Notebook of Sand



Curriculum Vitae

• Recent Publications
• Recent Projects
• Conferences & Speaking
"Comparing Spatial Hypertext Collections"
  ACM Hypertext '09
"Archiving and Sharing Your Tinderbox"
  Tinderbox Weekend London '09
"The Electronic Nature of Future Literatures"
  Literary Studies Now, Apr '09
"The World University Project"
  St. John's Col. Cambridge, Feb '09
"Ethical Explanations,"
  The New Knowledge Forge, Jun '08
Lecture, Cambridge University
  Tragedy in E-Lit, Nov '07
Hypertext '07: Tragedy in E-Lit
Host for Tinderbox Cambridge '07
Keynote: Dickinson State Uni Conf
Upper Midwest NCHC'07: Speaker
eNarrative 6: Creative Nonfiction
HT'05: "Philadelphia Fullerine"
  Nelson award winning paper
NCHC '05:
 Nurturing Independent Scholarship
Riddick Practicum:
  Building Meeting Good Will
NCHC '04:
  Philadelphia Fullerine
  Lecture on American Studies
WWW@10: Nonfiction on the Web
NCHC '03: Parliamentary Procedure
ELL '03 -- Gawain Superstar
• (a)Musing (ad)Dictions:

Ideas. Tools. Art. Build --not buy. What works, what doesn't. Enjoy new media and software aesthetics at Tekka.

Theodore Gray (The Magic Black Box)

Faith, Life, Art, Academics. Sermons from my family away from home: Eden Chapel!

My other home: The Cambridge Union Society (in 2007, I designed our [Fresher's Guide])

The Economist daily news analysis

Global Higher Ed blog

• Hypertext/Writing

Writing the Living Web

Chief Scientist of Eastgate Systems, hypertext expert Mark Bernstein. (Electronic) Literature, cooking, art, etc.

Fabulous game reviews at playthisthing.

• Stats

Chapter I: Born. Lived. Died.

There is a Chapter II.

Locale: Lancaster County Pa, USA

Lineage: Guatemala

Religion: My faith is the primary focus of my life, influencing each part of me. I have been forgiven, cleansed, and empowered by Jesus Christ. Without him, I am a very thoughtful, competent idiot. With him, I am all I need to be, all I could ever hope for. I oppose institutional religious stagnation, but getting together with others is a good idea. God is real. Jesus Christ is his Son, and the Bible is true. Faith is not human effort. It's human choice. I try to be the most listening, understanding, and generous person I can.

Interests: Anything I can learn. Training and experience in new media, computer science, anglophone literature, education, parliamentary debate, democratic procedure, sculpture, and trumpet performance. Next: applied & computational linguistics, probably.

Education: Private school K-3. Home educated 4-12. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Elizabethtown College in Jan 2006. As the 2006 Davies-Jackson Scholar, I studied English at St. John's College, Cambridge University from 2006 - 2008.

Memberships: Eden Baptist, Cambridge Union Society, ACM, AIP, GPA.

Alum of the Elizabethtown College Honors Program, sponsored by the Hershey Company.

August 2004
2004: Earlier | March | April | May | June | July | Aug | Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec
2005: Jan | Feb | March | April | May | June | July | Aug | Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec
2006: Jan | Feb | March | April | May | June | July | Aug | Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec
2007: Spring | Summer - Summer 2008 | Spring & Summer 2009 | Now
Delltime Tuesday
Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Tuesdays are going to be marvelous this year. I have no classes on this day, so I am free for to spend a whole day focusing on my studies.

So here I am, underneath the fresh, breeze-cooled shade of a young red maple. Below me, in the dell, the willow maiden sways and dances as spruces and pines bow gently in her direction. A tuliptree leans against the band shell, and up here at the top, in the company of so many Maples, I watch the cloudscape filter light tbetween leaves flush with living energy.

I don't even mind the wrist splint, for the air is sweet with the fragrance of summer grass, my mind is sharp, and my fingers are flying over the keys.

Gollum, The Venerable Bede, and I
Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

After my post yesterday about convocation, a surreptitious conversation was heard in the wee hours of the night, deep in the recesses of Elizabethtown's cyberspace underworld...

Did you hear? Dr. McAllister is now addressing me as gollum!
that's funny
you don't really look like gollum though
you look more like Bede.
haha...but I guess Gollum and Bede look similar
I think all you need to do is grow a beard.

Scholar Eclipse
Monday, 30 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

As I noted before, with quite a bit of humor, I am a College Scholar at Elizabethtown College this year. But it is no laughing matter. I joked about it the night before, but walking into the convocation ceremony with my gown on, I realized how serious and exciting the honor is.

