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Launchbar, Circus Ponies, lists and blobs

I’m very fond of Circus Ponies Notebook. All right, this is something of an understatement; I am excessively fond of Circus Ponies Notebook, and use it for almost all of my project work. If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s a multi-function outliner/editor/note-taker/freeform database thing that is tied together with a cute “spiral notebook” UI metaphor.

I tend to use Yojimbo to capture “blobs” of information, which don’t have an immediate category and aren’t part of an existing list – say:

  • the URL of a good blog entry I just read, which is interesting and well written but has no relevance to any work I’m doing;
  • an irritating piece of Applescript syntax that I had to google to work out, and may have trouble with later;
  • a phone call I just received from my bank;
  • an idea for a piece of software I just had which I might develop at some point if I ever get the time;
  • a dream I had, a building I saw, or the particularly vivid colours of a bird that flew past my window. (In practice this sort of entry often comes when transcribed from my pocket notebook, or via Simplenote on the iPhone.)

I use Notebook to make lists, plan and outline things. Sometimes I use it for research too, as it has good clipping capabilities, but its main value for me is that it makes it very easy to change the relationship between data items hierarchically (unsurprising given its history as an outliner). It can also accept any file type and allows you to edit it in-place, which Yojimbo just doesn’t do. I’ve tried organising projects using just Yojimbo but really, it didn’t work very well and just left me confused; it may be a great shoebox, but it’s still a shoebox, and keeping everything in a shoebox is messy no matter how many tag folders you make.

Anyway, to proceed to the meat of this post: one of the things CPN does very well is keep lists, and one of the types of list I keep in my Notebooks is an activity log, where I write down all the tiny details of my day in case I need to look them up later – IM conversations, little changes I make to a module, what just happened in a phone call. I almost never do, but sometimes it’s vital, and if I can very quickly enter a log entry I’m much more likely to do so. These aren’t really Yojimbo-type blobs to me, they’re timed sequential items in a list, with the list being the blob.

CPN doesn’t have any sort of “quick entry” panel, though, and it’s not Applescriptable. But there’s a way of using Launchbar to add quick text entries to lists like activity logs that now works properly with the final version of Launchbar 5.

Firstly create a page in a notebook for the activity log. Right-click on the page and select “Add a Clipping Service”. I have my log pages formatted to show the created date in the margin – you need to drag the red margin line across a bit to see the whole date and time (the drag bar appears a bit to the left of the icons by each node).


Clipping services normally allow you to right-click on selected text and send that text straight to the page with the clipping service on it (you can have lots of these services) or send a PDF straight to the notebook from the print dialog, but in this case, the point is to use Launchbar to direct text via the service to the page.

To get Launchbar to recognise new services, you might need to quit and restart it, and then re-index (Cmd-0) – it doesn’t seem to always pick up on these things automatically – but after that it will stay there.

From then on, if you can find the “Clip to…” service with Launchbar…


…you can just press Space and then type your log entry…


…then press Return, and the entry will be saved to your page. Ctrl-Space, a few letters, Space, the entry, Return – a pretty simple way of adding an entry from any application.

Of course this isn’t something that no other note-taking app does by any means – lots of them have quick entry functions – but it fills a gap in Circus Ponies Notebook’s capability list that was very significant for me.