MindManager for mac has changed how I work

A number of months ago, the fine folks at Mind Jet were nice enough to include me in their beta group of the long awaited Mac version of their popular mind mapping software, “MindManager”:http://www.mindjet.com/us/products/mindmanager_6_mac/?s=6.

I’ve been using the software for a while now, and have this to report:

It has totally changed the way I use my computer.

In fact, it’s changed the way I work.

Mind maps are incredibly effective tools for brainstorming. Traditionally, when I’ve wanted to brainstorm a concept, I’ve pulled out my giant pad of newsprint, sat down on the floor, and started riffing on related concepts.

In and of itself, this just rocks. I was very wary of doing the same exercise on my computer. For one, I thought screen real estate would limit my ability to “see the big picture”.

This proves to be quite the opposite in practice, for a couple of reasons: type doesn’t take up nearly as much room as my messy handwriting, and MindManager allows you to collapse nodes that aren’t in use.

The software also does a great job of adapting the map as content is added, and the canvas size changes on the fly to fit everything in.

Using the program in full screen mode works beautifully. Not only does it give me more than adequate space on my 15″ powerbook, it very effectively blocks out the 19 other applications I usually have running, allowing me to concentrate fully on the job at hand.

Maybe it’s because my handwriting is so messy that  I find that I need a big space to create a mind map. As a result, I tend to use them only when necessary. Since I’ve started using MindManger though, I’ve started mind mapping everything. Even this post.

Given my proclivity for stripped down word processors (I usually write in TextEdit), I’ve found it very easy to use the notes feature in MindManager to do all my writing as well. It’s a one-stop shop for idea generation and polishing.

In the past, I’d have used “Omni Outliner”:http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnioutliner/ to organize my thoughts. I love OO, as a search through my archives will attest. But MindManger is a better tool for capturing and managing ideas. It’s flat, where OO is linear. In MindManager I get a broader view of the whole concept I’m working on. I can better establish relationships between sub-topics.

What I like most about MindManger is it’s speed. It’s not quite up to par with OO for sheer “think and capture” ability, but it’s close. The keyboard shortcuts are mostly intuitive.

My biggest complaint has to with a couple of non-standard key activities that are driving me a bit nuts. First, after creating a topic, one has to hit return twice to start the next topic – once to close the topic you’re entering, and once again to start the next one. I can’t think of another program where hitting enter _creates_ a new topic. Failing to do this means that I overwrite whatever I had previously written. Luckily cmd-z comes to the rescue, but this is a pain in the ass I could live without.

The second complaint has to do with the space bar. For reasons I can’t comprehend hitting space (when not entering a topic) _also_  creates a new topic. I’m used to holding down the space bar to switch to “hand” mode in photoshop and illustrator. MindManager would really benefit from this feature.

That said, these two annoyances are minor in the greater scheme of things. If you’re a fan of mind maps, I highly recommend MindManager. “They’ve got a 21 day trial available.”:http://www.mindjet.com/us/products/mindmanager_6_mac/?s=6

Three months with WordPress

So what do I think, three months after changing from “Textpattern”:http://www.textpattern.com to “WordPress”:http://www.wordpress.org? It’s a bit of a mixed bag actually. WordPress has some nice features

what I like

* templates
* all the options on the write post page
* the gazillion plugins
* the simple, elegant plugin system
* the need to learn some php
* the ease of creating a static page
* the ease of adding categories on the fly
* the ability to edit my templates using Transmit

what I don’t
* the complexity in creating sections
* the sometimes weird way it interprets paragraph breaks
* the need to learn some php (Textpattern’s tags are much more elegant)
* I miss Textpattern’s extra fields

“The Blog Studio’s”:http://www.theblogstudio.com site is still on Textpattern, and will not be changing any time soon. The different areas of that site pull data into different sections – something that would be trickier to do in WordPress. The thing that’s really floating my boat these days is “Expression Engine”:http://www.expressionengine.com. We’re involved in a couple of projects with EE at the moment, and I am *totally* blow away.

It takes the graphical loveliness and ease of use of WordPress’ back end, and combines it with the power and flexibility of Textpattern. Then cranks it up to 11. This is one impressive CMS. At $249 for a commercial license, it is cheap cheap cheap. I’ll write more about it as I get to know it a bit more. This program is going to make my life a whole lot easier.

Coming to our senses

If you’re at all like me, and are looking for how to manage all the inputs in your life, I wholeheartedly recomment Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book *Coming to Our Senses*. I listened to the abridged version from audible over the weekend. What a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

Kabat-Zinn doesn’t say anything new. You’ve heard it before, yet he has a gift for helping draw little nuggets of knowledge and wisdom together. He doesn’t preach and doesn’t sell. There are no courses to take and no steps to follow. Simply listen, and *be*.

The audio version is quite abridged, as Kabat-Zinn explains at the outset. It left me wanting more. Despite that, I recomment it highly to anyone interested in learning to make the most of their days and themselves. Accomplished meditators may find the book frustratringly light in detail, but neophytes like me will find more than enough to sink into. *Highly* recommended.

Why I'm not as dumb as I used to be.

I remember being about 8 years old, going on a long road trip to our favorite campsite up near Sudbury. It was my first encounter with an audio book. It was _Eye of the Needle_ by Ken Follett. I was gripped. The usual never ending drive flew by; too quickly as it turned out. The drive ended before the story. We were going canoeing into the back country for a couple of weeks, so it would be a long, impatient wait to find out how it all came together.

