Thursday, July 22, 2010 “Cool Websites and Tools [July 21st]” plus 9 more “Cool Websites and Tools [July 21st]” plus 9 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [July 21st]

Posted: 21 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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WhatFontIs – Web designers nowadays use some pretty amazing fonts but sometimes they are so unique that they become hard to identify. WhatFontIs is a free online font identifier that can help you with that. Simply upload an image with the font you want to identify or specify the URL of the image. WhatFontIs will tell you the name of the font and in most cases also let you download it. Read more: WhatFontIs: Online Font Identifier.


Quick 3-Color CSS3 Gradient Generator – Site developers need new tools for emerging web technologies. The latest browser versions such as Safari, Chrome, and Firefox support newer technologies like CSS3, which is being commonly used now. A tool for generating CSS3 could be a big help to site designers and developers such as “Quick 3-color CSS3 Gradient Generator”. Read more: Quick 3-Color CSS3 Gradient Generator: Easily Create Linear & Radial Gradients.



Synonym Finder – Being a writer, I know the importance of playing with words so that the reader doesn't get bored. And that's the reason why I just love it when I find a tool like Synonym-Finder. It is a free dictionary of synonyms online and does exactly what it says – finding synonyms of a word. Read more: Synonym-Finder: Dictionary of Synonyms Online.



Zferral – Time and again, affiliate marketing has proven to be a great strategy for businesses to grow. You pay affiliates only if they make a sale, therefore eliminating any fixed costs. However, one of the biggest problems that small and mid-sized businesses have is a management and tracking the whole affiliate program. Zferral is a tool that makes it easy to create and manage affiliate campaigns from a single place. It also provides detailed analytics for each of your campaigns. Read more: Zferral: Create & Manage All Your Affiliate Campaigns From a Single Dashboard .



LaunchList – Launching a website is not an easy task and between all the design and code frenzy, forgetting something important is not unusual. LaunchList is a tool that can save you from launching an incomplete website. It gives you a checklist for website launch that consist of 28 basic tasks that need to be completed. Read more: LaunchList: Online CheckList For Website Launch.


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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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Share, Share, Share…Spread The Word!

Posted: 21 Jul 2010 06:31 PM PDT

With most of the MakeUseOf articles that we profile every day, our main goal is to give you something that you will find interesting and useful.

To show you a website or a software program you can make use of is our number one priority.

This time around, we would like something from you. Something really easy and simple. That is to share MakeUseOf articles you find useful with others. That’s really the best way for you to show your appreciation for our work.

It’s quick and super easy to do.

Simply click one of the sharing buttons at the bottom of the article and vote it up (or share).

As you can see, there are options to share the article with your friends on Facebook, Twitter (retweet), StumbleUpon and Digg. Also, there is a ‘ShareThis‘ button which lets you share the article on several other social networks as well as giving you an option to email the link to someone.

You might not realize it but this has a major impact on our daily workflow and the popularity of So if you’re an avid reader and like what we are doing, please make sure to always share the articles you find useful with friends.

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Etsy – An Alternative To eBay For Handmade Products

Posted: 21 Jul 2010 04:31 PM PDT

ebay alternativeIf you’ve ever wanted to purchase a hand-crafted product, like hand-sewn clothing, jewelry or even custom electronic gadgets, then you will know that eBay or Amazon are a bit limited in what you can find.

Sure, on eBay you can probably find the latest hot items, but available products are pretty much limited to mass-produced retail products. If you’re the kind of person that likes carefully crafted, handmade items that have character and artistic value, then these old auction sites will always fall short.

An amazing website that has been building up steam for the past few years is Etsy.  Aibek noted this impressive site in 2006 when Etsy was just a beta site. Wendy also recognized it in her article on 5 legitimate home business opportunities. The truth is, since its inception, Etsy is an eBay alternative that has fast become a phenomenon greater than anything eBay could have managed, because Etsy isn’t just about making money by selling old things – it’s about reusing and recycling and it’s about practical and artistic products you won’t find anywhere else. It’s about living a lifestyle that’s less focused on consumerism and more focused on creativity and pride in craftmanship that harkens back to the days of barter and trade.