During the ceremony, I was surrounded by most of the students I most respect. We walked together into the room, and the administration of the college honored us and told us to hang in there until the end. Then they asked us, one by one, to stand, as they read our names to the incoming students, their parents, our parents.

I never stood taller in my life.

** * **

Of course, I'm still pretty short. Here's a picture of me with Ben Osterhout, a good friend in the honors program who co-presented with me at the National Collegiate Honors Conference last year.

Nathan Matias and Benjamin Osterhout

No, I'm not in pain. I'm squinting. I haven't gotten outside much the last few weeks, and I'm used to low light , reading and typing in dimly-lit rooms. Just call me Gollum. With the sun bouncing off my head like that, I look like I could be gollum.

Sunday, 29 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I saw the full moon tonight.

I saw it ensconced in a deep blue evening sky, illuminating the clouds from behind. For a few minutes, the universe was like a mobile hanging from the ceiling, and the beautiful moon a bluish ceiling lamp.

The whole landscape is bathed in silverblue light.

I could have stared forever, as the moon, an unimaginable disc stuck to heaven's ceiling, glowed with radiance in the haze of our atmosphere.

I have seen moonbows in the evening haze, and they are elusively spectacular, a nighttime radiance of color. But the full moon tonight -- oh!-- it was beautiful. This beauty would be hidden and empty without the light of the sun it reflects. And yet, the dark patches on the moon are part of its beauty. It is a speckled, burned up piece of rock, yet it glows with brilliance given it by the sun. And that is part of the miracle, a mottled grey core surrounded by a soft, smooth, radiant aegis of light.

We cannot look on the sun and retain our sight, but we can see the moon in all its brilliance and marvel at the power of the sun's light, that even in reflection it nearly blinds us.

And so it is with us humans, that Christians get to be moons of God's holiness and beauty. We are mottled, we are burned out chunks of rock that will never be a star, yet we are given light.

I could have watched all evening.

** * **

But I must sleep. Classes start tomorrow.

Remembering Beauty
Friday, 27 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

The first year students have arrived. The crazy, tangled hustle of many efforts will soon begin.

For me, I have not really stopped since the semester last ended. So, aside from the writing I must do today, I am taking time to slow down, study the Scriptures, pray, and rest in the enjoyment of beauty.

Detail from my guitar

I find beauty most in sights and sounds. There is beauty in the warble of forest birds as the afternoon sun filters through the last green leaves. I will practice my trumpet again today, perhaps for the last time alone in Zug Hall, alone as I float on waves of lyric sound, alone in the delayed company of so many beautiful minds of the past. Or I will close my eyes and feel the smiles of a friend's voice, or imagine worlds in the measured tones of a narrator reading great stories.

Most beautiful of all are thoughts of Christ.

I have been listening to C.S. Lewis's "Out of the Silent Planet" on BBC7 radio. Much thinking to do, much thinking...

And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings

--from "God's Grandeur" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Polyphonic Me
Thursday, 26 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

J. Nathan Matias poses in his convocation gown -- the Dark Polyphonic spree memberToday, I walk in the convocation processional with the rest of Elizabethtown's College Scholars.

The gown is interesting. I think I would make a good member of Polyphonic Spree. Perhaps I could be the "dark side" member or something. Ak. They already have a trumpet. I would have to work on my dancing anyway.

I suppose now that I have the garb, I should go on a quest for the rest.

Tuesday, 24 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.Whew! After about 2 months of picking away at it, I finally sat down and created the first part of my online graphics design portfolio: a set of posters I created for Elizabethtown College's Academic Integrity Committee.

I had fun designing these with my friend Hannah Scott. Although i don't get to exercise my design skills often as a literature major, I always enjoy the opportunity to use a different side of my brain.

The Beginnings of Time
Monday, 23 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

This week, students have begun to arrive at Elizabethtown College.

Let the speeches begin.

  • Today, I give a talk about academic integrity to the peer mentors, a group of students who will be the first year students' guides this year.
  • Thursday, I have a luncheon with a bunch of other academic performers. I will then walk in with the faculty during the convocation ceremony.
  • Saturday, I will talk to new commuter students. Partway through the commuter meeting, I will leave to attend an Honors Program dinner for new students. I will then leave the dinner to attend an Academic Integrity Committee dinner. After that, I go back to the Honors dinner.
  • Sunday, I will be giving a speech to the new student body on plagiarism and integrity. That evening, I'll get to watch as the new students light candles and speak their induction recitation (this is a college, btw. Not a cult) in the moonlight.
** * **

Then classes begin.

I don't know what will happen to the blog, but I intend to continue to poast as I can.

Transclusion, Structure, and the Signified
Sunday, 22 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Hmm. One of the toughest issues with writing hypertext is this:

One does not communicate text. One communicates ideas.

Transclusion brings in an excerpt of text into an existing bit of writing. But it can't as a technique guarantee that the idea will still get across. In fact, another idea may be presented.

