Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

Men made it, but they can’t control it

Thinking about HTML tables this week. Not only because I’m going to be talking to a class about that very topic soon, but because it seems that we are in the HTML tables phase of technology’s next big Internet-driven cycle (it would seem): AI and language learning models.

Anyway, what do I mean by that? We’re forcing it, basically. We are using the technology of AI in a clunky way. It is unrefined and depends on hacks, rather than going with the grain of the technology. When the technology recedes into the background, becomes more minimal, and less intrusive, than we may truly be on to something. Until then, I can’t help but feel like we’re using tables for layout.


Read through The End of the Googleverse. The web has been reported dead before. The Post-Google world is more interesting to me than not.

Speaking of Google, I could take a look at their NotebookLM, which I was surprised (and kind of pleased) to find had at its helm Steven Johnson, the co-founder of Feed and writer of many books including Interface Culture.

Notably, much like the web, what’s absent from the next wave of AI tools are any sort of concept of transclusion. Ted Nelson never quite cracked that technological nut, and we are so well past it that nobody even thinks about it anymore.

Bleak House continues, Chapters 31 through 37. Much is revealed and we are quite expeditiously arriving at the point at which it will all collapse. Lady Deadlock has made herself known to Esther. Richard has fallen to the Jardynce sickness. Tachyhorn is onto Deadlock. And the world continues to simply turn, in a way only Dickens can describe:

Now there is a sound of putting up shop-shutters in the court and a smell as of the smoking of pipes; and shooting stars are seen in upper windows, further indicating retirement to rest. Now, too, the policeman begins to push at doors; to try fastenings; to be suspicious of bundles; and to administer his beat, on the hypothesis that every one is either robbing or being robbed.

On to The Grapes of Wrath. If I could write like any author, oh man would I want it to be Steinbeck. There is so much pathos in every passage of the book. Every word choice is perfect.

Yes, but the bank is only made of men. No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.

Harrowing, and true, and poignant. But also, the rhythm of that excerpt is right on point.


Fully caught up to Only Murders in the Building

Octavia Butler on writing:

The first, of course, is to read. It’s surprising how many people think they want to be writers but they don’t really like to read books… The second is to write, every day, whether you like it or not. Screw inspiration….

Forget about inspiration, because it’s more likely to be a reason not to write, as in, “I can’t write today because I’m not inspired.” I tell them I used to live next to my landlady and I told everybody she inspired me. And the most valuable characteristic any would-be writer can possibly have is persistence. Just keep at it, keep learning your craft and keep trying.