Creating a new note from Hyperbolic View in Tinderbox 8

After reading my first posting about Tinderbox 8’s Hyperbolic View, someone asked if you can create a new note within that view. The answer is, “Yes you can.”

 

As the screencast above shows, you just drag from the existing note you want to link from to an empty spot on the screen and let go of the mouse button. A dialog box opens in which you can provide a name for the new note. And presto: new note.

Being Tinderbox, this isn’t without a little squirrelly drama. First of all, as you drag from the existing note (as you can see in the screencast) a link line appears leading from nowhere. Ignore that or just see it as an indicator the process is working. After creating your new note and switching back to Map View you might be horrified at first to find that all your links have disappeared (again, as you can see in the screencast). But don’t worry. The links are still there. Just select a different note and all the links reappear. (I am using Tinderbox 8.0, so it is possible that these glitches will be erased in future releases.)

As far as I’ve been able to discern, you can’t add text or any other attributes to the new note in Hyperbolic View.

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New Tinderbox 8 feature: Filtered Outlines

Outline View in Tinderbox.

I recently provided a demonstration of the new Hyperbolic View in Tinderbox 8. In this post I want to take a quick look at another new version 8 feature called Filtered Outlines.

From the Tinderbox Help File:

Outlines may be filtered, allowing you to see only those notes that meet a specified criterion. For example, you could show only notes created in the last month, or only notes that mention “Roosevelt”, or only notes that received a grade of A or A-. These notes and their ancestors will appear in the filtered outline; all other notes will be hidden.

It is a simple concept and very easy to implement. Using the same Zombie Entertainment document, I made this screencast of the process:

 

Of course you have to be in Outline View to use this feature. Just choose Use Filter from the View menu. In the Filter Tab, enter the expression you want to search for. In the screencast, I search for $Prototype==”$Proto:TV”.

Detail from a Tinderbox 8 outline showing the Filtered View tab.

When you invoke a filter only the notes that match the criteria (either themselves or because they are containers with notes that match the criteria) will remain on the screen. Dismiss the Filtered View tab to clear the filter and show all the notes again.

This isn’t unlike selected #Tags in an app like Dynalist, but because Tinderbox notes can have a multitude of attributes to filter on, this is potentially more powerful.

UPDATE: A reader, Paul, who had trouble getting into the comments area, left this comment on the outlinersoftware.com forum:

Nice post, Steve. Thank you. You might want to mention the second half of the filtered view feature: if you click the gear icon to the right of the filter parameter box you can save the filter. Saving is local to the document you are working on. In a different outline tab, or the same, you can then click the gear again and use a saved filter.

Hyperbolic View in Tinderbox 8

The new Hyperbolic View adds a great new dimension to viewing your notes in Tinderbox 8. (Please note, this document of Zombie Entertainment is not intended as a comprehensive analysis of the genre. It is for demonstration purposes only.)

One of the featured new additions to Tinderbox 8 is something called Hyperbolic View. I had no idea what this was or how to use it. But there is a nice, short introduction to Hyperbolic View in the Tinderbox Help file. Here is a screen capture demonstration of how it works:

 

There are a few things to be aware of. As the Help File states:

The hyperbolic view (View Hyperbolic) shows notes that are linked to or from a specific note — the focus note. The initial focus note is the selected note when the view was activated.

So you need to have links among your notes for Hyperbolic View to do anything. AND you need to have a note selected when you switch to HV, otherwise you’ll get a befuddling single diagram block with the name of your Tinderbox document and nothing else.

Also, HV seems to have a little problem making the link between the Focused Note and the first one to the left. You can see it come and go as I alter the settings for HV in the demonstration screencast.

Hyperbolic View keeps the central notes enlarged, and shrinks the notes on the edges. As you scroll around in the view and when you change the Focused Note, Tinderbox alters the way the rest of the diagram blocks look.

This is the Map View of the Zombie Entertainment document shown in Hyperbolic View in the top screen capture.

What it also does is flatten the hierarchy. In the Map View of this demonstration, I have a container called “Remakes.” There are two notes in there which have a link coming from George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead.” In the Hyperbolic View, those notes are yanked from the cozy container and displayed with all the other linked notes in the document.

I think it is evident that the more complex the network of notes in your document, the more valuable Hyperbolic View will be.

Update: There is a control in the control bar above the Hyperbolic View window called “Highlight.” Click on it and you will see a list of Link types (both the ones that are pre-installed and any that you’ve created). I expected that selecting one of the link types would highlight those links. However, nothing seems to actually happen when I select a link type, except the diagram changes sizes, but to no useful effect that I can see. Perhaps I’m missing something, or perhaps this a partially baked feature.

