Spreadsheet-style tool could democratize database design

When an organization needs a new database, it typically hires a contractor to build it or buys a heavily supported product customized to its industry sector.

Usually, the organization already owns all the data it wants to put in the database. But writing complex queries in SQL or some other database scripting language to pull data from many different sources; to filter, sort, combine, and otherwise manipulate it; and to display it in an easy-to-read format requires expertise that few organizations have in-house.

New software from researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory could make databases much easier for laypeople to work with. The program’s home screen looks like a spreadsheet, but it lets users build their own database queries and reports by combining functions familiar to any spreadsheet user.

Simple drop-down menus let the user pull data into the tool from multiple sources. The user can then sort and filter the data, recombine it using algebraic functions, and hide unneeded columns and rows, and the tool will automatically generate the corresponding database queries.

The researchers also conducted a usability study that suggests that even in its prototype form, their tool could be easier to use than existing commercial database systems that represent thousands, if not tens of thousands, of programmer-hours of work.

“Organizations spend about $35 billion a year on relational databases,” says Eirik Bakke, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science who led the development of the new tool. “They provide the software to store the data and to do efficient computation on the data, but they do not provide a user interface. So what inevitably ends up happening when you have something extremely industry-specific is, you have to hire a programmer who spends about a year of work to build a user interface for your particular domain.”

Familiar face

Bakke’s tool, which he developed with the help of his thesis advisor, MIT Professor of Electrical Engineering David Karger, could allow organizations to get up and running with a new database without having to wait for a custom interface. Bakke and Karger presented the tool at the Association for Computing Machinery’s International Conference on Management of Data.

The tool’s main drop-down menu has 17 entries, most of which — such as “hide,” “sort,” “filter,” and “delete” — will look familiar to spreadsheet users. In the conference paper, Bakke and Karger prove that those apparently simple functions are enough to construct any database query possible in SQL-92, which is the core of the version of SQL taught in most database classes.

Some database queries are simple: A company might, for instance, want a printout of the names and phone numbers of all of its customers. But it might also want a printout of the names and phone numbers of just those customers in a given zip code whose purchase totals exceeded some threshold amount over a particular time span. If each purchase has its own record in the database, the query will need to include code for summing up the purchase totals and comparing them to the threshold quantity.

What makes things even more complicated is that a database will generally store related data in different tables. For demonstration purposes, Bakke loaded several existing databases into his system. One of them, a database used at MIT to track research grants, has 35 separate tables; another, which records all the information in a university course catalogue, has 15.

Likewise, a company might store customers’ names and contact information in one table, lists of their purchase orders in another, and the items constituting each purchase order in a third. A relatively simple query that pulls up the phone numbers of everyone who bought a particular product in a particular date range could require tracking data across all three tables.

Bakke and Karger’s tool lets the user pull in individual columns from any table — say, name and phone number from the first, purchase orders and dates from the second, and products from the third. (The tool will automatically group the products associated with each purchase order together in a single spreadsheet “cell.”)

A filter function just like that found in most spreadsheet programs can restrict the date range and limit the results to those that include a particular product. The user can then hide any unnecessary columns, and the report is complete.

Hands-on approach

Previous academic projects have explored techniques for database query construction using editable flow-chart diagrams or virtual buttons that can be snapped together. But Bakke and Karger’s tool enables what is known in computer science as “direct manipulation” of data.

“It really harkens back to our physical nature, that we’re very comfortable with the idea that if I pick something up and I twist it, then it will twist, and if I shake it, it will shake” Karger says. “You want the same feeling when you’re manipulating information in a computer — that you’re picking up the information and pushing it this way or sliding it that way or cutting things out — instead of writing some instructions telling the computer to do something. And then the computer does it, and you say, ‘Oh, that’s not what I meant.'”

Bakke conducted two studies of the usability of his tool. In one of them, 14 participants were asked to construct a series of queries using the tool and then rated their experience using the System Usability Scale, a standard measure that allows the comparison of different types of software. The scores hovered around the 50th percentile in the category of business software, which isn’t bad for an academic research project. But the scores for Microsoft’s Access database program are much worse — around the fourth percentile. “The way to describe that result is that database querying is hard, but we can make it tolerable,” Bakke says.

