Tinderbox Forum

Tinderbox MANUAL vs. a Tinderbox REFERENCE FILE vs. the Tinderbox WAY

I agree with Desalegn about avoiding trying to learn everything.

Think about TBX as an IDE for a programming language. You need to learn the interface, but the tool will only require mastery of the things you want to do with it. Few use all of the tools available. I for one use just a few since I’m mostly processing notes and organizing ideas for my own work.

Just like learning a programming language, the best way to become competent is to pick a project to work on then use examples from other people’s work as inspiration and information about techniques. Some ideas will stick and others won’t as you go on to other projects.


The Help file has the basics but is not exhaustive (and not intended as such). I’d suggest starting with working through the Getting Started doc and using aTbRef for looking up functional detail questions arising at the former. As you get started it helps to have at least one practical task in mind and to get in the habit of doing small experiments (in files you’ll ditch) to help cement your learning of new techniques. Although aTbRef was originally an exploration of export techniques it’s usable as a TBX too. You can download it and use it locally as these days Tinderbox has Find at both note and $Text levels. If you do use the TBX, you might want to turn off auto-update of agents as there are a fair few and once populated at doc open aren’t needed if you’re just reading the content.

My contribution here is partly just virtuous circles. Sine I first went online in about '92 I’ve learned mostly via the kindness of strangers so try to pass something back. Plus, by analysing other’s problems it keeps me learning.

I hope you get some traction soon and don’t forget to come back with and questions.


Concept of notes and attributes is critical.

I initially started by:

  1. creating a new Tinderbox document.
  2. Set the view to outline
  3. Create a note by clicking on the sidebar and pressing the return button.
  4. Put some text in the note content area
  5. Hit the + button to the right of the note title to open the attribute groups
  6. Selected appearance group and started adding each attribute in this group one by one. The learning occured when I understood what each attribute did.

This was enough to get me started and I moved on from there learning about agents, actions other higher order concepts.


John, I have felt the same way for a long time. I invested a lot of time in the initial stages to gather my notes into TB and also to write many new notes, but I couldn’t see the point of it other than as an outliner or a pretty map. I made progress with prototypes, but struggled to get much further. Since then, I have continued to read posts on this forum.

After reading your post, I opened my TB file to have another look. It’s been a while since I did that. And then the penny dropped. Suddenly I could see how I could further explore and develop my notes, as well as continue writing. For me, that’s a breakthrough and I attribute it to this forum with its examples of problems and the subsequent advice from other posters.

It wasn’t one tip or piece of advice that made the penny drop, it was the culmination of many.

My newbie advice is to keep reading all resources and keep asking questions.


Most old users (like me) know Tinderbox is always a journey through complex structures with a powerful tool. One also has always some point of dissent with the thing.

To me the best introduction ever is that of Dominique Renauld

Begin by using Tinderbox as a simple note-taking tool.

Grow slowly on that.

THen use it as a way to organize the notes.

Ant thats the best entry point. ALl the other things you can do are limitless. Only your imagination can limit you.

Have fun experimenting.

And ask the forum for advice n specific items.

Goo luck, Rigas


Thank you, I really appreciate your input!

Not really essential but I have a hard time deciphering what Dominique is saying in this particular video :))))

What sort of task, problem or challenge do you hope Tinderbox will help you with?

What kind of other software tools have you already used or learned to help with what you’re hoping to do with Tinderbox?

Do you have any experience writing software?

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I’m a recovering IBM mainframe programmer & a HUGE amount programming is done by making a copy of an existing chunk of code or entire program & then modifying it to do something “new.”

It helps while learning a new programming tool—and clearly Tinderbox is very much a programming toolkit—is to keep a laser focus on doing a very tiny thing… & then build on that.

As humans were were not born walking & running… first we had to learn to roll over, then to raise our heads, then to crawl, then to sit up, etc., etc.

Writing books or programs—in my mind there’s not a whole lot of difference—is one disorganized step at a time. The organization we strive for only appears from the mists of wandering around in a chaotic swamp.

