Saturday, December 31, 2011

Here’s Why You Should Always Choose “Custom” When Installing Software

When you install most applications you’ll get a prompt for a custom or full install. It seems so easy to just click full and let the installer go to work–but you’re asking for a slower computer, a load of toolbars, and crapware if you do.
Over at 7Tutorials they decided to see just what would happen if you downloaded popular software applications and let the installer go to town with the “full” option. What they found is that letting an installation app have free run of your machine is a great way to turf your computer’s performance. How big of a performance hit can you expect? Here’s one of the many downsides of letting installation software make changes unchecked:
39% (13 out of 33) of installed applications set themselves to run at the Windows startup even though, in most cases, the functionality being offered is not required by the user at each Windows startup. The only exceptions to this rule are security software or drive emulators.
The end result is longer boot timings and added user annoyance with each login. All the applications added a total of 46 seconds to my system’s initial 52 seconds boot timing. To put things in perspective, this makes for boot procedure slower by 88% compared to the initial timings on my clean computer. To contribute to my annoyance, at each startup I was also welcomed by a huge number of open windows (all requesting something from me), unwanted desktop gadgets and lots of desktop shortcuts.
Hit up the link below for a full tour of the 33 apps they installed and the break down of which apps installed toolbars, startup entries, and otherwise slowed down the machine.

7 Free VPN Services Compared

In our guide to scoring free Wi-Fi we emphasized the importance of using a secure connection. This comparison of 7 free VPN services will help you pick a VPN tool to lock down your Wi-Fi traffic.
At computer tips and tricks blog Addictive Tips they’ve put together a comparison of 7 popular and free VPN services. Whether you’re trying to lock down your connection at an open Wi-Fi hotspot, tunnel your traffic to the US so you can enjoy US-only streaming services, or just want an extra layer of security for your home connection, you’re sure to find a free VPN solution in the mix that fits your needs.
Best Free VPN Services to Anonymize IP & Secure Internet Connection [Addictive Tips]

What Was The First (Well-Known) Encryption Machine?

Answer: Enigma
Long before the advent of digital encryption there were mechanical encryption tools. The earliest commercial encryption tool was the Engima machine. Patented in 1918, brought into production in the 1920s, and made popular by world wide military use (most notably/infamously by Nazi run Germany in World War II), the Enigma series of machines peaked at 100,000 production units.
Although the Enigma code was cracked during World War II and the devices fell out of popular use over the following decade, the public remained largely unaware of the Enigma machines, the role they played in World War II, and the great lengths the Allied forces went to crack the German Enigma codes. Upon declassification of this information in the 1970s there was a surge of interest in the devices. The majority of the remaining machines are found in museums and the hands of private collectors.

Hardware Upgrade: How To Install New RAM

RAM is one of those upgrades everyone seems to skimp on when buying a PC, only to later wish for more. Regretting your underpowered memory purchase? Here’s how to speed up your machine by installing some additional memory.
Memory is often one the critical bottlenecks on a PC, so faster, larger stores of RAM can go a long way to making your PC perform better and with more stability. It’s not hard, even for beginner geeks. Crack open that PC in today’s hardware upgrade!

Identifying and Buying Your New RAM (The Hard Part)

Your RAM is likely installed in these slots on your motherboard, called DIMMs. This motherboard has room for six sticks of memory. Note the pins and how the RAM lines up with them—important to note to install properly. The median is off center to show you clearly which direction to orient them. If you’re strong, you can probably force them in backwards, but computers don’t really respond well to that kind of bullying.

Each motherboard has specific requirements for RAM. Sometimes you can install slightly different kinds of RAM, but this could result in decreased performance or even shorter life for your new memory. If at all possible, install memory best suited to your mainboard, meeting as many of the following requirements as possible:
  • Timing
  • Speed/Data Rate
  • Voltage
  • Number of Pins (Mandatory)
  • Maximum supported memory
  • Maximum supported memory per DIMM
  • Does your mainboard require memory in pairs or not?