At present, Bakke’s tool enables query construction on an existing database, but it doesn’t enable the direct entry or modification of data. He expects to begin adding that functionality over the next six months, and his office wall is covered with a list of functions that he’d like to add and bugs he needs to repair. But his hope is to release the tool in a year or so.

“It’s almost ironic,” Karger says. “Eirik’s software is far more robust than just about everything that graduate students have built. But he’s not satisfied with releasing it in its current form. He’s aiming for something of commercial quality.”

“It turns out that when you’re dealing with people’s data, you really need to get it right,” Bakke says.

 

 

[Source: Sciencedaily]

Virtual rocks: A new spin on virtual geology

Over the past decade, the number of virtual field trips created to simulate in-person field excursions has grown, but one aspect of physical fieldwork is not commonly replicated: Virtual explorers do not often return to their desks with collections of virtual rocks. Three-dimensional virtual samples can enhance just about any geoscience activity, from online college courses to remote research collaboration.

Three-dimensional digital models of geological objects are relatively easy to create and geolocate on virtual globes such as Google Earth and Cesium. Emerging technologies allow the design of realistic virtual rocks with free or inexpensive software, relatively inexpensive 3D scanners and printers, and smartphone cameras linked to point-cloud computing services.

With interactive 3D digital models of rocks, minerals, fossils, drill core, geo-archaeological objects, and outcrops, designers and users can

  1. Reveal 3D features hidden inside solid specimens;
  2. Archive samples destined for destructive testing;
  3. Prepare for field trips and reinforce learning and retention after the fact;
  4. Aid peer-review and supplement electronic publications;
  5. Give access to geological materials for disabled and other non-traditional students; and
  6. Provide access to collections locked away in storage drawers, given that museums and other repositories display only a small fraction of their holdings.

Virtual rocks can also be gradually altered to illustrate geological processes, such as weathering, deformation, and metamorphic mineral growth.

 

 

[Source: Sciencedaily]

Programmable ions set the stage for general-purpose quantum computers

Quantum computers promise speedy solutions to some difficult problems, but building large-scale, general-purpose quantum devices is a problem fraught with technical challenges.

To date, many research groups have created small but functional quantum computers. By combining a handful of atoms, electrons or superconducting junctions, researchers now regularly demonstrate quantum effects and run simple quantum algorithms — small programs dedicated to solving particular problems.

But these laboratory devices are often hard-wired to run one program or limited to fixed patterns of interactions between the quantum constituents. Making a quantum computer that can run arbitrary algorithms requires the right kind of physical system and a suite of programming tools. Atomic ions, confined by fields from nearby electrodes, are among the most promising platforms for meeting these needs.

In a paper published as the cover story in Nature on August 4, researchers working with Christopher Monroe, a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute and the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science at the University of Maryland, introduced the first fully programmable and reconfigurable quantum computer module. The new device, dubbed a module because of its potential to connect with copies of itself, takes advantage of the unique properties offered by trapped ions to run any algorithm on five quantum bits, or qubits — the fundamental unit of information in a quantum computer.

“For any computer to be useful, the user should not be required to know what’s inside,” Monroe says. “Very few people care what their iPhone is actually doing at the physical level. Our experiment brings high-quality quantum bits up to a higher level of functionality by allowing them to be programmed and reconfigured in software.”

The new module builds on decades of research into trapping and controlling ions. It uses standard techniques but also introduces novel methods for control and measurement. This includes manipulating many ions at once using an array of tightly-focused laser beams, as well as dedicated detection channels that watch for the glow of each ion.

“These are the kinds of discoveries that the NSF Physics Frontiers Centers program is intended to enable,” says Jean Cottam Allen, a program director in the National Science Foundation’s physics division. “This work is at the frontier of quantum computing, and it’s helping to lay a foundation and bring practical quantum computing closer to being a reality.”

The team tested their module on small instances of three problems that quantum computers are known to solve quickly. Having the flexibility to test the module on a variety of problems is a major step forward, says Shantanu Debnath, a graduate student at JQI and the paper’s lead author. “By directly connecting any pair of qubits, we can reconfigure the system to implement any algorithm,” Debnath says. “While it’s just five qubits, we know how to apply the same technique to much larger collections.”

