I just got word that The Bullet Journal has a new official home page. Looks quite handsome and full of good information. Also, they are now selling a physical, 249 page bullet journal notebook for $20. Just FYI.
Things I’m thinking about:
- Crappy Red Sox season
- Using Tinderbox more than I do
- Wondering why they didn’t replace the actor who played Matthew on Downton Abbey instead of killing him off (the character, that is, not the actor) when the actor wanted to leave the show. Didn’t they ever watch Bewitched?
- The hike I’m leading at Mount Independence this coming Sunday.
- All the changes at my workplace in the last seven months.
- What draconian new measures El Capitan will impose on my Macs?
- El Capitan? What a stupid name! (Hope Apple’s not making a mountain out of a mole hill.)
- Why is older science fiction so much better than the new stuff?
- Why can’t Hollywood actually make a good science fiction movie?
- When the mainstream media starts tarring and feathering Bernie Sanders with false accusations and innuendo, then we’ll know he’s scaring the people who own this country.
- It’s cool that there are two new books about one of my heroes, Edward Abbey. See here and here.
I can’t believe how long it has been since my last post here. I thought I better demonstrate that I’m still alive, so this post.
[Update: It occured to me that this article needed a screenshot of a ThinkBook outline. Now it does.]
ThinkBook is a nifty iPad app for taking notes and planning projects. You can create notebooks, pages, notes, todos, questions and other items using the unique slider feature. It also is smart with the types of gestures you need to re-organize your information. You can see the slider in action on the developer’s website (note that at the time of this writing the videos used the previous version of ThinkBook, so the look of the app will be different, but the action of the slider is still pretty much the same).
The app also has some other nice features, like making it easy to create custom dashboards which pull information from your various notes based on criteria you set. ThinkBook just recently got a major update, which mostly revolves around getting the UI to conform more closely to iOS 8 standards.
But it has also received a few new wrinkles. The primary one is that it is now a universal app (that is “universal” in Apple parlance, which means that it can run on an iPad and on an iPhone/iPod Touch). Along with this comes the option to synchronize selected pieces of data (whole notebooks, just pages, or only notes) via iCloud (requires a $3.99 in-app purchase).
In order to perform this operation, you need to first create an equally named item on each of your devices. This is slightly awkward, I think. First, you need to create same-named items on both your iPad and iPhone. So, for instance, if you have a page on your iPad called “Weekly Meeting,” you need to create the same page on your iPhone. As soon as you do, you get a prompt that a sync is waiting. This works fine, but it discourages you from having all your notes on all devices, though it doesn’t make it impossible. (I believe that if you synchronize at the top level notebook, all the sub-content will sync too.) But you also need to be careful that you keep your notes uniquely named. So, you’d probably want to name that meeting note something like “Meeting – week of May 11, 2015” so you don’t run into a problem next week.
Still, this syncing does seem to work fine, and it helps slightly to alleviate one of the problems with ThinkBook, which is that it is kind of out there on an island of its own. You can export notes in what I’d call the usual iOS ways, but there isn’t much other cross-app integration. ToDos are not saved to your Apple reminders. There is no way to use your information efficiently on your Mac (let alone your PC), other than exporting chunks of it at a time. At least now you can create notes on your iPhone and view them on your iPad and vice versa. That’s something.
If ThinkBook had a Mac client, then it would be my go-to information manager, I think — that’s how much I like it otherwise.
Another nice feature of ThinkBook is that it is a pretty handy outline builder, so if you’re looking for that functionality on your iPad and iPhone, you should take a look at it.
One other note about ThinkBook: The app is now free, though it features several in-app purchases. Some of these are just cosmetic features, but I bought them anyway to support the developer.
Tinderbox is such a remarkably versatile tool for managing information in great part because it provides you with several distinct views of your notes:
Map view is probably Tinderbox’s claim to fame. I know of no other application that gives you such a flexible digital canvas for displaying/organizing/managing your notes. In fact, Map view is so extraordinary that it can easily overshadow the other views offered by Tinderbox. Today I want to look more closely at Outline view, not in context of how it complements Map view, but in and of itself. In other words, just how good an outliner is Tinderbox?
