May 10 1 2010

Platform Control

I find the whole Apple-Flash brouhaha to be unpleasant to watch. Lots of good people happen to make a living from their Flash expertise. When people criticize Flash, that takes groceries off their table. It makes them angry and resentful. When Apple pokes holes in Flash, it hurts their livelihood and damages their careers. The popular metaphors of the internet community – rich in jargon terms like “open”, “free”, “evil” that have acquired very technical meanings but retain their primal resonances – have been profoundly unhelpful.

John Gruber’s recent analysis of Apple’s policy is, I think, almost exactly correct. He is right to pinpoint PowerPlant/Metrowerks as a source of Apple’s anxiety. (Tinderbox is still struggling with that one.) Java was another bad memory for Apple. An even worse memory, I think, is OpenDoc – the platform on which Apple bet the company, and lost.

But Gruber forgets the emotional memory behind all of this.

In 1997, Apple was on the ropes. Every trade press story speculated that Apple would soon go out of business. Apple’s computers were toys, hapless, hopeless. The only hope seemed to be that Microsoft’s antitrust problems would extend the struggling company’s life a year or two and something might turn up.

The last straw — what everyone feared and anticipated — was the seemingly-inevitable Microsoft announcement that Apple’s market share was too small to be worth Microsoft’s trouble, and that Office for Mac would be cancelled. On that day — and we all expected it — Apple would for all practical purposes cease to have a business.

It didn’t happen. Microsoft didn’t want to face the anti-trust consequences. They promised to extend Office a few years, and lent Apple $150M, and Jobs came back.

And somewhere in the recovery was a moment when Apple stood on a hill, before the setting sun, and shook its fist at the heavens and vowed that it would never be hungry (and powerless) again. Never again would another company decide whether the Macintosh lived or died. So, Apple supplanted Metrowerks and wrote its own IDE. It wrote Keynote to inform Microsoft and the world that, should Microsoft discontinue Office for Mac, Apple would be prepared to replace it without delay. It wrote Safari to ensure that it would have a Web browser, come what may.

This is the key to modern Apple. It’s a big company, and it’s now wildly successful. It assumes that it can write a successful software product in any niche. It’s very talented and very confident. But always, at the back of its collective mind, is fear — the fear of depending on the kindness and competence of others, and the fearful memory of the days when it was cowering in a dark closet, waiting for the blow to fall, while the trade press laughed and jeered.

I think perhaps I’m mistaken in my argument about being too busy to cook. Time (and patient partners) does matter. One might have better ways to spend it. And it’s good to have food to eat in the first place.

But, mostly, I was talking about food, when what really matters (I think) is commensality: eating with people, sitting down to dinner. A good thing to do, at least occasionally.

Another point that food writers and TV shows miss: a lot depends on you skills at multitasking. Very little cooking demands your constant close attention. Suppose you want to make a roast chicken. You might want to brine the chicken: that takes ten minutes (to make the brine) and a day (for the chicken to sit around in the brine, improving its taste). It takes all day, but you don't have to do anything; you throw it in the refrigerator and do other stuff. (Only have overnight? Fine. Need to leave it another day? That’s OK. Or just take it out of the brine and let it dry out a bit on the plate.)

It takes an hour to roast, plus time to preheat the oven. This takes a couple of minutes of your time. You need to turn on the oven. It will get hot on its own: do something else. Then you need to find the roasting pan, plop down the chicken, put it in the oven. Maybe you want to chop a couple of potatoes or carrots and throw them in the pan with the chicken. You stuff it in the oven, and wait an hour. Do other stuff.

Take it out of the oven. Put it on a cutting board to let it rest for ten minutes or so.

It really didn't take any time to roast the chicken. But you had to think about doing stuff when it needed doing. You could spend more time the first time you try: maybe you spend an hour finding the roasting pan, maybe the brine takes fifteen minutes because you don’t remember where the salt box lives. But it doesn’t really take time — if you can leave things to cook, do other stuff, and remember to take the roast out of the oven when it’s done.

Apr 10 29 2010

Power Point

The Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Plan has been in the news again. (Times Vanity Fair Guardian Mirror).

Here’s a reminder of a better way: Mark Anderson’s Tinderbox adaptation. (Details here)

Power Point

Why is this better? Because the Tinderbox user can pick explore, arrange, and probe. You can open each box – which means the brief writers can provide more information. You can nest boxes, so you can show the real complexity of a plan without oversimplifying and without baffling the viewer.

Power Point

Want to learn more? Mark Anderson will be talking at Tinderbox Weekend, May 8-9.