At the module’s heart, though, is something that’s not even quantum: A database stores the best shapes for the laser pulses that drive quantum logic gates, the building blocks of quantum algorithms. Those shapes are calculated ahead of time using a regular computer, and the module uses software to translate an algorithm into the pulses in the database.

Putting the pieces together

Every quantum algorithm consists of three basic ingredients. First, the qubits are prepared in a particular state; second, they undergo a sequence of quantum logic gates; and last, a quantum measurement extracts the algorithm’s output.

The module performs these tasks using different colors of laser light. One color prepares the ions using a technique called optical pumping, in which each qubit is illuminated until it sits in the proper quantum energy state. The same laser helps read out the quantum state of each atomic ion at the end of the process. In between, a separate laser strikes the ions to drive quantum logic gates.

These gates are like the switches and transistors that power ordinary computers. Here, lasers push on the ions and couple their internal qubit information to their motion, allowing any two ions in the module to interact via their strong electrical repulsion. Two ions from across the chain notice each other through this electrical interaction, just as raising and releasing one ball in a Newton’s cradle transfers energy to the other side.

The re-configurability of the laser beams is a key advantage, Debnath says. “By reducing an algorithm into a series of laser pulses that push on the appropriate ions, we can reconfigure the wiring between these qubits from the outside,” he says. “It becomes a software problem, and no other quantum computing architecture has this flexibility.”

To test the module, the team ran three different quantum algorithms, including a demonstration of a Quantum Fourier Transform (QFT), which finds how often a given mathematical function repeats. It is a key piece in Shor’s quantum factoring algorithm, which would break some of the most widely-used security standards on the internet if run on a big enough quantum computer.

Two of the algorithms ran successfully more than 90% of the time, while the QFT topped out at a 70% success rate. The team says that this is due to residual errors in the pulse-shaped gates as well as systematic errors that accumulate over the course of the computation, neither of which appear fundamentally insurmountable. They note that the QFT algorithm requires all possible two-qubit gates and should be among the most complicated quantum calculations.

The team believes that eventually more qubits — perhaps as many as 100 — could be added to their quantum computer module. It is also possible to link separate modules together, either by physically moving the ions or by using photons to carry information between them.

Although the module has only five qubits, its flexibility allows for programming quantum algorithms that have never been run before, Debnath says. The researchers are now looking to run algorithms on a module with more qubits, including the demonstration of quantum error correction routines as part of a project funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

 

[Source: Sciencedaily]

How to fix driver issues in Windows 10 & Windows 8: What to do when drivers don’t work properly after an OS upgrade

How to fix driver issues in Windows 8 and Windows 10

If you’ve already upgraded to Windows 10 you may find some of your drivers aren’t working properly. Here’s how to fix driver issues in Windows 10. A reader wrote in to Helproom to ask: “I have a Dell Inspiron 9400 laptop that runs Windows 8.1. Unfortunately, I can’t get any updated video drivers for the 256MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7800 it came with, which means the 17in screen shows an awful, sickness-inducing blurred screen. The update to Windows meant it downgraded to the Microsoft Basic Display Adaptor, which ruined the previously clear picture. It doesn’t even seem to see the Nvidia processor any more. Is there a workaround or any way to replace the Nvidia processor? The rest of the laptop still works really well.”

It’s an interesting issue that affects PC users whenever they make an OS upgrade. The same will be true of anybody upgrading from Windows 8 to Windows 10. Here’s how we solved their problem.

How to fix driver issues in Windows 10 (and Windows 8)

It’s an unfortunate fact that this situation often arises when a new release of Windows is released. Unlike desktop graphics cards, laptop graphics processing units are often left in the hands of the laptop vendors when it comes to driver updates. So when a model is no longer sold, there is often little incentive for the vendor to keep on producing driver updates for it. As an example, the GeForce Go 7800 isn’t listed on Nvidia’s list of GPUs supported under Windows 8.1 nor Windows 10.

How to fix driver issues in Windows 10 & Windows 8 - Nvidia 7800

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Under certain rare circumstances it is possible to upgrade the graphics card in a laptop, but it’s seldom worthwhile doing so.

