Tinderbox Forum

When the Image IS the note

Hi, there! I’m new to this forum and @discorobot just showed me around, so I thought I would get started posting my first questions. :slight_smile:

I actually bought Tinderbox fairly early on in it’s development but never wound up using it much. I tried lots of other ways of keeping all my information accessible over the years, but nothing really worked out for me for a number of reasons. So I came back to Tinderbox and bought an upgrade a little while ago. And now, with a bit more time than I had in the past, I hope to get to know and use Tinderbox better…

So, I’ve been lurking around this forum since I bought my upgrade, and have skimmed through the manual, but haven’t really seen what I am looking for. I have bought the new version of The Tinderbox Way and am just waiting on the information to download it. (Yay!)

I’ve noticed on other postings that a number of you suggest that new Tinderbox users ask specific questions regarding actual usage, as in “Can I use Tinderbox for…” So here are my questions following some background on what I want to do.

I am an artist who would like to use Tinderbox to store, retrieve, and help me find and understand connections among notes based on visual information that I use, or am interested in using, in my art. I know that Tinderbox can have “adornments” on notes, but what if the adornment is actually THE note? – or am I overthinking this?

What I mean by that is that I focus primarily on color, composition, symbols, and mathematical visualization. When I make my notes, I really need to somehow associate images with those notes in a way I can see them when I retrieve or look at my notes.

Here is a simple example: I want to keep notes on different kinds of spirals (logarithmic, Fibonacci based, Archemedian, triple “Celtic” spirals, etc. I will want to note things like whether the spiral is curved or angular, found in nature or not, which cultures may have used the spiral for a symbol, and what that symbol means in those cultures, etc.

Another example, is to keep “mood boards” of pieces which I am currently designing. What I mean by that is a layout of colors I will use with their designations (could be web-friendly color codes, or even a dye recipe – I spin and dye my own fibers, or a code number for a watercolor I am using), along with images of shapes and items (some e.g.s flowers, plants, lace, mineral samples, landscape features, characters (as in typography, not necessarily Roman script), glyphs, etc.

So from what I have seen, Tinderbox does not seem geared to images, and my guess is that adding images could slow down retrieval during a search?

Any ideas about best practices for limiting images (size, number)?

Should each “mood board” or subject (e.g. spirals) have it’s own Tinderbox? (I could do that, but I admit I wish I could put it all into one big Tinderbox file since I would love to see the connections.)

It is possible to structure my Tinderbox(es) so that the images can be accessed or accessible whenever I am looking at my notes?

What do you think? Is any of this do-able? Or am I trying to do something that Tinderbox just isn’t geared for?


Stating things rather crudely, I would say that Tinderbox is all about text. If I wanted to work with images, I would try iThoughts, which is rather more friendly to pictures and the like.

Incidentally, there is also an iOS version of iThoughts, if that helps.

Have you looked at Deep? http://www.ironicsoftware.com/deep/. It’s an interesting tool.

By way of expectation management, historically Tinderbox has centred on textual analysis - in part because back in 2000 images (in this sort of context) were less easy to work with.

Size. Any image stored in note text ($Text) or as a map image adornment will add to document size. As a TBX is stored as XML, the images need to be stored as Base64 (binary data encoded as text) so reversing the compression factor of some image formats. This chimes with the point above re text vs images.

I’m less sure as to how image size affects app performance. However, common sense dictates using as low res a version of a source image as possible. This isn’t an image manager and isn’t going to thumbnail for you (in case that was your expectation).

Images placed in note $Text can be viewed in map icons as part of displayed text. Images can also be viewed in Hover Expressions. I think pushing hard on either of these may likely have you pushing into ‘new feature request’ territory.

Also consider the approach of using ‘fills’ which were originally intended as a way of drawing a textures on the face on map icons. Note: these assets are stored externally (though that does meant they need to be on all Macs you use to edit/view the TBX). A fill is probably as close as you can get ,visually, to a an image adornment whilst still being a note.

I’d also recommend looking at Howard Oakley’s blog. Although he uses Tinderbox’s sister program Storyspace, in the above context they are essentially similar (using the same code base underneath). Howard has a number of articles were he discussed issue of using images in the app.

Tinderbox can be very useful with images. As @mwra suggests, you might want to examine some of the work that Howard Oakley has created with Storyspace (Tinderbox’s hypertext narrative cousin) – and download some of his files to examine. Storyspace files open in Tinderbox. Take a look at these Oakley articles regarding images: Article 3, Article 4 Article 14 Article 19 Article 20 Article 37

Here is Howard’s entire oeuvre of Tinderbox and Storyspace articles – many of which are germane to your theme.

