Wednesday, July 28, 2010 “Cool Websites and Tools [July 27th]” plus 10 more “Cool Websites and Tools [July 27th]” plus 10 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [July 27th]

Posted: 27 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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Asciimo – Creating ASCII art is nothing new, but doing it used to take hours. Asciimo changes that by converting provided text into awesome ASCII art. Using JavaScript, the tool displays ASCII text art as you type and allows you to choose from a variety of fonts. Read more: Asciimo: Create ASCII Text Art Online.


BodyCounters – Lots of people claim that the amount of violence in movies has increased over time and it has a really bad influence on our society, especially kids. So how much violence is there exactly in each movie? Well, BodyCounters is a website that try to answer that question by counting the number of bodies that died in each movie. Read more: BodyCounters: Check Body Count in Movies.



Retrevo User Manuals – After purchasing a product, many people start using it without keeping its box and manuals safe. As a result, when a problem arises they do not know how to tackle it since they do not have the product's manual. If you find yourself in a similar situation, before you get worried, head on over to Retrevo User Manuals first. Read more: Retrevo User Manuals: Get Free Manuals For Electronics.



Online-Converter – Online-Converter is a collection of all types of file converters. You might have come across individual online services that let you convert a specific type of file across various formats; but Online Converter will be your only stop for any file type conversion. Read more: Online-Converter: Convert Almost Any File Format Online.



PearlTrees – The internet has expanded so much that many ideas of socialization and storing information have already been explored. This is precisely why unique ideas like Pearltrees are rare and a joy to find. Read more: PearlTrees: Store, Share & Organize Web Content Visually.


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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 Toughest Tech Questions [MakeUseOf Answers]

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 07:30 PM PDT

MakeUseOf Answers helps you get your question answered. At the same time we rely on your support in answering questions. To show our appreciation, we reward a cash prize of $50 each Friday in our Best Answer of the Week contest.

To participate in the contest, answer questions using your eMail address or Facebook account. We need this information solely to get in touch with you in case you win. Maybe you can get started by answering one of our toughest questions of the past week:

  1. How can I get my MAC to boot after using Ophcrack?
  2. Can you help me with URL rewrite directories?
  3. How can I make icons for portable apps appear only once in the Windows 7 taskbar?
  4. Why does my browser open this URL when I'm on Facebook?
  5. How can I "unlock" my write protected pendrive?

There are plenty more tough questions that need answers! You can browse MakeUseOf Answers to your heart’s desire by Latest Questions, Unanswered Questions or Most Popular Questions. For regular updates subscribe to the Answers RSS Feed.

If you ever need help, go ahead and Ask A Question at MakeUseOf Answers. No signup required.

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5 Best Location-Based Alternatives to Foursquare

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 06:30 PM PDT

mobile social networkGeolocation is the identification of the real-world geographic location of an object. A lot of times–increasingly as of late–that object is your cell phone; and since your cell phone is attached to your hip (figuratively, of course), its geolocation can be a pretty accurate indicator of where you are.

Enter Foursquare, the most popular geolocation mobile social network app on the market. It allows you to “check in” to places you’ve been and work your way up to mayoral status at different venues. Since Foursquare’s popularity has grown, so too has the popularity of geolocation applications and mobile social networks.

In this article, I am going to take a look at the best alternatives to Foursquare. While this technology still has a ways to go, a lot can be said about the apps that have already risen to the top.

[Note]: If you would like to be able to check-in to multiple geolocation apps at one time, you should “check out” A lot of the apps supported by are featured in this article. You can also find some great mobile social networks for finding your friends here.


mobile social network


  • iPhone/iPod/iPad
  • Android
  • Blackberry (Bold/Curve/Pearl)
  • Palm (Pre Plus/Pixi Plus)

Gowalla is the top alternative to Foursquare. It’s so popular, in fact, that this could have easily been a ‘Top Alternatives to Gowalla’ article and I could have been talking about Foursquare right now. Maybe in a parallel universe, but I digress…

Beth did an excellent job covering Gowalla back in March, so I’ll just go over the key features here.

