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

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Cool Websites and Tools [September 9th]

Posted: 09 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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AllTrails – Before hikers set out, they spend a good deal of time exploring their options and learning about the paths ahead. To avoid any dangers and make sure the trip is fun, it is important to get their hands on every possible detail such as a terrain description and a fellow hiker's review of the trail. Read more: AllTrails: Find Hiking Trails & Get Information On Them


Plummelo – Fast food fans should try their hand at recipe-driven cooking. It will not only produce great foods and improve your cooking skills, but it will also be a great source of healthy eating. Plummelo can be your first step towards recipe-driven cooking. Read more: Plummelo: Cool Recipe Site With Meal and Shopping Planner



PDClipart – is a public domain clip art collection of all kinds of clip art files for you to use in your blog posts, projects and presentations. The good thing about these clip art files is that all of them are in the public domain. That means you don't need to worry about copyright infringement, licences, attribution, commercial usage and all that. Read more: Public Domain Clip Art Collection Online



PeerIndex – The web is overflowing with blogs, magazines and quick websites. While everybody has a right to express their opinion, sometimes you want to know what people, who are an authority on a particular topic. PeerIndex lets you find those people. Read more: PeerIndex: See Who Is The Web Authority For A Particular Topic



Less Spam Please – Most online services require you to register with your email address before you can use them and many of them end up spamming you later. A solution would be to use a throw away email account to try out a service before you can trust it. Less Spam Please lets you generate and insert a temporary anonymous email address right from the context menu in Firefox. Read more: Less Spam Please: Quickly Generate Throw Away Email Accounts


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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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Join MakeUseOf On Facebook!

Posted: 09 Sep 2010 07:31 PM PDT

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3 Visually-Pleasing Linux Distributions That Use Enlightenment

Posted: 09 Sep 2010 06:31 PM PDT

linux distributionsContinuing the recent trend of highlighting lesser-known operating systems, this week we bring you three that should at least look good. As opposed to the usual GNOME or KDE window managers found on most Linux distributions, these have all chosen in favour of Enlightenment.

This results in a considerably different desktop appearance, with lashings of transparency and drop shadows everywhere. If a functional Linux operating system beneath a layer of eye-candy sounds like your thing, then one of these might be worth a go. With Live CDs and USB sticks, it’s easier than ever to test drive Linux without installing anything and there’s full instructions on how to do so at the end of the article.

Elive 2.0 “Topaz”

Based on Debian Linux, Elive is the only one on the list that'll cost you. It's free to try, and by try I mean run a fully-functional Live CD but if you want a full install it'll cost you a donation of $15 or more. Don't be put off, all you need is a spare USB stick or a blank CD for a quick demo.

linux distributions

Elive 2.0 comes with enough software to keep style-conscious Linux types happy, and when you've run out then you can install more using the included Synaptic Package Manager. There are custom Enlightenment themes pre-installed, and the whole desktop experience is built to be visually pleasing.

This Linux distribution contains the older E16 release of Enlightenment for speed of stability, and the newer E17 version which includes some pretty insane effects. If you are running an older PC, the developers have made very clear that this distribution is not as hungry as you might think – so you can have a pretty OS without worrying about system requirements.

OpenGEU 8.10 “Luna Serena”

At the time of writing, the next version of this OS is supposed to be out but oddly enough the download is unavailable at this time. Never mind, because Luna Serena still looks very impressive.

list of linux distributions

Currently based on Ubuntu (but shifting allegiance to Debian in the near future for stability), OpenGEU remains a popular Linux distribution, despite a lack of updates for a while.

Check out the following video for a taste of what version 8.10 can do:

If you like the look of this one pay close attention to the website, as version 9.10 “Quarto di Luna” looks even more impressive than the last.

moonOS 3 “Makara”

The main focus of moonOS is speed, low system requirements and a beautiful interface. The Ubuntu-based OS uses Enlightenment instead of GNOME, and there are further plans for another version of moonOS using the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment (LXDE) for older machines.

list of linux distributions

The only problem I can see is that they're dropping Enlightenment in favour of GNOME in the upcoming moonOS 4, so if you'd like to see a flashy window manager in action you'd better act fast.

