Nov 05 30 2005


Last night, the meal I'd planned to make turned out to be impossible; the grocery didn't have the meat I needed. So I rolled with the punches and made the latest entry from Chocolate and Zucchini: Soupe de Céleri et Patates Douces au Gingembre.

This leapt to mind, because I had a little more than a cup of good chicken stock left -- stock I froze after making Butternut Squash Soup for Karen K. last month. Because we'd used a bunch of stock for the thanksgiving stuffing, there wasn't enough left for squash soup. Unlike most soups I make, it only takes 40 minutes. This thick sweet-potato soup seemed just the ticket.

It was: the celery root is a great idea. And the ginger is just enough. I added a dollop of crème fraîche to each bowl; it was great. I could try one of Clotilde's recipes every day.

If I did try one of Clotilde's recipes every day, and wrote about the experience here, this would be an example of a vow blog. Diet Blogs are probably the quintessential vow blog. Weblog tributes to friends and ancestors are vow blogs, too, like this lovely weblog about my aunt Nancy Starrels, who never saw a blog herself. Nanowrimo blogs are vow blogs, of course. You have hours to go in National Novel Writing Month.

Like "pair programming", it seems to me that Collaborative Plotting For Large Groups takes a delightful but solitary experience and makes it into a dreadful social affair. But Martin Spernau's thoughts on how to organize a large live-action roleplaying event might make an intriguing Tinderbox application.

I'm currently reading the correspondence between H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw . Their efforts to coax the Fabian Society into something useful and beneficial have the same feeling: both men wanted to write but felt they really ought to spend part of their time putting this nascent party or movement on a sound footing. The two often opposed each other, usually with great energy; Shaw is frankly gleeful at recounting how he had just out-maneuvered, demolished, and humiliated Wells in a debate, with helpful advice as to where Wells had blundered and what Wells should have said.

The good thing about declarative languages like CSS is that they let you declare what you want the machine to do, leaving the details of implementation to the machine. "Put the narrow column on the left," you say. "Leave a one-inch strip at the top for a headline."

The devil, as always, is in the details.

What happens if two rules conflict? CSS has sensible rules about rules. If two rules both apply to the same situation, the winning rule is the most specific rule. That makes sense. It lets you say, "I generally want the text to be Verdana" and also "the headline at the top of the page should be set in Apex Extra Bold Italic Small Caps". And if two rules are equally specific, the later rule overrides the earlier one. Great.

The shoe pinches, though, when you find a small problem and fix it. Some piece of the page doesn't look quite right, so you add a rule to fix that piece. Now that piece looks right. Great! There was one thing they had forgotten: you just added a new, more specific rule. And, once in a while, that rule is goint to override a general rule you need to fix one of Microsoft Internet Explorer's CSS bugs.

And that's how I'm spending my morning. Thanks for asking.

Recommended Reading: Tantek Celik on CSS and the Pandora's Box Model

Later this month, a quick trip to Brussels will mean an overnight visit to Heathrow. We arrive in time for a late supper, but probably not early enough to drop off our bags, take the train into London, eat, and return to Heathrow.

Is there an interesting, or good, option for dinner near Heathrow? Email me.

by Michael Bywater

A delightful, hilarious, and moving book. (I've read a slew of Bywater's bug reports on Tinderbox -- see the chapter on Gadgets in this volume -- but nothing in them led me to expect such inventive hilarity. Clearly, the bug report does not give one sufficient literary scope. Who knew?)

From the title, I'd expected a recitation of the wonderful things that people had killed off, torn down, thrown away, or otherwise neglected. Something like Douglas Adams' Last Chance To See. But Bywater's book is nothing like that.

This is a dictionary of lost things. The things are usually abstract: the phrase "old chap", the distinction between "poof" and "queer", the old Nottingham accent, the smell of Paris, Mister Golly. Others are more concrete, such as neighborhood shops (in which to leave one's belongings), handkerchiefs (to lose in those lost shops, or to fold inappropriately -- which would be common, except that being common has gotten lost, too), gloves (see handkerchiefs) Dunwich, and Finisterre. Lost Worlds is a marvelous little guide to the changes that Britain, the world, and all of us have undergone in the last generation.

Do not under any circumstances miss the story of Mickey With The Long Nose, filed here under Disney. Oh, and where did they put the last Auk, anyway? Surely they've found it by now?

Lost Worlds has a earnest, wise, and serious core, an extended meditation on what "loss" means, and therefore what really matters.

Nov 05 26 2005


A solid weekend at home, without a dinner party: time to replenish the stock supply. Weeks ago, Linda pointed out that this weekend was a rare stock opportunity. Fortunately, the local supermarket butcher, tired of turkeys, was willing to take some time out to chop me some veal bones.

So, a late start on Saturday means the veal stock will come off sometime between eleven and midnight. Then some of it will be frozen, and the rest will chill overnight before undergoing another eight hours of simmering (with wine and shallots) to become the winter's store of demi-glace.

Yes, it's worth it. But, yes, it's a big tsimmes.

Later: I could only bear to part with a pint of dark veal stock. All the rest chilled overnight, and is now barely simmering again. I added a bottle of inexpensive pinot noir, heated with some chopped shallot and reduced 50%. Linda's cleaning the ice cube trays; when it comes to demi-glace, we're a well-oiled machine.

