Monday, March 14, 2011 “Cool Websites and Tools [March 13th]” plus 6 more “Cool Websites and Tools [March 13th]” plus 6 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [March 13th]

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 08:31 PM PDT

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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Math-Aids – Teachers often have to manually type up math worksheets for students. But fortunately for math teachers and parents, all that typing time is now saved by Math-Aids – a source of printable math worksheets. It is a free resource for teachers and parents. The site includes math worksheets worksheets for young children and can be obtained as PDF files. Read more: Math-Aids: Get Math Worksheets For Young Children


uFollow – If you are a fan of blogs and the bloggers behind them, you may also want to know where else these bloggers are posting. While RSS feeds are good for tracking blogs, it does not provide feeds from specific authors. uFollow is a free feed that makes it much easier for you to follow your favorite authors who post on multiple blogs. Read more: uFollow: Keeps Track Of Your Favorite Bloggers



Recordable – Numerous smartphone applications let you record the phone calls you make. But these apps cannot help if your phone does not support applications. In such cases, Recordable will be of great help. Recordable is a free to use web service that is currently in development. It records phone calls online and stores them on the servers of Twilio. Read more: Recordable: Record Phone Calls Online Without Any Phone Apps



Go Poll Go – Whether you want to have some visitor interaction on your website or want to connect with your Twitter friends, an online poll is a great way to get people to interact and get their opinion. Go Poll Go is a web service that offers simple yet effective embeddable online polls. You start by creating an account on the site and then specifying the poll question along with its answers. Read more: Go Poll Go: Quick & Easy Polling Online



Eternal Sunshine – There are times when you have people as friends on Facebook from whom you'd rather stay away from. When un-friending such people isn't an option, it's better to permanently hide their Facebook updates. Eternal Sunshine is an extension for Chrome that lets you do just that. It hides the person you specify from your Facebook newsfeed, sidebar, photos, wall, suggested albums. Read more: Eternal Sunshine: Chrome Extension To Block Specific Facebook Profile Updates


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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Thank You To MakeUseOf Friends!

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 07:31 PM PDT

It's time to say thanks to our friends who, once in a while, tip us great articles, help out on projects and in some cases offer their services at discounted prices. Thank you, guys!

    [1] ShrinkTheWeb – Website Screenshot Thumbnail Service

    Ever wanted to add website screenshots to your website? ShrinkTheWeb is one of the best services for that, both in terms of performance and pricing. The free account gets you a whopping 250,000 impressions. See it in action in our daily Cool Websites and Tools series.


    [2] LapDawg – Hands-free Laptop Stands

    Hands free laptop stand
    The hands free laptop stand holds your laptop or books in any position you want with it’s unique 360 degree rotating joints. Perfect for holding them in bed while lying down. Made from anodized aluminum with a beautiful black matte finish.


    [3] SuperTintin – Skype Video Call Recorder

    Skype Video Call Recorder
    If you need a tool to record your video conversation on Skype or MSN head over to Supertintin. It is a nice application that allows you to record all audio and video streams easily.

    [4] Walyou – Cool Gadgets for Geeks

    new cool gadgets
    Walyou is a fun blog covering all sorts of new cool gadgets and other stuff every geek is likely to find entertaining. Everything from world’s largest Gunny Bears to E-hookah gadgets. Make sure to check them out.


    [5] rade | eccles – iPhone Application Development

    The perfect iPhone development team, rade | eccles managed to put our iPhone app together in record time yet exude professionalism and dedication every step of the way. Our collaboration wasn’t happenstance. We would make the same decision all over again. Our only recommendation for an iPhone developer – rade | eccles.


    [6] TrueKolor – Affordable Quality Logo and Banner Design

    If you’re looking for a cheap, original and quality logo or banner, check out TrueKolor. We often contact these guys when we need a logo or a banner made, some of the stuff they did for us listed on their portfolio page. Highly recommended.


    [7] Mobify – Making the Web a mobile place

    More and more users access websites and read blogs using their mobile phone. Mobify lets you mobilize your blog or website by creating lightweight version of it, which loads much faster and looks great on a mobile screen. MakeUseOf’s mobile site was created by Mobify, and we’re proud of it!


