Tinderbox Forum

Easier access to certain functions


I have been a user of Tinderbox for quite a while. Right now I’m using Tinderbox6. While I am a huge fan of this tool and I would not be able to live without it, there are a few things that I still find a bit frustrating. One of them is the difficulty of accessing certain functions that I need to use quite often. Here are a couple of examples so that you have an idea of what I’m talking about.

In order to highlight a segment of the text with different colours, (unless I’m utterly confused and I have missed something that is very obvious) you need to access the menu via the mouse and go through 4 different levels in the menu to get what you want. There is no way as far as I can see to add the option in the editing window and there are no keyboard shortcuts.

Similarly, in order to create a user keyword attribute to add to a note, you need to click the ‘+’ sign and then scroll all the way down to ‘user’, then click on the ‘keywords’ cell and then double click on the space to introduce the desired keyword. Again, there doesn’t seem to be any keyword shortcut to do this.

I have not been able to find anyway to ease these processes by using ApplesScript since there appear to be no AppleScript dictionaries for Tinderbox as there exist for other applications. If I’m mistaken, please correct me.

I have tried to solve this problem by using Keyboard Maestro. Keyboard Maestro is a wonderful app and it has helped me solve similar problems with other apps but with Tinderbox it has a difficult time. Keyboard Maestro can create macros that record mouse movements and keystrokes. The problem is that it needs the exact coordinates to be able to reproduce the actual steps and when I create a macro for my desktop computer I cannot use it in my laptop because the screen size is different.

If there were keystroke combinations for the different functions or at least an AppleScript dictionary for Tinderbox functions, this would not be a problem and you wouldn’t need to change Tinderbox in any significant way. I’m sympathetic with the view that it is better not to make the tool too complicated and hard to use by adding an independent button for anything any user might need to do. As I have said, however, there are functions that are a bit too hard to access and there should be a way to make it simpler without needing to change the app in any major way.

So, the question is, are the developers considering making the access to functions easier by providing direct access via keystroke combinations or at least creating an AppleScript dictionary that enables third party apps or savvy users to automatize such tasks?

Also, while I’m at it. Another thing that I find a bit frustrating is that it is really difficult to locate notes in the outline when you have landed in a particular note via some kind of search. In other applications such as Scrivener, you can do a search and then you get a list of notes that contain the results. From that list, you can simply click on the link and go directly to the note (as you can do in Tinderbox) but you also have a second option which I find enormously useful: ‘locate note in the binder’ (the binder is the equivalent to the outline in Tinderbox). This is useful because at least for me it is very important to situate the note in the context of the (sub)structure of my outline so that I can see which other notes or subnotes are clustered around the note containing the results.

OK. This is all for now. If anybody here has some suggestions that can help, I will greatly appreciate them.

Josep M.

Josep – you might want to try Tinderbox 7, which has introduced several text enhancements. But for your questions.

  1. If you are going to use highlighting frequently on the text of your notes, then add keyboard shortcuts for the highlight options. Using System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > App Shortcuts create shortcuts applicable to Tinderbox for the menu items: “yellow highlight”, “red highlight”, “blue highlight” and “none”. Making shortcuts is a once-and-done action. Everytime you use Tinderbox or create a new document, the shortcuts are present.
  2. An alternative to shortcuts is to create styles for each of the highlighted colors. Creating styles is easy in TextEdit, and Tinderbox will be aware of styles created in TextEdit. Then, in Tinderbox, display the ruler, select the text to highlight, and use the Styles dropbox in the ruler.
  3. A third method is to color the text by selecting it, pressing ⌘T to open the Text inspector, and modify the text color as desired.

I have to say, I don’t recall any previous suggestions to add highlighting to some control in the Text pane. But, maybe others would need it. If you want to suggest enhancements, it is also a good idea to write Eastgate, since we here are only opinionators and not doers.

I’m not entirely clear on the objective of “create a user keyword attribute”, but I assume you mean “create a key attribute for a note”. You are correct in the keystrokes involved, but this is not the fastest way to add attributes to notes. You should consider creating prototypes that have the system and user attributes you desire, and then applying prototype(s) to your notes.

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Further to the previous answer (with which I agree) …

I can’t replicate this. Click the ‘+’ button at the top of the text pane to open the Add KA dialog](http://www.acrobatfaq.com/atbref6/index/Dialogs/AddKeyAttributespop-over.html) (v6 aTbRef link). In the upper part of the pop-over start typing the name of the attribute you want to add and use autocomplete to complete the name. Click Return to close that edit. Click off the pop-up and the attribute is added to the note’s Key Attributes (KA). No need to hunt for individual attributes via listings.

