Tuesday, November 2, 2010

MakeUseOf.com: “Cool Websites and Tools [November 1st]” plus 11 more

MakeUseOf.com: “Cool Websites and Tools [November 1st]” plus 11 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [November 1st]

Posted: 01 Nov 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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Digital Comic Museum – Are you a fan of classic Golden Age comics? If you are, then check out The Digital Comic Museum, a website that archives various and free downloadable comics online. The good thing about these classic comics is that they are already copyright free and are under public domain so you can download them legally for free. Read more: Digital Comic Museum: Extensive Collection Of Free Downloadable Comics


Social Down Or Not – Many web developers rely on social networking APIs, but they often take for granted that these websites will run well. If your website relies on social networking, then you should check this out. SocialDownOrNot is a website that is dedicated to monitoring the uptime status of the top 20 social sites today. Read more: SocialDownOrNot: Monitors Uptime Status Of Top Social Networking Websites



No More Pests – Pests can make living miserable. Mosquitoes, ticks, termites, and others can frustrate you to an intolerable degree. It's important to learn about them and know how to get rid of them. For all of this, pay a visit to “No More Pests”. The site offers a unique reference point on identifying, preventing, and eliminating pests. Read more: NoMorePests: Learn How To Get Rid Of Pests



Placepad – Are you planning to have a home built? If yes, then it would be a good idea to draw what you want your home to look like. To communicate your plans to a professional, you will need a good drawing of your plan. Placepad is a web service that will let you quickly and easily sketch house plans online. Read more: Placepad: Quickly & Easily Sketch House Plans Online



Resizer – A lot of web-based image resizing tools require you to upload the images in order to resize them. But Resizer.co is different. It helps you resize your images dynamically through a URL. You need to use http://www.resizer.co?image=your-image-url&w=destination-width-in-pixels&h=destination-height-in-pixels on your site or wherever you are embedding the image. Read more: Resizer.co: Dynamic Image Resizing On The Fly


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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How to Visualize and Play with Google Suggest Results

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 06:30 PM PDT

Google Suggest is one of the most awesome, but often overlooked Google tools. With it, you can find interesting new subjects relating to the content areas you like or specialize in, while bloggers can use it to think of new ways to expand their site content and reach.

We have already seen Google Suggest in its rawest form, that being the list of suggestions that appear whenever you type anything into Google Search field (unless you have Google Instant enabled and search from Google interface). As we have seen, Google Suggest can be pretty handy for finding related web content on the fly.

However, today I’m going to introduce you to three great tools that can be used to harvest Google Suggest when brainstorming, looking for inspiration and/or performing more in-depth research into a subject.

1. Web Seer

Web Seer (take a look at our Web Seer review) is probably my favorite of the three tools. It allows users to compare two different search queries showing which related fields of interest overlap the two.

The tool may turn both fun and useful for various purposes, for example:

Develop content tailored to two (maybe opposing) groups of communities:

  • geeks vs nerd;
  • republicans vs democrats (see the official example here);
  • she vs he;
  • men vs women;
  • etc.

Run some type of keyword research to compare two similar or related terms:

  • Slang vs general term;
  • Acronym vs full word;
  • etc:

In the example below, you can see that when searching for "DIY" vs "do it yourself", there are some overlapping results, but interestingly there are also some completely different topics attached to the individual terms as well.

2. What Do You Suggest?

What Do You Suggest?” is a straight-up single-phrase suggestion tool, which generates results in the form of a mind map.

What Do You Suggest takes a seed from you (or gives you something random) then guides you on a journey through language and the collective lives of Google users.

It does an excellent job of allowing users to generate interactive search suggestion maps – which can be great help in keyword brainstorming and content inspiration:

Apart from allowing you to brainstorm new ideas based on your seed one, the tool also lets you compare Google Suggest results in different regions. Choose two different locations in drop downs above the results and see the results differentiated by color based on the location:

  • light green = primary locale only
  • light pink = secondary locale only
  • grey= both:

3. Soovle

Soolve is another interactive Google-Suggest-based web app worth checking. The awesome part of the tool is that it provides suggestion results not only from Google, but from Amazon, Answers.com, Bing, Wikipedia, Yahoo and YouTube as well. It is an incredibly powerful research tool, one which I would highly recommend spending some time getting to know (if you decide to follow this advice, check out MakeUseOf’s Soovle review as well).