Making A Live CD/USB Stick

Being Linux distributions, the Live CD/USB combo is the order of the day. You can download the image file in .ISO format either using your browser or via a torrent link at each official website.

If you're burning a CD then ImgBurn is your best bet, Linux users can get it working using Wine and Mac users will be able to burn the image using the OS X Disk Utility. Windows and Linux users can use UNetbootin in order to make a Live USB stick containing a bootable version of the software, and Mac users are able to do the same by running UNetbootin using Wine for OS X.

linux distributions

I always choose the USB option, though if your PC's old it may not be able to boot via the USB drive. Once you've burned your CD or memory stick restart your PC and enter BIOS setup. You're going to need to set your PC to boot from either USB or CD (depending on what you're using).

Most PCs enter BIOS when you hit F2 or Del after powering-on, but this will vary. Once you've worked it out prioritise your CD drive or USB volume to boot first, either within the Boot Devices menu or a separate Hard Drive boot priority menu. F10 will save and exit and restart your PC.

If you did it all correctly then you'll see the UNetbootin boot loader, simply make your choice and follow the instructions. You'll be gawping at pretty effects in no time.

Do you use Enlightenment? Would you consider switching based on the strength of a GUI? Did you ever think Linux could be so pretty? Commenting is good for you, you can add your thoughts below!

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Top 7 Coolest Windows 7 Desktop Gadgets You Have To Use

Posted: 09 Sep 2010 04:30 PM PDT

windows 7 gadgetsGadgets are always cool to have. They add functionality to your desktop and generally make your life easier. Last but not least, they help you express your individuality.

Fortunately, Microsoft got rid of the ugly Vista sidebar in Windows 7, so that your gadgets are allowed to float freely on your desktop. Back in July Matt showed you the 7 Best Windows 7 Gadgets, including useful system meters, Facebook and Twitter explorers, the Skype gadget, and the Doppler RadLoop.

Now lets have a look at some more cool desktop gadgets for Windows 7.

Clipboard Manager

windows 7 gadgetsThis gadget provides quick access to the clipboard history. You can retrieve images or text you copied previously from the history or create your favorite clips to use in the future. Simply right-click on the entry in the history and select your action.

Need to find a specific piece of information that you copied like an hour ago? Just filter the history for a keyword to find it.

You can manage the entire history and your favorite clips from the Clipboard Manager, by clicking on more. Here, you can also add tools and change the settings. Unfortunately, the manager window is very large, so on my netbook I had to use the [TAB] key to jump to the (for me) invisible OK button and save my changes.

best windows 7 gadgets


best windows 7 gadgetsMiniTV is a small TV on your desktop, pretty obvious.

The gadget comes with a large number of stations to choose from plus you can add your own. Full screen mode is supported, but the quality depends on the respective stream. Expect an update with many more internal stations.

Need a short break but don’t want to get lost in time? Go into the configuration and enter a time or amount of minutes after which MiniTV will switch off.

Ultimate Explorer

best windows 7 gadgetsThis looks like such a simple tool, but it really hides a myriad of features underneath its hood. It totally deserves the name Ultimate Explorer.

It provides instant access to multiple sites you may want to query for information. The search can be browser or gadget based and you can specify which for each site separately. For example you can view YouTube videos in the flyout, but load the results in your browser when you search Amazon. Just select the respective site and then click the tools icon in the bottom right.

The tool even hosts a little calendar and event system (Home). Access the settings menu for tons of additional options. Unfortunately, you cannot customize the list of sites to search.


NASA desktop gadgetThis is a simple little app streaming NASA TV live to your desktop.

Watch how the astronauts and scientists on the International Space Station float past the space cam doing their work as you enjoy earthly pleasures, such as gravity and a hot coffee from a proper cup.

