Saturday, October 31, 2009

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Cool Websites and Tools [October 30]

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 05:00 PM PDT

cool websites Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. All listed websites are FREE (or come with a decent free account option). No trials or buy-to-use craplets. For more cool websites and web app reviews subscribe to MakeUseOf Directory.


(1) PingTest – At first glance, this site might look like any other broadband speed test service out there. However, it isn't one of those. It doesn't check the speed of your connection. Instead it checks the overall quality of the connection that determines how well it can stream videos, play music and online games. Read more: PingTest – Online Broadband Quality Test

(2) RRRipple – Flash-based and sleek group file sharing app that allows you to share media with different groups – be it sharing photos with your friends, reunion videos with your relatives, work documents with your boss, links, and messages with everyone else. Read more: RRRipple – Cool Group File Sharing Application

(3) SeeNow – Fun website that lets you have fun with your photos by morphing them into a series of popular image templates from movies, shows, magazines, music albums, sports, etc. The site currently has around 350 different templates, nicely sorted in various categories. Read more: SeeNow – Have Fun With Your Photos Online

(4) Offers – Leading coupon and special offers directory on the internet – having staked out its place in the market over the last six years. They have thousands of offers (around 8,000 at any time) with hundreds of new offers updated daily. They carry coupons from some of the most well-known online and high street retailers such as and Sears. Read more: Offers – 1000's Of Coupons To Save Your Money

(5) Sayabit – Nice file sharing service which lets you upload files and share them on sites like Twitter and Facebook. It can host images, documents, PDFs, Excel files & PowerPoint presentations in unlimited capacity. For each file it creates a short URL which redirects to a landing page if its an image and downloads directly for other kinds of files. Read more: Sayabit – Upload Files and Share Them via Short URL

Submit Your Web App


These are just half of the websites that we discovered in the last couple of days. If you want us to send you daily round-ups of all cool websites we come across, leave your email here. Or follow us via RSS feed.

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How To Create Self-Updating Excel Charts In Three Easy Steps

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 03:01 PM PDT

headerIf you’re like me, you love the idea of charts and can think of dozens of useful applications for them, but when it comes to creating them, the frustration starts.

Charts often make decision making easy. They’re a nice change from staring at rows and columns of numbers. They add some style and pizazz to your documents or presentations. Creating charts in Excel seems complicated, so you end up settling for simple charts which require a lot of work to maintain.

In my full time job, charts help shorten the decision making process, as we can immediately see our results and where changes need to be made. The difficulty in handling data and charting it is you constantly have to go back to the chart and update it for new data.

Well, no more! I want to show you three easy steps to creating charts in Excel that self-update. All you’ll have to do is add data to the spreadsheet and the chart will automatically graph it. You won’t have to depend on others to manipulate or mess up the chart and you won’t have to do all that extra work either. You don’t need any Visual Basic skills, but you do need to understand the basic fundamentals of Excel charts.

To walk you through the process, I have created a fictional pet store called "Paws n’ Fangs" and I have begun an Excel workbook titled "pnfinv.xls". Here is the October inventory of pets as of the seventeenth of the month, along with a basic chart of the dog inventory. This is the starting point and step one – a spreadsheet with a basic chart.


The problem is updating the chart for new daily inventory numbers. I may not want store clerks to mess with the charts and I may be tired of doing it all the time as well. I can quickly look at these charts and determine when and how many pets I need to order from my supplier, so I don’t want to abandon the use of the charts.

Step two is to name the column that I want to chart. This is done through the menu bar by clicking Insert>Name>Define. When the "Define Name" window pops up, we start by clicking inside the text box under "Names in Workbook". In this blank space, we type in the label for the column we plan to chart.

For our example, we would type in "Dogs" exactly as it appears in the spreadsheet. Now we have defined a Name, but we have to further define what the name means.


At the bottom of this window is a blank area for "Refers to:". This is where the magic happens for our chart. In this box we use the OFFSET function. Notice the formula is "=OFFSET(Sheet1!$B$7,0,0,COUNTA(Sheet1!$B$6:$B$37)-1)". This looks complicated, but let’s break it down.

