I’m real! I have business cards!

That was a quote from the chamber of commerce rep who broke up the ‘press conference’ given by not-so-real chamber of commerce reps (I.e. the Yes Men) as they were announcing the COC’s (not really) reversed position on climate change. The ‘reversal’ story made it onto Reuters and several other outlets before it was revealed to be a hoax. A hoax that calls attention to the COC’s official position on climate change.

Full story here.

Survivaballs prepare to storm the UN

The Yes Men are at it again.

Embedded video from CNN Video

21 “Survivaballs” gathered on New York City’s East River and announced they were to going to “take the UN by storm” from the water, since all the land approaches were sealed. Once at the UN, they would supposedly use the Survivaballs to blockade the negotiations and refuse to let world leaders leave the room until they’d agreed on sweeping cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has demanded.

The event was a “scenic and mediagenic way to call attention to what our leaders need to do in the run-up to Copenhagen,” said Bichlbaum. It was also the official inauguration of the Yes Men’s “Balls Across America” series of civil disobedience actions, inspired by the call for direct action on climate change by website http://BeyondTalk.net.

Minutes after the balls began wading into the water, law enforcement swooped in on the protesters by land, sea, and air. In order not to harm their attackers, the balls admitted defeat and waddled out of the water and off the beach. Seven participants were given tickets for trespassing, and one – ringleader Bichlbaum – was whisked away to “the Tombs,” New York’s central processing facility at 100 Centre Street, due to an unpaid ticket for bicycle riding through Washington
Square Park.

Hypertext as Historical Hinge

12_nelson_ordhypertextSo what I’m doing now, i.e. creating a blog post, could have been different in a fundamental way, if Ted Nelson had insisted on not letting his model of Hypertext get dumbed down during a project her worked on in 1968?

Okay, here’s some context: Ted Nelson is an American inventor, software designer, usability consultant, systems humanist and visiting Fellow at Oxford. He is best known for coining the terms “hypertext” and “hypermedia”, and pursuing a vision of world-wide hypertext from the early 1960s. According to Ted Nelson’s Wikipedia entry, “The main thrust of his work has been to make computers easily accessible to ordinary people. His motto is: A user interface should be so simple that a beginner in an emergency can understand it within ten seconds.” (Wouldn’t that be wonderful?)

According to a page on NewMedia History by Bill Atkinson, Ted Nelson was “one of the most influential figures in computing”, “on a quest to build creative tools that would transform the way we read and write”.

Nelson was particularly concerned with the complex nature of the creative impulse, and he saw the computer as the tool that would make explicit the interdependence of ideas, drawing out connections between literature, art, music and science, since, as he put it, everything is “deeply intertwingled.”

Nelson’s critical breakthrough was to call for a system of non-sequential writing that would allow the reader to aggregate meaning in snippets, in the order of his or her choosing, rather than according to a pre-established structure fixed by the author.

So nearly 50 years ago Ted Nelson envisioned something a lot like what we know as the World Wide Web. On his own site (which is one of the uglier sites on the Web, but that’s not my point) he says,

In 1960 I had a vision of a world-wide system of electronic publishing, anarchic and populist, where anyone could publish anything and anyone could read it.  (So far, sounds like the web.)

But what we’ve ended up with is a disappointment to him:

But my approach is about literary depth– including side-by-side intercomparison, annotation, and a unique copyright proposal.  I now call this “deep electronic literature” instead of “hypertext,” since people now think hypertext means the web.

In a letter to the editor of New Scientist, 22 July 2006, Ted Nelson wrote:

I coined, you say, the word hypertext in 1963 “while working on ways to make computers more accessible at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island” (17 June, p 60). But in 1963 I was a dolphin photographer in Miami, nowhere near Brown.

I had become inflamed with ideas and designs for non-sequential literature and media in 1960, but no one would back them, then or now. Not until the late sixties did I spend months at Brown, with no official position and at considerable personal expense, to help them build a hypertext system.

That project dumbed down hypertext to one-way, embedded, non-overlapping links. Its broken and deficient model of hypertext became by turns the structure of the NoteCards and HyperCard programs, the World Wide Web, and XML.

