Friday, October 8, 2010 “Cool Websites and Tools [October 7th]” plus 10 more “Cool Websites and Tools [October 7th]” plus 10 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [October 7th]

Posted: 07 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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Danger Sign Generator – Danger signs are a great medium to protect the public from any untoward incidents. If you need a quick danger sign for your event, school, or your home, check out Danger Sign Generator. This simple web tool lets you create custom danger sign images which you can print and use anywhere. Read more: Danger Sign Generator: Create Danger Signs On The Fly – 's “how do I swear in different languages?” section compiles the most common cuss words of 40 different languages. After all, what's the point of swearing if you can't get your point across to the receiver of the message? This fun tool translates the most common cuss words for everyone to understand. Read more: Insult.Net: Learn To Swear In Different Languages



The Hotlist – As location is turning out to be the next big thing online, it's imperative that new apps will emerge in order to make use of this opportunity. The Hotlist is one of them, and a pretty useful one. It aggregates location-specific data from various sites (primarily Facebook) and shows the hot events around you on a map. Read more: The Hotlist: Check the Hot Events Around You



Wrrtn.Me – If you are an avid note-taker, then you should check out This lightweight web app can serve as a notepad with a number of powerful features such as text markups and HTML highlighting. The browser-based notepad has the potential to overcome desktop based notepad applications with its unique integration capabilities. Read more: Wrrtn.Me: Powerful & Lightweight Notepad Online



CodeEval – When web development and software companies are hiring candidates, they often give candidates coding problems to solve. These problems can take quite some time to come up with because companies need to ensure solving them is not very easy. CodeEval is one website that helps you create such coding problems. Read more: CodeEval: Create Coding Problems For Students Or Job Candidates


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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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Electronically Sign Your PDF Documents For Free Using Adobe eSignatures

Posted: 07 Oct 2010 06:31 PM PDT

how to sign a pdfAs we've now collectively stepped forth into the digital age, electronic alternatives to traditional methods continue to spring up. Smartphones seem destined to replace shopping lists and notebooks, whilst eReaders boast about how “paper-like” their screens are.

It's no surprise then that you can now electronically sign documents, using your email address as verification of identity. Many similar online tools require payment for the service, but the Adobe eSignatures beta is completely free (at least for now).

So if you're half way across the world, printer-phobic and need to sign a contract (as this writer has recently experienced) you might want to try convincing your boss to use Adobe eSignatures.

Collecting Signatures

This service cannot be used to just sign any document, and if it’s your job to collect the signatures you're going to need a PDF document (or at least the last “sign here” page) exported using Adobe Acrobat.   PDF files created by freeware alternatives, such as CutePDF or PDF995, won’t work.  The PDF file needs to have the “signing” digital permission enabled and it seems that only the paid Adobe Acrobat can achieve this.   In Adobe Reader, you can see the status of the digital restrictions by going to File –>Properties and then going to the security tab.

how to sign a pdf

If you see “Signing: Allowed” then you’re good to go with eSigning.   If it says “not allowed” then you are out of luck. That's pretty much the only catch, and once you've got your “signable” PDF the rest is as easy as pie.

If you’ve not already got one, you're going to need to register an account with Adobe in order to collect your signatures. Once you've signed in you should see the document upload screen.

freeware digitally sign pdfs

You can also add a short description to the document, handy if you’ve got lots of things to sign. On the next screen you'll have an opportunity to input the email addresses of those required to sign the document.  Be careful that you don’t input the wrong address by mistake because there seems to be no way to delete a signatory once it has been sent out.

Once you've included everyone select a due date, add a custom message if you think your counter-signatories need a bit more information and sign the document yourself (more on that shortly). It will then be emailed to each party specified, and a signature will be requested.

You can now monitor your document by clicking the Awaiting Your Signature link and choosing the correct PDF. You will be informed who has signed, and how long they've got left to do so.

freeware digitally sign pdfs

Signing Documents

Chances are you're probably going to be the one who has to sign the PDF document, rather than request signatures (unless you're in higher places). This is even easier, though you are going to need to sign up for an Adobe ID before you can sign.

You'll probably have received an email notifying you of a document awaiting your signature, and within that email will be a link.

freeware digitally sign pdfs

Click the link in the email to sign in and bring up the document you've been requested to sign. On a completely unrelated note, please remember to read what you're signing. You don't want to go signing your life away to the devil or anything.

