Author Archives: Steve Zeoli

A look at a new favorite iPad app — Mindscope

The other day I learned about a new app for iPad called Mindscope. It sounded intriguing so I installed the free version and quickly decided to spend the $2.99 to upgrade to the full version.

Each workspace in Mindscope is called a board.

Each workspace in Mindscope is called a board. You can adjust the color scheme to suit your tastes.

Mindscope is a terrific app, elegant, easy to use, and incredibly useful. The developer calls it a “multi-level magnet board for your brain.” While that’s a perfectly accurate description of the app, it hardly does it justice. Mindscope has elements of a mind-mapper, outliner, personal wiki, and white board. Basically, you write short entries — from single words to phrases — and place these where you like on the screen via drag and drop. If you tap on a phrase, you drop into that topic where you can add sub-topics. This would be like a “hoist” in outliner parlance. (It is also reminiscent of how the much more sophisticated map views in Tinderbox work.)

So you can build complex outlines with Mindscope. But there’s more. The developer has included the ability to build grids on screen, which you can use to visually organize the topics at any level.

Add grid lines to your boards to organize your thoughts.

Add grid lines to your boards to organize your thoughts.

Because you can add lines and direction connectors between entries, you can build simple diagrams. You have to manually create each link, so this isn’t the most efficient platform for doing complex diagramming, but it is certainly satisfactory for down and dirty diagrams.

Create simple diagrams using Mindscope.

Create simple diagrams using Mindscope.

What makes a Mindscope diagram more powerful than some other diagramming apps is how each entry in the diagram can be the rabbit hole to another level, which can be a diagram, a table or just a list.

The export options are still a little rudimentary, but those that are available work well. To me the most important is getting the text out in a usable outline, and that works just fine. The export function works from any board and includes only that board and any sub-boards. The output is a nicely indented outline.

I used the copy command under the export menu in Mindscope to make a copy of the "Example" board above. Then pasted the result in NoteSuite.

I used the copy command under the export menu in Mindscope to make a copy of the “Example” board above. Then pasted the result in NoteSuite.

The developer includes a list of upcoming features and invites suggestions. Here are mine:

  • Add navigation keys to the keyboard to make it easier to edit an entry.
  • Allow users to save boards as templates for quickly setting up subsequent boards. For instance, if you set up a SWOT table with your own layout, you might want to use that over and over again without the hassle of setting it up each time.
  • Allow for distinguishing entries in some way other than just text size. For instance, with a little icon or with a color different than other entries in the same board. (Right now you can change color on a board by board basis, but not on an entry by entry basis.)

I’m sure there are other improvements that will become apparent as I use Mindscope, but I have to say that for a version 1 app, it is remarkably mature. Kudos to the developer. I look forward to using Mindscope for a number of different purposes and projects. In the meantime, if you’re interested, check out the video on the developer’s website, as it does a much better job of demonstrating how the app works than I’ve been able with my simple screen grabs.

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A quick look at Hanx Writer

You’d think it would be enough for Tom Hanks to have won two academy awards and be adored by everyone. Now he’s making software for the iPad.

When I first heard about this, I decided I had to take a look. The basic app is free, so I installed it, and much to my surprise I had a lot of fun typing on it. I even wrote most of this review in the thing.

The gimmick of Hanx Writer is that it mimics typing on an old-fashioned typewriter, like the one I wrote all my college papers on. The main way it does this is by keeping the cursor centered on the screen while the editor (looking like a sheet of paper) travels back and forth as you type. The keyboard is in disguise as old keys, and appear to be depressed as you type. The default type face is typewriter, of course, and looking as if you are in need of replacing the ribbon.

Hanx Writer successfully (mostly) recreates the look and feel of writing on an old-fashioned manual typewriter.

Hanx Writer successfully (mostly) recreates the look and feel of writing on an old-fashioned manual typewriter.

You can add pages to your documents, and access them through an interface that is reminiscent to Daedalus Touch:

Save your documents, and leaf through the pages in Hanx Writer.