** * **

It's the difference between quoting and paraphrasing

** * **

Context is such a big part of meaning. It takes a different kind of thinking, a kind of humility to write hypertext. You have to give up some of the authorial power, admit that you can't form the perfect reader experience, and hand the power to the reader.

At the same time, you have to be twice as thoughtful, twice as controlling, just to make sure it doesn't flop.

** * **

To Win, Simply Play, by Dylan Kinnett, is a great little hypertext novella. When you read the novella, don't just think about what he does structurally. Think about the kinds of things he can and can't talk about. For example, chronology isn't a big part of the novella. Why not? Because he can't give the chronology direction, and anchoring stories to time would just force the reader to keep track.

Righteousness, Faithfulness, Equity
Friday, 20 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

An amazing package arrived in the mail a couple weeks ago. It was odd, because I wasn't expecting a package of any sort.

The Remnant TrustA few months ago, I did some writing for an organization called The Remnant Trust. They are an foundation that brings rare and ancient manuscripts to schools, colleges, etc, for educational programs. They did a program at my college, which is how I learned of them.

I also suggested the program to Patrick Henry College, which has intellectually-powerful, motivated students who would read the manuscripts in their original languages.

When I opened the box, I was greeted by a letter and another package. Inside the package was a leather folder... with a page from the original print run of the 1611 King James Bible!

Isaiah 11 -- part 1 Isaiah 11 -- part 2

This particular excerpt of Isaiah 11 has been a great encouragement to me. Why?

  • It reminds me of God's faithfulness through time in the preservation of Scripture. Four hundred years ago, there was a pastor somewhere, who picked up this book in wonder, for he could now for the first time read the Bible in his own language. Knowledge and wisdom were no longer the domain of the educated elite of the Church. No, people were now allowed to hear, think, and consider these words for themselves. Rejoice!
  • Isaiah 10 is a big contrast from chapter 11. In 10, we see the efforts of someone who was very pleased with his own wisdom, his own knowledge, his own ability to rule. He failed; Assyria was a cruel place of injustice and evil. In 11, we learn of Someone with true wisdom, true kindness, true justice for all. In my own efforts to understand this world, it is a comfort to know that there will be a time when knowledge, wisdom, and kindness will not be so rare as they are today.
  • Thus, this manuscript reminds me of God's efforts over time. It reminds me that I am just a small person. It reminds me that He has been faithful for hundreds and thousands of years, and He will continue to be faithful far beyond my imagined future. Like Habakuk, no matter what I see in my lifetime, whether it be great things, or terrible things -- whether I seem to matter or not -- I can still seek to live rightteously and still praise God for what happens. For I know the ending, and it is a happy one.

Run, Scissors, Run.
Friday, 20 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I have crazy ideas from time to time.

Running with Scissors

I learned in Philly never to run with scissors, especially not at night.

Don't be deceived. The clothing does not make the man.

Sidewalks Away
Wednesday, 18 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I was going to make a longer post, but time is running out. So here's what I'll be seeing in a few minuts as I heft my luggage and trudge toward the regional rail station.

Being away is nice. Being home is nice too.

Sidewalks near Philadelphia University

See you soon!

Parlez-Vous Francais?
Wednesday, 18 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

For those of you who enjoyed Flaming Bobby, here's a little bit by Mark Bentine, Intermediate French for Beginners.

** * **

Another great audio brought to you by the web savvy of Wayne Stewart, worldwide distributor for Foot-O, the Wonder Boot Exploder!

** * **

The Goons are too much fun, any time of the day.

How to win the Title in Titles
Tuesday, 17 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

It's simple. Come up with a title like this:

The house servant's directory. Or A monitor for private families: : comprising hints on the arrangement and performance of servants' work, with general rules for setting out tables and sideboards in first order; the art of waiting in all its branches; and likewise how to conduct large and small parties with order; with general directions for placing on table all kinds of joints, fish, fowl, &c. With full instructions for cleaning plate, brass, steel, glass, mahogany; and likewise all kinds of patent and common lamps: observations on servants' behaviour to their employers; and upwards of 100 various and useful receipts, chiefly compiled for the use of house servants; and identically made to suit the manners and customs of families in the United States. / By Robert Roberts. With friendly advice to cooks and heads of families; and complete directions how to burn Lehigh coal.

The Killers
Tuesday, 17 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

The Library Company of Philadelphia has wireless. Yay!

** * **

I love short morality fiction about real events.

Take, for example, take the plight of Cromwell Hicks, who in this story was just recently expelled from Yale for a few petty jokes -- abducting a prof's daughter in the dead of night and planting explosives in one of the academic halls....