Also look for some of the work here and links to @dominiquerenauld’s blog and videos.

I use Tinderbox very frequently with images, and disagree respectfully with “Tinderbox is for text”. It isn’t “all about text”. Tinderbox is all about what you want to make of it. You don’t need to be told to go somewhere else / buy something different. You have bought a wonderful tool for the work you propose and should be encouraged to explore the heck out of it.

Your examples for a notebook on spirals, with examples, should work marvelously in Tinderbox. I suggest making extensive use of user attributes for that project. The mood boards will work well in maps – with a combination of adornments, image adornments, and notes with images in $Text. You can create links between notes on the board.

More than anything – the best way to use Tinderbox is to start and then continue. Your ideas will develop from there. Please continue to post your questions and maybe someday an example or two of your work.

Here’s an example I – a riff on your theme – I put together in a few minutes with Tinderbox side-by-side with Google Images.

Here’s the file

Exploring Curves.tbx (1.7 MB)


Interesting. I’m always glad to learn that Tinderbox will do more than I thought it would – which is a kind of recurring theme for me! Thank you for the pointers. :slight_smile:

Arielle, the way you seem to work in the field of arts makes me associate your words with some aspects of my own practice. I’m always searching for patterns of colors or matters and when I find them, my question is often: “And now, where do I put that in order to remember it not only tomorrow, but in four weeks or in twelve months when I absolutely have to have it in mind?” (I think that question is very similar to some issues David Allen talked about when he described the way we manage our projects.)

I have a general notebook for all my notes. map

When I browse the web searching for new ideas, I gather my finds in a specific section I called “Journal de recherches” (Researches journal). I use to drop off my finds using Map View.

Then, with the help of the Attribute Browser, I can review all my finds and freely associate from them.

And as the $Tags attribute is a set-type attribute, every note I tag can be found in several places.
Great tool!


One thing that takes a while to discover is how to control the size of images in map view.

Somewhat counterintuitively, it turns out that the “TextFontSize” attribute controls how large image notes appear in map view.

So if you want to paste a large image into your note but only have it occupy a reasonably sized area in the map, you need to play with the TextFontSize attribute of the note. If there is also text in your note, then after you do this, you should highlight the text and manually make it larger, so it looks regular size when you open the note, even though TextFontSize may be set to something extremely small.

It works but it’s kind of awkward. From a design perspective, since TextFontSize has two conceptually unrelated functions ( A - control ‘zoom level’ in map view for the note and B - set the default font size for the note), it would make more sense if a new system attribute was introduced to allow the user to control A and then leave B as is to set the default text size for a note.


Hello, Martin, thank you so much for your input. :slight_smile:

I have iThoughts on both the Mac and IOS and like iThoughts very much. It doesn’t quite do what I want for most things I work on, though. I do use mind-mapping and also have MindNode, and Scrapple but don’t use them as much as I thought I would. When I use them, I use either of them as sort of a scratch pad for preliminary planning. But, in truth, I find it much faster to just sketch a map by hand in my (paper) journal.

I have piles and piles of visual journals that I have kept for a couple of decades. It gets to be quite a task to retrieve and find connections between all my information in my journals, so I have begun indexing my latest journal using Ryder Caroll’s method, which is super easy and helpful. But it just seems to me that a computer as powerful as my Mac should be able to do much more than word-processing, outlining, mind-mapping, and cataloguing my pix in Photos – the main things I use it for right now. And like a lot of visually creative people, I have gone back to pencil and paper for an awful lot of stuff that I do. It’s just faster and lower stress to write it or draw it rather than having to work with a keyboard, my bar-of-soap style mouse, and memorizing a bunch of commands.

However, nothing compares to the computing power of, well, a computer. So I am trying to find a way to use a computer to better show correlations that I may not immediately see myself. Over the years, I had hoped various software tools could help me – I have tried most mind mapping and outline and database tools. The closest I got was DevonThink and Circus Ponies Notebook. But both fell short for my uses, nevertheless.

When I’ve described what I want to do to programmers and project managers and they always say something like this: “It sounds like what you want is a Universal Operating System!” And they may be right about that, LOL! But it is probably way beyond me to write such an operating system, sadly. :wink:

Thank you of telling me about Deep which looks completely fascinating! It does look like a tool I could use.