Also this approach offers a quick method to define/add a new attribute. Use the ‘+’ at the top of the text pane to open the Add KA dialog. Type in the new attribute name in the top box, then click outside the pop-up. A new pop-up appears asking if you want the add the attribute if you tick the item and define the data type (default string) when you click off the pop-up the new attribute is added. See here - v7 aTbRef page but pop-up is the same in v6. If you don’t want the new attribute as a KA delete it from the KAs - it’s still defined. If you need to set anything other than the attribute name and data type you will need to use the inspector for that.

Highlighting. Tinderbox is a noting tool not a word-processor, although the $Text pane is a unicode RTF space. Tinderbox’s available keyboard shortcuts are already heavily mapped to less unusual tasks than highlighting. Perhaps you could request the text pane rule add text and (background) highlight controls as in TextEdit - though any such changes would get added to v7 not v6 which is not not adding new features. That said it may be such controls hare hard/expensive to integrate controls that not many will use. Note that highlighting doesn’t get much mention of use even if some, like yourself, use if a lot. Unsurprisingly, less-used features don’t tend to earn the prime real estate in the UI.

Anecdotally adding app AppleScript dictionaries are expensive, especially if adding to a mature app. This creates a ROI problem if the method is not much used. Plus Apple does’t show AppleScript much love or support these days (sad!) so it may be a soon-to-be-dropped tech in which the ROI is harder to justify. Is you want to try and map menus and such in apps with no AS dictionary, try UIBrowser which is very useful niche tool.

Maybe it’s a v6/v7 think but if I do a Find in the view (left) pane and double-click on an listed item then the outline expands to show the now selected note.

Thanks so much Paul and Mark for your prompt and useful answers.

Perhaps the way I presented the problem was not the best way to highlight the general frustration (little frustration, to be honest, if I consider the many benefits I get by using TB) I experience when working with TB. The examples I chose might not resonate with everybody because other people might not see the point in using highlighting in one’s notes or because they already have a way to introduce a new keyword attribute for a note that works for them.

They were just examples that wanted to point to the fact that there seemed to be no easy way in general to create an easier ways to access certain functions in TB. Paul pointed to some good solutions that I had not considered. I did not know that one could create application specific shortcuts via the System Preferences. That takes care of functions that are accessible via the menus.

The “problem” with the keyword attributes is different. Mark’s observation that you can simply start typing after clicking on the ‘+’ button is very useful because it definitely saves you having to scroll with the mouse. It would be nice, however, if one could also access the “Add key attributes” function without having to use the mouse. The mouse is a nice addition to computers but in general it is much more comfortable and fast for me to do things without having to abandon the keyboard.

Rather than requesting that specific direct buttons be added to the application, which, I agree with you, is a non-starter because not everybody needs to be able to access to one or the other of the many functions which are available in TB, I thought that making everything potentially available through a combination of keystrokes could solve the general problem. If there is a way to get there via keystrokes, then an app such as Keyboard Maestro can add the functionality you need to TB by creating macros that combine keystrokes with specific prerecorded actions. Being able to use AppleScript or some other scripting language in TB would also be helpful. Thanks for the pointer to UIBrowser. I’ll have a look at it.

Concerning the location of an item in the outline, thanks, Mark, for pointing out that if you click twice on one of the items in the list of results of a search you can see the selected note in the outline. I did not know that and this is very useful. I had forgotten, however, that where I experience this problem more severely is when I go to a particular note from a link in another note. What happens then is that if the target note is deeply embedded in the structure of notes and subnotes, you can only see the subsection of the outline where the node is. When you try to go up in the tree by clicking on one the tabs that appear above the outline then you lose sight of the note. It would be helpful to have a way to identify the location of the note in the expanded view of the outline as when you do the double-click on the listed item. Navigation through notes got a lot better for me when I learned you could go back to previous notes by doing cmd-’ but the problem I described still annoys me a little bit.

You’re using a version of Tinderbox that is at least two years out of date, and so lacks many hundreds of improvements available in the current version. Responding to some specific complaints here might be complicated because we’re all more familiar with today’s Tinderbox and don’t always remember how things worked two or three years back!

In the current release, yellow highlight does have a keyboard shortcut: ^⌥⌘-Y.

In the current release, the popover for adding new key attributes is much nicer and a good deal more powerful than it was in Tinderbox 6. A good deal of work has been devoted to making it easy to add key attributes from the keyboard. (I would entertain the suggestion to add a menu item synonymous to the “+” button, but on which menu does it belong?)

Adding your own shortcuts for many items you use often has been available in Tinderbox since 2014. It’s true of nearly every Macintosh application. You will find, though, that Tinderbox has rather a lot of keyboard shortcuts already!

If you find yourself adding key attributes often, you might want to think about letting Tinderbox add them for you. Stamps, prototypes, and OnAdd actions are frequent choices for this; letting Tinderbox help you organize your documents is one of the key ideas in Tinderbox.

