Edit with Photoshop…

I have a right-click context-menu shortcut for Photoshop that’s really handy. It allows you to right-click on any .jpg file and get an “Edit with Photoshop…” option conveniently located where you need it.

Note: The following requires modifying your computer’s system files. Although I’ve tested and use these modifications on my own computer, I’m not responsible for any damage to your computer that might arise as a result of attempting these modifications—proceed at your own risk!

  1. Open any folder (holding down the “start” key on your keyboard and hitting “e” is an easy shortcut).
  2. From the “Tools” menu choose “Folder Options…” then click the “File Types” tab.
  3. Scroll down and find the entry for “JPG.” (To make this quicker you can hit the “j” key on your keyboard to quickly jump down to the entries starting with “j.”)
  4. Click the “Advanced…” button, then click “New…”
  5. Under “Action:” enter: “Edit with Photoshop…” (without the quotes).
  6. Click the “Browse…” button and locate the “Photoshop.exe” application on your computer. It’s usually located at: “C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS2\Photoshop.exe” (assuming you’re using the CS2 version of Photoshop; other versions will be in a differently-named folder obviously).
  7. Click “OK” three times to get out of all the dialog boxes.

Now find a .jpg file somewhere on your computer, right-click on it, and see the “Edit with Photoshop…” option right at the top! You can also choose “Preview” to open it in the Windows Picture Viewer, and from there you can right-click on the picture and choose “Edit with Photoshop…”

This second tip is optional, and is a little more tricky (and consequently has a greater danger of something going wrong if you make a mistake). It will remove the “Edit” and “Print” options from the context menu, which I prefer not to have since I never use these.

  1. Start the Registry Editor by clicking the “Start” menu, then choosing “Run…” and enter “regedit.”
  2. Navigate to the following key: “HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\SystemFileAssociations\image\shell.”
  3. You may want to backup this key by right-clicking on the “shell” folder and choosing “Export.” If you save this key you can reinstall it should you ever need or wish to.
  4. Right-click on the “edit” folder and choose “Delete.” Click “Yes” to confirm. Repeat for the “print” folder.

Close the Registry Editor. Now you should be able to right-click on a .jpg file and see only “Preview” and “Edit with Photoshop…”

ClearType in Firefox

In a previous post I lamented that there was no way to get the same font smoothing in Firefox that Internet Explorer 7 offers without turning on ClearType for all of Windows. I have since discovered a little utility that does just that. The ClearType Patch for Firefox by Andreas Hausladen is a simple little program that has two buttons: one to turn ClearType on in Firefox and one to turn it off. The only difference between this and the Internet Explorer 7 implementation is that in Internet Explorer 7 only Web pages get the font smoothing; using the patch for Firefox adds font smoothing to the entire program, including menus, dialog boxes, etc. Still, it’s a better option than having to turn on ClearType for all of Windows just to get it in Firefox.

Note: You should always be extremely cautious about downloading anything from the Internet, as computer viruses and other nasties can be hiding inside the files. However, the patch described above was released by an established and respected computer developer, and I trusted it enough to install it on my personal system. Whether you trust it is something you need to decide for yourself.

Amazon.com MP3 Downloads

Bottom line: Two big thumbs up!!!

I’ve used many different methods to store music over the years, but recently that method has been digital. I have converted (over the course of several months) my entire CD collection to MP3 format and store it on a portable hard drive.

There are many ways to purchase new music that’s already in digital format, but most of these involve what’s known as Digital Rights Management (DRM), commonly called “copy protection.” I don’t like DRM, primarily because there is no uniform way it’s implemented. If I buy music from one service, I may have to use their proprietary software to play it instead of the software of my choosing. Further, portable digital music players (like the iPod) only support a limited set of DRM, so if I buy one of these devices from a particular manufacturer I am limited to purchasing music from services that support the DRM of the hardware I purchased. Additionally, DRM restricts how I can use the music I purchased by limiting what I can do with it. I need to burn music to CDs to listen in my car, but with DRM I’m limited in the number of times I can do that before the music “locks” and becomes useless. I know all of this DRM stuff probably sounds confusing; in my opinion it is.

MP3 eliminates all of the hassle and confusion. The MP3 format is universal, and supported by all modern digital music software. MP3 files can play back on almost everything that can play digital music, every computer, every portable digital music player, even my low-end DVD player can play disks with MP3s on them. MP3 files never “lock,” and allow me to use the music I purchased in the manner I choose.

I’m not a market researcher, but I think people are tired of the DRM. Companies like Apple have been talking about selling music without DRM. Amazon.com is stepping up to the plate and actually doing it, and they’re doing it right by using the MP3 format. They have a huge library of MP3-format songs already available for sale on their website, and I’m sure this will only grow. The MP3 format is versatile in that it can encode music at different levels of quality; Amazon.com is using a high-quality level which is indistinguishable from listening to a CD. Additionally, the price for their DRM-free music is the same as other services which use DRM.