Save your documents, and leaf through the pages in Hanx Writer.

After you are done composing your master work, you can send it off via e-mail, open it in other apps on you iPad, or do with it pretty much what many writing apps allow.

A few drawbacks:

  1. Using the touch screen to navigate the document and select text is challenging, as the auto-centering function makes the text a bit of a moving target.
  2. The app is missing the ability to add a period to your text by double-tapping the space bar.
  3. You pretty much are limited to plain text composition, although you can change text color to red or blue, and you can center your text.

Hanx Writer is free. But if you upgrade you can change the typewriter style, and you can change background colors and a few other frills.

I doubt this app will make me more productive, but it is a hoot to use.

Update: For a contrary view (and one I can fully appreciate), see this blog post by the mystery novelist David Hewson.

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Garner and Bacall

With the death of Lauren Bacall, one more member of the Hollywood elite has passed on. Was there ever a more beautiful actress?

The epitome of noir glamour!

The epitome of noir glamour!

I’ll always remember her guest appearance on The Rockford Files. She and James Garner made a great pairing.

James Garner and Lauren Bacall in an episode of The Rockford Files.

James Garner and Lauren Bacall in an episode of The Rockford Files.

Bacall always did like the rogues.

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Rest in peace, James Garner

Jim Rockford

I am very sorry to hear of the death of the great actor James Garner.

So who didn’t like to watch James Garner work on screen? The man seemed so at ease, so self assured, even when he was playing characters in audacious predicaments, as he so often did on Maverick and The Rockford Files. Garner was a hero who most often used his wits to win the day.

My favorite Garner film is The Great Escape, where he played the scrounger, Hendley, but that’s because of the film as a whole, which is a great story and jam-packed with terrific actors.  My favorite Garner film role is the title character in Murphy’s Romance, a sweet and tender film, where an older Garner falls for Sally Field’s single mother. I also have a soft spot for the Sunset, where Garner plays the aging Wyatt Earp and helps Bruce Willis as Tom Mix solve a murder in silent-film era Hollywood. It’s far from a great film, but it is great fun and Willis and Garner have terrific buddy chemistry.

But it is really as Jim Rockford that I’ll always remember James Garner. Among my top two or three favorite TV shows ever. I have the whole series on DVD. Watching it now, it feels dated because the pacing is deliberate, even slow, especially in the early seasons. But Jim Rockford is such an iconic character, and the quintessential private eye. The show was funny and the stories were intriguing. It was, however, James Garner who made the show an all-time classic. As Jimmy Joe Meeker might say, he just fit that character like a hound dog wears its fur.

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Quick Tinderbox 6 highlight – Adornment Table

[July 8, 2014: Updated with a quick "how to" screen capture at the end.]

I just uncovered another great little feature inherent to Tinderbox 6. You can now add columns and rows to a map adornment.

Add rows and columns to an adornment in Tinderbox 6 so you can make a nice clean table of your notes.

Add rows and columns to an adornment in Tinderbox 6 so you can make a nice clean table of your notes.

An adornment is a background feature of maps in Tinderbox, which allow you to fence off or corral specific notes. I was just trying to work out what note-management systems are truly cross-platform. So far I’ve come up with four (note the empty sixth row, just waiting for another entry — please suggest). Anyway, this isn’t an earth shaking feature, but it sure feels handy.

To see more posts about Tinderbox, check in on my Tinderbox index page.

Update:

Here’s how to access the grid properties for an adornment:

To add a grid to your adornment, first select the adornment. This will show the little grid icon. Click that and the Grid Properties dialog opens.

To add a grid to your adornment, first select the adornment. This will show the little grid icon. Click that and the Grid Properties dialog opens.

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Great resource for getting the hang of Tinderbox

This is just a quick post to direct interested readers to Tinderbox guru Mark Anderson’s series of informational screen captures (using the terrific Clarify app) to help people learn Tinderbox. Check it out here.

