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Freeloader is in the house

This morning Mr. Postman dropped off the Freeloader solar cell charger unit I was telling you about last week. Looks interesting doesn't it?!? :o) First impressions, just from taking the unit out of the box, is it's low in weight and looks like it's sturdy enough to withstand the trials and tribulations of a gadget bag. Anyway expect to see a full review in the next couple of weeks.  

P.S.I. Mindmapping Special - Update!

Psimmupdate Well I should be posting up a review of ConceptDraw MindMap  today but with a busy end of week I'm a bit behind. Also aside from not getting to spend as much time with MindMap as I would have liked last week, and the fact I've realised (through reader's emails) that it may be of some worth giving a few updates and observations throughout each roadtest I'm resetting the dates from the beginning.

So the revised roadtest schedule (which now also includes OpenMind 2 - thanks Tari :o)) is as follows:

  1. ConceptDraw MindMap (26/02/07 – 11/03/07)
  2. 3D TopicScape (12/03/07 – 25/03/07)
  3. Buzan's iMindMap (26/03/07 – 08/04/07)
  4. Matchware Openmind 2 (09/04/07 - 22/04/07)
  5. NovaMind (23/04/07 – 06/05/07)
  6. HeadCase (07/05/07 – 20/05/07)
  7. Inspiration (21/05/07 – 03/06/07)
  8. Mindjet's MindManager (04/06/07 – 17/06/07)

PaperlessUndergrad goes Apple...gasp!!

Well yesterday I took a massive step and finally bought into the world of Apple by ordering myself a shiny new MAC MINI. Don’t worry my principle of not buying any new electronic replacements until I really need to is still intact because believe me…I really needed to. I’ve struggled with my old AMD Athlon 600Mhz, sporting a hefty (not) 256meg of RAM, for at least 4 years now and trust me it’s not easy working paperlessly every day (or indeed using resource hungry apps such as Photoshop) on a machine this slow (and for the past few months with only a 14'' monitor as I said a few of days ago) but like the true martyr I’ve persevered :o)

Buying into Apple is a huge deal for me. Why? Well I’ve been ‘PC only’ for my entire computing life (both professionally and personally which totals over 15 years…ouch!!) during which time I’ve feverously shunned the Mac with a passion :o). What’s changed? Have I finally succumbed to the seductions of Apple’s shiny iridescent product styling, which if their marketing spiel is to be believed, also gives you a shiny iridescent lifestyle to match? Well maybe it’s a little bit of the ‘shiny appeal’ but I’d like to think that I’m not quite as shallow as that and that my decision has more to do with me being consistently impressed by the build quality of Macs and their superlative operating system. Yes I know I could have stuck with the PC and taken advantage of the ‘improved’ Vista platform but I think it’s best to leave well alone until the new Microsoft OS goes through the usual 18 month ‘ironing out’ period following launch :o)

Additionally if you’re a regular reader you’ll already know that I’m a strong advocate of Greenpeace’sGreen my Apple’ campaign. Well how can I ask Apple to green mine if I don’t even own one in the first place? You got it I can’t..Doh! Yes I’m aware that the machine I’m buying may be somewhat distant from the perfect eco-friendly purchase but at least it’s small, compact and not particularly thirsty on energy (I just love its tiny footprint). What the Mac Mini does give me though, as a bona fide Apple owner, is the ability to fight the good fight from the inside and help persuade Apple to go down the green road.

So what are the specs on the machine I’ve ordered? Well here’s a screenshot from the Apple Store (the Education flavoured one – an extra cost saving bonus when you’re a student :o)):
As you can see, aside from the long shipping delay :o(, it’s pretty much an ‘off the shelf’ purchase aside from a doubling of the memory up to 1GB and the addition of a wireless keyboard and mouse (inspired by seeing them in use in the movie Devil Wears Prada :o)). I know it isn’t a ground-breaking top of the range all singing and dancing Mac but I seriously wouldn’t want it to be. I buy according to my requirements and as my TabletPC firmly remains my mobile solution the MAC MINI more than meets my ‘home base’ demands.

It seems I’m not the only one who’s dipping a new toe in the Apple ocean either. Later in the day Kevin Tofel over at JKOnTheRun announced that he gave into his procrastination, ‘pulled the trigger’ as he calls it :o), and ordered himself a Mac Book Pro opening himself like me (albeit with more style and whiz) to a whole new world of Mac discovery.