What we have done in this formula is to define that the name "Dogs" refers to data in Sheet1, with data starting in cell B7. The "0,0" pinpoints to B7, as these are "Row, Column" variables. If we used "$B$7, 1,0" we would be referencing B8, as the "1" in the row variable position would mean that we were referring to one row below the stated cell. In our simple example, it is much easier to directly reference the starting point of the data by using "$B$7, 0,0".

Next, the formula counts the non-blank cells in the entire column, including the header (B6:B37) and subtracts 1 (for the header-necessary for sorting functions). Notice two important points. First, the "Sheet1" portion of the formula is simply the name of the sheet on which the data is located. Excel’s default is Sheet1. Your charts could be in the same Excel workbook, but on a page titled "Charts", while you may have various sheet titles such as "Oct 09 Inv", "Nov 09 Inv", etc. Be sure to properly reference the sheet title or you’ll have a mess on your hands.

The second point is that for our example, we have a defined number of days in the month (31), so our maximum number of entries at one per day is thirty-one. Thus, our defined range to count extends to cell B37, where the 31st piece of data will be. You may have hundreds of data points you will eventually want to fill in and chart, or you may have a defined number. The point is to use a large enough reference so that you won’t have to go back and readjust the Names. If your spreadsheet is a defined size, simply use the maximum cell reference here.

Now we have defined the column name and the data referred to by the name "Dogs". The third and final step is to point the chart to the name "Dogs". This is pretty simple. Right click on the chart, and select "Source Data". Click the "Series" tab and in the text box beside "Values", simply type in the name of the worksheet and the name of the range in this format – "=workbook name!RangeName", which for our example will end up as "=pnfinv.xls!Dogs". The workbook name is used here instead of the sheet name, as the Defined Names from step one are rooted to the workbook.


Click "OK" and the chart will now self-update! We can test this by entering more data for the next several days. If the syntax of your formulas was entered correctly, your charts should update before your eyes! No more clicking and dragging cell reference outlines all over the place every time you add a piece of data to your spreadsheet. You don’t necessarily have to create a chart to begin with. You can wait until after you have defined a Name, and then begin the charting process.


Finally, for all the other pets in my imaginary store I can go back through the simple three step process and work on creating self-updating charts in Excel  for my entire inventory.


For other tips, tricks and cool free charting applications check out the MUO Charts tag directory and also check out the Excel tag for more Excel posts.

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atMonitor – A System Monitor On Steroids [Mac]

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 01:01 PM PDT

If you own a Mac, you should know that one of the most useful tools is Activity Monitor, found in the Utilities folder. If you haven’t used it before, get introduced to it; it will help get you out of sticky situations when your Mac isn’t responding properly. Activity Monitor is basically Mac’s version of Window’s Task Manager, albeit slightly more concise.

Today, I’ll be featuring a tool that takes the functions of Activity Monitor and pushes them into overdrive. The tool in question is called atMonitor and it’s like Activity Monitor on a ton of steroids. The interface is almost the same. One of the many noticeable differences, though, is the addition of an information panel in the Top Window.

If you find that a particular runaway process, let’s say for example, ATSServer, is constantly using up 100% CPU power in Activity Monitor; the standard response is to perform a Google search and determine whether or not it’s safe to quit the process. Not required in atMonitor. That’s where the information panel comes in. It will display all the necessary information about every process or application that’s selected and allows you to make a judgement on the spot.

If an application is selected, it will query for its description and latest version. It will then compare the latest version against the version installed on your Mac and tell you if an update is available. Besides that, there’s a Version column which displays the current version of every app/process running and an icon next to it that symbolizes if it’s up to date.

If there’s an app which is outdated, just click on its icon in the information panel and you’ll be taken directly to the app’s web page. How cool is that?

Another awesome feature is Reveal. Let’s say you find a fishy rogue process running in atMonitor, you can use the Information Panel to read more about it. Subsequently, let’s assume that you decide that it shouldn’t be running because it belongs to an app which you’ve deleted; you can easily kill the process, then use the Reveal button to display the particular file in Finder – then Trash it!