The gadget streams the video in a tiny window the size of the screenshot provided above. There is no way to zoom in or switch to full screen. However, you can go directly to NASA TV’s website for a better quality stream.

Weather Underground

desktop weather gadgetIn our modern lives, we are relatively independent of the weather. However, it still helps to know whether or not you need to carry that extra jacket or put on sun screen for your walk in the park.

This desktop gadget from Weather Underground won’t let you neglect the weather in your fashion and lifestyle decisions. It supports cities worldwide.

Clicking the little plus button in the bottom right will fold up the preview and reduce the window to the current weather conditions. Clicking the little arrow in the top left opens the flyout window, which, pending availability, provides access to a radar image, more detailed weather conditions, and webcams.

Colour Picker

Colour Picker GadgetThis color palette gadget is a super cool tool for anyone who works with colors across multiple applications. You can search for online color palettes and save your custom palettes. Once set up you can easily copy&paste the HEX values of your palettes and maintain a uniform color scheme without much hassle

The gadget incorporates the API of COLOURlovers, an online resource that monitors and influences color trends.

The Magic Folder

windows 7 gadgetsIs your desktop and download folder a hopeless mess? This tool can be your savior! It sorts files into default folders based on the file extension. Just drag and drop your files onto The Magic Folder. You can also define a ‘watched folder’ to be sorted automatically whenever new files arrive, for example your downloads folder.

The tool can’t read your mind, so for optimal results you first have to set it up and add the type of folders and subsequently types of files it should manage. You can edit the path for the folders and hence have the gadget move your files anywhere you want. You can also edit all file extensions separately, for example sort .tiff files into your projects folder, but all other image files into the pictures folder. You can even add additional folders in addition to the standard ones.

Here are three more cool Windows 7 gadgets worth trying:

Which Windows 7 gadget is your favorite and where did you discover it?

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Things You Need To Know Before Buying A Google Android Phone

Posted: 09 Sep 2010 02:31 PM PDT

google android phoneYou don’t have a Google Android phone yet?  Why not?  Going by many opinions out there, Android phones are the cream-of-the-crop. Without trying to start an all out flame war with the iPhone fan boys, I think you should take a look at Google’s prize of a mobile operating system.

Truly the Android is not just any phone.  Yes, you can talk and text on it, but it doesn’t stop there.  Your Android phone works hard to connect your digital life to your real life.

How many awesome articles have we shared with you so far talking about all of the cool stuff you can do with a Google Android phone?  Try some of these on for size:

Sold yet?  If you’re like I was and are in the market to get an Android phone, you need to know some things about the cell phone services offering them with their plans.

What Android Phones Do The Cell Phone Services Offer?

These days most companies offer at least some Android phones.  AT&T offers a few, so does Sprint. You can also get a Verizon android phone. Who should you go with?  Do some research and see which phone you actually want.  For instance, I was originally looking for the Droid 2 and only Verizon offered those at the time (screenshot from the Motorola site).

verizon android phone

Then I was looking for the HTC Evo (which I finally decided on) and Sprint offered those at the time (screenshot taken from the HTC website).

verizon android phone

My suggestion?  Do some research and narrow down a few of the best services in the area and only look for the phone you’re looking for within their offerings.  Then and only then narrow down the phone you want.  What good is your favorite phone with a bad plan or coverage (we’ll get into those next).

What Kind Of Plans Does The Cell Phone Company Offer?

Price is a big deal for most people.  When you begin looking, you will notice that most companies require some sort of minimum data plan to come with all smart phones.  This, I believe, is because when data-centric phones began hitting the market, people were inadvertently using data without knowing it.  The problem comes when a data plan is not purchased, the as-you-need-it basis is very expensive.  Now, they make you get some sort of data plan to avoid much of the trouble.