When you enter a phrase into the Soovle search bar, it pulls up the top ten suggestions from all of its information sources. You can then select one of these suggestions to automatically initiate a new search based around that phrase instead.

Here is a basic feature set to get you started playing with the tool:

  • The search engine in “brackets” is an active one: Soovle will use the active search engine to pull the top result for the base term you enter (this is the so-called “Soovled” link you see in the screenshot below the search field);
  • You can double-click on specific suggestions, in order to actually run the selected search in a new tab./li>
  • The results UI can be moved around and individual engines can be turned off.

So those are my three favorite Google Suggest tools, if you know of some more that are any better, I would love to hear about them.

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How To Make Digital Flashcards With Google Docs Spreadsheets [Web & iOS/Android]

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 04:30 PM PDT

Got some free time? Why not immerse yourself in a new subject or perfect your knowledge of, say, the Spanish language? MakeUseOf has rounded up several educational sites, like MIT and Yale‘s OpenCourseWare sites, as well as Youtube channels for you to get started with a subject to learn.

To learn most subjects, flashcards make great companions to refresh your memory every so often. You might be used to creating flashcards by hand, but considering how most people probably type faster, here’s one way to digitize your flashcards and review them on your laptop and smartphone with Google Docs and gFlash+. The latter is available for iPhone or iPod Touch [iTunes link] and Android.

Making The Flashcards

For thi,s we will be using Google Docs Spreadsheets to input our terms and definitions on two columns. To start, head to Google Docs’s site and create a new spreadsheet.

Click on Unsaved Spreadsheet right next to the Google Docs logo (or press Ctrl + S) to give this spreadsheet a descriptive name.

Now type all of your terms on one column (column A), and your definitions on the next column (column B).

If you have a bunch of vocabulary words, you can divide them in groups and dedicate one spreadsheet document (not sheet) for each group because the gFlash+ app works with individual documents.

Reviewing On Your Laptop

To review with your freshly inputted terms, we still need some mechanism that can help hide and show the terms on demand. Not many users know this, but there are special gadgets you can insert in Google Docs documents to make use of the data you entered, and since Google Docs is geared towards general users as well as students, there are some educational gadgets, a few of which are flashcard gadgets.

The most useful one for this tutorial is one made by Google. To see this, click on Insert > Gadget.

On the Featured tab, scroll down to the 6th to last gadget, Flash Cards Gadget by Seth Glickman, and click on Add to spreadsheet.

If you can’t find this gadget, you can always right-click here and copy the link or add


to the box in the Custom tab.

You’ll get a dialog box to indicate which columns have the words with the terms and definitions. Since your terms are in column A and the definitions are in B, we need to edit the default text (“Sheet1!A1″) and type “Sheet1!A:B”.

Now you will get a somewhat primitive but still very intuitive and useful gadget with terms.

You can move the gadget to cover the terms for practice or resize it to see more terms. Other useful features that you can use down the road include the Shuffle and Flip Cards features.

Reviewing On The Go

The free gFlash apps for iPhone (iPad and iPod Touch as well) and Android (click here from device) come in handy for this tutorial as they happen to make use of the Google Docs spreadsheet two-column flashcard format. Blackberry users who don’t mind paying $6.99 can use the gFlashPro app, which supports images in flashcard entries and has no ads, among other things.

Once you download the app, head to Menu > Get My Google Data to login to your Google account and retrieve your Google Docs spreadsheets.

Once you’re done retrieving your lists of terms, you can start reviewing and tapping on the card below to reveal the answer. What makes gFlash incredibly useful is that it can keep score and on subsequent rounds, it gives you the terms you got wrong (plus a few you got right) so you can work on the terms you need more review for. You do need to tap on the arrow or X (after you get revealed the answer) to aid gFlash keep score.

Another cool feature is the ability to switch to multiple choice mode, tap on More at the bottom.

I did notice that gFlash crashed when I tried accessing the gWhiz Catalog to search for other term groups. Also, if you need to update your vocab list, you’ll need to delete the old spreadsheet and re-download the updated one to gFlash+.