Although I’m excited about getting this new baby (god knows it’s overdue) I’m also somewhat nervous. I may well be able to effortlessly whiz my way around a Windows rig but I’m so unfamiliar with the Mac OS that it feels as though I’m going back to that first day when I unpacked my first 486. It’s a good job for me you can run Windows on an Apple platform now because I think that may well throw me a bit of a lifeline – at least until I get familiar with OS X and find Mac alternatives to my usual desktop PC applications. Tell you what I am excited about though – discovering what juicy ‘MAC only’ applications I can fit nicely in my paperless toolbox. Any suggestions?

Kingston 1GB Flash Drives £2.43?!? - cheap as chips (or they would have been if it wasn't for the 'rip off' postage)

If you're in the UK and on the lookout for bargain 1GB USB Flash drives then you can't go seriously wrong with the 1 GB Kingston DataTravelers available at Amazon (UK) right now. These are an absolute steal at £2.43 (at the time of writing). I know for a fact (thanks Charlotte and Alice) that my university's IT department are churning these out at around £10 each at the moment :-0

EDIT: Visitor Jack has kindly left a comment about the high postage that this Amazon vendor charges (scroll down to the comments) per flash drive. If I  had taken the time to read the Amazon reviews I would have seen a couple of warning signs from reviewers i.e. "please keep in mind that you will have to pay in excess of 8 pounds" and "I went to buy 10 of them for our school and they tried to charge me £45 delivery for items that would have all fitted in a single Jiffy bag" Sorry to raise your hopes folks but it looks like a case of if it sounds too good to be true then it usually is. What's worse is apparently Amazon are powerless to do anything about this which leaves me opened mouthed - Oh well I'm sure these unscrupulous traders will one day burn in the fiery bowels of hell.

I'll return you now to your normal transmission because the following still holds true (provided you purchase from someone a little more honest)

Oh and if you're not in the market for USB flash drives at the moment then why not? Easily more robust than floppies or CDs these little beasties aid tirelessly in the fight for the planet's survival by negating the need to burn endless frisbees. What's more, in the long run, they're also going to save you money too. So it's gotta be a win-win situation. Right?!? 

Juice your mobile gadgets via the sun


One of the biggest problems facing the mobile paperless operative is keeping his/her paperless gadgetry juiced up throughout the day and this problem can be compounded if, like me, you're a bit of a 'greenie' paperless operative who also likes to keep an eye on the eco-friendly side of things.
Well we need worry no more because thanks to Solar Technology Ltd. (here in the UK..yay!:o)) and their new Freeloader charger the problem's solved (at least to some extent). Weighing in at a respectfully manageable 185g, and shrouded in a tough aluminium body, the £29.99 Freeloader is a portable charger system that allows one to remotely 'juice up' a multitude of portable gadgets i.e. PDA's, ipods, a large number of phones etc. using one of the equally numerous connectors that comes supplied with the unit.


The Freeloader's internal battery, which can power a PDA for 22 hours, can be recharged using a computer's USB but better still, through use of its in-built solar cells, the Freeloader can harness the power of the sun's rays - a wholly clean and green solution. I've just placed an order for one (contrary to what you may have read about these elsewhere, they are available NOW - I've just come off the phone to the company) so as soon as I've had a bit of time using it I'll post a full review. Meantime get yourself along to the Freeloader product page and gen yourself up on all of the details (they can do a much better job at that then I can :o)) ::via Treehugger   

MINDMAP 5 announced

It was only a few days ago that I told you about the newly launched ConceptDraw Labs. Well it already seems to be THE place to hang out for all of the hottest news. Through the Lab CS Odessa have just announced the springtime launch of ConceptDraw MINDMAP 5. There's a couple of juicy screenshots over there and a couple of nuggets (although not giving too much away) on what to expect in the new version. 

PC World go for GREEN

Pcworldlogogreen Good news on the RSS feeds today. Seems that UK computer superstore PC World have announced their plans to produce and sell one of the world's most eco-friendly computers. Aside from using as much recycled (and recyclable) materials as they can, PC World will also be investing in carbon offsets i.e. tree planting, to rebalance the negative impact of manufacturing the units. Best of all, as far as I'm concerned, this green PC will also be manufactured in Europe - which, aside from reducing the environmental impact caused by shipping, means the western world won't be exploiting the Far East for a change...Yay!!

