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April 03 2013


Why USB Sticks Are Dangerous & How To Protect Yourself

usb drive dangerUSB drives are so pervasive in today’s world of technology, but when they first debuted, they revolutionized data exchange. The first USB flash drives had an 8MB capacity, which isn’t much by today’s standards, but a far cry better than the alternatives – the 1.44MB floppy or the CD that required permanent burning. Nowadays we have USB drives that are larger than traditional hard drives.  But for all the convenience and power of the USB drive, there are some serious USB drive danger to be wary of.

The ubiquity of the USB drive has made us overly trusting of the technology. We plug them in, pull them out, and plug them in again without a second thought to issues of security and protection. And I’m not just talking about “safe ejection” to prevent data corruption. I’m talking about viruses, malware, and all of those pesky nuisances that love to infect every corner of our systems.

Unfortunately for us all, we need to be diligent about USB security just as much as we are about hard drive and network security. Keep reading to learn more about this problem and how you can adequately guard yourself against it.

USB Drives Are Like Mosquitoes

When we hear about network and computer safety, we often hear tips and tricks that are somehow related to the Internet. Don’t click random email links. Don’t visit shady websites. Keep your firewalls up and your antivirus databases updated. Use safe passwords and stay vigilant against keylogger infections.

Now consider this scenario: a high-security headquarters where lots of confidential work with sensitive data is being done. Places like this are often isolated from the Internet, instead relying on a closed-circuit intranet for data sharing and communication. And when you consider a place that’s completely severed from the malice of Internet hackers, you’d think the security would be top-notch.

usb drive danger

And in reality, the security is good. It’s near impossible to hack or corrupt an internal network like that without performing the kind of impressive stunts that you’d see in the next Mission Impossible. Yet even so, hackers were clever enough to find ways to infiltrate secure compounds from a distance: by infecting the very USB drives that employees would use to transfer files from outside to inside the building.

There are plenty of cases where viruses piggybacked onto USB devices in order to spread like wildfire across the world. Remember the dreaded Conficker worm? The United States military ended up having some trouble with the agent.btz worm that was brought in through an infected USB drive. And more recently, there was the cyber-weapon Stuxnet worm.

And so, USB drives are like mosquitoes. They have the potential to pick up infections when plugged into an infected computer and they can spread those infections almost instantaneously as they’re plugged into other devices. This is why it’s so important that you keep not only your computers clean but your USB devices as well using regular scans and antivirus programs.

USB Disk Security

usb stick security

USB Disk Security is a tool from Zbshareware Lab that is as close to an all-in-one USB protection suite as you can get. It provides a whole host of features and safety options to keep you as protected as you can be in all things related to USB drives. Most USB security tools will focus on the USB drives themselves, but USB Disk Security goes way beyond that.

USB Disk Security has the following features:

  • USB Shield, which protects you in real-time against connected USB devices.
  • USB Scan, which scans connected USB devices for malicious software.
  • USB Access Control, which prevents your computer data from being copied to USB devices.
  • USB Drive Control, which prevents USB devices from even connecting to your computer in the first place.

USB Disk Security supports Windows XP, 2003, 2008, Vista, and 7, but it may interfere with other antivirus programs already installed on your system. It’s free with limited features. A lifetime license will cost you $55 USD which unlocks all features and includes all future updates to the software.

BitDefender USB Immunizer

usb stick security

As you might have surmised from the description of USB’s dangers, most viruses depend on automatically running when the USB drive is plugged into a computer. This is in large part determined by the presence of an autorun.inf file which, as the name suggestions, automatically runs upon connection.

BitDefender, a security software company that I’ve praised in the past, has a free tool called the USB Immunizer that immunizes your chosen USB device against malicious autorun.inf files by creating its own special autorun.inf file that cannot be deleted or replaced.

BitDefender USB Immunizer works on Windows XP, Vista, and 7 on USB devices that are formatted with FAT, FAT32, and NTFS file systems.

USB Dummy Protect

usb drive danger

The USB Dummy Protect program has an interesting theory behind the way it protects your USB devices. Long story short: viruses and malware require available memory space in order to exist on a USB drive, therefore, if you fill up a USB drive entirely and leave no space whatsoever, then viruses and malware can’t get on no matter what.

So that’s what USB Dummy Protect does. It creates a dummy.file file on your USB device that takes up every last bit of free space. When you want to remove that protection, you just delete the file. Easy. If you tend to transfer files to and from your USB drive frequently, this may not be the most elegant solution, but if you have a USB drive whose contents rarely ever change then this could be fantastic for you.

However, due to the way that FAT file systems are designed, this method will not work if your USB device has more than 4GB of free space (since file sizes in FAT systems have a maximum of 4GB). For NTFS drives, you shouldn’t experience any problems.


USB drive dangers require constant vigilance. You might use the same USB drive for years without a hitch, then one day you could grab a file off of your friend’s computer and end up infecting your home network with something serious. USB security is not often on the minds of computer users, even the tech-savvy ones, but as long as you are aware and take proactive steps against the potential spread of viruses that piggyback on USB devices, you’ll be all right.

If you have any other suggestions for software aimed at USB-related security, please share them with us in the comments.

Image Credits: Virus USB Via Shutterstock, Secure USB Via Shutterstock

The post Why USB Sticks Are Dangerous & How To Protect Yourself appeared first on MakeUseOf.


7 Best YouTube Workout Channels To Exercise at Home

youtube workout channelsThe rich and the famous don’t have this problem. Home gyms and personal trainers help them to get up straight from their beds and hit the gym. We lesser mortals have to call on our powers of self-motivation and discipline to trudge the few miles to the gym. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With the help of free YouTube channels for home workouts, we can start our own exercise regimen exactly where our sleeping mattress ends.

Going to the gym is not only about personal supervision and better equipment. It is also about the banter and the mass effect of exercising together. Nothing greases your limbs better than seeing someone older (or younger) than you putting in the hard yards. But sometimes busy lifestyles, erratic schedules, travelling on the road, economics, and downright laziness make home workouts a necessity.

Some Benefits of Exercising At Home

  • Exercising at home could be comparatively convenient for you instead of going to the gym in terms of your schedule and time saved.
  • Home workouts need minimal equipment. Buying some simpler home equipment like exercise mats, dumbbell sets, kettle balls, and even an elliptical trainer can be easily covered with the money you save in gym memberships.
  • For the socially shy – you may not feel comfortable with your self-image. Start exercising at home to shoo the awkwardness away.
  • You don’t need to get dressed up and your own private shower is just a step away.
  • You have your own personal trainer thanks to the television, the web, and the many YouTube channels.

Using YouTube workout channels is what we will focus on in this article. Please bear in mind though that I am not fitness guru. I am a work-from-home guy who uses the web and these channels to bring variety to his fitness regimen when he can drag himself away from the bed, the work desk, and the latest novel he happens to be reading.

If you ask me which is the simplest but single most effective exercise one can do at home – do the burpees. It is a full body workout which will make you weep for a place to lie down. But then, these seven YouTube home workouts may make you shed more buckets of sweat.

Switch On These YouTube Channels for Your Home Workouts

I have selected YouTube exercise videos where you need minimal equipment and can do the exercise without any supervision. Or channels with a greater variety of that. It is the rule I apply to myself, and I hope it applies to you as well when you go searching for home workouts.

Frugal Fitness

youtube workout channels

The fitness show is hosted by Mike Schiemer. The YouTube workout channel’s main theme is to do it cheap. And Mike Scheimer defines himself as an exercise physiologist, personal trainer, nutritionist, fitness model, writer, and epic cheapskate. Following that philosophy, many of the exercise videos on this fitness channel are about using no equipment, just your bodyweight. There are about 290+ videos in different playlists. Nutrition and product reviews are also covered. The exercises are of intermediate level, but not too difficult with a moderate level of difficulty.

Fitness Blender

best youtube workout channel

The fitness videos are well produced. The Fitness Blender website is more comprehensive. I was a bit surprised to learn that a husband and wife team are alone responsible for maintaining the site and the YouTube channel. You have full-length home workout videos. The menu has Pilates, boot camps, strength training, HIIT, kettlebell, stretching, sports-specific training, cardio, injury rehabilitation, and programs geared for weight loss. There is a 12 video length playlist where the couple answers fitness questions.


best youtube workout channel

BeFit is one of the better known fitness channels on YouTube. 37 million plus views attest to that. High-caliber professional trainers like Jillian Michaels, Denise Austin, and Jane Fonda among others feature here in the many exercise videos. If you like to groove try out the dance fit workout videos for some fast paced cardio burning. There’s also the series of 15 (hopefully growing videos on 5-minute workouts – great for times you are short of time and need some quick mood lifters.

