My Favourite Applications list

Posted by Happy Hippo on 8/30/2009 04:27:00 pm
Firefox: this is a web browser, that I think is the most reliable, most customizable and fastest out there. There are numerous Firefox "extensions" or "add-ons" that give additional functionality to this browser. The extensions I recommend to install are:

  • Adblock Plus: blocks ads, banners, etc on webpages, making them load faster.
  • Flashblock: disables flash animation on webpages (but still showing flash placeholders, which play flash on click). This again allows web-pages to load faster and more importantly reduces the processor load by all those flash animations.
  • Downthemall: a built in download accelerator, that creates many connections to the file you are trying to download and effectively increases the speed of your download and reducing the download time. Also allows to save multiple files from a webpage, e.g. download all pdf files or other specified extension files.
  • Fireftp: allows you to connect to ftp servers with your username and password and upload/delete/manage files or webpages. Alternative ftp programs usually cost money. This one is free and can do almost everything that commercial programs do.
  • Fasterfox: a tweak for firefox, that speeds up web page load times.
  • Colourful tabs: firefox tabs look better, and are easier to navigate.
  • FEBE: allows you to backup all firefox extensions and data with 1 click, and save it as a single backup file.
  • IE tab: if you want to see how a webpage look in the internet explorer, it's possible now inside firefox window, just click 1 button and it switches to internet explorer page rendering, also you can set it to remember which pages to view in IE-format.
  • Tiny menu: allows you to hide the main menu toolbar:"file, edit, view..." , replacing it with one button, which also allows you to drag the address bar in the freed space and therefore increase the firefox web-page space.
  • WebMail Notifier: adds a small button to the status bar, that can check if you have mail on hotmail, gmail, yahoo, aol... very handy

Irfanview: a free image editor, that has a LOT more features than many free standard picture editors, including batch processing(e.g. resizing/renaming a lot of images etc). It can also open other file formats, like mp3, swf, png, ico, gif.. very very many, especially if you download a set of plugins. Although, I only use it for pictures, in particular to make icons (ico) files from JPEGs  (these are used in application development, programming), or to make pictures with transparent colour, like the ones I use in this page near each program title.

Imgburn: this free application is the best for burning CDs, DVDs, saving images of disks (ISO) etc.. Very easy to use, and has a lot of features that commercials burning solutions have. Whatever CD\DVD program you use, remember NEVER use windows built-in dvd burning. I learnt this the hard way: after many disks became unusable when the burning process suddenly interrupts, or even worse, if you burn a disk successfully, and think that your data is backed-up, but in fact, the disk becomes unreadable later. So, better download Imgburn and use it, I've never had any problems with it.

Comodo firewall: a free firewall, that is not eating a lot of resources, but is VERY effective. I've been using it for a long long time now. Although now you need to download it as a package with an antivirus, with an option to install ONLY firewall. I haven't tired that antivirus, as I already have another one (which I'll describe later). I also recommend when installing it, not install anything else other than the firewall: don't sign up your email, don't install defense&security (bloatware), don't install browser toolbar etc.. just install the firewall, and it's very very good! (set it to "training mode" for the first 2-3 days, and then set to "custom security mode", and don't allow any suspicious applications to connect to the internet).

Sophos Antivirus: this antivirus is usually given to students by their high schools/colleges/universities and by some companies to their employees. I am lucky enough to get this software free from my university, which detects viruses, spyware, trojans... etc. With the firewall above, this gives protection against all major threats online. So, contact your employer/check your college, university website to see if they provide this software for you. Alternatively use AVG security, which is also free (see below).

AVG anti-virus: I think this is the best free antivirus+antispyware available at the moment. It doesn't use a lot resources and still detect most threats.

   Zone Alarm firewall and security: this is also a very good free firewall, that does not use a lot of system resources. I also used the total security suite (including antivirus and antispyware) and it's also very good, but is not free. Check the link for more information.

Manycam: a free webcam enhancing program, that automatically detects your webcamera and allows you to add different cool effects, like snow or animated background or face accessories etc. You can also stream video/pictures instead of your camera video.

