Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sites you might want to bookmark

In keeping with the theme that i've been writing about the past couple of days, i wanted to feature a few online tools that once again don't need to be installed on your computer, but are very useful to just about anyone. I like that these go beyond portable apps, and are just websites that help with everyday productivity. Sites that you'd want available at a moment's notice, and are just a bookmark away.

For freelance writers, and anyone who writes in general, there's the online word count tool..  And it does what it says, takes a manuscript and counts the words that are in it.  I find this too extremely useful when writing assignments and papers and really for anything where you need to write a specific number of words. Bookmark it. It'll come in handy.

The second site that i find pretty handy, is one that i discovered a couple of days ago.  Not sure how "safe" it is, but the concept is pretty nifty. This particular site checks how strong your password is, and based on brute force cracking techniques, it calculates approximately how long a computer will take to crack your password. Now i'm sure there are concerns about the site being a password harvester, but the source code is available if you want to check that out, and if you really want to try it, you can try out passwords that are similar to your password, or you could load up the page, and disconnect your internet, turn off your wifi, put on your tinfoil hat before you enter your actual password. And if you took my advice about using leetspeak for your passwords you'll see what a good idea that was. My example Christm4str33 will take about 633 million years to crack. So use leetspeak. It really is a great way to come up with secure passwords.

Another set of online tools that i find useful are ones help you create content. and i just found this website that does this in bunches. Aviary.com boasts a whole suite of online content creation tools. From image editors, to color editors, to image markup tools, to audio editors, Aviary's suite of tools look extremely useful for anyone who has a website and wants to put some good content on it. It actually looks pretty amazing, so i'll check it out and report back to the blog, when i figure out what else it does.  Gotta love finding new useful websites. And with that i bid you adieu, until next post anyway. I'm sure these will keep you occupied for a while. At least the last one will.  I know i'll  be spending some time on it. Have fun y'all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

More in the Cloud

I didn't want to talk about cloud computing without mentioning a couple more sites that could free up your computer for more important things like games.  Which brings us to another commonly used program on your desktop or laptop.  I'm sure at one point in time, most people have had the need for photo editing software, and as good as MS Paint is, it just doesn't even come close to what Adobe Photoshop can do.  The problem is that Photoshop is so dang expensive, even for a personal use license. So where does one go for their photo editing needs? Why the internet of course.  And i don't mean to download Photoshop, even if it is available online if you know what i mean.  and i know that Gimp is available for download, and it's free but i wanted to feature apps that were online without the need to install. What i'm talking about is online photo editing tools.  And to my surprise, there are a few websites that offer such services.

My favorite one is Pixlr. Which is a full featured online photo editing tool.  Having alot of the same features that Photoshop does, Pixlr is an app that doesn't try to hold the user's hand with quick one click fixes. It's tool palette is very similar to photoshop. Whether you want to cut, crop, clone, or magic wand an image, Pixlr pretty much does it all. You can work with layers and filters, do adjustments, even play with levels and curves. It lets you work with pictures that you upload, or pictures that you can find on the internet. It's pretty powerful for something that works in browser, and most of all, it's free.  Pixlr also offers quick fixes with it's Pixlr Express, so check it out if there are photo editing jobs that you need to do without access to Gimp or Photoshop, or Corel's Paintshop Pro.

Another similar site is FotoFlexer. I haven't really tried this site, but it looks like it could do some decent photo editing in a pinch. Red eye removal, morphing effects, smart selection. It's the type of photo editor that you might use if you're trying to upload a funny picture to facebook, or myspace. Maybe the kind of photo editor that your grandma would use if she wanted to fix remove the red eye thing that happens from those pictures she took with her pocket digital camera. 

One more site that i've seen mentioned around the interwebs is Picnik. Similar to fotoflexer it offers an easy interface which lets users make quick adjustments to their pictures for quick sharing on social media sites. It also lets you edit pics that you've already uploaded to various websites like Flickr and picasa web albums, facebook, myspace even photobucket.

Of course these sites really won't replace the power of a dedicated Photo Editing Suite, except maybe Pixlr; but for someone who doesn't want all the bells and whistles that Gimp may offer, and is disappointed by the limited features of MS Paint. The Cloud photo editing apps might just be the answer.

IPA Monday!

