Software

Diarly Update

I have written before about a journaling application called Diarly (first here, then here). I really like how simple it is. I just find that it invites writing. It lacks a lot of the whistles and bells of an app like DayOne, but that’s a good thing, in my opinion.

With some recent releases, the developer (PureForm Studio) has added some very nice features. They aren’t revolutionary, by any means, but they can be exceedingly useful — and necessary even. Two of these are built-in filters that allow you to sift your entries in a given journal for 1. those with uncompleted tasks listed, and 2. past entries made on the current date. The other feature is typewriter mode, which takes your cursor off the bottom of the screen (when working on texts long enough to reach that far) and moves it to the center of the screen.

I’ve created a three-minute screencast that demonstrates these features. (Alert: I’m not at my most eloquent in this recording.)

 

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NotePlan 2.0 for Mac

NotePlan is a terrific productivity app. I’ve posted before about how to use version 1 of NotePlan as a bullet journal. Version 2.0 for MacOS arrived in the App Store last week. Unlike some number-jump upgrades, this upgrade is the real deal. Take a look at the developer’s blog post to see how much NotePlan has significantly improved.

In my view NotePlan is the most successful combination task manager, calendar and note taker. I’ve created this brief video to demonstrate this:

NotePlan 2.0 Demonstration from Stephen Zeoli on Vimeo.

Is Tinderbox worth the expense?

I used a Tinderbox map when I was trying to make sense of my Markdown Shakedown thread from last summer.

thread on the outlinersoftware.com forum started out as just an announcement that Tinderbox 8 had been released, but turned into a discussion (in part) about whether or not Tinderbox is worth the investment of money and time. Someone wrote the following:

Tinderbox is too expensive. It looks useful and complex but it is too expensive for what it is… Annual pricing of nearly £100 is ridiculous.

That commenter also compared the price of Tinderbox with that of DevonThink.

I am not going to contend that that opinion is wrong. Everyone should judge the “value” of software based upon her or his needs. But I’ll tell you why that judgment does not fit my perspective.

A simple outline helped me manage the production of a book for our local historical society.

The financial cost

Maybe it is because I started personal computing when most software cost over $200, but I am not shocked that Tinderbox costs $249. What shocks me is that any software only costs $10 or $20. That has always seemed unsustainable to me, which I think has proven true, as attested by the number of apps going to a subscription model. Still, $249 is a lot of money to spend on software that has a reputation of being very difficult to master, and even harder, perhaps, to figure out what in the world you want to use it for.

That $249 only gets you one year of updates. After that, the software keeps on working fine, but if you want updates, you’ll have to pay another $98, which buys you another year of updates.

Justifying the cost

Tinderbox is unlike any other app on the market. It does things no other app does, and it makes possible the manipulation of notes in ways no other single application does. So it is not possible to compare the price of Tinderbox with that of any other application in any way that is logical. If, as the commenter whom I quoted above, you see Tinderbox as just another DevonThink alternative, of course it would not make sense to spend the money for the more expensive app. Choosing DevonThink makes perfect sense for that person.

But that is ignoring all the other things Tinderbox can do. The map view itself could justify the cost. I have written about how I think Tinderbox is the best outliner. You can add custom fields to your notes. There are multiple other views of your information in Tinderbox.

(Yes, there are lots of things Tinderbox fails at: no iOS companion and clunky exporting to name two.)

The decision about whether the initial cost is worth the money should not be made by comparing it to other applications that do less, but whether Tinderbox can help you manage and make sense of your data in ways other applications can’t and whether that is worth it to you.

Tinderbox appears to be the main source of income for the software’s lone developer, Mark Bernstein. If it becomes financialy unfeasible for him to continue to develop the app, it will gradually whither on the vine. For those of us who get great benefit from Tinderbox, that would be a hardship, so we pay the $98 update fee, seeing it as an investment in the continued growth and availability of Tinderbox. Many users may not pay the update fee until a new feature comes a long that they want. Tinderbox keeps working just fine even if you don’t pay the update fee.

