10 Most Useful Free Utilities For Windows

Tech
  1. Process Explorer: Process Explorer is a free program that provides the functions of Windows Task Manager. It also allows you to see which files a particular process is using.
  2. Teracopy: TeraCopy is a free utility that can move or copy your files a lot faster than default which is great for large file transfers. It also replaces the default copy and move operations in Windows, so you can install it and then forget about it.
  3. Defraggler: Defraggler is a replacement for Windows’ default Disk Defragmenter. It lets you choose which files or folders to defrag as well as whole drives. It also provides the option to move big files such as movies, archives and disk images to the end of the drive. Another feature is to defrag the free space on your drive which puts all your files together by forming one large free space from all the smaller free spaces between your files.
  4. CCleaner: CCleaner is a great tool for cleaning up your computer.It deletes temporary files left by programs such as Chrome, Windows Media Player, Winrar and Office along with things like system caches, memory dumps, log files and browsing history. It can also fix missing references and unused entries in the registry. Moreover, it can wipe the free space on your drive to disable recovery of deleted files, help you uninstall programs and lets you manage the start-up programs like MSConfig.
  5. Everything: Forget about Windows Search. Everything search engine is a tool for Windows that lets you find files and folders instantly. It indexes a fresh install of Windows in a second and uses very little resources. You can also use wildcards and regular expressions while searching, making this a great program as long as you can’t remember where your files are.
  6. Greenshot: Greenshot is a great open source screenshot tool that pretty much replaces your Print Screen button. It provides shortcuts to capture a specific area, a window or the entire screen and later allows you to edit and save the captured image. Since I don’t use this tool all the time I only run it when I need it and since it uses lots of RAM.
  7. WinDirStat: WinDirStat provides you a disk usage statistic allowing you to clean up your system more effectively. It allows you to see which files and folders use up the most space in your system.
  8. Fences: Fences is a free program that allows you to organize your files on your desktop. It surrounds your similar icons with fences, contributing to the layout of your desktop and save desktop space. I don’t put many icons on my desktop but it is a great utility for those who do.
  9. Recuva: Recuva is a free file recovery program which allows you to undelete files that you erased. You can scan for deleted files in a drive or in specific folders and save the files you need to folder your choice.
  10. EASEUS Partition Manager: EASEUS is a free partition manager, it allows you to partition your hard drive as you like and resize the partitions. It also has more features such as partition copying, creating boot disks, drive letter switching and more.
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Evolving 2D Cars By Using Genetic Algorithms

Tech

Genetic algorithms mimic the process of natural selection and they are mostly used to generate solutions to optimization problems. Such as the problem of building two-dimensional cars to navigate a bumpy race track.

Here you can see an example car that I generated with 3 wheels jumping across the race track. To the top is the current generation, which is 12. It means that our car belongs to the 12th generation and that there were over 200 cars tested before it (since a generation consists of 20 cars).

Go BoxCar Go!

Cars with an extra wheel to the front tend to perform better after hitting a bump and getting airborne.

After the program tests a generation consisting of 20 cars, it considers the cars that belonged to that generation for selections, crossovers and mutations; which is another way of saying that it selects them by considering their scores, it does some crossovers between them and it does a degree of mutation to them. These result in a new generation of cars that may perform better in the racing track.

The cars aren’t perfect to begin with. At the start, they may not even have wheels (reinventing the wheel anyone?) and they roll over in seconds. However as generations pass, the better performing cars are found and the program goes ahead to use them more often since they score a lot more than the other weirdly shaped cars. The race track also gets trickier and bumpier after a while, which helps the further evolution of cars. In the following image you can see the same car slowing down to a stop while trying to ascend a steep slope.

Argh, almost

BoxCar crawling down to a stop, it was a good ride

You can also share a car that performs great with others or see other people’s cars. The algorithm is also explained to a degree for those interested. One problem is that after a while the generations tend to take a longer time since the cars perform better and longer. A solution is to get a bumpier road, by changing the track while keeping your generation.

The name of the program is BoxCar2D, check it out yourself. It’s pretty fun in the beginning, then you can make it run in the background for a while and check it later to see a better generation. Rinse and repeat to find the ultimate car.

To-Do List After Reinstalling Windows

Tech

For me it is pretty chaotic after formatting my laptop and I usually end up installing a lot more applications than I need and often forget some more important stuff.

So here is a comprehensive list I compiled that shows all the steps you should take after a clean install of Windows. Don’t forget to install these when reinstalling Windows.

