Friday, February 29, 2008

Screw Your Sucky Service, EHost.NET and ValetHosting!

For several years I'd coasted on cheap hosting by buying shared servers through eBay. They usually offered "unlimited" bandwidth and space, plus CPanel support and all the necessary CGI and PHP scripts, for just 10 dollars a YEAR.

The problem with these sites are they're run by guys like me who thought to make a quick buck by buying a bunch of server space that they could rent out themselves. As such, the tech support was pretty spotty, and if there was ever any downtime, their response always used to take forever.

I admit that I got what I paid for with these services, and I never complained too much. But the first really frustrating experience was with ValetHosting, essentially run by someone named Donovan Stewart from Washington state. One day his hosting service just went up and left, not giving me any access to my data, and as such I couldn't make a backup. I tried to get Paypal and eBay to intervene but I'd already left positive feedback and since the service was a subscription, I wasn't allowed to get a refund. Let it be known, Donovan Stewart is a shifty guy with whom one should not do business. This is after over a year of being his customer.

Luckily the company who hosted his server was very nice and were able to send me a semi-recent backup that let me set myself up at another place. But even they talked about how this guy just up and left (the number I'd found for him was the same number they had, which was the number he was not answering).

That place was eHost, which was another 10 bucks a year service, run by a guy named Cyrus Chow, also apparently from Washington state. I needed a server fast after ValetHosting went down and luckily I had bought this server for a client that fell through, so I just took it over.

These guys' service was even worse than ValetHosting's, and they would cop an attitude whenever I demanded my quick service (I admit I'd become quite verbal with these companies before, since they seem to act so lax with regards to tech support). Their website boasted 24/7 chat support, but even during normal business hours (for any US time zone), I never got anybody to answer on the other side. Worse, their servers would go down at a frequency that I found unacceptable, especially since I was using my email through their server.

The last straw that broke the camel's back, however, was when I suddenly got a form email from them saying that they would no longer be taking on new customers and were moving their servers to another company. This was after my site was down for almost a week with no proper response from them explaining why.

When I received access to my site again after a while I quickly made a full backup and moved to another server. I'll let you know about them in a future post, but rest assured I'm ditching these eBay guys forever.

As a final lesson, be wary of these guys' respectable feedback ratings. They are usually not too bad because people leave feedback less than a month after they pay for their server. I must admit setup was really simple through these guys. As such, by they time people realize how crappy the service was, it was already too late, and they had already left positive feedback.

FINALLY, though, from the looks of it Valethosting is now owned by someone else other than Donovan Stewart. I can't vouch for these new guys, but they probably could do without the previous company's baggage. As far as EHost is concerned, their website seems to be back up and they're still serving customers, and for those people I bid good luck.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rant: Not Showing Message Content in "You've got a message" Emails

I just wanted to let off a bit of steam on a minor thing that I'm sure you all can relate to.

How annoying is it to receive emails that say things like "You've got a new message in your inbox" or "someone wrote on your wall" or "such and such has left a comment to your photo/video" but the email never actually shows what the message is?

I know it's supposed to be an incentive for you to log into your Facebook or Youtube or whatever accounts in order to actually read the message, but in the end my email inbox is just cluttered with notifier messages that serve no other purpose.

Facebook got part of the message with showing the contents of private messages inside the emails themselves, but haven't gotten around to showing what people wrote on my wall, or comments on photos (as far as I remember), etc. Why not? It's the same damn thing.

So if anybody in charge of those services hear me, we are all sick and tired of these fake-mysterious notifications of received comments! Show us the content in the emails!

Better Alt-Tab Replacements Showdown Part 2 of 2: WinFlip

Yesterday I reviewed another ALT-Tab window switch alternative called Taskswitch XP Pro, and it passed with a generally good score, with the exception of it being almost too full-featured, and requiring a system tray icon being always visible (i.e. you can't hide it). Today I'll be reviewing yet another ALT-Tab option, called WinFlip.

WinFlip mimics the 3d Alt-Tab feature of Windows Vista, which is cool for those like me who like Vista's visual improvements but not its resource intensiveness and general bugginess (and have thus stuck with Windows XP).

(Image courtesy of the official Winflip website)

Pros: WinFlip comes in a zipped folder that, once unzipped, works immediately. I.E. NO INSTALL NEEDED. Even better, that means if you want to uninstall it, just delete the folder. I love this, and wish all programs were this easy to install and uninstall. You'd still need to put the folder somewhere convenient (probably still the Program Files folder), and add a shortcut to the Start menu's Startup folder so it'll start up with Windows, however.

Winflip miraculously also only requires around 1.8 megabytes of RAM most of the time, HOWEVER I have seen it jump to almost 10. I don't know why it did this, but it seemed to be a one-time occurence. While it can't ever trump Taskswitch's 0.8-1.2 MB RAM consumption, I have heard that Winflip uses far less RAM than the comparable feature in Windows Vista.

Winflip also offers options for window size, anti-aliasing, texture quality, and change of hotkeys. It's set to default for WIN-Tab, which made it convenient to compare it back and forth with Taskswitch.

And of course, it's pretty.

Cons: First of all, Winflip does require a system tray icon, but thankfully it remains functional even with the icon set to hidden.

