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Tinderbox explained to novices... (Read 4766 times)
Russel
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Tinderbox explained to novices...
Jun 3rd, 2014, 6:42pm
 
I'm new to Tinderbox and am really struggling to get traction doing basic things. Having worked with all types of software over the years, I'm amazed by its potential power. But I'm finding it difficult to leverage my past experience with other software to master Tinderbox features and conventions. Reviewing online help, the Tinderbox Way and various videos, I find that they assume I know more about the program than a novice should.

One striking thing about Tinderbox is that any new user is confronted by its complexity from the very beginning. Just opening an inspector displays numerous attribute and other settings. Without a clear vision of the Tinderbox landscape to build on, I can see new users like myself feeling lost quite quickly. Perhaps everyone goes through this phase as I am. Or perhaps I'm simply dense.

Does anyone on this forum know of learning materials or tutorials pitched specifically to new users? I've sketched an outline of what an introduction to Tinderbox could include and the outline alone comes to about 11 pages.

Clearly, I'd need to limit coverage of various topics. I'd want readers to be able to see through the numerous details to perform some basic tasks with confidence. To get something useful done on their first sitting. A list of basic objectives might include:
•      Create a new Tinderbox document with a dozen notes
•      Identify and adjust the basic features of notes
•      Create links between related notes
•      Use prototypes to speed note creation
•      Effectively use the Map and Outline views of notes
•      Output a document as a Web page or text document

Any suggestions on items to add to or omit from this list?  
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« Last Edit: Jun 03rd, 2014, 6:51pm by Russel »  
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Prem Thomas
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Re: Tinderbox explained to novices...
Reply #1 - Jun 3rd, 2014, 6:55pm
 
I can speak to how I really learned Tinderbox 5. After using just a fraction of its capabilities for a couple years, I bought "The Tinderbox Way" and the two volumes of Tutorials and began working through them. These made a huge difference, and I wish I had taken this step earlier.  Tinderbox Six seems like a new, developing creature with lots of potential. I might suggest starting with Tinderbox 5.12.2 and working through the above materials. As you get proficient, you might slowly transition to Six.
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Jon B.
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Re: Tinderbox explained to novices...
Reply #2 - Jun 4th, 2014, 3:28am
 
I learned it by reading the Tinderbox Way, and going through the tutorials. I do have a software development background.

I think it is important for Tinderbox to reach a wider user base because it is truly great software, and this would likely lead to more resources being applied to its advancement. It is also hard to get one's arms around. Right now, information about Tinderbox is on a rather disparate collection of websites (about half a dozen), most – but not all – maintained by Eastgate (but not updated in awhile), plus the book that does not come with the software.

Organizing information for Tinderbox 6 into one central location that gets regular updates would be a good step forward. I know the resources are now on programming Tinderbox 6, and probably rightly so. I do think this investment would pay dividends for Eastgate. I do think to do it "right" is a large scale endeavor.
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Mark Anderson
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Re: Tinderbox explained to novices...
Reply #3 - Jun 4th, 2014, 6:37am
 
With the scare on my back to prove it from years of doing TB community help, the problem are that people:
  • Assume everyone's doing the same thing  - they aren't.
  • There's one correct way to do something - there ins't (also see bullet above.
  • 'just want to' and the only reason stopping them is no one will tell them the one correct way to do their task, which must be what everyone else wants to do, no?
I don't mean this to sound harsh; seeing past these wrong assumption will help you get started more easily. It also shows why when asking for help here, if you haven't already explained, you'll be asked what you're trying to do. Also if you just want a finished example or if you want to be helped to find a solution (i.e. learn as well) do please say as it's not always self-evident.

I think E P James' point above is very true, TB at heart is an outliner. All too often people get TB, rush to make a map, add some stuff and then start spinning their wheels because they've no idea how the map relates to the stored data (it's actually simple and elegant).

