Thursday, December 30, 2010 “Three New T-Shirt Designs In The MakeUseOf T-Shirt Store” plus 12 more “Three New T-Shirt Designs In The MakeUseOf T-Shirt Store” plus 12 more

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Three New T-Shirt Designs In The MakeUseOf T-Shirt Store

Posted: 30 Dec 2010 04:38 AM PST

We have a few new things lined up for 2011 and the first one is that we are introducing three new designs to the MakeUseOf T-Shirt store, all of them centered around Linux, Android and open-source in general. Already we are getting some very positive buzz!

If you have some Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket and you’re in the market for a new cool looking T-shirt, look no further than these three, all available in regular sizes and female baby tee size. The price, as usual, is $16.95 and shipping.  Hurry before stocks run out!

If these three new ones don’t take your fancy, take a look at our other best selling designs.

The Future Is Open Source (Baby Tee Version)
Linux Power User (Baby Tee Version)
Tux Colors (Baby Tee Version)

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Cool Websites and Tools [December 29th]

Posted: 29 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.

Add Your Website Here!


ViewMarks – Many people spend an extra second finding an entry in their web browser's bookmarks menu. Finding an entry in a list of bookmarks can sometimes take quite some time, even if the entries are alphabetically arranged. A new way to find your bookmarks is presented by ViewMarks. a browser add-on for Mozilla Firefox for version 3.5 onwards. The add-on adds an icon to your Firefox's address bar and bottom right corner. Clicking these icons presents a thumbnail view of all your bookmarks. Read more: ViewMarks: Get A Thumbnail View Of All Your Firefox Bookmarks


Fasten SeatBelts – Traveling is the only way to learn to truly learn different cultures. And while immersing yourself in a different culture is fun, you might run into miscues with people while travelling. To avoid this, you should check Fasten Seat Belts. This website provides info on cultural norms and values for travellers to understand differentcultures and learn the decorum of the countries you are visiting. Read more: FastenSeatBelts: Learn Cultural Norms And Values Before Traveling Abroad



Wylio – There is no dearth of search engines focused on images. However, Wylio is a bit different, in the sense that in addition to letting you quickly search through millions of free images, it also lets you generate the code so you can insert those images into your blog posts. Enter a keyword and browse through the thumbnails Wylio produces. If you like an image, clicking on it will allow you to quickly re-size it according to your requirements and also set the alignment. Read more: Wylio: Free Embeddable Pictures For Use In Your Blog



Try Again – Do you ever encounter an inaccessible webpage? Sometimes, these hiccups happen and you only need to refresh the page to get it loaded and running again. TryAgain is a cool tool that does this automatically. This Firefox extension will instantly reload pages when the server cannot be reached. This addon runs instantly after installation, but you can also configure the number of times it will try to load a webpage. Read more: TryAgain: Reloads Pages That Are Not Loaded On First Try (Firefox)



3Frames – Many web apps let you create animated GIFs and many let you capture images from your webcam. 3Frames is an instant gif maker that combines both of them to let you create animated GIFs from your webcam. As the name suggests, you can use your webcam to capture 3 different frames or images. Once you are happy with your frames, just click preview and 3Frames will create your animated GIF. Read more: 3Frames: Instant GIF Maker


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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TimeEdition – An Excellent Yet Simple FOSS Time-Tracker [Cross-Platform]

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 05:31 PM PST

easy time trackerThe end of the year’s coming up and while I know I had a great year, I didn’t really journal every day or track where I spent my time, which could have helped me do a end-of-year self-review on what methods in my workflow worked better than others. Since I mostly work on my computer, time-tracking software can be handy in this case. It’s also useful if, say, you spend a lot of time on the computer and just want simple ways to track things without having to do it yourself manually.

I’ve been using the web-based time-tracker, SlimTimer which is a simple but elegant solution. However, web apps don’t always suit everyone. There are neat desktop applications that offer tighter integration with the OS (and offer free accounts), such as RescueTime and ManicTime, which sit in the background, monitor your activity on the computer and provide charts to let you visualize the time you spend on specific tasks.

However, if you’re more of the privacy-concerned type of user, you might be interested in TimeEdition, an open-source, cross-platform time tracker that requires no installation. The download for Windows is 5MB in a zipped file so it’s not exceedingly enormous. It can export data to Excel, iCal, Outlook and Google Calendar.

With TimeEdition, you don’t just track time for an activity. You log customers, projects and tasks, so in other words, to track any task, you’ll have to create a new customer first, then a project, then a task, which you can do by heading into the drop-down menu for each field in the main window, or selecting the appropriate entry under View in the menu bar.

easy time tracker

real time tracker

You can still use it even if you aren’t working for a client. You could just list yourself to track your different projects.

While TimeEdition has a more customer-project-task system that might be too specific for the non-freelancer, it’s very easy to use. The program itself has a simple GUI, and sports a single button to start or pause the timing. To see more features that make this application really appealing, read on.

Track How Much Time You’ve Spent On A Project

What makes TimeEdition very useful is the fact that you can view how much time (specifically, minutes) you’ve spent on a single client, a specific project or task while TimeEdition is running and counting for you. That means you can stop timing or recording and resume the timing later without having to break a sweat to manually calculate time spent yourself. You simply have to go up to the View menu and select something other than Daily Records (default) which you’ll want if you’re looking to see how much time you’ve spent for the whole day. The other options include viewing by current session, in whole, or in retrospective (Project countdown).

real time tracker

To view project countdown, you have to edit your project and estimate how much time the entire project will take, or just make sure for your future projects, to input your estimated time in the right field when you are creating a new project.

real time tracker

You can also choose to not track anything after your computer is idle for a specific time, by going to Extras > Options.

project time tracker

Google Calendar Integration

project time tracker

For those that want to time how long an event lasts, TimeEdition will be a great tool to download as it can create an event in your Google Calendar after an event is done timing. This would be very handy if, say, I wanted to keep track of how many hours of studying I did over a whole semester, I could use TimeEdition to track studying habits, and then create charts with Youcalc, like this person did. If you use Google Calendar to journal your day or track hours spent on a project, TimeEdition can help you create events after timing your activities.

