Do you live in or near Exeter, UK, and want a real quality computer system built for you, with a seemingly unbeatable level of knowledge and understanding of computer issues displayed in the guidance, advice and support that you get?
Then Brian Fowler is the man for you! He is a true expert, not only in his extensive knowledge but his deep understanding of what he is dealing with. I had my computer system built by him in late 2003, and I naturally returned to him for the full upgrade / rebuild that I had done in March 2008, for was the one computer seller who I knew of with whom I could have a really useful and fruitful discussion about my requirements and feel that we were talking and thinking at the same level.
If you just want the cheapest computer possible (i.e., built down to a price for mass selling), go to Curry's or any old computer store and enjoy your computer's run-of-the-mill performance and your mediocre (at best) technical support service, but if you want a real quality system with every component chosen for performance and reliability and avoidance of known problems and compatibility issues, and with really brilliant support and troubleshooting, then Brian is your man, and my own experience so far has been that for what I was getting he was charging remarkably low prices.
N.B. This is a completely unsolicited 'plug' for Brian's excellent service, and I make no financial gain from it.
My latest computer is actually not from Brian Fowler, but that is only because at long last I chose to take the plunge and purchase a properly silent, fanless PC, and that necessitated buying from a specialist firm (quietpc.com) - of which more further below.
A painter who is an old friend from my schooldays,
Penzance, Cornwall, England
David is a painter of considerable originality and integrity. Clarity, luminosity and simplicity are features of his surrealistic paintings. In his case surrealism does not denote the freakishness of much surrealist art, but works in which a luminous and precise economy of means and often seemingly realistic depictions point to the metaphysical and spiritual.
A fellow composer,
Sale, Cheshire, England
David actually troubled to put an entry in this site's Visitors' Book, upon which an e-mail correspondence started between us. (Great friendships can arise thus, you know - give it a try yourself!) His music is very different from mine, and, on the basis of souped-up versions of his MIDI files played on my enhanced non-GM playback system, I get a great deal of pleasure and uplift from it.
Composer, musician of many parts,
and music publisher (Green Tiger Music),
Newburgh, Lancashire, England
Another kindred spirit who actually bothered to put an entry in this site's Visitors' Book.
Composer, also pianist for his local choral society, in Zevenaar, Netherlands
Yet another kindred spirit who actually bothered to put an entry in this site's Visitors' Book. He and I have turned out to have a lot of empathy over matters of spirituality as well as the music.
Composer, in Teaneck, NJ, U.S.A.
He does a day job as a software engineer.
I got to know Jim as a warm-hearted and very active and supportive fellow member of Classical Music Makers (CMM), a major Internet group and webring of classical artists with online music - though the group became more or less defunct at the time of the demise of MP3.com, which the group was linked to. Like me, he has had commissions for organ music from Carson Cooman, and it was this that prompted the initial e-mail communication almost immediately I joined CMM, which led to a good friendship quickly developing. He and I have much in common in addition to the music - including clapped-out spines!
If those of you who get uptight at the mention of such things had any idea of the torture inflicted upon people graced with the aforementioned condition, you would surely drop your taboo about the subject forthwith and seek to be supportive (surely, wouldn't you?...). How would you like almost every body movement of yours to seem to be sinking another razor blade into the delicate tissue of your beleaguered back passage? And for you to be passing "red-hot cannonballs wrapped in barbed wire" (one lucky sufferer's description) when you 'go'?
I know about all this first hand, and there's no good reason for shame or embarrassment in saying so. The A.F. Self Help Page is a godsend for anyone with this devilish and often chronic affliction, which far too many medics still know remarkably little about. The site gives a wide range of helpful information compiled from various sources, and an invaluable collection of first-hand personal case histories which all help you weigh up the various healing options (both surgical and non-surgical) which are open to you. Knowledge and understanding, and knowing you're not alone with this little hell, greatly help take the sting of fear out of A.F. Take charge of your healing and don't let the medics' ignorance do you a mischief!
However, it would be extremely helpful to understand that NONE of the contributions to that site shows knowledge or understanding of the true underlying cause of the vast majority of anal fissures, so inevitably the various 'solutions' put forward are more a matter of patching up the symptoms rather than resolving the underlying cause.
One extremely important thing that you will probably not find mentioned other than on my sites (or where my own findings are quoted or getting taken on board) is that the vast majority of cases of very troublesome anal fissures, aggravated haemorrhoids, anal abscesses and other anus problems are caused or greatly aggravated by the garbage (i.e.,'dark force'), which is largely responsible for the chronic over-tightness and involuntary clenching and spasms of the anus. The underlying cause of these problems is thus non-physical and therefore cannot be addressed by medical means.
Therefore it is worth reading my pages 'Dark Force' and Entity Troubles - The Real Way to Clear Them and Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way. On the latter page I have some suggestions specifically relating to anus problems, and they even include a dedicated yogic practice, which, if used daily, can help to reduce the severity of anal over-tightness and clenching.
Shy bladder, bashful bladder, no-pee, shy pee, avoidant paruresis - These are among the names given to the anxiety state causing difficulty in peeing in particular circumstances - particularly when there are people around. Typically anyone with this problem feels completely alone with it - as though virtually nobody else has such a problem or would understand, but that is really far from the case. There's a hell of a lot of people (mostly men) who each is feeling that they're virtually the only one with it - and I've been one of them. Get supportive information from the above website. An additional tip from 'Phil the Widdle' - use Self-Power Walking and the Grounding Point procedure in an ongoing manner. You could also try the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or / and The Work on the condition.
One extremely important thing which you will not find mentioned on that page is that virtually all cases of shy bladder are caused or greatly aggravated by the garbage (i.e., 'dark force'), which is largely responsible for the clenching of the pee sphincter (where the urethra connects with the bladder), and this can even mimic prostate trouble. The garbage will also attack with the relevant anxiety feelings to mimic 'shy bladder'. Therefore it is worth reading my page 'Dark Force' and Entity Troubles - The Real Way to Clear Them. Also, I give descriptions of some extremely helpful practices in Some Potent Self-Actualization / Healing Practices.
The Wonderful World of Insects
Explore Gordon Ramel's extraordinary award-winning Insect World site!
(but bookmark this one first!)
Please let me know if you find that this site has disappeared.
My only (but very welcome) direct acquaintanceship with Gordon is through his having picked me up and given me a lift when I was hitch-hiking out for one of my crazy long-day hikes on Dartmoor. His site is quite a mega-site.
The nms Project - Make your site useless to e-mail spambots!
One much more secure configuration, which I've now implemented on this site, is to have the 'recipient' e-mail address(es) for any forms actually embedded in the script (in a protected cgi-bin folder separate from the web pages), and not to have one's e-mail address on one's site at all - either displayed or hidden.
Most formmail (form-to-e-mail) scripts do not provide for this, requiring you to have your 'recipient' e-mail address in the form(s) on your site. A much better formmail script that I can recommend can be obtained from the nms Project. There are many scripts calling themselves formmail.pl, but this one appears to be particularly secure and allows you to specify one or more recipient addresses in the script, so that the 'recipient' tag in the form on your site looks like this:
<input type="hidden" name="recipient" value="nutstoyou">- where the 'value' can be not just "nutstoyou" but whatever alias you have specified in the script to represent the required e-mail address. Therefore it is useless to spammers.
My Contact page on this site now has a simple feedback form using the same nms formmail script that my visitors' book form uses, without any e-mail address of mine to be found anywhere on this site.
Later note (April
- eliminating spam submissions from forms on web pages
Over some years of using nms formmail there was still one thing bugging me about my form set up with that script. Form spambots could still (ab)use forms by filling them in and sending spam submissions to me, replete with links to nasty sites. I had a lot of head-scratching and tried out the odd only partially successful attempts to outwit those spambots. The problem was that nms formmail has no means of checking that a specified input field in the web page's form fits certain specified criteria - a functionality that I really wanted, because with it I could simply get the would-be submitter of an entry to enter a particular string of characters (which could be copied from another part of the page - something that a robot could hardly do) and have nms formmail check that the particular string of characters was present in the relevant field.
One way round that absence, which I was poised to try out, would have been to install a 'CAPTCHA' script that would require anyone using the form to enter a string of characters that are displayed in more or less distorted form in a graphic - which, hopefully, only actual humans could read. The only nuisance about that would have been that it would be an extra hoop for each person to jump through when submitting an entry, and also my understanding is that at least some widely used CAPTCHA systems can at some point be 'cracked' by spammers.
A further Internet search eventually brought me to a solution that would most likely always work, and one thing I particularly liked about it is that it was completely transparent, so I was able to remove all visible anti-spambot measures from my website forms. If you yourself want to use nms formmail without getting spam entries, this is where you can find what appears to be solution, which I implemented on all my sites quite early in 2010 - but do read on here first!
As from early 2011 I have a RED WARNING to give you about it, as follows...
The method has worked brilliantly for me, with no spam entries reaching me at all, despite several spam submission attempts being made on the majority of days, as indicated in my website statistics. However, what I hadn't bargained for was that the search engines nowadays heavily penalize any site that has hidden text, and they are unable to distinguish between legitimate use of hidden text / hidden elements and use of them in an attempt to trick search engines into giving the site an unduly high ranking in their listings. So, the net result was that my Broad Horizon Photos site progressively lost ALL of its genuine human visitors via the search engines, which meant almost all of its traffic, period.