A thousand things came to the memory of Cromwell, which seemed to confirm the story of Mr. Jacob Hicks. Suffice it to say, that after an hour's walk up and down the street, Cromwell found himself at the corner of Second and Walnut street, with three facts impressed rather vividly upon his mind; He was without a father; his mother had eloped with a mustache (appended to a British Baronet;) and he, Cromwell Hicks, late of Yale College, was without a cent in the world.

What does he to do in that kind of situation? Kill blacks and kidnap women of course. But first, he robs the bank owned by his dad.

Oh well. He was an illegitimate child anyway.

Where was the legitimate child that his mother had hidden from her husband? In Eastern State Penitentiary of course. And yes, his real (and rich) father had put him in jail for trying to pass counterfeit money. And no, he didn't know he had a son at the time. Well, he thought Cromwell was his son, but he was wrong.

** * **

Oh, it all works out in the end. Everyone dies -- almost. The wronged, legitimate son survives in his attempt to rescue his "sister" (they were raised together, but didn't know they weren't biological siblings) from the flames of the riot where she was imprisoned by the illegitimate son.

One presumes that they married and lived happily ever after.

Like I said, gotta love good ol' 19th century literature.

** * **

As I was reading, Phil Lapansky, research librarian here at the Library Company, peeked over my shoulder, got excited, and handed me a bookled he has compiled on George Lippard, the author of this story. It turns out that Lippard published this book under a number of titles -- I'm currently sitting in front of two of them.

Lapansky has actually photocopied all editions and done a textual criticism with a detailed annotation of all revisions between editions...

Lately here at the Library Company we have been overrun with literature folks -- profs and PhD'ers from English and American Studies Depts. reading and reifying tons of 19thc. literature, and their language is invading our "discourse" (like right there, for example -- we used to just write and talk). Is what we have here with these assorted versions an example of "intertextual dialogics?" Is my above musing "supratextual monologics?"
** * **

One final thing. I hereby resolve never to name any character "Mr. Snick"

Monday, 16 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

When I went to Philadelphia on Sunday, I was very excited -- and a bit nervous. Why?

There is a novel in Philadelphia.

I was going to photograph it.

In July, someone got picked up by the police for photographing this novel.

** * **

I saw another sticker on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Unlike most novels, Implementation doesn't exist in a book. Rather, it exists on hundreds of stickers around Philadelphia. Looking for the novel has made my trip to Philadelphia more exciting.

Implementation is very relevant to hypertext writing -- thinking about it helps me think about how I could better create hypertext systems.

Although all the text is written by the two authors, the novel itself is up to three groups of people. The ultimate authors are those who print the stickers and put them up all over the city. They can author whatever experience they want. But even they can't determine the final structure. That is up to the reader. A reader may encounter just one paragraph, or a reader could make a conscious effort to read the entire set of stickers. The novel requires reader interaction in the writing process, for the reader has to find the stickers and construct the connections of meaning between them.

The final authors (deauthors?), I suppose, are the sanitation people who take down the stickers. I do feel a little bad for them -- there's enough residue in the city already.

Is it a good novel? To answer that, I'm going to pull a phrase completely out of context from Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The novel...

is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it

This novel isn't something to I'd recommend reading for content, but for the idea -- the Implementation.

update: To be fair, it's not supposed to be contiguous, which is probably part of my discomfort . Many of the labels seem intended just to raise suspicion or challenge accepted ideas -- by themselves. Of course, I might just have seen some of the more risque segments. But it's still a fascinating work.

Monday, 16 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I visited the library of the University of Pennsylvania today.

Let me correct: two of the many libraries of the University of Pennsylvania.

I never imagined the coolness of libraries that literally have multiple copies of everything. Who stocks multiple copies of the Domesday Book along with a shelf of commentaries?

The Domesday Book at uPenn Van Pelt Library

Dr. Adams noted that Harvard, where she studied, has an even bigger library.

I can't even begin to imagine how cool that would be.

An Afternoon With Dr. Adams
Monday, 16 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

On a whim, I called Dr. Kimberley Adams, my literature theory professor. Good news! She was nearby. It is comforting and fun to see people I know when I am visiting a strange place.

The Wannamaker OrganI took the subway a few hours early, registered for the Library Company of Philadelphia, and ate a marvelous chicken sandwich at Maggianos. Then, I walked back toward center city, by the Lord & Taylor. I stepped inside to take another peek at the marvelous Wannamaker Organ, the largest organ in the world and sovereign of all the kings of instruments. I have lately been playing with organs, and I have learned a new respect for the instrument.

Ahhh, it is beautiful. I wish I still played the piano. I would love to learn the organ, with its amazingly beautiful complexity of sound, the harmony and lyric blending together to fill the entire atmosphere with an ecosystem of musical life.

Then, I walked through City Hall underneath a massive sculpted sphere.