Some tips for starting - taken from my own learning of the app:
  • Have some practical goal in mind (not just insert data -> magic -> success!).
  • Aim to throw away your first few documents - or at least not continue to use them. Experimentation's easier if you're not worried about breaking stuff. You might mess up your current document but you won't break the app.
  • Don't experiment on (the only copy of) date you've taken hours or years to collect.
  • Expect some things to not work as you intuited - don't assume the app was designed for your exact task, some assembly is required (though help is always at hand in places like here)
  • Expect to be amazed things you never thought possible - and hold on to that excitement.
  • Don't interpret everything in terms of your favourite app/workflow. Such comparisons simply hinder learning and stoke frustration.
  • There are usually several ways to achieve your goal, though often none may match your intuited method; the aim is to achieve the goal, not moral superiority over the app's design.
  • If you treat every task as hard, it will become so - keep an open mind as to solutions.
  • Have a coding background? This is not a programming IDE. TB's Action code is an evolved set of tools focussed around analysis and visualisation of text data, not a laguage.
  • Do take a few minutes to grasp the basics of TB prototypes and inheritance, it will repay you enormously in later use.
  • Don't make maps & new content at (outline) root level. Make a container and add your data to that. N.B. this is not a requirement of the app, just my experience of deep use of it.
  • Having a discrete container for your content makes it much easier to keep prototypes, templates, etc., out of the way. In turn it makes it easier to scope agent queries (faster/more efficient, easier queries to write).
  • TB is wonderful at letting you add structure (prototypes, attributes, link types, etc.) as you go.  If you realise you are adding a lot of structure, consider building that in a new file and moving your data across into a 'clean' house. N.B. above point about not experimenting on valuable data.
  • With actions code - tasks that do/change things, make a small test-rig document and get the code working before moving it onto real data.
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Mark Bernstein
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Re: Tinderbox explained to novices...
Reply #4 - Jun 4th, 2014, 10:17am
 
We're very interested in explaining Tinderbox to novices!  The introductory suggestions in the background of an empty map or outline, and the ubiquitous tooltips, are just the beginning.

It's going to be Fall before we're really ready for novices, but waiting months longer would have kept the Tinderbox Six upgrade from people who need it now.

Great suggestions in this thread!
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J Fallows
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Re: Tinderbox explained to novices...
Reply #5 - Jun 4th, 2014, 10:44am
 
I have used Tinderbox for about 3 1/2 years, and now rely on it very heavily in all phases of my work. I'd always been interested in "this kind" of program, by which I mean ones intended to help you manipulate ideas, information, list items, etc in creative ways. Over the years I'd used Lotus Agenda, GrandView, Zoot Software's wonderful Zoot, and others. At this point there is one angle of TB that I don't use often and still feel puzzled by: the whole process of exporting. For the rest I feel as if I can now intuit my way to make it do what I want, and it is very powerful and open ended.

All the tips above are sensible. To highlight some that stand out for me:
  • By all means read The Tinderbox Way. At the microlevel is useful about the program; at the macro level a useful way of thinking-about-thinking, and computers' role therein;
  • Some people have suggested using TB5.12 as a starter and easing into TB6. I think TB6 is actually easier to get going with, in addition to being more powerful and looking nicer. The only drawback is that it still has various late-beta aspects -- displays not looking just the way they should, edge-case instabilities. But these are being buffed away almost daily; and I have used it for my "real" work for quite a while now (months). It rarely crashes, and in the past year I have never lost data in it.
  • This point, by Mark Anderson, can't be stressed often enough: "TB is wonderful at letting you add structure (prototypes, attributes, link types, etc.) as you go.  If you realise you are adding a lot of structure, consider building that in a new file and moving your data across into a 'clean' house. N.B. above point about not experimenting on valuable data."
    In a lot of programs, some design decisions you make early, when you don't really know where you're going or how the program works, end up constraining you later on. TB is wonderful in letting you build just as much as you need as you go, and altering that (or easily shifting info to a new structure) as your understanding improves and your needs and data change.
  • I echo the people who have said, Get comfortable with Prototypes and Inheritance, and a lot of other things will fall into place.
  • Also echo the people who say it would be good to have all the disparate info about using the system more clearly collected and organized somewhere.
  • The Ted Goranson essay is ten years old, and the program is very different from then, but the concepts he lays out are very useful. Also please search out some items by Stephen Zeoli on the "Welcome to Sherwood" site, which include a number of clarifying how-tos.


