Monday, January 4, 2010

My Favorite Freeware Apps


A few months ago I was looking for a lite-weight photo editor that would do a few more things than IrfanView, which is a neat little freeware app that comes in handy to quickly paste and save copied pics and screenshots,, etc., and came across Photofiltre, a French freeware application that turned out to be in some ways even better than Photoshop.

While Photoshop is still the real deal when it comes to bigger jobs, if you need a small and quick application that isn’t as heavy on resources as PS (plus, it’s free!), a small, uncomplicated, super-easy to use program to quickly edit or produce blog illustrations, simple CD- or eBook-covers, greeting cards, you name it, I highly recommend Photofiltre.

The tiny (1.6 MB!!!) but potent app easily converts gifs, jpgs and all sorts of different formats into any other, has an easy-to-use text feature, and a variety of quick-to-use filters and effects, that will save you a lot of time that you would have used trying how to figure out how to do the same in Photoshop.

While this may not be something you’re looking for if you’re a professional graphics designer, in any other case, you might wind up as gaga over this neat little program as I am.

ASC Portable

The portable version of Advanced System Care is great for small notebooks you wouldn’t want to load down with the full install version. It easily cleans up your registry, optimizes your System and browser, roughly defrags it, and has a variety of other features you can make use of, such as registry defrag and a few others. Great for quick clean sweeps on computers you don’t want to install any more programs on.

For proper defragging I’ve been using the free app MyDefrag lately, btw, and it seems to do the trick.

Winamp Lite

The stripped down, but fully functional version of Winamp. My audio player of choice. While recent versions of Winamp Lite have increased in size and are up to a whopping 6 MB, I still use the older version 5112, at not even 1MB. Lite-weight and easy functionality guaranteed.

VLC Media Player

The video player that plays just about any format. Combined with Media Player Classic, there's probably no video file in the world you won't be able to play (except for Real Media files, for which I'd recommend RealAlternative, and QuickTime, which, personally, can k.m.a.)

MP3 Gain

Freeware volume optimizer for mp3 files. Say you want to slap together an audio CD of different songs from different albums, perhaps even different eras, like 60s, 70s, 80s, etc. You’ll notice that mp3s of older songs are usually quieter than more recent ones. You can copy all the mp3s for your compilation into one folder and then open that folder in MP3Gain and choose “album analysis” from the menu. It will tell you the average album volume, which is the value you can then type into the “target volume” slot and then press “apply track gain” to have each song brought to the same volume (or “apply album gain,” if you want to allow minor volume variations).

Personally, in order to avoid distortions in places of older files, I usually play it safe and use a volume value that’s a little closer than the quietest song in the compilation, rather than the average volume.

MP3 Gain does for you in minutes what would have once taken hours of editing work.

Foxit Reader

A long time ago I would get super annoyed by the bulkiness of Adobe Reader, and have been using the Freeware alternative, Foxit Reader for my PDF files ever since.

While Adobe would ceaselessly get online to check for updates, Foxit is less than one tenth the size of Adobe, never messes around with you by “phoning home” and spying on you, and opens any PDF file, contrary to Adobe. It also easily lets you copy images and text out of PDF files.

Why throw fits with Adobe, when life is a breeze with Foxit?

WavePad Sound Editor

Just a few days ago I googled (yes, I admit it, I still use Google) around for a “free mp3 editor,” which I needed to edit some larger mp3 podcasts, and lo I came across WavPad, which totally does the trick (contrary to other free apps I tried).

The advantage: you don’t have to convert mp3 files to wav before editing a sound file (cutting portions out, etc.), nor do you have to install heavy-weight and costly programs one would have to rely on for such jobs previously.

One drawback: WavPad does not offer volume altering, which can be done with the optional add-on MixPad, or done with MP3Gain.


Since Nero has totally gone insane and came up with its monstrous versions of what once used to be a neat burning program, my favorite freeware and lite-weight alternative has become DeepBurner, also available in a portable version, which doesn’t even have to be installed.

If you tired of monster software that pastes itself to every media file on your computer and want a program that simply burns CDs and DVDs (audio or data), DB saves you a lot of headache.

Virtual Dub

Free video editor that can come in handy to save smaller clips from a larger video file, even though you need to make sure you save it in the right, compressed format, otherwise your clip will come out humongous.

Runs like a standalone or portable app without having to install.


Converts mp4 clips (from Youtube or elsewhere) to avi, etc. for integration into your own videos.

