Four Free Ways to Experiment With Web Look and Feel

If you’re involved with a blog or an online site and care about its design and interface, there are a number of free tools you can turn to for experimenting with various versions, until you arrive at a design you like. In this post, I’ll cover four of them.

This item from today on Webware alerted me to a very cool WYSIWYG WordPress Theme Generator. If you’re responsible for the design of a WordPress-driven site, take this application for a spin. Down the left rail you get input fields, and on the right you get to see what your finished theme will look like.

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7 Ways to Add Oomph to an Aging Windows System

A lot of readers here use Macs, but many use PCs, and if you’ve got an older system it can be very inexpensive and easy to tune it up for much better performance, instead of buying a whole new computer. In this post, I’ll go over some good ways to do this well for very little money, including using freeware.

Upgrade Your RAM. Memory has an enormous impact on how today’s operating systems and applications perform. If you’re running any recent version of Windows, try to get to at least 2GB of RAM. Going with 1GB results in serious performance hits, and the old benchmark of 512MB is completely archaic and unworkable.

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Don’t let this happen to you with a 3G WWAN choice

DohOK, I blew it. It doesn’t make me feel better by admitting the mistake, but at least now I can move towards the solution. See, I violated one of the cardinal rules in mobile technology and now I’m going to pay the price. $175 to be exact, because that’s the ETF or Early Termination Fee on my AT&T DataConnect plan. It wasn’t that long ago that I purchased the AirCard 875U HSDPA modem for my devices. Going USB was an excellent choice as I’ve used the modem on five mobile devices and three distinct operating systems: Windows Vista, Mac OS X and Xandros Linux. So what was the rule I broke? I didn’t fully analyze the three biggest factors when making my latest 3G decision: location, location, location.
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New NetFront Browser for Windows Mobile in Technical Preview

Nf34_tp_pilotHere we thought the long-ago mentioned NetFront Browser by Access was a dead soldier; not by a long shot! Evidence exhibit A: the NetFront Browser v3.4 for Windows Mobile is readily available in a free technical preview for Windows Mobile 5 and 6 devices. Keep in mind what “technical preview” means: the final product could change from what you see now and it might not run 100%. The idea is to get the version out there for developers and OEMs to see what’s new and exciting and you’ll have until the end of February to get a feel for the new features. Near the top of that list is the new PagePilot feature for viewing a whole page and then zooming in as needed. While that looks interesting, I’m more excited about the visual bookmarks shown here as they look to be finger friendly for touchscreens.Nf34_tp_rotateIf the new browser version doesn’t convince you that NetFront is still alive and kicking, Exhibit B in the form of this press release from last week might help. I didn’t realize that the Amazon Kindle browser is based on NetFront, but it appears so since Amazon licensed the browser for their device.(via Brighthand)

Break It Down: $120M for Streamed TV

U.S. television networks will generate $120 million from online advertising shown on streamed episodes in 2007, according to a major media buyer executive. Tracey Scheppach, senior vice-president and video innovation director for Starcom, told the Financial Times that number was based on extrapolating her company’s purchases across the web sites of the four major TV networks.

That’s a nice, meaty number to throw into your PowerPoint decks, but let’s get some context. By contrast, network television is supposed to account for $23.4 billion in U.S. advertising spending this year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Some 16 percent of American households stream TV broadcasts online, according to TNS and the Conference Board. Forrester recently estimated that total U.S. online video advertising spending would amount to $471 million in 2007 (The FT quotes a much bigger estimate, but strangely ignores the fact that the number doesn’t break out audio revenues).

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Republican YouTube Debate a Snoozer

How was the first Republican CNN-YouTube debate? So exciting I fell asleep! I missed the last six questions, and had to catch them in YouTube’s helpful playlist from the night. There’s also live-blogging coverage from The New York Times, ABC News, and Mahalo.
There were no melting snowman questions to trivialize Mitt Romney’s participation, but there was some goofiness, like this homemade candidate roundup ditty. As for content, CNN’s efforts to make sure the questions weren’t too left-leaning — a.k.a. “weed[ing] out the obvious sort of Democratic gotcha grenades” — meant that things like health care and climate change weren’t even mentioned.

