MindMeister for Mind Mapping

It’s part of my business.  I’m constantly trying out new software for my own use and to recommend to clients.  Most gets rejected — too buggy, not intuitive, steep learning curve, resource hog, too simple, too inclusive, etc.  So the keepers are celebrities that I’m glad to know and want to introduce around.

MindMeister, an online tool for making mind maps, is a star in the pantheon of productivity tools, right up there with the to-do list and a Mind Mapsscratchpad.  It works in any browser, takes just minutes to learn, and makes clean, stylish mind maps that can be shared, exported, printed, etc.

I was introduced to mind mapping tools by Daphne Gray-Grant, whose writing I admire and whose advice on writing often pays rich dividends. Daphne likes mind mapping — also called clustering or webbing — because it organizes her thoughts and kick starts her writing.  It helps her, she says, to overcome writers block.

I like it because it helps me think.  Because we think in words, we can’t express our ideas without writing them down or talking them out.  But it’s difficult to express a rich or complicated idea or develop a topic because few of us can write or talk fast enough. Mind mapping assists the process, and online mind mapping, adds two powerful components:

  • a flexible, easily re-organized graphical presentation that can include a variety of visual elements — think colors, shapes, sizes, icons, symbols, and even pictures
  • hyperlinks to sources, definitions, quotes, and notes, etc.

There’s a cornucopia of mind mapping tools available, some for download, some online, some ad-supported, some free, and others costing in the hundreds of dollars.  This is not a review article so I won’t name names, but I’ve tried a half-dozen of the tools that others top-ranked in their reviews.

I think a productivity tool should be a tool, like a hammer, not a toy like an erector set.  For me a mind mapping tool needs to be easy to grasp, easy to learn, but with sufficient options to express complicated, expansive and convoluted thoughts or topics.  MindMeister hits the nail on the head.

Here’s a mind map I made for a talk to new board members of my housing co-op.

MindMeister mind map of the responsibilities of a board member

MindMeister has a free, single-user Basic edition with a limited number of maps and functions, and subscription editions starting at $4.99 per month.  MindMeister may not be the mind mapping software for you, but if you haven’t explored mind mapping before this is definitely the one to try first.

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QR Code Scams

It was only a matter of time. Consumer Reports, in its March 2012 issue, says of QR codes found on packaging and on in-store displays: “… the Better Business Bureau warns that scammers having been covering legitimate QR codes with … Continue reading

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How To Customize Wallpaper in Windows 7 Starter Edition – How-To Geek

I know I’m not alone in this. I bought a great netbook that came with Windows 7 Starter. I added RAM and set the Visualization Properties to maximize performance. The little guy flies, but I’m stuck with a non-descript blue background. Looked all over for a reliable, simple and safe way to change the wallpaper.

Voila. Found it here:
How To Customize Wallpaper in Windows 7 Starter Edition – How-To Geek

Works like a charm and, as a bonus, personalizes colors, sounds, and screensavers too.

Go for it!

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Traveling Light: Outlet Strip with USB Ports

You’re off to Duluth, taking your notebook (or netbook), smartphone, Bluetooth adapter, digital camera and GPS navigator.  Fortunately, all your gear is relatively new – smaller and lighter than what you schlepped around a few years ago.

But you’ve still got a bagful of adapters to charge all that lightweight gear.  And an outlet strip to power the adapters.

But gear just got lighter thanks to the Belkin Mini Surge Protector Dual USB Charger sold in office supply and electronic stores for $10 to $25.  I got mine from onSale, an Amazon partner, for $9.89.

This space and weight-saver has 3 surge-protected AC outlets and 2 USB ports, and has a rotating plug, so it fits into almost any available outlet.

Since most newer electronic gear can be charged from a USB port, the only adapter I need to carry now is the one for the computer (which provides another USB charging port).

Thanks Belkin.  Good product!

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Build Your Own Social Network with Ning

Social networking is big.  So big that everyone’s jumping in.  Or trying to.  But Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn just don’t fit with every organization’s means, methods, and mission.  In fact, for many the fit is downright awful. While every organization is composed of people, most aren’t about sharing highly personal information, playing games (and pranks), and testing ego boundaries.  That’s where Ning comes in.

ning-logo Ning at www.ning.com is a lot like a Facebook community you build from scratch to suit your business or group.  Highly customizable in appearance, function and applications, it can include forums, groups, chat, polls, photos, blogs, games, sales and marketing tools, productivity suites (Google Docs, Zoho) and widgets and gadgets galore.  Members have their own, customizable pages.  Wow!

Before I get to the rave, I’ve got to tell you this.  The basic, ad-supported version (unobtrusive right column tower ad) is free.  Premium versions using your own domain name, without ads, with more space and bandwidth are available at modest cost.  The price is definitely right.

But the two things that make me love Ning are (a) the ease of customizing from appearance to layout to adding and configuring features to privacy, and (b) the speed.  Ning beats every other social networking community hands down for speed of loading and updating.  This is a community for the impatient man (and woman).

