Archive

Archive for April, 2009

LiveMaths discount

Just a quick update to the LiveMaths article that I posted a little while ago. One of the administrators of the website was kind enough to provide a discount code which will get you a £5 discount off the usual price. Use the voucher code BPTR09 at the subscription page on www.livemaths.co.uk to take advantage of this offer.

I’m also informed that worksheets have now been added to supplement the video guides.

Keep copies of websites with BackStreet Browser

Before you groan and trundle back off to wherever you were going, this isn’t a review of some obscure, naff browser. Despite its name,  Backstreet Browser doesn’t serve the purpose of being another browser which vies for your usership when browsing the Web. Instead, this application is a rather nifty way of keeping a copy of a website on your computer (or CD, USB key – anywhere you desire.)

Backstreet Browser allows you to download and keep a copy of any website

Backstreet Browser allows you to download and keep a copy of any website

I’m preeempting that you are thinking one of the following two questions: ‘why would I want to save a copy of a website’ and ‘can’t I just save the pages as I normally would?’ Starting with the former. You might find a website which contains some rather smashing information or content, but you fear that it won’t be around forever – it might be a really old website which is likely to be taken offline soon or have its domain name registration run out and not be renewed. Keeping a copy of the entire website would be rather snazzy way to avoid this problem. As for the latter question – you could indeed save the webpages individually, however, this is likely to be a long and rather difficult process. I tried it, and organising the various saved webpages into a reasonable order in a folder is a bit of a difficult process. You might also end up losing images or other content this way or missing certain pages.

In addition, what sets BackStreet Browser apart from the manual method of saving the pages is that it retains the links. If you were to save each webpage separately, the links that page would still go to the original location on the Internet. This would force you to open each page you want to visit from your files. With Backstreet, you can simply open up one of the pages that it saved, and all the links will point to your own internal copies of the site. It’s like browsing the website on the Internet, but from your own local storage. There’s no risk of it disappearing unless you delete it or something goes kaput on your beloved computer.

You tell the software which website you want to download by clicking ‘New’ and then telling it the URL. You can then tell it how far to drill down into the links. For example, you may only want the top, most important layer of a website – the ones which are linked to from the homepage, so you would just choose ‘1’ for the link depth. Alternatively, if you want to nab everything, you could set the link level to a higher value. You can also choose whether you want the software to save copies of external pages to which your chosen website links to – eg, if a website links to a Wikipedia article.

I think my only criticism would be that the software is a bit dated; the interface has the potential to be confusing and difficult to use. In addition, the datedness of the application shows more clearly in the fact that the choices for the way the software identifies itself to websites consist of ‘Backstreet Browser 3.1’, IE 5.1, Netscape 4.5, or Opera 6.05 . This causes me to wonder whether things will display correctly when it downloads them. I think anything you download from newer, more advanced websites should be fine provided that you open the downloaded pages in a modern, capable browser.

This is a great bit of software for keeping backups of websites which you think might dissapear sometime soon, or something which you think might prove useful to you in the future, but you might not be able to find again. You can download from the official website at www.spadixbd.com/backstreet, or from Download.com.

Create new worlds with Terragen

Some software just blows you over in wonderment, for me, this is one of those. Despite being a few years old, and therefore looking a little bit dated, the software does some wonderful, amazing things.  Terragen is, as the name suggests, a terrain generator. One that can create some really superb results.

Even a layman like me can create some nice looking landscapes.

Even a layman like me can create some nice looking landscapes.

I’m nowhere near being an expert; I just fiddle around with settings, move sliders around, and keep fiddling until I’m happy with what comes out. I’m incredibly lazy, and therefore have not yet read the help files, but even I’ve been able to create some fairly nice looking landscapes just by fiddling and learning. Some of the example images on the Terragen website look photo-realistic; I don’t think I would be able to tell that they were computer generated had I not known beforehand.

You can save the terrains you make to be editable again later, in addition to being able to save the generated preview as a bitmap image file which can be viewed without need of the Terragen software.