However, all is not lost. As you might imagine, you’re not the only person wishing to get Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 running on an older laptop and there are tricks that can be employed to fool the graphics driver installer into working on your hardware.

You could try searching the forums of a site such as forums.laptopvideo2go.com to see if anyone has found success with the combination of your particular laptop and Windows 8.1. After a little searching, we found one user able to run Windows 8 on a GeForce Go 7800 using drivers found on Microsoft’s Windows Update site at tinyurl.com/mdlfkt2.

Unfortunately, if you’re still stuck on finding the right drivers for your laptop or even desktop PC, then you’ll most likely have to upgrade your parts. Alternatively, you can rollback to an older version of Windows, such as Windows 7 which might still have compatible drivers for your PC (in our case the GeForce Go 7800 has compatible Nvidia drivers for Windows 7).

Thanksfully, with prices constantly dropping you can build yourself a nice high-end gaming PC for under £500! Here’s our guide on how to build a PC the right way.

 

[Source:- PCadvisor]

How to change your phone number on WhatsApp (and why you should): What to do when WhatsApp voice calls don’t get through

Most of us are pretty familiar with WhatsApp Messenger. You install the app on your phone, verify it with your phone number, then get busy sending free texts and picture messages over Wi-Fi. But you can also make calls using WhatsApp. Or, at least, some of us can. Also see:WhatsApp ban: What you need to know.

If you’ve ever shopped around for a better phone tariff and put a new SIM in your phone without transferring your old number to it (this most likely applies to those of you with ‘disposable’ PAYG SIMs), you may find that people are having trouble getting hold of you. (Or they will anyway.) Also see: Best SIM-only deals.

This is because WhatsApp lists your old phone number rather than your new one, and your friends will be able to see your account only if they keep your old number on their phone or have an active conversation with you.

If you have recently changed your phone number but not told WhatsApp about the change, here’s what you should do.

How to change your WhatsApp number

1. Open the WhatsApp app and tap the three-dot icon at the top right corner. Choose Settings.

WhatsApp change number

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2. On the next screen choose Account.

WhatsApp change number

3. Now choose Change number.

WhatsApp change number

4. Tap Next at the top right corner of the screen.

WhatsApp change number

5. Enter your old phone number, then your new phone number, and hit Done to save.

WhatsApp change number

[Source:- PCadvisor]

How to use Snapchat new features: Snapchat introduces Chat 2.0 with video notes, stickers & calls

Another Snapchat update has added new features with Chat 2.0. You’ll find new stickers, video notes, audio notes and even calls in Chat 2.0, which was released on 29 March.  Here’s how to use the new features in Snapchat Chat 2.0, as well as lenses, filters, stories and more. If you have an iPhone 6S or 6S Plus there’s now support for Force Touch, too.

How to use new Snapchat Chat 2.0

First, here’s a list of all of the new changes in Chat 2.0:

  • 200 Stickers available in private chats.
  • Video Notes that let you record 10 seconds of video that’ll loop when your friend watches.
  • Audio Notes that let you record audio if you fancy replying in song or can’t type right now.
  • Video and Audio Calls that turns Snapchat into a phone alternative and brings it closer to rivals like Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp.
  • Multiple photos can be sent in Chat 2.0 at once.
  • Send photos during video and audio calls.

To access Chat 2.0, swipe right on a contact you wish to talk to. This’ll open a Chat window with that contact.

Tap the image on the left to send multiple images, the phone icon to start an audio call, the circle in the centre to open the camera, the video icon to start a video call or the smiley face to access stickers.

You can tap and hold on the phone icon to record and send an audio message, and the same goes for the video icon for a video message.

Note that your friend will need to have updated to the new version of Snapchat if you want to use these features with them.

How to use new Snapchat Daily lenses: How to use Snapchat lenses

Lenses are one of the most popular features of Snapchat – after the ability to send videos/photos that expire after 10 seconds, of course. It seems that Snapchat has also noticed this, with the photo-sharing giants offering the ability for its customers to buy (with real life money) lenses to be used at any time. The firm has since scrapped the idea of selling Lenses, and to stop the feature becoming stagnated, has introduced a new system. Instead of offering the same range of lenses on a day-to-day basis, the selection is updated daily, removing the oldest Snapchat lens and replacing it with a brand new one. Don’t worry, though – if you did buy any lenses, these will still be permanently available to you.

