HashOut: 2007.02
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StatCounter adds facility to label IP addresses

Did you notice the new "[Label IP Address]" next to the IP address in your "Recent Visitor Activity", "Recent Pageload Activity", "Visitor Paths" and the "Recent Visitor Map" reports? According to StatCounter this new feature lets you name IP addresses so that you can:

  1. Identify click fraudsters
  2. See when "the competition" has visited your site
  3. Identify recurring visitors
  4. See just how many times your mom has been admiring your site...

Screenshot of the new StatCounter Add New IP Address Label Form
Apart from that you might have your own idea of using this feature to your benefit which you can share here.

But wait... most of us use dynamic IP addresses. So how is this going to help?

For those of you who don't yet know what's StatCounter... It is a free invisible web tracker, hit counter and real-time detailed web stats provider that lets you analyse and monitor visitors to your website in real-time by inserting a piece of code on your web page(s).
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Profiling & Calibrating CRT and LCD monitors

Yesterday I discussed the importance of profiling computer monitors in order to get optimum printing results. Today let us look at the ways to get your CRT and LCD monitors profiled and calibrated.

The simplest way to profile your monitor is using Photoshop. If you are using Photoshop version 5.0 and above it comes packaged along with Adobe Gamma which can profile your computer monitor. However this isn't the best solution as it is too subjective and prone to user error.

The scientific way to get your monitor profiled is using a monitor-profiling package and a spyder - a tiny device that when attached to your screen works with the software to calibrate and profile your monitor. It produces objective settings for black point, white point and gamma as well as color balance. These packages are available for around US $300 and can save you a lot of time and money in producing accurate, reliably consistent prints.

How they work?

The spyder is plugged into a USB port and the software is installed and run. The software then asks to attach the spyder to the screen (or hold it in place). Once it is in place the program then proceeds to flash a series of colors for several minutes. The spyder reads these colors and informs the software of what it's seeing. The program then calibrates your monitor and creates a Profile based on this information. This profile is simply a text file which describes how your monitor displays various colors.

What to look for when buying a monitor-profiling package?

Before you set out to buy a monitor-profiling package, read this "open letter to monitor profiling software manufacturers" by Ethan Hansen which will help you get the right monitor-profiling package suitable for your job.

Is there anything more that needs to be done after calibrating and profiling my monitor?

Once you have calibrated and profiled your monitor, you need to set up Photoshop to work properly. Computer Darkroom has some must read comprehensive tutorials by Ian Lyons that will help you get all the settings right in Photoshop 5, 6, 7 and CS (a.k.a. version 8).
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Reading on the Move

Are you an avid reader, a technology buff or a travel freak? Would you like to carry 80 book titles along with you wherever you travel? If yes, Sony Reader Portable Reader System is all you need.

Sony Reader with the optional leather coverThis handheld device is the size and weight of a paperback and sports a revolutionary screen that makes the text and graphics look as sharp as on a printed page and is not backlit, thus avoiding screen flicker and eye strain. One can even read in bright sunlight. With battery life equivalent to roughly 7,500 continuous page turns, readers can potentially devour multiple bestsellers such as “Marley & Me” by John Grogan, “I Feel Bad About my Neck” by Nora Ephron, “Ricochet” by Sandra Brown and “War and Peace” without having to recharge.

Not intended to replace traditional books, but to supplement them, the Sony Reader allows people to take a library of books and other reading material with them wherever they go.

Sony has agreements with a number of major publishing companies to provide more than 10,000 eBook titles for download to the Reader from its CONNECT online eBook store.

In addition to ebooks the Reader can also store and display PDF, RTF, text and JPEG files. You can also download via your PC selected RSS feeds from blogs and news sites free-of-charge. Feeds from popular sites such as Salon, Slate, Huffington Post, engadget and Gizmodo among others are available right from the start.

Sony Reader is available at sonystyle.com. More information about Sony Reader is available at www.sony.com/reader
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Publishing for Dummies

Got that book inside you that you've always wanted to publish? Love to make something more of your travel shots? Blurb is a company that believes in the power of books.

www.blurb.com screenshotFounded by Eileen Gittins in 2004, this publishing service can make an author of any would-be novelist, travel writer, or poet wishing to create and distribute affordable, bookstore-quality books. The company's BookSmart software application makes it possible to create a professionally-designed book using simple dragging and dropping of photos and auto-flowing text in about an hour.

