RSS Readers

Student Bloggers


Entries by Deryck Wong (30)


Install and Update All Your Windows and Linux Apps with Ninite

Start it up and Ninite automatically installs/updates all your selected apps.Ninite is a great website I discovered via Lifehacker that allows you to create and download a customized one-step application installer. Windows users can check out Ninite here, while Linux users should go here. The list of applications available is very extensive and covers a broad range of categories from browsers to IM clients to media players. More importantly, all this software is free and fantastic! Using Ninite couldn’t be any easier – just click the boxes to choose which applications you want in your installer, click “Get Installer” at the bottom of the page, and run the executable (which is very lightweight and only about 200 KB). That’s it! Ninite handles all the rest, downloading all the necessary files and installing them automatically.

I especially appreciate this feature because it lets me focus on other work while Ninite confirms all the annoying dialog boxes you would normally have to approve manually. On top of this automatic installation, Ninite also makes sure not to install toolbars or adware and automatically downloads the appropriate 32 or 64-bit version of the app for your PC. I’ve found Ninite to be invaluable for fresh system installs, not to mention its great updating feature. Just run Ninite again to experience the same seamless updates for all your Ninite apps! The bottom line is that it’s free, incredibly useful, and easy to use. Even if you already have all your favorite apps installed, use Ninite to upgrade them in one fell swoop!

Do you use any other one-click installers? Why do you like them better then Ninite? Let us know in the comments!


OS Tips - Navigate your Windows PC More Easily with the Windows Key

Unlock the power of Windows with this little gem of a key! Photo courtesy of Flickr user 123 Chroma Pixels. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.If you want to get around your PC more easily, turn to the Windows Key! For the longest time, Microsoft has built some great functionality into this little key, yet I feel as if many users don’t know about how powerful it really is. I hope you learn about something you haven’t seen before that helps to improve your workflow. Without further ado, here are some of my favorite Windows Key shortcuts (most work in Windows XP and up, but I will note which are Vista/7 only):

  1. Show Desktop: Windows+D. If you’re looking for a quick way to get to your desktop icons/folders, go with Windows+D. You can also do the same thing with Windows+M (minimize all windows) if that’s your prerogative. If you hit Windows+D again, it sends you right back to your previous window arrangement. Again, Windows+Shift+M does the same thing (unminimize all windows). I also like combining this with Alt+F4 directly afterward for a quick shutdown/restart key combo.
  2. Open a New Windows Explorer Window: Windows+E. I like this global shortcut because it doesn’t require me to choose my explorer window first; it’s great for instant access to your files from anywhere.
  3. Open Find All Files Dialog Box: Windows+F. Similarly, Windows+F is a global shortcut to search your entire PC, saving you a few steps in the process you’d typically go through to search for files.
  4. Lock Your Computer: Windows+L. If you want to make sure no one snoops around your PC while you’re gone at the library to get a drink of water or use the bathroom, make sure to use Windows+L before you leave to send your PC directly back to its log-in screen.
  5. Display the Run command: Windows+R. When you know the name of the program you want to launch (or it’s some esoteric Windows utility you rarely use), just go with Windows+R to quickly open the run command and launch programs to your heart’s desire.
  6. Open the start menu: Windows. Even by itself, the Windows key is still really powerful. Once you quick-access the start menu, you can right arrow key over to shut down/restart/whatever you want, or you can start typing to find whatever program you wish. With this alone, I’ve stopped using my mouse to open programs altogether.
  7. Display the Help Menu: Windows+F1. If you find the help function within programs useful, go with Windows+F1 to get help as quickly as possible.
  8. Select the First Icon in the Notification Area: Windows+B. If you want to be even more of a keyboard ninja, use Windows+B to highlight the notification area, then the arrow keys/enter to move around and select.
  9. Launch Pinned Taskbar Applications: Windows+Number Key (7 only). Let’s say you’ve got Chrome lined up as the first program pinned to your taskbar. Simply hit Windows+1 to launch Chrome. The same applies with any other application pinned to your taskbar. As you probably figured out, this is great for quickly opening applications that you always use.
  10. Aero Snap: Windows+Arrow Key (7 only). Use this to quickly and easily resize windows without the fuss or muss of clicking and dragging with the mouse
  11. Aero Peek: Windows+Space Bar (7 only). If you want to see how your windows are laid out and simultaneously show your desktop, this is the shortcut for you (although that seems like a very limited use doesn’t it?).

Do you know any more handy Windows Key shortcuts? What are your favorite uses for them? Let us know in the comments!