Depending on whether you have Windows or Mac, this window will show you options to create events in desktop calendars, such as Outlook and iCal.

project time tracker

Exporting Or Backing Up

If creating events in Google Calendar is not enough for you, you can also export your record in iCal, CSV, Excel or even XML formats. Just go to the File menu and select Export. You can even choose to export record from a specific time frame.

You can also back up your records by going to File > Backup Database. The file will be saved as a .edb, which is TimeEdition’s database file type and can be restored by going to File > Restore Database.

easy time tracker

While it’s not an automated solution like RescueTime or ManicTime, TimeEdition is an easy time tracker and integrates with other popular services, all while being open-source and available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Got any other excellent alternatives to TimeEdition? Feel free to comment!

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How To Compile & Install TAR GZ & TAR BZ2 Files In Ubuntu Linux

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 03:31 PM PST

how to install tar gzUnlike Windows, installing software in Linux has the potential to be slightly more complicated. Unless your chosen software is already in package form or resides in a repository and can be installed with a simple line of text, the chances are you’re going to need to compile and install from a .TAR.GZ or .TAR.BZ2 file.

This can be a nightmare, but if you stick to the rules it shouldn’t be. If you’ve got a pesky archive that needs installing, the following method will create a package, install said package and provide a nice clean way to remove the software afterwards via your package manager. Command lines at the ready, deep breath please…

Tarballs Of Steel

A .TAR.GZ/BZ2 file is a compressed tarball (the uncompressed extension being .TAR) which contains the raw source code for your chosen application. Installation requires these files to be compiled, processed and linked in a way that Ubuntu can then execute the program.

The tarball format was standardised in 1988 (and again in 2001) and continues to be widely used on both Linux and Windows for the distribution of software. Originally tarballs were designed to facilitate the backup of data onto tape devices, not that you’ll be doing that.

If you’ve not used the Linux command line before there’s no need to worry, the commands are straight-forward and cohesive. We also have an article that should get you up to speed with the Linux command line which will probably help you out if you’re going to be spending a lot of time there.

Preparing Your System

You’ll need to install a package called build-essential for creating the package from source and checkinstall to add it to your package manager for easy removal. This can be done quickly via the console, simply open up Terminal (Applications, Accessories, Terminal) and type:

sudo apt-get install build-essential checkinstall

how to install tar gz

Allow time for these to download and install, and once done you may also want to install version management software for upgrades, though you can always do this later. In any case, these three will do the trick:

sudo apt-get install subversion git-core mercurial

Next you’ll want a common directory to use when building these packages. You can technically put this anywhere, as long as it is writeable. The official Ubuntu documentation recommends /usr/local/src so we’ll stick with that:

sudo chown $USER /usr/local/src

Then make sure it’s writeable:

sudo chmod u+rwx /usr/local/src

Finally we’ll also install apt-file, which is used to resolve any dependency issues you encounter:

sudo apt-get install apt-file

You’ll probably get a pop-up telling you need to update apt-file, if not run the following command and let it finish:

sudo apt-file update

Once you’ve done this, you’ll never need to do it again as your system will be prepared for any tarballs you throw at it.

Extract & Configure

Assuming you’ve already downloaded a mysterious .TAR.GZ file you’re first going to need to move it to your designated build folder (I used /usr/local/src). You can do this with your normal file browser, and once done, open up a new Terminal.

Change to the build folder by typing:

cd /usr/local/src

Next extract the archive. For .TAR.GZ files type:

tar -xzvf <filename>.tar.gz

And for .TAR.BZ2 files type:

tar -xjvf <filename>.tar.bz2

If all went well you’ll see a long list of extracted files, like in the screenshot above. Don’t close the Terminal yet, we’re not done.

It is at this point I urge you to navigate to the folder your archive just created (with your usual file browser) and open either README or INSTALL should the files exist. If your particular software requires a different method to the one I’m about to go into then this file will hold the key. You can save yourself a lot of hassle by doing this.

You may also be able to choose different install options depending on the software, and the INSTALL or README will stipulate what these are. The files may have no extension, but are plain text and should open in Gedit or any text editor you choose.

As a general rule, the following commands will install your software with the default installation method.

Your tarball will have been extracted to a folder with the same name as the file, so change to this folder with the cd command you used earlier, like so:

cd /usr/local/src/<extracted folder>

install tar gz

Replace <extracted folder> with the name of the folder the archive created. Next you’ll need to configure the source files by typing:


Note: If your software does not have a configure file, you might want to try skipping straight to the Build & Install section of this article, though consult your INSTALL or README documentation first.

If you receive an error message related to autoconf, then you’ll need to install it by typing:

sudo apt-get install autoconf

Then run ./configure again.

install tar gz

This command will verify whether you have all the installed packages required to use your software. You can use apt-file which you installed earlier to fill in the blanks.

If you do receive an error (something like configure: error: Library requirements ... not met) have a look for the file not found above the error message, then using apt-file search by typing:

apt-file search <filename>.<extension>

This will tell you which package the file you require is in, so you can download it using:

sudo apt-get install <package>

This won’t necessarily always happen, but it is very useful if you don’t have the required dependencies.