Tinderbox 8 is now available

It came out of the blue (as far as I am concerned). But Tinderbox 8 is now available. Here is the list of major new features:

  • Hyperbolic Views let you explore complex link networks
  • Filtered Outlines help you focus your attention
  • Maps are faster, more elegant, and more responsive
  • Brainstorm even more quickly: just drag a link to an empty space to create a new linked note
  • Tinderbox is now scriptable and cooperates even more smoothly with even more tools.
  • Faster. Sleeker. Better.

I have no idea what “Hyperbolic Views” does. But I look forward to using the new brainstorming feature.

Quick and easy Dynalist to Tinderbox export

One of the limitations of Tinderbox is that it is only accessible from your MacOS device. If, like me, you spend most of your work day on a Windows PC, it can mean leaving Tinderbox out of your “workflow.” But there is a quick and easy way to make notes on a PC (or almost any device with a browser), and then import them into Tinderbox.

One of the export options in Dynalist is OPML, so that’s what we’ll use:

  1. Create your Dynalist outline. Use whatever hierarchy structure you choose. You can even add notes to each bullet item.
  2. Open the export dialog. Choose the OPML option.
  3. Select and copy the text.
  4. Open the Tinderbox file you want to add your notes to, and paste it.

This video demonstrates the simple process:

Dynalist to Tinderbox from Stephen Zeoli on Vimeo.

It’s far from rocket science, but can be a handy way to connect what you do in Dynalist with your work in Tinderbox. I haven’t tried going from Tinderbox to Dynalist, but something tells me it isn’t quite as simple.

This same process works in Workflowy, and I imagine any app that can export to an OPML file.

For more Tinderbox tips, see here.

“Personal” Computing 1.0

A thread over at the outlinersoftware.com forum got me thinking about my computing past. I’ve been using personal computers for almost four decades now. Crazy. Most everything about computing has changed over that time, except that I was always fascinated by how computers can help us manage our information.

This looks a lot like my first personal computer. (Photo credit: oldcomputers.net)

Early on I had a tense relationship with computers. The first time I ever touched one was in the last semester of my senior year of college. We had a senior seminar that was supposed to be about how we could go about becoming a professional in the career we were studying. Instead, the brain trust of the department realized they were about to spurt out a class of graduates who had never had any computer training. This was 1978. Personal computing was only just barely a blip and I was completely oblivious to it. The computer we were “trained” on was a mainframe, and the keyboards and CRT monitors were merely workstations. We were really not trained at all, just given rote instructions on what keystrokes were necessary. I suspect we were working in Cobalt or something like it. Our work was spit out on that light green and white paper that was next to impossible to read. In short, this was an utter waste of time that only made me think that computers were unapproachable for me.

The next time I laid my fingers on a computer, it was on another mainframe workstation. I had just gotten a job with a sporting goods manufacturer. I was to use the computer to place orders. I was terrified that I’d hit the wrong button and shut the whole thing down. Luckily, I had a coworker who was much more comfortable with the computer than I was, so I didn’t have to give myself a nervous breakdown. I ended up shifting from the outlet store to the marketing department, where I was the copywriter, among other things. I did most of my writing in the early days on an IBM Selectric typewriter, rolling out sheets of copy that the art department spec’d and sent out to a typesetter, who returned it looking more or less like it would when they placed it onto the paste boards. A break through came when the company bought a typesetting machine for the art folks. This was another type of computer dedicated to one task. I was trained to enter my copy into the typesetter, adding the codes that would flow out the text the way the art people wanted. Around this same time, the IBM personal computer was introduced and I was one of the very first people in the company to get one. At first my old terror returned. What the hell was I supposed to do with this thing? The hard drive hadn’t quite arrived in the PC world yet. But my machine had two floppy drives, one for the software and one for the data. It didn’t take me long to become acquainted with Word Star, the word processing application I wrote with. Pretty soon my copy and press releases were spewing forth on the new fangled dot matrix printer on my desk. 

I was hooked.

I took out a personal loan to purchase a Compaq Portable. It looked like a portable sewing machine. The keyboard formed the cover of the unit and dropped down to reveal the half-sized CRT monitor and two floppy drives. I bought Word Star and a flat-file database. One of the first things I did was transcribe the list of books I had read into the database from the notebook in which I’d been recording my reading. (That original set of data has travelled with me through various export formats and is currently living in Airtable.) 

When an Egghead Software store opened in my town (dangerously, it was a mere four miles from my home), I was a frequent browser. Each piece of software on the shelves was like a passport to a new world of computing. Writing and productivity apps appealed to me most. I remember one application (we didn’t call them apps back then) named Sidekick promised a bunch of benefits, including a calculator, calendar and — most miraculously — the ability to copy some text in one program and paste it into another. 

