Saturday, January 31, 2009

Calculate the best distance to watch a TV from

How far away should you sit when you watch TV? Does it hurt to sit too close to the TV? While studies indicate that watching TV does have detrimental effect on the vision, the viewing distance has little to do with it. The viewing distance depends entirely on comfort and the screen size of the TV. Therefore, if you are planning to buy a big screen TV consider the size of the room where you are going to keep it.

watching TV

There is no fixed rule that can correctly determine the optimum viewing distance. As a matter of fact, the best viewing distance is somewhat a personal preference. Some things are obvious though: if you sit too close to the TV, you may see the image breaking up – individual pixels or scanning lines. If you sit too far away, it will spoil the viewing experience. 

The Viewing Distance Calculator helps you calculate the best viewing distance based on the recommendation of the The Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE), THX Certification and Electrohome.

Choose your screen type (4:3 or 16:9) and type the diagonal size of the screen to get a list of recommended distances. You can also input your current viewing distance to get your current viewing angle, but this is optional.


The best calculated result, in my opinion, is the one that uses Electrohome’s recommendation (the first result), which follows the rule: the minimum viewing distance should be no less than 3 times the width of the screen and the maximum distance for pleasurable viewing shouldn’t be more than 6 times the width.

The SMPTE recommends that the horizontal viewing angle should be 30 degrees. This corresponds to a viewing distance that is 1.9 times the screen width. That might not be a too comfortable distance for watching TV, but a good distance for a movie theatre. And I have found that it is ideal for computer monitors too.

Similarly, the THX certification standard too recommends a distance based on the viewing angle of 36 degrees. All these values can be obtained from the Viewing Distance Calculator.

Related: Tools that remind you to take computer breaks

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tools that remind you to take computer breaks

Working on a computer for long hours can cause several health problems – eye strain, headache, backache, burning eyes and so on. The only way to avoid these symptoms is to take short breaks at regular intervals. But the problem is most users fail to remember to take breaks. This is when the following tools come handy.

Eyes Relax is an excellent little free Windows utility that reminds you to take rest and save your precious eyesight. The level of flexibility in this program is amazing. The user can set the duration of their work time and length of breaks. By default, the work time is set at only 10 minutes which will be too frequent for most people. Set it to around 60 minutes or lesser and the break time to 5 minutes or 10 minutes. Of course, you are free to choose your own rest duration.


As the break time approaches, the program pop-ups a notification with a countdown timer. This notification time is set to 30 seconds, but it can be changed. You can also disable the notification message altogether. Finally when it’s time to take a break, you can choose how you want the program to remind you. You can opt for a subtle reminder like a balloon notification or a more aggressive one that blanks the screen.

If you are the type of person who turns off the alarm clock in the morning and goes back to sleep, you can set the program to make it impossible to cancel the rest break so that you are forced to stop working whether you like it or not.

Eyes Relax also has a Parent mode that can be used to protect your children, forcing them to take breaks. In parent mode the program cannot be disabled and the computer is password-protected during a break.

If you don’t want to be bothered, but rather just want to keep track of the amount of time you spent in front of the monitor and decide for yourself when it’s the right time to take breaks, try Anti-Strain Alarm Clock.


Anti-Strain Alarm Clock displays a transparent clock at the top of the screen that shows the amount of time you have been working. It also has a rest reminder that shows up every 60 minutes.

Also see Workrave

Attribute Changer – Change file and folder attributes

Attribute Changer is small freeware application for Windows that allows users to easily change attributes of files and folder via the context menu. It allows you to enable or disable read-only status, hidden status, indexing, and even NTFS compression. You can also change the file's date of creation, modification and last access. For image files, Attribute Changer quickly enable you to modify EXIF information too.


Attribute Changer can work on multiple files at the same time and can change folder attributes recursively, in other words – you can change attributes of folders which are inside another folder or folders.

Previously, I used an application called Properties Plus, but that application isn’t available any more. Attribute Changer is a nice replacement for it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

FileMenu Tools – A toolbox of utilities for the context menu

Do you use Windows Explorer’s context menu? I do and very often, because it’s so much easier to manipulate files and perform operations. I have mentioned context menu tools several times on Instant Fundas - Context Magic, Shell Tools, adding taskbar contents to the context menu and so on. Here is another free tool, and one of the best I have found.

File Menu Tools allows you to customize the context menu of Windows Explorer, as well as add a handful of utilities to perform operations on files and folders. Let us take a look at these utilities.


Synchronize Folders is a full fledged file synchronization tool that can sync two folders. It is possible configure the synchronization type (unidirectional, bidirectional, etc.) and the file types which must be synchronized.

file-menu-tools2 Extended Delete deletes recursively files with specific extension from a folder. This is amazing! I wonder why nobody had thought about such a tool earlier. You specify the the file type you want to delete from a folder and it will automatically hunt down all files of the specified type from that folder and all folders that are might be located inside it. 

Find And Replace allows you to find and replace a text in all selected files, in other words – it’s a bulk find and replace tool. Another superb tool.

Advanced Renamer renames all the selected files and folders by using specified patterns.

Delete Locked File deletes files which are locked by any application and cannot be deleted normally.

Delete and no move to Recycle Bin bypasses the Recycle Bin while deleting files and folders. It’s the same as Shift+Delete

Change Icon allows you to change the icon assigned to the selected folder.

Run with Arguments gives you an easier way to run exe and batch with parameters which can be typed through a dialog box. 

