Monday, March 31, 2008

Super Quick Firefox Tip: Recover Closed Tab!

This is one simple, super quick tip for today, but there's nothing more satisfying than having such a simple solution for such an annoying problem: when you accidentally close a tab you didn't want closed!

Just as you would hit CTRL-T to create a new tab, just hit CTRL-Shift-T to reload the last closed tab! You can even keep doing this until the history folder doesn't have any more records of your past browsing section!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Scooped! CD/DVD Spindle Cable Organizer

I just had to go and blog about this out of sheer surprise that somebody else came up with the same exact solution as I did for wrangling USB and short power cables and stuff:

CD/DVD Spindle Cable Organizer (via Lifehacker)

Man, I totally woulda had that scoop if I'd written about it as soon as I figured out to do it!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Automatically Publish Future Blogger Articles

I am so happy to have found out about this feature that I had to blog about it immediately... in fact, I found it by searching the exact phrase that I chose as the title to today's article, it only seemed fitting.

A week ago I'd mused about a way to have Blogger automatically post an article on a future date and time that I specify. This would've come in handy last weekend when I was out on vacation, not being able to publish articles I'd already written for the days I'd be out, because I couldn't even get enough internet time to hit "Publish."

Well, turns out there's a beta service that Blogger's testing called Blogger in Draft, which makes it so that when you modify the date of your Blog post by hitting Post Options, when you hit "Publish Post" it will not publish the post until the date and time you had specified.

All you need to do to use this new feature is go to instead of the usual (I've already changed my bookmark), and the feature will be activated.

I haven't yet tested this feature, but let's just say that if this article, which was written Thursday night, March 27th, actually publishes itself on Saturday, March 29th, at 11 am, then the system works!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Get Clear, Anti-Aliased Font Display with Cleartype

Cleartype shouldn't even be a feature, it should be the default on Windows. It's the app that turns on anti-aliasing (aka smoothing) of the display of fonts on your system. Look at the difference:

Unfortunately this isn't the easiest feature to turn on on Windows. Luckily, Microsoft has a free, browser-based way of activating and tuning Cleartype to make the display of fonts on your monitor as comfortable on your eyes as can be possible. And if the website doesn't work, there's an installation you can download on the same site.

Microsoft Cleartype Tuner

I personally didn't know of the site when I first found out about Cleartype, so I went and used the installable Powertoy. As such, I can't actually vouch for the online version, but I can vouch for the install. Great stuff!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Keep in the Legal Clear With These Public Domain Photo Sites

On my most recent job I was tasked with recreating a 1-second piece of stock footage that would've otherwise cost 10,000 dollars (!) if we'd decided to pay for it. It was a simple motion graphic that involved otherwise still images set in motion.

To recreate the image and not have us in legal trouble, I went about finding similar images online and compositing them in AfterEffects. But many people don't realize that just because you can download an image off of Google, that doesn't mean someone out there doesn't own a copyright to that image, and you could well get into trouble, especially if you use the image without proper credit and for commercial purposes.

Meanwhile, there's an annoying difference between royalty free and public domain. The first means simply that once you have the proper rights to use the photo, you don't have to pay money every time you use it (or for a set amount of time). However, that may still mean that you need to pay for it the first time around. The latter, public domain, means there are no copyrights on the images at all, and you are free to use it once and in perpetuity. As such public domain photos are by definition royalty free, but not necessarily the other way around. So if you really want to make sure you're in the clear downloading photos, make sure they're public domain.

To make it easier on you guys, here are two resources I've found that compiles a good list of public domain photos (and from where I got the photos I needed for my own project):

instant fundas: 25 sites to find royalty free photos for your websites

Wikipedia: Public domain image resources

And good luck with your projects!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Save Windows XP Online Petition

Blog just published an article that iterated the fact that Microsoft is planning on cutting support for Windows XP (not counting security updates) on January 1st, 2009, in order to focus their attention on Vista.

