Tinderbox Weekend Boston  2/21/05 - Event

Tinderbox Weekend Boston was a two day gathering for people new to the Tinderbox software and for experienced users looking for new perspectives on the software. I think it succeeded for both groups, from what I heard over the weekend and after.

It was an impressive event in its subtleties. It was a friendly, intimate conference (a tricky thing to manage) of people from divergent professions and with divergent interests and experience. The sessions were quick, accessible, and friendly; as with any good conference, in between were breaks and meals full of banter, advice, and questions... though because Tinderbox is used in so many ways, the conversations here seemed to wander further afield to accomodate personal issues from different walks of life. At the end, we left with a weekend's worth of things to think about and a CD full of files to dissect-- real life examples and works from the presenters and attendees.

The weekend seemed a bit overwhelming to those who were completely new to the software and looking for a tutorial-- you'd get a lot more out of the weekend if you'd played with the software at least a little. For those who had, the weekend was a wealth of stories, examples, and discussions about how to use the remarkable software package.

The Sessions

The weekend was organized around a series of talks by experienced users. Elin Sjursen, Tekka Editor, spoke about the basics of Tinderbox --and showed those of us who 'know the basics' about some neat features we hadn't found. I learned about automatic spell checking, about some quick keys and clicks for navigation, and about how Tinderbox takes drag-and-dropped text from other applications and sets up notes for you.

Alwin Hawkins spoke next about weblogs in the health care community. He discussed the social and political side of Tinderbox, examined self-publication as well as about using Tinderbox to organize your own medical information for yourself or for others. This hit a nuance of the software that's hard to explain-- how it both helps you record and organize your own information and then helps you share parts or all of that information with others. It was a powerful example of that process.

Mark Bernstein then walked us through exporting, one of the trickier sides of Tinderbox. Tinderbox doesn't make many sacrifices in flexibility in order to become easy for any single limited use, so the powerful export system has a learning curve. Mark's talk walked us in 90 minutes from exporting a single note using a two-word template through exporting that same information as a complex website using CSS and graphics.

Doug Miller gave us two mind-opening sessions about "living in Tinderbox". It was a fascinating look at about fifteen ways that Tinderbox can be used in very different ways-- from outlining to managing a real estate career. These sessions were a microcosm of the whole weekend in that every time I spoke to someone I learned about a new way that Tinderbox is being used.

The weekend closed out with a session by Barry Webster about making and sharing a web calendar with his students and a look at new and upcoming development on Tinderbox itself by Mark.

The Excercises

There were also two useful excercises that helped us use and share the knowledge we picked up about Tinderbox.

For the first we were given a sizable Tinderbox file with almost no hierarchy and no differentiation between notes, and each of the three groups had to impose some order on the mess. I loved it, because this is something most other software can't do very well: Tinderbox helps you take what you think you know (or what you don't) and look at it in a bunch of new ways. You can take what you know and turn it on its ear.

Our group took a bit of a forensic approach to the whole thing: we used agents to help us make some hierarchies without disturbing what we were given; we looked at it chronologically and reconstructed some of how the author must have built it from readings they'd done; we looked at edit times and found that there wasn't anything to go on; and we saved all of those examinations to present to the group.

The second exercise was a bit more hurried, as it tried to address exporting: take another file and make some basic exports. Still it was impressive and amusing to see everyone's approaches, up to Jeffrey's pumpkin-based "Pepys Watch".


This post is a sort of sequel to Maureen Baehr's Tinderbox Conference Report from Tinderbox Weekend San Francisco. More Tinderbox Weekends are in the works, and you should check the Eastgate site if this sounds interesting.

Some others have written up the weekend: Doug Miller posted an entry, Mark Bernstein took some notes, Alwin posted several entries for the weekend, and Jeffrey Radcliffe posted and then put the weekend into practice with improvements to his blog.