This blog hasn’t been updated in almost a year, but I do keep a blog on another subject: politics. If you want to read my ramblings, comments, and analysis regarding UK and USA politics, you can find me over on
There’s a slim chance I may update Revnews again sometime, but my key interest has been politics for a long time now.
We’ve probably all been there at some point. Something’s gone majorly wrong with your PC, and you’re left with no choice but to reinstall Windows. If you’ve not backed up your files, you’ll weep for a while at their loss, before summoning the strength to slam that installation disk into the drive and watch as the progress bar crawls across. However, an issue you’re likely to encounter, especially if you’re still using XP, is missing drivers. I know from experience that XP never seems to find all the drivers I need, resulting in hardware not working, and the display only accepting a tiny resolution until I hunt down the disks or download the necessary drivers using another PC. With XP approaching its ninth birthday, it’s likely to become harder and harder to find the drivers you need next time you have to reinstall, so keeping a backup of them would be a rather smashing idea. Luckily there are a few smashing bits of software that will do just that for you. I’ve been testing out one such utility, called DriverBackup 2, and it’s rather jazzy.
The first thing to note is that it doesn’t need to be installed, which is a nice timesaver, though I would rather just be able to run an installer and be done with it. Instead, you just need to grab the files, and run the .exe called ‘DrvBK’ once they’ve downloaded. If you’d rather have it installed like all other software, just make a new folder in your C:\Program Files\ directory, and then copy or move all the files over. You can then make a shortcut in your Start Menu or desktop to the .exe file and access it like any other bit of software. Dull bits out the way, let’s delve into the thrilling world of backing up drivers.
If you’re using XP, you’ll just need to start the software like any other, but Vista and Windows 7 will likely want you to right-click and choose ‘Run as administrator’. DriverBackup will then scour your installed drivers, before presenting a lengthy list of them under their relevant categories: ‘Processors’, ‘Keyboards’, etc. A small but nice touch is that the software will display the default Windows icon for each item, making it easy to visually distinguish between the multitude of different types. Little ‘+’ icons appear to the left of each category and device, allowing you to expand and hide devices and individual drivers for each device.
There is also a checkbox by each entry, allowing you to pick and choose which drivers you want to backup. Whilst Windows will find a good number of the drivers by itself at install – particularly for important devices like the processor, hard-disk, and graphics card - I’d rather have them all backed up so I know I’ve got them all safe and ready to use if something should go horribly wrong. In addition, clicking on a device or individual driver file will give you more information about it, such as manufacturer and release date, which may help you decide whether you need to include it in your backup.
Once you’re ready to begin, click the ‘Start Backup’ button near the bottom right of the software. You’ll then be confronted with a window that looks a bit daunting. You can just ignore most of it, except ‘Path’, which instructs the software where to save the backup. I prefer to create a folder on my PC for the backup, and then copy it manually to an external disk, USB, or hard-disk, but if you’d prefer, you can just make the backup directly to an external device like the ones listed above. Wherever you’re sticking the files, click the ‘Browse’ button, and navigate to that location. The second and final thing that you need to alter on this screen is the checkbox down at the bottom left: ‘Generate files for automatic driver restoration’. Ticking this will ensure that the software creates an additional file that allows you to restore the drivers using DriverBackup 2, which means you won’t have to use Windows’ built-in Device Manager to install them all manually. In addition, it might be a good idea to keep the DriverBackup 2 files around on a disk, since you might not be able to connect to the Internet to download the software again until you’ve got your drivers sorted. Irony, eh?