While all the specs for your RAM are important, the number of pins are probably the first thing you should look at. There are going to be multiple references to the number of these pins—you can clearly see the comparison of them here, above. Note that depending on the type of RAM, including speed/data rate, a stick may have more or fewer pins, and will have the notch or notches in different locations. Your motherboard is only going to take RAM with only one kind of pin count. Again, you can probably force it in, but it will probably be the end of your PC!

While installing additional or all-new memory is not terribly complicated, even for a beginner geek, buying the proper memory can be a frustrating challenge. If you are confused, you can check out our easy beginner-friendly guide to buying memory. Here you can figure out these confusing requirements your motherboard has and buy the right RAM for your system.
Brands of RAM do matter, especially to geeks. HTG doesn’t endorse any particular brand, although certain authors do have their favorites. If you have had good (or even terribly bad!) experiences with certain manufacturers, tell us about them in the comments.

Installing RAM in Your PC (The Easy Part!)

Every mainboard has nitpicky requirements for the settings of the RAM, but almost every machine has RAM installed the same way. DIMMS have latches on either side that both lock in and release RAM from the pins they’re seated on to function. Let’s take a look at one very easy installation of RAM.
With your PC case open you won’t need any tools but your bare hands. (If you don’t know how to open your PC, check here for detailed directions.) Wearing gloves is generally not a good idea. And if your PC is not powered down and unplugged, you run the risk of hurting yourself or your equipment.

This particular PC has RAM on risers, which are installed in special DIMMs (DIMM like slots, actually) on the mainboard. Your technique for installing into mainboard DIMMs will most likely be nearly identical to this—in fact it will have even fewer steps.
(Author’s Note: With every installation of RAM or any PC component, you’re going to want to stay grounded so that the static electricity from your body doesn’t flow into your new memory, or parts of your PC. While these parts are very sensitive, I have personally never had problems with static, only with foolishly installing things the wrong way. It is, however, best practice to stay grounded the entire time and not remove your parts and install them on a separate surface. Installing RAM on these risers, with the parts removed, was more clear and more easy to photograph and the fundamentals are exactly the same of installing in a PC mainboard. Just remember your PC may look more similar to the first examples, rather than this one. And, as in any hardware upgrade, keep in mind that you can run the risk of damaging your equipment. Keeping all that in mind, understand that installing RAM is actually quite easy.)

We can see the DIMMs each holding a stick of RAM, very similar to the ones on your mainboard. Always remember that your memory is very sensitive to static shock, and be careful to ground yourself and work on the most non-conductive, non-static surface available–your floor or carpet are not acceptable surfaces!

To remove a stick of memory from a DIMM, gently push down on the tabs on either side in tandem. Don’t force it, but apply firm pressure as needed. Your memory should begin to pop free from inside the DIMM. If it doesn’t come free easily, rock it gently back and forth from the sides to remove it. Above all, be gentle, as damage to the DIMM could ensure that your PC will never work properly again!

Handle the stick of RAM by the sides as shown, touching as little of it as possible. You want to keep your fingerprints and hand oils off of your new memory. Sit the old RAM aside on an anti-static surface and find your new RAM for installation.

With your DIMM tabs open, line up the pins and firmly (but not roughly) press on the outside of the stick of RAM to install. If the RAM is seated properly, the pressure from you pressing in the RAM will actually begin to snap the DIMM tabs shut, locking the new RAM in place. Make sure that the tabs are locked into the notches on the side of the RAM.
You also may need to install your memory in pairs. If this is the case, you will probably have to buy your memory in kits—pairs of RAM meant to be installed together. Make sure you do this!

In our example, we return our risers to our mainboard spot, adding the additional steps most HTG readers won’t have to face.

And that’s pretty much all there is to installing RAM! Again, your PC may not have the risers shown before, but installing memory in the DIMMs as shown above is similar in all cases—a DIMM is a DIMM, pretty much. The techniques and best practices for removing and installing new RAM will be the same no matter what device you install into. Just stay cautious of static, don’t be too rough with your parts, and you’ll be on your way to speeding up your PC’s performance in no time.