About 4 months ago, I started commuting to work again. I’ve been working close to home for about 10 years, so this spending a couple of hours a day in my car is kind of new to me. It does indeed suck, but not nearly as much as I had feared. The reason? Audio books.

I joined audible as a premium listener right off the bat. For $24 a month, I get my choice of any two books in their collection of 20 odd thousand titles. So far, I’ve ‘read’

* Blog (Unabridged) by Hugh Hewitt
* On Intelligence (Unabridged) by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee
* Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn
* The Dream of Reason (Unabridged) by Anthony Gottlieb
* Getting Things Done by David Allen
* Mind Wide Open (Unabridged) by Steven Johnson
* The Fabric of the Cosmos (Unabridged) by Brian Greene
* A Short History of Nearly Everything (Unabridged) by Bill Bryson
* Autobiography of a Yogi (Unabridged) by Paramahansa Yogananda
* The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
* Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das

Not a bad use of my time. Especially considering that I get *no* time to read in my “regular” life. I’ve been surprised to find that my recall on the subject matter is really good – better even than if I’d read the book the usual way. I’m especially fond of books narrated by the author. I’m (obviously) a fan of the printed word. But there’s something about the emphasis and pacing that an author can give to his own words that punctuation just can’t replicate.

I plan on reviewing all of the books above in the next couple of days, and adding to the library of reviews as the months progress. You’ll note there’s a new ad down there on the sidebar. If you feel like checking out any of my suggestions, please do me the favor of clicking on the ad to go directly to audible. There’s no catch for you, and a small kickback for me. My hope is to cover my very modest hosting costs, and maybe even buy a book or two.

I’ll leave off with this one final thought: damn that’s a list of serious looking books. Time to lighten up!

Book Reviews

By now you’ve heard all the buzz about “The Zen of CSS Design”:http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0321303474/qid=1111004597/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_3_1/702-7084773-9502400. This is a rare case of the item living up to its reputation. This is a lovely book to look at, fun and easy to read, and chock-full of tips, tricks, and more.

“WebRedesign 2.0”:http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0735714339/qid=1111004149/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl/702-7084773-9502400, by Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler. First of all, how could someone with the last name Goto _not_ be involved with code? I know, I know, she’s probably heard it a million times… In the three weeks I’ve had this book, I’ve made more of a profit, had happier clients, and felt more relaxed and in control of my work. Can anything be more worthwhile? GO BUY IT NOW!

“Defensive Design for the Web”:http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/073571410X/qid%3D1111004637/702-7084773-9502400 by the guys at “37 Signals”:http://www.37signals.com/ is a useful, if *very dry* look at how to make it easier for your users when something inevitably goes wrong. To be fair, the subject itself is, to me, the least interesting aspect of web design. Yes, I get it. I know how important it is (I bought the damn book, didn’t I?). This is the cod liver oil of the trio. It’s good for you, so you’d better read it.

You mean I have to get off my ass?

!/images/20.gif (underworld 1992-2002)!:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0000E6XJQ/ref=pd_bxgy_img_2/103-6557341-5300629?v=glance&s=music

I want this album. I want it now. But I can’t get it. Oh, it’s at the iTunes store. But I live in Canada, and iTunes doesn’t like us canucks. It may well be available at “puretracks”:http://www.puretracks.com but I’m on a mac, and my friends at puretracks don’t like macs:

bq. We value our Mac audience, however the Windows Media player for the Mac platform is not currently compatible with Microsoft protected audio content. Puretracks is currently working to make our service available to Mac users.

This is very irritating. It also offers an interesting insight. I take it for granted that when I want to purchase _intellectual_ goods (ie software, books, music, etc) I can do it without moving my physical body from place to place. All I want is the intellectual good. I don’t want or need the physical packaging that holds the goods (unless it comes in one of “these”:http://www.jewelboxing.com). I listen to most of my books on my ipod these days, thanks to the fine folks at “audible”:http://www.audible.com, and any music I purchase is going straight into iTunes.

It takes an incident like this to shake me out of my reverie. For a few seconds there, I was really annoyed. Then my mind flashed back to an article I read back in the golden age of Wired. It talked about a futuristic technology that had just been deployed at a big US school – Stanford or MIT, I don’t remember. The article described an on-demand music system running over a local network. Sitting at his workstation, the inventor could simply type the name of the song (it was running on unix), _and it would start playing!_ “Yeah right”, I remember thinking.

Flash forward what feels like 15 minutes, and I’m _actually annoyed that I have to go to the music store_. What a world!

This trip down memory lane also reminds me of an article “Nicholas Negroponte”:http://web.media.mit.edu/~nicholas/ wrote about the way we assign value to the physical (atoms) vs the intellectual (bits). At the time, Negroponte had been asked to assign a value to his laptop upon checking it in while touring a nuclear facility. “$20,000” was his reply, to which the clerk went “huh?” Clearly, the clerk was thinking “what’s it gonna cost to replace this at best buy”, while Negroponte was thinking “the cost to replace the software, the cost to replace the hardware, plus the cost to re-do all the work this machine holds” (which, as an aside, would make for an interesting exploration: what happens to the value of an intellectual good if it’s stored in multiple places? More on this later).

My point being that the differentiation between the atom and the bit has begun to melt. When forced to convert to the old paradigm, I get annoyed. I shall henceforth dub this *atom rage*, and report on it faithfully.

What about you? Have you experienced atom rage?