For the locals, Food-Plan, a blog-style DC-area restaurant review site, which appears to be written by three or four roaming contributors with suitably Epicurean tastes but a Spartan design sensibility. There’s no “about” page, at least not that I could find, so there’s no way to know who’s behind this or what the plan really is. But the reviews seemed pretty much on-target, especially for some of my own favorites like Jaleo, Mandalay, and Kramer’s. Tiffin deserves a boost though. Check it out.
My first publication ever, lo these many years ago, was a review of Sven Birkerts’s The Gutenberg Elegies in the electronic journal Postmodern Culture. I called it “The Cult of Print” and boy, did I let him have it:
Here there is no room left for compromise — one either embraces this worldview or one sees in it a black hole of anxieties and essentialisms. The utter insolubility of Birkerts’s position, combined with his blatant unfamiliarity with the electronic media he discusses, is the reason why reading The Gutenberg Elegies so failed to move me.
Yep, that was me. Summer of 1995. And it felt great. (You can go and dig the rest out of the PMC archive if you really want to, but I’m not going to inflict the actual link on you.) I mention this because Nick, over at GrandTextAuto, has linked to an essay Birkerts recently wrote for the online literary journal AGNI re-assessing his own views:
How do I now justify using and promoting a technology which, just a few years ago, I deplored? Do I no longer deplore it? What can I offer to explain myself? I would say—short answer—that the digital age has arrived and that, at least in immediate retrospect, it has the feel of inevitability about it. Who knew? Well, clearly some people did. They read the signs, trusted that it was our collective will to move forward into connectedness and the radically changed private and public space that connectedness makes inevitable. I’ll admit it took me a while to accept this—not the fact of the technology, but the zeal of people everywhere to embrace it. But I have made my correction; I have accepted that there is now a new way of things.
What I will not concede is that with this the game is over. To the contrary: We have only just begun to orient ourselves to the new, its possibilities as well as its liabilities.
It’s a thoughtful piece and, as Nick points out, Birkerts is putting his money where his mouse is as AGNI’s new online editor. Still, he hedges his bets—he tells us, for instance, in the same brusque tone he once reserved for email, that he still doesn’t own a cell phone (though does do email now). Well that’s okay, lots of people still don’t have a cell phone. I get the sense, though, that for Birkerts the phone is still just a phone, i.e. a nuisance waiting to happen. I get the sense that he still doesn’t get it. He has no idea of the way the phone can be used to make art or make text or organize and empower people in the way Howard Rheingold (his old antagonist) describes in Smart Mobs.
Well, maybe that’s okay too. My PMC review doesn’t stand up any better than the Gutenberg Elegies. But you heard it here first: be on the lookout for a Birkerts blog.
I used to think computer science was the coolest department on campus. Now I think Electrical and Computer Engineering is the coolest department on campus. If your institution has one take a look at what they’re up to. Here are some of the research labs at Maryland: Bioelectromagnetics; Digital Signal Processing; E-Beam Lithography; Intelligent Servosystems; Nanomagnetics; Photonic Switching; Quantum Devices; Ultrafast Optoelectronics.
I guess what appeals to me about this stuff, in so far as I understand it—and it’s actually not hard to come up to at least a modicum of speed on many of these topics—is its roots, sometimes explicit (as in E-beam lithography) sometimes not (as in optoelectronics)—in prior technologies of reproduction and representation. Kari is fond of saying that textual criticism is being overtaken by linguistics and computer science; perhaps analytical bibliography in the 21st century will look more like nanomagnetics.
Smart mobs in action: minute-by-minute tracking of the Presidential visit to London.
Via GrandTextAuto: Two blistering short essays by Nick Montfort, “Condemnend to Reload It: Forgetting New Media” and “Stop Handcuffing My Mind.” The one is about preservation and the other is about copyright, but they’re really both about both and both are finally about creativity.
Recent hiccups with blogrolling.com—today’s hack, the slow response times, the dropped pings, occassional outages—have underscored the extent to which this third-party, proprietary service has woven its way deep into the fabric of the blogosphere. When blogrolling’s down most of us lose our primary means of navigating between blogs (short of an aggregator), as well as the ability to see who’s updated. In fact, I’d be curious to know if people defer entries while blogrolling’s down, lest they post and nobody see it. What started as an amenity to maintain links now has the potential to materially affect patterns of discourse throughout the blogosphere.