One of the most confusing things to new Snapchat users is how to access these lenses. Turn the camera so your face is on the phone’s screen as if you were to take a selfie, then tap and hold on your face until a mesh appears. Now release. Snapchat will load several lenses to the side of the capture button, which you can slide through to access. Many will require you to open your mouth to get the full effect – you’ll feel (and probably look) silly doing so in public, but at least you now understand why the kids are pulling such strange faces.

How to use new Snapchat: Face Swap

One of the most popular filters right now is Face Swap, which, you guessed it, swaps faces. You can find out exactly how to use Face Swap here.

How to use new Snapchat: Story replies

An integral part of the Snapchat experience is the Snapchat Story, which displays a collection of videos and photos you’ve taken over a period of 24 hours, and can be viewed (and replayed) by friends. With the latest update, Stories automatically advance meaning you’ll move straight on to the next story in your contacts list once the first is finished.

But what if you want to reply to a specific Snapchat amongst the collection of videos and photos in your friends Story?

With the latest update, Snapchat has officially added story replies. When watching a friends (no doubt hilarious) Snapchat story, you can reply to a specific photo or video by swiping up from the bottom of the display, opening a new chat window. Simply type your message, hit send, and your friend will recieve the message along with a snapshot of the photo/video you’re replying to. Not the most groundbreaking addition ever, but it should make replying to Snapchat Stories a little bit easier in future!

How to use new Snapchat: Slo-mo and rewind filters

After you shoot a video in the latest version of the app, simply swipe left or right until you see three arrows (rewind) or a snail symbol (slo-mo). The rewind filter is useful if you want to make ‘magic’ effects such as impossible catches (since you’re actually throwing something away from you).

Snapchat slo-mo rewind filters

How to use new Snapchat: Force Touch

Force Touch integration is currently pretty basic. You press hard on the Snapchat icon and get options to start a new chat or add a new friend.

Snapchat Force Touch

How to use new Snapchat: New lenses

In the previous version (9.15.1.0 on 16 September) Snapchat added new lenses. The app does warn that this is only available on ‘newer Android devices’.

Open the app and make sure your front facing-camera is active. Now long press the screen on your face to load the lenses. You can scroll horizontally through them and for most you’ll need to follow an instruction for it to work properly such as opening your mouth or raising your eyebrows.

Snapchat lenses

How to use new Snapchat: Purchase extra replays (in-app purchases)

It only available for US Snapchatters for now, but now there’s an option to purchase extra replays if you just can’t bear to look at some snaps just once. Prices start at three replays for $0.99.

Snapchat said: “You can use a Replay on any Snap you receive, but you can only Replay any Snap once. They’re a little pricey — but time is money! ;)”

How to use new Snapchat: Trophies

Swipe down from the main screen to bring up your personal Snapchat code and you’ll see a new trophy icon above it. Tap it and you’ll see what trophies you’ve managed to unlock – they’re basically achievements like you get on computer games.

At the time of writing there are 16 to unlock and we’ve only managed the first one (reaching a score of 500) so we better go send some more snaps. Tapping the locked ones simply displays question marks so you’ll have to work out how to unlock them.

Snapchat trophies

How to use new Snapchat: How to skip a story or snap

If you’ve had multiple snaps from the same contact, or what to view someone’s story without it taking forever you can skip each photo or video whenever you’re ready. When you’re holding one finger on the screen to view a snap, simply tap anywhere else with another finger to skip to the next one.

How to use new Snapchat: How to video call in SnapChat

If you fancy chatting to a friend, swipe right on their name in your Snapchat inbox to begin. When you leave the chat screen, messages viewed by both you and your friend will be cleared.

The app will notify you if your friend is online when chatting, and if you’re both chatting at the same time you simple have to press and hold to share live video.

How to use new Snapchat: Filters

In similar fashion to Instagram, Snapchat has filters which you can add to your photos. However, they’re not switched on by default so here’s how to switch on filters in Snapchat.

Once you’ve taken a photo, simple swipe left or right and you’ll see a message which says ‘turn on filters’. Click the ‘I want filters’ button at the bottom of the screen. This will take you to the ‘additional services’ part of the settings menu where you can tick the filters box. Note that you’ll need to enable location to be able to switch them on and for some to work properly.

