Software for Your Tool Box From Hassle-Free PC

Help Distant Friends Fix Their PC Problems

The curse of being tech-savvy is that you're often called upon to help friends and family resolve their computer problems. Of course, as you've probably learned, trying to troubleshoot by phone is maddeningly difficult. It's so much easier when you can actually visit the problematic PC and work your magic directly. But until science invents Star Trek-style transporters, you'll have to rely on the next best thing: remote-control software.

CrossLoop lets you take full control of another PC. Just click the Free Download button to download and install the small client app on your PC, then instruct the other person to do likewise. Next, he or she clicks the Share tab and reads you the access code listed there, which you type into the client at your end. Click Connect and presto: You're connected. Now you have total control of the other system, so you can find the missing file, install the antivirus software, figure out why the printer's not printing, or whatever.

Free and blissfully easy to use, CrossLoop is a must for anyone trying to troubleshoot a remote PC.

Remove Ads From Recorded TV Shows

My TiVo of choice is actually a media-center PC, one running Windows Vista and its aptly named Media Center software (a staple in the Home Premium and Ultimate versions). Part of what I love about it is the extensive library of third-party tools and add-ons. My favorite: Lifextender, which automatically removes the commercials from recorded TV shows.

Using Lifextender is dead-simple: Install it, run it, then set it up. Specifically, right-click the Lifextender System Tray icon and click Options. If you want the software to work its magic on all your shows, check the Automated Library Scanning box.

You can set up rules to include or ignore shows based on certain criteria: title, channel, duration, and so on. In fact, before you let Lifextender loose on all your recorded shows (once it strips the commercials, there's no going back), I recommend setting up a rule so that it scans only one show. That way you can make sure it performs to your liking.

The software works swiftly and in the background. When it's done, your shows appear in your Recorded TV library just like before--but without commercials. In my experience, it's fantastic right out of the box.

There are added bonuses to using Lifextender. Not only does it "extend your life" by removing commercials, it produces smaller files that consume less hard-drive space. And those files are easier to fit on DVDs, great if you're into archiving your shows. It's win-win-win.

Equalize MP3 Volume Levels

My MP3 collection is about as eclectic as they come. I've got songs ripped from CDs, songs downloaded from countless online stores, and songs collected from, oh, let's say points unknown. Consequently, the volume levels are inconsistent across the library.

Fortunately, there's a simple remedy: MP3Gain, a free utility that equalizes MP3 volume levels. It does so by modifying the metadata of each file so that music software and portable players know what the volume should be. It makes no changes to the actual music contained within each MP3, so there's no loss of sound quality.

After installing MP3Gain, click the Add Folder button and choose the folder containing your music. The software can analyze each track in your library or analyze by album. The latter method will keep the volume consistent across each album, but if you often shuffle-play your entire music library, don't be surprised if the volume still spikes or sinks from one track to the next.

By default, MP3Gain strives for a volume level of 89 decibels, but you can change this value in the Target "Normal" Volume box. After that, click the Track Analysis button and be prepared to wait: the process takes time.

When it's done, you can review the results or just go ahead and start the leveling procedure by clicking Track Gain. This will take even longer than the analysis--possibly hours, depending on the size of your library.

Interestingly, iTunes users can enable the Sound Check option in the Settings, Playback tab to accomplish the same thing: consistent volume levels across all songs. But in my experience it flat-out doesn't work. That's why I run MP3Gain on all new music that gets added to my library.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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