Meanwhile, InfoWorld is running a petition to keep Windows XP support coming. I just signed it myself (click here to do the same), as in the past six years of using Windows XP I've found it to be the most stable and versatile operating system in all my experience as a computer user.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Simple Check if Your Website is Down

Back when I was wrangling with dodgy web hosts, I constantly had to go and check if/when my web servers were down, or back up, or have switched to the proper nameservers. Here are two sites that can help you figure it out, one super simple and that I had found about recently, and another that's far more comprehensive and what got me through the tough times:

Down for Everyone or Just Me - recently featured on Lifehacker, it's about as simple of a server uptime check as you can get: just fill out the question with the URL you're checking, and it answers it for you immediately.

Host Tracker - Host Tracker is the opposite of the former site, in that it gives you concise yet comprehensive information about the status of the URL you are checking up on. It works by having about 25 different servers around the world check your site for a response over a minute or so, and tells you if they got a response and the site is up, or if it's down.

Even better, it shows what ip address your URL is directing to, which is valuable if you're moving your domain to a different host and you want to know how long it's taking for DNS servers around the world to resolve to the proper IP address.

Monday, March 24, 2008

iGoogle To-Do List Hack For New Entries

A few days ago I referred to a weird and almost crippling bug regarding Matt McCarthy's To-Do-List Gadget for iGoogle, in which it was suddenly impossible to add new entries or cross off/delete old ones (i.e. the list became read-only.)

I brought the issue up on the gadget's homepage, and saw that other people were having the same problems. Matt, the author, even left a comment on my original review to let me know that he's looking in on the problem.

Meanwhile, however, I've found a temporary fix to the problem. I don't know if you knew, but To-Do-List can actually handle multiple lists, potentially for different categories of to-do's. You can access these other lists by hitting the menu button and clicking "Edit Settings."

Now, if you were to switch to a different list from the one that's stuck, you should be able to add/remove entries as needed. This is slightly annoying for people who use multiple lists (I don't, but I might start a separate lists for blog entry ideas), but for those who don't, this is a perfectly working solution now to, again, an otherwise great application.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

OnSaleHost: Another Crappy Webhost

Pre-script: Sorry for the lack of updates the past two days, I was away on vacation. I did have the two articles ready to go and be published, but I did not have internet service when I thought I would. Here are the two articles that I had pre-written, but now post-published.

By the by, is there a way to have Blogger publish postdated articles automatically at the time they were postdated?

Sorry for yet another rant, but my recent experiences with these online eBay web hosts have given me little recourse but to at least warn people exactly what they're in for when they buy "unlimited web hosting" for 10 dollars a year.

I had bought hosting on OnSaleHost for a client that needed a small, quick, cheap website. I offered to buy the host and domain for them since they weren't too knowledgeable about such things. Well, that client turns out to be a little hard to please, and in the end I put way too much time for too little pay, and they ended up ditching my design altogether and going with some guy with templates.

In this case, OnSaleHost actually hasn't been that bad of a web host (since I was only in control of the site for about 2 weeks), although at one point they lost a server and needed me to update my info with their system to get me back online.

Anyway, the problem started a few weeks ago when I was notified by Paypal that my subscription with OnSaleHost had been renewed. After my previous experiences with Valethosting, I know that it's near impossible to get a refund on subscriptions. And it was completely my fault for not cancelling my subscription earlier. So +1 to them because of my ignorance.

And since the eBay auction was a year ago, I can't leave negative feedback (that's why these guys have as good feedback as they show!)

That being said, I tried to then log back into the account I had paid yet another year of hosting for, and did not get access with the username/password I had set up, nor any other password combos I had discussed with the original client.

I decided to contact OnSaleHost twice, through the original email they'd contacted me with to set the hosting up originally, and through the contact page on their site.

(Their site, by the way, is the same kind of underdeveloped template-y crap that offers no real information as all the other shared server hosts).

Anyway, no contact received from both instances, even after I threatened more official action in the second email.

All I'm looking for is either a refund of the small sum that I paid when my subscription got renewed, or at least access to the web server again, since I did pay for it, after all.

