Category Archives: Nerd Stuff

Weekend Fun – Kill All Productivity with Free Tower Defense Games

If you had any thoughts of entertaining productivity this weekend, kick them to the curb with these two amazingly addictive, flash-based Tower Defense games.

Bloons Tower Defense 3

You’re a monkey. No, wait, you just control a bunch of monkeys. No, wait, you control a bunch of monkeys, cannons, spike shooters, frost towers, and an assortment of other wacky tools in a desperate attempt to pop balloons (or bloons). Lots of them. MILLIONS of them.

There are eight different tracks and three difficulty levels. Can you survive to round 50? If you do, you can continue on in free-play mode until you run out of lives.

I made it to round 61 in this screenshot, but got it handed to me soon after that.

One word of warning – beware the MOAB (Massive Ornery Air Blimp).

Play Bloons Tower Defense 3. Crave more? Try your hand at the previous version 1 and 2.

Desktop Tower Defense

DTD is without a doubt one of the most addicting free games ever created. You’ve probably heard of it by now. Perhaps you’ve even played it once, twice, or 500 times. Play it again. Just one more time….

All you have to do is build a maze to prevent the creeps from making it to the other side. Much easier said than done, I assure you, especially in Hard Mode.

Have fun killing your productivity this weekend!

Play Desktop Tower Defense

An Introduction to Podcasting with Blogger and iTunes

Podcasting is the practice of distributing media files online for subscribers to view. Since it is Internet-based, it is similar to simply posting on a website. Many podcasts are distributed as episodic content – such as weekly radio or television shows.

This brief tutorial is focused toward people who have never created an audio podcast before. I put it together for an electronic music class that I teach, and thought it could be of use here on TipsFor.us.

Required Tools

Software

  • Digital Audio Workstation Software

If you’re only recording speech with little or no music, you likely won’t need software like this. Something like Audacity will suffice. For more complicated editing and mixing, you’re going to need digital audio workstation (DAW) software.

The big-boy software titles include Cubase, Sonar, Digital Performer, Pro Tools, Logic, and Samplitude. They also come with a big-boy price. For more modest uses, consider Tracktion or even FREE offerings such as MU.LAB. Use Linux? Try Ardour.

  • Audio Compression Software

You’re going to need to compress that audio file for the Web, and free tools such as Audacity, iTunes, and BonkEnc will do the job with aplomb.

  • FTP Client

Use a free FTP client such as Filezilla or Cyberduck to store your files online on a file/web host of choice (more on that below).

  • Podcast Catcher

To take a look/listen at your newly created podcast, subscribe to it with a tool such as iTunes or Google Reader.

Web

  • Online Web Space

You need a place to store your files on the Web that allows for direct linking. If you already own web space, fantastic. If you do not, don’t worry. There are free workarounds.

  • A Publisher

Though not absolutely required, a free publishing account with a service such as Blogger or WordPress is highly recommended. Podcasts require an RSS Feed (allows podcast catchers to subscribe), and services such as Blogger generate the feed for you automatically. The other option is to write the XML file yourself… tedious.

Create Your Audio File

When you have finished composing and mixing your masterpiece, you need to prepare it for the web. The issue here is to make the file small enough without sacrificing too much quality. You will need to to compress your hi-res audio mix (*.aif) into a lossy format. Most podcasts use either MP3 or AAC. See our digital audio primer.

I suggest using Audacity to compress your audio. No matter what software you use, set the bitrate to at least 128/k (up to about 192/k). Make sure the resulting file has all lowercase letters and no spaces or special characters. Also, make sure your file has an extension (*.mp3).

The compressed audio file is what your subscribers will hear, naturally.

Storing Your File on the Web

The next step is to upload your file to a storage host. The aforementioned free services such as Blogger and WordPress do not currently allow for storage of audio files (legal/piracy reasons). Instead, I suggest using some web space to store your files.

If you do not pay for any webspace, don’t fret. Take a look at our article on overcoming Blogger’s upload limitations. Though the article mentions Blogger specifically, the solutions can apply to any other service.

Publish your Podcast

Now it’s time to publish your podcast so that the world can listen. This section of the tutorial is specific to the Google Blogger service. If you use a different service, please consult their Help section for podcast-specific tips.

The site that my class used is: http://ku-electronic.blogspot.com

To set up a Blogger account for podcasting, do the following:

In your Blogger dashboard, go to Settings → Formatting. Enable the Link Field to enclose audio in your posts.

