I received an email this morning from a distinguished British professor, asking for the second time whether I might be interested in doing something at a conference next May. She’d written to ask last month, and wanted to confirm that I wasn’t interested.

Last month, I’d replied the same day that I would be happy to help out. Email has become so unreliable that its value is rapidly diminishing.

At the same time, someone called me yesterday and began reading a telemarketing script taken verbatim from a common SEO spam email. No changes at all, and the poor fellow didn’t even have a comeback when I began to recite his own script for him.

Then we have the diploma mill spam — “educational” directories for career advice and online degrees. I can’t for the life of me figure out how anyone makes money from this stuff; if you know, Email me.

by Vivian Gornick

This interesting and pleasant examination of the art of personal narrative hinges on the understanding that, while in fiction our narrator may be unreliable or unlikable, in memoir he cannot.

Every work of literature has both a situation and a story.  The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.

This distinction is useful in thinking about writers like Orwell whose personae turn out to differ from the person one met on the street, since an unpleasant person can create a pleasant voice just as a perfectly nice novelist can write a villain.

At Quora.

The effort I had to make to learn Tinderbox (and implement GTD) has paid dividends that far exceed the price of the software and updates. For anyone who is willing to go to the trouble of learning Tinderbox, I cannot recommend this software too highly. I have given this software five stars for the same reason that I would assign five stars to a symphony by Hindemith or a late quartet by Beethoven. None of this is for the faint of heart. If you don't like it it's your fault, not the fault of the software.

My friend the composer says,

Up ’til the Hindemith, I thought he was recommending it!

Incidentally, we’re going to be showing some Tinderbox Six previews over on the Facebook page. I’ll try to call them out here, too, with a little extra technical detail, but it won’t hurt to keep half an eye on Facebook too if you’re eager for a look. Lots of news coming.

Tinderbox maps have always used a fairly coarse grid. This makes it easy to align notes and to express how they relate to their neighbors, and helps keep things neat. Of course, sometimes the grid can be too strict, and over the years we’ve gradually moved to a finer grid.

Tinderbox Six doesn’t use a grid. Instead, when you move or resize a note, guidelines appear to indicate alignment with nearby notes — and the note snaps into perfect alignment if it’s sufficiently close.

Guides and The Shape Of Space

What’s interesting here is that, in practice, these guides create a flexible implicit grid. Where the old approach now feels like automatically setting tabs at half-inch intervals, this implicit grid only sets tabs stops where you want them — and automatically adds new tabs stops when you need them.

Sep 13 27 2013


by Poppy Z. Brite

A pair of young, gay, line cooks, broke and recently canned, are sitting on the New Orleans levee and musing about starting their own restaurant, Liquor, where every dish is based on a drink and no idiot manager would harass them. They know it will never happen. They get a new job, cooking in the back of a friend’s bar. Their calvados-soaked stuffed dates get some attention from food critics, from potential investors, and from one of their former managers — a fellow with a big grudge and a small connection to the mob.

Formally, this isn’t quite a mystery and it isn’t quite a thriller. It’s got plenty of plot, though, and some really fine food.

The ART production heads to Broadway, where it runs across the street from another ART production, Pippin. I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, to have two shows running on Broadway was always an impressive achievement. On the other, ART is becoming a staging ground, and that’s bad for ART and it’s bad for Boston. The last thing this city needs is another reason to consider itself a minor satellite of Manhattan.

But this is a terrific and thoughtful reading. Cherry Jones makes a great Amanda. Celia Keenan-Bolger, who was great in The Light In The Piazza, is another terrific damaged child, and Zach Quinto is fun to see so far from the Enterprise and from Margin Call.

This is another Southern Story: there is a terrible secret. The challenge, of course, is that everyone in the theater knows the secret. This production finds is that there are more secrets than we knew.

Brunch tip: Penelope (Lexington @ 30th) knows what it’s doing.

by Rhiannon Held

Lightly buzzed at Readercon, this novel is superficially dressed as an urban fantasy but its concerns are primarily political and it handles those concerns well. Andrew Dare is enforcer for the Roanoke Pack, a society of werewolves that spans most of the East Coast. He tracks down a wounded intruder, a crippled and insane female werewolf he calls Silver. She has been cruelly tortured; Dare’s job is to find the perpetrator.

