Archive for December, 2010

Latin text generator for Mac

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

runs on Mac
screenshot of LittleIpsum

Whether you're roughing out web pages to see how all the pieces fit before you get into hard-core coding, or laying out text for a pamphlet, flier, or some other piece of printed material, you will need some text to see how your page is going to look. While you could use any old text to get this job done, there are a bunch of reasons why not to. Like needing to write that text. Or running afoul of somebody's copyright when you just grab random stuff off the web.

LittleIpsum is a tool you can use to generate a chunk of text based on the tried and true "Ipsum lorem" that everybody uses to mock up text. Instead of having to look for- and find the text, and then grab the amount that you need, and then paste it into your layout tool, LittleIpsum sits in your menubar just waiting for you to call on it. Grab a word, or a sentence, or whatever amount of text you need. By using a chunk of Latin text you get stuff that looks like English (similar word lengths, same characters, and all that), but doesn't require you to actually say anything interesting. Some folks agree that it actually works better because you are looking at from an appearance standpoint only, without your getting bogged down in really reading the thing.

You can grab LittleIpsum for free. It's a Mac application, and runs under OS X (10.6+).

Download LittleIpsum

Free Fireworks Simulator

Monday, December 20th, 2010

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Fireworks Simulation

I'm not sure if there's such a thing as something that everybody can agree on, but there are probably at least a few items that might make the short list: Mom, apple pie, and fireworks. As an important part of various celebrations, fireworks can't be beat. Of course there may be a few drawbacks. Like having to wait until the Fourth of July to see them. Or eating another sand-covered sunscreen-flavored hotdog. So what would it be like to get all the "ooo's" and "aah's" of a fireworks display without the lawn chairs or picnic lunch?

Fireworks Simulation attempts to answer this question. You get to design and build your own display: choose the amount of fuel your shells have available, set the explosive force, and even adjust the colors for your display. Or you can always choose a random show and just let yourself be surprised.

Fireworks Simulation is a free service. All you'll need to set up your own aerial show is a recent web browser with Flash installed.

Download Fireworks Simulation

Check your connection speed

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of MyConnection PC Lite

Unless you live clear out in the boonies, you probably can't remember the last time you used a dialup connection. When you first dipped your toe in the online world, that 56k modem (or even the 33k or the lowly 28k connection) seemed pretty fast. Now that you're all broadband-equipped, your DSL, cable, or T1 just blasts along. Generally speaking, the money moves out of your wallet to your ISP at about that same speed, since they don't give that stuff away. So how do you know you're getting all the speed you're paying for?

MyConnection PC Lite is a free application you can use to see what kind of throughput you're really getting. They've got several different servers you can choose from, so you're not going to have to worry about erroneous readings based on a particular location. While there are a total of eight different tests included in this tool, you really only get to use two of them (a third has a fifteen-day time bomb built in). Balance that against the fact that the application is free for household use, and you may decide that it's worth your time to check it out.

You can run MyConnection PC Lite on Windows systems.

Download MyConnection PC Lite

Add accents easily with AX

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of AX

If you live and work in the good old USA—or at least you bought your computer here—then you've got a keyboard set up for American English. That's fine when you're typing stuff in English, but if you need to branch out and create something in French, Spanish, or any of dozens of other languages, you may be in for a rough time. That's because lots of other languages use all kinds of extra little curlicues with their characters.

AX makes it easy to get correctly accented letters even with your American keyboard. Once you type the base character that you want to accent—maybe the letter "E"—you just start pressing the [F8] function key. With each new press, you'll get a different accent for your character, so you can cycle through acute, grave, and circumflex accents, as well as umlauts for you fans of the Germanic tongues, and so on. It works for other characters as well—maybe you need a superscript digit or a subscript number for your mathematical or chemical musings. It supports a bunch of different European languages, so it probably has the right markings for your character. You can even change the hotkey if [F8] is a favorite for you for some other use. It should be compatible with all your other apps, so whether you're working in your word processor, tweaking a spreadsheet, or anything else, you should be good to go.

You can grab a copy of AX for free. It's an open source application and runs under Windows.

Download AX

Store and retrieve notes

Friday, December 17th, 2010

runs on Mac
screenshot of Notational Velocity

How many different ideas do you suppose you come up with in a day? Sure, many of them are not so deep—one lump or two?—and don't merit being remembered, but other stuff probably wants to be jotted down. By the end of the day (or week or month) you've got a pile of notes, but no way to really do anything with them. It might be handy to be able to do something with all this accumulated wisdom.

Notational Velocity is a tool that lets you keep track of your thoughts, musings, and insights. When you have a thought, just enter it into the application. As you enter it, the tool is also searching for related ideas you've previously entered, since the data entry and search functions share the same input field. That means that as you type, related notes will come up, and you can decide whether to add today's insight to yesterday's brilliant idea, or to go off in a different direction. And if you get no hits on your latest idea, all you need to do is to hit Return and, like with a wiki, you'll create a new entry.

