Posts Tagged Computers

Five essential WordPress plugins for your blog

Considering the fact that there are thought to be tens of millions of WordPress sites dotted around the internet, it’s no surprise that website owners make every effort to try and provide their platform with the best chance of success as possible. In relation to WordPress, this is usually in the form of plugins and the software certainly has more than enough available. Users can access thousands of add-ons for their blog, although the following five are currently regarded as the most essential if you want your website to hold the best chance of success.

wordpress plugins

WP Security Scan

Considering the security-conscious nature of the internet these days, it’s no surprise to see that this plugin boasts over one million downloads to its name. The system checks your blog for any vulnerabilities and targets issues such as passwords, file permissions, database concerns and even problems relating to the admin area of the software. Once it has identified such concerns, it will then report back to you with a series of actions that can be implemented to combat them.

Broken Link Checker

If there ever was a case of a plugin doing exactly what it says on the tin, this is it. Broken Link Checker will analyse your WordPress blog and let you know if any broken links have been found. It will look through every single page on your website and will even go as far as disallowing any search engine from following a broken link. Moreover, a variety of settings can be applied and you can receive notifications either by email or your WordPress dashboard.

Akismet

Boasting almost 12 million downloads, it can be safely said that Akismet is one of the most popular plugins on WordPress. It is primarily a detection system against spam and if it does believe any new comments to be spam, it will place them in a folder ready for your review. Akismet has become so popular over the years that users now need to apply an API key to successfully use the software.

Exclude Pages

This is a plugin that has proven to be exceptionally simple yet very effective for a lot of users. While it may have “only” notched 700,000 downloads, Exclude Pages is very handy and allows you to remove pages from menus. A checkbox is added to each page and post and if you decide to uncheck it, it will remove the said page from your navigation menus. The system also affects child pages, which makes the job of organising your menus much simpler.

All in One SEO Pack

This is undoubtedly one of the most popular plugins on the WordPress platform – boasting even more downloads than Akismet. Put simply, the All in One SEO Pack will optimise your website perfectly for the search engines, whether this is the URL format, the Meta tags or just tidying up the linking structure. Moreover, it will rid you of the famous duplicate content problem that arrives with WordPress and for those users that are not comfortable with configuring the settings, it can work successfully straight out of the box.

Liam writes on internet blogging and sports such as golf, tennis and football. He also likes a good online betting offer when he places a small wager on his favourite team at the weekend.

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Now control computers with simple eye movements

LONDON: Scientists have developed a unique and affordable device which could enable millions suffering from nerve degenerative diseases and amputees to interact with their computers and surroundings using simple eye movements.

The eye-tracking devices and “smart” software, which costs less than 40 pounds, can help patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy and spinal cord to interact with the computer freely.

According to a study, published in The Journal of Neural Engineering, the device could even allow people to control an electronic wheelchair simply by looking where they want to go or control a robotic prosthetic arm.

Composed from off-the-shelf materials, the new device can work out exactly where a person is looking by tracking their eye movements, allowing them to control a cursor on a screen just like a normal computer mouse.

Researchers from Imperial College London demonstrated its functionality by getting a group of people to play the classic computer game Pong without any kind of handset. Users were also able to browse the web and write emails “hands-off,”

Aldo Faisal, a lecturer in neurotechnology at Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, is confident in the ability to utilise eye movements given that six of the subjects, who had never used their eyes as a control input before, could still register a respectable score within 20 per cent of the able-bodied users after just 10 minutes of using the device for the first time.

The commercially viable device uses just one watt of power and can transmit data wirelessly over Wi-Fi or via USB into any computer.

The GT3D system has also solved the ‘Midas touch problem’, allowing users to click on an item on the screen using their eyes, instead of a mouse button.

“Crucially, we have achieved two things: We have built a 3D eye tracking system hundreds of times cheaper than commercial systems and used it to build a real-time brain machine interface that allows patients to interact more smoothly and more quickly than existing invasive technologies that are tens of thousands of times more expensive,” he said.

“This is frugal innovation. Developing smarter software and piggy-backing existing hardware to create devices that can help people worldwide independent of their health care circumstances.”

The cameras constantly take pictures of the eye, working out where the pupil is pointing, and from this, the researchers can use a set of calibrations to work out exactly where a person is looking on the screen.