Unfortunately, for some reason Winflip would not overlay with my wallpaper showing, like it seems to be able to do in the screenshots I've seen (including the one I've posted here, which is not of my desktop). I assume it's because of my use of Ultramon to handle multiple monitors. It's not that big of a deal but it does take away some of its visual flair.

Finally however, Winflip seems to have problems rendering OpenOffice documents and other programs that use the GTK+ (GIMP Toolkit) engine for creating GUI. The author of Winflip has acknowledged this as a problem but claims it's a GTK bug, not Winflip. I find it hard to believe GTK will fix this anytime soon, and in response to Winflip.

Overall: If you don't use OpenOffice and Ultramon, Winflip is yet another lightweight solution to Vista-fy your XP machine without committing all the way. Unfortunately, the visuals are bogged down with the rendering bugs that I encountered. I suggest you try it yourself and see if it works perfectly for you. And if you don't like it, it's very easy to get rid of.

So what option am I gonna go with? Surprisingly (at least to me), I've decided to go back to Microsoft's own Alt-Tab Powertoy, which was the first Alt-Tab replacement tool I featured almost two months ago.

Why? because it worked perfectly with no bugs as soon as I installed it, it was lightweight enough, and did not require a system tray icon. For a function that I don't use too often (I don't know who does), visual flair will never overcome bugs and lost productivity.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Better Alt-Tab Replacements Showdown Part 1 of 2: Taskswitch Pro

A month ago I featured the Windows XP powertoy Alt-Tab Replacement, which replaced the Alt-Tab display of just the row of icons and window names with icons, window names, PLUS thumbnail previews of the windows themselves.

A few days ago a commenter turned me on to Taskswitch XP, which he claimed did the same things Alt-Tab Replacement did, but much more. I wasn't in huge need of augmenting my Alt-Tab function even more, so I didn't jump at the chance of installing yet another program.

But now here we are. Taskswitch XP's own official site describes the program's features better than I can:

TaskSwitchXP is an advanced task management utility that picks up where the standard Windows Alt+Tab switcher leaves off. It provides the same functionality, and adds visual styles to the dialog and also enhances it by displaying thumbnail preview of the application that will be switched to.

TaskSwitchXP also has a powerful process and window management capability that allows you quickly to close/minimize applications and their groups. The unique capabilities of TaskSwitchXP make it useful for tracking down multitudinous windows, and provide insight into the way Windows and applications work.

TaskSwitchXP supports a few built-in interface schemes. It dynamically adapts to the selected Windows XP theme, provides customizable font and color settings for each user in the system. You can also choose preview and list styles, appearance effects, opacity of the switcher window and more. You can make your everyday environment to look whichever you want!
So how does it compare with Alt-Tab Replacement?

Pros: Taskswitch does exactly the same thing that Alt-Tab Replacement does, but much more. It has options for multiple themes, including matching whatever theme you currently use (as such, it worked as well as Alt-Tab Replacement at matching my Zune desktop theme).

You can even set it to be transparent, and can even smoothly fade in and fade out. I currently have it set to be slightly transparent and fade in and out in 100 ms (from the default 250, which took too long).

It also has options for customizing hotkeys, language, font and color, and size of the previewed window. In fact, it's basically overflowing with customizable features for a program whose function is so simple.

Finally, Taskswitch takes only 800 kilobytes of RAM in passive mode, and only takes 2 megabytes while actually holding ALT-Tab (I had to keep the Task Manager open first, and then hold ALT-Tab to see the RAM usage spike). This is better than Alt-Tab Replacement's 1.8 MB of RAM passively (I hadn't checked it while invoking the ALT-Tab feature, but it was certainly never enough to slow my computer down).

Cons: I definitely do not like Taskswitch running an icon in my system tray, where I only keep at most 6 icons running at all times. However, I understand that there wouldn't be an elegant way of accessing all the multitudes of features Taskswitch offers without this.

And so, I immediately set windows to always hide the Taskswitch system tray icon. Suddenly, Taskswitch stopped working! When I unhid the icon, it resumed functioning. But to make it perfectly clear, in my instance, Taskswitch will only work when the system tray icon is visible.

And honestly, Taskswitch's multitude of features is pretty overwhelming. Alt-Tab Replacement installed and just immediately worked. I use Alt-Tab for just a few seconds at most several times a week, it's not very much worth it to spend time customizing a program for longer than you'll use it.

Overall: Despite that last point, Taskswitch does work right out of the box, at least in a way that looked exactly like Alt-Tab Replacement. The extra features are available for those who care to tweak their settings (which you must be in a way, if you're reading this blog), but you don't need to bother if you don't want to. It's just icing on the cake that it uses less RAM than Alt-Tab Replacement.

However, the need for a persistent system tray icon is really annoying. An overcrowded system tray is one of my biggest pet peeves, so this is something I'll need to get a better feel for before I decide one way or another.

Now, come back tomorrow for a review of yet another Alt-Tab tool, and I'll compare it with Taskswitch, and we'll see what I end up using in the end.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

AfterEffects Quick Tip: Double Click to Work in a Pre-Comp

Time for another quick tip that I had just learned for Adobe AfterEffects by watching the awesome tutorials by Andrew Kramer.

One thing I always found odd was why when I had a composition (we'll call it "Comp 1" to avoid confusion) nested inside another composition (we'll call it "Comp 2"), I couldn't just double click on Comp 1 on the Comp 2 timeline in order to open it up and work within it. Instead, I'd been having to go to the project window and finding the comp there, where I could double click on it to open it up.