The investment in time

The one criticism of Mark Bernstein that may be valid is that he doesn’t provide enough guidance for getting started with the app. He has tried. There is a 111-page “Getting Started with Tinderbox” PDF tutorial that comes with the app. This is helpful. But a series of video tutorials would be even more help — especially since there seems to be a gap between “how Tinderbox works” and “what should I do with it?” I’ve put together my own amateurish videos, and people have commented that they have helped them get started with Tinderbox.

There are a lot of dispirate resources on the website that give informtion about using Tinderbox, but there feels no rhyme nor reason to them. And there is no real user’s manual, though there is a getting started reference on the website. But there turns out to be plenty of help figuring out new features, which is how I managed to figure out a little something about Hyperbolic View in version 8.

But the truth is that all the documentation in the world would barely reduce the amount of effort needed to master all of Tinderbox’s functions. It’s just that complex. If you approach the app at the start with the notion that you need to learn all it does before you use it, you’ll almost certainly become frustrated and give up after a while.

The key to Tinderbox happiness is understanding that you can just start slowly. Almost all my posts and video tutorials are about taking this approach with the app. If you haven’t looked them over, check them out. The short version is that you can do many remarkable things with your information just be mastering the basics of Tinderbox. As you discover the efficacy of Tinderbox, you’ll start to expand your knowledge of its functions, one step at a time.

The bottom line

I am by no means trying to convince anyone they should spend the money and time to start using Tinderbox. Every opinion on this topic, from “it’s crazy expensive and too hard to learn” to “I’d pay twice as much for Tinderbox if I had to,” is valid.

 

 

Using Milanote to plan and record a meeting

Planning and recording a meeting is a great application for Milanote.

Back in November I wrote about a cloud-based planner called Milanote. I continue to use this app for various purposes, but one I especially like is for planning, recording and reporting on meetings.

With Milanote I create a white board for my meeting. Then I add figures to handle the various planning and recording functions I need. So the skeletal structure of the meeting might look like the following screen capture:

A basic meeting outline.

I can export this basic agenda as a Word document or PDF and send it out to the attendees before the meeting (imagine something more complex than the simple meeting above). (Also, remember I am a solo user of Milanote. You can also share your boards with other Milanote subscribers.)

Then as the meeting is running, I can drag figure elements into the whiteboard as needed to record what is happening. See the screencast below:

 

When the meeting is over, I can export my notes to a Word document or PDF to distribute to the team. Here is the PDF of those Meeting Notes.

Note: To get the best results when exporting to Word or PDF, remember that Milanote chooses the order of the export going left to right and then down the board. So the top left figure is collated first and the bottom right figure is collated last.

Of course it is possible to do much the same in many different kinds of applications, especially outliners like Dynalist. What I like about using Milanote is that it presents a clean visual overview of the meeting, but provides ample tools for recording what takes place. Additionally, it is flexible. Below is a screen capture of an alternative way to organize the notes of the meeting:

Another optional way to manage your meeting notes using Milanote. (I also added a touch of color so you know you have that option too.)

 

Milanote costs $120 per year, so you would not choose it solely to take minute notes. But I’ve found the app to be very useful for all kinds of solutions (tracking book development for our nonprofit press, for example). There is a free version, which allows you to create 100 figures, more than enough to manage a few meetings, if you want to give it a try. Learn more here.

Creating a new note from Hyperbolic View in Tinderbox 8

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

 

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

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

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

New Tinderbox 8 feature: Filtered Outlines

Outline View in Tinderbox.

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

From the Tinderbox Help File:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyperbolic View in Tinderbox 8

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tinderbox 8 is now available

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

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

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

Quick and easy Dynalist to Tinderbox export

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

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

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

This video demonstrates the simple process:

Dynalist to Tinderbox from Stephen Zeoli on Vimeo.

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

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

For more Tinderbox tips, see here.

“Personal” Computing 1.0

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

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

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

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

I was hooked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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