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Tinderbox Users >> Questions and Answers >> How do I get started with this app?
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Message started by conejo23 on May 28th, 2011, 11:12am

Title: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 28th, 2011, 11:12am

First, I apologize for posting what is surely a commonly posted topic here, and one of which I'm sure the experienced folks here grow tired of seeing.

Secondly, I didn't see the request to use real names for accounts here until I'd already created this one. My name is Rick Mathes, I live in Austin Texas.

I'm checking this app out and the yin and yang of it is that on one hand I feel that there is meat on this bone for me, there's value here and I can't quite bring myself yet to walk away from the app. On the other hand, I'm not sure I've never demoed another application that is more maddening to try to get traction with. And that makes me want to walk away from it.

The tutorial is pretty limited, and I watched some of the screen casts and those didn't really help much, either.

So I tried creating a document and putting some notes into it and then playing around with it and, man, I'm going nowhere fast.

So the basic question is, is there some tutorial that walks the new user step by step through the basic features and functions of this application? I've been searching the forums and doing what I can on my own and I realize that one common answer to this question is "well, what are you trying to accomplish?" but I can't even answer that until I have a fuller understanding of the attributes of this app and how they work.

one of my frustrations is the screencasts, for example, kind of blithely throw out concepts like adornments, attributes, prototypes and containers and quickly shows someone using them, but I've yet to find something that methodically walks me through what the heck these things are and why someone may wish to use them in the first place.

then I'm finding disconnects between some of that documentation and the actual functioning of the app. I just spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how to do what what of the screencasts showed, putting an image into the body of a note. Nothing worked. Tried dragging an image, dragging the file, copying an image off the web, etc....  Nothing. Went to the user doc and found the addendum that this functionality is disabled. I feel like I've spent half an hour trying to put together a very simple document with a dozen notes and gotten absolutely nowhere.

This app looks incredibly versatile and powerful, but if I'm going to have to devote hours to be able to even start using it at a base level, then I guess I'd like to know that now so I can just put it down and move in another direction. I simply don't have time to make learning this app a part time job.

Is there some basic tutorial out there that introduces the plain vanilla nuts and bolts of this app in a methodical way, actually teaching the new user how to work with these different features?  or is it basically a "sorry, you just gotta read the manual" kind of thing?

I very much appreciate any input, thank you.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Bernstein on May 28th, 2011, 1:44pm

Perhaps you might enjoy Steve Zeoli's recent tutorial article?

     Taking The Information Plunge With Tinderbox
     http://mac.appstorm.net/reviews/productivity-review/taking-the-information-plunge-with-tinderbox/

What sort of work would you like to do with Tinderbox?  We might have more pertinent suggestions if we knew, for example, whether you were plotting a new novel (on which there's a great thread here, incidentally), or keeping track of patient records, or planning a political campaign....

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Sebastian Stephenson on May 28th, 2011, 1:53pm

A recent article about Tinderbox that came out recently might be able to help you. (http://mac.appstorm.net/reviews/productivity-review/taking-the-information-plunge-with-tinderbox/) Have you had a look?

I don't know if you have looked at ordering the Tinderbox Way(http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/TinderboxWay.html) but that was a major help, along with the screencast with Mark Bernstein showing how he used to it to create a fictional-novel(note: that was created with version 4, we are on 5, pushing 6, so a lot has changed) but you have looked at that.

Frankly, yea it is a "you gotta read the manual" but Tinderbox really is more than software, it's a way of thinking about how you can use and think about computing with data.

Reading the Tinderbox way, for me was very helpful, because if you like, Bernstein is an auteur of software, and knowing the ideas behind the product can help you think in Tinderbox. If you have bought Tinderbox already then buying the book will be chump change(but financially, everyone's different).

This software is demanding but I have found that once you get the concepts and get a intellectual model of Tinderbox. It does not let go. I was stuck on 4.6 for months and was able recently to get up to date, I was able to pick it up relatively easy.

Unfortunately yes you have to take time learning tinderbox but please stick with it, it will come. This quote from your post really rang home for me.


Quote:
there's value here and I can't quite bring myself yet to walk away from the app. On the other hand, I'm not sure I've never demoed another application that is more maddening to try to get traction with.


When I first read the Tinderbox webpage and thought, this was perfect but then I downloaded the demo and thought it was a scam. But I just had a feeling that I needed to try it one more time and work at it, I then watch Bernstein's screencast about the novel and that helped a lot seeing Tinderbox in action.

There is stuff I still don't understand(like all those html attributes, I don't know how they are used in exporting html) but I still have been using it for 2/3 years now and never looked back.

Final note have you had a look at the Tinderbox weekend cds?(http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/TbxWeekend.html) these may help as well.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 28th, 2011, 2:11pm

Thanks Stephanie.

I did read that article. It was in large part what prompted me to decide to demo Tinderbox. But I didn't find it helpful as a 'how to get started' type of tool.

re buying the book, I have not yet bought the software. Still in demo mode. To be honest, if I need to spend that kind of money on a book to effectively use a piece of software, then I'm not interested in that software. Same with buying CDs.

honestly, what I'm looking for is something pretty simple and I guess I figured "there is no way they don't have a simple tutorial introducing new users to each of these basic attributes of the software", but apparently, that's the case.

regarding Mark's question above about how I wish to use it, and the common theme I see here of "you want to know how to get started? Well tell us how you want to use it and then we can point you in the right direction"? I understand where that comes from but I'm coming at this from a more fundamental place. I can't answer that question until I have a better feel for what this software can do.

it's like someone seeing a car for the very first time, having no idea what a car is or does and asking "what is that thing and what does it do?" THe answer is, well, it helps you get places faster.

