No big posts today…

30 June 2005

Nothing new today, sorry – I’ve got a few posts in the cupboard but have been busy hacking together My First WordPress Plugin. Don’t get excited. It really is no great shakes, just provides a handy template function that should have been there anyway, but I’m quite pleased I’ve managed to stick to someone else’s standards and write something oh-so-tidy. I’m about halfway through documenting it and preparing all the publicity material. Watch this space…

New-look comments

29 June 2005

When I redesigned this site, I got so fed up after fourteen days of wrangling with XHTML, CSS, and WordPress that I just kept the comments design from my old MT site – it was grayscale, it didn’t clash, it did. But it wasn’t quite what I intended. I’ve now updated how comments are listed, so you might need to refresh your stylesheet if individual pages look weird. And yes, I coded it by hand myself; it may look like other products on the market, but I stole not a sausage. Besides, I’m thinking of redesigning the whole shebang anyhow.

Update: well, it doesn’t quite look right in IE6 (negative margin not handled properly) but it looks functional, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Remember to refresh that stylesheet!

Full transcript of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon. It’s very good, and balances the celebration of education completed (and ongoing) with filling graduates with perhaps not terror, but certainly trepidation.

What Sudoku isn’t

28 June 2005

I like Sudoku. I quite enjoy Sudoku, as, it seems, does a vast proportion of the British population. Various people have, in recent weeks, used up an awful lot of newsprint trying to look at why it’s so popular, trying to out-Sudoku rival publications, and none of it seems very satisfactory. I mean, they bang on about how it appeals to both men and women – as opposed to chess problems, which are primarily male, and cryptic crosswords, which in my experience appeals equally (and usually equally little) to both men and women, but I think they’re missing the point.

The reason it’s popular is that it isn’t a game. It’s an exercise.

Continue reading this post…

When I was on holiday in Spain I read Pat Kane’s The Play Ethic. It was one of the first non-fiction books I’ve read in years. I picked it up off the pile of free, unreviewed books at work, mainly because it looked interesting and thought it might tie into my grand-overarching ideas about histories of play and gameplay.

I was right. And it was also a lot more than that; if anything, it reassured me of my path and approach to life, offered some advice, and also steered me away from some things.

Now, as it was a non-fiction book I was reading relatively seriously, I decided to take notes – or at least as best I could in the succession of bars I read it in, pen in hand, tapas fork in the other. Unfortunately I became slightly too absorbed as I got into it and the notes fade away – although I do now remember underlining a fair bit in pencil, which I probably ought to aggregate with the rest. So a more formal set of notes on the Play Ethic – and, indeed, me jogging my memory to all the bits I found most interesting – is still upcoming.

But there was one paragraph, a third of the way through – after the notes in my Moleskine have all but dried up – that was good enough to write down.

Somewhere, in the space created by some facility of the next generation of mobile and wireless devices, there will be a need for people to organize their random societal paths into some useful, effective flows (represented at the moment by the blogging movement), waiting for some general crisis of meaning or purpose to bring it all together in a flash.

Kane mentions blogging but I think he means more; for me, his description calls to mind almost all forms of social software I’ve used (or can think of). The “crisis of meaning” isn’t a crisis of information-overload that can be solved by RSS; it’s a larger crisis, I believe, which leads to a realisation not only that all this information is important, too big, and must be read all at once, but also that it must all talk to each other. And I’m not sure that some uber-social-software will solve that; rather, it seems to be the language of communication, a framework for bringing knowledge together, that Kane anticipates. He’s essentially describing a world built not on the web but on web services; Web 2.0, the Semantic Web, whatever that whole concept is called this week.

Social software, along these lines, facilitates a drawing-together of knowledge – shared or personal. And this sharing is playful, just like the first networks we form as children. The more I think about this, the more I come to this conclusion: social software is inherently playful. Ludicorp, who we all know from flickr and Game Neverending demonstrated that explicitly – but there are so many other companies, products in this sphere that all are playful – full of play – in their own way. Some of them may agree more than others on that point.

Why is play such a useful idiom for social software, and indeed social networks? Perhaps it’s a trust thing. As we play, we begin to trust our playmates, as well as the tools and toys of our play. And trust leads to relaxation – calm found in the state of play – and so we end up choosing to play more often. The Xbox marketing team were having a surprisingly good day when they added that vital final word (signifying not only the market-leading Live service, but a crucial rhetoric for any player) to the console’s slogan:

it’s good to play together.

Clayton James Cubitt posted an interview with Tom Carden to his own weblog yesterday. Clayton and Tom collaborated on a photo-shoot for Metropop magazine, Clayton taking the photographs and manipulating the final images, and Tom supplying generative art created in Processing to be merged with Clayton’s images. It’s an most interesting interview, from an artist as interested in his collaborator as he hopes the article’s audience will be. [via Blackbeltjones]

MIT Weblog Survey

26 June 2005

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

It’s an interesting survey. You’ll see why when you take it. I’m looking forward to the results of this one; there’s also some pretty neat UI design and programming going on behind the scenes, including what looks like a whole pile of asynchronous stuff on what – for me, anyhow – was the most interesting page.

Hallelujah – at last, some decent notes on Javascript courtsey of Peter-Paul Koch at Quirksmode. Will peruse when I have a moment or two.

I’m going to this talk on “The Slacker Ethic” at the ICA tonight. I’m really interested in the topic, and it’ll be interesting to see the panel discussion – after all, they represent three very differing approaches to slowing-down one’s life. Richard Reeves is chairing the event and given his past writing I think he’ll probably have some useful input – as well as being the ideal person to guide the talk.

Pat Kane is on the panel, and I hugely enjoyed his Play Ethic whilst on holiday. My notes are still in my Moleskine; I’ll try and type them up tonight, as well as my notes from the talk. There’s lots of stuff gestating nicely upstairs along this lines – hopefully the event will spur me on. I’ll post again, hopefully tomorrow but certainly by the weekend, with some notes and thoughts.

Linda Stone on Attention at Supernova 2005; practically transcribed over at the O’Reilly Radar.