A new look for your old ancestors

October 9th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of PhpGedView

If you're into the whole genealogy thing, you've probably got piles of old documents, maybe a bunch of photos, and an inbox full of email sent by Cousin Susie and Uncle Fred. If you're totally old school, you've also got a bunch of forms and pieces of paper with notes and arrows scrawled across them, trying to keep track of who's related to whom, and how. Or maybe you're more high-tech than that and you're running some desktop app to try to make sense of it all. Once you get it all figured out and realize that Aunt Rose is also your second cousin, the only way to share all your hard work with everybody else is to once again print it all out, and hope it makes sense. Well, it turns out that your cousins have been doing the same work you have, so there's a huge duplication of effort out there. And maybe they found some important fact you missed, or vice versa. It would be nice if there were a collaborative way to work on this family tree stuff.

PhpGedView is an app that does exactly that. While you could probably run it on your desktop, it's really designed to be installed on a server out there where multiple folks can get at it at the same time. You can enter what you've found out, while other family members can add their information to it. When you're done, you've got the benefit of everybody's expertise and information, and it's easy for even non-contributors to see what you've put together, because the whole thing lives on the web. Realizing that there's some pretty personal stuff in there, security settings are a big part of this app. You can decide who gets to see what, and who can edit which kind of data. You can also add media files, like photos, voice recordings, and all to flesh your data out.

PhpGedView is a free download. To run it, you'll need a web server running PHP 5.2 or better, and a database like MySQL 3.23 or newer.

Download PhpGedView

Cross platform bookmark service

October 8th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Xmarks

If you spend any time on the Web—and who doesn't?—it takes no time at all to build up quite a list of sites you want to visit again. Assuming you aren't just scribbling URLs down on a legal pad, you're going to want to bookmark those sites and the important pages on them. But if you bookmark them in Firefox, that doesn't do you any good on Chrome. Or if you bookmark them at home, that's no help at work. And online bookmark services like Delicious require that you log in to use them.

Xmarks looks like it may help you to overcome all these obstacles. You download it to your computer, but it then integrates with your browser—currently Firefox, Chrome, IE, and Safari (Mac)—to let you create bookmarks with any browser on any machine and share them with yourself on any other machine. You can create sync profiles, so that maybe your work bookmarks can be shared with your personal machine, but not vice versa. In addition, it also keeps a backup of all those bookmarks, just in case.

Xmarks is a free service. You just need to be running one of the supported browsers on Linux, Mac (OS X), or Windows (XP and later).

Download Xmarks

Upgrade your sight singing skills

October 7th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of GNU Solfege

On the piano, when you plunk the key that plays Middle C, you get Middle C. There's really not a lot you can do to mess that up—it's not going to be sharp or flat, it's just going to sound that note. With many other instruments, there is a similar expectation: on your trumpet, a given fingering will give you a particular pitch, allowing for overtones, adequate breath support, and all that. Instruments like the trombone and violin require paying perhaps even closer attention, as you really have nothing but the sound itself to go on—there's no valve or key combination that "guarantees" a given pitch. And when it comes to the human voice, all bets are off. You really have to hear what you're singing to be able to get along. Ear training is important to the singer, and one of the techniques often used to help improve singers' ears is solfège.

GNU Solfege is a tool to help you train your ear. Exercises help you to drill on hearing (and singing) intervals, chords, and scales. While it comes with a bunch of exercises, it's easy to add your own as well, letting you work on the particular skills you're trying to master. It also features extensive documentation, so you should be up and singing in no time.

GNU Solfege is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.

Download GNU Solfege

Classic Shell brings back missing features

October 6th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Classic Shell

Just because something's new doesn't necessarily mean it's better. While typically a new version of Windows has all kinds of cool new bells and whistles, sometimes that comes at the cost of losing some other feature that you personally rely on. Since you're not going to prevail against Redmond in asking them to re-introduce that missing functionality, you're typically left to fend for yourself. Or, if you're lucky, some third party will step into the breach and pick up the slack.

Classic Shell attempts to bring back many of the features you used in XP and earlier versions that were unceremoniously dropped with Vista and Windows 7. Included features include a classic Start Menu that supports drag-and-drop to organize applications, right-click context menus to help you delete, rename, and sort files. A Windows Explorer plugin that lets you get rid of breadcrumbs in the address bar, adds sorting headers in list view, and more. By the time you're done, you'll have all the speed and power of the newer O/S, but with the familiar look and feel of that older version you maybe reluctantly gave up.

Classic Shell is a Windows application. You'll need to be running Vista or 7 to use it.

Download Classic Shell

Virtual desktops for Windows

October 5th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Desktops

Sometimes things work best when everything is all in a big pile. Other times, you need to organize your stuff into smaller groups. Whether you're building a patio or working on your computer, you know you'll be more efficient when you're properly organized.

