Wednesday, January 19, 2011 “Cool Websites and Tools [January 18th]” plus 10 more “Cool Websites and Tools [January 18th]” plus 10 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [January 18th]

Posted: 18 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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Kippt – is a simple and useful service to help you quickly save webpages you come across while browsing but don't have the time to go through them at that moment. The links can be saved and then read on mobile phones or devices like iPod touch or the iPad. It works in a way that's similar to Instapaper, probably the most popular service in this area, by using a bookmarklet to save links. Read more: Kippt: Quickly Save Links For Later & Share Them


Mistake Reports – A number of websites let people share their funny embarrassing stories such as OneSentence, FML, and SocialShouts. These stories make people laugh and learn not to repeat the mistakes made by the storyteller. While these sites mostly focus on the former, MistakeReports focuses on the latter. Read more: MistakeReports: Share Funny Embarrassing Mistakes & The Lessons You Learned From Them



Hashalbum – Every day, countless images and photo albums are shared on Twitter. The Twitter #hashtags associated with these pictures can be effectively used to find pictures of interest. Hashalbum is a web tool that makes use of this. Hashalbum is a free to use website that lets you search for photos on Twitter via their #hashtags. You enter the tag without the '#' symbol and photos are displayed according to relevance. Read more: Hashalbum: Twitter Image Hashtags Search



Farbzauber – Countless websites let you have fun with your images. If you have images hosted online and have their direct URLs, then pay a visit to Farbzauber to see them be colored in a fun way. Farbzauber is a free to use website that transforms your images into their 'outline' or black & white versions. You provide the image URL, select 'outline' or black & white, and then click on the 'Submit' button. Read more: Farbzauber: Transform Images Into Their 'Outline' Or Black & White Versions



NotForest – Online advertisements, banners, and weblinks to other pages often create an inconvenient clutter on a website. This makes reading an online article or news piece difficult for many people. An elegant solution to this all-too-common problem is presented by NotForest. NotForest, as its name suggests, will help you get rid of that forest-like clutter and let you read online articles in peace. Read more: NotForest: Remove Ads & Clutter From Webpages To Read Articles Conveniently


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 Toughest Tech Questions [MakeUseOf Answers]

Posted: 18 Jan 2011 05:31 PM PST

MakeUseOf Answers is never boring! Every day we receive a wild mix of questions; a few easy ones, some very difficult to solve, and entertaining questions, too.

Every Tuesday I ask your help with the tough questions. Maybe you have a bright idea or had the exact same question and were able to solve it. A particularly smart answer can earn you $50 in our Best Answer of the Week contest. And knowing that you could help someone – priceless!

So be a hero and have a look at this week’s unsolved questions:

Bored? MakeUseOf Answers will keep you busy. 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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Easily Sort The People You Follow On Twitter Into Lists With Formulists

Posted: 18 Jan 2011 03:31 PM PST

twitter follower sortBack when Twitter first introduced Lists as a feature, I thought it was a great idea. I started adding everybody I followed to a specific list, which made it easier to follow all their tweets in one of my Twitter clients. One thing I always wondered however, was how they could make this feature better.

Then I stumbled upon Formulists and realized that this type of project was already underway. Formulists helps you organize groups of people on Twitter into smart, auto-updating Twitter lists. Imagine creating great lists and not ever having to update them by hand.

What Is Formulists?

Formulists is a list creation and management tool that allows users to effortlessly generate dynamic and personalized Twitter lists that continuously self-update.

Formulists (directory listing) offers a broad range of stock lists that can help users both manage and expand their Twitter network. When you sign up for Formulists, you will have the option to choose one or more of these stock lists, or to form a “custom list” that allows you to combine or filter existing Twitter lists you’ve created.

twitter follower sort

Furthermore, lists generated with Formulists can be viewed or deleted from any Twitter client and will continue to self-update without the need to return to Formulists to do it.

What Types of Lists Can I Create?


As I mentioned, there are a lot of great stock lists in Formulists. You can filter and sort your followers, and network with people based on location, keywords in their Bio, twitter activity, number of followers, and more.

Here are some examples of the lists you can create in Formulists:

  • The Filter My Following list is a simple way to quickly filter your timeline into groups that you care about. You can filter the people you follow based on all the things I mentioned above, like keywords, location, etc. You can also use advanced filters with multiple keywords and search operators (e.g. OR, AND).
  • Filter your following into lists of people from the same city as you, your followers who have the biggest following, techies, etc.

twitter follower sort

  • The Expand Your Network lists help you find the type of people you’re looking for because you can choose how you want to find them. Stick with the default settings or use your own filters to get different results.
  • Other great stock lists include Recently Followed Me, Recently Unfollowed Me, and People I Talk To.

