Thursday, December 16, 2010 “Cool Websites and Tools [December 15th]” plus 12 more “Cool Websites and Tools [December 15th]” plus 12 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [December 15th]

Posted: 15 Dec 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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Influence Tracker – If you are in the US and want to get an idea who funds political campaigns of your favorite politician, and who the firms/groups are that are donating, then Influence Tracker developed by WIRED magazine and should help you out. You can search by typing in names of Congressmen, or selecting the state and clicking on the respective name. Read more: Influence Tracker: See Who Funds Political Campaigns US Politicians


Longreads – Do you like to read long-form content, articles that are usually more than 1,500 words, and can extend up to a few 1,000 words, from your favorite publications? If you do, then you are sure to like this simple tool called Longreads. It links to such content every day and archives them in its database which is searchable. Read more: Longreads: A Long-Form Content Aggregator



History Deleter – Clearing the history of your web browser ensures your privacy as well as helping your browser's performance. But for various reasons, there are a few things you will want to keep in your browser's history. For example you might want a site's name to appear after you have typed its first few letters. Therefore you need more control over clearing your browser's history. This is provided by History Deleter. Read more: History Deleter: Gain More Control Over Browser History Deletion (Firefox)



Alertful – If you regularly check your email, then setting email alertss are a wonderful way to ensure you do not forget things. If you have a bill payment coming up, a friend's birthday right round the corner, or any other task you want to be reminded of, an email reminder will serve beautifully. These email reminders can be easily setup with Alertful. Read more: Alertful: Easily Set Up Email Alerts For Any Event Or Task



CSS3 Button – If you are a web developer working with CSS3, you will find yourself writing long lines of code to get your desired buttons for your website. How great would it be if you could get the code without the extensive manual coding? That is exactly what CSS3 Button Generator offers. Read more: CSS3Button: CSS3 Button Generator


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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RedNotebook Rocks As A Full-Featured Private Journal Tool

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 05:31 PM PST

daily journal softwareIt seems like everyone owns a blog or microblog, with the advent of Twitter and increasingly simple blogging platforms like Tumblr and Posterous. And why not? You can showcase your talents in writing, spread the word on a cause you care about, and document your whereabouts. But when you simply want a place with no distracting comments to type your thoughts in, and don’t want to store them on someone else’s server, desktop journaling software might be a solution.

There are many note-taking software that would probably suffice for journaling, including Zim, QuotePad, Tomboy Notes, CintaNotes, etc. FOSS RedNotebook is, however, geared exactly for journaling and is available as a portable application so you can easily try it on Windows and Linux (you can try building it on OS X with the links on the Downloads page). Here are some of RedNotebook’s best features.


daily journal software

RedNotebook is a Wiki-style journal, which allows you to easily format text, as well as include links, embed images, attach files, etc, by using a simplified markup language (in a way, like HTML). RedNotebook has the feel of a WYSIWYG text editor as you’ll have buttons to insert media (pictures on your hard drive or direct image URLs) and links, as well as attach files and format the text (e.g. make bold, underlined, etc) easily even if you don’t know all the different syntax.

journal software

You also have one-click previewing of your styled entry, which would equal Save on Wiki-style websites.

Even if you’re not familiar with wikis at all, you’ll be guided with instructions from the default template upon loading the program for the first time. Templates can be useful if you’re planning on adding similar entries (e.g. notes or journal entries) on a regular basis so you don’t have to style the text every time.

Calendar Feature

journal software

Each entry can be added to a category and/or tagged and will be loaded every time you click on a date in the calendar on the left pane. There’s a lot of potential uses for an application that can link to calendar dates; in fact, Ryan discussed using iDailyDiary, a similar journaling tool that also features a calendar, to create to-do lists that you can see upon clicking a date in that built-in calendar. If you use Remember The Milk, you’ll notice that even the weekly planner sheet the site offers you to print does not list the tasks in a calendar view, so this kind of calendar feature can prove more useful for the visual learner.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Another thing worth mentioning would be the fact that you can use keyboard shortcuts to quicken your way around RedNotebook. Some of the less obvious ones (the more obvious ones being the universal Ctrl + F to find a keyword, and Ctrl + N to add a new category) would be Ctrl + P to toggle preview mode, Ctrl + PageDown or Up to see the entry from a day back or forward in the calendar, Ctrl + L to insert links and Ctrl + T to add tags. You can see these on the menus and on the program’s Help section.

