As far as I’m concerned the voice activated typing software I’ve used for typing blog posts, e-mails, and anything else that required more than a couple lines of text has been replaced. For years MacSpeech Dictate was my tool of choice to quickly get a few hundred words typed up, without risking repetitive strain injury or tightness in my shoulders or neck. What am I using now?

Well if you’re on a Mac and you have the latest Version of OS X version 10.9 (i.e. Mavericks), you should know about enhanced Dictation. Simply pressing the function key twice quickly allows you to simply start talking and have your voice transcribed on the screen. There is an approximately 800 MB file you will have to download before you can start using the feature (see video below), but for me as someone who does not touch type, this is an extremely easy and fast way to record my thoughts. If you have used OS X dictation functionality before note that this new version is definitely improved in Mavericks: your voice no longer has to go to Apple servers. The transcription is done locally, which means the feature works off-line as well.

The real reason I am going to uninstall my MacSpeech dictate is because it is not supported by Mavericks, and there is apparently no way to cheaply upgrade. You’ll have to purchase an entirely new piece of software, and it’s not cheap. Luckily for all of us who use OS X 10.9, Apple has stepped right in with a solution that at least initially to me appears to be excellent.

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Top 12 Ruby on Rails Tutorials

by Tom Mullaly on August 9, 2013

A former student asked me a few days ago how I learned Ruby on Rails. The answer was that I simply read alot of great tutorials. So in the spirit of sharing, here are the 12 tutorials that I found most useful:

  1. Rolling with Ruby on Rails – Curtis Hibbs of ONLamp.com offers his first excellent introduction to Ruby on Rails. This is the article that got me really excited about RoR.
  2. 2. Rolling with Ruby on Rails, Part 2 – The sequel to Curtis Hibbs excellent series of articles.
  3. 3. Four Days on Rails (PDF) – a great tutorial that is broken down into simple tasks that you can do over a four day period. To be quite honest, this tutorial only takes about 2 hours, but nonetheless it is very well organized!
  4. 4. Really Getting Started in Rails – Amy Hoy has a great tutorial that not only covers RoR, but also introduces the reader to many of the basic concepts of the very cool Ruby scripting language.
  5. Tutorial in Ruby on Rails – is a basic tutorial aimed at newbies.
  6. Fast-track your Web apps with Ruby on Rails – IBM jumps into the sandbox with an excellent (as usual) tutorial to get you on your feet fast.
  7. Getting Your Feet Wet With Ruby on Rails – Talking about getting on your feet fast, this one from Webmonkey promises to get them wet too!
  8. How to make a todo list program with Rails – Another excellent introductory tutorial that actually helps you build something useful!
  9. Ajax on Rails – Curtis Hibbs offers part 3 of his look at RoR
  10. Many to Many Tutorial for Rails (PDF) – is a nice document that begins to delve into some of the more complex parts of web application programming, but in fine Ruby on Rails manner, it’s really not too complicated!
  11. Distributing Rails Applications – A Tutorial – So now you’ve built your RoR application, how to you push it to a production server? This tutorial covers the bases.
  12. Installing Ruby on Rails with Lighttpd and MySQL on Fedora Core 4 – and of course this list wouldn’t be complete without a shameless bit of self-promotion, this tutorial promises what it says. Other install tutorials can be found here, here and here!

Hey, Ruby on Rails Fans!

UPDATE, JUNE 2009: Want more up-to-date tutorials on Ruby programming? OK, we heard you. By popular demand, Digital Media Minute has a brand new, maintained list of 11 12 more-recent tutorials on both Ruby the language and Rails the framework. Don’t miss it! New Ruby Programming Tutorial section.

Happy Rails developing and if you have any other tutorials that you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments!

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Free Mac FTP Server

by Tom Mullaly on August 1, 2013

PureFTPd is a very nice replacement for the somewhat limited FTP server for Mac that comes with OSX. It is a free (BSD), secure, production-quality and standard-conformant FTP server. It focuses on efficiency and ease of use and has unique useful features for personal users as well as hosting providers.

