Two months ago, my back-up external hard drive crashed. And nearly simultaneously, my primary laptop crashed too. All my thousands of photos from the past 15 years, potentially destroyed. My digital scrapbooking files, also probably went *poof* in a cloud of magnetic dust. Aaiigghh!

I sent the external hard drive to Best Buy’s Geek Squad. I spent approximately $150, but they were only able to recover one video I made of my mom’s wedding. My mom’s wedding’s video is all and good, but I mean, thousands of goofy pics of my kids?! All gone?! At least I got a sleek, brand-new (but nearly empty!) hard drive as part of that “deal.”

Then I remembered a set of utilities recommended several months ago by a Twitter friend: Liberkey.com.

Liberkey.com Logo

Liberkey is basically a set of over three hundred (yea, hundreds!) free (yea, FREE!) PC (sorry, no Mac) utilities and programs that are installed onto an USB drive. A single, easy-to-use program unifies all these utilities and makes it easy to add / remove programs and keep all these programs updated. And since they’re all on an USB drive, you can bring the set of utilities anywhere with you and plug it into any PC computer / laptop / netbook.

Liberkey main program

What utilities and programs am I talking about? Ah, here’s a short but fabulous list of the best programs and categories:

  • Browsers, including Google Chrome, Firefox, and Opera
  • Office productivity suites, especially OpenOffice.org which rivals Microsoft Office and has a complete word processor, presentation, spreadsheet, database, and more
  • FileHippo which checks many programs on your computer and makes it easy to update them
  • Paint.net and GIMP, which have similar functions as Photoshop Elements, as well as dozens of other smaller graphics utilities to paint upon, repair, or enhance your photos
  • Dozens of file management / repair utilities, including those that copy, back-up, repair, defrag, re-name, search, and more
  • Many network programs for Internet bandwidth monitoring, configuring router and computer settings, and more
  • A good number of video programs for editing, enhancing, fixing, and managing videos
  • Dozens of programs to manage, repair, create, or stream audio / music files
  • Anti-virus scanners, anti-spyware catchers, and numerous other security-related programs
  • Registry optimization / repair and many other programs that repair and tweak your computer operating system so that it runs better and faster
  • And many, many more

Liberkey Updates view

Liberkey index of utilities

Some of these free programs — like OpenOffice.org, GIMP, and Paint.net — are nearly or equally as good as their expensive counterparts.  And everything is portable – you can take all these with you in your USB thumb drive. Because there are just so many (free!) goodies – especially the huge OpenOffice.org program – you just have to make sure you’ve got space for them all. So, I recommend that your USB thumb drive be at least 4 gig.

So, what did I use to recover files from my defective external hard drive? Let’s see, I used these two programs:

  • I used “Partition Find and Mount” to re-mount the damaged hard drive.
  • Next, I used “TeraCopy” to delicately copy files from the damaged hard drive to the new drive. For such a simple program, it worked surprisingly well.

I just wish that a mobile version of Google Picasa was one of the Liberkey applications. That’d be like icing on top of layers of icings on an immense and beautiful cake … I had some other beefs, but the newst beta version of LiberKey (v5.0) takes care of them: remembering my favorite / last used applications, and a better navigation scheme.

Oh, my photos? I was able to save ALL of them onto the new external hard drive. And clean out / fix a friend’s computer. Thank you, Liberkey.

I’ve since then saved a backup of my photos onto the cloud. I’ll explain in a future blog post – stay tuned.

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When I moved into our new house earlier this year, we immediately ordered high-speed DSL Internet service from Verizon. In addition, we installed a security system via a Monitronics contractor. While Scott, the Monitronics contractor, was installing the alarm box and hooking it up to a phone line, I asked him if there should be a DSL filter as well. He explained that the alarm system would only actually use the phone line during emergencies, and that it would work without a DSL filter anyway. I took his explanation at face value, and he hooked up the alarm system without using a DSL line.