App of the Week - Access Google Voice From Your Desktop with GVNotifier

A while back, I wrote about Google Voice (GV) for one of my App of the Week features (read it here!). As I’ve used Google Voice more frequently, I’ve found it incredibly useful to just text from while working or studying from my computer. It’s just a million times quicker to use my keyboard as opposed to my touchscreen. In essence, texting has replaced instant messaging for me because now I can just text from my computer, and I’m assured my friends will get the message no matter where they are. At the same time, I discovered just how bare-bones the GV website is: I had to manually refresh the page every time I received a new message, which became very troublesome very quickly. In my quest to alleviate this annoyance, I came across GVNotifier, a handy app I’ve found useful enough to share with everyone on App of the Week

Platform Availability: Windows XP and up; you’ll also need to set up a free GV account here.

Cost: It’s free! Get it here!

What it is: GVNotifier is a full-featured GV desktop client. That means you can access all the functionality of GV without dealing with Google’s annoying and confusing GV website.

How does it work: After you download and install the app, login using your GV account information to get to the main window with three panes: contacts, call history, and voicemail. On the contact pane, simply click on a contact to start texting with that person or to initiate a call. As you probably figured, the other two panes allow you to access your call history and listen to your voicemails straight from your desktop.

Features: Real-Time Updates – As I mentioned before, the main drawback to the GV website is that you have to refresh the page every time a new text arrives. To make sure you’re on top of all your friends’ drunken texts, GVNotifier does as its title says it should and automatically notifies you whenever you receive a new text with a chime and a flashing taskbar icon. This is the number one reason I prefer GVNotifier to the official GV website.

Google Contacts Integration – GVNotifier automatically brings in all your contacts from Google Contacts, along with their pictures. This makes GVNotifier even more like an IM program, allowing you to quickly text your closest friends wherever they are. You can even initiate calls using your affiliated voice number or Google Talk!

Notification Area Icon – If you don’t like having clutter on your desktop, banish GVNotifier to the notification area (the right side of the taskbar with all the little icons), and it will only bother you when someone else texts you.

The Competition: There are a couple GV desktop clients out there:

VoiceMac – Free – Mac OS X 10.4 and up

Google Voice Chrome Extension – Free – Download it here

First off, GVNotifier and VoiceMac essentially do the same things, just on different platforms. If you don’t run Windows but you want a GV desktop client, get VoiceMac. While these programs do the same things as the official GV Chrome Extension, the main reason I favor these apps is because they still work without having to run Chrome (if you prefer another browser or don’t want any browser windows open). I also dislike how all the text messages in the browser extension are clumped together in the unintuitive inbox style, just like on the official GV website.

Summary: GVNotifier brings nearly all of GV’s features straight to your desktop. Most importantly, instead of manually refreshing the GV website every time you want to check for new texts, use GVNotifier to keep on top of all your messages automatically

Do you know of any other GV desktop clients? Why do you prefer them to GVNotifier? Let us know in the comments!


Better Browsing: Automatically Find the Lowest Price Shopping Online with InvisibleHand

Even though it only pops up when you need it, InvisibleHand looks pretty slick when it does show.

While you can always go on Google Shopping and go through a few clicks to find the lowest price on whatever you’re buying, why deal with the hassle of even a couple clicks when you can just let an extension do the work for you? With that cue, allow me to introduce you to InvisibleHand. InvisibleHand is a free browser extension available for Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and even Internet Explorer (although why would you want to use IE?). Download it here! There really aren’t many preferences to fiddle around with – just four checkboxes that are entirely self-explanatory. InvisibleHand just does the rest on its own: whenever you search for an item on the search engine of your choice, or if you go to a product page on a company’s website, InvisibleHand will automatically compare the prices for that item on other stores to ensure you always get the lowest price on whatever you’re buying. When it appears, you’ll see a yellow toolbar at the top of your page with all the information intuitively laid out for you. Best of all, InvisibleHand only pops up whenever you need it, making your browsing experience as unobtrusive and clutter-free as possible.

In addition to aggregating and filtering pricing data, InvisibleHand also lets you see Amazon customer reviews at a quick glance, along with buttons to quickly share the deal with your friends! The extension even works for flights too! In fact, the only real weakness I’ve found is that InvisibleHand doesn’t scour the web for used or refurbished products, which are generally of the same quality but 20-30% cheaper. However, if you’ve just got to have that new-in-box smell, use InvisibleHand to make online shopping just that little bit more convenient.

Do you like InvisibleHand? What do you think of its competitors, like PriceBlink? Let us know in the comments!


OS Tips – How to Take Screenshots in Windows 7

If you're curious about how to do this in Windows 7, read the rest of the post!Last week, I covered how to take screenshots in Mac OS X. For all you Windows users out there who felt left out, here’s all the information you’ll ever need on how to take screenshots in your preferred OS. It’s important to understand that you’ve essentially got two options: 1) Print Screen and 2) Snipping Tool.