A binary installer is available for both Panther and Jaguar.

To manage the ftp server Mac PureFTP Manager provides a GUI to the PureFTP server. It will ease the creation of users, viewing log files and monitoring the status of the server. PureFTP Manager is also free.

The installation of both these products were very easy, and all told, I had my Mac FTP server setup in less than 10 mintues.

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MSDN Library Now a Free Download

by Tom Mullaly on July 29, 2013

Microsoft has just made the MSDN Library a free download! If you do any Windows development, MSDN library is a very useful tool to have. But wait – you say the MSDN library is already available online? Yes it is, but the search isn’t always very useful, and the web based UI is cumbersome and doesn’t always load properly. No reason not to get this MSDN library update. This version that is available for download is a native Windows interface and is quicker and better than it’s web counterpart. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a copy on your hard drives too.

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Voice Activated Typing Software

by Tom Mullaly on July 29, 2013

Dictate voice activated typing softwareI have never been a very fast typist (or a fascist type for that matter), in fact I operate a keyboard in a fashion that might be called “touchhunting”. Lately if I’m writing something that runs more than 300 or 400 words I feel my shoulders and neck tighten up and I get more headaches than I used to. For the last several months I thought about getting some kind of voice-activated typing software but the prices seemed rather high and it was one of those things that I couldn’t justify buying because I didn’t actually need it.

A stumbling point for me was that Mac users are excluded from the apparently state-of-the-art Dragon voice recognition software, NaturallySpeaking. Last year though, MacSpeech licensed the NaturallySpeaking engine for its Dictate software.

After coming across another review of MacSpeech Dictate I thought to myself “It probably won’t get much cheaper and I’m probably going to buy it eventually.” Why not do it before the headaches get any worse and before my hands start to hurt? Hey, some rationalizations require more creativity than others do. Still, I was excited about my rationalization.

(BTW, IBM ViaVoice is another voice activated software option for Mac with a free trial and about the same price point as Dictate. I didn’t try it, but I’d love to hear opinions of it. I also looked for cheap or free voice recognition software for Mac but I didn’t find any.)

The base price for Dictate is about $199, but Amazon knocked about $30 off that. I recently got a MacBook Air (no, I’m not a fanboy, and that will have to be a different review) so the installation wasn’t as simple as it would have been if I could have loaded it right from the disk. Still, using the Remote Disk functionality worked entirely without problems for me.

Training the software was as easy as advertised as well, taking less that five minutes, and I was amazed at how, in my normal speaking voice and a pretty rapid clip, the software seemed to have no problems transcribing what I was saying immediately.

After a couple of days using Dictate, my honest impression is that it is physically easier for me to bang out 500 to 1000 words, but I don’t necessarily do it any faster than I do typing manually. Alas, the software I need to help me think faster may not have been invented yet.

I am impressed at how easy it is to make corrections verbally, on-the-fly, without ever touching the keyboard. The documentation actually encourages you to use verbal commands for corrections and punctuation, because actions like changing the location of the cursor and using the delete key can and do lead to unpredictable results.

Also, while I don’t have to try very hard to speak clearly, if I do make an effort to speak clearer, errors are a reduced to almost zero. Having said that, my wife points out that I say the “forget that” and “scratch that” commands quite a bit, so far.

I’ve used Dictate only with TextEdit up to now, doing blog posts. Obviously I plan to use the software to write e-mails and other applications too. Having read a few reviews on the net about voice dictation software, I see a general absence of information on users’ impressions with software of this kind after the first flush of enthusiasm with it. I think I will report back to Digital Media Minute readers after a couple weeks and maybe a month out.

Yes, this post was created with Dictate voice dictation software, and creating it did feel a lot more like a relaxed conversation than an editing session. Stay tuned.

(This was not a paid review.)

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Google Database Application

by Tom Mullaly on July 27, 2013

It looks like Google is about ready to launch Google Base. In fact the site was up earlier, but was soon taken down. You can find a screenshot on Flickr. The text on the screenshot reads:

Post your items on Google.

