Archive for January, 2010

What's My Computer Doing?

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of What's My Computer Doing?

You know the scenario: you're sitting there in front of your computer, not doing a thing, and all of a sudden the hard drive light starts furiously flashing on and off. Or you're doing some trivial task, like reading an email message that you have already downloaded to your machine, and all of a sudden your CPU usage peaks at 100% and stays there for what seems an eternity. Has your machine been possessed? Is your computer about to melt down? What's my computer doing?

As luck would have it, that may be the solution. What's My Computer Doing? is a tool that lets you know what's going on behind the scenes. When you bring it up, it shows all the programs currently running on your system, with details about who's reading and writing to and from the hard drive, and what's using up all your processor cycles. Newly armed with that information, you can decide whether it's all legit, or that maybe you'd like to kill that program. If you really want to calm things down, you've even got the option to uninstall a particularly troubling application.

What's My Computer Doing? is a free download. You can run it on Windows systems using WinNT/2000 and later.

Download What's My Computer Doing?

System Tray app replaces little blinking status lights

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of TrayStatus

Back when dinosaurs roamed he earth and everybody had a big, clunky desktop computer, there were all kinds of little flashing indicator lights that told you when important things were happening with your system. There were lights for the NumLock and CapsLock keys; there was even a light or the ScrollLock key (whatever that is), as well as flashing lights to let you know that your hard drive was being accessed to read and write data. Now that everybody's got a laptop or a netbook, some of those goodies have gone away. It's still important to know what's happening with your system; that's where TrayStatus may come in handy.

This little app sits in the System Tray, keeping an eye on what's happening with your computer. When you press any of those keys, or when there is disk activity, TrayStatus takes note and lets you know what's up. For your hard drive, it'll even let you know how much is being read and written, something that old amber light on the front of the CPU could never hope to achieve.

TrayStatus is a free Windows application. It should work with just about everybody from Win2k (SP4) up to the present.

Download TrayStatus

F.lux automatically dims your computer display at night

Friday, January 29th, 2010

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of F.lux

If you've ever had a roommate—or a partner, spouse, kids—who came into your bedroom at oh-dark-thirty in the morning and turned the overhead light on, you know what a pain in the neck—and the eyes—that can be. Your eyes are all used to the dark and all of a sudden, blam!, they've got to deal with regular light. You can run into the same problem with your computer as well.

When you use your computer during the day, you may have the brightness on the display turned up so that you can see the screen with all the ambient light around you. At night, though, the room lights may not be so bright, so you don't need your screen to be lit up like noonday either. And first thing in the morning when you're all squinty-eyed, you definitely don't need to be jolted like in the turn-the-light-on scenario outlined above.

F.lux is a tool that may come in handy here. Based on your location, it does a little calculation and makes its best guess as to when sunrise and sunset ought to hit for you, and dims your display appropriately after dark. You can choose from several different settings, with nighttime color temperatures ranging from 2700K up through 5000K, as opposed to normal daylight operation at 6500K. While it dims the lights automatically, you can disable it for an hour at a time, just in case you need things to stay extra bright.

F.lux is a free download. It's available for Windows (XP and Vista), Mac (OS X 10.4), and Linux.

Download F.lux

Free online calculator

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

runs as Online Service
screenshot of InstaCalc

Seems like there's always something to calculate. Whether it's just adding a couple of numbers, figuring the tax and shipping on your next Amazon order, or computing what the interest is going to cost you on a new car purchase, there are numbers to be crunched. For some of them, a simple pocket calculator would suffice; for others you might want to reach for a full-blown spreadsheet application. Or you might take a look at an online option.

InstaCalc is a free online calculator. You can use it to do some quickie addition, or you can get all complicated and use it to compute mortgage amortization, future value, and other complex calculations. For the simple stuff, all you need to do is type in the numbers and operators, and it figures the answer in real time. If you need to get more complex, you can define variables and reference other parts of your calculations. It supports all sorts of complex operations, including trig functions, logarithms, and more. It's even got built in conversion functions: how many teaspoons are there in a gallon? (768), or what is 2010 in octal? (0o3732).

InstaCalc is a free service. You should be able to use it with any browser that supports JavaScript.

Download InstaCalc

Clean up your downloads with Digital Janitor

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Digital Janitor

As you move around the Web during the normal course of your day, no doubt you're downloading various files. Whether it's a report you need to work on, or the next great timesaving app, you probably just dump everything on your desktop, or maybe into a dedicated Download folder. By the end of the day—or week, or month—you've got quite a pile of stuff there. It's really not going to do you any good just sitting there; it might be nice to organize all those goodies and put them into a better storage location. But hey, who wants to spend the next ten minutes (or next ten hours) dragging and dropping files all over your hard drive?

Digital Janitor can give you a hand with this nasty clean up job. Built on a rules-based sorting system, all you need to do is to enter a file type (actually a file extension like DOC or MP3) and destination, point it at your download folder, and press the magic button. It moves all your files to their new homes and lets you get back to downloading. After all, if you die with the most downloads, you win, right?

