Friday, February 11, 2011 “Cool Websites and Tools [February 10th]” plus 10 more “Cool Websites and Tools [February 10th]” plus 10 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [February 10th]

Posted: 10 Feb 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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Books Ngram Viewer – It is interesting to study how the usage of words and phrases in book publications has developed over the years. With Google transforming every book they can get their hands on into digital format, it is now a lot easier to conduct these types of studies. Google Labs' Books Ngram Viewer is a search tool that will allow you to see the development of how words have been used in books over the years. Read more: Books Ngrams Viewer: View Usage Of Words & Phrases In Books


This Day – Do you want to know what happened on this very day years ago? Nikon's “This Day” is a flash-based web app that takes you on a quick journey of important historical events with stunning photography. In addition to that, you may also browse the previous five dates so that you can learn about other events that transpired. In order to access This Day, you need to have the latest version of Flash Player. Read more: ThisDay: View Historical Events That Happened On Today's Date



CollaborizeClassroom – Organizing your classes online is harder than it sounds. You have tools like email, Skype and message boards, but they do not provide a decent enough experience to extend your classroom discussions online. Fortunately, CollaborizeClassroom is an intuitive online tool that allows educators to start well organized discussions with flexible options and social media integration. Read more: CollaborizeClassroom: Online Discussion Forum For Your Class



Remapkey – There are a number of non-Microsoft tools out there that will help you rearrange keyboard keys. However, these apps accomplish their purpose by making changes to the Windows registry – you do not want a 3rd party application to be doing that. Instead, you should go for Microsoft's very own app for the purpose – Remapkey. Read more: Remapkey: Easily Rearrange Keyboard Keys



Google Shared Spaces – Remember Google Wave and the awesome gadgets that came with it? Well, Wave may be no more but you can now make use of those gadgets through Google Shared Spaces. Launched recently by Google as a new Labs project, Shared Spaces help people use the gadgets that came with Wave, for collaborating on various tasks (and for fun). Read more: Google Shared Spaces: Use Wave Gadgets To Collaborate


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 Feb 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!

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. Simply click on the “Like” button below to get started!

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What All This MD5 Hash Stuff Actually Means [Technology Explained]

Posted: 10 Feb 2011 05:31 PM PST

md5 hashIn a recent article about checking whether you were affected by Gawker’s hacking incident, one of the steps involved converting your email address into an MD5 hash.

We had a few questions from readers asking exactly what was going on, and why this process was necessary. It’s not our style to leave you guys asking questions, so here’s a full run-down of MD5, hashing and a small overview of computers and cryptography.

Cryptographic Hashing

MD5 stands for Message Digest algorithm 5, and was invented by celebrated US cryptographer Professor Ronald Rivest in 1991 to replace the old MD4 standard. MD5 is simply the name for a type of cryptographic hashing function Ron came up with, way back in ’91.

The idea behind cryptographic hashing is to take an arbitrary block of data and return a fixed-size “hash” value. It can be any data, of any size but the hash value will always be fixed. Try it for yourself here.

md5 hash

Cryptographic hashing has a number of uses, and there are a vast number of algorithms (other than MD5) designed to do a similar job. One of the main uses for cryptographic hashing is for verifying the contents of a message or file after transfer.

If you’ve ever downloaded a particularly large file (Linux distributions, that sort of thing) you’ll probably have noticed the hash value that accompanies it. Once this file has been downloaded, you can use the hash to verify that the file you downloaded is in no way different to the file advertised.

The same method works for messages, with the hash verifying that the message received matches the message sent. On a very basic level, if you and a friend have a large file each and wish to verify they’re exactly the same without the hefty transfer, the hash code will do it for you.

Hashing algorithms also play a part in data or file identification. A good example for this is peer to peer file sharing networks, such as eDonkey2000. The system used a variant of the MD4 algorithm (below) which also combined file’s size into a hash to quickly point to files on the network.

what is md5 hash

A signature example of this is in the ability to quickly find data in hash tables, a method commonly used by search engines.

