Free Your Mind

Have you ever experienced writer’s block, or had a lot of information but didn’t know how to organize it, found it difficult to break down what you were going to say in your public speak, had difficulty organizing a shopping list or to do list?

Free_MindI know I have had those moments too. To over comes those moments of frustration even before they begin, I free my mind with a program called Free Mind. FreeMind is a free mind-mapping software.

A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. A mind map is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the center of a blank landscape page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those.[source: Wikipedia ]

The great thing about Free Mind is that it is 100% free software and open source software, licensed under GNU GPL V2+ (GNU General Public License) Basically, that means that you are free to use FreeMind to whatever purpose you want without paying for that, and that any code derived from current FreeMind’s code must also be licensed under GPL V2+.[Source: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page]

Here are a few screenshots so you can see what a Free Mind document generally looks like:

800px-FreeMind-computer-knowledge-080 800px-FreeMind-freemind-development-080 800px-FreeMind-learning-german-080 800px-FreeMind-my-health-080

 

I have used other mind mapping programs but Free Mind is my favourite. There are other programs out there that save to the cloud, have flexible nodes and some are aesthetically very pleasing. The reason I choose Free Mind is because:

Multiplatform

The software is built in Java so it runs on just about anything. It works on Windows, Linux and Mac.

Universal

The file format is universal. Every mind mapping program out there will import a free mind (.mm) file, but not the other way around as most other programs have their own formats. 

Rigid

The node branches are rigid meaning you cannot move them around in space the way you like. Note: you can move the actual nodes around to different branches but the branches don’t stretch or shrink.  For some this constraint would be more of a con than a pro. I on the other hand like it because it keeps things organized and plus it forces me think in a modular fashion and for that to happen I need to understand the information that I am jotting. I have used other programs(free and paid) that give you the flexibility of moving the nodes around with a flexible stretch branch and although this freedom of movement may seem like a great thing at first, but when it comes to getting the actual work down I think it can be very counter productive. 

Multiple Uses

Although this is true for most mind mapping programs, I still feel the need to mention it for those who may be new to the idea of mind mapping.

  • Keep track of projects including tasks, subtasks, priority level using icons and colours 
  • knowledge base – you can have multiple mind maps interconnected with other mind maps and store information in nodes or link to actual files such as images, word documents, excel sheets etc..
  • essay writing and brain storming – you can quickly jot down ideas that you have in a brain storming session and then easily move the modes around and create topics and subtopics to bring structure to your fictional or non-fictional writing
  • A shopping list or a ToDo list – Once you start using mind maps instead of a flat list you will never want to go back to boring ToDo lists.
  • Database – you can organize information about clients, about collection of antique items which you can categorize, keep inventory of your valuables…etc..

Features

  • export to HTML, image formats(PNG, JPG, PDF etc…)
  • visually format the nodes and branches for better readability. There is even an auto-format feature which I use all the time and it works surprisingly well.
  • it’s an open format meaning there is no risk to committing to Free Mind in the beginning and then changing to a different program because it uses XML which can be imported into any other mind mapping program.
  • FREE!
  • use graphical links(lines with arrow pointers) to link nodes
  • link to other Free Mind maps and other files like Word, Excel, image files or any other file on your computer

Other Mind Mapping Programs

You may also want to try out these mind mapping programs to see which one fits your specific needs.

  • Mind Node  –  by far the most beautifully designed mind mapping program out there. The only thing that keeps me from using it is that it is only for Mac OSX and IOS. 
  • Mindjet – for serious business use, is more than just mind mapping software—it’s a total suite of applications and tools designed to help you and the people you work with brainstorm, stay on top of projects, collaborate on tasks, and stay organized together.
  • XMind – like Mindjet this is again for serious business use. There is a free version with some of the advanced features lacking, but it gets the job done. XMind is also one of the more popular mind mapping programs.

That’s my take on freeing your mind with mind maps. Please share, like, tweet, retweet if you like this post. Also leave a comment below.