Personally, I found a company that offered me the best deal on unlimited data.  This gives me all kinds of room to use and test all the many Android features.  One example is if you are planning on using services that stream music such as Pandora you will be using a lot of data (the app even warned me before getting too far into using it).  Also, think about how much data you’ll be using if you stream or upload a lot of video.

If you are planning on making full use of the Android Market with all of the free apps for downloading, you’re going to want a good amount of data to use.  My advice, do what I did and find a good deal on unlimited data.

Then there’s the minutes and texting.  I also chose unlimited texting because I use it all the time.  If you don’t, don’t waste the money.  You may even be able to find a plan offering free cell-to-cell and considering how many people these days have cell phones this kind of deal could be a decision-maker.  As far as Android phones go, watch the data.  You may talk and text very little but depend heavily on Internet-based apps and services.  Watch… your… data!

Coverage Can Make Or Break A Google Android Phone

You can have the best phone the market has to offer and could have even scored yourself the best cell phone plan on the planet but if you have no coverage where you are, what’s the point?  Look closely at the maps all of the companies  should have on hand.  They ought to be able to show you where you can and can’t get service and whether or not roaming charges will apply.

google android phone

If you are thinking about adding 4G on your plan, make sure it’s offered in your area.  Don’t waste your precious money on something you can’t use.

My Conclusions From Personal Experience

Before I share my personal opinions, realize they are relative to my own needs and my area.  If something is not true or available in your area, it’s not my fault.

As far as coverage and service goes, Verizon rocks the Central New York world.  Everyone knows that Verizon has the largest strongest reach and the fact is never really argued.  They offer a few of the cooler Android phones like the Droid 2, Droid X and Droid Incredible.  I believe their data plan is one of the most expensive, however.

The other big player, in my opinion, is Sprint.  They offer a good plan that includes unlimited data, talk and text.  The price is very reasonable so they got my attention.  They didn’t have as good coverage as Verizon but they roam off Verizon’s towers for free so all is good.  Offering the HTC Evo sealed the deal.

Do you have an Android phone?  What kind do you have and what kind of service are you sporting with it?  Tell us what you think.

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Hot Tech Deals [Sep 9th]

Posted: 09 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. Dell Vostro 230 Mini Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 Desktop (2GB/160GB) w/ 20in LCD $419
  2. Dell Vostro 230 Slim Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 Desktop w/ 19in LCD + 1TB External Hard Drive $479
  3. HP Coupon Code $200 off HP Laptops $1249+ (Combines w/ Instant Discounts!) via code NBB168471
  4. Microsoft Xbox 360 S Slim Newest Generation 4GB Gaming Console $169.99 Free Shipping
  5. Dell Vostro 3300 Intel Core i3-350M 2.26GHz 13.3in Laptop (Aluminum, 2GB/250GB) $599
  6. Canon MP640 Color Inkjet Multifunction Printer w/ Wireless Networking $99.99 Free Shipping via code EMCYXYX46


  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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Learn To Use The Ubuntu Command Line With CLIcompanion

Posted: 09 Sep 2010 12:31 PM PDT

ubuntu command lineConsider yourself a bit of a Linux geek, but don’t know how to use the command line? You’re missing out on a lot. Believe it or not, many things are actually easier to do using the command line than with GUI tools, and you can even use Google Apps from the command line if you want.

But getting started in the realm of the command line can be difficult if you’ve been raised on a steady diet of graphical interfaces. Enter CLIcompanion, a program designed to help make learning the command line a little easier. Recently pointed out by OMG! Ubuntu!, this program aims to simplify learning to use the Ubuntu command line.

Just launch this program instead of the standard command line, and you’ll have an index on-hand to help you get started. Best of all, as you learn new command line tricks (using, let’s say, one of the top 3 sites to help you become a Linux command line master) you can add them to the database.

Sound useful? Let’s get started. The program is currently designed with Ubuntu users in mind, so keep that in mind!