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Do computers have right to free speech?

Do machines speak? If so, do they have a constitutional right to free speech? This may sound like a fanciful question, a matter of philosophy or science fiction. But it’s become a real issue with important consequences.

In today’s world, we have delegated many of our daily decisions to computers. On the drive to work, a GPS device suggests the best route; at your desk, Microsoft Word guesses at your misspellings, and Facebook recommends new friends. In the past few years, the suggestion has been made that when computers make such choices they are “speaking,” and enjoy the protections of the First Amendment.

This is a bad idea that threatens the government’s ability to oversee companies and protect consumers. The argument that machines speak was first made in the context of Internet search. In 2003, in a civil suit brought by a firm dissatisfied with the ranking of Google’s search results, Google asserted that its search results were constitutionally protected speech. (In an unpublished opinion, the court ruled in Google’s favor.)

And this year, facing increasing federal scrutiny, Google commissioned Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, to draft a much broader and more elaborate version of the same argument. As Volokh declares in his paper: “Google, Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo! Search, and other search engines are speakers.”

To a non-lawyer the position may sound bizarre, but here is the logic. Take a newspaper advice columnist like Ann Landers: Surely her answers to readers’ questions were a form of speech. Likewise, when you turn to Google with a question, the search engine must decide, at that moment, what “answers” to give, and in what order to put those answers. If such answers are speech, then any government efforts to regulate Google, like any efforts to bowdlerize Ann Landers, must be examined as censorship.

And that’s where theory hits reality. Consider that Google has attracted attention from both antitrust and consumer protection officials after accusations that it has used its dominance in search to hinder competitors and in some instances has not made clear the line between advertisement and results.

Consider that the “decisions” made by Facebook’s computers may involve widely sharing your private information; or that the recommendations made by online markets like Amazon could one day serve as a means for disadvantaging competing publishers. Ordinarily, such practices could violate laws meant to protect consumers. But if we call computerized decisions “speech,” the judiciary must consider these laws as potential censorship, making the First Amendment, for these companies, a formidable anti-regulatory tool.

Is there a compelling argument that computerized decisions should be considered speech? As a matter of legal logic, there is some similarity among Google, Ann Landers, Socrates and other providers of answers. But if you look more closely, the comparison falters.

Socrates was a man who died for his views; computer programs are utilitarian instruments meant to serve us. Protecting a computer’s “speech” is only indirectly related to the purposes of the First Amendment, which is intended to protect actual humans against the evil of state censorship. The First Amendment has wandered far from its purposes when it is recruited to protect commercial automatons from regulatory scrutiny.

It is true that the First Amendment has been stretched to protect commercial speech (like advertisements) as well as, more controversially, political expenditures made by corporations. But commercial speech has always been granted limited protection. And while the issue of corporate speech is debatable, campaign expenditures are at least a part of the political system, the core concern of the First Amendment.

The line can be easily drawn: A, s a general rule, nonhuman or automated choices should not be granted the full protection of the First Amendment, and often should not be considered “speech” at all. (Where a human does make a specific choice about specific content, the question is different.)

Defenders of Google’s position have argued that since humans programmed the computers that are “speaking,” the computers have speech rights as if by digital inheritance. But the fact that a programmer has the First Amendment right to program pretty much anything he likes doesn’t mean his creation is thereby endowed with his constitutional rights. Doctor Frankenstein’s monster could walk and talk, but that didn’t qualify him to vote in the doctor’s place.

Computers make trillions of invisible decisions each day; the possibility that each decision could be protected speech should give us pause. To Google’s credit, while it has claimed First Amendment rights for its search results, it has never formally asserted that it has the constitutional right to ignore privacy or antitrust laws.

As a nation we must hesitate before allowing the higher principles of the Bill of Rights to become little more than lowly tools of commercial advantage. To give computers the rights intended for humans is to elevate our machines above ourselves.

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Review: Microsoft Surface straddles divide

LOS ANGELES: Microsoft seems to have gotten the design and form factor right with its new Surface tablet computer. But the user interface, not so much. That’s an odd conclusion to make about a device from a software company that usually lets others do the manufacturing.

Still, that’s how I felt after feeling the heft of the device, examining it from all sides and making a few swipes at the screen. The Surface has a touch keyboard cover that feels great and, to me, is a big step forward for tablets. The tablet’s software interface, however, seems non-intuitive and sluggish.

