Tuesday, October 5, 2010

MakeUseOf.com: “Cool Websites and Tools [October 4th]” plus 18 more

MakeUseOf.com: “Cool Websites and Tools [October 4th]” plus 18 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [October 4th]

Posted: 04 Oct 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. You can make use of them without spending a dime. If you want to have similar cool websites round-ups delivered to your email daily email subscribe here.

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AnyNewBook – is a free to use new book release notification website that keeps you updated on new books that are relevant to your reading interests. The site's function is quite simple: it lets you subscribe to weekly email notifications for each type of book genre. Read more: AnyNewBook: Get New Books Release Notifications


EcoSquid – Old electronics are not environmentally friendly. If you dump them somewhere, they can be hazardous to the surroundings. You should find somebody who can use your old electronics; if that fails, you should look for recycling options that will prevent your electronics from harming the environment. Through EcoSquid you can do just that. Read more: EcoSquid: Recycle Or Resell Your Old Electronics



CSS3 Maker – CSS3 is an evolving web technology that has multiple browser-specific implementations. When developers code something in CSS3, they have to remember quite a bit of code to make their design compatible across as many browsers as possible. To simplify the design and coding process, developers can use a handy tool called CSS3 Maker. Read more: CSS3 Maker: Create CSS3 Styles & Get Customized Codes



Google Moon – If you are interested in the Moon or the Apollo landings, you can find and read a lot of Moon-related material online. But Google currently has a wonderful educational tool regarding the Moon that will interest everyone, not only Moon enthusiasts. This tool is called Google Moon. Read more: Google Moon: Explore The Moon Virtually From Your Web Browser



Teamly – If you are too overwhelmed with to-do lists and other productivity apps and you want to focus instead on a few important things that matter, then Teamly is something you should try out. It aims to help you clear the clutter out of goals and to-dos by focusing on the top five priorities for the current day, week and the current month. Read more: Teamly: Priority Focused Online Productivity Tool


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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 Twitter!

Posted: 04 Oct 2010 07:31 PM PDT

If you have discovered MakeUseOf just recently and are one of our 300,000+ subscribers, consider following us on Twitter as well.

You’ll be notified everytime there is a new post on the MakeUseOf Blog, a web app review on the MakeUseOf Directory or something new on Geeky Fun.

Plus, we would love it if you would re-tweet the posts and discuss them, so more people get to know about us and join our community.

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Sync, Backup & Encrypt Your Files With Toucan [Windows & Linux with Wine]

Posted: 04 Oct 2010 04:30 PM PDT

backup filesIf you’re like me and have too many files outside my Dropbox that need to be backed up, you’ve probably been looking at ways to backup your files online, and to external drives.

MakeUseOf has featured a collection of backup software for Windows, Mac, and Linux. When backing up to additional locations, you probably also want to secure your files to ensure your files stay safe, whether in Windows, Linux, online, etc. To combine it all, Toucan is a portable and open-source syncing utility that also backups up and encrypts your data. Sounds like a neat combination, right?

You can download Toucan from PortableApps.com, home for popular portable apps, such as essential must-haves and games. The download file is about 3MB. Once installed, it occupies about 5MB of hard drive space.

The user interface is pretty straightforward, with the upper portion dedicated to rules and options, while in the lower portions, you can see the files and folders selected.

Save Recurring Jobs & Rules

You can set names for rules to exclude files based on name or file size (for more, see below), that you can also use in addition to the different modes for each function (sync, backup, secure, etc.) If you go through copying, syncing or backing up jobs that you might need to repeat in the future, you can give a name to this specific job and reuse it later on.

To exclude files and folders, go to the Rules tab, click on the disk icon to save a new rule and in the dialog box that appears, give the rule a name. Now you can click on the + icon on the right side and type either:

  • Any text to match file name or extension
  • “>1GB” without the quotes to exclude files larger than 1GB. You can also use “<2MB” to exclude small files.
  • “<” or “>” followed by a date to exclude files modified earlier and later than the beginning of this year, respectively.

    backup files

You can choose to apply rules to files and folders (which will exclude all sub-folders as well). Any time you need to modify the rule, double-click on it, and you’ll get the Add Dialog box to exclude files, folders or locations.

backup computer files

Toucan As A Syncing Utility

There are 5 synchronization modes:

  • Copy: Can be used for one-time copying.
  • Mirror: Can be used for replica copying but it also deletes files in the destination folder that aren’t in the source folder.
  • Equalise: Can be used to copy the newer versions of files to either directory.
  • Move: Copies all files to the destination folder and deletes it from the source folder.
  • Clean: Deletes any file or folder that is in the destination folder but isn’t in the source directory.

    backup computer files

In my test, Toucan was incredibly speedy copying 4 changed files.

Toucan As A Backup Utility

There are 4 modes you can use:

  • Complete: Regular backup of all files you’ve selected.
  • Update: Whichever newer files you have in your File List will be included on the Backup Location.
  • Differential: This mode creates a base file and later on, includes changes in different archives named after the date and time.
  • Restore: Restores archived files into folders.

You can select from 6 different compression levels, where 1 is no compression and 6 is the most compressed level which takes more time to produce the “Ultra” small file.

backup computer files

As Toucan was partly built from the source code for 7-Zip, you can pick the backup file extension from either .7z (produces small files at a faster rate than .zip files), the standard .zip format (which can be used in major operating systems), and .gz (usually for Linux).


As Toucan was partly build using source code from the open-source command line encryption utility ccrypt, it uses 256-bit AES encryption to encrypt on the file level. The Toucan documentation states that it differs from TrueCrypt in that it doesn’t install a driver on the system, and that you can encrypt files after you save them in Toucan. Encrypted files you select on the Secure tab will have the .cpt file extension.

backup data and files

You can also use it to decrypt .cpt files.