My Trainer Bob

best youtube workout channel

Bob Harper is a personal trainer who is in the reality television series “The Biggest Loser”. The show gave him a profile in the United States as a fitness expert. Like him I also believe that a major part of fitness and losing weight is about diet; something I haven’t been able to impress on my mother who feeds me carbs. The YouTube channel seems to be a plug for his book. But I like the fact that his approach towards fitness is “inside-out” and he concentrates on diet, the mental and the spiritual aspects as well. There are no complete workouts here, but if you are looking for some challenge and variety give the videos a try.


top youtube workout channels

Passion4Profession is another well-produced YouTube workout channel. The motto is – train where you want, how you want, and when you want. I guess that’s the perfect definition of a home workout. The videos are nice animated depictions of exercise movements and postures. Most of the exercises use your bodyweight. Using the playlist is convenient because the videos playlists address specific parts of the body among other things. On the website, you can check out the exercises by clicking on a spot on the body map. Then list video exercises you want to follow using a filter.


top youtube workout channels

POP Pilates Instructor Casey Ho takes you through workouts that might get you to think of doing them the Gangnam style way. But they are peppy and colorful. And Casey Ho treats the seriousness of getting fit with fun. You can’t scoff at nearly half-a-million subscribers. She is always chatting and that should help to keep your own energy levels up as you follow the exercises in a corner of your home. The hits playing in the background help too. I don’t doubt her qualifications after seeing her do the burpees while chatting up the viewers. That takes some doing.

The Daily HIIT

youtube workout channels

High-intensity interval training is supposed to be better for burning more calories. There are both sides of the argument. But it is short, intense, and can really get your heart pumping in the shortest time possible. The Daily HIIT videos are high-intensity all right, and you should try them if you have an intermediate to advanced level of fitness because they can take a lot out of you. If the pace is too much, try the HIITlite series which is of lower intensity but still sapping. The Daily HIIT is a companion series and a successor to BodyRock.TV another fitness channel on YouTube.

A Word of Advice

The statutory warning remains – if you are physically inactive or have a medical condition, do consult a physician before you start exercising.

There are lots of YouTube workout channels with thousands of YouTube videos on fitness and health. But what’s true of the physical world is also true of the online one. Perhaps, more so. YouTube is the Wild West of online videos. There are good videos and there are also umpteen bad ones. When it comes to exercise and health, wrong instructions could be detrimental. Examine the sources more closely. Take the comments under the videos into consideration…even the seven video channels I have profiled here. It’s very difficult sometimes to make out who is an expert and who is playing make-believe.

These seven YouTube workout channels aren’t the only ones of course. But they are definitely among the best I could find. Being the lazy types we are, always glued to our workstations, we have looked at different ways of keeping our myofibrils together. You can take ideas from 5 Effective Ways To Workout At Home With Online Videos or watch a few from 6 Must-See Exercise Videos For Those Of Us Who Spend Most Of The Day Sitting. If you have a Wii then Top 5 Wii Fitness Games To Get Into Shape From Home could be more fun than any gym with a free spa.

Do you workout from home? Tell us about your reasons – it is a conscious choice or one due to the stresses of urban life? What sort of fitness habit do you follow? Which are the YouTube workout channels or online resources you would recommend?

Image Credit: Young woman training via Shutterstock

The post 7 Best YouTube Workout Channels To Exercise at Home appeared first on MakeUseOf.


Yahoo Mail Adds Dropbox Attachment Support For All Users [Updates]

After the big assault on its Voices service last year, Yahoo has been on the road to redemption. In an effort to help those who struggle sending large files via email, the service announced on Tuesday that it would be teaming up with Dropbox to let users share and store files much more easily.

This integration allows Yahoo Mail users to bypass the original 25MB file size limit, and easily send large files such as photos and videos. Of course, users can also send typical files such as documents, etc. As another plus, the combined service lets users access their Dropbox files from Yahoo Mail, or files uploaded via Yahoo Mail from Dropbox.

Dropbox integration is now available through the browser version of Yahoo Mail in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian. Users who do not already have a Dropbox account can now create one through Yahoo Mail.

By all appearances, Dropbox will operate seamlessly while inside Yahoo Mail, making for an integration very similar to the Gmail/Google Drive one offered by Google. For more information on creating a Dropbox account through Yahoo, visit the Yahoo Mail Blog.

This partnership is expected to provide many solutions to Yahoo Mail users, and Dropbox being as popular as it is, could really make a change for the struggling mail service.

Does this new feature change your opinion on Yahoo Mail? Will you consider switching?

Sources: Yahoo, Dropbox

The post Yahoo Mail Adds Dropbox Attachment Support For All Users [Updates] appeared first on MakeUseOf.


Firefox 20 Introduces Per-Windows Private Browsing, A New Download Manager, & More [Updates]

Mozilla has released Firefox 20 for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android, and it’s filled with new features that should bring great joy to users of the popular Web browser. These features include per-window private browsing, a new download manager in the toolbar, and the ability to force-close stuck plugins separately.

Per-window private browsing is a feature that will have many users excited. While private browsing has been available in Firefox for some time, it always required users to open a separate private window, which completely replaced the current session, not allowing for concurrent browsing in private and non-private modes. The update allows users to go private while maintaining access to their other tabs, and on Android, to open a private tab next to their regular tabs.

The update also makes tracking downloads easier, with a new download monitor which now appears in the Firefox toolbar. This allows users to view and find downloaded files without leaving the current browsing window, and could easily eliminate the need for various download add-ons you may have been using.

Firefox 20 also adds the ability to close hanging plugins separately, without having the entire browser hang hopelessly. This is a nice little stability tweak that prevents you from having to shut down the whole browser every time something goes amiss. In addition to these awesome new features, there are plenty of other improvements and fixes. Firefox fans most certainly have a reason to rejoice.

Firefox 20 is available to download from Mozilla’s website, or through an in-app update, if Firefox is already installed.

Do you like these new Firefox features? Can it persuade you to switch to Firefox?

Source: Firefox Blog

The post Firefox 20 Introduces Per-Windows Private Browsing, A New Download Manager, & More [Updates] appeared first on MakeUseOf.


Cool Websites and Tools [April 2nd 2013]

Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. Most of the listed websites are FREE or come with a decent free account option. If you want to have similar cool website round-ups delivered to your daily email, subscribe here.

Add Your Website Here!

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FitBrains – Keeping our brain well-trained and exercised is a critical and often underscored aspect of physical fitness. Having a healthy lifestyle is not only about going to the gym and eating right, but also exercising your brain. If you want to train your brain muscles just like any part of the body, then you should check out Fit Brains. Read more: Fit Brains: Daily Training Regimen For Your Brain

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IM Creator – Do you need to create your own website for one reason or another? Whatever you reason for needing your own space on the web, there are tons of options out there to choose from. A great option for people looking for a place to build their website that is easy to use and beautiful is called IM Creator. Best of all, everything is drag and drop, so you do not need any programming skill to enjoy it yourself. Read more: IM Creator: A Simple And Elegent Website Builder


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FloorStyler – Before hiring a contractor to work on your home or office construction plans, you should be able to have a clear definition of your design and what it is that you exactly want. Here to help you visualize your design plans in 2D and 3D is a website called FloorStyler. Read more: FloorStyler: Easily Sketch Floor Plans In 2D & 3D


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MovieAid – If you are looking for an iMovie equivalent in Google’s Play Store then you should check out MovieAid. This app allows you to perform core editing tasks to create home videos with features like stitching clips, and adding images, title text, transitions, and background audio to your video project. Read more: MovieAid: Create & Edit Movies Using Android


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Imagine – Do you have problems using your current text editor on your Mac computer? If yes, then your issues are probably related to the heavy usage of system resources, cluttered interfaces, and complicated features that most competent Mac text editors have. Here to give you the best text editing features is Imagine. Read more: Imagine: A Light App That Lets You Write In Peace [Mac]


These are just half of the websites that we discovered in the last couple of days. If you want us to send you daily round-ups of all cool websites we come across, leave your email here. Or follow us via RSS feed.

The post Cool Websites and Tools [April 2nd 2013] appeared first on MakeUseOf.


Search Hashtags Across Social Networks With Tagboard

Thanks to one Twitter user, the concept of the ‘hashtag’ has become synonymous with an easy way to find meaningful search results on Twitter. It’s since gone far beyond that – making it an easy way for Instagram users to tag their photography, has found a home on Google+ and there is even talk that hashtags could soon be coming to Facebook as well. But what if you wanted to search one hashtag on several services? Thanks to Tagboard that’s exactly what you can do.

Tagboard is a handy free service which allows you to search hashtags on multiple services at the same time. The first is, obviously Twitter, and it is joined by Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Google+ and app.net. Once you search for a keyword, Tagboard creates a dynamic board filled with content from all the sources on that one topic.

Getting Started With Tagboard

At its most simplest, Tagboard is a great way to monitor keywords across social networks. This kind of feature is invaluable for those of you monitoring your brand online. The great thing about Tagboard is that, since its entirely free, it makes a great choice for someone who’s just starting out with their business and doesn’t want to spring for social media monitoring just yet.

Tagboard is also useful for a variety of other purposes. If you’re researching a specific topic, or are following a specific event or incident in the media, you can see what everyone is saying about that topic on one page. A great example of this would be the way in which Twitter has been used in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, as a tool to broadcast information from protests, courtrooms, and more. Journalists, activists and more use these services as a way of keeping the world aware of what’s going on in Egypt – and using Tagboard, followers can keep up with the topic from one convenient page.

Once you’ve searched for a specific keyword, you can then view all content from the various sources, or you can filter it by source, and view just tweets, for example, with that hashtag.

Tagboard doesn’t automatically refresh, but it will let you know when there is new content available, and you can hit the refresh button to load the latest tweets, Facebook posts and more.

When it comes to the content itself, you can, at the click of a link, access it on its original page but you can also interact with it on Tagboard itself.

With tweets, you can reply, favourite and retweet content.

With Instagram, you can like and comment on photos.

