Thursday, December 17, 2009

Twitter-stuff: thanks for all the RT?

This is just a quick reflection on normative behaviour and a short personal declaration. I don't thank people for passing along what I have to say, and, while I don't specifically hold it against others when they do so, I do question their motivation. And I have unfollowed people for doing it excessively.

I don't use Twitter for strictly promotional purpose, and if you do, more power to you, especially if you are promoting a product or service I actually use. But I wonder, what is actually happening when you publically thank me for passing along your message? Well, yes, I am getting the thank you, and there is some reciprocation, if one or more of your subscribers decides to add me to to their subscription lists, but this is not likely, particularly if you thank a number of people in a single tweet.

Basically, what I understand when somebody thanks me for passing along a message is "thank you, please do it again" - which is all fine and good, but to be honest, if you were to come out and ask me to "plz RT" or whatever, I would be less likely to do so, and the same goes for a lot of the "thx 4 RT" I see - it makes me feel like I'm being played. So please don't bother.

If you disagree with this belief, let me know. I'm not a rude person, I thank people all the time for all sorts of things. But I'm not going to thank someone for carrying on a conversation with me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tab Sweep 2009-12-14

Here are some things which I have been following in the last week:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reader, Writer, User Points: Engagement Engines

This comes as a response to an ongoing discussion at regarding user points and reward systems for online fiction readers. Essentially, the motivation for a user points system is to increase engagement by giving readers something to achieve. The downside is that in order to implement a points system, as a writer you need to produce more, or deny some of your readership access to writing in which they would normally participate. This is problematic.

The system I am trying to sketch out here works within a larger framework that I am proposing, which I am calling an engagement engine. It works like this:

A writer begins with a blank slate, on which she can add descriptions of people, places and things. These are big categories that structure the engagement engine. As a writer, you are able to write as much as you want, but you cannot publish a new person, place or thing until the system allows you to do so - shortly after you start writing, you receive a gift (much like a gift in a social networking environment), which upon opening reveals itself to be, for instance, a place. You use this gift to breathe life into one of the locations you have already privately given a description, and this location is now available for use in your story. After you describe your location more deeply, you receive another gift, and this in turn allows you to breathe life into one of the characters you have described. Now you have a place and you have a person. You can start to really tell your story.

In an engagement engine, multiple writers are supported. This is not essential to the points and rewards system, but I honestly think this is an important component in creating a community, by creating healthy competition and collaboration. As opposed to a content management system, an content engagement system, applies many of the concepts of game-play and social networks, and these work best if they operate within and encourage a wider community.

What really drives the engagement system is the act of creating content, so as you add more content to the system, you receive more gifts, which allows you to breathe life into more people, places and things. This may seem artificial, but I am hazarding a guess that it actually plays well to a strength of many writers that I have known: they are more creative when faced with restrictions and challenges. And there is no limit on the amount of detail, narrative and dialog you can write, or the number of people, places and things you can describe - it's just that you can't actually publicly use these people, places or things until the system has allowed you to breathe life into them. Which means you will want to use your best ideas, and that is what you do anyway.

So this is where the points system comes into play. As your story is published in serial and people read it, you collect extra points from them toward the gifts you use to breathe life into your creations. So you might say "I need 50 more readers before I can add this really cool story arc," and your existing reader base have an incentive to pass the word along, because they benefit from the gifts you receive.

The more readers read a writer, the more that writer can write. This defines story arcs, and encourages reader and writer engagement in an organic fashion. This is by no means a complete description of what I am describing when I say engagement engine, but it is a start. Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Weblit-tle Town of Festivity, lend me your voice!


Okay, look back to the start of November if you want the back story, but in a nutshell, Hallowe'en came and went and I managed to read a sum total of one creepy story online - although I know for a fact there were others - because my kids were already into the chocolate, and I was prepping a knight and a butterfly princess for further looting. So I sent out a request to the WebFic/WebLit community requesting that for the next big holiday season, ChristaKanzaNukkahTurkey, we get ourselves together and record a collection of festive tales, which we will then publish as public domain or Creative Commons NC for all to hear. People responded, and now that NaNoWriMo is done, the time has come.

So here we go.

Please send your seasonal tale to piers.hollott at gmail dot com, following these specifications as closely as you can manage:
  • Easy on the swears. For my kids - they may be listening.
  • 1000 words ~ 10 minutes, which is the length we are looking for.
  • If possible 256 VBR mp3 would be ideal. I would like to put the collection on Internet Archive, and because they archive a lot of live recordings, they tend to be contiguous, meaning all files in an archive are similar in nature. If you are using GarageBand on a Mac, the best bet is to use the default setting (I have no idea what this is, but it will keep all Macusers consistent).
  • Zip up your mp3 with a text version - I'll organize these as necessary, so word, text, even html are fine - not sure if I'll use them, but it would be good to make the archive searchable.
  • Please include your name as you would like to be attributed and any other supporting info you might wish to include in a separate text file.
  • Deadline Dec 18th or ASAP. I know some of you have already begun, and others have been busy with other things, so just let me know if this is a problem.
  • I'm sure I am forgetting something, so comment if you think I have omitted anything.
The only thing I know I am leaving out here is artwork, which is not essential, but if you have any ideas, let me know.


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What if a Brand were a Secured Namespace for Identity?

This is in part a response to an article on @mikecane's eBook Test, titled How Book Publishing Will Lose: eBooks Vs. Smart Digital Books, but it is also something I have been trying to articulate for a while. The question that haunts me is how to separate narrative concern from brand in a published work. So, I am asking, what if a brand were a secured namespace for identity?

Namespaces are an oft-maligned and misunderstood component of the plumbing of XML based representations of information, such as XHTML, DocBook, DITA and the like. When you create an HTML page, all of the tags you use to create the page are HTML tags, so you have no need for a namespace. When you create an XHTML page, or any other XML based representation, you may use tags from more than one vocabulary, so you use namespaces, represented by URIs, to discriminate between nodes in your document.

When you use a namespace in a document, you associate it with a prefix, which is used as a placeholder for the actual URI within the document. The URI itself must be unique, and often references a collection of schema or vocabulary documents.

What I would like to suggest is that a document representation of a text could be marked up using an appropriate namespace in order to determine an appropriate brand for the markup within the document. For instance,


<title>El Camino Grande</title>
<p property="isbn:number" content="123-456789"/>

<img src="dora:walking"/>
<span actor="dora:actor">Dora</span> and
<span actor="diego:actor" >Diego</span>
walked down the road
<img src="diego:walking"/>
is very rudimentary pseudo-code representing a description of Dora and Diego walking down the road, along with a picture of each of them doing so. This is not production code, mind you, this is merely a sketch of an idea, that the namespace used in this case securely identifies an actor, so that information such as images associated with this actor are not available unless some blessed mechanism, such as the involvement of a digital signature, is involved. More than likely, this mechanism would also involve the ISBN, since it would be unlikely that licensing an branded actor for use by a reader in one text would allow access for all texts.

So if you have the correct signature for the actor and the ISBN, you access the namespace, and you are blessed for use of the associated branding, which might be images, type-faces and so on. In the case of the pseudo-code above, you would require two signatures, one for Dora and one for Diego.

Or would you?

Well, this is where it gets interesting. What if you have secured one of the signatures, and not the other? Can you still read the text? Ostensibly, since this is pseudo-code, yes you can, if you change the namespace in the header declaration to a namespace for which you do have access; for instance, if an open-branded namespace were available, this could be used instead. In this way, if you were purchasing a book about Dora and Diego, you could pay for the entire branding, a portion of the branding, or just purchase the book itself without purchasing the branding, and rebrand the book with an open brand.

