Wednesday, August 11, 2010 “Cool Websites and Tools [August 10th]” plus 11 more “Cool Websites and Tools [August 10th]” plus 11 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [August 10th]

Posted: 10 Aug 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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Iorad – is a web service that lets you create a comprehensive instruction manual for any application. It is more like a web-based version of PowerPoint but with lots of extra features. You can capture and insert screenshots and video clips, insert text boxes, buttons, roll overs, mouse symbols, arrows and captions to images. Read more: Iorad: Easily Make Instruction Manual For Any App.


TweakTube – There are lots of Firefox add-ons available for YouTube, each having a unique feature. TweakTube combines all of them in a single add-on to enhance your YouTube experience. In addition to letting you download videos in MP4, FLV and MP3 formats, TweakTube auto-pagerizes so when you reach the bottom of the results page, the next page is automatically inserted. Read more: TweakTube: Enhance Your YouTube Experience [Firefox Addon].



MN Robots.txt Generator – With the help of a Robots.txt file, site owners can tell search engines which parts of the site not to look in. Almost all search engines respect this protocol. Although you can create a Robots.txt file yourself, “MN Robots.txt Generator” makes the job much easier. Read more: MN Robots.txt Generator: Easily Create A Robots.txt File For Your Website.



PresentationMagazine – Making an effective presentation
is more than putting a few slides together. You have to be precise, informative and still be able to keep the reader's attention. If you want to create a great presentation, PresentationMagazine is a vital resource to check out. Read more: PresentationMagazine: Free Presentation Speeches, Articles, Tips & Templates.



PageModo – Facebook pages are a great way to promote your business or brand. You can add pictures, information, videos and everything else that you can on a regular webpage. If you think creating a professional looking Facebook page requires a lot of effort, check out PageModo. Read more: PageModo: Create Professional Facebook Pages Without Any Coding.


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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: 10 Aug 2010 07:45 PM PDT


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

  1. Job Hunting Online (Pic)
  2. No Google, I didn't even remotely mean that! (Pic)
  3. If The Dinosaurs Had Twitter… (Pic)
  4. Fake Vintage Ads For Facebook, YouTube & Skype (Pic)
  5. The Human Body in HTML & PHP (Pic)
  6. Hitler tells how to secure iPhone (Video)

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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The 10 Toughest Tech Questions [MakeUseOf Answers]

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 07:30 PM PDT

If there was one thing you could change about MakeUseOf Answers, what would it be? You can post your suggestions in reply to this question. Thank you very much in advance!

While you’re pondering your potential input, have a look at our toughest questions below. An answer could earn you $50 in our Best Answer of the Week contest. Please use a valid eMail address or log in with your Disqus or Facebook account. After all, we need to contact you in case you win!

Here are the challenges:

  1. What is the problem with my keyboard?
  2. How can I play a video backwards in Windows 7?
  3. Is there a Mac program similar to PStart for Windows?
  4. How can I set up a media center between a Mac and a PS3?
  5. Can you recommend a mobile TV app for my Android phone?
  6. How can I share files between Windows XP and Windows 98SE?
  7. Can I make clickable shortcuts to macros?
  8. How can I fix Bluetooth connectivity on my MacBook?
  9. How can I bypass the region requirements for DVDs?
  10. How can I connect a Bluetooth keyboard to my HTC EVO?

You learn and share at MakeUseOf Answers. Browse your challenges by Latest Questions, Unanswered Questions or Most Popular Questions. For regular updates subscribe to the Answers RSS Feed.

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How To Easily Create A Slideshow For Your Website With WebProjector

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 06:31 PM PDT

make my own slideshowPhoto slideshows are an awesome way to show off a group of pictures on a website.  There are several ways to go about displaying such a slideshow.  First of all, you can use a photo service like Flickr or Picasa (online version) to group your pictures together and embed the result on your site.

Secondly you can create a video file of your slideshow, upload it to a video sharing site like YouTube and embed the video on your site.

Thirdly, which WebProjector makes so simple, is hosting the picture files on your own site and displaying them somehow in a slideshow.

As I mentioned above, WebProjector makes adding a photo slideshow to your website very simple.  It uses Flex technology and it basically comes down to only a few simple steps to get the slideshow up and running.

Download The Zip File

Visit the homepage and scroll down to where it says “Download” and click the link labeled “zip.”

make my own slideshow

Download the file, open it up, and decompress the files in a folder on your hard drive.  We are going to modify some things before we upload it to your web server, like adding your photos and music and a few tweaks.

Get Your Photos In Place

You will notice that in the folder that there is a sub-folder named “images.”  You will find the sample images in there but you want to replace them with your own.  Just delete them and paste your own in there.

create slideshow

When we modify the XML file we will make sure your photos’ filenames are called upon instead of the samples.