Now I'm gonna go and send this article to OnSaleHost through their email contact page and we'll see if I hear back from them. But even if no, if this article makes you at least stop and think (a bit longer) before shacking up with these guys, then I feel vindicated.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Can't Take Super Hi-Res Screenshots w/ Print-Screen

Unfortunately, this article isn't so much of a tip or tweak as it is a compromised workaround for an interesting problem.

That problem is that from the looks of it, Windows' own screenshot feature, aka hitting Print-Screen (which saves a screenshot in your clipboard for pasting into the graphics program of your choice, if you didn't already know), seems to have a resolution limit.

In my case, Windows is unable to take a screenshot of my entire desktop when all three of my displays are turned on. In fact, if my main display is active (at 1920x1200 resolution), I am unable to take a screenshot if even just one of my other displays (at 1024x768 and 1280x1024) is also active.

This is annoying for me because taking screenshots is one of the most important parts of running a blog such as GreasyPC, and none of the other screenshot taking programs I've found and tried so far have been able to handle this many displays and other features of my desktop either (like party transparent windows), which Window Print Screen has been able to handle fine.

First of all, are other people finding this limitation in your own experiences? I don't have the patience to do a controlled study of where the break in the chain actually occurs, if it's Windows or my video card(s), or something else, and I've found surprisingly little literature online about this problem. I guess there aren't too many people with multiple high resolution displays that need to take screenshots of them.

Anyway, my workaround so far has been to use a display profile that deactivates the other two monitors and keeps only my main display active. By doing this I am able to take a screenshot of the application I wish to feature on the site. When I'm finished, I then use another display profile that brings my display settings back to its original state.

Your video card's software should have something that handles display profiles, or in my case, I use Ultramon (I've been meaning to do an Ultramon feature for a while, but it will have to wait). This feature is also useful when playing video-card intensive games, as they not only lighten the load on your video card by not having to keep the other display rendered while playing, but also to keep your own immersive focus on the game itself.

Does anyone have any better ideas?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Autohotkey Script to Put Monitor on Standby

This is a bit of a rehash of a larger article I wrote months ago highlighting my main Autohotkey scripts, but I saw in the search stats that some people were specifically looking for an autohotkey script to put one's monitor on standby.

Here it is, the way that I use it. It puts the monitors on standby by hitting Win+M:

#m:: ; Win+M hotkey that turns off the monitor.
Sleep 1000 ; Give user a chance to release keys (in case their release would wake up the monitor again).
; Turn Monitor Off:
SendMessage, 0x112, 0xF170, 2,, Program Manager ; 0x112 is WM_SYSCOMMAND, 0xF170 is SC_MONITORPOWER.
; Note for the above: Use -1 in place of 2 to turn the monitor on.
; Use 1 in place of 2 to activate the monitor's low-power mode.
Don't ask me for a line by line explanation more than what's already annotated in the script itself; I have no idea.

I can't find the original Autohotkey forum post in which I found this specific script, but this forum post has more info.

p.s. - for those of you not in the know, Autohotkey is an extremely versatile program that lets you write scripts as simple as automating windows tasks (like moving a mouse, or opening a folder with a keystroke), to writing full on programs and mods.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More Photoshop Automation: Batch Actions

Okay, so you learned last time how to automate repetitive tasks with Photoshop Actions. Now take it one step further. Batch actions let you set an action operation for entire groups of files at once, including files that are already open in Photoshop, or even files inside a directory you specify.

This article from Wicketbang should give you all you need to know.

Do note though that when you try this out you should do it on some backup files first; batch processing can happen very quickly and you may not be able to stop it if you notice a problem. I've had many trial and error moments making sure settings in the action are right and that I've specified the correct files to batch process. But in the end, if you're working with a LOT of files, the time spent tweaking is nothing compared to the time saved.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Automate Photoshop Tasks and Actions!