Once you've read the document you might want to take a look at the Signatories box to the right. This contains the email addresses of everyone required to sign, and whether they've responded yet or not.

digitically sign pdf

To sign the document with a default signature just click Sign. Congratulations, you have verified your identity using your email address and Adobe ID. You've also saved some trees and given the postal service a break.

Custom Signatures

If you're a bit pickier about your signature and would actually like it to look like your real signature then you have the option to create a different profile. You can upload an image by clicking the Signature Profiles link to the left of your name.

You could use a graphics tablet or even Paint (good luck), but I chose to scrawl on some white paper with a blue Sharpie and took a picture with my camera phone.

how to sign a pdf

A custom image won't really add that much more validity to your eSignature, after all it works by verifying an individual through an email address. Still, it’s sometimes nice to add a personal touch.


If you need to sign something quickly and find organising trans-continental post a bit of a headache, Adobe eSignatures will probably do the trick. You're going to need Adobe Acrobat (or a helpful friend with a copy) and about five minutes of your time.

Have you used an eSignature service before? Will you use one in future? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Image Credit – Shutterstock

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5 Kick Ass ac’tivAid Extensions To Enhance Your Windows Experience

Posted: 07 Oct 2010 04:31 PM PDT

windows toolsThe other day I introduced the Windows tool ac’tivAid to you. It’s a platform for AutoHotkey scripts that add valuable functions to Windows. Many of the extensions are based on cool standard features in Mac or Linux operating systems.

ac’tivAid is a host for many tools and can replace several other gadgets. Per default, none of the 60+ extensions are enabled. This way your system isn’t weighed down by scripts you are not using. To make it easier for you to get started with some über cool features, I have compiled a list of the 5 most useful ones.

As mentioned in my previous article, ac’tivAid is available for Windows 2000 through Windows 7. A thorough documentation for each of its 60+ extensions is also provided within the program. Click the question mark next to a script’s short description, either in the tab listing all extensions or in the extension’s dedicated tab.

1. LookThrough

Personally, I try to keep my desktop empty, but if you have a ton of shortcuts and files on your desktop, you will love this extension. Don’t you love it when you have to minimize a dozen open windows to access an item on your desktop? Even if you can quickly minimize and restore windows in bulk, it’s still a time waster.

With LookThrough the whole process is simplified. A keyboard shortcut is all it takes to cut through all your open windows and gain direct visual and physical access to your desktop. Yes, you can actually click shortcuts on your desktop while LookThrough is in operation.

windows tools

Unfortunately, this extension only works with the classic XP design in Windows Vista. However, it does work with Aero themes in Windows 7.

2. WebSearch

This script provides quick access to your most used search engines.

windows toolkit

The default keyboard shortcut [Windows] + [W] opens a menu where you can select from a list of search engines.

windows toolkit

You can assign your custom keyboard shortcuts to directly open a specific search engine. If you highlight a word in your web browser and click your custom shortcut, the search will launch immediately. The script generally uses your default browser, but you can define different browsers for specific search engines.

3. MinimizeToTray

Too many open windows piling up in your taskbar? How about minimizing some of them to the tray rather than the taskbar? With MinimizeToTray shortcuts you can hide and unhide a window to a tray-icon. You can also make selected windows hide automatically.

windows toolkit

4. VolumeControl

The default Windows volume control is pretty bare. When you use keyboard controls to adjust the volume, you typically don’t know where you are in terms of scale. VolumeControl adds a stylish Mac-like on screen display (OSD).

windows extensions

As with almost all ac’tivAid extensions, you can customize the keyboard shortcuts. VolumeControl will also work with existing buttons dedicated to controlling the volume. Finally, you can assign custom shortcuts for up to two different sound devices.

windows extensions

5. MouseWheel

Isn’t it totally annoying that you first have to click a window to be able to use the mouse wheel? Sometimes you just don’t want to bring the window forward. MouseWheel lets you scroll in inactive windows, without bringing the window forward and burying other windows sitting on top of it. You just hover over the window with cursor and being scrolling.

You can disable MouseWheel for selected windows.

windows tools

So these were my picks to get you started. There are dozens of other scripts to be discovered. Some of you may be looking for a way to copy text without formatting (PastePlain), others might appreciate a shortcut to instantly initiate the shutdown process (AutoShutdown), or how about simplified screenshot hotkeys (ScreenShot), quick access to a calculator (CalculAid), resizing windows without having to hit the edge (ComfortResize), making windows transparent using the mouse wheel (TransparentWindows), and tons more.