Michael Ruhlman calls 30-minute meals “bullshit” in the Huffington Post. It’s odd to see Ruhlman, a food writer, in HuffPo, but this is a political question.

Since the food industry began, they've been pushing for faster and faster cooking times--that's what they were selling, not food you enjoy or that makes you feel good. That's what they want people to value. For decades, not only have the multinational food corporations been selling us speed, so have the media. The media embraced it. "That's what people want!" argue editors and publishers I've spoken with.

But you really don’t need a lot of time to cook, especially once you get the hang of it. Last night, for example, we had

  • Picadillo, with shredded meat and onion and chipotle
  • Broccoli with sauce Mornay
  • Salad with mustard vinaigrette
  • A nice $6 white côtes du Rhône

The takes time, but I made it on Sunday; it gets better if it has time to rest. The broccoli is rinsed, chopped, and thrown into a skillet with hot oil and some chopped shallots. The Mornay is a classical, flour-thickened cheese sauce. It’s the only finicky thing here, and it takes maybe 15 minutes from a standing start. So, I can get home at 8:30pm and have dinner on the table at 9, maybe 9:15. (Linda puts up with the late hours. Beats hot dogs.)

“Part of the problem,” Ruhlman continues, “is the magazine editors and television producers drumming us over the head with fast and easy meal solutions at home. It's the wrong message to send. These editors and producers and publishers are backing the processed food industry, propelling their message.” These are fighting words.

Quick, fast, and easy isn't the point. Good is the point. Makes you feel good is the point. I am not saying spend three hours making a chicken galantine. I am saying put a chicken the oven with some cut up potatoes for an hour.

by Peter Mayle

This is not a book about food and wine, nor is it really about France and the French. Mayle’s subject here is The Englishman At Play; he seeks to instruct us not on how to eat and drink, but rather how a Briton ought to go On Holiday. He goes to snail festivals and wine festivals and a health spa. He has an unhelpful interview with the press office of the Michelin Guide. He gets lost. He eats strange food. He has a terrific time, and comes home feeling great, and at the end of it he has a book.

Apr 10 28 2010


I’m reading Peter Mayle’s French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew. Thus far, it’s a very pleasant but silly confection in which the writer motors around France in pursuit of little food fairs – parties for snails, festivals for cheese, celebrations for wine.

I realize that what I’d really like is a thoughtful book about menus and meals – about the best way to plan a terrific dinner. It’s not just fresh ingredients, local ingredients, or great ingredients. There’s also the base problem: what should we have for dinner.

We all know plenty of satisfactory ways to plan dinner. But what’s the best way?

by George R. R. Martin

This large, strange book is highly recommended by serious readers. A DailyKos columnist recently wrote called this “the best, most intricately plotted, most powerful fantasy I've ever read.” This is nonsense, of course, unless you’ve not read Tolkien, but the book does invite comparison to Lord of the Rings, of course, but also to Dune and to Bujold. And this is arguably a better book than Dune, which I like a good deal. Martin, for example, is at pains to put women at the center of his medieval epic without turning it cozy or domestic. On the other hand, we’ve got buckets of exposition, some very fine writing but some that is less good and some of the forced archaisms clank. Martin focuses tightly on elites; his idea of a poor person, it seems, is the second daughter of a baron.

This was the first book I read on the iPad, and the experience was, on the whole, entirely satisfactory. After the first day, I didn’t mind the iPad’s weight at all, and the typography strikes me as superior to what we typically see in paperbacks.

Last chance to get Tinderbox at the Spring Sale price of just $183. Special discounts on upgrades and The Tinderbox Way, too. Order here.

Tab Dump on visual note-taking, especially the much-twittered VizThink panel at SXSW.

This is a Tinderbox trick I haven't used lately. I had a bunch of URLs I wanted to save, so I dragged them into a new Tinderbox document. That way, I’d have them handy later. If I want to revisit the site, I just open the corresponding note – Tinderbox keeps track of the URL.

visual notes

Then, I thought you might like to have them too. So I dragged these notes into my weblog, and made a fresh export template called "tab dump":

<li> <a href="^value($URL)"> visual notes </a> </li>

Where I want the list to appear in the post, I just say:


Now, any time I want to share a list of URLs here, I have a handy way to do it. It only took a minute to write the template, and I’ve got a nifty new feature – and a handy place to preserve reading lists.

Apr 10 24 2010


Don Allosso, a graduate student in history, has just started mapping his comp reading in Tinderbox. It’s impressive! And it’s only been three days.


Merlin Mann points to Doug, a user of a who is systematically crusading against a product he says “is the best thing out there” because:

I just assumed that I would get the app for free when my free trial was over. See I run a gallery that features art that others find “too offensive” to show. So I’m a vital part of the community.