Get Your Music In Place

Assuming you have your own MP3 you’d rather have playing in the background, you will want to replace the default MP3 with your own.  You want the easiest way?  Rename your MP3 to “music.mp3″ and copy it over the default file.  Easy as pie.

Modify The projector.xml File

Open up projector.xml in a text editor (which is your favorite?) for some simple editing.

create slideshow

Don’t worry, everything we want to tweak is labeled and not all that confusing.  Test the slideshow by saving the XML file and open the index.html file in order to see the changes.

The first thing you want to pay attention to is the maximum hight and maximum width variables.  You can change these numbers to change the size of the slideshow.  It appears to be in pixels, just so you know.

Next you can change some time settings.  Mess around a bit until you get them where you want them.  You can tweak such things as the fade in and fade out durations and the duration of each slide itself.

Besides the option to show the startup logo or not, the next few variables you should look at control how things look.  Mess around with the width of the border and some of the colors that will show.  You have to know the color hex code though.  This color picker should be able to help you find hex codes for the colors you want.

Now make sure the image directory and MP3 file name are correct.  Tweak the sound setting to your liking.  Besides entering the photo names in the order you want the slides displayed, you are all set with the XML file.

Edit the index.html file to change the words that appear above the slideshow.

create slideshow

You could put something explaining the slideshow or whatever you want.  The default “This is a sample page…” just has to go.

Save & Upload

The final step will make your slideshow live.  Using something like FileZilla, upload the whole directory to your webspace.  In order to link to it, link to either the directory or the index.html file.  Either should really do it.

So there you have it: your very own slide show hosted in your own webspace (here’s my test slideshow).

make my own slideshow

I’m sure you could do some cool stuff like implementing the HTML code into another page.  You could even create a portfolio page from the HTML file given you.  I just showed you the basics of setting it up.

Tell me, what you think about WebProjector?  What do you use to share slideshows and why?

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The 10 Most Amazing Free Tumblr Themes

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 04:31 PM PDT

tumblr themesYes, WordPress is by far the most popular blogging platform. But that is not a reason to discount the others. Tumblr has kept on its steady growth as well.

It’s one of the easiest, straightforward blogs, and it’s got an impressive array of themes. We already discussed the Top 10 Free Themes To Create a Tumblr Portfolio, but now it’s time for the actual bloggers to get a treat.

Below are ten of the most amazing Tumblr themes (freely) available!


Chunky is a strong, multi-columned theme. At the top a dark, weighty header that’ll immediately capture your readers’ attention and promote the ‘brand’ feeling of your blog. It also demos the ultra-bold typeface that’s continued throughout the rest of the Tumblr theme in quotations and titles.

tumblr layouts

Your content is spread out over the three columns. Although this might sound counter-intuitive, the result feels simply playful, and still natural. The Chunky Tumblr theme is flexible in appearance, so don’t think you’ll be stuck with the grass-green look; a wide array of color combinations are at your disposal.

Two-word synopsis: Strong & Playful


Linear is a theme for minimalists. It rids itself of the superfluous bulk, which results in a feel of modern clarity. It’s a one-column Tumblr theme, with extra info on the left hand side of the posts in a grey, non-dominating typeface.

tumblr themes

The emphasis is clearly on the content, and on the content alone. A bare look like this leaves little space for branding, especially considering the fact that the theme is already widely-used. You can see the ‘Untitled’ blog title in the top left corner.

Two-word synopsis: Minimalist & Minimalist

Orange Peel

Orange Peel tries a different kind of minimalism. Although the theme is still void of any abundant elements, the emphasis has clearly shifted. The header is prominent in this design, atop the categories, and post information gets far more attention.

tumblr layouts

This Tumblr theme, with its two-fold color scheme, is perfect for bloggers who are still heavy on the content, but still want to nurture the face of their blog, albeit without an abundance of eye-candy.

Two-word synopsis: Minimalist & Balance

Paper Walls

One can still stay in the more sober regions of theming, yet offer a taste of eye-candy to their readers. After all, visual elements are not only pleasing, but will be remembered and associated with your blog in the long-term.

tumblr layouts

Paper Walls features an inconspicuous striped background and an old school header, with a predominating blue-gray color scheme. Posts are put on top of crumbled paper, (figuratively) giving more texture to the overall design of your blog. This theme manages to look appealing, classy, and yet still a little playful.

Two-word synopsis: Classy & Fun


Solstice is more of what you’d expect to find in a blog theme, and one of the darker themes featured in this compilation. The layout is simple, but also strong in appearance because of the high contrast in the color scheme.

Posts are arranged in a one classic-blog column, with the type of post and number of notes indicated at the left hand side.

Two-word synopsis: Classic & Dark


Traveling around the world? Spending a weekend in Prague? If you’re using your Tumblr as a travel log, as many users do, you should dress (your blog) to the occasion. Postage is a Tumblr theme that tries to pull off the postcard-look, and off-pulling it does.

