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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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Manage books with LibraryThing

As much as I love neatness, I just can’t gather the motivation needed to tidy and clear out the plethora of books which live in the cupboard. I pay for this lack of action most times I want to find a particular book or simply view my collection to see if anything tickles my fancy. A website which goes some way to solving this problem is LibraryThing, which also adds extra features and additional jazzy things.

LibraryThing allows users to create an interactive library which lists their books

LibraryThing allows users to create an interactive library which lists their books

The first feature you’re like to come across is the ability to start your online book library. Viewing your library will give the option to add books. Once found, the book’s title can simply be clicked to add it to your listings. Once it’s safely in your virtual library, additional information can be added. This includes a rating for the book and the ability to change the title and other such information if the fancy takes you. Alternatively, you can search through the plethora of books catalogued by the site and its sources using the ‘Search’ tab, top right. This allows for books to be searched by title, author, date and more. Tags can also be searched, which allows you to find new books which are related to, for example ‘cars’.

However LibraryThing comes into its own with its community. There’s a large number of users, many whom contribute reviews and details about books which aid you in deciding whether to purchase the book or not. Each user receives their own profile upon which information can be added and their library can be viewed. You can contribute your own rating and review for any book you’ve read, and this will be displayed to other users to help them make decisions about purchasing.

LibraryThing includes a feature which estimates how likely you are to enjoy reading a book.

LibraryThing includes a feature which estimates how likely you are to enjoy reading a book.

In addition to this, LibraryThing also offers a list of suggested books for each item. For example, a viewing of Orwell’s 1984’s page yields a number of similar books: ‘Animal Farm’, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, etc. Whilst this is useful for seeing alternative books or reads that you might enjoy, LibraryThing goes a step further with its testing feature. Clicking the ‘Will I like this book’ button will send Librarything off on an epic quest to battle dragons and the like, before returning to tell you how likely you are to enjoy reading the book you’re looking at. It works this out by seeing what other books you have in your library and how highly you’ve rated them, so it pays to keep active with the LibraryThing community.

There’s no question that it beats a handwritten list, so pop over to www.librarything.com to begin making your collection and finding new books that you’ll adore.

Free card games with Dvorak Game Wiki

August 7, 2009 3 comments

I decided it was time for another geeky article to complement the recent gaming ones. Whilst we’re all too familiar with gigantic MMORPGs, zippy racing games, and baffling puzzle games, we may have neglected the humble card game. You’d be right in stating that there’s very little geeky about such standard card games as poker or blackjack, but we’re talking about a different type of card game here – think Dungeons and Dragons, but without the dice and long appendix list. Dvork Game Wiki is a depository of user-created card games which can be printed out and played with a group of similarly nerdish friends. Oh, and before I start, I think it’s worth pointing out that it’s made by the same lovely chap that gave us Chore Wars – so naturally I loved it before I even visited.

Everything from Zelda to Roman politics has a deck of cards ready to print and play.

Everything from Zelda to Roman politics has a deck of cards ready to print and play.

The primary feature is the broad listing of card games created by users of the wiki. These range from doing epic battle with spaceships, to fighting your friends with copyright  laws in pursuit of controlling 70% of humanity’s information. Your nerd senses are already tingling – I can tell. You’re picturing a bunch of sweaty, pock-marked teenagers sitting around a table in a poorly lit basement as they argue about whose card has the better stats. Go on, admit it. The website does bring up strong connotations of such events, but they could serve as a good method for getting together with friends for a social gathering and doing something fun, different, and free. Though you might have trouble convincing them that they won’t have ‘Loser’ tattooed across their forehead if they join in.

You can search for card decks by entering something in the search box if you have an idea as to what you want to play, or you could just keep clicking ‘Random page’ until you come across an interesting one. The  rules are generally outlined on the wiki page which shows the cards, and there’s also link to print the cards. The print feature is rather smashing too, since it lets you set the size of the cards and text size. Therefore even your grandmother can’t use her poor eyesight as an excuse not to join in the fun. You can then use your dainty fingers to stick these onto card and cut them out. I know, I know, it’s a hard life, isn’t it? Of course there’s nothing to stop you adapting the rules if the deck creator is being a little bit over-the-top with his rules and directions.

If nothing already on the website tickles your fancy, you can always create your own deck of cards. This would involve creating the cards itself so they can be printed and used by your fellow nerds, and some directions or rules to outline how the game should be played. Cards can be left with just text, or you can also add images to spice them up a little bit. If you’re not a fan of playing with physical bits of card, you can bring out the super-nerd and use the Dvorak online method – it looks like a DOS-style command window – plain white text on black background. It would be smashing if they software could be improved upon to allow players to engage in the card games visually, either with invited friends or other Dvorak users.

In a vain attempt to balance out all the nerdy fun, I’ve concluded that the service could be used for educational purposes. I’m not currently quite sure how this would work, but at the most basic level you could have a card game with occasional cards which contain questions or facts which relate to something you need to learn about. Alternatively, for a subject like history you could create a deck of cards that accurately use battle tactics which were used in WWI. You would then need to pit the cards against another player – whilst the outcome might not be the same as the war, at least you’d be learning about the tactics and conditions. Therefore these card games used in an educational way could benefit both students wanting to revise for exams in an exciting way and with friends; and teachers who want to try something new with their classes.

Don’t be afraid to unleash your inner nerd – there’s no need to hide it! www.dvorakgame.co.uk provides everything you need for that great night in playing cards with your mates. If it’s all too geeky and strange for you, how about making a drinking game? Getting blotto helps you to stop loathing yourself for playing a card game.

Avoid spam with 10 Minute Mail

We all get spam. Even the careful among us who treat their email address to careful primping and grooming and rarely giving it out to websites, are still likely to encounter helpful Nigerians who wish to give us some of one of their client’s money. Or perhaps carefully crafted works of literature which flog Viagra or endow us with sex tips: (“Love Maaking Tips That Will Blow the Cobwebs From nAy Relationship That’s Struggling sexually”.) As useful as these adverts are, you may, for some strange reason, wish to keep your inbox for only real emails. Heaven forbid you’d want to do such a thing. 10 Minute Mail provides a solution to all that wonderful spam by giving you temporary email address which you can use for registration or when it’s demanded of you by a source you’re not quite sure about.

A 10 Minute Mail inbox

A 10 Minute Mail inbox

As the name of the service implies, it gives you an email address that lasts for 10 minutes. These are a randomly generated series of letters and digits, such as: b187136@tyldd.com. Below the box which gives you your email address is a simple interface for seeing your incoming emails. You’ll need to refresh the page to have it updated. Much like a standard email client or webmail provider, incoming emails are listed and you can click an email’s subject line to view the text in its entirety. You won’t be able to send emails from it, but that’s not really the point of the service. Its intention is to allow you to use an email address that you don’t care about in order to register for a service or download a piece of software. This saves you giving out your real email address, and therefore prevents you receiving any spam from them or other parties who they might pass it on to.

10 minutes might not be long enough to get your stuff done. Therefore you’ll be able to extend the time if it runs out. You can extend the life of your mayfly-like address in ten minute intervals each time. I’m not sure how many times you can extend it, but you should be able to do it enough times to easily finish the string of registration or download emails you’re sorting out, which usually doesn’t take long at all. If it does run out or you don’t renew it in time, you can always get a new one to use for any other registration or downloads.

If you need to save any of the information, you’ll have to copy and paste it into a document or save the webpage, since your generated email address will implode after the given amount of time and you won’t be able to access the emails after the implosion has taken place. You can grab your temporary email address from www.10minutemail.com

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.

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.