Monday, September 22, 2008

Avoid talking to the customer support bot!

When you're tired of wasting money and time due to phone systems that require you to press 10 or more options in order to reach a real person and spending many minutes or even hours on hold, consult the GetHuman database of secret phone numbers and codes that immediately get an actual, live person on the line for customer service at nearly 1000 major companies. Click here for a full list or use our search below to find a company by part of its name, industry and/or country.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wink: Tutorial and Presentation creation software

Wink is a Tutorial and Presentation creation software, primarily aimed at creating tutorials on how to use software (like a tutor for MS-Word/Excel etc). Using Wink you can capture screenshots, add explanations boxes, buttons, titles etc and generate a highly effective tutorial for your users.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Kill (yourself), again! - Time Waster




As a kid, at family reunions and holidays like Thanksgiving, my cousins and I used to play a variation of Super Mario Bros. that we liked to call, "Suicide Mario." The goal of the game was not to complete the level as directed, but to find the most creative way to kill our Mario or Luigi character. Bonus points were awarded for quick, hilarious and extra sadistic acts of hara-kiri. It was a great way to infuse new life into a game that we could all beat in our sleep, and the idea eventually spun off into other variations like, "Suicide Zelda," "Suicide Starfox" and in later years, "Suicide Golden Eye."

This is why [adult swim]'s Five Minute's to Kill (Yourself) easily earned its place as one of my favorite Flash games, well, ever. In that game, you are an office worker who has five minutes to kill yourself. You inflict damage upon your character by annoying co-workers, microwaving metal, stapling your head, running yourself through the shredder, that kind of thing. It's hilarious and awesome.

Now, the game team at [adult swim] has released a sequel: Five Minutes to Kill (Yourself) 2. This time, instead of trying to kill yourself at work, you are trying to kill yourself at a family reunion. Even before I played the game, I was already in love based on the concept alone.

In the original game, you used your keyboard to move around and select objects to inflict self-injury. The new game uses the mouse instead, which offers better mobility, and I dare say might make the game a bit easier. There are also several "areas" to explore where you can slit your proverbial pixelated wrists, each area has its own unique death trabs -- the beach has sharks and life-guardless pools, the pavilion has drunken relatives and hot oil, the park has fire-ant hills. You get the drill. To get certain injuries, you have to first collect items that will trigger their release. This makes the game a bit more challengng, as you have to find what someone might want before they can hit you with a baseball bat or hug your out of drunken fervor.

Real suicide is not funny. Pixelated suicide, however, is hilarious.

You can play Five Minutes to Kill (Yourself) 2 at [adult swim].com

Busuu makes language learning almost simple

Busuu coffee!
Learning a new language can be a tricky thing. Some of us need to hear the language, others like to read it and still others just want to get out there and talk.

Busuu gives you the opportunity to try all three methods of learning and find out what works for you. After registering with the site, still in beta, you can start learning. You can choose learning modules based on things like travel, your daily routine or going to the bar.

Once you choose a module, you will be shown a variety of pictures. With each picture comes an audio pronunciation of the word (which you can replay) and a sentence containing the word. I really enjoyed using this part, but I wish I could've heard the sentences pronounced to get a feel for different word tenses.

After you review, and hopefully learn the words in the module, you move on to the fun parts! Read on for those...
Your first option is to take a little reading comprehension quiz. You are presented with three pictures and a dialogue in the language you are learning. From that, you take a three question quiz to see how well you can comprehend what is going on.

The quiz pulls from other models as well and you only need to have a basic grasp of the ideas presented to get the questions right. It was kind of fun, but I know if I heard that conversation by native speakers, I would still have no clue what was going on.

Next you can let native speakers critique your writing skills. You enter a phrase pertaining to the lesson you are working on. Native speakers have the chance to rate and comment on what you have written and offer suggestions. This is where knowing tenses and articles and such would really be helpful. The response, so far, is relatively quick with comments popping up within 10 minutes or so.

You can also choose to chat directly with native speakers. You can turn on a webcam and microphone, or, just type. Like any online space, it's really hard to say if you will get someone useful to chat with or not. I had someone message me several times asking if I could teach him French. Since I registered as an English speaker wanting to learn Spanish, I am not sure what he was hoping for. There are also plenty of people looking to flirt.