While a lot of bloggers out there seem to be applauding PC World's green initiative there's a lot of concern that the extra cost of manufacturing these green machines will be passed on to the consumers. Well I say bring it on. I told you back in June last year that a Greenpeace survey concluded that consumers would pay more for the privilege of owning a greener PC so it's maybe time for us all to stand up to that pledge, get fully behind this initiative, and hopefully encourage more eco-responsible initiatives from other manufacturers including the real 'biggies' such as Apple (on a sidenote -if you haven't been along to take a look at Greenpeace's 'Green my Apple' campaign then I encourage you to do so)   

However as good as this news is I don't think it quite excuses PC World's commercial director Bryan Magrath's incredibly bad attempt at some kind of pun when, as part of the announcement, he said that PC World were aiming towards ‘creating the first 'PC' PC’......errrrr ok Bryan. I think you need to work a little bit more on that tagline :o)

Seriously though - Well Done PC World!! But let's just hope that the final product lives up to its eco-friendly promise. ::via Which?

Gratuitous TabletPC action

Without suggesting any hint of bias to my current mindmapping software investigation (because there isn't any) I thought some of you may appreciate this YouTube vid clip. Aside from giving a nice taster of Tony Buzan's recently launched iMindMap the clip also promotes the value of using the application with a TabletPC - nice!!!! Just a shame Tony sees fit in this clip to label every other mindmapping application as useless :o)

Expect to see me putting iMindMap through it's paces at the end of March.

CS Odessa launch ConceptDraw Lab

I received an exciting email yesterday from Olga Danilina PR Manager for CS Odessa (the team behind the ConceptDraw productivity range which includes MindMap my current P.S.I. subject) announcing their newly launched ConceptDraw Lab. Aside from being a blog portal where CS Odessa can share product development info with us, the general public, it's also the place to keep a close eye on, if you're interested in participating in future public beta tests.

If that isn't enough enticement for you CS Odessa are also promising us regular FREE productivity software 'widgets' and they've set the ball rolling by offering all of you iCal and GTD officiandos a GTD widget for ICal. This one's not a lot of use to me but I'm sure it won't be long until they offer something I do need.

Best of luck with the new portal guys!!

LscTecForum blogger really has his paperless head screwed on!

Otpbadge I stumbled across this outstanding article over at the LscTecForum in which the move to a more paperless lifestyle is discussed and advocated. Following his observations that the amount of paper producing devices we have in our offices contradicts the notion of a ‘paperless office,’ the author, who is sadly nameless, overturns the “assumption that output needs to be on paper” and offers a number of excellent ideas that would facilitate the switch to paperless while making the whole experience a lot more congenial.

Among the excellent ideas put forward the author suggests taking greater efforts to ‘humanise’ computers themselves, making them a lot more pleasurable to use i.e. constructing laptops out of softer, spongier materials. He also suggests making peripherals less alien and more integrated to our person i.e. computer displays mounted in lightweight glasses and input devices that we unobtrusively wear (nothing new there but good to hear it suggested in relation to working paperlessly). Perhaps his most important suggestion for me, as I believe it’s one of the most essential implementations that can encourage and retain paperless operation (and one of the easiest to employ), is to make the paperless user’s environment as comfortable and accommodating as possible by using comfortable chairs, large and/or multiple screens and wireless keyboards (provided of course that only energy efficient devices are used :o))

The author’s closing paragraphs are perhaps the most poignant though. He suggests that ultimately it is the paper producing ethos of our bureaucratically run institutions that has to change if we are succeed in the quest to turn our society into a wholly paperless one – an opinion that I fully support and wholeheartedly agree with

Trust me - widescreen monitors are a ‘god send’

Wshannsg_2 Aside from having my TabletPC at hand I’ve had to run the majority of the ‘home based’ side of my paperless operation since July last year using an antiquated 14’’ monitor. It all went wrong when my faithful 5 year old 19’’ Belinea monitor gave up the good fight and died...sob! sob! As every paperless pioneer knows a necessary component of our operation is having plenty of monitor ‘real estate’ at our disposal so only having a 14’’ screen as a sole means of display is, I’m sure you can imagine, a complete pain (and it was).

