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.
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.