Command Line From Here launches the command window from anywhere.

Split File – A file splitter

Join File – A file splitter without a file joiner is useless. So this allows you to join files you split using the above tool.

Copy Content copies to the clipboard the content of the selected element. If a folder is selected, all element names that the folder contains will be copied.

Paste Clipboard appends the clipboard contents into the selected elements. If a folder is selected, then will be created a file in that folder with the clipboard contents.

Attributes displays a submenu which lets change the attributes of the selected elements. If a folder is selected, it is possible change the attributes recursively.

Change Time changes the creation time, the last access time and/or the last write time of the selected elements. This too is recursive.

Register DLL registers a DLL file in Windows.

Unregister DLL unregisters a DLL file.

Size of Folders displays the size of the folders.

Shred Files lets you shred the selected files so that it’s impossible to recovery the files with recovering tools.

Send to mail recipient allows you to launch your email client‘s compose window with the selected elements as attachments.

Pack to Folder creates a new subfolder in the current folder and moves all the selected elements to this subfolder. Brilliant!

Duplicate Files creates a new copy of the selected elements in the current folder.

Copy Name copies to the clipboard the name of the all selected elements.

Copy Path copies to the clipboard the path of the all selected elements.

You will also find a couple of common tools like:

Copy to folder, Move to folder, Open with Notepad and Create New Folder.

On top of it, File Menu Tools also allows you to configure the "Send to" menu and clean up the context menu by enabling or disabling items which are added by other applications to the context menu.

Despite the large number of tools, memory consumption remains at a healthy 10 MB. A fantastic tool to have.

Breadcrumb navigation for Firefox

The breadcrumb navigation technique is a very useful interface design that allows users to keep track of the current location when they have to navigate to locations several folders deep. Nautilus, a Linux file manager, had it for years. Microsoft improved upon it and introduced it in Vista. It became an instant hit. Soon came Explorer Breadcrumbs that allowed you to enjoy this navigation feature in Windows XP. Then I found this extension for Firefox simply called Breadcrumb.

firefox The Breadcrumb Firefox extension adds the breadcrumb functionality to the address bar. It’s extremely simple to use.

Suppose you are at a page whose URL is something like this:

When you need to move up the hierarchy, say you want to view the “category” folder, just double click on "category" and you will be taken to the address:

If you want to move to, double click on “picture”.

Double clicking on “something” will take you to:

If the end of the URL has a query parameter, then clicking at a blank space at the end of the URL will take you to the URL without the parameters. For example, clicking at the end of will take you to

If the URL contains a subdomain, then double clicking on the URL will take you to the root domain. For example, if the URL is the user will be taken to

Breadcrumb is a very useful tool for navigating websites, and it does not crowd the toolbar with buttons.

Monday, January 26, 2009

TaggedFrog – Tag any files by keyword

You have tagged music files with library managers, you have tagged images with image managers, now tag any kind of files with TaggedFrog. The free software TaggedFrog allows you to tag any files on your disk with keywords and access them through the familiar tag cloud you see everywhere on the web.

The application is simple to use: create a new tag and drag and drop any file you want to associate with that tag. It doesn’t matter what type of file it is – it can be documents, music files, movies, anything. When you need to search, you can use the tag cloud where the most tagged or most accessed keywords are shown in increased size and weight. To help you further narrow down your search you can use filters based on different file extensions. For instance, you can have a keyword called “office” which you tag every work file – documents, spreadsheet, PDF, images etc with it. Later when you need to retrieve a certain PDF file, you can use both the keyword “office” and a filter “pdf” to quickly get to your required files. Then there is a section called Favorites where you can make a collection of your most important or frequently used tags.


TaggedFrog is a useful application, but because it doesn’t integrate with the context menu or Explorer, tagging of files can get a bit cumbersome. If you are thinking about tagging your whole hard disk, it’s going to be an impossible task. You can use it to tag contents of specific folders though, for example, the My documents folder or any folder where you dump all your files. Similarly, if you keep all your downloaded files in one folder, TaggedFrog will come handy in organizing your files. It depends on you how effectively you can use this application to keep your files organized.

Ground Zero – Visualization of a nuclear catastrophe on Google Maps

Have you ever wondered what would happen if a nuclear bomb goes off in your city? Not many people brings such pernicious thoughts to their mind, but apparently the guys at Carlos Labs does. Using a mashup of Google Maps and Javascript they have created Ground Zero – an online tool that lets you visualize the extent of destruction a nuclear bomb can inflict on a city of your choice. Cool and sinister!

You can choose up to 8 different nuclear bombs including an asteroid impact. The power of the explosion ranges from the one used in Hiroshima in 1945 during World War 2 - the 15 KiloTon “Little Boy” to the most powerful explosion in history – the 50 MegaTon “Tsar bomb”, a Hydrogen fission bomb tested by USSR during 1961.

The following simulation shows what will have happened if “Little Boy” was detonated over New York.


Clicking on the red Google marker reveals the various colored legends.


Using iframe code, you can embed Ground Zero on your website too, like I have done below. Drop a bomb on your city and find out what happens.

Also checkout the previously mentioned Impact Calculator.

Related: How to watch a nuclear explosion

SuperCopier - Pause, save and resume file copy operations

A large number of people use a certain application called TeraCopy for copying files faster. You must have heard about it and probably using it too. If you haven’t, then I’m sorry for not bringing it on InstantFundas – I thought everybody knew it. But here is one application that very few people have heard it and trust me, it’s better than TeraCopy.