With Facebook, you can like and comment on posts, while with Google+, Vine and App.net, you can’t interact with the content on Tagboard itself and will have to go to the original post to let the poster know what you want. Clicking on hashtags will open up the hashtag search board on Tagboard itself, not on the original site.

Creating Your Own Tagboard

While you can use Tagboard without signing up for an account, there is one advantage to signing up for your own free account. After signing into Tagboard with your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account, you can then create your own ‘Tagboard’ with a simple hashtag search, provided someone else hasn’t beat you to it.

When creating a Tagboard, you can choose the hashtag, hashtag title, include a definition, link and avatar. This service is particularly useful for those of you who want to use Tagboard to monitor your social media presence and with these features, you can throw in a bit of personal branding to boot.

Creating your own Tagboard has other advantages too. It’s useful for friends who, by using a unique hashtag, can collate content from all over their social networks, viewable on one page where they can interact with one another. That way, say you’re posting something to Instagram, and not all of your friends use the app, they can easily keep up with your Instagram content from Tagboard.

Of course it means that the content will be viewable to the public, so if you’d rather find a way to share your Facebook and Instagram photos via email, you should check out PicDigest instead. The option to create private Tagboards, however, could take the service to another level as a social network hub.

Looking for some inspiration on what to keep up with using Tagboard? Why not check out this list of 5 useful Twitter hashtags and 15 hashtags every writer should know.

What do you think of Tagboard? How do you think you’ll use the service? Let us know in the comments.

The post Search Hashtags Across Social Networks With Tagboard appeared first on MakeUseOf.


What Should Have Been Culled Instead Of Google Reader? [You Told Us]

The company which has its many and varied tentacles wrapped tightly around all four corners of the Web recently announced the culling of Google Reader. This decision annoyed many people, some of whom immediately began looking around for alternative RSS readers. The chances of Google culling other services in the future are high, as the company has these spring cleans regularly.

Kannon tried to prepare us for this possibility by highlighting alternatives to existing Google services, which is a must-read for those eager to prepare for a possible forthcoming technology apocalypse. But wait. Aren’t there some things you’d actually like to get culled? That was the slightly offbeat discussion that formed the basis for last week’s We Ask You column.

The Results

We asked you, What Should Have Been Culled Instead Of Google Reader? We didn’t limit you just to Google products, though some people seemed to assume this was the case. There’s a lesson to be learned here… before you comment on a MakeUseOf article read more than just the title.

The response was fair, with dozens of you deigning to tell us what product, service, company, app, or operating system you’d like to see placed in a coffin and lowered into the ground. What I foresaw as being an offbeat, fun discussion actually prompted some really heartfelt (and often angry) comments.

Many Google products and services were named during the discussion, including Google Finance, Google Video, Google Keep, Google+, Blogger, Orkut, and Android. To top it off someone wanted to see the company as a whole disappear, mainly owing to privacy concerns.

Other notable mentions include Twitter, Klout (which ranks people online according to their reach), social media in general, the practice of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and misinformation/ignorance over open source alternatives to expensive products, with Microsoft Office being the example cited by the OP.

Comment Of The Week

We had great input from the likes of (our own) Chris Hoffman, Garey B, and gmvolk, to name just a few. Comment Of The Week goes to Suzannah, who, as well as the respect of myself and hopefully everybody reading this, receives 150 points to use for MakeUseOf Rewards.

Google Keep. Axe it.
Note to Google:
The date you launch a product to be used on a daily basis and designed to house carefully collected information crucial to your workflow …
….should probably not be the SAME DATE you axe a product used by so many on a daily basis and designed to house carefully collected information crucial to their workflow.
You miiiiiiiggght just run into a little bit of trust issues on your new product. Axing Google Reader while launching Google Keep just advertised “Hey, folks, stay with Evernote, because when it comes to daily workflow, we just can’t be trusted.”
Just sayin’.

We like this comment because it really got to the heart of why people are mad at Google for dumping Reader. The company launched Google Keep soon after ditching Reader, but it should realize how difficult it’s going to be persuading people to move from Evernote and the like when there is no guarantee Keep will itself be kept.

We will be asking a new question tomorrow, so please join us then. We Ask You is a weekly column dedicated to finding out the opinions of MakeUseOf readers. We ask you a question and you tell us what you think. The question is open-ended and is usually open to debate. Some questions will be purely opinion-based, while others will see you sharing tips and advice, or advocating tools and apps for your fellow MakeUseOf readers. This column is nothing without your input, all of which is valued.

Image Credit: Davidd

The post What Should Have Been Culled Instead Of Google Reader? [You Told Us] appeared first on MakeUseOf.


7 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Twitter

why use twitterTwitter has now been with us for seven years and counting, having celebrated its seventh birthday on March 21, 2013. This was seven years to the day since Jack Dorsey sent out the first tweet in 2006, at a time when the micro-blogging social network was known simply as twttr.

Twitter was originally an internal service for employees of Odeo but entered into the public domain in July 2006. By 2007 early adopters and tech bloggers had started to use Twitter, and the service has grown every year since then. In 2009 it benefited from the Oprah Effect, hitting the mainstream in a big, bad way. Those who are interested can read Twitter’s full origin story.

However, despite now boasting more than 200 million active users Twitter is lagging a long way behind Facebook and its userbase of 1 billion-plus. Those who haven’t yet succumbed to the lure of Twitter seem unlikely to ever do so, and they’re missing out on an exciting and intoxicating experience. Which is a crying shame.

What follows are seven reasons why you should be using Twitter, the ‘seven’ representing the number of years Twitter has been around for. Even if you have so far rejected the social network either out of ignorance or a lack of desire, I urge you to read on and at least consider giving it a go.

Interesting People

why use twitter

We all want to surround ourselves with interesting people, don’t we? Sadly not all of us get the chance to do that in the real world. You’re tied to your family by blood, and while other people are your friends for a reason (meaning you should get on with them extremely well) that doesn’t mean they’ll have anything particularly interesting to say.

Twitter is meant not for friends and family but for people you actually want to communicate with. You can follow anyone and anyone can follow you. There’s none of the mutual agreeing to be friends required by Facebook, so if you want to follow 500 complete strangers then that’s your right. If none follow you back then it doesn’t matter a jot.

TL;DR: Twitter is full of people with things to say, and you can listen.

Breaking News

why you should use twitter

Twitter has proved its worth in recent years as a platform for breaking news. The simplicity of the site means that the first think many people at the scene of a developing news story do is to tweet about it. A few retweets later and the news has spread. This has led to Twitter beating traditional news outlets to a story on many occasions.

Even if you don’t want to actively tweet yourself, you can use Twitter as a source for breaking news. By following news aggregators, rolling news channels, and journalists, you can get the inside scoop of a story long before it hits the mainstream news outlets.

TL;DR: Who needs newspapers when Twitter usually beats them?

Tracking Trends

why you should use twitter

As well as breaking news Twitter is a fine resource for tracking online trends. If a YouTube video is going viral then it will be getting shared on Twitter. If a new meme is spreading like wildfire then it will appear on Twitter. If a celebrity has done something newsworthy but has managed to avoid the news leaking to the mainstream press it will likely appear on Twitter.

Hashtags also figure into this, and most of the Trends listed on Twitter use this simple method of assigning a particular subject to a tweet. You can tailor Twitter trends to suit you, switching from ‘Worldwide’ to those emerging from a particular country.

TL;DR: Trending hashtags can tune you into the zeitgeist.

Company Contact

using twitter

Companies love Twitter. Your favorite brand is highly likely to have a presence on the site, whatever product they sell or service they provide. Twitter is a great tool for brands to promote themselves and their products, but they are unable to push their wares onto consumers without consumers pushing back.

Twitter represents one of the quickest and easiest ways to contact a company to get instant customer service. The response you receive may not be as fine-tuned as you would get by speaking to a person on the phone, but at least you won’t be kept on hold for hours before you get that attention.

TL;DR: Get a quick response by embarrassing a brand on Twitter.

Celebrity Access

using twitter

Celebrities love Twitter too. While not every famous person is present on the site, a high percentage are. The celebrities get another platform to promote themselves and their latest film/television show/book/perfume, and in return their fans gain a new way of accessing their heroes.

While those who are really keen on certain famous people have always found ways to talk to them, Twitter makes it very simple indeed. If a celebrity is on Twitter then anyone else on Twitter can send a message to them. They may even respond. Indeed, I’ve communicated with several celebrities on Twitter in this way.

TL;DR: Tweeting a celebrity beats stalking them.

Creative Outlet

using twitter

Most of the entries so far have outlined reasons to follow other Twitter users, such as girl geeks and popular scientists. But you can easily turn this on its head by instead creating a Twitter presence that others want to follow. You’re only limited by your creativity.

You can start a Twitter account about anything, as long as you abide by the rules set forth by the company. You may want to parody a famous person, write short poetry, recount witty anecdotes, or tell lame jokes. Twitter gives you a certain sense of anonymity to plumb the depths of your creativity.

TL;DR: Be imaginative with themed tweets.

140 Characters

why use twitter

If you’re anything like me you have a short attention span. You can read novels, in-depth features, and articles several thousand words long, but there are times when you’d rather not have to. This lack of attention span is why TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) became so popular, and it has also certainly helped foster the popularity of Twitter.

You only have 140 characters to say what you want to say in a tweet (excluding URLs). This means people are forced to get to the point quickly, paring the facts down to their core essence. Sure, there may be a link to a longer news story, but it’s surprising how much information you can consume purely from reading tweets.