An article was recently featured on Lifehacker that did a good, comprehensive job of recording repetitive actions in Photoshop so it can be repeated later. This type of automation has saved me hours of time since I learned how to use if five years ago when I was a student worker in college. I mainly use it now to resize a huge batch of photos at once for web consumption (or other reason).

Anyway, the article in photography blog Epic Edits could do a better article on it than I possibly could, so please check them out.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

To maximize or not maximize

For the life of me I can't remember what article I was reading where either the author or a commenter talked about how stupid it was for people, especially those with large displays and high resolutions, to work with their windows maximized. I found this intriguing, because I'm specifically one of those people.

In fact, the lack of proper maximizing is one of my bigger gripes about the OSX user interface. As regular readers know, I'm a sucker for maximum viewing/reading/working area, and maximizing is the easiest way of doing that. If you have dual monitors, you can maximize two windows at once, and more so if you have programs like instant messaging apps that can dock to one side of the screen.

Meanwhile, early on I found it frustratingly annoying accidentally dragging away a window because it wasn't maximized. I also hated having them not maximized, but nevertheless stretched all the way out, and clicking on a border to do some fine adjustment, only to find I'd accidentally clicked on the border of a nearby window, bringing that window into focus and throwing me off.

I understand that with large, widescreen displays, having Firefox maximized seems like a waste of space, but that's why I've taken steps to balance the weight out (mainly having my bookmarks folder vertically on the left).

I've even started experimenting with using my Windows taskbar vertically on the left side of my screen (I'll write about this soon as soon as I get more mileage on it).

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you like to keep your windows maximized when you work, or do you arrange them while floating?

p.s. - if you know the article to which I was originally referring (probably found in one of the blogs I link to on the right sidebar there), please let me know!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

iGoogle To-Do-List Gadget Seems to be Presently Buggy

It's just ironic that as soon as I feature the simplistically satisfying To-Do-List iGoogle gadget, it starts acting up. Specifically, tasks that I'd already finished, crossed off, and altogether removed return when I come back to my iGoogle page. It's been like this at least since I blogged about it (my to-do-list is still populated with notes for myself to do a review of Foxit, for example).

The homepage of the gadget seems to point to server problems according to the author, and another user has made a comment regarding the same problem I'm having.

I don't think this will continue to be much of a bother, and I still recommend the gadget, but I do want to back up my promise of being totally honest about the things I feature on this site.

Ditch Acrobat Reader With Foxit

Let's not mince words: Adobe Acrobat Reader is a slow piece of crap. So slow that most people assume it just crashes all the time (as opposed to just half of the time). And to make matters worse, when you close the application, it stays running in the background.

Foxit Reader is a full-fledged replacement for Acrobat Reader, and it's fast and works as well as the older Acrobat Reader.

I highly suggest uninstalling Acrobat Reader first before installing, but I promise it'll be worth the trouble.

My only quabble with Foxit is that it doesn't offer an in-browser plugin for viewing PDF's within the browser, which Acrobat Reader actually had. Running the Foxit app is still better than using Acrobat Reader from within a browser, but if it offered a browser plugin, it would damn near perfect.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Access Task Manager Without CTRL-ALT-DEL

This is something I stumbled upon randomly a week or two ago, which is funny because this is far after I'd put a concerted effort to get my background applications in order:

The way I'd always known to access the Task Manager (aka the window that shows you all the currently running programs) was to hit CTRL-ALT-DEL. But that tends to lock access to the rest of your desktop, and I know people who aren't comfortable hitting CTRL-ALT-DEL out of habit (it was, of course, what you'd hit to force restart way back when).

But did you know you can access the Task Manager by right clicking on an empty area of your taskbar, and clicking on "Task Manager?"

While I advocate using keyboard shortcuts whenever possible, this actually seems simpler, and for some reason, safer.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Change How Firefox Handles Downloaded Files

For some reason at some point in the past few months, whenever I download a torrent file to start a download, Firefox would always save the file to disk, instead of asking me whether or not I wanted to save it or just open it (don't ask me why I didn't just have it automatically open indefinitely, I guess I never got around to it). I guess I must've accidentally told it to always do that action.

