Archive for August, 2010

Watch earthquakes (or big trucks) with SeisMac

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

runs on Mac
screenshot of SeisMac

Living over here on the "Left Coast", we're used to the ground shaking beneath our feet. We're all dialed in to Cal Tech and the USGS to keep an eye on their reports of earthquakes. Turns out all we really needed to do was to grab a copy of SeisMac.

SeisMac takes advantage of the Sudden Motion Sensor in your Mac laptop to let you know when things are a-shakin'. It graphs in real time, showing movement in all three (X, Y, and Z) axes. It's sensitive enough that you should be able to see the temblor set off by your tapping your toes or walking across the room. And if the Big One comes along, you can see it on-screen, as you grab your computer and dive under a nearby table. Big earthquakes can be disconcerting, but at least they're not tornadoes, right?

SeisMac was created with support from the National Science Foundation. It's a free download for your Mac, and runs under OS X 10.4 and later. You'll need to have a MacBook or a MacBook Pro (or an older iBook or PowerBook equipped with Sudden Motion Sensor) to be able to use it.

Download SeisMac

Multi-platform collaborative text editor

Monday, August 30th, 2010

runs on Linuxruns on Windows
screenshot of MoonEdit

Mom always told you to "play nice" with each other. Cooperation is really the only way to get things done when there are multiple people involved. While it's easy to cooperate with others when you're all in the same room, it gets a little tricker when you are spread out around the enterprise or across the world. We've all played the game where a document is edited and changes are made, and then circulated around the department. The next person tweaks this, then somebody else tweaks that, and before you know it, nobody can figure out what is really going on. It would be much more efficient if everybody could put their two-cents worth in at the same time.

MoonEdit is a tool that lets you do just that. There's a server part as well as a client app that lets everybody load the same document at once. Everybody gets their own cursor—color-coded so you can tell who's doing what—and can edit your shared document simultaneously. No more waiting for everybody to look, approve, and circulate to get the job done.

You can download a copy of MoonEdit. It's free for non-commercial use and comes in flavors for Windows ('98 and later), as well as Linux and FreeBSD.

Download MoonEdit

CleanUp! removes temporary files

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of CleanUp!

A good tool is something that helps you get things done better and more efficiently. A saw helps you make things smaller. A lawn mower helps you make your grass shorter. But how about tools that let you do multiple things? So much the better.

CleanUp! is a two-in-one tool. What it does is help you get rid of the leftover junk on your system, the dreaded "temporary files", which as we all know are often anything but temporary. Now there are a couple of problems inherent with temporary files. First of all, they take up extra space on your system. Get rid of them, and your system will probably run faster, and you'll have more room to store your ever-increasing collection of MP3s. In addition, there are potential security issues there. These temp files contain cached copies of web pages you've visited, and goodness knows what else. With CleanUp! these all go away.

It's easy to install and use CleanUp!. It's small enough that you can stick it on a USB thumb drive or a diskette (kids, ask your parents), and configuration is a snap. And if you really, really want your temporary stuff to go away, it also supports a secure delete, making it next to impossible for the curious to resurrect your deleted files. Afraid you might remove something important? Start out in "demo" mode to see what it thinks it ought to be deleting.

CleanUp! is a free download, and runs on Windows systems.

Download CleanUp!

Color Set helps you pick website colors

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Color Set

Building a website requires that you exercise several different skills. There's content to fill the site—otherwise who will come to visit? You need to be technically-savvy, or else your site won't function correctly. And then there's that whole design thing: if your site isn't pretty—or at least not ugly—you're not going to be able to get the word out either. For now, you're on you own for the first two items here, but when it comes to design, we've got a tool that might be helpful.

Color Set is an application that lets you plan out the color scheme you want to use for your site. Rather than building your site and having to go back again and again tweaking colors, you can see which hues go well together here. While it doesn't present a mock-up of your site or anything that fancy, what it does do is let you check out and tweak the colors you use for your text, table borders, background, and other elements. You can work with a browser-safe palette, or venture out on your own by specifying colors you want to try. Once you get things set just right, you can save your handiwork to "favorites", or as ready-to-paste HTML code.

You can download Color Set for free. It's a Windows application and should run on any Win32 platform from Windows 95 on up.

Download Color Set

Open source app manages lyrics, chords, all things musical

Friday, August 27th, 2010

runs on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of OpenSong

If you lead group singing, you can be up for some real challenges. If you're interested in old favorites, where everybody knows the words, it's relatively easy, but if you're teaching your group something new, it gets a lot more complicated. Now you've got to distribute books or songsheets, or use some other mechanism to make sure that everybody is literally on the same page. It's complicated, it's messy, and it isn't necessarily too fast. The folks who created OpenSong had the same troubles.

OpenSong is a free app you can use to lead groups in all things musical, and more. Think of it as a specialized PowerPoint-like tool. Present verses, choruses, or mix them all up. In addition to being able to use OpenSong as a presentation tool, you can also use it for keep track of your music. Create song sheets and lead sheets; include chords, and transpose your piece up or down as needed. And of course you can keep track of the title, composer, copyright information, and all that.