In the months since then, we’d been having trouble with our high-speed Internet service. It’d shut down / cut out several times a day, mostly at inappropriate times especially during important videophone conversations. At other times, it’d slow down to a trickle and our pages would l-o-a-d o-h s-o s-l-o-w-l-y … I kept trying different things to fix this problem — calling Verizon, paying $$ for a new wifi router, paying more $$ for an all-in-one modem/router from Verizon, shortening the phone / cable lines, tweaking router settings, etc etc etc. Nothing seemed to remedy the DSL service problems, which was quite embarassing to me — after all, I’m a Proud Geek who prides myself on my ability to solve computer and network problems!

Then I had a brain fart, ahem, notion: what if the alarm system was indeed interfering with our high-speed Internet service? After all, it was installed without a DSL filter. So, I emailed Scott and asked him to come and install a DSL filter (that we already had from Verizon) between the alarm system and the phone line. Despite protestations that the alarm system is NOT interfering with our DSL service, he came the next day, charged us $85 (sigh), installed the DSL filter in minutes, and left.

And behold and lo, our Internet service has (miraculously?) improved! It has not shut down even once in the week since Scott’s visit — even during ultra-important and lengthy videophone conversations. Connection stays swimmingly high, and our pages load quickly and consistently. YAY! My Proud Geek reputation stays untarnished!

Moral of the story? Don’t listen when alarm technicians tell you that alarm systems don’t need a DSL filter. If you get DSL high-speed Internet service, insist that alarm technicians do plug alarm systems into a DSL filter then into the phone system.

What are DSL filters, and why do we need them? High-speed DSL service uses the same phone line we use. These phone lines (mostly) have 4 “wires” within each phone cable. (Office phone lines often have six wires for additional phone functions like intercom, conferencing, etc — that’s why office phone lines are sometimes thicker.) DSL service uses two of these wires and voice service uses the other two wires. But when regular telephones are plugged into a phone line that is being shared with DSL service, users can hear an electronic “hiss.” In addition, DSL Internet service users may see interruptions. DSL filters are used in between telephones and phone lines to make sure that telephones use the two wires that aren’t being used by the DSL high-speed Internet service.

As an aside: we had our Monitronics alarm system installed for free, including numerous wireless window sensors, a motion detector, two strobe lights, and an alarm console. We pay $38 a month. If we get several referrals (maybe 2? maybe 4?) of people who then use Monitronic’s alarm system, our first year’s payments are waived. If we get a few more referrals (2 more? 4 more?) after that, then payments for the following year are also waived. If you’re interested in getting the same deal and would like to be one of my referrals (and then you could work on getting your own referrals), email me at josh@proud-geek.com with “Monitronics” in the subject. I don’t get paid nor get advertising dollars for doing this blog, so I’d consider this semi-payment! :-)

Heads up, frugal (meaning poor!) students: you can “steal” Microsoft Office 2007 for $60. This promotion begins / began at midnight the night of September 12th, and ends on April 30th, 2008 — so act (relatively) quick. We all know that you students love to procrastinate — almost all of us have been there. So, get off your tush and steal your own copy of Microsoft Office 2007! Otherwise, it’d cost a cool $400 …

(Thanks, Download Squad!)

The Ultimate Steal

Google Desktop logoGoogle Desktop, at first look, comes with features that many people think they just can’t live without. But after installing it, Google Desktop actually slows down your computer’s speed at times — which can be quite irritating.

But first, what are the features of Google Desktop?

  • Window's Search functionQuickly search your computer for the information you need. Google Desktop can search files, pictures, certain words within files, emails, your web-browsing history, and much more. When I say “quickly,” I mean QUICKLY — you get complete search results within a couple seconds, within a browser window instead of a separate window. Not like the “Search” function built into Windows that is accessed via the Start or Windows logo symbol. That dog seems to take forever to search for results within your computer. Google Desktop does this very, very quickly.
  • You can add a sidebar to your desktop which displays information you want, like your photos, recent news items, weather, and more. Much like the Windows Vista sidebar, butGoogle’s sidebar was there before the Vista sidebar.
  • You can add numerous gadgets to the sidebar — lots of gadgets similar (or identical) to those you can find on Google’s Personalized Homepage.
  • You can add a search box anywhere on your desktop or in the taskbar, linking to Google Desktop and/or the general Google search function.
  • And some more features as well.