TL;DR: 140 characters makes TL;DR redundant.


If you’re already a fan of Twitter then do you think this list sums up the best reasons others should try the site for themselves? Is there another, perhaps better, reason why? If you’re not on Twitter yet has this article made you consider signing up to see if it’s for you? If not, why not? What is the one thing holding you back?

Anyone who signs up to Twitter as a direct result of this article is guaranteed at least one follower… me. If you join Twitter just tweet me at @DavePee telling me as much and I’ll follow you… though I reserve the right to unfollow or block you at a later date for any reason whatsoever.

Image Credits: Ed Yourdon, Michael Beck, Michael Coghlan, Brett Jordan, Frank am Main, Denise Krebs, Maryland GovPics

The post 7 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Twitter appeared first on MakeUseOf.

April 02 2013


4 Facebook Alternatives For Couples & Families

family alternative to facebookloathe Facebook. Actually, I loathe what Facebook has become. No longer is it a useful tool for connecting with others. Instead, it’s polluted with obnoxious macro images and tacky quotes followed by comments that typically say “so true”. Admittedly, I keep certain individuals on my Facebook friend list for the same exact reason that I stop and say hello to acquaintances at the grocery store: to be polite. Unfortunately, their virtual shopping carts often get in the way of the people who I actually want to stay close to.

For instance, there’s my girlfriend, and we share humorous videos with each other on nearly constant basis. Then there are my parents. Naturally, I have a few cousins here and there, and I even have a few great-uncles and great-aunts. If I could get rid of the fluff and stay connected only with them, that would be a-okay. After a bit of research, I discovered that a few family alternative to Facebook exist. Read on for the benefit of your social media experience.


family alternative to facebook

Couple is something that’s a bit more in line for those of you who have a romantic partner. Besides its incorporation of a few groan-inducing mushy features, it’s actually very useful. Packaged in the form of a mobile app, Couple allows you to share photos with your SO, schedule dates on a shared calendar, and even create lists and memos.

Regarding the mush, it has the ability to let you and your lover share a “ThumbKiss” – that is, you press your thumb against your phone’s screen, and a thumbprint will appear in a relative location on your partner’s device. The idea is to have you both press your thumbs on the same part of the phone, allowing for a rather technologically tender moment.


alternative to facebook

Path expands into life beyond your relationship and into the area of close friends (however, you could likely use it as a couple). Once again, this comes in the form of a mobile app, and it allows for a more streamlined social experience. For comparison, imagine Facebook as if it’s your local favorite restaurant and Path as if it’s the corner coffee shop.

Both serve food and drinks, but the as you can tell, the respective crowds are quite different. Path allows for nearly the same exact functions as Facebook, but it’s free from distractions. As described by its developers, it’s a personal journal – a path for your life.

Family HQ

alternative to facebook

Moving on into the world of family (something that we all occasionally know and love), there’s Family HQ. Developed for only your closest loved ones, Family HQ openly focuses on the concept of “narrowcasting”. In short, narrowcasting is the complete and total opposite of broadcasting.

With broadcasting, you send out information to a large group with the idea that your message will be picked up by those who want to listen. On the other hand, with narrowcasting, you send out information to a small group with the idea that your message is important to each member. It’s simple stuff, really. With hefty privacy policies and a focus on your own virtual castle, Family HQ could be a great way to stay connected on a more personal level.


family alternative to facebook

Rootsy – bearing a clever name, mind you – stretches the limits of social networking by incorporating family trees and various elements of internal record-keeping. Rather than just keeping you connected to the surviving members of your clan, the website keeps you connected, well, to your roots.

The service is still a social network through and through, but instead of one, giant web, it’s comprised of several mini-networks for individual families. Furthermore, it pushes forward the whole idea of tracking your family history, offering areas to add important images and family stories.


So there you have it, folks. It is very possible to get past the clutter and connect with the ones that matter most. It may just take a bit of initiative on your part and the willingness of others. Think of it as a pioneering type of movement – to venture beyond the world of Facebook! Besides, it gives you an excuse to get rid of hacked accounts and cluttered walls. You may even decide to permanently delete your account.

Even still, Facebook could easily incorporate some of these sites’ features. Perhaps a separate feed or an option to hide everyone that isn’t related to you at the click of a button. We’ll just have to see.

What do you think? Do you believe these are good family alternative to Facebook to stay connected with those who are closest to you? What other services do you use?

The post 4 Facebook Alternatives For Couples & Families appeared first on MakeUseOf.


This Is What Facebook Does with Your Data & How To Opt Out [Weekly Facebook Tips]

Facebook is a publicly traded company. As such, its success isn’t just measured in traffic or users, but first and foremost in revenue. In other words, Facebook is pressured to make more money. But where does this money come from?

The social network is a free service and all its unique content is generated by its users. This does not leave the site with a whole lot of options to earn money. What Facebook does have, however, is a large number of active users and a huge amount of associated user data.

The most profitable way for Facebook to increase its revenue is to work closer with advertisers. Facebook can help advertisers get more face time with its users or use social advertising features to make their products more appealing to the user. And this isn’t a bad way of making business, it’s just different from what we have been used to.

Facebook explains the strategy in more detail on its advertising page.

Personalized Ads On & Outside of Facebook

Facebook is leading the way when it comes to social advertising. For example have you ever seen the profile pic of a friend in a list of people who have Liked a page? I bet it stood out like a sore thumb to you.

This isn’t coincidence. You were probably logged into Facebook, one of your friends had really Liked the site, and Facebook or the advertiser made sure you would see that. The more important that friend is to you, the more compelled you felt to Like the respective site yourself. And maybe the familiar face gave you enough of a kick to actually Like the page. Overall, the odds are stacked in favor of the advertisers. Did you know you can even see ads shown to you recently on your Ad Board?

We will continue to see ever new forms of such clever advertising that creatively harnesses user data. In terms of revenue, it’s just too good to be passed up on. And for users who enjoy free services, it’s absolutely brilliant if this strategy works for companies.

Moreover, Facebook recently announced that it will allow tracking ads in the News Feed. Ads that draw on a user’s browsing behavior through the use of cookies aren’t new; they just haven’t been featured in your Facebook News Feed before.

Actively Opting Out Of Social Ads

Some of us don’t feel comfortable with having our profiles associated with products, even if we consciously Liked a page. Personally, I don’t mind having my own browsing behavior tracked. However, I don’t want to be responsible for sales of products, just because I accidentally Liked them at some point in the past.

Facebook offers ways to opt out of two types of social ads. First, third party sites can show a social context via social plugins. Second, Facebook pairs ads and friends to show you what your friends have Liked.

To change those settings, head over to the Facebook Ads section in your Account Settings. Click on Edit in the top right of each of the two options, select No one for each of them, then click Save Changes to opt out of these types of ads.

Blocking Ads

Note that Facebook apps can potentially send messages to your Timeline and thus spam your friends’ News Feed with ads. Here is how you can remove those apps and ensure app privacy.

We have previously shown you how you can block those ads or at least starve them of information. While it is your free choice to block ads, please keep in mind that they are the main income stream for many free services, including MakeUseOf.

Passively Opting Out

The only sure way you can prevent Facebook from using your data for advertising purposes, is to not use Facebook. It’s as simple as that. Close your account and be done with it. I think that’s the worst option as it doesn’t really solve anything. Instead, try to consciously use free services like Facebook. Don’t blindly Like brands or pages, but do think of the consequences. What will your friends think?

What do you think of social advertising? Is there a way to escape from it or is it taking over the Internet?

The post This Is What Facebook Does with Your Data & How To Opt Out [Weekly Facebook Tips] appeared first on MakeUseOf.


5 Ways To Spend Less On Amazon Purchases

amazon discount purchaseAmazon has built a reputation for great prices. Though not always the least expensive, and often not the best source for sale and clearance items, stock is generally inexpensive and comes attached to a large and lenient customer service department. In other words, Amazon.com is a good online store.

Yet there are ways to squeeze even more savings out of Amazon. These tactics don’t drastically reduce the already solid deals, but they do help bargain shoppers save a few extra bucks from every purchase. Better yet, all of these tips require almost zero time or effort.

Take Advantage Of Super Saver Shipping

amazon discount purchase

Selecting free Super Saver Shipping on purchases that qualify is an obvious move. Unless you really need the item immediately, or the item isn’t fulfilled by Amazon but instead a third-party store, there’s little reason to use any other form of shipping.

The only problem with Super Saver Shipping is the minimum purchase. Normally, you need to make $25 in qualifying purchases, and that figure can be troublesome. Want to buy two movies? Often, they’ll be just under $25. At times you may find that you’re just a few dollars or cents under the limit.

What can you do? Use a filler item to make up the difference. You can save yourself the trouble of browsing the store’s massive inventory with Amazon Filler Item, a site that automatically searches for items that make up the difference between your purchase and the minimum you need to qualify for free shipping.

Track Prices On CamelCamelCamel

amazon discount

Online prices are easy to track, and their history can tell you if a product is a good deal or not. While not all products are subject to price trends some, like winter coats, have obvious seasonal fluctuations. A price tracker lets you know if you’re buying on the up or down-swing.

The best tracker is CamelCamelCamel. Besides an excellent, clear interface and robust search function, this site tracks the price of Amazon direct, 3rd party new and 3rd party used inventory. Users can view a price history graph at various time scales and even sign up for automated emails when an item reaches a desired price.