Under the theme-header is room for your blog name and description. Further down, the theme is divided into two columns; your posts on the left, without too much graphical jumble, and more information on the right.

Two-word synopsis: Travel & Light


Papercut is a tidier implementation of the on-paper look, as demonstrated in the Paper Walls theme, above. With straighter edges and less wrinkles, this theme looks far more professional. On the left side you can view post type and number of notes. These half-transparent buttons are the only real colors in this theme, and gives it a more modern touch.

You’ll notice that this is a very strict one-column theme – in fact, the information buttons is the only thing that’s sticking over the edge. As such, the ‘about’ column is also removed – this theme is title and content only.

Two-word synopsis: Modern & Strict


LightGrid aims to seduce alternative young ‘uns, with a predominately bright-colored (blue and yellow) color scheme. The theme is both playful and strict, but certainly modern.

With the design being mostly typographic and cut-out shapes, LightGrid isn’t very graphical in the strict sense, but most will agree that it’s certainly eye-appealing.

Two-word synopsis: Alternative & Sober


This Tumblr theme was not created by, but based on the Esquire magazine (US edition). It features the same alternative color scheme and cut-out graphics, but in a different fashion than the theme above.

The Esquire theme features a static column on the left, and a scrolling column on the right – with your content. The design is certainly busier, but perfectly in balance and gives your blog both an alternative and a greatly professional look.

Two-word synopsis: Alternative & Professional


The last in our line of alternative is plaid. If light-grid was sober, Plaid is one of the busiest themes on Tumblr. Here, busy doesn’t mean disorderly, but graphically pressing – in a good way.

tumblr themes

Plaid is without any doubt an incredibly strong team, and if you aim to entertain a crowd of alternative youngsters, it’s an incredible theme. This theme makes you stick out of the crowd.

Two-word synopsis: Busy & Strong

Do you know of any other great Tumblr themes? Let us know in the comments section below!



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10 Websites For Virtual Sightseeing With Travel Videos

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 02:31 PM PDT

virtual sightseeingThere are many kinds of travelers. There are the ones who simply want to go from Point A to Point B without much bustle. There are the regulars on the travel circuits for whom the journey is more important than the destination. Then there are the ones who would love to travel but are moored to one place for whatever rhyme or reason.

Whether it is the backpacking thrill seeker or the armchair traveler, the internet is definitely the first place on the itinerary for most. The rich variety of travel websites cover every conceivable route to reach a destination and seek out its sights.

You can start your foray with 10 Travel Websites That Should Be Bookmarked and then cruise through our travel tips. But one little bit is still missing.

For a bit of “live” virtual sightseeing, you need travel videos. Travel videos are just the thing to satisfy the armchair traveler too while the hopeful tourist gets a third eye view of a travel destination.

Before you book your tickets, do some virtual sightseeing with the help of these ten websites.


virtual sightseeing

When you land on, the interactive map immediately tells you the number of videos each region has. Choose your destination by clicking on the map and then drilling down to the destination of your choice. Or you can go to the Browse Videos by Country list.

The nearly 10,000 travel videos may not cover all the areas you want to travel to but they sure hint at the destinations you should catch if you are somewhere close by. You can upload your own videos and share them with your friends too.

Trip Films has 8000+ videos and a few more extra features that may induce you to keep this travel website in your plans for virtual sightseeing. All videos uploaded by the community of users get reward points (and rewards). You can be a 'vlogger' by uploading travel videos and land yourself a job here. You can go on a junket and get paid for it too! The site has lots of tips and advice on how to shoot travel videos.

GeoBeats is a video travel guide that from first appearances looks like a well designed movie website. The travel videos are made by its global network of local filmmakers and that's why travel videos look absolutely professional. The videos may be short, but they are well researched and informative.

The destinations covered are mostly Europe and U.S centric with a few Latin American and Asian countries thrown in. But individual places are covered with a nice selection of local sights.

Zoom And Go

virtual sights takes the travel video searcher straight to the destination with an interactive travel map. You can pick where to go, what to see, what to do, and where to stay based on the pictures, videos, and reviews sent in by the travelers' community. On the Google Map, you can choose to view pictures, videos, or both. Then use a slider to zoom to the location.


Videomap is another virtual sightseeing website which relies on a Google Map (or the Videomap 3D plug-in for Google Earth) to help you pinpoint the right travel location. You can also take the help of the Coverage Map which shows the number of videos per country. It is basically an Italian website but has English translations.

Its 1000+ videos may not yet matchup with the previous websites. But what you might like are its multiple map based tools to explore the world as a virtual tourist.

Compulsive Traveler

The traveler's website is the online version of 'The Compulsive Traveler' series running on CBS. You can to the travel videos by People, Places, and Channels. The latter gives you instances like – 10 Best Things to Do, Luxury Win Tours, Road Trips etc. These are just some of the broad variety this video travel guide covers.