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Quick Tinderbox 6 highlight – Chart View

I have not been able to write about Tinderbox 6 primarily because I have not had the time to really immerse myself in the upgrade to feel comfortable with a long or detailed discussion. However, there is one new feature that caught my attention, and about which I am very intrigued. The new Chart View shows your notes in a horizontal outline format, similar to the way Ginko or Tree perform. Here are a couple of screenshots to demonstrate what I mean:

Tinderbox 6 outline view.

Tinderbox 6 outline view.

A close-up detail of a section of Tinderbox 6 in chart view.

A close-up detail of a section of Tinderbox 6 in chart view.

With Tinderbox 6 you now can work in a single window, with access to various open views via the tabs along the top. You can see how I’ve switched between the standard outline view and the chart view of the same document using the tabs. The first screenshot shows Tinderbox’s more standard outline view. The second screenshot shows the same outline in chart view. Note the little disclosure triangles. Click them to show the child notes. Click the circles to hide child notes. (I’ve noticed a few minor glitches in chart view, which I expect to be ironed out in the near future.)

This, of course, is just the very tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to uncover in Tinderbox 6, and I hope to get there one of these days when I have the time to really concentrate on it.

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Some thoughts about FoldingText

FoldingText is a plain text productivity tool with some muscle.

FoldingText is a plain text productivity tool with some muscle.

FoldingText is an innovative text editor for Mac created by Jesse Grosjean of Hog Bay Software. It is kind of a mashup between a markdown editor and an outliner, with a few other functions mixed in. It has several interesting and even tantalizing features, but also some significant limitations.

[See new addendum at the end of this post.]

[June 17, 2014 update: See Rob Trew's comment and my reply for information on how to fold and hide lists in FoldingText.]

Reminiscent of GrandView

If you’ve followed my writing about outliners much, you may recall that I am a huge fan of a defunct DOS outliner called GrandView, which remains the best piece of software I’ve ever used, even two decades after it was abandoned and never ported to Windows.

One of the things I liked about GV is the remarkable flexibility in how you can view your documents:

  • View just the headings in your outline
  • View the headings with the associated text in one window
  • View some of the headings without text and some with
  • Focus in on just the text of a single heading

This flexibility allows you to zoom in for focussed work on a specific topic or to zoom out for seeing the big picture, which I think is essential for crisp, clear writing.

FoldingText's ability to focus in on a topic with its associated text is reminiscent of GrandView for DOS.

FoldingText’s ability to focus in on a topic with its associated text is reminiscent of GrandView for DOS.

FoldingText gives you this same flexibility, albeit in a stripped down package. There were many other features in GrandView not present in FoldingText.

So how does it work?

With FoldingText you use markdown to establish a heading, starting the line with one or more hashtags. The fewer the hashtags, the higher up in the hierarchy is the heading.

FoldingText then adds a little magic to these symbols. Click on them and you can hide any lower-level material including the text associated with that heading. For instance, in the screenshot below, I had clicked on the two hashtags leading the heading “So how does it work?” and the paragraph disappears. If this heading had child headings, they too would be hidden.

Click the hashtags again, or the boxed-ellipses at the end of the heading to reveal the hidden material.

The focussed mode can be accessed by selecting FOCUS from the VIEW menu.

You can hide or reveal text and child headings by click on the hashtags.

You can hide or reveal text and child headings by click on the hashtags.

You can add ordered an unordered lists the same way you do in most markdown enabled editors:

  1. starting a line with a number for ordered lists
  • with a hyphen for unordered lists.

You can also add bold face and italic formatting with typical markdown (wrapping text in “**” for bold and “_” for italic. When you add those markers to the text, you see them as long as your cursor is within the affected text. When you move the cursor off the text, the markers hide and you just see the formatted text. Same is true of the list markers. I like that behavior, because I find markdown in the text to be distracting.

As an outliner

Other behavior that emulates an outliner includes the ability to move items in, out, up, and down using the arrow keys in combination with CONTROL and OPTION. Child headings are retained when you move a parent heading.

