Working out a Tinderbox project via the forum: building out a college course

I’ve been somewhat familiar with Tinderbox for a while now, but I’ve never managed to get a significant project going with it.

As it turns out, in the spring I’m going to be teaching a computer security course. As an experiment, I’m going to try using Tinderbox to organize a lot of my ideas, lists of possible readings, sketches for lectures, ideas for exercises, and so on. I’ve got some ideas about what I can do with Tinderbox that make it especially interesting for this project, and we’ll see how it works.

As a related experiment, I’m going to do this here on the forum. My initial idea is to post here from time to time the Tinderbox file as it evolves, along with some commentary on what I did, why I did it, and what I learned about using Tinderbox in the process.

Along the way, feel free to ask questions, make suggestions, propose alternatives. The main focus here will be on the Tinderbox aspects. To start with, I’m willing to talk a bit about the content and the pedagogy as well, and we’ll see how it goes.

I have no idea how well, if at all, this will work!

Since this is public forum, I may leave out some things, such as details of assignments. I’d also appreciate it if we could keep the discussion just on the forum and not call a lot of attention to it outside the group, since it’s quite experimental.


Starting out

I started by creating some container notes for what I’ll be working on:

  • Introduction to computer security: this is the main one for working out the course. It will have subparts, of course.
  • Raw imports: This will be copies of the raw text imported along the way, so you can see how it gets transformed. Probably won’t be everything, just the parts where we get to see something interesting.
  • Commentary: I’m thinking that I’ll include my commentary notes in the file as well as posting them in the forum, at least in some form. It’s an experiment. We’ll see how it goes!

Note: I do most of my writing using Emacs with Org mode (specifically, Aquamacs, a version of Emacs on the Mac). For working here, what I’ll often do is export the Org mode version to Markdown for import. So you may see occasional artifacts from that.

Things I need to figure out

  • Setting up default fonts & sizes in new notes to be more readable

The Tinderbox file so far

2022-11-06 - compsec beginnings and a little import.tbx (100.6 KB)

Setting up the lecture schedule

I wanted to get a good visual layout of how the course will proceed week-by-week. So I made a grid (using an adornment) for the weeks and when the class meetings are, including the dates that have no classes.

Part of this is to map out the topics versus time, and part of it is to coordinate things that need to go together. Of course, it will be helpful to use the visual display to indicate what parts are fully prepared and which still need work (which, right now, is all of them!)

Each week will have a homework assignment related to material in both lectures, so that gets its own column.

Laying this out took me longer than I hoped. The grid adornment looks nice, but the way I’ve done it so far doesn’t maintain the relationships of rows and columns in any automatic way, and I haven’t internalized how to tweak the formatting of the notes easily.

Coming up:

  1. Filling out the details from the Word document version of my simple week-by-week topic outline
  2. Figuring out how to indicate status (and what bits of data I need to indicate)
  3. Seeing if I can work out a better way to manage the grid layout

Win, I just finished teaching a 15 week course with Tinderbox. Let me know if you’d like to hop on a call over the holiday. WE can share ideas. DM me.

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Note for forum - Adding lecture topics

I’ve been having some problems with Tinderbox crashing, so I sent a report with the crash info and the data file to

Today took my sketch of lecture topics and set them on the schedule grid. Some particulars:

  • Used Cmd-T to set a smaller font size for the note title. Took me a while to figure out the correct way to get to it.
  • Made my “L1” note a prototype for new notes here, using the panel that comes up with Cmd-3. Also took me a while to find that again–I’ve seen the panel before, but I didn’t remember how I got there, and not even sure that Cmd-3 was what I did.
  • Using L1 as a prototype got the font size for all the notes. I also wanted to set the width and height for them. To do that, I used ActionCode on the background grid. To do that, I:
    1. clicked on the grid
    2. Cmd-3 to bring up the inspector
    3. clicked on the … tab on the right for the Action Inspector
    4. Clicked on “Action” to specify the rules I wants

Then I set the following rules:

$Prototype="L1 - Intro & overview"; $Height="1.07"; $Width="4";

(By the way, is there any way to make those actions go on separate lines for readability?)

These actions meant that all my new notes would have the same size and font settings as I added them to the container. Then it was just a matter of making new notes with Enter, typing in the title, and dragging them into place on the schedule.

I had to fight a little with how they got aligned on the grid. Sometimes they would snap to be adjacent to the other notes. The grid itself is purely visual, as far as I could tell. It’s not a big deal to fix, so I didn’t go down that path right now.

Current file attached.

2022-12-22-compsec-add-topics.tbx (772.7 KB)

Oops, accidentally left off the work-in-progress file from

2022-12-19-compsec-layout-schedule.tbx (506.1 KB)

Yes. In action code input boxes use Option+Return (⌥+↩) to create a line break in the code.

See View menu ▸ Guides, and more on (grids) guides.

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