Tectonicus: A High Detail Map Renderer for Minecraft

If you haven’t heard (or you are a gamer that has been living under a rock), Minecraft is an extremely popular sandbox indie video game being developed by the Swedish company Mojang.  Currently available in both a free Classic version and a paid Beta version, Minecraft has exploded in popularity with over 10 million registered users and just over 2.7 million sales.  And the game is only a development version!

Checkout this fan-made trailer to get a glimpse of Minecraft.

One of the neat things about Minecraft is that the game worlds are never-ending.  As you keep walking and exploring more of the world, more of the map is generated. This can lead to some pretty vast maps, especially for multiplayer games where many individuals are constantly exploring the block world of Minecraft.  That’s where Tectonicus can help.

Tectonicus

Tectonicus is a mapping application that can generate maps of your Minecraft world.  Tectonicus is different that other Minecraft map renderers in that it creates multiple zoom levels for your map using the same technology as the Google Maps website.  Take a look at a sample map rendered using Tectonicus.

To get started rendering your world, head over to the Minecraft forums and download the latest version of the Tectonicus.  Since Tectonicus is written in Java, it works on Windows, OS X, and Linux as long as you have the Java Runtime installed.

The second thing you need to use Tectonicus is a configuration file.  A sample configuration file is available for download.  The configuration file works after a couple of required settings are changed.

Some of the settings in your configuration file that you should look at first are:

outputDir – The location where your rendered map is saved.

minecraftJar  – This is not the minecraft.jar you downloaded from the Minecraft website, but the one in C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\.minecraft\bin on Windows and /home/USERNAME/.minecraft/bin on Linux.

texturePack – Unless you have a custom texture pack, simply set this the same as the minecraftJar setting.

logFile – A file that contains information about each render.

worldDir – The location of your Minecraft world files. Located in C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\.minecraft on Windows and /home/USERNAME/.minecraft on Linux.

With the newest version of Tectonicus you are able to render multiple layers of the map including day views, night views, and caves, along with the ability to render the Nether.  One word of warning though, each layer is rendered separately, increasing the amount of time to render the map and consuming more storage space on your system.

Other options you can change to customize the render process are camera angles, zoom levels, lighting levels, and texture packs.  A list of settings that you can change in the configuration file is available at the Tectonicus Minecraft wiki page.  Be sure to read through the available list of settings for the configuration file and understand what each does before implementing in your setup.

To render your map from the command line, use the command following command:

 java -jar /path/to/file/Tectonicus.jar config=/path/to/file/layerConfig.xml

Once you have configured and rendered your map, open map.html to see your Minecraft world in your web browser rendered in high detail.

The first time you render your map is the longest if you set up a cache in the configuration file.  With a cache, each render after the initial one is very quick since only the changes must be rendered.  If your Minecraft world is constantly changing, look at setting up a Scheduled Task in Windows or Cron job in Linux to automatically render your map on a certain schedule.

A few words of warning: It can take a few tries to get a properly working configuration file.  Be sure to check the Tectonicus log file for more information about any errors that you receive.  Also, rendering your Minecraft map with Tectonicus for the first time is a very intense process and may take a couple of hours to finish a large map.  Finally, the maps you render can consume large amounts of hard drive space, with each layer of a fairly large map consuming around 5 to 10 GB of disk space.

If you are looking for a cool way to view your Minecraft world be sure to give Tectonicus a try.  Do you have any maps rendered with Tectonicus?  Share the links in the comments below!

Greplin: Your Personal Search Engine

Greplin

GreplinIf you use more than a couple of web applications, you know how difficult it can be to find things in those applications. Sure, services like Google Docs and Gmail have great built-in search, but services like Dropbox and Twitter … well, not so much.

With Greplin, you can search a number of popular web applications not just for files, but also words and phrases.

Let’s take a look at how to set up and use Greplin.

Getting Started

Head over to Greplin and sign up for an account. It’s free, although there are paid options (more on these in a bit). Once you’re in Greplin, click the Add button — it’s the green button with the plus sign in the middle. A list of Web applications and services that Greplin works with will appear.

Choose your service

At the moment, Greplin only works with 20 apps and services. To work with nine of those, you need to get a paid account. With three others, you can get access by referring other people to the service. So that leaves you with Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts.

Searching with Greplin

You won’t be able to search immediately. Greplin has to index your accounts first. According to the developers, that takes about 20 minutes or so. Maybe a bit longer. So, go off and do some work or have a cup of tea while you’re waiting.

Search here

OK, let’s assume that 20 minutes have passed. Head back over to Greplin and start searching. The first way is to type the word or phrase that you’re looking for in the search box. Doing this will search all of the applications and services that you set up in Greplin for that term. That could be a lot of results.

