Tuesday, January 11, 2011

MakeUseOf.com: “Cool Websites and Tools [January 10th]” plus 10 more

MakeUseOf.com: “Cool Websites and Tools [January 10th]” plus 10 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [January 10th]

Posted: 10 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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Attikis – If you have installed a burglar alarm system in your home, then you've probably invested upwards of $300/year for your alarm monitoring system. If you want to cut the costs, you should try Attikis. This tool allows you to configure your burglar alarm to call their servers and give you free ongoing monitoring, and instead of a yearly maintenance fee, you only pay for phone and SMS credits. Read more: Attikis: A Free Home Alarm Monitoring System


Nabbber – Teaching yourself a foreign language has become easier with the many tools available online. One tool that absolutely makes it easier for students to learn foreign words is Nabbber. This website helps you expand your knowledge of foreign words by sharing learned words with friends and learning from other users. Read more: Nabbber: Add Friends & Learn Foreign Words Together



Phonemarks – Android's built-in bookmarks manager makes many of its users ask for something better. One convenient way to manage your Android bookmarks would be to control them through your computer. This can be done using PhoneMarks, a free web tool that comes in two parts: as an application for Android devices and as an extension for the web browser Google Chrome. Read more: Phonemarks: Manage Android Bookmarks Using Chrome



Plnnr – eliminates the need of worrying about the planning part of your trip. Just tell Plnnr your preferences and the tool will create your itinerary taking into account all major and minor details including distance, open hours, etc. Start with selecting one of the major tourist cities, then select your arrival date and trip duration. Read more: Plnnr: Free Personalized Trip Itinerary Planning Tool



Intervue.me – Gathering opinions and responses have traditionally been done through paper-based or telephone surveys, but with the Internet it has evolved into web-based polls. Intervue takes it a step further by letting people use their webcam to participate in surveys and polls quickly. Anybody can create and post a question on Intervue seeking responses. The question can be made public or private. Read more: Intervue.me: Easily Gather People’s Opinions As Short Video Responses


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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Join MakeUseOf On Facebook!

Posted: 10 Jan 2011 06:31 PM PST

If you like reading MakeUseOf and have a Facebook account, join MakeUseOf on Facebook and enjoy reading our greatest posts! Simply click on the “Like” button below to get started!

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We also use our fan page to inform you about premium software giveaways and discounts that are not announced on the website. We get a lot of those from software developers and distribute them mainly on Facebook.

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5 Creative Google Image Search Visualizations

Posted: 10 Jan 2011 05:30 PM PST

google image searchGoogle Images search has two huge advantages over other image search engines: it operates the largest database on the web and it is getting smarter by the day. Apart from serving as a great source of content for your website, Google Images can be a powerful tool to find inspiration and spur creativity.

This post is about making you even more inspired with Google Image search results: it shares some really creative Google Images visualization projects that can both entertain and inspire.

1. Google Image Inspiration: Dreamlines

Dreamlines is an interesting project that deserves more recognition that it seems to be getting.

Just enter a couple of words that describe the topic you need inspiration for and wait for the tool “to generate an ambiguous painting, in perpetual change, where elements fuse into one another, in a process analogous to memory and free association“.

The tool uses Google Images Search to retrieve the images but in fact you’ll never see an actual image. What you will see is a dream:

The program generates a personal moving picture, unique, unpredictable, and forever gone when it is finished, just like dreams. But that dream is made out of pieces taken form the subconscious of the whole net, gathered by some words of the user and the obscure logic of searching algorithms.

It is both well-said and well-performed. I wish it could be turned into a video clip or screen saver because it looks too beautiful: try it yourself and see! And it does inspire a creative eye by letting you forget about everything and dive into the new abstract world of Dreamlines:

google image search

google advanced image search

google advanced image search

I was very much tempted to make hundreds of screenshots.

2. Google Image Art: Montage-a-Google

Montage-a-Google is a more straightforward project than the above one: it lets you create large, colorful montages using Google’s image search.

According to the creator, it allows for both an alternative, fun way to browse the Web and to create desktop wallpaper or even posters on the topic that inspires you.

