Archive for March, 2009

Make sure your site's up

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Net Monitor

Whether you're a big-deal IT person or just guy (or gal) with a website, you're still faced with the same reality—you need to know whether your site's up and running. Whether you're a blogger who wants to get your pithy observations out there, a webmaster running an e-commence site, or a network admin who's responsible for servers all over the place, you need to know that your systems alive and doing their thing.

Net Monitor is a tool that can help you keep an eye on what's going on. Choose the frequency with which you want to check to make sure that things are happening out there, and feed it a list of web pages or mail servers you're monitoring, and it will tell you when these guys are up and running—or when they can't be reached, which may mean that there's a problem out there. In addition, you can use this tool to monitor any reachable machine, either by hostname or even IP address. Now when your server decides to take a break, you'll be the first to know. Because nobody wants to get the dreaded "I can't reach your site" email from a visitor who wants to buy what you've got to sell.

Net Monitor is a free Windows download.

Download Net Monitor

Free collection of Mac applications

Friday, March 20th, 2009

runs on Mac
screenshot of MacLibre

No matter how much the purveyors of shrink-wrapped software would have you believe it, there really is no reason to have to spend a small—or not so small—fortune on applications to run on your computer. That's not to say that the fine folks at Microsoft and all the other big name development shops don't put out some pretty cool tools, but an awful lot of what you want to do can be done with apps that don't cost you a dime.

Not so much an application, MacLibre is sort of a "greatest hits" collection of free software for your Macintosh. Now instead of running all over the place grabbing individual apps, you can download the whole pile all at once.

MacLibre includes productivity tools like NeoOffice (a Mac-ized version of OpenOffice), Internet tools and browsers, sound and graphics editors (Audacity and GIMP), and a bunch of utility apps as well. You could find yourself with a pretty well equipped system for the cost of only a few minutes worth of downloading.

MacLibre is distributed as a Universal Binary. That means that it'll run on both PowerPC and Intel Macs; you should be able to use it on systems that are running Panther (OS X 10.3) or later.

Download MacLibre

Create charts and graphs online

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Lovely Charts

We've all been told that a picture is worth a thousand words. Presumably when you continue down that path and talk about diagrams and charts, the value goes up even further. Flow charts, organization charts, network diagrams—they all take the easy-to-comprehend-ness of pictures, and then add even more information to them, as the diagrams can then show process flow, relationships between people or events, or even just show a taller bar in a bar graph.

While charts and diagrams may be great for conveying information, they're not always so easy to create. Add to that the price of the tools necessary to put them together, and you may find yourself going back to that thousand words you were trying to replace with the image.

Lovely Charts is an online service that lets you build some pretty cool charts and graphs using only your web browser. Using their libraries of components, you just drag and drop the pieces of your chart, so you can focus on getting your meaning across, rather than getting bogged-down in the drawing process.

Lovely Charts is a free service. After signing up, you can create and export an unlimited number of charts, but can save only one for later revision—saving charts to re-edit at a later time requires a premium (paid) membership. Lovely Charts should be compatible with most systems running a modern web browser.

Download Lovely Charts

Design a sunnier house with Soleili

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Soleili

There are lots of drawing tools out there. Whether it's a quickie sketch, or a huge mechanical drawing, there's sure to be an app that will help you take care of business.

Soleili is a drawing tool that can actually help you to be more environmentally conscious. On its face, it's an architectural drawing tool—use it to design your gazebo, shed, or house. Once you're done with that, the interesting part begins.

Enter geographical location information for your project, and the app will calculate how sunny your building will be. If you want to maximize the effect of solar heating, you can rotate your drawing, or add windows, etc. in order to take full advantage of the Sun as a free energy source. Conversely, if you're looking at desert construction, you can manipulate your drawing to minimize the effect of the sun.

Soleili is designed to be useable by almost anybody, from a backyard hobbyist driven to build a better doghouse, up through architects and engineers who want some serious help with making their projects more environmentally conscious.

Soleili is a free download. It's a Windows app and will run on any 32-bit Windows platform, from Win95 on up.

Download Soleili

Analogy digital analog clock screensaver

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

runs on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Analogy

There are two types of people in the world: those who say that there are two types of people in the world, and those who don't. There are lots of things that seem to break down into two categories: paper or plastic? chocolate or vanilla? Heck, it even extends into the world of clocks: analog or digital?

Analogy is a screensaver app for your Windows or Mac computer that bridges the gap between these two poles. It's a digital clock that displays its information in an analog way. Rather than just putting a bunch of numbers up on your screen, it places those numbers in such a way that it behaves not unlike an analog clock. When it's 3:00 (three o'clock), it puts the "3" at the "three o'clock" position. This gives you the best of both worlds—the precision of a digital readout, but with the spacial component of an analog clock—which allows you to "know" what time it is without really reading the numbers, based on their positions, just like the position of the hands on your trusty old analog alarm clock or wristwatch.

Analogy is a free download.

Download Analogy

Create trashed files intentionally

Monday, March 16th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of File Destructor 2.0

Ah, for the good old days. You used to be able to get out of almost any jam by claiming that the dog ate your homework. After all, what could you do to stop him? It's not your fault, right?

