From the Tech Toolbox

By James Fallows
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"File Not Found" (September 2006)
Why a stone tablet is still better than a hard drive. By James Fallows

MindManager is an elegant, if expensive ($229 and up, at www.mindjet.com), 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 tinyurl.com/5qrd5) 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 www.mindpalace.com) 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 www.visualthesaurus.com) 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 tinyurl.com/j5c5l, 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, Zillow.com 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: Kayak.com 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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/09/from-the-tech-toolbox/305108/