Blurb recently announced that its new BookSmart beta release version 1.5 is available for download at www.blurb.com, (for Mac and PC) enabling customers to create soft-cover books and slurp blogs from any TypePad or WordPress account. And it's cheap! Prices start at just US$18.95 for up to 40 pages, while a whopping 440 page hardcover book costs just US$79.95
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How important is profiling computer monitors in DTP

It is said that to get colors right, computer monitors need to be profiled. How important is this? Is it really necessary for me to spend a lot of money to get a device to profile my monitor? I have a home printer and I am quite satisfied with the colors but when I give my files to a lab, they often give me lousy colored prints.

Let us take a hypothetical situation and assume that your computer monitor has a blue cast, that you are unable to notice. Let's also say that your room is lit by incandescent bulbs (yellowish lights). The yellow light could cut the blue and that could be the reason you were not able to notice the blue color cast on the monitor. Now, if you were to give this digital file to a lab, you are very likely to get a print with a blue cast.

In this example, let us say that your room lighting is perfect (not giving any color cast). Your computer monitor is still giving a blue cast that you are not able to notice. When you print the file using your home printer, the print looks good - without any color cast. Does that mean that your system is perfect? Not necessarily. Your printer may be giving a yellow color cast that could be canceling the blue cast from the monitor! In this case, two wrongs seem to be making a right! As explained, such a situation does not mean that everything is OK.

To circumvent such potential problems, and if you are very particular about your work, it is very much necessary for you to profile your computer monitor as well as your printer. It is also necessary to profile the monitor/printer every month, as the calibrations do shift (slightly) from time to time.

There is one solution (?), though it is very unscientific and debatable. Don't try to compare the colors of your print to those on the monitor. If you are happy with the print colors (even thought they may not match the original scene), then be happy. Think of this in reality - can you hundred percent remember the multitude of colors that you saw in the original scene? Can any man-made imaging device (film or digital sensor) ever 100-percent match the colors provided by mother Nature? Mind you, I am not advocating that we do a sloppy job, I am merely indicating that trying to be 100-percent accurate in everything we do in life, is close to madness.

Tomorrow, I will talk about how to get your CRT and LCD screens profiled.
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Creating a translucent background effect using a PNG image

A lot of people have asked me how I created the translucent background effect on my personal blog. So here is the trick.

  1. Open Microsoft Photo Editor that comes along with Microsoft Office versions prior to MS Office 2003. If you are using MS Office 2003 or don't use MS Office at all then download MS Photo Editor from here.
  2. Select File > New then select Width as 1 Cm and Height as 1 Cm and click OK.
  3. Set the color of the background as per your desire/design.
  4. From the toolbar select and click anywhere on the image.
  5. In the Change Color to Transparent dialog box set Transparency to 20%. If you need more transparency, increase this value. If you select 100%, the image will become completely transparent. If you need a more opaque background, set a value lesser than 20%. Selecting 0% will keep the image as is.
  6. Now click Image > Resize and select Pixels as Units and Width as 1 and Height as 1. Click OK
  7. Click File > Save. Select the folder where you want to save the file and give the file a name, I gave it "translucent" and select Portable Network Graphics (*.png) under Save as type. Click Save. Close Microsoft Photo Editor.
  8. Now upload the image to your web server or where ever you host your graphics files.
  9. Now we need to edit the html of your web page(s). Set the background image of the page either using CSS (as below) or directly inserting the style element within the body tag. Now enclose the content that you want with a translucent background within div tags and set the background image of this div tag to the graphic image that we created using Microsoft Photo Editor. Again, you can either use CSS (as below) or insert the style element directly into the div tag.
    <style type='text/css'>
    body {
    background: url("http://www.yourdomain.com/pathtothebackgroundfile/background.jpg") top center no-repeat fixed;
    #outer-frame {
    background: url("http://www.yourdomain.com/pathtothegraphicfile/translucent.png");
    <div id="outer-frame">
    Your content goes here

  10. Save the html page/template.
  11. Publish your html page/template. You're done.
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Ripping & Duplicating DVDs - a look at the various options

Sometimes we all need to rip DVD videos to the computer and make backup copies for various purposes. It could either be a picnic video which you took last weekend on your handycam or your wedding video which you need to make duplicate copies of to distribute to family and friends or just a movie that you need to put it on your laptop so that you can view them while on the move.