Joel Spolsky has posted a proposed reading list for his firm's new management trainees. It's got some fine books -- lots of my personal favorites. It misses a bunch of hugely popular clunkers. It's got a wonderful breadth of interest -- from entrepreneurship to graphic design to version control. It doesn't shy away from technical depth.

But there's not a lot of analytical depth, at first glance, among the business books.

3 years, 75 books. I guess that's fairly impressive, these days. A bunch of these books are fluffy, but some are not, and we're not in college anymore; you need to leave your employees some time for reading fiction, history, biography, whatever they want to read. And, are these books to be read on company time?

What would the New Media version of Spolsky's list look like? I imagine that Tekka would probably pay well for a thoughtful opinion....

Mark Anderson's marvelous Tinderbox reference -- aTbRef 3.0 -- is now online. You can also download the Tinderbox file.

Jonathan Leavitt's writes a note on last week's Tinderbox Weekend:

Last weekend was Tinderbox weekend in San Francisco, an annual event where users of Tinderbox software get together with Mark Bernstein of Eastgate, a Massachusetts company that sells cool and effective tools for hypertext, note-taking, clipping organization, and writing. In my opinion, Tinderbox is "Photoshop for Writers." Just as photographers and graphic designers may use Photoshop to perform just a few tasks for their images, they may not take the trouble to learn the many features the powerful Adobe product contains. Tinderbox is a superb note-taking tool, great for clipping info from the Internet, jotting down ideas, making outlines, and writing documents of any kind, with or without graphics. It can, however, do much, much more than that...

I just exchanged email with a fellow who had overlooked the Tinderbox manual entirely. It's packed with every download, so you can't miss it. I wonder how many people do miss it? Oh dear.

by Charles Stross

Perfect plane reading: craftsmanship and pacing make this thriller in space a delight. We've got all the classic elements -- the experienced (but terrified) agent, the fresh (but resourceful) teenage victim-turned-hero whose life has suddenly come unmoored (in this case because someone blew up her planet's sun), the Nazi conspirators. Around this plotting armature, Stross crafts an interesting speculative fiction world of ubiquitous nanotech where bandwidth is gold.

Nov 05 25 2005


Great dragons. Christchurch cloister never looked so romantic. Emma Watson's dress is fantastic, and she's not half bad herself.

And yet, it's still a prep-school Percival. Surely, Fleur Delacour's goal should be her particular friend, not her kid sister, if only for symmetry with Harry and Ron. Perhaps they thought they Americans would blush. They probably would.

There's a magic combat plot and a romantic subplot, and this romance beats the brooms any day of the week. I'm much more interested in learning whom Miss Granger chooses than in finding out how you-know-who gets his you-know-what.

  • Bourbon tasting (tiny sips of Bookers, Baker's, Maker's Mark, and Blanton's)
  • Grilled/smoked turkey
  • Salt-crusted roast yamlings
  • Rootmus (sp?)
  • Green beans, stir fried with shallots, nuts, and orange
  • Braised endive, with a nice mustard cheese bechamel
  • Cranberry-orange relish
  • D'Arenberg "The Stump Jump" Grenache-Shiraz-Mouvedre
  • Carmelized nut tarte, whipped cream
  • Pindar Cabernet port

The turkey (13.5 pounds, brined, all-natural and free-range) was more difficult than usual this year. First, there was the usual question: how long? The answer I learned at home was simple: you light the fire at half-time of the early football game. This year, we were eating a little earlier, and the turkey was smaller, and there were lots of cooks doing things at the last minute. I wanted to double check. Answer: 11-13 minutes per pound, more or less. Tinderbox will find this for me next year. (This works out, precisely, to half-time in the game. Who knew?)

Thanksgiving: Feast Day

Then, there was the wing problem. This turkey was a wing-flapper. Its wings stuck out. Should they be trussed or tied? I checked The Joy of Cooking of course, along with a million other Americans; this must be the busiest day in the calendar for Joy. Leave the wings alone; if they get too dark, cover with foll.

Thanksgiving: Feast Day

Fine. Half time. Shortly after I put the turkey on, half of the fire went out. This has happened before, but usually it's easy to restart. For some reason, this fire never quite got going; in the end, I left the bird on the grill for an extra 30 minutes. The leg temperature at exit was 175°F, a little high; the breast claimed to be a little lower than I liked, but when carved the bird was smoky and juicy and nicely flavored by the traditional stuffing of a quartered onion, a quartered apple, and a quartered orange. (Next year, maybe lime?)


Eastgate's got some interesting specials this weekend. [fixed link]

Student (and teacher) Tinderbox: academics can get Tinderbox at half price. Save $100. Everyone can still get Tinderbox for $165, which beats the new price significantly.

Storyspace is on sale, too. Save $70.

And then we have the nifty Tinderbox Notes Bundle:

  • A pocket Moleskine notebook
  • A fine French-made 3x5 card briefcase
  • A sterling silver Wallet Pen
  • A full Tinderbox license

The bundle is conceived as a gift, but it's a great gift to yourself if you're in the mood to reorganize or setting out on a big new project. Get your notes right: be prepared to Write It Down. At $195, the bundle represents about a $70 savings, too.

Nov 05 23 2005



Next March, I'll be going to BlogHui, the first international weblog conference in Wellington, New Zealand. (Here's the call for papers.)

The theme is "Activate!", and it's going to be an interesting two-day event (with a third day of workshops, too!) Can't wait.

It's a long plane trip from Boston. If you're in New Zealand -- or anywhere in that hemisphere -- and you'd like to arrange a lecture or workshop next March, email me.

