Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Audit your computer’s hardware and software

WinAudit Ever wanted to know the gory details of your computer’s hardware and software configuration without having to painstakingly study each of its components? If you’re a geek, that answer would be a resounding yes. If you’re not, it doesn’t hurt to know, right?

Even though this isn’t the most exciting of ways to spend your time, knowing what your computer consists of is knowledge. And that’s power! I use WinAudit—a useful freeware application that does exactly this. Sounds simple enough, and it is. But the level of detail it brings up in the audit report is quite amazing—be it the serial number of your computer’s optical drive or the exact stepping of the processor, this application quickly and efficiently generates a host of information about the target system.

The program is a snap to use—simply launch it, click the Options button to select the categories you want to audit, then click Audit. It will run for a couple of seconds, then display its findings in neat categories. You can also save this report in a variety of formats including PDF, CSV (for Excel), Text, HTML or even XML. Better yet, you can launch this program from the command line—meaning you can write a simple batch file, and make it do its work with a single click. Check the program’s help in the ‘Command Line Usage’ section for information on the numerous tags you can use for automated command line logging.

As an example, here’s how to create a batch file that launches the program, audits the most important system categories, and write a CSV file to the same location as the program:

  • Open Notepad
  • Type the following: WinAudit.exe /r=gPtabz /o=CSV
  • Save this file in the same directory as the WinAudit program, and name it Audit.bat

Simply run this batch file—the program silently audits your system and creates a detailed system report in the same directory. You can also copy the program and the batch file to a USB drive, and use it to quickly generate a report of several computers. If you’re a system administrator, you’ll find this immensely useful for quickly generating system audit reports of several computers. If you’re not, it’s a cool tool to learn about your computer’s detailed specifications. Also use it while buying a new computer or laptop to make sure you’re getting what you paid for!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fluid interfaces, and wearing your sixth sense

Sixth_Sense_interface I recently came across this this truly awe-inspiring implementation of technology--a device that empowers you to intuitively pull up information on virtually anything in the world around you. Sounds too fantastic to be true? Click the image to see this proof of concept in action, as demonstrated at a recent TED presentation. And if you're looking for a regular dose of truly cutting-edge thinking and ideology, I highly recommend visiting the TED Web site and watching (or downloading) their fantastic lectures.

I think I just used up my quota of superlatives for this month. But with reason.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Automating your Web browser

These days, finding ways to be more productive and efficient is key to staying ahead. When it comes to general office work, browsing the Web or working on online forms and Web sites takes up a significant part of our working hours. In the normal course of working on Web sites, you'll notice a large amount of repetition in the tasks you do--logging into your favorite sites, entering registration information into online forms, transferring image and text data between your computer and the Internet... this list goes on. So how does it sound if I told you there's a way to automate these repetitive tasks, so that they can be performed with a single click? For starters, it would save a heck of a lot of time each day, and accrued over days and months it would translate into considerable savings and higher productivity, leaving you with more time for stuff you like doing!

iMacrosI use Firefox as my primary Web browser, and have been using a great little Add-on called iMacros to automate many things I do on the Web. From doing something as simple as logging into my Gmail account, to rebooting by DSL modem at specifics time each day (I'm on an Internet plan that offers unlimited data transfer between midnight and 8am, but I need to restart my modem at these times), I've created macros that have enabled me to free up gobs of time. Here's a brief walk-through for automating your Web browser:

First, download the iMacros Add-on for IE of Firefox from here. After installing it, launch it by clicking on the toolbar button that shows up in your Web browser.
Hint: Click the images for a larger view.
iMacros sidebar
You'll see several demo scripts in the sidebar--double-click one and you'll see it launch into action using demo scenarios. If you're so inclined, you can click on a preset script, then click the Edit Macro button to view the code that drives the script. Reading these lines should give you fair idea about how it works. iMacros sidebar - Edit
If you don't want to be bothered with writing code, you can simply have iMacros record your actions as you click through Web sites and enter information--the relevant code gets created automatically. To record a new macro using this method, click the Rec tab in the sidebar, then click the Record button. Then use your browser as you would while performing a given task--iMacros records your actions such as information typed in, and buttons, tabs and links clicked. Click the Stop button when you're finished. Rename the new macro that appears in the side bar to something indicative of your recorded task. iMacros sidebar - Record
The next time you want to run that task, simple double-click on the macro name, and watch as iMacros launches and does your work for you--in record time!

