How to run Windows 8.1 for free for 90 days

On the fence about Windows 8.1? You can take the new OS for a free 90-day spin before deciding whether you want a permanent relationship.

For Windows 8 users, the decision to upgrade to 8.1 is virtually a no brainer. The new version offers a host of benefits and improvements over its predecessor. And it's free. So, there's little reason not to upgrade. Windows 8 users can easily download and install the Windows 8.1 update through the Windows store.

But those of you running previous versions of Windows would have to shell out $120 for Windows 8.1 or $200 for Windows 8.1 Pro. … Read more

Pucker up! Kissing machine rates your smooches

On a scale of 1 to 8, how are your kisses? You could check in with whomever you're smooching these days -- or you could consult the Kissing Evaluator.

The electronic contraption, built by a team of San Francisco makers, reacts to a couple's canoodles with LED lights and woob woob and bleb bleb noises (a method that's been officially certified by the International Association of Kissing Metrics).

The team built the whimsical device for Red Bull Creation, a national competition that challenges contestants to invent something creative around a piece of hardware -- and then display it in public. Red Bull sent this year's participants a "Turbull Encabulator" circuit board that it designed as a tool for making LED light art, along with RGB LED lights and instructions to "make something awesome." … Read more

Microsoft serves up 60-day trial version of Office 2013

People who want to take Office 2013 for a spin can download a 60-day evaluation edition.

The version available is the full Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013 suite, which includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, and Lync. The software contains all the features in the paid edition, so you won't miss out on anything.

You will need a Microsoft account in order to access the download page, but otherwise there are no strings attached.

Here's how you can grab the free trial version:

Head over to the Office Professional Plus 2013 download page on TechNet. Click … Read more

Protecting your blind side in IT

I recently argued that everyone has a blind side. When people or organizations miss important threats or opportunities--ones that are perhaps obvious to you--it's easy to think badly of them, to assign blame. My goodness! Why ever could they not see that coming?! Idiots! But it's not simple to avoid being those idiots.

I've dealt with department managers with unimpressive budgets who truly "get it." And I've worked with international governments and captains of industry who wouldn't recognize a clue if it dressed up as Colonel Mustard and bludgeoned them with a lead pipe in the conservatory.

In my experience, truly incompetent individuals and outlandishly oafish organizations are the exception. What I usually find are intelligent, well-meaning folks who can't see what they're missing--not because they're stupid, lazy, or in any other meaningful way blameworthy--but because they're focused on other tasks and looking the other way.

Last week, I promised to share some techniques for dealing with the blind side. I wish I could say "Combine a pound of black beans, a quart of skepticism, three eggs, four product evaluations, and a dash of focus group feedback in a large mixing bowl; stir until creamy; pour into well-greased pan; and bake for an hour at 325 degrees." But it's not like that. Improving your perception and handling of things that are over the horizon, camouflaged, latent, or visible only in the "negative space" (i.e., what's missing rather than what's there)--those are skills to be learned, not recipes to be followed. Nevertheless, I've used these these techniques with excellent results:

Admit It, Move On People tend to be embarrassed by, thus defensive about, their blind spots, weaknesses, ulterior motives, errors, and failures. Ego drives us to pretend they don't exist. But when you're pretending something isn't a problem, it's hard to do much about it. So get over it. Accept that you have significant weaknesses, fears, and other assorted ugly bits--that there's an often large gap between where/what you are and where/what you want to be. Getting over shame and blame and getting your ego out of the way lets you get on with the real work. If it's not your ego in the way, help whoever's ego is in the way to get out of it.… Read more

A wall version of Tetris for the ultimate fan

The unrelenting ravages of time may have taken their toll on many of us aging Boomers, but one aspect of our misspent youth remains intact: the love for ancient video games.

The nostalgia is so strong at Spark Fun Electronics that a crack team of nine professionals came up with a "Picture Frame Tetris," a wall-sized version of the retro game using 720 colored LEDs and 16 microcontrollers. We're not Tetris experts (being of the Asteroids camp instead), but Technabob breaks down the technicalities in plain english: "The game features a unique interface that controls the … Read more