How Do I Start Creating Lists?

To quickly see how Formulists works, check out this short YouTube video:


As soon as I got on Formulists, I instantly realized why everybody was using it. Creating lists like Who My Friends Talk To and People Like Me are not something you could genuinely pull off by hand, and the ability to dynamically generate them saves you a lot of time. In my opinion, Formulists will help make your time on Twitter more useful.

One thing to note is because Formulists is still technically in beta, they only let so many people sign up per day (around 50). This is expected to go up as they “ramp up” their system, but until then everyone who signs up is given 5 invites. Feel free to tweet these out to your followers or post them in the comments below.

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HowRandom Lets You Chat Anonymously With Students (Without Scary Visuals)

Posted: 18 Jan 2011 01:31 PM PST

chat anonymouslyWhen you really think about it, what makes college and university great? It’s not just the education you get. It’s the people you meet and the conversations you have with them. It’s that great melting pot of ideas that comes from having smart people with different fields of expertise sharing the same space and chatting randomly. With all that talent together comes all sorts of great synthesis and innovation. This is how many great business ideas and scientific breakthroughs come about, really. It’s from bouncing your ideas off other smart people who specialise in something you don’t.

So where can we chat anonymously with other students? This is often difficult for people at rural schools or students studying long-distance. HowRandom aims to help you there – it’s essentially text-based ChatRoulette for tertiary students.

chat anonymously


To start using HowRandom, all you need to do is enter your school name. You’re then in the system as an unverified chatter. Of course, this means anyone could be chatting using an unverified account. So, keep that in mind while you’re talking to people.

free chat

To become a verified chatter, you need to enter a valid .edu email address. This does mean alumni who still forward their alumni alias could probably sneak in and be verified. But, since they’re university educated and probably not too far past graduation, it’s not such a bad thing.

Using HowRandom

The first thing you’ll notice when using HowRandom is that it’s very simplistic and anonymous. There’s no pictures, no usernames, and no other fancy stuff. It’s just text, plain and simple. There’s potential for the verified accounts to add a little personal data in the future, but that would optional. You could always stay anonymous if you like.

free chat

The conversation potential is limitless — some people might use it for business networking, some might want to philosophise, while others might just use it to pick up. It will be random and it might lead to making real friends. You never know.

To move on to the next person, just click next. For instance, if you want to restrict your chats to just verified members, just press next until you’re chatting with someone verified. If you specifically want to talk to someone from a certain school, you could do the same.

Why Would You Use HowRandom?

HowRandom is really just about giving you the option to chat to someone you might not meet in real life. You might want to meet students in other cities or countries or to discuss the bigger problems in life and try to work through answers. It’s really up to you.

Future of HowRandom

I love the idea of HowRandom. The exclusivity of college students means that you’ve got bright, young minds to chat to. It’s got the potential to be very big. My only worry about the service is what happens when young people have anonymous chats and believe they’re safe.

If HowRandom could be linked to other chat services and social networks it would have more staying power in the market. It’s hard to say how long people remember to re-visit sites in order to chat to people. If there were a way of auto-connecting when you logged into Facebook, Twitter or your IM client it might prompt more chatters to remember the service is there.

There’s also no business model or advertising as of yet, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether this social experiment will stick around for the years to come. Hopefully it will, because it’s an idea worthy of more attention.

chat anonymously

More Anonymous Chatting

If you like to chat anonymously, you might also like these:

Let us know your thoughts on HowRandom. Do you think text-based is better than video-based for anonymous chats? Do you think it should stay student-only? Let us know in the comments!

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Hot Tech Deals [Jan 18th]

Posted: 18 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. AZIO KB351RT Black USB RF Wireless Slim Keyboard $49.99 Free Shipping
  2. Dell PowerEdge T110 Server Desktop Intel Xeon Quad-Core 2.4GHz $408 Free Ship via code CCQ48QK2?Z1N2W (Exp 1/26)
  3. Toshiba 40UL605U 40in LED-Edgelit LCD HDTV (1080p, 120Hz, Netflix) $629 Free Shipping via code EMCKJJB65 (Exp 1/19)
  4. TODAY ONLY Sony KDL40EX40B 40 inch LCD HDTV w/ Built-in Blu-Ray Player $599.99 Free Ship
  5. HTC Touch Pro 2 Brown Unlocked GSM Smart Phone + Free Headset $229.99
  6. Newegg PS3 Video Game Sale
  7. GoDaddy Coupon Code -$1.49 Year Domain Name Registration (Including .COM) via code WINTER149 (Exp Soon)