These werewolves are powerful, stable, and live apart from humans. We rarely see or think about humans, and we’re not much concerned with their affairs. What matters is dominance within the pack, and the subtle diplomatic maneuvers between packs, choreographed by cell phone and smoother through elaborate codes of protocol.

Attribute Browser

Here’s an early view of a new Tinderbox Six view, the Attribute Browser.

Tinderbox agents are great for finding notes of particular interest, notes that fit into simple or complicated categories you want to follow. But sometimes you want an overview — a list of all the categories along some axis. That’s what the Attribute Browser is for.

The attribute browser profiles a specific container and explores a specific attribute. It shows each value that occurs within the container, and for each value it shows which notes share that value. So here we’ve got all the cities represented in a list of interesting places to eat. If we add a new restaurant in Bangkok, then Bangkok will automatically be added to the list.

It’s a powerful and intriguing feature. It’s likely to change a good deal before release, and we expect people to find lots of unexpected ways to use it.

Eric James continues his recipe for using Tinderbox as a personal project manager: (Part 2: first catch your ingredients).

As I proof-read through these posts, I am amazed at how many times I use the words "simple" or "simply" – possibly poor prose, I admit, but I'm letting them stand to underline the fact that the "complex" reputation of Tinderbox does not tell the whole story
Sep 13 20 2013



Too many diagrams rely on boxes and arrows. Tinderbox loves boxes and arrows too, but it’s easy to craft organic shapes as well. The Tinderbox leaf shape is very handy indeed, not least because you can use subtle changes of shape to alert you to unusual information.

I introduced a curved banner along with the leaf shape, but the banner never really worked well. In Tinderbox Six, we’ll revamp the banner shape. It’s based loosely on signs of Hector Guimard.

The font? That’s Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote . And it’s also part of Tinderbox Six. It’s a terrific sketch font with tons of contextual alternates, meaning different words have subtly different letterforms.

Sep 13 16 2013


The program of the francophone hypertext conference, Hypertextes et Hypermedias, Produits, Outils et Méthodes, (H2PTM) is now online. Paris, 16-18 October 2013.

Cousin Molly’s wonderful documentary, Deceptive Practice:The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay, should be available now on iTunes and at Amazon Instant.

Deceptive Practice at iTunes and Amazon

Eric James describes How To Bake A Tidy Tinderbox Project Manager.

Because this particular project has a definite deadline – my publishers want to see a full first draft by the end of November (eek!) – making sure that I am being realistic about what can be done, as opposed to what in an ideal world I would still like to get done (in my experience no creative project really feels completed) is a high priority. So what I needed was some way within that Tinderbox document of planning the fortunes and wherewithals of actual and potential pieces of the rest of the document; and what I came up with was my home-baked Tinderbox Project manager.

I took a look at the first season of Switched At Birth after reading Emily Nussbaum’s enthusiastic review in The New Yorker. The first season, at least, is remarkably good.

The raw material is not promising. Two infant girls were accidentally interchanged in a hospital, sixteen years ago. Since this is TV, one grew up rich, the other poor. One is blonde and bouncy, the other dark and brooding. Both are beautiful and brilliant and beloved. And one is deaf.

Switched At Birth

What makes this work is a great combination of metaphor and problem play. The problem of building a relationship with someone with someone you don’t quite understand is always with us. In the show, we have “mixed” couples where one hears and the other doesn’t, and of course these stand for the questions of all mixed couples: black and white, gentile and Jew. We recapitulate Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois in Daphne, the deaf daughter who is willing to speak, and her friend Emmett, who won’t: hearing people will meet him on his terms or not at all.

One year, my high school did Carousel with a black Billy Bigelow, and that seemed perfectly sensible to us — especially since Evan Moore could sing the part like nobody’s business — but now I realize that probably raised some eyebrows. Of course, you’re suppose to read Bigelow as a metaphor for black America, but the whole Old New England setting (is this supposed to be Cape Cod?) is supposed to cover that up a bit. And of course, as it often is on Broadway, it’s a question of whether a nice Jewish girl can date a boy whose parents aren’t part of Our Crowd.

