Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Today's Giveaway of the Day: WinSnap

Giveaway of the Day, as its name suggests, gives away one software title every day, titles that normally cost money. We're not talking hunded dollar applications; the individual values are anywhere between $12 and $30 or so. But if you consider that you can get a different application every day, the values do add up. You certainly won't want to download every title available, but if you check back here daily (Givaway's daily title can be viewed on my sidebar), I'm sure you'll see some that you really need.

Today's Giveaway is called WinSnap. Windows comes with a very rudimentary, and mostly useless, Printscreen capability. WinSnap adds a plethora of additional capabilities. Some of them are:
  • Flexible screen capture capabilities
  • Smoothing shadow effect in Photoshop style
  • Powerful image processing and basic canvas transformations
  • Support of various image formats and advanced auto-save features
  • Easy Web publishing and E-Mail sending
  • Usual keyboard and mouse control (Print Screen replacement)
  • Small and fast for an image editor, smaller than Paint
  • Multilingual user interface (24+ languages)
If you ever need to capture an image of any part of what's on your screen, this is a darn good way to go about it. As a blogger I use it several times a day to add a graphic to my posts. I'll bet you can think of several uses for this utility. Get it here, but keep in mind it's only available for free today.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

To Vista, or not to Vista? That is the Question

Friends have been asking me for advice about Vista. Should they upgrade to Vista or not? My answer is fairly straightforward: It depends.
  • If you have a computer that's more than a few months old, you'd be better off sticking with XP. You will need at least 1GB of RAM to run Vista, and you'll need 2GB to run it smoothly and take advantage of all its bells and whistles. Your graphics card will have to be fairly robust in order to benefit from Vista's graphics.
  • If you have a new machine, and especially if you are due a free upgrade to Vista as part of your package, and assuming that your new machine meets the specs I mentioned above, you should go for it. Vista is, according to most experts, worth upgrading to.
  • If you don't have a machine that's up to Vista standards, you'd be better off waiting for your next computer purchase, when you will get Vista pre-installed. In the meantime, you can gussy up your XP machine with Vista-like add-ons (see below).
If you are among the "sticking with XP" group, here are some nice, free applications that will give you some of the same capabilities as Vista.

Monday, January 29, 2007

FastStone Image Viewer

I've already (I think) told you about FastStone Capture, a free, yet full-featured screen-capture application that gives you several options like fullscreen, scrolling, window, rectangle, freeform, etc. I use it constantly. Here's another excellent application from the same developer. The features are explained below.
FastStone Image Viewer is a fast, stable, user-friendly image browser, converter and editor. It has a nice array of features that include image viewing, management, comparison, red-eye removal, emailing, resizing, cropping and color adjustments. Its innovative but intuitive full-screen mode provides quick access to EXIF information, thumbnail browser and major functionalities via hidden toolbars that pop up when your mouse touches the four edges of the screen. Other features include a high quality magnifier and a musical slideshow with 150+ transitional effects, as well as lossless JPEG transitions, drop shadow effects, image annotation, scanner support, histogram and much more. It supports all major graphic formats (BMP, JPEG, JPEG 2000, animated GIF, PNG, PCX, TIFF, WMF, ICO and TGA) and popular digital camera RAW formats (CRW, CR2, NEF, PEF, RAF, MRW, ORF, SRF and DNG).
Click here to visit their web site.

Insert Special Characters with Alt-Codes

If keyboards held all the keys we'd ever need, they'd be enormous. So they're a managable size, but what do you do when you need to type a character that's nowhere in sight? Use the Alt key and special codes. While holding down the Alt key on your keyboard, type the code for whatever character you need on your number pad on the right side of the keyboard (not the numbers across the top), and the character you need will appear. (Bookmark this post so you can come back to the list whenever you need it!) Click on the graphic to zoom in and find the code you need.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Free Excel Travel Expense Spreadsheet

From time to time I give away free stuff (I mean besides my normal excellent service to you). Today it's an Excel template. If you or your company needs a Travel Expense Sheet so you can get reimbursed for business travel, here's a nice one. Feel free to use it, change it, give it away. If you sell it and don't give me something, however, you will be asking for bad karma! Here's a print preview:


Click here to download the free spreadsheet!

PS: If you'd like some other type of spreadsheet, drop me a comment or an email and I'll design it for you.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Where Are Your Site's Visitors Coming From?

I found a neat little tool that will answer that question for you. If you are at all curious about the locations of your web site's visitors, check out GeoVisitors. Just pop the HTML code somewhere on your site and you can see a world map of your visitors' locations by clicking on the GeoVisitors button. Here's a link to their site. Below is a map of where some of my recent visitors hail from.

Barry's Best of the Best

For those of my readers who have only recently begun visiting Barry's Best, and for those who might have missed some of my best of the best, I bring you some highlights from the past few weeks.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Great News Comes Out of Nowhere!

One of the best lessons I ever learned was that good news often can come out of nowhere. You don't see it coming, you don't know it's coming, you don't expect it at all. This has been a great lesson for me because it's always been able to keep me optimistic. No matter how bad things may look, they can turn around on a dime. So I try to remember that lesson every day.