Sculpted sphere at Philadelphia City Hall

After meandering a bit, I headed over to Cosi's, where I was to meet Dr. Adams. Nice place. I may grab something there tomorrow, while I binge on archives in the area.

Cosi Coffeeshop, Philadelphia

We talked for a while about academics, about Philadelphia. Dr. Adams gave me some good pointers on places to eat and things to see. But time ran out. But we were both heading back to center city, so we walked together for a while.

"My husband works in one of those blue towers...the evil empires, we call them"

Evil Blue Tower, Philadelphia

Before we got there, she pointed out Philadelphia's local temple to the god of money.

Temple to Mammon, Philadelphia PA

It's now the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Eventually, we split ways. She went to finish her business in town, and I headed off to the 30th street station for more fun in the city.

30th street station, Philadelphia
Dheerash Worldwide
Monday, 16 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I spent some time in the 30th street station waiting for the regional line to the place I'm staying.

Did I tell you I look like a sucker?

Fortunately, I'm not a sucker.

** * **

She was perfect. Her technique was down, her style was smooth. She started talking to me, trying to fish for info. I responded, curious. She spoke of her "goods business."

** * **

Legitimate businesses which earn people enough money to retire at 30 -- these businesses don't have to approach random people in the train station, looking for business partners.

** * **

After talking a short while, I took a card and left. Why the card? I wanted to do some research... The first tipoff? She didn't have her own business card. She had another card, with one email scratched off and another written in. This particular pyramid scam is pretty obvious. They don't even deceive well -- it's an incompetent scam as well. Go to the web address, and you'll be redirected to the unhelpful website of BWW.

Tipoff number two? The website refuses to give you information about the business unless you register. This is an old ploy.

I use a very distantly-related variant of it in the new Elizabethtown College website. I got the idea from Eliza Meets the Postmodern, the first article I ever read about hypertext (read it ages ago and forgot it, but some of the ideas stuck).

On the Etown site, we use the illusion of user power to guide people through our marketing information. Our goal is to offset the skimming habits of web viewers -- by guiding them through a page or two, we make sure they get more information than they would normally.

BWW uses different techniques to present as little information as possible. But BWW doesn't even bother with skillful marketing. They do it this way:

You can't get info if you don't sign up.

I don't know what kind of sucker you think I am, but cults are not businesses. Nice try. Better luck next time.

Eastern State Penitentiary
Sunday, 15 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I love it when things come together. Today, I spent the day at the Eastern State Penitentiary.

I'm currently working on a presentation/hypertet for the WWW@10 Conference at Rose-Hulman. My argument is that developments in museum science, creative/literary nonfiction, and documentary practice combine with recent technology to make really cool online historical narrative possible.

The Eastern State Penitentiary is an excellent example of the kind of place that really makes museums fun.

It's the only place I know that asks you to sign a liability waiver before you walk in. No wonder -- it's falling apart.

Barber's Chair in Eastern State Penitentiary

Along the way, you hear a really good narration combined with first-hand accounts from the guards and ex-prisoners of this maximum security prison. The narration is very good, including background music and sound effects. It was created by people who really understand audio acting -- not just a bunch of boring scholars.

Although Al Capone's voice wasn't on the handheld mp3 player, he was an inmate in the prison for 8 months. Unlike the other prisoners, Capone was allowed many comforts of home -- a radio, writing desk, electric lamp, and even wall paintings. The other prisoners in solitary confinement, sitting in their bare, maddening cells, could occasionally hear snatches of a waltz coming from his cell.

Al Capone's Cell, Eastern State Penitentiary.

The museum also encourages art installations. Here is a photo of Juxtapositions.

Juxtapositions, art installation at the Eastern State Penitentiary.

This place is amazing -- when Charles Dickens came to Philadelphia, he came so he could see this place. You should do the same.

Sunday, 15 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Well, folks, I'm bound for the city of brotherly love.


I'm researching riots.

Go figure.

** * **

I hope to post while I'm away (particularly to keep working on "The World of Tomorrow"), but I don't know what Internet I'll have, so the site might be a bit barren the next week.

Until then....ciao!

A Day at the Mercer Museum
Sunday, 15 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Last week, I did some research in the Henry Mercer Museum and Spruance Library, in Doylestown PA. I'll post a photo-essay later, but it was an awesome trip.

The Mercer Museum is a concrete castle.

Looking out a window at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, PA** * **

Of course, nothing tops off the day like spending a great evening with two friends.

Amy Singer, Kelly Singer, and Nathan Matias at the Mercer Museum, Doylestown PAThanks Amy & Kelly, for making my long trip seem a little closer to home. I'm looking forward to an exciting semester.