After going through those steps, you can take a test to see how well you learned the vocabulary in that module. The more tests you take and do well on, the bigger your language tree grows in your learning garden.

I don't think Busuu is going to actually teach me to speak a language but, I could certainly learn a lot of vocabulary if I put some time into it. At least I know how to get some coffee.

PDFMeNot Offers Flash-based Online Viewing

When people think about the most irritating apps on their computer, Adobe Reader usually shows up on the list. Our readers tend to think the alternatives (like Foxit) are the way to go, and I couldn't agree more.

That's why I decided to give PDFMeNot's web app a try. I'm a Foxit user, but I really don't use PDF files that often. If PDFMeNot works well, that's one more app I can leave off my flash drive. Also, I enjoy the irony of thinking that I'm getting away from Adobe, when really I'm just choosing Flash over Reader.

Damn it. You win again, Adobe.

I did a quick Google search and located an unclassified Air Force finance report, and dropped in the URL. It took a little bit (about three minutes or so, but it was a 728-page report) for the document to be displayed, but once it was up it worked nicely.

The developers are nice enough to offer a tools page, where you'll find a bookmarklet, Firefox extension, and even code to embed the viewer on your own page.

Since it only functions as a viewer and I can't print from it, I'll be sticking with Foxit portable. I will, however, keep PDFMeNot filed away for days when I forget my flash drive somewhere.

Tagoo Finds MP3s for You to Stream or Download

Since I posted 35 Places To Download Free, Legal MP3s, I now fully understand just how much everyone on the damn internet wants free music. Well, here's another place to feed your addiction.

I wandered over to Tagoo expecting to find another piece of hastily assembled Google search garbage. Man, was I in for a surprise.

Tagoo finds direct links to MP3 files, and it lets you stream them or build playlists right on their site.

It'll suggest while you type: "prote," offered me Protest The Hero. Well done, Tagoo! When results appear, click the play button immediately to the right of the track to listen to it immediately. The track's artist, title, genre, bitrate, filesize, and length are all displayed.

It's even nice enough to warn you about potentially slow download sites, marking them with a red dot.



Pausing on the button will give you other options: choose a mood for the track, open it in the player in a new window, visit the page hosting the file, or add the song to a playlist.



You'll have to sign up to build playlists, but registration takes all of 5 seconds and the playlist feature is ridiculously cool. Add tracks to different playlists, and then view your lists to stream them or download the M3U. I love this feature. I can build playlists at home and then fire them up on my pc at work, or on my laptop wherever I've got wireless.

When Tagoo displays your search results, it'll also show you user-created playlists that contain similar tracks. Take a listen, and then tell Tagoo if you liked it or not.

This is an awesome search tool, and a great place to find music. Here's hoping it says around for us to enjoy!

Dr. Pic: A no-Flash online image editor

DrPic
There are plenty of web-based image editors out there. And while I love me some Picnik, Fotoflexer, or Splashup action, there's one thing that Dr. Pic can do that none of the other online image editors do: Operate on a computer that doesn't have Flash installed.

That's because Dr. Pic is built using nothing but AJAX. While you probably won't have much luck using the service with Internet Explorer 5, any modern web browser should be able to handle the basic image editing tools Dr. Pic provides. You can resize or crop images and add a handful of effects. For example you can blur, sharpen, or add text to an image.

You can export the result as a JPG, BMP, GIF, or PNG file.

Check Your PC's Ability to Run Games Online

Need to know whether or not your rig can handle the new game you're eyeing up? Head over to System Requirements Lab and fire up Can You Run It.

The browser-based utility will check your hardware configuration against the requirements for the game you select and quickly tell you whether or not you're good to go. The assessment runs very quickly (about 30 seconds) and provides both an overall mark and individual ratings for each component (cpu, ram, OS, video, hdd).

SRL already has an impressive list of games to rate against, including titles like Spore, Bioshock, GRID, and (sigh) Second Life. Speaking as a tech, this is a great way to quickly show a customer why their new game won't run on their haggard old PC.

Can You Run It works in both Firefox and IE.

Web Password Hashing

The Common Password Problem. Users tend to use a single password at many different web sites. By now there are several reported cases where attackers breaks into a low security site to retrieve thousands of username/password pairs and directly try them one by one at a high security e-commerce site such as eBay. As expected, this attack is remarkably effective.

