PC Apps

Why my Windows XPerience is better than yours

MinimizeToTray by Mook and Helix400

I never really used the old Mozilla web browsing suite much in its heyday since I didn’t really care about the other bundled apps. However, one feature that I wish had carried over to Firefox is the quickload agent that loads some of the browser code into memory at boot in order to speed subsequent loads. Firefox is a powerful and zippy browser but the more functionality you add via extensions (I guess they’re called add-ons now), the slower it loads up.

And so, having played with the outstanding and free 4t Tray Minimizer several years ago, I wished for a way to minimize Firefox without having to load a third-party app. Lo and behold, the benevolent Mark Yen (Mook) and Brad Peterson (helix400) have granted my wish with their fantastic MinimizeToTray add-on!

I copied the Firefox icon to my Start/Programs/Startup folder and set the properties to minimize on load. When my PC boots I’m bothered by a single dialog asking whether I want to start Firefox fresh or open the previous tabs (I opted not to disable this for convenience) and Firefox stands at the ready for immediate browsing at any time! Note the cute little Firefox icon on my icon tray – minimizing or closing (the latter is togglable) the browser plunks it down next to the clock!

A word of warning; Firefox is a memory hog. I’ve spied with my little task manager Firefox guzzling upwards of 150MB of RAM while minimized with a few tabs open! I had found a tweak some time ago that freed about 95% of consumed RAM when Firefox was minimized, but I think this extension overrides that. My 2 gigs of DDR2 more than compensate for this so it’s no skin off my DIMMs.


Get the fantastic MinimizeToTray add-on here!

KeyLaunch by xFX Jumpstart

I saw this app reviewed on The Screen Savers several years ago and was so impressed that I immediately bolted downstairs and downloaded the program. The author had exercised exceptional generosity by offering Screen Savers viewers a free copy of this payware app, which I gladly accepted and hoggishly milked for years. Long after, upon reinstalling Windows, I decided that I couldn’t live without it and purchased it (for something like $12).

KeyLaunch is a realtime local search app. Though it can be configured to search any folder on your computer, its primary function is to quickly launch any icon located on your Start menu. Any XP user can attest to the frustrations caused by gently navigating the mouse over one, two, three, four subdirectories on the Start menu, only to accidentally nudge the cursor and have to start all over. KeyLaunch makes this a thing of the past!

Just hit the Scroll Lock key (you haven’t used that one in a decade, I bet) and the KeyLaunch menu pops down from the top of the screen. Type a few consecutive letters of the desired icon and all matching entries appear nearly instantly! KeyLaunch is intelligent as well, so even though typing “inter” will yield many entries with the words Internet and Interactive, the most frequently executed entry will become the default first choice the next time you type that same query.

I can’t sufficiently recommend this app. I am perhaps the most frugal cheap-ass on earth when it comes to shelling out the bucks for such seemingly innocuous shareware, but KeyLaunch absolutely takes the cake as the most innovative and timesaving app I’ve ever used. I’ll likely still use it with Windows Vista even though the OS features built-in search functionality.
Try KeyLaunch for just one day. If you uninstall it the morning of day 2 you’ll miss it by noon.


Get info and the installer for KeyLaunch here!

Royale Noir and Zune themes by Microsoft

The day I first installed Windows XP I marvelled at the attractive new Luna desktop theme. 20 minutes later I wondered where the rest of the themes were hidden. Little did I know that Microsoft was holding them hostage!

Well, not exactly. The blue, olive, and silver colour schemes for Luna were pretty much all she wrote until the advent of Windows XP Media Center Edition which featured a slightly darker and slick-looking blue theme called Royale. I was thrilled with Royale the moment I tried it, but after about a year it’s getting tougher and tougher to keep finding blue desktop wallpapers to suit it.