Note: This overview is using Tinderbox 6.2.
When Mark Bernstein, Tinderbox’s mad genius, took the application to version 6, he changed the entire user experience. Where in previous versions you would need to open a note to see its content, now Tinderbox looks, at least superficially, like most other two-pane outliners. It has the outline tree (Outline view) in the left pane, and the note contents in the right.
Note: In this review I use the terms note, headline (or heading), topic and item almost interchangeably. All refer to the text that makes up each node of the outline. When I’m talking about the information in the note, I will use the term content or note text.
In this overview, I will be pretending that the other views in Tinderbox don’t exist. That’s silly, I know. But I’m interested in conveying just how good Tinderbox is as an outliner.
I’ve listed on this site in the past a set of criteria for judging outliners. The first of these is just how easy it is to bang out an outline. I want the application to “disappear” when I’m outlining. I don’t want to think about anything but the project at hand. That means I should be able to create headings and move them into their proper place in the hierarchy without removing my hands from the keyboard, and the strokes needed should be intuitive and easy enough to use that I don’t have to think about them. That’s the first test Outline view must pass. So let’s start by creating a new document.
Create outlines with ease
Tinderbox 6 uses a tabbed interface. When you create a new document, two tabs are created and open: Map view and Outline view. Map view is selected by default, so the first thing you need to do if you want to make an outline is switch focus to the the Outline view. Tinderbox indicates the view type with an icon and the word “Map” or “Outline,” which is a good thing because before you add anything to either view, they look identical — though version 6 does include some helpful hints in these otherwise empty spaces. For this article, I’m closing the Map view tab. Now, I can create my first heading just be beginning to type it. When I’ve finished, I press ENTER and Tinderbox suspends editing mode. When I press ENTER again, I get a new topic and am in editing mode, so that I can type the title. I continue this process as needed. If a topic should be a child of a previous topic, I just demote it with the TAB key. Change my mind, use SHIFT-TAB to promote the topic. Nothing extraordinary, but this is exactly how I want an outliner to behave. You can create sub-topics to as deep a level as you need.
Reorganize quickly and easily
Outlines rarely are created with exactly the structure I want, so I will need to re-organize the topics. Moving a topic up and down within its current level simply requires the UP or DOWN ARROW key in combination with the COMMAND key. I need to promote it before I can move it to a new parent topic. And, of course, I can use drag and drop to move headings around freely in my outline.
Familiar disclosure triangles
Tinderbox also features the familiar triangular disclosure buttons, so you can collapse and re-expand the various levels in your outline. While there is nothing unique about Tinderbox’s tools for building an outline, it is also surprising how often developers of outliners make it so much more difficult than this. Tinderbox passes this first test with flying colors. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing about any of the rest of the app’s outlining features.
Sophisticated outliners have advanced features. Tinderbox 6 has many of these, but not all of them (specifically, it is missing inline notes — that is, you can’t view the content of the note in the outline tree itself).
Before delving into Tinderbox’s slightly more sophisticated outlining features, I need to add some background about the software. Bernstein calls Tinderbox the “Tool for Notes.” Keep that in mind, because it explains how everything in the program centers around collecting, gathering, writing, managing and accessing notes. Most of the items you create in your outline will be notes (although you can also create agents and separators — more on these shortly). An understanding of just what makes up a “note” in Tinderbox is necessary for understanding how to get the most from Outline view. To get “notes” you have to get “attributes.”
Pretty much everything in Tinderbox is made up of attributes — think of this as the DNA of your information. Just like every living creature has unique DNA that makes them look and behave in specific ways, so to the attributes that compose Tinderbox notes dictate how they look and act. You don’t have to concern yourself with most of these attributes. Some of them you will manipulate without even knowing you’re doing so, such as the position in the outline, the content of the text of the note. Tinderbox automatically records these attributes, as well as information such as the date of the creation of the note. All the attributes that are by default a part of a note are called system attributes. You can also create your own “user” attributes, so that you can customize Tinderbox documents to your specific needs. Attributes matter for this discussion when you choose to make them “key” attributes. A key attribute is one that you select to display within the note pane along with the text of the note. In effect, these become database fields. So, for example, you can add a DueDate (system attribute) to your notes, or create a user attribute for holding a reference URL and make these a part of the ecosystem of your outline. If you’re sketching out a novel, you can make key user attributes for location or character features.
