A coworker pointed out that Microsoft Mathematics is now available at no charge. You can see an article about the software or go directly to Microsoft to download the application. If you’ve never heard of it (and I hadn’t), Microsoft Mathematics is similar to MathCad or Mathematica. It allows you to solve equation and draw graphs, but also adds many visual explanations to otherwise intangible concepts. Enjoy!
Merry Christmas Eve, Tech Tips readers! Today’s offering is jDownloader. It is a Java based cross platform download manager. Unlike many of the various download manager/accelerators out there, this project is fully open source and doesn’t offer to install tons of additional browser toolbars when you are trying to get it working.
Here’s a screenshot of several Linux distribution ISO files being downloaded:
Give it a try, you’ll be amazed how much quicker downloading files will be!
If you browse your local book emporium, you may come across the “Productivity” section, where authors have written books on doing more work in less time. One popular figure in this genre is David Allen, creator of Getting Things Done (official business site). Getting Things Done, or GTD as it’s popularly known, has been embraced by many as the way to battle the forces of an overwhelming inbox. Living in the electronic age that we do, people have written software to be able to assist those attempting to use GTD. Enter today’s software pick: GTD-Free. This software is written in Java, and has been tested on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. Any platform capable running Java 1.6 should work fine.
The software has a lovely gallery of screenshots, but I wanted to share at least one to give you an idea of what the interface is like when dealing with, well, things:
Anyone who is “into” the GTD method should give this software a try.
And for those who are tired of loading Yet Another Tool to try and organize things, for those that prefer the original digital world of paper and pen, I present to you The Hipster PDA. Instead of using a smart phone, a computer, a PDA, it’s just paper combined into a notebook with a binder clip. You can find all kinds of GTD (or organization in general) PDF templates and such in the related links at the bottom of the page. I especially like the ones at D*I*Y Planner. The lovely thing about paper is that it can’t crash!
Today’s offering is collection management software. Collection management is software/tools that help you manage your collected “things”. Whether you collect stamps, wines, TV episodes, movies, or something entirely different, once your collection reaches a certain size, you’ll want some way of keeping up with it. GCstar is one tool that might be exactly what you need. GCstar is a generic collection manager. It supports pre-configured databases for: board games, books, comics, mini vehicles, movies, music, numismatic (coins), periodicals, stamps (interesting, numismatic for coins, but not philatelic for stamps), TV shows, video games, and wines. If these pre-configured aren’t suitable, the software allows you to configure your own type. Here’s a screenshot of your choices when creating a new collection:
If you select books, you can then make use of the Internet search features to quickly add items to your collection without manually typing the details. Several search providers are included. Here’s a screenshot of me searching for Eragon by Christopher Paolini from the US Amazon.com site:
Not surprisingly, this book was found at Amazon. I picked the single hardcover book (several results were returned), which meant my Eragon details were automatically inserted:
Once you’ve got some books in your collection, you can then make use of the “Lending” tab to let you know that someone has borrowed your book:
GCstar is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. If you use Windows, then you can download a self extracting installer that takes care of all the requirements. If you are a Mac user, the process is slightly more complicated because you need to have MacPorts installed. The instructions are clear and straightforward, but the process isn’t as simple as downloading a DMG file and dragging an icon.
Although GCstar handles many types of collections, if you are into social media and have a book collection, you might want to try Shelfari, a completely web based book sharing site.
This time on FLOSS Friday, something more light. Today’s offering is Battle for Wesnoth, a “turn based tactical strategy game”. For those of you not used to computer gaming terms, turn based means that players take all of their actions during their turn. That is in contrast to real time games, where the game proceeds whether you make actions or not. Turn based games give more time for reflection and strategy, which means that they allow for less initial frustration than a real time game where novices can be defeated quickly.
Because Battle for Wesnoth is an established and mature project (which is still being actively developed), it is available for Linux, UNIX, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and even the iPhone/iPod Touch. Play can be against the computer or against possibly multiple human opponents on the publicly available multiplayer server. If you don’t relish the idea of losing to twelve year olds, then you can get one of the players in your group to host a game server and only allow your friends to join.
If you like the idea of Dungeons and Dragons games, but don’t want to deal with the cost and time investment required for something like World of Warcraft, then Battle for Wesnoth is a great alternative. It doesn’t cost anything to play, it looks nice, and if you get tired of the computer, you can venture out to the public game server.
Here’s one sample screenshot to whet your appetite:
Visit the Battle for Wesnoth web site to download the software, read the documentation, and get started defeating the forces of Darkness!
One of the projects I found from a Datamation article listing 50 Open Source Tools That Replace Popular Education Apps is BingoCardMaker. This is a simple little Java application (which means that it will work in Linux, Mac, and Windows) that you use to make random bingo cars. You specify the color scheme of the text and image outlines, the collection of images to use for the cards, the number or rows and columns in each card, the number of cards to generate, and details about the size and format of the resulting card images. Note that this program only uses images for its cards, and does not make numbered Bingo cards that you may be used to.
You may be wondering, “Why would I want to create image based Bingo cards?”. The answer is, “teaching”. You could be teaching a foreign language, and call out words in that language. People have to mark the squares that show the word being called out. The other example comes from the sofware site itself: reading a dialog and attempting to identify all the objects (nouns) being read.
The software is a small download, and has enough flexibility that ycu could adapt it for your own teaching or rainy day activity purposes. Since the site has detailed explanations of how to run the tool, I’ll leave you with a card generated by the program. The images in the squares are from an icon set from Pixel Mixer.
