Saturday, January 8, 2011 “Cool Websites and Tools [January 7th]” plus 10 more “Cool Websites and Tools [January 7th]” plus 10 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [January 7th]

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 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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Your Old Pic – Adding effects to your pictures can lead to interesting results. Numerous websites let you add special and fun effects to your photographs. To make an image look old you should head on over to YourOldPic, a simple and free to use website with a simple aim: to make your pictures look old. You use the site by uploading one of your pictures. Almost instantly after uploading, you see your picture's ‘old’ form. Read more: YourOldPic: Make An Image Look Old


Remember To Watch – Not everybody can afford a Tivo, but almost everybody wants to remember when a new episode of their favorite TV shows are on. RememberToWatch is a simple tv show alert app to help you with that. The site displays a list of upcoming popular TV shows for each day. You can subscribe to any one of these shows with a single click. Read more: RememberToWatch: Get Favorite TV Shows Alerts Via SMS



Encoder Tool – is a simple and free to use website that easily performs base number conversions. It supports conversions between ASCII strings, Base64, Hexadecimal, Octal, and Binary number systems. For each number system conversion you get a text box where you enter the text / number and a box where you get the output text / number. The output can be copied and used wherever you want. Read more: EncoderTool: Perform Base Number Conversions Online



20 Things I Learned – is the name of a new book that was recently released by the Google Chrome team. It's an online book (not exactly an ebook though) and built using HTML5 with illustrations by Christoph Niemann. It's a newbies guide to the internet, how it works, how browsers and web apps work, privacy and security on the web and many other such concepts. A nice site to share with non-geeky friends and family members. Read more: 20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web: A Book By Google on Browsers and Internet



History Eraser – Deleting history on browsers is easy. Just 2-3 clicks and you are done. Doing that on a cellphone, even on the advanced smartphones like iPhone and Android, isn't that straightforward. HistoryEraser is a cool app that can help users clean up Android Phone history (browsing history, call history, contacts history) and many other such unnecessary items in one click. Read more: HistoryEraser: Easily Clean Up Android Phone History


These are just half of the websites that we discovered in the last couple of days. If you want us to send you daily round-ups of all cool websites we come across, leave your email here. Or follow us via RSS feed.

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The 7 Best Questions From You [MakeUseOf Answers]

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 05:31 PM PST

You can turn to MakeUseOf Answers to have your tech issues solved. The forum can also be a resource for learning new things and finally, you can check off the ‘good deed of the day’ by helping someone with their question. If you’re lucky, you will even win something!

Every Friday, we reward the Best Answer of the Week with a cash prize of $50. This week we honor Gustavo Ibarguengoytia for his answer to this question: How can I improve the performance for live streaming videos? Thank you for the elaborate answer and congratulations, Gustavo.

These are the best questions of the week:

MakeUseOf Answers is a rich source of information and challenges for technology enthusiast. Browse by Latest Questions, Most Popular Questions, or Unanswered Questions. For regular updates subscribe to the Answers RSS Feed.

Need help? Ask A Question at MakeUseOf Answers.

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BlipSnips – A Simple New Way To Tag & Share YouTube Videos

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 04:31 PM PST

share youtube videosHow many great videos did you watch this year? I’d say a lot, especially since YouTube recently announced that over 700 billion videos were viewed during the last 12 months. We’ve written articles on the best stand-up comedy videos and coolest science experiments, as well as sites like Devour, which showcase the best videos for us.

How many of those did you share with your friends? Probably a good amount. But, how many times have you had to tell them to “fast forward” or “skip ahead” to the best part? With BlipSnips, you won’t ever have to do that again.

What Is BlipSnips?

BlipSnips (directory app) is a tool that offers a simple way to link your friends right to the good stuff in a video. It allows you to explain every “snip” in your own words and share your tags with any social network.

You can use it to find out who is tagging what and see only the best parts of videos. Or you can simply use it to save your place – like a bookmark – in a long video.