That product costs $9/month.

As expected, “Unreasonble” evoked a lot of correspondence. Lots of people disagree. But – in contrast to my call for Law Blogs which yielded all sorts of terrific suggestions – people are not flooding me with pointers to good writing about good software.

One exception is Melbourne programmer Gregor McNish. He writes:

Well, it's not much, but there's Creative Applications. I've also followed for years.
"But who writes about software you want to use with the passion people spend on gadgets?"
Perhaps people arguing emacs vs vi? The lisp machine? People talking about Lotus Agenda, or Hypercard? There's also a number of videos on Ableton Live that might be a bit passionate. Also the working out of how to use wikis on [Ward Cunninghame’s original wiki] In terms of writing, Ted Goranson's column on outliners in was good. (ATPO in ATPM).
There's the precious few books; Rheingold's Tools for Thought, the old Programmers at Work, the new Beautiful Code, and Masterminds of Programming. A large number of talks by Alan Kay. Ted Nelson's Computer Lib/Dream Machines (the book I most regret lending, cause now it's gone). Neal Stephenson's wonderful "In the beginning was the command line". Dave Winer on his own OPML. Raskin on his Humane Interface? And of course programmers can get quite passionate about languages, which are just programs anyway. Lisp, Forth, APL, Smalltalk/Squeak, Haskell, Erlang, Ruby, Python...O/Ss -- AmigaOS, Sugar on the OLPC? More recently, there was quite a buzz about Quicksilver (Merlin Mann on 43 folders). And of course web apps can inspire a certain passion -- twitter, wave. Perhaps it's not the same thing though-- successful web apps are impersonal by definition.
To get passionate about software, you have to go beyond the surface and get with the program :-) . It's often a lot of work, and the benefits aren't immediately apparent (and may never obtain). Often you're in a local maxima and there's the uncomfortable stage of being less productive before you can reap the benefits of learning a new way of doing things, or allowing your tool/habit dialectic to change.
I've been thinking I should learn emacs for years, but have never got stuck into it. I've been aware of your Tinderbox for years, and have thought it might be a wonderful thing, but I'm not sure (I've just bought your book as a way to find out). For me, there's the worry that I'm fiddling with tools rather than actually doing things; it's a form of procrastination I'm guilty of.
My personal favourite from the DOS world was micrologic's InfoSelect. It kept all my notes, I could do (text) screen grabs, and very quickly find notes. I used it to remember things, to store programming snippets, book notes, phone numbers, book references screen grabbed from the library catalog. It was a TSR, so it was always available. Because I could output notes to the screen, I used it for tricky command lines, and dbase programming. I used a windows version for a while, but it wasn't as useful in that context.
A depressing number of these examples are quite old. Which, I guess, is your point.
Apr 10 22 2010



Something is badly wrong with software. Artisanal software and NeoVictorian programming can help. But, first, we’ve got to do something about the users.

In school, people learn a myth that, in the past, programmers didn’t care about users. This is historically false but makes a useful fable. When UI/UX consultants repeat this myth to clients, it’s a lie. Sure, user experience design has improved since 1967. But the old folks weren’t fools – they were working with stone knives and bearskins.

We teach people that software developers are techies: idiots who don’t know how to dress and who require adult supervision and who happen to have a useful talent. We teach them that software users are simple people with simple needs. We tell users that they shouldn’t have to think. We treat them like kids, and we talk about our own colleagues and forebears as if they were idiots.

Thanks to the myth, a lot of people treat software (and its makers) badly. With software, plenty of people check their common sense at the door. They forget that things take a few days to travel from Boston to Bangladesh – especially when a small volcano shuts down a vast chunk of the world’s freight system. They send angry emails when their late-afternoon order isn’t filled until 8am the following morning. And they are outraged – livid with anger – when they discover that the $4.99 database system they just purchased for the iPad can’t manage their company’s books.

I’m not making this up. Here’s a typical sampling of customer reviews for Filemaker’s Bento for iPad. (Disclaimer: You could argue that Bento is a Tinderbox competitor.)

fixwhatsbroke: “Absolutely can’t believe it isn’t able to sync with the iPhone metadata I’ve created in the desktop version.”
Filemaker pro lover: “I bought this to keep simple business books. Not possible. This so called database has less functionality than a spreadsheet. All it does is let you create simple records....but with a pretty picture arround it. One record per page. Nothing can be done with the information. Not even a sum.”
ejrod: “Looks cute and simple and sadly it is too simple. Also has bugs. Cannot enter data in certain fields. I would like a refund.”
Doc Mason: “Based on the numerous comments and reviews, it looks like the developers of Bento are asleep at the helm.”