5 MB Hard-Drive from 1956 [Images]

Here’s Why You Should Always Choose “Custom” When Installing Software

When you install most applications you’ll get a prompt for a custom or full install. It seems so easy to just click full and let the installer go to work–but you’re asking for a slower computer, a load of toolbars, and crapware if you do.
Over at 7Tutorials they decided to see just what would happen if you downloaded popular software applications and let the installer go to town with the “full” option. What they found is that letting an installation app have free run of your machine is a great way to turf your computer’s performance. How big of a performance hit can you expect? Here’s one of the many downsides of letting installation software make changes unchecked:
39% (13 out of 33) of installed applications set themselves to run at the Windows startup even though, in most cases, the functionality being offered is not required by the user at each Windows startup. The only exceptions to this rule are security software or drive emulators.
The end result is longer boot timings and added user annoyance with each login. All the applications added a total of 46 seconds to my system’s initial 52 seconds boot timing. To put things in perspective, this makes for boot procedure slower by 88% compared to the initial timings on my clean computer. To contribute to my annoyance, at each startup I was also welcomed by a huge number of open windows (all requesting something from me), unwanted desktop gadgets and lots of desktop shortcuts.
Hit up the link below for a full tour of the 33 apps they installed and the break down of which apps installed toolbars, startup entries, and otherwise slowed down the machine.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

4 General Methods You Can Use To Detect Phishing Attacks

anti phishingThe internet is one of the best tools known to
mankind to do basically whatever you want. But Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Dropbox, Paypal, eBay, bank portals, and so many more sites have twins that are actually phish.
A “phish” is a term for a scam website that tries to look like a site that you know might well and visit often. The act of all these sites trying to steal your account information is called phishing. While it’s very easy to spot some sites as a phish, others aren’t nearly as easy.
Here are four different anti-phishing methods you can use so that you don’t fall victim to phishing.

1. Use a Custom DNS Service

anti phishing
You need a DNS resolution service so that you can access all the sites that you go to. Your computer doesn’t automatically know where Facebook is (as far as its Internet address, or IP address, goes), so it needs to ask a DNS resolution service for that IP address. The good thing is, all Internet users have this service, thanks to their internet service provider. The bad news is that’s all they do.
Aside from name resolution, the DNS servers at ISPs do nothing else. However, there are some custom and independent DNS companies that do more than just name resolution. They can also filter sites based on content and malware/phishing concerns. There are many out there that can do this, but the most popular one (last time I checked) is OpenDNS.

2. Use Your Browser’s Phishing List

phishing scams
Did you know that modern browsers offer a phishing list? The browsers check the site you’re visiting against the list to see if it’s possibly a phishing site. If it is, your browser will start freaking out about it in your face like a good boy. For possible phishing attacks, why not throw out a big red page to warn you?

3. Use Sites To Check Links

In case you’re presented a link but you’re not sure about clicking it, you can copy and check it on a number of different sites. These can tell you whether there’s something bad about these sites, including malware and phishing. Where can you find all these wonderful sites that do this for you? Try checking out one of our articles on the subject.

4.  Use Your Own Ninja Skills

anti phishing
This may sound like useless advice, but using your own skills to detect phishing sites can go a very long way as well, and may even protect you from phishing sites that haven’t made it onto any lists that would throw an immediate flag. There are a few things that you should look for to see if you’re being faked:
  1. Look for a secure connection. This is usually identified by a green area in the address bar, along with https in the URL.
  2. Look at the domain of the URL. If you don’t know what the domain of a URL is, here is an example: The domain of MakeUseOf is, while the domain of PayPal is, and so on. Look to see that the domain is as it should be, and not something bizarre.
  3. Look at the site itself. If it doesn’t look exactly like the site you’re always used to, it may be a scam site. You can double check by opening a new tab and visiting the main page of the site you think you’re on (if possible). If they’re quite different, then you’re more than likely dealing with a phishing site.
Now that you’re equipped with these tips, you can take this handy little Phishing Quiz provided by OpenDNS where you are presented with screenshots of some websites. Some are real, while others are phish. You can take the quiz and see how well you do. Afterwards, you can see why a certain site is a phish and not real.


