Theory and Practice
The first day of Tinderbox Weekend here in San Francisco was mostly about theory. I started off with the "director's commentary" for NeoVictorian Computing, looking at how my thinking on programming and software design has been shaped by the ways people use Tinderbox. Big surprises:
- Writing for small audiences — including writing for yourself — is much harder and much more interesting than anyone thought.
- Tinderbox users take to inheritance with surprising aplomb. Composition is hard, agents can be hard, but inheritance — which I thought would be a big headache — is not.
- Even though Tinderbox doesn't insist that you make class objects, people tend to like them.
- Representational salience is difficult. You can't tag a note to describe its meaning; there's too much meaning in even small notes or isolated images, and more meaning pours in as soon as you place one idea next to another.
- Still, while you can't add metadata to describe the note's meaning as a whole, you can sometimes describe what the note means to you. And that, sometimes, is enough.
Michael Fitzhugh did a star turn on Tinderbox and the reporter's notebook. Keeping track of experts in all sorts of field is just part of the Business beat. Keeping track of story ideas is essential, too. So you've got to have a completely inhomogenous data store with all sorts of objects — sources, budgets, stories, pitches, beats — all of which may need to be connected, and all of which need to be findable. The Tinderbox framework Fitzhugh has evolved for himself is fairly simple, I think, but it evolves gracefully as he needs it: I think this is a much more pleasant solution than unpacking a complex solution someone else wrote, where you pretty much need to adapt your practice to the toolkit.
Bill Humphries has a nifty look at Second Life. "What would it mean to blog from Second Life?", he asked. And then he showed how simple it could be: a little tool your character carries around says, "I'm blogging this", and when you tell it to, it emails Tinderbox with your character's world coordinates, a screenshot, and a short blog post. Again, off the shelf tools in Second Life and Tinderbox let you glue the tools together to do unexpected things.
Finally, Cathy Marshall did a wonderful retrospective on spatial hypertext, and probes the fascinating question of how we are going to keep track of all our digital artifacts. We have a lot of stuff on our disks. We don't need to throw anything out. You take maybe ten photos a day, get an album or two a week, read a book and a couple of magazines every month, you're just getting started. Do this for a decade, you've got maybe 100,000 things. How do you find stuff? How do you know what you've got? How do you know what you don't have — the dog that isn't barking? Perhaps spatial hypertext tools like Tinderbox can work on this scale, too.
And now, back to work. Sunday is all about practice, technique, and details. How to pick things up and do them in Tinderbox, starting with a tour of the latest (and next) batch of new features. Show time!