Top 3 Alternatives to Microsoft Office

microsoft-office-365-logoMicrosoft Office is the industry standard when it comes to office suites. Most people think that when it comes to office suites Microsoft Office is the only option they have. Either that or they think that any other alternative is not worth experimenting with. I’m here to tell you that that is not the case. I have 3 multi-platform alternatives that work on Windows, Mac OSX and Linux. If you are a student or a small business owner with a tight budget or have very little use for an office suite to pay $8 to $10 a month for or for whatever reason just don’t want to use Microsoft Office then the following 3 are definitely worth trying out.

Apache OpenOffice

AOO High Res Logo PSD FINALApache OpenOffice is one of the oldest open source alternative and one of the most well know. It has switched hands multiple times throughout its history developed by Star Office, which was later acquired by Sun Microsystems which was acquired by Oracle Corporation, the lack of commitment from Oracle and other issues led to a split in the development team and LibreOffice was born. Oracle then laid of its paid developers who were working on the OpenOffice project and donated the code and trademark to the Apache Software Foundation. For some time after that the office suite was weaker compared to its fork LibreOffice, however since mid-2014 Open Office is back in the competition. OpenOffice.org claims that OpenOffice is being used in Governments, Education, Businesses, Not for profits, IT Businesses.

Apache OpenOffice lets you save documents in the  OpenDocument format, read Microsoft documents and save your work in Microsoft document formats too. It offers 6 programs in its suite:

  • Writer –  the word processor alternative to Microsoft Word that you can use for anything from writing a quick letter to producing an entire book.
  • Calc  – the spreadsheet alternative to Microsoft Excel with all the tools you need to calculate, analyze, and present your data in numerical reports or sizzling graphics.
  • Impress  – the multimedia presentation alternative to Microsoft Powerpoint.
  • Draw  – this Visio alternative lets you produce everything from simple diagrams to dynamic 3D illustrations.
  • Base – is the alternative to Microsoft Access that lets you manipulate databases seamlessly, create and modify tables, forms, queries, and reports.li
  • Math lets you create mathematical equations with a graphic user interface or by directly typing your formulas into the equation editor.

LibreOffice

LibO_Logo_Highres_ColorLibreOffice is very similar to OpenOffice because it is a fork of OpenOffice and is developed by The Document Foundation. At the time of this writing LibreOffice was slightly ahead of OpenOffice mainly because it had a head start while OpenOffice was looking for a stable home to settle down for some serious development. I was a big fan of OpenOffice until LibreOffice came into existence. I still use LibreOffice and Google’s Office suits on a regular Basis.

To someone who is new to LibreOffice it can be a confusing process to download the right version of LibreOffice. LibreOffice Fresh is the most recent stable version with cutting edge development. If you want the latest features and are okay with using software that has not gone through the test of time then the Fresh version is for you. If you want something that is stable and has gone through a good amount of testing then LibreOffice Still is for you. I use the “Still” version and that is what I would recommend you to use.

LibreOffice boasts the same set of programs that OpenOffice does. It generally has newer and advanced features than OpenOffice and has a more active development team and support community. This may change in the future since OpenOffice has improved quite a lot and it is also supported by a strong organization, Apache which at one point powered 70% of web servers.

Google’s Office Suite

google-drive-logo_11Google’s Office Suite was named Google docs before but now it does not seem to have a name that encapsulates all its apps. Docs is now the name of Google’s word processing app and all the other components are now standalone apps on the web and on the IOS and Android platform.

The biggest difference between Google’s Office apps and the the previous two is that LibreOffice and OpenOffice are both desktop applications where as Google’s is everything on the web.  If you are someone who is on-the-go a lot or use multiple devices to do your work, or are heavily invested in the Google ecosystem then Google office apps is the way to you.  They are not as full featured and robust as the  desktop applications mentioned above, but they get the job done. Since we at Okinara Consulting Services all work remotely from different locations around the globe we depend on Google for our emails and to share and collaborate on documents. There are various apps that work together to form Google’s office suite.

