Saturday, November 20, 2010 “Cool Websites and Tools [November 19th]” plus 9 more “Cool Websites and Tools [November 19th]” plus 9 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [November 19th]

Posted: 19 Nov 2010 07:31 PM PST

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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formUlists – If you have a lot of friends connected to your Twitter account you already know how easily the account can become unmanageable. The greater the number of your followers and follow-ees, the more difficult it is to get the information you want from your account. Offering to organize your Twitter account a brilliant way is the website formUlists. Read more: formUlists: Twitter list creation and management tool


Tours From Above – Viewing a city from a helicopter is an experience very few of us will get to have. But thankfully there are high resolution aerial photography panoramas that let us view the same landscape viewed by somebody in an airplane or a helicopter. One website you can use to view these aerial landscapes is ToursFromAbove. Read more: ToursFromAbove: View High Resolution Aerial Photography Panoramas of Major Cities



Cakesy – A cake is often the main ingredient that completes a celebration. Birthdays and anniversaries are simply incomplete without the presence of a cake. But what if your loved one is too far away to get an actual cake from you? The solution to that problem is Cakesy. Read more: Cakesy: Send A Virtual Cake To Celebrate Events With Your Loved Ones



Show World – Do you want to know which part of the globe has a concentration of Christians? Would you like to know where IKEA stores are located most? For these and other types of globally distributed data, visiting Show World would be a great help, a free and easy to use website that presents data on a world map. The site includes data that it has collected and indexed. Read more: Show World: Shows Global Distribution Of Interesting Data Sets



iClippy – Imagine taking notes in the form of images that you save online without first saving them on your hard drive. Surely this method will be more time efficient than typing up your notes and saving images the usual way. This is exactly what iClippy delivers. iClippy is a desktop client for Windows operating systems; it runs as a sidebar on your desktop. Read more: iClippy: Desktop Based Clipboard With an Online Storage


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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The 7 Best Questions From You [MakeUseOf Answers]

Posted: 19 Nov 2010 05:31 PM PST

Have you ever posted a question on MakeUseOf Answers? Do you know everything about technology? Well, you either need to share your knowledge gaps or you could help us solve questions!

Today, the prize for Best Answer of the Week goes to Smayonak for his answers to the following question: How can I decrease the noise of my laptop fan? Thank you very much for your contribution Smayonak and congratulations!

A great answer can be worth $50 via PayPal or Amazon voucher. You automatically enter the contest by posting a comment to a question. All we ask is that you use your email address, Disqus, Facebook, or Yahoo account to log in when posting an answer.

This week I couldn’t look past these 7 great questions to share with you:

MakeUseOf Answers never gets boring! Browse by Latest Questions, Most Popular Questions, or Unanswered Questions. For regular updates subscribe to the Answers RSS Feed.

Need help? Ask A Question at MakeUseOf Answers.

Why is my storage media smaller than advertised in Windows?

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How To Create Your Own Expandable Memory For Your iPhone, iPad, Or iPod Touch

Posted: 19 Nov 2010 03:31 PM PST

expandable memory for iphoneCompared to the classic 160 gigabyte iPods, the amount of storage in the top of the line iPhone seems no bigger than a gym locker. If you don’t know, the largest size iPhone 4 model you can purchase has just 32GB of available memory space and it’s 64 gigabytes for the iPad and iPod Touch. Throw in a hefty sized collection of MP3 songs, movies or television shows, podcasts, and document files, and you may start to think you’re not getting your money’s worth for these iOS devices.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to expand the memory on these devices or add an external hard drive as you can with your computer. However, as an owner of all three iOS devices, I've always purchased the bottom line of each model. I currently use an 8GB iPhone 3G and a 16GB Wi-Fi iPad, and I never long for a larger memory drive. The reason why? Simply put, cloud computing.

The best way to expand the memory on your iOS device, almost like adding an external drive to your computer, is to take advantage of web-based storage services and applications that of course only require a Wi-Fi or 3G connection to access your data.

