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May 10 2013


Can Reading Be A Social Experience?

Reading has a reputation for being an isolated activity. We often think of people in their pajamas or bathrobes, sunk into a massive armchair in front of a roaring fire, with a mug of hot cocoa in one hand and a page-turner in the other. Books have the unique ability to suck us into a whole new world where our imaginations are the only limit. So how can reading be social?

Discussion, that’s how. I know that when I finish reading a well-written book, I need to go out and tell somebody about it. I need to find someone else who’s read that same book so we can talk about it, maybe for hours if the book was that good. Reading may be an individual activity – nobody sits around in a circle and reads aloud, right? – but the social aspect afterwards is what truly completes the joy.

So, yes, reading is an intensely social experience. One way to partake in that experience is to join a local book club, but if you’re looking for more of a technological, modern medium for reading socially, then here are some great communities that you should consider joining.


It’s impossible to talk about “social reading” without mentioning Goodreads. Launched in 2007, Goodreads started off as a cataloging website that acted as a database for books, book reviews, and annotations. Within one year, Goodreads boasted over 650,000 members and 10 million books. Within five years, the member base increased to over 10 million and the database is constantly growing.

When you sign up on Goodreads, you can manage something called a “bookshelf”, which is just a collection of book titles that you’ve read, are currently reading, or plan to read one day. Once you’ve read a book, you can give it a rating and an optional review. The social networking aspect involves the ability to make friends with other readers so you can see each other’s bookshelves and discuss certain titles together.

Based on what you’ve read and liked, Goodreads helps you discover new books that fit into your interests. Personally, I’ve been using Goodreads for about two years and I’ve found dozens of great books that I never would’ve read if I hadn’t joined. Highly recommended, and not just by me: check out Erez’s article on why Goodreads is a must for readers!


LibraryThing is like a less hip, more cerebral version of Goodreads. Even though it debuted nearly two years before Goodreads, their minimalistic interface and their refusal to catch up with the times has kept their community from blowing up. Depending on your viewpoint, that can be good or bad. Still, LibraryThing has over 1.6 million users and 78 million books.

With LibraryThing, you can create and manage your own personal library of books: books you’ve read, books you’re reading, books you wish to read. You can tag, rate, and review books. Since everyone builds their own personal libraries, you can browse them and interact with other people through comments and forums. LibraryThing gets their book data from Amazon and over 700 libraries globally.

Most book-related social networks will let you read and write reviews and leave comments, which LibraryThing does, too. However, the big draw of LibraryThing, in my opinion, is their Talk forum section where you can have high quality book discussions. And let me tell you: their forums are extremely active.

One cool feature is their Early Reviewers program, where you can receive free books in exchange for well-written reviews. In addition, they have a version of their site that’s optimized for mobile devices so you can participate on the go.


BookLikes is a newer social network that focuses on allowing users to share their thoughts on books in their own space. In a way, you can think of it as MySpace for books: everyone can create a shelf of books that they’ve read/are reading/will read (nothing new here) but everyone also has a blog for expression. The networking aspect is that you can search and browse the blogs of other users.

Honestly, it’s a great concept when you want more substance than simple book reviews and forum threads. The blog format allows for deeper thoughts while giving users the freedom to follow whoever they’d like to follow. Being able to see the shelves of your friends is useful, too, especially when you want to start reading the favorites of someone who thinks like you.

The only downside is that they’ve currently limited registration. Instead of instantly creating an account, you have to request an account and wait for them to approve you. Perhaps they’re still developing some features behind the scene and will open the gates soon. If you don’t mind waiting a bit, go ahead and request an account now.

Online Book Club

Let’s say you want to be a social reader but you don’t like dealing with social networks. Sounds a bit contradictory but it’s entirely possible. If blogs and social networks aren’t your cup of tea, then what about good old-fashioned forums? Forums are great for digitally enacting the oldest form of social reading: book clubs.

And Online Book Club is aptly named. Their forums are quite active with daily threads that cover topics such as: book discussion, author discussion, reviews and recommendations, e-book discussions, books of the month, and there’s even a subsection for aspiring writers. You’ll find a lot of reading enthusiasts at the Online Book Club and it’s an entirely free community.


Reading is both an isolated and social activity. Sure, you can enjoy your book and lose yourself into the mind of a compelling protagonist, but who are you going to talk to when you’re done? Sharing in the experience of that book is just as important as reading it, so use the communities above to find like-minded readers with whom you can discuss stories.