General Tips

  • Drag and drop files onto the space for selected files and folders.
  • Check the Use the Recycle Bin option under the Sync tab to move deleted files to the Bin and not permanently delete files.

    backup data and files

  • When you have jobs that require checking through a lot of unchanged files for just a few updated files, check the Preview Only Changes box to preview these changed files and folders.
  • You can create password-protected archives for your .7z or .zip backups if you check the Password box in the Backup tab.
  • Use variables for files and folders that change when you’re in different computers by using “@” in the name, e.g. “@docs”.

    backup files

  • To run several jobs at a time, you can create and save scripts using Lua commands (click on the Help button on the Settings tab for more commands).

As you can see, Toucan can be a handy tool to sync, backup and encrypt everything to your USB drive. Do you prefer to use separate applications for syncing/backing up and encrypting your files, or would you consider using this utility? Please share your insights in the comments!



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BitTorrent Etiquette: How To Avoid Getting Banned From Private Trackers

Posted: 04 Oct 2010 02:30 PM PDT

bittorrent etiquetteMany of you will have used BitTorrent in the past to obtain files with varying degrees of legality. I'm not going to tell you what you should and shouldn't download, you probably know that already.

A majority of you will have downloaded torrents in the past from public sources such as The Pirate Bay. There's also a whole world of private trackers out there, and a lot of rules to go with each. For the survival of the community, and to preserve your account, you will need to adhere to their rules.

If you're looking for some private trackers to get you started, try TrackerChecker and check out our article about finding open trackers.

Ratio Watch

Data transfer on private trackers is monitored per user and more often than not, you will have to maintain a sensible ratio to avoid losing your download privileges. Your ratio is determined by the amount of data downloaded and uploaded.

bittorrent etiquette

A ratio of 1 indicates that you have downloaded and uploaded in equal amounts, and this is enough to keep any private tracker happy. Don't worry though, most trackers won't expect you to keep a pristine ratio – just enough to ensure you're contributing to the community.

bittorrent banned

Many trackers will also monitor for hit and runs, whereby a user downloads a torrent without sufficiently seeding it. It is not uncommon for a tracker to demand a minimum seeding time after your download has completed, so make sure you check the rules.

Torrent Clients

Certain trackers will take a stand against known "bad" clients, and users can be banned if they are found using them. Nearly every private tracker I have had the pleasure of using has accepted uTorrent, though this is often version-specific.

Clients with known bugs and exploits, such as BitTyrant which give you an advantage over other users are frowned upon, so it's always worth checking before you change client.

bittorrent banned

If you're not fond of uTorrent and are looking for a cracking client that's not likely to get you banned, check out Deluge (Windows/Linux/Mac) and Transmission (Linux).

Multiple Accounts

If you think you're going to download the whole internet by registering a couple of accounts at a time then you're going to run into problems. Multiple accounts on most private trackers are a strict no-no.

bittorrent banned

This also applies to multiple accounts on the same IP. Those of you who live with other like-minded geeky torrent freaks might have to come to some sort of arrangement.

In order to minimize abuse, many trackers will enforce this one. So if you're a student or living in shared-accommodation, bear this in mind.

Uploading Torrents

If you think you've got something awesome that the whole world absolutely has to see then maybe you should create a new torrent. If you've never done this before we've got an excellent guide about doing it using Transmission, and the process is fairly uniform regardless of client.

bittorrent etiquette

Be sure to provide enough information and create a decent description for your new torrent. Adding screenshots, links to reviews, embedding YouTube videos and providing technical details and logs are all likely to encourage people to download.

Once you've created your torrent, you should download it and point your client to the files on your computer. After the files have been checked, you should be the only seed.

Don't forget that the more people that download your torrent, the better your ratio will get. Just be sure to keep seeding!

Common Sense

Some private trackers are super-secret, others have a user limit imposed and most are just trying to stay out of trouble. Remember that it's never a great idea to go shouting about your arsenal of resources. Be especially careful when using services like Delicious and iGoogle.

Lastly, don't be a dick. If someone uploads something you happen to like, click the thanks button. If there's a forum, say hi. If a tracker has a list of requests to fill then see how you can help out. You'll be a highly respected torrent master in no time.

Do you have any advice for the private tracker newbie? What's your favourite torrent client? Do you play by the rules? Why not leave a comment below.

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Hot Tech Deals [Oct 4th]

Posted: 04 Oct 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. Seagate Momentus 5400.6 250GB 2.5in Internal SATA Laptop Hard Drive $36.99 Free Ship via code EMCYTZT171

  2. TODAY ONLY Symantec Norton 360 v4.0 All-in-One PC Security Software $19.99 Free Shipping

  3. Intel X25-M 80GB MLC Solid State Drive SSD (2nd Gen,TRIM) $169.99 Free Shipping

  4. OtterBox Cases Exclusive Coupon – 10% off + Free Shipping (iPhone 4 Defender Case $44.95) via code tb1010y

  5. Dell Small Business Coupon Code 38% off Latitude 5410/5510 Laptops $1099+ via code QQJV31R0FW$$DT

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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2 Easy Ways to Create a Social Network

Posted: 04 Oct 2010 12:30 PM PDT

create a social networkThere are lots of ways to create a social network that involve scripts and paid hosting, and all sorts of settings that you have to get right before you can get your network up and running. If you’re looking for a way to skip all of that, and get right to the good part – customizing your social network and inviting your colleagues and friends to join, there are two free and easy ways to do that.

Sign for a free account on SocialWok or Shout’Em and you’re just steps away from your very own private social network.

If you’re a die-hard Google fan, or want to limit registration to users from a specific domain, SocialWok is the best option for you. If you’re more flexible and want to let anyone sign up, Shout’Em is the way to go. Check out the features below and decide which one is right for you.