  • Docs – is the Microsoft Word alternative app that lets you Open, edit, and create documents. 
  • Slides – is the Microsoft PowerPoint alternative that lets you open, edit, and create presentations
  • Drawing – is the Microsoft Visio alternative that lets you create diagrams and flow charts
  • Sheets – is the Excel alternative that lets you open, edit, and create spreadsheets

That’s my take on alternatives to Microsoft Office. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below.

A Simple Home Media Center Setup

Before I begin I would like to state a disclaimer. I’m not suggesting going out and buying all the things that I have mentioned below. This is more of a very basic guide of different components that you can use if you are thinking of centralizing your media and have some old hardware lying around or you plan to make some purchases in the near future.

Media Server

If you have an old PC that you are not using because it is too slow or just doesn’t function the way it used to, you can reformat the hard drive and install Xubuntu.

logo-lightbg-largeXubuntu is an officially recognized flavour of the popular Ubuntu operating system. Since it is a Linux based operating system it is very secure.  It is very easy to use compared to some of the other Linux distributions and can run very smoothly even on old hardware. I’m using a 9 year old PC that has seen better days. 

So we have the Operating System that our server is going to use, as for the actual media server software we are going to be using Plex. Plex is awesome because it is very simple to install, has a very clean user interface, keeps track of where you stopped watching a movie on multiple devices, it provides movie trailers and extras, and a whole lot more. You will need to get the premium service if you want to watch your movies on Xbox or Playstation. At little under $5 a month, it is a worthwhile investment.

Xbox

Xbox-one-logo-2

If you missed it, here are some reasons to pick Xbox as your gaming console. You can control your Xbox with the Xbox One SmartGlass app (Android, IOS, Windows, Windows Phone). You can also download apps on your Xbox which will make it easier to consume media: Youtube, Netflix, TED etc… Then you can pair the Youtube app on your  phone/laptop/tablet with your Xbox One, you can cast all the above apps and others from your phone/table to your Xbox. Leave a comment below if you need a detailed step by step guide and I’ll write up another post for you.

Set-top Box[optional]

If you want you can add a set-top box like Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV to the mix, but that really just makes it redundant.I chose not to add any of these because Xbox One meets all my requirements.

If you really need to have cable TV you can add that to the mix too. Bell Fibe TV is pretty amazing. It has a very clean and fluid user interface and I have grown accustomed to the “Restart” feature which lets you restart a program if you tune in late. The only thing that bugs me is that you cannot fast forward a program that you have “restarted”. Bell Fibe TV has a very useful mobile app which you can use to control the box.

Sound Bar

513I1ZA2L7L._SL1200_Sound bars are great because they are mostly compact and a lot of them can act as a style statement. Of course they won’t sound as great as a full fledged home theatre system with a receiver and surround sound speakers but with recent improvements in technology sound bars have come a long way. I personally wanted something that was compact, had a decent sound output, fitted well under my TV, blended well with all my other devices and took in multiple HDMI inputs. The Sony HT-CT370 2.1 Channel 300W Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer, Bluetooth, and NFC is just the sound bar that I was looking for. I plug my Bell FIbe TV set-top box, Xbox One and sometimes my laptop to it. It has 3 HDMI inputs, something which is not too common in sound bars. I don’t have to go to the back of the cabinet to fiddle with wires. And everything gets neatly tucked behind the sound bar. Another thing that I later came to appreciate about the sound bar is its NFC capability. A lot of the times I simply place my Android phone on top of the sound bar and connection is established automatically.

Apps

These are some of the must have apps to make your home entertainment experience even better:

  • Xbox Smart Glass remote
  • Fibe Remote for Bell Fibe TV subscribers
  • Rogers Anyplace TV – for Rogers subscribers
  • Samsung Link – for Samsung devices
  • SongPal from Sony
  • SoundCloud
  • Crackle
  • Youtube
  • Netflix

Songza

Songza-logo-and-monster_660x660Songza deserves a spot of its own because this app is simply amazing. You can listen to this on your phone, on the web, cast it on your chrome device or simply stream it to your bluetooth speakers which is something that I usually do. Songza is a free music streaming and recommendation service for Internet users in the United States and Canada. Stating that its playlists are made by music experts, the service recommends various playlists based on time of day and mood or activity.(Source: Wikipedia) It’s best feature is concierge mode. Just chilling with friends at home on a Friday night, relaxing at home on a Saturday afternoon, need to recover from last night – no problem just make those selections on the concierge mode and let Songza provide a playlist and do its thing.

