f.lux: stop your computer monitor keeping you awake at night!

f.lux makes the colour of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
f.lux makes the colour of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.

f.lux is a genius piece of software (available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Linux) that I’ve been using for a few months now, that has genuinely helped me get to sleep quicker at night.

What it does

It does one job, and it does it brilliantly: f.lux adjusts your computer display according to the time of day.

Generally monitors are set very bright with a blue-y colour temperature, that makes them look great during the day. As the f.lux website puts it:

During the day, computer screens look good—they’re designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the sun.

f.lux fixes that. Once you’ve told the program where in the world you live (so that it can work out when the sun will rise and set) and what kind of lighting you have it gets to work.

For me, the application runs when Windows starts, and I quite enjoy watching my monitor at sunset slowly change as f.lux kicks in; I’ve set mine to fast transition (over 20 seconds).

Flux settings: adjust your lighting, set your location, and transition speed.
Settings in f.lux are very straight-forward.

When the sun sets f.lux adjusts your monitor to look like your indoor lights (for me that means that that whites take on a warmer hue similar to the colour of paper the Financial Times use). And then when the sun rises again, the blues return and it looks like sunlight once again.

Effect on sleep

I noticed a while ago that if I had been using my computer a lot in the evening it was taking me longer to get to sleep.

It turns out that blue light affects sleep patterns and as monitors are back-lit—effectively firing a lot of blue light straight at you—you end up with a lot of exposure to excessive light at night.

A couple of hours looking at a tablet or PC screen in the evening can knock off your sleep by about an hour, researchers have found.

The f.lux developers have taken this into account and so “f.lux adjusts colours in a way that greatly reduces the stimulating effects of blue light at night.”

I have to admit that I was very sceptical at first, and the first time I tried it I hated it. Everything went slightly peachy. But I stuck with it and within a couple of days I was a convert.

And while I used to lie awake in bed for half an hour or more, since using f.lux on my Windows 8.1 PC I now drop off to sleep within minutes.

Conclusion

If you do a lot of work on your computer or iOS device after sunset then I thoroughly recommend f.lux.

Download f.lux today. (Windows, Mac, Linux, or iOS)

My Windows 8.1 start screen

Windows 8.1 start screen
Windows 8.1 start screen (click to view full size)

I was reading about the anticipated announcement of the next version of Microsoft Windows, which some are speculating may not even be called ‘Windows’.

In the Guardian article Microsoft event will reveal new revitalised Windows 9, Windows 8 got quite a bit of stick for the way it muddled its interface for desktop users.

I have to say that I really like Windows 8 and 8.1. I especially like the new start screen, particularly the way you can customize it to show only those applications you use most, grouped and named how you want them, in four sizes.

Above is a screenshot of my Windows 8.1 start screen. Setting it up like this has meant that I now have very few items pinned to the taskbar (Windows Explorer, eM Client, Todoist, Safe In Cloud, TED notepad, and Google Chrome)…

Windows 8.1 taskbar showing only seven icons.
My minimalist Windows 8.1 taskbar

…and absolutely nothing on the desktop.

My Windows 8.1 desktop showing no icons at all. (Click for full size)
My Windows 8.1 desktop showing no icons at all. (Click for full size)

To the right of that lot I’ve got games: first LEGO games for the children and then a few other things for me (Call of Duty, Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition, Four Winds Mah Jong).

How do you organise yours?

Playing LEGO games across two monitors with SoftTH

LEGO Marvel Superheroes on 2 x 1920x1080 monitors
LEGO Marvel Superheroes on 2 x 1920×1080 monitors

This afternoon we had a visit from Isaac’s godfather, the fabulous Mike McQuaid. As we stood in my study watching the boys playing LEGO® Marvel™ SuperHeroes on my PC I remarked to Mike that I wished that there was an option to use both my monitors, rather than squeezing the two-player co-op onto one 1920 x 1080 screen.

Mike was pretty certain that should be possible and after a quick ‘google’ he unearthed information about NVIDIA® Surround, which “joins multiple displays into a single immersive viewing surface”, typically used for full-screen gaming or watching full-screen video. However, we soon discovered that it requires three displays and I have only one.

This evening, not taking no for an answer I did some internet searching of my own and discovered SoftTH which claims to do the same thing as NVIDIA® Surround but on any number of monitors regardless of whether their resolutions match or not, and so long as they are plugged into a PCI Express graphics card.