Between Luna and the public release of Royale for XP I’ve used apps like WindowBlinds and StyleXP to shake up my desktop. These are both fantastic, easy to use programs, each with a huge user base and thousands of contributed desktop themes. My issue with these apps is that they introduce an extra layer of arbitration between the user interface and Windows’ blood and guts which sucks up extra RAM and CPU resources. Even with both apps’ “zero resources mode” I still ran into UI troubles, and that’s unacceptable.

Thus I was thrilled to find some easy-to-install dark and colour-neutral themes released by Microsoft! After 6 years it’s about damn time! Royale Noir is a very low profile, dark but sheeny theme that is very easy on the eyes and suits any wallpaper. The brand new Zune theme borrows heavily from Noir but introduces bright orange Start button and sidebar options. Be sure to back up your wallpaper before implementing the Zune theme because it insists on installing an absolutely hideous picture of Generation Y alternadrones reaching skyward. Spluh.

These new themes appear in the Display Properties option set under Royale and Zune respectively and can be switched-to as easily as the built-in Luna themes. You’ve got nothing to lose but a bright blue suntan to check them out today! They’re free!


Get the Royale Noir theme here, and the Zune theme here!

MP3ext by Michael Mutschler

You illegally download music. I caught you. Don’t deny it. It’s okay, it’s a stupid law that will be defunct pretty soon. You use a program like Limewire or SoulSeek or a BitTorrent site like The Pirate Bay to download music you may or may not have paid for, you burn it to CDs or stick them on your MP3 player, and you rock out without a care in the world. I forgive you. In fact, let me help (more).

Whether you’re downloading or ripping MP3s there’s a pretty good chance that they won’t be uniform. They’ll probably be encoded at different bitrates which greatly impact the quality of the highs and lows and the overall presence of the sound. Ever made a mix CD with a random sampling of your favourite music du jour? You had to dance with your partner as well as with your 10-band mixer, didn’tcha? Wouldn’t it be nice if bitrates of a feather flocked together?

Well, flock on! MP3ext is a Windows shell enhancement utility that changes the icons of MP3s to display bitrates in a big, bright font! While compiling a mix CD, just give the song icons a once-over before dragging them into DeepBurner (or some other.. ugh.. RETAIL burning software) to ensure consistent high (or low) quality audio pipes through your sound system throughout the disc.

For the truly meticulous, MP3ext also adds a properties tab to all MP3 files which enable you to enter ridiculous sums of data about each song. Some such fields include lyrics, artist website URL, classical conductor, a custom icon specific to that song, and even as many as TEN graphics embedded right in the file! (presumably viewable only on computers with MP3ext installed)

The download is teeny tiny and many alternative icon packs can be used to match your desktop colour scheme. Check it out! It’ll cost ya squat!

Download MP3ext here!

Letter Icons by anonymous

You may notice my two-row taskbar at the bottom of my Windows desktop. Yeah, it’s large and most of my friends think I’m dumb for using it. Nuh-uh, I say, because it unlocks the potential to populate that valuable real-estate with all kinds of goodies!

In truth, said goodies have mostly come and gone from from my taskbar. I’ve tried sticking desktop search utilities, virtual desktop enhancements, magnifiers, an address bar, and other seemly helpful UI extensions that ended up just wasting space. However, my beloved Quick Launch icon bar has remained there for years and I trust it always will. I keep that space populated with my most frequently-opened apps as well as quick-access icons to the root of my hard disk partitions and optical drives.

Even before trying Linux where the practise has always been the norm, I’ve always been a huge proponent of disk partitioning. I keep my operating system and installed apps on my C drive, music on M, games on S, and other stuff on T. Don’t ask how I came up with those letters, but that’s how they’re named and I’m used to it now.

Why all the bother? Well, ever had your hard disk crap out on you? Chances are the entire disk wasn’t dead – just your one and only partition. By putting my important stuff on separate logical partitions on the same physical disk I greatly minimize the risk of losing more than one partition worth of data. Want to know how to partition your drive in a similar fashion? Failsafe answer – format your hard drive, configure partitions, and reinstall Windows. Risky answer – maybe the gigabyte gods will be kind and Partition Magic won’t corrupt your precious data as you attempt to partition a “live” drive. Maybe.