"Ok, well, how do I learn how to use it?" and answering "well it depends where you want to go."

Regarding the basics? No, it doesn't. I'm not asking questions about the nuance of using this application. I'm trying to figure out the most basic aspects of its usage and the relationships of its data attributes. And it's mind blowing to me that there isn't something in place to walk the new user through that basic functionality.

I'll use Scrivener as an example. Now I was interested in Tinderbox before the promotion through Scrivener, but the recent email re-piqued my interest. Scrivener has a really nice screencast showing the different elements of the app, how they are used, WHY they are used, and how they work together. Tinderbox would benefit mightily from such a tool. Well, let me be more accurate, new and prospective users would benefit mightily.

honestly, while I'm pretty sure that if I spent the next month spending an hour a day working on this app that I'd find some cool ways to use it and explore my data, I have absolutely no desire to do that.  I suspect that this app, at least at this point in my life, is not for me. The task of learning how to use it "even in the shallow end of the pool" appears to require far more commitment than I'm willing to invest.

And that's a pity because I still believe this is an incredibly, rich, powerful, flexible and well-crafted piece of software. Just wish a tool existed to give folks like me a proper 'how-to' introduction.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 28th, 2011, 2:23pm

re the article that was posted as a resource, let me give a concrete example where I don't find it helpful.

regarding agents, it says this:

Note that you can either type in the code for the query or use the control provided by Tinderbox to build the code — the latter method is what I tend to use.

I created a document, I added some notes, then wanted to play around with it a bit. I created a new agent and saw the action field and I can see absolutely no way to "use the control provided by Tinderbox to build the code". There is no drop down action item, no menu items to insert there, no 'click here to get a library of pre-programmed actions'. It's just a blank field with no support.  The article above says you CAN use some method to populate this field, but it doesn't tell you HOW to do it.

I'm guessing that if I dug into the user manual I'd find the answer. But that's the thing. If I have to dig into the user manual for virtually everything I'm trying to learn to do when I'm just getting acquainted with the basics, it will take me FOREVER to get up to speed with this software.

but a short video tutorial that was interactive and led the new user through building a few notes, creating prototypes and containers, defining attributes and agents and then tying it all together and examining that data from different views would be SO helpful. Watching screencasts of others quickly do it when I don't even really understand the data element they're working with, why one would use it, and it doesn't let ME do it and show me how to do it? I just don't learn anything from that. To carry my analogy above a bit further, it's like trying to teach someone how to drive a car by showing them a video of someone driving a car. Maybe that is an effective way to teach others how to use this app, but it's not how I learn.

Give me something that quickly points out the different aspects of the software, tell me what they are and why they're used, guide me through utilizing each of them on some ultra simple example, and now I'll have what I need to explore the app further on my own and develop usage scenarios.

but right now, I have probably spent 2 hours either working directly with the app or reading about it or watching screencasts and I have 0 traction with it. That's a problem.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Bernstein on May 28th, 2011, 3:24pm

Steve Zeoli was, I think referring to the tools for building queries, rather than actions, when he wrote " you can either type in the code for the query or use the control provided by Tinderbox to build the code."



The red arrow points to drop-down menus for building queries -- that is, for specifying what you want the agent to find.

The blue arrow points to a place in which you can specify an additional action you want the agent to perform on notes that meet its criteria. For example:

    $Color="red"

would set the color of the notes to red. This can be very powerful, but it's perhaps not the very first thing you need to do. For more on this, see the help for agents and actions, and the appendix on Tinderbox actions.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Pierre von Kaenel on May 29th, 2011, 12:31pm

conejo23:
I first got TB several years ago as a way of dealing with notes. Like you, I was totally lost but kept experimenting. I found no tutorials that gave me the overview and how-to details that I wanted. I remember reading a number of posts suggested that the TB team didn't want to provide specific examples or "use case" scenarios because they didn't want to steer us in certain directions, thus limiting our application of TB to specific problem domains. Unfortunately, being a computer scientist, I prefer reading technical manuals and looking at case studies to understand the capabilities of a given piece of software.

I eventually got frustrated as you seem to be and put TB on the back burner. A year or so later I came back and did more exploring about the web site.  I had a specific problem I needed software to solve, and this time I think I "got it.". It turned out the TB would not provide the features I needed.  

Now I'm starting a sabbatical and am exploring the topic of applying relationships between tag metadata.  Once again I have come back to TB, but this time I've explored deeper. I have been delving into the aTbRef document more than in the past. Because I now have more time to explore (sabbaticals are really nice) I've been reading through old posts in the forum, learning more than I ever did.  I also spent more time reading through the wiki and the cookbook.  There is a definite need for a "textbook" type of reference for TB (I should look into that), but until that happens, if your mind works more like mine, I would suggest

1.  Look at the tutorials on the site to get a general idea of the basics (this, you've done).

If you need to go further than writing notes having a few attributes, perhaps generated from prototypes, and using simple agents to perform "smart" searches, then ...

