Tinderbox

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Michael Grant

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Dec 20, 2004, 12:49:33 PM12/20/04
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Call me cheap, but $145 seems like a lot of money to pay for a
glorified scratchpad. Yet Tinderbox seems to keep getting favorable
notices in discussions on organizing information. Would any present or
past Tinderbox users like to discuss whether and why it's worth the
cost?

Thanks,
Michael

--
<http://globalocal.blogspot.com/>

"Open the pod bay doors, Hal."
"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

{ nut - megpie }

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Dec 20, 2004, 1:00:40 PM12/20/04
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Apparently it's not just a scratchpad - it's a customizeable management system
that will really do anything you want it to, because it's so flexible. They
convinced me and I shelled out the money - but I've been having an AWFUL time
figuring out how to USE it. I just can't seem to get it to do what I want - I
don't understand the process. So I need help. That's the only big problem I'm
having! Heh!

Megan

Arthur A. Vanderbilt

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Dec 20, 2004, 1:35:16 PM12/20/04
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Take a look at the website [1], the wiki [2], and the user-contributed
templates [3] to get some idea of the scope of what you can do with it.
If that doesn't work, download the 30-day demo. It's pretty difficult to
explain, though I use it almost every day.

It's kind of like an operating system with its own file system,
database, and programming language, with linking and describing
metadata. It's also a content management system. And a pim. And the
wickedest outliner ever. And, well, whatever. I've been programming on
four platforms for twenty three years (since I was twelve, starting with
a C128) and it's about the most interesting software I've ever seen,
with the exception maybe of AutoCAD, Mathematica, and a couple of
programming languages (including Ruby). It's a bit cumbersome to keep a
task list or a log in, for me, because I'm cross-platform. But its
capabilities for project, content, and information management are
astounding. I do all substantial writing in it. And much of my software
design (yeah, instead of the UML ... I can execute parts of my design in
Tinderbox). It's the only thing I've ever seen that lets me write one
document and then generate several other documents based on it by
filtering and transforming based on metadata. Once you've gotten used to
it, how natural it is is scary. The little icons in the outline, for
example, yellow with age. The little icons also show the basic shape of
each note's contents. God it's awesome. Just go download the demo. If it
fits your needs, you'll become a zealot. Just read the manual that comes
with it.

Megpie - what can't you do? Maybe I can help.

1. http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/index.html
2. http://www.eastgate.com/wiki2/
3. http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/Exchange.html

bern...@eastgate.com

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Dec 20, 2004, 2:08:55 PM12/20/04
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Tinderbox is a *personal* content management *assistant* -- a
knowledge-management and content-management system scaled to the needs
of individual professionals who neet to analyze, integrate, and
interpret notes and ideas.

One way to think of all this is that Tinderbox *is* a scratchpad -- but
a scratchpad that can, if you wish, be very smart about your work.
Agents, for example, can set up a self-organizing category system that
adapts to your needs and expands whenever you want.

Bottom line: If your notes are complex and valuable, improving them
even slightly will repay a lot more than $145 in time and opportunity.
Of course, if you are already satisfied with your current system for
making and analyzing notes, then you don't need anything more!

Michael Bywater

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Dec 20, 2004, 2:45:44 PM12/20/04
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Call me cheap, but $1500 seems like a lot of money to pay for a
glorified typewriter. Yet computers seem to keep getting favorable
notices in discussions on organizing information...

;)

Yes. The comparison really is that precise. But, yes also, Tinderbox
has a steep learning curve once you move beyond using it as a
(untra-glorified) scratchpad. But it's worth it if your information is
in any way complex; if you start with random thoughts and build towards
a linear structure; if you use multiple "views" onto the same
information; if you work by making connections between individual
ideas. I am a professional writer & I wouldn't want to do without
Tinderbox now, any more than I'd want to do without my WP.

