Getting Your Scabble Fix

July 31, 2008

If you are a Facebook user, you may have already heard and been heartbroken by the fact the the application Scrabulous has been taken down. However, you can take heart because I will guide you through the world of free alternatives to get your Scrabble on.

It is worth nothing that Hasbro has the trademark on Scrabble in the US and Canada and must actively protect their trademark or lose it. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the methods they have used in this process, I must acknowledge that they have the right to do what they’d like with the trademark, and this will be reflected in some of the content I’ll tell you about.

The first thing you should be aware of, especially if you are serious about Scrabble, (And I’m talking tournament-level seriousness here) is a free program called Quackle available at www.quackle.org. This program is the same program they use to analyze the Scrabble tournaments you’ll occasionally see on ESPN, and is amazingly powerful. It knows words that are only relevant to Scrabble players and it uses them to deadly accuracy. Even on easy, you will very likely lose badly. Besides bordering on the somewhat technical side, you do have to tell the program where the bonus squares are on the Scrabble board, since depending on the interpretation of the law could be considered trademarked. I recommend the program even if just to see what the highest level of Scrabble players see.

Next, I have what could potentially be a short-term fix, since it is actually Scrabulous, just on the world wide web. Just go to http://www.scrabulous.com/ and you can play there in the same very basic interface that you got from the Facebook application. I fear it may only be a matter of time until that is taken down as well, but time will tell.

Now, some of you will point out, rightly, that this just isn’t the same as a Facebook application that you can jump in and out of when you feel like it.

Well, I have a solution for that too beyond Hasbro’s official Facebook application, which has garnered much criticism across Facebook. You can now try Wordscraper. (Thanks to http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-10003366-36.html for alerting me to this.) I haven’t been able to try this yet, but from what I understand it is basically the same game, but with a non-trademark infringing name and a different graphical scheme. While I’m not a legal expert, from what I’ve read on the topic, this implementation could very well put them in the clear.

So, hopefully these options will get you through this Scrabulous crisis.

May you draw the right number of vowels and avoid Qs without Us.


Slydial (Or When You Really Need Voicemail)

July 27, 2008

Have you ever been in that situation where you really have to not talk to somebody, but you really do need to leave them a message?

Then, this might be the service for you. If you call 267-SLYDIAL (267-759-3425), you’ll dial the number of a mobile phone, hear an ad and then get forwarded on to voicemail. What happens on the other end is interesting, at least according to my tests of the system. It seems that the call receiver will hear the phone ring once, it will stop ringing and then sometimes the phone will ring one more time. In any case, if the person tries to pick up they won’t get anything.

Another benefit is that the caller ID will pick up the number you are calling from, so the Slydial is undetectable if you don’t already know about how it works.

There are some drawbacks. The ads that you do here are kind of irritating and the ones that I heard are for those free ringtones of which I am very suspicious. If you are reader of this blog, you already know how to get your ringtones anyway. Also, this is not a toll-free call. There are no additional charges, and if already have free national calling, then it won’t make any difference. However, if you are calling from a standard phone, you will be charged for a called to Pennsylvania. It’s also too bad this won’t work with landline phones, but that is probably asking a lot technologically, since everyone has a different answering machine system.

That said, there are times when you’ll do ‘anything’ to get voice mail, and for those moments it’s good to know this is here.

Thanks to Techcrunch for the heads-up.
http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/07/21/skip-the-awkward-call-go-straight-to-voicemail-with-slydial/.


Editing Other People’s Websites (Kind of)

July 21, 2008

I consider this more of a public service announcement more than an actually useful tool, but you should be aware how easy it is to mess around with code.

First, be aware that what you are doing only happens on your local machine, you aren’t actually editing the web page itself (i.e. other people going to that site won’t see it), but if you save the page on to your hard drive, you can have a very authentic looking copy of somebody else’s website to upload somewhere else, potential another live website that can take in data that people enter into the website.

I’m sure this is how some scammers build the fake Paypal sites that everyone gets spam links for every now and again.

More details on how this is actually done can be found here: http://www.blogstorm.co.uk/cut-and-paste-one-line-of-code-to-make-any-website-editable/

It actually can be a little bit of found to fool around with something like Google and put the picture on the bottom or some of the links on the top. There are actually other more legitimate uses as well, but they haven’t really occurred to me yet.

Anyway, check it out and if you come up with any cool edits of websites including this one, you can e-mail me at DONTUSETHECAPITALLETTERStecheap@techeap.com.


Games with a Purpose

July 16, 2008

I like games as much as the next person, however, I sometimes feel that pang of not accomplishing something productive that is benefiting society.

Well, now I can have my cake and eat it to, so to speak. A site called Games with a Purpose at http://www.gwap.com/gwap/ allows users to play games while contributing something positive to the world. This site, sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, uses their games to collect data about music, words and pictures and how we associate with those things.