Anyway, I’m all partitioned up and sticking four identical HDD icons on my Quick Launch bar was confusing. I happened across these handy dandy letter icons more than a decade ago and found enough uses for them (the aforementioned is one of many) that I’ve retained them after all this time. I can’t find them hosted anywhere on the web so I offer them to my readers for the high, high price of reading this drivel!


Get the letter icons here!

Is your XPerience even better than mine? Well, please don’t say it in those words because I’ll probably start bawling like Ballmer. But if you’ve got a handy dandy timesaver I haven’t mentioned please leave a comment!

And if you’ve found this article informative, you might want to have a look at part deux of this series.


Diviner’s sorrow

I’ve been reading a lot about Salvia Divinorum since trying it on the 31st and I’m becoming very enthusiastic to try it again. However, this is not unbridled enthusiasm. I’m still afraid, but curiosity is beginning to outweigh timidity (especially since the effects only last a few minutes). Despite my insatiable curiosity I may decide that I am not ready to delve into this aspect of my psyche.

In particular I am becoming fascinated and quite anxious about the very fabric of the universe. I’ve never really thought much about it before but I’m permitting deep thoughts to trickle into my consciousness. These thoughts are fascinating but utterly depressing.

On my way home from work yesterday I was nearly brimming with sorrow at the intangibility, ergo pointlessness of existence.

I read many experience reports and was quite interested to find that many people experienced one or more of the same… manifestations as I did. However, some people experienced enhanced realities while others were transported to wholly other dimensions.

What really struck me deep down was the consensus that the reality we perceive is just a tiny slice of what’s out there – our bodies are mere matter and matter is one all-encompassing thing, not one piece of matter per item:

At the peak of the trip I was completely merged with the surface of reality. I felt like I was one with everything, yet unable to discriminate between an individual objects or occurences.

I don’t know where I am. But I do, because this is all there is. There is no where. This is it. But how can that be? This room is all there is? Room. What is “room”? This isn’t a room… this is existence.

It makes sense to me that matter cannot be created nor destroyed if objects are just projections of one polydimensional surface.

The ramifications of this thought alone is what made me sad. It’s so simple, and we humans are so self-important that we, present company absolutely included, make up all kinds of stories to prove to ourselves how great we are. But we’re not. We’re no better than dust.

I abandoned traditional religion some time ago but I playfully conjured up theories in place of monotheism. For instance, I argued that if an almighty omniscient god created humanity, then humans are gods themselves because they too have the power to create, and what is godliness if not the ability to invoke one’s will on reality to create something that never was before?

This is just masturbation. We transform things that already are, like building a sand castle, and the things we build are no better or worse than we ourselves. I see these self-crafted beliefs as no more than the antithesis to the ancient religions from which most of humanity still ignorantly dangles, so they are no more credible.

Then again, I don’t necessarily believe that psychedelic experiences are THE truth and sober lucidity is false. Perhaps what humans create is not matter but something intangible. But is that even creating? Is that special? Or more self-important masturbation?

I also feel sorrow about death, which I’m beginning to realize is extremely stupid. The concept of being one with all matter is weighty indeed, but I understand that though matter is malleable it strives to return to its original shape. It will not be created nor destroyed, but it persists in a neverending state of polymorphic flux. If time is constant as we humans are doomed to perceive it, then nothing can exist unless it is changing, decaying, dying. I should be grateful for death because death means that something is happening.

I can’t believe I’d never realized that this was my existence. Why did I have to find out now? I wish I had never realized. Ever. I would have been much happier existing this way and not knowing it. It’s so meaningless, so repetitive; so, so nothing. But this is how it is. And how it always will be. I can’t change it. Oh God, I can’t change it.