I got hit with a little piece of good news that I did not expect a couple of days ago. As I was pulling into my bank's drive-through ATM, I got a call from the people who put out my real estate newsletter. Turns out they had seen my blog, The Price of Rice!, and wanted to use one of my articles for their newsletter. They offered me a tidy little sum, plus three months of the newsletter free. They also said they'd like to talk to me about writing some more articles for them in the near future. Well, that call was a very pleasant thing to come my way, as I said, out of nowhere.

So, as the song from Life of Brian says, Always look at the bright si-ide of life...(whistle, whistle).

Two (or Three) Americas: John Edwards' $6M Home!

This is gonna be fun! Brother Edwards, he of "Two Americas" fame, has moved into a new home. Now I understand what he meant by "two Americas." It has all come together for me. There's his America, and my America. In his America, you can have the most expensive home in Orange County, NC, taxable value exceeding $6 million. The main house, according to Carolina Journal Online, boasts a spacious 10,400 square feet. But wait, there's more! There's a recreation building with another 15,600 square feet. And it all sits on a 102 acre estate. "The heavily wooded site and winding driveway ensure that the home is not visible from the road. 'No Trespassing' signs discourage passersby from venturing past the gate." In other words, that other America damn well better keep out! And he's running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. I'm telling you, this is going to be fun!

Hey, wait a minute. I just found out there're THREE Americas! In the third America you can have a home, worth $155 million, that makes John Edwards look virtually homeless!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

No Better Way to Do Event Registration: regonline!

I've organized countless events in my career, some as small as 20 participants, some with 5,000, and each and every time, handling registrations was a huge undertaking. Designing registration forms, printing, mailing, receiving forms and processing them, collecting checks, and on and on. I wish that there had been an easier way. There is now. If you want to come into the 21st century and make your event-planning a breeze, visit regonline to see how simple it can be.

regonline has custom forms, credit card processing, rapid reports and automated follow up for your attendees. They'll do your name badges, arrange travel and lodging, the list goes on and on. Your guests can go online to see your latest event announcements. They can see the event agenda, the location and time of each activity. Everything is beautifully arranged in the intuitive interface. When you visit their site, you'll be given the opportunity to log in as a guest so you can take a test drive to see how it works. There's a video tour, a live demo, sample forms to look at, and lots of help if you need it.

Whether you're planning a family reunion or a major business conference, you ought to give this amazing site a look-see. You can visit the regonline event registration system to find out more.

Deskloops: A Great New Way to do Windows!

I've just finished messing around with Deskloops, a great, and very cool, new way to arrange, organize and manipulate open windows on your desktop. I had to force myself to stop playing with it so I could write this post. Here's what Deskloops will allow you to do:
  • Infinitely expand your desktop environment.
  • Easily switch between windows and applications.
  • Bundle photos, pages and media with a single mouse-click.
  • Create dynamic and exciting presentations.
  • Share your work environments for efficient collaboration.
You owe it to yourself to try it out. No need for Vista's flipping windows when you have this! You can learn more about Deskloops here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Is Anyone Listening?

The political junkies are almost ablaze with passion! They are shaking with feverish delight and unbearable anticipation! The pund-idiots are wild-eyed and without breath. All because of 2008, that magical year when the unimaginable can be not merely imagined, but soberly contemplated. A woman could become President! A black man could become President (or at least Vice-President)! The Democrats could control the entire federal government! They could eventually control the Supremes! Wow!

But the thing is, hardly anyone in America is listening. No one is paying any attention. America won't start paying attention until October 2008, if then. Then America will begin thinking about the elections. Then it will begin wondering, "What day are the elections? They're coming up soon, aren't they?" Jay Leno will do his "Idiot in the Street" surveys, when people will hilariously misidentify the candidates, Obama will be Tiger Woods and John McCain will be "that guy who does the news." No one will misidentify Hillary. They wouldn't dare.

What does this lack of even feigned interest say about our country? Is it a good thing? Are we lucky that Americans are too busy making this country work to pay attention to politics? Are people in this country too smart to believe that politics will make their lives any better or worse? Or is this a very bad thing? Is America's apathy about political happenings a dark omen that foreshadows the end of all things?

I really don't have any idea. Do you? If so, please comment. (If you disagree with my entire premise, well, that was bound to happen.)

Another Great Firefox Extension: GTDGmail

GTD stands for Get Things Done. And Gmail stands for...never mind. GTDGmail is a Firefox Add-on that puts the two together into a seamlessly packaged whole. It intuitively ties together your task mamagement with your communication sytem.It fully integrates with Gmail to add to your productivity, and it's free. Check it out here.



Key Uses:

  1. Get tasks out of your head.
  2. Answer, "What should I do next?"
  3. Reduce stress.
  4. Get things done!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Storm Worm" Trojan Claims Many Victims

On Friday I posted a warning about the "Storm Worm" Trojan attack. I hope all of my readers heeded the warning and avoided any infected emails they may have received. But apparently many others were tricked into allowing the trojan to infect their home PCs. According to c|net:
F-Secure said that hundreds of thousands of home computers could have been affected across the globe.

Once a user downloads the executable file, the code opens a backdoor in the machine which that it to be remotely controlled, while installing a rootkit that hides the malicious program. The compromised machine becomes a zombie in a network called a botnet. Most botnets are currently controlled through a central server, which--if found--can be taken down to destroy the botnet. However, this particular Trojan horse seeds a botnet that acts in a similar way to a peer-to-peer network, with no centralized control.