Sidekick 2.0 was a revolutionary piece of software when it was released. (Image source: winworldpc.com)

I was given newer and faster machines at work. I remember when I first ran the 386 machine with 100 mb hard drive. The text on the monitor was orange, as if emulating the flames of its blazingly fast handling of the large DOS spreadsheets I was now working with in Quattro, from Borland, the same company that made Sidekick.

By the end of the 1980s, I had become the head of the marketing department at the company. We purchased a 486 machine for the department, on which we would run a new application called PageMaker. Created for the Macintosh, PageMaker had to run on DOS PCs in a shell called Windows. It was clumsy, but it was clear to see that so-called desktop publishing was going to completely change the way our art department worked. 

I left the company to move to Vermont, where I got a job in the marketing department at a college. We still had DOS machines and farmed out the layout of the catalogs and other literature to a local designer. I remember the designer used PageMaker, but was still a real neophyte. If there was a font spec change, she would manually apply it to every piece of text in that font throughout the whole document. I showed her how to use styles, and I think I was her hero for a while.

The epitome of the DOS era for me was the discovery of the outliner GrandView. To this day, I think GrandView is the best app I’ve ever used. You can read about it in this post I did several years ago. When Windows finally took a death hold on the PC world, GrandView became an antique. Much of my computing life in the 25 years since then, I think, has been a search for a GrandView replacement.

The App Store’s Regression

I had to resist titling this post “The Crap Store,” because I hate the Mac App Store. I never was a big fan, but it has mostly gotten worse. For example, I read one of their so-called articles about the app BBEdit, now this is what I see when I open the App Store:

Two or three OS iterations ago I could switch to my favorite category, Productivity, and sort by release date to browse all the new productivity apps. Can’t do that any more. Here’s what the “Productivity” category looks like today:

I want to be able to find new apps, not the same list of Top Paid or Top Free apps. I’m not a fucking sheep that wants to follow the herd. Give me green grass!

It’s almost like Apple wants to stifle innovation… or more likely force developers to pay them for prominent position in the store.

So, whenever it is an option, I’ve started to buy directly from the developer instead of going through the App Store, which is probably what most enlightened users have been doing all along.

Digital whiplash!

So, remember when I made the bold statement that I had chosen Todoist over TickTick as my task manager app? Well, nevermind.

I’ve switched back to TickTick. Here are the reasons:

One of the key factors for me in sticking with an information application is how it feels after I’ve populated it with lots of data. Todoist seemed fine to me before I started stuffing my tasks and projects into it. Then it began to feel nebulous and unstructured. Note, I said “feel.” Todoist obviously structures my work, but it began to look like a swarm to me. TickTick has a tidier UI. The menu of lists is in one panel on the left. The list of tasks is in the center panel. And the task meta-data in a panel on the right. And that leads me to the second reason.

With a large notes area, TickTick mimics a standard two-pane note manager: Click on the item and see the notes. Todoist has no notes panel at all, instead relying on comments to add “notes” to a task. To view those notes you need to click on the comment bubble icon. And then the notes are granular. That’s useful if you want to distinguish between different commenters, but isn’t very helpful for quickly scanning notes relevant to the task. Compare the screenshots below:

To add “notes” to Todoist, you have to append comments.

TickTick gives you a more traditional notes panel.

One of the features that gave Todoist the edge in my previous evaluation is that I could nest projects. I like that, but it proved less important than I thought it would. In fact, it added to the nebulous feel of Todoist. I will need to be diligent about archiving lists in TickTick when I am done with them in order to keep the clutter to a manageable degree.

There are, of course, other advantages of Todoist that I will miss. One of these is that it integrates with Trello via an app called Pleexy. That is a nice option, but one I wasn’t taking full advantage of. Also, Todoist provides many ways to transfer data from one app into Todoist. That is probably a more significant feature I will miss. But I can email tasks into TickTick, and I can use PopClip on my Mac.

So far, it has been about a week since I switched back, and TickTick is working well. I am hopeful I won’t be reporting next month about the new task manager in my workflow.

Dynalist for Bullet Journaling

I mentioned in my overview article about Dynalist that I keep my digital bullet journal using the app. In this follow-up article, I will be discussing a few specifics about how and why I’ve chosen Dynalist for this purpose.

Note: The Bullet Journal system was developed by Ryder Carroll. I believe it is a trademark of his, so I will try to respect it as such. Whether you choose to use a paper journal, as Ryder suggests, or some digital solution as I am writing about, I do highly recommend you read Ryder’s book, The Bullet Journal Method.