Exporting data

Your entries, which you can see all listed by typing a space (” “) in the search box, are saved on regular intervals, and they’ll also be saved when you quit the program, but if you ever wish to try another journaling platform (e.g. blogging), you can export your entries in plain text, HTML, PDF or LaTeX formats. You can also backup your entries in TXT format in a zip file.

journal software

If you’re looking to password-protect your entries, however, you’ll have to use something like TrueCrypt, or even take each of the entries (each stored as a TXT file) and zip them up yourself in a password-protected file with 7-zip.

daily journal software

These are the major features that make it a keeper (at least, for me), but one downside of using this tool would be that there’s no direct and easy way to media other than pictures, so YouTube videos are out. Also, I don’t know what was up with the grey interface that you see here (I got the same for both the install and the portable versions), as the screenshots of the program from the official website (and other reviews from Lifehacker and GHacks) look really great. Overall, this would a great tool if you want to find an alternative to blogging.

Do you prefer blogging or keeping a private journal? If you do the latter, what method do you use?

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10+ Great Cross-Platform Apps For Both Windows & Linux

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 03:31 PM PST

cross platform appsAfter perusing our must-have Windows apps page, a plucky MakeUseOf reader emailed us suggesting that we put together a list for both Windows and Linux users.

When I originally switched from Windows to Ubuntu I was very interested in these cross-platform apps. After more than 10 years loyalty to Bill’s operating system, I had built up a trusted roster of often used software – but some of it was Windows only.

Here’s a selection of quality free software that works on both Linux and Windows machines.



cross platform apps

The media player that just works. Most of the Internet has harped on about how good VLC is for years now, despite the program remaining fairly unchanged and well….a bit plain. Don’t let that put you off – simplicity is the key for this powerhouse of a video and music player.

If you’ve got a movie to watch or an album to listen to, rest assured, regardless of operating system, VLC will run it. A lightweight, codec-rich media solution that you should already have installed.


cross platform application

An alternative to VLC, SMPlayer also does a stellar job of providing smooth, simple playback of your media. A frontend for the popular MPlayer, SMPlayer offers a slightly fancier interface and an improved playlist over VLC.

Features like automatic file resuming, a video equalizer, filters, sync control and the ability to search Open Subtitles directly within the program make this a very impressive package.


cross platform application

Justin can’t get enough of Boxee, and I’m beginning to see why. Not to be confused with the set-top box you plug into your TV (that’s the Boxee Box) Boxee is a free media centre application for your Windows, Linux or even Mac computer.

Once installed you can simply use it as a front-end for accessing your local media, or plug your PC into your TV and access everything in your living room. You could even make your own dedicated Boxee Box out of an old PC. Fancy that, the Internet has arrived on your telly!

Web & Communication

Chrome / Firefox

cross platform application

Rarely do I group such applications together – especially when there’s fanboys lurking in the shadows, but Chrome and Firefox are two awesomely cross-platform browsers.

Chrome now keeps all your bookmarks synchronized with your Google Account, meaning you can log in from either OS with all your favourites intact. The Firefox 4 Beta offers a new feature called Firefox Sync which does the same thing.

Both Firefox and Chrome perform well under Windows or Linux (I find Chrome even faster on Linux), although you’ll need to install your extensions again.


cross platform

Especially useful to those who dual boot between Windows and Linux who demand a powerful email client, Thunderbird is the perfect solution. As modern Linux distributions can easily access data stored on a Windows NTFS partition, Thunderbird can be told to store all data on your Windows partition which in turn can then be accessed from a Linux environment.

This means you will never be out of sync with your email, even if you reboot your PC into another operating system. Clever, huh?


cross platform

One of the better cross-platform BitTorrent clients out there, Deluge is available for all 3 major operating systems. It has an interface reminiscent of uTorrent, and includes support for full encryption, a remotely controllable Web UI, plugins and more.

You can even control multiple instances of Deluge across the network, making it a very powerful BitTorrent solution for those that need it. Check out our full low-down for more information.


cross platform

If you’re after an all-in-one instant messaging client for your PC, then give Pidgin a go. Formerly known as GAIM (way back when), Pidgin offers support for a startling amount of IM services.

These include AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo as well as some more obscure platforms and an IRC client if you’re that way inclined. As Digsby‘s not ready for Linux yet, Pidgin fills its boots nicely.

Adobe Air & Java

Technically not apps at all, Adobe Air and Java both work on Windows and Linux to provide cross-platform compatibility with a multitude of programs. As these programs use a framework, there is no need for separate Windows and Linux versions – they should just work.

With great apps like Tweetdeck at your disposal, you’re bound to find something you like. We’ve got some great Adobe Air picks right here, and more information on the Java platform here.

Office & Graphics


It doesn’t have the “next-gen” interface seen in Microsoft’s latest Office suite, but OpenOffice gets the job done. For those of you with the simple demand of an Office suite that opens a multitude of file formats (including all Microsoft Office files) then look no further.

There are 5 programs included in the suite:

  • Writer – A simple yet powerful word processor.
  • Calc – A spreadsheet program.
  • Impress – A presentation application.
  • Draw – For creating diagrams and graphics.
  • Base – A database management tool.