SocialWok’s integration with Google services, from documents, to notes to maps, makes it the ideal choice for Google fans. You can sign in with your Google or Google Apps account, but if you use your Google Apps account, you can only invite people from the same domain name. Using a Gmail address has the same effect but allows you invite anyone who has a Gmail address.

create a social network

Status updates can be accompanied by links, files, notes, Google documents, events and locations. You can also address a status update to a person in your network, or mention them in your update, using the same method as Twitter, with the @ sign.

create your own social network

If you want to share specific status updates from SocialWok on other networks, you can do so after it has been posted by clicking ‘publish.’ You can publish directly to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google Buzz.

create your own social network

SocialWok allows you to choose when  to be notified of activity in your social network through email or through Google Talk.

create your own social network

An interesting SocialWok feature is the ability to create ‘Feeds.’ This gives the service a great way to keep network updates organized, which is useful when working on a project in which you can share ideas and files.

create new social networks

Not only can you broadcast to other networks from SocialWok; you can also import feeds from Twitter, Facebook, and any site with an RSS feed, but be warned, putting in an RSS feed to your blog will flood the timeline with your most recent posts.

create new social networks

Keep up to date with your network on the go using the iPhone and Android apps, or simply visit their site from your mobile phone. On your desktop, you can keep up to date using Seesmic. And if you’re using the web version, SocialWok updates itself in realtime so there’s no need to refresh the page to see new messages from your friends.


If you don’t want to be tied down by a domain name, Shout’Em is better suited to your needs. The service is feature rich and highly customisable. Signing up for a Shout’Em account will allow you to join as many Shout’Em networks as you want to. After you register for a free account on Shout’Em, you can then go on to create your network. Choose the network’s name, link, and customise it to your heart’s content.

create new social networks

You can choose the theme, the character limit for status updates, allow link and photo attachments, enable location features, and much more. After you’ve created a social network, you can also go back and change these settings later.

If you’re a Facebook or Twitter user, connect your accounts so that you can selectively update all 3 networks simultaneously.

Each status update can be accompanied by location checkins, photos, videos and much more.

Adding friends to your social network is made easy, searching for friends who have Shout’Em accounts through through Facebook, Twitter, Gmail or just invite whoever you want to via email. If you want to open up the social network to a large public audience, simply broadcast the URL and anyone can sign up.

Stay up to date with the social network using Twhirl, or on the go using their iPhone, Blackberry or Java app. Android users will be happy to know that there’s an app in the works.

create a social network

Have you created your own private social network? Let us know how you did in the comments.

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Create Your One-Stop Virtual Business Card with DooID

Posted: 04 Oct 2010 11:30 AM PDT

virtual business cardIf you’re one of the growing number of people throughout the world whose business and work are primarily done through your website and social networks, you might be interested in a recently released beta web application — DooID.com, which enables you to create your personal virtual business card that links your contacts and potential clients to your business and other networking websites. DooID.com is similar to the portal website, Flavors.me, but it has its own unique features.

Setting up a personal DooID page/virtual business card is fairly easy, and it offers a nice range of customizing tools for both its free and pro accounts.

Menu Bar & Business Data

The best way to set up your DooID page (after registering for your account) is to work down the DooID menu bar or tabs — providing your profile data, web services, layout style, and add-ons.

virtual business card

In setting up your profile, you get the option to make some data private.

online business cards

However, your private information can be accessed by a password, which visitors to your site can request via a popup window, or by you sending the password directly.

Another nice feature is that you can set the language for your page, for English, Español, or Deutsch.

Social Networking Sites

Similar to other Web 2.0 sites, DooID.com enables you to add a couple of dozen website services to your page, including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Formspring, Skype, Wordpress, and YouTube. You can of course, add any other website or RSS feed not on the list of services.

Layout and Style

For the free account option, DooID.com offers three page layouts options. You can customize the style of these pages, including changing the title fonts and wallpaper, and colors for text, background, links, and title. You can also upload and use a photo background (see final screen shot in this article).

online business cards


As you might expect, DooID.com provides a very easy and quick way to share your DooId page via various social networking sites, as well your unique URL. Click the DooID Quickshare button at the bottom of your page.

online business cards

Add Ons

You can also include additional data to your page such as a map, video bio, and an email signature (these are the free account options).

virtual cards

The Video Bio feature is a great add-on allowing you to talk directly to your potential clients and contacts. Check out our MakeUseOf article, "How to Shoot Your Own Promotional Marketing Video," for tips on producing a video bio.

At any time during the layout process, you can preview your page to see how it will look in its public release. All the changes and additions you make, update very smoothly in a few seconds.


Another unique feature is that visitors to your page can download your pertinent information in a V-card format, which can be added to their computer address book.

virtual cards

View Page

You will no doubt want to spend some quality time customizing and tweaking your page. What's great about DooID.com is that, like Flavors.me, you don't need to know a bit of CSS or HTML code in order to build your page. All that is done for you in background.

With a DooID page, you're providing a lot more information about you and your services that can't possibly be printed on a traditional card. And unlike your business card, you can update your virtual business card anytime you want.

virtual business card

So what do you think? Is this a service you would use? If you get a chance to create your own DooID page, please come back and share it with us on MakeUseOf.

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The Office Worker’s 101 Guide to a USB Thumb Drive [Download]

Posted: 04 Oct 2010 11:02 AM PDT

Remember when we all thought the floppy disk was a great device to transfer files from one computer to another? When the USB flash drive came out, storing so much more than 1.44MB of files, we were blown away.

Flash drives today are not just about storing your important files: you can use them to run programs and even entire operating systems.