Browse Through Amazing Hand-Crafted Goods

Etsy is so much more than just a place to shop or sell items. After digging through this website, I realized that there are so many valuable resources here that it warrants a fresh review. The “geekery” section alone is worth its weight in gold – I plan to spend several hours a day there.

When you first arrive on Etsy, it actually doesn’t look much different than eBay.

ebay alternative

There are sections for buying and selling, and of course a list of many different categories down the left side of the screen. The review of Etsy would pretty much end here if this is all the site is about, but it’s not. If you scroll down you’ll discover a section titled “Ways to Shop” that transforms Etsy into an invaluable resource and a great eBay alternative.

alternative to ebay

Ann recognized the value of being able to shop by color in her article on tools to search for images online by color, so I won’t belabor the point except to say that if you have a favorite color, this is the area to start your shopping. Treasury and Pounce are sections where you can review offerings grouped by specific sellers. However, one of my favorite search features is Shop Local.

alternative to ebay

On Etsy, you’ll find sellers in almost every community across the world. I found lots of sellers in my local area – these are sellers you could even visit and talk with, as most of them have their own small shops in the area as well. Etsy is truly a global marketplace with sellers in countries like Britain, India and more.

Request Custom Handmade Items

Of course, the coolest section of Etsy is “Alchemy,” where you can place custom order requests in auction format, and the many crafters and artists on the site bid on your custom “project.” It’s a whole unique section of the site that almost stands on its own as sort of a “freelancer” marketplace for crafters.

alternative to ebay

This section is great for buyers, because if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for elsewhere, this lets you ask all crafters on Etsy whether they are able and willing to create exactly what you want. You place your starting bid (the max you’re willing to pay) and then different sellers can compete by accepting your price or offering lower bids.

ebay alternative auction site

There is a good degree of anonymity for bidders, so any crafters that bid on an object can feel safe that the competition won’t know who is bidding – only the lowest bid is displayed next to “Ideal price.” For work-at-home crafters, this area of Etsy represents an excellent opportunity to pick up extra work and extra income.

Sell Your Handmade Goods

Selling your own hand-crafted items on Etsy is just as easy as on eBay – maybe even easier! Goods should focus primarily on things that you’ve built or crafted with your own two hands, but if you think about it – this includes a very wide range of potential products.

ebay alternative auction site

The only items not allowed are things that you didn’t actually create yourself (don’t even think about reselling yard sale items!), or illegal and prohibited items. For example, forging and loading bullets for sale is probably not going to fly.

However, handmade items don’t just include your grandmother’s knitted sweaters and mittens – as I mentioned earlier, the “Geekery” section alone has some of the coolest, most creative tech related items I’ve ever seen – like this working desktop clock made from an old 3.5 inch computer floppy disk.

ebay alternative

You’ll find a whole wide assortment of awesome items like this on Etsy. Also, if you spend much of your day working at home, creating these works of art, sometimes it can be nice to talk to and collaborate with other creative artists who share your passion. The “Community” section of Etsy is huge – it’s filled with creative people of all types, and certainly many who share your interests.

Have you ever bought or sold anything on Etsy, as an eBay alternative?  What are some of the most creative items you’ve found there? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image credit: Pottery by Thad Zajdowicz

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Pump: An All-In-One Video Manager & More

Posted: 21 Jul 2010 02:31 PM PDT

video managerIn this era of highly competitive markets, we can spot two general trends among software makers to stay afloat in the sea of similar applications; focusing on only one feature and polishing it well, or throwing in as many features as they can.

The latter option is true of multimedia managers. Most of them can handle all kinds of formats and also comes with a bunch of extra bells and whistles. But even among those all-in-one multimedia suites, the Pump video manager still stands out.

A Video Manager & More

What is Pump? At its very core, it is a Windows-based video manager, an application to manage everything related to video collections, starting from playing, managing, converting, to searching and downloading. It can even subscribe to RSS feeds and download torrents.