Now, when you create a New Post, you will see a field for Enclosures.

Add the full link to your hosted audio file (including the http://).

Voila! When you publish your post, it will instantly become a podcast. All RSS Feed requirements are handled automatically.

Subscribe to the Podcast

If you want to subscribe to the newly created podcast, just enter the full URL to your Blogger site in your podcast-catching software.

Example (Google Reader):

Subscribe with iTunes

iTunes is slightly different. To subscribe to a Blogger feed in iTunes, go to the Advanced menu, then click Subscribe to Podcast.

Add the full URL to your site, plus /feeds/posts/default

Click OK, and your podcast subscription will show up like this:

Anytime you write a new post on the site, it will show up in the feed reader.

This concludes the tutorial. Happy podcasting!

Fed Up with Blogger’s Upload Limitations?

Update: There’s now a third, very simple method available – who.hasfiles.com – see more info.

Google Blogger is a great and easy way to create your own blog, but one nagging problem is the limitations on uploads. Sure you can upload images and video, but not other common file types such as MP3, DOC, ZIP, and PDF.

There are a number of ways around this limitation. I’m going to show you two of them today.

I had three requirements in mind when finding a solution:

  1. None of the methods should cost a single penny!
  2. The method should allow for direct linking to files, not going through a middle-man.
  3. The process should be as simple as possible.

Method One – Google Sites

The simplest solution that I have found is to use another Google service – Sites. To enable Sites, just log in with your Google account and create a name for your site. Make sure to make your site Public.

Sites offers 100 MB of extra storage space where you can link directly to MP3s, PDFs, or any other type of file you wish.

Now let’s make a page where you can add some files. In Sites, click Create a New Page at the top.

Choose File Cabinet as your page type. Once you’re done, all you have to do is add a file on the page you created.

Once your file uploads, the last step is to simply right-click your file and Copy Link Location (Firefox – other browsers may say something like Copy Shortcut).

Paste that link into Blogger, and voila! You now have a direct link to your file! If you find that you cannot link directly to your file, make sure your Site is listed as Public.

This is the easiest method I’ve found, and I like that it’s tied directly to your Google account. If you run out of your 100 MB, you can create another Google Site, or consider method two below.

Method Two – DriveHQ

This solution is slightly more complicated, but offers much more storage space. DriveHQ has been around for many years, and they offer 1 GB of free space accessible by FTP. You can link directly to files provided that you create a True account – still free, essentially just requires verification of what they call a trustable, non-mainstream e-mail address. Accounts like Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail do not count. I just used my university e-mail.

Though there are other free FTP hosts, I recommend DriveHQ because they have been around for many years, and because your files never expire due to inactivity. I created an account with them four years ago, and I went for over two years without logging in. My files were still just as I left them.

DriveHQ Web Share

Once you create a free account with DriveHQ and upgrade to True status (free), you will have access to a website root folder (wwwhome). Anything you place in your wwwhome folder is accessible online (YOUR-USERNAME.drivehq.com).

Feel free to create folders, but for simplicity’s sake I strongly suggest sticking to all lowercase letters and omitting special characters in your folders and file-names.

Example 1 – If you put a file called sample-file.mp3 in your wwwhome folder, the web path is:

  • http://YOUR-USERNAME.drivehq.com/sample-file.mp3

Example 2 – If you create a folder in wwwhome called music and put your sample-file.mp3 in there, the path is:

  • http://YOUR-USERNAME.drivehq.com/music/sample-file.mp3

Adjust your links accordingly and paste into Blogger. Voila! You have direct links.

FTP Access

Once you’ve registered, you can use FTP to upload files if you do not feel like bothering with their web interface. Just connect to ftp.drivehq.com with your favorite FTP client (such as Filezilla or Cyberduck).

DriveHQ offers 1 GB of storage space, but one catch here is that free accounts only have 1 GB of download bandwidth per month. For most people, this is likely sufficient, but if you know your files will get tons of hits, this is not the best option. Or, you could use a combination of these two methods – use Google Sites for files that will see big traffic and save DriveHQ for seldom-accessed files.

Other Thoughts

Of course, the two methods I present here are not the only possible ways to host files for inclusion with Blogger. There are literally hundreds of free web hosts and file storage services out there. Finding a place to store your files is easy. Finding a good and reliable place to store your files is amazingly difficult.

