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Author Topic: MaxThink  (Read 5778 times)
TomColvin
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« on: July 30, 2008, 10:00:50 PM »

Back in DOS days, I was devoted to MaxThink, at that a rather basic outliner.  When I switched over to Windows 95, I lost track of the program.

I've just come across it again, and it seems to have matured a great deal.  It seems now to be more than an outliner -- perhaps an "idea organizer" would best describe it.

I have not downloaded it yet, but have looked through all of the demo's.  Has anyone else worked with this software?
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40hz
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« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2008, 11:33:42 AM »

I was a big fan of MaxThink way back when. I even went so far as to buy the rest of Neil Larson's apps: Transtext, Houdini, Hyplus, and HyperRez. I ponied up a whopping $156 US for them back in 1991 when that was no small change.

The thing that was really interesting about MaxThink was that it embraced a philosophy and suggested method of working that went beyond the outlining paradigm. It would probably sound "old hat" today, but back in the 90's a lot of what Larson was saying was way ahead of its time. I'm not aware of anything resembling the Hyplus system (other than Wiki) which was a program for developing hypertext knowledgebases.

I've been looking for something I felt qualified to write a review about. Looks like you found it for me. Wink
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TomColvin
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« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2008, 03:39:02 PM »

40hz:  Thanks for yr reply.  Sounds like we got hooked on MaxThink at about the same time, tho I did not buy out the store the way you did.  Certainly, you are the one qualified to do a review.  I really look forward to reading it.

The current website, even with its "demos," just doesn't give much of an idea about what the software really does.  The demos point at theory, but do not show actual examples of the program at work.
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40hz
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« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2008, 03:50:26 PM »

40hz:  Thanks for yr reply.  Sounds like we got hooked on MaxThink at about the same time,

Yikes! You'll be giving away our age if you're not more careful. Grin

Quote
The current website, even with its "demos," just doesn't give much of an idea about what the software really does.  The demos point at theory, but do not show actual examples of the program at work.

Very true. The original came with a 100+ page book (and an optional audio tape tutorial) that got into a lot of the concepts behind the product. The book also included examples and exercises to try. You really did need to work through the entire book before you finally grokked what he was talking about. But once you got it nailed, it was like somebody handed you a set of wings. Or at least it was for me. I planned my first business using it. And I used it on almost every consulting project I worked on for about six years afterwards. Truly amazing when you consider it fit on one 5.25 floppy!

If you combined MaxThink with The New Universal Traveler book and Creative Whack Pack card deck, you had everything you needed to start your own personal think tank - 70's style!



BTW: Neil Larson's big thing was a concept called information annealing, which anticipated Wiki. He's mentioned in a Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_annealing

One thing I want to do is see if I can load up the original (I have a working 386-20 with 5" floppy drives! ) and briefly compare the two versions as well. Hopefully nothing was lost in the translation to Windows. This is of course assuming the 5.25's are still readable.

Shoot! Maybe I can just run the original in Linux using DOSBox. Yowza!!! - Now THAT  Cool would be just too cool...



* WhackPack.jpg (23 KB, 300x438 - viewed 250 times.)
« Last Edit: August 01, 2008, 04:26:06 PM by 40hz » Logged

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myersk
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« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2008, 09:18:22 AM »

I started using MaxThink on a Kaypro CPM machine.  (That makes me the oldest.)  I was still using the DOS version daily until about 2 years ago.  (That makes me the most insanely dedicated.)  I would still be using it, but I started working in offices that forbid me to install programs.  Many days it would be the only program I would use, other than email and browser.   I could always write much faster and much better with it, and there is nothing else like it.  It became very inconvenient not to be able to paste and run web links.  The first Windows version was unusable, and the current upgrade is much better and is usable, but because some crucial human factors could not be reproduced in Windows, I cannot make it an extension of my mind, with 'automoticity'.  MaxThink was a seamless extension of the QWERTY keyboard for me, with every letter or command using the same keys, all with instant and predictable response.  That is a proper role for a tool, offering huge advantages.   The same point was often made about WordStar.  If you mastered it, it vastly outperformed other word processors.  (But it was still a word processor.)  Nobody paid attention, and we are loaded down with junky programs and no options. 
Now, MaxThink truly did help me think and write.  I am writing a book right now and I am very unhappy I don't have it because I am wasting a lot of time scanning over things I don't need to look at and also not getting new materials jammed in the right places and stitched in.  This is really primitive.   Of course, others may think differently and not benefit as much as I do.  Ideas tend to occur to me out of order.  I know where they go and want to get there.  When I am reminded of what I have, something else occurs that extends and completes the set.  It all piles up at a great rate.  Other people, I believe, don't think this way.  They go one time through and are close to finished, with just editing left.   My first version isn't terrible, but I'll often skip things so that I can keep going to get the full sweep of the argument done.  It all comes in a rush.
These thoughts about thinking are important, and Neil Larson is the only software designer who ever seemed to care.  I learned a great deal from him.  I also checked out all his other stuff and made myself apply it, to see where it went.  I actually set up, pre-Windows and pre-Internet, what you would instantly recognize today as a Wiki.  I had people post collaborative notes about marketing leads.  At the time the process was really shocking, and not at all delightful to people who didn't have any habits of sharing and collaboration, and huge fear of showing their ignorance and lack of basic computer, typing, and writing skills.  Things really have changed, at least for some.
It was sometimes difficult to have a conversation with Neil Larson, but once you understood what he was doing, you could get synchronized.  Many techies are difficult to talk to, but this was special.  He essentially spoke hypertext.  He would always speak a paragraph at a time, very meaningful and complete.  But then he would speak another paragraph that had absolutely no connection to what you thought you were talking about.  Conversation has linear expectations, but his mind was multi-threaded, and he was essentially sustaining several conversations at the same time, and they all insected.  As long as you were paying attention and had a good memory and ability to see relationships quickly (which not everybody can do) it didn't matter what order thoughts were presented.