Like Foursquare, Gowalla allows you to check-in to various locations either by phone app or via their mobile site. There is currently no way of checking-in through the regular website, but check-ins can be pushed by linking accounts to Facebook and Twitter.

mobile social networking

Gowalla features trips, which allow you to link up to 20 related spots, which you can then place into categories. Spots and trips can be featured, which gives a special status, icon, and highlight on the website. Landmarks tend to be featured spots while trips are picked by their uniqueness.

mobile social networking

After you check-in, you can receive bonus items which you may swap with others or drop at spots. You can become the founder of a spot if you drop an item there. If you want to keep an item forever, simply place it in your vault.


mobile social networking


  • iPhone/iPod
  • Android (app coming soon)
  • Blackberry (app coming soon)
  • Mobile Web

Whrrl is a fast up-and-comer in the world of geolocation apps. You can use it by navigating to the mobile site on your phone.

free social networks for mobile phones

With Whrrl, you can share recommendations of things to do based on your interests and places you like to visit. You can find others who share your common passions and interests in more than 400 different societies, or you can create your own society.

free social networks for mobile phones

You can keep your check-ins private, share them with only trusted friends, all friends, the public, or share them on Facebook and Twitter. Also, you can join someone’s check-in to add your point of view and earn points and rewards for others completing your recommendations.


free social networks for mobile phones


  • iPhone/iPod
  • Android
  • Blackberry
  • Palm
  • Nokia & others

Brightkite offers a “simple way to keep up with friends and places”. It’s a mobile social network that lets you see where all your friends are, discover places in your neighborhood, and meet other locals along the way.

Brightkite allows you to pick your friends. People can be your fan, but only you can decide if they are a friend. Friendships are one-way.

Brightkite has a rating feature that allows you to rate posts up or down. You can also decide to share posts with friends, everyone, or social networks like Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook.



  • iPhone/iPod
  • Android
  • Blackberry
  • Mobile Web

If you’re looking for real-time ratings of places around you, buzzd is for you. Find the hottest spots using the “buzzdmeter”, share updates with your friends and earn rewards with this app. You can also use buzzd by navigating to their mobile site.

You can use buzzd to see the real-time buzz from social networks like Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp & more. Post a thumbs up (or down), comment, and view photos of any place from your phone. Broadcast ratings to your friends, Facebook, and Twitter.

The more places you rate, the more “influence” points you earn. Accumulate enough points and you can win some rewards, like gift cards, plane tickets, and concert tickets.



  • iPhone/iPod
  • Android
  • Blackberry
  • Windows Mobile
  • Nokia/Symbian OS

GyPSii (covered briefly here) is a location based mobile social network. Like the other apps on the list, GyPSii allows you to search for the people and places around you. You can edit maps with favorite places and comment/share them with friends or the whole community. Tag photos and videos to locations so others can see them as well.

mobile social network

GyPSii isn’t as well known as some of the other apps on this list, but I think it deserves some attention. I’d love to talk more about this app, but I think I’d rather show you:


In conclusion, there are some great geolocation apps out there building steam and becoming popular amongst the masses. As more and more people get better phones, you can expect to see more and more users of such apps. It will be interesting to see where these types of applications will take social networking. Twitter and Facebook are already very much in the game and are looking to integrate geolocation into their social websites.

What’s your favorite geolocation app? Do you use multiple apps or just stick with one? Leave your thoughts, ideas, and comments below!

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5 Text Reader Apps That Really Help You Speed Read

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 04:31 PM PDT

how to increase reading speedI have to say that I’ve always grouped speed reading programs and applications up there with late night infomercials and real estate investment scams. So when I came across a free text reading application that touted itself as a “speed reading” application, it caught my interest.

I decided to seek out five of the most legitimate text speed reader apps. The way these work is that the human mind has to work across sentences from side to side. Your brain must focus, process and then comprehend. Then, you move on to the next word or group of words and the process starts all over.

What these special text reader apps promise to do is to remove the “refocus” part of that equation. MakeUseOf has covered a few speed reading apps before. Speed Reader is similar to the apps I’m going to cover, but not quite as advanced. We recently covered Quickreader for the iPhone as well.

Let’s take a look at the five latest speed reading text readers that will have you reading lightning fast.

