Archive

Archive for March, 2009

View TV with Zattoo

Online television has only become a viable possibility in recent years; with increasing broadband speeds and advances in multimedia downloading and streaming, consumers have been able to benefit from a wealth of online entertainment. A lot of online possibilities have popped up on the ‘Net which allow you to view TV shows and other entertainment sources.. However, Zattoo is slightly different in that it allows you to watch a variety of channels live in fairly high quality.

Zattoo streams TV from a wide range of channels over the Internet at near real-time.

Zattoo streams TV from a wide range of channels over the Internet in near real-time.

I must admit that the first time I tried this software I was excited but quite unimpressed: the video was choppy and kept breaking up. It was so poor that I usually gave up with it and turned on my television, putting up with abysmal picture quality. I only started using Zattoo again when I wanted to ardently work away on my masses of work on my laptop whilst enjoying a rather smashing film on my desktop’s monitor, which happens to be merrily placed behind and to the left of my laptop’s home. Upon loading up Zattoo, I was startled to find an update. After recovering from this profound startlement, I applied it, noting that one of the issues which it claimed to fix was the choppiness of the video. It seems that it did. I can’t say that it’s perfect – there’s still a bit of occasional choppiness, but it occurs much less often than previously and to a less extreme extent. I had also been ailed by occasions where the software would stop receiving video for a little while; I’d be stuck watching the same frozen picture whilst the sound continued on, this is much rarer now, too.

Anyway, the program itself is really quite dandy: it allows you to watch a variety of TV channels live (well, only a very slight delay, which can be expected from streaming like this. I’ve currently got over 40 channels to choose from, 5 of which are offered in high quality – picture streams with better images than the other channels. That’s not to say that the other channels have poor picture – they’re actually quite good. Unfortunately there’s currently no way to pause or rewind TV, and I don’t see this feature coming any time soon due to the licensing issues I would expect they’d have to tackle to add these features.

Overall, a great bit of software. I’m hoping they’ll iron out the final few picture quality issues in this useful and entertaining application. I should also be remembered that it’s still in beta, so here’s hoping that the final release will be even better. The software is, of course, completely legal – it’s supported by revenue from adverts. You’ll see these whilst waiting for a channel to load and above the list of stations, but they’re not distracting and shouldn’t sour you on this good bit of kit. You can download it from www.zattoo.com to give it a try.

Create your own fonts with YourFonts

March 13, 2009 1 comment

I’m mildly obsessive over fonts: if you use one I like I’ll probably pester you for the name, or if you use my most loathed, Comic Sans, I will badger and pester you until you delete the font from your PC or delete me from your mental list of friends. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to make my own fonts. It was much quicker and easier than expected, and I can now write documents and other such jazz with my very own handwriting, not that I’d want to given the state of it.

You can create your own font using any style of writing you like, it's then simple to use it in Windows.

You can create your own font using any style of writing you like. It's then simple to use it in Windows.

YourFonts is an online service which does the legwork for you. All you need to do is find time out of your busy schedule to write the letters of the alphabet and a few bits of punctuation on a template and scan it into your PC. Life’s tough, isn’t it? For all that arduous labour, YourFonts automagically generates a Truetype font file which you can then install in Windows (see here for instructions on installing fonts. Or just try copying and pasting the font file into the font folder – as shown here.) I found that, despite being installed, the font won’t show in Windows’ fonts folder – but it is usable in my files; it can just be chosen from the list in the same way you would any other.

The service doesn’t appear to serve any serious purpose other than a little bit of fun; it certainly won’t provide an alternative to professional font creation. If you’re blessed with a steady hand and some patience, you make a neat, smart font using this service, one which you may regularly want to use. Alternatively, you could also put in symbols instead of letters in order to create your own Dingbat type font. In any case, be careful to follow the guidelines when filling out the grid in order to ensure that the font comes out looking as good as it can. Unfortunately, one of the limitations is that there doesn’t seem to be a way you can make it work well if you use joined-up writing, since you need to write each letter separately in the creation process. Nevertheless, it’s a fun, interesting service – just trundle off to www.yourfonts.com, and follow through the simple steps to create your own dandy little font.

