Thursday, September 9, 2010 “Cool Websites and Tools [September 8th]” plus 10 more “Cool Websites and Tools [September 8th]” plus 10 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [September 8th]

Posted: 08 Sep 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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Fwix – Location is becoming more and more important as web technologies evolve. Fwix is a search tool that understands the importance of location and lets you search aggregated local news so you know whats going on in your neighborhood. When you enter a keyword and select a city/country for the location, Fwix displays search results. Read more: Fwix: Hyperlocal News Site


Divvyus – Are you organizing a small gathering or events amongst friends? Do you need a better way to assign event-related tasks to friends? If you answered yes to both questions, Divvyus is an interesting option to explore. Read more: Divvyus: Event Task Splitting Made Simple



Google Alarm – If you are a privacy freak and want to find out when and how much of personal information Google is collecting then Google-Alarm is the tool you need. It is a Firefox add-on that alerts you whenever data is being sent to Google servers from your computer. Read more: Google Alarm: Know When Google Is Collecting Personal Information



DragonTape – Videos are more fun when they can be mixed together in any way you want. DragonTape is a web app that lets you do exactly that without any hassle. Just search for YouTube videos and then drag them into your timeline to add to your mix. Drag the videos to move them within your timeline. Read more: DragonTape: Create A Free Video MixTapes For Continuous Play



Wolfram Alpha Widgets – Wolfram Alpha made quite a stir when it was launched. It was dubbed as a new kind of knowledge engine, and it did live up to some of the expectations. However, the initial enthusiasm around the product seems to have died down and Wolfram Alpha Widgets looks to be the right step in spreading the word about this tool. Read more: Wolfram Alpha Widgets: Wolfram Alpha Widget Builder


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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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Power Tab Editor: Can Free Tablature Software Make You A Better Guitarist?

Posted: 08 Sep 2010 06:31 PM PDT

free guitar tablaturePaul McCartney cannot read sheet music, and nor can I. The internet has done wonders for budding bedroom musicians all over the world. Since the rise in the popularity of free guitar tablature websites, it is now possible to conduct a quick search and learn how to play some of your favourite songs without actually reading music.

For those of you still in the dark, guitar tabs offer a visual representation of a guitar's fretboard except instead of notes and musical symbols you get numbers and letters. Each line represents a string, each number represents a fret – anything extra, like bends and slides are added with good old ASCII characters.

Simple? Well yes and no.

The only problem with guitar tabs lies in their approachability and ease of use. As the concept isn't that deep, some important bits – like timing – are overlooked. This means that if you haven't got the song on in the background (or a perfect memory, of course) then getting it spot-on can be frustrating.

free guitar tablature

Enter Power-Tab, a free guitar tablature editor with MIDI accompaniment. The software is aimed at both composers and average Joes looking to learn a few songs. The interface looks complicated, but if your only request from the software is to learn a song or two you'll soon get nicely acquainted with the Play button – which is all you need.

Those of you who fancy using the software to its fullest potential will find a cornucopia of features, but it certainly helps if you've had a bit of experience writing music before. As you construct your tab, Power Tab Editor will transcribe your numbers and letters into actual sheet music – a very nice touch.

guitar tablature

Tabbing music is a simple case of choosing a string and assigning a numerical number. You can use the keyboard for this, and though it may seem an arduous process the features provided in the software make for a powerful tool.

Anyone Can Play Guitar

The software does a great job of providing you with a true-sounding MIDI representation that's perfect for helping decide rhythm and tempo. This does of course depend on the skill and determination of the person who originally tabbed the song, but if you find a few good sources (more on that later) you'll be rocking out in no time.

guitar tablature

Head over to the official website to download Power-Tab, the .ZIP file you need is just a little under 6MB. Once you've downloaded, extract and run the set-up.

guitar tablature

Once you've installed and had a quick play, you'll probably want to find a few songs to learn. The internet holds the key to a great number of guitar-related tools and you can download Power Tab (.PTB) files from a couple of good sources, though the developers are reluctant to link or provide any on their site.