To narrow things down a bit, click the dropdown list beside the search box. You can search:

  • The names of contacts
  • In your Twitter streams
  • Messages in Twitter and Facebook
  • Files

You can also select the any one of the applications and services that you set up to work with Greplin.

The results of a search

Once Greplin returns the results, click on any header to open that result in a new browser tab or window.

Limitations

There are a few. The biggest is the limited number of services with which Greplin works. It tackles 20 of the biggest names, but a few are missing. And to get access to about half of them, you need to pay $4.99 a month (or $49.99 a year). That’s not overly expensive, especially if you need to index and search a lot of material.

What you can search depends on the web application or service. With Dropbox, for example, Greplin doesn’t index and search text. It only indexes and searches file names. So if you plan to use Greplin as a search engine for Dropbox, remember to name your files descriptively. You can find a list of what Greplin can search here.

Still, if you need to find that tweet or that file you’ve archived online, then Greplin is a good option. It’s easy to use and fast. And it’s convenient.

Take Your To Do List to the Command Line

If you’re serious about your to do list and want to be sure that you can use it in the future, then you should think about embracing your inner geek by 1) going text only, and 2) doing everything at the command line. The best way to do that is with Todo.txt.

Hold On … The Command Line?

You’re probably wondering why you should use the command line instead of popular Web applications like Remember the Milk, Toodledo, Todoist, or Ta-Da Lists. They’re all great, no doubt about it. But you need to be connected to the Internet to use them. And it’s not easy to export or move data between those apps or to other services.

With Todo.txt, you’re using a text file. And let’s be honest, the format of a text file hasn’t changed in … well, a long time.

Getting Going

Todo.txt is a shell script. To use it, you’ll need a bash shell. That’s not a problem if you use Linux or Mac OS — they both come with one built in. Windows users, on the other hand, are out of luck. Unless, of course, they use something called Cygwin (tools that add a Linux-like environment to Windows).

Once you have a bash shell, now all you need to do is download the archive containing the script. When you pop that archive open, you’ll see it contains two files:

  • todo.sh, the shell script
  • todo.cfg, a configuration file

Extract the files to a folder in your path — on my Linux-powered laptops, I put them in /usr/local/bin. Then, edit the file todo.cfg to point the shell script to where you want to store the actual to do list file. Look for the entry EXPORT TODO_DIR= and change the path.

Editing the configuration file

Using Todo.txt

Let’s start by adding a task. Open a terminal window and then type todo.sh add [task] — for example, todo.sh add Edit Chromium FLOSS Manual. Then, press Enter.

Adding a task

Obviously, you’ll want to check your to do list from time to time. Do that by typing todo.sh list in a terminal window.

Listing your tasks

Notice that each item in the list has a number. That number is useful to know when you want to add a priority to a specific task or mark the task as complete.

Why add a priority? Well, some tasks are more important than others. Adding a priority moves them up in the list. Priorities start at A (most important), and move down from there.

To add a priority, type todo.sh p [task number] letter, where letter is a letter of the alphabet. For example, todo.sh p 7 B. That adds a priority of B to task 7 in the list.

Marking a task as done

Finally, when you’ve completed a task you can mark it as done and remove it from the list by typing todo.sh do [task number] — for example, todo.sh do 7.

Todo.txt can do a lot more. To learn about all of the available options, type todo.sh -h to read the help.

Going Graphical

You say you like the idea of Todo.txt, but the command line part is a bit geeky for you. If you have an Android-powered phone or tablet and an account with Dropbox (an online file storage and syncing service), then you can install an app called Todo.txt Touch on your phone from the Android Market.

Todo.txt Touch everything that todo.sh does at the command line, but on a touchscreen. The app saves your to do list to a folder in Dropbox. From there, you can share the list with your computer and/or with any other Android-powered devices you might own.

Todo.txt on your phone

Final Thoughts

Even though using the command line sounds difficult and a tad geeky, Todo.txt is easy to learn and use. Even for the most ardent GUI addict. And by using Todo.txt Touch on your Android device, you can literally have your to do list anywhere and in a format that won’t be obsolete anytime soon.

Image credit: Dean Shareski

Clean up your Linux computer with Bleach Bit

No matter how careful or fastidious you are, over time a lot of cruft builds up on your computer. Things like cached files, cookies, temporary files, packages, log files, and a whole lot more. All of this builds up and takes up a tens or hundreds of megabytes of disk space.

You can remove all of that cruft yourself, but that can take time. And you might not get everything. Or, you can clean up your computer in one sweep with a powerful and flexible, but easy to use, tool called Bleach Bit.