Another use for hashes is in the storage of passwords. Storing passwords as clear text is a bad idea, for obvious reasons so instead they are converted to hash values. When a user inputs a password it is converted to a hash value, and checked against the known stored hash. As hashing is a one-way process, provided the algorithm is sound then there is theoretically little chance of the original password being deciphered from the hash.

Cryptographic hashing is also often used in the generation of passwords, and derivative passwords from a single phrase.

Message Digest algorithm 5

The MD5 function provides a 32 digit hexadecimal number. If we were to turn ‘’ into into an MD5 hash value then it would look like: 64399513b7d734ca90181b27a62134dc. It was built upon a method called the Merkle–Damgård structure (below), which is used to build what are known as “collision-proof” hash functions.

what is md5 hash

No security is everything-proof, however and in 1996 potential flaws were found within the MD5 hashing algorithm. At the time these were not seen as fatal, and MD5 continued to be used. In 2004 a far more serious problem was discovered after a group of researchers described how to make two separate files share the same MD5 hash value. This was the first instance of a collision attack being used against the MD5 hashing algorithm. A collision attack attempts to find two arbritary outputs which produce the same hash value – hence, a collision (two files existing with the same value).

Over the next few years attempts to find further security problems within MD5 took place, and in 2008 another research group managed to use the collision attack method to fake SSL certificate validity. This could dupe users into thinking they are browsing securely, when they are not. The US Department of Homeland Security announced that: “users should avoid using the MD5 algorithm in any capacity. As previous research has demonstrated, it should be considered cryptographically broken and unsuitable for further use“.

md5 hash

Despite the government warning, many services still use MD5 and as such are technically at risk. It is however possible to “salt” passwords, to prevent potential attackers using dictionary attacks (testing known words) against the system. If a hacker has a list of random often-used passwords and your user account database, they can check the hashes in the database against those on the list. Salt is a random string, which is linked to existing password hashes and then hashed again. The salt value and resulting hash is then stored in the database.

If a hacker wanted to find out your users’ passwords then he would need to decipher the salt hashes first, and this renders a dictionary attack pretty useless. Salt does not affect the password itself, so you must always choose a hard-to-guess password.


MD5 is one of many different methods of identifying, securing and verifying data. Cryptographic hashing is a vital chapter in the history of security, and keeping things hidden. As with many things designed with security in mind, someone’s gone and broken it.

You probably won’t have to worry too much about hashing and MD5 checksums in your daily surfing habits, but at least now you know what they do and how they do it.

Ever needed to hash anything? Do you verify the files you download?  Do you know of any good MD5 web apps? Let us know in the comments!

Intro image: Shutterstock

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5 Cool Online Avatars To Inspire You When Making Your Own

Posted: 10 Feb 2011 03:31 PM PST

cool avatarsAn avatar is a graphical representation of yourself. In a game it is the character you play. Online, for example in a user profile, it is the picture you upload for that profile. In other words, it is the image other people associate you with when you are participating in online activities.

The obvious thing to do is to use a picture of yourself. However, if you want to be a little more creative, why not make a custom avatar for yourself? Need inspiration? This article has it! Along with examples I will also point out tools that let you create a cool avatar online.

Note that the copyright of some of the avatars shown below belong to the people they were created by. Please do not copy their avatar!

Cool Online Avatar Examples

Facebook Avatar

Are you in need of a new Facebook avatar? David has created some very cool avatars as knockoffs of Facebook’s default avatar. They are definitely inspiring.

cool avatars

Cartoon Avatar

The most popular online cartoon avatar creators are Simpsonize Me and South Park Studio. The following avatar found at Adland.TV was probably created using Face Your Manga.

make a avatar

For more online tools that can help you create a cartoon version of yourself, check the resources at the bottom of this article.