Funnily enough, I’m using OpenOffice Writer for this very article.


GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, and it is the Linux equivalent of Photoshop. The interface can be tricky at first, especially if you’re used to Adobe’s efforts but there’s plenty of guides and documentation to help you on your way.

For those of you who would prefer a more Adobe-like interface from the get-go, then try GIMPShop, a hack that alters the interface to make GIMP more closely resemble Photoshop.


cross platform apps

For vector artists on a budget, InkScape steps up to the mark. Essentially a free equivalent to Corel Draw, Adobe Illustrator and Xara X, InkScape is a community developed and driven project with versions for Windows, Linux and even Mac OS X. InkScape uses the W3C standardised Scaleable Vector Graphics format (.SVG) to save files, and as such is compatible with a wide range of advanced features.

Do you have any favourite software that works cross-platform? Maybe you’re searching for a Linux equivalent to a much loved Windows program? Get it off your chest in the comments.

Thanks to reader Robert Backlund for suggesting this article. Have you got an article you would like to see? Why not get in touch? Don’t forget MakeUseOf Answers for those tough techie questions!

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Manage Printing Costs & Cut Paper Waste By Setting Up A Print Server With PaperCut

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 01:31 PM PST

cut paper wasteIn my family, my kids print just about everything they find on the Internet. Whether it’s coloring pages, puzzles or articles, you’ll find it stacked on our desk in the living room. This always drives me crazy because ink is so expensive.

Here at MUO, we’ve always looked for ways to conserve printer resources. Karl covered PrintWhatYouLike, which helps to save paper and ink. Tina also offered an excellent article filled with tips to extend the life of your print cartridge.

One of the most effective ways both businesses and families limit wasted resources is by trying to find alternatives to using printed copies. One of the strategies to accomplish that is by assigning a value to every page printed, and limiting each user to a certain number of printouts over a certain period.

Any application that does this is essentially print server software. While it might be possible to find free printer server software, it’snot always easy to find an app that effectively manages print volume by specific users or groups. One application I found that does this well is PaperCut, available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Installing PaperCut

PaperCut is actually a high quality, professional print server application, but it offers a fully-functioning free version if you have no more than five users configured in the system. If you’re setting it up for your family or have a small business, then you can use this app for absolutely free.

The setup routine configures your print server for you and you set it up by accessing http://localhost:9191 in your browser. Your first option is whether you want to install the app on your PC as the primary print server, a secondary print server, a web print server or as an Internet proxy server.

cut paper waste

Set up your administrator account and choose a good password. If anyone can get into this account, they can pretty much modify the account balances to whatever they like, which would defeat the entire purpose of having the server.

cut paper waste

In the next step, when you set up default costs per page, remember that this doesn’t necessarily have to be real money. If you’re setting this up in some public spot where patrons do pay, then this would reflect a real cost per page. But, if you’re setting it up in a home, this simply defines how many pages per “dollar” that your user can print.

reduce paper waste

So, if you want to limit your kids (or staff) to something like 50 pages a month, you would set the default cost per page to $0.10 and set the user credit in the next step to $5.00. However, if you’re only using it strictly as a print server that you can use to monitor and log printer activity, then set it up with all zeros.

reduce paper waste

The final step is to import users from your network. If the software is running in a corporate environment, it has the capability to import from a system using Windows Active Directory or LDAP. Most home users will just use Windows Standard.

reduce paper waste

Using The Software

Once you’re set up, you’re ready to start exploring the system. User management is pretty simple and straightforward. The User List displays a quick history of all balances and a tally of print jobs for each user. In one glance you can spot your heavy hitters.

reduce printing costs

If you’re interested in identifying peak printing times of the day, week or month, just click on one of the user names and scroll down to “Statistics & History” where you can review a historical trend for the last 30 days of print jobs.

reduce printing costs

If you want, you can also group multiple users into one account with a shared balance. This is probably most common for businesses where printing costs would come out of the department budget.

reduce printing costs

You can add as many shared accounts as you like and assign a shared balance per account. Just keep in mind that with the free version you’re allowed 5 users, so the shared account many not be quite as useful in the free version. However, if you wanted to be creative you could use one user per department and have employees log in under the department “user” account.

Finally, you’re going to want an overview of all of the printer activity. The best place to do this is in the “Reports” tab. On this page you’ll find a list of all sorts of summary reports like per-user activity, a list of the most frequent users, and a lot of other summaries sorted by account or group.

You can export all of these reports as either CSV, HTML or PDF format. Overall the application is probably the quickest and easiest way to set up a print server that not only monitors all printer activity, but also gives you a simple way to limit users from “over-printing.” Hopefully this will lead to your users coming up with more innovative and creative ways to use data rather than printing it to hard copy.

