Friday, July 30, 2010 “Top 3 Websites To Download Useful Free Excel Programs” plus 12 more “Top 3 Websites To Download Useful Free Excel Programs” plus 12 more

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Top 3 Websites To Download Useful Free Excel Programs

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 10:31 AM PDT

free excel programExcel, Microsoft’s spreadsheet application used by millions, is an incredibly powerful and versatile suite. And yet most users don’t reach past the fancy coloring and simple formulae.

A lot of people don’t realize Excel’s support for the Visual Basic programming language. You can make use of this, even if you’re not a programmer yourself. Pre-written VBA code, often already implemented in Excel files, can be found online.

Below are, without further ado, the top three sources for these free Excel programs.

Microsoft Office Templates

Probably the richest and most extensive repository of free Excel programs is of Microsoft’s own making. On the Microsoft Office website, you’ll find countless pre-built Excel templates. The complexity of, and use for, these templates varies widely, although most of them are clearly intended for business purposes.

free excel program

So you’ll find everything from pre-built time sheets, financial calculators and academic calendars, but also Excel 3D examples, and even a playable piano octave. The uses are many, and you’ll take a long time to just browse all of these categories.

free excel spreadsheetIf you’re a regular spreadsheet user, you can be sure to find your fair share of free Excel programs here, and ultimately save a ton of work.

The only downside is the site’s usability, which could use some improvement. As such, it is impossible to browse the templates by application alone. The best way to work is to find the My Programs field in the left sidebar. Here you can add all Office programs you own, and thus eliminate the better part of superfluous templates.

Although irrelevant (read: empty) categories will still be shown in the category overview, the underlying templates should all be compatible with your version of Excel.

Vertex42 Excel Templates / Financial Calculators

One site, no matter how big, will never show you all that’s available. That’s where our runner-up comes in. Vertex42 is a website dedicated to everything related to Excel – including templates and financial calculators.

Although they deal in smaller numbers, the programs shown are of pristine quality, and make Vertex42 the best unofficial source for Excel programs. A large part of these even work on Open Office as well!

free excel spreadsheet

The site’s content is divided up in two major categories; Excel Templates and Financial Calculators. Both of these show a clear overview of the available programs, without any further hassle with filters. In that, Vertex42 has clearly bested the Microsoft Office official templates site.

Excel Games

Combined, Microsoft Office and Vertex42 should be able to fill the needs of serious businesses. This last website is complementary, and wouldn’t be considered ‘useful’ by all parties.

Visual Basic of course isn’t limited to dull timetables and financial calculators. If you’re stuck at work and limited to the games already installed on your computer, you can use Visual Basic in Excel to play games – and if you put some big numbers in the next tab, you can quickly switch panes when your supervisor sneaks a peek. Don’t forget to move some serious work, though. These games won’t pay the bills if you get yourself fired!

free excel program

The Excel Games site boosts just under forty different games, mostly classics like Pong, Battleship, Tetris, Bubbles and a variety of card games. These are all downloadable as simple XLS files – also compatible with older versions of Excel.

Do you know any other sources for useful, free Excel programs?



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Chat With Friends Securely & Privately With RetroShare IM

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 09:31 AM PDT

secure chat serverDo you use instant messengers like Skype, MSN and Yahoo IM or do you upload to online storage services so that you can easily share files with friends?  Most of the communications usually involve a middle server that handles profiles, memberships and directing those communications and messages.

Of course, a third party introduces a security hole where the line of communication could get tapped into. The person doing the tapping may be a government, a private investigator, or just a hacker out to capture your private information. If you are the least bit concerned about the privacy and security of your personal chat conversations, then peer-to-peer, where each installation is its own sort of secure chat server, is the way to go.

Here at MakeUseOf, we’ve covered lots of P2P file sharing solutions, like GigaTribe and OneSwarm, which Simon reviewed. However, if you’re looking for a one-to-one, ultra-secure line of communication with your friends or colleagues using secure chat server software, then I’d like to introduce you to RetroShare.

Setting Up The RetroShare IM P2P Client

Even if you’ve never used any peer-to-peer service before, RetroShare makes the setup ridiculously simple and fast. However, the system is amazingly secure – with all communications encrypted.

When you first set up the software, you need to create a profile. This isn’t a profile that gets stored on some remote server, it’s a profile that is stored on your PC memory and identifies you to other users that you invite via email.

secure chat server

The process of setting up your profile is an interesting process where the software generates prime numbers to come up with a unique “GPG key”. This is a special code that identifies your computer – so even if someone steals your password, installs the software on their own computer and tries to communicate with someone pretending to be you, it’s not going to happen. All authentication with friends is a process that ensures absolute security.

free secure chat clients

Network connection types available include Firewalled, Manual Forwarded Port, or automatic (UPnP). The first two will require that you know how to tweak your router. The third “automatic” choice is easiest, but you’ll need to configure your PC virus/security software to allow RetroShare to communicate over the network.

free secure chat clients

In addition to P2P chatting, RetroShare offers a whole suite of other peer-to-peer services like file sharing, messages (like email), and even forums. For file sharing, you can configure as many shared directories on your PC as you like.

free secure chat clients

That is all there is to setting up the secure chat server and client software. It’s a three-step introduction Wizard, and then your software is running and ready to initiate connections with friends. You can start a new connection to your friend (who also needs to have the software installed) by clicking on the “Add a Friend” icon in the left menu bar.