Finally, let’s venture into the dangerous, disturbing hypothetical world of doom. Your hard-disk had just exploded in a small ball of flames, or a less disastrous but equally disturbing error has befallen your beloved PC. You’ve gotten it fixed or replaced the faulty part, and now you’ve reinstalled Windows. However, some of your devices aren’t working correctly. So long as you can find the dust-covered disk you stored the drivers on, you can restore them in one of two ways. The first is the slower, more nerdy way – manually using Windows device manager. The second is the faster method, which involves using DriverBackup. Since you won’t have it on your cleanly installed PC, if you copied it to your driver backup disk, you can just copy it back onto your PC, or if you didn’t, you’ll need download it on another PC if you can’t access the Internet, and then transfer it over. You can then run the software as before, but this time change to ‘Restore mode’ using the second button at the top of the software, and select the backup file (provided you opted to create one when you backed up your drivers.) Click the ‘Open backup file’ button, navigate to and select the relevant file. As with the process of backing up, you can then tick and untick those that you want to restore, before finally clicking the ‘Restore’ button at the bottom right to pop the drivers back onto your PC. DriverBackup will then beaver about, restoring your drivers to their rightful place. You’ll probably need to restart before you can check that everything’s working okay.
Since the download available on SourceForge is, by default, in Italian, and it take a bit of hunting to find the multi-language version, I’ve uploaded the English-only version to MediaFire, which can be accessed here: http://www.mediafire.com/?rwawglidj1z. I’ve zipped up the file to make it smaller, but Windows should be able to extract it using its built-in tools. In summary, DriverBackup is a smashing little bit of kit that could help save you a great deal of time next time you need to reinstall Windows or something goes wrong with your drivers. It just falls short of a 5-star rating due to the kerfuffle of having to look through the folder for the right file to run the software, and the lack of automatic method of installation for the software.
Hardware reviews are pretty rare here – we tend to focus on software and websites, but since I’ve recently bought a dandy new bit of hardware, I’ve decided to pen a review of this rather smashing bit of kit.
I’m not very good with backing up files. I tend to copy my important work to a USB, and then to my laptop, but other than that, I’ve never run a full back-up of any of my PCs. Part of the reason for that is I’ve never had anywhere to store the files, other than dozens of disks, which would have been incredibly awkward.. I could have bought an external hard-drive, but I didn’t want to have to remember to copy files over when I change them or create new ones. Luckily I’ve found a bit of kit that does it all for me – the Clickfree C2 Automatic Backup.
It set me back about £80 200GB of storage space. That might sound overpriced, but bear with me – this bit of kit differs from normal off-board hard drives in that it detects the files on your computer, and copies them to itself. Not only that, but it also detects when a file is changed, and updates the copy. The hardest bit about using this product was getting it out of the package – it’s in one of those awful clamshell cases that can only be opened with pair of scissors or other such attacking implement. Having eventually managed to remove it, it was then just a case of slotting the hard drive into the dock, and plugging it into a USB port.
The dock comes with two USB connectors, but you only need to plug one in unless your PC doesn’t have USB 2.0 ports, which it most likely does. If nothing starts happening once you’ve plugged it in, sticking the second connector in another socket should give it enough power to get it whirring.
After Windows had found the device and was happy with it, a Clickfree window popped up and started counting down to the backup. I didn’t need to install any software to do this – it’s stored on the portable hard drive and runs automagically when you plug it in. Having sifted through all my files, it then set about making backups of them. After this first backup, all future backups will only copy new or changed files, which means you don’t have to worry about duplicates or not having the latest version of the file safely stored. If you wish to, a small bit of software can be installed that sets the backups on a timer – anything from every two hours to every two weeks.
The hard drive can also be detached from the dock and carried with you wherever you need it. It’s very small, light, and portable, so packing it when you go on holiday or on a business trip should be no trouble. You could even carry all your files on this device rather than taking your laptop with you, provided you have access to another computer when you arrive at your destination.
Something at particularly impressed me was the way in which the device makes it simple to backup multiple PCs – plug it into any other PC or Mac and it will begin backing up the files after 30 seconds unless you tell it not to. It also creates a separate area on the drive for each PC that you’re backing up – so there’s a different section for your desktop, laptop, spare PC, etc, which makes it easy to browse your relevant files.
The files stored can also be browsed and opened directly from the drive, and the software also contains search features to prevent you having to sift through the files. There’s also a special photo section, which groups all your images and allows you to print or email them. Such features could come in handy if you take your hard drive to another PC and want to edit or print your documents or photos without having to copy them to the computer.