Give PaperCut a try and let us know what you think. Do you know of any other similar or better free print server apps available for multiple platforms? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Image credit: Lotus Head

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SafeWallet Giveaway Winners

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 01:00 PM PST

Just a quick post to announce the winners of the recent SafeWallet giveaway. We do apologise for the delay in the announcement. The details of the winners (mobile OS, desktop OS) have been forwarded to the developer and your licenses should arrive via email in a couple of days.

So here are the giveaway’s 25 winners. I hope you enjoy your brand new prize. Let us know how the app works out for you.

  1. Srinivas Sundaragopal
  2. William Stuart
  3. Konstantin
  4. Vi Nguyen
  5. Pradeep
  6. Ashley Hull
  7. Cynthia Macedo Dias
  8. Greg Bengtson
  9. Rodney Kwaku
  10. Clinton Daly
  11. Richard Niddrie
  12. Hamed R
  13. Maija Mclaughlin
  14. Luiz Araujo
  15. Scott Conder
  16. Alexander Flores
  17. Joel Tullberg
  18. Ben Smith
  19. Nathan Thoms
  20. Colleen Cole
  21. Andrew Miller
  22. Ted Kitch
  23. Nedra Isenberg
  24. Linda Bellefontaine
  25. Sean Noble

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

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Hot Tech Deals [Dec 15th]

Posted: 15 Dec 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. Asus 8X External Slim DVD Burner $19.99AR Free Shipping

  2. TODAY ONLY M-Audio Pro Tools Recording Studio $69 Free Shipping

  3. HP dv6tse Intel Core i5-460M 2.5GHz 15in Touchscreen Laptop (6GB/750GB) $749.99 via code NB3548

  4. HP dv7t Intel Core i7-720QM Quad-Core 17in Laptop (4GB/500GB/ATI Radeon HD5650) $799 via code NB3548

  5. HP Envy 14 Intel Core i5-460M 2.53GHz 14.5in Laptop (4GB/640GB/Radeon HD5650/14-Cell Battery!) $999 via code NB1269

  6. Dell Vostro 3300 Intel Core i3-370M 2.4GHz 13.3in Laptop (Aluminum, 2GB/250GB) $599

  7. Dell Vostro 3400 Intel Core i3-370M 2.4GHz 14in Laptop (Aluminum, 2GB/250GB) $549

  8. Dell Vostro 3500 Intel Core i3 2.4GHz 15.6in Laptop (Aluminum, 2GB/250GB/Win7) $539 Free Overnight Shipping

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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Turn Your Digital Photos Into Incredible Paintings With Psykopaint

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 11:31 AM PST

photos into paintingsI have had some amazingly artistic friends who could turn out sketches and paintings with a dip of the brush. The envy remains, but with a tool like Psykopaint I can at least mimic some of their flourishes. Psykopaint (beta 3) is a free online painting application that takes a digital photo and transforms it into a painting.

Sound familiar? Of course, when it comes to this basic function Psykopaint is not much different from many filters you can attach to your image editors. There are also many similar online tools which enable you to adapt your photos and use them as profile pictures on social networks. For turning your photos into paintings, you can use free programs like FotoSketcher or go online and use something like beFunky.

So, I wouldn't say Psykopaint is groundbreaking in any sense. The adjective I would go for is ‘cool’. Right from its homepage, Psykopaint is really attractive….and cool. You need to log in with a Facebook account.

Oh Wow! What A Cool Interface

photos into paintings

The screenshot above doesn't do justice to the eye catching homepage. It portrays what the online image app does with a striking Flash based 'Psykopainted' versus 'Original' gallery show. You can also take a peek into how the site functions by clicking on the video thumbnail. The galleries showcased on the left will hold you back from starting with your own painting. But click on one and see the art on display.

convert photos to paintings

You can log in with Facebook and give it a thumbs up or share it with your friends and even embed it anywhere. Even if you don't like the paintings, you will love the snazzy Flash art work at least.

convert photos to paintings

Life Is A Great Big Canvas

And you should throw all the paint you can on it. So went comedian Danny Kaye's thoughts. Psykopaint gives you three choices to start that. Options one and two are nearly similar. If you upload your own photo, it feels more like your own work. So, go with that. Or you can be completely original and start fresh on a blank canvas to create your oil.

A tutorial pops up to lend a bit of hand. But in the end, Psykopaint is a digital image program that you can learn by ‘throwing all the paint you can on it’. There are plenty of visual aids and tool tips to help you out.

turn photos into paintings

For instance, the Change Brush tools panel has painting tools like Paint Brush (named after master artists), Magic Spraycan, Ribbon, Slicer, Shapes, all with hosts of options. A neat pop-out (contextual help) shows a tool's functions.

turn photos into paintings

My favorite painting tool though is Psykocanon which lets you throw paint in different directions. Each tool also has advanced Details that give you a lot more to experiment with. Along with the options, you can also create and save your own presets.

