Scratch: learn visual programming

July 14, 2010

Scratch is a great way to introduce kids (or anyone) to how programming works. There is a stage in which you put characters (“sprites”) and a box off to the side where you can drag and drop “blocks” of code that fit together and run in a sequence. Scratch is fairly simple, but if you need help, check out learnscratch.org. Download Scratch here.

This may sound like a childish waste of time, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. For educators specifically, Scratch helps foster problem solving and also some collaboration. Recently, Google released a service called App Inventor. App Inventor is a site where you can make Android apps without having prior experience in coding. Similar to Scratch, it uses blocks of code along with a visual box to show how your code will work when activated. App Inventor has the potential to become a very successful platform.

Don’t ever dismiss Scratch as a kid’s toy. It’s an educational resource. Now only if Apple would make one…

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4 ways to use your iPhone/iPod Touch as a flash drive

July 1, 2010

The concept of the iPhone/iPod Touch is to create the ultimate all-in-one device. One big part that is missing: a flash drive (yes, I know, it can’t make coffee or toast either.) The following are three ways you can use your iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad as a flash drive. The first 3 work on Macs and PCs and the fourth is Mac-only.

1. iPhone Explorer – free download that can browse media folder of device without jailbreaking, can view root directory if you jailbreak

2. Use a wifi flash drive app for iphone- There are many of these to be found on the app store. Open the app, then your computer’s web browser, and go to the address it tells you to transfer files. DOES NOT transfer pics, etc. manually like iPhone explorer, and has slow upload speeds. I use Files Lite- it is limited to 200mb so that some users will upgrade to the paid version, but there are many similar apps out there that may be a better deal

3. Use an app and service like Dropbox– Dropbox stores your files in a cloud and can access them from any web browser on any computer. They have an iPhone app to make this easy to manage.

4. PhoneDisk – PhoneDisk is free for a limited time. It does largely the same thing as iPhone explorer does, but the main difference is that when it detects an iPhone, it mounts it as a native disk. For mac only.

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Free Microsoft Office Alternatives

June 26, 2010

In the next few days, I will review some of the best alternatives to the Microsoft Office suite. You might want one of the alternatives for…

…your kid’s computer

…your home computer

…your small business

or any time you’d use Office.

I will review some of the best free titles and web app Office alternatives including:

  • Google Docs
  • NeoOffice/OpenOffice (they are very much the same thing)
  • Zoho Office

Some other alternatives include Docs.com, but docs.com requires a Facebook account to login, which I don’t have.

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3 of the best places to find free fonts

June 23, 2010

If you make a lot of presentations, videos, or any other multimedia items, you probably need more fonts than just what comes on your computer. Be sure to check the license on the font if you are using it on something commercial or widely-distributed. Here are some of the best sites to look at:

  1. 1001freefonts.com– has many categories of fonts for free Windows/Mac download, also can download 10,000 fonts licensed for commercial use for $19.95
  2. freemacfonts.com– has a reasonable collection of Mac-only fonts, but poorly organized, search box takes you to a paid fonts site- you have to click through the alphabet to see all the fonts
  3. fontspace.com– A unique font site that has 13, 524 and counting free Mac/Windows fonts that are user-submitted

If you are bored or adventurous, you could try your hand at making fonts with FontForge. It is a clunky X11 app, so don’t expect that you’ll have time to design all your own fonts.

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Jing: A free Screen capture utility

June 17, 2010

If you’re reading this, I’m sure there’s probably been some time that you wanted to demonstrate something on your screen to someone else. It might have been a tutorial for your software, or a how-to demo.

Either way, you could have used Jing. Jing is a lightweight utility that allows you to capture screen videos to SWF format. (Unfortunately, the SWF has a Jing watermark/ad in it- you can remove this and add MP4 support for $19.95)

For some reason, it requires you to sign up for a Screencast.com account (free) in order to run the software.

It also allows you to capture PNG images (no watermarks on these!) and annotate them with its integrated tools. You can download Jing for free @ jingproject.com. If the little sun get annoying, you can switch it to a menubar icon in Jing’s preferences.

It works on Mac and Windows, but for Windows I recommend CamStudio.

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Opera Web Browser: Extremely fast load time

June 8, 2010

Opera running on a Mac

Have you ever been annoyed about how slow your internet connection is, or how long some websites take to load? You might have heard about how fast Google Chrome is, but Opera is extremely fast too. It has a special compression tool that allows webpages to load lightning fast.

Opera also has an iPhone app that is built on Opera’s special compression technology. One cool feature of it is the “find on page” button. You could alternatively get Safari bookmarklets to do this, if you like. The iPhone app has different scrolling than Safari, but overall it works quite well- it even has bookmark syncing. You can download Opera Mini here.

Opera Mini on my iPod Touch

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Best Free Antivirus

June 3, 2010

Looking for free antivirus? In this article, I will cover the reasons you need to have antivirus, and the best free software titles to get.

If you use Windows, some of the best software titles are AVG Free Edition, Avast Free Antivirus, and/or Malwarebytes Anti-malware. Don’t install too many antivirus titles to your computer- this will slow it down and the programs will interfere with each other in some cases. Antivirus is especially important if you have Windows. Windows is the prime target for hackers and phishing scams. Even if you are careful on the internet, you could get a virus from a colleague, friend, or family member who plugs a flash drive into your computer. Additionally, you could install ThreatFire along with your other antivirus: It notices the general trick patterns that viruses use and detects them before a normal antivirus program even knows it exists.

If you use a Mac, you are not quite as vulnerable, but vulnerable nonetheless. I’ll put it this way: If you’re a hacker/virus maker, you want to steal someone’s identity or get money from the victim. More people use Windows than Mac, so you’ll get more money attacking Windows. Some still attack Macs though. That’s why there’s iAntivirus and ClamXav. On the iAntivirus download page, click the green button that says “Get Free”- you don’t want the blue TrialPay one.

Everyone should have antivirus- even if your computer doesn’t have sensitive information, you could unknowingly pass a virus on to a friend or coworker who does. Also, don’t fall for ads on webpages that say you have dozens of viruses or registry errors- they don’t know that for a fact and when you click on it to download the “fix,” it blocks access to the files on your computer and makes you pay to get them back. This a mostly a threat for Windows, but Mac users should be cautious too.

Tell your friends with the share button so they can protect their computers. Know of a virus or phishing scam you’ve noticed or been affected by? Tell me in the comments below.

UPDATE: I was recently linked to in a question about Google, and another antivirus software is VirusBarrier Express, which is on the new Mac App Store.

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