Category Archives: Software

iStat Pro is an Awesome Free System Monitoring Widget

icon-istatproFor Mac OS 10.4 or higher: iStat pro is a system monitoring widget that has it all.

iStat proMain site

Like any system monitor worth its salt, iStat pro displays vital information about your:

  • CPU
  • Memory
  • Hard disk(s)
  • Network
  • Temps
  • Fan speed
  • Battery (for laptops)
  • Uptime and System load
  • Running Processes

istat-pro-widget

Unlike some other system monitoring tools for Mac OS X, iStat pro runs in the Dashboard instead of in the System Menu or the Dock. To me, this is preferable because I can quickly send it completely out of the way when I don’t need to check any system stats.

Okay, so it displays system stats. Is that all?

Nope. For starters, one cool aspect of iStat pro is that it displays your external IP address under the Network section. Pressing the i key (provided iStat is the active widget) will copy that external IP to your clipboard, which is handy for network admins.

istat-pro-prefsYou can also customize the stew of the widget. Want only certain elements (such as CPU, Temps, and Memory) to display? No problem, just turn off the others in the Preferences.

Want the stats widget to display vertically instead of horizontally? Yep, it can do that.

Want to rearrange the order of the elements? Just drag-and-drop.

Dislike the default color? Just pick from any of the nine included colors. There’s bound to be one you like.

If you’re totally hardcore about system monitoring, you can buy the iStat for iPhone app ($2) and check your Mac’s system stats remotely from your iPhone or iPod touch.

Hotkeys

For you hotkey aficionados, here’s a list of the available hotkeys for iStat pro, taken directly from the manual.

c – Show or hide the CPU section
m – Show or hide the memory section
d – Show or hide the disks section
n – Show or hide the network section
p – Show or hide the processes section
u – Show or hide the uptime section
b – Show or hide the battery section
f – Show or hide the fans section
t – Show or hide the temps section
s – Swap between tall and wide skins
i – Copy external IP to the clipboard
g – Update external IP
1 – 8 – Change skin colour

iStat pro is freeware/donationware from iSlayer.

WinCDEmu Integrates Disk Image Mounting in Windows Explorer

WinCDEmu - Right-click We’ve written before about Virtual CloneDrive, software that can mount and run disk images as if they are physical disks. A similar free program is WinCDEmu.

WinCDEmu – Main site

WinCDEmu – SourceForge page

WinCDEmu is free and open-source, and makes mounting a disk image (*.ISO, *.CUE, *.BIN, *.RAW, and *.IMG) as easy as double-clicking.

In case you are not familiar with disk images, here’s what you need to know: an image is the re-creation of the contents of a CD or DVD saved into a single file. That file will have an extension such as *.ISO, the most-common type.

These disk images are typically burned back onto a CD or DVD using disk-burning software such as InfraRecorder (free). For instance, if you want to download and use a Linux distro, you typically download the ISO and then burn it to a CD, thus allowing you to boot and run from that physical disk.

Software such as WinCDEmu allows you to skip the actual burn and instead use the ISO as a virtual disk. When you mount an ISO (or other image) as a virtual disk, your computer treats it just like a physical one with the benefit that virtual drives operate much faster than physical drives.

Installation and Usage

WinCDEmu - Verify Installing WinCDEmu seems almost too easy. There’s no notification that the install was successful, nor will you find anything new in the Start Menu. The only hurdle at all is telling Windows that yes, you want to install an unverified driver.

It will show up as part of Add/Remove Programs, so you can uninstall it from there if necessary.

Using WinCDEmu is brain-dead simple. For any disk image on your system, just double-click it to mount, and it will show up in Windows Explorer just as if you popped a CD/DVD in the drive. Yes, it works just like Mac OS X, which is a good thing.

To un-mount (or eject) the virtual disk, simply double-click that same disk image (such as the original ISO file, not the mounted image in Explorer).

You can also right-click the virtual drive and Eject. Piece of cake.

WinCDEmu supports an unlimited number of simultaneously mounted virtual drives. It also supports SMB network shares, but be sure to look up the workaround for a Windows cache bug.

Enabling SEO Friendly URLs in MODx (part VI in the series)

Apache .htaccess Rewrites are Powerful
Apache .htaccess Rewrites are Powerful

Many content management systems rely on URL parameters like ?page=3 to determine which page is displayed to the user. MODx (like many other CMS’s) can use Apache’s .htaccess file to rewrite URLs so they are easier to read, e.g. www.mydomain.com/modx/tutorial, and this usually results in higher SEO scores. This article and its video walk you through how to accomplish this for MODx running on an Apache web server. Windows servers have something similar, they just charge more for it (haha).