This is a database program, written for a machine that shipped 14 days ago. The machine and its operating system are both new. The whole sector is new. The developers had at most a couple of months lead time and worked with simulators and, possibly, a sample unit chained to the wall. And we’re demanding a refund of $4.99!

The pork chops I served last night with sauce Robert, an asparagus salad, home-made dinner rolls, and orzo in brown butter – those pork chops were 30% off and they cost $4.95. The wine – a tremendous bargain from Portugal – was $5.98.

This idiocy wrecked sites like VersionTracker and MacUpdate, which long ago were overrun by petulant children. Now, those kids are running the App Store, which is the iPad.

There seems to be no place to turn for intelligent discussion of programs. I asked here about legal blogs, and received so many excellent suggestions that we’ve had to build a Tinderbox to keep track of them. (We’ll share the results soon.) But what about software? Sure, there are interesting blogs from developers and few blogs about verticals. But who writes about software you want to use with the passion people spend on gadgets?

When people do write, it seems to me, they write about stuff everyone has. Alice is getting lots of attention for iPad because it’s cute and threatens no one. And sure, it is cute. It’s a toy. It’s supposed to be cute. (And it takes a book that people think is a kid’s book and make it more childlike, emphasizing the Victorian play and hiding away those hints of sexuality and mortality that make Alice matter.)

At OOPSLA, I proposed a fundamental guide to decent treatment of developers, the difference between a workshop and a factory. In a nutshell, you should know who made the software, in the same way you know who wrote the book. Who made Numbers for iPad? It’s gotten almost no press, because numbers are scary, but at first glance it strikes me as a brilliant creation. Steve Jobs gets the credit for the iPad, but did Steve design Numbers too? Really? Who was responsible for this intricate, polished work of art? How did she get it out the door? Where are the interviews, the profiles, the anecdotes?

The software trade press is largely corrupt and mostly extinct. Blogs, oddly, seem not to be picking up the slack. (Gruber writes well, but he’s chiefly interested in Apple Corporate. TidBits – happy 20th – does good work but is always about new products and broad appeal.) Where’s the intelligent guide to iPhone games? To presentation design for iPad? Who is critically examining obscure and specialized software that I might need to know about – software that isn’t ever going to be in the top 25?

If we treated books and music like we treat software, we’d never talk about anything except the Best Seller List and Billboard. It wouldn’t exist.

Got a lead? Email me.

Apr 10 20 2010

Good One

From Raymond Sokolov’s The Saucier’s Apprentice :

Purists will say that true mayonnaise does not use mustard to hold the sauce together. Purists will say anything so long as it makes our life more difficult.
Sauce aux Champignons is even better if made with wild mushrooms, but so is everything.

David Weinberger complains that, in the travel crisis of the Icelandic Volcano, the Internet failed him. (He says the Internet failed, but I think the reality is that his airline’s Web site wasn’t quite as terrific as it might have been.)

I’d also like to point out that Google is now useless for information about cooking, because almost all Google search results now point to vacuous sites that offer mundane, simplified recipes – often the same recipe endlessly repackaged. Bing is no better. It’s and the Food Network ’til the cows come home.

My recent strategy has been to fool Google by combining the information I want with the name of a serious cook – Ruhlman or Keller or Bourdain – and then to look for results that are not written by that cook. This often gets you results from food blogs and other serious writers, not retreads from 1990’s supermarket magazines.

It's been a busy week at Eastgate World Headquarters. I had planned a moderately ambitious refactoring in Tinderbox in support of a short-range tweak in Twig and to unscramble a long-term headache in TinderWin, but there was one thing we had forgotten. Or several things. The refactoring grew like topsy. We’re finally back in business, though I’m not 100% sure the new code is actually better than the old.

Meanwhile, I’ve been planning a menu and rereading The Making of A Chef and thinking about cooking. To review the bidding: an unexpected dinner party for visiting friends who were driving a long way, and who would arrive (at best) just in time for dinner. That meant we didn’t really know whether we’d start at 7:30 or 9 or even later.

The dinner was last night; here’s the plan as built.

  • alummettes with pecan, thyme, and poppy
  • duck consommé with cilantro and sautéed shiitakes mushrooms
  • custard: charred onion and cilantro
  • duck confit, sliced duck breast with blood orange, cherry, and ginger, garlic mashed potatoes, with buttermilk dinner rolls
  • home-made pastrami on home-made rye, grilled asparagus
  • pets de nonnes (Nun’s Farts)
  • Meryl’s Orbit Cake

What made me particularly happy about this meal is that I managed to stay entirely out of the weeds. Everything got done. There was some urgency, but I never went way behind schedule – even though the consommé is a moderately silly thing to do at home.