While behaving a lot like an outliner (folding, hoisting, reorganizing in branches), FoldingText isn’t really practical for heavy-duty outlining tasks due to the fact that headings are not indented. In fact, because you designate a heading’s level by the number of hashtags at the start, you end up with a kind of reverse indenting, or outdenting, as depicted below:

Hashtags denote the level of the heading. The more hashtags, the lower the level.

Hashtags denote the level of the heading. The more hashtags, the lower the level.

This paradigm works okay for shallow hierarchies, but gets cumbersome and confusing with deep levels and lots of headings. Although you can get a clearer, indented view of your headings via the FOCUS HEADING command under the VIEW menu (see screenshot below).

To get a visual outline for your document, you can select "Focus Heading" from the VIEW menu, which also allows you to navigate to a focussed view of any selected heading.

To get a visual outline for your document, you can select “Focus Heading” from the VIEW menu, which also allows you to navigate to a focussed view of any selected heading.

Add tags to categorize your information

A tag is any text following the “@” symbol.

The value of tagging in FoldingText is that through a process called “Node Paths,” you can filter out all non-related material when you click on the grayed out tag.

Clicking on a tag (any text following an @ sign) filters your document so you see just those items with that tag.

Clicking on a tag (any text following an @ sign) filters your document so you see just those items with that tag.

To do list ala Modes

FoldingText also provides a funky little functionality called “modes.” Right now there are just two modes, but I believe more are planned. Here is an example:

The .todo mode allows you to build dynamic checklists in FoldingText.

The .todo mode allows you to build dynamic checklists in FoldingText.

Just add the .todo extension to the end of a line introducing a checklist, then create an unordered list (i.e. start the line with a hyphen) and FoldingText automatically changes the hyphen to a checkbox. As you can see from the example above, when you check off an item, the done tag is added with the date as the value.

The other mode is timer, (.timer) which adds the time for each subsequent item in the list and tallies the total time.

While I can see how the .todo mode could be useful, .timer mode just seems weird to me. I’m not saying it couldn’t be useful, just that if feels out of place in this app. That might just be me.

Exporting your work

One of my complaints about version 1.0 of FoldingText was the limited options for exporting my work. Now I wonder if I just missed that function, because it is available in version 2.0, just not in the place you would normally check. To export your FoldingText document in RFT or HTML formats, you select it (or the parts you want), then select the appropriate format under EDIT> COPY menus. This works quite nicely as you can see from my HTML export into WordPress.

What to make of FoldingText?

I don’t know if I’ll ever use FoldingText seriously or extensively. It is addictive and fun. And its uncluttered interface is very appealing. But is it powerful enough to take on serious jobs? What niche will it fill in the crowded productivity software world? If there are other, more powerful applications that do the same things (and there are), why would I choose FoldingText?

Sadly, I don’t feel a whole lot closer to answering those questions. There are people for whom FoldingText’s balance of ultimate simplicity with just the right amount of power features will be appealing. Others will look to a range of more powerful applications.

One factor that is a serious limitation, I think, is the lack of a tablet app counterpart. Most people want to be able to do this kind of work on their iPad or even iPhone. Jesse Grosjean abandoned his iPad apps a few months ago, making them open source, so I would not hold my breath waiting for the FT for iOS.

I’m going to continue to play around with FoldingText and see if it grows into an important software tool. If it does, I’ll be sure to write more about it.

[Late addition on June 8]

Further thoughts on FoldingText

If FoldingText is going to be a productive environment for me, it will have to be as the front end of a work flow. It could be a good place to take notes at a meeting, hash out a plan or a story plot, write a blog posting. But then the content has to go somewhere else. Because FoldingText does not provide any solution for managing your collective documents or mining those documents for information or relating that information across documents.