With these anti-phishing tools and tips, you are well equipped to spot phishing attempts and avoid them. Therefore, you’re much safer and your account information will remain private. If you feel enough like a pro, go and spread the word! The more people know how to spot phishing attacks, the better off they will be while surfing the internet.
How do you detect phishing sites? Do you think it is getting easier or harder to identify them? Let us know in the comments

Live USB Install Puts Linux On Your Thumb Drive With Ease

usb linuxBoot one of over a hundred Linux distros from a USB disk. With Live USB, software you can run on both Windows and Linux computers, it only takes a couple of clicks to make your USB disk a bootable Linux disk. The live CD just might be the most useful tool in any geek’s arsenal – we’ve pointed out 50 uses for live CDs in the past and plan on showing you many more. As time goes on, however, CD drives become less common. That’s why booting from a USB drive is useful: it works on notebooks and other devices without optical drives.
Linux Live USB Creator, a similar program, can help create live USB drives, but it only works on Windows. Live USB Install works on both Windows and Linux, and is incredibly simple to use. Just pick which version of Linux you want to use and which drive you’d like to install it to. Your software will be downloaded and installed, and you will soon be able to live a contented life involving the booting of Linux from a USB disk.
If this sounds complicated, don’t worry: it isn’t. Your disk will be up and running in no time.

Using Live USB

The interface couldn’t be much friendlier, inviting you to pick what version of Linux you’d like to install. If you’ve already downloaded an ISO file, great. You can point Live USB towards it to create your live USB disk. If you already have a Linux CD, that’s also great – you can use that as a source too.

usb linux
If you don’t have either though, you can simply click a version of Linux and Live USB will download it for you. You’ll need to scroll through a rather long list to do so:
linux thumb drive
Not sure where to start? Ubuntu, Fedora and Linux Mint are all good options if you’re looking for a general Linux experience. You’ll also need to pick which version you want. Not sure what this means? Just pick the most recent version, because that’s probably what you want.
usb linux
Once you’ve figured out what you want to install, it’s time to figure out where you want to install it. Insert your flash drive and pick it from the menu:

If you can’t see your drive, hit “Refresh“. It will show up.

Persistent Installation

You can, if you want, create a “persistent” installation of Ubuntu and other Debian-based distributions. What does this mean? Software you install and documents you create after booting this thumb drive will stay on your thumb drive. It’s a virtual computer on a drive!

Download Now!

Ready to try this out? If so, head over to the Live USB download page. You’ll find a DEB package there for Ubuntu and source code for other Linux distributions. You’ll also find the Windows download.


This program is easy to use and works well. I plan on using it to try out a variety of Linux distros in the months to come.
But, as always, I want to know – how did this program work for you? Fill me in the comments below; I’ll be around to answer questions.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Find out How Long You’ve Been Working on a Document (or Presentation)

One of the things most writers want to know is how much time they’re spending on writing a piece of text. If you use Microsoft Word for all your writing needs, you’re in luck, because it is really easy to find out the time consumed on the editing of a Word document.
When you start working on a new Word document, a timer starts, and once you save the document, the time consumed thus far is saved as the ‘total editing time’. You continue to work on the document, and save it again, and the time elapsed since the last save is added to the total editing time. However, if you exit without saving the document, the time since the last save won’t be added to the total time. In our testing, this feature was found to be present in Office ’03, 07’, and ‘10.
So when you’re working on the document and want to check the total time consumed so far (since the beginning), click the Office logo, navigate to Prepare, and click Properties.

In the properties pane, click Document Properties>Advanced Properties.

In the properties window, click the Statistics tab, and have a look at the updated Total Editing Time. If you’re on Office ’10, click the File tab, navigate to Info, and under the Properties section, you can find the Total Editing Time field. It shows the time passed since the beginning of the document till now, and it also includes the time since the last save, so if you exit without saving, the document properties will show the time till the last save.

You can try this with your existing MS Word documents as well. Make sure the document is not open, navigate to the location where it is saved, and click it. You’ll see some details and statistics in the details pane. Have a look at the ‘Total Editing Time’ field.

