Merge file

Merge file integrates an external file with the currently open model. It will retain a BrainStorm (.brn) file's structure, intelligently (if you wish) blending its contents with the existing model. If BrainStorm can detect a structure in text files, it will try to preserve the structure. (Indents suggest a hierarchy. Lines starting with lower case letters suggest they are part of a paragraph. Blank lines immediately prior to changing levels are removed.)

Tip: one way to create a structured text file out of another program which can print outlines is to print to file. (In 'Printers and Faxes' in Start/Settings or Control Panel, add a printer with the settings Print to File and the Generic/Text only driver. Then when you want to create a text file which can be imported to BrainStorm, simply choose Generic/Text only in the Print dialogue.)

BrainStorm comes with a PowerPoint AddIn which helps you extract information from a presentation in a form acceptable to BrainStorm (and other programs). *See notes at the foot of this page.

Large files
If a file is unusually large, a dialogue box will appear which shows progress and gives you the option to abandon reading at any point. After loading is complete, BrainStorm builds the display of the current level. This may be instantaneous, but if the current level list is long, progress will be shown on the status bar.

The incoming Title, Namesakes and colours can be acknowledged or ignored. Merging can start at the incumbent model's Title or at the current entry. This is a great way to blend the work of a team*.

BrainStorm intelligence
If BrainStorm intelligence is switched off, it treats incoming models just as if each entry is being typed. If switched on, it blends the descendants of incoming Namesakes but without increasing the number of occurrences of a Namesake in any given list. This is particularly useful if you have invited additions to a BrainStorm model (a template, in effect) from a number of colleagues. By using 'Merge to title' their responses appear just as if a single model had been passed around for comment. Yet each person works on their copy of the model at the same time. If each uses a different model colour, you can even see who contributed what to the 'discussion'. Or you can switch off the 'apply incoming model colour' to preserve anonymity.

The only risk is that of two contributors using exactly the same words in an entire entry at exactly the same level. The idea would not be lost, but it would appear that only one person came up with it. If you really want to avoid this risk then choose the 'Namesake only on colour match' and each contributed entry will show up in the assigned model colour. If you explicitly colour each entry in the model template before passing it round, then these entries will be consolidated on merge and their descendants will show up in different colours according to who made the contribution.

A dialogue box controls the exact process:

Incoming model placement:
This controls whether the merge starts at the Title entry or at the currently selected entry. It also needs to know whether to include or discard the incoming Title. If it is to be included and the merge is at the Title level, it needs to know whether the incoming Title should overwrite the preexisting Title.

Incoming transparent entries:
This determines whether each transparent entry should remain so, or be assigned the incoming model colour.

Incoming Namesakes and descendants:
As each entry is input it may be compared with preexisting entries to see if they are Namesakes. If they are, BrainStorm can merge their descendants together (Create Namesakes). This can be done based on the text of the entry or on a combination of text and colour (Only Namesake on colour match). Or incoming entries can be marked as non-Namesakes, in which case their descendants are not merged (Create Namesakes is deselected). If merging Namesakes regardless of colour (Only Namesake on colour match is deselected), a further option allows you to choose whether or not to overwrite the preexisting colour (Use incoming colour). A final option allows you to bypass BrainStorm's intelligent merge. The result will be to retain all incoming Namesakes, even if they occur in the same list.

If you elect to colour incoming transparent entries, then this colour will be used if the 'only Namesake on colour match' option is chosen. At risk of labouring the point, transparent entries will match each other if the 'Apply incoming model colour' option is unchecked.

For information on the BrainStorm colour mechanism refer to Colours and fonts

*Blending the work of a team
If you want to see who has contributed what to a merged file, give each person a model containing the headings under which they are to make their own contributions. It would probably be a good idea to protect this initial model by making the entries Read only on/off. Get each person to choose a colour scheme for their entries. Once they have made one entry in the chosen colour, they should click on 'Enforce' while the entry is selected to ensure that all subsequent entries are in that colour.

When merging the various contributions, select 'To title' and 'Only Namesake on colour match'. This will preserve the entries in their original colours so you can see who has contributed what.

Edit/Strip all colours removes the colours from the entries if you want to make them anonymous again.

[If you end up with entries that were non-namesaked because they were textually identical but different colours, the quickest way to consolidate the model is to Write it to a text file with an indent of, say, 3. Then Open a new model and merge the saved one To title, Replace title, Create namesakes and use BrainStorm's intelligent merge. The alternative is to Strip all colours and go round clicking on the non-namesake icons. This could become tedious, depending how many matches there were.]


File menu

*Notes on the PPT2TAB.ppa AddIn for Microsoft PowerPoint.

This converts the textual content of slides into a tabbed outline which can be read by a variety of programs. One of which, of course, is BrainStorm. BrainStorm treats the tabbed indents as successive levels.

On Windows XP, put it into the Microsoft AddIns directory:

[Drive:]/documents and settings/[user]/Application data/Microsoft/AddIns/

You may have to lower your security settings before you can install an AddIn

Open an empty PowerPoint presentation and go to Tools/Add-Ins/ then click on Add New and navigate to PPT2TAB.ppa

A new button will appear. It might show a pig icon or it might read PPT2TAB. With your PowerPoint file open, just click on the button, tell the program where you want the output file to be stored, press OK, and you're all done.

Then, in BrainStorm, select File/Open, choose 'All file types' then browse to the file you just saved.

If you don't like the pig, open Tools/Customize then right click on the pig and select Edit or Change


Getting slide notes out of PowerPoint is somewhat less easy. The workaround we use is to use Send to Word to put the PowerPoint and notes into Word, using links for the graphics. The result was a Word version of the presentation with smallish images. Share your screen between Word and BrainStorm, switch on Magic paste and simply promote each slide name in BrainStorm, then select and copy the notes from the Word document.