Explore the Universe From Your Desktop

posted in: Art, Fun | 0

Fly around the universe, virtually, from your Windows desktop.

Yes, sadly, this is for Windows users only. I try to make these posts as universally appealing as possible, but, sometimes, what I’m offering up is specific to an operating system and just too good to pass up. This is one of those.
Now, of course, I’m a big science-fiction geek and I love the fantasy of zooming through space to other planets and star systems. I suppose it has something to do with growing up watching Star Trek or seeing the original Star Wars (ie. Episode IV) in the theater as a little kid. Whatever the reason, I’ve never gotten past the idea that I’d like to leave Earth and discover the wonders of the universe like the captain of my very own interstellar craft. Sadly, the laws of physics are working against me on realizing that dream. So, until then, I’ll have to just explore the universe with my imagination. Thankfully, according to Lifehacker, there’s a desktop program called SpaceEngine that will help me do just that. If you head over to SpaceEngine.org, you can download the app for free. It’s huge, so it will take some time, but it’s worth it. You may get some warnings from your antivirus when you try to download it, but I found that the fifth “mirror”, which was a Google drive space, seemed to be okay. Once you have it installed, you can soar off to distant stars and planets and let the wonders of our universe wash over you. Frankly, it seems like the perfect escape for a Friday afternoon, especially if you’re reading this blog instead of working.
You’ll want to make sure to read the manual and be patient with the program, though, it is still in beta, after all.
So, check it out and come see what I have for you next week!

Send Big Files

posted in: Red Herrings, The Day Job | 1

Frustrated with email limitations on big attachments?

Lately, I seem to be offering up solutions for email problems. I guess, email is on my mind lately. Don’t get me wrong, I love email. I frankly think it’s one of the most incredible things about the internet and quite possibly the greatest invention since sliced bread. Seriously. Think about it. Email connects us almost instantly with virtually anyone else in the world who has an email address. No time spent waiting for postal carriers to get a letter from where we are to where they are which might take days or weeks. Just near instantaneous communication.
Of course, there are some limitations. Obviously, I can’t send someone physical objects directly via email. I suppose, though, that when 3D printer technology catches up to our imaginations, we could send the digital files for some object and then you could print it locally, but that’s far, far in the future. Also? Most email systems have pretty strict limits on how big a file you can even send. Most top out around 25 megabytes, but some are really strict and are capped at as little as 5 megabytes. So, what can you do to keep those limits from killing your ability to share your big, beautiful Photoshop files? Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
In this case, the way is Send by Firefox. Yes, by the people who make the Firefox web browser, but, no, you don’t have to have Firefox to use it. You can watch a small video of how it works here, but really, it’s just a matter of uploading a file and following the instructions. They do recommend that you keep files under 1 gigabyte, but if you’re sending files that big, you’re really better off talking to your IT Department about setting up an FTP server for you. (Don’t worry, they’ll know what that means.)
In any case, this should be a simple solution for you under most circumstances.
And, that’s about the best you can hope for on a Friday!
Enjoy your weekend and I’ll see you back here next week!

eBook Mockups

posted in: The Tools | 0

I don’t do a lot of endorsements on my blogs.

Oh, My Personal Fasting Journal eBookI do it from time to time, but not very often and when I do, I do my best to make it something I really, truly believe in.  Regular readers will know that I often share free resources, and, sometimes, those have paid options.  Most of the time, I share those for the free options only, because that’s all I’ve used and I kind of hate pimping stuff that I haven’t actually at least tried out.

Sometimes, I do share things that are from a company I believe in or who’s products I use.  This what I’m sharing today.  The company is Adazing.  I paid for their Author Academy and it has been worth every single penny I paid.  Today, I’m sharing one of their tools; The Book Mockup Generator.  To the left, you can see an image I created using that tool.  I’ve also used it on the main homepage.  And, in fact, the current WordPress theme I’m using, AuthorWrite, which I got as part of the Author Academy.  And, if you’re a writer who wants to self-publish in any format, I definitely suggest you go look at their free tools at least, because the free tools are pretty worth it.  It’s also worth signing up for their email list because that’s how I got Author Academy at a pretty steep discount.

In any case, I’m kind of a marketing nerd.  It’s something I picked up from my father as well as from my degree.  MMy Personal Fasting Journalarketing and advertising are actually fun for me and I love finding all the little bits and pieces and tools to do it.  The Book Mockup Generator is one of those tools.  You can make an image or two for free, or pay $12.95 to get a whole bunch of them all at once.  You can see another example of some of the images to the right of this post.  These days, social media is one of the fastest way to generate interest in products, and most of that is visual in some way.  If it’s not Instagram, then it’s Pinterest. Even Facebook posts tend to do better when there’s a graphic on them.  So, if you’re a self-published author who’s selling books, having a tool that essentially creates social-media-ready images for you is an enormous time-saver.  The tools at Adazing let you make a lot of images, quickly and simply.