Adding and creating key attributes for your notes is easy. Just click the “+” button in the upper right of the notes window. Type in the name of the attribute you want to add as a key attribute. If it exists, it will automatically show up. If it doesn’t exist, you’ll get a dialog box asking if you want to create the attribute — you can then tell Tinderbox what kind of data it will hold: string, number, date, boolean, URL, etc…
Attributes will stick with your notes no matter which view you are in. You can add columns to your outline to display attribute values for each note, sort of spreadsheet-style. Select “Use Columns” from the VIEW menu and you’ll get a column management bar just above your outline.
Just press the plus sign in this column management bar to add a column. Press again to add a second… as many as you need. By clicking on the column title (which by default just says “attribute”), you can type in the name of the attribute you want to display. This makes it a lot easier to compare values across your notes.
One of the limitations with using an outline for organizing data is that a note often belongs under more than one heading. Tinderbox allows you to create aliases of your notes, so the same note can appear in multiple places. Changes made in one of the aliased copies, will be reflected in all of them. Tinderbox distinguishes between the original note and the alias by making the alias title italic. In many outliners, this feature is known as cloning.
Checkboxes in an outliner are not a high advancement, but not every outliner has them, so I want to make sure to mention that Tinderbox does. Just select “Use Checkboxes” from the VIEW menu. The implementation isn’t too sophisticated, however, as you can’t apply checkboxes to individual notes… it’s the whole outline or not at all. This is a small, but legitimate issue, I think. A checkbox in a list is a handy way of indicating what is a “task” and what is not. If every item has a checkbox, this doesn’t work so well. There are other ways around this, though; for instance creating a prototype (more on prototypes below) note called “task” which would have a different color value or badge (more on badges below) than the other notes. As with so many aspects of Tinderbox, the application has an interesting wrinkle relating to checkboxes. Every note has a “checked” attribute. If you create a column for “checked”, you can run your checkboxes in a straight column, instead of along the left side, among all the other little icons. This can be cleaner and easier to view.
Another nice feature of the Tinderbox Outline view is that you can choose from several different badges — specialty icons — that appear just to the left of the note title. For example, select a red flag badge for urgent items. You can see the red and yellow flag badges in the screenshot above.
Special Tinderbox Features
Tinderbox is jammed with features. I’m going to mention a few here that can turbo-charge the outlining experience.
A very useful feature of Tinderbox’s outlining function is the ability to add Separators. A Separator is a special note you create to act as a fence separating different sections of your outline. If you’re planning a novel, say, you may use separators to create sharp visual divides between your plot outline, your character list, your location list, and your research notes. Any note can become a separator, but you’ll probably want to create notes just for this purpose. After you create a new note in your outline, open the Inspector Window (command-1). Select the properties inspector tab (the number 4 in a box), then check the option for “Separator.”
When you mark a heading as a Separator, it takes on a special look in your outline (and disappears from any other view in your document — so you won’t see it if you switch to Map view — and you won’t see any of sub notes of the separator). The screenshot at the top of this article shows separators in use: Characters, Research and Prototypes & Agents.
Open in new tab
Hoisting in an outline means you can select a heading and its sub-heads and make the rest of the outline disappear. This is an especially useful feature with large and complex outlines, and ones that have deep hierarchy. It gives you the ability to focus on the section you happen to be working on, without the distraction of the rest of the document. Tinderbox does not have a hoist function in its Outline View (though the Map View works specifically by hoisting to different levels). But it has something even better. It lets you select a heading and choose to open it in its own tab. (Select the option from the pop up menu when you right click over the heading.) Now you can select that tab and work on that section of the outline, but you can also click back over to the tab showing the bigger picture for reference.
