Cool stuff

I saw an article today on the 100 best (computer-related) products of 2005, so I thought I’d come up with my own list of products that I can’t live without. Well, OK, maybe “can’t live without” is a little strong, but here are some products that I really like.

  • Mozilla Firefox. It blocks most pop-up windows, allows multiple pages in tabs, has a google search feature built-in, and allows smart keywords (i.e. I can enter “wiki ” in the address bar, and it will load wikipedia and search for the “anything” that I entered. And it doesn’t allow useless and dangerous ActiveX controls. And it supports web standards like CSS way better than IE. In short, it just rocks.
  • A few extensions for Firefox: Adblock, Web Developer, and Add Bookmark Here are all very useful.
  • The MP3 player in my car. When the CD player in my Grand Prix got flaky, I replaced it with one that also plays MP3s. I quickly created a few disks with lots of albums on them, and now I’m hooked. I can put in a disk in, hit shuffle, and not hear the same song twice for days or weeks. I have a single CD with the entire Tragically Hip collection, plus one or two other albums, since there’s room.
  • IrfanView. It’s an image file utility that can do things like display slideshows and stuff, but the only thing I use it for is batch image conversion. For example, I had a directory containing 25 .jpg files that I wanted to scale down — they were all something like 3300×4800 pixels, and 800 dpi. For the web, I only wanted maybe 150dpi and 800×1200 or thereabouts. With IrfanView, I selected the images, told it what I wanted it to do, and it did it to each one in turn. Very cool.
  • My universal remote control. I use it to control the following components in our family room: TV, DVD player, VCR, receiver, CD player, and even the ceiling fan.
  • Wireless networking. We bought a wireless router about 4 years ago (cost something like $350 for the router and $150 for a wireless card – way cheaper now), and I don’t know how we survived without it. I guess before Gail and I had laptops, we just used our PC, which was always in the same place, so there was no problem. Now, I bring my laptop home from work and turn it on, and it immediately connects to the internet, and I can do this in any room in the house.
  • My cell phone. I don’t get a lot of calls; about 90% are from Gail, asking me to pick up dinner on the way home from work, or stop off at the grocery store, or whatever, but I always make sure I have my phone with me whenever I go anywhere.

One more item that’s on the very cool list, though I’ve never really used it, is Mac OS X. I’ve never been a Mac guy at all, but I did work at a company that did NeXTStep development. NeXTStep was the best development environment I’ve ever worked in. Once NeXT was bought by Apple, they kind of based OS X on NeXTStep, and made it even cooler. I’ve only seen it a couple of times at work when John (a faithful reader of this blog, and quite possibly the only reader of this blog) shows me the cool stuff his Mac can do. It’s basically your standard Unix system, but the GUI is far cooler than any other Unix GUI I’ve seen. It does cool things like being able to temporarily tile all of the windows, allowing you to pick one, and them moving all the windows back to where they were. The Windows UI team could learn a thing or two from OS X.


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