The Republicans were a bit stiff about the whole engaging-with-regular-YouTube-people thing, and when given the opportunity to contribute “YouTube-style” campaign commercials, they chose to contribute what were basically standard TV ads. Fred Thompson even played an attack ad that was harsh enough on his fellow debaters for host Anderson Cooper to delay a commercial break in order to give them a chance to respond.
Other thoughts from what I jotted down in my notebook:

  • Chuck Norris is in the audience! So why did Mike Huckabee elect to show a standard ad instead of his HuckChuckFacts video, which has some 860,000 views on YouTube?
  • Man, they didn’t fix the crappy video display in a too-small box projected against the wall. Candidates are having trouble hearing the videos and the questioners’ lips have not once lined up with their words. Huckabee tried responding to a questioner by talking to the wall on which she had been projected, and it was really awkward.
  • I think they censored Duncan Hunter saying “damn good.” Wow, that’s harsh.
  • It’s a very vocal studio audience — lots of boos and whoops.

Some 5,000 video questions were submitted, more than double the number that came in for the inaugural YouTube debate that the Democratic candidates participated in way back in July. But yeah, I still fell asleep.

Samson C01U USB Studio Condenser Microphone

Samson C01U USB Studio Condenser microphone I had the first chance to use my new Samson C01U USB Studio Condenser microphone in anger for the first time the other day when recording piano and voice for a short film proposal.
Appearances matter, and the rigid shrink wrap style of blister packaging the Samson C01U had arrived in didn’t do it justice. It’s usually only cheap audio/video leads masquerading as expensive ones and factory made cheeses that find themselves in clear, bubble packages, not studio quality condenser microphones.
Once unwrapped however, the weight (nearly half a kilo), size and obvious quality of design and manufacture combined to negate this first appearance. It is a lovely looking, feel-good bit of kit.
There is a mic stand mount included, which is fairly sturdy looking and well designed but worryingly I’m pretty sure it’s made of plastic. This means taking it off the stand for safety before slinging the stand in the back of your car.
The only other useful item included in the bubble was a middling long usb cable which I have just measured at 2.9mts.
This is a little bit on the stingy side when supplying just 5mts would have given the maximum reach for a single high speed usb cable and I immediately found myself having to move my MacBook closer to the mic stand. The usb cable length can be seen in a slightly more reasonable light bearing in mind the very prominent sticker on the front of the C01U which reads ‘Ideal for PODCASTING’ (their capitals) and of course the name of the mic – Studio. I was on location and recording a piano.
Samson C01U USB Studio Condenser microphone It is entirely possible to use the C01U as it is with your Mac straight out of the box, I checked and it does work. But this would mean missing out on the added versatility of Samson’s SoftPre applet software which needs downloading for free from their site. SoftPre adds the possibility of an Input Level Meter, Volume control, High-pass filter and Phase Switch to the functionality of the C01U.
I struggled with getting this to work for a little while as it means reading the notes…but the order of service goes like this: connect usb cable to mic, plug in to any free usb port on your Mac, fire up Garageband (with Logic you need to alter settings in the system Audio/Midi but full instructions are available from Samson’s site), go to Preferences, Audio/Midi, Audio Input & choose the Samson. When prompted to change drivers click yes. The SoftPre gui can be made to float on top of everything else which helps when switching back and forth between it and Garageband.
I loved the quality of the recordings achieved with the C01U straight away. I’m no professional at this but their clarity and quality was instantly noticeable. The speed and ease of set-up was fantastic. It worked exactly as it should have and none of the other musicians present so much as commented on the presence of a usb cable or lack of an audio interface box. Recording with the Samson C01U was one of those computer experiences which stand-out by being almost completely transparent.
This is a very capable, easy to use, all round microphone which gives great results simply and easily and sits really comfortably next to your Mac in almost any situation. If you are into podcasting or need to record a piano, the Samson C01U will work for you.