    [8] Sendible – The easiest way to market your brand online

    We’re strong believers of the service Sendible provides — we use it on a daily basis and it has never failed us! Sendible is an online marketing service to promote, grow and track brands through the use of social media, email and SMS messaging. It has the ability to post to multiple services at once, schedule social network updates and analyse their success. We love it!


    [9] Sourcebits – Android Developement

    Sourcebits did a bang up job of helping us put together our long-awaited Android app. For that, we are eternally grateful!


Thank you, guys!

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Which Is The Best IM Chat Service? [MakeUseOf Poll]

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 06:30 PM PDT

Last week, we asked if it annoyed you when your friends use smartphones while you hang out. It turns out you’d better be doing something that involves everyone or you will probably annoy people a lot.

With a total of 310 votes, the split was as follows: 43% think smartphone use when hanging out is only okay if you’re involving everyone (like finding a new venue to try); 32% of people are simply annoyed at smartphone use at gatherings, regardless of the reason; 25% readers have no problem with smartphone use while you’re hanging out. That’s 75% of people unimpressed if you get your smartphone out for a purpose that doesn’t involve everyone.

Full results and this week's poll after the jump.

So, remember when you get your phone out at social gatherings, you’d best be doing something useful with it that involves everyone or you’re likely to annoy almost everyone!

This week's poll question is: Which Is The Best IM Chat Service?

You probably use several IM chat services, maybe using a client like Trillian or Meebo to handle them all at once. But, if you could get all of your friends to contact you on just one of these services, which one would it be? Facebook? Skype? MSN?

So, now that you’ve decided which client you want your entourage to find you on, would you care to let us know why? What’s so great about the IM chat service you chose? Let us know in the comments!



Why You Should Replace iCal With Virtual Daily Planner Opus Domini [Mac]

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 03:30 PM PDT

Do you remember, before the advent of palm pilots, blackberrys and smartphones, carrying around one of those leather bound planners, to keep track of your daily schedule? Opus Domini [App Store Link] is the ideal solution for someone looking for a virtual version of that kind of daily planner.

The virtual daily planner is divided into five sections, Daily Tasks, Master Tasks, Compass, Goals and Mission. Even if you don’t have a need for all sections, you can get a great deal out of this nifty little app that is impressively available for free through the Mac App Store, and could easily replace the  native Mac calendar app, iCal.

Opus Domini gives you a more fun and visually appealing way to handle your schedule, as it is made to look exactly like a physical daily planner, which you can leaf through. The way it is laid out, it transforms itself into a useful tool which you can use to stay organised, and on top of both your daily and over all work tasks.

virtual daily planner

Automatically Syncs with iCal

If you’ve already got your entire calendar plugged into iCal, making the transition to Opus Domini is easy because it automatically syncs with the native Mac app. There is no need to do anything on your part – it automatically pulls in your appointments and events from all of your calendars, and performs a two-way sync with your default calendar. This is also useful for anyone who uses iCal to take their calendar on the go with them on their smartphone.

virtual planner

Calendar Display Options

With iCal you can take a look at your upcoming schedule by month, by day or by week. Opus Domini outdoes iCal by adding a 5 day planner and a weekend planner.

virtual planner

Task List

With Opus Domini, your task list is front and centre, whereas with iCal it’s little more than a side bar with a list of ToDo items, to which you ocan assign due dates, priority and an alarm to remind you when a task is due. There are two separate Opus Domini task lists. The first is a task list that is viewable by date. Click on any given date, and you will see your scheduled tasks, next to a calendar of scheduled appointments for that day.

virtual planner

The second task list is a Master List. This is useful for keeping a separate list of ongoing tasks that don’t have a specific due date.

virtual planner download

With Opus Domini, while there is no alarm feature, you can mark tasks as being in progress, delegated or scheduled. You can also easily reschedule all tasks for another date by ‘forwarding’ them.

virtual planner download

Another easy way to assign a due date to a task is by dragging and droppoing tasks onto the calendar above the task list. Overdue tasks are highlighted in red.

If you use your planner for reminders, iCal is the better option for you. If you use your planner as a way to give you a broader picture of what your tasks are, how they are being handled, and to keep you on track, Opus Domini will definitely be more appealing.

Notes & Weather

Opus Domini has a few extra features that makes it a more visually appealing and more well rounded app to use instead of iCal. Next to the daily tasks, you have a blank page in which you can write notes, as well as add images using the drag and drop method.

virtual planner download

Above the notes, you can keep track of the weather in any given city, setting it up in the preferences. There is, however, a small glitch with the weather feature, as it displays the temperature in Fahrenheit only, despite there being the choice between Celsius and Fahrenheit.