How To Add & Authenticate New Friends

When you choose to add a friend, you’ll see a screen with an insanely long and convoluted code. This is your PGP Public Key Block.  This paragraph has meaning to the software on both your end and to your friend’s install. Copy all of the text in the top field and paste it in an email to your friend. Once they install their software, they’ll also need to click on the button to add a friend and send you the block of code in their window as well.

secure chat rooms

When you receive your friend’s PGP key, copy it from the email they sent you, and paste it into the lower field on the same screen. Once both of you have gone through this authentication process, your software and your friend’s software will reach out and touch. You are now part of the same P2P authenticated network of trusted nodes.

secure chat rooms

Now that you are both authenticated, you’re ready to really have some fun and explore the features of RetroShare.

Chat, Share Files & Collaborate With RetroShare

Once you’re both authenticated, you can communicate using the many tools that RetroShare offers. Initiate a chat window and you’ll be chatting just like in Skype or Yahoo IM. The big difference – the chat communications are encrypted – and no third party servers are involved whatsoever.

secure chat rooms

File sharing is also available via the shared directories that you defined in the setup. Want to send your friends the latest video of your child’s recital? Drop it in the shared folder and your friends can download. In the example below, we’ve both shared a folder called “RetroShare”.

Other cool features of RetroShare include a messaging system, and my favorite feature is a forum area where you can organize messages into “threads” of conversation. Here, I’m using our family’s secure network to create a family forum where we can all collaborate on planning our upcoming trip.

secure chat server

The value of RetroShare really becomes apparent when you’re taking part in research or other activity that may be sensitive or even classified in nature. When you really want to be sure that there’s no “middleman” in the conversation, this software is an excellent solution. With authenticated contacts and encrypted communications, you can’t go wrong.

Have you ever used RetroShare for your P2P needs? What did you think? Do you know of any other similar secure P2P systems that work as well or better? Share your insight in the comments below.

Image Credit: linusb4



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Devil’s Tuning Fork – A Puzzle Game For The Brave

Posted: 30 Jul 2010 08:31 AM PDT

puzzle gamesGaming is an extremely visual form of media. Graphics are often rated against the benchmark of reality. The closer they are to what you see with your own eyes when you look out into the world, the better graphics seem to be. Some games recognize this reliance on sight and even go so far as to augment it with the ability to see through walls or obtain other super-human powers.

But what if you were not able to rely so heavily on sight? What if you had to instead rely on sound as a means of navigating through space? This is the scenario that is explored in Devil’s Tuning Fork, an amazing free puzzle game that will challenge both your skill and your preconceptions about how you interact with games.

A Mysterious Dilemma

Devil’s Tuning Fork opens by showing you a world where children have been mysteriously slipping into comas. There is no medical explanation, and the world is beginning to wonder if an entire generation will be lost to the epidemic. You are also a child, and you fall into a coma just as the scene ends.

The world that you wake up in is dark. There is either no light, or simply no such thing as sight. You can, however, detect sound waves and use them to “see” your surroundings. Sound progress outward from their source in a circular panel, leaving a lingering impression that fades after a few seconds. As you walk down the puzzle game’s first hall you take possession of the game’s namesake, a tuning fork that can be used to create several different types of sounds.

puzzle games

The puzzle game’s focus on using those sounds to map out your environment and find ways around various obstacles, such as swinging hammers and collapsing floors. You also have to save other children who have slipped into the same coma but have become trapped. As you save the children you will be taunted by a demonic voice, a presumed devil, or The Devil, that has caused the comas (the antagonist is not given a name inside the game). It is up to you to save yourself and the other children from permanent imprisonment.

Devil’s Tuning Fork isn’t a long puzzle game. You’ll probably be able to complete it within two hours if you play it straight through. There isn’t much replay value to the game, but that’s not really the point. It is the kind of puzzle game that you’ll only play once but won’t soon forget.

Be Brave And Careful

Devil’s Tuning Fork is a very disorienting game at first. It was created by a team of DePaul University Students who wanted to try and make a game that stepped outside normal conventions. You can literally feel your cranium straining to work differently in the absence of visual information. Its like trying to walk around your house at midnight without power. You have a general idea of what is going on and where you are, but each must be made with careful consideration.

puzzle games

The puzzle game does have  a disclaimer stating that people prone to epileptic seizures should not play the game. Normally such warnings are simply meant to cover a company’s legal behind if such a thing were to occur, but in this case I highly recommend that people who have a history of epileptic seizures do not play the game. Its visual style and the initial disorientation could be a dangerous combination.

System Requirements

As you might expect, Devil’s Tuning Fork is not a demanding game.