A new addition is the Slicer with which you can define different shapes and create interesting mosaics with colors. I found this a bit difficult to control with the mouse. But using the tool you can dabble in an art form that's called neo-cubism.

The quick tool size change using the sliders, the shortcut keys (especially the 'E' for the eraser), and again a slider to change the Background Opacity, help to turn out digital art in double quick time. Get friendly with the shortcut keys.

Overlaying With Layers

turn photos into paintings

Layers are something that old masters did not have. But you cannot imagine digital painting without layers. Psykopaint has them along with the Blend modes. Blend modes allow you to play around with pixels in each layer giving you a lot of combinations to mix overlaid layers together. You can put in more variety by changing the transparency of each layer over the other.

Share It On Facebook

photos into paintings

You can flaunt your finished Psykopainting on the gallery or post it to Facebook with a single click. A feature to print it directly to a real canvas is expected soon.

Is Psykopaint Picture Perfect?

Psykopaint is a nice app to try your artistic skills on if you feel you don't have what it takes to draw on a fresh canvas. Using a base digital photo you can put in lots of eye catching effects with the variety of tools on show. Remember, Psykopaint is not an image editing tool but one that lets you play free with brush strokes and textures.

What you might like about Psykopaint is that it lets you create high-resolution images. It just might help you create some cool wallpapers. The photo-effects are unique and most of you might see it as nifty way to create some personalized digital art work and send or share it during Christmas. I see myself combining the art work with some bits of decorative text or voiceovers and share them as personalized eCards.

Tell us about your ideas and also your idea of Psykopaint.

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Three Plugins To Add An Unblockable Popup To Your WordPress Blog

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 10:31 AM PST

unblockable popupEvery comic book lover should be familiar with this quote: “With great power comes great responsibility“. Basically, it teaches us not to abuse the power that we have. Unfortunately, even though more and more ordinary people have access to super powers in the virtual world, not everybody has the wisdom to use that power responsibly.

Other than spam, another notorious example of irresponsible use of power on the Internet is the popup window. Over the last few years, this tool has been used so excessively (mostly by marketers) that the first thing any Internet user does is turn on the “Block Pop-up Windows” feature on their browsers. That’s really sad because if used properly, popup windows can be a powerful tool to get the attention of site visitors.

Unblockable Popups & Possible Usages

There’s a new generation of popup window that can’t be blocked by the browser’s popup blocking feature. However, this tool is like a double-edged sword: you can use it as an effective tool to increase the number of visitors (or to show any kind of message that your visitors will definitely read), but if you use it too much you’ll annoy your visitors and they will never come back to your site.

The tool works similar to the lightbox effect that is widely used to display a photo gallery: an image will zoom in at the center of the computer display while the area around the image is darkened out to give focus to the image.

unblockable popup

One of the possible usages of this unblockable popup is to “gently remind” the visitor to subscribe to your RSS feed or email newsletter. Website owners can set the popup so that whenever a new visitor lands on the site, he/she will be greeted by this popup asking him/her to subscribe.

The popup can also be set so that every time a visitor is leaving the site, a popup will appear thanking the person for visiting and asking for his/her help to spread a word or two about the site to his/her social network.

We are talking about a really powerful tool here. Even if there’s only a fraction of visitors who really go through the trouble of spreading the word, new visitors will come and do the same. The numbers will multiply over time.

So if you promise to use the power for the greater good and not abuse it, I’ll show you how you can apply this to your WordPress blog. Here are three alternative WordPress plugins that can help you use an unblockable popup window within your blog.

WP Super Popup

The first plugin on the list is WP Super Popup. You can find and install the plugin easily from the “Plugins” menu of your WordPress dashboard.

how to add a pop up to your site

After the installation process is finished, you can activate the plugin. This plugin will create its own settings menu on the WordPress sidebar. Inside the settings, you will find “Base Settings” where you can enable/disable the plugin and choose where you want the popup window to show up.

how to add a pop up to your site

There’s also the option to set intervals for the popup, along with what content you want to show inside the popup. You can embed URL content, write new content, embed an HTML file, or even embed a WordPress page.

unblockable pop up

The last part of the settings is the visual effect. Here is the place to set the appearance of your popup window.

unblockable pop up


The second alternative is called OptinPop. You can acquire it the same way as the previous plugin.

Even though both plugins do more or less similar things, OptinPop has more simple settings and has the ability to show up when visitors decide to leave the page.

unblockable pop up


If your purpose is to use the popup to ask your visitor to subscribe to your RSS feed and you are using Feedburner to manage your RSS, you can use this plugin instead. However, setting up WP_EmailFeedburnerPop is a little difficult for beginners.