The Compass is another interesting feature that Opus Domini offers users, but it won’t necessarily appeal to just about anyone. It allows users to document Physical, Social, Mental or Spiritual items on a list, and track their progress.

Here you can record tasks or goals aimed at bettering yourself in any given way. You can also add your own categories to the Compass.

Goals & Mission

If you’re interested in the bigger picture, you can also use Opus Domnini to keep a record of your goals, and how they are progressing.

In addition, you can set down your mission statement, vision and values, to remind yourself of the driving force behind your work.

virtual daily planner

Opus Domini is only available for download through the Mac App Store, and so you have to be running Snow Leopard in order to install it.

Would you ditch iCal in favour of Opus Domini? What do you think of its features? Let us know in the comments.

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Hot Tech Deals [Mar 13th]

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 01:30 PM PDT

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. Kodak Zi8 Pocket 1080p High Definition Video Camcorder $69.99 Free Shipping
  2. TODAY ONLY Vizio VF552XVT 55 inch LED-Backlit LCD HDTV (1080p, 240Hz, Wifi, Netflix Streaming) $1294.99 Free Shipping
  3. Samsung LN55C630 55in LCD HDTV (1080p, 120Hz) $999.99
  4. TODAY ONLY Yamaha RX-V567BL 7.1ch 90W/ch 3D AV Receiver $278 Free Shipping
  5. Dell Inspiron IN5030-2450B3D Intel Dual-Core T4500 2.3GHz 15.6in Laptop (4GB/320GB) $399.99 Free Shipping
  6. Toshiba Satellite C655-S5128 Intel Core i3-380M 2.53GHz 15.6in Laptop (4GB/500GB) $449.99
  7. HP Pavilion dm4-1160us Intel Core i5 2.26GHz Dual-Core 14in Laptop (4GB/500GB/Win7) $599.99AR

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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10 Free MP3 Albums To Download [Sound Sunday]

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 12:30 PM PDT

Welcome to Sound Sunday.

This week’s edition contains soul, melody, beat, rock, and a few surprising sounds. One of the craziest and coolest albums this week is (speed) Gospel from The Schomberg Fair. A favorite of mine is Science Within Reason from B.Lewis. With Ashelyn Summers Sound Sunday also features an amazing female singer. The mix couldn’t be any more fascinating and I hope you will like it, too.

What album is your top pick? Share your thoughts in the comments! You can also eMail me [tina at makeuseof dot com] to share feedback and suggestions. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the music!

Steven A. Clark – Stripes

Genre: indie, alternative, rhythm & soul, hip hop

Stripes is a melodic album with a lot of rhythm & soul. Steven’s childhood memories of his mom playing Boyz II Men, Tracy Chapman, and Stevie Wonder clearly show in his music. What inspired him to start writing, however, was Nas and N.E.R.D.’s 2002 debut album In Search Of…

Download Stripes from free from Bandcamp. A backup is also available through Mediafire.

Steve A. Clark MySpace and Facebook.

Rock Well 9000 – It’s a Good Life

Genre: instrumental, scratch, hip hop

Rock Well 9000 is a DJ from Austin, Texas. He’s in his fourth year in the business, opening shows and doing meet and greet parties for various artists. It’s a Good Life is an instrumental hip hop album with some great beats.

It’s a Good Life is a free download from Bandcamp.

Rock Well SoundCloud and Facebook.

B.Lewis – Science Within Reason

Genre: experimental, soul, ambient, hip hop

Nope, this edition of Sound Sunday is not a hip hop special. Science Within Reason is an amazing 30 track album with hip hop beats, soul backing vocals, compelling melodies, some game music elements, and mesmerizing ambient sounds. The music is mostly instrumental and typical raps occur in only two songs.

Science Within Reason is available free from Bandcamp. Should the free downloads run out, you can also get it from Mediafire.

B.Lewis MySpace and SoundCloud.

Mark Schottinger – Homemade Music

Genre: folk, blues, rock

Wearing a pair of black RayBan’s he looks quite mysterious, but it doesn’t end there. So Mark is a hobbyist singer/songwriter who attends law school and works as a parking lot attendant who appeared in the award winning 2010 documentary The Parking Lot Movie. The songs from his ‘homemade’ album were created between 2006 and 2008. And by the way, he also lists hip hop as one of his music’s genres, but that must be a joke.

