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Tinderbox Technique: drop-stamp adornments

I've been revamping the architecture for t.org behind the scenes, and some nifty features are coming out of my explorations. I'm used to working in the Outline View, which is strange because I'm a very spatial thinker. After watching Mark Bernstein take notes in Map View at eNarrative 6, though, I decided to give Map View another shot. I soon came up with one technique that you could easily adapt to your own files: adornments that act like stamps. This and the pen have made the Map View just as useful to me as Outline View.

As of Tinderbox 3, adornments can have actions. This is huge! Since adornments cover an area of the map view (without taking up space in other views), this means that you can make a section of a Map View a functional 'drop box'. Make a note; drag it so that it touches the adornment; the action is applied to the note. Now drag it wherever you really want it.

Read on for the hows and whys and examples.

An example: canvassing the web

Here's an example. I made a Tinderbox file to organize my ongoing search for freelance work. I do this in stages: I search for postings and leads, drop them into Tinderbox, and then after a round of that I go back into Tinderbox to work on the promising ones. I want to drag URLs into a Tinderbox window, quickly assign a bunch of attributes like how interesting they are and what my next action should be for each, and then I want to move on to the next lead. I can't do all that easily with prototypes because I'd need a multitude of them: "should apply, really hot", "should apply, mildly interesting", "contact for information, really hot" and so on.

Instead, I put a bunch of adornments onto my drop-box Map View, and each assigns a couple of attributes-- some metadata and a visual attribute to accompany it. Here's a picture of the setup, arranged in their own window. I can drag notes to that window so that it functions like a custom OS X palette.

In this window, I'll take a new lead and drag it onto the first column to assign a step in the process, basically a "next action". That assigns it a "to-do" attribute and a border color so that I can quickly, in Map View, see all my next steps. Then I'll drag it over to the second column to assign how interesting it is; that turns the main face of the Map View note into a gradient, with the second color correspondingly bright. I can then quickly look at my Map View to see where my most interesting leads are. Here's a piece of the map view, where you can see the border colors and gradients assigned above.

This has unlocked the Map View for me because it finally lets me use the visual attributes easily without a lot of time assigning and typing.

The quick how to: assigning actions to adornments

This is easy to do if you're comfortable with actions and attributes.

Open the adornment Rename Adornment dialog by choosing "rename" on it or selecting it and hitting 'enter' (not 'return'). In the "Action" field, put the attributes you wish to assign, like this:

AppStatus=ShouldApply;Border=3;BorderBevel=plain;BorderColor=red

That's for my "Apply Stamp" adornment shown in the example above. It flattens out the border, makes it wide so that it's visible, turns it red, and sets another user attribute (AppStatus) so that I can gather it up with an agent later. I could have the agent look for BorderColor=red, but I find it easier to keep track of what means what with a separate attribute.

In order to do the funky gradient (I was so smug about making 'hotness' look like a flame!), use an Action like this:

Hotness=3;Pattern=gradient;Color2=bright red

When you assign a Pattern other than the default, Tinderbox uses the Color and Color2 attributes as the two colors, in this case shading from the default down into Color 2 which I've made the visual for 'hotness'.

Other tips:

  • You probably want to make the adornment locked but not sticky. That way you won't accidentally move the adornment, and even if you do you won't start the 'katamari effect' where sticky adornments start gathering other sticky adornments.
  • Make the adornments big so that they're easy targets.
  • If you have a suite of 'drop-stamps' like this, you may want to make one more that clears all the attributes in case you make a mistake. In my example, those are grey.
  • This would be really snazzy for GTD.

CFL: RPG and Hypertext Design

This is a quick Call For Links. I'm currently designing a role playing game setting, and all the reading on RPG design has me thinking. Similar challenges arise in writing interactive fiction, writing 'literary' hypertexts, planning a session/story/adventure for a role playing group, and designing digital games with interesting plots. If you have a link, please write (and say whether you're comfortable being credited by link and how).

  • How do you give the reader/player authentic agency while still propelling the narrative in a meaningful direction? (Can you?)
  • What RPG devices, especially game mechanics, facilitate or restrict narrative agency?
  • What are useful techniques for adapting an existing story or setting written around a single protagonist to make it interesting for a group of collaborative players?
  • What are useful techniques for making a hypertext or interactive fiction appealing to a multitude of reader/players with a variety of goals and modes of play?

I'm looking for good readings specifically about the parallels between hypertext and RPGs. There seems to be a lot of thinking about one side or the other (especially about digital games), but I've found little on the interaction of the two pursuits. If you have a link, please write me. I'll make a follow-up post soon about what I've found.

MMORPG research help?

I've got a friend working on a new site who has some questions about social finance in MMORPGs. If you play Everquest, WoW, or really any of the online worlds and would be willing to share an email, IM chat, or a phone conversation with him, please contact me. He's a nice guy with a cool product and I'd like to help him out, but am not in any of the games myself.

(Edited: They've implemented mmorpg currencies already. It'll be interesting to see how their social service translates into the digital realm)

EdTechPost

EdTechPost is not a pretty site, but neither is what he writes about: life in the trenches of educational technology, which he helpfully narrows down to "tools for learning, thinking, and collaborating". Scott Leslie knows his stuff, writes about it well, and links extensively. He's not just looking at media delivery, nor just at glorified word processors (though that could be interesting too), he examines the nitty-gritty details of how these tools work in educational settings while (seemingly) using the blog to step back and get some perspective on his daily work from the broad view of where the field is. It's a good example of why blogging is good for your career.

when educational technology is hypertext

The site is here on t.org for one clear reason. First, I think that he's on the technical, practical fringe of this site's interest in hypertext. EdTechPost focuses on course management systems, 'learning objects' and the challenges of 'learning object repositories'. As it does so, it examines the practical challenges of integrating hypermedia into daily life. Teaching English is more than delivering good books and handouts to students-- it's facilitating discussion, interpreting students' novice articulations of the material and connecting thoughts, and keeping the class focused among a hundred other things; so using hypermedia is more than just delivering rich media to the students, it has to facilitate work with the media, allow novice navigation and explorations, and get the technology out of the way. These are very much hypertextual challenges.