When you’re satisfied you’ve got the packages (if you needed any) run the ./configure command again.

how to install a tar gz file ubuntu

If all went well you’ll see config.status: creating Makefile – congratulations, you’re very nearly there! Lots of people give up before they get to this point, but you’re better than that.

Build & Install

Into the same Terminal window type:


Sit back, grab a coffee and breathe for a second. Depending on the size of your install this can take a while.

how to install a tar gz file ubuntu

Now you can install the program with the following command:

sudo checkinstall

Follow the on-screen prompts, add a description for your software and hit Enter on this screen:

install tar gz

If everything went well you’ll see Installation Successful. Pat yourself on the back. You’ve done well.

how to install a tar gz file ubuntu

Your software should now be installed to /usr/local/bin and you’ll be able to run it from there without any problems.

how to install tar gz

Did you make it all the way through? Isn’t it easier just waiting for a package or getting it from the repositories? Maybe you found it… easy? Let us know in the comments.

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Love Doodles? Here Are 8 Websites To Show Your Love For Doodling

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 02:31 PM PST

doodling websitesAnyone who has sat through a dull talk knows what a doodle is. We may not be anywhere close to being artistic, but all of can scribble and doodle. But surprisingly, doodling is not a mere act of aimless childish drawing on paper. The significance of doodles and doodling goes beyond that as many studies of the human mind will tell you.

Doodling is an art form and companies like Google have given doodles a respectability through their Google Doodle pictures. Even Apple takes it seriously with a few apps for the iPad. Then if you browse around you will realize that creative doodles are very much part of some cool web designs. Just try it out by searching ‘doodles web design’.

The appeal of doodles lies in the fact that doodling is something all of us can do. Heck, if you have a sense of humor, you can churn out a web comic with just simple doodles.

If you are starting to discover your love for doodles, check out these eight websites.


doodling websites

A blog that's only about doodles shows just why doodling should be considered an art form right next to wall graffiti. I won't talk much about it here because Karl covered it quite well in a previous post. Go check it out and let us know about your favorites. Oh, yes…you can even submit your own too.

Doodlers Anonymous

websites for drawing

Quite similar to the above website, Doodlers Anonymous also has quite a few videos. There are contests like the one on illustrating your favorite headline news story from the week. The site is also trying to build up a community of fellow doodlers and already has 2,000+ members.


websites for drawing

If the doodle bug does bite you, check out the oodles of stuff here. This is a stricter site in the sense that you need to register and earn yourself a few credit points by participating on the community based site. You can fast track your way to points by wining some of the competitions that doodleBug regularly runs.  The site also has its own neat doodling tool and a few others. If you are serious about doodling, this site is a must visit.


websites for drawing

This drawing and animation website has its origins in where you can still see a lot of doodle art as animated clips. Youlikes is more fully fledged with an improved drawing program. You can create frame by frame animations of your drawing and also edit someone else's drawing to create your own versions. This collaborative site is fairly new, but its novelty is animated doodling.

Digital Doodle

free doodling websites

Digital Doodle is a nice looking simple Flash site where you get a theme to base your doodles on. The themes are monthly and you get to draw and vote on each other's entries.


free doodling websites

DoodleWall is similar to the earlier website but in this case you get a virtual wall to draw your doodle on. This is another website which uses Flash for some effects. If you add your friends to your list, they also can collaborate and draw on your virtual wall.

Doodle Art

free doodling websites

Doodle Art is a Flickr public group with doodlers from all around the world. 1,643 members have contributed nearly 17,478 items. Looking at some of the submissions, you will scarcely believe that they are 'casual' doodles.


doodling websites

When you land on this website, don't forget to scroll sideways. You will understand what the instructions say when they write that you have to rearrange a box and make any kind of figure or object. The drawing tool gives you options of pen size and color choice to create doodles on the cardboard cutout. BoxDoodle forces you to think ‘inside the box’.

When it comes to doodling, all you really need is pencil (or pen) and paper. Doodling works best when your mind starts to wander. Well, you know what I am talking about. We have all been there. Let these eight websites help you out with a bit of doodling. Who knows, the coming 11th February and the National Doodle Day (UK) could see you helping people whose lives are affected by epilepsy and neurofibromatosis. Just another way doodling is helping out.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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3 Useful Scripts To Modify Your Proxy Settings For Internet Explorer

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 01:31 PM PST

proxy settingsRecently, I’ve become quite obsessed with computer automation. After writing a recent article about Windows Scripting with VB script (a programming language I love), I’ve started exploring different ways people can make their computer smarter through scripts.

One common thing many people do to protect their identity when visiting certain websites or while working on the Internet while away from home, is to make use of proxy servers. Anonymous proxy servers will hide your real IP, which is useful if you’ve been banned from certain forums or websites for any reason, but people also use proxy servers for business reasons as well.

When you’re at the office, you may want to use your company’s internal proxy servers to access the Internet, but while you’re roaming or at home you just want your computer to automatically detect proxy settings.

Where A Proxy Server Is Configured

Before we get into the ways that you can automate your computer through scripting, let’s take a quick look at the manual way people would have to do this. Most people know how to configure their LAN settings – it’s one of the first things you should check if you’re ever having Internet connection problems. Typically you want your proxy settings to be set to “Automatically detect settings” when you’re at home or at a public hotspot.