Homemade Music is a free download from Bandcamp.

Mark Schottinger Facebook.

The Evidence – Polarity

Genre: alternative, progressive, punk, rock

The Evidence is a progressive nerd punk band with an unknown commodity: their singer is the drummer. The trio was founded in Calgary, Alberta in late 2000. “Graduates of the local punk rock scene, the band has grown into a sound that blends the rocky pop sensibility of alt-punk bands such as AFI, Bad Religion and the Foo Fighters with the prog-rock detail and grandeur of groups like Rush and Queen.

Polarity is a name your price download from Bandcamp.

The Evidence MySpace and Homepage.

Casper & the Cookies – Ice Mattress

Genre: experimental, powerpop, rock

free mp3From their Press Kit: “If you've never heard Casper & the  Cookies, do yourself a favor; dismiss any preconceived notions.  Forget that Jason played with of Montreal.  Cast aside the reports of live shows replete with fake eyelashes, though it does look fantastic.  You're going to have to take Casper & the Cookies on their own terms.  Fail to do so and you will miss some of the most original pop music to come along in years. Over the course of three albums Athens, GA's finest have managed to carve out an aesthetic all their own, a labyrinthine tangle of ear-worm melodies, plot-twist production, and the history of popular music.  This is good news for those waiting for another XTC or Elvis Costello, ambitious artists that never left their audiences wondering where the catchy songs went.

Ice Mattress is a free download from their homepage.

Casper & the Cookies MySpace and Homepage.

Meet Me At The Pub – Tall Can Wednesday

Genre: reggae, ska, surf

free mp3To celebrate and promote their upcoming tour in April and May, Veice Beach, California band Meet Me At The Pub are offering all the songs they have ever released for free, including their 2009 album Tall Can Wednesday. The band has been together since 1999 and has played over 1,500 shows. It all started at the Malibu Inn where they played every Monday night.

You can download Tall Can Wednesday, Monday Night, and Exclusive Trax free from Music Bailout.

Meet Me At The Pub MySpace and Homepage.

The Schomberg Fair – Gospel

Genre: bluegrass, blues, rock, gospel, folk, punk, roots music

From their Facebook profile: “The Schomberg Fair (Pete, Matt and Nate) are three handsome assholes whose unique brand of Speed-Gospel/Folk-Punk — coupled with engaging, spirited performances — have rowdied crowds since their inception in 2006. We originally hail from a small rural farm town in Ontario called Schomberg, so we’re not one of these urban fake folk/country/blues acts; we’re legit.

Gospel is a free download from Bandcamp.

The Schomberg Fair MySpace and Homepage.

Pornopop – …and the slow songs about the dead calm in your arms

Genre: electronic, rock, pop

Pornopop is the band of brothers Pétur and Ágúst Einarsson from Iceland. From their Ching Ching Bling Bling record label profile: “In 1996, they began working together in their parents' basement, making music with their Roland drum machine and two months later headed into late-night sessions in studios all over Reykjavík city. (…) Seven years later Pornopop recorded their 2nd album …and the slow songs about the dead calm in your arms. This time they used a studio owned by friend, Arnar Helgi Aðalsteinsson, from IDM / experimental band Plat. Now they took their time in experimenting with sounds, music directions and various effects and tapemachines, driving their engineer totally crazy with their relentless search of a perfect atmosphere that would do the album justice. On and off, the album was two years in making.

Free downloads of this album are limited to 200! So get the album quick!

You can download …and the slow songs about the dead calm in your arms free from Bandcamp.

Pornopop MySpace and Facebook.

Ashelyn Summers – selftitled

Genre: pop, rock, piano, acoustic

Ashelyn Summers is a singer / songwriter from Orange County, California. Her music is a combination of classical instruments and modern rock, backed up by a powerful voice. While she is working on her debut album, which is to be released in May this year, she is releasing one single each month for free download. Currently, there are 10 singles and on Bandcamp you can listen to several versions of each song. The free download, however, is hosted on Noise Trade.

Download Ashelyn Summers’ selftitled album free from NoiseTrade.

Ashelyn Summers MySpace and Homepage.

