Installing Giveaway of the day & Game Giveaway of the day behind authenticated proxy

Giveaway of the day and Game giveaway of the day are pretty interesting sites wherein they give away a commercial software for free for a period of 24 hours, periodically. The software installers are encapsulated within the giveaway of the day software that connects to their servers to check the validity of the giveaway period. One of the limitations of this software is that it does not work behind authenticated proxies, i.e., proxies wherein you need to enter your userid/password to access the internet (quite common in education institutions).

It seems to use the “Internet Option” settings of Internet Explorer to detect the connection settings. So, the simplest way to use the software behind such a proxy is to use a HTTP tunnel client that creates another proxy layer with the userid/password settings already entered. HTTP-Tunnel Client is a useful software in this regard and can be used to serve the purpose (something I had used earlier to make the State software work behind an authenticated proxy). Just follow the instructions to configure the proxy in the software and change the settings in Internet Options.

HTTP-Tunnel

 Internet Options

Once this is done, the installer should run fine and connect to the server without any errors. It may fail the first time, in which case just try once more.

This is a pretty useful workaround and should work for other software that use the Internet Options connection settings, but do not support an authenticated proxy.

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OpenOffice Writer, citation & table quirks

I’m two weeks (out of eight) into my internship with Sun Microsystems in Delhi, and have been using OpenOffice almost exclusively to create & edit documents during this period. Initially I had installed version 3.0 & last week upgraded to the latest 3.1 version. Feature wise, OpenOffice seems to be quite a useful alternative to MS Office, though it is not entirely compatible with the Office 2007 formats, particularly pptx.

There have  been a couple of features that I found lacking in the OpenOffice writer. The first was the lack of a proper citation/reference management tool like in Word 2007. The database based feature seemed a bit too complicated. As I was looking around on the OpenOffice wiki, I found a nifty Firefox based utility called Zotero. It allows the collection of reference sources on Firefox & these can later be inserted as references in Writer. It supports a number of citation formats & also allows one to insert a bibliography section that is synced with the main Firefox reference database. There is also a plugin for MS Word in addition to some other word processors. There seems to be one limitation with the reference tool though – it does not support inserting references in tables. Still, it is quite a useful tool to have.

And, talking of tables in OpenOffice Writer, there is a feature turned on by default that seems to be more irritating than handy. This is the auto number formatting in table cells along the lines of a spreadsheet. I found this to be quite a problem when typing in numbers with decimal points (entering “3.0” would get converted to “3”) or date like numbers/phrases that got converted to a different format. This feature while quite handy in a spreadsheet caused me quite a lot of problems initially before I turned it off. Turning it off is quite simple. Just go to Tools->Options->OpenOffice.org Writer->Table and uncheck the “Number recognition” feature (I could have probably just unchecked the “Number format recognition”). I did the same under the OpenOffice.org Writer/Web section too, to be on the safer side.

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College goer’s freeware toolkit

I’ve been suggesting quite a few software to my classmates over the last few months. So I thought of collating all the recommendations into one post. Here’s the list of different freeware that should be useful for different purposes.

Image editing

GIMP – This is the open source alternative to Photoshop, and the most popular image editor on Linux. It has a variety of features and there are quite a lot of tutorials available on the net for it. It recently underwent an interface overhaul.

Paint.NET – A Windows only image editor that should be powerful enough for most needs while being fairly simple to use.

Picasa – Not a full fledged image editor, but good enough for touching up photos. It serves quite well as a photo organizer, and is the official tool for uploading to Google’s Picasa web album.

Windows Live Gallery – Very similar to Picasa, with slight differences in the interface. It fills the gap for a uploader combined with a photo gallery for Flickr.

Video editing

Virtualdub – A very basic video editor (mainly for AVI files), useful for trimming and clean up.

Windows Live Movie Maker – The Live version of the popular Windows Movie Maker that supports publishing to the MSN online service.

Videospin – A very good alternative to the Windows Movie Maker. It has a host of features, and videos can be created in a variety of formats. I got to know of it from its coverage on the Digital Inspiration blog.

Audio editing

Audacity – One of the best audio editors out there, and a very handy alternative to the paid Sound Forge. Very useful for performing different tasks and processing on audio clips.