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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The 10 Best Free International Travel Guide Websites

Posted: 18 Jan 2011 11:31 AM PST

free international travel guideIt's said that there are no great adventures anymore. The spotlight of information and far reaching connectivity has left us with no strange places to discover. Or so the popular opinion goes. Travel guides and travel websites have brought some wondrous places close to us; either with their enticing photographs or with first hand traveler accounts. Today's online international travel guides are also proving handy for the budget traveler who can plan for each dollar.

In the years before the web spun the world around, travel tips came through word of mouth. Now, you can just log on and be a voyeur as travelers carry you along each step of their journey. Which are these websites that allow you to be your own traveling guide?

Let's pack our bags and take a free trip with the ten free international travel guides mentioned below.

Frommer's Travel Guide

free international travel guide

The word this top travel website throws about is ‘candid’. That describes the travel tips they have collected over the years. If you can't buy one of their travel guides, then this website is just as good a resource for getting to know any destination on the map. By the way, there is a large red map that you can navigate on the site. The articles on each location cover everything that you would care to know, from nightlife information to side trips. You can jump to the Frommer's forums too and engage in a discussion with travelers. Short of travel ideas? Explore their inviting slideshows. Also look into the Trip Ideas section.

Trip Advisor

free travel guide

Trip Advisor is all about reviews and advice on hotels, resorts, flights, vacation rentals, vacation packages, travel guides etc. On each destination's page you can check out information like top rated hotels, things to do, vacation rentals, restaurants etc along with videos and images. As it is a popular website, expect to read a lot of reviews on each aspect of your planned travel. Subscribe to the free newsletter which sends you the latest information on your chosen location. Traipse over to Advice from real travelers section for valuable tips. You can also download a free PDF city guide for the destinations.

Virtual Tourist

free travel guide

We covered this cool travel guide website which covers nearly 60,000 worldwide destinations just at the turn of last year, so I won't go into too much detail here as Bakari has shown How To Use Virtual Tourist For Planning Your Next Trip.

Let's Go

If there's a domain name which eggs you on to catch the next flight out, this is it. The tips on the site are about traveling on a budget. The company has been known for its budget travel guides over the last 50 years. If you are searching for bargains on your sojourns, this site is worth a visit. The stories on destinations around the world make interesting reading and just might make you change a plan or two for the better.


The 'indie' in their catchphrase is meant for the independent traveler. The site has a complete guide listing where you can browse to the destination of your choice. Also check out the Adventure Destination guides featured on the site. The site also has a pretty active forum for travel chit-chat.

World Travel Guide

online travel guides

Gets lots of free international travel guides to destinations around the world. The guide is available in English, German, French and Spanish. The site has a nice 'Holiday Ideas' section for some inspirational travel ideas. The homepage features a neat globe browser for pinpointing places worldwide. Catch the best deals and the latest events too on the dedicated pages for each location.

Rough Guides

online travel guides

The neatest feature on the site (apart from all the travel content) is the Rough Guide to The World picture mosaic map. There's a movable 'World Lens' which you can hover on any location and check out the experiences as pictures. Also subscribe to the free Rough Guides Podcasts every month. Another useful audio download is the free phrasebook available for select languages. Or you can forget about all that and play the Rough Roads Game!


online travel guides

For international travelers coming to Europe, this site is a handy one-stop place for mapping, route plans, on-line hotel booking, Michelin Guide hotel, restaurant, tourist recommendations and weather and traffic reports. The site is brought to you by the renowned tire brand – Michelin. The route guides provided are the most informative you can find anywhere.


free travel guide

If you frequent the web, then you will be familiar with the names of their network websites ( Ars Technica, Epicurious, Reddit etc). The site has a large list of international travel guides covering all the hotspots around the world. You can browse them by name or click on the interactive map to start exploring with articles, pictures, and videos. Then there's an established community too for sharing travel tips.

Atlas Obscura

free international travel guide

Sometimes places off the beaten track make for great adventures. You could discover one on this site which according to the site's own words is a collaborative project with the goal of cataloging all of the singular, eccentric, bizarre, fantastical, and strange out-of-the-way places that get left out of traditional travel guidebooks and are ignored by the average tourist. Exploring places by category is the way to go here.