Alistair Weakley observes that word processors are not necessarily good tools for writing. Because they are so concerned with the appearance of the page, conventional programs can lead you to focus on design when you need to be working with ideas.

One tool that I really like is Tinderbox and I use this a lot when I’m writing and for other things too. Basically, you can use it to organize notes. Notes in this case can contain text or images and can link to files and web pages and things like that. You can organize them in all sorts of ways with graphical maps, hierarchies and so on. For writing I make a note for each subheading of the text, then fill it with the stuff I intend to write. I can reorganize the structure as I go then export it all in one long document at the end. It’s only then that I change to a word processor and I try to just use that for formatting.

One thing I like about this method is that you only have to write a small amount inside each note. Somehow it seems much less daunting to me to write thirty or forty separate paragraphs than it does to write a whole paper.

In a later post, Weakley describes his thesis workflow -- including a good approach to integrating EndNotes and Tinderbox.

Nov 05 21 2005

Filing Things

A highlight of Tinderbox West was Frank Tansey's wonderful approach to keeping track of stuff -- a simple, easy-to-implement filing system that lets you get papers out of your inbox and into your files quickly and then lets you find them later. They key is using Tinderbox as a trusted system for remembering what's been filed, and where; if you describe each item adequately, you'll always be able to locate it through Tinderbox agents and search tools.

Tinderbox does nearly all the mechanical work, leaving you the fun of seeing your clean desk.

Tansey has an article on this in the next issue of TEKKA, which is coming very soon. You don't want to miss it!

William Cole is doing some interesting work on using CSS2 and Tinderbox to support typed links in his blog.

Great day! Elin's patented Introduction was terrific, despite the laryngitis. And Merlin Mann delivered a wonderful exploration of productivity and trusted systems, emphasizing lots of ways you can be less productive through using too much technology to increase your productivity. Lots of interesting lessons, and much discussion of software design ideas. Here are some of my notes; click to enlarge.

Tinderbox Weekend West

Dr. Jonathan Leavitt did a very interesting talk about using Tinderbox as a tool for better medical record. "Hypertext medical records" was a Googlewhack as recently as this month! He's got some terrific ideas on the importance of flexible, bottom-up, and malleable records that can be available in emergencies and yet confidential the rest of the time.

Leavitt has some fascinating ideas about the relationship between these hypertext medical notes and feral hypertext. He also begins with an important lesson: don't spend lots of work trying to turn Tinderbox (light, fast, malleable, bottom-up) into a database (heavy, scalable, cosnsistent, top-down). I like the idea of scanning lots of paper for import into Tinderbox; I might try working with a scanner at my desk.

Alwin Hawkins couldn't make it at the last minute; it'd have been great to have him on hand for this segment! And we've got to get Merlin Mann and Ryan Holcomb together to hash out GTD and Tinderbox!

by Daniel Handler

This book appeared at the office a few days after I'd ordered it online. By the time it arrived, I'd forgotten who told me to read it, and why. After a long, introspective search, I realized I'd found it in a list of recent books about golems in The Believer. At least, I think that explains it.

My reading habits are not well disciplined.

This is, however, a nicely executed book, a novel of college love gone weird when the lovers move into her parents' house to spend the summer together. It's a close-knit and odd family: what family isn't, when you've just finished your freshman year and you're sleeping with your first lover under the eaves of her weird parent's Pittsburgh house?

The story, obviously, is operatic in scale and conception, and Handler presents it as an opera in four acts and twelve steps. You can see where this is heading. Act IV gets out of control, I think. Of course, golems do that. But even the excess is eventually paid off, and it's all worth reading in any case for the paragraph in which the narrator analyzes Grandma's seeming simile comparing revenge to a parfait.

Michael Druzinsky passes along a rather good article on how the Web has collapsed the UFO phenomenon. We can no longer believe the men in black can keep the truth from us; there are simply too many web sites. We know how to use the net to attack a hoax, too.

In Charles Stross's Iron Sunrise there's a moment when an official of the second UN -- essentially The Federation -- takes out her ID card. What's on the card? Against a field of stars, the traditional triple-W.

I just started Michael Bywater's nifty Lost Worlds: What Have We Lost and Where Did It Go? . What's lost here, refreshingly, is not so much the dodo and the Tasmanian Tiger of Yesteryear as The Idea Of America and the meaning of "affordable". Bywater may be the first person to base an argument on the discovery that a preposterous phrase is not a Googlewhack: how can "affordable business jet" get a hundred hits? What does it mean that we can say such a thing?

Googling The Weird
Nov 05 18 2005


Jim Coyer writes:

I recently bought a copy of Eastgate’s Tinderbox meme management system. Amazing. It’s one of those tools that exudes a sense of shibumi and austerity; simple and emergingly complex at the same


He's also a big fan of 43Folders.

Nov 05 17 2005

Gallery Day

Arriving in San Francisco for Tinderbox weekend with the dawn's early light, we unpacked, checked for crisis management, had a spicy little lunch on Maiden Lane, and embarked on an abbreviated gallery crawl.

Gallery Day
Raphael Soyer
The highlight was a nice little collection of prints, drawings, lithographs by (early) 20th century US artists at George Krevsky. This is Young Model, a Raphael Soyer lithograph. Still better is Martin Lewis' Night, New York; the foreground figure is good but the shadowed couple in the distance are terrific. Next door, I found Sara Carter's plaid grids intriguing: perhaps they're really an exercise, but they're an interesting exercise, an exercise that makes you want to try it yourself.