Truecrypt: this is the best free encryption program. If you have an external hard drive, or even a USB stick, it's a must-have. It very easy to use: 1) start a wizard and create a new encrypted volume (on your hard drive, this will look just like a big file with your chosen file name). 2) select your password (preferable a very long one). 3) Open truecrypt and click: Mount a volume>select your file>enter your password. And a new drive will appear in "My Computer", you can save everything there, then open truecrypt again and click dismount (the hard-drive in "my computer" disappears now). No-one would be able to see your files, unless they know your password.

Videolan media player: this free media player plays almost every video format without the need to install any codecs etc.. It can also repair some videos and play videos that are still being downloaded. It is also an excellent DVD player, because it allows to change different video settings: brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness etc.. As well as the number of audio channels to output : mono, stereo, 4.1, 5.1 etc.

WinRAR archiver: this a very good archiver, supports most archive formats, and can repair some of them, as well as split big files into small archive files, or compress multiple files into a single archive and protect it with a password. After 30 days a message starts to appear asking to buy winrar, but it can be closed, so no problem there.

Free Download Manager: free download manager, ftp explorer, that support torrent protocol and can download multiple files on a page with one click. 

Daemon Tools: free CD/DVD emulator, that allows you to emulate ISO images (and other formats), so you don't have to burn it to CDs or DVDs. Download the light version, and restrict its access to the internet, because it'll be asking you to register or something otherwise.

Skype: free video/audio calls/chat. Now supports High Definition webcams!

Bloodshed Dev-C++: a good C++ development environment (if you want to write programs yourself, but previous experience would be very very important, because writing programs can be very time consuming). Go for the beta one, it's better. Also works on windows 7 and 64 bit systems.

 Meebo: this is actually a webpage, but I decided to include it because it's my favourite. This website allows you to log on all of your msn, yahoo, icq, google talk ...... accounts at the same time! You need to register, log in and add your IM accounts, after that, when you log on meebo, you log on all of your IM accounts. Meebo also has video/audio chat, games, smiles, file transfer etc...

Commercial software I use (students!! you can get these very cheap! at www.software4students.co.uk , www.theultimatesteal.com , www.adobe.com (80% discount) or look at numerous other websites for students) :

Microsoft Office: a must have for anyone who wishes to create professional documents. I'm sure most of you already know this application. (btw, Microsoft Office 2010 is coming out soon, so maybe it's worth waiting to see what it will be like, or at least ask if you qualify for a free upgrade if you buy office 2007 now, although MS office 2007 is very very good I think)

Adobe Photoshop and other Adobe products: this software suite is orientated for professionals in photography, design, webpages, animation, video processing etc.. And it is very expensive (although students can get it with huge discounts). Read the info on adobe website, as there are too many products to describe here.

And of course if you have any other programs you like, add them in comments, or contact me via meebo gadget on the right (you may need to scroll up or down to see it) if your think I made a mistake somewhere or even if you need help with these applications, I've used them for a long time now.


Digital compact and D-SLR camera guide.

Posted by Happy Hippo on 8/26/2009 09:28:00 pm
Almost everyone likes photography, but I think every second, there is a person in the world, who gets disappointed with the pictures they took :( The most obvious problem sometimes is the equipment they use. But nowadays, the technology is getting more and more advanced, and cheaper, so more people can afford professional or semi-professional equipment, which can give better results when taking pictures and even getting creative with them. I did an AS-level in photography, which I really liked and I decided to purchase an entry-level D-SLR (Canon 400D) camera, which stands for Digital Single-lens reflex camera. The main advantage of these over portable cameras is the quality of the pictures they take due to a larger sensor, and they also allow continuous shooting (usually at least 3 frames per second). After doing that course, I worked at Jessops (UK photo-developer and camera retailer), and Currys (UK electrical shop), and I've seen and tried many other cameras. I actually wanted to write a review for my Canon 400D, with a short introduction to Digital cameras, but I it turned out to be not so short :) So I decided to make it a separate article.