If you are wondering why we left out a site like Lonely Planet, then worry not. The so well known international backpackers' site as well as a few others has been covered in a previous article on The Best Free Online International Travel Guides. Just goes to show that we have your back covered when it comes to travel, hotels, and flights.

Are you packed?

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3 Different Methods To Embed A Free MP3 Player On Your Website

Posted: 18 Jan 2011 10:31 AM PST

embed mp3 playerWebsite owners should rejoice now that there’s more support than ever to embed codes for almost anything, chat widgets, call widgets, etc. If you need an MP3 player, you could search for widgets on sites like Widgetbox, or you could keep reading as we’ve gathered a collection of easy ways to embed MP3s. If you own a website, I assume you know a bit of HTML, which you’ll see a lot of in this article.

There are 3 players you can use to embed MP3s. First, we’ll discuss what to use for single MP3s that you’re hosting. For additional MP3 files, you can either use the Yahoo! Media Player, which will detect all MP3 links and display them in a player for the website visitor to play or browse. If you’re building playlists of MP3 files, then the third method to embed an MP3 player should suit your needs, although it comes with longer codes than the previous two.

Google Reader Podcast Player For Single MP3s

The Digital Inspiration blog has the details on embedding MP3 files with the Google Player, but to summarize the article, you just have to insert this code, replacing “MP3URL” with the correct URL of the MP3 file hosted on the web that you want to embed in your index.html file that hosts the main page:

<embed type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” src=”” flashvars=”audioUrl=MP3URL” width=”400″ height=”27″ quality=”best”></embed>

While this player is very simple in appearance, it doesn’t carry the Google logo, it even has volume controls and is probably one of the easiest ways to embed an MP3 player working fast.

embed mp3 player

Yahoo Media Player For Any MP3 URL On A Page

So let’s say you already have a bunch of MP3 files listed on your webpage and you just need a player. Instead of inserting the Google player code for each and every one of those MP3s, you could just use the handy Yahoo Media Player.

embed mp3

As long as you have linked to those MP3 files in your webpage, you can use the following code to include the Yahoo Media Player, which will detect the MP3 files and display the play buttons next to each MP3 file.

<script src=”” type=”text/javascript”></script>

With that one line of HTML, you get a floating media player that can play all the MP3 files in one webpage.

embed mp3

JW FLV Player For Playlists

The JW Player is an open-source player for non-commercial use. You can download the player, which comes with a few more files, namely swfobject.js and player.swf, all of which you’ll upload to the same location where your website is. Having the JW Player for playlists means you’ll need to insert code in your index.html page and also have a separate XML file with the track list, which really isn’t that hard to put together.

First, you’ll need to insert the following code on your index.html page:

<script type=’text/javascript’ src=’URLofSWFOBJECT.JS’></script>

<div id=’mediaspace’>This text will be replaced</div>

<script type=’text/javascript’>
var so = new SWFObject(‘URLofPLAYER.SWF’,’mpl’,’470′,’320′,’9′);

The items in bold are the ones you need to replace with the correct URLs of the object, player, and XML file (URLofSWFOBJECT.JS, URLofPLAYER.SWF, URLofPLAYLISTFILE.XML). If this code doesn’t show anything on your page, try this code that’s meant to embed MP3 players in blogs and sites like MySpace:

<object classid=’clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000′ width=’470′ height=’300′ id=’single1′ name=’single1′>
<param name=’movie’ value=’URLofPLAYER.SWF‘>
<param name=’allowfullscreen’ value=’true’>
<param name=’allowscriptaccess’ value=’always’>
<param name=’wmode’ value=’transparent’>
<param name=’flashvars’ value=’playlistfile=URLofPLAYLISTFILE.XML&playlist=left&dock=false’>

As for the XML file, all you need to do is to save a file with the XML file extension using Notepad in Windows or any text editor. If you’re using Notepad, make sure in the Save type as field has “All Files (*.*)”. Inside the XML file, paste this and replace bold items with the appropriate entries:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<playlist version=”1″ xmlns=””>
<title>Your MP3 Playlist</title>







You can add more tracks if you want with the <track> tag, just make sure you adjust the height of the player accordingly. This is what the player looks like with the playlist on the left.

embed mp3

To customize the color of the player, head over to the setup page from the official JW Player website. This setup page will also let you input your desired player parameters (e.g. whether to autoplay or not) and preview the results, while you don’t even have to figure out the code as it painlessly spits out the code for you to just copy.

how embed mp3 website

Not only does this awesome, free player take care of an entire playlist, it also can play single MP3 files. You’d only need to insert this code in your index.html file:

<script type=’text/javascript’ src=’PATHtoSWFOBJECT.JS‘></script>

<div id=’mediaspace’>This text will be replaced</div>

<script type=’text/javascript’>
var so = new SWFObject(‘URLofPLAYER.SWF‘,’ply’,’470′,’24′,’9′,’#000000′);

You should also input the duration of the MP3 file, or you can also omit that line altogether.

