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May 21 2018

15:00

Everything You Need to Know About Raspberry Pi GPIO Pins

The Raspberry Pi is a cheap and tiny computer capable of a huge array of tasks, including retro gaming and being a home media center. The Pi also has a heavy focus on education, with both Scratch and Minecraft Pi edition geared towards helping young people learn to code, and the GPIO pins (General Purpose Input/Output) open up a whole world of DIY electronic tinkering and invention.

What Are Raspberry Pi GPIO Pins?

raspberry pi gpio pins guide

In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about the Pi’s GPIO pins: what they can do, how to use them, and mistakes to avoid while using them.

A note before we begin: Different revisions of the Pi can vary with their pins! Before attaching anything to your board, make sure you are using the correct ones. A quick way to check is to type pinout into your Raspberry Pi’s terminal, which will bring up a diagram of your current setup.

The GPIO pins are integrated into the circuit board of the computer. Their behavior can be controlled by the user to allow them to read data from sensors, and control components like LEDs, motors, and displays. Older models of the Pi had 26 GPIO pins, while the newer models all have 40. This chart shows what each pin does:

In the labelled diagram above, you can see that there are different types of GPIO pins which serve different purposes. You can find an interactive version of this chart at pinout.xyz It also outlines one of the first confusing things you will have to contend with. Each pin has two numbers attached to it. Its BOARD number (the numbers in the circle) and its BCM (Broadcom SOC channel) number. You can choose which convention to use when you write your Python code:

# 1 - GPIO/BCM Numbering
GPIO.setmode(GPIO.BCM)

# 2 - Board Numbering
GPIO.setmode(GPIO.BOARD)

You can only use one convention in each project, so choose one and stick to it. Neither convention is “right”, so go with whichever one makes most sense to you. It is worth noting however, that certain peripherals rely on GPIO/BCM numbering.

For this article, we will stick to BOARD numbering. So what do the pins actually do?

Power Pins

Let’s start with the power pins. The Raspberry Pi can provide both 5v (pins 2 and 4) and 3.3v (pins 1 and 17) power. It also provides a ground (GND) for circuits on pins 6, 9, 14, 20, 25, 30, 34, and 39.

Unfortunately, there is no single answer to how much current the 5v power pins can draw as it is reliant on what power supply you are using, and what other components you have attached to your Pi. The Raspberry Pi 3 will only draw 2.5A from its power supply, and requires around 750mA for boot up and normal headless operation. This means that if you are using a 2.5A power supply, the 5v pins can supply a total current of around 1.7A maximum. Annoyingly, this varies between models of Pi however, as this table shows:

raspberry pi gpio pins guide Image Credit: raspberrypi.org

For most users just starting out with the Pi, this will not be a problem, but it is something to bear in mind as you spend more time with the GPIO pins.

The 3.3v pins are somewhat simpler, with recent Raspberry Pi revisions (Model B+ onwards) providing up to 500mA total, and older models providing just 50mA. Note that this current is shared throughout all of the other GPIO pins too!

So these pins can provide power to your components, but that is all they do. The real fun stuff comes from the rest of the pins.

Standard GPIO

On the chart above, ignoring the power pins, you’ll see that some are marked in different colors. The green pins are standard GPIO pins, and these are what you will use for most beginner projects. These pins are capable of a 3.3v output, also referred to as setting the pin HIGH in code. When an output pin is LOW this means that it is simply providing 0v.

raspberry pi gpio pins guide

They are also capable of taking an input of up to 3.3v, which the pin reads as HIGH.

Do not provide the pins with greater than 3.3v: this is a quick way to fry your Pi!

For a great guide to getting started using the GPIO pins in a simple project, try out our Getting Started with Raspberry Pi GPIO project.

While we will cover some of the pins with special uses in this article, you can use any pins except the power pins, and pins 27 and 28 as regular GPIO pins.

PWM

PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) is used with components such as motors, servos and LEDs by sending short pulses to control how much power they recieve. We used it with an Arduino in our Ultimate Guide to LED Strips tutorial.

PWM is also possible on the Pi. Pin 12 (GPIO 18) and pin 35 (GPIO 35) are hardware PWM capable, though the Pi is also able to provide software PWM through libraries such as pigpio.

For an introduction to the code required for PWM, this simple LED brightness tutorial should help get you going.

UART

Pins 8 and 10 (GPIO 14 and 15) are UART pins, designed for communicating with the Pi using the serial port. There are certain situations where you may want to do this, but for most beginners connecting to your Pi headlessly via SSH or using a VNC will probably be easier.

If you are interested in a detailed view of how the serial pins work, this is a great primer.

SPI

SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface bus) is a method of communicating with devices like the RFID reader we used in our DIY Smart Lock with Arduino and RFID project.

It allows devices to communicate with the Raspberry Pi synchronously, meaning much more data can pass between the master and slave devices. If you have ever used a small touch screen for your Pi, this is how they communicated.

Image Credit: Gareth Halfacree/flickr.com

There are various devices and extension HATs for the Raspberry Pi which use SPI, and it can open up your projects to much more hardware than the regular GPIO pins can sustain. It does however, require quite a lot of wiring to get it working. There is an in depth overview of SPI on the Raspberry Pi foundation website.

Pins 19, 21, 23, 24, 25 and 26 (GPIO 10, 9, 11, 8, GND, and GPIO 26) are used to connect to an SPI device, and they are all required for smooth operation. A good way to avoid all the spaghetti is to buy a premade extension such as the Sense HAT, which fits on top of your board and provides it with an LED matrix and a wide array on sensors. It’s been a favourite for several years now, and was even used on the International Space Station to do some experiments!

The SPI protocol is not enabled as standard on Raspbian, but it can be enabled in the raspi-config file, along with I2C.

I2C

I2C (Inter-Integrated Circuit) is similar to SPI, but is generally considered to be easier to set up and to use. It communicates asynchronously, and is capable of sustaining as many different devices as needed provided they each have unique address places on the I2C bus. Due to this addressing system, the Pi only needs two I2C pins—pin 3 (GPIO 2) and pin 5 (GPIO 3), making it much simpler to use than SPI.

The small footprint of I2C opens up a huge range of possibilities. With standard GPIO pins, setting up an LCD screen and some buttons would take up almost every pin, using an I2C device such as the Adafruit Negative LCD controller brings it down to just two pins!

Sparkfun have a full rundown of SPI and I2C along with examples to get you started.

Pins 27 and 28 (marked ID_SD and ID_SC) are also I2C. There are used by the Pi for internal functions, and also some HAT boards. As a general rule, don’t mess with them unless you really know what you are doing!

Raspberry Pi: A GPIO Pin for Everything!

The Raspberry Pi is the Swiss Army Knife of modern computing. Along with a huge amount of awesome day to day uses, it also opens anyone up to the possibility of making their own cool creations.

Many Raspberry Pi beginner projects use the protocols discussed in this article, and a hands on approach is the best way to learn. Keep tinkering, and have fun!

14:00

The Ultimate How-To Guide for Chromebook Beginners

Chromebooks have deservedly earned a reputation for being easy-to-use, even for people who aren’t technologically savvy. Chromebooks aren’t just perfect for students, they’re also solid options for seniors.

But just because the operating system is straightforward, it doesn’t mean there aren’t some parts of it that require further explanation. Without further ado, here’s an ultimate how-to guide for your Chromebook.

How to Take a Screenshot on a Chromebook

Chromebooks offer two ways to take screenshots natively. You can either capture the full screen or a part of a screen.

To capture the entire screen on your Chromebook, hold down Control and press the Switch Window key. It’s on the top row of your keyboard in what would be the F5 position on a non-Chromebook device.

Note: If you own a Chromebook with a 360-degree hinge, you can also press Power + Volume Down, just like an Android device.

To capture part of your screen, press Control + Shift + Switch Window. The mouse cursor will change into a crosshair. Just click and drag the crosshair over the part of the screen you want to save.

If your screengrab was successful, you will see a notification pop up in the lower right-hand corner.

You can find all your screenshots in the Download folder. They are not automatically saved into Google Drive.

How to Right-Click on a Chromebook

As with screenshots, there are two ways to perform the right-click action on your Chromebook.

The most common method is to use the trackpad. Move the mouse to whatever item you want to right-click on, then tap the trackpad with two fingers at the same time.

The lesser-known method uses the keyboard. Press and hold the Alt key then tap one finger on the trackpad instead of two.

Of course, technically, there’s a third way—use a USB mouse!

How to Rotate the Screen on a Chromebook

Depending on the model of Chromebook you own, there might be times when it’s more practical to use your machine in portrait rather than landscape view.

It’s also a useful trick to know in case you ever need to flip your screen 180-degrees, for example, if you are trying to show something to someone sat on the opposite side of the table.

ultimate chromebook guide basics

Rotating the screen is easy. You can move through four 90-degree turns by pressing Control + Shift + Refresh.

You can only rotate in a clockwise motion.

How to Copy and Paste on a Chromebook

We won’t dwell on this one for too long. Most users will already know how to copy and paste, but it still perplexes new Chromebook users who expect the process to be widely different to what they are used to.

In practice, the process is exactly the same as the method you’d use on Windows. Use Control + C to copy, Control + V to paste, and Control + X to cut. You can also use the right-click context menu.

How to Print on a Chromebook

Printing has always been the Chromebook’s Achilles heel. It’s never been a straightforward process.

Before beginning, you need to know if your printer is “Cloud Ready.” Check Google’s list of compatible printers if you’re not sure.

If it is Cloud Ready, follow the instructions below:

  1. Open Chrome and type chrome://devices in the address bar.
  2. Locate your printer in the New Device section of the page.
  3. Click on Register.

If it’s not Cloud Ready but has Wi-Fi capabilities, follow these instructions instead:

  1. Open Chrome on a Windows or Mac operating system.
  2. Type chrome://devices in the address bar.
  3. Click Add Printer in the Classic Printers section of the page.
  4. Mark the checkbox next to the printer you want to add.
  5. Select Add Printer.

ultimate chromebook guide basics

After completing either of the above processes, you can go to your Cloud Print portal to ensure setup was successful.

Lastly, if you want to add a local printer without using the Cloud Print app, use these guidelines:

  1. Open the Chromebook’s Settings menu (accessible through the system tray).
  2. Scroll down and click on Advanced.
  3. Go to Printers > Add Printer.
  4. Give the printer a name and enter its IP address.
  5. Click on Add.

Note: You cannot add a non-Wi-Fi-enabled printer to your Chromebook.

How to Zoom Out on a Chromebook

Chromebooks offer two ways to zoom in and out. It depends whether you want to increase the size of a single page/app, or of your whole screen.

To zoom in and out on a single app, press Control + Plus or Control + Minus accordingly. You can reset your screen’s zoom by pressing Control + 0.

If you’d rather change the zoom level across the entire operating system, press Control + Shift + Plus or Control + Shift + Minus. This shortcut will also change the size of your app dock, thus letting you fit more apps on it if you’re running out of space.

How to Change a Chromebook’s Owner

If you’re planning to sell your Chromebook, or even just give it to another family member, you will need to change the device’s owner.

The only safe and secure way to accomplish this is to do a factory reset AKA Powerwash. Performing a Powerwash will delete all data from the computer, including the users and any data in the download folder. Therefore, ensure you make a backup before proceeding.

To Powerwash your machine, open the Chromebook’s Settings menu and navigate to Advanced > Powerwash > Powerwash.

When it becomes available, click on the Restart button. You will be taken through the device setup screens. The Google Account you enter when prompted will automatically become the Chromebook owner.

How to Invert Colors on a Chromebook

Like almost all operating systems, Chromebooks come with a broad range of accessibility tools. One of them allows you to invert the colors on your screen. In Chromebook-speak, the feature is called “High Contrast Mode,” but the end product is the same.

ultimate chromebook guide basics

There are two ways to invert the colors. The simplest method is to use the keyboard shortcut; press Search + Shift + H. However, this shortcut will only work if the Search key is still mapped to the search function; if you’ve assigned it to caps lock, it won’t work.

