Archive for November, 2009

Online tool helps you build timelines

Friday, November 20th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of TimeGlider

Back in school, they used to have timelines for everything. Want to understand the evolution of travel? Make up a timeline that includes the invention of shoes, the wheel (the first time, not all the re-inventing of the wheel that we do nowadays), draft animals, trains planes and automobiles—you get the idea. When you can look at all these or any other set of milestones on a timeline, you get a sense of how they all relate to one another. Being a line, the timeline is helpful in visualizing any type of linear information that occurs over time.

TimeGlider is a handy way to make your own timelines. A free online service, it lets you enter events and see how they relate to one another. Drag events back and forth to move them in time. Assign importance level to your different events. Zoom in and out to see more detail, especially when events are packed closely together.

You don't need to download anything to use TimeGlider, but you do need to sign up for a free account. The main app is Flash-based, so you will need to have a recent version installed on your system, as well as a web browser.

Download TimeGlider

Make Windows behave the way you want with Ultimate Windows Tweaker

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Ultimate Windows Tweaker

If you've used any computer system for more than a short time, you've customized it to better match the way you think and work. While it's easy to change the sort order of filenames in Windows Explorer, for instance, it can be trickier to make some more heavy duty adjustments to the way your electronic world works. Once you start going in and tweaking the Registry it gets complicated and dangerous. You don't want to wind up with a machine that won't boot, for goodness sake.

Ultimate Windows Tweaker is a tool that can help you make some of these more complicated adjustments. The publisher claims that it gives you the opportunity to fiddle with over 150 tweaks and settings, all from the comfort and convenience of their GUI, and not from the frightening world of RegEdit. Everything's categorized, so it's easier to find the specific items you're looking for, from personalization to system performance to security settings.

You can use Ultimate Windows Tweaker with Windows XP and Windows 7, and it works with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

Download Ultimate Windows Tweaker

DocPad text editor adds extended functionality

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of DocPad

Text editors are handy little critters when what you're worried about is the text and what you're not worried about is formatting. Whether you need text-only documents to save space, or because you're writing code, a straight text editor is what you want.

Everybody's system comes with a tool like this, whether it's Notepad, TextEdit, or even vi or emacs. Basic, bare-bones stuff. But it is possible to have something a touch more sophisticated and helpful, even though you're still generating those plain-old ASCII files. DocPad is one such tool.

DocPad is a text editor that lets you do your work more easily. Along with its creation of plain-text documents, it makes your life easier by giving you the ability to block-indent chunks of text, alphabetize paragraphs, convert text to lower-, upper-, title-, and sentence case. It's got a powerful search-and-replace functionality built in, and you can even trim trailing whitespace from your lines. Built-in spell checking means you're going to get even more mileage out of this app.

DocPad is available as a free download. It runs under Windows, using any version from Win95 on up.

Download DocPad

Suspend your keyboard with Keyboard Cleaner

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

runs on Mac
screenshot of Keyboard Cleaner

Sometimes it's little dribbles of coffee. Other times it's food crumbs or just general office schmutz. Whatever the source, you've got to get it off your keyboard. Now taking a rag or brush and wiping it across your keyboard seems pretty straightforward, but what about unintended consequences? Just brushing lightly across the keys will take off the surface stuff, but if you have to apply any pressure at all, you run the risk of entering unintended keystrokes into your system. Yes, your could power down (if you didn't have a dozen windows open right now), or unplug your keyboard (unless you're on a laptop), but that's just not always convenient.

Keyboard Cleaner is a tool that lets you "suspend" your keyboard. Activate it and your system will ignore everything that hits the keys, except for [Command] + Q. Along with cleaning your keyboard, you can use this handy tool to cat- (or kid) proof your system. No amount of banging on keys will make bad things happen.

Keyboard Cleaner is a Mac app. It runs under OS X 10.5 (Leopard) or later.

Download Keyboard Cleaner

Automatically resize images by dropping them into a folder

Monday, November 16th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Dropresize

If you handle a lot of electronic images, then you may spend a fair amount of time resizing them. Whether you're posting to a blog, sharing them on Flickr, or emailing them to friends, you've got a size in mind, and those pictures aren't going to resize themselves.

Dropresize is a handy tool that you can use to adjust the size of your images. It sits in the System Tray keeping an eye on a dropbox folder you've set up; once you drag an image file into the dropbox, it springs into action. You can configure it ahead of time by defining a height or width that you want for your finished images—it keeps the proportions in mind, so they don't get all distorted. Choose a maximum size for a given dimension, with a maximum of 1600 pixels, as well as a quality setting—after all, it doesn't do any good to resize an image that looks so nasty that nobody can recognize Uncle Frank in the picture anyway. It currently only works with JPEG images, but they're working on adding new file formats to that sometime in the near future.

Dropresize is a Windows application. It runs under XP, Vista, and 7, and requires version 2.0 of the .NET Framework.

