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Oakland, CA

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What Software Do You Think In? Posted on 02/04/2002.

One of the things I've learned about my partners at Adaptive Path is that we tend to 'think in' different forms of software. Janice is all about Excel--she can spreadsheet most anything. For Jesse, it's BBEdit. Jeff seems to favor vi and pine. For me, it's Outlook Express (though I suspect it would be any similar email app...). I use it not just for email, but to keep to-do lists, notes to self, drafts of writing, etc.

Anyway, what software do you think in?

46 comments so far. Add a comment.

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Blogging systems like moveable type, greymatter et al have provided me with a model for developing ideas - I think of ideas as seeds that spawn long comment lists. This model for idea development is being pursued and developed at
Posted by Timo @ 02/04/2002 09:50 AM PST [link to this comment]

Outlook (which I'd love to replace) and Wiki!
Posted by Bill Seitz @ 02/04/2002 10:25 AM PST [link to this comment]

It's actually more like 80% BBEdit, 20% Illustrator. Although now that I'm working on my book, I'm finding OmniOutliner a huge boon. And then there's OmniGraffle, which is likely to become my primary diagramming tool once it's out of beta.
Posted by jjg @ 02/04/2002 10:37 AM PST [link to this comment]

the bourne again shell. when using windows, every day i find myself wishing that i could open up a command prompt because applications take too long to do what they're supposed to do.

i also find myself wishing i could cd to the city to avoid traffic, mv /dirtylaundry/* /cleanlaundry, or mkdir /guestbedroom ;)
Posted by evan @ 02/04/2002 11:20 AM PST [link to this comment]

When I think visually, I think with a soft pencil (4b-6b) and paper. When I think in code, it's in BBEdit or HomeSite.
Posted by Michael Angeles @ 02/04/2002 12:18 PM PST [link to this comment]

I use Microsoft Works a lot. Templates like Vehicle log and Fitness tracking are wonderfully adaptable to all manner of number and date programming. I am a data freak and like to keep on-going records of every activity of my body, truck and money. And the latter helps a lot now that tax time is looming.
Posted by BJMe @ 02/04/2002 12:19 PM PST [link to this comment]

i primarily think in the palm desktop. for more visual thinking, photoshop.
Posted by sco @ 02/04/2002 01:37 PM PST [link to this comment]

wiki! wiki! wiki! vanilla, actually - because its extended and because its mine.
Posted by chris @ 02/04/2002 03:26 PM PST [link to this comment]

I've been thinking in Snood lately. Just one more game....
Posted by jkottke @ 02/04/2002 05:40 PM PST [link to this comment]

I was doing most of my thinking in TextPad, HomeSite, Viso (or pencil and paper flow charts and schematics) and peterme's Comment box. I am gently moving over to BBEdit and MS Word in Mac OS X Office. I have not put my finger on it, but Word on OS X does not get in the way. I also still miss thinking in WordPerfect < 9 as I often think in outlines with a lot of indents, which WP allowed one to easily turn in to paragraphs and scentances (sigh).
Posted by vanderwal @ 02/04/2002 05:50 PM PST [link to this comment]

XEmacs. Specifically, GNUS, diary-mode, dired and (especially) outline-mode for notes.

After not using a windows machine for at least
5 years, I'm nearly unable to function with
one, since I'll try to go up give lines
(ctrl-p) and end up printing reams of paper...
Posted by mike warren @ 02/04/2002 06:19 PM PST [link to this comment]

Oh man, don't get me started on Snood. It will infect your dreams like Tetris.
Posted by jjg @ 02/04/2002 06:52 PM PST [link to this comment]

Almost as addictive: Junkbot
Posted by Gene @ 02/04/2002 07:34 PM PST [link to this comment]

I guess I wouldn't call it "thinking", but rather what tools allow you to reach maximum efficiency. I.e., what tools provide the best throughput from brain to deliverable or work product. Joel Spolsky would call this "flow" -- see Joel on Software: Fire and Motion.

Anyway - forget the anal semantic wordsmithing - I tend to think in a Personal Information Manager (PIM) it provides everything I need to do most tasks. E-mail can be used for most anything: to-dos, authoring, outlining, planning, scheduling, oh and communicating. The "reminders" that popup and tell me I need to be somewhere in 10 minutes are invaluable for interrupting my "flow" when needed.

When untethered my Palm is a great substitute for Outlook.

I do find that during some project phases I tend to "think" more in Visio or Dreamweaver when focusing more on site structure or page design (wireframes) respectively.

Peter, your comment about how different team members "think" in terms of their tools is important -- especially when sharing documents between team members. I recall someone once chewing me out for using Excel to manage a table of textual data. They claimed that Excel was really only good at handling numbers and that I should have used Word since it was better at formatting and printing. Personally using any kind of tables in MS-Word drives me nuts -- I go crazy trying to figure out formatting. I also love the sorting ability you have in Excel. At the time it seemed like a very petty comment, but in retrospect it was us not understanding our different ways of working.