But this functionality comes with a downside: noticeably slower computing speed at times. Not all the time, mind you, but some of the time. The first time you useGoogle Desktop, it will take quite a while for Desktop to do the first indexing (sorting of all the info on your computer). During this time, you will notice that your computer is slower, and that there is a noticeable delay for pop-up menus and right-click menus to appear, and for your clicks to “register” with the computer.

After the initial indexing is done (which can be within an hour, depending on how much junk, ahem, information you’ve got on your computer), your computer will feel normal once again. But once in a while,Google Desktop will do its indexing act, although for a far shorter time than the first one. During each indexing act, your computer will again feel slow.

Google Desktop says that it will do the re-indexing only when your computer has been idle for 30 seconds or more. But hey, that’s like an instant to us folks who open a largewebpage and read what’s on it, then gets tapped on the shoulder by our partner / spouse or kids, and then look back at the computer and click to see the rest of thewebpage — and hey presto, the browser now feels “slow” because Google had begun its re-indexing act.

Friends and associates often ask me to “clean out” their computers to make them feel more speedy. And when I sit down at their computer, I always look forGoogle Desktop first — and I uninstall it (with their permission, which they always give). Instant speed-up. (I also look for other assorted junk and spyware that they may have accummulated over the years — but that’s for another blog post.)

So, if you have Google Desktop and have been frustrated with your computer’s speed, I strongly recommend that you uninstall it. If you find it very useful, then well, good for you.

This is the third (well, duh, it’s obvious because there’s a “#3” in the title!) in a series of reviews of free software or websites which you could use to add captions or subtitles to your videos. I’ve previously reviewed Windows Movie Maker and Jumpcut.
Subtitle Workshop logo

Acting on a tip from commenter drmzz, I tried out Subtitle Workshop by URUSoft. In a nutshell: this is a professional-quality program designed with one purpose: adding closed-captions to videos. And it does that purpose apparently very well. But it isn’t designed for “burning” captions or subtitles onto videos that we upload onto the web — instead, it creates a separate file that television studios then use to display closed-captions. Don’t use this program if you just want to caption vlogs and videos of your daughters scarfing down birthday cakes.

Subtitle Workshop is a free downloadable program for PC computers (sorry, Macs), and comes with a long list of impressive captioning features. Scripts / text files can be imported, and subtitles / captions can then be easily created (with a further list of features like splitting or combining lines of text, etc). The timing and length of these subtitles can easily be adjusted as well.

Here’s a photo of what the page looks like. Click on it for a larger version.

Subtitle Workshop screenshot

There is a learning curve, since this is professional-quality captioning software. I almost never read the users manual, but I had to for this one. I was used to adding captions along a visual time-line (like on Jumpcut and Windows Media Player), and having to use actual numbers (i.e., starting captions at 3,753, ending it 1,5 seconds later) was a bit of a mystery at first. And yet, in a short time, I had added captions to a video of my daughter enjoying her first birthday cake a bit too much. Piece of cake, pun intended.

But then I tried to save it, I was faced with a bewildering array of file options. That was when I realized this program was designed for creating a separate file for closed-captions to be used on television. That is, this program would not “burn” the captions onto the video itself, but creates a separate file for closed-captions. That meant this program was not designed for captioning the typical web videos we upload to YouTube, Xanga, etc. That wasn’t explained on the homepage nor in the users manual. And I finally found something about this on URUSoft’s FAQ page:

