Need to search for content in non-standard files?

Thanks to Dick Pountain for reminding me that the bleedin' obvious isn't always.

I was groping around for a desktop search program that could look into any file, not just some standard list of extensions such as those handled by Microsoft's search. I looked at loads of programs and even downloaded a few but none did what I really wanted: to index a bunch of largely text files with the .brn suffix. In fact I didn't even need them indexed as long as I could search inside them reasonably quickly. 

TpAs a web developer and occasional programmer of many years' standing, I'd been using TextPad as my editor of choice. And, when I wanted to do global edits, I'd use its 'find in files' function. It just never occurred to me to use it to look inside other files. Until Dick suggested it.

Now, I set the file type to *.brn, the root of the search to 'desktop', tell it to look in sub-folders and the search to whatever I'm looking for. With regular expressions if I'm feeling flashy. Bingo.

As a paid-up user, why didn't I think of it before? So simple, so quick. Thanks Dick.




Mind-mapping with MindJet and MindGenius

Ever since Tony Buzan started popularising mind-mapping in 1974, it's had a bit of an uphill struggle to reach the mainstream. Over sixty commercial applications are available for the PC, the Mac and the web. A sprinkling of others are available for the Pocket PC, iPhone and BlackBerry. And you'll even find open source and freeware versions.

So mind-mapping is an industry, albeit a bit of a niche one. And the products/services keep on coming. October saw announcements from two well-known players, MindJet and MindGenius, which suggested that the mind-mapping world has yet to run out of puff.

MindJet has blended communications and mind-mapping into a single web-based collaboration service with Catalyst. Its premise is that most so-called collaboration tools are actually communication tools, completely lacking an application at their heart with which participants can engage. It feels, with some justification, that a mind-mapping application is exactly the right thing for this. It's useful, easy to understand and the nodes can activate files inside their own applications.

The counter to this might be that a generalised voice-video-IM-screen-sharing communication service allows you to run whatever applications you like at the desktop. Either a scribe can do updates or, more clunkily, control can be passed between participants.

The second announcement of the month fits the latter category. It is a desktop application. MindGenius claims that, with an addressable market of 400 to 500 million English-speaking users, it can focus uncompromisingly on improving the mind-mapping experience for this particular market. And it does a good job. Information entry is slick, navigation can be through the graphical image or through a separate 'outliner' pane (called Map Explorer) and any notes attached to the selected entry are visible in another pane. It offers smooth two-way integration with Office applications such as Word, Excel and Project.

Mind-mapping started out as a very personal thing. The aim was to enable you to take notes effectively, learn quickly and plan easily. When personal computers came along, outliners grabbed our attention first, then the more graphical mind-mappers came along. As screens got bigger and resolution improved, so the visual mappers came into their own. But most people were either ignorant of the technique or they saw nothing wrong with sticking with paper and coloured pens.

Once the vendors twigged that they could be used for project work and for effective communication, the brakes came off and MindJet, MindGenius and others offer some good tools for facilitating projects from inception to completion. They also offer varying degrees of data exchange with other applications.

The thing to watch out for is how many brain cycles are consumed with actually operating the application as opposed to getting something done with it. Ideally, you want the program to more or less fade into the background while information is quickly transferred to the screen, moved around, navigated and absorbed.

Bearing this in mind, of the two applications mentioned, I must confess to a slight leaning towards MindGenius.

Am I qualified to comment? Well, I started using mind-maps in the mid-70s and wrote a mind-mapping program in 1981 which, incidentally, is still being published today from somewhere deep in Colorado. I've been using my own program habitually for 28 years and others as and when they find their way into my computer. If you'd prefer to follow a couple of subject experts, then I'd recommend Chuck Frey and Vic Gee.

Will software gallop to our rescue?

My first love, apart from my family and close friends, has always been software. I say ‘always’ but, in truth, it’s only been since November 1965, when I got 100 percent in a programming aptitude test. "Good Lord," I thought in astonishment, "And I can actually get paid for doing this?"

Since then, software has been at the heart of my life. Along the way, other skills have been added to the portfolio, particularly writing and teaching. And these skills have taken me into other areas, such as environmental sustainability. First in 1973 but then in a much more substantial way in 2002 when I became closely involved with an exceedingly large sustainability exemplar project. And now with Freeform Dynamics, where I am the environmental specialist, among other things.