Geographical Avatar

This user over at Live Leaks made a photo of a flag pointing to a spot on a map to indicate where he lives.

make a avatar

Banner Avatar

Your avatar can be a message. The Transformers avatar shown below was inspired by Obama’s Change posters. You can create a similar avatar using ObamiconMe. The site also offers alternative themes, like ‘Free Iran’ or ‘I’m with Coco’.

make a avatar

Logo Avatar

Got a favorite product or service to promote? You could make the logo your avatar like this user over at AFi (Action Figure insider) did.

cool avatars

How To Create Your Own Avatar

There are many sites out there that offer free avatars or tools to easily create a custom one if you’re lacking the skills. Now to be honest I don’t know which tools exactly were used to create the above avatars. However, MakeUseOf has previously featured many ways you can create your own cool avatars online. Read all about it:

How To Show Your Avatar

Now that you have an avatar equally cool as the ones above, how do you show it to the world? Well, if the forum of your choice does not let you upload your avatar, but you can see others using one, they may well be using a service called Gravatar. Gravatar lets you associate a picture file, i.e. your avatar with your email address. What you do is sign up with Gravatar, add the email address/es you use to post on forums, and link your email address/es to your avatar/s.

If this brief walkthrough was too short, you will find screenshots and better explanations in the articles below:

MakeUseOf supports Gravatar. Want to show off your (new) avatar? Just post a comment below!

Image credits: More Similar Images

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Get Immersed – Let Moovida Organize & Navigate Your Media Files [Windows]

Posted: 10 Feb 2011 01:31 PM PST

helps organize windows media filesWhen winter leaves you huddling inside your home most evenings, do you find yourself watching more movies? Do you have a decent media manager to keep them organised? Or do you and the family stare at a shelf of DVDs, trying to work out what to watch? Would you like a free media manager which just knows what you’re trying to do and gets straight into letting you do it?

Moovida is the slickest media manager I’ve seen in ages. It’s been around for a while, so you may have seen a previous version at some stage, but I urge you to take another look. It’s seriously hot. With the introduction of Moovida Immersed, viewers can scroll through a shiny, yet manageable wall of movies, filtering by genre, title or director in order to find something they’re in the mood for. You’ll love it. Plus, it’s free. What more could you want?

Get Moovida

To start with, Moovida is only available for Windows. The free download is available here and works instantly with Windows NT or later. People using older versions of Windows may need to grab the Microsoft .NET framework to get it running.

helps organize windows media files

Add Your Media

Moovida can control all sorts of media files. It can store, catalogue and play most forms of video file, plus images and music. When you start it up, it will search for your media if you want it to. If it doesn’t find media in the obvious places, you can import it manually. Once the import begins, Moovida automatically searches for genres, years, actors, directors, Moovida ratings, important information, cover art and makes thumbnail shots for videos you may have made yourself. By the time you work out how to get into Moovida Immersed, you’ll already have some cover art ready to look at.

If you have any problems setting things up, Moovida have some great tutorials to help you on their site.

organize media files

You can also add podcasts and Internet radio stations to your collection, plus it’s possible to import playlists from iTunes and other services.

Immerse Yourself

While the Moovida core application is all well and good, that’s not the reason I think you need to see Moovida. You need to look at the Immersion to really see the beauty of this media manager. First, look at the browser on the left and click on one of the video types. Try Videos (all of them), Movies, or TV Episodes. In the top right-hand corner you can now see there’s a little icon for Moovida Immersed. Click that and you’ll see this lovely presentation of your video collection. Now remember Immersed is still in Beta, so you might find the occasional hiccup. Be sure to let the developers know if you do.

organize media files

If you play around in Immersed, you’ll see that each choice of video type will give you a different selection. So, it’s possible to view just your TV collection. Sweet! Just think how great it will be once you’ve burned all the kids’ cartoon collection and can hand them this to play with instead of having them break DVDs.

When browsing, you can filter by genre, year, actor, director, rating or any number of things.

organize media files

You can then plug your computer into a TV and navigate using a Windows remote, if you like.

helps organize windows media files

What Else Might You Use?

Moovida is by no means the only media manager out there. There are other managers available for a wider selection of operating systems. Miro, Zune, Pump and many others have been featured at MakeUseOf already. Some of the competition even work in torrents, so new video will always be at your fingertips with no fuss. Moovida doesn’t do this yet, so it simply can’t compete on that level.