The following are some suggestions for apps and services you can use with your iOS device to expand its memory, so to speak. If you're not quite sure about how much memory space you're using in your device, simply tap the Settings app > General > About. From there, you will get a breakdown of the number of songs, videos, photos, and applications you have on your device, as well as how much memory space you have available.

expandable memory for iphone

You can get the same information after connecting your device to your iTunes application.

expandable memory for iphone

ZumoCast & Zumo Drive

Songs, movies, and photos probably take up most of the space on Apple's hand-held devices. But unless you travel a lot and have a hard time getting Wi-Fi or 3G access, you shouldn't have to import hundreds of songs or movie files on your device. With a free web-streaming program and app called Zumocast, you can have access to all the media content on your computer from anywhere via Wi-Fi or 3G. This application is like adding unlimited storage space – as you would an external drive to your computer – to your mobile device. See Justin's MUO article on how to set up and use Zumocast.

upgrade iphone memory

Now if you concerned about having to leave your computer on in order to access your data files, you can use ZumoDrive instead to upload data to the ZumoDrive server where it can be accessed for free. This cloud storage service and app adds up to 2GB of storage space to your device. To find out more about the differences between ZumoCast and ZumoDrive, check  out this blog post.

Dropbox & Evernote

I would imagine all savvy computer users know about Dropbox and Evernote, but I meet iPhone users all the time who don't have a clue about theses web-based storage services and apps. With a Dropbox account, it's like adding up to 2 gigabytes of storage to your mobile device. You can selectively store any kind of media, including audio and movie files, and you can retrieve your stored content via a free Dropbox app (iTunes Store link) on your device. Dropbox is like having an Home folder on your computer.

With the latest version of the Dropbox app, when you select and star individual files, you can access them offline.

upgrade iphone memory

In addition, Dropbox allows you to export say a PDF or Word file to another supported application on your device. This way, you're only adding content to your device when you need it. All your other content stays in your cloud account on Dropbox's server.

upgrade iphone memory

Evernote works pretty much the same way as Dropbox, though it's limited to text, image, and voice recording files. With an Evernote account and app (iTunes Store link), you can add up 25MB of data per month for free and access it also through your mobile device.

See my article on the Dropbox for the iPad for specific how-tos on using the mobile version of the app. And see Umar's article of tips on using the Evernote.

Google & Picasa Album

If you need more space on your iOS device for photos, you can use Google's Picasa Web Album service and Google Mobile application (iTunes Store link). Though this service and app is web-based, requiring Wi-Fi and 3G access, it's like adding 1GB of external storage space to your mobile device. This option is not robust as Evernote and Dropbox, but it's very useful for when you would like to have access to particular files without bothering to physically add them to your device.

iphone memory

There are of course paid options for expanding the storage capacity of the above services and apps. Apple's own $99/year MobileMe cloud service would enable you to access up to 20GB of file storage via your mobile device.

While none of these options get you near the 160 gigabytes of space on a classic iPod, they do keep you from having to weigh down your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad device with files you don't regularly use but would like to have access to when needed. Cloud apps and services also mean you don't have to make a wired connection to your device in order to access or store media files.

Lastly, with Apples latest iOS 4.0 update, your mobile devices can make Bluetooth connections to your computer, Bluetooth speaker devices and AppleTV, which provides you with additional ways to access media without eating up memory.

So what do you think about the memory capacity of your Apple hand-held hardware? Are you always running out of space? How do you deal with storage capacity issues? We would like to know.

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3 Virtual Stock Market Games That Will Help You Learn How To Invest

Posted: 19 Nov 2010 01:31 PM PST

stock market gamesOne thing I’ve always wanted to learn how to participate in was stock market investing. I think a lot of people that don’t invest in stocks choose not to do it because they don’t know how it works, and not knowing how it works makes it incredibly risky. After all, the best way to get good at something is to practice, but you can’t exactly practice the stock market. Or can you?

In this article, I’ll show you 3 websites that allow you to practice investing in the stock market with virtual money. You can consider them games if you want to, but there aren’t many games out there that can help you make actual money.

We Seed

stock market games

We Seed (directory app) is one of the best stock market game sites I’ve come across and is what eventually led to the idea of this article. We Seed is free to sign up for and it allows you to invest without any risk.

stock games

The idea behind We Seed is that the cash you are given is fake, the trades are virtual, but the stock exchange conditions are real. You can build your portfolio and practice investing strategies without having to worry about losing all your money. You can start over at any time and see what works best.

stock games

To make it easier, all the companies are broken down into groups, industries and interests. Examples of this would include cooking, sports, tech and entertainment, so you can invest in companies you’ve actually heard about or see a categorized view of the ones you haven’t.

