How To Make Free Ringtones For Your iPhone

As awesome as the iPhone is, it has a lot of shortcomings. Apple fans would like to claim that Apple doesn’t really play the “features” game and would rather implement a few features well than having a hundred ill conceived features like it’s rivals.

I agree with Apple’s philosophy to a certain extent but when a phone, in the 21st century, doesn’t let a user have their own songs as ring tones, it is taking that philosophy a little too far. That too, when Apple itself sells ringtones through it’s iTunes music store. Thankfully there are ways to make ringtones for your iPhone for free and you don’t have to pay Apple a cent for them. The only limitation seems to be that ringtones for the iPhone have to be approximately 40 seconds in size. I haven’t been able to figure out the exact time restriction so we’ll keep our custom ringtones to about 30 seconds in length.

We’ll be using iTunes for making ringtones so you’ll have to launch iTunes and select the song that you want to use for making your ringtone.

Select and right click the song in iTunes and select Get Info from the context menu. Hit the Options tab.

Now, enter the start and stop time for your ringtone. For example, in the screenshot above, from the song that I selected, iTunes will use the audio from the 43rd second till the 1.10 min mark to make my ringtone. Press the Ok button.

Now, right click the song again and select the Create AAC version option.

The next step is a little tricky and a lot of people do it wrong. It isn’t that difficult, though.

When iTunes has finished creating the AAC version of your song, you’ll see two copies of the same song in your iTunes library. The only difference will be that one will be the full song and the other will be the clipped version that starts and ends at the times that you gave earlier. You can identify the length of the songs with the Time column in your library.

What you need to do is select the AAC version (shorter) of the song and drag it out of your library to the desktop. When iTunes has copied the song to your desktop, delete the file from the iTunes library. This deletion step is really important otherwise iTunes will fail to recognize your new ringtone file.

The file that you’ve copied to your desktop will have an extension of .M4A. Rename the extension to .M4R.

That’s all. All you have to do, now, is to drag this file back to iTunes. iTunes will automatically place the file in the Tones section of your library. Sync your iPhone as usual using iTunes and you should be able to use your own custom ringtone. All without paying Apple a single dime of your hard earned money.

How To Convert Any Video File to Play On Your iPhone

Apple’s iPhone and iPad are considered to be really picky when it comes to the type of video formats they play. And rightfully so. The iOS family of devices, that include the iPhone, iPad and the iPod touch, support only a few video formats and refuse to play anything else. In fact, iTunes itself refuses to sync any file that it knows will not play on the iOS device.

If you download a lot of movies from the Internet, this might be a problem for you since most of those movies are stored in the Divx format to save space and bandwidth and Apple’s devices don’t support playing Divx or most other popular formats.

The only way to play such a file on an iOS device is by converting it to a supported format. We’ve written about how to convert video files earlier using the open source ffmpeg and WinFF. If you’re a geek and are comfortable using the command line, by all means use those methods. You’ll have the maximum flexibility and ffmpeg is an excellent and reliable piece of software.

If you’re not a geek and would rather have a nice GUI to handle the conversion, fret not ! I’m going to tell you about exactly the thing you need.

Handbrake

The developers of Handbrake describe it as a multi platform, multithreaded video transcoder available for Mac OS X, Linux or Windows. Which, in simple English, means that it is a video conversion utility available for the three major platforms that exist. I’m using Handbrake on my Mac OS X machine but the instructions for Windows or Linux should be similar and you will be able to follow along.

The first step is to, if it wasn’t obvious, download and install Handbrake.

When you launch Handbrake, you will be presented with a file open dialogue box. Select the file that you want to transcode (convert).

Handbrake will automatically fill in the Destination path for you but if you want to store the converted file in a different path, select that using the Browse button.

Now, there are two kinds of conversion that you can do. The first is to create a file, specifically encoded for the device you want to run it on, for example and iPod or an iPad and the second method is to create a generic file that’ll run on almost any iOS device. I’ll take you through both methods.