Travel Channel

virtual sights

Just like the previous website, The Travel Channel is the online arm of a TV travel show. There's also a high-definition online video service which may be available in some U.S locations. You can check it out with your ZIP code. They also provide travel related mobile content.

Just like the TV channel, you have worldwide coverage of sights, sounds, and smells. You can choose to cover ground by choosing Trips by Topic or even Spin the Globe. Voyage choices are aplenty from the 350+ destinations on the travel site.

Overlander TV

virtual sights

The About page of this website defines travel videos aptly as 'backpack filmmaking'. In fact, the online travel video website has a category by that name. The category dropdown also shows that most of the content is Australia centric, but why not, Australia is a great tourist destination isn't it?  There are some that cover Spain and Ireland too.


The website seemed to be down, but the YouTube channel is alive in all its wanderlust glory. You get free travel videos of Europe, Asia, USA and 400 other top destinations hosted on YouTube.

Lonely Planet TV

virtual sightseeing

The Lonely Planet guidebook has always found a corner in the traveler's suitcase. One of the best websites for travel buffs has a place reserved exclusively for travel films. You can expect the coverage to be on the spot when it is owned by BBC Worldwide.

You can view videos by channel (check out the Bluelist and Encounters channels) or take to the interactive map. You can also post videos for public viewing and create your own playlists. This website is a must visit just like the Taj Mahal.

Hopefully these video travel guides will inspire you to get up from your armchair and explore the world. Are you a virtual globetrotter or a very real one? Let us know.

Image Credit :Mags cat

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Hot Tech Deals [Aug 10th]

Posted: 10 Aug 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.

Keep reading to find out today’s Hot Tech Deals.

  1. Dell Inspiron 15 Intel Core i3-350M 2.26GHz 15.6in Laptop (3GB/250GB/Win7) $499.99 via code ?8CN$RJ?W5TQ0C
  2. Dell Inspiron 14z Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 ULV 14in Laptop (4GB/500GB/2yr Warranty) $700.79 via codes 6KWMM0JFLZK0W? and ?8CN$RJ?W5TQ0C
  3. Madden NFL 11 Game (Xbox 360/PS3) w/ $20 Walmart Gift Card $59.96
  4. Vizio E320VL 32 inch LCD HDTV (720p) $348
  5. LG LHB535 5.1ch 1100W Home Theater System w/ Netflix Streaming Blu-Ray Player $379.99 via code HTS84A
  6. Yamaha RX-V567BL 7.1ch 90W/ch AV Receiver + LG Blu-ray Player $429.95 via code FREEGFT89A
  7. ThinkGeek Coupon Code $10 off $30+ via code SDCC
  8. iGg iPhone 4 TPU Case w/ Inner Check Design $0.99 via code ip4innercheck
  9. Nintendo Wii AirCharge Inductive Charger (includes Charging Station and 2 Rechargeable Batteries) $17.99
  10. Ultimate Ears MetroFi 170 Noise-Isolating Headphones $19.99

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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How To Transcribe Audio & Video Files Into Text With The Help Of Express Scribe

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 12:31 PM PDT

transcribe a recordingThose who do a lot of audio to text transcriptions know only too well that even with the help of a digital player, digital word processor, and the ability to type using ten fingers at an amazing speed, transcribing is still a challenging task. Especially because catching what other people say is not as easy as it sounds, and most normal human typing speeds can never catch up to speaking speed.

To make the matter worse, you have to do a lot of stopping-rewinding-replaying to the audio/video files, and continuously go back and forth between the player and word processor.

Luckily, Express Scribe can help you solve the problem.

Not only can it slow down the audio files while maintaining constant pitch, it will also give you playback shortcuts that you can use from within your word processor. This amazing software is available for Mac, Windows and Linux; and it’s totally free.

Now let’s take a look at the basic features of the software. (Note: I’m using the Mac version, so there might be slight differences with the Windows and Linux version).

Slow Down, Stay Stable

To start a transcription process, open the app and click on the “Load” button from the main window and browse to the location of the file. You can load several files at once by using the Command key while selecting multiple files.

transcribe a recording

Then you can play the file using the controls that you will find in the main window. These tools consist of standard playback buttons like “Play – Stop – Rewind – Fast Forward” and other more advanced tools like “Speed” and “Playback Position” sliders.

01c Express Scribe Main Window.jpg

If you do a lot of transcriptions, the Speed slider is the answer to your prayers. You can adjust the playback to be slow enough for your ten fingers to catch up. Express Scribe will keep the pitch stable and maintain the words as clear as they are in the original speed.