New to Sound Sunday? Past editions of Sound Sunday are available here.

Feel free to get in touch with me [tina at makeuseof dot com] to share free material, suggestions, and feedback or simply add your comments below.

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3 Ways The W3 Total Cache Plugin Can Speed Up Your WordPress Blog

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 10:30 AM PDT

speed up wordpressSelf-hosted WordPress is a fantastic system, no doubt about it. It is simply the best choice for anyone from beginner bloggers to large corporations to run a simple yet extensible content publishing system. But with a few plugins installed, a elaborate theme with lots of stylesheets, some Javascript jQuery effects – well, it can become a little bloated resulting in a slow load time.

The problem is compounded if you’re using shared hosting, and you may find your blog has a total load time of around 10 seconds or more. Not only is this obviously a bad experience for users, but Google will penalize your site for being slow too.In fact, a 2006 study showed that most users will give up after 4 seconds, and that was 4 years ago!

The W3 Total Cache Plugin is here to help, so let me explain what it can do to speed up your WordPress blog.

Note: This article only related to self hosted WordPress press installs, whether that’s on a shared host, a dedicated private host, or on your own home server.

How Do I Know If My Page Is Slow?

Firstly, simply visiting the page in your own browser is not a good test because most of the objects will be cached locally and hence the loading will seem quicker than it really is. To find out the real page load time of your site, you’ll need to use a special testing tool. You can do this quickly online by typing in the URL of your site at

The tool will attempt to load your page without any caching, and will record how long and what elements exactly it has to load. You’ll get a nice graph which can highlight any particular slow elements.

speed up wordpress

When it’s finished, scroll down the bottom of the page and look for the grey summary box. Curiously, my page has slowed down to about 13 seconds total, which is shockingly appalling! Next week, I’ll go through a step by step install process as it can get a little tricky, as well as show you the results.

speed up wordpress

What Does W3 Total Cache Do?

1. Caching Pages & Database Queries:

WordPress is a dynamic system. What that means is that everytime a page is viewed, WordPress will run to the database, fetch some data (like your latest blog posts, comments etc), play around with it to produce a page according to your theme layout, then serve it back up to the reader. All that takes a lot of effort and happens for every single page on your blog, even though for most part the content doesn’t change. Instead of going back to the database and recreating the whole page everytime, W3TC will keep a fully made copy of that page in memory, and send that straight to user instead. If a new comment has been added, it’ll make sure that gets displayed too so your posts are always up to date.

2. Minify Your Javascript & CSS:

Some more complex WordPress themes can use up 10 separate CSS files, a lot of which is repeated or unneeded code. Plugins also come with own their own CSS files if they display some kind of output to the user. Again, for every page load the browser must send a separate request for each of these files, and even if they are quite small, the overhead time involved with requesting a file and beginning the transfer really adds up.

The wonderful process of minification takes all those files, and squeezes them into one compact, efficient CSS file that covers all the style elements you need. Don’t worry, when you come to edit the files they’ll look exactly the same to you – but the W3TC plugin will make one new file and serve that to readers instead. The same goes for Javascript files

3. Optimize Your Browser Cache Settings:

Browsers generally don’t automatically know what files can be cached locally on a users computer, and most websites don’t include the relevant information that tells the browser something is ok to cache and for how long. That’s where W3TC comes in, as it will make sure the correct settings are being sent to the users browser so that their local cache is used effectively, reducing the number of files that need to be sent to them each time.


MakeUseOf uses W3TC as just one of the ways we try to optimize the page and make it as fast as possible for you, the readers. Without it, we honestly wouldn’t be able to serve the amount of pages we do as the server would cripple over and burn all the time. But W3TC can help every WordPress system large or small to run more efficiently, and your readers and Google will thank you for it. If you’re following my advice last week on how to make your blog popular, the next logical step is to be able to cope with that popularity by optimizing your site. Keep your eye on the site as I walk you through a complete install of the W3TC plugin next week.

If you’re feeling a little confused about the whole idea of caching to speed up WordPress right now, then be sure to ask us in the comments or post a question to our ever growing and vibrant questions and answers community. Let us know if you use a different plugin also, and how you’d rate it. If you missed my last post where I showed you 8 useful strategies for making your blog popular, be sure to check that out too.

Download the W3TC plugin here

Image Credit: ShutterStock

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