Create a device specific file

This is the easiest method, just select the Apple device that you want to encode the video file for from the Apple drop down in the sidebar and Handbrake will preselect the best settings for that device. Hit Start and you’re done!

Create a generic file

To convert the file to a format that can run on any iOS device, make sure the Format selected is “MP4” and video codec “H.264”.

From the Audio tab, make sure the Track and Codec are MP3 or AAC.

This really should take care of everything. Press the Start button and Handbrake will get to work immediately. Video conversion is a CPU intensive task and depending on the capabilities of your machine and the size of the file you’re converting, anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours or more. Get a cup of coffee, listen to some music and relax a little.

 

How To Automatically Start Up and Shut Down Your Mac

If you’re as lazy as I am, you really couldn’t be bothered with shutting down your computer every night before sleeping, and then having to turn it on again in the morning. Besides, being a minor annoyance, this really shouldn’t be a necessity in the 21st century! I mean, shouldn’t the computer know when I’m not using it, and turn itself off automatically?

Imagine if your computer would shutdown on it’s own every night after you’ve finished using it and then be available the first thing in the morning as soon as you wake up? Imagine the amount of electricity you would be saving ?

If I were to tell you, you could have this functionality for free, right now with Mac OS X, would you believe me ?

Well, it turns out that Apple really did think about people like you and I while designing Mac OS X, because they have a solution for this very problem.

Start by opening System Preferences

Click on the Energy Saver icon as indicated above. This is where you make all settings related to power management and energy use on your Mac, including the auto start up and shutdown settings we’re interested in. Click the Schedule button.

A pop-up dialogue will appear where you can indicate the time you want your Mac to start up and shutdown. You can also choose a setting to, say, reboot the Mac every Wednesday. Unfortunately there is no way to have multiple settings for one event.

You can, of course, also choose to only put your Mac to sleep instead of a full shutdown if that’s what you prefer.

This is just one of the many hidden gems in Mac OS X that’d make your computing life so much easier. Do you guys know of any other little know OS X features ? Let us know of your favorite ones in the comments.

 

How To Listen To Turntable.fm And Pandora Outside The US

This past weekend, Turntable.fm decided to shut down access to their service to listeners outside the US. According to a notice on their site, Turntable cannot offer their service to visitors outside the US anymore due to “Licensing Restrictions”.

Turntable.fm is not the first web service to shut down access to non-US listeners. Pretty much every music service worth listening to, doesn’t let users outside the US listen in.

So, when I tried to login yesterday evening and found myself blocked, I decided to do something about it.

Turntable.fm and others figure out the country a visitor is from by geolocating the IP address of the visitor. This means that to use their services outside the US, all you have to do is make them believe that your IP address is from the US. Easier said than done, eh ?

Well, actually, it isn’t THAT difficult. There are a few different ways that you can spoof your IP address and one of them is by using the open source tools developed by the TorProject.

What is Tor ?

According to their website

Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. It also enables software developers to create new communication tools with built-in privacy features. Tor provides the foundation for a range of applications that allow organizations and individuals to share information over public networks without compromising their privacy.

Tor works by creating a relay of proxies around the world and directing traffic via them, thus making sure that anyone tracking your IP address will actually be seeing the IP address of the relay and not your real IP. By default, Tor redirects traffic via any available relay around the world. For our purpose, however, we’ll be configuring Tor to redirect traffic only via US based relays. But, for that, we need to install Tor first.

Installing Tor

The TorProject distributes binaries for Linux, Windows and OS X and the OS X binaries is what I used. Installation is as simple as can be using the wizard based installer for Windows and the .DMG app bundle for OS X.

Once you’ve installed Tor, although you can control it using the CLI but the smarter way of interacting with Tor is by using the bundled Vidalia control panel. On OS X, the application to launch is named TorBrowser and when you launch the application, it launches Vidalia which in turns launches the Tor daemon in the background and connects you to the Tor network.