One of the best sources for .PTB files (and everything else guitar-related) is Ultimate-Guitar. The Russian-hosted site has grown exponentially since 1998 and now hosts an impressive collection of normal tabs, Guitar Pro tabs and precious .PTB files.

free guitar tablature

This is the first place I go to when I want a tab, and the whole portal provides news, reviews and a regular stream of new tabs. If all else fails then there's always 911Tabs, a search engine which crawls other tablature websites and has a section dedicated to Power Tabs.


If you often find yourself stuck when it comes to rhythm and timing when trying to play your favourite songs then you'll probably find Power Tab Editor to be a welcome addition to your Windows PC. Those of you who've “always wanted to tab something” will find this one easy to learn with plenty of features to map out some of the most complicated solos. It probably won't make you a better guitarist overnight, but any software that can help teach you guitar for free deserves a look-in.



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Splayer – An Open-Source & Portable Play-All Media Player [Windows]

Posted: 08 Sep 2010 04:31 PM PDT

portable media playerLot of users swear by VLC as their preferred media player, but there’s plenty of other capable players out there, like the multi-functional video/audio player and converter Media Cope (which also resizes/converts photos, and creates slideshows). When it comes to resource-friendly media players, the list narrows down.

Splayer (version 3.5) is a lightweight, open-source media player that carries quite a few features underneath its simple interface, making it very user-friendly. It uses the GPU to render videos, just like the video players listed here that support GPU acceleration and pretty much leave the CPU alone to carry out other tasks.

Splayer (which stands for Shooter player) plays major video and audio formats, as well as Blu-Ray and DVDs.

Now, whether or not you’ve set it as your default player, you can easily drag-and-drop media files onto the player.

portable media player

In playing an audio clip, you won’t have any visualizations as it shines with a minimal interface. To enable more options, right-click inside the player.

Let’s go over some of the player’s features (using the open movie, Big Buck Bunny).

Selecting What Files To Play

Upon downloading the player (I’m using the portable version which runs beautifully and is available here in a ~8MB .7z file, so you can unzip and extract with 7-Zip), you’ll be able to set whether you want it to become your preferred media player for audio clips, video files or both.

Playing Incomplete Files

If you want to make sure  your video file is high-definition, for example, playing incomplete files in Splayer is a no-brainer.

Setting Actions After Playback

You can choose whether your computer should go into Sleep mode, go on Standby, shut down, or log off, which can come in handy to automate things, or if you have a long movie that might make you fall asleep. To access these options, right-click on the video area, head to Playback, then select the preferred task.

Showing Statistics

You might find this useful if you’re making your own subtitles or want to look at the frame count.

You can either press Ctrl + 4 or right-click on the video, go to GUI > More Panels > Statistics.

Finding Subtitles

Speaking of subtitles, one of the unique features of Splayer is that you can automatically get subtitles for a popular title if you enable Smart Subtitle Matching (which should be checked by default).

For lesser-known films, you may not have as much luck but the player might still attempt to find subtitles.

You can also upload a subtitle file on the player’s website to expand their subtitle database.

Setting Multi-Tasking Options

Multi-taskers might like how Splayer offers an option to stay on top of other windows and also set opaque or transparent properties for the file.

To adjust the transparency or set to stay on top, hover over the top area of the video and click the following icons.

Alternatively, to set the transparency, you can press Ctrl + 5 or right-click on the video area, go to GUI and select Transparent Control. To select the Stay On Top option, press Ctrl + T or right-click, go to Pin To Front > Always.

Generating Images From The Video

Creating an image preview of the video’s contents with Splayer is really easy. You can hover over to the top bar and click on the camera icon.

portable multi media player

Alternatively, right-click, select Capture and you’ll have four options. This screenshot will be pretty self-explanatory.

