If you've never heard SRS's sound enhancements, you're missing out. They add bass, depth, spaciousness, and clarity to just about any piece of music or video. Bass-enriching TruBass and space-enhancing Focus and Definition (as WOW)are actually included with Windows Media Player, but if you use another player, you need SRS Audio Essentials, a free version of which is available that adds WOW and TruBass to any player and works with virtually any audio or video player. I use it with VLC, which I favor for its comprehensive format support.
There doesn't seem to be a lot new in SRS Audio Essentials other than the name, a new look, and a new feature called TrueVolume. To all appearances, SRS AE is an updated version of the company's HD Audio Lab (though SRS Labs was quick to call it a new product when I asked about it). Whatever it is, it's better than HD Lab, whose interface was, to be polite, less than stellar. Audio Essentials' interface mimics the look of a stereo receiver and is far more logical and intuitive. I have only one complaint--the icons and text are too small for old fogies like myself. Kids will have no problems.
The free version of SRS Audio Essentials handles two-speaker setups, provides the equivalent of WOW and TruBass and should be enough for just about anyone's needs. There are presets for music, gaming, and movies as well as desktop and laptop speakers which should also be fine for the average user. I did notice the occasional crackling on output, but this turned out to be having inadvertently selected 5.1 speaker output when I only have a 2 speaker system.
Battle for Wesnoth is a free, tactical, turn-based game in which you command fantasy armies in a variety of scenarios. The game follows a relatively familiar pattern: Beginning with a few units, you must acquire resources, summon troops, and accomplish some pre-determined goal, such as "Kill the orc chieftain" or "Escort the caravan across the map."
Each unit in Battle for Wesnoth represents an individual, not an army, distinguishing it from similar games, such as most iterations of Heroes of Might and Magic. This distinction matters, because units can gain experience and advance, becoming more powerful and unlocking new abilities. In many other games, this is something only 'leader' or 'hero' units can do. This, in turn, adds an interesting twist to tactics: Whoever gets the killing blow on an enemy unit gets the bulk of the experience points. If you let just anyone strike without paying attention to their current XP, it will be harder to get a unit to level up...but trying to manipulate things to make sure the level-up-likely unit gets to attack can lead to serious blunders. You can "recall" experienced units from prior scenarios in a campaign, so experience accumulated in one scenario is not lost, and scenarios in long campaigns are balanced on the assumption you will be bringing advanced units with you.
Typically, a Battle for Wesnoth campaign begins with one or more leaders (the only characters who can recruit new troops), a small amount of gold, and a straightforward goal explained via a sequence of dialog boxes featuring NPC conversation... sort of a storyboarded cut scene. You recruit troops in a fortress, then start exploring the map. Moving a unit into a village will flag the village and cause it to start producing gold, which you will need to recruit more units. You will find roads, forests, mountains, and, eventually, the enemy. Then the fun begins.
Wallpaper switchers are not a new invention. If you’ve ever found yourself bored with a background image that once seemed beautiful and dramatic, you may have felt the need for such a tool. However, few applications (and even fewer free applications) mature over time to become as capable and impressive as John’s Background Switcher.
John’s Background Switcher (or JBS) can pull in images from a wide array of online sources, such as Flickr, Facebook, and SmugMug. It also works with VladStudio, a website that specializes in wallpapers. If the images you’re looking for aren’t located in any particular website, JBS can even use Google, Bing or Yahoo! image search with any query you provide, to pull in images from across the entire Web.
You don’t have to commit to just one wallpaper source: JBS lets you mix and match multiple sources, each with its own source-specific options. For example, when you poll Flickr for images, you can specify a search string (a generic option), but you can also narrow your search down to a specific Flickr group and select whether to sort images by “interestingness” (a Flickr metric) or newness. You can also poll the same source for images in multiple categories--I have seven different Flickr profiles set up.