Extras

Wireless Keyboard 

If you decide to hookup your PC or if you have an Xbox without Kinect  a wireless keyboard certainly comes in handy. The Logitech K400 Wireless Touch Keyboard with TouchPad is the best wireless keyboard under $50.

TV Cabinet

It’s important to choose a cabinet which hides all the wires and is functions. Ikea usually has pretty sleek looking, compact and functional cabinets.

20150427_221216Take for example the cabinet above. It contains the following devices:

  • Xbox One with two controllers
  • Bell Fibe TV set-top box
  • Nintendo Wii
  • A wireless keyboard
  • TV
  • Sound bar
  • Subwoofer
  • DVD player
  • Bluray player

It is a simple design, there are a lot of wires behind the cabinet but they’re all very neatly tucked away. Of course you don’t have to go out there and buy a new cabinet, but if you’re in the market for a new one, these are some of the things that you might want to think about. There are also many ways you can organize your wires to keep look neat.

That’s my take on a simple home media center setup. If you have suggestions please leave a comment below.

 

 

Nepal: From Divine to Devastated – Ways you can help

You may have already heard or read about the devastating earthquake in Nepal that has reportedly killed about 3000 people and stranded many more.The devastation affected Kathmandu’s ( the capital of Nepal) seven UNESC World Heritage sitesthe most of any city in the world. Most of Kathmandu’s main square was built between the 12th and 18th centuries, but some of the architecture dates as far back as the 5th century, even before Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (source: National Post)

The loss of these World Heritage sites is not only an irreplaceable loss for Nepal, but for the world. But the loss of life is even more heart breaking.

Here are a number of ways that you can help with the immediate recovery efforts:

If you know if any other ways of helping the Nepalese people please post in the comment below.

I’m a Misfit

best-fitness-trackersIt seems like wearable technology will soon be able to make your toast for breakfast or teleport me to and from work. Fitness trackers these days track your heart rate, oxygen level, steps taken, stairs climbed, the quantity and quality of your sleep and yes it can also tell you what time it is. Not only that a lot of the fitness trackers have some smart watch capabilities like letting you know that you have received a text message, or you have an incoming call. On the other hand smart watches may eventually replace fitness trackers since they can do all the things that fitness trackers can do and a whole lot.

Most fitness tracker manufacturers are upping their game and adding more features and capability to their fitness trackers, however one company which is somewhat of a misfit in this case is actually going the other way, or so it seems. That company is Misfit Wearables.

Last year I bought the Fitbit Flex – it did the job well, was comfortable in the hand, the software was not great but not too bad either, it had vibrator alarm, it told me that I had reached my goal by vibrating, but one thing it didn’t have was automatic sleep tracking, but overall it just didn’t feel quite right.

A little less than a month ago I decided that I was going to get active again, or at least start moving a bit. I needed something that counted my steps, automatically tracked my sleep without me having to tell it to start and stop tracking my sleep, and something that was reasonably priced. I was thinking of getting the Fitbit Charge but then I noticed the Misfit Flash and I was blown away!

The Misfit Flash

misfit-flash

Here are the reasons why I bought and kept the Misfit Flash and why I actually love it!

Price

The Flash costs around $50 to $60, but when I bought mine at Bestbuy it was on sale for only $30(plus tax). Compared to what it actually does, I think it is more than amazing!

Comfort

The wrist band is very light and extremely comfortable. I usually sleep with my head on my hand and sometimes the band presses against my temple or my ear and it does not feel uncomfortable at all. If you are looking for something that looks premium, then the Flash is definitely not for you as it looks rather simple, but if you can get past the fact that it is just a fitness tracker(but a fitness tracker that does more than you might know) I think you’ll actually love this product.