Here’s the video. I was going to re-do this in high-def, but this was one of those lightning-strike rants that I was on… I just know it wouldn’t be as good if I attempted to remake it.

* I mispronounced MODx in the video (sorry). It should be “mod” as is “modular”.

The Quickie Text Version of the Video

  1. Make sure MODx is installed and your site works.
  2. Go to the root of your site, verify that you have an .htaccess file (MODx often includes a dummy file named “ht.access” which needs to be renamed before it is parsed). Be sure to keep a backup copy of the original!
  3. Edit the .htaccess file and type some junk at the very top of the file. For example, type in “asdpfasdfj” at the top of the file, then save it. Now try to visit any page on your site. You should get an server error, and this is GOOD! This means that the .htaccess file is being parsed, so go back and delete that junk from the file. If you don’t get an error, it means that the .htaccess file is NOT being parsed, and you may need to contact your ISP to see how to enable it. You can’t get friendly URLs working without this!
  4. Once you’ve confirmed that your .htaccess file is being parsed, you can make the appropriate edits (see below). The dummy file included with your MODx install is very well annotated. I’ve listed the most important bits below (please change yourdomain to the appropriate domain). Note that in some of the lines, you must precede periods with a backslash (i.e. you must escape them). Any line starting with “#” is a comment.
    # Vital components of your .htaccess file
    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteBase /

    # Force “www.yourdomain.com” instead of just “yourdomain.com”
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} .
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www\.yourdomain\.com [NC]
    RewriteRule (.*) http://www.yourdomain.com/$1 [R=301,L]

    # The Friendly URLs part
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$ index.php?q=$1 [L,QSA]

  5. Make sure your site is still working… you can still use the same un-friendly URLs after making these edits; you just want to make sure you didn’t misspell something in your .htaccess file and cause it to parse incorrectly.
  6. Login to the MODx manager (www.yoursite.com/manager) and go to Tools→Configuration→Friendly URLs and change the following settings:
    * Use friendly URLs: YES
    * Use friendly aliases: YES
    * Use friendly alias path: YES

You should now be able to navigate to pages by using their alias!

More Information

Friendly URLs Guide — From the MODx Wiki.

Technical Details about .htaccess

What exactly is happening? Well, the .htaccess file can control a lot of server settings, and you can think of it almost like a style sheet: the server has global settings, but the .htaccess file provides a way to override some of those settings locally for a particular directory or site. It really merits its own article (stay tuned), but let’s look at the the friendly URLs part of the .htaccess file.

The core of this functionality is Apache’s mod_rewrite module. My snarky description is this: it lets the server lie to your address bar! Your browser window may SAY that you are visiting www.mydomain.com/modx/tutorial, but really, the page you are viewing (on a MODx site) is:
www.mydomain.com/index.php?q=modx/tutorial
Try this on your own MODx site! You should see the same page as you did when you visited the friendly URL.

Here’s what the .htaccess file is doing. The first RewriteCond is checking the file system for a file of the name you are requesting. In the example, it’d look for a file named “tutorial” in the “modx” directory. The “!-f” at the end of the line is basically saying “IF there isn’t a file of this name”… then the next line’s “!-d” says “OR there’s not a directory of this name”, THEN perform the rewrite defined by the RewriteRule.

Here you see a good example of a regular expression, and if you haven’t heard that term before, I can sum up quickly: if you’ve ever done a “search” or a “find and replace” in a document, you’ve utilized a simple type of regular expression. A regular expression searches for a pattern. The $1 is a common shorthand notation that back-references what exactly was found, in this case, it’s the argument that’s being passed to the server for the REQUEST_FILENAME, i.e. “modx/tutorial”. The contents of the $1 variable is then added onto “index.php?q=” and you end up with the REAL URL being:
www.mydomain.com/index.php?q=modx/tutorial

Tricky tricky! I skipped over a lot of details for this brief overview, but hopefully you can see some of the process here. This is how most CMS’s handle this sort of thing. The .htaccess parsing requires more overhead from Apache, but it offers a lot of flexibility in how you access your files, and for most sites, this is a very worthy tradeoff.

Resize and Create Disk Partitions with EASEUS Partition Manager (Windows)

Easeus Partition Manager - Main Disk partitioning is a volatile task, but it doesn’t need to be scary. Resizing a disk or partition in Windows is generally safe and easy, but you should still back up your critical files before messing with partitions. You never know what might happen.

EASEUS Partition Manager is a free alternative to popular hard disk management tools such as Partition Magic. EASEUS can easily shrink, enlarge, and move partitions without losing any data. It can also copy disks and partitions, change disk labels, format, explore, convert FAT to NTFS, and hide partitions. The Home edition is completely free for personal use, but it has a few limitations.