You have to access the plugin folder inside the WordPress installation using your FTP client, edit the “form.html” file and insert your Feedburner link there.

unblockable popup

There are several other plugins with similar functions, but these three are among the best based on the number of users and ratings.

Are you using an unblockable popup on your WordPress blog? Do you know other alternative plugins worth mentioning? Share your thoughts and opinions using the comments below.

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MakeUseOf Team Spotlight [December 15th 2010]

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 10:00 AM PST

MakeUseOf Team Spotlight is our occasional feature where we profile the work of our writers outside of MakeUseOf. We have some very talented employees who like to spread their talents all around the web and it’s only right that we should recognise and showcase those talents.

In this edition of Spotlight, we will be profiling the work of soon-to-be staff writer James, Jackson, Ryan and Steve. We’ve got some very interesting posts including 3 giveaways this week so check it out!

How to Stream Movie From China With Kankan – English Guide

Posted on TokyoBit by James Bruce

KanKan is a great little app that James’ wife introduced him to recently, and now it fulfils all their movie viewing. Instant streaming and an eclectic selection ensure there’s always something to watch.

Here’s a complete English guide to the interface and movie selection screens in KanKan. Hope someone finds it useful.

Giveaways Galore at The Daily Buggle

Posted on TheDailyBuggle by Jackson Chung

This is a week of great giveaways over at The Daily Buggle. Here’s what Jackson has in store for TDB readers:

1. Music Mania: A Silver Cloud by Life Is My Soundtrack [TDB Exclusive!] — In collaboration with Christopher Bright from Life Is My Soundtrack, TDB organised a special week for readers to download Christopher’s latest album A Silver Cloud for free.

2. Giveaway: 5 x PerfectPhoto [iPhone] — Five copies of this highly-acclaimed iOS image editing app is being offered. You’ll be amazed at how much better PerfectPhoto is compared to PS Mobile. All there is to do is follow the 3 simple steps to be in the running.

3. Giveaway: 5 x Daniusoft iTransfer — Finally, Jackson is offering 5 free licenses for Daniusoft’s iTransfer, an app that easily helps to transfer media over to your Apple device; and is especially helpful if you despise using iTunes. Be in the running to grab this $19 app for FREE over at The Daily Buggle.

WikiLeaks Julian Assange – Hero or Zero?

Posted on Top Secret Writers by Ryan Dube

In his ongoing exploration of the WikiLeaks drama at TopSecretWriters, Ryan covers the recent forum Q&A conducted by Julian Assange, the owner of the popular website called WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has published hundreds of thousands of classified and unclassified government records and documents.

In this article, Ryan examines a few of the answers Assange provided in the online session on December 3, and then asks readers whether Julian Assange is a hero, or a zero.

Google's Latest Attempt at Social (and Why Facebook Isn't Scared One Bit)

Posted on Social Branding Blog by Steve Campbell

Why can't Google get social right? Are they trying too hard? We've seen products like Google Buzz, Orkut, and Google Wave get rolled out, only to be ignored and forgotten, leaving Facebook time to perfect their product and continue to dominate the social space.

Where is it all heading? Read on as Steve walks us through current events.

If you would like to follow the MUO staff yourself on Twitter, check out this Twitter list, which is updated on a regular basis, as staff are hired or fired. From there, you can click through to each writer’s Twitter profile where you can subscribe to them for all their latest updates.

Image Credit: Visualogist

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5 Websites To Find Free Printable Christmas Cards

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 09:31 AM PST

printable christmas cardsChristmas cards get more and more expensive every year so if you're looking to save money on cards this year, there are a few useful websites where you can create and print template-based printable Christmas cards directly from the website or download high resolution PDF files for printing. Avery half-fold card stock prints well in inkjet printers and they look just as good as the real thing.

I've located 5 sites that I found fairly accessible and basically free to use, although there are many others out there that ask for money.   But there is no need to pay anything when you have 5 sites like these that offer free printable Christmas cards.


One of the easiest and straightforward card printing sites is 123printcards. That's right, in three easy steps, you can customize the title, add a thoughtful message and print our your card on letter size card stock.

printable christmas cards

The site has 38 different styles of cards, featuring cute, festive and colorful holiday drawings. Some layouts are color intensive, so they may not print well on regular typing paper.

Another linked page on the site enables you to add a photo to one of eight printable Christmas card templates, featuring images of Santa Claus, snowflakes, snowman, Christmas tree, ornaments, winter scenes, and more. The size of these cards are 5×7, and are useful for Christmas card invitations, seasonal and personal greetings.


