Friday, February 18, 2011 “Cool Websites and Tools [February 17th]” plus 9 more “Cool Websites and Tools [February 17th]” plus 9 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [February 17th]

Posted: 17 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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Startup List – Does your Windows computer take a very long time to boot? Sometimes, this is caused by bloatware applications that you do not really want running on your system. You can solve this problem by just identifying and disabling these unwanted programs from your startup list. Read more: StartupList: Identify Bloatware Applications


Doomi – The Internet has countless web apps available if you are looking for an app to manage your to-do list. But if you are looking for a simple and user friendly desktop app that can manage your task lists, then Doomi is the perfect choice. Doomi is a free desktop application based on Adobe AIR. Its download size is nearly 430KB and is based on AIR. Read more: Doomi: A Simple To-Do List Management Software



Beluga -is the newest addition in the league of apps for iPhone and Android that focuses on group messaging and communication. The app facilitates private group chat and sharing through pods – a private group of people you've created. You can send status updates to your pod members, share photos with them, share your location. Read more: Beluga: Group Messaging On Android & iPhone Made Easy



uWall – YouTube has a large collection of music videos but its search feature leaves a lot to be desired. If you want to search YouTube videos through a better interface, head on over to a site called uWall. uWall is a free to use website that lets you search music-related videos on YouTube. You can use a keyword-based search to enter an artist's or song's name. Read more: Uwall: Search & View Music Videos On YouTube In A Newer, Better Way



Map Your Voice – Are you curious about English accents? Would you like to know what a person in Scotland sounds like? If yes then you need to pay a visit to Map Your Voice, a simple web app that lets people listen to various English accents from around the world. A Google map is your navigational tool. Read more: Map Your Voice: Listen To Various English Accents From Across The World


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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5 Things To Consider Before Buying A Tablet PC

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 05:31 PM PST

tablet pc considerationBack in January I wrote an article about 5 things you might want to consider before buying a netbook. The option of buying a shiny new tablet PC made it onto my list, although these devices come with their own list of advantages, compromises and considerations.

So in order to restore a bit of balance, here’s a brief shortlist of tablet PC considerations to consider before you take the plunge and break the bank. I’ve found myself pondering these five points for a good few months now…

Which One?

You may or may not already have a model in mind. Maybe you’ve been to the Apple store and fallen in love with iOS. Maybe you’re firmly set up in camp Google and have your heart set on an Android whim?

Then again there’s Windows, probably the least favourable operating system for use with touch controls. But don’t forget Bill’s OS will give you unparalleled software compatibility and Flash support out of the box. But if you’re leaning towards Windows wouldn’t a netbook be better?

tablet pc consideration

Android and Windows devices can vary greatly, so do your research and read as many reviews as possible before reaching for your wallet. I can’t speak for every Android or Windows tablet, but I know that Apple’s iPad doesn’t support a user-replaceable battery and Apple charges $99 to replace the lithium polymer cell once it dies.

The only way to really tell if you and a new piece of kit are made for each other is by trying it out. Go to a shop and play with everything they have for a good half hour. If it suits, go home, go on the Internet and buy it cheaper (if you’re that way inclined).

Are They Too Touchy?

Generally speaking, tablet devices require a touch input to function. Granted, you might get one or two buttons on the front, maybe a volume rocker on the side but that’s about it.

"Gorilla arm" is the rather humorous name for the act of obscuring the screen you’re using with your arm, primarily due to the layout and touch nature of the device. This is always going to be an issue with touch input, so you’re going to have to live with it.

buying a tablet pc

On another note; if you’re particularly heavy handed or have a habit of breaking things then you’ll either want to reconsider or take out accidental damage cover when you buy. Once that lovely capacitive touch screen dies it’s pretty much game over.

Are You A Consumer?

By consumer in this instance I mean do you waste enough time on the Internet or is your online time usually put to better use?