Available for Linux and Windows, Bleach Bit scours your computer — your home directory and your system folders — to find and remove any bits that get left behind. It can not only clean unneeded system files but also the files that come from about 90 applications including Web browsers, chat clients, PDF readers, databases, and more.

Getting started

The first step is, obviously, to install Bleach Bit. If you’re using Linux, check your distro’s package manager. I installed Bleach Bit in Ubuntu 10.10 using Synaptic. If Bleach Bit isn’t there, go to the download page and find the package for your distro.

If you’re using Windows, you can download installers too. But since I don’t do Windows, this post will look at using Bleach Bit under Linux.

As I mentioned, I installed Bleach Bit in Ubuntu 10.10. To run it, go to System > Administration. You’ll see two items in the menu: Bleach Bit and Bleach Bit as Administrator. One cleans your home directory, and the other cleans out system directories. Let’s take a look at both.

Cleaning your home directory

Of the two options, selecting Bleach Bit from the Administration menu is the safer of the two. You’ll only be able to get rid of cruft in your /home directory. And you’ll be amazed at what collects there!

The left side of the Bleach Bit window contains a list of cleaners (the types of applications and files that Bleach Bit works with). Click a check box beside a cleaner to activate it. When you do that, a little more information about what the cleaner does appears in the right side of the application’s window.

Bleach Bit main screen

After you’ve chosen the cleaners that you want to use, click the Preview button on the toolbar. This will create a list of files that Bleach Bit will delete. It will also tell you how much disk space will be freed up.

Bleach Bit preview screen

As you can see, I haven’t done a cleanup in a while …

When you’re ready, click the Delete button on the toolbar. Depending on the number of cleaners you’ve selected, and the number of files there are, it can take Bleach Bit anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes to do its work.

Go admin or stay at home

Running Bleach Bit as Administrator is a slightly different ball game. In Linux, you need to run it as root. And when you do, the application scans everything outside of your /home folder. Like what? Like the /usr directory and its subdirectories, the /tmp folder, and more.

Other than that, running Bleach Bit as Administrator works in the same way as running it in your /home directory. A few click, a preview, and you’re ready to clean up!

One cleaner that you should approach with caution, though, is Free disk space. This cleaner will overwrite any free disk space to hide hidden files. That’s not a bad thing in of itself, but the process is slow. It can take upwards of an hour to do the job. During that time, your system will bog down noticeably.

Final thoughts

Bleach Bit is a powerful and useful tool. It gives you a fast and easy way to get rid of everything you don’t need on your computer, while at the same time freeing up disk space and improving performance.

Photo credit: solrac_gi_2nd

Android App Roundup! Rainy Days (Weather Radar) and Extended Controls (Widget)

Welcome to another exciting edition of our Android App Roundup!  This week, I’ll be taking a look at a handy weather radar app and Kevin will be telling you about a widget that puts the standard Android power control widget to shame.

Have an app you’d like to recommend to us?  Post in the comments at the end of this article, send us an email, or hit either of us on Twitter!

Evan’s Pick – Rainy Days

I check the weather on my phone a lot, and the ability to pull up weather radar at my fingertips saved me and my friends from getting destroyed by a thunderstorm on the lake this summer.  There are a lot of solid weather apps in the Android Market, but if you just want to check out weather radar, Rainy Days is the app for you.

Rainy Days is a very simple application.  Just open it up, press Settings, and select My Location to display the current radar in your area (you might need to enable additional location services in Android – I found that it wanted to use network location instead of GPS).  Standard touchscreen controls work just the same in Rainy Days: pinching and double tapping zooms, and you can drag across the map to move.  The slider bar at the bottom controls the opacity of the radar, which is useful if you want to see specific locations under a storm.

Rainy Days cycles between the last hour of radar footage, which can be paused by touching the screen.  You can control animation speed, automatic location use, and graphical options in the application’s settings.  Rainy Days supports the United States, Western Europe, Spain, and Scandinavia.

Search for Rainy Days in the Android Market or scan the barcode below to download!

Kevin’s Pick – Extended Controls

Android already has a pretty nice built in power control widget that allows you to enable and disable things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. Having one touch access to those parts of your system is incredibly convenient, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to control even more aspects of your phone? Thankfully, there is a widget on the Market that fills that exact role.

Extended Controls will set you back 0.79€ (about $1.20 as of this writing), but the convenience it offers is well worth the small cost. After installation, long press on an open spot of your homescreen and go to the Widgets menu. In here you’ll find various sizes of the Extended Controls widget, ranging from 1×1 to 1×4. After selecting the size, you’re taken to the setup menu. From here you can adjust the look of the widget (I prefer the defaults, but to each his own) as well as manage the various controls of the widget.

