March 28, 2004

Tinderbox in Meetings

Ken Hagler used Tinderbox to take notes during RealWorld 2004, and shares his Tinderbox document (Stuffit archive),

One interesting thing is that Hagler uses outline view, creating a top-level item for each topic (or session?), and storing topical notes inside them. I usually use a map view for conference notes, setting aside a distinct region of the map for each session. It might be interesting to think about where each style would work best.

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox for Online Help
March 28, 2004

Tinderbox for Online Help

In O'Reilly's MacDev Center, Matt Neuburg explores Creating Online Help With Tinderbox.

Most important, because links are so easy to create, I created lots of them. It also helped that Tinderbox provides rapid searchability for a document. Thus I was able to grow an extensive outline-structured, heavily hyperlinked document with amazing speed.
...Thanks to Tinderbox, the documentation was easy to write quickly, easy to maintain, and easy to render as HTML. Developers may well wish to consider Tinderbox as their help authoring tool.
Mark Bernstein: Big Chicken
March 28, 2004

Big Chicken

Torill visits the Big Apple, visits Costco, and tries to finish a Big Chicken. Her New York friend says "It's the best chicken ever," but she's dubious. How did it get so big?

I'm curious: what New York chicken inspired such a boisterous claim? I mean, the Empire kosher chickens are pretty good, as chickens go, but I wouldn't make a tsimmes of them. And Eberly free-range chickens are nice, but in my experience they're usually small. Besides, for what the Cambridge Museum of Fruits and Vegetables charges, you want to find a small chicken!

Anyway, everything I read tells me that chickens abroad are much tastier than any American chicken, even the hypereducated free-range chicken. Joyce Chen talks a lot, for example, about chicken back in rural China.

Big Chicken

This is the Campo De'Fiori, not the Museum. But, speaking of fruits and vegetables....

Mark Bernstein: Artificial Oppositions
March 27, 2004

Artificial Oppositions

Zeldman denounces the habit -- pervasive in writing about Web practice -- of building artificial oppositions atop disciplinary boundaries. "If you're eating enough fruits and vegetables," the pundits say, "you must not give a damn about protein." For example, he quotes Jason Fried of 37 Signals:

There’s way too much talk about CSS and XHTML and Standards and Accessibility and not enough talk about people.... UI designers are making the same old fundamental 'forgetting about the human being on the other side' mistakes — except this time their code looks better.

And we all remember way back when (i.e. last year), when books on Information Architecture always slammed designers for paying too much attention to the way things looked — as if real architects didn't do this.

A lively sermon, highly recommended reading for Web pros.

Mark Bernstein: Shops
March 27, 2004


When they built the shopping mall now known as Trajan's Market, back in the 2nd century, it was smack across a highway, the via Biberatica. So, naturally, they routed the highway right through the shopping complex, the lots of convenient tabernae right there to assist the weary traveller.


A taberna used to be any old shop, but gradually came to mean a drinking place, a tavern -- In taberna quando sumus/Non curamus quid sit humus is bad Latin but a good drinking song.

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox work
March 27, 2004

Tinderbox work

I'm testing a fairly major revamp of the Tinderbox HTML export system. Breakage might ensue; if it does, feel free to tell me about it.

Mark Bernstein: Silver Wings
March 26, 2004

Silver Wings

This morning's bouquet from Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials, my commute companion for many weeks:

My Soul into the boughs does glide:
There like a Bird it sits, and sings,
Then whets, and combs its silver Wings
--Andrew Marvell

Spring is near; the wood warblers will be coming soon.

Mark Bernstein: Metaphysical Club
March 25, 2004

Metaphysical Club

Although I'd doubtless run across his writing in The New Yorker from time to time over the years, I only became conscious of Louis Menand when Diane Greco declared her love for his work in her weblog last year. I've just finished his brilliant intellectual history, The Metaphysical Club. It's superb. (More on the new Spring books page)

I have a Tinderbox agent that collects all my notes my Menand's writing, from this latest review to his brilliant analysis of the psychological depths of The Cat In The Hat.

Mark Bernstein: Europe and Faerie
March 24, 2004

Europe and Faerie

Emma Bull's 1987 War for the Oaks descibes the war in Faerie for possession of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Reading it in Rome, I was struck by the impression that the entire genre of elfpunk is really about the way intelligent and sympathetic Europeans and Americans view each other today. (This categorie excludes the Bushies in the US, of course, and the most virulent left and right-wing culture hawks in Europe)

The denizens of Faerie are achingly beautiful and dress really well; Americans who stroll down the streets of Paris or Milan have the same feeling.

