Archive for April, 2011

Control your PC via Twitter

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of TweetMyPC

Some folks think Twitter is just all kinds of fun. Others find it a complete waste of time. While this microblogging service is designed to let you tell folks what you're up to, it can come in handy for other uses as well. But controlling your computer? Turns out you can do exactly that.

TweetMyPC takes Twitter and turns it into a tool you can use to run your PC remotely. All you do is install this tool on your Windows machine, set up a special private Twitter account, and then just go nuts. This app understands over two dozen commands that let you shutdown or restart your machine, as well as take a screenshot of whatever is currently on the display, find and email you a file, or even print a document. And all you need to do is to write a Tweet.

TweetMyPC is a free Windows application. For Mac users, check out TweetMyMac, and Linux users may be interested in TwitAction.

Download TweetMyPC

Outliner and mind mapper

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

runs on Mac
screenshot of MyMind

Sometimes a list is just a list. When you put together your shopping list for the grocery store, it's probably just an unordered list of stuff: eggs, milk, bread, and so on. You write things down as you run out, with no particular attention paid to organizing them, like maybe by store location or cost or some such. Other times, the order of items is important. Maybe they're steps in completing some task, where you have to finish some parts before others: you don't want to fold your laundry and put it away before you wash it, for example.

MyMind is an outliner that can give you a hand in organizing things. It's easy to enter items, rearrange them, and prioritize them. In addition, you can look at your outline graphically as well. That may help you to better understand what you've laid out, or even to discover relationships you didn't see between various nodes as they sat there in a strict outline form. Add a fancy background image, and you're on your way to a full-on presentation. Not bad for a grocery list, huh?

MyMind is a free download for your Mac. It runs under OS X 10.4 and later.

Download MyMind

Lunar Calendars

Monday, April 18th, 2011

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Lunar Calendars

Everybody needs a calendar. While there's some routine stuff where you really don't need to know which day it is—brush your teeth, feed the cat—there are other things where knowing where you are in the week, month, or year are really important. If it's Monday, you'd better go to work. If it's April 15, you'd better mail that check to the IRS. Without a calendar, we'd be hard pressed to keep track of it all.

There are all kinds of calendars. They range from the one you picked up at the drugstore with the advertising all over it to the little one you stick in your wallet. Some calendars focus on holidays, while others are more interested in natural phenomena. Lunar Calendars fall into this latter class.

Lunar Calendars are provided by the folks at These guys have lunar calendars—calendars that focus on the phase of the moon on any particular day—that you can view online or download as a PDF file. Both versions feature graphical representations of the phase of the moon for each day in a given month, as well as including the captions "New Moon" and "Full Moon" on the appropriate days. Even with the labels, there's enough room to add your own annotations to the calendar, so you can be sure to pencil in your next snipe hunt or other lunar-related event.

Lunar Calendars are free. You'll need a browser to look at them online, and a copy of Adobe Reader or another app that can work with PDF files to print them out.

Download Lunar Calendars

Start a wiki

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

runs as Online Service
screenshot of

There seems to be no end of ways for you to get your story out to other folks on the 'Net. You can build a plain old website, put together a blog, or even set up a wiki. If the idea of a wiki appeals to you, you might want to check out the offerings at

These folks make it easy to get up and going with a wiki, and the one they use is the same one Wikipedia is built on. You can choose to just stick your toe in the water and start with just a single page in what they call a Personal Wiki. Or if you've got more to say, you can set up a Group Wiki, which gives you multiple pages to work with. In either case, everything you're doing is out in the open—you've can't control who edits your entries and everybody can see them. While this means you're probably not going to want to post your super-secret chocolate chip cookie recipe up there, you could still spread the excitement of cookies in a more general way.

There's no cost to use either the Personal or Group wiki, and all you need is a browser and an email address to get started. If you're interested in a more feature-rich setup, they do offer the option of a paid version as well.


Compare those files

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

runs on Mac
screenshot of FileCompare

So are those two files duplicates? You can't always depend on the names, because it's too easy to have multiple files in different places with the same names but not the same "stuff" inside. And while you may feel comfortable opening a couple of text files and doing a quickie visual compare, once those files get the least bit complicated, or you're faced with a pair of binary files, you're probably out of luck following some seat-of-the-pants approach like this. Now you're going to need a real tool.

Your Mac has tools like this built in, but unfortunately you need to be a command line jockey in Terminal to take full advantage of them. FileCompare is an app that makes it easy to compare files without having to get all Unix-y about things. Basically, it's a pretty front end to to the md5 utility, which generates a checksum value for a file based on the contents of that file. If two files have identical values here, then they're almost certainly identical to one another. Now you won't have to worry about whether you're deleting the wrong file when you're cleaning house on your machine.

FileCompare is a free download. It's a Mac application (OS X 10.4 or later), and comes as a Universal Binary, so you can use it with your PowerPC or Intel-powered Mac.

