Tinderbox Forum

Notes collected, now what?

Just a quick update: @eastgate has confirmed that Tinderbox 8.06 exports notes in the order in which they were selected, not in Outline order. Will be corrected in 8.07.

Certainly it gets easier. I rarely encounter anything in the program that I can’t figure out a way to accomplish, or at least guess at an approach (or ask about it here).

(I use and like Scapple too, and Scrivener. They’re all great, and different.)

I think Tinderbox is best imagined as a set of tools – chisel, screwdriver, wrench, saw, level, drill – or a box of paints in different colors. Whether it is “worth it” for any given user depends entirely on what each person wants to do. That I can say I use it all day, every day, and have for a dozen years may be related to your styles of work, and may not. Good luck making a choice about it.

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I do get that this might seem harsh. The ‘stockholm syndrome’ of using a single narrow-scope app (or several such) is hard to escape.

“Some assembly required” sounds like , ‘like’, too much effort.

But we too easily assume, conditioned by narrow-scoped utilities, that everyone else is doing what ‘we’ do. NOT TRUE. After 14 years of helping here, that mis-perception is as true as it was on Day One.

Comparing people who are happily getting work done with other applications to hostages seems a little bit over the top to me.

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Whatever works for you, is right for you! It’s great that there are so many first-rate choices in the Mac world.

As a purchaser and fan of both Scrivener and Scapple, I naturally agree with all support of them.

For me, after a few months of learning its quirks, I’ve found Tinderbox to be a great match. (Especially after the Attribute Browser feature made its debut.) But this is all subjective and personal.

But that isn’t what I said - or implied. The issue, to which we all (myself included) are prone, is that using a particular tool a lot conditions us to notions of normality that may simply not hold true in another context. I suppose the issue is one of reminding ourselves to remain open to learning new/different things rather than railing against new things not fitting our comfortable norms. I’m not sure that in any way invalidates the happiness we feel with the familiar or the productivity we achieve doing things we understand.

I’m sorry if my intent has been misread. I’m just here to help and I think the record speaks to that fact.

Perhaps this is the time to don my hat as a psychologist and suggest that the psychological phenomenon that is most relevant here is Einstellung, or functional fixedness (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einstellung_effect). There is plenty of evidence that experience is actually a barrier to learning in certain situations. This is often seen when it comes to software, when people commonly use paradigms they are used to from other applications and apply them to new ones. If the assumptions are false, it leads to a lot of frustration.

I would add that when I see recommendations of almost any software, I often feel that the person making the recommendations is actually telling us as much about the work they do as they are about the software.

I tend to think in terms of a “system” consisting of “user-software-work to be done” rather than thinking of any of those elements in isolation. The success of the system depends on how well the components fit together, not on one element in isolation. But perhaps I’m pushing ideas too far …


This rings true to my experience too. Each of us has different mental itches to scratch – ones where we know we’re looking for help (“known-knowns,” in the famed words of Donald Rumsfeld), and ones that we don’t know we’re looking for until we see them (Steve Jobs’s description of a lot of Apple products). It’s worth remembering that in the months before the first iPad was released, there was serious debate in the tech world about whether there would be any market demand, whatsoever, for something of this form-factor. I remember that, because I was part of a Wired forum – in which I argued, fortunately, that there would be a demand! (I used the example of their potential role in aviation, where now iPads had become the de facto source of aviation charts for airline pilots around the world.)

In the software world, an illustration of the first, known-known category would be a calendar function or listing of phone numbers. Obviously everyone needs those. Also, outliners – although there has been surprisingly little progress in this function from the days of the old DOS-era GrandView, by Symantec, a truly elegant program, and OmniOutliner etc these days.

An ancient illustration of the latter would be the spreadsheet function. Now it seems like the most obvious tool everyone would need. But until Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin invented VisiCalc, in the late 1970s, following quickly by Mitch Kapor and 1-2-3 at Lotus and then Microsoft’s Excel, very people could have specified that they “needed” this ability.

I have “always” known that I wanted the kind of open-ended categorizing and connecting power that Tinderbox provides. It’s something I would originally have done with index cards, then with the wonderful Lotus Agenda in the MS-DOS era, then Zootsoftware in the PC-Windows era, then TInderbox. Again, this is me – my style of research, my style of thought, my style of writing. These kinds of tools immediately “click” with some people, and for other people don’t seem relevant. (The way I can most easily understand this: I never give PowerPoint-based presentations, and I don’t think in slide-based fashion, so I have zero personal interest in developments in this field of software. For other people, I know it’s of great interest.)