TURNS OUT, you needed to hold down the ALT key while double clicking on Comp 1 in order to open it up and work inside.

Yet another small but useful tip for those people like me who were too smart and had too little time to read the entire manual :).

And don't forget to check out the first shortcut I'd featured, which were the keyboard shortcuts for Next/Previous frame in AfterEffects.

Does Firefox Preloader Really Speed Firefox Up For You?

Tony Williams over at One Tip a Day recently blogged about Firefox Preloader, a program that's supposed to speed up loading Firefox by preloading parts of it at startup, so parts of it would be available in the RAM before you actually need it.

There's logic in what it's advocating, but I tried it and found no real significant speed increase from what I'd already had, which was Firefox loading within 3 seconds. And I certainly am not all that crazy about having more programs running at startup.

I suggest you try it yourself especially if you use Firefox a lot and your computer's not the top of the line, but make sure to weigh the speed advantage to your startup times and RAM usage as well. Your mileage might vary.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Try to Fix a Dead Pixel with KillDeadPixel!

I got my first LCD monitor back in 2003 when I won grand prize at the University of Southern California's Webfest web design contest for the old design of my portfolio site, Greasy Pig Studios (I then got 1st place in the Communication category in 2006 for my animated webcomic journal, aLiveJournal).

The monitor was a 17 inch NEC monitor that I still use today (it's my secondary display where I keep Thunderbird almost always displayed). Anyway, when I got it it had one dead pixel, bright green in the bottom right quarter of the screen. I've tried fixing it by rubbing it really hard with my thumb, but it didn't work.

When I heard about KillDeadPixel, I was cautiously optimistic. It works by having an animated gif of what essentially looks like static, and you can drag it over the area where the dead pixel is. It's supposed to kinda flush the dead pixel back to life.

Well, I tried it on there for several hours, and unfortunately it did not work for me. But I would certainly recommend you try it for yourself. I've read testimonials from happy customers online, so it may well be worthwhile for you.

Crayon Physics: HOLY COW!

Solve physics puzzle games by drawing shapes with a crayon in Crayon Physics.

I ran into this game through my usual blog reading and quickly fell in love with its innovation and simplicity. Only the original demo of the game is available, with the Deluxe full version of the game that you can see below being available in the near future.

Still though, the demo version works quite well, is super fun, and works like a CHARM when used with a Wacom Tablet (or even better, their Cintiq, like I use!)

Update 4/24/08 - I just reviewed a full featured, third party flash game, Magic Pen, that seems to offer much of what Crayon Phyics Deluxe offered!

Kill Apps Faster at Shutdown for Faster Reboot!

Yeah, I like bragging about how I cut down the bootup time of my computer from 4 minutes to just over one. But part of having a faster starting computer is also speeding up how quickly it shuts down. I implemented this trick months ago and couldn't remember where I'd gotten it from, but this post by My Digital Life sums it up quite well.

It basically asks you to change the following Registry entries:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\WaitToKillServiceTimeout (to a value between 5000 to 1000)

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\WaitToKillAppTimeout (between 5000 to 1000)

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\HungAppTimeout (around 1000)

HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop\WaitToKillAppTimeout (between 5000 to 1000)

HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop\HungAppTimeout (around 1000)

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\AutoEndTasks (to 1)

A much more detailed tutorial can be found on the origina

What these registry entries do is wait less time before totally killing an application and restarting. The scare in this is that applications won't have the time to save any unsaved data; however, in my case I've found that I'm not stupid enough to shutdown without saving my own data, and I've yet to lose any important information.

Remember though that editing your registry can be dangerous work, so back up your registry before you start.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Speed up High-RAM Firefox 2 Window Many Tabs!

I can't wait until Firefox 3 goes gold, mainly because they seem to have plugged up most of the memory leaks that plague Firefox 2. The beta releases of FF3 seem to point to great things, but I won't be using it until I can make sure all my extensions work for it.

Meanwhile though, this is a little workaround I discovered earlier today when I was caught in a situation where I had a lot of tabs open, each of them loading a large Flash video file. At its worst Firefox was taking up almost 500 megabytes of RAM, and would not let me switch from one tab to another, at least not with any convenient speed.

Then, I noticed that if I clicked on the tab I wanted to view, while Firefox is still hanging and not switching, you can minimize or unmaximize the browser window. For me, suddenly the window was focused on the new tab I wanted! I could then remaximize my window and continue viewing. As I finished viewing that tab I would switch it off, and eventually Firefox will revert back to its proper responsiveness.

Still, can't wait for version 3!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mostly Crystal: My Firefox and Thunderbird Theme

I realized that I never plugged the Firefox and Thunderbird theme I use. It's one I've used since version 1.5 of both apps, when I first started using them, back in 2004. It's called Mostly Crystal by Cat Thief.

I like it because it adds the 3D glossiness that lets your buttons pop out above the toolbars. It's got a unified look, but isn't so uniform that you have a hard time telling what the icon does. Really it's basically the original Mozilla theme with a little more pop.