Hey guess what? It's monday, and that means that i get to recommend another delicious IPA for all you beer lovers out there.  This week's brew is from one of my favorite breweries Anderson Valley Brewing Co. Based out of Boonville California. The Hop Ottin' IPA.

This awesome brew is amazingly balanced, and not as hoppy as you would expect. The malts and hops are exceptionally balanced, and this makes for a very very smooth drinking experience.  This sessionable IPA comes in at a 7% alcohol by volume. and at around 90 IBU. Try this if you can, and buy a sixer or even a case. you won't regret it. I might just have a bomber of this tonight.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Cloud

What's fun about this lil project that i've got going on, is the participation of the readers.  Yes you guys.  Specially when i get suggestions and tips right back from y'all who are reading this blog.  I appreciate it. And the reason i mention it is cos, Jaime Madrox left me a comment about using online storage as a means to share files like pictures and music and ebooks and stuff like that, rather than uploading sensitive data.  I still believe that having online space to back up a flashdrive, or things like your resume, or portfolio is a good idea just because having a backup of your stuff, at some other place aside from your house is generally a good idea.  Just in case your house gets broken into or you get hit with lightning and all the electronics in your house gets fried.  The cloud is just another place where you can get to your data easily, and quickly. But otherwise his point was a good one. So thanks for that tip.

Which brings us to my next topic.  Cloud Computing. Which simply means computing on the internet where all your apps and data are stored online, or "The cloud." rather than your hard drives at home. With the proliferation of more powerful and more portable gadgets which have access to the internet, it's become much easier, and more convenient to just do your "work" online and not have to worry about purchasing software or trying to find that term paper, that you saved somewhere on your hard drives.

The first thing that comes to mind is the word processor.  There used to be a time, before the internet was widely available that most computers had Microsoft's Office Suite installed on them.  You simply couldn't find programs that had the features that say Word, or Excel or Power Point had.  So you were limited to using Microsoft Products.  And as most people know, Microsoft doesn't come cheap.  Fast forward to the age of the internet, and while Microsoft still dominates the Office Suite landscape, users are not left without options. For users on a budget, there is the free Open Office Suite (formerly known as StarOffice,) by StarDivision, which was acquired by Sun Microsystems, which was acquired by Oracle Corporation. But that's not quite what we need when it comes to cloud computing, and for that we turn to Google, and Google Docs.

Google Docs is probably the most popular office suite in the "cloud." Google Docs isn't the only option despite being the most complete.  With Google Docs, you can edit word documents, create spreadsheets and put together presentations and slideshows without ever having to install anything on your computer.  Another option is ThinkFree Online. Which like Google Docs is a full featured office suite which also offers a gig of storage space all for free. But there are other alternatives albeit not in one place like they are in Google Docs or ThinkFree Online.

For word processing there's also Zoho Writer, and Goffice. Which is your full featured word processor, but online and without the need to download anything.  Just upload the documents you're working on, or start a new one and away you go.  If you work with a lot of spreadsheets, Zoho Sheet, and Edit Grid. And if Presentations are your thing, you can use Ajax Presents or Brink Pad.  Remember that you have these options besides Google Docs and Think Free online, so the internet is a pretty good place to get some office productivity done for free, with programs that have features that rival Microsoft's bloated software. 

At the end of the day, if you find yourself in need of an Office Suite, or even just one of the programs out of a full suite, the cloud is your answer.  Or as some would call it, Office 2.0.  So check it out. and if there's a site, that you use and recommend, leave a link in the comments, i'm sure other readers would appreciate it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Free Friday: Online Storage

Okay so it's been a busy week, i've posted a lot of information, and i figure today i could just hang out and write a bit about trends on the net.  I'm sure that you all know about torrents by now, and about pirate bay, and maybe you've even managed to score yourself a demonoid account from some hapless fool with the promise of porn. Well look no further hapless fool, on the net, porn's free and if you're paying for it, you deserve to be scammed of your demonoid account. Dummy!

Anyway, my adventures online have pretty much led me to the conclusion that unlike most things outside of mom's basement, a lot of media can be found online. and because it's online, it's free. and i like free. That way i can spend my money on more important things like beer, or new gear, or pay bills or something like that.  Hopefully y'all like free as well, cos that's what this here post is all about.