The site has five different games and each has different gameplay and different data that is being collected.

In the ESP Game, two users each see the same picture and try to use individual words to describe it, when both users have come up with the same word, you score points and move on to the next word. You do this for three minutes and compare scores with other users who are doing the same thing. These tags are then added to a search engine to improve future searches.

(What they don’t say is how that data is added and to which search engines. A Carnegie Mellon student originally created Lycos, so it would be interesting to find out if there is any connection there.)

If this sort of thing interests you, you’ll want to check out where I found out about this. They also talk about using Captchas (those weird images you have to decipher words out of to sign up for a new account) to teach software how to read faded letters from old newspapers.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-9989480-93.html?tag=nefd.lede

I should also mention another game with a quite different purpose at http://www.freerice.com/. This site lets you play a word game where you try to find the synonym for increasingly obscure words. Each correct answer you get means the UN World Food Program will distribute 20 grains of rice to places that need it.

So now you have my permission to go play some games.


AT&T 3G Data

July 12, 2008

In case you haven’t heard yet, Apple’s new 3G iPhone is out. However, you may not realize how expensive owning this phone will be for you. First, the least expensive phone itself is $199. Then, you are locked into a 2-year contract in which you must buy unlimited data for $30 a month. Also, the least expensive voice plan is $39 a month. $69 a month times 24 months plus $199 for the phone equals a grand total of $1855. Ouch!

With all this hoopla over the new 3G iPhone, this tip seems especially timely.  http://www.pocketables.net/2008/06/how-to-get-att.html

While, you won’t be able to use this with the iPhone, (You wouldn’t need to use it, because you are already paying $30 a month for your data plan.) you can place this SIM card in a variety of smartphones and tap into this new high speed data network for just $20 a month. The real benefit of this technique though is that there is no contract. If you need to take a month off or just decide you don’t want to use it anymore, then you just stop using it. There are no cancellation fees or anything else.

I will say that this technique is pretty advanced, and I would recommend it for everybody. If you are looking for unlimited day and you aren’t afraid to switch out a SIM card every once in a while, then this may be exactly what you want.


Buying Refurbished

July 8, 2008

I wanted some TiVo-like functionality, but I hate paying monthly fees if I can avoid it, so I decided to try a DVD recorder that can pause live TV and is programmable. I shopped around for a while before I found something that was in the price range I thought was reasonable (about $100).

I ended up going with a refurbished model from Amazon, which at the time was about a third of the price for a new unit.

http://www.amazon.com/Toshiba-D-R400-Tunerless-Upconverting-Certified/
dp/B000MY38JE/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=
I1FMJMSEAR8CUW&colid=24NFD5AT0ETGK

It turned out to be a good, but not great choice. It does work pretty much how I wanted it to, but I’mmissing the integration that a TiVo or dedicated cable DVR would bring.

I hope to talk more about this item as I get to use it a little more, but I want to talk about the risks of buying refurbished. For those who aren’t aware, refurbished products are generally those that have been returned to a retail store for any number of reasons. Some of them just didn’t work, but some of them just weren’t what the customer expected. After the return, the company retests the unit, fixes it if necessary and resells it, usually at a significant discount.

Sometimes a unit will come out of this process and still not work. This varies from company to company, so you’ll want to be very careful on how the return process works.

In most cases, you will have to assume the cost of shipping the unit back to the company for additional repairs or for a replacement.

My general rule of thumb is that you should assume that the first unit you get is going to be bad, if your item is still a good deal, you can pick it up. Most of the time this means you are probably not going to buy low-ticket items on a refurbished basis, which makes a good deal of sense. Clearly in my case this was a safe risk to take, and it has definitely paid off.


Why I Use Firefox

July 3, 2008

I have a fair number of battles (more than you would think) over my use of browser, and since it is a free download any way, as almost all browsers are, I though this would be a good place to evangelize on the usefulness of Firefox.

Initially, I jumped on to Firefox for one reason–tabbed browsing. Tabbed browsing makes my life so much easier. I use it to organize my websites, follow links I want to look at later, and most importantly keep my desktop from being completely cluttered with junk.

Nowadays, Internet Explorer comes with tabbed browsing, and a fair number of the security issues that plagued the browser have been fixed. There is one thing the IE7 is missing though, and that’s extensions. Extensions are really the key for making the browsing experience exactly what you want it to be.

Here’s a link to a new set of extensions that have already been upgraded for the latest version of the browser, Firefox 3. http://mashable.com/2008/06/26/firefox-3-extensions/

In case you hadn’t heard, Firefox 3 had over eight million downloads in its first day. A very impressive figure considering their servers crashed for a couple hours on the weight of the huge number of users trying to get the new version.

If you give it a try, I think you’ll agree that it makes the surfing experience much better and with time and the right extensions more efficient.