Computers: Organizing Life's Complexities

Aug. 23, 2005
An outline processor provides a powerful ally in organizing a move.

by Michael Blotzer

We've moved to Mississippi. The move wasn't in our plans for 2005. But I couldn't resist the opportunity for an interesting job in someplace new. Life became adventurous again.

Maybe too adventurous. Our days were filled with the stressful job of moving selling our Ohio home, buying a new home and sorting through 15 years of accumulated stuff. Then there was arranging for movers, closing and opening bank accounts, dealing with utilities and filling out all those pesky change of address cards.

There was so much to do it was almost impossible to keep track of everything. Like a good geek, I turned to my computer for help.

Unfortunately, none of the software on my computer seemed to do what I needed. Yes, I can keep notes with my word processor, track key contacts in my address book and maintain the list of things to do in my calendar. But I wanted an easy way to pull everything together, and have it readily accessible, in a single document.

Circus Ponies NoteBook

Then one night I stumbled upon Circus Ponies NoteBook at Apple's online store. The Apple Store described NoteBook as "an outliner, organizer and free-form database program that lets users clip, organize and share unstructured notes and ideas from any source or application in any way they like." Could NoteBook help organize our move?

Not one to part with my money just on Apple's word, I surfed on over to the Circus Ponies Web site ( and downloaded a free, 30-day trial. It didn't take long to realize that NoteBook was the answer.

NoteBook is an outline processor, not a word processor. Text is entered into outline elements called "cells." Cells are similar to paragraphs in a word processor. Text in a cell automatically wraps at the margins and pressing the Enter key creates a new cell. Cells are easily moved and organized to create complex outlines that expand or collapse at the click of a mouse.

This simple outline interface is deceptively powerful. Cells can be linked to other cells, to documents created in other applications and Web pages. They can be tagged with keywords and stickers and highlighted to help search or sort information. Adding a checkbox turns a cell into an action item with a due date and priority. And, as text is added to a Notebook, Circus Ponies works behind the scenes cataloging the information in a comprehensive set of indices.

Probably my most appreciated feature is NoteBook's "Clipping Service." Assigning a Clipping Service to a page adds that page's title to a NoteBook Service menu available to all Macintosh applications. Want to add information to a Notebook page while working in your e-mail program, Web browser or other application? Simply select the desired text, right click on the selection with the mouse and select the Notebook page from the pop-up menu. The Clipping Service adds the selected text to the Notebook while you continue to work in the other application. This makes traditional cutting and pasting between applications seem like technology from the Dark Ages.

However, I'm mildly disappointed I couldn't use the Clipping Service to insert photographs into a Notebook from iPhoto. Instead I had to drag and drop photographs from the finder onto the Notebook page. On the other hand, NoteBook can directly import photographs from a digital camera and video from a digital camcorder.

NoteBook's automatically generated indices do a great job of slicing and dicing information for easy access and retrieval. Want to find all pages containing the name of a key contact? Just click on the contact's name in the keyword index. Need to review your open action items? Clicking the To Do Index tab displays a list of all action items. Forgot an e-mail address or Web page location? Visit the Internet Addresses Index that lists all addresses and Web sites reference in the Notebook.

NoteBook has been a great help in organizing our move. My moving Notebook has separate pages for key phases of the move: selling our house, buying a house, key contacts at the new job, temporary housing and more. As I read my daily e-mail, the Clipping Service posts key information to the appropriate page. When one of the recurring "oh, I can't forget to do that" comes to mind, I add it as an action item.

NoteBook's sophisticated simplicity doesn't force me to conform to a complex interface or paradigm. NoteBook simply works with me to simplify and organize life's complexities into a more manageable manner.

Check Your Credit Report!

You can get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months at Believe me, you really should review your credit report.

I reviewed my Equifax and Transunion credit reports prior to applying for a pre-approved home mortgage loan. Both reports accurately reported my bank and credit accounts. Interestingly, when I applied for my loan, the loan officer reviewed my credit reports and asked me about a home mortgage loan with a company I'd never heard of. After a little digging, it turned out that the loan was listed on my Experian credit report.

I tried to get my Experian credit report online, but couldn't because online access required answering questions about a home mortgage in my Experian report I knew nothing about. When this happens, the credit reporting company sends a paper copy in the mail.

My paper report arrived about a week later. I was shocked. Somehow, Experian had linked another person's credit history to mine. Multiple social security numbers were tied to my name. If I'd known I had a home in Florida, as Experian claimed, I would have escaped some of Northern Ohio's harsh winters. And the report listed 36 credit accounts that simply weren't mine. At least the people responsible for these other accounts were timely with their payments and it hadn't impacted my credit rating.

Needless to say, I was not happy. I called Experian's toll-free telephone number expecting a difficult time correcting the errors. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised and pleased with the process. The process didn't start well. I had to deal with a headless automated voice system to correct each error. But after entering two accounts, and indicating that I had more errors to correct, the system automatically routed my call to a real live human being.

It took almost 45 minutes on the phone, but the woman diligently worked through the list of errors. I gave her my e-mail address and had a copy of the error investigation report in my e-mail the next day verifying the corrections.

Anyone can make a mistake. But it's special when someone owns up to and corrects them so quickly. But you can't correct what you don't know. Get a free copy of your credit report and make sure it's right.

Contributing Editor Michael Blotzer, MS, CIH, CSP, is an occupational hygiene and safety professional, writer and computer enthusiast who brakes for animals on the information superhighway. He can be reached by mail addressed to Occupational Hazards or by electronic mail at [email protected].

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