In the meantime, how does it fare? Pretty well, actually. It can play just about anything, it organises your information for you and collects all the thumbnails with no fuss. It does this quickly and you can adjust things like ratings yourself if you’re not happy with the results. Then you can view the results in Immersed almost instantly – filtering by genres or other criteria as you wish. That’s power. And it’s so easy to use!

I hope you enjoy re-exploring your video collection. Have you found things you forgot you had? What do you like about Moovida? Let us know in the comments!

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Hot Tech Deals [Feb 10th]

Posted: 10 Feb 2011 12:30 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. SafeWallet for Windows and novaPDF Professional Desktop Edition v7 for $17 (digital download, instant delivery, EXP SOON)
  2. Paragon Partition Manager 11 Personal Edition and novaPDF Professional Desktop Edition for $15 (digital download, instant delivery)
  3. EASEUS Data Recovery Wizard v.5.0.1 and Altaro Oops!Backup for only $20 (digital download, instant delivery)
  4. EXPIRING Able Planet NC182CGCC Foldable Over-Ear Active Noise Cancelling Headphones $39.99 via code TAK19228 (Exp 2/28)
  5. TODAY ONLY AMD Athlon II X3 Rana 2.9GHz CPU + MORE Super Combo $249.99AR Free Shipping
  6. Halo 3: ODST Game (Xbox 360) $13.99 Free Shipping
  7. TODAY ONLY Creative Labs Live! Cam Socialize HD Webcam (720p) $19.99 Free Shipping

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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4 Flipboard Alternatives For Your Computer If You Don’t Own An iPad

Posted: 10 Feb 2011 11:31 AM PST

flipboard alternativeWish you could use Flipboard on your PC, Mac or Linux computer? Sadly right now a desktop version of this famous iPad app is only a rumor. Don’t worry though, there are lots of web-based alternatives that include some of FlipBoard’s features.

Much virtual ink has been spilt discussing FlipBoard, the social magazine for iPad. This app takes articles shared on social networks and presents them in a magazine-like fashion. Some like the app for its presentation of social media links, some like the way it makes the web feel more like a print publication.  Nancy recently mentioned it as one of the 6 best free RSS readers for the iPad.

Many wish they could use the app without having to buy an iPad. Rumors persist about the possibility of a version for standard computers – possibly for the Chrome Web Store - but at this point they remain just that: rumours. If you’re looking to use FlipBoard on your computer you’ll have to wait, but there are some other apps worth taking a look at.


This one’s kind of cool. Take any website and quickly turn it into a magazine you can flip through:

flipboard alternative

There’s no social media integration to speak of here, but it’s a new way to browse the websites you already love. Check it out RideSurfBoard to get started.

Layers For Google Chrome

Layers is a social media service that does a lot of things, but of particular interest to me is their Google Chrome app. With this tool you can add your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and view links in the same window:

flipboard alternative for pc

This is a very cool way to get an overview of the articles your friends are talking about, and is particularly good at embedding video links. Check out Layers for Google Chrome to see if you like it. There’s also, but that seems to be a different service entirely.


Facebook is full of links, videos and photos. If you want a way to overview this content that looks more like a newspaper than a news feed, PostPost is your go-to tool:

flipboard alternative for pc

Only content from Facebook can be seen here, so heavy Twitter users may need to look elsewhere. You can filter the service to show you links, videos, photos or everything. It’s a nice tool for an overview of Facebook, so check out PostPost.

Google Fast Flip

Want a quick way to flip through the top news stories of the day? Try Google Fast Flip, an experimental project that allows you to slide through stories in various categories:

flipboard alternative

You’ll see a thumbnail of the article and can explore to your heart’s content. Browse by topic or even by source. Again, this isn’t a socially integrated service but it’s a pretty cool way to browse the day’s news. Check out Google Fast Flip here.

Know Something Better?

These are, as far as I know, the best FlipBoard alternatives for your computer right now. But I could be wrong. If you know of a better service, please recommend it in the comments below. This will give your fellow readers other apps to try, and would help enlighten me.