While the economic and environmental bad news whirls around our heads, the one thing I know for sure is that software will be a major contributor to overcoming our ills. Not a panacea, but a fine contributor.

As Nicholas Negroponte has been saying for 15 years, "move bits not atoms". And that is one of the major contributions that software can make. In fact, only software can make it. Whether it’s Citrix Online style screen-sharing or remote access or full blown telepresence conference rooms, they not only cut the moving of atoms, they also accelerate business processes and cut travel bills.

The other good thing about software is that it is a product with barely any environmental footprint. It can be delivered as a stream of bits and be paid for with another stream of bits.

For those that don’t know, I used to be a software publisher, banging out product in expensive boxes with clunky manuals and floppy disks. But since 2001, this very part-time business has been run wholly electronically from the corner of a server somewhere in America. The programmer and I meet rarely (once a year on average), but we’re in intimate, friendly and fairly continuous, contact online. And, of course, all support, ‘paperwork’ and accounting is done electronically.

Our product was lovingly crafted in C++ (following my initial development using the 8080 assembler) and it is tiny for what it does.

I’m not trying to sell anything here, but I can’t help noticing that, by contrast, most of the systems I see today are packed full of bloatware, along with programs and data files which have become moribund. But most users are incapable of dealing with such issues unaided. They need software tools.

If larger programs could be debloated and users helped (in plain English please) with program and file removal, we could stall the madness of buying new equipment just because our old stuff has become clogged up and slow.

As with the organisational benefits of ‘atoms to bits’, users will benefit from slicker running, gain a financial benefit and reduce their environmental impact all at the same time.

Now, someone tell me these things exist. Please?

Or, if not, why not?

Thank you.

Happy 24th birthday BrainStorm

A long time ago, I invented some software called BrainStorm. It was my secret weapon at the tail end of my tenure as editor of Personal Computer World and the start of my stint as a director of Caxton Software. It help me stay on top of things by acting as a thought grabber, organiser, finder and general rememberer of things for me.

Well, it’s been a kind of secret hobby for many years. Marck Pearlstone has been the programming brains since 1994 and, by some miracle, we find ourselves with a new release today – exactly 24 years since it was first published.

I just couldn’t let the moment pass without mentioning it. Sorry.

Making screencasts

Do you ever want to record how you do something on the computer with a voice-over? Here’s a cross-post from thinkerlog:

If you're interested in making screencasts, this extract from an email from me to a customer might be of use to you:

You've done a very nice job presenting and displaying BrainStorm while speaking  to the presentation.

You're very kind.

Can you share the name of the tools you used?

might also want to look at Camtasia. I'm happy with what I've got but I
hear others talk about Camtasia and the results certainly look good.

I use BB FlashBack from Blueberry Software, by the way.

RSS feeds in Grazr via OPML

I have trouble keeping track of myself, let alone all the other things that interest me. We’re talking here about web-based stuff: news feeds and blogs in particular, but it extends to forums, wikis and traditional websites too.

Amyloo is using OPML and Grazr to document the blogs that surround the BlogHer conference which is currently running in San José at the moment. (That’s the Silicon Valley San José by the way.)

I have demonstrated Grazr in my left sidebar for a while to show a simple outline. Inspired by Amyloo, I decided to try and add some feeds. Using OPML Editor, I inserted some feeds into an ‘outline’ (joke, it’s only four entries) and then dropped the file onto my web server. Then I used the Grazr Configuration utility to create this:

Just click on an entry and it will take you to the most recent posts in, respectively, this blog, a blog I co-write with my editors at Information World Review, a blog spun around thinking tools and a forum I manage for Brainstorm Software. Click on an entry with a newspaper icon to the left and you can read the original post. Marvellous! (Update: but only if the originator feeds the full post. IWR appears not to. You can click on the headline to go to the original post.)

See Amyloo’s example for something much more profound.

12 months on, Tebbutt and Hobson catch up on social media

Had lunch with Neville Hobson a couple of weeks ago. We see each other from time to time, but rarely get the chance for a good chinwag. Oddly, the previous session had been in the same restaurant about a year earlier. Since we both spend most of our time in the social computing space, we thought we’d examine how our thinking has changed/refined over this time.

Neville had just read my blog post about how Robert Angel uses BrainStorm to prepare for podcasts, so he thought it would be a good idea to interview me on the subject.