Another cool function is Renice Process. atMonitor allows you to alter the processing priority of particular apps. You can increase or decrease the priority, providing more CPU power to more important apps. This function will definitely come in handy while performing CPU-intensive tasks like applying layers in Photoshop or encoding video.

atMonitor comes in three different forms of view: in the menu bar (essentially replacing a few of the monitoring menu bar apps I know), a floating window and a Dock icon (can only monitor one parameter). These three views provide you with real-time monitoring and reporting so that you have a general idea of what’s going on and can easily scan for the most memory- and CPU-intensive apps. To be absolutely honest, I’m a creature of habit and I already use iStat Menus and couldn’t be bothered to switch. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try atMonitor’s menu bar view. Personally, I prefer using Top Window because it resembles Activity Monitor.

Those are just a few of atMonitor’s features, there are several advanced functions I haven’t tapped into yet. Triggers, for example, allows you to set up and run a certain script whenever a particular parameter (CPU, RAM, Temp) reaches a predefined level. Just think of the possibilities!

atMonitor is available for free and runs on Mac OS X 10.5 and higher (Snow Leopard supported). Download it and give it a try. Do you think that it has potential to replace Activity Monitor?

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Question Of The Day – Breakfast Or Emails?

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 12:01 PM PDT

laptopbedToday’s Question of The Day :

What comes first in your day?   Having breakfast or checking emails / RSS feeds?

Are you someone who has their laptop / iPhone next to the bed to check online as soon as you wake up?   Or do you prefer to have your cornflakes first?

Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit : Selva

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Read Blogs On Your Cellphone With A Java RSS Reader

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 11:00 AM PDT

As per my other articles on MakeUseOf about making the most of your cell phone such as my piece on Snaptu or using your phone as a modem, I thought I'd write a piece about getting your RSS feeds on your mobile. I have this set up because I don't often use Google reader. I much prefer to catch up on blogs and news when it suits me such as when I'm on the bus or just lazing around; not bothered to fire up the PC in search of my fix.

There are several different cell phone RSS readers that you could choose; all of which are Java based. After testing a few, I've decided to go with RSSReader. I've decided this for two main reasons.

1. It's reliable and it does a good job at collecting and organizing your feeds.

2. It's compatible with almost any Java enabled cell phone (ie. basically any phone bought after 2004!)

First you need to go to this website to download the app. As always with my mobile app articles, I got it from GetJar because they're a reputable directory for mobile apps. Up in the top right hand corner of the GetJar site, enter in what mobile phone you have. It may ask for your cell phone number to automatically identify it (don't worry – they don't charge anything to you or subscribe you to one of those annoying ringtone services!). If there is a Download button on the RSS Reader page then that means it's compatible with your phone.

Having clicked Download, you'll be presented with two options. The first is to use the download code as seen in the screenshot. Navigate to on your mobile's browser and click 'Download Code' at the bottom of the page. Then enter in the download code which has been provided to you. This will start the download on your phone which shouldn't take more than thirty seconds.

The other option is to download the cell phone RSS reader to your computer and then send it to your phone using the USB cable that came with the phone.

Either way; once you have it on your phone and installed, you're ready to add your feeds.

The first is to manually add your feeds. Select 'Options' and then 'Add Feed'. Then enter in the URL of the feed. This part is kind of important so listen up. The URL of the feed is not the URL of the blog's website. To find a feed's URL you'll have to do a little investigative work. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use Google Reader.

In Google Reader, simply select the feed you want to add (presuming you've already subscribed to it on your PC). In the top right of your screen you'll see a link which reads 'Show Details'. Click on it. This will open up a small panel at the top of the preview screen as shown in the screenshot. As you can see the feed's URL is shown – I have highlighted the MUO feed URL in this demonstration.

Enter that feed URL exactly as it appears in Google Reader (or other RSS reader for that matter) and save it. You'll now be subscribed to that feed and can download it on your phone. You can view the post headers in the app. You can preview the post by clicking on the header.