How to use new Snapchat filters

How to use new Snapchat: Replays

In the same ‘additional services’ settings (swipe left from main screen, hit cog wheel and select manage under additional services) you can switch on replay. Once you’ve switched it on, you can replay one snap every 24 hours.

Permission for others to replay your snaps is there by default and can’t be switched off.

How to use new Snapchat: Front facing flash

You’re probably using Snapchat to send selfies to other users but if you’re in the dark then it’s your rear camera which has a flash. Well you can now switch on front facing flash in the additional services menu.

This turns your screen white to provide some extra light for your photo when you take it. You can turn the front flash on and off in the top-left of the screen.

How to use new Snapchat: Special text

if you like adding captions to your snaps then switch on ‘special text’ in, you’ve guess it, the additional services menu. Now when you add a caption, there’s a ‘T’ at the top of the screen which you can tap to change the look.

How to use new Snapchat: Number of best friends

While you’re in the additional services menu, you can tweak how many friends appear in your best friends menu. Simply select it in the menu and choose how many you want it to be. There’s a maximum of seven – we’re not sure why.

How to use new Snapchat best friends

 

[Source:- PCadvisor]

Travel apps: The best travel apps to help you before and during your holiday

If you’re off on a big holiday, chances are you’ll take your smartphone. The computer you can carry anywhere is a window to a world of thousands of apps, and there’s a shedload that claim they will make your trip better. Few actually can, so we’ve gone to the trouble of finding the best travel apps out there.

These are some of the best travel apps out there, and with a decent roaming package from your operator or a decent hotel Wi-Fi connection, these apps will help you plan your trip, find the best mojito in town or get you out of sticky travel situations.

Come June 2017, EU roaming charges will be abolished, and to celebrate we will all go on a Euro holiday and stream Game of Thrones on our smartphones before calling mum back home whilst sending a thousand Snapchats, but until then, make sure to watch your bill.

We’ve broken down the 14 best travel apps into sections, so click below to just straight to a particular one:

  • Pre-trip planning
  • Getting around
  • Food & drink
  • Language
  • Money

Pre-trip planning

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Best travel apps: Kayak

Free
Kayak for Android
Kayak for iOS

The Kayak app is a bit of an all-rounder when it comes to holiday planning. You’ll be able to use it to find and book hotels, flights and cars, and also track flights and manage your trip agenda. There’s also a price alerts feature that’ll help you get the best deal on the holiday you’re hoping to go on, as well as a packing list to ensure you don’t forget anything.

It’s got a really smart, intuitive interface too, so getting the information you need is quick and easy. For example, once you’ve chosen your city and holiday dates, Kayak’s search engine will bring up a long list of available hotels, clearly showing a photo, the hotel’s rating and the price it’ll cost you for each hotel so you can skip right past the horrible or expensive ones.

TripAdvisor

Free
TripAdvisor for Android
TripAdvisor for iOS

One of the most popular apps to use while planning your holiday is TripAdvisor, the main benefit being the huge number of hotel reviews that have been written by holidaymakers themselves. You can make your decision about pretty much any hotel you’re interested in based on the reviews left on TripAdvisor, which will tell you about everything from the food and the cleanliness of the rooms to the service and location.

Even if you don’t book your hotel through TripAdvisor, it’s well worth checking the reviews before you make your decision about where you want to stay.

TripAdvisor also lets you find and book flights.

Best travel apps: Booking.com

Free
Booking.com for Android
Booking.com for iOS

Another great app for booking hotels is Booking.com, especially if you’re looking to book it last minute or if you’re one of those brave people who waits until they arrive to book somewhere. There’s a feature that helps you find available hotels nearby, and it works in more than 64,000 destinations around the world. Plus, as well as showing available hotels, Booking.com also includes villas and apartments.

Like TripAdvisor, Booking.com features reviews of each hotel from people who’ve been there, and you can use the app to go through the entire booking process.

Best travel apps: Expedia

Free
Expedia for Android
Expedia for iOS

For booking both hotels and flights, Expedia is a good app. It’s nicely designed (though sometimes there’s a little too much information to take in at once) and it offers some exclusive deals that might be right up your (holiday) street.

