How to disable/unlock USB Lock AP?

USB Lock AP is among a breed of software that restricts USB device usage on computers. It is used widely in schools and libraries to prevent unauthorized copying of files, spreading of malware etc.

The software operates by blocking all USB devices from initializing. Any time you plug in a device, it asks for a password, failing which the screen is blocked out until you remove the USB drive. I have had to wrestle with this intrusive software ever since I got to college. As any geek worth his salt would do, I set about finding ways to disable and bypass the USB locking software. The method is rather long, and for most purposes, using an online file storage would be better, but this is an option for when you really need to plug in a flash drive.

This method is specifically for USB Lock AP software, but these steps might also work for other applications that restrict or disable USB access.

You need to have the administrator password for the Windows system you’re attempting this on. If you are logged in as a restricted user account, use Ophcrack to find the admin password, or Ntpasswd to reset the admin password.

Now, login as administrator on Windows.

Open Task Manager either from search box or by Control + Alt + Delete. Find the process named ksalsdkf.exe and kill it.as

Now, open an explorer window and go to Tools -> Options -> view hidden files.

Assuming that the Windows install partition is C: and all programs are installed there, go to C:\Program Files\USB Lock AP. If the program folder is different, you can run a search to find it.

Delete all files in this folder. This will get rid of the software forever. Now, restart the computer.

It is likely that the USB drive or any other device you plugged in will not be detected. I know this because mine wasn’t!

To fix this, go to Device Manager (from search box or right click on Computer icon -> Manage).

You will see that one of the USB 2.0 devices has a yellow mark on it. Right click and uninstall it.

Now, replug your USB drive – it should be detected now.

In some systems, USB drives might be write protected, meaning that you can’t do anything useful even after disabling USB lock and getting the thumb drive detected. I encountered this error and gave up the first time. I later came across this Makeuseof article to fix this error.

How to use an Android phone with a broken power button?

When I bought a Nexus S Android device, I read up a lot about potential issues I might face. One of the things that came up repeatedly, was the fragile nature of the power button. There were so many reports of the power button being worn out and not working within a year or two, or in some cases, even a few months of usage.

This seems to be an issue for many Samsung phones, as I read about similar issues faced by phones like the Galaxy Nexus and other newer models too. I am deeply disturbed by the fact that this issue often happens outside the warranty period, and Samsung has taken no effort to fix it even in the newer models, after being made fully aware of this.

With that in mind, I configured the phone to use the power button as less as I can. This means that the power button would last much longer for me. This same configuration can be used if you have a phone with a broken power button already. Alternatively, you can get the power button fixed, although that is not possible in many places, either due to lack of poor after sales service, expense involved or simply because the phone is not sold officially in the country.

Smart Screen On Lite can be used to turn the screen on and off using the proximity sensor located near the earpiece of your mobile phone. It has two different usage modes – you can either wave your finger above the sensor, or tap and swipe mode where you press and swipe your finger above the sensor. The latter seems more accurate. You can select the mode from app settings.

An alternative is Shake – Screen Off, an application to turn off the screen by a shake – it puts the sensors in your phone to good use. You can try the shake a few times and adjust the sensitivity from within the app, just the way you like. If you use a custom ROM on your phone, there would be settings to wake up the phone on again by pressing the volume key. Unfortunately, on stock device firmware, such options do not exist.

If your phone is rooted, an alternative is to use Button Remapper to assign one of the other soft keys as power button. In my Nexus S, I assigned the search key as power button, as I rarely used it anyway.

Use Quickboot app to restart, boot into recovery / download / bootloader mode, and switch off your phone.

My setup on the Nexus S was Button Remapper to map search key to power and volume buttons for wake (I use a custom ROM with the option built-in). This means that I do not have to mess with a separate app like Quickboot, shake the phone (which is slippery and prone to fall) or Smart Screen On Lite (swiping on proximity sensor placed up top is not convenient). However, your phone may not be rooted, and some phones do not have soft keys or extra hardware buttons that are unused – so your setup may vary from mine.

If you buy a new phone, it would be best to check for known hardware defects and act accordingly like I did – this would save a lot of trouble long term. Or better yet, buy a different phone (I insisted on the Nexus model, so I had to make do with these workarounds).

Start and resume torrent downloads across dual boot systems (Windows / Linux)

I have divided my time almost equally between Windows and Linux (Ubuntu, specifically) the last few months, for coding and development purposes. Sharing data between the two OSes is something that was a priority for me, as I did not want to maintain separate copies of all my files and documents.

My torrent downloads are a priority, since it includes things that I need on both OSes, and downloads might be ongoing as I use the computer by booting into either OSes. I needed to find a way to start downloading torrents on either Windows or Linux, switch to the other OS and resume this torrent seamlessly, and go back and forth as necessary.

Shared partition or hard drive

The best way to do this is to place all your shared files in a common partition, or preferrably a hard drive. The partition should be formatted such that both OSes can access it – that means NTFS or FAT32. Older versions of Linux had issues with NTFS format, but that is no longer the case, so you can use NTFS to maximise Windows compatibility and ensure you don’t run into FAT 32 file size limits.

