from Michael Bywater

Tinderbox helps you visualize, analyze, and share your ideas. Download and try it.


from Michael Bywater

Michael Bywater is a writer, critic, and broadcaster. He has written three books, The Chronicles of Bargepole, Big Babies, and Lost Worlds. The latter was described by the Sunday Telegraph as magnificent, playfull gruff, intemperate, eloquent and featured as a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. He was the original script editor for Starship Titanic and is a pilot, harpsichordist, part-time consulting physician, and teaches at Cambridge.

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?

You put this stuff in without any plan, yet, like all good atoms, they form themselves into molecules.

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


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.

It's more like a habitation. You get to know the territory

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).

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