Correction: Alerted by Mark in the comments section, I see that I missed that Tinderbox does have a dedicated hoist view. Per Mark:
In the view menu, Focus view hoists the currently selected container (you can’t hoist a note with no children) in the current view; Expand view ‘un-hoists’ one outline level, reversing the process.
If you prefer a UI approach, double click the icon to the left of a container to hoist/focus it. To un-hoist/expand use the breadcrumb bar that shows at the top of hoisted views in the View pane (the left pane of the document window). Clicking on any breadcrumb un-hoists the current view to that level.
Thank you, Mark.
Icons convey information
You’ve probably noticed the little rectangular icons that live between the disclosure triangles and the text of the heading. These icons approximate the amount of text contained within each note. An empty square is a note without text. A rectangle with lines, means there is text in the note; the more lines, the more text. These icons will also tell you if the heading is an agent, by putting the heavier line at the bottom of the square, instead of at the top, as it does with notes.
I mentioned prototypes earlier. These are very handy for mass applying to many notes attributes you set up for one note. As an example, say you’re creating character reference notes, you might want to have key attributes for age, sex, and hair color. Create a “character” note and give it those key attributes. Then open the inspector window, on the in the properties inspector tab check the “prototype” option (see the previous properties inspector screenshot). Now, whenever you create or edit a note that is about a specific character in your story you can apply the “character” prototype (selecting it from the options in the pull-down menu in the properties inspector tab). Voila, it too will have those key attribute fields.
I hesitate to mention agents, because now we’re dipping our toes into a little more sophisticated Tinderbox functionality. Yet, an agent can be really handy for helping you get a grip on your outline, and you don’t need complicated routines. Agents in Tinderbox can perform all kinds of cool things, but I’m only going to suggest the most basic use in this outline-centric article. Let’s get back to our novel project. In the outline, I’ve got scenes organized by chapter, but I want to see the list of scenes in a flat view and I want to see the dates these scenes take place to make sure my timeline makes sense. I’ve already created a prototype for scenes and applied it to all my scene headings. So I can create an agent that finds all the scenes for me.
Now I can choose to open just this agent and its newly gathered scene aliases in a new tab, where I can display a column with the dates the scenes are to take place.
Agents can do more than just collect other notes. They can perform actions on them. So, for example, if your outline relates to a project, you could create an agent that looks for any note that has a prototype of “task” AND a checked attribute value of false, and assign it with a red flag badge to make it clear which jobs are yet to be completed.
New export options
One of the things that used to hold me back from using Tinderbox for outlining was the baffling process for exporting notes. It involves creating a template for the way you want the notes to look after export. Tinderbox wizards don’t seem to have trouble with this, but I never could really get my head around the process. Fortunately, the latest version of Tinderbox, edition 6.2, includes more pre-made options for exporting your whole document or just parts of it. Here are the options:
- HTML – which still baffles me. It creates a bunch of files like a website, but when I try to open them it says it can’t find the template. This lack of understanding is definitely a failing on my part to work very hard to get it. I’m sure the solution isn’t very complicated.
- Outline – which exports just the headings in a hierarchically formatted text file.
- Text – which allows you to export the whole file or parts of it in one of several different formats, including RTF, OPML or Scrivener.
The Text export option is the one that I find useful. In fact, I’m writing this article in Tinderbox and exporting it as a plain text file to import into WordPress.
The Bottom Line
On my 11” MacBook Air, the tiny screen real estate available to me makes the Outline view far more useful than Map view. That’s what has prompted me to write this exploration of Tinderbox as an outliner. I’d hardly recommend you spend the money just to use Tinderbox for outlining (although, back in the day, a great outliner like GrandView cost more than Tinderbox does today, so it is all relative).
I was going to end this overview by saying that Tinderbox is not the world’s best Mac outliner. But I’ve changed my mind. I think it is the best, when you consider all it has to offer — and I don’t mean Map view (that’s a whole additional benefit, like cosmologists discovering multiple universes). Most two-pane outliners have nice editing windows for writing your notes, but usually have rudimentary outline functions in the tree-pane. Dedicated outliners have strong outlining capabilities, but crude note-taking features at best. Tinderbox combines a powerful dedicated outliner with a good note-taking editor AND throws in database features. This makes Tinderbox unique.
