Categories: openmovement, writing

beautiful writing

Good writing is such as pleasure, especially when it’s about something you care about:

Without the kooks and the insulters and the spray-can taggers, Wikipedia would just be the most useful encyclopedia ever made. Instead it’s a fast-paced game of paintball.

Categories: books, writing

getting to know a text

I just finished writing a book review, for Books in Canada (I’ve suggested they fix their site). My reviewing technique, which is the same technique I used writing papers on texts in university, and is probably total overkill, is to make notes of important passages while reading, and then copy all those passages out (in university I mostly did it in long-hand). Then I review all the key passages, sketch out (on a yellow pad of lined paper – God’s gift to the thought process) the article, roughly identifying the subjects of each paragraph. Then I associate each quote with a different idea, and then start writing, using quotes when and if needed.

It’s a great way to really get to know a text, and it’s such a satisfying process (and one of the reasons I am planning to go back to school in the fall: I miss really working through a serious text, I do it so rarely now).

Anyway, if you’d like to check out the most interesting (to me) passages in Doidge’s book, here they are.

Categories: web, writing

Contest: Worst About Text on the Web

I am launching a contest: the Worst About Text on the Web. First paragraph only. Comment below with your entry, and a link to the offending text. An expert panel of Judges from Around the Universe will decide on the winner, announced one month from today (if anyone submits anything).

Winner gets a free beer from me, possibly something more exciting.

Here is my entry, from

EveryZing is the most powerful digital media merchandising platform available today. Media companies of all sizes leverage our unique ability to drive the volume of online content consumption and create new and powerful revenue streams. Through our speech to text, search and optimization technologies, and consumer-facing website, we create greater opportunities for consumer and advertiser access to online content. The company’s best-in-class technology and comprehensive set of advertising services enable our partners to profit from their content by launching digital channels that deliver the entertainment, news and information that consumers crave.

Join the fun!

Categories: writing

what i’ve been writing about

This, apparently:

created at

Categories: web, writing

the real steve jobs is pissed

fake steve jobs writes a blog i’ve read very occasionally, funny satire on all things tech, apple and jobsy. the real steve jobs, apparently, has had enough. the fake one got a letter from apple lawyers, and how’s this for scary:

And then, I swear to friggin God, there’s a list of my assets with an estimated value for each and I suppose the implied threat that I stand to lose them. Which kinda scares the living shit out of me, to be honest, since they’ve got a pretty thorough list, which means they’ve been doing some research on this and the offer didn’t just come out of thin air. Their lists includes my home address, most recent assessed value of my house and all the information about my mortgage; a rental property that we own; my bank accounts and investment accounts, including the college funds for our kids, whose names are used; and our boat and two cars.

Of course this is a satire blog, so not totally sure if the story’s true, but if so …

UPDATE: appears this, like the rest of the blog, is a hoax (see Chris’ comments below and …check on the Internet).

Categories: web, writing

media, the problem of bloggers & mind

I’m usually dismissive about complaints about “bloggers,” because the usual complaints (boring, stupid, half-assed) don’t apply to the ones I read. But this interview (text and audio) with BBC documentary maker Adam Curtis talks not so much about bloggers in general, but about the actual impact popular bloggers have on media (particularly in the USA), which puts things in a different perspective. Mind you it says as much about Media as it does about bloggers.

On simplification:

It’s a wider thing than the internet, but the internet sums it up. It’s that on the surface it says that “the internet is a new form of democracy”. So what you’re seeing is a new pluralism, a new collage, a new mosaic of all sorts of different ideas that’s genuinely representative.

But if you analyse what happens, it simplifies things.

First of all, the people who do blogging, for example, are self-selecting. Quite frankly it’s quite clear that what bloggers are is bullies. The internet has removed a lot of constraints on them. You know what they’re like: they’re deeply emotional, they’re bullies, and they often don’t get out enough. And they are parasitic upon already existing sources of information – they do little research of their own.

So far not so interesting, but:

What then happens is this idea of the ‘hive mind’, instead of leading to a new plurality or a new richness, leads to a growing simplicity.