To ensure that the partition or hard disk is available at system startup on Linux, you might have to configure it. For example, on Ubuntu, I added a line to the fstab file for auto mounting the disk. This varies by operating system, look up how to do this for your Linux flavor.

Setting up torrent clients on Windows, Linux

The most crucial piece of this puzzle is setting up the torrent client just right so that you can resume downloads with minimal fuzz. I use uTorrent on Windows and Deluge on Ubuntu Linux. Your torrent apps may differ, but the basic setup remains the same, so you can replicate this with any other torrent downloader, like the official BitTorrent client, Azure, qTorrent, Transmission etc.

uTorrent appends !utorrent to the file names, when it has not completed a download. This can cause problems with other clients, so disable this from uTorrent settings. If you use a different app, make sure it doesn’t modify file names either.

For both torrent clients, set the same download folder on the same shared partition.

Most torrent clients have settings to monitor a particular folder for .torrent files. As they find .torrent files, the torrent is added to the client and starts downloading. Take advantage of this on both OSes to auto-add torrents. Of course, this means that you cannot use magnetic links to start downloads. This is a small sacrifice for the convenience, of course.

Fix AOSP/ CM9 / CM10 signal issues on Galaxy Nexus / Nexus S / Galaxy S

Cyanogenmod is the most popular aftermarket firmware for Android phones. Stock ROMs are the default firmware on devices, which usually have a skin and lots of modifications to the AOSP Android by manufacturers. Cyanogenmod removes all that manufacturer bloat and brings pure Android (which is on Nexus devices only by default) to many devices.

The speed and stability of Cyanogenmod, as compared to stock ROMs, has propelled it to popularity, with its user base growing even when it requires rooting and unlocking the bootloader, which is not easy for the average mobile user. Of course, being based on AOSP Android rather than the stock ROMs mean that CM does not have many device specific drivers and code made by its manufacturers. They usually substite some open-source, generic or hacked versions to make the device work.

The downside to this approach is that some things may not work as well as it does on stock ROMs. Common issues include multimedia (audio, video and camera), lower battery life or signal issues.

Signal issues, in particular, seems to be an issue on many Cyanogenmod versions. I have had this problem since CM9 on my old Nexus S, and the issue seems to occur sometimes on the Galaxy Nexus on CM10/CM10.1 too. Often, the device would not pick up cellular network signal after waking from deep sleep, or a restart. This issue is outright frustrating because the calling function failed me during some crucial moments. Ironic that a ‘smart’phone ends up failing in the one thing that any and all dumb phones are perfectly capable of performing.

Here are some known fixes to the radio signal issues on Cyanogenmod. Note that many of these might seem weird, but it fixes the quirky Android, so you might as well give it a try!

Toggle Airplane mode
Turning the airplane mode on, waiting for a few seconds and turning it off sometimes fixes the cell reception issues for me.

Change mobile network settings and APN
Changing various options on the network settings page is another fix. I found that the signal issue disappeared after enabling cell data, and changing the access point name (APN) and changing it back worked. Later, you can switch off mobile data. Very weird fix, I know, but custom ROMs are known to be highly quirky.

Change ROM
Some ROMs are buggy, and instead of trying to find workarounds, you can simply flash a newer version of the same ROM (an update), or try a different ROM altogether. In general, signal issues are found on AOSP based ROMs like CM, AOKP, Paranoid Android etc, so if no other solution works, try flashing a stock or stock-based ROM for your phone.

Change radio firmware
Radio firmware, also called modem firmware/baseband, is the software that powers the radio chip in the device. This is the part that performs all sorts of cellular transmissions, so changing this radio firmware to one that is used in your region can help.

For example, if you bought a Nexus 4 or Galaxy Nexus from the Play Store, it ships with the USA/UK specific radio baseband. If you want to use it in another region, flashing the radio firmware for that specific country/region might fix your issues. Device manufacturers typically optimize the modem firmware for each region, so it can also help with cell reception, voice quality and battery life.

There are two ways to change the firmware – by using fastboot (Nexus devices) or similar flashing utility (Odin or Hemdall for Samsung, etc) or by flashing it through the recovery.

Be extremely careful when you change the firmware, as incorrect or corrupt files can brick your phone. Ensure that the MD5 hash is correct, and also check that the radio is compatible with your device model.

Whatsapp alternative Messaging app Hike launches rewards

Messaging app Hike has launched a useful feature called Rewards. It provides talktime in return for inviting your friends on Hike. Hike is available on all major platforms – iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian and Blackberry.

Do not worry, this is not one of those “Visit this link for free talktime” scams you often find on Facebook. However, this Rewards feature is rather complicated to implement across all networks, and there might be technical issues. One of my friends was unable to redeem the talktime reward, while another got the talktime but the app was stuck at the redeem page.

 

Hike also has a free Hike-to-messages feature, where you can message your friends without Hike, and it will be delivered as messages. When the user replies to that message, it lands in your Hike app. Until Rewards launched, Hike provided 50 extra SMS a month for each new invited user (everyone starts with 100 SMS a month).

