Category Archives: Software

Get OpenDNS

A few days ago I found out about OpenDNS – it’s one of those services that once you start using it, you wonder how on earth you ever got along without it before.

In short, it’s a FREE Domain Name Service (DNS) that you can tap into on a specific computer or router level. I simply logged into my Linksys WRT54GL router, entered two server addresses, and rebooted. That’s it.

What can it do for you? A lot! 🙂

opendns_specs.png

Anti-phishing

For starters, it protects you from “phishing” sites, such as attempts to steal your PayPal passwords and bank account information. This alone is enough reason for anyone to use it. Also, it corrects common misspellings and re-directs to the appropriate site. For instance, if you type “craigslist.og,” it will redirect you to “craigslist.org.” Pretty slick.

Also, it’s supposedly faster, though I haven’t noticed much difference. It certainly did not slow my internet connection in any way.

Keyword Shortcuts

If you create an account, you have even more tools at your disposal, such as keywords. If you have a commonly-used long URL, you can easily create a shortcut it. For instance, if you find yourself navigating to the Wikipedia article on J. S. Bach a lot, you can create a shortcut to take you to that page just by simply typing “bach.”

opendns-shortcut.png

Adult Site Blocking

If you feel the need, you may also block all “adult” sites very easily, which is sure to cause the 14-year old in your life much despair. 🙂

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For best results, set up OpenDNS on your router, not just on your computer. That way, everyone else on your network can take advantage of its benefits.

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Make Avira AntiVir (Free Edition) More Usable

Update: there is also a more recent version of this article here.

logo_antivir.gifFor years now I have used the free edition of AVG Antivirus, but recently I switched to Avira AntiVir (free edition). I still like AVG, but a number of reports (such as this one) show that it suffers in comparison to AntiVir. While my system has not had a virus in a long time, I decided to give AntiVir a whirl.

I like it, for the most part. However, there are a couple of easy hacks improvements that one can make.

Disable the Annoying Popup

The free edition of Avira AntiVir comes with an nagging popup window that rears its ugly head after each update (usually) every day, begging you to consider upgrading to the premium version. The popup is easy to dismiss, but annoying nonetheless. I understand that Avira needs to make money, but every single day is excessive.

Anyway, here is how to disable it:

Windows XP Pro:

  1. Start – Run – Type “secpol.msc”
  2. Click on Software Restriction Policy – go to Action (at the top) – Create New Restriction Policies
  3. Right-click on Additional Rules (on the right) – Choose New Path Rule

new_path_rule.png

4. Now click Browse and find the “avnotify.exe” file (C:\Program File\AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic\)

5. Make sure the security level is set to “Disallowed” and click OK.

Done. What you have done is disallowed the execution of “avnotify.exe”, which should suppress the popup window.

Windows XP Home (and Media Center)

  1. Boot into Safe Mode (repeatedly press F8 after boot)
  2. Login under the Administrator account
  3. Navigate to C:\Program File\AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic\avnotify.exe
  4. Right-click “avnotify” – Go to PropertiesSecurityAdvanced
  5. Look under the Permissions folder for a listing of all the system users. Do the following for all the users:
  6. Edit – Traverse Folder / Execute File – Deny – Click OK
  7. Reboot (into Normal mode) when finished

I don’t have Windows Vista, so I can’t comment on that. If some willing user wants to figure it out and comment below, please feel free.

Make Updates Invisible

By default, when AntiVir updates itself, it will spawn a new (minimized) window that can interrupt any full screen application that you are using, such as a movie or a video game. To change this, set the Display Mode to Invisible.

  1. Launch AntiVir and click the Scheduler tab.
  2. Right-click on Daily Update and choose Edit job
  3. Click Next until you reach the Display Mode screen
  4. Choose Invisible from the drop-down list (see screenshot)

antivir_invisible.png
There. Now AntiVir will no longer interrupt full-screen applications.

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How-To: Create Screencasts on (nearly) Any Operating System

Screencasts, or capturing a digital video of movement on your computer screen, are a great way to create tutorials, presentations, and even entertaining videos. Software used to create screencasts abounds for (nearly) every operating system, and ranges in price from free to upwards of $50.

As an example, here is a sample screencast (2.5 MB – Ogg Theora) showing the installation of Google Desktop for Linux. If you can’t open the video, please use VLC.

