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Why a stone tablet is still better than a hard drive. By James Fallows

MindManager is an elegant, if expensive ($229 and up, at, PC program for creating “mind maps—visual layouts of ideas or information. The puzzle is why it has not been available for the Macintosh before, since its design and concept seem straight from the Mac world. That’s now been corrected, with a native-Mac version. FreeMind (at is a less elaborate but free mind mapper for Macs and PCs.

For pure amusement, Mind Palace ($15 after five-day free trial, PC only, at applies the techniques of memory training made famous in Jonathan D. Spence’s book The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. The idea is to imagine a physical structure, or “memory palace,” and fill each room with something you want to remember. Gimmicky, yes, but fun—including for children, for whom the program is tailored. In the same vein, Visual Thesaurus (various pricing plans starting at $2.95 a month, at depicts the relationships among words in an unusual and fascinating way.

More and more Web sites are based on “mashups,” or combinations of data and functions from several sources. A map site from USA Track and Field, at, combines satellite images with new mapping tools to let runners draw and precisely measure routes in their hometowns or any place in America they are visiting. In case anyone hasn’t seen it yet, combines satellite maps and close-up aerial photos with real-estate and tax-assessment records to produce alarmingly (and addictively) detailed maps of what specific houses might be worth.

Two other tips: is, to my knowledge, the current champion in finding the cheapest possible fares for air routes. It rapidly scans the airlines’ sites and those of discount brokers and comes up with the best price at the time of your search. You have to act immediately, but the savings can be great. I got a ticket from San Francisco to Shanghai for half the price offered at other sites—on the same airline and flight. And Ambient Findability, a recent book by an information- architecture expert named Peter Morville, offers provocative ideas about how the age of search engines will change the way we think. —J.F.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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