In MakeUseOf's latest free PDF guide "The Office Workers Guide To A USB Thumb Drive" you will learn the full potential of what you can do with flash drives and what type flash drive is right for you.

Download: The Office Workers Guide To A USB Thumb Drive


Read it online on Scribd


This guide covers everything you need to know about flash drives and how to keep your data safe and secure. Inside, you will also find:

  • What a USB flash drive is and what they are used for
  • What type of flash drive should you buy considering the case, capacity and transfer rates
  • How to work with your flash drive to get the most out of it
  • Backing up and syncing your files
  • How to keep your data safe and protected
  • How to install software on your flash drive to use on any computer
  • How to use your flash drive to increase the speed of your computer
  • and much more…

If you own a USB Thumb Drive, this is a must-read guide for you.

Download: The Office Workers Guide To A USB Thumb Drive


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10 Extensions for Playing Distracting Online Games on Chrome

Posted: 04 Oct 2010 10:30 AM PDT

google chrome gamesBlame it on our need to take a breather, or put it down simply to our love for playing games. Games are sprouting up everywhere. We just saw some interactive games on YouTube. We saw them placed out of sight behind the facade of the other Google services like Google Search and Google Earth.

So, to find them on the browser makes it seem almost unremarkable. Chrome's extensions have taken their place on Google's browser. With the arcade of game extensions on offer, Chrome can be turned into a quick no-hassle game console.

Of course, don't expect to find processor-guzzling, gigabyte-churning games via these extensions. The online games supplied with the help of these extensions are more in the time-waster mould – simple and quick play.

Of the many extensions available, let's take a breather with ten game extensions for Chrome.

Game Button

google chrome games

Play a large number of games in a large number of categories. Choose from the likes of Action Games, Driving Games, Casino and Card Games, Games for Girls etc. The Chrome extensions points to the FreeGames Toolbar website. You can play directly from your browser, without the need to type in a URL. New games are accessible with the Game Button as they get released on the main website.

JoyRack Games

google free games

Whack as many groundhogs in 25 tries. That's one of the games that opens up when you click on the extension that points to games from JoyRack.com. You can choose from action games (e.g. 3D Space Hawk), racing games (e.g. Snowboard Challenge), classic games (e.g. Magic Balls), sports games (e.g. Mini Golf) and more. On Chrome, you have to do a fair amount of work to choose the games as they are displayed randomly. You can play the game in a mini-window or on the JoyStack website. You can also install a couple of standalone extensions that let you play games like Chess and Tic-Tac-Toe.

OMGPOP (Online Multiplayer Games)

google free games

Omgpop.com is a multiplayer game site played by other online members over a network. The 16 odd free games are available from the extension button. With some games, you can also choose to play alone. But the best way is to invite a friend over. You don't need to sign-in to play the games, though a sign-in preserves your score for the leaderboard and maintains your gaming profile. The Chrome extension leads to the website which is slickly designed.

Classic Games

google free games

Click on the Chrome game extension button and you can choose to play any of the nine available classic games in the little browser window. Helicopter, Pacman, and Max Dirt Bike should be familiar oldies for game lovers. Strangely (and ironically), I couldn't get the World's Hardest Game to open.

McDonald's Manager Game

google games

As a McDonald's manager, you have to manage the entire business cycle of the company starting from buying pastures for the cattle to running a fast food joint. The operations mimic how a McDonald's manager is supposed to function. The objective as always is to make some virtual profits.


google games

Use just the arrow keys to help the little sprite avoid getting head blasted by the falling icicles. You can also switch on the background music. The game is actually more difficult than it looks. You can also submit your scores and see if you are anywhere on the leaderboard.


google games

I don't need to say anything about this game. We all know about it. Choose between hard and easy and use the arrow keys to move the snake around to gobble up the block. Games are also auto-backed up when you close the game window.

Chrome MineSweeper

Another classic with nice graphics. You can play it in three 'sizes' – small, medium, and large. Score and watch yourself on the timer. The game allows you to pause in the middle of a game.

Mini Golf

If you can't get away to the green on a busy day, take the help of your mouse and run up scores that are par for the course. Mini Golf can be played just with the mouse and its left button.

Ping Pong 3D

google chrome games

Go for a round of table tennis while talking on the phone. For Ping Pong 3D you will just need to move the paddle with the mouse at the precise moment to strike the ball. Move it too soon and the ball will carry over the table, move it late and you won't be able to reach it.

The Chrome game extensions may not be anything more than tiny scripts that point to the game sites for simple childish games. But they help to quickly connect and play a round while something is downloading in the background. For the bored office worker it's also an escape device that can be quickly clicked away from view when the big guy of the office approaches.

Do you play games on the browser? Especially when you are supposed to be doing something else? Let us know about your favorite browser games on Google Chrome or any other.

Image: Shutterstock

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Hack Together The Ultimate Phone System With OpenVBX

Posted: 04 Oct 2010 09:31 AM PDT

virtual phone systemEven with much business activity moving over to the internet, a phone system is still an essential business component for many companies. Moving traditional telecommunications services into the future, companies like Twilio have been springing up.

These services are basically ‘phone systems in the cloud’ – they allow incoming and outgoing calls and text messaging via an interface for programmers called an API. While very flexible and powerful (you can see the full capabilities on their site), I haven’t seen an ‘easy’ way to replace the traditional full featured phone system – until now.

OpenVBX is an open sourced PBX phone system which is hosted on any LAMP (Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP) based website. Some have compared it to Google Voice but I believe it is actually much different and more powerful because it is so customizable. Out of the box OpenVBX supports Twilio’s protocols only – and that is what I will base my how-to below on.

However, since it is open sourced it is trivial to update the code to work with other providers such as Teleku or anyone else who has an API compatible with Twilio’s Markup Language. I hope to see a standard emerge which would allow OpenVBX to be compatible with any number of telecommunication providers.