It thus appears to be crucially important NOT to hide the special field for spambots to fill in, at least unless your site's robots.txt file ensures that search engines don't 'crawl' pages with forms in them. You can see how I have arranged the now visible spambot field in my Contact page form.
Really effective spam management
with MailWasher Pro
MailWasher is an extremely handy program that I use for filtering my e-mail and dealing with spam before it can reach my own computer. It lists what is currently on my e-mail server, with recognised spam already marked for deleting and bouncing at the server end, and suspected spam and viruses appropriately indicated; presence of attachments is also shown and any full header or entire message can be safely previewed (no executable code is run). With two mouse clicks I can mark any sender as 'friend' or 'blacklisted', or indeed mark a whole domain as such, and items on the 'friends' list can be excluded from the listing, so keeping the battlefield clear and avoiding future inadvertent deletions. When I click 'Process mail', all the messages marked for deleting and/or bouncing are cleared, and then, if anything is left on the server, my regular e-mail program is automatically run so that I can then retrieve the messages that I do want.
If everyone were using this, or an equivalent, the Net could become a much less encouraging environment for would-be spammers.If you purchase your copy through the above link you would be helping support this website because I would receive a portion of each such payment.
No more unwanted phone calls!
A real solution at last - enter TrueCall!
TrueCall is a small device that you fit between your phone and its wall socket, and which gives you a multitude of options for screening out unwanted calls while allowing those calls that you do want. At last you can be clear of all silent calls and those tiresome scammers' calls such as "Congratulations! You have just won...".
I won't try to describe it here because the TrueCall website does that very well anyway. I am using one myself nowadays, and it seems to be doing all that is claimed of it and indeed sparing me the hassle of unwanted calls while letting through all those that I'd want to receive - with no unwanted calls since I purchased the unit in April 2010. Peace at last!
A truly SILENT PC at last!
In January 2012, owing to my ongoing stress caused by long hours of computer work with an incessant nagging sound of the computer fans / hard disk sound, I paid a modest premium price for the sort of computer I had always dreamed of - a fanless, convection cooled one with fast and silent internal data storage. Not only does that mean blissful silence, but also means no moving parts and thus potentially greater reliability - and also less power consumption than otherwise, and probably somewhat less dust accumulation within the case. Well, actually there has to be one module that has moving parts and does make an audible sound - the DVD / CD drive - but at least that is not normally running.
The computer I have bought is a Nofan (previously called Nofen) A40-Z68 Silent PC, which I bought from www.quietpc.com. It uses heat pipe technology to draw heat from the CPU by means of a passive process, and the heat is dissipated by an enormous heat sink that looks almost like a large hamster's exercise wheel! My only dislike is the black colour of the case, which, to me, is plain ugly and makes sockets, controls and labels on the front quite difficult to see. There is a current insane fashion, which I deplore, of having black or nearly-black based colour schemes on the exterior of electronic and audio equipment and also in the user interface of much software these days.
What I did not realize when I bought the computer was that my lusting for silence was actually compounding a developing problem of tinnitus. I recommend that you explore the The Tinnitus and Hyperacusis Centre, London UK website to get an understanding of how a lot of silence tends to be problematical for us. The silent PC is still a brilliant idea for various reasons, but there is a real need to ensure that you do have a certain reasonable level of reasonably harmonious environmental sound for at least most of the time. Continuous music, however, is harmful and thus NOT what is required. The best sort of sound to use instead is the very sort of natural soundscape recordings that I myself produce!
Minimize RSI problems - use 'split' keyboard and replace mouse with touchpad
I myself have chronic RSI pains, including de Quervain's syndrome, resulting from my extended use of keyboard and mouse over the decades - though actually I was already suffering from those problems in the early 1980s, when all I was using was a mechanical (non-electric) typewriter. These pains have gradually got more troublesome, though with ups and downs, and the de Quervain component of the trouble has come very much to the fore. I helped myself for many years by using a Microsoft Natural keyboard, but the present design actually aggravated the de Quervain's syndrome by slightly raising the bases of my thumbs. Needing a new keyboard, I thus opted for a Fujitsu model with adjustable split angle, and first opted for a much smaller mouse, but more recently I have abandoned mice for good, because they all to some extent at least tend to cause RSI and particularly de Quervain's syndrome. Instead I am now using a touchpad - a Cirque Glidepoint Smart Cat - and this is much better, at least, as I use it (with both hands), as my hand positions are both forced to vary a lot more.
After decades of mouse use, a touchpad does take some getting used to, but in many ways it is a superior type of device. However, there is an intrinsic annoying unpredictability in touchpad behaviour, because it responds to contact rather than pressure. In practice, this means that periodically my touchpad does a 'click' response to some link or button that the pointer happened to be on or passing over, without my having tapped on the pad at all - very annoying and potentially quite troublesome, depending what is being unexpectedly actioned. This happens because the touchpad cannot distinguish between a proper tap and a completely unintended very faint fleeting fingertip contact, and, as far as I can make out, sometimes responds as though having been tapped when the finger has been very close but has actually not even made contact with the pad. I might even at some point turn off response to tapping, and then would not have that trouble - though it would be a bit more 'clunky' to have to click the left button every time a click was required, rather than just tap on the pad.On the face of it, doing a Shift- or Control-drag with the touchpad looks very difficult - but the trick is, to just do a straight drag until the pointer is over where you want to drop it, and then hold down Shift or Control as required just to cover the 'drop' action.
Later on I found that the Fujitsu split keyboard was so confoundedly stressful to use, because its particular layout caused my little fingers to frequently press the wrong keys, that I decided to chance it again with the current version of the Microsoft Natural keyboard - because I had learnt to hold my arms differently with the Fujitsu keyboard, in a way that I thought should avoid the problem I'd experienced before. Fortunately my hunch there proved to be correct. The important thing is, NOT to use the supposed palm rest as a palm rest, and to hold the arms with the wrists poised just above the supposed palm rest. Problem solved.
Kualo - an outstanding inexpensive website hosting company
For many years I'd been using 1&1, who were remarkably inexpensive, at least for my purposes, and who provided an extremely reliable service with negligible downtime. However, their Unlimited package that I was subscribed to, although it recently started including an SSL certificate to enable one to get one's site operating with secure (https) connections, had no facility for me to have certificates for additional sites, except through paying a significant annual sum for each, and I have a total of five sites - so I was getting unhappy about that. Also, 1&1's telephone technical support (no longer with an e-mail alternative) had descended to a new and seemingly terminal low because of their use of an extremely far-away call centre whose lines had such poor sound quality that at best it was a struggle to make out what the support person was saying.
So, when in early January 2017 I serendipitously stumbled upon glowing references to Kualo (who I'd never heard of before) as a much superior alternative to 1&1, and found online reviews and forum comments to be almost completely enthusiastic about them and especially their allegedly outstanding 'VIP-quality' technical and general customer support, I got mighty interested, and ended up signing up with them just the following day.
Now that I've been with Kualo for a good couple of weeks and am settling in well with them, I can say with considerable security that the enthusiastic reviews and comments I'd seen were not at all over the top or misleading. Their Essentials package, which reasonably equates with the 1&1 Unlimited package that I had, does cost a little more at face value - though not much more - but, in view of the promise suggested by such consistent online acclaim, I chose to sign up for a three-year subscription, which actually brought the cost down to about what I was paying to 1&1 (and the Terms & Conditions tell us that they don't charge a fee for premature exit).
- Not only is the technical support absolutely outstanding, but I was amazed to find that Jo Stonehouse, Kualo's Managing Director himself, comes engaging with their customers, including me. How he finds time to be company MD and do all this I don't know, but he's really interested in each customer and always probing in friendly manner to get any feedback that could help them improve their service.
- There was in fact a small unexpected addition to the cost of the package, because hiding of one's personal details from the online WHOIS databases, for which two of my sites were eligible, is an extra with Kualo, whereas it was included with 1&1, but that was a small item to weigh against all my gains from the transfer.
- With Kualo I could have a FREE, auto-renewing SSL certificate installed for each of of my sites at just a click or two for each domain, and that is just what I wanted and have now set up.
- Even for this inexpensive package the protection afforded against bad bots and hacking attempts is what would have cost quite a lot extra at 1&1, if indeed they provide exactly that service at all (it's something separate from 'SiteLock'). The Kualo people clearly understand that it's in no-one's genuine interest to leave low-paying customers' sites open to hacking attempts, for when they are compromised they can be a threat to other users of the server, as well as generally wasting system resources. There are additional site security measures available, which do cost a fair bit extra, but the basic protection is still quite remarkable after what I clearly didn't have at 1&1.
I mention this not as a repeat of some claim by Kualo, but because I was gobsmacked to find that my daily load of some twenty to the odd hundred or more hacking attempts a day at 1&1 had dropped to just the odd one to about three in a day once I was at Kualo. I consequently removed the huge blacklist of IP ranges from the .htaccess file for each of my sites, and no floodgates have been opened by my doing that, because Kualo's system really is filtering out the bad guys. Also, the amount of spam mail coming to the notice of MailWasher Pro on my system, which was very little indeed at 1&1, has dropped to almost nil from Kualo. I did find a couple of e-mails in the Kualo SpamExperts spam quarantine, and so had to click Release / Whitelist in order to get them downloaded. Maybe I'll set the threshold differently, but really it's always best to do a daily check of the remote spam quarantine anyway, so I may leave it as it is.