Online maths tutoring with LiveMaths

March 11, 2009 3 comments
Get a £5 discount on a LiveMaths subscription if you use the voucher code: BPTR09 at the subscription page.

I’ll freely admit that I’m not a fan of maths: numbers have never been my strong point. The lack of open-ended answers scare me: I’m more a fan of being able to babble on about a load of twaddle in the humanities subjects: English and History in particular . That’s the reason I do all I can to be less awful at maths in order to muddle through my examination. One of the ways I do this is using a dandy little website called ‘LiveMaths‘.

An example LiveMaths how-to tutorial.

An example LiveMaths how-to tutorial.

There’s plenty of revision websites out there, but this one is a little bit different: rather than just text, images, and maybe an occasional diagram, it has a video walking you through the steps to complete various different maths problems you’re likely to encounter if you’ve been unfortunate enough take GCSE Maths or foolish enough to take it for A-Level. It uses short but in-depth videos to make it clear how problems should be tackled in the exam.

You’ll find an incredibly wide range of topics, but if you are such an intrepid explorer that you find a missing topic, you can always contact the people who run it. Both of which are long-term secondary education maths teachers. I think my only suggestion for improvement would be for the site to also include webpages or worksheets with steps for solving the problem and sample questions for each topic which could be printed and used if one does not have access to a computer at the time. I must also say that the narration on the videos greatly resembles that of a robot programmed to patronise! The rates are pretty cheap: a GCSE subscription comes to the cost of about two private tutoring lessons. Have a look at the free samples to see if it’ll be helpful for you. Poddle off to www.livemaths.co.uk if you’re interested in a further browse or subscribing.

School organisation with Soshiku

March 8, 2009 2 comments

The number of web applications has exploded recently, seeing a number of really useful stuff running directly from your browser or Internet enabled phone, without the need to download or install anything. Whilst this is one of the less exciting, it’s a really simple, sleek and helpful web application which will help you organise your studies. Soshiku is, in a word, fantastic.

If you’re like me, you get so much homework you can’t keep track. I’d tried keeping a log in various ways, such as using

Soshiku makes organising your schoolwork a snap - no more excuses!

Soshiku makes organising your schoolwork a snap - no more excuses!

Excel or Onenote, even the hated paper, but none of them compare to the features and simple interface of Soshiku. The registration process is incredibly simple and easy, only requiring three details from you: name, username and email address. After that, you can log in and set about creating a snazzy space to organise your school work.

You can add sections for each of your subjects, or if you’re only studying one or two subjects, you could use that feature to add different modules or segments for your course. You can then add assignments; these would likely consist of homework, coursework, reading, revision, etc. Define a title for it, a due date, add a few notes and you’re finished. You can even break down assignments into individual task lists to make it clear for yourself.

Soshiku will keep track of when your assignments are due by putting them on the homepage under headings like ‘due tomorrow’, ‘due this week’ and the dreaded ‘overdue’. This allows you to prioritize at a glance. Clicking on an assignment title will take you to the details you added earlier, allowing you to view and edit them. Each subject you add also gets its own page, where your current and past assignments are listed.

I don’t know about you, but I hate having to work on projects with other people; I’m a control freak, but occasionally I have to. Soshiku helps me to get through this traumatic experience by allowing me to set projects as being available either publicly or to selected Soshiku friends, making it easy to collaborate with them. Ican also utilize the feature which lets me upload documents, sharing them with my workmate so he can make changes and then upload it again.

There’s no need to be at your computer either – just set Soshiku up with your mobile and you can receive assignment reminders whilst you’re plodding around town or hiding from your masses of work in a bar. You can even add new assignments from your mobile via a text message! It’s really simple to use after having a fiddle around and getting aquainted with the features. I’m sure you’ll love it, so sign up now at www.soshiku.com! If you find yourself confused, have a read of the simple help pages.