SuperCopier is a Windows file copy tool that adds a great number of features that you won’t find in Windows. These include pausing file copy progress, saving the file copy list and then loading it back and resuming copy operations, a real-time copy speed computation, ability to limit copy speed, an error log etc.

Unlike TeraCopy, SuperCopier does not add a context menu item which is something you are going to miss. To start copying files, launch SuperCopier from the system tray by selecting a New thread.


Then drag the files you want to copy or move to SuperCopier’s window. Choose a destination and immediately it will start copying/moving the files.


SuperCopier also allows you to specify rules in the event of an error. For instance, if a file with the same name already exist on the disk you can choose to either rename the new file, or rename the old file, skip the file, overwrite it, or cancel the copy process. You can even choose to copy or not copy the file attributes of the copied file. These settings can be saved so that you aren’t nagged every time it encounters such a situation.

The development on this application is virtually stalled - the last update happened back in July 2006. But it works reasonably well in Windows XP.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

21 places to swap used books and DVDs

A famous English writer, poet and artist by the name of John Ruskin once said, “If a book is worth reading, it’s worth buying”. While that might have sounded very reasonable and inspiring during the Victorian era when dear Ruskin was alive and there were fewer books to buy, a century later with dwindling world economy and skyrocketing prices it’s next to impossible to grab hold of every book you desire without leaving a serious dent in your bank balance.

books2 Renting from the library is a good option, or just swap books online. The same can be done with DVDs. Everybody has dozens of DVDs they no longer use either because they got tired watching it or lost interest in it.

So here are some places where you can exchange, trade or swap books and DVDs you no longer need, for a fresh one.


Books Only

PaperBack Swap is a book swapping website from the same people who own Swap A DVD and Swap A CD (see under DVDs and CDs). You can swap books as many times as you want, once you finish reading it.

Read it Swap it – A book trading site with over 226,000 books available. The number of books you can request depends on the amount of positive feedback you have from other users.

WhatsOnMyBookshelf – A book trading community where you can barter books using points system.

Novel Action is a book swapping site. It’s isn’t free though – they charge a fee of $25/year during which you get unlimited exchanges.

FrugalReader – Trade books by earning credits when you give your books to others. Use your credit points to get books you wish to read.

BookCrossing – Trade books with over 742,000 people in over 130 countries for free. Over 5 million books waiting to be shared.

BookMooch – Trade books and earn points which you can redeem to get your desired books.

BookHopper is a UK based book swapping site. A user is allowed to take a maximum of one book per week.

America's BookShelf – A book swapping community with a membership fee of $12 per year. Additionally you have to buy book credits at $3.50 per credit. Each credit allows you to receive one book.

Book Swim is a book swapping cum rental service starting at a membership fee of $9.95 per month. When you have finished reading a book, swap it for another book. There is no limit to the number of books you can swap and there is no shipping charges either.

Textbook Revolt – A book exchange website which focuses on college textbooks.

DVDs and CDs only

Swap A DVD is a big community of swappers that allows you to exchange movie DVDs. At the time of writing this, Swap A DVD has 175,000 members and 83,000 DVDs available. They also have a sister site Swap A CD, which specializes in music CDs.

FlickFlop lets you trade DVDs with other users for $1.99 per trade which includes packaging and handling charges.

Swopster is a game swapping service. It’s free to join but there are some disappointing restrictions: they support only USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand citizens and you can only swap within your own country.

Books, DVDs and others

SwapTree – One of the most popular swap site. Swap books, DVDs, CDs and video games. You don’t have to pay for the item you are exchanging, just the shipping charge.

SwitchPlanet – Another trading site that deals with books, CDs, DVDs, game CDs, music CDs and so on. Free to join and the only cost you have to bore is when you ship your used items to others.

ZunaFish – Trade books, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes for just one buck per trade.

TitleTrader is more than a book/DVD swapping site. It allows you to trade anything from clothes to jewelry, from sports goods to kitchen appliances. Curiously though, TitleTrader promote themselves as only books and DVD trading site.

SwapThing – Trade books, DVDs, magazines, posters, electronic goods etc. Free to join but you have to pay the shipping charges, as always.

Bookins – Trade books and DVDs for a flat charge of $4.49 which includes the cost of shipping.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Virtual Drive Creator – GUI for SUBST command

The SUBST command for DOS, IBM OS/2 and Microsoft Windows operating systems is a very useful command that allows the creation of virtual drives that maps to a specific folder on the hard disk. In other words, using SUBST you can create a virtual drive that shows up on My Computer or Explorer like any physical drive, but in reality is just a shortcut to a folder on the disk.

For example, to map a folder say C:\Documents\Project to virtual drive X:, one would have to type the following command at the command line.

subst X: C:\Documents\Project

Upon doing this, a new drive called X: would appear under My Computer.

To unmap the drive, type in the following command at the command prompt.

subst  X: /D

But using the command line isn’t the most comfortable of options, particularly for Windows users who grew up using the mouse. The solution comes in the form of Virtual Drive Creator. Virtual Drive Creator provides a frontend for the SUBST command allowing users to easily create or remove virtual drives.


Unlike placing shortcuts on the desktop, virtual drives allow you to access your special folders from almost anywhere – the Explorer, the address bar and you can even type the drive letter directly to open the mapped folder.