If you’d like to try, you can download and install the app. After the installation process is done, you will be greeted with the “First Launch Assistant” which will help you set the application to fit your needs.

video manager

Using this assistant you can import your multimedia collections (audio and video) including the ones from your iTunes Library. You can also install additional components needed to play and convert multimedia files. In my installation, since I already had VLC and Quicktime components, I only had to install the Lame component to be able to convert CDs into MP3s.

video manager software

Pump will also modify your firewall settings. Since most Pump features depend on an internet connection, it’s important that Pump has access to the net.

video manager software

The Pump main window is divided into two main parts. On the left are the menus. You can access all of Pump’s activities from this pane, including torrent activities and available external drives.

video manager software

On the right is the main pane where you can monitor individual activities. If you open audio/video files, you can control the playback from there. This main window is also a web browser. So you can enter an URL and browse away directly from Pump.

free video manager

To play an imported video, for example, all you have to do is to click on the Videos option from the left pane and choose the video from the main window.

free video manager

Pump comes with pre-configured RSS feed subscriptions of Rocket Boom and Mininova. But you can easily add your own RSS feeds by clicking on the plus button and type (or paste) the link.

free video manager

It’s been mentioned before that Pump is also a torrent client. If you want to download a torrent, you have to add the torrent from the “File – Import torrents” menu. I’ve tried the feature, and even though it’s not as polished as a veteran torrent client like uTorrent, Pump is good enough.


If you like video sites like YouTube, you can browse the site directly from the Pump window. And it’s as fully featured as any ordinary browser.


And if there’s a video that you like, you can download it directly using “Download the flash video” link that will appears at the top of the webpage. Please note that this link is not always available.


A friendly copyright warning will appear before you can download the video. If you want to always be reminded, check the “Show this message again next time” box. Otherwise, the message will appear only once.


Then all you have to do is wait until the video download is finished. Meanwhile, you can continue browsing to find and watch other videos.

video manager

If you have a list of videos that you want to watch, you can do the video search and download the results directly from Pump.


Despite some glitches that you can expect from beta stage applications (the current release of Pump at the time of writing is v.0.8), Pump has the potential to be a complete and solid all-in-one multimedia manager.

Have you tried Pump? Or do you have your own favorite multimedia manager? Please share your thoughts and opinions using the comments below.

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Hot Tech Deals [July 21st]

Posted: 21 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. Fable 3 Game Pre-order (Xbox 360) $59.99 with $20 credit for future purchases
  2. Trauma Team Game (Nintendo Wii) $29.99
  3. Sennheiser RS170 Wireless Surround Sound Headphones $184.99 via code BUBBLE20
  4. Plextor PX-NAS2-BL1 2-Bay SOHO Gigabit NAS Storage Server (No Hard Drives Included) $89.99 after rebate via code JAM510
  5. Viewsonic VX2439WM 24″ Widescreen LCD Monitor (HDMI, DVI, VGA) $209.99 via code GGQ3922
  6. Hand Held Items offers 20% off All Apple iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch Cases via code 20iphonecs
  7. Kingston 8GB MicroSDHC Card (Class 4) w/ SD Adapter $14.99
  8. GoDaddy Coupon Code – 1 Year .COM Domain Name Registration $0.99 via code BEATHEAT99
  9. ASUS Eee PC 1000HE Intel Atom N280 10in Netbook w/ 9.5hr Battery Life $289.99
  10. Dell Vostro 3500 Intel Core i3-350M 2.26GHz 15.6in Laptop (Aluminum, 2GB/250GB) $539
  11. TODAY ONLY Samsung 2494LW 24in Widescreen LCD Monitor (1920×1080) $162.99
  12. Casio Exilim EX-H10 12.1MP 10X Digital Camera $165.88 via code GEICO10
  13. TODAY ONLY Logitech V450 Nano Cordless Laser Mouse for Laptops (Midnight Blue) $24.99
  14. Iomega Select 320GB Portable External Hard Drive $44.99 via code EMCYTZT61

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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10 Search Engines For Kids That Help Out Parents With Safe Browsing

Posted: 21 Jul 2010 12:31 PM PDT

search engines for kidsYou can say that kids are sufficiently net savvy these days. With a bit of parental help, they can easily grasp the basics of search. The commonplace search engines cater to kids as well as to adults. But even with the moderation search engines use, some content may not be suitable for impressionable minds.

