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Tinderbox Users >> Documentation and Tutorials >> The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
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Message started by Deb on Apr 29th, 2011, 2:54am

Title: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Deb on Apr 29th, 2011, 2:54am

How I wish the eastgate site had available something this instructive and helpful for all of us 'newbies'...all of us 'what's this really about?'....and, 'how the heck do I make it work?'

This would have been SOO helpful, and exemplifies what I know I was looking for and unable to find.  Enjoy!  :)

http://mac.appstorm.net/reviews/productivity-review/taking-the-information-plunge-with-tinderbox/#comment-151779

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Mark Bernstein on Apr 29th, 2011, 7:01am

A very useful tutorial indeed.

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Jean Goodwin on Apr 30th, 2011, 4:24pm

It is very cool and persuasive, like the old ATPM review.  Hats off to our friend the author!

Question:  I've been working too hard to keep up with the changes over the last year, but....

Shouldn't the agent rename box about halfway down be $Rating=4 and $Color=cyan?

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Mark Anderson on Apr 30th, 2011, 5:35pm

Actually, the query should be (current best practice):

$Rating = 4 | $Rating = 4.5   N.B. all white space optional (i.e. ignored)

...and Rule:

$Color = "cyan"   N.B. all white space optional (i.e. ignored)

The code as seen in the article works due to legacy code support. Leave legacy support on, many people don't change their coding style; turn it off and as many would complain their code had broken. I don't envy anyone making that choice!

[Post-edit: as Mark B's later answer shows, I'd made an assumption $Rating was a Number-type attribute.]

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Mark Bernstein on Apr 30th, 2011, 5:37pm

In Figure 5, it would be better to enclose the color in quotes and to remember the "$"

    Color=cyan        <--OK
    $Color="cyan"   <-- BETTER

In figure 12, the query

    $Rating="3.5" | $Rating="4"

is correct if $Rating is a string. If it's a number, the quotation marks are not needed.

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Rich Shields on May 2nd, 2011, 4:03pm

I just got back from a couple trips and saw this. Excellent tutorial. I learned some new things I want to try. Thanks for posting the link, Deb. And the clarifications by Mark, Jean, and Mark.  :)

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Stacey Mason on May 3rd, 2011, 12:36pm

This is a great review; thanks very much for the link!

We're working on some introductory-level screencasts on concepts like prototypes and attributes, which might be difficult for new users to understand and manipulate. And a new tutorial CD is on the way!

If there is anything, specifically, that you think would be good additions to these resources, we'd love to hear about it. We're definitely listening! :)

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Rich Shields on May 3rd, 2011, 5:00pm

For me, a detailed introduction and samples of templates would be good; then another on exports.

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Mark Anderson on May 3rd, 2011, 8:47pm

Re export. I did a series of TBX that were worked examples of basic forms of HTML and Text export for TB weekend in San Francisco 09 and I think they've been on all meeting CDs since. I've also contributed similar examples, with syntax updated to date, for the next CD.

From experience, a genuine problem when writing such demos is 'simple' means very different things to different groups of users, with each 'just' wanting a 'simple' - but ergo different - demo!

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Rich Shields on May 3rd, 2011, 8:53pm

Thanks, Mark. I have not been to any training sessions. Unfortunately as a pastor/seminary president, this limits my ability to get to them now. Are the CDs available elsewhere separately?

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Mark Bernstein on May 3rd, 2011, 11:05pm

The CDs are on the Tinderbox weekend page, and in about 2 weeks we will announce a new thing that will make you happy!

    Http://Eastgate.com/Tinderbox/TbxWeekend.html

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Rich Shields on May 16th, 2011, 3:27pm

And here is another plug for TB, based on your guest blogging, Mark B, and the intro noted above. Amazing testimony to this great piece of software.

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by richardstephens on Dec 21st, 2011, 11:19am

Just a quick thank you for the link to this informative and useful tutorial. I have been about a week trying to understand how to use TB without much success.