And then let the consumers decide.

So what does this all mean? I honestly believe that, as electronic publishing grows as an industry, it will become more and more necessary to separate narrative concern from commercial concern. So, what if brand were a secured namespace for identity? How would that change the industry?

Prepare for Parallax: Files in the Cloud

Following up on a conversation with a co-worker this morning, something struck me as obvious. One of the things Sugar OS handles really well (either as sugar-on-a-stick or on the OLPC XO laptop) is simplifying the file/resource paradigm to make it consumable by children, by basing access on chronology rather than hierarchy, reminiscent of a search engine rather than a file system. Also, on Sugar you work with activities rather than files.

What struck me recently is that on the one hand, movement towards a cloud OS reflects a shift in consumer tastes from tasks like email (where you attach files in order to share) to social networking (where you pass around links and participate in activities in order to share), so when somebody asks me, in the context of a cloud OS, "but how will you be able to locate your files?" my initial reaction is this: either chronologically, or collaboratively (or possibly spatially, but that is a separate issue).

Think about it this way: was the document or picture I am trying to find something I touched recently? That should make it easy to find. No? Is it something I shared or created with another person or group of people? That narrows the field. As I add in more relationships with people who may have come in contact with the activity in question, I have fewer and fewer activities to sift through.

I think the desktop of the future will not be a desktop at all, it will be more like a shared light-box, emphasizing transparency. In order to find something again easily, you must give it relevance, and the best way you can do this is to share it, to make it available to the people with whom you already have instantiated relevant relationships.

Far more intriguing to me, while at the same time quite far out, is the idea of a spatial desktop, where the first question you ask when you want to locate a particular item is where was I? Where was I when I took the picture? Did I participate in this activity at work, on a plane, at home, in the living room or in the dining room? On the one hand, this sort of information might not be readily available for many activities, but if it were, how quickly would that narrow the field if you could recall your location when you took that picture?

The advantage of this approach is obvious as well. If you can't locate the actual picture, you can ask who else was there? Be prepared for parallax.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Twitter Retweet Follow/Unfollow

I really have only one thing to add to the ongoing discussion of the new Twitter Retweet integration, other than the obvious, that I use a third party client so I don't really care.

I am noticing that when somebody in my network retweets somebody who is not in my network from the Twitter home page, I see:
  1. the retweet,
  2. a message telling me "Wondering who this is? Someone you follow thought this was worth retweeting, which is why you are seeing it in your Home timeline."
Is this valuable? Perhaps! The obvious reason is that I may want to follow the person who is being retweeted... but the more obtuse value? I may want to unfollow the person who is doing the retweeting, based on the people with whom they keep company. This may actually be more valuable to me in the long run.

If Twitter gave me the option to follow the person I am not following, or unfollow the person I am following, I would absolutely love this feature.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More Semantic Silliness

<span property="dc:creator">Dan Brown</span>
<span property="dc:title">The Du Blinci Core</span>
</object> which Tom Hanks plays a singleton node who discovers that he is somehow miraculously able to hold content, assisted in his search for meaning by Audrey Tautou, who along the way learns to re-purpose several hitherto erstwhile under-appreciated property attributes.
Sir Ian McKellen turns in a riveting performance as a priest who is actually an xml spy utilizing a Saxon transformer-implementation.

This perhaps is a film I would enjoy....

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sketches for a Group Membership Vocabulary

(Or the Strange Tale of RDFa and the Room with Two Doors)

I am sketching these ideas out here because I think they may be useful at some point, and I would really appreciate feedback; if this sort of vocabulary is already available somewhere, please ping me and let me know. And I'm going to save the RPG analogy for the end, because I know these can be deterrent. [ed. whatever! skip to the jump; it's funny!]

An activity I have had to address on several projects now involves profiling or gate-keeping groups of people or objects for the purpose of authorization or processing. For instance, in a CRM application, it might be necessary to tag potential customers as prospects, clients, inactive, etc. Or for a workflow application for a working group, it might be necessary to track people who are actively developing, people who have left the group, but are still useful resources and so on. I have yet to see a reasonable vocabulary for tracking these people. If such a vocabulary exists, I am sure it has many uses in a variety of contexts.

This vocabulary would have the following component(s):

Membership Status (mg:status):
This is the status of an individual, group or artifact within a larger community, given the following states, which should be mutually exclusive:
  • unknown - this is a nicety and not essential. Undefined.
  • prospect - potential only to be a group member.
  • candidate - selected by an automated process to become a group member, but not one yet.
  • nominee - recommended to become a group member by an existing member.
  • initiate - has completed self-registration etc, but not yet a group member.
  • member - an active member of the group.
  • banned - removed from group by process with proviso of reentry.
  • permban - removed from groupt by process with no proviso for reentry. TERMINAL.
  • alumnus - a non-active former member of the group. TERMINAL.
  • permanent - a member that can never be removed from the group. TERMINAL.
This list is likely not complete, but it represents a fairly typical group workflow model. When you enter the system, you are unknown, and are "promoted" to membership. At this point, you are ripe for the picking. At some point you may reach a terminal, but the majority of people will probably reside in the prospect and member categories.

So here is the RPG example:
A group of adventurers is exploring a location, when they reach two doors, one red and one blue. At this point, with respect to each of the doors, the two rooms could be described using the following RDFa-like pseudoterminology:

<room id="behind_the_red_door">
<member id="adv1" property="mg:status" content="prospect"/>
<member id="adv2" property="mg:status" content="prospect"/>
<member id="adv3" property="mg:status" content="prospect"/>

...and similarly for the room behind_the_blue_door.

Now, one of the adventurers discovers a key to one of the doors. At this point, this adventurer becomes content="candidate", whereas the other adventurers become content="intitiate" - they have an understanding of how to enter, but only the first adventurer has the key. However, since the door is now unlocked. Sicne the door is locked, only candidates can enter. When the first adventurer unlocks the door, the state of the room changes such that now candidates and initiates may enter (the state of the door in this case might be handled by a separate vocabulary - also this example hinges painfully poorly on the assumption that once unlocked, a door cannot be relocked).

At this point, adv2, the knight steps forward and enters the room:

<room id="behind_the_red_door">
<member id="adv1" property="mg:status" content="candidate"/>
<member id="adv2" property="mg:status" content="member"/>
<member id="adv3" property="mg:status" content="intitiate"/>

Naturally, the brave knight discovers that the room is full of a poisonous gas, and sensibly flees. The group of adventurers investigates the second door:

<room id="behind_the_blue_door">
<member id="adv1" property="mg:status" content="prospect"/>
<member id="adv2" property="mg:status" content="prospect"/>
<member id="adv3" property="mg:status" content="prospect"/>

Fortunately, the same key unlocks this door as well, and the door is unlocked. The knight is less enthusiastic, so the curious wizard enters the room.

<room id="behind_the_blue_door">
<member id="adv1" property="mg:status" content="candidate"/>
<member id="adv2" property="mg:status" content="intitiate"/>
<member id="adv3" property="mg:status" content="member"/>

So far so good. Mind you, this room is full of a tasteless and odourless poisonous gas, but nobody seems to have noticed. The wizard beckons to his companions to enter the room:

<room id="behind_the_red_door">
<member id="adv1" property="mg:status" content="candidate"/>
<member id="adv2" property="mg:status" content="alumnus"/>
<member id="adv3" property="mg:status" content="initiate"/>
<room id="behind_the_blue_door">
<member id="adv1" property="mg:status" content="member"/>
<member id="adv2" property="mg:status" content="member"/>
<member id="adv3" property="mg:status" content="member"/>

And now the diabolically cunning design of the room becomes painfully clear, as the combined effect of the gases in the two rooms becomes apparent, and the unfortunate knight, who has membership || alumnus status for both rooms, turns into a pillar of salt.

