Friday, 15 May 2015

Red Reading Light

As a child, I discovered that covering my torch with a piece of thin red paper would make it less likely that my parents would notice I was staying up late to read in bed. Later, at boarding school, I found the same trick enabled me to share a dormitory without being assaulted for disturbing my roommates' sleep. These days I only share a room with my wife, but I still like to read at night. Of course, technology has moved on since I were a lad, and back-lit Kindles and ebooks on smartphones now exist, but I've found these to be a threefold disappointment: not only are they quite capable of disturbing a nearly-sleeping partner, even on their lowest brightness or 'night mode', but they ruin one's night vision, and, according to the WHO, their blue/white light can make it harder to fall asleep. The only torch I own these days is a one-million-candlepower monster I use for finding lost cats; not really something I can take to bed, even if I ignore the fire hazard inherent in covering its glare.

My solution was to make an Android app; after firing up Eclipse, discovering that there was now a dedicated IDE in the form of Android Studio, installing that instead, and laughing at the way I could create a working app by pressing only the tab key, I put together a very simple little thing that displays a red light on the screen of your device. Swipe along one axis to change brightness; swipe along the other to change hue. I added the option to change hue after testing it on an old device I had lying around and finding that even on maximum brightness its primitive screen was too dim to read by when a pure red - introducing a little more white to the mix solved the problem. Currently the app will keep the screen on forever; I might at some point go back and introduce a timer to turn it off after a pre-set period of time for those who tend to fall asleep while reading.

If that sounds like something you'd want, you can pick it up on the Play store for £0.68 (or a similar amount in your local currency). I realise that charging real money (however small an amount) for something that simple is something of a breach of internet etiquette, but it doesn't have any ads or weird data-mining permissions or any of the things that usually come with free products.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

How to get Solitaire, Minesweeper, or any other Windows 7 game on Windows 8

I bought my wife a Windows 8 laptop a little while ago, and while it's very good in many ways and far from the satanic product it's often made out to be, it has one major flaw: it doesn't ship with Solitaire! Or Spider Solitaire, or Minesweeper, or any of those games that make office life ever-so-slightly less awful. Installing these games turned out to be a rather more involved process than I thought it would be, and I thought I'd put together a guide for those who wish to replicate it. While it looks rather complicated, it's not really difficult at all, and I've tried to write this guide so that even the most technophobic of readers can follow it.

It's worth noting at this point that Windows 8 versions of the games are available free from the Microsoft store: just open the store and search for "Microsoft Solitaire Collection". For many, these will be a perfectly acceptable methadone; what follows is for those purists who seek a more traditional opiate. To follow this guide, you will need:
  • Access to a machine running Windows 7
  • A memory stick or some other way of copying .exe files to the Windows 8 machine
  • An internet connection.