I’m one of those forum members in the data who visit regularly but don’t contribute much. That is because I find many of the discussions of general working methods interesting, but I’m not really a Tinderbox user.
I can’t remember when I first heard of Tinderbox, but it was a very long time ago, and I think I first came across it mentioned in an article by Michael Bywater. He said it was a special kind of program and I was curious enough to take a look at it. I didn’t stay long because I just couldn’t understand the program. There is some research in psychology that suggests that experience is an obstacle to learning because people take what they have already learned and try to apply it in situations in which it is inappropriate to do so. No doubt I was suffering from some of that, though I didn’t know it at the time.
However, I had seen enough (or heard enough from clever people) to be curious about the program, and that curiosity has never really gone away. Like many people when faced with a mystery, there is an element of “I would like to get to the bottom of this”.
I think my next foray into Tinderbox was inspired by Steve Zeoli. He wrote a few blog posts showing how he had used Tinderbox in a particular case of historical research. If I had not seen that example, I suppose I might never have returned to Tinderbox. However, while I now knew more about how Tinderbox might be used, I still found it too complex for me. (I should say that I have no knowledge of coding, scripting, or anything else of that sort). I have a bit of a history of trying to automate things on my computer and wasting a huge amount of time failing to get things to work. So setting up agents and the like was just too much for me. I maybe had ideas that it would be nice if a note had a certain colour if it dealt with a certain thing, but I just couldn’t get it to work. I had some ideas, but not the skill to put them into practice. And here perhaps it is worth noting that “skill” might not just be a case of knowledge of the correct syntax of a command – it might also be about certain basic principles of computing/coding/scripting that not all of us are well equipped to understand. No matter how many times I read Mark Anderson’s excellent reference material, I will never understand some of it. Marx’s theory of alienation was easier for me. And one of the problems is that ideas and how they might be implemented are actually bound together. You will not have a certain idea unless you have some inkling that it may be possible and how to bring it into being.
In short, I have tried to use Tinderbox many times, but it has never “stuck” with me, and it has never become a regular part of my working life. In many ways I would love to be a user, and I have spent quite a bit of money keeping up to date with the upgrades, but there has always been a barrier. In the back of my mind there is a kind of irrational longing that says “one day I will conquer this program” but there is another part of my mind that tells me that I will never achieve it. I do use the program from time to time, but it often seems to be that I attempt to start a project in Tinderbox, then give up and switch to something simpler. I feel a bit like someone who has some wonderful clothes in the wardrobe, but they are too tight to be able to wear, and I am dreaming of losing enough weight to make them fit. In recent times I have been feeling the need for greater simplicity in the tools I use on the computer. The latest upgrade to DEVONthink was a kind of nightmare for me, and it made me question a lot of the assumptions I had made about working methods over the past few years. At present I am experimenting with plain text notes in the file system, and finding it a bit of a liberation. This has been largely inspired by the discussions over at www.zettelkasten.de. I have taken to using The Archive as a tool for my notes and I like the “bare bones” feel of it. Just me and the text.
And on that last point, a thought has popped into my mind. I believe I have always found using Tinderbox to be stressful. There is so much to be learned and so much that can go wrong that I operate in a mild state of anxiety when I use the program. I have encountered so many conundrums (adornments I cannot reposition, agents that don’t work, etc.). Yes, the community is wonderful and very helpful and can solve many problems. But sometimes you do need to be able to work on your own. In other words, it is not just starting out that may be difficult. There is also a kind of “middle” stage of usage where people may hit a brick wall. I know I did.
In summary, I suppose I would say that I find Tinderbox fascinating, and I would love to be a proper Tinderbox user, but I’m not sure I will ever develop the skills and understanding that are required to get the best out of it. Starting was undoubtedly a problem for me, but so is continuing. I will no doubt carry on dabbling, but more in hope than expectation. I’m sorry this is not a more useful contribution, but this is roughly my experience of trying to learn Tinderbox. And best of luck to all on their journey!