There are also lots of learning resources on We Seed if you’re looking to learn the game quickly.

Wall Street Survivor

stock games

Wall Street Survivor is another great fantasy stock market game. It provides a realistic learning platform using paper trading to manage your portfolio. Like We Seed, signup is easy and you can dive right into managing your virtual portfolio.

educational stock market games

The Trades Stock page is where you will be making your trades from. Simply enter the stock symbol, the quantity, action and order type. Click Preview and you’ve made your trade. From the My Portfolio page you can track all of your open positions. To get rid of one of your positions, simply click the Sell button in the Action column.

Wall Street Survivor also has a trading center where you can learn stock and options strategies, and tips for beginners, intermediate and advanced users. It also has forums and daily news, and did I mention they have prizes for the best players?

Market Watch

Market Watch, owners of the Virtual Stock Exchange website, may not be as flashy as the other two sites I’ve covered, but it is equally effective.

educational stock market games

On their Dow 30-Day Trader game, you are given a virtual $10,000 to day-trade stocks with based on the 30 companies that comprise Dow Jones Industrial Average. You can make trades as often as you like during regular US market hours and each trade will cost a virtual $10.

stock market games

This stock market game is different from the others in that it exists to show off your skills. There is a leaderboard of the best traders and the winner will be featured in a Market Watch story about his or her day-trading skills. The game runs through December 30th and you can join at any time.

If you want to learn about investing or jump into one of their other games, just head over to the VSE site.


There you have it. With these informative websites you will be well on your way to dominating Wall Street. It can be really fun once you get the hang of it and you start building a mass amount of wealth. Take that knowledge and apply it to your real-life bank account and imagine how much more fun you’ll have!

If you want to play on your phone, you might like Market Millionaire. Also, if you’re not into the whole stock market game thing, or you simply want additional resources, definitely check out Taty’s article on 5 Websites Where You Can Learn To Invest Money.

What do you think of the resources I’ve provided? Are you interesting in learning the stock market?

Image Credit: Lightspring

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Hot Tech Deals [Nov 19th]

Posted: 19 Nov 2010 12:15 PM PST

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: 35% off any Item $299+ via code DFS#PBFriday?35

  2. Asus BR-04B2T Blu-ray Reader Internal SATA Drive $35.99 Free Shipping via code BTEZZZS28

  3. TODAY ONLY GE A1255 12.2MP 5x Digital Camera $64.99 Free Shipping

  4. Dell PowerEdge T110 Server Desktop Intel Xeon Quad-Core 2.4GHz $428 Free Ship via code 3DKBXQ?RWKLP2C

  5. TODAY ONLY Creative Vado HD 2nd Gen High Definition 720p 4GB Video Camcorder $49.99 Free Shipping

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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Shorten Multiple Weblinks Into One With BridgeURL

Posted: 19 Nov 2010 11:31 AM PST

shorten linksURL shortening services have been around for ages. You’ve probably tried a few of them:, tinyurl,,,, and the humourous and ShadyURL are all familiar shorteners seen around the Internet.

A new player on the market, BridgeURL, has taken URL shortening to a completely new level by allowing one short URL to point to multiple links at once. It’s such a simple step on from the original idea of shortening URLs, but it’s quite a revolutionary game-changer in terms of potential usage.

Who Would Use This?

The ability to share multiple links with one URL will be a great asset to users of microblogs and social networks, eg. for Twitter and Facebook updates.

Twitter users are especially heavy users of URL shorteners, due to the 140 character limitation on Tweets and the fact that user profiles can only link to one URL. An innovation such as this can make it much easier to share a lot of information in just one tweet. The possibilities are endless!

How Do You Use It?

shorten links

BridgeURL is unbelievable easy to use. You don’t need to sign up – just visit BridgeURL, choose a name and add your links.