Here’s an example email from the BlipSnips website of what this service helps you avoid:

“Hey, check out this video! Skip to 1:33 or so, that’s when it gets good. Watch the expression on his face. Then skip to about 2:56 — amazing!!”

You’d like to avoid sending those, right? BlipSnips is an attempt to make our online video experience more searchable, engaging, contextual, and personal.

How Do I Get Started?

To begin using BlipSnips, head over to the homepage and click Start Using BlipSnips. There you can setup a username and password for yourself. Once you’ve done that you can begin watching other people’s BlipSnips or begin creating your own.

share youtube videos

To start your own, you have two options. You can either paste in the URL of the video you want and click Submit, or you use the Bookmarklet.

how to share youtube videos

The Bookmarklet is great because it allows you to click it whenever you’re watching a video and you realize you want to snip something. Just drag the link to your browser bar to begin using it.

how to share youtube videos

Once it pulls in your video, click the play button. When it gets to a part you want to tag, click Tag it!. The video will pause at that point and a box will appear below it for you to type your message.

Don’t worry if you miss clicking the button at the exact time you want, because you can manually edit the time right within the box.

After you’ve tagged everything you wanted to, you can click the Share! button to be taken to a page where you can click on your tags to see the video from that point in time, get a URL to share the video with others, or an embed code to place it on your site.

You can view the BlipSnips example video I tagged here.

share youtube videos

When you’re all done, you can always head back to your profile page by clicking on My BlipSnips at the top of the screen to see all of your clips.

For more information on BlipSnips, check out their blog. A recent entry makes mention of a Facebook application in the works.


For what it’s intended for, this is a very useful tool. Considering the sheer number of videos that exist on YouTube to begin with, it doesn’t hurt to save yourself some time when browsing through them. With BlipSnips, you get to skip all the filler video and cut right to the good stuff. And the tags are there to help give you context, which is great because you’re going to lose some if you cut the video too short (like I did).

I’m curious to hear your take on BlipSnips. What do you think of this tool?

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5 Of The Best Sites For Kid-Friendly Recipes

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 03:31 PM PST

kid friendly recipesIf your young children are like mine, they would eat waffles, pizza, maybe some fruit, and lots of desserts everyday until they turned eighteen. Also if your family is like mine, you will know how difficult it is to plan and prepare a variety of healthy, tasty and enjoyable meals on a regular basis. So this year my goal is to involve my children in planning their daily school lunch and afternoon snacks.

Spending some time browsing the net, I was surprised to discover the number of websites with a significant variety of kid friendly recipes to choose from. The sites I selected are kid-friendly, with lots of images, and best of all offer free content. I’m quite sure there are many sites I’m overlooking, so by all means share your favorite related sites in the comments section.


No doubt the best way to get kids involved in eating different foods is to make meals and snacks fun. does exactly that with their selection of 30 recipes, including “Dirt Cups” of crushed chocolate cookies and gummy worms; Vanilla Bean Applesauce, Pasta Bowl with Butternut Squash, and Baked Chicken Fingers with honey mustard dipping sauce.

kid friendly recipes

This set of recipes is great for lunches and healthy light snacks. The photos included for each recipe will be useful in helping your child choose what they like. devotes an entire section to kid-friendly recipes. Their popular recipes include Lunch Box Hot Hot Dogs, Spinach Quiche with Kid Appeal, Bakes Sweet Potato Sticks, and Chunky Monkey Pancakes.

kid friendly favorite recipes

When you become a member of the site, you can save recipes to your recipe box, rate and review recipes, create shopping lists, and submit your own recipes. Most of these kid recipes are for healthy lunches and dinners.

The ratings of the recipes and the members’ comments can be helpful in discovering what your kids might enjoy and other ingredients that could be used for food preparation.

MomsWhoThink features a nice clean list of dishes and snacks titled, Kids Recipes A to Z. This list doesn't include images of the dishes and snacks, but the page is easy to scan – featuring a variety of offerings, from Apple Pancakes, Green Spaghetti, to Worm Burgers.

kid friendly favorite recipes

Most of the items on this list are geared to breakfast and lunch meals, and they require very little time to prepare.