Please let us know which ac’tivAid extension gets your vote and what you think of the platform as a whole.

Image Credit : Heise Zeitschriften Verlag, Hanover, Germany

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Back Up Your Tweets To Your Own Domain With Tweet Nest

Posted: 07 Oct 2010 03:31 PM PDT

Despite being an enthusiastic Twitter user, there are some things that irritate me about the service. One of them is how all of my tweets seem to fall down a huge black hole once you get to a certain point. There is no search function that allows you to search back through all of your tweets from say last year so if you want to find a particular link that you tweeted last Christmas for example, then you’re pretty much screwed.

That’s why, if you have your own domain, you should seriously consider using a script called Tweet Nest.  This allows you to import all of your existing tweets to your domain up to a limit of 3,200.   Then from that point on, you can backup every new tweet you make so you will end up having a fully searchable, fully indexable customisable record of them all on your site.

Setting it up isn’t too difficult but it isn’t exactly that easy either.   So I will do my best to try and explain it in an easy-to-follow manner.

What You Will Need

According to the Tweet Nest website, as well as a Twitter account and your own paid domain, you also need the following :

Tweet Nest is programmed in PHP and requires a MySQL database to work. It's been tested in LAMP environments, i.e. Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP. It may work on other types of servers, but you'll have to figure that out for yourself. The minimum requirements of Tweet Nest are:

  • PHP 5.2 or higher with cURL enabled (or 5.1 with the PECL JSON module installed in addition)
  • MySQL 4.1 or higher

If you have absolutely no idea what all that means (I have to admit to being a bit baffled myself) then ask your web hosting company if they have all that.   If they don’t know either, then maybe you should consider changing your web hosting company.

Once your domain is all set up to handle the requirements specified above, then move onto step 2.

Move The Installation Files Over To Your Domain

Download the files from the Tweet Nest website and unzip them.   But you MUST keep the folder structure inside the zip folder intact.  Failure to do that will mean the whole thing won’t work.

Now you have to move it over to your domain using your favourite FTP client.   Decide on where you want your tweet nest to go (I decided on – keeping it simple!) and move the files to that location.

Next, go to that location on your website, and assuming everything is working as planned, you will now see a big signup form to set everything else up.

The Easy Basics

Type in your Twitter username, choose your timezone and specify the path to your tweet nest installation.

The Database

OK, here’s where it gets tricky and I only managed this because my web hosting company made it all so easy for me.  You have to make a new MySQL database on your domain.  I can’t explain to you how to make one as each web host has different ways you can make such a database.  My web host had a two-click automated solution which was really simple but some other web hosts may not provide that service and so you would have to make one from scratch.   If you don’t know how to make one, I’m sure you know a 10 year old kid somewhere who does know!

When it is set up, enter the database username, password and name.   You can leave the table prefix at its default setting.   No need to mess around with things that don’t need to be changed.

The Rest

Now for the final stretch.  Specify a password for when you are loading your tweets, specify whether you want a “follow me” button to appear on your page and also enable or disable Smartypants.   This rather nifty feature is, according to its website :

a free web publishing plug-in for Movable Type, Blosxom, and BBEdit that easily translates plain ASCII punctuation characters into "smart" typographic punctuation HTML entities.

In other words, it turns crappy looking typing into smart looking typing.  Well worth keeping, in my opinion.

If you have managed to fill out all the fields, click “submit and set up” and watch it do its magic.

Watch Your Tweets Get Pulled In

Assuming you have configured it correctly, you will now see it start to import all your previous tweets (up to the Twitter-imposed maximum of 3,200) so how long this part takes depends on how many tweets you have.  For me, it only took 5 minutes so it was quite fast.  Just leave it to do its thing.   When it’s done, go to your tweet nest URL that you set up at the beginning and you should see all your tweets sitting there, all in order and organised.  Here’s mine.

Let’s quickly go over some of the benefits of doing this :

ALL Your Tweets Are Fully Searchable & Indexable For All Time

You can search all your tweets right back to the beginning and search engines like Google will pick up your tweet archive and index them all.   Which means that when you make a tweet, it will be preserved for ever.