Each compromised machine connects to a list of a subset of the entire botnet--around 30 to 35 other compromised machines, which act as hosts. While each of the infected hosts share lists of other infected hosts, no one machine has a full list of the entire botnet--each has only a subset, making it difficult to gauge the true extent of the zombie network.
Be careful people. Don't be assimilated. Resistance is NOT futile.

Monday, January 22, 2007

My Prediction for 2008!!!

I'm ready. I've been checking the chicken entrails and the tea leaves, and I'm ready to tell you who will be the next President and Vice-President of these United States. If (when) I am proven right, you must remember that I predicted it. (I do not endorse it, for to do so would be to misuse my powers in quite an egregious fashion.) Are you ready? I think from the picture you already know what my prediction is, don't you? That's right! It's a Hillary/Barack ticket that will be victorious in November 2008. Why? I don't need to explain anything to you plebes (got that word from "Rome" on HBO...great show BTW). But since I am a very nice person, I will come down from the mountain to enlighten you.

The number one and two slots in the Democratic race are already clear. It'll be Hillary and Barack. What's the best way for them to win? Stick together. That's obvious. Now look at the republicans. Old white men, all of them. How in the world can a pair of old white men hope to defeat a white woman and a black man? It cannot happen. America would be too in love with the idea of that combination ever to let it pass by.

That's my prediction and I'm sticking to it (unless it looks like I'm going to be wrong, in which case I will adjust my aim and reacquire the target).

Another Useful Firefox Extension: Clippings

There have been people who've tried to test the upper limit of just how many extensions they could load Firefox with before it wouldn't run anymore. I try to keep them to a reasonable number myself. If I find that I never use one, I'll eventually get rid of it, and if I see a new one that looks like it'd be useful, I'll install it and see. Right now I'm running 47 extensions with no difficulties.

This one I just discovered today looks like it'll scratch an itch I've had for a good little while. With my blogs always needing more exposure, I try to add their URLs into any forum posts I write, or into my comments on other people's blogs. This can definitely become a burden if I have to type them out over and over. This is where the Clippings extension comes in. As you can see with the graphic, it adds a contextual menu item to forms so you can easily paste whatever text you don't want to have to type in ad infinitum.

Another great use for the extension is to add different signatures to your web mail. Give it a try if you think it might serve your needs. Get it here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Save CPU Usage: Run Ad-Aware in Deep Background

Here comes a confession. Ready? I don't run an adware scan as often as I should. There, I said it. I feel better now. Why don't you run an adware scan as often as you should? you ask. Because Ad-Aware is decidedly hoggish in its use of my CPU, which has but one, single, lonely core. You see, my machine is more than 4 years old. Someday I'll get one with many many cores, but for now, it's not to be. However, today I found a very useful tip that will put me back on the path to adware-free living. If you set your Ad-Aware app to scan in the backgound, it will run in a low-CPU-usage mode, hardly affecting your computer's speed at all. In fact, I just ran a scan while working on this post. No problem! Here's what you need to do. First, get Ad-Aware if you don't have it already. Next, follow these simple, easy to understand instructions:
  1. Open Ad-Aware and click on the Gear button to open the Configuration Window.
  2. Click the Tweak on the bottom of the left column.
  3. Click the + next to Scanning Engine.
  4. Click the x next to Run scan as background process (Low CPU usage) to change it to a checkmark.
  5. Click the Proceed button to save your settings.
That's it. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Calgoo - A Turbo-Charged Google Calendar!

After much hunting and pecking around on the web, I've found a really really nice Web 2.0 app for you. Calgoo is free software that improves your Google Calendar by allowing you to work online/offline and giving you greater control of your appointments and schedules. Calgoo allows you to:
  • subscribe and work with more calendars than is practical in Google Calendar. Your calendars and schedules are brought to the desktop where you can easily search, filter and organize them.
  • work when you are online and offline so you are not restricted to an Internet connection.
  • work with Google Calendaring sharing so you can collaborate with your friends, colleagues, family and social groups.
I've installed it and synched it with all my Google calendars and it's beautiful. Check out the screenshot and tell me I'm wrong. If you use Google Calendar (and if not, you should) you'll find this app makes it better, stronger, faster (cue The Million Dollar Man theme).

Friday, January 19, 2007

"Storm Worm" Hits Computers Worldwide

This bit of not-so-good news just in from c|netNews.com:
"Update: The new "Storm Worm" is baiting people with timely information about a real-life, deadly front in Europe and is creating one of the larger worm attacks in recent years, security researchers said Friday.

Over an eight-hour period Thursday, the worm sent malicious e-mails across the globe to hundreds of thousands of people, who unknowingly were part of a botnet, said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer for F-Secure. A botnet serves as an army of commandeered computers, which are used by attackers to distribute malicious payloads without their owners' knowledge.

Storm Worm carries the subject line "230 dead as storm batters Europe," Hypponen said, noting the unusual twist to the e-mail.

"The e-mail was started 15 hours ago, when the storm was peaking in Central Europe," Hypponen said. "This is unusual in that it was very timely."

The attached file contains malicious code. That e-mail, via the botnet, has quickly spread the worm.

The worm is already close to being as large as the bigger ones of 2006, Hypponen said, though it's still smaller than Sasser and Slammer.

Hypponen also noted that the worm is unusual because most attacks these days tend to be smaller and targeted, as criminals seek to pilfer personal information for financial gain, rather than fame.