Oh: the refrigerator ceased to refrigerate the night before, adding to the fun.

As you see, almost the whole dinner (for six) is based on one Long Island duck. So, the night before, I broke down the duck. The legs (plus four extra legs) went into a bag with confit spice (2T salt, juniper berries, allspice, pepper, coriander) overnight. The breasts went into a bag with a 5% brine (5 cloves garlic, a little sugar, some fresh thyme). The carcass, wings, and a couple of leftover duck carcasses from the freezer went into the oven to roast, and then spent the night in the stockpot inside a 180°F oven, slowly turning into stock. I also threw together the rye bread dough, which needs all night to rise.

In the morning, I browned some mirepoix, added it to the stock with a sachet of thyme and peppercorns, let it simmer for an hour, and filtered it. I took about 2.5 quarts of the stock for the consommé. I made the clarification with onion, carrot, 3 frothy egg whites, and some lemon juice. Following the advice of ImAFoodBlog – a new discovery for me and a good one! – I didn’t use any chopped meat. The consommé raft was a bit fragile but did the job; there might have been just a little turbidity in the pot but, in the bowl, the soup was rich and perfectly clear.

While the consommé cooked, I slow-cooked the duck confit and the short-rib pastrami (which had been curing all week) in a 300° oven. I shaped the rye bread, and made the dinner roll dough and the alummettes. Once the confit and short ribs were cooked — the confit simply needs to be crisped in a pan 15 minutes before serving — I cranked up the oven to cook the rye bread and the matchstick alummettes. While they cooked, I polished off the rest of the dinner roll prep and let them proof. And I finally remembered to char the onions for the custard – high time!

From here on, it was all downhill. I took some spare duck stock from the consommé, reduced it by about half, and added some blonde roux and left it on the back burner. (At this point, I knew I wanted some sauce for the duck breasts, but I had no idea what to do; duck espagnole sounded like a good place to start.) I minced a bunch of shallots, garlic, and ginger on general principles. A blood orange salad course was cancelled (we’d eaten the lettuce the night before by mistake), so I juiced the oranges and zested the orange skin for the sauce.

Hint: An Erlenmeyer flash filled with blood orange juice looks really cool in your mise en place!

I really winged the sauce, but it turned out well so I’m going to try to record it. I had about a pint of my flour-thickened, reduced duck stock sitting on the back burner. I grabbed a small sauté pan, got it hot, threw in some olive oil. Add a handful of minced shallot, about a tablespoon of minced ginger, and a little minced garlic, and cook them for a couple of minutes. Add some dried cherries and blood orange juice, crank the heat and let it reduce a bit. Add the zest, and the duck stock. Done. (Fancy sauce, essentially free as by-product of the soup!)

I've fallen behind in my food blogging lately. Blame it on March: four weekends, four different talks in four different cities (and three different countries). So, not much time for food.

Still, gotta eat. Last night I worked late. Got home, fired up the grill on the Wolfe, and cooked a nice little piece of butterflied leg of lamb that I'd left to marinate in thyme and mint. Whole Foods had Pom Pom Mushrooms, which I’d never seen. So I bought one and sauteed it in butter. Since the grill was going, I brushed a couple of spring onions with olive oil, salted them, and we had those, too.

Meanwhile, old friends are dropping by Saturday. They're driving from Delaware, so dinner time depends on traffic. It’s an unexpected trip, so I’m improvising a menu.

Around Boston, the trees are beginning to bud but it’s still a bit early for spring vegetables. I’m thinking about duck: how many different ways can I use one duck? Confit the legs. Sautée the breasts -- perhaps after smoking them. Can I find sufficient scraps to make some sausage, too? And then there’s the bones for duck stock – for a risotto, maybe? Duck consomme?

For some reason, I’m thinking of some sort of a savory custard for a vegetable. Maybe sage and onion? Or would that be too much richness? How about a souflée instead? (One guest is lactose-intolerant. What happens if you make a souflée with velouté instead of béchamel?)

Then there’s the bread question. I’m thinking of Ruhlman’s buttermilk dinner rolls. I’ve been rereading Making of a Chef. But rye bread might be nice, too.

Thinking through menus is fun.

