Monday, July 09, 2012

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream (NOT)

Have you ever being in the middle of a presentation and the screen suddenly drops into screen saver mode? Have you ever needed to run an application overnight and come back in the morning to find your computer in sleep mode?

It's happened to all of us or, if it hasn't, then it's only a matter of time before it does. So I had a hunt around for something that would prevent that short of making the machines not sleep or hibernate at all, which would be very power wasteful…

Found this for Windows…


It runs in the system tray, has timer settings if needed and can allow the display to sleep (or not). By timer settings, I mean that you can set the no-sleep period. For example, if you're running a 30 minute presentation, then you could set the no-sleep time to one hour, which gives you a bit of run-over time and automatically enable sleeping again if you forget to turn it back on.

…and this for Mac OS X…


It runs in the menu bar and has timer settings if needed.

All are free, need no installation, are easy to use (click to enable/disable) and can be set to run at startup.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Generating Secure Passwords

Given that we often have a need to generate secure passwords for the likes of web applications, blogs, social sites, etc. I've been using a wee utility called PWGen for Windows.

PWGen is a password generator capable of creating large amounts of cryptographically-secure passwords or passphrases (from word lists).

It's small, doesn't write to the registry or hard disk and you can choose to use either the number of characters and a character set or use a number of words passphrase.

For Mac OS X, you could use the similarly small and unintrusive RPG or Doorman utilities. Both are free and available from the App Store.

Alternatively, there are some useful online password generators...
Also, once you've got your secure password, it's worth checking it with Microsoft's Password Checker.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Malware and Virus Removal Tools

If you're unfortunate enough to get your PC infected with some malware or virus, then there are some useful stand-alone malware removal tools available from reputable software publishers...
NB: Only download a tool when required as they are updated regularly. Also note that some of the tools listed here require to be burned to and started from CD.

There's also a useful, downloadable guide available...
Operation Cleanup: Complete Malware Removal Guide
NB: The author of the above guide, Brian Meyer, keeps it updated on his Select Real Security site where you'll also find some other very useful security-related resources and information.

There's also a good tutorial on cleaning an infected system on Gizmo's Freeware...
How to Clean an Infected Computer

Friday, March 02, 2012

Mounting .ISO Images

​If you've ever downloaded a disk image file in .ISO format, then you'll know that you need a means of mounting these on the system as the OS itself won't do it automatically.

Windows

For Windows, I use OSFMount, which supports .ISO and a great many other image file formats such as .IMG, .BIN, .NRG, .SDI, .VMDK and more.

OSFMount also supports formatting, extending, imaging and the creation of RAM disks.

Alternative solutions are Virtual Clonedrive and Daemon Tools Lite, although the latter is only free for non-commercial use.

Mac OS X

For Mac OS X, you can mount .ISO images using Apple's Disk Utility application, which can be found in the /Applications/Utilities folder, as follow...

  1. Open Disk Utility
  2. Select the Open Disk Image... option from the File menu
  3. Locate your disk image and click on the Open button to mount it
You can also mount virtually any kind of disk image from the Terminal by using the hdiutil command. e.g.:

hdiutil mount sample.iso

where sample.iso is the path to the image you want to mount.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

How to Find User Guides and Manuals

If you're looking to download the user guide or manual for an electronic product and it's not available on the manufacturer website, then you might find it on Amazon.com. The site hosts PDF manuals of thousands of electronic products including those of items that have either been discontinued or are no longer available for sale.

These resources are primarily hosted on two Amazon servers – images-amazon.com and ssl-images-amazon.com. Here’s how you can find the one you're looking for...

Go to Google and type the following query, replacing the word ITEM with actual name or make and model of the thing you're looking for and replacing LANGUAGE with, well you know what I mean.

ITEM LANGUAGE filetype:pdf site:ssl-images-amazon.com OR site:images-amazon.com

These Amazon sites also host sample chapters of books in PDF format so you may want to add some extra terms to the search query – like Operation Guide, User Guide, Owner’s Manual, Installation Guide, etc. for better results.