Google Base is Google’s database into which you can add all types of content. We’ll host your content and make it searchable online for free.

Examples of items you can find in Google Base:

• Description of your party planning service
• Articles on current events from your website
• Listing of your used car for sale
• Database of protein structures

You can describe any item you post with attributes, which will help people find it when they search Google Base. In fact, based on the relevance of your items, they may also be included in the main Google search index and other Google products like Froogle and Google Local.

It appears to be an interesting application, but I worry about the amount of personal data that Google has access to. For example, they have all my emails (gMail) and my Blog reading list (Google Reader), they are storing my search history, and now I can store any type of structured data for me! Keep in mind, that I have allowed Google to do this, so I’m not complaining about them, but it is food for thought – How much data do we want them to store for us by way of a Google database?

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Setting up a SFTP Server on Windows

by Tom Mullaly on July 26, 2013

I recently had to create an SFTP server on our work development system, and after doing a fair bit of Googling on the topic found a good solution. The solution is a combination of research done at differnt sites. It is this solution that I am sharing in hopes that it will help someone else.

This tutorial will help you turn your Windows based system into a SecureFTP server.

Background

Secure Shell (SSH) is a program that lets you log into another computer over a network, to execute commands in a remote machine, and to move files from one machine to another. It provides strong authentication and secure communications over insecure channels. When using ssh, the entire login session, including transmission of password, is encrypted and therefore is very secure.

You may have noticed that many webhosts allow ssh access. This means that you can login to their webserver and execute many UNIX commands (the ones they allow you access to) on your account. Not only can you connect to other computers that provide SSH access, but you can also allow others to connect to your computer using SSH.

To take this one step further, you can also turn your Windows PC into a Secure FTP (SFTP) server. SFTP is a program that uses SSH to transfer files. Unlike standard FTP, it encrypts both commands and data, preventing passwords and sensitive information from being transmitted in clear text over the Internet. It is similar to FTP, but because it uses a different protocol, you must use a FTP client that supports SFTP (more about that later).

Installing SSH on Windows

Most UNIX based systems (Linux and OSX) come with SSH preinstalled, so connecting to a remote host is very easy. However, if you run a Windows system, you need to download some additional software to make the SSH programs available to you. Fortunately a free open-source project called SSHWindows, provides a nice Windows installer that will setup the SSH client and Server on your system.

Your first step will be to download the Binary Installer Release from SSHWindows. Once downloaded, run the installer and be sure to install both the client and server components.

Configure the SSH Server

In this next step, I have summarized the information that is included with the readme.txt that is included with SSHWindows (it can be found in c:\program files\openssh\docs)

Your first configuration step is to set up the passwd file. You will need to set up the passwd file before any logins can take place.

Passwd creation is relatively easy and can be done using two programs that are included with SSHWindows – mkgroup and mkpasswd. Both of these programs are located in the c:\program files\openssh\bin directory.

To begin creating the group and passwd files, open a command prompt window and navigate to the c:\program files\openssh directory.

You must first create a group file. To add all local groups on your computer to the group file, type the command as shown below:

mkgroup -l >> ..\etc\group

You will now need to create a passwd file. Any users in the passwd file will be able to log on with SSH. For this reason, it is recommended that you add users individually with the -u switch. To add a user to the passwd file type the command shown below:

mkpasswd -l -u username >> ..\etc\passwd

NOTE: the username specified above must be an existing windows login account.

Creating Home Directories for you Users

In the passwd file, you will notice that the user’s home directory is set as /home/username, with username being the name of the account. In the default install, the /home directory is set to the default profile directory for all users. This is usually c:\documents and settings.

If you want to change this location you will need to edit the passwd file. The passwd file is in plain text and can be edited in Notepad or any text editor. The last two entries for each user are safe to edit by hand. The second to last entry (/home/username) can be replaced with any other directory to act as that user’s home directory. It’s worth noting that when you run SSH on windows, you are actually running SSH in a scaled down version of cygwin, which is a Unix emulator for Windows. So, if you will be placing the user somewhere outside the default directory for their Windows profile, you will need to use the cygdrive notation.

