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Family organisation with FamilyFridge

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment

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.

The FamilyFridge homepage provides an overview of recent events, allowing for easy access.

The FamilyFridge homepage provides an overview of recent events, allowing for easy access.

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.

The giftlist feature was the most innovative of the lot, and could really help to speed up buying gifts for family members

The giftlist feature was the most innovative of the lot, and could really help to speed up buying gifts for family members

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.

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Student organisation with Notely

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.

The interface of the scheduling tool was impressive

The interface of the scheduling tool was impressive

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.

Notely's calendar is useful for seeing when tasks are due or events are occurring

Notely's calendar is useful for seeing when tasks are due or events are occurring

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.

Jump on the virtual stock market with WeSeed

August 24, 2009 3 comments

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.

WeSeed makes the process of buying shares simple

WeSeed makes the process of buying shares simple

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.

Manage money with Buxfer

I like to think I’m rather thrifty with money, though most would say I’m more Scrooge-like than thrifty. Being able to keep track of my measly incomings and even measlier outgoings is a smashing prospect. In this time of economic instability, when interest earnings on saved money is next to nothing, you, like me, are probably looking to save as much money as possible and make every penny count. To do this, you might find it helpful to keep track of your incomings and expenditures. For managing your money, Buxfer is a good free option.

Budgets are displayed in a clear manner, showing information and visual graphs to show expenditure

Budgets are displayed in a clear manner, showing information and visual graphs to represent expenditure

After signing up for an account, the first choice you’ll need to make is whether you want Buxfer to integrate with an online bank account. Since I don’t use online banking, I didn’t need to go through the process of inputting bank details, and I therefore set about manually configuring Buxfer for my needs. It turned out that there wasn’t much to be done – at the most basic level I just needed to begin adding in incomings and outgoings to use the service and keep track of my money. An option which I quickly wanted to change was the currency. It is by default in US Dollars, but this is easily changed to one of a plethora of other currencies by using the settings page.

Budgets can also be set. These define maximum total spending for different areas – such as bills, maintenance, entertainment, and so on. A time-frame is then set – weekly, monthly, or yearly. The maximum amount of money that you are willing to spend in that area in the time-frame that you chose is then entered. You can also tick the ‘rollover’ checkbox, which means that if you don’t use the full budget that you set for the given time-frame, it will be added onto the next time-frame.

From that point onwards each transaction you add (either incoming money or outgoing money) can be tagged with one of the budgets you created. When you add an outgoing transaction and tag it with one of the categories, that amount will be deducted from the budget. The budget pages are detailed whilst being clear and easy to understand. Budgets for each area are represented by a line graph which shows the fall and rise of funds in different areas. Your total expenditure for the week, month, or year, is represented by a pie chart, which shows how large a chunk is spent in each section. There’s also a nice budget summary page, which shows how much remains in each area, the total remaining, and a visual summary of your spending.

My only suggestion would be the ability to track bank balances manually. This can be done by those who integrate Buxfer with their bank account, but those of us who don’t use online banking cannot see the total balance of our bank accounts rise and fall. Aside from that, it’s a very useful for managing your expenses and tracking your income. You can sign up at http://buxfer.com.

Listen to free audiobooks with LibriVox

Having completed ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, I’ve now got to read ‘King Lear’ for my upcoming English course. I’ll be studying these two in-depth soon, but it’s necessary to read them through first to get a gist of the plot and form preliminary ideas about meanings and themes. Whilst I enjoyed ‘Streetcar’, ‘Lear’ is proving much more heavy-going. The language used is very hard for me to get used to, and I must say the plot is yet to get interesting. It takes me several minutes to get through a single page since I have to keep referring to the modern translation page, which tells me what the most confusing phrases mean. Moving on from this tangent and putting my ineptitude aside, this article does have a point to it. In my pursuit of making Shakespear easier to read, I searched for an audio recording of ‘Lear’, and fortunately found it listed on the smashing little website called LibriVox.

Librivox has a wide variety of audio-books which can be downloaded and played on your PC or portable players

Librivox has a wide variety of audio-books which can be downloaded and played on your PC or portable players

All the audio-books available for download are fully legal since their copyright has expired; they’re therefore in the public domain. There’s a useful search feature which lets you find books by title, author, genre, or other options. So even if you’ve not got a particular book in mind, you can simply search for ‘Horror’ or ‘Romance’ to receive a selection of different books that meet that criteria. When you’ve found a book you want to listen to, you have the choice of downloading it as a single zipped file, or streaming separate MP3 or OGG tracks. Once these have downloaded to your PC you can unzip the folder and then play the tracks. Since the file format is MP3 you’ll should be able to copy it onto your MP3 player to listen to it when you’re not at your PC.

Web community projects have been all the rage since Wikipedia, and LibriVox is no exception. However,  the community features are implemented in a very in a very effective way way – the users seem friendly, and it appears that anyone who wants to can add audio for a new book or contribute to one that’s currently being recorded. You’ll obviously need a microphone and some recording software to save it, but other than that, there are no limitations. Each project tells you where the transcript can be downloaded for free – this saves you buying the book.

The variety of audio-books is very impressive, and the dedication of the contributors is equally good. From my brief look around the forums, everyone seemed to be more than willing to assist confused users. The library of books is also being added to all the time. The audio-books can be downloaded from librivox.org.

Access your online storage with Gladinet

July 4, 2009 2 comments

You may have jumped on online storage bandwagon. I store things online occasionally, but I’ve never liked the fact that I have to wander off to the storage website to access and edit my documents. Therefore, some time ago I went off hunting for a way to access my online documents using Windows Explorer. I found it in the form of Gladinet. I’ve only recently rediscovered it tucked away in my Start Menu. Having brushed off the layers of dust, I decided I would babble about it here since you might find it of use.

Copying a file to my online storage using explorer.

Copying a file to my online storage.

After downloading and installing, a little icon should appear in the notification area which provides various options for mounting your online storage. I’m still using a beta version of software since I installed it quite a while ago, and it’s working just fine for my purposes. However, the release version is now up to version 1.1, and it brings along new features and a better interface which makes it easier to add your online services to Gladinet. You’ll need to have the software running in order to be able to access your online storge from Explorer; which is why it’s set to start with your PC by default. You can change this by alterting the options. If you don’t use your online storage very often, you may not want it starting automatically.

Online storage locations are mounted as drives. This means that there will be a new item added to your ‘Computer’ window which represents your online storage. Within that you’ll then have listed the different resources that you’ve added. For instance, I currently only have one online storage location set up within mine. I could add others using Gladinet if I wished to. The best feature of this software is that it allows you to interact with the files as if they were stored locally on your hard-drive. This means that you can copy, move, delete, rename, and other such jazz in the same way you would with an ordinary file that’s saved on your PC.

If you use online storage hopefully you’ll find this useful. It cuts out the necessity of visiting the storage website. It also allows you to quickly edit documents, especially in such activities as copying and deleting. You can download it from www.gladinet.com and give it a spin.

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.