Related: Create custom shell objects on Windows with Shell Object Editor

Thursday, January 22, 2009

5 free portable application suites

If a flash drive is one of those accessories that stays with you at all times, why not use it to carry your favorite applications around, so that you always get to use the same programs with the same settings no matter where you are? But which applications are you going to carry? Of course, you need to decide, probably make a list and copy them one by one to your pen drive. Or just use a portable application suite and save time.

portable-apps-platform1. Suite - The most popular application suite comes from mecca of portable applications – Suite is a complete collection of portable applications including a web browser, email client, office suite, calendar/scheduler, instant messaging client, antivirus, audio player … you name it. All applications are accessible via an interface menu. If you have this suite, in most cases, you won’t have to worry about any additional tool. Suite comes in three sizes:

Platform: 0.9MB (download), 1.2MB (installed)
Suite Light: 35MB (download), ~100MB (installed)
Suite Standard: 113MB (download) ~350MB (installed)

winpenpack12. WinPenPack is an all-in-one collection of some of the best freeware portable application for the pen drive. WinPenPack comes in several editions like Essential, 1Gb, School, Game, Web and an option to make your own. These packs ranges from a few hundred MBs to 1GB. The essential pack contains a large collection of all essential tools and the school, games and the web pack has specialized applications, though most of the applications are also available in the Essential and 1GB pack.

WinPenPack has it's own categorized launch menu that gives easier access to these applications. This interface is in Italian. To change it to English you have to download an additional language pack which is available at their site. Unpack the language pack to the installation directory to change the menus to English. [original post]

3. Lupo PenSuite is a completely free suite of portable programs and games optimized to be loaded on a USB flash drive. This Suite includes over 200 highly selected portable programs and games, some examples are:7-Zip, Audacity, CCleaner, eMule, FileZilla, Firefox, Foxit Reader, Gimp, IrfanView, Miranda, Notepad++, Opera, Thunderbird, µTorrent, VLC and many more. Further, you can add your own applications and customize it according to your needs.

luposuite Lupo PenSuite comes in three versions:

The Full version includes lots of programs and games for everyone, organized in various categories. It is perfect for who wants a full suite of software, free and simple to use.
The Lite version is a smaller release that contains only most useful applications. It is perfect for everyone wants a little suite, that can be customized by the user.
The Zero version contains only the launcher. It is perfect for everyone wants to create its own suite of software.

4. SSuite Office comes in several different flavors ranging from a 17 MB personal edition to a 35 MB “Fifth Element“ consisting of more than 30 portable applications. SSuite Office isn’t a complete application package, it’s rather an office suite. The applications included in this suite are for creating and handling documents, spreadsheet, PDF files, pictures and so on. Some additional applications like instant messengers, audio players and a tetris game is thrown into the package as well.


SSuite Office also includes a few desktop enhancing utilities like a Mac Dock, a floating desktop clock and a floating recent documents viewer.

5. J.U.D.E. (Jontys Universal Desktop Environment) – Unlike the above mentioned application suites, J.U.D.E. is a complete Windows desktop environment on it own. You can boot a PC right from the USB stick installed with JUDE and load a complete Windows environment for you to work on. You don’t require a PC running with Windows to use these applications. J.U.D.E. can boot and instantly transform any piece of lying hardware into a full running PC brimming with tools and programs.


J.U.D.E. is based on Windows PE 2.0 which is built on the Windows Vista Kernel. So most standard Windows apps will run but not ones which depend on the .NET Framework or DirectX etc. J.U.D.E. comes with Open Office, GIMP, Thunderbird, Firefox, GAIM and many others, and you can also add your own applications to the stick. More on J.U.D.E.

Bonus Tool

Didn’t like any of the above? Well, I’m sure you will like the following then.

MojoPac is a free software virtualization product that transforms any removable device into a portable computing environment. MojoPac isn’t an application suite – you choose what goes into your thumb drive. It just creates an environment on the host PC for you to work on.

It replaces the desktop of the host Windows PC with your own customized desktop with your own desktop icons, start menu, Internet Explorer, My Documents folder etc. The drives of the host PC, removable drives and DVD drives, printers etc all can be accessed from within MojoPac's environment. On the top of the screen is the MojoBar that quickly allows you to switch between MojoPac and the host operating system.


Just install MojoPac on any USB 2.0 compliant storage device, upload your applications and files, modify your user settings and environment preferences, and take it with you everywhere. More on MojoPac.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Find and remove broken links from your website with Xenu's Link Sleuth

Have you ever experienced this: you arrive at a page from the search engine (or from another website) and find links pointing to other sites, but when you click on them, you find those pages don’t exist any more? This often happens with old articles and is annoying for the visitors. If you have a sizable website or blog with a large number of external links, keeping track of the status of these links can be almost an impossible task. But weeding out broken links from your site is necessary to make sure your site articles are still relevant and useful to your visitors.

Xenu’s Link Sleuth is a tool that makes the task of hunting non-working links a piece of cake. This simple tool allows you to scan a website thoroughly in order to test every single link and check whether they all work correctly. You can customize the scan by setting filters, ignore URLs and also setting the number of maximum simultaneous threads.


During the scan, the program follows links to other pages, and checks the links on those pages too, so it is possible to check an entire site for broken links in one session. Apart from links, Xenu scans images, frames, plug-ins, backgrounds, local image maps, style sheets, scripts and Java applets also.


