Archive for July, 2008

Free language learning tools

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

screenshot of BBC Languages

Did you ever want to learn a foreign language? There are many ways you can go: sign up at the local Adult School or Community College, buy one of the language instruction programs you see advertised on TV, or even hire a private tutor. It can be a daunting experience—and that's before you even start learning the language itself.

The BBC has free language instruction tools on their website. Focusing primarily on French, German, Spanish, and Italian, they've got online materials to help assess where you are in a given language (did all those years of high school French actually stick with you?) and to get you up to speed quickly. You can work at your own pace, so you can progress as fast as you want, or take the time to let the new material really sink in. Using a combination of instruction and games as teaching tools, they've also got grammar tips and even an online dictionary.

Whether you're brushing up on languages you've already studied, or are setting off on a new linguistic adventure, you just might want to give this a try.

BBC Languages is a free online service and should be compatible with most modern web browsers.

Download BBC Languages

Plan your next project with Open Workbench

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

screenshot of Open Workbench

If getting things done were easy, there wouldn't be so many productivity tools available out there. Writing a letter or putting together a budget, while they can take some time and effort, are generally pretty straightforward. You can use a word processing application or spreadsheet, or even just a yellow legal pad. Dial the complexity up, however, and all of a sudden the paper-and-pencil approach probably isn't your best bet.

Planning, scheduling, and project management fall into this category. Even a moderately complex project involves all kinds of resources, schedules, deadlines, and more. Trying to sketch this out on the back of an envelope is just looking for trouble. Microsoft Project is one tool you can use to try to manage this type of thing. Unfortunately it can also be a way to severely deplete your bank account.

Open Workbench is a free open source project management tool. It includes all the capabilities you need to successfully plan your next big project, including scheduling, allocation of resources, tracking progress, and more. You can even schedule across projects, so your planning can stretch across the enterprise.

Open Workbench is a Windows application.

Download Open Workbench

Send notes privately with Privnote

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

screenshot of Privnote

Email is forever. Once you write an email and send it, you can safely assume that it will exist in some form forever. Even if you delete it from the sending machine, and the recipient deletes it on the receiving end, there are enough servers that have passed it along that you're going to find it living out there somewhere. And we all know how easy it is forward an email—just check out all the spam messages that have been forwarded to you lately.

Privnote is a free service that makes it a little easier to control who reads your messages. Rather than sending an email directly to your intended recipient, you enter your message into a form on the Privnote site, and they in turn give you back a URL to send to your recipient. The fun thing here is that this link allows them to access your message one time only—once they've seen it, it goes away. It's almost like a Mission: Impossible message that self-destructs in five seconds. And since it's not an email, it's impossible to be forwarded.

Now of course, for the message to be seen—even once—it has had to sit on Privnote's server, so you'll want to be careful what you say, because they don't claim that your words aren't going to end up in one of their log files somewhere down in the guts of their network, but you are certainly limiting your words' exposure by not including them in the regular email stream out there.

Privnote is a free online service.

Download Privnote

iCopy makes your scanner and printer into a photocopier

Monday, July 28th, 2008

screenshot of iCopy

Back in the day, a photocopier was a big investment. You had to be a big deal company, and in some cases, they were so expensive that you couldn't even buy them—you had to lease them instead.

Fast forward to today. You can now buy all-in-one machines that scan, print, fax, and just about anything else. What if you're stuck somewhere in the middle? You've got a scanner and you've got a printer, but you aren't interested in chucking them both for a new piece of hardware. Sure, you can scan documents into a paint program, and then turn around and print them out, but wouldn't it be more convenient to just push a button to copy a document?

iCopy can give you a hand with this. It's a small little application—so small you can carry it around on a USB drive—that lets you do exactly that. With your scanner and printer fired up, just push the button in iCopy and before you know it, you'll be printing a copy of whatever you put on the scanner. You can adjust brightness, contrast, and even choose the number of copies you want.

iCopy is a Windows application.

Download iCopy

Help sell your home with Postlets

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

screenshot of Postlets

You don't have to listen to the news too long to know that the real estate market is going through some rough times. Whatever the cause, the result is that it's tougher to sell your home than it has been in a really long time. With the number of days on the market going up, and the number of completed sales going down, everybody's looking for an advantage in the market.

If this sounds like your story, Postlets might be the hand you've been looking for. Rather than just relying on a tired Multiple Listings Service (MLS) listing that doesn't set you apart from everybody else, Postlets let you customize your information, and make it easy to get the word out about why people should look at your place.

