Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vision of Humanity offers beautiful infographics on the state of the planet

Vision of Humanity offers beautiful infographics on the state of the planet: "

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Vision of Humanity is one of the most beautiful and thorough visualizations that I have recently seen.

It's a zoomable Flash world map, which lets you browse and compare a vast number of 'peace indicators,' such as level of violent crime, access to weapons, jailed population, relations with neighboring countries, and more.

You view a world heat map, which shows where that index is most prevalent. You can zoom in on a specific country and browse through all of its indicators, and you can compare two or more countries.

The site takes all of these indicators and derives a single number, which it calls the 'peace index.' At a glance, you can basically see which countries are the most peaceful and which ones rank worst on the list.

As per usual with these tools, the tool itself is very impressive, but I cannot say that I fully trust the data. The data comes from an entity that calls itself the Institute for Economics & Peace, which is an incredibly nebulous name. Even reading their About page didn't improve my level of trust in this 'institute.' There's a Wikipedia entry about them, so they seem to be real. I cannot, however, vouch for the quality of the data.

Still, from a technology/design viewpoint, this is an impressive visualization that I could easily spend a great deal of time with, discovering new (if troubling) facts.

Vision of Humanity offers beautiful infographics on the state of the planet originally appeared on Download Squad on Tue, 31 Aug 2010 18:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Lose The Cloud With These 4 Locally Hosted Sync Applications

Lose The Cloud With These 4 Locally Hosted Sync Applications: "

sync applicationsIt seems like everything is becoming a part of the cloud, and it isn’t hard to understand why. Cloud storage services like Dropbox make it possible to access data from numerous computers, a feature that is important for people who own more than one computer.

However, not everyone is ready to marry the cloud. Cloud storage services must be paid for on a monthly basis, and their price can be very costly over time - the 50GB Dropbox plan will cost you $119.88 over a single year, enough to purchase a 1 terabyte hard drive. Cloud storage services also rarely offer plans large enough to store even moderate amounts of data permanently. Dropbox’s largest plan has a 100GB storage limit.

There is another way. Sync applications, skip the cloud entirely, instead sharing files automatically between designated folders. Using a Sync application means sacrificing the any-time, any-where convenience that comes with cloud storage for a more scheduled and methodical method. This can be a pain, but you won’t have to pay anything and your storage capacity is limited only by the space on your hard drives.

Windows Live Sync

sync applications

Microsoft’s Windows Live Sync is a free file sync application that is a part of Microsoft’s Windows Live services. It uses a web-based interface that lets users designate folders as sync folders. Once designated in this way, files between the folders will automatically be transfered no matter where the computers are located as long as Internet access is available. The folders do not have to have the same name on each computer. It is possible to sync folders among more than one computer as well.

Despite the name, Windows Live Sync also works on OSX and works well. The web interface makes absolutely no distinction between folders that are on a Windows machine and folders that are on a Mac. The web interface does feel a bit clunky however, and you do need to make a Windows Live account if you want to be able to use this application.

Pure Sync

sync apps

Designed for local synchronization, Pure Sync is a tool aimed at home networks that need to synchronize large amounts of data. The main feature of Pure Sync is simply the ability to synchronize folders, and this function is easy enough to set up using the program’s setup wizard. Pure Sync allows for some customization in how you sync folders, including the ability to exclude sub-folders and files and schedule synchronization.

Pure Sync also includes a backup component. If you are interested in synchronization because cloud storage can’t handle large backup files you’ll find Pure Sync to be exactly what you need.

AllWay Sync

sync apps

A deceptively simple sync application, AllWay Sync can be quite complex if you need it to be. If you need to sync two folders on two different computers you can easily so by opening the folders in the main AllWay Sync window and then pressing the Synchronize button. AllWay Sync will handle things from there, and will also provide you with details about what changes were made between the folders during the synchronization. The data can be a bit confusing for new users, so I suggest syncing small folders first.

However, AllWay also includes more complex functionality. It is possible to sync with alternative storage options including removable drives, network folders, FTP servers, Amazon S3 storage and more. The only catch is that the free version will transfer “only” 40,000 files in one month – if you’re transferring more than that, or you want to use it for commercial use, you’ll have to pay.


sync applications

FreeFileSync will sync your local or network folders. And that is it. There is no ability to sync to outside sources, no ability to sync over the Internet, and no extra features like automatic backup. The only thing you can do is filter out the files you don’t want to sync.

With this said, FreeFileSync is the easiest to use. To sync two folders you simply need to drag-and-drop two folders into the application window, one on each side. If it is your first time syncing the folders you first have to compare them, which is done by pressing the big Compare button. Then you sync them by pressing the big Synchronize button. Instead of flooding you with data the synchronization is represented by a big, friendly status bar.