A Simple Solution. PwdHash is an browser extension that transparently converts a user's password into a domain-specific password. The user can activate this hashing by choosing passwords that start with a special prefix (@@) or by pressing a special password key (F2). PwdHash automatically replaces the contents of these password fields with a one-way hash of the pair (password, domain-name). As a result, the site only sees a domain-specific hash of the password, as opposed to the password itself. A break-in at a low security site exposes password hashes rather than an actual password. We emphasize that the hash function we use is public and can be computed on any machine which enables users to login to their web accounts from any machine in the world. Hashing is done using a Pseudo Random Function (PRF).

Phishing protection. A major benefit of PwdHash is that it provides a defense against password phishing scams. In a phishing scam, users are directed to a spoof web site where they are asked to enter their username and password. SpoofGuard is a browser extension that alerts the user when a phishing page is encountered. PwdHash complements SpoofGuard in defending users from phishng scams: using PwdHash the phisher only sees a hash of the password specific to the domain hosting the spoof page. This hash is useless at the site that the phisher intended to spoof.

Filsh.Net Converts Web Video For Playback Anywhere

Plenty of good software exists for capturing audio or video from YouTube and other such sites, but I'm always on the look for portable apps or web services that offer the same features.

Filsh.net offers an extremely easy-to-use way to convert clips before downloading. It's so easy, in fact, that I barely noticed the German interface whilst creating a Nintendo-DS compatible version of some kid setting his pants on fire. Nice!

Drop in your target URL and select your desired format from options including AVI, MPG, MP4, DPG (the DS format), 3GP, OGG, or MP3 and Filsh goes to work. Multiple sites are supported, including YouTube, Google Video, Break, MyspaceTV, and Veoh. I was unable to grab from Vimeo, but Filsh does support uploading - so I could save a clip first and then send it back up to Filsh for conversion.

Conversions are fairly fast, and I didn't notice any quality problems. Videos remained clear, and audio extracted from clips to MP3 sounded just as good as the original.

Filsh works well, and though it doesn't handle the variety of conversions that Zamzar does it's still a useful site to keep in your bookmarks.

Combine media files with MediaJoin

MediaJoin
MediaJoin is a free Windows utility that joins media files. You probably could have figured that out from its name. But let's get a bit more specific, shall we? The program lets you select a group of audio or video files, put them in order, and then spit them out as one long media file.

For example, say you've got a bunch of MP3s representing a live concert and you'd rather have just one long file that will play the whole concert from start to end. Just select the MP3s, select your output format, and MediaJoin will do the rest.

The utility even lets you mix and match file types. So you can combine WAV, MP3, and WMA files and output the results as a single file. One thing to keep in mind is that MediaJoin appears to perform some recompression. So if you're starting with a compressed media format like MP3 you might notice some quality loss in the finished product unless you choose uncompressed WAV as your output format.

Monday, September 08, 2008

5 Free Apps to Clone Your Hard Drive




Hard drive prices are so low now that it really makes sense to use an imaging program. That way you've got a perfectly cloned backup of your system exactly the way you have it configured in case of a crash, which is much more convenient than reinstalling Windows, activating, and loading all your applications all over again.

Here are four great apps to get the job done - without spending a dime!

DriveImage XML. Runtime Software has never placed too much importance on looks, and it's for a very good reason. Their software works really, really well. DriveImage was the first software I used to create images within Windows. Scheduled backups can be created with the Windows Task Scheduler and command line switches. DriveImage is free for private, home use only. Yes, Macrium Reflect does the same thing and looks nicer, but it's $39.99.

For a straight-up, drive-to-drive clone, you can use Runtime's Shadow Copy. Shadow copy is free for everyone, not just home users.

Like DriveImage, XXClone runs in Windows. It has an extremely simple interface, and gives you the option to copy volume ID to your destination and make it bootable. The interface also provides quick access to the Windows disk manager, in case you need to perform some quick drive tasks prior to cloning. XXClone is free for personal, private use.

Those who, like me, prefer imaging from the command prompt should try EaseUs Disk Copy. It's interface looks a bit like a Ghost/Partition Magic mashup. It's very easy to use, handles all types of internal and external drives, and will even work with dynamic disks. DiskCopy is free for everyone.

Linux buffs will urge you to try PING, which I mention in 5 Apps for a Painless Reformat. Ping can clone drives, create bootable recovery media, back up BIOS data, reset passwords, and clean your cat's litter box. Ok, not really, but it's got more tricks up its sleeve than any other free cloning solution.