In addition to the five options found on the built in power control widget, Extended Controls gives you access to 20 extra settings. With a single touch you can now toggle options like USB tethering, autorotate, the lock pattern, and 4G.  If you have rooted your phone, you can set a button to reboot your phone, either normally or into the bootloader or recovery mode.

As you add controls, a preview of what the widget will look like can be seen at the top of the screen. Once you’re satisfied, click Apply to add the widget to your homescreen.

If you’d like to see what Extended Controls has to offer, scan the QR Code below to be taken directly to its Market page.

Windows XP Tip: How to Rearrange Applications in the Windows Taskbar

If you have several applications open simultaneously in Windows XP, you may find yourself wishing you could rearrange their order like tabs in your browser.  This feature isn’t included in Windows XP by default, but you can easily add it with Taskbar Shuffle.

Taskbar Shuffle is a tiny application that quietly sits in your system tray.  After installation, you can move any item in your taskbar to a different location by clicking it and dragging it to a new location. 

You can even rearrange items in your system tray by dragging and dropping them.

On top of adding useful functionality to your system, Taskbar Shuffle allows you to customize application grouping in the taskbar (useful for when you have multiple instances of the same application open).   This program also adds the option to close applications in the taskbar by middle-clicking them, which is the same way your browser handles closing tabs.

Taskbar Shuffle is a free download for all versions of Windows (except Windows 7) and is available for both 32 and 64-bit.

[Download Taskbar Shuffle]

Resolve Missing DLL Errors in Windows with Dependency Walker

Anyone working in the PC technical support field knows all too well the problems associated with missing DLL files.  Dependency Walker is a free utility that can help you find missing DLL files.

Below is an error message commonly seen when trying to register a DLL file with the Windows utility regsvr32.

Due to the vast number of DLL files, finding the correct one could take a lot of time.

To use Dependency Walker, download it from the software’s website and extract the files.  Start the program by running the Dependency Walker executable.

Navigate to File > Open and select the DLL that is failing to register when using regsvr32.

Dependency Walker will show what dependencies are missing and causing the error when registering.

Acquire the missing DLL file from a known working machine or from the software developer’s website and place it in the correct location to resolve the problem.

View Detailed Graphic Card Information With GPU-Z

One of the most important parts of your PC is its graphics card.  You may need to eventually update your graphics card to run new software or play the newest game.

GPU-Z is a free utility similar to the previously mentioned CPU-Z that provides you with all information available regarding your graphics card and GPU.  These specs can prove to be valuable information when upgrading your PC’s graphics capabilities.

Simply download and run GPU-Z, as no installation is necessary.  The main GPU-Z window is shown below.

GPU-Z is available as a free download for Windows.

Detect and Remove The Most Common Viruses with McAfee Stinger

Anti-Virus 2010, Total Security Center, Windows Security Center – These names all sound like legitimate antivirus software, but they are actually viruses in disguise.   Virus removal programs such as SUPERAntiSpyware and Malwarebytes can sometimes have a difficult time removing these types of viruses, and new malicious software appears every day.

McAfee Stinger takes a different approach to removing viruses.  Instead of looking for all of the possible infections, McAfee Stinger looks only the most recent and most common viruses.

Using McAfee Stinger

Start by download the latest version of McAfee Stinger.  Open the downloaded file and click Scan Now as shown below.  By default, McAfee Stinger will scan the entire C:\ drive.

If you want to see exactly what McAfee Stinger is looking for (or you think you know what you might be infected with), you can see a list of the viruses it is capable of removing under the List Viruses menu.

Have you use McAfee Stinger to remove a virus?  How does McAfee Stinger compare to other virus removal utilities?  Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.

Gather Information About Your Client’s PC with Support Details

Building websites that function properly across multiple browsers can be a time consuming process.  Most of that time is put into backwards compatibility to support outdated web browsers – I’m looking at you, IE6.

If a client or end-user of your website is experiencing a problem, it can be a difficult task to ask all of the questions necessary to pinpoint the cause of the problem.

Support Details is a simple and easy-to-use web application that will gather all of the necessary information about your client’s personal computer.  To use Support Details, you can simply send your client to http://www.supportdetails.com.

Your client will be presented with information about their PC as shown below.

Have the user fill-out the information bar at the top of the page with their name, email address, and your email address and click Send Details.  They also have the option to export their PC’s information as a CSV or PDF file.

Support Details lets you create custom URLs to send to your clients with the correct contact information already entered, so all they have to do is click Send Details.

Let us know what you think about Support Details by commenting below!

Image credit: rcourtie