<room id="behind_the_red_door">
<member id="adv1" property="mg:status" content="candidate"/>
<member id="adv2" property="mg:status" content="alumnus"/>
<member id="adv3" property="mg:status" content="initiate"/>
<room id="behind_the_blue_door">
<member id="adv1" property="mg:status" content="alumnus"/>
<member id="adv2" property="mg:status" content="permanent"/>
<member id="adv3" property="mg:status" content="alumnus"/>

So ends the story of "RDFa and the Diabolic Room with Two Doors."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Morning Archive

I am currently listening what I consider My Morning Jacket's finest live recording, live at the Palace in Louisville, KY, 2005-11-23, recorded nearly four years ago. I can tell you several things about MMJ:
  1. Michael Mahemoff has written about Ajax design patterns, and has used MMJ as the intro to a podcast on the subject; also, follow @mahemoff on Twitter if you are so inclined.
  2. MMJ are fans of the movie Ghostbusters, and have often played the Ghostbusters music pre-show. In the recording to which I am listening, they refer to "busting ghosts."
  3. The recording I am listening to fits nicely onto a single CD if you strategically remove one song, otherwise, it splits nicely into a double CD. You supply the cover art.
The recording to which I am listening does not in fact have cover art, because it was downloaded from a selection of many live recordings archived at Internet Archive ( with the consent of the band. It was captured from a live radio broadcast, and contains a minimum of audience noise or flubbing. In my opinion, it is clearly superior to the live album released by the band's record label. I have listened to this recording around 100 times.

If you want to download the recording, check out It will be there, because the Internet Archive is an archive of artifacts; nothing ever goes out of print on IA. In fact, Internet Archive is wholly remarkable, largely because of the vision of one person, Brewster Kahle. Look him up on Wikipedia. You could even use the Wayback Machine at IA to do so, because the entire internet is backed up there. This is kind of misleading. It's actually also backed up by the same organization as a secondary backup in Alexandria. How cool is that?

Also, the Internet Archive is poised to deliver some amazing things in the future, as well as the past. If you are not paying attention to IA, and you are interested in the future of culture, books and reading, pay attention, and do some research on the Open Content Alliance,, Open Library, Book Reader and Brewster Kahle. You will not regret this.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tab Sweep 2009-11-10

For whatever reason, I have been reading up on Provenance Models recently (semantic models and vocabularies for tracking sources of truth, ownership and creative process), also a directory of book trade people on twitter and a post-modern literary review. Because this is NaNoLnkMo for me, and because I believe URLs should be human-parsable, I am not going to link to these. I am however going to close these tabs now so I can get some work done.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Instant Metafiction

It has been a hectic month so far, for a variety of reasons, and I'm glad that I deferred/diverted my plans for National Novel Writing Month this year. Kudos to all of you who are participating, and particularly to those of you in the Weblit community who are simultaneously keeping up with serialized writing. This is quite frankly an amazing achievement!

Several months back, I invested some time (okay, a weekend) in developing a framework for what I call "Instant Metafiction" - which I was planning to use for NaNoWriMo this year. I have mentioned this before, but, because I want to capture the project properly before moving on (and eventually taking it to the next level), I am going to describe it in a fair detail here.

The idea was to make it possible to create a finished product resembling metafictional works inspired by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Mark Danielowski's House of Leaves, which are characterized by narratorial insertions like footnotes, endnotes and sidebars. To do this, I would use a source document conforming to the DocBook document specification, typically used for technical manuals, which provides ample opportunity for annotation.

Using this approach, I could then use the standard transform package to generate a final metatext as an ePub version, an XHTML version, or a PDF version from the same source. Using DocBook would facilitate two other things, scheduling and crowdsourcing.

Scheduling is handled by using Blogger as a backend. Like many 'blogging platforms, Blogger allows you to date a post in the future. When the day arrives, the post is published. Conveniently, Blogger also uses labels, so I was able to label all posts I wanted to serialize with the same label. With a handful of lines of XQuery hosted on Google AppSpot (using Java and Saxon 8 to run the XQuery), I could now take the Atom syndication from Blogger, and convert it into DocBook.

Crowdsourcing is also handled by Blogger. Like any 'blogging platform, Blogger allows comments, which are then published in a separate syndication. A small modification to the XQuery used to extract the main Atom feed allowed any comments authored by me to be added to the DocBook source as a sidebar element (I had by this point chosen to focus on sidebars instead of endnotes for sylistic reasons).

By ignoring any other comments, the final metatext remains my own; however, if someone comments on a chapter, I can comment back with a response. And this response gets integrated into the metanarrative as a sidebar. In this way, as people read the narrative, the story is deepened. I am not sure how successful this would actually be, but it seemed like fun, and the tools are all free.

Beyond a weekend project using free technology, this approach offers several advantages - using an existing CMS can be limiting, as it is hard to extend its functionality unless you are familiar with its plugin hooks, and you are hosting your own deployment. This was not something that appealed to me. To my mind, integrated crowdsourcing may be a very important facet for serialized online literature, as it encourages deeper engagement, and it breaks down the barrier between author and audience. And it is something print literature just cannot do.

I would be happy to discuss any of the ideas and approaches described above further. This is definitely a project I will revisit in the near future, when time is more plentiful. I am just looking for a good excuse to do so.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Memory and Games: Book as Single Page Application

From time to time I find myself finding a use for Jeremy Ruston's TiddlyWiki. TiddlyWiki is what has been dubbed a "single page application" or SPA, because what it really amounts to is an HTML page, complete with a JavaScript active layer which allows one to add, edit, show, hide and reorder content layers. When you have made the desired changes to your TiddlyWiki, you use your browser to save the entire file. I have found TiddlyWiki to be especially useful for creating information on the go using a USB device.

One of the things I appreciate about my workplace is the "leave one; take one" bookshelf, where recently I discovered a copy of an old Steve Jackson game book called "The Crown of Kings" - sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, except you roll dice a lot, and you keep track of your Stamina and Skill statistics; you fight monsters as you explore. I believe there were four or five books in the series, and you could carry your "character" over from one to the next. The sort of thing you couldn't publish as a book in this day and age, because this sort of technogy has been subsumed by FaceBook and iPhone applications.

But this book does something that completely blew me away, that I have never really seen in a web application: it relied on memory. See, when you start the game, you consult an appendix which contains all of the various spells you can learn, indexed by a three letter code, along with Stamina cost and effect. At various points in the story, you are given a choice of several three-letter spell codes you can cast. You select a spell by its code, and go to the appropriate page, where you pay the cost and the resulting effect takes place.

But the trick is this - you can only look at the appendix one time, at the beginning of your adventure. And if you forget what all the spells do, you can injure yourself, or do something foolish. The game does not actually test your ability to be a warrior in real life, but it does test your problem-solving ability, and it tests your real life ability to remember important details.

Well, any book can be like this. If a book forces me to flip around, I need to remember what page I was on, in order to return to it. This is a disadvantage of a print book, of course. Book applications remember things for us. Browsers bookmark for us. We do not need to remember as much. I honestly do not think this makes either medium beter, just different.

But this got me thinking about how different forms of memory work. Imagine I can add annotations to a book I am reading. I get a pencil and I scribble notes in a margin. Over the years, these fade, or I lend the book to someone else, lose it on the bus and buy a different edition, which has been annotated by someone else.

