Nov 10 2011

Sage: because MATLAB is too expensive

Do you have anything to do with math, ever? Have you been assigned projects which require you to make use of some kind of mathematical software, like MAPLE, or MATLAB, or Mathematica? Chances are, if you take anything heavy in statistics or applied math, you have been or will be. Now, you have options. You could pay for a license ($99 for MAPLE, $139 for Mathematica and these are student prices), you could pirate them (risky, banned at UMW and illegal), you could trudge on over to Trinkle in the dark and the snow (winter is coming, after all), or you could go for the free, open-source alternative: Sage.

Pretty cunning, right?

Right.

Sage works on Windows, Mac (binaries are coming for Lion, but the Snow Leopard release should work) and Linux (Ubuntu, Fedora or source). It’s a hefty download (1.4 gigs for Windows), but after that you’re using your computer for what computers were built for: all that math stuff. Do you have any account online, ever? Google, Yahoo!, WordPress? (Myspace?) Try it free, online (i.e., no download), here. DO IT NOW.

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Nov 09 2011

Setting up a writer’s ambiance

Hey SFSS

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got to be in a certain state of mind before I can start writing.
I need quiet music, low lighting (or super bright if I’m going the pen and paper route), a comfortable chair, and no distractions.

I’ve found tools on the web that can help me with 3/4 of these things (still waiting on that comfortable chair app).

img from flickr

 

1. Shades (mac only)- This is a great application that I just found the other day.  Sometimes I like to have my screen really bright, but not while I’m writing.  However, I can never find that happy medium between too bright and too dark.  Shades gives you a slider that you can adjust to change the brightness of your screen.  But I think my favorite feature of this app is that you can change the tint of your screen.  Instead of dimming to a dark black color as usual, you can dim it to purple, pink, yellow, orange, any color you can think of.  I like yellow because it’s akin to writing on old parchment.

2. Spotify – Spotify is a lot like Pandora, which I’m sure you’ve heard of, but it’s kind of way better.  You can search for playlists, star songs you like, play a genre specific radio, and even make your own playlist.  I like classical music when I write and it’s super easy to find a lot of it at once.  Spotify is also very social networking based so you can share what you’re listening to on facebook.. or not.

3. WriteRoom (mac only.. although there is a windows version out there somewhere) – This is my favorite of all three of these.  WriteRoom gives you a big, giant, happy plain text screen where you can just writewritewrite.  I might have written about this before.  I don’t care.  It’s the best.  Are you one of those people who starts writing and says “Wellll I’ve written for five minutes, ooh look, a shiny open Facebook tab!”?  Because I am.  WriteRoom takes up your whole screen so you can’t explore the other things floating on your desktop.  The format reminds me of the Terminal on the mac, very clean.

 

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Nov 08 2011

(Wh)Y Write(r)?

A tool does not make the master, but it certainly make the master’s job easier. That’s why I’m bringing yWriter to the attention of our readers, particularly our creative writers. yWriter is a piece of freeware developed by a writer for writers.

Simon Haynes (author of the Hal Spacejock series) created yWriter after struggling to write his first novel in an organized and efficient manner. “I really struggled with my first novel because I wrote slabs of text into a big word processor file and I just couldn’t make sense of the whole thing at once. No real overview, no easy jumping from scene to scene, nothing,” he states on his website.  As an experienced computer programmer, he possessed the know-how to create a piece of software that would work with him, and then kindly shared it with the world for free (and with regular updates).

yWriter5 Main Screen

The yWriter5 Main Screen

yWriter’s keynote feature is its usage of “scenes” inside chapter files.  As a creative writer myself, I found that thinking about my story in such terms helped me as well, and although I have a plethora of other programs I could write on, I’ve been a satisfied user of yWriter for the past three years.  I first discovered it while participating in NaNoWriMo (which is going on now).

Give it a try.  You might discover that yWriter is the tool that will revolutionize the way your approach and complete your stories. It’s compatible on all system. If you find it useful, consider making a donation of support and thanks.