As this latest generation of tablet devices has slowly matured, it has become fairly evident that tablet PCs are devices aimed more at consumption than production. The lack of a physical keyboard is fairly indicative of this.

buying a tablet pc

Instead you’re more likely to find this generation’s average tablet user streaming video, playing games, reading RSS feeds or eBooks – that sort of thing. Sure, Twitter and email won’t cause a sweat but I’d rather not have to produce a lengthy document using an onscreen keyboard – would you?

Do You Really Need One?

So you’ve got your iPhone to keep your thumbs in shape, your netbook for computing-on-the-go and your home PC answers to the call of duty when you finally get home at night. Where would a tablet fit into your digital lifestyle?

If you don’t already own one then maybe a netbook would be a wiser purchase. You’ll get more bang for your buck, a proper operating system and the reassuring touch of a physical keyboard. You can also easily upgrade RAM and replace a dud battery in a netbook, and you won’t need an external keyboard or iPad keyboard dock to get some work done.

Then again maybe you’ve recently been pining for the perfect couch-potato device and find yourself demanding a big touch screen to do some serious browsing….

Should I Wait?

Often a burning question when it comes to any serious hardware purchase – what will the next generation hold? Dual-core Android devices are just landing resulting in faster, more capable (and pricier) tablets being produced.

tablet pc consideration

One of those dual-core devices is the Asus Eee Pad Slider (above) which runs Android, has a hidden keyboard, promises 1080px video and proper Flash support.

It’s also not in Apple’s style to let the competition run away with the show, and timely releases are vital in order to keep up with competitors. At the moment of writing, rumours are circulating the Internet of the iPad 2 having already gone into production – time to decide whether you want a shiny new Apple product or the shiniest new Apple product when it finally surfaces.


Tablet PCs didn’t really work first time round. Very few consumers found a need for laptop-cum-tablet hybrids with big swivelling resistive touch screens. This time round tablets are back with vastly improved innards, capacitive touch technology and a distinct lack of keyboard.

This time round there’s still an unclear target market, partly due to the fact that you’re probably not going to get a whole lot of work done on a tablet. Instead they’re aimed at reading, watching, playing and browsing; making the tablet PC a very passive device indeed.

Would you buy a tablet? Do you own one? Is a netbook a better purchase? Have your say in the comments below.

Image Credits: Samsung Galaxy Tab, Broken iPad, iPad Game, Asus Eee Pad Slider, Android Phone

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5 Tips To Perform A Smarter & Faster Google Map Search

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 03:31 PM PST

google map searchGoogle Maps is one of Google’s most exciting and innovative services. Apart from providing thorough Google Map search features, users can view the world as seen from a satellite, wander the streets of foreign cities in street view, and add informative or entertaining content across the virtual globe.

There is no shortage of things to discover on Google Maps. However, sometimes you just want to access a map or find a location quick and easy. This article provides you with tips and tricks on how to search Google Maps faster and smarter.

1. Use Keyboard Shortcuts To Navigate Maps

To browse the map and gain an overview or find a location, keyboard shortcuts are easier to use than pointing, clicking, and dragging with the mouse. Fortunately, the respective keys are easy to remember.

  • pan left, right, up, or down = arrow keys
  • pan faster = End, Home, Page Up, or Page Down keys
  • zoom in or out = + or – keys

Before you can use the keyboard shortcuts, however, you have to use your mouse and click the map to select it.

2. Change The Default Location

Are you going on a vacation or do you frequently look up places like restaurants or other businesses in your local city? You should consider setting a custom default location. Apart from letting you access your personal points of interest quicker, it’s also a nice change of view if you don’t happen to operate in North America.

Go to Google Maps and on the left-hand side click > Set default location. Enter the address, city, and/or country, eventually pick one of the suggested results, then click > Return to set the default location.

google map search

If a default location was set in the past, you can click > Change default location.

3. Refine Your Search

This is a very small and seemingly insignificant feature, but it can have a huge impact on the amount of results you have to weed through.

