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Tinderbox Users >> Questions and Answers >> Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB

Message started by Desalegn on Mar 17th, 2016, 9:05am

Title: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Desalegn on Mar 17th, 2016, 9:05am

Here, I am just wondering why Mark Anderson won't compose a how to book for Tinderbox. The Reference pages are quite good. But, they do not really explain  how to do things in TB. They mainly explain the features, but beginners get stuck on how to use these features. I have tried TB for a number of years; and was turned off in all these years because most of the sources on TB don't explain the how to part; or, they go too deep without setting the ground for the beginner (the forum goes that direction on many occasions). Most sources, including the recent blog posts focus on what TB can do which is useless form the users' perspective. The Getting started with TB and the Clarify tutorials are good starting points.But, we still want a more in depth explanations of how to do things. The disorganized nature of the system right now is the other issue. Assume I have a problem, a basic one. where should I look at? the blog? the forum? the help file with the app? the getting started guide? the Reference? the Clarify guide? Why do users waste their time scavenging around a forum just to do a simple task with TB? I think a systematic book that would guide the beginner from a simple jotting down of notes through developing sophisticated actions  could solve a lot of problems; functions as a definitive guide for the user,  and definitely  would improve the sales of the app.   Asking such a task for Mark Bernstein would be hindering the development of TB. Mark Anderson seems the perfect person to write such a fairly simple how  to cook Tinderbox; something similar to TAKE CONTROL OF DEVONTHINK book. I cannot tell you how that book helped me at the beginning of using Devonthink.

what do you guys think?

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Mark Anderson on Mar 17th, 2016, 10:06am

Hmm, I think I'm qualified to answer this one.

[...throws away long answer no one will read...]

OK, to try and move this along,please list the chapter headings expected in this 'How to' book. I think that might shed better light on what people are after. In my experience (10+ years of this) everyone wants something different, but I'm always open to being wrong...  :)

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Hugh on Mar 17th, 2016, 1:38pm

If I were writing such a how-to book, I'd probably start to plan it by splitting the task into four main parts (in addition to introductory and closing chapters), namely:

- What is Tinderbox? A summary
- Tinderbox Views, their features and functionality, with the stress on how to use them
- Tinderbox Actions, Agents, Rules, Templates, Exporting and Automation, again with the stress on how to deploy them, and in what circumstances
- a survey of the salient and relevant features of Tinderbox when deployed for potential uses such as brainstorming, outlining long-form documents such as books, creative investigation, data analysis, and so on, yet again with the stress on how to go about those tasks in general cases employing the software, with examples.

I've probably omitted topics that should be included. But to give a flavour of what I believe many users would find helpful, I thought Steve Z's post, when it was put up on his blog nearly twelve months ago, on outlining with Tinderbox 6 (https://welcometosherwood.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/outlining-with-tinderbox-6-6-2-to-be-precise/) was a model of what could be very helpful. I found it so, despite my previously having used the software over several years. Not to rip off Steve's work - but that's the kind of thing that I suspect many new users would like to see, alongside similar treatments of Tinderbox's other views.

Obviously, there would be issues in keeping such a book up-to-date, but that is something that the Take Control folk are well-experienced at managing.

Just my 2p.

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Mark Anderson on Mar 17th, 2016, 7:02pm

@Hugh, thanks for the list, though as it covers everything, I'm not much clearer. "on how to use them" is very subjective. My experience here is many people don't want a general description but one much closer to their (intended) use, and with generalist tool like Tinderbox that's hard as they all tend to a different view.

The article by Steve Z is a nice one, though it describe TB in the context of an outliner. Thus there's a lot of redundant description of features that are common to several views. If each is described in chapters designed to stand alone there's lots of redundancy and, my my eye, potential first-reading overload. Strip it out and I sense push back of not enough detail.

My experience from helping people is that we tend to quickly get deep into a narrow area, the difficulty at start is trying to figure out which area that is. Often its a matter of suppressing assumptions about how things 'should' work to allow space for learning how they actually work in TB.

It's pertinent here to ask what's missing from the v6 'getting started' PDF?

How I learned TB, after reading all the material available was to set myself a task (that at outset I didn't know how to do). That forced me to try things and to ask questions when I got stuck. Other people's finshed models, so kindly shared, nonetheless were less helpful because of the issue of being just far enough from my task at hand. I've tried writing detailed worked examples, complete with finished per-stage example files (to help those who only want to read and not actual do the work) but all appearances are that despite being asked for, few actually do the exercises; that's frustrating as they take time and care to craft.

I also think the first two posts of this thread are pertinent.

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by AsafKeller on Mar 17th, 2016, 10:09pm

I would certain purchase a copy.
And, if this turns into a community assisted project, will do my best help

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Greg Korgeski on Mar 18th, 2016, 7:01pm

One way to go might be to start a Tinderbox doc for yourself on "how to use Tinderbox." One set of notes would be to list the various sources of information on it including in the manual, Mark B's "Tinderbox Way," Mark A's sites, and so on.