First of all, after seeing many digital cameras I divide them into 5 groups:

 • Full-frame DSLR cameras: if you remember now-not-so-popular film cameras and the actual film they use, it has 27 or 36 negatives, and full-frame cameras have sensors about the same size as those negatives (also called 35 mm cameras). These cameras are the most expensive, the heaviest, professional-orientated, high-tech, wide-angle, highest image quality cameras. I would say only professional photographers would go for that type of camera. Also, the lenses for them are extremely expensive. Why? Look at the picture below:

Bigger sensors mean bigger area of light is needed after it goes through the lens, this has many consequences: the lens has to be bigger to let more light in/bigger aperture (to achieve the same magnification), more glass is needed to make it, it's a lot heavier and therefore expensive. Although APS-lenses (see below) will also work on full-frame cameras, their specifications will be very very different.
Another price consideration would be memory card capacities, because these cameras produce 20+Megapixel resolution, which would take a lot of space (especially in a very popular with professional photographers RAW format, which allows almost every setting of the camera to be corrected later on a computer). This surely can produce printed images to cover a small house, but most people probably wouldn't want that. A couple of examples of these cameras are: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Nikon D3x, Sony Alpha 900 (prices range from £2000-£5000, + lenses~ £1000, +accessories).

APS-type D-SLR cameras: these cameras have sensors about half in size compared to the full-frame ones, this reduces the quality of the images, but it also cuts the price by A LOT on both the camera, it's lenses and memory cards. Personally I think the quality they give is excellent for most things one would ever need. 10Megapixels or higher resolution allows to print A2 size photos or larger. The lenses also give higher magnification, for example 300mm lens gives about 12 times magnification, but if put on a full-frame camera, this lens will give 185mm (also called 35mm equivalent focal length), resulting in about 8 times magnification. These cameras have most manual settings that full-frame cameras have, which is ideal to get creative with your pictures ( I will also publish a few photography tutorials about different creative techniques). Most popular APS DSLRs are: Canon 400D, Canon 1000D, Canon 500D, Canon 40D.., Sony Alpha 300, Alpha 350, Alpha 700.., Nikon D40, D40X, D60, D60X (these 4 models use AF-S lenses, which basically means that the lenses don't have a motor inside them, instead it is in the camera body, which makes the lenses cheaper, but there's a limited range of them as far as I know), Nikon D3000... Pentax K10, K20..
Note: different manufacturers have different lens mounts and lens designs, so you can't interchange lenses between e.g. Nikon and Canon DSLRs.

• "Four Thirds" cameras : this is a relatively new technology developed by Olympus, Kodak and Panasonic ("Micro four thirds"), that uses a 30 to 40% smaller sensor than APS DSLRs, reducing the image quality a bit, but this technology was developed specifically for digital cameras, so it has a couple of advantages, which many people would like. I quite like some of these, but only because they are very small, and still produce a LOT higher image quality than compact cameras, have many manual settings and allow interchangeable lenses. Some examples of these are: Olympus E-420, Olympus E-520, Olympus E-30, Olympus E-3(look very similar to APS cameras, and are considered the world's lightest DSLR).

 Micro four thirds cameras are slightly different because they don't have a mirror inside and a pentaprism. And the latest E-P1 from Olympus, that looks very very nice indeed, you can read its review here. Other manufacturers have also released micro 4/3 cameras like: Panasonic LUMIX G1. High zoom lenses are not usually available due to the large sensor size. And when you see these, they look like compacts cameras, but the price tag is A LOT bigger.

 • Bridge Cameras or high-end compacts (fixed lens): these are usually light cameras with higher than normal specifications or new technologies that make them quite unique in their kind. I think it's best if I just give you a few examples of these:
 - Nikon P80, P90, Fujifilm S1000fd, Fujifilm S100FS, Panasonic FZ18, FZ28, FZ38 : these 7 are typical examples of Bridge cameras, they are quite bulky, but still very light compared to DSLR cameras, they have a fixed lens that can be quite big at highest zoom, but they give amazing magnification, usually 10x, 18x or 24x, this is A LOT more than even high zoom DSLR lenses can give. Although the sensor on these bridge cameras in usually the same as on small compacts, so the image quality is not very good (compared to DSLRs).