Bullet journaling

If you’re not familiar with bullet journaling, I recommend you can read about it here. The concept is very interesting. It is one of the few information management systems that really has connected with me.

The key aspects of bullet journaling (in my view) are as follows:

Rapid logging. This means being able to quickly record key information, whether that’s a phone number you need to remember, a task you need to attend to, an action you may want to reference in the future — really any information you feel you might want to remember later. 

Visual cues. Being able to scan your entries and quickly determine what each is: Note, Task or Event; and signifiers which provide some additional information about the entry — is it important, is it inspirational, does it need some additional information.

Organizing by date. A bullet journal is a running list of notes, but they are organized by date to help you find them, and to place them in some context.

There are many other optional things you can do to organize your bullet journal, but the above three are the ones most important to me. Some of the others — such as an index, future log, monthly pages — are part of the reason I have difficulty maintaining a paper bullet journal. But having a digital journal eliminates the need for those.

Dynalist

I won’t spend any time explaining why Dynalist is a solid place for my bullet journal. I hope that will be revealed as I describe my process. 

Creating the date entries

The foundation of a digital bullet journal is setting up your dates. You can, of course, manually do this, but that would be very tedious. Fortunately, there is a nifty little free app available that will create plain text files with the months and days of any given year broken out with tab indents. It is a Windows app called Automatic Diary Generator. You can find it here.

You may need to experiment a little to get it to output in a format that works for you.

If you are Mac exclusive, I can send you a text file of the current year. Just send me an email requesting the file and put “2019 Diary” in the subject line.

Once you have the text file the way you want it, open it in a text editor, copy all the text, create a new document (outline) in Dynalist with the title of your bullet journal then paste the text into the new outline.

The screencast below demonstrates how to do this and what the result is.

Mimicking the notebook page

The photo below shows a sample list of entries for March 23:

Per the Bullet Journal system, small dot bullets designate tasks. An X through the bullet means the task is complete. Hyphens designate a note. An asterisk signifies that the entry is more important.

The screen shot at the start of this article shows how I replicated the same information from the paper notebook in Dynalist. Instead of the asterisks, I used color to mark the important entries. I could have used a tag (#important), and then I could filter the entire bullet journal for just important entries.

Linking to “collection” pages

One of the suggested uses of a bullet journal is creating “collection” pages. These are lists of notes related to a specific topic that it will be more efficient to keep together than spread through out your journal. Dynalist works great for creating collections, and using the hyperlink feature means that you can easily reference a collection on a specific day in your journal. The screencast below demonstrates this process:

Summing it up

There are many other ways to adapt the Bullet Journal Method to Dynalist. But the beauty of bullet journaling is its flexibility. Everyone can make it their own. I hope that in this post I’ve given a starting point for how Dynalist can be used for creating a bullet journal.

But I will also say this: Using a paper notebook is probably even better if you can do so. It pulls you away from the noise and distraction of your computer. I’ve managed to maintain a paper journal from time to time, but I have had to be honest with myself. A digital journal — especially using Dynalist — just works better for me.

Dynalist — one of my workhorse apps

Dynalist is a cloud-based outlining app that I rely upon heavily.

Dynalist is a cloud-based outlining app that I’ve come to rely upon daily. It isn’t all that flashy, so I tend to use it, but not think much about it. But it is so useful, it deserves a post from me.

Because it is an outliner first and foremost, Dynalist is extremely versatile. I use it for planning, making lists, keeping a list of key contacts, and even first drafts of some writing projects (such as this one). The main purpose I use Dynalist for is as my digital bullet journal. I will describe this process in an upcoming posting.

What I like about Dynalist

It’s a solid outlining app

My base requirement for an outliner is that it gets out of the way as I’m creating and structuring the content. Dynalist meets this requirement (if it didn’t, I wouldn’t use it). It also offers Zooming, which allows me to focus on sub-levels of an outline without the distraction of the rest of the content.

Inline notes

Any heading in Dynalist can have a note included, which is viewable inline; that is, as part of the outline and not in a separate window.

Lots of ways to categorize the content

Different projects and purposes require different ways of organizing. Dynalist has a multitude of ways to organize my outlines and the content within them.

Folders and documents. Unlike in Workflowy, for example, I can create folders in Dynalist to keep the various topics and purposes of my outlines (what Dynalist calls documents) where they belong with other related outlines. And I can nest folders for deeper organization

Tags. I can add hashtags to list items, then filter for those hashtags universally or on an document by document basis. (This is a Pro subscription feature.)