The bloggers from one side act to try to force mainstream media one way, the others try to force it the other way. So what the mainstream media ends up doing is it nervously tries to steer a course between these polarised extremes.

and on weak-willed media and the bloggers that frighten them:

I’ve talked to news editors in America. What they are most frightened of is an assault by the bloggers. They come from the left and the right. They’re terrified if they stray one way they’ll get monstered by bloggers on the right, if they stray the other way they’ll get monstered by bloggers from the left. So they nervously try and creep along, like a big animal in Toy Story – hoping not to disturb the demons that are out there.

It leads to a sort of nervousness. The moment a media system becomes infected by nervousness it starts to decline.

and on atomisation:

So over here is the part of the internet – and therefore of the world – where there are people who think the invasion of Iraq was all about oil. Over are people who think it’s all about stopping Muslim hordes taking over our culture. And over here, it’s the neo-conservative lot who think it’s all about ideas.

Do you remember that book about intelligent buildings, how buildings work out how to stand up? That’s what’s happening now. They’re working out how to hold each other up. So you get a Balkanisation where there is no movement forward – everyone just publishes their position, stands up, and that’s it. Everything is so static.

I’m just reading a great book about the mind, called The Brain that Changes Itself about the plasticity of the brain. One interesting thing that I had never quite thought of, is that “old-style” education (a focus on memorization, on memorizing poetry, on hand-writing etc) actually has a huge impact on all sorts of things, including the brain’s ability to reason, to remember, to think in complex ways, in addition to facilities with languages and symbols. Mike wrote about inchoate blog posts recently, and while I don’t agree with the whole idea, I do think the loss of discipline, the loss of the applied, dogged intensity to make a truly important work, is a real problem. For myself, I can write a long, “interesting” blog post and feel I have contributed something intellectually worthwhile to the universe, but it’s a different matter altogether to write a reasoned complete and coherent article, as I have done a couple of times with reviews for Books in Canada. It’s painful to write something like that, and rewarding. A 40-minute blog post takes a day to transform into a really worthwhile “lasting” piece of writing.

True of all forms of art. Compare, for instance, Nora Young’s podcast Sniffer (a sort of audio sketch book of some ideas), and her CBC radio show, Spark (a 2027 minute show packed with interviews and compelling ideas). How much time do you think goes into Sniffer? How much into Spark? (Nora or Dan, if you are reading I’d be curious about the person-hours required to make a 20-minute spark episode).

It’s not that Sniffer is bad and Spark is good, but that we need to keep clear what we want out of the net and our information vectors in general: a vibrant place for exchange of ideas, AND the careful, reasoned deliberation necessary to come to nuanced conclusions about complex problems.

I have been trying to re-inject more discipline into my working life. I feel happier when I am disciplined, but man is it hard in this hyper/disconnected world I live in. Easier to whip off a few blog posts and hope that someone else finds a good use for the ideas, than sit down and write this proposal for a book about LibriVox that I have been avoiding for six months.

Back to work.

defensio anti-spam

I’ve been using the Defensio anti-spam plugin on here for a couple of weeks now. I’m a happy man … and I believe it’s superior to the defacto wordpress spam blocker, Akismet. Why?

1. Defensio seems better at learning what’s spam and what’s not – and it admits its mistakes. there’s an nice little performance tracker in the admin panel that looks like this:

* Recent accuracy: 99.35%
* 2191 spam
* 42 legitimate comments
* 10 false negatives (undetected spam)
* 4 false positives (legitimate comments identified as spam)

2. Because of the above, it feels like you have more control over it – Akismet rules your blog’s comment section with an invisible fist of iron… Defensio seems much more laid back – like you can hang out with it and say, hey man, that wasn’t spam, and defensio will be like, dude, sorry about that, i’ll try to remember that next time!

3. It ranks by spaminess … and obvious spam gets hidden, so you don’t have to go thru the hundreds of spam comments that Akismet makes you sift thru (if you want to bother), only the “possible” spam that might be legit.