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Read It Later: A Multi-Platform App To Help You Save Information To Be Read Later

Posted: 10 Feb 2011 10:31 AM PST

read it laterWelcome to the era of information overload. We are bombarded by lots of information everyday and going through it one by one in real time is too hard for a normal human to handle. That’s why modern society invented tools to help them save the important information to be read later. Examples of such tools include Instapaper and the Scrapbook Firefox extension (discussed here and here).

If you are still struggling to work out which “read it later” tool fits your personality, maybe you should try “Read It Later“. It’s one of the pioneers in the field, and it has expanded its service to support the multi-platform environment that we live with today.

Start Building Your Reading List

We have covered Read It Later in the past here and here.  However, the service has been greatly improved since then. So why choose it? Some of the advantages that Read It Later offers to its users over similar services are:

  • the ability to add and read saved information from almost any devices available on the market by using the web interface, native apps, or any other apps that support the Read It Later environment.
  • the ability to save information for offline reading, so you can continue reading your saved information even if your device is in airplane mode.
  • the ability to synchronize the reading progress so you can continue reading on another device and pick up where you left off.

Before you can use the service, you need to go through the signing up routine.

read it later

You can sign up via the web interface, Firefox extension, or iPhone/iPod apps.

read later

Then the first thing you need to do after signing up is to build your reading list.

read later

The easiest way to build your list is by adding the “Read It Later” bookmarklet to your browser’s bookmark bar. This bookmarklet should be compatible with every modern browser available today (including Mobile Safari – although the process is not as straightforward as a computer’s browser).

read later

Then all you have to do is browse the net like you normally do, and every time you find something that you want to save for later, click the bookmarklet and the article will be saved.

save information online

You can also add the Read It Later bookmarklet to your mobile phone browser. I only have access to an iPhone so I’ll give an example using iPhone’s Mobile Safari.

To add the bookmarklet to Mobile Safari, tap the “Add” icon on the Read It Later app main page, then continue to “Mobile Safari” and “Install Read It Later Bookmarklet“. The app will guide you through the process.

save information online

With the bookmarklet installed, you can add any article from the web by tapping the bookmark icon at the bottom of the page.

save information online

Then continue tapping the “Read It Later” bookmarklet, and the page will be saved to your reading list.

read later app

Reading Between The Gadgets

This is what the reading list on the browser looks like. On the right of every saved item you can see the option to read the text version of the article (“T“) and to mark the article as read (red check mark) You can filter the article using the search field (title, site, or tag), or you can sort them by categories (newest, oldest, title, site).

read later app

The text version of the article is clean and comfortable to read. But if you prefer to read the original source, you can easily visit the site by clicking on the link.

read later app

The small “Settings” button at the top of the pages give you options to change the background, size and type of font, margin, and alignment.

03c RIL - Settings.jpg

But what makes Read It Later shine is its ability to move seamlessly between gadgets. For example, if you were in the middle of an article that you read on your browser at home when you had to hit the road, you can continue reading on your iPhone on the way to the office. Read It Later’s iPhone App would pick up where you left off. Then if your commute was not long enough for you to finish the article, you could continue your reading at the office’s computer.

To continue your reading on your mobile app, tap the “Currently Reading” option on the front page of the app.

08a Continue Reading.jpg

You’ll see the list of article(s) that you are currently reading. You can also see how much of the article you’ve read (in per cent).

09a Continue Reading.jpg

Importing From Instapaper

If you are an Instapaper user and you want to move your saved articles from Instapaper To Read It Later, you can do so easily by visiting your Instapaper account main page and going to the lower part of the screen. Expand the “Export” menu and click “Download HTML file” to export all the articles to your hard drive.

04e Export from Instapaper.jpg

Go to the Import from Instapaper page, click “Choose File“, navigate to the exported file, then click the “Import” button.

04f RIL - Import Articles.jpg

Extension, App & More Apps

If you are a Firefox user, you can get more features by installing the Read It Later extension instead of using the bookmarklet. One of the features is the ability to download the articles for offline reading.

04a RIL - Firefox Extension.jpg

Similar privileges are also given for iOS users. You can download and install the official Read It Later app for your iPhone, iPod Touch, and/or iPad.