Here’s my winter montage, for example:

google advanced image search

And here are some posters created by the users:

engine google image search

3. Google Image Games: Guess-the-Google

Guess-the-Google is another project by the same developer as the Montage-a-Google project we have just covered. It offers a fun and somewhat addictive game to get your brain working.

The tool shows you a collection of images and you should quickly guess the search term that triggered the collection:

It turns the mental activity of searching into a fun, visual and engaging game where people can enjoy the challenge of being the fastest and most efficient at making that connection between search terms and their results.

engine google image search

4. Google Image Designs: Google House

Google House is an interesting concept offering you a chance to build a house using Google Images. It builds unpredictable, dynamic image collages using your house-related search queries.

I am not sure about the practical application of this one but it certainly offers a fun and addictive experience.

engine google image search

5. Honorable Mention: Google Swirl

A post about Google Images Search visualizations would be incomplete without including the official Google Labs project: Google Image Swirl (here’s MUO review of this cool image search from Google Labs) – it is more search-related than any of the projects listed above but it does spur creativity by creating and visualizing the structure of results based on their visual and semantic similarities.

Think of this as a huge family tree for images on the Internet: by clicking on images, more subsequent circles and related images are created.

For example, in ambiguous queries such as “machine”, Image Swirl separates the top search results into categories such as “automation”, “computers”, “robotics”, etc.

google image search

Are you aware of any interesting Google Image Search visualization projects? Please share them in the comments!

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5 Dirpy Alternatives To Convert YouTube Videos to MP3

Posted: 10 Jan 2011 03:30 PM PST

youtube to mp3 converterDirpy was one of my favorite web-based converters that I relied on to convert rare Asian songs that were nowhere to be found on iTunes or Amazon. It had minimal ads but no popups at all; and offered options for ID3 tags, file re-naming, audio bitrate selection and even video downloading. Tim examined some sites here that were similar to Dirpy before it went offline, but some of these sites are also no longer working.

Not all hope is lost, however. There are a number of desktop converters that can perform more or less the same function. Web-based converters seem to be scarce but here are some of the better ones that fill the void, although they understandably pack many ads to survive. So enable your popup-blocker and convert away!

Sites That Let You Choose Tags Or Audio Bitrate


ClipConverter may just be the best YouTube to MP3 converters in this list as it offers options to increase or decrease the volume, and choose between mono or stereo. The really neat part? You can also choose the bitrate, edit ID3 tags for artist, title and album information; and download the video on the same page without having to wait for a confirmation email of any sort. That’s always a plus since that you’ll save yourself from having to supply an email address and getting more future spam.

youtube to mp3 converter

The thing is, it doesn’t only convert YouTube videos to MP3. In fact, it can convert to other popular video formats such as MP4, FLV, AVI, etc. while also letting you choose the video aspect ratio (4:3, 16:9, or even custom dimensions). It supports the more popular video-sharing sites, including YouTube, Google Video, Sevenload, MySpace, Dailymotion (HQ), Vimeo (HQ), Metacafe, MyVideo, and Veoh.


youtube to mp3

HDDownloader is the wise suggestion of a reader, and it’s the only one on the list that has a handy bookmarklet and a way for you to download the MP3 the easiest way possible: just append “sing” into the beginning of the YouTube URL, making it singyoutube.com/rest-of-the-url. Doing that will lead to you the HDDownloader site, where you can choose audio bitrates and be on your way to getting the MP3 file. You can also choose to download the video for which you’ll need to authorize a Java applet to run.


youtube to mp3

With a simple interface, FetchMP3 will take any YouTube video URL and offer you low, medium, high and ultra quality downloads if you sign up, which allows you to view your most recent downloads. Alternatively, if you don’t want to sign up, you can choose custom conversion and edit ID3 tags, as well as choose starting and ending times. FetchMP3 seems to only take YouTube and Dailymotion videos so far. It also has an official Firefox extension.


MediaConverter (first included in 18 Free Ways To Download Any Video Off The Internet) has always been a personal favorite web-based converter since it operates without asking me for email addresses, and it offers downloads to popular formats on the same page. The neat interface also rocks, as it sports some cool widget-like modules for information with unobtrusive ads, unlike most other online converters.

youtube to mp3

You can browse YouTube on the left module or simply enter the YouTube URL of the video, and select MP3 as the output format. You can also check the “I want to set advanced options” box to choose an audio codec and bitrate. While you can only do 5 conversions on any day (unless you sign up for a premium account), there are lots of supported sites, including the major ones that ClipConverter supports, as well as blip.tv, Break and Facebook. MediaConverter has an official Firefox extension that downloads and converts videos online.

