Convert your photos into art with Fotosketcher

If you want to convert your pictures into beautiful drawings or sketch you can’t go wrong with Fotsketcher, this amazing free photo editor allows you to create stunning images by applying filters that will make your photographs look like an oil canvas, a vintage photo, a drawing and many other artistic panting looking filters.

Fotosketcher offers free basic photo editing images features, like sharpening, change luminosity and colour saturation, image rotation, etc. I found this program to provide easy control over the images, with no complicated manuals to read, everything is pretty straight forward, you can convert your photograph into a pencil drawing with a couple of clicks just by intuition. Load your chosen photograph, apply the desired filter,  tweak the filter settings using sliding bars if you like, and you will be done.

This image editing software allows for photo framing and adding text as well, you do not have to convert the photos into a sketch, you can keep them like they are and simply frame them. The program is sized at a reasonable 6MB download, it’s interface is multilingual, allows for photo batch processing and it is 100% free for home or business use.

FotoSketcher free graphics editor
FotoSketcher free graphics editor

Playing with images can be lots of fun with Fotosketcher, throw the right photo through this program and you can create a professional image that would look great printed and framed or make for an admirable desktop computer wallpaper.

Fotosketcher review conclusion

One of Fotosketcher’s drawbacks is that it can only save images as a .jpg, .bmp and .png, not the best format for printing and mostly suitable for Internet usage of the photographs. I hope this photo editor can support more graphical formats in future releases because other than that I quite liked it.

This way to convert a digital photo into pencil sketch or painting canvas should satisfy most home user needs and it makes for a free, if somewhat limited, Photoshop alternative.

Visit Fotosketcher homepage

Firefox addons to bypass the censorship filter in Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia and others

To bypass ISP censorship filtering in the Middle East and China you can either deploy a VPN service that will route all your connection through a foreign service, including P2P and other traffic, or if you can’t install a Firefox addon that will only route the websites you visit in Firefox and keep your original computer IP in a different browser.

Cocoon: A free USA proxy server that will identify you on the Internet as being located in the US. You will be able to unblock US TV and also get around ISP censorship. It will also protect your information from hackers encryption the communications in between your browser and the website you visit.

AnonymoX: One of top used proxy addons in Firefox, it has dozens of servers worldwide, it will not only help you bypass ISP censorship but also help you watch geoblocked content like ABC.com or Slacker radio.

Chinese police raids illegal Internet café
Chinese police raids illegal Internet café

FoxyProxy: An advanced proxy management tool with a tabbed interface, it comes preloaded with proxies from all over the world and allows you to choose what country you would like to appear from. You can even specify what country should each website use.

Autoproxy: With Autoproxy you no longer need to switch your proxy status between on & off manually. If you prefer to visit a website via proxy, just add it’s domain to AutoProxy’s preference.

ProxySelector: WIth this addon you will need to enter your own list of proxies, it is not suitable for automatic access because you have to configure it manually but if you have a list of proxy server IPs, this addon will help you manage them.

Cyberduck, a free alternative to Filezilla FTP client

An FTP client can be very useful to upload big or multiple files for web storage or managing websites, unfortunately FTP is a very old and insecure protocol, all of your data, including your password will be sent in the clear, make sure you choose an FTP client that supports SFTP or FTPS for file transfers, open source Filezilla supports both and does an excellent job, but if you want an alternative Cyberduck is a sound one.

FTP client Cyberduck is a long time MAC only FTP client that has recently been ported to Windows, Cyberduck is a multilingual, lean and easy to use FTP client with advanced security features.

What makes Cyberduck a great alternative for FileZilla is that it will find out about your FileZilla websites settings and ask you if you want to import them. It also supports importing settings from other FTP clients.

Cyberduck for Windows
Cyberduck for Windows

Cyberduck supported file transfer protocols

  • FTP (File Transfer Protocol)
  • FTP/TLS, aka FTPS (FTP secured over SSL/TLS)
  • SFTP (SSH Secure File Transfers)
  • WebDAV (Web based Distributed Authoring and Versioning)

Cyberduck FTP client main features

  • Easy bookmarking with drag and drop
  • File synchronization of remote directories
  • Support for public key authentication
  • Expanding of .zip and .tar files remotely using SSH
  • Editing files on the server using an external editor
  • Bandwidth and concurrent transfers can be limited
  • Preserving timestamps when uploading or downloading

This free open source FTP client supports cloud storage services like Amazon S3, Google Storage, Google Docs, Windows Azure and Rackspace Cloud files. The Cyberduck FTP client works with open cloud software from Eucalyptus and OpenStack.

