Saturday, July 31, 2010 “Cool Websites and Tools [July 30th]” plus 6 more “Cool Websites and Tools [July 30th]” plus 6 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [July 30th]

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 08:31 PM PDT

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.

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ShelfLifeAdvice – is a free food reference site that gives advice on how long hundreds of different foods and beverages remain safe to eat in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. It also provides food shelf life recommendations and handling techniques to get the maximum of foods, and clarifies how to interpret confusing packaging dates. Read more: ShelfLifeAdvice: Food Shelf Life Guidelines & Recommendations.


AllowanceManager – Parents need a way by which their children can earn their allowance; not only will this teach them the value of money, but it will teach them to look after themselves. Allowance Manager is a website that lets you do this with ease. Read more: AllowanceManager: Free Allowance Manager Online.



RoboVoice – Sometimes the webpage you are reading contains a lot of text. While some people have no problem reading, others might find lengthy reading inconvenient. For them, RoboVoice will be an excellent tool to try out. RoboVoice is a unique application that can turn text into speech. Read more: RoboVoice: Turns Text Into Speech.



FeedLooks – While other feed readers (like Google Reader) present a stripped-down view of each article, Feed Looks shows you each feed entry in all its visual glory. By adding feeds to Feed Looks you can have an overall view of all the new entries in your subscribed feeds. Read more: FeedLooks: Read Your Feed Entries In Their Original Forms.



Blastfollow – Although you can follow anyone and everyone on Twitter, following people with similar interests is always a better option. BlastFollow is a Twitter mashup that lets you do exactly that. It asks you to enter a hashtag that interests you and it then shows you the number of users who used that hashtag recently. Read more: BlastFollow: Mass Follow Twitter Users With Similar Interests.


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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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The 5 Best Questions From You [MakeUseOf Answers]

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 06:31 PM PDT

MakeUseOf AnswersDid you know you could earn cash with MakeUseOf Answers?

That’s if you happen to be as lucky as Andrew Keim, who is this week’s winner of the Best Answer of the Week contest. We have rewarded him with $50 for his answers to this question: “How can I get past K9 web protection on Windows?” Congratulations Andrew!

Wonder how you can participate? Just answer questions using your eMail address, Disqus, or Facebook account. That’s all.

And here are the best questions from the past week:

  1. What is the best way to read long articles online?
  2. How can I upgrade to Windows 7?
  3. Why has my internet connection become slow?
  4. How can I speed up my computer's startup?
  5. Where can I buy a cheap or used gaming laptop?

For more accumulated wisdom, browse MakeUseOf Answers. You can view Latest Questions, Unanswered Questions or Most Popular Questions. For regular updates subscribe to the Answers RSS Feed.

Need help? Ask your question at MakeUseOf Answers! Free, no signup, no spam.

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Protect Your Computers with Returnil Virtual System 2010 [Giveaway]

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 04:30 PM PDT

Are you looking for a way to protect your computer from viruses and other malicious threats? We all need protection on our machines to keep all of our precious data safe, and sometimes the free programs just don’t cut it.

Returnil Virtual System 2010 (RVS) is a new product that uses a combination of antivirus, antimalware, and a virtual system to protect your computer from all types of threats. Essentially, it clones your operating system and creates a virtual environment for your PC. This allows you to work in an isolated environment and keep your actual operating system from getting viruses, trojans, and malware.

This week, we will be giving away 10 licenses for Returnil Virtual System 2010 Home Lux worth $400 in total! Each license can be activated on 5 computers, securing your entire household.

Find out how you can get your hands on a copy below!

Allow me to walk you through some of RVS’s features. Once you download and install the app, you will be asked to enter your license information. After doing that, restart your computer and you’re ready to begin.

When your computer loads back up again, you will see a bar at the top right portion of your screen indicating that Returnil is set to Off. Left-clicking the button drops down a menu with options to enable RVS, check for updates, exit the program, and show the program on the desktop/tray area.

When you click Show Program, the main screen appears. From here, you can see if virus protection is enabled, run a quick or full system scan, enable virtual system, and check for updates.

Clicking on one of the options takes you to this tabbed screen. The layout is very simple and you can get to all of the available options by clicking on one of the tabs on the left or the links at the top of the screen.