2.  Read the aTbRef, which is a very technical handbook on TB.
3.  Spend time when you can,reading posts in the forum. Here you often find snippets of code and how-to advice that fills in some details you don't find elsewhere.  
4.  Spend time reading through the wiki and the Tinderbox Cookbook (links at bottom of main web page).

I'm glad to report that I'm now much further along the road of learning Tinderbox than I was last time around. And I think that TB may well have features that will help me, whereas I didn't think so in the past. This is due to programming capabilities hidden under the hood. Before, I learned some of the basics of the functions available in the language - now I'm understanding more of the power available due to further readings in the Ref, wiki, and cookbook.


Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 29th, 2011, 1:18pm

Pierre, thank you for this thoughtful reply.  The idea of a sabbatical sounds heavenly. Given that I own my own small business along with my wife, that's not happening. Right now even taking a week off is a luxury.

I think the bottom line is that there's absolutely no way to get traction with this app than, to use a phrase you used repeatedly, "spend time" with the various resources trying to cobble together some kind of coherent, cogent view of how this is all architected.

Frankly, that's something I believe should already be in place in some fashion as an elemental resource for beginners. The developer seems stubbornly wed to the idea of not providing such a resource since when I search the forums I see varying types of the same plea reiterated over and over again. What's ironic is I've probably never seen an app that more desperately cries out for such a resource, and it is administered by folks dead set against providing it. Another of life's ironies.

I want to be clear, I'm NOT saying they're wrong in not providing it. I obviously don't possess sufficient perspective to draw such a conclusion. They know their app and if they believe providing even such basic 'how to get started' resources would potentially influence (and not for the better) how a new user would utilize this application, then there you have it.  What I can say is that such an approach is ensuring that FAR fewer users will stick with this, purchase it and use it than otherwise would if they had even a bit of basic help getting traction with it.

For me, it is likely that I'll be walking away from this app for now. This is actually the second time I've tried to engage it, with results no different this time than the last. Perhaps at some point in the future I'll, like you, find a pressing need that compels me to revisit Tinderbox. Again, the challenge will be that unless that circumstance is married to some kind of time availability to study and explore this app, then it's unlikely this will ever become part of my solution set.

I wish I could say "this is what I'm trying to figure out how to do, can Tinderbox help me?" I understand that would make this process easier. But instead, what I have is a tremendous amount of information archived in my information repository of choice, DevonThink Pro Office. I think that's a beautiful, powerful app that fits that aspect of my workflow beautifully. Where it is limited is helping me really analyze and assess that information, to draw connections and distinctions within it. My instincts tell me that getting some of that data out of DTPO and into TB would allow me to explore that data in new ways, and the resulting understanding would then yield specific further ideas about how to more deeply utilize this app.

But right now, I simply lack sufficient perspective and schema to have even a basic idea of what it can really do for me. Actually, that's probably not accurate. From the screencasts, I have some sense of that. What I lack is even the most basic notion of HOW to utilize the app, how to mechanically use it to create even the most basic frameworks.

I'm already working 60+ hours a week. I simply don't need another part time job learning a piece of software that may or may not be of value for me.

I'll say it again, my specific recommendation is that this app would GREATLY benefit from a Scrivener-like tutorial to simply introduce new users to the basic features and functions and schema of this app. And I would bet that if such a resource were available, sales would significantly increase.

I really wish I had the time to play with this app. Doing that kind of thing is something I genuinely enjoy doing. I could spend hours doing it and have a great time. I just can't afford to spend that kind of time on this when I have so many other pressing demands. Just the way it is.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Bernstein on May 29th, 2011, 2:55pm

If any of the readers of this note are writers and understand what you have in mind here, we'd likely be a good market for a piece.  We're always interested in facilitating tutorials, examples, demos, and case studies.

And we're not the only market, as (for example) Steve Zeoli recently demonstrated.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 29th, 2011, 3:44pm

Mark,

the main point I'd recommend is such a tutorial lead the user through an active, participatory experience. Don't just tell them about the app, don't just show them someone else using them, take them through an example of how to add some notes, actually interact with the different attributes of notes, create containers, agents, etc..., have them DO, not just passively observe. The goal is by the end of that experience the user now understands HOW to use the application even at a most basic level. With that in hand, now they can set about the task at hand of understanding how to deploy this tool to fit their unique needs.

Given what I think this tool can provide, if such a tutorial was available I'd probably be buying a license this weekend. As it is, I'll check back in a few months or years if I find a specific usage scenario compelling enough to induce me to labor through this app's learning curve.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Anderson on May 29th, 2011, 4:06pm

Viewed from the perspective of someone who's written a lot of demos and personally tailored example TBXs, what's missing from your posts here is a sense of what you're trying to do. It's so much easier to pace the demo when one has some idea of why/what the user's interest is.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Pierre von Kaenel on May 29th, 2011, 7:47pm

conejo23:

Your statement,

"what I have is a tremendous amount of information archived in my information repository of choice, DevonThink Pro Office. I think that's a beautiful, powerful app that fits that aspect of my workflow beautifully. Where it is limited is helping me really analyze and assess that information, to draw connections and distinctions within it. My instincts tell me that getting some of that data out of DTPO and into TB would allow me to explore that data in new ways, and the resulting understanding would then yield specific further ideas about how to more deeply utilize this app",

parallels my experience - I also use DTPO for my data repository.  I've been researching relationships between data and have tested Personal Brain for its visual representation of such relationships as well as Tinderbox for it's analysis features. These explorations are part of my research project for extending tags using links and mathematical relations.  At any rate, TB's built-in language may provide some support for these concepts, so I'm eager to learn this app at deeper levels.




Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 29th, 2011, 8:00pm

Mark, I'll reply to that in two ways.

First, as I've been stressing, in my opinion you guys desperately need a fundamental, basic 'how to get started' tutorial that anyone can watch and work through to learn the basics of how to use Tinderbox mechanically. You guys are very, very focused on the conceptual side of this and adapting this powerful tool to meet the specific needs of the user, and I understand that. But it doesn't sound like you're hearing what I'm saying: I have NO IDEA how I would implement this tool, what I want to accomplish, because despite having spent several hours trying I have yet to generate ANY traction with this application whatsoever. What do I want to do with it? No clue, because I really don't understand at even the most rudimentary level how to use it.

There is no prior paradigm I can bring to this app. If I know how to use a word processor, I can get started with a new one and learn to differentiate what it does versus what the old one does, I can leverage old knowledge into perspectives on how to use the new app. Near as I can tell, there is NOTHING like Tinderbox, at least nothing I've used before. So I'm in completely new ground, I've no idea what it can do for me, how I can use it to more effectively interrelate with my data and I'm looking for SOMETHING that can give me enough traction to answer your question. But you guys keep coming back to a question I cannot answer because I don't know enough about your app.

You are assuming knowledge and intention that does not yet exist. And I would venture to say that is the case for some reasonably-sized percentage of the people who stumble upon your application. And by not providing that basic info and instead continuing to ask the "well what do you want to do with it" question, you basically just frustrate us and lose customers.

that is my experience with Tinderbox and your web site. And the few people whom I've asked "hey, what do you know about Tinderbox"? That is EXACTLY their response, too. It's a mirror image of mine. They tried to get traction, no good tools existed to really do it and they didn't feel like investing inordinate time to learn an app that may or may not assist their workflow.

Now here's part 2 of my answer: because I didn't have any clue how I'd actually want to use it (and if I did, your demo structure is far too limited to actually test such an implementation in any meaningful way), I contrived a simplistic scenario that I figured if I could implement would teach me the basic tools I could then use to bootstrap myself into deeper understanding of the app and how it could potentially benefit me.

I have the latest copy of the magazine "Austin". It has the newcomers guide with lists and stories of things to do and how to get acquainted with the city. So I figured I would make notes on those things I'd like to go experience. Some are restaurants, some are things like hikes, some are museums, some are landmarks, some are fun recreational experiences. I started entering some of the items and quickly realized I had no clue what I was doing. As I said before, for example, I spent 20 minutes just trying to put a picture into a note before finally digging through the manual and finding the addendum that says I can't do that. And if that's going to be a permanent limitation, then this discussion need go no further, this app would be too limited for me to be interested in using.

So I probably spent a good hour trying to figure out how to add these notes and refine their attributes to give me a meaningful, um, something. Couldn't do it.

So there you have it.  Very interesting app but for those of us who can't answer the question "tell me how you want to use it", you need to provide 'getting started/introduction' resources if you would like us to purchase and use it. I guarantee the lack of such resources is causing a number of people to look at this app, get interested in it, then get frustrated with it, then walk away from it.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mariusz Pisarski on May 29th, 2011, 8:06pm

Hello Rick,

If I were you, I'd just start taking notes. If you manage to write some, then the natural need to structure them should somehow appear. If you want to connect one particular note to another, use links. If you want to group notes, you can colour them or (and) put them in a single container, or place them on a single adornment.  Agents and queries, in my opinion, come later and only if you need them. By then you will probably know what you want to accomplish. I spent years (from version 1.3 on a borrowed Performa Mac) using Tinderbox just for brainstorming and first drafts, without the deep sea diving. But the more you just snorkel, the more TB invites you to go deeper.  

Within this  simple usage, just one layer of the multi-layered software - a map to visualize your data - there is enough to enjoy. Hope you will and thank you for your posts.


Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 29th, 2011, 8:18pm

mariusz.......that's exactly what I tried to do and after over an hour of trying, I had no clue how to do it. I struggled just trying to figure out how to add notes themselves or go back and edit them.

you throw out the suggestion "just put them in a single container or place them on a single adornment". Well, this is what I keep saying: for me to do that I need to know first HOW to do that and second, I need to know what a container or adornment is and why I would want to put a note in or on one.

I appreciate your suggestion, it just makes the mistake that the basic web site makes: it assumes I know things I don't know.

Part of it, I'm sure, is learning styles. Some people with certain learning styles can probably come here, watch Mark's 'outline a book' video and the 'manage diabetes' video and be off and running. I watched those and had absolutely zero clue what I was seeing. They had absolutely no value to helping me get traction with this app.

There is a major disconnect between how this site is trying to teach me about this app and how I learn, apparently. I'm a pretty tech savvy person, I've got a pretty sophisticated work flow, I've designed software in previous lives and in my business I'm responsible for adminstering our network, etc....

But this app is making me feel like an absolute idiot.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Pierre von Kaenel on May 29th, 2011, 8:30pm

Mark A.

"... what's missing from your posts here is a sense of what you're trying to do. It's so much easier to pace the demo when one has some idea of why/what the user's interest is."

I realize your statement is intended for another poster, but ...