I did that a couple of ways over the years, one in my "big Tinderbox" document and I finally created my own "Tinderbox manual." The main thing I find useful in the latter is an in-box approach where when I have a question or solve a problem, I make notes about it, complete with screen shots at times.

It helped after that to start to basically write an outline of the book that I think "should exist" on using Tinderbox. (I like to imagine David Pogue writing the "missing manual" as my imaginary muse guide here.)

That by no means implies I feel like I know all that much about it. I get stumped on some simple things fairly often, and so part of my "manual" ends up being my list of annoying features, usually based on my own habits of going trial and error instead of looking stuff up. (One problem for me has been remembering that there ARE several useful resources...I start just hunting and trying things and unlike with some software, that often just makes things more confusing.)

There is an old adage that you should "write the book you wish you could read," and I think that's really often the very best way to learn any complicated subject. Gradually, it's helped me to have my "A Better Tinderbox Manual" (for me) document in my dock, for quick note-making and references.

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Mark Anderson on Mar 19th, 2016, 11:30am

@Greg - amen to that! What became aTbRef was the result of a similar approach to getting to know TB; indeed the seed was a TBX file shared with me by another erstwhile user (as recorded in aTbRef).

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Greg Korgeski on Mar 19th, 2016, 1:55pm

@Mark A: Your did it better. We much appreciate it.

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Will Duquette on Mar 24th, 2016, 10:58am

I can see a couple of things that would be useful.

The first thing would be a series of case studies: here's a problem, here are the challenges, here are some of the ways of approaching them in Tinderbox, with pros and cons, here's what I ended up with.

The second would be more coherent documentation of the current version of TinderBox.  (Though this wouldn't be part of the proposed book.) It's disconcerting to go to the TinderboxSix help and see as the first link a pointer to the Tinderbox Five help.  It seems like the information that's in the TinderboxSix and TinderBox Five help, and the TBref, should all be in one place.

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Greg Korgeski on Mar 24th, 2016, 11:22am

@Will Duquette - I agree that having these in one place might help. Though there are a lot of bits and fragments of these kinds of things scattered about out there, likes parts of the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. These are both in this forum, in Mark B's book and writings, in some of the examples of things in the Eastgate website. There are some old workshop or web based tapes, people do stuff on some websites (e.g., Welcome to Sherwood, and Dominique Reynaud has a few nice examples and even a book, which, while in French, has helpful demo videos in it as it's an Apple iBook).

In my years of notes on Tinderbox, there are a bunch of little notes where I had problems with something using the syntax to getting an agent to work. (It is decidedly an "unfriendly" system for most normal non-programmers to have to write "syntax" to get software to do something in this day and age, but raising that point seldom gets one anywhere.) Anyway, speaking to your example of case studies or examples, I was just thinking that these case examples can become pretty specific and detailed, more than a generic book of examples might cover. For instance, I have notes of back and forth discussions by email with Stacy Mason when she was at Eastgate on how to structure a query for an agent.

I guess my point is that Tinderbox is a sort of "ecosystem" which, due to its complexity, one has to approach somewhat like learning a new language -- there is no single, one size fits all book for learning French. You do best with an evolving organization of your own learning tools, from books to audio lessons to mainly, just using it and trying to compile your lessons however you can, ordering food, getting a French friend or two to help. You can do a ton of great stuff with a little knowledge, sort of like using a basic phrasebook to order a croissant in Paris. But fluency will tend to ask a lot from one. Hence, for me at least, my geeky love-hate relationship with the thing.

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Will Duquette on Mar 24th, 2016, 11:30am

@Greg Korgeski - Yeah, I get all that.  I'm a software engineer myself, so my annoyance isn't with the need for "syntax"; I like syntax.  :) In that arena, my primary beef is that information needed to understand what's doable and how to do it is kinda scattered and can be hard to find.  (But I also understand how hard it is to be a mostly one-man-shop.)

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Greg Korgeski on Mar 24th, 2016, 11:59am

@Will Duquette - Thanks. I'm a psychologist so "human factors" tends to be the place I get more annoyed. And so I do not like syntax.

I read once that the original "Murphy's Law" was named after a chief NASA engineer who made up a rule after a test rocket sled crashed. Turned out, they'd designed a part that it was possible to install on the sled backwards (so it would not work.) Murphy's new rule, after the crash, was if there is a correct way and an incorrect way to install a part, it must be assumed that sooner or later somebody would install it incorrectly. So the rule was to never build a part that could be put on the wrong way.  