Next to the ‘Search Maps‘ button is a ‘Show search options‘ text link. Click it to add a pull-down menu with categories, including Locations, Businesses, User-created maps, and Real estate. Next time your search produces too many results, filter search results for the matching category.

google map search function

4. Use The Bookmaplet Bookmarklet

There is only so much you can do with Google Maps itself and you always have to go there first. To really speed up your map searches, I recommend Bookmaplet. It enables you to view a location in Google Maps by highlighting a city name or address on a website and clicking the bookmarklet in your browser toolbar. You don’t have to leave the page, but you can open Google Maps in a new tab if you want to.

To set up the bookmarklet, go to to the Bookmaplet website and click & drag the ‘Map that address‘ bookmarklet to your browser toolbar. To use it highlight a location of your choice in any online text, it can be an address, city, or country, and click the ‘Map that address‘ bookmarklet in your toolbar.

google map search function

Per default, the ‘Open in Google Maps‘ link will open in the same tab, unless you have changed your browser preferences. In Firefox and Google, a mouse middle click will open the link in a new tab.

If you’re not fond of bookmarklets, but use Google Chrome, try the Select To Get Maps or the MiniGoogleMaps extension.

5. Enable Google Maps Labs Features

As Tim has pointed out in a previous article, Google tests “new beta-type features in what they call ‘Google Labs’.” There are currently two features that let you zoom into a location faster and smarter. One is ‘Show Me Here!‘, which lets you zoom to the maximum zoom level of a location instantly via the context menu; the other is ‘Drag ‘n’ Zoom‘, it allows you to mark a region you want to zoom into.

To access the Google Maps Labs features, click the ‘New‘ link in the top right toolbar on the Google Maps page. A window showing all experimental features will come up. Enable the ones you find interesting or useful, close the window, and click the button to > Save changes.

google map search

Hooked on maps? There is a lot more to discover. Google Maps tips for life contains tons of useful information on how you can use Google Maps. Below is a selection of related articles on MakeUseOf:

How do you use Google Maps and what is the most valuable feature to you?

Image credits: ildogesto

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SPENT – An Online Game Designed To See If You Can Avoid Homelessness

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 01:31 PM PST

homeless simulationHave you ever wondered how people wind up homeless? If you have, then you’re probably one of many who doesn’t realise just how easy it is. All it takes is a month living on minimum wage with no savings and you’ll start to see how close you can get.

In an attempt to raise awareness for homelessness, get volunteers and donations, the Urban Ministries of Durham have created SPENT — an online game designed to test how well you’d fare if you were out of a job and low on money. Can you make it through the month?

What Is The Game?

The concept is simple: You’ve lost your job and have no savings. How will you get by?

homeless simulation

It’s designed for anyone who isn’t aware of the difficulties of low-income life. I’d personally love to see high school students playing this before they leave home, go to college, get jobs and try to manage their own financial lives. It could prevent a few bad decisions along the way.

homeless simulation game

How Do I Play SPENT?

Start here and accept the challenge to make it through the month without becoming homeless. After explaining your situation to you, the game begins by giving you three options for work: Restaurant Server, Warehouse Worker and Temp.

homeless simulation game

To be a temp worker you need to pass a typing test. The other two options will let you start straight away, so at least you don’t have to worry about unemployment in this scenario.

homeless simulation game

Once you’ve got a job, you need to choose the most affordable housing — and it’s not just as simple as living outside the city. There are other costs too. SPENT helps you do the maths by calculating how much you’ll spend in fuel according to how far away you live from work.

homeless simulator

As you play the game, costs are taken out of your account according to everyday expenses and things you choose to pay for. When payday comes around it tops up your funds a little. You never have a lot, so you’re always watching that dollar figure and wondering what else will come up.

