July 16, 2014


I received an angry email this morning from a fellow who was furious because he found Tinderbox unintuitive.

When did it become my job to make software that is intuitive? Tinderbox isn’t software for opening doors or checking into hotels; it’s a professional tool for people who are undertaking extraordinarily complex research. (Other people use it for other things, and of course some of those researchers don’t regard their work as extraordinarily complex: it’s what they do.)

When I was doing picosecond photoacoustic spectroscopy, people expected a lot but they didn’t expect it all to be intuitive. We don’t expect Pliny or Catullus or the Friedl-Crafts acylation to be intuitive. If you approached Picasso’s work, or Fourier’s, with your intuition and nothing else, you'd be prone to fall on your face.

When I was in high school, I knew folks who though “Aristotelean logic” was pretty challenging, meriting a semester of college study. That’s Boolean queries, and now we take it for granted that everyone knows it (or can, at any rate, fake the chord changes.) Lambda calculus was something shiny they did in seminars at MIT; now, mapcar is called “.each” and, if you need it, you pick it up from a help page or from an example in aTbRef or the Cookbook.

It’s not our job to make it easy. It’s our job to make it possible, if we can, or to bring it closer to the realm of possibility than it was before.

I don’t know but I been told
If the horse don’t pull you got to carry the load.
I don’t know whose back’s that strong:
We’ll maybe find out before too long