Installing OpenVBX

The first step to installing OpenVBX is to download the source code and upload it to your web hosting provider. Bring up the URL you installed it to and you will be able to see if your web host is compatible with the OpenVBX software.

virtual phone system

In my case I needed to change the permissions of the config and upload directories to 777 to make them writable for the web server. Other than that my web hosting configuration was compatible.

Next you will need to configure your database with the options from your web hosting provider, and enter some more details about the email address the system should use and also the initial user login information.

The final information you will need to add is the Account SID (Security Identifier) and Token (Password) from the Twilio main Dashboard. These tie your OpenVBX install with your Twilio account, or if you have modified the code to work with another API you would need to enter your information from there.

ip phone systems

After this process you should have completed the install and be forwarded to the login screen. Login with the information you just used. The first stop is adding a telephone number that you want the system to call to.

ip phone systems

This number will be used throughout the system. Make sure to add any other phone numbers that you might want your system to call including any landlines, cell phones, Skype or SIP numbers. This is where things get fun!

Setting Up Call Flows

ip phone system

The OpenVBX call “flows” setup is ingenious. It allows you to specify what you want to happen when a phone call comes in, in any number of situations.

The basic options are a call menu (press 1 for…), dial a number, send to voicemail, conference call, say a greeting, send an SMS or hangup. These flows operate depending on how you want the customer to proceed after they call or text into your number. For example if you want them to press a number to dial a certain extension, you select the Menu box on the right and drag it over to the left. It will then open that panel and prompt you to enter:

  • The greeting you want to tell people when they call in.
  • The numbers you want to allow them to press.
  • The action you want to happen when they press that number.
  • What should happen if they press an invalid option or nothing at all.

ip phone system

ip phone system

From there, you can build out a menu system or have it perform any number of actions. One example is that you can have a voicemail box or simply a greeting or message that you want to say to them.

Messages to callers can be entered in a number of ways. The first is that you can simply type the text in and it will be converted to voice by computer. The voice isn’t exactly natural but I found it sufficient to get your message across. The other options are uploading an mp3, recording via microphone on the computer or having the system call you to record a message over the phone.

One awesome part about the OpenVBX system is that there are a number of community written plugins available to extend the system even more.

virtual phone system


The OpenVBX system is, in a word, awesome. It basically puts the power of a traditional phone system onto a website and into the ‘cloud’. The web hosting provider does not have to do anything special as the system is compatible with most normal web hosting accounts. The one downside to this is that if your website goes down, then your phone system would go down too. For this reason I would recommend keeping the software on a separate hosting account on a different server to make sure sure there is continuity of service if your website goes down.

If you are a small to medium sized business, or a person who just wants to hack together a cool project which uses Twilio or other compatible phone/sms system, OpenVBX is a great solution to get started. It makes setting up such a virtual phone system a cinch and the flexibility it empowers you with is impressive. Give it a try today!

Let us know what sort of interesting problems you have solved with it or if you know of any alternative software that might be helpful to readers!

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The World’s Fastest NTFS driver for Mac OS X [Giveaway]

Posted: 04 Oct 2010 08:30 AM PDT

One of the main Mac user complaints has to be the inability to access and modify NTFS permissions. Installing Paragon NTFS for Mac OS X 8.0 changes that in the simplest of ways. Install the driver on your computer, and you can instantly modify and add files to any NTFS partition. This is particularly useful for Bootcamp users who might want to modify their Windows files without rebooting their machines.

This week, we will be giving away 50 licenses of this much-needed application worth close to $1000!

Paragon NTFS is as easy-to-use as they come as it works straight out of the box, without the need for any configuration from you. Make sure it was installed correctly by looking up your drive's file information, and check that your 'Sharing & Permissions' shows that you have read and write permissions.

If you want to further configure how you can manipulate your NTFS partitions, go into System Preferences and open up the Paragon NTFS settings were you will find all of your partitions listed.

In addition to enabling read/write access to the NTFS file system, Paragon allows you to also check and repair your partitions. This can be done by launching the Mac Disk Utility, and under the First Aid tab, click on Verify Disk, followed by the Repair Disk to fix any errors that are found.

For users comfortable with using the Terminal, you can get a lot more out of the application, including formatting your NTFS partitions, although 10.5 Leopard users have the benefit of doing this using the app's GUI through the Mac's Disk Utility.

The driver is compatible with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, 10.5 Leopard and 10.6 Snow Leopard.

How do I win a copy?

It’s simple, just follow the instructions.

Join our Facebook page by clicking the Like button or you can follow us on Twitter, if you prefer. If you’re already following us, you may skip this step.

If you can’t see the fanbox, click on this link.

Here’s our giveaway form. Please fill it in accurately. Be sure to enter your real name and email address so that we can get in touch if you are chosen as a winner. Click here if you can’t view the form.

You’re almost done. Now, all that’s left to do is to share the post. There are 2 options to choose from or you can do both!

Like it on Facebook

Or share it on Twitter

And that’s it! You’re done!
Giveaway eligibility
You must be a fan of our Facebook page to enter;
Individuals who are over the age of 18. If you are under 18, get your parents to participate on your behalf;
Individuals who reside in a country embargoed by the United States; Belgium, Norway, Sweden, or India are not permitted to enter.

This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, October 9th at 2100hrs PST. The winners will be selected at random and announced via email.

Spread the word to your friends and have fun!

MakeUseOf would like to thank Paragon Software for their generosity while participating in this giveaway. Interesting in sponsoring? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us via email.

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Cool Websites and Tools [October 3rd]

Posted: 03 Oct 2010 08:31 PM PDT

Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. All listed websites are FREE (or come with a decent free account option). No trials or buy-to-use craplets. For more cool websites and web app reviews subscribe to MakeUseOf Directory.