Download Dropresize

Free Windows disk defrag tool

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Auslogics Disk Defrag

Like everything in life, the more you use your computer, the more messed-up it gets. Buy a new car, drive around in it, and pretty soon you've got a couple dings in the door and french fries ground into the carpet. Your computer gets that way too—hopefully no food underfoot, but the signs of wear and tear do make their presence known. One of the ways this can manifest itself is in the growing fragmentation of the data written to your hard drive. After you've run your machine for a while, you've got data scattered all over the place, and it can lead to sluggish performance by your system. Disk defragmentation tools can give you a hand with spiffing your system back up again.

While you can pay a pretty penny for tools like this, Auslogics Disk Defrag is a free alternative. Run it on your system and see what kind of shape your hard drive is in. If the data map looks like a piece of Swiss cheese—globs of data here, big holes there—then it may be time for a tune up. Start the defrag process, and it will rearrange the pieces of files on your hard drive so that your system can run faster. Through some magical sleight-of-hand it rearranges several system files at the same time to make Windows a much happier camper.

Auslogics Disk Defrag is free for home users. It runs under Windows 2003 and newer.

Download Auslogics Disk Defrag

Capture an entire web page into a single image

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of WebShot

Taking screenshots of web pages is a way of life. Maybe you've created a new page or site and need to show it to a client. Maybe you're documenting your work and want to grab a whole page to stick onto a report. Either way, it's not easy to capture a whole page. Use your machine's standard screen print functionality, and you're going to grab the visible portion of the web page at best, but if your page is longer than that, you're pretty much out of luck. Or you can save your screen as a PDF, but now you've taken one continuous screen and stuffed it into a multiple-page document. That's not really what you had in mind either.

WebShot lets you capture the whole page—not just the visible portion—into a single file—no multiple pages here. If your page is 2500 pixels tall, for example, then your screenshot file is going to be 2500 pixels tall. You get the whole page with none of the traditional limitations. You can save into several different image file formats, so you can use your pretty pictures however you want.

WebShot is a Windows app. It runs under Windows 2000 or later. You'll also need the most recent version of Internet Explorer to make things work right.

Download WebShot

Free monospace font for programmers

Friday, November 13th, 2009

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Anonymous Pro

If you've written computer code for any length of time, you know that you can end up with screen after screen and page after page of complicated text. Whether it's writing desktop apps in a language like C++ or Java, scripting in Perl or Python, or writing web pages in HTML or PHP, one of the tricks you've no doubt learned, is that it makes the most sense to use a monospace font while you're coding. Proportional fonts like Times New Roman or Arial can mess-up the spacing in your code, especially if you jump back and forth between using TABs and individual spaces to indent lines of text. With a monospace font, that's not a problem, since the character in Column #4 will always line up precisely with all the other characters in Column #4 of every other line in the file.

Courier and its variants come as standard equipment on most systems. Using that trusty old typewriter-looking font accomplishes the "everything lines up" objective, but it's not too much fun to look at. There aren't lots of other monospace fonts to choose from.

Anonymous Pro is a monospace font that you should be able to use on just about any system that supports True Type fonts. It's specially designed so that characters that look alike—the letter "O" and the digit "0", for example—are deliberately made to look different, so there's no more guessing what a given character really is.

A free download, Anonymous Pro can be used with systems running Windows, OS X (but not old Macs still running System 9, etc.), as well as most flavors of Linux.

Download Anonymous Pro

Tweak your PDFs with free online service

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

runs as Online Service
screenshot of PDFescape

PDF files are handy to have around. Just about everybody can open, read, and print them, so it's an easy way to exchange information. It's relatively easy to create them; on Macs, that ability is built in to the basic printing functionality; on Windows systems, there are oodles of print-to-PDF printer drivers that you can download and use. Unfortunately, these all give you a pretty bare-bones PDF file. There are lots of options you can incorporate into your PDFs, but generally that necessities extra work, and often extra money.

PDFescape lets you take your plain vanilla PDF files and turn them up. It's easy to add on-page annotations, whether they be text or sticky notes. You can add arrows, checkmarks, and other shapes to call attention to important passages in your document. You can add metadata to your files, noting a document's title, subject, author, and keywords, as well as adding password-protection to keep your document away from prying eyes.

PDFescape is a free online service. You don't even need to sign up for an account, but if you do, then you can save your documents on their servers and come back later to re-edit them.

Download PDFescape

Keep an eye on your disk space with Scanner

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

runs on Windows
screenshot of Scanner

How much stuff is on your hard drive? How much empty space is left over? While it's easy to run directory listings to get answers to these questions, the answers don't always make a lot of sense. After all, it's pretty much just a pile of numbers. If you could look at your disk consumption graphically, it might make more sense.

Scanner is a tool that lets you do just that. Point it at your hard drive, removable device, or network volume and take a look at the pretty pictures. Using a sunburst chart—an extended pie chart with concentric rings—this app will show you the relative sizes of all major directories and files on your system. Interested in an individual one? Click on it and get information specific to your selection.

Scanner is a free Windows application.

Download Scanner