Now imagine I can add annotations to an online book. I can add semantic tags to deepen the meaning and store the details of these tags in a data store for my next reading. I can share this information with other people, adding to the meaning of the book as a whole, without actually changing the book's narrative. If I am an author of the book, I can even retag the book to change the book's narrative.

But what if I add semantic data to the book that is purely transient... it evaporates as soon as I close the book, but it persists as long as I have the book open, as I flip through the chapters. How would that be?

I imagine something slightly more interactive than your average book, but less interactive than the simplest of video games. Perhaps a detective story, where you are the detective, and as you add semantic data to the narrative, the narrative reveals itself in more depth. And then, what if two people could arrange to read the same book, at the same time, so that the narrative evolved along two separate axes?

This would be a book as a single page application.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Inspirations: these are our stories

I have mentioned before that being a CBC lovin' Canadian, it just wouldn't be Christmas for me without the Vinyl Cafe. When I lived in the States, NPR and the Prairie Home Companion filled the same need. Radio plays and this kind of entertainment fill our need for oral history. These are our stories.

But I also like stories about swords and sorceresses, steampunks and spaceships. I grew up with the original Hitchhiker's Guide radio show, before it was a book or a PBS marathon, and any number of terrifying radio plays about criminals and evil twins, which I probably should not have been listening to. These are also our stories.

Edit: this post was unfinished... I got too creeped out thinking about the story about the guy who shares his heart with his evil unborn twin, and... umm...

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

NaNoWriMo and Weblit-tletown: What's in a Name?

I am so happy for everyone enjoying National Novel Writing Month this year! I wish I could take part, but I rebelled against it due to time constraints: I wish I had more. Instead, I wrote an open letter to the weblit community, asking them/you to follow up NaNoWriMo this year with a contribution to an Audio Collection of Holiday Weblit. The two projects are very different, see. NaNaWriMo encourages a "Don't look back until you are finished, lest your writing turn to a pillar of salt" attitude, whereas the Audio Holiday Weblit project encourages a "tell an entertaining story, but make it short and sweet" attitude.

I am so prepared to be shocked and blown away by the weblit community with both of these projects. As I said before, if you read it out loud, they will listen, and I honestly believe this. I also believe in things like Internet Archive, Creative Commons, and Huffman Coding, though I have yet to see any of these in real life. Internet Archive, for instance, lends any project credibility, because it allows you to turn a collection of things into an artifact, just like that. Not great for distribution, mind you, but great for credibility.

What's in a name? I have mentioned that I am taken with the name #weblit-tletown (as in "of Bethlehem"), because it is festive and vocal. Is this a sucky name? You tell me. There is a great discussion taking place at at this very moment about why people use pseudonyms when they write. Many good reasons. This weekend, I am going to compile and publish a list of stakeholders (ie people who plan to contribute a recording) - please use whatever name you choose, and correct me if I slip up. It can be confusing. Apologies in advance!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Audio Fiction Content Guidelines

Okay, so here's the story so far...

Hallowe'en came and went, and I was frustrated that while I had time to discover some great seasonal weblit fiction, I did not have time to read it, so I posted an open letter to the weblit community requesting that, this winter, we collect our holiday stories into an audio collection of some sort and distribute it, so cool people can listen to your voices over the holidays and share them with the people they care about.

My plan is to write a post each night in November, breaking the project down into various topics in order to facilitate a discourse, and I hope that by the end of the month, we will have reached consensus about all the important points of the project, and we can roll the November energy into December and have something available for download mid month. This is entirely doable, because you are all talented people, and because I believe this is a valuable thing that needs to be done.

I want to table two issues, then finish with a few suggested guidelines about content.

1) Writing this out every night is meant to build momentum, but also, I want to organize like an agile scrum team (google as necessary). Everything I have seen of the weblit community demonstrates that you work individually, but also through constant collaboration. With this in mind, PLEASE leave comments whenever and wherever you like. I will find them. Then, each Sunday in November, I will assemble and report progress. This week, for instance, I will compile a list of involved parties.

2) The next step is to reach out to the reader community. One of the dangers with collaboration is that we create walled gardens and mutual admiration clubs. Writer. Reader. When you read one of your stories out loud, you become a reader.

Content Guidelines

Roughly speaking, 1000 words is about 10 minutes read aloud. Any longer than this and we run the risk of losing audience attention. Short and snappy is going to be our best approach. 15 minutes at the very most.

Audience appropriate means no swearing, rough language or sexual content, and violence should be limited to snowballs and abusive ghosts. There is no need to censor ourselves, but there is also no need to place a limit on our audience. Plus, holiday, festive etc.

I will repeat that people excel at downloading mp3s, but, semantically, like pdfs and epubs, audio files are walled gardens - they don't let meaning out - so I think we need to provide the source text of our stories to make the whole package searchable. This could be as simple as a supplemental RSS or Atom stream, or all sorts of Dublin Core and Open Provenance. This will be determined.

And of course, these are just some opinions that I am trying to flesh out. When all is said and done, we will put our voices together and we will see what happens. Please add your two cents.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Is Audacity Enough?

I am going to keep this short, cover some technical issues, and attempt to further open a dialog. For more background on what I am talking about, please refer to the previous post - suffice it to say that I want to try and give weblit a voice this holiday season, and I am going to post each night this November in order to sketch out a plan of how we might be able to do it. And please, please comment... it will only encourage me.

1) Do you have experience with grass roots recording? In the past, I have recorded using a cheap microphone and Audacity, a freely available tool which allows you to record, edit and splice mp3s. It is nothing too fancy, but it works, it is cross-platform, and it is available under a GNU GPL license. Ideally, I am thinking that results will be best if everyone involved in a project like this uses the same tools. Please leave a comment if you can recommend a different recording tool, but remember, keep it simple and freely available. I would love to recommend a tool with built in audio processing like compression and reverb, so that we all sound great, but, I don't have much experience in this area. If you do, please speak up.

2) Distribution and contribution: torrent or stream or podcast, or some combination of these... part of the reasoning behind using mp3 as opposed to ePub or PDF is that people already know how to distribute mp3s. People excel at distributing mp3s. I am thinking a torrent would be ideal, but again, speak up. Many options are available. This will most likely become a separate post, but I want to raise the question here. As far as contribution goes, obviously, there is the contribution that the weblit community would be making; in addition, however, I would love to allow donations as long as these 1) are earmarked exclusively for a charitable organization chosen by consensus, and 2) all money raised in this fashion is accounted for transparently. Not necessary, but it would be great to be able to demonstrate value in this way.

3) Length: I am thinking 10 minute stories would work well, and I'm not sure what this would be as a word count. Depends how fast you read, right? But a dozen contributers at 10 minutes a piece is two hours, which strikes me as a reasonable benchmark.

4) Endorsement: again, I am imagining something grassroots and community oriented, however, also something that extends beyond this community. One option would be to try to contact higher profile authors who are also friendly to the creative commons cause for guest spots. Painting with broad strokes here, but this would be one way to reach out beyond the immediate weblit community.

5) How do you define weblit? Additionally, I believe it is important to make available the source text in an appropriate format along with the audio feed, since audio is not searchable, and presents a semantic walled garden. Again, I would like to open this topic up for discussion.

6) Lastly, because I am keeping this short, what's in a name? My initial request is for weblit to share its voice, and I think this is a sufficiently engaging meme; however, code names are cool. In keeping with the holiday theme, I am kind of taken with #weblit-tletown (as in "of Bethlehem"), because it is still tagged as "weblit", contains a truly awful play on words, and as far as code names go, it is sufficiently inscrutable. Or perhaps it's just stupid, and I admit, I have a terrible sense of humour. SO, come up with something catchier.