Default Programs

Launch the program and, by default, you’ll see a list of potential commands. Scroll through the list to see some basic things you can do with the command line:

ubuntu command line

Below this handy interface, of course, you’ll find a built-in command line ready for your input. You can type the commands in yourself, using the list above as a guide. Or if you prefer, you can use the GUI to launch a command. Just right-click the command in question and away you go:

learning command line ubuntu

You might be asked for more information, but once you provide it the command will launch. You can then watch what happens in the built-in command line.

The default programs give you a lot to work with, not to mention learn, and will be really useful for you as a beginner. As you learn more however, you might want to add the programs you discover along the way. No problem.

Adding Your Own

Adding custom software is easy, if you think you’re ready. Just click “File” followed by “Add Command“. You’ll see a window like this:

learning command line ubuntu

Fill in the necessary information, including the command you’d like to run and a human-readable description of what it does. If your command requires some input, such as in my example, include a human-readable description of what this input is.

Once you create your command it’s ready for your reference, or for you to run. Here’s what it looks like when I launch my custom command:

ubuntu command line

Now all I need to do is type the names of the packages I want to install and watch the magic happen. Amazing, right?

If this custom stuff doesn’t make sense to you yet, don’t worry: you’ll get it. Just work at figuring out how to use the default commands until you get a handle on how everything works!

Download CliCompanion

Want to get started with CLIcompanion? I thought you might. Head over to CLIcompanion’s LaunchPad page to find an easy-to-install DEB file. Note that the program is designed for use in Ubuntu, and as such does not offer easy Fedora or SUSE packages (yet!)

Do you think this is a good way to learn to use the CLI, or can no GUI do that job? Are you using it yourself to try to learn? Let us know your experiences. Or, if you want, flame me for not offering non-Ubuntu downloads. I like everything.

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How To Add An Automatic Footer To WordPress Posts

Posted: 09 Sep 2010 11:31 AM PDT

change footer credit on wordpressHaving your own blog sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Install Wordpress on your hosting account, load up a cool theme, and then you’re golden right? Well, not exactly.

Your Wordpress profile doesn’t display a cool picture, so you’ve got to sign up for a Gravatar account. Your post doesn’t display comments where you want them to on each post, so the next thing you know you find yourself trying to tweak the PHP code to get things just right.

Here at MakeUseOf, we love WordPress – see Mark’s post on 5 useful WordPress plugins, Melind’s post on integrating Twitter into your blog and of course my earlier post on changing your theme.  These are just three of our rapidly expanding Wordpress section.

I’ve been in the “need-to-customize” boat enough times to know that it’s nice to have a carefully laid out set of instructions that will accomplish a specific task on your blog. In this case, I’m going to lay out how you can create a very convenient and dynamic biography footer at the end of every post, depending on which user wrote the blog entry.

This “tweak” will basically pull the bio information entered into the user profile screen in the admin panel, and it will publish the Gravatar photo associated with the email of that user using the bio info to change the footer credit on Wordpress.

Understanding The PHP Tags

You only have to edit one PHP file in your theme to accomplish this. That is the single.php file. This file handles the display of individual posts. You’re going to insert dynamic PHP tags to create a footer in every post. The PHP functions that you’re going to use are as follows.

  • get_the_author_email() - This pulls the email address from the current user’s profile page.
  • the_author_description() - This pulls the description text from the profile page.
  • the_author() – This will extract the user’s name.
  • the_user_posts() – This provides an accumulated total of posts the user has written.

All of this information is entered into the profile page by the users that you have writing on your blog.

change footer credit on wordpress

So long as your users use the same email in the “E-mail” field as they’ve used on their Gravatar account, their profile picture will load correctly into this WordPress blog. The author name comes from the “Nickname field”, and the description comes from the “Biographical Info” field. So long as these fields are filled out, your footer bio in each post will work perfectly.

