Selective Blog Uploading
Friday, 28 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Where have you been all my life?
** * **
(aside) Methinks that one great obstacle of using Tinderbox for my website is that I have to upload ye whole tree every time I wish to change any part of any page. So when I saw Walker, a tool for selective uploading website files based on datestamps and filesizes, I realized that I had the perfect solution to my needs.
** * **
I'll be testing Walker over the weekend. I think that now that I have given up on both Slashdot and Metafilter, I'll stick to something useful, like Freshmeat for my daily filter addiction for now on.
Friday, 28 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
The weight of history rests heavy on my soul.
** * **
I was watching "The Story of English" by Jim McLehrer. It was episode 3, Muse of Fire, about the language of Walter Raleigh, about the dialects of 16th and 17th century England, and about the few Americans who still carry on British accents.
They showed Tangier Island. A several hour boat ride from mainland Virginia, Tangier had, at the time of filming, maintained an accent similar to the one held by the first British inhabitants of Tangier in 1686.
Tangier, like Maine, reminds me that some of the poorest Americans are not in the cities, but live difficult lives of hard work scraping a living from the land and sea. At Tangier Island, where luxuries are few, the men literally work all day. As soon as men are old enough teenagers, they begin the daily life cycle of work and sleep. No eight or ten hour days for the men of Tangier. They would put obsessive computer programmers to shame with their hours.
Yet one gets the unmistakable impression that they are happy.
** * **
When I watched the show, I nearly cried. Because I knew that the medium that brought me news of their proud linguistic heritage would also probably destroy it. Television does much to homogenize speech. Our current visual entertainment may reduce attention span, encourages us to trust performance over logic, and homogenizes language through mass distribution.
I imagined that by the time I was able to watch the video, now eight years later, a new generation would be growing up, one that knows the characters of Friends more than the vivid, unpredictable character of the sea.
I was wrong. The people Tangier seem to be very firm about keeping their way of life.
I am briefly put into a great dilemma. Imagine how much better life could be for them with more modern conveniences, with more time for using their minds to create, to experience, to explore human wisdom, art, literature, etc.. But then, when I think of things like quality of life, I remember that, like any human concoction, this 21st century Western life we have made for ourselves is much more prosperous, includes more toys, and involves more creativity. But in a way, many more things are demanded of us, and the work of our collective desires and efforts have not all been great or helpful. These are strongly religious people -- if they know God, who am I to say that my life is better than theirs? In fact, they might just be able to say that about me.
** * **
For the weight of history rests heavy on my soul.
Metaphor DM, now in Gel Caps
Tuesday, 25 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Dylan noticed my metaphor. While writing it, I knew it was a bad metaphor. I think he noticed this fact. But my error was helpful -- it brought out an interesting question that was only tangential to my point at the time:
I think its a matter of existential dumpster diving. What I mean is, we live in a culture full of “quick and dirty” means to quick and dirty ends. Things that take discipline and training to use, unfortunately, also require discipline and training in order to appreciate, and that’s not very American, is it? How then am I supposed to communicate with Americans? Am I making any sense here?
Almost, Dylan, but not quite. Americans may like to experience the quick-and-dirty of narrative. Just look at reality shows, which are very slightly planned. Then again, look at broadway. Far from quick-and-dirty, broadway requires a wealth of careful, planned, disciplined skill in the writers, the composers, the musicians, and the actors. In terms of total preparation years, centuries go into the creation and performance of a single musical. And yet broadway continues to be highly popular. Americans appreciate care and discipline -- they demand it. They just want someone else to do the work.
I agree with Dylan. If he wants to reach a larger audience, he has to come up with a new way to organize the piece. The simple links did convey a disoriented sense about the work, which reflected the disoriented nature of the characters' lives. However, this effect can be kept while making readers more comfortable. After all, Memento wasn't a box office failure. Movies like The Game make a decent amount of cash. Both contain as much if not more uncertainty than "To Win, Simply Play". Perhaps the difference between these is that Dylan's novella doesn't come to a conclusive "aha" moment, like The Game, and doesn't really compel the reader to try to keep track. I'm not sure it should. So perhaps the comparison breaks down. (tag for future thought)
Back to the metaphor. The more I think about it, the more I like the weapon metaphor for text tools.
I mentioned that word processors are like a saturday night special, but that a tool like Tinderbox is much more like a Katana. The place where the metaphor breaks down is the area where Dylan was trying to understand it. Both the gun and the sword are weapons that intend to wound or kill. They're not crafting tools. You don't present the result to an audience.