KeepandShare has a page of nine Christmas cards of assorted layouts that can be printed on card stock.

christmas cards

You can download them as single high resolution PDF files and print them out or send them as eCards. Each card has 2 pages in the PDF Christmas card file, so it’s easy to print out. First print out the first side, setting your PDF software to print page “1″. Then flip your paper stock over and put it back in the printer and print page “2″. You don't have to register on the site to use the resources.


AmericanGreetings offers a more advanced card printing service, in which you can customize templates in their online Create & Print editor.

christmas cards

You can add photos, artistic elements, customize text, and change font size on the front and inside cover the layouts.

christmas cards

You can use the service and website for free on a two week trial basis, which enables you to print your card layouts directly from the site. You can also post your Christmas card right on your Facebook account or use it as an e-card.


ActivityVillage includes a collection of a dozen layouts that can be printed directly from the site or downloaded in PDF format. From there, you can hand write your greetings and add art elements.

free printable christmas cards

These cards are geared more towards kids and maybe your office co-workers. The site also has resources for classroom printables, including holiday posters, coloring pages, games, jigsaws, stories and poems, etc.

Christmas Greetings Ideas

If you're looking for some inspirational messages for your Christmas cards, check out Printable Greetings. It includes an handful of messages like, Friends and family are like the tinsel on the Christmas tree, they provide the sparkle for the season.

printable christmas cards

For additional sites with charming message greetings, check out my MUO article here and for more ideas on season's greetings, check out Simon's 3 Sites to Make Funny Video Greeting Cards.

The printable Christmas card sites listed above are the most accessible resources I found, but if there are ones you know about, please share them in the comments section below.

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How To Make An ePub File For The iPad, Nook, Kobo & More

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 08:31 AM PST

epub filesEverything that’s analog is becoming digital; books are no exception. With the advent of e-ink devices, and tablets like the iPad, more and more people are doing their reading digitally. If you want your writing to reach a broader audience, you should know how to create files for these devices.

As editor of the MakeUseOf Manuals project, I’ve been thinking about this a great deal lately, searching the web for the best tools to create ePubs with. I’ve not learned everything yet, but I’ve got a basic outline in place. If you’re looking to create ePub files you’ve come to the right place.

What ePubs Are

The ePub format is an open standard used in many different devices to display books, newspapers and magazines. This format, unlike PDFs, is designed to flow; that is, content is not laid out on set pages with a set layout. Instead, pages are created by the device dynamically. This is what allows e-readers to change things like font size on the go.

Devices that use ePub files include:

  • The iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, via iBooks.
  • Android devices, via FBreader
  • The Nook
  • Sony Readers
  • The Kobo Reader
  • Any Windows, Mac or Linux machines, via a number of programs.
  • Many more devices

If you want your book to work on as many devices as possible, it’s critical that you learn how to create ePub files.

Exporting from InDesign, Pages & Open Office

Odds are you have software on your computer right now that can create ePub files; you just don’t know it. For example, InDesign is capable of exporting to the ePub format. This is very convenient, because InDesign is pretty much mandatory in the publishing world; most people putting together books are probably already using it. Try this function out and you might already be done.

If you’re a Mac user, you’ll be happy to know that Pages, part of the iLife ’09 suite of office software, can also export to ePub. This is very useful, because pages can open just about any office document, including Microsoft Word files.

epub files

Note that you’ll need to install all the latest updates for iLife in order to use this feature, but it’s worth it.

Pages is great, but it’s Mac only and costs money. If you’re looking to use only free software to get the job done, you’ll be happy to know there’s an Open Office plugin for that. Download this plugin and you can use Open Office’s “Export” function to create ePub documents on Windows, Mac and Linux computers. It’s not perfect (no chapters) but it works.

As far as I can tell, there’s no such plugin for Microsoft Word. Sad. Good thing you can open your Word documents using Pages or Open Office!

Creating From Scratch Or Editing

Jeffry highlighted two cross-platform tools for creating iBooks earlier this year: Sigil and eCub. Both of these tools are handy if you’re looking to create an ePub from scratch, so read that article, but know Sigil has a key advantage Jeffry didn’t mention: it can edit existing ePub files.

This means that if the exported results from one of the above tools doesn’t quite look right to you, you can easily use Sigil to make changes. You can also use Sigil to create an ePub from scratch, but its usefulness as a repair tool is hard to overstate. Formatting errors will come up if you’re exporting, so it’s good to have a cleanup tool.

epub format

It’s also possible to edit these files manually, as an ePub is essentially a .zip file containing a series of HTML files. Rename your .epub file to .zip and feel free to make chances inside. This is a great way to learn how ePub files work!  Lexcycle has a great guide on creating and editing ePub files from scratch, so consider checking that out before getting too deep.