You’re then given a barrage of decisions to make based on everyday realities: kids school trips, insurance, paying large bills, debt collectors, speeding fines, Internet access….

homeless simulator

After each of these decisions you’re reminded of the reality of these choices: People with little income are often underinsured because the cost of insurance is too much for them. Many low-income earners go to public libraries to use the Internet because they can’t afford it at home; and people will choose to keep their kids home from parties because they can’t afford a present. It happens.

homeless simulator

Another factor of this game is the reality of choosing to ask your friends for help. If you opt to ask a friend to help you out with any of these choices, you’ll be directed to a Facebook link post. You can choose to send a message instead, but the sentiment is clear. If you can’t bring yourself to ask a friend for help in a game, you would feel terrible if you had to do so in real life. As an added bonus for the game, this is a great way to get the game to spread virally.

SPENT – Reality Check & Money Management Training

Play this game to give yourself a reality check about homelessness or to help you gauge the consequences of the choices you would make if you were in the same situation. There’s not a lot of online money management games appropriate for adults. Maybe there should be more!

Send the link to SPENT along with this article about Pocket Lint to college students in the hope that it will help them make better choices. If you want to get your kids to learn about money early, try Zefty, MoneyTrail and reading about 10 Interactive Financial Websites That Teach Kids Money Management Skills. If you’re now thinking about managing your finances a little better, here’s 5 Android Finance Apps To Save & Manage Money With Your Android Phone.

How Did You Do?

homeless simulation

Did you make it through the month? Do you think a game like this will help people to learn more about homelessness? Let us know in the comments!

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Hot Tech Deals [Feb 17th]

Posted: 17 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. EXPIRING: Paragon Partition Manager 11 Personal Edition and EASEUS Data Recovery Wizard v.5.0.1 for $9.99
  2. TODAY ONLY Western Digital My Passport Essential SE 1TB Portable External Hard Drive $84.99 Free Ship
  3. EXPIRING Toshiba 40UL605U 40in LED-Edgelit LCD HDTV (1080p, 120Hz, Netflix) $629 Free Shipping via code EMCKHJJ45 (Exp 2/17)
  4. Vizio SV421XVT 42 inch LCD HDTV (1080p, 240Hz) $499.98 Free Shipping
  5. Samsung UN32C4000 32in LCD HDTV (720p, LED-Backlit) $399.99 Free Shipping via code ILI20779 (Exp 2/19)
  6. Asus DRW-24B1ST 16X Internal SAT A DVD Burner $17.99 Free Shipping via code EMCKHJC29 (exp 2/23)

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set



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Gitso Reverses VNC Connections, Makes Helping Others Easier [Cross Platform]

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 11:31 AM PST

reverse vnc connectionVirtual Network Computing (VNC) is useful, but less so if you want to help a friend with something. If they need your help to begin with they probably can’t set up their router’s port forwarding to give you access. Gitso allows for reverse VNC connections, meaning your port settings need to be set instead of your friend’s. Combine this brilliant idea with a program that works on Linux, Mac and Windows machines and you can support your friends in three simple steps.

When it comes to remote connections, VNC is many people’s protocol of choice. With native support built into Mac OS X and most versions of Linux, and a plethora of applications available for Windows and (seemingly) every other system on earth, it’s hard to match VNC for versatility.

But getting a VNC connection working when there are routers and port settings involved can be tricky, particularly if you need to access the computer of someone not savvy enough to make the necessary changes to their firewall and port settings. This explains the popularity of services like LogMeIn.

If you want a simple way to help your friends with their computer problems, but don’t want to depend on a proprietary service to do so, Gitso is what you’re looking for. Download Gitso if you want, and keep reading to find out how to use it.

The Basics

This program has two main functions: getting help and helping others. The person helping should probably start the program first, and doing so is simple enough. Here’s what it looks like when I start the program in Ubuntu:

reverse vnc connection

Giving help was as simple as clicking the “Give Support” button, then pressing start. The message “Server Running” means I’m ready to accept connections. Now comes the tricky part. I need my friend, who needs help, to connect to me. For this to happen he or she first needs to download Gitso, or I could simply email the program in order to simplify things. Once Gitso is working it will look like this:

vnc connection

My friend needs to type my IP address, which I’ll gladly provide over the phone. Once this is entered I will be connected to their computer:

reverse vnc connection

So the person receiving support only needs to do three things: download the program, run the program and type an IP address. It’s a little complicated, but far less than talking your friend through configuring their port settings.

