Electric Sheep gives your PC a wooly zap!

Sheep frolic in the electric fields

Screensavers today are in a sad state—either you’re stuck with the mindbogglingly dull defaults that came with your operating system, or you walk through a minefield of spyware and gaudiness.  There hasn’t been an After Dark release in over a decade.  Our thirst for satisfying imagery for our idle computers will leave us dehydrated.

Or will it?  Enter Electric Sheep, the open-source lovechild of Scott Draves and thousands of computers worldwide.  On the most basic level, it’s a distributed computing project like [email protected], but instead of curing diseases, Electric sheep renders animated fractal light shows.  With an Internet connection, you can swap these animations (called “sheep”) so that the show never gets old.

Video of some sheep (transitions are more fluid in screensaver, this is just a demo):



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For PCs that are Internet-impaired, you can download premade sheep from elsewhere and simply throw them into the right folder.  The amount of premade sheep available is staggering—ArmoredCavalry casually told me that he had downloaded eight gigabytes of the critters.  Just be sure to set your cache to the amount you download. If your cache is smaller, it will automatically delete the excess. For music lovers, electric sheep can be used as a Windows Media Player visualization with a free plugin.

One cool little feature is that the sheep can “evolve.”  By pressing up or down on your keyboard when a sheep is running, you say that you like it or dislike it, respectively.  The most popular sheep will “mate” and develop new sheep that have characteristics of both their parents.  If you aren’t scarred by the suggestion that love is a popularity contest, you can be treated to some pretty cool images.

Hulu.com

If you’re looking for a site for streaming your favorite tv shows, and movies, look no further. Hulu.com is the has all this, and more. Hulu was created in March 2007 by NBC Universal and News Corp, and has been improving and building ever since. Content is always expanding, and currently Hulu hosts shows and movies from FOX, NBC Universal, MGM, Sony Pictures Television, Warner Brothers, and others.

As for quality of the content, video can be streamed in either 360p, or a higher quality 480p. I watch shows and movies on a 1440×900 widescreen monitor, and the 480p stream looks great. You may be wondering what the catch is by this point. Well, as you may know, streaming video takes huge amounts of bandwidth, which in turn costs huge amounts of money. To pay for this, Hulu has advertisements during the shows. An average TV show has about six, 20 second long advertisements. However, in my mind, this is well worth the ability to stream high quality video on demand.

You can watch most shows without registering on Hulu, but there are some nice advantages if you don’t mind registering. By signing up for an account, you can have email updates whenever a new episode of your favorite show is put up, queue videos to watch later, and write reviews about any clip, episode, or movie. Another feature of Hulu is the ability to embed custom clips of shows (lower quality) from Hulu on your own website:

The only downside to Hulu is the inability to set a larger cache for video. This means that, instead of the video continuing to load while paused, it will simply stop loading altogether. So to stream 480p video, you will need a fairly high speed connection able to continually load the video.

Overall, Hulu is a great site for free, high quality, legal, content. It shows real iniative into the world of online television, and is hopefully a sign of things to come.

Auslogics Freeware

If you have ever visited the download section of PC-pad, you may have seen (and used) Auslogics Disk Defrag, a completely free, speedy disk defragmentation program. What you may not have known is that Auslogics also offers two more great products completely free of charge. The first program is called Auslogics Registry Defrag. Like the title states, this program defragments the registry, keeping it compact and hopefully increasing the performance of your computer. Running the program is extremely easy (and relatively quick), but does require a restart. Here is a screenshot of the interface:

The second program is called Auslogics System Information. This program shows you a huge amount of data about your system, broken down into easy to navigate categories. It also allows you to create a report (with all the info included), in HTML, XML, or plain text. The program is very useful if you want to easily find a detail about the system you are currently using. Here is a screenshot of the starting screen:

Auslogics puts out quality software, with great looking interfaces, for free. So, if you haven’t yet, give one of the above programs a try.

VPN+VNC = Remobo

Recently I discovered an interesting piece of software, Remobo. A combination of Virtual Private Network (sort of like creating a LAN over the internet) and Virtual Network Computing (remotely controlling computers) technology, Remobo looks to make remote computing easier by combining mutiple tools into one convenient program. Up until now, I have been using Hamachi for VPN and tightVNC for VNC, and have had no problems, even during cross platform connections (Linux to Windows). I decided to give Remobo a test drive, and see what it could do.

The installation went smoothly, and no restart was required, so I got to testing right away. On first start, I was asked to create a Remobo account, which was very easy, all done direclty in the program. I then logged in with my account, specifiing a location (e.g. Desktop). After logging in at my desktop, I used the same account and password to login on my Laptop, entering my location as “Laptop”. Now, I could see the Laptop user from my Desktop, and Desktop user from my Laptop. Via context menu, I remotely connected to my Desktop to test out the VNC capabilities. It connected with little trouble, using the Remobo account password when prompted. Unfortunately this is where Remobo started to fall short. You are unable to change the image quality, and so, VNC is extremely sluggish to refresh, making control difficult. This is something I hope gets changed in the near future with updates.

Although VNC did not work great, Remobo also has an interesting file sharing feature. It uses bittorent technology to transfer files from peer to peer. Unfortunately, when I tested the file sharing, the Remobo tracker was not working, a problem which is hopefully only temporary. I think that the file sharing feature via torrents would be great, once it works.

Overall, I have to say that Remobo looks promising if it can work out the bugs, and improve the VNC integration. For now, at least the VPN feature works flawlessly, which means competition for Hamachi.

Photoshop vs GIMP

Photoshop is one of the most popular, and powerful photo editors available today. It is also one of the most expensive. With a license for Photoshop CS3 Extended costing around $250, some users may not be willing, or able, to buy a license. That’s where GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Project) comes in. Open source, completely free, and feature rich, GIMP provides some competition for Photoshop. The interface of GIMP is very similar to that of Photoshop, and many of the tools available in Photoshop are also in GIMP. One difference that I found however was the lack of “Selective Color” tool in GIMP. Which is useful for sprucing up the sky, as seen in the comparison below (click for full size view):

Comparison

While GIMP may not have every feature of Photoshop, you can’t argue with the pricetag. So, if you are looking for an advanced photo editor, and are on a budget, give GIMP a try.

ATI Radeon 4850 Released

The Raden 4850 is now avaliable for $200. Benchmarks show that this card could help bring competition back to the graphics card market. Hopefully we will see prices begin to rapidly drop on all graphics cards these next couple months. The card itself looks to be a large improvement over the previous generation of cards from ATI. Pictured below is a Sapphire Radeon 4850, very similiar to the Radeon 3850 in appearance:

Radeon 4850

PicLens

From Cooliris, developers of the popular Cooliris Previews browser add-on, comes the amazing 3D media browsing add-on PicLens*. With PicLens, users can search, and then browse results from sites such as Facebook, Youtube, flickr, Google, and deviantART all in a stunning (and easy to use) 3D environment. Below you can view a video I made of the add-on, and its capabilities (music by Winterwind-NS):



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*Update: the addon is now referred to as simply “Cooliris”