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.

July 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
Saturday, 31 Jul 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I am going crazy. The last few days, I have been burying myself in academic research. The titles all go like this:

Catchy Whatever: The blah of something in the blah blah something of that after when something blah.

I am sick of it. Sick of IT!!!!

Such titles are fine for undergraduates, but come on folks. You're academics. You're supposed to be capable of thought!

If there were a really good reason for it, I would be happy. True, the title/subtitle allows you to combine a hook and a descriptive subtitle. But surely, that's not the only way to do things.

Titles seem to go in fads. A hundred-fifty years ago, a good title might read:

The truth unveiled;
A calm and impartial exposition of
the origin and immediate cause
of the
terrible riots in Philadelphia
on May 6th, 7th, and 8th, A.D. 1844.
By a Protestant and native Philadelphian.

Sure, you laugh at that title. Why? Why not?

Just know, I'm laughing at your titles too. And The Chronicle is laughing along. A recent article denounced the plague of subtitles run amok in academic circles.

I hereby renounce the use of the colon in titles except when absolutely, undeniably necessary. The following titles are among the last you will see me pen/type/think.

(as a side note, I'm also going to flee lists as much as possible)

FHQWHGADS: Studies in postmodern uncraft as pop-culture re-expression defense against irony.

The Man, The Machine, and The Magic Chef: Narratives of technological change and gender placement in postwar American kitchens.

Here's Looking at You, Kid: Panopticism, data mining, and the illusion of privacy after the Dot-Com Bust.

Truth, Trust, and the Textual Camera: Nonfiction on the Web (yes. I admit it. I am actually writing this paper)

Dialectic Narratives: Materialist theory and Baudrillardist hyperreality

Forgetting Marx: Neocultural dematerialism, the semantic paradigm of consensus and feminism

Yes, the last two were from elsewhere. So long as you're looking at the site, you may as well get your discordian tarot reading as well.

Seriously, if you have a thoughtful reason for us all to use those silly title/subtitles, email me at I would d love to understand the reason.

Guatemalan Children
Friday, 30 Jul 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

The other day, I ran across a set of stock photos from Guatemala, my father's homeland. I couldn't resist picking up this photo of three beautiful Guatemalan children.

Three Guatemalan children in the colorfully-woven clothing of the native peoples shyly smile at the camera.

I miss Guatemala, even though I have spent so little time there.

The UI Of Mirrors
Friday, 30 Jul 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Thursday, my rearview mirror fell off.

Mirror Zoom through a lit tunnel

Driving with no rearview mirror is weird. The mirror is such a big part of the driving UI that it has blended into my assumptions of reality. I feel disoriented --like the world has twisted apart-- when I see only what is ahead.

** * **

The tools we build impact our psyche in ways we do not realize. This is why UI design is very important. The progress of software design is not just about selling or doing -- it's about the basic nature of human thought in the computer age.

Fascinating, exciting, and yes: very frightening.

Apple 0wn0rz Me
Wednesday, 28 Jul 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I sent my iBook in Monday.

It came back this afternoon.


** * **

(since this is overwriting my hand-edited posts, I'll explain)

My iBook died right before I left on vacation a few weeks ago. Then, by the time I got to call them, it was this Monday before the box was on my doorstep.

I missed my iBook. I missed it sorely.

** * **

Apple told me it would take at least 2 weeks to replace the logic board (again).

They sure do know how to surprise a guy. Every time they give me an estimate, they beat it by at least a week.

Good marketing. It works. I'm happy :-)

Steal from the Poor to Feed the Rich
Monday, 5 Jul 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I'm breaking my fast for an impassioned statement:

My governor just approved the installation of 61,000 slot machines in PA. If all goes well, one third of the taxes from the slot machines will be enough to cut each individual home-owner's property taxes by several hundred dollars!

What's going on here? This is insane! Tax cuts are one thing -- in the short term, I wouldn't mind if my friends paid fewer taxes. But where is this money coming from?

The people I know at the factory down the street, people who rent, who try hard just to survive, who buy lottery tickets every day, hoping to make it big because they are barely making do. The two, three-hundred dollars they already spend on Pennsylvania Lottery tickets could help pay those medical bills, start pulling them out of debt, or go toward retirement.

Instead, it's lining the pockets of people who already have enough cash to buy a house.

** * **

It takes a lot for politics to make me upset, but this idea is evil.

