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Sync Tomboy Notes and Zim in Dropbox

Tomboy Notes is a multi-platform application, so keeping your notes synced with Dropbox is handy for obvious reasons.

Luckily it’s dead easy to do: enter Preferences (either by opening up Tomboy and clicking Edit -> Preferences, or if you’ve got it on your GNOME panel, right-click the icon) and select the “Synchronization” tab. Choose the “Local Folder” service and find your Dropbox, which is inside your home folder by default. Inside of Dropbox, make a new folder for the Tomboy Notes database, and select that folder.

Dropbox acts like any other directory on your computer, so when Tomboy syncs itself to your Dropbox, Dropbox automatically syncs that database across all the computers you have it installed on. Now you can access your notes anywhere!

As for Zim, syncing is even easier, and gives you more benefits. When you start a new wiki, just remember to save it somewhere in your Dropbox folder – that’s it. If you’ve got a wiki you’ve already started and want that synced instead, you need only move the folder you saved it as (remember, Zim wikis are saved as folders, not files) to your Dropbox. You’ll have to tell Zim where it is next time you start the program, of course.

Beyond file synchronization, saving Zim to your Dropbox has another two little bonuses: if you login to dropbox.com and navigate to the place where you’ve saved a Zim wiki, you’ll find you’ll be able to actually read your Zim notes anywhere, regardless of whether Dropbox is installed or not! Since they’re stored as plaintext, you could also edit them without Dropbox or Zim by downloading and re-uploading the file.

As for the other extra feature, if you’ve worked with wikis at all you probably know most give you the ability to revert changes or view the history of an article. Zim doesn’t come with that functionality – which is understandable, as storing every revision of an article can clutter up a folder right quick. But Dropbox will give you a similar feature:

It is what it looks like, folks. Wiki history, brought to you by Dropbox, accessible from your own file browser.

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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.