Tor - Vidalia Control Panel

Configuring Firefox to use Tor for browsing

Tor runs as a non-caching proxy on your desktop and to use it you need to configure your browser to use Tor as a proxy. If you’re using Firefox, open the preferences pane and go to the Advanced tab and click the Settings button.

Firefox Network Settings

Now, select the Manual Proxy Configuration radio button and enter localhost as the HTTP proxy and 8118 as the port. To be safe, also tick the Use this proxy server for all protocols radio button.

Firefox Proxy Configuration

Firefox will now use the Tor network for all communication. The only problem is, like I said, Tor, by default, will use any random relay around the world for routing data. We want to make sure that our data is only routed via US based relays.

Configuring Tor to use US relays only

Back to the Vidalia control panel. Open the Settings pane and click the Advanced tab.

Edit torrc

Click the Edit current torrc button and add the following lines to the configuration file.

ExitNodes {us}
StrictExitNodes 1

Press the Ok button and Vidalia will instruct you to reload tor.

That’s it. From now onwards, whenever you browse using firefox, all your traffic will be routed via a US based Tor relay. Want proof ?

Pandora

Now, you can enjoy listening to Pandora and Turntable.fm wherever you are in the world. This same trick can also be used to access services that are only available in certain geographies such as the BBC iPlayer or Spotify.

Was this post helpful for you ? Have you ever wished you could access any blocked site from your country ? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

 

UnInstall Applications On Mac OS X Using AppCleaner

AppCleanerFor all it’s UI slickness and user friendliness, Mac OS doesn’t really provide a good way to uninstall applications. The designers of OS X assumed that most people will install applications using the drag and drop approach and uninstalling application will be as simple as dragging the application icon to trash.

While that is how a majority of applications on Mac OS X work and dragging them to trash does remove the application, most applications also create temporary files in the user’s home directory and those are not removed when you drag the application icon to trash.

I’ve written about one method for uninstalling .pkg packages earlier but that is the Geeky Ninja way. An easier way to uninstall applications is to use a tool such as AppCleaner.

AppCleaner is free software that lets you uninstall unwanted apps. AppCleaner works by finding all the files belonging to an application that are scattered throughout the filesystem and offers to remove all of them when you uninstall the application.

Using AppCleaner

AppCleaner is a pretty simple utility to use. When you first launch it, you’ll see a blank screen with the words “Drop Apps Here”. This is your cue !

AppCleaner - Uninstaller for Mac OS X

Drag and drop the app that you want to uninstall to this window and AppCleaner will search all the files that it can find related to that app.

AppCleaner

Pretty neat, isn’t it ?

AppCleaner can also automatically search for the installed applications and let you select multiple applications to uninstall from a list in one go. Very useful if you want to uninstall more than one app at the same time and do some spring cleaning of your Mac.

AppCleaner

Apart from uninstalling applications, AppCleaner can also be used to remove unwanted widgets and plugins from your computer. Just click on the Widgets or Others button and follow the same procedure to uninstall them.

Summary

AppCleaner is a must have tool for any OS X user. The best part about AppCleaner is the price and while there are paid tools that offer a few more features, AppCleaner works for most use cases.

One feature that I’d love AppCleaner to add is the ability to delete hidden files along with the applications that created them. A lot of applications for OS X follow the Unix tradition of creating hidden files (files named with a leading dot) to store configuration information and AppCleaner doesn’t clean them when uninstalling apps.

All said, I think AppCleaner is a pretty neat tool and you really can’t go wrong with the features it provides.

Do you use any other similar tool for uninstalling apps on Mac OS X ? Let me know in the comments.

Download AppCleaner For Free.

How To Stop Skype From Starting Automatically on Mac OS X

Skype LogoI have to confess I’m not a big Skype user. I live in India and the rates offered by skype for various locations are usually more than those offered by the local service providers so its much more convenient (and cheap) to just pick up the phone and call. But, I’m sure many among you, in this increasingly connected world of ours, are skype addicts .. oops, I meant fans. But, ever since I came to the US on a business trip, I’ve been using Skype more and more to speak to my wife and folks back home.