A free download, Digital Janitor is a Windows application. It should do fine on systems running XP or later; it requires version 2.0 or the .NET Framework.

Download Digital Janitor

Highlight computer presentations with Highlight

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

runs on Mac
screenshot of Highlight

Using a computer to give a presentation can be a real mixed bag. The classic approach is to build a PowerPoint presentation, and hope that you've covered everybody's questions before they ask them. That's fine until the first time you have to deviate from the script. Then you have to switch over to pointing and hoping that everybody can follow along.

Highlight is a tool that can help you out with this. Basically it lets you overlay whatever is on your screen with a clear layer to write and draw on. By default when you fire it up, you get a free form pencil that lets you circle and point at items on your screen. Through the use of modifier keys (Shift, Control, Option) singly and in combination, you can also draw rectangles, ellipses, straight lines, arrows, and more. A hotkey lets you toggle the app on and off, since you can't click on any underlying buttons when the app receives focus.

Highlight is a Mac application. It runs under OS X (10.4 and later) and is distributed as a Universal Binary, so it's equally at home on PowerPC and Intel-powered Macs.

Download Highlight

View Windows Metafiles

Monday, January 25th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of WMF Viewer

Windows Metafiles (WMF) are an image format that lets you easily incorporate pictures into Word, Excel, and other apps that support that format. There aren't lots of tools out there, however, that let you view those files without embedding them into a document or spreadsheet first. That's not too handy.

WMF Viewer is the exception to this. With this tool you can open WMF files and see what's inside of them before you start sticking them in your documents. It's compatible with standard 16-bit files, and also the newer 32-bit Enhanced Metafiles (EMF). You can open multiple files at once, and once you're in there, it's easy to zoom, scale, align, and more. You can even print them out if you want to.

WMF Viewer is a free download. It's a Windows app and runs under any Win32 system, so you should be able to use it with anybody from Win95 up through Windows 7.

Download WMF Viewer

Rename those files

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Bulk Rename Utility

"What's in a name?" asks Juliet while trying to figure things out with Romeo. True, changing the name of a person or thing doesn't really change the underlying entity, A new name, though, might make things easier to work with. Take filenames, for example. Sure, you can leave it as "HP60355.JPG", but "Billy_and_Suzy_at_the_beach.jpg" might be a little more useful.

Bulk Rename Utility, as its name implies, will let you rename a bunch of files all at once. Choose an individual file or a whole directory full of them. Create rules to add or remove text, digits, and more. Use regular expressions to grab just the files you want. And it's got a preview, so you can do a sanity check before you give everything the wrong new name. It even logs what you do so that if something does get munged in the process, you can go back and unravel the whole mess. There's even a command-line version (separate download) that lets you automate the process by incorporating it into batch files and scripts.

A free Windows download, Bulk Rename Utility will run under just about any flavor of Microsoft's Best, from Win 98 on up.

Download Bulk Rename Utility

File manager for Windows

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of FreeCommander

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.

File management is a pretty important thing when you're up and running on your computer. Who can forget the day they first used a system with a GUI and could move files and documents around with a mouse instead of having to type big long strings of characters at the keyboard to get their work done? Back in the Windows 3.x days, Program Manager and File Manager were a pretty big deal. Upgrade to Windows 95 and you got Windows Explorer. Quite an improvement, to be sure, but things have pretty much stagnated there ever since. So whose door do we beat a path to?

FreeCommander is a file manager and can serve as a replacement for Windows Explorer. It boasts a two-pane window, that you can orient either horizontally or vertically. Each individual pane has an optional tree view as well, so you can have stuff scattered all over the place if you prefer. It includes a built-in file viewer, which lets you look inside of image files, hex/binary files, and can even take a peek inside of ZIP and other archive file formats. There's even an FTP client built into this app. Use drag-and-drop to move files around, rename files singly or in groups, compare and synchronize directories, and more.

FreeCommander is a free download for your Windows system. You'll need to be running Win2k or later to use it.

Download FreeCommander

Turn Firefox into a full-blown file transfer machine

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of FireFTP

Back in the day there were web browsers. You used them to visit sites and, umm, browse the web. Then came Firefox. Sure, you can still use it to look at web pages, but with the advent of Add-ons, now you can do all kinds of extra stuff, from analyzing the structure of web pages to setting-up to-do lists, and more.

FireFTP is a full-blown FTP client that comes as a Firefox Add-on. Once you go through the install process, you've got a fully functioning FTP tool to use for file transfers to- and from your system. It supports both plain vanilla FTP transfers, as well as encrypted SFTP uploads and downloads. Even though the browser and Add-on are platform independent, you will need to go through some extra machinations to get SFTP to work on your Mac or Linux system. It's got enough options to let you customize its behavior in ways that make the most sense to how you work, including saving login info, default directories, and such.

FireFTP is a free download. Since it's a Firefox Add-on, you'll need the Firefox web browser (version 3 or later) to use it.

Download FireFTP