Bonus Direct Video-To-MP3 Conversion Site


youtube to mp3 converter

YouTube-MP3 doesn’t have too many ads or too many functionalities, but it allows you to download YouTube videos in MP3 format, as well as HTML and BB codes with links to the download page. The minimalistic site is available in several European languages.
There are general web-based converters, such as Zamzar and FLVto that could really do the job, but if you know that you want only the audio, these are probably the services to look at.

What converters, browser-based or otherwise, do you use to convert YouTube videos to other formats?

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XBMC 10 “Dharma” – A Mature, Feature-Rich Cross-Platform Media Centre

Posted: 10 Jan 2011 01:30 PM PST

cross platform media playerThe original Xbox Media Player was conceived to transform the media capabilities of first-generation Xbox consoles. Once your Xbox had been modified using a simple software hack, turning Microsoft’s demi-PC into a media centre was an absolute must. It worked a treat, give or take a few bugs and the odd crash.

From this homebrewed creation came the marvelous XBMC, which has been since ported to a myriad of systems (and had its original Xbox support dropped). The once console-only media centre has evolved into a successful cross-platform media player, and has even spawned its own child projects.

If you’re at all interested in building a media centre or replacing the software on your current one, XBMC might just be the well thought out solution you’re looking for.

The Versions

XBMC comes in a wide variety of flavours, allowing you to use it on any operating system of your choice. On the downloads page you’ll find the usual Windows installer and a Linux setup guide, which differs according to your distribution.

For this article, I used the Linux version on Ubuntu 10.10, which can be installed via the command line:

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

Mac users old and new will be pleased with both x86 Mac OS X and old-school PowerPC versions available. There’s even a version for the Apple TV, if you’re looking to replace the software with something a little more open source.

My favourite version, however, has to be the Live CD.

The addition of a Live CD means you don’t even need an operating system, just burn XBMC to a CD or create a bootable USB stick and go. XBMC Live uses a stripped-down Ubuntu-based Linux operating system, with the desktop completely hidden from view for a set-top box feel from the second you turn it on.

You can install this version of XBMC straight onto the device you wish to use, or keep a portable version to hand for when you need it.

Media Central

Once your chosen version has booted, you’ll be faced with the XBMC main menu, which allows you to choose from Weather, Pictures, Music, Videos, Programs and System. There’s also a news ticker at the bottom of the screen which by default provides news related to XBMC and its community.

cross platform media player

The Weather pane is a simple Weather.com lookup based on local towns. Pictures, Music and Videos are portals to your local, networked and cloud media. Programs accesses add-ons, and System is used to configure the media centre.

media center

Sources must be assigned to media destinations (which is simple), and once added, your sources will appear in your chosen media’s sub-menu. XBMC supports a decent selection of network protocols including SMB (that’s default Windows sharing or Samba on Linux), UPnP and ReplayTV as well as all your locally connected storage devices.

media center

You can even add multiple paths within the same source, so if you’ve got lots of media fragmented across the network you can add it all as one source and label it accordingly.

XBMC doesn’t limit you to a library mode for accessing your media, but also allows you to keep it simple with filetree view. You’re then free to organise everything the way you want it (and if you’re like me not worry about pesky incomplete tags in MP3 files).

It’s the little things like filetree view and custom media sources that makes XBMC a mighty powerful media client, and one that’s presented in what feels like a very logical manner.

cross platform streaming media player

Playing media is entirely self explanatory. You’ve got the usual on-screen display to control playback, video or visualization settings and enable other options such as subtitles and playlist commands. There’s support for a variety of different remote controls, or you could use a wireless keyboard or even a games controller.

Add-ons Galore

Once you’ve realised all your media works a treat, can be organised however you’d like and you’ve been blown away by how gorgeous the whole thing is tied together you’ll probably want to download some add-ons.

cross platform streaming media player

These vastly extend the capabilities of your new media centre, and are easily installed without any need to restart your machine. Each media submenu (Videos, Music, Pictures and Programs) has an option to download add-ons, as well as the System menu for an overview of what’s available.

