The DigitalOutbox Comic #01

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One of the picks from episode 21 was the online comic creator from The Super Hero Squad Show, by Marvel.

The online comic creator is Flash based and allows the user to create either a quick 1-3 panel digital comic strip or a 1-22 page digital comic. The comic creator is fairly simple to use, you have page of cells to which you can drag and drop assets to. The assets are categorised into a number of categories, such as: backgrounds, characters, objects, dialogues and sound effects.

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Once you have created your masterpiece, you can either print it out or save it as a PDF.

We tried it out and created our very own comic book. It took a lot longer than expected, mainly due to the browser crashing during the first attempt. However we finally got there and now without further ado, we present to you, the DigitalOutbox Comic #01.

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Free To Party

While exploring the newest updates in iTunes 9, I stumbled across a feature which although I was aware of, I’d never really paid much attention to: Free on iTunes.

Every week Apple release a single of the week which can be downloaded for the princely sum of £0.00, free, nada, nothing. From the few times I’ve checked, the music usually comes from unknown or upcoming artists and bands. This can be an excellent way of building up your music library for free and also for discovering new music. It’s also beneficial for the artists and bands as it provides them with exposure to the iTunes community helping them build a fan-base. In addition to the single of the week, there is additional content also available for free. This varies, but can consist of more music downloads and videos.

I tried this week’s free single, 40 Day Dream by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, and thought it was pretty good. I was also very surprised to find the first four episodes from series 2 of The Inbetweeners, also available for free! The remaining content was a mixed bag consisting of featurettes from shows like Lost, Friends and Scrubs and a couple of short films. Hopefully the content is updated on a weekly basis like the free single and I’m really looking forward to the next update. I’m not sure why I haven’t tried using this feature more but I fully intend to from now on.

Free on iTunes

AppMiner 2.0

AppMiner2.0AppMiner 2.0, by Bitrino, monitors the App Store for apps which have been discounted or become available for free. With a layout very similar to the App Store, you can easily view all newly released apps, all on sale apps and all top rated apps. Each of these options can viewed by sub-categories or you can view the top 100 in each section.

The most useful section is of course, the Sale section. Here, you can view the on sale apps in specific categories. My most viewed category is Top 100. Apps in each category are displayed chronologically which really helps to see all the newest apps that have just come on sale. Each category can be changed to display just the paid apps, just the free apps or all apps..

My favourite feature however, is the Watch list. Here you can add a watch for any apps that you would like to purchase but can’t afford or don’t want to pay the current price. You can select a target price and if/when the app becomes available at or below your target price, it will be highlighted next time you launch AppMiner. This makes it really easy to keep a tab on your potential purchases without having to go to the App Store and individually searching for the apps to check their current price.

PS3 friendly videos with mkv2vob

The best tool I have found for converting your high-definition mkv files with x264 video and AC3 sound, to a PS3 friendly format is mkv2vob.
Previously I’d have had to transcode or convert the mkv file to an avi or other PS3 compatible video format, which would take ages and I’d lose the AC3 sound.
Mkv2vob simply muxes the x264/AC3 streams in the mkv file to a vob file, which is readable by the PS3. There is no transcoding or re-compression involved so there is no loss in quality. If the mkv includes DTS sound, then there is an option to transcode that to AC3, but my system can handle DTS so I leave it as it is.
The whole process takes literally minutes. Occasionally I have a file which does need to be transcoded and this does take longer than the regular process, but it happens so rarely that it’s not an issue for me. The good thing is that the user does not have to do anything, the program detects the type of the video source and automatically determines if any conversion is required.
Once the process has completed, an mpeg file is produced which can be played on your PS3, complete with HD video and surround sound – awesomes!

Geek it up with GeekTool

Something I’ve not done in a long time, especially after switching to Macs, is customise my desktop. I remember when I had a PC, I used to love tweaking the UI with apps such as WindowBlinds, IconPackager and ObjectDock. I’m reasonably happy with the Mac UI so haven’t had the desire to change much other than a slight tweak to the dock and the menubar icons. But this has all been done without resorting to any drastic changes or 3rd party apps.
Recently I came across GeekTool which is a system preferences module for OS X and can display system logs, unix command outputs and images on your desktop. This information can appear as embedded in your desktop or in front of other windows.
It’s a light-weight app and if used creatively, can allow you to enhance the already elegant OS X visual look. Once installed, it appears at the bottom of your System Preferences. It’s reasonably straight forward to use and you need to be familiar with unix commands.
GeekTool
Groups are listed in a dropdown on the left. You create a group of as many elements as you like and only one group can be active at any one time. An element can be the output of a file, a unix/shell command or an image. Text output (from a file or command) can be formatted to any font, size and colour. When you add a new element, a semi-transparent placeholder for it appears on the desktop, which can be dragged around or resized with the mouse. You can also enter the precise size and coordinates in the window. There is also an option to always display this element on top of other windows.
That is basically, all there is to it. The rest is up to the imagination of the user, how creative they want to get with it. Some examples I have seen display really nice weather output, including graphics. Whereas other examples are so geeked up, with massive file outputs covering the entire desktop, that it looks like a complete mess. I didn’t want to do anything drastic and followed the example from a LifeHacker article to create a nice desktop displaying basic information.
Desktop

Dropbox – online storage

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Dropbox is a brilliant and extremely useful online storage service. Online storage services aren’t anything new and what makes Dropbox special is it’s ease of use, speed and how it seamlessly integrates with your host operating system.

Basic account registration is free and you get an instant 2GB storage. Invite your friends and every friend that joins earns you (and your friend) an extra 250MB up to a maximum of 3GB in addition to your initial 2GB.

Pro 50 account provides 50GB storage and costs $9.99 per month or $99 annually. Pro 100 account provides 100GB storage at a cost of $19.99 monthly or $199 annually.

The service can be used as a simple online storage tool via a web browser, to upload files from one computer and then access those files via a browser from another computer. But Dropbox is much more than that – it can be used to share files/folders with other people, keep your data synchronised between multiple computers and easily create online photo albums.

The best way to use it is to install it on your computer, where it seamlessly integrates with Finder/Explorer. Once installed, it can be used just like a regular folder and you can add sub-folders and files to it. When a file is added, it instantly starts to synchronise with the online service, freeing the user to carry on working on other tasks. This is a brilliant tool for users with multiple computers, who want to keep certain data files synched. Store such files in your Dropbox folder and you don’t have to concern yourself with uploading files from one computer and then downloading to another. It all happens automatically without any user intervention.

Files added to the special Public sub-folder can be shared with others – just right-click on the file, copy the public URL and send the link to whoever you want to share the file with.

If you’re working on a project, create a shared folder for storing documents and invite collaborators to share this folder. Uploaded changes are instantly visible to other project members. As soon as one collaborator modifies the contents of the shared folder, the changes are automatically pushed to other collaborators’ Dropbox folders instantly, brilliant! Accidentally deleted files can be easily recovered.

Another really nice feature is that any images added to the special Photos folder are automatically created in to simple photo albums, with public URLs available for sending to friends and families.

Have a look at the tour for full details and explanation of the service. There is also a screencast available which clearly shows all the major features.