The alternative approach requires you to dive into the Settings menu. Open the menu and go to Advanced > Manage Accessibility Features. In the display section, slide the toggle next to Use high contrast mode into the On position.

How to Connect to Wi-Fi on a Chromebook

How you connect to Wi-Fi depends on the type of network you want to connect to. Firstly, make sure Wi-Fi is turned on. Click on your profile photo and select No network. Make sure the toggle at the top of the popup window is in the On position.

ultimate chromebook guide basics

To connect to a visible network that’s within range, click on the network’s name and enter the password if needed. Meanwhile, to connect to a hidden, unlisted network, repeat the above steps but instead choose Join other network. Enter the network information and hit Connect.

What Else Do You Need to Know About Chromebooks?

The nine queries we’ve covered in this article are some of the web’s most searched Chromebook questions.

However, it’s not an exhaustive guide, so if you still have questions, feel free to reach out in the comments below.

Alternatively, you can keep reading more Chromebook content elsewhere on the site. We’ve covered everything from the most useful Chromebook shortcuts to fixing common Chromebook errors.

13:00

The 5 Best File Manager Apps for iPhones and iPads

iOS doesn’t have a user-accessible file system like Windows or Android. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use your iPhone or iPad as a file manager. If your business revolves around files and documents that you need to download, edit, and share on a regular basis, you’ll need to use a third-party file manager app on iOS.

Thankfully, there are quite a few awesome options.

What Makes for a Good File Manager App?

A good file manager needs to get three functions right:

  • Import: It should be easy to import files and documents into the app. The more import options, the better.
  • Manage: A good file manager gives you total control over the organization of your data. You should be able to create nested folders, tag and color-code files, archive folders, and more.
  • Export: A file manager app where you can’t get anything out is useless. You should be able to export any file to a third-party app to view and edit it. And we’ll offer bonus points if the app offers file conversion options.

Our top recommendation meets all the three requirements and more. But all these features might be overkill for some users, so we’ve outlined simpler alternatives as well.

1. Documents 6 by Readdle

Documents 6 is the best third-party document and file manager app on iPhone and iPad. It’s completely free and packed with every productivity feature you can imagine.

The app soars through our file manager checklist. Documents makes it really easy to import (from a computer, cloud storage, Wi-Fi transfer, web pages, and other apps) and manage files (drag and drop, sharing, archive features, tags, and similar).

Documents 6 plays well with all file formats, including text, audio, and video. You can read books in the app, listen to music, watch videos, share files, showcase PDFs, and more.

In a world of cloud syncing, Documents gives you the confidence that you need by storing and managing all your data locally on the device. This means no surprises when iCloud Photo Libary decides to delete old but important photos because you’re running out of storage. There’s no need to worry if Dropbox sync will work reliably when you’re in a remote area. Everything is available when you need it.

Download: Documents by Readdle (Free)

2. Apple’s Files App

File Manager apps - iOS 11 Files App How to Use

iOS 11 gave us the brand new Apple Files app, which replaces the older iCloud Drive app. Mac users will find the Files app similar to Finder. Files is built into iOS and you can connect multiple cloud sources right inside the app. If you’re using different cloud services like iCloud, Dropbox, and OneDrive but need a central place to organize and manage everything in them, the Files app is the best option.

What Files lacks in superior import options (there’s no Wi-Fi transfer or web download), it makes up in its stellar organization and sharing features.

Files app embraces every iOS convention. Not only does it have stellar drag and drop support inside the app (you can use it to assign tags and favorites, as well as moving files and folders), but you can also drag files to and from the Files app with ease. This interaction is incredibly natural and now you aren’t forced to set up your sharing options in a particular way.

Download: Files (Free)

3. Dropbox

If all your documents and files are stored in Dropbox, the official app for iPhone and iPad will be enough for you. When you have an active internet connection, you’ll have access to your entire Dropbox library.

You can open a file, preview it in Dropbox, and use the Share menu to quickly open it in a supported app. For example, if someone shares a Pages document with you through Dropbox, you can open it right into the Pages app using the Share sheet. You can even edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files right inside the Dropbox app. This removes any need to jump between apps.

Dropbox also has an offline feature. In the free plan, you can only save individual files for offline access. If you’re a Dropbox Plus user, you can save entire folders offline as well.

Download: Dropbox (Free)

4. GoodReader

If you often deal with PDFs on your iPhone or iPad, GoodReader is a must-have. You can import PDFs from cloud services, local servers, or from your computer. Then, you can use GoodReader to organize your files in folders.

GoodReader has a superb PDF rendering engine which makes scrolling through PDFs a joy on the iPad (it’s something simple, but many apps don’t get it right). It’s one of the few apps that won’t break a sweat when you throw PDFs with hundreds of pages at it.

The app also makes it easy to annotate PDFs. You can markup a PDF using text boxes or you can go freehand with your Apple Pencil. There’s also a callout comments feature which lets you attach classic sticky notes to PDF pages.

Download: GoodReader ($5)

5. File Manager & Browser

Documents 6 can be a bit too overwhelming for new users (the complicated UI isn’t exactly welcoming). The File Manager & Browser app is a good alternative to this. It has a simpler, more visual UI that helps you accomplish many of the same tasks. You can import files from a PC using Wi-Fi transfer, arrange and organize files, and share them with third-party apps.

The app’s UI is playful and it displays all important options at the bottom of the screen instead of hiding them away in a menu (which is what most productivity apps do).

Download: File Manager & Browser (Free)

Your iPad Is a Productivity Machine

We’ve been hearing for years now that the iPad is a device for consumption, not creation. Well, that’s a flawed narrative. You can get almost everything done on the iPad these days. Yes, it won’t be as straightforward as using a Mac and you’ll need to change your workflows, but you can totally pull it off.

Combine these great apps with the new iOS 11 dock for multitasking and the keyboard shortcuts on the new Smart Keyboards for supercharged productivity!

10:30

How to Download and Save YouTube Videos on iPhone

Saving YouTube videos to your iPhone for watching offline is tricky business. If you don’t mind paying, you can subscribe to YouTube Red to watch without ads and download videos for offline viewing.

But this still requires you to watch the videos in the YouTube app. What if you want to watch them in your Camera Roll? We’ll show you how, and it doesn’t require jailbreaking or anything else shady.

How to Download YouTube Videos on iPhone

Unfortunately, the iPhone apps that let you download YouTube videos directly don’t last long. Thankfully, it’s still pretty easy with a small workaround.

First, install the app Documents by Readdle. It’s a file manager with an integrated web browser, which makes it easy to download and transfer YouTube videos.

Next, browse to the YouTube video you want to download. You can use the official YouTube app to do this—open the video, tap Share, then choose Copy link.

Once you have the link, head back over to the Documents app. Tap the icon in the bottom-right corner to open its built-in browser. Browse to a website that can download YouTube videos, such as PickVideo.net.

Saving the Video

Long-press inside the Enter the video link field, and choose Paste to add the link to your YouTube Video. Then tap the Download button.

After a moment, the site will generate download links for your video. Scroll down (be careful to avoid advertisements) until you see the Download Video with Sound header. Tap the Download button next to the quality you’d like to save.

Next, you’ll see a prompt to save the file. You’ll probably want to change the generic videoplayback.mp4 name to something more descriptive. The default save location is fine; tap Done to save it. You can tap the Downloads button on the bottom toolbar to check its progress.

Moving the Video

From here, you just need to move the video into the Camera Roll folder. Tap the Folder icon in the bottom-right corner of the app, then open your Downloads folder. Press the Ellipsis icon below the file you just downloaded, then choose Move.

Under Recents, you may see the Photos folder. If you do, tap it to jump right to that folder. If not, browse to Documents > Photos. Either way, just tap Move to Photos at the bottom of the screen to move the video.

You’re done! Open the Photos app on your phone and you should see your new video. It will appear alongside your most recent photos, as well as the Videos folder on the Albums tab.

If you watch a lot of videos on your iPhone, check out the best free video players for iOS.

09:30

4 Key Google Slides Tips and Tricks to Know

Google Slides is arguably the leading free slideshow presentation app. Microsoft PowerPoint is more feature-rich, but the excessive cost of an Office 365 subscription means many people have converted to Google’s product. So, if Google Slides forms an important part of your daily workflow, keep reading. We’re going to introduce you to four quick tricks that’ll instantly turn you into a power user.

1. Zoom In and Out

If you like to create beautiful, artistic slides, you might need to focus on one part of a slide in more detail.

It’s easy to do. To zoom in, press Control + Shift + Plus. To zoom out, press Control + Shift + Minus.

2. Dictate Your Slides With Voice

Are you working on a long presentation? It’s no fun to spend all day typing. Why not try dictating your slides instead?

To dictate a slide, go to Tools > Voice type speaker notes. It will bring up a small microphone icon on your screen. Click on it and start talking.

3. Add Sound to Your Presentations

It’s relatively straightforward to add images and videos to one of your slides, but what about audio? There’s no “Insert” button for audio in the same way as there is for other media.

The solution? Just copy and paste the URL of a YouTube video, Spotify song, or other online audio track. The sound will start playing when the slide in question pops up.

4. Present via Chromecast

Who needs HDMI cables these days? As long as you take a Chromecast with you, you present directly from your computer to the screen without a cable in sight.

Go to Present > Present on another screen to get started.

If you’d like to learn more, we’ve got you covered. We’ve given you tips on how to use videos in the Google Slides app, explained how to auto-loop presentations, and a whole lot more.

08:30

How to Keep Your Mobile Browsing Private

There are plenty of ways your browser can compromise your privacy, but there are a few precautions you can take when using popular mobile browsers on the go.

While none of these precautions are completely foolproof, they do offer a little more control over how sites track you and what information is saved on your phone.

Safari

To adjust your privacy settings in Safari go to Settings > Safari. Scrolling down to Privacy & Security, you’ll find the following settings you can toggle on and off:

  • Prevent cross-site tracking: This will prevent sites from tracking where you go and what you look at when go to other site.
  • Block all cookies: Cookies are created when you visit a site and can be helpful when loading sites you frequently visit. If you prefer, Safari allows you to block cookies completely.
  • Ask websites not to track me: This lets sites know you don’t want to be tracked across the internet. In reality however, sites are free to decide if they want to respect your do not track request.
  • Fraudulent website warning: With this feature enabled, Safari will let you know if the site you’re visiting is known for  phishing scams.
  • Camera & microphone access: Keep this setting turned off if you don’t want to automatically grant any web apps access to your camera and mic.
  • Check for Apple Pay: Keep this setting turned off if you don’t want to use Touch ID or Face ID for browser purchases when using Safari.

If you don’t want Safari to save your history on your phone, you’ll need to browse in private mode. You can do this by opening Safari, tapping the tabs button in the bottom right corner, and tapping Private.

To wipe your browsing history, go to Settings > Safari and tap Clear history and website data.

Chrome

To adjust your privacy settings in Chrome, open the app and go to Settings > Privacy. You’ll want to adjust the following settings:

  • Safe browsing: With this feature enabled, Chrome will let you know if the site you’re visiting is known for  phishing scams.
  • Do not track: This lets sites know you don’t want to be tracked across the internet. In reality however, sites are free to decide if they want to respect your do not track request.

To browse in private mode, you’ll need to open Chrome, tap the menu button (three dots) and tap New incognito tab.

If you want to clear your search history, go to Settings > Privacy > Clear browsing data. You can delete your browsing history; cookies, and site data; and cached images and files.

Firefox

To adjust your privacy settings in Firefox, open the app, and go to the Menu (three dots) and tap Settings > Privacy.

You can adjust the following settings:

  • Do not track: This lets sites know you don’t want to be tracked across the internet. In reality however, sites are free to decide if they want to respect your do not track request.
  • Tracking protection: By default, this is enabled in private browsing only, but you can enable it for regular browsing as well. Firefox explains, “When you visit a web page with trackers, a shield icon tracking protection icon will appear in the address bar to let you know that Firefox is actively blocking trackers on that page.”
  • Clear private data on exit: Firefox will automatically clear your data when you quit the app. You can selectively choose from a long list of data including open tabs, browsing history, search history, downloads, saved logins and more.
  • Remember logins: If you don’t want Firefox to save your login info, you can turn this feature off.