I haven’t done any research to know if blogrolling.com has competitors, but that’s potentially an issue too—leading to the same fractures in the blogosphere one finds in other sectors of the Web. What if blogrolling service A doesn’t allow you to list blogs registered with competitor service B?
All of which is to say, I wonder if anyone’s working on something like an open source, standards-based solution for blogrolling. If not, isn’t it about time?
I’ve had an account with blogrolling.com almost since I began blogging, and its generally been a good experience—so props, props, props. But the service has also clearly been a victim of its own success, hence this speculation about its successor.
Via Slashdot: Microsoft has today released the XML specs behind its popular Word file format, in the guise of WordprocessingML. Basically this means that the format has gone open source—well, sort of anyway. See the Slashdot discussion for an airing of the issues.
Mark Bernstein writes:
The trees in New England are just about bare, and at Eastgate the annual textbook rush is winding up. Cartons of hypertexts have gone out to schools and colleges and universities all over the Northern hemisphere. . . . So, people all over the place are studying hypertexts like afternoon and Victory Garden and Patchwork Girl and Samplers. These are not new hypertexts — literature courses prefer to study work that has been mulled over and argued about for a few years.
As someone who has ordered, assigned, and taught three out of four of the above I thought I’d offer some brief comment as to why those particular titles. Not from the standpoint of literary or aesthetic value—that’s a different conversation—but structurally, how they fit into a syllabus:
I’m a little tardy with my own book (ahem) orders for the spring, so I hope there are still some hypertexts left.
Watched Doug Pray’s brilliant documentary Scratch last night. It’s turntablism 101: mixing, blending, digging, break beats, beat juggling, and of course scratching. As one of the DJs says, and I’m paraphrasing, “Before we started scratching you’d put the record on the turntable and walk away from it. Your Mom would always say, ‘Don’t touch the record. Don’t touch the record!’”
Predictably, I’m fascinated by the materiality of the vinyl, the way DJs use stickers and tabs to push the needle into a certain groove, the way a good DJ can read the grooves to see where a break begins. I was also intrigued to learn that scratching has its own notation system. Scratch would make provacative viewing paired with Craig Baldwin’s older Sonic Outlaws, which I also adore.
The best part about chopping fresh onions is the way the smell stays on your hands. At least until you wash them.
In the previous entry I breezily wrote, “as a number of people ‘round these parts discussed at length some months ago.” I didn’t include any actual trackbacks because I was too lazy to go hauling the permalinks out of a half dozen or more individual blog archives. A reader who doesn’t have any idea what I’m talking about is clearly out of luck. Which leads me to another MT plug-in or feature I’d like to see:
What if we could automagically clump our conversations by specifying one (or more) initial entries to an agent I’m imagining as a “trackback spider,” which would then proceed to harvest and arrange the webbed up links—threaded according to date, relevance, or other such criteria—on an auto-generated page that could become a single, manageable link target in a casual reference such as the one above?
Make sense? In other words, instead of manually reconstructing the threads of a multi-blog conversation, the agent does it for you and publishes the links. Would this not be the next step in leveraging the power of trackback? Would this allow us to map/visualize the shapes of such conversations?
In the comments section of a recent entry (“Linkers and Commenters of the World, Unite!”) I asked the inimitable François Lachance, “isn’t it high time you started blogging yourself?”
François’s good-natured reply:
> You mean this doesn’t count?
> **points to results of a WWW search with the string “Francois Lachance blog”**
Presumably François has in mind something like this.
I take his point, and think I can predict the range of theoretical positions such a “blog” (should we call it a comment blog?) might be said to occupy: this is blogging in the margins, distributed blogging at the interstices of the discourse network. François appears on no one’s blogroll, his entries are not tracked by blogdex or weblogs.com or similar sites. He is an utter non-entity in the standard ecological renderings of the blogosphere, yet he unquestionably has a presence “here.”
That said, as much as I can appreciate the theoretical experiment, I wonder what one surrenders by comment blogging. Not subjectivity, I suspect: blogging is surely not to be confused with unmediated manifestations of self, as a number of people ‘round these parts discussed at length some months ago. Nor does one necessarily surrender agency: in this very post I’m reacting to François, not the other way around. Still, there’s something tangible that a blog provides that falls away in the cracks between comments. Can we articulate that something without sheer recourse to Romantic constructions of identity?