I was thinking of the perspective of the one who weilds the tool. Word processors produce one kind of output. Like the gun, they're simple. Pull the trigger, and you shoot your opponent. Open a word processor and make a linear document with some formatting.
Hypertext, however, is a multi-faceted thing. When someone learns to use a sword, that person learns more than how to operate a weapon. The fighter learns more about herself, about the physics of her body. In training, she learns to control her mind and blend action and thought.
This is where the sword metaphor breaks down. But let me extend the ideas. Hypertext software can do what word processing software can do. But it is much more versatile. It gives one a useful reason to develop such discipline. Unlike Dylan's warrior, who is ineffective against guns, the person who writes in hypertext is able to do more because the tool can do so much more. The technology can enable a person, through discipline and careful thought, to think in effective ways that are not possible using conventional, linear styles.
I will point out, since a linguist friend sometimes reads this blog, that the Word Processor is even a step back from paper, since people who wrote with paper often used the old note-card system, which allows you to make writing modular and shift it around, linking it to bibliographic entries, etc..
Word processors are just typewriters with deleteable text and multiple fonts (oversimplification). Programs like Tinderbox take the most useful features of rich text systems, keeping all the speed, and includw a world of possibility far beyond the limitations of linear text.
** * **
So, I have talked about the writer. What about the audience?
In a recent journal article, I described how I use hypertext software to write linear texts. For me, hypertext is just one possible representation of ideas. If the audience enjoys that kind of thing, fine. If not, then writing in hypertext gives me an edge when writing linear works as well. But, even more useful is this: A tool like TInderbox gives me the opportunity to play with things on the fringes of linear text, things which give me the chance to use hypertext to make it more intuitive for readers. Case in point: Philadelphia Fullerine. By making it a hypertext project, I was able to present over two hours of audio documentary without worrying that listeners wouldn't have time. I also freed listeners to individually experience the narrative, without me telling them what they had to look at or listen to. Thus I gain a larger audience than i would have otherwise.
Dylan's post makes a great point at the end:
I was initially drawn to hypertext writing as a way to make an interestingly fragmented narrative, as something “new”, “edgy” or “experimental” more than I was drawn to its qualities “for how they might aid poetic composition” — which they can!
Dylan realizes something that has been nagging me for a while. Is there a way to write hypertext so it seems natural, so the form doesn't draw attention to itself? Videogames? Interactive fictions? The web doesn't seem to have caused a collective change in how people read. They still think in terms of pages. In fact, people's mindsets about texts seem to have had a greater effect on the concept of hypertext, limiting what we have available in such tools as the web.
As Dylan notes in a more recent post, the blog is the best people seem to be able to come up with, a blob of chaos sorted by date. Along with the ability too write more complex ideas more clearly, we seem to have gained intense time constraints which don't give us the chance to think or plan clearly. Hmm. Food for thought.
It was the moon
Monday, 24 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
My ToDo list was getting longer than I prefer. So, after waking up early in the morning, I sat down and started writing emails, filing away papers, and preparing for another event-filled week of college. Through the window outside, darkness cut me off from the rest of the world, and I focused on the screen.
When I looked up an hour later, I could see the still white snow, finally at frigid rest on the cornfields underneath my window. A clean, powder-blue sky was painted in bold strokes in the western end of the world. And then I looked south. God has scattered his pastels once again, blending them smoothly in oranges, greens and pinks, here and there, a surprise of teal and dark mauve, framed in the clouds that looked like so many careful strokes. Through the trees I saw them, their frozen black arms struggling to move, frostbit but still alive, roots deep inside the chilly earth.
Across the road, past the few cornstalks who so desperately have stood in the face of wind and biting snow, across the neighbor's snowéd lane and a mat of frosty soy-chaff, a mist is rising from a little stream, the brown grasses and trees signaling a dark wound in the earth, yet warm enough to breathe before it too is frozen over.
** * **
I thank God for these the splashes of beauty amid the biting cold. And for a few moments, I forget the green world in this land of ice. It's as if God wants to use his entire palette, not just of color, but of sensation, of weather. There is joy here in the soft antiblanket of the snow and the crackling rustle of oak trees imprisoned in ice. Just as there is joy in the softness, in the budding life of spring, the jubilation of summertime warmth, and the panoply of falltime leaves.
** * **
And yet, I too can be surprised.
Peeking out my window to the south, I saw the dawn begin to flow over the world like a can of ill-mixed paint, splashing abstract color across the sky more masterfully than any human hand. I wondered that the western sky should be so dark, and yet, I expected it. The sun was rising, the world was becoming light again.
