowe and the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno to abandon biblical chronology altogether.
Allusion Patrol Marlowe

The question would remain live for at least a century more; efforts of a generation of French science – a great generation at that — definitively to pin Egyptian history to a date before the notional Flood are the subject of Josefowicz and Buchwald's wonderful Zodiac of Paris .

But what’s the Marlowe allusion? Clearly, it must be obvious: the adjacent footnote clarifies all sorts of things but doesn’t provide a source for this. Where is it? Faustus? Email me.

Calvetica is an iOS calendar, fully compatible with the built-in calendar, that promises a simpler user interface, trading fewer taps for slightly more arcana. It’s a good tradeoff, since people who use calendars use them all the time; learn once, use a thousand times.

I’m not a great fan of publishing software development plans. Either you know what the next version will have, in which case you should ship it, or you don’t, in which case the reader can’t really rely on your plans. But, if you’re writing a calendar, it’s clever to format your roadmap as a calendar.


Calvetica is also interesting for full-throated embrace of Swiss Poster Design in the UI: Helvetica everywhere, and everything is red, white, black, grey, and gridded within an inch of it life.

by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton

In graduate school, I did laser chemistry. The lab was upstairs. The library was on the first floor in the back of the building, down a long corridor lined with organic chemistry labs – mostly R. B. Woodward’s group. I was a bit of a loner, and my experiment at one point had to be run at night, so I didn’t know a lot of these synthons very well.

I distinctly remember wondering, as I walked to the library, what would happen if someone published some really earth-shaking result outside our province of laser photochemistry. Would anyone think to tell me?

That’s how I feel today as I greet Grafton and Rosenberg’s new Cartographies of Time: a history of the timeline. .

This timeline appears in browsers that support the canvas element.

  • I've been writing a bit about timelines.
  • I’ve been working a lot to add timelines to Tinderbox, both integrated in Tinderbox and for sharing on the Web.
  • This book was published in March 2010. That’s eight months ago!

Was anybody planning on mentioning it? Or are you having too much fun, waiting for me to stumble across it by chance?

I think this is an opportunity for booksellers. I’d pay for good recommendations. I’m not sure how to do this fairly; I don’t want to pay for every recommendation, just like I probably wouldn’t buy every single book that even my favorite bookseller might recommend. And I don’t really want to be penalized too harshly with shipping and discounts; amazon is really good at fulfillment. So perhaps we’d do this as a subscription service or some sort. Semi-custom book reviews are really on-trend. Book bloggers take note (and get in touch if you want to talk: Email me. )

by Kenneth Tynan, John Lahr, ed.

I can’t understand why I found these strangely beguiling diaries so compelling. Tynan was an important British theater critic in the 1950’s and 1960’s . When the diaries begin, in 1971, his career was largely over. Tynan knew everybody, loved to drop names, and was invited to swell parties, but he was not deeply interested in gossip and, in any case, the diaries, though promised to his daughter, were instead kept and filleted by Tynan’s widow. Tynan was passionate about many things, but in his diaries he seldom wrote much about what he saw on stage and said even less about his reading. He was a straight man surrounded by talented gays, a fact that intrigued him but about which he says little. He adored spanking (of all things), but in the early years he seldom mentions this passion and later, dying of emphysema and scouring the newspaper for sympathetic prostitutes, he does little beyond smile at his predicament.

Yet I read every word and relished many, and I have been looking forward to my evening visit with Tynan for weeks. This was yet another Michael Dirda recommendation – the Mitford-Waugh letters were this theme's kickoff – and rereading Dirda again I see that his reaction was oddly similar. In his diaries, Tynan is neither a lyrical nor a careful writer, and the persona he presents is not really someone you’re eager to seek out. But, once you know him, for all his melancholy and despite his desperation, you’re constantly eager to hear how the next day turns out.

I hated to miss #WebArtSci Camp, but couldn’t quite manage to get to London twice this year. A follow-on event for Spring is planned to precede or follow Hypertext 2011.

Alan Dix’s trip report has a detailed precis of the Paul De Bra keynote.

In asking about repeated chains of this in Javascript, I was inquiring about program design and coding style, about the way we attach functionality to the right computational objects.

For better or worse, some people figured that I was attacking the design of Javascript. Many thousands of hit later, I'm not any wiser than I was before. It’s interesting to see that, at Y-Combinator and Hacker News, the commenters

  • generally assume that their audience and interlocutors are novices who know almost nothing about programming.
  • frequently claim that, because something is popular in some language they happen to know – Python, Lua – then the same idiom is ideal for every other language they use.