Disney FamilyFun

Disney FamilyFun's section of kid recipes features 10 website pages of dishes, including Orange Biscuits, a grilled ham and cheese Monte Cristo Sandwich, and Best Fudge Brownies.

kid friendly favorite recipes

Recipes are also rated and include well done photo shots of each dish, snack or dessert. Their collection of 28 Easy Dips and Appetizers are great for children and adult gatherings or just healthy snacking.


For a more healthier collection of recipes, check out KidsHealth, which includes vegetarian recipes, recipes for kids with diabetes, lactose intolerance, cystic fibrosis, and celiac disease.

kid friendly recipes

Though the collection of dishes and snacks are not accompanied with photos, the site includes a wide selections of recipes, including Black Beans and Rice, Peanut Butter Bars, Taco Popcorn, Vegetable Skillet Frittata, Cheesecake Squares, and Shepherd's Pie.

The offerings on these sites don’t replace good old traditional cookbooks or your mom's secret recipes, but they offer lots of ideas to get started. Including your children in the selection of recipes and the preparation and cooking of meals will provide useful reading and math skills, as well as some great family fun time in the kitchen.

Let us know in the comments of other kid-friendly recipe sites that you find useful.

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4 Fun Things to Do with Google Translate

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 02:30 PM PST

fun things to do with google translateWith certain languages Google Translate is appallingly bad. Ever tried to translate from Arabic into English? You’ll be hard pressed to ever understand what the English translation says let alone the Arabic original. I can imagine that the case is the same for quite a few other languages.

That said, there are some languages, such as French, where the translation is much more accurate. The translations can’t necessarily be trusted as being perfect, and often with languages where dialect or formal speech is an issue, Google Translate usually tends to get it wrong. The Google service still does come in pretty handy when translating emails, forum messages or even entire websites. But that’s not all that Google Translate is good for. You can push the limits of this tiny Google service and you’d be surprised at what you can get in return.


One of the most fun things to do with Google Translate to date has to be turning it into a beatbox. First posted on Reddit, the hidden feature that Google themselves probably never even imagined is making the internet rounds.

Paste the following text into Google Translate:

pv zk pv pv zk pv zk kz zk pv pv pv zk pv zk zk pzk pzk pvzkpvpvzk kkkkk bsch

Select German to German translation, and press Beatbox. Google has clearly embraced this discovery, replacing the Listen button with a Beatbox button.

fun things to do with google translate

For the ‘Techno’ version, select Chinese to Chinese Simplified/Traditional translation.

Create Sound Effects

Once beatboxing was discovered, it wasn’t long before people were trying to find other interesting sounds you can get out of Google Translate.

To simulate the sound of a machine, an old car, or possibly even a chainsaw, paste the following text into Google translate and select Croatian to Croatian translation.


To simulate the sound of a helicopter, the following text has been suggested when selecting German to German translation.


Order Indian Food

According to Google’s Demo Slam, a website inviting people to demonstrate how they put Google’s services to use in their lives, two American girls were able to call an Indian restaurant and place their order in Hindi. Whether or not the video is genuine is something we’ll never know, but with a little knowledge of the language, it might just be possible.

Translate Twitter Messages Automatically

With the use of the awesome Firefox add-on Greasemonkey, and a little userscript, you can have any foreign language tweets on Twitter automatically translated from whichever language they were originally written in. This is something that is actually currently being rolled out to all Twitter accounts, but until then, Firefox users can benefit from the free work around.

google translate online

The script has its quirks, and sometimes translates English tweets if they contain a name that can be mistaken for a foreign language.

Chat with Friends in Any Language

Using the Google Talk chat bots you can have any text instantly translated when using Google Talk. There are two methods you can use – either add the bot to your friend’s list and simply type the text you want translated in a chat conversation with the bota.

fun things to do with google translate

Even more conveniently, you can add the bot to your conversation, to have all text translated immediately as you chat.