I'd looked for the longest time for a theme that worked well with the dark Zune Windows theme, but found that the dark browsers just didn't integrate well with most websites and most favicons just looked awful on the bookmarks toolbar. Mostly Crystal luckily looks great on both dark and bright Windows themes. To me, it's just the best, most useful Firefox and Thunderbird theme out there.

Here's a screenshot of Firefox and Thunderbird, both using the Mostly Crystal theme. One final thing to note is that it's also a great theme to use if you really want to strip down your apps of unnecessary buttons.

Get Yahoo!, AOL, Hotmail and More in Thunderbird using the Webmail Extension

My Yahoo! mail account is the longest running active mail account I've ever owned, when I got it back in 2002 right before I graduated from high school. There's stuff in there that still gets me way nostalgic. Nowadays it's mostly used for signing up to accounts, and there's routinely 2000 pieces in the spam box. But still, I don't think I'd ever ditch it (I mean, it's free!).

Webmail is an extension for Thunderbird that allows you to download mail from free webmail accounts like Yahoo!, Hotmail, AOL mail, and others that don't offer POP access, at least not for free (meanwhile, Gmail's already offering free IMAP access).

Installation is relatively involved, and with setting up email accounts, for some reason it's never as pain-free as you want it to, so please just check out the tutorial on their page.

One thing to remember is to make sure "Leave Messages on Server" is checked indefinitely so it doesn't delete your email in the server. This way you can still access mail from anywhere on the web, as well as Thunderbird.

For some reason I could only get it to download, like, the last 3 months of mail, however. This sucks because the mail that I really want to make sure is archived are ones that are several years old (my plan is to copy them all to my gmail account to have one massive 6 year-long email archive). I checked out the Webmail forums briefly and could not find a definitive answer. I'll let you know if/when I do, however.

Finally, as with Pop mail, the web server does not update the emails' read status or even delete status, so if you're deleting a lot of newsletters and unnecessary mail from Thunderbird once you're done reading them, they're still there in your webmail. If you spend an equal amount of time in Thunderbird and on the web server, this lack of sync is annoying.

But all in all, an admirable effort while these services still haven't gotten around to offering at least free Pop mail support.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Apple Needs Linkin Park's Help, Not My Money

I'm typing this on a Mac at work, after having read the post on Macrumors, a blog I subscribe to.

But still, yet another reason for me to not care to buy anything Apple for a while yet still.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Saving Flash Work on a Mac (gasp!) without Crashing

I use Macs at work, as someone who works in the media industry, even though I love my PC and Windows XP at home (where I also do work). Sometimes there's just no escaping it. So here's something I'd since learned while working in Flash 8 on Macs.

When working on an increasingly large .FLA project file (imported video and audio, lots of images, long-ass timelines, etc), Saving your projects starts becoming a huge pain in the butt. It would just hang there with the spinning beach ball. For months I'd assumed it would just crash and I'd lose work, which drove me nuts.

Eventually, I found out that it was just taking forever to save, up to 20 minutes or more. If you left it alone, it wouldn't crash, but you were certainly at the mercy of Flash taking its sweet time. My assistant at the time went out to have a smoke.

FINALLY, I figured out that instead of Saving, if you use "Save and Compact", which clears out your cache and previous save states and undos that normal Saving usually keeps, I was able to cut down the save time of my project down to probably just under a minute. Huzzah!

Still, blech. There's no such problem on PC's and in fact it's quicker to do a normal save than to do a Save and Compact since the latter technically involves more actions (it's like rearranging your entire suitcase every time you wanted to add a pair of socks).

Of course, this workaround for Macs only really applies to project files approaching 100 megabytes or more. Less than that and normal saving shouldn't be too big of a hassle. But in a situation where you absolutely MUST use a Mac to work on a large Flash project, Save and Compact is your friend.

Right Click Gmail Directions with GDirections!

I'd had this Firefox extension for a month or two now, and was always impressed with it, but it never really got much use until this past weekend when I had to check out directions to several different locations, and it worked like a charm!

Written by Jeffrey Palm, GDirections lets you highlight an address in Firefox and right click it and get directions from your specified home address! It even works for addresses laid out in multiple lines, which was always what made it annoying to get directions from online.

Once installed, you can check the Addons pane and select your preferences for GDirections, which basically lets you add starting addresses from which GDirections will work out directions to your destination.

The one thing that's weird to me is that GDirections also gives you options to search the address in the other search engines you've specified for Firefox. I don't see much of a point of this and it just adds an extra menu and stuff to go through to get to what you want, which is just to get the damn directions.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Want to use Taskkill but you have XP Home? Here it is!

Taskkill is Microsoft's own task-killing command line tool. Very useful for creating batch scripts to shut down multiple processes at once, but unfortunately it's only available for Windows XP Pro, not XP Home (don't know about Vista).

Luckily, the blog Buckinwell Fritish has a link to download Taskkill for those that don't have it! Just install and put in the Windows directory, and you're all set. The simplest command to kill a process is this (you can run it from the command prompt, or from doing Windows>Run):

taskkill /F /IM notepad.exe

notepad.exe can be any task you want to kill, like thunderbird.exe, firefox.exe, etc. For more documentation on it, check out Microsoft's official word.

