For those of you not following me on Facebook or on twitter (drbrake) I submitted my doctoral thesis back in April and today it was formally examined. I was asked to provide some minor revisions and once I have done so (within the next three months) I will officially become Dr Brake (or Dr D.R. Brake if you like as my forenames are David and Russell). For more on my thesis (which I will also make available online once I have done the revisions) visit my academic publications page.
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Some musings of Alan Watts, an English populariser of Eastern philosophy, on the temptation to concentrate on the destinations in life – must… finish… PhD! – rather than on the journey – entertainingly accompanied by animation produced by the creators of South Park. Five other such animated musings are also available online.
In my undergraduate studies one of the courses that most influenced my later thinking was an introduction to moral reasoning. I came out of it a committed utilitarian which only made life more difficult as given my favoured position in society – especially given global economic inequality. In principle I still believe I am morally obligated to give all but the bare minimum of what I own to help those in greater need elsewhere, but few of us can manage that.
So I was pleased to see one of the most well-known contemporary utilitarians, Peter Singer, writing a piece to help us figure out what it is reasonable to give: What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You?
He points out that even if only the top 10% of the US population (those on at least $92,000) gave a sizeable (10%+) proportion of their income annually (sums he implicitly contends they would not miss) that in itself would provide 8x the shortfall in the amount needed for the world to reach the UN’s millennium development goals. It certainly gives me something to shoot for once I am no longer a student.
See also this blog post of mine about Singer and Zell Kravinsky.
Back when I used to write for MacUser (14 years ago!) I had a column called “Brake’s Bunch” where I used to write about various shareware utilities, games and other files which I had found. Then I left the Mac fold for a while… but now that I am back I have slid back into the habit of gathering bits and pieces and installing them. So here is a moderately frequently updated roundup of the freeware, shareware and open source stuff I have accumulated since I got my ibook in the hope it will help some of you (this post seems to be one of the most-read ones so I hope it works!). Unless otherwise noted these are available in PC and/or Linux versions as well – if I don’t provide a link it’s because you should be able to find them by Googling for them or using MacUpdate or Version Tracker to find the relevant files. If you think there’s another game/app/utility I should take a look at or there’s a different utility available that does the same things as one I mentioned but does them better please let me know!
Items added since last major update (March) are italicised.
Alphababy – Lets your baby have fun bashing the keyboard of your Mac – it pops up shapes and makes sounds whatever they press and makes sure other applications running aren’t affected by what is typed. Whether it is a good idea to encourage your baby to bash your keyboard is up to you to decide!
Army Operations 2.5 – The best (certainly the most advanced) free game available – a first person perspective shooter. Enjoy it while you can as last I heard the guy supporting it on the Mac is no longer going to keep it up to date with the (dominant) PC version.
FreeCiv – an open source, customisable offshoot of Civ II.
triplea – A WW II strategic level game being developed as open source. The AI is basic to non-existent but if they get that and other niggling bugs sorted out it looks promising
The Ur-Quan Masters – a multi-platform port of a classic “explore the galaxy in your ship and negotiate with/kill aliens” adventure/combat game. The best Mac variant is here.
Xconq-MacOSX – An excellent open source empire building game based on the original “Empire” game. Graphically unimpressive but offers loads of options for different modes of play.
Privateer Gold – An open source copy of Wing Commander Privateer (with some added features).
Audacity – Great open source audio editing and recording software
Chicken of the VNC – Lets me view the screen of a machine running VNC server and control it remotely (handy for using both my wife’s PC and my Mac at the same time).
Conversation – Free IRC client
Cyberduck – FTP client
Comic Life – An excellent little app that lets you take pictures from your own collection, add comic-book style speech balloons etc and create your own comic book. It’s not freeware but you can try it out for a month before it starts putting a watermark on anything you do.
Fire – Multi-platform instant message client. Similar to Proteus – which one you use is probably a matter of taste…
FreeMind – A Java-based mind mapping application
galerie – A (mac only) add-on for iPhoto that makes it easy to create photo galleries using your available web space. OK to use but I am using Flickr for this these days.
Grapher – Cool free graphing calculator
Nvu – Handy WYSIWYG web page editing software
Transana – Excellent open source software to aid transcription of video and audio files – in Alpha on the Mac but still worth checking out.