My favorite security apps:

My free firewall of choice for PCs is Comodo, although I have been using the smaller PC Tools Firewall on my notebook without any bad surprises for a few months now.

My favorite Spyware checker currently is SuperAntiSpyware, and as a free Antivirus app I recommend Avira, although the program is quite bulky, and the daily pop-up prompt for upgrade to pro can be a pain, and thus we use Avast on some machines.

Many more great freeware apps can be found here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Trouble With Scribd

Online Publishing: The Trouble with Scribd

Scribd is great for generating unexpected traffic for your documents. Things you may have had written up and tucked away on your computer for years can suddenly come to life by folks actually reading and downloading and commenting on your files.

That's nice.

Unfortunately, once things get that nice, they will hardly ever stay that nice.

Imagine you were in charge of a website that generates traffic (in the tens of millions by their claims) for documents of tons of people. You would maybe not feel like the god of the Internet (we've established who that is), but probably at least like his vice president.

Such a burden to carry on his shoulders, or rather, on his neck is the fate of Jason Bentley, the executioner of Scribd on behalf of all those squealers over violated copyrights on the Internet.

If you have any documents on Scribd that enjoy readership, you're bound to receive a notification from Jason at some point in time which kindly informs you that your document has been removed from Scribd due to copyright violations.

Not that there is necessarily anything to that claim.

You might receive that note even if the document in question consisted exclusively of words you just made up with your 3-year old daughter and reinvented the alphabet to write them.

Jason couldn't care less.

The good thing is, he can press the "undo" button once you explain to him that the document was actually yours. ALL yours.
But after the umpteenth time, the fun of this sort of conversation loses its spark.

So, if your time is precious to you, you might want to consider alternatives.
Especially, since Scribd is MESSY, and they want to make if ever harder for users to locate their own documents in order to make things more "social."

I mean, you're ANTI-social if all you want to do is just post a document, right?

Right, Jason. Or Trip. Your majesties... Whoever.

Alternatives are scarce and have their flaws, too.

Issuu doesn't seem to be nearly as fussy as Scribd, but they also don't generate traffic.
You can embed a music file into your document (interesting for musician-writers... hehe), but the view of the document is even more messy than it is on Scribd. Advantage: you can download your doc in the original format (Scribd doesn't feature RTF in their download menu).

One of the best features of Scribd (which Issuu doesn't yet) is that you can upload revised versions of your documents replacing the older version without losing stats or any other settings and attributions. The big bummer about this, though, is that Scribd's paranoid copyright offenders detector may just decide that your new version is infringing copyrights, and that may be the last you saw of your doc.

Another document hosting service where one does not have to fear the wrath of Jason Almighty is Thinkfree, not your "tens of million readers" "Youtube for documents" just yet, but at least you can rest assured that the copyright headhunters who would, if they could charge us for breathing air just because they farted into it, or for using the alphabet won't track down your memoirs too easily here, so it's definitely a haven for all those documents that don't survive on Scribd...

One neat thing about Scribd, though, which can make your trip there worthwhile:

If you have a document with hyperlinks in it, you can download the document in PDF format with all the links working (Issuu doesn't generate the links), which is a feature that you would normally need Adobe Acrobat Pro for, an apparatus so large and costly that it would be more convenient to house a camel in your kitchen...

All in all: Scribd has its pros. But be prepared to lose some time and nerves over it.
Most "services" on the Internet, once they (or their head) get that big, never give you anything without asking for their pound of flesh in return...

P.S.: Currently trying out hubpages, another new appraised alternative to Scribd, but trying to publish anything there seems to be an even bigger pain in the butt than having to deal with Jason Almighty...

Update (Jan. 4, 2010): After half a year of innovations (or lack thereof), some things have changed, yielding the momentary consensus that hubpages is not an equivalent to Scribd, but merely a different type of blogging (= "hubbing") for those interested in generating revenue from their writing. Hubpages insist that your content be absolutely exclusive to their site only...

Over at Scribd, good ol' Jason has finally thrown in the inquisitorial towel and has been leaving Scribd users in peace, leaving the only disadvantages of Scribd being extremely slow opening of pages and documents during busy times, the constant innovations true to what seems to be Scribd policy: "Why make it easy, if you can make it complicated?" and the fact that Scribd documents require logging in in order to download them.

Blogger Vs. Wordpress - My Experiences

Wordpress Vs. Blogger: Pros & Cons

Others have shared their opinions & experiences on this subject, here are mine:

Generally, I prefer Blogger to start a new blog, since it's simpler and somewhat more user friendly, if you're not a geek.
It's easy to create link lists, if you want them in alphabetical order, and to insert pictures galore, including links in your sidebar.
Blogger is definitely more user friendly for beginners.

