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Wednesday January 19 2005

I was just thinking

about all this business of increasingly digitizing everything in one's life, because we increasingly store our memories on computers of one sort or another. And I remember reading an article by some out-there type in the USA (where else) a while back who was discussing the astonishing concept of one day being able to simply transfer the whole brain - workings, memories, personality, ability to learn and feel, the whole nine yards - onto hardware processing and storage. I'm not going to get into any sort of in-depth discussion of this rather far-fetched but intriguing concept, since it touches on just about every convoluted consideration (hey - nice alliteration) in religion and philosophy, but what about this? If you believe, as I do, that there is an immortal component to the human experience - something non-corporeal which we could call a soul for want of a better term - then what happens if the Jim of the far future, having expired from an over-abundance his refreshment, is consciousness-transferred to some mad-scientist collection of rack-mounted boxes and bubbling green jars, only to find himself in parallel with himself? His mind continues to develop in the machine, while his soul watches with interest. Could his soul co-exist with itself on two planes? Or be split between them?

Or, actually, should I just go out and get my breakfast? There's a good lad.

Posted at 8:49 am by Jim Woods

I've been at the free software again.

Well, there's no real reason not to be, is there?

Actually, there are two.

First, everything that goes on and off the system causes some degree or other of the old "munging things up" syndrome. Windows he creak, Windows he bloat, Windows he finally require reinstallation. In response to this I'd simply say that XP Professional seems rather less prone to this sort of degradation than previous versions were. Also, I've had the current installation up and running for about four months now, which is a record for me, and I therefore don't mind hazarding things with a binge of trying stuff out at this point; let's face it, it's the only way to tell if anything's any good isn't it? Play with it, then keep or delete.

Secondly, an email address is often required to register or even just use free stuff. In the past I would have loudly trumpeted the inadvisability of handing this out to all and sundry. If you're mercifully spam-free then there is still an argument for laying low. The state of my own spam situation these days is such that I have no particular reason not to hand out my email address, after a certain amount of cost benefit analysis. What are they going to do? Spam me (hollow laugh)? Of course, there is the time-honoured tactic of using various free web mail services sacrificially. Frankly, I just got pissed off with having a clutch of free mail accounts all over the place. I felt that I had to check them regularly, and I could never remember what I'd used for what. Nowadays I find that the advantages of using Thunderbird to handle all my mail (reasonably effective spam filters, saved search folders giving a quasi-databased view of my mail, local copies of everything) far outweigh the disadvantages of a bit of junk needing my attention. So it's register away when necessary.

Given the resolution, after a fashion, of the two issues I've outlined above wahey - I say it's checking out software time again!

Today's toys are Picasa and Hello, both provided free by dear old Google. I have no doubt that there is some sort of payoff for my heavy reliance on the tools of the Google empire, but I've only ever been able to find one real catch - other than having to give Hello my email address. This is that the desktop search tool they promote may or may not send them details of the contents of your hard drive. I surmount this concern by not using it. I see no reason not to use their regular search all the time, or Picasa or Hello though. Shoot me if I'm wrong.

So what does Picasa do? Well, there's a review here if you want chapter and verse. And Picasa's web site obviously synopsizes it too. So I'll confine my explanation to saying that it's a great way of organizing and viewing your digital photographs. Should you have a digital camera, or even just be an avid collector of images from the web, this is the best tool I've come across for keeping track of them all. You can also do a certain amount of fixing them up in it, but it's always as well to remember that one's own monitor and settings are probably more to do with why a picture may seems off-kilter than anything else. Beware editing brightness, contrast, saturation or whatever in your photo collection on a permanent basis and then finding that on a new display they are equally but differently unsatisfactory. Still, nice to have this functionality under the same roof as your viewing and cataloguing. I personally use IrfanView for image editing, and recommend it highly. Picasa also keeps tracks of specified folders on your system, meaning that new pictures you add are automatically put into the catalogue. The time-lining aspect of Picasa's catalogue is a great aid to finding stuff as well. With people having an increasing amount of digital media, and hard drives getting ever bigger, the means to locate and administer all this data is becoming the hot software of our times. So big up the Picasa, really. Try it.

Now linked to Picasa, but not integral to it, comes Hello. This has two main functions. First, it allows easy sharing of pictures across the net; great, but hardly revolutionary. There are any numbers of ways of doing that of course, but hey - it's free and quite elegant. Second, you can use it's messenger function to discuss said pictures as you share them. Also not revolutionary stuff, but I can see that many people might find this useful - say within geographically-dispersed families of the not-terribly-technically-minded. This is a big market. So if you can see photo sharing as something you'd we well into, give it a go.

What I really like, though, is the BloggerBot facility. I have eulogized Blog This! in the past here, and the BloggerBot is a pictorial version of it. Where Blog This! provides a really quick and easy way to send a link to any Blogger-based blog (like my own Inchoate Satellite for example), appending an entry to it as you wish, BloggerBot does exactly the same thing with a picture or pictures. Marvellous. This really is the way to generate content quickly and painlessly. To me, this is the killer app of Hello. Also well worth a try.

Don't expect that I'll necessarily be filling Inchoate Satellite with pictures though. Like most people, I never seem to have my camera with me when anything really interesting occurs. But that's a different problem. When there's a bit of software that gets you to the right place at the right time with the right stuff I'll let you know.


Posted at 7:46 am by Jim Woods

Tuesday January 18 2005

Can't help

being intrigued by Grouper. Having a "private secure network" between invitee's computers seems such a good idea, given that it avoids tricky legal issues of file-sharing and the host of spyware and other bollocks which P2P applications involve. Given that I have yet to get around to actually setting anyone else I know up with the client, I cannot speak about the thing with any real authority; I do like the idea of being able to create what amounts to a private radio station for a select few though. Collaborative software is an interesting concept, and being involved in music means that for me there's a lot of mileage in the idea of being able to say "listen to this" in a way that doesn't involve actually donating it to the public.

Hmm. I'm not being very clear, am I? And frankly I don't have time to go into all this a lot right now. But I do think Grouper is worth a look and a play.

Oh yes, and Hotmail's shared calendar facility is proving quite handy for charting band member availability for work. Just one use...

Posted at 12:12 pm by Jim Woods

In my unceasing quest

for more and better free software, I have plugged one of the few remaining gaps. I've found a good archive-handler with a decent GUI. 7-Zip is great. Does everything you might want from this type of program.

Posted at 12:03 am by Jim Woods

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