Did I miss your imaging app of choice? Comment it!

DVD Ripper Tools

Fair Use Wizard
RatDVD
Handbrake
DVD Catalyst Free

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

24 Killer Portable Apps For Your USB Flash Drive


My flash drive works pretty hard, so I've spent a lot of time gathering a reliable, powerful set of portable tools that allow me to work hard and play hard, even if I can't do it on my own PC. Here are two dozen apps that I always have at the ready.

Encryption

Truecrypt
- Why is TrueCrypt first on the list? Simple. A multi-gig, easy-to-lose, unencrypted drive with your data on it is a terrible security risk. Truecrypt helps me keep all my private stuff locked down. Read the "traveller mode" documentation for help setting it up.

Web and Internet

Operator - I'm not an Opera fanboy by any stretch, but if I've got to surf on a public computer, I'm using Operator. It's got Tor anonymous browsing built in to keep you safe. You can read more about it in my previous post. If I'm on a trusted computer, I'll go for Portable Firefox.

Pidgin - I don't usually need to IM from a client's site, but just in case I need to stay in touch I bring Pidgin with me. For portable multi-network chat, it's the best option out there. Add the encryption plugin to keep it secure.

Filezilla - Half the time I need Notepad++, it's because I'm editing files on my FTP server from the road. Filezilla portable keeps all my sites accesible from wherever I am.

Peer-to-Peer

╬╝Torrent - Yet another recurring frustration is not being able to find a torrent client on a PC when I need it. I run ╬╝Torrent on all my PCs anyways, so it's got a home on my flash drive as well.

Frostwire - What's worse than getting a song stuck in your head and not being able to hear it? Take Frostwire with you and make sure that doesn't happen.

Maintenance and Support

CCleaner - A lot of the computers I work on look like they've never had a single file deleted from them. CCleaner makes short work of dumping gigs of trash files from them, and it tidies up the registry, too.

Revo Uninstaller - Phase two in the purging of filth from client machines is ridding them of unwanted apps. Revo is way better than add/remove programs, and the "hunter mode" uproots stubborn apps.

Nirsoft Apps - I have to group these, because they'd eat up half my list otherwise. Dialupass, Mailpassview, Currports, Netresview, and several other of their apps are must-haves for any technician.

Treesize Free - To find where all of someone's drive space is going in a hurry, fire up Treesize. It makes drive cleanup a snap.

Teamviewer - Zero config remote control that's portable? Yes, I'll have that. Teamviewer kicks so much ass that it was an easy sell to my boss, who makes Mr. Crabs look like a big spender.

Multimedia

CDBurner XP - Customer's don't always have good - or any - burning software installed. CD Burner XP solves that problem. I switched from InfraRecorder, but it's a good option as well.

Screamer - I tried screamer out a while ago for a post on DLS, and it's earned a spot on my drive. For quick access to tons of internet radio streams, you can't beat it.

Faststone Capture - Whether I need a screencap for a blog post or to prove something to someone, Faststone is my app of choice. The included editing features are great, and mean that I don't need a photo editor for quick jobs. The link is to the last free version (at Portable Freeware Collection), as Faststone is now trialware.

VDownloader - You never know when you're going to stumble across a YouTube video that you just have to save. VDownloader will save in a number of video formats, or the audio only as MP3.

Irfanview - For image viewing and basic edits (crop, rotate, resize, etc.) , it's Irfanview all the way. The homepage is here, but the portable version is over at Smithtech.

VLC - Videolan wins as my portable media player because it supports so many formats and doesn't require outside codecs. Can 100 million downloaders really be wrong? Ok, sure they can. But I still love VLC.

Document Handlers

Notepad++ - It never hurts to have a good text editor at your disposal, and portable Notepad++ is an excellent option. Tons of great features, like macro recording, syntax highlighting, tabbed interface, and much, much more.

Abiword - Some may opt for OpenOffice, but I choose Abiword because I've got Zoho and Google Docs accounts for out-of-office chores that require heavy lifting. Abiword is small, fast, compatible, and has all the features I need for quick document production. The portable version is here.

Foxit PDF Reader - I hate trying to open a manual on a customer's PC only to learn they don't have an Acrobat viewer installed. Foxit is my reader of choice, so I take it with me.