Minimum/Recommended System Requirements

  • OS: Windows XP, Vista or 7
  • Dual Core 2Ghz or Single Core 3 Ghz
  • 512MB / 1 GB RAM
  • 1GB Hard Disk Space
  • Geforce 8000 Series or Radeon X1900 / Geforce 8800 or Radeon HD 4000 Series
  • Direct X 9.0 or Open GL 2.0

There are no advanced graphics options in the game beyond a “high detail” mode. There is also a limited number of video resolutions to choose from. Don’t worry if the resolution does not match your display’s exactly. Just make sure that the aspect ratio of the resolution you select is the same as your display resolution.

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Cool Websites and Tools [July 29th]

Posted: 29 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.

List Your Website Here!


Bounce – Website annotation is a great way of sharing websites when you want to say something about specific parts of a site. You can leave comments anywhere on a webpage through website annotation thereby fully expressing yourself. Bounce is one site that lets you easily perform this task. Read more: Bounce: Tool For Marking & Annotating Websites.


FamilyShield – is a great free service that provides protection from phishing schemes. But that is only its secondary object; the primary objective is to block all types of adults websites and save your children from viewing them online. Read more: FamilyShield: Block Adults Websites & Other Malware.



Anti-Theft For Mobile – There are a number of phone apps that provide great security for iPhones and Android based smartphones. There are 3 basic features these security apps offer: the ability to know where your phone is when lost, the ability to remotely lock your phone and the ability to remotely wipe all of your phone's data. Read more: Anti Theft For Mobile: Recover Lost/Stolen Cellphone & Protect Your Data.



Wordgames – If you love smart online games, then you should check out Wordgames. This website is a collection of fun word games and puzzles including popular ones such as Crossword, Sudoku, Hangman, and Typing. There are also more complicated word challenges that you can play here. Wordgames features a new game every week. Read more: Wordgames: Comprehensive Collection Of Fun Word Games online.



MyJobChart – If you are a working parent then you'll agree that managing daily household chores and getting kids to do simple tasks is not easy. Before you give up, you might want to try My Job Chart. It's a nice online tool that introduces a reward-based chore tracking system for kids to get them involved in some daily household work. Read more: MyJobChart: Manage Daily Household Chores With Family.


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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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Latest Hilarious Picks [MakeUseOf Geeky Fun]

Posted: 29 Jul 2010 06:45 PM PDT


Check out the top picks from MakeUseOf Geeky Fun during the last week.

  1. You look great, but I was hoping for … (Pic)
  2. Types of Mouse (Pic)
  3. Bill Consoles Steve About Jailbreaking (Pic)
  4. Getting Poked On Facebook (Video)
  5. The Evolution Of Apple (Pic)
  6. Internet Emotions Chart (Pic)

If you would like to keep up with all latest Geeky Fun additions, please subscribe to the Geeky Fun feed here. You can also subscribe and get the latest additions via email.

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Two Free Antivirus Programs For Mac OS X

Posted: 29 Jul 2010 06:31 PM PDT

antivirus for macAs Mac OS X users will tell you, Apple computers are far less likely to contract a virus than Windows based PCs. This is not, however, because OS X is a virtually impenetrable operating system, but rather because the meager market share of Mac computers makes them less appealing targets. The entire point of many viruses is to harvest data and create networks of “zombie” computers, so it doesn’t make sense to target OS X.

That does not mean, however, that OS X viruses don’t exist. They are rare, but they are possible, and can be just as damaging as Windows viruses when they do pop up. Also, OS X machines can pass on viruses that target Windows machines unknowingly.

To protect yourself (and your friends using Windows computers) you of course will need an antivirus for Mac.

PC Tools – iAntivirus for Mac

free antivirus for mac

The strange irony of the name aside, iAntivirus is one of the more popular antivirus options currently available for Mac OS X. It is made by PC Tools, a company responsible for products I have previously recommended such as PC Tools Free Firewall for the PC.

If there is any one thing I’ve consistently noticed about PC Tools it is that they put a high value on an easy to use and understand interface. The PC Tools iAntivirus software is simple to install and does not require that you make any decisions.

Once installed, a crosshair icon appears as a menu extra in the upper right. Clicking on it will let you open the program proper, but even then you’ll find only two options staring back at you. One is the option to scan your Mac and the other is the option to turn protection on or off.

antivirus for mac

The rest of the program’s options can be accessed by clicking on Preferences after opening the menu extra icon, but there aren’t many options to choose from. You can examine any items that are in quarantine, change the automated virus scan schedule, and view the history of the actions iAntivirus has taken. That’s it.  iAntivirus does not include advanced features like a phishing filter, nor does it include firewall software. It is an antivirus program for the Mac, plain and simple.

Choosing such a minimalist design is a bold move for a mostly Windows oriented company, but it feels appropriate. Of course, the downside to this is obvious. With so few options there is very little that you can do to change settings that you don’t like. If you want an antivirus that depends more on user control, read on.


free antivirus for mac

ClamXav is a different kind of beast. It is a free antivirus program that is based off ClamAV, an open source antivirus engine for UNIX machines. ClamXav is largely the work of one developer who works on the program regularly and provides it free of charge.