Microsoft is clearly straddling the uncomfortable divide between the old world of mice and keyboards, where it dominates, and a future ruled by touch screens, where Apple and Android devices prevail.

Although the Surface won’t go on sale until this fall, I had the chance to spend a few minutes with some devices in a group demonstration after Microsoft unveiled them in Los Angeles on Monday.

The removable cover comes across as a takeoff of Apple Inc.’s Smart Cover. Both snap into place perfectly with magnets. But instead of sporting foldable sections, Microsoft’s cover is rigidly flat and has a full keyboard imprinted on it. Microsoft’s cover seems central to the Surface experience, although it’s not clear if it’ll be sold separately. Apple sells Smart Cover separately starting at $39.

The cover is thin _ about a tenth of an inch, or 3 millimeters. When covering the screen, its spine covers one edge and its outer fabric makes the whole package feel like a soft book. Where it attaches to the tablet, it’s completely floppy, so it can be whipped around to close over the screen or folded back like a magazine.

The keyboard is imprinted on the inside of the cover, facing the screen. So when you open it, you can lay the cover on a table and use it to type. The letters are separated by little ridges, allowing you to feel around somewhat as you type. I have found that typing doesn’t feel right on the iPad’s glass.

The keyboard is covered with synthetic material that feels like a tennis racket handle or a high school running track, but not as grippy.

The keys themselves don’t depress as you type. Rather, there are seven layers of metal and other material inside that sense pressure and speed. When the cover is folded open entirely, covering the back, the keys stop being sensitive to touch.

Demonstrators from Microsoft told us they could type upwards of 50 words per minute, but I didn’t have access to the device long enough to test my ability to input “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”

There was another keyboard accessory with depressible keys that was 5.5 millimeters thick, or nearly twice the regular cover. It felt more comfortable for typing but didn’t seem revolutionary. You can also type on the screen, the way you can on an iPad.

Running the length of the Surface is a thin, 0.7-millimeter metal flap called the kickstand. This is what transforms the device from a tablet that you can grip to a computer you can type at while sitting at a desk or table.

Microsoft made much of the fact that the sides of this thin device are cut at 22 degree angles. It’s no big deal until you realize that the kickstand positions the tablet to lean back at 22 degrees, making the bottom edge flush with a flat surface.

The front-facing camera looks up at you, while the back camera is angled so that it points straight forward when the kickstand is extended. The back camera angle also should make it easier to shoot video or take pictures while looking down at the screen held at an angle.

As I said earlier, the tablet’s software is what disappoints.

I detected a lag when swiping, which just seems wrong on a touch screen. After all, you can see exactly where your finger is touching. If the image doesn’t come along in real time, that’s noticeable. Apple’s iPad and iPhone may still have Microsoft’s Surface beat in this regard.

Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system and its Windows RT counterpart for low-power chips are supposed to bridge the gap between touch devices and personal computers.

But the company has made a perplexing design choice by hiding crucial navigation items off the screen. Finding them requires swiping in from the sides. I would need a tutorial on what actions lead to what results. Let’s just say it is not readily apparent.

Those who have tested the software on personal computers have reported not being able to find the “Start” menu. The Surface seems to address this by putting a permanent Windows icon in the middle of the device below the screen. The icon causes a vibration when touched, which helps because it’s not a physical button.

Who would use this device?

At the announcement on Monday, CEO Steve Ballmer pounded home the message that this tablet will be as good as a PC for creating documents in a way that the iPad never was. It’s true that the iPad has such shortcomings as an inability to run multiple programs side by side, the way you can on a regular computer. Surface can run at least two at a time.

So, users would seem to be professionals who want a tablet they can use for work and play.

I find that proposition appealing, especially after lugging my heavy laptop to the press conference and having to keep a watchful eye on the dwindling battery life. (Speaking of which, Microsoft still hasn’t said anything about the Surface’s expected battery life.)

Microsoft said the low-power version using Nvidia chips will cost about the same as other tablets, while a version that runs Windows 8 Pro will cost about the same as other ultrabooks with Intel processors. The Pro version will have a stylus that allows users to make handwritten notes on documents such as PDF files. It also has an Intel processor and the option for more memory.