I really believe that this is a valuable thing to be working towards, and I am prepared to develop this idea for at least the next month, and we'll see where it goes. But please, leave a comment, negative or positive. I want to hear your voice.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

November! Stuff! Nonsense! Weblit, let me hear your lovely voice!

I'm going to keep this short, because my plan is to write something every night of November, and I don't want to run out of de profunduses and bons mots. At least, not until December. I have written previously about my plan to cheat National Novel Writing Month by crowdsourcing metafiction, and well, yes, I still plan to do this, just not right now, as I want to focus. my attention. on other things.

And as mentioned, the crowdsourced metafiction was a cheat, while at the same time a tribute to several novels I love, notably Nicole Brossard's Mauve Desert (google it, get it, read it); which I didn't want to sully with too much nonsense.

But I'm very serious about the "Weblit I want to hear your lovely voice!" thing, so I will repeat it again, and not shut up about it until someone actually tells me to shut up about it, and so, it is this:

If you love weblit, there is at least a fairly good chance you love Hallowe'en, because, well, who doesn't? and Hallowe'en indulges the weblit spirit of DIY, of creating a persona, and of getting paid through contribution and merchandising. Possibly with candy. And if you love weblit, you probably also love to tell a story, and there have been discussions elsewhere, in a ton of different places (I'm seriously not going to link to anything this month - it's going to be NaNoLnkMo for me - just saying) about the role of online writer as storyteller, return to an oral tradition, Mikhail Bakhtin and the carnivalesque (totally use bing this time, just to shake things up a bit) and so forth.

And yet, when I twitter and yahoo! around for some SPOOKY STORIES this All Hallow's Eve, I find that I have barely enough time to read two TERRIFYING TALES, before I am called upon to adjust a scabbard and straighten a butterfly fairy's wings, and we are out the door in search of medlar confits. When what I really want to do is snag a podcast or torrent, and download an hour's worth or so of NAUSEATING NARRATIVES, which I can then listen to while I am otherwise employed as haberdasher.


What I am humbly requesting that all you weblit folk do is this: grab a microphone and the appropriate technology, and record a 10 minute story which you have written for the next holiday season, ChrisKwanziKah or whatever you want to call it, in your own voice, and make it available under some sort of creative commons non-commercial license. Then we'll collect all your stories and create a torrent or live stream them.

If you read them, we will come. Laeti triumphantes! Seriously. I think this is really important.

And then when that works, we'll start thinking about next Hallowe'en.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Calling all weblit-ers to the campfire...

This is going to be quick, because we are getting our costumes together, and all that. A knight and a butterfly fairy, thank you for asking. Thank you, Weblit-ers, I love all the weblit Hallowe'en fiction I have just found; but to be fair, I wish I had the time to read it all. I mean, it's Hallowe'en, and I just don't have time to Twitter or Google or Bing... so maybe I'll put on a mix tape of the "Monster Mash" or surf through channels or torrents until I can find "It's the Great Pumpkin" or something. Whatever.

And Christmas is coming up, and we need to start planning that too. And I am a Canadian, and that sort of a Canadian, so I can guarantee that, like every other Christmas, I will find myself preparing drinks or peeling potatoes or wrapping presents while listening to Stuart McClean reading "Dave Stuffs a Turkey" (okay, I'm not going to link to things, just Google if you have to).

But here is what I would like to be doing, this Christmas, or next Hallowe'en: listening to your lovely voices, Weblit-ers. Listening to your lovely voices. I think is a fantastic idea, and I cannot wait, but you know what? Your voices will not be heard over the singers; but what if, what if you got out a microphone and read your stories out loud, just two stories a year, a spooky one and a jolly one, and then curated them into an easily accessible podcast? For an hour or two, while I was mixing drinks or filling bowls with candy, I could take a moment with my family, around our campfire, and share your lovely voices and stories.

And I would love that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

#PRSuccess! @dangerbird Records: yay!

I'm very pleased with the independent music industry, and I would like to spread some of this love directly to everybody at Dangerbird Records, home of the Silversun Pickups, Bad Veins, Darker My Love... a roster of great bands.

So about a month ago, the Silversun Pickups played here in my home town, and @dangerbird, who I follow on Twitter, were giving away tickets to the show to people who sent them funny pictures. And but two days after the show, I discovered a message in my gmail *Spam Folder*, because that's where gmail likes to put direct messages coming from Twitter.


So whatever, I was annoyed, but the show was great, no big loss. I emailed Dangerbird to apologize for any inconvenience, and those nice people responded by mailing me the SSPU vinyl back-catalogue.


And what a success! Three albums you say, but wow, Swoon on 180gm vinyl, split over two records so there is less loss of fidelity on the inner tracks. Carnavas on vinyl! The packaging is exquisite. So, thank you Dangerbird!

But a success too because I'm going to do that much more to promote their label. I'm going to pay that much more to check out other bands on their roster. And here is a big one, I'm going to retweet them like crazy.

Like I said, I'm very pleased with the independent music industry.

Check out Dangerbird's latest mixtape, containing Daytrotter sessions, Patsy Cline covers, wall-to-wall goodness. Follow them on Twitter, if that's your thing. They're nice people.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mauve Desert, ABA', Cheatsin' NaNoWrMo

Mauve Desert is one of my favourite novels, a translation of a roman(ce) by QuebeCoise author Nicole Brossard. I read Brossard's novel in translation, but the book itself is a translation, the story of a fifteen year-old girl who navigates the baroque night-roads of the desert; the story of the middle-aged academic who discovers her writing in a second-hand bookshop and translates it. The narrative is presented twice, or presented and represented. Mauve Desert is one of the most thought-provoking and beautiful books I have read, and well worth reading.

Mauve Desert follows the form of a musical sonata, follow the pattern of theme-diversion-restatement. Mathematically, this translation could be expressed as ABA'. This pattern can be found in novels by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, as well as... well, if you start looking for this pattern, little by little, you will go insane.

A narrative that retells itself, a book that draws attention to itself, is, by definition, metafiction. And the ABA' pattern implies a more subtle pattern; once you perform a translation, you can perform it again, and again... ABA' becomes ABA'BA'' becomes ABA''BA'''...

And I intend to create such a thing. Every year, when National Novel Writing Month rolls around, I
try and I fail, primarily because of life and other things, lack of preparation and so forth. So this year, what I want to do is crowd source my attempt.

In short, I intend to create a simple narrative right here on this here sight, soliciting comments on each chapter as it is published. I will then respond to these comments as annotations to the original narrative (ie as footnotes, sidebars, endnotes and other such typographical madness), in such a way that these annotations will appear within/without/interrupting the text of the original narrative.

Are you with me so far?

When all is said and done, I will then use things like Atom, DocBook and ePub to repackage the whole mess in the form narrative-annotations-annotatednarrative. If that doesn't get me to 50,000 words, I don't know what will.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thoughts on the WebFinger Protocol

This comes as a response to Dare Obasanjo's post Some Thoughts on WebFinger and Personal Web Discovery. I am not going to summarize what WebFinger does, other than to paraphrase, WebFinger allows you to associate more of your identity with your email address. Smart, right?

Dare suggests that WebFinger might be more useful in making your online identity portable, rather than for its intended usage for end users. Which I agree with. I would like to keep all of my online identity in one place, but I have to take issue with the use of an email address for any purpose other than sending and receiving email (and I admit, I use my gmail address for plenty of authentication out of necessity and convenience), because it encourages and softens people up for abuse by the password anti-pattern.