SFMOMA is itself -- excellent. Like many art museums these days, it's frightfully expensive to visit. I understand the reasoning. But how are we going to get kids, and young artists, to support museums?

Scott Price has a new Tinderbox worklog template.

The freelance work has forced me to get more organized on a number of fronts, and one of those fronts is how I track and report my time and my work. Tinderbox was a natural place to start gathering my work because I knew the shape of my notes was going to change, and because I knew that, pretty soon, I'd want to share my notes over the web and make invoices for my clients and partners.

The Seattle Tinderbox day went very well, I thought. Rob McNair-Huff was liveblogging. I learned a lot!

It's too bad that Ryan Holcomb's talk about Tinderbox and getting things done was in Seattle, and Merlin Mann's talk about Tinderbox as a trusted system is coming up in San Francisco. Next time we really should get everyone together!

Update: Rob McNair-Huff asks about the RSS example I showed. Here's the snippet!

<title>^title^ </title>
<description>^text^ ]]></description>

This works for a weblog where each post appears on its own permalink page; you might need to tweak the URLs to fit your own permalink scheme.

A theme that arose repeatedly at Tinderbox Day Seattle was automatically setting prototypes. Tinderbox gives you several ways to choose prototypes -- or to choose them for you. It's interesting to examine some of the nuances you can express.

For example, let's suppose that some of your notes are Projects, and that a Project contains notes that describe Tasks you want to do.

  • You can simply let the user choose the appropriate prototype from the pop-up menu of prototypes. This can be especially nice if you have several different kinds of Tasks -- Errands, PhoneCalls, TopicsForReflection. Ryan Holcomb reminded us that it's easy to arrange your prototypes so your popup menu is grouped intelligently.
  • The OnAdd action of the prototypical Project can assign the prototype to all notes added to that project. This says, "A project normally contains Tasks", or "Most of the things in a project are Tasks". The user can choose a different prototype (e.g. Errand) when appropriate.
  • The Agent Action of an agent that scans projects can automatically assign prototypes based on the content and context of a note. An agent can say, for example, that any task that is not complete, not delegated, and mentions groceries is a ShoppingErrand.
  • A Rule enforces a requirement; it's a constraint. Where OnAdd means, "a note inside this project is normally a Task", a Rule would mean, "Everything inside the container must be a Task."

The bottom line is that it's easy to build smart notebooks that can gradually adapt to the way you'd like to work. The prototypical Project can say, "notes added here are Tasks"; the project for DecemberDinnerParty can say, "notes added here are ShoppingTasks", and the note about asking your sister in Seattle to send a salmon can be automatically flagged by an agent as a PhoneTask. You don't need this power for every project (or weblog post, or research note), but it's nice to know it's there.

Nov 05 16 2005


Great lecture last night at the University of Washington by Blake Hannaford and Mika Sinanan on their research toward developing battlefield robots -- telerobotic "trauma pods" that can stabilize patients for transport without requiring medical workers on the scene. It seems this is much closer to being real than I'd have imagined.

It was not that long ago that Blake and I were constructing robots from erector sets.

Blake has been using an infrared sensing gun in the kitchen; you can point it, for example, at your frying oil and get an instant, no-contact read of your actual temperature. Great idea!

Nov 05 15 2005

Seattle Hotels

Nothing at all wrong with the Spring Hill Suites in Renton, where we were visiting my sister. The Watertown, here at the University where we're holding Tinderbox Day Seattle, is very stylish indeed. Note for reference.

Incidentally, managing the morning internet rush is going to become as much of a headache for hotels as coping with the early AM elevator surge.

David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, did a big lecture in Seattle last weekend. SlackerManager has a review.

He met Ryan Holcomb at the seminar, and they talked about using Tinderbox as a trusted repository for your projects and tasks. Tomorrow at Tinderbox Day Seattle, I'm looking forward to meeting Ryan myself. He'll be talking about his templates, which have been one of the driving forces behind the increasing power of Tinderbox actions and rules.

NeoCase for Davidson

Larry Davidson likes his NeoCase:

It’s soft, it’s extremely lightweight, and it opens up in such a way that it’s remarkably easy to keep the case on while using the computer. What more can I say?

How do you make sure a Tinderbox note uses the right prototype? Tinderbox gives you lots of ways.

  1. Just set the prototype: You can always set the prototype from the popup prototype menu when you create a note.
  2. The same prototype: Often, you'll create a series of notes of the same type -- a series of references, perhaps, or a set of tasks, or a bunch of weblog posts. When you create a new note, Tinderbox guesses that you want the same prototype you used last time. So, often, you'll just get the right prototype.
  3. Let the container set the prototype. Often, a note's context determines what kind of note it is. A project contains tasks: if you add a note to a project, the project can go ahead and say, "This note is a task!" A weblog page contains posts; if you add a new item to a weblog page like this one, the page can say, "This note is a post!"
  4. Let an agent set the prototype. We might be able to write an agent that scans for patterns and adjusts the prototype appropriately. One agent, for example, might look for any Tasks that are due in less than a week, and make them into UrgentTasks.
  5. Let a stamp set the prototype. The stamp menu is very easy to customize, so it's easy to add frequently-needed declarations that say, "this note is an ImportantChore". Quickstamp can be handy, too -- especially if you need to reassign lots of notes to use a prototype you've just invented.
  6. Adornment actions are like stamps. You can add an adornment to a map that automatically sets prototypes (or applies time stamps -- or does any other action for that matter).

