Tinderbox Forum

Teaching Tinderbox

i disagree with your notion. No one has to be an ‘expert’. But we should never be too proud to learn or ask from help from others with a tool which is about learing and analysis and not finding/buying (qv your last post) the way to the answer . Anyone can throw stones.

I’m not sure how suggesting more tutorial examples is a less inclusive position.

I was commenting on the quoted text. I’m unclear how that reflects on the number of tutorial examples.

The majority of ‘examples’ available represent efforts made for free by you fellow users. If you explain your need clearly, I’m sure people will ttry and help.

As I’ve said, anyone can throw stones. Pewrhasp, instead of being so negative, if you asked for help—it’s not demeaning—your fellow users might help. This is one of the most helpful forums I’ve used, in 30= years of such activity. I’m truly saddened that you find only things to complain about. That said, like others here, if you have something we—as users—can help with, I’m sure myself or others may have a solution.

Meanwhile, I’d encourage later reader to review the fisrst post in the thread. @eastgate asks some entirely pertinent questions. In answering we can chose to be part of the solution … or simply throw stones. I’d hope users would cleave to the former.

Let’s try and help one another. Knowledge work is hard without unnecessary strife. Entitlement, even if unintentionally acquired—we are all prone to it—is a scourge of collaborative work.

I agree with you, and it looks like I may not have been clear. That is what I meant with " I think there are opening moves, and strategies that can be documented." We don’t need to show everyone everything, we just to to help them understand how the pieces work and lay out some basic opening strategies so that they can have fun playing the game, using Tinderbox, getting done what they want to get done. We’ll get there. :slight_smile:

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Yes, I’ve done that, and people have indeed been very helpful. Which I appreciate.

But a major source of frustration is that I find myself repeatedly needing to ask about what seem like they should be very basic tasks. To use the chess analogy upthread, I feel like I’m asking how the horsies move, not how to draw a minor piece endgame.

Life is short and full of learning opportunities. We appear to disagree about where “learning how to use Tinderbox” should be on that list.

Yeah, after, what 13 or 14 years using Tinderbox, hundreds of documents made, hours spent here trying to give a little advice, I find that every time I get into building something more than a modestly complicated document I have to go crawling through aTbRef to figure out how something is supposed to work. Export code knocks me down every time I build templates.

I don’t know that that’s necessarily a bad thing – it’s certainly not what I experience with most software. And I’ve been an IT professional and executive for four+ decades, so I wonder if I should know better.

Everything works out in the end and I’m self-sufficient for the most part. But I’ve had my share of trying to screw in nails or hammer in screws with Tinderbox.

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This is illuminating as it runs counter to the narrative thus far. think, in context, “how the horsies move” is actually well covered but I’d quite agree that dependent on your POV/vernacular/field/whatever, that resource might be difficult to find and when found may not make immediate sense for reasons unguessable to the resource author. I’d like to think all the ‘regulars’ here would thinks that’s something to fix, but may be unclear how to do so for lack of clear indications to how existing resource fails. That was the nature of my point about ‘throwing stones’. In pain we tend to forget that the cause for our pain isn’t immediately obvious.

The biggest lesson by far of the 15+ years I’ve written and maintained aTbRef is the ways in which stuff I thought was clear doesn’t make sense to the reader. Perhaps against expectation, this is an experience I fully take to heart and unseen by readers many parts of that resource are re-written or re-linked to reflect hitherto un-guessable insights mailed in by readers, but enabled by people taken a few extra words to explain the disconnect. As one who’s technical expertise draws mainly on the kindness of strangers, I’m unembarrassed to state I want to help other.

So how does this apply to documentation as a whole (given that I’m aTbRef’s author as it’s my personal initiative)? I think we’re all too ready to complain: we state our dissatisfaction yet omit to explain with what we are dissatisfied. Often, these problems are narrow (scopable) and fixable. Where not so, having a contextual description it is also the bedrock to productive debate towards a solution.

The hard part with a toolbox (Erector™ set) is to remember that we are just using one tool really hard, and we might be the only person with that exact use. In part, we don’t do so as we’re ‘smart’ so clearly other ‘smart’ folk must do the same? It’s human fallibility.

Going back to may earlier observation I’d encourage people to simply articulate, without attitude, what they can’t find/understand—or where they get lost. If documentation—vendor or volunteer—is sub-par please understand it is not because the authors’ don’t care.

.In a user-to-user forum, as fellow users we don’t control the app, but can help with its use.

The thread @satikusala linked to is a good case in point. By taking a moment to explain a problem:

  • we got a solution
  • the solution was a kludge (as I discovered a functional limitation)
    *as importantly leading to:
    • a feature request to update ^text^ functionality
    • c.20+ pages in aTbref were edited with improved/data links as a result.

Sorry if I appear a booster for user forums. But with a helpful community, help really is a just post away. I can’t feel otherwise—I’ve learned so much by the kindness of strangers.

@kderbyshire First, thanks for the really engaging back and forth. I must admit through, through the exchange I’ve lost sight of the specific project you’re looking to work on with Tinderbox. Do you think we can go back to that?

Here are a couple of questions:

  • What do you want to do? Get done?
  • What inputs do you have?
  • How do you want to curate these inputs?
  • What insight do you want to draw from these inputs?
  • What outputs are you looking to create from these insights?

I’d love to take a stab at building a sample TBX for you.


