Every long journey begins with a first step. And this is no exception. Guess what the first step is? If you mumbled
planning, you guessed right:
I hate big projects
The last time I got involved in a big project was in college, so I was naturally out of touch with project planning and management. Furthermore, all the paraphernalia that my team used to plan that big project is:
- Way stressful for me.
- Just not needed, since I'm a one-man show. Sure, I may have Subversion, a Palm T|X, Evolution and friends on my side, but I'm still a one-man show, which rules out heavy project management methodologies.
But neither Tomboy nor KWrite could cut a cake so big. Ordinary outliners forced me to think top-down (and I'm a naturally anarchic person), which is like trying to feed me a sandwich made out of crap. Imendio Planner is decidedly too heavyweight and data entry in Planner is also quite cumbersome. I was chock-full of text files with random notes, and no way to organize them. The feelings of dread and preemptive stress were taking their toll on me.
Could mind mapping help me plan and undertake this huge project?
What I needed was a tool that would let me map my ideas, so I could concentrate on making them happen. A mind mapping tool.
I went out for a short forage into the Wild Wild Web, and after a couple of Google searches, I found three:
- Labyrinth (too inmature and in need of manual "compilation" and installation)
- FreeMind (threw up exceptions like a comatose drunk person)
And KDissert had to cut it, because it was the only one I could install using smart. I quickly installed it and discovered, much to my chagrin, that KDissert was definitely not a mind-mapping tool, but a graphical outliner. I mumbled
What the heck, I'll try it for a couple of minutes, see if it's useful, and started using it.
The bliss of KDissert
Oh, my God (and I'm an atheist), KDissert was bliss. I started pouring out ideas and sub-ideas, quickly connecting them. You see, the key to a good software tool is its ease of use, and KDissert really shines in that:
- To create a new idea (a square): just double-click on the canvas.
- To fill the idea with text: hit ENTER, then type, then hit ENTER again.
- To connect the idea to another one: click the Link pages tool, and drag from the parent idea into the child one. You don't even need to click -- convenient hotkeys let you switch instantly among the four tools (select, pan, connect, reorganize).
Let me emphasize, one more time, that KDissert is not a mind-mapping tool. It's used to create a tree of texts, edit text in them, and consolidate them into a text document. Its primary use is building dissertations and presentations. You cannot connect an idea to two different ideas. But, for me, that was good enough -- as long as the rectangular boxes can contain the gist of my idea, and they can be interconnected, even if only by hierarchy, it's good enough.
Good-bye text, hello mind map
In fact, it's fantastic. I frantically consolidated more than twelve long text documents with random ideas collected over time, while at the same time creating the hierarchy and adding new sub-ideas I came up with. Just the fact that I could visualize the ideas in a map served me to quickly organize my master plan. Forty-five minutes later, I had a fairly complete map, and no remaining text files.
Lo and behold, what once was a project of unimaginable complexity and chock-full of tech details which seemed to clash between each other, became a (fairly large, yet) simple and procedural project where everything was not only surmountable, but I could visualize it in one fell swoop.
Does a computer program make the difference?
All of this because I finally faced my limitations, and recognized that the problem was just too big to fit in my head, The stress of planning was gone. Gone were the long monologues and the chain-smoking associated with it. No more walks in circles, mumbling things. Just inner peace. I finally accomplished what took me weeks of deliberation.
Here's the map, take 1
And I've got proof, in full open source fashion. Here it is, as a thumbnail (which links to a smallish PDF file):
A few notes about the map
You'll quickly notice that the ideas are a few words' length, and that I've interspersed Spanish and English. This is on purpose. I don't want to spend more time in the map, because:
- I already know how best to put each idea in practice. All I need is a quick note to remind me of the task. I don't need no tidiness or bureaucracy. I'm a cowboy, in Extreme Programming parlance.
- I still haven't finished the map, and I plan to shamelessly change the map as I go, trimming the "tree" and making new additions in underspecified branches.
- Why would I want to overspecify so early? I like to keep my options open. Did I mention I have commitment issues?
In other words: because I'm a one-man show, and I do whatever I damn well want.
My KDissert wishlist
Now, my dearest wish related to KDissert. Have you seen those modern word processors where several people work simultaneously on the same document, and the text they type appears on everybody's screen? Imagine that, applied to KDissert.
Teams could quickly assemble a master plan that would cater to everybody (or the majority, at the very least). All sorts of documents could be assembled, created from scratch or refactored, without having to pass the document around, or to collate each piece in a final document.
This should, of course, be coupled with a way to mark ideas in "dispute" or "discussion", where each discussion is an editable pop-up like Microsoft Word's notes, but each discussion could be argued in real time.
KDissert also needs a search feature badly. Think search as you type like Firefox. My map has grown to the point where I can't find stuff because of its sheer size. I have to navigate the map using my eyes, which is fine when executing tasks, but decidedly not fine when you want to enter new ideas. The outline view is fine, but plain search would be faster.
Full screen mode would be fantastic. All KDE apps seem to have it. Why not KDissert?
Finally, I wish there were a way to create a "doodle" box where I could actually draw with my mouse or tablet. That feature would really go a long way.
Here ends the first step of my journey
OK, that wraps it up. I'll continue reporting from the trenches, giving you juicy updates about this wonderful (and seemingly endless journey).