This is probably among the simplest solutions to create flashcards I have found that don’t require a steep learning curve. There are a few more sophisticated tools such as:

Which way do you prefer your flashcards, traditional or digital? Feel free to share your favorite program in the comments!

Image credit: pierocksmysocks

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6 Reasons I Hate Facebook [Geeks Weigh-In]

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 02:30 PM PDT

Back in February 2004, Facebook was launched as an online platform to facilitate communication between college students. Gradually the service opened up to more colleges, more students and finally anyone over the age of 13.

Facebook has now evolved into the single-most popular social networking service on the web. There are currently more than 500 million active users of the service, uploading photos, playing games and letting their network of friends know exactly what they’re up to with well-timed status updates.

Despite being so useful at times, Facebook also suffers from its own breed of drawbacks. Here’s my own personal list of Facebook frustrations.

I can’t talk to anyone from Facebook itself

For a company that employs more than 1,700 people worldwide and stores more than half a billion users’ data on its servers, it seems somewhat wrong that you can’t get an answer to a question from a human being.

The Facebook help page is an endless loop of pre-approved answers designed to walk you through the most basic and self-explanatory features offered by the website. You can report a group for suspected breaches of the terms of agreement, you can request to have your intellectual property removed but you can’t shoot them an email if the help topics don’t quite cut the virtual mustard.

The company’s revenue exceeded $800 million in 2009, so hiring a few more staff probably wouldn’t break the bank.

Privacy or anti-privacy?

It’s probably been a while since you made your Facebook account, but by default all new users status updates, photos and posted items are viewable by everyone. As for photos you’ve been tagged in, well, they’re available to your friends and oddly enough, friends-of-friends.

These are Facebook’s default and "recommended" settings for new accounts. Many others have yet to update their privacy settings, and everything is viewable to literally anyone.

Personally, I think you’re mad if you leave anything viewable to "anyone" – would you simply invite a stranger into your home for a cup of tea and a good look through your photo albums? How about standing in the city centre confessing that you’re off to Majorca for two weeks, so feel free to drop by and rob the TV?

Facebook has received a lot of stick for its broken privacy settings, and as far as I’m concerned until you intervene and restrict what can be seen they’re still very broken indeed.


Recently (along with the usual self-involved horse manure that clogs my feed) I’ve noticed a lot of Facebook friends jumping on the "Like" bandwagon. There are in fact whole websites established simply to propagate mass opinion, senseless sheepism and spelling errors.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Currently:

Maybe I’m missing the point, but some of these people are my age. There’s a whole internet out there, look beyond the blue box!

You won’t believe this MAD photo LOLS! Click Like!

Each week, I see more and more of my friends fall foul to the "you must like X to see X" Facebook pages established simply to get… well, I’m not sure. Many of these are surely there simply to fill your news feed with crap but others probably just get a kick out of a couple of thousand Likes.

Is this really what Facebook was created for? To see the world’s first Wal-Mart and badly Photoshopped pictures of George W. Bush eating a live kitten?

Don’t forget – when you like something you’re then added to that item’s "Like list", the item is posted to your personal wall and you’re promoting the item to everyone in the main feed. It’s also worth mentioning that a quick Google Image Search or a visit to Trendhunter will probably provide you with the "crazy" picture advertised.

FarmVille et al.

Did you know that more than 62 million people regularly play FarmVille? That’s around ten percent of the entire Facebook population.

That’s great, but why must I be constantly invited to join them? Not only do I have more interesting/important/enjoyable things to do with the internet but I also spend time away from my PC too.

I’m sorry, I’m being unfair. It’s not only FarmVille that should be singled out. A few others I’ve noticed rudely and incessantly demanding my attention include: Kingdom of Camelot, Backyard Monsters, Café World, some virtual fish thing, Sim Abbatoir and STD eClinic.

I made those last two up, but you get the picture. Luckily when they pop up in your news feed, you can hover over them, click the cross and choose to never hear from them (the application, or maybe even the person) again. It just gets a little tiring week after week, app after app…


Do you remember the days before your family joined Facebook? Getting tagged in an album called "Night of a hundred beers" complete with photographic evidence of your previous night’s engagement with the toilet weren’t so bad.

Well not any more! Now your grandparents can see just where your student loan is going.