Does this mean it is the best choice for everyone? No. If you’re looking for a lightweight, efficient tool for creating simple outlines, then you may be happier with the nifty OutlineEdit app (which has some terrific features, and more on the way). If you love the column feature in Tinderbox, OmniOutliner does it better. But no other outliner I’m aware of does what I can do with Tinderbox. Oh, yeah, and then there’s Map view.
So I received Interstellar on DVD from Netflix the other day. I was anticipating this movie, as the hype around it made it sound like a smart science fiction thriller based in realistic science. Sadly, it turned out to be neither smart nor realistic.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
The first third of the film seemed very promising as we delved into the life of farmer/engineer/pilot Matthew McConaughey (known only as Cooper) and his family on a dying earth that has lost billions of people to some epidemic or other catastrophe that I was unclear about. I was willing to overlook some of the obvious absurdities (for example, how people of the world could exist only on corn, and how NASA could keep a secret facility that obviously cost a lot of money to operate and consumed a lot of natural resources). The extra-terrestrial communication for Cooper’s daughter, Murph, was interesting, if somewhat familiar in a Close-Encounters-of-the-Third-Kind-way. I was willing to buy the whole plan A, plan B approach to saving mankind, even if plan A seemed well beyond any technology that could be available on an earth so crippled.
Cooper is selected out of the blue to pilot the last desperate space mission to save humanity. He is supposed to travel through a wormhole to another galaxy, where 12 earlier NASA missions had gone, each with a single individual, looking for a new planet for humans to inhabit. Going with him are three crew members, the important one being Brand, played by Anne Hathaway. You know the two of them are going to fall for each other, although I will give the film credit for taking us on a big detour before we reach that conclusion. The other two crew members are hardly worth describing, except to say that if this were an episode of Star Trek, they’d both be wearing red shirts.
I guess I should add that there is a fifth crew member, TARS, just about the weirdest robot I’ve ever seen in science fiction. It made the robot in Lost In Space seem downright pedestrian. He (I call it “he” because it is voiced by Bill Irwin) ends up playing a far more important role in the story than half the crew. I could not figure out exactly how TARS and the other robot in the story, CASE, actually operated. They seem to be able to pull their limbs apart in whatever way is necessary to do whatever they need to. They are smart, too, which of course begs the question of why NASA needs human astronauts, who require lots of extra equipment, including deep-sleeping vats, to cover the vast distances, when they probably could have launched three times as many probes each piloted by a single robot. But then there wouldn’t be THE story.
Anyway, I was still on board Interstellar even as they passed through the wormhole, but from here on the film really jumps the shark. The physics becomes as warped as the space-time of the wormhole. First of all, it takes them two years to go from Earth to Saturn, but on the other side of the wormhole it seems to take them no time at all to travel to a planet that happens to be orbiting a black hole. It is revealed that the giant gravity well that engulfs this planet will slow down the astronauts time due to the laws of relativity, so that for every hour they spend on this planet, seven years will pass on earth. For Cooper, who intends to return home to his children, this is an excruciating problem. But they decide that they can do what they need to do in an hour, and are willing for seven years to pass. Of course, things don’t go as they plan, first red shirt dies and three hours pass, so that by the time they have returned to the larger space ship, where they left the other red shirt, 23 years has passed.
While they’ve been away, messages from earth have snuck through the wormhole, so Cooper can see his children aging before his eyes as they send videos his way (for some reason, Cooper can’t send replies). Now Murph, Cooper’s daughter who had been receiving messages from beyond, has grown up to become Jessica Chastain and is working with Brand’s father (played by Michael Caine), a noted physicist and apparently the leader of the NASA facility. All along the action has been jumping back and forth between the astronauts and the people back home on earth, but now that hip hopping becomes more frenetic. We learn that the big scientific breakthrough that would help the earthlings launch their mammoth space ark, which Michael Caine had promised Cooper he would crack before Cooper returned from his mission, was always hopeless. This breakthrough required data from inside a black hole, and, of course that was impossible to get.