Active Timer – Tracks the amount of time you spend in each application on your Mac. A pretty basic feature set but it’s easy to use and it’s free.
AudioScrobbler – Tracks what you listen to in iTunes and automatically creates a profile for you on last.fm which should help you find music you like. Its support for Classical music is rubbish (it doesn’t handle the ‘composer’ tag) but otherwise well worth a look.
Aurora – An alarm clock for your Mac that ties in with iTunes – excellent!
BluePhoneMenu – Handy utility for controlling a bluetooth phone via your Mac. Since superceded by BluePhone Elite which offers more features but is shareware. Still downloadable, though.
Compost – Lets you control the way the Trash works so you can instantly delete big unwanted files without flushing all of the files in the trash unneccessarily.
Default Folder X – gives you much better control of which folder you open when you get the open/save dialogue on your Mac (as well as adding lots of other misc features). Reminds me of a very early Mac addon, ‘Boomerang’. (I still don’t know why this isn’t a part of the OS by now).
Delocalizer 1.1 – Gets rid of foreign language support files you are not using to free up hard disk space.
ION, the Open Media Network and DTV – Trying to make it easy to find and download internet video podcasts.
Greasemonkey – an add-on to Firefox that enables lots of useful enhancements to your web browsing – like Quicksilver (below) it’s something you have to try before you see what use it can be.
Eyehide – makes it easy to create an invisible, password-protected folder to hide files you don’t want everyone to have access to (so you can retain some privacy without password protecting your whole computer against everyone).
Mailtags – Must-have utility for organizing Apple Mail messages (see this post)
Memory Usage Getter – (also measures CPU usage) Figure out which of your applications is a memory or CPU hog and figure out if you need more RAM.
Quıcĸsilver – Swiss army knife keyboard shortcut application many rave about but I haven’t really delved into yet.
R-Name – Easy way to change several file names at the same time on your Mac.
Romeo – Excellent free Mac application to let you control your Mac (eg your iTunes or your Powerpoint presentation) using your Bluetooth phone
Screen Spanning Doctor – Use more than one screen or use a large screen at > 1024×768 with your iBook by installing this.
SimpleWget – Provides a basic non-control-line interface to Wget which automates copying web sites onto your hard disk for later browsing.
SMARTReporter – May be able to warn you in advance when your disk is in danger of failing.
Synk – easy-to-use file synchronisation and full disk backup app for the Mac – free to academic users, cheap for others.
Textpander – (Mac only but PC options are also available) – automatically substitutes text for other text in every application you type in – useful for common mis-spellings and can also insert the date when you type “ddate” etc.
Time Out – Warns you to take a break away from the keyboard (Mac only)
Tidy Up! – Find duplicate files
TinkerTool – gives you access to additional preference settings Apple has built into Mac OS X
VLC video player – Excellent player for many kinds of video content – more versatile than Quicktime for this and includes a full-screen mode (which Quicktime ‘basic’ does not).
WhatSize Disk Inventory X – Lets you see at a glance where the big files and folders are on your hard disk so you can free up space.
WireTap Pro – Shareware Mac utility that lets you record streamed audio into files for later listening.
Yasu 1.3.1 – Performs various low-level Mac (UNIX) “maintenance” operations. Use with caution. I have to say I only used it once so far because I am not clear what it does or why I would need it…
How could I forget the widgets I have found (through Apple’s directory) and installed? In truth I don’t use them all that much but they are occasionally useful…
Countdown Plus – Tells you how long you have before something happens or is due.
iStat Nano – Shows memory, network and CPU use etc
CharacterPal – reminds you of the keypresses needed to produce special characters, accents etc. Also see Symbols which is not as intuitive but more powerful, including info on how to generate them in HTML as well as in Mac documents etc.
Decor – lets you stick a picture up on your dashboard
Air Traffic Control – Lets you see all of the wireless networks in your area and whether they are secure or not.
quikconvert – converts between lots of different units including currencies – just type in the number and the unit type and it will figure out what you are trying to convert to.
UK users in particular may want to check out these:
BBC Weather – lets you see the weather forecast in your area in the UK or around the world for the next 5 days. Much better (and prettier) than the US one included as standard.