Naturally, I prefer the free options, but will give credit when credit is due if a paid option is simply better than a free option. That said, here is an overview of some of the screencast options available for Windows, Linux, and OS X, and possibly other operating systems.

Windows

Option 1: Wink

Price: FREE

wink-logo.gif

Wink is a free screencasting program aimed at creating tutorials. As such, it offers a plethora of options in addition to simply recording the action on the screen. Some of the options include audio recording, inclusion of navigation buttons, adding text, and exporting to various formats, such as PDF, HTLF, and SWF. Wink also allows you to capture still screenshots, including the ability to capture screenshots based on the mouse and keyboard input.

wink-image.jpg

If you simply want to record the action on your screen, choose the designated section on your screen and press SHIFT + PAUSE to start/stop recording. When finished, you can render your video as a Flash movie. Continue reading How-To: Create Screencasts on (nearly) Any Operating System

“Ghost” Your Windows System for Free Using Open-Source Tools

The following tutorial is intended for those with some knowledge of Linux and the command line. At the least, you should be comfortable with creating and navigating directories, and should possess a fundamental knowledge of hardware device names under Linux.

Sound scary? A “point-and-click” guide to accomplishing most of the same tasks is also available.

The Problem

Like it or not, Windows needs to be reinstalled occasionally. Whether the cause is a bloated registry, a virus/spyware attack, or an idiotic user, with time Windows just seems to slow down and/or behave erratically.

Re-installing Windows from scratch is a pain. Once you get the base system installed, most people have to download millions of updates and patches, scour the web in search of the latest drivers, and reboot, reboot, reboot.

The Solution

Once you get your Windows system installed and configured the way YOU want it, you should be able to restore to that pristine state in a matter of minutes, not hours. The way to do this is to create an “image” of your freshly-installed system, from which you can later restore when necessary. Of course, there are a number of commercial packages available to do this task, but what if you do not want to spend any money?

Linux and open-source software to the rescue. Yes, you can quickly, and (dare I say) easily image and restore a Windows system using open-source tools. Before we begin, please back up any critical data. This procedure worked for me, but I am not responsible for any data loss.

The Main Tools

Repeat after me: “I am NOT afraid of the Command Line!”

The open-source tools that we are going to use are:

  • ntfs-3g – a driver for NTFS
  • GParted – a partition editor
  • ntfsclone – exactly what it sounds like
  • a Linux “live” CD

In order to restore Windows, you need to run from a different working environment, such as a Linux “live” CD. Any Linux “live” CD with the above tools will work, but two available options are SystemRescueCD and Puppy Linux. Both allow you to boot and run entirely in RAM, freeing your CD/DVD burner for any additional tasks that you might need. I successfully completed all of the tasks detailed below using both Puppy and SystemRescueCD. Just grab the latest version of whichever you prefer.puppy-logo.gif

Note: If you use SystemRescueCD, I recommend typing docache doeject at the boot prompt. These two options will load the entire rescue environment into RAM and then eject the CD afterwards. Puppy Linux, on the other hand, loads into RAM by default. The rest of this tutorial will use Puppy Linux, though the commands can easily be issued from any live CD that contains the above tools.

Before you can image and restore your system, you need to consider a few things: Continue reading “Ghost” Your Windows System for Free Using Open-Source Tools

A Choice List of Productive FREE Windows Applications

Let’s face it: Windows comes pretty barren by default. Thankfully, there is a plethora of freeware applications available to complement it. The following is a list of choice productive applications that I typically install on my own systems. This is similar to my now-obsolete list for Mac OS X.

Before I begin, allow me to say that creating any list of top freeware applications for Windows is bound to invoke the wrath of certain individuals. There are two reasons for this:

  1. There are A LOT of freeware applications for Windows, of varying quality.
  2. It is impossible to please everyone.

That said, it is only with trembling, fear, and trepidation that I post this list. 🙂

About my choices

I had a few stipulations in mind when selecting each application:

  • The application MUST be free, as in “free beer.” Open source is welcome, but not required. If an application has a “paid” upgrade available, that is acceptable, provided the “free” version is not purposefully crippled.
  • Each application must allow for productivity of some sort. This eliminates all security tools, such as antivirus and spyware scanners. Those are (hopefully) preventative tools, not productive ones. Games and other entertainment packages are ruled out for the same reason. Yeah, I’m fun at parties.
  • Bonus points are given to those applications that “do one thing and do it well.” That’s the UNIX junkie in me.
  • In most cases I tried to avoid the overly obvious. For instance, there is no point in listing a “productive” web browser or e-mail client. Plus, if you have not heard about Firefox, Opera, or Thunderbird, it’s time to crawl out from under your rock.
  • Every application must of course work with Windows XP. They probably work with Vista, but since I don’t own Vista, I can’t vouch for any of them.