At the time I thought of that structure as an interim model, forgetting the old slogan “nothing endures like the temporary”. XML is only the latest, most publicised, and in my view most wrongful system that fits this description. It is opaque to the laypersons who deserve deep command of electronic literature and media. It gratuitously imposes hierarchy and sequence wherever it can, and is very poor at representing overlap, parallel cross-connection, and other vital non-hierarchical media structures that some people do not wish to recognise.

I believe humanity went down the wrong path because of that project at Brown. I greatly regret my part in it, and that I did not fight for deeper constructs. These would facilitate an entire form of literature where links do not break as versions change; where documents may be closely compared side by side and closely annotated; showing the origins of every quotation; and with a copyright system for frictionless, non-negotiated quotation of any amount at any time.

This amazes me. All along I’ve been thinking XML is marvelous. But when Ted Nelson says, “I believe humanity went down the wrong path because of that project at Brown. I greatly regret my part in it…” I have to take notice. And that the World Wide Web is based on a “broken and deficient model of hypertext”, and XML is a “wrongful system.” Wow. Our lives have been momentously  changed in the last 15 years by an information system of enormous scope and complexity that most ordinary folks like myself never saw coming — and Ted Nelson says we could have had something even better if he’d just stuck to his guns about how a single academic project got built back in the late 60s?

The Digital Age Reshapes Literature

This article by Lev Grossman in Time Magazine (Feb 2 2009) is exciting. It’s always bothered me that publishing industry seems to push writers into colonial and defensive positions, which seems so…last century. On top of that, the industry itself is in distress, laying off staff in large numbers. Grossman looks at how attitudes towards self-publication have changed in the last two years, and paints an interesting picture of Old Publishing and New Publishing. Excerpts from the article below. Read the full article here.

[Publishing] is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it’s done. Literature interprets the world, but it’s also shaped by that world, and we’re living through one of the greatest economic and technological transformations since–well, since the early 18th century. The novel won’t stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name. It’s about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever.

[and] People are still reading. According to a National Endowment for the Arts study released on Jan. 12, literary reading by adults has actually increased 3.5% since 2002, the first such increase in 26 years.

[but] shipping physical books back and forth across the country is starting to seem pretty 20th century. Novels are getting restless, shrugging off their expensive papery husks and transmigrating digitally into other forms. Devices like the Sony Reader and Amazon’s Kindle have gained devoted followings. Google has scanned more than 7 million books into its online database; the plan is to scan them all, every single one, within 10 years. Writers podcast their books and post them, chapter by chapter, on blogs. Four of the five best-selling novels in Japan in 2007 belonged to an entirely new literary form called keitai shosetsu: novels written, and read, on cell phones.

For the first time in modern history, novels are becoming detached from dollars. They’re circulating outside the economy that spawned them.

Self-publishing has gone from being the last resort of the desperate and talentless to something more like out-of-town tryouts for theater or the farm system in baseball. It’s the last ripple of the Web 2.0 vibe finally washing up on publishing’s remote shores. After YouTube and Wikipedia, the idea of user-generated content just isn’t that freaky anymore.

…there are cultural sectors that conventional publishing isn’t serving. We can read in the rise of self-publishing not only a technological revolution but also a quiet cultural one–an audience rising up to claim its right to act as a tastemaker too.

…more books, written and read by more people, often for little or no money, circulating in a wild diversity of forms, both physical and electronic, far outside the charmed circle of New York City’s entrenched publishing culture. Old Publishing is stately, quality-controlled and relatively expensive. New Publishing is cheap, promiscuous and unconstrained by paper, money or institutional taste. If Old Publishing is, say, a tidy, well-maintained orchard, New Publishing is a riotous jungle: vast and trackless and chaotic, full of exquisite orchids and undiscovered treasures and a hell of a lot of noxious weeds.

…if that sounds alarming or tragic, go back and sample the righteous zeal with which people despised novels when they first arose. They thought novels were vulgar and immoral. And in a way they were, and that was what was great about them: they shocked and seduced people into new ways of thinking. These books will too.

It’s a mystery

Why do some men find the character River on Firefly (played by Summer Glau) so attractive? She’s sick and needs constant care/supervision. She looks like a child.  She’s not (made to appear) particularly pretty. She has little personality apart from the cold semi-autistic state she spends most of her time in, or the occasional crazed out-of-left-field personalities she slips in and out of. And she makes some pretty bad decisions, causing the rest of the crew danger and strife. Sure, she’s super smart and psychic, but this is what you like? Really?