If the above doesn't produce any useful results, then modify the query to search the whole of Google by removing the server names. If that doesn't work, then try removing the filetype dependency.

There are also some user guide sites worth checking out as well...
The older manuals are mostly PDF images scanned from the printed document but since Google supports OCR, these scanned PDFs are also searchable.

Tip: If the PDF is large, then you can just put the file URL in Google Docs Viewer and read the full manual online instead of downloading it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Joining Video File Segments Without Re-encoding

Have you ever downloaded a video in multiple segments or converted a double sided or dual-disc DVD, which leaves you with two video files? Ever wondered if you could simply join these files together for seamless playback?

If you're still reading, then I assume you do. Well, same here and I wanted a tool to do the job that didn't require a degree in video production techniques and of course, if it was free, then all the better.

After much searching and experimentation, I found a few free utilities available to do just that. There are also loads that either don't work as they say they will, are just too complicated or insist on re-encoding the video, which almost always results in some loss in quality.

There are a few provisos to attaining that no re-encoding goal in that all segments to be joined must be encoded in the same way, have the same bit-rate, same resolution, etc.

So, here are my recommendations for joining/concatenating the more common video file types…

Hint: before joining files, make sure they're all in the same folder and that each file is numbered in joining sequence. e.g. video1.avi, video2.avi, etc.

ASF, WMV

For ASF and WMV files, there's AsfBinWin. a Windows utility for cutting out fragments, joining, editing and repairing ASF files. It can operate on any ASF, WMA and WMV files and it does it all without re-encoding.

Joining ASF or WMV files with it is easy…
  1. Use the Select files from: … button on the right to locate the folder containing the desired file segments.
  2. Highlight the desired files in the order you want to join them in and click on the ←←← button to move the files to the List of input files: pane on the left. The program will check all is okay and number the files in colour-coded order.
  3. Under Destination: select a destination and file name for the joined file. The program will default to out.asf.
  4. Click on the Cut / Copy / Join button.
AVI

For AVI files, there's VirtualDub, a video capture/processing utility for Windows. Joining video segments isn't really what this program was designed for but it does it so simply and, with the right settings, without re-encoding…
  1. Select the Direct stream copy option from the Video menu.
  2. Select the Direct stream copy option from the Audio menu.
  3. Use the Open video file… option from the File menu to open the first file in the sequence.
  4. Use the Append AVI segment… option from the File menu to add additional segments in order. If the program warns you that the audio bit-rates don't match, then use the Full processing mode option from the Audio menu. It'll take a wee bit longer to process but not that much.
  5. Use the Save as AVI… option from the File menu to choose a file name and destination and to begin the joining process.
If you're running Mac OS X, then try AVITools. The interface isn't exactly intuitive and the unregistered version is a bit annoying to use but it will join identically encoded files. If it works for you, then paying the really cheap registration would be worth it.
    FLV

    For joining FLV (Flash Video) you can try FLV Joiner or SUPER but to achieve lossless joining, the video file formats must be identical.

    MKV

    Get yourself MKVToolnix, a set of tools to create, alter and inspect Matroska files under Linux, Unix and Windows and it can also handle MP4 files but the output will be saved as MKV.
    1. Open the first file in the sequence.
    2. Click on the Append button to add the next file. Repeat until all segments have been added.
    3. Click on the Mux Now button.
    4. Save the file.
    Regardless of the site's statement that the Mac OS X version of MKVToolnix requires MacPorts, there's a native version for Mac OS X 10.5 and above available from http://jonthn.free.fr/MKVtoolnix/

    Another option is MKVTools for Mac OS X. Again, like AVITools, the interface is a bit confusing but it'll do the job. It's worth noting that, at the time of writing, the developer was working on a new version and only the old one is available for download.
      MP4, M4V

      MP4Box for Windows should be able to do the trick for MP4 and M4V files here but it's a command-line tool (life's too short) but, even with attempts using both popular GUI front-ends My MP4BoxGUI and Yamb, I just couldn't get it to work with any of the video files I had.