While the scan is in progress, it displays a continuously updated list of URLs which can be sorted according to different criteria. After the scan is completed, the tool generates a detailed HTML report of the analysis. Be warned that the analysis can take a really long time.

Xenu’s Link Sleuth is an absolutely must have tool for any serious bloggers.

Loudtalks – The Internet walkie-talkie

Loudtalks is a simple, free, walkie-talkie style communication tool that allows you to talk with your buddies without having to go through the hassles of scheduling a call, dialing or waiting. Just push a button when you want to talk. Loudtalks isn’t just another Internet telephony application, it’s different.

Loudtalks look similar to an instant messaging application like Skype or Yahoo messenger. When you have something to say to a friend on your list, simply click on the friend, push on the button and say it. When it’s done, release the button. It operates very much like those push-to-talk walkie-talkie sets. If keeping the button pressed down while talking sounds difficult for you, it can be locked by clicking on the lock button next to the push button and your hands become free. There are also customizable keyboard shortcuts (default is F7) that allows you to talk even when the application is minimized.


The communication isn’t real time. If your friend is not online at that moment, he can playback your recorded voice message when he returns and reply whenever he desires. This isn’t a drawback, rather it’s an enhancement to the usual way people communicate with each other. Loudtalks is about voice communication without calls and instant messaging without typing.

Loudtalks also supports group messaging, where you can combine several contacts into a channel and broadcast your message. You can create permanent group channels from your contacts and then drag additional contacts to add them. A very neat feature.

I really liked Loudtalks. It’s dead simple and probably the easiest voice messaging application ever.

How to take screenshots of an entire webpage

Sometimes, the desktop screenshot utilities are not enough when you want to take screenshot of a webpage, because these tools can capture only the visible portion of the page. So how do you capture the complete page from the top to the bottom without having to stitch multiple images together? Here is how to do it.

The easiest way is by using a Firefox addon called Screengrab. Screengrab allows you to take screenshot of an entire page, or the visible portion or just a small selection of the page. It even allows you to save just the contents of an individual frame.


See how this site looks like when captured entirely.

instant fundas_1232169334504

If you don’t want to burden Firefox with another addon, you can try some standalone tools. Webshots is the best among them.

WebShot allows you to take screenshots of web pages and save them as full sized images or thumbnails, in the JPG, GIF, PNG, or BMP formats. You don’t have to open the page in your browser - just type the URL and click Start.


Webshots has the capability of automatically determining the page width and height and captures the whole page accurately. It even supports batch processing, where you can specify multiple URLs at once. The only letdown in this application is that it uses the IE engine to render the pages. So sites that aren’t optimized for IE will result in a broken screenshot. But then, you can always use Screengrab for such sites.

If you are predominantly an IE user, then use IE Screenshot Free. IE Screenshot Free will automatically scroll down the Web page you need, combine its parts into one image and save the final screenshot in one handy file.


IE Screenshot is compatible with Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 5.5 and above.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Microsoft Songsmith composes music as you sing

The latest software to come out from Microsoft is not an operating system or an office suite but an amusing musical software that CNET aptly calls “Karoke in reverse”. This is what it does: you sing through a microphone and Songsmith will automatically generate musical accompaniment to match your voice, and play back your song for you. If you are bathroom singer, you have finally got a composer who is willing to create music for your incoherent yodeling.

Just open up Songsmith, choose from one of thirty different musical styles, and press record. Sing whatever you like and as soon as you press “stop”, it plays back your recorded song accompanied by a musical composition.


Songsmith works by processing the pitch and tone of the recorded voice and determines what chords matches the tune. The software also lets users change the feel of the song completely using various sliders that adjust mood, volume levels, tempo and what instruments are being used. Move the “happy” and “jazzy” sliders around to get the chords you want. Lock the chords you like and let Songsmith change the ones you don’t.


Users are able to purchase additional instruments for a small fee and add it to Songsmith. The software can also generate music for even non-voice inputs, for example a guitar.

Actually, Songsmith can be pretty useful for even professional musicians and composers who are trying to overcome the creativity block. After hearing some of the demo compositions created by Songsmith, I feel it’s worth every $30 you spend on it.

A trial version of the application is available for download which is limited to 6 hours of application use.

TrayPodder adds Vista like checkboxes and full row selection in Windows XP Explorer

Windows Vista’s Explorer has a very useful checkbox feature that allows you to select multiple files without having to hold down the Ctrl key. In Windows XP the process is a bit tedious, requiring you use both hands to make selection. And if you accidentally slip off the Ctrl key, you have start all over again. So here is the solution.

TrayPodder is a plugin for Windows Explorer that fills this void. The application is a single executable file that doesn’t require any installation. Launch the application and in the program window you will see some buttons and two checkboxes named Checkboxes" and "Full row select". Check the boxes you want to use. The program then sits on the system tray and when you open Explorer and switch to details view, you will notice a new column – the checkbox column.


The checkboxes are a little odd though, because after you have marked the boxes you need to open the applications main window and click on “Select all checked" button to actually check them. Only after you do that, you will notice the checked files get highlighted. Now you can perform regular file operations on them like copying, moving etc.


The How-To Geek has given a nice description on how to auto start the application with relevant options selected.