Taskkill does basically the same exact thing as previously mentioned PSKill, but this just seems simpler and more organic than PSKill. When I have the time I plan on converting all my other scripts to use Taskkill and probably deleting all the PSTools as I don't have much of a use for the rest of them.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Recycling Bin in QuickLaunch

A quickie for today: As part of my crusade to have a fully functional but iconless desktop, I decided to put the Recycling Bin into the Quick Launch bar. See below:

It was really easy to implement: I just dragged the Recycling Bin into the Quick Launch bar, and I was all set to go! The icon has all the functionality of its desktop counterpart and still shows the full icon when there's something in there. And you can still right click to get your usual Recycle Bin context menu.

The best function of this is that I can access the Recycle Bin without having to reveal the desktop. In fact, I just realized that I still had the Show Desktop shortcut in my Quick Launch bar. Why? I have no more icons to access back there. I may just go ahead and delete it!

And remember, Autohotkey users can check out this article on how to make a hotkey for emptying the Recycle Bin.

Another Dock Review: JetToolBar (Verdict: No Thanks)

A comment on a recent post on MakeUseOf that talked about cleaning up one's desktop pointed me to JetToolBar, developed by COWON America, best known for making digital audio players. I haven't figured out yet how that and object docks/toolbars intersect, but I don't fault them.

From the official site, here's what JetToolBar offers:

Despite Microsoft's best intentions, the Start Menu isn't everybody's cup of tea. If you're looking for an alternative way to launch your programs, take a look at jetToolBar. During installation this well-done utility creates 14 default categories, registers shortcuts for many of your applications, and adds bookmarks for recommended Web pages.

jetToolBar is a simple and easy-to-use program launcher. When you install jetToolBar, it creates 14 default categories, registers shortcuts for your application programs, bookmarks of the best recommended Internet Homepages.

You can position the toolbar on any edge of the screen of any monitor in a docked state, or in a floating state as a normal window. In either state, you can change the size of the toolbar and the program launch buttons to various button sizes.

You can optionally show or hide the categories, and an auto-hide feature is included for optional use in the docked state. If you set hotkey, you can see "ToolBar Menu" anywhere of the screen with the hotkey.

Drag buttons to where you want them. Intuitive right-click menus let you easily access appearance and behavior options.

Category : Control Panel, Desktop, Multimedia, Word, Games, Graphics, Utility, Internet, Book Mark ( News, Sports, Entertainment, Computer News, Download, Search )
My thoughts? Well, the guy who led me to this commented that it was the only dock/toolbar he used after trying all the different ones. I tried it for about 10 minutes and realized that I and that other guy could not possibly have more differing tastes in what makes a good Taskbar alternative.

First of all, JetToolbar is skinned like it's for Windows 98. It is butt ugly, and the complete polar opposite of Object and RocketDock. It isn't compatible with Windows themes, so it did not match my Zune theme at all.

It does offer an always-on view of all your application shortcuts, and you can customize what goes on there, so if you're the kind of person that needs to have 30 different applications available to you at your fingertips, then I guess that's good for you. I prefer keeping my less-than-10 most-used applications in the Quick Launch bar (along with the Recycling Bin).

And finally, the clincher (though even if it had this feature I'd probably still think it was too ugly to use), it did not offer support for taskbar window access and the system tray. Clearly this toolbar isn't meant to replace the Windows taskbar, just supplement it... but what a waste of vertical space to have this thing around at all times. I could just increase the number of rows the task bar occupies and add more icons to the Quick Launch.

That being said, the product IS freeware and does just what it advertises, so I can't fault it too much, especially since it's developed by a company not really known for productivity software. For me, however, I'm still sticking to my good-old-taskbar.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Auto Reload/Refresh in Firefox with ReloadEvery Extension!

Too many reasons to list for an auto reload feature in a browser: being ready for when tickets go on sale, following real time blog posts of live events (like Macworld), when playing a browser based, turned based game, inflating stats, the list goes on.

So unless you prefer getting the drinking bird on the F5 button, the ReloadEvery Firefox extension by Jaap Haitsma is your best bet.

Installation is the same as every other addon for Firefox: just hit the Install Now button and follow the directions.

Usage is just as easy. Once installed and your browser's restarted, you can right click on any page you want, hover over ReloadEvery> and you can enable and disable it, and choose the interval between reloads. You can even let the extension go while visiting other sites on other tabs.

Make Sites Think You're Not Using Firefox!

Some sites block access if you're using a specific browser... in my case, Firefox (duh). They claim their services are incompatible with Firefox. But is it really? Likely it's just one of their utilities that are incompatible. Most likely it's because they need a browser less secure than what you're using now. That's where User Agent Switcher comes in.

User Agent Switcher is a Firefox extension written by Chris Pederick that makes sites think you're using a different browser or even operating system. Using it is simple. Once installed (and Firefox is restarted), just click on Tools>User Agent Switcher, and then select which user agent you want to pretend to be. You can even add other user agents yourself.

Note: of course, some sites really are just flat out incompatible with Firefox (their loss), but trying User Agent Switcher is worth trying at first. The worst that can happen is a site won't load.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Real Desktop Lite Review - A 3D Desktop for Windows!

Ghacks recently featured an application called Real Desktop, which offers a spiffy, 3D accelerated desktop. Intrigued, I gave it a try.

Image courtesy of the Real Desktop website.