      However, I did have some success with MP4Tools, a sister application to AVITools and MKVTools for Mac OS X.

      MOV

      If you have a QuickTime Pro registration, then you can easily join MOV files using QuickTime Player
      1. Open the first file in the sequence.
      2. Move the insertion point to the end of the movie.
      3. Open the next file in the sequence.
      4. Select the entire movie using the Select All option from the Edit menu.
      5. Select the Copy option from the Edit menu.
      6. Activate the original/first file movie window and select the Paste option from the Edit menu.
      7. If you have more segments to add, then repeat steps 3 to 6 until done.
      8. Select the Save As… option from the File menu and save the new, concatenated movie.
      You can use this method for any format that Quicktime supports but it'll always want to save as a .mov file.

      It should be noted that SUPER claims to be able to join identically encoded files of any input format it supports so it'd be worth trying on any of the above formats.

      PS Just to be clear, I've tried AoA Video Joiner, Yamb/MP4Box, Avidemux, All Free Video Joiner and a few others but all of them failed in the task for various reasons.

      PPS Some very useful sources of information are the guides and tutorials from VideoHelp.com, AfterDawn, and Doom9.net.

      I'd always be happy to hear of any other similar tools or better methods of joining video files.

      Wednesday, July 07, 2010

      Recovering Windows Software Keys

      If you ever need to recover a Windows-related CD installation key, these wee portable (no install needed) and free utilities could be useful…

      SoftKey Revealer
      • Recover Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP/2003/Vista/7 32-bit(x86) product keys.
      • Recover Microsoft Office XP/2003/2007 product keys.
      • Recover over 700 software product keys.
      If you want to recover a key for a game, then use GameKey Revealer.

      Nirsoft ProduKey

      ProduKey is a small utility that displays the ProductID and the CD-Key of Microsoft Office (Microsoft Office 2003, Microsoft Office 2007), Windows (Including Windows 7 and Windows Vista), Exchange Server, and SQL Server installed on your computer.

      You can view this information for your current running operating system, or for another operating system/computer - by using command-line options.

      The Nirsoft site has a wealth of free and extremely useful Windows-related utilities and is well worth exploring if you like that kind of thing.

      Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder

      The Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder is a freeware utility that retrieves your Product Key (CD key) used to install windows from your registry. It also has a community-updated configuration file that retrieves product keys for many other applications. Another feature is the ability to retrieve product keys from unbootable Windows installations.

      If the free utilities above can't recover the key you need, then you may want to look at the shareware Recover Keys utility, which can check for over 1,100 product keys.

      Sunday, July 26, 2009

      Digitally Framing Photographs

      I've been experimenting with adding coloured frames to some of my photographs on Flickr. What colour or style of frame and matte to use is very subjective and what suits me might not suit anyone else but I thought I'd give it a go to try and enhance the on-screen display of some of my pics.

      Little Egret
      After some trial and error I've decided on a formula to work out the size of the frame and matte. The frame width is calculated as the width of the narrowest axis (in pixels) * 0.032. I've no real scientific or artistic reason for the choice but it works for me. So, for example, a photograph measuring 4000 * 2000 would produce a frame width of 64 pixels with the matte width being twice that at 128. If I wanted to use a double matte for an edge highlight, then I'd calculate that width using a factor of 0.004.

      The Squinty Bridge By Night
      Bearing in mind that I'm just trying to enhance the on-screen display a bit, I decided to go for a plain-coloured frame, no wood-grain or textured finishes, just a flat colour. After a bit of research that seemed to suggest that the best colour to use would be one that complements the colours in the photograph, I decided to use a site I'd mentioned a few years ago to calculate the best colours - Whats Its Color.

      Whats Its Color is an image-color processing utility that'll give you an image's primary and complementary dominant colours, how many visually unique colours there are in it and the top ten visually unique colours used. All very useful when trying to choose frame, matte and highlight colours around an image.