Hi, Mark, thanks for your help! :slight_smile: Yes, I agree with your point that images take up so much more memory than text, and that historically more has been done text-wise with Tinderbox

However, I think I read, perhaps, that the Tinderbox developer has now included Mike Rohde’s sketchnotes font in Tinderbox – and so was hoping TB would become more image friendly in the coming months and years. Sketchnotes is a way of taking notes where the notes incorporate images in brilliant, wonderful, useful ways, And our computers can how handle so much more, memory-wise, than they used to. Good thing we didn’t take Gates at his word that we would need only 64K of memory in our computers, heh? LOL :wink:

I guess I will have to play around and see how much my images affect the performance. I will do my best to report back here what I find out. Thanks to the pointer to Howard Oakley’s blog. I hadn’t found it yet in my journeys around the internet.

I do have a question for you: in you opinion, would it be possible to create .tbx files for each subject: i.e. spirals, Moodboard #1, Moodboard #2, etc. – see how they each perform, then start adding them together into a bigger and bigger “My Artwork Information” .tbx file? Will there be an easy-ish way to do that?


Reading this, I definitely think you want to go the ‘fill’ route. Putting multiple images in notes and trying to display them as $Text strikes me as something that scales badly - you’ll be pushing for expensive (engineering) improvements few can share. If you make your images into (note) objects then you have images you can work with at scale/granularity that fits Tinderbox’s design (hint: “A tool for notes”).

I write as one jaded by a recent past experience working with image databases and experience what computer scientists could produce and what creatives wanted. I sit in the middle, cleaving to neither side. But, 14 years use of Tinderbox , says, go with note-per-image.


Hello, Paul, this is completely brilliant! Thank you so much! That is EXACTLY what I was wanting to do! Thank you so much for generously sharing your your time to make the map, the file and give me the links to Oakley’s articles. :smile:

I can hardly wait to play with the file you kindly made. YAY!


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Merci, Dominique, Oui! The way you are working with your general notebook in Tinderbox sounds very much like what I would want to do. Thank you so much for your excellent examples. I will look at your videos and blog as @PaulWalters has suggested. Your set-up looks very much like what I had in mind.


Excellent and helpful advice! Thank you, Mark! :smile:

Yes, I completely agree with you with regards to

what computer scientists could produce and what creatives wanted

I worked in IT for about two decades and was usually the person working between the engineers and the users, so lots of experience with those agonies! LOL! – Okay, not so funny then, but now, sheesh!

I wouldn’t even mind if the image was not immediately visible but linked or somehow initially hidden but accessable. Do you think the hover would be more efficient, memory-wise?

Invaluable information, Chris! :smile: Thank you so much. I will be mindful of the “TextFontSize.” I doubt that I would have thought about this without your post.


I just wanted to thank you all again for helping me to get started. This discussion has been invaluable and inspiring!

Well, one way to do that is to use File-data-type user attributes. These can link to a file or to a folder. When used as a key attribute a File-type shows a file icon (see lined article). clicking that uses Finder to open a folder in Finder or a File using whatever finder associates with that File type.


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Thanks, Mark! I will try that!


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Use $MapBodyTextSize to change the size of the image in the map preview; it does what you’re suggesting!

Note that, if $MapBodyTextSize is 0, the body text (and in this case the image) will be drawn at whatever scale Tinderbox thinks sensible. If $MapBodyTextSize is 1, no body text is drawn.

Hi all, just coming back to Tinderbox and was looking for just this conversation! All helpful suggestions as I’m trying to do research on games and wanted lots of images.

One additional trick i found is that you can add custom badges as .png files into /Application Support/Tinderbox/badges/ The badges can be any size (you can then add them clicking the + on map notes or by adding the properties Badge and BadgeSize. The initial BadgeSize:0 is very small (usually, it seems to vary), but i found BadgeSize:100 to be a nice stable size, and can make a giant map with BadgeSize:900.

By resizing the notes, the badge can become the only thing you see. In outline mode they are mini bullets for the outline but otherwise don’t interfere with note-taking.

Dropping these into other notes continues to show the images (whereas dropping notes with images in the text does not - as far as i can tell)

Here is a test image


Use $MapBodyTextSize to change the size of the image in the map preview; it does what you’re suggesting!

Note that, if $MapBodyTextSize is 0, the body text (and in this case the image) will be drawn at whatever scale Tinderbox thinks sensible. If $MapBodyTextSize is 1, no body text is drawn.

Thanks Mark – that will be very handy.