DuckDuckGo

If you want a much simpler approach to a private mobile browsing experience, among the many apps DuckDuckGo offers is a free mobile browser for iOS and Android users.

DuckDuckGo automatically does the following:

  • Blocks hidden trackers.
  • Forces sites to use an encrypted connection where available.
  • It defaults to DuckDuckGo as the search engine. DuckDuckGo doesn’t track any of your search history, unlike popular alternatives like Google.
  • You can clear all your tabs and browsing history with the Fire Button.
  • The browser will also offer a Privacy Grade rating for sites from A to F, letting you know how much a site is trying to track you.

If you still haven’t decided which browser to use on the go, take a look at this guide to choosing the best mobile browser for you.

07:30

Explore the World’s Natural Wonders With Google Earth’s Geography Quiz

Remember when Google Earth Pro used to cost a mind-boggling $400? Google now offers it for free, turning an already beloved product into our go-to method for learning more about Earth and its geographic treasures.

If you love geography and the wonders of the world, then take this opportunity to explore the world from your armchair. Tucked away inside Google Earth is a wonderful little geography quiz in partnership with Atlas Obscura.

Google Earth’s Geography Quiz

Google Earth Quiz

The 0,0,0a,22251752.77375655d,35y,0h,0t,0r/data=CkkSRxIgNDY2ZmQ0NDAxMWE4MTFlODhmOWRlZjY5YjUxMDU2NTAaFVF1aXo6IE5hdHVyYWwgV29uZGVycyIMc3BsYXNoc2NyZWVu">Natural Wonders Quiz on Google Earth is a multiple-choice challenge that will ask you to identify special locations around the world. As the Google Earth blog says,

“Atlas Obscura takes you to some of the most beautiful—and intriguing—places on the planet. Know where Morning Glory Pool is? Or the hot springs of Dallol? See how well you know your planet, and explore these places in Google Earth.”

The questions and the locales are fertile ground for a site like Atlas Obscura. The popular traveler’s guidebook loves to dig up rare and hidden wonders around the world. It’s a perfect blend of history and geography. So, just click on the blue Let’s Go button and hit a spot on the blue orb of Google Earth.

Pick an answer from the multiple choices and Google Earth will give you the answer. Either way, you will get to jump to the specific spot on the 3D globe and explore it further. Go from cool ice caves in Alaska to the blazing salt mines of Ethiopia. Learn about geographical features and romantic legends.

In the end, just walk away with a better appreciation of the world we live in. There are only seven questions in the first edition of this quiz. Google Earth will continue to update the quizzes with other themes as they hint the next one might be about “magnificent castles and palaces”. Until then, don’t miss these Google Earth gems.

06:30

How to Find the Best Mortgage Rates Online

Mortgage rates are complex. And figuring out how to get the best rate is even more so. But with the right tools and a solid understanding of how mortgage rates work, you can find the best rates online.

This guide is available to download as a free PDF. Download How to Find the Best Mortgage Rates Online now. Feel free to copy and share this with your friends and family.

This guide will help you understand:

  • What a mortgage rate is
  • How mortgage rates are determined and calculated
  • How to research today’s mortgage rates
  • How to find mortgage forecasts and trends
  • How to get the most useful information out of a mortgage rate calculator

What Is a Mortgage Rate?

If you’re just getting started in the mortgage research process, you might not have a great idea of what a mortgage rate actually is. So we’ll clear it up.

A mortgage rate is the rate of interest that you pay on the loan you’ve received to buy a house. It’s the cost you pay to the lender in exchange for giving you the loan.

Your mortgage rate is one of the most significant factors in determining the ultimate cost of your house.

If you’re familiar with other types of loans (like credit cards), it’s important to realize that mortgage rate is not the same as annual percentage rate (APR). Your APR is likely higher than your mortgage rate, as it includes other fees.

Fortunately, APR isn’t usually a lot higher than the mortgage rate, and the loan estimate that you receive from a lender will include both.

In general, you don’t need to worry about your mortgage APR. You can, however, run this mortgage APR calculator to compare loans from different providers.

What Determines Your Mortgage Rate

Several factors affect mortgage rates. The first—and most important—is the current economic climate and trends. Mortgage rates respond to various economic triggers, like the strength of bonds, the rate at which people are buying houses, and wages.

There’s not much you can do about these factors other than timing your purchase well. We’ll talk about paying attention to mortgage forecasts and trends in a moment.

The other factor that makes a big difference is your credit rating. Your lender will pull your credit score from all three reporting bureaus.

Credit score reported on Mint.com

There’s no hard and fast rule, but if your rating dips into the mid-600s, you may find it difficult to get a mortgage. And you’ll likely get a higher interest rate if you do.

Should you wait and try to raise your credit rating before you get a mortgage? The answer may depend on other trends.

If your credit score is below 700 or so, it’s a good idea to make an effort to get it back up. Use a budgeting service like Mint to get regular credit score updates and monitor your spending and payment habits.

Even if you decide to get a mortgage at a higher rate now, you could refinance to a better rate later if you raise your credit score.

How Mortgage Interest Is Calculated

Most mortgages accrue monthly. Here’s how to calculate mortgage interest on a monthly basis, with an example:

  • Divide mortgage rate by 12 (4.75% / 12 = .0039583)
  • Multiply remaining mortgage principal by result ($225,000 * 0.0039583 = $890.62)

In this example, the remaining loan balance after accruing interest would be $225,890.62. An amortization schedule can help you understand this information. We’ll talk about those in a moment when we discuss mortgage calculators.

Some loans, called “simple interest mortgages,” accrue interest daily, which means the rate is divided by 365 and added to the total each day. If you’re good about making payments, this shouldn’t cause too much of a problem. But if you’re even a day late, you’ll pay more.

As you start the process of researching mortgage rates, it’s important to understand that there are many factors involved. Take mortgage points, for example.

Mortgage points (also called discount points) let you pay your lender some money up front to reduce the mortgage rate of your loan. This can save you a lot of money in the long run, but it depends on your lender. (For more information, check out Better Money Habits’ primer on mortgage points).

If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), your mortgage rate can fluctuate over the life of the loan, which will also change how interest is calculated and how much you’ll pay over the life of the loan.

How Interest Affects Your Mortgage Payments

To see how the interest on your loan accrues over the life of a loan, you can check out an amortization schedule.

We’ll talk more about amortization schedules at the end of this article, but if you want to get started now, I recommend using MortgageCalculator.org to get an idea of how much interest you’re paying.

As you’ll see, your early payments go almost completely to paying off the interest on the loan. Each payment only makes a small dent in the principal balance. Later in the loan period, a larger percentage of your payments start going toward the principal.

Many 30-year loans result in lifetime interest that ends up costing 60% or more of the borrowed amount. That means if you get a $300,000 loan, you may pay back a total of $480,000 or more. It’s a good thing to keep in mind while you’re making a long-term financial plan.

How to Research Current Mortgage Rates

Now that you have a better idea of how your mortgage rate affects what you pay, let’s look at some tools for estimating what your mortgage rate will actually be. It’s important to note that your mortgage rate usually isn’t set until you close on your house.

If you’re not closing for another six months, today’s mortgage rates might not be all that useful. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them if you’re considering buying a house anytime soon.

Mortgage News Daily is a great place to start. They provide the results of their survey of lenders and originators to give you an accurate representation of the day’s rates:

Daily mortgage rates

Rates are provided for 30-year fixed-rate, 15-year fixed-rate, Federal Housing Authority (FHA) 30-year fixed, jumbo 30-year fixed, and 5/1 ARM. You can scroll down to find a variety of other mortgage rates as well.

Unless you’re planning on getting a mortgage right away, the most useful information is probably the change and the location within the 52-week spread. In the image above, mortgage rates have gone up, and they’re close to as high as they’ve been in a year.

Mortgage News Daily also has a daily report that gives you information on rate changes, suspected changes in the near future, and suggestions on whether you should lock your interest rate.

You can subscribe to the report to get an email update every day with the latest rates and information.

For a simpler view of national rates, head to the Wells Fargo’s Mortgage Rates page.

Wells Fargo mortgage rates

While these rates only apply to mortgages from Wells Fargo, they’ll give you a quick look at the current rates.

When I checked today, the Wells Fargo rates were higher than those reported by the Mortgage News Daily survey. In some cases, it was a tenth of a percent; in others, it was closer to .05%. So keep that in mind.

Of course, mortgage rates aren’t the same everywhere in the country. To find a sampling of mortgage rates in your area, head to Bankrate’s mortgage page. Here you’ll need to enter the value of the home you’re looking to buy, your down payment, credit score, and ZIP code.

mortgage rates from Bankrate

You’ll get a sampling of what different lenders are offering in your area—you’ll see the rate, fees, APR, and monthly payment.

With these sites, you should be able to get a good idea of the average mortgage rate around the country and near where you live.

But is it a good time to get a mortgage, or should you hold off? Let’s take a look at mortgage forecasts to find out.

How to Understand Mortgage Rates Trends and Forecasts

Should you get a mortgage now? Or should you wait to see if rates get better? That’s what the mortgage forecast will tell you. Or try to tell you.

The US economy is volatile and can see large swings in short periods of time. That tends to have an effect on bonds, which in turn affect mortgage rates. So how do you know whether you should get a mortgage now or wait?

Unfortunately, there’s no single place to go to find a simple mortgage rate projection chart that tells you everything you need to know. Instead, you’ll have to look for reports.

Mortgage Rate Watch from Mortgage News Daily is a good place to start. Their daily reports often contain projections about where the market will be headed, and the contributions from licensed loan originators provide industry insights.

Bankrate’s Mortgage Trend Index also gathers opinions from industry insiders as to whether the mortgage rate is predicted to rise, fall, or stay the same over the course of the week.

For a more quantitative view of mortgage rate trends, you may want to visit Realtor.com’s trends page. While it won’t make predictions on where rates will be in the future, you can see where they’ve been in the past, and that can give you an idea of what could be coming.

You can also limit the trends to your current location or the place where you’d like to buy to get more detailed information.

In the end, mortgage rate forecasts are just guesses. But they can give you an idea of when you should get the best mortgage rates. It’s always a good idea to talk to a financial advisor (or an independent mortgage broker) to get their opinion on the matter, as well.

Getting the Most Out of a Mortgage Calculator

While signing your mortgage at the right time will go a long way toward getting you the best rate possible, there are a lot of other things to think about, too. And a high-quality mortgage calculator will help you figure those things out.

There are certainly some simple mortgage calculators out there—Google even has one built into its results pages:

Mortgage calculator in Google's results page

These simple calculators let you enter the size of your mortgage, your down payment, and the term. Then you get estimated monthly payments.

But if you want to really understand your mortgage rate and what it means, you’re going to want to use one of the more complicated calculators. They take into account things like fees, closing costs, prepayment penalties, and so on.

MortgageCalculator.org is one of the best mortgage calculators around. Here’s the information you’ll need to use it effectively:

  • Home value
  • Down payment
  • Loan amount
  • Interest rate
  • Loan term
  • Start date
  • Annual property tax
  • Cost of private mortgage insurance
  • Annual home insurance cost
  • Monthly HOA Dues

With that, you’ll get a full amortization table that tells you how much you’ll pay per month, when your loan will be paid off, the total amount of interest you’ll pay, the amount of money you’ll save if you pay bi-weekly instead of monthly, and more.

It’ll take you a while to collect all this information, but most of it should be readily available from your bank, the property listing, and your real estate agent.

Once you’ve collected the information and put it in the mortgage calculator, you’ll get a result like this:

Mortgage calculator result

This view shows you what you pay each year, and breaks that amount down into taxes and fees, interest, and principal. As you can see, the earlier years of the loan are spent mainly paying back interest, while you start to make a larger dent in the principal later on.