The resulting URL is formed to use the name you gave it, which makes it friendly for human eyes.

shorten web links

When you click on the short URL, you’re taken to a page which brings up your links in iFrames. This is known as “slideshow mode”. To move between your links, there are Previous/Next arrows in the top left and right. If you like, it’s easy to pop out the frame and view the page within (here’s mine).

shorten web links

It’s also possible to view your links all at once — there’s a link option below the main one you received previously (or just add /all to the end of your URL). This is perhaps not such a great idea if you have used lots of links or linked to media-rich sites. But it could be useful for display purposes.

shorten web links

It’s all so simple and it looks great!


Before you get too excited, the fact that BridgeURL uses iFrames means that websites that don’t allow their pages to be shown in iFrames will not be able to be incorporated into your short URL. Sadly, this includes Facebook, Myspace and Paypal. However, there are still plenty of other sites it will work with and in the meantime, BridgeURL is working on a solution.

Ideas For Use

There are so many great things you could do with a service like this. Consider a few of these ideas and see what that prompts you to come up with.

Personal Profile Links

Links to your best social media profiles (well, except Facebook) and websites. A personal URL could link to your Twitter profile; personal blog; YouTube profile; favourite books; favourite music and favourite movies.

Professional Profile Links

A professional URL could link to your LinkedIn profile; professional blog; your employer’s website and some examples of your work (portfolio).

Daily News

If you regularly browse several news sources, why not link them all together? Take it all in using one easy link.

shorten links

Morning Coffee Links

Where do you go first thing in the morning? Gmail, news, favourite Twitter list, weather, etc.


Do you have several sites you visit for creative inspiration? Link them all together and browse them as a group!

Boredom Busters

When you’re bored (or your kids are bored), do you cycle through your favourite online games? Why not link them up?

Sharing With Friends

Think about things you could share: 10 favourite YouTube clips? Handful of things that made you laugh today? Cutest puppies ever? Recipes? Your favourite photos from your holiday?

Use BridgeURL links With QR Codes!

For an added stroke of genius, why not link your shortened URL to a QR code? From there, you could print the code on the back of a business card or just entertain your friends while they commute!

make shorter links

If you’ve had a great idea for using BridgeURL, please let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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How To Take Office 2007 Screenshots With OneNote

Posted: 19 Nov 2010 10:31 AM PST

office 2007 screenshotsYou never know when you might need to take a screenshot. It could be a quick one of a cover page you just designed in MS Word or a presentation template you want an approval for. Or perhaps you just noticed a funny typo and feel like spreading it around via Twitter. It could be just about anything that needs to be said with a picture.

As we work in an increasingly 'graphical' environment, a screenshot aid should ideally be just a click away. MS Office 2010 has added a screenshot button to Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Word under the Insert tab. If you are using Microsoft Office 2007, you also won't miss it much because we can go back to the one MS Office program which had it in the first place.

You will find a sharp and smart screen clipping tool in Microsoft OneNote that can help you take Office 2007 screenshots of any part of the screen. Though the process is slightly indirect, it still gives you the ability to take Office 2007 screenshots with OneNote.

Using The Clip Tool From OneNote's Toolbar

To copy any part of the screen to OneNote as an image, click on the Clip tool on the toolbar.

office 2007 screenshots

The screen turns into translucent white. Using the mouse you can drag a rectangle to take a screenshot of a partial region or the entire screen.

how to take a screenshot

As soon as you drag and release, the screenshot is saved in an unfiled OneNote note. Also, in OneNote, you can place the pointer on a specific notes page where you want to add the screen clipping. OneNote also automatically adds a timestamp to the inserted screenshot.

how to take a screenshot

OneNote also copies it to the Clipboard so you can also open any other MS Office program like Word, Excel, or PowerPoint and click Paste to insert the screenshot at the cursor location.

Pressing Esc or clicking anywhere aborts the operation.

Using The Clip Tool From The Taskbar Icon

Right-click the OneNote icon in the notification area of the taskbar and click Create Screen Clipping.

how to take a screenshot

As before, the screen turns translucent white and you can drag a rectangle with the mouse to create the screenshot.

Using The Shortcut

Pressing Windows Button + S is probably the fastest way to take an Office 2007 screenshot. Of course, you still have to use the mouse to drag and select the area.