My "area" has been object oriented programming languages and software design.  When I am learning a tool or language, I don't usually have a problem in mind (unlike my current project). I can't ask for help by providing details of what I'm trying to do.  I just want to understand the features and later apply them as I need them.  That's why providing case studies would be helpful.  Otherwise, I have to comb through many posts, wikis, and cookbooks to piece together an understanding of this product.  

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 29th, 2011, 8:57pm

My "area" has been object oriented programming languages and software design.  When I am learning a tool or language, I don't usually have a problem in mind (unlike my current project). I can't ask for help by providing details of what I'm trying to do.  I just want to understand the features and later apply them as I need them.  That's why providing case studies would be helpful.  Otherwise, I have to comb through many posts, wikis, and cookbooks to piece together an understanding of this product.  

Precisely.

Many of the folks here want to provide help in the context of a specific goal-oriented outcome, a specific reason for using this software.  well if you have one, terrific.

but if you're just trying to get a feel for what the software is and does, you're asking an unanswerable question, and the asking is simply going to frustrate the user.

Pierre, I'd also like to know a bit more about how you import data from DTPO to TB. Mark was kind enough to reply to some initial emails where I asked this question, and the answer appears to be that you simply, manually, copy the desired data from a DTPO item to a TB note, one note at a time.

If I have 138 notes on spinal disorders, manually copying the relevant info from each one sounds like a very laborious undertaking. Given that TB has no internal HTML engine of its own, and that a good chunk of my DTPO items are in the format of a web archive, I understand that I simply can't import them, much less batch import them. Manually importing them one by one, though, has all the appeal of a root canal.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Martin Boycott-Brown on May 30th, 2011, 5:29am


Quote:
what's missing from your posts here is a sense of what you're trying to do


Mark, I hope you don't mind if I say that I have to disagree! I'd say his posts indicate that he's trying to learn how to use the program! I'm not trying to be cute -- I do research in psychology, and it looks to me from the outside as if the two "sides" in this exchange are not really "meeting in the middle". I'm sure it's unintentional, but responses along the lines of "tell me what you want to do" or "give me a specific problem" can be interpreted by the other as meaning "you must come to me on my terms, and I will only help you if you do that". The learner may not be _able_ to come to the educator, for various reasons, and if that is so, the educator needs to go to the learner. I suspect that some of the learners (both on this forum and in the Scrivener forums) have the feeling that the educators are not willing to go to them. I'm sure that "tell me what you want to do" is an attempt to go to them, but I think it's coming across as intransigence. I don't want to come across as critical of anyone -- I just offer up an observation in the hope that it might help. Knowing my attempts to help, it will probably make things worse :(. And of course, I may be talking rubbish -- I often do!

Just an additional thought -- one of the good things about Steve Zeoli's article was that it had pictures in it, and it's noticeable that some of the posts on the Scrivener forum have had pictures. It may seem childish, but they are darned useful!

Best wishes,
Martin.

PS -- I've just noticed that one of the words I used has been magically changed to "darned" -- how quaint! Automatic translation from English into American! It's tempting to experiment with a few other words, and see what the equivalents are.

I had no idea the forum software we're using did this. I apologize on its behalf.  MB


Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Pierre von Kaenel on May 30th, 2011, 7:05am

Conejo - no I don't make connections between DTPO and TB.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Derek Van Ittersum on May 30th, 2011, 8:49am

Have you seen this screencast about planning a book?

http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/video/Planning.mov

When I started with TBX, this was the thing that taught me how to get started.

Even though I am not writing novels, it quickly got me oriented to the concepts (notes, agents).  There are some differences now between the most recent version and the version in the screencast, but they are not differences to the main concepts of the program.

Also, I think there may be some fundamental differences between the way people evaluate and begin using applications that are at play here. Tinderbox did not make sense to me really until I just up and tried to use it to help me brainstorm a paper I was writing. I know many people prefer to use a different approach than "just dive in."  However, one of the things about TBX that is both powerful and frustrating is its flexibility.  Depending on what one wants to do, one would use the program in fundamentally different ways. When I am brainstorming a paper, I drag in notes from DevonThink and arrange them on a map without any prep work at all.  When I'm doing qualitative analysis, I start by defining a ton of key attributes and prototypes to bound my analysis in particular ways. It would be a disservice, I think, to use screencasts of these activities to advertise the product because it would be too easy to then say TBX is for brainstorming and qual analysis, because it is much more than that.  Furthermore, if someone wanted to learn from me how to do either of these activities in TBX, I would start my explanation in very different ways and even define the concepts differently.  In that respect, I don't think it's unreasonable for Mark to ask you what tasks you might want to accomplish with TBX.  For Scrivener, it's easy to guess what users might want to do:  they want to write!  For TBX, it's much harder.  Are you planning a book?  Doing quantitative analysis? Making pseudo-databases? Data-mining? Importing spreadsheets for analysis? Writing hypertext fiction or nonfiction? The concepts and features we'll start sharing with you are fairly different based on what broad kinds of activity you're interested in using TBX with.

In some ways it is like HTML--making a rough web page with <body> and <p> elements doesn't really give one a sense of what is possible with the markup language, it takes much more practice and learning to get there (collectively and individually).  Same for TBX.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Martin Boycott-Brown on May 30th, 2011, 3:56pm


Quote:
I had no idea the forum software we're using did this. I apologize on its behalf.


No need to apologise. I was quite amused. But it would have sounded a bit more like me if it had changed it to "dashed"  ;). I'm still wondering if I should try out a few other words! And it's quite a compliment to the gentility of your usual forum members that this has never come up before.