Today’s project is for the more adventuresome sorts who enjoy tinkering with their home networks, getting the most performance and features our of consumer grade (read: the stuff you would buy at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc. as opposed to ordering from Cisco) routers and wireless access points. If you didn’t know, the “little boxes” that most all of us have in our homes actually have some level of operating system (in the form of firmware) running on them. You may run a web interface and periodically update this firmware yourself. Updating the firmware usually involves visiting a web page hosted by your router’s manufacturer, downloading a file, and then using the router’s web interface to upload the file to the device.
Given that many of these home routers run a variant of Linux, it became possible to modify the default distribution as shipped by the manufacturer and make it better, faster, strong, more convenient, etc. One of the first routers that became wildly popular for this kind of tinkering was the Linksys (now Cisco) WRT54G. One very popular alternative firmware for this device is DD-WRT. As more and more devices became replaceable-firmware friendly, the projects such as DD-WRT expanded to support more and more hardware. As new devices are released, the DD-WRT team determines if they can make a replacement firmware.
If you do have a compatible device, you might want to give DD-WRT a try. It exposes features of the hardware that the original Cisco/Linksys/whoever didn’t necessarily make available to end users. As a simple example, DD-WRT lets you associate a device’s MAC address with a fixed IP address. By default, the device simply assigns IP addresses to devices as they request addresses. That complicates doing things like opening ports for server applications and using a network printer; you have to constantly update applications to repoint to the current correct address.
As the web site says, it is possible to make your device no longer functional, so don’t use an alternative firmware unless you’re fairly confident about doing experiments with your hardware. You don’t have to do anything very different from a normal upgrde, but if you’ve never done that and wouldn’t know how to, then this type of software isn’t for you.
As always, it’s not FLOSS Friday without a screen shot:
Since the image doesn’t capture the details very well, it’s much better if you visit the interface demo at the DD-WRT site.
With ECU converting all student e-mail accounts to Outlook Live, they have access to a very nice feature of all “standard” Microsoft Live accounts, 25 gigabytes of free storage. If you are not a student, you can sign up for a free Live account and also get the 25G. You can connect to all users, including ECU students. If you have a Rocketmail, MSN, or Xbox Live account, you already have an account suitable for using with the Live tools, including SkyDrive.
One of the problems with using SkyDrive compared to, say, DropBox, is that there’s only a web interface to up/download files. There’s no appliction that makes the space look like a drive on your computer. However, if you have a Windows machine, you can take advantage of a tip from Paul Thurrott to mount your SkyDrive. If you prefer a less hacky solution, you can try Gladinet Cloud Desktop or SDExplorer.
Because I include a screen shot if I can, here’s a portion of my browser window showing some SkyDrive folders:
Besides SkyDrive, Microsoft has other features when you use your Live account, so explore the links and options. Even if you don’t, free cloud storage of 25G is nothing to sneeze at.
Despite the market dominance of Microsoft Office on both Windows and OS X, there are FLOSS office applications and suites available that offer many of the same features. I’ve been an OpenOffice.org user since the early days when it was an all -encompassing single window in which you then ran individual applications such as spreadsheet, word processor, etc. That has been quite some time ago, and the current 3.2 version looks good and runs well. It offers compatibility with Microsoft binary formats as well as having its own world-recognized completely open formats. All of the “must have” applications are there, including word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentations, drawing tools, and more.
Just to give a sense of its usability, I installed OpenOffice.org on the computer I built for my Mom, and she never had any trouble using it or even noticing that the applications weren’t Microsoft Office. Some people even prefer the OO.o interface, which more resembles MS Office 2003 to the MS Office 2007 ribbon interface. I won’t personally claim one is better than the other, but I do know that getting used to OO.o was easier than getting used to Office 2007’s interface.
Some screen shots to whet your appetite:
OpenOffice.org is available for Microsoft Windows (also in PortableApps format), MacOS X, Linux, and Solaris. It is also available in native-language distributions other than English, so if English is not your first language you can run your tools with more comfortable scripts. If you you’re still wondering “Why”, then you can get the OpenOffice.org answers to that very question.
Today’s post is going to be software only for the Microsoft Windows platform? Why would I leave our the Linux and Mac folks, you might ask. The reason is that the functionality provided by today’s offering has been in Mac OS X since version 10.5 and in window managers for Linux/UNIX since 1990. What functionality have X11 users had for the last 20 years and Windows users still don’t have? Virtual desktops.
For those of you used to the Windows idea of a single desktop, let me explain. A virtual desktop is a way to organize running programs so that you don’t have to continually minimize/maximize windows and use the “show desktop” functionality to find your applications. Virtual desktops commonly have the ability to be labeled, and virtual desktop managers usually let you assign hotkeys to switch between desktops and switch between applications running across any desktops.
I’ve experimented with Microsoft Windows virtual desktop add-ins in the past, but none have been very good. There’s even a simple one offered as a PowerToy for Windows XP from Microsoft iteslf (could not find an equivalent explicitly for Vista or 7, but the one for XP might work). The Microsoft one is slow in switching, and offers little in the way of application management. Enter Virtual Dimension. Although the latest downloadable version is from 2005, I’ve verifiied that the application works on Windows 7, so I’m betting that Vista users will have no problem as well. Virtual Dimension lets you have many desktops, it lets you pin applications so that they appear regardless of desktop, you can assign hot keys to application and desktop management, it adds window transparency options so you can have an application fade into the background, and it even adds shell integration so that you can start applications in a particular desktop immediately. The desktop switching is very fast, and if you kill Virtual Dimension then all of your applications previously on virtual desktops get reverted to your single desktop.
Rather than try to create a screenshot of my own desktop, I’ll use a local copy of the one visible on the Virtual Dimension site.
If you’re a Windows user, try it, you’ll like it. If you’re running the application for the first time, make sure you right click in the window that appears to see all the options.