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Tinderbox has features that can be program-like, but it would be a narrow view to consider it a programming tool. It’s best to come to Tinderbox without a technical mindset.

In my opinion.

Writing a book (or any other sort of document) is programming. I may start with a grand scheme, top-down vision, but eventually I’ll have to put it all together with bits & pieces from the bottom-up.

Assembling a legal contract is programming. Lawyer takes a bunch of boiler plate off the shelf & tweaks it here & there.

Just depends on how you look at it.

I am completely aware of this “timeline mist” concept and I have to agree with you. I am in a complete chaotic swamp and from my research thus far, Tinderbox is the only thing that comes close to what I am trying to achieve (or so I believe); but than again, considering I’m in that “mist”, what I am trying to achieve might have a different end result, but in the course of achieving the right tools need to be on my side.

While still very much a rank Tinderbox novice, one factor that sold me on Tinderbox was under the covers, deep down in the technical weeds, it appears to be VERY similar to the process & techniques I used 35 years ago to automate a 3,000 year old money center banking application… International Letters of Credit.

Another way of looking at complex document creation & assembly is to think of the bill-of-materials paradigm. My assumption is if I were in a novel or screenplay writing class & said “bill-of-materials” most of the other folks there would have no idea what I was talking about.

Could be VERY helpful if you clued us in what you’re trying to accomplish.
… write THE great American novel?
… write software that will wipe out Microsoft Office?

  1. Hmmm, Ill try my best to explain but there isn’t any other method taking my approach and there really isn’t any material to anchor your analyzing input capabilities therefore, it will be really difficult to fully grasp the task I am trying to achieve. Long story short, I am creating a new classification system where I eliminate body text and where the largest structural syntax is no more than a complete sentence. This strictly applies to information retrieval in the visual “browsing” sense. I am basically trying to eliminate the concept of a book, article, or anything prose and lengthy like. This requires an enormous amount of knowledge and precision in correctly assembling the material semantically and syntactically as accurate as possible. Therefore, to really answer your question, I am hoping to use Tinderbox as a visual tool - the mapping feature allows me to design any form of visualization method in the entire infographics field, that is a unique & powerfull capability!! - to better make sense of all the hogwash I have accumulated in order to put the pieces together on a semantic level and with an exceptional amount of “meaning” accuracy . Once that’s achieved, I’d like to use the outline features to focus on syntax and organization in order to chop up any concept to no more than a sentence. I’d probably need a handbook written to make or hopefully make you better understand the idea and probably a paragraph won’t cut it.

  2. I am not yet 100% sure Tinderbox will help me achieve what I need but I can tell you that Tinderbox has some features that I believe will help me achieve what’s in my head; I couldn’t find one single tool that allows me to do everything in one place. To finally and briefly answer your question, I’v started the project in word many years ago. Iv’e than realized I needed more than 9 headings so I moved on to Scrivener only to realize that after 50,000 note containers (and no media at all) the program stopped working properly. I’ve also tried mind mapping tools with outline and diagramming features…no good. I am now stuck in Omnioutliner and although I ahve tried all the data organizational techniques - metadata, automation scripts, you name it. - I still cannot acommplish what I need without putting large amounts of unnecessary extra work.

  3. I have no experience writing software

PS: I’ve had a long day and kind of lost my patience replying in a more coherent way…my apologies for that.

basically I need a tool that helps me speed up my process. I currently use Omnioutliner for outlining, a multitude of reference, document management apps (think endnote, devonthink, PDF expert, and the like) to extract information and keep reference material organized. A complete mess really. I need to input everything in one place otherwise I will never make sense of my material. Spending months and months on going from tool to tool gets pretty discouraging. Tinderbox will help cut down on many of these aspects and allow me towards a more integrated gathering of material.