Derek -- very useful link -- thank you very much for the tip.

Best, Martin.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Anderson on May 30th, 2011, 4:04pm

Martin, now I look, the forum software comes with a short predefined list of words mapped to either a bowdlerised word or asterisks. The list looks as though it was written for US English usage which is why I think you were caught out by something you (and I!) would consider inoffensive. Global village, eh?  :)

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Martin Boycott-Brown on May 30th, 2011, 4:58pm

Mark, thanks for the information -- I was genuinely amused to be turned into what seemed like a cowboy by a piece of software! I challenge you to post the list so we can all see what the bowdlerised versions are! Or even better, just post the bowdlerised versions, and let's see if we can work out what the originals are. Should make for a bit of fun ;).

Best, Martin.

PS: actually, since you have the list, you could have a whole lot more fun by making your own bowdlerisms  ;D. Or even adding a few items to it. I can just imagine the chaos. Reminds me of when I taught English in Italy ...

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 30th, 2011, 10:03pm

Derek.....as I said, yes, I watched that video.  Didn't help me.

I've already spent way too much time on this. I appreciate the thoughts and suggestions, but what I (and apparently many others) need to get traction with this app doesn't exist.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Bernstein on May 31st, 2011, 10:26am

conejo:

    Despair not. It's been a busy weekend -- and, in the US, a holiday weekend; some forum regulars have been away and others have been busy.  You might yet find your answer from someone who understands what you're seeking.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Anderson on May 31st, 2011, 11:04am

@conejo23, I'd sure love to help, but I (personally) struggle with open ended questions. There must be something finite about the app that you know you don't understand? Give me just one piece of the jigsaw and we can work in from there. The different views?  How attribute inheritance works? Aliases vs Notes? Just something not as open ended as "I just don't get any of it"....

Like you, I'm busy and big tutorials take a lot of (my limited free) time to make and. I don't want to waste time on answering the wrong questions.  :)

[Later: I don't have Scrivener or DEVONThink and I'm not a writer. My day job is managing pictures, picture databases ('DAM').]

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 31st, 2011, 11:15am

To both Marks, thank you.

And I want to be very clear about something, I'm NOT saying "gee, this resource doesn't exist so could someone please put one together for me?" That would be really, really arrogant and inconsiderate. I was just hoping something comparable already existed that I could utilize.

Let me give it some thought. Honestly, when I tried to create notes I was finally able to actually create notes, add text, discover images didn't work, and add a url and a file to the note. I love that richness of what can be tied to the note, that's cool.

But once I had them, I had no idea what to do with them. I'm not sure what attributes are or why I'd use them, what containers are, what adornments are, what prototypes are (I think that's just a template for notes that will be repeatedly used), when one would use one versus the other and how to actually create them.

as I said, I tried to take some stuff out of that magazine about things to try in Austin and just didn't get very far at all.

and a question: will pictures be able to be added to the body of a note in the near future or is that a more permanent limitation at this point?

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Anderson on May 31st, 2011, 12:54pm


Quote:
But once I had them, I had no idea what to do with them. I'm not sure what attributes are or why I'd use them, what containers are, what adornments are, what prototypes are (I think that's just a template for notes that will be repeatedly used), when one would use one versus the other and how to actually create them.

That's useful, I can pick at some of these. I think we're all on the same page at last. Give me a a few days to figure out how to do this (text?, video?, etc.) and where to put it. Pictures help a lot but in the meantime...

Everything you see in the main views (Outline, Map, Chart, Treeview, Timeline) is a note. A note is the basic building block of a Tinderbox document. There are different sorts of things made from notes:
  • Container. notes can be nested, one inside another, as seen in in the classic form of an outline. In TB vernacular, a 'container' is simply a term used to describe any note that contains one or more other notes. Container's have a special trick, their 'OnAdd' attribute which affects any other note as/when it is placed within that container. (more on this later).
  • Alias. An alias is a pointer to a note like (though not exactly) an Finder alias. An alias' title always appears in italics to reflect that it is not the actual note. Without getting ahead of ourselves, an alias shares almost all the attributes of the original note on which it is based. If the original moves in the TB file, the alias still points to it. An original can have more than one alias. Use of aliases can get quite complicated so, for beginners, I'd not dive straight in to planning heavy use of aliases until other concepts are understood - especially agents
  • An agent is a special sort of note. It can act as a normal note, in terms of a tilte, text, attributes, etc., but it cannot be a normal container. However, it does act as a container but in a different way. Agents are intended to search the TB document for any notes matching the agent's query. The query is written by the user. The agent Create/Rename dialog has configuration tools for creating the simplest of queries; more complicated ones need the user to write them by hand. When an agent query matches as note, the agent creates a (temporary) alias to that note. Thus the children of an agent are only ever aliases of notes matching the query. No matches - or no query - and there are no children.  A normal note cannot be placed inside an agent.
  • Separator. This is a note which is displayed in a spacial way in outlines, as a form of horizontal rule (with or without a title - you choose). Separator status is as simple as toggling a tick-box on the note's Rename dialog. A separator my have children, i.e. be a container. Importantly, separators are visible only in outline view. It (and any contents) are hidden in Chart/Map/Treemap views.
  • Adornment. This is a special sort of note, seen only in Map view. Adornments appear as shapes (default rectangular) drawn on the background of the map; they always draw behind all notes/containers. At simplest, adornments act as map legends or delimit areas relating to a single task/subject. Adornments have an OnAdd - as with a container, except that it is triggered by placing a note on top of (in front of!) the adornment. An adornment can't nest; it never has children.
  • Smart adornment. This is an ordinary adornment for which a query has been defined (same way as for an agent). Just as a normal adornment acts like a flattened container, a smart adornment is like a flattened agent.  A difference from an agent is that the scope of the query is the current map and matching items are moved onto the smart adornment rather than aliases being created.
  • Picture (or image) adornments. Again, a special adornment. Here it's role is to act as a (by default) invisible container for an image, such that an image can be 'stuck' onto the background of the map.
  • Prototypes. A special sort of note. By making a note a prototype, it becomes selectable for use by other notes a a form of template. The latter inherit the characteristics (attributes) of the prototype. Alter the prototypes and all notes based on that prototype change to.  You could change the colour manually on 50 notes or change the colour in a prototype and 50 notes using that prototype would all change colour too. A very powerful tool. Agents, adornments and separators can also be prototypes.
That's a quick run round while I think on a more illustrated answer

