Tinderbox update available

From Mark Bernstein, developer of Tinderbox:

Tinderbox 6.1.3 includes a brand-new Help menu item, Getting Started With Tinderbox, which provides a detailed walkthrough for new Tinderbox users. The walkthrough explore outlines, maps, the new Attribute Browser, agents, and lots more, all in the context of an actual Tinderbox task.  There’s also a new Badge Picker, hundreds of new badges, and lots of additional polish.
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OutlineEdit is on sale this week — a brief review

There is no shortage of handy outliners for Mac. One which came on the scene more recently is called OutlineEdit. I have been intrigued by the app since first seeing it, but I tried to demonstrate a little restraint by not purchasing it. Then I learned it was on sale this week at 50% off, and that was all the rationalization I need to go ahead and buy a license.

OutlineEdit's main screen with a few feature callouts.

OutlineEdit’s main screen with a few feature callouts.

While OE operates like most outliners, it does have two less than usual features which I believe I will find useful.

The Marker

OutlineEdit Marker is a Safari add-in that allows you to mark selected text on the web and bring it instantly into your open OE document. Basically, it saves you a couple of cut and paste steps. Handy, but not going to change your outlining life, unless you do a lot of cut and paste from the web.

Nice Window Management

The OE feature that most interests me is its ability to dock or float a document window so you can reference another document (whether an OE outline or any other type of file), while working in your outline.

The docking feature in OutlineEdit will keep the current document open on screen while you switch between other apps or documents.

The docking feature in OutlineEdit will keep the current document open on screen while you switch between other apps or documents. Here it is on the right, with an Outlinely outline open on the left. As you can see, Outlinely is generally more elegant, while OutlineEdit is — in my view — more utilitarian.

Standard Outlining Features

Of course, OutlineEdit has many of the typical features you’d want from an outliner:

  • Folding. Using the disclosure arrows on the left side of the window, you can choose to show or hide sub-topics for any topic. Pretty typical.
  • Checkboxes. You can include checkboxes in your outline, but you turn them on or off for the whole outline. You can’t selectively use them for sub-topics. This matters to me because a checkbox is an indicator that there is something that needs doing. My outlines are rarely composed entirely of tasks. I would like to be able to give a quick scan of my outline to see which items need attention. If all of the items have checkboxes beside them, then I have to read each individually to see whether or not the item is indeed requiring action. Checking the box, grays out the topic.
  • Notes. You can add notes to any topic. (A note in an outliner content text which is attached to the topic and moves around in the outline when you move the topic. This makes it different than sub-topics, which are associated hierarchically with the parent topic, but can be promoted or moved to other topics.)
  • And building, restructuring and navigating your outline is pretty standard and easy to learn and adopt.
This screen zoom shows how checkboxes work in OutlineEdit.

This screen zoom shows how checkboxes work in OutlineEdit.

A Few Other Features of Note

OutlineEdit does a few other things, which are not so important to me, but may be to others:

Metrics

OE provides some handy metrics for measuring your work in the program. These are:

  • The number of topics
  • The number of levels (which the developer refers to as layers)
  • Character and word counts
  • And, it has a stop watch type feature for tracking the amount of time you work on a document.

Categories

With OE, you can create up to five categories for classifying the topics in your outline. What’s potentially powerful about this feature is that you can filter your outline to see only those topics that have a certain category. This works from the point of the selected topic, so you can filter individual sections.

Once you’ve filtered your outline, you have an option to export just that material, or create a new outline with just the filter-selected topics.

Export Options

OE only exports to as PDF and OMPL file formats, but you can also copy an outline as tabbed text to the clipboard. This should cover the needs of most users, I would think.

Some Limitations

OutlineEdit is missing some higher-end outlining features. For example it does not provide a hoist operation. Nor does it having cloning of topics. You can’t adjust the font, though you can bold, italicize or underline text. And you can’t adjust the label style.

The Bottom Line

If you’re happy with your current outliner, there probably isn’t a need to add OutlineEdit to the lineup. However, since it is on sale for $8, it can’t really hurt. I got it mostly for the floating/docking window feature, which I expect to prove useful to me.

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Hewson on the advantages of Ulysses III for novel writing

I’ve become a big fan of the writing app Ulysses III from the Soulmen. It’s become my go to software for shorter writing projects — I still prefer Scrivener for longer pieces. The novelist David Hewson has become an even bigger fan than I have, and has a nice article about Ulysses and novel writing. He’s also preparing an e-how-to-book about the subject. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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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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