Ok! Let’s get started. The following applications are in random order.

Launchy

Link – Launchy

Similar to Quicksilver on Mac OS X, Launchy is a neat little utility to launch files and programs. Once installed, simply press ALT + Spacebar to bring up the Launchy window. Start typing the name of any program in your start menu and Launchy should find it.

launchy_in_action.jpg

You can also easily browse your filesystem or add specific files and folders (such as MP3s or pictures) for indexing. Once you get used to it, it saves a lot of time.

Paint.NET

paint-net.gif Link – Paint.NET

Paint.NET is a very sophisticated image editor and photo manipulator that supports layers, unlimited undo, and a multitude of other features. No, it is not meant to be a Photoshop killer, but it can easily handle most people’s image editing needs. While The GIMP is also free (and more powerful overall), Paint.NET is significantly smaller, has a great interface, and loads much faster.

OpenOffice.org

openoffice-logo.gifLink – OpenOffice

If you have not heard of OpenOffice, where have you been since the turn of the century? If you need an introduction, let’s just say that OpenOffice is currently the best free replacement for the MS Office Suite. I write all of my papers for graduate school with it. In fact, I own a copy of MS Office 2000, but have used Openoffice exclusively since 2003 and have no plans to ever switch back to MS Office.

Driveimage XML

dixml32.gifLink – Driveimage XML

Want a free way to “image” your drives and partitions? Look no further than Driveimage XML, a program that can create “hot” images of your drives and partitions and restore them later.Not sure how to use this program? You are in luck. I wrote a tutorial on Ghosting Windows XP for Free.

IZArc

izarc.gifLink – IZArc

Ah, I remember the days when most everyone had a shareware version of Winzip installed, but not registered. Fortunately, there are many more compression utilities available today, and it is possible to run into archives now in any number of varying formats. No worries, IZArc can probably handle it. As quoted on its website, IZArc can support:

7-ZIP, A, ACE, ARC, ARJ, B64, BH,
BIN, BZ2, BZA, C2D, CAB, CDI, CPIO, DEB, ENC, GCA, GZ, GZA, HA, IMG, ISO, JAR, LHA, LIB, LZH, MDF, MBF,
MIM, NRG, PAK, PDI, PK3, RAR, RPM, TAR, TAZ, TBZ, TGZ, TZ, UUE, WAR, XXE, YZ1, Z, ZIP, ZOO

IZArc also supports 256-bit encryption and the conversion of CD image types, such as BIN to ISO, and NRG to ISO, both of which are extremely handy.

FileZilla

filezilla.gifLink – Filezilla

Need FTP software? Way back in the day I used WS_FTP extensively, but as I saw future versions continue to bloat, I looked elsewhere. Most people’s FTP needs are simple: upload stuff, download stuff, save server settings, possibly rename files, and perhaps change file permissions. FileZilla does all of these easily and intuitively. Hint: combine FileZilla with Notepad++ for easy editing of text files on the server!

Mozy Backup

Link – Mozy Remote Backup

What good is doing productive work if you have no way of backing it up? Mozy is a backup software package that offers two gigabytes of free remote storage. Simply create an account with them, install the software, choose which directories you would like to keep archived, then forget about it. I wrote a more thorough review of their service here.

Stickies

stickies-logo.pngLink – Stickies

Love them or hate them, those little virtual post-it notes can be quite handy. I’m a fan of Stickies on Mac OS X, so I’ve been happily using Stickies for Windows. Just type whatever note to yourself that you want, and it will automatically be saved.

my-stickies.jpg

You can even synchronize Stickies across multiple computers using the Amazon S3 service. Slick! Note: both Stickies and Paint.NET require the .NET framework 2.0.