First things first. email. i know i know everyone and their dog has an email account these days so i'm gonna run through the first few of these quickly.  Email's free. hotmail, gmail, yahoo mail, to the point that there are even 10 minute email address now,  just in case you want to register on a website without giving out your actual email address.  The cool thing about free email is that it also doubles as filestorage. Google gives you 7 gigs of space for attachments and things, and this can be a pretty good place to store single mp3s saved as attachments in drafts if you don't have the space on your computer. I'm pretty sure hotmail and yahoo also offer over a gig in space, so make use of it. hide pictures of exes that you can blackmail them with later. (j/k) don't blackmail anyone. you just might get hit with a bad batch of karma.

If you want a little bit more space, than that 20 meg attachment limit will allow, there's the online filestorage sites. mediafire, megaupload, hotfile, sendspace, there are a few others, and i know someone's gonna mention rapidshare, but since rapidshare changed it's user policies, trying to get people to sign up for premium accounts, more and more people have stopped using rapidshare, and have moved onto the more convenient file hosts. (Hotfile being one of the more popular these days, mostly because they pay for every 1000 downloads of your files) I think the filesize limit on these are up to a gigabyte now. With most users being able to upload/download up to a gig without having to sign up for their premium services. So they're well worth it if you want to share an album or a video or something with someone.  Check them out.

The third option is something i've mentioned before in the portable apps post.  Which are for online backups. Sites like Mozy, Dropbox, Windows Live Skydrive offer varying amounts of drivespace for your backup solutions. I think mozy and dropbox go up to 2 gigs for free, and skydrive offers a whopping 25 gigs of free space for personal consumption.  I'm sure there are other paid alternatives, like unlimited storage on mozy for like 5 bucks a month or something but this is about free. So i'm not going to go into that. Anyway, that's that on the online storage front. There really are a lot of options these days, and as computers get faster, and storage gets cheaper, there really is no reason for someone not to backup their important files.

So that's your friday tip. Online storage is free. (for the most part,)  so store and share those files. Could be anything.  your music collection, pictures of your cats. comic book scans. porn. whatever. On the plus side, freeing up your hard drive space, will help make your computer run faster.  And everyone can use a faster computer. As always, be safe out there, and hope y'all have a good weekend. Til next post.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Content Callback

Now that i'm on a bit of a roll, i wanted to go back and explain a little bit about Firebug, and Net Transport. Like i said,  Firebug is a web page debugger, and Net Transport is a download manager.  With these two pieces of software, you can basically inspect a webpage's code, and acquire parts that may be of interest to you. Now now, i know that many might cry foul and mention something about stealing, but let's face it, making a copy of something isn't quite stealing. and the problem with digital media is that it is so easy to copy. I'm not advocating piracy or anything but hey, for all you that want to know the inner workings of a webpage Firebug is an easy way to get your feet wet as long as you have a basic understanding of code/html/javascript/css.  And downloading a page and all of the media attached to it, might just help someone learn enough to get into web development

Firebug basically a firefox addon that's used to develop and debug webpages. For web developers the value of this program is huge. and for someone interested in getting into developing for the web, it's an invaluable tool. Plus it's free..  I'm not gonna get into what it can do, let's just say that it's a little bit more detailed than the view source option that comes with Firefox. It's especially useful for someone who develops and codes webpages.  From tweaking your CSS to inspecting html, to seeing how fast each element of a page downloads to seeing where the errors are on your page, it's a pretty powerful tool. So check that out, and play with it, remember, learning is fun.

Net Transport on the other hand is actually shareware, but they don't call me blackbeard for nothing. filestube.com yo! Yarrr..  But at the heart of it, it's a download manager. You plug a url into it, it downloads whatever that link is.  I know there are probably other download managers out there, maybe some that you even use, but what i like about Net Transport is that it can do the url stripping for you and get to the actual media that you're trying to acquire. Say like an mp3 on some band's website that's hidden behind a flash wrapper.  We all know how irritating those flash wrappers can be.  Some of them even prevent you from right clicking on a page.  That's what Firebug is for. Run firebug, inspect a webpage, find your file, plug that url into your download manager, et voila!  A new reason to plug in your superexpensive headphones and listen to some tunes. winky_face.gif

That's the beauty of the internet. People try to cram so much stuff into it, music, video, text, and my philosophy has always been if it's on the net you can make a copy and if you can make a copy, you can carry it anywhere.  There are powers that be that don't like library-ing. Building a library of media for personal consumption. But there in lies the rub,  Information wants to be Free. and with the net there's really nothing you can do to stop that from happening.  At the very least with the Firebug/Download Manager combo you could probably pick up a couple of NPR podcasts that you've always wanted to listen to and that's not a bad thing.

