Curio 10 now available with helper app Curiota

Curio 10 is now available.

Curio 10 is now available. (Image courtesy of Zengobi.)

I got word today from George Browning of Zengobi Software that a new version of Curio is now available. According to the press release, Curio 10 features these improvements:

Zengobi today announced the availability of Curio 10, a major update of their professional brainstorming, mind mapping, and note taking application for the Mac, as well as a new free companion app, Curiota, which integrates with and extends Curio’s functionality and connectivity with always-available note taking, file collection, and extensive OS X scripting and integration features. New features in Curio 10 include support for stack collections for visual task management; powerful mind map & list sorting; iMindMap and updated MindNode import/export support; tag emoji support; numerous table, pinboard, and list enhancements; new Local library shelf for custom watch folders, fast file searching, and Curiota integration; stencils shelf for more efficient diagramming; interface refinements; plus dozens of other features and enhancements.

While I have long been an admirer of Curio, I have not used it much, only because I tend to use more focused apps for note taking and organizing. But I have used it in the past for building and making a presentation. And I am currently using Curio to manage the research I am doing for a book project I’m working on. The helper app, Curiota, is especially intriguing to me, because it may help extend my usage of Curio.

Curiota. (Image courtesy of Zengobi.)

Curiota. (Image courtesy of Zengobi.)

Within the past year, Zengobi released a “lite” version of Curio called Curio Express, as well as a free reader app, which allows colleagues to view your Curio projects without the need to buy the app. Here’s pricing, requirements and how to download/buy the Curio family of apps:

Curio 10 requires OS X Yosemite or OS X El Capitan and is available immediately for download from New licenses can be purchased for US$129.99 (US$79.99 for academia, upgrades are US$49.99) from, volume discounts are available. Downloading Curio will begin a full-featured, 2-week trial. More information on Curio can be found at and detailed Curio 10 release notes can be found at

Curiota requires OS X Yosemite or OS X El Capitan and can be downloaded at no charge only from the Apple Mac App Store. More information on Curiota can be found at

Curio Express requires OS X Yosemite or OS X El Capitan and can be purchased for US$29.99 only from the Apple Mac App Store. More information on Curio Express can be found at

Curio Reader requires OS X Yosemite or OS X El Capitan and can be downloaded at no charge only from the Apple Mac App Store. More information on Curio Reader can be found at

I have not yet tried version 10, but plan to purchase the upgrade today. I’ll get back with a more in-depth commentary soon.

Categories: Software | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Interesting view from professional writer on modern note-taking

The novelist David Hewson has an interesting view on modern note-taking over on Medium. You should also check out his blog, which is chock full of excellent advice for writers.

I am beginning to lean toward Mr. Hewson minimalist approach, but I’m not there yet. I’m working on a book that requires (I think) a more complex note-taking system than he describes. And there is a difference between note-taking for a specific project and managing all the bits of information we tend to accumulate. It isn’t always easy to know which information is going to be necessary six months or six years from now. I can’t see placing all of that in an app like Keep. But then again I’m not exactly satisfied with my current amalgam of applications.

Categories: Software | Tags: , | 7 Comments

Workflowy and Tinderbox

If you’re reading this blog post, you undoubtedly know that Tinderbox is one of my favorite pieces of software. The mind-bogglingly versatile and powerful “tool for notes” is unsurpassed for helping me make sense of complex data (complex to me, child’s play to others perhaps). But I do not use Tinderbox as much as I would like for the simple reason that I can only run it on my MacBooks. I spend eight hours a day on my office Windows PC, and am frequently on the go with just my iPad with which to collect and write notes. Consequently, I end up dumping stuff into Evernote, which is terrific for keeping data sync’d across devices, but which does almost nothing for me in terms of analysis and visualization.

A note on nomenclature: It can become confusing writing about two different applications that may use different nomenclature. In this article, I will refer to any single item, whether in Workflowy or Tinderbox, as a note. The content of those notes I am calling note text. So, for instance, a note titled “Note A,” might have note text that says, “This is an example of note text in Note A,” 

Recently, I’ve started collecting research and notes for a book I want to write. Tinderbox would be a perfect helper for this project, so I am back to needing a way to bring in work that I do on other devices. And I believe I’ve found my solution in Workflowy. Being cloud-based and with an iOS app (not sure if there is an Android app, but probably), Workflowy is available to me most times when Tinderbox is not. [Update: The iOS app is a pretty weak implementation of the browser version. In fact, it is barely useable.] I can build an outline, add notes to the individual entries, and then import them right into a Tinderbox document. Here’s how to do it:

Workflowy is an adept, universally accessible outliner.