You can basically copy the current video frame (i.e. scene) as a JPG or BMP (Image), to your clipboard or automatically (Save w/o Prompt) assuming you’ve set a default folder. You can also generate a thumbnail (also in JPG or BMP format) of the video and customize how many pictures you want in all (by selecting the rows and colums) and the image width.

portable multi media player

Here’s a sample thumbnail using the settings from above.

portable multi media player

Recording From Webcam

You can also choose to record from your webcam and save the recording in an AVI, MKV (Matroska) or OGM (Ogg Media) file. You can also choose to save the audio as a separate WAV file. To get started, press Ctrl + V or right-click > Open > Video Capture.

portable media players review

portable media players review

Unfortunately in my testing, the player kept showing me that dreaded Not Responding message and eventually closing itself, which might be because of conflicting capture filters from my default webcam program (CyberLink YouCam). If you have better luck, feel free to let us know about the results in the comments!

There’s other helpful features such as options to rotate the video and adjust the brightness/contrast of the video.

portable media players review

portable media player

We certainly didn’t cover all of the possible options with Splayer. If you have other tips, please enlighten us below.

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Convert Your Free Yahoo Email To An RSS Feed With YmailFeed

Posted: 08 Sep 2010 02:31 PM PDT

email to rssOne of the issues I’ve always had with my free Yahoo email account is the fact that it’s so difficult to deal with it anywhere outside of the online Yahoo Mail system itself. There aren’t very many online email systems that will let you extract email from your Yahoo account as easily as you can get it from your Gmail account. This is because, unlike with Google Mail, a free Yahoo Mail account does not include free POP access.

Recently, I wrote a review of RSS Bandit, a very cool feed reader with the ability to pull in email feeds from Gmail accounts. It doesn’t use POP access, instead it utilizes the authenticated Atom feed that Google provides to all Gmail users. This is awesome, but once again it made me regret ever signing up for a free Yahoo account, because it’s once again left out in the cold. No matter what, I always have to go back to the online Yahoo email system to check those emails. In a Web 2.0 world, Yahoo Mail feels so disconnected from everything.

After writing the RSS Bandit article, I realized that if there’s some way I could convert my free Yahoo email account into an RSS feed, I’d have an instant connection to that free email account without the need for a POP connection. It actually didn’t take very long to discover YmailFeed, an awesome free service hosted on Google AppSpot (ironically) that lets you convert your free Yahoo email account into an RSS feed.

Setting Up Your Yahoo Email RSS Feed

The first thing you’ll need to do to set up your Yahoo Mail as an RSS feed is to visit YmailFeed, sign up for your free account, and then click on “Start the Process“.

email to rss

You’re then taken to your Yahoo account sign-in page. This is a legitimate Yahoo sign-in, it’s not a scam! YmailFeed is not collecting your login information, you simply need to log into your account so that the YmailFeed system can retrieve a unique key associated with your authentication.

email to rss

This is similar to when you give external applications permission to access your Facebook account. Likewise, by logging into your Yahoo account, you are “approving” that YmailFeed can access your incoming email. To hammer this home, Yahoo requires that you sign off on this request, since you’re basically opening up your email account to a third-party app that is going to convert your incoming mail into a feed format.

forward email to rss

Once you agree, your account is active and all new, unread email is converted into a feed. You can see a preview of that feed in the left window in your YmailFeed account. You have three important links at the bottom of the next screen, which is basically the feed for your free Yahoo email account. If that URL is ever compromised and falls into the wrong hands, just click on “Regenerate the Codes” and a new set of feed URLs is provided – the old ones will be disabled.

forward email to rss

Three types of feeds links are provided, AutoDiscovery, a standard RSS Feed and an ATOM feed. Now that I’m using RSS Bandit, which can handle AutoDiscovery, I just initiate a new feed and add the feed under my existing email group. The feed shows up under “Feed Details” just like any other regular RSS feed.

forward email to rss

The way RSS Bandit handles it when you click on the email itself is that it opens up a direct link to Yahoo Mail within the lower content panel. Another cool way to make use of your Yahoo feed is by clicking that little “Netvibes” link on the YmailFeed page with your feed URLs. In just two clicks, you can add an awesome Yahoo mail widget to your Netvibes account.

