Oct 01 30 2001


Ed Blachman disagrees with Jessica Mulligan's claim that game critics should be capable of making computer games themselves. He notes that

"An entirely too common flaw of those who have engaged in the pursuit whose outputs they review is that they go soft. They won't criticize their friends, and the longer they're at it, the more friends they have. They won't criticize fellow authors because they know the pain of being criticized,.... or maybe because they don't want to jeopardize their chances of getting blurbed someday. Now, where's the corruption? To hell with all that! I don't want agenda-toting flamers dominating the reviews. "

Eastgate's Web site and email were inaccessible for almost an entire day yesterday. Our Web hosting service got into a billing dispute with their upstream provider -- a big, bankrupt company. While they got their fight sorted out, we couldn't conduct our own business.

This is what 1930 must have felt like: innocent bystanders trying to duck the wreckage and debris of a down market. We couldn't figure out what was wrong for hours, because the big upstream provider had apparently fired everyone who answers the phone, leaving us in phone menu hell for hours on end. Memo to managers everywhere: "your call is important to us" and "we pride ourselves on excellent service" are no longer sensible things for your telephone hold tape to say.

(Has anyone noticed that, after the Fed cuts interest rates 4 or 5 more times, they'll be giving money away? We're already giving money away to big Republican contributors, of course. But what happens if real interest rates go to zero and the economy still heads south?)

Congratulations to Dr. Susana Pajares Tosca, who successfully defended her doctoral dissertation earlier this week summa cum laude and who will take up a new post at IT University Copenhagen. Tosca's Pragmatics of Links won the 2000 Nelson Prize.

Oct 01 28 2001

Nielsen's Bugs

Jakob Nielsen is right to point out that software errors are expensive -- especially when they're embedded in ubiquitous programs like Windows and Word. But he's completely wrong when he suggests that part of the answer is to "Avoid recently released software....A good rule is to stay two years behind on upgrades."

If you stay behind on upgrades, you won't suffer new problems, but you'll be guaranteed to suffer from the old problems. It's silly to suffer from old problems when someone has already fixed them! Yes, they might have created new problem, but usually these new problems arise only when doing things that were completely impossible in the old version.

Think about it: wouldn't you like your competition to be using software that's two years out of date?

It's been a slow autumn for High Design on the Web, but there's some fascinating ferment at the edges. Christopher Baldwin's Bruno took a sudden dark turn this summer, then packed up and went to Europe; Baldwin's meticulously crafted pen-and-ink is particularly ill-suited to Web comics, and that makes his work singularly fascinating. Scott McCloud has started a series of daily one-hour improvs, an interesting counterpoint to his wonderful exercise, the 24-hour comic. Finally, thanks to McCloud, a gorgeous, atmospheric, and ambitious Web strip: Justine Shaw's Nowhere Girl.

eNarrative 3 in San Francisco is 3 coming in January. Join us!

A gorgeous, animated lesson in philosophy. The obvious comparison is My Dinner with André, but Linda's suggested double-feature is Heathers. Wonderful painting, some lovely poetic moments, and plenty to talk about. Ebert (****), Rotten Tomatoes (82%), movie site.

Oct 01 25 2001

Bad Business

Newsweek editor Deborah Branscum went to a dinner party with friends in Silicon Valley Sunday night; nine of twelve people there were out of work. Neil Gaiman (whose American Gods is fascinating), used his Web log this weekend to point to a bookstore that will be forced to close this month if its customers continue to stay home.

We're going to lose lots of bookstores, restaurants, and galleries in the next few weeks, and we're all going to be poorer for it.

Bricklin urges everyone to extend happy events with a Web journal. Take lots of pictures, share the right away, "Don't underestimate the joy this sharing and reliving brings to people....The important thing is to share it quickly, so you can help them prolong the event."

From J. D. Lasica, a large list of articles about Web journals.