To update a specific feed simply click on it when on the home screen. This will load a list full of recent posts. Click on any one of these posts to read the full story. Enjoy your feeds on your mobile.

Quick Tip: Beware GPRS (mobile web) charges – probably best that you ring your network helpline and inquire about data charges. Most network have cheap plans such as a unlimited usage for $15 a month these days as GPRS use declines.

How RSS Reader looks will differ depending on phone. I tested it on three devices and it looked quite different on each – but the options and layout are all the same. If it doesn’t work on your phone – YourChannels is a more basic cell phone RSS reader that may be worth a shot.

How else do you get your daily dose of reading on your cellphone? Share with us!

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5 Good Image Search Engines Apart From Google Image Search

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 09:00 AM PDT

When the right picture is everything, you need to go deep into the web and comb through the millions that are out there. Image search is just like normal search and similarly painstaking. Making it less so are the dedicated image search engines.

Image search engines sift through the web searching by type of image, by license or by tags and keywords. There are of course, standalone photo reservoirs like Flickr, Stock.xchng, Photobucket, Morguefile; but your kind of image may just be tucked away in some other obscure corner of the web. Google Image Search is powerful but it always pays to have a few more options up your browser.

This is where these five image search engines come into the picture.

image search engines

In Greek mythology, it's a giant with a single eye. As a stock photography search engine, it keeps both eyes on sites like BigStockPhoto, Flickr, Fotolia, Cutcaster, StockVault,, ShutterStock and stockx.xchng. The search interface is typically simple and you can search by selecting specific stock photo sites or all of them in one go. A horizontal menu and also a dropdown let you view results by respective site. Clicking on the thumbnail previews takes you to the source where you can see the details attached with the photo. gives the user a Lightbox account where he can save (by clicking the little plus icon), tag, share, and print (only the thumbnail) his selected photos. Visitors can also add comments to your shared images.


image search engines

Type in your query and you can get what you are searching for amidst millions of images and videos. This search platform delivers both. The web app looks into the RSS feed of variety of news sites and content providers like Yahoo and extracts the image previews. Clicking on the thumbnail preview takes you directly to the source. The source webpage opens in a two frame layout with a Pixsy brief on top and the source page below. You can filter the search by content type (image or video), category and source (BBC, MSNBC, Rolling Stone, Webshots, Yahoo etc).

The site is very neat and uncluttered.

Spffy (Beta)

image search engines

Ferret out the image or video you want using Spffy's multiple searches. Spffy checks out a cross-section of sources like stock photo sites, web sources like Flickr, public domain sites and videos from YouTube. You can tune your stock search with settings for royalty-free, rights-managed and news/archival. Web search on Flickr can also be similarly configured for relevance.


free image search engine

The Canada-based search engine company looks at the visual shape rather than the meta-data. This gives rather interesting results which are distinct from the others profiled here. The image search is fast though the number of results is not plentiful. You enter a keyword and then select an image from the results to do a similarity search. A moving slider to control the number of images per page is the only preference tool to set.


free image search engine

Picsearch indexes the web for images and is probably the best of the lot. The About Page of the site says that its unique search algorithm is due for a patent. The search engine has indexed more than 3,000,000,000 images. You can set a few preferences like an interface language.

free image search engine

Advanced search options give you several image factors like color or black and white, animation or image, portrait or landscape and more importantly the ability to search by image size. You can also use normal search operators to fine-tune your search. The site also comes with a family filter to keep out you-know-those kind of images away from the mix.

There are two things I really liked about the site. Firstly, its speed; and secondly, the Image Directory which is a vast collection of subject specific images. Oh yes, there's a third thing to like too – it comes with a Firefox extension.

In listing these five sites, I have tried to go beyond the omnipresent searches provided by the regulars like Google, Yahoo and Bing. When it comes to search, often a single tool does the job; but there are also times when many need to be pushed into action. Along with these five, you can check out two others we have profiled before –

Do remember that although these search engines may give you the right image – using the image itself is subject to copyright. So do check the sources before you click on save. If unable to do so, what are search engines for…hunt out a few more.