Browsing safe content is the single most reason for calling up search engines made specifically for kids. A search page that appeals with its looks could be the second. Letting a kid having the run of the web using a search engine for kids helps to lessen the worry load on a parent's mind.

Of course, there is no guarantee that every search will be kid-safe, but there is a higher probability with the content indexed by these niche search engines for kids. You can tweak the search engine settings which every search tool worth its name has. On the other hand you can use these ten ready-made search resources.


search engines for kids

Kids are not supposed to understand the use of Boolean operators in search. Boolify makes it easier by providing the operators as colorful jigsaw pieces. All they need to do is drag them to center board and construct the search.

For instance, drag the 'Word' piece for entering the keyword, and then modify it by dragging the other pieces like 'And', 'Or', 'Not' etc to combine it with other keywords.

Quintura for Kids

kids search engines

Quintura for Kids is powered by Yahoo. It gives a more visual way of searching using a keyword cloud. You start off your search with a keyword in the text box and then modify it with any of the keywords in the cloud. Quintura displays five results per page. You may miss it, but clicking on the surrounding icons takes you to the five preset search categories – Music, History, Animals, Sports and recreation, and Games.


kids search engines

KidRex is a custom Google search engine for kids. The interface is just like a child's crayon drawing (the dinosaur stands guard). It uses SafeSearch and tries to keep all the results as antiseptic as possible.

KidRex also has its own database of inappropriate websites and keywords which further help to keep the results clean.

Ask Kids

kids search engines

Ask Kids is a search engine for kids from's pool of web resources. The search page resembles a school note book. Apart from the search box, five preset search categories – Schoolhouse, Movies, Games, Videos and Images, help out the kiddies research all kinds of stuff.

Kids can jump from the search results to images, narrow or expand the search, find related names and other information. It borrows the features from and its regular search, but keeps it simple for kids.


list of search engines for kids

KidsClick makes it clear in its About page that it is not an internet filter. It is a directory of good resources (a 600+ strong subject list) which kids can use for information or schoolwork. KidsClick is owned and run by the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at Kent State University. As the web resource links to a comprehensive collection of good, clean sites, the KidsClick interface is without any ads.

Yahoo Kids

list of search engines for kids

Yahoo Kids is the doorway to Yahoo's directory of websites and URLs exclusively for kids. The homepage is colorful, engaging, and full of cool stuff to keep your child engaged. So much so, that it's quite easy to miss out the search box at the top corner. Search results are collated under three sections – Results in Yahoo! Kids, Results in the Yahoo! Kids Directory, and Results on the Web.

Study Search

list of search engines for kids

Study Search is a customized Google search engine (with Google SafeSearch) for Australian schools. That shouldn't stop the rest of the world using it. The search taps into the database of relevant sites created for primary and secondary Australian schools. The database of worldwide links has been built up by Australian teachers, librarians and site volunteers.


SquirrelNet is a kids only search engine that has Google SafeSearch activated. From the homepage itself, you can also access the Google directory of websites relevant for children.


Aga-Kids is a visual search engine for kids and one of the more colorful ones you will see. You can choose between a visual search and a text search. The search results come up as interactive and animated thumbnails.

The search results may be limited because the search engine searches only websites that are made for children.

Dib Dab Doo and Dilly Too

search engines for kids

If any name shouts out that it's a search engine for kids, then this is it. The search engine is again based on Google Custom Search and it tries to keep the content as children friendly as possible.