This is a valiant image – the lone programmer working for nothing to provide his OS X compatriots with antivirus protection – but it shows in the program’s overall usability. The first thing you’ll notice about ClamXav is that the installation processor is a bit confusing. You have to install the program into the Applications folder, but then an installer front end appears when you launch the program, and there is some kind of plugin to install as well. It isn’t rocket science, but it is more complex than it needs to be.

antivirus for mac

Once launched you’ll find that the interface’s basic functions are simple, but the more in-depth options (such as those in the Preferences menu) can be hard to understand. The program makes up for this by providing a buffet of features. An exclusions system lets you place certain files outside the jurisdiction of ClamXav so that you don’t waste time scanning files you know are safe. The scheduling software lets you choose the parts of your system you want to have scanned. Finally, ClamXav has a feature called Sentry that actively monitors folders of your choosing for viruses.

All of these advantages aside, ClamXav does feel a little out of place. Mac OS X is about simplicity and ease of use, but neither of these traits seem to have been a part of ClamXav’s design. Instead, the program serves as a reminder than Macs, simple though they may, uses UNIX as a foundation. But if creating antivirus exclusions by writing regular expressions is up your alley (or you even understand what that means) ClamXav is worth a look.


ClamXav and iAntivirus couldn’t be more different. While ClamXav is a detailed, customizable antivirus for Mac, targeted towards users who know more than the average bear, iAntivirus is a simple program that sacrifices user control at the altar of usability.

The decision here is not difficult. If you consider yourself a Mac power user, and you don’t mind acknowledging the UNIX foundation of OS X, ClamXav is for you. But if you think a UNIX just might be a male unicorn you’re probably better off with iAntivirus.

Which one do you prefer?

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5 Great Interactive Fiction Games You Can Play Online Right Now

Posted: 29 Jul 2010 02:31 PM PDT

interactive fictionThere’s no better time to be alive than right now as far as I’m concerned. The food is awesome, there’s great music being made all over the world and we have this fantastic little thing called the Internet, which allows me to work with good friends from all over the planet.

Yep, 2010 is the best year yet.

This deep love I have for today doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally wish awesome things from the past would come back, however. In the early 80’s most of the best games were text-based, meaning the graphics were provided by the player’s imagination. Just as film-making will never match books in my opinion, modern graphics haven’t yet caught up to the power of well-written text games and their ability to harness the imagination. But today such games are all gone, right?

Nope. Like I said, the best time to be alive is right now, and a big part of why is the Internet. There are countless text interactive fiction games being made now, three decades past the medium’s commercial prime, and they’re almost all freely available on the Internet. Called “Interactive Fiction” today, a list of the best games in this field would take ages to compile, so I’ll just show you a sampling of my favorite games that can be freely played online.

Lost Pig And Place Underground by Grunk

Pig lost! Boss say that it Grunk fault. Say Grunk forget about closing gate. Maybe boss right. Grunk not remember forgetting, but maybe Grunk just forget. Boss say Grunk go find pig, bring it back. Him say, if Grunk not bring back pig, not bring back Grunk either. Grunk like working at pig farm, so now Grunk need find pig.

interactive fictionSo begins this less-than-epic quest, in which our hero attempts to find a pig.

No, really: that’s the plot. And it’s amazing.

This short game’s narrative voice is deceptively simple, and will have you laughing out loud more than once as you play it. It also features some pretty good adventure-game-style puzzles, but don’t give up too quickly: you can deduce everything easily, making this a great game for beginners.

You can play Lost Pig online right now or find more information about Lost Pig at the Interactive Fiction Database (IFDB.)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

adult interactive fiction

Like many geeks I’m an avid devotee of Douglas Adams’ writing in general and the famous Hitchhiker’s Guide media franchise in particular. I love the radio series, the television show, the books and even tolerated the movie. I’m also quite fond of the classic Infocom game of the same title.

Happily this classic is playable online today. Find a version of the interactive fiction game with some graphics at the BBC’s website or the text version at Douglas Adam’s website.

The real charm of this game is its narrative voice – the text was written by Adams himself. This game is not easy, and includes no hint system, but devotees of Adams’ work should struggle through – it’s worth it just for the one-liners.

For A Change by Dan Schmidt

The sun has gone. It must be brought. You have a rock.

If you think that reads more like poetry than it does a game you’re probably right. This is a game as well as a poem, and a pretty good one at that.

A surrealistic adventure featuring an invented vocabulary provides an experience no other medium possibly could, and makes a strong case for the continued existence of text games. Be sure to check this one out.

Play ‘For a Change’ online or find out more about the game and download links at IFDB.

Photopia by Adam Cadre

interactive fictionLess a game than it is a story, Photopia is considered by many to be the most influential piece of interactive fiction in the post-Infocom era.

For this reason I highly recommend trying it out, although I fear talking too much about the plot will give too much away. I personally find this game beautiful, though there has always been controversy surrounding it so make up your own mind.

Check out Photopia now or find out more about the game over at IFDB.