  1. Change resolution: Right click on desktop and select Screen Resolution to switch to a higher resolution.
  2. Add desktop icons: Right click on desktop and select Personalize. Then add your most used desktop icons, such as My Computer or Network. I also add a shortcut to Add & Remove Programs that resides in Control Panel.
  3. Folder Options: Go to My Computer, Press Alt+T and select Options. Customize the settings in view tab. I change settings here to show hidden files and folders and show extensions for known file types.
  4. Disable UAC: Type UAC in the Start Menu and select User Account Control. In this screen, bring the slider all the way down to disable the annoying confirmation messages.
  5. Taskbar and Start Menu properties: Customize it to remove Default Programs, Games, Help shortcuts in Start Menu. Also uncheck Highlight newly installed programs, add Network, Run, System administrative tools shortcuts. Finally, uncheck Use Large Icons and increase the number of recent programs to 20. These are up to personal preference.
  6. Set up Wireless/Internet Connection: Configure your internet connection. In my case, I’ve set up the wireless connection during the Windows installation.
  7. Windows Update: Type Windows Update in Start Menu and start Windows Update. In the following screen you can select the update settings, which I change to “Ask me before downloading and installing updates”. Afterwards, select the updates to install and let Windows do its job.
  8. Google Chrome: Go get your browser. Alternatively, download Firefox. Download plugins/extensions later.
  9. AVG Antivirus: This is up to personal preference. Some people like Avast, NOD32 or Kaspersky instead. Don’t forget to update it.
  10. Driver updates: Download latest drivers from your hardware vendors.
  11. Add/Customize Users: Type Add User Accounts in Start Menu if you need to add more users to your system – I only change my user picture here.
  12. Restart: Finish updating Windows by restarting your PC as many times as needed. I continue this process at least until I have Windows 7 Service Pack 1.
  13. Change power settings: If you wish to have your own power settings, open Power Options and customize. I usually disable screen dimming.
  14. 7-Zip: I used to have WinRAR as a data compression utility. However after seeing a few reviews comparing the two, I decided to go with 7-Zip. It has better compression rate when compressing uncompressed file formats and it also doesn’t clutter your right-click menu as much. And it’s free.
  15. µTorrent: My go-to application for torrents. Light, fast, reliable and free.
  16. Ad-aware: Great tool for spyware removal. Also update it. You can also have Spybot S&D.
  17. CCleaner: A very efficient utility that deletes temporary files, fixes registry and more.
  18. Daemon Tools: Get this to be able to mount ISO files. Make sure you do an advanced install otherwise it will install a toolbar to your browser, among other stuff. You can also have PowerISO instead if you prefer.
  19. Foxit Reader: Great lightweight PDF Reader. Alternatively get Adobe Acrobat.
  20. Notepad++: My favorite text editor. Great for programmers.
  21. Java Runtime Edition: Needed for Java applications. Programmers can get the JDK version instead (which includes JRE, yay for us)
  22. Pidgin: For your instant messaging needs. Alternatively get MSN Messenger, Skype, X-Fire, Meebo (browser-based), Trillian etc.
  23. DirectX: Needed for most games and even for some video playbacks.
  24. Irfanview: Lightweight graphic viewer that is better than Windows Photo Viewer. Associate it with image files.
  25. CCCP: I used to have VLC Media Player but decided to give CCCP a try, which includes Media Player Classic – Home Cinema and ffdshow.
  26. Customize notification icons: Right click to right part of taskbar to customize which icons will be visible. You can also make all icons visible.
  27. Indexing: Search for Indexing in Start Menu to open Indexing Options. You might want to disable file indexing if your system is slow. However having indexing leads to faster search times for files and folders. You can also modify which folders to index.
  28. Disable sounds: Type Change system sounds in Start Menu to change Windows sounds to your liking. I disable them.
  29. Disable sticky keys: Type Make your keyboard easier to use to open the Ease of Access center and uncheck the single checked option.
  30. Customize page file: If you are an advanced user and you know how big your page file should be, you can configure this.
  31. Disable error reporting: Type gpedit in Start Menu to open gpedit.msc. Then Navigate to Computer Configuration – Administrative Templates – Systems – Internet Communication Management – Internet Communication Settings and enable Turn Off Windows Error Reporting.
  32. Disable system restore: You can set up how much space Windows can have for this feature. I disable it since I never use it.
  33. Change Default Folder Locations: You can change the locations of folders under your user folders such as Downloads to another partition by right clicking the folder and choosing the Location tab.
  34. Office: Install OpenOffice or Microsoft Office: Up to personal preference and situation.

At this point you can install some extra programs that you often use such as image editors. You can also make a backup image of your system to an external hard disk using Acronis True Image. Here is an additional optional list of programs you might need:

  • FTP Client (Filezilla)
  • Photo editing software (Gimp, Inkspace, Photoshop)
  • Download manager (I use none)
  • CD Burner (ImgBurn)
  • Defraggler: A good alternative to Disk Defragmenter.
  • Folder Size: Shows folder sizes in Windows Explorer.
  • Process Explorer: Replacement for Task Manager
  • Music Player (FooBar, Winamp)
  • Everything (lightning fast file searcher)
  • Screen capture (Greenshot)

You can also disable the Windows Features that you do not use through Add or Remove Programs such as Games, Windows Media Player or even Internet Explorer and save space.

What other steps do you take after reinstalling Windows? Do you prefer other programs? Let me know.

Awesome Screenshot, Great Chrome Extension

Tech

Awesome Screenshot is a Chrome extension that I discovered today when I was browsing the Chrome Web Store. With this extension you get a small button to the right of your address bar. When you click the button and choose to capture the entire page among the options, a new tab appears that includes an interface that enables you to crop the captured image or add annotations (in the form of rectangles, lines, text and more). You can also blur out parts of the image.