On the other hand, Wordpress seems to generate more traffic and there seems to be more of a community there geared to reading what others actually have to say, instead of just showing off one's own geekish know-how.
I'd say the Wordpress community is a little more writer-oriented, and the Blogger community more technology oriented. The raw information is what seems to count more on Blogger, even if that's hard to say in a general way.

Wordpress has its own integrated stats system built in. If you want to find out who read your Blogger stuff, you have to see to it yourself. Which seems to reflect the typical Google attitude behind Blogger, like all those other mega corporations out there, interested in extracting information from and about the user, but how the individual obtains useful information is their own problem. After all, "Use Google!" right?

Thanks for that reminder!

Drawbacks with Wordpress are that it's generally slower, (although it can also take ages for a Blogger page to open if it has tons of links on it), and that some features are missing or way more complicated.

The solution I've come to if you want the best of both worlds is to publish a copy of your post on Wordpress.

Copying and pasting text from your Blogger page will automatically include all the inserted links.

What I like about Wordpress is the categories section.

For that the big plus on Blogger are the sidebar gadgets, that the Wordpress widgets are only slowly catching up with.

The thing about Blogger as with all of Google is that those guys are so big that the individual becomes irrelevant. Once you're that big you can do no other but think in terms of numbers and growth... the whole thing becomes a machine, not a service anymore.

Machines are useful. You can use them to create something, but you can then present your product on a more humane platform, which I consider Wordpress at this point in time.

If you have a website on which to post the link to your blogger, start out with blogger (easy template uploads such as the one for this blog). If you don't, and are dependent on the traffic your blog generates by itself, it's ore recommendable to use Wordpress, unless, of course, you want to join the Corporate game and "monetize" your blog.

If you're not economically interesting for Google Almighty, or worse, you even dare speak your mind about the Monster, the new god of the Internet has its ways to make you disappear forever.

Freedom is no thing for dummies these days.

P.S.: While browsing for an image to illustrate this post, I came across this site with some neat Wordpress templates.


Maybe you like Microsoft. Maybe you like Bill Gates and believe all the goodie-goodie facade...

Ever since the days I was still using Windows 98, and everytime I went online with Internet Explorer I could scrape the spyware off my system by the dozens, I don't.

Then one day I tried Firefox, and behold, the spyware disappeared. I mean, it didn't even come anymore in the first place.

Well, those days have long gone, but I still don't like Microsoft, and thus not its homegrown web browser.

Unfortunately, I don't like the larger-than life new versions of Firefox, either, so I'm happy & content with my old version and make sure the bloddy thing won't update itself.

I know, I know, the Opera fans are ging to be on my neck now about how could I.

I like Opera. Especially the USB version. Comes in handy when you want to log in to 2 Gmail accounts simultaneously.

But not as my default.

So, it's Firefox 2 = first, Opera comes in handy and IE, shove off!

Gmail: Sometimes the Magic Works & Sometimes It Doesn't

Remember when Yahoo used to be the "best free webmail service in the world"? That used to be in the days before Gmail.

Now Yahoo has been reduced to "the world's most visited home page," which isn't bad, either, but since like everybody else who ever produced anything on the web they always have to make everything bigger and better than before, they all wind up larger than life, and definitely larger than fun.

Everybody seems to be so scared of being discarded on the scrapheap, replaced by ever groovier updates and upgrades, that nobody ever seems to realize that more - and what often people really are looking for - is sometimes less.

That's one reason why Yahoo has long stopped being my default mail service, just as Nero has stopped being my default burner ever since they thought they had to become larger than life and plaster their software all over my system...

And so, I've let Big Brother Google take over the communicating part of my life.
But only as long as the magic works, that is, because sometimes it doesn't.

Sometimes Big Brother strikes, when you're trying to withhold some information from him.
Like in, trying to send encrypted mail.

Those are the times I can try for 3 hours to send a mail, and it just won't be sent.

Those are the times I'm happy I still have my Yahoo account.

Publishing (free) Music On the Web

If you're an independent musician tossing out your music for free, because you'd rather have thousands hear what you do than sell a few hundred CDs, you don't want to spend a fortune on web hosting.

So you check on eBay for a cheap web hosting deal and get "4 years of unlimited webhosting" for 10 bucks.

The problem with those deals is that once you start getting traffic around 20GB a month they start wishing they wore diapers, and will soon flunk out on you. The "4 years" you bought will maximally last 350 days. In my experience.