Once you press the “Play” button, a “Multi Channel Display” window will appear. This window allows you to adjust the volume of the left and right audio channels, or turn them on/off.

transcribe software

Setting Up The Hot Keys

Even though all the controls are just a click away, the purpose of using this app is so we don’t have to go back and forth between the player and the word processor. Express Scribe allows you to set up hotkeys to control its functions from within other applications.

To add hot keys, open the “Preferences“.

transcribe software

Then go to the “Hot-keys” tab and check the “Enable system-wide hot-keys” box. After that click the “Add” button.

transcribe software

Choose one of the functions from the drop-down list, and click “Change” to assign shortcut to it. Press the key combination that you chose, and click “OK.


There are a lot of functions listed on the list, but I personally think that you should assign hotkeys only to the most important playback functions as memorizing too many shortcuts is not going to make the process faster. You should also use the most practical but unused key combinations.

Here’s the list of all my shortcuts and the hot-keys to give you a clearer picture.

  • Play : “Ctrl + Alt + Right Arrow”
  • Stop : “Ctrl + Alt + Period”
  • Rewind : “Ctrl + Alt + Left Arrow”
  • Go to start : “Ctrl + Alt + 0″
  • Decrease playback speed (-5%) : “Ctrl + Alt + Down Arrow”
  • Increase playback speed (+5%) : “Ctrl + Alt + Up Arrow”

Setting Up The Default Word Processor

You can open the word processor that you are going to use to write the transcription straight from the Express Scribe window. The default application is whatever application that you set to open a “.doc” file (In most computer, this will be Microsoft Word).


But if you want to use a different application as your chosen word processor – maybe something simple like TextEdit (Mac) or Notepad (Windows) – just change the default template file from the “Preferences – Other“.


First, create a blank document with the extension that you choose, and add the file to the Express Scribe template list.

transcribe mp3

Then select the file, click the “Set to default” button followed by the “OK” button.

transcribe mp3

Now every time you click the “Open Word Processor” button, Express Scribe will open your chosen application.

Another useful transcribing tool that you can use is the ability to add a time stamp to the word processor. This feature is very useful for those who do movie or interview transcriptions.

This tool can be accessed under the “Notes – Copy To Clipboard – Time” menu, or simply “Command + T” from within Express Scribe.

transcribe a recording

Barely Scratch The Surface

As an amateur transcriber, this is the extent to what I use the software for. But I have barely scratched the surface. There are more advanced features for pro-level transcribers such as support for a professional foot pedal, the ability to dock analog and digital portable recording, playing movie files (with additional plugins), and integration with speech recognition software. You can see the complete list on the website.

Have you tried to transcribe? Do you know other alternatives? Have you pushed Express Scribe to its limit? Share your experiences using the comments below.

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Listen To Your Favorite Music Online For Free With Grooveshark

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 11:31 AM PDT

listen to music onlineCould Grooveshark be the best service for streaming music? A lot of people have taken to online music. It’s a great way to listen to your favorite tunes on-demand and save your playlists or stations. There are a lot of services that allow you to stream music, including Pandora and, but my personal favorite is Grooveshark.

Grooveshark has come a long way since we first covered it back in early ‘08. Since that time, Grooveshark has adopted many great features and has become one of the top online choices for streaming and listening to free music online.

In this article, I am going to discuss some of Grooveshark’s key features, as well as walk you through the interface a bit so you can get the most out of this service and everything it has to offer.

Searching For Music

listen to music online

When you first land on Grooveshark’s homepage you are greeted with a box that says “Search for Music”. If you know what you want to listen to, simply type the artist or song title into the search field and Grooveshark will bring up a list of everything matching your query.

listen to free music online without downloading

For starters, you can sort your search results by song name, artist, or album. You can also use the drop-down menu and tabs at the top. There are tabs for Playlists and People, which let you see playlists created using your search term and the users who created them.

Finding What’s Popular

listen to free music online without downloading

If you’re not sure what you want to listen to don’t worry. On the left side panel, just click on the Popular Smart Playlist to see the most popular songs on Grooveshark. Once you’ve used Grooveshark for a while, you can use the Recent Smart Playlist to see your most recent songs.

To play a song, just click on it and either click the plus sign next to it or use the drop down menus. You can add songs one by one, play all of them, or add them to a playlist or your library.

Creating Playlists & Radio Mode

listen to free music online without downloading

Creating and saving playlists is probably my favorite feature on Grooveshark. Whenever you add music to be played you can save it to a playlist by clicking the Save button at the bottom of the screen. You can name your playlists whatever you want and make changes to them whenever you feel like it.

listen to free music online

Want to use Grooveshark like Pandora? Check out Radio mode. After you’ve added songs to be played, just click the Radio button and Grooveshark will begin playing songs based on what you like. Give a song a smiley/frowny face so Grooveshark knows what types of songs to look for.

Create A Profile

If you want Grooveshark to remember your playlists and activity for an extended period of time, create a profile. Creating a profile allows you to keep track of your music library, playlists, and favorites. You and your playlists will also be able to be found in search results, which lets people ‘fan’ you.