Oct 01 24 2001

permanent links

I revamped the Ceres document that builds this Web journal today, in order to generate "permanent links" for each entry. Adrian Miles has already put together a wonderful Ceres demo that shows how to permanently archive each entry; I wanted to explore a different style, in which a bunch of entries are collected together in one scroll.

It's good to have many different ways to do things!

Scientists have a responsibility to keep mistakes out of the literature, and to correct any that slip through. If you don't fix mistakes, people might spend a lot of time doing experiments that cannot possibly work. If you don't fix mistakes, people might build bridges that fall down.

Artists, on the other hand, have no responsibility to correct critics' mistakes. If a reviewer or a professor has poor taste or dim understanding, that's par for the course. You can't argue about taste.

This makes life here on the border of art and science especially tricky. In the last few weeks, I've bumped into at least two papers about hypertext issues, published in respectable Web journals, that appear to me to be simply unpublishable. One is methodologically unsound, resting upon an experiment that doesn't support its conclusions. The other is poorly researched, failing to take into account any of the four or five key papers on its subject.

What's our responsibility here?

A wonderful Ceres example from Adrian Miles.

Derek Powazek's Design for Community site practices what it preaches. It's a news-and-forum community that supports and extends Powazek's new book, Design for Community . I'm working on a full review of the book, and looking forward to seeing Powazek at eNarrative this January.

Jessica Mulligan describes the corruption of the software trade press. (She's talking about the game industry, but the same problem pervaded the software trade magazines while they had influence and circulation. Now, they just don't seem to matter much.) "Just as I've always thought it is a conflict of interest for the game mags to rely on advertising dollars from the very companies whose products they review, I've always felt that those who write . . . about games should have helped make at least one." Thanks, Lisbeth Klastrup!

Mulligan writes for Skotos, a developer of text-dominant Web games. Many seem intriguing; has anyone played them? I'm trying to figure out their business model, thus far without success.

Oct 01 21 2001


Lines and Splines, a Web log on typography (!), is back from vacation.

IAWiki, a collaborative resource on information architecture. The site is in its infancy, but Wiki's have an interesting track-record of growth without flame wars.

Oct 01 20 2001

Lamb Battle

Tonight's Iron Chef (thanks to Nancy Kaplan for introducing me Iron Chef!) was Lamb Battle, wherein an apprentice tries to unseat his former teacher and the theme ingredient (for once) is something I sometimes cook. Earlier today we had late-season grilling, with our annual Mixed Grill augmented by grilled sandwiches: goat cheese, grilled portabello, fresh basil, grilled bell pepper, grilled marinated squash, basil leaf, roasted red pepper.

In Bergen, October 24-25, Cyber.*, a small conference organized by Jill Walker and Lisbeth Klastrup. The program has some fascinating titles: Aarseth on "What Games Are Not", Fagerjorn on "Figure of Converging Rhetoric", and Walker's "Games as Commentary" especially catch my eye. Wish I were there! I hope someone writes a trip report....

Inspector Honma, recovering from a bad leg, investigates rumors surrounding the disappearance of the fiancee of his unloved second cousin. Though this novel won prizes in Japan, the book is burdened with a great deal of dull exposition. Contrast Gaiman's American Gods, which goes to such lengths to avoid exposition that even its fans aren't quite sure who all the Gods are . In Books...

Oct 01 18 2001

Jury duty.

Not chosen. Again. A lost day. Forty odd people, seven jurors needed, stale and expensive pretzels in the jury room, trying to concentrate on a graceless study of the Sullan reforms while waiting to be sent home. Again.

The borders of this box are not blue. They're an exactly neutral gray.

And, while tinkering with the color scheme, I've fixed a problem with rendering in Netscape 4. If you're using Netscape 4, think about upgrading; the style sheet support is simply obsolete. But, in this case, removing one style element fixes an unsightly problem.

Here's a snapshot at part of the pile of books next to my bed: the books I'm planning to read right away. The picture is a week or two old; the pile's bigger now.