Getting Yahoo Mail loaded into my private Netvibes dashboard is something that I haven’t been able to get working for a long time, but now with YmailFeed, it works like a charm.

convert email to rss

If you just want to get your most recent Yahoo mail in Google Reader, simply add the RSS Feed from your YmailFeed account and you’ve instantly connected Google Reader to your Yahoo inbox. Now, how cool is that?

convert email to rss

In fact, having your free Yahoo inbox as an RSS feed like this opens up a whole world of possibilities. You could install the GreatNews RSS Filter and use it to analyze all incoming Gmail and Yahoo email and send you alerts. Rather than setting up filters in all of your email accounts, you can process all incoming email in one place.

Can you think of other cool ways you can make use of your Yahoo email RSS feed? Share your ideas and insight in the comments section below!

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Hot Tech Deals [Sep 8th]

Posted: 08 Sep 2010 01:15 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. HP Coupon Code $200 off HP Laptops $1249+ (Combines w/ Instant Discounts!) via code NBB168471
  2. TODAY ONLY Dell PS511 USB Sound Bar $19.99 Free Shipping
  3. AMD Propus Quad-Core 2.6GHz + Asus 880G Micro ATX Motherboard + 4GB RAM + Antec Case $294AR
  4. EXPIRING Seagate Barracuda LP (Low Power) 2TB Internal SATA Hard Drive $99.99 Free Shipping via code EMCYXYN37
  5. Corsair XMS3 4GB (2×2GB) DDR3-1600MHz (PC3-12800) Desktop Memory $74.99AR Free Shipping via code EMCYXYN43


  1. 25% off All Dell Laptops & Desktops on this landing pagevia code ?$QNC1?HSKNR9F
  2. 20% off all Dell Desktops & Laptops in this link via code 5TK?LC9VJ5F$33
  3. STACKABLE $50 off HP Orders $1000+ via code TECHBAR50

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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5 Search Engines To Find & Download Free Mobile Apps

Posted: 08 Sep 2010 12:31 PM PDT

free mobile appsIf one half of our day is spent on the browser, you can be sure that the other is spent on the mobile phone. Mobile apps are the ‘new’ web. Today, we are using them to do nearly everything; from watching out for a sunny day to taking the latest stock quotes. But how do you download the mobile apps you need?

Maybe you go to the app stores of your operator's website or the handset manufacturer’s. Or to any of the other websites that index and keep free mobile apps for Windows, Android, Symbian, and the iPhone.

What's missing in all of this is a search engine that can help us carry out a quick click and download job.

A search engine for mobile apps is increasingly a necessity because the whole mobile scene is splintered with different operating systems and types of devices. A search engine is just the right tool that can help us connect to mobile content, mobile downloads, and mobile apps from one search box.

So if you are in front of your browser, add the following five mobile search tools to your hunt party.


free mobile apps

They know a thing or two about search because the guys behind it also ran the music search and recommendation engine SeeqPod (now inactive). The same proprietary search technology is now on Mimvi. The mobile apps search engine covers iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and web apps.

The site is still new so apps search for iPad, Windows and Nokia phones are still being worked on. Enter your keyword (e.g. 'weather' or 'friends') and you get results tagged by an icon for the right platform. Use the keyword 'free' or 'freeware' for free mobile apps. You can dive deeper by clicking on the 'People who searched this item also searched…' link.

Mimvi also has platform specific search pages for Apple, Android, and one for Games.

App Explorer

mobile phone apps is a handy alternative to iTunes search. You can search for iPhone, iPad, or iPod specific apps and filter them by category, price, or user rating. You can further sort the search results by price, popularity, rating, or newest apps first. As soon as you type in your search query, you will get a dropdown with auto-suggestions. The suggested apps also have the price mentioned.

