Category Archives: Software

Great software: Multi-Monitor Wallpaper

Two monitors are great for productivity, but aesthetics are important too. Who wants to stare at the same picture on both desktops? No one, that’s who.

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The NVidia display control panel that came with Vista allowed me to set a unique image for each monitor. But fie, Windows 7 hasn’t caught up yet and I was stuck staring at the same image, duplicated on both monitors. Well thanks to Arian Kulp’s Multi-Monitor Wallpaper code sample I’m no longer annoyed by my desktop.  No longer do I see sameness, I instead have a beautiful view of Killary Bay.

Excellent and free panorama software: MS ICE

Panoramic pictures are a great way to convey the scale and beauty of a scene, but building a panorama requires a good set of tools. Fortunately Microsoft Research is giving one away for free.

For the longest time I kept Microsoft Digital Image Suite on my computer only for the purpose of stitching panoramas. My photo editing tool of choice is Photoshop, but Photoshop CS’s panorama stitching was so cumbersome and ineffective that I didn’t even try CS4 until I was writing this. Digital Image Suite does a good job… but only if images are really well lined up. Thankfully, however, Microsoft Research released Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE).

I’ve compared the results of Microsoft Digital Image Suite, Photoshop CS, Photoshop CS4 and Microsoft ICE.

Photoshop CS did only a passable job at creating a panorama. Items weren’t lined up and there is obvious banding where the exposure differs between pictures.

DI did a beter job of lining up the pictures and blending the exposures, but still not great.

Photoshop CS4’s Photomerge feature does a nice job both of lining up the images as well as adjusting the exposure across the frame.

Microsoft ICE generated very similar results to Photoshop CS4 on my set of test images. Both CS4 and ICE had trouble lining up the railing in the center of the picture (probably a result of me shooting the sequence without a tripod). CS4 has a more even feel to the exposure and the perspective feels less warped.

Bottom line: ICE is by far the easiest tool to use of the set and generates results comparable to the $700 CS4. While I still live in Photoshop for image editing I use ICE for stitching panoramas. It’s a smaller application and has nice features like "autocrop" which automatically removes the inevitable curved seams on a stitch.

Useful software: A great tool for web or software UI designers

Have you ever had to:
a. take a screen shot of just part of your screen
b. try to match your web page color to something on your screen
c. figure out how wide to make a div or table cell


Working as a program manager at Microsoft typically means you take a lot of screen shots.  Screen shots of web pages, screen shots of application prototypes and (yes) screen shots of screen shots.  There are a ton of tools out there that do a number of these functions, some free, some not.  My current favorite tool happens to also have my current favorite price.


Mezer Tools from Bayden Systems is a free little app with a very appropriate icon: a Swiss Army knife.  This great, multi-purpose tool has widgets for measuring linear pixel dimensions and capturing arbitrary rectangles.  The dialog box also has additional tools for converting to and from Hex and for grabbing colors from anywhere on the screen.


 
Screenshots (made with Mezer, of course), click for a closer look.


Here’s a list of some of the cool stuff you can do:



  • Double-click the edge of a window to grow to the edge of the screen (not maximize)

  • Capture a target window or just an arbitrary section of screen

  • Capture screen to clipboard or directly to .JPG or .BMP

  • Flag screen captures with arrows or scribbles

  • Copy arbitrary string lengths to clipboard

  • Measure the number of characters in the clipboard

  • Grab the hex and RGB values from any location on the screen

  • Convert from hex to decimal and back

Keeping multiple PCs in sync

I have a work laptop, a work desktop and a personal computer at home.  Moving between each of these machines could be frustrating if it weren’t for a couple nifty tools.  The two big areas for me are my IE favorites and my OneNote folders.  While I have been happily using Favorites Sync for a while now I have only recently settled on a solution to keep my documents folders in sync. 


MS offers folder redirection to their employees that keeps your entire My Documents folder up on a server.  When you’re off the corporate network XP automatically makes the folder available in a cached mode.  It’s pretty slick.  But… the folder size is limited and, for employees in California, very slow.


Back in April Microsoft purchased Groove Networks.  The Groove product is very cool, creating what amounts to a peer to peer Share Point server.   Groove will sync folders and files across multiple computers and allows you to control access so you can easily work with multiple people on a projects covering a whole mess of files.  Groove is really cool, and since MS bought it, employees can use it for free.  But… it takes a while for a computer running Groove to boot up (not a ton of time, but I’m impatient).  Groove also has chat, project and people management functionality.  It’s a great product but overkill for simply sharing files.


That brings me to FolderShare.  FolderShare is much more light-weight than Groove, focusing only folder sharing.  Groove is great for a multi-person office environment and FolderShare is perfect for individuals.  FolderShare offers both free and for-pay versions of their service.  The free version of the service limits the number of files and sub-folders which can be shared as well as the speed of the file sync.  I’ve been able to stick to just using the free service by keeping a sub-folder in my documents folder where I put the items I want to share (typically my current work) and moving them out when I’m done.


This morning we announced that we purchased FolderShare…  I’m hoping I can get the upgraded service now for free.  Yep, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I’m cheap. :)


My computer is now a fat jukebox

Success! 


I have finally reached the end of my CD collection… they are now all ripped.  870 (give or take) CDs are now stored on my PC.  17,501 files in 1,411 folders for a total of 270Gb.  There are 458 unique album artists covering just about every, imaginable genre.


Crap?  How do I find something now?


Windows Desktop Search to the rescue!  I use this free desktop search engine at work to quickly dig through megabytes of saved e-mails… and now I’ve also found a great use for it at home as well.


You can either type in your search (searching through e-mail, files and more) then narrow the results to just the music files by clicking the “Music” icon in the toolbar or you can use the keyword “music” when you perform the search (e.g. “Robert Plant Kind:music”).  You can even create some quick play lists by doing a search like “kind:music genre:classical”.  From the results you can select multiple files and either play them directly from search or create a play list.





Ripping all the music was done over the period of four months and took me hours to complete, I definitely don’t want to do it twice.  All the music is ripped to a RAID array, each hard disk has an exact duplicate.  For backup advice, see my earlier post: Are you crash-safe?