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Preview: Mark Bernstein

Mark Bernstein

Mark Bernstein: hypertext research

Last Build Date: Sat, 22 Jul 2017 13:39:28 -0400



Sat, 22 Jul 2017 13:37:58 -0400

A middle-school teacher bids farewell to her class after a very difficult year. The teacher’s daughter, a toddler, drowned in the school swimming pool. She calmly explains to her class that the tragedy was not, in fact, an accident: her daughter was murdered, and the murderers are sitting in this very classroom.

This is a very clever, topsy-turvy mystery, a Rashomon with multiple points of view and a mystery that opens with the detective’s closing revelation.

Creative Hyperlinks

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 16:57:08 -0400

Lyle Skains presents research on “Creative Hyperlinks: writerly and readerly Effects of links in hypertext fiction.”

An interesting taxonomy, dividing links into Basic Navigation, Affective Navigation, Narrative Exploration, and Affective Exploration, harnessed to a 19-reader study of a toy hypertext. The interpretive framework is described as Venn diagram of Writer Intent, Narrative Destination, and Reader Interpretation; it’s unclear whether Skains understands how problematic the idea of intent is, and the study assumes that, when asking readers how they interpret the text, the investigator will receive a full and comprehensive account. Thanks em short.

A Round Trip To The Year 2000

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 10:07:53 -0400

A delightful conceit of this 1903 time travel tale is that the year 2000 is populated by an entire colony of refugees from 1900, all of them hack novelists who leapt ahead to get the scoop on the future, and who are now stranded there. Hack writing at its finest, by the author of Plotto.

The Portable Cosmos

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 14:11:38 -0400

A century ago, Greek sponge divers found an ancient wreck that held a cargo of statuary, luxury good, and the corroded, smashed remains of a bronze gizmo with lots gears off the coast of Antikythera. This contraption, known as the Antikythera Mechanism, has confounded historians of science ever since. Now, after lots of study and the advent of modern radiography, we know what it was.

The Antikythera Mechanism was a complex gearbox that demonstrated, with considerable accuracy, how the solar system works. It’s geocentric, and that makes things hard, but the ingenious inventors of this machine were up to the challenge. The machine’s instructions were engraved in brass on its covers, and much of those instructions survive. It had lots of dials and pointers, did a nice job of predicting eclipses, and even had a pointer to keep track of the Olympic Games.

This has been a proverbial mystery for ages. Now that we know what it is, we even have sources (including Cicero!) that describe similar machines. There can’t ever have been many of these, but it’s terrific that one survived.

The Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 13:12:53 -0400

A pleasant little book by the founder of Levengers, the estimable mail-order company. Leveen, who founded a company that sells tools for readers, is not himself as much of a reader as he wants to be, and he’s anxious about that.

The bulk of the book is a proposal to create a library of books you might want to read someday, alongside your library of books that you’ve already read. Planning your reading is, of course, a theme to which I return often; my own haphazard journey from title to title seems undisciplined and arbitrary. A good list of prospects makes sense, and the advent of ebook readers means that you can carry those shelves of books to read eventually with you all the time.

Leveen is a big fan of audiobooks, and to me he’s preaching to the converted.

What’s missing here is systematics: how might we think about shaping a month’s reading, or a year’s, rather than focusing exclusively on what you will read next. Surprisingly little has been written about this important and perplexing question.

Wikipedia Broadcasts a Blood Libel

Sun, 9 Jul 2017 00:20:22 -0400

Breakfast involved a long and very productive discussion of the State Of Hypertext, possible futures, and the Hypertext Automata book. Also the problem of the capture of so much social media by Nazis on the one hand and various intelligence agencies, criminal gangs, and corporate boiler-rooms on the other. Many of the social scientists at the ACM Hypertext Conference are inclined to assume, for example, that each post represents the genuine opinion of a distinct individual; we now know this not true, but we haven’t figured out what to do about it.

My next paper may be titled The Ten Thousand Lies of Twitter and Facebook. We’ll see.