Though the worm is widespread, the damage may ultimately be minimal in the U.S. because most tech security companies will have already added the virus to their blocking list before people get into work, he added.

Other e-mail subject lines for the worm include "U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza…" and "A killer at 11, he's free at 21 and..."

Hypponen told Reuters that most people would not notice the malicious software, which creates a back door to a computer that can be exploited later to steal data or to use the computer to post spam."

Don't be a victim. Use yer 'ed, mate.

Save Big on Hardware & Software!

Here's a tip that will save you lots of your easily earned cash. If you're a K-12 or college student, the parent of a student, a teacher, or the spouse of a teacher (like me), check out Academic Superstore the next time you need computer hardware or software. Since my wife is an 8th-grade teacher, I've been able to get some great deals. There are some requirements (you have to send them proof of eligibility), but if you're legit it's no sweat. You can visit them here and thank me later. (Shouldn't I get some kind of commission? Nah.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

These CAPTCHAs are Getting Ridiculous!

If you spend much time on the Internet, you must have run into these things. They're called CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) and were designed to foil roaming computer programs called web bots, created by spammers, in their attempts to automatically post form data in order to create email accounts and indulge in other nefarious deeds. Supposedly, we humans are much better at recognizing patterns than are computers. But as computers become more and more powerful, they can read these things with more and more accuracy. So the arms race heats up and the CAPTCHAs have to be made more and more difficult to read. That's what's getting to me. I know, or am pretty certain, that I'm not a computer. But I feel like one when I run into a CAPTCHA that I have to strain to figure out. Here I am, squinting fiercely, saying to myself, "Is that a seven? It could be a 2, I'm not really sure." And forget about q's and g's! It's getting to the point where soon we'll have to give a DNA specimen to get access! Are you running into the same thing?

Sometimes They Just Don't Work

Just to remind my readers about the value I bring to the table through my blog, I will take the time to share with you one of the many bits of software I have tried that either don't work or gum up my system. You see, you can consider me and this blog to be a sort of filtering system for various web site or software offerings. There's my initial filter, which spots useless or redundant or otherwise untrustworthy stuff as I travel the Internet's less well known arteries. I look at the stuff and say, "No! I will not waste my readers' time with this nonsense!" And I move on. Then, there's another filter, this one even more valuable to you. When I find something that looks intriguing, I try it myself. I say to myself, "Look Barry, before you recommend this thing, you have to try it yourself." If it is problematic, I won't waste your time or endanger your equanimity with it. (I realize that, just because it is problematic for me, does not guarantee that it will be so for you, but I don't want to take that chance.)

So I'll pass on one of these rejected items that passed my first filter but failed to successfully navigate my second. It is an Ubuntu (Linux) installation that promises to allow me to boot to Ubuntu at startup. I liked the idea of a simple way to set this up. Well, after taking all night to download, and consuming almost 7GB of disk space, when I tried to boot to Ubuntu, I received an error message. No can do. So, try it if you like, but it sure didn't work for me. (Click on the image to visit the installer web site.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

PortableApps Suite: Take your apps with you!

PortableApps Suite is a collection of applications that you can take with you on your portable drive (e.g. a thumb drive) and use on any Windows machine. Included in the suite in portable versions:
  • ClamWin (antivirus)
  • Firefox (browser)
  • Gaim (instant messaging)
  • OpenOffice (office suite)
  • Sudoku (puzzle game)
  • Sunbird (calendar/task manager)
  • Thunderbird (email)
This is like taking your office on the road. All of these programs will run comfortably on 512MB drive. Get the suite here!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Blue Screen of Death and Video Drivers

I'm breathing a sigh of semi-relief this afternoon. For the past couple of days I've been doing fierce battle with the BSOD. I have a 4-year-old machine, but can't yet afford a new one, so when I Googled the info in the BSOD messages and saw "Bad RAM" I was not happy. The RAM that my Dell requires is very pricey indeed, a fact I was unaware of when I configured it, so to replace the RAM would not be cost effective. In any case, the machine I configured just for fun on Dell's site the other day would cost me about $6,000, including the 30-inch monitor. I tried all sorts of things, to fix the problem, which was made even more difficult by the crashes I was experiencing every 20 minutes of up time or so. No good. Finally I remembered one other possible remedy: Update my freaking video driver! I've been BSOD-free for about 24 hours, so my hopes are up that I've solved the problem. If it comes back, you may not hear from me for a while, since I will have slit my own throat.

How to Travel the Internet in Stealth Mode

Privacy is a huge concern nowadays, especially because of the ubiquity of the Internet in modern life. I already know that my address and home phone number are as easy to access via the web as is advice from Dr. Phil, and probably so are yours. But I want to keep other information private, and I want to do what I can to prevent someone stealing my identity and credit. I also want to keep my surfing habits private. I just don't like the idea of other people being able to know where I shop, what my interests are, et cetera. All that being said, what can you do to prevent your internet travels from being sniffed over by all manner of e-scavenger? First, you should use Firefox to browse. There are a few sites that will only cooperate with IE, but for most, Firefox is much more secure. Second, add some extentions to your Firefox installation that go a long way towards protecting your privacy. Two extentions that are a must are Stealther and NoScript. Check them out by clicking on the links. Click the button below to get Firefox.