I was concerned that significant legitimate website traffic was likely to be blocked by such an apparently aggressive firewall system - but this remarkable Jo Stonehouse guy himself explained to me how the protection operates in a complex and very dynamic way, actually presenting suspicious visitors not with a block but a challenge (CAPTCHA) page so if they are genuine they can let themselves through. Although that could still be a problem for multilingual sites because of the challenge page presumably being in English, for my sites that wouldn't be an issue because they are English-only. Over the years I'd been wanting some such system to ensure that decent people in problem countries like Russia, Ukraine and China could access my site despite my having those countries blacklisted on my system, and now it appears that I have it - so I'm greatly pleased!
Some particularly recommended programs that I am or have been using
N.B. I was using Window XP, then Vista, then Windows 7, then Windows 8, and I am now using Windows 10.
Browser - for many years until 9 May 2014, it was Firefox, with the following add-ons listed below. However, I, like so many other FF users, was being repeatedly frustrated / exasperated by changes in successive FF versions, which necessitated installing add-ons to restore features or layout that had been removed or screwed up in the new version. This came to a head with version 29 of FF, and I then discovered Pale Moon, which is a MUCH saner variant of FF, which has a much cleaner and more configurable interface, is optimized for faster and more stable performance, and accepts and works with the vast majority of FF add-ons, so I found that I lost nothing by migrating to it, and had gained plenty in having a leaner, faster and cleaner browser.
- uBlock Origin - An excellent alternative to the Adblock 'family', which in my experience blocks more, including popunders, which Adblock Latitude had been failing to stop.
- AI RoboForm Toolbar - I found that this doesn't automatically attach to Pale Moon as it did with Firefox, unless the Roboform tray icon is allowed to start up with Windows.
- British English Dictionary
- Bug 489729 (Disable detach and tear off tab) - Very helpful for the title purpose, but also has another essential function bafflingly lacking in Firefox - enabling drag-and-drop of Firefox tabs onto the desktop as shortcuts.
- Tab Utilities - Gives some very useful enhancements to tab functioning and control.
- CS-Lite - an excellent cookie manager.
- Open With - Used for loading the current page into my web page editor or indeed other editors or browsers.
- Download Statusbar
- Flashblock (gives full control over whether any particular Flash content is played or not - all Flash content is blocked till you okay it)
- InFormEnter (I thought this might become redundant after I installed RoboForm, but actually I still find it useful for filling in the odd form fields.)
- Flagfox - provides a wide range of facilities for checking the currently open page, its source, safety and reputation. I have installed this in place of the WOT add-on, owing to quite serious ethical issues concerning WOT and the way it operates. Flagfox still includes a link for checking the current page at WOT, but also links for many other online URL-checking facilities.
- Noise - This enables one to set up sounds for Firefox events (Firefox itself doesn't have any facility for sounds to accompany initiation of events). I generally don't want sounds for Firefox events - except that when notification bars with particular prompts appear, they are so discreet that I tend not to notice them, and so it's really handy to have a discreet owl hoot, frog croak or funny burp / fart or similar sound to alert me when any such inconspicuous notification or prompt appears. I even recorded for it some messages to identify particular HTTP 'error' status codes. This works fine also in Pale Moon.
- Encrypted Web - Whenever one's browser requests a page, if there is a secure (HTTPS) version of that page, it will be loaded in preference to a non-secure version.
Web page editor - for many years it was KompoZer. For me this was better than any of the real heavyweights that I was aware of, like Dreamweaver, because its interface was simple and highly intuitive, and wasn't cluttered with features that I didn't need - and it was free!
However, in late March 2013 I was being frustrated by a new malfunction in the program, and as its development seemed to have run into the long grass (and thus no fix for any issues is likely at least in the short term), I had a further online search for a really workable alternative, and came up with the now free Microsoft Expression Web. This was much more fully featured than KompoZer, so more than making up for some of its functionality being a bit less simple, intuitive and quick to use. It included a fully featured and fully integrated CSS editor, and had a really impressive search / replace function, which could do all manner of extremely useful things like searching just within particular tags, and choosing whether to search / replace within the full HTML code or just the browser-visible text. However, the replace function was seriously, harmfully, under-implemented in one crucial aspect, in that you could carry out all manner of wonderful regular expression search / replace operations BUT there was no preview nor undo facility for those operations. Therefore you were liable to really screw up or indeed destroy your web pages if you did global search / replace operations that were any but the very most simple and failure-safe ones. So I continued to use PowerGrep for global replace operations, for there you have both preview and full undo facilities, and so can easily pull back from the brink of any potential disaster.
Expression Web is replete with configuration options, so you can make it much more intuitive to use than it is in its default state, and you can change the hideous black default interface for your chosen Windows colour scheme. One annoying bug for UK users is that for many people (but not all), including me, configuring the program for spell-checking in UK English didn't work, and it still spell-checked in US English.
Sadly, Expression Web has been abandoned by Microsoft, in that they have discontinued developing the program (by the look of it, a really crass move), which means that all outstanding bugs and design issues in the program will not get fixed, but that is presumably why they chose to make such a magnum opus of a program into a 'freebie' (without MS support).
However, that is not the end of the saga, because I found that I couldn't use Expression Web for entering text in my longer pages, because it was far too slow then. Also, a bug in its Ctl-Z 'undo' facility leads to occasional loss of work, which can happen without one noticing it at the time and being able to rectify the situation.
I have now, therefore, gone over to BlueGriffon, which has arisen from the same original source as KompoZer, and has a lot of similarity with it, but is being more actively developed. It does have its limitations, quirks and bugs, but this appears to be the best that I can come up with for the time being, and at least some of its issues do bear more chance of being resolved than is the case with KompoZer and the effectively defunct Expression Web. Although I have not yet come across a fully acceptable web page editor, I have NO plans at all to get involved with Dreamweaver, which, apart from being eye-wateringly expensive, is a cumbersome mass of bloatware replete with features that I don't want, and noted for creating poor quality source code, and developed / marketed by Adobe, whose upgrade / improvements policy and attitude to their customers is frankly abominable and the work of scoundrels.
Text editor - was Notepad++. The '++' in its name is no exaggeration, for this is a remarkably well featured text editor. It is much more than just a replacement for the Windows Notepad - and it's free.
However, in 2012 I opted for still fuller functionality, and, while I am keeping Notepad++ as a reserve alternative text editor, I have now gone over to the very fully featured EditPad Pro from Just Great Software, who are also the source of PowerGrep and RegexBuddy, which I also use. Programs from Just Great Software may look a little pricey, BUT they are remarkably good and well featured, and they are all being very actively developed, also with very responsive user support. Also, a long time passes (with many free 'minor' updates containing significant improvements) between new major versions for which there would be a charge for upgrading - so one does get quite a lot for one's money.
CSS stylesheet editor - TopStyle Pro.
Wordprocessor - Was Microsoft Word 2000, then Word 2010, but I was not keen on the size of the MS Office package, even with only Word installed, and also I did not like what I'd read of Microsoft's plans for the next version of Office - and in any case needed to cut down on my expenditure on repeatedly upgrading software. After a fair bit of Internet search and trying out various wordprocessor programs, I settled on LibreOffice Writer, which was my wordprocessor (as with MS Office, I installed only the wordprocessor and not the other modules of the LibreOffice suite). It was less polished and intuitive for me to use, but at least, one way or another, did the jobs that I needed it to do, and was notionally free - though definitely warranting the requested occasional donations.
However - famous last words! - well on in 2015, when I wanted to get reading through and preparing my novels to produce as books, I found LibreOffice Writer to be completely unusable with regard to headers, which were hopelessly dysfunctional, and so, reluctantly, I reverted to Word 2010, which at least does work properly. At least the potential security issues of using an old version of Word are mitigated by the anti-exploit protection afforded it by HitmanPro.Alert. I have no plans to upgrade it till some future incompatibility forces me to do so.
Search (& replace):
PowerGrep - the real 'heavyweight' search & replace program, with particularly powerful regular expression support. Searches for file contents - not actual file / folder names - and can display a marvellously informative action preview, showing in context the 'finds' and what they would get changed to - and a similar display of the results of a completed action. This program is expensive - but I couldn't find anything cheaper that even approached the functionality and usability of PowerGrep, so I don't grudge my outlay on this - and a long time, with many updates, passes between major versions for which one would have to pay the upgrade. You thus get a lot for your money as compared with various other software firms.
- Regex Buddy, from the PowerGrep people - a tremendous aid in creating regular expressions to use in search strings.
Actual Search & Replace - a very nice lighter-weight utility for search / replace, which can also search for filenames but not folders. Regular expression support, but no preview of replace results, so I do not use it for replace using regular expressions. Very useful for the simpler S&R tasks, though, where the quite complex interface of PowerGrep would be overkill.
(search only) Free Commander XE (see further below) - this extremely fully featured file manager is excellent for searching for file and folder names, and also can search for contained text. In the new version still under development - Free Commander XE - regular expressions can be used both for file / folder names and for text contained in files.