Custom search helps to keep out a lot of unsavory links, but it is definitely not foolproof. Most of the search engines for kids also display ads with some undesirable ones sneaking in. Parental control software in combination with these search engines can help to keep children shielded from the bad side of the web. It is a tough battle but parents can worry a little less. These ten search engines for kids are just the search tools for some unattended browsing around an unsafe web.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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How To Create 5 Smart iTunes Playlists For Your iPad, iPhone & iPod

Posted: 21 Jul 2010 11:31 AM PDT

how to create itunes playlistsIf you're a music junkie, your iTunes collection probably contains several thousand songs, taking up over 30 gigabytes of memory on your computer. However, when it comes to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, you may not able to sync your entire iTunes library to your mobile device(s).

But you can create what are called Smart Playlists to keep your mobile device fresh with your favorite and new songs. Smart Playlists will automatically change and update the songs on your mobile device each time you sync it to iTunes on your computer.

Basically, Smart Playlists consists of a list of items (songs, podcasts, movies)  based on rules you set for the smart list. Here's how to create Smart iTunes playlists:

  • Open iTunes on your computer. Select File —>New Smart Playlist.

how to create itunes playlists

  • In the resulting dialogue box, you are presented with sets of rules or parameters to base your list on. We're going to start with a simple one.
  • When you click on the first pull-down menu, you get a long list of items to begin your rule. Move your mouse down and select Rating.

itunes playlists

  • Now select the middle pull-down menu and select "is."

itunes playlists

  • Select the third pull-down menu and move your mouse over the stars, selecting all five of them.

itunes playlists

  • In the rules below, select “Limit to 25“ items, or MB or minutes. Basically, you're setting up a rule for how you want to limit your smart list. If this list is for your mobile device, you might limit it to a certain number of megabytes to ensure the smart list only takes up a limited amount of space on your device.


  • The last few options you have for setting up rules deals how you want songs selected, e.g. selected by random, artist, highest rating. For our first Smart Playlist, simply select “random.”


  • Lastly, make sure the Live updating button is clicked. This won’t affect this particular smart list, but it will make a difference in others. You might also check "Match only checked items," to ensure that the smart list does not play songs that you don't want automatically played.


  • Now we have a playlist that consist of 25, five-star rated, random songs.


Now that you know how to create a Smart Playlist, the following are four others you might find useful for using your mobile device. Customize them to fit your needs.

Recently Added

Say you download music on a regular basis to your iTunes library. This Smart Playlist will collect recently added songs in a given time period. With "Live updating" selected, this list will refresh and update when new songs are added. Notice also that the rule excludes podcasts. You can add additional rules to exclude other types of media.


To add additional rules, simply click the first + button and set up the rule. Also change the rule “Match any/all of the following rules.” In this case select "all", which means all the conditions must be met.


Favorite Genre


This list is based on a favorite genre of music.

Lost Favorites

This list collects songs that you like but have not played in a specified period of time. The smart list is dependent on how well you have rated your song collection. So if you haven't done much rating, get busy. You can even make a smart list that collects un-rated songs.


Back In The Day

how to create itunes playlists

If you're an old school listener, this smart list will capture songs based on a certain time period.

The above smart playlists are only the beginning. Smart playlists are like having your own DJ that helps you keep fresh and updated songs on your mobile device.

Let us know about a few Smart Playlists you have created for your iTunes.

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GradeGuru’s Top Ten Student Tools for 2010

Posted: 21 Jul 2010 10:30 AM PDT

student technology and toolsAfter monitoring digital trends in student technology and tools for some time, GradeGuru, a McGraw-Hill Education startup has worked out which tools are the most useful for students. They have also ascertained what types of online tools are most important to students and know exactly what needs to be covered in a definitive list of tools. So, with a bit of narrowing down, GradeGuru is happy to present to MakeUseOf readers a list of their top 10 student tools.

This is a fantastic list of online student technology and tools covering all aspects of study, including chat, note-taking, helping your brain do its job and moving your furniture around. Not matter what your field or level of study, you’re bound to find something useful in this extremely well-chosen list.