Anyway, this lead to extra files on my desktop and an extra double click to start my torrent download, which was really annoying. Luckily the great site GHacks had the answer.

If you want to change the download actions for a specific file type, just go to Tools>Options>Content>Manage File Types, and alter accordingly.

Now my torrents are opened in UTorrent (my preferred bittorrent client) as soon as I click on them to download.

The GHacks article actually even goes as far as showing you how to reset all of the download actions, which personally felt like overkill to me, and required more effort than I was willing to spend, seeing as how the torrent file was the only one giving me a bother. But if you want to go ahead and do that, check out the linked article.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

To-Do-List iGoogle Gadget: The Only One I Use

While I prefer to use a daily planner (in my case, Thunderbird's Lightning extension, more on that later) when it comes to appointments and intensive time management, on the days when I've just got too many little things to do (that don't need to be done in any particular order or in any amount of time), there's nothing better than having a to-do list to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. That's where Matt McCarthy's To-Do-List iGoogle gadget comes in.

The trick to to-do lists is that entering and crossing off tasks should take significantly less time than doing the task itself; if not, you're better off just doing the task right then and there. To-Do-List for your iGoogle homepage is perfect for that in that all you have to do is click on the gadget to add a new task. And then when you finish the task, you can either click on the task itself to cross it off, or click on the right end of that task's row to remove it from the list altogether.

Another touch that I really appreciated in this gadget is that you can specify how many rows high the gadget's window takes up. When you've got as many gadgets on your homepage as I do (currently 11, and I don't believe in using iGoogle's tabs... it's called a home page for a reason), being able to customize its size is really important.

And finally, because it's part of your iGoogle page, To-Do-List is accessible from any computer that has internet access as soon as you sign into your Google account. Perfect if you want to remind yourself in the morning to do something at the office.

Overall, To-Do-List is without a doubt the quickest, most convenient way to make sure all those tiny tasks get done!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Higher Resolution Youtube Setting

It's been making the rounds online that Youtube has started implementing a higher quality compression and resolution on its videos. They've been slowly rolling out the higher quality versions of videos (mostly on the newer submissions), and there have been several hacks that tap into this higher quality version right away.

Well, now that's not even necessary, at least if you're a registered user.

If you go into your account, there's a new menu at the end of the list called "Video Playback Quality." From there you can set Youtube to automatically play high quality videos based on current connection, always low quality, or always high quality.

Of course, forcing hiqh quality will run Youtube a little slower, so this is only recommended for people with cable modems or higher.

(From Cybernet via Lifehacker)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blogrush isn't Really Working That Well for Me

I've been using Blogrush's widget (that's it there on the top right in the 2nd column) for about two months now and so far it's only really brought me two hits, after what it claims to be over 10,000 traffic credits. I don't really remember how the credits are generated, but it's based on traffic, and still, that kind of conversion rate is pretty laughable.

I'm sure I'm the one to blame, the pool's probably too wide and deep to stand out, and I'm probably not coming up with alluring enough titles. I know the service works, because I've clicked on interesting headlines from other peoples' blogs more than a few times now since I've installed it, and I'm the kind of person that would hardly ever click on an ad just by seeing it.

Still, my sidebars aren't clogged with info so I'm not too concerned about leaving it up there... I'd certainly be a fool to turn down even one visit this early on, so why not.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Don't Forget the Attachment with AttachmentReminder

I'm notorious for forgetting to actually attach files that I promised to send in the email itself. Searching my Sent Mail folder revealed at least 10 messages with subjects and messages something like "I'm an idiot... here's the file" inside.

AttachmentReminder is a Thunderbird extension that tries to save you from yourself by checking your message before it's sent, and reminding you that you might have meant to attach a file to it.

The screenshot above shows the preference box for the attachment. Note that you have to actually hit the checkbox enabling the feature before it starts working, which is annoying because shouldn't it work once you've installed it? I went through two weeks before I realized it wasn't doing its job (I noticed because, of course, I forgot to send an attachment and I didn't get a warning).