But the western sky was not completely dark. There was a bright light there, itself a soft pastel orange in a bed of powder blue. It was the moon. And as the sun rose, the moon set.
They saw each other for a short moment, those great lovers who dance the celestial dance, and then the moon slipped beneath the horizon's rim.
They must play hide-and-go-seek, for I fancy that the moon will surprise us by popping out behind the eastern horizon this afternoon, and be united again with the sun for the few hours before dusk, when all goes dark yet again, blank, clean, ready for another day's light, another day's living.
Sunday, 23 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
I am currently studying the Metaphysical Poets. On Friday, we discussed the idea of a conceit. In preparation for class, I dashed off a short conceited poem.
And now, I inflict it on you:
Let our love, the gentle earthworm be,
burrowed underneath the reach of heel and hand
underneath the reign of clouds and woe,
content in earthen huts and vaulted crystal harmony.
If the earth be barren of food for men
rigid, empty of the loam of healthy land,
earthworm's living, eating - e'en his waste,
does serve to feed the earth again.
What I do for fun
Friday, 21 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
From time to time, I get that certain feeling -- you know what I mean, we're human after all.
At times like these, I'm restless. I can't focus on my reading. So I get up. I walk to where I know there's fun to be had, where I know things will warm up a little bit.
Yesterday's afternoon jaunt was way hotter than I expected.
** * **
After stripping it bare, Brett and I installed RAM, hard drives, a processor, and a heatsink to my new server. We pulled out a drive to make room. But when we powered her up,
After a few hours of trying things and thinking, I went over to ask Dr. Leap for advice.
He had some suggestions, and Brett tried them while I helped Dr. Leap compile a custom Linux kernel for one of his dual proc GNU machines. I yo-yoed back and forth between Leap's office and the lab.
Then, while we were trying to figure out how USB hotplug was crashing when we never enabled USB support, Brett popped his head in.
"It's the heatsink."
I breathed a sigh of relief. When I got back to the lab, the box was running. We installed an even bigger heatsink, just in case, and the machine purred happily.
** * **
The random urge to wander by the computer science people in Nicarry Hall often bears strange fruit. Last semester, I was in the lab with Brett Lojacono, and I noticed a DEC PDP-8 buried under a stack of keyboards.
"Does it work?" I asked.
We then checked with Dr. Leap.
"I powered it up almost a decade ago, and it worked fine then. One of the lights is out. But maybe we can get it to work," he said.
But then finals engulfed us all, and we forgot.
Two days ago, I asked Dr. Leap about the machine again. So yesterday, in Operating Systems class, he dragged it out and made the lights blink.
I'm not in the class, but Leap is going to let me write programs for it.
A Concert Tomorrow
Friday, 21 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Tomorrow, I go to a concert at the beautiful Hershey Theatre with Elizabethtown graduate Ryan McGee.
We have had some weird times together:
Who else would go out on a friday nights, saturday nights, into Lancaster city, past the goth club, into a coffeeshop to write about Foucault, Derrida, and Barthe? Who else would go to Franklin & Marshall on a weekend, with its rockin' frat houses, and enter the heady atmosphere of the college library?
It will be good to see Ryan again.
Friday, 14 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
We have had unusually warm weather this winter. Warm and humid.
Normally, I would look out the window to see snow. But this winter?
The humid, foggy mornings break out into jubilation every evening. And my desk faces the western sky. That picture, in fact, was taken from my bedroom window.
** * **
And the evenings! Just cool enough to stroll underneath the dim, hazy nighttime lamps.
Two nights ago, I was walking back to my car after practicing my trumpet, under a canopy of branches. The knobby sycamores spread their branches, meshing with each other in the night like rows of grandfathers embracing. Even in the humidity, the night was silent, still.
I had turned off my headphones long ago to savor the cool, refreshing loneliness of communion with creation. I remembered that I too am part of this world, not mind only, nor spirit, but a living thing-- in many ways like the trees alongside me.
What kind of life is in trees? I wondered, that would make them live so long, and be so steady, their roots deep, their hearts coursing with sweet sap even in the darkest, coldest wintertime?
Trees, it seems, live forever.
I look out of my window and see the oaks, the tuliptrees, and even a blackberry. The fingers of a dogwood stretch elegantly to the sky below my window. Those trees were my great friends growing up, Loriodendron Tulipefera, my tent, my hiding place to read, and explore, and imagine. That burl on my desk was once my favorite seat. See that hemlock? They say I climbed it when I was four.
And now, 17 years later, I remember those good friends with fond memories.
But I also see trees that are no longer there. For trees, like us, must someday die as well.