The time format is H:M:S, but it doesn’t count seconds, so all you get is the total editing time in hours and minutes. In this case, it’s 0 hours and 39 minutes. You can check this by another method as well. Right click the document, click Properties, click the Details tab, and find the Total Editing Time field.
It is worth mentioning that some problems are associated with this. Sometimes, Word continues running the timer in the background even if you’re working on something other than the document (that’s my case, others may vary). Another problem is that this feature does not work in Germany (and a couple of other regions),  and you’ll see 0 minutes as the total editing time. Fortunately, here’s a fix to enable this feature for those regions.
And here’s the good news. As the title states, this works for MS PowerPoint as well, just follow all these steps for PowerPoint, and you can see the total time you’ve worked on a presentation. Share your interesting editing times in the comments!

The How-To Geek Guide to Custom Photo Bokeh

Bokeh, that creamy out-of-focus area in photos, can be manipulated to achieve subtle and beautiful results. Today we’re going to show you how to turn some dirt cheap materials into a custom bokeh lens hood.

What Is This “Bokeh” Thing and What Does It Look Like?

Every photograph has what is known as a depth of field (or DOF). The depth of field, simply put, is the area of the photograph in focus. Everything too close to the the camera (and away focal point of the lens) is out of focus and anything too far away from the sweet spot is also out of focus. Any time you look at a portrait with a soft focused background or a nature photograph with a bird in flight against an unfocused background of trees, you’re seeing the effects of depth of field—only the object in the focal plane is in focus and everything closer or farther away than the focal plane is out of focus.
What we’re interested in is the too-far-away portion of the photo. The Japanese term for that area, and the most popularly used, is “bokeh” pronounced “boh-ka”. Old school American photographers will also refer to it as the “circle of confusion” or “blur circles” but bokeh better describes the concept we’re interested in for this tutorial as it goes beyond simply describing what is in and out of the focal area (as circle of confusion does) and refers instead to the entire area outside of the focus, the quality of the light, and the effects of the lens and lens aperture on the blur and highlight shapes within that out of focus area. In other words, bokeh is a word that completely encapsulates the essence and aesthetic quality of a blurred background photo.  The photo above, by Kevin Dooley, does a great job of showcasing both depth of field and bokeh highlights.

On a naked camera lens, the shape of the blurry bokeh highlights is determined by the shape of the aperture blades–seen above–deep within the lens housing. Some companies produce camera apertures that create geometric and angular bokeh, some produce apertures that produce bokeh that is more circular. Portrait photographers often prize certain lenses for the subtle effect the aperture has on the background of their photos.
What we’re going to to do in this tutorial is create a lens hood for our camera lens that has a custom shape cut out of it. This custom cut-out will provide the shape of the bokeh, overriding the effects of lens aperture and allowing us to change the bokeh shape from a hexagonal or circular shape into anything our arts-and-crafts skill level will allow us to cut out of the template—radiation symbols, crescent moons, snow flakes, if you can find a craft hole-punch of it or carefully hand cut it out, you can turn it into a bokeh cap.

What Do I Need For This Tutorial?

For this tutorial you’ll need very few things, the camera equipment aside you can make it from scrap you find around the house. Here’s a run down of what you’ll need:
  • A camera with a large aperture lens
  • A few sheets of black card or cover stock
  • A razor/craft knife
  • A ruler/straight edge
  • A pair of scissors
  • A roll of dark tape (electrical tape works very well)
  • Optional: A craft/scrapbooking hole punch
  • Optional: A can roughly the diameter of your lens
  • Optional: A cutting mat
For this tutorial we used a Nikon D80 camera with a Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens. The inexpensive 50mm 1.8 lenses you can get for most SLR cameras are excellent candidates for this project, the larger aperture lens you have access to the better. Also, of all the tools we used a humble soup can was the most useful one. We dug around in the pantry until we found a small can of condensed soup that was almost exactly the same size as the barrel of the 50mm lens. This made rolling/taping the lens hood so much easier as we could use the can as a sturdy mold to keep from crushing the hood as we worked with it.
Have your tools gathered up? Great! Let’s get started with a little DIY photography fun.