Seriously, these folks have given authors all the marketing tools they could possibly want to help get their books sold.  In fact, now, my only problem is that all the excuses I had for self-publishing and marketing are gone.  Now, I have to get down to the business of actually writing books!

Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I was asked to call attention to this tool in exchange for access to one of their products.  I jumped at the chance, though, because not only is this a good, mostly free, tool that I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned here before, but all of Adazing’s products are actually pretty great.  And, so is their support, which is for the most part quick to respond with helpful information.  So, yes, I was compensated to post this, but I’d recommend this either way.

Burner Email Addresses

posted in: Red Herrings, The Day Job | 1

Because having a disposable email means having privacy.

I hate spam. I mean, I really hate spam and spammers with a passion. As a system administrator, which is what I really am no matter what fancy title I may currently have, I can tell you that dealing with spam is the single most time-consuming and irritating thing about having an email server. The last time I checked, spam accounted for something like 75% of all email communication. The problem is, a lot of the time, to get the one thing you want from a site, you are forced to sign up for an email newsletter that you don’t really want. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually like email newsletters. I subscribe to several and I’m even working on setting up one of my own. But, for those times you really just want the one “free” download a site is offering and don’t have any intention of coming back, what are you to do? Or, what if you’re not even sure that it’s a legitimate download or website? Maybe you’re afraid that a hacker has set up a site just to collect personal information, what then?
Well, then, you use nBox by notif.me to setup a free, anonymous and private “burner” email for any site you want to sign up for. You can then choose how and when you’re notified when they send something out. You can even delete the addresses you’ve used for sites you don’t want to be bothered with any more and *poof* they’re all gone, all at once.
And, yes, it’s free. How? Well, it’s free because it’s notif.me’s way of advertising and getting the word out about their service.
So, why not try it and take control of your email notifications this fine Friday?

WiFi Analyzer

Now, available for Windows!

I’ve actually been using this particular program on an Android tablet for quite a long time. Come to think of it, I started out using it on a rooted Barnes and Noble nook tablet close to ten years ago, then when I upgraded, just kept using it. Often, I’d pull out my tablet, especially when on the road, to find the strongest local wifi signal to see if I could join that network. When I was in San Francisco for WonderCon in 2010, I used it to discover that the fastest wireless internet connection I could find was the yoga studio next door to the little, boutique hotel I was staying in. I also used it to tell the hotel staff what to change their wifi channel to for better performance.
More recently, I used it in my own neighborhood to tune my home wifi to the best channel so we got a stronger signal and weren’t sharing the same frequency with all the neighbors. Sure, it may be a small improvement, but I think it’s significant enough to make a few minutes spent with a free app worthwhile.
In any case, I saw recently on Lifehacker, that there’s a free Windows version of WiFi Analyzer available now. You just need to follow the links and download it. I linked to the Lifehacker article, instead of directly, because they go a great job showing you why it’s a good thing to have and use. Also, I’m too lazy to write all that out again. So, go hit their site, give them advertising revenue, and enjoy!

This post originally appeared on Diary of a Network Geek!

Sci-Fi Shorts

posted in: Art, Fun | 1

I can’t get enough short sci-fi movies.

Seriously.
I mean, I know I’ve posted links to short science-fiction videos before, but I really think short, lower-budget film has come into its own lately. Oddly, I think it’s the opposite of what’s happened with the publishing industry, where short-stories have become less and less profitable, and therefore less interesting to writers. But, these days, with the low cost of hardware, video capture and editing tools, as well as distribution methods, independent creators are, thankfully, more and more willing to take risks on pretty experimental films. The intersection of sci-fi and fantasy creative ideas with very inexpensive and easy-to-use special effects tools can make for really interesting and fun short films.
And, today, I have several really great ones for you from IO9.com, in a post titled 10 Excellent New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Shorts You Need to Check Out. Really, the title says everything, but, if you follow that link, you’ll get everything from interstellar lawyers to samurai zombies to technology gone a little bit wrong.
All of which are totally worth seeing, especially if you’re bored enough to be reading this blog on a Friday!
Enjoy!

How Chocolate Is Made

From bean to your mouth, how delicious chocolate is made.

I grew up in the city, but I had relatives who farmed, so I’m not one of those people who thought that food magically showed up in the grocery store. I was pretty aware, for instance, that steaks used to walk around in a pasture before they got carved up into bite-sized chunks. And, yes, I was always okay with that. But, also from that experience with my family’s farm, I learned to be curious about just what goes into food and food production. Frankly, what we do and have available to us in our amazing, modern, global economy is nothing short of miraculous. I’m old enough that I remember oranges being extra expensive and a great treat at Christmas, for instance. So what does all that have to do with chocolate? Well, until recently, I only had the vaguest idea how chocolate bars were made. I knew it started with a bean somewhere in the tropics and involved a process like roasting until the beans could be ground up into what is essentially cocoa powder.  And, that cocoa powder becomes chocolate. But, beyond that, the process was a bit of a mystery to me. And, I’d imagine, to you, too, gentle readers.