  1. How do I save the video file with subtitles?

    This is by far the most frequent question. What I have to say is that what you want to do does not have anything to do with Subtitle Workshop. The program is not meant for this task and never will. It can only handle text based subtitles and cannot “attach” them to any video. However, this does not mean there is no way to achieve this task, it only means that you can’t do it with Subtitle Workshop (although it can help a bit). Note that we do not recommend at all to burn subtitles into video file (unless it’s absolutely necessary) since the subtitles won’t be able to be removed after and it needs whole re-compression of the movie, due to which you will loose video quality and precious time.
    The first thing you need to do is save your subtitles in SubStation Alpha format (SSA), this is the only part in which you will need to use Subtitle Workshop. Then you need to have this tools: VirtualDub or VirtualDubMod (better), “subtitler” or “TextSub” plug-ins for VirtualDub. There are many guides in many languages on how to proceed, try to search for one on these sites:

Oops. All my efforts, for naught. I didn’t want to download additional programs to make this work. I wanted something easy and fast for captioning videos that I then upload to the web.

If you’re doing professional-grade closed captioning for your movies, then by all means use Subtitle Workshop. If you want quick, permanent subtitles on your videos, then I (as well as the designer of this software program) recommend you look elsewhere.

[EDIT:  See two excellent comments by drmzz and Jared Evans (along with a link to his blog post on this topic) on how to “burn” subtitles onto your videos using Subtitle Workshop and a separate program or programs.]

 

Lots and lots of videos on the web out there, and a TINY fraction of them are captioned. All those news clips on CNN and other media websites, many amateur and professional videos on YouTube and Google Video, many many vlogs (whether hearing or deaf), lots of movies available for instant watching via Netflix and its ilk, etc. Just about all of them aren’t captioned. Sad, because there are so many resources — FREE ones — out there where one can caption these videos.

Over time, I plan on doing a series of posts covering some of these free resources — computer programs as well as Internet web services — where you can add captions. If you know of any other free program or web service that you use to caption videos, please let me know in the comments and I’ll test ’em out as well.

Without further ado, here’s the first resource:

Windows Movie Maker logoWindows Movie Maker (XP or Vista version): This is a free, downloadable computer program made by Microsoft for PC computers. There is no actual “captioning” function. Instead, I had to click on the “Title and Credits” feature (using the “Subtitles” transition) and then on the “Title on the selected clip” link each time I wanted to add a line of captions. In its favor, it was easy to move a line of caption back and fro on the movie time-line, and stretch or shorten the period each caption would appear. You can also modify how the title appears onto the screen (altho I wished I could have it appear a bit lower on the screen), as well as how it looks — including its font, color, size, and transparency.

A left-hand thumb up for the ease of customizing these captions, and a right-hand thumb down due to having to press several buttons for each line of captions.

As an example, I used a video of my daughter announcing her “campaign” for President. Yes, she’s speaking gobby-gook. But that’s par for the course for politicians, eh?

If you’re a half-way saavy computer user, you probably have quite a few day-to-day software on your PC computer — your Internet browser, Google Earth, anti-virus software, etc. It can be quite a chore checking each one of them to see if there is an update (free or paid).File Hippo logo File Hippo Update Client takes care of this chore. A tiny file that’s easy to download (it doesn’t even require unzipping / installing), it quickly checks the installed software on your computer for updates, and displays a nifty window in your default Internet browser listing which programs need to be updated. With a direct link where you can download the update, of course.

I love this program! Takes care of wondering, “am I running the latest software?” I should note that the File Hippo homepage has running lists of the latest updates and most popular downloads. Very useful as well.

As the Google Operating System blog (where I found out about this little update client) pointed out, though, the File Hippo Update Client doesn’t check your computer periodically on its own — you have to manually run this program. Maybe it’ll soon update itself to offer this functionality. My way around this was to drop a shortcut to the File Hippo Update Client into the “Startup” folder within the Start / Windows pop-up from the lower left corner of your desktop.  This way, this program would run every time you turned on the computer.  Also, this program requires the Microsoft .Net framework to be installed — and, of course, provides a handy link where you can download this framework.

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