From simple email checkers to more elaborate services including GrooveShark, the Transmission Bit Torrent client, podcast tools and on-demand video streaming services. To install simply find one you like, select it, hit Install and enjoy.

cross platform streaming media player

Skins are also handled via this method, and you can alter your appearance settings in the System menu. These downloadable extras have the potential to turn a simple media centre into an all-round entertainment device. Oh yeah, and there’s a MAME Frontend available too – nothing beats playing arcade games from the comfort of your sofa!

cross platform media player

Once you’re done you can choose to exit XBMC, go into standby, shut down or reboot your box all from a pretty menu.


I could probably write the same amount again about why I’m so in love with XBMC, but it’s easier to discover for yourself. If Boxee is great for those who live for cloud-based TV then XBMC is the tool for anyone with a media collection that’s pushing into the terabytes.

If you like your Boxee that little bit more customized, have a finely-tuned web browser with a ton of extensions and have a spare PC that’s itching to be used for something worthwhile then XBMC might be what you’re looking for.

If you remember the original, you’ll love the progress that’s been made.

Is XBMC the best media solution? Do you prefer Boxee, MythTV or Windows Media Centre? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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Hot Tech Deals [Jan 10th]

Posted: 10 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. Kingston SSDNow V-Series 128GB Internal SSD Drive (2nd Gen w/ Trim Support) $144.99AR Free Shipping
  2. LG 47LD520 47 inch LCD HDTV (1080p, 120Hz) $699.99 Free Shipping
  3. TODAY ONLY Microsoft Arc Wireless Laser Mouse $17.99 Free Shipping
  4. Norton Internet Security 2011 Software (3-Users) $29.99 Free Shipping
  5. TODAY ONLY Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 and Premiere Elements 9 Software Bundle $69.99AR Free Shipping
  6. Fantom Drives G-Force Black 2TB eSATA/USB External Hard Drive $99.99AR Free Ship
  7. TODAY ONLY Vizio E370VA 37in LCD HDTV (1080p) $399.99 Free Shipping
  8. Zalman FG1000 Gun Mouse (2000dpi) $19.99 Free Shipping
  9. EXPIRING Polk Audio Monitor 40 Series II Two-Way Bookshelf Loudspeaker Black (PAIR) $107.99 via code EMCKJKF58 (Exp 1/10)

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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Thoughtboxes: Mind-Mapping Meets Your To-Do List

Posted: 10 Jan 2011 11:30 AM PST

mind mapping softwareThoughtboxes is a new service that takes a simple approach to getting organised – and may come in handy for those of you whose New Year’s resolutions were to become more organised and efficient. Thoughtboxes borrows some elements from mind-mapping and to-do webapps, offering its members a user-friendly, intuitive interface that will appeal to a huge variety of people.

If you’re a GTD fiend, Thoughtboxes is not for you. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a simple way to get your thoughts, ideas, tasks, or just about anything else, in an easy to read, organised system – you’ll be delighted with what the service has to offer.

Signing up is quick and easy — entering your name, email address and password.

mind mapping software

The first step, once you’ve signed up for an account is to create your first Train of Thought. Free accounts can create up to two Trains of Thought, whereas paid members can create as many as they want.

mind mapping

Once you have your Train of Thought, you can begin to add as many Thought Boxes (or lists) as you like. When creating new Thought Boxes within a Train of Thought, enter the name and select a colour to distinguish it from other boxes.

free mind mapping software

You can then drag and drop the boxes, rearranging their order, as well as rearranging items in each list.

free mind mapping software

Once you’re done with an item, click the check mark and it will be crossed out.

free mind mapping software

Thoughboxes is a new and unique way to get yourself organised, and with the way that it’s been set up, there’s no limit to how you can choose to use the service. Thoughtboxes is pretty much what you make of it.

One potential use of Thoughtboxes is a less conventional To-Do list. Trains of Thought become Projects and Thought Boxes become the individual To-Do lists that fall under that project.