All you need to do is to enter your property's information into their easy-to-complete forms, and you get an ad suitable for posting on your blog, website, or classified ad sites. They'll even automatically submit your write-up to Craigslist, GoogleBase, Zillow, and more. Now you can take an active part in selling your home.

Postlets is a free online service, and should be compatible with all systems running a recent version of any web browser.

Download Postlets

Make music easily with Electronic Piano

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

screenshot of Electronic Piano 2.5

It's said Mozart began playing the piano at age 3, and composing by the time he was 5. While there may be others who could approach this level of proficiency, there are probably many more who wish they could, but had to settle for playing the radio instead of a real musical instrument.

With the advent of computerized music, the bar is lowered considerably. No longer do you have to toil away month after month, year after year, to just make an acceptable sound come out of an instrument. If this is closer to your level of musicality, then Electronic Piano may be the answer for you.

With Electronic Piano, it's easy to play piano—or any other instrument—on the keyboard of your computer. There's also 47 different drum sounds you can add to your composition, and you can combine sounds from up to seven different instruments. One-key chords means you won't have to practice your scales to know which notes go together.

You may not go on to musical fame and fortune, but with Electronic Piano, it's a whole lot cheaper than buying a piano, and a lot faster than spending your entire childhood practicing.

Electronic Piano is a Windows application.

Download Electronic Piano 2.5

Remember everything with Evernote

Friday, July 25th, 2008

screenshot of Evernote

Does it ever feel like your brain is going to explode? You can reach a point where you couldn't possibly cram another idea or piece of information in there. Or maybe even worse: you've got it all in there, but now you can't retrieve that important fact that you need right now.

Evernote is a tool that will help to keep your head from blowing up. Whether it's typed notes, images you've grabbed, web pages you've seen, you can save it all, and in a way that allows you to get it back when you need it. Their technology helps to organize it all, so you can retrieve your data. And maybe best of all, it's available to you across all your devices, so you're not stuck with not being able to get to your Windows bright ideas while you're on your Mac.

Evernote is available for Mac (OS X – Leopard), Windows (XP/Vista), Windows Mobile, and as a Web Clipper.

Download Evernote

Get totally organized with Total Organizer

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

screenshot of Total Organizer

Our lives are just too complicated. People, places, things; stuff to do, events to attend. We each need a secretary, but then the secretaries need one too. Eventually we run out of people, and nothing gets done.

Total Organizer may help here. It's a combined calendar, organizer, to-do list, and more. Enter your important dates, events, and contact information, and maybe you'll stand a chance. Your information is organized into category trees, so you can build hierarchies, nesting items in subcategories as appropriate. A given item can also be hooked into several categories, so getting the kids to soccer can show up under "kids", "things I have to do today", and "work schedule" categories. That makes it easier to not miss things. With built-in search capabilities, you'll always be able to find what you're looking for as well.

Total Organizer is a Windows application. You need to be running Windows NT/XP to use it.

Download Total Organizer

Learn regular expressions with The Regulator

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

screenshot of The Regulator

Regular expressions are a way to identify specified strings of text. While simple in concept, they can be complicated in execution, and learning how to use them correctly is not a trivial undertaking.

If you've ever done a file search, running a directory listing looking for "*.exe", then you have an idea of what we're looking at here. In this case, we're looking for "zero or more characters followed by a period followed by the letters E-X-E". Regular expressions do this one better, since you can specify strings and substrings to match for in your search, including letters, digits, non-alphanumeric characters, whitespace, and more in almost limitless combination.

Learning to think in regexp is a challenge. The Regular is a free regular expression testing and learning tool. You can enter text, or point to a file or web page, enter your regular expression, and see your results. To help you see what you're really asking, it displays results as a hierarchical tree, making it easy to visualize the logic behind your query, so that you can understand how your expression got you the result you were looking for—or see why you may still need to tweak it a bit.

The Regulator is a Windows application. You need to be running Win2k or better, with ver. 2.0 of the .NET Framework installed.

Download The Regulator

View multiple web pages in one window

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

screenshot of SplitBrowser

How many web pages do you suppose you visit in a day? Dozens? Hundreds? Plenty, to be sure.

Ever need to compare some of those pages, or at least look at two or more of them at the same time? Dragging multiple windows around the screen, resizing them, adjusting them again—doesn't sound like a lot of fun, or the best way to spend your time.

SplitBrowser may be the answer here. By default, it opens a window with four panes. Now when you open a new document, you don't have to worry about how—or whether—it will fit on the screen. If you need a closer look, you can drag the handles to make a given pane wider or taller.

SplitBrowser is a Mac application. It requires OS X 10.4 or better, and a current version of the Safari web browser.

Download SplitBrowser