I am a long-time user of Scrivener for plotting and structuring screenplays and novels. I thought TB was going to be a compliment to that program as it came as a special offer from Scrivener. If I had known how complicated it is, I would never have shelled out the money for it.

But now that I have it, I would like to learn to use it.

I think the appstorm article has finally got me on track!

Thanks again.

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Mark Anderson on Dec 21st, 2011, 11:43am

Thanks for stopping by, and do ask if you get stuck.

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Stacey Mason on Dec 21st, 2011, 2:45pm

Richard, you might check out the Tutorial Volume released over the summer:

http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/Tutorial_CD.html

And we're working on a new volume as well!  

Also, as Mark said, please ask if you get stuck! We have a very friendly and helpful community.  Or, if you prefer you can always email eastgate directly (I'm happy to help!)  smason [atsign] eastgate.com

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by richardstephens on Dec 22nd, 2011, 2:08am

Stacy and Mark.
Thanks so much for your replies.

That is the tutorial I got free with my purchase and found pretty confusing first time around.

I am a step-by-step do-this-do-that kind of guy. And not into programing so all the $BlahBlah pretty much goes over my head.

But I will keep slugging away at it and certainly appreciate the fact that I can ask a question (are stupid ones OK?) when I get stuck.

Thanks again. I feel taken care of.

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Steve Zeoli on Dec 22nd, 2011, 1:56pm

Richard,

I'm the author of this "tutorial" of Tinderbox (I put tutorial in quotes, because the article is supposed to be a review of Tinderbox, but I did sort of create a hybrid between a review and a tutorial I must admit).

Like you, I have a hard time with scripting and expressions. My use of Tinderbox generally eschews any deep use of those featuares. Yet I still find Tinderbox remarkably useful. So what I'm getting at is don't feel you have have to "get" Tinderbox in whole, especially from the start. I've got a series of posts on my blog that (I hope) make this point, and may perhaps be of additional help. Look here:

http://welcometosherwood.wordpress.com/tinderbox/

Steve

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Mark Bernstein on Dec 22nd, 2011, 2:46pm

Let's not exaggerate the complexity of actions, either.  

You may not need actions at all. Actions are just a way for your notes to automatically modify themselves, or other notes. For example, an agent can look for (say) new notes, and add red borders to them. You can do lots of stuff with actions, but you don't have to.

Here's pretty much everything you need to know:

An action looks like this:

     $Color="red"

sets the color of this note to be "red".

If we want to change the color of some other note:

    $Color(/container/note)="red" .

Multiple actions are separated by semicolons:

    $Color="red"; $ShadowColor="white"

The "$" means, "this is an attribute of a note".  There are lots of attributes; they're described in the Help and in aTbRef.  

Tinderbox has a bunch of operators that let you do things like add numbers, extract phrases, modify dates, and fold napkins into pheasants.  They're also listed in the help and aTbRef. You probably don't need them, but they're handy when you do.

Strings are enclosed in single or double quotes. Numbers are things like "42" or "-3.1415927". Booleans are true or false.

When you get stuck, there are lots of people here who are happy to help.

What have I left out?

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Mark Anderson on Dec 22nd, 2011, 3:15pm

Forgive an Aspergic view…


Quote:
Strings are enclosed in single or double quotes. Numbers are things like "42" or "-3.1415927"

I this this to mean is:

Strings are enclosed in single or double quotes, e.g. 'car' or "sans pareil".

Numbers and not quoted and are things like 42 or -3.1415927. N.B. lack of quotes.

If you're not overly literal it's all the same, if you are it's a whole world of difference!

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by russ lipton on Dec 22nd, 2011, 3:23pm

@Mark, agree with you.

I suspect that folks get nervous beholding the remarkably powerful, but seemingly arcane results, which actions + operations + conditionals can achieve, complete with their concise, mysterious 'code'. And that is a great thing. Finding the limiting wall, so we can bang our heads against it, becomes a difficult task when using Tinderbox.

