Measuring Stuff On Screen – Review 10

Now, imagine you are a graphic designer, image editor, picture enthusiast (or even a hapless website designer). You need to see the precise distance between two pixels.

What is one to do? Take a screenshot, open the image up in a fancy editor, then look for the helpful image resolution somewhere in the status bar.

Alternatively . . .

KRuler

KRuler Logo

KRuler is a nice graphical tool for determining those pesky distances. When launched, it places a virtual ruler marked out with pixels on your screen.

A sample KRuler, with a small black arrow pointing to the 454 pixel mark.

A sample KRuler, with a small black arrow pointing to the 454 pixel mark.

While the mouse is over the KRuler window, a straight black arrow extends out from the line. This, in addition to the precise pixel distance displayed at the 0-end, make it significantly easier to measure onscreen distances.

KRuler can do a bit more than just that, though. The colour of the pixel located at the tail of the arrow is shown next to the pixel number. There are also quite a few configuration items available by right-clicking on the ruler. Orientation, transparency, colour, and even the font can be changed if you want to.

KRuler context menu. Many aspects of the ruler can be changed - here the font size is larger and the ruler is measuring percentages.

KRuler context menu. Many aspects of the ruler can be changed – here the font size is larger and the ruler is measuring percentages.

Overall, I’d say that this is indispensable for those times when you need a ruler.

Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Anywhere KDE is available (Linux, BSD, Mac OS X, etc.)
Licensing GNU General Public License v2

Telling the Phase of the Moon – Review 9

Times exist when you might want to know what the moon looks like. This urge can present itself at importune moments – during a bright, sunny day; when the moon has already set; when your internet connection has been lost. To get around this issue, I turned to software (well, why not?).

Moonphase/Månfas

Månfas Icon

 

Moonphase is a useful little tool for displaying the current phase of the moon.

There is one version each of the program for Swedish and French-speakers. The English version is further split into a Northern hemisphere program and a Southern hemisphere program. As far as my non-rigorous testing could determine, they are functionally identical.

The main window of Moonphase SH, showing the phase of the moon, a calendar (for selecting future or past dates), and an interactive map.

The main window of Moonphase SH, showing the phase of the moon, a calendar (for selecting future or past dates), and an interactive map.

The program is chock-full of features. In the top left is the current phase of the moon, with its accuracy listed in the lower left (usually ±1 day). Below that are dates for major moon phases in the current month – New Moon, First Quarter (Waxing), Full Moon, and Last Quarter (Waning). Just to the right of these phases, taking up much of the lower-central part of the user interface, are controls for choosing a location on the Earth.

As the phase of the moon is dependent on where it is measured, take care to enter the latitude and longitude correctly. You can use the pair of scrollable degree lists, or click at the precise location on the map in order to set the location. Full instructions are available by clicking on the button labeled HELP (on/off).

Image of the Swedish version of the program.

Image of the Swedish version of the program.

Above the map is a calendar for choosing year, month, and day. A small button to the right allows switching Sunday from the beginning of the week to the end. Below the button panel on the right are important moon facts (against a dark background) and sun facts (against a light background).

These include:

  • moonrise
  • moonset
  • moon phase
  • moon distance
  • sunrise
  • and sunset.

My only complaint is that Moonphase does not show up in the taskbar while running. All in all, though, it is a brilliant program.

Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Windows XP,Vista,7,8
Licensing Generic Freeware License

Changing Audio Files So They Work – Review 8

Times exist when a media file is simply unplayable. Perhaps your cell phone can’t decode Matroska videos, or your favourite music tagger refuses to touch wavs. For all intents and purposes, you must choose between abandoning the file and abandoning the media tool. That is, unless you are willing to transcode the file.

XMedia Recode

XMedia Recode Logo

XMedia Recode draws on the power of multiple free encoders and decoders, not unlike LASTAR. However, the programs have separate missions.

XMedia offers a straightforward interface for transforming music files:

  1. Click the Open File button at the top left to pick your input.
  2. Choose the output profile from the extensive dropdown list.
  3. Click the Add Job button when the settings are to your liking.
  4. Repeat the above 3 steps for each additional file.
  5. Click the Encode button at the top of the window.

