Tinderbox, a review by Carl Franz
Wednesday, April 3, 2002
Although I spend a lot of time in the wilderness, when I return to the Real World, I'm something of a closet geek, always looking for a better mousetrap and the perfect, "killer app". You may not share my fascination with computers and software, so go ahead, skip the next few paragraphs if you're not interested in a remarkable, revolutionary new tool for writers, researchers, and do-it-yourself web publishers.
One of the first chores I faced upon returning from the Copper Canyon was to find an efficient way to publish my latest travel reports and updated notes. If you've followed my efforts on this website before, you may know that last Autumn I made a heroic attempt to keep Carl's Mexico Notebook updated on a regular basis. To accomplish this, I spent an unhealthy amount of time mastering Blogger, a web-based method of "instantly" updating my online Notebook. Blogger was great... at least at first. After about a month, however, all of the archived material in my online Notebooks vanished into cyberspace. Blogger ran amok on me, and because it's developers could never clearly explain why, I had to pull the plug.
Life As An R. Crumb Cartoon
Have you ever sat in a room overflowing with notebooks, files, cabinets, in trays, computers, Zip disks and multicolored Post-It notes, and asked yourself... "Now what?" What good is all this information if I can't create something other than a huge housekeeping problem?
Since acquiring my first computer in the mid-Eighties, I've tried and rejected a variety of software. InfoSelect, StickyBrain, Ideakeeper, MaxThink.... they all promised to slice, dice, and totally organize information, but in the end, none of them fully met my needs.
A few weeks ago I stumbled across Tinderbox, the software that I'm using to publish this Notebook entry.
How do I describe Tinderbox? Imagine a highly intelligent file cabinet, stuffed with all of your notes, article references, ISBN numbers, images, URLs, to do lists, and miscellaneous brainstorms. Each of these is recorded into a Tinderbox "Note" -- you either type it directly into the Note, as I'm doing right now, or use standard computer methods: cut & paste, drag & drop, etc.
That's the simple part, now comes the fun.
Ideas and information tidbits don't exist in a vacumn... one leads to another, often by circuitous routes. When we use paper notes, however, the only way we have to link ideas together is with paperclips or staples. Cross-referencing helps, but that requires an extensive system of physical files, and someone to keep them updated when you suddenly decide that all of the entries for "Beaches" should be under "Mexico" instead of "Pacific Coast".
This is where Tinderbox shines. Using very simple tools, your Notes are quickly inter-linked in whatever way you consider logical. These linked Notes can then be searched, sorted, and rearranged, and then viewed as outlines, charts, trees, or maps. There is also an Explorer view, an HTML view, and something I haven't figured out yet, a Nakakoji view.
It gets better: when you want to re-order your notes, as I often do, Tinderbox automatically shuffles the links. This means that when I have a major brainwave and decide to refile all of my Tamale Recipes or Book Reviews under a different category, the software makes sure that all links within those notes to other notes remain valid.
There's much more to this program than I describe here, but it will take me some time to master features such as Agents, Attributes, Actions, Syndication, and others. In the meantime, the Tinderbox feature that has me staying up late at night is it's ability to easily publish my inter-linked notes to this website, and especially to Carl's Copper Canyon Notebook. If you've ever flirted with self-publishing on the WWW, you know how exciting... and frustrating... this process can be. Compared to everything else I've tried, Tinderbox really delivers. If you're a writer, student, teacher, researcher, or wannabe web publisher, this program is worth a second look.
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Copyright 1972 - 2002 by Carl Franz and Lorena Havens. Published
by Carl Franz on 4/3/02 using version 1.0
of Tinderbox for Macintosh.