Limitations of the free edition:

  • Does not work with server operating systems, such as Windows Server 2008.
  • Only works with 32-bit operating systems. The Professional version supports 64-bit OSes.
  • Bootable CD/DVD not available.

EASEUS Partition Manager is painlessly simple to use. I like that you can preview all tasks before applying any changes. The main interface is simple and uncluttered (and surprisingly similar to Partition Magic!). One of the most common questions users new to partitioning ask is how to shrink an existing single-partition layout and create a new disk partition with the remaining space. The demonstration below will do just that.

Shrink An Existing Partition

Easeus Partition Manager - Resize Before we can create a second partition on our disk, we must first shrink the existing one. EASEUS Partition Manager is designed to resize partitions without causing any data loss, but I suggest first backing up any critical data just to be safe.

Launch the program and select the disk or partition that you wish to resize. Clicking the Resize/Move button at the top will launch a new window that lets you visually drag the edges to resize the partition. You can also click anywhere in the middle of the existing partition and drag it left or right to determine its placement on the disk.

Click OK when you are done. Notice that the visual reference of the partition layout has changes but nothing has actually happened yet. You can see the pending operations on the left side of the program. Clicking Undo will dismiss the operation, and clicking Apply will commit the changes to disk.

Create a New Partition

Easeus Partition Manager - Create Before we apply the changes, let’s create a new partition with the free space that we just allocated by shrinking the existing partition. First, select the Unallocated space and then click the Create button at the top. Just like before, a new window will spawn that allows you to set any additional parameters that you like for the new partition.

The default file system is NTFS, but you can also choose FAT32, plain old FAT, or you can opt to leave it unformatted.

Once you’ve reviewed the Operations Pending on the left, take a deep breath and click the Apply button to start the process.

Easeus Partition Manager - Partitioning EASEUS Partition Manager needs exclusive access to the drive for most operations, so don’t be alarmed when the program asks if it can automatically reboot your computer. Once the computer restarts, the partitioning process will begin.

Your computer will boot into a limited startup state called the EASEUS Partition Master Boot Mode. In this limited state, all the scheduled operations will process. Depending on the size of your hard disk and the number of operations, this process may take a long time, so go grab a cup of coffee and let it work.

When it finishes, your computer will automatically reboot again, and hopefully come back to life with its new partition scheme in place.

For a free program, EASEUS Partition Manager packs quite a punch. Perhaps its greatest strength is its simplicity – even a person completely new to disk partitioning should be up and running in a matter of minutes.

EASEUS Partition Manager works with Windows 2000 SP4 through Vista 32-bit and supports hard disks up to 1.5 terabytes. For an open-source alternative, take a look at GParted.

Disable the Avira AntiVir Splash Screen at Startup

Avira splash screen Avira AntiVir is a terrific free antivirus program, but it needs a little work right after installation to perfect it. We’ve already covered how to disable the annoying popup ads after updates, but now let’s talk about how to disable one other little annoyance – the splash screen that appears on startup.

Though it’s not intrusive or debilitating at all, a splash screen is annoying to some people. I’m one of them.

Fortunately, disabling the splash screen is pretty easy.

1. Go to Start –> Run (or just press Win + R).

2. Type regedit to open the Registry Editor.

3. Navigate to [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run].

4. Double-click avgnt.

Registry Editor - avgnt

5. Add the parameter /nosplash (Windows 2000/XP) or -nosplash (Windows Vista) to this entry.

Registry Editor - editing avgnt

That’s it! The next time you log out or reboot, no Avira splash screen should appear.

Creating Templates in MODx Part II (part V in the series)

Now that you are able to create basic MODx templates from watching the previous video, this video shows you how to extend their functionality even further with the inclusion of reusable chunks of code and dynamic PHP snippets.

A video used to be embedded here but the service that it was hosted on has shut down.

Vocabulary

You only have to learn a couple new terms to understand what MODx is talking about — it’s not a steep learning curve, so jump in!

  1. Chunk — any bit of reusable text (usually HTML). Text used in a site’s footer is commonly placed into a chunk. MODx references chunks using double curly-braces: {{name_of_your_chunk}}, and they can be used almost anywhere, including page content and templates. Chunks can also contain Snippets!
  2. Snippet— this is a bit of PHP code (I remember Snippet by its double-P’s: sni-PhP-et). You can literally cut and paste almost any working PHP script into a MODx Snippet; once it has been created, you reference it using either double-square brackets or with a bracket and an exclamation point: [[Like_this]] or [!Like_this!], depending on whether you want it to always execute, or whether its output can be cached. See the MODx Wiki for more information.