4. The interface somehow feels friendly and inviting (maybe because I know some of the guys involved in the project?)

So good job Mat & Carl.

Categories: web, writing

ShiftSpace (and good/bad web text)

ShiftSpace looks to be a cool project, it changes the Read-only web into Read/Write web, by letting you add notes, highlight, rate, and even modify source code of sites, in a “second layer” … that is the site stays the same, but by pressing shift+space, you see the notes etc of other shiftspace users, and you can add your own. Check the video.

To use it you need to have greasemonkey installed in Firefox, and then install the Shiftspace add-on. It’s still buggy, so I wasn’t able to add a note when I tried on Sylvain’s blog.

But it looks pretty neat, I think.

Reading the shiftspace web copy tho, I am reminded of how important it is to write clear concise text. The first two paragraphs of the About page are meaningless mumbo-jumbo:

ShiftSpace is an open source layer above any website. It seeks to expand the creative possibilities currently provided through the web. ShiftSpace provides tools for artists, designers, architects, activists, developers, students, researchers, and hobbyists to create online contexts built in and on top of websites.

While the Internet’s design is widely understood to be open and distributed, control over how users interact online has given us largely centralized and closed systems. The web has followed the physical transformation of the city’s social center from the (public) town square to the (private) mall. ShiftSpace attempts to subvert this trend by providing a new public space on the web.

I don’t know what creative possibilities are, much less online contexts; and when I am evaluating a tool I *never* care why you built it (“ShiftSpace attempts to subvert this trend…”), until I have decided whether or not I want to use it. I can provide my own whys. Just tell me what the damn thing does.

Para 3 gets close to the meat, but is still garbled by jargon (“contextualizations and interventions,” “utilitarian,” “context-based public debates”):

By pressing the [shift] + [space] keys, a ShiftSpace user can invoke a new meta layer above any web page to browse and create additional interpretations, contextualizations and interventions – which we call Shifts. Users can choose between several authoring tools we’re working to develop – which we call Spaces. Some are utilitarian (like Notes and Highlights) and some are more interventionist (like ImageSwap and SourceShift). Users will be invited to map these shifts into Trails. These trails can be used for collaborative research, curating netart exhibitions or as platforms for context-based public debates.

And I love this sentence:

Notes is a Space that allows a ShiftSpace user to leave post-it annotations on websites.

How about:

Notes is a Space that allows a ShiftSpace user to leave notes on websites.

Or something equally clear.

Anyway, nice project, and I would have added my comments in the spaceshift layer of the site, but couldn’t quite make it work. But, again, nice work.

Categories: writing

LibriVox Nanowrimo

We’re doing Nanowrimo again over at LibriVox… each day a different writer does a new chapter, at the end of the month we’ll have a novel (sort of). It’s fun & we’re looking for more writers if you want to join in: here.

I just finished my chapter, a Haruki Murakami-inspired bit of abstract Japanofilia…was fun, and you don’t need to know anything about the rest of the book to read it, if you are interested:

The rain is pouring down, glowing like yellow bullets in the headlights, smashing into the windshield and the wipers, on high, extra high, wash against the glass, past E’s lower-lip-biting face, over and over and over, thwack thwack thwack thwack like the sound of some manic drummer, some heartbeat, some constant beating against the night, an endless fight against the rain that will not let up that comes harder and harder she thinks she must be drowning in it by now. Eiko is shaking, and cold, hands cramping against the wheel, and she leans right up against it, her nose almost touching the leather of the wheel, so that she can see better, so that she can get under this rain, get closer to wherever it is she is going, a destination that she has forgotten or doesn’t know or never knew, but wherever it is it is better than wherever she has been, which she can’t remember either, except for these quick flashes – police, batons, a truck, a big American truck from the movies, a man, a plaid shirt, a shaving kit, an explosion in a lake, deep beneath a lake, a woman’s breasts, with an amulet hanging between them. Was she running from these memories, these dreams, these images? She didn’t know, did not have time to think, she knew only that she had to keep driving, driving away from what was behind her, that if she let her mind wander, at this speed, in this dark, with this rain, on this windy unknown road wherever it was, she was lost, she would lose control of this car and smash into the dark trees that flashed at her from either side of the road, reaching at her as her headlights hit them illuminated them, trying to grasp at her, one after the other, again and again, to slow her down, get in her way, and flying by her as she kept speeding along past them. The road was getting worse, smaller – one lane now, bumpier, winding more, and she shifted down, and up again as she tore around the bend, and there was a big thunk from beneath her, and she was momentarily weightless, head flung up and back, everything seemed to stop, even the wipers, and she hung there, waiting waiting waiting for something, for the end maybe, for this dark panic in her gut to melt away to, to be washed away with warmth and calm that she knew existed somewhere, had once felt, and she waited for the cramps in her shoulder and neck muscles to loosen and relax, waited for sleep, sleep with no more of these dreams.