Visit Cyberduck home page

Methods to find out if your ISP is throttling your bandwidth

Bandwidth throttling and traffic shaping happens when a network attempts to limit the amount of bandwidth that a given service or user may use. Many ISPs terms and conditions specify a maximum data download per month allowed but they are not too keen to tell you about it when you sign up with them.

Citing bandwidth abuse from a few users some ISPs will sneakily throttle the Internet speed for users they claim to be downloading too much data, this bandwidth throttling is mostly used against P2P software protocols as P2P software is notorious for its bandwidth usage, technically bandwidth limits could be imposed to any application and it is often used for people on mobile Internet tariffs.

If you observe your Internet speed has ups and downs frequently or peer to peer applications do not reach the same Internet speed that your browser does, chances are that your ISP could be rate limiting your traffic for certain bandwidth intensive operations or at peak time.

How to test if your ISP is limiting Internet bandwidth

Nealyzr: Online test that analyses your overall Internet connection, it can detect an ISP slow DNS server, blocked TCP and ports, IMAP, SSL diagnosis and much more. You will have to allow Java to run in your computer, which could be a security risk if you don’t know the source. The project is backed up by the University of Berkeley which is a trust worthy entity.

Switzerland Network Testing Tool: This open source tool has been developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and it will test the integrity of data communications over networks, ISPs and firewalls. This traffic shaping test will spot IP packets which are forged or modified between clients, inform you, and give you copies of the modified packets.

NOTE: The Switzerland Network Testing Tool only works from command line, to be used by advanced computer users.

Internet connection bandwidth throttling
Internet connection bandwidth throttling

Glasnost test: To perform this Internet traffic shaping test you will need Java installed. The Glasnost test can detect bandwidth throttling in P2P software, Email, video streaming and even Usenet traffic shaping.

This traffic shaping test uses a Java applet to compare your regular download speed against the speed at which Flash videos get streamed to your system. It can also compare the download speed for email attachments (via POP and IMAP), normal HTTP based file transfers, torrents and binary downloads from Usenet servers.

The Glasnost test will create a fake data stream between your computer and their servers and then monitor the data packets flow.

Measurement Lab: M-Lab is a multi-functional internet performance measurement tool supported by Google that includes numerous online tests to check your Internet connection reach, ideal to troubleshoot Internet network problems.

Neubot: A research project that checks network neutrality is being enforced. You have to download their open source client for Windows, Mac or Linux and run it in your computer, the program will perform a series of tests in the background using the distributed Measurement Lab platform to find out if any kind of throttling is taking place. Data is collected by the University of Torino to carry out an study on Internet providers that throttle bandwidth.

How to run a traffic shaping test

Some Internet Service Providers only limit Internet speed at peak times, if you suspect your ISP is limiting your bandwidth consider carrying out various tests at different times and make sure that there are no other processes running in the background before performing the ISP throttling test.

Free CD/DVD burning software Hamster Studio

Unless you burn DVDs daily or use DVD burning software for business purposes you don’t need to pay for premium CD burning software like Nero, there is a free alternative called Hamster Free Burning Studio and it does everything you need.

Hamster Free Burning Studio CD burning software has an eye candy and easy to use interface, automatically identifies the type of disk inserted in the tray, either CD, DVD or BluRay, its capacity and maximum burning speed of the disk, it will then use this information to display the fill factor of the files on the disk and if it is a rewritable disk it will give you the possibility of erasing it.

Hamster Free Burning Studio CD burning software
Hamster Free Burning Studio CD burning software

This free CD burning software is only 315Kb in size, supports drag and drop and it is good enough for data burning, creating a backup copy, creating music CDs, creating ISO templates and cloning of DVDs, CDs or BluRay.

Hamster Free Studio simple interface allows you to choose your favourite colour scheme for the software, the language you want to use and the possibility of using a compact mode with less choices.

When you install Hamster Free Studio it will offer you to change your homepage and default search engine but this is made clear and you can refuse it, other than that this excellent CD burning software is completely free and it gives you a good run for your money which you can save not having to buy more advanced programs like Nero burning software with features you might never use and are more difficult to master.

Hamster Free Studio main features

  • Burns on CD/DVD/BluRay disks
  • Can erase rewritable disks
  • Verifies data integrity of written files
  • Can create ISO templates

Visit Hamster Free Studio burning homepage 

What your credit card numbers mean

Every time you enter your credit card number into a form the credit card processor will perform a series of security checks based on the information that those numbers give away.