1. Skype

Skype is well known for being a great way to make voice calls. It’s free to call other Skype users (including conference calls), and the plans to enable calls to landlines are quite reasonable. Skype is also great for video calls – enabling people separated by distance to get a better sense of the people they’re talking to. Windows users can even beta test Skype’s group video chat with up to four users at a time. Now that’s got serious potential for group assignments!

student technology and tools

2. Google Docs

Google Docs are a great way to collaborate on documents, keep backups online and generally to keep things organised.

educational tools

I’d personally be recommending the whole Google Suite – don’t forget how many useful tools for students Google has: Google Books, Google Scholar, Gmail, Google Calendar, plus a number of other useful things. Last but not least, Google Search. Can you believe that you can now search for “Population of Japan” and Google will give you the latest figure at the top of the search results (along with the source)? Forget jetpacks – we already have a hive mind. The future is here.

3. Twitter

Twitter is great for bouncing ideas around with like-minded folks. It’s the ultimate crowd-sourcing tool and can also be used for basic surveys. On a more personal level, Twitter is a great way to keep in touch with fellow classmates and gradually get to know them a little, thus improving overall classroom cohesiveness. It can also be pretty distracting, so watch out!

educational tools

New to Twitter? Download our Twitter PDF manual – The Complete Guide To Twitter

4. GradeGuru Citation Manager

GradeGuru Citation Manager is a free Firefox Add-on and Javascript bookmarklet which allows you to highlight text, click on the bookmarklet and automatically collect all of the citation data for your quote. Later you can easily paste it into your assignments using APA or MLA format. Handy!

5. Chegg

Chegg is an American textbook rental company. A quick look at their pricing shows that most books can be rented for approximately 1/3 of the cost price. They also care about the environment and will plant a tree on your behalf every time you rent books with them. Sounds like a great way to go green and save money at the same time!

educational tools

6. Studyrails

Studyrails is primarily a student planner, offering very handy services for a small monthly fee. It allows students to plan their assignment scheduling in order to ensure all their assignments get done on time. Users can send text messages of assignments to Studyrails and Studyrails will help to plan the workload and schedule reminders. You tell Studyrails all of your assignemnts, due dates and expected time to complete.

Then you nominate which timeslots you have available to study and Studyrails re-works your schedule to ensure you’re working on the most important assignment. See the Studyrails demo. These reminders even go so far as to send a text message to you when it’s time to study. Studyrails even helps you avoid distractions by blocking access to certain websites when it’s time to study.

7. Study Tracker

Study Tracker is an iPad app designed by Grade Guru. It’s a brilliantly simple idea: Students enter their study time and their grades. This allows students to evaluate the time spent versus grade outcome and decide how their time is best allocated.

Editor’s note: At the time of writing, this app hasn’t been launched. As soon as its on the iTunes Store, we’ll link to it.

8. MindMeister

Mindmeister is a fantastic mind-mapping tool which allows you to work online, offline and in groups in real time. It’s even available as an iPhone app! The MindMeister interface is really easy to use and the end result looks great. So, it can be used by students both for the brainstorming and planning of projects or to present the final results.

9. Quizlet

Quizlet is a really easy-to-use online flashcard tool. There’s plenty of pre-prepared flashcards for you to learn from or you can easily upload your own. They don’t just plod you through your flashcards either – try playing Scatter or Space Race for something a little different. Absolutely the best way to test yourself!

10. DYD

Design Your Dorm is targetted at American students, making it very easy to set the room size according to American schools, shop for furniture from American stores, plan your room, collaborate with room-mates and even get those goods delivered directly to your school. But, even if you’re not in America, don’t let that stop you. This planning tool is very easy to use and the shop features things you might easily find locally. It’s a great way to design your room, both the layout and feel, and to keep it within your budget.

student technology and tools

And a few more

I’d personally also add Netvibes and Delicious to this list, because my studies would have been far more difficult without them.

You might also be keen to check out other MakeUseOf Study Tools, including:

Thanks again to GradeGuru (in particular Angela Santiago) for giving us this list of tools to share with you today. We hope it helps you with your studies.

