Category Archives: Software & Sites

Software and App related news, reviews, tips and tutorials

When Will I be Load Shed with EskomSePush Software & Sites 13 FEB 2019

The slickest, easiest way to currently get the answer to when will you be load shed on a particular day is by downloading the quite frankly well written local load shedding schedule app, EskomSePush. (We will all agree to look past the juvenile joke name, okay?)

Written by Dan Wells and Herman Maritz a handful of years ago, EskomSePush is an extremely user friendly tool that does little more than ask you to download and install the app on your phone, click on the plus button to bring up the location search, and then select the location that you are interested in. The resulting screen then gives you a nice concise view of what your load shedding schedule looks like (across any of Eskom’s seemingly limitless stages) for any particular upcoming day.


The app is easy to read, sends warning push notifications when needed, and is simple enough that most people should get the hang of it. For my part, it works like a charm and its load shedding reporting has yet to fail me, meaning that our rolling blackouts by another name still hasn’t caught me with my pants around my ankles and no torch in sight.

Given the big amount of electricity generation worries on the Eskom horizon, it is probably a good idea to hang on to the app for some time to come.

Related Link: EskomSePush | Google Play

Check your JSON with JSONLint Software & Sites 16 JAN 2019

Seven years later and I still find myself using JSONLint whenever I need to check that a script is indeed producing or being supplied with a valid JSON string.

Pleasingly, a lot of my original 2012 post still checks out: “JSON, or JavaScript Object Notation, is a lightweight text-based open standard designed for human-readable data interchange. It is derived from the JavaScript scripting language for representing simple data structures and associative arrays, called objects. Despite its relationship to JavaScript, it is language-independent, with parsers available for many languages.”

In other words, a good option to shuttle a whole lot of key/value data between AJAX web services. The JSONLint tool itself validates JSON text, and also acts as a reformatter, making it much easier to debug a big chunk of JSON text.

Using the online JSON validator is as simple as copying your JSON text string into the big text area and hitting the “Validate JSON” button.

Useful little tool indeed.

Related Link: JSONLint

Generate Your Instagram Top Nine Software & Sites 28 DEC 2018

At the end of every year, Instagram users all tend to start releasing their “Best Nine” post for that year, essentially a collage image featuring the top nine posts (in terms of likes) for that account.

Strangely enough, Instagram doesn’t actually offer this fun little feature as a native function within their app – meaning that you need to turn to other apps or websites to do the dirty work for you.

Now bear in mind, there are a few websites/apps that require you to authenticate or at least link your Instagram account in order to proceed (essential if you operate a private Instagram feed), but seeing as I don’t really want to trust any third party site unless I absolutely have to, I skipped all of those and headed straight over to the 2018 Best Nine website.

A quick enter of my Instagram handle (craiglotter), a little twiddling of the thumbs, and out popped a nice square collage, ready for sharing. Simple stuff.

(Bonus: If you are looking for an alternative, then Top Nine also does a pretty good job.)

Related Link: 2018 Best Nine | Top Nine

How to Download a High Quality Image from an Instagram Post Software & Sites 01 NOV 2018

These days I try to almost always use photos that I myself took when writing posts for this blog, and seeing as Instagram has very much become my social media network of choice over the last year or two, I essentially always have a picture on hand when I need it.

That said, grabbing a high quality image off of Instagram is much harder than what it should be, which is then exactly where the exceedingly useful DownloadGram steps in.

First, grab the Instagram post that you want to get the image from (easiest is to click on the share icon and select the Share URL/Copy Link option), next, fire up the DownloadGram website, paste the link into the first big textbox, and hit the “Download” button.

If DownloadGram successfully identifies the source of the image, it presents to you a big green “Download Image button”. Click on that and you have your better than low-res image.

Useful.

(Bonus: If you are looking for an alternative to DownloadGram, then 10insta also does a great job of locating the higher quality versions of Instragram post images.)

