Life of Muff

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Top 10 Desktop Applications

I use all of these programs on a regular basis. They are all free for download from their respective websites, and most of them are open source. I highly recommend all of these programs and encourage you to give them a try; you won't regret it!

Notepad++ (Text Editor)

Probably the most handy tool a programmer can ask for. Basically, this is just Notepad on speed. It has everything a programmer could ask for - syntax highlighting (supports plenty of languages), tabbed viewing, indent guide, line numbers, tab sizing... I could go on. Essential for any programmer, no matter what your skill level.

Firefox (Web browswer)

Firefox is gaining popularity for a very good reason - it's good. Damn good. IE is too buggy, Opera too chunky. Firefox right there in the middle. And if you want to inject it with steroids you can through plugins and skins. (Office suite)

An open source office suite that can run on most platforms. It's basically a free Microsoft Office replacement, and if you don't mind a few subtle changes, you'll find it better. My favourite feature is exporting in PDF format.

Azureus (Torrent client)

An open source torrent client. Lightweight, reliable, easy. Great tool for downloaders.

iTunes (Media player)

One word: slick. Two words: Very slick. Many words: Windows Media Player just plain sucks. There are other alternatives such as Foobar, which is pretty bloody awesome if you've got a spare 6 months up your sleeve to learn how to use it properly, but none of them are as good as iTunes. It's the perfect program for maintaining your music collection. The most recent update (iTunes 7) introduces much more accessible album art, which is the only real thing that was lacking in the last releases (which is probably why it's the only major change). In fact I'm wrong... allthough Apple are trying hard, they still haven't (in my opinion) mastered the video side of things. Thats why I use....

VLC (Video player)

A light weight video player. It doesn't include many features, but contains all the necessecities and a plethora of settings. Although I use it for all my video watching, the one thing that is lacking is any organisation. If I can find a program to organise my video collection I will be happy. I know there are some out there, but they suck. VLC will do for now.

Eclipse (Software development suite)

Free open source programming development suite. A programming suite developed in the open source community - a match-winning combination! It has all the settings you need and more, and supports plenty of languages. It also has an extensive Help section.

WinDirStat (System tool)

Sensational tool that helps you understand what files and folders are using up the space on your hard drive. A graphic display is generated, and if you see a big file or folder you can click on it and the program will tell you what that file is. It's too hard to explain; check the website for screenshots. Regardless, you will probably be thankful you downloaded this tool.

Audacity (Audio editing suite)

If you're into home recording, podcasting or anything to do with audio, this is a great place to start if you've never done it before. It's an open source audio editing program with all the basic features you need to get started. It's definitely no Adobe Audition, however it is much more lightweight meaning it works great with mid to lower end computers, whereas you probably only want to use Audition on a higher performance computer.

eMule (P2P client)

I haven't shopped around for other P2P clients at all in the last year because eMule has been so great to me. I'm sure there are other good clients like Limewire, but I haven't encountered any problems with this open source program; that's why I love it.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Randomize Your Destop Background

Can't choose which desktop background you want? Or perhaps you get sick of your background after a just a few days? Here's your solution: randomize your desktop background!

I actually fit into both of the above categories. That prompted me to write a short script to change the background on startup. All you need to do is place the script in the same folder as your backgrounds, and add a shortcut in the startup folder. The only restraint is that it will only work with BMP files.

Here's what to do:

1) Save this file into the directory where your BMP backgrounds reside.

2) Create a shortcut to the file and put that shortcut to the Startup folder. Done!

Now, everytime you load Windows a BMP background will be randomly selected from the directory that the script resides.

For the developers, here's the source:

' VBScript Source File
' NAME: alternateBG.vbs
' AUTHOR: Mark Lee
' E-mail:
' DATE : 23/10/2005
' COMMENT: Alternate the desktop background image.
' Place this script in a directory with two or
' more BMP images. When run, this script will
' randomly select one of these BMP images and
' set it as the desktop background. Place a
' shortcut to this file in the Startup folder
' to change the background each time you boot.

Dim WshShell, dimensioned, pics(), Wallpaper
Dim FSO, folder, file, files, i

Set WshShell = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
Set FSO = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")
Set folder = FSO.GetFolder(WshShell.CurrentDirectory)
Set files = folder.Files

dimensioned = False

For Each file in files
If Lcase(Right(file.Name, 3)) = "bmp" Then

If dimensioned = False Then
ReDim Preserve pics(0)
dimensioned = True
ReDim Preserve pics(UBound(pics) + 1)
End If

pics(Ubound(pics)) = file.Name

End If

Wallpaper = "HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\Wallpaper"
SetBGPic(pics(Int((Ubound(pics) + 1) * Rnd)))

Set FSO = Nothing

Function SetBGPic(picname)

WshShell.RegWrite Wallpaper, WshShell.CurrentDirectory & "\" & picname, "REG_SZ" "RUNDLL32.EXE user32.dll,UpdatePerUserSystemParameters"

End Function

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Too many ads, not enough content!

Advertising on websites is becoming more and more prominent. Some websites are taking it way too far, and it's mostly the big name sites that are likely to be filling their pages with ads.

Take for example this article from PC Magazine that I found at Digg (no doubt reached the front page due to 'encouraged' diggs). Have a look at the screenshot to the right - that's the article. See that part highlighted in green? That's the main content of the article. Yep - a whopping 4.5% of the page! And that's not even the full article, the rest of it is linked to on other ad-saturated pages.

There is a total of 21 ad spaces on this site which accomodates around 55% of the page. Around 15% of the page is dedicated to site header and navigation, and the rest is whitespace (in accordance with the screenshot on the right).

Worse still, take a look at this screenshot (below) of how the site looks in a browser on a computer with a widescreen. As you can see, the page only stretches across half of the screen, leaving a hell of a lot of whitespace. Horrible! If you're going to leave big chunks of whitespace on your page then at least center the page, please!

Now I'm no bigshot when it comes to site design, but this just seems ridiculous. A site such as PC Magazine should be at the forefront of good site design, but this is just hell.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Muffys Business Tips

As technology advances at alarming rates, businesses are continually developing their processes and finding more cost-effective ways of achieving thier goals. However every so often I am surprised to discover some simple solutions which can support this vision.

One of these things is the realisation that only a small percentage of companies are using the internet to deliver their customers correspondence and reap great benifits. The technology to do this has been around for a long time now; its not hard to convert documents into PDF format and send them to their customers email address. Of course, not every consumer wants to receive their correspondence like that - particularly the older generation. A lot of people also like to physically store their letters. But for the people who do want to receive their bills this way can store their documents on their computer - better organisation and much less clutter.

But importantly, think of all the benifits to the business:
No postage
Customers receive their correspondence instantly (as opposed to 2 business days through regular post)
Savings on paper
Savings on ink cartridges
Savings on envelopes

As a case study, imagine a company who has 10,000 customers. The company offers their customers the option to recieve their correspondence via email. Even if so many as half of those customers accept this offer, then in one billing cycle the company has saved 5,000 mail outs. Thats 5,000 * 50c = $2,500. So right off the bat - without considering the savings of paper and ink - the business has saved itself $2,500.

Keep in mind, by reducing the amount of hard copy documentation there is a substantial benifit to the environment too.

So why aren't there more companies moving in this direction? It's a simple way to reduce costs.