Notepad++

notepadplus.gifLink – Notepad ++

The original Windows Notepad is a pretty wimpy text editor, and there are a number of good replacements. I like using Notepad++ since it does everything I could ever want it to do. Here are some features:

Syntax Highlighting and Syntax Folding
WYSIWYG
Auto-completion
Multi-Document
Multi-View
Regular Expression Search/Replace supported
Full Drag

visual_studio_2005_express.jpgVisual Studio Express

Link – MS Visual Studio Express

Real coders just use VIM, right? 🙂

I admit, I’m not much of a coder, but if you need free development tools, it is hard to beat Microsoft’s Visual Studio Express Editions. There are tools available for web development, C#, C++, VB, J#, and SQL development. You must register with Microsoft for a free registration key in order to use the software.

PrimoPDF

Link – PrimoPDF

Like it or not, the ability create PDFs is essential now. Windows by default cannot create PDFs, but it can with the addition of utilities like PrimoPDF, which installs as a virtual printer. Once it is installed, you may “print” to it from any application that can print. Though there are many similar applications, I like PrimoPDF for its ability to “merge” PDFs together. For those interested, it also allows for file security, such as limiting viewing and printing unless you supply the specified password.

I recommend using PrimoPDF in conjunction with the free Foxit Reader, a PDF viewer that runs circles around Adobe Reader in terms of installation and loading speed.

Audacity

audacity-logo.jpg

Link – Audacity

Audacity is a free, crossplatform audio editor. Want to splice two audio files together? Or maybe trim the applause from a live recording? Or maybe record your podcast? Audacity performs all of these tasks with aplomb. There is also a nice “noise” removal plug-in that I have successfully used to remove background hum, such as from an air conditioner.

I make my living in the music world, yet I often find myself turning to Audacity for simple audio tasks rather than launching one of my larger, more “professional” programs.

MPEG Streamclip

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Link – MPEG Streamclip

What is MPEG Streamclip? It is a video converter. No wait, it’s more than that. MPEG Streamclip is an editor: you can cut, trim, or join videos. It can convert MPEG files between muxed and demuxed formats. It can open and encode videos to a number of formats. You can even download videos into the program from YouTube and Google Video simply by entering the URL.

mpeg_streamclip-convert.jpg

Note: you need Quicktime (or an alternative) installed in order to fully harness MPEG Streamclip.

Supported input formats:

MPEG, VOB, PS, M2P, MOD, VRO, DAT, MOV, DV, AVI, MP4, TS, M2T, MMV, REC, VID, AVR, M2V, M1V, MPV, AIFF, M1A, MP2, MPA, AC3

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Deepburner

Link – Deepburner

Deepburner is a simple, free CD/DVD-burning package. It’s so simple a drunken cockroach could use it. Launch the problem and you will see three choices: Create data CD/DVD, Create audio CD, Burn ISO image.

deepburner-options.jpg

Oh, there is also a free “portable” edition available in case you would like to run it from a USB drive. If you have trouble, find a drunken cockroach.

Graph

graph-logo.png

Link – Graph 4.1

Mathematically-minded people will find this program useful. Graph will draw graphs of functions on a coordinate system. It supports standard, parameter, and polar functions. When your graphs are drawn you can save the results as an image or a PDF.

graph-inaction.png

Because sometimes you just need to draw a graph! 🙂

Google SketchUp

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Link – Google SketchUp

You probably already know about Google SketchUp. If not, then here is an introduction:

SketchUp is a 3D-modeling program that combines a suite of powerful drawing tools with a hefty amount of intuitiveness. You start with basic shapes, then mould and modify them into whatever creation you can imagine. As Google so succinctly puts it:

Design anything from a shoebox to a skyscraper.

Sketchup can seamlessly interface with Google Earth, allowing you to place the models you create using real-world coordinates, which you can then share with the world. Pretty cool stuff.

DAZ|Studio

Link – DAZ|Studio

daz_chick.jpgSpeaking of building things, another entry into the creative realm is DAZ|Studio. What is it?

DAZ|Studio is a free software application that allows you to easily create beautiful digital art. You can use this software to load in people, animals, vehicles, buildings, props, and accessories to create digital scenes.

In other words, DAZ|Studio is 3D figure posing and animation software that comes with hundreds of megabytes of figures and scenes, though you can buy more from their online store if you desire. The software even includes OpenGL preview, custom lighting, scripting support, content management, Poser project import, and much more. It is truly remarkable software.