The car landed, and she bounced up and down again, and back into position, nose inhaling the leather of the steering wheel, teeth cutting into her lower lip. The paved road had turned to gravel and now she could hear the rocks and stones bouncing up from below her, hitting the undercarriage of the car like bullets, an asynchronous rat-tat-tat-tatat percussion to go along with the constant thwack-thwack-thwack of the windshield wipers that continued their assault on the windshield in front of her.

She turned another corner, felt the car skidding under her, sliding towards the trees, and she shifted down, spun the wheel, as the tail of the old Mercedes got away from her, fishtailing right, and then left, the full nature of her momentum, now beyond her control, and this was it, she had time to think, we think we are in control, pointing in one direction but a false move and everything we are doing is undone, beyond our control, not under it. We don’t control these machines. And she felt something welling up in her, every bit of fear – fear that was already there in her throat now took over her whole body, this is it she thought, maybe I won’t have to run anymore, but whatever she did – she could not have told you if you asked, and she briefly imagined someone asking her later, at a party or in an office somewhere, and how she would smile and giggle a little, and say, I have no idea what I did! Ha! I was so scared! – but, somehow, somehow she managed to get the car straightened, and she realized she was crying, the tears coming down like the rain outside, with no windshield thwack-thwack-thwack to wipe them away.

So she wiped at them, a second, no more, just a second when her hand covered her eyes, one beat, a moment that was so short that the wipers made only one thwack, had maybe begun the second thwack when she opened her eyes, clear of tears now.

And saw him standing in front of her, illuminated in the road, standing tall, taller than any man she had ever seen, dressed in white, drenched with the rain, but just standing there.

And as she slammed on the clutch and the brakes she had time to study him, as the car slowed, and began to skid straight ahead towards him. She did not have time even to spin the wheel – not that it would have made any difference – and as the fender hit his legs she watched is face, a kind face, crumple in pain and exertion, his fine features that reminded her, for some reason, of the black-and-white picture of her father standing, legs spread, hands behind his back, in military at-ease pose, outside their house in the mountains in Akita Prefecture, with his linen shirt and pants, and wire-framed glasses. The body hit the windshield, bounced into the dark, and the car, suddenly was stopped, and silent, except for the windshield wipers, thwack-thwack-thwack. She turned the wipers off and jumped out of the car, the wind and rain hurling abuse at her, and she slipped in the mud grabbing at the hood of the car as she raced to get to him, wherever he was, in front of the car.

He was lying on his back, lit by the bright lights of the headlamps, drenched.

He must be dead she thought, and she knelt beside him, crying again now, and took his face in her hands, wiped his black hair from his eyes. Hello, she said, hello hello please hello are you all right hello…she had never killed a man before, and she thought she might be sick.

Hello, he answered, eyes still closed. Yes, he said, I think I am OK. I think so.

He lifted his left arm, and flexed his fingers, then the next his right arm, and flexed that hand too, eyes still closed. Hands work, he said. Let’s try the legs. Left, then right, he lifted them, nodding. Yes, he said. Feet OK now. Oh, I will have a headache.

Stay, don’t move, Eiko said. What’s your name?

Daichi Okada, he answered.