The extension works by searching the message for loaded words like "attach" and its various iterations, and then checks if there's a file attached when you try to send it. If there isn't, a dialogue box asks you if you meant to attach a file.

I'd originally left the word bank blank in hopes that AttachmentReminder would be smart enough to know without me coaching it, something like the adaptive intelligence of Thunderbird's spam filter. Alas, without me telling it what words to look out for (in my case, the word attach which includes attached, attachment, etc), it assumed any and all messages I tried to send without an attachment were done in error. Giving it the words to look out for solved that problem, but now if I don't use the word attach but still meant to attach a file (maybe I'd say, "here's the file..."), I wouldn't get the warning.

In my case, for now I'd rather it warn me some of the time, instead of wasting my time warning me all of the time. Either way, it's a worthy addition to your Thunderbird.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Where's the Beef?

Well, it's been two months since I started GreasyPC. In those two months we've averaged slightly more than one post a day (my schedule is once a day, with some extras here and there if I've got the time), and our readership continues to slowly grow. As such, I wanted to just rewind and remind our new readers what GreasyPC is all about, and what sets us apart from other computer tweaking sites.

I started GreasyPC because about six months ago I started putting a lot of effort towards rejuvenating the experience my ever-aging Windows XP PC. From making it run faster, to look prettier, to just being able to do more stuff, I felt as though I'd done so much that I had to start archiving all of these changes. If anything, it would help me rebuild what I'd done in the future if something bad were to happen.

As such, what you see featured on GreasyPC are tweaks that I've personally installed on my own PC; none of the reviews were done just for the sake of reviewing them. In fact, I'll let you know if something I featured in the past ends up being uninstalled, or if what I'd just tried out didn't pass the muster, and got uninstalled immediately.

As such, you can assume that whatever program/tweak/hack/skin I've just featured on this blog is the best in its class, at the time I've found it. And if you know of any other that's even better, you let me know, and I promise to check it out, and if it is indeed better, I'll write about it.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mobdydock Wouldn't Work at All

I'm pretty sure I checked out Mobydock already (yep, I did) in the past, but I saw some new screenshots of it that seemed to turn my mind. The description on the official site claims that it can serve as a total taskbar replacement (honestly I can't remember if I read the same stuff when I checked them out the first time), but nevertheless I was intrigued enough to check it out again.

Well, turns out now Mobydock wouldn't show up for me at all when I ran it after installation, and I couldn't figure out why. I restarted my computer and closed most of my active windows and still no dice. If anyone can tell me for certain what's going on and how to fix it, I'm willing to give Mobydock yet one more shot, but for now, I still maintain that the Windows Taskbar is better than a Dock.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Search Multiple Craigslist Cities with Crgslst!

I found this on a recent Lifehacker post. As my current job winds to a close, I'll have to start looking for gigs again (if you didn't know before, I make my living as a freelance animator/graphic designer in Los Angeles), and craigslist is my favorite choice for getting them. I just like not having to sign up and register to respond to job listings.

Well, since a lot of my work is done from home, I can also look for jobs in cities other than Los Angeles. In fact, I've gotten jobs from craigslist in New York as well as San Francisco. The problem is it's kind of a pain in the ass to go to each city's craigslist site and do a search for the same exact thing.

aims to solve that problem by offering searches in multiple cities with little hassle. This of course doesn't just apply to job postings, but any other thing craigslist has to offer. I don't personally need to search other cities for stuff for sale, but you might, so all the better reason to check them out.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Managing One's Nest of Cables

This recent Lifehacker article called Top 10 Ways to Get Cables Under Control had some really cool cable management ideas, the most novel of which to me was using binder clips to keep cords from falling off the side of one's desk. This was always a problem to me whenever I needed to run a power cable from the surge protector up through the back of the desk into, say, my monitor. I can't run the cable from top down because of the power brick, so it was always a hassle to put the plug on the desk and get to it from above before the cable's weight caused it to fall off.