Writing The Code

Even if you’ve never edited a line of PHP code in your life, you can do this. Go into your hosting account and browse the PHP files in your theme directory until you find single.php. It should be in WP-content/themes, and then the directory of your theme. Open up single.php, and search for “php the_content“. It should look like the code below.

change wordpress footer

Go to the end of that line, and press enter so that you’ll be entering the following code directly after that line. This will ensure that your footer information is always printed directly after the content of your post. It really is that simple.

Next, what you’re going to do is create the bio footer one element at a time, starting with the avatar picture and ending with the number of posts.  Just copy and paste the following code and you are all set.

<?php $author_email = get_the_author_email () ;
echo  get_avatar ($author_email,  ’80′) ;   ?></span>
<br><p><i><?php the_author_description () ;   ?>
<?php the_author() ;  ?> has  <?php the_author_posts () ;   ?>
post(s) at NAME OF WEBSITE</i></p>

<div style=”clear:both;”></div>

I like to have a line to divide the content from the bio, so I inserted “*****” with a line break. If you follow the code from top to bottom, you can see exactly how the bio footer is created. First, the email address is pulled from the user profile, then it’s used to obtain the bio photo from the gravatar image. Next, the description is pulled from the profile and printed, followed by the number of posts.

You can also add any formatting (bold or italics) and any additional text that you like. Here’s the footer after I’ve published a post.

change footer credit on wordpress

The arrows point to the elements represented by variables – the photo, description, number of posts and the name. Using these variables, you can make the footer bio look however you like, and the information gets pulled from the appropriate profile and automatically filled in based on which user created the post.

It’s fully automated and works on just about any WordPress blog running any theme. Go ahead and give it a shot (just remember to save your original single.php file in case of any errors) and let us know how it went! Do you know of any other ways to list bio information in the post footer?  If so, let us know in the comments below.

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Secure Your Google Apps Account With Two Factor Authentication

Posted: 09 Sep 2010 10:31 AM PDT

two factor authenticationI recently covered some free two-factor authentication programs for mobile phones. These greatly increase the security of your login but it helps to know what exactly you can use them with in the real world.

There is a hack that adds in “two factor authentication” but it appears to rely on a Google Gadget which loads after you have already logged into Gmail, which defeats the purpose of the app and is easy to break when logged into the basic version of Google Apps.

As of today, Google Apps Standard, and Gmail in general, does not natively support two factor authentication. However if you are using Google Apps Premier or Education, you are in luck because there is a free plugin in the Google Apps Marketplace which allows true two factor authentication for Google Apps. The name of the plugin is MyOneLogin for Google Apps.

two factor authenticationThese instructions assume you already have a Google Apps Premier account. First sign up for the Google Apps MyOneLogin account here as the administrator on the account. You will need to enter several pieces of information including your domain, your username and your password for the Google Apps account.

This information is stored at MyOneLogin so that it can modify your Google Apps settings for you. The major change it makes to your account is setting up Single Sign On (or SSO) so that your logins are handled by an outside provider. Don’t forget to enable VIP Access from VeriSign – this is the free One Time Password generator you will use.

strong authentication

You must then assign the SSO settings, MyOneLogin will do this for you. Look for the warning on the right that says Test mode is OFF. You will then see a screen which enables you to enter into “Production” mode. This sets all users to be sent to the MyOneLogin two factor authentication screen when they try to log into your Apps account.

strong authentication

Once that is set up, all users who attempt to log into the Google Apps account are forwarded to MyOneLogin. On their first login they will enter their Google Apps username and password and then they will be prompted to register their One Time Password Credential ID with their service. This will be used going forward for secure two-factor authentication. You simply click on the “Google Apps” application and it will put you right into your Inbox, securely.

two factor authentication

One problem I did come across was that the final login process to your Inbox was broken in my version of Chrome. I think it had something to do with the popup blocker. Make sure to add your MyOneLogin domain to the popup whitelist to fix this problem.

I’ve been testing it for the last few days and it seems to work great besides the Chrome problem. One security issue that you might think of is that you are trusting MyOneLogin with your administrator password for your Apps account. This is a valid concern considering they are not a well known player in this space, but I think the extra security you receive from adding two-factor authentication is well worth the risk and also everything that I have seen seems to point that they are a very security minded company.

