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Adactio: Journal



The online journal of Jeremy Keith, an author and web developer living and working in Brighton, England.



 



Words I wrote in 2017

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 12:29:49 GMT

I wrote 78 blog posts in 2017. That works out at an average of six and a half blog posts per month. I’ll take it.

Here are some pieces of writing from 2017 that I’m relatively happy with:

Going Rogue. A look at the ethical questions raised by Rogue One

In AMP we trust. My unease with Google’s AMP format was growing by the day.

A minority report on artificial intelligence. Revisiting two of Spielberg’s films after a decade and a half.

Progressing the web. I really don’t want progressive web apps to just try to imitate native apps. They can be so much more.

CSS. Simple, yes, but not easy.

Intolerable. A screed. I still get very, very angry when I think about how that manifestbro duped people.

Акула. Recounting a story told by a taxi driver.

Hooked and booked. Does A/B testing lead to dark patterns?

Ubiquity and consistency. Different approaches to building on the web.

I hope there’s something in there that you like. It always a nice bonus when other people like something I’ve written, but I write for myself first and foremost. Writing is how I figure out what I think. I will, of course, continue to write and publish on my website in 2018. I’d really like it if you did the same.




Food I ate in 2017

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 11:47:11 GMT

I did a fair bit of travelling in 2017, which I always enjoy. I particularly enjoy it when Jessica comes with me and we get to sample the cuisine of other countries. Portugal will always be a culinary hotspot for me, particularly Porto (“tripas à moda do Porto” is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted). When I was teaching at the New Digital School in Porto back in February, I took full advantage of the culinary landscape. A seafood rice (and goose barnacles) at O Gaveto in Matosinhos was a particular highlight. The most unexpected thing I ate in Porto was when I wandered off for lunch on my own one day. I ended up in a little place where, when I walked in, it was kind of like that bit in the Western when the music stops and everyone turns to look. This was clearly a place for locals. The owner didn’t speak any English. I didn’t speak any Portuguese. But we figured it out. She mimed something sandwich-like and said a word I wasn’t familiar with: bifana. Okay, I said. Then she mimed the universal action for drinking, so I said “agua.” She looked at with a very confused expression. “Agua!? Não. Cerveja!” Who am I to argue? Anyway, she produced this thing which was basically some wet meat in a bun. It didn’t look very appetising. But this was the kind of situation where I couldn’t back out of eating it. So I took a bite and …it was delicious! Like, really, really delicious. Later in February, we went to Pittsburgh to visit Cindy and Matt. We were there for my birthday, so Cindy prepared the most amazing meal. She reproduced a dish from the French Laundry—sous-vide lobster on orzo. It was divine! Later in the year, we went to Singapore for the first time. The culture of hawker centres makes it the ideal place for trying lots of different foods. There were some real revelations in there. We visited lots of other great places like Reykjavík, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Nuremberg. But as well as sampling the cuisine of distant locations, I had some very fine food right here in Brighton, home to Trollburger, purveyors of the best burger you’ll ever eat. I also have a thing for hot wings, so it’s very fortunate that The Joker, home to the best wings in Brighton, is just around the corner from the dance studio where Jessica goes for ballet. Regular wing nights became a thing in 2017. I started a little routine in 2017 where I’d take a break from work in the middle of the afternoon, wander down to the seafront, and buy a single oyster. It only took a few minutes out of the day but it was a great little dose of perspective each time. But when I think of my favourite meals of 2017, most of them were home-cooked. [...]