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Anderson on May 31st, 2011, 1:05pm


Quote:
and a question: will pictures be able to be added to the body of a note in the near future or is that a more permanent limitation at this point?

Adding pictures into notes had to be suspended temporarily when moving to v5.0.0 due to significant issues with the image data not playing nicely with the new Unicode-capabple text engine added for v5. As Unicode support was more pressing for the widest group of users than images, image embedding disappeared until v5.9.0 (see here).

I believe, the feature is slated for re-write in the future, so i'd expect this feature to improve.

Images can be very useful for capturing some aspects of a task but I'd recommend now treating TB as your 'everything bucket'. Apps like DEVONThink, Yojimbo or curio are probably better candidates for that task. In the same way, TB isn't a word processor, so don't expect WP-like text edit features. Tinderbox's core skill is in analysing textual data and visualising text with (limited) imagery. Its map view offers a visual way to organise data without the implied hierarchy of a mindmap where everything has to be connected. Thus maps aren't designed to be a cork board to which to attach movies, PDFs, etc. TB notes can link to such assets but not embed them. Images in maps (and notes) are for limited embellishment or reference rather than as primary storage (IMO, anyway!).

Does that help?

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Bernstein on May 31st, 2011, 1:47pm

Actually, pictures are already back in Tinderbox 5.9.

The catch is that, for arcane technical reasons, image files must be dragged into Tinderbox to create new notes; the text of these notes will contain the imported image.  That image can be copied and pasted elsewhere.

Caveat: A lot of what Tinderbox does best involved searching, sorting, and indexing -- things that don't apply well to images. Images also increase the size (and loading time) of your file. Keep in mind that you can link notes to external images, videos, and other files (e.g. DT archive items), and this might be just as good or even better for your needs.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Anderson on May 31st, 2011, 4:45pm

Tip: Cmd+click any links in the article to open the related link in a separate browser tab/window.

So, what are attributes? Think of the Rolodex with pre-printed contact cards. In a TB context, each card is a note. Each discrete box on a card is an attribute.  Some cards have no address, others no phone number, but every card has every box - attribute.

So, out of the box, every note has lots of pre-defined attributes - referred to as system attributes (some 206 of them as at v5.9.0). Few if any users will need to use and adjust anything more than a few attributes, but that selection of attributes will vary from user to user.

However, you're not limited to what's pre-provided in the way of attributes.  You can add your own.  Unlike many programs you're not limited in the number of extra attributes you can add. As with system attributes, once added every record has every attribute available. It's not even necessary to add attributes before you start work, you can add them any time which is great for adding extra structure when it's needed.

Attributes can be of varying data types, but if that's a bit techie for you don't worry unduly, you can read up on that late. Certainly the built-in ones will be of a type suitable for the task at hand.

To view/edit attributes there are three main methods.
  • To see every attribute - system and user-defined - for a note, select it an open Info view (Cmd+Opt+i). To edit an attribute, select it in the right column, then double-click the box or use the Edit button at bottom of the view.
  • In note text windows, you can select various attributes to be shown as 'key' attributes. These form a tabular display at the top of the note text window. The attribute values (unless read-only) can be edited in situ. This is probably the first way in which many users interact with attributes. There are lots of ways to set the items shown in the key attributes table but we'll come back to that later.
  • Quickstamp (Cmd+1). This works on all selected note(s) in the current main view. Otherwise, quickstamp can be considered another way of using Info view.
Attributtes fulfil a number of functions, but there are two primary ones:
  • They can hold data: the title of a note or user-specified data associated with it.
  • They can configure the Tinderbox UI. The number/selection of key attributes, the colour of notes, what sort of font is used for the title, etc.
There's another quick lesson.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Anderson on May 31st, 2011, 4:56pm

[Don't forget to view the linked pages]

Note text window. All notes, with the exception of adornments (or all types) have a text window. This can be opened for a selected not by:
  • Menu: note -> Text window
  • Shortcuts: [spacebar], or [Cmd]+[Opt]+[X]
  • Double=-click the note in a major view
    [*]In Explorer view the selected note (and any key attributes) are shown in the right pane.
When a text window is opened, by default it shows a sidebar and a text pane whose contents is the $Text attribute's data if any:



If the user adds key attributes we get this:



These options can be toggled via the pop-up menu accessed from the cog symbol button bottom left of the text pane.