View Media In Your Tweets As Thumbnails For Easier Searching

Are you looking for that photo that you tweeted about a while back on TwitPic?   Then find it easily by scanning the media thumbnails on your tweet nest.

Customize Your Tweetnest Page

I haven’t got around to customizing my page yet with various backgrounds and different colours, but since the page is hosted on your own domain, you can do whatever you want to it.   Add different colours, insert backgrounds, tables, headers, you name it.   The sky’s the limit.   To give you some ideas, here’s the tweet nest of the tweet nest developer.

So if you have a domain, why not give this a try and see how you like it?   Then come back and let us know in the comments where your tweet nest is so we can take a look!

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3 Great Twitter Tools To Simplify Your Twitter Reading

Posted: 07 Oct 2010 02:31 PM PDT

twitter toolsYou know the story. You sign up to Twitter, add a few friends, meet a few like-minded folk, add a few celebrities and all of a sudden you’ve got more tweets than you can handle. Information overload means that you’re no longer seeing the most interesting Tweets. And where’s the fun in that?

To get around this problem, a few companies have decided to offer magazine or newspaper style views of your favourite people or topics on Twitter. They simplify the most recent Tweets into interesting articles from links, pictures and popular Tweets.

Some allow you to follow hashtags, while others simply let you see Tweets from your Twitter friends. Some services offer a small taste of the article, while others expand to show the full article. In short, these Twitter tools offer a great way to get an overview of the most important things relevant to you.

Now, these services were never meant to replace traditional methods of following Twitter. If you have lots of Twitter friends you’ll probably still want to make Twitter lists, use your favourite Twitter client and maybe get ambient updates (using FireStatus or Echofon) throughout the day. The newspaper-like services are probably only worth visiting once per day and are most helpful when you’ve been away from Twitter for a while. Personally, I make use of a large variety of Twitter tools depending on my needs at the time. is the new hot trend in Twitter magazines ever since Stephen Fry decided to give it a go. It’s designed to look like a newspaper: the white background highlights the general topics, headlines, a small snippet of an article and a thumbnail image.

twitter tools

It’s easy to set up a newspaper of your whole Twitter stream, an individual list or a hashtag. You’re limited to five newspapers, so if you think a hashtag has already been made into a paper, then simply search for it. No matter who created the paper originally, anyone can be alerted to new editions (via email) or can promote the paper via Twitter. papers update once per day.

twitter track tools

Twitter Times is a newspaper style overview of just the best Tweets from your friends. The hottest news rises to the top and the news follows in order of priority down the page. Large pictures for articles are given when available, making the format visually interesting.

All articles begin in a shortened form, but can be expanded without leaving Twitter Times, making the overall reading process smooth and fast. If you think the article is important enough to share, it can also be quickly re-tweeted from within Twitter Times. The newspaper is updated regularly throughout the day, making the news a little more timely than a daily paper.

twitter track tools

Older news in Twitter Times features in smaller blocks in the side of the screen, so that you’re less likely to miss anything important.

twitter track tools


Flipboard is actually a free iPad application, but it works in a similar way to the previous two web applications. Links from Tweets are expanded into articles and pictures are displayed in magazine style. The content is gathered from the user’s Twitter friends, so you know the information is relevant to you.

Flipboard recently aquired Ellerdale, a real-time semantic data analysis firm, in order to categorise Tweets, determine trending topics and ultimately offer Flipboard users the very best content from their friends.

twitter tools

Take a look at the video to see just how stylish and intuitive the format of this really is.

Other Tools

If you’re in need of some other Twitter tools to help streamline your Twitter experience, there’s many others available. See these three ways to avoid Twitter information overload for more great ideas.

If you know of any other great Twitter magazine readers, let us know in the comments.

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Hot Tech Deals [Oct 7th]

Posted: 07 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. Western Digital WD TV Live Network Reader High Definition Media Player (REFURB) $59.99

  2. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens (Nifty Fifty) for Canon DSLR Cameras $89.99 via code AFLCAN10

  3. Seasonic X650 Gold 650W ATX Power Supply (80PLUS GOLD = 92% Efficiency) $119.99 via code PSU10420

  4. Panasonic DMC-TS2S 14.1MP 4.6X Digital Camera (Waterproof) $269.99 Free Shipping via code CAM10520

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

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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Test Your Mobile Website With Opera Mobile Emulator

Posted: 07 Oct 2010 12:31 PM PDT

mobile emulatorOpera Mobile Emulator is a must-have testing tool if you’re designing a website. Whether you develop using Linux, OS X or Windows you can test how your site will function on a mobile device quickly and easily.

