BackSpin Mark Gibbs A few tools, a technology and some cool software Tool 1: There are any number of replacements for the Windows Notepad text editor, and while some of the charged-for products are good, there’s one we use that has great features, and even better, it’s free.

Crimson Editor ( is not only a terrific notepad replacement, it is also a powerful, flexible editor sensitive to the needs of programmers.

What we like about Crimson Editor are the interface, which provides a tab for each open document, the ability to define a set of files as a “project” and automatic colouring of keywords and other elements for many languages. (You also can define your own coloring rules.) There’s also a built-in calculator (fabulously useful), and integration with C/C++ compilers, Java 2 software developers kit, the Perl interpreter and the LaTeX compiler.

You can execute programs from within the editor, save and replay keystroke macros, set Crimson Editor as the default source editor for Internet Explorer and add Crimson Editor to the context (right mouse button) menu of Windows Explorer. Did we mention it is free? Outstanding!

A technology: Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART) for hard disk drives. IBM Corp. created the technology behind SMART — Predictive Failure Analysis — based on the notion that hardware failures can be unpredictable or predictable. Unpredictable failures include things such as a chip failing — something that usually happens suddenly.

Performance measurements (such as tracking how long a drive takes to spin up or down, the bearing temperature and the current consumption of the drive motor) can identify predictable failures (such as the failure of drive motor bearings).

Also measured are decreasing head flying height (head crashes obviously come at the end of a downward trend); increasing number of remapped sectors (increasing value can indicate a drive heading south); increasing error correction use and error counts; increasing spin-up time (increasing values indicate potential motor failure); increasing temperature; and decreasing data throughput.

Drive manufacturers pre-program “acceptable” values for these diagnostic parameters into drives. When a measured value or trend falls outside of the acceptable range an alert code is set in the drive’s SMART status register that can be read by diagnostic utilities. These utilities track the SMART status data and raise alerts to the PC system when problems are detected.

Tool 2: SpeedFan is a freeware Windows 9x, ME, NT, 2000 and XP program that monitors fan speeds, temperatures and voltages for motherboards with hardware monitoring chips, and can access and report on SMART hard disk diagnostic information.

You can even tune the performance of fans; track CPU utilization; monitor power-supply output voltages; change processor and front-side bus clock speeds (not something to be done casually); provide a detailed report of SMART parameters; and graph fan speeds, temperatures and voltages. You have got to check this out!

Tool 3: If you want a SMART diagnostic tool that will work in a network environment, check out Active SMART from Ariolic Software.

Active SMART provides comprehensive SMART monitoring and reporting, and will display alert pop-ups, send network messages and send alerts by e-mail (the product has a built-in SMTP client) when problems are detected. Active SMART is priced starting at about US$25 per user.

Cool software: There are hundreds of Internet radio stations, many of them advertising- and even DJ-free — check out a couple of our favorites, SomaFM and KCRW.

But wouldn’t you like to make tapes of Internet radio content? The answer is Station Ripper, a tool that can capture audio from one or more simultaneous Shoutcast streams.

Shoutcast is a free distributed streaming audio system from Nullsoft based on its also free Winamp digital audio player, which hundreds of Internet broadcasters use.

When Shoutcast sends streaming audio data it includes whatever identifying metadata the station cares to include, such as artist, album and track name. Station Ripper opens a file and saves the audio datastream in MP3 format, adding the metadata as MP3 IDv3 header tags and naming the file using the same metadata.

How long until the Recording Industry Association of America gets its knickers in a twist over this?

Cries of “Shhhh! Don’t talk about it!” to