I don’t watch the news because I know from great experience that ignorance is bliss. I am unwittingly ignorant in many ways, and willingly so in many more. However, as I die a little each day I surmise how limited my sentience will be, and so I suppose I’d best divide the essential from the ancillary.

Today’s lottery winners and murder victims and stock market figures are worthless drivel to me. So is pretty much everything I do in a day and everything anyone will ever do, I suppose. This is a secret that everyone knows and everyone denies.

So what, I ask, is worthwhile?

Is it noble to seek the boundaries of human perception? Is it wise to expand my horizons only to see the borders of my ideological island like pinpointing Fiji from outside the Milky Way?

Why do I wonder? Why do I care? Why do I insist?

I don’t know. But I do.

Is that the spark of humanity? Is that what makes me special from other matter? Is that me being a narcissistic twat again?

The concept of the mobius comes to mind. There are two sides of the strip, and those sides intersect and swap somewhere. There is always paper separating the sides, yet there would be no sides without the paper.

Anyway, one day I will not be able to resist the siren of curiosity. I’ll report back. Maybe by peeking through the crack I may taste that which is beyond matter.

Enough for one day.


Salvia Nos

It seems you can’t take a couple of weeks off of work without working double time beforehand. I was too pooped before holidays to post, and too lazy during. I’ve been motivated to write since recently reading an article declaring the blog boom to be dead with millions of personal journals abandoned already. Many apologies for letting the blog go stagnant for an entire month.

I’ve got quite a doozy for today’s submission. I had trouble deciding whether to post this publicly but I feel this is good stuff to catalogue for posterity if not relevance.

My girlfriend and I are not exactly party animals so we relished the idea of doing nothing super special for new years. However, pending our move into our first apartment we had some dollar store scrounging to take care of for plates and cups and stuff. Not far from one of the city’s more practically-stocked dollar stores is the very intriguing Sacred Seed, an ethnobotanical supplies store offering “medicinal, rare, and otherwise intriguing plants and seeds”. One plant has intrigued and terrified me for quite some time – Salvia Divinorum (Diviner’s Sage) – and particularly piqued my girlfriend’s interest. I reluctantly bought a gram of 7x extract with increased salvinorin content for about $25 with tax.


Before partaking I decided to once again research some people’s experiences with this most powerful of psychoactive (yet legal) plants which gave me a little insight about what to expect and how to ready and steady myself (as well as an excuse to stall a bit). I read some general, first time, and difficult experiences which did little to alleviate my anxiety but prepared me for the worst. I shared a few key points with my girlfriend.

I tried to chicken out a few times. I told my girlfriend that I’d prefer to opt out that night and save it for another time. Then I changed my mind, but changed it back again. Finally, my girlfriend sensibly recommended that we start off with a very small amount and increase dosage as we become more comfortable. Am I a lucky guy or what? Her sage advice (no pun intended) tipped the scale for me.

I opened the little baggie and took a whiff. I’d read that the taste and smell were rather harsh but I couldn’t quite tell from the coarsely shredded plant matter extract. The shreds were a deep green and the extract was dry and a little crumbly with a few brittle twiggy stems. I took out a tiny pinch (maybe 1/100 of a gram) and placed it in the bowl of a glass pipe. My girlfriend asked me who would try it first, and I, having read more about it, volunteered.

I sat comfortably on the couch. I heard my heart beating. I was afraid. I steadied myself, quieted my thoughts, and was still. No emotion, only peace. I didn’t need to wait to be ready. I am always ready.

I placed the pipe to my lips, flicked the lighter, and gently pulled with my lungs. The plant ignited slowly but uniformly. I filled my lungs about 3/4 with smoke and air and held it for about 20 seconds, breathing in a little more air every 5 seconds or so to bring it deeper within me. I exhaled very slowly and immediately took a second toke, consuming the remainder. I held it for nearly 30 seconds, taking in a bit of air in few-second intervals, and exhaled slowly.