Know of any other social reading websites that I missed? Please share them in the comments. I’d love to check them out and see what I’m missing out on.

Image Credit: Reading Girl Via Shutterstock

The post Can Reading Be A Social Experience? appeared first on MakeUseOf.

August 21 2012


3 Money-Saving Activities You Can Learn From YouTube

save money youtube videosFancy some computer-related tutorials? You can find plenty on a variety of topics from awesome apps to programming languages on Youtube, but what about other non-technological activities that you might complete every week? We have featured plenty of Youtube channels and videos that will teach you how to speak a specific language, cook, do your makeup, become more acquainted with engineering/Mathematics concepts, learn magic tricks and more. Here I will be taking a look at a few hobbies you can pick up from Youtube that can actually save you money, which, let’s be honest, can be handy considering how some economies are (or have been) plunging lately.


If you’re the creative type, why not channel that creativity into making things you can wear? There are many wonderful channels on Youtube dedicated to crafty things like jewelry-making. You can create them for yourself or as gifts! Youtubers have jewelry-making pretty well-covered with many thorough tutorials. Here are some starting points for you to explore jewelry-making:

There are many more tutorials on Youtube from which you can draw a lot of inspiration. Plus, another neat thing about jewelry-making is that craft stores (and even chain super centers) will likely have lots of materials for you to work with, whether those are additional charms, jewelry wire, etc.


Like jewelry-making, sewing is another activity where you can thoroughly use your creativity to create unique pieces. It’s also a pretty popular hobby on Youtube as there is a multitude of video tutorials. To start, you could learn:

This hobby isn’t just money-saving, but also potentially a lucrative hobby as there are many sellers on Etsy, the handmade marketplace, that have incredibly cute and unique laptop sleeve designs, backpacks, etc.

Here is one of my favorite videos on sewing, where the author makes a cute ruffle tunic:


Drinks are expensive but addictive nonetheless, so if you feel guilty for having too many of those sweet coffee drinks, maybe making them yourself will be a bit more guilt-free. You will know what ingredients went into that drink and you can control the amounts of substances used in your drink.

Fancy an adult beverage? Here a few popular cocktails you can learn to make yourself thanks to Youtube:

As for some coffee drinks, there are some Youtubers that have revealed how to make some of the following:

Here is a video for one of my favorite drinks, caramel frappuccino. The video actually shows a lighter version (made with skim milk), so I will probably try it as soon as I’m done typing!

There are plenty of other hobbies I haven’t begun to decipher that are very easy to pick up from the popular video-sharing platform. What crafty things have you learned from Youtube?

Image Credit: Fabrizio Van Marciano

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August 14 2012


4 YouTube Channels For Masters Of Disguise

masters of disguise youtubeI have a confession to make. Everyone on MakeUseOf is the same person, and that person is “our” managing editor, Mark O’Neill. To be honest, I thought it would be a great idea! I just wanted to see if I could pull it off, and yes, I know this may be a surprise to some! I know there are a million questions running through most of your minds. How could this be? How could one man write so many articles in a day? Well, take it from me….you just have to have a certain level of talent (and good looks).

No, no. I’m just messing with you. I’m just another MUO pawn – Joshua Lockhart. However, there are a lot of people out there that do pretend to be other people, and some of them make a living off of it. Some of them are right on YouTube, and today, MakeUseOf has found four channels worth watching that are all about disguise-based pranks! Stick around, for the videos you’ll find today are hilarious.

Uncle Floville

masters of disguise youtube

Uncle Floville is a character created by Wayne Spring of Albany, Louisiana. Spring apparently acquired a premium special effects mask of an elderly man, and after that, he did what anyone would do – starting pulling the funniest pranks ever with it. Spring goes around Albany dressed as a certain “Uncle Floville”, messing with friends and people he doesn’t even know. The pranks are good clean fun, and even though he used his disguise to steal beer money from a good friend, it’s worth watching (he gave his friend the beer).

Ed Bassmaster

masters of disguise

Ed Bassmaster is quite possibly YouTube’s most talented master of disguise. He has a wide range of characters that pull pranks on people from all over, and he always has a camera shooting the craziness from afar. Furthermore, he takes his characters to the phone lines, making insane prank calls to people everywhere.

In addition to this, his characters make frequent trips to fast food drive-thrus. If you only watch one YouTube channel from this list today, I would make it Bassmaster’s.