Europe and Faerie
Elves (and vampires) possess an ancient culture, bound up with arcane customs and incomprehensible courtesies and rituals. They make and own beautiful things, they treasure nature, and to them nature is cultivated, tamed, and comfortable. They have hereditary titles. They have great sex.

To the faerie court, mortals often seem ignorant, inexperienced, and clumsy. But mortals are also endlessly fascinating and strangely alluring; without the strictures of tradition and custom, mortals create things of which faeries never dreamed. Their art has raw power and excitement, and by elven standards the mortals have a charming directness, enthusiasm, and simplicity. Mortals are puritans, afflicted by strange conflicts about their bodies. And even the most powerful members of the faerie court always sense that this is the age of mortals, that mortals are somehow at the center of things.

Europe and Faerie

Mortals can't understand why ancient faerie rivalries matter so much, why the Seelie and Unseelie court need to fight their interminable war. Why not just sit down, work it out, shake hands, move on? To immortals, this seems foolish and naive -- except that for some reason it appears to work for mortals. The American Civil War was horrible, yes, but once it was over, it was over. In Faerie, they remember these things and keep their anger fresh. The elves would still support guerilla bands in the Appalachians, they would hold armed marches, riots, and bombings to honor the memory of Tippecanoe and the Battle of Quebec.

See also Neil Gaiman (Great Britain), American Gods, and William Gibson (Canada), Pattern Recognition, and Laurel Hamilton (U.S.), A Kiss of Shadows.  (Thanks, Maggy, for the book tip)

Mark Bernstein: Peace
March 23, 2004


Last Saturday, we found ourselves in the midst of a huge anti-war demonstration in the center of Rome. It's been a long time since I saw the streets filled with happy people, protesting a war because nobody is quite certain why it got started.

The Peace Flag, it turns out, makes a really nice skirt.

The hammer and sickle, it turns out, is still useful iconography in Italy. There were lots of red flags. But there was surprisingly little anti-Americanism -- not that we noticed, anyway


The Carabinieri and the Polizia and who knows what other security forces were out in force. In Italian, a police station is a questura; when the building in the background was new, the officials in charge of things like routine law enforcement and games were called quaestors.

Mark Bernstein: Wrede
March 23, 2004


Oliver Wrede has just converted his Interface Design weblog to Tinderbox.

Mark Bernstein: Bookstore Blog
March 23, 2004

Bookstore Blog

Lorem Ipsum is a new bookstore in Inman Square, Cambridge. They have a blog, asking "What's a store without a blog?" Thanks, Barbara!

Mark Bernstein: Medievalism
March 21, 2004


The Vatican Museums own the world's great collection of classical art. For centuries, the Pope had preemptive rights to new discoveries, and sometimes whatever the Pope didn't want was destroyed. More recently, the collections at the Lateran have been moved to the Vatican too.


Here's one amazing view, looking down one corridor of many. The best fragments of a lost world, set out in endless array. But notice, too, that there's no signage -- no labels, no handcards, no supporting material. If you aren't already a world expert, I suppose, then the people in charge feel you don't need to know.


Notice that signage isn't the only thing missing from the picture: there are no people. Most of the collections of ancient art are closed. Nobody seemed to know when, or if, they'd be open again. You might assume a staff shortage, but then again they have enough staff for about a dozen gift stores and souvenir stands that fill galleries between the entrance and the Sistine chapel. (And, if times are tough, I suppose the Vatican could forego some of the lobbyists they've hired to outlaw same-sex marriage benefits in my hometown and employ a few extra guards. Or raise ticket prices even higher)

Of course, the Sistine chapel is a problem for the Vatican, just as the Mona Lisa is a problem for the Louvre: the museum has to deal with a stream of tourists who have come just to spend a moment in the presence of The Famous Thing, to purchase some evidence that They Were There, and who then want to rush off to the next marvel. The Vatican Museum makes great efforts to accommodate these people, and does what it can to guide them. It's learned some lessons from Disney -- keep the line moving, lead people to expect even longer delays than they'll experience, give them stuff to look at as they shuffle down the corridors but keep everything focused on the E Ticket Experience.

The price is that, if you'd like to see the greatest collection of ancient art and epigraphy in the world, I guess you need to know Somebody, and you need to know what you're looking at.

Mark Bernstein: Notebooks and Daybooks
March 20, 2004

Notebooks and Daybooks

Doug Miller revisits the question of the Daybook. Low-tech solutions, like Moleskine notebooks, are convenient and reliable -- but they don't scale well: when the old notebook is full and you've just started another, you either need to carry both books or you lose access to your old notes. Miller is evolving a nice hybrid strategy that includes paper notebooks for information capture, a cell phone/laptop conduit for phone numbers, and Tinderbox for knowledge management.