There’s also fraping, the act of having your Facebook hijacked so your so-called friends can post what is usually a fairy graphic and descriptive untruth about yourself. Your friends will understand, but what if grandma spots the update?

I’m not against the older generations joining Facebook, I might add. I’m just wary of the consequences.


Of course I’ll continue using it, for a while at least. I’m sure the rest of you will too – but there’s a handful of other open source alternatives to try out plus with Diaspora just round the corner things are likely to get interesting. Clearly the guys in Palo Alto are doing something right, and the service is still a valuable tool. In fact, go ahead and click that little share button below…

What are your least favourite aspects to the internet’s favourite waste of time? Have I got it wrong? Anything that rings true? Have your say in the comments!

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Hot Tech Deals [Nov 1st]

Posted: 01 Nov 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 Elements 120GB Portable External Hard Drive $19.99 Free Shipping

  2. LG 47LX6500 47in LED-Edgelit 3D-Ready LCD HDTV (1080p, 240Hz, Netflix) $1393.99 via code EMCZYNT26

  3. Audio Unlimited SPK-9110 Circumaural 900MHz Wireless Headphones $19.99 Free Shipping

  4. Toshiba Satellite L635-S3040 Intel Pentium P6100 2GHz 13.3in Laptop (4GB/320GB/Win 7)

  5. Samsung ML-2525W Monochrome Laser Printer w/ Wireless Networking $89.99 Free Shipping

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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6 Best Free iPhone and iPad Alarm Clock Apps

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 12:30 PM PDT

The iPhone’s native clock app certainly leaves something to be desired, and the iPad didn’t even ship with one. Now that apps can run in the background with iOS 4 – already available for iPhones, and coming soon to the iPad – there are quite a few free alarm clock apps that will come in handy. The iPad’s large screen also makes for an ideal nightstand clock, and there are a few apps that take full advantage of that.

For the time being, until iOS 4 is made available to iPad users, be sure to launch the app before you go to sleep if you want to use your iPad as an alarm clock.

Nightstand Central

The free version of the iPhone and iPad app, Nightstand Central displays the time, date and weather of the location of your choice. The alarm can be set to the sound of church bells, a traditional alarm clock and a dial up modem, amongst a few other sounds.

Nightstand Central has a snooze feature, and also gives you a variety of wallpapers to choose from, although one of the darker wallpapers will make more sense if you’ll be keeping the iPad or iPhone by your bed.

Alarm Clock HD Free

If graphics are of no interest to you, the aptly named iPad-only app Alarm Clock will do the trick. There are no bells and whistles with a large digital clock filling the screen. You can also choose to display your location’s weather and the day of the week.

Alarm Clock’s additional features include a snooze option and a small selection of free sounds including a cuckoo, old clock and school bell, amongst others.

Waku Free

Waku Free is a quirky alarm clock app for the iPad and iPhone that sets itself apart from the rest of the apps with its unique graphics. Waku is also a cut above the rest of the free apps because it allows you to use the music on your iPad as the sounds you’ll wake up to. That said, their own hilarious sound effects might help get your day started on the right note.

And don’t be put off by the bright screen – it actually has a switch that allows you to dim the lights and get some shuteye.


If the one and only green colour in the free version of Alarm Clock doesn’t appeal to you, give goodNite a try. The free iPhone and iPad app allows you to change the background, font and font colour. You can also choose to use a photo of your own choice as a background.

Alarm sounds include a dog barking, morning birds and a rooster, amongst a few others. The app, like Waku Free, sets itself apart by allowing you to use a any one of your iPod’s playlists.

Night Stand Lite

Night Stand Lite, not to be confused with Nightstand Central, is another minimalist iPad and iPhone alarm clock with two choices in the app’s appearance. You can select the digital clock, with the colours of your choice, or set it to display 6 clocks set to 6 different timezones.

While it has no snooze option, you can choose which days you want the alarm to be repeated, and can wake up to a small selection of sounds from birds to glass breaking. Although waking up to the sound of glass breaking doesn’t really sound all that pleasant.

Ambient Alarm

Ambient Alarm, an iPad only app, takes a slightly different approach, and includes some unique features, although some of them seem to take things a little far.