06a RIL iPhone 1.jpg

As one of the oldest players in the business, Read It Later is supported by lots of third-party apps, including the ones for PC, Android, Blackberry, and even eBook readers.

read it later

This vast support allows Read It Later users to easily build their reading list from almost any kind of source. With all of its advantages, I personally found that Read It Later is a solid alternative to help you manage information overload.

What do you think? Will you try Read It Later? Or do you prefer another method to save information for later reading? Please share your opinions using the comments below.

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The 7 Best Feeds For RSS Weather Updates

Posted: 10 Feb 2011 09:31 AM PST

rss weatherThese days, there are a lot of really useful ways that you can use RSS feeds. They are the fastest and most efficient way to receive alerts and updates from anywhere. You can serve those updates up on the sidebar of your website or blog, in your RSS reader or on your mobile phone. So, it’s easy to see why receiving RSS weather updates is the quickest and easiest way to be prepared for whatever mother nature is getting ready to throw your way.

In general, there are two categories of RSS weather updates. In the one case, you can get weather alerts or warnings for a general area, including an entire country or a region of the country. In the other case, you can sign up for RSS feeds that give you today’s weather as well as weather predictions for a specific area.

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered ways to access weather information at MUO. We’ve covered Zazu, a useful Android weather app, and Justin covered a very cool weather website called Weather Underground.  So, to help you get even better access to weather information, and to show how useful these RSS feeds can be, I hand selected the top 7 RSS weather feeds and then plugged them into my RSS Bandit reader to show you what those feeds look like.

Receiving Current RSS Weather Updates

One of the most common uses for RSS feeds when it comes to weather is simply to receive a daily update on the weather. This is usually a simple feed with today’s current conditions, and a short blurb about the immediate forecast. In the better feeds, there’s also a little image that reflects something about the current weather. Believe it or not, the first RSS weather feed I’d like to cover comes from none other than Yahoo.

If you visit Yahoo Developer, you’ll see a breakdown of the parameters you can use in the RSS feed address in order to customize the feed for your area. But before you do that, first visit Yahoo Weather, plug in the area you want to monitor, and make note of the numeric code for that area at the end of the URL address.

rss weather

When you insert the URL feed address into your reader, you just use the following syntax: “” and replace the code at the end with the one for your region. You can also set the temperature for either Celsius or Fahrenheit by following the instructions at Yahoo Developer.

weather rss feed

Once you’re done, the feed update will always read current weather conditions for your area. Whenever the feed is refreshed, it is updated with the latest temperature and any weather updates. It’s a very cool way to stay on top of the current weather.

weather rss feed

Another excellent resource for a weather data feed is the AccuWeather RSS center. This website lets you type in the location where you live (U.S. only) and it’ll give you the RSS feed link for your weather updates.

weather rss feed

In addition to standard weather updates, you’ll also get additional weather news feeds like “Weather Matrix”, “Weather Teams” and “Global Warming Blog”.

By far, one of my favorite weather RSS Feeds comes from Weatherbug.  This website really has everything you could want when it comes to weather, and the coolest thing is that it lets you customize your blog by filling out a simple form.

free weather rss feeds

When you’re done, the page gives you your customized RSS URL, which you can load into your reader or anywhere else you use RSS feeds. In my case, I wanted the photo feed. Today, WeatherBug sent out a “Hall of Fame” photo taken by a member in 2008.

free weather rss feeds

I think one of the most useful sources for RSS weather updates from any point in the entire world is RSS Weather. This site lets you drill down starting by Country, and then all the way to a specific area. At that point, you just click the RSS link on the right side of the screen to get the RSS feed.

free weather rss feeds

The best way to make use of these individual location feeds is to group them by area in your reader. For example, if you want to see current weather conditions for several regions in the United Kingdom, just create a category and individually add each of those feeds. In the example below, I included weather feeds from throughout Europe.