Port Settings

Oh yeah, port settings. Using this service on a local network is simple, but if you want to make use of Gitso via your Internet connection you’re going to need to configure your port settings properly. Log into your router’s administrator and make sure port 5500 is forwarding to the computer you’ll be helping people from. For best results give your computer a static IP.


Still have questions about setting up a reverse VNC connection with this program? You can find more information at Gitso’s how-to page, or ask about any troubles you might have in the comments below. Also feel free to share any links to remote support software you find that’s easier to use than this is.

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5 Cool Things You Can Do With Pandora Music Radio

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 10:31 AM PST

pandora music radioThrough the years, before I discovered Pandora music radio, I used a wide variety of other radio streaming websites. I tried Radio365, which I thought was awesome, but it seemed difficult to navigate to find the exact sort of music that I wanted. Shoutcast is another good one that Jason wrote about here at MUO, but again while it’s a little easier to find music that you like with Shoutcast, it isn’t a simple matter to set up a single stream that just constantly plays the kind of music that you know you’ll always  like.

If you’ve never tried Pandora Radio, I highly recommend it. Pandora is just an amazing concept when it comes to streaming music. A Pandora “station” isn’t so much a radio station as it is a playlist consisting of a style or “genre” of music.  The only drawback is that Pandora is currently only available in the United States.

Back in 2006, Aibek showed you how you could set up Pandora as a personal DJ system. In the next few years, Pandora expanded with additional features. Grant detailed the Pandora iPhone integration in 2009. I’d like to introduce you to 5 other awesome features of Pandora Radio.

5 Useful Features Of Pandora Music Radio

The real beauty of a Pandora “station” is that it isn’t like a typical radio stations as you know them, where a DJ comes up with what songs to play. On Pandora, you get to create the sort of music you like. If you want to, you can build highly customized stations without much effort at all. Forget sitting there for hours trying to find individual songs that you like.

Don’t get me wrong, if listening to a playlist someone else built is your cup of tea, then you can do that too. In fact, many people use the Genre section of Pandora Radio as a starting point for that very reason.

pandora music radio

Once you’ve chosen a genre, or simply typed in a song or artist that you like when you first visit Pandora, you can gradually customize that station closer to your liking by giving each song a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”

Pandora keeps a huge database of interconnected music that is ranked in terms of “like” groups of songs. If you dislike a certain type of song, Pandora intelligently customizes all future songs within that station according to your selections.

how to use pandora music

By taking this approach, you can build stations that always play songs that you like without spending any time pouring through hundreds of titles and trying to remember whether or not you liked a particular song.

Build A Radio Station For Yourself Or A Friend

You could also take a more active approach and build your own radio station from scratch. When you click on the dropdown box for any of your existing (or new) stations, you can choose to “Add variety to this station.”

how to use pandora music

Pandora asks you for a song or artist that you like. It also does this when you click to create a brand new channel from scratch. This is always the starting point for Pandora. The moment you choose just one song, Pandora knows, based on past user likes and dislikes, a very long list of other songs and artists that you’ll most likely enjoy.

The next step is just going through Pandora’s prebuilt list of music and customizing it by liking or disliking individual songs. You can also create a customized station that you know your friend will love and then send it to them – just click on the “Make a station for a friend” gift icon at the top of the player window.

how to use pandora music

The “Make a station” feature really proves to your friends that you know them better than anyone else – because you know what music they love.

Other Cool Features

There are quite a few other little hidden features throughout Pandora that I feel really enhances the entire music-listening experience. One of those is that whenever a song starts playing, at the bottom of the screen you’ll see a pop-up box with the first paragraph of lyrics.

how to use pandora radio

Just click on the “full lyrics” link and you have access to the lyrics for the entire song. Forget surfing the web for lyrics – you’ve got them all if you listen to your music at Pandora!