Well, thanks to a podcast from Seth Godin, titled It’s Not About The Chocolate, we don’t have to wonder any more. That link will take you to, among other things, two videos showing the process of taking cacao beans from the tree to an actual chocolate bar for your delicious consumption. And, yes, global warming is, in fact, putting my favorite sweet in danger. No matter how you feel about all that, the videos are fascinating and deliciously educational. Though, I do absolutely recommend that you listen to the full podcast. It’s even more educational than the videos.

And, there’s your entertaining video for Friday, with a steaming side of social consciousness.
Enjoy!

Existential Frog

posted in: Art, Fun | 0

More strange, short movies for you.

I tend to think of movies with special effects as something relative new and modern, but that’s just not really true. I also have to admit that I think of color movies not being a “thing” until after The Wizard Of Oz, even though I know that’s not true either. I honestly don’t know when color started to be a regular thing in movies, but I know that “special effects” of one kind or another have been around almost as long as movies themselves. Of course, just like today, limited budgets had a direct effect on the amount and quality of special effects in a film. And, also, just like today, artists who are driven to express their creative vision find a way to get that vision made, regardless of the limitations. What’s more, the very best of those artists stretch the possibilities of what can be accomplished.
One of those artists is Segundo Chomón, a Spanish director and cinematographer who lived from 1871 to 1929 and pioneered some incredible effects, camera tricks and optical illusions in film. I found him recently via Boing Boing, who shared his deeply weird short film from 1908, titled “The Frog”. I can promise you that it is strange. What’s stranger is how modern the effects seem. What’s mind-boggling, to me at leas,t is that it was done 110 years ago! You can see a larger selection of his work at The Segundo de Chomón Collection at The Internet Archive. They’re definitely worth checking out.
And, they’re certainly better than whatever you were doing that led you to this website on a Friday!

More Free Alternatives to Photoshop

posted in: Art, Fun, Linux, Photography | 0

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but things change.

Okay, some things don’t change and one of those is that Adobe Photoshop is still the leader in graphics editing software, especially for photographers. But, it’s also pretty expensive, which means everyone is always looking for a cheaper alternative. Frankly, for years, I was no different. Most of the time, I used GIMP, but there are actually a lot of other packages that are out there now. In fact, the fine folks at the Photo Argus have posted a review of 11 Outstanding (Free)Alternatives to Photoshop, one of which is GIMP. I used GIMP for years, in part because it was the first “big” photo editor that was available on Linux. My thinking was that Linux was the wave of the future, so I might as well learn the software package that ran on it best. Sadly, that dream has never come to fruition,but GIMP is still free, so it’s not all bad. I’m not as familiar with the other ones, but since they’re all free, why not download them and see which you like best?
Personally, I started subscribing to the Adobe Photographer’s Pack, which gives me access to Photoshop and Lightroom for a relatively low monthly fee. Definitely worth it, I think.

By the way, I’m trying something new with my writing workflow. I’ve been writing posts in a software package called Scrivener, queuing them up and archiving them once I’ve scheduled them in my blog software. So far, it’s worked pretty well and it’s helping me get used to writing in Scrivener. Of course, I’ve only done two posts, but my intention is to get into a habit of writing this way so I can extend it to fiction. That was why I bought Scrivener in the first place and has been my goal since I was in the Fourth Grade and transformed the amazingly dull writing exercise “My Adventure At The Circus” into a tale of subterranean mythic adventure. I think it was good preparation for writing pulp fiction, but we’ll just have to see what I manage to produce.
In any case, I’ll keep these weekly posts coming!
See you next week!

Making Neon Signs

posted in: Art, Fun | 0

As promised, I’ve got fun videos for you this week.

I’ve always loved those “how did they make that?” shows and videos. Even the most mundane things in our modern world can seem miraculous when you can see the incredible way that they’re made. As a survivor of a Marketing education, I am still interested in advertising and signage. And, in my opinion, the most magical signage is still the venerable neon sign. Even in science-fiction movies, like Blade Runner, neon signs still show up to give us that sense of gritty reality and solid commerce that underlies whatever environment they inhabit. All of which is preface to say, “Hey, look! Cool videos about how neon signs are made!”.
The link I’m sharing is to the blog post Watch this short film on the art of making neon signs on Boing Boing. But, don’t be fooled, there’s more there than one short film. And, more than that, all the films of artisans creating the most amazing and gorgeous neon artwork are fascinating to watch. At least, they were to me.
I hope you enjoy them!

1 2 3 4 46