Mind mapping in the old way

Last weekend I started watching again (since childhood) a cold-war era spy tv series: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (this 2011 a film remake is being done).

It was funny that, expecting do distract myself away from my job of develop a concept/mind mapping software, I found an example of the good old way to do that…

A Visualization Periodic Table

Most of us know what the Periodic Table of the chemical elements is, but there is more application to that paradigm other than just chemistry.

This is a very interesting and complete table showing Visualization Methods


The original interactive version is here (put the mouse pointer over each symbol and see).

Communication and Perspectives

Any given thing or process has its significance under many scopes. What has certain relevance for an entity (a person, institution, artifact, etc.) could be minor/trivial or far superior for others.  Take for example the relative importance of Heart Transplant in Cardiovascular Surgery, then its importance in Medicine, then in Science and so on. For sure in the first environment we can expect great and detailed works on the subject, then a general knowledge in the second, and maybe just a reference or none at all in the last.

Consider now that for many large projects and organizations there is a need for creating common assets for dealing with the involved complexity. These assets could be specialized languages, standards, protocols, policies, artifacts, etc. As example we can consider the armed forces or the sport teams: They have a common language, common symbols (insignias, flags), equipment, protocolized communications and operational procedures, rules of conduct, etc. Then is required a superior entity, for understand these of complex worlds, to meet their common needs. That superior entity is on a meta or supra level: beyond that worlds.

In this case we have another perspective: The “here” (world) vs the “beyond/upon” (meta). For example: A construction team must build a house, then the architect communicates the intended design with blueprints. A meta-level here is the blueprints standard used for the purpose of building. That problem was studied and evolved since centuries and now has it common language (ie: a dotted square represents a concrete block or a door indicates its opening side with an arc). On the same example, another meta-level could be the command hierarchy of the construction company: the architect is the chief and the team are their subordinates.

Then, when trying to effectively communicate between different contexts, the data interchanged must be altered to be well understood by the intended audience. That change can be made in the form of: level of detail, vocabulary, symbols, translations, perspective and abstraction, etc. Also, the purpose must be considered: decision making, specialized work, informational, etc.

The Problem of Naming and Identification

The obvious

In our thinking we reference things (objects or people) in abstract or symbolic ways, using images (shapes or faces), concepts (like “car”, “the big green thing behind me”, “mom”, etc.) or a mental pseudo-conversation with ourselves (this time using language). While less abstract and more language related are the thoughts, more is the need to reference things with an artificial and language-transmittable label: the Name.

Names came as the immediate and main attribute about new things that we create or are presented to us. Then culture, practical convenience and personal creativity guide the act of naming:

  • For People: A combination of family name (that may be in reference of a place of origin, ethnic group, occupation or other ancestral heritage) plus a common or unique/fabricated first name. The naming order varies depending on culture.
  • For Common Things: Usually a word or combination of words (most of them originated in ancient languages and then assimilated in the current one used) which are used for referencing (to point to or indicate a thing) and identification (distinguish a thing from others of the same kind).


Maybe the biggest problem when naming is to find or create the most original name to avoid repetition over certain scope. Commonly a person name can have many people assigned (e.g.: “Sarah Connor”), therefore a most universal and error-safe main attribute had to be created (e.g.: a national id. number like the SSN). Then the identifier (or “Id”) become a solution for feasibility, precision and unambiguity for massive and systematic naming.

I can think a couple of ways for creating identifiers…

  • Combination of features. For example, in the case of a new car model (with the commercial name not yet invented): Style + Engine Type +  Drive-train + Year (e.g.: “Hatch-Back.V8.4×4.2009”).
  • Path of dependency.  When identifying objects on a big hierarchy unambiguously. For example the now common URL, or a military reference: “NATO.Northag.BritishArmyOfTheRhine.2ndRoyalTankRegiment.Unit07”.

By using complicated names for universal reach, there appears the need to simplify them within the local context for practical (fast) use, or to make them special or relevant. Then we have aliases, which can serve to various purposes such as: local fast referencing, real identity hiding (e.g.: “callsign” of a combat pilot) or creation of multiple identities (e.g.: for commercial, personal or “alternative” activities).


In structuring name conformation there can appear conventions according to the domain being represented. Some conventions can be:

  • By Prefixes (starting position) or Suffixes (ending). For example, in an astronomical phenomena name like “protonebulae” the prefix “proto” means “new” and the suffix “ae” means “many”. It, the naming using Latin and Greek words, appears to be an standardized (traditional, de facto?) way of naming such phenomena in the scientific community.
  • Syntax: This is very common for software developer to use different syntactic styles while programming. For example: Using all in uppercase for constants (e.g.: “PI=3.141592”), or using “camelCase” (first word in lowercase, the in uppercase every first letter of the resting words) for method names in the Java programming language (e.g.: “closeAccountNumber(990011);”).


About the problems of naming things, I can think of…

  • Homonyms: Words that are written the same, but that have a different meaning. Usually the real meaning is deduced from context, but if doesn’t exists we are lost. For example, the word “well” can refer a pit or way of doing.
  • Cultural and language issues. Consider the “Lone Ranger” and his native american friend “Tonto”. In Spanish “tonto” means “fool”, so his name have to be changed to “Toro” (bull).


Lets think twice when naming. A good name helps to make more or less recognizable, findable or unique that named thing or person.

A whole subject apart is the naming of a commercial product. You can find books, websites and companies entirely dedicated just to create good names for products. I hope to write about that interesting topic in the future.

Thinking Helpers

Since the early development of intelligent life, through the evolution from caves to our modern society, the conscious pursuing for productivity, efficiency, outcome generation, and any other way of “be better than the competitors”, have become a key factor in survival. In today’s world the most valued capabilities are these of: Analysis, problem solving, innovation, communication and management. In other words: A good, balanced, proactive and effective thinking.

As human beigns, we have limited resources (such as personal capabilities, time or money). So, the very basic and common task of thinking must be helped. The many ways we can help our thinking are related also to the many types or styles of thinking. I can think of…

Remembering: We have some set of “fresh” memories or knowledges that are commonly and easily accessed as we need them. But also there are the almost forgotten memories, these of far times or less relevance that sometimes we are in the urgency to get back. Then, I see these alternatives:

– Associating things. If we have a cue from where to start we can reach a context, from there we can enumerate things of that context and touch the required memory.

– Using an stimulus: It can be a sound (like a sound or the voice of somebody), an odor (I remember Dr. House trying to refreshig his memory by sniffing clothes) or and image or scene (a sunset, a rainy night). Maybe an hypnosis session?

Dr. House remembering

Dr. House remembering

Problem Solving: There is a problem and we must to find or make a solution for it. We can…

– Find a previous similar problem, then use an extrapolation of the solution into our problem context.

– Stimulate our creativity by: Making a brainstorming meeting, drawing a Mind Map, play with didactic toys like Legos or Meccanos.

Brainstorming session

Brainstorming session

 Communication: There is an audience to listen, and we must to convince or educate them. Possible ways of doing this…

– Presenting Images, either for analysis or solution proposal: Using drawings, diagrams, photographs and some text (not too much).

– Storytelling: This works by extracting the metaphores.



For each kind of problem, like these just exposed, there have been invented methods, techniques, artifacts, tools or intruments to help in their solution: Writings, drawings, storing (first by hand, then by the press and later with machines), and so on. I hope, in the next posts of this blog, make a trip through the “Thinking Helpers”.