Tinderbox Forum

Using Tinderbox and The Brain

@satikusala, @bcrane, would be interested in hearing about your discussion on TheBrain. I’ve been a user since 1999 and have recently moved some of my work from Tinderbox back to TheBrain. I have found them complementary, and at least for me, projects or subjects that require rapid and random adding of disparate pieces of data or links, and which require rapid search, recover or uncover of data, can best be done with TheBrain. When I want to create chronologies, or any other material that will benefit from adding fields, and gradual and persistent collection of disparate data (using agents), Tinderbox is the one for me.

Using Hook I’m able to cross link and get the best of both worlds.


The Brain came up only briefly at the end of the conversation. I use The Brain as something like the bucket many people use Devon for. It sounds like you may as well.

I like your metaphor of two worlds because I think The Brain is very different from TBX but I agree that the two are complementary. I also find they share enough metaphorically to ease my movement back-and-forth between the two.

I don’t worry about integrating them, but Hook definitely opens up possibilities there. I’ve experimented with it a bit, but The Brain also generates item URLs which work nicely in TBX attributes, and contextual menus make it easy to copy data to clipboard in various useful formats for pasting into TBX. This is enough inter-app transparency for what I do.

I’m lucky enough that my work isn’t so complicated that I’m limited in what software I can use to do it. I’m free to use what I enjoy and find helpful. For me that means having both TBX and the Brain open full-screen most days.


On a separate note, if this thread isn’t going to quickly disappear into the ether, could we change the title to something topical? Just wondering lol

Done! I figured a new topic might be the best start.

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Fantastic news! I have been relying on TheBrain for years and started “exploring” TBX as a complement several years ago, but never really ran with it – always getting frustrated with TBX and investing more and more of my time to TheBrain as it has gone through its various stages of development. Now comfortable with a workflow that includes using TheBrain and Devonthink to deal with my 40000 item bibliography, but have been trying to integrate TBX capabilities into my research and writing projects. Michael Becker tutorials and lurking around the meetups are getting me there, but to no avail thus far. That is why the news of an active discussion relating TheBrain and TBX is exciting prospect for me. Looking forward to hearing more – and perhaps doing more than lurking about the meetups…


TheBrain, Tinderbox, DEVONthink (and Craft/Drafts)

I hope the following is of help. I’m a journalist-turned-consultant and so cover multiple topics, often requiring me to get up to speed on something quickly. At the same time I have much more long-term projects that require near-academic levels of note-taking, references and organisation.

I am most familiar with TheBrain, having been a user since its launch in 1999. I wrote about it a few times for a general audience in my WSJ column, Extending Your Brainpower (2007), Spidergrams Appear To Fall Short of Mark (2000). I love its ability to quickly draw connections between ideas, references, companies, people, which then reveal connections or resurface things I had forgotten about, or wasn’t aware were linked. Like Tinderbox, it scales well and repays effort and the adding of metadata. Jerry Michalski is the most impressive user of TheBrain, and is generous with his time, expertise and content.

Originally I used TheBrain as a single repository of everything I was following or had an interest in. Much of this was done via subject (Artificial Intelligence, say) and then the companies and individuals involved, added as I came across them. I have since shifted slightly by creating a new brain for distinct topics where I expect to go to a much deeper level, and where there’s less likelihood the data points I had (people, publications, fields, organisations etc) are going to overlap with my main Brain. For example: DeFi, UAPs, a musical collaboration.

When I switched to Macs in the late 2000s I moved everything I had been doing in Evernote to DEVONthink. For me this is a repository of everything I might need, but which will still need to go through a filter. Research may involve me adding 1000s of FOIA documents in one go; everything is saved as OCRed/text readable PDFs, and my databases usually end up being tens of gigabytes in size.

Tinderbox has been a steeper learning curve, but has become the place where data filtered and processed from DEVONthink can be stored and where significant value gets added. It could be by date, or by person, or by organisation, but its value for me is knowing I can always add an extra layer of metadata — a different badge, outline colour, a new field — to new or existing data, so what I have added to Tinderbox becomes more and more valuable. The adding of data and metadata is (usually) manual, as I’m trying to understand, absorb and retain (harder at my age) the material as I add it. Occasionally I’d do an import, but I’ve preferred to add it manually, since that process has its own value. As with TheBrain, I’ve built separate documents/brains for discrete topics.

Finally I take raw notes, like this one, in Markdown in Drafts, or, more recently, in Craft. I use Hook to build links between each app. Hook works well with all of the above, although it’s not necessary.

I don’t think my system is perfect, because I keep changing it. I’m still feeling my way around Tinderbox, and I could probably get more out of DEVONthink. For me TheBrain is a fast access database, where connections, links, bios etc can be unearthed at a clip; DEVONthink is the garage where I keep everything I could possibly need, and Tinderbox is the thoughtful assistant, helping to prepare the data so I can ask unusual, more nuanced questions of it.

I hope this is of some interest.


This seems very logical to me, and roughly what I would do if I were using all three programs (I don’t use TheBrain at present, though I am sorely tempted by it).

At the risk of reducing everything to a crude level, it seems that you use DEVONthink to collect things, TheBrain to connect things, and Tinderbox to analyse things.


That’s a great way of putting it @MartinBoycott-Brown. TheBrain rewards making manual connections (in other words, grunt work by the user) by throwing up possible connections to thoughts (nodes, or notes) that the user may have forgotten. It’s not an elegant way of putting it, but TheBrain works best as a moveable visual menu of what you have. (The addition of automatic prompts for backlinks in notes adds to this value.)

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