You can download OpenSong for Windows (Win2k+), Mac (OS X 10.3 and later), as well as various flavors of Linux.

Download OpenSong

Free Desktop Calendar application

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Desktop Calendar

Sometimes you want the fancy version with all the bells and whistles. Other times, you're looking for something a little more basic: "just the facts, ma'am". Desktop Calendar falls into this latter category.

Desktop Calendar is a simple calendar that sits on your Windows Desktop. It doesn't put a button on your Taskbar, and it doesn't stick an icon in your System Tray. What it does do is sit transparently on your desktop, letting you keep an eye on the current month's calendar. You can also set simple reminders, both for one-time-only events and meetings, as well as recurring events. Even for this simple app, you still have plenty of options to customize it to your liking. Pick your font, tweak colors, modify date formats, and even change first-day-of-the-week settings (Sunday? Monday? Something else?). The app is self-contained, so there aren't a bunch of Registry entries or support DLL files scattered across your system, so uninstalling, if necessary, is easy. We're guessing it would probably do fine on a removable drive as well.

Desktop Calendar is a free download. It's a Windows application and should run on systems with Windows 2000 or later.

Download Desktop Calendar

Upscale text editor

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Bend

Text editors are used for editing text. Nothing too sexy or exciting about that. But when you need one, bells and whistles generally aren't at the top of your priority list. Well, here's a text editor that offers at least a bell or two for you.

Bend allows you to create and edit straight-up text files, so your web server will be happy with the result. But while you're doing the editing, it's got a few features that can help take the pain out of the task. It's got syntax highlighting for HTML, CSS, ASP, PHP, and more. It's got an always-on "find" tool that not only highlights your target text, but also dims the rest of the page, making it really easy to see what it is that find found. It uses tabs, so you can have multiple documents open at once. You can zoom in and out with your mouse wheel, to see bigger- or smaller chunks of text at a time.

You can grab a copy of Bend for free. It's a Windows app and runs under Windows 7. You'll also need to have version 4 of the .NET Framework installed on your system.

Download Bend

Image editor for pixel artists

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

runs on Mac
screenshot of Pixen

The term "digital graphics" covers a huge range. Whether it's megapixel-sized digital photos, or teeny-tiny little icons and graphical bullets, they're all digital pictures. The image manipulating tools you might be most familiar with tend to be more useful for things on the larger end of that range. But what if your work runs to the other end? Icons, sprites, little ornaments; these can be a bit of a challenge when you use Photoshop to tweak them.

Pixen is an app designed specifically for "pixel artists", the folks who live in this land of the little. Even though it's simple in design, it boasts some big features. It supports layers, which means that you can work on different elements of your images independently—the background can be separate from shadows which can be held apart from your main subject. You can save your work in all the normal Web-usable formats, as well as several others. Along with individual images, it's also easy to build animations to save as GIF files, QuickTime movies, and more.

Pixen is a free download for your Mac. It runs under OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and later. You'll also need to have QuickTime 7 installed on your system.

Download Pixen

ClipboardPath sticks full pathname on clipboard

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of ClipboardPath

Sometimes you just have to know where a particular file is. Whether you're looking for a document or trying to tell somebody else where to find an image, the path to a file uniquely identifies an item on your machine. You can use Windows Explorer to drill down through the directory structure of your hard drive and find that file, but then it's tricky to tell anybody else where you found it. And heaven help you if you need to access that location via a Command window. There's got to be an easier way to take that information and use it.

ClipboardPath is a tool of one use, but it fulfills that requirement well. Once it's installed on your machine, all you need to do to capture a file's full path is to browse to that file, right click on it, and select "Copy Path to Clipboard." Once it's there, it behaves like any other clipboard entry. Paste it into Notepad; stick it in a Command window; paste it into a document; just go nuts. And for a real thrill, hold down the [Ctrl] key while you're grabbing a mapped network path, and it will convert that mapped address into a UNC path (the kind that looks like \\server\share\file….) instead.

You can grab a copy of ClipboardPath for free. It's a Windows application.

Download ClipboardPath

Free network backup solution

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Amanda

Backups. What can you say: you've gotta' do 'em. If you're just archiving your personal stuff, it's pretty easy. Make a copy. Store it someplace else. Automate it so you don't forget. Got a small network? That's still doable, although a bit more complicated. A bigger network? Now that's not going to come without some pain. Let's try to keep the discomfort to a minimum.

Amanda is a free, open source, backup solution. It's not something you're going to use for just your personal stuff, since there's servers involved, but if you've got a bunch of machines to watch over, it may be worth a try. You install the server piece on a Linux box—it needs to use tar, awk, Samba, and Perl—and then a client app on each machine you want to back up. There's a client available for Windows, Mac (OS X), and all sorts of other Unix-like systems. It boasts an easy, well-documented setup process, and gives you the option of backing up to disk or tape, or even both at the same time. And since it uses tar and other native tools, if everything goes sideways, you can still restore without Amanda being available.

You can grab a copy of Amanda for free. They've also got paid versions available if you want to save your backups in the Cloud.

Download Amanda