Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


New Version Of dtSearch Available

Posted by Alan at 4:16 PM on October 12, 2010

dtSearch recently distributed a review copy of version 7.65 (build 7907) which I have been using for a few days.  If you aren’t familiar with the product, it’s a desktop search engine on steroids.  It does, not just the desktop, but your entire network.  The idea is to make any text document available to you in a flash, not matter what drive, or even what PC, it’s located on.

It’s actually pretty powerful stuff and may not be necessary for the casual computer user, but the techie it’s pretty cool, and for business this type of tool is really a necessity.

For a single home user the price is $199, but volume licenses are available and the price goes down as the amount of seats in the business goes up.  Beginning at $160 for 5-24 users and going all the way to $60 for 2000+ users.

Let me take you on a quick walk-through of my experience.

The download was 42 MB which isn’t too bad compared to some bloated software that’s out there today.

Installation took only a couple of minutes.  There’s an option for a Custom Install for those who like to tweak.

It creates the usual Start menu entry.  As you can see from the below screenshot, it is 64 bit compatible.

Once you have it set up then your first order of business is to tell it what files you want it to index.  The first time you click on dtSearch Desktop you will be prompted to do this.  You can always go back later and easily add, remove, or change choices you make here.  You can also choose certain file types to include or exclude.

After that was done I did a test search of the word genealogy, which is a hobby of my family and appears in quite a few files.  Here is the start of a search.

And, the results.

The Preferences, which can be found under Options in the main menu, allow for a lot of customization.  Enough to make almost any IT department happy.

Since I have been using it for a home network I have not had occasion to test all aspects of what this program can do.  And for the average home user, a free product such as Google Desktop Search would probably be sufficient, but for business (which this is really geared towards) this product could be a real productivity tool and time-saver.

WobZIP, An Online Unzipper

Posted by Andrew at 1:00 AM on October 12, 2010

Have you ever downloaded some data off the ‘net only to find it’s in a compressed or archive file format that your PC doesn’t have a helper app for? Or you’re fixing up a friend’s PC, you download some drivers and ditto, you can’t get them unpacked?

If so, you’ll be interested in WobZIP. It’s a web site where you can upload an archive file and it will uncompress it for you.  Once uncompressed, you can either download the files one by one, or else the site will bundle the files back up into a zip archive for you to download.

The site is still in beta but claims to support the following archive formats – 7z, zip, gzip, bzip2, tar, rar, cab, iso, arj, lzh, chm, z, cpio, rpm, deb and nsis.  Obviously quite a few of those formats are Unix and Linux, but there’s a fair collection of DOS / Windows ones too.  As it’s a website, it doesn’t care what OS you’re running either. From the FAQ, WobZIP uses the open source 7-zip program as the decompression engine.

Cleverly, there’s also a feature to unpack or uncompress from a URL so you don’t always have to download to your PC and then upload back to WobZIP – you can just enter the URL and it will go and get the file for you.  Also, it will scan the unpacked files for viruses.

Put this site in your bookmarks.  You may not need it right now, but you will one day.

Big App Show For Android

Posted by tomwiles at 9:22 PM on October 10, 2010

Adam Curry is a clever guy. Back in 2004 he was working on the concept of podcasting. Now he is pioneering smartphone apps.

About 6 months ago, Adam Curry came out with a free iPhone application called “The Big App Show.” Each day, day in and day out, Curry records a new video of himself demonstrating an iPhone app.

The Big App Show is now available for Android. The concept is the same, except with the Android app the apps Curry demonstrates are obviously for Android and are available in the Android Marketplace.

The Big App Show is a very witty app that really takes advantage of the power of Android and iPhones. Curry is adding value by demonstrating the apps right on the screen as he talks rather than giving dry descriptions. He puts out a new app video on both the Android and iPhone platforms every day of the year.

Bravo Adam! I think you are on to something!!!

Android Pros and Cons

Posted by tomwiles at 3:50 PM on September 25, 2010

I’ve been using Android for a while now and feel I’ve been using it long enough to make some meaningful observations.

I like Android. It’s quick. It’s powerful. It has some astounding voice recognition capability built right in that even the iPhone can’t touch. For example, hold down the search button and when the voice search box pops up say “navigate to” and then speak either a street address, the name of a business or a business category, and watch what happens. The results are something right out of science fiction and nothing short of amazing. Try THAT with your iPhone.