When clicking on Quick System Scan, a box pops up and the scan begins. If the antivirus database is outdated (it will be at first install), it will start by updating it. Then it will scan all the essential areas of your PC. To scan every file on your computer, all you have to do is select Full System Scan.

On the System Safe tab, you can enable the virtual system. Simply click the Enable it now button and the system starts immediately. You will not notice any change to your system at all in this mode, but you are actually isolated from potential threats. You can alter how the program works after a restart and at startup.

When you have the System Safe enabled, the Tools tab provides additional functions. You can use the File Manager to save content to your computer’s real hard-disk, as well as create virtual disks and access files on your real system.

How do I win a copy?

It’s simple, just follow the instructions.

Join our Facebook page by clicking the Like button or you can follow us on Twitter, if you prefer. If you’re already following us, you may skip this step.

If you can’t see the fanbox, click on this link.

Here’s our giveaway form. Please fill it in accurately. Be sure to enter your real name and email address so that we can get in touch if you are chosen as a winner. Click here if you can’t view the form.

You’re almost done. Now, all that’s left to do is to share the post. There are 2 options to choose from or you can do both!

Share it on Facebook

Or on Twitter

And that’s it! You’re done!

This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, 6th August at 2100hrs PST. The winners will be selected at random and announced via email.

Spread the word to your friends and have fun!

MakeUseOf would like to thank Virpi from Returnil for his generosity while participating in this giveaway. Interesting in sponsoring? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us via email.

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WordTwit – Slick Wordpress Plugin For Twitter Integration

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 02:31 PM PDT

wordpress twitter postIf you’ve ever used Wordpress and you are a Twitter user, you probably already knew that there are Wordpress plugins that allow for automatic tweeting of new blog posts. They’re really handy because they offer a hands-off ability to enable you to not worry about publicizing your articles.

That’s all fine and good, but what if there was a plugin that did more? Take a look at WordTwit and you’ll see how the integration of many different options and tools can make your blog’s connection to Twitter that much more productive.

With WordTwit installed whenever you publish new content from WordPress, Twitter will automatically be updated with a brief description of your new content along with a link back to it, bringing additional traffic and visitors to your website.

Installing the plugin is as easy as any other plugin in the Wordpress dashboard. Just search for WordTwit and make sure it is the one created by BraveNewCode. Setting it up is easy also. Under the Settings section look for WordTwit.

Choose A URL Shortening Service

One cool feature of WordTwit is the ability to choose what URL shortening service you wish to use.  This allows you the blogger to choose the same service you have been using.  As for me, I love using HootSuite and the Ow.Ly shortening service so I am glad WordTwit offers this.

Sign In & Authorize The Use Of Your Twitter Account

wordpress twitter post

This is a common occurrence with programs that interact with Twitter.  All you have to do is click the “Sign in with Twitter” button and authorize it.  I noticed that upon doing this, the URL shortening service box went back to the default so make sure, once again, you choose the service that you want.

Edit The Text Of The Tweet To Be Tweeted

Another cool feature that WordTwit offers is the ability to change the text of the tweet to be sent out.  You can put whatever you want and use [title] where you want the title to appear and [link] where you want the link to appear.

Modify The Options For Tags & Categories

With WordTwit you can actually choose which categories and tags you want to include or exclude.  Enter the categories and tags separated by commas and decide whether you want to include them or exclude them.  Of course you can also choose to leave this option blank to have all posts tweeted about.

There Are Also Advanced Options

There are a few advanced options that you may or may not choose to make use of.  First, there is the option to include tags for UTM (look it up) for the purposes of statistics tracking.  Also, there is an option for enabling the Tweet Queue for failed tweets (still experimental).

Overall, WordTwit is a simple to use yet flexible plugin allowing the blogger to use Twitter effortlessly with his blog.

wordpress twitter post

Remember that as a member of the Twitter community, if all you do is post links to your blog posts that you probably won’t build much of a following.  There are more sources out there that can help you learn how to use Twitter properly.  You wouldn’t want to be annoying, would you?

There are two really good sources that may help.  The first is MakeUseOf’s Twitter Guide which is an awesome introduction to Twitter.  Then there is a blog called Twitip (a review) run by Darren Rowse that offers all kinds of advice about using Twitter to the fullest.

What tools or plugins do you recommend for integrating a blog with Twitter?