Color-labeling. I can color code my entries, which is useful in my bullet journal for visually distinguishing between my work entries and others.

Formatting. I can format items as one of three heading levels. This feature could be improved by allowing some customization of the formats of the headings (i.e. underlining or colors). I can also format using markdown.

Checklists. I can set any item to have a checkbox, so I can easily see what items are tasks and what are notes. One failing here is that for any item that has a checkbox, all its child items will also have checkboxes and there is no way to change this. Even though I can have “notes” for an item, I would also like to have sub-items serve as notes sometimes.

Bookmarks. I can mark any list or sublist (at any level) with a bookmark, so I can quickly navigate to that list from any other list.

Date Tags. I can use the trigger “!” to start a date tag on any item in any list. This is useful for setting due dates or otherwise referencing a date in my lists. It looks like this !(2019-03-13) when done.

Universal

I can access Dynalist on the internet with a browser. There are also apps for MacOS, iOS and Windows. So I can view and work on my lists anywhere. And the lists work offline, which I find important.

Images & Documents

Though I rarely need or use this feature, I can add photos and external documents to my notes. Drag a file onto the outline and Dynalist uploads it to its server and gives you a link to paste into your outline. If it is a photo, hovering over the link pops up a preview. Click the link to go to a new webpage with the photo. There is no preview of a document (at least not a PDF, which is all I’ve tried.)

Hyperlinks to other lists and items

I can easily embed a link to another item or list in Dynalist. I just type the trigger “[[” and start typing the text of the item I want to link to and Dynalist presents me with a quickly filtering list of options. When I get to the one I want, I select it and the link is automatically made. (Note, while you are editing the item, you see the code for the link, but once you get out of editing, the link becomes bounded by a horizontal box.) See the screencast below for a brief demonstration of hyperlinking in Dynalist.

Multiple export options

In truth, this is both a nice feature and one of Dynalist’s biggest weaknesses. I can export an HTML or OPML file. And I can control how the text is output into those formats: formatted text, plain text (with options), or OPML. This assortment is useful, but I would prefer to be able to also be able to export to PDF, Docx, RTF file directly. (I can use the print command to print to a PDF.) The formatted HTML is kind of a mess. For example, notes take the same formatting as the heading they are associated with. See the screen shot below to see what I mean.

The article exported as formatted text in an HTML file and opened in Word (for Mac).

Article vs. List views

This isn’t the strongest feature, but it is nice. I can switch between List view and Article view. The main difference being that in Article view the bullets disappear and the document looks a little bit less like a list and more like, well, an article.

Why I chose Dynalist over Workflowy

The truth is there probably isn’t a lot of real difference between Dynalist and Workflowy. The main one, and the key one for me, is that I can create individual outlines and categorize them in folders. I tried to use Workflowy before I ever heard of Dynalist, but didn’t get a lot of use out of it. When I discovered Dynalist, it immediately clicked with me and I’ve used it heavily since.

Some other notable differences:

  • Dynalist allows for limited markdown formatting
  • Heading formatting in Dynalist
  • Color-coding in Dynalist
  • Google Calendar sync with Dynalist Pro subscription

You can see the full list of differences (according to Dynalist) here.

Pro vs. Free

The free version of Dynalist is very robust, but I’ve subscribed to the Pro version. I got in with the early bird pricing, which is $4 per month, when paying annually. And that pricing persists for me into the future. The website is a little confusing, but it looks to me like the early bird pricing is still available. Here is the list of features you get access to with a Pro subscription:

  • Google Calendar integration
  • Item finder. Jump to any item using the keyboard (I’ve never tried this).
  • Capture to inbox.This is a feature that allows you to select any outline as your inbox and then add items to it without having to move from your current location in Dynalist. Honestly, I haven’t used this much.
  • Tag pane. Shift to the Tag pane to see a list of all your tags. Select a tag to view the items so tagged. A nice feature here is the ability to view all tags from all your documents, or just the tags in your current document.
  • Recurring dates
  • Unlimited bookmarks. You only get five bookmarks in the free version.
  • Version history
  • Image and file attachments
  • Priority support
  • Daily Dropbox & Google Drive backup
  • Custom shortcuts
  • Custom CSS
  • Custom date display format

The bottom line

As I have tried to disclose in this article, Dynalist is far from a flawless app. It is continuously developed, but in small, incremental steps. (View the roadmap here — I am eager for them to implement the email to Dynalist to add items.) Nevertheless, as it is now, Dynalist is one of the most useful apps I work with. I use it several times a day.

You can view the first draft of this article as a Dynalist outline here. (I forgot to mention that sharing is another nice feature of Dynalist.) You won’t be able to view the attached documents.