If you think torturing prisoners in Iraq is wrong, you're right. But do the math. Try to figure out how much pain, sorrow, heartache, and death the slot machines will cause? You can only torture so many people inside prison walls. Put a slot machine out there, and the effect ripples like an insipid poison, infecting whole families through the involvement of one person.

Gambling causes unthinkable collateral damage.

Gambling is a great way to trample the necks of our fellow humans, keep them suppressed. Do we tell them to aspire to education, to responsibility, or to hard work? Of course not! We tell them to blow their paycheck at the corner store or down at the racetrack.

In order to secure the comfort of affluent homeowners, we tell the poor that the best way to get financial comfort is through chance.

Then we turn around and say that alll this positive because property owners need tax relief!?!?!?!

"A little gambling never hurt anyone. It's fun!"

Yeah. For you. Maybe you don't think you're rich. Maybe you cringe when you see your Internet bill. But you don't have to cringe when you see the grocery bill, do you?

If gambling is fun, so is debt. So is addiction. So is a life of constantly crushed hopes, a life of learned paralysis. So is looking at your small daughter shivering in the cold for lack of proper clothing, and playing the odds because you love her -- not realizing that a gambling-free life might have bought her the coat she needs.

** * **

You can say all you want about politics. You can talk to me about tax cuts, about funding for programs and the budget crisis. Talk. Not a lot of people will disagree with you. The people claiming to be the voice of the poor have just stabbed them in the back. Watch. The blood has already stained their teeth.

Fine. Make the poor pay for the frivolities of complacent, wasteful middle class suburban Pennsylvanians -- for whom the latest movie is more important than their brothers and sisters in poverty. Give them a break. They deserve one. After all, gas is expensive for the SUV and the '89 mustang. They need some backup for their 401k.

Who needs terrorists when we're happy to destroy the lives of our own people for a few more bucks?

Typing Fast
Monday, 5 Jul 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Now that I have ended fulltime work, I am now going to type much less. I'm entering research mode.

The pain has mostly subsided, but small vestiges linger. Can I truly escape all of RSI's effects? I hope so.

Unless earthshatteringly-cool things happen -- like finally falling in love or getting conference proposals accepted -- this blog will be erratic or subdued for the next two weeks.

The painful hands of J. Nathan Matias --taken the night before diagnosis of RSI

Sorry, Aslan's graceful adventurer. The answer will take a lot of thought. It involves a quarter I keep sealed in solid plastic, a wallet full of receipts, a missing bus driver, and a sunlit orb afloat in a sunrise vineyard Saturday.

Legs N' Spandex
Saturday, 3 Jul 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Some of my best guy friends shave their legs. We all wear spandex regularly.

In public.

What can I say? It's true.

** * **

You hope, somewhere deep down, they're going to say it.

At first introduction, they look down before they look at your face.

"Nice legs"

See, what kind of legs he (or she) has gives you a good indication of the ride ahead. Will it be a fast ride? Or pain, pain pain? Is the evening is going to drag?

The Legs of J. Nathan Matias
** * **

I have always had big legs. I chalk it up to being short. I need to have more muscle mass to keep up. Since I don't race any more, muscle isn't a huge concern. Fat is.

I never got around to shaving my legs. I ought to do it if I keep riding.

I mean, it's not *that* odd , right? Shaving my legs would reduce my chance of infection if I crash. When I was hit by a car a few years back, much of the skin on the lower part of one side of my left leg was wiped out. The hair remained. When my leg finally scabbed, my hair was matted in with the scabs.

I had to pull the hairs out.


** * **

Today, I rode 80 miles. At the halfway point was Harrisburg's American Music Festival. I leaned back onto the bike and listened for a while to some quasi-Ecuadorian, American Indian Newageish Irish music. It was not the place for a straight bachelor type in spandex.

So I didn't hang around. Instead, I rode a few more hours. The water bottle level dropped drastically during a long 30mph pull up an endlessly false flat. A supermarket appeared on the horizon. I stopped to buy Gatorade.

"Hey! I didn't know you rode bike!" It was Prof Ronning. She scoped me out.

"Yup. I've been riding for a few hours. I figure I'll put in 80 miles today."

Meeting people I know is always awkward and weird -- everyone remembers me as this quietly reserved, focused academic type. They're not used to seeing small muscles bulge underneath a spandex uniform.

When people tell me I am too thin, I reply, "Auugh! I need to lose weight!" They never understand. But to a cyclist's eye, I should probably lose 10 pounds.

Lose weight Nathan!

Don't believe me? Look at Bobby Julich's Legs.