      Blue Butterfly
      Choosing which colours to use is also quite simple. The frame gets the complimentary colour and I pick a highlight colour from the image for the matte, lightening it a bit if necessary. For a highlight edge, I'd pick the colour closest to the main subject of the image or one of the top-ten colours. As I said before, it's all a matter of personal taste so whatever works, works.

      Calvari Oratory
      If you're just interested in experimenting with framing without actually editing your photographs, then have a look at the BigHugeLabs Mat tool. It'll let you add a matte and frame border as a percentage of your choice of the original image and has a few extra bells and whistles like bevelled edges and credits.. It's also compatible with Flickr, Photobucket and Facebook.

      Of course, if anyone knows of a recognised way to calculate all of the above, I'd be grateful to hear it. Also happy to take comments on any of those that I've framed on my photostream as well.

      Boquer Valley
      Related Posts: Whats Its Color

      Friday, April 03, 2009

      myPod Apps

      myPod Apps offers a few, very useful freeware utilities if you happen to own an iPod or iPhone…

      Pod to PCPod to PC is a freeware utility that lets you copy and recover music, videos and playlists from any iPod, iPhone or iPod touch to a Windows PC and iTunes.

      Use it to…
      • copy any music or video files from any iPod onto your computer.
      • recover your music into iTunes after a computer crash,.
      • preview music and movies on any iPod before transferring into your iTunes library.
      • easily copy a whole or partial playlist from any iPod into iTunes.
      Comes with an Automatic Transfer button to instantly select, then transfer all songs on an iPod that are not already in your iTunes Music Library and you can prevent duplicate transfers as tracks already in iTunes are indicated with a blue check.

      Pod to MacPod to Mac is a freeware utility that lets you copy and recover music, videos and playlists from any iPod, iPhone or iPod touch to an Apple Macintosh and iTunes.

      See Pod to PC above for a list of capabilities.








      Pod Photo Transfer is a freeware utility that lets you transfer photos from an iPod photo or iPod video to a Windows PC.

      Pod Photo TransferI suspect that it's been superceded by the two utilities above as both can transfer photos and videos from any iPod that supports them.

      Related Posts: DiskAid - Disk Enable Your iPhone And iPod Touch, iPod -> Folder, Access Your iPod!

      Friday, March 13, 2009

      iPaper, A Mulit-platform Web Document Viewer

      iPaper is a rich document format built for the web. Built with Adobe Flash, iPaper will display documents in the same way regardless of whether you're using Windows, MacOS, or Linux. Your readers no longer have to download files or extra software to view your documents.

      You can convert just about any major document format into iPaper, including Word docs, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs,OpenOffice documents, and PostScript files. Supported formats include:
      • Adobe PDF (.pdf)
      • Adobe PostScript (.ps)
      • Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx)
      • Microsoft PowerPoint (.ppt, .pps, .pptx)
      • Microsoft Excel (.xls, xlsx)
      • OpenOffice Text Document (.odt, .sxw)
      • OpenOffice Presentation Document (.odp, .sxi)
      • OpenOffice Spreadsheet (.ods, .sxc)
      • All OpenDocument formats
      • Plain text (.txt)
      • Rich text format (.rtf)
      Once you've uploaded your documents and converted them to iPaper, you can publish them to Scribd, a huge online library of user-generated documents. Scribd documents are indexed by major search engines, so you can broaden your audience and share your creative works with the world.

      Scribd's iPaper document viewer is embeddable in any website or blog. Whether you have a few documents or a million, Scribd has tools to help you convert, publish and manage them better than ever before.

      You can even send documents as attachements to Scribd via email and have them deliver links to the converted files to your recipients via iPaper@Scribd. That way, the recipients can view the documents in their browser without downloading the file. Of course, they can opt to download the original if they want to as well.

      All of this is very nice but the limitaton of having to use the Scribd servers to convert and host your documents will limit the spread of iPaper as a web-wide tool. Fine for personal and small website use but corporates and goverment sites won't look at it until they can utilise the technology inside their own networks.