Clicking on View Loan Breakdown will give you total amounts for each over the life of the loan:

Mortgage loan breakdown

Finally, you can view an amortization table, which shows you how your payments break down each month. To get this table on MortgageCalculator.org, scroll down and click Show Amortization Tables, then select monthly or annual:

Show amortization tables on MortgageCalculator.org

When you click Calculate again, you’ll get a full breakdown of each payment:

Monthly mortgage amortization table

Change your mortgage rate, down payment, or any other number to see how your monthly payment breakdown changes, and you’ll start to really understand your mortgage rate.

You’ll notice that even a small change in your mortgage rate can make a difference over 30 years.

Using a Mortgage Calculator With Prepayments

Want to see how some extra payments would help pay down your mortgage? You need a prepayment mortgage calculator.

One of the best calculators for this purpose is from HSH. Enter the amount of your loan, the loan term, and the interest rate. Then, enter your desired monthly payment or how quickly you’d like to pay the loan off. Click Calculate:

HSH mortgage prepayment calculator

You’ll see how much extra you’re paying (or need to pay), how long it will take to pay off the loan, and how much money you’ll save in interest. As you can see, a couple hundred extra dollars each money can save you a phenomenal amount of money in the long run.

The Best Mortgage Calculator

If you want the absolute best mortgage calculator, you’ll want this Excel spreadsheet from Vertex 42. You’ll need a lot of information to take full advantage of it, including all your mortgage rate information, your tax bracket, planned extra payments, property taxes, home insurance, and a few more things.

But if you can collect all that information, you’ll get everything you could want from a mortgage calculator. You’ll get a full amortization table. The total amount of interest paid. The total amount of tax breaks received. The effect of increased monthly payments or one-time extra payments. Anything you could want.

It takes a while to gather and enter all of the information you need, but this mortgage calculator can’t be beat.

Vertex 42 also has other great mortgage calculators that aren’t quite so complicated. Check out their Mortgage Calculators for Excel page to peruse and download them!

Mortgage Calculator App for On-the-Go Estimates

When you’re thinking about buying a house, you’re going to be on the go a lot. You’ll be looking at houses, visiting banks, checking out new locations, and generally spending a lot of time in the car.

To get a quick calculation of your potential mortgage payments on a house from your phone, try the QuickenLoans Mortgage Calculator app.

While it’s meant to get you to use Quicken for your mortgage, it does have a decent interface for getting this information quickly. You could also upload a mortgage calculator spreadsheet to the Google Sheets app and update it as you go.

Download: QuickenLoans Mortgage Calculator for Android | iOS (Free)

How to Get a Better Mortgage Rate

Armed with all of this information, you’re ready to go out and get the best mortgage rate possible. You’ll know what the average rates are, whether it’s a good time to buy, what you can afford, and what you can expect to pay for it.

With all of that knowledge in hand, you’ll be able to work with a banker to get the best mortgage rate. It could be a banker from one of the banks you found on a mortgage comparison site. Or from your own bank. Or an independent broker.

No matter who you decide to work with, you’ll be able to use this information to make sure you’re getting the best mortgage possible. Just don’t forget that mortgage is a debt and you need to be smart to get out of it.

May 19 2018

13:00

Google Is Making HTTPS the Chrome Default

With well over half of all websites now encrypted, it’s time to think of HTTPS as the default option rather than the exception. That is, at least, according to Google, which is changing the way Chrome handles secure vs. non-secure web pages. And about time too.

Over the last year there has been a push to switch all websites to use HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure). Google has been especially keen for sites to make the switch, and with more sites complying, it’s time to change the way we view the web.

Switching From HTTP to HTTPS

At the moment, sites that aren’t secure don’t have any special labels attached. As far as Chrome is concerned they’re considered the standard. On the flipside, sites which have HTTPS switched on get a green “Secure” label with a lock symbol attached.

However, this is all set to change over the next few months. As outlined on the Chromium Blog, with the release of Chrome 69 in September, the “Secure” label will disappear. And then at some point in the future, Google will remove the lock symbol as well.

In addition to this, with the release of Chrome 70 in October, standard HTTP pages will be labelled with a “Not Secure” warning with a red triangle attached. In other words, Google is turning everything on its head and labelling HTTP rather than HTTPS.

Google’s reasoning for making this change is that “users should expect that the web is safe by default”. So, rather than having HTTP as the standard to be expected and HTTPS as a rare beast to be celebrated, HTTPS becomes the standard and HTTP is vilified.

Google Ups the HTTPS Ante

This actually makes a lot of sense. Thanks to companies such as Google, more of the web is now encrypted, which means that’s the default. Unfortunately for sites which still haven’t made the switch from HTTP to HTTPS this just piles the pressure on.

It’s shocking it has taken this long for most of the web to switch to HTTPS. We were explaining what HTTPS means back in 2011, and it has taken seven years to get to this point. Still that was before we understood quite how much we’re all being surveilled.

Image Credit: Stephen Shankland/Flickr

04:30

5 Little-Known Book Sites and Apps as Alternatives to Goodreads

Goodreads is among the best sites for writers and readers alike. It’s a book club, a recommendation engine, a news site, a scrapbook, an organizer for what you read, and so much more. But that also makes it overwhelming. For simpler sites for book lovers, check out these little-known choices.

Between the different sites, you’ll find ways to do one or more of the things Goodreads excels at. And who knows, you might just find something better too.

1. Riffle (Web): A Social Network for Book Lovers

best sites apps alternatives to goodreads

Riffle looks a bit like it’s Twitter for bibliophiles, but not as overwhelming. The signup process actually adds value, as you get to build your library a bit, get recommendations of people to follow based on your reads, and even find a few book clubs in your physical vicinity.

Your Riffle profile includes what you’re currently reading, as well as what you’ve read in the past. You can also make lists of books that serve as recommendations for others. And as with any library, you are free to add reviews.

Riffle also provides updated lists of people you might like to follow, books you might like to read, and what’s on the New York Times Bestseller list at any time. Along the way, you can make some friends who share your interests and get to know of titles you wouldn’t have otherwise come across.

2. Bookstr (Web): Book News and Articles

best sites apps alternatives to goodreads

Now here’s something Goodreads doesn’t have. As a bibliophile, you’ll want to know what’s releasing soon, which of your favorite authors is writing a new book, or whose novel is turning into a film. Bookstr has all the news and fun articles you’ll want.

As far as book news is concerned, Bookstr is on top of the game, tracking down all the momentous happenings. It also does a good job of giving you some of the more fun things related to books. A great example is this article about an artist who draws Harry Potter book scenes that didn’t make it to the movies.

And of course, there are quizzes, videos, photo galleries, and lists about anything and everything related to books. It might be worth following Bookstr on social media or in your RSS feed.

3. /r/52Book (Reddit): 52 Weeks, 52 Books

best sites apps alternatives to goodreads

Goodreads hosts an annual reading challenge for its users. And “read more books” is one of the popular new year resolutions worldwide. Reddit loves books, and its /r/52Book community is a great support group to increase your reading.

The 52 Book Challenge is simple. You have to read one new book every week for a year. The community encourages you to report your progress, recommend books to each other based on your current mood or list, and generally help each other out.

It’s important to note that the reading challenge is about actually enjoying what you read, and not only completing the challenge. While the year has already started, feel free to jump in now and try to read a new book every week nonetheless.

We also have a few tips for you on how to read 50+ books in a year, if you want to start challenging yourself.

4. Postepic (iOS): Save Quotes From Physical or Ebooks

One of the best parts of Goodreads is that you can save quotes from books and read what others have saved. It obviously helps that Goodreads integrates with Kindle too. But Postepic can do that as well, along with letting you save quotes from physical books.

The above video shows how the app works. Point your phone camera at the page to take a photo, or grab a screenshot on your favorite ebook app. Postepic will turn the image into text, and then you can edit it as well as add things like the author, book title, and so on. Do it enough and you will be able to build a collection of your favorite quotes. And of course, you can share it or read what others have saved.

Postepic is only for iPhone, but Android users can try Google Keep. It has a similar image-to-text conversion, and a few choice tags can categorize your quotes well.

Download: Postepic for iOS (Free)

5. Book Club (Web): What You’ve Read and What You Thought

best sites apps alternatives to goodreads

Book Club is a simple way to build a library of everything you have read so far, and record your thoughts on each one. Plus, this list can be instantly shared with anyone when they ask you for recommendations.

Here’s how it works. Sign up for Book Club and get a unique ID for yourself that is now your URL. For example, bookclub.cool/@mihirpatkar. Now search for the books you have read, add your rating, and an optional review. Over time, you can build the list so that you have tracked everything you’ve read.

When someone asks for recommendations, share your URL with them. They can read about any book, purchase it from Amazon, and even sort the list by your ratings. It’s one of the best news apps to track your ever-expanding book collection.

Try Our Ultimate List of Book Recommendations

Of course, Goodreads excels at book recommendations with its constant lists of what authors are suggesting, books similar to what you liked, and so on. Its huge community of users and their data makes Goodreads one of the best ways to get new stuff.

But hey, it’s not the only solution. We have our own master guide to finding new books that you’ll love reading.

May 18 2018

18:00

5 Famous Websites That Died (And Their Best Alternatives Today)

The rapidly changing nature of the internet means that services can fall out of favor as quickly as they explode in interest. Who knows if we’ll refer to Facebook and WhatsApp in the same sentence as MySpace and AIM in a few years?

Today we’re going to take a step back and look at once-popular web services that went extinct. We’ll see exactly why they went defunct, and provide the best alternatives to them.

Note that in this list, we’re only including old websites that are no longer available. We’ve left out services like Digg that are a shadow of their former selves but still in service.

1. ChaCha

Founded: 2006 | Defunct: 2016

Before internet access was ubiquitous on mobile phones, people had to wait to get answers for their questions when they weren’t home. If you were out with friends and wanted to know the weather across the world or some obscure piece of sports trivia, you couldn’t easily Google it on the go.

In addition, search engines of the time weren’t always good at answering questions like they are now. They could match keywords, but questions tripped them up.

That’s where ChaCha came in. It was a human-powered search engine that you interacted with via texting. Sending an SMS to 242-242 with your question would lead to a team member replying with an answer. Since it was free, and most people had access to texting, it was a great way to get quick information when you weren’t at a computer.

ChaCha paid its part-time workers a few cents per answer. And while the company had strong beginnings with an investment from Jeff Bezos, the widespread adoption of smartphones meant that its services became increasingly unnecessary.

In late 2016, ChaCha shut down completely due to a lack of funding. The company’s owner moved to Hawaii but couldn’t even pay the employees what they were due. It’s a sad case of a model that was brilliant at the time but became unnecessary as Google became more powerful and ubiquitous.

ChaCha Alternatives

Google’s free mobile apps can answer pretty much anything ChaCha could. Its recent updates have made refinements to Featured Snippets, which pull relevant info from a page so you get an answer to your question without even leaving the results page.

If you’d prefer a human answer to your questions, the Stack Exchange network of sites is a great place for questions and answers. Quora is a similar service, and you can always ask questions on Reddit and other forums too.

2. Grooveshark

Founded: 2006 | Defunct: 2015

Grooveshark My Music

People have wanted to find free music online since the dawn of the internet. While downloading from old websites like LimeWire was a popular option, that came with the risk of a virus infection. Grooveshark provided music fans with a way to listen to whatever they liked in a browser for free.

Since you streamed music instead of downloading it, it was a safer alternative to other piracy services. Remember that at the time, Spotify wasn’t widely available yet and Pandora only allowed you to listen to the radio. Grooveshark letting you search for any song and create your own playlists was quite convenient.

This site allowed anyone to upload music so others could find it. While it wasn’t always a super polished experience (miscategorized and partial songs popped up often) it was good enough for a lot of people.

Though it didn’t allow users to download tracks, Grooveshark was still an illegal service. It had several bouts with the law that didn’t produce lasting results, but that changed in 2015. The site settled with the big three records companies and immediately shut down.

You can read a more detailed history of the service in our Grooveshark retrospective.

Grooveshark Alternatives

As you’re probably aware, you have lots of options for replacing Grooveshark. Spotify is probably the closest alternative, as it lets you stream millions of songs on your desktop for free. However, you’ll need to pay for a Premium subscription if you want to remove the ads.