Print Screen: Print Screen is a button on your keyboard usually tucked away in the far upper right hand corner. The key is also often abbreviated to PrtScn or something similar. In any case, once you hit it, you should notice your cursor flash for a second. That indicates that the system successfully copied over the entire contents of your screen to the clipboard. From there, open up your image editing program of choice (I usually just use Paint), paste with Ctrl+V, and presto – you’ve created a screenshot in Windows 7. If you want to just copy the contents of one window to the clipboard, place your cursor over the window you want to capture, hit Alt+Print Screen, and paste wherever you’d like.

Snipping Tool: If you look in the Accessories folder within your Start Menu, or type Snipping Tool into the Start Menu search box, you’ll open up this neat little application. In addition to Print Screen’s functionality, Snipping Tool also allows you to capture a rectangular or free-form snip, similar to Mac OS X’s Shift+Command+4. After you capture whatever you want, Snipping Tool presents you with a preview of your image. From there, you can save it as one of four file types, edit it with annotations or highlights, or even email it to colleagues. It even disappears when it’s within your capture area! Snipping Tool really is a very robust utility, and I use it all the time for producing screenshots for HackCollege.

How have screenshots helped you produce better work? Are there any additional tips that I missed? Let us know in the comments!


App of the Week - Quickly and Easily Clone your Mac’s Hard Drive with Carbon Copy Cloner

If you read HackCollege, you probably know all about the volatility of hard drives and the importance of backups. It really is a matter of when and not if when it comes to hard drive failure, whether it be software or hardware related (I’ve personally dealt with corrupt permissions that couldn’t be repaired twice in the past year). There’s nothing worse than spending hours writing a paper, only to have your hard drive randomly die on you and have all that hard work go down the drain if you don’t have a backup. While it’s easy to remedy this solution for mission-critical schoolwork files by keeping them in the cloud with a free Dropbox account, 2 GB isn’t enough to backup your entire hard drive. After all, wouldn’t it be just as devastating to lose your photos, music, and movies as your schoolwork? In order to ensure you don’t lose anything – all the way down to that one preference in a program you’ve only used once, clone your hard drive with Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) and make sure you experience almost zero downtime if case something actually does happen to your hard drive.

Platform Availability: Mac OS X 10.4 and up

Cost: It’s free donationware! Download it here!

What it is: CCC is a lightweight program to clone the entire contents (every file, every preference, literally everything) of your disk block by block to another location – another hard drive, another Mac on your home network, or even a location across the Internet.

What it Does: Easy and intuitive cloning. Choose a source and a destination, then hit clone. That’s it! CCC will take care of the rest.

Features: Bootable Backups – In case something does happen, you can use your Mac OS X Install DVD to transfer contents from your CCC backup to your hard drive, restoring everything perfectly to how it was when you last modified the backup.

Incremental Backup – Save time and hard drive space with this great feature. After your initial backup, subsequent ones only copy over items that have changed since your last backup

Scheduled Backup – Easily make backing up a regular habit with this great feature. Instead of having to remember to initiate this process every week, have CCC take care of it for you. I would even schedule it to run while you’re sleeping so it doesn’t hog system resources and hard drive performance.

The Competition: SuperDuper - $27.95 - Mac OS X 10.4 and Up

ChronoSync - $40 - Mac OS X 10.4 and Up

Disk Utility - Free – Built into Mac OS X; find it in your utilities folder

Why the Featured App is Best: Honestly, CCC really doesn’t do anything revolutionary, and there’s a ton of competition in the Mac disk-cloning field. But where it holds an advantage is in the fact that it does the one thing it’s supposed to extraordinarily well. Sometimes, backing up can be such a complicated and tedious process, but CCC aims to make it as easy as possible. You can clone in literally just three steps! There aren’t any preferences to fiddle around with if you don’t want to – the developers really have made it as easy and intuitive as possible. Despite the simple nature of the program’s UX, CCC still creates robust and full-featured backups. Unlike Disk Utility, CCC creates a true block-by-block copy that you can actually use to boot your Mac. CCC also includes features like incremental and scheduled backup for free that you would have to pay for in programs like SuperDuper. ChronoSync has some really great advanced features like file comparisons and data filters, but you’re paying $40 for functionality you probably don’t need. If you want the most intuitive and full-featured Mac backup program on the market, get CCC.

Summary: Backing up your data is just like brushing your teeth – tedious but necessary. To make this important task as seamless as possible, use CCC. After you create your first backup, create a weekly schedule to let CCC do its thing and sleep easy knowing all your data’s safe in case anything ever does happen.

How do you manage your backup process? Is there an even better program/method I forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments!