The background constantly changes colour, so if you’re a light sleeper this isn’t the app for you. Others may find it soothing and it will help them sleep. The feature that seems unnecessary is that you can shake your iPad to stop the alarm. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do when I first wake up is attempt to do anything that involves shaking a $500 gadget. That said, Ambient Alarm does also allow you to wake up to songs from your iPod music selection.

What’s your favourite iPhone or iPad alarm clock app? Let us know in the comments.

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Best Sites for Charming Greeting Card Message Ideas

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 11:30 AM PDT

Image and graphic design applications, such as iPhoto, Microsoft Word, The Print Shop, include dozens of attractive greeting card and postcard templates for homemade use. All you need to do is drop in a photo or two, a title, and a greeting.

But sometimes writing creative titles and messages can be a challenge, especially if you’re trying to put together a card that last minute. And while your own personal, custom message is preferable, there are a few well designed websites that can provide you some great ideas for messages.

Greeting Card Messages

By far the simplest and most straightforward site I discovered is Greeting Card Message. This resource is bare-bones, with hardly any graphics and advertising, but it contains hundreds of links to all categories of greeting card messages, including anniversaries, “get well soon”, and wedding invitations.

You can even suggest your own message to become a part of the database.

Simple messages like, "Goodbye tummy, Hello Mommy!," "May the miracle of Christmas fill your heart with warmth and love," may not be unique or fresh, but the site's content can help you customize your messages to your unique occasion.

Best Card Messages

Best Card Messages is another simple straightforward site for card messages. Categories include Mother's Day, Birthday, and Baby Card messages. The site includes both traditional and funny messages that can be copied and pasted in a template card. This is a sample birthday message from the site: "Elections come every year, and this year I am nominating you for the birthday party."


If you looking for poetic messages, you might find some good examples at Poemsource. It features poems of Christmas, Friendships, New Years, Birthdays, and other common categories. The content is written by a writer named Karl Fuchs. Here's an example of one of his love poem messages:

A Love Song

Let me sing you a love song
About what I feel in my heart;
Butterflies can’t find nectar
Whenever we’re apart. You’re a flower in bloom.
In the dark, in the gloom,
It’s you who brightens my day.
How many ways do I need you?
Every day, every way, come what may.

The site also provides tips for customizing your own messages.

Verses 4 Cards

Verses 4 Cards contains several dozen categories of poems, quotes, and sayings for all occasions. It also contains messages for categories not found in the above sites, including Thank You messages for teachers, funeral and sympathy poems, and even divorce messages. This site also accepts poem submissions.


Buzzle.com is not limited to card messages, but it nevertheless has a huge database of birthday, romantic, sad, inspirational, wise, and funny quotes, poems, and messages. This site is not straight forward as the ones listed above, but the content is plentiful.

Examples of its amusing birthday messages, include: "My golden words for your birthday…”Smile while you still have teeth!” and "Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter"

Let us know of any other sites you use for inspirational card messages. If you're looking for free greeting applications and web services, check our list of MakeUseOf articles on this subject.

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10 Websites Where You Can Enjoy Reading Short Stories and Flash Fiction

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 10:30 AM PDT

Do you feel that shorter attention spans are giving short stories a leg up? I personally don't feel so, because a story well-told is a story well-enjoyed, short or stretched. Short stories have always been a popular form of writing. It is also the cloth where a wannabe writer cuts his first teeth.

Many of our greatest authors have also inked memorable short stories. O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) is a personal favorite of mine. He even has an illustrious award for short stories in his name. Isaac Asimov is another.

Short stories are not only great writing practice for the beginner author, but it's the same for the child who can be put on a diet of classic reading through short stories.

The best thing is that you can try out a variety of genres and writing styles in the time it takes to do a bus commute. So, pick your favorites from the ten websites mentioned here.

American Literature

A short story site that has been worth a visit since 1997; you can check out the huge alphabetical list of literary stories, most of them classics in their own right. The site has more than 2000 short stories on its roster. You will find Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, P.G Woodhouse, H.H. Munro, Gabriel García Márquez and more of the greats here. The site also picks a Short Story of the Day from its large lineup. The first thing though that welcomes you to the site is the riddle where you have to identify an opening line.