(Disclaimer: I have only seen the TV series, not the movie. Maybe the movie takes the character to a new level?)

Digital Ethnography

“We are the Web…We are teaching the machine…The machine is us…We’ll need to rethink a few things: copyright, authorship, identity, ethics, aesthetics, rhetoric, governance, privacy, commerce, love, family, ourselves.” — Michael Wesch, Cultural Anthropologist @ Kansas State. Watch his highly informative and entertaining 5-minute video for the whole deal.

In retrospect


Sunset over east coast USA, 11/04/04

Sunset over east coast USA, 11/04/04

Four years ago today I flew over this county. Bush had won again. I looked down on the land passing below me in bitter shock. For some dumb reason I thought reason would prevail in the 2004 election. I thought Americans would look at all the things that had gone wrong, all the impeachables, all the destruction, and go nope, you can’t fool us again. The sun set during my flight, and I watched the darkening land and wondered where the hell I was living. In a bubble, apparently. The liberal, educated bubble of Portland, Oregon. (Or, as dubbed by Bush senior after a particularly unwelcome visit, ‘Little Beirut‘.)

Fall 2004 was one of the busiest times of my life. I was teaching at PNCA, while also trying to work out a way to live life differently from the highly-stressed and underpaid existence of a 4/5ths-time college professor. I was on my way to Baltimore, to present a paper on the Efficacy of Political Art at a conference at MICA. My head was full of those clever anti-Bush videos, ironic Photoshop collages, and witty propaganda posters that were flying round the Internet at the time. We’ll never be able to measure their effect, of course, whether they contributed in some way to a shift in attitude — or maybe they reflected a change in attitude that was waiting in the wings. But they did keep some of us from going insane during those dark days.

Four years later I am looking back on the second anniversary of launching into full self-employment, the first anniversary of running a successful web design studio with collaborator Jimmy Thomas, and a likely Obama landslide. (Which, with my new status as an American, I helped along a little.)  I am now a business owner during a shaky economy.  Blue Mouse Monkey had grown exponentially the year before, and this year with the slowing economy and word of layoffs all around, I am grateful our work remains steady.

Hey, it’s never going to be perfect, but it’s going to be better.

Vote by Mail


Oregon voter ballot

Oregon voter ballot

This post is more for the benefit of my international readers ;-) (I.e. rellies in New Zealand.)

Now that Tom and I are citizens of the USA (and yes, we still have our New Zealand citizenship – to answer the question that always comes up) we get to vote in this historic election.  All national elections here get called historic (how, after all, could the mainstream media sell advertising during a run-of-the-mill presidential race?) but this one truly is historic. For reasons we all know about and which I need not repeat here.

Each state of this union does the voting thing their own way.  Oregon has Vote by Mail. The benefit to Vote by Mail is no one has to take time off work nor stand in line to vote.  It’s good, too, for the disabled. The ballot comes to your house, you fill it out, and you send it in or drop it off.  Another benefit is a paper trail! No creepy, hackable electronic voting machines here thank you very much. The downside to Vote by Mail is the loss of that feeling of civic camaraderie that apparently happens when strangers stand in line together to vote.  I haven’t experienced it, but Oregonians who remember a time before Vote by Mail say they miss the old way. Vote by Mail does statistically raise voter participation, though, and I’m all for that.

My international readers may be under the impression the ballot comes with two choices: McCain and Obama.  Pick one and you’re done.  What doesn’t make it into overseas news is that all over the country Americans are voting for thousands and thousands of other positions besides the president.  Senators, congresspeople, mayors, local senators and representatives (each state has its own government – it’s not just the feds running everything from D.C.), plus city councillors, school board members, judges, and so on.  And in a state like Oregon that has citizen initiated referenda (aka citizen initiatives), there are ballot measure, too.

Lucky for me Oregonians take their politics seriously, and there’s plenty of reading material prepared and distributed (er, rather a lot, actually) to help me decide. (I do like the Willamette Week’s riff on Shepard Fairey’s Obama HOPE design.)

Okay, I’m going to go vote now.  Once I have read all the endorsements and ballot measure explanations that have piled up on the dining table.