In many of my Tinderbox documents, I seldom set a prototype. Instead, the note figures out its prototype from its context, or its content.

This is important, because it's really important not to clutter note creation with difficult and time-consuming distractions. Early hypertext tools sometimes asked too many questions before you could add a note, and the result was that users evaded and avoided the questions by always replying, 'It's just a generic note.' If we can usually get the prototype right without intervention, and it's easy to change the prototype later, then the system doesn't get in the way. Prototypes save typing, and they also improve representation.

Tinderbox Prototypes
In Tinderbox, a note may be a prototype for other notes. A note is almost exactly like a copy of its prototype -- except when you tell the note to be different.

The connection between note and prototype is live: if you change a prototype, the change will be seen right away in every note that's based on the prototype -- excepting, of course, notes that already have changed that property themselves. A note can always override its prototype. Any note can be a prototype.

Prototypes are very simple but they're also very powerful. You can put shared information in one place and share it in many notes. If you need to change it, you make one change, not many.

Some prototypes I use in this weblog:

  • Post: a weblog post like this. Posts have dates, a summary, a unique ID, and a topic. Each post gets its own Web page, and posts also are collected on the front page, on the monthly archive pages, on topical pages, on the mobile phone page, and so forth. (All this happens automatically, by the way; I just add one note to the current month and all the rest is done automatically)
  • Books: a lot like posts, but books have authors and titles and ISBN numbers, and information about pictures of their cover
  • Movie List: a list of movies seen in the course of a year. Special CSS formatting reflects a simple rating system and hides previous years' lists from those who don't want the distraction.
  • Lecture: a conference lecture or other more-or-less public appearance
  • Talk: a description of lecture notes or slides that are available for download or viewing on the Web. Again, we have some fancy CSS on the main page that shows a profile and thumbnail for a randomly-chosen talk.
  • Gallery: a collection of images. These again are formatted in special ways, including descriptive XML files that are used by a Flash viewer.

I didn't plan these prototypes in advance. Over time, I discovered opportunities to save time and typing by adding prototypes. This weblog now generates several RSS feeds -- the main feed, the book feed -- and so there'll probably be an RSS prototype someday.

Naturally, prototypes can have prototypes themselves. So, if you have a prototype for Tasks you want to do, it's easy to create a new prototype for UrgentTasks you need to get done right now, or DelegatedTasks, or ChoresYouWillNeverDoAgain if you can help it.

Diane Greco's two-column layout is broken (in Safari, anyway), but if you scroll down to November 7 she's got a very interesting discussion of how she selects books: 7 November: Too Much Information (No Blind Dates).

Excellence is rare, but only relatively. There are a lot of movies and books out there; my feeling is, even if it were possible to watch and read only the very best stuff, one would not exhaust the universe of "very best" in one's lifetime. The collected works of Henry James might occupy a summer; there's a fantastic three-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson on my shelf that I have yet to crack, which will occupy another summer; and right now there are about a hundred books on my to-read shelf, all of which are, I'm pretty sure, excellent. Mark's post prompted me to consider what makes me so sure about this. Is my confidence the result of having more or less information? What about better and worse information?

Diane makes smarter choices about reading than I do. But I have the same 3-volume biography of Johnson on my shelf, purchased in Henniker, New Hampshire (The Only Henniker On Earth) at the Old Book Depot on a sunny day several years back, and still waiting for me to get 'round to it.

On the way to Tinderbox Weekend I found in the pocket of my trench coat (which was once my father's coat):

  • a ticket to Dublin Castle
  • a tourist map of Skye
  • Two used tickets for the Paris metro
  • A matchbook from CocoPazzo in Chicago, a few blocks from the apartment where my father lived

Ken Tompkins sends along word of a fresh gem of food hacking: One Skillet Cooking. I'm not sure about some of the details (20 minutes seems a long time for cooking pasta) but the underlying idea is great: teach the concept, not the recipe.

Michael Bywater (whose Lost Worlds happens to be sitting on top of the "Books Bought" list in today's left-hand column) has a nice comment about Tinderbox 3.0.1 on MacUpdate:

Tinderbox continues to get better. True, it's not for kiddies who need their hands held, but if you have information to organise and manipulate, and know what you want to achieve, it's 99:1 that Tinderbox will be able to do it. The combination of outlining, visual mapping, extreme user-configurability and intelligent HTML export are unmatched in any other application I've found. With Tinderbox in tandem with DevonThink Pro and Mellel, you have an information-gathering system which will take you seamlessly from research to planning to producing finished output which is simply second to none.

By the way: writing about Tinderbox on sites like this, in discussion forums, and in your weblog really does help. Tinderbox is a new kind of software, and does new things. People aren't used to new software anymore....

Nov 05 10 2005

Tinderbox 3.0

Tinderbox 3.0

Tinderbox 3.0 is out. You can download it here.

It's very cool. There's plenty of fresh new power -- especially in rules and agents. Rules and actions can perform calculations, which gives you some very exciting opportunities for building really smart note-making environments. It's easier to hoist outlines. You can adjust tab stops. And there's lots of new power for exporting.