I usually like to give a quick overview of software to get you started, but I really don’t feel able or worth to with this. I started knowing nothing about it, and just learnt through fiddling and twiddling. I can only suggest that you do the same. Or, if you’re more motivated than me, have a thumb through the user guide. They’re also currently working on version 2 of the software, which gives even more realistic generation, including  However, it’s still in a very early testing stages, currently depending primarily on mathematics, therefore making it rather confusing!

I highly suggest giving this application a go; it’s great fun and quite satisfying to see it work away to create a nice landscape after you’ve grappled with the menus, sliders and options. You can download it from www.planetside.co.uk/terragen.

The future of Firefox – iFox?

I haven’t noticed the renowned Mozilla team do much useful lately; the upcoming release of Firefox 3.5 (renamed from 3.1, since it’s taken them so long to get it ready – it’s still not) doesn’t really contain anything new or innovative. The only thing I’m pleased about is the speed increase. Nevertheless, the latest developments from the thinkers at Mozilla looks rather promising, if a bit scary.

This Firefox mock-up uses the folder organisation of Apple's iTunes.

This Firefox mock-up uses the folder organisation of Apple's iTunes.

This designer has called for a reduction in tabs, in their stead comes a basic file-system type interface, which organises things like Apple’s iTunes software. Apparently this designer isn’t calling for a total removal of tabs, but for a new tab to contain a library of recently used websites and stored sites organised into dandy little folders which can be searched. I’m assuming that the idea is to store sites which you would usually leave open in tabs, in the folders. These folders would then be stored in online, so they can be safe from computer problems and, I hope, accessible from other machines. As a chronic tab-hoarder, it does seem rather snazzy that I would be able organise things into folders (I love organising) rather than having to scroll through gajillions of tabs or bound between different windows.

Another exciting addition, this one seemingly closer to being implemented, is ‘Taskfox‘. This is an improvement to the address bar, and I must say, it looks rather smashing. The mock-up shows improved search and actions from the URL bar. Viewing the screenshots will say it much better than I could. This improves upon the current beta addon, Ubiquity, which I’ve just download.

I’m not too confident about seeing either of these concepts any time soon, if at all. However, given Mozilla’s recent track record of doing nothing and doing it slowly, this loos like a metaphorical breath of fresh air. I just hope we see these and other ideas being seriously considered, and implemented in a way which benefits the user without making it too confusing for our poor, addled minds.

Explore yourself with Visible Body

I will unashamedly tell you that I don’t like Biology: I don’t want to know how things inside me work. I’ve been sick and nearly passed out at one point during the torture which others like to call a ‘biology lesson’. But I shan’t let this unreasonable inability to learn about the human body prevent me from doing it online! ‘Visible Body‘ allows me to do just that: it provides a snazzy interactive platform for touring a virtual body.

Visible Body.com allows you to explore the human body in-depth without getting your hands dirty.

Visiblebody.com allows you to explore the human body in-depth without getting your hands dirty.

It’s simple to use: you’ll need to create an account in order to experience its full wonder, then you’re ready to launch the body. The first time you load it up you’ll probably see a blank white screen until you click the little button at the top which asks you to install something called ‘Ubiquity Web Player’ – you’ll need this to run the virtual body. It’s a quick, easy and safe install. After that mild kerfuffe you can get cracking.

The body will then take quite some time to load – it’s a bloody complex thing; give it time! Whilst you watch and wait patiently for the little bars at the top right to reach the end, rest assured that you’re in for a treat. The program is loading the various layers of the body for you to explore. Chances are, you’ll see the skeleton pop up first, but there’s much more to come. Patience is a virtue.

Once you’ve come close to beating yourself senseless against the desk in a fit of… patience, you’ll be ready to get exploring. On the left hand pane there’s a list of the different systems which you can explore. If you click the little green ‘Add’ button, unsurprisingly, that system will appear on the body. You can add and remove the systems as you see fit. There’s also some navigational controls to the left of the body – something that looks like a compass which this lets you navigate around the body; a zoom slider which allows you to move in closer on certain parts; and a few buttons underneath which are fairly self-explanatory, such as ‘Hide’ and ‘Reset View’.

This navigation can be made easier by using the mouse to drag around instead of using the provided buttons: click and hold on an area of the body and drag the mouse to spin the poor chap around; zoom in and out with the scroll-wheel; or hold down the scroll-wheel and drag the mouse around to move the body around.

