Monday, April 20, 2009

Microsoft to open source: Please don't compete on price!

This article by Matt Asay says quite enough.

Friday, April 10, 2009

An Egg for Easter

Here's a neat little Easter egg I just learned about for Microsoft Word (if by this time you don't know that an "Easter egg" is a hidden feature, then get educated here).

In Word, type in "=lorem(p,s)" minus the quotes where p is the number of paragraphs and s is the number of sentences per paragraph. Entering "=lorem(200,4)" will give you about 10 pages of output that looks something like this:


This can come in pretty handy if you're in need of some sample text. It's so useful, in fact that I was going to tell you that you should code it as a macro and save it to a toolbar button. Problem is, it doesn't work as a macro (you have to physically press Enter), so you just have to remember it.

If you're using OpenOffice.org, you can have the button... just download the Lorem Ipsum generator extension. It will provide you with an icon like the yellow and black one in this screenshot:


Clicking that icon brings up the illustrated dialog box, and you can determine how much sample text you get. BTW, you need to be connected to the Internet for this extension to work, since it uses the text generator at http://www.lipsum.com to create the output. Visit the website... it will give you more info about Lorem Ipsum than you ever wanted to know. One of the nifty fun facts is that the Dolor Ipsum text is used to prevent you from being distracted by real text when you should be focusing on layout.

OK, so that OpenOffice.org extension isn't really an Easter egg... it just duplicates (and one-ups) the neat functionality of the Word feature. Actually, the Word feature is documented, so it's not really an Easter egg, either... I just haven't found any real eggs in Office 2007 yet (that's what I get for using OpenOffice.org). Don't worry, I've got a good OpenOffice.org Easter egg for you...

In Calc, type this into the first blank cell: "=game()"
It will respond with "say what?"
You respond with "=GAME("StarWars")

...and the game will start. It looks suspiciously like another famous game.


The instructions are in German, but don't worry, it's easy enough. You can play with either the mouse or the keyboard.

Many programs contain hidden features. Unsurprisingly, someone's collecting them. Visit the Easter Egg Archive online.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Cool websites you should visit.

Today I thought I'd pass on a few interesting and useful websites I've run across.
Some are reference, some are tools... the only real rule I've got here is that I'm not posting links to any Google websites... I've got a separate list for that. I'm also steering clear of the obviously popular sites, such as Wikipedia and IMDB. I'm also limiting myself to a baker's dozen this time 'round.

So, with no more ado, and in no particular order, the list:

01. http://logmein.com/
This fantastic service allows you to remote control your PC with any browser. If you've heard of GoToMyPC, this is the same concept, except that the basic capabilities are completely free. It's a brokered service, which means that you'll have no problem at all connecting to any PC, regardless of the firewalls, etc. that are in the way. If you've got access to the Net, then logmein will work. I use the "Pro" service because it adds incredibly useful features such as mini-meetings (I can send an invitation via email... you click on the link and share my screen) and file transfers. Actually, the file transfers are amazing. Not only do you get the usual dual-pane file manager, but when you're remote controlling a computer you can simply drag a file from the remote desktop out of the browser window and onto your own desktop. It works!

02. http://www.freeconferencecall.com/
This is exactly what it says it is. Free reservationless conference calling for up to 96 participants for up to 6 hours per call. No limit on the number of calls. The calls are recoreded so you can play them back or download them. How do they make money? At the moment, I don't know and don't care.

03. http://www.wikimapia.org/
You've heard of Google, and have probably used Google Maps. Take that concept, marry it with the Wiki, and you've got Wikimapia. You can tag maps with whatever information you want, including title, description, and even photos and video. This is great for documenting your own localities. For instance, the Pyramids of Giza are highly annotated: http://tinyurl.com/dboolk.

04. http://www.symbols.com/
Have you ever seen a pictograph or symbol you couldn't identify? This website will tell you what it means. There's an ingenious query tool that allows you to describe the symbol, and symbols.com will display a list of symbols matching the query. You find the one you want from the list, and you get a full article describing the symbol's meaning and history. You also can find symbols that represent the meaning that you enter.

05. http://www.tinyurl.com
This is indispensible. Remember that Pyramids link above? It was actually http://www.wikimapia.org/#lat=29.9845275&lon=31.1335373&z=14&l=0&m=a&v=2. But that's a pain to look up, so I ran it through tinyurl.com, which gave a nice tiny link suitable for sending in email or posting to an on-line forum.


06. http://www.whatismyip.com/ & http://www.whatismyip.org/
I put these together, because each has its place. They both will tell you the actual IP address that you're presenting to the web (which, if you're using a NAT router, is different from the one your computer reports to you). But while whatismyip.com provides you with a nicely formatted website, whatismyip.org provides just the number itself, in plain text. This makes whatismyip.org indispensible if you're running an FTP server like FileZilla, and you want to configure passive transfers. Rather than constantly update the web-facing ip address, you enter whatismyip.org, and FileZilla Just Works.

07. http://schmedley.com/
I'm recommending this as much for its potential as for its execution. Imagine a desktop on the web. Imagine that it works just like a computer desktop, except that you don't know what the OS is and you don't care. Web 2.0 technologies are so smoothly implemented that the illusion of being an OS desktop is perfect. What it is missing is applications, which are easily provided by Google (and that's a subject for another post). But it's easy to see how this could become the default desktop on any Netbook user's computer.

08. http://www.identifont.com
Ok, you've seen a font, you like it, and you want to identify it so you can purchase it. Go to Identifont.com, answer a series of questions about the font, and get your answer. Alternatively you can enter a font name and see a sample.

09. http://windizupdate.com/
If you're like tens of thousands of people, you're running an older computer and Windows 2000 is still running just fine for you. Nevertheless, you've been orphaned by Microsoft, because Windows Update is no longer supported for your OS. WindizUpdate is your solution. This provides OS updates via your Firefox browser. Try it.

10. http://filext.com/
You've received a file, you can't open it, and it's got an extension you've never even heard of. Enter the extension into Filext.com and you'll quickly identify the software you need to open the file.


11. http://www.grc.com/intro.htm
Gibson Research Corporation. This poorly designed website is the home of one of the most utterly useful tools in existence, Shields Up!. Steve Gibson's put quite a few other useful tools up here, including his awesome SpinRite.

12. http://definr.com/
It's a dictionary. What distinguishes it is the simplicity of the user interface... it's the Google of dictionaries in it's Spartan simplicity. This simplicity extends to the address line. Want to define a word? Just append it to the web address, like this: http://definr.com/quintessential.

13. http://www.e-booksdirectory.com/
What can be better than free knowledge? Yes, there's Wikipedia, there's Knol, there's Britannica... but e-books directory puts thousands of books online for you to read or download. Unlike Project Gutenberg (which I also recommend), these are not public domain or out of print. Enjoy.