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Hot Tech Deals [July 30th]

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 01:30 PM PDT

If you’re in the market for a new computer, laptop, mobile phone, games and other accessories; don’t waste your time searching online. We’ve taken the liberty of locating the best tech deals and unifying them into a single post for your convenience.

For more fresh hot deals, visit our Hot Tech Deals page, which is constantly updated.

  1. Dell Studio One 19 Intel Dual-Core E5400 2.7GHz All-in-One Desktop w/ 19in Multi-Touch Display $584.24 via codes ?$QNC1?HSKNR9F and ?8CN$RJ?W5TQ0C
  2. ASUS RT-N12 802.11n 300Mbps Wireless N Router (DD-WRT) $29.99 Free Shipping via code EMCYVNV42
  3. Lenovo ThinkPad L412 Intel Core i3-370 2.4GHz 14in Laptop (2GB/160GB/Win7) $584.10 via code USPTHINKBTS
  4. Lenovo IdeaPad Z560 Intel Core i3-350M Dual-Core 2.26GHz 15.6in Laptop (4GB/500GB/Win7) $579 via code USPZ53A726
  5. Electronics Expo Markdowns on Infinity Speakers (including Bookshelf, Floorstanding, Subs, and more)
  6. Sennheiser CX300B 3.5mm Connector Canal Earphones $17.99
  7. Dell Inspiron 15 Intel Core i3-350M 15.6in Laptop (3GB/250GB) $499.99

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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How To Boost The Colors In Your Photos Using iPhoto ‘09 [Mac]

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 12:31 PM PDT

iphoto colorAlthough Apple’s iPhoto is not a high class professional image editor, it is still a powerful tool for editing and enhancing photos. It can transform a dull, bland and low contrast image and make it pop and sing with just a few added effects and exposure adjustments.

In fact, after going through this tutorial, you will see that nearly every photo you take can be significantly enhanced using these or similar color adjustments.

So fire up iPhoto ‘09 and let's try out an example. You can use any color photo that is relatively well exposed and not blurry.

  • Select a suitable, flat image from your iPhoto library and click the Edit button.

iphoto color

  • We're going to work with two Editing tools in iPhoto – Effects and Adjust. Most professional photographers shy away from Effects-like tools because they want to have more control over the adjustments they make to a photo. But Apple understands that most digital photographers are not professional and don't have lots of time to spend on editing images. So they created the Effects tool for the quick effects that it can make.
  • So click the Effects button. It contains eight different image effects. The one in the middle represents your image in its original state. Keep that in mind because if you don't like the effects applied to an image, you can always click the original to get you back to where you started.

iphoto color accent

  • For our purposes, we're going to focus on the Boost Color effect. Basically, what this effect does is saturate the colors in your selected image. Simply click and watch your colors instantly pop some.

iphoto color accent

  • With iPhoto '09, I believe Apple added a feature to the Effects tool which allows you to increase or decrease the amount of the selected effect. This adjustment feature provides a little more control, but don't get carried away with it, because you'll notice that when the effect is applied, it impacts the entire image. If you add too much, it can make the image too dark or overly saturated. So judiciously apply the effect.

iphoto color accent

  • Now let's switch to the Adjust tool and play around with some of the adjustment colors. If you haven't used this tool much, just start from the top and work your way down, especially with the first four sliders. Before you get started though, if your image contains people, click the “avoid saturating the skin tones” button so that when you move the Saturation slider it won't make the skin tones red or orange looking.

iphoto color splash

  • Now depending on the brightness and contrast of your image, you will want to move the slides left or right – but mainly to the left if it's a well exposed image. As you make the adjustments, make sure you're not losing detail in the highlights (white areas) and dark areas of the photo.

Contrast, Saturation & Definition

iphoto color

  • Definitely move the contrast slider to the right. I have rarely shot an image that didn't need some boost in Contrast.
  • Now adjust for saturation. Be very careful that you don't blow out the colors, but mainly deepen and enrich them.
  • The next set of adjustments are also very useful. Definition works very well for portrait images, but it can also enhance color saturation. So slide it to the right some and see if it further brings contrast to your image.
  • The Highlights and Shadows sliders are for trying to bring back details in the bright and dark areas of your image. Some detail like the background sky might get lost in the original capture, but you can add these adjustments to see if they improve the highlights and shadows.
  • Now, not to make your head spin, but you can do advance adjustments by using the Levels sliders at the top of the Adjustment panel. In fact, you could start there if you understand how it works. Basically, with Levels you can adjust the shadow/dark areas (the left side Levels) and highlight areas (the right side) of the image, and the midtones. By using Levels, you're controlling particular areas of the image, instead of affecting the entire photo.