The app specific page gives out a lot of useful info on the app. A very useful feature is the price alert which lets you watch for dropping prices or special offers. You can share your favorite apps with your friends or keep the desired ones on your wish list. The appstore search engine makes it convenient if you can't access iTunes.


mobile phone apps is a new search engine that converges on iPhone & iPod Touch applications. It is similar to the previous mobile search engine. For your search results, you can get to the right app by using the filters on the left of the page. A star rating system and recommendations (Facebook login required) help to get the better ones.


mobile phone apps

To term AppStoreHQ as just a search engine would be wrong. It offers a lot more as it taps into the leading tech and iPhone blogs and Twitter to get the entire buzz on iPhone, iPad and Android apps. It calculates the 'hotness' of a particular app by tracking mentions of it on the blogosphere and Twitter. It is this carefully cultivated index of mobile apps you can search through for the download.

For iTunes, all apps in the U.S. App Store, rated by Hottest are listed on top. Each app comes with lot of details on its own page like reviews and social mentions.  The lists that are worth checking out are Hottest, and the Hottest on Twitter.

Google Search for Mobile

free mobile apps

If you are in the U.S, you can search for iPhone and Android apps from your mobile browser using Google. The Google Search for Mobile displays special links and content at the top of the search results which point to the app's Android Market or iPhone App Store page. The results will appear when your search relates to a mobile app and relevant, well-rated apps are found. The Google Mobile blog says that other platforms and devices will slowly be included in the search results.

Mobile app downloads are leapfrogging ahead as devices get more sophisticated. These handy mobile app search engines are just a few more tools to keep up. If you need more help, check out our mobile phone tips.

Image Credit : Geek And Poke

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5 Tricks To Optimize & Customize Your iPhone’s Text & Emails

Posted: 08 Sep 2010 11:31 AM PDT

iphone email setupDo you compose text and email on your mobile phone? If you are an iPhone user, it would be a waste of features if you didn’t.  The problem is though that text and mail on the iPhone has left us little room for customization.

Not to mention that writing on a small screen using your thumbs on the touch keyboard is not exactly the same as ten fingers typing on a full screen keyboard.

During the first days of using my iPhone, I went on a quest to find ways to make my texting and emailing life look and work the way I wanted to.

Here are several iPhone email setup tricks that I found.

Undo & Redo Typing

I guess every iPhone user knows that double tapping a word in a text will select it and give you access to standard editing functions like Cut, Copy, and Paste. This action will also give you the option to replace the word with alternative words.

iphone email setup

But what if you’ve made mistakes or you have had second thoughts?  Can you do other important editing functions like Undo and Redo? I just found out that you can do that easily by shaking your device.  So the next time you want to change the last words that you typed or cancel the deletion of words, just shake your iPhone and tap Undo/Redo Typing.

iphone email

Adding Auto Replace Text

Apple brought innovation to the mobile world by introducing the iPhone touch keyboard. It comes with all of the cool features and is designed to make typing on the small screen as easy and comfortable as possible.

One of the features is automatic text replacement. It will suggest and replace any mistyped word with the best correction it can find in the dictionary. Unfortunately, sometimes this feature also replaces correct words like people’s names or ambiguous alternatives like “its” and “it’s“. You can cancel the text replacement process by tapping the pop up suggestion, but this will slow down the typing flow.

Luckily, you can add words to a custom dictionary. To do that, go to: “Settings – General – Keyboard – Edit User Dictionary“.

iphone email

The only caveat is, you need to activate at least one other international keyboard layout like Japanese or Chinese before you can enable this feature.

Using Glyphboard To Add Symbols

Tapping and holding on one keyboard character will reveal other alternatives of that character (even though not all characters have this feature). This is how you can insert uncommon characters to your text such as ė, ñ, § or ¢.

iphone email

But digging through the characters to find the one that you are looking for could be time consuming. Moreover, the choices are limited to typographical characters. To insert symbols, you need the help of a web app called Glyphboard. Web apps are server based applications that can be run from users’ own devices via web browsers. Since Safari on iPhone can save webpages to the home screen, we can use this feature to “install” many web apps to iPhone.