I have two more of these piles of books at home, and another pile at work. And there are lots of books I've been planning to read, wanting to read, that I've promised to read, that aren't even on the stack. I've got weeks and weeks of hypertexts, too. Some of these (like the Simon Schama) have been simmering for months. Others (Tournament of Shadows) joined the pile because of The Current Situation. It's a big, big pile. And it ought to be bigger.

How does anyone keep up with this? I know, I know: it's a sophomoric question. But it's a real problem for me, and I'm always falling farther behind. Triage seems out of the question; what now? (Amazon lets you call up a list of everything you've purchased, ever: my list makes interesting reading....)

Dave Winer points out that the people who use tools like Storyspace and Ceres are the connoisseurs of knowledge management. "The software industry, as a whole," he writes, "has not been very good at creating tools for these people..... Thinkers, planners and organizers."

Google Preferences lets you choose from a long list of languages for Google tips and messages, including such unexpected choices as Pig Latin, Hacker, Elmer Fudd, and "bork bork bork!" -- the latter being spoken by a Muppett known as the Swedish chef.

It's an odd (and amusing) exercise, a quirky gesture that works beautifully: it's out of your way if you aren't looking for amusement, but amusing if you're looking for that sort of thing. Since search engine browsing and preference tinkering are both common displacement activities, this shows an amusing sensitivity to the way people actually use the tool.

Oct 01 16 2001


Ceres makes it easy to publish your headlines as RSS or RDF files that other sites can use. Ceres also makes it easy to syndicate headlines from other sites. See the bottom of the left column of this page for an example: today, we're automatically picking up the latest headlines from the Eastgate Peekhole.

I've been thinking recently that it would be great fun to have a weekend meeting about Serious Hypertext, Education, Scholarship, and Storyspace. Storyspace II is out and flourishing, Ceres will be out soon, we have lots of exciting new hypertexts and lots of exciting new courses and project.

We're thinking about March 23-24. Probably in Boston. Everything is subject to change; it's just an idea. But if you think this would be interesting, or if you have an idea for the program, or you'd like to lend a hand, please email me right away.

This page has a new RSS news feed here. This XML file, which Ceres automatically updates whenever new items appear on this page, lets you (or programs you use) know when something interesting might be happening here.

One use of RSS is for custom Web pages like An even more interesting idea, I think, would be to publish headlines from other sites. I'd love to have the latest headlines from HypertextKitchen, jill/txt, noise between stations, and peterMe in little boxes here!

Ceres can also read RSS! If you publish a news page, journal, or Web log with and RSS or RDF feed, let us know so we can test it with Ceres.

New England has some lovely small, neglected art museums, left over from the age when places like Manchester, Fitchburg, and Worcester were striving to be real cities. The Currier in Manchester NH has a show on Edmund Tarbell, an American Impressionist of whom I've become quite fond, through January 13.

Oct 01 13 2001


In "Sadly, An Honest Creationist," Richard Dawkins finds an evolution-denier who is unwilling to lie or cheat. It's a thoughtful, graceful essay by the author of The Selfish Gene.

James Hynes, author of Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror reviews Postmodern Pooh for the Washington Post. "The entire chapter", he writes of one section, "is hilarious, a dead-on caricature of [Stanley] Fish's arrogance and wit, but one passage in particular captures his adolescent pugnacity, his I'm-right-and-you're-not swagger: 'I don't mind explaining where most of my fellow panelists went off the rails. The problem was left-wing puritanism. Of course there's nothing wrong with being on the left; I myself am all for multiculturalism, affirmative action, and the rest of the progressive agenda, which has never posed much of a threat to my career.'"

Oct 01 12 2001

To Boldly Baste

Starting November 16: Iron Chef USA, starring William Shatner! (Truly ugly Web site -- noises, dancing flames, tons of bandwidth. In short, entirely appropriate design.)

The San Diego zoo lent Boston two koala bears for the summer. Now it's getting cold but the cuddly koalas can't fly home, because airport security is too tight. "Checking their pockets is out of the question."