List Your Website Here!


TubeMote – YouTube has recently introduced a great “lean back” feature that lets you enjoy videos without much intervention. However, the process doesn't give you a whole lot of control over your watching experience. TubeMote, however, can let you turn any device with a browser into a remote control so you can enjoy YouTube even when sitting on your couch. Read more: TubeMote: Remote Control YouTube With Other Devices


TheRapMap – If you are a rap music fan you'll love this neat little tool. TheRapMap uses Google Maps to show you different locations (clubs, shows, hang outs) where popular rap songs originated from. You can scroll through the list by major metros and click on any location to see details about it. Read more: TheRapMap: Locate Rap Music Origins On Google Maps



Punchcast – Internet users create accounts on many websites. For security reasons, it is a wise practice to keep different passwords for different accounts. But as your number of accounts increases, the passwords become increasingly difficult to remember. A solution for this is presented by Punchcast Password Generator. Read more: Punchcast: Generate Strong Passwords For Your Online Accounts



PingBrigade – Every website aims to get as much traffic as it can, and so because of this, every website is in competition with other sites of the same genre. To make sure your website is preferred by visitors, you can run a series of tests that determine your site's superiority over the competition. Ping Brigade is one source through which you can carry out such tests. Read more: PingBrigade: Test How Fast Does Your Site Load



Hipmunk – Most online flight search tools offer quick results about flight schedules and pricing. But this also means that they display bland, boring, and unorganized flight listings. Fortunately, Hipmunk is a great flight search engine alternative that offers visually-oriented flight schedule results, thus making them more organized and easier to understand. Read more: Hipmunk: A Flight Search Engine With Visual Schedules


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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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Thank You To MakeUseOf Friends!

Posted: 03 Oct 2010 07:31 PM PDT

It's time to say thanks to MakeUseOf’s friends who, once in a while, tip us great story ideas, help out on different projects and in some cases offer their services at discounted prices. Thank you, guys!

ShrinkTheWeb – Website Screenshot Thumbnail Service
Ever wanted to add website screenshots to your website? In my professional opinion ShrinkTheWeb is one of the best services for that, both in terms of performance and pricing. The free account gets you a whopping 250,000 impressions with nearly no delay. See it in action in our daily Cool Websites and Tools series.


Walyou – Cool Gadgets for Geeks
new cool gadgets
Walyou is a fun blog covering all sorts of new cool gadgets and other stuff every geek is likely to find entertaining. Everything from world’s largest Gunny Bears to E-hookah gadgets. Make sure to check them out.

PXLEyes – Photoshop Contests and Tutorials
photoshop contests & tutorials
The place for graphical artists! An awesome community with one common interest: a big passion for computer graphics! There are contests, prizes, tutorials, forums and an active community!


rade | eccles – iPhone Application Development
The perfect iPhone development team, rade | eccles managed to put our iPhone app together in record time yet exude professionalism and dedication every step of the way. Our collaboration wasn’t happenstance. We would make the same decision all over again. Our only recommendation for an iPhone developer – rade | eccles.


TrueKolor – Affordable Quality Logo & Banner Design
If you’re looking for a cheap, original and quality logo or banner, check out TrueKolor. We often contact these guys when we need a logo or a banner made, some of the stuff they did for us listed on their portfolio page. They are also offering photo retouching services. Highly recommended.


Mobify – Making the Web a mobile place
More and more users access websites and read blogs using their mobile phone. Mobify lets you mobilize your blog or website by creating lightweight version of it, which loads much faster and looks great on a mobile screen. MakeUseOf’s mobile site was created by Mobify, and we’re proud of it!


Thank you, guys!

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Are You Aware Of The MakeUseOf Newsletter? [MakeUseOf Poll]

Posted: 03 Oct 2010 06:31 PM PDT

How often do you buy software? It turns out, with most MakeUseOf readers, that we buy software less than once per year.

With MakeUseOf readers, 3% buy software every week, while 4% buy every two weeks. 7% buy software every month and another 6% buy software only every three months. The majority of people were even more infrequent, with 11% buying software every six months, 14% once per year and 56% buying less than once per year.

Full results and this week's poll after the jump.

This week's poll question is: Are you aware of the MakeUseOf newsletter?

We realise you are aware of it now, but were you aware of the MakeUseOf newsletter before you saw this post?

If you weren't previously aware of the MakeUseOf newsletter, subscribe by using the link at the top of any MakeUseOf page.

Let us know what you think of the MakeUseOf newsletter in the comments!

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10+ of the Best Amateur Viral Videos on YouTube

Posted: 03 Oct 2010 03:30 PM PDT

The best viral videos of 2010 are filled with great ads, music videos, stop motion videos, each with a dedicated production budget, a professional film crew and all the ingredients needed to become one of the most popular videos on YouTube. Those videos are not on this list. Instead, we're taking a look at some of the best of what 2010 has had to offer (so far) in amateur viral videos.

Whether they were filmed with a phone, a hand-held camera, or even a security camera in some cases; these videos have received millions of hits, provoked controversy, made us laugh, and even some have made us think.

McNuggets Rampage

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day isn't it? Maybe that's the justification she tried to use after this woman was caught on a security camera at McDonalds, losing the plot when she was told that they don't serve McNuggets on the breakfast menu.

Antoine Dodson

I admit, the news film crew had a production budget, but Antoine Dodson is the star of this video and, his natural, unedited reaction definitely deserves a place on this list. In fact, the musical remix of his interview on WAFF received a whopping 25 million views on YouTube. If you don't want to sit through the entire news story, videos have been posted that cut straight to Antoine's fabulous monologue.