Thoughtboxes can also serve as an alternative to mindmapping. Mindmapping as a practice can sometimes be a little overwhelming, and lacks structure. With Thoughtboxes, you can easily mindmap your ideas using a much more structured and ordered system.

If you’re going on a trip, use Thoughboxes to organise every aspect of your holiday – from packing to sightseeing to travel arrangements and dates. Students can use Thoughtboxes as a study aid – whether organising your notes or study schedule.

Another interesting use for Thoughtboxes is to keep a log of completed tasks, whether at home, or at work.

The service is also ideal for brainstorming and collaborating on one project. You can share your thoughtboxes with other users — even if they aren’t members of Thoughtboxes — by clicking on the share button. Once you have your Train of Thought set up, you can then send the URL to any of your friends and literally let them see your thoughts.

mind mapping software

As with any new service, we have a small wishlist of things that we hope to see come to Thoughtbox. A feature that would be very useful would be to allow for true collaboration and allow other users add to or edit your Trains of Thought. Teams could then truly make full use of the service.

As you continue to add more information to your account, it may become difficult to manage. The option to hide completed tasks would definitely help the service become more manageable, as well as the ability to search your thoughts and ideas for specific text. After all, some of us are a little bit forgetful, which is why we use apps like Thoughtboxes.

How are you going to use Thoughtboxes? Do you have any tips for staying organised? Let us know in the comments.

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Twitter for Mac and the New Apple App Store [Mac]

Posted: 10 Jan 2011 10:30 AM PST

twitter apps for macBuilding on the tremendous success of its iTunes App Store, Apple recently released App Store for Mac computers. If you're an avid Mac users who likes to keep up with all the latest and greatest applications, you may be very impressed with this pristine online depot.

For the first time ever, Apple is offering all its current applications, plus thousands of third party apps all in one place. This means you no longer have to flip around to various developer's sites to find great Mac gems. You can browse and download from one spot. You can discover new apps and updates to your existing ones, as well keep track of all your app purchases and downloads.

However, there are some caveats to using this store that we will discuss in a minute.

Accessing the Store

If you received a promotional email for one or more of the apps in the new App Store, you can't link to it without first installing the latest 10.6.6 update of the Mac OS X. This means, in order to use the App Store, you must be running the Snow Leopard operating system.

twitter apps for mac

By now, Apple should have automatically sent you an invitation to update to the latest version. If not, simply click on the Apple icon of the upper-left side of the menu bar. Select Software Update. The update will require you to restart your computer to install the update.

twitter for mac

After the update, the icon for the App Store will appear in your Mac's dock right after Finder.

twitter for mac

This is makes it easy for you to simply click on the application and sign in with your Apple ID. If you don't have an ID, you can also create one at this time.

If you have ever used and downloaded mobile iOS 4 apps for the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, you will be pretty familiar with the newest Mac App Store. Thankfully, Apple did not have this store installed in its already bloated iTunes application.

So here's what the new Apple Store looks like:

twitter for mac

Personally, I really like its design simply because hardly a month goes by when I don't download at least two or three Mac applications. Now I can find apps easier by browsing the store.

Downloading Apps

What you may notice when first browsing the store is that Apple has made most of the apps from its current iLife creative suite and iWorks collection available separately for download. This means you can purchase say, iPhoto as a stand-alone app without having to purchase iMovie and GarageBand, which you might never use.

twitter app for mac

If you already have these downloads, like I do, the buttons will say, "Installed." This means, just like with iOS 4 mobile apps, you can update newer version of Mac apps from within the App Store.

twitter app for mac

You can browse apps in the Featured, Top Charts, and Categories. Categories is especially useful because you can find apps for specific needs in the areas of business, entertainment, utilities, photography, education, games, news, references, etc.

One of the sort of eye-candy features I instantly liked with the new App Store is that when you download an application, it automatically gets installed in your application's folder and appears in your dock. This saves several clicks for having to dig and open the new install.

As it stands now, though, another caveat to accessing apps on the App Store is that you can't download trial versions of apps. You must visit the developer's web site to access and download the demo versions.

Free Apps

If you're eager to get started using the new App Store without spending any money, you will be pleased to know that there's an entire section devoted to all the free Mac gems in the store.

twitter app for mac

Currently, one of the top free download is a newer version of a Twitter desktop client, simply called Twitter for the Mac.

