Dynalist came through again!

I have been using Dynalist for almost a year now, for notes and productivity, and have already written about it here. But they do not get enough attention, given the fine product they have, so I wanted to share one experience I had these last couple weeks.

I had to teach an intensive course in Spanish on the biblical book of Revelation. I wanted to have the entire Spanish text of the book available for projecting onto a screen, separated clause by clause. But I also wanted the many Old Testament texts that Revelation alludes to¬† visible, but visually distinct from the text of Revelation. And I also wanted to insert my own notes in the text so they would appear when printed, but I wanted them hidden when showing the biblical text on the screen to my students. Aaaand if that weren’t enough, I also wanted to use tags to bring together the verses that displayed this or that theme as found throughout the book. Oh and I even wanted a few images. What to do?

I pondered using TiddlyWiki, my other go-to tool. But then it hit me. In Dynalist, I can have list items, colored list items, tags and notes. And the notes can be hidden or not hidden as I wish.

In one afternoon, I

  • pasted the entire text of Revelation to Dynalist
  • separated the entire text by clauses so each clause could stand out
  • added tags on certain topics that appear throughout the book
  • added my notes in English to the first three chapters of the book as notes
  • added the Old Testament references to chapters 1-3 as colored list items
  • added some images

Dynalist made all this fly by so fast. Then each day of the course I continued to add English notes and OT passages.

I also emailed Erica from Dynalist, requesting the necessary CSS to add to my Stylish custom style for Dynalist, so that I could completely hide the notes from view, even the icon that indicates there are hidden notes. Erica graciously replied with what I needed within a day.

Here is a screen shot of part of what I printed out for my printed notes: observe the blue tags for topics that appear in each verse, the orange background that sets the Old Testament verses apart, the image, and the gray text of my English notes.

And below is what my students saw projected onto the screen (the same thing, but with my notes completely hidden from view):

Had you asked me before Dynalist how long such a thing could take, I would have said ‘Days.’ But this only took a few hours.

My intensive course was a hit. And now if I ever teach it again (quite likely), I have everything in one place. I can even share a link with my students, if I wish.

Thank you, Lord! And thank you, too, Dynalist.

Thanks to Dynalist, my searching is over

For years I have been trying to find the best note-taking tool. I wanted to have my notes all in one place, in a way that allows me to quickly dump individual notes from my reading, organize them by topics, link topics to each other, and quickly find my notes with a flexible search mechanism.

I have tried everything:

  • Evernote is great for saving images and clipping, but since even a pro account has a limit of 100,000 notes, it is not ideal for dumping and tagging individual notes.
  • OneNote has some benefits, but it doesn’t have real tags, its searching is not very good, and if I want to add an individual note I found somewhere, I need to drill down to the right notebook, section, tab and page.
  • I spent a lot of time in the last ten years contributing to the TiddlyWiki community, because TiddlyWiki is such a great – and fun – note-taking tool. It is infinitely customizable, has great tagging and searching, and hyperlinking notes to each other helps me see connections I never noticed before. But my interests are so diverse, and my notes are so many, that I ultimately found that I either had to create one big TiddlyWiki file, which slowed down considerably, or split up my notes among many TiddlyWiki files, which made searching and hyperlinking impractical if not impossible.
  • A year ago I discovered Workflowy, a unique outlining program. It felt liberating! It was basically one place where I could order my ideas in an infinitely expandable and zoomable bulleted list. I was pumping out new Spanish resources at a faster pace than ever, and organizing my own notes in one huge hierarchy. But the more I used it, the more frustrated I became with it. Search results were messy and required a lot of scrolling through the search results. To add something I found in my reading to a particular topical list in Workflowy I had to drill down to the right bullet. I couldn’t just create a note and tag it as in TiddlyWiki. The other thing that frustrated me with Workflowy was the lack of development. Its creators seem to have plateaued or become sidetracked.

Earlier this month I discovered Dynalist. And now my search is over. I have found my note-taking holy grail.

Dynalist was created by Erica Xu and Shida Li who appear to have become tired of waiting for Workflowy to implement their promised new features. So they built her own, better version. And they may not realize it, but they built the perfect solution to the problems I had with the tools mentioned above.