However, at work, you’ll need to set up a proxy server. You do this within “Internet Properties” in the control panel by clicking on the “LAN settings” button.

proxy settings

Inside your network settings dialog, you’ll see the two settings – you either have a proxy server enabled or you don’t. This is the setting that you want to toggle when you switch from your home network to a work network, or if you want to switch to running under a “cloaked” anonymous IP server.

using batch file to set proxy settings

You can also find these settings in your registry (click Run and type “regedit“), and this is what you want your scripts to edit. By changing the registry settings, you’re essentially changing those settings in the LAN Settings window.

how to set the proxy settings in the registry

What we really want to do is toggle those settings only when and where you really want to. There are three scenarios that I’m going to cover, and you can copy and paste the code to tweak it to your liking. You can put the script in your startup folder so that it launches whenever you boot your computer, or you can just run the scripts whenever you want your computer to automatically set the correct IP settings.

The three scenarios I’m going to provide scripts for include the following.

  1. Prompt the user whether or not they want to use an anonymous proxy for Internet access.
  2. Prompt the user to type in the name of the proxy server they want to use.
  3. Automatically check whether you’re home or not, and set the appropriate proxy server settings.

The cool thing about Windows Scripting Host is that each of these options aren’t that hard to do.

Ask User To Enable A Proxy Server

This script will pop-up a message box asking whether or not the user wants to use a proxy server. If yes, then the script will enable proxy servers and fill in a hard-coded anonymous proxy server. You can tweak the script to use your favorite anonymous proxy.

Here’s what the script looks like.

<script language="VBScript">
Option Explicit
Dim valUserIn
Dim objShell, RegLocate, RegLocate1
Set objShell = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
On Error Resume Next
valUserIn = MsgBox("Use A Cloaked Proxy?",4,"Cloaked Select")
If valUserIn=vbYes Then
RegLocate = "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\ProxyServer"
objShell.RegWrite RegLocate,"","REG_SZ"
RegLocate = "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\ProxyEnable"
objShell.RegWrite RegLocate,"1","REG_DWORD"
MsgBox "Cloaked Proxy is Enabled"
RegLocate = "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\ProxyServer"
objShell.RegWrite RegLocate,"","REG_SZ"
RegLocate = "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\ProxyEnable"
objShell.RegWrite RegLocate,"0","REG_DWORD"
MsgBox "Cloaked Proxy is Disabled"
End If

When you run it, the user sees the following prompt.

how to set the proxy settings in the registry

A “Yes” loads the anonymous proxy as your proxy server and sets “ProxyEnable” to 1. A “No” sets the proxy to default all zeros, and disables the proxy setting.

Prompt User To Type Proxy

The other approach is to ask the user what exact server they want to use. This allows the flexibility of changing the proxy server constantly without the need to edit the script itself. You can do this by changing the “MsgBox” command to an “InputBox”.

<script language="VBScript">
Option Explicit
Dim valUserIn
Dim objShell, RegLocate, RegLocate1
Set objShell = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
On Error Resume Next
valUserIn = Inputbox("Enter the Proxy server you want to use.","Proxy Server Required")
RegLocate = "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\ProxyServer"
objShell.RegWrite RegLocate,valUserIn,"REG_SZ"
RegLocate = "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\ProxyEnable"
objShell.RegWrite RegLocate,"1","REG_DWORD"
MsgBox "Proxy is Enabled"

When you save this as a .wsf file and run it, the following window will appear.

how to set the proxy settings in the registry

Just type in your preferred proxy server, click okay, and your Internet settings are automatically updated.

Set Proxy Settings Based On Location

This next script is a little bit more flexible, so it’s also a little longer. But what it can do is check your current IP address, and if it is within the range that you expect when you’re on your home ISP, it’ll disable using a proxy server. If it sees that you’re not on your typically home IP domain, it’ll automatically configure your Internet with a proxy server that you can hard code into the script.

Here’s what the script looks like.

<script language="VBScript">

Option Explicit

Dim valUserIn
Dim objShell, RegLocate, RegLocate1
Dim objRemXML
Dim objMyIP
Dim strIPAddress
Dim strHostname
Dim strHomeDomain

On Error Resume Next

Set objShell = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
On Error Resume Next

Const cstrShowMyIP = ""

Set objRemXML = CreateObject("Microsoft.XMLDOM")
objRemXML.async = False

' Get our IP address
Set objMyIP = objRemXML.selectSingleNode("/ip_address/ip")
strIPAddress = objMyIP.text

' Print info
WScript.Echo "IP address : " & strIPAddress

strHomeDomain = Left (strIPAddress,6)

If strHomeDomain = "69.161" then

RegLocate = "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\ProxyServer"
objShell.RegWrite RegLocate,"","REG_SZ"

RegLocate = "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\ProxyEnable"
objShell.RegWrite RegLocate,"0","REG_DWORD"

MsgBox "Cloaked Proxy is Disabled"


RegLocate = "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\ProxyServer"
objShell.RegWrite RegLocate,"","REG_SZ"

RegLocate = "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\ProxyEnable"
objShell.RegWrite RegLocate,"1","REG_DWORD"

MsgBox "Cloaked Proxy is Enabled"

end if

' Finish
Set objMyIP = Nothing
Set objRemXML = Nothing



You set set this up to run on startup, and the computer will automatically configure the Internet settings as needed. The program will show you your current IP each time – if you don’t want that, just remove the “WPScript.Echo” line. When I run it here at home, it recognizes I’m on my safe home ISP and disables the anonymous proxy.

proxy settings

If you were on a public hotspot, it would recognize the foreign IP address and enable the cloaked proxy instead.

These are just a few examples of the sort of automation you can build into your Windows PC with Windows Scripting Host. You don’t have to be an expert programmer – just learn a few of the commands in these scripts and you can really work some magic.