Twitter for Mac

Twitter for Mac [App Store link] is very much similar to its popular predecessor, Tweetie, for the Mac and Tweetie for the iPhone.

The two versions (Twitter, left, and Tweetie, right) share a similar user interface, though Twitter looks and feels more like a mobile app than a Mac app.

I find the interface of the Twitter app a little too lean as a desktop app, but its minimal design may be more attractive on newer Apple laptops, like the MacBook Air.

The app includes standard Twitter features found in most Twitter desktop and mobile applications. You can add multiple Twitter accounts, save searches, access Twitter trends and lists, send direct messages, re-tweet tweets, and view profile information.

A few welcomed features on this newer Mac version is the ability to send replies and re-tweets, and to star selected tweets without having to Control-click on a tweet to perform a feature selection. You simply need to point your mouse to the upper-right side of a tweet to bring up the desired actions.

The app also has the usual keyboard shortcuts, but if you don't like using shortcuts, you have to click on the tiny drop-down arrow at the bottom of the app in order to bring up a new tweet window. This means two clicks instead of the one in the older version.

twitter apps for mac

Twitter for Mac uses Twitter’s URL shortener t.co and will automatically shorten any URLS in your message. Although the short link doesn’t appear, the displayed character count will reflect the remaining characters available after the URL has been shortened. Typically, shortened links are about 20 characters in length.

I'm sure Twitter for the Mac will go through several upgrades, but for now it won't be replacing the current clients I use, including YoruFukurou, Tweetie, and TweetDeck.

If you have already started using the App Store or Twitter for the Mac, let us know what you think. Will the App Store be a better way of browsing and downloading apps? Are there any features you would like to see added?

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7 Collaborative Storytelling Websites to Weave Your Own Digital Stories

Posted: 10 Jan 2011 09:30 AM PST

storytelling ideasEveryone loves a good story. Writing it is another matter. Come to think of it, crafting a good story shouldn't be too difficult. We are surrounded by stories of all kinds. Films and soap operas are the visual ones. Advertisements on TV are brand stories. The dreams we concoct in our minds are also kind of stories; even the lies we conjure up are one of a kind stories.

A good story can move us with emotions. A well framed story can motivate and teach. In the end all stories should entertain.

The web has given rise to collaborative storytelling. Collaborative storytelling involves a group where one writer starts the story and others keep on adding threads to it, and thus the story evolves. The imagination of the community gives a digital story a path one wouldn't have thought of at the start.

If you are into digital storytelling ideas of any kind, try out these seven websites for a spot of collaborative writing.

Folding Story

storytelling ideas

Folding Story is a writing game where each writer is constrained to write one line of a story (120 words or less) and pass it on to another writer to add to it. Each user gets just three minutes to write a line. You get to be on the scoring leaderboard by the number of likes you receive for your lines. In the end, everyone can read the finished story. You get to read some pretty wacky stories because each writer gets to read just the last line entered. It's a neat writing exercise because the time and word limit really gives creativity an adrenalin shot.


types of digital storytelling

Call it micro-fiction in a collaborative way. Start your own story or jump into someone else's with a word limit of 1,024 characters only. Also, you don't need to follow the stories; you can insert events into the narrative as sort of a prequel. Ficly (earlier it was called Ficlets) is great for breaking the writer's block and breaking through your writing lethargy by writing a few lines at a time.


types of digital storytelling

Fabulate is a collaborative book project, where each writer may submit a story with a maximum length of 500 words. The story must continue where the last published entry left off. The difference with the above collaborative storytelling websites is that the submissions have to keep to the overall theme of the book; though the writer is free to introduce new characters and situations. All submissions are accepted or rejected by reviewers in the community. The collaborative story is heading towards the goal of a published book.


digital storytelling

The concept of using a Wiki for collaborative storytelling is worth the browse. A member can begin or edit a story, poem, plot, or character description. There's also a 3-Word Story that's doing the rounds right now. Each author can add just add three words to prolong the story. Of course, the words have to make sense so that others can add to it and continue the narration.