After you’ve cropped and edited the screenshot to your liking, you can either save the image as a local file in your computer or you can easily upload it to the plugin’s own website and receive a temporary or a permanent link to access or share it. Awesome Screenshot is available in Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

GrooveWalrus, Great Spotify Alternative with Last.fm Support

Tech

The new Spotify limitations meant that I’d be looking for a good and free streaming music player to meet my music needs. At first I tried a few browser-based alternatives, such as Grooveshark and Fizy, but later I realized that this wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in a music player that I would be listening to all day. I needed to have a desktop application that also had Last.fm support, basically something more like Spotify’s application.

GrooveWalrus, a great streaming music player

GrooveWalrus, a great streaming music player with good ease of use.

After a quick search in Google, I found out that what I had in my mind actually existed. And it was awesome. GrooveWalrus is pretty much an application to play songs from the two music databases and from your local hard drive. In addition to sharing the love for walruses, it can save and export playlists, import playlists from Grooveshark (and therefore import playlists from Spotify if you convert them to Grooveshark playlists first, though a little trickier) and scrobble your tracks to Last.fm.

A part of GrooveWalrus' Last.fm interface

GrooveWalrus offers a great amount of Last.fm integration. Wait until you see the next tab.

GrooveWalrus also has a number of already installed useful plugins that enable you to assign global hotkeys (even to your media keys, so you could pretty much minimize GrooveWalrus and only access it with shortcuts after creating a decent playlist), fetch lyrics for your tracks while they are playing (just like Winamp plugins), access and control the music player through a web remote, see the history of previously played songs and even put those songs into a two-dimensional coordinate system with axises of your choice!

Search results in GrooveWalrus

Lots of search results for most artists guaranteed. Click to maximize.

Other great things GrooveWalrus can do include getting charts from Last.fm such as the list of similar songs (or artists) to the currently played song, lists of the top songs, albums of the artist and the associated Last.fm tags for the song played. You can also get the tracks that have a particular tag in an instant.

Furthermore, you can view what your friends and neighbors in Last.fm are listening to and even what songs they loved while using Last.fm and then add those to your playlists (a great way to populate your playlists). You can also see associated album and artist data for the song. And so many other great features.

All in all, GrooveWalrus is a great streaming music player that brings the best of two worlds and puts it on your desktop for your convenience. It is written in Phyton and it is available for both Windows and Linux (you might want to try Wine to get it running for Linux) You can get it here for free.

Fizy: Streaming Music Website with a Simple Design

Tech

Fizy, with the tagline “easy way to find songs and music videos” is a powerful and simple browser-based music search engine with many awards. Having much in common with Grooveshark and other similar streaming music services, it also has some shortcomings which might not annoy you so much depending on your habits. It is currently displayed in Intel AppUp and it is available in 30 different languages. So here is a short review and comparison of Fizy with other similar services.

First off, the positive points:

  1. It is simple: It has such a simple design that it looks like it was designed for mobile browsing. This minimalistic approach is a safe refuge from some lots-of-images-and ads-on-your-face websites (cough, Grooveshark, cough). It is also ad-free with no pop ups.
  2. It is lightning fast: Fizy can pull music from 50 different APIs (including Grooveshark and YouTube) which gives it access to over 75 billion mp3’s almost instantaneously which really separates it from tons of other similar services. Additionally, it consumes a lot less resources at the browser level, thanks to its simple design.
  3. It is easy to use: All the stuff you’ll ever need is there in one page. You don’t even have to refresh the page for actions like registration or last.fm integration takes mere seconds. Fizy also makes it fairly easy to create playlists, you only need to find a good quality version of the song you’ve just searched. Sharing your playlists is also almost effortless.
  4. Last.fm integration: For people who love scrobbling like myself, this point is a necessity in any streaming or non-streaming music player. Fortunately, Fizy has been scrobbling each track for me. People who are yet unaware of Last.fm might want to consider getting acquainted with it for the wonderful music discovery tool it is.
  5. It is accessible: You don’t need to be registered or logged in to play any song or playlist as long as you have the link to the playlist. This makes it easy for you to access to your music while using any computer without logging in. The link for the playlists aren’t gibberish either, and very easy to remember, such as slithzerai.fizy.com/p/default, slithzerai being the username and default being the name of the playlist.

And now, the negative points:

  1. No keyboard shortcuts: Throughout my experimentation with Fizy, I couldn’t come across any keyboard shortcuts. This is the case with most browser-based streaming music players and can be solved if a desktop extension for Fizy were to be developed.
  2. No artist/album/track information: Not being able to even simply view the albums of an artist makes it somewhat hard to use Fizy to discover new music. Also there are no tags associated with tracks or artists. Fortunately you can use Last.fm or even Spotify for this purpose.

Even with these shortcomings, Fizy is an online jukebox that was made to be simple and easy to use. So if these are the things you are looking for in a streaming music player, Fizy might be a good choice for you. And it looks good too! The only thing you’ll be pondering on is which artists or tracks to search for. So just remember to use another service to discover new music.