A few uneasy moments passed. I felt nothing. Then I thought I detected the faintest inklings of… something. I silently asked myself how my current state differed from that of a few seconds ago and I decided that my vision was very slightly blurred as if everything were vibrating very slightly and very quickly. I waited about 60 seconds before deciding it was safe to up the dosage slightly.

It was my girlfriend’s turn. I emptied the pipe and packed in slightly more – maybe 2/100 of a gram. She smoked it but didn’t hold it in as long as I did. I asked her how she felt. She said she felt no different and recommended increasing the dosage even more.

This time I packed about 5/100 of a gram (about 1/4 of the pipe bowl). I lit it and inhaled, waited, then exhaled. I felt a little funny. I timidly took a second toke but only held it for a few seconds before releasing. I put the pipe down on the table in front of me. I quieted myself. I knew something was about to happen. I took a deep breath of air and felt extremely relaxed and a little sedated. Then I felt compelled to slightly and slowly tilt my head back as if the force of gravity were gradually shifting, rolling me onto my back. I rested my head against the back of the couch but continued looking forward toward the television and wall. A sort of seam appeared where the wall met the floor. I felt like the floor was one thing and everything else was another thing, and that these things were separating, opening. I looked over at my girlfriend and she seemed amused by my expression and teased me a little. I found this very undesirable and returned my gaze forward. I felt like I was in one of those plastic eggs and I was the toy. The egg was slowly opening before me. My thoughts clouded for a moment and then everything was back to normal.

My girlfriend asked me to describe what I’d just gone through. I wanted to tell her but could only do so after carefully considering my words after about 10 seconds of silence. This span was very interesting. I struggled to find the right words but all words seemed to elude me. I wondered whether I’d ever be able to speak again. I finally spoke softly and slowly and carefully. My words felt important somehow. Prophetic. I told her that I definitely wanted to try a bigger dose.

I waited several minutes until I felt mostly sober before packing, clearing, and refilling the pipe for my girlfriend. I asked her not to taunt me and she apologized. I explained that the sitter, a mandatory participant in Salvia experimentation, should lead by example as a positive and encouraging partner in the experience. I gave her the pipe.

She took two drags, holding it in longer than before. She was quiet for some time. I remembered feeling a little subconscious about being watched so I divided my attention between her and Family Guy. I finally asked how she felt and she took her time before saying her first words just as I had. She said she felt “like water”. I asked if she could elaborate and she said she felt like a sloshing liquid and couldn’t move. I told her to will herself around the environment but she insisted she was stuck in place. Her attention shifted to the television and she seemed quiet and content so I didn’t want to bombard her with questions. I emptied the pipe and filled it with about 1/10 of a gram this time.

I took in 2 large drags, holding it for about 30 seconds each time, and leaving a small amount of plant in the pipe when I put it down. Again I felt like I was tilting, being pulled backwards on the couch. I returned to the egg, as it were. I felt as if I were inside a dome of some sort, and that there was a crack between the wall and floor. That crack was significant, I knew, but I was afraid to explore it. I think I really craned my neck and looked up and around at my surroundings but I might have just imagined it. I couldn’t discern the walls from the ceiling. My brain knew I was sitting in my living room but my eyes told a very different story. My girlfriend, whom I still recognized, looked at me and gave me a very slight smile of care and amusement. She glowed and was very beautiful. She asked me to describe my state and I told her I was in the dome but that it was composed of something less tangible. I felt like I was inside an orange, surrounded by peel which was rubbery, thin, textured, and flexible even though I didn’t try touching it. I felt like this thin veil was the reality I’d perceived up until that point and that there was some great truth barely beyond it. I didn’t want to touch that veil. I didn’t trust myself to stand.

I blinked and the world was back to normal. I wanted more.

My girlfriend tried the same increased dose next and reported similar feelings as before. She felt as if her bones had suddenly disappeared and had transformed to a liquid state; her immobility completely at the mercy of her flat surroundings. I couldn’t find any similarity between her recollection and my own experience. Curious.