Two Online Text Readers

The first two tools that I want to cover are actually online, flash-based apps. The Flash-Reading online application is offered for free by a speed reading website called “Speed Reading is Real.”  To test it, I pasted one of Aibek’s latest posts of MUO discoveries.

how to increase reading speed

When you hit “Continue“, the application starts playing out the text in segments. You can adjust the speed (words per minute), the segment size (chunk size) and the font size of the text. Not only is this a great way to start speed reading through text, but it’s also a good tool for people who have a difficult time reading small text on the Internet.

speed reading software

I found that the tool worked really well, and it did actually seem like I was reading a lot faster than I normally would.

The other online app is located at Spreeder.  This free offering is an effort by the company to convince you about the effectiveness of this software so that you’ll buy the desktop version.

speed reading software

Just like on Flash-Reader, once you click “spreed!“, the application immediately starts playing out the text in single words. The default speed is 300 words per minute. If you’ve never tried this approach to reading text before, this will look insanely fast.

speed reading software

Believe it or not, you will get to the point where you can read that fast, but to start off I had to scroll the settings down much lower. You can set word count, chunk size in words, the size of the window, font size and even the color scheme.

increase reading speed

The advanced settings place this online app at the front of the pack, allowing you to enable advanced variable speed settings where longer phrases receive more screen time, while shorter phrases go faster, as well as slight pauses at the end of sentences. These features make the reading experience feel more natural and intuitive.

Three Desktop Text Readers

As we enter into the realm of desktop speed-reader text apps, I’m going to start with my favorite. Dictator is an advanced text speed-reading app that has most of the features you would expect only the paid applications to have. It lets you view the text in any sized word chuck you like, and at any speed. There are also multiple display modes – full screen or split screen.

increase reading speed

You can use the arrow keys to scroll through the text at your own speed, or press the space bar to have the text flow at the average words per minute in the settings. What makes this app stand out is that it naturally performs advanced features like shorter pauses for short phrases and words, and natural pauses where the grammar implies a pause. All of these things make for one of the most natural and smooth flowing reading experiences.

increase reading speed

If you really want ultimate focus for the best speed, change to full-screen mode. Give this software a shot. I guarantee that you’ll surprise yourself when you see that you’re flying through text at two to three times your normal speed, with full comprehension.

The next app is simply called Speed-Reader. It seems that it was created for a college project, but the quality and features are advanced and almost as good as Dictator.

Settings are all easily accessed on the main display. You can paste in text or load a text file, and the color scheme and font sizes are fully customizable. This is another fantastic app that works well.

The next app is called RAM 4, written by Claude Pavur of Saint Louis University.  He labels it a “Tachistoscope”.

how to increase reading speed

This application takes the same approach as the other apps, except it works by line rather than by word. The timing of each sentence depends on length and word count, but I found that this approach didn’t lead to much better reading time and defeats the purpose of trying to get the mind to focus on one spot. However, if you prefer a text reader that lets you see the context of words within the sentence, then you may choose this one rather than the others.

Have you ever used any of these speed reader apps? What do you think? Do you know of any better free speed reading text apps out there like these? Share your insights in the comments section below.

Image credit: Sanja Gjenero

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3 Things You Can Do With Old Computer Monitors

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 02:31 PM PDT

what to do with old computer monitorsDo you have old computer monitors lying around, taking up space?  Maybe you have finally graduated from one of those old bulky monitors taking up all that space and electricity to a slimmer flat screen variety?  Maybe you have bought a newer computer system that came with its own monitor so the LCD from the last computer is still around with no use.

Sure, you could have used it as a second monitor (check out this series of articles all about that) but maybe you didn’t see the need.  The question now is what to do with that old computer monitor.  Here are a few ideas that should help you figure out what to do with that old monitor you’ve got.

Keep It & Put It To A Different Use

You can turn your old computer monitor into a television. These days people seem to have a television in every room in their homes.  Depending on the size of monitor you have lying around, you can stick them in almost any place.

In order to turn your monitor into a television, all you’ll need is a converter box which you can find pretty cheaply on eBay (find instructions at

what to do with old computer monitors

As mentioned in Tina’s article, Top 10 Cool Uses For Old Computers And Laptops, you can also make an old LCD monitor into a digital photo frame, assuming you also have an old laptop lying around.  It may take a little work but it should be a lot cheaper than the digital photo frames found in the stores these days (instructables article).