How to…

I read somewhere that configuration could be a bit cumbersome but it actually turned out to be fairly straightforward. The trickiest bit, to be honest, was locating the game files (see below).

  1. Download SoftTH.
  2. Unzip the two files: d3d9.dll and readme_SoftTH2.txt somewhere handy.
  3. Locate the directory where the game EXE file is located.
  4. Copy the d3d9.dll file into that directory.
  5. Run the game.
  6. SoftTH runs and checks for the location of a config.SoftTHconfig file. If it doesn’t find one it creates a default configuration file.
  7. Once the game loads (on one monitor) adjust the screen resolution two the new default setting (in my case 3840 x 1080), and the aspect ratio to “From Screen-Res”.
  8. The screen resolution will change, stretching across both monitors and now two player co-op uses one screen for each player.

Locations of EXE files

We have quite a few LEGO games installed so I had to hunt around for their various locations within C:\Program Files (x86):

  • \LucasArts\LEGO Clone Wars
  • \LucasArts\LEGO Star Wars – The Complete Saga
  • \Steam\SteamApps\common\Lego Indiana Jones 2
  • \Steam\SteamApps\common\LEGO Marvel Super Heroes
  • \Steam\SteamApps\common\The LEGO®  Movie – Videogame
  • \Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment\LEGO® Batman™ 2
  • \Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment\LEGO® The Lord of the Rings™

Caveats

I have a fairly decent graphics card (NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 660) so this worked for each LEGO game I tried. I didn’t play each game for long so I couldn’t attest for how reliable this is played over hours, but I couldn’t see anything that might suggest that it wouldn’t. A few notes from my 30 minutes experience of this…

Taskbar on monitor two

I discovered when returning to the games that if I had any other applications open on monitor two (I’m running Windows 8 here) then once SoftTH was running it still showed the taskbar.

My workaround was to right-click the taskbar before the game started and select “Auto-hide the taskbar” which slid it safely out of the way.

Character tables

The first real niggle I had was when selecting a new character why does the game present the character table in such a squashed-up way?!

With so much screen real estate why are the characters squashed up so much?!
With so much screen real estate why are the characters squashed up so much?!

The same is true when both players change characters at the same time.

What is going on?! You have a width of 3840 pixels... USE IT!
What is going on?! You have a width of 3840 pixels… USE IT!

Not suitable for one player

My second caveat is that as beautiful as the periphery scenery looks while playing, game play isn’t very sustainable if you are playing a single player game because your character stands right in the middle of the screen, and so is divided between the two monitors.

Cut screens?

My last word of warning is more of a hunch than from experience: I imagine that certain pre-rendered cut screens throughout the game may display in a strange way as they are not optimized for such a wide screen.

UPDATE: Actually, the cut screens on the whole were okay. You do lose some detail as you’re essentially viewing them through a huge letterbox, but it’s mostly viewable.

Targeting is disrupted a little

UPDATE: One thing I’ve noticed is that targeting with certain objects is now a bit off with the double-screen set up. For example, on the opening level with Hulk and Iron Man you need to target a water cannon at Sandman: where you direct the cannon and where it actually sprays are two different locations. On the next level you need to target one of Captain America’s locks, but it’s near impossible to line it up properly without quickly nipping back to a 1920 x 1080, single-screen resolution.

Conclusion

On the whole, I was really impressed. It was simple to set up, with absolutely no configuration from me.

I’ll show this to the boys tomorrow and see what their verdict is: usable or not? Then I’ll report back.

Party transport early warning system

Car pulls up outside our house.
What’s going on outside my front door, you ask? Well, let me show you. Ah! Right on time: here’s the party transport.

Reuben and Joshua were invited to a party taking place in Leven this morning. Our friend Helen offered to drive them there in her small bus; what her seven children teasingly refer to as ‘the loser cruiser’.

Remarkably I managed to get both boys dressed (with jumpers and shoes) in 25 minutes (could that be a record?), the birthday present was wrapped and the card was written. All we had to do now was wait.

I found myself thinking: if only there was a way that allowed me to see what was going on outside while still sitting comfortably at my study desk.

Wait a minute! I’ve got a webcam that might just… wait… it does! It stretches from my desk over to the window.

Perfect: an instant party transport early warning system.