DocFetcher - an Open Source (and thus free) desktop search utility. This is my most recent addition for text searching. It does have the disadvantage of maintaining an index of the user-specified folders / drives, but of course the advantage is that of one not having to wait for a search to take place when one does want to look for something. My reason for getting it as well as the above programs is that it enables me to get quick and accurate searches through .doc files and indeed other Microsoft Office file-types, and the OpenOffice (including LibreOffice) file-types, and proper text searches through web pages (particularly the local copies of my websites). In general, other search programs fail to do text searches properly in web pages unless you set up complex regular expressions to exclude all HTML tags and white space characters.
I have increased DocFetcher's usefulness to me, in that I have set up a Ctl-E keyboard shortcut to enable me to edit the selected / displayed web page in my chosen editor (BlueGriffon), using AutoHotKey.
Image viewers / managers:
XnView - a really great open source (and thus free) image manager with comprehensive viewing / processing / conversion facilities, including batch operations.
(specifically for photos) - Photo Mechanic. Particularly recommended despite price, on account of its thorough and superior handling of IPTC metadata. It also has some particularly handy features for sorting through a batch of new photos and picking out the best.
Image editor - Photoshop Elements - originally version 5. I got version 5 in a free software bundle from my site hosting company, and for my purposes it was brilliant, and was much more intuitive and easy to use than various other image editors that I had tried, and its 'straightening' function for photos had much less degrading effect on image sharpness than in other editors that I had tried.Unfortunately, well into 2011, without any obvious reason PSE5 started failing to load, just triggering a curt error message "Attempt to access invalid address". It proved impossible to identify a cause for this - various measures at times apparently rectifying the problem but then the problem returning in a later session on the computer. An Internet search showed that very many people had been having the same problem, with various versions, and at different times. In each case it would start happening after a long period of flawless working, and no clear pattern showed up to identify the real cause of the problem. It looked remarkably as though the problem had been programmed into PSE itself, to 'encourage' long-term users of a particular version to pay further money to upgrade to the current version. And I do have to say that the appalling cynical and cavalier attitude to its customers that Adobe tends to display in various respects very much underlines that as a real possibility as distinct from its being just a snide comment of mine.
Eventually I reluctantly upgraded to PSE9, but I have to say that the interface colours of that version (white to darkish greys on black) made it not only exceptionally ugly but actually difficult and stressful to use, because much text was difficult or otherwise stressful to read, and various features (such as icons, tabs and toolbars) were difficult or impossible to pick out visually. Here is a particularly brazen example of what one had to put up with in PSE9. Try reading the image details label in this - yes, the black text on very dark grey background:This is something for Adobe to be ashamed of - producing
a commercial product with an interface like this,
and keeping it like that over a number of major versions -
and they were living up to their appalling history of
customer relations in their considerable inertia in
doing anything about this in the face of many vociferous
complaints from dissatisfied users!
I complained so vociferously to Adobe, including to their highest level, that they gave me a gratis upgrade to version 10 as a 'goodwill gesture', apparently in a lame attempt to quieten me a bit. Version 10 did actually fix that almost illegible example illustrated above, but overall, the user interface colour scheme remained as ugly and difficult to read as ever.
I tried a variety of other photo editors that looked as though they might be worthy competitors for Photoshop Elements in terms of functionality and having a decent, readable interface colour scheme. The nearest contender I found was the X4 version of Paintshop Pro, and indeed it looked to have some additional editing functions as compared with Photoshop Elements. However, I found that in a trial copy of Paintshop Pro X4 (Service Pack 1) I could not adjust my photos anything like as quickly and accurately as in Photoshop Elements, so I am still stuck with the latter.
Adobe, with all their complete contempt and disregard for the end user, did not provide any fix for the execrable interface colour scheme of Photoshop Elements until version 11 - and many of us could see this coming. So, a rectification of Adobe's monumental blunder in taking away a properly readable interface has been presented as a supposedly new and improved version, which everyone would have to pay for. I would so much like to have nothing further to do with Adobe or indeed any firm whose interest is only in getting as much money as they can, and 'sod the customer!'. In the event, when I 'upgraded' my operating system from Windows 7 to 8, I could no longer run Photoshop Elements 10, and had to purchase an upgrade to its version 11, whose interface colours are fine in my books (i.e., once one has chosen the 'light' interface option) - though an incredibly stupid annoyance had been introduced, by which one can no longer dock the undo history and Effects pallets in the pallets bin along with the Layers pallet as one always could previously - and there is no configuration option to change that behaviour. Just why can those stupid developers never get it fully right? (I suppose the answer is that they always ensure that some things are wrong in order to ensure that people still have the motivation to buy the next version in case that fixes their particular issues - the scoundrels!)
More recently I was driven almost to screaming point with frustration at the perversely obstructive behaviour of the text tool in Photoshop Elements 11, while I was valiantly trying to compose CD cover artwork for the projected first commercial issues in my Wind Chimes in the Wild CD series.
- Audio file editors:
- Audacity. This free editor is excellent, though for many purposes I find the interface of WavePad a bit quicker and more intuitive to use. There are some tasks, however, that I find much easier to do (at least with acceptable results) in Audacity, and indeed certain tasks that I have never found out how to do in WavePad (maybe they are not implemented in that program). Also, in my experience AIFF files saved from Audacity are the only ones that I succeed in getting accepted when I submit new CDs to Createspace. AIFF files saved by any other program that I've tried have all been rejected by the Createspace system as 'invalid'.
- WavePad, from NCH Software. For most purposes
I prefer this because of its very intuitive interface. I paid out for a licence for
this program, so as to have full function with no 'nags', but I do have to say that
NCH's whole attitude seems to be very money-grabbing, and the price they put on this
program is quite high, AND that entitles you only to three months' worth of program
updates / upgrades. After three months you have to 'buy again' if you want to update
the program even for a relatively minor version update rather than a full new
version. Although that 'buying again' is at a supposed discount price, because of
the high level of the claimed 'full' price, the 'discount' price is what I would
expect to pay for first time registration for such a program from a less expensive
One nasty thing about WavePad was that it saved 24-bit FLAC files as 16-bit, with no option to change that behaviour, and no warning that it was doing so - but now at last it gives the user the choice of 16 or 24-bit, both for manual saving and for the saving during batch operations.
Another improvement in recent versions is the is the ability to save custom equalization presets.
- Voxengo Span, a VST plug-in, which works with WavePad and Foobar2000, but, sadly, not with Audacity. It is the best free program that I could find to graphically display the frequency spectrum of a sound being played. It has proved invaluable for enabling me to work out surprisingly precisely a corrective EQ profile to apply to a sound file in Audacity in order to get the most natural and life-like sound on playback. In particular, it has enabled me to apply such a corrective profile routinely to sound files produced by my own sound recorder (Sony PCM-M10, and more recently PCM-D100) to compensate for the furry windshield that I have to use over its internal microphones, for that somewhat attenuates higher frequencies.
Equalizer to correct for bass resonance problems with in-room response of my computer speakers (Audioengine A2+ with S8 subwoofer) - Equalizer APO, using the very helpful fPEQGUI as a graphical front end for it. There are, of course, simpler-looking equalizers, generally 31-band graphic ones, that sort-of do the job, but my choice was for a good parametric equalizer that displays a 'results' graph, and which can be configured to work automatically on all sound sources within the computer. That's where Equalizer APO (plus a suitable front end) is king!
I've set up a different profile for the USB output to my Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core unit, which latter does an amazingly accurate bass correction for my room hi-fi system. That profile has no equalization filters set, but simply boosts the volume, because I found that otherwise I got far too low a sound level from anything being played from the computer through my room hi-fi system.
Audio file format converter / CD 'ripper' - Fre:ac (Free Audio Converter). This is a free and very well implemented converter between a number of common audio file formats. I searched through a whole lot of free and commercial audio file converters before settling on this one. It includes a very effective CD 'ripping' function (you can actually have it save the tracks in any of its output file formats, such as MP3 or FLAC, thus saving a stage in the processing), though it does not burn files to CD, so another program is required for that. Freac is a relatively small program, and thus fast to load and indeed to operate. It is well worth making the requested donation to support continuing development.
CD and audio file player - Foobar2000. For many years I had been using Winamp as my media player, because it was the fashionable thing to use that rather than the clunky and resource hogging Windows Media Player. However, really Winamp itself had much of the same problem, at least for my purposes, and was far too flashy and difficult for me to find the small number of functions that I actually wanted to use - and it was slow to start up, which was tiresome if I just wanted to play a very short WAV file, for example. Also, the free version doesn't play FLAC files. So, in 2012 I did an Internet search and came up trumps with Foobar2000, which is free and includes FLAC files among those that it can play. Foobar2000 is small, visually basic (i.e., without distractions so that you can see just what you need to see), loads quickly, and uses minimal system resources. Foobar2000 can 'rip' CDs too - though I prefer to do that in Fre:ac.
Two add-ons (described as 'components') that I find extremely useful are the Waveform Seekbar and Musical Spectrum. The latter I have configured to display from C0 to G10, to cover the whole audible spectrum plus a bit extra either side. As I make a lot of my own recordings, it is particularly helpful to be able to see just what is going on in them and if there are particular issues that I need to address.
For more detailed virtually real-time examination of the frequency spectrum I use the already mentioned Voxengo Span, though that isn't so convenient because it does not integrate into the parent application's window.