 - Canon Powershot G9, G10, G11: these have quite a large sensor (1/1.7") in a quite small camera body, with optical image stabilisation and most manual settings.
 - Panasonic Lumix TZ3, TZ4, TZ5, TZ6, TZ7: good quality compact cameras with 10-12x optical zoom and high quality LEICA lenses.
 - Nikon Coolpix P6000: this one has a GPS (satnav) built-in :D Maybe someone would want that.
 - Olympus Mju 6010, 8000: waterproof, shockproof and freeze-proof cameras. Bear in mind: they are not designed to be thrown around, but they might be fine if you accidentally drop them from 1-2 meters height. Also, they are usually 2-10 meter waterproof, if you want to dive deeper, you can buy special underwater housing (about 150-300 pounds for a compact camera housing).

 • Compact cameras or point-and-shoot cameras: these are the smallest, lightest, cheapest, usually fully automatic portable cameras, which are easy to use. Most of them nowadays don't have a viewfinder. They are good for everyday photography, giving lowest image quality compared to other digital cameras due to the small sensor size (about 14 times smaller than APS sensor). I'm sure you've seen many of these in any camera shot, and probably already own one :) Very good for parties as well, if you break it, it's not a big deal and the images are good for facebook and other social networks.

There are many many different specifications for different cameras, which many be confusing for some people, or very familiar to others due to loads of adverts promoting them, but sometimes it's not clear which ones are important, and which ones are not. I decided to write a table and short explanations why I think they are importance or not (some people may have different opinion, which you are welcome to share in comments).