GoodGuide.com is a free database for consumers who wish to determine, before they buy, how safe, healthful, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible various products are. These are the things that most of us buy on a regular basis, from household items like shampoo and pet food to cars and electronics. The site provides an overall aggregate score (using a 0 to 10 rating system) for each item, compared to other products of its type, and breaks out individual scores in categories such as Controversial Ingredients, Fair Trade, Energy Efficiency, and Labor and Human Rights. Using the GoodGuide Transparency Toolbar, a free browser add-on for Chrome and Firefox, online shoppers now have on-the-fly access to the GoodGuide product ratings system while shopping at Amazon.com.
The GoodGuide Transparency Toolbar, which appears at the bottom of the browser window only when you are shopping at one of its supported sites (currently, just Amazon), takes your own values into account when presenting scores, based on criteria you establish during setup. It’s easy--users just identify the issues that matter most to them, choosing from a short list. If you indicate that any problem in the area of Labor and Human Rights might be a deal-breaker for you, for example, that product will be flagged a “Fail.” Green dots indicate a passing grade while red dots represent failure; the deeper the shade of green, the better, while the darker the red is, the worse the score.
The toolbar does a nice job of giving the average shopper just enough detail. Assuming you’re curious, you may then evaluate the ratings in more detail by clicking the Full Rating button on the right side of the toolbar. Founded by Dara O’Rourke, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental and labor policy and an expert on global supply chains, the GoodGuide.com service can provide a large amount of data although perhaps not always enough to satisfy the most scrupulous (obsessive?) shopper. Inspecting my results, I soon realized that some of the initial criteria I had chosen might be too strict, since none of the products I looked at could pass my filters. After taking a closer look, I realized, for example, that I would probably continue to buy Tom’s spearmint toothpaste despite the sodium lauryl sulfate (suspected skin irritant) and carrageenan (suspected carcinogen) it contains, but I might change sunscreens after learning that the one I buy merits “high concern” for its oxybenzone content.
As a technical writer and software blogger, an important part of my job is taking screenshots. I need to do this every day, and they often need to be in very specific sizes. To make that happen, I find myself reaching for Sizer (free) multiple times every day.
Sizer is incredibly lean. You can get it as an MSI installer, or as a simple ZIP package containing two files, weighing just 16KB in total. In this case, we recommend the ZIP package. It hooks into Windows so that when you right-click any window border, you get a small pop-up menu with preset window sizes. Click one of the entries in the menu, and Sizer instantly resizes the window.
You can also pop up Sizer’s menu by clicking each window’s icon (in the top-left corner). This will cause the default window menu to be shown, but with a new entry called Resize/reposition, offering access to Sizer’s presets.
PrimoPDF (free) is a printer driver that creates PDF files from your documents, rather than printing them to paper. After install, whenever you choose the print option from an application, PrimoPDF will be listed along with your physical printers, print to file, etc. It's extremely easy to use and produces excellent PDFs--without the watermarks that some programs add.
Probably the best feature of PrimoPDF is the selection of templates for optimizing PDF output. Simply choose your output destination: the screen, a printer, ebook, or prepress (print with full image resolution) and PrimoPDF will create the PDF with that in mind. You may also enter tag information, referred to as document properties, such as the title, author, subject, and whatever keywords you specify.
PrimoPDF also allows you to secure your document. Unlike in older versions, you don't select the level of encryption; everything is 128-bit. You can specify a password to open the document, as well as a separate password to administer the document, i.e., change the password. You may specifically allow copying of text from a protected document, but this option is disabled by default.
Have you ever gone by a house where the TV was on at night, and noticed the bluish glow emanating from the screen? Or woken up early and switched on your monitor (or smartphone) to be blinded by a burst of bright white light? With the free f.lux, this doesn’t have to happen.
It turns out monitor brightness isn’t the only thing to blame when this happens. Color temperature, measured in units called kelvin, has a lot to do with it. The simplest way to explain color temperature is in terms of tint: You know how the color white sometimes seems “warm” (a bit reddish) and sometimes “cool” (bluish)? That’s color temperature at work.
With their typical cool tint, computer monitors look great during daytime hours. But once the sun sets, monitor screens look much better if their color temperature is adjusted accordingly. And that’s what f.lux does.