If you want to try a project that is a bit useless but still fun, you can turn your old monitor into a fish tank.  Follow these instructions and you too can have a fish named “Packard”.

used computer monitors

Have Someone Else Put It To Use

Why don’t you do the same thing that you would do with any other piece of inventory you’ve got no use for but still works.  You can sell it.  You’ve always got the ability to sell it in a garage sale, but what about a more techie solution like eBay or Craigslist?  Either way, list some place that people might go to look for something like an old monitor.  These days, people don’t like paying full price and a working second hand option could make someone’s day.

Along those same lines, you can always give it away.  It’s easy to find a local thrift store willing to take it off your hands and sell it to help their cause.  There’s also FreeCycle that helps connect you to your local FreeCycle Yahoo group.

used computer monitors

FreeCycle groups are groups of people who like to share stuff for free.  Also check out the free section on Craigslist and post a listing there.  Someone, somewhere will want a free monitor.

Properly Dispose Of It

what to do with old computer monitors

If you really truly don’t want to mess with any of the before-mentioned ideas, you really should properly dispose of your monitor.  You can run a Google search for “computer recycling” or “electronic recycling” and add your area in the search parameters.  Also check your local phone book.  In my area there are some computer repair shops that can help you dispose of old computer parts.  That would be worth a try.

Do you have any more ideas of what to do with old computer monitors that are taking up space?  If so, please share in the comments.

Image Credit : bdunnette

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Hot Tech Deals [July 27th]

Posted: 27 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. Sharp LC-60E88UN 60 inch LCD HDTV (1080p, 240Hz) $1599.99 via code WWH5F35XD47J1B
  3. Logitech MK700 Wireless Keyboard & Mouse $49.99via code 3FRBKSHJKS2CTN
  4. FREE Colbert Report’s: The Word iPhone App
  5. Lenovo ThinkPad L412 Intel Core i3-370 2.4GHz 14in Laptop (2GB/160GB/Win7) $584.10 via code USPTHINKBTS
  6. Lenovo IdeaPad Z560 Intel Core i3-350M Dual-Core 2.26GHz 15.6in Laptop (4GB/500GB/Win7) $579 via code USPZ53A726
  7. Dell Studio XPS 7100 AMD 6-Core Hexacore 2.6GHz Desktop (4GB/1TB/Radeon HD5450) $699via code ?8CN$RJ?W5TQ0C
  8. Logitech G500 Wired Laser Gaming Mouse (Upgraded Remake of G5) $34.99 Free Shippingvia code EMCYVNN28
  9. ASUS RT-N12 802.11n 300Mbps Wireless N Router (DD-WRT) $29.99 Free Shipping via code EMCYVNV42

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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10 Search Terms To Put Wolfram Alpha To Good Use Everyday

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 12:31 PM PDT

wolfram alpha search engineCalling Wolfram Alpha a computational knowledge engine surely puts off a lot of people who are mathematically and statistically challenged. I am one of them, so it took me a fair amount of time to get around to using Wolfram Alpha and the way it takes a query and spits out factual data.

If you are still drunk on Google and other traditional ways of doing search, take a sober pill and give Wolfram Alpha a look.

Yes, Wolfram Alpha still doesn't have a handle on the entire human knowledge, but it has its unique take on answering questions, comparing keywords, and projecting data.

After understanding the true power of Wolfram Alpha, you will appreciate it as one of the most powerful search engines out there. But is Wolfram Alpha too daunting for a layman? Looking at all the mathematical equations and statistical graphs that the search tool drums out, it seems so.

But even an Average Joe like me can sometimes throw everyday problems at it. And come out with answers easy enough to read. So here are ten of those search queries.

Which Website Is More Popular

Instead of individually looking up figures, you can do a quick comparison of websites to see which is more popular. Computational comparisons are a nifty feature of Wolfram Alpha. You can also lookup website data of any web address.

wolfram alpha search engine

(Wolfram Alpha pulls in the data from's database. Some SEO experts do have a problem with the way Alexa draws its data however).

My IP Is?