Downadup worm gets worse, says Symantec

Symantec, makers of the popular computer security software Norton, have announced that an ‘update’ to a computer worm has been detected which could affect computers who have already been infected with the Downadup (aka Conficker) worm. The original attempted to disable security software, this update sees its capabilities amplified.

Dubbed ‘W32.Downadup.C’, the files adds power to the original malicious software, giving it further capabilities to disable security software and evade detection and removal by security software. Symantec’s vice-president of security response states: “It’s more aggressive, it has more services.”

However, it has taken on more properties of a trojan than a worm, as it no longer attempts to spread to other computers by self-replicating. Currently, Symantec states that they have not yet seen the trojan spread to consumers’ computers. If the updated malware does begin to enter the consumer realm, the effects could be large, as it is thought that at least 1 in 16 computers are already afflicted by the original Downadup worm.

Organise your taskbar with Taskbar Shuffle

March 8, 2009 5 comments

If you’re anything like me, then you like things in a certain order. I often find myself annoyed when I can’t have windows listed in a certain order on my taskbar; that’s why I went hunting for something that let me do just that. I found it in the form of a nifty little application which lives in your system tray, by the clock, called Taskbar Shuffle.

After a quick install, it settles into your system tray. Right-clicking on it will let you fiddle with a few preferences, such as making it start when you log on – this is useful to save you loading it from the Start Menu or a shortcut each time your OCD-like needs kick in, making you hunger for some organisation. It also lets you set a grouping number: the number of windows of the same application which need to be open before it’ll slide them into a group, saving on taskbar room. Once you’ve finished fiddling, you’re set to go: just click and drag an item’s name on the taskbar to move it to a different place. If you’re really having a fit of arrangement, you can also do the same with the icons in your notification area.

It’s a quick, small application that won’t steal your computer’s resources whilst providing the wonderful benefit of organisation to those of us who want things exactly as we like them. It can speed up your productivity by letting you put running programs, files or folders in an order which makes sense to you. You can download it  from download.com if you feel like giving it a go.

Taskbar Shuffle lets you easily rearrange your running applications and notification icons

Taskbar Shuffle lets you easily rearrange your running applications and notification icons

Munch numbers with Speedcrunch

March 6, 2009 1 comment

Let’s face it – the calculator which comes with Windows is quite naff. Featuring only a basic, clunky interface, it’s good for little more than simple, quick calculations. Free software, as usual, has the answer to this problem, and some other problems you didn’t know that you had.

Speedcrunch calculator makes maths easy with its advanced features and reference lists

Speedcrunch calculator makes maths easy with its advanced features and reference lists

After firing up Speedcrunch, I doubt you’ll find yourself ever using Windows’ built-in calculator again. Its interface is much more like that of a real calculator: sporting the various buttons you’d expect to find on a scientific calculator, in addition to even more dandy features. You can type in long-winded, confusing calculations without having the software throw a hissy fit, or simply not understand what you want, which you might expect from Windows’ calculator. You’ll probably find just about everything you could ever need in this calculator: from exploring the menus you’ll also find various other features which you can enable, such as a list of useful formula and mathematical terms.

Whether or not you often type in long-winded calculations, the likes of which that would confuse Stephen Hawking, or you simply need to use a calculator occasionally for quick addition and subtraction, Speedcrunch is all you’ll ever need. It even saves the calculations you did last time, even after closing it, lest ye forget the answer you just worked out after hastily jumping off on other adventures.

This is one of the most basic, but also one of the most useful, free applications available for Windows. You may well find youself no longer reaching for your real calculator when Windows’ offering just won’t cut it. Loading up in a snap, you’ll find youself falling in love with Speedcrunch. Take it for a test-sum, and see what you think; it’s mathemagical! www.speedcrunch.org