Important or not?
Not very
If the resolution is above 10M, it’s enough to print A2 size pictures (the size of four A4 sheets together) in high quality. Bigger resolution is useful if you want to crop it later (you never know) and still be able to print large-size photos.
Optical zoom
Very important
This determines the magnification you can achieve without losing any quality. But optical zoom is actually a vague term, because if your camera has a wide angle lens, and the advertisement say 5x optical zoom, this actually means that if you start from wide angle, you can magnify it 5 times. One would expect to see 5 times magnification starting from no-zoom, so check this as well (or rely on lens properties in mm).
Focal length (DSLR jargon)
Very important
This basically determines the zooming properties of the lens:
·         Wide angle (10mm-24mm) in APS equivalent, or 16-38mm for 35mm (full-frame) equivalent cameras)
·          Standard zoom (25-105mm APS), doesn’t give a lot of magnification or wideness.
·          Telephoto zoom (105-500mm APS),  gives you good  magnification. 300mm is about 12x optical zoom.
Sensitivity of the sensor (ISO range)
Quite important
ISO is another quite technical specification that tells you how sensitive your sensor is in low light. On my DSLR the range is 100-1600, which is quite standard I think. You probably don’t need more than that (the higher the number, the more sensitive it is to light, BUT on high ISO you start to get NOISE)
Rechargeable lithium batter
Very important
You definitely want a rechargeable lithium battery in your camera.  And maybe should consider buying a spare one (they are cheap on ebay)
LCD Screen size
Not important
This takes most of the batter power, the bigger the screen, the lower the battery life. And if you have an optical viewfinder, you’ll only need it to review your pictures. Unless your vision is not great and you can’t see anything on a small screen.
Optical viewfinder
This can save a lot of battery power, and allows you to take better pictures in bright sunlight, when you can’t see the LCD screen. Most DSLR cameras use this as the only way to see your picture before you take it. Compact cameras use “live preview”,  meaning that the LCD screen shows your picture before you take it.
Extremely important
If you are a newbie in digital camera world, let me just give you some examples of the weight of some professional cameras (without the lens): Canon 1Ds :1.3kg , Canon 5D: 0.8kg, Canon 400D, 450D, 500D : about 0.5kg, Nikon D3x: 1.2kg, Nikon D300: 820g etc. And some lenses: Canon EF 28-300 f/3.5-5.6L IS USM: 1.7kg, Sigma 200-500mm f2.8 APO EX DG: 15.7kg !!!!(and costing 24 thousand pounds)
Quite important
The size is usually related to weight, although for example bridge cameras are quite light, but still quite bulky, because they were designed for extremely high zoom.
Continuous Shooting (FPS or frames per second)
Very important
I think every photograph uses this feature quite a lot, whether it’s sports or wildlife or something moving fast, sometimes you want to take a few pictures of this brief moment.
Video recording
Not important
Most DSLRs don’t record video, although many portable cameras do, but it’s usually low quality, not good for anything, except social networks.  I’d recommend getting a camcorder with high definition format (even cheap 720p Sanyo Xacti HD2 is excellent)
RAW format support
Can be important
RAW format is the raw information received from the sensor, without any compression. It occupies about 6 times more space on your memory card than JPEGs, but allows almost any setting to be edited with special software (e.g. Photoshop) on your computer later. For example, if you overexpose an image, and save it as a JPEG, and later just change the brightness, overexposed areas will just look like white blobs, but If saved in RAW format, you can get back all the detail in overexposed area. (and loads of other tweaks)
Leica/Carl Zeiss lens (portable cameras)
These two makes  are very well known for their quality lenses, which improve the picture quality quite a bit, making the pictures sharper and the colours are more saturated. Read more here. Of course other manufacturers also produce high quality lenses, you need to look on the internet and read reviews about different models of cameras before buying it.
Sensor cleaning system (DSLR)
Very important
It’s inevitable that dust and small particles go into the camera body when you change lenses, and in older days cameras had to be cleaned by professionals, but nowadays with built-in sensor cleaning system, a camera can last for years without any cleaning
Noise (sound)
Not very important
DSLR cameras produce a characteristic noise when taking pictures, because the mirror moves inside the camera, also when the lens autofocuses the motor produces a lot of noise, which can be an issue for some people, or if you want to creep up on a bird or something. Go to a shop and test a particular camera or lens (or read reviews) if you want to make sure it suits your needs.
Digital zoom
Absolutely not important
This is basically cropping your picture inside your camera, you can do it on any computer.
Some people may want a cool-looking camera, and other want a camera that feels good in their big hands, you just need to go to a shop and try it (don’t listen to the friendly salesman though, and don't buy 1st camera you see, a shop across the street may have it at a lower price for example )
Image stabilization
Very important
Almost in every situation, where you don’t use a tripod, image stabilization will be useful, because your hands always shake a little bit, even if you don’t notice it. For low magnification, this is not hugely important, but if you go over 5x zoom, every small camera movement adds A LOT of blur, it’s even worse on 10x+ magnification. In some DSLRs the image stabilizer is built in the lens (Canon), so you have to look for specific “IS” lenses (“OS” on sigma), and some like Olympus have the image stabilizer in the camera body, this is worth checking before you buy your camera. Because for example there is no way to get image stabilization on Olympus E-410 (it’s not built in the body, and Olympus doesn’t produce ”IS” lenses). Bear in mind, some cameras offer “digital image stabilization” (or other names), which is nothing :( the camera just digitally sharpens your image, but does not stabilize the actual camera shake (so it's ot important, and usually found on cheap cameras, that seem to have everything: stabilisation, digital zoom etc, which is just digital manipulation available on any computer).
Memory card format
It seems that most manufacturers are switching to very popular SD or SDHC (secure digital high capacity) memory cards. So they are getting cheaper, and smaller. I’d go for one of those.
Face detection/Smile detection
Can be important
If you want a camera that automatically focuses on peoples’ faces or takes a picture when someone smiles, then you may want this technology.
Picture Bridge technology
Can be important
This technology allows you to print picture by connecting your camera directly to a “picture bridge” compatible printer, without a computer. Some cameras also allow the pictures to be edited in the camera.

Of course this article does not cover all aspects of how to choose a digital camera, and in general describes my personal opinion, you may have a different opinion on some stuff :) Which you can express in comments. Also, if you have any questions or think something is wrong or misleading, you can add a comment, or contact me via message box on the right =>  (you may need to scroll up or down to see it). Thanks for reading! If you like this article, sign up for updates from this blog! there will be many more!