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I thought my version was about one year old but time does go by very quickly. I had not updated my version of Tinderbox because up to now I had not really seen a lot of good reasons to do so. I understand that a project like this needs the support of its users but upgrading is not cheap so I had to convince myself there are good reasons to spend this kind of money every year.

My perception had been generally that a lot of the work in the development concentrated on things like the Map view for which I don’t really have much use. My Tinderbox documents contain many many notes and visualization through maps becomes cumbersome and not very useful. On other areas such as the issue I mentioned concerning the navigation through the outline I have not seen much work being done. This is something that I have found a bit lacking since I started using TB and I was hoping it might get better with time.

Please don’t take this as a criticism. I totally understand that I might not be the most typical user and development must establish priorities that satisfy the majority of users. It is just that in the announcements about new versions I had not been able to see a lot of improvements in areas that for me were more of a priority.

Having said this, I have read in the latest announcements that the newest TB versions contain new ways to create links to specific places in a note and that IS enormously useful for me so I will give it a try. If it has been more than two years since my last upgrade, then I do feel a little guilty even if the new version doesn’t give me every improvement I would have hoped for.


Unless you want to create a new menu entry, perhaps the best place would be somewhere under ‘Note’. My point was that anything that you guys could do to make it easier to access the different functions the better. If you need to click a button with the mouse to access any function, “automatization” via keystroke combinations or macros via third party applications becomes very difficult or impossible.


I didn’t make myself sufficiently clear when I talked about my use of the key attributes. The scenario I had in mind is the following. For my work, I need to be able to use a set of specific keywords to identify the different notes so that I am able to find the relevant information quickly and precisely. So having a quick way to introduce a new keyword while I’m working on a particular note would be helpful. With other apps I use Keyboard Maestro to do similar things. Keyboard Maestro allows you to call pretty complex macros with a simple keystroke combination but for the reasons I explained it was difficult to use it with TB.

What I wanted to do was to create a macro that automatically inserted a new keyword term as a key attribute in the note that I’m currently working on but because doing this involves having to click on various places with the mouse (on the ‘+’ sign and on the key attribute field), I wasn’t able to do it.


Sorry, I realize I must have confused a lot of you with my messages. I just realized that I have been talking about the keyword key attribute as if this is something everybody should be familiar with. It turns out that this is a key attribute that does not exist in TB but rather a user attribute that I had created myself a while back so that I could identify a note with a collection of labels or keywords.

This is very useful when you are looking for information and you don’t remember the name of the note where you stored it. Maybe now there is already a built in key attribute that does this but at the time there wasn’t any so I decided to create one myself.


A good tip is that when referring to an attribute name, a general tradition in this forum to write ‘$Keywords’ to indicate you are referring to a an attribute called Keywords. The two tees do indeed in mean different things as Tinderbox action code but as a textual reference it is very useful to indicate you are talking about an attribute name hat that might otherwise be confused with ordinary text. Thus, had you referred to ‘$Keywords’ , season users would realise you were explicitly talking about an attribute named ‘Keywords’ and which not being a built-in attribute must be a user attribute.

In my ‘moderator’ hat I will, at risk of sounding like a cracked record, point out that Tinderbox is a toolbox and not a one-task utility. Thus, it is a fallacy to assume that how i. use Tinderbox is how others, or more to the point a majority of other uses, work with the app. Once you accept this, some oddities in functionality seem less egregious.

As a long-term user (who doesn’t touch-type and probably never will) and beta-tester I happily test keyboard-only features I will never fully use. Optimising for a single sub-group of users generally disadvantages others.

I does seem that a number of your peeves are best addressed with making your own custom shortcuts (using the likes of Keyboard Maestro) rather than forcing engineering changes, e.g. menu alterations, that help you but perhaps not others. This is a big community with surprisingly diverse styles of use - I’ve long since given up the pretence of imagining ‘typical’ use.

In summary:

  • I appreciate cost may be an upgrade issue. But if just a case of if-it-works-don’t-update I strongly
    suggest updating to v7 as there are many useful improvements that have nothing to do with the headline new features.
  • Don’t assume we all use the app the same way - be that in style of input (keyboard-only vs mixed keyboard/mouse), the attributes we use, the aspects of the app we use, or whether or not we use automation.
  • If you need a feature, suggest it. Ideally by direct direct to Eastgate rather than here to avoid opinion-shopping. If you look at the app’s genesis over some 17 years it will be apparent that the developer is very responsive to well-reasoned user suggestions.
  • Given some things you weren’t aware of, do take a wander through aTbRef. Disclaimer - I write it. That said it it’s heavily inter-linked hypertext. If it lacks an index it’s because there is no one way to structure the data. Just keep following links!
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This a bit of a glass-half-empty take on things. There has been plenty of polish to other views. as I tend to work at scale, my use is generally outline based. However, I strongly support Map view being the default. I may working Outline view due to volume of notes but I still think in map view terms.