Wolfram Alpha comes with location awareness. So it can used just like an IP tracker. Type in 'Where Am I?' and you get your exact geo-located co-ordinates.

wolfram alpha search

Alternatively, you can find the souls behind an IP number or an URL by putting it as a search string.

wolfram alpha search

As The Crow Flies

You can get the direct travel times and the distance between two cities. Average figures are calculated for ships, cars, and airplanes. Other information like local times at both locations is also attached.

wolfram alpha search

Get To Know Your Kissing Cousins

Wolfram Alpha has a Genealogy engine that can trace your family relationships. To make it easier, you also get a 'tree' diagram. Just the thing to find out the right introductions at family dos.

alpha search engine

What We Speak & Write

Wolfram Alpha has a host of tools or 'converters' which are of real use. For instance, you can figure the number of words needed to fill up the right number of pages (and the typing time to finish a book).

Then the search engine extends a 'cheating' hand with its puzzle solvers along with the usual dictionary help. Here's what the Words & Linguistics features can do:

alpha search engine

The Time In Timbuktu

You can get the time information of any place, compare local times of several places, and also convert a time in any city to your time.

alpha search engine

Following the Date & Time calculations, you can do a host of things like printing out calendars, find out how many days till Christmas, or get the dates of holidays for a given year. The results are as per your location.

Switch On The Weather Channel

Wolfram Alpha can be your personal weather search engine. It covers a host of ways to get specific weather information and forecasts for your city or one of your choice.

Watch What You Are Eating

Wolfram Alpha can be used as an online calorie counter. You can not only get nutritional information on a food, you can also get it for those that end up as packaged brands on our kitchen shelves. Yes, some of the information goes into the actual mineral and molecular composition, but you can pick out the calorie information for the serving and the percentage of daily intake. And export is all as a PDF.

Again, let's put a food (or beverage) through a comparison. It tells me that drinking vodka would be the quicker way to get the beer belly.

Hit The Gym…Or Climb The Stairs

You know how many calories you are picking up. So use the same search box to find out how many you can burn with a specific activity. There are a few ways you can compute the physical exercises needed to burn the fat.

When you do this calculation, also scroll down and check out the Equivalent Activities section. Mine tells me that I can repair an airplane for two hours or conduct an orchestra for three to burn the same amount of calories.

Color Swatch From A Search Box

We know 'bittersweet' as a feeling, but do you know what it looks like? Wolfram Alpha tells us that it's a color that's a shade closer to salmon and Indian red. Complementary colors are also given which tell us which colors can be matched. If you are looking for a three color scheme, pick up the swatch on the color triad. Designers can also quickly pick up the hexadecimal and RGB color codes.

wolfram alpha search engine

From top to bottom, Wolfram Alpha is a search engine. Just like any other search engine, it depends on third party sources for the information and its accuracy. Also, results will hit the target or miss the spot depending on the search query you feed it. It is not a magic oracle but a work in progress. But the work done so far is impressive.

Let us know if and how you are thinking of using Wolfram Alpha every day.

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Alien Swarm – A Top-Down Open-Source Shooter By Valve

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 11:31 AM PDT

shooter gameA lot of die-hard gamers might have heard of the Alien Swarm shooter game in the past. The game originated as a full-conversion mod for the popular arena shooter Unreal Tournament 2004; completely developed by a score of community developers.

Those same developers were subsequently hired by Valve, the top game publisher that’s behind Half Life 2 and Team Fortress 2. While working on projects like Left 4 Dead 2 and Portal 2, in the background they were rebuilding their debut shooter game from scratch.

Alien Swarm

Steam (Valve’s gaming network) just recently revealed the existence of that remake, mere days before the game launched last Monday. But the accompanying news was even more shocking. This fully-featured game would be released for free.

What can you expect? Think swarms upon swarms of magnificently brutal aliens and empowering online (co-operative) gameplay. There’s not all that much of a story, just fast-packed shoot-em-up levels. This is a game you should play this summer – no matter if you’re usually a freeware or retail gamer. The only detectable downside is that this shooter game is only available on Windows PC’s.

4 Player Co-Op Killing Spree

Alien Swarm offers two modes of gameplay; the less important offline training mode and the online campaign mode. Up to four players can join up to compete and join hands against the alien horde. In that, it’s very similar to Left 4 Dead (2). In other things, not so much. There’s bound to be less randomization in the levels, in a way enabling you to learn from failed experiences, and develop tactics to beat the levels.

shooter game

How difficult those levels will be is entirely up to you. Alien Swarm offers 4 degrees of difficulty; Easy, Normal, Hard and Insane. You’ll be assisted in your post-modern quest by over 40 different weapons, with an absurd amount of additional weapon configurations and other unlockable items.

shooter games

There are in total four unique IAF (interstellar armed forces) player classes to choose from: medic, tech, officer and special weapons. And each of those feature two different characters. Create an IAF squad with your friends and make those aliens regret they got up in the morning.