Dang, none of my entries have been updating on weblogs.com lately.
Today’s lead editorial in the Baltimore Sun, on the need for a “comprehensive overhaul of University System of Maryland spending.”
Stanley Fish’s recent op-ed piece in the New York Times on the fiscal realities of higher education:
If there is a crisis in college costs it has not been caused by price-gouging or bureaucratic incompetence on the part of universities; a better analogy would be the mass circulation magazines of the 1950’s like Collier’s and Look, which folded at the very point when they had more readers than ever. The problem was that production costs far outpaced the revenues from subscriptions and advertisers, and every new reader actually cost them money. This is just what is happening at many public universities.
Just installed Jay Allen’s Blacklist plug-in to spoof the spam. We’ll see how it works.
Readers will notice I’ve been doing a lot of linking and commenting lately. At the risk of being labelled a link and comment blogger (which I don’t think I am, at least not always) I now proffer the following defense of link and comment.
Some go all timorous and apologetic: “I know this is only a link and comment, but . . .” I say, go forth boldly! I link and comment things I find interesting, things that may see application in my research (I can find them in my blog, unlike my bookmarks), things I want to share with others. It’s like show and tell all over again: “Look at this great thing I found. Isn’t it interesting? I like it, and I think you’ll like it too.” Plus sometimes it’s all I have time for, and I like to feed the blog.
Linking and commenting, I remind you, are two of the things we once found pretty exciting about hypertext systems: they allowed us to link and . . . comment (annotate). Ah, you say, yes, but if all we had were links and comments then how impoverished the blogosphere would be. What truly makes blogs worth reading are the individual voices, the stylistic thumbprints unique to every writer. But wait a minute . . . here is the Romantic author redivivus! Have we learned nothing from the last thirty years of literary theory? We’re all just nodes on the grid, our prose ripples and vortices of feedback. The author is dead! Long live the author.
In the meantime, here’s a link . . . no comment.
The Stanley Fish Resources Center, which appears to be run out of Helsinki of all places—links to prose and essays, plus all the latest doings of everyone’s favorite tenured scamp. (I’m actually a big admirer, though I don’t practice his particular brand of hermaneutics.) He’s stepping down from his deanship at UIC; what next?
This also reminds me to say that the discussions over at Invisible Adjunct, a blog I usually only read occassionally, have been white hot of late: the privatization of public universities (sparked by a recent Fish op-ed in the Chronicle), education vs. credentialing, and Pamela Anderson’s book contract. Anyone who works in the academy should be up on these important matters.
The Publications page of the Electronic Publishing Research Group at UIUC’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science is a treasure trove of theoretical papers on document ontology and markup, including the classic “What is Text?” series by Renear, Durand, DeRose, and Mylonas.
The British Library has released digital image-based facsimiles of two editions of Caxton’s Canterbury Tales. The site includes transcriptions, a navigational apparatus, and comparison feature. N.B.: William Caxton is the printer; the Canterbury Tales, of course, is authored by Geoffrey Chaucer.
Via Slashdot: The British Library now has the legal mandate to archive electronic and other non-print materials, alongside of its traditional collections. “The archive will comprise selective ‘harvesting’ from the 2.9 million sites that have ‘co.uk’ suffixes” (BBC).
Before I began blogging I thought MT would be able to do a couple of things which to the best of my knowledge it can’t. (I’ve looked at, but I’ll admit not comprehensively, the MT Plug-In Directory.) Here are the top two items on my wish list:
1. Auto-linking. When I first began reading blogs I was immediately struck by the convention of linking to other people’s blogs whenever they were mentioned by name. The practice was so prevalent that I simply assumed blogs had an auto-linking function, roughly akin to an email address book. So that if I typed “Dudley” in the middle of an entry I’d automagically get a link to Dudley’s blog. Of course I realize the shortcomings: I might not always want a link to Dudley’s blog, I might want to link (trackback) to a specific post within Dudley’s blog or archives, there might be another Dudley, etc. But surely these could be negotiated. (Bookmarklets kind of do this, sort of, but not really in the way I had imagined.)
2. Cross-posting. Is there no way of cross-posting a single entry to multiple blogs on which one has authoring privileges? It would be very cool if one could do this across multiple MT installations, but one should at least be able to do this within the confines of a single installation. Am I missing something?