Web App: FTP Client

Joost — TV for your PC

I finally managed to score a beta test invite. Joost is a new project from the people who brought you Skype. They aim to create an on demand TV system on the Internet. The really interesting thing though is that they are only allowing invitees to beta test, and like Gmail, the best way to get an invite is to know someone who is already on it. Members get so many invites to share (and no, I don’t have any yet before you ask).

My first impression is very good. The video skipped a bit at first, but only at the very beginning so I assume it figures out your line’s capability over a short period. The user interface is very slick and there are “widgets” that allow you to do things like chat with people about the show you are watching.

The content, so far, is better than you’d expect, but not stellar. National Geographic channel has lots of interesting stuff. Saturday Morning TV has Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mr. Magoo, and other favorites. A lot of the programming seems slanted at folks younger than me (MTV-fare) but that isn’t surprising since these people are more likely to watch TV on their PCs, I suppose. But this is a beta, so I expect more and more programming to come online. Even for someone my age there is plenty to watch! Of course, everything is on demand and you can control the video stream.

Like real TV, there are ads. I read that they are improving the technology they use to decide where to insert the ads, which is good. Sometimes the interruption for ads seems abrupt.

But don’t get me wrong, the service is very cool and has a lot of potential. Now how to get a beta invite… well…. use your network of buddies, I suppose. If that fails, try http://www.joostswap.com [dead link] where you can offer things of value for invites (people offer things like postcards from their location, a few dollars, CD cases, or even just gratitude). Once in awhile someone shows up with free invites but as you’d expect those go quick.

Easy Circuit Simulation

Of course, Spice is the usual suspect when you want to simulate a circuit. But it isn’t quick and easy to set up, and can be hard to use for beginners. Recently, I did a basic electronics class for some students and we used this gem:

http://falstad.com/circuit/

This Java applet has lots of illustrative circuits and you can also select a blank circuit and draw your own. In addition to mixed analog and digital simulation, it also shows current magnitude using a unique moving dot display and has a built-in scope function. Great for quick mock ups or teaching situations.

Of course, if you need real Spice, Linear Technology has the excellent free LTSpice (sometimes known as SwitcherCAD; see http://www.linear.com/company/software.jsp). Its for Windows, but it works with Wine under Linux.

There is also an active Yahoo Group for LTSpice at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LTspice/.

Seven Web 2.0 Flash Sites

You think of Web 2.0 sites as using dynamic HTML and AJAX. But I’ve noticed a growing number are using Flash for… well… um… flashy Web sites. Here’s a few:

  • – Free “WebEx-like” meetings
  • – A “desktop” that has IM, games, mail, etc. (say “GUI”)
  • – If Visio were a Web app, this would be it
  • – Sort of a Flash-based online version of PowerPoint
  • – Search engine with a graphic presentation of results
  • – Perhaps the ultimate use for Flash: to generate Flash!
  • – Another search engine, this one creates maps of music and movies

Digital Logic Simulator

Here’s a cool that lets you do pretty sophisticated digital simulation. There’s a variety of components available and even a “logic analyzer” that you can use to view the results. You can even hook up switches and LEDs that you can manipulate on the screen.

There are several other similar applets available but this one seems to be the most full featured that I’ve found.

If you prefer to run on on your own computer, have a look at which is free for student use, at least, and somewhat shareware (the author solicts a range of contributions) for everyone else. The program is clearly “older”, but it functions fine.

Online Backup

At work we have a neat program that runs in the background and backs up your hard drive to a remote server. Now you can get the same sort of service at home. A company called Mozy will backup 2GB of data over the Internet for free. A little program runs in the task bar and can backup when you aren’t using the computer or on schedule.

Of course, 2GB isn’t enough for a hard drive, but it is enough for your important documents and spreadsheets. If your computer crashes or your house burns down, you’d be glad to have them safe. The data is encrypted so it is private. If you want more storage, they are glad to provide it for a “small fee.”

Works great! Try it out.

Google Joins the Online Office Suite Game!

I’ve been a long time user of Thinkfree (http://online.thinkfree.com) and I’ve mentioned that before in this blog. However, recently Google acquired Writely and they are now offering documents and spreadsheets online. Honestly, I like ThinkFree better. Besides, ThinkFree has a PowerPoint replacement. However, Google has certain charms too. First, its Google. You figure they won’t vanish and your files are probably pretty safe. Second, the Google tools are lighter weight which means they are more likely to run behind firewalls, etc. The Google tools also offer revisions and export to HTML, something sorely missing in ThinkFree. In fact, you can also export Google’s documents to Open Office format directly!

Like ThinkFree you can collaborate and publish your documents. In fact, this blog entry was written with the Google word processor. Check out http://docs.google.com to try it yourself.

Cool Service: Record from your cell phone to the net!

Check out this free service. Call a toll-free number, leave a message, and it shows up on the Internet and/or your e-mail. Looks good for quick notes to yourself or maybe even “live” clips for podcasting. Oh, it recognizes who you are by your phone number (in case you were wondering).

Free Office Suite

I use Microsoft’s Office suite, of course. I suppose just about anyone with a job uses it some times. However, at home I’ve more or less switched. Sure, you are thinking, another Open Office convert.

Well I do use Open Office sometimes, but I find that lately I’m not using it as much as I used to. Instead I’m using the online (and free) version of ThinkFree (http://online.thinkfree.com).

This suite is amazing. It runs in your browser and includes Office-compatible word processing, spreadsheet, and presentations. You get 1GB of online storage for your stuff OR you can load and store files locally. You can print, export to PDF, and even publish your documents to the Web in a selected number of ways.

Thinkfree recently underwent a facelift with some great new features, although it is now a little more confusing to get started. The key is to use “Power Edit” and not “Quick Edit” if you want to see the full features.

This works so well, you sometimes forget you aren’t using Office. And since it runs in your browser you can use it almost anywhere. I put documents in my online folder and work on them at home or at work (or while on the road). You can share your documents or keep them private. The only problem I’ve had is that at the office, the firewall keeps the online loading from working right. No problem. I just download the file, edit it from the downloaded copy, and upload it again. Of course, once I download the copy, I can work on it in Office if I want to, but I find I’m just as happy to use ThinkFree.

Try it!