But wait! Cooper is nearby a black hole. At this point, of course, the big reveal that comes at the end of the film becomes obvious. And it just seems like the remainder of the movie is a slog to get to that point — and we’re still only about two-thirds of the way through.
There’s no need to rehash the rest of the film but I need to get a few more complaints off my chest:
- I had no idea what was going on with the Matt Damon character. His motivation and what he was hoping to accomplish was completely murky to me. It seemed stuck into the story just to make the final desperate gambit necessary.
- Somehow Cooper manages to enter a black hole without being torn apart, experiences some weird shit, does what we know by now he is going to do, then ends up in a bed back on the other side of the wormhole. If whatever force had the means to do all that (and by then we’re told what that force is), then why all the Rube-Goldberg nonsense? Beings with the knowledge and power to pull off all this space-time mumbo jumbo should be able to fashion a simpler resolution to the problem.
- An aged Murph spends two years in deep sleep traveling to the Saturn space station to see Cooper. All this is kind of murky as well, because there’s no indication that two years have passed since Cooper awakens. He walks into the crowded room for the reunion with his elderly daughter, having not aged much. She hasn’t spoken to him in 110 years or something like that, yet she knows he’s in love with Anne Hathaway (who is on the other side of the wormhole caring for a bunch of embryos, or something) and tells him to go to her. Which, of course, he does.
If you want a more knowledgable and thorough critique of the science of interstellar, check out this article. There are a lot of others.
Beyond the laughable science, the film has other flaws. It starts out as hard science fiction, then descends into sappy, metaphysical drivel. And, maybe worst of all, earth is dying, but at no time does a character lament how human beings have brought this devastation on themselves, other than early on when a school teacher remarks that the history textbook they use has been updated to report that the Apollo moon landings were clever hoaxes created to trick the Russians into a space race that doomed communism.
As I said, pretty disappointing stuff. There is the making of a good film here. Solid acting, decent special effects (though not world class, if you ask me). And some interesting concepts. But the writer and director, Christopher Nolan, packs too much silliness into the story and loses his way. It’s too bad, because I’m still awaiting the definitive Hollywood science fiction movie. And waiting.
For the past 14 months or so I’ve been keeping a journal using the bullet journal method, which I wrote about here and here. During this time, I’ve found using a paper notebook quite fun and effective. I’ve been curious about how these same methods could be used with software on a computer and/or iPad. I’ve considered many apps for this, but none seemed to come close to matching the facility of pen and paper. However, I think I’ve finally found an option that could work very well for me.
The following discussion is a bit of a thought experiment on my part, rather than a report on my successful use of TheBrain for bullet journaling. That is, I’ve still only dabbled with TheBrain for this purpose, but I see real promise and wanted to share my thoughts.
Requirements of a Digital Bullet Journal
Before moving into a discussion of how TheBrain would work for this purpose, I should first define what I think are the key attributes of a digital bullet journal?
- It would need to be accessible from all your devices, to be instantly available for recording and referencing.
- Recording a log entry should be quick and easy. This is the “rapid logging” part of the journal process.
- It should provide a means for identifying the logged item as a note, event or task.
- It should provide a means for further classifying any necessary follow-up on the item:
- Further research needed
- I need to be able to “page” through my entries for quick and easy review.
There are many other facilities I might hope for in a digital bullet journal, but these are the ones that are required to match the efficacy of a paper notebook.
With these criteria established, let’s look at how TheBrain manages with a bullet journal.
TheBrain as Bullet Journal
TheBrain runs on Windows PCs, Macs and iPad, but also provides online access, so that you should have little trouble getting access to your information at any time. On Mac and PC, your files are available locally so you don’t have to be online to use them, but you can sync your bullet journal brain between devices relatively easily (though I do find the syncing a bit stodgie).
Creating one line entries is relatively easy with TheBrain. Key here is creating a new thought for each entry. At first I tried creating a thought for each day and using the notes section for the logging of entries. This doesn’t work as well because it makes it more difficult to be able to quickly scan your entries during regular reviews. There are other advantages to one thought = one entry, which I’ll get to below.