While I prefer the Camel, you can try Amazon Price Tracker and The Tracktor as well. These have unique strengths even if the overall package isn’t quite as strong.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Third-Party Sellers

amazon discount

Amazon’s direct sales are seen as the most reliable and, to be honest, that’s true. When buying direct from Amazon you receive full protection of the company’s generous return policies. But third-party sellers are still legit and, for the most part, offer the same experience as buying through Amazon itself.

This is most true for those that offer “fulfilled by Amazon” shipping. When you see this, it means you will receive shipping with all the regular haste provided by the company and also be eligible for Super Saver Shipping. That last point is a big deal if you’re buying more than $25 of goods.

Even used sellers are usually legit because the policies governing them are strict. There’s no back-lash against shoppers who rate a seller poorly and failure to complete a transaction can result in a quick investigation. If you avoid sellers with poor ratings, and those who are new, you’ll rarely have a problem.

Use The Wish List

amazon discount

Amazon’s Wish List may not seem like a great tool for saving money, but it can help. By putting an item on the Wish List you can keep up-to-date on its price over time. The list helps you do this by displaying how much the price of an item has dropped or risen since it was added.

You also can open your list on mobile devices, which is great for retail shopping. When looking at an item in-store you can compare it to the Wish List to see if the item is the same and if buying online will save you money. This is more convenient and accurate than searching via text or barcode.

And let’s not forget – you can share your lists with others. So if you want something, but don’t want to spend money on it, you can always add the item to your list and then share it in hopes it’ll turn up as a birthday surprise.

If You’re A Heavy User, Go Prime

amazon discount purchase

For several years Amazon had offered an unusual membership known as Prime. Unlike most store memberships, this one doesn’t give you cash back or a discount. Instead it promises free two-day shipping for all items fulfilled by Amazon, thus making the online store just slightly less convenient than the one right down the street.

Prime is $79 a year, however, so you’ll have to decide if you’re gaining or losing. Shipping costs can vary from item to item, but the cost is usually $10 or more. Taking that as a minimum, you’ll need to make at least 8 orders at Amazon per year to break even. Note that’s orders, not items, as Amazon bundles items as much as possible by default.

And you’ll also need for shipping time to actually matter on items. If you don’t care when the item arrives, you’d probably use free shipping, so the value from Prime doesn’t matter.

Still, Prime can be a good deal for people who do most of their non-grocery shopping online. I should also mention that subscribing to Prime gives access to the company’s streaming video service, which is comparable to Netflix. Some people might find that alone to make the subscription worthwhile.


Saving money with Amazon is easy. You don’t have to be an extreme couponer to do it, nor do you have to stay up until midnight waiting for an online sale to trigger. All you really need to do is visit CamelCamelCamel and use features baked directly into Amazon. Sometimes you’ll save a few bucks, sometimes you’ll save a lot more, and it all adds up.

For more tips be sure to check out our full, comprehensive guide to Amazon.com!

The post 5 Ways To Spend Less On Amazon Purchases appeared first on MakeUseOf.


Cool Websites and Tools [April 1st 2013]

Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. Most of the listed websites are FREE or come with a decent free account option. If you want to have similar cool website round-ups delivered to your daily email, subscribe here.

Add Your Website Here!

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StandApp – Sitting all day during work makes us unhealthy, but we can’t get ourselves to stand up until we take a break. Fortunately, StandApp is an iOS app that reminds us to stand up and stretch at regular intervals. While any timer app can buzz you anytime, StandApp goes beyond the simple timer by offering you some stretching tips and physical activities. Read more: StandApp: Get The Habit To Stand Up At Regular Intervals [iOS]

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AllMediaServer – Apple’s Airplay allows you to wirelessly play videos from your computer to your Apple TV. But even if you are not using Apple products, you can still do wireless streaming across devices with DLNA connections. AllMediaServer is a desktop app that lets you watch movies, listen to music, and stream photos from your computer or phone to your DLNA-enabled TV. Read more: AllMediaServer: Watch Movies From Your Computer On Your TV


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Truecaller – Would you like to know the person behind the number calling you? How about blocking off spammy callers? For a little more peace of mind, you should check out Truecaller. This phone lookup app lets you search for phone number identities worldwide, filter unwanted calls, and instantly know the person who is calling. Read more: Truecaller: Cross Platform Called ID & Phone Lookup App


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HTML5 Boilerplate – If you are planning on building a new website today, it would be wise to start learning the best HTML5 practices to future-proof your website. HTML5 Boilerplate is a collection of front end templates that you can use to create and set up websites. The great thing about HTML5 Boilerplate is that you can just select the bits you want. Read more: HTML5 Boilerplate: Build Websites Using an HTML5 Front End Template


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PrimeTube – When people think of watching videos online or on a smartphone, YouTube is the first place that comes to mind. After all, it has more videos than any other place on the web, and there is almost endless hours of entertainment available on the service. Of course, you need a way to watch all of these videos on your Windows Phone, and PrimeTube is a great option. Read more: PrimeTube: Elegant YouTube Client [Windows Phone]


These are just half of the websites that we discovered in the last couple of days. If you want us to send you daily round-ups of all cool websites we come across, leave your email here. Or follow us via RSS feed.

The post Cool Websites and Tools [April 1st 2013] appeared first on MakeUseOf.


4 Imgur Alternatives For Uploading & Sharing Images

imgur alternativeIt’s easy to forget the free image hosts are still a viable and useful service for many people online. Practically every IM and SMS client supports the sending of images. Email obviously does too. But still, social communities like Reddit make it mainstream to not include some native upload-and-attach feature. Out of that, Imgur was born. It is now the most popular hub for image uploads on the web.

Before Imgur climbed to the status it’s at today, there were others like TinyPic and ImageShack. No matter how many are created and how popular any one of them manages to get, there is space for other image hosts. In this post, I’d like to share a couple recommended Imgur alternatives.


As an image host with one of the more interesting names, imgChili is quite similar to the aforementioned ImageShack.

imgur alternative

imgChili supports local, Flash, and remote image uploading. By default, you can upload five files at a single time, at a maximum file size of 5 MB each, and imgChili will also generate a thumbnail of each image at a size that you can tweak manually. Clicking the Add More Files button will allow you add an additional upload field for each time you click the button.

imgur image sharing

The end result offers your image in several formats: a direct link, thumbnail in HTML and BBcode, and link in BBcode. The direct link format isn’t exactly short or pretty, but it gets the job done.


Postimage doesn’t offer any great name or fancy layout, but it does what it’s supposed to You’re able to upload multiple images all through a single prompt (by holding the CTRL key and clicking additional files) or upload by URL.

imgur image sharing

Postimage offers the ability to resize your images to several standard sizes and also seems to be okay with hosting NSFW content.

imgur image sharing

The page displayed after a successful upload will show thumbnails of all uploaded images and allows you to pop out a window that shows codes for each individual image (as the show codes link). Alternatively, you can get links and full BBcode or HTML for every image you’ve uploaded if you scroll further down the page.

imgur image sharing

Postimage.com will also allow you to easily create an account that will allow you to keep a history of all of the files that you’ve uploaded.


UltraIMG put a lot into their design, but it doesn’t take away from the quality of their hosting capabilities at all.

imgur image sharing

UltraIMG supports uploading multiple images at once, local or remote, at a maximum size of 10 MB per file. Clicking the Upload Preferences button will allow you to configure URL shortening, mark your uploads as NSFW, privately upload, and dynamically resize your images (by width).

imgur image sharing

After a successful upload, you’re given a choice of short URLs, direct links, HTML, or BBcodes for the files you’ve uploaded. Clicking on a thumbnail of an image you’ve uploaded will show its filename, size, and dimensions.

imgur image sharer

Further down the page, you’re provided with individual codes for the current image that you have selected.

UltraIMG also offers extensions for Chrome and Firefox, as well as a desktop uploader if you navigate to the Tools page.


FunkyIMG is a very simple image host that just plainly gets the job done. It also offers some interesting features not seen otherwise on this list.

imgur image sharer

FunkyIMG doesn’t support adding multiple images through a prompt, but rather by drag-and-drop from the desktop or within Windows Explorer. FunkyIMG supports dynamic resizing, information labels, and even the ability to add watermarks, although the watermarks are very low quality.

Rather than a true watermark, it simply stamps a piece of text on an area that you’re able to configure in the options.

imgur alternative

The upload completion page is very similar to imgChili’s, offering codes for each image you’ve uploaded. This includes thumbnails, hotlinks, and a direct image URL.

I won’t be one to argue against Imgur being the best service for uploading images, but I’m always one to stand up for offering alternatives to the web’s most popular applications and services. You’d never know what you may be missing out on otherwise.

Do you see any of these four Imgur alternatives as a respectable competitor? Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

The post 4 Imgur Alternatives For Uploading & Sharing Images appeared first on MakeUseOf.


Can You Electronically Sign Documents & Should You?

can you electronically sign a documentPerhaps you’ve heard your tech-savvy friends throw around both the terms electronic signature and digital signature. Maybe you’ve even heard them used interchangeably. However, you should know that they are not the same. In fact, they couldn’t be more different.

digital signature is an encrypted authentication that is attached to a document so its receiver can verify that you are the person actually sending it. Its a bit more technical than anything I’d like to get into today, for an electronic signature is a bit more lightweight. In essence, it’s the electronic form of your physical, stylized signature, and it can be visibly attached to any document you send out over the Internet.

