Archive for September, 2009

Use Buddi to stay on budget

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Buddi

Everybody's got money troubles. For some of us, it's too little money; for others, it's too much. (We're willing to try to cope with that one.) For everybody else, it's keeping track of what you've got and how it's being used. If you have an accounting background, then you're ahead of the game. For the rest of us, some help might be in order.

Buddi is a tool that bills itself as "personal budget software for the rest of us." It doesn't assume that you have any particular background in finance. All you need to do is to set up your accounts and budget categories, and start entering data. One of the big benefits of using a system like this is its reporting capabilities. Using a combination of tables and graphs, you can get a real sense of where your money is coming from, and more importantly, where it's all going. Along with the included reports, Buddi supports third-party plugins, which provide additional reporting capabilities.

Buddi is a free download. It's a Java app, so will run on anything that has the appropriate version of Java installed, including, most Windows systems (especially XP and later), Mac OS X 10.4+, as well as many UNIX-like systems.

Download Buddi

How to type symbols, accents, special characters, and weird punctuation

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of How To Type

Typing is easy. For those of us who are penmanship-challenged, the ability to be able to write using a keyboard instead of a pencil is a Godsend. It's faster and a whole lot more legible, which means that the message can be communicated without the recipient having to be an Egyptologist sufficiently skilled in the deciphering of hieroglyphics. Of course, there are some challenges here.

If you need to type a letter or a number, it's easy. Find it on the keyboard, press the button, and you're good. But what about the characters that aren't included on the standard keyboard? A "cent" symbol, a registered trademark marking, even a plain old obelus (the division symbol comprising a hyphen with a dot above- and below it)—these are all challenges. Yes, you can use the help system from Word to figure it out (if that's the tool you're using), but they may have a better solution at How To Type. If you can think of a symbol you need to type, this site can probably tell you how to do it. Not only that, but they'll tell you how to do it on a Windows machine, a Mac, and even the HTML code you need to use to incorporate that character in your page. You don't have to have coded too many pages to know that the "<" and ">" characters have to be properly encoded to prevent them from messing up your page.

How To Type is a free online service. You'll need a web browser to access it. And if you need that division symbol, on Windows hold down the [Alt] key and type 0247; on a Mac, hold down the [Option} key and press /; for HTML, use the named entity &divide; or the code &#247;.

Download How To Type

Fire-off system events from your Dock

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

runs on Mac
screenshot of Dockables

OS X, like most modern operating systems, can do a whole lot of stuff. Way back when, users relied on their O/S for all the behind-the-scenes, down-and-dirty heavy lifting that had to go on in the background to mount volumes, manage the filesystem, talk with other machines, and all that good stuff. Nowadays, the emphasis seems to be much more on all the bells and whistles that can be added to the system. Everything has a GUI front end to make it pretty. Sometimes, though, the thing you really need to do right now isn't any of the fun stuff—looking at images, browsing the web—but rather is one of those behind the scenes items, like shutting your system down, rebooting your computer, putting the display, the hard drive, or even the whole system to sleep. Not pretty, but necessary. And to a great extent, lost among those bells and whistles.

Dockables helps you to accomplish those basic tasks, but without your having to open a terminal window and remember some complicated set of commands. It gives you one-click access to various system commands by putting a clickable button right on your Dock.

Dockables is a Mac app. it runs under OS X 10.5+.

Download Dockables

How fast is your connection?

Monday, September 7th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of DownTester

Time is money. When you stop and think about it, that probably makes sense. If it takes you an hour to perform a task on a good day, and two hours to finish the same job on a less-good day, then that doubling of time has got to increase your cost. You pay extra for overnight service, figuring that the extra money is worth the time saved. You may also pay extra for a high-powered broadband connection for your computer. Are you getting your money's worth?

DownTester is a tool that can help you figure out just how fast your connection is. Many ISPs have a download speed test for you to use in seeing just how quick your connection is. Find the URL for this page, enter it into DownTester, and get started. You can also use files from other locations to check your your download speed. After about 20 seconds of activity, this tool will spit out a number that fairly accurately describes the speed of your connection.

Along with Internet speed, you can use this tool to check the speed of your network as well. Point to a file on another node on your network and see how fast it transfers from that machine to yours.

DownTester is a free Windows application. It runs under any system from Win98 up through Vista, and beyond.

Download DownTester

Build your own containers

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of HowPack

Origami has always been intriguing to me. I could never make anything more complicated than the tried-and-true "cootie catcher" from the Third Grade, but that didn't stop me from admiring the work of others. I've never quite figured out what the problem is, since I've always enjoyed the "what will this shape look like when it is folded together?" tests. Maybe it's a lack of clear instructions on how to get from start to finish. Well now, here's a site with clear instructions.

HowPack features patterns for making various containers. Using their patterns, some heavy paper- or card stock, scissors, and maybe a bit of glue or tape, you can create all sorts of different containers. They run the gamut from a simple open-ended sleeve—think of a box with four sides but no top or bottom—up through milk cartons (pointed top), pyramids, little boxes, and more. Interestingly enough, the instructions are basically all nonverbal. The patterns and outlines for the various containers all show where to cut and where to fold to execute these containers.

HowPack patterns are all JPEG images, so all you'll need to grab them and start building your own containers is a web browser and a pair of scissors.