If you don’t like Spotify, you can try one of the many other music streaming services. Most of them have a free plan that should more than fill the void Grooveshark left behind.

3. Megaupload

Founded: 2005 | Defunct: 2012

Megaupload was an extremely popular service for uploading and sharing content both legal and illegal. It seemed that nearly everyone who wanted to make a file available for others in YouTube descriptions, forum posts, or similar put it on Megaupload. In fact, when the service closed down, it held 25 petabytes of data!

One of the biggest legal problems with Megaupload was that when a user uploaded a file that matched one already on the service, the uploader asked to create another link to the file instead of adding a duplicate. Under DMCA, Megaupload only had to remove a link when the copyright holder requested it. Thus, a DMCA takedown could potentially remove just one link from the many pointing to an illegal file.

In early 2012, the US Department of Justice took control of Megaupload and shut it down. The government claimed that several behaviors on the site proved criminal intent. These included the fact that only the most popular files were kept available for download, the ad-focused revenue scheme was dependent on maximizing downloads, and more.

Megaupload was semi-reborn as Mega a year later. This version encrypts files before uploading, meaning the company can’t access them. It also doesn’t use the matching system to create multiple links to one file, so Mega should be more government-proof.

On a similar note, Rapidshare was a service much like Megaupload. Once the latter was taken down, Rapidshare changed its ways to avoid a similar fate. This killed the service’s popularity and crippled the company, resulting in its closing down in 2015.

Megaupload Alternatives

Mega is a decent alternative to Megaupload. If you don’t want to use it, any cloud storage provider like Dropbox or Google Drive works too.

Barring that, check out tons of easy ways to share files without cloud storage.

4. Orkut

Founded: 2004 | Defunct: 2014

Orkut was a wildly popular social media website before the dominance of Facebook. It was most popular in India and Brazil and was created by Orkut Büyükkökten as an independent project while he was working for Google.

At first, Orkut made networking more open by allowing anyone to visit your profile unless they were on your block list. It had standard social features like creating polls, sharing videos, and liking posts.

Nothing particularly interesting happened to cause Orkut’s demise. While it enjoyed popularity in a few regions, much of the world didn’t use it. This meant that Google’s other products like YouTube and Blogger outpaced Orkut.

Combined with the dominance of Facebook and Google+, which Google was still pushing at the time, the company cut the dead weight in late 2014.

Orkut Alternatives

You’re probably already on an alternative to Orkut. The best social network is the one that most of your friends use. Facebook is an obvious choice, while Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are also popular.

5. Heat.net

Founded: 1997 | Defunct: 2000

One of the lesser-known old websites, Heat was ahead of its time. Heat.net was an online gaming platform from Sega. It let you enjoy first and second-party games, along with other big games like Quake 2, online with other players. The subscription cost $10 per month and included chat lobbies.

But the service quickly ran into problems. It rewarded players with currency named “degrees” simply for staying connected to the service. It didn’t take long for players to abuse this, as they’d leave their computers connected but idle and earn degrees for doing nothing. You could spend these degrees on games, magazines, and computer hardware.

Sega reduced the value of degrees to combat this problem, but it wasn’t enough. The company closed down Heat.net in 2000 and replaced it with SegaNet, a new online service for the Dreamcast. However, the Dreamcast failed due to the hype from the upcoming PlayStation 2, resulting in Sega discontinuing the console in early 2001.

This, in turn, led to Sega exiting the video game console business entirely. It’s easy to trace modern online services like Xbox Live back to Heat.net, so it definitely had an impact.

Heat.net Alternatives

Steam is the closest modern service to Heat.net on PC, as it lets you buy and play games online with others. If you play on a console, you can subscribe to PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live to enjoy many of the same features.

Popular Old Websites That Died: Gone but Not Forgotten

You’ll note that we didn’t include any Google services here. But in fact, Google has killed off so many services that it’s hard to count them all.

These five services were all popular for some time but faded as technology advanced. But whether they were superseded by superior alternatives, forced to shut down due to illegal content, or just couldn’t keep up, none could stay afloat.

It’s fun to take a nostalgic look back to see what was popular years ago, and what we can learn. Thankfully, all these old websites have modern equivalents.

For more, check out these famous programs that no longer exist.

17:00

How to View and Recover Your Microsoft Outlook Password

Microsoft Outlook is one of the most popular email clients around, regularly ranking among the top clients. It’s only beaten by Apple’s integrated mail solution and Gmail for global email opens. Most people use Outlook at some time in their lives.

Given those millions of users, it is understandable that at some point, someone will forget their Outlook password. And in those moments, you need a tool that can retrieve the password while keeping your data intact.

Here are three tools to help with Outlook password recovery. But first, we need to understand the difference between PST and OST files and how they store and password-protect your mail in Outlook.

Differences Between Outlook PST and OST Files

The way Outlook stores, manages, and secures your data depends on the type of account you are using. There are two main types of Outlook data files:

  • PST: A Personal Storage Table is the storage system Outlook uses for POP and IMAP accounts. Your email is delivered to and stored on the mail server, and is only accessible while online. You can take backups of your email to work on, but this also creates a new PST file. When you move to a new computer, PST files transfer easily between systems.
  • OST: You can use an Offline Storage Table file when you want to keep an entire local backup of an email account. All the data is stored on your computer as well as the mail server. This means the entire user account email database is accessible, regardless of network connection. Changes sync when the user establishes a connection with the mail server.

There are two more vital differences between the two file types.

By and large, PST data files store vital information, such as passwords, to the local machine. This password locks unauthorized users out of the Outlook account, protecting emails and user data in the process. The OST data file also uses local storage but doesn’t contain any passwords. As such, the PST file is open for password retrieval. (Do note that OST passwords aren’t much more secure.)

The second difference is a bug in Microsoft Outlook’s password protection that relates to password storage.

The Microsoft Outlook PST Password Protection Bug

When you enter a password on a website, the site (hopefully) doesn’t store it in plaintext. Plaintext is what you’re reading now, so you can see why storing a password in this form isn’t so wise. The website takes your password and creates a hash.

A hash is a long string of alphanumeric characters that represent your password and is tied to your username. When you type your username and password combination, the database returns a positive response, and you enter your account. But if an attacker enters the database, all they see is a long list of confusing hash values.

Here’s the problem with Outlook: Instead of using a complex hashing algorithm (ideally with a salt), Microsoft appears to have cut some security corners using the basic CRC32 algorithm.

The bad news is that each CRC32 hash has a lot of matching values, meaning there’s a strong chance a password retrieval program will unlock your file. This is great if you need your PST file unlocked, but utterly terrible if you want to keep it secure.

This is where Outlook password recovery tools come in.

PST Tools for Outlook Password Recovery

There are several tools you can use to retrieve PST passwords and unlock your data file.

1. PstPassword

microsoft outlook password recovery tools

Nirsoft’s PstPassword is a great free utility that automatically retrieves PST passwords for local data files. PstPassword displays three potential passwords due to the encryption bug. If the first option fails, you have two more choices. (In fact, PstPassword generates a long list of CRC32 hashes that might unlock the data file.)

PstPassword doesn’t require installation, either. However, your system might detect it as a malicious file (as it is harvesting passwords, something that you don’t want at other times).

2. Kernel Outlook PST Password Recovery Tool

Kernel Outlook PST Password Recovery Tool is a limited free utility. The major limitation is the size of the PST file the tool will unlock. Kernel’s tool will unlock PST files up to 500MB for free. However, if your data file size surpasses that you will need to upgrade to the Home License for $39.

The tool quickly analyzes your PST files, providing a hash value for you to enter. Unlike PstPassword, Kernel only grants a single password hash to try. However, if that doesn’t work, Kernel also has the option to remove the password protection from the PST file (as well as adding a new one if you desire).

3. Recovery Toolbox for Outlook Password

Recovery Toolbox

Our final tool is Recovery Toolbox for Outlook Password. Recovery Toolbox costs $19 but comes with a few more options than either free option. For example, Recovery Toolbox can:

  • Recover and show passwords for PST data files
  • Reset PST data file passwords
  • Recover and remove some passwords for OST data files

The major difference is support for OST files. The paid version of Recovery Toolbox shows and removes OST passwords, too, giving it a slight advantage. That said, other free online tools will uncover even the most secure Outlook OST data file passwords, too.

Testing the PST Password Protection Bug

You can check the password protection bug out for yourself using PstPassword.

Open Outlook and head to File > Account Settings > Data Files. Press Add to create a new data file, giving it a temporary name. Next, head to Settings > Change Password. Leaving the “Old password” field empty (as it is a new data file), enter a strong new password in the “New password” and “Verify password” fields. (In fact, I’m using a Secure Password Generator to create a super-strong 16-character password.)

microsoft outlook password recovery tools

You might note that despite the 16-character password, Outlook only accepts 15-characters. Regardless, press OK, close the panel, then close Outlook.

Download, then open PstPassword. It should automatically detect your newly created PST file, as well as any existing data files, too. Now, alongside your test file, there are three potential passwords. Because the password is over a certain amount of characters, PstPassword displays the hash values.

Open Outlook again and enter one of the hash values. If it doesn’t work, try the next one. In the event the first three don’t work, right-click the test data file and select Get more passwords.

microsoft outlook password recovery tools

Mail PassView is another free password viewing and recovery tool from Nirsoft. Mail PassView uncovers OST data file passwords, rather than PST data files. However, as OST data file passwords are usually set via mail server rather than in Outlook itself, the tool cannot remove passwords or offer alternatives.

Still, Mail PassView is a useful free tool for recovering your Outlook password.

Outlook Password Recovery Complete!

One of these tools will grant you access to your Microsoft Outlook PST data file. Some Microsoft Office programs have strong integrated encryption. However, you have seen the Outlook password protection bug and how you can easily uncover a lost password.

16:00

7 Tips for Making Your Instagram Stories Stand Out

It’s hard to imagine anything easier than posting a story on Instagram. After all, it only takes a few seconds and three taps to take a photo or video and immediately share it on your profile. Especially as Stories are often seen as the unpolished antidote to many users’ curated Instagram feeds.

But there’s more to Instagram Stories than meets the eye. When used properly, they are an incredible tool for driving engagement with your followers, building connections with other users, and sharing your life with the people you care about.

When used improperly, however, Stories can quickly become annoying and over-long monologues that are confusing to anyone but their creator. Here are our best Instagram Stories tips to help your posts stand out from the crowd.

What Are Instagram Stories?

In case you’re still unfamiliar with the Stories feature (pioneered by Snapchat and quickly integrated into Facebook and Instagram), here’s what you need to know.

Essentially, an Instagram story is a sequential collection of photos and videos that is visible on your Instagram profile to any of your followers for 24 hours. After 24 hours, the story disappears.

Instagram Stories fill a variety of purposes. They can tell the behind-the-scenes story of an impressive Instagram post, provide insider information about a promotion, or can be a fun way to share an event in your life that doesn’t warrant a formal post.

Posting a story is easy: open Instagram, and tap the camera icon in the top left. Take a photo, and hit Send To, then press Share next to the contact labelled “Your Story”.

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to know, including Instagram mistakes you should avoid making.

1. Post Quality Photos and Videos

While this Instagram Story tip may seem like common sense, it’s often overlooked by Instagram users. Instagram stories are less formal than official Instagram posts, and leave some room for unedited photos or videos that sound more like a casual conversation.

However, if you are looking for social media success, everything you post needs to be worth your audience’s attention.

Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Photos and videos should be in focus and interesting
  • Simple editing (such as straightening horizons, cropping, and color correction) can go a long way
  • Text should be readable, and not overly long
  • Videos with voiceovers shouldn’t cut off at awkward times or in the middle of a sentence
  • Standard strategies for making your Instagram photos stand out still apply—you can never go wrong with a little extra editing!

Also, just because Stories gives you the freedom to post as many photos or videos as you want doesn’t mean that you should post every photo or video you take. Your complete story shouldn’t last longer than two or three minutes—and that’s an absolute maximum. Stories are designed to give people a quick and exclusive look “behind the scenes” of your social media; lengthy commentary is better suited to a blog post or YouTube video.