Needless to say, it works just as advertised. I tried Real Desktop Light, the freeware alternative. It arranges your desktop in a 3d isometric view, resembling a real desktop. The icons look like shiny tiles on your own desktop, and the Recycling Bin even looks like a real cylindrical cup. The icons drag across the desktop smoothly, quickly, and easily, and even rotate and bump into each other realistically.

I did have some snags getting it to work the first time, though. The FAQ of the site claims incompatibilities with Active Desktop enabled, but I didn't anyway (I don't know anyone who does). It turned out Real 3D wasn't displaying because I had turned off the option in Windows to display icons on the Desktop (right click on the desktop>Arrange>Show Desktop Icons). I'd done this as part of my icon-less Desktop plan (I'll feature this more in the future). Switching it back on and refreshing the desktop got it to work.

Needless to say, I just couldn't keep Real Desktop Light installed. The freeware version had only one theme available, while the Full version, available for $25.95 , comes with far more different options. Freeware or not, however, I've gone through a lot of trouble to keep my desktop pristine and iconless, and even a really pretty interface can't change that. I DO recommend it for other users though, who are looking for something to spiffy up their desktop environment, and would even recommend you to spring for the Full version for the different desktop themes and extra options.

Real Desktop is available for Windows XP and Windows Vista.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Next/Previous Frame in AfterEffects Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I wanted a place to put tips that I have found useful but otherwise really hard to find online. This tip is one of them.

For the longest time I and a coworker could not figure out what the next/previous frame keyboard shortcuts were for Adobe AfterEffects. They didn't seem to line up with other video editing/animation tools. I tried to search online and I couldn't find it (and we couldn't find it in the help files).

Finally, while watching one of the awesome Video Copilot tutorials by Andrew Kramer (I can't even remember which one), he let slip that which had been eluding us for so long:

To move back and forth frame by frame in AfterEffects, use PageUp/PageDown!

Yahoo rejects Microsoft's Facebook Relationship Request

Well, Yahoo! rejected Microsoft's 44 billion dollar offer. This comes after weeks of speculation from the, ech, blogosphere, including an official response from Google.

Yeah, I can't say I'm too saddened by the deal falling apart (Yahoo claims the offer was too low), but I was quite a bit perturbed by Google's overt and vocal response. Hell, I think I heard more about Google's response than I heard about the deal itself.

I love Google, but even I'm slightly troubled by how much I rely on their services, their free, useful, reliable services. There's still something unsettling about one company having a hold of so much important information.

I understand that Microsoft's done some shady things in the past, but I can't imagine them being able to exert too much control on the internet by teaming up with Yahoo. Google has a gigantic corner on the internet services market from its search engine and Gmail, with their marketshare continuing to rise. If anything, Google's the one in the position to exert control. Them complaining about the second and third place guys trying to take pole positions just sounds uncharacteristically insecure.

That being said, I doubt the pairing of Microsoft and Yahoo would yield a better surfing experience than Google. I wouldn't even be surprised if the two wrongs made a bigger wrong. I'm always in favor of more discrete competition in all things, but I'm also in favor of maturity. Even on the internets.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Getting Rid of Minimize with Double Right Click

One of the more novel and simple Autohotkey scripts I ran into a while back let you minimize the current window by double-right-clicking. For people who are manage lots of windows and apps, and have a lot of icons in the desktop, this can be really useful. In fact, I featured it in the "My Auto Hotkeys (and shutdown via text message)" article a while back.

However, I've come to realize that I didn't really need this script all that much. First of all, I've gotten rid of all the icons on my desktop and keep my desktop folder as a toolbar in my taskbar. Secondly, I've more often found that it interferes with using Mousegestures, a Firefox extension I'll be featuring soon, which let you control the browser by dragging the right mouse button (drag left to go back, drag right to go forward, up to open new tab, etc). If I had to choose between keeping Mousegestures or Double-Right-Click, I just stuck with Mousegestures.

Anyway, for those of you still interested, the autohotkey script for minimizing with double right-click is:

If (A_PriorHotkey != A_ThisHotkey OR A_TimeSincePriorHotkey > 500)
Sleep 200 ; time for context to appear
Send {Esc} ; close context menu
WinMinimize, A ; minimize active window

Remember, greasing one's PC means not only tweaking one's computer by adding new features, it also means removing unnecessary ones.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Slow computer? Block Flash in Firefox and Browse faster with Flashblock

Flashblock is a popular Firefox extension written by Lorenzo Colitti and Philip Chee that, you guessed it, blocks all Flash elements from loading in Firefox.

Flash's speed and now near universal compatibility with computers and browsers make it a godsend for dynamic, animation and effects heavy websites. Unfortunately, it can also swallow RAM and CPU like a blue whale swimming in krill.

I use this a lot on my woefully underpowered laptop* and it works just like you'd expect it to. You can create a whitelist of sites that you allow to load Flash.

However, I have to admit that I otherwise keep this extension disabled (but installed) in my main computer, unless I specifically need to block Flash files, which is, as an animator and web designer, not very often. I wish Flashblock also had a blacklist option, that only blocked Flash from certain sites.