See here for a description of sidebar features.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Martin Boycott-Brown on May 31st, 2011, 5:03pm


Quote:
But once I had them, I had no idea what to do with them.


If I can add something from the standpoint of my almost total ignorance of Tinderbox, it seems to me that the program is good at finding and showing _relationships_ between items of information (these items or snippets of information are what Tinderbox calls "Notes"). This is where all the containers, adornments, agents and attributes come in. They all help in finding and displaying associations or relationships between items of information (Notes). If you only use the Outline view, you get a very limited representation of relationships, like this:

Level 1 Note (Container for the Level 2 Note immediately below)
     Level 2 Note (Container Level 3 Note immediately below)
           Level 3 Note (not a Container at the moment because there is no Level 4 Note below it, but it will become a Container if a Level 4 Note is added below it)
     Level 2 Note
Level 1 Note
     Level 2 Note
     Level 2 Note

If you use the Map view, you suddenly get a whole range of ways of showing relationships or associations between the items of information (Notes) -- but you have to do a little more work to get these relationships to show up. I work in psychology and history, so I might want all the items that refer to Freud in some way (his name might appear in the title of the Note, or it might appear in the text of the Note) to be in blue, so that I can see which ones they are at a glance. And if I'm clever enough, not only can I get all the already existing Notes that refer to Freud to appear in blue, but I can have any Notes that I add later to change to blue _automatically_ if the word "Freud" appears in them somewhere. (*This is probably where the two Marks tell me I have got hold of the wrong end of the stick, but I hope not.*) I haven't yet worked out how I achieve this, but I'm guessing an Agent might do it. Where things get really interesting for me is the possibility of using multiple visual cues at the same time (shape, colour and position of the Note on the map, as well as lines linking Notes, and coloured backgrounds in certain areas of the map). Since I have to deal with multiple sources of data (articles, books, diaries, official documents, eye-witness accounts, etc.) and multiple themes (decision making, problem solving, attributions of causality, scripts and schemata, cultural influences on cognition, etc.) I can see that Tinderbox might prove very useful in allowing me to represent how these all relate to each other.

So unless I've got things "a*** upwards" (self-censorship), to quote a former girl friend, displaying relationships and associations between items of information is where Tinderbox ought to shine. Please tell me now if I've got it all wrong, and I shall take myself off somewhere where I can't confuse the issue any further.

Best, Martin.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by conejo23 on May 31st, 2011, 5:11pm

Mark,

Honestly, I don't know what to say. I'm blown away at what you've put together here. Thank you, and I hope this can be a resource for others. I'll DEFINITELY check it out in detail.

that said, I wanted to give you a heads up that might not happen for a couple of weeks. Our son is graduating from high school this weekend and we've got family coming in and staying with us for the occasion, so combined with normal business and life stuff, exploring this app and playing with what you've laid out will have to wait until I come up for air. I didn't want you to think I haven't seen it or wasn't interested or grateful for it.

and Martin, that is PRECISELY why I'm interested in this app. I don't need another notetaker. I've got Circus Ponies Notebook, which I really like for specific notetaking scenarios (like watching an educational DVD or lecture where I'm taking detailed notes). Also have OmniOutliner, which I no longer use since getting Notebook, and then I've got DTPO which I use every day.

I don't need somewhere to create notes and store info. I'm interested in this app because I suspect it may help me understand the data I already have in new, interesting and ultimately edifying ways.  And given that I tend to be a visually-based guy, the map view and its features has appeal to me. I'm looking forward to exploring it more.

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Mark Anderson on May 31st, 2011, 5:31pm

[Do look at all the links here, they are part of the answer]

@Martin. No, you are on the right track.  :)

Maps do show links and you can add to the default range of link types via the Link Types palette. Another way to add new link types on the fly is when adding a link, in the Create Link simply add a link type name of your choice instead of selecting an existing one. The new type uses default styling but can be customised via the Link types palette. You are right about agents.  Indeed, as your TB smarts grow you can use action code to create or remove links based on query matching. Powerful stuff.

@conejo32. No worries. Like I say the posts up thread are by way of a sketch for a proper article. The challenge is threading the parts together in an order such as we don't lean on too many yet-to-be-explained features (somewhat hard in an app like this).

Beginning analysis is a bit chick and egg. At outset it's impenetrable - as you find it now. As you familiarise yourself with features you'll begin to see how you can use incremental formalisation to slowly (or quickly!) increase you're analytical view of the data.  It might be more attributes, extra links, or agents, etc... What you need out of the toolbox will vary. That's why playing around really does pay off, though I know - from experience - how counter-intuitive that may seem. C'mon, dive into the data pool, the water's warm!

Title: Re: How do I get started with this app?
Post by Martin Boycott-Brown on May 31st, 2011, 5:49pm

Thanks Mark -- there is nothing more dangerous than someone who thinks he knows what he is talking about, but doesn’t -- so I'm glad I got that bit right at least. I look forward to learning a bit more about the application.

Conejo32 -- glad we're on the same track! Having just come to the end of a big project, I'm hoping I can learn enough about Tinderbox to use it on the next one. I use DTPO, too, but there is something missing from it, and I think the visual representations of associations and relationships that you get in Tinderbox could fill that gap. I hope so.

Best, Martin.

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