Audio I listened to in 2017

Sat, 30 Dec 2017 20:21:55 GMT

I huffduffed 290 pieces of audio in 2017. I’ve still got a bit of a backlog of items I haven’t listened to yet, but I thought I’d share some of my favourite items from the past year. Here are twelve pieces of audio, one for each month of 2017… Donald Hoffman’s TED talk, Do we see reality as it really is?. TED talks are supposed to blow your mind, right? (22:15) Donald Hoffman: Do we see reality as it is? | TED Talk | TED.com on Huffduffer How to Become Batman on Invisibilia. Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller challenge you to think of blindness as social construct. Hear ‘em out. (58:02) 🎧 How to Become Batman | Invisibilia (NPR) on Huffduffer Where to find what’s disappeared online, and a whole lot more: the Internet Archive on Public Radio International. I just love hearing Brewster Kahle’s enthusiasm and excitement. (42:43) Where to find what’s disappeared online, and a whole lot more: the Internet Archive | Public Radio International on Huffduffer Every Tuesday At Nine on Irish Music Stories. I’ve been really enjoying Shannon Heaton’s podcast this year. This one digs into that certain something that happens at an Irish music session. (40:50) Episode 03-Every Tuesday at Nine | shannonheatonmusic.com on Huffduffer Adam Buxton talks to Brian Eno (part two is here). A fun and interesting chat about Brian Eno’s life and work. (53:10 and 46:35) EP.37 - Brian Eno, Part One on Huffduffer EP.38 - Brian Eno, Part Two on Huffduffer Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on Kreative Kontrol. This was far more revealing than I expected: genuine and unpretentious. (57:07) Ep. #323: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis | Kreative Kontrol on Huffduffer Paul Lloyd at Patterns Day. All the talks at Patterns Day were brilliant. Paul’s really stuck with me. (28:21) Patterns Day: Paul Lloyd on Huffduffer James Gleick on Time Travel at The Long Now. There were so many great talks from The Long Now’s seminars on long-term thinking. Nicky Case and Jennifer Pahlka were standouts too. (1:20:31) James Gleick: Time Travel - The Long Now on Huffduffer Long Distance on Reply All. It all starts with a simple phone call. (47:27) #102 Long Distance on Huffduffer The King of Tears on Revisionist History. Malcolm Gladwell’s style suits podcasting very well. I liked this episode about country songwriter Bobby Braddock. Related: Jon’s Troika episode on tearjerkers. (42:14) The King of Tears on Huffduffer Feet on the Ground, Eyes on the Stars: The True Story of a Real Rocket Man with G.A. “Jim” Ogle. This was easily my favourite podcast episode of 2017. It’s on the User Defenders podcast but it’s not about UX. Instead, host Jason Ogle interviews his father, a rocket scientist who worked on everything from Apollo to every space shuttle mission. His story is fascinating. (2:38:21) Feet on the Ground, Eyes on the Stars: The True Story of a Real Rocket Man with G.A. “Jim” Ogle – User Defenders podcast : Inspiring Interviews with UX Superheroes. on Huffduffer R.E.M. on Song Exploder. Breaking down the song Try Not To Breathe from Automatic For The People. (16:15) Song Exploder | R.E.M. on Huffduffer I’ve gone back and added the tag “2017roundup” to each of these items. So if you’d like to subscribe to a podcast of just these episodes, here are the links: RSS Subscribe in Podcasts app Subscribe in Overcast Subscribe in Downcast Subscribe in Instacast Subscribe in another app [...]



Books I read in 2017

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 13:49:15 GMT

Here are the books I read in 2017. It’s not as many as I hoped. I set myself a constraint this year so that I’d have to alternate between reading fiction and non-fiction: no reading two fiction books back-to-back, and no reading two non-fiction books back-to-back. I quite like the balanced book diet that resulted. I think I might keep it going. Anyway, in order of consumption, here are those books… Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey ★★★☆☆ I had already seen—and quite enjoyed—the first series of the television adaption of The Expanse so I figured I’d dive into the books that everyone kept telling me about. The book was fun …but no more than that. I don’t think I’m invested enough to read any of the further books. In some ways, I think this makes for better TV than reading (despite the TV’s shows annoying “slow motion in zero G” trope that somewhat lessens the hard sci-fi credentials). Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed ★★★★☆ This was recommended by James Box, and on the whole, I really liked it. There’s a lot of anecdata though. Still, the fundamental premise is a good one, comparing the attitudes towards risk in two different industries; aviation and healthcare. A little bit more trimming down would’ve helped the book—it dragged on just a bit too long. The Separation by Christopher Priest ★★★★★ I need to read at least one Christopher Priest book a year. They’re in a league of their own, somehow outside the normal rules of criticism. This one is a true stand-out. As ever, it messes with your head and gets weirder as it goes on. If you haven’t read any Christopher Priest, I reckon this would be a great one to start with. Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George ★★★★☆ Recommended by both Jessica and Danielle, this is a well-crafted look into life on board a cargo ship, as well as an examination of ocean-going logistics. If you liked the Containers podcast, you’ll like this. I found it a little bit episodic—more like a collection of magazine articles sometimes—but still enjoyable. Bloodchild by Octavia E. Butler A false start. This is a short story, not a novel—I didn’t know that when I downloaded it to my Kindle. It’s an excellent short story though. Still, I felt it didn’t count in my zigzagging between fiction and non-fiction so I followed it with… Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon ★★★☆☆ Science fiction from the 1930s. The breadth of imagination is quite staggering, even if the writing is sometimes a bit of a slog. Still, it seems remarkably ahead of its time in many ways. The Sense Of Style by Steven Pinker ★★★★☆ I spent a portion of 2017 writing a book so I was eager to read Steven Pinker’s take on a style guide, having thoroughly enjoyed The Language Instinct and The Blank Slate. This book starts with a bang—a critique of some examples of great writing. Then there’s some good practical advice, and then there’s a bit of a laundry list of non-rules. Typical of Pinker, the points about unclear writing are illustrated with humorous real-world examples. Overall, a good guide but perhaps a little longer than it needs to be. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson ★★★★★ I loved everything about this book. Writing On The Wall by Tom Standage ★★☆☆☆ I’ve read of all of Tom Standage’s books but none of them have ever matched the brilliance of The Victorian Internet. This one was frustratingly shallow. Every now and then there were glimpses of a better book. There’s a chapter on radio that gets genuinely exciting and intriguing. If Tom Standage wrote a whole book on that, I’d read it in a heartbeat. But in this collection of social media through the ages, it just reminded me of how much better he can be. Grass by Sheri S. Tepper ★★★☆☆ Recommended by Jessica and Denise, this [...]