Hike is one of a growing number of smartphone messaging apps, in an area dominated by Whatsapp messenger. Whatsapp is the most popular of the lot, but it also misses a some key features, which are found on these new alternatives. Unfortunately, the network effect seems to be in play and growth has been rather slow for most of the other apps. I experienced it when trying to invite my friends over to Hike.

Here are some key features of Hike that is missing on Whatsapp, which may prompt you to switch: group chat with unlimited members, Hike-to-SMS, encryption for security, and now Rewards. Entire websites like Whatsappsucks.com have been launched because the app created unencrypted traffic, until recently. Hike seems to be moving fast now, adding features like these to lure users away from Whatsapp. It has gone international too.

I have been interested in Hike because of these features, its beautiful UI, and the fact that it is made in India. The only concern is that it is made by telecom operators, so we may never see some features that might otherwise have been included – like voice chat, conferencing etc, each of which generate revenue for network operators, and which they will never want to sacrifice by providing the feature on Hike.

Update: Many have responded that the rewards page fails to load. I have asked the Hike team to look into it. I was unable to reproduce the issue, so if you have some problems claiming Hike rewards, let us know what phone, OS and connection you are using. One possible reason is a poor internet connection – unlike the rest of the app, the rewards page seems to be a web page that loads within the app, so try using it with a strong wifi or 3G connection.

Clean up Ubuntu to increase free hard drive space

After a 2 year hiatus, I started using Ubuntu recently. Of course, being on a laptop means that disk space was limited, so I started with a 25 GB partition.

Soon after installing Ubuntu, I regretted that decision, because after the base install+apps+work and media files, I had a serious space crunch. Resizing the partition is sometimes risky – I learnt it the hard way after being left with an unbootable install in the past.

Windows has built-in tools to clean up stale and unnecessary files, and there is also CCleaner to clean up files (also see CCleaner Enhancer).

Ubuntu does not have a one-click solution, but with a little effort, you can cleanup the install. I tried to trim the Ubuntu install as much as possible, removing unused files, packages, apps, cleaning up tempoorary files, apt files and all sorts of other useless data hogs.

I will update this as I find other tricks to trim down Ubuntu and reclaim much needed disk space, at least for those of us with smaller drives and/or laptops.

Downloaded packages
Ubuntu, and Linux in general, has such a wide variety of software for any given task, that picking one can be difficult. My thinking is, why pick one when you can try them all! I download dozens of apps only to try them out and uninstall later. This is a great way to pick the apps best suited to you.

When you download apps, the packages (in Ubuntu, they are .deb files) you pull down via apt-get, Software center or Synaptic are stored in /var/cache/apt/archives. This is usually not removed by Ubuntu. The reason they are stored there is for reinstalls. However, re-downloading them is a better idea in case of reinstall, as you can not only save disk space, but also get any updated version at the time of install.

The following command shows you how much space is consumed by the apt archives:

du -h /var/cache/apt/

There are a few options for removing these packages:
The nuclear option, which I use, removes all packages from /var/cache/apt/archives and /var/cache/apt/archives/partial is
sudo apt-get clean

A more conservative approach is to remove expired packages from /var/cache/apt/archives and /var/cache/apt/archives/partial. The command is
sudo apt-get autoclean

Some packages are installed as dependencies for other apps. If you have removed those apps later, the dependencies remain and are no longer required. To remove them, use
sudo apt-get autoremove

To automate cleaning up files after install, go to System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager > Settings > Preferences > Files > Delete downloaded packages after installation.

Delete Logs
Log files are found at /var/log. Over time, they can build up in number and file size, and take up a lot of disk space. The quick fix is to delete log files. However, many files will be locked, or otherwise regenerated immediately after deletion. You should also find the cause of the log files and fix them. Reading log files and fixing issues needs long articles of its own, so I can’t elaborate them here, but in general, finding which app/process caused the issue, then searching online for a fix should help you.

Empty Trash
Emptying trash is a one click process in Windows and Mac. In Ubuntu, things are different – there are several locations for deleted files, depending on user level, among other things.

Running the command below should help find trash folders:
sudo find / -type d -name ‘*Trash*’

Now, open a Nautilus window with admin rights (sudo nautilus) and delete the folders with shift-delete, or alternatively, use the rm command from a terminal.

Clear lost+found folders
The lost+found folder on each partition is used by the system to store files marked as corrupted after an fsck check. The command below locates all the lost+found folders:
sudo find / -name “lost+found”

Again, delete folders with a Nautilus window with admin rights, or rm command from a terminal.

Remove unused system packages
While fans and critics may disagree with this, the reality is that Ubuntu has grown bloated over the years, while still lacking many essential tools. We have personal preferences for apps, too. For example, I prefer VLC over all the preinstalled video players, and Amarok for audio. I found this command somewhere a long time ago, to remove a bunch of unused packages and apps in one go, and have since updated and tweaked it for use. Customize it and run as you find useful.

sudo apt-get autoremove thunderbird pidgin-data brasero totem seahorse seahorse-plugins gnome-games-data openoffice.org-help-en-us ttf-arphic-uming libsane ttf-kochi-gothic vinagre ttf-thai-tlwg listen bluez catfish

Compress usr directory
Ubuntu has a squashfs utility to compress the /usr directory. Compressing it should save a GB of space, and also reduce disk head movement and improve battery life. UbuntuForums has a nice guide on compressing /usr.