My only complaint with the product is that the ability to browse the files on the drive is limited to the software that came with Clickfree; which means that I can’t look through the files using Windows Explorer. This seems to be because the files are encrypted when they are copied to the drive, but it’s just a bit of a hassle not being able to browse through the files and folders using Explorer, and instead having to use a somewhat clumsy and outdated Clickfree alternative.
Despite this, the device itself is absolutely fantastic, and it works brilliantly. It takes the pain out of having to manually copy new files and update when they’re changed. It’s just slightly below a five star rating – the only thing that needs changing is the file browsing software. The device can be purchased from a few different retailers, I got mine from QVC whilst it was on on offer, but the price has since increased, so it may be a good idea to pay £10 extra and get the 500GB version.
Hullo. Just popping in to let you know that I haven’t forgotten about this blog – it’s been a long time since my last post, and that’s due to a combination of having a lot of work to do, as well as not having come across anything exciting enough to review recently. However, I will make a return when I stumble across a new or exciting website.
In the mean time, you might like to explore some of my older articles to see if anything tickles your fancy.
Like most homes, our fridge is littered with magnets, paper, and reminders in some vain attempt to prevent people forgetting their appointments and important dates. This mish-mash exasperates me, and I yearn for a clear refrigerator. Therefore, when I stumbled across FamilyFridge, which aims to replace the overloaded fridge, I was more than happy to try it out to see how well it fulfils its purpose.
After signing up you’ll be able to access your family’s new organiser. One of the first actions you’ll likely want to undertake is inviting other members of your family to join the website, else it’s not really serving its purpose of helping to keep your whole family organised and running smoothly. Those who you send it to will receive an email which invites them to join you. It appears that the only way to ensure that the person you’re inviting gets added to your family work area rather than creating their own is to have them click the link that the email generates, so make sure that they follow it rather than just going to the website’s homepage.
The features themselves are useful, but I didn’t find anything that made me jump for joy. The layout and interface of the website is simple and sleek whilst being approachable and friendly. Features are split into their own pages, which are accessible via the navigation buttons at the top of the family’s homepage. This homepage also provides a general overview of recent and upcoming events to help you keep an eye on what’s going on.
The first feature is the calendar, which aims allow the whole family to add events to it, allowing everyone to see what’s going on, and when. Events can be added either publicly – the entire family can see it; or privately – only you can see it. Whilst it’s useful to be able to add things like doctors’ appointments privately, it would be nice to be able to specify particular people who can see new events. For example, if you’re planning a party for your brother, you won’t want him to see if on the calendar, but you’ll need other family members to be able to view it.
FamilyFridge also includes the ability to send messages to other family members, though the usefulness of this when compared to email may be questioned since it doesn’t yet include any formatting features or allow you to attach files or images. However, it is useful to be able to send messages to all of your family members who use FamilyFridge. Unfortunately the ability to choose more than one person, but not the whole family, is not implemented.
There’s also an ability to upload photos and place them into albums. These can then be viewed by the other family members who’ve got accounts on FamilyFridge. However, it’s questionable as to why this service would be used instead of such other services as Facebook or Picasa, both which have very well-established and well-featured photo sharing tools. Despite this, FamilyFridge’s photo offering may be useful if you have some particularly private photos that you’re happy for the family to see, but not your friends.
Next is the notebook feature. This allows users to add a text-based note which other family members can read and respond to if necessary. This might be used for such things as sharing recipes, or asking the family to think about where they want to go on an upcoming family outing. Other users can then post a response to the note, which allows for a simple small-scale forum-like discussion. If you’re planning on doing anything more than simple, quick discussions, it might be worth considering setting up your own free family forum elsewhere.
We now come to my favourite feature – giftlists. In the run-up to my birthday, I was commanded to produce a wishlist which outlined items that it would be rather smashing to receive as presents. Normally, I type this in a Word document and print it out so those who demanded it of me can read it. However, this time I decided to create my list using the provided feature on FamilyFridge. This includes a nifty feature called the ‘Wantometer’, which allows me to drag a bar to indicate how much I want the item. Family members can then purchase the items in order of how highly they’re ranked on the ‘wantometer’; they can also leave comments about the items, perhaps to air their feelings that your chosen items are too expensive. In addition, you can add a link to the location of each item to save your family searching for it, so it’s a win-win situation.