Receiving Weather Alerts

If you’re in the U.S., the National Weather service provides feeds for weather warnings and advisories for every State. The feed provides the alert title, as well as specific details about what weather conditions you can expect in that area and any public warnings, such as whether people should evacuate due to a hurricane, for example.

These alerts are best suited for your mobile phone, where you’re most likely to receive them the fastest. These alerts can really help you with planning your travel when you know conditions are just too dangerous. As you can see below, the list of specific feeds offered by the National Weather Service is pretty impressive.

rss weather

No matter where you are, there is a RSS weather update that’s tailor made to protect you from the forces of nature. Information is power, so why not bring that information directly into your hands as quickly as possible through RSS feeds. It’s fast, it’s easy, and you can receive them anywhere.

Give some of the feeds above a try and let us know what you think. Do you know of any other useful weather feeds? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image Credit : LesKZN

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How RSS Feeds Work In Simple Terms [Technology Explained]

Posted: 10 Feb 2011 08:31 AM PST

rss explainedThe reports of RSS’s death have been grossly exaggerated. RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, got its start in 1999 under the direction of Dave Winer for his Scripting News website. Since that time, RSS has been used in many applications across the web and is useful in many ways which you might not even be aware of. So what is RSS and and how can you use it to help increase your daily productivity?

A RSS feed works by creating a source of data that is machine (computer) readable. RSS uses XML, which stands for eXtensible Markup Language, to encode a variety of information sources in a standardized way, allowing other websites and applications to process that information and make it readable to you however the programmer desires. XML works to place bits of text between nested tags. So for example, this article might be listed in an RSS feed as follows:

<title>How RSS Feeds Work In Simple Terms</title>
<pubDate>Wed, 08 Feb 2011 03:31:27 +0000</pubDate>
<content>The Reports of RSS's death have been grossly exagerated.

This format allows a computer to easily read the data and display it to the end user (you) in a pleasing and easy to read way. The tags specify what goes in between them – in the above example, pubDate is the tag that includes when a post was published.

rss explained

RSS powers many interesting applications:

  • News headlines on large ticker displays.
  • Music playlists.
  • News readers (like Google Reader).
  • Software version notifications.
  • Watch for new music or movie releases.
  • Receive instant notifications of keywords.
  • and more.

Another important aspect to RSS is that it is in chronological order. That means that new items appear at the top of the list and older items at the bottom. This gives you (or your program) a time-ordered list to compare against and determine if there are new items are not.

For example MakeUseOf has an RSS feed for its articles. When a new article is published, the list of old articles is pushed down and a new one put at the top. This means that the latest news item is on the top of the list, and any program can determine when a new article is published by quickly checking this file.

RSS files are routinely spidered by search engines and news readers. This all happens behind the scenes and is almost never seen by a normal resident of the world wide web.

All of this is well and good but how can you use RSS to simplify your life?

If you read a lot of newsy websites, RSS is a great time-saver for you. Google has an excellent RSS reader named Google Reader, but if you do not want to use it, you can use any other reader you wish. Extending it even further, Feedly is another great RSS reader which has nice integration with Google Reader and Twitter and lets you read RSS feeds in a newspaper format, ordered according to your unique interest.

rss explained

To add an RSS feed to Google Reader, you will visit the Google Reader site and click “Add a subscription.” This allows you to paste in the RSS location, for MakeUseOf this location is

After adding a few RSS sources (look for the RSS icon, shown above, on sites for the links to their RSS feeds) you will see how this can save you time. Instead of loading 10 pages and reading them (and getting past the ads) you can simply click down the row and see the latest news. You can also filter out any sites which have not had any changes, group sites into folders, and more. Before you know it you’ll be an RSS junkie like me.

That is RSS explained in a nutshell. If you are interested in a more technical overview of RSS, check out the RSS 2.0 specification in detail. RSS is a protocol which is used in many sources across the web and if you are a content producer it is definitely something that will interest you. Let us know if you have any questions about RSS either in the comments below or over at MakeUseOf Answers!

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The 5 Most Addictive Games On The Web

Posted: 10 Feb 2011 07:31 AM PST

addicting gamesWeb games are often disparaged by mainstream gamers, but they’re actually a testament to the value of good gameplay. The fact that these tiny games, often made with little to no budget by a single person, can hook players for hours is impressive.