Obviously, these programs are not as flexible as a cloud storage service, but for some users (myself included) that limitation isn’t a problem. By getting rid of the cloud these applications let you sync huge amounts of data without paying a dime. Letting go of the convince associated with cloud storage can save you hundreds of dollars a year if you have large amounts of information that must be regularly synchronized.

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Gain a superpower by learning to touch-type - Back to School

Gain a superpower by learning to touch-type - Back to School: "

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Touch Typing Tutor listIf you're a fan of life hacks of any kind and you can't touch-type, you're wasting your time. Just like the best current upgrade you can give your computer in terms of overall speed improvement is a solid-state drive, the best overall speed improvement you can give yourself when it comes to the time you spend on a computer is the ability to touch-type. I'm not kidding, and if you're skeptical I intend to convince you.

For our Back-to-School series, I really wanted to write a post about how great Gmail's keyboard shortcuts are. They really are fantastic, and if you learn them, you can really fly through your email without using the mouse at all.

But, I realized that most of the people I've talked to about keyboard shortcuts -- for Gmail and for any other application -- feign interest, then politely lets me know that they 'can't memorize keys', or some other similar excuse.

The thing is, I don't believe this. But I'm getting a clear message that people aren't interested in keyboard shortcuts. And I think I know why: most people can't touch-type. Keyboard shortcuts lose almost all of their value if you constantly have to look down at your fingers to find the right key.

If you can't touch-type, then you really need to learn. It's a completely attainable goal, and it gives you a sort of human-computer interface superpower.

Superpower? Really?

Yes, I realize that characterizing a mundane skill like typing as a superpower seems a little over the top, but hear me out.

Here's the thing: If you ask people if they could learn to touch-type, most people will say yes. But yet, most people just don't. So here you've got a situation where you can set yourself apart by learning a skill that most people acknowledge is readily attainable, but don't bother to get.

Okay, fine. But why?

So why is touch-typing better than hunt-and-peck?

  1. Editing on-the-fly -- When you can type without looking at your fingers, that means you can look at the output of what you're typing instead. You can see problems as they happen, and fix them as you go. This by itself can improve your overall speed when writing.

  2. Transcribing -- If you've ever had to type something out that someone else wrote, the ability to keep your eyes on the original document as you type will let you power through it in no time. Every time you have to switch your focus back and forth between two or more places, the slower and less accurate you will be.

  3. Ten fingers are faster -- There are some surprisingly fast hunt-and-peck typists, but they're unlikely to be faster than someone who is typing with all ten of their fingers.

  4. Keyboard Shortcuts! -- Learning keyboard shortcuts in the applications you regularly use is like adding another gear to your gearbox - suddenly you're able to reach a new top speed. It really is like having a superpower (there's that word again).

You've convinced me. How do I get started?

Back when I decided to learn to type I was running Windows 3.11 on my family's 486, and my options for touch-typing tutor software was limited. I tried a few different typing programs before settling on a relatively simple piece of shareware called TTT Touch Typing Tutor. What I liked about TTT was that unlike some typing programs, it didn't let you continue typing if you hit an incorrect letter, thereby allowing you to miss a big series if letters. Instead, it played an alert sound at you when you missed a letter, and forced you to hit the correct letter before it would allow you to continue. That way, your score isn't artificially lowered by typing one letter off, and more importantly it interrupts a bad habit (hitting the wrong letter in a pattern) and helps replace it with the right habit (the right letter).

While it's been awhile since I've needed to use typing tutor software, the good news is that there are infinitely more options available than there were back when I was learning. Even a quick Google search turns up a bunch of promising links, one of which is All the Touch Typing Tutors. This site aggregates and provides summaries for freeware, and shareware typing tools for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and provides a list of online tools.

I recommend trying a few, and using the one you enjoy most, but keep in mind that it should be one that stops you if you hit a wrong letter, and forces you to hit the right one to continue.

When am I going to find the time to learn?

If you're in school, the answer is 'right freakin' now'. I'm not kidding. Find 10 to 15 minutes every day, maybe at the beginning of each of your study sessions. [I was forced to learn touch-typing when I was 12. It was the single best thing I learnt at school! -Ed]

If you've got a 9 to 5 job, consider asking your boss if you can spend 10 to 15 minutes per day working on your typing speed for a month. They might be willing to go for it, since it's an investment that will payoff in terms of increased productivity, and it costs them nothing except a bit of your time. If they say no, consider just using your coffee break, or showing up to work 15 minutes early and doing it then.

Like any skill that you repeatedly practice, you're going to surprise yourself with how much progress you can make in the space of one short month, if you really commit to it. You will eventually reach a point where typing without looking becomes fun, and your speed will continue to improve just by continuing to use your new-found superpower.

Gain a superpower by learning to touch-type - Back to School originally appeared on Download Squad on Tue, 31 Aug 2010 12:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Typing - Touch typing - Linux - Google - Educational"