So you look around for alternatives. Instead of having to upload your stuff to a different cheap host every couple of months, why not go for free file hosting?

Here's the pros and cons I've found with different file hosting services:

Most reliable so far: Mediafire

* unlimited web space & traffic.
* Fairly reliable (so far).
* Only need email address to register (not like some who want to know everything about you...).
* Some download stats
* The files can be neatly organized in folders, sorted by name (not last upload, which can be annoying with services like Scribd... another future topic)
* Picture gallery

* 100 MB size limit (per file) for free account users,
* no hot-linking (the download link takes you to their web site where you'll have to bear with a bit of advertisement

Last.FM (formerly the music section of

* Neat player features & nice overview of the material (albums),
* hotlinking possible

* no download stats : (
* One big drawback of is that they not only make it virtually impossible to upload pictures of your artist, but they even remove existing ones, which doesn't exactly enhance the appearance of your artist's page...
* While they encourage you to upload "the more music the better," they will refuse entire albums, especially when not in English

All in all, its predecessor, was less fancy, but had some big advantages over


*Cool player and widget options,
* some play stats,
* local bands charts

* no download stats

Then there is Cycast, a web platform where artists can host music files and videos, which used to create some promising traffic in its beginning stages which then usually dwindles down to a trickle after a while, due to its growth, similar to Youtube or Tangle (Godtube).
The audio player widget is quite neat. Only setback with all players generated by Cycast: one cannot turn off the autoplay, which means, if you embed a video or song from Cycast anywhere, it goes off as soon as you open the site and won't stop until the visitor finds the invisible pause button...
Having its seat in the land of Darwin, the Cycast community isn't very open to spiritual, or rather, Christian views expressed by artists and is accordingly generous with negative ratings if one insists...
All in all, a reliable service with a few drawbacks...
Cycast's advantage over platforms like Last.FM and Reverbnation is that it tells you how many times each of your audio files have been downloaded. However, the general setup doesn't invite to upload entire albums...

There are similar platforms to Cycast, none of which have ever really taken off, though.

Totally unreliable: Boxstr.

As an alternative I tried Boxstr., only to find out that most of the time I spent uploading my files there were wasted. The files may show up on your account, but you won't be able to access them. After a few weeks, links that used to work will peter out, too. Basically a waste of time, although it has some promising options like hotlinking and player features, which all would be nice, IF it would work reliably.

Though I haven't used Rapidshare to host my own files yet, because of the annoying 30 seconds wait that I don't want to subject my listeners to, it's fairly reliable to find source, has been around, tried and proven, and generates better traffic than services like Mediafire (with which you're basically responsible to create your own traffic by putting the links on your sites).
Maybe I'll use it in the future, just for fun...

File Factory:
Not really interesting, since they also have the 30 seconds wait policy. Then I'd rather go to Rapidshare...

There are other services, such as Garageband, and of course MySpace, but I haven't had any experiences with those that would have knocked my socks of. In fact, when it comes to MySpace, I have said it before, and I can only say it again and again: MySpace, in my perhaps not totally as humble opinion as it should be - totally sucks!


Anyone who's ever been annoyed by the fact that Google knows exactly what you've been browsing for as evident by the advertisements showing up just about anywhere you go on the web, might appreciate Scroogle.

Even if it's just to support a bunch of folks doing something to buck the Big Brother tide.

I admit, Google has its advantages, and I'll cover those at some later point in time.

But if you want privacy and you're tired of big mega corporations sucking your life for more and more information about you, your consumer habits, likes and dislikes, screw Google, I mean, try Scroogle...

In fact, think I'm going to make Scroogle Scraper my home page on my browser... which is another subject we'll cover later...

One additional little advantage for English speakers living abroad is that with Scroogle you don't have to constantly reset your language settings (since Google annoyingly defaults the local language, since they're so geared to "tracking" you & catering to your "local" needs, as in selling you stuff for the price you're supposed to pay according to the country live in, not where you'll get the best deal)...

If you live abroad and try to find a site with Google, you're first going to have to wade through a local language jungle until you're changed your settings and confirm that you want to do so (every time!).

Another googlish monstrosity:
If you're living in Europe, try watching a music clip on Youtube, and 95% of the time you'll get a message "This video is not available in your region due to copyright restrictions."

I'm waiting for the day they'll charge us copyright fees for breathing air because they farted in it.

Other related blogs:

Google: Big Brother’s Favorite Tool

Google Almighty