The map-drawing system and the parsers for rules and templates are completely new. This won't change your life right away, but it streamlines the code to make it faster and lighter, and it's a vital foundation for Tinderbox for Windows. Lots of little loopholes and exceptions have been cleaned up, so complex rules are much simpler now. For example, you can now write a simple conditional rule: if(the condition) { do this } ; if you live in Tinderbox, you'll find many opportunities to use this!

I'm on the way to Tinderbox Day Seattle and Tinderbox Weekend San Francisco. It's going to be terrific. I'll tell you more about Tinderbox 3.0 over the next few days, hotel internet connections permitting.

Ed Blachman sends word that Pandora is live. It's a spin-off of the Music Genome Project; you give it a song or an artist for a starting point and it builds (and plays) a list of music it thinks you'll like.

I gave it two challenges: Phil Ochs (it got Dylan, Seeger, and Martin Carthy) and The String Cheese Incident (which also wound up with plausible results). Impressive.

This just in: (via Meryl)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden --They rarely have problems with drunks or rowdy animals, but residents of an elderly home in southern Sweden had to deal with both when a pair of intoxicated moose invaded the premises.

The moose -- a cow and her calf -- had become drunk over the weekend by eating fermented apples they found outside the home in Sibbhult, southern Sweden, said Anna Karlsson, who works there.

Police managed to scare them off once, but the large mammals returned to get more of the tempting fruits. This time the moose were drunk and aggressive, forcing police to send for a hunter with a dog to make them leave.

Police did not pursue the culprits, but made sure all apples were picked up from the area, local police chief Bengt Hallberg said. No one was hurt.

Nov 05 9 2005

Course Planning

British Maths Professor Keith Burnett discusses course planning in Tinderbox.

New experience working with colleagues at postgraduate level. Planning has to be revised quickly and I need to watch the theory/practice ratio.

The whole plan is getting more complex by the week. Being able to generate the Web notes from the plan by using a template is useful to say the least.

Course Planning

The whole plan is a nice, straightforward approach. Four adornments -- representing course topics, pedagogy, readings, and class session plans -- divide up the map space. Agents automatically index sessions, readings, and topics.

I've been receiving a series of inquiries from parties wanting to buy domains. I assumed the first one to be more or less legitimate, and since the domain in question was not much used I replied. Discussion petered out rapidly when we started talking price.

I wonder what these people are after? Live email addresses? Places to park link farms?

I just started Zadie Smith's On Beauty . It's good.

This is a book with the knack of invisibly fine writing. You don't notice the writing, but you notice how you pleasant, likable, and intelligent the narrator happens to be.

Sorolla Color Scheme

It seems like a good time to have a fresh Tinderbox color scheme. Here's Sorolla, a scheme based on Joaquin Sorolla's Boys on The Beach in the Prado, Madrid.

Sorolla Color Scheme

It's instructive to build color schemes like this, if only to get a little closer to the palette. Those blues in the water, for example, look a lot bluer in the painting than they do in the Tinderbox map. Welcome to Color Theory 101.

But it doesn't matter a lot whether the 'red' in your map is the color of a fire engine. The point is to give yourself a variety of colors that you can distinguish and that you find pleasing. It helps, too, to use a color scheme distinguish one project from another.

The color scheme is here; just drop the scheme file into your Tinderbox map.

It's still an odd sensation to find myself assigned as homework. Ann D is studying at the University of Texas, and this was her favorite line:

Ironically, the fear that capitalism, mass production, and affordable access mean the death of art is, at present, more closely associated with the academic Left than with the reactionary Right; the Right seems chiefly concerned with abortion, homosexuality, and nudes.

She thinks I was a little hard on Sven Birkerts, though. Oh well. I haven't found the rest of the course...

Wallet Pen

You really need to have a writing implement handy all the time. At midnight by your bed, or in the car, or when you're stuck in a turbulence-tossed 737 at 32,000 feet, when you need to write it down, you need something with which to write.

I'm always losing pens. This year, I've lost a Fisher Space Pen on each long trip. I need a pen of last resort.

But the Pen Of Last Resort doesn't have to be borrowed from a harried flight attendant. I was reading the New Yorker the other day and found saw a great idea and now Eastgate has a good supply the The Wallet Pen -- a small, sterling silver pen that tucks into the fold of your wallet. You won't lose it, and you'll always know where to find it when your pen walks off or gets left in the car, and it's just $39.95 .

Testing 1.2.3: Just to test a new bit of Tinderbox technology, here's an order link right off this page. If you order right here -- through Friday only -- you'll save $5 (and help me debug this feature). Let me know if things go wrong, ok?

The Wallet Pen
The Wallet Pen (special!) $34.95

You can always remove it later.
Nov 05 6 2005

On A Curve

Lazy managers (and the consultants who abet them) would like to believe that information overload creates a dire threat -- that too much information leads to bad decisions. Even in casual decision-making, abundant information leads to so much improvement that it's going to transform the way we all spend time and think about art.

When I started, almost five years ago, to jot down the movies I've seen in the margins of this page, I thought it might be nice to distinguish the movies I liked from those I didn't. At the time, I expected a simple scale would work:

worse....bad....good....even better...really good

A "really good" movie might be Apocalypse Now or Casablanca or Buffy Season 3 -- a movie that you're likely to want to see many times, a movie that obviously changes the way you look at movies. In some years, no new movie is "really good" -- but because we've got many years of backlog, it's still a useful category. A "good" movie would then be one of the best movies that appear in a year. A bad movie eats time; a movie that is worse is pernicious.

This scale worked then; it doesn't work now. I've seen seven consecutive "good" movies. How can this be?