One Million Monkeys Typing

digital storytelling

Now, that's a title that should get noticed. The secret behind the name lies in the infinite monkey theorem. Here, each story has three possible paths. You can choose one out of the three or craft your own 'snippet'. Snippets get comments and also get rated by bananas. You can also chat with your fellow monkeys using the online chat app. Of course, monkey language is not mandatory.


digital storytelling

StoryMash might appeal to amateur writers who want some of the spoils for their writing. The site shares half of the advertizing revenue stories get with their writers. On this creative writing community, each author can write an entire chapter and open it up for the community to provide feedback via the linked forum. Anyone can pick up the story and run with it from there, or the original author can continue to work on it. This peer review system and the chapter lengths make it ideal for an amateur writer to improve his compositions.


storytelling ideas

Novlet allows you to start a collaborative writing effort in any language. Each story here is divided into passages. You can continue with the previously written passages or write a fresh one. Thus, each story with a single beginning forks out into multiple stories over a course of time.

Getting into the writing habit now is easier than it ever used to be. Combine these seven websites with Simon's 4 Great & Inspiring Sites For Creative Writers To Visit or my 5 Websites For Writers To Cure Writer's Block With Freewriting Exercises and a beginner writer has very little reason to hide behind an excuse.

Have you ever put your creativity to the test with collaborative writing? Give us a few words on it.

Image: Shutterstock

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How To Remote Control Linux From Windows

Posted: 10 Jan 2011 08:30 AM PST

how to remote control linux from windowsWe’ve covered how to set up a Linux server for various tasks in previous articles. But once it is set up, what is the easiest way to administer that server? Oftentimes it can be tucked away inside a basement or attic, it doesn’t matter where — as long as it has power and network (and is properly cooled). You don’t need a keyboard, monitor mouse or other peripherals; just a power and network cable.

So once you’ve got the server set up (and of course you’ve tested it to make sure it can boot back up from a reboot or power failure), how do you remotely connect to it?

There are 2 main options: GUI (Graphical User Interface) or CLI (Command Line Interface). Also for the sake of this article, I will mention Ubuntu-only, but the same general ideas work on any Linux-based system.

Finding Your Linux System’s IP Address

For either method, you will need to find your computer’s local Internet Protocol (IP) address. If you have a sidebar, it may show up there, or you can open your network manager “Connection Information” and view it there. If you have not done so already, set up a static IP address so that this does not change when you reboot your Linux computer.

how to remote control linux from windows

In the example above, the static IP address is

Remote Control via GUI

Ubuntu and most Gnome-based Linux systems use VNC, or Virtual Network Computing protocol, for graphical remote control. To configure this service, which is disabled by default, go to System->Preferences->Remote Desktop. This will bring up the settings panel for Remote Desktop:

linux remote control desktop

I’ve configured the correct settings above for remote control on an unattended box. Another important aspect of this is to automatically log you in to the system on a reboot, otherwise the desktop session will not have started and you won’t be able to log in. You do this in System->Administration->Login Screen.

After enabling these two options, are you are good to go. Install a VNC client on a Windows computer (I recommend UltraVNC (it is only necessary to install the client, not the server) for ease of use. Enter the Linux computer’s IP address and hit ‘Connect’ – it will then prompt you for the password. Once you are connected, it will pop up on your screen and you’ll see this message which is shown on the desktop of the remote computer.

linux remote control desktop

We’ve previously written about Remote Desktop on Ubuntu specifically how to establish simple remote access between Ubuntu and Windows and how to use the built-in Remote Desktop in Ubuntu, read on there for more detailed information.

Remote Control Via Command Line

The surest way to connect to a Linux box is to use SSH. All modern Linux systems include an SSH-client installed by default and most will also include the openssh server. Check to see you have it installed by issuing the command:

# sudo apt-get install openssh-server

It will either install the server if you don’t have it, or tell you it already is the latest version.

Once this is installed, all you need to do to connect to the computer is use any SSH client to connect to the IP address. A widely used and free one is called Putty. It works on multiple platforms and is free. Mac OS X users can also use the built-in xterm.

Execute Putty, put in your IP address and hit ‘connect’. You will then be prompted for the username and password on the system, enter it and you are in!

how to remote control linux from windows

Which Way Is Best?