I upped my next dosage yet again, increasing to about 1/5 of a gram. This was a bigger step up than previous increments but was still smaller than the dosages reported by all the experiences I’d read on Erowid so I felt it would be safe.

I took my first toke and held it for 30 seconds. I exhaled very slowly. I immediately felt myself sinking and debated whether to take a second toke. I did. I exhaled and put the still-smouldering pipe on the table far from my reach. I sat back.

I didn’t feel like I was sinking anymore. I looked around a little and felt lightheaded and blurred. This eerie state of limbo persisted for maybe 5 seconds before it hit me.

My gaze was forward with the television bisecting the carpet beneath and table before me. Behind the TV was the wall and the floor that met it. I heard a sound of some sort – a sort of whooshing and ringing and white noise that overwhelmed my aural senses. I could hear nothing else. The colours around me suddenly became very vivid and everything felt very distant. I felt a separation of body and self, though I felt mySELF to be trapped within my head. I felt like my body was limiting my freedom and was not troubled by the idea of ripping off my head to free myself.

Suddenly I perceived (“felt” is the wrong word) a huge LURCH and my perspective of reality completely deteriorated. The floor stayed put but the television and wall stretched upward and over my head in a kind of pattern, over and over repeated a million times, in a towering yet sizeless dome. Then the wall and floor split yet again. I felt mySELF being pulled toward this fissure. I resisted. This place I was perceiving insisted on convincing me of its reality and denying the reality I grew up to recognize. It was working, yet I resisted. I felt my torso careening toward this crack in reality, but my feet remained on the ground and my head remained reclined on the couch.

I consciously remembered to breathe 3 times during this occurance. I don’t know how much time passed – somewhere between 10 and 45 seconds I suppose. I don’t know what happened next, if anything. The next thing I remember is sitting on the couch in the real world beside my girlfriend with the television on. Everything was normal again.

I felt like I should be afraid but I wasn’t. I was without emotion. I feebly attempted to address my girlfriend’s request to describe my state but I could hardly find the words. I’m not describing it correctly even now after much reflection. I swear I perceived things using senses I’d never used before. I can’t explain it. I was a little confused and curious, but had no desire to continue my experimentation until a later date. I was too frazzled to pack the pipe again for my girlfriend and she didn’t ask for more. I didn’t feel like I could be a responsible sitter anymore that night anyway.

For a few hours I felt subdued and sombre but not depressed or sad. I was reflective on what I’d perceived and where I’d just been. For some time I noticed that vibratory buzzing effect on everything around me yet my vision wasn’t impaired.

Walking between our room and the kitchen I passed by the scene of my traversal a few times that evening and when I looked toward the television I stopped in my tracks and braced my stance by leaning on something, my face became totally serious, and I pictured that stretched dome effect. I couldn’t simply walk through to the kitchen until the next morning when it didn’t occur to me at all.

I felt no hangover or ill effects. I didn’t feel depleted or headachey or dehydrated. Really, I felt fine physically and my thoughts were focused but on strange topics. What had I seen? What was beyond the crack in the wall? If I find out can I even come back? If not, what will remain of me in the “real world”? What is self? Am I my body or do I drive it like a car? Does my attachment to my body limit me to three-dimensional perception? And of course, should I take a bigger dose?

I already know the answer to that one. It’s not a question of whether, but of when. Not now, but soon. Preparation is not necessary. I don’t need to wait to be ready. I am always ready. I must know.

Do I even need to close this report with a warning? I suppose it would be prudent. Don’t consume this or any intoxicant (including alcohol) without thorough research. Only smoke Salvia Divinorum in a comfortable, familiar place with someone you care about supervising you. Most important of all, be confident in yourself and be strong of presence, for lack of a better term.

“Unless you are self-confident, self-directed, self-selected, please abstain.” – Timothy Leary