If you would rather not mess with codes and would rather just copy and paste embed codes without having to modify them, you can always upload single MP3 to an online storage site, such as 4shared and, which offer embed codes for MP3 files.

how embed mp3 website

embed mp3 player

Did I miss an MP3 player that’s available for free? Let us know in the comments!

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How To Convert FLAC To MP3 To Make Your Music Portable

Posted: 18 Jan 2011 09:31 AM PST

convert flac to mp3Sometimes you don’t have to be the best to be number one in the industry. You only have to be the first one to “get it right”, and let the world follow you. Then later on, even though there might be others who come up with something better, it would be very difficult (or even too late) for them to catch up with you.

There are many examples of such cases in the technology world. Let’s take MP3 for example. This digital audio compression format is already adopted by everybody that it’s difficult for other formats to replace it. One of these rather unfortunate formats is FLAC.

Why (Not) FLAC?

convert flac to mp3FLAC is the format that offers a nice compromise between the “large size but excellent quality” of uncompressed music files and “small but less than excellent” compressed MP3 or AAC files.

Some audiophiles claim that FLAC will give you the near audio CD sound quality while compressing the file size to more than 50%, making it the “almost perfect” sound compression algorithm available today. If you hang around people with golden ears, you will likely stumble into FLAC a lot.

Here’s the explanation of FLAC, quoted from Wikipedia:

Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) is an audio compression codec primarily authored by Josh Coalson and Ed Whitney. FLAC employs a lossless data compression algorithm; a digital audio recording compressed by FLAC can be decompressed into an identical copy of the original audio data. Audio sources encoded to FLAC are typically reduced to 50–60% of their original size.

FLAC is an open and royalty-free format with a free software implementation made available. FLAC has support for tagging, cover art, and fast seeking.

But as flawless as it might be, FLAC playback support in portable audio devices and dedicated audio systems is limited compared to MP3. All the portable multimedia players that I know support MP3, but I have personally never encountered one that supports FLAC.

To make your digital music portable, you definitely should convert your FLAC files to MP3s. Here are two tools that can help you with that.

Windows: FLAC To MP3

If you are using Windows, you can use a free application called FLAC To MP3. Despite the name, this app is an all round audio converter which can convert many audio formats into MP3 and other kinds of common audio format. The app interface is pretty straightforward. There’s the large “Drag & Drop” area in the middle, the settings on the right, and the basic tools on the toolbar above.

flac to mp3

To start, drag and drop FLAC files – or any other audio formats – into the drop zone. You can also use the “+” button on the toolbar above to add files. The app is also able to extract audio out from some video files.

flac to mp3

Then choose the output format,

flac to mp3

Do some other customization, choose where to save the results, and click the “Start Converting Now” button.

free flac to mp3 converter

The conversion process is displayed in the progress bar. The process could take a while depending on the number of files that you are converting and the power of your system.

free flac to mp3 converter

Mac: All2MP3

A similar tool is also available for the Mac. It’s called All2MP3, and as the name suggests, this app will help you convert everything – FLAC, other audio formats, and video – to MP3.  Similar to FLAC To MP3, you can drag and drop the files to the drop zone and they will be automatically converted.

free flac to mp3 converter

You can adjust the quality of the results by sliding the pointer to the desired position; from Less, to Middle, Good, and finally Super. You can’t choose where to save the files. By default, the converted files will be saved in the location of the original files. Click the “Convert” button to start.

03b All2MP3 List Of Files.jpg

Then all that’s left for you to do is wait. The conversion progress is shown on the progress bars.

convert flac to mp3

After you’ve got the newly-made MP3s, you can then put them into any kind of portable media player and take them along with you.

The two applications discussed above are surely not the only options for FLAC to MP3 conversion. If you use or know of others, please share the links using the comments below.

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How to Synchronise Your Computer Time With The Internet On A Custom Schedule [Windows 7]

Posted: 18 Jan 2011 08:31 AM PST

synchronise computer timeWhen you edit or save documents, a time stamp is added based on your system time. If your system clock is faulty, so is the time stamp. The same goes for your email, chat logs, or scheduled events that you have set up, for example to record TV shows. Occasionally, you may just want to see the correct time in your Windows system tray.