Download FileCompare

Online diagram tool

Friday, April 15th, 2011

runs as Online Service
screenshot of Diagramly

Pictures being worth a thousand words and all, sometimes it's just more economical, both time-wise and money-wise, to draw it than to say it. If you've ever read the legal description of a piece of property with irregular borders, you know that it's a lot more complicated than looking at a map of that same piece of land. While the written text may be more technically descriptive, that drawing makes it much easier to take a quick look and say "I get it".

Diagramly is a free service that lets you construct diagrams and charts with nothing more than your web browser. It's easy to drag objects into the drawing area from the well-populated onscreen palettes, and you can choose from general flowchart shapes as well as various pieces of clipart to help tell your story. And it supports all manner of connecting lines so you can show connections and process flow. Once you're done, you can save your handiwork in its native XML format, as well as PNG, JPG, or SVG images. Need to make changes? Just re-import your saved XML and you're ready to go.

Diagramly is available online. It should work with just about any modern browser with JavaScript.

Download Diagramly

Bulk file renaming

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Rename Master

Files, files, files. Whether it's documents, photos, music, or whatever other data you're storing and manipulating, at some point you're going to decide that they might want to have better names. Unfortunately, you can fritter away several hours of your life renaming files one at a time. It would be much better to automate this process.

RenameMaster can give you a hand with this chore. Rather than having to rename files one-at-a-time, you feed them to this tool, and they're automagically renamed. Just pick the files you're interested in, choose how you want them renamed (prefix a number, strip out some common string of text, grab info out of MP3 tags), and there you go. Check your changes in Preview to make sure they're going to behave the way you want, and then press the button to make the magic happen. And if you do happen to break something, its Undo functionality will help you get back to where you started from.

RenameMaster is a Windows application. It should run on just about any system from Windows 98 on up.

Download Rename Master

Anonymous web pages

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

runs as Online Service
screenshot of PasteHTML

It's easy to write HTML code in any old text editor on your desktop. A little typing here, a little cut-and-paste there, and you're all set. But what is that page going to look like? Unless you've got a web server running on your local machine, you really don't know how that page is going to behave. You can upload your handiwork to a server somewhere, but then you have to give it some kind of memorable name and be sure to delete it when you're done playing around. Or maybe you can just publish it to a server that doesn't care.

PasteHTML is a free service that lets you publish anonymous web pages. You can do your editing directly in their online form, or you can write your code in your favorite text editor and then paste it into the form. Or if you're not so big on the whole markup thing, you can also use their online WYSIWYG editor, which lets you format your text without any of those pesky HTML tags. Either way, once you're done, you just click the button and your page is published. Now it's easy to see what your page will look like when you publish it for real, as well as making it easier to find that place where you forgot a closing bracket or quotation mark in your code.

PasteHTML is a free online service. You really shouldn't need anything more than a web browser to use it.

Download PasteHTML

Remap your keyboard

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

runs on Mac
screenshot of DoubleCommand

You've got a Mac and you need to get a keyboard for it. Maybe you've got a machine that doesn't come with one, or you're adding an external keyboard to your MacBook. Either way, you look around, and all you find is an old Windows keyboard. Now that's going to work mostly okay, but there's still some Mac-ness that isn't going to be available to you. Like the all-important Command key.

DoubleCommand is a tool you can use to remap keys on your keyboard, either to tweak the keys on your Mac keyboard, or to completely revamp the keys on your Windows keyboard. Swap the Control and Option keys. Use the Enter key as the Command, Control, or Option key. Or choose from a bunch of other configurations. While your new keyboard may not work as smoothly as an official Apple model, functionally it'll be pretty close, and almost certainly it will be cheaper.

You can download DoubleCommand for free. It's compatible with systems running Tiger (OS X 10.4) and later.

Download DoubleCommand

Manage your passwords

Monday, April 11th, 2011

runs as Online Service
screenshot of StickyPassword

You and your data are only as safe as your password. Whether it's desktop apps, or more likely online goodies, you've got to have a good, strong password if you're going to be able to sleep at night. But of course, the better the password, the harder it is to remember it. And that's where a tool like StickyPassword can come in handy.

With StickyPassword, you only have to remember one password to unlock your store of passwords. Now you can use appropriately complex passwords—upper- and lower-case alpha characters, numbers, and even symbols—that make it much harder for the bad guys to break into your stuff. StickyPassword remembers them all for you, as well as other important information for your online travels, such as name, phone, and even the ever-popular Mother's Maiden Name. And if you're particularly security-conscious, StickyPassword even comes with a virtual keyboard you can use while entering password information. That means that any keyloggers lurking in the background won't have access to your information as you type it in.

StickyPassword is available as a free download for Windows. This version supports up to fifteen passwords and one account. If you need more than that, they'd be happy for you to upgrade to the Pro version.

Download StickyPassword