WriteToMyBlog Beta


I am writing this post from an advanced online word processor that works with my blog service. It requires no membership, is free, and "can post to multiple blogs simultaneously." Sounds like a little slice of heaven. From the word processor you can easily add YouTube videos or Flickr photos. There are tons of formatting options, a spellchecker, an HTML button, and all sorts of other stuff. I like it a lot. I think you will too. Click here to go there!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Free Compression!

How do you like my ambiguous title, eh? Where's your mind going? You should be ashamed! We're talking about a file compression utility for your computer. Most file compression utilities cost $20 - $30 and have features that are lacking in the utility included with Windows. This one has many of these features without the cost. Here's a description from a trusted download source, Softpedia:
"ZipGenius is the absolutely free software for Windows® that lets you compress files to almost any kind of archive. ZipGenius supports more than 20 compressed archive formats, including CD/DVD-ROM image files in ISO9660 standard.

This is the file compression suite you were searching for: it is free and easy to use, plus it supports more than 20 formats of compressed archives, including RAR, CAB, SQX, ACE, ARJ, OpenOffice.org documents and the excellent 7-zip.

ZipGenius now can precompress executable files going to be added to a ZIP archive through the UPX compressor.

ZipGenius is presented in two editions: STANDARD and SUITE that differs for the content they ship to user's Desktop.

While the suite edition is the full setup package that includes all the optional modules of the ZipGenius project, because it is a setup layout oriented to experts and power users, the standard setup package just includes the main ZipGenius application because it is designed for most Windows® users, that just want to open/compress/decompress archives in several formats.

Softpedia guarantees that ZipGenius 6.0.3.1130 is 100% FREE, which means it is a freeware product (both for personal and commercial use) that does not contain any form of malware, including but not limited to: spyware, viruses, trojans and backdoors.

This software product was tested thoroughly and was found absolutely clean, therefore it can be installed with no concern by any computer user.However, it should be noted that this product will be retested periodically and the award may be withdrawn, so you should check back on this page from time to time."
You can download ZipGenius 6 from Softpedia here.

Ready. Fire. AIM! (6.0)

I know, the title is corny, forgive me. But AIM 6.0 (beta) is here. For AIM fans, you don't want to miss this. The new version is compatible with Vista (although you don't have that yet...it'll continue to work with Windows 2000 and XP), and includes group instant messaging, the ability to send offline messages, and conversation logging. AIM (and other IM apps) is not just for kids. It's become an important social and business tool for adults, too. It fits nicely between a phone call, a text message, and an email. It's instant (hence the name), and it's convenient. You can dowload it here.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Stumble Your Way to Great Web Sites!

Sometimes people ask me where I find interesting web sites. I haven't told till now. To many of you it may not be a secret, but if you don't already know about it, I'm going to clue you in: StumbleUpon.com. When you download and install their toolbar, you can select the type of content that interests you. Then you click on the "Stumble" button and enter a world of web sites you didn't know existed. But who selects the sites to be included in Stumble's collection? You do! Whenever a new site comes up, you can give it a thumbs up or thumbs down, and you can attach tags for later searching.

Now, I'm going to ask for a tiny favor. Please, assuming you like my posts, both here and at The Price of Rice!, give me a thumbs up whenever you visit. That way you can help me spread the word about my quality blogs. Many thanks! Now, here's where you go to get the toolbar.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Find Out Who's Selling Your Email Address to Spammers!

Here's a nifty trick you can use to see who's selling you out...your email address, that is. Every time you fill out a web form that requires an email address, you probably feel a bit nervous about your privacy. Will they sell your email address to spammers? One way spammers get your email address is by combing the web for any addresses that are listed on web pages, so if you have a web site that has your email address on it, you can be sure it'll get snapped up by these programs. But sometimes unscrupulous web site operators will sell you out, and the email address you entrusted to them ends up in the wrong hands. Then that address gets spammed out the wazoo. To prevent this, you can use a disposable email address generator (there are many available on the web). The problem with these is, if you forget your password for a site, they will send it to the address you registered with, which will no longer exist.

My solution: Use a Gmail trick to find out who might be selling you out. Gmail has an interesting quirk where you can add a plus sign (+) after your Gmail address, and it'll still get to your inbox. It's called plus-addressing, and it essentially gives you an unlimited number of e-mail addresses to play with. Here's how it works: say your address is barry@gmail.com, and you want to use it to register at nytimes.com. Use the address barry+nytimes@gmail.com instead. Then you can set up a filter to send any mail that comes to that address to the trash (to access your filters go to Settings->Filters and create a filter for messages addressed to barry+nytimes@gmail.com).

Like I said. Nifty.

I Want to Want it, but I Don't: Apple's iPhone

OK, this post is a couple of days late in coming, but I had to digest the buzz before coming to a halfway intelligent opinion. Having said that...It certainly looks pretty. And I'll bet its introduction will be a kick in the pants for other phone manufacturers and designers, which will reap rich rewards for the phone-buying public. But my ultimate reaction to the iPhone is, eehhh. Not super lustful to get one. I'm sure it'll do very well in sales, but I want functionality, not just music and video. For those of you who, like me, want to be able to do actual productive stuff with our phones, this one doesn't seem to be for us.

What's missing? First, a reasonable price. At $500 for 4GB and $600 for GB, it would have to be one hell of a phone to get me to buy one. And it ain't that. Second, it doesn't support 3G. Third, it doesn't (yet) support MS Office documents. I want to be able to create, open, and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint docs. No can do. Fourth, and perhaps worst, it is not open to third-party developers. Apple can be paranoid that way.