The Last Jedi

Tue, 26 Dec 2017 15:49:38 GMT

If you haven’t seen The Last Jedi (yet), please stop reading. Spoilers ahoy. I’ve been listening to many, many podcast episodes about the latest Star Wars film. They’re all here on Huffduffer. You can subscribe to a feed of just those episodes if you want. I am well aware that the last thing anybody wants or needs is one more hot take on this film, but what the heck? I figured I’d jot down my somewhat simplistic thoughts. I loved it. But I wasn’t sure at first. I’ve talked to other people who felt similarly on first viewing—they weren’t sure if they liked it or not. I know some people who, on reflection, decided they definitely didn’t like it. I completely understand that. A second viewing helped to cement my positive feelings towards this film. This is starting to become a trend: I didn’t think much of Rogue One on first viewing, but a second watch reversed my opinion completely. Maybe I just find it hard to really get into the flow when I’m seeing a new Star Wars film for the very first time—an event that I once thought would never occur again. My first viewing of The Last Jedi wasn’t helped by having the worst seats in the house. My original plan was to see it with Jessica at a minute past midnight in The Duke Of York’s in Brighton. I bought front-row tickets as soon as they were available. But then it turned out that we were going to be in Seattle at that time instead. We quickly grabbed whatever tickets were left. Those seats were right at the front and far edge of the cinema, so the screen was more trapezoid than rectangular. The lights went down, the fanfare blared, and the opening crawl begin its march up …and to the left. My brain tried to compensate for the perspective effects but it was hard. Is Snoke’s face supposed to look like that? Does that person really have such a tiny head? But while the spectacle was somewhat marred, the story unfolded in all its surprising delight. I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of having the narrative rug repeatedly pulled out from under me. I loved the unexpected end of Snoke in his vampiric boudoir. Let’s face it, he was the least interesting part of The Force Awakens—a two-dimensional evil mastermind. To despatch him in the middle of the middle chapter was the biggest signal that The Last Jedi was not simply going to retread the beats of the original trilogy. I loved the reveal of Rey’s parentage. This was what I had been hoping for—that Rey came from nowhere in particular. After The Force Awakens, I wrote: Personally, I’d like it if her parentage were unremarkable. Maybe it’s the socialist in me, but I’ve never liked the idea that the Force is based on eugenics; a genetic form of inherited wealth for the lucky 1%. I prefer to think of the Force as something that could potentially be unlocked by anyone who tries hard enough. But I had resigned myself to the inevitable reveal that would tie her heritage into an existing lineage. What an absolute joy, then, that The Force is finally returned into everyone’s hands! Anil Dash describes this wonderfully in his post Every Last Jedi: Though it’s well-grounded in the first definitions of The Force that we were introduced to in the original trilogy, The Last Jedi presents a radically inclusive new view of the Force that is bigger and broader than the Jedi religion which has thus-far colored our view of the entire Star Wars universe. I was less keen on the sudden Force usage by Leia. I think it was the execution more than the idea that bothered me. Still, I realise that the problem lies just as much with me. See, lots of the criticism of this film comes from people (justifiably) saying “That’s not how The Force works!” in relation to Rey, Kylo Ren, or Luke Skywalker. I don’t share that reaction and I want to say, “Hey, who are we to decide how The Force works?&#[...]