This all depends on your end goal. I find the command line to be much more stable and reliable than VNC so I typically will do everything from there, but then again I am comfortable with and grew up with the Terminal. If you are unfamiliar with Terminal commands or are perhaps used to the ease of use of the graphical interface, then VNC still works very well. It gives you an instant look at the desktop just like the computer was sitting in front of you. Do whichever method works best for you, or experiment with both! Just don’t run any commands that interrupt its network connection or you’ll have to make a trip to install a keyboard and monitor – been there and done that!

Let us know how you make out and of course let us know if you have any other preferred method of connecting to Linux from Windows!

Image credit: Shutterstock



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Always Keep Your Mac Clean With CleanMyMac [Giveaway]

Posted: 10 Jan 2011 07:30 AM PST

Have you ever spent your time looking at the remaining space of your hard drive and wondering where all the storage space has gone? Well, I have. I thought that my current MacBook hard drive capacity should be enough to store everything, and yet I had to struggle to keep it from being full.

This week, we have a solution that will help solve that problem. We’re giving away 25 lifetime licenses for CleanMyMac, worth almost $750 in total. If you’d like to get your hard drive under control, read on to find out how to win a copy.

00 HD Info.jpg

Later, I learned that our personal files were not the only thing that filled out the precious storage space. Our system also played a big role in hogging the space with things that we didn’t really need: language files that we’d never use, universal binaries, applications leftovers, etc.

Manually hunting down the hogs and cleaning up the system are tedious tasks, and not everybody is up for it. Fortunately, Mac users can use the help of CleanMyMac to do the tiresome work. The entire process will be done in two clicks: Scan and Clean.

01a CleanMyMac All.jpg

Before starting, you should always visit the “Preferences” where you’ll be able to adjust some settings about the scanning process, including the option to determine the language pack that you want to keep.

01b CleanMyMac - Preferences.jpg

The cleaning process itself is quite simple, just click the “Scan” button to start, and wait for the process to finish.

02a Scan.jpg

If you want to view more details, select one of the groups on the left sidebar, and the elements of that group will be displayed in the main window pane.

02b CleanMyMac - Scanning.jpg

As a bonus, you can change the look of the program if you want to. The option is available under “Preferences – Appearance“. There are two themes that you can choose from.

02c CleanMyMac - Language.jpg

CleanMyMac also comes with some additional tools like: “Manage Extensions” to easily delete unwanted Widgets, Preference Panes, and Plugins;

03a CleanMyMac - Extensions.jpg

Uninstall Applications” to completely uninstall applications;

03b CleanMyMac - App Uninstaller.jpg

And “Quick Erase” where you can cleanly remove any file.

03c CleanMyMac - Quick Erase.jpg

Below is the result that I got after I tried CleanMyMac for the first time. The app was able to find 6.87 GB worth of space that I could recover. Among the space hoggers were Caches, Language Files, and Universal Binaries. Please note that your result would be different.

04a CleanMyMac - Result.jpg

To execute the cleaning process, press the “Clean” button at the bottom right of the window.

04b CleanMyMac - Clean.jpg

If you’re trying the demo, it has a 500 MB limit so you should uncheck some items to stay below the limit.

04c Demo Limit.jpg

But why would you use the demo version if you could use the full version for free? If you are lucky, you could win one license of CleanMyMac in our giveaway.

How do I win a copy?

It’s simple, just follow the instructions.

Join our Facebook page by clicking the Like button or you can follow us on Twitter, if you prefer. If you’re already following us, you may skip this step.

If you can’t see the fanbox, click on this link.

Here’s our giveaway form. Please fill it in accurately. Be sure to enter your real name and email address so that we can get in touch if you are chosen as a winner. Click here if you can’t view the form.

You’re almost done. Now, all that’s left to do is to share the post. There are 2 options to choose from or you can do both!

Like it on Facebook

Or share it on Twitter

And that’s it! You’re done!
Giveaway eligibility
You must be a fan of our Facebook page to enter;
Individuals who are over the age of 18. If you are under 18, get your parents to participate on your behalf;
Individuals who reside in a country embargoed by the United States; Belgium, Norway, Sweden, or India are not permitted to enter.

This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, January 14th at 2100hrs PST. The winners will be selected at random and announced via email.

Spread the word to your friends and have fun!

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

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