In Windows, you've got one desktop to work with. If you're involved in a fairly complex project, or juggling several jobs at once, it's easy for all the applications, windows, documents, and such to get out of control. In the Linux world, solutions involving virtual desktops—multiple screens each holding just some but not all of what you're working on at a given time—can be a big help. While researching your report, for example, you can have your word processor open in one desktop, with a web browser open in another, along with maybe a spreadsheet and an image editor in a couple more. That way, you can actually see what you're doing, and maybe—just maybe—you'll get something useful done.

Desktops is an application that brings multiple desktops to your Windows system. When you open your email client in Desktop 1, for example, switching to Desktop 2 will make it disappear and bring up your web browser or whatever applications you've got configured to run in that window. With less clutter in the way, you might just become more efficient, finish that important project, impress the boss, and receive a swell promotion. Or at least maybe you'll be able to go home on time today.

Desktops is a Windows application, and runs under XP and later.

Download Desktops

Capture and annotate screenshots

October 4th, 2011

runs on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Snaplr

Taking a screenshot is easy. There are a bunch of tools—some even included with your operating system—that let you grab something you see off the screen and save it, maybe to insert into a document, or maybe to attach to an email. If you need to do something with your image—maybe add a note or draw an arrow or circle to draw attention to a particular feature of your picture—then you have to open your image file in a paint program and add that there. Or maybe you could use a tool that lets you do all that at one time.

Snaplr is a screenshot tool that also lets you edit your picture in the same tool. Grab your picture, add arrows, lines, boxes, or even write directly on the image, and then save the image to a file or drag it directly into an email. Makes the whole process a lot quicker, and lets you get on with your life, rather than getting bogged down with the tool itself.

Snaplr is a free download. It's available for both Mac and Windows (Vista or better).

Download Snaplr

WYSIWYG ebook editor

October 3rd, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Sigil

It used to be that if you had a used paperback or two, you were all set for a trip to the beach or maybe a quiet evening in front of the fireplace. But that's so old school; now everybody's got an ebook reader. With that reader, you need something to read. You can buy ebooks, or you can download them for free at places like Project Gutenberg. Or maybe you can "roll your own", whether it's for your own use, or because you've written the next great American novel and want to share it. Either way, it might be handy to be able to create your own ebook.

Sigil is a WYSIWYG editor that lets you create and format EPUB documents for ebooks. Starting with a plain text file, or some other version of your publication, Sigil lets you format your document so that it looks just right for your readers. Add images, insert page and chapter breaks, create a table of contents, format text, and more. Now you can be the author and publisher all at the same time.

Sigil runs under Linux, Mac (Intel only), and Windows.

Download Sigil

Duplicate your audio CDs

October 2nd, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Exact Audio Copy

If you're on top of things, you back up your computer regularly. After all, you don't want to lose any important data that lives there. But what about backing up the other stuff in your life? Accidents do happen, and it would be a shame if you had an audio CD that got munched and required you to go and buy it again, when you could have already had a backup copy. That's what Exact Audio Copy is all about.

With Exact Audio Copy, you can create a near-perfect image of any audio CD and burn it to disk. It features advanced error correction, so your new disks should be just about as good as the originals. If you find that there's a bit of a tweak needed here or there, it's also got a built-in sound editor, which can automatically go after ticks and pops, or you can get in there manually to set things right.

Exact Audio Copy is a Windows application.

Download Exact Audio Copy

Hide your desktop

October 1st, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of SmokeScreen

Maybe you're scoping out some super secret new website. Or maybe you're just playing Minesweeper. Either way, it might be handy to be able to hide your screen when that nosy neighbor (or the boss) comes by.

SmokeScreen is a tool that lets you instantly make whatever is on your screen go away, replacing it with whatever you think would make it look like you're hard at work. You choose the trigger: roll your mouse to the edge of the screen, or maybe click the middle mouse button. You have the option of minimizing all the windows on your screen, or of displaying a screenshot of that busy spreadsheet or report you're supposed to be working on. And you can also decide whether a password is needed to restore your screen to its previous state. SmokeScreen sits there in the System Tray to remind you that it's running, or if you like even that icon can be hidden, allowing you to disguise the fact that you're hiding things.

SmokeScreen is a free download and runs under Windows.

Download SmokeScreen

Monitor network traffic

September 30th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of NetworkTrafficView

With any sort of network, there are packets of data flying back and forth constantly. Most of the time, you probably don't care, as long as your email arrives and you can access networked resources. If you're the network guy or gal, or are more interested than average about what's going on, then you might like to take a look at what comprises that network traffic.

For general information, NetworkTrafficView can let you take a look behind the scenes and see what your machine is sending out and receiving in terms of data across your network. More specifically, though, you can use it to check for spyware or other nasties "phoning home" on your machine. It lets you decide how to sort your data, and gives you info about the source and destination, protocols used, number of packets, and total data throughput.

NetworkTrafficView is a free download. It's a Windows application and has both 32- and 64-bit versions.

Download NetworkTrafficView