What creative uses for Google Translate can you come up with? Let us know in the comments.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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Hot Tech Deals [Jan 7th]

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 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.

  1. Dell UltraSharp U3011 30in IPS LCD Monitor (2560×1600!) $1050 Free Shipping via code X$0SQC0B7J0JBN (Exp Soon)
  2. TODAY ONLY Rosewill R-BC-01 AA/AAA/C/D/9V Battery Charger (Recharges Alkaline, Ni-MH, Ni-CD) $19.99 Free Ship
  3. TODAY ONLY Western Digital Elements SE 1TB Portable External Hard Drive $89.99 Free Shipping
  4. Logitech LX8 Wireless Laser Mouse $16.99 Free Shipping
  5. New Dell Off Lease Coupon Codes: 25% off Dell Laptops $350+ via code Save25Lap$350&up (Exp 1/12)
  6. Nokia N8 16GB Smartphone (Unlocked, Quad-Band GSM, 12MP Camera, HD Video, GPS) $399 Free Shipping via code 9T9Q155P?QQS4J (Exp 1/11 6AM CST)
  7. Netgear WNDR3700 RangeMax 802.11n Simultaneous Dual-Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router (Refurb, DD-WRT) $79.97
  8. Dell Latitude E5510 Intel Core i7-620M 2.66GHz Dual Core 15.6 1600×900 Laptop $696.88 Free Shipping via code 3PW71P6K3B18S6 (Exp 1/12)
  9. Dell Latitude E5410 Intel Core i7-620M 2.66GHz 14.1in 1440×900 Business Laptop $644.18 via code 3PW71P6K3B18S6 (Exp 1/12)
  10. TRENDnet TEW-673GRU 802.11n Wireless Concurrent Dual-Band Gigabit Router $89.99 Free Shipping via code EMCKJKC47 (Exp 1/9)

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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Zen-Style Listing And Projects With WorkFlowy

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 11:30 AM PST

list management project softwareDo you find most project management tools try to do too much while regular to-do lists don’t quite cut it? Don’t you wish there was something in between? Something with a simple list format and tasks you can check off, but with an easy way of managing the whole project? Well, now there is!

WorkFlowy has the nifty ability of looking and acting much like a regular to-do list, while secretly behaving more like a project management tool or a mind-mapper. It really needs to be seen to be believed — and then you’ll never want to use anything else for your projects!

Getting Started

Sign-up is really quick and takes you straight to a help page with a demo and shortcuts. Not that you need to learn all of the shortcuts, since it can all be done using mouse clicks. Do watch the “How to Use WorkFlowy” video though as it really shows you the bulk of what you need to know.

Basically, Workflowy is lists, lists and more lists. But, because of some really simple design choices, you can display or hide whatever you need to in order to get your tasks completed.

If you’re like me, you’ll really want to know two very important shortcuts to indent and decrease the indent. It’s easy: simply press Tab to indent and Shift-Tab to go back. So, you can easily create tasks in a sub-list using a Tab. To start a new list, press Shift-Tab.

list management project software

If you prefer to use a mouse, just look on the left of any given task for a list of options. Or, look to the right of the task for the option to relocate it somewhere else by dragging it.

list management software

Instinctively, you’re able to write things out as if it’s a normal text editor. But, because you can collapse, expand and drill down into menus it makes things much easier to keep track of later. You can also drag tasks or lists elsewhere and WorkFlowy will automatically nest them for you. If you mark something as completed, WorkFlowy won’t complete the sub-tasks. However, when you view the list with completed tasks hidden, the sub-tasks will be hidden from view.

list management software


Just when you thought WorkFlowy was everything you dreamed of, it turns out there’s another awesome feature for your lists: Notes.

Every single item on all your lists is able to have a note added to it. Click on the left of your task and choose “Add Note” from the options. This lets you add a little more detail to every point on the list for your future reference.
list management software

What Could You Use WorkFlowy For?

