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23 November 2005 to 10 November 2005
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.
I'm trying to avoid falling back into thinking about everything in terms of music, but it was acknowledgement to begin with, not laziness, so I guess it's no surprise that it keeps happening. Music is a tangible manifestation of emotional resonance, and anything with no emotional resonance isn't going to hold my attention very long anyway.  

But that doesn't necessarily make it any easier to understand what the associations mean. I'm riding the train to work today, thinking about individual expression, data analysis, implicit semantic coding and XML syntax, and listening to the demo version of Jimmy Eat World's Futures, and it's clearly trying to tell me something. Something about how the physical understanding of home (in both the housing and location senses) is still so much more tenuous and artificial in information space, or how informal schema might make it possible to improvise in those spaces.  

The important thing about blogging, maybe, isn't the current content of any body of blogs, or any hypothetical change in the dynamics of news propagation or critical consensus, but only that, as with email and IM before it, it is an emerging human function for networked computers. And maybe it's more interesting than email or IM because it's something most people weren't doing before. It is a solution that may be on the way to finding its problem.
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