Calibre: Convert Almost Anything To ePub

epub files

If none of this is working for you, check out Calibre, the ultimate ebook manager. This program can convert many different formats to ePub, so it’s a great tool to have in your kit.

Can you think of any more ways to create ePubs? Share them below. Also feel free to ask about how to use any of these tools.

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5 Best Websites With Awesome Christmas Wallpaper For Your Desktop

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 07:31 AM PST

christmas wallpaperIt’s that time of the year again. There’s snow on the ground, you’ve got your holiday shopping done (right?), and everybody’s in a festive mood. Personally, I’m looking forward to kicking back with the family and watching Christmas Vacation, as well as catching some holiday bowl games.

One of the things you might have done to prepare for Christmas was decorate your house. You’ve got your fancy lights on display outside, your tree decorated in the living room, and stockings hung neatly over your fireplace. What else is left to do? How about decorating your desktop?

In this article, I’ll show you a few of the best resources for finding Christmas wallpaper for your desktop.

1. WallpaperStock

christmas wallpaper

WallpaperStock is a great resource for all types of desktop wallpaper, let alone just Christmas, so this is a good place for us to start.

On this site, you’ll find several pages of high-quality wallpapers. Clicking on a thumbnail of one will take you to that wallpaper’s page, where you can view the image in normal resolutions, wide resolutions, and in HD. That’s right, you can download high-definition Christmas wallpapers.

2. Hongkiat

christmas holiday wallpaper

The second resource I would like to share isn’t a wallpaper site at all. Hongkiat is a web design blog that you can learn a lot from, but their Christmas wallpaper page is pure genius.

You’ll find several resources of high-quality desktop wallpapers here, as well as a lot of great screenshots of some. If you see any you like just click on the image to be taken to the page to download it.

I think you’ll like the selection of Christmas wallpapers here, especially if you’re into design at all.

3. HD Wallpapers

Let’s get back to wallpaper sites! HD Wallpapers, like WallpaperStock, has a nice collection of HD Christmas wallpapers. Although it doesn’t have nearly as many, you can still find a good selection here.

Just click the Click to Download button below the image you want and you can download it to your harddrive.

4. Free Christmas Wallpapers

christmas holiday wallpaper

Free Christmas Wallpapers is another great resource for some wintery desktop imagery. As the title implies, this site exists for Christmas themed wallpapers only, and you can find a good selection here. Everything from Christmas gifts to ornaments, trees, paintings, and lights has its own category here.

Just click on an image to see its available resolutions and click on the one you want to see it full-size and ready for download.

5. Christmas Carnivals / The Holiday Spot

christmas computer wallpaper

For those looking for more traditional, cartoony, or even corny wallpapers I’ve got a couple of lesser-quality wallpaper sites for you. Christmas Carnivals and The Holiday Spot have a nice selection, especially if you weren’t having any luck with the sites I mentioned previously.

christmas holiday wallpaper

Whether you’re looking for your standard “Merry Christmas” wallpaper or one depicting an old-style image of Santa, you’ll find it here.


With the sites I’ve listed above, you should have enough Christmas wallpapers to last you until next holiday season.

As you may have gathered from a couple of the sites I’ve covered, a good place to look for Christmas-themed wallpapers are sites that are known for wallpapers in general. If you have a favorite site for desktop wallpaper, try searching for the term “Christmas”.

What will you be decking out your computer with this holiday season?



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The Humble Indie Bundle #2 Goes Live [News]

Posted: 15 Dec 2010 06:43 AM PST

After the success of the original Humble Indie Bundle, the second installment has arrived and is ready for download. For those of you who missed the first, the Humble Indie Bundle includes five great games for a price you name, and the profits are split any way you want.

The included games include Xbox Live favourite Braid, Machinarium, Osmos, Revenge of the Titans and Cortex Command. The last two in the list are still under development, though purchase of the Humble Bundle entitles you to future updates and game fixes.

All of the games will work on Windows, Linux or Mac and are completely DRM free. Braid debuts on Linux in the pack and Revenge of the Titans is launching exclusively within the bundle – two great reasons to consider a donation.

If you decide to take the plunge you can split your donation between the two charities represented (the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child’s Play), the developers of the games and a tip to the guys who put the bundle together.

There are three ways to pay – PayPal, Amazon Payments and Google Checkout. If you’re interested you’d better hurry as the offer is live for a week and ends on the 21st of December.

The original Humble Indie Bundle was an incredible success, raising a total of $1,273,613 from 138,813 contributors. The average contribution per purchase was $9.18, with Mac and Linux gamers offering slightly more than their Windows counterparts.

The Humble Indie Bundle is a great way of supporting good causes, small developers and would probably make a fantastic Christmas present. Let us know what you think and how much you paid in the comments.


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