You could use WorkFlowy for just about anything, really. As long as you’re organised enough to keep things nested appropriately, WorkFlowy could expand to suit you. I tested up to 25 sub-lists deep and the only problem I found was that I hit the edge of the page. This wouldn’t even be a problem in a drilled-down view.

Specific uses I can think of would include:

  • Project Management.
  • Planning Events.
  • Keep track of your goals.
  • Brainstorm.
  • Write your bucket list.
  • Plan a holiday.
  • Write a birthday present list.
  • Whatever you want!

WorkFlowy Backup

WorkFlowy has also made it really easy to back up your data. If you do to the bottom of the screen, you’ll see an “Export All Lists” link. This lets you take your data elsewhere as formatted or plain text. Very handy!

list management project software

Smartphone Apps

WorkFlowy is currently working on iPhone, iPad and Android apps, so your brain-storming and project management will only get easier and more portable with time. This can only be a good thing!

Alternatives to WorkFlowy

The idea of list-making, task management to-do lists, mind-mapping, project management and the like is nothing new. In other words, WorkFlowy have plenty of competition and that will never cease. But, on the other hand no-one is quite like WorkFlowy.

WorkFlowy is simple, quick, expandable and easily exportable. You can also use it to mind-map or to project-manage your whole life. Not many other alternatives can rise to all that!

Have you tried WorkFlowy? What do you use it for? Let us know in the comments!

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KooBits – A Simple But Cool Digital Shelf For Your Collection Of eBooks

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 10:31 AM PST

collection of ebooksThings are really on the upswing for those who like their eBooks. We have a host of digital eBook readers jostling for space. There's the iPad with its shoulder to the door and we have always had quite a few software readers since the early days. I still love the the press smell of a new book and the charm of turning a page. But I also believe that eBooks have two things going for them – convenience and availability. If you are missing the ‘charm’ bit, here's KooBits for you.

KooBits is a collection manager for all the eBooks you have scattered on your computer. Think of it as a centralized library for organizing and managing your eBooks. That it's a free download isn't the only charming bit about it. Apart from being an eBook manager, KooBits is a lot more.

KooBits is available for both Windows and Mac. It's a mere 12.3MB download. The only other requirement for this freeware is that you have Adobe Air installed. One of the benefits of Adobe AIR is immediately apparent in KooBits rich glossy look.

The slick interface is the first appealing tug that will make you feel like putting up all your eBooks on its shelves.

collection of ebooks

Organizing Your eBook Shelf

KooBits can open popular eBook formats like PDF, EPUB, XML, HTML, KBJ, and more (that includes animation).

Importing all your eBooks and creating your shelf is a browse and add operation. If you have them all in one folder, it makes your task that much easier. The cover thumbnails are large enough for you to glance through your collection without squinting at the titles. You can rearrange the order of the books with a drag 'n drop.

manage ebook collection

The library has three default categories. If your reading interests are spread across the board, you can create your own categories. In fact it's an organizational tip because KooBits does not have a feature to add tags or any other form of filter. The new categories fall below the three default categories. You can even give them a choice of icons.

manage ebook collection

KooBits lacks the feature to add more to each book's description. Clicking on the title and then View info doesn't give you any scope to add your own information.

manage ebook collection

KooBits has a list view (List Mode) which is more mundane when compared with the neatness of the Shelf Mode.

Populate Your Book Shelf With Free eBook Downloads

Even if you don't have a great collection of eBooks, and the shelves are lying vacant, KooBits gives you a couple of options to fill them up.

The Bookstore is where you can head to for downloading paid and free titles. Get the free account registration done first. If you don't want to shell out the dollars, check out the free titles that are available across the genres. With a single click you can download a free book to your library. Free books are in the public domain and you can find a lot of titles on online book resources like Project Gutenberg.

ebook collection software

The Drop Box is like a daily mail service which 'drops' a random free book (according to the genres you specify during the account sign-up) into your KooBits account. Each eBook delivered to your Drop Box is only available for free on that day.

ebook collection software

What KooBits lacks is a search tool for wading through all available titles.