2. Give Context for Your Instagram Stories

One of the biggest mistakes Instagram users make is posting stories that don’t make any sense. But, you also don’t want to spend your time typing out lengthy explanations that no one will read, or offering voice overs that no one will listen to.

Instead, Instagram offers simple stickers (found in the top right of the photo-editing screen) for each image or video. Use these stickers to identify your location, provide a time stamp, tag the people you’re with, or to add a relevant hashtag.

Paired with a sentence or two on Instagram Stories’ “Type” screen (swipe all the way left after opening the Stories camera), your story will make sense to everyone who views it.

3. Be Interesting

Instagram has a ton of great features specifically for Stories. And since one of the main purposes of Instagram Stories is to show off a more personal (and fun!) side of your social media, you should take full advantage of these features whenever possible!

Great Instagram Stories features include:

  • Taking and sharing Boomerangs
  • A Focus filter that ensures your face stands out from the background
  • A “Superzoom” filter that can be paired with different sound clips (including “bounce”, “TV show”, “dramatic”, and “beats”) to help emphasize a key item or person in your story
  • Playing a video in rewind
  • A “Hands Free” mode that lets you take video clips without holding down the shutter button
  • A “Stop Motion” mode that lets you create short, looping videos out of still photos
  • Your choice of a changing selection of live filters (press and hold on someone’s face or tap on the smiley face at the bottom right of the screen) that can give you silly accessories, distort your face in funny ways, or even work some Photoshop magic
  • A huge variety of stickers, GIFs, and emojis that you can add anywhere on your image/video

Have fun exploring these Instagram Stories tricks to make your Instagram Stories stand out from the crowd.

4. Ask Questions on Instagram Stories

One easy way to get viewers invested in your Instagram Story is to ask them to share their opinion. Instagram offers two easy tools to get input from the people watching your story.

First, you can choose to create a poll. Simply select the “Poll” sticker, type in your question, and then enter two options for viewers to choose between. As people select either option the poll will constantly update its percentage.

Want something a little less polarizing? Choose the slider sticker instead. You can customize both the question you ask and the sticker you use to label the slider. Viewers can then drag the slider to the intensity of their reaction to your question.

5. Cultivate a Community on Instagram

One of the potential downsides to Instagram Stories is that your followers can’t respond publicly to your posts through comments. And while the polls and sliders shown above are fun, they don’t allow for a lot of nuance. Many successful Instagram accounts address this shortcoming by posting screenshots of thoughtful responses that have landed in their direct messages.

This strategy can be a great way to build a community around your Instagram account—but be careful to respect your followers’ privacy. It’s always best to ask before tagging someone’s username or showing identifying information in a screenshot. You can also always draw over any identifying information using the marker tool.

6. Think Outside the Box

Instagram has a ton of great features that are native to the app. But you can also add to your stories from any photos (or screenshots of photos) that you’ve saved to your phone over the last 24 hours. This feature opens up a world of possibilities , especially when paired with awesome third-party Instagram apps.

When it comes to Instagram Stories, the only limits are your creativity and your audience’s attention span. Stories offer a truly unique method of telling stories and sharing information, and third-party apps and editing features can go a long way towards helping you to achieve any effect you want.

7. Branch Out

While they may seem gimmicky at first, Instagram Stories are a powerful way of reaching followers. Whether you’re promoting a brand on Instagram, establishing a business, or just sharing what you had for breakfast, it’s important to use Instagram Stories as a way to link viewers in to your other social media accounts.

Don’t be afraid to direct viewers to other social media accounts through your Stories.

For example, after showing a behind-the-scenes interview, you can ask viewers to go view the final product on YouTube, enter a contest on your blog, or visit a specific site with a coupon code.

If you have over 10,000 followers (or are a verified account) you can even include a link directly in your story. If you have fewer followers than that, you can always use the old “link in bio” trick!

Instagram Stories are also key for promoting other accounts that you enjoy, building hype for a promotion, or helping viewers to feel more connected to you as an individual.

What’s Your Instagram Story?

Stories on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat have been one of the biggest recent shifts in social media. Their flexibility is a key component of that—the way you make your stories can be completely different than anyone else’s.

That being said, it’s important to make sure that what you are doing is working. Be sure to monitor who’s viewing your Instagram Story and adjust your strategies as needed until you reach the audience you want to reach!

15:30

The New Google News: 6 Striking Changes You Should Know About

During May 2018’s Google I/O developer conference, one of the most headline-grabbing announcements was the imminent arrival of a new Google News app.

Just a few short weeks after Google revealed its plans, the new app went live on both Android and iOS. It merges the old version of the app and the Google Newsstand app into a single user experience.

In this article, we are going to take a quick dive into some of the newest features you need to know about. Keep reading to find out more. Note: The app is identical on both Android and iOS, so this article is applicable to both platforms.

1. Local and World News Powered by AI

The big headline is the arrival of AI-powered news.

The goal of the AI is two-fold. Firstly, it wants to show you more of the news stories you care about. Secondly, it aims to improve quality by only showing you articles from trustworthy sources.

This is a big step forward. Remember, there’s no editorial team at Google News; the app is not a hand-picked, curated list of content. Instead, Google has always relied on algorithms to deliver the most pertinent content to readers.

It’s those same AI algorithms which have become even more front-and-center in the new Google News.

However, since the announcement of the new app, we’ve not known how the increased focus on AI would translate into the user experience. Now we do. Let’s have a look.

2. You Can Train the AI

The first step towards getting the most out of the new AI functionality is to tell the app about your interests. Taking the time to set up this part of the app correctly will let it start working for you in a much shorter timeframe.

To begin, open the app and tap on the Favorites tab. The section is divided into four areas: Topics, Sources, Locations, and Saved Stories. If you’ve used Newsstand in the past, the first three sections will already be pre-populated with your previous preferences.

For any of the three sections, you can add your own selections. Click on View all and manage to get started. The app will offer suggestions based on your viewing history and other topics you’ve already subscribed to.

If you don’t see your desired topic, source, or location automatically listed, you can search for it using the box at the top of the window.

When you’ve finished customizing the various sections, it’s time to move onto the other tabs and see the AI in action.

3. For You: A Personal Daily News Brief

The For You section is the default greeting screen that you’ll see every time you open the new Google News app.

At the top, the app shows your Briefing. The briefing includes five news stories that the news algorithms think will be the most relevant to you, along with a weather forecast.

The algorithms use both your interests and your location to make the decision about what to display. The five stories will change throughout the day as news developers. The stories are a mix of global headlines and local news.

As you scroll further down the page, you’ll see more personalized news stories. The page offers infinite scroll, so you will never run out of things to read.

For each story you see, you can tell Google News whether to show you more or less content in a similar vein. You can also prevent a certain publication from popping up in your feed.

To provide the app with feedback on its recommendations, tap the three vertical dots in the lower right-hand corner of the news story’s card. On the context menu, choose either Hide all stories from [publication], More stories like this, or Fewer stories like this.

Note: To unhide stories from a particular source, go to Settings > Hidden in For You and unblock the content as appropriate.

4. Headlines: Read the Top Stories of the Day

Continuing through the tabs at the bottom of the screen, we come to the Headlines link.

Unlike For You, Google News does not customize the content Headlines section to match your interests. Instead, it offers all the top stories of the day across a number of broad categories. The stories can come from any source, even ones you’ve previously blocked.

Theoretically, the section tabs at the top of the screen should coincide with any customizations you made on the web app version of Google News.

However, the web app has been plagued with bugs since its redesign 18 months ago, and one of the features that often went awry was the customized tabs. It seems there are still issues; during my testing, the app was not picking up my preferences. Perhaps you will have better luck.

5. Full Coverage: Get the Full Story

Full Coverage is another of the app’s new features. It’s available on any story by tapping on the small multi-colored box icon in the corner of the story’s card. Tapping on the icon will take you to a dedicated page about the story in question.

The dedicated page offers readers five sections. They are Live Coverage, Top Coverage, Videos, From Twitter, and Timeline.

When using the Full Coverage feature, all users will see the same content. It is free of AI and machine learning.

One assumes the uniformity is part of Google’s intention to clamp down on fake news. Plans are still hazy at this stage, but we know the search giant has teamed up with First Draft and is creating a “Disinfo” lab to be used during elections and other contentious news events.

6. Newsstand: Follow the Sources You Trust

The final tab forms Newsstand’s new home. In case you’re not aware, Newsstand lets you subscribe to your favorite magazines and download them onto your device. Most of the subscriptions require a monthly fee.

When choosing a subscription, you can pay using your existing payment details that Google has on file. It’s part of the broader rollout of Subscribe with Google. The service will allow you to subscribe and pay for content directly from a publisher’s website using your Google payment details.

Partners already include The Financial Times, The New York Times, Mexico’s Reforma, Italy’s La Repubblica, The Telegraph, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

Is This the Next News Revolution?

When Google News came out of beta in January 2006, it changed the way we consumed news forever. Publishers and content creators were falling over themselves to get listed in the index, and more and more readers started heading straight to the app to get their daily fix of current affairs.

Since those early days, online news’ public image has taken a battering. Too many dubious sources and the outbreak of the fake news crisis has eroded the public’s trust in what they read online.

But maybe the new Google News and its AI-powered algorithms offers the perfect remedy. There’s a chance that it will change the news landscape in the same way that its predecessor did all those years ago.

And remember, if Google News still isn’t right for you, there are lots of other reputable news sites and sources out there. You just need to know where to look.

15:00

5 Cool Custom Data Dashboards You Can Make With Google Sites

Google Sites is one of the most convenient ways to create and publish a website with the least amount of effort. With the tools available in Google Sites, you can actually create very useful personal dashboards that can boost your organization and productivity.

In this article, you’re going to see how you can use Google Sites to create some very cool dashboards that can:

  1. Monitor your email
  2. Analyze your website performance
  3. Create a time management system
  4. Stay informed with live news
  5. Save your favorite locations

1. Email Monitoring Dashboard

One of the most annoying things about email is that you need some kind of email client to know when a new email has arrived in your inbox.

If you have a Google email account, that might be your preferred online Gmail inbox, or any of the desktop email clients out there.

But with Google Sites, you could actually build a custom data dashboard to display all incoming emails in one place. With a single dashboard, you can just glance to see all the new incoming emails for the day.

This requires syncing Gmail to a Google Sheets and then displaying those sheets in a Google Sites page.

Display Timestamp of Latest Email

It’s possible to sync Gmail with Google Sheets using IFTTT. But with IFTTT you can only do this with one Gmail account. This is why I usually turn to Zapier to sync multiple Gmail accounts to multiple Google Sheets. However, keep in mind that Zapier isn’t free.

With Zapier, you just create a “Zap” with an input for the Gmail account you want to monitor and choose it to trigger with every new incoming email. Then choose Google Sheets as the output.

You should create a Google Sheet called “Incoming Emails” ahead of time.

cool dashboards with google sites

Zapier lets you choose the spreadsheet by name and the worksheet inside it where you want your email information to go.

In this first example, you’ll create a widget on your dashboard that shows each account.

Something like this:

cool dashboards with google sites

Every few minutes, the script will run and update the second column, of the row you specify.

So to update the MakeUseOf row with the timestamp of the latest email in the inbox, I’d choose row three. Then select the email data you want to import.

In this case, I’m importing the received date of the latest email.

cool dashboards with google sites

Once an individual “Zap” is created for each gmail account, the dashboard widget will look something like below.

cool dashboards with google sites

You can import this widget into your Google Sites web page (dashboard) by clicking on Sheets under the Insert menu on the right side of the page.

Display All Incoming Email

To add a widget that’ll show you all the incoming emails for the day, create the same kind of Zap. Also, create three columns in the sheet: Name, Date, and Subject.

Then, when you add the Sheet action in the Zap, you’ll choose the same workbook, but choose the sheet you created for that email account.

Then fill out the fields with the email data you want to import.

cool dashboards with google sites

This will bring all new incoming emails into your new Google Sheet. Here’s what the widget will look like when you import it into your new dashboard.

cool dashboards with google sites

Of course, you don’t want to just let this sheet keep filling up. The widget’s purpose is to show you incoming emails for the day, so you’ll want to add a Google Script to the sheet to clear out the sheets every day at midnight.

