Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Top Ten: Free Software!

I download more software and open-source goodies than an employed man with a fiancee has any right to. But it's so tasty.

So here is a breakdown of my top 10 of the software I currently use, with a brief description...detailed reviews will follow in later posts.

#1 Mozilla Firefox


Ok, you know what this is, and if you don't then you will soon. Firefox is a super-customizable web-browser that can be loaded up with all sorts of Add-ons and scripts to make surfing the web feel like a dance with a beautiful woman. But you know that, don't you? Get it HERE and grab some add-ons while you're at it FROM HERE. Notable alternatives are also Opera and Chrome...but personally, for what it's worth, I'd recommend FF.

#2 GIMP


The Gnu Image Manipulation Program. This is an open-source and free (as in free speech and free beer) alternative to Photoshop. If you have downloaded a pirate copy of Photoshop then get rid of it and make friends with Wilbur at GIMP.ORG

#3 CAMSTUDIO


An open-source and free screen recorder that is excellent for recording tutorials. Get it HERE.

#4 AUTOHOTKEY


An excellent piece of free sortware that enables easy yet versatile scripting for amatures such as myself. Get it HERE.

#5 Texter


An AutoHotKey program written by Adam Pash, of LifeHacker fame, that easily manages hotstrings. In English that means it can auto-replace as you type, so if you were tempted to type something hip like 'brb' or some-such indecipherable nonsense, it will delete it and replace it with "Be right back..." thus making you sound like an adult. Innit. You can even add your own hotstrings to suit your needs. Get it HERE.

#6 E-Sword


Ok, combining two loves here, the Good Book and Free Software. God is good, indeed. This Bible software can be loaded with a range of Bible translations, commentaries, dictionaries, maps and concordanes as well as having great search facilities and study topic note taking facilities. God 2.0 is a God worth knowing! It can be downloaded from here: E-Sword.

#7 VLC


You have got the knack of downloading all manner of video formats from torrents and even funky FLV files from YouTube, but you can't get them all to play in one media player? You need VLC now! It can play practically any multimedia file and is a breeze to use. You can also get a wee bit techie with it and use it as a free DVD ripping software. Get it HERE.

#8 AUDACITY


I haven't had much use for this recently, but if you need a solid sound editor that can output to MP3 then this is for you. Get it HERE.

#9 FREEMIND


This is very user friendly mind mapping software, and it is open-source and free. As a teacher I would recommend it for revision purposes. As a human I would recommend it for any of your brainstorming thought-showering needs. Get it HERE.

#10 7zip


At some point you are going to need to unzip a folder that your regular windows zippadeedoodah just can't handle, much like a pensioner trying to open a jar of marmalade. Download the free 7zip and this won't be a problem. Get it HERE.

Well, that's all the delightful goodies that make my days brighter...if I missed something you are particularly keen on then please feel free to leave a comment.

oh, the joy of AUTOHOTKEY!!! joy joy joy!

Picture of AutoHotKey logo

I have recently become a huge fan of the scripting tool AutoHotKey, mainly because it makes me feel like a genius computer programmer after having only learned a few basic commands! (Note: I am not a genius programmer.)

The language itself is very simple to learn and the download even comes with a fantastically helpful compiled HTML help file, which means you have all of the help you will need saved on to your computer without having to fire up t'internet.

So what does it do?

Well, the scripts are pretty versatile and can be mostly used for automating tedious and repetitive tasks. I recently wrote a script that helped me re-label my MP3s because my MP3 player reads the 'album artist' tag as the artist name rather than the 'artist' tag, which was messy on my MP3 player...AutoHotKey to the rescue! Instead of manually relabelling each track, which takes roughly one minute per track, I wrote a script that copied the relevant information and re-pasted it in the correct tag field if I hovered over a track that needed editing and pressed F5. The new process takes less than 3 seconds, and when you consider that I had about 800 tracks to re-label, that is an amazing time saver!

I also wrote a script that makes some simple edits to photographs using GIMP and then re-saves them with a new filename. I did this because when I upload photos to Facebook, I generally go through the same motions for every picture...this is precisely what AutoHotKey lives for! My five minute photo editing routine for Facebook pics is now a 45 second routine, and if you're editing 60 photos that is bloomin' marvelous! An executable file, which is probably quite buggy, can be found HERE. Please read the "Read Me" file if you choose to download this program. I'll upload the AHK Script another day!

Basically AutoHotKey can do anything that you can do with a mouse and a keyboard...which is pretty much everything you can do with a computer full stop. The only drawback is that it can't make discerning judgements, so photo editing becomes automatic and generic rather than truly artistic, and it can't 'see' either, so if an area of the screen you want AutoHotKey to click doesn't contain what you thought it would, AHK will go ahead and click regardless.

You can think of AHK therefore as you would Lennie from Of Mice and Men: Brawn but no brains and incredibly loveable.

Disclaimer:AHK won't kill your puppy.

AutoHotKey can be downloaded HERE.
And the Lifehacker article that spurred my interest can be found HERE.

I will be posting my own scripts, including the ones mentioned above, in later posts! Something to look forward to!

Monday, 10 November 2008

the number one tutorial: how to use the intelligent scissors

I've been posting tutorials for the GIMP for well over a year now over on YouTube and this has been my most viewed proportionally to date. It is also one of the most basic and amaturish tutorials I ever did.

Goes to show, it is the noobs that rule the world and determine what has value. That should never be forgotten.



I started the Gimp tutorial series for my own benefit originally, as a means of recording the little tricks I was learning merely for my own records...like an online exercise book, if you will. I was astounded by the number of viewers I racked up over time though. While my viewing figures on YouTube arenothing special, I still find it rather remarkable that so many people (or anyone at all, really) would be that interested in my waffling tutorials...but they were, and continue to be, which is wonderful for my ego!

Unfortunately I began to feel like I was some sort of expert, which plays havoc with your self-image when you realise that it is by no means true! But the Gimp tutorials are my baby, and while they are currently on a rather long hiatus, I don't think I'll truly stop making them for as long as I am learning new Gimp tricks myself!

I also continue to take requests for tutorials and basic questions, which I like to answer in my downtime as a wee hobby...feel free to contact me if you have any Gimp related questions, although please note that I am in no way affiliated with the Gimp development team...I'm merely someone who spends a lot of time playing with my computer.

What's all this then?

As an internet rover of many years now, I have decided to write yet another blog as a means to bring as many of my interests into one place as possible. So the topic that will largely be explored throughout the life of this blog will be 'Computers and the myriad ways they wow Jackson.'

I intend to keep you pleasant folks updated with all of the wonderful open-source software that is tickling my fancy, as well as any and all new projects I am undertaking. And, of course, there will be many tutorials, some old and some brand spanking new, for your troubles.

You will also become painfully aware of how I am able to become incredibly interested in some new or outdated thing one moment, only to have it surpassed a week later by something else which I will no doubt find equally stimulating and importad until the next big thing. This from the man that has only just discovered touch-typing, writing HTML and AutoHotKey scripts. Next year I will be all about the wheel.

My life is made up of many next big things you know.