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Oct 20 2011

Play In Mines

Minecraft.

Creeper

The Face of Minecraft

I feel guilty posting about a game that costs money to purchase (though there is a free version), but the hours you put into playing it will make it feel like you got a deal. Also, this isn’t a typical video game, in that it doesn’t cost $300+ for the console and $60+ for the actual game.  If you are reading this post, you can play this game. It’s available in Pocket Edition, playable on your Android, for $6.99  as well as its original format on the PC for $21.99 (Windows, Mac & Linux).  If don’t mind missing out on the fancier features, you can always play it for free in your browser!

What makes Minecraft great? Well, while the game itself is fun and frankly addictive, the community that has sprung up around the game is fun and impressive.  Even the de facto official Wiki is run by volunteers.  There are also thriving forums all over the internet full of active members who create their own mods for the game and share them with others.  You can get everything from a mini-map to new skins for your world and yourself.

However, what I feel makes Minecraft truly fun is its multi-player aspect.  There are many open servers available to the public (though care must be taken to avoid griefers and unsuitable mining mates), though I’ve found it far more rewarding to play on a  private server with friends.  In fact, my favorite place to mine is on a server that a summer class put together.

Besides, who doesn’t get a sense of satisfaction out of building something like this:

Minecraft Creation: Falling Water

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

Or this:

NES Sprites

NES Sprites

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Oct 12 2011

Let’s talk about apps, baby

Published by under Uncategorized

Let’s preface this post by saying I do not own a smartphone.

 

I think I am the only person in the universe now who does not, but this is out of my control.

So this post will mostly be me seething with jealously as I tell you all about nifty little tools you can use from your phone.

1. Ambiance – A supposed “environment enhancer”, ambiance creates an excellent setting for you to study.
2. iHomework – Planners be gone, iHomework keeps your schedule for you.  Virtually.  It also takes any grading scale and helps you calculate your current grade.
3. Study by APP – This developer is perfect for those gen ed courses you need a little help with.  They create helpful study guides and reviews for all your educational needs!
4. Bigwords – find the cheapest textbooks!
5. Studycards – create flash cards!

 

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Oct 05 2011

HTML resources for newbies

Published by under Uncategorized

With internet education becoming more and more prevalent, I think it’s only necessary for students to at least know the ins and outs of HTML.

 

If you don’t know what HTML is, the simple definition is that it’s the building blocks of webpages.
I’ve provided some more resources here to help you get started.

 

1. Code Academy – not just HTML either, codeacademy.com gives you step by step tutorials in order to grasp the concepts at your own pace.  You earn badges for completing a certain number of tutorials.  Code Academy is a great place for beginners to test our their code skills.

2. Neopets html tutorials – Yes, seriously.  I think that using tutorials that are meant for kids (and are therefore easier to understand) are the best kinds of get started with.

3. Web Monkey’s html cheat sheet – Even those of us familiar with html forget what code does what sometimes.  This page will help you find that specific bit of code you need in order to make your page perfect.

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Sep 30 2011

Do work. Get your Google on.

Published by under Uncategorized

I’m a big fan of yours, Google.

That’s why I want to tell people about Google Scholar.

If you’re anything like me, you get an assignment to write a research paper or something and you immediately flood Google with your questions.  What I end up getting back 99% of the time is a Yahoo Answers response with several unhelpful “I don’t know” responses below.

How to filter out all the unimportant stuff?  Use Google Scholar.  It’s like using a library, on the internet.

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Sep 22 2011

Audio Resources on the Web

Published by under Audio Stuff,Media Stuff

Over the summer, I took a variety of interesting classes.  The most interesting was a Computer Science course called Digital Storytelling.  One week of assignments had to do with creating audio narratives.  I expected these projects to be challenging, not only because I don’t think strongly in terms of sound, but also because I didn’t know of many sites on the web that offered sound bites freely available for use (see: Creative Commons).  Thankfully, my professors had taken it upon themselves to solve this problem for us and compile a useful list of websites.