Reading eBooks On The Viewer

collection of ebooks

You don't have to use an external program to read the collection of eBook titles you have been saving up. The Viewer is the tool for the job. There's plenty to like about it: a multi-colored Highlighter, a Stamp tool for symbolic annotations on eBooks, and a Crop Image button for extracting content from any eBook and saving it on the Scrapbook. All extracted content is stored in the Scrapbook on the sidebar.

You can set up the reading screen with a few options like Scrolling, Flipping, and Sliding.

Should You Put All Your eBooks On KooBits?

Why not? Even though KooBits still has some bits missing, the sum of its parts is still appealing. There's no search feature yet. Filters to handle a large collection aren't in place. An automatic pinging of Amazon to access a book's information would have been really handy. The viewer does not have a zoom. But then you might not miss these features right now as the basic functions serve adequately and slickly.

Download KooBits 4.0 and let us know if the eBook collection manager holds an appeal for you.



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How To Set Up A Home Server With Amahi [Linux]

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 09:31 AM PST

For a number of years now I’ve been running Microsoft Windows Home Server on a spare machine I had, as it’s a great way to use up all the spare hard drives that I find lying around the house. It has served me well as a networked storage device and streaming media server, as well as providing me with automated nightly back-ups (of my Windows systems at least).

However, the Home Server team recently announced that they would not be including the disk pooling technology in the next release, so I’ve been looking for an alternative. Amahi Home Server - a Linux based solution – might just be the answer.

First off, let me explain why anyone would even need a server for their home.

In the modern home, there are sometimes a lot of media and computing devices. At one point last year, my home network consisted of:

  • An Xbox 360 and Playstation.
  • A network connected LCD TV in the living room.
  • 2 laptops.
  • 2 desktops.
  • 1 iPad and 2 iPhones.
  • A number of guests who would bring their machines round.

Admittedly, that is a lot for anyone – but even with just a few connected systems, they all need to access shared media (movies, music and such) and all could benefit from a backup every now and again. A home server can provide:

  • A central place to store files and media and well as stream those on your home network.
  • A central backup location for computers.
  • Printer sharing.
  • Much, much more.

We covered setting up a home media server with Linux or Windows, or as a UPNP device for streaming media, but nothing that really ties it all together in one package.

Of course, all that media storage means lots of hard drives, and this is where Microsoft Home Server really excelled. Normally, when you add a hard drive to a computer you must partition it, assign drive letters (like C: for your system, D: for data). Not so with “drive pooling” technology. With pooled storage, you simply throw another hard drive in and tell the computer “here, use that as you wish”.

Curiously, Microsoft announced that this amazing functionality would be GONE from the next version of Windows Home Server – the excuse being given that “business users simply don’t have need of it”. At that point, I officially began searching for a suitable replacement, and would like to show you what I found.

Amahi Home Server

Before we begin, I must tell you that it is no surprise that this alternative is based upon Linux, and as such will require a degree of “fiddling” to get things right, and even such simple tasks as adding a hard drive can become confusing with a mountain of disinformation that the Linux community provides – but let’s take that journey together, and let me guide you through the basics of getting your server up and running.

Since I approached this with zero experience of Linux, I think you can too. In future articles, I’ll show you exactly how you can accomplish more advanced tasks like setting up a printer, adding hard drives, setting up backup etc.

Quick Install Guide

I find the guide on the Amahi page rather lacking, so here’s a quick summary.

  1. Download the Fedora 12 DVD (more download links). Boot from the DVD – the install is fairly basic with help at every step.
  2. I assume you are setting this up on a dedicated machine, so select “use entire drive” when it asks how you’d like to set up the drives. You will lose all data currently on the drive.
  3. When you reach the “software repositories” install stage, stop and click on the “Add additional software” button.
  4. Enter Repository Name: Amahi and Repository URL:
  5. You will need to be plugged into your network, with the Internet on.
  6. Walk through the rest of the install and select to sync with network time.

