Circus Ponies Notebook
Review by Virginia Trent
Circus Ponies Notebook. Don't let the cute name fool you. This is a highly powerful tool for organizing information, files, projects and graphics or photos. It can be used to create scrapbooks and photo albums, collect documents and information in one location, create outlines, organize projects, make to-do lists, among many other uses. I use it primarily for outlining my class notes, and collecting research materials. It's practically the only reason I've managed to make it through my second year of law school with some sanity left.
Every new notebook begins with the same basic template: a table of contents, a single divider with a blank page, and a set of indices. Both the table of contents and all of the indices are generated automatically on the fly. The notebook can be navigated by clicking on the tabs to move from section to section, or by clicking on the turned page corner in the upper right of the notebook to move back and forward a page at a time.
There are a large number of options to customize the appearance of the notebook. Some of these options include the paper background--including blank, ruled, legal, graph, lab or ledger papers that can be set to any color, and be either in pad or spiral bound format. Each page setting is separate, so it is possible to use blank paper on one page, and lab paper on the next. Other display preferences include the settings for the typefaces on the titles, page numbers and text, as well as the number scheme used by the outlining function, among other things. The standard set of outline numbering options are available: no numbering, bulleted list, numbered list, roman numeral outlining, pyramid numbering (ie, 1, 1.1, 1.1.1), sibling numbering and summation. Each of these numbering schemes are can be formatted and customized to a certain extent. The toolbox for the display preferences of the notebook is called the Cell Inspector, where it is possible to control the settings for the notebook, each individual page, and the elements on each page. Defaults can also be set within the cell inspector, and can apply to either new pages created within the current notebook, or in all new notebook files created.
The notebook can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. You can add pages to each section, create new sections, add new dividers, add tabs to any page. The tabs can also be customized for font, color, and width.
The outlining function is the core feature of the program. By itself, it is relatively simple. A new cell can be created in the outline or list with the return key. A tab will increase the level of indentation, and shift-tab will decrease the level. Where the indent has increased, this is called a "child" cell. Many nested children are called "descendants." Notebook typically ties these cells together, so that changes to the top-level parent cell (such as moving it, or changing its placement within the outline), will cascade to automatically renumber all the descendants. Cells can be moved with drag and drop to any location within the active page, but it is necessary to copy and paste to move outline items from page to page.
There are a couple of different input modes for inputting new cells. In the standard mode, using the return key ends the active cell; hitting return a second time will create a new cell. In Paragraph Mode, the return key adds a new line within the active cell; hitting option-return will end the active cell and create a new cell. In List Mode, one press of the return key will end the active cell and move to the next cell simultaneously. In all three modes, the tab and shift-tab control of the level of indentation work the same.
Unlike other outlining utilities available, Notebook has the capability of expanding and collapsing the view of the outline. The triangle control located next to each cell can act to collapse all descendents of that cell so they are not displayed, and to expand so that they are displayed. For instance, say I have sections in my outline with many levels of detail, and I really only want to view the top level of each section, such as Roman numeral A, B, C, etc. I can collapse each section using the control triangle located next to the number. Examples 1 and 2 show the same section of an outline: the first is the full expanded view, the second a collapsed view. Notebook allows you to collapse selectively--what you want, where you want--at any point where there is a child cell. There are also commands for expanding or collapsing a selection or the entire page you are working on.
Outline cells can also be annotated with keywords, creation or change dates, stickers or priority settings. Text within the cells or the entire cell can be highlighted in one of the six different highlighter colors available. It is also possible to add check boxes and due dates to any cell--which is useful for to-do lists and project management tasks.
Collecting documents in one location
Another major function of Notebook is the ability to gather information and documents in one place. In a number of my classes, the professors use materials outside of the casebook, and can include anything from Word or WordPerfect files to PDFs to PowerPoint slides. I can easily collect all of these materials up into one notebook by attaching the document to a page.
Files are simple to attach--it can be accomplished simply by dragging them into the notebook. All files that are attached are embedded into the Notebook, which makes it convenient to pass collections of data back and forth between users, and post as a web page.
Another method within Notebook to collect information is the Clipping service. The Clipping service can be used to collect data when you are working outside of Notebook, and will automatically place it on a pre-configured notebook page. This feature makes it easy to collect snippets of information in one place, which is especially helpful when you are doing research online, or working on a project. As a preliminary step, a page within the notebook needs to be set up to accept the information--which can be done simply by attaching a clipping service to a page from within Notebook. Then, when using another application, such as Safari, you can grab any information you want to put into a notebook by selecting the text to collect, go to the application's menu -> Services -> Notebook and clip to the destination notebook and page. Notebook does not need to be running at the time. Note, however, that the clipping service isn't supported in every application right now--but it is supported in at least Safari, Mail and TextEdit.
Scrapbooks and Photo Albums
Notebook can also be used to create digital scrapbooks and photo albums. Digital photos and graphics can be placed on any page within a notebook. There are a number of options to customize the look and placement of the pictures available from the cell inspector, including changing the size and angle of the picture, or adding black or gold photo corners or white space. Text or other graphics can be added to caption the photos. In conjunction with the other file collection features and clipping service, it is possible to create a great scrapbook with photos, information, notes, or email, among other things.
Notebook has a number of other notable features, many of which I've not included:
- Table of Contents: A master table of contents is created with each notebook. It is then populated based on the section names and page titles, and is automatically updated every time a change is made. Each section also has a sub table of contents--a listing of every page within that section. Both the main table of contents and the sub tables can be used to navigate within the Notebook, simply by clicking on the blue dot next to the page name.
- Automated real-time indexing: Each notebook also starts with a set of indices. These indices are updated automatically, on the fly, every time you add new information, graphics, annotations, or attachments to your notebook. The basic indices include a full text index, a capitalized words index, and a numbers index. There are also more specialized indices for listings of information that has been highlighted, tagged with a keyword, sticker or priority setting, or based on creation or change date of the information. There is also an index created listing all your attached files.
- Export to web: Notebook also includes a feature to easily export the notebook to a set of web pages. The pages are created with the same look and feel as the program, with much of the functionality--including notebook tabs and outlines that can collapse and expand. And, it is completely self-contained--all attached documents, graphics and photos are also included within the folder created by the export function. This makes it extremely easy to share the notebook--all you need to do is place the folder created by Notebook on a web server.
- It is also worth mentioning how well supported Notebook is. The help documentation built into the program is straight-forward, and easy to use (it was created using Notebook and the web page export feature), and there are great FAQs available on the company's website. There are also several bulletin boards available for users to swap tips and get help on the website. The software author is active on a number of the bulletin boards, and seems to be very responsive to bug reports, and feature requests.
All in all, Circus Ponies Notebook is a very versatile and powerful piece of software, and I highly recommend it. You can download the software from www.circusponies.com. A free 30 day trial license is available if you'd like to take it for a test drive. A "non-expiring license" is available on the website for $50.
This article appeared in the September 2004 issue of Mouse Tracks