The vast majority of online storage services either:

  1. Do not allow for direct linking, or…
  2. Expire and delete your files after a certain amount of time or inactivity, or…
  3. Have not been around long enough to be considered tried and true, or…
  4. Try to spam you to death with ads and optional services.

Concerning free web hosts, yes, many of them offer free FTP access. While I applaud this, you need to be careful. The vast majority of free web hosts have a clause in their Terms of Service stating that they are not to be used as file storage. Any accounts found breaching this clause will have their files mercilessly deleted without warning. These companies make the bulk of their money by putting ads on your free site, and file storage/direct linking is simply not profitable for them. You don’t want your files disappearing, do you?

That’s why I chose Google Sites and DriveHQ for this article. If you know of any other solutions that are free, reliable, simple to use, and allow for direct file linking, please let us know in the comments.

Add Gmail IMAP to Thunderbird Without Breaking a Sweat

As you may know, Gmail IMAP and Thunderbird form an awesome combination. As you may also know, setting up and configuring that combo is a time-consuming process. First you have to look up and enter all the required port information. Then you have to look up and follow the IMAP recommended client settings for things like sent folders, drafts, junk, and trash. It’s a hassle, but the end result is worth it.

While I don’t object to anyone going through that process manually for the hands on experience, I’d love a way to do it in seconds rather than minutes. I’m reminded of one of my favorite Garfield quotes – You can bet it wasn’t an exercise freak who invented power steering.

Alas, there IS an easier way. just use the Gmail IMAP Account Setup add-on for Thunderbird. When you install this extension, it adds a couple extra entries to the account setup wizard that will automatically configure recommended settings for IMAP Gmail. Nice!

Here’s the simple, sweat-free process:

First, be sure that you have enabled IMAP in Gmail. Go to the Settings page and click Forwarding and POP/IMAP. Near the bottom, enable IMAP.

Download the Add-on XPI file from the Thunderbird Add-ons page. Now open Thunderbird and go to Tools → Add-ons. Click the Install button.

Browse to find the XPI file that you downloaded and install it. Restart Thunderbird to finish installation.

Now, when you create an new account in Thunderbird, the New Account Setup Wizard has a couple new options.

Next, just add your Name and E-mail address.

And that’s it! The last page of the wizard will simply display your setup information, including SMTP.

That was easy, wasn’t it? No more fooling around with ports and managing folders. I’ve tested Gmail IMAP Account Setup on Windows and Linux, though I assume it also works on Mac OS X.

Four Easy Ways to Keep Your Passwords Syncronized

If you’re like me, you have a ton of different passwords to try to remember, and you definitely do not want to recycle the same username/password combo over and over. To this effect, perhaps you use a free password manager such as KeePass.

For anyone who hops around between multiple computers, however, there still remains a problem: how to easily have access to the latest versions of your passwords. While KeePass does a great job of keeping my passwords organized, I still need easy access to my passwords from any current computer. Imagine this scenario:

You’re at work (or maybe at a coffee shop) and you decide to update your Internet banking password. Every time you make an update, you have to dig out your flash drive and e-mail the database to yourself, or else you will end up wondering which version is current. It’s a hassle.

Here are four different methods for keeping your commonly-used passwords in sync and readily available.

Option 1 – Foxmarks

Several months ago I wrote an article on Foxmarks, and it does a splendid job of keeping Firefox bookmarks synchronized across multiple computers. In addition to bookmarks, Foxmarks now has the ability to sync passwords. In FIrefox, just go to Tools → Foxmarks → Foxmarks Settings, and browse to the Sync tab.

Check the box next to passwords, create a strong PIN, and you’re done. Your saved Firefox passwords will now stay in sync for every computer on which you have Foxmarks installed.

If you tend to rely on Firefox to store your passwords, this is a simple way to keep them updated. Since Foxmarks does not require admin privileges, you can use it at work, too. Hint: you can create multiple profiles in Foxmarks if you don’t necessarily want ALL your passwords synced to your work computer.

Option 2 – Dropbox / Syncplicity

If you rely on a password manager (such as KeePass, 1Password, or Password Dragon), here’s a handy trick to keep your database synchronized. All you have to do is sign up with a free online storage and syncing service (such as Dropbox or Syncplicity).