Whom The Telling Changed by Aaron A. Reed

As your village in ancient Mesopotamia decides whether or not to go to war the legendary story of Gilgamesh is told. Your role is to, by asking the right questions, manipulate public opinion toward fighting or not fighting. This game is great if you have a working knowledge of the Gilgamesh epic (read it free here) and even better for repeat playing, as there are multiple possible endings.

Click here to play Who The Telling Changed now or read more about the game at IFDB.

Infocom Games

If you’re wondering where Zork is, the answer is that it’s hard to say. Technically Activision owns the rights to the Zork trilogy and the rest of the (amazing) Infocom library, which fueled the 80’s text game craze. They’ve not released any of these titles recently so far as I know.

This website seems to feature pretty much all of them, however, and you can play them in your browser. I’m not sure how legal this is, but it’s there and working.


This is but a small number of the text-based games you can find online, of course. You can find many more over at the IFDB, which serves as an online database of the many free games available. You’ll also find downloading instructions for any particular game there.

Well, do you think text games could be fun…or do you lack the attention span for them? Do any Interactive Fiction fans recommend games that I missed here? Comment away; we won’t tell you that you can’t.

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Hot Tech Deals [July 29th]

Posted: 29 Jul 2010 01:33 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. Sharp LC-60E88UN 60 inch LCD HDTV (1080p, 240Hz) $1599.99 via code WWH5F35XD47J1B
  2. Dell Studio XPS 7100 AMD 6-Core Hexacore 2.6GHz Desktop (4GB/1TB/Radeon HD5450) $699via code ?8CN$RJ?W5TQ0C
  3. ASUS RT-N12 802.11n 300Mbps Wireless N Router (DD-WRT) $29.99 Free Shipping via code EMCYVNV42
  4. SMC Barricade N ProMax Wireless N Router w/ Gigabit Ports & Printer Server $69.99
  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. HP dv6tse Intel Core i5-450M 15.6in Laptop (4GB/500GB/Blu-Ray/Radeon HD5470) $799.99
  8. Samsung Spinpoint M7 250GB Internal SATA Laptop Hard Drive $34.99

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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3 Best Websites To Find & Book A Bed Online

Posted: 29 Jul 2010 12:31 PM PDT

hostelsSummertime is travel time. What is your destination this year and where are you going to sleep? If you still need to find a place to stay, you should have a look at the three pages I’m reviewing in this article.

These are the best and most helpful sites to find accommodation anywhere in the world. Thousands of travelers use them for reference and lave their feedback, thus the ratings and reviews are a thorough revelation. In addition, HRS offers special deals for its users. Read on to see the strengths of each of the services.


Hostelworld advertises that it is the world’s number one hostel booking website.

find and book hostels

The interface is clear and easy to use. Enter your destination, arrival date, length of stay, and off you go to find the perfect hostel. The results page lists all available hostels, which can quickly be sorted by name, rating, availability, or price.

Very useful is the > Map View, which reveals the relative location of the hostels on a Google Map.

cheap hostels

When you open the site for a specific hostel, you are welcomed by > Info & Rates. In the > Map & Directions, you’ll find respective information, and detailed ratings and visitor feedback can be found under > Reviews. The sidebar shows the current location and dates you are looking at, which hostels you have viewed recently, and the top rated hostels of your current location.

cheap hostels

Once you proceed to booking, you have to pay a 10% deposit right away. The rest is payable once you arrive at the hostel. In addition, Hostelworld takes a service charge of £1, €1.50, or $2, depending on the currency you selected.


The ad on the start page shows that Hostelbookers is a fierce competitor of Hostelworld.

cheap hostels

The basic setup is similar to Hostelworld. However, when you pick a country, you will find a list of the top 10 (searched) before a list of all countries. In addition, the start page lists the current top deals and top hostel destinations around the globe.

Hostelbookers’ results page highlights featured listings and also offers a > Map View.

find hostels by location

The hostel page offers a thorough overview, ratings & reviews, and maps & directions. The sidebar is occupied by the booking box that shows the available rooms and respective rates.

amateur hostel

As with Hostelworld, you have to pay a 10% non-refundable deposit upon booking your room. However, Hostelbookers does not charge a booking fee. Moreover, they guarantee the lowest price and I’m sure you can hold them accountable for it.

Whether or not you mind a booking fee or prefer one layout over the other, when you cannot find a hostel on one site, it is worth checking out the other. Hostelbookers scored for finding an available hostel in a city for which two other pages reported no rooms were available. The hostel was probably not listed on the other sites.

Hotel Reservation Service

If you don’t fancy a hostel or can’t find one, you should use HRS to find a hotel.

amateur hostel

The search interface is slightly different as it allows for a more specific search. You can specify the maximum distance of the hotel from the destination you selected. You can also define a minimum star rating.