Know Your Options

If you are a heavy 'screen shooter', working with just the taskbar icon is just the thing. If the taskbar icon is not visible, then a simple setting in Options corrects that. Go to Tools – Options – Other (under Category). Place a checkmark on Place OneNote icon in the notification area of the taskbar.

windows 7 screenshots

You can also change the way the screenshots are saved by right clicking on the Taskbar icon and selecting Options – Screen Clipping Defaults. The three choices are self explanatory. If you want to use OneNote as just a temporary screen capture utility you can select Copy to Clipboard Only which stops the automatic pasting into your notes. You can use CTRL+V to paste the screen in any application from the clipboard.

office 2007 screenshots

One of the neglected siblings of the Microsoft Office family, MS OneNote has a lot of uses if you give it some love. We noted two in the following two posts –

Top 5 Free OCR Software Tools to Convert Images into Text

Ditching Evernote? Check Out 5 Free Web Clipping Alternatives

Until the day a lot of us upgrade to Microsoft Office 2010 and use its Screenshot command, OneNote serves as a good enough screenshot stand-in. Do you use OneNote? Tell us how.

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The Best Ways To Customize The Welcome Screen In Windows 7

Posted: 19 Nov 2010 09:30 AM PST

customize welcome screenMass-license versions of Windows have long offered companies and large organizations the possibility to customize their log-in and welcome screens. It’s a small thing, but it imposes a sense of professionalism.

Other Windows 7 versions have been left out to dry, although something like this should really be a feature by default.

We resort to third-party applications to customize our welcome screen. There are many alternatives, ranging from terribly amazing to just terrible, and we’ve listed the best three below.

Logon Screen For Windows 7

Logon Screen is one of the simplest, most down to earth application to change your log-on and welcome screens. Or rather, to customize your log-on and welcome screens’ background. Simply use the Logon Screen application to select the desired image, and off you go. Images will be automatically resized to fit your welcome screen.

customize welcome screen

The most peculiar thing about Logon Screen is how well it integrates with Windows 7 itself. Most of these kind of applications are portable, but Logon Screen looks like it belongs; as if it was always a part of Windows 7.

customize windows welcome screen

Notably, Logon Screen will also install an extension for the right-click menu (as seen above). Changing your welcome screen will be just as easy as changing your desktop wallpaper, like it should be.

Windows 7 Logon Screen Tweaker

If you want to do more than just change your wallpaper, Windows 7 Logon Screen Tweaker is your best choice. It adds a batch of advanced features without ditching the user friendly interface. At any point, you can review what your log-in screen is going to look like.

customize windows welcome screen

Some of these “tools” allow you to change the button set, remove the Ease of Access button and change the default log-in sound. Windows 6 Logon Screen Tweaker will also remove the Windows branding and the shutdown button. If you’re prone to showing off (but are on a tight budget), you can change this Windows branding to make it seem you’re using a different OS version. Of course, this will not affect your Windows functionality.

customize windows welcome screen

Feel free to play around. If you mess something up, you can use Windows 7 Logon Screen Tweaker to restore everything to its original state.

Logon WorkShop

If we are going from simple to more advanced software alternatives, Logon WorkShop certainly fits the part. The main windows allows you to switch between different ‘logon skins’. You can export and import these profiles so you can easily apply them to different computers or even company-wide.

customize windows

Of course, you can also create new skins. Logon Workshop offers the most customizability by far; you can change almost anything, including the background, look and position of the user picture, text, and every button on the screen. The screenshot below shows but one of the different configuration panels.

customize welcome screen

Undoubtedly, the interface will look too complicated and cluttered for many users, but you don’t need to use all this advanced functionality. If you want, you can just change the welcome screen background and be done with it. If you do decide to play a little with the application, and something goes south, just restore your computer to the default skin, or create a new one.

What do you think of these applications to customize your welcome screen? Let us know what you’re using (and why) in the comments!

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Block Websites Without Any Network Experience With Any Weblock

Posted: 19 Nov 2010 08:31 AM PST

how do i block and unblock internet sitesMost parents understand the dangers of leaving a family Internet browser unprotected from the web. The browser is an instant doorway to filth, perversion and images of gore and violence. While you may not want to shelter your children from learning about the dark side of life, there is a certain age where it’s more appropriate to talk about those things. A four or five year old using the Internet for games and fun shouldn’t be at risk to being exposed to such things.