  • * **

Bobby placed ninth in today's time trial. I hope he does well this Tour. He's a real gentleman. I remember buying old Credit Agricole arm warmers from him; he donated the money to a blood bank. I wouldn't even mind if he won the Tour. He can do it.

Friday, 2 Jul 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

Yesterday, the student employees began to invade my office space with boxes of marketing materials. Soon, I couldn't even see over the boxes. Outside, dropcloths, masking tape, and paintbrushes.

Rollers and Paintcans -- Elizabethtown College Admissions Office

The new paint color matches the college brochures perfectly! Sarah did a great job of choosing, and the others are doing a great job of painting.

All this activity reminds me of my very first job -- working in the paint department of a community hardware store. The pay was low, but the people were awesome. J.B. Hostetter's and Sons was the best place I ever worked.

I miss the hardware store. The job combined chemistry with art and design. I learned to respect the hard work of construction workers, of painters, electricians, and plumbers. There is a camaraderie in human labor that I miss in the professional and academic circles.

Quiet, hardworking Lancaster County men and women run deep. I miss the hardware store.

Paint paint paint. Art for everyone. Bright colors celebrate joy.

Friends, thanks for reminding me.

** * **
Elizabethtown College Office of Admissions -- Repainting and minding the phones
Hash Slash Bin Bash - Home, Writing, shhhh
Thursday, 1 Jul 2004 :-: ["Permalink"]

I had a good argument last night. It was four hours long, full of passion, ego, uncertainty, and pain.

I would do it again.

See, we were talking about writing. Underconfident yet intensely fond of her work, she clung fiercely to her words. She wondered if they were enough. She wondered why people criticized them so much, why the criticisms differed so much.

Danger Will Robinson: she asked my opinion.

Rule number one. If you want to keep your relationship, don't critique a close friend who aspires to fiction.

I am not very good at keeping rules.

Yes, we got on each others' nerves. We had misunderstandings. Playful jabs became unintended daggers lodged in the unnoticed chinks of tentative minds.

** * **

For some reason, I have --in the space of less than a year-- become very confident in my writing. I have found confidence to be something completely different than I thought it would be. Confidence doesn't lie in a realization that I'm good. Rather, it comes by actually, at some point, writing something I truly enjoy reading -- even if it's only a paragraph or two. For the first time, I started smiling at my own text.

This was huge. For me, it involved:

  • Knowing what to write. It seems obvious in narrative nonfiction, but it's not. A good eye for drama is necessary.
  • Writing. A bottom-up kind of programmer, I was trying to top-down engineer my writing. I have since settled somewhere in-betwee. Tinderbox helps me write what comes to mind before I have the big picture. The big picture can gate-crash the party later. If the pieces are good, and they connect tightly, I know the big picture will show up. (my upcoming Tekka article deals with this) This keeps me from becoming over-philosophical or 19th century Romantic.
  • Knowing when something is inadequate [ like my Tekka article. Please send feedback, O committee, so I can revise.]
  • Knowing what makes it inadequate so I can fix it. In code, running a debugger helps us find where the problem ocurred. Studying Literature has given me a good mental debugger for text.
  • Fixing it. Editing for me feels like debugging, except I rewrite much more than I would with code. Tracy Kidder rewrites multiple times, until, as he says, the prose is "as clear as a pane of glass." I firmly believe that the creative process is the editing process. This is where things tie together.

I know I have done something good in the past, and I have at least a sense of how to get there again. Thus, my confidence in writing is fairly high. I'm never at a loss, and never at the point where I know it's good, but nobody else thinks so.

** * **

We banged heads. We threw excerpts, ideas, philosophies, and books at each other. I quoted writers, she quoted writers. I even rewrote a section of her work:

"Hsssst." The pnuematic lift retracted. Joli heard the hiss beckon from two hundred feet away. The baby kicked inside. "Fetus," they had called her child.

Joli squirmed, her sweat clinging to the hospital gown. The hallway of mirrors was broken only by an occasional doorway or another hall. They were dim, and they flashed by so quickly. Who lived inside The effect was surreal. A cacophony of reflection passed endlessly backwards as the nurses trundled her stretcher over the frighteningly-smooth floor. The doctors walked alongside, eyes fixed ahead. The reflection of their focused march seemed to be the only stationary image in a mirror world that never seemed to stop.

My friend ripped into my rewrite like the pro she is. She would do it differently, of course

Now it was personal -- I was stepping onto her territory, trying to portray her vision.

But it worked. In the end, both of us learned a good number of things about writing.

The battle was good. We both learned. We're still friends.