Ubiquity and consistency

Sat, 23 Dec 2017 09:45:10 GMT

I keep thinking about this post from Baldur Bjarnason, Over-engineering is under-engineering. It took me a while to get my head around what he was saying, but now that (I think) I understand it, I find it to be very astute. Let’s take a single interface element, say, a dropdown menu. This is the example Laura uses in her article for 24 Ways called Accessibility Through Semantic HTML. You’ve got two choices, broadly speaking: Use the HTML select element. Create your own dropdown widget using JavaScript (working with divs and spans). The advantage of the first choice is that it’s lightweight, it works everywhere, and the browser does all the hard work for you. But… You don’t get complete control. Because the browser is doing the heavy lifting, you can’t craft the details of the dropdown to look identical on different browser/OS combinations. That’s where the second option comes in. By scripting your own dropdown, you get complete control over the appearance and behaviour of the widget. The disadvantage is that, because you’re now doing all the work instead of the browser, it’s up to you to do all the work—that means lots of JavaScript, thinking about edge cases, and making the whole thing accessible. This is the point that Baldur makes: no matter how much you over-engineer your own custom solution, there’ll always be something that falls between the cracks. So, ironically, the over-engineered solution—when compared to the simple under-engineered native browser solution—ends up being under-engineered. Is it worth it? Rian Rietveld asks: It is impossible to style select option. But is that really necessary? Is it worth abandoning the native browser behavior for a complete rewrite in JavaScript of the functionality? The answer, as ever, is it depends. It depends on your priorities. If your priority is having consistent control over the details, then foregoing native browser functionality in favour of scripting everything yourself aligns with your goals. But I’m reminded of something that Eric often says: The web does not value consistency. The web values ubiquity. Ubiquity; universality; accessibility—however you want to label it, it’s what lies at the heart of the World Wide Web. It’s the idea that anyone should be able to access a resource, regardless of technical or personal constraints. It’s an admirable goal, and what’s even more admirable is that the web succeeds in this goal! But sometimes something’s gotta give, and that something is control. Rian again: The days that a website must be pixel perfect and must look the same in every browser are over. There are so many devices these days, that an identical design for all is not doable. Or we must take a huge effort for custom form elements design. So far I’ve only been looking at the micro scale of a single interface element, but this tension between ubiquity and consistency plays out at larger scales too. Take page navigations. That’s literally what browsers do. Click on a link, and the browser fetches that URL, displaying progress at it goes. The alternative, as exemplified by single page apps, is to do all of that for yourself using JavaScript: figure out the routing, show some kind of progress, load some JSON, parse it, convert it into HTML, and update the DOM. Personally, I tend to go for the first option. Partly that’s because I like to apply the rule of least power, but mostly it’s because I’m very lazy (I also have qualms about sending a whole lotta JavaScript down the wire just so the end user gets to do something that their browser would do for them anyway). But I get it. I understand why others might wish for greater control, even if it comes with a price tag of fragility. I think Jake’s navigation transitions proposal is fascinating. What if there were a [...]



Origin story

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 10:32:49 GMT

In an excellent piece called The First Web Apps: 5 Apps That Shaped the Internet as We Know It, Matthew Guay wrote: The world wide web wasn’t supposed to be this fun. Berners-Lee imagined the internet as a place to collaborate around text, somewhere to share research data and thesis papers. In his somewhat confused talk at FFConf this year, James Kyle said: The web was designed to share documents. Douglas Crockford said The web was not designed to do any of things it is doing. It was intended to be a simple—even primitive—document retrieval system. Some rando on Hacker News declared: Essentially every single aspect of the web is terrible. It was designed as a static document presentation system with hyperlinks. It appears to be a universally accepted truth. The web was designed for sharing documents, and was never meant for the kind of applications we can build these days. I don’t think that’s quite right. I think it’s fairer to say that the first use case for the web was document retrieval. And yes, that initial use case certainly influenced the first iteration of HTML. But right from the start, the vision for the web wasn’t constrained by what it was being asked to do at the time. (I mean, if you need an example of vision, Tim Berners-Lee called it the World Wide Web when it was just on one computer!) The original people working on the web—Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailliau, Jean-Francois Groff, etc.—didn’t to try define the edges of what the web would be capable of. Quite the opposite. All of them really wanted a more interactive read-write web where documents could not only be read, but also edited and updated. As for the idea of having a programming language in browsers (as well as a markup language), Tim Berners-Lee was all for it …as long as it could be truly ubiquitous. To say that the web was made for sharing documents is like saying that the internet was made for email. It’s true in the sense that it was the most popular use case, but that never defined the limits of the system. The secret sauce of the internet lies in its flexibility—it’s a deliberately dumb network that doesn’t care about the specifics of what runs on it. This lesson was then passed on to the web—another deliberately simple system designed to be agnostic to use cases. It’s true that the web of today is very, very different to its initial incarnation. We got CSS; we got JavaScript; HTML has evolved; HTTP has evolved; URLs have …well, cool URIs don’t change, but you get the idea. The web is like the ship of Theseus—so much of it has been changed and added to over time. That doesn’t mean its initial design was flawed—just the opposite. It means that its initial design wasn’t unnecessarily rigid. The simplicity of the early web wasn’t a bug, it was a feature. The web (like the internet upon which it runs) was designed to be flexible, and to adjust to future use-cases that couldn’t be predicted in advance. The best proof of this flexibility is the fact that we can and do now build rich interactive applications on the World Wide Web. If the web had truly been designed only for documents, that wouldn’t be possible. [...]