Even though parents understand the risk, many don’t understand the technology enough to install or enable the appropriate filters. A lot of people use parental control software, like the 5 that Varun previously covered, or other programs like FamilyShield or Visikid, which Tim covered.

The only problem with most of the existing techniques or applications is that they require a fair level of knowledge and computer ability to configure and get running properly. However, if you are like the many parents out there that would simply like to block a few specific sites you know about that you absolutely don’t want your kids visiting, then a program like Any Weblock may be perfect for you.

Setting Up Any Weblock

Any Weblock is one of the simplest applications to use, which is why I recommend it for parents that are not at all computer-savvy. Setup is a very brief three step process – install and configure, add the websites to blog, and then activate your changes. The first step is pretty straightforward. The first time you run the installed application, it will ask you what you want to set up as the administrator password.

how do i block and unblock internet sites

Make sure this is something your kids, or whoever you’re trying to block content from, cannot easily guess. Obviously, using your name or simple passwords that you use all the time is not a good idea. The next step of configuration involves setting up the websites that you’d like to block. Now, if you want to bring in existing blacklists, just click on the “Import” button.

how to block websites

Adding Websites To The Filter

On the import screen you can bring in XML list files that you exported from your other computer (making it easy to use one list across multiple PCs), or you can click on the external link and visit the AnyUtils website for external blacklists, such as Shalla’s blacklist, which has over 1.4 million entries.

how to block websites

Keep in mind that this many entries may hamper performance on some systems, so if you find that you can’t access any website after enabling such a long list, just click on the “Roll back” button to set things back to before you applied the filter and then try a few lists. If you have specific sites that you want to block, such as certain popular social networking sites that make kids lose track of time and not do their homework, you can do so by clicking the green “Add” button.

how to block websites

In its simplest form, you just type in the domain of the site you want to block in its entirety and click OK. That’s all there is to it. No DNS configuration, no control panel searching and no hacking skills required.

filter websites

Once you click on “Apply changes“, you won’t be able to access the websites that you’ve added to your blacklist. This isn’t one of those applications that only works with IE. Once you add a domain to your blacklist, no browser will be able to access the website. If you try, you’ll see the following error.

filter websites

The software is also flexible enough so that you can block subdomains without actually blocking an entire domain. This work swell for websites like Blogspot, because there are many websites hosted on the domain, but you may only want to actually block one or two of them. With the ability to block only subdomains, you can do that.

filter websites

Visiting, you’ll see that you can access the main domain just fine. If you attempt to visit any of the subdomain websites you’ve banned, up comes the “Unable to connect” error.

Other Features

There are a few other cool features of this software. For example, as I mentioned briefly earlier, you can export your entire blacklist to any directory on the network or onto another computer. To do this, just select the export button at the top of the main screen.

The blacklist (or block list) file is exported as an XML file. Any other PC with Any Weblock installed can import this XML file, which makes it very easy to use matching blocklists on all of your family PCs.

how do i block and unblock internet sites

Once Weblock is installed on a particular PC, the next time you (or one of your kids) tries to run it, they will encounter a password entry window. The only way to get into the software to configure or disable it is to type in this password – so when you set it up initially, don’t lose it!

Weblock is one of the fastest and easiest ways to initiate a website ban list for every web browser on a PC without the need for complicated configurations or tweaking every browser. Just install, create your banlist, and you’re off!

Image credit: Armin Hanisch

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What Is Hyper-Threading? [Technology Explained]

Posted: 19 Nov 2010 07:31 AM PST

what is hyper threadingIf you’ve thought about buying an Intel processor lately – or a computer with an Intel processor installed – you may have heard the term “Hyper-Threading” launched at your eardrums. You probably aren’t familiar with this term unless you stay up-to-date with the nitty-gritty of computer hardware.

Understanding Hyper-Threading is important, however, because it’s a major feature on some Intel processors. Like most major processor features, it can be twisted and turned by the sales reps you meet. I’ve had a Fry’ store employee tell me that Hyper-Threading effectively doubles the number of cores on a processor. Although true in a sense, it’s mostly an exaggeration.

Let’s take a look at what Hyper-Threading really means.