Video player - VLC Media Player. I have used this too for extracting audio from DVDs - though actually it is inconvenient for this purpose because it has no facility to extract the audio as separate tracks (i.e., all in one process).
Extracting audio from DVDs in separate tracks - DVD Decrypter.
- Downloading highest available quality audio from YouTube videos - aTube Catcher. This is particularly easy. Just copy the video page's URL from the browser address bar and paste it into the appropriate field in aTube Catcher, and it will save it to your system in the file format that you've set in its configuration. It will even automatically extract a playlist from a YouTube page and then present you with that list, so you can select what in that list to download.
Video editor - Windows Live Movie Maker. I use this for making simple videos that I put on YouTube to present excerpts from my natural soundscape recordings and music compositions, using mostly the relevant CD cover art as the visual part. At least for this purpose, Movie Maker is remarkably effective, intuitive and quick to use.
CD / DVD burning program - I have at different times used WinOnCD (my first), Nero Burning, Ashampoo Burning Studio, then (though only for audio CDs) the CD-burning plug-in in Foobar 2000, and then BurnAware Free, which latter appeared to do all I needed, without clutter and masses of unwanted features, and, as its name suggests, it is free. However, eventually I found that although the latter includes CD text from metadata tags in the source files when burning CDs, it doesn't read / write such data when creating CD image files or when reading them to create new CDs. I have thus now settled on ImgBurn, which does that, and although looking a bit technical for the novice, is a powerful and flexible free program.
File manager - Free Commander XE. This is by far the best and most intuitive file manager that I've tried, out of quite a number. I was for many years a PowerDesk devotee, but Free Commander knocks not just spots but huge blotches off it! (you get the picture?)
And it really is free - though it is so excellent that you may be moved to donate something to the author. It is so full of features and options, however, that some users would most likely find it rather daunting, and its initial default appearance may be felt to be rather off-putting, BUT the real way to approach it is to take some time initially to methodically configure it to display just what you want, in the way that is most intuitive for you. Once you have got it set up like that it can look refreshingly simple and uncluttered, with little or nothing getting in your way, yet still having virtually any file management functionality that you could possibly have need for, including powerful search and quick filter capabilities, file / folder compare and synchronization, intelligent bulk rename, stored and recallable user defined layouts, user defined columns in file listings, FTP functionality, and....
- Sound file manager - Tag&Rename. Although not having the tremendous range of functionality of Free Commander, this program, as well as having a lot of functions for managing sound file tags (which generally I don't use), displays the playing time and relevant data such as bit rate of each file and the total playing time for any folder or selected block. This makes things much easier for grouping sound files into folders prior to burning them to audio CDs. It has really come into its own since I have been making my own sound recordings, for it greatly facilitates the entering / editing of the various metadata fields ('tags') that each sound file can carry, and allows batch entering / editing operations.
Folder synchronization with FTP for uploading large numbers of updated web pages - Beyond Compare. I use the Pro version because that enables me to use secure FTP.
Standard FTP programs with synchronization facilities proved to be unreliable and prone to making a mess of the website on the remote server by putting lots of files in wrong folders, or simply giving up on the operation part-way through - but Beyond Compare has been rock-solid reliable and very fast in its synchronizations and FTP transfers, and is really a great piece of work, albeit not really best for standard uploading of just a few files, where a more normal FTP program makes better sense.
FTP program for use when folder synchronization isn't required - Wise-FTP. Despite the odd small bugs and its folder synchronization option looking pretty untrustworthy (I couldn't make out, from the display, exactly what would happen if I actually let it proceed), this program has what is for me the clearest and most intuitive interface that I've found in an FTP program, and it does seem to be very fast in its uploading of multiple files simultaneously.
Monitoring the state of my websites - Integrio Uptime Scout. This is a simple free program, which periodically checks the home page of each site and warns me (visually and with a sound) if any of the sites are 'down', including indicating the HTTP status code. The main value of this to me is when I've made an amendment to the .htaccess file of any or all of the sites. If I have inadvertently put even the slightest error in one of those .htaccess files, the whole site is immediately 'down', every single file request to that site then getting an 'Internal server error' message. Uptime Scout warns me if I have boobed in that way, so that downtime is absolutely minimal before I investigate and rectify the error.
When I was preparing to switch from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows 7 upon transferring to my new computer in 2012, I noted with some concern that Uptime Scout was flagged by the Microsoft Compatibility Centre as incompatible with 64-bit Windows 7 - and I could not find anywhere a really suitable replacement for it. However, in the event Uptime Scout continued running flawlessly on my new 64-bit system - to one great sigh of relief from me!
Notifying me of available new versions of installed programs - Glarysoft Software Update. I did use Software Informer for a long while, but I very often found that its notifications were inaccurate, and, more recently its whole interface was crammed with advertising, which made it rather a pain up the arse. Also, I used Secunia Personal Software Inspector (Secunia PSI) for a while. The latter focuses on potential security threats posed by software that doesn't have the latest patches - a great idea, but I was increasingly bugged by it because it often kept nagging me to update programs that were already updated, even after a new scan, and also its attempts to update programs usually hung - so altogether it was really a bit of unhelpful rubbish on my system, and I was finally glad to clear it out.
Kerish Doctor (see further below) actually has a software updates list facility, but I find that not very comprehensive, so I continue to use an additional program for that function.
(was) Beyond Compare for daily synchronization (non-compressed) short-term data backups. However, it increasingly bugged me through not synchronizing fully effectively from my C or E drive. Eventually I found FreeFileSync, which performs perfectly for that purpose, provided that one has it set to copy locked files (an option not available in Beyond Compare) and, when a synchronization has completed, to do a second Compare on that pair of drives / folders, and then another synchronization if that Compare operation lists any files that still need synchronization.
The problem here appears to be a Windows one, in that in some cases files' 'modified' dates (which generally are those seen in file listings) are wrongly changed to the current date / time when they are copied but not when they are updated. That means that new files being copied over in a synchronization may in some cases wrongly have the current date on the destination side, and the solution is then to repeat the compare / synchronization so that then those files get updated, and they then get the date attributes verbatim from the source files. A bit barmy, but, let's face it, using computer programs really effectively often requires peculiar workarounds because of the plethora of bugs and 'undocumented features' in even the most highly reputed software!
Caution! As with very many freeware programs nowadays, the FreeFileSync installer contains one or more definitely unwanted junkware offers that it seeks to trick you into installing, so you need to be very vigilant in the installation process. You get little or no hassle from that sort of thing if you donate.
Macrium Reflect. (previously used Acronis True Image 2012, then EaseUs Todo Backup Free, then Aomei Backupper) for disk / partition image backups, including a remarkably quick weekly system partition backup. With these backups I'm unlikely to have to reinstall Windows ever again in the event of a problem. Both backing up and restoring the system partition has proved to be an amazingly speedy and trouble-free process. The EaseUs and Aomei programs both come from China, and in 2017 I made a policy decision to move away from software from China, Russia or Ukraine, at least where I could use a not-too-expensive really effective alternative from a politically more trustworthy country.
Bitser - An additional backup program? - Yes, for my data backups! The trouble with the whole disk / partition copying programs is that they save only to proprietary formats, so you are tied to using the respective program to access / restore anything - which is really not a healthy situation at all. So, in 2013 I finally decided to break loose from the proprietary format backup programs for my personal data backups. After all, partition backups of my C drive do not need to be kept all that long if they are being made regularly, but the data backups do, and so they need to be saved in a universally accessible format - i.e., good old Zip! So, that is why I ended up with Bitser, which is not made for doing partition or system backups, but is brilliant for backing up one's data into .zip files, which then can be opened by all manner of programs including straight file managers. I would advise any- and everyone not to entrust their data backups to any program that saves them in a proprietary format.
Disk defragmentation - Generally not needed now, as it is unhelpful and indeed slightly harmful to defragment SSDs (actually, with SSDs the whole concept of defragmentation is not particularly meaningful anyway). However, on the odd occasion when I want to defragment one of my external hard disk drives I simply use MyDefrag, which is free (generally using the 'defragment only' option because the other options take a long time and really confer little or no benefit except, perhaps, for system partitions).
- Antivirus - Having used a succession of antivirus, firewall and security suites over the
years, I settled on Kaspersky
Internet Security, which provided an excellent range of internet security
functions, including the inevitable antivirus and firewall functionality, with much
less user pestering than I've had from any equivalent software in the past, and with
an enviable reputation for minimal false positives - that reputation being borne out
by my own experience.
...And yet, in March 2016, still hardly more than halfway through my two-year Kaspersky subscription, I did some testing of the odd alternative security software combinations on my system and finally replaced Kaspersky Internet Security with Avast Antivirus Pro - the paid version, in order to be free from pop-ups advertising their other products. I did this not because there was anything wrong with KIS as such, but because, however great guys the Kaspersky team may be, unfortunately the political situation and current trend in Russia is worrying to say the least, and I do not want security software that comes from a country that shows significant possibility of doing us serious cyber-harm at a State level. Surely, widely used Russian security software would be a sitting duck for use by State agencies to wreak havoc out here in the West.