To save Glyphboard as an app, open its web address from your iPhone’s Safari and tap the “Plus (+)” button from the toolbar below. The web app will be installed and you can access it like you would access any other apps.

Using Glyphboard to add symbols to your texts and emails is as easy as opening the app, tapping and holding on any available symbols, followed by copying and pasting.

iphone text messaging troubleshooting

If you want to use multiple symbols, you can temporarily copy and paste the symbols one by one to the “scratchboard” before selecting all and copying them to another place.

Enabling Emojis

If you want to go further, you can install one (or more) emoticon enabler apps such as Emoji Free, Emoji Free! and other similar apps. You can find them easily using the search function within the iTunes App Store. What these apps do is add new keyboard layout(s) with emoticons as the characters instead of letters.

That’s why enabling this app requires you to restart your iPhone after installation and add the Emoji keyboard layout(s) via “Settings – General – Keyboard – International Keyboards – Add New Keyboard“.

iphone text messaging troubleshooting

And every time you want to insert one of these emoticons, just switch the keyboard layout by tapping the “Globe” key on your keyboard.

Other ideas about using Glyphboard and Emojis are utilizing their symbol collections for folder names and Mail signatures. But please note that these emojis don’t work outside iDevices. So if you send an email full of emojis to your friends who don’t use an iDevice, he/she will only see empty boxes. However, Glyphboard symbols can be opened anywhere.

iphone text messaging troubleshooting

Adding A Cool HTML Signature

Speaking of mail signatures, when you send mail from iPhone, it will automatically add the signature “Sent from my iPhone” by default.

You can change the signature by going to “Settings – Mail, Contacts, Calendars -Signature“. Use clever lines and add some Glyphboard symbols if you want to.

05 iPhone Signature.jpg

But you can also use an HTML signature in your mail. The easiest way to do that is to use a web service called iPhone Signature. This service requires you to fill in your data (and upload an image) to their website and they will provide you with an activation link. You could also request the link to be sent by email.

Open and save the link as an app in your iPhone.

05b iPhone HTML Signature Creator.jpg

The app will open a new “Compose email” window with your customized HTML signature. We’ve discussed this web service briefly before. Be sure to check the article out.

iphone email setup

I’m sure that there are other iPhone text customizations out there and this article just barely scratches the surface. So if you know other tricks, why not share them using the comments below?

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How To Manage Book Annotations While Reading On The Kindle

Posted: 08 Sep 2010 10:31 AM PDT

annotations while readingWe have published several articles about the Kindle e-reader, and as a reading tool for novels, it's great. But what about if you're a student and you need to access your notes and other annotations you make in your Kindle e-books? You can't export or email your annotations directly from the Kindle or Kindle app. But through your Kindle account, Amazon has provided a way for you to get at them.

When you make highlights, bookmarks, and notes on your Kindle (this is also includes the mobile Kindle app) your annotations are automatically synced back to your Kindle account. Amazon aptly calls this service, “Read.Review.Remember“.

Amazon remotely stores your notes and highlights so that they become a part of what is called Popular Highlights, an aggregation of highlights by other readers of the same book that can be viewed on both your Kindle and the Amazon Kindle website.

annotations while reading

Now if you're a little surprised by this and don't want Amazon saving your highlights this way, you can actually disable this automatic feature on your Kindle by going into the app's Settings and switching off Popular Highlights.

annotations while reading

Now back to your annotations. On the same Amazon Kindle page, when you click on Your Books or Your Highlights in the menu bar, it delivers up a list of your Kindle e-books.

annotation strategies

On this page, you can set the status of your e-books as either read, stopped reading, wish to read, or drop off the list. You can also rate your e-books as you would anything else in the Amazon store.

annotation strategies

But what is most useful for this page is the ability to view your annotations. Under Content, you can click the highlights and notes button for your books and it will deliver up your annotations.

annotation strategies

The book location is included for each annotation, and you can also add notes and delete highlights. If need be, you could print out your annotations or save them as a PDF.