Well thankfully my paperless operation at home has now improved ten-fold again as I finally managed to raise the funds needed to invest in a big monitor. Keeping one eye on price and the other one more importantly on eco-friendliness I went for the Energy Star compliant Hanns-G HW191D widescreen monitor and it arrived yesterday. Initially it wasn’t all peaches and rainbows though (is that a valid phrase?!?). As I’d previously owned a square 19’’ display I’ve got to admit to being somewhat disappointed when I took the Hanns-G out of the packaging and, looking at it, thought I’d sold myself short by choosing a widescreen over a standard display because the screen looked restricted and not a major improvement on the teeny monitor I was using already. However after playing with the monitor for a day my mind has been well and truly changed - a widescreen is definitely an advantage to my paperless operation and for those who haven’t realised this I seriously want to evangelise the value of using a widescreen monitor. Without the need for a dual monitor setup (doubling cost and power consumption) the widescreen enables one to easily have an e-book and a word processor open side by side at a workable size. Additionally if like me you have a habit of building sprawling mindmaps then you will seriously appreciate the extra display width. I was sitting today reviewing an old lecture mindmap which has about 20 main branches and not once did I need to change magnification or even better still have to use the side-scroll bar…yay!

Take it from me it’s great getting a decent amount of monitor ‘real estate’ back again but it’s even better getting it back in ‘widescreen’ flavour - so much so that I urge you to give a widescreen a try if you haven’t already. Seriously I think you may be pleasantly surprised. As to whether it’s the Hanns-G HW191D you should be giving a try well I’d have to say positively yes although after only one day it is of course difficult to give a glowing recommendation. However with its low price point (£112 at the time or writing), its sharp and clear display, the fact that it comes equipped with both VGA and DVI connections, in-built speakers (although I’ve not used them) and the reassurance that comes with of a 3 year warranty. I'd say you'd be daft not to snap one up.

P.S.I. Mindmapping Special – The Investigation Schedule!

PsimindmapspecialAs promised here are the basic details for my proposed (and now active) P.S.I. mindmapping software road test.

Firstly I’ve decided to settle on a total of eight  mindmapping software packages for the investigation. Ideally I would have loved to have explored each and every mindmapping software package out there but that’s an impossible target for a ‘one man band’ like me to achieve so I’ve settled on this amount. The criteria for the selection of the final eight came down to a combination of things - my personal reverence for an application (although I will remain impartial during review), recommendations from visitors and/or the application possessing a particularly unique quirkiness that invited further exploration. So after much deliberation the seven mindmapping packages I will be focussing on during this investigation will be:

  1. ConceptDraw MindMap (26/02/07 – 11/03/07)
  2. 3D TopicScape (12/03/07 – 25/03/07)
  3. Buzan's iMindMap (26/03/07 – 08/04/07)
  4. Matchware Openmind 2 (09/04/07 - 22/04/07)
  5. NovaMind (23/04/07 – 06/05/07)
  6. HeadCase (07/05/07 – 20/05/07)
  7. Inspiration (21/05/07 – 03/06/07)
  8. Mindjet's MindManager (04/06/07 – 17/06/07)

Ok so even the non-observant among you will have noticed a date (in silly UK format) next to each software title. These are the ‘road-test’ dates I’ve randomly designated for the exploration of each title. You may also have noticed that each road-test period lasts for a period of 2 weeks. I’ve decided to dedicate this much time in order to give myself a sufficient enough period in which to conduct a full and thorough investigation of each package and during this time I will be exclusively using that package for ALL of my mindmapping requirements. It is of course highly likely that I may detest one or more of these packages from the outset. However I am committed to persevering for the whole two week period because often I have found myself growing to like a program the more I get into it.

On completion of each 2 weekly ‘road test’ I will compile and post a full review of the mindmapping application adhering to my P.S.I. review framework to ensure consistency. I will also fully take into consideration the unique idiosyncratic requirements of mindmapping and whether the software accommodates them (all will become clear during the first review). Note that each mindmapping software title will be judged solely on its own merit during the individual reviews. So comparisons will be made to any other mindmapping application. It will not be until all of the 8 titles have received their individual reviews that I will conduct a final comparative review to discover which of the packages best meets my requirements and become the primary mindmapping element of my paperless toolbox.

