Flying Logic Quick Start Video

I’ve been asked by a number of people interested in Flying Logic for a “Getting Started” guide, and so I’m launching a video series on Flying Logic’s own YouTube channel, and kicking it off with Flying Logic Quick Start! Please subscribe, fave, and tell your friends!

This video is in HD, so watch it full screen, and click the player “gear” icon to make sure your playback is at the highest quality.

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Flying Logic and Exploding Cats

When writing a novel, that’s pretty much entirely what life turns into: “House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.” — Neil Gaiman

Wandering the Web today I came across a writer who had just discovered Flying Logic. With permission, here is an excerpt from the LiveJournal of R. Scott Shanks, Jr.:

“I went to the Romance Writer’s Workshop, and became learned in the ways of storyboards. Fiddling with the storyboard let me know what was wrong with my novel. Good.

Industriously making post-its and moving them around did not fix the problems, though. I concluded two things; the storyboard only permitted me access to the whole novel at night, at home, when I was pooped, and that I needed to murder a huge number of my darlings — but couldn’t tell which ones had to go.

Shannon suggested last week that I tell her the story, which I did in brief, maybe a dozen sentences. “Which parts have to be there for the story you want?” First and last plot points.

Which meant all the others had targets on their heads. Way to go, Shannon.

That was a strangely liberating outlook. I changed from “something has to go” to “it will be interesting to see if anything stays.” I looked at the storyboard with loathing, and switched to tinytinytiny post-its and a notebook — portable storyboard.

I was still not moving with anything approaching speed. It’s easy to move the story elements around this way, but still takes attention. Changing the writing on the notes takes time. And the sticky wears out.

Then, Lisa, on whom be praise, suggested I look into Consistency. It won’t do much for me, I think, but that company also produces Flying Logic.

My world shook.

Yesterday I had a beginning and an end, and some very nice GMC notes. I put them into entities in Flying Logic and started making lines … which demonstrated when I had multiple scenes in the same scene; corrected that … which showed holes; corrected that … which revealed why my major plot points weren’t working; figured out what they had to be … which showed new scenes that had to be there … and where the tension had to build … and then discovered that I could customize the boxes in the program, changed them to match my post-it notes so I could see where I had too much of one element clustered ….

I spent three hours of a train ride yesterday steadily creating a plot that works. I did not have a cat exploding kind of day. I had something better. I had a “knew my work and did it well” kind of day. It felt terrific.”

Tip: Easy Zooming Using the Scroll Wheel

If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, you’ve probably already discovered that Flying Logic will scroll the document window up or down depending on which way you turn it. But did you know that by holding down the Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) key and turning the scroll wheel, you can zoom in or out of large documents without moving back the the zoom slider?

This feature is even more useful when you understand that when zooming, Flying Logic does its best to keep your current selection visible. So if you want to quickly zoom in on part of the diagram that your mouse is near, just select any element you want to make sure stays visible, then hold down the modifier key and use the scroll wheel.

Quick and easy!

Flying Logic 1.1 Has Been Released!

Flying Logic 1.1 is out, and is a free upgrade for registered users! Major new features include:

  • Tagging entities and custom classes with visually distinct symbols. Flying Logic Pro users have access to a variety of “professional” symbols used for flowcharting, influence diagrams, and more.
  • Export to OPML, the standard format used by outline processor software.
  • Collapse and expand all selected groups with a single command.
  • Display and edit edge annotations directly in the diagram.
  • Display and edge annotations and edge weights individually.
  • Back edges can now have weights (useful for influence diagrams, causal loop diagrams, etc.)
  • Clearer drawing of diagrams when zoomed out.
  • The layout of the diagram can now be “biased” towards the start of the flow or the end of the flow. This affects how the elements of the diagram are ranked for layout, and thus which end of the diagram they will “stack up” on. Different sorts of diagrams appear more natural with one bias or the other.

The detailed list of additions and changes is here. Watch this blog in the coming days for in-depth articles and tips on the new features. Also, discuss how you use the new features and what you’d like to see next for Flying Logic in our forum.

Flying Logic: Just Another Outliner?

I am often asked to compare Flying Logic to other packages such as Austhink Rationale and MindMapper. I suppose the main thing that provokes this comparison is that all three are graphically-oriented programs for capturing knowledge. Traditional text-based outliner software is used for capturing knowledge too, but lacks the distinctive visual “boxes and lines” look that Flying Logic and the other packages share.

The main difference is that Flying Logic is not an outliner. What do I mean by this?

Outliners, whether they are traditional text-based ones or more visual ones like Rationale and MindMapper, are based on trees, also called strict hierarchies. If the sort of reasoning you want to do breaks down easily into this structure then outliners are fine, and of course Flying Logic does trees with no problem.

A Tree

But Flying Logic is based on a more general structure called the Directed Acyclic Graph (or DAG). Unlike trees where every “child node” has exactly one “parent node,” in a DAG any child can have any number of parents. The only restriction is that a child not (directly or indirectly) be its own parent, a situation called a cycle or loop.

A Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG)

In fact, FL allows cycles too, but specially treats the “back edges” that form them. This is useful when modeling so-called “virtuous cycles” or “vicious cycles.”

A Vicious Cycle (back edge in blue)

So Flying Logic is based on DAGs. So what?

Outliners (whether text-based or graphical) are useful when you are simply breaking a thing down into its subparts. For instance, “A degree program consists of a number of courses, each of which consist of a number of assignments.” This is a strict hierarchy. But what if you want to say that a particular course is a prerequisite for several degree programs, and see at a glance what degrees require which courses, and what courses are required by what degrees? Then the “course” entity needs to have several parents, and trees (and outliner software) do not permit this.

When modeling real-life cause-and-effect (such as when using systems thinking techniques like the Theory of Constraints), the need to break away from strict trees becomes even more apparent. Causes can have several effects, and effects can have several causes, or require several conditions, or both. This makes DAGs the most natural choice. But unlike tree-based outlines, which can be easily represented as indented blocks of text, DAGs have no simple expression in pure text without having to redundantly replicate information wherever a child has more than one parent. In other words: for trees, a graphical layout is a nicety, but for DAGs it is a necessity.

Flying Logic also includes features that are specifically aimed at modeling cause-and-effect, including junctors, operators, edge weights, and confidence spinners. Together, these allow various logical and/or mathematical relationships to be expressed, tested, and demonstrated step-by-step, including belief networks and probabilistic networks. (And they stay neatly out of your way when you don’t need them.) Outliners simply don’t do any of that.

Finally, if you look at the screen shot galleries of many graphical outliners, it’s often hard to tell whether more time and effort went into the actual planning work, or into tweaking the plethora of graphics options available. Flying Logic upholds a philosophy of Let the Planner focus on Planning. Since graphic design is not part of the planning process, Flying Logic deliberately avoids adding any graphical options except those that can be justified on the basis of supporting clean, understandable reasoning.