So I thank the Creator for the blessings of the life around me, for the slow, persistent energy and growth of all living things, thanking Him also for the life inside me, and remembering that I too will pass away and not be forgotten.
Tuesday, 11 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
I knew it was going to be a beautiful night.
During a semester, I usually afford myself very few luxuries. Time is short, and my schedule full, but this, I had been looking forward to this with great anticipation. After running into an old friend at a coffeeshop, I decided to pay her a visit at work. And why not, when she works as a glass sculptor at Hershey Park? What better time to see a friend than among the color, beauty, and glowing revel of Christmastime holiday?
(cue Mr. Rogers theme -- We're going on a trip, Mr. McFeely!)
Hershey is a beautifully idyllic, upper middle-class town (thanks to Milton Hershey) -- it has an underbelly, true -- but this was a night to forget any sorrow or bitterness, stress or responsibility, and immserse myself in the light, in the smiles, and the company of one of the neatest people I know.
Hersheypark Candylane captures the best in America's commercialization of Christmas. Let's take a look (begin the photo-essay) -->:
Friday, 7 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
Last Sunday, I finally called Dylan Kinnett. Well, I had called him once before, but only for a few minutes. We have been trying to connect since early November.
I knew that our conversation would be a long one, so I had been the one to suggest we talk. My post-RSI fingers aren't in for many long emails, and such communication is slow. Telephones can be much more productive.
Dylan is rather different than I. He has trained to be a creative writer. I have not. He has names for things that to me are feelings or anchors to excerpts from books. This is a good thing. It means that we can contribute much to each others' understandings.
** * **
Dylan and I talked about "To Win, Simply Play." Some of his readers disliked feeling disoriented. But for me, that was key to the novella. So we tried to think of ways that he could trick the reader into thinking less disoriented without actually being disoriented. Our thoughts drifted to Griffin & Sabine.
Written by Nick Bantock, this "novel" is incredibly disorienting. And yet, one is drawn forward through this highly unconventional story because the navigation metaphor is appropriate to the story. See, in Griffin & Sabine, the reader isn't reading a traditional text. Rather, the novel is made up of postcards. Instead of reading a normal, linear work, we read actual poscards, with postage and everything. If printed in a normal book, a progression of letters would seem odd. I might not read the whole thing.
But, opening the envolopes and reading the letters inside, it doesn't seem so odd. By immersing the reader in a conventional metaphor that we all understand, Bantock was able to create an enjoyable novel out of something that might have been inscrutable.
Dylan and I discussed how this might be done in a hypertext.
Of course, there's a problem.
Metaphors only take us so far. For example, the Desktop Metaphor in computers fails to give us anything nearly as useful as an actual desk, with actual paper. The computer innovation that is anything near useful is not the desktop metaphor, but rather the keyboard and mouse, which work perfectly fine in text-only interfaces.
So there seems to be a tension between acceptance and grok level, at least in software. One can do more interesting things the farther one gets away from traditional metaphors-- though one can do horrible things too. You have to work harder the farther away you get from what you know-- but one also finds that people are less likely to spend the time to understand it. The challenge in IA, interface design, and indeed, in hypertext literature, is that we're supposed to make these things powerful, intuitive, and very easy-to-understand. And all three are somehow supposed to convege.
** * **
To use a warfare metaphor -- we are much more willing to buy computer systems that are like pistols (simple -- just pull the trigger) than something elegant, like a Katana. We go for the least amount of effort on our part. This is why I like Tinderbox, which is a piece of software that takes discipline and training to master, but which is much better suited for precision information handling than Saturday Night Specials like word processors.
** * **
So Dylan has this problem -- who does he write for? Art is different than productivity software in a number of ways. It doesn't have to be useful (though lots of art is).
But this is a bit of an old problem. As a literature student, I enjoy books like Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness very much. And yet, few aside from literary-minded people enjoy that work. His work is not particularly accessible, but I enjoyed it.
But perhaps it's a false dilemma. Bantock's postcard books can be accessible to nearly anyone who has ever received mail.
Here, in the 21st century, a time heavily influenced by television and other moving pictures, traditional writing is alive and well. But I think to be experimental, one has to really work with the visual to make an immersive experience. And in that, except for cases like Bantock, we must look to kid's books for inspiration.
This is not because there is something particularly right or natural about the form. It's just because the visual (I think with a bit of sadness) is the primary form of narrative people understand.
I am encouraged that Dylan wants to improve his work. On the phone, I could tell he felt a little embarrassed that he had not risen to new vistas of intellectual and creative activity. But editing is good. Take Joseph Conrad, for example. He took 9 years (or was it 7? 8? I forget) to write Heart of Darkness.