I do think that expanding the base to a much larger group of users would be (obviously) good for the company but also good for many people in many walks of life. Glad there is attention to that as a next step.
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Russel
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Re: Tinderbox explained to novices...
Reply #6 - Jun 4th, 2014, 1:46pm
 
Thanks to everyone for their suggestions. I'll reconsider purchasing the tutorials. I'll also move forward with my own novice-centered guide, which will assume nothing about the user's experience. In particular, I intend to create in-context explanations that compare a given feature with other features that could be confused with it, or used for a similar purpose.

For example, a topic about Adornments would include subtopics such as:
- Defining Adornments
- Adornments Summary
   - Locking -
   - Smart
   - Sticky
   - Image
   - Locking
- Adornments Compared to Agents
- Adornments Compared to Containers
- Procedures – Creating Adornments

I like Mark Anderson's points, especially the first three. With a program as versatile as TB, I wouldn't expect there to be one right way to do something.
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« Last Edit: Jun 4th, 2014, 6:41pm by Russel »  
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Mark Cubberley
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Re: Tinderbox explained to novices...
Reply #7 - Jun 5th, 2014, 9:32am
 
I've read the Tinderbox Way and worked through some of the materials in the tutorials (the screencasts by Stacey Mason are particularly helpful), but I still feel I'm very much the novice when it comes to TB.

I'd be interested in helping to create a guide of this kind as a mechanism to become more proficient with TB.
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Re: Tinderbox explained to novices...
Reply #8 - Jun 5th, 2014, 10:27am
 
Tinderbox has been the most frustrating and difficult software program that I have ever attempted to learn.  I say attempted to learn because I am still very much a novice.  However, I am still hanging in there because it is the most unique and exciting applications I have ever used.  It is packed with so much potential because it allows the user to be involved in deciding how it will be used, adapted, and implemented.  This is also the reason why the application is so complex.

At the risk of some overlap with the posters above, here are some of my thoughts:

- don't be in a hurry to use the application for things that are mission critical or time sensitive.  This will add an enormous amount of stress to the learning process.  Allow yourself to experiment and play with the app before using it to organize Project X that you need to release to the world in two weeks.

- Mark Bernstein's Tinderbox Way is a must.  It keeps me excited about the program, about organizing ideas,  and it gives many hints about implementing the application.

- Mark Anderson:  I wouldn't still be here without him.  His answers are incredibly generous and useful.  He maintains http://www.acrobatfaq.com/atbref5/ and has documented many solutions.

- This is one of the most helpful tutorials I have seen:  http://decafbad.com/2010/06/tinderbox-article-tutorial/article.html#section-30.  

I definitely think Tinderbox would benefit from more tutorials that have been written for novices.  I bought the tutorials from Tinderbox and there were things that were helpful, but there were also things that were outdated and confusing.  

Good luck.  
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Russel
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Starting out with outlines and prototypes...
Reply #9 - Jun 5th, 2014, 1:36pm
 
Last night, I took Mark Anderson's advice and spent some time creating my first prototypes. One benefit of this approach is the act of repetition. An hour or so just spent making some adjustments and adding some user-defined attributes helped fix some details in my memory. It helped me begin getting familiar with using a few views in the Inspector. It also helped me have a sense of moving forward vs. groping.

This morning, I began sketching an outline for a course I'm refining. Having worked intensively with online outlines in the past, this feature of TB feels intuitive. With prototypes for the various types of activities and instructional media, it's been easy to start creating notes with visual characteristics and attributes I can recognize.

Thanks to everyone who's posted so far. I feel so much better now than I did when I made the initial post two days ago.
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