Did you try any of these scripts? Let me know what you think, and please offer any tweaks or improvements that could make them even better. Offer your insight in the comments section below.

Image credit: Mr. Gr4phic3r

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Hot Tech Deals [Dec 29th]

Posted: 29 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. Klipsch Image S4i In-Ear Headset w/ Mic Headphones $69.99 via code BMP13591 (Exp 12/31)

  2. Dell Streak 5in Touchscreen Smartphone (Now with Android 2.2 Froyo) $99.99 w/ Contract

  3. Polk Audio CS1 II 125W Center Channel Loudspeaker (Single) $59.99 Free Shipping via code EMCZNNW69 (Exp 1/3)

  4. TODAY ONLY Invicta II 855 Silver Dial Leather Mens Watch $49.99 Free Ship

  5. TODAY ONLY Sony CyberShot TX1 10MP 4X Digital Camera w/ Backlit CMOS Sensor + Optical IS $179.99

  6. TODAY ONLY Western Digital My Book Essential 1TB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive $74.99 Free Ship

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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6 More Interesting Websites A Space & Astronomy Buff Should Visit

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 11:31 AM PST

astronomy websitesIt's said that every second child harbors dreams of becoming an astronaut and flying into space. Maybe one day we can take that dream for granted. Donning a space suit still requires one to be among the elite. What we can take for granted today is to look up at the heavens and stoke our curiosity with the many educational and knowledge tools we have available. The wonders of space are gradually being pieced together, and for space and astronomy buffs there's no dearth of information. Hobby telescopes don't quite cut it anymore.

Today, you can easily become an armchair astronomer thanks to apps like Google Sky and Google Mars. Thanks to NASA, interactive online applications will give you the feel of space in your browser. Then there's lots of great informative content to keep space buffs in the know. But if more is still less, check out these six astronomy websites that can take you on a journey through space.


astronomy websites

The site features a high resolution sky map with celestial objects that are outside our solar system mapped out. The sky map interactive chart is useful for both amateur and professional astronomers. There are options you can pick to view the skies. You can also use the chart to browse all space and astronomy related news via the News@Sky section. Sky-Map is still an ongoing project.

Gigagalaxy Zoom

space websites

Gigagalaxy Zoom shows the full sky as it appears to the unaided eye. The second zoom view is of one that appears with a hobby telescope. The final zoom level reveals the details of an iconic nebula. The idea behind the project is to serve as an aid for the untrained observer when he (or she) looks up at the night sky without the help of a telescope. The ultra-high resolution zoom levels can be used as a visual aid.

Galaxy Zoo

space websites

If you have some basic knowledge of galaxies and how they are classified, this worldwide project could do with your help. It's all about directing the power of Internet users to work through sixty million galaxies and help classify the galaxies according to specific patterns like shapes of spirals and color. The space images have come from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This is the second installment of the volunteer project.  A sister project is Moon Zoo.

Neave Planetarium

space websites

This is a browser-based simulated planetarium that allows you to observe stars, constellations, and planets by specific location. The interactive website is Flash based and the most surprising thing about it is that it's the handiwork of one man who loves designing interactive tools. (As an aside, check out his other cool tools too).

We Choose the Moon


Last year it was the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing. The site was set up to commemorate that historic event. But you can still take a peek into the past on this interactive website. The mission is recreated in precise detail right from pre-launch with actual voiceovers. You can change the views and also click on hotspots to view related media galleries. The site is divided into 11 sections where you can watch photos, videos, and other archival content. The site is an effort of the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Check out a similar celebratory website here which is about the 50th anniversary of NASA which fell in 2008.

Explore Mars Now

astronomy websites

Landing on Mars is an inevitability. This website simulates a tour through the Martian landscape and a human colonized habitat. The walkthrough is a lesson in the science, technology, and design challenges that will be required to land man on the Red Planet.

These six astronomy websites work not only because they are cool, but because they combine precise facts with imagery which helps us to understand the vastness of space. If you are looking for a few more tools, the World Wide Telescope and Celestia are a couple of the better ones.

Do you have any interactive space based websites worth a deeper look? Do let us know.

Image: Shutterstock

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How To Make All Your PC Times Match With An Atomic Clock Sync [Windows]

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 10:31 AM PST

atomic clock syncDespite its importance, not many PC users have really ever paid attention to their PC date and time settings. The only time when the general population of the world really looked at their computer clock configuration was during the millennium change – the Y2K bug - which some people have dubbed as one of the biggest hoaxes in history. That was the time when everybody was worried that the year number change to 00 would cause worldwide system malfunctions.

Even though no major disasters have occurred due to the Y2K – either because everybody has taken all of the necessary precautions or because actually there’s no bug at all – the story has taught us that the computer system clock is not something that you can take for granted.

How the Atomic Clock Sync Works

Everything in your computer depends on the time configuration, from the BIOS setup to the file tagging system, from software activation to email processing. Everything. That’s why setting the time is one of the first things that you have to do during the OS installation process.

As today is the era of Internet and networking where computers around the world are interconnected into one giant web, the concept of synchronized time has become even more important. Can you imagine the chaos if each and every computer had a time setting of their own? For example, you might have trouble finding important email that your client sent yesterday because it’s dated three years ago in your client’s computer.

Fortunately, the Internet makes it easy for every computer to synchronize its time setting with a centralized time server – the atomic clock time server – so that all the computer times all around the world can use standardized settings, even though they are scattered through different time zones.

If you are a Windows user, you can use these two free tools to automatically match your PC times using atomic clock sync.