If it helps, I’d suggest the following:

  1. Keep the collection of material and the organisation of your thinking separate. From what you’ve said, it seems you’re trying to do that, but struggling.
  2. None of the tools available will be perfect. Stop trying to find the “one single tool that allows me to do everything in one place”. Pick a tool for collection; pick a tool for thinking. You might, at some point, need another one for publishing or presenting. The search for “the one” is at best a distraction from the real task; at worst (and I mean no offence), it’s a displacement activity whose function is to provide a pretext for not doing the real task.
  3. If you want something which give you a clear framework within which to organise your thoughts, Tinderbox may not be it. TB’s strength is in allowing structure to become apparent as you organise your information. That seems to me to be what you need: you said you’re trying to “make sense” of what you have. That suggests you’re looking for a structure that expresses what you need, which TB will help with. Tools like OmniOutliner and mind mappers start with a predefine structure (a hierarchy) and some of your frustration might be because you’re trying to force your concept into a hierarchy and it just doesn’t fit.
  4. [quote=“john999, post:20, topic:916”]
    considering I’m in that “mist”, what I am trying to achieve might have a different end result,
    This is the point that jumps out at me. In a tool like OO, your end result will always be a hierarchy - that’s what it does; in TB, it can be something very different.
  5. To be more practical - I think your main reference should be The Tinderbox Way - that will help (I hope) you understand how TB works and point to how you might work with it to get the best from it. The online videos are great at providing examples of how people have addressed particular questions/problems and also at illustrating some important how-tos. The manual and the TB Reference are excellent reference guides. But the book, I think, comes first, if you’re trying to find a “way in” to thinking about how TB might be a useful tool.

See!! Add a bit of context & the challenge becomes much more focused.

There was a very spirited discussion—read: contentious—of this very “contexts of context” topic just this past Wednesday.

Ah, HA! This sounds very similar to the pursuit of the mythical TLO (top level ontology) that has been generating a tremendous amount of enthusiastic handwaving in certain circles.

The “one place” “one meaning” “one version of the truth” approach has proved unworkable for nigh on 50+ years just in software—millennia if we go back to Greek philosophers.

A good research site is John Sowa’s www.jfsowa.com

What does prove feasible—but thinly practiced—is to allow information to reside in different tools (‘databases/containers’ like Excel, OmniOutliner, The-Brain, GIT-Hub, etc.) & to automate the process of sharing selected pieces of information between the various silos.

As you have correctly pointed out, there’s simply too much information to collect in a single place & make sense of it.

A distinction needs to be made between the bottom level collection, storage & maintenance & the top level presentation of information.

Never lose sight of the fact that no matter how well organized & classified information is, just rotating the view a smidge—changing the context—will cause the perfect classification scheme to instantly break down.

In my world of large organization “data management,” business glossaries are currently popular. Yet one of the market leading products only allows one meaning per term. Never going to work.

As a proof of concept for how I try to tilt at this exceedingly large & slippery windmill, a while back I built a simple “glossary” (two columns: term & meaning)… ended up with 2,000 terms—largely acronyms, but I make no distinction between a single word, a multiple word phrase, or acronyms/abbreviations—and 68,000 meanings.

When I started “CC” had 298 meanings. Today it has 455 meanings.

Haven’t gotten to the “classification” facet quite yet. That’s still on the futures list.

Belatedly, I agree with all steps in the list above. They sound simple but are deceptively important.

Coming from you , its a great compliment ! Thanks

Also for our new user John Weiland above, I add, as proven by this exchange, that intimately woven with Tinderbox there is the fantastic club of users that goes with it. BTW, I bought a macintosh because of Tinderbox (although, I am still stuck in version six because I cant upgrade the bloody machine).

I read through the reference guide at: http://www.acrobatfaq.com/atbref7/index.html from beginning to end over the weekend just gone and fell in love with Tinderbox that way. Just waiting for the Black Friday deal and I’ll pull the trigger on a license. :slight_smile:

Reading a low-level reference guide is probably not the best route for everyone but I love reference guides (ever since I got my copy of “VIC Revealed” by Nick Hampshire back in the day - I’m weird that way!)