Designing websites for desktops is hard enough. Between Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and the infamous Internet Explorer web developers have always had their hands full. You need to ensure users of each browser can use your site. With the advent of widespread smart phones, though, the problem is even more complicated. You need to ensure your site looks and functions well on mobile platforms.

Opera Mobile Emulator gives you a way to do just that. This desktop program mimics Opera’s mobile version perfectly, allowing you to test a given site quickly and easily. It’s also pretty fun to use as a mini-browser, if you’re looking for something like that, so even non-developers can have some fun with this one.

There are a number of mobile browsers out there; Opera Mobile is just one of them. If you want to use it on your cell phone, I suggest you read more about downloading Opera Mobile. If you want to give this program a spin on your desktop or laptop, though, keep reading.

Getting Opera Mobile

Getting Opera Mobile isn’t all that difficult; just head over to the Opera developer page to find out all the information you need to. You’ll find downloads for Windows, Mac and Linux there.

Linux users having trouble installing the Mobile Emulator, rejoice! There’s a portable version that can run on every Linux distro over at PortableLinuxApps, a site we’ve profiled in the past. Check it out if you don’t want to bother dealing with installation.

Using The Program

Fire up the program and you’ll be presented with your most-visited sites. Start using the program and you’ll quickly realize that this interface is not meant for the desktop; it’s very much a phone design. That’s obvious enough.

You can change a few settings, but not many:

mobile emulator

Tabs aren’t visible on screen; rather, they are a button-press away:

mobile emulator

As you can tell, this program is very much identical to the phone version of Opera Mobile. If you really want to see what it’s about I suggest you read about the mobile version of Opera.

What It’s For

As mentioned before, this program is perfect for testing whether your website works well on mobile browsers. While it’s specifically meant to show you how your site will look on Opera Mobile, it can also give you a general idea of how your site will look on all such devices. My site, for example, sports a fairly unique interface. It’s kind of weird, I know, but I like it for some reason. How does it work on a mobile browser?

mobile phone emulator

My experience was not a good one. Looks like I’ll be in the market for a new Wordpress theme within the next couple of weeks, or at least a good mobile plugin.

MakeUseOf does have a mobile version, however, and it works really well in Opera Mobile. Good to know.

Alternative Uses

Not really a web designer? You still might be able to have fun with this one. Mobile sites tend to be less cluttered than their desktop equivalents, so this browser could be a good choice for distraction-free reading. It’s also worth trying this browser out if you’re considering getting a smart phone; it’s a pretty good way to explore how the web will look on it.

Whatever you use Opera Mobile Emulator for, you have to agree that it’s cool of the Opera team to offer it. I enjoyed playing with it, and learned a bit about my own website in the process. You can too, so check it out!

As always let us know what you think in the comments below. Also feel free to ask for help, should you need it.

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Build An Army & Wage War Playing Warzone 2100

Posted: 07 Oct 2010 11:31 AM PDT

war strategy gamesReal-time strategy games are the sort that draw you in and hold you enthralled for many hours. The most popular of these include games like EA’s Command and Conquer, or Warzone 2100 by Eidos Interactive. In these games, you build, fortify, scout, and attack in order to build up your own resources and defenses, and of course destroy your enemies.

You can purchase these real-time war strategy games for Playstation, Xbox or your computer – but did you know that the popular Warzone 2100 is open-source?

That’s right, as of 2004, Warzone 2100 was released under GNU Public License. You can download and install it on your PC right now – and enjoy hours of knee-biting, edge-of-your chair war-gaming for absolutely free.

Since the game was coded and distributed on a commercial level, you can expect high quality digital imagery, professional sound effects and music, and a gaming environment that is captivating and interesting to play. I burned through at least two full nights just testing the game in order to write this article. These are the chores that writers must suffer through.

