Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tip - dispatching the CapsLock gremlin with Microsoft's remapkey.exe

This single tip has probably saved me from hundreds of hours of recovery work and annoyance, over the years - avoidable work and annoyance that I still see a lot of people labouring under today. The tip is about changing the function of the CapsLock key. I used to do that with a Zif-Davis program called KEYMAP ZD v1.0 (which worked in Windows 98 but not in Windows post that). For Windows XP I use Microsoft remapkey.exe.
I mention it now because, today, I was perusing one of my favourite sites - Donation - and reviewing the subsite:
1-hour software by Skrommel - (IMHO well worth a read).
Of the mountain of free and useful software there, there were these two:
  • CAPshift v1.7 - "Ever hit caps lock by accident and not found out until half a page later? CAPshift extends the Caps Lock key by slowing it down, and shows a menu to change the selected text to lowercase, UPPERCASE, TitleCase, iNVERTEDcASE, RaNDoMCaSE or to Replace user defined characters." 
  • ShiftOff v1.2 - "Turns off CapsLock when Shift is pressed together with A-Z or other user defined keys."
Whilst these could both be really useful software, they (and lots of other ways of remapping keys) are made largely redundant, because of remapkey.exe - arguably the best and simplest way to remap the CapsLock key (or almost any other key). It is a free utility from Microsoft, available as a tool within the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools. That is a file of dozens of useful uber-geek tools, and they work with Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Vista.
If you are not a geek, and/or just want the remapping tool rather than the whole toolset, then you can get it here: remapkey.exe (click on link to download). When you have downloaded this file, double click it, and you will be presented with two keyboard maps (see image of my keyboard map below) of the  101-key keyboard.
Use these to change CapsLock to Shift. Drag and drop the Shift key from the upper keyboard, onto the CapsLock key on the lower keyboard - notice that it now shows as a red Shift key. You can can remap other keys too, if they are configured on the 101-key keyboard. Once you have remapped the keys, save it and forget it - it makes a registry fix. There is no need to run remapkey.exe again, unless you want to remap some other keys.
If you need a more detailed step-by-step guide for using this utility, then you can find a good one at TechRepublic, here.
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tip - use a decent web browser - Firefox

Firefox 3 has landed. On its release date of June 18, 2008, 8,002,530 happy surfers downloaded this latest version of Firefox. These folk are now able to enjoy an even safer, smarter and better Web. This download statistic set a new Guinness World Record for the highest recorded number of software downloads in 24 hours.
If your web browser is not Firefox, then you will be using a proprietary browser which will be relatively limited, by comparison.
The more you surf the Web, the more you need a browser that makes your surfing as secure, efficient and effective as possible. Experience indicates that the public domain browser Firefox, and the add-ons that you can install to it, already made it arguably the best browser on the planet (for "best", read "secure, non-proprietary, highly functional and customisable, and not fat, bloated software"), and it just got even better. However, don't take my word for it - install it yourself and try it out today. To find out more, or to try it out now, press this button:
Firefox 3

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tip - "Social networking" sites and online chat media

I had been trying to track down one of my best friends from grammar school in Llanrwst, North Wales, and had made contact in Facebook with a school alumnus who recalled him. This alumnus asked me if I had tried FriendsReunited.
This was my reply (I thought it could be generally useful):
No, I have not joined FriendReunited - and I shall try to avoid doing so. Being relatively computer-literate (I have depended on and developed my IT skills and knowledge to make a living for years), I am acutely conscious of the risks of so-called "social networking" sites. The risks include:
  • Risk of loss of ID (from "identity theft") - so I am thus wary of most of the these sites.
  • Risk of unwittingly contributing to spamming sites, or sites that sell your email address to spammers.
  • Risk of invasion of privacy.
  • Risk of the sites starting to make one feel compelled to provide increasinly large slices of one's cognitive surplus and time.
  • Risk of being bombarded with unsolicited advertising.
Notwithstanding, I have for several years been a member of RealContacts and later LinkedIn, for professional association. Against my better judgement - after avoiding them like the plague - more recently I joined the social networking site Facebook and very recently Plaxo- because several of my friends encouraged me to join.
There have since been some gaffs, issues and concerns relating to the potential for loss of ID/privacy on Facebook - these seem to have been mostly addressed for the moment - but I feel that Plaxo is still pretty dubious (based on the dodgy-looking manner in which it was originally started up), so I have put very few details into my profile on that. I am becoming somewhat desensitised to these social networking sites clamouring for my profile details. Why do they want those details so badly? It's all about advertising revenue, and there is often no clear benefit to me as a user.

It is similar to the evolution of "chat" media - e.g., ICQ, AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, irc, etc. Initially, users were obliged to have a separate proprietary application running for each chat medium being used. I was an early (about 1997) adopter of ICQ, and started to use the other media because my friends used them. However, I then started to use Trillian instead, which caters for all five media, and I was thus not able to be held captive by the chat media providers and thus could not be subjected to their otherwise compulsory manipulation and advertising.