The World of Tomorrow, part 2
Saturday, 14 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"] [soundtrack]

My great-grandfather was great at filing work, but he didn't work in an office. He was a tool-and-die maker for IBM. New employees would get the drudge work of filing burrs off metal parts.

The art of filing has always had a great part in America's industrial history, back to the very beginning of our industrial boom and Eli Whitney. When Eli (oddly known for his failed cotton gin business today) invented the idea of precision-machined parts, he failed to invent the technology for precision machining. Whitney sold the U.S. government thousands of rifles with supposedly-interchangeable parts.

Like most weapons of the day, Whitney's new repairable rifles weren't very repairable. But some were amazing. If one of the gun mechanisms broke, they could unscrew it, replace it with a brand-new part, and keep the weapon out of the trash heap. The U.S. government was elated.

The other gun manufacturers were scared. They rushed to invent ways to mechanically-manufacture gun parts. They didn't know that Whitney's plan was a scam.

Archeologists have dug around Whitney's old gun-manufacturing plant. They found hundreds of broken files. Instead of mechanically-manufacturing the guns, Whitney was producing them the old way -- and hiring dozens of men to file the pieces until they fit.

Whitney was a hero, but he never got significant financial success. Why? The other gun manufacturers were so scared of Whitney's fake technology, they turned around and actually built the real thing.

But a century-and-a-half later, people still filed away at parts to make them fit. But my great-grandfather wasn't content to file away at uneven steel. Now a tool and die maker, my great-grandfather built the mechanical equivalent of software for the mechanical industry behind IBM. It wasn't his first job -- he had worked at the Pennsylvania coal mines for years -- but it was perhaps his most creative. He and the men he worked with would turn the engineering prowess of IBM's designers into something that could be mass-produced.

Today people don't like to get their hands grubby. They get into an office and fret away in air-conditioned towers. But those mechanical minds of the industrial age? They were real hackers. They were real artists.

The World of Tomorrow, part 1
Friday, 13 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"] [soundtrack]

And now for some real oral history (yes, this is a series)....

** * **

It was May, 1939.

Chuff chuff, Chuff, chuff. hissssss.

The Amtrak pulled into Pennsylvania Station, New York City. A husband and wife stepped out of the train. Wow. Above them, vaulted ceilings rested in the warm shadows cast by the glow of electric lamps and outdoor sunlight. The couple carried their bags across the arching concrete walkways that led toward the center of the station.

Columns, cornices, and marbled scrollwork reached into the sky for hundreds of feet. The gods of ancient Greece would have been envious, could they see it.

Then my great grandparents walked into the main area.

Many stories above, arching webs of steel were flung into the sky. The girders, crossbars, rivets, and welds married visions of an industrial future with a sense of the gothic. There was light everywhere. The blinding summer light played on the girders, filtered in by the thousands of glass-panes that made the ceiling in this shrine to the worship of human accomplishment.

Train stations, airports, and bus terminals are spiritual places. When we sit down on our little bench and look around, we remember who we are. We remember the universe. The travelers pass by, rubbernecking at the sights. Others weave around like a cosmic needle, plunging through the crowd smoothly, directly. But no matter how much we take charge, we know the truth. Such sights make us feel very small, very alone in the world.

And so it is that the things we build to praise our might -- put us in our place.

But in May, 1939, my great grandparents didn't feel alone at all. Almost the entire town of Endicott, New York was on that train with them.

Flaming Bobby
Thursday, 12 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Flaming BobbyThe oral tradition is an important of any society, even modern technological ones. Preserving stories from the past is an important part of keeping the wisdom and experience of past generations.

I have recently been spending time with a number of older, wiser people. They have given me great insight into life. I also get to hear about how things used to be.

** ** **

Peter Sellers, the well-known goonthropologist, has recorded an ancient custom of the children of Victorian England: Setting Fire to the Policeman.

(Link via Wayne Stewart --a man of knees-- and the goonLog)

Off Track
Wednesday, 11 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I seem to remember someone once saying that Winter and early Spring are the really productive times for bloggers, academics, and programmers, but that tings taper off in the summer.

That has been the case for this blog. In-between the bustle, the RSI, the dead laptop, etc, I have written very little this summer. In the process, I lost a bit of the imagination that kept me going.

I forgot what this blog is about. After a quick read of Mark Bernstein's 10 Tips for Writing the Living Web once again, I remembered.

It's really about storytelling and ideas. Sure, some posts give an update on my life, but what I really love about this blog is the storytelling and ideas. I let time and focus and adversity distract me from what I really love doing. So hopefully, things will click back in place from now on.

So much
Saturday, 7 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"] [soundtrack]

..has happened over the last two days, I cannot begin to tell it.