So, it'll be a hit with the iTunes crowd, but not the Blackberry posse.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Another Free Antivirus Application

There are a couple of free AV apps out there already, but it's great to have choices. (Unlike anti-spyware and anti-adware apps, it's inadvisable to have more than one AV program on your machine because they tend to interfere with one another.) Just added to the mix is Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic. I ditched Norton after many years because its memory footprint was of bigfoot proportions. I now use Zone Alarm Security Suite, which is not free, but my wife's and my kids' machines use one of the free apps. They work great and I'll probably stop paying for something I can get for free very soon. Check it out here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Check Out ObjectDock from Stardock!

I've been an ObjectDock user for a couple of years, so I know whereof I speak. This is a very useful (and nice-looking) little app that you ought to check out. Here's the thing: You can organize all your favorite programs and data files into groups that you can access via tabbed docks. You can apply various themes to change the look and feel of your docks. Each item in your dock can be set to show different effects when you mouse-over them. Here are some of the features of ObjectDock:
"ObjectDock is a program that enables users to organize their programs and running tasks into a dock. ObjectDock enables users to have more control over how they organize their desktop. Rather than have a bunch of icons on the desktop, these icons can be put into docks. ObjectDock can also be used to replace the Windows Start bar entirely freeing up valuable screen real-estate."
"ObjectDock has two types of docks. The standard dock is essentially a single "tray" or "wharf" that can hold short-cuts, running tasks, docklets, and system tray items. The other type of dock, the "Plus" type, is the tabbed dock. The following section discusses the standard dock. At a basic level, ObjectDock is simply a container for desktop items. It's been designed to be as flexible as possible to enable users to easily drag and drop their programs and documents onto it. It is also very flexible in enabling users customize the way it looks and feels."
"ObjectDock supports more than just programs and running tasks, it also supports "docklets". These are mini-applications that reside on the dock and are created by third parties. There are docklets for telling you the weather, your email status, network traffic, CPU usage, memory usage, clock, Wi-Fi connection strength, calendar, and much more. Docklets let users add useful information to their docks."
"Docks can be vertical (such as in this screenshot) or horizontal, on the top or bottom of the screen. They can be aligned to the middle of the screen or to the left or right. Version 1.3 also adds the ability to have the dock offset from the edge of the screen (both free and Plus versions). The background (skin) of the dock can easily be changed with hundreds of additional skins available on-line to make your dock appear as anything you'd like it to be."

Visit winCustomize.com to learn more about ObjectDock.

The President's Perp Look?

Check out Howard Fineman's take on last night's Presidential address to the nation:
"George W. Bush spoke with all the confidence of a perp in a police lineup. I first interviewed the guy in 1987 and began covering his political rise in 1993, and I have never seen him, in public or private, look less convincing, less sure of himself, less cocky. With his knitted brow and stricken features, he looked, well, scared. Not surprising since what he was doing in the White House library was announcing the escalation of an unpopular war.

The president may well be right that we cannot afford to leave or lose in Iraq . He makes profound sense when he observes that a collapse of Iraq would mean the rise of a giant version of the Taliban's Afghanistan—with a million times the oil in the ground.

But if he was trying to assure the country that he had confidence in his own plan to prevent that collapse, well, a picture is worth a thousand words. And the words themselves weren't that assuring either. Does anyone in America or Iraq , or anywhere else in the world for that matter, really think that the Sunnis and Shia will make peace? Does anyone think that embedded American soldiers won't be in danger of being fragged by their own Iraqi brethren? Does anyone really think that Iran and Syria can be prevented from playing havoc in Iraq and the rest of the region by expressions of presidential will?"

Not too encouraging I'm afraid. Do you agree or disagree with Howie's assessment? Discuss.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Control a PC Remotely (with permission, of course)

I've often found myself in the situation where someone calls me for help with a PC problem, and I ask them to describe the problem in detail so that I can visualize what's going on. That's where things can get hairy, because I'm not able to look over the person's shoulder. Here's one of a number of applications that allow remote desktop access over the web; this one is free and has a very clean interface and lets of useful features. You may be asked to help someone with their PC issues: Send them a copy of this app and have them give you permission to access their PC. You may need help. If you have this app installed you can get your favorite guru to fix you up. A third scenario: You're at work and need to grab a file from your home PC. Here's your solution. It's called iRemotePC and you can get it here.

Freeware Calculators!

This happens to me all the time: I'm working on my computer and I need a calculator. The calculator that comes with Windows is, to say the least, quite lame. There are several available, some of which are specialized for graphing, financial calculations, or specific scientific needs. But if you just need a calculator with basic functions, for free, here are some options (if your keyboard supports it, you can program a button on your keyboard to open the calculator when pressed):

Karen's Calculator ~ A high-precision Unlike ordinary calculators, it returns completely accurate results, even with operands containing thousands of digits. If you're patient, operands and results containing hundreds of thousands of digits are possble too! Most calculators are only accurate when dealing with numbers containing a few digits -- usually 16 to 32. When asked to calculate using larger numbers, they either fail (displaying an error) or return results that are only approximately accurate. Karen's Calculator can easily handle numbers and results containing many thousands of digits with complete accuracy. It also includes an on-screen "tape" -- which can be saved to disk -- versatile memory features, and more!

