Archive for May, 2008

Writer: the Internet Typewriter

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

screenshot of Writer

Way back when, computer displays had two colors: black and green. Squinting at the screen of your Osborne or Kaypro, you had to do your best to make out those glowing green pixels on that teeny-tiny screen. Thank goodness those days are over, although we still bear the scars of that experience with the glasses or contact lenses we don every day.

Writer is an interesting online tool that recaptures the flavor of that experience, but without the pain. Writer advertises itself as "the Internet Typewriter", and that pretty much says it all. Go to the site and you're presented with a bare bones screen, and given a chance to start typing. Now since you're using your fancy new widescreen display, you're not going to go blind, and the characters are in a Courier-like font, making it easier to see what you're typing.

Once you've gotten your thoughts out, you can save them, send them (blog, email, whatever), download them as a TXT file, PDF them, or print them. Preferences allow you to change the font, line spacing, and even the color of the characters—choose Amber to re-capture the Hercules look, which beat the pants off of a CGA display back in the day.

Writer is a free online service. It should be compatible with most systems running a modern Web browser.

Download Writer

Server access through a firewall

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

screenshot of Web Console

Need to do serious work, but you're trapped behind a firewall? In some corporate and other environments, security constraints necessitate locking down all inbound- and outbound traffic except for ports 80 and 443, the standard ports for HTTP and HTTPS traffic. If you need to use services like FTP, Telnet, or SSH to talk to a remote server, you're out of luck. What to do?

Web Console is one solution for this problem. Using only these allowed ports, you can now execute shell commands on your server, edit files using vi or Emacs, and all the other stuff you'd do if only you could access your server.

Installing Web Console on your server is pretty straightforward. It works on both dedicated servers and shared boxes. It's written in Perl, so your server is sure to support it. Once you're up and running, the web interface uses AJAX technology, so you are really interacting in real time.

Web Console will run on any web server that includes Perl.

Download Web Console

Text editor

Friday, May 9th, 2008

screenshot of Araneae

Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door. Who said that—Walt Disney? Probably not.

There are lots of tools out there you can use for building web pages. Everything from Notepad to TextEdit to specialized tools has something to offer.

Araneae is a no-nonsense text editor for building and tweaking web pages. As a text editor, it doesn't add a bunch of extra junk to your code. Since it's built for editing web pages, it knows all about HTML, CSS, PHP, and uses appropriate syntax highlighting. That can be invaluable while you're plumbing the depths of tables nested four deep in your page.

Its tabbed interface allows you to open multiple documents at once, making it easier to jump back and forth and keep everything in sync. Quick Clips let you insert tags into your code instantly. Its built-in search capability allows you to easily find strings of text.

Araneae is free for personal use. It's a Windows application, and should run under Win98 or later.

Download Araneae

Find duplicate files

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

screenshot of Duplicate Files Searcher

How much of your hard drive space is taken up with duplicate files? Sure, they were all important when you created them, but now you've got three identical copies of that report you created, and you don't even know where they all are. Is that really the kind of clutter you need?

There are several tools out there that will help you to discover duplicates on your system, but Duplicate Files Searcher goes one better. Not only does it work on your local hard drive, but you can also use it to check for duplicates on removable media like CDs, DVDs, and even USB drives. In addition, you can also search mounted network drives, which can help you find stuff you've left on your network share as well.

Duplicate Files Searcher does a byte-by-byte compare of your files, so you know that you're identifying actual duplicates, and not just documents with the same name and different content. You don't want to clobber all your incremental backups, after all.

Duplicate Files Searcher is a Java app, so it'll run on just about anything.

Download Duplicate Files Searcher

Collect album art

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

screenshot of Album Art Aggregator

Pretty as a picture. Or several pictures.

You've got an extensive music collection on your system. You can listen to tunes for a couple of weeks nonstop with no repeats. But are you getting the full experience?

Back in the day, albums came with a 12-inch square piece of art. The cover art on record jackets helped everyone to enjoy the experience even more. With the advent of the CD, this was scaled down considerably, but you could still look at the pretty pictures while you listened to the tunes. With MP3s and other downloadable music, this totally goes away.

MP3 files allow you to associate images with them, but of course you have to go out and get those images. Tools like Album Art Aggregator may help you in that quest. This application looks through your music collection, sees what you've got, and then goes out hunting for the corresponding art to go with your music.