The problem? All of it is worth telling: the beautiful fleecy clouds that fly by the half moon sitting in a beautiful blue sky overlooking the fresh green of Lancaster's well-watered landscape. The mavelously-complex universe of thought and praise in two hours of organ and trumpet last night. The lessons I'm learning about life and living. The song of the gentle robins that ruffle their wings and settle onto a cherry-branch. The joyful, gliding flight of the falcon above, swimming with the clouds in an ecstasy of windy warmth, dancing around the daytime moon. The page of the Bible I unexpectedly got in the mail -- from the first 1611 printing of the King James translation. The conferences, the papers, but most of all, the breeze, the music, the warm embrace of sunlight, and the whirling joys of bustling summer life.

But for now, I sit next to the window and work hard on the last part of my website project.

Maybe I'll post tonight.

Why I Don't Like Literature
Thursday, 5 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"] [soundtrack]

Today, I spoke briefly with C. S. Prælucor, a professional cubist. The topic drifted to literature.

(I love literature. I ought to. I'm a Literature student)

I often become discouraged and disillusioned with the study of literature. I sometimes even despise the study of literature.

Is this just the frustrations of a student tired of work? No.

Here's what I don't like about the study of litereature: It's not about literature. Most of the time, it's about something else. We never pause to savour or enjoy the discipline. It's like we're ashamed to have fun doing it. Instead, we listen to other people use Lit to build monuments to their intellect. Or we build monuments to our own intellect. Other times, we use it as a gateway to understanding society or a way to stimulate discussion.

C.S. Lewis once said, "We read to know we're not alone." In Literature, it seems like everyone is dying to be an individual. We are encouraged to formulate theories and identify themes, and defend our opinions. But why do we rarely savor beautiful writing or praise the author's creativity?

Studying Literature reduces it to a topic, when it is something far beyond. I didn't notice, so eager was I to do well and think well, but I have cast off the awe, wonder, and simple joy I once had in reading. Always an idea, always a theory, always trying to piece the world together in my thoughts.

The problem, of course, is that good writing is a good way to develop powerful thinking, and powerful thinking is helpful. So, due to the nature of many people over many years studying literature, we end up absorbing ourselves in stupid topics and petty arguments just to be unique.

This problem seems to be common in all disciplines. It has happened even the sciences, where the joy in nature has been replaced by an endless meticulum of detail discovery.

The cubist agreed.

But, on the other hand some theory is useful. Studying Bakhtin's views on voice and dialogism in the novel really helped me appreciate what was going on inside a number of works. But I would rather spend time appreciating a novel than debating it for hours about it in class.

I suppose it has to work that way; most people wouldn't read if there were no class. Most people do their learning in the classroom.

Sometimes, I wonder if I would do better without classes (England Ho!). But Argh! There's that individualism again.

** * **

Things happen differently in Bible studies -- when they go well. A good Bible study is a bunch of people getting excited about God and His ways as they read together. A good Bible study includes people who can do the literary thinking but who realize its importance in enjoying, savoring, and learning the ways of God.

I am grateful to be in a good Bible study. They put up with my rambling and have the wisdom to keep it real.

Titles, v2
Wednesday, 4 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

My brother, a seminary student, has informed me of his favorite book title. It is from a Baptist work written by John Leland.

The rights of conscience inalienable
and therefore
religious opinions not cognizable by law
The high-flying churchman, stript of his legal robe, appears a Yaho

Awakened to Discipline (part 2)
Wednesday, 4 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"] [soundtrack]

(If you haven't done so, read Awakened to Discipline, part 1)

So, I was fat. I was discouraged. I was defeated before I ever thought to start anything. You know the story.

** * **

I used to love to play soccer. I played on our local competitive team, but I have asthma. I was fat. Although I was tactically strong, I couldn't run a lap. I played defense ( and was pretty effective), but I mostly sat out. They didn't invite me back.

Another personal failure. But it helped motivate me.

** * **

Soccerobics with Hubert Vogelsinger One day, my brother brought home an unusual video:

Soccerobics, hosted by Yale's soccer coach, Hubert Vogelsinger.

The idea? A soccer-related workout. Every exercse involves the ball in some way. Vogelsinger had this crazy idea, that if one exercises with the ball, one becomes very familiar with one's body and one's relationship with the ball. Vogelsinger's system is as dedicated to mental training as it is to physical rigor. He takes it as seriously as any martial art.

And it is art, to see Vogelsinger with a soccerball. Strength, skill, focus, and beauty.

** * **

Eight months later, I had lost nearly all my extra fat. I have kept it off for six years. During that time, I learned discipline. The same kind of focus that I employed to control the ball completely, I employed to keep from overeating. I learned nutrition. I became the health nut of my family and started to ride and race bicycles.

** * **

I still do soccerobics from time to time. It's good to feel the control and precision again. But my body was not the main beneficiary of Vogelsinger's expertise. I realized for the first time in my life, that I could actually accomplish things if I worked hard. This was a completely new way to view the world. It changed my life.