Over in the Tinderbox Forum, Ben Worthington explores legal chronologies, moving smoothly between spreadsheet lists and Tinderbox,

Apr 10 12 2010

Juliet, Naked

by Nick Hornby

This delightful love story brightened the drive from Boston to Rochester and then back to Boston, which is a long drive for a short weekend. Or it would have brightened the drive, if stories were actually capable of brightening a drive. They are perhaps not literally capable, and in this case the drive into New York involved rain and flurries and even some overnight hail, while the drive back was such a sunny day that brightening would be superfluous.

And day-brightening stories are likely subject to 8.47% tax in New York State, anyway. This doubtless explains the many police cars populating the median strips.

Hornby is terrific fun to read, whatever he is talking about. I enjoy reading him talking about Arsenal. But it’s more fun to read him talking about music and love and derelict seaside resorts, which he does very well indeed.

by Elmore Leonard

Vintage Elmore Leonard takes striking characters, puts them in bizarre situations, and carries off oodles of plot almost entirely with dialogue. Here, two fellows find themselves in prison. One has a lot of money. The other has robbed a lot of banks. They get together, help each other to get out of prison and back into Venice, California. And there, soaking up sun and rum, each waits to be betrayed.

Apr 10 8 2010

Bricklin on iPad

Dan Bricklin has a useful essay on the nature of the iPad. One of his important points has not been widely noted:

Having a feel for the long battery life matters so that you don't feel like you are rationing use. You feel like there is a lot of battery life in reserve - that you aren't pushing things.
Apr 10 7 2010

Tinderbox London

Tinderbox Weekend London is coming next month, May 8-9.

I'm working on a a new grammar of maps. I took this out for a short spin at Tinderbox Weekend Boston and it was well received. This time, I'm going to take it a little farther.

Tom Smith, a judge from Canada, will be talking about using Tinderbox to evaluate evidence.

Stacey Mason will explain how to get down to work in Tinderbox without getting tangled up in infrastructure – how to let your Tinderbox work grow organically as your needs change.

Michael Bywater will talk about using Tinderbox to plan a new musical.

And I think we’ll have some interesting news about new tools for the Tinderbox ecosystem.

Last call for early registration.

What are the top law blogs? I’m interested both in blogging about the law, about practicing law, and about legal tech. I’m starting from zero, so I'm interested in both the obvious, well-known blogs – they aren’t well known to me – and undiscovered gems.

Email me.

HTLit points out that terrific writers like Margaret Atwood write well, even when writing on Twitter. It’s what they do.

The torrent of emotion that has drenched discussion of the iPad in the tech community stems from an expectation that is wildly improbable. The iPad is not your next computer. It’s not your mother’s next computer. It’s not going to replace your laptop.

The iPad is a new thing.

Dave Winer is right: it's important to make stuff, and it’s nice to make stuff on the same device you’re going to run it. This is like using your own software: if you start developing here and running there, you can tell yourself that problems and imperfections don’t matter because your users won’t notice. It doesn’t affect you: you’re working somewhere else. And sometimes that’s the right decision. But this can also lead your company to start thinking of the customers as children to be placated, or marks to be fleeced.

The iPad isn't a place for developers to develop. Nor does it slice, dice, or make salad. That’s not what it wants to be.

Al3x is right; it’s important to have places where people learn to program, and places where people who don’t know better can once again take a shot at programs we all know are impossible.

The iPad isn’t a place for programming. It’s also not a place for dancing.

Adrian Miles is vexed that his colleagues, who still haven’t understood how important new media are going to be, won’t stop students from leasing obsolete laptops and get them to grab iPads. I think he’s wrong: students need a general-purpose computer. And they also need something like the iPad. (The iPad is a luxury: you could get by with a good laptop, but you’ll do better with both. $500 isn’t a lot compared to the cost of being a student.)

All the fuss about iPad and the enterprise (no printing!) is froth. Do you know how often you’ll feel like printing something from your iPad? No you do not. You won’t know until you’ve done a lot of work with it. You can guess, you can theorize, but you don’t know anything. (Funny: people will advocate user-centered design until the cows come home, but when they have a newspaper pulpit and a review assignment, they somehow forget all about it.)

Maybe Winer is wrong to think of the iPad as a computer at all. Maybe it’s not a replacement for the computer. Maybe it’s just a replacement for the book that sits next to your computer.

You say: '$500? That’s an expensive book.' Sure. Who knows what the price point will be? In the meantime, have you worked out what your company pays as rent for bookshelves? Across my office, I see lots of books that used to be next to my computer. Thinking FORTH. Petzold. Knuth. CSCW ’90. I pay rent for them every month.

Maybe it’s a replacement for your picture frame. Or for your clipboard. Maybe it’s something else.