My main issue with extensive cable management is that they are meant for setups that don't need to be modular. However, if you're like me and you unplug and move stuff around more than a few times a year, you can't really afford to go through a lot of trouble hiding cables.

The thing that's made a lot of difference to me is simply labeling my power cables. One day I just took some masking tape and a Sharpie and proceeded to put identifying labels on each of the cables plugged in. This has done a lot to make sure that I don't spend more time than I need to on my hands and knees under my desk (::snicker::).

I've also split the cables under my desk into two surge protectors, one for items that should always be plugged in, and another for removable devices like external hard drives. This way I can keep one surge protector more hidden in the back and the other closer up front.

Another thing I've done which is a bit more permanent is always having USB and Firewire cables with varying ends always connected to the back of my tower, and run it around to the front. This way if I ever need to connect a device like a camera or my mp3 player, I don't have to look around for cables and fish around behind the tower to connect them. This concept does require me to have extra cables if I wanted to use my devices on another computer, though.

That being said, it's more of a mess on the outlet by my bed, where not only are my bedside clock and lamp are plugged in, but more modular devices like my cellphone and laptop.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I'm Trying to Learn Spanish with Learnit Lists

Learnit Lists is a widget that can be used in your iGoogle page that presents you with 10 new words every day translated into a language you want to learn. In my case, living in Los Angeles, I figured I might as well devote minutes of my day expanding my Spanish vocabulary.

You need to register with Learnit to be able to select the language you want to learn (if you don't, you can only get Czech translations). They offer 15 language pairs, from the usual suspects of languages one usually finds in these things.

I did notice, however, that when I selected the Tagalog (Filipino) translations, the translations were sometimes either incorrect or missing altogether (it would just repeat the English word). So I wouldn't necessarily suggest Learnit if you want to learn the less popular languages offered.

Learnit also doesn't conjugate verbs, and it doesn't even notify you of what type of word it is (you wouldn't know if it was the noun "watch" or the verb "to watch."). As such Learnit can only really expand your vocabulary, but not teach you any grammar at all.

Another feature that I wish Learnit offered was to recall the words I'd learned in previous days, to make sure that what I was learning stuck.

My final critique was that the widget itself, while simple looking, seemed to take up entirely too much space. I had to reorganize my entire iGoogle page to balance all my widgets out, and Learnit is the largest widget by far. For something that's essentially just a list of 10 word pairs, it can certainly be much more compact.

I may seem like I'm ripping into Learnit, but the truth is, it's still installed in my homepage, and I don't see myself uninstalling it. I do, however, look forward to it being updated and upgraded, and I'd love to learn of better alternatives that are as immediately convenient as Learnit was when I first got it. I highly suggest you try it yourself.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Keyboard_HeatMap: Could've Been Cool

The concept of Keyboard_HeatMap would be cool, which is that it creates a visual representation of what keys you hit most often in "heatmap" form, except for the fact that it seems to only take input from a form on its HTML page.

If it was its own executable program, that would be pretty cool (can anyone point me in the right direction if such a program really exists?), seeing a heatmap of a week's worth of typing would be pretty awesome, but at this current form it's pretty useless.

Of course, even if my ideal utility existed, it would still be pretty useless.

Download StatusBar: One Less Firefox Window!

Perhaps the feature that got me into Firefox to begin with was the use of tabs. It allowed me to essentially do all of my browsing in one organized window. However, it always bugged me that whenever I downloaded anything it would open another "Downloads" window. I want everything all in that one browser window, dammit!

Along comes downloadstatusbar, a Firefox extension written by Devon Jensen. It manages all of your downloads into a bar in the bottom of your browser (above the status bar, which, if you guys had been paying attention, I'd already gotten rid of).

It works right out of the box, though it is quite full featured. Here is a screenshot of my main configuration window:

I've heard of other, even more feature-packed download managers for Firefox, but if you want something super simple and functional, you can't go wrong with downloadstatusbar.