SkinCalc ~ SkinCalc is a free skinnable calculator with more than 100 different skins available for download. Skins make it possible to change the layout and functionality of the software.

Joey's Mathematical Calculator ~ Developed straight from the basics of the old Scientific Calculator comes the Mathematical Calculator (MathCalc). Whether it's solving a mathematical or boolean expressions or simply computing Geometric and Trigonometric values, this calculator will get the job done. This calculator also features a base converter (convert between bases 2 to 62 interchangably!) and a polynomial constructor (plug in some points - get back an equation that follows through each of those points). MathCalc will never cost anything. Updates will be put out from time-to-time to port over features from the old SciCalc that would be most useful in MathCalc. MathCalc will also be updated in the event that a new brand feature should be added.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Yahoo! GO 2.0 Mobile Beta Announced

Yahoo! has just introduced Yahoo! GO 2.0, an application designed to put Yahoo! and all it's various parts (sports, finance, maps, email, weather, next week's stock prices (you wish), onto your mobile phone's screen...if you have the right kind of phone. (It won't work on mine yet. But they'll let me know as soon as it will!!!) Anyway, as I try to squelch my bitter resentment and jealousy, I will tell you a bit more about it. First you go to the GO 2.0 site, where it asks you to "Get Yahoo! Go Now." Click on that and you're taken to another page, where, to find out if your phone can handle Yahoo! Go, you can either click on your phone's carrier, or type in your mobile number, in which case you'll receive a text message with either bad news (like I got) or good news. If it'll work on your phone, you can download it directly from your phone. Good for you! If you'd like to find out more about the service than I have so comprehensively described in this post, you can do that too. Click here to learn more.

EverNote: A Feature-Filled Productivity Tool

EverNote is one of the coolest productivity tools I’ve ever used. It’s like an endless roll of digital paper where you can store just about anything. All your notes, whether txt, html, Digital Ink, etc. Web pages, emails, anything important that you want to keep, EverNote is the place. Retrieval is a breeze, too. Security is no problem, because EverNote allows you to encrypt notes you want to keep private or protect from accidental changes or deletion. It’s got a very nice interface that’s easy to use. There’s a free version (which I use, naturally) and a paid version if you want more features. Check out their home page here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bush's Benchmarks

After Sunday's roundtables and panels had their say, it seems that no one has any idea what to do about Iraq except try to position themselves to avoid being apportioned too much of the blame. The Dems are predictably cawing, "It's 100 percent Bush's fault!" On the other side they're launching a preemptive missile attack by saying that if the Dems, who hold both Houses, don't cut funds, then they have to share in the blame. Clearly Pelosi-Reed do not want to don those clothes.

So Bush is about to detail his "new" Iraq strategy on Wednesday night. He is reportedly going to order a "surge" of up to 20,000 troops, and establish a set of "benchmarks" for the Iraqis to meet. My opinion? Twenty thousand does not a tsunami make, and a tsunami is needed to turn Iraq around. But maybe we can do it without a tsunami. Maybe we can do it with 20 or 30 years of moderate waves. Some are giving voice to this opinion, saying that a strong American presence will be needed in Iraq for at least that amount of time in order to create a viable and stable democratic government. Of course no one in power wants to say that. But it's probably the truth, and the only course of action that is likely to have a good result.

Alright Everybody, Out of the (Wireless) Pool!

Now that we all have wireless networks set up in our homes, we find out there's a new, easier way to do it. This stuff is just moving too fast. I've got a wireless setup, and I've helped a bunch of people get wireless going it their homes. But now, if I ever have to redo it, I'd probably go with PowerLine. Here's the latest from crave on the new Linksys HomePlug PowerLine AV Ethernet Kit (PLK200):
"Setting up a PowerLine Ethernet network is one of the simplest ways to create a network capable of throughput fast enough to transfer high-definition data (such as video) smoothly. Simply plug in your first adapter to your router via Ethernet cable and plug it into an electrical outlet. The second adapter plugs into a different power outlet and you can connect a PC or any other networkable device to the second adapter, also via Ethernet. The two adapters communicate and send data via the electrical network in your house. As with other PowerLine Ethernet adapters we've checked out (such as the ones from Netgear and Zyxel) the Linksys PowerLine Ethernet network can support up to 16 devices.

We've really liked the ones we've seen, and with the 802.11n spec still not finalized, we think PowerLine networks are the quickest and easiest way for consumers to get a high-def-friendly network up and running. Linksys's PowerLine AV Ethernet offerings are available immediately. The two-adapter kit costs $180 and each additional adapter costs $120."
If you're new to home networking, this is a great way to start one up. Relatively inexpensive, and a breeze to set up. (Since I haven't tried it yet, my recommendation is positive, but not unequivocal. Whatever that means.)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Always Wanted to Write a Book?

I watched part of a movie the other night. Got bored about half-way through, so I shut it off. But there was one particular scene that struck me as important. (BTW, the movie was called Wonder Boys.) This very successful author, who had been churning out a bestseller every 18 months for years and years, was asked to give a speech to an auditorium filled with hopeful authors. The speaker, played by Rip Torn, asked his listeners what it was that would take them from where they were (hopefuls), to where he was (accomplished). He said it came down to one thing: Faith. I'm paraphrasing now, but in essence he said they had to have faith that they had something worthwhile to write; faith that they had the wherewithal to write it; and faith that when they had written it, someone would be there who wanted to publish it. Otherwise they would forever be too afraid to actually start writing. That struck me as profound.