Wisdom Teeth Wake Up

There have been several videos of this kind – the kind filled with hilarious hallucinations after getting their wisdom teeth pulled. And this year’s star definitely got the most attention. After the video was posted on YouTube, she appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show talking about rapping, unicorn flying, and much more.

Dancing Baby Doing the Samba

It wouldn't be a viral video list without a few babies here and there. This Brazilian dancing baby got millions of views, shaking that little diaper to the samba rhythm. In fact, several versions of the video were posted on YouTube, dubbed to Shakira’s Waka Waka, amongst other sounds collectively earning over 9 million views.

Miss Philippines wins Miss Universe

You may not have heard but Miss Philippines was crowned Miss Universe this year. This video of a group of guys watching the pageant at the exact moment the announcement is made really speaks for itself.

Old Lady Gets Down

Walmart is the last place you expect to see a little old lady busting a move – but that's exactly what happens in this video. From Etta James to Lady Gaga – there's something in here for everyone.

iPhone 4 vs. HTC Evo

Apparently, the guy who made this video was a Best Buy employee at the time, and his job actually hung in the balance when they found out that he made this video. Best Buy finally decided not to fire him, but he chose not to go back to his job. The video, comparing the iPhone to the HTC Evo became an overnight sensation, igniting yet even more Apple versus HTC wars all over the net.

Teenage Dream

Within one month, the simple combination of lip syncing, Katy Perry and some wacky facial expressions can earn a kid 7 million views. You might not get it – but you can't argue with the numbers.

Proposal in Madison Square Park

Something wedding related was bound to make it onto the list. With wedding bloopers, disasters, and awesome choreographed wedding entrances all already in the viral hall of fame, for this list, we decided to go with something slightly different. Instead of the wedding itself, this choreographed wedding proposal has received over 2 million views. (If you want a less shaky-take on the proposal, try this video instead.

Swedish Dancing Cop

Most viral videos that involve cops are anything but amusing. This Swedish cop shows us that he has a sense of humour, and doesn't mind using it to entertain a crowd.

Leaving the Zoo

Honourable mention has to go to a video of four year old Geoffrey complaining about his less than satisfactory experience at the zoo. The video has over 300,000 views, and deserves a lot more.

What are your favourite viral videos of 2010 so far? Let us know in the comments.

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Hot Tech Deals [Oct 3rd]

Posted: 03 Oct 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. TODAY ONLY Dell Off Lease Coupon Code: 30% off Any Item! via code 1DaySaleOct3dfs

  2. $75 off any Dell Laptop priced $350-$499 via code $75Lap$350-499

  3. $150 off any Laptop priced $500+ via code $150Lap500up

  4. 25% off Any Dell Precision Desktop $500+ via code 25PrecDT500&up

  5. Asus EEE T91SA-VU1X Intel Atom Z520 8.9in Touchscreen Tablet Netbook (1GB/16GB SSD/Win XP) $289.99

  6. Samsung ML-1665 Personal Monochrome Laser Printer + 120GB Portable External Hard Drive $59.98 Free Shipping

  7. Dell SX2210T 22 inch LCD Monitor w/ Multi-Touch & Webcam $269.99 Free Shipping

  8. OtterBox Cases Exclusive Coupon – 10% off + Free Shipping (iPhone 4 Defender Case $44.95) via code tb1010y

  9. Dell Small Business Coupon Code 38% off Latitude 5410/5510 Laptops $1099+ via code QQJV31R0FW$$DT

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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10 Free MP3 Albums To Download [Sound Sunday]

Posted: 03 Oct 2010 12:31 PM PDT

where can I download free mp3sThe first October edition of Sound Sunday is dedicated to classical music, composed or interpreted by contemporary musicians.

You think you don’t like classical music? Well, I bet you’re wrong. Open your ears and realize that you are exposed to classical music almost every day. Now imagine it was eliminated from your life. None of it in elevators, department stores, played by street musicians, in advertisements, movies, or at ceremonies. Now think again.

This Sunday we also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the German Unity. For this occasion there will be a slight focus on German composers.

Michael Houstoun – Johann Sebastian Bach

Genre: classical, piano

where can I download free mp3sMichael Houstoun is a concert pianist from New Zealand. On this album, Houstoun plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s French Suite No.5 in G, BWV 816. Bach composed his six French Suites between 1722 and 1725. This album was recorded in August 2009 in the Gallagher Theater at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

The seven piece album Johann Sebastian Bach is available for free from Bandcamp.

Michael Houstoun Homepage.

Jake Sidwell – Soft Listening

Genre: classical, minimalist, piano

where can I download free mp3sJake Sidwell is a freelance videographer and musical composer from Chicago, Illinois. His debut album Soft Listening contains four pieces played on the piano.

The album is hosted by NoiseTrade.

Jake Sidwell Homepage.

Ekaterina Kotcherguina – Junior Recital

Genre: classical, soprano

where can I download free mp3sEkaterina Kotcherguina is a singer from Arkansas, USA. Her singing voice is the soprano. The present album contains her favorite pieces from her Junior Recital, including compositions from Händel and Schumann.

The album Junior Recital is a free download from Bandcamp.

Ekaterina Kotcherguina Facebook.

Forms – R/S

Genre: classical, contemporary, jazz, guitar, piano, rock, fusion

where can I download free mp3sR/S is one of my favorite albums in this edition of Sound Sunday. Unfortunately, the artist or band behind it remains a mystery. I wasn’t able to track down a web presence.

Yet, the album is available for free via Bandcamp.

Forms n/a.

Zachery Ewald – Passacaglia

Genre: classical, violin, duet

where can I download free mp3sZachary Ewald is a violinist from Los Angeles, California. This free piece of almost eight minutes is his debut performance as a viola virtuoso. He plays a Passacaglia, composed by Georg Friedrich Händel.

