Software

Version 6.6 of Tinderbox now available

I just got an e-mail notification that the latest update to Tinderbox is now officially released. The update includes a number of tweaks and improvements, though nothing that will convince you to buy the app if you haven’t already been wowed by its power and possibilities.

You can read more about the updates here, and find out about how to save $10 on upgrades for the next week.

Outlinely 2.0 – a quick review

Outlinely 2.0 sports a new user interface, which includes a pretty typical library panel.

Outlinely 2.0 sports a new user interface, which includes a pretty typical library panel.

Updated April 28:

Outlinely is a simple, but elegant outlining application for Mac OS. I have written about the app before, here. Version 2.0 was just released. The big feature addition is the library, which looks like a fairly standard organization panel where you can tuck your outlines into folders. This isn’t the most sophisticated “library” panel you will find, but it looks as if it will be handy.

It is not immediately apparent how to add folders to the library, but if you hover the cursor over the location (iCloud or On My Mac), a plus sign appears. Clicking this creates a new folder. You can’t nest folders, however.

One thing I found a little disconcerting is that the current document remains open in the editor window when you select another folder — it won’t change until you select another document. Consequently, you can be at a loss for which folder the document is actually in. See the screenshot below for an example:

In which folder is this document categorized? Can't tell from the user interface because I navigated off the Website folder.

In which folder is this document categorized? Can’t tell from the user interface because I navigated off the Website folder.

This document is in my Website folder, but there is no way to tell that from the data on screen. This could be a big deal if you have a lot of folders and a lot of outline documents. A breadcrumb trail at the top of the document editor would solve this.

But all in all, Outlinely is a nice application. It feels like a standard text editor, but with a fairly powerful outline engine under the hood. At $14.95 (U.S.) some folks might find it a little pricey. But I was weaned on applications that cost hundreds of dollars, so it seems like a good deal to me. Update: The developer is offering a version without the library feature for free. Check it out at the App Store. It’s called Outlinely Express.

Outlines and inline notes

Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article about using Tinderbox as an outliner. My conclusion was that the outline view in Tinderbox is a terrific outline application. Just about the only feature it lacked is inline notes. The conversation that cropped up today about this feature prompted me to think about how I might implement a workaround in Tinderbox that would at least approximate inline notes. Before I get to that, I first want to talk a little bit about my opinions regarding inline notes.

This feature mostly only matters in single-pane outliners. That is, those outliners where all the relevant information is presented in one pane. Why it matters is that you want to see the notes relating to a topic displayed “inline” with the topic and not in a separate pane. This allows you to view the notes for all the nearby topics at one time. A little more about why this is important a little further down.

I feel like inline notes are an under appreciated feature of a sophisticated outlining application. That’s probably because most people have never actually been able to use an outline that handled inline notes. Either the app doesn’t have inline notes as a feature, or the feature is rudimentally implemented.

Two definitions before continuing:

  • Heading or topic – Each individual item in an outline is a heading (or call it a topic). That is, if it has a bullet or an alphanumeric label, it is a heading.
  • Note – In some outliners, the note is merely additional meta data. In a small number of other outliners, it can be the main text that describes the heading under which it is associated. Every note is associated with a heading.

OmniOutliner is one of the more fully featured outliners on the market, including the ability to add notes and view them inline. Its approach is pretty standard, so it will serve as a good example of the current state of inline notes.

These screen shots demonstrate how inline notes work in OmniOutliner:

Sample OmniOutliner Document.

Sample OmniOutliner Document. Don’t confuse those long paragraphs as inline notes. They are each a separate heading.

 

To add a note to an OmniOutliner topic, click the note icon.

To add a note to an OmniOutliner topic, click the note icon.

 

By default, the inline note is made to have a lower-level of importance by appearance.

By default, the inline note is made to have a lower-level of importance by appearance.

 

The note now appearing in the note pane. You can toggle this action.

The note now appearing in the note pane. You can toggle this action.

