Sep 26

Birthday Cake - Candles

Well, after starting this blog in August 2008, 4 years later, I’ve made it to my 250th post! If you do the math, that’s just over five posts a month. Not a great output I know, but I blog in my spare time and I find each post takes some time to construct and get just right.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s subscribed to or kept in touch with the blog so far, especially those who’ve taken the time to comment. Blog comments and subscriber numbers are the two things that encourage bloggers to keep going. If you’re a long time reader, thanks for sticking around. If you’re new here, I’d love you to sign up to our RSS feed or have posts delivered to your email inbox. You’ll find the subscription buttons at the top right of the page.

I hope you will take a look around – with 250 posts now, there’s probably something here for everyone.  I don’t reblog tech news. You’ll mainly find tech and productivity tips here – things I’ve worked out and learned in the day to day working with my PC, apps and online sites. I spend a lot of time in RSS feeds looking for great apps, sites and services. When I find them, I try them out and if they improve my current setup and productivity, I’ll blog about them. I enjoy passing on what I discover. I also blog about problems I’ve solved, hardware I use, learning and working with WordPress, continuing my journey with Linux, online privacy and so on. And you’ll also get the occasional post on my take on life in general. I’ve also just picked up my first smartphone, an HTC Legend, so I’ll be mentioning great Android apps in the future.

The appearance of the blog hasn’t changed over the 4 years. I’ve recently improved the blog header as mentioned in my last post. I’ve rewritten the About page and added the nrelate Related Content plugin as you can see at the bottom of this post. I would like to change the theme before our 5th anniversary and I’m looking at responsive themes so hopefully the site will then look even better on your smartphone.

Any thoughts or suggestions about the appearance or content? What would you change? Drop a comment below.

And here’s to the next 250 posts!

Image Credit: jessica diamond

Sep 18

When I started this blog, I wanted a header image that was a blend of tech and life. The overall blog colour is predominantly green so I chose the green keyboard image and one of my photos of a local Highland scene as shown below.

header with keyboard and loch

As you can see, the image quality wasn’t great and the blending of the two images was also poor. So I decided to try to improve the image quality and the blending.

I find all image editing software fairly unintuitive and it’s only when you’ve been using a program for a while on a regular basis that you really get to know how to use it. If you’ve ever tried to learn Photoshop or the GIMP, you’ll know what I mean. At the time I started this blog, I just couldn’t master the art of blending two images together. In fact, in the end I resorted to just creating a panorama of the two images as shown above, which seemed to work, and I left it at that. Since then, I’ve looked at a number of free utilities for blending images. Most were very poor but eventually I found FotoMix.  I also found that there’s been an explosion in YouTube tutorials covering image editing, even for the commercial image editing program I’ve used for years, Serif PhotoPlus – I just can’t afford Photoshop and I wouldn’t need all its features anyway. So let’s have a look at these two options for merging images.


There’s a nice walk-through on using FotoMix here so I won’t repeat that in this post. I used my loch scene image as the background and the green keyboard image as foreground. Under the Composition tab, I moved the keyboard to the left end of the image. I then used the Fade Brush with Maximum Fade 100, Brush Size/Shape 15 to blend the images. Then under the Touch Up tab I used Blend Brush with Brush Strength 7 and Brush Size/Shape 15. Under the Finish tab, I saved the composite image as a gif as shown below.

FotoMix composite2

Serif PhotoPlus

I found a quirky YouTube video on blending two images with Serif PhotoPlus and that helped me to master the technique in PhotoPlus. It’s probably a similar procedure in other photo editing software. I opened both images in PhotoPlus, then copied the green keyboard image to memory and pasted it into the loch image as a new layer above the loch image. The tool used to create the blend is the Gradient Fill Tool and I chose the options as shown below

PhotoPlus blending

As you can see on the YouTube video, blending is carried out by selecting lines on the upper layer which act as gradients from transparent to opaque above the lower layer. If you’re not happy with any blending action, just undo and try again. A bit of trial and error here till you get it right.

So there are two options to blend images together. FotoMix is free and pretty good. I’ve actually used the blended image as the new header for this blog. Quite a bit better than the old header I think you’ll agree. But if you do want a good low cost alternative to Photoshop that does blending among many other image editing processes, then Serif PhotoPlus is pretty good. I picked up the current version, PhotoPlus X5, for £32.99 on eBay.

Sep 12

As you may know, there have been more concerns over Java plug-in vulnerabilities recently. A patch to bring Java to Version 7 Update 7 has been released, but do we really need Java anymore? I’ve had Java installed for years now and blithely keep updating it without even thinking if it’s really necessary.

Disable Java Plug-ins

Most websites use Flash these days but you may need to have the Java browser plug-in enabled for some sites, for example, some web-based games and online calculators. I tried disabling the Java plug-in a few weeks ago and haven’t had any problems on the websites I tend to visit. You can actually check whether your browser is running Java at this Java test page. If it’s running and you want to disable it, it’s very simple in Chrome. Just enter chrome://plugins in the browser’s address bar, scroll down to Java and click to disable it. There are instructions for disabling Java in IE and Firefox here. Then just make sure it’s disabled by visiting the Java test page mentioned earlier.

What Programs Need Java?