Now for the most part, this service, in its beta stage, is pretty rudimentary. And sadly, some e-book publishers can actually set the amount of highlights that can be “clipped” and stored on your account. That's a real bummer. So next I will explain another way to access your annotations.


Kindle For The Mac Or PC

Accessing your Kindle annotations online has it limitations. You can't separate highlights from notes, nor can you read your annotations in context. With the Amazon Kindle for Mac or PC, you can get more access to them.

When you click on one of the ”Read more at location…” hotlinks on your annotations page, it will open up the desktop version of the Kindle e-reader, if you have it installed.

This version of the e-reader will allow you to view three different annotations (highlights, notes, bookmarks) separately.


Sadly however, you can't print or save your annotations, which basically stems from a fear by the publishers that you will share e-book content with others.


These limitations are hopefully something that Amazon will address in future updates of their e-reader apps and hardware, especially when they hear back from their customers that they want these limitations addressed. But for now, for us avid Amazon customers and Kindle users, we are not completely cut off from accessing our annotations.

If you have found workarounds for getting at your Kindle annotations, please let us know about it.

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Use Gmail To Make Free Phone Calls In Your Browser

Posted: 08 Sep 2010 09:31 AM PDT

gmail phone serviceIt’s been long rumoured, but it’s finally happening: Google is getting into the VOIP game. In typical Google fashion, however, you’ll find the service in your browser.

If you have a Gmail account you may already have access to the service. If so, all you need to do is install a single plugin (for Windows, Mac or Linux) and you’re ready to make free phones calls the US and Canada, plus cheap calls to other countries.

It’s all powered by Google Voice, the amazing phone service from Google that combines all of your phone numbers into one.

Find The Service

Fire up your Gmail account to get started. Enable chat, if you don’t usually keep it on. You’ll find chat in the left-hand bar, below your various labels. Once you’ve enabled chat, you should see a button like this:

gmail phone service

Go ahead and click that to get started. You may be told to download the voice and video chat plugin for Gmail. Do so; it’s easy to do on Linux, Mac and Windows.

gmail phone calls

Once you’ve got your plugin installed, you’re ready to get started with the Gmail phone service, although you may need to restart your browser first.

Dial & Smile

gmail phone service

Now all you need to do is dial a number to call it! If you’ve used Gmail’s voice chat function before everything should be familar to you. If not, it’s easy to get used to.

Are you already an avid user of Google Voice, or even just Google’s contact management system? You’ll be happy to note that your contacts are implemented in this service. Start typing someone’s name or number and they’ll quickly pop up, the same way your contacts do when you’re composing an email.

Naturally, you might have some troubles with call quality. Your computer might not have a microphone, for example, which would impact the quality of calls profoundly. Check out my guide on increasing your VOIP call quality for more information.

MakeUseOf testers also experienced a few dropped calls while attempting to use the service internationally. Still, it’s worth a shot!

Don’t Have It Yet?

You might not have access to the Gmail phone service yet, as Google is releasing it in waves (though most of my friends seem to have it.) You’ll have it soon enough, so don’t panic!  It also isn’t quite integrated for Google Apps on Your Domain clients, though Google says it will be shortly.

If you live outside North America you can use this service; you need only to set your default language to “US English” in Gmail’s settings. You’ll have to pay to call people in your country however; only calls to North America are free.


It certainly is interesting to see Google Voice enter the VoIP market after years of speculation. Free calls anywhere in North America is even cheaper than my $30 per year Skype account, which I didn’t think anybody could ever beat. Naturally there are rumors that Google will start charging for the service within a few years, but I’m sure they’ll be competitive to Skype’s pricing.

I hope, however, that the service is never remotely similar to The Onion’s recent parody:

I doubt it will come to that, but it brings to mind a serious question: do you want Google involved in your phone life? Moreover, are you disappointed the service only offers free calls to the US and Canada, meaning users from other countries may have to pay to make local calls? Can you see yourself using this service, or will you stick with Skype or other alternatives? Let us know in the comments below!