When you first log into Fedora, there will be some icons on your desktop. Click the one labelled Install Amahi and you’ll be off. You’ll also need to create your free account at, and note down your network settings to create an install code. If you don’t know the network settings for your network you can read the tutorial here to find out. Most home networks have their routers on or, so enter this where it says “Gateway”. The field is simply where you can make up an address for your Amahi server – it defaults to, but I changed mine to .101 just because I have a lot of devices and thought it might conflict. If you only have a few systems, sticking with .10 is fine.

You’ll then be given a short code to enter into the Amahi installer on your server desktop. After you’ve entered your code and run through the installer, you’ll need to restart.

After restarting the server and other computers on the network, everything is basically set up. I was able to log into the machine remotely at http://hda, so theoretically you could now disconnect the monitor and put the server in the cupboard.

The installer mentions turning off the DHCP function on your router, but in my case that wasn’t necessary. You may need to log into your router or cable modem if you’re having problems, but try without first.

Exploring the full range of features available in the server is subject matter for a future article, but suffice to say the server is now operational, so you should start to add some media files to the network shares. Should you feel adventurous, there’s a support forum on the Amahi site, and a directory of apps you can enhance your server with.

If you’re already running a home server, tell us about it and your experiences in the comments.

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Keep Track Of Problems & Priorities With Close Support Help Desk

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 08:31 AM PST

help desk softwareIf you run a computer support business or manage an IT help desk center, then you will know that IT support includes more than just fixing computer problems. Every problem represents a symptom that could signify a much larger system failure. Multiple problems that all match also pinpoint software bugs that might have been missed during testing.

One of the best ways to track and analyze all problems is through centralized help desk software. With such a system, you not only track computer or system problems, you also track which members of your staff took care of the tickets, a log of which customers or clients use the help desk most often, and it provides a great high-level overview of how well your IT staff is managing problems.

Here at MakeUseOf, we’ve covered a few free centralized help desk apps. JazzDesk is one example of a help “ticket” system that also takes care of time cards. IssueBurner is another interesting approach.  One of the best free help desk software solutions I’ve found that can handle the same functionality as some of the more expensive counterparts out there is the Close Support Service Desk.

Setting Up Close Support Service Desk

The software is called “service desk” rather than “help desk” because it’s actually useful for more than just IT issues. If you run any service at all that includes clients or customers calling you up about problems, you could use this software to track those issues. Maybe you run an electronics repair service, a plumbing business or any other field that includes troubleshooting and repairing problems. This software can help you remember, track and analyze those problems, especially if you have a team of technicians working for you.

help desk software

When you first set up the software, you’ll find that it asks you where you want to access the system database. Close Support utilizes Access Runtime, and the background database, called CloseSupportBE.mdb, stores all of the data for the system. To allow distributed users to access this system for entering, managing and closing trouble tickets, just store the database on the local network. If you want to use it over the Internet, just set up an online “hard drive” like DropBox and store the central database on that account.

computer help desk

The one annoyance if you use the free software is an initial box that pops up when you load the software, where you need to click “Continue” to decline signing up for the free trial. Once you get into the software, you’ll see four major areas.

computer help desk

At the top (1), you’ll find quick search fields and buttons to create a new Call incident, or create a new Task for one of the staff (or yourself). Tasks can be assigned to a particular problem and a particular technician. The Service area on the left includes active Tasks (2) and active Calls (3). On the right side of the main screen you’ll see calls sorted by assignee, status and priority (4).

Entering details whenever a problem call (or email) comes in is as simple as using the various dropdown boxes to select the priority and the category of the problem. A box to the right allows for specific information about the problem.

help desk

Once the call is in the system, it will stay in the “live” area until it’s either resolved or cancelled. Once there’s an active problem, every change in the system automatically gets logged in the call “history” area.

computer help desk

Adding a new task is a useful way to create and monitor jobs for employees that may or may not be related to specific problems that were called in. You can even set particular tasks on a recurring basis, so the system can be used for work scheduling as well as fielding problem calls.

help desk

From the navigation bar on the left, if you click on companies you can see all of the clients that you’ve done work for. This is where you can manually enter new companies, and fill in all of the contact information. When you click on the company from within tasks or calls, it links to this detailed information so you can easily get contact information from within the call or task display.

help desk

The same goes for people, whether those are individual clients or the employees doing the work. Enter all details here, and for employees, this is where you assign their username to use the Service Desk system. The nice thing is that whenever you use a customer name in a ticket you have instant access to their contact details.