As with TripAdvisor and Booking.com, Expedia has reviews from real customers, and lets you book everything straight from the app.

Best travel apps: Hotels.com

Free
Hotels.com for Android
Hotels.com for iOS

Another hotel discovery and booking app is Hotels.com, which has recently had a rather nice redesign. Just like TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Expedia, Hotels.com helps you find good hotels in the area you’re planning to travel to, and has helpful filters to weed out the hotels that won’t work for you.

There’s also a map feature for nearby hotels, which you can book straight from the app.

Really, which of these four similar apps you use is down to your personal preference. They’re all free, so it’s worth giving them a try until you find the one you like best.

Best travel apps: Triposo

Free
Triposo for Android
Triposo for iOS

Apps from developer Triposo can help you plan your visit to pretty much any country in the world. You can’t use this app to book hotels or flights, but you can use it to help you find out what’s nearby to your chosen destination, so you can plan the activities you’ll get up to while you’re there.

For example, if you’re planning to travel to Italy, you can download Triposo’s Italy Travel Guide (it’s free) to find out what there is to do in the city you’re going to, such as Rome, Florence or Venice. You’ll find maps with highlighted attractions, restaurants, bars, supermarkets and photo opportunities, as well as information such as directions, reviews and contact details for restaurants, museums and more. These guides, handily, can also be viewed offline.

Other handy features include a phrasebook and currency converter.

There’s also a Triposo app that encompasses the entire world, so if you’ve not yet made up your mind about where you’re heading, this might be a better option for you.

Best travel apps: Skyscanner

Free
Skyscanner for Android
Skyscanner for iOS

This one is just for flights, but it sure helps if you’re trying to find the best deal. It’s free to download, though you will spot some ads unless you’re willing to cough up the £1.49 in-app purchase to remove them.

Using Skyscanner, you can search flights from hundreds of airlines around the world to find the cheapest and best ones. Definitely worth a check before you book your flight.

Best travel apps: TripCase

Free
TripCase for Android
TripCase for iOS

This is a rather nice app for both planning your holiday and helping you out when you get there. You’d use it once you’ve already booked your accommodation and flights, as you can enter all of your trip details into TripCase to keep them all in one place and find out if anything has changed (if your flight has been delayed, for example).

In addition to hotel reservations, flights and other transport, you can also add details of trips you plan to make, attractions you’ve booked and restaurants you’d like to eat at. Sharing the itinerary with others who’re coming on your trip with you, or even with those you’re leaving behind at home, can come in useful to keep everyone in the loop.

Plus, there’s a 10-day weather forecast including so you’ll know what to pack and you can rearrange your plans to avoid the rain.

Getting around

Best travel apps: CityMapper

Free
CityMapper for Android
CityMapper for iOS

Currently available in 31 cities worldwide, CityMapper is an excellent app for navigating public transport and walking directions. As long as you’re set up with a good roaming plan so you don’t get charged the earth, it’ll get you from A to B (or from the club to your bed) with excellent step by step instructions based on your current location. It’s a potential lifesaver in a foreign city.

Best travel apps: Google Maps

Free
Google Maps for Android
Google Maps for iOS

The king of map apps remains Google’s offering. We’ve found that day in, day out it offers the most reliable routes while remaining very intuitive and easy to use. A plethora of options, from bus-only routes to an optimised in-car GPS mode make this ridiculously good for a free app.

Perhaps one its still best kept secrets is offline mode – if you’re abroad and haven’t got a data package, you can find where you’re going for the day on your hotel Wi-Fi and save that map for offline use. Google claims the biggest download size for an offline area is 120,000 square kilometres, so we think you’ll be fine for a day or two!

You lose GPS navigation, but carrying around a section of unfamiliar city in your pocket in traditional map form is incredibly handy.

Food & drink

Best travel apps: Untappd

Free
Untappd for Android
Untappd for iOS

An app for beer lovers the world over, Untappd lets you create your own profile and then discover the best beer in town. You can check in at various watering holes and post opinions on local tipples and talk to others who have been to the same places.

For travelling it’s great, as you can search for popular pubs or simply those closest to you, and hopefully get an idea of what’s on tap there. You can also search for individual beers to see where they are being served near to you – very handy in a city you’re new to.