Download the track from Bandcamp and if you like it check out the entire album.

Zachary Ewald MySpace and Facebook.

Cliff Dweller – Revolutions of the Indigenous

Genre: classical, electronic, downtempo, psychedelic

where can I download free mp3sRevolutions of the Indigenous is another great album that unites classical and modern contemporary styles. The 22 songs were recorded in London, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. The artist, Cliff Dweller, however, remains in the shadows.

Download the album from Bandcamp.

Cliff Dweller n/a.

Scott Anderson – Music From The Quiet

Genre: classical, jazz, improvisational, guitar

where can I download free mp3sScott Anderson is a professional musician, who has been performing and recording internationally for several years. The album description brings it to the point: “Intrinsic to the quiet, still, dark places are the possibilities of sound, movement, and light.”

Music From The Quiet is a name your price download from Bandcamp.

Scott Anderson Facebook and Homepage.

Steven Chin – Steven’s Musical Collection

Genre: classical, new age, piano

where can I download free mp3sSteven Chin is a 21 year old classical composer from Malaysia.  Steven’s Musical Collection is a 6 track EP of original compositions and rearrangements by Steven Chin. Hard to believe that music is just a hobby, as he pursues a degree in a pharmacy programme.

Download the album from Bandcamp.

Steven Chin YouTube.

Richard Mayer – with Friends

Genre: classical, jazz, rock, improvised

where can I download free mp3sRichard Mayer is a flutist who has mastered many musical genres. In the 1970s he was a founding member of the Russian rock group ZA. His wife Norma is a soprano.

Download this and his other albums from Bandcamp.

Richard Mayer MySpace and Homepage.

Benjamin Speed – Film Music Of The People’s Republic Of Animation

Genre: classical, alternative, electronic, jazz

where can I download free mp3sBenjamin Speed is a composer of scores and sounds for film, television, and theater. He writes that he uses his dreams to gather and refine ideas for his music. As the name suggests, this album was created for the films of the The People’s Republic Of Animation.

Film Music Of The People’s Republic Of Animation is a name your price download from Bandcamp.

Benjamin Speed MySpace and Homepage.

If by now you have developed an appetite for classical music, check out Classical.com. They feature a free classical album every week.

Past editions of Sound Sunday are available here. I am happy to review material and suggestions for upcoming editions of Sound Sunday. Please get in touch with me: tina at makeuseof dot com

What genre should the next Sound Sunday Special be dedicated to?

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Instant Jam – Innovative Social Music and Rhythm Game on Facebook

Posted: 03 Oct 2010 10:30 AM PDT

music gamesRhythm games will never die. Dance Dance Revolution can be considered the holy godfather of rhythm games, but now guitar jam games – like Guitar Hero and Rockband – carry the standard.

More than one freeware alternative already roam the web, but not all possibilities have been explored. This is obvious when we look at Instant Jam, a Facebook Guitar Hero clone with great graphics and a number of impressingly innovative new features.

Every fan of music and rhythm games should give Instant Jam a spin. Read on to know why.

Instant Jam

The game instantly reminds us of Guitar Hero for PC, or other freeware counterparts like Jamlegend and Frets on Fire. There are a few not-so-subtle differences. For starters, similar to Mafia Wars and Farmville, the game is available on Facebook. It was developed by Instant Action, which we reviewed last year, an innovating game developer that renders the 3D graphics on their own server farms, and streams it to the user – with little to no local rendering required. This means casual gamers can get the eye candy without the hardware to support it.

Because Instant Jam can be played from the browser, it will not remain captivated as a Facebook app. Everyone will be able to embed an instance of the game on their own website or blog, just like a YouTube video.

music games

Instant Jam can be played on both Windows and Mac, and features the same gameplay system as its competitors. Notes travel down the screen and you need to press the corresponding buttons when they reach the bottom. You can choose to use your keyboard and mouse, or to use an actual Guitar Hero controller with a USB converter.

The Largest Music Library (Your Own)

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect about the whole of Instant Jam game is the way it handles music licensing. Instead of making deals (or failing to) with musicians, it uses your music library with an interactive layer on top. Instant action will check which of your songs are already programmed into the system, and start right away. This assures you the best musicians for free, even some that have declined to be in games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

video game music

If you do not yet own the song you want to play, you can unlock it by purchasing it via iTunes, Amazon, or by using Instant Jam credits (more on that below). Instead of paying for a single in-game experience. The music you bought will actually be yours, and available in your local music library. Thousands of tracks are already available and more will be added each day.

Social Scene, Unlockables and Gaming Credits

Instant Action uses the same social scheme as other major Facebook games. Initial gameplay is single player, but users can challenge and fan other players. Aggregating fans and nailing songs will get you in-game credits, which can then be used to unlock items. These same credits can also be bought online with real money.

music games

There’s a limit of the songs you can play in one run. Once you’ve reached the cap, you need to use those same in-game credits to buy extra game-credits, or you can also wait an hour and a half to be reset. This is an interesting micro-transaction business scheme that does not ultimately work to the disadvantages of players who want to keep on playing for free.

What is your favorite music and rhythm game? Tell us why in the comments!

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Latest Hilarious Picks [MakeUseOf Geeky Fun]

Posted: 03 Oct 2010 09:04 AM PDT


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

  1. How to React to An Oncoming Google Streetview Car (Pic)
  2. Googles' contextual ad matching – at it's best (Pic)
  3. So, tell us honestly why have you uninstalled our software… (Pic)
  4. Battery Power (Pic)
  5. Craigslist's adult section lives on…(Pic)
  6. The Facebook Chat Romance That Never Was (Video)
  7. Umbilical Cord Charger for 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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