Tools Of The Trade

Windows comes with its own tool to manage the date and time. You can access it easily by clicking on the clock display on the System Tray and then choosing the “Change date and time settings” link.

atomic clock sync

The “Date and Time” control panel window will open. The basic “Date and Time” tab allows you to change the date, time, and time zone of your location manually.

atomic clock time

If you often travel and stay in different time zones, you can add more clocks according to those zones under the “Additional Clocks” tab.

atomic clock time

These additional clocks will show up every time you hover your mouse pointer above the System Tray clock display.

atomic clock time

But the real magic happens under the “Internet Time” tab. This is the place where you can set up the atomic clock sync with the server. By default, this process has been set up to automatically sync with Windows’ own atomic clock server at “”.

atomic clock

But in case you want to change the time server, have the need to disable the automatic time sync, or if there’s something wrong with your system that you need to re-synchronize your machine’s time, click the “Change setting” button for more customization options.

atomic clock

Another alternative tool that you can use to achieve the same thing is a small application called Atomic Clock Sync. This tool is provided by WorldTimeServer and built to do one thing: help users synchronize time on their system to the WorldTimeServer atomic server.

atomic clock

The automation process is located under “Synchronization Interval“. Here you can adjust the amount of time between automatic sync. By default the interval number is 604,800 seconds (one week).

03b1 Sync Interval.png

One thing that makes this tool different to Windows’ own tool is the ability to repair the Windows Time Service. To do that, you need to follow the step by step instructions, by clicking the buttons one by one in correct order.

atomic clock sync

Once set, the two tools will stay in the background and help you maintain your system time with minimal effort.

Have you tinkered with your system’s time setting or do you just let it be? Do you use any specific tools to do that? Have you ever had any problems with the computer’s time setting? Please share your stories using the comments below.

Image credit: robinvanmourik

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An Easy Guide To Understanding The Editing Process In iPhoto ’11 [Mac]

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 09:31 AM PST

editing in iphoto 11Although you like taking photos, you may not have the time and experience for processing them. In this regard, Apple seems to continually streamline the editing tools in its popular image processing and management application, iPhoto.  

With an understanding of iPhoto's tools, you can correct problems and make enhancements to your photos with just a few clicks of your mouse. Of course, a caveat to this is that photos you take must be acceptable enough for editing. If photos are too dark or the highlights are blown, no editing program can fix that problem.

If you're new to photography, check out my MUO Guide to Digital Photography and numerous other articles on this site about taking better photos. If you're working with the ’09 version of iPhoto, check out tips in Jeffry's how-to article.

With iPhoto ’11, Apple has re-designed the application's interface so that it provides an even better workflow for processing your images. In this tutorial, I'll walk you through that process.

Menu Bar & Photo Info

After you get your photos into iPhoto ’11, you definitely want to rate and tag them. Not much has changed in those features. But notice when you open an album of your photos, Apple has set up a menu bar at the bottom of iPhoto.

editing in iphoto 11

This where you can click on individual photos and work through the process of fixing, enhancing and then sharing them. Categories are set up just in that order.

The first menu item we see is the Info button. It has nothing do with fixing your images, but don’t overlook it. It not only reveals the keywords and ratings you have given a photo, but it also contains your camera's EXIF data about a selected image. This can help you understand more about your images.

editing in iphoto

Check out Tim's article about EXIF photo data for more information on this subject.

Basic Editing

While iPhoto is not an advanced image editor, it does provide the basic tools for Mac users who are willing to make a little effort to use the tools. So let's start with a selected image, acceptable enough to work with.

editing in iphoto

Enhance Tool

The editing pane of iPhoto ’11 starts with what is adeptly called “Quick Fixes”. If your photos are shot reasonably well, a few simple clicks in this area may suffice for fixing and enhancing your selected image.

editing in iphoto

So let's start with the Enhance tool. When I apply it to the above image, notice (see the following image) that it automatically brightens the exposure. I didn't have to fool with sliders and Levels tools, just one click and it made some improvement to the image. We do notice, however, that the editing took out details in the white shirt. We'll see about fixing that in an upcoming step.

iphoto editing tips

Note: All the editing changes you make to a photo will apply to the appearance of that selected image in every album, sideshow, and project (e.g., card, calendar, book) that it's used in. You can always revert back to the original photo, but if you want to edit a photo without changing it, duplicate the photo and then make edits on the duplicate.

Retouch Tool

The Retouch tool is a little more advanced. It works similarly to the Healing brush tool in Photoshop, but you have far less control over what it does. However it can be useful for some quick retouching in facial areas of a photo.

iphoto editing tips

To use this tool, zoom in and navigate on an area of a subject's face you want to retouch.

iphoto editing tips

The only thing you can control with the Retouch tool is the size of the brush. You can't control the amount of retouching it can do. Start with a fairly small size and simply move the brush over the area you want to remove.

editing with iphoto

If you're not getting the results you want, drag the brush over a pixel area near the part you want to retouch, and then hold down the Option key as you drag onto the area you want to fix. If you have never used the Retouch tool, it can be a little tricky, but just keep practicing until you get a feel for how it works. You can always click Undo as many times as you need to get back to your previous settings.

Crop Tool

Apple has also improved the Crop tool some in iPhoto ’11. Cropping is useful for getting rid of dead space in your photo, as well as for printing and sharing your images.

editing with iphoto

See my article on the basics of photo cropping for more information about this subject.

Effects Process

The next category of the editing pain in iPhoto ’11 allows you to make a few more advanced tweaks to a selected image. Notice in this area, there's no sliders and numbers to deal with. You simply click on an effect to see how it changes your image.

editing with iphoto

The six exposure buttons in this area are about as basic as you can get. If a selected photo is too dark, you might click the Lighten button several times to lighten it up. If you want to warm up and further saturate the overall colors of an image, you click the respective buttons several times until you get the effect you want.