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GRaiN: A Simple Way To Get Desktop Notifications For Google Reader

Posted: 08 Sep 2010 08:31 AM PDT

google reader for desktopDo you read a lot of different blogs? You’re reading this one, so chances are good that you do.

Keeping track of all of your favorite blogs is tricky in itself. Feed readers like Google Reader are good at organizing all of your blogs into distinguishable folders and whatnot, but because blogs don’t all update at the same time you are forced to keep checking Google Reader if you want to find the latest articles.

There are solutions for this, such as Desktop Google Reader and GoogSysTray, but isn’t there just a small, simple application out there that has all the notification settings we’re all looking for? Well, I believe I have found such an app called GRaiN.

What Features Does GRaiN Have?

If you missed the link above, you can download GRaiN here.

GRaiN isn’t an application so much as it’s really just a tray icon, which is nice because you can install it, set it up once and you are ready to go. You can always tweak the settings of course, which is what I will go over now.

google reader for desktop

GRaiN only has one main window from which all of the settings can be accessed. If a new update is available, it will be displayed at the top of the screen. Right next to the update notification is the first setting, which allows you to select how often GRaiN checks for updates. You can set this to 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 60, or 120 minutes.

Select Individual Items

Below the frequency option is probably my favorite feature of this app – the ability to individually select which items you would like to receive notifications for. If you follow a lot of blogs like I do, this will be especially useful if you have certain blogs that you like to check more than others. For instance, I have my feeds organized into folders, and out of the roughly 10 that I have, I only have notifications enabled for 2 of them, so I don’t miss any of the best/most important content.

Sound & Pop-Up Notifications

google rss readerThe other great feature from this app is the ability to easily select which sound file you would like to play upon receiving new unread item notifications.

The animated pop-up accompanied with this program offers a nice, quick indicator to alert you of new items and it serves its purpose very well.

google reader for desktopWhen you receive a pop-up notification, you can click on it to open up a new tab in your browser for Google Reader. You can also achieve this by right-clicking the tray icon and hitting Go to Reader… or by double-clicking the icon itself.

Other options include selecting which browser to associate the app with, what color you would like the icon to turn when you have unread items, and start on Windows startup.


In conclusion, if you are utilizing Google Reader, you should have this desktop application. It helps keep you up-to-date on all of your favorite blog feeds and it won’t give you any headaches. It really is a very simple way to access and keep track of your feeds.

How do you keep track of the latest blog posts? Will you be giving GRaiN a try?

Leave your thoughts, ideas, and comments below, and if you found this article useful, share it with your friends/followers!

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The 10 Toughest Tech Questions [MakeUseOf Answers]

Posted: 07 Sep 2010 07:31 PM PDT

Did you ever win something in your life? Do you realize that you can’t win unless you participate?  Here is your chance to meet luck halfway.

Every week MakeUseOf Answers rewards the Best Answer of the Week with $50. If you wish to enter the contest, please use a valid email address, Facebook, Yahoo, or Disqus account to post your answer, otherwise we cannot contact you in case you win.

Ready to show us your problem solving skills? Have a go at these toughest questions of the week:

  1. Which high-end laptop should I choose, Dell Precision M6500, Lenovo Thinkpad W701, or Asus G73Jh?
  2. Why does BIOS not recognize this hard drive?
  3. How can the administrator change system policies in Windows Vista Home Premium?
  4. Is there a blogging tool that can auto-upload pictures to image hosting accounts?
  5. How can I use Excel to create arbitrary target dates based on a start date?
  6. Is there a PCSX2 (Playstation 2 emulator) setup program?
  7. How can I convert a PDF file to text using Automator on the Mac?
  8. Is there a 'right click' keyboard shortcut for the Mac spell checker?
  9. Are mails deleted from the main inbox also deleted from the smart mailbox on Mac?
  10. How do I stream XM Radio online from my MAC to PS3?

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