This is very easy to do. In the Google sheet, just click on the Tools menu, and select Script editor.

Paste a new function called “ClearAll” into this script editor.

function ClearAll() {
var start, end;
var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActive().getSheetByName('Makeuseof');
start = 2;
end = sheet.getLastRow() - 1;//Number of last row with content
      //blank rows after last row with content will not be deleted
sheet.deleteRows(start, end);
var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActive().getSheetByName('IAMMarketing');
start = 2;
end = sheet.getLastRow() - 1;//Number of last row with content
      //blank rows after last row with content will not be deleted
sheet.deleteRows(start, end);
var sheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActive().getSheetByName('Gmail');
start = 2;
end = sheet.getLastRow() - 1;//Number of last row with content
      //blank rows after last row with content will not be deleted

sheet.deleteRows(start, end); 
}

You’ll want to edit the “getSheetByName” section with the actual name of your sheets that contain the emails.

To run this script every day at midnight, in the Script Editor, save your script by clicking on File and then Save. Then click on Edit and Current project’s triggers.

Set the events to Time-driven, Day timer, and Midnight to 1am. Then click Save.

cool dashboards with google sites

This will clear all sheets at midnight, so every morning you’re dashboard will start with a fresh sheet, displaying only the latest incoming emails for the day.

2. Website Performance Dashboard

Another useful data dashboard is a performance display if you own or operate a website.

To create a dashboard that shows you data about your website performance, you’ll need that data in a location that automatically updates. Since Google Sites lets you import charts from Google Sheets, you’ll want to set up Google Sheets to automatically receive data from Google Analytics.

That’s outside of the scope of this article, but we’ve got you covered. There are two ways you can accomplish this. Either set up an IFTTT applet that sends Google Analytics data via email to Google Sheets, or build your own spreadsheet using the Google Core Reporting API.

The reporting API is much more powerful and gives you access to nearly all of the data Google Analytics collects about your website, but it has a slightly steeper learning curve.

Once your spreadsheet is receiving data and you’ve created a few charts that plot your traffic or demographics, you’re ready to build your dashboard.

In Google Sites, just click the Insert menu and select Charts. Browse to the spreadsheet in Google Drive where you’ve saved your spreadsheet, and Google Sites will give you the option to select any of the charts that exist in that spreadsheet.

cool dashboards with google sites

Build your website dashboard by clicking each of the charts you want to include, and place them on the page where you’d like them to go.

In just a few clicks you’ll have a beautiful web performance monitoring dashboard.

cool dashboards with google sites

You don’t need an individual Google Site for these different dashboards. You can create sub-pages on the site for each individual dashboard.

This way there’s just one URL to access everything you want to monitor.

3. Time Management Dashboard

If you have several Google Calendars, you can use a time management dashboard that displays three formats of your calendar: Agenda, The Week, and The Month.

Unlike Google Calendar where you have to flip between these views, you can create a Google Sites dashboard that displays them all at once.

Even better, you could embed all the calendars from all of your Google accounts on a single dashboard. Here’s how you do it:

In Google Sites, under Insert, click on Calendar.

This gives you the option to select which Google Calendar you want to insert.

cool dashboards with google sites

When you select the calendar you want to embed, under View Selection, you can choose from Month, Week, or Agenda.

To create a dashboard with all three, just insert one of these at a time into the dashboard.

cool dashboards with google sites

Choose a clean layout for the three formats, and you’ll have a highly functional time management dashboard.

Since the Agenda view is so narrow, you could easily fit the Weekly calendar view beside it.

cool dashboards with google sites

Then, add the larger Monthly calendar view underneath both of those.

Also, you can switch the display mode of each of these widgets on the live dashboard at any time. So you aren’t stuck to a static display after setting it up.

cool dashboards with google sites

If you want to include calendars from your other Google accounts on the same page, just scroll down to the bottom and start adding more. Or you can create an entirely new sub-page for each Google account.

The layout you choose for your dashboard is completely up to you!

4. Live News Dashboard

If you’ve ever wanted a “mission control” panel with a bunch of displays streaming lots of information at you all at once, Google Sites is the perfect platform to do it.

In the Insert menu, click on YouTube. This brings up a search field where you can find any video on YouTube you may want to embed on your web page.

Most YouTube videos are static though, which would be pretty boring. Luckily there are live news channels on YouTube you can embed. Just search for “live news” or “live” followed by your favorite news network, to find them.

cool dashboards with google sites

After you’ve embedded all of the live YouTube streams you want to monitor, you can click on each of them to start them playing.

All videos will stream simultaneously on the same page. It looks really cool and will make you feel like you’re sitting at a desk at mission control under Cheyenne Mountain.

5. Dashboard of Places on Google Maps

If you don’t know you can create and share lists in Google Maps, then you’ll want to explore that feature.

It’s a really useful way to keep track of all of your favorite places in organized lists.

cool dashboards with google sites

How can you use this to build a Google Sites dashboard? Easy. When you click on the Insert menu in Google Sites and click on Map, you’ll see a menu option called My Maps.

Click on that, and you’ll see all of the lists storing your favorite locations.

cool dashboards with google sites

Select one of the lists, and you’ll have an embedded map on your dashboard featuring all of those saved locations.

It’s a really convenient way to store all of your favorite spots on one URL.

cool dashboards with google sites

The next time you can’t remember the location of that hiking trail you love to visit, just open up your dashboard and check out your “hiking trails” map.

Switching between all of your dashboards is as simple as clicking the dropdown icon next to Home, and selecting the dashboard you want to see.

cool dashboards with google sites

You could even use a dashboard like this to plot out an itinerary for someone and then share the URL with them.

They could access it from any browser or phone, no matter where they are.

Start Using Google Sites Data Dashboards Today

The examples above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building useful dashboards that’ll make your life a whole lot easier.

Just think of all the ways you could incorporate YouTube content, map locations, information from Google Docs or Google Sheets, and more.

Google Sites has always been an easy way to make web pages, but with the new Google Sites, you can actually make beautiful and useful dashboards like these. There’s no need for dedicated data dashboard software.

14:00

4 Popular Podcast Apps Compared: Which Is Best for You?

Picking a podcast app is serious business. With a ton of options available offering loads of features, it can be a hard choice to make.

There are three main features to consider when choosing a podcast app:

  • How easy is it to discover new shows?
  • What kind of playback options are available?
  • How easy is it to create playlists?

We’ve narrowed the selection down to four of the best podcast apps available for both iOS and Android users. Taking a look a the features they offer in all three of these categories, we’re going to figure out which of these apps is right for you:

The Best Podcast App for Discovery

The natural place to start with listening to podcasts on your phone is where to discover new episodes and shows on the go.

Pocket Casts

Pocket Casts has a curated Discover tab with featured, trending, and most popular podcasts. Users can browse podcasts by networks, as well as by category or region.

Android users can also search for what other nearby Pocket Casts users are listening to. While this is a nice concept, it only works if you’re close to other Pocket Casts users who also have the feature enabled.

While the Discover tab is a great source of new content, Pocket Casts falls short in two ways. The biggest issue is that you can only listen to episodes of podcasts you are subscribed to. This means that if discover a new podcast, and want to sample an episode or two before subscribing, you can’t. This seems like a significant oversight for a podcast app.

The other major drawback drawback to using Pocket Casts is the inability to search for individual episodes.

Score: 3.5/5

Stitcher

Stitcher’s Browse Shows tab offers a place to discover trending or new shows, as well as browsing shows by category. They even have a category specifically for Marvel-related content.

Each category has subcategories within it: New & Noteworthy includes curated picks, popular, and recently added podcasts. Popular & Trending includes top shows, top movers, and most shared.

With Stitcher, you can search by episodes or shows.

Score: 3/5

Podbean

The Podbean home screen opens up to the Discovery tab. You can see the top 100 podcasts, browse by category, by station (major news outlets), and more.

You can also browse shows by popularity. Recommended shows, top episodes, featured picks, and daily popular shows, along with categorized lists, are all here.

When searching in Podbean, you can filter search results by episode or show.

Score: 4/5

Spreaker

Spreaker’s Channels tab offers up theme-based stations: public radio shows, comedy shows, news, sports, religion, music podcasts, and more. This is useful because if you find a show you like, you might find more on that channel.

The Explore tab includes manually curated content, as well as lists by popularity, and by category. It also offers up a list of Spreaker’s most downloaded shows and live shows.

Spreaker’s curated lists include something for everyone: recommended by news outlets from The New York Times to CNET, podcasts for entrepreneurs and women, best story-telling shows, and more.

Searching on Spreaker yields results that include shows and episodes.

Score: 5/5

Discovery Winner: Spreaker has the most curated lists and suggestions of any of these apps, and that makes it the best podcast app for discovering new shows.

The Best Podcast App for Playback

When it comes to playback, you’ll find pretty similar features across the board. Thus, this probably won’t be a deal breaker for any one app.

Pocket Casts

You can skip forward 30 seconds or skip back 10 seconds as you listen to your podcasts. Pocket Casts also lets you trim silence, boost voices, and change the playback speed anywhere from half to triple the normal.

You can save individual episodes for offline listening, and choose to automatically download new episodes on podcasts of your choice. The app also allows you to limit downloading to only when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

Pocket Casts offers phone and desktop sync, but this requires purchasing a premium account for a one-time fee of $9. Once you’ve signed up, you can go to play.pocketcasts.com, and pick up where you left off. Pocket Cast is also offering access to its new web beta, but it doesn’t sync with the app yet.

The app also includes Chromecast support.

Score: 4/5

Stitcher

With Stitcher you can choose a custom length of time (between five and 60 seconds) to skip backwards and forwards. You can snooze playback, slow it down to half speed, or double its speed.

For offline listening, you can choose which of your playlists automatically download (we’ll look at playlists shortly). And you can limit downloads to Wi-Fi only.

If you want to download just one episode, you have to go to the podcast page, tap All Episodes, select the name of the episode, and choose Save Episode.

You can limit downloaded content in Stitcher from 1GB to unlimited, and it’s easy to clear all downloads with the tap of a button. Stitcher also offers a web interface to keep up with your podcasts from your browser.

If you have a Chromecast-enabled device, you can throw the audio to your smart TV or speakers.

Score: 4/5

Podbean

With Podbean you can choose to skip backwards and forwards 30 seconds. You can also snooze playback, slow it down to half speed, or speed it up to 2x.

Podbean also has a volume boost for voices and an intelligent speed feature, where it trim silences in episodes. It also offers users a sleep timer, and has Chromecast support.

You can download individual episodes on each show page, can automatically download new episodes of your favorite shows, and limit downloads to Wi-Fi only.

Score: 4/5

Spreaker

Spreaker is the lightest of these apps in playback features. You can skip back 10 seconds, or forward 30 seconds. It also offers a sleep timer and adjustable playback speed.

The app has Chromecast support. You can also automatically download episodes from your favorite shows, and limit those downloads to Wi-Fi only.

Score: 3/5

Playback Winner: This is pretty even, with all four offering the most important features you look for in a podcast app. Pocket Cast and Podbean are slightly ahead of the game with their volume boost and silence trimming features, while Stitcher gives you a little more in the way of customization.

The Best Podcast App for Playlists

One of the most important features in any podcast app is the ability to create custom playlists. So how do each of these apps handle that feature?

Pocket Casts

With Pocket Casts, you can create custom playlists using filters. These filters include playing state (unplayed or unfinished), episode type (video or audio), how recent the episode is, and its download status. You can also limit your playlist to specific podcasts.

Let’s say there are three podcasts you love to listen to all the time. You could create a playlist of all the new, unplayed episodes from those three podcasts, and it will automatically update with those parameters.

You can also choose to automatically download all episodes of your favorite shows, and can set it so those downloads happen only when you’re on Wi-Fi.

Pocket Casts also offers up a handy feed of all the new episodes of shows you’re subscribed to, which isn’t available in all the apps listed here. It’s hands down the best podcast app for playlists.

Score: 5/5

Stitcher

With Stitcher, you create stations rather than playlists.