In 2000, I patronized a pokey neighborhood rental store and asked the clerk with the purple hair what she liked. I browsed the shelves and read the ad copy. Friends sometimes mentioned a movie.

In 2005, I've got a Netflix list a mile long, I've got IMDB and Ebert on the Web, and I've got plenty of weblogs (and readers of this page) to advise me. I see roughly the same number of movies -- this is a down year, but that's just a side-effect of Tinderbox for Windows -- but I'm much less likely to see a movie that's going to be really bad. The result is that there's almost no useful information in the ratings.

The Guide Michelin started out as tech doc for motorists, including whether the food at various roadside places was worth a stop, or even worth going a little further down the road if you could spare the time. All the 'good' movies are worth an hour or two, and if I've got a lot of 'good' movies in a row, well, it makes the long Fall evenings a little warmer.

Does having Ebert on tap -- even though he writes in Chicago and I live in Boston -- make my decisions worse? Of course not. Does it hurt to have a complete run of The New Yorker film reviews on DVD? Nope. Does IMDB make me more, or less, likely to add a good movie to the list? Sure, I can waste time trying to choose a movie to watch; we can always find ways to complain about opportunities to waste time.

The managerial fantasy that hard work and thorough study are inferior to intuition and innate character is silly.

Food Blog S'cool (clever idea, sometimes marred by too much discussion of blogger and too little food writing) has a thread inviting people to post pictures of their kitchen. Here's mine.

Food Blog School

They use technorati tags to find backlinks like this: . The use of tags for community discovery is intriguing.

Via 101 cookbooks.

Dave Rogers and Doug Miller discuss ways to smooth their weblog workflow.

Doug's got an interesting idea, using Automator to trigger his upload as soon as he finishes exporting. And Dave has a great list of interesting tools, including some of my own favorites.

A moderately obscure British freelance writer meets in Brussels with a not-very-famous American film maker. The American, Johnny Vos, has just shot a scene that's a visual quotation from the work of Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux; since Delvaux painted monumental landscapes and street scenes filled with nude women, Vos is finding his extras in Antwerp's busy red-light district. Two of them, residents of an internet webcam-filled house, were found dead shortly after the Vos wrapped the first big shot.

A Spaniard I know once wrote that she'd be glad to find work anywhere in Europe but Belgium, which she found too dull to endure. It sometimes seems that Royle shares her opinion. Places and people alike are strangely flat here, and subplots set in Antwerp's diamond market and in the virtual twilight of an internet sex site are never really exploited. The effect is strange and evocative: Royle creates people and situations that are more interesting than he makes them, giving the book a deeper interior life than it seems to earn.

Perhaps the seasonal produce thing can be carried too far, but it's getting to be the dreary season and all sorts of colorful squash are available for prices you don't see in grocery stores anymore.

It was educational.

Fall Feasting

Duck confit with carmelized pear: if you leave a sauté unatteneded because your guests are telling a really funny story, you'll be sorry. But don't give up too soon, because it turns out that your guests like the burnt bits.

Fall Feasting

Squash garlic soup with ginger créme fraîche: Hubbard squash might not be substitutable for pumpkin 1:1. The soup was a bit thin. This is hazard of squash shopping when you know nothing about squash. McGee is a bit thin on the squash family, it seems to me: perhaps there's not much to say?

Steak a poivre: you need a hot pan to sear the meat. You deglaze with a little armagnac after searing the meat. The pan is hot: the brandy vanishes instantly. You remark: something is not right.

Fall Feasting

Cranberry orange relish: no cooking. Hence, no lesson. (Take a package of cranberries. Rinse, Toss in the food processor. Take an orange. No, don't peel it. Rinse. Quarter. Toss it into the food processor. Add 1/2c sugar. Chop. Into bowl. Chill 30 minutes. Improve your Thanksgiving several degrees. Here endeth the lesson)

Roasted shallots, pear vinegar: improvisation only works when you're in the right key. The roasted shallots are already sweet and fruity; wrong vinegar.

Salt crusted baby sweet potatoes: still good.

Squash gratin: straight out of Marlena Spieler's Vegetarian Bistro, a superb little cookbook Megnut recommends and that is unjustly out of print. Fortunately, amazon and alibris will gladly find you a copy. This is the biggest and least remarked change in contemporary book culture, transforming our relationship to slightly old books. Pumpkin (ouch! finger! ouch!), a little tomato, garlic, leek, bread crumbs, parmesan. Nice.

Fall Feasting

Tarte alsacienne: Tasty: didn't set. The Cortland apple slices, buttered and sugared and baked for forty minutes and then added to a prebaked pie shell, did have a nice texture and did hold together. The custard never did cohere. Is the answer simply longer baking ?

Nov 05 4 2005

Flash Cards

Greg Haverkamp, a second year law student, used Tinderbox to put together flash cards for his study group.

Flash Cards

You've got to figure the flash card entitled 7 atrocious means will wake people up.

Haverkamp exports the cards to HTML and pdf. He's a busy law student with a day job, so it's natural that the templates are a little sketchy. I wonder if the wiki folk could put together some cool flashcard style sheets? Perhaps that print nicely on the Avery pre-perforated index card stock?

Martin Spernau is enjoying the recent discussion of Tinderbox and Sticky Notes and is thinking about ways to extend this to capturing or facilitating Open Space meetings.

