The other day I was bumming around on IRC, decidedly not doing any sort of writing at all, when I happened across a conversation between several Internet folk about nothing other than writing software! One of these fine IRC-persons mentioned that they found a program called WikidPad most useful in keeping their thoughts straight. WikidPad, in a similar fashion as my note-keeping program of choice, Zim Wiki, acts as a personal wiki for your thoughts. It has an advantage over actual server-side wiki software, such as MediaWiki, in that it is easy to set up and everything is kept locally on your computer. However, the main advantage of using a wiki – being able to create separate pages and link them together at will – is preserved.
Doubtful I would find a program to replace my beloved Zim, I decided to give it a whirl anyway. Unfortunately WikidPad isn’t the most straightforward of installs, which is why I’ve chosen to spend this post talking about the actual steps I took to get the program up and running.
For Windows users, WikidPad comes with a single binary installer that takes care of anything for you. But if you’ve so much as read the title of this fine blog, you know we’re not dealing with something so simple as that. No, we Linux users get treated to a lovely little zip file of python code!
The first thing to do, of course, is to grab the zip file from WikidPad’s home page and extract it somewhere. Be careful, though, as this is one of those zip files you’ll want to unzip into a separate folder, lest the source files scatter everywhere in your Downloads folder. (Alas, I speak from experience.)
Next you’ll need to download one of WikidPad’s dependencies – wxPython. Open up a terminal and type in the following:
sudo apt-get install python-wxversion
After that, you can start up WikidPad by using cd to navigate to the folder you extracted its files to and running the command
But let’s be honest, that’s pretty lame. We’re in Unity here with a fancy launcher and dashboard – we can do better than running a command every time we want to it up! So instead, open your favorite text editor and let’s make a really simple script called WikidPad.sh:
cd ~/Downloads/WikidPad python WikidPad.py
With the first line modified to reflect wherever you dumped the WikidPad files, of course. Once you save it, don’t forget to make the script executable:
chmod +x WikidPad.sh
Now let’s add this to the Unity dashboard. Search for a program called “Main Menu.”
If, for whatever reason, you don’t have it, you can also find it in the Ubuntu Software Center. Open it up, click “New Item,” and write the full path to your bash script under “Command”.
Press “OK,” and WikidPad will be available in the dashboard.
And now, having gotten this far, I might just see what the program’s actually like. Who knows!
I just can’t get enough of Zim. So far it’s the most brilliant way to organize one’s thoughts I’ve ever come across – and yes that is a challenge. If you can find something better than Zim – for Linux, of course – I’ll be glad to try it out and, as they say, “post results”. But for now I’ll talk about ways to make Zim, that WYSIWYG personal wiki, even better. Well, not better necessarily, but certainly more awesome.
Open Zim and navigate to Edit -> Preferences, then select the “Plugins” tab. You’ll find a whole bunch of stuff there. Some of it’s very mathy – for example GNU R plot makes plots and “Insert Equation” is exactly what it is on the tin – but the rest of it’s worth checking out. Here’s a quick summary of the options you’ve got.
After resolving any dependencies (hint: apt-get install scrot) you’ll be able to use this plugin by going to Insert -> Screenshot. For a guy who blogs about Linux programs and likes to include pictures, this is pretty dang useful. To everyone else, well, not so sure. I suppose if you’re using images as reference for a character, and you’re too lazy to insert it the traditional way, you can use the “select region” option of scrot to capture it instead.
Handy for switching wikis, or making a new page. It kinda approaches Tomboy Notes territory in convenience but not quite.
Now this is sweet. If you’re editing various pages in your wiki and leave notes to yourself like “TODO: Come up with better character name” or “FIXME: Not sure if dogs work this way” you can keep track of all your tasks in one place. You can also make it consider all checkboxes as tasks, or define your own keywords.
As for priority – the more exclamation marks, the higher the task’s priority. Just like in real life!
View -> Show Link Map = diagram porn. It’s your entire wiki in visual form! The deeper your hierarchy goes, the sweeter this plugin gets.
Zim comes with this plugin pre-activated. Great for making your own schedule, if for some reason you aren’t using Google Calendar for exactly that.
Print to Browser
File -> Print to Browser renders your wiki in good old HTML. Now you can print whatever pages you like.
Allows you to create a note from the command line, which means you can make your own custom app launcher or keyboard shortcut or other neat things like that. I’m sure this option is plenty powerful, but I’m a bit stuck with it so far. I can’t seem to figure out how to invoke the command for a wiki that has spaces in the title, for one thing. I’ll definitely be revisiting this.
For more facts and less opinion, plus coverage of the more mathy plugins, check this out.
There isn’t a lot I can say about Zim; it’s something you have to experience for yourself.
I will say that I’ve been searching for this program for years. You see, I like wikis. A lot. I’m even an administrator on one that’s fairly well-known. There’s just something to it, something about information on a wiki that automatically makes it feel important and organized.
And it is organized – wikis give you a crazy amount of flexibility. A page could be anything from a plot outline to a character’s biography to the first draft of a chapter. Start adding pages to categories, and you’ve got a super neat hierarchy of your own personal design.
As I’ve said, I’ve been searching for Zim for a long time. I’ve tried everything from Wiki on a Stick (a single HTML file that acts as a wiki) to actually installing MediaWiki (the stuff Wikipedia runs off of). Most of these have proven to be slow and clunky, with complicated ways of storing data. Accessing your writing outside of whatever program you wrote it in was pretty much impossible. And if you had just one bad save of your wiki-on-a-stick… woo boy.
Zim, however, is nothing like that. Not only is Zim a speedy and reliable program, but it doesn’t tie you down. Every page you write is saved in an easily editable plain text format, with a little bit of wiki syntax for links and what have you. You can create as many wikis as you want with as many categories as you want in each, and even insert images. And if you don’t know wiki syntax, don’t worry – Zim is WYSIWYG with extremely simple shortcuts for useful things like checkboxes and bullet points.
Whether you’re looking for a wiki analogue or just a new way of keeping your thoughts organized, check Zim out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Update: So you know, this weekend I’m going to be trying something a little bit different for this blog… but we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Linux blogging by Monday 🙂