While in Rome, I carried a pen and notebook constantly, and found this gave me nice opportunities for reflection and introspection while also providing a good place to stash reminders, phone numbers, tickets, and other travel ephemera. Near the Pantheon, I bought a lovely leather-bound desk book to rest near my workstation and serve the same function -- to act, in short, as a lab notebook.

But these low-tech devices are for information capture and for the experience of writing; when you want to be able to analyze, reflect, and retrieve information, you want a tool like Tinderbox. This has always been true: Jefferson , a great note-maker, kept a vast range of diaries, record books, commonplace books, and vade-mecums, each with its own purpose.

Notebooks and Daybooks
Mark Bernstein: Enjoying The Big Idea
March 9, 2004

Enjoying The Big Idea

Tim Bray has a new job and a new idea; he's one happy gyy.

For those of us with engineering bones, afflicted by insomnia and the creative itch, few things feel as good as the early days of a Big Idea.
Mark Bernstein: Attitude Adjustment
March 9, 2004

Attitude Adjustment

Martin Fowler's Bliki has a nice page on Software Development Attitude, in which he distinguished between Enabling and Directing. For example, plan-driven methodologies give direction so that even poor teams will succeed, while agile technologies give empowerment so good teams won't be hampered. We used to call this the eternal battle of the neats and the scruffies.

Mark Bernstein: Kan Shao Italiano
March 8, 2004

Kan Shao Italiano

Diane has a great recipe for string beans. (Jan 5, no permalink, so I'll quote the whole recipe)

Toss a pound of trimmed string beans with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and some kosher salt. Spread the beans on a cookie sheet and roast them at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. While they're cooking, saute a quarter-pound of diced prosciutto in a little oil until it's crispy and put it aside. Then saute 3 minced cloves of garlic, a thinly sliced red onion, and one or two finely chopped anchovies until the onion begins to carmelize. Toss the string beans and the onion mixture in a large bowl with a big tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, then stir in the prosciutto and a half-cup of chopped basil. Add salt & pepper if you want. Serve warm.

One interesting thing is sauteed prosciutto, which is new to me and very tasty. In the old days, was this pancetta? Perhaps it's a general substitution for lower fat cooking?

Another interesting thing: compare this to the Szechuan standby, Kan Shao string beans. Garlic, beans, pork, vinegar. Same same. OK: szechuan peppers out, basil in. Interesting....

Mark Bernstein: View from the Inside
March 8, 2004

View from the Inside

In Salon, a first-hand account by Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel, describes how the Bushites corrupted the Pentagon.

From May 2002 until February 2003, I observed firsthand the formation of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans and watched the latter stages of the neoconservative capture of the policy-intelligence nexus in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. This seizure of the reins of U.S. Middle East policy was directly visible to many of us working in the Near East South Asia policy office, and yet there seemed to be little any of us could do about it.
...While this commandeering of a narrow segment of both intelligence production and American foreign policy matched closely with the well-published desires of the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of us in the Pentagon, conservatives and liberals alike, felt that this agenda, whatever its flaws or merits, had never been openly presented to the American people. Instead, the public story line was a fear-peddling and confusing set of messages, designed to take Congress and the country into a war of executive choice, a war based on false pretenses, and a war one year later Americans do not really understand. That is why I have gone public with my account.

The key sentence comes on page two, where Lt. Colonel Kwiatkowski describes her first day at her new Pentagon job -- in which her new boss gave her instructions that contradicted US policy. "That the Pentagon could have implemented and, worse, was implementing its own foreign policy had not yet occurred to me."

If you're not frightened at the thought of the U.S. military implementing an independent foreign policy, you're not paying attention.

Also, in Military Week, the Colonel reviews a book by her former boss.

For Perle and Frum, it is all just a chess game, static and two dimensional. They leave the bloody and dynamic three-dimensional reality to the soldiers in the field, and the generals who walk a fine line between doing the right thing for the Republic and trying to please their Neronian masters.
Mark Bernstein: Atomic RSS
March 6, 2004

Atomic RSS

Dave Winer has proposed a roadmap for merging Atom and RSS 2.0. So far, negotiations have not collapsed into a flame war. I'm guardedly optimistic.

