Online Mind Mapping Tool

Both Ruth and I use mind mapping when we are gathering ideas for a presentation or for a new document we have to write. Not all employers are happy with the idea that their employees install software on their PCs at work, and in Ruth’s case, where she is often consulting at a new customer every few months this can be quite a problem.

There is a nice, free web-based tool from MindMeister which you can use to capture the mind maps and get around that problem. And being web-based, it doesn’t matter whether you are using a Windows PC, a Mac or a Linux box. If you subscribe to their premium service, you can use Google Gears to work off-line on the mindmaps; the next time you are online you can synchronize the changes back to your account at MindMeister. You can also import existing files produced by Mindjet MindManager and FreeMind.

Update (2008-04-27):
Take a look at Vic Gee’s excellent site for more information on web-based mind mapping tools – thanks for your comment, Vic!

Microsoft DRM woes

If you bought music from Microsoft’s MSN Music Store, you need to make sure you have it installed on the computer and operating system version that you intend to use for the rest of your life before August 31st 2008. Or you need to burn it to CD and reimport it into your music library as MP3 tracks. Why? Because Microsoft is going to switch off their authorization servers for this system of DRM (digital rights management) after that date, according to ars technica.

Afterwards, it will not be possible to upgrade either your computer or the operating system version and continue to listen to your music. This illustrates the risk you take if you buy music protected by DRM, even from the the industry’s biggest players – any time they lose interest in a market, you lose your music.

Spring is finally here

At last, after the recent snow, it has warmed up and some of the foreign birds have arrived from warmer climes. These ducks arrived today and are making themselves useful eating the duckweed in our pond.

‘Apothekenpreise’ – soon history?

In Germany, if something is ridiculously expensive for what it is, we refer to it having an Apothekenpreis (pharmacy price). If you’ve seen a typical Germany pharmacy (or chemist), you’ll understand why. They are usually fitted out with the top-of-the-market shop fittings and very well-staffed. Which means that we pay 2 or 3 times as much for common drugs such as aspirin in Germany compared to the UK or the USA.

That could be about to change. Medco Health Solutions have just acquired a majority interest in the Dutch internet company Europa Apotheek Venlo, who sell medication and drugs on the German market. Europa Apotheek provides a centralized dispensing-by-mail service through drop-off locations in Drogerie Markt stores, Germany’s second largest drug store chain – a distribution model similar to Medco’s system, pioneered in the United States.

Medco had net revenues of 17 billion dollars from its internet business last year, and will very likely shake up the staid German market, which would be no bad thing – unless you happen to run a pharmacy.

Reformatting Windows (NTFS) disks for Mac OS X

I’ve bought several external hard drives recently to use for backing up under Leopard. Getting them reformatted from the pre-formatted Windows NTFS partition to Macintosh Extended Journaled has been unexpectedly problematical – usually the best chance has been to reformat (on the Mac) to MS DOS FAT format and then try to change the partition to Macintosh Extended Journaled in a second step. But it seems to depend on the drive’s controller hardware as to whether this is successful.

Carl Bach has published a way of getting Maxtor drives re-formatted. In fact – in my experience – the method works very well for drives from other manufacturers too, even cheap no-name 2.5″ external drives have allowed themselves to be changed to Mac format using his method.