Notes in OmniOutliner are clearly intended to be meta-data and not the substance of the heading the notes are associated with. This is a fine approach for a lot of purposes, but it is not ideal for writers. I suspect anyone using OmniOutliner for writing will take the approach demonstrated here; which is to just write paragraphs in the headings instead of using the notes for the content.

Grandview’s take on notes

The best application of inline notes that I have ever seen or used was that of Grandview, the DOS outliner I wrote about here. With Grandview you created your outline headings and could associate a full-text document with each heading, as demonstrated below:

Document text viewed "inline" in the GrandView outline

Document text viewed “inline” in the GrandView outline

Grandview treated notes as full-fledged documents in their own right, but allowed you to view them in the outliner or not, as you chose. If you wished, you could isolate the text of the document to focus solely on composing. Like this:

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Here is what I had to say about why I feel this is important for writers:

An important point here is that this text is not a separate headline or node. It is directly associated with a headline and can be viewed inline, in its own window, or collapsed and not visible in the outline. This visual flexibility is a powerful feature for writers, because it allows you to switch from a focused view of your writing to the big picture. You can work on getting each section of the text right, then make sure the entire work flows smoothly with appropriate transitions. Two-pane outliners… force you to keep your writing in separate, discrete blocks. To this day, no other application has matched GrandView for providing this combination of powerful outlining tools AND single-pane, inline text. I have yet to find any outliner that matches Grandview for handling these this inline content.

I wrote that over six years ago, and it is still true. (I hope someone out there can show me I’m wrong.)

An inline notes workaround for Tinderbox

So my Tinderbox inline notes workaround. You can add columns to an outline view in Tinderbox. The columns can display any of the attributes for the headings in your Tinderbox outline. One of those attributes is “text”, which is the notes content.

Tinderbox with outline view selected. I have only populated it with a few notes.

Tinderbox with outline view selected. I have only populated it with a few notes.

If you’ve read my article about Tinderbox as an outliner, you know that you can add columns to the outline view, and fill those columns with data from any of the notes’ attributes. The text within the note is the “text” attribute, so you can add that as a column. So you can minimize the notes pane and view the text in the outline view as demonstrated in the screenshot below:

Outline view in Tinderbox with the "Text" attribute displayed in the outline as a separate column.

Outline view in Tinderbox with the “Text” attribute displayed in the outline as a separate column.

As you can see, the result isn’t exactly “inline” notes. And, sadly, the text doesn’t wrap to multiple lines so you can only read the contents as far as you can stretch the column. But this does provide an overview of content in a single pane, so it might prove useful to some.

My conclusion, however, is the search goes on for a single-pane outliner that can handle inline notes effectively for writers.

Day One 2 – The best journal (for Mac) just got better (I think)

Day One 2's main screen.

Day One 2’s main screen.

For the past few years I’ve been keeping a sporadic diary in an application called Day One. I have liked several aspects of the software:

  • It has an elegant, uncluttered interface.
  • It has versions for OSx and iOS, and these have sync’d flawlessly
  • It allows me to write my journals using markdown if I wish
  • It has an effective, but not intrusive tagging system to organize entries beyond dates

There are many, many other features, but those are the ones that matter to me most.

One of the reasons I had not used Day One for more than a casual diary is because it only allowed for one journal, which had to store everything.

Today the developer of Day One has issued a new and improved version called Day One 2. There are several improvements in this version, but the one that matters most to me is I can now create multiple journals.

Day One 2 has multiple journal capability. To edit an entry, you need to be in edit mode. You can use markdown for formatting.

Day One 2 has multiple journal capability. To edit an entry, you need to be in edit mode. You can use markdown for formatting.

I’m not doing a full review here. If you’d like more information about the new version, you can get the details here.

The screenshot above shows the five journals I’ve created (three of them are empty, one has one entry, and the other has imported all my entries from the previous version of Day One). In that screenshot, my entry is in edit mode so I can do my writing. Note that I’m using markdown to add some formatting.

