from Michael Bywater
From: Michael Bywater
To: Mark Bernstein
Subject: Re: Tinderbox 4.5 Release Preview
Okay, Bernstein, so you want us long-term users -- grizzled battle-scarred old buzzards as we are, hunkered over our cigarette-burned, rum-stained Macs like oil-stained renegades from some hell-brew mixture of steampunk and Mad Max -- to help explain to existing users what's cool about Tinderbox 4.5 , and to potential new users what's cool about Tinderbox in general.
Why not ask something hard?
Seriously, asking what Tinderbox is for is like asking what your brain's for. The answer's the same for both: you THINK in it. You write, you make connections, you set it to watch for emergent properties, you find things you didn't know you were thinking. You put things in, atomically -- an idea, a quote, a source, one of those damn aperus that seem so, my gosh, fine at 0400 hours, but come daylight you don't know what the hell you were thinking of. You put this stuff in without any plan, yet, like all good atoms, they form themselves into molecules. Compounds arise, some fugitive, some stable; you assemble them into structures; things emerge. Sometimes things emerge because you see connections. Sometimes they emerge because you set Tinderbox to watching everything with well-chosen agents. (You can also create ill-chosen agents, believe me; one Tinderbox trick is to pretend it's an adventure game: just before you
>DROP PLUTONIUM DETONATOR INTO SOULSUCKER BOMB
for heaven's sake
Believe me. Would I lie?)
Sometimes you ask it to find Similar Notes. Sometimes you look at the Common words cloud. Things come to the fore.
Unlike a database, the structures are built on an immutable layer of... stuff. Your input doesn't have to conform to anything. Just put it in, because you don't know what you're going to think until you've thunk it, right? And that's how Tinderbox works.
There are whole areas I don't know anything about. I don't publish to the web, but people who do tell me Tinderbox is wonderfully powerful.
I expect there are users who don't know that it can do all sorts of things I do every day. That's its strength. People have said it's something between an outliner and a programming environment. That, to me, is offputting. It's not, although you can build any degree of complexity in you like. I'd say it's more like a habitation. You get to know the territory, and there have only been a very few times that I've wanted to do something in Tinderbox and found I couldn't.
People say it's complex. It's not. It starts simple. Now you can edit outlines in place, it starts off as, I suppose, an outliner. You can do all that outliner stuff. You can even just use it as a text editor, but one which you can make really, really garish. I like garish. Sometimes on the Mac I feel I am drowning in good taste, and it makes me very happy to change all the default colours to a style set I have called "Horrible". A small blow for visual depravity (though it can also be entirely got up in designerly shades of grey if you like).
I suppose the biggest compliment to Tinderbox was made to me by another, black belt power Ninja user who was taken aback at the number of things in my Dock. "I don't really use apps," he said. "I just use Tinderbox."
Which about says it. There are apps; and then there's Tinderbox. If you don't like freedom, being in charge, bending your thinking environment to your will, doing what you want rather than what it wants, then use apps. Otherwise: Tinderbox. This isn't to insult apps. There are apps I use every day: apps like Sente, Mellel, DevonThink, Curio, Scrivener, Things. But I know them. I know what they can do. I'll never know all of what Tinderbox can do, which is oddly comforting as long as it does what I want.
As for what's cool about 4.5, it's made me think about all the stuff that's crept up over the last year or so while you've been theoretically fully-occupied building Tinderbox for something called "Windows", made up in the mountains where it rains all the time and you need a seaplane to get away. Somehow a steady stream of improvements -- not "features" but actual improvements -- have come out of Eastgate all that time. Things like the Similar Notes feature, the Common words, the change in how you access and alter your attributes (characteristics of notes which, of course, you decide on for yourself); things like editing outlines in place, like seeing notes-within-notes; things like the new Quartz drawing routines which make the maps -- not those silly "mind-maps" for executives, but the real thing -- look a thousand per cent better.
Things like being able to see the full text of a note without opening it. Things like being able to have notes' names change according to what's in them, or a graphic representation of their contents visible in their icon. Too many things for me to list them all. Certainly 4.5 is a major step release. Lots and lots of little (and some not-so-little) things which add up to major improvements.
"Just a line or two"? Can't be done. Let's try slogans. "Tinderbox: Think." "Tinderbox 4.5: Think Better." That about does it for me. Here's a screenshot of what I'm currently up to, just as it stands on my MacBook. Complex? Not really. It's in Tinderbox, after all.