In other areas, Android seems to fall rather flat. While it’s possible to create, name and populate folders, the process seems clunky and rather counter-intuitive.

How about allowing me as an end-user to rename application icons to something useful? Many apps have names that don’t bear any relationship or give any hint as to what their functionality is as an app. If I could just rename the text under the app icons it would help me out as an end user quite a bit. Either give me a direct icon name that describes functionality succinctly, or give me the ability to rename an icon myself just like I can in Windows or OS/X.

Another area that falls somewhat flat is how to discover great apps. There are a ton of apps, but it’s often difficult to find the best ones. I’m willing to spend money on apps, however I want the best bang for my buck. How can I be assured if I buy an app I’m buying the best possible one?

The Man Who Lied To His Laptop

Posted by tomwiles at 4:36 PM on September 19, 2010

I just finished listening to the unabridged Audible audio book version of “The Man Who Lied To His Laptop” by Clifford Nass and Corina Yen.

After many years of working as a software interface design consultant, Clifford Nass has developed the theory that human brains cannot completely and fundamentally distinguish the difference between interacting with people and interacting with devices. This book details nearly 30 experiments Nass has performed that back up this revolutionary theory.

Remember “Clippy” from Microsoft Word? Chances are, the mere mention of the dreaded Microsoft Office animated paperclip brings up wildly negative feelings. Clippy’s main flaw was that he couldn’t learn and kept badgering Office users over and over for carrying out repetitive tasks that were not mistakes. Even though users “knew” that Clippy was just an animated character, part of their brain actually related to Clippy as a real, despicable character that lived in their computers.

Similarly, BMW had a big problem with male German car owners complaining loudly about the integrated BMW GPS units. It turns out that German men objected over and over again to BMW’s help line that the BMW GPS units came equipped with a female voice, and that just wouldn’t do, because it just wasn’t “right” to take driving directions from a female voice. “Knowing” that mostly male engineers had developed it wasn’t enough to eliminate the problem.

The book is filled with some rather amazing results of experiments that indicate just how suggestible the average person really is. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Do Frequent Phone O/S Updates Make Sense?

Posted by tomwiles at 1:01 AM on August 18, 2010

I’ve had my HTC Evo for a couple of months or more at this point. When I first turned it on, there was an update waiting. The update installed. So far, so good.

Over the next few weeks I heard there was another update available, but it turned out there was a problem with the update. It took HTC and Sprint about a week or more to fix the problem update, but since the Evo was still in very short supply, I chose not to update it right away. What if there was a problem with the update and it bricked the phone? How would I get an immediate replacement? Better to wait.

A few days ago, Sprint and HTC started releasing the “Froyo” or “Frozen Yogurt” Android 2.2 update for the Evo. I decided it was time to take the plunge and accept the update.

There were two updates. The first one downloaded and installed, and then the second. No problems.

Now I’m asking myself, did the upgrade to Android 2.2 live up to all the hype? Android 2.2 on the Evo might be a little bit more snappy, but it’s hard to tell since the Evo already had excellent performance with the version of Android it shipped with. There are a few changes here and there that improve usability, some of them somewhat worthwhile, but was it really worth the trouble? The phone was a great device before the update. It’s a great device after the update.

Are updates to existing smartphones enough reason for consumers to get really excited over? As I see it, if lots of new basic usability and reliability can be added with a particular update, then it’s likely worthwhile. Smartphones are still evolving devices.

It seems to me that the job of adding new functionality to smartphones falls primarily to apps, and not necessarily the operating system itself. The operating system should be a stable, functional platform that offers basic functionality and services to those apps.

Once smartphone operating system design begins to mature however, the danger of updating and changing things just for the sake of change is always a potential risk. Also keep in mind that on average people replace cell phones about every 18 months, which is a much more frequent replacement cycle than desktop and laptop computers.

In the realm of desktop computer software, Microsoft Office is a great example of mature software design. There are only so many things word processing software can do. Microsoft Word and Excel both had good design and usability for me starting way back with Office 95. With subsequent releases, Microsoft seemed to sometimes arbitrarily change things just for the sake of change, which is a huge usability mistake. Computer software design is not the same as car styling design.