- Firewall - This change to Avast Antivirus means that I am no longer using a third-party firewall, and have the much maligned though actually potentially very effective Windows firewall operating, using GlassWire (see below) as my 'front end' for it. For me this has an upside and a downside. The 'up' is that at last I can easily and quickly see what is blocked and what is allowed, and can quickly block anything that I consider suspect or worse, or just as easily and quickly unblock anything that I do want to let through. The 'down' is that when I get a firewall alert because of a program on my computer wanting Internet access for the first time, that program has been blocked, not suspended as genuine third-party firewalls normally do. That is very inconvenient because it tends to disrupt program installations, causing failures, program hangs and all that. Unfortunately I'm stuck with this behaviour because it isn't GlassWire's fault but a primitive aspect of the way Windows Firewall operates. However, I do have a workaround for when I remember it: before I start an installation I open GlassWire's window, and switch its firewall operation temporarily from Ask to connect to Click to block. That then allows any program to connect but at least I'd switch the setting back just as soon as it wasn't needed, and could easily block anything that had got onto the list of allowed programs in the meantime (very unlikely to happen anyway on my system).
- Additional Internet security - GlassWire. This is a relatively new program that uses
graph and other displays to inform you really precisely and comprehensively about
all Internet activity on your computer. It includes discreet, unobtrusive alerts
when any process connects to the Net for the first time (i.e., in GlassWire's
'history'), and you can then view the events in GlassWire's Alerts page, which
displays details of the process and the remote hosts (both resolved host address and
numerical IP), so you are properly informed as to what is going on, and can check up
on anything that looks as though it might be suspicious. You can virus-check any
listed process from within GlassWire.
On some systems, such as mine, you can use GlassWire as a simple but effective firewall, blocking particular processes. However, this latter function depends on Windows Firewall being enabled, and so isn't available if you are running a third-party firewall program.
GlassWire is remarkably un-technical in what it displays, keeping everything clear and easy to understand - a really great program, even though there are still some interface details that need improving.
The less good news is that paid-for versions have been introduced, and one cannot necessarily now expect significant new features in the free version. This change was premature, seeing that the program was still in beta and the additional functionality available at this stage is not all that much. I did actually pay out for the Basic paid-for version, and that gave me the really important 'Ask to connect' option for the firewall, which I'm now using.
Host Intrusion Protection System (HIPS) - I now rely on a combination of software for carrying out this function - particularly Avast Antivirus Pro (much more than just 'antivirus') and HitmanPro.Alert and Zemana Antimalware , also with the antimalware functionality of the computer maintenance program Kerish Doctor. Until early 2017 I was using SpyShelter Premium, which I realized had become more or less redundant on my system and gave so many alerts that I was very likely to be too hasty and let something nasty through. This combination also gives considerable protection against ransomware.
Additional protection against exploits - Was Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit, Premium (paid-for) version, but I more recently replaced that with a much more powerful and flexible equivalent called HitmanPro.Alert, which I strongly recommend on the basis of my own experience - though the user does need to be fairly computer-savvy in order to effectively and quickly handle the various false positive alerts that are liable to come up. An alert is not just an alert but the summary termination of the supposedly suspect program, with no opportunity for user choice over the matter (which can be quite disruptive to one's work, so such events really do need to be avoided). The need then is to experiment to see which particular category or categories of program protection produce the alert, and to disable the particular protection category ('mitigation') for that program until you've reported the false positive alert and that issue has been fixed by the developers.
One of the many things I value in this program's range of functions is encryption of keyboard input, with visual indication that shows that the encryption is taking place. That makes the entering of 'sensitive' data anywhere, including in Web forms, much safer.
HitmanPro.Alert is a paid-for program (by subscription, as with MBAE), installed with its companion HitmanPro, which is a powerful malware scanner, roughly equivalent to the MalwareBytes Anti-Malware scanning function, but non-resident, and a great second or third opinion scanner to have available.
Additional monitoring of system changes:
I was using WinPatrol PLUS - An excellent manager and monitor of startup programs, processes and services and changes to critical system components.
However, once I had Kerish Doctor on my system I realized that almost all WinPatrol's functions (that I need, anyway), are covered by Kerish Doctor and Anvir Task Manager Pro (see below), so I finally uninstalled it.
Anvir Task Manager Pro - An amazingly fully featured manager / monitor of startup programs, services and processes, with detailed displays that enable you to do all sorts of troubleshooting and indeed sniffing out suspicious processes or activities and, hopefully, forestalling any need for extensive troubleshooting. I use this to prompt me for approval or otherwise when it detects new startup programs. However, some of its functions do not work very well, and really I would like to replace it with a more 'solid' program - except that I cannot find any program anywhere that gives such extremely informative tray icons as Anvir Task Manager, so I have no plans to stop using it at least for the time being.
Another issue is that it appears that this program is no longer being very actively developed or supported, so I strongly advise against paying for additional years of updates / support if you do pay out for the Pro version. At least it does appear to work just as well in Windows 10 as in earlier Windows versions.
Additional malware scanning programs:
Malwarebytes' Anti-malware (Pro version). I did have it running resident, with no conflicts - but it did rather slow the system with lots of scanning, and I eventually dispensed with that, just using it for weekly scans. Indeed, its more comprehensive version 3 is such a resource hog that many users are complaining about it in forums. I've replaced its resident functions with Zemana Antimalware (Premium).
HitmanPro - the non-resident powerful malware scanner that comes with HitmanPro Alert.
Spybot - Search & Destroy. I do not use Spybot - Search & Destroy's resident functionality and use it just for an occasional 'immunization' and a periodic scan.
SuperAntiSpyware (Free Edition). I use this not as a resident program, but just for periodic scans, alternating with Spybot - Search & Destroy. It appears, though, to be more powerful than the latter and to find quite a lot that the latter misses.
AdwCleaner. A particularly powerful scanner, though more limited in its scope and configurability than the other programs listed in this section.
Of course I have protection from Avast Antivirus Pro, BUT in practice this has nothing to find, because of...
MailWasher Pro (the paid-for version). This is not only an extremely effective anti-spam tool, but is a great first line of e-mail security, enabling me to investigate and discard as necessary any or all e-mails in my mailboxes on the mail server, so that anything at all dubious never gets downloaded to my system. Theoretically the very occasional rogue e-mail could slip through the net, however, if it happens to arrive on the server during the short period between my checking the mail in MailWasher and my downloading new mail in my e-mail program, so vigilance is still required. Also, these days many extremely harmful e-mails don't have virus-laden attachments, but instead present one with harmful links, and often subject line and body text to encourage one to click on them. At least those are easily recognised in MailWasher, where I mark them for deletion so that only safe messages reach my main mail program.
- ...And in any case e-mail viruses usually haven't even been reaching MailWasher, because my e-mail is virus-checked by my hosting company, Kualo. However, that doesn't necessarily altogether stop e-mails containing harmful links from reaching MailWasher, so the latter level of protection is certainly necessary.
Web / Browser protection:
- Theoretically, the relevant functionality of Avast Antivirus Pro - except that Pale Moon isn't one of the browsers that get an Avast plugin, so at the moment I'm not sure how much protection I'm getting from Avast for my default browser, and it would presumably be safer to use Internet Explorer or Chrome, or Avast's own secure browser (apparently a special version of Opera) for entering sensitive information.
- uBlock Origin - appears to beat Adblock Latitude, which was by far the most effective and intuitive ad blocker that I've d previously come across.
- Flashblock - a Firefox add-on, which enables you to choose which, if any, flash applets are displayed on a page - and you can 'whitelist' particular sites to always allow Flash.
- NoScript - a Firefox add-on. An extremely effective protection from possible malicious scripts in web pages. All web page scripts are blocked until you actually allow them.
- CS-Lite - an excellent on-the-fly cookie manager.
- FlagFox - in place of WOT, which has serious issues. Unfortunately, though, you have to open a page before you can check it using the facilities that Flagfox gives you. You don't get any safety ratings in search engine listings.
- AI RoboForm - Not only very handy for automatic filling in of forms, this program stores usernames and passwords securely and has a facility for creating really secure passwords.
- The aforementioned HitmanPro Alert - a great and comprehensive protector against exploits in browsers as well as virtually any other program. Its protection includes add-ons / extensions / plug-ins of the respective browser. It includes a keystroke encryption function, to help make entry of sensitive information on web forms relatively safe - thus helping to compensate for Avast probably not protecting Pale Moon.
Internet activity monitoring / control:
Net Meter from Hoo Technologies, which I still regard as being unbeatable for the quality of its display - but it shows only overall activity, and doesn't identify the processes responsible. I caution that this program's executable file or/and its installation program may cause you false positive alerts from certain antivirus programs. Unfortunately there has been at least one bit of nasty malware going around with the name of Net Meter, but I can assure you that the Net Meter from Hoo Technologies is excellent and perfectly benign and clean. My only, increasing, reservation about it has been that its development seems to have stopped some years ago.
I keep Net Meter's display normally visible in a corner of my screen, and it enables me to see when any unexpected Internet activity (green for outgoing, red for incoming and yellow for both) is occurring. When appropriate I can then get more detailed information about what is or has been going on and which process is/was responsible for the particular activity, in GlassWire.
A mini-graph feature has more recently been added to the latter program, which, ideally, should render Net Meter redundant. However, in practice it is much less clear, precise and configurable than Net Meter, and so I continue to use the latter and not the GlassWire mini-graph.
GlassWire, described further above, its display and features accessible from a notification area (system tray) icon. It gives necessary information that Net Meter doesn't provide, such as what process is responsible for any particular activity shown on its graph, and details of the remote address involved in any particular activity. It is thus a great security aid.