I find the 9 other effects buttons in this area too simplistic for my taste. Notice however, when you apply an effect – except for the B & W and Sepia effects – you can increase and decrease the strength of the edit. You can also apply more than one effect to a photo. If you don’t like the results, simply click None to take you back where you started.

Adjust Tools

The Adjust tools of the editing pane are as advanced as you're going to get in iPhoto. If you make exposure adjustments in Quick Fix and Effects panes, they will be reflected in the sliders in the Adjust tools.


Don't let these tools overwhelm you. Play around with them and you'll begin to see how they work.

In the top Levels tool, you simply move the sliders to adjust the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows of the area. These sliders will impact the entire image.

In the next section, you can further tweak the exposure, contrast and saturation of an image. Again, play around with them to see what results you get. With Exposure, for example, you're simply lightening or darkening the image. Saturation affects the colors of the image. The “avoid saturating skin tones” is a useful feature in iPhoto '11 because it allows you to boost or soften the colors in other areas of the image without affecting skin tones.


The middle section of tools provide you with even more control. Remember the problem I pointed out about blowing out the highlights in the white shirt? Well, when I move the Highlights slider to the right some, it brings back that detail. It does the same for adjusting the areas in the photos where the flash was pretty strong.

The last tool you will want to apply in this area is the Sharpening tool. It works pretty well, but don’t overdo it. Nearly all digital photos will need some sharpening, especially for those images you plan to print.

editing in iphoto 11

You probably won’t use the Temperature sliders too much, but say your photo has an overly warm or cool overcast, you might try selecting the color picker and clicking on a neutral gray or white area in the image to see if it will remove the color cast.

Let us know what you think of the upgrades in iPhoto ’11. How well does it work for you as an image editor?

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Latest Hilarious Picks [MakeUseOf Geeky Fun]

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 08:48 AM PST


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

  1. Super-Low-Tech iPhone Speaker (Pic)
  2. You need to get off Facebook (Video)
  3. Facebook is Like A Prison (Pic)
  4. Digital Signature (Pic)
  5. Relationship Status Options (Pic)
  6. Gadget Anatomy (Pic)
  7. Classic Vs. Modern Hardcore Gaming (Pic)

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What Is An Ubuntu PPA & Why Would I Want To Use One? [Technology Explained]

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 08:31 AM PST

personal package archivePart of the appeal of Ubuntu is its six-month release cycle. Every six months a new version of the free operating system is released into the wild, complete with updates for all of your favorite software. This is great, but can be a trifle disappointing from time to time. For example, if a new version of your favorite software comes out you may have to wait until the next version of Ubuntu comes out to try it.

The solution to this is the PPA. This is a repository, provided by Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu), that allows developers and enthusiasts to offer up-to-date versions of software to all Ubuntu users. Originally PPAs were limited to programmers and testers, but Canonical opened PPAs to everyone in late 2007.

I constantly mention PPAs in my Ubuntu articles because for the newest software, installing a PPA is the simplest way to get everything working. But what is a PPA and why would you want to use one?

What’s A PPA?

Those new to Ubuntu, and to Linux in general, find themselves lost in an array of initial-isms and acronyms that make little sense to the first-time user. This can make Ubuntu feel like a very unfriendly place, but don’t panic: it’s all easy to understand.

Installing software on Ubuntu is different than on Mac or Windows; some might say better. Rather than going to the web to download a package, it’s usually a better bet to check the Ubuntu Software Center for any program you might want to install. This software is stored in a repository, which is a collection of software Ubuntu can download quickly and easily.

personal package archive

Repositories are a more trustworthy way to download software than grabbing EXE files from random websites. Since everything in the default repositories is reviewed by the Ubuntu team before it goes out, you know everything there is completely safe for your system.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides, though. Users typically have to wait for a new version of Ubuntu to try out new software. So if Firefox updates, you might not get to play with the new version until the next Ubuntu release comes out.

This is where PPAs come in. A PPA, or Personal Package Archive, is a collection of software not included in Ubuntu by default. Typically these repositories focus on a single program, but they can include more depending on the person maintaining them. A PPA might focus on an unreleased piece of software, such as Hotot, the best Linux Twitter client out there. It also might include updates for software already in Ubuntu, such as Firefox.

Whatever the case, PPAs provide updates for your favorite software at a much quicker rate than Ubuntu itself. This is great, because you can decide which software you want to keep up to date and leave the rest to Ubuntu.

Once you install new software, updates will come to you through the Ubuntu Update Manager:

ubuntu ppa

This is fantastic, because it means all of your updates come through a single interface. No Windows-style popups from every single program you’ve installed!

How To Add A PPA

So you’ve found a program you want to install, but the “Download” link leads you to a confusing site you don’t understand:

personal package archive

Don’t panic; adding a PPA is easy, but you will need to use the command line a little.

Find the terminal in “Applications”, “Accessories”, “Terminal“. Now you just need to type “sudo add-apt-repository” followed by the name of your PPA. Then all you need to do is update your package manager and install the program you’re looking for. For example, here are the steps required to install Hotot:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:hotot-team
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install hotot

That’s it; you’re done. You can now enjoy your new software, or the latest version of an already-loved piece of software.


Ubuntu’s six-month release cycle isn’t perfect, but I personally perfer it to Windows-style releases. With PPAs Ubuntu users can have access to bleeding-edge software. Adding too many PPAs may result in an unstable system, but one or two usually doesn’t hurt anything.