If there's one thing I appreciate about Facebook, LinkedIn and their kind, it's that they shield people from my email. I don't want to ever give anyone my email, because I want to be able to turf it if I need to, at which point, people can still find me on Facebook etc. But, it's true, having an uncommon name is a mixed blessing. WebFinger seems like a good idea, but it also sounds kind of like it's grooming people for the password anti-pattern. We should be telling people "Don't give away your email, don't give away your email password..."

(From my comment on Dare's blog)

This what my daughter thinks about gatekeepers:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The News Garden and the Wire

Full disclosure: When I created this 'blog, the name "eardrum buzz" was a catchy phrase, and there was always the possibility that I might get a bit of free publicity if electro-hipsters Wire decided to sue me over fair use of the title from one of their songs. So I am guilty also of link-baiting with the title of this post.

What if Twitter were to take the direct access they have to their own data-flow and shift focus to curation? What if Twitter presented not only currently trending topics but also mined this data further, to provide analysis of the people who trended the topic?

Facebook is acquiring FriendFeed, and I find myself agreeing almost exactly with Robert Scoble that FaceBook is just not an appropriate place to conduct public conversations, even though creating a space for conducting semi-private conversations is not such a bad thing.

I go to Facebook to catch up on current affairs in my personal sphere, such as people's birthdays I might be missing. It is a garden where I can share news with friends, but... there is no discussion. Facebook will have to offer me a great deal more in the way of current affairs in the world at large for me to check in more often than once a week.

By drawing resources away from FriendFeed, is Facebook setting its targets on Twitter? No more than it already has. Twitter and FriendFeed are both networking tools; Facebook is not.

But what if Twitter shifted away from the notion of connecting me with existing contacts? The Suggested User List is a step in this direction, though arguably, a misstep. The thing Twitter really offers me that I find nowhere else is the immediacy of trending topics. And by immediacy, I mean that by the time a topic has trended, it has developed to the point where it cannot be ignored. In this sense, immediacy describes a combination of presence and latency.

But, this still has more immediacy for me than than CNN.


What if Twitter were to shift focus to curation? In other words, when a topic trends, what if Twitter told me what group of Twitterers originated the topic? I could use this information. If Twitter did this for me, I would rely on trends and the public stream more than my own personal network, because this would cut the distance between me and an ostensibly reliable source of information.

And I would follow these people.

If Twitter curated a list of the users who have consistently been involved in the early phase of trending topics, clearly, these would be people I would want to follow (if I was interested in these topics), would they not? My assumption here is that by the time a topic trends, it has become reliable. Perhaps by the time a topic trends, it has already become stale. I would argue, it has become stable.

But this would be my ideal Twitter. A public stream that brings me closer and closer to the immediacy of "What is happening, right now."

Friday, July 31, 2009

Links for 2009-07-31

@jayrosen_nyu: Last night, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen twittered something that struck me as very profound:
I grew up in a chaotic household. Television ordered my attention and gave it flow. Family life couldn't. This is one reason I study media.

I grew up in a household that was at times less than stable; attention has never been one of my strengths, other than the occasional attention I have paid in the past to things like computers and Rubik's Cubes. Hell, many of the important things I have learned in life were learned from Sesame Street, and I take great enjoyment now from sitting down with my son and learning about the world of polar bears and four-winged dinosaurs from Nova. I can't imagine a world without this influence. Marshall McLuhan described the television as being like a "bomb in the classroom", and I believe this to be apt on multiple levels.

In this week's "Rebooting the News" podcast with Dave Winer, Jay discusses his inspiration for the week, Marshall McLuhan. "The subject may require you to go very far afield," he comments on McLuhan. "Marshall McLuhan was willing to see the destruction of the world he preferred, which was that of the literate man..."

@davewiner: Dave Winer created a prototype for what has become the blogosphere, and has said some pretty profound things also. What struck a chord with me recently was the idea that, like a wire service, the internet can provide us with a "river of news" into which we can dip to keep abreast of current affairs. "Perhaps the river of news is omniscient," he wonders in last week's "Rebooting the News" podcast.

I have personally spent so much of my life dealing with the anxiety that something is happening somewhere, and that I am missing it. The twitter paradigm, for want of a better phrase, seems to be that the online world has become broad enough that if a meme needs to find you, it will circulate until it does. This is not just cold comfort.

Like journalism, the face of literature is changing, as the media through which these are transmitted are changing. If you aren't following the Rebooting the News podcast, do so. It's become a high point in my week, and I strongly recommend you start rebooting.

Marshall McLuhan steps outside his frame of reference, and Woody Allen pulls him back in.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On the proper use of quote with html attribute values...

A very short rant.

When your HTML tags contain attributes such as "...width='10%'>", please, please, please use quotes around the value. There may come a time when somebody has to take your code and turn it into XHTML, which requires quotes; moreover, there may come a time when somebody has to take your code and generate it on the server side using JSP or ASP... which will not take kindly to that "...10%>".

So please, use quotes around your HTML attribute values. Or my son will kick you.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


From an early age, Alex had been good at floating, at first in water, then a few feet above the ground, then higher as he learned how to channel his magical energy at the school. This, apparently, would be very useful when they hurled him, as they did, later that day, into the Teertsi Hole, where he had been floating ever since. Apparently the hurling had worked, and then the plan had gone awry.
For all he knew, however, many days had passed since they had catapulted him into the Hole. Time passed very strangely therein, and he had a vague feeling that he had missed several meals since his entrance.
"I should be hungry, though," he speculated to the void.
And well you should.
Something had answered him. Not aloud, but silently, as if speaking behind him.
"I should be very hungry," Alex tried again.
I should think so. I am.
"I am ravenous," Alex announced.
As am I, the voice responded silently.
"Oh crap! You're going to eat me now, aren't you?"
In essence, I already have.
A moment later, Alex realized that he had been conversing with the void itself.
Not to worry, however; I eat only plants. Animals disagree with me.
"You are a vegetarian void?"
Call me a... Herbivortex. Call me Odd-Hume, for that is my name. That is what the other intruders call me.
"Other intruders? The Teertsi?"
Yes. They used that name to summon me, and they use that name when they call me. Odd-Hume. It will do.
"Call you?"
To feed me. I am always hungry.
"Well, I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Odd-Hume! I think we need to talk further."
And later that day, Alex was ejected from a tear in the sky that opened over Galvany Fields and Azure Spires, and he floated to earth, making his way swiftly to his Head Master's office as soon as he touched ground. In Head Master Peeps' office, he explained how the united peoples of the twin cities could summon the Herbivortex Odd-Hume, and feed her themselves, and they should have to pay tribute to Teerts no more.
He was fairly certain Odd-Hume was female, whatever it was, though whenever he tried to picture her, he had a flash of a giant, nebulous cow, with horns that spanned continents.
And that is how Alex of Galvany Fields, student of magic in the College of Dweomer at the 'Varsity of Azure Spires, became a hero.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Eight Years Later