365 Tomorrows

From the classics, we come to a short story website which is a collaborative project that presents readers with a new piece of short science and speculative 'flash' fiction each day. The stories hover around sci-fi related topics and the world of tomorrow. The collection at the site is the work of motley of in-house writers and reader submissions. The site also has an active forum. The other thing of interest is the podcasts of the stories.

East of the Web

East of The Web features stories on crime, fiction, non-fiction, horror, humor, romance, sci-fi, and children's. There's an entire section on interactive stories too. The stories are rated and you can arrange them according to the ratings they enjoy. Complementing the short stories is a section which has enjoyable word games. A teacher resource section might be worth a look into if you are interested in study materials. And if you really enjoy short stories and want to read them on the go, download the free iPhone app.

Classic Reader

Classic Reader publishes out of copyright books online. So you can turn virtual pages of a lot of full unabridged classics. You have a short story section and the site says it is the largest and fastest-growing section on ClassicReader.com. You can search through the site by using the Author Index and Title Index. You have authors from Louisa Alcott to Oscar Wilde to choose from.

Classic Shorts

The site says in its introduction that today, fewer and fewer people read short stories. So, the short story resource makes a small attempt to rectify that. You can search through the site by author and title. The collection is small but it's worth a read because of the classics.

Five Chapters

Five Chapters publishes a short story in five parts every week (Monday to Friday). The archives list about 242 stories by 222 writers. All the stories are by contemporary authors. Stories are in the range of 5000 and 10,000 words. You have to follow the stories daily as the five parts are presented like a series.


The short story matters. Using this comprehensive short story website you can read and submit short stories. Enter events and competitions and also use the tips on how to become a better writer. You can read the stories by downloading them in PDF format. The Story website is supported by the BBC and the BBC National Short Story Award.

Flash Fiction Online

Flash fiction is a 'short short' story that's even briefer than a short story; though the distinction is a bit vague. The site represents the genre well by bringing to us a wide variety of flash stories. Each story is told in 1000 or fewer words. You can also catch the audio versions in the podcasts.


Fictionaut is a neat little site which caters to short fiction and poetry. The site is built around a community of writers and short story enthusiasts. Fictionaut also allows you to showcase your work and get some exposure. You can go through the stories which are recommended or most read. You can even download them in PDF format.

Adam Maxwell's Fiction Lounge

It's the design which caught the eye. The site brings short stories and Flash Fiction, detective whodunits, and podcasts for your reading and listening pleasure. You can also get stories by email. The stories are mostly authored by Adam, so this is more in lines of a personal site. The author describes his work as 'surreal or at least the very least weird'.

Creative writing finds expression and practice thanks to the art of short story-telling. These ten websites are just a sample of the ones readers and creative writers can try out. Tell us about the ones that aren't on this list.

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8 Election Day Voting Resource Websites – The Who, What and Where

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 09:30 AM PDT

Election day is tomorrow in most places in the United States, and in that spirit we wanted to bring you sites to “MakeUseOf” your citizenship and learn what the issues are, who are the choices on your ballot and where you can go to vote.

MakeUseOf is strictly non-partisan, meaning that we aren’t going to tell who you who or what to vote for — but we DO want you to exercize your right to vote by heading to the polls on election day educated about the issues.

Now, even a list such as this can slant in one way or the other based on what we include or leave out – so if you have commentary on the resources we post or other resources you think fellow readers may use please share in the comments. We do ask that you keep it civil and apolitical at all times! We did a similar list back in 2008 – the 2010 version includes these plus updated sources where you can get your information.


One of the main complaints I have had in the past is that I never knew what or who would be on the ballot when I showed up at the polling place. In my experience at least, and I am sure in many others, the first time you actually see the ballot is when you arrive in the polling place either when you are handed the actual ballot or someone soliciting for a candidate hands you a sample ballot.

It may sound obvious but I think it is worth mentioning that I have found Google to generally be the best resource in tracking down your sample ballot. They are usually called a “sample ballot” or “specimen ballot” depending on your location. These ballots are controlled locally in my state by the County, which is further broken down into voting precincts. Since this is broken down into so many different areas in each state, with different methods for distributing information, Google is your best bet here at finding a sample ballot for your local precinct.

For example, I typed in “‘My County Name’ County Sample Ballot” and the county’s voting information page was the first result, and links to “Specimen” ballots were on that page. It will take some searching, but as long as your voter services government body offers them online, you should be able to track them down with relative ease.


