A User Responds

Dave Winer wrote in a blog post that he depends on feedback from the users of the software that he writes. This was in conjunction with a thread about the sunsetting of one of his outlining products, Fargo. It is a very cool and useful piece of software that I have used off and on for several years. In fact I was a beta tester for it.

I am unable to use it at work because my employer is concerned about data leaks and bans access to sites like Dropbox where company data might inadvertently be exposed to theft by canny industrial spies. I don’t get to use it at home as much as I’d like because my time on the computer at home is at a premium. I have a wife and other interests that consume much of my discretionary time.

Consequently, my use of Fargo has been intermittent at best. I have mentioned it in my blog on several occasions but alas, out of sight, out of mind. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Dave for his generosity in creating Fargo and making it available to the world. It and it’s offspring are my favorite tools for outline processing.

Check out Little Outliner 2 and 1999.io, his blogging CMS (Content Management System). Both are excellent tools for writing online. Thanks again, Dave, for being an inspiration and for the generous sharing the fruits of your labor.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

What Do You Get When You Cross a Blog with a Wiki?

I recently read about a meeting between two of my computer heroes, Dave Winer and Ward Cunningham, inventors of the blog and the wiki, respectively. It was interesting to hear how Dave characterized the difference between the two media. He described the blog as a more linear, time-line oriented narrative and the wiki as a collection of smaller, concordance like entries. He posed the question “What would a marriage of the two approaches look like?”

I have been giving it some thought. For one thing, an important feature of the blog is that it represents the voice of a single author. The wiki, historically, has been a collaborative work. Ward’s latest experiment, the Simple Federated Wiki or SFW, attempts to draw more distinct lines between content created by different authors. If someone wants to edit someone else’s post, they copy it into their own domain and assert authorship for their changes while referring to the original source.

I think there is also a lot to be said for the idea of treating a post as an outline with footnotes and asides collapsed in the default rendering of a post but with controls for exposing them at the command of the reader. Dave has also experimented with hyperlinking one outline into another such that multiple outlines can be viewed as a single document.

All of these are good ideas but they need a good unifying metaphor for the structure of such documents. Perhaps a hypercube where each facet of the document comprises a face of the hypercube and the reader unfolds the cube to read it. Or perhaps it is better represented by some sort of fractal presentation. I’m not sure how to represent it visually.

In any case, there is a lot to be gained from experiments with combining these two fertile approaches to personal expression. I will be thinking about it and playing with it. I have started building a couple of personal wikis, one using the Instiki package, and the other using the SFW software. These, in conjunction with my experiences with this blog will serve as the starting point for my experiments in hybrid blog/wiki software.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Quest for Cofee

I am in the midst of a crowd of middle school kids. They are hunting Pokemon. I am to0 busy trying not to run into any of them to do anything with a phone. I just want to make it to the cafe two doors down. I make it to the front door and the kids continue on their quest.

I order a large cup of black coffee and a Danish. The cafe smells wonderful. The predominant smell is of course coffee. There is an undertone of pastries. Each confection adding its note to the aromatic symphony. I close my eyes to better appreciate it. The barista says, “Excuse me sir, your coffee.” I take the cup and find a seat near the front window.

I open the cover on my iPad. It has a keyboard case and I set it up so that I can write on it. I stare out the window. The kids have crossed the street to continue their hunt in the park there. A young mother sits on a bench and rocks her baby in a stroller.

I hear thunder in the distance. I don’t see any dark clouds anywhere. I doubt that we will see much rain today but we’ve got a weather eye out. If it rains today, we’ll have every resource at our disposal.

I sip coffee and type an opening sentence three times and erase it each time. Each time I think It will be good enough and each time it falls short. I remember what needs to be done.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Star Crawl


Troubadour playing just for me
A song that only I can hear
Standing on his principles
Weaving threads of light and dark
Among the chaotic layers at his command

The satin starship glides across
The far flung stars where once a race
Of mighty giants ruled the sky
Complacent in their authority
Blind to their imminent demise

The old ones laugh at such as these
Without a speck of mercy shown
They watch them as they sow
The seeds of their apocalypse
And no one mourns them when they're gone

Oh sing a song of brave deeds done
And women wooed and battles won
But never for a moment doubt
That soon the barman will announce
Closing time is finally here

The stars will fade
The dawn will break
And you will face
The calling of another day
The righting of another wrong
And all the righteousness aside
It will never come to ought

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Word Sketch

The palette is huge, the canvas is empty. It taunts you there in its pristine whiteness. You dab your brush into a nice bright crimson. You add a splash of yellow and just a touch of blue. You sketch the outlines of the old barn on the left side of the canvas and then you start working on an ancient oak standing to the left of it. You can see motes of dust in the sunlight insinuating itself in the hay loft of the barn.