I pointed out to the conference that a blood libel had been openly posted on Wikipedia and had remained untouched there for many hours. It lasted more than 100 hours, outlasted the conference, and in fact I wound up deleting it myself. It's been hours since I wrote them, and Wikipedia's Oversight still hasn't responded.

The passage in question accused a specific Jewish person — a man who was murdered by an criminal mob early in the 20th century — of having “consumed a gentile child. Whether this sort of act is acceptable,” the poster continued, “has been a point of contention for millenia[sic] and will likely continue to be so. It is still as absurd as on day one of the propoganda[sic] effort that jewery[sic] in some dimension imagined they could convince the goyim that raping and strangling their children was something that ought to be abided[sic]. The ADL's founders had the rare moment of hebrew[sic] introspection and grasped that maybe this attitude wasn't ‘good optics.’”

This, friends, is the medieval blood libel — the myth that Jews sacrifice gentile children and drink their blood to celebrate Jewish holidays. As a matter of historical fact, it was originally leveled against Christians (See Pliny the Younger’s Letters X.96), and the Christians later turned it around when they found it convenient to kill a lot of medieval Jews. I’m sorry to say that this old story is new again; perhaps the old hobby is also about to be revived.

People do this on Wikipedia to encourage their friends to do it on Wikipedia, Facebook, *chan, street graffiti, and everywhere else. It’s meant to scare Jews and everyone else this mob dislikes, to persuade them to keep quiet and dissuade them from voting. Wikipedia enjoys the eyeballs and the extra volunteers; presently, it will piously say that a volunteer eventually corrected the problem, and that proves its system works. It does work very well if what you want to do is to normalize hate speech, libel, and blackmail in order to get a few extra eyeballs.

Someone ought to prosecute Wikimedia Foundation principals for abetting hate speech. My prediction: nothing will be done until someone gets killed.

If I were a trustee, I’d certainly want to be absolutely sure that the foundation has an errors and omissions policy sufficient to cover my family’s net worth, along with the net worth of all the other trustees. Given the foundation’s assets and the great wealth of many trustees, that’s a hell of a big policy, but I don’t think a court in, say, Germany is going to let a bunch of billionaires get away with paying a tiny bit of blood money.

Malostranská Beseda

Sat, 8 Jul 2017 23:45:46 -0400

The Národny galerie v Praze is really good. It’s housed in a magnificent High Modern trade show and exposition building, one that’s in remarkably good shape considering that it was used as an intake center for Theresienstadt and then spent fifty years as the home of modern art for a country whose government didn't have a whole lot of use for modernism.

Chudy Kraj, The Poor Country, 1900

The Mucha Museum, on the other hand, is rather sparse, and either the Mucha prints I’ve seen have exaggerated the colors badly or these examples have seen too much light. Some very interesting sketches and drafts, but not many; surely, a guy with so much influence left more behind. On the other hand, the angry girl in the Lottery poster is worth the (excessive) price of admission.


There was yet another art museum in the day, an excellent riverside beer, a good deal of walking and gallery-peering.


Then a dinner of excellent braised duck leg at Malostranská Beseda. Czech ducks are huge, even by the standards of D’Artagnan moulards; I’d have expected American ducks to be oversized, but man, I was not sorry to have stuck to ¼ duck even though it was really superbly done. I also want to note that pretty much everything comes with cabbage, which as a rule I dislike, but which is consistently tasty here.

After that, back to U malého Glena for an evening of blues in a basement club that seats 32 with overflow into the bar. In other words, even smaller than Kingston Mines of my youth. Pretty much the same music, well done, even if the front man did introduce one piece as “old-time Chicago jazz from way back in the 1960s.”

Festival Of Hypertext Automata

Fri, 7 Jul 2017 08:01:49 -0400


With the generous support of ACM SIGWEB, I’ve spent a good deal of recent weeks surveying mechanisms and algorithms that tell stories. Not only are many of these intriguing views into hypertext, they also provide a wonderful path to understanding the ways that critical theory interacts with literary machines.

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