Classification of Entries
There is more than one way to classify an entry with TheBrain, but the one I feel works best for bullet journaling is using thought types. Each thought in a brain can be assigned one thought type, so I have created the following types:
- Task (I’ve got one type for “Action Required” and one for “Action Completed”
One advantage to this approach is that you can visually identify the type of entry by assigning an icon to each type. See the screen shot below:
TheBrain allows you to assign multiple tags to your entries (one of the differences between a tag and a type). This is handy for adding classifying indicators to an entry, because an entry can be high priority AND delegated, for instance. See the screen shot below for how tags work:
While it is not the strongest aspect of TheBrain relating to bullet journaling, “paging through” your notes is pretty easy and effective. Everytime you click on a thought (entry), it becomes the active thought and moves to the center of the screen (known in TheBrain parlance as The Plex). You can also switch from “normal” view to “outline” view for a more familiar experience as demonstrated in the screenshot below:
So TheBrain meets all the criteria of a digital bullet journal I set out at the start. Let’s see it in action.
Using TheBrain as a Bullet Journal
Here’s how I have setup TheBrain for bullet journaling. (Refer to the above screenshots for demonstrations of what I’m referring to.)
First, I built a brain that has a thought for each day using the method I describe here.
I make today’s thought the active thought, then add bullet entries under this day, classifying them by type as I make them. I would tag each entry as needed. If an entry needs additional information, I can add that to the notes section, attach a URL or as many files as gets the job done.
I pin the current day to the top of the screen to make it a speedy return if I’ve wandered off somewhere else in my journal brain.
And that’s it for the basics. But there are other advantages to using TheBrain for this purpose.
Other Advantages of TheBrain
I have actually created more thought types than the basic three. I have two task types: Action Required and Action Completed. I also have types for book and movie notes. You can make as many types as you want, but I want to keep the number of choices small, as too many options begin to defeat the purpose of rapid logging.
I haven’t used my digital bullet journal for work, so I haven’t needed to do this, but if you’re considering it, you might use tags to indicate colleauges to whom you have delegated a task. Or to mark an entry as relating to an active project. I have tags that indicate my level of appreciation for the entry; for example, rating a movie from one to five stars. Classifying with tags in TheBrain allows you to find all other entries with that same tag, as indicated in this screenshot:
Because a thought can live under more than one parent thought, I can make an entry about the start of something under one day, and link to the same thought on the day I finish. I would do this, say, for tracking my reading.
I can also easily archive or backup my digital bullet journal by exporting selections of the journal to tabbed text, including notes. See below for how this looks:
TheBrain isn’t cheap. Well yes it is. I’ll explain:
If you want to use TheBrain on more than one device and keep your journal in sync, then you’ll have to buy a license, which costs $299 initially, then is $159 a year. That’s not chump change, and if you’re only using the app for journaling, it may not be worth it to you. But there are two factors that may mitigate this expense. First, you might find, like me, that TheBrain becomes indispensible for other uses, and the expense starts to actually feel minimal. But the other factor may play in as well. There is a free version of TheBrain for personal use (and what is more personal than a journal?), so you can try it out to see if you like it. And, if you only want to keep your journal on one device, then there is no need to upgrade to the pro version. I believe all the features I’ve described here (other than syncing) work the same in the free version. (There’s a comparison chart here.)
The bottom line
You may have noticed that the screenshots above are somewhat sparsely populated with entries. As I mentioned, I have only been dabbling in TheBrain as a bullet journal so far, but writing about it like this has made me a bit more excited by the prospect. If I didn’t really love my paper journal, I would definitely adopt TheBrain whole-heartedly for bullet journaling. And it helps that I rely heavily on TheBrain for other purposes. I’ll report back if things develop further.
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.
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.
While OE operates like most outliners, it does have two less than usual features which I believe I will find useful.
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.
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.
A Few Other Features of Note
OutlineEdit does a few other things, which are not so important to me, but may be to others:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.