Relax. Take a deep breath. Enjoy iPad for what it is. Figure out what it’s trying to do — not what its maker thinks it’s trying to do, not what they say they want it to do, not what the script kiddies or the Wall Street Journal or your grandmother imagine it wants to do. Look what the thing itself is attempting.

Listen to the the work.

Then, when you know what the system wants, you can criticize it intelligently.

Until then, it’s not criticism, it’s merely a projection of your anxieties and your politics.

by Frederick R. Brooks, Jr.

Exciting news: we just received our review copy of a The Design of Design , a brand-new book by Frederick R. Brooks, Jr., author of the famous Mythical Man Month..

Brooks gave a wonderful after-dinner speech at Hypertext ’87, and a brilliant keynote at OOPSLA 2008. Can’t wait.

Brian Gregory is interested in optimizing healthcare systems – using hospital facilities efficiently, and getting the most from each physician and caregiver.

When you get into healthcare, the interactions can be much more complicated, and the patterns may need to be more complicated to show as much information as possible at once, but that can be understood, with practice, by someone who can and will alter some action to effect a beneficial change.

His recent discussion of the productivity of surgeons calls out Tinderbox as part of a fresh emphasis on visualization for discovering patterns, not merely for impressing managers.

Lots of software nowadays ... tries to graphically represent information by use of our sense of color, shape, relative position and size, fluctuations and more.  One good example is Tinderbox by Mark Bernstein ( that permits such control of visual cues that it has a dedicated following of people who use it for visual exploratory analysis of data
Apr 10 5 2010

iPad Question

One of the cute things the iPad does is that you can use it like a digital picture frame.

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of displaying some stored pictures, the iPad displayed a Web page? A company dashboard, for example? (Know how to do this? Email me. )

Joe Clark on the iPad’s political detractors:

Nobody needs to program an iPad to enjoy using it, except those who have no capacity for enjoyment other than programming and complaining about same.

Cory Doctorow thinks the iPad is a computer, and laments that you can’t program it with quite the freedom we once enjoyed. He’s right, and he’s completely wrong. The iPad isn’t a computer: it’s an information appliance. We trained a generation to enjoy polished interfaces and to deplore the slightest deviation from UI convention. We accepted that “Don’t Make Me Think! ” was a reasonable goal. The iPad is giving the lady what she wanted. In any case, the software we write now isn’t something that kids can write; the APIs are just too big, the frameworks are just too complex.

Don’t like the world we’ve made? Get behind Smalltalk and Squeak and Tinderbox and artisanal software.

Dave Winer thinks the iPad is a wonderful toy. He’s right, too. And he’s completely wrong, because he’s imagining the iPad is a replacement for his mother’s old laptop. His mother doesn’t need an iPad to replace her laptop; she needs an iPad to replace the TV in the kitchen, or that silly digital picture frame. It’s an appliance: you use it in addition to your real computer and in addition to your phone.

Marc Benioff thinks the iPad is all about video. I agree with Tim Bray: this is (almost certainly) entirely wrong. The iPad isn't just about consuming media: that’s what your phone is for. The iPad is a for making stuff when you’re doing stuff. It’s not a heavy-duty creator’s tool: that’s your laptop back on your desk. The iPad is the tool you have handy.

Lots of people are saying they’ll get an iPad in a generation or two, when they’re better and less expensive. Good luck with that: while you wait, people are going to be using them to get stuff done. They’ll actually write a few chapters of their novel while sitting in coffee shops. They’ll come up with a clever presentation while riding the bus.
You won’t. See you around.

Kottke gets the spirit of the press today.

Lorem iPad dolor sit amet, consectetur Apple adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua Shenzhen. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud no multi-tasking ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip iPad ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor iPad in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse CEO Steve Jobs dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur.

The iPad is a new thing. It doesn’t replace your computer. You use it when you don’t want the whole computer, and when your phone isn’t enough. It’s a new tool. You don’t have to get one – you can use other tools and get stuff done. But it makes stuff easier, and faster, and readier to hand.

Remember how PCs got adopted in the first place? You had a few enthusiastic users who bought business PCs with their own money or robbed Peter to pay for them, and everyone thought they were silly toys until they were in a turf war and their secretaries were sending hand-typed memos and their rivals had PageMaker and PowerPoint. It’ll be like that again. 90% of success is showing up, and part of that is showing up with enough computing power to get the job done.

It’s an impressive little machine. And it’s got lots of dimensions for growth. It’s fast, but we can use more speed. The screen is gorgeous, but we can use even more pixels. It’s got great typography, but we need more. It’s got a terrific battery — a whole day of video! — but people can always use more. (This is good news: room for growth means this is the start of something big, not just a splash.)