Nosediving

Tue, 28 Nov 2017 12:01:04 GMT

Nosedive is the first episode of season three of Black Mirror. It’s fairly light-hearted by the standards of Black Mirror, but all the more chilling for that. It depicts a dysutopia where people rate one another for points that unlock preferential treatment. It’s like a twisted version of the whuffie from Cory Doctorow’s Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom. Cory himself points out that reputation economies are a terrible idea. Nosedive has become a handy shortcut for pointing to the dangers of social media (in the same way that Minority Report was a handy shortcut for gestural interfaces and Her is a handy shortcut for voice interfaces). “Social media is bad, m’kay?” is an understandable but, I think, fairly shallow reading of Nosedive. The problem isn’t with the apps, it’s with the system. A world in which we desperately need to keep our score up if we want to have any hope of advancing? That’s a nightmare scenario. The thing is …that system exists today. Credit scores are literally a means of applying a numeric value to human beings. Nosedive depicts a world where your score determines which seats you get in a restaurant, or which model of car you can rent. Meanwhile, in our world, your score determines whether or not you can get a mortgage. Nosedive depicts a world in which you know your own score. Meanwhile, in our world, good luck with that: It is very difficult for a consumer to know in advance whether they have a high enough credit score to be accepted for credit with a given lender. This situation is due to the complexity and structure of credit scoring, which differs from one lender to another. Lenders need not reveal their credit score head, nor need they reveal the minimum credit score required for the applicant to be accepted. Owing only to this lack of information to the consumer, it is impossible for him or her to know in advance if they will pass a lender’s credit scoring requirements. Black Mirror has a good track record of exposing what’s unsavoury about our current time and place. On the surface, Nosedive seems to be an exposé on the dangers of going to far with the presentation of self in everyday life. Scratch a little deeper though, and it reveals an even more uncomfortable truth: that we’re living in a world driven by systems even worse than what’s depicted in this dystopia. How about this for a nightmare scenario: Two years ago Douglas Rushkoff had an unpleasant encounter outside his Brooklyn home. Taking out the rubbish on Christmas Eve, he was mugged — held at knife-point by an assailant who took his money, his phone and his bank cards. Shaken, he went back indoors and sent an email to his local residents’ group to warn them about what had happened. “I got two emails back within the hour,” he says. “Not from people asking if I was OK, but complaining that I’d posted the exact spot where the mugging had taken place — because it might adversely affect their property values.” [...]



