Category Archives: Software & Sites

Software and App related news, reviews, tips and tutorials

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

Can’t afford Photoshop? Pixlr makes for a Great Alternative! Software & Sites 24 FEB 2016

The Adobe Photoshop suite still reigns as pretty much the number 1 image editing software to use for both professionals and amateurs alike. Of course, being number 1 and being as good as it is, well, acquiring Photoshop tends to be a pretty pricey affair.

So, if you are in a pinch and need to edit an image but need to do more than just the photo app on your phone norm, then it might be well your worth to check out the free online image editor called Pixlr.

pixlr online image editor

Started in 2008 by Ola Sevandersson in Sweden, Pixlr (from a period when dropping letters from words when naming your product was still hip) quickly gained traction as a fantastic, albeit online, alternative to Photoshop, so much so that the giant Autodesk eventually acquired it in 2011.

These days, Autodesk Pixlr offers their extensive range of editing tools on a wide variety of platforms, including web, desktop and mobile app.

It works well, gives you a lot of fantastic image manipulation tools for free, makes good use of your cloud storage if you have any, and even throws in some training videos to get you started.

It’s certainly helped me out of a pinch once or twice over the years!

Related Link: https://pixlr.com

Goodbye Rdio Software & Sites 20 NOV 2015

I really, really like Rdio. So much so that I’m a paid user of their streaming music service. They have a fantastic user interfaces, their related music algorithms are fantastic, their audio quality is great, their music selection phenomenal, and best of all – they are available in South Africa and list South African music and artists!

rdio kaleidoscope

But sadly, they are no more. Damn Pandora has gone and swallowed them up, meaning that Rdio is now displaying this message for all it’s paid users:

“Thank you for your support of Rdio over the years. You helped make Rdio not only a place to listen and discover, but also a community of dedicated music lovers. We’ve enjoyed working on Rdio as much as you’ve enjoyed using it. It’s been an honor serving you.

As a result of Pandora’s planned acquisition of Rdio, the Rdio service will be winding down in the coming weeks.

Effective Monday, November 23, if you currently have an Rdio subscription, it will be canceled on your next billing date, and you will no longer be automatically charged. Rest assured that your subscription will remain active for any period of time you’ve already been billed. Also starting November 23, Rdio will no longer take new subscriptions.

After your subscription ends, you can continue listening to Rdio Free (ad-supported stations on mobile or ad-supported, on-demand songs, albums, and playlists on the web) until the service goes offline.

We’ll be in touch via email in the near future with more specifics, including the exact timing of Rdio’s end of service, as well as information on exporting your Rdio data, including your playlists and favorites.

We’re honored to have connected so many listeners around the world with the music they love. Our goal is to make this transition as smooth as possible. If you have any questions or concerns, go to help.rdio.com.”

What makes me the most angry though is that Pandora IS NOT FUCKING AVAILABLE IN SOUTH AFRICA.

Oh, I know. I’ll just try the other big music streaming service of the world, Spotify.

Oh wait, Spotify is also NOT FUCKING AVAILABLE IN SOUTH AFRICA.

We are in 2015. Geo-blocking is idiotic.

End rant.

Test Your API by making HTTP requests from Hurl.it Software & Sites 07 JUN 2015

Needless to say, services, or web API endpoints, is a must in this day and age of software development, and as such I find myself writing more and more of these for my various systems. Invariably, this means testing them as well, which is precisely where tools allowing you to craft HTTP requests and target them at your API endpoints are so particularly useful.

One of these HTTP request generator tools that I recently stumbled upon thanks to a work colleague (thanks Rory!), is hurl.it, a free little tool brought to us by the guys who build their business on monitoring and measuring your API usage, aka Runscope.

Hurl.it is a simple one page site that allows you to enter a destination URL (with the option to follow redirects if necessary), add authentication and HTTP headers if desired, and of course throw in whatever parameters you need chucked in – before asking you nicely to prove that you are a human and then launching the request, displaying the resulting response in a nice display of headers and body.

Simple, but easy to use and works like a charm.

unicorn vomit hurl.it logo rainbow throw up

Related Link: https://www.hurl.it/ | reCAPTCHA

The Best Android Remote Control App for Kodi – Kore Software & Sites 29 APR 2015

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been running a XBMC (Kodi) media server at my house for quite some time now, and in fact, I just upgraded to the relatively recently renamed Kodi version of this venerable media server a couple of days ago.

Now although a wireless keyboard and mouse works perfectly fine for controlling the Kodi media server, sometimes you don’t really want to sit will all that bulk lying about your coffee table (not that I have one mind you), which is exactly where the cleverness of remote control apps come into play.

Sadly, the first iteration of the the official XBMC remote control Android app wasn’t a particularly well written, or well supported venture, meaning that the need and thus door for good apps was there – resulting in quite a few being written by enterprising individuals. Indeed, one of the standouts is/was Tolriq’s Yatse XBMC Remote, a fine piece of app development in its own right.

However, the newly refreshed Kodi team saw the lack of love for the official Android remote app and approached developer Synced Synapse with the request for their Kore remote app to become the Kodi project’s new official remote control app – and after downloading and playing with it for a day I can see why!

xbmc foundation kodi android remote control app kore

From the official download page, the Kore team describes the app as:

“Kore is a simple, easy to use and beautiful Kodi / XBMC remote that lets you control your media center from your Android device.