Amazon.com allows purchasing of individual songs or an entire CD in MP3 format. So far I’ve purchased a couple of full CDs this way. When your purchase the entire CD, you have to use Amazon.com’s software application to download the music. Although I was hesitant at first, their software is easy to install, very convenient (it is a toolbar application which downloads the music in the background and requires no coddling), and works perfectly.

I could not be more pleased with what Amazon.com is doing and how they are doing it. Downloading an album in MP3 format is less expensive than purchasing a CD, and since I simply encode CDs into MP3 format and store them in a closet anyway Amazon.com is saving me time, storage space, and money. I hope their MP3 downloading service flourishes. I suspect other music downloading services will either have to follow suit or go out of business.

Here are some links of interest regarding digital music:

Amazonmp3.com – You can search for MP3 downloads from Amazon.com’s regular search box (they will show up in searches for music), but they have set up this special domain name to take you directly to the MP3 area of their website.

I Hate DRM – As you can tell by the title, the owner of this site doesn’t like DRM either. I Hate DRM focuses on the business ethics of DRM, and while I personally dislike DRM primarily for the technical aspects rather than the ethical I do agree with a lot of what this site has to say.

emusic – For the sake of completeness I should mention that other services have always offered music downloads in MP3-format, notably emusic. However, in my experience the selection of music they offer is limited, and in the case of emusic you are required to purchase a monthly subscription instead of purchasing the songs you want on an individual basis. While I applaud these services for using DRM-free MP3, I much prefer Amazon.com’s sales model. Hopefully Amazon.com will break new ground and allow other MP3 services like emusic to grow.

Wollensak Reel to Reel Magnetic Tape Recorder – My parents had one of these! In fact they still have it! It was my first tape recorder. Completely DRM free!

Font Smoothing in Firefox

Internet Explorer version 7 added a feature that makes fonts (a.k.a., “type”) appear smoother. I like this feature. I’m on the fence as to whether it makes the type more readable or not but it does look nice. (My general feeling is that it works better when using a DVI monitor interface than an analog one. My analog monitor has some color ghosting that’s especially noticeable with small fonts, and the smoothing seems to exaggerate this.) The problem is that I occasionally use Firefox, but Firefox does not have its own font smoothing option.

You can turn on font smoothing for Firefox, but there is a catch—you have to turn it on for all of Windows at the same time. To turn it on, go to the “Display Properties” dialog box (either through the control panel or by right-clicking on a blank area of the desktop and choosing “Properties”), click the “Appearance” tab, then click the “Effects” button. Under “Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts” choose “ClearType.” This will add the same font smoothing effect in Internet Explorer 7 to everything in Windows, including Firefox.

Perhaps in the future Firefox will add a setting to use ClearType that overrides the global Windows setting (this is what Internet Explorer 7 does now). Until then it’s all or nothing.

(Note: I mentioned right-clicking on the desktop. A quick and handy way to instantly get to the desktop is to hold down the “start” key and hit the “D” key. Repeating this sequence restores things back the way they were.)

Star Trek Convention

I went to my first Star Trek Convention this past weekend, held at the Las Vegas Hilton. Let me state for the record that while I enjoy watching Star Trek on occasion, I’m not a “Trekkie“; I was simply curious to see what one of these things was like.

If you have a preconceived notion of what a Star Trek convention might be like, you are probably right—I was. There were people walking around in costumes (although fewer than I was expecting), theaters set up for presentations, an autograph area, and a vendors’ area.

One theater was smallish and seemed to be geared towards the hard-core Trek fans, and the other held several thousand people and offered multimedia presentations and appearances by cast members from the various Star Trek series. I spent about 90 minutes in the large theater, catching the tail end of a presentation on a forthcoming DVD re-issue of the original series, and a question-and-answer session with Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner, two central cast members from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Predictably these two got a rock-star’s reception, and spent most of their time telling jokes and bantering back and forth.

The vendors’ area had two or three dozen different booths, all selling pretty much what you’d expect—Star Trek memorabilia, artwork, toys and the like. There was also a healthy dose of Star Wars items, which I was a little surprised about as I had thought hard-core Trek fans looked down on Star Wars (and vice versa).

One of the highlights of the convention was meeting Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on the “Next Generation” series. While other cast members required a special ticket to meet and get an autograph, I was surprised to run across a small table in the vendors’ area where he was sitting, selling personally-autographed copies of his new book and spending as much time talking to people as they desired. I bought a copy of his book, chatted with him for several minutes, took a picture together, and asked him to sign my convention program. He was an extremely nice fellow and I am enjoying his book.

What surprised me the most about the convention how small it was. I am used to computer conventions where you can spend an entire weekend and not see everything. I spent only a few afternoon hours at the Star Trek Convention, during which was I able to see a couple of presentations, have a long lunch, and walk the vendors’ area about four times.