Recently I needed to make duplicate copies of my wedding DVD video for distribution to family and friends. While trying to figure out how to do it I learned quite a bit about ripping and duplicating DVDs. Here I will detail two freeware softwares that I feel are good enough for the job.

HandBrake Freeware DVD Ripping Software - ScreenshotHandBrake lets you RIP your DVD to your computer in MPEG-4 (MP4) as well as XviD formats. You can then use any DVD burning software like Nero or CopytoDVD to burn the video on a DVD. It also gives quite a few options to control the output audio/video like language, subtitles, audio quality, video quality, file size/ bitrate, codec, frames per second (FPS), video cropping, frame size and a few other settings. You can either select the output file size or the bitrate based on your requirement. If you are too much concerned with the file size you can specify the size of the output file you want or if the quality of the output audio/video is important then you can specify the bitrate. However, you cannot make an exact ditto copy of your DVD preserving all the languages, subtitles and region code with HandBrake.

If you need to make exact ditto copies of your DVD for backup preserving all the languages, subtitles and region code(s) then DVD Shrink is the best option. You can use this software in conjunction with any DVD burning software of your choice, to make a backup copy of any DVD video disc. DVD Shrink will automatically burn your backup DVD, if you have installed the latest version of Nero or if you download CopytoDVD. And if you already have another DVD burning software then the output from DVD Shrink can be saved on your hard disk as a DVD folder or an ISO image which can then be burned on to a DVD R or DVD RW using any DVD burning software.

DVD Shrink Freeware DVD Backup software - Screenshot
DVD Shrink has to following advantages over other free DVD backup softwares:

  1. Most Commercial DVD titles are often encrypted to prevent you from either copying them to your hard drive, and if you manage to do so, being able to play the resulting files. DVD Shrink has built-in decryption algorithms to overcome this problem.
  2. Most DVD video titles are simply too large to fit, without modification, onto a single recordable DVD-R disk. DVD Shrink compresses or "shrinks" the data from your original DVD. DVD Shrink's compression algorithms comes close to those found in the best commercial softwares.
  3. It allows you to re-author your DVD so that you can make your own compilation from one or more source DVDs, or select only the parts of a DVD which you intend to view, thus preserving more space on your backup for the highest quality viewing.

There might be other, probably better DVD ripping and burning softwares available out there in the freeware jungle. But since I was kinda satisfied with the results of HandBrake and DVD Shrink, I stopped with my search right there. If you think there are better freeware applications out there then please do HashOut!
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Are you ready to own the Internet?

AllAdvantage, an Internet advertising company that payed users to browse the net while running their Viewbar software displaying advertisements based on the users' browsing habits, which had shut operations in February 2001 after nearly 2 years of operation due to the sharp decline in advertising spending as the dot-com bubble burst and the U.S. economy entered a recessionary period in mid-2000, is now back as AGLOCO which stands for A GLObal COmmunity with a little change in its business model.

Last time they paid a flat fee per hour to users of their Viewbar software whereas this time it will give users a share of the income that Viewbar earns from advertisements. Not just that! It paid users to refer other people to use the Viewbar and paid users again if those referred people refer other people - down until four levels. The income is paid out either in stocks or cash as per the user's wish.

AllAdvantege's Viewbar software was one of the earliest desktop user tracking and ad targeting technologies. The Viewbar displayed advertisements in a narrow application window that could be docked to the bottom of the user's screen, targeting those advertisements to the content being viewed by the user as they browsed websites. The same technologies, minus the permission of users or monetary compensation, became the basis of the adware and spyware industries - Wikipedia

Launched on November 20th 2006, the Viewbar software of AGLOCO is still under Limited Beta Testing and is slated for release sometime in March 2007. However the company has already started building the user referral network so that users can start earning right from day one. Last time the network grew to 10 million members in the first 18 months and by the time the company closed its doors, it had paid out over $120 million to its members.

Are you ready to get your share this time? If yes, sign up now and start building your referral network here.

Sources: johnchow.com, agloco.com
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Shuttling Favorites or Bookmarks between home, work and Hawaii

I have been traveling extensively since the last few months and it has not been very practical to carry my Laptop everywhere I traveled. So I uploaded all my Internet Explorer Favorites and Firefox Bookmarks to Google Bookmarks so that I can access them from anywhere in the world using just a computer with an Internet connection and any Web browser.