Another good resource for finding your sample ballot is eVoter.com. The main negative of this site is that it only has a handful of states included in its database: PA, MD, DC, OH, IL, MN and CA. If you live in a state on that list, you can type in your address and it will display your polling place and a sample ballot for you. Hopefully more states will be added to their database in the coming elections as this is such important knowledge to have to make informed decisions.

Now that you have found your sample ballot, let’s view some resources to find out which way, or who you should vote for.


This site is really pretty cool. You enter your location and it will show you a list of the people who will be on your ballot (for widespread elections). You then answer a set of questions regarding your views on topical subjects, and it will “rate” the candidate based on how organizations who are for a certain idea rate the candidate. After selecting your opinions on a few subjects, it will grade the candidates for you and you can see how they align to your ideals. Clicking on the report details will show you which organization rated that candidate and why.


This website is a meta list of endorsements from non-profits who publish ‘voter guides’ aka politicians they have endorsed who would most likely support their beliefs. These endorsements are certainly political in nature but it is a good way to select a candidate who follows your values.

Influence Explorer

The Influence Explorer is a project by the Sunlight Foundation, an organization dedicated to ‘transparency’ in politics. This means that they wish to know the money behind each candidate and who is donating in order to get someone elected. The theory is that if you donate money to a candidate you are hoping they will vote in your favored direction once in office.


FactCheck.org is a widely known website which checks statements about issues and examines whether they are true or not. This is a great resource for bigger elections where you can track down a statement made about an issue and see whether that is a fact or not. They also examine the media and verify or deny claims made by candidates on the television in interviews and debates.


Vote 411 is a project by the league of women voters and aims to educate both men and women about the how and where to vote. You can find out information about registering to vote (deadline is typically a month before elections) and general voter information in every state. This is a good place to check out if you are new to voting and are looking for general guidance on the voting process and not the issues.

Project Vote Smart & VoteEasy

Project Vote Smart is an issues database which tracks how candidates have taken a position on certain issues. Their “VoteEasy” website is a really slick flash app that has you enter your address and will help you to select a candidate based on how your stand on the issues, similar to VoteReports above. This site is a great way to find candidates who have aligned with your viewpoints on many different topics, and the user interface is pretty cool as well.

Don’t Forget To Vote!

One of the most important parts of the whole process is showing up at the polling place on election day. Mid-term elections typically do not have a high turnout, so your involvement means that you have even more of a say in who gets elected. Make sure you arrive at the polls educated about the people and the issues of the day, so you can make an informed decision.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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VLC Media Player 1.1.0 Is Now Available On All iOS Devices [News]

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 08:49 AM PDT

VLC Media Player, if you don’t know by now, is a multi-purpose media player that eliminates the need to download codec packs in order to watch certain types of videos. Its versatility is what makes it one of the most popular media players out there. With VLC, you can play DVDs, VCDs, audio CDs, almost every type of file and even media files that are damaged.

Now, with the latest update to the VLC Media Player app (App Store link), you can get all of this functionality on your iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. In this article, I’ll explain what you can do with this application.

How Does It Work?

If you’ve been following this app you’ll know that it was released for the iPad about a month ago. With the latest release, however, it is now a “universal binary which runs on the iPhone 4, 3GS and recent iPod Touches”.

Being that the VLC Player is so versatile and already works across multiple operating systems, it comes as no surprise that it can work on iOS devices. But, what can you do with it?

Using iTunes, you can add videos to your iOS devices that can be played with VLC Media Player 1.1.0. I should mention that the VLC app won’t play every video format, but it does play a lot of them without requiring specific encoding for your iOS device, and more extensions are being recognized with every new release.

This updated app also allows you to delete files within the application, which means that you no longer have to do it through iTunes. It also features much faster decoding thanks to assembly optimizations.

Do you use VLC as your primary media player?

Source: TUAW

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STM Sonic Laptop Bag & iPad Org Board Review & Giveaway

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 08:30 AM PDT

I’m sort of a nutter for great quality bags. Here at MakeUseOf, we’ve taken a look at the Crumpler Moderate Embarrassment (which was pretty simple but great), a $400+ leather laptop bag from Saddleback Leather, and we’ve also handed out a Crumpler Western Lawn in our Back to School Giveaway. But you know what? That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Today, we’ll be taking a quick look at two great products from STM and yes, we’ll be giving them away as well. There’s something for everyone and by now, you should already know what you’ll need to do to win one. Keep on reading.