Surface splits the difference between a standard tablet and super-light laptops such as Apple’s MacBook Air or ultrabooks that run Windows. But typing on the Surface’s keyboard cover seems to require just that, a surface. I’m not sure how I would manage the cover keyboard and a kickstand on my lap.

Microsoft’s ultimate challenge seems to be making sure that all the programs on my current laptop _ including its range of Office software _ can run smoothly on Surface. It’s not clear yet whether it can deliver on that vision.

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Skype jacks ads into free Internet phone calls

SAN FRANCISCO: Skype on Wednesday began showing callers on-screen ads while they use the globally popular free Internet telephone service.

What Skype euphemistically referred to as “Conversation Ads” appear in calling windows of users who don’t pay for subscriptions or have credits in accounts at the service.

“We’re excited to introduce Conversation Ads as an opportunity for marketers to reach our hundreds of millions of connected users,” Sandhya Venkatachalam said in a post at the official Skype blog. “While on a 1:1 audio call, users will see content that could spark additional topics of conversation that are relevant to Skype users and highlight unique and local brand experiences.”

The silent conversation ads are available to marketers where ever Skype is available and will be shown during free Skype-to-Skype calls on computer’s powered by Microsoft’s Windows software, according to Venkatachalam.

Microsoft’s Skype Internet telephone service hopes to quadruple the number of users to get to one billion, division president Tony Bates said two weeks ago at a prestigious All Things Digital conference in California.

Bates, who heads the unit that was acquired by Microsoft last year but operates autonomously, said growth will come from mobile users and from partnerships like the one Skype has with Facebook. He cited Facebook as a key to growth for Skype, which now has 250 million users.

He said Skype can use the reach of Microsoft, the world’s biggest software firm, to expand its presence, but without limiting itself to the Windows platform.

Skype users can make low-cost or free phone calls over the Internet using their computers or smartphones. Skype bypasses the standard telephone network by channeling voice and video calls over the Web.

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HP still leads: Top 5 makers of personal computers

Hewlett-Packard Co. remains the world’s largest maker of personal computers, but the business is slowing with the rise of smartphones and other mobile devices. HP announced Wednesday that it will cut 8 percent of its work force by October 2014. HP has said it will use savings to invest in growing businesses.

According to research group IDC, here are the five leading manufacturers of personal computers in first quarter of 2012:

Worldwide:

Hewlett-Packard Co., 15.7 million shipped worldwide, 18 percent share

Lenovo Group Ltd., 11.7 million, 13.4 percent

Dell Inc., 10.1 million, 11.6 percent

Acer Group, 8.6 million, 9.9 percent

AsusTek Computer Inc., 5.3 million, 6 percent

Others, 35.7 million, 41 percent

Total: 87.1 million

United States:

Hewlett-Packard Co., 4.6 million shipped in U.S., 28 percent share

Dell Inc., 3.6 million, 21.7 percent

Apple Inc., 1.7 million, 10 percent

Toshiba Corp., 1.35 million, 8.1 percent

Acer Group, 1.3 million, 7.8 percent.

Others, 4 million, 24.4 percent.

Total: 16.6 million

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Intel eyes future with computers that learn

TEL AVIV: Intel Corp is launching research in Israel into technology that mimics the human brain and develops devices that “learn” about their user.

“Machine learning is such a huge opportunity,” Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer, told reporters in Tel Aviv.

“Despite their name, smartphones are rather dumb devices. My smartphone doesn’t know anything more about me than when I got it,” he added.

“All of these devices will come to know us as individuals, will very much tailor themselves to us.”

The research, to be carried out by the Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Computational Intelligence along with specialists from the Technion in Haifa and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is aimed at enabling new applications, such as small, wearable computers that can enhance daily life.

For example if a user leaves his car keys in the house, the device will in the first week remember where he left them and by the second week will remind the user to pick up his keys before leaving home, Rattner said.

Such devices, which continually record what the user is doing, will be available by 2014 or 2015, he said.

“Within five years all of the human senses will be in computers and in 10 years we will have more transistors in one chip than neurons in the human brain,” said Moody Eden, president of Intel Israel.

Rattner said Intel is already implementing the new technology in digital signs it created for Adidas. The signs determine whether the shopper is male or female, adult or child and shows shoes suitable to that person.

He said this was part of Intel’s expansion beyond its traditional semiconductor business.

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