Crafting the Hood

Crafting the lens hood is a simple task—the most important part is that you take your time and measure carefully. Because this is a photography project taking the time to tape cleanly and seal off any light leaks is very important.
Although you can make this a fixed lens hood (i.e. the entire assembly only creates one bokeh shape) we opted to make our labor more worthwhile and craft an interchangeable model. Rather than make one disc and tape it down to the hood, we instead made a little view-finder like cutout (seen in the photo above) that allows us to slide individual bokeh templates in and out of the lens hood—thus you can use a snow flake for one photo and then slide it out and use a diamond shape for the next, only one lens hood required. We recommend this technique as it makes it way easier to use craft store paper punches. It’s much easier to fit a one inch wide strip of card stock into the paper punch than a three inch diameter disc. All that said, let’s get onto the actual steps.
First, grab a regular sheet of white computer paper or any other piece of scrap paper. Wrap it around your lens barrel and use a pen to mark off the diameter and the height of the lens. Unroll it and lay it on your cutting mat. Measure the height and diameter off the scrap paper and then transfer those measurements to the black card stock. Cut the barrel piece out. Wrap the cardstock around the barrel of the lens (or the same-sized can) and secure it with a small piece of tape. You want it snug but not so snug that it’s difficult to get on and off. After you’ve sized it, pull it off and wrap a piece of black tape all the way around the seam to hold it in place.
Next, we’ll need to cut the two cap pieces. This is where having a can that is the same size as the lens barrel is really helpful. If you have a can of the appropriate size, use that as a tracing template. If you don’t have a can of the appropriate size you can use a draftsman’s compass, carefully trace around the lens barrel and cut it to fit, or (if the cardstock is stiff enough) use the lens hood barrel you just made. However you arrive at a circular state of being, you’ll need to cut out two of them.
Once you have your two circles, grab your ruler. In the center of one of them draw a 1” square. Line up the two circles and carefully cut through them both with the razor knife. At this point you should have two cap pieces, roughly 3 inches or so in diameter (depending on the size of your lens) with a 1” square window cut into the center of them.

Using small strips of tape, affix the first cap pieces to the top of the cardstock barrel. For the first cap you want to tape all the way around and make sure you have a nice seal. Overlap the electrical tape slightly and press it down firmly.
For the second cap, place it over the first (make sure the squares are lined up) you need to leave a roughly 1.25” opening on opposite sides of the square. In the photo above the red arrows indicate the area that remains untaped. If you don’t leave the 1.25” gap on each side then you won’t be able to slide the bokeh templates in.
Now is a great time to reinforce the whole structure. If the hood isn’t already on the can, now is a great time to slide it on. Wrap the entire barrel with tape and double check that all the seams are sturdy and the tape is pressed down.

At this point all that is left to do is create the bokeh templates. Using the same card stock, cut a series of strips. Our strips were 3.25” long by 1.25” wide. 1.25” is a good width for the 1” window we cut in the caps, adjust the width to fit your lens—you want just enough overlap on each side of the barrel to make inserting and removing the slides easy.
Once you have a few strips cut you can start making your bokeh shapes. We had a small craft punch on hand which we used to punch out the star shape seen in the photo above. We also used a razor knife to cut out various other shapes including some smiley faces and a Christmas tree.
The big thing to keep in mind is that the cut out for the bokeh shouldn’t be too big or too small. If you make it too small you reduce the amount of light coming into the lens so much that the photo will be underexposed. If you make the cutout too big then the shape won’t be readily identifiable in the photo. An idea size if you’re using a 1.8 lens is around 15-20mm wide. If you’re using a lens with a higher aperture value like 3.5/f you might want to adjust your size accordingly. If you have to error in one direction, a little too big is preferable to a little too small as a blurrier bokeh highlight is more ideal than too little light getting into the camera.
Once you have a few shapes punched out it’s time to test the bokeh hood!

Bokeh Test Shots and Background Fun

Our first stop, thanks to the holiday season, was the living room. Christmas lights makes for great bokeh highlights. In the photo above we shot the Christmas tree with a naked lens and then again with the bokeh lens cap (and the star insert). In the first shot the highlights took on the shape of the lens aperture, a nearly perfectly round highlight. In the second shot the bokeh template overrules the shape of the lens aperture and the highlights take on the shape of the star cutout.
The most important thing is that you set your camera lens to the lowest aperture setting available. If it can only go down to 3.5, crank it down to 3.5. If it can go all the way to down to 1.4, crank it down to 1.4. The wider you can get your aperture the more pronounced your shapes will be. The tighter your aperture the less pronounced they’ll be—by the time you get up to the double digit aperture settings aperture numbers you’ll lose the highlight shapes all together.