This article shows you some more advanced ways to keep an almost accurate time on your Windows 7 computer. Note that these strategies also work in Windows XP and Windows Vista, they may just look a tiny little bit different.

In case you noticed that your computer has serious issues maintaining the correct time, i.e. beyond a few seconds tolerance, you should check out my article 3 Reasons Why Your Windows Computer Starts Losing Its Time & Date.

Synchronise Your Computer With Internet Time

In Windows 7 your computer is typically set to synchronise with an Internet time server once per week. Jeffry has recently written a detailed article explaining how to set up synchronization in Windows: How To Make All Your PC Times Match With An Atomic Clock Sync.

For this tool to work, make sure that the date on your machine is correct, otherwise your computer cannot synchronise its clock. If your system clock displays the right date and is connected to the Internet and still fails to synchronise with any of the offered servers, you may have to examine your firewall. It must not block the network time protocol (NTP).

synchronise computer time

Unfortunately, the default Windows 7 tool does not allow you to change the schedule. Neither can you add your own choice of servers.

Create A Custom Schedule To Synchronise Your Computer Time

Syncing its time once a week is fine for most computers. However, some internal clocks are less accurate than others and if accuracy matters, you might want to have the synchronization happen more often. This is possible if you’re ready to dive into System Control and create a scheduled task.

Go to > Start and type > Task Scheduler in the search field, then open the respective result. Within the Task Scheduler Library on the left hand side, click through to the > Microsoft > Windows > Time Synchronization branch and click > Create Task in the menu on the right hand side.

computer time clock

In the Create Task window > General tab, click the > Change User or Group… button and set it to run as > LOCAL SERVICE. Then check the box to > Run with highest privileges. Under > Configure for: select your operating system.

Switch to the > Triggers tab, click the > New… button, and enter your preferred settings. Before you > OK, make sure the box next to > Enabled is checked.

Now go to the > Actions tab. You have to set two actions for this task. The first makes sure the Windows Time Service is running and the second triggers the actual time sync.

Click the > New… button and enter the following details:

  • Action: Start a program
  • Program/script: %windir%\system32\sc.exe
  • Add arguments: start w32time task_started

Click > OK and click the > New… button again to create the second action with these details:

  • Action: Start a program
  • Program/script: %windir%\system32\w32tm.exe
  • Add arguments: /resync

computer time clock

When done > OK the second action.

Now open the > Conditions tab. Remove the checkmark that restricts to > Start the task only if the computer is on AC power. Instead, do check the box to > Start only if  ['any connection'] is available (paraphrased).

Finally, in the > Settings tab check > Run task as soon as possible after a scheduled start is missed.

You can test the task by intentionally messing up your computer time and then running the task manually. Just right-click on the task you created and select > Run from the menu.


Maintain Accurate Time Using Software Tools

Due to its default setting of syncing only once per week, the Windows Time Service is not able to maintain a highly accurate time. The error is in the 1 to 2 seconds range and no guarantees are given. Microsoft states bluntly that they “do not guarantee and do not support the accuracy of the W32Time service between nodes on a network. The W32Time service is not a full-featured NTP solution that meets time-sensitive application needs.

If you’re not satisfied with the default tool Windows provides and can’t be bothered with Control Panel options, you should look into software options.

Jeffry has introduced Atomic Clock Sync in his article How To Make All Your PC Times Match With An Atomic Clock Sync. It allows you to review your time and date settings, change the synchronization interval, and repair the Windows Time Service. The tool is available for Windows NT4 through Windows 7.


This is a nifty alternative to Atomic Clock Sync that comes packed with options. You can simply use the default settings to check and adjust your computer time. Or you can open the > Settings and check out the tool’s depth.

computer time clock

Let’s look at some options in the most interesting settings tabs…

  • Execution: set update interval and make the tool run on startup.
  • Display: display actual, local, or GMT time and display date in system tray.
  • Time Servers: use default atomic clock servers or add a custom server.

synchronise computer time

Last but not least, check out the tool provided by NIST Internet Time Service (NIST Software on right hand side), which provides an accuracy in the millisecond range. Unfortunately, my tests on Windows 7 didn’t succeed.

Let us know in the comments how you synchronise your computer time.

Image Credit: robodread



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Synology DS411j NAS Review and Giveaway

Posted: 18 Jan 2011 08:00 AM PST

Yesterday, we looked at the Drobo FS. While that network-attached storage (NAS) looked easy to upgrade and practically future-proof, it didn’t come with an intuitive GUI.