There are about a thousand ways to write a line of syntax that don't make your agent collect the notes you want, and you have to get it, as a rule, exactly right. If you are NOT a software engineer but an "ordinary joe," that can become a pretty huge obstacle to using Tinderbox. At least with Excel, which is not something I love but is one of my daily workhorse tools, I know that if I hit a certain button on a toolbar, it will always, inevitably, do what it is supposed to do. I don't have to recall the proper way to hit it. That's, to me, the big "human factor" problem in learning this TBX ecosystem and its many jungle rules.

But like I said, "love-hate." "Tinderbox, I can't quit cha."  :)

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Mark Anderson on Mar 24th, 2016, 12:09pm

@Will, I get where you're coming from. I've resolved to keep aTbRef as a functional reference simply to avoid slipping into a bloated how-to that would become un-manageable. Actually, fitting in the v6.5.0 changes is a lot more work than imagined (new grabs, test models from which to make grabs, actually testing new syntax, etc.).

I think what's missing are some pattern libraries. That is complicated in that I'd reckon the larger proportion of users aren't coders (or don't class themselves as technical) so giving abstractions may not always be as helpful to the audience as managed. Worked examples are nice - if they match one's task otherwise we're back at problems of abstraction.

A useful element was my demo bank (60+ process examples) which worked fine up to v5. It still works with v6 but the framework change means v6 open a doc window for each view and each note window open in v5. So the files open in v6 with a blizzard of windows. Re-editing the bank (and weeding time-expired things) is on my to-do list but I've not had much time).

All of which is a long preamble to say perhaps we might start collecting some TB patterns. It might be initial layouts for particular tasks, prototype sets (and attendant attributes), structures for complex export, linking strategies, or action code methods for more complex workflows. Before figuring how to present it, it might be useful to just start collecting the use cases for the pattern.

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Desalegn on Mar 24th, 2016, 1:34pm

I guess my point is that Tinderbox is a sort of "ecosystem" which, due to its complexity, one has to approach somewhat like learning a new language -- there is no single, one size fits all book for learning French.

@Greg Korgeski: I actually disagree with your outlook towards the task. First, your assumption that learning a language like French has not principled and systematic ways of approaches to it, doesn't seem right. I am a linguist myself. I know for sure, some systematics approaches of teaching language for sure work much better than haphazard, disorganized methods; at least to the large majority of the language learners. Second, your representation of TBX as an "ecosystem" therefore, hard to teach (present) it in a constrained and systematic way is more of an attitude than a fact. We for sure know more complex tools than TBX, such as Emacs, Latex, C++ and the like...still, there are great, effective and comprehensive guides to these tools. A determined author can lucidly explain the most intricate scientific concept and programming languages...let alone  a fairly well-programmed tool like TBX.
TBX is a tool. It has limited number of features and commands. It is possible to take control of  (understand, teach) each of commands in a principled and systematic ways...and show these commands in practice (with good examples).  

It could be hard to decide which of the approaches to take to accomplish a certain task. yes, and the smart to approach is not to mention plethora ways of what TBX  "can do". Rather, take a smart decision on how to do the task  and move on showing how it could be effectively accomplished in that  preferred way (alternative approaches can be linked or footnoted).

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Mark Anderson on Mar 24th, 2016, 2:20pm

..except there isn't a 'preferred way'. My experience when trying that is of getting lots of push back about alternates. I'm happy to help explain how to do things, less happy to say how things must be done. Tinderbox is about emergent structure which is the antithesis process driven instructions.

From long experience, the problem of learning/teaching Tinderbox is less to do with complexity or of a right way, but of breaking the learned behaviour of assuming there is a 'right' way and the unwillingness it creates to just jolly well try things and not but upset if the first try isn't a success.

This sort of thread leaves me really depressed as it rapidly becomes a zero-sum game about whose view is correct. I just don't care about who wins, I truly don't. Meanwhile, I volunteer here to use my arcane knowledge to help people solve actual problems using an open-ended tool that lets them do things more limited tools cannot. It's a way of giving back to the daily kindness of strangers in other aspects of my work.

I can only apologise if I suck as an author of handbooks.

Title: Re: Mark Anderson writing "TAKE CONTROL OF TB
Post by Will Duquette on Mar 24th, 2016, 5:06pm

@Mark Anderson: Ironically, it's because there isn't an obvious right way that I'd like a handbook: something that would say, well, if you've got this kind of problem you could solve it this way or that way or the other way, and you get these trade-offs in each case.

For example, if you want to represent a hierarchy of notes you can use Parent/Child relationships, as in the Outline View, or you could use explicit links pointing from parent to child.  In the former case you can edit the hierarchy using the OutlineView, which is nice; but if you want to see all of the notes in one Map you're going to need to use aliases or an agent or something.  If you use explicit links then you can keep all of the notes in one container, and see them all in one Map view; and, hey, you can place a note in multiple distinct hierarchies by using different link types.

More of a cookbook, maybe?

But then, I suppose that's partially what these forums are for.

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