Many programs do need to have Java installed to run but some bloggers advocate removing Java completely as many home users just don’t need it. OpenOffice and LibreOffice may need it for some functionality but I understand that the features that most people usually require don’t need Java. Secunia Online Scanner was suggested as needing Java to run its scans but as far as I can see, the latest desktop version (Secunia PSI 3.0) doesn’t need Java to be installed. Some other programs that need Java are the Woopra Desktop Client, MatLab, Vuze, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, and the program that forced me to reinstall Java, JStock, a neat free program for monitoring the latest prices of your stocks and shares. If you need to have Java installed, make sure it’s always up to date and remove old versions. But if you’d like to try disabling Java to see just what programs you run actually need it, in Windows, go to Start, Settings, Control Panel, Java Control Panel and go to the Advanced tab to disable Java.

So, really the best advice is to disable the Java plug-in in your browser and, if possible, disable or uninstall Java as well.  If you use a program or visit a site that requires Java, your system or the site should prompt you that you need to install or re-enable it.  And if you come across any errors uninstalling Java or old versions, try Microsoft FixIt. I blogged about using FixIt to successfully remove a stubborn old version of Java recently.

Sep 5


Tired of Facebook? Want a break from those status updates? Then have a look at Reddit, the social news website. I’ve been registered with it for a couple of years now and posted my slow Firefox blog post there. I got a great response and many new followers to this blog but I haven’t spent much time there since – most of my spare time goes into Google Reader looking through tech tips posts. I took a look at Reddit again in earnest recently and was really impressed. Here’s a few tips I’ve picked up that may improve your Reddit experience.

Change the viewing interface

I was never very keen on the user interface in Reddit but I’ve found there’s an easy way to improve this using Stylish to modify how the site is displayed in your browser. If you’re using Chrome, download Stylish if you don’t already have it installed. For Firefox, Stylish is here. Then head over to Userstyles and browse through all the scripts there and download the Reddit interface of your choice.

Find new subreddits

Reddit is divided into a vast number of what are called subreddits, each with its own band of followers and some very specialised, or for individual cities, etc. I’ve discovered that in Scotland, Aberdeen and Inverness both have there own subreddits. I haven’t found a complete updated directory of subreddits anywhere, but you could look at RedditList for some suggestions, or search MetaReddit.  Or try random in the left panel to bring up a random subreddit. Or here’s a useful tip. Once you’ve found a subreddit to your liking, have a look in the right-hand panel of Reddit for a list of similar subreddits and check them out. Again, when you like one, check the right-hand side for similar ones and build up a list of subreddits that way. Of course, there’s only so many you can actively follow – I’m subscribed to 30 and that’s too many. And if you spot a niche for a new subreddit that’s not been started yet, you can create your own.

Here’s some subreddits I like

If you’re into computer repair and troubleshooting, there are a number of good subreddits. I like techsupport  and 24hoursupport. If you’ve got any PC/Linux/Mac problems, try submitting your question there. At the moment, there are over 22000 subscribers to the techsupport subreddit and typically, over 100 are online at any particular time so you should get your question answered. Or if you can offer help or suggestions, fire away. And if you’re into stimulating religious debate, try DebateReligion!

Compile your subreddits

Once you’re logged in to Reddit, you can view all your subreddits at once by choosing All and listing them in different ways using Hot, New, Controversial or Top or by viewing a MultiReddit of all your subreddits. To do this, click my reddits in the left column then scroll down to edit subscriptions. On the right panel that opens, you’ll see a list of your front page reddits and above that you can click MultiReddit of your subscriptions.


Comments on Reddit

Once you’ve subscribed to Reddit, you can upvote or downvote posts and comments. Don’t forget too that you can arrange comments in different ways: Oldest comments at the top, Newest comments at the top,  Best, Hot, Top and Controversial.

Finally, if you want more background on Reddit, download the Reddit Manual from MakeUseOf. You can also check out the Reddit tag in MakeUseOf for more posts on Reddit.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve grown to really appreciate Reddit and what I can learn there.  Have you any Reddit tips? What are your favourite subreddits? Let us all know in the comments.

Sep 1

With the recent talk about vulnerabilities in Java 7 Update 6, I decided to uninstall Java completely. Reading around posts and forums, it seems it may be possible to get by without Java so I thought I’d try that. If anything actually needed it I could reinstall it. Uninstalling Java 7 update 6 was no problem using Control Panel > Programs and Features, but I’ve long had a problem removing an old Java update (Java 6 Update 26) which was still sitting there in Programs and Features. After uninstalling Java 7 Update 6, I tried again to uninstall the old version but got the same error as before:

Error 1723: There is a  problem with this Windows Installer package. A DLL required for this install to complete could not be run.

So I tried googling this error and found that many others have had the same problem in relation to Java. But one comment here looked hopeful:


So I backed up my registry using Quick Restore Maker, just in case, then followed the link to FixIt: Program Install and Uninstall and ran the program


I picked Java 6 Update 26 from the list of programs it showed and followed the prompts to uninstall it, and sure enough, it’s now gone from my system. At the end, FixIt offers to place a link to the FixIt Solution Center on your desktop, which seems very useful and well worth a look. Under Windows problems alone, it’s currently offering 24 Run Now solutions.

` `