Remove residual configuration files
Residual Config files are packages left behind after packages are uninstalled. To remove them, navigate to System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager.

Click Status, then “Residual config”. If you have any packages listed there, mark them for complete removal and hit Apply. If Residual config is not shown, then you do not have any packages to remove.

System tools to clean up Ubuntu
Here are a bunch of system tools and utilities, some pre-installed, and others from the Software Center/apt, which can help in cleaning up useless files:
Bleachbit cleans up system cache and other files.
Computer Janitor can show you unused system library files and resources. Find it under System > Administration.
Synaptic has a tool called cruft, that does something similar.
gtkorphan is another tool to eliminate orphaned libraries. Install it via Software Center or Apt. It also has a commandline counterpart, called deborphan.
localepurge cleans up language packages on your system. It can also prevent future installs of language packs.

Search for and install Bleachbit in Software Center. It combines several important files and folder cleanup – including system cache and unused system files, packages and languages, browser files etc.

Remove orphaned packages with deborphan. Search and install from Synaptic. It finds packages that are not depended upon by other apps. Once installation of deborphan is complete, open Terminal and execute the following code:

sudo deborphan | xargs sudo apt-get -y remove --purge

You will need to enter your account password when asked (tip for beginners: the cursor does not move even when you type, ignore it, type and hit enter). A bunch of files will be deleted and its details will be listed on Terminal.

Delete unused locale data with localepurge. Search for it on Synaptic and install. It removes unneeded locale files and localized man pages. The cleanup will be executed upon completion of install. When selecting languages, check to keep only those you use – for me, it would be English (en).

All the above tools deal with system files and libraries, so you should be extra-careful, and read any warnings or additional info provided by them.

Of course, the disk space reclaimed by these tools will be minimal, considering the nature of files and folders it helps clean up.

There are many other methods, like using tune2fs to reduce or remove space reserved by Ubuntu, but many of them provide diminishing returns, are too complex and risky that I prefer not to use them. Unless you are terribly deprived of hard drive space, and the above steps did not help at all, I suggest not trying them.

The giant list of Twitter tools

Over the years, I’ve written about many Twitter tools here, each on its own page. Of course, having each tool separately is rather inconvenient.

So I put together this list of tools, all of which have been covered here before.

Twitter Extender [Chrome extension]

Twitter Extender is a Google Chrome extension to add several useful features to Twitter.com that you wish were a part of the site.

Features

  • Switch tweet direction: This will help you read tweets in right-to-left languages like Arabic
  • Old style retweet
  • Reply to all: Reply to multiple users who participated in your conversation
  • Load Previous tweets if the tweet is a reply
  • Highlight mentions in timeline
  • Direct Message link

Download Twitter Extender [Chrome Extensions]

Create Twitter polls and surveys: Twtpoll

Twtpoll is a poll and survey web application for Twitter. There are only a few options to be configured – perfect for a quick Twitter poll whenever you feel like doing one.

You can choose the kind of poll to be used, questions and answers, expiration date and whether to allow multiple votes per IP address.

Twtpoll is part of a bunch of free applications built by Twtapps.

TwitKit: Twitter on sidebar (Firefox addon)

TwitKit is a Firefox extension that brings Twitter to your Firefox sidebar. You can see public timeline, user time line and tweet from the sidebar.

Tweetpkr, a Twitter bookmarklet that brings Twitter to your browser sidebar, is a viable alternative if you do not like to install another Firefox extension, or use another browser.

Configuration options include refresh interval, choice of URL shortener, theme and choice of secure connections to Twitter.

Download TwitKit Firefox addon

Greasemonkey script to improve Twitter functionality

Troys Twitter Script is a Greasemonkey script that brings a bunch of much-sought interface improvements to Twitter (on the web).

Features

  • Nested Replies
  • Custom search tabs
  • Status autocomplete
  • Auto Link Compressor
  • Auto Pagination
  • RT button
  • Media Embed ( YouTube, Twitpic, Movapic, Image URLs )
  • URL Expansion
  • Hash Tag Search Links
(from left) Nested replies, auto complete and script settings

The script can auto complete @usernames, show more tweets automatically (like in Google Reader), adds retweet button (which makes you wonder why it isn’t there by default), expansion of shortened URls (to the actual URl, with the anchor text being the title of the page linked) and hash tags linked to Twitter search pages.

Get Troys Twitter Script

Tweetpkr: Twitter in your sidebar, in a bookmarklet

Tweetpkr is a powerful bookmarklet for Twitter. We have already covered Twitlet, which gives you a popup box to update Twitter quickly. Tweetpkr goes beyond that simple functionality, by providing you with a sidebar to tweet and view your friend’s updates.

It is much like a Twitter desktop application, except that it requires no extension/software install. Indeed, Tweetpkr’s slogan goes: “take a peek at your friends twitter updates from anywhere”.

Visit Tweetpkr and enter your username/password to get the customized bookmarklet. Your login details are used only to encrypt it to the bookmarklet for authentication purposes.

Clicking the bookmarklet brings up a sidebar with tweet window and your friend’s tweets. The design is quite neat and beautiful – with shades of gray, red and white.

Finally, you can view Tweetpkr in action in this video:

Twitlet bookmarklet updates Twitter status

Twitlet is a bookmarklet that posts your updates to Twitter with one click. It is a no-fuss way of updating Twitter status, particularly if you focus more on posting tweets than communicating with others (although I would recommend the latter for the spirit of Twitter).

Visit Twitlet to create the bookmarklet (you have to enter your username and password which will be stored in the bookamrklet), and drag it to your bookmarks toolbar. There likely isn’t any security concern, as the username/password details are used only to customize the bookmarklet.

It does seem a bit weird when the URL of the page you are on appears in the popup for tweets (see image above).

Analyze word usage on Twitter with TweetVolume

TweetVolume is a website that analyzes Twitter for instances of words that you specify. This can be a good indication of how popular certain topics and events are popular among Twitter users (I can already see an opportunity for online marketers, with this tool).

In my short analysis, I realize that iPhone is more popular than Mac, which is in turn more popular than Apple, Microsoft and Windows7.

New features that I would like to see are user accounts which helps keep track of comparisons (perhaps even show results every day) and per-user comparisons. Hopefully, such features will come up in time.

Cursebird shows you swearing on Twitter in real-time

Cursebird is an interesting website that shows you a real-time feed of swearing on Twitter. You can see the most commonly used swear words (not always the f-word), random Twitter user, his/her score and rank.

Random stats apart, what makes Cursebird more interesting is that you can look up statistics on a particular user by entering his Twitter username. For example, statistics on my Twitter profile show that I have never used a swear word (follow me on Twitter?).

Post to Twitter from your Firefox address bar with TwitterBar

 TwitterBar Firefox extension lets you post to Twitter from Firefox address bar.

Type your tweet in the address bar and click the unobtrusive grey icon next to address bar to post it. Moving your mouse over the icon shows you number of characters left.

Another interesting feature is that you can also post URL of the current page by clicking the TwitterBar icon with typing in the address bar. When you do so, your tweet will appear as “Currently browsing: “. The text in front of the URL can be customized by editing extensions.twitter.web in about:config.

This would be a nice touch – you can inform your followers of useful links without leaving your browser or switching to a Twitter tab.

Install TwitterBar]

Qwitter: Find out who / when you’re unfollowed on Twitter

Twitter sends you email when users follow you, but unfollow is generally less conspicuous. However, Qwitter, which has been in the news lately, shows you who has unfollowed you, and also your tweet immediately before the unfollow.

They attempt to show you what tweet offended a follower (chances of the tweet being harmless are less). When someone unfollows, you get an email notification.


Qwitter: Get notified when users unfollow

Interestingly, Qwitter does not need a password or confirmation. All you need to do is to input your Twitter name and an email address. Note that it will only find unfollows once you have entered your username and an email ID.

I personally feel that the lack of any signup (or worse, giving in your Twitter credentials) will make a large number of curious folks signup to it in an impulse. Qwitter goes to our growing collection of websites which enhance your Twitter experience.

Follow Twitter threaded conversations with Quotably

Update: Quotably has been shut down by its author Ben Tucker (because of technical reasons), and he says that it may be relaunched in time with a different focus.

Quotably is a newly-launched site that shows you Twitter conversations in a threaded format. Messages are reformatted Twitter messages into threaded conversations, making it effortless to follow actual discussions that are occurring on Twitter.

Quotably Homepage

Any regular Twitter user would know that having back-and-forth conversations is hard on Twitter website or any other third-party application/website. I have lost count of the number of times where somebody would reply vaguely, assuming that I would understand. Then, I’d have to ask to clarify. Coupled with a 140 character limit, this makes it hard to have any meaningful conversations. If this has happened to you, Quotably is for you (I’ve already switched one of my start pages to Quotably, from Twitter).

My Quotably profile

Quotably is easy to use, and requires no registration or verification. I would have liked a verification process (by tweeting a cryptic string etc.), but the service is otherwise nice to use. If you are an avid Twitterer, Quotably is good add to your arsenal of Twitter tools.

The only problem that I see with Quotably is that it is not smart enough to recognize related tweets. If @username is added, the tweet automatically gets classified as a reply, even if it is not relevant enough. But then, that is to be expected of a computer program. Only a human can accurately classify tweets.

Update: RSS feeds are available for any Twitter user by adding ‘.rss’ to the end of the Quotably user URL. Example: quotably.com/username.rss where username is any user’s Twitter username.

PS: Follow me on Twitter, or any of the other popular social network/bookmark sites. Here is my Twitter profile on Quotably. More details and links to profile are on my about page.

Display follower count chicklet with Twitter Counter

 Active Twitter users will love Twitter Counter. It tracks daily follower counts for Twitter users, and presents a graph of the information.

Twitter Counter also provides a Twitter follower count chicklet. If you have seen FeedBurner feed count chicklet, you would bre forgiven for confusing it for Twitter Counter chicklet. They’re very similar. See the chicklet to the right (bottom if you are viewing this in a feed reader).

Twitter Counter recommends placing the chicklet on your blog to let your visitors see how many Twitter followers you have. This can also help increase click-throughs to your Twitter profile, and gain you a few more followers. I will probably be placing it on this blog in the near future.

One thing to note: the chicklet code that Twitter Counter provides includes a proper hyperlink to the Twitter Counter website. I would recommend replacing it with a link to your Twitter profile because of the reason mentioned above (using it to increase your followers). If you feel that this is like biting the hand that feeds you, you can add a link just below the chicklet stating “Chicklet by Twitter Counter” or something similar.

Visit Twitter Counter

Bettween shows tweets between Twitter users

Bettween is a handy website that shows you conversations between two Twitter users.

It has a beautiful design, and shows tweets in Tweetie-like style (Tweetie is a Twitter app for Mac). The backgrounds, rounded corners etc. all make it visually appealing. You can access it with the format bettween.com/user1/user2 where you want to track tweets between user1 and user2. Or you can go to Bettween home page and enter the Twitter handles.

I started using it when tracking the war of words between Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress blogging software, and Chris Pearson, a theme WordPress designer. In my limited testing, I found it to be fairly accurate, although the occasional stray tweets did come in. That is nothing to complain about in a free app.

TwtImage: Search photos shared on Twitter

As Todd C alerts in comments below, TwtImage site is down and now seems to redirect to an adult site. You can use TwiPho.net, another site that searches images shared on Twitter.

Twtimage is a search engine for images shared on Twitter. The site indexes images from various photo-sharing sites aimed at Twitter, like Twitpic, YFrog, Tweetphoto etc.

The images are arranged neatly as thumbnail previews, and clicking them takes you to the photo page on host website (Tweet Photo or such). Popular searches are listed on the site too – though they are labelled tags instead of searches.

The interface is good, loads fast and has minimal advertising. Clicking the “load more” link brings up more photos without page reload, but even more asynchronous loading of photos would be an attractive feature (like Flickr search tool Compfight).

Perhaps the only negative I can find is that Twitter might eventually add this functionality on Twitter.com, much like it has done with hashtags, URL shortening etc. The upside is that they might acquire TwtImage instead of building it themselves (like they did with Summize for search), but that depends on the quality of TwtImage’s technology.

Backtweets: Search links to your site from Twitter

Backtweets is a website that tracks backlinks to your site, from Twitter.

Enter the URL of your website (or any other, for that matter), and you can get recent mentions of your site on Twitter. An RSS feed for the search results, and a search bookmarklet is provided. Developers can make use of the API provided.

The only thing lacking is real time updates like on twitter. perhaps will be built in future.

This is only the free service, and what Backtweets really does is provide analytics of your links being shared on Twitter – for a price. However, I found the free version itself to be pretty useful.

Check if a Twitter user follows you on Twitter

Does Follow is a website to check whether a particular Twitter user follows another.

Instead of going through your friends/followers lists when you need to check for tweeter follows, you can use DoesFollow. This is useful when you want to check if people you follow reciprocate, for example.

After you enter and find the follow status between two Twitter users, you can also check the reverse, from a link on the result page. There is also an insulting version which shows you “They couldn’t care less” if there is no follow.

Create photo collage of your Twitter friends/followers

Twitter Mosaic is a website that creates a collage of profile pictures of your Twitter friends or followers.

You can also get the code to embed the collage on your website, which might be a nice touch on a personal site/hub.

The monetization model of Twitter Mosaic is also pretty good – instead of going the usual ad-supported (and often unsustainable) model, they provide merchandise like t-shirts, mugs, business cards , mouse pads etc, which have the photo collage printed on them. This way, the site makes money and users get something out of it too – a model followed by other popular destinations like XKCD online comic site.

Free Twitter patterns and texture backgrounds

Twitter Patterns is a website dedicated to free background images for Twitter. Twitter backgrounds are neatly categorized, and there are only preview images – clicking on them lets you download the image.

I find tiled backgrounds to be boring, but with ever expanding screen resolutions, I can see why it makes sense. Also, many users find repeating backgrounds to be minimalist and beautiful – each to his own, I guess.

Map any key to any other key on Ubuntu

The spacebar key on my keyboard is broken(long story), so I remapped it on Windows using KeyTweak app. Here’s how I achieved the same on Ubuntu. The instructions are generalized so that you can remap virtually any key to any other key.

Using xmodmap

Remapping keys can be done by running xmodmap on the terminal. The general format is
xmodmap -e “your commands”

To map any action to a key, you can use either the name or key code of that key. A list of key codes and key names (also called actions) is given at the end of this page.

xmodmap -e “keycode CODE = ACTION”

Remap modifier keys

Alt, Windows key, Control etc are modifiers with special functions, so they have to be unmapped as modifiers first, then remapped.