Of 20+ comments at Y-Combinator, either 0 or 1 appears to have understood the question. It’s not a very hard question; I'd thought better of Y-Cominator but perhaps it’s going the way of slashdot.

I’ve been bringing myself up to speed in modern Javascript, which is (a) a serious programming language, capable of supporting substantial work, and also (b) a never-never land of great strangeness.

The two faces are not unrelated. The language wasn’t meant to do great things or even to be a serious language. It was not very carefully designed, and was standardized too soon. It was not destined for greatness, but it had greatness thrust upon it, and Crockford showed that it was in fact capable of doing what needs to be done. Because it’s ubiquitous, lots of effort is going into making Javascript fast. Like it or not, it’s going to be an important language for all kinds of work.

But, let’s face it: any language where, when you say "I want to define a new class", you begin by calling an anonymous function: var myClass=function(){ return {}; }() — well, this is going to frighten the children.

My current puzzle is this.

A code smell is a pattern that experienced programmers recognize as a suggestion that something is mildly amiss. For example, suppose I have an object ShopFloor which has a method:

Product *thing=...






This suggests immediately that our procedure should not be a method of ShopFloor at all. We want all these things to be a method on Product:

Product::Make() {





Pack(); }

The product knows how it’s made. All those repeated pointers to thing are telling you that the method belongs on another object.

Now, Crockford-style Javascript, it seems to me, says “this” and awful lot. You can get around this with private variables, but I'm finding private variables get pretty awkward in larger objects. You quickly wind up with several pages of code inside the original class definition, with all sorts of nested definitions. That itself is a code smell! (I find myself counting braces in a old LISP style when I do this, and surely that can’t be a good thing.)

Should I reconcile myself to using this a lot? Should I tell myself, “It’s just JavaScript,” and ignore the aroma? Am I missing an idiom? It feels terribly artificial to me, but then again, I remember when various Smalltalk and LISP and (especially) C++ idioms seemed pretty bizarre.

For that matter, I’m surprised I’ve not seen more discussion of these questions. There are plenty of bad beginner’s texts, and there’s Crockford, and I’ve found a bit of useful discussion here and there. One problem is that some very bad and old Javascript sites have lots of Google Juice, which makes life harder, while forum advice at places like StackOverflow veers uncannily from expertise to the ravings of misinformed children. From the outside, it’s sometimes hard to know who is who.

Ben Worthington suggests a terrific Tinderbox application for litigators, especially in specialized or technical practices. He's built a dashboard that helps track how judges have interpreted issues that arise in his cases.

I can search to see if that Judge has previously ruled on the issues in my current case.  I insert a link in each note to the full text of the Judgment and I can quickly establish the Judge's reasons for reaching any particular decision.
Know The Judge
Nov 10 2 2010

Social Software

by John G. Breslin et al, eds

A nice surprise in today’s mail: Recent Trends and Developments In Social Software arrived. It’s got my paper, “NeoVictorian, Nobitic, and Narrative: Ancient Anticipations and the Meaning of Weblogs".

Artist statements can be the bane of art galleries, but in the visual arts they do serve a useful role by helping orient the newcomer to what the artist has in mind and to what the artwork responds. If art is a dialogue, the casual visitor is sometimes not clear just which conversation they’ve stumbled upon.

I’m much less certain that artist statements work well in electronic literature. The work itself is free to say what it wants. The digital poet doesn’t need to switch media to tell a story or cite her antecedents, while a musician or a painter might not have a good alternative to writing stuff down.

HTLit recently pointed to Jason Nelson’s Heliozoa. Nelson is a dandy digital poet, but when he turns to explain the site, I’m afraid he starts to run down the sideline before he has possession of the football. is designed as a stable of sorts, for the these poetic digital horses to sleep.  Readers can play within the possibilities of the electronic poem, to inspire and frighten, to allure and repel. An introduction to what poetry has become, and the imaginary lands I build to keep them in hay and away from the rain.

That first sentence is a tricky gadget play, but the defense isn’t fooled by the metaphor and Grammar, on a delayed blitz, breaks into the backfield to disrupt the play. On second down, “Readers” take the direct snap, but something goes wrong in the handoff to “the electronic poem” and we wind up in a pileup with Frightened, Allured, and Repelled. Grammar is again in on the tackle. On third and long, the poet drops back to pass and can’t find an open verb. Three plays, lots of motion, lots of complex looks, but a straightforward three yards and a cloud of dust might have served better.

12 Bottle Bar has a nice piece today on the White Lady, which I consider a sadly neglected cocktail.

I hadn’t realized that the white lady for which it’s named is a banshee.