That makes me feel both better and worse.

This thread from last year outlines my workflow and a first cut at tackling it via Tinderbox:

Since then, I’ve tried the same approach with other projects, with mixed results. Creating a Tinderbox Map view to help me see patterns in research materials works really well. Attempting to convert that view back to a linear outline – either in Tinderbox or another tool – that I can use as a starting point for a draft often leaves me wondering why I don’t just use Post-It notes.

(And it doesn’t help that I tend to have more time to putter on the front end – organizing material – than on the back end, when I’m ready to start writing.)

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Ok, I think I understand. I’ve been meaning to templatize my process for what I think i a similar workflow:

  1. Read stuff
  2. Capture and cite notes (quote, stats, ideas, etc.) in Tinderbox, link said note to DevonThink original source
  3. Generate my own note and thinking that come out of #2
  4. Curate insight - make connection, use maps, outline, chart, agents, etc. to make sense of the data
    …run out of time
  5. Pull together and publish the article I wanted to release
  6. Lather, repeat, rinse.

Please let me know if I have these steps generally right.

The beauty of Tinderbox is that if you do this work in one more more Tinderboxes you’ll find that over time you’ll have started to build a knowledge/asset database that you can draw upon for future work.

Again, I’ve been meaning to pull my process together for some weeks (@wajakob asked me for it). Give me until the end of the week and I’ll put something together. I’ll record it and also will present it at next Saturday’s meetup (@Sylvaticus).

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Close. My process is more like:

  1. Read stuff.
  2. Capture notes in Scrivener, linked to original sources in DevonThink.
  3. Export from Scrivener to Tinderbox, split into bite-sized chunks, retaining links to original sources.
  4. Shuffle chunks around in Tinderbox Map view, forming clusters of related ideas.
  5. Write short topical summaries based on those clusters.
  6. (Attempt to facilitate 4 and 5 by assigning topic-based tags in Tinderbox, and using those as a tool to get more structure in Tinderbox and export the results back to Scrivener. Curse a lot. Run out of time. Resort to copy and paste. Curse some more.)
  7. Write draft in Scrivener. Revise.
  8. Go back to the original notes in Scrivener or Tinderbox to double check sources. Wish I hadn’t wasted so much time in step 6.
  9. Publish. Wonder if inserting Tinderbox in the process was worth the bother.
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Doesn’t look like it is. You have a lot of software involved in what’s just a vanilla standard read, take notes, consolidate, composition cycle.

Here’s where the key benefit might lie — assuming steps 4-6 are substantial and protracted. If they’re just pro forma or due diligence, then there’s not much to be done here! But if 4-6 takes time as you gather new sources and gain understanding, Tinderbox can provide a really nice framework for an evolving body of knowledge.


Well, the reason why I keep coming back to Tinderbox is because I’m not entirely happy with the way the process works without it, either. Thinking is hard.

Much depends on scale. I don’t need Tinderbox (or much of anything, really) to organize a 500 word news brief. I would like to be able to use it for much larger projects, but am reluctant to do so at my current level of fluency.


Steps 4-6 are very much where the brain work lies. If you write out the steps, the same basic flow applies to a 500 word news brief as to a 100,000 word book, but clearly the difference between the two is more than just volume.

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Suggestion: use Tinderbox as a sidecar, playing a small role in a large project. If you get stuck, there are lots of people who can help, but worst case, it’s a small role!

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Going back to the original topic of the thread, it looks like I’m describing a pretty common task. As @PaulWalters put it, a “standard read, take notes, consolidate, composition cycle.” So resources that help with that cycle might be useful to more users than just me. To that end, here are the specific Tinderbox tasks that I found myself needing to accomplish:

  1. Import existing notes. Assign $Source attributes.
  2. Explode notes, assigning the same attributes to the children.
  3. (Map View) Cluster notes topically. Topics are emergent, in that I don’t know what they are until I’ve reviewed the material.
  4. (Map View) Use Adornments to visually distinguish clusters and individual notes, as needed.
    – At any point, create new notes with my own observations or incorporating additional research. Add these to topical clusters.
  5. Assign $Tag attributes relevant to each cluster.
  6. (Attribute Browser) Within each cluster, develop narrative order. Highlight or create notes reflecting the central theme of each cluster.
  7. (Attribute Browser) Determine overall narrative flow between clusters. Assign attributes accordingly. (First, Second, etc.).
  8. Export the “highlight” notes in narrative order, thereby creating a draft outline.
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@kderbyshire. Thanks for sharing your process. Couple more questions.

How long are your articles? (word count)
Do they include images?
What do you use to manage your references? Citations?

I too love Scrivener, especially for long-form content, but you can actually accomplish everything you’re doing above with Tinderbox and DevonThink, you may not need Scrivener to publish (especially for short-form content).

I completely agree with @eastgate above RE “Tinderbox can provide a really nice framework for an evolving body of knowledge.” That is what I meant when I said “Tinderboxes you’ll find that over time you’ll have started to build a knowledge/asset database that you can draw upon for future work.”

I’ll pull together an example of this later week. To make my effort more practical, can you provide an example of three public source articles? I can review them and attempt to make an article out of them. If not, I’ll use my own.

Lol. No. Leaving the relative merits of the two applications aside, Scrivener for iPad is one of my most-used tools. Also, I need to be able to get material out of Tinderbox without cursing first.

For the rest, I made a new thread, here: