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April 22nd, 2009

10:39 pm - Everything
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are organised and those who are not. I'm firmly in the latter camp, so finding a document I saved to my hard drive six months ago can be tricky. Luckily help is at hand in the shape of a tiny program called Everything. It indexes the files on your hard drive so that you can find them instantly if you can remember a small part of their name. Perhaps Windows Vista does this already - I'm still using (and writing for ) XP.

Download Everything from http://www.voidtools.com/download.php and double click the file to install it. There are a few choices to be made during the installation - just accept the defaults if you don't know which to choose. It's a good idea to agree to let it load when you start Windows - don't worry, it won't slow your system down noticeably.

The program takes just a few seconds to build its initial index and it indexes any new files you create on the fly.

Any time you want to search just open the Everything window (from the quick launch toolbar or system tray) and type a few letters from the name of the file you are looking for. As you type, a list of possible files appears in the window and the choice narrows down as you continue to type. Just double click on the file to open it in its associated program.

For example, I wanted to find a diagram of a room layout I did years ago. First I typed "room" and got 127 hits.

As soon as I added "lay" to the search string it narrowed down to six and I found what I wanted.

Try it, you'll be amazed how fast it is.

(1)If the search window is empty the first time you use the program, you may need to tell Everything which drive(s) to index. To do this, click on Tools > Options and select the Volumes tab. Click on a drive (e.g. C: or D:) and make sure all four check boxes below it are ticked.

(2) The current version of Everything requires administrator privilages to allow it to build its index. Most people run with administrative privilages anyway (whether they know it or not!) so generally this isn't a problem.

If you are one of the few people who run as a limited user for security reasons (very wise) you can still use Everything providing you know the name and password of an account with administrator privilages. Let's say there's one called admin with the password hello.

You need to download a small helper program called CPAU from http://www.joeware.net/freetools/tools/cpau/index.htm. Copy the CPAU.exe exectable into the same folder as Everything, most likely C:\Program Files\Everything.

Now create a new shortcut on the desktop (right-click, New > Shortcut) and type in the target
"C:\Program Files\Everything\CPAU.exe" -lwp -u admin -p hello -ex everything.exe

Note the position of the inverted commas and the spaces - you need them! And of course you need to put your own values instead of admin and hello. Make sure the shortcut works, then drag it onto the startup menu or put it in the Startup folder so that it runs with Windows.

(3) If you save your work with names such as Document 1, Document 2 etc then Everything is probably not for you! You'd be better off installing a program such as Copernic which indexes the *content* of documents so you can find your work by typing a few unique words from within it. The main drawback of this approach is that Copernic is a bigger program which places more demands on your system.

Was this useful for you? Any problems? Any comments? Click the Leave a comment link below, scroll to the bottom of the page and .... well, leave a comment!

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October 5th, 2008

05:10 pm - Easy panoramas
Producing panoramic pictures used to be difficult unless you paid thousands of pounds for a specialised camera. Cheapskates could use Photoshop to manually stitch together a series of overlapping shots - if you had the skills and patience. Times change and now you can get free software which does all the hard work for you. Autostitch is one such program.

This wonderful, amazing (add your own superlatives) program can be downloaded for free from http://tinyurl.com/5xa4o and is a tiny 1 MB download. It says on the web site that it's a demo version but it seems to work just fine so don't worry about that. Just unzip and double click the autostitch executable to run it - no need to install. In fact, you could copy it to a floppy disk or USB stick and run it from there.

The principle is simple. Tell autostitch which photos you want to convert to a panorama and then stand back and let it get on with the job - no user intervention necessary. You might want change a few settings to get the best results and you might want to crop the resultant panorama, but we'll tackle these later. Let's get started.

Hold on a minute! Have you got a set of photos ready to create a panorama from? If not you'd better go and shoot some. Pick a scene which will look good in a long, wide shot and then shoot a series of photos from left to right, overlapping each image with the previous one by about a third. Try and keep the camera level as you rotate. If you use a tripod then better still, but I am too lazy to do that...

Ok, so now we have (say) 3 to 6 photos to stitch together into a panorama like the ones below.

(If you're in a rush to try things out you can use the five pictures above - just right click on each one and save to your hard drive. But note that they are low quality so don't expect perfection)

Double click the autostitch program file and it will open into a simple window with just a menu bar. Click on File > Open. In the resulting dialogue box navigate to the photos you want to stitch and select them all by holding down the Ctrl key and clicking on each picture in turn. When they are all selected click the Open button. The dialogue box will close and the program will go to work immediately. After chugging away for about 30 seconds the resultant panorama will be displayed and a copy automatically saved in the same folder as the original pictures. Impressed?

Well, that first panorama is rather large and of quite low quality (and has jagged edges as in the example above) so let’s delete it from the folder and make a few changes to the settings to improve it.

Go back to the autostitch program and click on Edit > Options. At top left set the Width (pixels) to 1000 and at bottom right change the JPEG Quality to 100 and then click OK. Now make the panorama again by following the same steps as previously.

You’ll notice that the picture is rather rough at the edges where the program has stitched the overlapping pictures, so the next step is to tidy it up. You can use any photo editing software to do this, but I’m going to use an old friend, Photofiltre. This great little program can be downloaded for free from http://photofiltre.free.fr/download_en.htm and I explain how to use in detail here.

Open your newly-made new panorama file in Photofiltre. Use the selection tool to select the centre area that you want to keep and then select Image > Crop from the menu bar. The rough edges will be cropped away and you will be left with a neat rectangular picture. Click on the sharpen tool once or twice and the image will be sharpened nicely. Click File > Save As and save your finished picture somewhere sensible.

Send it to your friends and amaze them with your photographic skills. Send it me too, I’d love to see your creations.

That’s about all there is to it. In case your wondering why I set the program to create a panorama 1000 pixels wide, it’s because most people have their screens set to 1024 pixels, so the finished picture will just nicely fit on the screen and look bright and sharp.

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