Here’s how to remove Alt as a modifier:
xmodmap -e “remove mod1 = Alt_R”

If you need to unmap some other modifier, run xmodmap -pm to find its name.

To remap the alt key, now run
xmodmap -e “keysym Alt_R = space”

If alt-r has been previously mapped, this may not work, so use the key code directly.
xmodmap -e “keycode 108 = space”

If you need to remap some other key, run xmodmap -pke to find its name or code.

Make key remaps permanent

Update: See “Alternate method” below for a better solution to keeping key maps permanent.

These changes are reset at reboot, so you have to make them permanent. One way to do it is add them to the rc.local file. Another way is to add the commands to a file and run that file at startup, which is not as easy as adding them to rc.local.

Open rc.local file under /etc and just before “exit O”, add whichever mapping commands you used above.

Hit Control-X to close, and you’ll be asked to save. Hit Y and then enter.

Alternate method

Instead of editing rc.local, you can add all remap commands in a file, say keymap.txt, and place it in your home folder (can be anywhere else, adjust the commands with the path).

!!!! Swap Alt_L and Control_L !!!!
remove mod1 = Alt_R
keysym Alt_R = space

To run these commands, run
xmodmap keymap.txt

To make these run on startup automatically, run
sudo dumpkeys > ~/.Xmodmap

Reset xmodmap key mapping

If you did the mapping wrong, run setxkbmap -layout us to reset all mappings.

This command resets the keyboard layout to US, so if you use another layout, change the command accordingly.

Key codes and names

Here is a list of commonly used key names and their key codes.

keycode 0x6c = space
keycode 9 = Escape
keycode 10 = 1 exclam
keycode 11 = 2 quotedbl
keycode 12 = 3 sterling
keycode 13 = 4 dollar
keycode 14 = 5 percent
keycode 15 = 6 asciicircum
keycode 16 = 7 ampersand
keycode 17 = 8 asterisk
keycode 18 = 9 parenleft
keycode 19 = 0 parenright
keycode 20 = minus underscore
keycode 21 = equal plus
keycode 22 = Delete
keycode 23 = Tab
keycode 24 = Q
keycode 25 = W
keycode 26 = E
keycode 27 = R
keycode 28 = T
keycode 29 = Y
keycode 30 = U
keycode 31 = I
keycode 32 = O
keycode 33 = P
keycode 34 = bracketleft braceleft
keycode 35 = bracketright braceright
keycode 36 = Return
keycode 37 = Control_L
keycode 38 = A
keycode 39 = S
keycode 40 = D
keycode 41 = F
keycode 42 = G
keycode 43 = H
keycode 44 = J
keycode 45 = K
keycode 46 = L
keycode 47 = semicolon colon
keycode 48 = apostrophe at
keycode 49 = grave asciitilde
keycode 50 = Shift_L
keycode 51 = numbersign asciitilde
keycode 52 = Z
keycode 53 = X
keycode 54 = C
keycode 55 = V
keycode 56 = B
keycode 57 = N
keycode 58 = M
keycode 59 = comma less
keycode 60 = period greater
keycode 61 = slash question
keycode 62 = Shift_R
keycode 63 = KP_Multiply
keycode 64 = Alt_L
keycode 65 = space
keycode 66 = Caps_Lock
keycode 67 = F1
keycode 68 = F2
keycode 69 = F3
keycode 70 = F4
keycode 71 = F5
keycode 72 = F6
keycode 73 = F7
keycode 74 = F8
keycode 75 = F9
keycode 76 = F10
keycode 77 = Num_Lock
keycode 78 = Scroll_Lock
keycode 79 = Home KP_7 KP_7 Home
keycode 80 = Up KP_8 KP_8 Up
keycode 81 = Prior KP_9 KP_9 Prior
keycode 82 = KP_Subtract
keycode 83 = Left KP_4 KP_4 Left
keycode 84 = Begin KP_5 KP_5 Begin
keycode 85 = Right KP_6 KP_6 Right
keycode 86 = KP_Add
keycode 87 = End KP_1 KP_1 End
keycode 88 = Down KP_2 KP_2 Down
keycode 89 = Next KP_3 KP_3 Next
keycode 90 = Insert KP_0 KP_0 Insert
keycode 91 = Delete KP_Decimal KP_Decimal Delete
keycode 92 = 0x1007ff00
keycode 94 = backslash bar
keycode 95 = F11
keycode 96 = F12
keycode 97 = Home
keycode 98 = Up
keycode 99 = Prior
keycode 100 = Left
keycode 101 = Begin
keycode 102 = Right
keycode 103 = End
keycode 104 = Down
keycode 105 = Next
keycode 106 = Insert
keycode 107 = Delete
keycode 108 = KP_Enter
keycode 109 = Control_R
keycode 110 = Pause
keycode 111 = Print
keycode 112 = KP_Divide
keycode 113 = Mode_switch
keycode 114 = Break

Fix Steam crashes and hanging during updates/sync

Valve Corp’s Steam game (and now app) distribution client is an easy way to get the latest games, both free and paid. The online community around Steam has grown substantially in the past few years, powered by games like Counter Strike.