Another feature that I tend to use a lot is Pandora’s integration with social networks. You can share the music you’re listening to on Twitter or Facebook. But don’t just let people know the song, add a comment to your post with Pandora’s comment box.

how to use pandora radio

If you’re really into music and you like talking with other people about music and artists, Pandora is actively building a user community filled with people like you that have a love for music. To find people that like the same artists or music, under the “Share” tab click on “Find Other Listeners.”

how to use pandora radio

All you have to do is type in a group that you like, or a song you love, and you’ll see a list of other Pandora users that like the same thing. Click the name to view the profile.

pandora music radio

On the profile page, you can check out what other songs that user recently listened to, or what songs they’ve bookmarked. You can even send them a message.

If you just want to open up a browser window and listen to music that you know you’ll like, with the least amount of effort, Pandora’s the site for you. If you require a few more features that let you customize your music stream or interact with other people that love the same music you do – Pandora’s got you covered there too.

Do you use Pandora music radio? What features do you like, and which don’t you like? Share your own thoughts in the comments section below.

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Find Relevant Twitter Posts With The My6sense Chrome Extension

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 09:31 AM PST

relevant twitter postsMy6sense, the “digital intuition” company who I have mentioned briefly here, has just released a Chrome extension which helps you to sort out the irrelevant tweets from the relevant twitter posts you should be noticing.   As people tweet more and more, this app will help a great deal in increasing your productivity levels by filtering out tweets which the app deems irrelevant.

Let’s take a closer look at the new Chrome extension, as well as the versions for the iPhone and Android to see if it is right for you.

My6sense As An App

relevant twitter posts

My6sense currently has an app available for the iOS and Android platforms only. This app will connect to your Twitter, Google Reader and several other accounts and pull in current sources of information.

Without you having to select which links you like, my6sense will automatically detect what you are reading and ‘float’ similar stories to the top. This way, it makes sure that stories that should interest you are easily available without getting lost in the deluge of confusion that is RSS.

This technology, which works great as long as you are on an iPhone or Android device, has not previously been available to web browsers… until now.

The my6sense Twitter Chrome Extension

interesting twitter post

My6sense has just released an extension in the Chrome web app store (here) which allows you to utilize their technology to determine which tweets will be relevant to you.

The Chrome extension is very similar to a Greasemonkey plugin script. It alters the Twitter interface and adds a special tab that only includes my6sense-tuned tweets. By default it will only show you tweets that include links within the last 12 hours; you can change this by setting it to a 6, 12, 24 or 48-hour time period depending on how often you log into Twitter. I also found that it was better to enable Tweets without links because ‘interesting’ content to me does not always include links, but this is really up to your personal tastes.

interesting twitter post

Some folks basically use Twitter as a glorified (or stripped down, depending on how you look at it) RSS feed reader; so this just depends on what you are looking for.

My6sense As A Platform

relevant twitter posts

I believe that my6sense’s aim is to become an ‘intuition platform’ from which other developers can build applications off of. They call it their ‘attention API‘ and allow developers to write code based off of the the my6sense platform via a web service. If you are interested in doing that, they have a sample PHP class which is ready to go for your coding needs.

Will My6Sense Work For You?

I mainly see my6sense as a platform to that brings to your attention interesting links that others have posted either via RSS or Twitter. However, there are some flaws in the platform that I would like to see addressed.

The first is the idea of what is ‘interesting’ to me. While most of the time I read about tech, web applications, startups and other similar news; I do occasionally enjoy reading about the uncontacted tribes of South America or about the latest technology for raising babies. Does that mean that I want to read about them all of the time? Probably not. But I am interested in the occasional random story; as long as it is interesting. My6sense does not let you opt-out or opt-in to a certain type of article, it is all automatic. You are relying on their technology to successfully filter topical items for you, which is both the good part of it and the bad part of it. It is all reliant on their algorithms.

If you haven’t tried my6sense already, it is definitely worth a look. As you use their apps more often they learn your viewing patterns and from what I have seen they are pretty successful at picking out relevant twitter posts and interesting content. Let us know how their mobile apps, and new Chrome Extension, work out for you!