Feel free to share your thoughts on these great tools in the comments!

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4 Reasons Every Windows User Should Have An Ubuntu Live CD

Posted: 21 Jul 2010 09:31 AM PDT

ubuntu live cdThink Ubuntu is useless? Think again. Ubuntu can be an extremely effective tool for repairing and working on computers, even if you consider yourself a Windows purist. This is because Ubuntu is capable of loading completely from a Ubuntu Live CD, giving you access to your computer in ways Windows can’t – or when Windows is completely broken.

For this reason, I suggest every Windows user keeps a copy of Ubuntu on hand, even if they never intend to switch from Windows. Happily, Ubuntu is completely free to aquire. You can download Ubuntu and burn it yourself, but if that sounds like too much work you can request Ubuntu send you a Ubuntu Live CD for free.

That’s right: you’ll get a CD in the mail, completely free of charge. There’s seriously no reason to not look into this, so let’s see some of the uses Ubuntu has for those who never intend to install it.

Recover Data From Unbootable System

ubuntu live

When your Windows system won’t start – not even in safe mode – it’s easy to feel helpless. If you’ve got an Ubuntu CD handy you don’t need to feel that way. Just boot from your CD and you can access every file on your hard drive. This can give you a chance to get some work done, if you want, or just to back up all of your files before re-installing Windows or attempting to repair the Windows installation.

If you want more information on this particular use for an Ubuntu Live CD, including information on how to burn one, check out Varun’s excellent article How To Back Up Data On Your Computer That Won’t Boot. There’s a lot of great information there!

Run Memtest

If your computer crashes from time to time it’s easy to suspect your problem is software related. It might not be – frequently the cause of such bugginess is a problem with your RAM chip. If you suspect this might be the case with your system, and you’ve got an Ubuntu CD on hand, you’re in luck: the Ubuntu CD comes with a memtest!

Just start the CD, being sure to hit “Enter” when you see the keyboard icon on the screen. Then select “memtest” from the list of options to begin testing your RAM. If there’s something physically wrong with your RAM you’ll find out and know that it’s time to shop for a replacement!

ubuntu live cd

Find out more about Memtest courtesy of our good friend Varun, and his excellent article about Memtest,

Find Out About Your Hard Drive

Another reason for an occasionally crashing or sometimes slow Windows computer is a failing hard drive, or one that is too slow. Ubuntu comes with a couple of really good tools for accessing the health of your hard drive.

The first is Disk Utility, which you’ll find under “System,” then “Administration.” This app will tell you if any disk connected to your system has physical damage, as well as giving you access to SMART DATA and a couple of other key statistics that can inform you about the life of your drive.

ubuntu live

Another nifty tool is Disk Usage Analyzer, which you’ll find under “Applications” followed by “Accessories.” This tool can scan any hard drive and graphically display what’s taking up space on your drive. You’d be amazed how many times I’ve discovered people have filled their drive by accidently copying and pasting their entire music folder. Use this tool to find where any such superfluous files may be and then use the File Manager to delete them!

Edit Partitions

ubuntu live cd

The Ubuntu CD comes with Gparted, which is a pretty amazing drive partitioning program. If you’re looking to re-size your Windows partition, or turn some empty space into a secondary partition, this is the tool you’re looking for. That Ubuntu runs as a Live CD is particularly useful here, because you cannot edit your primary partition from within Windows.

Find Gparted under “System” followed by “Administration.” If you’re familar with Partition Magic or similar software you should feel right at home; if not, I’ll be writing all about Gparted in the weeks to come!


Do you need the Ubuntu CD to do these things? No; I’m certain our commenters will point out a wide variety of alternatives. My only point is that if you have an Ubuntu Live CD on hand you can quickly do all these things. Seeing as Ubuntu is completely free I figure it’s good to have the option.

What do you think? Is it handy to have a Ubuntu CD around even if you never intend to install it? Do you have any stories of data saved or computer diagnosed because of the tools that come with Ubuntu? Have a seat, grab yourself a drink and let us know what you think in the comments below!

