Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Balsamiq Mockups

I'll just get this out in the open right now -- I pretty much suck at web design and need all the help that I can get when laying out new pages. Don't get me wrong, I know what looks good and I'm pretty good at "borrowing" the best parts of other people's designs, but when I'm staring at a blank screen, I get a little overwhelmed. And when I get overwhelmed I procrastinate.

So what should I do? I have to move forward with my projects, but I don't want draw stuff in Photoshop -- that's too tedious and time-consuming and my customers want to see things right now! Mocking stuff up on paper is also time-consuming, and makes it hard to email things to my clients. Hmm, there must be something out there that lets me quickly mock up a screen, export it to an image file, and send it to my clients. A friend had told me about Balsamiq Mockups, but I didn't see the point at the time. Until I had this new web project to do. So I checked it out and it looked incredible, exactly what I was looking for. The best part? Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it...

It costs only $79 for the desktop version!

I couldn't believe it either, and once I started using it this past weekend, I was actually having fun while working on my new project. And look what I created...

In a nutshell, here's how it works -- you choose the screen elements (windows, text, links, grids, etc) that you want to use and drag them onto your mockup. You can then drag them around, size them, change the text, group them, and lock them in place if you want. The grouping is awesome because once I got a section of the screen to my liking, I grouped everything in that section together so I could easily move it around.

The program is amazingly intuitive to use, and I never had to wonder how to do something -- there is always a partially-transparent menu floating nearby, and to edit your text, just double-click, change the text, then hit enter. Simple.

No matter what level of screen designer you are -- from pros down to amateurs, you need this product if you are going to create web pages or desktop applications. Your design will be much better, you can test different ideas, your clients will love you, and you will look like you actually know what you're doing. All for only $79. That's dirt cheap for a good reputation and to make work fun again, don't you think?

Friday, June 05, 2009


I've been searching for the perfect content management system (CMS) for a while now, and when my host offered an easy way to install several different ones, I tried them all. I needed something that was easy to modify the content, was modular, had a large user base, and was easy for me to support. I know that people get pretty fanatical when it comes to software, so please remember that this post is merely on my experiences with a product, namely Joomla.

Joomla is super easy to install, I think it took me 5 minutes and it was working perfectly and has been working fine ever since. Create your database, upload the Joomla code, run the install process by answering some basic questions about the site, and that's about it.

There are so many extensions for Joomla, that you can add just about any feature you want. Sure, some of the extensions are better than others, but there are typically several to choose from in each category to suit your needs.

There are also lots of nice themes for Joomla, so you can give your site a nice, professional look without too much work. I joined RocketTheme's Joomla template club for $75 per year and it was worth every penny to be able to have access to so many awesome themes at such a great price. Not only do you have access to dozens of nice templates, each one is very customizable so you can use the same theme on different sites and have a totally different look and feel for each site.

Inside Joomla, it is pretty easy to figure out and navigate, but some things are not as intuitive as you might expect. Overall, I would say that it requires above-average technical knowledge to get some things working, but most people with avereage technical abilities should be able to get a basic site working.

Of course, if you need help with your site, my services are always available. :-)

I know that other CMS solutions are out there, and I'm sure that there are pros and cons to each, but Joomla has my vote so far for putting together a nice site pretty quickly.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

AutoPager Firefox extension

Like everyone, you use Google to search for things and the thing that you're searching for is not always on the first page of results, right? So you click the "Next" button, scroll, scroll, scroll, click "Next", scroll...you get the picture.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could just search and then scroll and keep scrolling through the results until you find what you want? What about popular blogs like Engadget, Gizmodo, and Lifehacker? On almost any popular site you can think of, you're always having to click "Next" when you really just want to scroll.

That's where AutoPager comes in -- when you get to a site that it knows how to handle, it asks you if you want to enable it. Click "OK" and you're ready to scroll through blog posts and search results, never having to pause to click on the pesky "Next" link.

Disclaimer: geek talk ahead. Autopager uses lazy reading, so it won't hurt your browsing performance.

Sorry Internet Explorer users -- this only works for Firefox, which you should be using anyway.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


If you have two or more computer monitors, you know how nice it is to be able to move your applications from one monitor to the other to make yourself as productive as possible, or at least appear that you're productive.