Album Art Aggregator uses Amazon's collected cover art to find the images for your music. Because of limitations in their API, you can only search for one album at a time, but it's still faster than having to do all the digging yourself.

Album Art Aggregator is a Windows app. It also requires the .NET Framework version 1.1.

Download Album Art Aggregator

Mac benchmark tool

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

screenshot of Xbench

Intrigued by competition? Always want to be "the best"? If that obsession extends to your computer, you may be a candidate for Xbench.

Xbench is a benchmark tool that lets you see what your machine is capable of. Compare your system with others, or get the nitty-gritty on what your baby can really do. Armed with that info, you'll be able to go tweak to your heart's content. You can check your disk read and write speed, graphics and screen draw, memory fill and copy, and CPU performance, among others. It even supports multi-processor systems.

Xbench is a Mac application. It's distributed as a Universal Binary, so it works on both PowerPC and Intel Macs, and requires OS X 10.3.9 or later.

Download Xbench

Free Printable Signs

Monday, May 5th, 2008

screenshot of Printable Signs

The world's a complicated place. Things happening, people moving around, all that. It would be nice if Mom were always there to keep an eye on us and help tell us what to do, but she's not always available. Sometimes the next best thing can be a good sign. This house is for rent. You can't park there. There's wet paint on that bench. All the helpfulness of Mom, but without the funny hair style.

Printable Signs features over 75 signs that you can download and print for free. Formatted as PDF files, all you need is a copy of Adobe Reader or any other tool that can read those files, and you're in business. Put a "keep out" sign on the refrigerator; put a "biohazard" sign on your kid's room; hang a "beware of cat" sign on the fence. Knock yourself out—the sky's the limit here.

You can also grab editable versions of the signs for only $1.99 each. Available as Microsoft Word-compatible DOC files, you can post your business hours or fill-in a yard sale sign with all the particulars on the great bargains you're offering this weekend.

Download Printable Signs

Rearrange icons in Windows taskbar

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

screenshot of Taskbar Shuffle

Everybody has their own way they want to work. You've got your favorite apps, and you want them laid-out just so. When things are set up right, you just blast through your work and get things done. Change just one of those, though, maybe a window in the wrong location, and you're a fish out of water. Drag them all back where they belong, and you're on your way.

Not so easy, though, is when the icons in the Windows Taskbar get shuffled around. Those guys have a mind of their own, and no amount of coaxing will get them to move to where you want them.

Taskbar Shuffle is a slick little tool that lets you re-order the icons in your Windows taskbar. Click on an icon, and drag it to the left, or drag it to the right, and pretty soon you're back in business. It also lets you rearrange icons in the System Tray. Now you can finally make you machine look the way it needs to for you to get your work done.

Taskbar Shuffle is a Windows application. It runs on just about any 32-bit version, from lowly Win95 on up to Vista.

Download Taskbar Shuffle

ConvertIcon converts PNGs to ICOs and vice versa

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

screenshot of ConvertIcon

ConvertIcon does one thing, but it does it pretty well. It takes a PNG image and converts it to an ICO-formatted icon. Or it takes an ICO-formatted icon and converts it into a PNG image. Maybe that's two things.

To use it, just point at the URL of an online image, or browse to the location of an image on your local machine, press the button, and sit back. You get your result right away, and since you don't have to download any software, there's no drain on your system and no concern about system compatibility.

ConvertIcon is a free online service. It should be compatible with most any system running a modern web browser.

Download ConvertIcon

FileAmigo—the database system that doesn't require a DBA

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

screenshot of FileAmigo LE

Databases are valuable repositories of information. You can store data in plain old text files, or even in spreadsheets, but the results may be less than satisfying. Unfortunately, creating real databases can require a lot of heavy lifting to get them up and running. The biggest ones even have their own database administrators (DBAs).

FileAmigo LE tries to lower the bar for creating and maintaining databases. When you start it up, you can choose to create a new database by using a template, importing data, or starting from scratch. You can easily add fields and populate your database. Once the data's in there, you can manipulate it to get done what needs doing. Print directly from the data grid or create reports that grab the relevant information for you. You can even store other files in your database, by either embedding them in your database, or linking directly to them.

FileAmigo LE is a free Windows application. It runs under Windows 9x or later.

Download FileAmigo LE