To help you get up to speed, see the iMacros support page for tutorials and code samples.

Next up, I'll write about how I created a script that reboots by DSL modem at specific times, enabling me to better utilize my unlimited night time download bandwidth.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Origami works of art

In an earlier post, I mentioned my interest in paper folding, and how fascinating it is to build interesting objects from simple materials. Back in school, I remember those lazy summer days, when I used to try and create everything from Origami flapping birds, to geometric shapes, to aerodynamically accurate paper aircraft! Of course, not all these endeavors were met with success, but it was a heck of a lot of fun.

Having been bitten by the paper folding bug recently, I decided to dig a little deeper and find out exactly how complex this art form can get. These days, there are hundreds of Web resources that will teach you the fine art of making paper models, complete with scientific explanations, and even instructional videos--it's on a different level altogether! An hour of digging through online resources and I came away amazed. Here are some of the best paper folding models I found--they can take anywhere from a few minutes to over 40 hours to create!

First up is what is touted to be the World's best paper airplane. Known as the O'Reilly airplane, it features all the aeronautics you could want in a paper aircraft--working rudders, stabilizers and flaps. Best of all, it takes minutes to build, and is scalable--the larger and stiffer the paper, the better it is likely to fly!
Click here for the step-by-step folding instructions, and here for a video on how to fold the plane.
Another one of my personal favorite paper airplanes is the 'Barnaby'. Designed by an ex-US Navy pilot, this plane is one of the easiest to build, and it flies like a dream!
Click here for the step-by-step folding instructions.
Moving on to more traditional forms of Origami, one of my favorite (and more challenging) paper objects is the Kawasaki rose. You'll need at least intermediate paper folding skills to attempt this model, but the results are great.
Click here to download the PDF of the folding instructions.
Kawasaki rose
Then there's this ultra-cool and super-realistic Noboru Miyajima bat! The level of detail and faithfulness to anatomy in this model is truly awesome. This is a rather involved model (it consists of a shade over 100 folding steps). But then again, the results are fantastic.
Click here to download the PDF of the folding instructions.
Noboru bat
If you're a movie buff, you'll be stoked by the characters on this page--you'll find Gandalf, Yoda and even Wall-E, all Origami-fied! Not all the authors have shared the folding instructions, but you'll find a video of the Wall-E character on this page. wall_e1

Later on, when you get bored of folding 100-step Origami characters, you'll want something that presents a bit more of a challenge. If you're like Satoshi Kamiya, a 27-year-old guy from Japan, you should be ready for the 200+ step designs. This guy is credited with developing some of the most advanced and complex Origami ever folded. Relying solely on his intuition and skill (that's right, no computer programs to assist), he creates true works of art with paper--from dragons, to mythical creatures, to animals and fish, check out the level of detail that's possible with with paper folding.

origami-mantis Kamiya-16_0
Satoshi_Kamiya__s_Bahamut_WP_by_Vargaskyld Ancient dragon

And then at the pinnacle of his skill...

dragon-origamiThis is an 8-inch model of an Eastern dragon, and is detailed with eyes, teeth, a tongue, whiskers, a barbed tail, and over 1,000 individual scales on its body. And yes, this model was folded from a single piece of paper. I'm in awe.

Check out this video of Satoshi Kamiya at work:

He's authored a book containing the folding instructions of all these fantastic paper models. If you're so inclined, you can buy it from here.

Finally, check out these informative online Origami resources here and here.

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