The results page provides a > List with many details: the exact location, HRS Stars, price, included meals, distance from the city center, distances from central station, airport, and highway, and finally available facilities.

amateur hostel

The > Map scrolls down from the top and shows the location of the hotels. The > Gallery provides an overview with less daunting details. Exclusive HRS prices and hot deals are highlighted with respective icons in both > List and > Gallery view.

find hostels by location

In the sidebar you can refine your search by limiting the price per night, HRS Stars, and ratings. You can also set various filters, such as type of hotel, room facilities, and services at the hotel.

Whether you click on the hotel name, price details, or information and reservation, the hotel page will open in a separate popup window. Despite the typical information, it also contains a > Weather tab that shows the latest forecast.


The reservation process loads in the main window. HRS doesn’t charge fees, at least none that are obvious. Since you only make a reservation, no deposit must be paid. Nevertheless, the reservation is binding.

Before you proceed to book a hostel or hotel through any of these sites, visit the homepage of the desired house and see what the prices are there. Even though Hostelbookers guarantees the lowest price, you might save a few cents on your credit card bill, if you can secure a bed without having to pay a deposit. Or you may find that the place currently offers a special deal.

Do you need more help with planning your trip? Check out the following MakeUseOf articles:

What was the best hostel or hotel you ever stayed at and how did you find it?

Image Credits: remind

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Battle It Out With Players Across The World On Hero Fighter

Posted: 29 Jul 2010 11:31 AM PDT

play fighting games onlineIt is one thing to play a fighting game like Street Fighter where you battle out computerized opponents. In time, you eventually learn the tricks and techniques of the computer, and you can usually conquer the opponent once you get enough practice in. But when you’re playing other real players who, like you, have been practicing their moves and tactics for some time, the level of excitement and competition multiplies.

I used to be a major video game player, until I had a family and then only turned to video games in times of high stress. It is usually now an outlet that I use when I just need to set my work down and forget about the world for a while. So, I was very excited to stumble across a very cool fighting game online this month called Hero Fighter that I could install and play right on my laptop.

We’ve covered a number of places where you can play fighting games online at MakeUseOf before. Simon previously covered three pretty cool games including Manga Fighter for kids, the Lost Saga, and of course the very cool Toribash fighting game. Hero Fighter is a bit different than these in that it’s an arena game with no real plot other than taking out your opponent using whatever means at your disposal. And it’s a very cool way to relieve stress.

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Hero Fighter is a desktop download for Windows, and it includes a second add-on “Room Server” that’s packaged up with the install. When you launch the game, you’re presented with the option to either start playing immediately in single-player mode, or you can connect to a network game.

I wanted to warm up a bit, as it’s been quite some time since I’ve had time to play fighting games online. After clicking on the key settings and adjusting them to my preferences, I clicked on Start Game. After setting up myself as player 1 and adding the computer opponent, game play (in easy mode) started up.

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The first thing I noticed about gameplay is the quality of graphics. The background, objects and all of the scenery are well done, and the effects of hitting objects, like logs or rocks, are realistic. I also thought the soundtrack was pretty cool too. After a few swings, the computer apparently got pretty fed up with me and went into a full charge, as you can see here. A couple more swings of my hefty sword and he was down for the count. I was victorious in my very first round, and feeling pretty good about myself.

Feeling pretty confident, I went back to the main menu and chose network mode. Connecting is pretty easy, you just select the official room list first and you’ll see a list of available servers.

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I was thinking there wouldn’t be anyone online because it’s so late here, but then glancing at the list I remembered that we’re talking a global gamer world here. There were a few folks online in Hong Kong and Germany – and people coming online and offline constantly. After browsing down the short list of servers available this late at night, I decided to join the folks over in Hong Kong to show them what a western boy is capable of.

A few things that I noticed about network play is that your latency is heavily dependent upon the location of the server you choose – so try to stick to your own country if possible. However, even playing on a Hong Kong server wasn’t too bad. Game play was relatively smooth, even with six players hacking it out against each other.

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The moment I entered the battlefield with these seasoned gamers from Hong Kong, I immediately entered into a charge against an unsuspecting player that had just run off-screen to the lower right. Now, if you look up and to the right of me, there’s this innocent looking red-headed girl holding a huge spear. Well, she wasn’t eyeing me because she thought I was cute. Within about four strides, she was all over me, and within five or six swipes of that spear, I was flat on my back – game over. So much for that!

One thing that I can tell you about this game is that it is easily one of the most addictive network fighting games that I’ve ever played. The controls aren’t overly complicated – it’s basically four directions, guard, attack and jump. The secret is practicing with getting the timing and placement just right. The game is so intuitive and easy to learn, that a few rounds with the computer in single player mode, and before long you’ll be battling out in tournaments as well as the best of them.

Have you ever played Hero Fighter? What do you think of it? Do you play of any other fighting games online that are as good or better? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Top 5 Ways To Annoy Your Followers On Twitter

Posted: 29 Jul 2010 10:31 AM PDT

how to annoy peopleDo you remember the utterly pointless article about how to annoy your friends on Facebook?  Well, utterly pointless if you don’t like to be annoying sometimes.  Believe it or not, Facebook is not the only place you can be annoying online.  If you really truly enjoy getting on people’s nerves, why not attempt it on Twitter also?