At the risk of repetition, an action inspects (gets) the value of an attribute (property/characteristic) of a note. Once the value is retrieved, that value can be used for a variety of purposes. An action may also change (set) an attribute value. That's it, nuances admitted.

Once one makes a (renamed) backup of the document to calm nerves, experimentation with actions is danger-free. Starting simple, as you illustrate, provides a satisfying sense of 'aha' ("wow", all those notes changed color!") and leads to the addicting behavior of chaining multiple actions. From there, it's nothing but 'aha', interspersed with the occasional 'oops' or 'huh?'

(... and not making fun of those simple 'aha' moments. Unexpectedly, merely changing the color of notes - e.g., of a well-chosen attribute -  proves tremendously useful for self-notifications, unexpected discoveries of relationships between ideas, etc.).

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by richardstephens on Dec 22nd, 2011, 4:00pm

Steve:
Thanks so much for taking the time to reply.

I had already discovered your very good "tutorial" and have it bookmarked for further reference and study.

I am starting to understand the complexity and possibilities of TBX but am wondering if what I am really looking for is something much simpler to organize my thoughts and structures (Scrivener?).

It seems to me that just learning to work with TBX is keeping me from my real goal: writing.

But as I said before, I keep slugging away at it when I can. It's always nice to learn something new.

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Mark Bernstein on Dec 22nd, 2011, 4:10pm

There's no need to master every aspect of Tinderbox before you get down to writing.  

Go ahead: write.

When you need more representational power,  it's there. But you probably won't need it at first.

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by Mark Anderson on Dec 22nd, 2011, 5:14pm

Lest my last seem an uncharitable restatement of Mark B's original point, the issue is simply what's obvious to the user - and to TB. Under the hood TB has to effectively guess whats a number and what isn't, unless told otherwise. As single and double quotes both delimit a string, "42" implies a String whereas 42 implies a Number. Ergo, it's better to be unambiguous in what you state to TB. An unquoted number is a number and there is also a String.toNumber, e.g. "42".toNumber or $SomeNumber.toNumber --> 42.

I'd concur @russlipton's point about making back-ups and diving in.  As a community helper it's always frustrating trying to convince folk to just try things before assuming they're too hard. Indeed, a wander through past threads will show show the forum's helped novices quickly get in to some quite complex Tinderbox usage. Using colour changes 'confirmations' was exactly how I started out using using TB code. Try it!

Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by russ lipton on Dec 23rd, 2011, 12:05pm

Not sure exactly what Mark A. meant by color confirmations, but I think he meant that actions which modify the color of a note can be used alongside other actions to confirm things are working as one expects - this in addition to using color for direct brainstorming, notifications, et al. In other words, we can experiment with Tinderbox, using simple actions, as well as use them for real stuff.

As for Scrivener, I love it. I use it regularly and especially like its easy integration of media/pictures (I'm looking at you, Eastgate ;-), how much longer do we have to wait?) and its ebook compilation features.

I could probably do 90% of what I do in Tinderbox with Scrivener. Since I am not an idolatrous fan-boy, I ponder occasionally, but deeply, whether I should switch over to Scrivener for my main work.

However, I would say that to take advantage of Scrivener's power requires a surprisingly steep learning curve, even though, or maybe because, its UI is extraordinarily rich. We who are so charmingly termed 'end-users' have been sold a bill-gates of goods by the industry. Even Apple's desktop metaphor, now incredibly long-in-the-tooth, remains crashingly far from easy. It was never intuitive. Steve Jobs saw this as early as the 1980s: hence, his own meandering journey towards the iPhone/Pad, the industry's second interesting, but still crappy UI.

Thus, with both products, Scrivener as well as TbX, it makes sense to begin writing, keep writing, learn features as they are needed for writing and, then, finally, to write some more.

(Wasn't this true when pencils were introduced? Nothing beats using our tools to ... write.)

