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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Tech Tips

Digital Adderall

The Problem
It’s late at night and a big paper is due tomorrow morning. There is an empty Word document staring angrily back from the monitor. What follows is a few minutes on Facebook, and then another few minutes spent checking emails, getting a snack, Youtube, etc. In retrospect, the hard part wasn’t having things to say; a lot of the real difficulty came from focusing long enough to just put ideas down on the page.

Enter WriteRoom, a solution developed by Hog Bay Software designed to help reduce clutter and get words on the page.

The Solution
WriteRoom is an app for Mac OS, iPad and iPhone that clears the screen of everything but text and a blinking text cursor. There is no desktop, no icons, no buttons and no tools. The objective is to free the user from worrying about fiddling with the margins and fonts, as well as minimizing the ‘multitasking’ process.

Focused Anywhere
Writeroom utilizes the sync services incorporated by Dropbox.com to keep projects at your fingertips and accessible at all times.

How much is it?
Hog Bay provides a free version on their website and license keys for $9.99. However, when bundled with TaskPaper, a mobile open-format to-do list application normally available for $24.99, WriteRoom is included for $5.00.
If WriteRoom isn’t for you, or if you don’t own a Mac, there are alternatives that run on Windows, including WriteMonkey and FocusWriter.

– Alan Lin

The Mind Map

The Problem
If you are like me, you’ll often start a paper with a perfect idea of what to write, and halfway through the first sentence, you’ll have completely forgotten what you are writing about. Your brain has all these ideas flying around, and it seems impossible to simply grab them in order and put them on a page.  You could handwrite or type an outline, but it becomes cumbersome to cut and paste when you need to reorder something.  In these situations, my savior is MindNode.

The Solution
MindNode is a mind mapping application for Mac OS and iOS platforms.  It allows you to create a “map” of your thoughts, visually connecting all of your ideas into an organized, easy to view display.  In essence, MindNode is an outline on steroids.  You can drag ideas around, attach them to different nodes, color code, organize by importance and even export your mind map to a textual outline.  MindNode even allows you to upload your mind maps directly to Dropbox or export them to a printable PDF document.

Options
MindNode has both free and professional versions.  The free version, MindNode Lite, works amazingly, and I used it for years. However, the professional version adds in some functionality that makes mind mapping even easier.  The professional version is a little pricy at $19.99 on the Apple App Store, but if organizing thoughts for papers has been a consistent problem for you, it may very well be worth it.

Wrap Up
There are many mind mapping applications out there, but MindNode has been my favorite because they constantly provide free updates to their software based on customer input.  If you want to check out the alternatives, the best ones are FreeMind for Windows, Mac OS and Unix, and Visual Understanding Environment (VUE), also available for all three operating systems.

Pro Tip
I often use MindNode in conjunction with WriteRoom (see other Tech Tips article).  If you happen to have a second computer monitor, you can full-screen your mind map on one screen, and have your distraction free writing environment on the other monitor.

– Hudson Lofchie

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