Easy Web Templates Builder

Posted by Alan at 6:15 PM on August 14, 2010

Most of us, at some point, want to create a web page.  Almost everyone online wants to have some sort of presence.  For many it’s simply Facebook, but for some it’s an actual web site and a few of those are for a business.  And let’s face it – if a business doesn’t have a web site today then it may as well not exist.  I also believe that an individual who only has a Facebook account is not much better off than the business without a web site.  You don’t really want them controlling your online existence, especially given their shaky history.  But for many, setting up a web site sounds too hard.  Of course there are dead simple tools available for anyone who wants a very basic blog-type site.  Then there are those of us who want to get our hands dirty and really create something unique.  But, even then, we tend to simplify some aspects, such as choosing a free WordPress template, or maybe even buying a slightly nicer one.  But the majority of us would be lost if we tried to create our own WordPress template, and forget the other, even more obscure content management services that can run today’s web sites.

Enter CoolTemplate.  A fast, easy way to design your own web templates right on line.  They cover not only WordPress, but HTML, Joomla, and ASP.net.

Since my own site runs on WordPress, that was where I decided to take a look and do some testing.  It’s pretty simple as a matter of fact.  There are options for Design, Layout, Colors, Background, Border, Header, Menu, Buttons and Footer.  It’s a very easy, straight-forward interface to design a theme.

Of course, you need a little design skill to make a good template, but anyone can get started here and learn  how web templates work.  The site’s web app works perfectly.  And, beyond WordPress, it does much more complicated web design,  Joomla and ASP.net are not easy to learn – I know I have played with both.  But it does a good job designing both, and an especially good job with WordPress.  So if you are, even remotely, interested in designing your own site then this is a great place to start.

Amazon Kindle E-Books

Posted by tomwiles at 3:55 AM on July 27, 2010

Shortly after getting my HTC Evo phone, one of the initial apps I downloaded from the Android Marketplace was the Amazon Kindle app with the idea I’d probably check it out at some point. Weeks went by, and I pretty much ignored the app.

Yesterday I was talking to a good friend that is in the process of formatting e-books for an author friend of his, including formatting the books in the Kindle format. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned to him once again that I needed check the Android Kindle app out. He pointed out that there were free e-books available in the Kindle format on the Amazon website, including many books from 1922 and before that were now in the public domain, so after I finished his call I went on Amazon.Com with my computer and started digging around in the Kindle Store area of Amazon. Sure enough, there seemed to be plenty of free e-books available, so I started adding them. To get the Kindle app on my phone to synch with my Amazon account couldn’t be easier, I simply entered in my email address and Amazon password into the app. Any books in my Amazon storage area are quickly updated to the app.

Sure, some of the free books weren’t exactly my taste, but I was able to open them on my phone and finally see how well the Kindle app worked. Hummm, not bad – not bad at all. To make a long story short, I ended up finding a current book I really liked and purchased it for $9.99.

What a pleasant surprise I was in for. Reading a Kindle book on my HTC Evo is actually a good experience. The text is quite legible. The surprising part is that twice now I’ve carried the phone with me into restaurants and was able to easily read using the phone while eating. Of course, the HTC Evo has a handy built-in kick stand that allows the phone to sit on its side at an angle. I can eat and then periodically lightly touch the right side of the screen in order to make the Kindle app advance to the next page. The Kindle app even synchs the latest page I’m on back to the server, so if I open the book up again either on my phone or on my laptop, it opens up right at the exact page where I stopped reading.

At this point I have no plans on buying an actual Kindle, however I suspect I will be buying more Kindle e-books in the future. I often carry my phone around with me wherever I go, and because of the way the Kindle app works across all Kindle apps associated with my account, I have instant access to every Kindle e-book in my Amazon account storage area on every associated Kindle installation. There are often times I end up having to cool my heels waiting on something, and it’s incredibly handy to be able to use that otherwise often wasted waiting time reading. Ten minutes here and twenty minutes there really do add up over time.

All of this talk about, “Oh, the iPad has killed the Kindle” is bogus. Amazon has been very smart to put Kindle apps out for as wide a variety of devices as possible. Even if they don’t sell that many Kindle readers, the Kindle format e-book is a huge Amazon win, both for Amazon and for consumers like me.