The brook that runs behind the barn is burbling over the slabs of uneven slate that forms its bottom. Little orange fishes dart back and forth through the water. The clouds float fluffy and white through a cerulean blue sky.  The scent of new mown hay wafts through the air.

Your brush flits back and forth from palette to canvas. Details spring from its tip like spells from the end of a sorcerer’s wand. Before you realize it the canvas is full of a world where moments ago there was only barren white emptiness. You take a deep breath and step back to inspect your work. It is lunch time. This world is as complete as your imagination can make it.

You put your brush in a jar of turpentine to soak and wash your hands in the sink in the corner of your studio. The smell of vegetable soup and freshly baked bread has drifted up the stairs to summon you hence. You are filled with contentment. You scratch behind the ears of the black and white long hair cat and say, “Come on Thomas. We’ll get you some tuna fish for lunch.” You stop for just a second to appreciate the ambiance of your studio before you and Thomas head downstairs for lunch.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Generational Language

It was spooky the way that Randy always showed up just as Beth was ready to leave for school. The first couple of times that it happened I didn’t take note. But on the fourth or fifth day in a row I asked Beth, “Does Randy call you or something to find out when you’re going to be ready?”

“That is a silly thing to ask,” she said. “Of course he doesn’t. He just has this knack for knowing things like that. You wouldn’t understand.”

That meant of course that she didn’t want to take the time to try to explain it to me. So, I kept investigating. I discovered that everyone had these knacks in Beth’s school. Everyone’s knack was different but they all had one. Some people had multiple knacks. But no one over twenty seemed to have them. People who had them when they turned twenty kept them but no one acquired a knack after they turned twenty.

“What is your knack?” I asked Beth.

She blushed and said, “I couldn’t possibly tell you.”

That left me wondering for a minute. “Why not?” I asked her.

“You don’t have the context to understand,” she said. “And, no, I can’t help you there. I have been putting it together all my life and there’s just no way to explain it.”

I started to speak but she put her finger on my lips. “Weren’t there things that you couldn’t explain to your parents? Even if you had tried to explain them they didn’t know how things worked in your world,” she looked at me intently. She really wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think so. I mean, what are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about how because you have similar experiences, shared experiences, you can communicate things with small fragments of sentences, words with layers of context wrapped around them. Knowing looks. Gestures. Don’t you have those things with your friends?” she said.

“I … I guess I may have felt that way with one or two of my friends at one time or another.”

“Well, we all feel that way most of the time. It comes from concentrating our text messages so that we don’t have to spend so much time typing them. Over time the context grows and the length of the actual communication shrinks. We have our own language in addition to the one that we speak with the rest of the world.”

“I have suspected as much for some time,” I said. “How do I find out more about these knacks?”

“I expect you will just have to find someone who is willing to talk about it with you. As for me right now, I’m done. Maybe I’ll feel like talking more tomorrow. Again, maybe I won’t.”

I nodded. “Have a good day at school.” I noticed the door opening behind her as Randy stuck his head in.

“Ready to go?” he asked.

“I always am, aren’t I?” she replied.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Courting My Muse

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gave a TED talk about genius in which she told us how the ancient Greeks and Romans believed the creative process worked. They believed that the artist was given their great ideas by spirits, the Greeks called them daemons, the Romans called them geniuses. Her point was that the burden of responsibility for creating outstanding works of art was perhaps too much for fragile human psyches.

I feel like my best work is done when I am able to step aside and allow the piece to just flow from somewhere outside of me through me and out to the world. It is perhaps tinged with something of myself but its source is outside of myself. I don’t know how to make this happen. I just know that I have to sit down and write. If my daemon or genius is with me, I may write something wonderful. But if it isn’t, I will still write. I will hone my craft so that when my daemon is there, I will be ready.

And this is something that I can apply to my music and my other creative endeavors. You can’t just sit around and wait for your muse. You have to court her. You have to give her the channel through which creativity can flow. You have to hone the craft with which the inspiration will become manifest.

And you also need to revel in the genius of other artists. It is through that inspiration that you can learn to summon your own muse. That is why as a writer, you must read as well as write. As a musician, you must listen to music as well as play music. And, as a programmer, you must read programs and run them to appreciate their unique qualities.

As an artist we risk so much. We put so much of ourselves on the line when we bring our art to the world. We should only have to do our best and hone our craft and be present when the masterpiece arrives. We shouldn’t have to suffer for our art. That is a misconception best laid to rest.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.