Upload Your Own Songs

listen to free music online

If you can’t find a song and want to add your own, you can do that too. Just visit Grooveshark’s upload page and search for songs on your computer to add to your library. Frankly, I haven’t tried this feature yet because I have yet to come up empty-handed when searching Grooveshark, but it’s there if you need it.

Share What You’re Listening To

listen to free music online

Another great feature is the ability to share what you’re listening to with your social networks. When a song is playing, just drag your mouse over the now-playing button and you’ll see a little pop-up window with options to email a link to the song, get a widget of it, or share what you’re listening to on Stumbleupon, Facebook, and Twitter.

listen to music online

When you make your selection, another pop-up appears that enables you to sign in to your various accounts and broadcast your message for all to see. This lets people discover your musical preferences and it helps Grooveshark get a little recognition.

Also, if you go to the settings page, you can grab RSS feeds for your favorites and recent listens to share with others too.

Grooveshark Mobile

In case you were wondering, you can access Grooveshark on your mobile phone. With support for Palm, Android, Blackberry, iPhone, and Nokia, you can get Grooveshark mobile on any phone one way or another. For more information about compatibility with your mobile device, check out the phone section on Grooveshark’s mobile website.

Anything Else?

One thing I would like to mention is Grooveshark’s VIP package, which allows you to get rid of ads, test new features before they go live, and get priority support. It’s not free, but if you’re a hardcore Grooveshark user and would like to investigate becoming a VIP, you can find more information here.

As you can see, Grooveshark is capable of a lot, which is why I think it’s currently the best site for streaming music online.

What do you think of Grooveshark? Do you use any other sites for listening to music? Leave your thoughts, ideas, and comments below!

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Design & Build 3D Virtual Buildings & Objects With Google SketchUp

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 10:31 AM PDT

google sketchupI would be the first to admit that I am in no way, shape or form artistically inclined. However, I do have a fascination with 3D. I love the ability to create a picture in all three dimensions that you can visually “enter,” move around and explore. Saikat covered a very cool app earlier called 3DVIA which lets you create 3 dimensional scenes. Aibek covered 4 of the best free 3D modeling apps out there today – including GIMP and Blender.

With such amazing 3D modeling apps already available, I was surprised to see that Google now has its own 3D modeling offering called Google SketchUp. Google Sketchup is the backbone modeling program for Google BuildingMaker, which allows graphic designers to submit building designs to Google to be added to the official Google Earth imagery.

Exploring Google SketchUp

After reading through all of the impressive 3D modeling tools available in Google SketchUp, I decided to give the app a shot. When you first install and launch Google SketchUp, there are a few different free templates you can use to start from so that you don’t have to create your 3D environment from scratch.

google sketchup

I like the environment with an earth and sky, similar to the Google Earth 3D layout. The first thing you’ll notice upon launching the design environment is that the coordinate lines really help with keeping everything in perspective. In this template, you also start with a standard 3D character, which also helps to keep things to scale.

sketchup models

The first thing I noticed is the “Get Models” button in the menu bar. This directly integrates Google SketchUp with Google 3D Warehouse where designers have stored thousands of 3D models for free. You use any of these 3D objects in your own drawing.

sketchup models

After importing a car and setting it off to the side of my virtual world, I set myself to the task of drawing my first building. After struggling to do it the old-fashioned way – drawing rectangles and lines – I realized that there’s an awesome “Push/Pull” tool on the top menu bar. With this tool, you simply place a rectangle or circle anywhere, and then use the tool to “pull” the 2D drawing into the third dimension.

sketchup models

Once I transformed the flat 2D rectangle into a 3D cube, then I set to work putting on a rounded roof to create a large garage for the car. Another popular, useful tool in SketchUp is the “Arc” tool on the menu bar – which lets you draw a flat line, or object with flat lines, and then “arc” that line into a curved object with a flat edge. Right click on any surface to add texture. You can choose from a library of common textures (like roofing or siding for buildings), use texture from your own photos, or draw your own textures.

sketchup tutorial

There are a lot of different methods you can use to virtually explore. You can place the camera at any point in space, change the perspective, zoom, pan or orbit (rotate in 3 dimensions) the entire viewpoint. One of my favorites is the “Walk” feature under the Camera menu item that actually lets you virtually “walk” through the virtual world that you’ve created.

sketchup tutorial

You can also resize or rotate any object (or sub-components) however you like. There’s also a full pallet of colors available to modify the color of entire objects or the smaller components of that object.

sketchup tutorial

Another very cool feature of Google Sketchup is the ability to create 3D movies by drawing “scenes” one frame at a time, and adding each of those scenes as you go.