Personally, I keep returning to the rich, but relatively minimalistic design philosophy of Tinderbox as less intrusive and, so, better-suited to support my (actual) writing.

Granted, TbX seems a heck of a lot of money wasted if we just use its end user features, but who says so? Those features include the most usable brainstorming tool anywhere (maps), an effective sequencing view (timelines) and the simplest 'smart' collection implementation I have ever found (aliases of notes forming collections, whether dragged by hand or collected by simple agents). I could go on.

Finally, and this pertains to the remaining 10% of the feature set, I concur with the discreet, yet oft-repeated, claim that TbX rewards our slowly-growing user expertise with unexpected insights into our ideas. I have not experienced this with any other software product over the past three decades.

How can I quantify the hours spent mastering TbX with the emergence and subsequent expression to others of my most original, personal discoveries? I believe these are termed ideas? I can't, because ideas worthy of their dictionary definition surprise us less often than we fancy. When they do, we find them - to ape a famous credit-card ad - priceless.

No doubt, TbX offers a rough feel, compared to products like Scrivener, even in the former's deep maturity after a decade of development. But this is, for good or ill, rather intentional or so I continue to imagine. Eastgate knows how to manufacture a slick interface as the latter are judged in the marketplace. Teen-age programming beginners know how. Instead, Eastgate steers by a design principle that matches their goal for us: don't foreclose unforeseeable, productive usage by premature product design decisions.

This isn't a zero-sum goal. TbX's interface and ease-of-use improves with every major release. The key phrase above is "foreclose ... by premature ...").

I believe, frankly, that it takes years, somewhere between two and, erm, ten (and counting) to master TbX. But I do not see this investment as stolen from my writing. Actually, I regret not spending more hours simply exploring TbX for fun, intuiting it would work wonders for my 'real work'. I think of Tbx more like playing the piano than not: practicing a Beethoven sonata is different than performing it for others, but not radically different.

In this sense, using TbX actions, once I became comfortable with its amply large end-user canvas, is like practicing musical scales or playing several difficult lines in a musical piece repeatedly until they are mastered. In one sense, those scales distracted me from performing the piece for others. Or did they not rather make that possible?

Do I want an instrument 'like' a piano but tricked up, if awesomely, with a gaggle of buttons, sliders and other (even useful) doodads to make a crazy-cool electronic keyboard (cf Scrivener)? Well, yes! I do! Oooh. Shiny cool! Gots to have me some!

Or do I want ... merely .... a piano?

Well, I want both the whizzy keyboard and my virtual Steinway. I use both. But I find something uniquely satisfying about my TbX-piano. It seems to intrude, rudely (!) into my music (writing) at times, but only because it seduces me into opening the case and fiddling with the strings. That's my bad, isn't it? Then, I discover the fiddling allowed me to produce tones (content) I could not have achieved with any other software tool.

Naturally, everyone's mileage will vary.

(Long-time TbX forum users may chuckle at this post. About once-a-year, I repeat nearly the same arguments, altered slightly by insights gained since the previous rave. Is that such a bad thing, or itself a reinforcement of this year's rave, at least? So, back in twelve months more or less, I'm guessing.)



Title: Re: The Excellent Intro we've all been asking for!
Post by russ lipton on Dec 23rd, 2011, 2:41pm

An addendum re: Tinderbox and Scrivener.

Scrivener's cork board works simply and integrates elegantly into the global UI. So, I was surprised to find myself preferring Tinderbox maps to the corkboard for, let's say, end-user brainstorming. Why?

While Scrivener does allow me now to freeform a cork board, Tinderbox maps enable out-of-the-box alignment or freeform plus lots of virtual space to play-in, convenient display of a note's text (and now its optional subtitle), grouping/locking of notes with adornments, etc. All simple end-user stuff.

Again, Scrivener's cork board has been implemented quite well. I cite this only to suggest that TbX's out-of-the-box end user features are plentiful, powerful and, generally, easy to use.


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