For this installment of FLOSS Friday, I’m going to point out an invaluable tool to improve the security of your data. TrueCrypt is a free, open-source disk encryption program. It works with hard drives and removable storage such as USB keys and portable disks. TruCrypt works with Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Even better, if you encrypt a portable disk with one platform you can access the information on a different platform.
With the number of laptops and popularity of USB keys at East Carolina University, not to mention the ease with which sensitive information can be inadvertently copied, it is imperative that lost or stolen disks be encrypted to protect the data. TrueCrypt makes the process ridiculously easy. We all love screen shots, so here’s a couple of the Windows XP version of TrueCrypt:
TrueCrypt on Windows XP Main Window
TrueCrypt on Windows XP Encryption Wizard
For even more security, you can combine TrueCrypt with KeePass and make sure that all your disks have different, highly secure pass phrases.
This week I wish to explore a piece of software I regularly use. I first discovered Task Coach because it has been packaged as Portable App. I’m not leaving out the non-Microsoft Windows users, though. Task Coach is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, and even iPhone / iPod Touch.
It allows you to create a list or tree of tasks. Tasks can be colorized, have start, due, completion dates, have descriptions that can be completely formatted, and can have effort tracking applied. Effort tracking is where Task Coach lets you start and stop a virtual stopwatch and record the time spent on the task.
Here’s a screenshot showing a tree of tasks, a corresponding tree of categories for the tasks, and time tracking:
Task Coach Task Detail
Tasks can have notes and file attachments, making each task a full featured container for all information related to the task. They can be created as recurring or one time tasks, and you can set alarms which likewise can be recurring.
I use Task Coach to enter the tasks I’m working on and complete so that I can use it to generate my weekly status reports.
The nice thing about the application is that you can start using it without having to use all of the features. As you explore menus and buttons, you can begin adding the advanced options to the tasks you record.
Continuing our FLOSS Friday theme of software for audio, I have a Windows-only piece of software. If you have a collection of MP3 files (and who doesn’t these days), you probably have many instances of music you “ripped” from CDs you own. When you play or view these on your audio device or computer, there’s often information missing such as genre or cover art. Many MP3 creators will add the information when you rip the CD, but sometimes this doens’t work properly for whatever reason. What you need is an “ID3 editor”. An ID3 editor is a piece of software that lets you edit the metadata (title, author, album, cover art, copyright date, …) relevant to the MP3 file.
I recently had a CD that didn’t want to have the data defined properly, so I looked to see what tools might be available to let you do this after the fact. For Windows, one of the nicest and easiest is the ID3 Tag Editor from SoftPointer Inc. You download a very small executable. When the software is installed, you now can see and edit the MP3 data directly from within Windows Explorer (the windows that come up when you view “My Computer”). Simply right click the file and you now have additional property tags. One of the really nice features is that you can take an image of the album art in almost any size or format and it will convert it to the proper size for the file. Now when you use an audio player you see the cover art instead of a generic filler image.
Again, a screenshot:
Audio Data Editing
Manipulating audio tracks has changed from something requiring thousands of dollars of dedicated equipment in a commercial studio to something that anyone with even a netbook caliber machine can do almost anywhere. One of the most mature FLOSS offerings in this realm is Audacity. Available pre-compiled for Windows, Mac, and UNIX/Linux, the software is also available in source code form if you have a platform without a pre-built installer/executable.
Audacity is to Audio as Adobe Photoshop is to images: you can edit to your heart’s content, and every step of the process is un/re-doable. Once you’ve got your audio exactly as you like, you can then produce Ogg, MP3, or other formats for the final result. Like so much other software, there’s a plugin system to allow for additional functionality without having to have someone rebuild the software.
As always, software is more interesting with a screen shot, so here you go:
Audacity Screen Shot
Today I’m presenting a tool that’s of use to the higher end tech users. If you have remote servers that you need to log in to using SSH and you’re running MS Windows, PuTTY is your software. It is the tool for doing telnet or SSH log ins. If you have a remote web host that allows SSH, then you watn PuTTY if you’re running MS Windows. It’s been around for a long time, it’s established, it’s feature rich, and it’s dead easy to use.
Besides the ability to immediately log in, you can save profiles. These profiles contain information such as host name as well as any other user level settings like font, window size, and so on. It lets you copy and paste information easily, and it supports the ability to do SSH tunnels quickly and easily.
Even if you think you wouldn’t ever use a telnet/SSH client, you might want to download PuTTY. It can be used for low level diagnosing of problems with your network connections. Want to see if you can get to that remote mail server? Telnet to the mail host on port 25. Want to see experience web pages as your browser really “sees” them? Telnet to the web server on port 80. Type the command GET / and press enter. It’s very educational if nothing else.
If you’re using Linux or Mac OS X, use the standard command line ssh clients that are part of the operating system distrubibution. For those of us that have to deal with MS Windows as a desktop OS, PuTTY is your tool.