Through Vogelsinger, I learned to discipline my mind, my body, and my life to great effect. Although I tend to be a scatterbrained dreamer-type, I have become very disciplined.

I still struggle to find balance, or a sweet spot in many areas, but I am thankful. I wouldn't be who I am without his superb soccer training system.

Thanks, Hubert.

Awakened to Discipline
Tuesday, 3 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"] [soundtrack]

(this is a two-part post. The second part will appear tomorrow)

I used to be fat. I also used to be very lethargic and confused.

On one hand, I have always learned very quickly. This made me lazy. On the other hand, I didn't know how to point my mind at tasks. I didn't know how to learn...yet.

Well I remember the tears, the crying hours, head against the desperate, damp notebooks. In school I had grasped math quickly, even taught the slow students. But now, studying at home, faced with only a textbook, a pencil, and the paper, I was failing dismally.

Some days, the words and symbols would combine magically in my mind, blending together with my knowledge and spitting out my pencil-fingers with the ecstatic, powerful joy of dragonflame. Other days, I couldn't even write a single problem.

When I did think well, I left a dismal wreckage of scribbles, hasty answers, and dubious methods. I loathed double-checking. Answers were either brilliantly good or carelessly wrong.

The cryings continued for years. I didn't tell my parents. I felt ashamed and incapable of improvement. I became more lazy. Convinced of my inability, I stopped trying. I loathed myself for doing poorly. I despised myself for giving up. As the tears dribbled down, I banged my head against the table in desperation. I didn't know what else to do.

The story of being overweight is very similar. A visit to the nutritionist didn't help. A multitude of diets came and went. I learned the reality of operant condition before I knew the name -- I still have trouble eating pineapple. It reminds me of all the other weird foods I had to eat. It reminds me of the annoying calorie sheet I tried to live by.

It didn't work.

I feared the scale. I feared bathing. I feared the mirror most of all.

I knew for sure that I could never do anything worthwhile. I prayed to God and asked him to magically remove my fat in the night. I despised myself for praying that.

** * **

When I was entering my teens, I had no self-respect. I had no discipline. I was a wreck.

Tuesday, 3 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"] [soundtrack]

I like Tinderbox.

Today, I added an attribute to my website's Tinderbox file. I called it "soundtrack".

Then, I made it a key attribute for all *protoNote prototypes. Now, I get a text box at the top of every blog post, asking me for a soundtrack URL.

Setting up Blog post soundtracks in Tinderbox

Next, I added an if/endif clause to my website template files.

Now, if I paste in an audio-stream link from Magnatune (a great, legally-free music source. If you buy, artists get 50%. What's cool about Magnatune? With a Creative Commons music system, they're not evil. The music of course, is very good.), the post displays the link "[soundtrack]" next to the date.

So, I'll try to include soundtracks with as many posts as I can. It helps set the mood, I think.

I like Tinderbox. The folks over at Eastgate have made things like this ridiculously easy to do. I was able to set up blog-post soundtracks in 5 minutes.

Bullhorn on the ceiling
Shoes and England
Sunday, 1 Aug 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

When I was young, maybe eleven or twelve years old, I asked my grandmother for a pair of shoes.

Dark grey, dilapidated shoes -- close up

Last night, Dad did something unusual. He spoke of his childhood in Guatemala.

My grandmother refused to buy me shoes. Instead, she said, "Son, remember this: You were born poor. You will always be poor, and you will die poor. Never forget this."

My father never forgot her words. But he never chose to believe them.

** * **

This Fall, I will be wearing a robe at my college's convocation procession. There, the college will honor my academic achievement. Before the ceremony, my mom and dad will join me at a luncheon. I know my dad will be bursting with pleasure.

For me, college is a miracle. Every breath I take is an infinite blessing (pdf). As long as I can remember, my father has been telling me the opposite advice of his grandmother's. He has told me to reach my full potential.

My father has dedicated his working life to enabling my brother and I to reach our full potential. I have no adequate means to thank him.

** * **

My dad finally got his first pair of shoes from a landfill at the age of 16.

** * **

Akenfield, by Ronald BlytheDad is a voracious reader. Even though English is his second language, he reads more than most people I know -- including intelligent college acquaintances. The other day, I gave him a copy of Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village. The book, the best I have read all year, consists of interviews with aging peasantry in an English village.

Usually, we think of History as the doings of the great. When we think of England or Europe before the 20th century wars, we think of nobles and parliaments and cities. True, history was happening in the cities, but real life goes on in the poverty-stricken rural areas as well.

It's difficult to read, my Dad says, because the experiences of impoverished British farmers remind him of his childhood and early manhood in third-world Guatemala.

** * **

What must it be like to have no hope?