And now, Alex understands, as best he can, the source of the cloying sound coming from the other hilltop, as he watches the Lutanists assembled behind the Starcatchers playing their foul instruments, and strung to these instruments by vibrating cords are wingbound lancers, men whose very clothing forms wide wings. By some enchantment, the cloaks worn by the lancers collect and focus the sound, so that they are lifted from the hilltop, soaring into the air at great speed. As they do so, Alex watches in horror and disgust as the proud eagles of Galvany fall to their lances.
And then the Starcatchers strike, and all hope is lost.
The star-kites they have unwound fall short of the eagles' attack, but they had never been intended as snares, leastwise, not for the eagles. An unfortunate wind has blown the kites much closer to the hilltop on which Alex stands, and, distracted from the eagles' demise, he watches in amazement and then growing alarm as the star-kites swoop down at the mages less than a stone's throw away. The kites are attracted, they must be, by the mages' magic. And whenever a kite strikes a mage, that mage falls down dead, first the mages of Oakenshore, and then the less powerful crop mages, and among them, Alex's father.
And thus ends the battle of Galvany Fields, and so began the Teertsi occupation.
If it weren't for the events of that day, of course, Alex would probably have stayed in Galvany Fields, and become a crop mage like his father. This was a bitter truth.
Eight years later, to the day, Alex found himself in a dilemma. The plan, developed and embellished in secret, had been simple. The plan had in fact been so secret, that Alex, involved as he would become, had had no knowledge of it until he had been called to his Head Master's chambers earlier that day, only to be met by a taskforce of mages and government officials.
"The plan is this, and there is little time, so listen carefully," Head Master Peeps had instructed him, before continuing: "We are going to hurl you into the Teertsi Hole as it opens. When you get to the other side, we are going to pull you back, and you are going to tell us what you saw there."
Stupid plan, Alex had thought.
And just how are you going to do this? How are you going to hurl me?"
"By catapult, of course."
"And... pull me back?"

Thursday, July 09, 2009


And of course, Alex was well aware that many had not, that many of the poverty stricken members of society, who had before relied upon charity for their well being, had simply died of hunger. Many had been killed by the policemen of the occupying force during the early uprisings that took place in the first year of the occupation. And many had attempted to leave the Delta, though few had succeeded.
So the cities had adapted to their oppressors, and, in secret, planned their downfall.
"Filthy, oily bastards! Why?" Alex was weeping now. And of course, there was no answer, although he couldn't shake the strange feeling that someone, or something, was watching him.
The Starcatchers open their silvery cages, and shimmering star kites are released, stretching out into the sky on silken filaments. These filaments are attached to the cages by miniature winches, which the Starcatchers spin out rapidly. There are only a dozen or so.
What initially draws Alex's attention to the hilltop on the other side of the fields is the sound, which he initially thinks is coming from the group of Starcatchers. He can barely make out what they are doing, but the sound seems to come from the strange boxes they are holding, or from the bright kites rising from the crowd.
"The kites! The kites! They're trying to snare the eagles!" He yells out, and the other farm-folk join in the chorus.1
Silent they become as the mages of the Oakenshore Guild and the remaining crop mages pool their energy and cast out devastating curses to the opposing hilltop, obliterating several of the Starcatchers on the spot. Flying above the kites, the eagles descend on the hilltop, similarly bent on carnage.
The cacaphony from the other hill only grows. When he was a child, Alex had watched, horrified, as a group of older boys tortured an alleycat for their own amusement. This sound is similar, but worse, pure but awful, a cross between the sound of music and the sound of agony.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Eight Years Earlier

First to arrive was the mage army of the Oakenshore Guild, who after a brief, uneasy parley with the crop mages (who had retreated to a hilltop overlooking the battlefield), turned their efforts to the ground assault, hurling bolts of lightning and explosive curses against the Teertsi shock troops.
Soon after arrived the nimble lion-riders of Galvany, who were able to destroy much of the Teertsi ground offensive, distracted as the shock troopers were by the Oakenshore magic. With the lion-riders came birds of the sky, great eagles, which swooped down on the battlefield, plucking soldiers up and hurling them at their allies.
The lion-riders set up a whooping battle cry, rallying and re-rallying as they tore the Teertsi to pieces. From the vantage of their hilltop aerie, Alex and the other farm-folk joined in the rallying cry. His chest nearly burst with pride as he watched the tide of battle turning.
That battle had taken place eight years ago now, almost to the day. In actual fact, it had been eight years exactly.
"Eight years of occupation! Eight years paying tribute every year to those filthy oily bastards!" Alex yelled out into the void that surrounded him, but no answer came.
Every year since the occupation, on the day of the Autom Feast, the Teertsi Hole had reopened, and every year, a tribute of flour, lumber, preserved fish and various other goods was taken back to Teerts. There was nothing the Delta-folk could do about it, either, for the Teertsi were among them now.
And in many ways, ironically, the twin cities of the Delta had prospered since the occupation. The Teertsi occupation had ended the war between Galvany Fields and Azure Spires, for one. And though the Teertsi themselves were not hardworking, the people of the two cities had had to work that much harder in order to prosper, and many had risen to the challenge.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Chaff Demons

Alex's father and the other crop mages now agreed that it was time for action, and so, strengthening and redoubling the hexes they had made on the chaff demons, they sent them at the intruders. But the chaff demons were no match for the Teertsi ground offensive, and again and again the straw men were beaten down, trodden underfoot or exploded into nebulae of hay, only to be brought into being again by the tireless crop mages.
"We can hold them! Keep them together, lads!"
Alex prayed that his father was right. He was almost too young to believe that his father could be wrong.
When the first wave of shock troops met the straw men in combat, they had smashed them with brute force. The crop mages pooled their guile and arcane energy, and the straw men were whirled back into being, forming larger and more powerful homunculi, which seemed momentarily to push back the Teertsi ground force. But then Alex had witnessed a terrifying sight, as some amongst the ground force drew forth lit torches, and set their comrades ablaze. Such was the nature of the Teertsi armor that it protected the wearer from the flames, while feeding the blaze. Alex watched as the burning soldiers tore a swath through the straw men, which kindled almost immediately into towering infernos, exploding from within as the crop dust took.
Trolls, Alex had seen, on one memorable (and quite frightening) occasion when he had traveled with his father to the Mithwood, to trade with the people who lived there. But these invaders, in many ways troll-like, were different. The trolls had been ruthless, but had only been protecting what was theirs. These people were relentless, intent only on breaking through to Azure Spires and neighboring Galvany.
And eventually the crop mages and their allies had had to do just that: to let the Teertsi pass through, and hope that they had given the twin cities of the Delta adequate time to prepare their defenses.
Had this only been the case, the occupation would have ended there, but there had been strife between the cities, and so the cities were prepared for attack, but not from this direction, and the reinforcements they mobilized were delayed.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Evil Magic over Galvany

When the Hole opened over the fields, there was confusion. The dark aperture occluded the sun as it enlarged from an occult pinpoint in the sky to a wide tear. Baffled by its appearance, the crop mages huddled together. And then the Teertsi gangs began to emerge.
"What... what is that?" Alex's father, an elder among the crop mages, had cried out.
"It looks like the sky is being torn!"
"This is evil, evil magic."
Alex could only agree.
The first sight the Delta folk had had of the Teertsi were the heliothopters, spidery airborne vehicles with only a single rider, pumping pedals and bellows to keep his flimsy craft aloft - but these were only scouts, soon followed by handfuls of airships, proud and terrifying zeppelins. Within short moments, the airships were dropping balloons filled with only enough hot air to slow their descent, and attached to these balloons were baskets brimming with Teertsi ground troops in their oily black armor, made from the hide of no beast Alex had ever seen. From these baskets also emerged the Starcatchers and the Lutanists, who began setting up their equipment on a nearby hilltop. The ground troops charged down the hillside and across the fields of Galvany.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Old Washerwoman of Scrub Sheelie

" wherever you are, you will eventually leave the quandary!" This would have been reassuring to Alex, if this were in fact a quandary in which he was floating, but it came as cold comfort, as this particular aetherial non-conformity allowed of only two exits. He remembered that much from his hurried briefing, only hours earlier.
A dilemma then... was the same thing true of a dilemma? He couldn't remember. So! He might be in here forever. Surely they hadn't intended that! The whole thing had happened so quickly. And there again was that strange voice in the back of his head. Alex asked it to go away, and it did.