Steam is now available for Windows, Mac and Linux – breaking down the OS divide that was a problem until recently. Steam has heralded the era of multiplatform games – games like CSS that run on all three major OSes.

Steam is cloud based – syncing and downloading data from the cloud as necessary. This means that you can redownload games as you like, save your account settings and game progress in the cloud, and keep them all in sync across multiple devices.

Every time you open Steam, it connects to the cloud to sync itself. Of late, I have noticed that Steam often hangs and/or crashes while trying to connect to its servers. Here are a few fixes for Steam’s sync issues:

Steam’s ports are blocked

Valve Steam requires the following ports to be fully open to function properly:

For Steam client:
UDP 27000 to 27015 inclusive (Game client traffic)
UDP 27015 to 27030 inclusive (Typically Matchmaking and HLTV)
TCP 27014 to 27050 inclusive (Steam downloads)
UDP 4380

Dedicated or Listen Servers:
TCP 27015 (SRCDS Rcon port)

Steamworks P2P Networking and Steam Voice Chat:
UDP 3478 (Outbound)
UDP 4379 (Outbound)
UDP 4380 (Outbound)

In addition, specific games like Call of Duty might require additional ports to function correctly.

To find out if these ports are open for use by Steam, head to Firebind Scanner and hit the “Start test” button. If any are blocked, Firebind tries to give you information about the app blocking the port.

As you can see in the screenshot about, in my case, Java was using a port that Steam runs on. Quitting Java from Task Manager fixed the issue, and I was able to open Steam again.

I do not use Steam often now, so having to quit the Java process is not a problem. If you are a frequent gamer, you might want to look into changing the ports that Steam uses

Removing blob files

Steam stores essential data in .blob files in its install directory. Deleting these files forces it to redownload them, and this seems to fix the issue sometimes.

Quit Steam first.

Then navigate to your Steam install folder and remove the following files: AppUpdateStats.blob and ClientRegistry.blob

Now, open Steam again and you should see this, hopefully:

It will take a while to redownload the .blob files – they are several MBs in size. Wait patiently.

If you have any other fixes, don’t forget to leave them in comments below and I’ll update this page.

Setup an external monitor with laptop in dual monitor setup

I recently bought a large external monitor to go with my laptop, and it has been one of my best tech purchases so far. It is easy to get distracted and not get any work done with a dual screen setup, but with a little determination, a dual monitor setup will help take your productivity through the roof.

Setting up multiple screens the right way was a pain in older operating systems, but recent versions of Windows, Mac and Linux support multiple screens right out of the box. Here, I’ll show you exactly what steps I did to get (what is, for me) the perfect setup. I’ve also linked to a few useful utilities that help adapt to the multiple screen world better.

Setting up the external monitor

I’ve set up the external screen on the left as default screen and laptop on the right, with both being used. Position of the screens doesn’t matter, as you can change that by simple drag and drop. In Windows, here’s what you would do to get the setup:

Connect both displays. Now, right click anywhere on either of the screens -> Screen Resolution.
For “Multiple displays”, select “Show desktop only on 1″ and hit Apply. Now, only external monitor would be running.

Go to Screen Resolution again, and you’ll see that your external LCD / LED is the primary screen. Click the secondary display (which is greyed out) and for “Multiple displays”, select “Extend these displays”. Hit Apply.

This should get your display (on the left) and laptop screen running. If you want external monitor on the right side, a drag and drop now should fix that. If you play around with drag and drop, you’ll notice that you can stack up the screens in different ways, with the laptop’s bottom edge in line with the external monitor’s, or one on top of the other etc.

Utilities for dual screen setup

Once your screens are setup, you’ll notice that your secondary screen does not have a taskbar, and wallpapers are messed up due to the varying resolutions of the screens.

DisplayFusion is a handy utility to configure different wallpapers for each screen (or the same for all screens). You can pick images from your hard drive, Flickr (including specific Flickr search or groups) or Vladstudio (a popular wallpaper site). You can set a single wide wallpaper across both screens, or, as in my case, set up bike pics on one screen and babe pics on another (you can’t go wrong with babes and bikes!).

Download DisplayFusion

DisplayFusion Pro version can set up multiple taskbars, but unfortunately, it requires you to purchase a license. A workaround is to use DisplayFusion free version and get MultiMon Taskbar, a free tool, for multiple taskbars. There is a catch, however – it does not work perfectly in Windows Vista and newer.

Get Multi-Monitor Taskbar

MaxTo is a great window manager that lets you configure multiple zones within a screen or multiple to snap to, among other features.

Miscellaneous tips

Moving your mouse across screens is seamless. To move windows from one screen to another, you can use drag-drop, or use Windows+ (left or right). That also snaps the windows nicely to the edges. Win+up/down maximizes/minimizes windows.

I’ll update this page as I find better ways to use multiple monitors. You can leave your tips in comments below!