Along the same lines, you may also want to try Blender if you do not know about it already.

FreeRip

freerip-logo.jpg

Link – FreeRip 3

Sure, there are a lot of applications that “rip” CDs. iTunes is one that I use frequently, but if you just want to rip or convert some music, iTunes is a bit on the excessive side. Plus, its formats are limited in comparison to FreeRip.

freerip-progress.jpg

Using FreeRip, you can currently save audio tracks to WAV, MP3, WMA, OGG and FLAC. You may also easily convert from one format to another. I really like FreeRip, but hope to see them add AAC in the future. (Aside: the FreeRip installer gives you the option to install the MySearch toolbar, but you can opt out easily.)

Tip of the Day: Hiding the First Page Number in OpenOffice

I use OpenOffice a lot (NeoOffice on Mac OS X). In fact, I write all of my graduate papers with it instead of a certain, more ubiquitous program. However, it seems that while putting the final touches on each essay, I have to re-learn how to hide the page number for the first page. So, I decided to do a quick write-up, mainly so that I can refer to it if I forget again! 🙂

The Problem

You create a “footer” and add a “page number” insert. Everything looks great, except that you see a big, fat “1” at the bottom of your first page. I prefer to leave the number off the first page and have it start with “2” on the second page.

page-1-footer1.png

The Solution

Fixing this problem is rather easy, but not very intuitive. To do so, first be sure that your cursor in somewhere within the first page. Next, go to the Format menu and select Styles and Formatting (F11 if you are on a PC). You should now see the “Styles and Formatting” window.

styles-formatting1.png

As indicated by the arrow in the above picture, click the 4th tab to the right, the so-called “Page Styles” tab. Double-click the “First Page” option.

page-styles-tab.png

Voila! Provided that you had your cursor in the first actual page, your page number should disappear from the front page, leaving you with the number “2” starting on the second page.

Note: The screenshots above are taken from NeoOffice 2.1, but the same directions apply to OpenOffice on Windows and Linux. As of this writing, the current version of OpenOffice is 2.2.

Does Your Website Make the Grade?

websitegrader.jpg

Yesterday I discovered Website Grader, and I’ve been doing some experiments to improve my overall grade. My initial grade was 74, and I had a few significant problems. Namely, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, my site did not have a description or Meta keywords set. Shame, and I call myself “savvy.” When I used to hand-code all my pages, I did not have that problem. Since I switched to WordPress, I did not pay attention to it… until now.

After a few slight modifications and additions, my grade has shot up to 87, so now in the B+ range. 🙂

Permanent Redirect

My main issue that I need to address is that I lack a “permanent redirect.” What that means is that if you type either http://tipsfor.us OR http://www.tipsfor.us into your browser, you will reach this site, BUT some search engines may treat those URLs as two different sites. My grade will go up a few more points if I set a “permanent” (or “301”) redirect from one of those links to the other.

I’m going to do more research on redirects before I implement one. My site already gets a decent amount of traffic for certain keywords, and I just want to make sure I know what I’m doing so that I don’t break anything.

Pagerank

What else did I learn from Website Grader? Currently, tipsfor.us has a Google Pagerank rating of 4. What does Pagerank mean? From the mouth of Google:

Google PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves important weigh more heavily and help to make other pages important.

Essentially, sites are ranked from 0 -10. The more incoming links and traffic you receive, the higher your rank. I was surprised that I earned a ranking as high as four, as I do not spend as much time maintaining or promoting this site as I should. So, I’m happy with a ranking of 4 right now.

For a full score explanation for tipsfor.us, please follow this link. I hope that by fixing my redirect problem I can boost my score into “A” range. 🙂

My Offer – Get Linked!

Speaking of links, here is my offer to you: earn a link in my sidebar! All you have to do is get your site graded and post a comment below. Include your overall score and a “report link,” which is included at the bottom of your evaluation.

Why include your report link? We’re talking grades here, so I have to verify that there is no cheating happening, of course! I reserve the right to refuse a link if it is pornographic, offensive, or outright spam, but hopefully there will be no trouble with that. Remember, a link coming from my site will help improve your Google Pagerank and your overall score.

So, post your scores, even if they are “failing!”