Getaway

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 14:53:52 GMT

It had been a while since we had a movie night at Clearleft so I organised one for last night. We usually manage to get through two movies, and there’s always a unifying theme decided ahead of time. For last night, I decided that the broad theme would be …transport. But then, through voting on Slack, people could decide what the specific mode of transport would be. The choices were: taxi, getaway car, truck, or submarine. Nobody voted for submarines. That’s a shame, but in retrospect it’s easy to understand—submarine films aren’t about transport at all. Quite the opposite. Submarine films are about being trapped in a metal womb/tomb (and many’s the spaceship film that qualifies as a submarine movie). There were some votes for taxis and trucks, but the getaway car was the winner. I then revealed which films had been pre-selected for each mode of transport. Taxi Collateral, Michael Mann, 2004 (86% 🍅) Night On Earth, Jim Jarmusch, 1991 (73% 🍅) Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese, 1976 (99% 🍅) Getaway car Shorts: Getaway Driver, The Getaway Baby Driver, Edgar Wright, 2017 (93% 🍅) Wheelman, Jeremy Rush, 2017 (88% 🍅) Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011 (93% 🍅) The Driver, Walter Hill, 1978 (80% 🍅) Truck Fury Road, George Miller, 2015 (97% 🍅) Duel, Steven Spielberg, 1971 (88% 🍅) Submarine Below, David Twohy, 2002 (64% 🍅) Crimson Tide, Tony Scott, 1995 (87% 🍅) The Hunt For Red October, John McTiernan, 1990 (86% 🍅) I thought Baby Driver would be a shoe-in for the first film, but enough people had already seen it quite recently to put it out of the running. We watched Wheelman instead, which was like Locke meets Drive. So what would the second film be? Well, some of those films in the full list could potentially fall into more than one category. The taxi in Collateral is (kinda) being used as a getaway car. And if you expand the criterion to getaway vehicle, then Furiosa’s war rig surely counts, right? Okay, we were just looking for an excuse to watch Fury Road again. I mean, c’mon, it was the black and chrome edition! I had the great fortune of seeing that on the big screen a while back and I’ve been raving about it ever since. Besides, you really don’t need an excuse to rewatch Fury Road. I loved it the first time I saw it, and it just keeps getting better and better each time. The editing! The sound! The world-building! With every viewing, it feels more and more like the film for our time. It may have been a bit of stretch to watch it under the thematic umbrella of getaway vehicles, but it’s a getaway for our current political climate: instead of the typical plot involving a gang driving at full tilt from a bank heist, imagine one where the gang turns around, ousts the bankers, and replaces the whole banking system with a matriarchal community. “Hope is a mistake”, Max mansplains (maxplains?) to Furiosa at one point. He’s wrong. Judicious hope is what drives us forward (or, this case, back …to the citadel). Watching Fury Road again, I drew hope from the character of Nux. An alt-warboy in thrall to a demagogue and raised on a diet of fake news (Valhalla! V8!) can not only be turned by tenderness, he can become an ally to those working for a better world. Witness! [...]



An associative trail

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 17:43:43 GMT

Every now and then, I like to revisit Vannevar Bush’s classic article from the July 1945 edition of the Atlantic Monthly called As We May Think in which he describes a theoretical machine called the memex. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory. It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk. 1945! Apart from its analogue rather than digital nature, it’s a remarkably prescient vision. In particular, there’s the idea of “associative trails”: Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities. Many decades later, Anne Washington ponders what a legal memex might look like: My legal Memex builds a network of the people and laws available in the public records of politicians and organizations. The infrastructure for this vision relies on open data, free access to law, and instantaneously availability. As John Sheridan from the UK’s National Archives points out, hypertext is the perfect medium for laws: Despite the drafter’s best efforts to create a narrative structure that tells a story through the flow of provisions, legislation is intrinsically non-linear content. It positively lends itself to a hypertext based approach. The need for legislation to escape the confines of the printed form predates the all major innovators and innovations in hypertext, from Vannevar Bush’s vision in ” As We May Think“, to Ted Nelson’s coining of the term “hypertext”, through to and Berners-Lee’s breakthrough world wide web. I like to think that Nelson’s concept of transclusion was foreshadowed several decades earlier by the textual amendment (where one Act explicitly alters – inserts, omits or amends – the text of another Act, an approach introduced to UK legislation at the beginning of the 20th century). That’s from a piece called Deeply Intertwingled Laws. The verb “to intertwingle” was another one of Ted Nelson’s neologisms. There’s an associative trail from Vannevar Bush to Ted Nelson that takes some other interesting turns… Picture a new American naval recruit in 1945, getting ready to ship out to the pacific to fight against the Japanese. Just as the ship as leaving the harbour, word comes through that the war is over. And so instead of fighting across the islands of the pacific, this young man finds himself in a hut on the Philippines, reading whatever is to hand. There’s a copy of The Atlantic Monthly, the one with an article called As We May Think. The sailor was Douglas Engelbart, and a few years later when he was deciding how he wanted to spend the rest of his life, that article led him to pursue the goal of augmenting human intellect. He gave the mother of all demos, featuring NLS, a working hypermedia system. Later, thanks to Bill Atkinson, we’d get another system called Hypercard. It was advertised with the motto Freedom to Associate, in an advertising campaign that directly referenced Vannevar Bush. And now I’m using the World Wide Web, a hypermedia system that takes in the whole planet, to create an associative trail. In this post, I’m linking (without asking anyone for[...]