All of this brings up the question: why doesn’t Google enable a direct way to use two factor authentication with their Gmail, Calendar and other services? Many folks such as myself use Google services for all too many things in their lives, and that login is potentially the most important one of their online life. I would suggest that Google gets onto the security boat and enables this as an option for everyday folks.

Let us know how this works out for you if you use VeriSign VIP or any other two-factor authentication for Google Apps. This was the only solution I came across and I am very curious how others are using this in the real world to secure their data online or if there are other free alternatives.

Photo courtesy darwinbell.

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How To Build HUD Palettes To Quickly Access Your Favorite Sites [Mac]

Posted: 09 Sep 2010 09:31 AM PDT

heads up display Do you have websites that you visit often, such as Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, or our beloved MakeUseOf? Have you ever wished that you could open them quickly and independently, separated from lots of other tabs in your browser?

Well, actually you can. There are several ways to achieve that goal: one of them is building a site-specific browser with the help of Fluid. Another more adventurous path is building HUDs of those websites with the help of Automator and website popup automator action.

HUD What?

Just in case you are wondering, HUD stands for Heads-Up Display:

Elements of computer’s GUI which will allow the transmission of information concerning the current task in a running desktop application in a separate window that is designed so as to not distract from the current task. (Wikipedia)

Why would anybody want to use HUD? The key is in the words “information”, “separate”, and “not distract”. HUDs are usually used to display quick information of specific elements on a running task. The easiest examples are the small windows on FPS games displaying health and power level, weapon type, and remaining ammo.

On Mac OS X, we can see many examples of HUDs in the form of display modes for the Exposé and Dashboard applications, floating tools palettes in iPhoto, displays for buttons and controls in full screen QuickTime, etc.

The nature of HUD makes it perfect to display quick and independent (mini) windows of our favorite sites.

Building Automator Workflow

The first thing that you should do is download the Website Popup automator action and install it to your system. The installation requires you to have admin access.

heads up display

Since Website Popup is an automator action, we need Automator to use it. Open the app and choose the template that you want to use. For our project today, I suggest you use either “Application” or “Service”. Both choices will create independent and easy to access workflows, but I personally would pick Service over Application as you can set Service to be always available from the Service menu.

computer hud

Set the service to receive no input and add “Get Specified URLs” action from the library (you can use the search function to quickly find any specified action). Then change the web address in the action to the URL that you want to open.

computer hud

Next, add “Website PopUp” action. You will notice that there are several settings that you can adjust in this action.

computer hud

The first setting is the “Site Size”. You have the option to set the HUD palette to “Large“, “Medium“, “iPhone“, “iPhone (Landscape)” and “Custom” size along with the size input boxes where you can write down the number in pixels.

The second setting is the “User Agent”. You can choose whether you want the site to detect your HUD as “Safari” or ”iPhone”.

The “Position” setting will let you determine the position to open the HUD. You can set the value to be “Centered” or “At Pointer“.

I don’t really understand the function of the last setting – the “Output“. I found no difference in the result whichever option that I chose. So I just let it be.

After everything is set, save the workflow and give it an appropriate name.

head up display

Shortcuts, Rinse & Repeat

You have just finished building a HUD palette to one of your favorite sites. The final touch that you can apply is to assign a shortcut key combination to it so that you can access it quickly.

Assigning the shortcut requires you to go to “System Preferences – Keyboard – Keyboard Shortcuts – Services“.

head up display

Now you are ready to open your favorite site via heads up display anytime and from within any application using the assigned shortcut key.

To illustrate the possibilities, here are two HUDs of MakeUseOf that I built. The first one is using iPhone options as the Site Size and User agent. I got a small window and the mobile version of MakeUseOf.

head up display

While the second one is using “Large” in Site Size and “Safari” as the User Agent. As a result, I got a full screen window and the full version of the MakeUseOf site.

