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30 November 2005 to 10 November 2005
At work I have stubbornly insisted on using Outlook Express in POP3 mode long after (even pre-acquisition) the rest of the organization switched to Outlook and all its Exchange baggage. One of my favorite effects of this is that since my email is simply downloaded to my PC, I am immune to the Belated Ass-Covering function. An Exchange sender can issue a "message recall", which causes the recalled email to silently vanish out of cooperative Outlook users' mailboxes. In Outlook Express, however, the original message stays where it is, and I get a separate plaintively ungrammatical text note. It looks (with names changed) like this:  

Brady, Jon would like to recall the message, "top totty".

Usually I, or my filters, have already deleted the message, but a recall attempt suggests that it's worth fishing it out of the trash folder to take a look. When there are three copies of the recall, it means Jon Brady would really, really, really like to recall this message.  

If anybody in IT is monitoring recalls, Jon Brady is going to be recalling "top totty" for a very long and painful while, as he is now even more thoroughly fucked than the two women in the long series of photographs he forwarded. Normally it is sufficient to mention Rule 1 of corporate email-system use, which is "Never use your corporate email system to send pornography." Sadly, some people require the appending of Rule 2, which is "If you do, try really hard not to accidentally BCC a mailing list that reaches all 18,000 employees in the entire company." And, in this memorable case, Rule 3: "If you do insist on BCCing the entire company while forwarding explicit pornography, it is courteous to remove the incriminating trail of previous forwarders, especially the dozen or so soon-to-be-former friends who are fellow employees of the company from which you, and now they, are about to be fired."  

PS, just to be sure, Rule 4: "If you find this sequence funny enough, or the pornography good enough, to want to save the evidence, don't keep it on your work computer, and don't use the corporate email system to forward it somewhere else."
Jean Smith's The Ghost of Understanding says "a novel" on the cover, and if offered as a conceptual assertion, this is inherently valid, or perhaps more precisely, it is not subject to assessment of validity. Labeling can be self-contained creative expression.  

The Ghost of Understanding is not a novel in much of a descriptive sense, however. It appears to have been created by simply stringing together whatever random snippets of text Jean had lying around: fiction exercises, prose poems, song lyrics crudely reformatted into paragraphs, Mecca Normal band correspondence, stray interview transcripts, idle erotica. I find most of these interesting in themselves, but reading them in this serialized form is frustrating. If I get into the right fugue-state to absorb the poetry, then the ephemeral seems inane, and if I back out into the right idle curiosity to care about tour logistics, then the abstractions are insoluble. Kafka's octavo notebooks, by comparison (since I just read them), are varied in literary form but much more coherent in tone, and so far more rewarding to me to read.  

Possibly, of course, this constant state-shifting is the point, and labeling a deliberately anti-linear text "a novel" makes the actual fragments a means to a radical medium-is-the-message end. The format is a challenge for the audience to rise to or cower away from, and I never wanted to be on the dreary side of demanding the imposition of constricting convention onto vitally free expression.  

But then what do I do with the nagging conviction that this work, as presented, does not have a fundamental nature so much as it has a fatal refusal to accept the responsibility of self-awareness? That it is attempting to substitute an amorally passive absence of order for the sacredly powerful idea of active revolutionary disorder? That self-betrayal would be its most rudimentary first step towards making itself into something real? That these passages wouldn't be haunted by the ghost of understanding if they hadn't merely sat there watching it die?
Chris Whitley: Hotel Vast Horizon (1.9M mp3)  

1960-2005, not enough time.  

[Some memoria.]

In our evening observatories of dreaming light,  


and our basement theaters of surfaces from spaces,  


we are only ever frozen  


until we remember that we are free.
I love that Hogwarts is starting to seem familiar. That is, I love that Newell allowed it to seem more familiar in this one. Locations are presented repeatedly, and without grand reveals, so we simply return to them. A bit of snow slips off of a gable. People sweep and scurry up and down the Hall. The Express has a schedule to abide.  

Instead of a set-designer's portfolio piece, then, we get a movie about kids, and arguably a better movie about kids than the book semi-about kids from which it was derived. In print, Rowling's characters are nominal teenagers growing up by reluctant shades in a largely timeless dreamworld prioritized for eternal ten-year-olds. On screen, conversely, the actors inevitably drag the characters forward faster than the narrative. Mortified adolescence is mercilessly hard to explicate, but effortlessly easy to see when it's standing in front of you in terrible hair and enraptured panic. And what fantabulous monsters are ever mined from deeper in a child's psyche than the prospect of Peter Garrett making a solo album without a nose?  

And some judgmental piece of me, too, is grimly satisfied by the strokes that thud even more hollowly when brought towards life. How can a few malcontents in pointy hats torch the entire encampment of the world's largest gathering of magical power? Why are the other two schools single-sex, why did nobody tell Beauxbatons that they were supposed to provide a champion rather than a damsel in distress, and since when is Bulgaria north of England? If the Goblet of Fire can't count to three or spot a fake ID, what the hell is it good for? What kind of school-system runs a sanctioned competition with such high expenses for such limited participation, and one in which routine penalties include having your younger sister drowned? If even the ghosts and the giants are horny, how many sleek wizardettes in tight blue skirts and elf-condom hats do you think each of the twins managed to initiate into their own private exchange program?  

And how did none of the security systems detect the Mad-Eye Moody rootkit for a whole school year?

Joy Street Studios, Somerville  


Fenway Studios, Boston
Anonymity frees real people from the constraints of themselves. This is harmless and possibly desirable in play-worlds, but almost inescapably destabilizing in any world that is supposed to connect to the real one.  

The single most critical thing the social internet currently lacks is a global identity mechanism, and our clumsy patches over its absence won't hold much longer.


Danforth Museum of Art, Framingham
When designing software that displays lists, remember that you're trying to optimize for the user's experience, not the page size or the roundness of numbers.  

1. Scrolling is far easier than paging, so generally the more you put on each page, the better off anybody is. For brief items like query results, think 100 instead of 10, for example, and adjust from there. Preferably up.  

2. Never orphan a page with less than half as many items as the page size. That is, if you have less than 1.5x items to show, put them all on the same page. 104 items with a nominal page size of 100 items should produce a single 104-item page, not a 100-item first page and a 4-item second page. 428 items should be shown on 4 pages, not 5. And that's 1-128, 129-228, 229-328 and 329-428, not 1-100, 101-200, 201-300 and 301-428. A little more information never hurt anybody much.  

3. After spending 5% of your effort on paging, put the other 95% into obsessively tweaking the format of the results so that they convey as much information as can be conceivably clearly expressed. If you haven't read Tufte, read Tufte. If you've read Tufte but think his advice doesn't apply to your case, read him again.
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