It’s also a time Tracker

I never wear a watch, but sometimes it’s nice to know what the time is without having to pull your mobile out of your pocket. The Flash can tell you the time, but the way it does it is just very cool. Every time I look at the time on the Flash it is as if it is saying “Did you see what I did there?”. Just watch this video to see what I’m talking about:

So flexible

misfit_device_positionI don’t think there is any fitness tracker that is as flexible as this. You can wear it on your wrist, on your chest, keep it in your pocket, clip it on your shoe or T-Shirt. That’s awesome!

Automatic Sleep Tracking

Unlike the Fitbit Flex, you don’t have to tell the Misfit Flash that you’re going to sleep, it figures it out on it’s own. I should not have to track my fitness tracker. I just wear it and forget about it, then it keeps on doing it’s thing.

Waterproof

Take it in the shower, in the rain, go for a swim – no biggie.

No Charging

The Flash and it’s cousin Shine both use a coin battery which can last up to 6 months. This again ties in well with just wearing it and forgetting about it.

Software

To be very honest, when I first saw the Android version of the Misfit App, I was disappointed – very disappointment. The software also did not upload my step counts to MyFitnessPal and still doesn’t , but there’s a possibility that the fault could be on MtFitnessPal’s side. I saw the IOS version and it was completely different (read Better) than the Android version, I still decided to keep my Misfit because of their customer services (See Below). A few days after I complained on Twitter I got a please surprise today morning. The new software update makes the software much better now – it’s actually quite beautiful.

misfit_month_graph misfithome misfit_social misfit_sleep misfit_profile misfit_month_list

 

Customer Service

misfit_twitterI Tweeted the complaint I had about the Android version of the Misfit Software and someone from Misfit actually responded fairly quickly. I even opened a support ticket for something else and they were quite quick to reply there too.

Some shortcomings

The calorie counter seems a bit off, but I don’t rely on calorie counting anyway. The Flash does not have heart rater monitoring, but considering the price point for this device, one should not expect a heart rate monitor, has very little to none motivation factor. It doesn’t nag you to get up and get moving, it has no vibrator alarms and does not actively tell you that you’ve met your goal.

Overall, I think the Misfit Flash is an amazing product and it just simply the best value for your money.

 

Reasons Why X-Box One is a Better All-rounded Game Console

If you are thinking of purchasing a new game console or upgrading from a previous generation console to a new generation console you have 3 options:

Xbox-one-logo-2 downloadimages

 

  1. Xbox One
  2. Playstation 4
  3. Nintendo Wii U

If you are buying for kids, I would say you can stop reading this article and just buy the Wii U, it has tones of kid-friendly games and PS4 and X1 don’t even come close to the Wii U in that department. Playstation 4 and Xbox One is more for serious gamers and for people who are looking to setup a central home entertainment system. So in this post I am going to be mostly comparing Xbox One with Playstation 4.

One thing to keep in mind is whichever game console you chose, know that your old games from previous generation consoles will NOT work on the new generation – at least that is true for X1 and PS4.

Price

Xbox One generally has cheaper deals to start you off with your gaming. You can usually get an Xbox for around $350 (CAD) with one or two games included in the bundle, where as a Playstation 4 will usually cost a $100 more.

Kinect

To be honest, there isn’t much game development that really fully utilizes the Kinect, but if you know anything about the Kinect from Xbox 360, you know that the experience of playing a Kinect dance game was just pure fun. Kinect for Xbox One is supposedly better at tracking multiple players and has sensors with a wider field of view making it easier to track gesture for even tight spaces. I’m including the Kinect for its future potential here.

Games

2D Boxshot Wizard v1.1 mc f39dda8b-7421-4c55-be2b-26443e964323 82018ba7-8b3c-4bb6-8ef0-df470563ea50

The games department can go either way since most games are multi-platform anyway, so it basically comes down to the exclusive game collection. If you are a Hallo fan, or even just want to play a Halo Game then Xbox One is your console. The Master Chief Collection is the one thing that made my purchase of the Xbox One over Christmas a worthwhile investment. Then there is Forza Horizon 2 and Forza Motorsport 5 – both amazing racing games. Sunset Overdrive is also one of my favourites. These games will keep you entertained. Another noteworthy mention is TitanFall. When I first played Titanfall it blew me away – I think it is the best multiplayer first person shooter game I have ever played.