We now come to the freezer – this smashingly named area houses files that you upload, and has functionality to let either just you view your files, or to let other family members open and edit them. This is a nice simple form of file sharing, but it doesn’t match network shared folders or websites designed specifically for the purpose of sharing files.
Whilst I wasn’t bowled over by the service, it’s certainly got some useful features. Plus, it’s still in development, so should hopefully improve over time. It’s worth signing up to use only the gift list feature, which in my opinion is the most useful. Waddle over to www.familyfreezer.co.uk to get started with bossing your family about.
It’s fast approaching time to get back to school or college for most pupils and teachers. That generally means rushing everything in the last few days that has been put off under the false illusion that there’s “Plenty of time.” Thankfully, I’ve managed to get everything done. However, I’m always hunting for ways to improve my organisation to ensure that tasks get finished on time, and everything is neat and accessible. Notely aims to make everything easier for students by providing numerous useful tools.
Notely packs so many smashing features into one web-application that it’s difficult to know where to begin. After registering and logging in, you’ll be presented with your dashboard. This’ll be useful in future to see quickly what tasks need doing and what events are coming up. Rather than just work my way through the entire sidebar in this article, I’ll pick out the main features in an order which makes some sense and couple them with comments and the usual babble.
Right-ho, let’s start with the ‘Courses’ section. This is one of the must fundamental features – each lesson taken can be added here; doing so allows future task and other such items to be placed in their right category. It’s a simple process to creating new courses, and each has extra information assigned to it, such as teacher and classroom. For some reason it’s compulsory to add those, which makes it a bit awkward for me since it’s not yet confirmed what teachers I’ll have, let alone the room numbers. It also doesn’t account for the fact that it’s likely that some students will be in different rooms at different times – especially if they have more than one teacher for a subject. However, simply placing a dash or other symbol in the teacher name and room number box is enough to fool the form into thinking that you’ve entered the information. A more minor feature is the ability to add a colour to represent your course. Unfortunately, the choices were very limited, which meant that I couldn’t have the same colours as the folders for each subject. A minor issue, but I’m sad enough to want the colours to be standardised.
Once you’ve added the names of your lessons, you’ll be able to categorise other information into them. One of the most important of these is likely to be the ‘Notes’ feature, and judging by the name of the website, it’s designed to be the key feature. The tools for creating a new note are more than sufficient – you’re given a text area featuring a number of different tools to allow you to format the text, add links, insert images, and other such jazz. I did wonder why Notely’s notes feature would be used in place of a document, since other software is more suited to taking more strenuous notes. They would lack the integration with Notely’s other features, but I’d still rather create notes in software that features more advanced features and will store it on my hard-drive. PDFs and RTF documents can be imported to Notely, but the ability to import other formats such as .DOC would be a welcome addition.
I’ve been trying to work out the difference between ‘Tasks’ and ‘To-dos’, but I haven’t quite been able to fathom it out. They both appear to serve the same purpose, but ‘Tasks’ appear to be more focused upon outlining specific projects which need to be completed, whilst ‘To-dos’ appear to be designed for more minor task – things like ‘Buy book’ or ‘Find pen’. As with any organisational application, the plan behind these is to enable you to keep track of tasks which need to be done, and to ensure that you’re handing them in or completing them in time. Notely’s offering is good, but I don’t think the interface and ease-of-use compares to Soshiku’s. However, the tight integration with Notely’s other features may be the factor which wins you over. Like Soshiku, each to-do note can have a due-date applied, but Notely also allows a time to be added, which allows for a little bit of extra prioritisation.
