Archive for May, 2006

Use Gmail as a Hard Drive

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

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If you have a Google Gmail account, you also have mucho storage space available to you — well over two gigabytes. That space is supposed to be for e-mail. Storing files there is awkward at best. Gmail Drive turns your Gmail box into a place to store files — your computer sees it as another hard drive.

In essence, Gmail Drive creates a virtual new hard drive — actually in the Google space but it looks as though it's on your own PC. You can use it to create folders, and drag, drop, open and close files as you normally would. When you do create a file in Gmail Drive, the program signals it by creating a message in your Gmail in the Inbox, with the file as an attachment, so that you can treat it as e-mail if you want to. The author suggests that as this will clutter up your inbox, you might want to filter out the messages created by Gmail Drive, and gives the method to do it.

The program requires Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher. The author cautions that the software is still very much in development — experimental, in fact — that there are still bugs and limitations. Nonetheless, this is very much worth looking into as it makes available a fair whack of storage which is immune to the ills of your own PC!

Download Gmail Drive

Castles in the Sky: Google Sketchup

Monday, May 15th, 2006

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For the aspiring architect and designer there are many tools available online, to fit any level of expertise and knowledge, not to mention pocketbook. Google's free Sketchup software is the latest 3-D modeling tool.

The basic method is to select a standard shape from the examples provided and to drag the corners and sides into the precise building you want to model. (You can construct the building using lines if you prefer.) You can merge other shapes with it — a turret for your bedroom, for instance — and place the windows and doors and ventilators as you want. Then the fun begins! Try out various colors and textures to see how they look. Find out how the shadows will move as the sun wheel thorugh the sky. Set up the interior with the walls and halls and doors and furniture. Take a vertical slice through the building and march it back and forth to see if it is all in proportion. Take pictures with a virtual camera. Annotate the drawing with dimensions and text.

The package comes with an extensive on-line manual which spells out everything in fine detail. Do you know what a "smoove" is? Well, you will once you look through the manual. While it probably helps to be familiar with building and architectural terms to begin with, the manual has depth and detail enough to make you sound like an expert … and very possibly give you a leg-up on the professionals.

Download Sketchup

Commercial Zapper — Cbreak

Monday, May 1st, 2006

For the advanced TV watcher — here is CBREAK!

It's no longer necessary to be a slave to the TV schedules: at the lowest level of escape there are still VCRs and DVD recorders. There are also megasystems like Tivo and ReplayTV. But if you want to get the same results you can buy a TV tuner card and use its scheduler to record your favorite programs to AVI files on your computer. But along with the shows you record the commercials as well.

Enter CBREAK. It scans the AVI file for certain signature events — such as black frames — which signal a switch from the show to a commercial. These it drops while re-recording the file. Then, at your leisure you can watch the irritation-free results!

There are lots of controls available for this program. Normally, it drops commercials automatically but you can change this to verify each deleted section manually. You can fine-tune the black-frame detection parameters as you wish. There is a setting for the minimum length of segments that will be retained — default is 15 frames, which is about half a second. There is even a "skit mode", so that individual skits in shows like Saturday Night Live and Money Python can be saved as seperate files.

It's a freeware program but the author accepts donations. It's also available for development under the GNU GPL license.

Download Cbreak