Such a signature can be added using a digital image, a tablet-like device, or a specialized app like HelloSign or Signnow.

When Would You Use An Electronic Signature?

can you electronically sign a document

There are a variety of reasons you might use an electronic signature, but most of them reside in the Land of Convenience. Generally speaking, anytime you’ve had to put your signature on a screen, you’ve used a electronic signature. This could be in a checkout line, with Square, or even via email.

Most often, however, you would use an electronic signature to sign a PDF file. More specifically, you might be signing a contract or filling out a form that requires hand-written approval. After signing your signature onto the document (using whatever means – Adobe Reader even allows for it), you can send it off to wherever you need to. The principle of the whole ordeal is quite similar to sending out a faxed document.

Legally speaking, electronic signatures should be accepted just like a normal physical signature would. Based on my personal experience, I’ve used them to sign apartment leases and even binding contracts. However, your results may vary. Occasionally, there are individuals who do not understand the concept of these signatures, and there could be some concern for “liability” on their part. Don’t waste your breath on an argument, though. Sometimes, that’s just how the world is.

Are Electronic Signatures Safe?

can you electronically sign a document

Simple answer: no.

To elaborate, anyone could steal your electronic signature and use it for their own not-so-nice purposes, but think about it. How many times have you signed a receipt to verify your credit card? How many documents have you signed over the entire course of your life? How many waitresses, cashiers, public officials, and deliverymen could have copied this signature over for their personal uses?

You see, your real-life, physical signature is just as unsafe as your digital one. Anyone could copy it down or memorize it. Individuals who are a bit more innovative could even transfer it to their computer and even create a digital version all on their own. Anyone can be a fraud if they want to be, and in all honesty, a digital signature seems to be a bit more secure these days. At least it can be traced right back to you.

Should You Use An Electronic Signature?

can you electronically sign a document

By now, you may be a bit paranoid about signatures as a whole. No need to fear – we’ve used them for years, and this shouldn’t sway you from continuing to use them. Too often, the legal consequences that result from the theft of a signature are too heavy for a petty criminal, and those that would be brave enough to steal it likely have their stakes set on higher-profile crime. Don’t worry so much.

However, anything that has to do with finances involves risk. If you purchase stock, you risk your finances to a company’s fate. If you take money with you, you risk losing it to a passing wind. If you accept a job, you risk getting fired. There are by far more things to worry about than just having your signature stolen. Live life, folks.

Perhaps you may still find an electronic signature too risky. In such a case, the digital signature would likely be more your style. Using specialized algorithms, passwords, and authenticity certificates, these types of signatures are even safer than your physical one.

So you may disagree, and that’s respectable. I’d love to hear what you think. Should you use an electronic signature? Have you ever had your signature stolen through electronic means? Let’s see what you have to say in the comments. 

Image Credits: TMAB2003NobMousechrismear, hoyasmeg

The post Can You Electronically Sign Documents & Should You? appeared first on MakeUseOf.


Sick Of Rebates Not Paying? Use The Web To Get Your Money With 6 Easy Rules

rebates not receivedUsing rebates can frustrate even the most patient of buyers. While a deal-hunting customer may not encounter any difficulty at the register, collecting the rebate can cause staggering complications. Rather than risk such difficulty, following six simple rules will help you get your money.

This article outlines six rules, along with a framework structured around several online rebate sites, web technologies and strategies, for ensuring that you get rebates in full.

Why Do Companies Offer Rebates?

Rebates aren’t exactly free money – they’re taxed twice. You first get taxed when (and if) you pay sales tax and, again, when you use the rebate money to buy something.

The companies involved make their money on delaying your ability to make an immediate purchase and by attaching the rebate to a credit card. Whenever your card is used, the merchant pays the credit card company money. Ultimately, consumers end up paying higher prices, which “generously” get spread back around to customers.

However, if the company processing your rebate simply fails to pay out – they make even more cash. A combination of laziness and fraud result in 40-60% of rebates not getting claimed. However, by applying a handful of simple rules, 100% of your rebates can be claimed.

rebates not received

Rule #1: Don’t Use Poorly Reviewed Rebate Companies

Most consumers don’t know that the majority of businesses offering rebates do not provide the actual rebate service. Retailers, instead, outsource their rebate operation to third party companies, specializing in processing rebates.

The reputation of these companies varies greatly – some purportedly never grant payment, even when the customer properly fills out the paperwork. However, in my experience, the more reliable services almost always pay out, even providing second chances to those who improperly filled out their paperwork. Consequently, you will want to find out which service offers the most reliable processing system – the single best way is by Googling the manufacturer of the discounted item, including search key terms, such as “rebate service”.

Additionally, Bakari did a round-up of five websites that specialize in complaints about businesses. For further reading, I suggest checking out the Answer section’s discussion on the topic.

Rule #2: Keep A Record of Your Rebates With Online Cloud Storage

In the event of a catastrophe, keeping a backup of all your paperwork will make the difference between getting your claim rejected or accepted. My preferred method of backing up and digitizing documents uses Dropbox and a scanning app. If you lack a smartphone or a digital camera, an actual scanner provides an alternative.

The reason I prefer using a smartphone scanner app, with the Dropbox app installed, is for its ease of use. Essentially, install the app on both your PC and mobile device. Dropbox on your phone by default automatically syncs your photos and scans. Therefore, you simply use the scanner app and your documents get backed up to the cloud. However, make sure your app is working properly – if all else fails, just install DropSpace to automatically back up your pictures.

online rebate sites

Rule #3: Track Its Progress With a Spreadsheet

Even after selecting a reputable rebate processing company, keeping track of your rebates offers the best method of ensuring payment. If a processor fails to pay, you can always call as if they owed you money – because they do! Even if the mistake is on your end, most companies offer second chances. And because you backed up your records, you’ll be able to pinpoint where the mistake occurred, if any.

For itemizing and keeping track of rebates, I prefer using a manifest created by Google Drive’s spreadsheet app. In the interests of saving time, you can use my template for creating your own tracking spreadsheet. And keep in mind that Drive also doubles as an alternative to Dropbox.

online rebate sites

There are also a handful of apps in the Google Play store which are designed specifically for tracking rebates. However, none received high ratings, and I cannot recommend using them.

Rule #4: Don’t Be Afraid To Call

In the event that you don’t receive your rebate within the allocated time period, you should always call the rebate company. For example, I’ve experienced several instances where the company ran late in processing the payment, or simply didn’t intend on sending it – calling always ensured payment.

As common sense dictates, keep your cool and always use your best manners. Even the worst of rebate companies employ regular people, no different from you and I.

Rule #5: Don’t Fall For Their Tricks!

Most of the rebate processors require that you send in the following three items:

  1. The original invoice or packing label (or receipt).
  2. Original UPC code.
  3. Signature.

Unfortunately, manufacturers tend to attach multiple UPC codes to each package and it’s not clear which UPC code is the required one for the rebate. In the past, I’ve solved this issue through brute force. I cut off all the UPC codes on the package – however, the best method is to simply use an online search engine to find out what the manufacturer uses in its rebate program.

Another important tip – use your rebate card as quickly as possible. Like gift cards, after a certain amount of time the card will begin to accrue monthly “service” fee charges. As ridiculous as it sounds, after a few months the balance on your prepaid card will dry up.

Considering that the processor sits on your cash, collecting interest, it’s absolutely criminal that they charge you anything.

rebates not received

Rule #6: Report Fraudulent Rebate Programs

If after the maximum time period elapses and you aren’t given your money (i.e. cheated), then you should contact customer service of both the product’s manufacturer and the retailer. Sometimes they will make up for the rebate processor’s dishonesty. After all, their reputation suffers when they outsource to disreputable rebate processors.

The absolute last resort is to file a complaint, such as with your state’s (or province’s) Attorney General’s office. Some states offer constituents additional protections against delinquent rebate programs. Two other places to file are through the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.


Unfortunately, over the last decade, rebates come attached to many of the best deals around – which makes them very tantalizing, particularly in a recession. However, if you roll over every time a processor fails to pay, that’s money right out of your pocket.

For those who seek a good deal, failing to collect a rebate is unacceptable. It’s especially unacceptable since getting your money is so easy, if you use six simple tips.

Image Credits: Curious George via MorgueFile.com; Barcode via MorgueFile.com; Liar via MorgueFile.com

The post Sick Of Rebates Not Paying? Use The Web To Get Your Money With 6 Easy Rules appeared first on MakeUseOf.


4 Chrome Extensions For Gmail To Boost Your Productivity

chrome productivityThere’s no doubt, as far as email options go, Gmail is one of the services that really does a lot to boost your Chrome productivity. Whether it’s through the creative use of labels or Gmail filters, canned responses, and more, Gmail lends itself to a more productive email experience. While Google has certainly put a lot of thought into the product, providing a lot of handy features and settings, there are a few Chrome extensions out there that can make the Google experience even better.

One of the main ways in which we lose time when sorting through our emails is downloading and uploading attachments. We’ve put together a list of 4 Chrome extensions which address this problem – making it easier to access, save and upload attachments – as well as one more extensions which makes it easier to reply to several emails with a simple click of the button.