Notational Velocity 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 a PowerPC or an Intel powered machine.

Download Notational Velocity

Free backup tool

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of DFIncBackup

Backing up your machine is an important piece of preventive maintenance, and a real sanity saver. If you don't backup regularly, here's the perfect chance to start.

DFIncBackup home edition is a tool that lets you back up your precious files. You can choose to do a full backup, or to just grab the files that have changed since your last backup. Either way, if the worst happens—whether it's a system failure that eats your hard drive, or just your boo-boo in deleting the wrong files—you've got what it takes to put things back together. Backups are saved in industry-standard Zip files, and they can be encrypted, so you can be confident that your backups are safe and secure.

While the publishers would love to have you buy the Professional version of this tool, the Home edition does much of the same work for free. There is a limit of 8 GB on your backup files, but no matter how you slice it, that's a lot of data.

DFIncBackup home edition is free for use in both private and commercial settings. It's a Windows app and should run under Windows 9x and beyond.

Download DFIncBackup

Screenshots with annotations

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Owely

It can be handy to capture what you see on your screen. You might want to document something interesting you found on a web site, or some funny message you see on a desktop app. Most operating systems let you grab a piece of your display's real estate, but it's not always the easiest—or most intuitive—thing that you'll do today. It can involve a couple of arcane commands and a few not-so-often used apps. Or you can check out Owely.

With Owely, you can grab a piece of your screen, which is convenient enough, but then you can add to it. Crop your image to keep only the important stuff; annotate your screenshot to show people what it is you're trying to point out to them with text, shapes, or even hand-drawn lines, arrows, and such. And when you're all done, it's easy to upload your masterpiece, so that everybody else can see what you've done.

Owely is available for Linux, Mac (10.5, Intel only), and Windows (2000 and later).

Download Owely

Check your website for broken links

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

runs on Mac
screenshot of Integrity

Once you put a web page up, it's perfect and you never need to visit it again. Unless you have something more to say about the subject. Or you change your product line. Or you have a link on your page that gets broken. You know it's time to make the change when you're the one driving the process, but how do you know when there's a broken link? The only way to know for sure is for you to click on your links. Each one of them. On a regular basis.

Unless you want to spend your career clicking on the links on your site, it's probably going to be worth your while to automate that process. A tool like Integrity can go along way toward your hanging on to at least a shred of your sanity. Just point Integrity at the page in question, and let it check out all the links on there. It'll report back on every link it finds and let you know whether everything's okay, if links are redirected, or if you've got a bad link—a jump to nowhere. Or let it loose on your site, and it will go through its paces on all your pages. Now you'll know which links to update, and which ones you can safely ignore. And in addition to all this good stuff, you can also use Integrity to build a Google-compatible XML sitemap. Submit that to them to make sure that Googlebot is visiting all of your site's pages.

Integrity is a free download. It runs on Macs under OS X 10.3 and later.

Download Integrity

DocX Viewer

Monday, December 13th, 2010

runs on Windows
screenshot of DocX Viewer

Microsoft Word DOC files are everywhere. While Word isn't the only game in town, it's certainly miles ahead of whatever's in second place. One nice thing about DOCs is that they're cross-version compatible. If you've got any version from the last ten years (or more), you're able to read stuff that somebody else has created on their system, whether it's the same version as yours or not. Until Microsoft changed how they structure their DOC files. Now all of a sudden, native DOC files (actually now DOCX files) from Word 2007 (Word 2008 on Mac) can't be read under older versions of Word. It might be one thing if you couldn't edit them, but taking away the ability to just read them can put a real crimp in your style.

DocX Viewer is a tool that wants to help you out of this nasty situation. Just fire this app up, and you can open and read through that DOCX file you just received via email, even if you don't have Word 2007—or any version of Word at all—on your machine. And to help save you time, it's designed to open those files fast and to render them as close to what you would see in Word as possible. Now you aren't going to be able to edit anything in that new file, but at least you can see what's there before you try to do anything more serious with it.

You can grab DocX for free. It should run just fine on versions of Windows from NT/2000 up through Version 7.

Download DocX Viewer

Check for Plagiarism On the Web for Free

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Plagiarism Checker

I think we can mostly agree that plagiarism is a bad thing. Unless you're a student desperate to get a paper done and willing to take your chances, you probably don't want to appropriate anybody else's work. And if you have a website or some other intellectual property you're responsible for, you probably don't want to have your material lifted for use by others.

Plagiarism Checker is a tool that can help you look for plagiarized material on the web. Just grab a phrase or three from your document and plug them into the tool. It does a quick search of the web and will return any results it finds that match your text. If you're lucky, the only matches you'll get back are your page; otherwise, it may be time to take a look at those other pages and see if the match is just a coincidence, or if there's something more than that going on. There are instructions included to help you get more out of the tool, whether you're a teacher checking a student's paper, or an author looking to see whether somebody's using your material.

All you need to use Plagiarism Checker is a web browser. This free service doesn't require you to sign up or give out your email address or anything like that.

Download Plagiarism Checker