Clarification

To clarify the process here, first you create a Chunk or a Snippet by logging into the MODx Manager and navigating to Resources→Manage Resources, then selecting the appropriate tab (for Snippet or for Chunk). You paste in the code you want to use, then save it. Back in your documents or templates, you can reference the Chunks and Snippets by name, flagging the names with either “{{ name }}” (for Chunks) or “[[ name ]]” (for Snippets). When MODx parses the document or template, the text in the Chunk will replace the tag, or in the case of a Snippet, the code will execute and its output will replace the tag.

Template Tips

  1. If you keep pasting the same bit of text into lots and lots of pages, consider adding that text into a Chunk. Also consider adding the reference to that chunk to your template.
  2. Set up a good working Snippet to auto-generate your menus. Wayfinder is a very flexible Snippet designed explicitly for this task, and it is included with MODx. Check the official site for up-to-date documentation; there are also lots of examples on the MODx Wiki
  3. Plan your site and its templates before trying to code them; then make sure you code them before adding them to MODx.
  4. If your site has too many templates, you probably are doing something inefficiently. Ask around: is there a better way to accomplish what you’re trying to do?
  5. When adding your templates and its associated chunks/snippets to MODx, take advantage of the “category” field. It offers a simple way to keep your components organized.

Other Tutorials: don’t just take our word for it

  1. Net tuts
  2. Bob’s Guides — Bob is very active in the MODx Forums, and he knows what he’s talking about.
  3. The Coding Pad

Download MODx Templates

You can also download MODx templates from a number of other sites! And since it’s so easy to integrate existing templates, you can download templates for virtually any platform and incorporate them into MODx.

Summary

After watching these two videos, I hope you can see how simple it is to get CMS functionality out of existing HTML/CSS using MODx. Again, the big thing I didn’t explicitly point out in the videos is that MODx stores its template code in its database: you can create and use a MODx template without uploading a single file to your webserver. Of course, if you want to reference CSS or Javascript files on your webserver, it’s accomplished in exactly the same way as you would do it on a static site: just make sure your paths to your resources are correct. I’ll cover how to write your own Snippets in another video. For now, just review the wiki page about MODx placeholders as you build your own templates. Please note, I did make one slip up in the video… Snippet values should usually include backticks, like this: [[MySnippet? &parameter1=`value`]].

Creating Templates in MODx Part I (part IV in the series)

I’m continuing my series of hi-res videos of the MODx content management system, this time I’m stepping through how you can easily take existing HTML and CSS layouts and adapt them for use with MODx. For my example, I take Eric Meyer’s “Complex Spiral” demo and within a few minutes, I have it adapted for use with my site.

It’s an exciting time to be writing about this platform: the first book about MODx was published by Packt Publishing, and we anticipate the release of their “2.0” version (dubbed “Revolution”) later this year.

A video used to be embedded here but the service that it was hosted on has shut down.

I include the image below as a quick reference for the placeholder tags used by MODx. Refer to the wiki page for a more complete list.

MODx uses simple placeholders for templates
MODx uses simple placeholders for templates

Summary: Creating a Custom MODx Template

  1. Create a working HTML/CSS/Javascript web page. Make sure it works!
  2. Upload the template files to your web server (e.g. CSS, Javascript). Note that the actual template code will live in the MODx database, not on the file system, but you do upload the related assets to your webserver. The recommended location for assets is in a dedicated folder in /assets/templates — make sure that you update your image paths or Javascript paths so that a page at the root of the site can safely reference the assets contained in the /assets/templates/name_of_your_template folder.
    * In the video, I upload the HTML file too just as a final check to make sure it works in the new location.
  3. Replace appropriate areas of your HTML with MODx placeholders. Refer to the image above or to the wiki page so you know which placeholders are available.
  4. Login to the MODx Manager, create a new template in Resources→Manage Resources→Templates. Be sure to save it and give it a good name.
  5. Edit a page and choose to use the new template, and save the page! In other words, you need to tell your MODx documents to use your new template.
You upload the template code to the database, but it still can reference files on the webserver
You upload the template code to the database, but it still can reference files on the webserver

Clarifications

MODx handles templates differently than some CMS’s, and I didn’t point this out in the video. A MODx template lives in the MODx database. You cut and paste the HTML into the MODx manager Resources–>Manage Resources–>Templates. Even though your template code lives in the database, it can still reference files on the web server. For example, if you upload your CSS and Javascript files to /assets/templates/my_template/, then your HTML should use paths like href=”/assets/templates/my_template/style.css”.

Keep Watching…

Part two of this video shows how to add Chunks and Snippets to your template for more dynamic functionality.