Open Space is a procedure for collaboratively planning a small conference or symposium. It's been used to good effect in the BlogWalk series. The Wikipedia articles on the subject, taken together, give interesting insights into the movement and its various schisms.

Nov 05 3 2005

Cable YoYo

One of the overlooked but cool tools in the Eastgate tools page is the cable yoyo. It's a simple idea: a way to wind up the extra length of your USB, firewire, and headphone cables.

I've got a bunch of these in my laptop bag, keeping all those cords from tangling each other. And I've got more on my desk. (They come with a peel-off adhesive strip so you can attach them to the side or back of your computer, or under your desk).

A simple idea, nicely executed.

Cable YoYo

People sometimes say that Tinderbox has a steep learning curve. Sometimes, they really mean that the problem they're working on is difficult, and Tinderbox reveals how complex the problem really is. Tinderbox has lots of expressive power -- agents, links, rules, spatial hypertext -- and that power makes you want to express everything you can.

The 'advantage' of one big text file, or a small stack of 3x5 cards, is that you already know how little you can say.

Another problem, though, is the way we can easily get tangled up in other problems. You want to share notes? Easy enough: export to HTML, post 'em on a weblog, send 'em to your shiny new web service.

Now, want to make those shared notes look better? Easy again: just describe the way you want them to look in CSS!

But there was one thing they had forgotten: CSS is a real challenge to debug. Why? Are the CSS people idiots or fools or (gasp!) programmers? No! CSS is hard to debug for two simple reasons:

  • CSS is powerful: you can use it to make things look the way you want.
  • CSS is declarative: you tell the computer how you want things to be laid out, and the computer figures out the procedure to follow.

This leads to a variety of headaches that will be familiar to everyone who uses style sheets. The box model is terrific, but it's easy to get things just slightly wrong. And Microsoft's browser does just that -- s o now every glitch in the box model needs to be solved twice. Floats give you lots of power to describe flexible layouts -- but figuring out exactly where floating elements should go when things get crowded is, basically, rocket science.

Some thing are simply hard. CSS doesn't ask you to say, "how do I lay out this page today?" like we did with glue and scissors in the office of the old school newspaper. It asks, "How do you want to lay out all the pages this year?" That's a better question to ask, and answering it will save you time in the long run, but it means facing the difficult questions instead of hoping they won't come up.

That said, has anyone tried a constraint-based solution to Web layout, along the lines of Chris van Wyk's Ideal ?

What do you do with old notes?

Mark·  File·  Delete

You can mark old notes, so you know they're old. You can file old notes away in a container, so they won't be underfoot but remain available for reference. You can delete them, clearing away space for new notes and new ideas.

If you mark the notes, you can set an attribute -- perhaps by checking a chekcbox in the note's text window. You can move the note to a new position, showing that it's old. The new position might be off to the side, or in the middle of a messy pile of old notes, or it might be on an adornment that serves to fence of a holding area where old notes reside. You might change the color of the note, or its border, or the pattern used to shade the note.

Some of these facets might be tied together. For example, you might check the "Completed" attribute and let a rule automatically change the color. (Tinderbox 2.6 will make this even easier.)

There are, in short, a lot of ways to represent old notes. Use them well and often; you never know when old ideas or tasks or early drafts might find unexpected uses.

Dear hypertext theory people: are there any useful results about connectivity of random digraphs? Anything relevant from percolation theory? If you have a source -- however elementary -- I'd appreciate an email.

Explanation: I'm assembling a Fagerjordian site -- a Web site that has lots of topical pages that are linked together, from topic to topic. There's no Big Scheme and no apparatus -- the site is organic and complex, so there's not a simple site map or table of contents or grand ontology into which everything fits.

We're adding new pages every day, and I expect this to continue for some time.

Now, if you're managing a project like this, you want to be sure that every page has links from other pages, so people can find it. One heuristic for management is simply to insist on lots of links: if every page has a bunch of links to different places, then it's likely that readers will be able to move around freely.

But, how many links is 'a lot of links'? I think the answer is between 3 and 4, but I'm not certain.

Here's a clever little book about using 3M Post-It Notes for information triage, planning, and decision-making in small groups. The core idea is to use wall space as a sort of ad hoc spatial hypertext; Straker offers detailed recipes for brainstorming and planning meetings.

Of course, doing this in Tinderbox with a projector lets you save everything easily. That means you can pick up next week where you left off, and you can send the meeting notes to your management or your London office or your weblog.

"Update: comments and further thoughts from Johndan Johnson-Eilola who writes that 'I frequently do use Tinderbox as if it were a big box of Post Its and a whiteboard.'"

I found some baby sweet potatoes in the Cambridge Museum Of Fruits and Vegetables the other day, and improvised a terrific and easy way to cook them.

Preheat the oven to 425°F (a hot oven, in other words).

Put the little sweet potatoes in a baking dish that holds them snugly.

In a medium mixing bowl, whip 2 egg whites until stiff.

Fold in about a pound of kosher salt. (Doesn't have to be kosher salt -- any coarse salt will do. Kosher salt is probably your least expensive option)

Pour the salt mixture over the potatoes, smoothing it down to form a crust. Into the over for an hour, maybe a smidgeon less.

Remove from oven. Break and discard the crust. Eat the salty, roasted, and smoothly sweet little sweet potatoes. Exclaim over how much better this is than the usual over-sweet crumbly casserole.

Rob McNair-Huff of Mac Net Journal is psyched for Tinderbox Day Seattle.