Free, Open-Source & With Separate SDK

Actually, Steam didn’t just announce the game to be free. Yes, you can download the game free of charge. But you can also download the entire source code. This is unprecedented for a major game company like Valve, and rocked the socks off of large parts of the internet. This means that everyone can view the original programming that went into make this game. Everyone can adapt the code, and make spin-offs.

shooter game

Although the game launched with 7 ‘official’ levels, you can also download a level creation kit. For those interested, this is not the standard kit that you’ll see included with other Valve games, but a stand-alone one. This includes a tile-based map generation tool, allowing you to randomly generate rooms in your home-brewed levels.

Are you excited yet? That’s right! What do you think of Alien Swarm, or it going open-source from day one? Let us know in the comments!

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Cool Ways To Read Comics On Your iPhone (+ some apps)

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 10:31 AM PDT

iphone comicsI’ve always preferred to read comic books than novels. Maybe it’s the hot babes in tight suits with super powers, maybe it’s the dream of being able to fly, or maybe it’s simply the appreciation of great stories behind excellent graphic art. Illustrated stories captivate me more than plain text ones.

But I’m also more of a traditional reader who prefers the paper version of comic books than the digital version. One of the main reasons is because traditional comic books are easier to carry around and read than the digital version on laptops.

I don’t even consider the possibilities of reading comic books on mobile phone screens. While it’s definitely easy to carry around, and the only limit to how many books that one can carry is the storage size; the thought of having to continuously re-size the pages tells me it just not worth the trouble.  Boy how I was wrong.

Another Way Of Looking

I stumbled onto an iPhone app called Comics by comiXology. Out of curiosity, I downloaded the app. The page description says that this app solves the problem of reading comics on a small screen.

iphone comics

The app is an iPhone comics reader and store, similar to what Apple does to ebooks with its iBooks. You can browse your (already downloaded) comics, see the featured titles, or browse and download comics based on the categories. Just like your friendly neighborhood comic retail stores, you can find comics from various publishers.

For those who would like to test the water before jumping in, there are lots of free iPhone comics that you can download from the store. Just tap on the “Free” section. But registration is needed prior to downloading.

iphone app lets me read my own comics

And what about the reading experience itself? Comics uses a page displaying method called “Guided View Technology”, which will show the comic art panel by panel instead of page by page. The flow of the panels is synchronized with the flow of the story.

You can rotate the screen following the orientation of the panel to get the optimal size of the panel. You can also pinch to zoom to get a larger image. To go to the next panel, tap on the right of the screen, and tap left to go back.

iphone app lets me read my own comics

Contrary to my initial opinion, reading a comic on the small screen doesn’t have to be inconvenient. I actually like the guided panel-by-panel approach as it gives me surprises along the way.

iphone app lets me read my own comics

Other Comic Apps

Addicted, I went back to the iTunes Store to find out more. Lucky for me, the store currently has a spotlight on iPhone comic apps. They are classified into three types : Comic Readers, Books, and Other comic-related materials.

Readers are similar to Comics, they are something like bookshelves where you can put your comic collections. Other than Comics – and other retail store type of apps, there are also apps from major publishers who specialize with their own comics.

dc comics on iphone

The second type is comic books which have been converted into individual apps. Just like other iPhone apps, you can download these types of books directly from iTunes and they will be installed onto your iPhone when you sync it.

dc comics on iphone

If you read comic books a lot, you will know that they are not only for children. There are also comics for adults with violence, red-penciled words, and other stuff that are inappropriate for little children. That’s why iTunes will give you this warning every time you are about to download age-restricted materials.

dc comics on iphone

Most individual iPhone comic books also display their stories panel by panel, but in a more simpler way than Comics.

05 Wallace Gromit.jpeg

The last type is comic related materials that will brighten the day of most comic maniacs.

 iphone comics

So if you love comic books, your iPhone could turn into a very addictive toy. Just a short visit to the iTunes Store and I ended up with a lot of comic-related apps to play with, and lots of comic books to read (and I’m still limiting myself to the free stuff).