Synology’s DiskStation 411j (DS411j) NAS is a whole different beast and what it lacks in style, it makes up with functionality. If you were planning to buy a NAS for your home, I’ll tell you whether or not the DS411j is the right choice for you. Plus, we’ll be giving this review unit away, bundled with 4 TB of storage.

Jumping right in.

The most attractive feature about the DS411j is its price. At $359.99 for a diskless system, while the version with 4 x 1 TB drives preinstalled goes for $769.99, it’s significantly cheaper than most of its competitors. If you’re a techy DIY-er, you would instinctively opt for the diskless system, buy your own hard drives and come up with a 10 TB NAS for about $759.99. And that would be the option I’d choose, I’ll tell you why in a minute.

The DS411j is shorter but wider than the Drobo FS. It’s got a plastic front panel, fitted with a large, round power button, and indicators for network connectivity and hard disk activity. It also has a couple of cooling vents at the top and bottom.


The styling sort of falls short at the back and you’ll find two honeycomb fan grills, a power inlet, a gigabit ethernet interface and two USB 2.0 ports. Interestingly, the NAS accepts USB wireless dongles — so you won’t need to physically connect it to a router. Here’s a full list of wireless dongles that it is compatible with.

As you can see from the image below, there are 4 protruding thumbscrews which attaches the rear panel to the body. Unscrew them and the panel, along with the fans flip downwards; allowing you to remove the top enclosure and reveal its innards. It’s powered by a 1.2 GHz processor and has 128 MB of DDR2 memory which is not upgradeable — however, these stats won’t mean much if you’re just a casual user.


Inside, you’ll find a 4-drive array. Each drive is attached to a plastic drive tray and screwed to the chassis. The drive tray is able to hold both 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA drives. So here’s where you ask yourself if you are capable enough to perform an upgrade on this system, if necessary. Not to mention, if a drive fails, it won’t be an easy task replacing it if you’re not fond of screws. Personally, I didn’t have an easy time screwing one of the thumbscrews back on.


Before you can start enjoying the DS411j, it needs to be initialised. Synology provides a startup disk and some quick start instructions that are very easy to follow. A desktop client (Win/Mac) detects the unconfigured DS411j on the network and guides you to format the drives and install the operating system dubbed DSM.

Depending on the when you purchase the NAS, you may have to download the latest version of DSM from Synology, which is slightly over 100 MB.

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 8.30.26 PM.png

The system takes about 10 minutes to initialise so you may want to make some coffee.

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 8.32.02 PM.png

Once that is done, the Synology Assistant will detect the NAS and provide you with its IP address so that you are able to log in from any browser. Or just double click on the device on the list.

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 8.39.28 PM.jpg

And you’ll be greeted by the login screen. The default username is ‘admin’ and the password was set during initialisation (which was not pictured).

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 8.39.50 PM.jpg

As you can see, the DSM is pretty cool and looks like a Web OS. It’s truly the highlight of the product and in all honesty, blows every other GUI away with its multitasking capabilities. It’s that good. But at this point, we’re not out of the woods yet. There is still some configuration to perform.

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 8.39.59 PM.jpg

Firstly, the drives have to be combined using RAID. The easy way to go about this is to choose Synology Hybrid RAID, which natively provides 1 disk redundancy, allows up to 12 GB of storage and the flexibility of expanding to a larger total volume size when a new hard disk is inserted into the array. Otherwise, you could manually configure the drives by selecting any RAID-protected volume types (2-4 way RAID 1, RAID 10, RAID 5, RAID 5+Spare, and RAID 6) as well as volume types without data protection (Basic, JBOD, and RAID 0).

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 8.40.30 PM.jpg

As you can clearly see, the process isn’t very difficult and even someone without any computing knowledge will be able to set this system up in no time, thanks to the intuitive DSM.

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 8.41.44 PM.jpg

When that is done, a new network share will be available. Using the DSM, you’re able to set the share’s access privileges and add new shares easily.

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 8.57.40 PM.jpg

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 8.57.44 PM.jpg

These network shares are completely cross platform and you have the option of enabling/disabling Windows or Mac support at any time by accessing the control panel.


Depending on the RAID configuration selected, expanding the system can be a breeze or slightly more tricky. If you went the Synology Hybrid RAID route, then expanding is a mere disk exchange — swap out the lowest capacity disk for a larger one. Unfortunately, the disks are not hot-swappable, which means that you’ll need to power down the NAS before attempting to perform the upgrade — that’s mostly attributed to the fact that the body needs to be unscrewed before you’re able to reach the drives.