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Topicmarks: A Cool Web Tool To Help You Summarize Long Documents

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 08:31 AM PST

summarize long documentsHave you ever tried to summarize long documents about topics you don’t really understand? You don’t need to be an academic with stacks of textbooks to stumble into these kind of long articles. The Internet provides us with lots of them; so much reading materials than what we could ever possibly consume in our whole life. Those with time to waste could go through those texts one by one and try to digest the content. But most of the time, we just don’t have that luxury. We often need to be able to get the point(s) of a text in the shortest time possible, then move on to the next one.

If you need an innovative way to make sense of the information overload, you could try Qwiki. But if you want to use the good old way of extracting the facts and figures, Topicmarks can be your friend in need.

Hit The Marks

Topicmarks is a web tool that will help you summarize English text. It will also store the summaries in its storage space under your account forever – for free, unless you decide to discard items. However, the developer does have a plan to charge “heavy users” in the future. With the help of Topicmarks’ “summarizing engine”, you can get the idea of a long article in a snap – without the trouble of going through the original text.

There are several methods you can use to submit texts that you want the Topicmarks engine to summarize. The first one is by uploading the text file from your computer. Topicmarks can handle text from several different kinds of file format.  These include Adobe Acrobat PDF (.pdf), Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx), OpenOffice ODF text (.odt), Hypertext Markup Language (.htm, .html), and of course Plain text (.txt).

summarize long documents

Another method that you can use is to paste the text itself into the text field.

summarize long article

Or you could also paste a URL to summarize an entire webpage.

summarize long article

With the text source ready, press the “Try it now” button to start processing the text.

summarize long article

Create An Account & Save

First time users are required to create a Topicmarks account. All the summaries from the texts that you submit will be saved under this account. Having an account will also unlock other methods of submitting text such as email and a bookmarklet.

You can sign into Topicmarks using your Google or Yahoo! account.

summarize text online

Or you can also start from scratch and create a brand new Topicmarks account.

summarize text online

A progress bar will tell you how far the summarizing process has gone. There’s also the list of actions that the engine has to go through in processing the text.

summarize text online

Topicmarks will send you an email when the process is finished. It could take several seconds or more, depending on how long and difficult your text is, and how heavy the current engine load is.

03a Thanks For Trying

You will be given general information about the text such as the origin, file size, word counts, etc. This information could be very useful when you already have lots of summaries.

03b Doc Facts

Other Ways To Submit Text

Other than uploading files and pasting texts/URLs, there are other ways to submit text to Topicmarks.

The first one is using the bookmarklet. You can find the link to the bookmarklet at the top right corner of the screen, below the “Sign Out” link.

04a Bookmarklet 2

With the bookmarklet installed, summarizing any web page is just a click away.

It’s also possible to email text to Topicmarks. Click the “Profile” link next to “Bookmarklet” to find the special email address where you should send your texts to.

07a email in address

The engine will process the first text attachment or email’s body if your email has no attachment.

Reviewing The Knodes

There’s a strange link nest to “Profile” called “My text knodes“.  The Topicmarks developer has explained that “knodes” stands for “knowledge” and “nodes”. You could say that your text knodes is similar to a library that holds all of your summaries.

Pick one of the summaries to see the results of the summarizing process. The “Overview” tab is the place to quickly see everything about the topic.

05a Text Knodes

The “Facts” tab holds all the quick facts for your reference.

05j Facts

As the name suggests, you can read the essence of the article under the “Summary” tab.

05k Summary

Digging deeper into one specific keyword can be done in the “Keywords” tab. The keywords are presented in a tag-cloud style where more popular keywords will be shown bigger than the non-popular keywords.

05l Keywords

Index” will remind you of the back of any formal academic works. The index makes it easy for you to find keywords because everything is listed alphabetically.