Ending A Relationship

Posted by tomwiles at 10:21 PM on July 1, 2010

Our relationship had always been so full of promise and fun. Being gone so much of the time due to my job was certainly a strain. Even so, when I was around, I didn’t make many demands.

Something was coming between us. Lately I’ve been looking elsewhere and slowly began finding satisfaction on the Internet. The thought of divorce has been crossing my mind over the past few months. It was a painful decision, but I knew it had to be made.

Today I decided it was time to sever our ties.

I’ve been a Dish Network customer for about 10 years – until today.

What came between us? I’ve been experimenting with the idea of getting TV content from various sources on the Internet. I’ve tried connecting both Mac with Front Row and Windows Media Center laptops to an LCD HDTV. A full-fledged computer is very flexible in that it can play virtually any file type, but the clunky, complex hands-on Interface is not designed to be operated from an easy chair. I want as much content as possible integrated into one place.

In the meantime I stumbled across some software called Playon TV available at http://www.playon.tv. The software comes with a 30 day trial and works with the DLNA and UpNP network device standards. The software sells for $39.95. Playon TV is designed to be installed either on a computer or a home server on the home network. Playon TV enables streaming of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Videos, Pandora, etc. to a DNLA/UpNP device like the WD TV Live Plus, X-Box 360, etc. There are also plenty of free third-party plugins for Playon TV that add a mind-boggling and growing variety of content to the Playon TV network share. It works well with my hacked Apple TV with XBMC.

Yesterday I visited my local Best Buy store and bought a Western Digital WD TV Live Plus to connect to the small HDTV in my kitchen. The WD TV Live is a very small set-top box that comes with a small remote control that has an Ethernet port in and an HDMI port out. Straight out of the box it does an excellent job of playing Netflix and is capable of playing back 1080P content. Only the Plus version plays Netflix.

The WD TV Live Plus combined with the Playon TV software convinced me it was time for radical measures. This afternoon I cancelled my Dish Network account and will save $97 dollars per month. I also bought a second WD TV Live Plus unit to connect to my main HDTV/surround sound setup.

At $97 dollars per month savings the two WD TV Live Plus units will have paid for themselves within 3 months.

Can I live without access to Dish Network? I think it’s going to be similar to a few years ago when I dropped my wired phone line. There was a bit of an emotional attachment that I had to let go of, but once I cut the cord it was no big deal.

Checking Your Website with Browsershots

Posted by J Powers at 1:10 PM on February 21, 2010

I always forget about this website.  When I finally go there to check my site amongst OS browsers, I always find one small problem. Quick change in the CSS and everything is all better.

I am talking about Broswershots. They simply take my site and call it up using different browsers on all Operating Systems. Linux, PC, Mac and BSD checking the following browsers:

  • Avant
  • Chrome
  • Dillo
  • Epiphany
  • Firefox
  • Flock
  • K-Meleon
  • Galeon
  • Iceape
  • Iceweasel
  • Internet Explorer
  • Kazehakase
  • Konqueror
  • Minefield
  • Navigator
  • Opera
  • Safari
  • SeaMonkey
  • Shiretoko

I can also view the many versions of the browsers. Let’s say I am optimizing for Internet Explorer. I can check IE 4.0, 5.0, 7.0 or 8.0 on a Windows format. Check the boxes, enter the URL and away we go.

What Dillo sees of my websites from Browsershots

The process is not instantaneous. The service will set a 30 minute time limit which you can extent, but you have to physically be there to do so. If you checked all boxes, then you will definitely need to extend the process a couple times. It can also really show you how slow your website might load if you have an influx of users. One website I checked came up with all versions in about 10 minutes, yet another website (a little more PHP process driven) took a little more time.

Once your screenshots appear, you can view and download. Of course, this is dependent on the Internet connection at both sides, so you may have to request a new screenshot if you don’t see the proper results. For instance, IE 8.0 came back with a blank screen. I then told Broswershots to retry and the end result was perfect.

This website is pretty useful in detecting problems. Although I do have a PC, Mac and Ubuntu machine, I am really happy I don’t have to load up every browser on those machines. It’s about 80 different browsers and their versions to choose from. I am hoping soon they will also check across phone browsers. That will be a perfect addition to Browsershots.