Going back to the highlight of the device, DSM provides a simple, one-click solution for just about everything. Need a torrent client? Click and you’re set. Need a DLNA media server? Click and you’re set. Need an iTunes server? Yes, just click and you’re set. This is what I love most about the DS411j and all Synology NAS products.

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 9.04.39 PM.jpg

The DSM also provides you with a convenient way of monitoring the system’s disk usage, operating temperature, memory usage and other finer details via the Resource Monitor and Storage Manager.

Synology DiskStation - jxn-synology.jpg

Other great features include a power schedule which allows you to set power on/off times, a file browser with archiving/unarchiving capabilities, remote backup, Time Machine support and remote internet access to the NAS so that you can connect to it from just about anywhere and control your torrent downloads.

Screen shot 2010-12-14 at 9.13.27 PM.jpg

A complete list of features is available on the DS411j product page.


Although the DS411j doesn’t look the part, it is in every way quite capable. If you can get past the fact that inserting drives into the array isn’t a piece of cake, the DS411j is a full-featured, brilliant product that’s well worth your money.

Purchase it online from any authorised reseller.

We’re giving this DS411j review unit away, along with the 4 TB of storage that it comes bundled with. Are you interested?

How do I become a winner?

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, February 18th 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 Synology 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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Two Awesome Free WiFi Scanners For The Mac

Posted: 18 Jan 2011 07:31 AM PST

wifi scanners macAnyone who owns a Mac is probably familiar with the ease with which AirPort operates. It seems to do a good job of automatically finding and connecting to the best available network in a given area, and switching between networks is simple.

Even so, AirPort doesn’t  give you a lot of extra information about the networks located near your Mac. The signal strength is represented by a simple icon, and information like signal-noise ratio, security and connection type isn’t available at a glance. If you’re looking for this information – and more – you’ll want to consider a free Mac wifi scanner.

WiFi Scanner

wifi scanners mac

This creatively named software does exactly what it advertises. When opened, it automatically scans nearby airwaves for WiFi signals. You’ll find that WiFi Scanner provides a lot more information than normally available through your Apple computer. The categories of information that you’ll be provided with include channel, MAC address, wireless standard, received signal strength, noise, signal-noise ratio, and the encryption method being used to provide security. WiFi Scanner will also let you know if a detected network is an ad-hoc (IBSS) network.

For the most part, WiFi Scanner is used simply to find networks and provide information about their signal strength, security and connectivity. However, you can use the program to easily create a ad-hoc network by clicking the Create IBSS button. You’ll then be prompted to enter a name and password. You can, as you might have guessed, join any network listed by using the Join button. WiFi Scanner can utilize saved password information from your Mac Keychain – provided you feel comfortable giving the software permission.


free wifi scanner

As this program’s devilish icon indicates, KisMAC isn’t just a WiFi scanner. This program is a heavy-duty WiFi security and cracking application that can be used for a wide variety of tasks. However, it also works just fine as a WiFi scanner.

The information provided by KisMAC includes channel, SSID, MAC address, encryption method, current, average and maximum signal strength and the date the wireless network was last encountered. It also includes information fields called Packets and Data, but these are not directly related to using KisMAC as a WiFi scanner. You can also view the signal strength of nearby networks on a graph by clicking the second icon from the left at the bottom of KisMAC. Just be warned that this graph can be rather busy in an area saturated with WiFi.

wifi scanners mac

One of the more interesting features of KisMAC is the ability to display networks on a map if you have a GPS. This can take some time, and it requires a lot of advanced setup and, of course, a GPS device that is capable of connecting to your Mac. Additional information about this feature can be found in the Kismet Wireless FAQ.


Although KisMAC has been called the ultimate WiFi scanner, I believe that title is probably related to the many things it can do which are not really WiFi scanning at all, such as cracking WiFi encryption and finding hidden networks. KisMAC is amazing software that can do a lot of things, some of which are of questionable legality, but it isn’t for users who want something quick and simple.

WiFI Scanner, on the other hand, is easy to use. All you have to do is open the program. You don’t even have to press any buttons  - the program automatically begins scanning at the default setting of five second intervals. The information that it provides is quite robust, as well, so you can use WiFi Scanner to find the best network in an area just as easily as KisMAC.

The programs both detected the same networks and reported the same signal strengths, which is really as it should be, as both programs are shifting information from the same wireless card. I suggest you try both and see which works best for you.



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