One more word of advice, i haven't looked into say hulu code or anything like that with firebug, so don't come round asking how to download your favorite shows off of hulu or the broadcaster's website. Cos i wouldn't know what to tell ya.  and there are other sources for those kinds of things. but as with everything, try it out, if you don't like it move onto something else that tickles your fancy. all in all though, use this information at your own risk and be safe out there.


Hot on the heels of portable apps and games, i wanted to write about specific applications which are not only portable, but also fun, at the same time talk about something which is somewhat of a passion of mine. Gaming. and not quite current generation gaming but old school, retro stuff.  Stuff that many of the kiddies these days are passing by. It's important because it's the history of gaming,  and where modern day games came from. I know i know, it might be boring for some, and all you "core" gamers probably couldn't give a shit. but history is important. and if you're the type that considers games as art, well this art history lesson might just let you experience some of the masterpieces of the gaming days of yore.  Here we go...

Emulation, and old system emulators specifically are programs which replicate the logic of old microchips, and operating systems in a current generation operating system. There are tons of emulators out there, emulating different things, and one that i've already mentioned is DOSBox.  DOS, or Disk Operating System, was the operating system that ran in most IBM PC compatible machines between 1981 and 1995. There were many versions of it including MS-DOS, PC-DOS, DR-DOS, FreeDOS, PTS-DOS, ROM-DOS amongst others (Thanks to wikipedia for the linkage.) but the most common of these was MS-DOS. MSDOS (which stands for Microsoft Disk Operating System) ran on intel x86 based machines until it was abandoned for more user friendly operating systems with a Graphical User Interface or GUI. Now instead of quoting and misquoting from wikipedia, i advise you to read up on DOS and what it was and where it came from to understand how DOSBox works and what exactly it is doing,  Or not. but suffice it to say that back in the day, before windows, and computer mice, and fancy graphics and rainmeter and windows 7, there was DOS, and back in the day, that was the environment that games were run in. Which brings us to DOSBox.

DOSBox, as i've previously mentioned is a DOS emulator. Designed to run within current operating systems (Windows, OSX, OS/2, Linux) it allows users to run programs that were designed to run in DOS. (my that's a lot of running.) and why is this useful you may ask. Well it's useful because, there were a multitude of games that ran in DOS. Wasteland being one of many.  Now DOS isn't that hard to learn and DOSBox makes it very easy to run games that maybe your older brothers or your dad played. and believe me, there are classic games out there (still) that are probably waiting to be discovered by a whole new audience. Games, that may be dated graphically, but can still bring the fun.  I mean back in those days, games had to be fun to keep your interest because of the lack of eye candy. And many of them were. To this day i'd much rather play Infocom's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy rather than Half Life 2, cos you and i both know, that if you've played one shooter on rails, you've played them all. Ironically, you don't need DOSBox to play hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy anymore, cos well they've put it online here. (probably using a flash version of a z machine emulator) Anyway, bottom line is that DOSBox is an example of one emulator, Winfrotz, (a zmachine interpreter) is another.

i know i know, you're probably asking yourself what this has to do with the internet, and emulators, and that history's boring, and you want to go call someone gay while playing Halo Reach. Well okay, but here's the thing. there are programs that emulate a lot of platforms for gaming. From old computers, like the IBM PC, to the Amiga32, to the Commodore64, as well as console hardware, like the Atari2600 and the NES, and the SuperNES and even video game boards, and pinball machine chips. This means that there are a crap ton of games that one person can play. with emulation, you can have your own arcade cabinet with games from the dawn of electronic gaming itself. With emulation, your budget netbook can easily be a portable game library letting you challenge that cute girl in the library to a little Ms. Pacman.  If you're in the least bit interested in computing history, or video gaming history for that matter. Emulation is something you might want to look into. and guess what? it's all out there on the net for you to have, for free.  So Have at it,  Go forth and game old school style.