Cool Stuff

Skype/WebCam | PhotoStory | Digital Picture Frames | Trivia

Talk to Canada with video for free!

Skype is a way of making free telephone calls over the net. With the addition of a webcam (circa 30 quid) you can have videoconference. Now that most people have broadband anyway, there's no good reason not to do this. I can keep in contact with a good friend in Canada (which is great, once you get the hang of the 7hr time difference), and with my folks (who aren't even able to get digital TV).

You can download Skype for free, and then just need to register with a username - which you'll give to friends for ease of identification. If you're on the latest version of XP (or it may just be IE) then it chooses a username for you automagically... which is nice.

It's really easy to use - even my folks can use it! And quick to get up and running on.

To get the full benfit I recommend a web cam. I use a Logitech Quickcam Pro 5000 Webcam which I'm dead pleased with. Get a web cam that has a built in Mic - the headset ones are just a faff. Also most now come with 'monitor clip' which is a funky bendable tail that helps it to sit on the top of the monitor. It works fine on my folks' laptop screen too.

My web cam is a little extra and has an automatic light adjustment facility which I also find useful in my room. Once you get yourself connected give me a call: penguin_uk.

Easily make a movie from a bunch of digital photos!

"Bring your digital photos to life", is how Microsoft advertise it. It's a simple programme that takes a bunch of photos, lets you add music, transitions within a picture (like zoom out, or pan across), and transitions between to create a simple movie. It's really easy to use (my dad was up and running within about half an hour) and the results look professional with very little effort. Nice.

There's a few of these about now - Nero (CD burning software) comes with one, as does the CyberLink PowerProducer, but I like PhotoStory's ease of transitions best and it's free to download.

I did a movie (15 MB, Windows Media format) of this year's Beach Pictures (it's 1024 x 768 and 3 min, which is why it's so big). My folks are ahead of me and already burning their's to DVD to play on any player.

Digital Picture Frames
Display your digital pics in the most obvious way

My parents had a wedding anniversary and for it I got them a digital picture frame and put in it their favorite 40 pictures since they got married (including some embarrassing ones of me and my sister!). There are a few on the market now and I think they're an excellent idea - most are now under a hundred pounds. Not something I'd buy for me until the price comes down a bit more, but a great 'special present'.

I got my folks the Philips 7" Digital Photo Frame (7FF1M4/00) and was dead pleased with it. It looks great, and the user interface is well thought through and very tactile. The size was right, it has a selection of timings to flip through the photos from seconds to days, and a neat feature that dims it at night.


I know this seems an odd place to put this. But here's things I've come across recently that I've been telling people about (poor them!)...

Charles Babbage - he's cooler than you think.

Which may not be hard of course <g>.

You may have heard of Charles Babbage, who is credited with coming up with the idea of the first programmable computer. However did you also know that:

  1. He invented the Cow-catcher they put on the front of trains.

  2. Stamps used to be charged based on how far the letter was being sent in England. Babbage calculated that it was costing more in labour to calculate the cost of the stamp, than the cost itself! And proposed the fixed price system that we still use today.