05m Index

Clicking on one of the keywords will bring you to that specific word under the “Facts” tab, along with the context wrapping around the highlighted sentence where the word is located.

summarize long documents

After playing with the service for a while, it’s clear to me that the results given by Topicmarks is good. No wonder the service is very popular among students (and teachers). Explaining the quality of the results is difficult. You should try Topicmarks and evaluate the results yourself. Don’t forget to come back here and share your opinion about Topicmarks using the comments below.

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Mix & Fade Your Own Music Tracks With Virtual DJ Free

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 07:31 AM PST

mix your own musicBeing a DJ is usually not for the faint of heart or the light of wallet. It’s hard to DJ; if you’re a normal person like me, the art of mixing music tracks on the fly to change how they sound and blend them seamlessly appears arcane. Then there is the equipment involved.

Fortunately, the barrier to entry is no longer so great. Computer software now makes it possible to DJ without all the stuff and arguably with less of the skill. But there was still the problem of cost; or at least there was until recently. Virtual DJ, a great piece of software, now has a free version.

The Basics

mix your own music

Although getting to know Virtual DJ isn’t too difficult, it is still a bit overwhelming at first to figure out how to mix your own music, particularly if you’ve downloaded it simply because you want to make use of a few basic effects like blending and fading tracks or inserting some basic effects and loops.

The interface is broken up into two sides, each of which has a full set of controls for whatever music is loaded. You can load music by dragging-and-dropping files from the browser in the lower half or by finding them in Windows Explorer and dragging-and-dropping from there. Once loaded, the name of the track and its length will be displayed, along with one other handy and important stat – BPM, or beats per minute.

Once a song is loaded, you just need to press the play button under the virtual scratch table.

Fade Tracks Seamlessly

how to mix music

One common reason for looking into software like Virtual DJ is the desire to blend tracks together as they play. This basic improvement can be very handy if you’re playing songs at a party or you are playing songs as a background for a podcast or video podcast. While some music players make an attempt to offer this feature, it doesn’t always work.

Fading from one track to another is quite easy with Virtual DJ.  You just need to load two tracks and, once one is complete, use the crossfade tool in the center of the interface to move from one track to the other. Remember that the crossfade tool defaults at 50/50, so adjust it appropriately before playing the second song you have loaded.

Also, remember the BPM stat I touched on earlier? Taking a look at this will help you avoid a situation where a very slow track fades into a very fast one – often not optimal. Virtual DJ also has a sync button, which will automatically put the beat of a loaded track in sync with the second track you currently have loaded. This will change the pitch of tracks, however, so use your best judgement.

Mixing Tracks

mix your own music

I thought fading tracks was quite easy, but what really surprised me about Virtual DJ was the ease of mixing tracks. There are a lot of tools available, and they’re not difficult to use. The main obstacle in your mixing will be your skill (I have none) rather than the interface.

Creating loops, for example, is very easy. The loop tool in the lower left hand corner of a loaded track’s interface lets you automatically create loops of varying lengths, which can then be more subtly adjusted with the shift knob or locked down. Of course, this loop will continue playing for as long as you’d like, while the second loaded track will continue to play normally.

Another handy feature are the hot cue buttons. There are three, and pressing one sets down a cue at the place you designated. You can then press the cue button again to automatically return to wherever you set the cue, making it easy to return to a portion of a song that you want to revisit.

Conclusion – The Tip Of The Iceberg

Fading and mixing tracks is really just a hint of what you can do with this software. It also includes a number of advanced features that real DJs will appreciate. For example, the virtual scratch table has a variety of settings and skills; I am simply, to be frank, unable to get much use out of it because I’m not an actual DJ. This is the only criticism that can be thrown at Virtual DJ. While powerful, the more advanced features can be intimidating.

Virtual DJ Free is true to its name, but it does lack some features you’ll find in the paid version. The most important feature missing is support for hardware MIDI/HID mixers. The broadcast feature, which lets you share your DJing with others online, is also disabled in the free version. Virtual DJ Free is otherwise fully functional, however. If you have DJ skills, Virtual DJ has what you’ll need to keep a party entertained.

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