Category: Applications


Organising your thoughts is never an easy thing to do, and with good reason.

As I understand it, most people have a logical part of their brain, that provides them with sequence and order and narrative (i.e the voice in your head that formalises what you are thinking) and another, more creative part that jumbles stuff about and create connections between things in new and innovative ways. When your creating something often your thoughts won’t come in a logical order, so you need a way to record them in a different way. That’s why there is a technique called mind mapping.

I’ve been aware of mind mapping for a long time, but I never really bought into it until recently. I’m not sure what has made me more open to it, but perhaps it’s the combined influence of a load of texts that I’ve been reading about education, psychology and creativity. Anyway, there is a case for always doing your first mind map using traditional materials (i.e. pens and paper) because it facilitates a more creative process, but in the absence of the necessary time I’ve found a piece of software called XMind a very good alternative for getting ideas down fast, and presenting them in a variety of ways.

XMind helps express ideas and relationships between them in a quick, visual way

This is useful to help you with your own creative processes, but I think it’s also useful as a communication tool, to express for example what is required of a project, or what the aims of a project are. If a mind map isn’t exactly what you want here are other sorts of diagrams you can produce using XMind. For example, you can use top-down type diagrams to represent hierarchies, and I’m currently using fish bone diagrams to help me plan my lecturing for next session. (Yes, I do actually plan those things!)

An example mind map from XMind

A basic version of Xmind is available for free from www.xmind.net. I think that it is well worth checking out.

Why settle for Notepad…

.. when you can have notepad++!

Notepad++ is basically a text editor (like notepad) with a ton of extra really useful features.

My Favourite Notepad++ Features

My Favourite Notepad++ Features

Here’s a list of my five favourite notepad++ features:

  1. Tabs – I can work on multiple documents at the same time. I can save them all at the same time, and if I close the program it will remember what files I was working on and have them ready for me when I open it again.
  2. Syntax Highlighting – if you give the file the right extension you get nice syntax and keyword highlighting making it easier to structure code and spot errors.
  3. You can launch your code with an .exe – for example, under this menu I get options to launch the webpage I’m working on in internet explorer, firefox or chrome – whatever notepad++ knows is installed on your machine.
  4. Plug ins – there is an active community of programmers writing code to plug in to notepad++ delivering the useful features they want to see – for example, I have an SVN plugin that is built on top of Tortoise SVN so I can manage version control of my files.
  5. Best of all, it’s free!

Notepad++ isn’t the only alternative though. There are lots of others! What text editors do you use? Why do you use them? If you do use notepad++ too what are your favourite features?