Saturday October 1, 2005

Circus Ponies NoteBook

One of my favorite "must-have" applications for Mac OS X is Circus Ponies NoteBook. NoteBook is a data manager with the look and feel of a 23rd century notepad. It looks like paper but it's flexible, powerful, and highly reconfigurable. I'm someone who has often wished to rearrange paper notebooks, change the format, etc. – being able to actually do so with this one gives me a trippy feeling indeed!

I've been using NoteBook for nearly two and a half years now. It was initially recommended to me by a friend whose opinions I tend to trust implicitly in these matters (his ideas of what makes a great application are usually in sync with my own).

At this point I have a set of seven notebooks in regular use: two daily journals (one each for home and work, with different formats), a project log book for work, a general "notes" book for work, another notebook for records of all sorts, both technical and personal (from code snippets to recipes) and a notebook in which I store quotes, lyrics, essays, writing prompts, and the like.


So now you're probably wondering what makes this software so great. Well, for one thing, it's very flexible.

It's a notebook. It's an outliner. It can store text, clickable URLs, and images. It can handle To-Do lists (complete with due dates, check boxes, and priorities).

Some of the features include

  • a "contents card", making navigation easy (aka a "drawer" in standard Mac OS X parlance, but in keeping with the notebook theme, it's a "card").

  • bookmarks (in the form of tabs on the edges of the pages).

  • the ability to link from cells to other cells or pages (think of a "cell" as a unit of text entry)

  • table support (rows by columns)

  • integration with Apple's iCal application (adding alarms for to-dos)

  • "stickers" you can add to entries (helpful for easy identification)

  • keywords

  • complete indexing

  • many expected "word processor" features (styled text, rulers, find and replace, sort)

  • multiple export capabilities including a most excellent export to HTML feature.

  • a responsive developer, great documentation, and excellent support

  • a truly cool look and feel

Coming Up to Speed

As is often the case with very powerful applications, it can take a little time to really get facile with using NoteBook. There are a lot of options (although the defaults are generally quite useful) and multiple ways to do things.

I've recently (finally!) gotten Rich using NoteBook and he made this observation: Because NoteBook has so much flexibility, you can find yourself rethinking and redesigning the structure of your notebook several times.

It's true. I think I reconfigured my personal journal three or four times before I settled on a format that worked well. And my "work" journal uses a different format!

You keep redesigning because you can; you're not constrained by the software into a limited way of thinking about your data and your project. That's both liberating and also a bit weird to get used to. But after you've gotten used to the idea, you wonder how you've gotten along without it before.

NoteBook provides me with the "magic notebook" I always wanted. No section is ever too small. No page is too short. I don't "lose" things. The notebook grows to accommodate what I write, indexing text automatically. I can rearrange entries at will, add pages, merge sections, move things around, and change whatever seems to need changing.

Not only that, I can configure the look and feel to be as "realistic" as I like. My notebooks are configured for "spiral bound lined paper" with 3 "punch holes" down the side. And due to the marvels of Mac OS X, I can actually see through the "holes" to whatever is underneath on the screen! Isn't that wild?!

NoteBook is not yet a floor wax (nor is it quite a dessert topping) but it is a very powerful, useful, and fun information storage application.

Read More:

News and Reviews
The Well-Worn NoteBook
A Shiny New NoteBook
Circus Ponies NoteBook and GTD — a discussion forum for using NoteBook with the Getting Things Done meme of productivity enhancement.

Circus Ponies NoteBook ( in category Computerware ) - posted at Sat, 01 Oct, 10:00 Pacific | «e»