I'm not sure that the most ambitious goals for Atom can be reconciled with what RSS prizes most -- backward compatibility. But XML gives us a precedent. An XML document can be well-formed, which means that it adheres to a minimal set of rules, or it can be valid, which means it's well-formed and it adheres even more rules. Perhaps some middle-ground can be found along these lines.

Mark Bernstein: Pretending
March 6, 2004


Did you hear how the Bush administration plans to fix the decline in quality jobs? They're going to reclassify fast food jobs as "manufacturing" in time for the election.

Seriously, Paul Krugman shows, in one clear graph, how the government's forecasts are not really forecasts.

What you see in this chart is the signature of a corrupted policy process, in which political propaganda takes the place of professional analysis.  
Mark Bernstein: Habeas Corpus
March 5, 2004

Habeas Corpus

The first Republican president suspended the writ of habeas corpus. According to Silvergate and Takei (thanks, Gillmor! ) the current Republican administration seeks to suspend it forever  by making it irrelevant and unenforceable. A commenter on Gillmor's blog writes that

This issue and others like it is why I am responding from my newly purchased home in Vancouver, BC. With any luck I'll be able to stay here on a permanent basis, although I'd rather not have to request political asylum.

Update: Larry asks, correctly, what I was thinking to have spelt this "habeus". Second conjugation, subjunctive: habeam habeas habeat habeamus habeatis habeant. I should know better. Sorry, Mrs. Ravid!

Mark Bernstein: The Country Game
March 5, 2004

The Country Game

Norman Walsh plays The Country Game, counting places you've been. His target -- one per year -- is a tough standard to meet.

Mark Bernstein: Romeward Bound
March 3, 2004

Romeward Bound

I'm going to Rome next week. For fun: I've been reading about the Romans for years and years, it's time to visit.

Tips? Eating suggestions? Let me know.

Mark Bernstein: The Subtle Knife
March 3, 2004

The Subtle Knife

Have you heard of Philip Pullman's three-volume story, His Dark Materials? (More in Books....) I hadn't, until a Tinderbox user sent me an essay by its author, Philip Pullman. I've just finished the second volume. It's extraordinary, a work of tremendous scope and ambition.

I'm unsure whether Knopf's publishing this in a young adult series was an act of courage or folly or doing precisely the right thing.

I mean, Tobias Wolf's Old School is a fine book, I'm really glad I read it, it deserves all those awards and nominations. I heard about that one from a half dozen places; I could easily have not heard of His Dark Materials at all.

What else has nobody bothered to tell me about?

Disclaimer: I've not yet read the final volume, I don't know where this ends up.

Mark Bernstein: Generic
March 3, 2004


Through a random RSS feed -- I'm not even completely sure that this site is meant to be public -- comes what might be the first use of "tinderbox" in the generic sense: "a collection of notes, like those collected in Tinderbox". A milestone, of sorts, I suppose.

For some reason, I have decided that going through all the old floppies in the box under my desk is a good idea. Not that I don't have a hundred and twenty seven better things to be doing. I have decided that pulling anything interesting off of them and pasting them into one giant tinderbox, is an even better idea.
Mark Bernstein: MassEquality
March 3, 2004


Josh Marshall pointed to MassEquality, an organization that hopes to block efforts to add anti-gay provisions the state constitution. Like Marshall, I'm of two minds -- and I really do think we have more important things to talk about. But losing this fight isn't the going to help anything, so I followed the link and gave them a small donation.

I've tried to contact my state senator and my representative, but they're too busy (it seems) to write back. I think we're all on the same side of this issue, I've asked how I might help, but the staff is so overwhelmed, it seems, that they can't ask for help or money or support.

Winer saw this one coming early on. I thought he was being too optimistic and marketing to hard, but he was right: weblogs are going to be powerful tools for organizing, and they're going to transform politics.

Mark Bernstein: Save the Date
March 2, 2004

Save the Date

We're planning a TINDERBOX weekend in Boston, May 22-23. We've got lots of ideas:

You'll hear lots more on the Tinderbox weekend shortly....

Mark Bernstein: Daybook: High Tech and Low Tech
March 2, 2004

Daybook: High Tech and Low Tech

Doug Miller explores low-tech (paper notebooks) and high-tech (Tinderbox) solutions to the Daybook problem. Both have their place!

The Moleskine works great for referencing what I did yesterday, and for recording what I did today. It's less useful for retrieving what I did last week. Trying to find what I did a month ago can be more time consuming than hauling out my PowerBook. Searching for a specific entry from five months ago that happens to be in another notebook is so inefficient as to not be worth the effort.

He's transcribing notes from paper into Tinderbox; this might make a useful component of your weekly (or monthly) review process.