The thought of putting in the time and effort to write a book, only to find that no one is interested in publishing it, can be paralyzing. That's where the faith comes in. But today, thanks to technology, writing a book may not require as much faith as it used to. That's because getting a book published and distributed can be done electronically. I'm talking about ebooks. Here's Wikipedia's description:
An e-book (also: eBook, ebook), sometimes called an electronic book, is an electronic (or digital) equivalent of a conventional printed book. The term has occasionally been used ambiguously to refer to either an individual work in a digital format, or a hardware device used to read books in digital format, more specifically called an e-book device or e-book reader. E-books are an emerging and rapidly changing technology, that can branch to include other formats, such as a online magazines, such as the Grantville Gazette, published by Baen's Books, or digital books designed to be listened to as audio books.
I began writing a relatively small book a few years ago. I made it to about 75 percent completed. There it sat for about a year. With the growth in the ebook trend, however, I'm ready to finish and market it. OK, how do you create an ebook? There are basically two options in terms of the end product. You can create either a PDF document or an executable document. To manage the second one, you need an ebook compiler. I researched various software applications out there, looking for a free one. Not so easy. But today, as I checked out the Giveaway of the Day feature (on the right of this web site in the sidebar), I saw that one of the pay-versions I had found in my research was available for free, but only today! (It normally sells for $35.95.) Zowie! I grabbed my copy right away.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, make sure you get your free copy before the day is up!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Warning and A Recommendation

I'm not here to tell you what to do. Let's get that out of the way. But I have no compunction about offering warnings and/or recommendations, which you can take or leave at your discretion. So in this post I will offer both.

First, a warning. Please be wary of so-called free trial offers. Whether you are solicited by telephone, by mail, or online, think hard before you say yes. "But," you say, "it's free. Why shouldn't I accept?" Two reasons: First, once the trial period is over, they will start billing you by default. That means that if you do nothing, if you forget to cancel in time or at all, you will be billed. The companies that offer these things know that a significant number of you will either forget to cancel or can't be bothered to cancel. Either way they're getting at least one billing cycle's worth out of you. Second, some of these companies make it very difficult, if not virtually impossible, to cancel. Check out PCWorld's article along these lines. So unless you're pretty sure you're going to keep the service, be very cautious about signing up. Now, if they made it so that the service would cease by default unless I chose to keep it, I might be interested, but don't look for that business model to appear very soon. (Actually, most trial downloads are exactly like that; they are either limited versions or they just stop working after the trial period runs out. I have no problem with that approach at all.)

Second, a recommendation. I've been a WinCustomize user and fan for a fairly long time; in fact I blogged about them way back before blogging became a serious pursuit for me. So I thought I'd bring it up again to a hopefully larger readership. WinCustomize makes several products, with free and paid versions, that enhance your Windows experience. The graphic shown here is just one of thousands of ways you can dress up Windows' boring design (click on the image to zoom). In fact, when I have to work on a computer that has none of these enhancements and is just naked Windows, I cringe in horror and disgust. You owe it to yourself to visit their site and see what all the fuss is about. You can check it out here.

HTML Made Easy

Don't know about you, but I'm not an HTML expert. From time to time I need a bit of help with finding the right tags to dress up my pages. I had been doing a Google search every time I needed to find how to do whatever it was I needed to do. The process was not too onerous or time consuming, but I would have some misses and unhelpful sites coming up. In my travels I recently ran across a very well put together site called HTML Playground. It makes it extremely simple to find the tags you need, and to see how to place them and examples of how they work. So I recommend it to anyone who needs HTML help every now and again. Now it's on to CSS!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Say Goodbye to the GB

Pretty soon you won't be talking GBs (gigabytes) in reference to hard drive capacity any more. You'll be talking TBs (terabytes), which are worth 1,000 GBs. Hitachi is set to put on the shelves the first 1.0 TB drive, which you'll see in new computers in the first quarter of this year. I think my first computer had a 20 MB drive. The new drive would be able to swallow 50,000 of those! The new drive will be able to hold 250,000 mp3 songs. That would take you 2 years to listen to without any breaks. No doubt we'll find ways to fill this behemoth. We'll be speaking in GB terms still for RAM (do you remember Under Siege 2: Dark Territory? When the bad guy mentioned that his laptop had "a gig of RAM," we all gasped in shock. I have "a gig of RAM" in my desktop, and it's not enough! You'll need 2 gigs to run Vista comfortably, for crying out loud. Yes, the machines will soon be in control at this rate.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Coming Soon! Plastic Displays!

Not really soon, more like a couple of years. CNet reports that Plastic Logic has raked in a considerable amount of venture capital money that will allow them to have flexible displays, and presumably other neat stuff too, on the shelves and in your grubbly little hands in a bit. Vaporware? Doesn't look like it. We hope not.
"Plastic Logic's "take anyway, read anywhere" flexible display for text and images is intended as a lightweight alternative to paper and to current laptop, phone and PDA screens. The company, which attracted $100 million in a new round of venture capital funding, has developed displays designed to allow users a more comfortable way to view printed material. Plastic Logic plans to begin construction of manufacturing facilities as soon as possible, and plans to release its first products in 2009."