Place your password database file in a folder that will automatically stay updated. Whenever you open the database to make changes, just open it directly from the synced folder. Any edits that you make will automatically stay in sync across your computers.

Better yet, you can even drop the entire portable ZIP version of KeePass into your Dropbox or Syncplicity folder and run it from there. New version of KeePass available? Just overwrite the existing files with the new ZIP version and all your linked computers will automatically receive the latest version.

Option 3 – LastPass

LastPass is both an online password manager and an automatic form filler. It has a ton of features and can easily allow multiple computers to access stored passwords. There’s even a plugin available for both IE and Firefox (Safari support coming soon).

If you’re on a public computer, you can always use the portable LastPass pocket version that does not require access to the LastPass toolbar.

Worried about the availability or security of an online password manager? Yeah, so am I, but LassPass does a pretty good job of addressing these issues.

Option 4 – Passpack

Passpack is another free online password manager. No, it’s more than that. It’s a privacy vault that allows you to store pretty much whatever info you want. Like LastPass, Passpack can automatically generate passwords and fill in your saved information without typing. There’s absolutely nothing to install.

Again, if you’re worried about the security of an online password manager, Passpack claims that not even they can read your stored passwords. Plus, there are two portable versions of Passpack available:

For the ultra-paranoid, the portable versions of Passpack do not even require a Passpack account. Instead, they function like a standalone password manager (similar to KeePass).

There you have it – four easy ways to keep your passwords in sync. If you have any other suggestions or strategies, let us know in the comments below.

Introduction to Bash Scripting

Here’s a great tutorial for bash scripting: http://www.linuxconfig.org/Bash_scripting_Tutorial

Linux and OS X: Harness the Power of Bash
Linux and OS X: Harness the Power of Bash

If you’re doing any work with Linux or OS X computers, knowing even a little bit of bash can save you a whole lot of work. You can write automated backup scripts, you can scan for faulty permissions… the list is endless. You’ll end up building a toolbox of common scripts that you will use in multiple places.

Only one thing wasn’t given much attention on that page, so I thought I’d point it out:

for next Loop

Usually, your programming syntax is cleaner if you avoid the for next construct and stick to the for each construct instead, however, with bash scripting you often need to work with that crazy little numerical iterator for changing things like file names (e.g. backup1, backup2, …). So you should get familiar with the seq command. It creates an array, going either forwards or backwards, and then bash’s for next loop iterates over that array.

Here’s the seq syntax:

seq [OPTION]... FIRST LAST
seq [OPTION]... FIRST INCREMENT LAST

And here’s how you might iterate backwards over an array:

LIST=`seq $NUMBER_OF_ROLLBACK_FILES_TO_PRESERVE -1 1`;
for I in $LIST; do
echo "I is $I";
done

Now get over to http://www.linuxconfig.org/Bash_scripting_Tutorial and start learning.

Backup and Restore Your Firefox Profile with MozBackup

If you frequently hop around between various Windows-based computers, you might find it handy to keep the same Firefox profile with all your custom settings, extensions, and other info. One easy way to backup and restore your Firefox profile is with MozBackup.

Note: MozBackup also works with Thunderbird, Flock, Sunbird, SeaMonkey, and other Mozilla software.

The MozBackup download comes in both an executable and Zip (standalone) format. I prefer the Zip since you can just pop it onto a Flash drive and carry it with you.

Back Up Your Profile

First, launch the MozBackup wizard. Choose the operation type (Backup versus Restore) and select the desired Mozilla application.

Next, highlight the profile you wish to save. Unless you have created custom profiles, default is the only choice. Be sure to take a look at the Save backup to directory location at the bottom.

At this point you can set a password if you wish. I highly recommend that you do so, especially if you keep saved passwords in your Firefox profile. If those fell into the wrong hands….

Next, choose all the profile details that you want MozBackup to save.

Click Next, and voila! Your backup has been created. Just stick the saved file on a USB flash drive or upload it to some online storage.

Restore Your Profile

Now that your Firefox profile is saved, let’s restore it to another computer, shall we? Launch the MozBackup utility on the new computer, but this time choose Restore a profile as the operation type.

As before, select the desired profile to restore into, and then browse to find your backup file that you created.

Next, select the desired components to restore and tell it to overwrite existing files in the profile.

And away it goes!

And that completes your restore. The next time you launch Firefox, your profile on the new computer should contain all the same extensions, bookmarks, passwords, and other components that you selected.