What are your favorite PPAs? Share them in the comment below. Also feel free to discuss the merits of Ubuntu’s release cycle, or to troll me for not writing about Fedora or Linux Mint more often.

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The Top 10 Free Beer Related Applications For Your iPhone

Posted: 29 Dec 2010 07:31 AM PST

best iphone beer appsI always wanted to write an article on beer, so today’s your lucky day! I’ve got really into beer lately, not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because of the winter months. Nevertheless, I set out to find the top beer drinking applications that you or I would want to have with us at any given time.

In this article, I’ll show you the apps I discovered. Some are social, some practical, and some are for the true beer collector in us all. Whether you need to locate the nearest pub or you just want to rate the brewskis you’ve tasted, there’s something here for you. If you’re of drinking age, you should enjoy this list of the best free beer-related applications for the iPhone.

1. Beerby

best iphone beer apps

Beerby (rhymes with "nearby") allows beer drinkers to log and comment on the beers they drink. If you have ever wanted to keep track of the beers you drink at a bar, you can do it easily with this app.

Beerby’s database consists of over 30,000 beers and, using Foursquare integration, Beerby also allows you to tell friends where you’re drinking and optionally check in with Foursquare at that location. You can also share your activity with friends via Facebook and Twitter, comment on their brews, create goals for you and your friends to achieve, unlock badges, and all that good stuff. You can rate and share photos of your beer, too.

Something to note, as you log your beer at a location, you are also helping to build a database of what beer is available at that spot. Beerby provides a map view that allows you to find drinking establishments nearby and tells you what people have drank recently.

2. Grab Another Beer

beer on iphone

Grab Another Beer is another great iPhone app. It’s for those who want to keep a journal of what beers they’ve had and where.

There are over 7,000 beers to browse through with most breweries in the US and some select imports listed. There are badges for you to unlock, and you can share your activity with friends through Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.

Don’t drink? The app also features some root beers and has plans to add other non-alcoholic beverages in the near future.

3. Happy Houred

beer on iphone

Happy Houred helps you find great drink specials and share them with others. This app features listings for over 22,000 happy hours in 2,000 US cities and towns, with more being added every day.

Here’s how it works. First, you choose what you’re interested in: beer, wine, mixed drinks, food, etc. Then, you select the day and time and your phone will find the closest deals based on your location.

Fast-checking and updates from the community help keep the app up-to-date so you won’t find yourself looking at deals that have already passed. All venues have their own complete profiles.

4. BeerCloud

beer on iphone

BeerCloud is another great app that helps you pair beer with food, track down your favorite beers, discover all the different styles, and “pull up a full description of nearly any beer in seconds”.

Their database, which is always growing, has over 3,000 beers along with descriptions including product image, style, taste profile, food paring recommendation, strength, color, and bitterness. You can also view over 400 brewery pages to see a list of the beers they produce.

Use the GPS beer finder to track down your favorites. Search includes offerings from over 50,000 bars, restaurants, and stores.

Whether you’re a beer consumer who could use some guidance in making a well-educated purchase, a food lover looking to discover new ways to enhance a meal with a complementary beer pairing, a beer student hoping to learn more about styles, or a traveling beer enthusiast who wants to instantly map the closest stores, bars, and restaurants carrying one of your favorite beers, BeerCloud is an essential iPhone app.

5. RedPint

beer iphone

RedPint is another social beer app for you to investigate. RedPint let’s you share what beer you’re drinking and where, compare ratings, find craft beer, and earn medals.

You can use it to share photos, tag friends in status updates, rate beers, look up information, and “toast” your friends. Link the app to your Facebook and Twitter accounts for added features.

6. BrewGene

beer iphone

BrewGene keeps track of beers you've tried and how much you enjoyed/disliked them. The app suggests beers for you to try based on your preferences for the beers you've already tried, as well as the preferences of all the other beer drinkers in BrewGene's ‘genome’.

BrewGene requires no prior beer knowledge to use it. Connect with other beer drinkers so you can compare tastes and learn more about beer in general. The app makes it easy for you to want to try new beers.

BrewGene is for people who want to try unique beers – craft beer, micro-brews, imports – and who don't have the time or patience to study the landscape before taking the plunge.

7. Beer!

beer iphone

Beer! also helps you keep track of your beer tasting habits. Use this app to review your notes and ratings, take a photo of your beer, track which kinds you drink the most, and keep a history of your favorites.

You can share your thoughts with others in the community or keep them private if you like. You also have the option to save your data to the server so you can restore it if it’s ever lost.

8. Bar Findr Touch Lite

While this is the free “lite” version of the Bar Findr Touch app, it is still very worth mentioning. The lite version features over 60,000 bars, clubs, and liquor stores, bar search by location, navigation to and from with maps and phone numbers, and a review system of all the locations. You can also listen to your favorite music while using the app.

9. iLoveBeer: Zythology

iLoveBeer offers you a way to impress your friends with your beer knowledge. Use this phone app to find delicious ways to match your beer with your meal or vice versa. You can customize your taste according to preferences in the My Beer section.

The app will also teach you the right way to pour your favorite beers and identify their key flavor elements, and it let’s you share your best pairings with friends via Facebook and Twitter.

10. Beer Counter

best iphone beer apps

Last up on our list is an essential app, especially if you are going to be using the applications I’ve mentioned previously.

Beer Counter, as its name implies, offers an easy way to keep an overview of your consumed beverages. It allows you to look back at how many beers you’ve had in a given day, what they were, and what they cost you. I’ll let you decide how to use this one.

Will you be making use of any of these beer apps? Do you have a favorite?

Image Credit: Pedro Salaverria

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