When Trillian was establishing itself, it was a case study in the exercise of corporate control and fascism - amazing to see how the big four of these media providers (ICQ, AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!) kept changing their proprietary program code or data formats on an almost daily basis to frustrate Trillian from interoperating with them. This, of course, seriously pissed off the Trillian users who (like me) wanted to use Trillian instead of the separate proprietary chat media applications. The Trillian user forum made interesting reading on these points, at the time. Eventually, perhaps after seeing how pissed off their users were getting and what asses they must have been making of themselves by trying to overtly manipulate and control their users, the big four seemed to get a grip on themselves and arrive at some form of agreement whereby Trillian has now become an accepted (or at least tolerated) fact of life.
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tip - test the recoverability of your backup media/data

This may be another one of the most important and valuable tips that you ever read.
An old friend who was one of my teachers in high school had seemed to go quiet in our email exchanges recently, until I received an email from him indicating that:
(a) he had had a hard disk crash, and was currently unable to recover data from the damaged disk;
(b) his backup software had not been "properly programmed" and had not necessarily backed up (onto his external backup drive) what he thought it was backing up.

The 2nd post I had made on this blog was: Tip - backup your work data

I made the post because backing up your digital life:
  • could be very important in the event of a data loss/corruption;
  • could be very important if your living might in some way be dependent on your having access to that data;
  • could make something which might be regarded as an extreme inconvenience/disaster (loss of data) just a minor inconvenience.
However, what I did not stress in the post was that testing the recovery of the backup media/data is also important, because, after all - and, for example, as my friend seems to have discovered - backup is not of much use if you cannot actually recover it.

So, how do you ensure that you can test it, and how do you test it?
Well, ideally:
  • You should have read Tip - backup your work data., and be using a portable or semi-portable external hard drive (or two if you are paranoid - the more the merrier) for backup.
  • You should not have to be dependent on the software that performed the backup to make the recovery.
  • The backup should be in a non-proprietary, uncoded, uncompressed format - so that you can look at the backup media and recover the backed up data, using normal file management tools from any computer, just as if it was any old hard drive with your data on.
  • You should then be able to use standard/conventional file management tools (e.g., Windows Explorer, or - my favourite - xplorer²) to copy the data and test it for relevance and usability with the appropriate applications that used/created the data. By "relevance", I mean, it is a copy of vital work data, as opposed to some obscure system files (e.g., desktop.ini) which would not usually be essential to be able to continue working.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tip - Use Adblock Plus, and save your time and traffic

The words quoted below are taken from the site for AdBlock Plus. I have used this add-on in Firefox for some time now, and it is brilliant. It blocks adverts in websites - e.g., Facebook - and saves your bandwidth from being gobbled up by the nowadays all-too-prevalent, annoying advertising junk. If this sounds appealing to you, then check it out.
Ever been annoyed by all those ads and banners on the internet that often take longer to download than everything else on the page? Install Adblock Plus now and get rid of them. Right-click on a banner and choose “Adblock” from the context menu — the banner won’t be downloaded again. Maybe even replace parts of the banner address with star symbols to block similar banners as well. Or choose a filter subscription, then even this simple task will usually be unnecessary: the filter subscription will block most advertisements fully automatically.
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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tip - Use free Google Mail and other free Google services

I used a free Google product called Picasa as an entry to the free Google blogging system that hosts this blog. Picasa really seems to be a remarkably good piece of free software from Google, and it integrates really well with and the blog site

How did I get started on this? It all started in 2005 when I was invited by my son to open a Gmail account. I held the view that Google was becoming far too ubiquitous on the Net, and perhaps even predatory in the way it inveigled itself into search bars in browsers - especially in my favourite browser, Firefox. I don't like the way large companies start to become ubiquitous and predatory in the IT world - for example, that well-known company Microsoft. Why? Because it potentially limits the freedom of choice that we consumers have, and I have long disliked the way large corporations try to dictate to the market exactly what they will consume. That's why I am a strong supporter of consumer rights, consumer protection laws, consumer associations, and things like privacy - for example, I used to use JunkBuster (and later it's sister product Guidescope) to help to keep the ad-men and their annoying noise from my Net experience. On Guidescope's recommendation, I have dropped Junkbuster and Guidescope in favour of a plugin to my Firefox browser - the plugin is called Adblock Plus.

Anyway, I opened up a Gmail account, and was grudgingly impressed. Having initially been suspicious, I became assured that:

(a) my much-valued privacy was not going to be lost or exposed to the advertising spammer world, and

(b) I was not going to be inundated with advertising junk, either on screen or in my mailbox.

Then I started to check out the increasing number of utilities that Google offer, and I installed the Google desktop utility, and then Picasa2 onto my laptop. I recommend readers of this blog try out these and other free Google products. You might be as amazed as I was at how brilliantly these products work, what timesavers they can be, and how they open your world up to doing things in new ways and possibly changing your paradigms.

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Internet BBC Radio tuner

If you like to listen to the BBC World Service, or other BBC Radio stations (and I do), then you may well be interested in this Google Desktop "gadget". I am a happy user of this gadget.

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