Batch Reply for Gmail

While Gmail gives users a way to send canned responses for those tedious emails in which you say the same thing over and over again, they don’t really give you a way to send replies all in one go. With the Chrome extension Batch Reply for Gmail that’s exactly what you can do. Now, of course, using an extension like this means that you can’t personalize the emails that you’re sending, but sometimes you can sacrifice personalization in favor of productivity.

chrome productivity

That said, Batch Reply is not perfect. It acts more as a compose button, but one that automatically populates your email with all the addresses you want to send emails to, listing them all in the ‘To:” bar. In essence, it works as a quick way to create an email blast (and you can easily just cut and paste the addresses from the “To:” bar to the BCC bar).  Batch Reply gives users an interesting way of accessing your contacts – almost doing away with the need for a contact list if you’re constantly sending emails to people you’ve received emails from.


Cloudy is a Chrome productivity extension which creates a direction connection between the cloud and your Gmail attachments. The Chrome extension gives you access to all sorts of cloud-based services – from Dropbox to Instagram, from Google Drive to Flickr, and with the click of a button, you can attach those files to an email and send them to any recipient, regardless of whether or not they use that service.

chrome productivity

Cloudy is a great extension that really boosts your productivity by cutting out two extra steps – downloading the file from the cloud, and then attaching it to your email.This way, it all happens with just one easy step. If you have a particularly slow Internet connection, access to a Chrome extension like Cloudy can save you time, and probably quite a bit of frustration as well.

Gmail Attachments To Drive

If you’re looking for the reverse – an easy way to save attachments straight from your email account to your cloud-based accounts, Gmail Attachments to Drive will save your attachments to your Google Drive account. After installing the extension, all attachments, whether documents, images, zip files or more, will have a ‘Save to Drive‘ link next to them, making it easy to transfer the file from your email to the cloud, without having to download them to your computer first.

chrome productivity

Again, for those of you suffering from lagging Internet connections – this will certainly cut into the amount of time that you have to spend getting your attachments from one cloud-based service to another.


Another handy service for getting more productive with your Gmail attachments is Attachments.me. It allows you to attach files directly from the cloud, much like Cloudy, while also making it easy to save files directly to the cloud as well. If you’d rather use just one service than two, then Attachments.me is definitely for you. Another bonus to using Attachments.me, is that you’ll be able to search your attachments, away from your inbox, in a much more user friendly manner.

chrome productivity

Attachments.me allows you to save your attachments to Dropbox, Google Drive or Box, and by the same token, it makes it possible to attach files directly in your Gmail inbox from these three services.

Can you think of any Chrome productivity extensions that can make Gmail even more productive? Let us know in the comments.

The post 4 Chrome Extensions For Gmail To Boost Your Productivity appeared first on MakeUseOf.

April 01 2013


Step Outside Your Comfort Zone With VICE Magazine’s Documentaries [Stuff to Watch]

Of all the video content I watch with semi-regularity online, the documentaries produced by VICE magazine continue to fascinate me. For years the publication has existed as an outlet for subculture, often stumbling across hard political commentary while continuing to flout an interest in going against the grain.

The team at VICE have been making use of new media to explore more facets of their warped imaginations in the form of documentaries and short films, with nearly 700 uploads on their YouTube channel to date. There’s a real range of content here, much of it of far greater stature than their written content, something I’ll try and convey in the choice of videos below.

Note: VICE are not known for their professional, Reuters-grade hard journalism but instead a penchant for the seedier, darker and quirkier aspects of life. While many of these films are not a world away from what you might see on a documentary-heavy cable channel at night, be aware that viewer discretion is advised.

Skate World: France

A video that’s as much about friendship and reminiscing as it is about skating or making a statement. Follow Samir Krim, Stephane Larance and more of France’s top amateur skaters as they take you on a tour of Paris, the city in which they grew up and fell in love with skating.

There’s a lot of archive footage of skating greats conquering massive gaps in the late 90s, as well as some anguish towards the french authorities for resisting the movement. It’s like an alternative sightseeing tour of the famous French city from the eyes of a skater.

See also: Skate World: Italy & Skate World: Spain

Internet Scamming in Ghana

Ghana is west Africa’s Internet capital, and somewhere many of our old “recycled” bits of silicon go to die. Over the past 50 years of growth and stability the country has established a reputation for being the most Internet-savvy country in the region, but this has had a knock-on effect that has made Ghana a haven for Internet fraudsters.

Watch how the scams operate, learn where they originated and find out exactly what the money is spent on. If you think that these scammers are living a life of luxury in a guarded luxury compound then this documentary will make you think again.

Exploring Mexican Narco Cinema

It’s no secret that Mexico has one of the worlds most out of control drug problems, with hundreds of drug-related murders in Mexico City alone last year. It was inevitable that drugs and violence would shape some form of the country’s modern cultural movements, with “narco cinema” being the inevitable manifestation of this.

It’s not all about white lines and quick draws, it would also seem that trucks also play a large role too. Watch as VICE founder Shane Smith explores the movement and gets intimately involved with a production.

Africa’s Moonshine Epidemic

Uganda is the drunkest place on earth with the highest consumption of alcohol per capita, numbers that continue to rise. It’s not beer, wine or even whiskey that gets tickle’s Uganda’s throat though – it’s homemade moonshine that’s apparently rotting guts, destroying livers and even turning people blind.

Join VICE in Uganda as they sample some of the local hooch and try to unravel the culture surrounding alcohol that exists. Suffice to say you probably won’t want a drink while watching this one.

How Keyboard Cat Got Famous

An altogether shorter and lighter film, this is the story of one Internet meme that took the world by storm. Did you know the original keyboard cat video was filmed in 1985? And that the initial creator wasn’t even born yet?

Clearly there’s much to be learned about keyboard cat, though the video also looks at what makes an Internet sensation on this scale in the first place.

The Mafia is Trashing Italy… Literally

In case you weren’t aware, the oft-romanticised European country of Italy has some serious problems, not least a political crisis. The country is also still heavily controlled by organised criminals, except rather than counterfeit goods and cracked kneecaps the topic du jour is the problem surrounding toxic waste in the city of Naples.

This two-parter is definitely one of VICE’s more environmentally-focused productions, but the film also explores social aspects including the political spin surrounding the issue and minority groups who seem to pull the strings.

Gun Crazy USA

VICE turn their cameras around for this special which looks at the USA and gun control in 2013. The team make no effort to skirt around the issue of gun laws, illegal gun trade and the crisis that is dividing much of America, though the film isn’t gunning for either team.

The USA makes up 5% of the global population yet is home to somewhere in the region of 50% of the world’s firearms. This documentary is somewhat of a reaction to the Sandy Hook tragedy and the wide-scale political skirmishes that have taken place since.

Documenting Asia’s Illegal Animal Trade

One of the most disturbing practices that continues to this day is the illegal trade for endangered species, which forms a part of daily life for many in parts of Asia. This short film follows Thailand-based photographer Patrick Brown as he documents the tragic treatment of animals in Asia.

Much of the trade is rooted in a belief in false medicine, a “lucky charm” mentality as well as the massive demand and haven for the activity in China. The moving photographs of an illegal trade, a zoo that looks like a Soviet prison camp and the incredibly brutal treatment of animals in general might upset you but this is must-watch stuff.

The Rest

If you’ve enjoyed this smattering of politically-charged, environmentally-aware and outright quirky film-making then you should subscribe to VICE and enjoy the rest of their documentaries and shorts. There’s a lot more to VICE than drugs and violence, and the publication must be praised for some incredibly hard-hitting, well-made and good-natured filmmaking.

The fact that they’re all viewable for free on YouTube just goes to show who is leading the way when it comes to the creation of quality new media.

View: VICE on YouTube

Do you have any favourite VICE films or regulars? Any other documentary channels you absolutely love? Let us know, in the comments below.

The post Step Outside Your Comfort Zone With VICE Magazine’s Documentaries [Stuff to Watch] appeared first on MakeUseOf.


Present Yourself To The World With Répresent, A Super-Simple Resume Builder

resume builderYou may have noticed that I have a thing for online résumé creators. In the past, I’ve looked at SlashCV – a simple tool for creating PDF résumés – and Enthuse.me, which is more like an online portfolio of your past work and your online presence. But my quest is far from over.

As I’ve already mentioned in the past, writing a résumé is one of my least favorite tasks in the whole world, and that’s why I’m drawn to these résumé builder tools, always looking for yet another way to simplify this painful process. So what do I have for you today?

Presenting: Répresent. In the spirit of minimalism and doing one thing well, Répresent is a super-simple Web app that is going to help you build a slick online résumé. No, it’s not going write it for you, it’s not that sophisticated, but its nice interface makes a tough job suddenly seem a whole lot easier, with a result looks official enough for serious companies, yet light and modern enough for startups, tech blogs, etc.

Creating Your Résumé With Répresent

resume builder

Before you can start creating your online résumé, you’ll need to create a Répresent account. This is a simple process, as expected, but there’s one very important thing to note. Répresent makes use of Gravatar for your résumé’s avatar. If you’d like to have your picture appear on your résumé, make sure you sign up to Répresent with the same email you used for your Gravatar account. This detail is only mentioned in the design section of your résumé, after you’ve already created your account, but you could save yourself time by knowing about it in advance.

free resume builder

Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to start on your résumé. There are 6 parts to create your Répresent résumé: About, Experience, Education, Skills, Contact, and Design. You don’t necessarily have to complete them in this order – you can jump back and forth until you’ve included all the important details.

free resume builder

As you go along, the resume builder app helps you on your way by providing some short tips on what you should include, or the recommended order for your items. These tips are not available for every field, but when they are, you’ll see them on the right side of the text box when you click on it.

free resume builder

In the Experience, Education, and Skills section, you can add as many items as you wish. After completing your first item (Répresent suggests that you start with the most recent ones), click the plus sign to add another one with identical fields. Filling in all the fields is not a must. If you choose to leave some fields empty, they will simply not appear in the final result. Don’t worry about unseemly gaps either, the apps makes it almost unnoticeable that some details are missing.

online resume builder

As you can see, everything is kept to bare minimum. There are not sophisticated fields, auto-complete, or drop-down menus – no one is going to do the writing or thinking for you. Pure text is the name of the game, and it works out wonderfully.

