Archive for February, 2008

Software: Prepare for a disaster with Clonezilla

ClonezillaWhen your hard drive dies, you would normally need to go through the process of reinstalling your operating system and programs. If you are lucky, and have prepared yourself for a disaster, you might even be able to restore your data. One thing that you are not able to restore are all of the customisations you have done to your system.

Any way you look at it, it is going to take you the best part of a day to have your system up and running again, and weeks before you get everything back just how you like it.

The system restore options in Windows are great for restoring a malfunctioning system back to a fully working state, but they do not work when your hard drive calls it a day.

Plan ahead for such a disaster by saving an “image” of your computer. An image is a compressed file that contains the entire contents of a hard drive. Windows, programs, hardware drivers, settings and data are all backed up in the image. If your hard drive dies, or gets cluttered with rubbish, you are able to restore your system, and restore so that it is exactly the same as it was when you saved the image.

Clonezilla is a program that will do just that. You can save your entire computers contents into a single file. You can then burn the file to a DVD for safe keeping. You will want to read the documentation so that you can find out how to store a copy of Clonezilla on your DVD, and how to make the DVD bootable. This way you will have everything on hand to restore your computer, on the one disk.

Restoration of the image is likely to take less than one hour. Probably closer to 10 minutes. This is a big improvement to a whole days work. There is nothing else that needs to be done, except to restore your incremental document backups. You can save an incredible amount of time if you want to restore the image to numerous computers.

If you are happy with the way your system is running, it is a good time to make your image. In the case that you need to restore it, you don’t wasn’t to restore an image created while your system was not running at its optimum. You will be very thankful that you made the backup in the long term… or possibly even the short! Hard drives are one of the least reliable components of any computer system.

There are a number of programs that will do this same task. Many companies use the commercial package from Norton called Ghost. It basically does the same thing, it just looks a little nicer and costs money.

Clonezilla is available for free from SourceForge.

Windows Software: Change the resolution of a single program with Res-o-Matic

ResoHere at Inspect My Gadget, we have looked at a number of programs that change your screen resolution quickly and easily. We have also looked at using these resolution changing programs in batch files so that an individual program can load at a certain resolution. This method works quite well, but I have just come across a program that is much tidier and efficient at achieving this.

Res-o-matic is a utility that helps you to create shortcuts to any program, where you can define the resolution, colour depth and refresh rate you want the program to run at.

Res-o-matic couldn’t be any easier to use. It does all the hard work for you. I looked at the shortcut it had created, and its target is:

"C:\resomatic\reso.exe" "C:\WINDOWS\system32\calc.exe" 320 200 32 60

This example loads up Windows Calculator at 320×200 resolution with 32bit colour at 60Hz. When you launch the shortcut, there is no hint that Res-o-matic is working in the background. Closing the program down again will cause the resolution to return to its default values.

Res-o-matic will suck up a tiny 9kb of your hard drive. This program will certainly make my life easier. I need to run Vista Media Centre at 640×480 at 60hz. Up until now, batch files was the easiest way I knew how to do it in an automated process.

Res-o-Matic is available for free from bChecks Apps.

Windows Software: Make your shortcuts work for you, with NirCmd

ShortcutsHere at Inspect My Gadget, we have already shown you how to make shortcuts to change screen resolutions. Shortcuts are a very quick and efficient method to launch programs. We can take this much further and use shortcuts to perform a whole range of supposedly simple tasks.

NirCmd is a command line utility that looks after a huge range of tasks. Some of the things NirCmd can simplify for you include:

  • Adjust volume, mute
  • Turn off, log off, enter standby mode
  • Change resolution
  • Enable/disable screensaver
  • Open/Close a CD drive tray
  • And much more

The easiest way to set this up is to copy the program to the root of your C:, right click on the program and create a shortcut. You can then edit the shortcut with the necessary arguments. Check out the NirSoft website to find the arguments to achieve your desired task.

The formatting is similar to most other programs that allow for arguments. An example is below.

nircmd.exe monitor off

While shortcuts are a quick way to achieve any of these tasks, you could also use NirCmd in batch files. It would be a good way to set the volume of a music player on launch, or to disable the screensaver while watching a movie.

NirCmd may just spare you from that one niggling task, where you have had to go through various menus to get it to happen in the past.

NirCmd is available for free from NirSoft.

How-to: Schedule Media Center recordings from any computer

WebguideWindows and Vista Media Centers are a great option for anyone wanting to turn their computer into a home theatre PC. Their interfaces look nice and they are easy to use. Get the most out of it by viewing all your music and pictures, or even schedule recordings, while you are away from home.

Having researched a number of programs designed for this task (and having very limited success with them) I had been using Remote Desktop to schedule recordings when I was away from home. That was until I read a detailed article from Lifehacker showing us the inner workings of Webguide. This article has plenty of helpful tips and screenshots to guide you through it. 

Webguide is accessed through a web browser and delivers a powerful set of features. You are able to view pictures, stream music and movies. You can even remote control your Media Centre all through the web interface. My favourite feature would have to be the ability to schedule recordings while on the road.

Webguide was much easier to install than any of the other web control systems I have tried. There is no need to install Apache as Webguide comes with its own web server. It all works straight out of the box if you are using it on a local network.

Making it accessible from computers that are not on your local network is a bit more challenging. You will need to setup port forwarding and install IIS, but there are enough instructions available to get you going.

I recommend giving this one a go. I am already enjoying the freedom Webguide offers. I encourage you to read Lifehacker’s article in parallel with the FAQ of the Webguide website to make the install easier on you. And yes, of course Webguide is free.

Windows Software: Ultra Hal Text-to-Speech Reader 1.0

HalText to speech is bound to become a more popular feature in upcoming computer systems in the years to come. It has been around for quite a while, but most of the current software available is not quite up to scratch.

Have a play with it before it becomes commonplace, with Ultra Hal’s Text to Speech Reader(UHTTSR). UHTTSR is a utility that runs in your task tray that will convert text to speech.

UHTTRS will read out anything that you copy to the clipboard. This way you are able to read out just about any text that confronts you. Web pages and documents can all be copied to the clipboard easily. You can then save the spoken text as a wav file for playback later. A simple MP3 conversion using another program will allow you to get the file over to a mobile device. 

If you use AIM, ICQ or MSN messengers, UHTTRS may be very useful to you. As a new message arrives, UHTTRS will automatically read them out aloud to you. This lets you stay away from your computer until you want to reply.

The results aren’t very good with the default voices that come with Windows, but there are more free voices available that sound much better. Check out this Inspect My Gadget article to find out more.

There are a lot of commercial text to speech options available. TextAloud was recommended to me and it looks great. I am surprised there aren’t a great deal of free options out there as I used to enjoy playing with text to speech programs when I got my first Sound Blaster 16.

Ultra Hal Text to Speech Reader is available for free from Zabaware.