Related Link: DownloadGram

Bored? Enter Vibescout
[Partner Content] 02 DEC 2016

With the weekend looming large, are you still scratching your head trying to come up with some ideas on what to do with your precious free time this coming Saturday and Sunday? Sure, Netflix or DSTV is always a fallback, but come on, Summer is here!

Which is exactly the point at which Vibescout saunters into the conversation!

Vibescout Cape Town Events

Vibescout is a cool local startup that brings to life the local events guide concept, packaging it in a clever, slick, mobile optimized website containing well… loads of categorized and geographically tagged events.

With a wide selection of events listed, the obvious cool trick is the ability to narrow down the list of events to either a specified place or your current surrounds – I mean, just check this perfect events list for my current location (with each event’s distance from me noted) when I ran a check from home!

vibescout-events-list

The site is clear and well laid out, simple to use, well formatted and super pleasingly, not in an app form. (Seriously this is a plus – not everything needs to be a standalone app on your phone!)

As I mentioned, this is a completely homegrown South African project, meaning that there is plenty of friendly, local help if needed, all of which then basically means that you should definitely be checking out and adding Vibescout to your brower’s bookmarks as soon as possible! ;)

musician-jamming-at-root-44-market-in-stellenbosch

After all, what’s on in Cape Town? Well Vibescout should know…

Related Link: Vibescout | Twitter | Facebook

Learn about Mammals and Frogs with the Sasol Young Explorer App Software & Sites 25 JUN 2016

Penguin Random House contacted me and asked me to sit down with Jessica and have a go at the very nice Sasol Young Explorer Apps – of which there are currently two, namely Mammals and Frogs.

sasol young explorer app mammals android screenshot 1

The apps are multilingual, allowing you to switch between English, Afrikaans, IsiXhosa and IsiZulu on the fly, which opens up their use to quite a wide audience.

Each app is split into two main ‘sections’, a play area which includes a number of animal-themed mini games (for example, different sized puzzles and memory games), and a learning section, which is chock-a-block full of beautifully illustrated animals, each with their own info page, sound bite, and even video footage!

sasol young explorer app mammals android screenshot 2

The apps are well designed and very easy to use, and before long I found Jessica (with an observing Emily in tight next to her) quite independently sitting on the couch, giggling as she systematically made her way through all the animals and games.

sasol young explorer app mammals android screenshot 3

This is a pretty good animal resource for kids, and I can’t wait to have the Mammals edition along the next time we enter a game reserve with the girls – I suspect that they may finally have some use as useful game spotters! :P

Related Link: Sasol Young Explorer Apps | Google Play

Xander: Educational Apps for Young Children Software & Sites 22 JUN 2016

Created by Stellenbosch-based app development house Tribage App Studio, Xander Apps are educational mobile apps aimed at promoting mother-tongue learning for young children – with apps built in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, Swahili, and Tswana!

Fronted by the cute dinosaur mascot Xander, there are currently 3 main apps available:

(Oh, because my girls are English, and I mainly use Android, I’ll be referencing those versions in particular…)

Xander English 123 (Google Play)

“English 123 is an English educational app for young children that teaches numeracy using child-friendly counting beads and characters from the animal kingdom. Xander, the lovable narrator, guides your child through four learn-through-play activities involving vision, hearing and touch to teach them how to count to 10 in English.”

Xander English Shapes & Colours (Google Play)

“English Shapes and Colours is an English educational app for your children that teaches six basic shapes and the primary and secondary colours using age appropriate games. Here Xander guides your child through six learn-through-play activities involving vision, hearing and touch to teach them to identify shapes and colours.”

Xander English Wardrobe (Google Play)

“English Wardrobe is an English educational app for young children that teaches them the names (and pronunciation) for different body parts, clothing and weather.”

xander english 123 educational app screenshot

In general, the Xander apps are aimed at a younger target audience, though it is interesting to watch both Jessica and Emily get something quite different out of each app.