The Contact tab is the place to include any personal details you want to share. You can also add your personal website, and your Twitter and Facebook accounts, which will appear as links in the final result. Surprisingly, you can’t link to your LinkedIn account.

online resume builder

The last step in the process is the Design tab. This is where you’ll finally be informed of the Gravatar issue. Luckily, you already know all about that, and have come prepared. If you don’t have a Gravatar account, and would like to have your picture appear on your résumé, you can create one for free on en.gravatar.com.

Aside from your picture, the Design tab includes two templates, and five color schemes to choose from. Not the world’s biggest selection, but between all the option, you can come up with 10 different designs, which is pretty respectable.

online resume builder

The Final Result – Your Résumé

So you’re with all the steps. What now? When I reached this point, I looked for a “preview” option, or some way to look at my résumé before actually publishing online. Curiously enough, there is not such option. The only button I could find was “Publish”. As far as I could see, the page is not actually promoted anywhere, and the link is not shared anywhere automatically, so for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t really matter.


So now you have your represent.io/YOURUSERNAME page with your online résumé, and you can easily share it with anyone. The result is definitely slick, and can be either laid back with minimal color (the first template), or bolder with a larger streak of color (the second template). The different colors also give the final product a distinct feel, so experiment with them until you find the perfect one for you.

resume builder

If you’re not happy with something, you can always go back and edit. The editing process is a little clunky. Click the “Edit” button and change whatever you wanted to change. When you’re done, you’ll two new buttons on the top right: “Save” and and eye “view your profile” icon. If you click “Save”, you’ll be redirected to your updated résumé. If you click the eye icon, you’ll be redirected to your updated résumé. In short, the eye icon is not very useful, and you must click “Save” to save your changes and view them. No preview option yet again.

As you may have noticed, there’s also a slight issue with my avatar. Répresent crops Gravatar’s image into a circle, assuming your face is smack in the middle of your avatar. This is not true in my case, which results in a slight crop to my head and face, which I can’t control or change.

Each Répresent résumé also comes with share buttons, so you or your viewers can easily share it through Facebook, Twitter, or email. Note that the default text for these is promotional for the app, not for you.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for an easy way to create a classic and solid online résumé builder, Répresent is an excellent option. There are no bells and whistles here, but it sure beats creating your own PDF document, and is also easier to share.

If you’re using LinkedIn, however, Répresent might not be the best option for you. In this case, you should check out these 2 tools to turn your LinkedIn profile into a neat-looking résumé.

Share your favorite way to create a résumé in the comments!

The post Present Yourself To The World With Répresent, A Super-Simple Resume Builder appeared first on MakeUseOf.


Create a Stylish Personal Profile Page For Videoconferencing With Meetings.io

personal video conferencingI’m a fan of the online video conferencing feature Google Hangouts, not only for social gathering, but for nearly hassle-free online meetings. However, in my research for other similar services, I stumbled upon a perhaps even better, more elegant service found in Meetings.io.

Meetings.io allows you to meet face-to-face with anyone from around the world within your web browser. But that’s not all, Meetings.io has a creative edge in that you can set up a personalized profile page, with a unique URL for presenting yourself to video conference participants.

You Personal Video Conferencing Room Is Ready

It’s so easy to start a Meetings.io video conference that you don’t even need to register on the site to set up a meeting room. That’s right, you don’t need to register an email account, connect to your social network account, or even provide your real name (that is, unless you want to create a personal profile page, which I will describe below). Just click on the blue “Get a Meeting Room” button of the homepage and you’re a click away from getting started.

Meetings.io instantly sets you up with a unique URL for your meeting room. This URL, of course, can be shared with anyone that you want to quickly meet or hang out with. The site also provides you with an embed code for your website, if it supports such integration.

personal video conferencing

One other big plus for Meetings.io is that unlike Google Hangouts, you can actually re-use the same room as many times you want. But if you find Meetings.io useful, you will probably want to register and set up an elegant personal profile page.

Next, you need to provide, as a guest, your name (or a unique guest name) to enter the meeting room. Once in the meeting room, you will want to check your webcam and also setup with a pair of headphones to avoid background noise and audio feedback.

personal video conference

The Meeting Room

The video conferencing room of Meetings.io is clean and uncluttered. The top menu items allow you to share links to the room via email, or copy and paste to your social network. Sharing invitations to a meeting room via phone calls, text messaging, and a permanent contact list are additional features that developers indicate will be added.

personal video conference

Once in the meeting room, you can give it a name and enable permission for others to enter the room upon your approval. This permission feature is especially useful if you share the URL publicly, but you will want to filter who is allowed to enter the room.

Other meeting room features include the ability for participants to share their desktop screen, which can be useful for product and software demonstrations, or anything on your desktop. You can select to share either your desktop, an open window, or an application.

personal video conference

Different from Google Hangouts, however, each participants in the video conference will need to allow screen sharing on their computer, and only one participant at a time can share their screen with other participants. The process is not as easy as screen sharing in Google Hangouts, but it’s functional.

The meeting room also includes a Chat Panel for instant messages between meeting participants, the ability to share files, and a personal Note Pad for each participant. The room does not, however, include a shared writing document or white board feature.

personal profile website

Finally, there are also settings for adjusting speaker volume and microphone, and even the ability to switch camera and microphone sources while in the meeting, which means you can connect another camera to your computer to use for, say, product demonstrations.

Meetings.io doesn’t include tools for setting agendas and taking minutes, but sites like MyCommittee can be a useful solution for these needs.

Personal Profile Page

The most unique and best feature of Meetings.io is the ability to create a personal profile page along with a permanent URL. You can customize the page with one of a dozen installed backgrounds or add your own.

personal video conferencing

And of course you can add a name, subtitle, short biography, your location, and links to your social networks. Your free registered site also includes Meetings Inbox for scheduling meetings ahead of time (a feature that is more difficult to do with Google Hangouts), as well as the ability to re-enter rooms of past meetings.

The personal profile page is like your online office sign or demo room for clients and special requests. It really provides a professional edge for online videoconferencing.

I’m not sure if Meetings.io is as popular as Google Hangouts, but it is certainly more stylish and unique. Let us know what you think of the videoconferencing  site, and what additional features you would like to see added.

The post Create a Stylish Personal Profile Page For Videoconferencing With Meetings.io appeared first on MakeUseOf.


Cool Websites and Tools [March 31st 2013]

Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. Most of the listed websites are FREE or come with a decent free account option. If you want to have similar cool website round-ups delivered to your daily email, subscribe here.

Add Your Website Here!

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Cloakmy – Email is great, but what if you need to send a secure message that only the intended recipient will be able to read? Email is a fairly insecure way of sending a message – it sits in both inboxes and send mail folders until the sender or receiver decide to delete it. Cloakmy is different in that it allows you to send messages to email addresses, with an added layer of security. Read more: Cloakmy: Send Self Destructing Messages

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MoreSitesLike – We all have our favorite websites, and it’s certainly useful to expand our horizons and find new websites to kill time and gain knowledge. Of course, you probably don’t want to break too far out of your comfort zone, and you will probably want websites that are similar to the kinds of places you frequent on a daily basis. This is where More Sites Like comes into play, as it allows you to find all kinds of sites based on any other website. Read more: MoreSitesLike: Find Websites Similar To Any Other Website


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Taskbar Hide – If for some reason you’re often caught wondering if you can hide any given program from appearing in your Windows taskbar then Taskbar Hide is the app for you. Stop apps from cluttering up what precious little taskbar space you’ve got from the right-click menu and then bring them back using a hotkey shortcut. Read more: Taskbar Hide: Hide Running Programs & SysTray Items [Windows]


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Pandora to Spotify Playlist Converter – Have you bookmarked a bunch of your favorite songs on Pandora that you would like converted into a playlist? Of course you could simply create a playlist of the same songs on Spotify. But manually searching for all those bookmarked Pandora songs on Spotify would consume a lot of time. Here to help is a browser extension called Pandora to Spotify Playlist Converter. Read more: Pandora To Spotify Playlist Converter: Transfer Bookmarked Pandora Songs To Spotify [Chrome]


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Autodesk FormIt – Architects and construction planners can make use of various desktop applications to create 3D designs of buildings and projects. Here to bring that ability to everybody with an iPad is an application called Autodesk FormIt. This app lets you create impressive 3D designs for buildings with ease. The built-in gallery of shapes lets you quickly get started. Read more: Autodesk FormIt: Create 3D Building Designs Using Your iPad


These are just half of the websites that we discovered in the last couple of days. If you want us to send you daily round-ups of all cool websites we come across, leave your email here. Or follow us via RSS feed.

The post Cool Websites and Tools [March 31st 2013] appeared first on MakeUseOf.

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