Credit card numbers are not randomly assigned, each digit in the number sequence has a meaning. Some companies like department stores and phone companies have their own numbering systems, but ANSI Standard X4.13-1983 is the system used by most national credit card systems.

Credit card number length will change depending from issuer, the most usual is 16 digits divided in groups of 4.

Credit card number length

The first credit card number will always be 3, 4, 5 or 6 and it is known as the Major Industry Identifier (MII), this number represents the entity which issued your card.

  • American Express: 15 digits
  • Visa: 13 or 16 digits
  • Mastercard: 16 digits
  • Discover: 16 digits
  • Diner’s Club/Carte Blanche: 14 digits
Credit card number codes by issuer
Credit card number codes by issuer

Meaning of the credit card first digit

American Express and Diners Club credit cards also use a second digit to identify the company. Diners Club cards will start with either 36 or 38, and American Express cards use 34 or 37.

The rest of the credit card digits meaning will vary depending on credit card type and issuing company. Normally the numbers grouped after the opening series are the routing number of the bank and the next group of digits represents the user’s account number.

  • Number 3: Travel and entertainment cards such as American Express or Diners Club.
  • Number 4: Visa credit card and Visa branded debit cards.
  • Number 5: Mastercard credit card and Mastercard branded debit cards.
  • Number 6: Discover credit card.

The other credit card numbers explained

  • American Express: Digits three and four are type and currency, digits from five to eleven are the account number, digits from twelve up to fourteen are the card number within the account and digit fifteen is the check digit.
  • Visa: Digits from two through six are the bank number, digits seven through twelve or seven through fifteen are the account number and digit thirteen or sixteen (depending on credit card numbers length) is the check digit.
  • MasterCard: Digits two and three, two through four, two through five or two through six are the bank number (depending on whether digit two is a 1, 2, 3 or other). The digits after the bank number up through digit fifteen are the account number, and digit sixteen is a check digit.

The final credit card number is a check digit, a checksum number calculated using the Luhn algorithm and used for fraud check purposes.

Credit card numbers explained
Credit card numbers explained

Credit and debit card security code explained

Credit and debit cards also contain a credit card verification code that it is known as CCV, CSC,CVC2, CVV2, CID2 and many other acronyms depending on who the credit card issuer is.

  • MasterCard, Visa, Diners Club, Discover, and JCB credit and debit cards have a three digit card security code printed at the back of the card but the latest US MasterCard and Visa cards feature this code in a separate panel to the right of the signature strip to prevent overwriting of the numbers when you sign the card.
  • American Express cards have a four-digit code printed on the front side of the card above the number and they call it Card Identification Number ( CID).

The credit card verification value is normally used for card not present transactions, like shopping over the Internet or buying items by mail, credit card regulations state that this number can never by stored by the merchant making it more difficult for a thief to get hold of it.

The card verification value at is calculated by encrypting the bank card number, expiration date and service code using encryption keys known only to the issuing bank, the end result is the three of four digit decimal number printed on your card.

How to reduce video file size to post online

It happens very often that you film a video with your camera or after downloading it from the web then find out that its size is huge making its storage and sharing difficult.

Windows Vista and above comes with a freeware called Windows Movie Maker, you can use it not only to edit your videos, add captions, narrating voices and special effects but also to reduce its size. This comes in very handy if you want to upload your a huge video to YouTube, DailyMotion or any other video streaming website with a limit on video size.

Windows Movie Maker publish movie
Windows Movie Maker

How to reduce your video file size using Windows Movie Maker

Open Windows Movie Maker:

  1. Windows Start>All Programs>Windows Movie Maker.
  2. Drag and drop the original video into Windows Movie Maker or alternatively choose File>Import Media Items.
  3. Drag video to your huge video down below to the story board where it says “Drag media here”.
  4. Click on “Publish Movie” located on the toolbar above your video next to a digital disc icon.
  5. Click next and choose the folder where you want to save your web optimized film.
  6. In the next window leave the default settings checked, where it says “Best quality for playback on my computer”.
  7. Click on “Publish” and wait for Windows to reduce the size of your video.

A 500MB mpeg film took me 8 minutes to convert to a 50MB .wmv file using an Intel dual core processor E5400, it is really that easy and free to reduce the size of your videos to upload to the web.

NOTE: Windows Media Maker is only found in Windows Vista, Windows 7 and above, if you are using Windows XP or below you are out of luck using this trick.

Free video converter and video file reducer

If your version of Windows does not include Windows Movie Maker you can download the free Hamster video converter and use the settings to tweak the video quality and video format reducing its size and easily upload it to YouTube.

Hamster free video converter
Hamster free video converter