Playing The Real-Time Strategy Game Warzone 2100

From the menu alone, I knew that I would love this game. I was an avid Command and Conquer fan for many years, and immediately I noticed the same look and feel of this game, albeit with slightly lower quality graphics and controls. On Warzone 2100, both single player and networked multiplayer game modes are available. The plot of the game is a post apocalyptic world that is rebuilding after nuclear destruction. You are a builder – but there are those out to destroy you.

war strategy games

In single-player mode, you start out with a single base and a few vehicles. Nothing is built yet, but you have available funds, and usually defensive vehicles to keep any initial wave of attackers at bay while you try to establish a base of operations. Whenever you select any object, the controls pop up just above your command navigation “star” with the nuclear symbol in the middle.

free war game downloads

The first thing I noticed is that the learning curve isn’t very steep. Hover your mouse over any of the icons and it’ll tell you what it does. For example, here I’ve selected the “build” tool, and each icon represents a building that I can establish as part of my base.

free war game downloads

The construction vehicles take care of new construction with an interesting focused blue “build” ray that either constructs a building from the ground up, or it’ll repair any buildings that have been damaged in an attack. You’ll notice at the bottom of the screen, in the center is a bar representing your funds, and on the left reads “CAM-1A” and the time – presenting the feel that you are observing and controlling your base from a surveillance satellite.

free war game downloads

Once you have a few important structures built, you can start producing vehicles and exploring the land around you. At the beginning, you won’t be able to build much because you haven’t completed any research. For example, all I can build here is a construction truck or a machine gun Viper vehicle.

freeware war games

At the lower right side of the screen, you’ll notice that you have a radar display of the entire game area. Your forces and your base is represented as green areas or dots. Approaching enemy forces, or enemy bases you discover, show up as red areas or dots.

You can select one or multiple vehicles, and then place the mouse over the enemy you want them to all attack at once. You can also tell vehicles to defend a particular area, fire at a specific spot or retreat back to base for repairs. Keep a close eye on the status bar under the vehicle – when it turns red, you need to get it out of the fight.

freeware war games

Each battle is pretty cool – with decent explosions and sound effects for the machine guns and other weapons. However, I didn’t feel that this version could even come close to comparing with the commercial version of Command & Conquer or similar games. With that said, for a free real-time strategy war game, it’s fairly impressive.

freeware war games

Multiplayer mode is available when you enter the lobby. You can see what current games are available and how many there are. Multiplayer gameplay is nearly identical to single player, except instead of waging war against the computer, you’re battling it out against real people. If you really want to have fun, create two teams and fight a world war.

war strategy games

I’ll be honest, I’m very selective with free games that I choose. I can’t stand low-quality flash games, and I usually avoid most open-source games because the quality usually isn’t there. I can say that in the case of Warzone 2100, the quality is there – and if you enjoy strategy games like this, it’ll surely keep you up building and battling until three or four in the morning.

Have you ever played this or any other free war strategy game? What is your favorite? Share your insights in the comments section below.

Image credit: Stephen Davies

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5 Windows Git Clients To ‘Git’ The Job Done

Posted: 07 Oct 2010 10:31 AM PDT

version controlThere comes a time in any coder or non-coder’s life when keeping track of file changes in your own head just gets out of hand. When that happens the logical next step is to move your files, whether it be code, configuration files, text files or other; to a version control system.

Git is a popular version (or revision) control system which is in wide use today and is built for speed and reliability. Although other protocols are available (for example, CVS or Subversion), Git is one of the more popular ones to use because of its speed, ease of use and availability on a variety of operating systems.

Git is a great system for many different kinds of items, from configuration files to code, on projects where one person to a whole development team are working on. The Linux kernel is one of the more famous projects which currently use git for version control.

While many power users prefer to use the flexible and powerful git command line, several Windows clients are available which make using a git easier for someone who is not used to the system.

Git For Windows

version control

Git for Windows is a Windows port of git with a lightweight interface. It includes the git binaries and a GUI to work with it. Git for Windows, or git-gui, is the most stable of the options even if it lacks some of the more advanced features that the ones below do have.

Make sure you write down the first file – “Git….windows” rather than msysgit, which is command line only and is used in some of the other projects below.


version control software

If you are familar with TortoiseSVN, TortoiseGit is a very similar program. Instead of working with an external GUI, TortoiseGit is a shell extension which integrates with your Explorer content menu within Windows. This has both its upside and downsides – you don’t have an external program to deal with but you do need to use the TortoiseGit software to do your merges, check for comparisons (diff) and other features.


version control software

SmartGit bills itself as the ‘easy to use’ git client, and it delivers. SmartGit is probably my favorite of the group, due to its ease of use, built in tools and complete feature set.