I hate to sound like a complete sloth, but moving those windows around can be a pain, which is where Ultramon comes in handy. Ultramon allows you to easily move application windows from one monitor to the next using your mouse or a specified hotkey. It also allows you to maximize your application across both monitors in case you have something really, really wide that you're working on. I can't imagine working on something that wide, but I'm sure someone is doing something like that out there.

One pretty cool feature of Ultramon is that it provides a "smart taskbar", which gives each monitor its own task bar and can show only the applications that are on that monitor. It takes a little while to get used to, but it's pretty cool. If you just want one really wide task bar, you can do that, too.

One annoyance that I've found is that there does not seem to be an option for moving the mouse along with the window. You can assign a separate key to move the mouse to the other window, but I would imagine that you would have that option for $39 USD.

After using Ultramon for a while, I can honestly say that I'm underwhelmed. It does its job well, but I built the same basic functionality by myself with Autohotkey in 36 lines of code.

Ultramon works well, but I'm not sure that it's worth $39 USD. If it were more attractively priced at $19 or $25 USD and also had the option to move the mouse along with the window, I'd definitely recommend it.

Addendum: Reader NewKreation posted a comment about an Autohotkey script called WindowPad that I've tried out and it works great. Save yourself the $39 USD and get this script instead. It's free and offers more functionality than Ultramon. I smell a future blog post...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sennheiser PX 100 Collapsible Headphones

Did you recently get a shiny new iPod? How does it sound? Great, huh? Well I can assure you that it doesn't sound as great as it could because the headphones that Apple ships with the iPod are pieces of crap. How does music sound through your computer? Pretty bad, doesn't it?

I have a simple and inexpensive way for you to solve your audio problems -- go get a pair of Sennheiser PX 100 headphones because I think they are the best headphones for the money. I don't often rave about products, but I have literally gotten at least five of my friends (yes, I do have at least five friends) to get these headphones. Every time they put them on, they can't believe how great their music sounds, and one co-worker even bought one set for home and one for the office because he loved them so much.

So why are they so great? First of all, they're inexpensive, at around $35 per pair. But the main reason is that they sound awesome, with strong bass and great response through all frequencies. I'm not an audio expert, I only marginally sound like one since I'm writing something that will be posted online.

The only thing that some people might not like is that these headphones are on-ear, which means they won't naturally block out surrounding noise at low volume. Some people don't like on-ear headphones, so if that's the case with you then you probably won't like these very much.

They're light, comfortable, collapsible, come with a nice carrying case, and most of all they sound incredible, especially for the price. No matter what type of device you plug them into or what type of music you listen to, it will sound so much better when listening through these phones.

Check them out here -- you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I absolutely love Easynews and anyone who wants access to the limitless amount of content hidden within newsgroup servers, Easynews is the best way to get to it.

So why should care about newsgroups and why on Earth would you want to pay $9.95 a month for it? Because newsgroups are the original forums, places where people discuss all kinds of topics in a specific place. No matter what your interest, there are newsgroups for it. Especially if you like binary content. The problem is, you have to put large stuff out there in little pieces, and some of the pieces get lost because newsgroup content is generally not kept around for very long.

Enter Easynews -- they keep their newsgroup content around for a long time, much longer than most providers and they make the binary treasure trove hidden within very easy to get to. Music? Check. Movies? Check. Games? Check. It's all out there, tons of it, but you just need the right service to get to it all and get to it easily.

And Easynews is definitely the right service. Check it out -- they have a free three day trial so you can see just how good it is.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Free Commander

It's no secret that the Windows file explorer is pretty much useless for anything other than getting frustrated. When I was looking for a dual-pane file explorer replacement, I found xplorer2, an excellent piece of software that does all kinds of nifty things. The only problem is that it also costs $30. I went ahead and bought it after hearing rave reviews, and then last week I happened upon Free Commander, a free alternative to xplorer2.

The nicest, and most obvious, feature of Free Commander is its dual-pane display, allowing you to view two directories at the same time, and easily copy files between them. Besides that great feature, it also has the following advantages over the horrible Windows file explorer...
  • You can click anywhere in the path of the current pane to quickly navigate to that part of the path. For example, if I am in D:\Dev\Projects\SuperWidget, and I want to quickly get to D:\Dev, I just click on the "Dev" part of the path and I'm there.
  • Open a command prompt window at the current directory.
  • Extra tree view in addition to the flat file/directory listing.
  • A drive bar over each pane that lets you quickly get to another drive.
  • Color-code your files based on certain specifications. For example, I color all of my read-only files blue.
  • Built-in archiving and unarchiving.
  • Easily access your favorite folders (also allows you to pick a favorite for the inactive pane).
  • Easily access your favorite tools.
  • Easily access your Desktop, Control Panel, My Documents, and Start menu items from the toolbar.
  • Display subdirectory sizes.
  • Built-in file viewer.
  • Incremental searching for files as you type. This also limits the arrow keys to only those files that match.
  • Incremental file filter that you can toggle on and off.