Postage Calculator (Royal Mail)
Trains – see the train timetable of your choice
(Well, my computer is). A little while ago I heard about Malariacontrol.net, part of the Africa@home project. You download an application (the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing – Boinc – available on PC, Mac and Linux) and instead of donating spare processing power to the quixotic search for extraterrestrial life you can use your computer (when it is turned on but not doing anything else) to help scientists better understand how malaria spreads. Or at least you could until recently – at the moment they have all the computers they need for that project. But keep revisiting Africa@Home as they plan to publicise more projects soon. Meanwhile there are several other projects that use Boinc.
I thought I should remind you that I store almost all the new useful web bookmarks I come across using Netvouz which lets me (or you) display and search them several different ways. In my sidebar at the right (further down the page) you will see my five most recently added links but by visiting Netvouz you can see more in date order or grouped by category, complete with descriptions and (often) star ratings. And yes if you are weblog-savvy there is an RSS feed for my whole collection or for any of my tags or categories that interests you – cool web services for example. Quality links, updated every day. Enjoy!
P.S. I do most of my academic weblogging (which is most of my blogging these days) over at the Media@LSE group weblog which I set up.
According to this press release from now until the end of the year anyone in (or merely passing through) Canada or the US will be able to use Skype on their computers – or their PDAs for that matter – to call any US or Canadian number.
I have my reservations about Skype – I would be much happier if I could find a VOIP solution that worked well, was open and cross platform but so far I have not found anything that fulfils all three criteria – Skype while not open at least fulfils the other two. I would certainly like it if my friends and family over in North America would all sign up (hint, hint) and let me know they had done so. As an additional incentive, if you have Windows you can even use the latest beta to look in on Adrien while we talk using our webcam…
I just heard about the Blogathon. On August 6th, bloggers will participate in a 24 hour marathon of posting for charity – one post every half hour. I think this is a nifty idea and there are some good charities on their suggested list (though in fact you can blog for any charity you like). I encourage anyone reading to participate themselves, though it turns out I can’t do it myself.
If you are thinking of doing this yourself and trying to find a charity to support, I did some investigation and chose wateraid as my potential beneficiary (when I thought I might participate in the blogathon) because potable drinking water is a basic necessity without which it’s hard to do any further development and the organization appears to be doing good environmentally sensitive and sustainable work in this area.
If like me you have a CD collection and a computer with a very large hard disk, do what I am doing and ‘rip’ large parts of your collection to your hard disk then give the CDs away to charity – Oxfam in my case. I have a laptop so I can plug my computer directly into my stereo (and I can’t tell the difference in sound quality between MP3s and my CDs). If you don’t have a laptop though you can get an inexpensive MP3 player (I see they cost as little as £15/$25 these days) and just plug that into your stereo when you want music.
That way you have convenient access to music, you rediscover discs you have probably forgotten about, you have cleared clutter out of your life, and you get to help people lift themselves out of poverty (or whatever charity you prefer). A real win win act!
P.S. If you are worried about how much storage space this would take on your hard disk, I currently have 2730 songs – 7.6 straight days worth of music – in 10Gb of disk space (and you may not need to store every track on every disc – there are probably plenty of tracks you find you don’t want on each one). An external 80Gb drive costs from around £50/$90 these days and would be very useful for backing up as well as music storage (you are backing up regularly, right?)
I just got an email telling me that my publisher is getting rid of its surplus stock of my book Dealing with Email so I’m guessing it won’t be long before it gets remaindered completely. It’s a small book in the Dorling Kindersley Essential Managers series aimed at non-technical managers giving tips on how to manage their own emails and how to handle email in the office effectively (see my companion site at the link above for a more complete introduction).
However the good news is Dorling Kindersley are offering me copies (as many as I want?) cheap so if you would like a copy for yourself or for a friend let me know and I can send it to you for a measly £3/$5 (signed!) plus postage. It may take a while for me to ship them though as I need to figure out how many I should buy from the publisher then they need to send them to me and I need to send yours to you. If you would like something in particular written on your book (or nothing!) just let me know and I would love to know something about you and how and why you found my site…