I noticed with some interest, if not a slight annoyance, that the MP3 player in my car lists the music folders not in alphabetical order, but in the order which they were copied. To make matters worse, this list is further scrambled by my frequently removing and copying new folders as my music tastes change. This led me to wonder if there’s a quick way to sort them without copying them to a temporary folder and then back again. It turns out there is. The free DriveSort utility got everything sorted in seconds, allowing me to find my favorite music with relative ease. So there.
My short-lived return to Newgrounds wasn’t a total waste of time. I came across some useful freeware tools that will continue serving me long after the nightmare of getting blammed fades away.
JPEXS Free Flash Decompiler is one tool I found. I had long lost the source files for my Flash movies and only had the SWF files to work with, but the Decompiler makes it easy for me to extract the images and sounds I used when making my animations.
As part of the movie submission process, Newgrounds now requires that a thumbnail image of the movie be uploaded. I used the Decompiler to extract one of the movie frames to a PNG file, but I now needed to crop a small section of the frame file and save it as the thumbnail image for uploading. The Crop Board feature of FastStone Image Viewer makes this step very easy. I can specify the exact size of the cropped image I want and from there I just need to position the selection box over the section of the image to be cropped.
I’ve heard of FastStone’s Image Viewer before but this is the first time I’m really using it. I like its familiar Explorer-like interface for browsing the folder tree and being able to see thumbnails of my image files along the way. The image resizer feature came in handy for enlarging my Flash movie frames to make it easier to create the cropped image. I now like it so much that I’m dumping IrfanView and will use FastStone for my image viewing needs from now on.
Recently I was surfing for animated smilies when I came across a page that had a nice gallery of smilies for later use. Instead of downloading each smiley individually, I went to my Temporary Internet Files folder where I easily located the files in the browser cache and just copied them to another folder. But I ran into another problem. The file names now had  embedded in them, as in Zombie.gif. I could have renamed each file individually but I thought there must be an easier and faster way to do this.
Enter the free Bulk Rename Utility. At first glance the program looks confusing and intimidating with all the various options and rename modes but I was able to figure out how to get it to rename the files to my satisfaction. I used its search and replace function to get rid of the  from the file names in less than a second. I’d never seen a file renamer with a search and replace function but this one does and it works really well. I’ll have to play with this some more and see what other file renaming magic it can do.
Meanwhile, the zombies freely roam with nothing in their way.
Free Studio is a suite of 45 freeware utilities for converting video files, downloading videos from YouTube, burning DVDs, creating red/blue 3-D photos and videos, and much more.
I tend to be wary of software companies that make their programs available for free as there’s bound to be some strings attached, but the company releasing Free Studio makes it clear they make their money from advertising on their web site and donations from their users, allowing them to offer their software for free.
There’s quite a list of programs included with Free Studio and I haven’t yet tried them all. The only program I’ve used is the YouTube downloader, which works well. You can set it up to download multiple videos in formats of your choice. The download speeds aren’t too bad, but if you absolutely can’t wait, there’s an optional Rocket subscription you can purchase to boost the download speeds.
I’ll have to play around with some of the other programs in the Free Studio suite to see how they fare. I think quite a few of them are going to come in handy.
Glass2K is a freeware program that renders not only Notepad but any program transparent. While the program is running you can right-click in the program window you want to render transparent and a menu will appear for selecting the transparency level for that window. At 56kb, it’s small enough for use on USB drives but it does save its settings to the registry under HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\VB and VBA Program Settings\Glass2k. Other than that it’s a great little program to serve your transparent needs.
3DP Bench is a very unique benchmark tool that offers two functions I have not seen in other benchmarking programs. The first function reboots your computer and measures how long it takes for Windows to load and render itself ready for your use.
The other function is a measurement of how long it takes to calculate pi. My Gateway laptop with a 2.40 GhZ chip took 5 minutes to do the calculation, while my main desktop computer with an AMD Athalon 64 processor finished the calculation in just 2 minutes. I’m sure the newest computers out there can calculate pi even faster than that!
3DP Bench needs no installation and with the exception of writing a temporary startup entry in the registry for the reboot benchmark, doesn’t write anything to your system. It’s a unique approach to see how fast your computer really is.
As you surf the web, domain name servers are hard at work translating your destination web site’s address to its IP address equivalent. For example, if you type in google.com, the DNS server looks up that address and determines its IP address to be 126.96.36.199. Your browser then knows where to go and before you know it, there’s Google on your screen. This goes to show the tremendous role they play in your daily Internet travels.
There’s a good chance your computer is configured to automatically obtain the addresses of your Internet provider’s DNS servers. But how well do these servers measure up with DNS servers on other networks? Are there faster DNS servers you can switch to for a faster browsing experience? There really wasn’t a simple way to find out.
Until now. The free DNS Benchmark utility from Gibson Research is a very powerful yet easy to use tool that compares your ISP’s nameservers with other public nameservers found across the Internet. It can also generate a custom list of the fastest servers for you to use for dramatically boosting the speed of your web browsing. At the same time it’s perfectly safe for novice users to try out without messing up their systems.
In an earlier post I listed some cool freeware virtual pianos that turn your computer into a virtual MIDI keyboard for exploring your musical side. Here are a few more additions to that list.
Desktop Keyboard – One of the simpler virtual pianos out there and one that requires no installation. It’s very easy to change octaves and instruments although you can only play one octave at a time.
Virtual MIDI Keyboard – This is one of my favorites. It sports a very nice looking interface with all the controls in one window. It’s simple enough for beginners to start jamming yet has options aimed at the power users in the audience, such as using the mouse itself to control the sound. I’ve yet to start experimenting with the advanced features myself but this program certainly satisfies my frequent urges to jam.
One cool use for any wireless network is streaming your MP3 music from your desktop computer to your laptop. Vibe Streamer is the perfect tool for the job, one that turns your desktop computer into your very own streaming music server. It’s very easy to set up so you’ll be up and running within minutes after installation. All you have to do is create the user accounts and point the server to your music folder.
From your laptop, you simply launch your web browser and type in your computer’s IP address and once you’re logged in, you will instantly have your MP3 music library at your fingertips. This is a great new way to enjoy your music collection all over again.
Vibe Streamer is absolutely free to download and use and has no spyware or adware whatsoever.
I know DVD ripping software can be a sensitive topic as it is too easy to create pirated copies of DVD’s, but I am approaching this topic as a handy means of working with DVD’s you already own. I’ve been looking for something to allow me to watch my movies at my computer without needing the disk and have tried several freeware ripping utilities.
The best of the bunch is Leawo DVD to iPod Converter, despite its title as a converter. It’s very easy to use and will have you ripping DVD’s within minutes. It lets you choose which chapters on the disc you want to rip and can merge the selected chapters into one file. It has several preset configurations, one of which will accomplish what you need done.
This gem of a program converts the files on the DVD to an MP4 file which you can put on your iPod or just watch on your computer. While you can’t change the video quality settings in the freeware version, the medium video quality at which the freeware version is locked is already outstanding and crystal clear. The file size of the resulting MP4 file is fairly small. Using the default settings, I was able to rip the Chris Farley classic Tommy Boyto a 1.11 GB MP4 file.
I also like how the ripper can be configured to rip only the audio from the DVD and save it to an MP3 file. This is perfect for concert DVD’s or for any movie you wish to watch in your mind.