- Antivirus - Having used a succession of antivirus, firewall and security suites over the years, I settled on Kaspersky Internet Security, which provided an excellent range of internet security functions, including the inevitable antivirus and firewall functionality, with much less user pestering than I've had from any equivalent software in the past, and with an enviable reputation for minimal false positives - that reputation being borne out by my own experience.
MailWasher Pro, as noted above.
(from May 2014). Prior to that I had been a user of Eudora (up to version 7.1), The
Bat!, and Thunderbird. Having discovered Pale Moon and with some relief used that to
replace Firefox as my web browser, I noted that the developer of Pale Moon was also
author and active developer of Fossamail, which is similarly an optimized variant of
Thunderbird. I therefore promptly migrated my mail to Fossamail. Again, it
accepts and works just fine with all the Thunderbird add-ons that I was using, and
it looks the same apart from some of its icons looking a bit nicer - though actually
for somebody who compares Thunderbird and Fossamail in their default states I think
one would see that a number of Fossamail defaults are better.
Support for Fossamail was announced to cease as from May 2017, so I shall no doubt presently revert to Thunderbird in order to get any necessary security fixes.
Ongoing system maintenance / optimization:
- Kerish Doctor. I now have this running on my system in place of Tune-up Utilities, which I had used for quite a number of years, and it's doing a great job - more effectively and comprehensively than the latter, as far as I can tell, and it does quite a bit more to help keep my system secure.
Some really handy system utilities:
Process Lasso (was using Chameleon Task Manager). I tried the latter as a conceivable replacement for Anvir Task Manager, seeing that the latter appears not to be actively developed or supported any more. In fact it falls far short of ATM generally, BUT I decided to keep it because two really valuable aspects of its functioning are not supplied by ATM, at least really usefully. They are: (1) optional notification of new processes that have just launched (a great security check), and (2) a much more elaborate and effective system than ATM provides for setting (both manually and/or automatically) the priorities of running processes, so that background CPU-intensive processes need never again significantly slow down your foreground process and thus your work. I found that over time Chameleon gave me far too many 'new program' alerts and so I stopped using that functionality, and I finally chose to use the more dedicated process management utility Process Lasso instead.
AutoHotKey, a free, open-source utility for assigning hotkeys and macros. Not easy to find out how to achieve many of its tricks, but with some care and patience many very handy hotkey functions can be set up.
System Scheduler Professional, from Splinterware. Gives many more options than the Windows Task Scheduler, and I use it to give me reminders for such things as backing up, defragmenting and other maintenance tasks, as well as actually running certain programs.
- (was) Free Countdown Timer, from Comfort Software. With an
unusually friendly-feeling, intuitive and uncluttered interface, this simple program
turned out to be very handy for various personal reminders while I'm working a the
computer - such as "Packing-up time (morning-1)!" and "Take a break!" (the latter
set to repeat at an hourly interval).
I've now replaced that with its paid-for but inexpensive big brother from the same developer, Hot Alarm Clock, which gives me greater flexibility in use of personal alarms on the computer.
Startup Delayer Premium. Because of various issues that arose from using Anvir Task Manager or/and WinPatrol to delay (as necessary) the launching of the 'auto-start' programs, i.e., those that start up automatically with Windows, I finally chose this dedicated program to take over that task, and I am glad I did. There is also a free version, which lacks a few functions.
Real Temp. This gives a 'live' read-out of the CPU core temperature(s) and other useful real-time data about one's CPU performance. I have it configured to show the higher of the two core temperatures in its notification area (system tray) icon, as that is the basic information that is really useful in everyday operation. I was using the more widely known Core Temp, which does the same things, but I had to replace it because of a serious bug in a new version, which would cause the computer to freeze up during each Windows startup, and also I was not happy with the way that the widely available installer packages for that program, including on the author's own website, contained seriously bad crapware, at least some of which would install on people's computers whether they wanted it or not.
Walyk Wallpaper Changer. Not as replete with features as some wallpaper changers, BUT unlike those it actually has the functionality that I need, and without anything getting in the way. I use it to cycle through a very large collection of wallpaper images, with an automatic change at every startup of the program.
Unlocker. A small utility whose installation puts an entry into the context (right-click) menu for files or folders in Explorer and other file managers, enabling you to carry out basic file / folder actions when the selected file or folder is locked or Windows in its superior wisdom tells you (as owner of your PC and working as administrator) that you don't have permission to carry out the particular action. So, with Unlocker at last you don't have to reboot into Safe Mode to move, delete or rename that file or folder, and can do it right on the spot (and sod Windows!) or at least have an action performed automatically upon the next reboot.
True Launchbar, from Tordex. I'd already got the stand-alone version of this set up in Windows Vista to take away the clutter on my Windows desktop and even keep the Quick Launch bar clear so that the taskbar was as uncluttered as possible. I configured TLB to give me access to the vast majority of my programs, through an intuitive arrangement of menus and submenus, and found that for me the most convenient and intuitive place for the bar to be was NOT in the standard taskbar position but on the left-hand side of the screen, set to auto-hide so that the desktop (with nice background) was beautifully clear of anything except what I was working with.
Subsequently the autohiding became vexatious for me because of the launchbar and its menus popping up and interfering whenever I moved my mouse pointer about close to the left edge of the screen during the course of my working in various applications. What I did then is what you see in the picture. I resumed use of the Windows Quick Launch bar version of True Launchbar, but with the top-level launchbar menu being reduced to just one button next to the Start button (i.e. like a second Start button), so that its main menu (actually top level submenu) popped up every time I moved my mouse pointer over it.
from Tordex, the True Launchbar people. A very small free utility that reduces
taskbar clutter by eliminating the Windows Start button. This is particularly handy
if for most purposes you are using True Launchbar or an equivalent program as your de
facto Start button, as I am nowadays. However, you can still access the
Windows Start menu at any time (pre-Windows 8) by clicking on the extreme left of
the taskbar, so absolutely no Windows functionality is lost; you simply have just
that bit more space on your taskbar.
In Windows 8 there is no such native Start Menu functionality, and the Start button of the Start Menu replacement in Classic Shell (see below) does not get moved out of sight by StartKiller, and actually remains superimposed on my 'start button' of True Launchbar (see above). My solution to that has been to turn off the Start Button lookalike and use just the Win key to call up Classic Start Menu. However, I found that there was still an unused little bit of 'fallow' space at the left end of the taskbar, and running StartKiller nicely killed that, moving the end of the usable part of the taskbar to the edge of the screen.
Classic Shell, which includes a significant enhancement of the Windows Start menu, and essential in Windows 8 if one prefers to by-pass the abomination that is the Windows 8 Start Screen or even eliminate it altogether. I am using just the Classic Start Menu component of this mini-suite
Hot Copy Paste, previously called Comfort Clipboard Pro, from Comfort Software. The best clipboard history manager that I could find (at least, at a reasonable price), out of quite a number that I tried. This program saves to hard disk all Windows clipboard 'clips' and enables you to retrieve any of them, with search and filter facilities for speedy finding of what you're after. You can set the maximum number of clips to be stored on the hard disk before the oldest start getting automatically deleted. There is also a Favorites feature, so you can have a small collection of regularly used items that you may want to keep pasting into files that you're working on. There is a very cheap 'Lite' version, but I considered the very modest extra cost of the Pro version well worth it - all the more so because this entitles you to all future major upgrades as well as any intermediate program updates.
PopChar, an extremely useful replacement for the Windows Character Map. I have found it to make searching for particular symbol or dingbat characters MUCH easier than hitherto, and indeed it enabled me to quickly discover many symbols, dingbats and other special characters that are hidden away in Unicode fonts. Although a little pricey for what one might consider to be a distinctly peripheral utility, for me it has definitely been worth paying out for.
Bulk Crap Uninstaller - for my purposes a great improvement upon my previous uninstaller utilities Revo Uninstaller and then Iobit Uninstaller, which I'd been using previously. BC Uninstaller's interface may not look as slick as that of the latter two, but for me it has proved unprecedentedly comprehensive in programs listing, which latter includes portable and 'orphaned' programs (ones that have not been installed or are otherwise without registry entries) - and particularly powerful and speedy in its removal of programs and finding left-over files and registry entries.
Some 20th Century composers and specific works
that are in my view more important
than many that are much more widely recognised and performed. . . .
Carl Nielsen >>His organ work Commotio, which is remarkably different from any of his orchestral work and clearly rooted in the work of old masters at the organ, such as Buxtehude and J.S. Bach. There is a rarefied and radiant spiritual quality of this music, transcending all ordinary emotions.
Jehan Alain >>Organ works - look beyond the commonly performed Litanies! Recommended recording (may have to be specially imported): 2 CDs on the Erato label, played by Marie Claire Alain -- head and shoulders above others I've heard.
Charles Tournemire >>Much as I admire some of his L'Orgue Mystique organ pieces, the work which has gripped and haunted me most of all is his Douze Préludes-Poèmes for piano - effectively a major piano suite of a powerful mystical quality unlike anything else I've heard on the piano. Some very memorable bell-like sonorities in some of the more dramatic movements.