Friday, 7 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
tumbling through my mind nearly as quickly as the sands of narrative slipping through my fingers with every moment I have failed to write.
But neither are flowing as fast as the cliches tonight.
** * **
So much to say, so much to do, so much to read -- and no time. Give me a room, I telll you. Just a basic room. I don't even need a bed, though a beanbag chair would be nice.
Then give me a stack of books, my laptop, and a good wifi connection.
But there it is --school-- that most unfortunately useful obstacle to learning.
** * **
Classes start the 17th, and I have not yet taken time to rest or regroup. Frankly, I'm worried.
Thursday, 6 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
While at the National Collegiate Honors Conference, I discussed the topic of honor with the director of my college's honors program, Dr. Conrad Kanagy. A kind man, he is also the pastor of a Mennonite church. That morning at the conference, he had discussed the topic of seeking honor with other religious leaders who are involved in honors. They discussed the difficulty of even calling such a program an "honors" program, since it's not our place to seek honor.
When we talked, I was struck by (what seemed to me) the difference between the idea of seeking honor and doing honorable things. Our conversation got pushed to my mind's back burner but didn't disappear.
** * **
I was reading from the book of Romans the other day and ran across an interesting passage in the second chapter...
1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?
5But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”[a] 7To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8But for those who are selfseeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11For God does not show favoritism.
So here, we see how we can seek glory, honor, immortality, and peace for ourselves and be perfectly just in doing so.
In fact, the only righteous thing to do is to seek glory, honor, immortality, and peace. The nice thing? Righteousness is the only way to actually gain these things. For glory, honor, immortality, and peace from God are much better than the versions that humans give. And yet this passage clearly lists them in the context of humility and a realization of human failure. Because the other point of this passage flow is to show how such things are unattainable through human effort.
In chapter 3, we read:
Where , then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? on that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
We then learn that in fact, blessing doesn't come as a result of living an honorable life, but rather that an honorable life comes as a result of free blessing through the grace of Christ. Later, we learn that our aspiration to righteousness dooms us as much as any aspiration to sin, but that the Spirit is our only hope to living a good life.
The same grace that make a righteous life possible secures the glory, honor, and peace we might have otherwise sought by running the futile hamster wheel of personal righteousness. This is the beautiful mystery of grace.
Although I have not expressed it in such terms, this is the sort of honor that I have associated with the honors program at Etown. I think it is fitting and laudable to honor, aid, and encourage those who are willing to seek honor from God. What is better than to align our praise and endowment of honor to those who God Himself would honor? No doubt, there are difficulties, since E-Town is no longer a primarily religious college (was it ever? I cannot say). But it should not be a difficulty for us to honor the righteous. It should be a pleasure.
For those who join an honors program as a Christian, this biblical honor must be our orienting goal.
A Fullerine Schedule
Tuesday, 4 Jan 2005 :-: ["Permalink"]
For some reason, Winter breaks never seem to be a break for me. Last year, I was exhaustedly going through biibliographies about Philadelphia history. This year, I'm burning my eyes from weeks staring at the screen, editing audio about Philadelphia history. This time, a bad cough set the recording back. The audio I do have depicts a scratchy voice -- I wish I wasn't sick when I recorded this.
** * **
But the project *is* fun. And if all goes according to plan, the audio documentary to accompany Philadelphia Fullerine will be complete today.
Here's a teaser:
The background music, "All She Can Carry," is by the marvelous cellist Jami Sieber, one of the artists at Magnatune. The song is from her album "Lush Mechanique," which is perfect for parts of my documentary .
Jami has made her music available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Thus, since I'm doing a non-commercial project, I have been able to incorporate a wide variety of music from Magnatune.
** * **
Many arists and musical groups have contributed to the project. I'm planning to send them each a copy of the audio documentary as thanks. Furthermore, I'm going to include something else with the art project.
** * **
Viewers of the sculpture will be checking out an mp3 player and listening to the short documentary clips as they view the sculpture (although it all adds up to over two hours). When they check out the player, they will also get some pages of information about the sculpture. One of these pages will list the artists whose music is used in the documentary. It will mention each album (and eventually, each track) and give URLs for purchase from Magnatune.
** * **
This project has been a lesson in the power of sharing art and copyright. It's valuable to retain copyright over one's works, but it is so much more valuable to use that copyright wisely to encourage creativity. I wouldn't have been able to put this sculpture documentary together if it weren't for the generosity of the many image sources who granted me free reproduction rights.
We can do really cool things when we share.