Archive for November, 2010

Become more productive by not working

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

runs as Online Serviceruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Focus Booster

Did you ever have a time when it seemed like the harder you worked, the less productive you became? There's a whole theory that suggests that if you build breaks into your work that you can actually be more focused and productive while working between those breaks. The Pomodoro Technique is one such approach, and it's to support this approach that Focus Booster was created.

Focus Booster is a digital timer that is designed to help with using this method. Set the timer for 25 minutes, then dive into your task. When the timer goes off, it's time for a five-minute break. Every fourth break should be longer—maybe something like 15 or 20 minutes. You can customize your session lengths, as well as the length for your breaks. Choose any audible alarms you want to use to let you know when it's time to change, and select whether the timer window should be "always on top."

You can use Focus Booster on both Mac and Windows machines. It's built on the Adobe Air platform, so you'll need to have that installed on your machine. In addition, they also have an online version available, that requires Flash 10 and a supported web browser.

Download Focus Booster

Online Paper Grader

Friday, November 19th, 2010

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Paper Rater

Unless you're recording your deepest thoughts in a diary, you're presumably writing for an audience. But how do you know whether your intended audience is going to be able to read what you've written? We don't all have the luxury of a highly-skilled editor, but perhaps there's a tool that can stand in for that missing staff member.

Paper Rater is a tool that will look over your shoulder at what you've written and let you know what it thinks. It checks for the obvious—spelling, grammar, plagiarism and misappropriated content—as well as some of the more subtle signs that can help you with style and readability issues, that let you differentiate between what might work for junior high kids as opposed to bona fide rocket scientists and brain surgeons. All you do is copy and paste the title, body, and reference list for your work into their web form. Let the tool know who your intended audience is and what type of paper you're writing (research paper, essay, book report, etc.), and push the magic button. It'll let you know of any errors it's found, as well as letting you know about how your paper may be received by your target audience.

Paper Rater is a free online service. There's no sign up required, so all you really need is a browser and a paper you want feedback on.

Download Paper Rater

Compare and merge files and folders

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of DiffMerge

Comparing files can be a pain in the neck. Sometimes it's obvious where the differences are; but more often than not, the differences are minor and obscure. No matter how small those differences may be, however, when it comes time to compile your new program or finish that important report, those small diffs make all the difference in the world.

DiffMerge is a tool that lets you compare files and directories. Open two files to compare them; differences will be highlighted so you can easily see what's in the first file but not the second, and what's in the second file but not the first. In addition to showing you those differences, you can choose to merge files as well. Now you'll have the best of both worlds—or at least of both files. In addition, you can do folder-to-folder comparisons, to see which files are in duplicated between directories, as well as noting differences between identically-named files.

DiffMerge is a free download. It's available for Linux (Ubuntu 6, Fedora 7), Mac (OS X 10.4+), and Windows (Win 2000 and later) machines.

Download DiffMerge

Grab system information

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Speccy

When you bought that nice, shiny, new computer last week or last month or last year, you checked-out all the technical specifications, and could probably recite in your sleep all the vital info about megabytes of this and gigabytes of that. But now when you need to know what's in there in terms or processor family or speed or the type and size of your memory or your hard drive, you've got nothing. This is important stuff, but if you don't have the data, you're in trouble when it comes to checking for compatibility, upgrade requirements, and all that. Even pulling the cover off the box may not give you all of what you're looking for.

Speccy is a tool that can let you know what's really going on inside your system. If you need to know anything about your machine's CPU, motherboard, memory, graphics support, audio hardware, and more, this is the place to go; helpful for when the time comes for system upgrades, selling your machine, talking with tech support, or any time you need to know what your system's really all about.

You can grab a copy of Speccy for free. It's compatible with 32- and 64-bit versions of XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

Download Speccy

Full text PDF Newspapers from RSS

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

runs on Mac
screenshot of SmallNews

If you've got nothing better to do, you can sit at your computer all day and watch as your RSS feed reader collects all the news and information you have coming in to your machine. You'll be the best-read geek on your block, but you'll also get nothing else done. That could be a problem.

SmallNews is an application that takes the goodies that come in to you via RSS and helps you make better use of them. Specifically, it creates a PDF document for you that you can print out, pass along to your friends, read on your computer, or put on your handheld device—smart phone, Kindle, iPad, others?—to read while you're on the bus, lounging by the side of the pool, or otherwise not tethered to your system. It's got dedicated "handlers" for lots of sites that allow you to grab entire articles instead of just summaries, good for many newspaper sites.

You can grab a copy of SmallNews for your Mac (OS X, version 10.5+, Intel or PowerPC). Oh, and it's free as well.