Another potential use for SketchUp is as an interactive 3D scene. If you have a need for a 3D image that is interactive – where the viewer can click on and change colors or properties of select components of the scene – then you can program interaction into components of your drawing. For example, the character here is enabled for interaction so that the viewer  just has to click on the character to change the shirt color.

google sketchup

Of all of the features of Google SketchUp, I think the coolest is its integration with Google Earth. Under the Tools menu, you can select “place model” under Google Earth and export the 3D objects you’ve built into any location. Here, I’ve placed my character, his car and his new garage some place in the mountains of Western Canada!

google sketchup

By saving these locations into your local Google Earth install, you can enhance your favorite locations in Google Earth with your own 3D renderings. Insert your house as it actually appears, or place a few sports cars and a swimming pool on your property and forward the image to your friends as proof that you’ve struck it rich!

Google SketchUp is a lot of fun, and it’s powerful enough of a 3D rendering tool to use for work as well. Use it to sketch out interior or exterior design ideas, plan landscaping projects or to plan out the design for any of your next projects.

Have you ever used Google SketchUp? What do you think? Do you know of any other cool 3D drawing tools that we haven’t covered yet at MakeUseOf? Share your insight in the comments section below.

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What Is An XML File & What Are Its Uses? [In Case You Were Wondering]

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 09:31 AM PDT

what is xmlThere are countless file extensions out there and new ones seem to crop up every day. When you happen to discover one you have never heard of before, I bet your initial instinct is to suspect malware, rather than being excited to find out what it is. Did you ever wonder what an XML file is?

XML stands for Extensible Markup Language. A markup language is used to annotate text or add additional information. These annotations are not shown to the end-user, but are needed by the ‘machine’ to read and subsequently process the text correctly.

A very well known example is HTML (HyperText Markup Language). Websites are coded in HTML (and other programming languages), however, you (should) never see a trace of the code. What you do see is its interpretation by the browser, for example a certain font formatting, a table, or embedded images. So what does XML do?

what is xml

Let me start at the very beginning. XML is a more recent language similar to HTML, but it allows for more flexibility. Like HTML it is a simplified subset of SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), the mother of all markup languages. Per definition, XML is a universal format for structured documents and data on the web. In other words, it is used to markup or describe data.

To achieve this description of data, XML relies on Document Type Definition (DTD). You could say that this is the ‘machine’s’ dictionary, which allows it to understand the markup language. Thus, each document must start by defining the type of DTD to be used. The code could look something like this:

<!doctype html public “-//w3c//DTD html 4.0//en”>

This specific example tells the ‘machine’, in this case a browser, that the DTD is html 4.0 in English. The browser can then go ahead and compare each of the given commands with its DTD, which in turn tells it what to do with that command. That’s how the command <b> translates to bold text or <u> to underlined text.

xml tutorial

Now that was a HTML example and probably doesn’t instantly bring you any closer to understanding XML. Hang on, we’re getting there, but not without looking at HTML a little bit more. The problem with HTML is that it consists of a static set of commands and whenever you need to give certain attributions, you need to type these commands. Over and over again. In other words, HTML is very simple, very obvious, easy to learn, but also not very flexible.

Let me give you an example. Say you want to change the size or color of a header you have used a dozen times throughout your website. That can be quite annoying. To circumvent this tiresome editing of HTML documents, style sheets were invented. Now you simply call your header a ‘header 1′ in your website and in the style sheet you define what a ‘header 1′ looks like. So when you want to change your header, you only change it in one place, i.e. the style sheet. Problem solved.

xml tutorial

XML works similar to a style sheet. Yes, now we’re getting there! It’s more flexible than HTML because it lets you create your own building blocks. An XML document basically is a type of style sheet that defines how its subordinate documents are to be read by the ‘machine’. Of course there is a crucial difference to HTML and style sheets. You basically skip the HTML because you create your own DTD and the whole process is simplified. Essentially, the command definition is outsourced to the DTD.

There are two types of XML files. The first relies on the standard DTD that the ‘machine’, e.g. a browser can read. The second allows you to write your own DTD and create your own command building blocks. So you could become really creative and then provide the ‘machine’ with both your XML and your very own DTD file.

what is xml

Now another extremely important difference between HTML and XML is that HTML defines how data look, while XML defines what data is. This should make clear that XML does not replace HTML, rather it extends it. In essence, XML doesn’t really do anything, but structure, store, and transport data. Bummer.

So what XML is used for, is to outsource data. Rather than integrating them into the HTML document, they are stored in separate XML files. Since XML stores data in plain text format, the storage is independent of your platform and your data can be exported, imported, or simply moved much easier.

Many other languages are based on XML, including XHTML, WAP for hand held devices, or RSS for feeds. And here we have reached some actual uses of XML, as well as the end of this article. Please see my resources and the following articles for possible applications:

Are you any closer to understanding XML now?

