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Tomboy notes captures bolts of inspiration

A few days ago I posted about Zim, that WYSIWYG personal wiki great for making detailed notes about a story or essay or whatever you like to write about. But what do you do about those sudden flashes of inspiration? Sometimes you don’t have time to start up a wiki and figure out exactly where you want to record it, you just need to write down something, and fast.

So you grab a pen and start scribbling like mad on your computer screen, which is never a good idea since it’s devilishly hard to write on one. That’s why it’s always convenient to keep a little notebook on hand, or if you want to go classic, some napkins. Handy things, napkins, when you’re not jotting down ideas on them (since they are the medium of choice for the proper writer) you can use them to clean up messes as well. If you don’t have a bunch stuffed in your pocket right this instant I hope you’re either naked or you’ve just cleaned up the biggest chocolate milk spillage of your life.

Or, if this whole thing isn’t quite your modus operandi and you enjoy being chained to technology, there’s Tomboy Notes.

What is Tomboy Notes?

Tomboy Notes comes packaged with Ubuntu, and therefore with Linux Mint, and therefore you’ve probably stumbled across it already. In terms of organization it doesn’t even approach Zim – you can put notes into categories (called “notebooks”) and link them to one another, but that’s about it. For comparison, Zim gives you entire hierarchies, somewhat more formatting options and (this is the important bit for me) keeps itself in contained in one window. So if you’re going complex, go for Zim.

Tomboy Notes shines when you’ve got to take a quick note of something, e.g. you’ve run into a person named Elizabeth Prime and want to make the note “Elizabeth Prime is a really awesome name and I should use that somewhere,” which it is, and you should. So to do this you find Tomboy Notes, launch the program, and click File -> New.

Pretty convenient, right? No wait that sucks. Let’s make it better. Like, oh let’s say, instantaneous.

Giving Tomboy Notes a shortcut

In Tomboy, Edit -> Preferences -> Hotkeys lets you define hotkeys for the program. And here’s the first thing you gotta fix: there’s no hotkey for making a new note! Let’s remedy that right now.

Type in your shortcut of choice, for example <Alt>N. Yes, type it in. It’s not going to actually capture your shortcut for you. (Is this standard for Linux programs? Maybe Compiz has spoiled me, I don’t know.)

Now that you’ve defined a shortcut it’s time for the useful part: making sure you can actually use it. If you’re not on Ubuntu 10.10 or Mint 10, you should be done – the shortcuts should always work. If you are, like I am, there’s a bug and a workaround you ought to know about. Essentially, you need to add Tomboy Notes to a panel before the shortcuts work right.

To do this, first close Tomboy Notes and make sure it’s not lurking in a notification panel somewhere. Then right-click on one of your panels (if you’re in Mint and haven’t changed the default, the only panel) and select “Add to Panel”. Pick “Tomboy Notes” and stick the icon somewhere. Now the shortcuts should work. If they don’t, try getting rid of the icon and logging out / back in again, then making sure to re-add it to the panel before you open up Tomboy Notes itself.

If you haven’t run into any bugs, you should now have instantaneous note-taking! If you have run into any bugs, report them here please, and don’t give up – I had to play around a bit, but now my hotkey is consistently working.

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7 Comments on “Tomboy notes captures bolts of inspiration”

  1. Rob says:

    Tomboy has been my go-to for awhile- I even use funambol.com in conjunction with Conduit to sync the notes with my Blackberry’s memopad and my netbook (although the Conduit sync has to be done manually). Good post.

    • awkisopen says:

      Thanks! I still haven’t considered the applications of syncing notes – I don’t have a smartphone to test that out on I’m afraid. For now the only useful thing I can do is drop it in Dropbox.

      • Rob says:

        I would love to find an app that can use Dropbox to sync notes, a la Notational Velocity & Simplenote on Mac. Please, please let me know if you ever come across such a thing, or figure out a way to sync Tomboy’s database via Dropbox. Definitely glad I stumbled across your blog- I’ll try to help spread the word.

      • awkisopen says:

        Hmm, I was under the mistaken impression it was trivial to put Tomboy’s database in Dropbox… whoops! Challenge accepted. Welcome to my blog, I hope you enjoy your stay 🙂

  2. Thanks for writing about tomboy notes. I mentioned it when you wrote about Zim but you were already planning on writing on it so I only had to wait. And here it is.

    I was under the impression that tomboy at least the current release could sync. I don’t use the function so I might be missing something. Great idea with the shortcut key. I could really use that alot. I even have it on my phoneputer (Nokia N900) but it is called conboy on that.

    • awkisopen says:

      Now that I’ve got a minute to myself I’ve confirmed that syncing to Dropbox is indeed possible, so you’re right. You win the prize. The prize, incidentally, is being right.

      Tomboy Notes -> Edit -> Preferences -> Synchronization -> Select “Local Folder” and pick your Dropbox.

      (If I’m misunderstanding what you wanted to do, Rob, please let me know!)


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