So, sure, it’ll be better next year. But I’ve got things to do. Right now.

Has anyone noticed that it’s black? And that iPhones are black, too?

When Apple returned from the slough of despair, Apple’s branding seized white. Macs were white, iPods were white, Apple stores werre white. Black meant Windows; for years, Apple’s machines were white, high-end PC's were black, and low-end machines were beige.

Now, Apple branding has taken back black – for accessories. These guys are smart.

Apr 10 2 2010

Not Easy

Most cookbooks try hard to make things fast and easy. That’s good. But it’s not always what you want.

I volunteered to bring a lamb tagine to a small feast. (Or maybe a tangia.) This is a little awkward because (a) I’ve never made one, and (b) tagines are usually cooked in a special pot, called a tagine, and I don’t have one. Tangia is supposed to be cooked in the ashes from the local bath house, and I don’t have one of those either. But I have recipes, and I’ve got a perfectly good Dutch oven. I have a bunch of recipes, but they all seem simplified for busy cooks. This is a festive dish, and it seems wrong to cut corners.

So I tried an experiment in cookbook psychology. Given the simplified version, could I extrapolate the recipe that someone’s mother used to insist was the only right way to do it?

I almost didn’t have the lamb. I got to Savenor’s at 8:02. They close at 8. The cashier was counting the till, the butcher was sweeping. The door was locked. I knocked. Nothing. I knocked some more. Nothing. I knocked again; the butcher opened up. “I was wondering where you were,” he said. “I have your lamb, but I’m not sure how you can pay for it.”

We worked it out. (Thanks, Savenor’s)

Now, it seems that Moroccans don’t brown lamb in tagines. But I do like braising, and I can't see that searing the lamb would do much harm. So I rubbed the lamb with spices, let it marinate overnight, and then seared it in the morning. This is extra work, sure. And it’s not by the book. But I think really braising the meat will make it more delicious.

I was working from a bunch of recipes in various books. Most add some water to the stew. But I’d just bought a honking big lamb shoulder, and so I had nice lamb bones. I roasted them last night, and then let the roasted bones simmer overnight in a very slow oven. I didn’t have quite enough lamb bones, and I did have some veal bones at the bottom of the freezer; they’ll do no harm. So, instead of water, the tagine will be cooked in rich dark lamb stock.

The tagine should be seasoned with ras el hanout, a special spice blend that literally means “front of the shop”. You can sometimes find it in stores, but it seems that everyone has their own secret ingredient. Besides, the ras el hanout you buy in Boston is never going to be as good as the stuff you bought in that little place near the Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech. But even if you knew someone in Marrakech who could get you some, it really hasn’t been as good since The Tall Guy let his son take over. Nice boy, but it’s just not the same. It’s always that way.

So the lamb is now simmering away. Six hours! We’ll see.

An SXSW panel on visual note taking has triggered a number of echoes in the blogosphere. It’s an interesting area for Tinderbox!

Also interesting for future reference:

Perhaps the most visible new feature in Tinderbox 5.1 – which debuts today – is improved typeahead selection. This is a quiet little feature that lets you select a note in a complicated map or a long outline by simply typing part of its name.

In the old design, you had to type the first few characters of the name. And that worked pretty well.

The new design lets you type any characters from the note’s $DisplayName. For example, typing “toaster” could select “The Brave Little Toaster”. In fact, the characters don't need to be contiguous; you can type abbreviations like "BrToast" and get good results.

Of course, you might have meant something else. “Brazilian Toastmasters” could also be BrToast. So could “Boys Roam To Alaskan Terror”. Tinderbox tries to find the best match, but it’s hard to know what people have in mind. So far, I find its guesses are surprisingly good.

We’re using a heuristic measure of goodness-of-fit that places a significant penalty on each deletion; if you type “start”, Tinderbox prefers notes that contain the word to notes that contain an “s” in one word, a “t” in another, and and “a” even later. A surprisingly tricky problem occurs when the same note has several different potential matches for the same pattern. To do this optimally, we'd need to enumerate them all (hello, dynamic programming). My guess is that the problem will seldom occur in the wild. We’ll see.

It’s interesting to observe that we’re in 2010, and we’re implementing a simple user interface enhancement, and as far as I can see we’re already doing research. Sure, there must be studies of this in the CHI literature. But I’ve been asking around, and I’ve received very few pointers. I bet there’s a nice MA here for someone. I’m just trying to ship the feature!

Good news: a new Cathy Marshall keynote: people, their digital stuff and time: opportunities, challenges, and life-logging Barbie. (The section about re-encountering your old stuff, late in the deck, is especially interesting.)