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August, 2010

How storm clouds melted a network

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

CloudsAs is becoming traditional around Bank Holidays, this is a blog sparked by a current article on the BBC website, this time about harnessing electricity from humid air.

The BBC is sceptical about the claims made by the academic, though to be fair it seems more focussed on his small-scale examples, than on the basic observation that there’s electricity in the atmosphere. My personal and network-related encounter with this phenomenon was tantalising – not because there was St Elmo’s Fire dancing about the patch panels or anything like that, but because the onset of the credit crunch sank what could have been a very nice little project.

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iPhone App of the Week: Awesome Note

Monday, August 30th, 2010

AwesomeNote menuIf, like me, you’ve got a memory that makes a goldfish look like a Mastermind champion, the iPhone’s Notes application is an invaluable aide mémoire, but it’s no overstatement to say it has fewer features than a pen and pad.

Enter the not-so-modestly titled Awesome Note. This £2.39 application combines to-do list and notes duties in one smartly presented app that boasts enough features to satisfy the habitual note taker.

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Come on Microsoft, bring back the Windows 7 Family Pack

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Family Pack Remember this? It was the rather fabulous Windows 7 Family Pack, offering three licences in one friendly bundle. And how very sensible: if you wanted to upgrade a household’s worth of machines to take advantage of features such as Homegroup, then you could.

At launch it cost £150 inc VAT, offering a massive £90 saving compared to 3 x £80 inc VAT for a standard upgrade. Street prices went even lower, down to around £120 inc VAT. So you could upgrade all three machines in your house for a tasty £40 each.

Two weeks ago I received an email from one of our readers, Daniel Cramer. “We, like many other families in the UK, have more than one computer in our household running on a Windows operating system,” he wrote. “We have three, including a laptop. Two run on XP and one, for our sins, on Vista.

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How to make free calls to the US on Google

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Gmail callsYou may remember that earlier this week we reported that Google was offering free landline calls to the US and Canada via Gmail – but that the service wasn’t yet available to UK customers. It turns out that wasn’t strictly true.

I have my Gmail language settings set to US English, because the company traditionally releases new features to US customers first. Lo and behold, this morning my Gmail was upgraded with Google Voice and it appears there is no geographical IP blocking on the service.

So if you’ve got friends, family or business contacts in the US or Canada, change your language settings and fill your boots – at least until Google notices and cuts the international service off. (It may take a couple of days for the Google Voice to appear, as it’s a staggered rollout.)

If you’ve run out of free minutes on your mobile, you might even want to think about it for making calls to landlines in the UK, which are charged at only $0.02 (a smidgen over a penny) a minute, regardless of time of day. You can see the full list of international rates here.

Google gives you $0.10 worth of credit if you want to check out the call quality.

Posted in: Newsdesk

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Android App of the Week: LauncherPro

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

LauncherProAndroid is one of the most versatile mobile operating systems around, but this has meant that certain manufacturers – naming no names – have skinned their devices with varying amounts of success.

If you’d like to rid yourself of an annoying UI, or just want a change from HTC Sense or the default Android interface, then download LauncherPro, a nifty home screen replacement tool.

Up to seven home screens can be filled with icons and widgets, and a trio of docks sit at the bottom of the screen. The central dock serves up familiar links to the phone interface and your contacts, text messaging and web browsing apps of choice – along with missed call and unread message indicators – with a middle button reserved for a link to the main app drawer. (more…)

Five reasons to look forward to Windows Phone 7

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Windows Phone 7 handsetIf I were to buy a smartphone today, Windows Mobile would be a desperately distant fifth* on my list of preferred operating systems. But yesterday Tim Danton and I were given our first hands-on demonstration of Windows Phone 7 (you can hear more about that on this week’s podcast), and based on what we saw, WP7 could certainly be a contender when my iPhone contract expires next year.

So here are my five reasons why Windows Phone 7 could well be a winner:

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Posted in: Newsdesk

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From Bitmap Painting to Real Art

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

blog artrage

Ever since the launch of MacPaint back in 1984, brush-based bitmap programs have shown that computers aren’t just useful for boosting productivity but can also be truly creative. MacPaint launched a host of imitators such as PC Paintbrush and Paint Shop Pro, but nowadays the paint side of things has almost been forgotten as bitmap editors have found their true calling: photo editing.

However onscreen painting remains one of the most creatively rewarding and enjoyable things that you can do with your computer – but only if you have the right software.

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Adding audio to your website with HTML5

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

old gramaphone
With all the furore around the HTML5 video element, the poor audio element sits in the background wondering what it’s done wrong to receive so little attention. So in an attempt to redress the balance, I’m going to show you how you can stream audio to your website visitors without any additional plugins.

As with the video element, in the past the only method of embedding audio files into a web page was to use Flash or another third-party plugin. There simply was no other way. With the introduction of the audio element, this has changed.

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Posted in: How To

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Why you (probably) shouldn’t worry about diffraction in your photos

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

PC Pro Cover 192.inddAs most right-thinking people will already know, I wrote an article in the latest issue of PC Pro explaining how to turn your photos into high-quality print-outs.

And I wrote what I considered to be an innocent line: “…for landscape shots, place your camera on a tripod, use a remote shutter release to minimise the risk of camera shake, and apply a small aperture (f/16 is ideal) to get as much of the frame in focus as possible.”

This prompted subscriber Simon Barnes to write to PC Pro’s editor, Tim Danton, to say: “he makes a canard, suggesting f/16 is good for depth of field in landscapes, when in fact, even at full frame this is already straying into diffraction, which will be worse with smaller sensors. He’s not the only one saying this of course, it’s regularly trotted out.”

Quite apart from teaching me a new word, Simon was raising an interesting point, which I’ll attempt to tackle here. I should add that the pratical effect of diffraction in photography is to limit the resolving power of the camera as a whole – in other words once diffraction sets in, your images will in theory be softer, with less detail. (more…)

Can SATA cables make your music sound better?

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

sata cablesNo, really. I’m serious. Those red SATA cables you got free with your motherboard, or those black ones that came pre-installed in your PC, they’re not up to the job. They might be capable of transferring hundreds upon hundreds of megabytes in a flash, but when it comes to transporting uncompressed high-fidelity audio files, they’re just not good enough. If you want to hear your music as the artist intended then you need new, improved Super SATA cables.

(more…)

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Posted in: Hardware, Rant

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