Download HowPack

Clean your Windows desktop with Deskcretary

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Deskcretary

Does your Windows desktop look like the day after the night before? You know the drill: all your downloads, all the documents you're currently editing, even your last letter to Mom, all sitting there jumbled-up together. You couldn't find anything in that mess if you had to, and it's obscuring that cool wallpaper you worked so hard to find. You might want to check out Deskcretary.

With this tool, you can make sense out of that dumping ground you call a desktop. On a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, it goes through and archives all the important stuff sitting on your Windows desktop. These archives are fully searchable, so you aren't going to lose your important files and documents. You can specify which files or types of files to archive automatically, or even take control manually to decide what goes where. Choose to archive everything, or maybe exclude images or Word DOCs. Compress your archives to save space, or leave them uncompressed to just get those files out of the way.

Deskcretary is a free Windows application.

Download Deskcretary

Free Tooth Fairy Letters and Coloring Pages

Friday, September 4th, 2009

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Tooth Fairy Letter

Do you remember when you lost your first tooth? Do you remember when you still had teeth? Either way, even though it was a little frightening—am I falling apart here?—there was consolation in knowing that evening a visitor would come by and convert your tooth to cash or some other little goodie. The Tooth Fairy was an idea that was almost too good for words.

Times have changed. Even though the amount she (he?) leaves has changed from a dime or quarter to five or ten bucks, the excitement is still there. And did you know that she's added another item to her bag of tricks? It turns out the Tooth Fairy can also leave a letter on her visits as well. If you're in charge of helping the Tooth Fairy out at your house, take a look at the offerings at Tooth Fairy Letter. They've got a dozen different letters from the Tooth Fairy to the little ones. There are general letters, notes specific to a boy or girl, and even letters for when the tooth is missing—can you imagine the heartbreak of the kid swallowing a tooth, leaving nothing to tuck under the pillow? In addition, they've also got a bunch of Tooth Fairy-themed coloring pages to keep the little ones entertained. And they feature a couple of pages of information about Tooth Fairy Family Traditions, as well as Tooth Fairy tips for parents.

Tooth Fairy Letters are available to download as free PDF files, or for a couple of bucks you can grab DOC versions formatted for Word, so you can personalize them. And don't forget to floss.

Download Tooth Fairy Letter

Run multiple machines from one keyboard

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Synergy

If you have multiple machines on your desk, then you've probably got multiple keyboards and mice (mouses?) as well. That means you've probably not got a lot of room for your notes, any reference books you may need, or even your coffee. That's definitely a non-starter. Maybe it's time to tidy up that mess with Synergy.

Synergy is a tool that lets you run multiple computers from a single keyboard or mouse. It's not a remote desktop app, where you're sitting at your laptop but seeing your desktop's output on it; rather when you slide your mouse all the way to the right side of your screen, for example, it literally jumps to the display of the other machine. In other words, you're still looking at each machine's output on its own monitor, but you can do it all through a single keyboard and mouse.

Synergy is a free download. It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux (and other *NIX platforms). You install the server on the machine whose keyboard you want to use, and clients on each machine that you want to access.

Download Synergy

UPDATE: There's a new fork to the Synergy project called Synergy Plus that looks to improve this tool. Thanks to David for the heads-up.

No, I would not like to restart my computer now

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of WhyReboot

One of the more obnoxious bits of Windows behavior is the insistence on rebooting your machine after installing a new application. Granted, sometimes this really is necessary, where files are locked and DLLs are being replaced by the new install. You can't kill a file that's in use, so the only way to guarantee that it's going to go away is to restart your system. Other times, however, it's more likely that the forced reboot is a function of the laziness of the programmer who wrote the installer. At times like that, it might be nice to avoid the reboot, especially if you're in a situation where you're installing multiple upgrades and may be asked to reboot your machine several times in an afternoon.

WhyReboot is a tool that can help you decide whether you really need to reboot after installing new software. Installers tend to leave their bits and pieces in specific locations in the Registry and such, and this tool will go out and check out those usual suspects; if it doesn't find signs of things having changed, then there's a good chance you may not really need to restart your system for the fifth time in the last half hour.

Now there may be situations where your system needs to restart that aren't covered by WhyReboot—adding a new driver, activating (or deactivating) a service, that sort of thing—but for the most part, you will probably save yourself some time and effort here. And of course if you don't see the behavior you're looking for, you can always reboot on your own anyway.

WhyReboot is a free Windows application. It should probably work with most recent versions of Windows (2k, XP, Vista).

Download WhyReboot

NameChanger makes it easy to bulk rename files

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

runs on Mac
screenshot of NameChanger

Changing the name of a document or other file on your Mac is pretty easy. Open a Finder window, find your file, type a new name, and go on your way. If you need to change two files, it's pretty much the same—just do it twice. At some point, however, it becomes a bit obnoxious. Just downloaded a dozen—or a hundred—photos from your digital camera? Not so easy to rename those files now, is it?

NameChanger is an industrial-strength name changing application. Browse to your file location, or drag-and-drop files that you want to rename. You can choose how you want to rename files: prepend text to the beginning, append it to the end, number files sequentially, and more. Choose to show or hide extensions, so you can add characters to the base file name but not the file extension—what would files with extensions like pdf1, .pdf2, .pdf3 look like anyway?

NameChanger is a Mac tool. You'll need to be running OS X 10.5 to use the latest version, although they do still have older builds available for users running Tiger (10.4) or Panther (10.3). It's a Universal Binary, so it'll work with your PowerPC or Intel system.

Download NameChanger