Any Tinderbox or TheBrain users here?

I am a big, albeit oft-frustrated, fan of TheBrain (for more than 20 years, off and on) and more recently, and more frustratingly, of Tinderbox. Both stretch databases and note-taking into interesting new directions, especially if you're a visual thinker. And while both feel 'old' in terms of interface (and are old, in terms of lifespan) they could both, arguably be seen as standard bearers for the modern revival of interest in 'artisanal' software that allows knowledge workers to assemble and dissect their thoughts, notes and projects in a way that other apps rarely do.

I'd be interested if others use these apps. I am a frequenter of the forums for these apps but would prefer to hear from folk who have a different perspective.

#folk #Notes #Play #Evernote
AndyDentPerth's avatar
2 years ago

Time to confess a guilty secret I've had for years.

I really should be someone who loves Tinderbox and uses it regularly.

I love graphs and visual layout of thinking. I sketch box-and-arrow diagrams on paper when I'm thinking stuff out.

I used multiple outlining products before Tinderbox came along (yeah, I'm that old).

I'm even an expert in XML and complex data processing.

But, for some weird reason, I still don't find myself turning to it on a regular basis. You're guilting me into giving it another try, or stopping paying the annual renewal.

It's hard to work out why I don't use Tinderbox. I think I may have lost the habit when I worked exclusively in Windows in a day job for over 3 years (programming 3D CAD). However, I now pretty much live on a battered old Mac so that's not an excuse.

OK, I'll take this as a usability challenge to try to observe my thinking and reactions and work out what's happening!

Considering what I currently do, it's a mixture.

For simple nested lists, I just write Markdown documents or nested lists in Evernote (which is where I write a lot ).

For actual graph diagrams, whether semi-formal UML or informal ones, I use an auto-layout engine called GraphViz often via

I have an article to write in my backlog to explain this in a lot more detail. For now, I'll just quickly say it lets me compose diagrams using a simple text format. These are checked into the source code alongside my normal source. Tiny changes in a diagram show up very easily in a diff just like minor changes in source code, regardless of the amount of visual change. This is a huge time-saver when you're looking back at a design.


!include handDrawnStyle.iuml

state "__Compact Menu__" as CP
CP : Start TouchMeme mode
CP : Start normal Composer
CP : Goto list of Faves

state "__TouchMeme Preview__" as TMM 
TMM : Take Photo
TMM : Pick from Camera Roll
TMM : Pick existing photo
TMM : Play

state "__TouchMeme Text Editor__" as TME 
TME : Pick text box
TME : Enter Text
TME : Change text fill 
TME : Change text outline 
TME : Change font

state "__Standard Typography Dialog__" as Type : Choose font details

state "__Color Picker__" as Col : Pick a color

state "__Play Screen__" as Play
Play : Send
Play : Add to Faves
Play : Play it again (Sam)

state "__Tool Commands__" as TC
TC : Add a sensor/action pair to Meme page
TC : Add a new page

CP -d-> TMM
TMM -r-> TME
TME -d-> Type
TME -> Col
TMM -d-> TC
TMM -u-> Play
Play -> TMM
Play -l-> CP : collapse

4 points
AndyDentPerth's avatar
2 years ago

Here's the design generated by the above impossible to read text. (Something's going drastically wrong with the markdown rendering of code blocks on Capiche.)


1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @AndyDentPerth )
2 years ago

Hey @AndyDentPerth, thanks for sharing your process, that's fascinating you're building database designs with Markdown!

Looks like the code is rendering ok now—though would be nice eventually to get syntax highlighting added!

1 point
AndyDentPerth's avatar
@AndyDentPerth (replying to @maguay )
2 years ago

You just reminded me of a rather ironic tale. I used the graphviz diagram generator to generate actual database diagrams in my LevelDB book. Unfortunately, I revised one of the diagrams, which was completely wrong. Packt screwed up big time. The revised diagram was in the galley proofs I OK'd but the printed and ebook contained the original. I was particularly infuriated that they claimed their process wouldn't even let them fix the eBook. It kind of spoils the most important chapter in the book. (Which is my reminder I really should restore the lost site which had the correction, for the odd few people who buy the book.)

1 point
loosewire's avatar
@loosewire (replying to @AndyDentPerth )
2 years ago

@AndyDentPerth thanks for this, and apologies the belated reply. Really interesting. I used the GraphViz engine in OmniGraffle back in the day, and since then in InstaViz on iOS (which looks pretty moribund). I've not mastered the text method, but it seems that Roam is embracing that, if not with GraphViz then with other engines. I love the way it finds the optimal layout itself; to me this is a huge advantage, often helping to solve a problem I hadn't been able to solve myself.

I totally understand the Tinderbox trajectory you mention. It both rewards and punishes effort, I find: there's lots of interesting use cases for it but the interface is maddening and I find I often hit brick walls or unpredictable behaviours that make me feel I've gone down a rabbit hole.

2 points
AndyDentPerth's avatar
@AndyDentPerth (replying to @loosewire )
2 years ago

@loosewire InstaViz is a blast from the past! Glen Low, the author, is a friend of mine from Perth. He picked up a job at Apple starting in 2017.

We had lunch late in 2016 before he moved to CA where he talked about possibly selling it to me but later changed his mind as he had permission from Apple to do bugfixes.

My diary from that day includes his comment that the Graphviz team now mostly retired, code fairly stable but a few bugs picked up by recent LLVM analyser.

1 point
AndyDentPerth's avatar
@AndyDentPerth (replying to @maguay )
2 years ago

Thanks @maguay for the quick fix to the markdown.

That's (a part of) the app workflow. I use Doxygen, which is more often associated with C++ code documentation. It lets me have markdown pages which contain these PlantUML diagrams in them and generate a set of design docs. I also have more traditional state-transitions used to work out some of the more complex UI flows.

1 point
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