TrayPodder has the following hidden switches:

-f = fullrowselect on (default: off)
-c = checkboxes on (default: off)
-h = hide main form at start (default: show form at start)
-x = minimize to system tray at Close (default: ask whether to quit)

So if you want the application to start hidden with both features enabled, and minimize to the tray, you'd have to use this:

trayprodder.exe -f -c -h –x

To do it, first create a shortcut to trayprodder.exe. Right-click on the shortcut and open Properties and add the switches on the target file.


Finally copy this shortcut to your application startup folder.

(Image courtesy: How To Geek)

Related: Top 10 freeware plugins for Windows Explorer

SpeakLike – Automatic email translation

While machine translation services like Google Translate and Babylon are very handy to quickly translate and read foreign language websites, I wouldn’t trust them when precise and correct translation is vital, for instance when communicating with a person speaking a different language.

SpeakLike is a free online service that can save you from embarrassing machine translations when you need a compose a mail in another language. Register your email address with SpeakLike and compose the mail in your own language. After you hit the send button you will asked on which language you wish to get the mail translated. Choose from 12 different supported languages (English, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish) and your mail will be translated and mailed to the destination within an hour.


SpeakLike employs real humans who translate your message to ensure accurate translation and prevent any bloopers that machine translations are prone to. What about privacy? This is what SpeakLike has to say:

Your privacy, and the privacy of your communications, is important. Individuals view content just as they do through other translation and interpretation services companies. Here's the difference: SpeakLike has implemented server and communications security and has added features that automatically hide certain types of confidential information.

Give it a try, when accuracy is critical.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How good are your geometric intuition?

Have you ever hung a photo frame on a wall? Can you hang it straight or is it always askew no matter how hard you try? Can you point the center of your plate? Can you draw right angles without using a protractor? When I was in college, me and my friends used to test our abilities to gauge the length of straight lines and angles without using any equipment. This helped us to liven up the otherwise boring engineering drawing classes. If you haven’t had the opportunity to play such games, then here is one to test yourself with.

The eyeballing game works by showing you a series of geometries that need to be adjusted a little bit to make them right. A square highlights the point that needs to be moved or adjusted. Use the mouse to drag the blue square or arrowhead where you feel it is 'right'. Once you let go of the mouse, the computer evaluates your move, so don't let up on the mouse button until you are sure. The 'correct' geometry is also shown in green, so you can see where you went wrong.


The test consist of 7 challenges and each challenge is presented three times. The scoring is simple: the computer measures the error you made in pixels for lines and in degrees times two for problems involving angles. Your score is the average error you made during the entire test. The lower your average error, the better. At the end of the test you are shown how you fared compared to other players.

I managed to get a score of 3.85 and the results tell me it’s pretty good!


For me, the parallelogram test was the hardest. As you can see from my score card, I was way off in the parallelogram test while making right angles was the easiest.

So what’s your score?

Automatically restart crashed applications with Application Monitor

What do you do when an application you are using crashes? You restart it, of course. Wouldn’t it be nice if the application could restart itself? Or suppose you are downloading a torrent and you need to go out on some errand, and you need to ensure nobody closes the torrent client while you are away. This is possible by using a free utility called Application Monitor.

Application Monitor is a program that will periodically monitor any  application and if the application is not running, it restarts it. You may add as many applications as you like into the monitoring list. After you add an application, you need to tick the checkbox in order to start monitoring. You can have dozens of applications on the list, but only the checked ones will be monitored.


The default interval of checking is set at 2 minutes but it can be adjusted. The application can also be configured to send email notification if any of the monitored application crashes or terminates. All events are logged to a log file and you get a full report of which applications had crashed and at what time while you were away.

Application Monitor can be extremely helpful for critical applications like web servers, mail servers or databases where your clients rely on.

Monday, January 12, 2009

WikiPad – The wiki type note taking application

Using note-taking applications, or outliners, is always a better way of organizing your thoughts, ideas, todo-list etc. Instead of creating a new text file every time you need to jot down something, you should use tools like NoteLens, which was already covered before. Here is another outliner application that incorporates a Wiki-like linking between pages

WikidPad is a wonderful tool to store your thoughts, ideas and lists and it’s best feature is it’s Wiki functionality. If you have ever edited or written Wikipedia articles, you know how easy it is to link to other Wikipedia pages. You can turn any word into a link by enclosing it within two square brackets [[ ]]. WikiPad employs a similar technique that allows you to quickly cross-reference text and cross-link between your notes. The system uses a database to store notes which makes it possible to tie together individual text documents that the user creates into a Wiki-like notepad. Wiki-links can be created by capitalizing and combining several words into one (also known as CamelCase) or enclosing a word or words with single brackets (Wikipedia style, but slightly different). ThisIsACamelCase is an example of a CamelCase. The ability to create interlinking todo list or notes allows you to create your own wiki like notebook on specific subject.


WikiPad is actually more than a simple note-taking tool, and it does have a slight learning curve. It was originally aimed at developers, but can be used by anybody for managing simple random bits of information.

Brief Features:

  • On the fly WikiWord linking, as you type
  • WikiWord auto-completion
  • Easy WikiWord navigation
  • Wiki text styling
  • WikiWord History
  • Wiki document attributes
  • Dynamic views
  • Tree/Outline view with over 100 icons
  • Todo lists
  • Incremental search
  • Search and Replace functioin
  • Autosaves your notes
  • Wiki can be exported to HTML

WikiPad is platform independent, due to the fact that it’s written in Python. It runs on Windows, Linux and Mac.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Enounce MySpeed – Change playback speed of online videos

One of the features that video sites like YouTube, DailyMotion, Google Video and such lack is the ability to control the playback speed of the video. There is only the play button, no fast forward. Often we wish that YouTube provided some controls to slow down the speed so that we could watch a particularly elaborate dance move or an intelligent magic trick. Also, sometimes we would like to hurry up the video speed to skip the boring part and save time.