Better Browsing: Quickly Connect with Contacts via Gmail using Rapportive

Need a laptop? We've teamed up with Intel to bring you the HackCollege Laptop Chooser. If you share the Laptop Chooser, you'll be entered to win a Intel Core i5-powered Samsung Series 9 Notebook!

With the ubiquity of social media today, more than ever, we deal with the search costs of finding people on not just Facebook, but also Twitter/LinkedIn/insert social media site here. That’s why I’m devoting this week’s Better Browsing to minimize those costs and make connecting with people as easy as possible. Rapportive, a Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Mailplane extension, puts all that social media information right in one place. Best of all, it’s free!

Replacing the ads you usually see to the right of your Gmail messages, Rapportive - 1) connects you with contacts on social networks, 2) allows you to easily map events and add them to your calendar, and 3) allows you to easily record notes associated with that contact. It’s super easy to install and use. There is literally no setup or options required. Just install the extension, go to Gmail, and off you go. Based on the sender’s email address, Rapportive automatically aggregates his/her information to form a rich contact profile that features easy access to social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many more). Now when you receive emails from whomever, immediately add them to your social network. This is incredibly useful for students trying to establish a large network to find a job. I love extensions that make life easier, and Rapportive does exactly that. Its only real limitation is that it doesn't work outside of Gmail on your browser unless you use Mailplane (a Mail application for Mac OS X). But if you use Gmail and social networking in any capacity whatsoever, get Rapportive.

What do you think of Rapportive? Have you found any other extensions like it? Let us know in the comments!


OS Tips – How to Take Screenshots in Mac OS X

Read on to find out how I did this!Need a laptop? We've teamed up with Intel to bring you the HackCollege Laptop Chooser. If you share the Laptop Chooser, you'll be entered to win a Intel Core i5-powered Samsung Series 9 Notebook!

While this might be old hat to some of you, for those who don’t know, it’s incredibly useful to know how to take screenshots of your device. Let’s say you’ve got a PowerPoint presentation for a class, and you can’t save the image to insert it into your slide deck. What do you do? Screenshots to the rescue! Here’s a list of all the native OS X screenshot functions, how to activate them, and how it’s been useful for me. Important note: All Mac screenshots that save an image produce a .PNG file titled with the time and date you took the screenshot that saves automatically to your desktop. For screenshots that copy to your clipboard, just paste (using Command+V), onto whatever application you wish. If you’re worried about getting it to work, you’ll know you successfully captured your screen/window/area by the ensuing camera snapping sound.

Save Screenshot of Entire Screen as a File: Shift+Command+3. This is most useful if you want to post pictures of your entire screen to Flickr/blogs to show off your cool desktop and all your various menu bar applications. I’ve also found it nice for showing others how I arrange my windows in my workflow. Altogether though, the utility is rather limited.

Save Screenshot of Specific Window as a File: Shift+Command+4, then hit space. This is really, really handy! Mac OS X changes the screenshot cross cursor to a camera and automatically recognizes windows. You just choose whichever window you want, hover over it (you’ll know which one by the obvious blue glow), and click to save the image. I use it all the time to capture great focused screenshots for HackCollege, or for showing friends and family what settings need to be checked/turned on to enable additional functionality in their applications.

Save Screenshot of Arbitrary Area as a File: Shift+Command+4, then click and drag the area you wish to capture using your mouse. Remember that PowerPoint dilemma I brought up earlier? This is the solution to that problem. Let’s say an image is displayed via Flash on a website. You can’t save it, so just use this screenshot capture to get what you need and make your presentation shine! It’s also handy for capturing only a portion of a window to save the extra step of cropping an image later. Remember that the numbers below the cursor refer to your capture's pixel dimensions; the top number is length while the bottom number is width.

In case you don’t want to produce a file and just need to copy the capture to the clipboard, just hold the Ctrl key while invoking the aforementioned keyboard shortcuts. They all work the same way but just copy to the clipboard instead. Additionally, you can use Grab, a program found within your utilities folder, to perform the same tasks via a GUI. After you take a screenshot using Grab, it spits out an untitled image document that you can then save wherever you wish. Grab includes the additional functionality of a timed screen capture if that's of interest to you. Most of the time though, I find the basic keyboard shortcuts more than powerful enough for my needs. 

One last thing: There's third-party software out there for taking screenshots with far more advanced options than the ones natively available in OS X. Try Paparazzi (capture entire webpages - free), Skitch (annotate, edit, and share screenshots - free), Layers (save windows in your screenshots as separate layers in Photoshop - $24.95), or LittleSnapper (manage and edit all your screenshots - $39.99) if you're interested.

How have screenshots helped you produce better work? Are there any additional tips that I missed? Let us know in the comments!