*My laptop was bought in late 2003 on eBay. I got it used for 200 dollars. It's a Compaq Armada with a 400mhz Pentium III, 256 megabytes of RAM (32 mb VRAM shared), and 9 gigs of hard drive space. It has just one USB 1.1 port. Its screen hinge is broken so it flops backwards all to easily. But it still runs Windows XP, and I must say it's faster than many peoples' main computers, since I keep it so clean. I only use it for screenwriting, reading books in bed, and internet stuff when I'm travelling. Its battery is only now starting to get annoyingly short-lived, but it won't be until that runs out or my screen falls off that I will replace it, with another 200 dollar used iteration.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Autohotkey: Empty Recycle Bin With Hotkey

I have no idea why I had a much less elegant solution to this process before (which involved calling a separate program that emptied the recycle bin, but still having to press enter to confirm it), but I guess there is a super simple Autohotkey command that empties the recycle bin quickly and painlessly:

FileRecycleEmpty [, DriveLetter]

If you use just FileRecycleEmpty, it empties all of the Recycle Bin. If you add a comma and the drive letter as "C:\" or "D:\" it empties just those drives' folders. I never differentiated between the drives' Recycle Bins before, so I really only care to remove everything. Currently, my hotkey for emptying the Recycle Bin is such:

!x:: FileRecycleEmpty

Which empties the Recycle Bin by hitting ALT-X.

As always, to use these scripts and many others to enhance your Windows experience, you need Autohotkey. For more articles on using Autohotkey, and the scripts that I personally use, check out the other articles on this blog labeled "Autohotkey."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

My Mozyhome Automation Script:

As I mentioned in a previous post, I really like Mozyhome but I don't like having it constantly running in the background; it really only needs to run when it performs a backup, and any other time it shouldn't be wasting my RAM and CPU. So here's a handy Autohotkey script I've written that'll automate starting, running, and killing Mozyhome automatically.

Here's the full script, which I've called mozybackup.ahk:

#SingleInstance force
DetectHiddenText, On
SetTitleMatchMode 2
SetTitleMatchMode, Slow

run C:\Program Files\MozyHome\mozystat.exe

Sleep, 5000

run C:\Program Files\MozyHome\mozystat.exe

Sleep, 10000

WinWait, ahk_class wxWindowClassNR
IfWinNotActive, ahk_class wxWindowClassNR, , WinActivate, ahk_class wxWindowClassNR,
WinWaitActive, ahk_class wxWindowClassNR,
MouseClick, left, 347, 41

WinWait, ahk_class wxWindowClassNR, 1 minute ago
Run, C:\Program Files\PSTools\pskill.exe "mozybackup.exe"
Run, C:\Program Files\PSTools\pskill.exe "mozystat.exe"
Run, C:\Documents and Settings\Arvin\My Documents\scripts\finishedbackup.txt

Alright, now let's go through each part of the script to explain what it does, in case you need to alter parts of it later on (which I'm sure you'll have to).

#SingleInstance force
DetectHiddenText, On
SetTitleMatchMode 2
SetTitleMatchMode, Slow

This part kind of sets the tone for the rest of the script. The first line makes sure only one instance of the script is running. The next three lines sets Autohotkey to actively and thoroughly read the text inside currently open windows. You'll see why this is important later.
run C:\Program Files\MozyHome\mozystat.exe

Sleep, 5000

run C:\Program Files\MozyHome\mozystat.exe

Sleep, 10000
This part runs Mozyhome. If you installed Mozyhome into a different directory, change the file path as appropriate. The reason I call the program twice is because mozystat.exe usually starts minimized in the system tray, where I can't get at it. The second run command brings up the Mozyhome window to the top of the desktop. The long sleep times allow time for Mozyhome to properly load in plenty of time.

WinWait, ahk_class wxWindowClassNR
IfWinNotActive, ahk_class wxWindowClassNR, , WinActivate, ahk_class wxWindowClassNR,
WinWaitActive, ahk_class wxWindowClassNR,
MouseClick, left, 347, 41

This part waits for activates the Mozyhome window if it hadn't already (wxWindowClassNR is the ahk_class or window class of the Mozyhome window). The last line clicks the "Start Backup" button on the Mozyhome window, which starts the backup.
WinWait, ahk_class wxWindowClassNR, 1 minute ago
Run, C:\Program Files\PSTools\pskill.exe "mozybackup.exe"
Run, C:\Program Files\PSTools\pskill.exe "mozystat.exe"
Run, C:\Documents and Settings\Arvin\My Documents\scripts\finishedbackup.txt

The first line of this next section waits for the Mozyhome window to display the term "1 minute ago," which would show up as soon as the backup finishes. The script is paused at this point until that phrase in that window pops up.

Once it finishes, it runs PSKill to kill the mozybackup.exe and mozystat.exe processes. I'd featured PSKill before, but basically it force closes the specified processes. I've put pskill.exe into a folder called PSTools in my Program Files folder, but again, if you've put it elsewhere, make sure you put the right path in there.

Finally, the last line opens a text file called finishedbackup.txt that I'd prewritten and saved in my scripts folder that just simply says "Finished backup!" I just put it in there to let me know the backup finished successfully. You don't need to do this part, or customize it yourself with whatever text file you want. I decided against using a MsgBox because the script won't close unless the OK button on the MsgBox is clicked. With the text file, the script can open the file, and then close itself.

And there you go! To run this script, either just run it by double clicking whenever you want to, or incorporate it into another script and have it run from a specific keystroke. I have it run as part of my computer's shutdown routine, which I invoke with a simple ALT-H at the end of the night, or in the morning before I head out to work.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Worried about unreadable CD's/DVD's? Burn two copies!