V. S. Naipul wins the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Martin Fowler's book on Refactoring is sneaky-brilliant. It describes a way of continuously improving software during development, a common-sense idea that is vaguely heretical but closely allied to the Extreme Programming/Agile Alliance movement. Each bit of the book seems self-evident, but in aggregate it will change the way you work. Fowler's Web site,, is very interesting as well, a superb example of the way personal Web journals intersect with professional life and with scholarship.
John Keegan, whose The Face of Battle is essential reading for anyone interested in history, has written a very interesting essay on understanding the current clash of civilizations. "Relentlessness, as opposed to surprise and sensation, is the Western way of warfare. It is deeply injurious to the Oriental style and rhetoric of war-making...this war belongs within the much larger spectrum of a far older conflict between settled, creative productive Westerners and predatory, destructive Orientals."

On the one hand, this language makes me extremely uncomfortable -- note, for example, Keegan's insistenceon the antiquated and wildly unfashionable term, "Oriental." On the other, Keegan is trying to situate the current conflict into the context of an ancient rivalry between agrarian city-states and nomadic horse-raiders -- a conflict, in short, that predates both Christanity and Islam.

Oct 01 11 2001

Bad Law

Michael Fraase's Arts and Farces may have been the first industry ezine -- a hypertext periodical, distributed on floppy disk, years before the Web.

Arts and Farces is back, and Fraase weighs in with an intelligent (and scary) speculation on how the US Congress, in the name of Security, is planning to make copy protection mandatory for everyone and everything. I don't follow Fraase's argument that this would criminalize PERL and Apache, but it clearly would give Gates, Bertelsmann, and Murdoch constructive (and permanent) ownership of our culture. Also important: Fraase's latest essay argues that, when it comes to software development teams, small is good.

New in talks: an old talk, Chasing Our Tails, written for the colloquium 'Tous les savoirs du monde" on the opening of the new Biblioteque de France.

I've never done a good job of keeping track of old talks, tutorials, lectures and the like. On rare occasions, people ask me for a CV for one reason or another. I'm usually a stickler about references; it's embarassing, but I'm sure I'm missing some of my own citations.

Dan Bricklin's latest essay argues that copy protection robs the future, endangers our cultural heritage and subverts the work of librarians, archivists, and curators. He also observes that this is, at heart, an issue of class. "Like the days when 'art' was only accessible to the rich, two classes will probably develop: Copy protected and not copy protected, the "high art" and "folk art" of tomorrow."

I suspect that many artists would find Bricklin's last clause puzzling; High Art, in today's net art world, seems closely tied to the academy. It's the Mass Media that worries about Rights Management. In the long term, though, I think it's important to remember that saving literature from commerce would reduce the artists once again to the status of servant to the Prince and the Priest, to the state and to established ideology. In the growing medievalization of our culture, this is one of the more worrisome developments.

"And if you don't like 'em, I have others." (from

The Wheel of Fortune, a hypertext radio play by Nick Fisher.)

"Perhaps because it was performed in large space, the Yiddish theater was a place for large emotions, what it is probably not kosher to call ham actiing." -- from Robert Brustein's new book, The Siege of the Arts

Oct 01 4 2001


In my Hypertext 2000 paper, I discussed "intergrammatical" hypertexts that use overlaid, translucent elements for montage and collage. Here, from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, is one of the oldest such hypertexts.

I don't know what the text says, unfortunately, but notice how it plays off the underlying image. The image doesn't illustrate the text, the text doesn't document the image, but the two combine to say something that neither, alone, could say.

The colors on this page are changing often, both because I'm reading Cailin Boyle's Color Harmony for the Web and because I'm working to find better ways to make flexible sites with Ceres.

In this version, I've added attributes to my Ceres File for things like BackgroundColor and BorderColor. The default values for these colors define the overall design. If a page wants a different color scheme, of course, it's easy to set different colors. Better yet, if you want an entire section to share a different color scheme, you can simply create a prototype for the pages in that section.