With Kore you can:

...

Android App: Know Your Load Shedding Status with GridWatch Software & Sites 18 APR 2015

If you live in South Africa then the reality is that load shedding is here to stay for quite a bit longer – particularly as the energy demand starts spiking when the really cold winter weather starts kicking in! So with Eskom unable to meet our electricity demands and saddled with the responsibility of keeping the national grid up and running, we may as well get comfortable and start knowing our load shedding schedules and status.

In other words, a great time for the excellent GridWatch load shedding Android app from the development team over at News24 to makes its appearance!

news24 gridwatch load shedding eskom alert and schedule android app

This invaluable tool is a proper lifesaver when it comes to planning around and dealing with load shedding. Essentially it constantly updates itself with all the latest load shedding schedule databases from around the country, reacts in real time to sudden load shedding status changes, and pretty much lets you know whenever a break in your power supply is going to be happening.

By allowing you to save areas of interest like ‘Home’, ‘Work’ or say even ‘Gym’, you know exactly when and where you can expect power breaks to be, and with handy push notifications sent whenever necessary, you are pretty much guaranteed not to get a nasty surprise when the lights go out just as you pulled closed the office toilet door in anticipation for some much needed alone time.

It’s a clever, visually intuitive app that gives you all the information you need, and if you are a South African living in South Africa – well then you would be silly not to currently have it installed on your phone!

(I’ve had mine installed pretty much straight after it was released at the end of March! Haven’t looked back since…)

Related Link: GridWatch on Google Play Store

A Chrome Extension that makes New Tabs Pretty Software & Sites 08 APR 2015

Google Chrome has kind of wormed itself into being my de facto web browser, and as such I spend a lot of time with it. In other words, I see that blank, expressionless white new tab screen a lot. A hell of a lot.

Which is exactly why I am so particularly enamored with Google’s recently released Chrome Extension entitled Google Art Project.

Developed by the Google Cultural Institute, the Google Art Project extension essentially puts fine art on every new tab that you open. This artwork is sourced from the collections of museums and galleries around the world, and apart just being given something pretty to look at, you might even be culturally uplifted in the process! ;)

google art project chrome extension

Needless to say, I find myself unable to stop clicking the new tab button at the moment!

(Not that this is the first such extension which Google has released before mind you. They also did something pretty similar – also worth checking out – using satellite images grabbed from the Google Maps service, called Earth View.)

Related Link: Google Art Project (Chrome Web Store)

Check if Google Considers Your Website to be Mobile-Friendly with this Tool Software & Sites 07 APR 2015

Google has made it pretty clear that soon (April 21st, 2015 to be exact) they are going to be ranking sites a little differently when searching from mobile devices, in essence ranking mobile-friendly sites higher than non-mobile formatted sites in the returned search results.

Now if your primary audience discovers your website via the desktop then this is all fine and dandy, but as we all know, most traffic sources these days are originating from mobile, given the current pervasiveness of mobile data – meaning that it is probably a good idea to ensure that your site is indeed mobile-friendly, lest you lose any Google brownie points!

To assist you in not losing any points unnecessarily, Google has released a helpful web-based tool to check whether or not your site is indeed mobile-friendly, helpfully named “Mobile-Friendly Test“.

In other words, if you are at all interested in things like this, then it is probably best you quickly nip off and run your sites against the tool.

Case in point:

google mobile friendly test

Related Link: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

Libra – A Great Weight Tracking Android App Software & Sites 02 APR 2015

Part of my current weight loss drive is to track my weight on a daily basis. Thus, I needed a lightweight mobile application that would facilitate this process – which is exactly where Daniel Cachapa’s excellent Libra – Weight Manager comes in.

Simple, lightweight and extremely easy to use, Libra essentially has two views, namely a graph view that plots your weight entries against a calculated trend line, and a list view of all you weight entries (with comments if present).

Data entry is simple and elegant – click on the + button and use the tape measure slider to insert your current weight.

By entering in all your weight details and goals, Libra is able to return a good number of stats for you, and combined with the historic data points it keeps, it does a great job of keeping you on your toes in terms of remaining on the straight and narrow when it comes to your weight loss journey.

There is a number of export and import options for both the database and chart itself (the CSV export is quite useful), and as an added bonus you can synchronize your data with Withings (not that I use that particular service mind you).

As expected, this small app is free and thus ad-supported, though you can of course hand over a negligible amount of money to get the ads removed.

So, if you are looking to track your weight and have an Android device at hand, you really can’t go wrong with this excellent app!

libra weight manager - weight tracking android app by daniel cachapa

BONUS: For those of you who don’t know: Libra was the basic Roman unit of weight; after 268 bc it was about 5,076 English grains or equal to 0.722 pounds avoirdupois (0.329 kg). This pound was brought to Britain and other provinces where it became the standard for weighing gold and silver and for use in all commercial transactions. The abbreviation lb for pound is derived from libra.

The libra is one of the nonmetric units of weight still used in Spain, Portugal, and several Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas.

Related Link: Libra – Weight Manager