Our Christmas tree cutout was a little on the small side and rather hard to cut out (who knew cutting a 14mm high Christmas tree into a sheet of cardstock with a razor knife would be so hard). None the less it demonstrates how whatever shape you cut into the slides, the shape will be influence the bokeh highlights.

Smiley faces were another easy to pull off bokeh option. By far the best looking one we had was the star, but that was due entirely to the crisp cut the craft punch made. If you’re into crafting or know an avid scrap booker you’ll have better access to a large number of craft punches. Another option would be to call local scrapbook stores and see if they have an in-house work area where they host scrap booking sessions and let customers try out materials. If so, you can pay them a visit and punch out a bunch of different templates.

Returning to the bokeh test: it’s all well and good to create fun abstract pictures of pretty lights but the real test is photographing people. We enlisted the help of our lovely and vivacious assistant, fired up the flash bulbs, and shot a few test shots. You’ll need to play with your exposure settings to get the subject in the foreground and the bokeh highlights in the background just the way you want them, but when you nail it the results are extremely pleasing. Who needs circles of light when you can have stars?

Before we leave the topic of custom bokeh hoods, it’s worth noting that there are commercial versions of the sweet DIY model we just made. When bokeh-altering first became popular in online photography communities it was all DIY, after a time, however, several companies released commercial bokeh kits.
The most economical and versatile on the market is the Bokeh Masters Kit. For $25 you get a holder, 21 shapes, 8 blanks, and a holder for all your bokeh altering gear. If you’re using the Lens Baby system, you can pick up a set of 9 bokeh discs for $20—not a bad price if you’re using the Lens Baby system but not very economical if you have to buy a $150+ Lens Baby lens to get started. For simple effects and the DIY pride, however, it’s tough to beat our tutorial—our total cash outlay was only a few bucks for a pack of heavy black card stock.

How to Change the Icons on Compressed .EXE Files without Getting Errors

We’ve previously shown you how to modify the icon on an .EXE file, but if you’ve tried this you might find out that some apps and programs give you an error that says “This file has a non-standard resource layout… it has probably been compressed with an “EXE compressor”. Here’s how to fix it.
In this tutorial I’ll show you how to decompress such files and I’ll show you another program you can use to modify the icons. For my example I will use my all time favorite program Irfanview.
This guest article was written by forum member Sarah James

How to Modify Icons on Compressed .EXE Files

Irfanview is a wonderfull little imageviewer with lots and lots of options, but since it has been around ever since Win98 it’s icons look rather outdated. To change the look of the program itself is easy. Just select another skin and you have another – more modern looking – toolbar, like the gorgeous Windows 7 style toolbar you can download here.
So you go from this:

To this

But you’re still stuck with the old program icon. Yuk.

And even worse: you can create lovely screensavers with Irfanview, as I’ve described here, but they also have an ugly 32×32 pixelicon. Now that just won’t do.

Actually I’ve been wanting to change these icons (and a lot of others of compressed files) for a long time, but was unable to, because I couldn’t unpack the exe. A big thanks goes to Phew on the Irfanview Forum. Without him I never would have thought of UPX.

The Tools You Need

There are ways to change the icons, using icoFX or ResHack and an unpacker called UPX. I prefer to use IcoFX for this over ResHack ánd I prefer to use the last freeware version.
IcoFX has lately become shareware with lots and lots of options. Very nice if you want to draw your own icons and cursors, but for me it feels like overkill. If I want to draw an icon I prefer to use an image editor like the gimp or paintshop pro.
You can use the new IcoFX2 15 times and then the save function is disabled. Which is long enough if you just want to use it for this tutorial and it will give you a feel of the program. There is however an older version 1.6.4. that is freeware. You can still find it on Filehippo and it works perfectly fine. There is also a portable version 1.6.4. here.
You also need some nice icons.

