Sunday, August 19, 2012

Two Ways to Shortcut Pin A Tab in Chrome 21

One of my favorite addons using Firefox is Easy App Tabs, which allows you to pin a tab by double-clicking it.  Alas, Chrome does not currently allow addon makers the possibility of doing this as of this posting, but we do have two alternative options.

The first is DoubleClick Pin Tab, which allows you to double-click anywhere on the page to pin that tab.  It's not as intuitive as double-clicking the tab itself, but one can make the argument that this makes it easier to pin a tab now that you do not have to move your mouse to it!

The second is URL Pinner, which allows you to pin a tab via a keyboard shortcut(like CTRL-Q, for example) and it also offers the functionality of setting certain URLs to autopin themselves upon loading that page, which is particularly useful for the webapps that you always need open or always use while pinned.

Monday, February 20, 2012

VLC: 2.0 or Not, A Disappointment

As tech-savvy users, we all have our own opinion of which is the better media player for playing all our media files.  Lifehacker has their favorites, but VLC also seems to be rather popular; it has the #3 spot on CNET's Top Downloaded Video Players list, and the #2 spot if you sort by downloads per week.

VLC is praised for it's support for a vast number of file formats, diverse OS support, and continuing development as one of the most popular pieces of open source software.  I have used VLC myself since the early days, where it had not even reached version 1.0.  However, I have since found better alternatives.

It all started back in 2009 when I was working on a slow netbook as my primary machine.  When this is the case, you tend to look for faster, simpler software to compensate for your machine's slow processor.  This generally works, but you need to know where to look.  After searching for a while for the fastest media player I could get my hands on, I found exactly what I was looking for, even if it had a strange name: Media Player Classic-Home Cinema, a player that advertised itself as being the "World's fastest media player".

I didn't take claims like these lightly, and so I put them to the test, with a 1080p video file-something that netbooks struggle to play smoothly.  My netbook did have a 512MB dedicated Radeon graphics card, so I was hoping that my days of watching stuttering 1080p video in VLC were over, with claims as extravagant as these.  Now, at the time, VLC did have hardware acceleration built in, but it was very early in development.

After I installed MPC-HC, the difference was stark, like night and day.  I could play 1080p videos smoothly without stutter, and not just on my netbook.  I tested the software on a Core 2 Duo T5450 based machine without a graphics chip and found the same results.  VLC stuttering, MPC-HC playing smoothly.

I decided to use MPC-HC as my primary media player for uncommon file formats from that moment on, and I never looked back-except for installing MPC-HC from within the K-Lite Codec Pack, which includes it as an option.  By choosing to install MPC-HC as an option when you install the K-Lite Codec Pack, you end up with the fastest media player combined with as robust file format support as VLC, if not better.

So now we come to today, with the release of VLC 2.0, a milestone.  After not using VLC for such a long time, I was excited to give it another chance, spurred on by their claims of improved performance on multi-core processors.  On my i3-2310m, this proved to be true; the stuttering playback was gone, whether it was due to my new faster processor or due to VLC's improvements.  But there had to be more to it, and there was.

Unsatisfied with such an improvement, I decided to compare the performance of VLC and MPC-HC using my CPU only-no GPU-accelerated playback with my Nvidia 540M.  I set the same 1080p MKV video file to play in both VLC and MPC-HC at the same time, in order to test their use of system resources.  While playing the video file in both players simultaneously, both players played the video smoothly, as expected.  However, upon opening the Task Manager, I saw this:

To reiterate, at the moment this screenshot was taken, VLC and MPC-HC were playing the same MKV video file, and both streams were playing smoothly.  I show the GPU activity in the corner to show that neither player was using the Nvidia GPU to take any load off the CPU.  What a difference!  VLC was using 12x the CPU resources that MPC-HC was using, and 36.34% more RAM!  Unreal!  Now I'm not going to make a huge deal out of the RAM usage because nowadays most of us have enough to make 160MB not really a problem, but look at that CPU usage!  

It's not hard to verify these results yourself, just download VLC and MPC-HC and try them out.  

MPC-HC is far more efficient in its use of system resources and can be installed in the K-Lite Codec Pack installer to provide a media player that is both faster and has more file format support than VLC.

Imageshack and its Increasingly Restrictive Practices

This post is due to the fact that I used to use imageshack as my primary image host.  I grew to like it over time, as it offered image hosting without the need of registering and giving them your email address.

A few months ago, things changed, and they required you to register in order to get the direct link to your image.  You could get around this rather easily by right clicking and copying the image location on a zoomed in lightbox view.  I got the idea that they were doing this because they wanted more people to register.

Well, my suspicions proved correct, and a few weeks ago imageshack turned from being an image host without the need to register to one where registration was mandatory.  Now I'm not against registration per se due to the improved features granted to you, like being able to view all the images you uploaded, being able to delete your images, and so on, but I would still like the ability to upload images without the need to register, and I think many users feel the same way.

Now for users who prefer to not register to upload images to an image hosting site, is this the end of using imageshack?  Actually not, and I think imageshack has underestimated its users.  It turns out that all they did was place a non-closeable lightbox around the page that lists all the links to your image.  However, all the links to the image, and the page itself, are still there-you just can't copy the links, and you can't see the whole links because they are too long for the text field.

All of the items of a page are written in the HTML of a site, so let's get those direct links to the image.  Go to and upload an image without registering.  After doing so, you will be presented with a non-closeable lightbox asking that you register.  Let's not.  Instead, let's pull up the page source by pressing Ctrl-U on most browsers.

Now, let's find the direct links.  Press Ctrl-F, and type in what you can see of the link beside where it says "Direct Link" in the "Links to share your image" section(it usually looks something like "http://img###.imageshack").  By typing what you can see of the direct link into the Find bar of the Page Source, you'll be able to see the full direct link.  Copy that and now you can use it just as you would any other direct link.

So it involves a workaround in going into the page source and typing in the first few letters of the direct link, but you can still use imageshack without registration.  Imageshack has severely underestimated the abilities of their users.  You would think that they would know that a (possibly high) number of users of their site are uploading images because they are building websites, and those who build websites commonly know some basic HTML.