Don’t move, Okada-san.

He did, he moved, he sat up.

Yes, he said, I will have a headache. He opened his eyes and looked into hers, a gentle smile on his face. He felt his forehead with his hand, tapping and pressing it, then the top of his head, behind it. All my parts are in the right place, he said.

Eiko laughed and cried at the same time, and she hugged him and kissed his neck, and then realized what she was doing, and pulled back, bowing her head. I’m sorry, she said. I’m just happy you are alive.

I know you from somewhere, he answered. And touched her cheek, briefly. Did he really do that, she thought to herself, and yes, yes he did, he did touch my cheek.

She studied him, and yes he looked like her father from that picture, but he can’t be my father, my father has been dead seven, no eight years, and had gray hair when he died, this man is in his thirties or forties. She tells him she does not think it’s possible that he knows her, and he replies, What do you mean, exactly, by possible?

Unsure how to answer him, she helps him to his feet – he groans, but nothing seems broken – and she helps him to passenger seat of the car. He is drenched and his back is covered in mud from the muddy dirt road. She opens the trunk and finds two towels – why did she bring them, she wonders – and gives him one, closes the door, and then installs herself in the drivers seat, using the other towel to dry her hair.

What were you doing out on the road like that? She asks.

Well, it’s my road, it’s a private road, so really I should be asking you that question.

She does not answer but instead starts the engine again, starts the windshield wipers. She doesn’t know how to answer, except to start driving again, which she does, and he doesn’t complain.

I was looking for an Epiphany, he says.

Again she does not answer, she’s not sure what this man means, what he wants, why he was out on the road.

That’s my dog, he says. Epiphany. My wife named him that, it was a joke. She liked to tell people on the phone that I was out looking for an Epiphany. But of course, Epiphany is always escaping. That’s the nature of that dog. I’m always chasing after it in the rain. Always looking for an Epiphany.

But that doesn’t quite make sense, Eiko answers.

I know, she was a sweet woman, my wife, she’s dead now. She thought it was funny, even if the article messed up the joke. She died in the war. I miss her. And if Epiphany wants to spend the night in the rain, that’s her problem.

What war? Eiko thinks but does not ask.

Up here, he says, just a little further, on the left. She slows, and he guides her into the driveway, a small opening in the trees that she never would have seen. This pathway is even smaller than the small road, and the branches of the trees actually caress the side of the car as she continues on, another layer of percussion in the night drive jazz show she’s been listening to since she can remember. Thwack-thwack-thwack rat-tat-tat-tatat shish-shish-shish-shish … They drive, slowly now – she feels safe, and whatever she was driving from is far behind them – down this little winding drive, until finally they come out into a clearing. Her headlights illuminate a little shack, with a kerosene lamp burning in the window, and beyond it she can see rocks and the sea. The rain has stopped, she realizes, but the wipers are still on, thwack-thwack-thwack. She turns them off.

Come in, he says, Let’s have some warm coffee and pie.

A dog barks, runs at them, tail wagging.

Epiphany, Eiko says. And the man says, Yes.

He opens the door to the little shack, and she feels the warmth inside, sees books lining the walls, hears Brahms coming from speakers she cannot see. She steps inside. It is small, open, with a little kitchen, and a loft with a ladder and a bed; two chairs by a desk and piles of books, a microphone on a stand. She is shivering, cold and wet deep in her bones, but she feels the cold (and the fear, and the panic) seeping away. Epiphany curls up in the corner, and Daichi Okada closes the door.

Coffee, he says. And pie.


Eiko? Daichi asks and he gently touches her shivering arm. Do you have a passport?

Huh… passport? she blinks. Well, yes, I have a passport. In the car.

Okay then, he says. That’s good. There is someone who wants to meet you. But first, coffee. And pie.

Categories: art, writing

Norman Mailer, RIP

I think the first “serious” novel I read was Mailer’s Naked and the Dead.

In the past year, Mailer gone. Vonnegut gone. Bellow gone. I wonder which high school favourites are left? I’ll have to think about that one.

RIP, mr. mailer.