For the exe there is an excellent replacement Icon IrfanView by ~ncrow.
For the screensavers it is a matter of taste, I chose one of the icons from  Another Monitor Dock Icons by MediaDesign

And with that png template he includes you can even make your own :)

Using UPX and the command prompt

UPX is a command prompt utility. On how to work with the command prompt have a look here. And I like to be able to use the command prompt in the folder I’m working at that moment, without having to manually search for my folder within the command prompt, so I use this.
So instead of having to go from C:\Users\Sarah\ to D:\Irfanview Project I directly open my command prompt in D:\Irfanview Project.
Neat huh?

To install UPX rightclick upx.exe, choose Run as administrator and a command window will flash by. You might need to restart your computer for it to work.
Now you are set to start unpacking I_view.exe and Slideshow.exe. First browse to the program folder of Irfanview by default C:\Program Files\Irfanview. Copy I_view.exe to your working folder. Mine is called Irfanview Project. Then browse to C:\Program Files\Irfanview\Plugins and copy Slideshow.exe to your working folder. Create a new folder in your working folder and call it Icons. Right-click on this folder and choose Command Prompt Window here.
In the command prompt window you type upx -d i_view32.exe.

Hit the key Enter on your keyboard and the exe will be unpacked.

Do the same for Slideshow.exe.

Editing the icons

Next copy the png files you want to use as icons to the folder Icons and open IcoFX. In this tutorial I use IcoFX 1.6.4.  I prefer to convert the png files to icons myself, so I can choose what formats I want, but you can also use the ico files.
Go to Tools > Batch Process…

There you will be presented with a host of options. Make sure Create icons from Images is ticked. Next use the add button to add the png files you want to convert to icons. Below that are a lot of image formats. I generally choose only XP colors ánd I make sure 128×128 is ticked.
Without the 128×128 format the icons will show as 48×48 in Vista when you choose ‘Large Icons’ in explorer.
I don’t tick the 256 and 16 colors, since I only use my icons on Vista or 7, but for maximum usability you can tick the others too. It will make your icon file a bit larger, but since size is not a problem these days you can afford to indulge :)

Hit OK and in a few seconds you have two suitable icons to work with.

Inserting the icons

Now we are finally ready to change the icons in the program itself.
Go to Tools > Resource Editor …

This will open an empty window like this:

Use the yellow open file icon to browse to i_view32.exe in your working folder and click Open. Now you can see all the icons that are stored within the exe. You can change all of them, but for the purpose of this tutorial we only do the first one.
As a sidenote: Irfanview also has it’s file icons stored in Icons.dll which you find in the plugins folder. You can also change all those icons to the ones you like!

Right-click on the first icon and select Change.

Browse to your icon and click Open.

Voila there is your new icon.
Click the blue save button.

And if all went allright you should see File saved successfully!
Click OK.

Repeat the procedure for Slideshow.exe.
And then you can take a look at your working folder.

You now have the exe files with the new icons and the old ones have automatically been backed up with the extension .bak added to their name. I have given bak files a black recycle bin icon – you probably see a generic icon and the extension .bak after the name.
Sometimes you don’t see the new icons, because Windows keeps the old image in it’s cache. A restart generally fixes that, so don’t worry about it at this point.

Optional: packing the exe

If you like to save space you can now repack the exe files. Open the command prompt in your working folder and type upx i_view32.exe.  For the slideshow you use upx slideshow.exe

Now copy i_view32.exe and slideshow.exe to the Irfanview program folder (replace the old exe files or move them out of the way).

Testing your new icons

Now we are going to test if newly created screensavers actually have the new slideshow icon. There isn’t much to test on the program icon – you can see that appear in the lefthand corner whenever you open Irfanview. Open Irfanview and then open the slideshow menu by clicking the second button on the left.

You’ll get the last saved slideshow menu you entered. (see this tutorial at 7tutorials for more details)

Save the slideshow as screensaver and have a look in the folder where you saved it. It should look like this:


As shown here with a bit of persistence you can even modify older programs to fit the look of Vista and Windows 7 and so keep a superb little program like Irfanview as a modern addition to your system.