05 MakeUseOf Large.jpg

You can use this method with any other websites that you want. Just rinse and repeat. Here are examples of other mini HUDs that I built for Facebook, GMail and Twitter.

heads up display

Web apps are the perfect candidates to be turned into HUD palettes. Above are my picks. What about you? What sites or web apps would you like to access using this method? Share your list using the comments below.

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Morph Photos Of Family & Friends With Fotomorph

Posted: 09 Sep 2010 08:31 AM PDT

morph photos onlineA few decades ago the closest thing to Photoshop was a cardboard cutout with no face that you could stand behind. Today, the power of even the most mundane computer makes it possible to make wild alterations to photos in the blink of an eye. While professionals use modern photo editing software to create amazing photos, amateur users can use it for comedic effect.

One great program for altering photos is Fotomorph. This simple program makes it possible to alter images and created animated GIFs within seconds. Want to prove to your friends that you really do look like George Clooney? Fotomorph can help.

Morphing Photos The Easy Way

The most hilarious feature of Fotomorph is the good old morphing feature. Given the name of the program, this isn’t surprising. Fotomorph uses a very simple four-step process for the conversion of photos. I’m going to guide you through this process using a picture of myself and a picture of Captain Kirk in some distress.

morph photos online

The first step is to create the new project. Click on the Projects tab in the upper left hand of the program and then click New Project from the option menu on the left side. This creates a new, completely blank slate.

Now click on the Images tab. This is where you’ll insert the beginning and end images that you’ll be using in the morph. For best results you should use two photos that are about the same size and show the subjects from similar angles. If you need to resize images substantially I suggest using an image editing program like GIMP. You do some minor image editing at this point using the Deform, Tune and Effects options in Fotomorph.

Next up is the Control tab. This is the most important part! Fotomorph creates a map of the faces you’re morphing using a series of dots that you place on the faces. Each dot appears on both images. You goal is to make sure that the dots correspond to similar parts of the face on each image. The more dots you use, the smoother the morph will be, but don’t worry about going crazy and using hundreds of dots. Twenty dots should be enough to map most faces.

morph photos online

This is also the step that will allow you to adjust the animation settings. By default the sliders in the lower left will set the duration at 2 seconds and all other settings at zero. This isn’t really enough to appreciate a morph. I suggest setting the duration among 5 seconds and giving the morph an end delay as well.

When you’re finished, head to the final tab – animation. There isn’t much to do here. You can set the animation to loop or not loop using a checkbox in the upper left hand corner of the program. You can also add a frame, text or a background.

The most important function here, however, is the Export Animation button. This will allow you to save your morph to a variety of formats including animated GIF, AVI movie and Flash Movie. I saved my animation as AVI and uploaded it to YouTube.

Other Features

So, morphing is fun, but rather silly. What else can you do with Fotomorph? There are three other types of projects available – Warp, Pan and Transition. Let’s cover them briefly.

Warp Projects give you the ability to alter an image and then save your alteration as part of an animation. The example given by Fotomorph is a photo of the Mona Lisa. Using a Warp Project it is possible to make it appear as if the famous painting is winking. This is simple enough, but can be just as much fun as morphing photos.

how to morph photos

The other two projects, Pan and Transition, are perhaps a bit more serious. Pan Projects make it possible to create an animation that zooms in or out on a subject for dramatic effect. This project might be interesting to throw in to a slideshow. Transition Projects let you create a dramatic transition between two photos. Its like morphing, but for serious projects.

All the projects in Fotomorph use the same four-step sequence and are easy to complete. The export options remain the same no matter the project you complete.


Do you think photo editing is just serious business? Nonsense! Fotomorph isn’t going to impress digital photographers, but it can be used to make amusing animations to share among family and friends. Just be careful about showing this to your parents – unless you don’t mind your inbox filling up with image morphs based on your baby pictures.

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