Of course Playstaion has inFamous, Uncharted and The Last of Us, so we can call this a tie. But a game console is no longer just for gaming and here’s why:

Live TV

You can connect your TV Cable Box to Xbox One and be able to access the TV Guide directly on your Xbox One. You can also play games while you are watching TV, if you are into that sort of thing.

Home Media Server and Cloud – Plex and One Drive

 

OneDrive-logo-blue-bg Plex-Logo

Here is where I think the Xbox One really shines. Plex was one of the reasons which pushed me towards getting an Xbox. Now however, Playstation also has Plex. But Micrsoft One Drive still only works with Xbox One(not surprising to see why). This is really useful since you can have your phone automatically backup your photos and videos to your One Drive while you are out and about say on vacation or a trip to the each or a birthday party, you can then come home and simply turn on your Xbox One and start viewing and sharing you photos and videos.

 

 

Be Crazy, Be Stupid, Dare a Little, Live a Little More Than You Would By Being Sane

It has been a little over 6 months since I last updated my blog. I had a long list of things I wanted to write about, excited about the thoughts and ideas swirling in my head and then the unexpected happened. I got into a car accident … well no one really plans an accident, so yes I’m just stating the obvious unexpectedness, but it happened. I lost my car and with it my motivation to write. I was out of work for more than 2 months. I loved that car – there are many remarkable and fun memories and some living in the realm of unmentionables.

spring-fitnessBut that’s not really the point of this post. I had also stopped almost all forms of physical activity after my accident. Today was the first day I went out for a jog since then. I recently bought a Misfit Flash, a fitness tracker(more on that and other stuff in the next few posts). There is a jogging/cycling trail near my home. As I was climbing one of the hilly portions of the trail I saw 3 boys in their mid teens. I also saw a shopping cart roll down the hill and crash into the railings of a small bridge.

As I came closer I could see the looks on their faces, trying to gauge my response to what had just conspired anticipating perhaps some remark about the negative consequence of such actions. In my mind all I could think was “thankfully these kids are outside and not having a heated conversion on high scores on their XBox Game Card or something (to the gamers: yes, I know that one didn’t make complete sense – that’s exactly my point).

As I passed them, I yelled out,

” You should get in it and roll down the hill!”

From jackass-the-movie
From jackass-the-movie

The look on their faces was nothing less than priceless. There was a moment of confusion as they looked at me, then at each other, bewildered and amazed by the inception of an idea that a stranger had just sparked in their minds. Perhaps it was a moment of disbelief as they came to terms with the fact that an adult had just told them to do something that may get them into trouble and something that was potentially dangerous. The youngest and least tainted by the experiences of rules realized that this stranger, this adult was actually serious about the idea and the possible fun factor of this potentially hazardous idea spoke out electrified.

“YAH Guys! Let’s do it”

I didn’t get a chance to see what I had hoped to happen actually happen before I jogged past them. After I had jogged about 50 meters, I looked over my shoulder only to see the boys walking up the hill, the two older ones with their bicycles and the younger one with a skateboard in his hand.

I was disappointed!

At that moment, those kids decided not to be crazy, not to be stupid and not to dare, not to create a memory that they some day might have talked about or simply thought about.

They will never have that memory because they chose not to create it.

How many times have you let your saner head prevail? How many times have you taken the ‘right turn’ because a ‘map’ in your head told you that any other way might just be wrong? How many times have you dared not to act foolishly in fear of embarrassing yourself in the eyes of your peers, or strangers that don’t even matter? I could ask many of these question and you would answer them in any number of ways possible.

At every turn in your life either a spark of adventure will live or a small part of your life will leave.

Be Crazy, Be Stupid, Dare a Little, Live a Little More Than You Would By Being Sane.

I leave you with the inspirational music to my dare seeking eyes and wisdom to my inquisitive soul.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

– Helen Keller