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Create Stylised High Contrast Black & White Masterpieces In Photoshop With Adobe Camera RAW

Posted: 21 Jul 2010 08:31 AM PDT

photoshop high contrast black and whiteAs you may have realised, creating striking black and white images with Adobe Photoshop takes a little more than checking the “Convert to Greyscale” box. There are lots of different ways to optimize your monotone masterpieces, and this particular technique is my favourite for creating high contrast black and white images.

You can complete the process within the Adobe Camera RAW interface, which means RAW files work best. If you've got a hard drive full of JPEGs then hope is not lost, provided you're running Photoshop CS3 or above.

First thing's first – decide whether you're using a photo from RAW or JPEG, and take a good one. RAW files are uncompressed images, and contain all the data that a camera sensor naturally captures. You can adjust simple settings like exposure, white balance and contrast with ease in Photoshop. As JPEGs are a compressed file format, then data is inevitably lost in the compression process. This makes JPEGs a weaker candidate for post processing. Personally I can't help shooting RAW all the time now, just in case.

If you wish to use and process JPEGs using Adobe's Camera RAW tool then you'll need to fire up Bridge, navigate to your chosen images and right click the file you would like and choose Open in Camera RAW. If you're using a RAW file, open in it Photoshop and you'll see Adobe Camera RAW with an image preview and a box full of sliders.

You can use this technique on just about any photo, but it will work better on some than others. I've chosen a picture of a classic race car I took a few years ago. The original file is a RAW, and pretty ordinary looking.

how to create a color and black and white picture in photoshop

The first thing to do is desaturate the image. Under the HSL/Greyscale tab check the Convert to Greyscale tick box. Photoshop will present you with a fairly flat looking black and white image, and a number of colour sliders.

Now for the fun bit! Go back to the first Basic tab and slide the Blacks all the way up to something like 70. Watch as your image loses much of its familiarity and resembles a couple of black blobs with a few really bright white bits. Seeing as this is a high contrast conversion technique, I usually double the contrast to somewhere around +50, though this is relative to the image you are using and the look you're after.

photoshop high contrast black and white

Next we'll be bringing back some of that lovely detail the Blacks tab removed. This part will vary on each image you process, so remember to play around at this stage. Move the Fill Light slider gradually higher until you reach your desired level of detail. Not too much, as lastly you'll want to bring the Blacks down from 70 to something a little more normal. There's a fine balance between the right amount of Fill Light and Blacks, so experiment to see what looks good. For my image, I reduced the Blacks to 52 and increased the Fill Light to 56.

Finally, you'll want to fine tune your colours. Switch to the HSL/Greyscale tab and uncheck Adobe Camera RAW's Preview box in the top right of the window. Take note of the main colours within the image, and enable the Preview again.

Tweak each colour's appearance using its corresponding slider, deciding whether you want dark or light shades. The race car photo featured a light blue sky, green car and a reddish bin in the background. To intensify the sky, I reduced the Blue slider to -70 to make it very dark. I also reduced the green car to -48, and made the bin less noticeable by sliding the reds down to -40. There really is no right or wrong way of doing this and it's all down to your personal taste.

how to create a color and black and white picture in photoshop

Finally I used the Graduated Filter tool to darken the edges by -1.5 EV. This is a great technique for drawing the eye into the image as well as hiding unwanted foreground, and provides a less linear effect than adding an artificial vignette.

how to create a color and black and white picture in photoshop

Once you're happy with your image, head back to the Basic tab to make a couple of last minute touch-ups. To finish off, I increased the exposure by +0.6 EV as I felt it was still a little dark.

photoshop high contrast black and white

There you have it, an image with a lot more impact. You will find that the technique will differ depending on the image, so play around and see what you come up with. Don’t be afraid to lose some detail, black and white conversion allows you to fine-tune and pick out the best bits. Good luck!

Have you tried this technique? Do you have another way of converting your black and whites? Add a comment and let us know!

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