Stitcher’s stations give you quick access to the latest episode of each show. As mentioned above, you can automatically download entire stations, and restrict those downloads to when you’re on Wi-Fi.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to access more than one episode per show in each station. However, you can save individual episodes from any show, and then access that list under the Saved Episodes tab.

Score: 3/5

Podbean

Podbean places more emphasis on the individual episode rather than the show. You can add individual episodes to your playlists.

When it comes to keeping up with your favorite shows, you can follow individual podcasts, and filter each podcast by downloaded and played/unplayed status. The app also provides sorting by new to old or old to new.

You can download individual episodes from these shows, and batch download or batch add to playlists.

Score: 4/5

Spreaker

With Spreaker, you can add podcasts to your favorites, and choose to automatically download new episodes (on Wi-Fi only if you prefer). You can also turn on notifications for new episodes of favorite shows.

When it comes to individual episodes, you can add them to your Listen Later and Like playlists, but there’s no way to create custom playlists.

If you start playing a podcast episode from that podcast’s list of episodes, you can skip to the next episode.

Score: 2/5

Playlists Winner: If you want as much control as possible, Pocket Casts is the best option. If you’re more focused on individual episodes rather than shows, give Podbean a try.

The Best Overall Podcast App

The winner in this list is Pocket Casts.

While it is a paid app, it’s the most feature rich. Those features make it easy to overlook the inability to test drive podcasts. After all, it’s just as easy to unsubscribe from a show if you decide you don’t like it. You can also use the beta web version to try out podcasts before adding them to your subscription list.

PocketCasts’s playlists feature is the clincher. The app does a great job of managing your podcast subscriptions.

The automatically updating playlists require no effort on your part, beating out options that require you to manually add episodes or shows. And seeing all the new episodes from all your subscriptions in one page is a must-have for a regular podcast listener.

If you can’t or don’t want to pay for a podcast app, the free offerings are also great. We recommend Podbean as the best choice out of the free apps.

Many More Options for Podcast Apps

These apps are available for both Android and iOS users, but users of every operating system have some solid options worth looking into. iPhone users have plenty of podcast apps to choose from, and Android has its own set of awesome podcast apps.

No matter where you listen to podcasts, check out our tips for managing your podcast collection.

13:00

5 Ways Data Can Be Stolen From Your PC or Network

Got your data security sorted? Reckon there’s no way anyone can steal data from your computer or network devices? Great! That must mean you’ve solved the worst security problem plaguing corporations around the world.

In truth, data security is complex and difficult. If you think you’re completely secure, it probably means there are vulnerabilities you just aren’t aware of. That’s why it’s important to know the following ways data can be stolen from your PC or network drives.

1. USB Stick

USB data stick Image Credit: TEL0000/Wikimedia Commons

They fit in your pocket or hang on your keyring. They’re compact, easily hidden, and even able to be disguised. But USB flash sticks are a massive security risk.

For instance, they can be lost or stolen. Giving one away that you think might be totally empty could result in secrets being uncovered with recovery software. There is USB-specific malware that delivers worms and Trojans to host computers, just waiting to steal login information and sensitive data.

USB sticks are also easily confused with each other. It’s not uncommon, in a work environment, to take the wrong stick home.

As long as your PC is unlocked, anyone with a USB stick can steal data from it. They simply plug it in, move the data across, remove it, and leave. It’s that easy; far simpler than stealing physical documents.

Tech giant IBM applied a new security policy in 2018: a total ban on USB storage devices. Unfortunately, this seems far too late.

2. Smartphone or Tablet

Smartphone with USB cable Image Credit: Marco Verch/Flickr

While they’ve banned USB storage devices, IBM has not announced any limits to that other popular portable storage medium: a smartphone. When set to mass storage mode, a smartphone can appear as a portable hard disk or USB drive to your PC.

Tablets and old MP3 players are recognised in a similar way. For IBM users, this affords an instant answer to their problem of being unable to use USB sticks. Perhaps the company recognises that they can detect what data was transferred to what device, knowing that phones can be associated with people in a way that USB sticks cannot.

Either way, anyone can copy data on an unlocked, unattended computer using just a phone and a USB cable.

3. Flash Memory Card

microSD card and adaptor

Smaller than a USB stick, flash memory can be surreptitiously to steal data. Many devices these days feature card readers, often enabling the inserted media to sit flush with the edge of the reader. They can be seemingly invisible.

As with a USB flash device, these little memory cards can be easily pocketed, but rely on an unlocked and unattended computer. Picture this: a friend uses your computer to look through the photos on their camera’s memory card. While they might not have the intention of stealing data themselves, malware can be introduced from the card onto your computer.

All of the risks of USB sticks apply here.

4. Portable HDD or NAS Device

Portable hard disk drive Image Credit: Marco Verch/Flickr

Other risks to your PC’s data exist from portable hard disk drives (HDD). Again, these can be easily connected via USB. But there is another type of HDD that can put your data at risk.

Network Attached Storage is increasingly popular as a means for storing data on a local network, usually at home. NAS boxes are affordable, and can offer data resilience… you could even build your own using a Raspberry Pi.

The thing is, if you’re storing all of your vital data on a NAS box, it’s at immediate risk. Far smaller than a personal computer, a NAS box can be effortlessly connected from your home network, and taken.

Fortunately, you have a solution here: keep your NAS box located out of reach, preferably in a locked environment.

5. Other Removable Storage Media

CD-ROM and laptop

We’ve looked at the most common compact storage media so far, but there are others that you should be aware of. Writable CDs and DVDs are perhaps the most obvious, although ZIP disks and REV disks (from Iomega) are still used in some organizations. These are smaller (REV disks are essentially hard disk drive cassettes), and therefore easier to conceal.

Meanwhile, although unlikely to get into the hands of most users, tape media is used for mass storage, backup and data recovery in many businesses, and on some home servers. These of course need to be held securely, as they typically hold a copy of the entire contents of a server.

Leaving tapes where they can be picked up and taken would mean losing data from an entire server!

How to Secure and Protect Your Data

So, what data do you have on your computer? Video games? Art work? An in-progress novel? Or something more valuable: customer data, commercially sensitive information, something that will cost you your job if lost?

Whether you’re concerned about data being stolen from your home PC or your work laptop, it is vital that you understand how it could happen. Your data is under physical risk in five ways that you should now be able to recognise:

  • USB sticks.
  • Smartphones, tablets, and MP3 players (connected over USB).
  • Flash memory cards.
  • Portable HDD and NAS devices.
  • Removable media: optical disks, removable hard disk drives, tapes.

Understanding which devices can be used to pocket data on your computer is important. Don’t let it cloud what is useful, however. For instance, USB sticks can be turned into keys that unlock your PC.

If you’re concerned about the security of the data you’re using, consider using disk encryption. Using a work computer? If your employer expects you to work remotely on data stored centrally, ask them about setting up a VPN. This will improve data security considerably.

One last thing: although these devices can be used to steal data from your computer, they can also be used to introduce Trojans and malware. Ensure your internet security and antivirus apps are up to date!

Image Credit: BrianAJackson/Depositphotos

11:30

eBay Uses Your Interests to Help You Shop Online

Shopping online offers a lot of advantages over shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores. There’s the convenience of just tapping a few buttons and having a box delivered to your door, for starters. And there’s also a much larger range of products to choose from.

However, having more things to choose from isn’t always a good thing. Where do you start? How do you zero in on what you actually want to buy in that moment? Eager to help you buy more things, eBay has a solution, and it involves you revealing your “Interests”.

eBay Is Interested In You

eBay Interests is a new feature designed to help match you with the items you’ll actually want to buy. In a nutshell, you tell eBay what sort of things you’re into, and eBay will create a store unique to you, filled with items you’re going to want to buy.

The only thing you have to do is answer a short survey about your hobbies, your passions in life, and your style. eBay will then use this information, along with your purchase history, to create a storefront unique to you and your interests.

Your homepage will be transformed from a huge repository of random items into a storefront filled with items designed to appeal directly to you. This should, therefore, prevent you from having to wade through countless menus before you can start shopping.

Bradford Shellhammer of eBay said, “Our shopping experience should be as individual as each shopper on eBay. By asking people to tell us a little bit about their interests, we’re delivering a personalized store built around the things you care about most”.

Interests is available in the eBay app on Android and on iOS right now, with eBay promising to roll it out to more platforms and other markets around the world in the coming months.

A Line of Innovations

This is an interesting move by eBay. In many ways it borrows from streaming services, which recommend content based on your previous viewing/listening habits. eBay is using the same kind of approach to help draw your attention to potential purchases.

This is the latest in a line of innovations from eBay. In June 2017, eBay offered a price-match guarantee. In October 2017, eBay launched visual search tools. In March, eBay launched an Under $10 section. And in April, eBay simplified its listing process.

09:30

What Is 404? 4 Common Website Errors and What They Mean

Most of the time, visiting a website is a simple affair. You type in the name of the site you’re interested in or click a browser bookmark, and you see it within a few seconds.

But what about when it goes wrong? Sometimes, you’ll see various errors alerting you to problems with visiting that website. While some of these are out of your control, you can troubleshoot others to find out what’s wrong.

Let’s quickly review some of the most common website errors. Note that errors starting with 4 (like error 451) are client-side errors (issues with your computer), while those starting with 5 are server-side (problems with the website).

1. Error 404

404 is a common error. It signifies that the page you were looking for doesn’t exist. This often occurs when you click a broken link, or if a website moves a page without redirecting it properly. But it can also happen if you mistype a URL.

When you see a 404, check to make sure that you haven’t entered the wrong address. Then try a Google search to find the right page, as it may have moved.

2. Error 401

A 401 error means that you need authentication to access the page, but don’t have it. This usually occurs when you need to log into a website to access something but haven’t done so yet.

If you see this, try visiting the main page of the site and logging in again.

3. Error 403

A 403 error signifies that you’ve made a valid request, but the server won’t complete it because you’re not allowed to access it. This is different than a 401.

A 401 tells you that you haven’t logged in and so it can’t authenticate you. But a 403 error says that it knows who you are, yet won’t let you access the page. Typically, this means you’ve stumbled across something private and need to access the website administrator for access.

4. Error 504

A 504 error signifies a gateway timeout, meaning that a server the website relies on isn’t communicating with it quickly. When this happens, you won’t be able to access the website until its administrators resolve this issue. You can try refreshing the page a few times, but you’ll likely have to wait until it’s fixed.

For some funny errors, check out ridiculous Windows error messages.

08:30

How to Ensure Your Signal Messages Really Disappear for Good

These days, WhatsApp is no longer the only show in town. You have a number of high-quality instant messaging apps to choose from. And while I’m a massive fan of Telegram if you’re looking for a WhatsApp replacement, Signal continues to grow on me with every passing day.

It’s one of most secure messaging apps around. End-to-end encryption is standard, the app offers tools to verify the identity of people in chat groups and the integrity of the data channel, and it doubles as an SMS client.

Except, there’s a security problem. Or at least, there’s a security problem for Mac users.

What’s the Issue With Signal Messages?

Quite simply, messages which are supposed to disappear and leave no trace are leaving a very noticeable trace. Two traces, in fact.

One of the traces is caused by the Notification Center. By default, the Notification Center will show the content of a message along with the sender’s name. This information will persist long after Signal’s copy of the message has self-destructed.

In a worst-case scenario, a hacker could gain control of your machine and see what’s being said. It’s a nightmare if you use Signal to send sensitive data.

The second trace is a database-level copy of every self-destruction message that someone with sufficient computing knowledge could easily access. As we said, not very secure.

How to Ensure Signal Messages Really Disappear

To remedy the notification center issue, you need to tweak some settings in the Signal app.

Go to Preferences > Notifications and select Neither name nor message. Hit Save when you’ve made the changes.

The database issue is more problematic. If you’re feeling adventurous and fancy a project, you can follow Patrick Wardle’s somewhat complicated walkthrough. If that’s all a bit beyond you, you could run his script to see what data has been secretly stored.

And remember, if these revelations have soured Signal in your mind, there are plenty of other secure messaging apps out there.

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