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Caxton call this an “ideas processor”, and that's a fair description - it's intended as a way of organising muddled ideas into a usable form. If you have a lot of creative thinking to do and find yourself juggling concepts the whole time, the traditional solution is a pencil and paper. Brainstorm sets out to do the same job, only better.
Brainstorm is one of those programs that are much easier to use than to describe. The ease of use is an essential feature of the thinking behind the program that it should keep up with and assist the flow of your ideas, rather than distracting you with details of operation. The concepts it uses are for the most part simple, but completely abstract. This gives Brainstorm the flexibility to deal with a wide variety of creative tasks, but also forces unfamiliar terms on the user. It is not a matter of jargon for jargon's sake - the terms are kept to a minimum, but much of what the program does is quite unique. Where word processors can borrow typing terms. Brainstorm has to start from scratch.
The only term you'll need to know to start with is model. Quite simply, the model is the mass of information you type in - the collection of ideas you want to structure. As a word processor manipulates text, so Brainstorm manipulates a model.
The Amstrad version of Brainstorm consists of one program, BRAIN.COM. and a sample model. On loading you are presented with the copyright screen swiftly followed by the master menu. Choices here include a range of disk and print-out options, but topping the list is the all important Use command. This switches you to the editing screen, where you can access and manipulate the model itself.
The Brainstorm editing screen consists of a heading and a list of one-line entries, with a help window below them. When a blank model is first Used, the heading and list are both empty .Text typed in at this point will form the first entry on the list. The text will wordwrap into subsequent entries, or can be forced into them by using thekey.
The first heading serves as the title for the model, and the entries as its subtitles. Thus, if you were trying to write, say, a manual describing Basic keywords you would enter “Keywords” as the heading followed by “Functions”, “'Operators” and “Commands" as entries.
Having set out the main sections of the manual in this way, you can divide each of them into sub-sections by a process called promotion. Simply select an entry from the list, press.R and the entry becomes the heading for a new list. This can be filled with entries in the same way as before. These can themselves be promoted and sub-divided - and so on. to as many levels of detail as desired.
In the example above, “Commands” could be divided into “Graphics” , “Sound” , “Input/output” etc., and these could in turn be divided into smaller categories or individual keywords. At the lowest level, the keyword descriptions can be typed in directly, taking advantage of the word-wrap on list entries.
This repeated sub-division imposes a tree structure on your ideas, and this probably matches most people's thought processes quite well - but the structuring does not end there.
If a new entry's wording matches that of an existing one, the two are said to be namesakes, and are linked together in certain ways. All namesakes have a common set of descendants subdivisions - and any alterations you make to an entry's wording will also be made to any namesakes it has. Nor are you restricted to pairs of namesakes you can create large sets of them. These sets can then be joined together you simply amend the wording of one set to duplicate that of the other or scanned through at speed in either direction, short-circuiting the tree structure.
Namesakes are a powerful feature of Brainstorm - they can help avoid a great deal of repetition, for one thing. To return to tiie above example, you might want to place a warning under entries such as "NEW", "DELETE", "POKE" etc to the effect that careless use can corrupt the user's current program. Rather than type in this same warning several times, you need merely type "warning” as an entry under each keyword heading. These “warning' entries will form a set of namesakes. Once they have all been typed in, simply alter the text of any one of them to the full wording and they will all be so altered.
In addition, namesakes can be used to give Brainstorm a kina of automatic self-indexing, suggesting applications more normally associated with databases. Notes entered quite casually can be scanned for namesakes, or searched using the hunt command.
What's more, every namesake is tagged with a number in the margin indicating the size of the namesake set it belongs to. It would be quite possible - if you wanted - to set up an informal card-box as part of a model, and link it in to a piece of text. The possibilities are endless - the difficulty could well be your imagination, rather than the program's flexibility.
Brainstorm is a program of such general application that it can be hard to pin down to specific uses. As a word processor, it lacks the power to compete with conventional, specialised alternatives - but then, it doesn't set out to. Once it has taken the document - if that's what your model is destined to be - as far as it comfortably can, you can write the text to disk in ASCII and finish the editing with your favourite word processor. Equally, you can load any ASCII file into a Brainstorm model - although the text will all load in os entries of one list, you can easily structure it with the powerful editing commands put and get.
Brainstorm is a truly original program, and it is no easy matter to assess the value for money it represents. For many, it will prove an invaluable partner for their word processor - anyone programming with a compatible assembler or compiler would also find it an enormous help, I suspect. It is unlikely, however, to appeal as a stand-alone - despite a flexible set of editing and print out commands, it simply isn't as immediately useful as a conventional w/p.
AMSTRAD ACTION #7