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Cool Stuff | Savvy Tech Tips

November 11th 2008

Google Announces Video and Voice Chat for Gmail.

Google today announced that they have added video and voice chat to Gmail, their popular email program. The free service will work through a simple plug-in.

Computers running Windows XP and Vista, as well as Intel-based Macs running operating system OS X 10.4 or later can take advantage of the feature. Gmail’s Video chat and voice chat do not currently work with PowerPC Macs, however.

Download the plug-in here.

January 22nd 2007

Stumble!

stumble.jpgDo you find yourself going to the same websites and forums over and over again, repeating the same web browsing ritual day in and day out?

Stumble, a nifty little free extension to Firefox or Internet Explorer, might be just the thing for you. Basically, when you download the extension, you select some categories of websites that reflect your interests. Once you’ve installed Stumble (which takes less than a minute and is painlessly simple), you have an additional navigation bar at the top of your browser screen. To use the extension, you simply click on the Stumble icon. The extension then selects a website for you to view based on your preferential categories.

It’s the execution of this idea that makes the whole Stumble concept work, however. The sites Stumble displays are based on user approvals, which you can influence by clicking on a Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down icon. If you like the site you’ve been shown, you give it a thumbs up. Don’t like it? Give it a thumbs down. Additionally, you can add any website to Stumble’s database by clicking on “I Like It!” This approval system seems to work: I’d say that I’ve found three quarters of the sites Stumble gives me worthwhile. It’s been a great way to, um, “stumble” upon some wonderful new Internet resources.

If you’re so inclined, there is a lot more to the explore about the extension as well. There is a Stumble community, bookmarking, sharing websites with friends, etc. The heart of the program, however, is its website browsing capabilities.

Enjoy!

December 13th 2006

Fun Stuff: www.pandora.com

Computer Type: All • Level: Novice

If you like music, www.pandora.com may be the best thing to happen to you today. The site was created based on research done for The Music Genome Project, which is a long-term study of the essential attributes of songs. To date, the study has analyzed over 10,000 songs and broken down their essential elements. As the study progressed, the musicians involved realized that the research could be used as an excellent way for people to discover new music they liked.

pandora.jpgThe site is easy to use. When you get to Pandora.com, you enter the name of a song or artist you like. Pandora then searches its database of music for songs that have similar musical characteristics to your song and artist’s music. It then creates a “station” for you that will stream this similar music to your computer. As a song plays, you can tweak your results by selecting the “Guide Us” button and giving the song playing a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The station will alter the music based on your feedback.

This is simply a great way to find new music that you’ll like. If I hear a song that I like someplace, I’ll enter it into Pandora and usually end up discovering a couple of new artists that I enjoy. The site also makes for a great radio station while on your computer. You can create 100 stations, so there is a lot of room for creativity.

You might be wondering what the catch is, or how much it costs. Well, the news just keeps getting better.

First, there are two versions of the site: one with ads; one without. The version with ads is free. The ads are noticeable but hardly annoying. If they really bother you, or you want to support their project, or you’re just silly rich, there is a $36/year subscription fee that will totally remove the ads. With the exception of the ads, the two versions of the site are the same.

Second, you don’t have to download any programs to your computer, and nothing gets downloaded to your computer. The site plays in Flash right on the webpage, so chances are good that you’ll be able to listen to music right away. If anything, all you’ll have to do is download a free Flash player, which you really should have on your computer anyway.

The one negative, if you wish to call it that, is that you’ve got to create an account to listen to more than a few minutes of music. They ask for an email (for login purposes), zip code, birth year, and gender. In over a year of being registered with the site, I’ve never gotten an email from them, and the site seems very much on the up and up. I’d trust them.

Enjoy!

Relevant Links
Direct Link to Pandora
Read more about Pandora
Read more about the Music Genome Project

December 6th 2006

Open Office!

Computer Type: All • Difficulty Level: Novice

If you or someone you know is on a budget (or totally broke), Open Office can be a life saver. What it is, you ask? Well, Open Office is a set of all your major applications in one nice bundle. It has a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, a drawing program, a program for mathematical equations, and a database program. impress-big.pngIn this way it is much like Microsoft Office’s major applications (Word, Power Point, Excel, etc.). However, there is one big difference between Open Office and Microsoft Office: Open Office is totally free. There are no catches, no email addresses to give, no surveys to fill out (They do mention on their site that they accept donations, however).

Even nicer, Open Office’s applications can open equivalent files from Microsoft Office (e.g., the Open Office word processer, “Writer”, can open up Microsoft Word files), and can save files in formats that Microsoft Office can read. This is critical if you are exchanging files with others or moving files among computers.

The program is stable, relatively easy to use, and powerful.

Open Office is perfect for students and teachers who have computers at school with Microsoft Office on them but a computer at home that doesn’t have Microsoft Office. Without a program like Open Office, the only place someone can do work on a project is at school. With Open Office, calc-big.pnga person can email their Microsoft files to their home computer, work on them in the evening using Open Office, save them as a Microsoft file again, then email them back to school (or take it on a flash drive, etc.).

Open Office runs on both Windows computers and Macs running OSX. If you have a Mac however, you’ve may need to also install a program called X11 to allow Open Office to run. X11 is free and available here. However, if your Mac is running OSX 10.4 (Tiger), you’ll either already have X11 installed or be able to install it from your Tiger installation DVD. Don’t dowload the version from the link here if that is the case.

To read more and download Open Office, go to Open Office’s site.