First up is STM’s Sonic Medium Laptop Shoulder Bag. I like it because it’s pretty retro-looking and that’s always cool in my book. Why can’t we all carry our laptops around in style? It only comes in blue and fits most 15″ laptops. Its exterior is lined with polyurethane that’s soft to the touch and feels durable. And it uses a zip to secure the main compartment, so no more embarrassing velcro-snapping sounds.

Even though STM states that the bag is a “medium”, I’ve never seen a “small or “large” Sonic bag on their site so I’m guessing that it’s only offered in one size. It’s actually pretty large, measuring 31.5 x 41 x 14.5cm and can easily fit a 15″ laptop with ample space to spare.

The laptop compartment is pretty heavily padded although, for my 13″ MacBook, there’s still quite a bit of space for it to slide around. I’m sure that a 15″ laptop would fit snugly.

In the smaller front compartment, there are a couple of zipped pockets and storage space for your hard disks, thumbdrives and so on. Otherwise, I’d say that the Sonic is quite simple in design and doesn’t have much to fiddle with. In case you’re wondering, that’s a good thing. It also has a huge foamy shoulder pad (not pictured) so carrying your laptop around all day won’t hurt your bony* shoulders.

*If you’re a geek.

Good: Retro look is funky. Lots of space. Heavily padded main compartment. Nice, thick shoulder pads.

Bad: Front compartment not sufficiently padded. Slightly on the bulky side.

Next up is the iPad org board. It’s actually seen its fair share of hype when this puppy was released. Simply put, the org board is an utilitarian’s wet dream. It has an iPad sleeve on one side and on the other, there are straps to attach more stuff like your iPhone, iPod and 2 pens (or whatever that’s able to fit, like cables or earphones).

The iPad compartment is lined with neoprene and has a flap to conceal the iPad. Even with the flap open, the iPad will not be able to slip out of the case. Trust me, I’ve tried. It’s a very tight fit.

The org board can be used on its own and makes for a very solid iPad case that you can carry around for short spans of time. It also gives you the opportunity to safely store your iPad in any bag you use on a regular basis.

Good: Neoprene case offers moderate protection. Organisational section is very handy.

Bad: Can’t use the iPad while in the case. Org board gets quite heavy when completely filled.

We’re giving one of each away! Let’s get the party started.

How do I enter?

It’s simple, just follow the instructions.


Join our Facebook page by liking us. 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 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 LIKE the post. This step is optional but why not spread the love?

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 after 500 submissions. The winner will be selected at random and announced via email.

Spread the word to your friends and have fun!



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Hootsuite’s Mobile Applications Are Now Free For All Users [News]

Posted: 01 Nov 2010 08:00 AM PDT

Hootsuite is an online Twitter client and social networking tool that can be great for managing your Twitter accounts. It has a lot of solid features like built in geo-search and Google Analytics, and it can be used as a filter for your Twitter feed.

Hootsuite’s mobile applications are just as good, offering message scheduling, notifications, real-time search, built-in link shortening and more. Until recently, however, these mobile apps weren’t free, not for everyone at least.

What’s The News With Hootsuite Mobile?

As of noon PST on October 13th, the full version of Hootsuite for iPhone and Hootsuite for Android are now free to download. Before, you would have to download the ‘Lite’ version of the apps if you didn’t want to pay anything, as the full, paid version offered more features at a premium price.

Now, with your free iPhone and Android apps, you will be able to view Ow.ly clickthrough stats for your links, manage more than 3 social networks and enjoy all the benefits of the full version of Hootsuite mobile.

Hootsuite also states that they will add even more features–like advanced stats–to Hootsuite Pro accounts in the near future:

“Our goal is to give Pro Hootsuite users a mobile client that offers them advanced features, while still allowing free users to enjoy a high-quality free version of out app.”

Hootsuite also has a BlackBerry client and an iPad app in the works. Both of those will be free as well.

Do you use Hootsuite to manage your Twitter accounts? Will you be using Hootsuite’s mobile apps?

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