In this article I would like to show you that it is truly easy to annoy people on Twitter.  In fact, it is so easy that some of these ideas are regularly practiced on Twitter already, and probably by accident.

Take this as a warning, if you are already doing one of these and didn’t know it was annoying, well, now you know.

Tweet In All Caps, All The Time

If you’ve been near a computer for a while, you will know that using all caps is yelling.  Want know how to annoy people in real life?  Walk around yelling everything.  Want to annoy someone on Twitter?  Do the same thing. Unless you are Billy Mayes, you can’t pull it off without being annoying.

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Maybe you’ll get attention, but not in a good way.  Go hurt someone else’s digital ears.

Tweet Something Spammy Over & Over Again

OK, I know that once you begin to repeat something over and over it becomes spam in itself.  However, doing it with a statement that is spammy already is what will make it that much more annoying.  It could be an affiliate link, a link to a contest, a promotion to your favorite blog post, or just something mundane.  Repeating it over and over will definitely get you on the “annoying wagon.”

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As a personal note, if someone I am following starts doing this, I will more than likely drop them like a ton of dead bricks.  Take that as a warning.

Tweet Updates About Every Mundane Thing That Happens Throughout The Day

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Chances are you are not cool enough for everyone to care how much milk you put in your corn flakes this morning.  They probably won’t care what brand of toothpaste you chose this time and whether or not it tastes good.  Seriously, get out of bed, put your stupid socks on, eat your cereal, and brush your teeth and KEEP IT TO YOURSELF.  Sorry, bud, but nobody cares.

Don’t Reply To Anyone Who Speaks To You On Twitter

how to annoy peopleThe silent treatment is not meant for Twitter.  Have you ever heard of something called conversation?  Isn’t that one of the points, maybe even the goal of having a Twitter account?  To communicate?  If all you are on Twitter is to speak and not listen, good luck keeping followers.  I know we have covered this already, but most people are there to communicate.  @ Replies are not all that difficult to figure out.

This is even more annoying when a company on Twitter does this.  Why have a Twitter account to interact with your customers if you are going to forget they even have a voice?  Trust me, they do, and they’ll use it even if you’re not listening.

Use Multiple Twitter Accounts To Tweet The Same Tweets All The Time

I know some people (@BrettBarner who also runs @godlysheep) that I believe know how to run multiple Twitter accounts without being annoying.  However, if you are just using multiple accounts hoping that different people will follow each and that it will equal more followers, you’re annoyingly mistaken.  Run a personal one and one for your business or blog but do it right and keep things separate.  Does that mean you shouldn’t tweet the occasional cross-tweet?  No, but don’t go overboard.

Twitter can be a great tool for communication, if used correctly.  It can also be a great tool to use to annoy the followers you love the most, if used incorrectly.

Take a gander at MakeUseOf’s Twitter guide in order to get a handle on things.  I hope it helps.

What else can people do on Twitter to be annoying?  Share in the comments.

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Skim – An Alternative PDF Reader & Note Taker for Mac

Posted: 29 Jul 2010 09:31 AM PDT

free pdf readerWhen it comes to PDF, Mac users have everything they need built in, supported natively by the OS. Creating a PDF is as easy as printing a document, while reading and modifying one can be done from Preview. Most users probably never bother to look for alternatives, and therefore might miss out on one good alternative free PDF reader called Skim.

This is a PDF reader and note-taker for OS X which was originally designed to help users read and annotate scientific papers in PDF. But it is also great for viewing any PDF document.

Focus On Readers

The first thing that I noticed from Skim was the unique features of the table of contents pane on the left. Chapters that I have read are marked differently to unread chapters. And if you hover your mouse above a specific part of the document, Skim will show a quick glance of the content. I think this is a very useful feature for doing quick skimming.

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This table of contents pane also allows you to do a quick search on a specific word or phrase from the document. This feature will be very handy if you are dealing with a very thick text book with thousands of pages. You can choose to see the results by words or by relevance.

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If you want to focus on your reading and free yourself from distraction, go to “View – Presentation (or Fullscreen)” menu.

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Skim will show only the document with other things blocked out.

02a Presentation Mode.jpg

If you combine the feature with “Tools – Rotate” menu

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Along with “PDF Display – Single Page” and “Zoom To Fit” under the “PDF” menu,

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You could turn your MacBook into a nice eBook reader -athough holding a laptop sideways is a little bit uncomfortable.

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Focus On Learners

Skim lets users create notes easily within the PDF document. So if you find something useful in the book or you want to be reminded about things that you need to do regarding the text that you read, just add some notes directly on the page.

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There is another kind of note called “Anchored Note“. This type is used for longer notes. You can assign a title and icon to it. It resides on a page as a small icon and will pop up if you double click on it.

03b Anchored Note — New note.jpg

To further the ability to annotate documents, Skim also allows users to draw circles, rectangles, and lines; and also to highlight the text.

03c Annotate Document.jpg

Another tool that can help users in their learning is taking snapshots. You can take “snapshots” of important sections of a PDF document, to keep them on your screen for easy reference. This way you don’t have to leaf back to the section every time you want to see it.

