With the demise of BBEdit Lite, I’m looking for other free or under $20.00 basic HTML editors I can use with students. Taco HTML, from Taco Software is a free OS X HTML Editor. It has syntax coloring, an attractive, fairly self explanatory interface (a good thing, since there’s no built in Help). The basic HTML tags (paragraph, link, bold, italic, rules,line breaks, super and sub scipt, strikethrough) are available from a pop down “Quick Insert” menu. It supports syntax coloring, and new files open with the basic HTML tags required for any page already in place.

The Insert menu gives you access to more sophisticated tags, including Font, Image, Image Map, Table, List (ordered and unordered, but not definition), and Meta. The Insert menu also includes an Advanced Tag Insert command, which presents you with a clickable list of pretty much all the other standard HTML tags (it includes a “close tag” check box to automatically add the close tag where appropriate).

More sophisticated features include syntax coloring, a powerful multi-file Find, Code clips, which allow you to save bits of HTML (or text) and add them to a menu for convenient insertion. It also includes syntax checking, and Unicode support. There’s a nifty Color wizard in the Insert menu that either offers the hex code for a color, or lets you enter the hex code to see what color it describes. There’s also an Image Map wizard, with support for circle, polygon and rectangle slices.

Preferences, and a customizeable toolbar allow you to adjust Taco HTML to suit your person preferences, including support in the Preview command for a wide variety of browsers, and an ability to add others.

It’s an attractive, rather elegant little editor; I plan on using it for a while, but I think I can recommend it to students or others learning HTML on OS X, or those who want a good editor that’s affordable and not bloated. I wish it the developer had included spell checking (perhaps implementing the spell check so that it ignored any text between angles brackets).

The Rhetoric of Web Logs

Meg Hourihan, one of the creators of Blogger, and the author of Megnut, wrote on essay for O’Reilly Network on “What We’re Doing When We Blog.” Meg makes a number of intelligent, accurate observations about the nature of web logs, including emphasizing their “commonality.” She writes:

If we look beneath the content of web logs, we can observe the common ground all bloggers share—the format. The web log format provides a framework for our universal blog experiences, enabling the social interactions we associate with blogging. Without it, there is no differentiation between the myriad content produced for the Web.

Go read her excellent essay, then come back for my piffle, if you must.

Ms. Hourihan has begun to document the beginnings of a rhetoric of web logs. Now, lest you begin foaming at the mouth, at the use of “rhetoric” in reference to blogs, I would like to remind you that the true meaning of rhetoric is the art of persuasion using language, and that a rhetorician is a master of communication, using specific tools, techniques and methods.

Classical rhetorical theory divides the art of rhetoric into five parts (I’m cribbing wildly from Richard Lanham’s excellent A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991). The five parts of rhetoric are:

  •  Invention
  •  Arrangement
  •  Style
  •  Memory
  •  Delivery

Though Classical rhetoricians were largely interested in the spoken word, as any writer will tell you, these divisions, or “steps” if you will, work quite well for modern writing, or even blogging.

Ms. Hourihan, in her anatomy, has neatly presented us with the various attributes of the second part of the blogging ars rhetorica, the arrangement.

  •  The basic unit is the “post” rather than the paragraph or page.
  •  Posts are listed in reverse chronological order, with the newest at the top of the page.
  •  Posts are date-and-time stamped.
  •  Posts contain links, often to primary sources.
  •  Posts are archived, at regular intervals, often by virtue of the software used to create the formatted post and mount/upload it to a web server.
  •  Posts are associated with a permalink, allowing them to be linked to directly, specifically, and retrieved in isolation, from the archive.
  •  Writers’ email addresses are prominently featured, allowing immediate contact, and encouraging incorporation of emails into a post.

Much of the arrangment of a blog is taken care of by the wonderful tools, Radio, Blogger, MoveableType, that allow us to separate content, our words, from presentation. But the other parts of rhetoric are also slightly changed in blogs as well. Invention, for instance, relies in part on the role of the blogging and Internet community, since blogs depend on linking. Memory is moved largely outside the human cerebellum to silicon, as we utilize Google and other search engines, and bookmarks. Style is perhaps the least changed, since we are still using words and text, albeit presented on the flat-panel pixellated LCD. Delivery is entirely changed from the format used by Cicero; we upload and the ‘net disseminates for us. I’ll probably post more about the rhetoric of blogging as I come to grips with blogging rhetorical strategies, but Ms. Hourihan has already laid the groundwork.