I could, I suppose, keep all my information in FT (don’t know if it has a practical limit on file size) sort of the way Workflowy or Cotton Notes are intended to work. But it really isn’t built that way. Navigating a very long FT document would be quite cumbersome. I could use the tag system to add bookmarks for finding my way deep into my information, but that doesn’t feel very efficient.

What would be an ideal set up is having the functionality of FoldingText available in the editor of a full-fledged note manager like Evernote or DevonThink. And it would be killer cool in a journal app like DayOne.

Categories: Software | Tags: | 11 Comments

Tinderbox 6 now available

Got an e-mail announcement today from Mark Bernstein of Eastgate Systems announcing the availability of version 6 of Tinderbox:

Tinderbox Six is the largest and most significant update, ever. Each facet of the program has been re-imagined and re-implemented: text is gorgeous, maps are beautiful, outlines are buttery smooth, and agents never make you wait while they work. There’s an entirely new view, the Attribute Browser, that you’re going to love. There’s built-in support for maps and ISBNs, for Twitter and speech and for notifications.

In fact, there’s too much news to explain it all here. There will be a new space in The Tinderbox Forum just for your Tinderbox Six Questions. We’ll be writing again next week with some highlights, but as you explore Tinderbox Six, you’ll find dozens of new features that make Tinderbox easier and more powerful to use.

I’ve been tinkering with Tinderbox 6 for the past few weeks, as I broke down to get one of the “backstage passes” that gave me early access to the new version. However, I’ve been too busy to put it to much of a test, but I hope to soon.

Meanwhile, here’s a teaser screenshot of the new interface:

Tinderbox 6 has a whole new look and way of dealing with maps and outlines.

Tinderbox 6 has a whole new look and way of dealing with maps and outlines.

You can download a demo, but as I write this the Tinderbox website does not seem to be completely updated with information about the new version. And here is a link to information about the new features.

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That was short-lived! My Office 365 experiment.

I’ve been a long time fan of Microsoft OneNote, getting my copy when it first came out in 2003 and upgrading through OneNote 2010. But since I switched to Macs for my personal use, I had more or less stopped using OneNote for much, even on my office Windows PC. When Microsoft released a version for Mac, I was initially excited and then quickly skeptical.

But I remained intrigued by the possibility of having OneNote not only on my PC and Mac, but also my iPad. So about a week ago I decided to subscribe to Office 365. It seemed the best way to fully take advantage of OneNote. I thought, if this works, I won’t need Evernote or TheBrain any longer, and will at last be able to consolidate a lot of my information management.

Once the subscription was in place, I was able to install the entire Office Suite onto my PC and my Mac. These bloated programs worried me a little, but they are also standards in the industry, so I figured they were just a bonus. Right away I found the flat, mono-toned interface of the Windows Office very bland and actually hard on the eyes. But I took to OneNote right away and started using it constantly.

I went into this knowing that the Mac version was limited in features, but I didn’t realize that it was missing one of the most basic of requirements: password protection. You can selectively password protect sections in the Windows version, but if you try to open those sections on your Mac, you find yourself locked out with no way in. This seems unconscionable in an app that forces you to store your data in the cloud. But worse, even after I removed password protection from the section in question, I still could not open it on the Mac. I contacted Microsoft tech support to learn an answer. After 5 minutes of chatting, which started off promising, I was told that I was in the Windows tech area and that I needed to chat with a Mac tech rep, hold on a moment. Twenty minutes later I was finally told that all the Mac reps were busy and I was given a phone number to call.

Instead, I went back to the support website and found someone who could cancel my Office 365 subscription and refund my money. Ironically, this person was very helpful and within 10 minutes I had my refund (well, I was told I had my refund; I guess I won’t know it until I check my credit card statement).

Obviously, this was a very disappointing experience. I wanted it to work. I wanted to make OneNote my go to data application. Maybe in a year or two, after Microsoft has had a chance to actually turn the Mac version into something that is worthy of use, then I will revisit this plan.

In the meantime, I’ll be sticking with my current, more cumbersome solution and continuing my pursuit of the perfect information manager.

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