MySpeed from Enounce is a free plugin for YouTube, and in fact, any flash video site that gives you this functionality. MySpeed sits on the system tray and whenever you visit a YouTube video page, or any page that contains a flash video, it shows a little slider. Using the slider you can change the video playback speed.


The MySpeed plugin works on most browsers including IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Google Chrome.

How to change Windows Photo Viewer slideshow interval

Even though there are tons of image viewers available for Windows, I like the one that is bundled along with it – the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer. It might not have shiny toolbars nor have any fancy slideshow effects, but it’s so easy to use that it often negates any lack in features it suffers from.


However, the absence of a straightforward means of changing the slideshow duration is a bit frustrating. The default duration between changing of pictures, when viewing a slideshow on Windows Picture and Fax Viewer, is 5 seconds. If you want to change this time, you will have to fiddle the Windows Registry.

To change the slideshow time interval follow these steps:

  1. Click Start>Run, type regedit and hit enter.
  2. Navigate to the following location
  3. Create a new DWORD, by right clicking and selecting New DWORD, and name it Timeout
  4. Right click on this newly created DWORD and select Modify, and give a value you desire for the slideshow interval in millisecond.
  5. Select the base as Decimal and exit the registry editor.

Restart your computer to let the change take effect.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

ExtractNow unzips multiple archives at once

Some time ago, I downloaded a pack of web templates consisting of more than a few dozen templates and found that each of these templates was individually zipped. So I was facing a task of unzipping some 60+ zip files. I never completed it and even after months, I still have more than 40 files yet to be opened. If you have ever found yourself in such a situation, then you must get a copy of ExtractNow.

ExtractNow is a free file archiving tool with one key advantage, among several - it enables you to quickly extract multiple archived files with just one click.


Simply drag and drop archive files into the program’s window or add them via a right-click menu. You can even drag whole folders into the application and it will automatically add only archive files contained within it and leave the rest. (You can also apply file exclusion filters under the settings option). Click on Extract and it will extract all archive files in one process. Besides, ExtractNow is real fast. I have definitely found it faster than WinRar and WinZip.

ExtractNow’s utility does not end there. Take a look at the Settings. This is what the Destination tab reveals.


As you can see, there are additional options like adding the folder structure of the archive file, overwriting files or creating a folder name of the file within the archive. I haven’t seen such customization options in a zip utility before.

The Post Extraction options are perhaps the most useful. You can configure the program to open the extracted folder immediately upon completion of extraction, delete the archived file, move them to a specified location (this will save time in “house-keeping”) or simply close the program.


ExtractNow is one of the most resourceful archive program I have seen so far. It can’t replace your default archive application because it can’t create archives; it can only extract it. But if you use an archive application predominately for opening archives, I see no reason why it can’t be used as your default archive handling application.

Related: 10 freeware alternatives to WinRAR and WinZip

Diagram Designer – Flowchart and schematic diagram creator

Diagram Designer is a simple vector based graphics tool that can create all kinds of diagrams and charts like flowcharts, schematic designs,  electronic circuits etc. You can also create UML class diagrams and even mock GUI for software.

The program's interface is very simple: just drag and drop all elements you like to add to your diagram from the window on the right onto the main working area. The elements are divided into separate templates like Electronic symbols, Flowcharts, Polygons etc. On the left side of the window the program displays a tree-like structure showing all the elements added so far to the diagram. Each element can be resized, rotated or aligned. You can even group a number of elements together and perform operations on them.


Here are some of the features of this tool

  • Customizable template object palette.
  • Spellchecker
  • Import/export WMF, EMF, BMP, JPEG, PNG, MNG, ICO, GIF and PCX images.
  • Slide show viewer.
  • Simple graph plotter to plot mathematical expressions.
  • Advanced "pocket" calculator with equation solver.
  • MeeSoft Image Analyzer integration for bitmap image editing and extended file format support.
  • Uses compressed file format for minimizing drawing file size.

Diagram Designer designs tend to look a little bland, and these frill-less designs might disappoint some users. But that doesn’t make this application any less useful. Diagram Designer is actually great for school or office projects.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Free Studio Manager – 20 audio/video utilities in one

Free Studio Manager is collection of 20 free audio and video tools combined into a single package. With Free Studio Manager you can convert video and audio files from one format to another; edit, split or join videos and audio; rip and burn DVDs and also download videos from YouTube.


Here is the list of tools included in the package

Free video and audio conversion software

  • Free Video to DVD Converter 
  • Free Video to Flash Converter
  • Free 3GP Video Converter
  • Free Video to iPod and PSP Converter
  • Free Video to iPhone Converter
  • Free Video to MP3 Converter
  • Free Video to JPG Converter
  • Free Audio Converter 

Free burning and ripping software

  • Free DVD Video Burner 
  • Free Disc Burner
  • Free Audio CD Burner
  • Free DVD Decrypter
  • Free Audio CD Grabber 

Free video and audio editing software

  • Free Video Dub
  • Free Audio Dub
  • Free Video Flip and Rotate

Free YouTube software

  • Free YouTube Download
  • Free YouTube to MP3 Converter
  • Free YouTube to iPod and PSP Converter
  • Free YouTube to iPhone Converter
  • Free YouTube Uploader

All these tools are published by DVDVideoSoft and is also available as individual downloads. But downloading the whole pack is much more easier and it can pretty much handle most of your audio/video needs.