The reason I stumbled across this board is that I was looking for comments on Larson's Houdini program.  It turns out that there is nothing like that either.  Houdini was a truly mind-bending program, but nobody seemed to have found a good use for it.  I couldn't, at the time, but times are changing. People in my company who work in intelligence have some special needs and special cognitive abilities to comprehend linkage networks.
   
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edbro
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« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2008, 10:11:48 AM »

I started using MaxThink on a Kaypro CPM machine.  (That makes me the oldest.) 
Not necessarily. My first machine was a Kaypro II. No hard drive, 2 360K floppies and tiny, monochrome screen. And, just like my first car, I wished I had saved this.
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PPLandry
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« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2008, 10:52:27 AM »

I had an Osborne... same as a KayPro II but with a 4in display. It was a sewing machine size luggable

p.s. I still have 2 TRS-80 model 100, 8 line x 40 chrs display. Anyone interested?  Wink
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40hz
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« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2008, 11:18:48 AM »

I started using MaxThink on a Kaypro CPM machine.  (That makes me the oldest.) 
Not necessarily. My first machine was a Kaypro II. No hard drive, 2 360K floppies and tiny, monochrome screen. And, just like my first car, I wished I had saved this.

Think I might have some of you beat. The first real computer I personally owned was a TRS-80 MkIII. I bought it to use VisiCalc. I had been sharing a group purchase Apple][ with a few friends before that.

Read these specs if you want to laugh:

http://www.trs-80.com/trs80-models-model3.htm

I particular love some of the Tandy Corp. descriptions:

Quote
As a Business System ...

Here is a complete business system (except for your choice of printers) in a beautifully-styled, one-piece desktop housing. It includes a high-resolution, 12-inch video display with upper and lower case characters, typewriter-style keyboard, 12-key data pad, and two high-capacity disk storage units. Also included are a parallal printer port and a RS-232C serial port. Our Desktop Business Computer is ideal for many business applications. As a management tool, our Visicalc program allows fast and accurate "What if . . ." calculations. With Profile, you can catalog your data and print reports the way you want them. Add a printer and do Mailing List Management, Inventory Control, Payroll, Billing, Payables or General Ledger - and we have the software to do it! And with our SCRIPSIT software and the proper printer you can have a time and labor-saving word processing system, too!

You'll get double-density disks, with 178,000 bytes of memory storage per disk. For added versatility you can convert the single-density Model I disks. So this powerful version of Model III is directly software compatible with most Model I programs. And, of course, you can add any of our Line Printers or Word Processing Printers to the parallel printer port. Although this system includes 2 built-in disk drives, you can add 1 or 2 more, for a total of about 670,000 bytes of starage space.

It was not beautifully styled. This puppy looked and felt cheap. It sat in a ugly silver-gray plastic cabinet, that scuffed easily since it was just paint on white plastic. After a year or so, you could see the wear and tear on the finish - especially around the mushy keyboard. And the screen was definitely not high-rez. It was B&W, and fuzzy, and the longer you kept it on, the fuzzier it became. That B&W screen spawned a whole cottage industry offering monochrome replacements. I upgraded to a DIY "dirty amber" monochrome tube the first chance I got. Green monochrome was also a popular choice.

Ah memories.... sure don't miss those days! Grin
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myersk
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« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2008, 11:46:25 AM »

Getting back to the concerns that made me want to post in the first place.... Here is a note I sent out to folks in my company.  Somebody was interested in a tool to maniplulate links.  The general feeling is that, while there are fancy tools for certain applications, there isn't a simple tool that is fully general, in being able to link a lot of stuff and create views of the network.
=======
"UltraRecall seems to have the network model you are looking for.  You might have overlooked it because of the way it is being packaged.   
A description of the model is in the manual.  Go here http://www.kinook.com/Ult...anual/?gettingstarted.htm , then hit Basic Concepts, then Logical Linking.
It doesn’t appear to do much visualization, but you can export, and they seem to be open to suggestions.