iphoto color splash

  • The last adjustment you want to make is Sharpening. Simply slide that sucker over to your desired sharpness. This is especially important if you plan to print your image. Don't over sharpen; but nearly every digital image you take will need some sharpening – even images shot with a professional camera.

iphoto color splash

Now if you think that's a lot of work, you might be happy to know that you can actually copy and paste the adjustments you just made and apply them to another image that is similar in exposure. Just click the Copy button; navigate to your next image and click Paste. From there you can make minor adjustments if needed.

For additional iPhoto tutorials, check out How to Edit Photos Easily with iPhoto, and other related articles.

Let us know if you find this tutorial helpful or what problems you encountered when doing it.

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QuuxPlayer – An Alternative Light Music Player for Windows

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 11:31 AM PDT

music players freeSome music players come with the razzmatazz that you would associate with the media. Some just stay more down to earth and are functional to the core. QuuxPlayer belongs to the latter category.

QuuxPlayer is built around the idea that listening to music has more to do with the ears than the eyes. So, to a certain extent QuuxPlayer does away with a flashy interface, keeps it simple, and affords an intuitive music listening experience right from the time you install it.

You might also like the fact that QuuxPlayer is just a 1.38MB free music player download and will occupy just 4.31MB of your disk space. And just to prove the old cliché that good things come in small packages, the free music player also comes with a host of useful features. The free music player can play most of the file formats out there. The one thing you might notice and appreciate is that the player comes without the added overhead of skins and plugins.

But these features come second to the ease with which QuuxPlayer springs up from the blocks and starts playing your songs. Let's start it up and give it a run around a few songs.

The First Screen

QuuxPlayer gets down to business from the very first screen. Add tracks to your library and play the music while you tinker around with the other features.

free music player

Simple Navigation

free music player

QuuxPlayer makes navigation really simple with the keyboard (or if you have one – a game pad controller). Pressing keys like the spacebar or the F9 takes you from one screen to the next. For instance, with the F9 key you can cycle through these screens in succession: Main Screen – Current Song Lyrics – Album Details – Main Screen.

Fetches Lyrics & Album Covers

music players free

I couldn't figure out the lyrics provider, but QuuxPlayer fetches album covers from along with artist biographies, and album details from the internet. There were of course a few hits and misses, as is bound to happen with auto-downloads.

Automatically Updated Playlists

Apart from playlists which you can create by simple drag and drop, QuuxPlayer also gives you Automatic Playlists, which can be created on the fly by rules you create such as Artist = "Enigma". The advantage with Automatic playlists is that they can update automatically if new tracks are added to the library that subscribe to the rule set for the playlist. If any new song from the group Enigma is added, that gets added the next time you use the playlist.

free music player

QuuxPlayer also has Automatic File and Folder Monitoring and Update which helps to keep the player catch all the song files you add to your music folders.

The 30 Band/ 10 Band Equalizer

Like to control the fidelity of your songs by hand? QuuxPlayer has an advanced 30 band and a simpler 10 band equalizer with user customized presets that help to fine tune the music.

Tune Into Internet Radio & Podcasts

You can connect to a large number of online radio stations in a large number of genres from within QuuxPlayer and use it like a dedicated online radio player. Plus, you get to add your own radio streams too apart from the nearly 150 free radio stations that the player comes bundled with.

Auto-management of podcast feeds allows for easy download of new episodes when they become available.

Music & The Tag Cloud

Is it the only music player that can show your music in the form of a tag cloud? We are so used to it on the web, that using it is almost second nature.

Social Connections With Twitter &

QuuxPlayer makes it easy to share what you’re listening to with everyone who follows you on Twitter and With the account details, posting is automatic.


music players free

QuuxPlayer comes with a sleep mode for those times when you want to drift off to sleep while listening to music. You can set a timer and QuuxPlayer can fade off gradually. In the end you can choose to shut off only the player or your entire system.

Hit F11 to switch on the Home Theatre PC Mode (bigger fonts and an improved layout for viewing from across the room), set the Sleep mode and stretch out while listening to some Miles Davis or Kenny G on the sax.

When you wake up let us know your take on this small but full featured music player.

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