Here in the US, things are a little different. Skype offers better rates, and surprisingly better voice clarity and so it has become my preferred mode for calling anyone in the US. So, as soon as I got my new MacBook Pro, I installed Skype on it … and went to sleep. When I rebooted, skype came back up automatically. Now, I know most people have skype running on their computers all day long and prefer this behavior, but I don’t like to have programs load up automatically and so went around looking for a way to disable this behavior. Well, it turns out Skype doesn’t have an option to disable this “load on startup” behavior. So, if you’ve also tried to find this option and gave up in frustration, I’ve got two ways that you can disable skype and similar programs from loading on startup on Mac OS X. I hope you find this post informative.

Using The Skype Context Menu

One way to disable Skype from loading on startup is to right click the Skype icon in the OS X dock and then selecting (untick) the “Options->Open at Login” menu item.

Skype Right Click Context Menu

This will prevent Skype from starting up the next time you reboot.

The problem with this approach is that it only works for Skype and probably a few other applications but then you have to repeat the same process for all the applications.

If you want to control the startup behavior of all programs, a better place to do that is the StartUp Items that are defined for each user on OS X. I’ll show you how.

Disable Programs From The StartUp Items List

Open System Preferences and click on Accounts. This will take you to the user accounts management screen. Select your username from the list on the left hand side and click on the “Login Items” tab.

Login Items

Now, you can just uncheck those applications that you don’t want starting up automatically. The advantage of using this approach is that it’ll work for all applications and you can stop multiple applications from running at startup at the same time.

Did you find this tip useful ? Would you like to read about more such Mac OS X Tips ?

5 Ways to Use Your iPhone As A Diet Assistant

This is a guest post by Matthew Denos.

Weight Loss AppsNeed to drop some pounds? Have an iPhone? If so, you have an entire weight loss
program at your fingertips !

There are 500—and counting—weight loss applications available for download, many of which are free. There are apps that will help you determine how much you need to lose, how many calories you should be consuming, how many calories are in different foods, or how many calories are burned with various activities, and apps to help you track it all. No, this doesn’t mean you should skip your workout today—and maybe even for the rest of the week—in order to browse through them. Instead, you can start with the list provided here, which will get you started towards your goal.

1. BMI Calculator

Weight Loss Apps

The first app you might want to use is one that offers a Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator. Your BMI provides a rough approximation of the percentage of body fat you are carrying around, based on your weight relative to your height. BMI Calculator is a free app for the iPhone that will estimate your BMI for you and determine whether you are underweight, normal, overweight, or obese. It is a very basic application wherein you enter your height and weight, and your BMI is calculated. This is a little piece of information, yet very valuable when starting a weight loss progam. It shows you how far away you are from your ideal weight. You also have the option of entering your age and your gender. The newest version of BMI Calculator allows you to save each of your BMI measures and provides a graphic display of the trend; Apple/iTunes.

2. 2Fat

Weight Loss Apps

Another, similar application, is 2Fat. In addition to providing you with an estimate of your BMI, this app translates this number into a percentage of body fat. Instead of having to type in your height and weight, you use scroll wheels to enter the data. 2Fat is a free app, but the developer of the app—two Enterprises—offers an upgraded version, 2Fat +, which costs $0.99 to download. The upgraded version allows the user to enter the data in metric units (a feature that is not available on the free version) and automatically stores the user data when you exit the app; Apple/iTunes.

3. Calorie Counter

Weight Loss Apps

Calorie Counter is another great free weight loss application. This application is an extension of the online diet website, CalorieCount.com. It not only provides nutritional data for more than 100,000 foods, but also offers a library of over 150 low-calorie recipes. Users can browse through the recipe file by course, food group, and/or dietary elements. They can access information for some of their favorite exercises as well and record both their daily caloric intake and expenditure. Both U.S. and metric units are supported by this app, and you can enter your weight and view recent logs even when no Internet connection is available; Apple/iTunes.