Related: SUPER - The only multimedia converter you will ever need

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Add speech bubbles to any YouTube videos with Tube Popper

Tube Popper is an online service that gives you an opportunity to cartoonize YouTube videos by adding comic book style speech bubbles or subtitles to it. Now if you are aware, YouTube introduced a similar feature called “Video Annotations” some months ago, that allows you to add annotations to your uploaded videos. But there is no point of annotating your own content since you can add annotations using any video editing tool when you created that video. The fun is to annotate other’s videos. This is where YouTube’s video annotation tool fails and services like Tube Popper emerges.

Using Tube Popper is extremely easy. Specify the URL of the YouTube video and it gets loaded into an editor.


Using the editor you can:

  • Add speech bubbles or thought bubbles at any point on the video and type your comments. You can also add subtitles.
  • Adjust the colors, font, transparency of the bubbles and text
  • Insert a sound effect when a bubble appears
  • The time duration for each bubble can be adjusted on the bar that appears beneath the video.


Finally, save the video and embed it on your site or share with friends. Here are some examples showing how others have put this to a funny use.

How cycling won more fans - The Tour De New Jersey

I'm not Alicia... A horrifying journey into the dark side of high school basketball.

Santa? - One child's special gift.

Related: 6 different ways to add Speech Bubbles to your photos

Monday, January 5, 2009

Appetizer – An application launcher for Windows

I have brought to you a number of application launchers in the past (look at ‘Related’ at the end of the article). Here is another one to add to the kit. Appetizer is an attractive, small dock for Windows that holds the shortcuts to your most frequently used programs. Additionally, the application also supports the PortableApps USB format. So if you use Appetizer on a USB key in the PortableApps format, the application will detect it and automatically import all your applications along with the ‘Documents’, ‘Videos’, ‘Music’ and ‘Pictures’ folders.

Appetizer’s interface is skinable and supports drag and drop, where you drop the links to any application or folder on your system to create a shortcut. You can also organize them into groups if necessary. The program's customizable keyboard shortcut allow you to quickly hide or show the menu with a single keystroke.


You can add links to any program or folder, including special system locations such as My Computer or the Control Panel. The most useful feature is that you can directly import shortcuts from the Windows Start menu or the Quick Launch bar, allowing you to use it right away without having to spend too much time on configuring it. Another special tool in Appetizer is the Multi-Launch group, which enables you to open several applications and folders simultaneously.

Appetizer is worth a look.

Toolbox - The cutest application launcher
Launchy - The open source program launcher
AcceleRun -The most feature rich Application launcher
Orbit - The round dock for Windows
Add "ScreenTabs" on your screen with Stick

Friday, January 2, 2009

NoteLens – A wonderful note taking application

If you frequently use text files to take notes or use sticky application to keep notes on your desktop, you will appreciate NoteLens. NoteLens is a free note taking tool that is so simple and fast that it lets you concentrate just on your notes - not on the interface. NoteLens doesn’t try to do too much. Rather it focuses entirely on speed and accessibility.

You can create a new note with a single keystroke. Organize the notes into different categories or even assign them to more than one categories to make filtering a large collection of notes easier. It has a lightning fast full text indexing system that allows you to quickly find any note just by typing any word - all of the notes containing that word will be pulled up as you type.


NoteLens integrates with Microsoft Outlook enabling you to import notes from Outlook, and then keep NoteLens and Outlook synced. NoteLens can also import your Outlook Contacts and even email into it. Another extremely useful feature is NoteLens’ ability to add and index any text file on your system. This means that any existing text file where you had scribbled down notes can be imported into NoteLens. Great!

With an application like NoteLens you never have to spend time deciding where to store notes, save them, or even give them names. And most importantly never lose a note.

FreePOPs brings any web resources to the inbox

Many email providers still do not provide POP access to its free users. Yahoo Mail is one example. FreePOPs is an extensible mail proxy that allows you to access not only mail, but a variety of resources through the POP3 protocol. Primarily it is used to allow checking and downloading of e-mail from webmails using any POP3 email client program. But it can also be used as an aggregator for RSS feeds and even used to view websites in your mailbox (remember Web-In-Mail?).


FreePOPs can be useful in a number of situations. Here are some of the most obvious ones:

  • You are behind a firewall that closes port 110 but you need to read your mail and the web-mail of your mail provider sucks.
  • Your mail provider does not allow you to access your mailbox with the POP3 protocol, but only through the web-mail service.
  • Your employer has blocked all access to the web except the mail.

FreePOPs does not have any GUI. It sits on the system tray and work by translating local POP3 requests, from an email client for example, to remote HTTP actions on the supported webmails. But FreePOPs is more flexible than that. For example, a plugin is available that allows the user to receive news from a website as if they were e-mail messages in a mailbox. FreePOPs can be extended by adding numerous plugins that add variety of functions to the application. Because the application is written in C and is open source, anyone with good programming knowledge can write plugins for it.

FreePOPs is available for all the major platforms, namely Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. Be sure to download the manual for instructions on how to configure your email client program.

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