Note: Please read this document from top to bottom, pausing to click on each link as you reach it.

Hypertext. Sounds sort of like what we'd be reading in the future while we travel through hyperspace on our hyper-assisted ships and drink, ah, hyper-cola to attain a state of hyper-refreshment. I've heard a good many people sing the praises of hypertext and just as many who really hate it to death.* Well, being the arrogant sort of person who believes that you actually care what I think about a particular topic, here's my hat. See it? It's a nice hat. I'm tossing it right into the ring.

My association with hypertext began long, long before I had access to the web * and thus had no idea that it was slowly building the foundation upon which our on-line porn industry would be set. During this period I had just made a move upwards (conceptually) from the fixed architecture of my Commodore 64 system to my first 'real' machine: a Commodore Amiga. To me this was like being a child set loose in a candy store, armed with a really, really big shirt in which to hide things. My confectionery-seeming glee with the Amiga just grew and grew when I finally acquired some internet access (though no web yet) via my university's shell account, JR Comm (if you're an Amiga user, you'll recall that little daddy) and the magic of Z-modem transfer.* In the course of my rampant Aminet FTP suckage, I got my hands on a very strange little text editor, something called a Hypertext editor. Being me, and proving that in spite of trying to cast off stereotypes I do have some 'typical male behaviour' simmering in me, I tried to use this package before actually reading the nicely provided and oft-missed readme file. When I did finally read the f***ing manual, however, the concept of the editor was quite incredible. * The notion of creating documents which were specifically designed to be navigated in an arbitrary fashion absolutely fired my imagination. As with most early technologies, the neatness factor outweighed the practical considerations of actually using this hypertext deely.

After all, what real good was hypertext? It was clearly not intended to replace ordinary vanilla text files. Readme files couldn't really be written in it until it had attained more of a popularity (and docs are where hypertext should be). The few friends with whom I had email conference at this period (my true association with email wouldn't begin until much later) all had different computer systems and thus couldn't use this stand-alone hypertext format... well, if I couldn't find an external use for hypertext, I would use it for an internal purpose.

And so my third real attempt to keep a Dougie Howser was born. * My attempts to keep diaries are generally doomed to end in failure.* Had I been more proficient in using navigatable text, I think I'd be keeping it to this day. To me, the use of hypertext really made the whole method of transferring the thoughts of a lateral thinker into a textual format which actually matched his thinking style a whole lot easier. To put it another way, with this navigatable text editor, I discovered that I was no longer required to think of text as a simple top to bottom, linear style -- I was actually able to Tesser * through a page, stepping sideways in narrative to pursue alternate trains of thought which just couldn't be fit into a linear format, but which were part of the sum total of my ramblings. I was hooked. And you know how being hooked is good for keeping you positive when something you love gets harder to use!

Jumping randomly through text is not at all a new concept. Going back just a little ways, the fantasy game-books of the 80s employed a non-linear style to tell a story which was affected by the reader's choices and decisions. To go back much further, footnotes and references are a seminal (if primitive) form of navigatable text. What hypertext does is to make the process of jumping text as painless as possible, so long as the text's author has made sure to link everything together properly. While this may seem to be a weakness, this is no more so than calling the textual form itself weak simply because an author has to keep track of form and style when writing down his or her thoughts.

So, why haven't my rambles been posted in hypertext, tesseract, fifth-dimensional, ooh-scary-with-the-blood-rain format till now? Largely it's a combination of forgetfulness and just not thinking about it, I'm afraid, though I think I may go back to this format in the future. Another, more real problem is that many of my rambles won't make sense if they aren't read with all links followed -- and many people will skip links to read the whole.

After asking the last question, it so follows that I should ask: why don't more people use this format for their home-pages? I've wondered that myself. In a sense, web pages these days have evolved into a much more visual form than simply text. Be this good or be this bad, this evolution has changed how we view served-up-pages. Pages also contain much more information than they used to. Hypertext (using my conceptual model of how it's used) is really good for navigation within a single document on a single topic. Using my conception of hypertext, when you reach a web page you would really only be using the provided links 'go here'... 'go back'... 'jump here'... etc. You would never use off-page functions like back-arrow or other meta-navigation tools. These days, though, a web-surfer will often want to read many topics on a page (since so many pages are jam-packed with Stuff) and so will want to be able to move through a document logically. Logical navigation of a document involves seeing a certain page (usually the index page) as a 'base' page and returning to it often (generally using back arrow meta-navigation) so as to reach the next topic of interest. Using my model of hypertext involves letting the document's system of links lead you through the document to an eventual end. This isn't a flaw in the notion of the web page... on the contrary, to me it's a strength.

Well, back to put my nose to the grindstone. Hope to see you linking madly through the forest of virtual trees that form our online community.