As kids, we were very sophisticated and mature about adoption. Everyone knew it didn’t matter. But it turned out to matter a lot to a bunch of people I’ve known as grownups (including some of those sophisticated kids). Then again, we meet people every day whose face says Seoul and whose business card says “Regina Gottlieb.”

Emmett, the deaf separatist, drives some fascinating stage business since his performance has to be accomplished without speaking. Daphne, on the other hand, speaks badly — and that makes for challenging dialect work and different acting challenges: like Cassie in A Chorus Line, this actress has to take a lifetime of training to use her voice and, well, not do it. Almost everyone is learning to sign, and I suspect we’re expected to be learning, too.

It’s fluffy, in short, but there are good bones here. Streaming at Netflix and worth the time.

The recent tumult over upgrades reminds me (and several correspondents) that our upgrade policy for Tinderbox has always been considered unusual and often problematical.

I’ve never understood this.

The way we do it: When you buy Tinderbox, you get a year of free upgrades. When you buy an upgrade, you get the current version, and any versions that appear in the next year.

Why we do it this way: Nobody likes to buy version N, only to discover that version N+1 shipped the next day. Customers who try to avoid this wind up playing complex games, trying to guess the optimal moment to upgrade. That’s not much fun.

It’s better if everyone upgrades. Support for old versions is difficult, costly, and unsatisfying. In the very best case, you tell someone that yes, their bug has been fixed or their feature has been added, and if they pay you they can get back on track. This is better than our famous overnight bug fixes, but people often think you’re being mean or trying to extort money from them. So it’s altogether better if they’ve been using the latest version all along.

This isn’t terribly unusual. A lot of companies give you free upgrades until “the next major release.” Those releases happen every years or so; it adds up to the same thing.

A lot of companies don’t provide minor releases, or only provide them through tech support. So, all they need is a grace policy right before the release date — typically 30 or 90 days. Since there won’t be another release this year, you’re getting a year of releases.

A few developers promise free upgrades forever. I don’t understand that, not if you expect your product to last more than a year or two. Upgrades are hard — Tinderbox Six is the largest thing I’ve ever written — and they offer great benefits. The upgrade revenue stream matters a lot.

Nonetheless, people hate our policy. There used to be a steady stream of complaints on various software sites to the effect that we were somehow doing a Bad Thing. It bugs the hell out of me, but it’s just one of those things.

by Susan Choi

A remarkable, strange, and graceful novel about an Asian-American graduate student named Regina Gottlieb who is deeply attracted to the professor who is teaching chansons. What appears to be a familiar academic romance tilts wildly when Regina falls madly in love with the Professor’s wife. Only in the elegant coda does it become clear that this story might not be about Regina after all.

Sep 13 8 2013


As you all know, I’m very interested in upgrades.

In quashing a clever workaround from Omni, Apple has moved decisively to prohibit upgrade pricing for applications downloaded from its app store. Developers are up in arms; customers are absurdly blaming Omni.

Good commentary:

OmniGroup CEO Ken Case states the case for upgrades:

We still feel upgrade pricing is important for customers purchasing serious productivity software, since the initial value received from purchasing an app like OmniGraffle or OmniPlan is much different from the incremental value of upgrading that app from version 5.0 to version 6.0

This is a truth universally acknowledged: upgrades should cost less than buying the software. Is it true?

Reading the tea leaves, this is not a casual or accidental Apple policy, a case of cubicle C6 making a snap decision and causing a furore. Someone at Apple has thought this through and come to the conclusion that everyone’s common sense is wrong. What could they be thinking?

Value Pricing. We assume that upgrades should be less expensive because they represent a smaller change. Moving from yellow pads to a spreadsheet is a big change; moving from version 5 to version 6 is a smaller one. Building a first release entails lots of investment and lots of risk; building a fix is smaller and safer.

This line of reasoning is wrong.

If we think about the value of using a program and suppose that its cost reflects that expected value, the upgrade should often cost more! The expected value of a program always reflects a large discount because the program might not prove as effective as hoped. Any software purchase is risky. Suppose you’re buying it for work: your plans might change, you might get fired, you might get promoted, someone else might do the work you thought you had to do. Next week, a better tool might be announced, or your boss might refuse to switch to use the superior tool you’ve chosen, or IT might ban it. Or it might refuse to run on your computer, or suffer from a mysterious bug that only matters to you.