File Management

Total Commander - Not only is Total Commander a rockin' dual-pane, tabbed Explorer replacement, but it also handles all kinds of archive files. That eliminates the need for two more apps just to handle syncs and file extraction. Until someone resurrects Google browser sync or Mozilla Weave handles all my Firefox settings and customizations I'll just let TC do it for me. Yes, it also has an FTP client and text editor, but FileZilla and Notepad++ are better.

Portable Launcher

PStart - It's nice to have quick access to the tools on your flash drive, and PStart gives you that by adding an icon/menu in the system tray. It's searchable, and there's even a tab to store quick notes for yourself.

There's my list. Would my flash drive cut the mustard for you, or did I miss your favorite app?

8 Apps For Painless Windows Reformats


Thanks to customers who can't avoid spyware and Trojans to save their lives, I've gotten pretty quick at backing up, reformatting, and finishing off Windows installs. I've got five core tools that I use to get the job done, and here they are.

1. DriverMax. After going through the install process, the first thing I shoot for is a complete set of functional drivers. Running DriverMax before the format lets you back up all the drivers on a system. It's a great app, and it even loads drivers for non-present devices - meaning my customers don't have to fight with a printer or webcam install CD when they get their computer home.

2. Migwiz. Oh god, I can hear the screams. Truth be told, I've only had three problems with migwiz, and they were my entire fault. Microsoft's file and settings transfer utility works extremely well, and I've never had a problem since changing my method.
Copy the USMT folder from the computer's c:\windows\system32\ and save it to a USB drive. Alternatively, does what the wizard wants you do and create a wizard disk. Run the exe from there both before and after the reformat. It's critical to use the exact same version of the executable to avoid problems.

3. Nlite. I don't like being forced to babysit a Windows install, so I'm a big fan of NLite (or VLite for Vista). Extract your CD's contents to a folder, run N/VLite on it, fill in the blanks, and grab some application add-ons from Winaddons. Burn your disc and presto, you've got a silent Windows install!

4. WPI. The Windows post install makes post-reformat application installs a breeze. Throw your favorite apps in a folder and set up their silent switches in the WPI configuration page. Reinstalling them is as easy as checking some boxes and clicking a button.
The tutorial at the WPIW site is excellent, and will guide you through setting up your first Wizard.

5. PING (Partition Image is Not Ghost). Now that you've got a nice, clean install, create an image so you don't have to go through that garbage again. Imaging saves all kinds of hassles and massive external hard drives are dirt cheap. Pick one up and reimage instead of reformatting again next time.

6. DriverForge. DriverForge is a program that will automatically install all drivers from a specified location. These drivers can be compressed or uncompressed.

7. DriverPacks. Currently there are 10 DriverPacks available, all for the wnt5_x86-32 OS platform.

8. AutoPatcher. AutoPatcher is based on the functionality of the special updates, automating their installation process. This way, with only a few mouse clicks and two minutes of your time, AutoPatcher is able to continue with the installation of the items you selected. In short, AutoPatcher combines the advantage of both Windows Update (presentation and description of updates and automated installation), and the special administrative updates (portability and installation without the need of an Internet connection).

What about you? What apps help you get from a crapped up install back to a nice, clean OS?

Get redecorating ideas with MyDeco


If you enjoy the concept of redecorating rather than the actual process of shoving furniture around the room, then you'll have a ball with MyDeco. Using real furniture in a 3D room, you can rearrange, repaint, and readjust without moving -- or spending -- a thing.

With this Flash-based tool, you can adjust the size of your room by simply dragging the walls into place, then select from thousands of furniture items neatly categorized by type. If you're designing a living room, start with the birds-eye view to figure out where to put the couch and coffee table, then switch to the side view to paint the walls and hang some art. It's unlikely you'll find an exact match of your sofa in the furniture catalog, but there's sure to be a reasonable representation.

If you're not sure just what to put in that goofy little niche in the corner of your bedroom, use the tool's search feature to find accessories of specific dimension. A secretary's desk might look silly, but you may find that a quilt rack is just the ticket.

MyDeco keeps a running list of the furniture you've tried and discarded, and also sports an adjustable "camera" that you can drag around the room to see it from every conceivable angle. When you've got everything the way you want it, save the layout so you can come back later.

MyDeco is a pretty cool way to have fun redecorating your house without emptying your wallet in the process.