Which is your image search engine of choice? Does your image search go beyond the biggies? Let us into the picture.

Image Credit: Playingwithbrushes

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LitCharts Offers Literature Review Examples to Help You Study Fast

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 07:01 AM PDT

litcharts1Those mandatory high school reads, how many of them did you actually read? Be honest, probably not all of them, huh? Thought so.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid reader, devouring books one after another. Nevertheless, these high school reads aren’t always too practical. Sometimes they’re incredibly boring, and other times you just do not have any time – because you totally forgot the book review was due tomorrow.

So we scour the internet, looking for good literature review examples and other book reports. Not printing them of course (that’d be stupid), but trying to wrap our head around the ideas in the book, so we can at least act as if we flipped a few pages.

Sparknotes are a very popular source of information. It’s a site with a massive archive of literary study guides and review examples. But it isn’t optimal.


LitCharts is – and I’ll tell you why in a second – the place you should go for your next book review. It’s all that information, condensed in a ten-paged (read: somewhere between 10 and 20) guide, and available to read online or download. Don’t be fooled, they’ll be filling your head with an incredible amount of information, considering those ‘ten pages’.

literature review examples

What makes LitCharts really amazing, however, is not the page count. LitCharts puts conventional study guide techniques six feet below the ground, and uses a series of innovating approaches. Read on for what you may expect from your average LitChart.

Do note that even though we’ll be using George Orwell’s Animal Farm as an example – you should try reading the book yourself. It’s incredible.

Background Info

Here you get a bit of – surprise – background info, that your English teacher required. Stuff like the author bio, key facts about genre, setting and climax and historical and literary context can all be found here. However, instead of browsing Google and Wikipedia for the next hour, you can find it all here.

Plot Summary

Still pretty straight-forward. A simple one-page plot summary. You’ll notice that the names are in a bold typeface and the themes are highlighted in red – we’ll come back on those shortly.


A simple character study of the most important actors in the novel. You’ll read about their role in the story, as well as some background information about what they represent.


Aha. This is where it gets interesting.

Most ‘important’ stories – especially the ones you’re required to read in high school – revolve around one, or multiple ‘themes’. A lot of these stories are even created just to make some of those themes digestible for a normal audience.

literature review examples

In the Theme section of your average LitChart, you’ll find a list of these themes, as well as a detailed description of what they mean, the author’s view and how it is incorporated in the story. Each theme gets assigned its own color – which we’ll see returning in other, later parts of the guide.

Summary & Analysis

Did you really think you could understand a story by reading a plot summary? Think again. Back in those high school reads-writing-days, every chapter had meaning, every sentence a purpose. If you want to show to your teacher that you even remotely grasp the idea behind the book, you’ll need to go into a little more detail. That’s where the Summary & Analysis pages come in, about a page per chapter.

literature review examples

As you can see in the above screenshot, the page is divided into several columns. The summary is self-explanatory, but next to it we see a simple, yet detailed analysis of the scene. You can read what happened, next to what it meant. This will prove immensely useful, and if you’re a woman, you’ve just found a very good use for your multitasking wizardry (strangely, even though technically more correct, witchcraft sounds like an insult).

At the far right, we see a Themes column. Remember those theme color codes we talked about before? This is where they come in. If a color is highlighted in the bar, it means the theme is present in the far left scene. You might want to print out the Themes page for reference.

Theme Tracker

This is what happens when we isolate and expand the themes column from Summary & Analysis. You’ll see a theme apparition timeline on the left, with the corresponding scenes from the story on the right. Again, a colored bar will mean that the relevant theme is active.

literature review

As the LitChart mentions, the ThemeTracker could almost be considered a mini-version of the entire LitChart. You’ll learn a lot about the themes and how they’re integrated in the book, as well as – again – a rundown of the story developments in a – once more – condensed summary.

I hope you’ll find this site, and our review of it, helpful for future book reports and personal reference. If you’ve got any other hot literary study sources, I’d be more than glad to hear about them in the comments. But above all, please do read, plenty.

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