P.S. A longer DSLR guide is here: http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-buy-a-dslr-camera/comment-page-2


400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope on google! (with a twist)

Posted by Happy Hippo on 8/25/2009 01:28:00 am
 Today I went on Google to search for something as usual, and saw a new picture, after reading a bit on the internet about it, I discovered this is because of the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope. As a Physicist, I am very excited about this occasion, which allowed people all over the world to study the outer space far away from the Earth in greater depth and precision. Before this amazing invention, as far as I'm aware, the astronomers had quite limited means to study extraterrestrial bodies, like pointing at the stars by hand and recording this on a big big ruler.

For example, in the 16th century, Tycho Brahe built an observatory and founded "precision astronomy" using this method. Nevertheless they discovered a few important scientific facts about comets and recorded a supernovae in 1572.

High resolution image

Although the word telescope is commonly associated with Galileo Galilei, he was not the inventor of this wonderful device. In fact Hans Lippershey, also knows as Jan or Hans Lippersheim invented it in 1608. But it was Galileo who build his own telescope in 1609 and made improvements to the telescope, used it for practical and scientific observations.

Nowadays, after centuries of research and development, telescopes are far more sophisticated pieces of equipment, ranging from lens/mirror telescopes to radio/high energy particle telescopes, positioned on the Earth and in space, some optical telescopes from 5 to 11 metres in size or 26m dish for radio telescopes, some costing millions of dollars. And of course most of you have heard of the Hubble telescope that costed 2.5 billion dollars to construct.

Most of the beautiful images (although most of them have enhanced colours) we see today were achieved with telescopes, and allowed the humanity to peek into the furthest corners of the universe, millions of light years away from us, revolutionizing the way we see the world around us.


IPsec VPN on windows 64 bit with NCP universal VPN client (NCP secure entry client configuration)

Posted by Happy Hippo on 8/22/2009 11:42:00 pm
Update  15/Dec/2009: today I was contacted by NCP-E saying that "people blindly follow the advice on this website" and that it's "frustrating for them to correct mistakes that this thread generates, which frustrates both them and their customers", so before you follow the guide, I want to clarify some points: this thread is a bit out-of-date already, a newer client has been released. Also, this is only a guide how to set-up a particular connection, which I think is very common with universities and workplaces, that allows to access particular resources. For which you need an IPSec group ID, IPSec group password and your Xauth username and password, as this is the only IPSec connection type I have access to. All other situations are not included in this guide. Please don't refer to this website as your configuration guide when contacting NCP-e support, this is not  in any way a technical or support resource, it's more an example what the software is like when working with it. Thank you

Update 10/Sept/2009 (a free solution) :A free VPN client worked successfully for this IPSec connection type ! Its overview is here
Many companies or institutions use some sort of VPN (Virtual Private Networking) solution to protect their resources and stuff... I used Cisco VPN client to connect to my university intranet, which uses IPsec technology. But apparently Cisco VPN client does not support 64 bit operating systems!
The Cisco Systems company doesn't want to support 64bit operating systems and the old Cisco VPN client, from what I've read it seems that they are pushing their new AnyConnect VPN client, which apparently doesn't support IPsec, companies would have to upgrade a lot of stuff to use VPN with this new software (information gathered from the internet).  I think this will be even a bigger issue now, that Windows 7 is coming out soon. After 3 days of looking on the internet, trying different things such as Cisco Anyconnect, Windows built-in VPN client, Shrew client, Ovenvpn client, VPNC client, the only thing that worked for me was "universal NCP secure entry" client, so I intend to write a tutorial how to configure it, because it has A LOT more settings than Cisco VPN client and is very tricky to configure.

You can download evaluation copy of the software on: http://www.ncp-e.com/en/downloads/software.html  (go for the beta one!!! the other one gave me blue screens ).  Update: as advised by NCP-e, "it's not a good idea to have multiple VPN clients on the same platform, as the mechanisms (filter drivers) used may conflict and cause unreliable results or even system instability" and it is strongly recommended to remove other VPN clients before installing NPC-e client.