You can click individual parts of a system to see its name appear on the left hand pane, providing a dandy opportunity to find out the names of just about every little bit of the body; even the smallest of bones! Similarly, you can also hide certain parts of the body by clicking on an area, and then clicking the ‘hide’ button. For instance, you could hide parts of the skull to peer into the lovely looking grey matter inside. I get endless pleasure from giggling at googly-looking eyes and brain hovering in mid-air of their own accord after I’ve hidden the other layers. Small things for small minds, I know.

I hoping for even more future improvements, such as a slightly more friendly user-interface, and perhaps little bubbles which could be toggled on or off by the user which tell you what part of the body you’re looking at. In addition, little optional messages that give concise and simple information about different systems, organs, and other parts of the body would be a great educational addition for everyone.

Even for someone like me who is afraid of even the implication of blood or something in any way related to human bodies, this website is an incredibly fun and educational experience. It looks to be a fantastic resource for everyone: casual dapplers, students, teachers, hypochondriacs. Give it a go at www.visiblebody.com. You won’t be disappointed!

Amazon got hot under the collar; ended up in hot water

An Amazon spokesperson has now blamed ‘a glitch in the system’ after books containing lesbian, gay, and sexual content were removed from the rankings and therefore dramatically lowered in the search order at Amazon.com. Despite earlier responses to complainants stating that the decision was made consciously in an effort to ensure that the listings are suitable for the majority of their user base, the aforementioned spokesperson denies that this policy ever existed.

This apparent censorship caused a furor across many websites, with campaigns being launched which aimed to raise awareness of the issue and force Amazon to remove the new restrictions. Anger was already created at the censorship of books containing explicit sexual content. However, it also seems that books containing lesbian and gay themes were censored without consideration of content, inciting anger from various parties throughout the Internet at the perceived lack of foresight and double-standards.

Apart from the previously mentioned apparently unfair treatment of lesbian and gay books, there also appeared to be other unfairness in the change: the books’ rankings were changed based upon their category. Therefore a version of a book filed under the category ‘sexuality’ may be removed from the listings, whilst a different version of the same work filed under ‘memoir’ would remain in the listings. This would appear to be in conflict with an intention to protect shoppers.

‘Amazonfail’ seems to have become a tag which will haunt Amazon for quite sometime. One of the current most discussed subjects on the popular social networking website Twitter.com is Amazon’s actions during this fiasco. Users are also marking books which have been lowered in the rankings with the same aforementioned tag, making their anger clear. Even definitions have been created for ‘Amazon Rank‘ to be placed in online dictionaries.

Twitter has proved instrumental in the outrage which followed this change in policy. The issue would likely have not come to wide public attention without the multiple discussions and updates which were added by Twitterers. Articles were also written by many bloggers, bringing the matter to the forefront. It is becoming more and more apparent that businesses will have to listen to their customers if they don’t want to see an online circus of criticism like this occur again.

Feed your mind and the world with FreeRice

April 13, 2009 2 comments

I’m a fan of online educational resources, and with some potential pipe dream of teaching English at some point, I build up a small collection of things that I can use  to both further my own skill and knowledge, in addition be used in teaching. Therefore, when I stumbled across freerice.com, I was rather overjoyed.

Freerice.com has a variety of different subjects for you to learn whilst donating food for free.

Freerice.com has a variety of different subjects for you to learn whilst donating food for free.

It looks to be useful for people of any age, any ability, for any subject. The website currently consists of multiple choice quizzes on subjects from English grammar, to famous paintings, to French vocabulary. It’s not only limited in its usefulness to students – anyone could benefit from adding new words to their daily vocabulary or getting a better grasp of basic multiplication.

Each subject contains a variety of different questions at different levels. If you get answers correct, your level will increase, making the quiz more challenging. If you’re not getting them right, your level will decrease, giving you more of a chance of getting the answers. As you play, you’ll notice the bowl to the right filling up with grains of rice – for every correct answer, the organisation and their sponsors give enough money to buy ten grains of rice.

Whether you’re a student who wants to improve your grades, or a parent who wants to challenge yourself whilst doing good for others, www.freerice.com will prove a fantastic resource.