Anyway, check out their website for more on the team, what they do and how your children can benefit from their work!

Related Link: Xander Apps

Mac OS X: Hunt Hard Drive Disk Space Hogs with Disk Inventory X Software & Sites 01 MAR 2016

Software development tools are often quite large and clunky, meaning that software developers often face the prospect of running out of hard drive disk space on their work machines.

I’m particularly fond of applications that use “treemaps” to visualize disk space usage, and have in the past mentioned how great Uderzo Software’s SpaceSniffer works when trying to figure out where and what to delete on a Windows machine. (If you are on Linux, then either KDirStat or QDirStat will do the trick!)

disk inventory x

Having to now publish Appcelerator apps to the Apple App Store for use on an iPad, I’ve been handed a MacBook Air (pretty little thing, but can’t say I’m a fan of the interface), and almost instantaneously ran into a space issue triggered by my installing of some development tools.

Naturally, completely new to the Apple environment, I had no idea where to even start looking for the most likely space hogging culprits!

Pleasingly, following a little time spent with good friend Mr. Google, I stumbled across Disk Inventory X, which bills itself as a disk usage utility for Mac OS X 10.3 (and later) and which uses treemaps to show the sizes of files and folders – in other words, exactly what I was looking for!

I downloaded and ran the software, and wouldn’t you know it – turns out that Android SDK had already pulled down more than 30GB of SDK related files.

Sigh, at least I now know where to start chopping…

Related Link: Disk Inventory X

So I’ve Chosen Netflix over ShowMax… Software & Sites 28 FEB 2016

So at long last streaming video services are now properly available in South Africa.

This of course means that I then needed to make a choice, because we don’t actually have DSTV (too expensive and I don’t watch the sport needed to vindicate having it), but we do have Internet access!

the it crowd

After some investigation, the only two real options boiled down to either the fresh faced Naspers-owned ShowMax, or the global heavy hitter, Netflix. (Note: I’m not in the market for geo-unblocking VPN services. I don’t want the extra hassle of still dealing with all of that!)

After evaluating both of them, I came up with the following conclusion. ShowMax has by far the newer, more relevant, more interesting show line-up, whilst Neflix has by far the better apps and technical infrastructure.

Over time, I’m sure ShowMax’s apps will get better, and its video streaming technology will catch up, whilst Netflix’s content should improve once its catalog licencing to Multichoice (and thus ShowMax by virtue of the shared lineage) lapses.

Considering the fact that I’m not a big TV watcher (nor is Chantelle for that matter), most of the Netflix catalogue is actually new to us both, so given the fact that I have both an Xbox 360 and an Xbox One setup for the televisions in the house, and the fact that Netflix runs so smoothly over both those platforms, I’ve opted to go for the more technically sound Netflix streaming video option – the experience of which by the way has me so far pretty much smiling from ear to ear.

netflix screen selection layout

For $7,99 per month (I can up it to $9,99 if I want to add extra screens and HD – for now I’m still trialing it…) I get four distinct user profiles, one for myself, Chantelle, Jessica and Emily. This means that everyone has their own unique playlist with suggested shows, suitably tailored to taste and viewing history. (In other words, I can have comedies and documentaries suggested to me, while Chantelle can stick to all the real proper TV stuff!)

The adaptive streaming works fantastically well, and I have yet to experience any buffering issues on my rather paltry 4MB ADSL line – the only break I have experienced thus far was when our Internet briefly went down!

The on demand aspect of streaming video is by far my favourite feature. Long gone are the days of sitting down at a preset time once a week to catch a show – no, I far prefer the freedom and flexibility to sit down when I finally get a chance to breath and take a moment for myself, pick something that I actually want to watch, and shock horror – watch it.

So far so good. Now it is just a matter of seeing how long it takes for Netflix to start throwing a bit more (and slightly fresher) content at us!

Related Link: Netflix