4. Lose It!

Weight Loss Apps

Lose It! is a free app that has received national acclaim in the U.S. It enables you to record your daily food intake and exercise to help you in your weight loss efforts. The application provides an extensive database of food—including restaurant items– and activities and allows you to add additional foods and activities with ease. You are also able to track nutritional information, such as fat grams, carbohydrates, cholesterol, and fiber. The “log” screen displays calories consumed and calories expended for the day, along with your daily caloric budget, and calculates how much over or under budget you are. No internet connection is needed, and there are no annoying advertisements, either; Apple/iTunes.

5. Absolute Fitness

Weight Loss Apps

The Absolute Fitness app has an extensive exercise database, in addition to a comprehensive nutritional database. It provides information on calories expended for more than 180 different physical activities and calories, fat grams and other nutritional information—including vitamin content—for over 10,000 foods. It also gives users the ability to create “custom” foods (meals) that consist of more than one food item. This application automatically calculates daily nutrient intake limits and sets a goal for you, based on the information you entered into your profile. You can elect to customize these figures, however. A daily snapshot allows you to see how much you have already consumed and how much you can still consume of a specific nutrient. Absolute Fitness also has a feature that allows you to track your body fat percentage, blood pressure, hours of sleep, and amount of water consumption. All this can be had for a $4.99 download fee; Apple/iTunes.

About the Author:

As a medical scientist with a specific interest in obesity treatement, Matthew loves anything mobile that can get people on the road to improved health and well-being. He writes for a number of different tech and health sites and offers coupons for the Medifast meal replacement diet plan.

How To Combine PDFs Using Automator

Automator - LogoAutomator is one of my favorite applications on OS X. Wait … scratch that ! It is my favorite automation tool. Period.

Now, there are automation tools available for all consumer operating systems but as far as I know there isn’t any that makes automating tasks as easy as Automator. It’s really a pity that the drag and drop convenience that it brings to Automation, only works on OS X.

Coming back to the topic of this post, I’ll be teaching you how to automate a task that is fairly easy and simple to do manually, but takes more “clicks” and effort. Exactly the kind of task that you’d like to automate – Combining PDF files.

Suppose you have two PDF files that you want to combine into one file. One way is to open the first file in Preview and then select and drag the second file into the sidebar pane. This is fine for one file but quickly becomes a pain if there are more than two files that you want to combine.

This is where Automator comes in. We’ll create a service using Automator that lets us combine PDF files with a single click.

First of all launch Automator and select the Service template.

Automator

Since, we’re only interested in working with PDF files, make the following selections from the drop down at the top of the workflow window. This will ensure that our context sensitive service is only active when we select PDF files in the Finder application.

Automator - Select PDF Files

The next step is to drag in some Automator actions to our workflow. Search for the action named “Combine PDF Pages” in the left side pane and drag it to the main workflow window.

Automator - Combine PDF Pages

That is essentially all that we want to do. At this point, we have a service that will let you select multiple PDF files in Finder and then combine them all by appending pages and create a single PDF file out of them. But, we still don’t know where that new file will be saved. Automator will, by default, save the file in some esoteric system location but that is not what we want. Let’s drag the action named “Move Finder Items” to the workflow.

Automator - Move Finder Items

The default select of moving items to the Desktop should be fine, unless you want to move the newly create file to another folder.

Save the workflow and give it a nice descriptive name. You can quit Automator now.

Now, whenever you want to combine PDF files, just select them in Finder, right click and choose the service that we just created.

Automator - right click

OS X will now combine the two (or more) PDF files and create a new file on the desktop.

Are there any other cool Automator actions that you guys want to know more about ? Have you guys any other cool actions in the past ? Let me know in the comments.

How To Make Your Mac Boot In 64-bit Mode

Apple likes to claim that Mac OS X is the world’s most advanced operating system. While that claim may or may not be true, one thing is certain that it definitely is among the finest desktop operating systems in use today.

For all it’s technical and visual appeal, there are still some areas where Mac OS X is quite a bit behind it’s competitors such as Linux and Windows. One such shortcoming of OS X that I can think of is lack of a 64-bit mode, by default.