Arthur A. Vanderbilt

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Dec 20, 2004, 3:20:57 PM12/20/04
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Hi Michael,

>ideas. I am a professional writer & I wouldn't want to do without
>Tinderbox now, any more than I'd want to do without my WP.
>
>
Do you do your actual writing in TB? What output format do you use? I
work in a Windows shop, so I tend to HTML -> Word -> Tagged PDF. Only
because of Word's auto-tagging, a conspiracy I'm sure between MS and
Adobe. If there a better way, anyone, to go from HTML to tagged PDF?

Which Word Processor do you use? J/c. I haven't found one that I like,
but I find Mellel to be quite usable. Secondarily, Open Office
(Windows). But all I use them for any more is production. I'm looking
into moving back to TeX, so I can go right from TB to print, but that's
a little complicated still.

Arthur

pvonk

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Dec 20, 2004, 3:45:24 PM12/20/04
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I started out last month searching for an outliner. When I began
exploring Tinderbox, I became intrigued with its "programmability" in
the form of agents. Sure, I could use it as an outliner, as well as
use less expensive programs to do the same thing. One thing that
caught my eye was it's various views of an outline. Now, I have Word -
and I've used its outline capabilities to prepare a course syllabus -
but it's somewhat cumbersome to use. All outliners I've used use the
"tree" view and allow you to move any branch to another location.
Tinderbox certainly does this too. However, it has another view, map
view, that displays each entry as a box. You can then move the boxes
around, inside other boxes or pull them out. This graphical view helps
me make sense of many seemingly random ideas by moving them around into
different configurations that represent outlines. It just works for me
- better then the generic tree view (called an outline view in
Tinderbox) - when I need to organize disparate ideas.

However, as I explored Tinderbox, I began playing with agents. After
much time, I began getting it. You use agents to perform constant
searches for entries that match criteria that you program. For
example, "Topic=Dean meeting" and "today+30>Date" can be used to pull
out entries within 30 days of today whose "Date" attribute is defined
and whose topic matches the criteria above. This agent pulls all
entries into a branch of the overall tree structure. You can define
windows that focus on certain branches of the tree (I'm using a tree
metaphor for outlines here), so your project can use one or more
windows to use for data input, and other windows to view agent output.
Of course you don't have to used agents for a particular project, but
they're available if needed. One example of a project that uses agents
is a to-do list. You enter many listings, and use agents to output
things that need immediate attention, or whatever you want. It's all
dynamic - as dates change and as you change attributes (like "onHold"
set to true) for notes, the outputs change. It's like entering data
into a database and extracting only the data you define. The database
is really a part of the overall outline.

I like to think of Tinderbox as a spreadsheet for outlines. You can
use it for just outlining ideas, but you can also introduce certaining
programming or functional aspects (as you can in cells of a
spreadsheet).

Learning Tinderbox is the challenge! At first I didn't get it at all.
I downloaded the demo program and then search the Internet for
discussions of Tinderbox. I also found demo projects that I downloaded
and analyzed. The GTD demo (found in the Tinderbox web site) is an
in-depth to-do project based on a big selling boook on "Getting Things
Done". Unfortunately, the documentation in this project is not great,
so I had to keep testing it out before it all made sense. (I also
found that demo, a to-do list, no what I wanted, so I reprogrammed it -
my version is much simpler, conceptually. I also read forum posts that
I found using Google on ways to use Tinderbox. It was quite a learning
curve. What makes it hard is its flexibility - much like a
spreadsheet. You can't say a spreadsheet is a matrix of labels and
numbers used to keep track of accounting projects. It can be so much
more than that. Tinderbox is similar. Unfortunately, there's no
outstanding documentation for this app. We need a "For Dummies" book!

As I see it, boiled down as much as possible, Tinderbox is an outliner
in which some tree branches (if you understand that metaphor for an
outline) are automatically generated (by agents) using your criteria.
Each entry or idea that you enter can have attributes assigned to it
(some are system attributes, such as text font, and others are user
attributes, such as "DateDue" using a date format). You can use these
attributes to define criteria when using agents or doing a search.
Also, you can define prototypes (much like "base classes" that derive
child classes in an object oriented language). A prototype defines
default attributes and other things, and then you can derive a new
entry from a prototype. Finally, you can use different views to look
at your outline. Oh, Tinderbox can print a project to text or html.
You can even define different "styles" for output, but that gets into
advanced skills. Also, one of the examples of advanced Tinderbox use
is inputting an RSS news feed (if I have that spelled right), and
having agents pull out and separate info according to your definitions.
For the geeks out there, a Tinderbox project file is in XML format -
so you can also run it through other apps to massage it or perform
other actions.