Anyone else here experienced dreaming in Visio? Seriously...
Posted by Lyle @ 02/04/2002 08:02 PM PST [link to this comment]

Pine, especially the "postponed messages" folder -- lots of stuff half-baked lives there. And Inflow for doing directed graphs and mapping complex networks.
Posted by Edward Vielmetti @ 02/04/2002 10:33 PM PST [link to this comment]

I am also totally down with the Junkbot. And Bejeweled, and that game with the lasers, and Vexed.

Sorry to hijack your thread, Peter.
Posted by jjg @ 02/04/2002 10:43 PM PST [link to this comment]

It's gotta be Textpad. If I could drag things from Textpad to Outlook, that would be ideal. And Freecell, in deference to Jesse's thread.
Posted by Anil @ 02/04/2002 11:08 PM PST [link to this comment]

Oh God.

Oh God.

I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry.

But I think in Powerpoint.
Posted by matt @ 02/05/2002 12:35 AM PST [link to this comment]

jjg, thanks for OmniOutliner. I also use ListMaker on my Palm, where most applications start developing. I usually move from ListMaker to TextPad or Word.

Lyle, yes I dream in Visio. Though, often I use pencil and graph paper, then transfer it to Visio as soon as I start trying to rearrange the items. I need a personal stencil set as what I usually use is in three different stencils (visio stencil is the top google search that leads people to my site, odd in that I don't discuss it much).
Posted by vanderwal @ 02/05/2002 05:23 AM PST [link to this comment]

Minimalist that I am, I think in (on?) Stickies.
Posted by Andrea Moed @ 02/05/2002 06:55 AM PST [link to this comment]

Whiteboard to think, Visio to record and refine.
Posted by Anne @ 02/05/2002 07:42 AM PST [link to this comment]

I use Palm Desktop for knowledge and task managment, Brainforest for outlining, and Inspiration for looser idea mapping.

There are so few good solutions to these challenges, partly because OSes are still document-centric.

At the DIS2000 conference there was an interesting paper on the design of an information management system presented by Victoria Bellotti and Ian Smith. They observed that people used Outlook for all kinds of unexpected and un-designed for things, and created a toolset for task management that ran on top of Outlook.
Posted by Nico Macdonald @ 02/05/2002 09:54 AM PST [link to this comment]

Conceptual development in Dreamweaver.
Actual development and coding in Textpad.
Graphic design and development in Photoshop.

I'm a boring b*stard really ;-)
Posted by tomcosgrave @ 02/05/2002 12:09 PM PST [link to this comment]

Word, whiteboard (though not software), Palm Desktop and AIM (try putting yourself on your buddy list and talking through stuff with yourself) in that order.
Posted by Elan @ 02/05/2002 12:57 PM PST [link to this comment]

to: evan



you should install cygwin

bash on windows works great! (I even have openssh to my win2k box, alot of the previous bugs with the cygwin stuff have been worked out). BASH is a good way to think.
Posted by phuqm @ 02/05/2002 02:41 PM PST [link to this comment]

I've long hated wikis for their lack of organization, but I've eventually converted over to running my own private wiki, and it works beautifully for thinking. My thinking is unorganized, so the wiki works. I have half baked article ideas, book ideas, snippets that I'd stick in a screenplay if I ever decided to write one. My wiki is basically just a web-based bunch of stickynotes.

But I guess when I think about web things, I think in photoshop and homesite. As a recent new user of OS X, I can't believe I've been hearing the praises of BBEdit for so many years. For html work, Homesite does it so much better for me personally. I clumsily step through BBEdit, taking twice as long to do everything while inducing typographical errors all over my code (something homesite excels at is auto-writing and auto-completing code).
Posted by mathowie @ 02/05/2002 04:23 PM PST [link to this comment]

This really depends on where I am. If stationary all thoughts go to a whiteboard or Entourage. I recently dumped Eudora and the Palm Desktop for one app. I visualize in Freehand and BBEdit. When I am mobile it's Brainforest on the Palm and Verizon's voicemail. I use my own vm acct. as a notepad when all else fails. It seems there is always something available to 'think into.'
Posted by David @ 02/05/2002 07:56 PM PST [link to this comment]

One of my colleagues is Finish, and she does almost all thinking in mindmaps on paper. (And some in Visio.) (Never ignore the Finish when it comes to technology.)