Scrivener I swear by, because it is a fundamental breakthrough in one aspect of the writing process: being able easily to compose long pieces of writing in digestible chunks, move them around much more easily than with Word etc. An old OS-2 based word processor called DeScribe had a version of this power, but until I began using Scrivener I hadn’t fully imagined how powerful its modular design could be when writing books or long magazine articles. It was an “unknown-unknown,” in Rumsfeld terms.

Scapple is great for extremely light-weight whiteboard-type brainstorming.

Back to @MartinBoycott-Brown: Yes, these pieces of technology become extensions of our styles of work and thought – in ways that are sometimes foreseeable, and sometimes not.


Well, that’s what Stockholm Syndrome is.

In any case, it’s certainly true that learning new and different ways of doing things can be both challenging and rewarding. But it’s also true that life offers a vast array of ways to challenge oneself, and only finite time in which to explore them, so it’s necessary to balance the size of the challenge against the expected rewards.

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Yes. This is why I keep revisiting Tinderbox in spite of frequent encounters with frustration.

Then my guess is that you will find it worth the slog. (And, my experience in my “WTF is happening with this program??” days was that asking specific “how do I do this, and next how do I do this?” Qs–as you have been doing–is the path ahead.)

Continued good luck!


Next question: searching. The Find command only seems to search the current note, which is somewhat useless when the current note is only a sentence or two. How do I search the whole file?

You can use Agents, which are roughly equivalent to Smart Folders or Saved Searches in other applications. In fact, I would say that Agents are one of the keys to using Tinderbox effectively. At least, they are for me.

Could you elaborate? Setting up an agent for a one-time search to find which note contained a certain factoid seems like a large hammer to smash a small mosquito. Or are you thinking of a general purpose search Agent that I could edit as needed for different searches?

If the cursor is in the text area of a note, then Find (⌘F) will open the search box for that note.

However, if the Outline is selected, then Find will open the search tool for the whole document – this appears above the outline.


The default is to search in “Text” and “Name” – click one of these to turn off that context (i.e., turn off “Name” to search only in “Text”). You can make the search “Case-Sensitive” or not. And, you can use regular expressions or not.

See more here and here.

_[sorry- just noticed @PaulWalters posted whilst aI was drafting this and then got dragged off to a meeting. We’re saying the same thing] _

The Find command action depends on which pane, view (left) or text (right), currently has input focus.

Calling find in the view pane, calls this toolbar. Running finds there produces a pop-up Find results dialog that can be torn-off as a stand-alone window.

Calling find in the text pane shows a find toolbar at the top of the $Text area.

Agents can be used to find notes, creating an alias within the agent container for each note matching the query.

Which method you use for finding information is really a matter of the task at hand and personal style.

Thanks for confirming

Actually, if you have the selection in the left-hand window (the view pane), I believe it searches the whole file, or some large fraction of it. (As I see @mwra and @PaulWalters are explaining – so this is just to give a further screen-shot illustration of what they’ve described.) If the focus is in the right hand window, within a particular note, then Cmd-F will, as you say, search only that note.

Here is a screen shot to show what I mean. I did a Cmd-F search for a term – “military” – and got a list of the 53 hits, shown in context. If you click on any of the items in that search-results pane, it will take you to the specific note. The red rectangle outlines the search box you get when you hit Cmd-F.

My experience, offered in affable spirit, is that many of the aspects that initially struck me as “somewhat useless” etc arose from my not yet knowing the way to get what I wanted done in Tinderbox-world. :smile:

Sorry for the delay. I replied at breakfast and then had to go out for the day.

I think others have given better replies than I have, but just to observe that I find it is pretty quick to create an Agent once you are used to them, and I find them quite handy because I quite often want to search for the same thing more than once. Usually because I have forgotten what the result was. There is a shortcut to create an agent, and you can set up a text replacement, activated by a key combination like “qqfnd”, which will put in the syntax for the search criteria. You can also expand Agents by adding criteria when you need. Equally, as you add data or content, new items may be added to the search results (if they fulfil the search criteria). So they are always up to date.

Works like a charm, thanks!

I thought I had tried putting the focus in the View pane before, but clearly not.