Back to ramblings

Back to the main page.

Those who hunt hypertext

I know a good many people who really despise HTML in general and this attitude sometimes extends to hypertext. Generally I can understand this attitude, but at the same time, I don't share it. I've learned to love the bomb for what it can do for me.

Also, on the subject of purism vs modernism in web programming, I take a neutral stance. I do love pages that are easily readable in a text-based browser, but things like frames and images just aren't as evil as they used to be. My biggest annoyance is when people put up superfluous technologies on their sites and then refuse you access to their sites based on your lacking them. It won't kill you to code a NOFRAME version of your piece of cra--art, mon ami. You can write a scriptless version of your beautiful corner of the web. And for the love of Grud, please never require Flash for entry to your site. Some of us have low bandwidths and want what information we can find on your homespace, but we simply do not want to see all the pretty peectures. Please, keep your advocacy of cutting edge to the client's side and not the server side, hmm?


Access to the web and what existed before it

Yes, kiddies, the Internet existed before the World Wide Web. I was a relative late-comer to the pre-ubiquitous Internet, but when I showed up we originally only had email. Which wasn't really all that great when you didn't know anyone else with whom you could exchange email, so I mostly used it for Listserver purposes. Then we Digivolved to... gaining FTP access, Gopher access and newsgroup access.

When I finally heard about the WWW, I did find myself wishing that I could be on it. After a lot of grumbling from the student body, we were permitted to have access to Nav and Lynx. At this time we were connecting entirely through shell accounts, recall, so there wasn't a whole lot we could do that wasn't text-based. One day remind me to ramble about my early experiments with multi-sessions and Tia. Eventually we stepped up to PPP access, which was just blazing on my system, though I stayed with shell-based accountages for email, newsgroups and IRC, as those were what I knew and was comfortable with. I reaaaaally wanted a home-page because honestly all the other kids had them, but we weren't allowed university home pages until I was in my last year, so I put together a little server on my Mac, had a friend write a 'find me' script and basically put up a mobile home page. That need has long since passed, but good grief did we ever have fun trying to get around our limitations in those days.


Zmodem transfer and how my Amiga Sucked

My greatest toy on the Amiga was FTP. I used to visit the university library every night after my homework was done and setting onto one of their terminals for a few hours, just browsing FTP sites (Aminet mostly, since I was on an Amiga, duh) and tracking down software to diskette. I'd then go home and try out all my *great* new software on the Amiga. It breathed new life into my machine and kept the Amiga alive long after Commodore stopped supporting it. Later on I learned how to use Z-modem (the best transfer protocol ever invented, IMHO) to do all this Suckage from my residence room, but afterwards it was never quite the same. It used to be that going for my FTP Jones was an event... I'd head down to the library, see what was new there, be out in public, focus just on that... even though I was glad to have full room service, there was just something missing once I learned how to move my new toy to the comfort of my own home.


What the old Hypertext editor really does

Basically this little doo-dad would let you construct a text-file that was navigatable, with links, images for documentation and so on. It was sort of a mutant step between a desktop publishing program and a web-site.


What is a Dougie Howser and how do I kill it?

A Dougie Howser is a computerized diary of some kind. The joke comes from the old TV program Dougie Howser M.D., in which the title character kept a journal on his computer and made entries in it at the end of every show. It was the early equivalent of Sailor Moon Says, sad to say.


Why I can't keep a diary.

I used to be such a perfectionist. When I started to fall behind in my writing I'd abandon a project. I've gotten over that since. Some people haven't. I don't like that.


A Wrinkle in Text

If you haven't read A Wrinkle In Time in your childhood then consider yourself deprived. This book did far more for expanding my mind into new and wonderful places than many other children's books ever could have. I count WiT along with Space Cat, several Sci Fi anthologies I got at far too young an age and a few other books as the reason that my mind warped early on. A Wrinkle in Time is a beautiful book which posits the notion of fifth-dimensional space in a way that even young adults can understand it. It also verbs the term 'tesseract' into 'tesser' which means, literally, 'to commit an act of tesseracting'. This verbing does far more than you might imagine; in truth, it gives the child who's beginning to consume science fiction the notion that space is far more malleable than s/he might imaging and that further, it is possible through one's own action to actually affect that space. This may seem like a minor thing but please keep in mind that at this point in a child's development, they are just beginning to learn that they have an effect upon the world about them. To be allowed to develop the notion that not only is space not as linear as their empirical observations would tell them but also that they can take advantage of this if only they have the right key... well it's a mind-blowing concept and bound to affect how a child sees the world from then on. Especially when it comes to things like the web, which subvert the traditions concepts of linear space and patterns.

Or maybe I'm just high.