One thing that I absolutely love about SmartGit is that it has integration with GitHub. If you use GitHub to manage your code, this integration makes it a breeze to work with your code. If you are new to git, SmartGit is a good program to start with.

SmartGit requires that you install msysgit as a prerequisite. It is commercial software but is free for personal use.

EGit for Eclipse

version control software

EGit is an Eclipse IDE (Integrated Development Environment) plugin. It works to manage your code in the git filesystem while you use Eclipse to actually write your code. Eclipse is a popular free development environment, which is why this is mentioned here.

Git Extensions

version control

Git Extensions is a Windows Shell Extension for Git, much like TortoiseGit. I have read good things about it, but honestly after I installed it I had some problems and errors that seemed not normal. I was able to fix it by removing the line “hideDotFiles = dotGitOnly” from my .git/configure directory. It also requires that you install 2 external programs, msysgit and Kdiff.

Git Extensions also includes a plugin for Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, 2008 and 2010.

To Each Their Own

The number of Windows git clients is growing constantly. What works for one person might not work for another, so it is important to try out several clients until you find one that works for you in your workflow. There are a number of projects which are working to build some Windows-native git clients such as Git# and also more cross-OS compatible ones like JGit.

Do you have a preferred Windows Git client that is not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below.

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Add Customized Crossword Puzzles & Quizzes To Your Website Using Hot Potatoes

Posted: 07 Oct 2010 09:31 AM PDT

customized puzzlesTheoretically, websites (and blogs) are the perfect tools for global education: they are extremely cheap to build and to maintain (compared to real schools), supportive to collaborative teaching and learning, highly customizable, and easily accessible from all over the world.

But in reality, things are not as simple as they are on paper. There are many factors to consider in building a web-based education site. One of the hindrances is the difficulties in creating assessments. The free and easy methods to build customized puzzles and quizzes are extremely rare. But I’m lucky to encounter one called Hot Potatoes.

The Potatoes Are Hot

Hot Potatoes is a free multi-platform quiz creation software that can be run under Windows, Linux (with Wine) and Mac (Java version). The latest version is version 6. Unfortunately it’s no longer supported by the developer. Users are advised to visit the discussion group instead. While the interface might be a little uninformative, I personally think that most everyday users will need no technical support as using Hot Potatoes is fairly simple.

The main interface consists of links to six tools: five types of quiz makers (JCloze, Jquiz, JCross, JMatch and JMix) and one tool to combine them (The Masher).

customized puzzles

When you start Hot Potatoes for the first time, the app will ask you to provide a user name to register the app. The user name will be used as the author name for all the quizzes that you are going to create.

crossword puzzles for website

The best way to understand how Hot Potatoes works is by using it in real life. For example, if you want to make a cloze test (a test where the test taker should supply the removed words from the text), you can use JCloze to do it.

Click the JCloze link from the main interface, give the test a name and provide a reading text. Block words or phrases that you want to remove, click the “Make Gap” button and provide clues and alternative answers.

crossword puzzles for website

After you have finished covering all the words that you want to remove from the text, export the file as an HTML version 6 page using “File – Export – Create Standard V6 page“.

crossword puzzles for website

Hot Potatoes will ask you whether you want to view the result using your default browser. If you do, the HTML file will be opened by the browser.

custom puzzles

There’s also a multiple choice test builder (JQuiz). This one is flexible enough to allow more than one answer. Make a check to the box(es) next to the correct answer(s).

custom puzzles

Using the same export menu, you can create the HTML version of the quiz.

custom puzzles

Click on the other links in the main window to access other type of quiz builders: JMatch creates matching exercises, JMix deals with jumbled items, and JCross is the master of crossword puzzles.

Creating A Crossword Puzzle

A crossword puzzle is the type of quiz which is also popular among non-students. You can add crossword puzzles on your websites to entertain your visitors.

To build one, click on JCross and then put the letters into their respective locations.

05a JCross.jpg

Then click the “Show Clues Window” button and write down the necessary clues for each word.

05b JCross Clues.jpg

You can adjust the size of the puzzle by going to the “Manage – Resize” menu. Another available action that you can take from the “Manage” menu is to “Create Grid from List of Words“.

05c JCross List Of Words.jpg

This action will help users to create a crossword puzzle without having to think about the placement of the words.