Mark Bernstein: Josh Marshall States The Theme
February 29, 2004

Josh Marshall States The Theme

Josh Marshall identifies what he sees as the central theme for the upcoming American presidential election.

...that the Bush administration has been a for-the-moment and for-itself operation, burning through the resources of tomorrow and the hard-acquired inheritance of the past to service the political needs -- its political needs -- of the present.

This resonates with Brady Kiesling's resignation letter -- can it really have been only a year ago?

Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known.
Mark Bernstein: More Tinderbox Research Tools
February 28, 2004

More Tinderbox Research Tools

There's a new page on the Tinderbox wiki for research tools. Marc-Antoine Parent has just launched some intriguing XSL stylesheets, including an XML RPC method (!)

Mark Bernstein: Ignorance
February 28, 2004


Last night during a radio program about the implications of Gibson's Passion, someone defended the movie's brutality as a necessary antidote to American complacency. "No war has been fought on American soil," he said. "It's like Saving Private Ryan...."

Nobody challenged this.

The ghosts of Horseheads and Bunker Hill and Yorktown, of Shiloh and Antietam and Gettysburg, of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee and Tippecanoe, must wonder what the hell these people were thinking.

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox In Flight
February 28, 2004

Tinderbox In Flight

In the Tinderbox wiki, Zarzura describes a novel literary project:

As a passionate flight simmer I have just started a simulated Around-The-World-Trip with an old DC-3. The really new thing about this venture is, that I am going to publish a live literary travel report with photos.

It's a wild project -- a combination of research, writing, and play.

I also do research on the airports and cities I am going to visit - all this information is stored and organized in Tinderbox. Additionally I am grabbing realtime world news, that might affect my story and keep them in my TB-file. Finally I use Tinderbox to develop the cast, write up the actual story and to produce the HTML-Code of the travel report.

When he writes that, "This is for sure the craziest thing I have ever done with the computer," you can understand the perspective. But it sounds like a lot of fun -- a lot mote fun that just making another touch-and-go at Meiggs -- and it should be an interesting story.

Mark Bernstein: Lists
February 28, 2004


Last week, I was hanging around outside Lula's, a charming Chicago neighborhood cafe that has very nice wild rice cakes and really excellent coffee for Sunday brunch. I was with Linda and a bunch of childhood friends, and we were back in 1972 and being a little awkward about splitting up after a damn good meal. So, naturally, we made sure we all had the our current email addresses.

'You can always get Mark's from his weblog -- along with the movies he's seen and every book he reads.' That's Linda, helpful as ever. 'I think,' she adds, 'I'm the only one who doesn't read it.'

OK, that's sort of embarrassing, but I think the books and the movie list are worth it. Worth it for me, anyway; it's nice to be able to look back on Oscar night and see exactly what I watched in the past year. And, Tinderbox makes it easy -- adding a movie takes seconds, I don't have to be online, I dont have to wait for the server.

By my count, last year I saw 29 feature films and four TV series seasons -- two years of Buffy and two of Babylon 5. Only three weren't much fun, and none at all were downright lousy. It's nice to look back and remember the good ones -- Lord of the Rings, Adaptation, The Apartment. And it's nice to remember the ones I saw at nice times -- the quiet evening with Linda and The Red Violin, the relaxing train trip with A Mighty Wind, the long night of Midnight Cowboy. Seeing Mystic River at Assembly Square, the old Edsel plant alongside the Mystic River.

I also think it's interesting to hear what other people are seeing and reading. If you know someone who keeps good lists of current reading, film, or other media, let me know; perhaps I'll put together some sort of list.

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox and Planning
February 27, 2004

Tinderbox and Planning

Gavin Sade shares a snapshot of a Tinderbox project plan.

Tinderbox and Planning

I think it's particularly interesting that, having used Tinderbox to sketch out the plan, he's now wondering if the plan is right.

Unfortunately the diagram appears to present a typical 'waterfall' production model. This may in part be the result of the method of visualisation. Note the connections between key stages and the 'design guidelines'. These both inform each stage and are refined throughout the process.

So often, visualization tools are used merely to prepare pretty reports that reassure managers or make the creator feel better; it's reassuring to see that Tinderbox leads to new questions, not just chart junk. (It's also nice that the Tinderbox is so malleable; you can make a copy, move everything around, and see if you like the new plan more than the old.)

Mark Bernstein: Tinderbox Research Tools
February 27, 2004

Tinderbox Research Tools

Open hypertext guru Les Carr has created a suite of easy-to-use tools that help programmers work on Tinderbox files outside of Tinderbox.