Tinderbox Forum

Accessing external text editors within Tinderbox

In the Archive application, an advanced option in the preferences is provided that allows the user to identify an external text editor to edit a note (actually you can identify multiple editors). After the editors have been identified in the preferences, by selecting any note in the Archive and right clicking, the user is presented with the option of editing the note with any external editors listed. I found this to be very handy way of editing notes, and I was wondering if Eastgate would ever consider adding such an option to Tinderbox.

Eastgate have been very open to ideas over the years, though ideas that have succeeded tended to have a clear use case. Beyond feature parity with The Archive what is the benefit to Tinderbox users. If the text editor is so poor it is better to use another one, wouldn’t it make sense to improve the app in front of one rather than always having to swap focus to a different app. That then leads to desire for app A to adopt feature from app B, or vice versa, and all because of ‘just’ wanting to use a different editing space. What am I missing here?

I think The Archive is showing its descent from Notational Velocity and nvALT here, and I think you can kind of perceive the coding background of the originators of those programs in the inclusion of that feature. I guess they would have been used to doing much of their normal work in text editors like Vim or Emacs or Sublime Text, and it was convenient to be able to suddenly jot down a note in the editor you were using, and save it as a plain text file in the Finder folder you used for your notes, that being the folder used by Notational Velocity or nvALT. I’m not sure I see how this fits with the way that Tinderbox does things. Notational Velocity was arguably mostly about finding things quickly, or jotting them down quickly, though people did remarkably complex things with it (and nvALT). If you are used to working in a particular editor all the time, and you are used to using a particular set of tools for moving text around (and the attendant hot keys), I can see why you might want it. While writing this I find myself remembering QuickCursor, a utility that people tried to replicate using Keyboard Maestro. Might be worth a try if you have KM.

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I am a long-time user of Tinderbox, at least a decade or so, and in 2012, I began conducting archival research for my dissertation that was defended and published in 2017. Tinderbox was great in helping me sort through the primary sources and codify them across several academic disciplines including psychology, sociology, and organizational behavior. As a writer, when writing about concepts, relationships, and capturing what I call next-level knowledge, I found myself wanting a more intimate relationship with an external editor. Especially when writing what I call next-level knowledge, I often had to escape to Scrivener or EMACs or whatever, and it often broke my train of thought which can be a challenge for any writer. A simple act that often carried with it inevitable consequences.

Anyway, here I am again, embarking on another serious research project across multiple disciplines. At first, I was reluctant to publish my thoughts about this topic. I am pretty sure that it was discussed on the old forum and the response was somewhat similar. I thought I would give it one last try and maybe posting it will be of benefit to someone else who has traveled down a similar path.

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I’m not sure that copy/paste is prohibitive in this scenario. The Tinderbox editor is really quite good, but if you prefer (say) EMACS, just go there, write, copy and paste into Tinderbox.

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If you find yourself going back and forth via the clipboard often, you might set up an Alfred workflow or Keyboard Maestro macro to automate some of the steps for you.

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For Keyboard Maestro users this may be a starting point: https://forum.keyboardmaestro.com/t/quickcursor-replacement/1826

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What seems overlooked here is that since the v6+ app design update, note text has been—driven by lobbying form users—an RTF space (actually RTFD to support image embedding). Won’t opening a note in the likes of emacs won’t you have to edit something like this:


Or does emacs have native RTF support? The temptation is to say “Well I’ll never use rich text” but the app will still need allow for the fact that we users make mistakes.

I don’t note this to argue against the suggestion, but it seems a lot of complication (i.e. engineering expense & ongoing maintenance) for little gain when copy/paste or some such automation above can do this already. I understand the reflexive convenience in the suggestion but I’m struggling to the real benefit to the app for compared to the engineering & maintenance cost for a small developer.

Do you have an example of the sort of transform that has to be done in, for example, emacs so we might better understand your use case?

I don’t use EMACs so I have no idea how EMACs would handle image embedding. However, I think my request for what I consider an enhancement has been answered. It would require a great deal of engineering effort using scarce engineering resources. Furthermore, the payoff is viewed as questionable. The scenario that I attempted to explain was something that I encounter over and over again regarding the process of maintaining a train of thought through the process of discovery and creation. Thanks for taking the time to answer my query.

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I don’t think it requires that much engineering, actually. But there remains the question of whether copy/paste or the service menu is really not an adequate solution.

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I’ll have to give all of this some more thought. I am not sure that I fully understand how copy/paste would work for notes that I already have in Tinderbox and subsequently want to edit or add original text. Even so, maybe the answer is the status quo as others have suggested, and that the utility of such a request is more useful in authoring environments where plain text files are the default.

For example:

  1. Select a note.
  2. Select All (⌘-A)
  3. Copy (⌘-C)
  4. Click BBEdit in the dock. It makes a new empty document
  5. Paste (⌘-V)
  6. Edit cheerily in BBEdit
  7. When you’re done, ⌘-A and ⌘-C to copy everything
  8. Switch back to Tinderbox
  9. Paste (⌘-V)

Thanks for clarifying. This works fine with single notes. However, copy/paste does not appear to work when I select multiple files. I can copy the content of multiple notes from TB into BBEdit, make changes, but I don’t see a way of getting the updated changes into TB. In Scrivener, I can select multiple notes, and make changes to all of the selected notes at one time. Although implemented differently, the Archive enables similar functionality. Perhaps my overall desired use of TB is a corner case.

Some discussion (side channel) of this indicates the thread title and initial phrasing of @regan’s recent suggestion have—quite unitentional—confused some of us responding. My understand now is, at least in the most recent renewed discussion here, that the issue is less about editing the text of a single note in an editor outside Tinderbox, as being able to edits groups of notes. So, this is less about using a code-type (plain) text editor and more about moving back-forth to something like Scrivener with its nice editable concatenated view; IOW, the outline/sequence is visible in one long editable text. My takeaway here is this is less about use of heavyweight code/text editors but more the writing experience of wider-scoped tools like Scrivener. Quite what other tools fall into this category i’m not sure and I suspect the set may be different to each person.

Still, understanding it is the writing environment as much as specific editing/coding tools does give the recent idea a different perspective. I suspect it comes with a different set of issue to to those recently discussed. Whilst for us as users it’s just the same text in a different place, the underlying structures of the desired apps may differ quite a bit so ‘safe’ transfer to and fro might be challenging. Add in different development cycles and design intent, meaning ongoing maintenance also needs factoring in.

As a user, I can’t guess the outcome here, but hopefully this restatement of the issue will steer us back towards what I think is the real question recently asked.

Thanks for post, and I can certainly see how I might have confused people with the title. After, exchanging messages with Mark and Mark I have certainly found greater clarity in what I was personally trying state. Thank you. It’s not so much a text editor as it the desire to find tools that will help facilitate the capturing of what I call next-level knowledge within the context of taking notes. The Archive and Scrivener both accommodate the editing of multiple notes at the same time within their applications. As least for me, this is a great win especially when you find yourself deep in thought and trying to add new thoughts and observations for the very first time. These can be powerful moments. I also understand that this may require a great deal of effort, but I thought that it was important enough to share.