Make sure you have these settings from your old IPsec VPN client:
  • IPSec gateway (e.g. vpn.blahblah.com or
  • IPSec ID, also known as group ID (usually just a word)
  • IPSec secret. also known as group password (also a word)
  • remote access personal username (xauth username)
  • remote access personal password (xauth password)

And maybe some other settings like
"enable transparent tunelling"
"Allow IPSec over UDP (NAT/PAT)"

IKE Authmode psk

Also, if you have your old Cisco VPN client configuration file (*.pcf), most of the work will be done for you automatically: install NCP client and to Configuration>Profile Import>Browse for your **.pcf file and import the settings. Usually this should work straight away, if it's not working, check the settings as described below (probably tick UDP encapsulation, port 4500 in your "advanced IPSec options"), but instead of creating a new profile, click edit your imported profile. Update: as advised by NCP-e, MOST configurations do not require UDP encapsulation, "this field should only be used in very specific cases, and the vast majority of situations (read: almost ALL) do not require this, and will in fact will only thwart any connection attempts".

Manual configuration:

1) Go to Configuration>Profiles
Then click "add" to create a new profile.
On the next tab select "Link to corporate network using IPSec" and click next. Choose a name for your VPN connection (anything)>Next, select you communication media > Choose LAN (over IP) for broadband or wireless networks (or other media that you use to connect to the internet). DON'T use WLAN it can screw up your wireless drivers!

On the next page enter your IPSec gateway in the "Gateway (Tunel Point)" field and enter your xauth username (IKE username) and password(IKE password).

Next select "aggressive mode" as your exchange mode and set PFS group to "None".

Click "Next" and enter IPSec secret (also known as group password) in the "Shared Secret" field, then select "Free string used to identify groups" in "IKE ID type", and enter your Group ID (also known as IPSec ID) in IKE ID field.

On the next page select IKE config mode, as IP address assignment method and click next. And then on the next page make sure that statefull inspection is off and Netbios over IP is enabled and click finish.

You will be returned to the main window, go to Configuration> Profiles again, and click edit your profile. Navigate to "Advanced IPSec Options" on the left and tick UDP encapsulation, change the port to 4500 (or which ever port you were given).  Click OK and this configuration should work. Update: as advised by NCP-e, MOST configurations do not require UDP encapsulation, "this field should only be used in very specific cases, and the vast majority of situations (read: almost ALL) do not require this, and will in fact will only thwart any connection attempts".

If you are having troubles connecting, you can see where the problem is using LOGs. To do that go to Log>Logbook

You will see a new window, that shows log text. Now try to connect to your profile, and check what error you get. I tried to identify some common error codes, although I'm not very good at advanced configurations.

Troubleshooting guide: 

1) No connection to the internet>incorrect communication medium chosen. Usually these will be displayed in red in the actual NCP window (not in log): e.g.: ISDN error, COM error: Modem not responding, Could not resolve gateway IP (this is either if you LAN/wireless LAN not working or your entered incorrect gateway address or it's down, or your firewall is blocking NCP), RAS not found.

Solution: check your internet connection, gateway address, and check communication medium settings in "Basic Settings" tab.

2) Phase1 errors: IPSec general settings tab has incorrect settings.

Solution: check IPSec general and Advanced settings:
Also some  security data maybe wrong, like: group ID, group password (if this is the case, the log will display this in red: e.g. wrong preshared key, or a window will pop-up to enter xauth password/username again).

3) Phase 2 errors: Incorrect IPSec address assignment.

Solution: check IPSec Address assignment page:

This should solve most common problems, just try different settings depending on the phase of your problem. Also you can contact me via Message Box on the right (scroll up or down to find it)    =>
P.S. It would be great if you could leave any comments about this guide or click "reactions" below (funny, interesting, informative...) , thanks :)

Update: there seem to be another program that can be used on 64bit systems: VPNC Front End, which is free and can be downloaded here:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/vpncfe/ I could not connect to my VPN server though, but try it anyway, if you want something free.

Also, there is Shrew VPN: http://www.shrew.net/download/vpn  which is also free, but it gave me blue screen :( Try alpha version (and again, I did not succeed in connection to my vpn), and I wrote the tutorial here .

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