A Brief History Of Hyper-Threading

what is hyper threadingDepending on when you last bought a computer, you may remember Hyper-Threading as a feature that Intel introduced and then discontinued. This could understandably leave a sour taste in your mouth – why would Intel discontinue it if it wasn’t trouble?

The truth isn’t so grim. Hyper-Threading was for a time made available on certain Intel Pentium 4 and Intel Xeon processors. It was discontinued not because the feature itself was bad, but rather because the processor that used it turned out to be a bit of a misstep for other reasons. The Pentium 4 architecture was a minor disaster for Intel because it was incapable of going the direction Intel hoped (Intel wanted to have Pentium 4 processors with clock speeds of up to 10 GHz). As a result, Intel jumped back to designing processors based on the Pentium Pro family tree.

Hyper-Threading was gone, but not forgotten. Intel eventually found the time and resources to integrate it into another new processor architecture - Nehalem. This is the architecture that is the basis for all current Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors.

Nice Threads, Man

hyper threading

Despite all of the advancements we’ve made in the world of processors, they still have one major limitation – an individual processor core can only execute one instruction at a time. Let’s say, for example, that you have MS Office, Firefox and Skype all open at once. You feel like you’re multi-tasking, but in processor terms you’re not. The processor core executing data related to these programs executes one instruction at a time, but because it is so quick you don’t notice any delay.

But there is a delay. That delay is due to how the data from each program is fed to the processor. Each stream of data – or thread- in to the processor must be scheduled and executed by the core individually. Hyper-threading, however, makes it possible for each processor core to schedule and assign resources to two threads at once.

Imagine a worker on an assembly line. There two types of widgets coming to her, and she needs to do different things with each widget. However, sometimes there is a delay because the conveyor belt is too slow, or because the wrong widget was sent at the wrong time. Hyper-Threading is like adding another conveyor belt so there is now one dedicated to each type of widget. There is still only one worker, but now widgets can be brought to her more quickly and efficiently so she is waiting for work less often.

Not The Same As Doubling Cores

hyper threadingIf you boot up a dual-core processor with Hyper-Threading and open Windows Task Manager you will find yourself staring at four graphs. This is where most of the confusion about Hyper-Threading doubling the number of cores come into play. I’ve even spoken with one poor fellow who thought he’d purchased a eight-core processor because he saw eight graphs in Windows Task Manager. That’s what the sales rep told him, so when he went home and saw eight graphs, he was hooked. Seeing was believing.

Two graphs appear in Windows for each core on a Hyper-Threading processor because Windows is detecting two logical processors for each core. The term “logical processor” sounds fancy, but a logical processor is by definition a processor that has no physical existence. Windows can send threads to each logical processor, but there is still just one core doing the actual execution, so a single core with Hyper-Threading is dramatically different from two seperate physical cores.

The Benefit Of Hyper-Threading

what is hyper threadingAlright, enough with the technical mumbo-jumbo. Now let’s get down to the most important part – how Hyper-Threading will impact the performance of the computer are thinking of building or buying.

In terms of day-to-day tasks like web browsing, email and word processing, Hyper-Threading won’t have much of an impact. Yes, Hyper-Threading is theoritically better at multi-tasking. However, today’s processors are so fast that basic programs are rarely limited by the speed of your processor. The way programs are coded can also be a limitation. You may sometimes find that you have numerous programs open, but only one of your processor cores is being put to much use. That’s because the programs are, for whatever reason, not having their work divided among the different cores available.

When you’re trying to do some heavy lifting, however, Hyper-Threading can be more helpful. The applications most likely to benefit are 3D rendering programs, heavy-duty audio/video transcoding apps, and scientific applications built for maximum multi-threaded performance. But you may also enjoy a performance boost when encoding audio files in iTunes, playing 3D games and zipping/unzipping folders. The boost in performance can be up to 30%, although there will also be situations where Hyper-Threading provides no boost at all.


As the performance boost figure of only up to 30% indicates, Hyper-Threading is not the same as doubling the number of cores on a processor. If a sales rep ever tells you that, be careful, because they’re either ignorant or happy to lie to you if they think it will help push hardware.

With that said, Hyper-Threading is a cool feature, and it’s worth having. It’s particularly good if you like to edit media often or you use your computer as a workstation for professional programs like Photoshop or Maya.

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