So it’s game on! I’ve got to admit spending almost the next four months on this project is somewhat daunting but I’m really excited about it. I think it’ll be a real journey of discovery for me and hopefully such a focussed investigation will be of benefit to some of you guys out there too. As ever your thoughts and comments are most welcome

You MindMap? We MindMap? iMindMap!!

Well what do you know! I was doing a little online research earlier to help me finalise the mindmapping products I’m going to be road-testing over the next few weeks and I stumbled across the exciting news (old news for some people no doubt…sorry!) that the Mind Map ‘inventor’ himself Tony_photo Tony Buzan has released his own mindmapping application. Cleverly dubbed iMindMap (jumping on the i----- 'branding' a bit there Tony..Tsk! Tsk! :o)) this software looks incredibly ‘tasty’. As I’m about to start this mindmapping ‘road-test’ I’ve resisted loading iMindMap onto my TabletPC but the animations of the product on the iMindMap website look pretty exciting – application graphics look very organic in appearance (very important and a feature sadly missing from a lot of mindmapping apps).

Also exciting for TabletPC users like me (or for anyone else inputting info via stylus i.e. Graphic tablet, UMPC, whiteboard users etc.) is the fact that iMindMap possesses a ‘complete freehand drawing facility’ that utilises a feature called 'Auto Perfect’ which smoothes out all hand drawn branches. Nice!

Like I said above I’ve resisted looking at iMindMap at this time so I can’t tell you much else about it. However you can expect to see me fully road-testing this application during my PSI mind-mapping special (I’ll be posting full details of how I intend to proceed with this in the next couple of days) becuase as soon as I discovered it I couldn't help but add it to the 'featured applications' list.

Meantime if you’re interested in trying iMandMap for yourself then get along to the product website and download a FREE 30 day trial. (note: registration of your details is required). Tony is offering a time limited ‘launch special’ offer giving 3 years of free upgrades. If you like it a license for IMindMap will, at the time of writing, set you back £49.95 (plus VAT if you live in the EU) and right now, as a 'launch special' Tony is offering 3 years of free upgrades

Oh and if you’ve tried iMindMap (or own it) and have an opinion on it (good or bad) then I’d love to hear about it.

Green your PC with a Solargizer

Genius computer peripheral manufacturer Genius (I know. A bad attempt at a pun) have come up with this neat little wireless keyboard for all of us eco-friendly PCers. Christened the SlimStar 820 Solargizer (impressive name) this wireless PC keyboard takes its power primarily from an onboard adjustable solar panel. I know what your thinking ...how does that work in a dark room? Well obviously it doesn't and to address that little problem Genius provide two other powering alternatives - USB charging and AA battery power (comes supplied with alkaline batteries but I'm sure you could use rechargable). Ok so it's not a 100% solar powered solution (unless you only work on your PC during the day :o) ) but at least it's a postive step in the planet friendly direction. In the words of Borat...I Like!!!! ::via The Sietch Blog

MindManager the best mindmapping solution for me? Well let’s see!!

I mentioned not long ago that the whole structure of my university course has changed and that the onus is now centred more on seminars and independent study this year. Although I was doing a lot of reading before, the amount I have to do now, in order to comprehend the subject and to prepare for weekly seminar meetings, has increased tremendously. That means a greater need for getting the material read and transformed into a more concentrated form of précis, in a format that allows me to quickly and efficiently recall info during seminar meetings (not to mention the need to cognitively retain the material for exam time). Traditionally I would use the power of mindmapping to achieve this and that still remains the case but even more so now. Consequently this greater emphasis on mindmapping has brought about a desire in me to explore mindmapping software solutions other than my primary tool - MindManager to see if there is anything out there that fits me better.

Continue reading "MindManager the best mindmapping solution for me? Well let’s see!!" »

My university starting to offer retail e-books

Patback_6 I got an interesting memo from my university library today. For the first time ever they are beginning to offer us the opportunity to buy electronic versions of books:

We are able to offer a time limited opportunity to acquire in perpetuity a range of top selling titles in electronic format all at prices well below the price of the print equivalent.

Unfortunately this offer is only available on a very limited number of books, none of which are of use to me, but at least it's a step in the right paperless direction. Well down St. Andrews you deserve a coveted paperless Pat on the Back!