05d Create Grid from List of Words.jpg

Whatever the building method that you choose (manual or automatic), this is more or less what the end result will look like.

05e JCross Result.jpg

The Masher

The Masher is different from its siblings. The function of this tool is not to create quizzes, but to compile them into one group.

To start, click the “Add” button and build your collection of quizzes. You can re-arrange the order of the quizzes using the Up/Down button.

06a Masher.jpg

Masher will only accept files which are built using one of Hot Potatoes’ tools.

06b Add Exercise.jpg

The file will be added directly to the group after you click “OK” in the confirmation window.

06c Add File or Files to Project.jpg

As a bonus, the Masher gives you the ability to customize the look of the end result. All of the options are under the “Appearance” tab.

06d Masher - Customizing Result.jpg

You can add individual quizzes or groups of quizzes to your website by uploading them directly to your server. You don’t have to modify anything as everything is already in HTML. But if you are a CSS whiz, you could give the quizzes a little makeover if you want to.

customized puzzles

Hot Potatoes might not look pretty, but it gets the job done. So whether you are creating exercises for your class, building educational websites, or just adding some fun quizzes for your visitors, Hot Potatoes might be able to help you.

If you know and use other alternative free applications to build educational exercises and quizzes, please share your knowledge using the comments below. It’s always nice to have options.



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The Five Best Educational YouTube Channels

Posted: 07 Oct 2010 08:31 AM PDT

youtube educationalWe all know that improving our education is good for us, but we also know that doing so is often expensive and a bit time consuming. Books are not cheap and courses at institutions of higher learning are certainly not cheap. Libraries are as great a resource as ever, but let’s face it – sometimes its easier to watch or listen to someone than to read, particularly if you spend most of your working day viewing text on a computer.

Fortunately there is an incredible array of YouTube educational videos available online.  A wide variety of information, including real lectures from top universities and presentations from experts, are readily available.

You’d be hard pressed to find this out on your own, however. Material from YouTube’s education channels rarely seem to make the front page.

Self-described as a “leading online destination for intelligent video programs on the people, issues, and ideas changing the world,” contains video clips about important issues surrounding politics and economics.

The coverage on is American in focus, and so many of the issues that are frequently discussed – such as gay marriage, tax cuts and defense spending – are discussed through American lenses. With that said, however, there is some focus on subjects of international interest, such as genetically modified food.

The clips on are generally around five minutes in length or less, so it is quite easy to view a few videos while enjoying your lunch break.


Do you fancy yourself an amateur engineer? Or are you already educated in the field, but you’d like a refresher? If so, you’ll absolutely fall in love with the MIT YouTube channel. You’ll find a wide variety of lectures from actual MIT professors posted.

These lectures are not just made available in isolation, either – MIT generally provides numerous lectures from a single course. This means you can jump into the very first lecture and follow the concepts being taught from the beginning.

Although most of the available lectures are about engineering or math, there are some lectures that focus on other fields of study such as music theory and education (as in, how to teach others).


Provided by the University of California, UCtelevision does not focus on lectures given by professors in a classroom setting. Instead it focuses on presentations and panels, some of which are given by UC professors and some of which are given by guest speakers. The speakers at these presentations can, frankly, vary in quality, but the information provided is often thought-provoking.

The channel’s most popular videos include Robert Lustig’s controversial indictment of sugar and Elizabeth Warren’s lecture about the financial difficulties facing the middle class.

Bad Astronomy

An easy-going channel that is targeted towards people who are entirely new to the field, Bad Astronomy is all about explaining complex ideas about the universe that are often misunderstood by the public. This includes such topics as the gravity produced by black holes (is it stronger or weaker than that of the star it was born from?) and how Lagrange points work. The videos are generally short and to the point, making this another great channel to check out if you have a few minutes to kill.

Research Channel

If you’re interested in the latest developments in the scientific world – including hard science, social science and medical science – you should absolutely check out Research Channel. This channel focuses on presentations given by leading scientists and researchers about a wide variety of topics including psychology, medical procedures and math. There are also a few interviews with popular figures mixed in – an interview with Bill Gates is one of the channel’s more popular videos.


There are many other educational channels on YouTube. It’s amazing how many universities offer a sampling of their lectures online. The five YouTube educational channels here are a good place to start, but anyone hungry for knowledge should check out everything the educational channels have to offer.

Do you have any favourite educational channels that you would like to recommend?

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