The new files are placed in the same folders as their sources. This can be changed in the dropdown at the base of the window.

The format tab, shown upon starting the program for the first time. Near the top, under the button bar, is space for a list of source files (audio and video).

The format tab, shown upon starting the program for the first time. Near the top, under the button bar, is space for a list of source files (audio and video).

Multiple audio tracks can be pulled into one file or separated out on the Audio tab of the display. Video effects like color correction, conversion to greyscale, vertical flipping, cropping, and resolution are managed on the Filters/Preview tab. The program also has space for editing file metadata (a.k.a. music tags). Unfortunately, it can be easy to get confused in all the features and menus.

XMedia Recode is not really capable of enhancing audio – that’s primarily LASTAR’s domain. Xmedia’s strength lies in its ease of transcoding files to desired formats.

A small fraction of the different manufacturers supported. A user only needs to choose how the file will be used in future.

A small fraction of the different manufacturers supported by XMedia. A user only needs to choose how the file will be used in future.

Ultimately, I can say that XMedia Recode is near the top of its class. It uses a variety of free libraries to great effect (FFMPEG, FAAC, FAAD2, LAME, XVid, Ogg, Theora, libdvdread, Vorbis, x264, libvpx, and libbluray, according to the about dialog). While not suitable for high-end audiovisual editing, it is more than capable of recoding.

I strongly recommend it to people interested in converting audiovisual media from one format to another.

Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Windows XP,Vista,7,8
Licensing Generic Freeware License

Improving Music Quality – Review 6

Often, music files do not quite sound perfect. The vocals may be too quiet, the drums unintentionally overpowering, or something else entirely. Programs that play music sometimes offer equalisers that can change the relative volumes of individual sounds.

But what of the music players without dedicated equalisers? You will need either to put up with the music file’s quirks, or to perform permanent changes to the music file.

LASTAR

Icon for LASTAR: an ear listening to a stylised microphone.

LASTAR is the fine product of Arnaud Champenois, also known as Arthelion. The actual audio work is performed with the help of a few famous projects: libsndfile, libmpg123, FFTW, LAME, and Qt. That’s not to say that this is just a basic graphical shell over some pwerful components – on the contrary, LASTAR is highly effective. It offers coarse modification of the entire processing process, from file size to maximum volume.

Sample use of LASTAR - The main window shows a log of recent actions, the most common modifications, and even multi-file support.

Sample use of LASTAR – The main window shows a log of recent actions, the most common modifications, and even multi-file support.

High recommendations come from me – LASTAR is a very straightforward tool for changing up the volume levels of a music track. It can even split the file into equal-length pieces and convert it to a different format in the process.

Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Windows XP,Vista,7,8
Licensing GNU General Public License 3

Keeping the Display on – Review 4

This week, I’m discussing a handy little tool called caffeine.

A window listing caffeine's version, purpose, icon, command-line options, and website.

The built-in ‘About’ window.

Caffeine prevents the computer from going into sleep or hibernation. Open the program to start it running, disable it by double-clicking the tray icon that appears, or right-click the icon and choose Exit to exit it.

To learn a little more about what went into caffeine, I sent a few questions off to its creator, Tom Revell.

  • Safely Remove: How did you come up with the idea for caffeine?
    Tom Revell: I decided to write the app because I was subjected to what I considered to be a draconian screen lock policy by my IT department. I’m well aware of security concerns, and never leave my workstation without locking it first, but from what I recall it was set to 3 minute or something similar. I could be sat looking at information on the screen and the darn thing would lock, so I looked for a way around that happening.
  • Safe: Have you seen anyone else offer similar software?
    Tom: Yes, there are other pieces of software which perform the same function, including one which is for the mac which has the same name. Well, it’s an obvious name for something which keeps your machine awake…. A few years back I found that someone had taken my app, and used ResHacker to make it look like they had written it instead! I altered my code so that it’s not quite as simple to steal.
  • Safe: How does the program work so consistently?
    Tom: As for working consistently – I’m not sure what you mean. Perhaps you mean “how come it doesn’t crash” at which point I’d either reply “because I’m a great developer!” or more realistically “because the code is so simple”.
Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Windows 98,2000,XP,Vista,7,8
Licensing Freeware license