So: you’re thinking about buying a tool. You’re pretty sure it should save you 10 hours on your current project. Let’s say that’s worth $500. On the one hand, if it works well, you’ll still have the tool for other projects, and $500 in hand. On the other hand, maybe there’s only a 50-50 chance it’s going to work out. So you probably don’t want to pay $500, but you might figure that $200 is a decent value.

It works great. Time passes: before you know it, you’re upgrading to release 5.3.2. This isn’t a big update: it fixes a few obscure bugs, improves stability, polishes the user interface and loads 5% faster. What’s it worth?

The update is worth a lot because there’s very little risk. You already use the program all the time; the update will improve your environment slightly every day. You load the program three times a day; those saved seconds from the load time and the prevented crashes add up. They’re money in the bank. The value of a modest upgrade to a program you use a lot is actually greater than the expected value of the initial purchase.

This is especially true when software prices are heavily discounted for risk. After all, that’s why we have an App store where expensive products cost less than a pizza and typical products cost a buck. Almost all the value of an app is discounted by risk. If you already know you use an app, it’s not unreasonable to simply buy the new version at full price.

The proposition is this:

  • New customer: Here’s a $100 value. But we both know how often these things don’t work out, so you can have it for just $10.
  • Current customer: Here’s the upgrade. It’s worth $100, but because you’re already a customer, for you it’s just $10.

Publishers can offer upgrades at a reduced price because upgrades are, by definition, sold to current customers. Acquiring customers is expensive work, but selling good stuff to people you already know is much easier. We can spend $200 on Google ads to reach one real customer, but we can reach thousands of current customers free.

I suspect that, in Apple’s view, the App Store changes this equation. At the low price points that now prevail, nobody can do much marketing. You don’t see TV ads for Angry Birds, you don’t see OmniGraffle on the back of The New Yorker. The marketing, in effect, is done by driving traffic to the App Store, and Apple does most of that work out of its 30% cut.

App Store developers can’t talk to their customers more easily than they can talk to the world at large. There’s really no cost advantage to marketing upgrades in the App Store, so there’s not much reason to discount them.

The question remains: what are they thinking? A couple of years ago, Diane Greco (Happy Birthday!) and I wrote a paper on Designing A New Media Economy. The ecology of craft, publication, and distribution is complex but it’s not divinely ordained. We can build an economy that suits us. Apple, specifically, can build a software economy that suits Apple. But what are they hoping for?

I think it’s clear that Apple would like to reduce the level of fraud, deception, and incompetence in the software world, especially that part of the software world that’s visible to children, grandmothers, and reporters. Hence sandboxing, which has been a mess, and the approval process, which is messier.

I think it’s clear that Apple wants the Macintosh to be a viable business tool, which means they can’t close its software ecology the way the iPhone is closed. No one is going to let Apple approve the software that adds the secret ingredient in your Coca-Cola® factory or that trades APPL a few thousand times an hour. (But keep an eye on this: we have only three viable operating systems today and two are ailing; if we get a monoculture, all bets are off.)

I think it’s clear that Apple is temporizing while it seeks a solution to hard problems. Apple would like to ban porn from the App Store, but content that’s objectionable in Peoria is not the same as what’s objectionable in Puyang or Provincetown. Cooler heads might have called this problem intractable, but that’s the way Steve was: common sense, execution, and faith that you can find a way where those idiots have managed to get themselves gotten lost. Meanwhile, do your best and ship it.

And I think it’s clear that Apple doesn’t want upgrade pricing. You don’t get to upgrade your computer: you get a new one. That’s the vision for software, too. They’re thinking different. It contradicts what everyone knows. No one understands Apple’s reasoning yet, but they’re clearly one step ahead of us all.

The Creative Cardigan, a new blog from Dr. Eric P.T. James debuts with an excellent look at Tinderbox for (Absolute) Beginners, Part I.

Tinderbox had been on my mind again at this point as one of the most helpful accounts of using it – in an old edition of ATPO – had introduced it as not only an outliner, but considered as an outliner, then the very best there was.

Also, because I fouled up the link yesterday, Wednesday will be your last chance to take advantage of the Tinderbox Labor Day Sale.