Fast forward to today. You pretty much can't use that old chestnut any more. If your canine companion really did take a bite out of your term paper, then you need to just go back to your computer and print out another copy, right? Rats! Foiled by the technology.

File Destructor 2.0 is the electronic equivalent to the hungry dog. Rather than eating your printed document, this tool eats the electronic file itself. Actually what happens when you visit their site is that they will create a broken file for you, that you then can (try to) pass off as a real file that just got munched. Enter a filename, a size, and choose a file extension (they offer DOC, TXT, XLS, and more), and click the button. They'll hand you back a file that from the outside looks like a legitimate file, but contains nothing but gibberish inside.

Now when you've been playing video games or watching DVDs instead of writing your insightful analysis of the Fall of the Roman Empire or the current economic crisis, you have something to hand in.

File Destructor 2.0 is a free service. And we probably should remind you that it's best used for entertainment purposes, and not to really try to pass its handiwork off to your professor or boss.

Download File Destructor 2.0

Put your mouse scrollwheel to work with KatMouse

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of KatMouse

Any more, a mouse without a scrollwheel isn't much of a mouse. We've come to depend on them for getting around on web pages and other situations where there's a lot of real estate to cover. That's a long way from the first mouse, basically a brick with a button on it.

Windows and many software applications don't take full advantage of all that a scrollwheel can do for them and their users. That's where a tool like KatMouse comes in.

Normal Windows behavior with a scrollwheel is that you can scroll the window that has has focus when the mouse pointer is over that window. With "universal scrolling", KatMouse lets you extend this functionality, allowing you to scroll any window that you are hovering over, whether or not it has focus. For apps that don't support scrolling, you can use the scrollwheel to move windows up and down as they are stacked on your desktop—much quicker than using [ALT]+[TAB] to cycle through windows repeatedly. Preferences let you customize mouse behavior for different applications and different types of windows.

KatMouse is a Windows app. It runs under WinNT / 2000 / XP / Vista.

Download KatMouse

DoubleDesktop gives you virtual desktops on Windows

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of DoubleDesktop

DoubleDesktop is a tool that lets you create virtual desktops on your Windows machine. Now you won't have to be envious of your Linux buddies.

With DoubleDesktop you can create a second desktop on your system. Rather than being constrained to the physical dimensions of your display, you can now literally double the width of your screen. That means that you can have multiple apps running at the same time without having to constantly drag one program's window out of the way to see another program. Adding an icon to your System Tray, you can now choose whether you want to work on the left side or the right side of your virtual desktop. Put your word processor on the left, and your web browser on the right, or whatever combination makes sense to you. You can even move windows from one virtual desktop to the other by dragging them from one side of the screen to the other.

Each desktop is individually configurable, allowing you to use different wallpaper on your desktops, and even to change the color of your desktop icons.

DoubleDesktop is a Windows application. It runs under any Win32 O/S from Windows 95 up through Vista.

Download DoubleDesktop

Free Mac Scientific Calculator

Friday, March 13th, 2009

runs on Mac
screenshot of Magic Number Machine

Down underneath it all, your computer is a big number cruncher. All your data is really just 1's and 0's, and everything else follows from there. So if your machine's so number-oriented, it ought to make a heck of a calculator, right?

While most modern operating systems come with a calculator app, they aren't necessarily the most powerful ones available. If you need more number-manipulating power, you're probably interested in a bigger, better calculator application—maybe something like the Magic Number Machine.

More than just a glorified adding machine, this guy can do some serious calculating. It's got a bunch of built-in functions (statistics, etc.), as well as the ability to work in decimal, hex, octal, binary, and more. There's a bunch of scientific constants already in there as well, helping to speed you on your way.

Magic Number Machine is a Mac application. It runs under OS X and requires at least version 10.4. They've also got a down-rev version available for folks still running 10.2.8 through 10.3.9.

Download Magic Number Machine

Shred your deleted files with Freeraser

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Freeraser

As you may know, when you delete a file on your Windows system, that file isn't really deleted. Instead, the areas on your hard drive that the file occupies are marked by Windows as "available" for new data. That means that in the interim—the period between when you "delete" it and when it's actually replaced by new data—your file isn't really gone. Anybody can use one of the readily available un-delete tools out there to grab what you thought was gone and bring it back to life. Not much of a problem if it's a copy of your last letter to Mom; much more so if it's last year's tax return.

Freeraser is a tool of the "shredder" class of utility apps. Its purpose in life is to really, really delete files. You can choose the level of deletion you want here—"fast" which overwrites your data with random info; "forced" goes over your file three times (which meets the requirements of the DoD 5220.22M standard), or "ultimate" where your data is overwritten 35 times. Not much is going to be left after that type of destruction.

If you're actually getting rid of your system, we recommend that you physically destroy hour hard drive—break the case open, drill holes through the platters, that sort of thing—but if you want to keep using it, then a shredder like Freeraser is the way to go. It might not be a bad idea to use it on your USB drives from time to time also.

Freeraser is a free download for Windows.

Download Freeraser