Identifying Colours – Review 7

When I look at the computer screen, I normally just consider the content. Does it really matter whether something is light grey or dark grey?

To professional creators (e.g. artists, filmmakers, designers, and programmers), the precise colour displayed can be a very important consideration. Even a non-technical user might want to make sure their pictures and captions are the same shade.


Hexdecimal Logo

Hexdecimal (spelled differently from ‘Hexadecimal‘) is a nice little ‘eyedropper’ tool to determine what colours are shown on your screen.

When opened, it shows a customizable window with a palette, two trios of color sliders, a list of text boxes, and a status bar.

Default appearance of Hexdecimal.

Default appearance of Hexdecimal. In contrast to most programs, the Save, Open, New file, and Keep on Top buttons are located below the rest of the interface.

The text boxes on the right side display the current colour in six different formats:

  • CSS-friendly
  • Hexadecimal (uppercase)
  • Hexadecimal (lowercase)
  • Red, Green, and Blue levels in decimal
  • CMYK (useful for printing)
  • Common name

Click on one of them to copy the displayed text.

If you have recently copied something that Hexdecimal understands as a colour, then the ‘Paste’ button will be enabled. Click the button to display information about that colour.

What if you want to know more about an actual colour that you see on the screen? Left-click once on the large coloured rectangle in the middle of the window, then move the mouse so it’s pointing at the desired item. Holding down the left-mouse button will let you scan multiple on-screen colours. The program will only pick up a new colour when the mouse is motionless.

By default, the Hexdecimal window will remain on top of all other windows. Click the pin icon to toggle this setting.

If the program doesn’t quite work as you need, there is a helpful ‘readme.txt’ file bundled along. It includes full explanations for each of the multiple settings Hexdecimal understands.

Readme (right), file listing (left), and Hexdecimal (top).

Readme (right), file listing (left), and Hexdecimal (top).

All in all, Hexdecimal is a very nice tool. There are many competitors which offer eyedropper functionality, but I feel that Hexdecimal can easily hold its own.

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

Typing More Complex Characters – Review 5

There are many times when the default keyboard layout is sufficient. The base character set ASCII is enough for most text in English and a number of other languages that also use the Latin alphabet.

However, there are times when 128 characters are just not enough. You may want to type one of the over 100,000 characters defined within Unicode. That’s when I look at the compose key. The two keys pressed immediately after this are combined into a single symbol.

Unfortunately, a dedicated compose key is rare to find on keyboards. Windows has built-in support for a compromise: by holding Alt and typing out a specific number, you can generate some of the more sought-after characters not available on your keyboard.

For Windows users, I recommend Zive FreeCompose.


FreeCompose program logo.

While running, FreeCompose allows the user to reassign one of the standard keyboard keys for use as compose. Additional configuration options are offered for the Caps Lock key, one of the most popular choices.

Options and 'About' dialogs for FreeCompose

FreeCompose options dialog, available from the right-click menu, allows you to change what characters specific key combinations will form.

Mac and Unix-like Configuration

Mac OS X and X Window-using systems come with compose key support. They require only a little setup.

Mac OS X users can set one key to act as compose with a little work – see Bob’s guide for details. All you need to do is place (by copying or creating manually) a new keybinding file in the appropriate folder.

The keybinding file holds all the relations between entered and composed characters. Editing this file is the only step needed to change how compose works. FreeCompose’s options dialog does the same thing, but is more user-friendly.

Users of other operating systems can either look at the section of System Settings devoted to keyboard shortcuts or edit the Xorg configuration. Compose key shortcuts are built into X and don’t need to be entered manually.

Either way, the compose key is a powerful tool for typing letters and symbols that may otherwise be challenging to enter.

Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Windows 2000,XP,Vista,7,8; Most (if not all) other OS’s
Licensing The New BSD License

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

Darkening the Computer Screen – Review 2

After reading a review from Lifehacker describing Kino, I decided to take a look at this tool.


Kino Program Icon

Kino can darken your computer screen over a broad range of values, from a completely transparent filter all the way to opaque black. A small selection tool lets the user highlight an area that should not be darkened.

Example use of Kino, with Taskbar fully visible and 50% opacity.

Example use of Kino, with Taskbar fully visible and 50% opacity.

The Page-Up and Page-Down keys increase and decrease the opacity of Kino’s filter, respectively. Clicking on the red + sign, then clicking-dragging over the obscured display allows for at most one untouched rectangle of screen. At its maximum opacity, all but the (optional) selection and/or Taskbar are completely black. This feature is incredibly handy for focusing on one task or item at a time.

Using the crosshair tool to delineate a small segment of the screen. Opacity is set to 100%.

Using the crosshair tool to delineate a small segment of the screen. Opacity is set to 100%.

Similar tools do exist to perform this within web browsers (I recommend interested readers look at Stefan V.D.’s popular Turn Off the Lights extension).

The program’s name (Kino is German for cinema) and curtain-themed icon suggest that it was made for video viewing. Kino’s versatility, though, makes it more than capable of extending the range of monitor/backlight brightness settings as well. Even multi-monitor setups are supported.

When considered along with the ease of setup and removal, this versatility is definitely reason enough for me to use Kino regularly.

Price $0 (Free)
Compatible OS‘s Windows XP,Vista,7,8
Licensing GNU General Public License version 2