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.
Given how many recipes are available on the Internet for just a few clicks, the only reason to buy a recipe storage program like Chef Master ($15, limited demo)is because of a superior interface. Unfortunately, this interface is not quick or easy to use. It’s simple and cute, with a blinking animated chef in the upper left and a nifty map of world continents that you can click on to bring up a list of countries. But once the novelty has worn off, Chef Master doesn’t do a good job of accessing recipes quickly and easily. Structuring it hierarchically by continent and then country means that you have to do much too much clicking to get to individual recipes. There’s no search function on the main page or even within the list of countries. You have to click the Recipe button at the bottom of the main screen, then click on Browse all Recipes in order find a search bar. That’s a long way to go to get to a shortcut.
Other recipe database software, like BigOven, for instance, offer a much more intuitive design, with a prominent search bar, MS Word-style interface, and tabs to make it quick to switch among functions. BigOven doesn’t have a focus on world cuisine built into its design, but it offers international recipes and makes it easier to find and access those recipes, which is what a database should do.
Chef Master claims that its edge lies in the community aspect of the program, which allows users to upload recipes to a server, which the software will access periodically so that new recipes are added continually and growing the database without users having to do it themselves This is a nice idea, but it’s not enough to make up for a program that’s difficult to use...and it's not that different from the way many recipe websites work, either.
Pick a song; any song. Type its name in a search box, click a button, and it starts playing. Okay, we could do this five years ago. But now, click the album name, and listen to the whole album, top to bottom, in sequence. Instantly. Meet Spotify ($10/month, $5/month, or free, depending on level of service).
I’m pretty excited about Spotify, and it works very, very well. I use a number of other online music services, and it stacks up against the best of them. Bandcamp often lets you enjoy complete albums, but only for emerging artists. 8tracks contains well-known tracks, but never complete albums, and if you play a mix more than once, their license forces them to shuffle the songs around. iTunes has a huge catalog, but doesn’t provide all-you-can-eat streaming for a flat monthly fee. I could go on, but the point is that Spotify manages to offer something truly unique in the crowded world of online music services.
Spotify started out as a Europe-only service, and recently made its debut in the States. You can download the client and start listening to music for free, but you’ll also get lots of intrusive ads mixed in with your songs. For $5/mo, you’ll get the same music, but without the ads. If you shell out $10/mo, Spotify will also work offline, and you could also use it on your Android smartphone.
My Downloads folder can get messy. Before I started testing Digital Janitor (free), it contained over 150 different files, weighing in at over 700MB--and this is after a recent cleaning. Digital Janitor’s promise is to sort and tidy up any random bunch of files you throw at it, so my Downloads folder seemed like an ideal candidate.
When launching Digital Janitor, the first thing you do is select the folder you’d like to sort. Then, you set up “rules” for the sorting process. Each rule can match files per extension, “keyword” (a wildcard within the filename), or size. Once you set up your criteria, select a destination for those files. This can either be another folder (“Large ZIP Files”) or the Recycle Bin.
And then, before you click the “Add rule” button, pause for a moment and carefully consider what you’ve just configured. You need to do this, because once you add a rule, there’s no way to edit it--you can only delete it and write a new one instead, which would be added to the end of the list. Also, I should point out extensions are case-sensitive, so if your rule specifies what to do with “PDF” files, it will not apply to any “pdf” files.
Teambox (various pricing; free for small projects) is a useful, online project management tool well-suited for small to medium-sized companies that want to handle projects without going through a significant learning curve. It's simple enough that you'll be able to get up to speed on it quickly, yet still offers solid tools for people to collaborate on projects.
The Teambox site includes the tools you would expect in a straightforward project manager, including those for creating tasks, communicating with one another, tracking people's time, sharing documents, and more. Especially useful is the "People & Permissions" area, in which you invite people to participate in the project, and assign roles for them. So some people, for example, can be given read-only access, other people can participate, but not invite others, and still other people can be given full administrative controls, including inviting people and deleting comments.
Teambox can be used for multiple projects, and if you use the for-pay version, you'll be able to search across all projects as well. The free version allows you to manage three projects and have up to 50MB of storage for files. There are various for-pay plans, ranging from six projects and 200 MB of storage for $12 a month, all the way up to 100 projects and 50 GB of storage for $99 a month.
Contrary to the implications of its moniker, there's really no wizardry involved with PC Wizard. Unless of course you consider a comprehensive querying and report on your system's hardware magic. This free utility from CPUID relays a lot, and I mean a lot of info. Much of said info may be found in Windows Device Manager, but a lot of it can't.
In addition to the usual processor info, PC Wizard reports on the motherboard chipset, exact CPU model (mostly) and cache sizes, voltages, etc. hard drive spindle speed (5400, 7200, etc.), facts that Microsoft doesn't consider useful to the average user. Microsoft is correct; however, the more granular info is very handy to more technical types, repair people, and--dare I say it?--reviewers.
Installing PC Wizard is easy. However, it does want to install the Ask toolbar so don't blindly click through if you don't want that particular piece of software. PC Wizard takes from 5 to 15 seconds to gather basic information about your system when it first runs, and 5 to 10 seconds to gather UPnP info when you select that icon. Network device info requires scanning IP addresses so that of course will take a little while as well. PC Wizard also offers a stability test and benchmarking of various components.
Ever since the dawn of Windows, a big part of the appeal was… well, windows. Being able to give each application its own area on the screen and run multiple applications at the same time completely transformed computing. But that’s old news; today, many of us have 24” monitors (sometimes more than one), and the challenge is how to use all of that screen space effectively. With the free WinSplit Revolution, you can make sure every inch of your monitor or monitors is displaying valuable information.
If you use a desktop computer or a large notebook, you probably have a keypad. WinSplit Revolution lets you use the pad (or any other hotkey you choose, if your keyboard lacks a number pad) for positioning windows in a very intuitive way. Want to snap a window to the top-right corner of the screen? Just hit Alt+Ctrl+9, and there goes the window. You can grab another window and snap it next to the first one using Alt+Ctrl+7 (for top-left corner). The same goes for every other number pad button; they all correspond to intuitive monitor positions.
While being able to quickly snap a window to every screen corner, you don’t necessarily want each such window to take up 50% of your monitor width. Tap 9 again, and the window you just snapped to the top-right corner becomes narrower, taking up 33% of the screen. Tap 9 once more, and the window grows wider, taking up 66% of the screen. So with a few quick keyboard taps, you can have a beautifully tiled desktop, with three narrow windows stacked on top of each other on the right (for reference material, for example), and one wide window taking up two-thirds of the screen width and its full height, for your main work area. All without reaching for your mouse.