However, every time I needed to access these favorites/bookmarks from my Laptop, I had to sign in to Google Bookmarks as I did not maintain a separate list of bookmarks locally on my Laptop. This became too cumbersome and I began looking around for a plug-in or add-on for either Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 2 that would synchronize my Google Bookmarks with either Firefox Bookmarks or IE Favorites.

GMarks ScreenshotAfter a very extensive search, I found one Firefox add-on which did not synchronize Google Bookmarks with Firefox Bookmarks but displayed the Google Bookmarks right inside the Firefox Sidebar just like how Firefox Bookmarks are displayed. GMarks lets you add bookmarks to Google Bookmarks using the standard Firefox Bookmark window. You can add bookmarks to either Firefox Bookmarks or Google Bookmarks or both with just one click.

The bookmarks are displayed in a folder tree using the labels. You can have nested labels or sub-folders using a nested label separator of your choice. For example you want to have a folder named Extensions within a folder named Firefox and you have selected > symbol as your nested labels separator then all you have to do is enter Firefox>Extensions in the Labels field.

Other useful features include:

  1. A search function that searches not only the bookmarks' details, but also the content of bookmarked pages.
  2. Filters to apply labels or descriptions to bookmarks matching your query or to batch edit/delete bookmarks.
  3. Hiding entire labels from view in the sidebar so you only find them while searching.
  4. Shows not only your Google bookmarks, but optionally your starred Google Reader posts.
  5. Import your Firefox bookmarks to Google Bookmarks.
  6. Export your Google Bookmarks to a bookmarks.htm file.
  7. Optional Bookmark Count for each label.

Another advantage of using Google Bookmarks with GMarks is that you can file one bookmark under several folders using just one entry.

Google Bookmarks with GMarks is also useful for people who need to access their Favorites or Bookmarks from Home and Work computers. There could be many more possible scenarios where it could be useful. Do let me know if you know one.

Download GMarks here.
You can learn to use GMarks and its features here.
If you don't already have a Google Account then create one now here.
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Google Reader for Mobile Phones - A feature request

In continuation to Amit Agarwal's post "Google Labs Gathering Dust, No New Product Since 5 Months" I would like to add another feature request to Google.

Google has made the web version of Google Reader to imitate Gmail. However, Google is yet to come out with a mobile version of Google Reader similar to that of Gmail. Google reader currently does have a mobile-friendly interface that works within a WAP browser but it requires signing in every time you need to browse your reading list.

Alternatively Google can add Reader capabilities to Gmail itself, like Yahoo! Mail Beta so that all the info (email and feeds) can be found in one place.
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Now anyone can sign up for Gmail from anywhere in the world!

I think I am a little late on this due to the long break. But I feel it invites a lot of debate. Especially because Google has changed its policy overnight.

Eighteen months ago Google said that SMS invitation codes were used to prevent SPAM accounts and now Google has opened Gmail to anyone anywhere in the world without the need of any invitation code, either from a friend or through SMS. It's true that any web based service that monetizes from ads needs more users but then how is Google gonna fight spam now? Have they got any alternative arrangements?

It has been reported that the change did not occur simultaneously across all Google data centers and there might still be some places where the link is yet to appear.

Also another speculation doing the rounds is that Google might launch a paid premium service like Yahoo! But before that could happen it needs to be out of Beta, or is it already out of beta? If yes, then the folks at Google need to fix the graphic.
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Getting ideas for blog posts and RSS feed posts

After a long break, I was scanning the web for the latest news and discussions in the blogosphere and looking forward to discuss something on hashout when I stumbled upon this article by Sharon Housley. It gives 10 very useful ways to find topics for your blog or RSS feeds.

Sharon emphasizes on writing about unexplored topics and "tackling all of the content that many other publishers find difficult or uncomfortable". But considering the vastness of the internet and the anonymity that it provides, one would find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find such topics.

From my experience, I would recommend devoting certain amount of time on a daily basis to read blogs, news, magazines and even watch TV shows in the area of your interest. You might not get an idea to blog about spontaneously, but over a period of time it will surely help. For example, you read a news article about the Cisco-Apple iPhone trademark tussle in the morning and then discuss about it with your peers at work during the day. Now you have not just your own thoughts but also opinions from your pears to blog about.
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