Sources and Methods #5: Mark Bernstein


Show Notes:

Mark Bernstein - official website

Tinderbox - Official Website

Tinderbox App Review on App Storm

“software for handling pieces of information, handling notes, and getting meaning out of them.”


2:08 - The Tinderbox Way by Mark Bernstein


From Chapter One:

"Tinderbox is designed to help you write things down, find them, think about them, and share them. Tinderbox is an assistant. Its meant to help, to facilitate. Its not a methodology or a code. Its a way to write things down, link them up, and share them. Its a chisel, guided by your hand and your intelligence."

4:01 - Idea: We actually spend relatively little time thinking about how these machines can refine our ideas, or capture our ideas, before they slip away… We really need to work harder to make capturing ideas and recording ideas a bit easier.

7:22 - Idea: Incremental Formalization

8:54 - Idea: Discovering the structure information should take is the essence of what research is about.

13:14 - Idea: Agile software development has come into force more recently, rather than structuring all the rules first. Writing the software and then revising the software - where most of what you do is editing, rather than designing and debugging - has been extremely fruitful, and has gone in just 10-15 years gone from outlying heresy to the dominant paradigm of software development today.

15:08 - Idea: When you’re writing, you’re talking to yourself, or rather to the page. When you write, you are meeting minds on the screen, and in fact one of those minds is a manifestation of ourselves.

20:38 - Idea: People don’t like to think about their process of writing. We have this essentially romantic conception of idea generation writing, that it’s essentially inspiration, and it should come to you in a flash, and that it’s mystical, and that it’s based in someway on your innate goodness, and therefore people don’t spend much time thinking about how to improve because you can’t improve on your own innate goodness.

On Information Overload

30:32 - Too Much To Know by Ann Blair, explores information overload from the 9th through 12th centuries and the technologies evolved then to try to cope with having far more information coming in than anyone could keep track of.

We’ve been having information overload for a long time. The most important thing is not to forget that the information actually matters. Keeping your hands on as much information as you can handle, even if you may not retain every fact and every snippet and every relationship - actually seeing them and retaining them is absolutely indispensable.


I was brought up that books were shared and you shouldn’t write in them. But lots of people I know were brought up thinking that the whole point of reading was to promote dialogue and to have an argument with the author in the margins. They now go back and revisit their younger arguments and revisit the original text - and that is very valuable.

35:04 Commonplace Books

One of the habits of  intellectuals of the 18th century intellectuals was the Commonplace Book, writing down passages that you read that you wanted to remember. Both because that fixed it in your mind - simply the act of copying. And also because in a world where books were scarce, you weren’t just going to be able to order it from Amazon or go to the bookstore. I’ve been suggesting to people that this is not a bad model for remembering information you want to maintain and is a tremendously valuable practice.

36:11 - Getting Things Done by David Allen

"Taking the time for thoughtful reflection about what you want to do is tremendously valuable."

38:45 - A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries by Thomas Mallon

"An extremely useful book about the power of daily writing, even for yourself. This will clarify what you are about."

41:20 - was an inspiration for Mark’s blog.

43:28 - The hyperlink has certainly changed the way we read and write.

Ebook vs. Book Discussion

"This discussion is seldom carried out in good faith. Most people in the argument are arguing about their emotional attachment to books. But this is not reading, this is book collecting."

47:41 - The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

51:04 - Debate in the software community about intuitiveness. Mark’s blog post on the topic here.

"We valorize usability, or onboarding. The first use does the program demo, can we learn to use it right away. We have recently valorized extraordinary minimalism - programs stripped of all functionality so they are easy to use. But often we do need functionality, because we’ve got a lot to do."

Mark’s Book: Among Others by Jo Walton, Hugo Award Winning Book

Matt’s Book: Poor Economics by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee

Mark’s Films:

How I Live Now


Alex’s Book: Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Mark’s Reflection Games - Narrativist Stories

Paul Czege

My Life With Master