Since I’d already planned to interview him about his podcasting and new media life, we decided to make a single recording of  (some of our) post-lunch conversation.

Neville has blogged about it and provides professional links to the podcast. Please go there, especially if you want to listen to the podcast online.

If you download the MP3, this playlist will help you jump to the bits of interest. Assuming, of course, there are any.

00:00 Scene setting
00:37 A lot’s changed in a year
01:04 Death of fanaticism
01:40 Ethics/Journalism
02:24 Guardian blogger – for free
02:58 Podcasting – noise cancelling headphones
04.29 BrainStorm for podcasting
09:36 Perspective on what’s valuable in social computing
12:18 Screencasts starts (interrupted)
12:48 Low cost video, daughter records Alan Shearer, recording industry issues
15:33 Screencasts continued – Camtasia & BB FlashBack
16:17 Neville’s life changes – how to exploit new tools for organisational benefit
17:23 Life/Work threaded – attention to family etc needed
18:43 New life: opportunities from FIR & conf
19:27 Level of engagement high, met people couldn’t have before
21:31 Closing remarks and plug for the Sipson Tandoori

Welcome back Grazr

Welcome back to Grazr. That’s the dinky display panel about me in the left sidebar. (Needs JavaScript on, otherwise you just see a Grazr logo. It contains much of the same information as the About link further up the sidebar.)

The content was created in BrainStorm (a 25-year hobby) and passed through OPML Editor (with some tiny custom tweaks) to create an OPML file which Grazr can display. (My other tweak converts an OPML file into a tabbed outline which can be imported by many programs, including BrainStorm.)

Podcasting preparation tools

Professor Robert Angel, of the University of South Carolina, creates a weekly podcast of analysis and commentary on Japan's domestic politics and foreign relations. Quite a commitment and, I believe, much valued by its listeners. It goes under the project name Japan Considered.

He’s often mentioned to me how he uses BrainStorm (something I invented years ago and which is programmed by Marck D Pearlstone these days) during the preparation for his podcasts.

Recently, he blogged and recorded how he uses BrainStorm and other programs. If you’re an aspiring podcaster (or communicator generally), I thought you might find his insights interesting.

Here’s the bit about preparation software (and it’s not just BrainStorm, by the way):

Some of you have asked about the software and hardware required to
create the program. The combination of cost and limited technical
expertise keeps my setup here barebones simple. I use a regular desktop
IBM-PC linked to the University network for all information collection
and production.

In addition to regular English and Japanese
language-capable web browsers, two software programs work together to
simplify the process of categorizing and sorting the information
collected. The first is "Brainstorm."
I'll put a link to their site in the transcript and in the show notes.
Brainstorm is hard to describe. It's deceptively simple — by design.
Sort of an electronic outliner on steroids. It allows me to make lists
of promising topics, and then to put notes to sources of information
about the topics under the headings created. The program is very
efficient. So it's easy to keep many notes for dozens of topics on the
same page, so to speak. And to keep them available for future

The second program is somewhat more  complex. Not better or worse. Just more complex. It is MindManager 6 Pro,
produced by the Mindjet Corporation of California. MindManager is a
graphical "mapper" I use to map out themes for each program. Hyperlinks
to accompanying files, and text notes right on the page make it easy to
use. This program too is hard to explain without pictures, so I'll add
a link to their website in the show notes and the transcript. Text
files downloaded through the week are just noted and added to the
electronic archive for indexing and retrieval when needed.

The final recording process is quite  simple. I record the audio file directly into Adobe Audition 2.0,
using only an Altec Lansing headset for the microphone. No complex
audio chain with pre-amplifiers, mixers, vocal strips, or the like. The
Adobe Audition program makes it easy to edit out most of the sighs,
grunts, and embarrassing pauses before putting the file up on the
University server for distribution. Finally, Dreamweaver and Photoshop are the programs I use to create the podcast web  pages, and to maintain the whole Japan Considered website.

So, there you have it. Not at all complex  or sophisticated. But it gets the job done.

Thank you, Robert, for giving permission to share this with teblog readers. Appreciated.

How do users learn about their software?

A curious form of communication is the Help file. Hours are poured into creating them, yet most people I talk to say "There’s no point in looking in Help." They’re conditioned not to go there.

As a part-time software publisher, I find this frustrating. At the same time, I need to recognise the behaviour and do something about it.

If this interests you, I bang on about it a bit more over on thinkerlog.