I've been on far too many occasions disappointed to find a CD or DVD backup I'd burned a while back unreadable by my optical drive. I seem to recall somebody saying how CD's were indestructable... well, lemme tell ya, you don't just have to put them in the microwave render them useless (though the microwave method is the most fun).

What I've resorted to now is burning two identical copies of my DVD or CD backup. This way, if one file is rendered unreadable by a scratch, I have one more chance to retrieve it, using the other DVD. Optical media is so ridiculously cheap now that I don't mind this so much (it's the difference between a quarter and fifty cents, after all), and DVD burners are getting fast enough that doubling the burning time isn't a huge hassle either.

And now, I get the piece of mind that my backups remain useful in the years to come (unless both discs get scratched...)

Do you implement redundancy into your backups to ensure security? Leave a comment below!

My Portfolio Site Soft-Launches (again!)

For 8 months, my portfolio website, Greasy Pig Studios, was nothing more than a splash page that was essentially a blown-up version of my business card (which I got printed at a heavy discount on Vista Print). It declared "NEW WEBSITE COMING SOON" but nothing came.

Until today. I'd had enough, and decided to add a little substance to the site, even if the content still wasn't the latest from the GPS factory.

With help from Newgrounds for the preloader, and this Wildform Tutorial for a Flash Video Controller (I couldn't get the draggable play-head to work right, but that was a luxury, not a necessity), I was able to customize a player for my reel to present on the front page. It's still a simple site, but now it just might be enough to attract potential clients to my offered services.

So please come and visit the kinda-new Greasy Pig Studios (and check out the reel too, why not).

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Merge Address Bar and Status Bar Safari-Style in Firefox with Fission!

It's funny that the following extension written by Zeniko is called Fission, which is the act of splitting into smaller parts, because its sole purpose is to take the Firefox Status Bar and merge it with the Firefox address bar.

Safari on OSX does the same thing, at least one of the status bar's functions, which is to show the loading status via a color background on the address bar. Fission does the same thing, and it even allows you to customize the colors.

Fission also takes the other function of the status bar, which is to show where a hovered link leads to, and puts that on the address bar by changing the address displayed to the hovered link, if you happen to have your mouse over the link. It's a little disorienting at first, but when've you ever needed to see the current address and the hovered link's address at the same exact time?

In this instance my mouse was hovering over the "restaurants" link, and fission shows the link location in my address bar up above.

By using Fission, you can finally get rid of your status bar, by going to View>Toolbars> and uncheck "Status Bar." Voila, you just shaved another 50 or so vertical pixels off of Firefox, which amounts to more viewing space for the webpages. Because after all, Firefox is for viewing sites, not for ogling itself.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Stop-Or-Reload Firefox Extension - Merge Two Buttons and Save Room!

The following can be done as a userchrome.css tweak but honestly, I could never get it to work, and it really bugged me. Luckily, it is available as a Firefox extension.

The concept behind the Stop-or-Reload Button extension by Caio Chassot is the idea that you'd only ever need to stop a webpage if it was loading, and you'd only need to refresh a page once it's finished. The two states don't really ever intersect (well, yeah, they do, but not always). So, wouldn't it be efficient to combine the stop and reload button into one button, switching between Stop and Reload depending on the loading status of the page? Why yes!

As you can see I only have two icons on my top menu bar, and that's the Compact Menu (featured in my previous article here), and Stop-or-Reload. The rest is taken up by my address bar, which is pretty much long enough to handle all but the most interminably long URLs.

If you liked this article and want to know more about the Firefox extensions I personally use to make my browsing experience super efficient, check out the other posts on this blog labeled Firefox.

Compact Menu Firefox Extension: Firefox Menus Under One Icon

I haven't really given much time to focusing on how I've optimized my Firefox browser on this blog, even though Firefox is arguably the most customized piece of software I use (aside from Windows itself). So I'll try to do several articles a week to the various extensions and tweaks I've used to make Firefox run as smoothly and productively as possible.

Compact Menu is a Firefox extension written by Milly C. that opens up a crapload of space on your Firefox window by collapsing the main menu options (File, Edit, Bookmarks, Tools, etc) into one dropdown menu. If you're like me, you hardly access those menu options anyway (especially if you've mastered keyboard shortcuts and use your scrollwheel button), so the occasional extra mouseclick to view those menu options is worth the third of a toolbar's space I save with it.Even better, CompactMenu also allows you to not show certain menu items at all. I've chosen to uncheck the "Edit" menu, since I don't ever use it (Find can be accessed with CTRL-F or the even better "/" for quickfind).

Stay tuned for more showcases on my Firefox tweaks!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Minimize Icons in System Tray

This is something I'd already done months ago, but to save time I'd rather point to a well-written and comprehensive article from Help2Go about how to remove icons from your system tray.

While to me the most important thing about the system tray is to make sure you don't have too many applications running at once anyway (which is why I personally frown on too many small productivity applications running at once), there is still something you can do for the system tray apps that you just can't get rid of.

For the record, 90% of the time the only icons that populate my system tray (along with the clock) is Miranda, AVG anti-virus, volume, Ultramon, and my ubiquitous autohotkey Hotkeys script. But using the hide feature like shown in the Help2Go article, Miranda's the only one that's always showing.