Tinderbox as a Writer’s Tool

Tinderbox IconFor a year or so now, I’ve been evaluating quite a number of digital brainstorming tools in order to find one that best serves the way I think, the way I make associations, and the way in which I like to fiddle with vague and ethereal ideas before they become solid. I’ve tried plain text editors, wikis, various mind-mapping tools like NovaMind, FreeMind and Inspiration, outliners like OmniOutliner, and “notebooks” like Mori, AquaMinds NoteTaker and Circus Ponies Notebook, but none of these seemed to possess the right mix of power, visual layout, rapid entry, and emphasis on text.

And, oddly enough, the answer has been right under my nose for a while. I had been trying to force Eastgate Systems’ Tinderbox into becoming my digital Commonplace Book, but it was a poor fit for me. I required so much multimedia and OS X services support that I felt like I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole, and eventually I decided upon using DEVONthink Pro. While I have not regretted that decision for a moment, my inner geek still lusted after Tinderbox, having had fleeting glimpses of the power that lay untapped beneath its surface.

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In Praise of OS X Automator

Recently, my comrade-in-arms at DIYPlanner.com, eric Farris, was completing his port of the various contacts forms for the letter and A4 sizes of the D*I*Y Planner. There was a problem, however. Normally, I take the various templates, designed in Adobe Illustrator, and copy and paste each one into Adobe InDesign so I can produce the PDF booklets. This time, though, my InDesign refused to launch for some reason.

The other option was to produce his templates as individual PDF files (exported from Illustrator), but I have several problems with this: 1) it makes it very difficult to flip through the forms; 2) printing multiple forms in one print run is impossible; and 3) the combined file size of all the individual files is many, many times greater than one master PDF file.

So eric decided to jump into Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger’s new Automator. For those folks here who aren’t Mac geeks, Automator is a tool whereby you choose applications and a series of actions to automate certain tasks. Although it certainly looked intriguing, I’ve haven’t tripped across anything since getting Tiger that needed this sort of thing. eric suspected that it would be perfect for combining multiple PDFs, and he was right.

OS X Automator

It’s basically four clicks: get the Finder Items; sort them in ascending order; combine PDF pages by appending,; and open the Finder Items in Acrobat, where one can “Save As…”. Save the Automator workflow in ~/Library/Workflows/Applications/Finder, and when you select some PDFS in the Finder, you can run this Automator script on them. Beautiful. eric points out that a relevant MacOSXHints.com hint is here: 10.4: Use Automator to combine PDFs.

This means, of course, that I won’t have to slog all his AI templates through InDesign, thus saving me a tonne of work.

(In case you’re interested, Adobe InDesign eventually started working again for no known reason about a week later. Hmph.)

OpenOffice.org 2.0 Beta (for OS X!)

I love it when I get a pleasant surprise for the weekend. Now, all things being relative (and keep in mind that I’m a bona fide geek), this is quite a wonderful one for me: I’ve just downloaded and installed a version of the free Open Source office suite OpenOffice.org 2.0 beta for OS X, a version I didn’t even know existed. (Windows/Linux users can skip ahead a few paragraphs.) It’s not easy to find from any official site that I’ve tripped across, but you can find it here:

http://ftp.stardiv.de/pub/OpenOffice.org/contrib/MacOSX/

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DEVONthink Pro Public Beta 2

DEVONthink Pro BetaDEVONtechnologies has released the second DEVONthink Pro Public Beta. I’ve kept abreast of this one for a while now, and am pleasantly surprised by its capabilities with each new version. If you’re running a Mac, and need a heavy-duty but user-friendly application for managing your writing, research, freeform information, and files (including HTML, PDFs and graphics), then there’s no way to go wrong with this program. It’s probably the best software of its kind that I’ve ever used.

The final version is due around August 17th, but this download seems to allow unlimited usage till then. There is also a revised manual and a very handy tutorial to get you started. See the previous post An Attic Called DEVONthink for my review of the application, although this new version puts much of the older (and non-Pro version) version to shame.

(Sorry, Windows users… you’re out of luck on this one. However, I have had quite a number of emails suggesting Zoot as a good alternative. From their website docs, it doesn’t look quite as powerful, but I haven’t tested it myself.)