But there are many other ways to do this in Ceres! Perhaps you'd rather set the colors in style sheets: go ahead! Instead of defining a bunch of color attributes, we define a string sttribute containing the name of the style sheet. The default value is the site's default stylesheet, but we can easily set a different style for a single note or an entire selection. Or, we might define an attrbute called BodyTag, containing the entire Body tag in one chunk.

The point is not that Ceres makes it easy to play with colors, but rather that Ceres makes it easy to adapt your entire site -- manually, with power tools, or automatically with agents.

Ceres is simple, but it's also deep: you can get started quickly, but there are lots of ways to do things.

A few nights ago, in a delightful bistro in the delightful German town of Erfurt, a delightful Brazilian Web artist explained that she could not use Macromedia Flash because it wasn't Open Source, and her artistic process requires "Open Source" -- by which she meant, as far as I could make out, that she insists her work be revealed entirely by the View Source browser command.

This meant, I pointed out, that in practice her work was completely dependent on Microsoft. For her, "open source" means, in practice, whatever JavaScript dialect MSIE chooses to handle.

This self-imposed regimen means she'll never use any of the tools I create. She can only use tools endorsed by governments and giant corporations, for only they can define standards. In the name of openness, her art is captive to the whims of giant corporations.

Only the wealthy can practice their art (or write tools for artists to use) while pretending to exist outside the economy.

An insightful discussion of

Small Business and Web Sites by Dan Bricklin refutes all the easy assumptions. Bricklin takes the time to look at small business as it is, not as people imagine them to be. He gets real statistics, and chases down real references; a good antidote to the posturing to the trade press.

Oct 01 2 2001


Years ago, I crossed swords with Jorn Barger, a fellow who loved flame wars and who, pretty much singlehandedly, essentially destroyed alt.hypertext. Dave Winer recently pointed out that Barger's weblog has become a home for weird anti-Semitic posturing: Barger thinks, for example, that the Israeli government evacuated its citizens from the World Trade Center on 9/11, and thinks the hawks in the defense department are a Jewish conspiracy.

It figures.

p0es1s, in Erfurt and Berlin, was great -- lots of wildly experimental work, lots of interesting people. I think there was less interest in narrative than I'd have expected; this, too, will change in time. (That's Heiko "Kon-Tiki" Idensen at the left)

Travelling in the wake of 9/11 was interesting. Airports are less pleasant, less convenient, more abrasive, and the split between the steerage class passengers and the elite up front is growing. (My return flight was cancelled thanks to a strike, so I rode back in business class through Zürich. Everyone else stood in endless lines for passport checks; I breezed right through. Everyone else stood around waiting for baggage; mine came right off the plane and the customs people waved as I passed. Bad news for a fair society)

In baseball, most great players start out with great tools -- speed, dexterity, a good throwing arm. A few players (most famously Pete Rose) manage to thrive even though they lack the tools; they find a way to succeed even though they aren't naturally capable.

Among writers, is there any better example of a no-tools player than Gary Gygax, the originator of Dungeons and Dragons? D&D, after all, is just a book. The rest of the marchandising came later, and hardly matters. Gygax is not a talented writer. His sentences are often ungraceful, his organization is frequently awkward. Yet the original D&D pamphlets had tremendous impact on culture (and cyberculture); few books have had greater long-term impact on cyberculture.

A few weeks ago, I asked Donna Leishman for her thoughts about Jimmy Owenn's, especially her (or his) "Peau Nue." Her first reaction was very negative; now, Leishman's taken a second look.

The new discussion is extremely interesting. Notive how a change in frame rate seems to inspire new narrative interpretation: Eisenstein in action! By viewing the work on a faster system, Leishan sees new things: "headless torso lying on her back, someone kissing? (Did I see that or want to see that?) So now I feel something, some emotion, something more than watching loops of a semi-naked body."