Bottom line - if you need a simple outliner, then Tinderbox may be
overkill, but it does a great job just for this! If you need some of
the capabilities mentioned above, then Tinderbox is a must-have tool
and $145 becomes what you have to spend for an important tool. I can
buy a hand say for very little, or a cordless power saw for much more.
Would I hasitate spending extra for the power saw? If it's that
important to me, then I buy it. Simple as that (assuming the price is
not beyond my means).

Hope this helps.

Doug Miller

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Dec 20, 2004, 10:18:04 PM12/20/04
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Michael Grant wrote:
> Call me cheap, but $145 seems like a lot of money to pay for a
> glorified scratchpad. Yet Tinderbox seems to keep getting favorable
> notices in discussions on organizing information. Would any present
or
> past Tinderbox users like to discuss whether and why it's worth the
> cost?
>

As someone who has used Tinderbox extensively for the past few years,
I've written quite a bit about it. You can find most of what I've
written on my blog, at http://www.doug-miller.net/blog/tinderbox.html.

While there are a lot of outliners and "scratchpad" type of
applications available today, Tinderbox really exists in a realm of
it's own. Tinderbox is an application that can act like an
outliner...but also a mind-mapper, a database, a weblog authoring
system, a content management system, and much, much more. I often
compare Tinderbox with Photoshop - where PS is the reigning champ of
professional image editing applications, Tinderbox is the same on the
personal KM front. Both are amazingly powerful, both have extensive
learning curves, and both do so much more than is immediately apparent
from a first glance at the software.

If you're serious about learning how to use Tinderbox, you might want
to attend an upcoming Tinderbox Weekend. These are intensive training
sessions over the course of a weekend that can really help both new and
experienced Tinderbox users get even more out of the software. The
next session is in Boston on 2/12/05-2/13/05. Details are available at
http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/TbxWeekend.html.

Tinderbox is one of those pieces of software that once you "get" it,
you tend to live in it. I *always* have at least two, if not more
Tinderbox documents open. This software is definitely worth not just
the investment of $145 to buy it, but the time and effort you'll invest
in learning how to make it really do tricks.

Doug

Robert

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Dec 24, 2004, 11:17:34 AM12/24/04
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Arthur,

I am also moving into LaTeX again. I have been using tinderbox to
write, export as an html and then replacing html tags with latex tags
in BBEdit. For example, <h2>Heading</h2> changed to \section{Heading}.
However, I would greatly appreciate a better and faster way to do this,
so if anyone else is using tinderbox and LaTeX, please let me know how
you are using it.

Cheers
Robert

Doug Miller

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Dec 24, 2004, 2:48:13 PM12/24/04
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Robert,

Why not just write a Tinderbox export template that includes the
correct tagging? Take a look at some of the included HTML and text
export templates, as well as the Tinderbox manual to get a grasp of how
export codes work. Essentially, you can simply take the HTML export
template you're already using, and simply change <h2> to \section.

For example, I'm guessing you're using the name of the note itself for
the heading, so your current template says something like
<h2>^title^</h2>. Change this to \section^title^ and you should be
able to get what you're after. If you run into a snag contact me off
list and I'll see if I can give you a hand.
Doug
demiller[at]gmail dot com

Charles Starrett

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Jan 6, 2005, 3:57:45 AM1/6/05
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How about $95? Eastgate puts Tinderbox on sale every-so-often and this
week is one of those times. Check it out if you're interested:
http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/

fgrieser

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Jan 7, 2005, 3:00:33 AM1/7/05
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Thanks for the hint. I just ordered TB (I wanted to buy it anyway).
Franz

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