Workflowy is an adept, universally accessible outliner. Create an outline for importing to Tinderbox.

Of course you start by creating your notes in Workflowy. I’ve set up a section of my outline that I call Tinderbox Drawer, where I can work on anything I want to import into Tinderbox. (I could just as easily create a tag called #Tinderbox that would achieve the same thing.)


Select “Export” from the little drop down menu that appears when you click on the bullet icon at the start of the top level of the notes you want to export. Click on the OPML option.

Once your outline is ready to go, click on the bullet icon of the parent note. A drop down menu will appear. Select the choice “Export.” When the export dialog appears, select OPML, then just copy that text.

When you paste the OPML text into Tinderbox, a top level note is created with the OPML text in the note.

When you paste the OPML text into Tinderbox, a top level note is created with the OPML text in the note.

Open Tinderbox and paste the OPML text wherever you need it. Tinderbox creates a new container note with the OPML text as the note content (let’s call this the OPML container note).  Within the OPML container note is another container note (let’s call this the parent container note), which correlates to the parent note from Workflowy; within this parent container note are the child notes. See below:

The original Workflowy parent note becomes a container note in Tinderbox, holding the original Workflowy child notes. Note text from Workflowy are also imported as the note text of these Tinderbox notes.

The original Workflowy parent note becomes the parent container note in Tinderbox, holding the original Workflowy child notes. Note text from Workflowy is also imported as the note text of the corresponding Tinderbox notes.

If you gave the items in your Workflowy outline some notes, those notes are imported into the Tinderbox notes as the note text. Here’s how this looks in Outline View of Tinderbox:

Outline view of the notes Workflowy notes imported into Tinderbox.

Outline view of the notes Workflowy notes imported into Tinderbox.

The one somewhat cumbersome aspect of this procedure is the redundant OPML container note, which you probably don’t need. You can eliminate this by copying the parent container note, pasting this where you want it in your Tinderbox document, and then deleting the original OPML container note.

Tinderbox now supports tags with a Tag attribute, but unfortunately Workflowy tags do not translate to Tinderbox tags. They just come in as part of the text. You can easily set up agents that will search for these Workflowy tags (just hashtags followed by the tag name as in #WorkflowyTag) and apply them to the Tag attribute of the notes in Tinderbox.

It is important for me to point out that this is a one-way process. There is not a way to keep notes in Workflowy and Tinderbox in sync. At least not one I know of.

By the way, Tinderbox does support Simplenote synchronization, but I’m not a fan of Simplenote and — at least in the past — I’ve found there to be some restrictions on how you can use the sync’d Simplenote notes in Tinderbox.

So that’s it. A simple and easy procedure. Now to put it into practice.

Categories: Software | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Climate Web – super WebBrain site

One of my commenters, Mark, referred to a WebBrain site that he has been working on called The Climate Web, built using TheBrain. A note of explanation is perhaps in order. You can buy a stand alone license for TheBrain and use it on one computer (Mac or Windows: it is cross platform). But you can also get the “Pro Combo” which gives you not only the desktop application, but also cloud service allowing you to keep your “Brains” in sync across your various computers and access them online. The online versions of your data can be private (default), or public. The Climate Web is public, of course.

Here’s an excerpt from Mark’s comment that provides more detail about the site:

Something you would be interested in is our effort to use the Brain as a knowledge management solution for an entire field, indeed one as complicated as climate change. Our Climate Web Brain is at It’s massive, serves many purposes, and we’re constantly experimenting with how to make the information more accessible to very different audiences. FYI, it contains >10,000 documents and more than 15,000 URLs, but more important is how we’re trying to use the unique capabilities of the Brain to link information together in ways that can help provide access to “actionable knowledge” that is specific to an individual user.

One excellent example of how TheBrain can help you manage your information, even in copious quantities. (Update: Please note Mark’s request for input about The Climate Web in the comments section of this post.)

FYI: Climate change is happening and is caused by man. Just to make my view clear.

Categories: Software | Tags: , | 2 Comments

ThinkBook gets a face lift, more

[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).