Do you read iPhone comic books? Can you recommend other apps similar to Comics? You can share your comic experiences using the comments section below. And don’t forget to check out other articles on MakeUseOf about finding and reading digital comic books, or manga.

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Top 5 Windows Media Player Plugins You Should Use

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 09:31 AM PDT

windows media player pluginsWindows Media Player is Microsoft’s own media player that comes pre-installed with all its operating systems. To enhance the dull default WMP experience, I have tracked down some of the coolest and most useful Windows Media Player plugins out there, most of which will work with both Windows XP and Windows 7.

Finally make all embedded media player files work in Firefox (Windows 7), put your computer to sleep after your playlist concludes (Windows XP), get lyrics from songs you’re playing, sharpen blurry videos, and share with your friends what you’re listening to right now. Does any of this sound good? Then read on!

1. Firefox Plugin

Per default, Windows Media Player integrates with Firefox and installs a plugin called “Windows Media Player Plug-in Dynamic Link Library” (ID: pdsplay.dll). However, there have been some “missing plugin” issues. Thus Microsoft has developed a new plugin for Windows XP and up, which solves the problems and also adds some new features. This Firefox Plugin (ID: np-mswmp.dll) must be downloaded and installed separately. Before you run the .exe file that will install the new plugin, close Firefox.

To test whether you actually need the plugin, I recommend this Mozilla test page. After installing the plugin, the test worked flawlessly in Windows 7. However, under Windows XP I only got the sound, not the WMP display or video. Mozilla provides more background information here.

windows media player plugins

2. Sleep Timer

First of all I should note that this plugin is fairly old (2005) and only worked with WMP 11 on Windows XP. Furthermore, you have to sign up to The Code Project website before you can download the plugin. The plugin will be listed under > Options > Plug-Ins > Background > Armen Hakobyan’s Background Sleep Timer.

Now, the purpose of this plugin is to put your computer to sleep after your playlist has concluded. If it doesn’t display automatically, go to full mode and then open > View > Plug-Ins and select > Armen Hakobyan’s Sleep Timer. From its onscreen menu you can select the > Standby Mode, which can also be to shut down the computer and select whether or not to > Mute Sound. Before you can click > Start Timer you have to start a playlist or at least one song. At the end of that piece, the plugin will come into effect.

free plugins for windows media player

3. Lyrics Plugin

This is a great plugin for music lovers. If your computer is connected to the internet while you play your tunes, it will automatically search for the lyrics to the current song and display them in the “Now Playing” window. Unfortunately, the lyrics disappear when you switch to full-screen mode. Instead, WMP displays the available album art.

free plugins for windows media player

This plugin was tested successfully on Windows XP and Windows 7. And by the way, it is also available for Winamp.

An alternative to this plugin is LyricsSeeker, which is also available for iTunes and Winamp. The difference is that the lyrics are opened in the browser, not in the media player itself.

4. PixelFusion

Many videos, whether downloaded or streamed, tend to be somewhat blurry, which is a result of reducing the resolution and hence the file size. This flaw becomes ever more annoying, when the videos are viewed in fullscreen view on a high resolution screen. PixelFusion is an attempt to fix this issue.

Once installed, the settings of the plugin can be found under > Options > Plug-Ins > Video-DSP > Pixelfusion Plugin > Properties button. The edge crispness can be varied from soft to hard. In the example below I took screenshots of the original video (middle) and with PixelFusion using hard (left) and medium (right) edge crispness. The difference is quite obvious.

free plugins for windows media player

The plugin was tested successfully on Windows XP and Windows 7.

5. Now Playing

Now Playing allows you to share what music you are currently listening to with your friends on Facebook, fans on Twitter, or visitors to your homepage. It’s very simple to setup for Twitter and Facebook.

plugins for windows media player

The options window will launch automatically, when you first start WMP after installing Now Playing. If you need to access it later, note that the plugin is found in the > Background category within WMP’s > Plug-Ins options.

To get started, follow the simple setup steps shown in tabs for Twitter or Facebook. Then add a message and use the suggested tags to announce what you are listening to. For example use “<artist> <title>” to submit the respective details. Finally, check the box next to > On to enable the updates and it should work. The result will look something like this:

windows media player plugins

Some more skill is required to make this work on your homepage. However, the download page itself provides a thorough walkthrough. The plugin was tested successfully in Windows XP and Windows 7. A similar plugin, that will share your songs in mIRC, is WMPmIRC.