I stumbled into UltraRecall because your question got me thinking about Houdini.  This posting was in the UltraRecall developer’s discussion list:
“There used to be a DOS product - back in the '90s [and a CPM version before that] - called Houdini by a company called MaxThink. MaxThink's flagship product was an outliner called MaxThink. It still sort of exists, but the product never migrated well to the Windows environment. And Houdini never made it at all.  MaxThink had all kinds of wonderful stuff (bin sorting, hoisting, super easy hypertext, and all kinds of bells and whistles that I don't believe I'll ever see again). This is not about that.
Houdini was a non-hierarchical relation machine. You could set up hierarchies without difficulty. But you could go far beyond that. You could simply tag items randomly and have them be related to the starting item. This could be any node, anywhere in the system. This is as close to "synaptic relationships" as I've ever seen in this kind of program.
I'd really like to be able to easily specify ad-hoc relationships within UltraRecall. Not just a one-way hyperlink, useful as that is. But many-to-one and one-to-many links would be invaluable to me.
Regards,  Bal”

I can’t tell whether Houdini has something that UltraRecall does not.  The developer could not see a difference. I do know that Houdini was the ultimate link model that you are asking for, but it was all model and nothing else.  It was mind-blowing.   So much so that nobody could figure out what to do with it. 

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40hz
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« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2008, 03:36:11 PM »

Getting back to the concerns that made me want to post in the first place....

Wow! Hope you're not too 'put off' by digressions. You'll see a lot of them up here on DC's forums.
Apparently, many people (who don't mind having their brains picked) tend to digress and ramble a bit. Wink

---

Houdini may have been an interesting concept, but I don't think it deserves the awe it receives from some quarters. Houdini was primarily a browser. Unfortunately, there's a great deal of unnecessary mystique that has built up about it over the years. I've got copies of all of Nils Larson's products. (I still like MaxThink.) But before I bought anything, I called Mr. Larson up way back when (1991) to ask him exactly what Houdini was. It was a very interesting phone conversation.

In the end, I bought everything in the Maxthink catalog, except for Houdini. Not that it mattered. They included a copy of Houdini with my order anyway.

There are significant differences between the concept of relationships, and the concept of associations. Rather than call Houdini a relation machine, I'd tend more to think of it as a tool to map associations between a large number of text snippets. By itself, it's not much more than a note taking system that incorporates a tool that would later come to be called hyperlinking.

It did have some interesting features that lent themselves to brainstorming and other free associative exercises, but it was still just basically a shoebox with a browser front-end. And it was limited by the technology of the time. It allowed something like 2500 notes and 7500 internal links, although it also allowed (theoretically) unlimited linking to external ASCII and other Houdini files if I recall correctly.

The problem with Houdini wasn't so much that people didn't understand it. The problem was that Houdini's philosophy and methodology only worked well for a certain class of projects. You couldn't just plug everything you did into Houdini's framework. It was great for serendipitous discovery and associative thinking. It was next to useless for projects that could be better approached via inductive/deductive thinking methodologies. Furthermore, Houdini really only came into its own when it was used for collaborative thinking projects. That part of Houdini was revolutionary for its time. A single person was better off just using the MaxThink outliner in conjunction with the TransText wordprocessor. And that's exactly what most people did.

Now. if you're looking for the modern version of Houdini, look no further than the web and your favorite wiki engine. That's what Houdini was pointing towards. If you took Larson's vision of Houdini to it's logical conclusion, it would probably look much like Wikipedia.

Onward...

Have you tried looking at the TheBrain? It has many conceptual similarities to Houdini.
http://www.thebrain.com/#-50

---
BTW (to:myersk): Is that your "grid redevelopment project" that's up on WiserEarth.com ?

« Last Edit: December 05, 2008, 03:47:40 PM by 40hz » Logged

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Curt
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« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2008, 07:48:16 PM »

Have you tried looking at the TheBrain? It has many conceptual similarities to Houdini.
http://www.thebrain.com/#-50

Quite pedagogic, it seems. But expensive, if one cannot settle with the free version:

Compare versions (clickable thumb):





Watch the first tutorial (for the PRO version) in a line: http://www.thebrain.com/s...utorials/Part1/Part1.html :




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40hz
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« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2008, 02:14:19 PM »

Quite pedagogic, it seems. But expensive, if one cannot settle with the free version:

Curt: I liked your phrase "quite pedagogic." Grin

But you're right. I tried it, and much as I wanted to like it, I still couldn't see what it brought to the party. It's visually impressive, but to my mind it falls more under the "clever hack" rather than the "useful tool" category. I personally think the claims made for it are more than a little inflated.

A year or so ago, you'd run into websites that were using TheBrain as a sort of front-end. Lately, however, I'm not seeing any. Makes me wonder if I'm not the only one that found the concept cool to think about, but lacking in practical applicability.

Now maybe I'm too stupid to grasp what TheBrain is all about, but so far as I can tell, there isn't much Emperor to be found inside that slick clothing.

Still, I've heard this piece of software mentioned in reverential tones in some of the forums I frequent, so I thought I'd bring it up since it touches on some of the topics under discussion here.

Question: Has anyone done any non-trivial project with TheBrain? Or can anyone point us to someplace that's doing something useful with it?

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