ThinkBook on my home page, featuring the various notebooks I've created. Note the slider on the right (the little triangular thingy), which you tap to bring up the menu of various item types that you can add to your notes.

ThinkBook on my home page, featuring the various notebooks I’ve created. Note the slider on the right (the little triangular thingy), which you tap to bring up the menu of various item types that you can add to your notes.

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.

Creating nice looking and useful outlines is easy in ThinkBook.

Creating nice looking and useful outlines is easy in ThinkBook.

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.

Categories: Software | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Outlining with Tinderbox 6 (6.2 to be precise)

The Outline View in Tinderbox may be the software's most under-appreciated feature.

The Outline View in Tinderbox may be the software’s most under-appreciated feature.

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
  • Outline
  • Chart
  • Timeline

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.

Outline View

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.

Outlining 101

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.

When you create a new document, Tinderbox presents you with open tabs for Map View and Outline View. I've closed Map View for this example.

When you create a new document, Tinderbox presents you with open tabs for Map View and Outline View, and it gives you some helpful hints about just what to do next. I’ve closed Map View for this example.

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.

Outlining 201

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.

Click the plus sign in the notes pane to add key attributes to the note.

Click the plus sign in the notes pane to add key attributes to the note.

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…

If you try to create a key attribute that is not already an attribute, Tinderbox gives you the option to create it and select the type of data it will hold.

If you try to create a key attribute that is not already an attribute, Tinderbox gives you the option to create it and select the type of data it will hold.


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.

Adding columns to your outline is easy.

Adding columns to your outline is easy.

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.

This screen detail demonstrates the two ways you can include checkboxes in your outline. Of course, you would never need to use both.

This screen detail demonstrates the two ways you can include checkboxes in your outline. Of course, you would never need to use both.


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.”

The Properties tab in the Inspector allows you to set a note as a prototype, template or separator.

The Properties tab in the Inspector allows you to set a note as a prototype, template or separator (or leave it as none of the above). You can also assign a prototype to the note with the drop down box.

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.

Selecting a prototype for the note, applies the properties of the prototype to the note. In this case adding key attributes for Age, Hair and Sex.

Selecting a prototype for the note, applies the properties of the prototype to the note. In this case adding key attributes for DueDate, Responsible, and Checked — this is a hypothetical outline for managing a project.


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.

This agent has a simple query that looks for all the notes in my outline that have the scene prototype applied to them.

This agent has a simple query that looks for all the notes in my outline that have the scene prototype applied to them. (Note, I usually add the prefix “Proto:” to my prototypes, just to make it easier to identify them. This is note required.)

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.

I can use an agent to help me see in one place all the notes of one type (in this case, scenes), where I can also customize the view to see meta data relating specifically to those types of notes.

I can use an agent to help me see in one place all the notes of one type (in this case, scenes), where I can also customize the view to see meta data relating specifically to those types of notes. In this case, the date the scene takes place and the location.

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.

Categories: Software | Tags: , | 13 Comments

Using TheBrain as digital bullet journal

TheBrain as bullet journal - main screen

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:
    • Priority
    • Delegation
    • Further research needed
    • Etc…
  • 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

Universal Access

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).

Rapid Logging

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:

  • Note
  • Event
  • 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:

You can assign "thought types" to your entries to classify them as you wish to.

You can assign “thought types” to your entries to classify them as you wish to.

Further Classification

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:

TheBrain supplies a number of ways to categorize your information. Here I've got the tool bar open along the bottom of the screen to access the tag window, among others.

TheBrain supplies a number of ways to categorize your information. Here I’ve got the tool bar open along the bottom of the screen to access the tag window, among others.

Quick Review

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:

In outline view, TheBrain will show you your entries in a more traditional way.

In outline view, TheBrain will show you your entries in a more traditional way.

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:

You can view all entries with the same tag by selecting that tag in the tags tool (note that you need to click on the description of the tag, not the checkbox).

You can view all entries with the same tag by selecting that tag in the tags tool (note that you need to click on the description of the tag, not the checkbox).

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:

Entries exported to text and pasted into my favorite text editor, Ulysses.

Entries exported to text and pasted into my favorite text editor, Ulysses.

Other considerations

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.

Categories: Software | Tags: , | 7 Comments

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.
Categories: Software | Tags: | 1 Comment

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:


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.

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.

Categories: Software | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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.

Categories: Software | Tags: | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at The Adventure Journal Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 482 other followers