Blogging and Nineteenth Century Pamphlets

Doc Searls points to this journalistic gem from Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times. You need to register to experience the full joy of Rutten’s “To Err Is Human, but to Think Out Loud,” but the meat of his assertion is this bit:

bloggers are basically a narcissistic throwback to an easily recognizable American type, the 19th century cranks who turned out mountains of self-published pamphlets.

The cranks had all sorts of idiosyncratic preoccupations—single tax schemes, silver-backed currency, vegetarianism and the metaphysical benefits of healthy bowels, for example.

I pontificated earlier about journalists not knowing their own history. Clearly, some of them don’t really know nineteenth century literature either. Let’s take a closer look at those nineteenth century pamphleteers, shall we?

There’s that crank Thoreau, with his nutty pamphlet “On Civil Disobedience,” or that goofy Twain guy writing about the abuses of King Leopold in the Congo (1905 is twentieth century, technically, but still . . .), or that goofy Victorian Thomas Carlyle. Aside from scholarly obsessions with nineteenth century pamphlets as primary source documents about the lives and thoughts of everyday cranks as well as the hundreds of household names who were engineers, theologians, artists, poets, essayists, abolitionists and feminists, it’s important to realize that pamphlets were published because they were popular. People, all kinds of people, read and wrote them. Sure, there were “cranks,” but the vast majority of authors were quite serious, and were perceived that way. The pamphlets were written often enough by “names” to have inspired one of the most successful and expensive literary forgery operations ever, largely executed by one Thomas J. Wise.

As a put-down, comparing bloggers to nineteenth century pamphleteers is less than effective, since so much of the intellectual life of the era was carried out via pamphlets, their publication in turn encouraged by the extensive correspondence between the authors, ultimately leading to several “schools” like the Transcendentalists in New England and the Tractarians in England. Both groups were strongly influenced by Milton, an avid pampleteer in the seventeenth century (writing, among other pamplets, Areopagitica on the freeedom of the press). Bloggers could do far worse in their search for a literary ancestor.

Pro and Amateur

Dave Winer and Glen Reynolds posted about a conversation regarding blogging they shared with a journalist. Since the context is not completely clear from their blogs, I’m going to hazard a guess that the distinction they each make between professional and amateur is really between journalists versus amateur blogging journalists, but I’m quite possibly wrong. In any case, their posts, and a coincidence I describe below, got me thinking about blogs and credentials, and the meanings of amateur and professional.

Yesterday Dave linked, kindly and unexpectedly, to this blog.

As you can probably imagine, I got a lot of hits, more than my site has ever had in a single day in the five years it’s been up (shocking, I know, but apparently there aren’t a lot of people interested in medieval Celtic literature). I also got mail, including four people inquiring about my credentials. Three were largely interested in my scholarly credentials, one in my geek cred. In other words, they wanted to know, am I a professional or an amateur?

Etymologically, amateur is derived from Latin, amator, or “lover.” Profession, from the verb profess, is derived from Latin via French, professus, to affirm openly, with the historical denotation of taking vows. There is an implication, pointed up by the third definition of amateur, that an amateur is not to be taken seriously. I think that’s an unfortunate error, both socially and linguistically (it is the third definition; check out the word history note).

Now, if I were applying for a job, sure, I’d think credentials are important since they provide public external validation. But this is a public “opinionated” blog. You don’t have to read it, or believe anything I say.

It seems to me that the quality of the data, the information itself, is more important than knowing the “credentials” of the poster. It’s pretty clear when I’m offering my opinion, and I am just careful on the web to include citations in the form of links to the sites I’m quoting, using as sources, or just pointing to for more information, as I am about documenting my sources in conventional publishing via footnotes and bibliographic citations. Frankly, I think there’s not a whole lot of difference between a link and a foot note or an in text citation. Maybe because I’m a medievalist, I tend to see links as akin to footnotes, glosses, and annotations, and the web, like manuscripts or codex books, as just another kind of container for text and other data. The link back strikes me as normal courteous scholarly behavior.

Certainly there are learned skills (just ask your local information professional, the librarian) involved in evaluating sources, in being able to decide if a source, whether a person, a blog or book, is “good.” But credentials don’t really indicate an individual’s data worthiness, or ability to provide “authenticated,” data is better than someone else’s.