The LongPen

LongPen LogoThe Globe and Mail has a story about Margaret Atwood’s LongPen technology, Border no barrier for Black’s autograph pen. I remain convinced this is a really stupid idea, but I have the feeling no one else does. Exactly why would someone want to not get their book signed by telepresence. The videoconferencing with the author may be a draw, but the remote signing? The answer, according to the site is that,

According to fans, this is a more intimate experience than a traditional signing, as you are looking directly into the face of the fan, as opposed to briefly looking up from your chair when signing in person. The video conferencing also makes it easier for the fan to be expressive about your work, as the technological distance makes them less nervous.

Atwood must really hate book signing tours.

PocketMod: The Free Disposable Personal Organizer

Image of Paper FoldingPocketMod: The Free Disposable Personal Organizer is a cool web site where you can make small booklets for your pocket from a printout. They have Flash tool where you drag out the types of pages you want and then it prints the PocketMod so all you have to do is cut and fold into a booklet. Saves on cute little pocket organizers as they have a variety of pages you can use. A great way to recycle paper too.

Otto Ege and Karpeles: Manuscript Mavericks

Screen Shot of Manuscript Interface
Manuscripts are on my mind. At the 2007 Congress I heard a lecture by Peter Stoicheff about the architecture of the page. Stoicheff talked about Otto Ege, a manuscript trader who cut up manuscripts and sold sets of pages – one (set) ended up at the University of Saskatchewan and was featured in an exhibit Scattered Leaves that ran during the conference. I was fascinated first by his reorientation from the book to the page and then by the project of Remaking the Book – virtually reconstructing the books that were scattered across the sets Ege assembled. Stoicheff pointed out that it is easy to criticize Ege for cutting up books to sell pages, but went on to ask about the history of the book as the privileged object. The immediate horror we feel when we hear or see the cutting up of a book hints at how fundamental and unexamined an object the book is to academics. Stoicheff’s The Future of the Page (conference and book)

I was reminded of this story while reading about the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums, two of which are in historic buildings nearby in Buffalo. David Karpeles has put together what is supposed to be one of the largest private manuscript collections and makes many of the manuscripts available both through his museums and online through the Karpeles Manuscript Library. I particularly like the neat interface for viewing the manuscript with a lens to see the plain text. The web site for the Museums, however, is idiosyncratc, with music (including O Canada) that plays and poor navigation. Is Karpeles another manuscript maverick like Otto Ege?

ForensicXP for forensic document analysis

Software Screen ImageForensicXP is a device that does forensic document imaging. It combines 3D imaging with chemical analysis to do Hyperspectrum Imaging and Processing. This can be used to recover “obliterated” writing, to figure out the sequence of line drawing (what lines/words were drawn first), and to detect additions and substitutions. Obviously it also helps identify the chemistry (ink) used.

Thanks to John for this.

Recipes and Generative Codes

Screen shot from web siteChristopher Alexander of Pattern Language fame has developed a second generation of pattern language that focuses on process rather than outcome.

A generative sequence may be thought of as a second generation pattern language. (From the Pattern Language Website)

Reading around the web sites I am struck by how Alexander has woven computing into his second generation ideas. Could it be that Alexander was influenced by the way computer scientists responded to his pattern language ideas?

Now a sequence is something that looks very very simple and is actually very very difficult. It’s more than a pattern; it’s an algorithm about process. But what is possible is to write sequences so that they are easy. You follow the steps in a sequence like you follow the steps in a cooking recipe. (From A Just So Story)

Reading A Just So Story (subtitle “How got its name”) suggests to me that the way the computing community took to his ideas led Alexander to think about processes and code. In his The Origins of Pattern Theory) 1996 address to the OOPSLA he calls the overlap of ideas “a deeper coincidence in what you are doing in software design and what I am doing in architectural design”.

It is also worth noting how Alexander describes generative sequences as recipes (which we have been using to help people understand text analysis):

After all, every recipe is a sequence of steps. Is a generative sequence anything more than a series of steps like a recipe for cake or omlets. (From Uniqueness of Generative Sequences)

Elsewhere he talks about unfolding and recipes synonymously.

I think there is an interesting thread to pursue through the criticism of Alexander’s sometimes naive mysticism while also experimenting with its application to methods in the textual disciplines. Patterns and recipes are evocative and useful, I’m not sure I buy the Heideggarian philosophy the Alexander thinks they are grounded in.

The web materials under are, to make matters worse, confusing to browse. (They are under “method” to begin.) Alexander has another site, Building Living Neighborhoods which is much better organized and is aimed at the neighborhood activist. It illustrates what he is talking about better than the home site.

Book Cove4rI need to say something about Alexander’s site and books. They are poorly designed and undermine his message. If he followed a process for developing his web site I would call it the “use frames when you don’t need them, use tables within tables so that people can’t help but see them, and randomly add things when you think of them.” Consistent navigation or design is not a priority. The second series of books The Nature of Order, published by The Center for Environmental Structure, also suffers. At CAD $100 a book it feels cheap and the images reproduced often look like they were scanned from newspapers. If you look at the nested boxes on the cover (click on image) of his second series of books you can see how attached he is to coloured tables and boxes. If you look closely at the cover you can also see how sloppy it is. I wish Alexander and The Centre would practice in web and book design what they preach for architecture. These ideas are too important (and too close to mysticism) to be tainted by cheap and amateur design.

As Alexander puts it in a strange misspelling about the shift from patterns to sequences,

In fact, both A Pattern Language and The Timeless Way Of Building say that the pattern language is to be used sequentially. In practice, however, this feature dropped out of site, and was not emphasized in use. (From The Origins of Pattern Theory)

Did it drop out of “sight” or out of the “site”?

CCA – Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky

I was in Montreal today and visited the CCA (Centre for Canadian Architecture) which has a show called Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky and one called Clip/Stamp/Fold 2: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X – 197X.

Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky is a thematic retrospective on the architectural critic (and architect) Rudofsky who wrote Architecture Without Architects and other books. The exhibit includes panels from the Architecture Without Architects show at the MoMA in 1964 showing organic architectural forms that evolved without modern architects to design them. He also tackled fashion (making money from a simple series of Bernardo sandals) and everyday life. He was in a tradition of anti-modernist thinking that influenced Christopher Alexander.

Image of cover of Architectural DesignClip/Stamp/Fold has its own web site here. It is an exhibit of the lively “little magazines” of architecture of the 1960s and 70s. The little magazines include student publications, underground magazines, and newsletters. What stands out is the graphic design of these magazines and the way they use the medium to communicate ideas that would never be built. Why, afterall, need architecture be only about what is/can be built?

Text in the Machine – Flckr Set

Image of PagesI recently was playing around with the pages of old books as matter and uploaded a photo essay to my Flickr account, see Text in the Machine. This started as a project for a JestShrift for a friend, but I thought I would document it after hearing Peter Stoicheff talk about Otto Ege’s “scattered leaves”.

The reactions I get to these images, especially Cutting Pages and Sawing off the spine, is a mixture of horror and nervous laughter. We feel books are sacred and should be cared for, not cut and ripped by saws. The image of sawing off the spine with a power tool teases this unexamined academic taboo.