Now, let me be clear on this. Mac OS X does support 64-bit applications and most of it’s user-land applications actually do run in 64 bit. It’s the kernel that boots up in 32-bit mode, mostly. It’s a complicated affair really and if you have a modern Mac, it most probably is 64-bit compatible and even though it boots up the 32-bit kernel, by default, today I’ll teach you to boot it in 64-bit mode.

What kernel am I on anyway ?

To find out the bitness of your Mac’s currently running kernel, launch the System Profiler application and scroll down to the software list in the contents pane.

If it displays a “Yes” against 64-bit kernel and extensions, that means you’re already running a 64-bit system, if not, read on to find out how to move to one.

The Easy (and temporary) way

One way you can make your Mac boot up with a 64-bit kernel is to press the “6” and “4” keys together when the computer is booting up. This will make Mac OS X select the 64-bit kernel to boot up and is helpful if you just want to test if all your applications work correctly in 64-bit mode. The change is temporary and the next time you reboot, the kernel will be back to 32-bit.

The Permanent Fix

If all your applications work fine in 64-bit mode and you’d like to move permanently to it, you have to make a few changes to the boot files of your Mac.

Edit the com.apple.Boot.plist file found in /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration. Use a plain text editor for this. I’d suggest something like MacVim or TextWrangler for the task.

Add the following string exactly as shown, right below the line that says <key>Kernel Flags</key>.

<string>arch=x86_64</string>

The file after the change should look like this

That’s it. The next time you boot, your Mac should boot up in 64-bit mode by default.

How To Recover Data From a Memory Card

Memory Cards are as much a part of our daily computing as hard disks and RAM is. The Digital cameras that we use everyday, the mobile phones that we rely on and even some of those tiny netbooks that we use, more often than not use some kind of memory card based storage to store data.

Improvements in technology have made memory cards pretty reliable but there are times when even the best technology fails and when that times comes, you’d be glad to have included a memory card data recovery software in your toolkit.

Since, I’m a Mac OS X user, I’ll be talking about data recovery software that you can use on a Mac to recover data from corrupted memory cards, but there are similar software available for almost all platforms and in fact, the open source program that I’m going to walk you through today is available for Windows and Linux also.

To get started, download TestDisk from CGSecurity. Both the tools are distributed in a single tar.bz2 bundle named after TestDisk, so don’t look too hard if you can’t find PhotoRec on the CGSecurity site. I downloaded version 6.12 since I don’t have Rosetta installed on my Mac. If you have Rosetta installed, download the 6.11 stable version and that should also work for you.

Open the archive and since both of these are command line based tools, launch Terminal and browse over to the directory where you extracted the files.

Run the PhotoRec utility from the command line like this

darkstar:testdisk-6.12-WIP sharninder$ ./photorec

Select the disk that you want to recover data from and hit enter.

The next step is to select the type of partition table that the disk/memory card has. If this disk was being used on a regular PC, it’d most likely have an Intel type partition table, or if you like me use an Intel based Mac then you’d have an EFI/GPT type partition table. If the disk that you’re trying to recover data from is a memory card, it’d most likely be using the Intel partition table format. Select the appropriate choice and hit the enter key.

PhotoRec will now search the hard disk for any partitions of the selected type and display them on the next screen. Select a partition from the list and proceed.

The next step is to choose the type of filesystem. For a memory card, this would most likely be FAT, so select “Other” and hit enter. Photorec will now ask you to select a directory on your system where the recovered files will be saved. Use the arrow keys to to move to whichever directory you want and press ‘C’.

Photorec will now start scanning the entire disk and will save any files that it finds to the directory that you selected earlier.

Let me warn you, though, this is a very long process and scanning an entire disk can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the size of the disk.

The process is also not fool proof. Depending on how much the disk has been used after deleting a particular file, you may or may not be able to recover all your deleted files. This is not Photorec’s fault, though. This is just how filesystems on most modern operating systems work.