Resources: What is XML? on HTML Goodies, XML on Wikipedia, XML at,

Image credits: flaivoloka, svilen001 (1), svilen001 (2), dsigning, Bessarro

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The Four Best Weather Widgets For Windows 7

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 08:31 AM PDT

weather widgetsKeeping the tabs on the weather isn’t the most exciting activity in the world, but let’s face it – it’s usually a necessity. While a small number of people have the luxury of living in areas with a very stable climate, many of us live in areas where a sunny day can be lost to a thunderstorm in just a few minutes. Ignoring the weather forecast is a good way to end up with a soggy picnic.

There are many ways to find out about the weather, and one of them is your computer. Having an active desktop weather widget is great for checking the forecast before heading out, particularly if you’re old-fashioned (like me) and still haven’t bought a smartphone.

Let’s take a look at some of the best Windows 7 weather widgets for keeping tabs on mother nature.


weather widgetsIn the past Weatherbug had a pretty poor reputation. I remember having to frequently uninstall it from my grandmother’s computer because it caused problems whenever she booted into Windows. It seemed like I had to take it off on a weekly basis because it was piggy-backing on other programs and websites that she was using frequently.

To be honest, I don’t know what the state of Weatherbug’s current program is, but I can say that the Weatherbug weather widgets didn’t cause my computer to explode, cough or otherwise malfunction. It looks like they’ve gone legit.

And that is a good thing, because the Weatherbug widget is comprehensive. The main section, Live Conditions, shows the current temperature, wind direction and provides a simple forecast. The Forecast section provides a three-day forecast and links to a seven-day forecast, a weekend forecast and current temperature map (these open in your browser). The third screen displays a basic radar and the fourth screen will display a weather camera if one is available in your area.

I also noticed that the Weatherbug widget seems subjectively faster than the other weather widgets available. Windows 7 widgets have always had a tendency to feel slightly unresponsive, but the Weatherbug widget feels smooth. I don’t know what secret sauce they’ve used, but I’m glad they took the time to make sure their widget isn’t clunky.

Weather Center

weather widgetsWeather Center is, unlike other weather widgets, not affiliated with any major weather website. That means you obtain the luxury of choice. Weather Center can take data from The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, Weather Underground, MSN, The Weather Network, Weatherbug and NOAA.

You also gain the benefit of choice when it comes to the information you want to have displayed. The interface of Weather Center is about the same size as that of Weatherbug. The name of the city whose weather you’re watching displays a the top, along with the temperature and current conditions.

Below you’ll find four smaller entires. By default these are Feels Like, Wind, Humidity and Precipitation, but you can choose between 12 other options including Visibility, Dew Point and UV Index.

free weather widgets

At the bottom of the widget is the forecast for the current day. Unlike some other weather widgets, Weather Center does not have the option to display an extended forecast. You will also not find a link to additional information that will open in your browser, as is the case with other widgets.

MSN Weather Widget

free weather widgetsThe simple MSN Weather widget isn’t the one to pick if you’re looking for features. The default view simply shows the name of your city, the temperature, and a graphic that indicates current weather conditions and time. If you click on the name of the city you will open up the MSN weather page in your browser, while clicking elsewhere on the widget will open a five-day extended forecast. You can, if you desire, make the five-day extended forecast show up at all times by changing the settings.

There are no options to show information like humidity, wind speed, or a radar. Depending on what you want, however, that may be fine. Basic though this widget may be, it is worth noting that this is the only Windows 7 weather widget listed here that will display a full five-day extended forecast without forcing you to open your web browser.  It also takes up the least overall desktop space while using the smaller display setting.

Weather Channel Widget

weather widgetsThis widget can be large. While the smallest display setting is of reasonable size, the medium setting is about two and half times as wide as The Weather Channel widget and about as tall. The larger display setting is four times the size of the Weather Center widget. This is not the widget to download if you are using a low-resolution monitor.

Fortunately, The Weather Channel widget doesn’t completely waste space. The medium display setting shows an extended three-day forecast that is relatively large and easy to read. The more interesting function, however, is the radar that appears when you make the widget huge. While it takes up a lot of space, the upshot of that is that the radar mode on this widget is actually readable. You won’t be able to zoom down to street-level, but you’ll at least be able to see if the big blob of green-and-yellow representing rain shows is near your city.

The Weather Channel widget also includes buttons for hour-by-hour and ten-day forecasts as well as the option to enlarge the radar or view it in motion. These options all direct you to the website, which is annoying. There is also a complete lack of options for configuring the widget. Still, if you want an easy-to-read widget with clear radar data this could be the one for you.


These are far from the only weather widgets to choose from. They are, however, the only ones that I think are worth using. I tried other widgets – such as those from Weather Underground and ProWeather – and found them to be clunky or difficult to use. I could be wrong, however – post a comment if you have a favorite widget that I missed.

Image Credit: Bitzcelt

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