Me, I do most of it my thinking straight in Visio. But now that I come to think of it, for some tasks it doesn't work that well. I think I'll look at adopting a variety of tools over time. I like wiki's a lot - they're great for prototyping and just having a place to keep toughts on a certain subject. Here's an example of a wiki purely meant to jot down thoughts as they come up:
Posted by Peter Van Dijck @ 02/06/2002 04:04 AM PST [link to this comment]

AIM (try putting yourself on your buddy list and talking through stuff with yourself)

Ok, that just blew my mind.
Posted by jkottke @ 02/06/2002 03:04 PM PST [link to this comment]

My thinking is "sofware indipendent". I don't think in software. My first computer was a PDP-11/73 (in 1985) so I use whatever software/OS I have under my hands.

I think in "modes". I have three thinking modes:

1. Outlined lists
2. Tables
3. Free text
Posted by Hanan Cohen @ 02/06/2002 11:29 PM PST [link to this comment]

talking> trillian (polyvalent)
thinking> brainforest (outlines, >Palm)
creating> softimage xsi
putting it all more or less together> CMS (ie greymatter)
Posted by bradKLIGERMAN @ 02/07/2002 01:52 AM PST [link to this comment]

MS Outlook mail windows. I'm working on a book manuscript, and I've even set up an MS Word template to look like an Outlook mail window. I like it because it fools me into thinking I'm part of a dialog, which book writing is most decidedly not, sadly.

For IA, whiteboards and MS Visio.

BTW, any predictions as to when Microsoft will achieve a monopoly in all melamine-based technologies?
Posted by Lou @ 02/07/2002 06:50 AM PST [link to this comment]

Depending on structure, I use OmniOutliner (75%), Excel (25%), and Stickies (25%).
Posted by Dan @ 02/07/2002 08:32 AM PST [link to this comment]

I love to play with all kinds of writing programs & try to keep moving among them to keep supple. Just now I'm thinking in products from Screenplay Systems. (Warning: absolutely not free & copy protected too.) Movie Magic Screenwriter 2000 is frighteningly fun, presuming you want its exact kind of structured output. Wednesday night I broke the TAB and ESC key (critical for this program) through whacking on them too enthusiastically. Got a new keyboard yesterday and last night let the animae dive into MMS once more...

When my time of madness over I'll probably go back to planning big pieces in Trellix Classic (am I the only person still using this product - I think so) but I can already tell I'll look back with nostalgia on the paucity of choices one has in MMS and the way that concentrates the mind.
Posted by Julianne @ 02/07/2002 09:18 AM PST [link to this comment]

v1.0: pen on hand/margin of newspaper on train
v2.x: pen on paper on the desk
v3.x: Word outline view (used to use Mac Outlook because you could nest tasks)
Posted by elliot100 @ 02/07/2002 09:23 AM PST [link to this comment]

Eastgate Tinderbox looks pretty promising, but it's Mac-only for the next year...
Posted by Bill Seitz @ 02/07/2002 02:54 PM PST [link to this comment]

I usually start thinking on paper and finish in Visio or Photoshop.

Lou, it's not public yet, so keep it under your hat, but the Melamine Group here at Microsoft has April of 2003 penciled in for the monopoly to be complete. :)
Posted by jane @ 02/07/2002 03:56 PM PST [link to this comment]

for the highly technically minded - xml spy has content production modes (a structured document editor) and organisation modes (graphical schema definitions). Perhaps tools like this - greatly simplified - will provide chaos tools for the masses, beyond html.

Looks like I will be twisting my head around this over the next few weeks.
Posted by Timo @ 02/08/2002 06:07 AM PST [link to this comment]

Everything is a process and I tend to think in terms of the tech that help me solve the problem. If it's text, BBedit, if it's an image, Illustrator, if it's neither, grey matter.
Posted by Dan Kapusta @ 02/09/2002 04:42 PM PST [link to this comment]

...and of course the corollary to this question is WHERE do you think best? I am a "walker", when I think I'm usually wandering around the office or somewhere else. I just can't sit in front of a computer to do certain kinds of thinking.
Posted by Andrew @ 02/11/2002 04:33 AM PST [link to this comment]

Definetely 'notepad'

fast, efficient, cross platform..
functionality at its best.
Posted by C Scooter @ 04/08/2002 06:25 AM PST [link to this comment]

Definitely 'notepad'

fast, efficient, cross platform..
functionality at its best.
Posted by C Scooter @ 04/08/2002 06:25 AM PST [link to this comment]

Definitely 'notepad'

fast, efficient, cross platform..
functionality at its best.
Posted by C Scooter @ 04/08/2002 06:25 AM PST [link to this comment]

Definitely 'notepad'

fast, efficient, cross platform..
functionality at its best.
Posted by C Scooter @ 04/08/2002 06:26 AM PST [link to this comment]

Definitely 'notepad'

fast, efficient, cross platform..
functionality at its best.
Posted by C Scooter @ 04/08/2002 06:26 AM PST [link to this comment]

Wow, you must do a lot of thinking to warrant that many notepads :)
Posted by R Parker @ 04/11/2002 04:26 PM PST [link to this comment]

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