Vagn Holmboe >>His oeuvre in general, but especially symphonies 6-10. Recommended introduction: BIS CDs of Symphonies 6 & 7, and 8 & 9. I regard his 8th Symphony as unsurpassed in stature, beauty and power by any other symphony, though some listeners have difficulty with the strange, haunting atmosphere and the sheer intensity of his music. (Note that I have worded that last sentence with care: it would take an ignorant person indeed to claim that any one particular symphony is the greatest, seeing that so many different types of vision and approaches to musical form are presented in different symphonies, and different people will inevitably have their particular musical resonances.)
Eduard Tubin >>His oeuvre in general; I found his symphonies 2, 4, 6, 8-10 especially powerful and beautiful. Recommended introduction: the BIS recording of the 4th & 9th Symphonies.
Olivier Messiaen >>His organ works, especially Messe de la Pentecôte and Livre d'Orgue. Recordings by the composer (historical quality, mono) and Jennifer Bate (with awesome reverberation in Beauvais Cathedral) especially recommended.
Igor Stravinsky >>Although much of his music is widely known and accepted, two wonderful works that are still largely ignored are Persephone and Canticum Sacrum.
Bohuslav Martinu >>His Symphonies 3-6, Double Concerto (for 2 string orchestras, piano & timpani), and the powerful and immensely moving choral work, The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Ralph Vaughan Williams >>Apart from his better-known works such as Symphonies 1 - 7, Job and Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, I strongly recommend Sancta Civitas and Riders to the Sea.
Giacinto Scelsi >>Truly extraordinary visionary music - quite unlike anything else of any age. This is the 'good' face of seemingly way-out modernism, with an awesome radiant spiritual quality. Go especially for the orchestral works - several excellent CD recordings on the Accord label.
Iannis Xenakis >>Provocative and often abrasive music, and thus not for the faint-hearted! Many of his earlier works especially have a tremendous visionary quality. His apocalyptic and haunting Kraanerg was the work that forced me to recognise that even modernistic idioms could be beautiful, and full of colour and powerful vision. Other wonderful works include: Nomos Gamma, Terretektorh, Anaktoria, Metastaseis, Bohor, Persepolis. But those listeners attached to romanticism and melody, or who shy away from breathtaking visions of the far reaches of the Universe, will not be pleased!
Harry Partch >>There is nothing else like this ritualistic and almost primitive-sounding music written in microtonal scales for a whole orchestra of purpose-designed instruments. Go especially for Delusion of the Fury - a unique masterwork, dramatic, sometimes eerie, and powerfully moving but including a remarkable humorous element.
Havergal Brian >>This is truly amazing! In general I dismiss his music, which seems to me somehow to contain some fundamental unsoundness and leaves me cold. Yet the Marco Polo CD recording of his huge Gothic Symphony (now transferred to the Naxos label), despite the work's many rough edges, is the one commercial recording that I'd have wanted to be saved above all my others if an earthquake destroyed my abode today. A monumental celebration of the life (and ultimately death) experience.
I now also have the CD recording of the original BBC recording in the Albert Hall, and had the great pleasure of listening via a high-grade digital radio to the 2011 BBC Proms performance of the work. These other performances give quite strikingly different angles on the work, but I find its impact is in all respects undiminished over many listenings.
Robert Simpson >>Although I find his idiom mostly too limited, so that for me many of his works sound too similar despite their great integrity, his 9th Symphony (recorded on Hyperion) is an awesome 'hit'.
Giles Swayne >>Cry is a truly unique visionary choral work - CD recording on NMC label.
Louis Andriessen >>De Tijd (Time) - a bewitching state of blissful peace, space and primal emptiness is evoked by this choral work. CD recording on Elektra label.
Eivind Groven >>Draumkvaedet. Typical of Groven's music, the idiom of this choral work has a bewitching modal sound, conveying an uplifting sense of purity and simplicity. The melodies derive with unusual directness from Norwegian folk song and dance. CD recording on Aurora label.
Einar Englund >>Symphony 2 (The Blackbird) - a compellingly atmospheric symphony with a strange combination of nature in the far north combined with a certain toughness and darkness of sound.
Rued Langgaard >>An enigmatic Danish composer of the first half of the 20th Century, much of whose music is of a rather undistinguished conservative Germanic neo-Romantic cast. Amongst such works, however, particularly in the middle part of his output, were a number of much more experimental and at times visionary works. Especially go for: Symphony 6 (Det Himmelrivende, which translates as 'The Rending Heavens') and the haunting Music of the Spheres. Also very powerful are the piano works Music (or Fantasia) of the Depths and The Fire Chambers. Symphonies 4 and 10 are also well worth hearing, even though less experimental in idiom.
Kaikhosru Sorabji >>The gigantic Organ Symphony 1 and even more gigantic Opus Clavicembalisticum, and other works. Most of his extraordinary oeuvre hasn't yet been recorded and thus most of his works I still haven't heard.
Toshiro Mayuzumi >>His short two-movement Mandala Symphony, despite the seemingly rather unpromising modernistic sound of its beginning, is an incandescent visionary work, which gathers a quite awesome power. I know no other works of his.
David Solomons >>I got to know David's music closely in 1999 when at his request I produced some MIDI realizations of his works. As yet not 'officially' recognised, his music has something in common with mine in that it is written by one who composes not for a career but because he has something wonderful and vital to communicate, so it's music with beauty, heart and spirit, and no grey intellectualism. But his music is very different from mine, and is mostly in the form of miniatures (well, more or less). The light-hearted and even frivolous titles he so often gives to his works usually belie the depth, uplifting quality and generosity of spirit of the pieces. I commend the following as an introduction. For serene uplifting beauty, go for his Suite for Recorder Orchestra (ignoring his funny titles for the 5 movements!). For a wonderful and memorable tune that you could well curse because you can't get it out of your head, go for Dawn in the Room for baritone & string orchestra. For particularly moving choral pieces, go for the very short unaccompanied motet Hoc est enim corpus meum and the similarly short Te Deum for girls' chorus, organ & harp. For something actually sombre (unusual for this composer) but with great nobility, go for his Prayer Before the Close of Day for two tubas & two euphoniums. But these suggestions are only the tip of a wonderful iceberg. Click here to visit his site (but bookmark my site first!).
Frank Perry >>A mystic and sound healer who produces extraordinary visionary music through a process of highly inspired improvisation. His music uses a vast array of Tibetan singing bowls and other, related, instruments. This music is leagues beyond what is generally produced as healing / meditation music, with no hint of the 'commercial Kitsch' sound that characterizes almost all New Age music that I've heard.
My recommendation comes with one caveat, however. My own understanding is that to listen to the music in any sort of meditation state, or to 'enter into the sound', as the composer recommends, is seriously harmful in the long run. It is extremely important that this music be listened to only in very grounding situations and contexts - usually while you are getting on with something practical to keep your awareness well grounded. To follow his recommendations would help unground you and make you more open and vulnerable to the garbage (i.e.,'dark force'), of which I have much unsought-for hard experience and thus know what I'm talking about. The Composer's well meant but harmful recommendation stems from the almost universal perception of ungrounded awareness and astral (actually garbage) connections and perceptions as 'spirituality' and also pointing themselves to that 'spirituality' rather than the true self-actualization that is where they really need to be heading. I explain more about that in Exit Spirituality - Enter Clear-Mindedness on my Self-Realization site.
***And a few earlier composers***
Mikolaj Zielenski >>A lamentably neglected Polish contemporary of Giovanni Gabrieli. What little I've heard of his output has something of the sound of Gabrieli (similar cadences) but with a radiant deeply moving quality that I've not heard in other music of that period - Gabrieli with a bigger, deeper heart. Unfortunately the only recording I know of Zielenski's music (an old one on the Olympia label, OCD 321) is appalling both in recording and performance quality, with the choir often singing raggedly and dreadfully flat - not a good introduction to such wonderful and inspiring music!
J.S. Bach (of course!)...
A number of particularly outstanding recordings of particularly outstanding masterpieces of his, arrived at after very thorough online research and dismissing most of the most popular 'big name' versions, including:
Mass in B-Minor (Collegium Vocale Gent / Philippe
The Well-Tempered Clavier (Roger Woodward, piano)
The Well-Tempered Clavier (Frédéric Desenclos, organ)
Goldberg Variations (Jeremy Denk, piano)
The Art of Fugue / The Musical Offering (Johannes-Ernst Köhler & Heinrich Klemm, organ)
The Art of Fugue / The Musical Offering (Stuttgarter Kammerorchester / Karl Munchinger)
The Art of Fugue (Evgeni Koroliov, piano)
The Art of Fugue (Kei Koito, organ) - This latter rendering is truly extraordinary, and thrilling beyond any ordinary notion of what Bach sounds or could sound like, for the organ in question is mean-tone tuned (or nearly so), which greatly heightens the emotional effect of the music and greatly diversifies its range of sound colours, on top of an extraordinary range of registrations chosen, with a marked predilection for rather raucous-sounding reed stops in various numbers, including a loud trumpet one. This performance really gives a sense of a joyful celebration, yet its serious side hits you in its contrast from the joyfulness, and the unfinished ending is potentially quite a tear-jerker!
Franz Berwald: his symphonies and overtures, in the set of recordings by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Ulf Björlin. An astonishing composer for his time, who gives repeated pre-echoes of Berlioz in his highly engaging orchestral symphonies and overtures.