Best travel apps: OpenTable

Free
OpenTable for Android
OpenTable for iOS

OpenTable is a great research and booking app for restaurants while you’re away in the United States, Canada, Mexico, England, Ireland, Germany, Australia and Japan. You can search by location, cuisine, price and more and book tables instantly – great in unfamiliar cities when most places are bound to have a user generated review too, meaning nights out when away just got a whole lot easier.

You can even send booking invitations to friends and add booking to your phone’s calendar, meaning OpenTable is one of the best integrated apps on offer.

Language

Best travel apps: Google Translate

Free
Google Translate for Android
Google Translate for iOS

We love this app. It is as intuitive and versatile as you’d expect from a Google-made app and has some excellent features, from fun to downright practical.

You can set the written language and the language to translate into, which then displays on the screen after you type it in, and you can even make it full screen to read easier or show to a (likely unimpressed, but oh well) local.

Even more useful, particularly for menu reading, is the auto-translate option via your smartphone’s camera. Turn it on and hold your phone up to a foreign language sign, and the app translates each individual word for a quick and easy rough translation. Helpful if you don’t want to accidentally order the pig’s tongue.

Money

Best travel apps: XE Currency

Free
XE Currency for Android
XE Currency for iOS

For the money conscious traveller (which really should be all of us) this is a standard meat and potatoes currency converter. It’s worth using instead of a pre-installed smartphone function as it is updated with live rates and has around 180 currencies listed, and it’ll help you check whether the rickety shed you’re getting your new currency from because you didn’t do it at the Post Office before you travelled is really ripping you off or not.

It also has a simple conversion calculator for when you cant resist the allure of a duty-free iPad. This will help you check if the saving is truly worth it.

 

[Source:- PCadvisor]

Best VR web browser: how to browse the internet in virtual reality

Best VR web browser: how to browse the internet in virtual reality

Samsung Gear VR

After years of trials, tribulations and terrible failures, VR is finally becoming a reality. Whether you are eying up an Oculus Rift or getting the vibes for HTC’s Vive, it’s not just the inevitable avalanche of VR games and video content that are suitable for virtual reality viewing – now you can browse the 2D web in 3D, too.

For those after that total immersive experience, we’ve rounded up the best VR web browsing options currently available.

 

[Source:- Techrader]

Opera bakes ad-blocking into its desktop browser (and mobile, soon)

Opera bakes ad-blocking into its desktop browser (and mobile, soon)

Opera has made the move to introduce built-in ad-blocking to its desktop browser, with the feature incorporated into the developer version of the browser as of today.

The company notes that it’s the first major web browser to have ad-blocking baked in, and is pushing the idea that an integrated system is best (as opposed to a third-party extension) in terms of eking out extra performance and faster browsing.

The system is even proactive, in that the browser will suggest that the feature be turned on when adverts that could be blocked are encountered, asking the user: “Would you like to block ads and surf the web faster?” You can then elect to block ads, or refuse the offer.

Flipside of the equation

Of course, the flipside of blocking adverts is the potential impact on the economics of the web and free content online in general. Some businesses and websites rely on advertising to make their money, and would go under without that revenue.

Krystian Kolondra, SVP of Engineering and Head of Opera, acknowledges this point, commenting: “Advertising fuels the internet, allowing for many services to be free for users.”

He then adds that Opera is going after bloated web pages, stating: “But, as our new research shows, most webpages today are significantly slowed down by bloated ads and heavy tracking. We don’t accept it – we want the web to be a better place for us all, as users.”

Opera claims that its ad-blocking tech can speed up web page loading times by up to 90%, and is 40% faster on average compared to a third-party advert blocking extension, the latter being possible because the filtering occurs at the web-engine level.

The new system also allows users to benchmark web page load times themselves, and there’s also an exception list so even if you turn ad-blocking on, you can disable the blocking on specific sites.

While this announcement is about the desktop browser, we asked Opera whether this capability was destined for the company’s mobile software as well, and received the response: “Yes, we expect this technology to come soon to Opera’s mobile browsers.”

So there you have it – Opera is planning this one across the board.

 

[Source:- Techradar]