Screencast

Camstudio – A decent alternative to the paid Camtasia Studio. It supports the creation of screencast videos, along with the ability to record audio.

Wink – Another screen capture software that records images, but can also be used for making screencasts.

Document creation

OpenOffice – An open source alternative to Microsoft Office – not 100% compatible, but it has some additional features of its own along with support for other formats. The memory usage is on the higher side.

Lotus Symphony – Another alternative to MS Office by IBM. Similar to OpenOffice, but with fewer applications in the suite.

PDF creator – A handy utility to create PDFs from different sources (installs as a PDF printer).

Notepad++ – A must have replacement for notepad. Has a tabbed interface, supports syntax highlighting (useful for editing HTML, XML etc), and recording of macros.

Utilities

7-Zip – Supports most of the commonly used compression formats like zip, rar, cab etc along with its own 7z format which boasts of one of the best compression ratios. A very good alternative to paid software like Winzip and WinRAR. It can also be used to split files which comes in handy when sending large email attachments in batches.

CCleaner – One of the most popular system cleanup utilities. It clears temporary files, browser cache, history etc.

VirtualBox – Useful for creating virtual machines, like say for Linux which can then in turn be used for different purposes. Much more convenient than trying to set up dual boot configurations, especially on laptops.

Fun stuff

ComicRack – Very useful for keeping ones comic/ebook library organized. It supports various formats like pdf, cbr etc. Kind of like a media library for books.

Internet

Pidgin – A popular messaging client that supports most of the major IM networks like MSN, Yahoo!, AIM and GTalk. Definitely more convenient than having a ton of IMs loaded at the same time, granted that none of the advanced features of the networks are being used.

Flock – The social network incarnation of Firefox. It contains built-in tools for posting to blogs, uploading to photo sharing sites like Flickr, checking social networking sites among many other features.

Feed Demon – A powerful feed reader that is integrated with the Newsgator service (similar to Google Reader) to keep feeds in sync across machines.

RSS Bandit – Another feed reader that’s currently under development, but supports integration with Google Reader.

Portable Apps

PortableApps comprises of an entire suite of applications that can be run directly from a removable storage device like USB drives and external hard disks. It contains many of the software mentioned here. Some of them are included by default in the download, while others can be added using the respective installers.

The applications range from browsers and email clients to media players and editors, office applications to virus scanners among many more. Every portable device should include this.

Thinking Machines – two perspectives

I came across a nice essay by Daniel Hillis on Richard Feynman‘s involvement with Thinking Machines. He has shared quite a few interesting points on the development of the first Connection Machine (a supercomputer), and also on the contribution of Feynman to the project. They were also involved in finding actual applications for the very powerful machines, and explored a variety of fields:

In retrospect I realize that in almost everything that we worked on together, we were both amateurs. In digital physics, neural networks, even parallel computing, we never really knew what we were doing. But the things that we studied were so new that no one else knew exactly what they were doing either. It was amateurs who made the progress.

The essay is a very good read, though a bit technical in some parts. It also sheds some light on the drive behind the founders. However, things seem to have gone really astray in the 90s with the eventual bankruptcy in 1994.

This brings me to the other article on Thinking Machines that I read recently which was on the interview process towards the last stages of the corporation.

… The project was a bit abstract, so I asked how it could be applied for business computing purposes. He scrunched his nose and scoffed at the very notion that I’d ask such a question.

As it turned out, Andrew wasn’t the only non-believer. Just as DARPA was about to send more barrel-loads of cash to Thinking Machines, The Wall Street Journal rained on their “subsidized sales” parade. That led to an embarrassed Bush I administration, which led towards an end of support from daddy.

With the impressively inept Sheryl Handler at the helm — the CEO who prioritized things like publishing a cookbook with recipes from their cafeteria instead of, say, trying to sell their increasingly useless Connection Machine — Thinking Machines quickly sank and filed for bankruptcy a short two years later.

I guess it shows how things can go downhill for a corporation unless there are some real world applications for its products. It is quite ironical in this case, as the founding engineers seem to have thought of quite a number of applications (highly specialised though), but by the time the second article, the employees seem to have very little clue as to the machine’s real world usage. I wonder what happened in the decade in between (possible explanation).

Interestingly, the wikipedia page for Thinking Machines lists both the essay and the article.