To access any folder on any drive letter, add /cygdrive/DRIVELETTER/ at the beginning of the folder path. As an example, to access the winnt\system32 directory on the *c:* drive you would use the path:

*/cygdrive/c/winnt/system32*

Connecting to your SFTP Server

To connect to your new SFTP server, you will need to download an FTP client that supports SFTP. I use Filezilla which is a nice free FTP and SFTP client. You might also try WinSCP which is another free SFTP client. It is important that the server you wanted to connect to is running SSH.

To test if your server is running, create a new connection in your client and specify SFTP as the server type, 22 as the port, and localhost or 127.0.0.1 as the server name. You will also need to provide the user account and password for any account that you added to your passwd file. Now connect to the server. If all went well, you should see a directory listing where you pointed the home folder to. If not, there are a couple of things to check. Make sure your Windows firewall is set to allow traffic over port 22 and finally double check your passwd file to make sure that the account you added is actually there.

Security

Because SSH allows access to only Windows user accounts, you can restrict access based upon NTFS file permissions. As such, SFTP does not provide for chroot jails (a Unix method for locking a user to his/her home directory). Simply lock down your filesystem for that user, and SFTP will respect that.

Summary

In the end, setting up an SFTP server turned out to be a very effortless task. With a couple of open source programs and a couple of command-line commands, you can up and running in no time at all! Try this link for info on a free mail server on Windows.

I’m aware that a certain percentage of people who get to this page don’t find the info they need. I don’t consider Digital Media Minute an overly commercial site, but I’ve decided to include a link to a product that will help some of those people.

ADDITIONAL READING:
1. Common SSH Commands
2. Open SSH

If you are interested in setting up a secure web server and/or self-hosting, including installing and configuring either IIS, Apache or PWS, router configuration. etc., Click Here.  (Updated: March 02 2012)

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Looking for a Business Name?

by Tom Mullaly on July 25, 2013

Starting up a new media firm? Looking for a company name and a catchy tagline? New Media Company Generator will display a random company name and tagline for you! As more and more people catch the entrepreneurial bug and start their own companies, of either the online or traditional brick-and-mortar type, free tools like this becomes more relevant dreaming up names for so-called ‘brandable’ company names. You can stop bothering your friends for naming ideas for this business concept you have that doesn’t seem to want to go away, by making use of random name generators on the Internet that provide you with an endless source of potentially catchy, branded business names.

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Free Windows Mail Server

by Tom Mullaly on July 23, 2013

MailEnable is a high perfomance POP3 and SMTP free mail server for the Windows platform. It is free and contains some nice features like spam filtering, SMTP authentication, highly customized relaying options, and a built in list server.

I can’t say I’ve done an exhaustive search for the very best free Windows mail server available on the market but I looked through the list of features contained in MailEnable and it seems to have just about everything you would want in 2005. There is an online demo and plenty of video tutorials available on their site to help you get yourself up to speed and make it useful for you.

[link via Matt Woodward]

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Free Online File Converter

by Tom Mullaly on July 23, 2013

Mark this in the very cool utilities category – MediaConverter is a web based tool that will convert files from one format to another. The lists of files it can handle is impressive:

MP3 WMV 3GP AMR FLV SWF AMV MOV WMA AVI MPG MP4 DivX MPEG4 iPOD PSP OGG WMA AAC MP4 MPC MMF QCP KAR MIDI REALAUDIO FLAC JPG PSD DOC PDF RTF TXT ODG ODP ODS ODT SXW WK1 MDB XLS VOB

… and that is to just name a few! So now when somebody sends you a file that you just can’t open, check this online file converter site to see if they can do something with it for you!

For a one-stop solution for converting your files, supporting all the file formats listed above as well as Mpeg, Rm, Rmvb and others, as well as offering batch video file conversion, Click Here.

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