4652374 I just set up a social networking community, Bryant Gardens Network, for the cooperative where I live, literally in less than an hour.  Anyone who can use a word processor, email and a browser can be a Ning network administrator.

It’s so much fun, you’ll probably wind up building more than one!

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SOLUTION: Windows Vista Updates for MS Office Fail if MS Office Live Add-In is Installed

In October, three Windows updates (KB973709, KB972581, KB974234) for MS Office failed repeatedly on my Vista Home Premium (32-bit) Acer laptop and on my Vista Home Premium (64-bit) Asus desktop.  They were failing for others, too, according to my fruitless research.  Everyone had suggestions, but no one had a solution.  Bad me, I hid the updates and moved on.

A few days ago, three more MS Office updates (KB973593, KB973704, KB974561) failed, too, although all updates other than those for MS Office installed without incident.

An unrelated problem for a client with MS Office and MS Office Live Add-In led me to the solution.

  • Download and Save the updates individually by KB number from www.microsoft.com/downloads
  • Uninstall Microsoft Office Live Add-in and restart your computer
  • Install each update individually from the downloaded files. I needed to restart and install KB974234 separately one the 64-bit machine.
  • Restart your machine and re-install MS Office Live Add-in

Why bother?  Because these were all Security Updates for one of the world’s most popular office suites – natural bait for malware.  And manual updating is a lot easier than dealing with a comprised installation of MS Office.

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Yahoo! Toolbar Disables Right Click in Firefox

The Yahoo! Toolbar is one of my favorite browser add-ons, providing quick access to my bookmarks, alerts, calendar, contact list, groups, and other frequently used applications.

But since the last update for the Firefox version (, there’s been a glitch (not manifest when using the toolbar in Internet Explorer).  The right click context menu pops up as usual until the user right-clicks in a text or input box in a form.  Then it’s disabled until the browser is restarted.

Disabling the toolbar solves the problem, but that’s not a work-around for folks like me who depend on it.

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What Happened to Folder Preview in Mail?

Nobody likes a kvetch.  But hey Yahoo!, I’ve got complaint about the new, unimproved version of Yahoo! Mail Classic.

Yes, I’m one of those fuddy-duddies who still uses Mail Classic (Pro version) because it’s faster, more reliable, and more readable.

And because it used to show me, across the top of the page, all the folders containing unread mail.  See, I really am a fuddy-duddy.  I use filters and folders to sort incoming mail automatically.

It used to be that all I had to do was glance at the folder preview to see what needed attention.

Now I get to see my face or my Avatar (as if I didn’t know what that looked like) and I have the option to edit my Profile (as if that changed every day), or to check out my Connections (I’m not lonely; I don’t use connections).

I know, I know.  It’s all about social networking.  But this is about email.  When I want to to connect I go to LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

Dear Yahoo! please stop trying to be all things to all people and stop sissifying my email. Please put folder preview back in mail!

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I Lied About Twitter

Yes, Virginia I did close my original Twitter account as I said in an earlier blog post.

But, I’ve since reconsidered. I was looking at Twitter bass-akwards. It’s not about how many of your friends are there, but about how many new friends you can make.

So I’d be happy to have you join me (LouisBruno) on Twitter.

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Vonage: Switch for Savings, Stay for Service

Let me tell you a quick, true story about my phone company. I had previously dealt with them via email and their website.  But now I had a problem that needed a live person.  Frankly, after years of un-service from the likes of Verizon and AT&T, I dreaded the call.

I dialed the number for service — expecting to be shunted to a call-center in Bangladesh — and was greeted by a recording that asked me to wait a minute then put me on hold.  Bad start, right?  Wrong!  Great start!  Less than 10 seconds later, another recording said “I see you’re having trouble porting your old phone number.  Let me transfer you to someone who can help.”

Without further ado — and without endless requests to identify myself, give my mother’s maiden name, social security number, and the number I was calling from — Rick in New Jersey said “Hello,” accessed my records, and discussed the problem, incidentally not of their making.  Rick explained the problem and took responsibility for it, telling me what he’d do and what steps to take if his solution didn’t work.

Rick’s efforts solved the problem.  I never called back to thank him, so Rick, if you’re out there, a big thanks for your help.

Oh, and the name of the phone company that uses intelligent systems and intelligent service representatives?  VONAGE!

I switched to Vonage three or four months ago, porting two numbers and acquiring a third for fax service.  The “installation” couldn’t have been simpler, with custom Vonage adapters integrating easily with my existing computer network straight out of the box.  

I love the “extra” features included in the service — stuff like caller ID and call forwarding I call “extras” because I used to pay extra to have them.  With Vonage, they’re included, more extensive, and easily managed online through their website.

And the sound quality, which I can adjust from normal to higher to highest, according to how much bandwidth I can spare, beats my old POTS (plain old telephone service) hands down at all settings!

Oh yeah, and did I mention all the money I’m saving?  At Vonage you’ll switch for the savings and stay for the service!

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