Complementing the to-do feature is the ‘Calendar’ item. This shows when each task is due, and therefore allows you to see more clearly when work needs to be completed by. Additional items can also be added directly to the calendar. Therefore it can serve the dual purpose of keeping track of your work, as well as scheduling more enjoyable plans. Something which I thought was especially smashing was the ability to view the calendar in weekly or daily mode; this meant that each day had hourly intervals underneath, allowing the events to be seen clearly. Whilst it doesn’t quite compete with applications specifically focused upon the calendar, it is a very useful addition to the suite of features. A minor qualm was that the calendar didn’t show the name of the day when in weekly or daily mode – opting instead to show only the date.
The ‘Links’ section is fairly self-explanatory. Links to useful websites can be added. Each contains a title, URL, and an optional description. This is a simple feature, but may prove to be useful for quickly accessing useful but obscure webpages or online applications. However, it would be nice to be able to categorise the links into the aforementioned courses which were created. A similar feature is the ability to upload files. Unlike the links, these can be organised, which means you’re able to create folders which contain sub-folders and files, allowing you to keep track of anything you choose to place there.
Another duty which I usually do over the summer holidays is typing out my timetable in a more friendly format. This includes colour coding and a cleaner design than the plain black-and-white which the dull photocopier provides. Undertaking this arduous quest usually involves poring over a meticulously perfected table in Word, this time I could use Notely’s ‘Schedule’ tool to create the coming year’s timetable. The rows span from the ungodly hour of 7am right up to 8.30pm. Whilst this is a benefit in that even those with very strange schooling hours will be able to use the feature, it means that I end up with a large number of wasted spaces. I’d therefore like to be able to specify which days and timespans to include on the timetable. Despite this, the interface is really rather smashing. The subjects which were created on the ‘Courses’ page are ready to be dragged to their correct places on the timetable, and they’re also accompanied by the more inviting ‘Free time’ and ‘Lunch/dinner’.
With regard to learning rather than just organising, Notely also provides features which allow for the creating of quizzes and mind-maps. Both of them seem to work fine, but lack the shine and polish of other alternative web applications which are designed specifically for those purposes. Bubbl.us is a good alternative for creating mind-maps, but once again you’ll lose the compatibility with the rest of Notely’s smashing features by using an alternative website.
There are also a number other features which are well worth a look, but I’ve now babbled for quite long enough and will therefore wrap this article up. Notely has proven itself to be very useful and full of features which promise to help students organise their busy schedules. You can sign up at www.notely.net.
I’m not too good with numbers – my former maths tutor will echo that statement, but neither neither am I a gambler. Therefore getting involved with the stock market is hardly a natural step; I’m far from being ready to take the plunge. Therefore I’ve had to settle for the next best thing to hone my skills (or lack of) before even considering investing real money. WeSeed allows users to invest virtual money in real companies, as well as incorporating other enjoyable features to make the experience a little bit more approachable, even to innumerates like me.
After signing up and confirming your account, you’ll need to chose how much money your portfolio starts with. There are three predefined options to choose from: $100,000, $10,000, $100, or you can opt to choose your own starting amount. I chose to start with $10,000 (about £6000) since the larger amount seemed to lack challenge, whilst the lower amount promised to limit my investments to next-to-nothing.
You’re then able to begin choosing which companies you want to invest money in by searching for either the company’s name, or an area which you’d like to invest in. Therefore, if you’re pining for some Microsoft shares, you can search for that directly, but if you have no company in mind, searching for a general area will bring up companies which relate to it – eg searching ‘gardening’, ‘computers’, or ‘sport’ will yield relevant businesses that you may wish to pour some of your virtual cash into.
After investing, you’re able to keep track via your personal portfolio. This is a listing of all the companies that you’re a shareholder of and your shares’ status. You’re able to see at a glance whether there’s been a rise or fall in the the worth of your shares and your portfolio’s total value. It’ll also save you searching for the company to view more detailed information, since each can be clicked to whiz you off to the company’s page. In addition groups are also available which are designed to group like-minded people together – ranging from housewife groups to lovers of technology. You’ll be able to compete with other groups to make the best investments and gain advice from others to help you choose your investments.
The lack of ability to invest in companies which don’t have a US presence was a little annoying, but it certainly didn’t detract from the fun of juggling the virtual dollars. You can get started at www.weseed.com.