Day One 2 with my entry in view mode. It converts the markdown nicely.

Day One 2 with my entry in view mode. It converts the markdown nicely.

Having to switch back and forth from edit mode is a very mild annoyance, one I can live with. It was that way in the previous version of Day One, too.

The other significant change, at least for me, is that I now need to use the propriety Day One cloud service to keep my two MacBooks and my iPad in sync. In very limited testing, this has worked fine so far. This is what the iPad version looks like (notice it is sync’d):

Day One 2 for iPad. Keep all your (Apple-based) devices in sync.

Day One 2 for iPad. Keep all your (Apple-based) devices in sync.

The developer claims moving to the proprietary service is necessary for additional features they are planning. I hope one of those features isn’t a subscription fee for using the sync service — right now it is free, but I’m not sure if there is a guarantee this will always be the case.

Switching journals in the iPad version of Day One 2. (Note: I could not stand that hideous pink color any longer and changed it to gray... that was my doing, not a flaw in the sync.)

Switching journals in the iPad version of Day One 2. (Note: I could not stand that hideous pink color any longer and changed it to gray… that was my doing, not a flaw in the sync.)

The developer is charging even current users a fee for the new versions on both OSx and iOS. For the first week, the price is half the normal price, so you can get the OSx version for $20 and the iOS version for $5. Some people might gripe at that, but to me $25 is a bargain for a useful application like Day One. I am happy to support the continued development of this fine software.

Anyway, so far, so good. If I run into blips, I will update this article. But I wanted to get it posted as soon as possible since the special pricing is for a limited time.

Circus Ponies closes shop, gives its customers the finger

[see update at the end]

Circus Ponies gives its customers the finger on the way out the door.

Circus Ponies gives its customers the finger on the way out the door.

Notebook by Circus Ponies was one of the applications, along with Scrivener, that lured me back to the Mac platform after 15 years. Its outline-centric approach and notebook metaphor appealed to me, but once I began using it, I found it a bit too restrictive. While I updated to each new version, paying the upgrade fee a couple of times, I really never relied upon the app. I might have more if the iPad version worked well-enough. But it didn’t and the long-promised upgrade never appeared.

Now word comes (via outlinersoftware.com) that Circus Ponies has, without warning, shut its doors, leaving its users in the lurch, with no support but this vague statement:

If you need a copy of NoteBook 4.0 (3.x and earlier don’t run on OS X El Capitan) or need technical support, you can try sending an e-mail to support@circusponies.com. There’s a chance someone will respond but no guarantees.

I know that software companies can’t be expected to stay in business if they’re not profitable. But when they decide they are going to shut down they owe it to the people who’ve purchased their product to exit a lot more gracefully than this. There should be some warning. An e-mail sent, well in advance of the day to their customers. If they are an information warehouse, like Notebook, a FAQ on the best ways to port information to other apps should be posted. A sincere thank you would be nice too.

Instead of any of that, Circus Ponies chose to make this their final remark to their long-standing customers:

Best of luck with all the turd note-taking apps that are left.

I say, if you’d spent more time making a better product, you might have stayed in business. Good riddance to you and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on they way out.

January 6, 2015 Update: I checked the Circus Ponies site this afternoon and found that they had removed the reference to “turd note-taking apps.” It just says “Best of luck” now. I’m glad they re-thought that send off.

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 http://www.zengobi.com/curio. New licenses can be purchased for US$129.99 (US$79.99 for academia, upgrades are US$49.99) from www.zengobi.com/store, volume discounts are available. Downloading Curio will begin a full-featured, 2-week trial. More information on Curio can be found at www.zengobi.com/curio and detailed Curio 10 release notes can be found at www.zengobi.com/support/articles/AR100000.html.

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 www.zengobi.com/curiota.

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 www.zengobi.com/curio/express.

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 www.zengobi.com/curio/reader.

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.

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.

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

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.