How can I best describe Dynalist? It is an outlining tool clearly inspired by Workflowy, but in which you create any number of separate, infinite outliner documents and can organize them in folders.

dynalist1Some details:

  • You can tag as in Workflowy, with a # or an @.
  • You can search for either document titles or for content in the documents. And the searching is fast and helpful.
  • You can add inline previews to images on the web (something that requires a complicated hack in Workflowy).
  • You can quickly create links to other documents or even to bullet points in other documents with the search-link function.
  • You can convert any list or bullet point into a separate document simply by dragging it to the contents pane.
  • You can share your documents so others can view them. Here is a shared Dynalist I created.
  • There are many other features like bookmarking, themes, and some customization settings.
  • I even created a couple of custom user styles for Dynalist (get them here), but that is for another blog post.

The other thing that impressed me about Dynalist is their fast, friendly service, and their plan for development of new features and functions. They have a Trello board here outlining their plan. And you can see how they have progressed in each quarter.

trello

About pricing – the amazing thing is that most of the best features are available in their free version. I ended up buying the pro version for $50/year. This gives me backups (for when I accidentally delete something and need to go back and find it later) and bookmarking. It will also soon allow me to save files to Dynalist. But if your goal is productivity, note-taking, organizing your thoughts, brainstorming, or writing first drafts of articles, the free version lets you do pretty much everything you would want to. (More details on pricing here).

I hope you will do yourself a favor and give Dynalist a try. It is a great product, and for me, is the end of a long search for just the right note-taking tool.

Gospels Bubblemaps

I am currently in the middle of a devotional / teqaching prep project called Gospels bubblemaps. It’s a project that started as one idea and suddenly expanded to three.

My original goal was simply to create color-coded charts of each of the four Gospels. This phase is now done. Each type of passage (miracle, parable, dispute, passion prediction, etc) has a separate color.

matthewbmThese charts let me see at a glance where the concentrations of certain kinds of passages are in each Gospel. They also help me find passages quickly (the passages display when hovering over each bubble).

johnbm

Phase two: the peril of parallel passages: Since each passage had its own separate note, I decided to link parallel passages together. I borrowed Kurt Aland’s Synopsis of the Four Gospels from the seminary library, and went to town. Little did I know what a long, tedious and frustrating exercise that would turn out to be. Not only are there parallel passages, but there are parallel verses in passages that themselves are not parallel, and there are passages that seem parallel but are not, and there are sayings of Jesus that get placed in wildly different contexts, which change the emphasis and meaning, and there are entire passages that get repeated, but with the details changed – and in the same Gospel! But I did the best I could, and thankfully, this phase is now also complete.

mtpassI am now in the last phase. I am tagging each passage in the Gospels with the themes, people, places, groups, and imagery types found in that passage.

luketags

I have automatically generating lists of all the tags – all the people tags, all the theme tags, all the places tags, all the groups tags, all the imagery types tags, and all the passages in each Gospel with their tags. These lists will grow as I add tags to more passages.

tagstags

I would eventually like to use Gospels bubblemaps to write a manual in Spanish of all the themes in the Gospels, and what the various passages say about each theme.

This resource is free for you to consult! I hope you find it helpful. Here is the link: http://giffmex.org/gospels.bubbles.html

TiddlyWiki

I have been using TiddlyWiki to organize many of my notes since late 2006. Yet many people have never heard of this wonderful tool.

TiddlyWiki is a webpage file (an html file) that has been stuffed to the gills with code, converting it into a one file database for notecards, called tiddlers (tiddlers is a British term for a small fish, like a minnow) you create in it. The tiddlers are connected to each other by tags and hyperlinks you add to them.

tw

TiddlyWiki is infinitely customizable, with a growing toolbox of plugins, macros, filters and other features. You can create your own visual stylesheet for your TiddlyWiki, and enhance its appearance and functioning in ways too numerous to count here. Here is a screen shot of a visual theme I use in my TiddlyWikis:

tw2

You can embed images and video in tiddlers, create tables, tabs and iframes, and even draw pictures and scrawl hand written notes in them.

TiddlyWiki is Open Source, meaning it is completely free. You can download a separate empty TiddlyWiki for each subject you want to take notes on. Take that, Evernote!