Ear buds

Sounds by Fey Ilyas on Flickr

If you’re not taking a music course or something like Digital Storytelling where the professor is directly asking you to for some kind of audio work, you might find that a bit of audio spruces up an otherwise visual-only presentation (think PowerPoint, or a video project).  You might be surprised!

Here are the resources:

Freesound.org — A site that aims to create a “huge collaborative database of audio snippets, samples, recordings, bleeps,” and is all available under the Creative Commons license.

Free Music Archive — The FMA is directed by the WFMU, “the most renowned freeform radio station in America,” and was created out of the belief that the radio has always been a venue to offer free public access to new music and should continue to do so.  However, this purpose is often undermined by licenses that were not made in (and could not predict) the digital era.  Here at FMA, you will find great mp3s you can feel good about downloading.

ccMixter — This is a self-described “community music remixing site featuring remixes and samples licensed under Creative Commons licenses.” Here you’ll find the opportunity to be endlessly creative and mingle with fellow music lovers.

Internet Archive — The Internet Archive is a fascinating place that I have yet to really explore.  The IA is attempting to create an Internet library in an age and space where sites and sounds are ephemeral.  Content that appears on a site one day may be completely different the next.  This is a great stop for more than just audio.

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Sep 19 2011

Five(six) things I recommend!

Published by under Uncategorized

The past few posts I’ve talked about bigger applications that you can use to churn out important tasks.  I wanted to write a post with some of the smaller tools that I use frequently to make my life a lot easier.

 

1. Online Alarm Clock – whether you need to set a timer or if you wanted to take a nap with your computer on your lap, I use this alarm clock every day of the week.

2. iCal (or similar calendar software for Windows) – A lot of people don’t take advantage of the tools that their computer comes with, but I really like iCal for the Mac.  It keeps track of my dates simply, and I want to be notified of something, my computer will alert me.  I think it’s also important to keep track of what you’re doing off the internet, just in case (god forbid) the net goes down.

3. Twitter – If you ever go on the computer at all, then you probably know what twitter is, but I’m not putting it here to tell you how to stalk celebrities.  I use Twitter to talk to my boss, my professors, and anyone I collaborate on a project with.  It’s so easy for me to just send my questions or links to relevant information in a tweet and I use it everyday.

4. Google Docs – I didn’t want to put this one on here, simply because everybody already knows about it, but it really is a great tool, and one that I use frequently.  I can get on an edit documents and presentations as I please, and I have my notes online, always, so I never have to worry about losing them (something I am known  to do..)

5. Colour Lovers & ColorZilla – Two different tools, same sort of concept.  If you do a lot of work with design in your classes, or if you want to find out exactly what color facebook uses for their background, these will help you a lot.  Colour Lovers has different palettes you can browse through, all user created, to use for a website, powerpoint, etc.  ColorZilla is a plug-in for firefox that lets you capture the hex for a color from the screen.  It’s very useful 🙂

 

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Sep 14 2011

TypeWith.me, the modern chatroom

Published by under Uncategorized

Just when you thought instant messaging was too slow and massive chatrooms messy, here comes TypeWith.me to the rescue!

What TypeWith.me does is fairly simple, it’s chat in real time.  You can watch as words spill across the page as other people are typing them.  It’s like hearing someone speak in real life, only with a chatroom type interface.

You linguists will like this: in chatrooms, talk is less turn based like real face to face conversation.  With TypeWith.me, your thoughts are lost less easily and people are more likely to let you finish and read your whole idea.  Like you wouldn’t interrupt or ignore (well.. maybe you would) someone in real life, TypeWith.me creates such an environment.

I like to use it when I need to talk to a group about an important aspect of our project.

I’ve also used it in classes before to talk about an assigned reading with the rest of the class.  It’s pretty trippy to be sitting in a classroom full of people having an in depth conversation in total silence.  Also, the quieter ones (like me) get more of a voice.

 

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