PIM Tools and Connectors

My favorite set of PIM tools was severely challenged lately, and while fiddling about with alternatives, I realized which properties are indispensable for me.

My new vista machine initially suffered from frequent Blue Screens. While it eventually turned out that the preinstalled G-Data antivirus kit was the culprit, I first suspected my RSS reader (newzcrawler) and tried to become comfortable with the RSS readers of Outlook, Thunderbird, and IE7 – in vain. I cannot cope with RSS posts merely as e-mails or merely as bookmarks, but I need my dedicated standalone reader (and hosted readers don’t work with our intranet feeds).

Next I noticed a wicked problem in my Powerpoint 2003: Whenever I clicked on a connector (to change its dash style, color, width, or arrow style, to represent semantic distinctions) it slipped by one pixel, and the connection tore off.

  • Very reluctantly I turned to Powerpoint 2007. Here, changing line styles is much more cumbersome: Format > shape types > outline style > outline colors (1).
  • But above all, connectors are treated even more cruelly here: After Arrange > Align > Center, the connection is silently dissolved, and you might notice it only after many moves (when rearranging the textboxes during rearranging your mental map). I did not try to do without occasional tidying up because I’m probably too pedantic. I tried to always select the textboxes without the connectors.
  • Next I found that more connectors are disrupted when erroneously selected. And so I decided to leave PPT 2007 alone.
  • Turning to OpenOffice.org Impress, willing to set aside my reservation regarding optical/ aesthetical aspects, I was reminded that I could no longer use my import methods. So I decided to keep my 2003 copy as long as possible.

But once having coped with so many MS Office 2007 properties, I tried a closer look to OneNote 2007. And I admit that I was considerably impressed.

  • The main reason for me to use notepad for initially capturing notes, its immediacy, is just as well implemented by OneNote’s side note function.
  • One reason for me to use a private WordPress instance for collecting and arranging my notes, the backlinking potential (by commenting and pingbacking), is also convincingly implemented in Onenote. You can link from any paragraph of a page directly to another paragraph on another page, this is highlighted, and by linking back, the link origin may also be highlighted.
  • One problem with Onenote, however, is that the granularity of search (e. g. chronological) is the same level as for categorizing, i. e., page level, not paragraph level; the note items may be as small as paragraphs on a page, but they all belong to the same category, the page. So you have to establish a fixed context by juxtaposing paragraphs on a page. In WordPress, by contrast, you can display items in a context page resulting from a category search, and also address individual items based on their age or other searches.
  • A little bit of the functionality missing in my WordPress solution, the visualizing of connections, is present in OneNote: While you don’t have a glued connector line that would move together with the surrounding objects, you can at least move an entire area including all objects and drawn lines. Compared to physical card sorting on a large table, this enables you at least to easily move several cards at once preserving their proximity and their connecting line strokes.
  • However, there is a crucial argument against OneNote: I cannot do the imports and exports I want. so I stick to my current tool set for notetaking, too.

These experiences reconfirmed me that good connector lines manipulation is crucial for me. Being an attentive reader of several connectivism thinkers, this is probably no surprise. ..

Read on if you want more details:

(1) I don’t know the proper English labels. The miserable German translation calls the outline mentioned a “Gliederung” which is outline like table of contents rather than outline like contour.

I tried to utilize Powerpoint 2007’s new feature of style galleries, but they are not for connector types but for other shape attributes that are also more easiliy accessible via context menus or even the ribbon itself. Adding them to the Quick Access Toolbar finally worked, but you cannot see the black on black symbol until you hover over it.

Also, my normal method of condensing textboxes (group, reduce size, ungroup) does not work any more: The individual textbox outlines irreversibly change their sizes.

In Powerpoint 2003, a connector erroneously selected together with other shapes but without its own connected boxes during a move, was disrupted from its boxes. But now in 2007, any connector selected without both of its connected shapes will be disrupted.

I solved the Powerpoint 2003 problem by using the Compatibility Mode to switch from Windows Aero back to Vista Basis color schemes whenever Powerpoint is invoked.

More mysterious vista problem remain to be solved: In my beloved Notepad, special invisible characters creep in that cause unexpected line breaks (this happened in XP only when Asian languages support was added and may be fixed on a unix machine using the cryptic vi command :%s/^v^m//g); my beloved desktop shortcuts sometimes disappear beyond the visible area, which may be fixed by View > Snap to grid; Some folders deny access even to the administrator. Perhaps one day I still need to install a floppy drive to load the drivers for my hard drive to be able to return to XP…

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