03d Take Snapshots.jpg

All of these annotations and snapshots could be found quickly by using Notes Pane. You can show/hide the pane via “View – Show/Hide Notes Pane“.

03e Show Notes Pane-1.jpg

If you need to remove one (or more) of the notes, you can do so by right clicking on the item(s) within this pane and choose “Delete“. It’s possible to use other basic editing commands here such as Copy, Edit and Select. Choosing “Show” will bring you the notes from wherever you are in the document.

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These are only a few basic features of Skim that I was able to explore during my short encounter with it, but it covers what ordinary users need. Power users might want to dig deeper to more advanced features such as AppleScript support; Interaction with LaTeX, SyncTeX, and PDFSync; and Integration with BibDesk and other third party applications. Refer to the Help menu for more help.

What do you think of Skim? Have you tried it? Do you know any other good free PDF readers that we might have missed? Please share them using the comments below.

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5 Of The Best Free WordPress Portfolio Themes

Posted: 29 Jul 2010 08:31 AM PDT

free wordpress themesWordPress is a powerful content management system, and its popularity as a portfolio solution is enticing to many. There are a lot of themes out there that claim to do the job, but if you're as picky as me you'll find some pretty annoying flaws in many of them.

In my search for the best of the bunch, I installed about 30 offerings (out of the hundreds I looked at) and after trying them out and changing my mind a couple of times I finally settled down with a theme. This took me months, so I'm going to save you the bother and present the five free Wordpress portfolio themes that made my own particular shortlist.

SimpleFolio – The Best All-Rounder

Despite being a tricky free WordPress theme to set-up, SimpleFolio by Omar Corrales is worth the hassle. For your troubles you'll get a clean and easy-to-navigate theme with a separate portfolio section (with the option to exclude portfolio posts from your blog) and a home screen to die for.

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The home screen includes a JavaScript front-page slider to exhibit portfolio entries, which does a great job of making your work look awesome with its smooth transitions. There are a further three widgetized areas on the home page, so adding a contact form or Twitter plug-in is as easy as pie.

If you like the look of this theme and fancy giving it a go, then you're going to need a little help. There’s a fantastic little guide over at WordPress Handyman which guides you through the ins and outs of setting up and maintaining your new portfolio. As always with WordPress, you can edit the style.css file to suit your personal tastes.

Vikiworks Infinity – For Social Media Types

For an aesthetically pleasing, majorly customizable portfolio that's plugged in to Flickr, Twitter and Delicious, look no further than Infinity by Vikiworks. The free WordPress theme follows a three-fixed column style, and whilst not being widget ready could probably be modified with some serious Notepad'ing.

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There are two PSD files to download as well as the theme, which makes customization in Photoshop that little bit easier. Blog posts themselves are presented in two thumbnail cover-style columns to the left of the page, so if you're not bothered about separating your work and your blog then this one's for you.

For the more courageous there's a sister theme called Mashup based on Infinity, only with widgets and a style switcher. The developer has appealed for help in completing it, and needs guinea pigs willing to give it a go. If you're not averse to beta testing, you can download Mashup here.

FolioGrid – For Speed-Freaks, Designers, Photographers & Artists

This sharp looking offering from FrogsThemes has a little something for everyone. Utilising the tried-and-tested grid layout, the theme comes in a variety of colours and is easily altered with some handy CSS. All the styling is done through the theme's stylesheet, meaning you really can open up and customize this one.

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The menu lives at the top of the page, and is always accessible from anywhere on the site, making it a cinch to navigate. There's some lovely use of jQuery for slick transitions, and the theme is widget-ready. For a fast and lightweight WordPress portfolio, FolioGrid does the job.

Fullscreen – For Style-Conscious Photographers & Videographers

If photos are the order of the day then you may want to pay close attention. Fullscreen is a portfolio package developed by Graph Paper Press that delivers nothing but a menu and blog posts (represented by just images). It all makes for a very sexy looking clean interface, with some fancy JavaScript image rollover effects for added garnish.

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One thing to look out for is some issues with the menu not displaying correctly in older versions of Internet Explorer, though some of you won't really care (and those that do can customize, of course).

Images can be implemented into posts using the WordPress media gallery, which makes for easy posting. If you want your photo or video work to be the main focus of your site, then this theme will honour your wishes.

Contrast – The Black Sheep

SmashingMagazine once hosted a typographic layout competition for WordPress and Tumblr themes, and Paul Linder's Contrast didn't win. But that doesn't matter, because it's awesome all the same.

Using nothing but XHTML and CSS, it's lightning quick and beautiful to look at. Presenting you with a straight-up black and white home screen, Contrast is designed to be left as a portfolio rather than a blog as well.

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As the focus is on text, many writers, copy-editors or web designers may find this appealing, though the minimalist design could suit anyone. It's bold, unique and quick.

Have you used any of these free WordPress themes? Got another favourite we've not featured here? Spread the word in the comments! Are you a photographer? Check out our very own photography PDF manual by Bakari — The Essential Guide To Digital Photography.



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