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Posts Tagged ‘freeware’

Organisation with Chandler

July 30, 2009 2 comments

I love organising things. Anything that involves putting bits of paper in different trays according to content or importance; putting work into folders; or planning my day, is bound to cause me to get slightly heady with excitement at the prospect. You may have already read about my love affair with Soshiku when it comes to organising educational work, but I’ve stumbled upon a piece of software which aims to organise my entire life, rather than just my work. I’ve been putting the smashing application through its paces to see if it’ll become part of my regular rotation of organisation. It goes by the name of Chandler. “Could it be any more organised?”

The Dashboard page shows all current task in a convenient list.

The Dashboard page shows all current task in a convenient list.

First impressions weren’t too good. It’s written in a programming language called Python, which, whilst being extendible and apparently smashing for cross-platform software, seems to be a bit clunky and slow loading. I have to wait for what feels like too long for an out of place looking ‘loading’ splash window to finish shoving a bar across itself to show me how close it is to finished shuffling about. This is a bit of a let down since you’re likely to want your to-do list to pop up quickly so you can view and edit it in a short amount of time.

Putting this aside, the first thing which stood out was the ability to separate tasks and events into categories. I therefore set about creating one for each school subject, followed by a few others such as ‘Wedding’¬† and a category called ‘Revnews’. Within these categories tasks you can create tasks by typing a name for it in the text box at the top of the window, and then pressing enter. You can then edit and add extra details about the task and set when it must be completed by. This seemed a bit limited since I would like to be able to set specific dates, or even times, for when something must be completed by. It is possible to create calendar events which specify an end time, but this isn’t implemented for tasks. Therefore there’s no page which sorts your tasks in the order that they need to be completed, but simply shows them by whether you’ve selected – ‘now’, ‘later’, or ‘done’ for each task. This also needs to be manually updated by clicking the ‘Clean up’ button which will sort the tasks into the aforementioned completion categories; it won’t do it automagically when you change a task’s status, another example of how the software felt a bit clunky at times.

I was, however, happy with the different categories for the tasks. Whilst I would place each task in its relevant category, I am also able to see all currently outstanding tasks on the ‘Dashboard’ page, which sorts them by their completion categories. This is good for organising a whole day (or longer) by seeing all tasks which need to be completed that day, rather than just those in one category. If particularly important tasks aren’t standing out enough, you can put a star by them, and then choose the option to show only the starred items. This might be helpful for prioritising a multitude of tasks.

Chandler also has email functions which allow you to send notes or events to others – they can either view them in Chandler if they have it or add it to other calendar applications. I haven’t tested this feature because I have no intention of emailing my to-do list to other people, but at least the feature is there, ready and waiting to be set up in case you can make use of it.

Despite the negatives it’s still a very good bit of software. I think it’s going to become my standard organiser, though Soshiku still has a much simpler interface and is generally better for the purpose of organising work for school, so I’m likely to stick with Soshiku as my primary organiser for school work. You can download Chandler from www.chandlerproject.org.

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Watch media files with VLC

Whilst Windows Media Player suffices for most video files, it’ll refuse to play some without installing numerous codecs. These codecs can cause slowdown, and some video types don’t have codecs that work with Media Player. Therefore, you’re going to need an alternative if you want to play some odd video files. VLC Media Player allows you to this, and best of all, free of charge.

Playing a .vob file in VLC

Playing a .vob file in VLC

When running the software you’ll be greeted¬† by a simple interface. VLC lacks the media library and such features that Media Player sports, but it seems to be intended for a slightly different purpose. Media is opened from the ‘Media’ menu, where you can then browse through your folders to find the file, folder, or disk that you want to play. You can even open media streams from a local network through the same menu.

The quality of the playback seemed to be pretty good; possibly better than Windows Media Player’s offering, but with no obvious differences between them. However, it’s difficult to judge since Media Player won’t play most of the files which VLC will, so I can’t compare. The interface, whilst not being the most attractive offering, is feature-rich and customisable if you’re willing to explore the menus and options within. I was very impressed with the various choices which are available; everything from audio output to network proxies can be set. This plethora of options lets you customise just about every detail of the software, allowing you to make it work exactly the way you want it to.

If you think of yourself as being one of those artsy types, you might not be impressed that VLC doesn’t, visually speaking, look quite right when compared to most of your other software. Luckily, like-minded people have come to the rescue by creating skins which can be downloaded from the VLC website. These can be downloaded and applied to your player to change the way it looks. You might want to consider the Media Player theme, which makes it look the same as Windows Media Player – the software you’re probably used to grappling with. Or, if you’re a fan of Apple’s brushed aluminium style, you might wish to opt for an iTunes or Quicktime lookalike. However, all these themes seem to take it upon themselves to hide the menus away, making them difficult to access, and unless I’m missing something, making some of them impossible to access until you revert to the default theme. This is fine if you just want to open files, but I like to have easy access to the menus at whim.

VLC is a smashing little bit of software for playing obscure video and audio files. It’s also very small in size and pretty lightweight, so it won’t be a drain on your hard-drive or system resources. You can download it from www.videolan.org.

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