Some page changes over here in the Fragments section. You’ll find a new Software page in the sidebar, while the now defunct Visitor Map has been retired. Rather than top 10 lists or a huge list of “recommended” software, this page simply highlights the software I currently use. There’s not much higher recommendation I can give than that. Broadly it means there’s just one recommendation in any category. I’ll endeavour to expand / keep it up-to-date as my tastes change with new releases.
A controversial French documentary featured a fake game show in which unknowing “contestants” were asked to electrocute another “contestant” when he answered questions incorrectly (an actor in another room with a camera). When asked to apply higher and higher voltages, they because uncomfortable but, egged on by the audience and host, despite the actor’s screams and protests, 80% continued to the very end. The goal was apparently to show how ordinary people can be coerced into participating in torture, although some have suggested the participants may be seriously affected by their own induced actions.
In analysing the results of this experiment one psychologist suggested that we are trained from a young age that we must follow instructions which predisposes us to follow orders without questioning even when older. Children should instead by told why they ought to do what they are being asked. I have always promoted this approach with children, although there are exceptions (essentially when not immediately following an instruction could result in harm). Not only does explaining the reason for an instruction increase the likelihood of willing compliance, but if you cannot explain it without falling back on an axiomatic rule, it’s just possible that you might be the one being unreasonable.
The Evolutionary Reason for Depression examines the increased mental acuity and problem solving skills that such a state can produce; I have read similar studies suggesting many people voluntarily trigger such a state when useful to deal with an issue, which does sound familiar
I’ve already written to mine, but now asking your MP to stop the Digital Economy Bill being rushed through without debate is easy thanks to the Open Rights Group and 38 Degrees — the problems with this flawed legislation (being lobbied for primarily by the BPI and FAST) are too many to summarise here but do read into how it may affect free use of the internet, particularly as regards website notifications and disconnections
I’ve had a Dropbox for a while but haven’t written about it because I couldn’t work out what to do with it. There are a bunch of services that offer cloud storage (SkyDrive offers a generous 25GB for free) accessible from anywhere and dwarfing Dropbox’s meagre 2GB (unless you pay $10/month) but Dropbox’s key advantages are ease and automatic synchronisation across multiple machines. Essentially on installation you identify a folder on your computer and then anything you drop or edit in there gets synchronised first to the cloud and then to any other computers on which you’ve got it installed. Syncing data between my desktop and laptop just got a lot easier.
Another neat trick is to move your Firefox profile into your Dropbox. This way all your browser settings — including all your extensions — are kept in sync on every machine. You could even keep a whole suite of synced Portable Apps. A big one for me was putting all of the design files for this website in there, so if I update from my laptop while on the move, I don’t need to worry about remembering to copy the changes over to my desktop. The other nice feature, even for those with just one PC, is that any file you want to share is available via a standard URL which you can give to anyone, with or without a Dropbox account. They don’t need to sign in or download zip archives, just click to view or listen. Give it a go (that link will also give you an extra 250MB storage) and I’d love to hear interesting uses anyone else comes up with.
First a small addendum to my last post about the launch of the new gaming blog, “The cheese was innocent!”, is that you can now access it via links from either the Links or Gaming pages. No need to search for that post every time you want to find the site!
With the release of WordPress 2.5 (the underlying platform for the main three sections of P-2006) it was time for some spring cleaning, bringing everything up to date and fixing a few kinks. As this is all under the hood stuff, little should be noticeable but a few new options are now available for me to use. First of all I recoded the sidebars to support “widgets” which are a more convenient way of adding features. In the short term it meant removing the tag cloud from the sidebar (but the full version is still available in the Tag Cloud page). Otherwise the process was fairly smooth, but let me know if you experience anything strange.
Others have discussed the changes in detail if you are interested or thinking about switching to WordPress. The big new change, however, is in how pictures are treated, with a mini gallery system now built into WordPress. With this you will now find that many of the photos alongside posts are thumbnails linking to larger versions, rather than forcing you to squint if you use a high resolution monitor! In the past I often avoided photos where too much detail was lost in shrinking them, whereas now I will not have to worry quite so much.
The first use of this feature is give you a quick tour of the flat since I realise I never put up a decent set of photos despite requests. I quickly snapped these with Kirsten’s camera shortly before we left for Germany so that she could show her family:
One of the few minor perks gifted to users of the rather overpriced “Ultimate” flavour of Vista was that of animated wallpapers called “dreams”. Although not an entirely novel concept, it was impressive in its low use of system resources since it made use of the fact the OS now has direct access to the computer’s graphics card. Now this is available to all Vista users* through Stardock’s DeskScapes. This is no cheap knock-off or mimicry either — Stardock are the people who developed the .DREAM format in the first place. Presumably their exclusivity period to Vista Ultimate has now expired.
DeskScapes is a fairly small application that integrates fully so that you can pick animated wallpapers through the usual wallpaper selection interface. The model appears to be that the free version will only allow specific bundled dreams while the paid version (around $20) will support scores of fantastic user-created downloads. The current preview release contains just 3, only one of which is worth using but it alone sells the concept with a beautiful sunset scene — imagine those blades of grass billowing gently in the breeze with the light playing realistically off the surface. Presumably the final version due later this month will include several more. The standalone price is low but I imagine most won’t be willing to pay for such a focused application. However it will also form part of the Object Desktop package that allows complete customisation of virtually every element of the Windows interface.
Speaking of Stardock, one of their developers wrote an interesting article in response to the recent discussion about the state of PC gaming and the effect of piracy. Many major developers and publishers decry piracy as being the chief architect of the downfall of PC game development but Stardock, who deliberately distribute games without any form of DRM, argue otherwise, showing strong sales despite the ease with which the game could be copied. The suggestion is that if you treat your paying customers well, they will reward you. The pirates, meanwhile, should simply be ignored in all business decisions as falling outside the market.
* There appear to be limitations under Vista Basic since it cannot run Aero.
I have previously praised NOD32 as an antivirus solution. However I have always been hesitant to recommend it generally because its modular design resulted in a convoluted, complex interface. With today’s new release that has all changed. Its new intuitive menu design means now everyone can experience one of the favourites of the tech savvy crowd for its low resource usage but strong protection.
One of the other nice things about their sales model is that once you purchase a subscription, not only does it give you access to virus definition updates (and these are incredibly fresh, with new updates often more than once a day) it also lets you upgrade the software itself to any new releases for free. I was happy to dump the Norton bohemoth over a year ago and with NOD32 going from strength to strength I’m certainly not looking back.