For more plugins, especially for skins, visualization effects, and codecs, check Microsoft’s own WMP Plugins page. Also check out Saikat’s article on 10 Great Windows Media Player 11 Tips and Tricks.

Can you recommend other Windows Media Player plugins?

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How To Check Out The Android Mobile OS On Your Computer

Posted: 27 Jul 2010 08:31 AM PDT

android os downloadBuying a smartphone can be a big deal. No longer responsible for the mere task of making phone calls, today’s smartphones are essentially pocket-sized computers. Laying down the money for a smartphone – never mind the cost of the associated contract – can be a bit nerve racking. What if it doesn’t do what you want? Returning a smartphone isn’t necessarily impossible, but cell phone carriers don’t like to take products back without a hassle.

If you’re considering an Android phone you can take off some of the pressure by installing an Android OS download and taking a tour of Android on your PC. This won’t give you perfect emulation, but it will give you a good idea of how Android’s interface works and what you can do with Android based devices.

Installing The Android SDK

In order to run Android on your PC you will need to first install the Android SDK. This is a tool targeted at Android app developers, and as a result it isn’t the most user friendly program in the world. Follow these instructions carefully and you should have no problems.

After you have downloaded the Android SDK zip file, unzip the android-sdk-windows folder. Open the folder and then open SDK Setup.exe. The Android SDK does not come with any version of the Android OS available, so you will be prompted by a window that scans Google’s servers to find out what Android OS download is available.

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You will probably run into the error message displayed above. If you do, close the window. In the main Android SDK window click on the Settings option. Two check boxes will appear near the bottom of the window, one of which is labeled “Force http:// … sources to be fetched using http:// …” Click on that checkbox. The Refresh Sources window will appear again for a moment and then disappear.

android os

Now a new window will appear asking what packages you would like to install. You will see a list of various Android OS versions that are available. You can install them all, or you can simply chose to install the Android OS that comes with the phone you’re interested in. Either way, pressing Install will  start the download of the Android OS version(s) you selected.

android os

If for some reason you cancel the process before you selected and installed an Android OS you can bring this window back by going to Installed Packages and then clicking Update All.

Emulating An Android Phone

Now that you have the Android OS download you want to mess with you need to emulate a phone using that OS. To start, go to the Virtual Devices section of the Android SDK and then click New. This will open up the below window, which contains several options.

android os

First, name your phone. It doesn’t matter what the name is – this is just a means of identifying the emulated phone so you can select it later.

Next, click the Target drop down box and select an operating system from the list. Again, you’re best off choosing the Android OS that will be installed on the smartphone you’re curious about.

Now you need to input a size into the field under the SD Card section. The size that you select really does not matter for the purposes of this experiment. I suggest a nice, round number like 512 or 1024. Next, you need to select a display from the Built-In drop-down menu in the Skin section. Again, this doesn’t really matter for evaluation purposes. The default (HVGA) will be fine.

When you’re done, click Create AVD. The following prompt will appear.

google android os

Now your emulated phone will appear in the Virtual Devices menu.

google android os

Select the emulated phone and then click on Start. A prompt will appear asking if you want to scale the display. I don’t recommend messing with these settings – just click Launch.

Once you do so the emulated Android phone will appear. To the left you will simply see a black screen with Android spelled out in gray letters. You are going to have to let it sit for a few minutes while the emulation loads. Eventually the Android boot animation will appear, and then the OS will appear.

The emulation will let you do most of the things you could normally do with an actual Android smartphone. You can use the web browser, change phone settings, send or receive emails, and add contacts. These features are, for the most part, fully functional – you actually can check your real email using your real email address and you can browse the Internet at your leisure.

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There are some things that won’t work. Opening the camera caused my emulated Android phone to crash every time. You can type in phone numbers and press the call button, but no actual call takes place. The music player won’t have any music to play. Perhaps most importantly, there is also no Android Marketplace, although you can still install apps that are available through the web browser.


Emulating an Android phone with the SDK won’t give you a perfect representation, but it will help you understand the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of the phone and provide you with another tool that can be used to make sure you spend your money wisely. Now, if only you could emulate iOS for a comparison!

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