All in all it was an enjoyable experience, satisfied my curiosity, and was worth the $35 admission.

Starfleet Poodles

Spontaneous Rebooting

I recently upgraded the graphics card in my Dell Dimension 8400 to an ATI Radeon X1950 Pro. Everything looked good, and I was getting pleasing results from 3DMark. A couple of days later however, my computer started spontaneously rebooting itself for no apparent reason. As the graphics card was the only recent change, I did a little research in that direction and discovered the X1950 requires a 450w power supply and, alas, my Dimension 8400 sports only 350w. I didn’t want to hassle with a power supply upgrade, so I downgraded my card to an AMD ATI Radeon X1650 XT and now all is well. Hooray for me.

Hanabi Screen Saver

Hanabi Screen SaverIn a previous post I talked about the need for a screen saver even with an LCD monitor. I thought I should take a minute to mention the excellent screen saver I use: Yukiyama’s Hanabi Screen Saver 2. It looks nice, adapts perfectly to every screen resolution I’ve tried it on, and is compact (so it uses only a small amount of computer resources). The screen saver’s Web page is in Japanese, but the screen saver runs fine on my English-language Windows computer. The link you want is the one with “hanay215.exe” in the title. The file will extract two versions of the screen saver: one with sound and one without.

I’ve tried those “fish tank” screen savers. The problem with those (and others like them) is that they use the computer’s 3D accelerator. When the screen saver starts, my 3D card kicks in overdrive, its fan starts running and it heats up. The Hanabi Screen Saver doesn’t use 3D so my 3D card stays quiet and cool.

By the way, “hanabi” is Japanese for “fireworks.”

A note about the above link: You should always be extremely cautious about downloading anything from the Internet, as computer viruses and other nasties can be hiding inside the files. However, I have used the above program for years and trust the downloads from that site completely. Whether you trust it is something you need to decide for yourself.

WordPress Image Header Photoshop Template

I’ve had some fun the last couple of days adding photos to my blog header. To facilitate this, I found the original Kubrick Photoshop template (“Kubrick” is the name of the default template in WordPress), then cut out everything except for the header. I also had to change the colors a bit because they didn’t exactly match the current WordPress default template.

You can download my modified template here. There is a readme file with instructions to get you started.

Note: To rotate the images, I am using the Random Image Script found here.

No More Wireless

I struggled with wireless for a year trying to get a downstairs computer hooked up with a reliable Internet connection. Maybe I just bought the wrong router, but it was one dropped connection after another. Fancy antennas did not help, and neither did hitting my forehead with the palm of my hand.

I finally found the answer: powerline networking adapators from Panasonic. These nifty little boxes solved my problem in about 5 minutes. You take the main unit, plug the power chord into the wall and the network cable into your wired router. You take the second unit, plug it into the wall and its network cable into the remote computer. Voilà, 100 Mbps networking with no dropped connections, and no worrying about WPA keys or other wireless security mishmash. If you want to add another connection somewhere in your home just buy another unit. (When you add a new unit you have to synch it with the master unit, which takes all of 10 seconds. This is a security measure to make sure someone that shares electrical wiring with you—like a neighbor in an apartment building—cannot access your network if they bought these same units.)

I evaluated other powerline systems but the Panasonic came out on top for several reasons. You have a single, thin power chord, with no “power bricks” hanging from the wall. The units are beautifully designed; small, stylish, and everything is labeled in easy-to-read type. The manual is well written and easy to understand.

I never thought of Panasonic for networking products, but I am impressed. They are a little pricey; I paid $185 at Amazon.com, about 4 times the cost of a basic wireless router. However, it was worth it to get 100% reliable networking without the headaches.

LCD Screen “Burn-In”

Back when I was using CRT computer monitors I always used a screen saver. The reason was, if you left a static image on your computer screen long enough it would actually etch itself into the glass. But that was long ago. Modern LCD monitors don’t suffer from screen burn in—or so I thought.

It turns out that LCD monitors can get a type of burn-in similar to CRT monitors. I discovered this the other day when I closed my web browser after a long session of surfing and saw a faint ghost of the image on my Dell 2005FPW monitor. I was in mild shock, and immediately ran to Google to see what I could find.

I discovered that the LCD version of screen burn-in is called “image persistence.” There is a Wikipedia article that explains it in detail. The good news is, unlike CRT burn-in, LCD image persistence is not permanent. When I turned my monitor off overnight it went away.

I’ve been using LCD monitors for years, so why had I never noticed this before? Apparently Apple monitors suffer from this problem to a greater degree than most others, and since my Dell monitor has the same internal workings as an Apple (one of the reasons I bought it) I now get to experience this very minor annoyance for the very first time. Apple has a page on their website with tips on how to avoid it.

With the advent of LCDs I had thought screen savers were now mere eye candy, but they still serve the purpose for which they were originally intended: keeping the ghosts out of my monitor.