In the earliest days of the Teertsi occupation of the Azure Delta, stories had been passed around from neighborhood to neighborhood; like, for instance, the old washerwoman from Scrub Sheelie, who, after the Teertsi gangs had taken her family from her, had turned her strong hands from wringing out the days laundry to wringing the necks of any young Teertsi foolish enough to venture out after the curfew they themselves had imposed. In Galvany Fields, where Alex had lived before coming to Azure Spires, the standard rejoinder to this story had always been that, were the Teertsi youth not so filthy that they rarely had their clothes laundered, the poor woman might have accepted their trade instead.
Alex had cringed when he heard stories like these. In those first days of occupation, his family had known both poverty and mistreatment at the hands of the Teertsi. He would never forget this.
He had been there to witness the Teertsi Hole opening. This he would never forget either. There had been chaff demons in the fields that day. Each year at the harvest, the crop mages would set hexes on the straw and threshed hay, separating the usable wheat and other grains from the rest. As the hexes took effect, the chaff would form whirlwind homunculi, thin and tall, graceful manakins which would then lend their assistance during the rest of the harvest. They were neither strong nor durable, but the chaff demons were reliable, until the Autom Feast after last harvest, at which they would dance themselves to pieces.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Alex was in a quandary. At least, that was where he thought he was, but he was unsure. If only he had paid more attention.

Oh well, he had all the time in the world to ponder it now. He silently cursed himself for not paying more attention in his Psychic and Magical Telemetry and Geography of the Arcane World classes. Only last month, there had been a guest lecturer who was rumored to have spoken very knowledgeably on the subject of "Topological Non-Conformities in the Aether." Alex, naturally, had skipped the lecture to go floating in the Tane, the small river that ran through the center of campus. It had been the hottest day of midsummer, far too hot to spend in a stuffy lecture hall.
For almost two years now, Alex had attended the School of Arts and Magic, in the College of Dweomer at the 'Varsity of Azure Spires. He was barely squeaking by with a passing grade in most of his subjects, "Psych and Madge" included.
"Now let's see... solutions: the quandary has four potential solutions, or egresses," he muttered to himself. "Indeterminability: you can never be completely sure which solution you are approaching... but... but..." There always was a "but" or a "however" attached to these sorts of definitions, a matter which had caused Alex serious grief in the past. "But!" he exclaimed, "you are assured of eventual egress as an invariant state of the quandary, based on the impossibility of stasis."
Put simply, if you can't stand still, you will eventually have to leave. Which is, ironically, a phrase several of his professors had applied to Alex in the last handful of months alone.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Horns of a Dilemma: Introduction

In an effort to ignore this space so I can get some work done in other areas of my life (more on this at an appropriate time), over the next month, I am serializing an excerpt from one of several unsuccessful attempts at "National Write a Novel Month," in 8 installments, published Monday/Thursday. Enjoy!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Writers who Tweet

Following is a group of writers who I have been following in Twitter. They are all professional, in that they all would like to get paid for what they are doing. The phrase "professional writer" is undergoing some growing pains at the moment, much like the phrase "professional journalism," but simply put, most people want to get paid for what they do at some point, and we need the professionals in these estates, as much as we need the amateurs.

@bruces - Bruce Sterling wrote one of my favourite science fiction novels, Schismatrix; as well, Sterling's early cyberpunk anthology Mirrorshades set the stage for an entire genre. Sterling doesn't post as often as I'd like, but when he does, I always pay attention. A writer with his eye on the future.

@GreatDismal - William Gibson and Bruce Sterling collaborated on the steampunk prototype The Difference Engine, and it was William Gibson who has consistently hammered in the nail of cyberpunk. He is interviewed in a fantastic film No Maps for These Territories.

@1889ca - MCM is creator of Rollbots, animated mayhem currently showing on YTV in Canada, and soon elsewhere around the world. MCM is actively searching for different ways to perform and commoditize the process and distribution of writing. Also insane.

@scalzi - John Scalzi has written numerous fiction and non-fiction books, notably The Last Colony. He lives in Ohio, so when he tweets about finishing his writing quota for the day at 2.00 on the west coast, I have to realize it is dinner time in the east. Also a creative consultant for Stargate: Universe, which should get interesting.

- Dan Holloway is writing a novel on Facebook called The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes. He also blogs and is a member of the Year Zero Writers collective. When Dan tweets from the U.K., it is either really late on the west coast, or really early in the U.K.

I realize these are all male writers, and I will try to rectify that with a future list. Elizabeth Hand, possibly my favourite living writer, blogs at LiveJournal as the +1 in the Inferior 4+1, but refuses to tweet.

Please leave comments on female writers who tweet!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Writing with ink and erasers

Tolkien wrote the lion's share of his work in pencil, in standard school notebooks, over which he overwrote in pen, later erasing the pencil. This allowed him, amongst other things, freedom to change the underlying linguistic framework of his stories as he was writing them. This is something a word processor will not allow me to do.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Judgement and Discrimination

Okay, I firmly believe in the importance of judgement, that often it is more valuable to be the person saying "no" when others are saying yes. Judgement is undervalued; but discrimination in any form is sickening and morally reprehensible.

This in response to a study conducted by U.B.C. prof Philip Oreopoulos, which found that, in a phony mail survey of resumes sent out to online job postings in the Toronto area, mock applicants were 40 percent more likely to get a call back than those with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani names.

40 percent.

This is the 21st century, is it not? I am shocked, but not surprised by these numbers.

I recently posted an article regarding Ivan Krstić's move to Apple. While I was looking at other articles about the move, I came across the phrase He's also looking for a vowel for his last name. I am sure this is intended as a jest, but, still... Judge people by what they do, by what they say, but not by the way they spell their name.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ivan Krstić joins Apple Core Security

I have been following Krstić's writing for several years now, and have found his weblog to be both informative and entertaining. I have no doubt that he will perform many good deeds at Apple, not the least of which will be adding an element of transparency to the organization. Consider me a fan of his writing, and I hope he continues to do so as he has in the past.

For more information, look here, here and here

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sugar on a Stick

Currently enjoying Cincinnati's Koala Fires - follow them on twitter to download a copy of their debut ep.
Also enjoying Loney, Dear's Daytrotter Session
After all has been said and done about the successes and failures of the One Laptop Per Child organisation, it is still built on a very sound set of principles, one of which is that children's education works best when the child owns the technology. When Sugar Labs separated from OLPC, they took this premise with them. Sugar on a Stick is a project currently in beta at Sugar Labs, which allows you to leverage Fedora LiveUSB to store the complete running Sugar OS on a USB stick.

I encourage you to help out with this project if you have primary school aged children (even older - I have really enjoyed the TamTam music software available with Sugar). The Sugar OS has been designed with children in mind. People who criticize the OLPC project for not training children in the use of Microsoft products (because these are an industry standard), are missing the point, I believe. Microsoft operating systems and applications are an industry standard because they are ubiquitous. You use them at work, you have a pirated copy at home, etc... just as the Macintosh equivalents are similarly pervasive. I love my OLPC XO for a variety of reasons, but it is an island in my life, because I am surrounded by pervasive operating systems and applications, and I always have been. Unfortunately, the OLPC laptop doesn't change this.

Sugar on a Stick could.

Technology is ownership, portability, pervasiveness. With the Sugar on a Stick beta, Sugar Labs is driving toward these goals.