Download SmallNews

Simple and powerful notepad

Monday, November 15th, 2010

runs as Online Service
screenshot of

You just ran across something interesting and want to write it down. Maybe you want to save the info for your own purposes, or maybe you'd like to share it with others. Either way, you need a tool to do the deed. is an online notepad. Use it to jot a reminder for yourself, or as a place to quickly squirrel away and address or the URL for an interesting web page. Your note gets a discrete web address, so you can get back to it again later. Or you can share that URL with others and use it as a way to get your story out to the rest of the world. Tired of Twitter's 140-character limit? Write out what you really want to say in and include a link to your note in a tweet. Now everybody can see what you really think. You can leave things as plain text, or you can mark up the page, embed links, add video, and bunches of other stuff.

It doesn't cost anything to use There's no registration required, and all you need to access this service is a web browser.


Gmail notifier

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Spiffy

Back in the day, when you handled all your email with Eudora, it was easy to see when you received a new message. Now that you're using Gmail, it's not so easy to know when you've gotten your latest communication from the Nigerian Finance Minister. After all, you've got to have your machine up and running, be online, and have your web browser up and pointing at the Gmail site. If not, who knows what has recently shown up in your in box.

Spiffy helps make the whole "you've got mail" process easier to keep track of. Running as a desktop app, Spiffy can monitor up to five individual Gmail or Google Apps mail accounts. Customize your alerts so that you're always on top of things. You can set it to autostart, so whenever your machine is on, you'll know what's happening in Gmail world.

A Windows application, Spiffy is a free download. You should be able to use it on systems running XP, Vista, or Windows 7. You'll also need to have version 2.0 of the .NET Framework installed, as well as a Gmail or Google Apps account.

Download Spiffy

Keep your computer awake

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of Insomnia

When you work hard, you get all worn out. Sometimes it seems like the only thing that will help is to go to sleep. So out come the 'jammies and into bed you go. Your computer gets tired too. When it decides to go to sleep, it doesn't look for its blankie; rather it goes into one of its various sleep modes. Unfortunately, however, no matter how tired your electronic buddy gets, sometimes you don't really want it to sleep.

Generally when you're working on your system, you're banging away at the keyboard and clicking like crazy on your mouse. But sometimes, you're hard at work even though you're not interacting directly with your machine. Maybe you're downloading some huge file, or running a backup, or maybe compiling an enormous new application you just created. You definitely don't want your computer to take a snooze on you at a critical time like this.

Insomnia is a tool that you can use to prevent your system's going into a sleep state. When this app is up and running, your system won't hibernate, it won't go into standby; it'll keep its eyes wide open and its senses alert. It's much easier to keep unwanted sleep away with a little tool like this than it is to go in and mess with your system settings for a one-off change.

Insomnia is a free download. It runs on your Windows system.

Download Insomnia

Save space by optimizing your images

Friday, November 12th, 2010

runs on Mac
screenshot of ImageOptim

How much space do digital images take up on your system? All those multi-megapixel photos and all your other pictures probably grab more of your hard drive than you'd prefer them to have. Maybe it's time to put those graphics files on a diet.

ImageOptim is an image optimization tool for your Mac. Basically it's a nice GUI front-end to a bunch of tried and true terminal apps that help you squish your image files into something more compact. This tool will compress your pictures by getting rid of unneeded color profiles, extra meta information, and just generally tidy things up. Its drag and drop interface makes it easy to optimize a file or a folder, and it also can be used in a terminal window, letting you add its functionality into shell scripts. It works with GIF, JPG, and PNG files.

ImageOptim is a Mac application. It runs under OS X version 10.5.8 and later. They've also got an older version that will run on your Tiger (10.4) system.

Download ImageOptim

Distraction free writing

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

runs on Linux
screenshot of PyRoom

Your computer's got a lot going on. You've got email and instant messages coming and going; Twitter and Facebook always want to be updated; streaming video must be watched. How are you supposed to get any work done? Unfortunately, sometimes you don't.

PyRoom can help keep you on task. When you fire it up, everything else on your system goes away. Well, okay, it doesn't really go anywhere, but you can't see it any more, and that's almost as good. By default you'll get a plain old green-on-black display, much as you might see if you were working on a terminal. Type what you need to, uninterrupted by all that other stuff that thinks it wants your attention. You can still work on multiple documents at once, so it's not really like going back to the typewriter (kids, ask your parents). There are no fancy buttons to push, but you can still control all the behind the scenes stuff through the use of keyboard shortcuts.

For right now, PyRoom is available for Linux systems, and there are installers for several of the more popular flavors. The developers also promise a Windows version in the not so distant future.

Download PyRoom