The only real issue with web games is the sheer number of them – and the fact that some websites which host web games are kind of sketchy. There are a lot of great, addicting games to find, but if you don’t feel like digging to find gold, consider these five excellent games.


addicting games

Adding “craft” to the end of a title seems kind of like magic. Ripping off Blizzard’s game titles, Starcraft and Warcraft, would seem to indicate a copy-cat approach. Yet there are a lot of games that follow this formula and are great. Minecraft is one example, and Gemcraft is another.

Gemcraft is basically another tower defense game. What makes it interesting however, is that your defense is created by using powerful gems that shoot magic attacks at the monsters trying to overrun you. These gems come in various types and various shades, and the shade of the gem determines its effect. As you play the game you’ll unlock many ways to combine gems, creating unique results that can then be used for defense.

The levels in Gemcraft also have multiple modes of play, so beating a level once doesn’t mean you’re done. I don’t know how much time it would take to beat every variant of every level, but I imagine I’d have gray hairs before I reached the end.

Monster Slayers

addicting online games

A strategy game that takes stylistic tips from the popular Xbox co-op game Castle Crashers, Monster Slayers is designed for single-player battles against, as the title suggests, monsters. And these monsters need to be slain yesterday.

This game is very simple at first, and the controls remains basic throughout. The team of five warriors that you assemble respond only indirectly to your commands, which consist of attack, defend, march and fall back. The strategy of the game partly comes from using the right command at the right moment, but success also depends heavily on choosing the right combination of warriors for a given battle.

While that alone would make for an interesting game, Monster Slayers becomes addictive because of the leveling and item-acquiring aspects. Your warriors gain experience from combat, and sometimes gain new helmets that provide bonuses, keeping you around to play just one more level.


addicting online games

If you like fast-paced puzzle games, Stackopolis will be right down your alley. The basic mechanics of this game are very simple. You are given a grid with blocks on it, and you need to move these blocks to fit a pattern that is shown on-screen. Once you move the blocks into the correct pattern they’ll transform into a building or monument to enhance the Stackopolis skyline.

Stackopolis is easy to learn but hard to master. The patterns become more varied and interesting as you unlock new levels, and you are given more blocks to move as well. You remain on a time limit however, so you’ll need to become very good at furiously clicking away in order to construct the most complex buildings.  This is the kind of addicting game you can go back to time and time again just to see how quickly you can beat the levels.

Line Rider

As much a toolset as a game, Line Rider is the sort of title that you can play to just mellow out and try some crazy experiments. There is no real goal to the game at all. You are simply given a blank white space, some tools for drawing, and a spawn point for the Line Rider, a crazy guy that will sled down whatever you draw for him.

While this may sound very simple, it’s actually rather challenging. The Line Rider can be knocked off his sled and thrown across the map if you don’t design him a course that is smooth and logical. You can’t, for example, expect him to come down a hill and then go up a ramp as tall as the hill he came down – he’ll just crash and die.

If you design a project that is particularly awesome, you can upload it to YouTube for others to see and enjoy. Although you may have some trouble beating some of the amazing courses already uploaded.

Give Up, Robot

addicting games

This game is a simple platformer in which you play a robot who has to navigate a number of obstacles. You have the ability to jump over obstacles and you have a grappling hook that can be used to swing across levels. As is the case with most good platformers, these simple abilities are played upon by the game’s level design. You’ll often be asked to use your grappling hook in unique ways, and you may sometimes find yourself having to stop and scratch your head for a bit before you figure out what to do.

I should mention that Give Up, Robot is hard. You’ll die a lot. Fortunately, the levels are extremely small and you respawn at the beginning of the level after you die. You can also save your game at any time and come back to it later.


These five games are very addictive, and should keep you entertained for a while. Choosing just 5 games from the millions of web games available is obviously a bit limiting, however – I know of games I like that I decided not to list here, and I’m sure you know of even more games that you like that aren’t here, as well. Let the comments begin!

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