There is much more than I could list, and those are just the highlights that Free Commander can do. So check it out, and put away that piece of crap that ships with Windows. Oh yeah, and did I mention that it's free?

Friday, February 23, 2007


Do you wonder if your spouse, kids, or network administrator is rifling through your, um, sensitive files on your hard drive? Wouldn't it be nice to know that you could store your pr0n, proprietary source code, or top secret spreadsheets in a place that only you could access? Well that's where TrueCrypt comes in.

TrueCrypt creates an encrypted file on your hard drive that you can mount as a regular Windows or Linux drive. Once mounted, this virtual drive reads and writes just like a normal drive, except that the contents are encrypted and decrypted on the fly. Encryption is 256-bit, so it's very unlikely that anyone is going to be breaking into it anytime soon.

Another cool feature of TrueCrypt is inner and outer passwords. Let's say you're a spy carrying top-secret info, such as naked pictures of Hillary Clinton. Well if Hillary's goons get hold of you, they might try to strong-arm you into giving them the pics. With TrueCrypt, you can store a few files that look secret in the outer vault, but the really good stuff is in the inner vault. If you feel like you're in danger, you give them the outer vault password to get them off your back and hopefully spare your fingers from getting broken. Obviously they don't see the inner vault stuff, so you can rush it to the Enquirer after you've been let go.

To anyone accessing your drive, the TrueCrypt file is just a mass of unreadable garbage, and you can rest assured that no one will be accessing your files. When you are through reading and writing to your encrypted drive, simply unmount it and everything is safe and sound. TrueCrypt is free, has Windows and Linux versions, and also can be used on USB drives. Go get it before your wife finds all of your pr0n...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Screenshot Captor

I thought I had already reviewed this fine piece of software, but due to laziness, parenthood, and my job, it somehow slipped my mind. All bullshit aside, go get Screenshot Captor now, whether you think you need it or not. Because you do -- you really do.

"So what's so damn hot about this program?" you might be asking yourself. Well, I'll tell you. Screenshot Captor (I'm going to call it SC from here on out) can capture all or any portion of your screen, then allows you to enhance the captured image with borders, arrows, text, transparent shapes, and even blur the background to highlight certain screen elements. It will capture long screen areas such as web pages that need to be scrolled, and can even capture its own image if you happen to be writing a software review and need a screenshot of the tool that takes the screenshots.

Our QA department was using SnagIt to capture screenshots for reporting bugs, but once I told them about SC, they let their licenses expire because SC did everything SnagIt did, but for free. Even though I don't use it in my daily work, I use SC at least every few days to capture images for software reviews, and for use on my StumbleUpon page.

If you have even a remote chance of needing to capture your screen, get Screenshot Captor. It's a fantastic piece of software and you can't beat the price -- free. The fine folks at DonationCoder have done it again.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Miranda Instant Messenger

I originally picked Trillian as my instant messenger client of choice because it supported multiple protocols and had a skinnable interface. I maintained my allegiance to Trillian until a co-worker pestered me to try Miranda. The only thing that intrigued me about Miranda was that it supported Jabber, and the only way to get Jabber support in Trillian was to pay $25. I have no problem buying software if it warrants it, but in this case it didn't. So I installed Miranda, along with the Miranda IM Pack, and was instantly hooked.

Beside the fact that it is free, supports just about every protocol under the sun, and is skinnable, Miranda does just about anything you'd want an IM client to do. You can customize every aspect of your contact list, and their plugin architecture has yielded a lot of support. RSS feeds and letting the world know what Winamp tune you're currently listening to are just a few of the plugins that are included in the Miranda pack, and there are a lot more out there.

Miranda is definitely my current choice for an IM client because of its cost (free), protocol support, plugins, and customization options. The only complaint about Miranda is that it is almost too configurable, and finding the location of an option to change is sometimes difficult. Other than that, it's awesome.