Tinderbox is a toolbox. Few other than beta-testers will try/use every function. it is totally possible to use just one view for your personal work. However, it also pays to understand there are others who use the app as hard but in different aspects. ‘Simple’ suggestions to 'just ’ fix one style of work can totally derail another. The best changes are those that are mindful of effects on other styles of use.

Please don’t read any of this as a negative response to your posts, that is far from my intent. I’m simply laying bare that in a toolbox app there is no one ‘right’ way or style that suits _all- users.

To add onto what @mwra says, so much has been added to the program in the past 2+ years, and so many of its features are customizable, that I think you’re [@jfontana] doing yourself a disservice by relying on an old version (and being concerned by things it appears not to do).

My experience is:

  • You can set up keyboard shortcuts for the vast majority of the routine functions you rely on, via either the MacOS System Preferences menu, or an app like Keyboard Maestro. I am very strongly anti-mouse, and I can do most of what I want by keyboard only.
  • The main functional improvements have been in areas other than mapping, in particular in the indispensable “Attribute Browser,” in which I do 3/4ths of all my work. (Eg How to use the Attribute Browser )

Since I use this program all day long, on my working days, the upgrade costs are completely worth it. FWIW.

OK, thanks to everybody who replied and thanks for your patience. Your comments convinced me I ought to have a serious look at the new version. I downloaded the trial version and I have been working with copies of my documents to check on some of the new features. You are totally right. There are quite a few pretty interesting and useful improvements that I had not been aware of. I have now placed my order and I’m waiting for the registration codes to start working with the new version.

One of the things that I also wanted to support was the friendly and helpful community around the TB project. Your tips on how to solve my problems have been very helpful and showed that I was misguided in some of what I considered to be problems in the interface.

I still think that Mark had not understood what I meant in some of my comments (or most likely, I did not express myself clearly). I was not really requesting the introduction of new features or to make major changes to satisfy my personal needs but rather to make the access to existing features easier to users like me without affecting the way other users do what they do now. I might be wrong but I think that being also able to create a new key attribute without necessarily having to click the ‘+’ button with the mouse would not make things worse for anybody while it might create new possibilities to do things with this amazing toolbox.

Anyway, my next posts will certainly be questions about things I would like to do with Tinderbox 7 :-).

Josep M.

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Josep, I agree. And I agree with your suggestion.

I enjoy reading about everyone’s use of Tinderbox and there is never a reason to apologize for using the program the way you see fit or wanting betterment. I’d hazard on good evidence that every longer-term or frequent writer on this forum has requested features that at first blush might have seemed outré edge cases with little utility for the average user – and then Mark B. grabbed onto the idea and made it an interesting new feature.

The beauty of Tinderbox is that the owner is an artisanal hacker – in the best sense – and never satisfied with the status quo. Keep those ideas flowing – explanation is useful, but justification is never needed.


Concur, I think @PaulWalters sums things neatly.

Re the ‘+’ button & visualisation and looking at the [existing map] of Tinderbox shortcuts(http://www.acrobatfaq.com/atbref7/index/KeyboardShortcuts/ReverseLook-upMap.html) (and I suspect even this is incomplete for some OS/system-wide shortcuts), what would you propose as a new shortcut?

Whilst it’s nice to have everything you want baked-in to an app, I think Keyboard Maestro+custom shortcuts might be an easier way to access, for instance, all the different highlight options.

This is my experience with what I view as the indispensable Tinderbox tool, the sainted Attribute Browser. Along with some other people, I had been agitating for some function of this sort, starting roughly a decade ago. (My argument was derived from some features of the old MS-DOS marvel Lotus Agenda, and then the Windows program Zoot.) Artisanal-style, the program kept evolving, and the AB came into being and has kept being refined.

Mark, the problem is that the fact that you need to click on a button with the mouse to access a function makes it hard to do this with Keyboard Maestro. The highlight options are actually easy to get to using Keyboard Maestro because they are part of a menu and Keyboard Maestro can record the steps you take going through a menu rather easily. Recording what you do with the mouse can get quite a bit more tricky and prone to errors, though.


OK, I’m lost. You’re saying KM works … but doesn’t?

Just for clarification, almost all the shortcuts that @mwra lists in the reverse-lookup table are bonafide keyboard-only shortcuts, with no need for the mouse (which I too avoid as much as possible). Which specific functions are you running into that are mouse-only? I know there are some, but I’ve worked my way around most of them that I run into. FWIW