Finally, another useful feature of the system is that you can export calls or tasks (either active or archives) into an Excel spreadsheet that you can use to create your own reports or just to create your own archive of resolved issues.

help desk software

There are plenty of uses for this free Help Desk software beyond just IT technicians. You can use it to manage and organize just about any business that has to fix or troubleshoot problems. Give it a shot and see if it streamlines your own business!

Let us know what you think of Close Support Help Desk, or if you know of any similar tools that are just as helpful. Share your insight in the comments section below.

Image credit: Carlos Chavez

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How To Batch-Process Hundreds Of Photos At Once With BatchBlitz

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 07:31 AM PST

batch process photosDigital photos can be a real pain in the butt. They’re individually small in file size when reduced in size, but a single large, high-quality digital photo can take up more room than a MP3 file. Photos also have a habit of sneaking up on you. Editing can be a problem, too, particularly when you need to alter a large number of photos at once. Changing each individual image takes forever.

The solution to this problem is known as batch processing, a process that makes it possible to change large numbers of images at once with minimal input. This can save you a lot of time, and SuntitGreen BatchBlitz is one of the best free batch processing applications around. Let’s take a look at how this software can help you.

Selecting Sources & Outputs

batch process photos

Once you’ve installed BatchBlitz the first thing you’ll need to do to batch process photos is select your source and your output. Before you do anything, however, you need to click on File and then New. This will open a new batch project. If you don’t do this you won’t be able to select or process anything.

The source is simply the files that you want to process, and you can begin selecting source files by clicking on the big source icon located on the left side of the program’s main window. This will open a file browser. The photos that you want to process will need to be drag-and-dropped from the upper right hand frame into the lower Source Images frame.

batch process images

Next you’ll need to head to the Output section. There isn’t a lot to do here. The most important part of this step is selecting an output location, which is simply the folder where the processed photos will be sent. You can also choose to overwrite the original files, although I generally suggest keeping them unless you don’t like the way the batch process works out.

Taking Action

batch process images

Next we have the Action section, which is the most complicated. This is where you actually choose what you would like to do to the images you are going to batch process. There are three categories of actions; pre-processors, processors, and post-processors. The only pre-processor is filter, which can be used to exclude photos from the batch process if they don’t meet the proper requirements. There are only two post-processors, as well, and they’re used to convert or rename files.

The meat of the actions are the processors, which actually change the photo content. The processors available include:

  • Add Picture – Places a second image of your choice on all photos processed.
  • Add text – Places any text you’d like on all photos processed. Great for watermarking photos!
  • Auto Contrast – Adjusts contrast as specified.
  • Auto Levels – Adjusts image levels as specified.
  • Colorize – Adjusts image color as specified. Very good for adjusting a lot of photos that have a slight yellow tint due to lighting conditions.
  • Crop – Can crop image to reduce the size of the canvas.
  • Desaturate – Coverts color images to grayscale for that artsy look.
  • Resize – Great for converting a large volume of raw digital photos to a more web-friendly size.
  • Rotate – Spin that photo like a pizza!

batch process photos

Once you’ve selected some actions, you’re not done yet. You will need to click on each individual action in the Actions frame to specify what exactly you’d like to have happen when you batch process the photos. For example, in this image illustrates the window that opens when you open the Add Text process options. You’ll also need to click the Active checkbox on each process.

Processing Conclusion

That’s it. The only thing you need to do now is click Task and then Start. The processing will begin. If you selected a lot of photos, be patient, because this can take some time.

I like BatchBlitz a great deal, and it is my favorite free batch processing program right now. But if you think you know a better alternative, let us know in the comments.

Image Credit : nickwheeleroz

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