Random and Haggard

masters of disguise

Sometimes a disguise doesn’t have to be visual or physical. Sometimes all you have to do is disguise your voice. Random And Haggard – although no longer active – are some of the best telephone pranksters out there, and honestly, it’s a shame that we haven’t seen much from them in years. The pair makes calls to various fast food restaurants and department stores, putting on characters that are designed to cause sheer confusion.

I’ve always found myself coming back to their work, and they almost always get a laugh out of me.

Just For Laughs TV

masters of disguise youtube

I’ll be honest and say that I would not consider Just For Laughs TV to be necessarily a disguise channel. However, the videos always have various characters that are worth watching, and I guess that technically we can say that a disguise is merely a character, right? (I know I’m stretching it just a little.)

Anyway, this channel is great for watching series of pranks played on various innocent bystanders, and there is a lot of content to view on here alone. Each video is merely accompanied with its own score and a fabricated laugh track, but that doesn’t take away from their hilarity.


That’s all the fun we have for you today, MUO-ers. However, as always, we’d love to get some feedback from you! What other prank websites do you know of? Do you have any disguise stories of your own?

Image Credit: xenia

July 26 2012


Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Review and Giveaway

parrot ar drone 2 reviewThe Parrot AR Drone 2.0 is the most expensive remote control toy money can buy; it’s a smartphone controlled quadrocopter with a 720p HD camera, and it’s ridiculously fun, but quite temperamental. It’s an enthusiast level device with an affordable $300 price tag. There simply is no competition at a comparable price. It’s far from perfect, but it’s certainly fun! The device is remote controlled, but you will need a smartphone or tablet running either iOS or Android – there is no standalone remote supplied.

What follows is a review of the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 untainted. We purchased the review unit ourselves and will be giving it away to the MakeUseOf community. Read on to find out more about this $300 toy and how to be in the running to win it!

Initial Impressions

The box arrived unpackaged and as-is leaving no doubt as to what was inside – the mailman was quite intrigued. Inside is sparse, but here’s what’s included:

  • Outdoor hull
  • Indoor hull
  • Main unit
  • Battery charger and 4 different plugs
  • Battery
  • Quick start guide
  • Stickers

parrot ar drone 2

Initial impressions taking it out of the box: it’s a delicate product, and featherlight. I was quite shocked by the size of it actually – it was certainly larger than I imagined. Tiny motors drive the four blades; there’s exposed circuitry under each one, with a small LED to indicate status.

Snapping in the UK plug, I set it to charge while reading the quick start guide. The first thing you’ll need to do is download the controller application – FreeFlight 2.0 – to your iOS or Android device.

The Parrot AR Drone’s Design

The drone is incredibly lightweight, with the inevitable consequence of being nigh-impossible difficult to fly in the wind. Construction of the main unit is polystyrene and tough plastic - solid enough to protect the onboard computer – but the fact that replacement circuit boards, and motors are readily available imply it can break easily. I didn’t break this one yet though, you’ll be glad to hear.

Two hulls are supplied – the indoor one offers complete protection for the blades, and is made entirely of polystyrene to absorb the shock of crashing. The outdoor hull offers zero protection for the blades, and just serves to cover the battery pack. Both are hooked over the front of drone and secured via magnet in the back. Removing and replacing it is easy, as you need to do it everytime in order to charge the battery. In all the photo’s here you’ll see the indoor hull being used.

parrot ar drone 2

Underneath the device you can see ultrasonic sensors and an additional camera – these aid with detecting the ground level, but you can record or view that video feed too if you wish (it’s not HD). On the front of the drone, pointing forwards is the main 720p HD camera – which is surprisingly great quality.

ar drone 2 review


This is not a pickup-and-play toy by any accounts; it takes a good amount of practice to really get a hang of flying. There are going to many bumps and scrapes along the way before you’re soaring over canyons and producing the next “BBC Natural World” masterpiece. My inaugural flight was very unadventurous, in the only bit of unused space in my tiny backyard:

The manual recommends not flying in wind speeds of 15km/h or more, but I found even a light breeze could play havoc with controlling the lightweight drone. Im my part of the UK, a day without any wind at all is virtually non-existant, so my other test flight in the park was marred somewhat. You can see how the wind badly affected control in this video:

When the wind completely dropped, the drone was a joy to fly, and after a little practice, I soon got the hang of cornering properly.

ar drone 2 review

It’s just a shame that every minute or so, despite the best efforts of onboard stabilization algorithms, a slight gust would either send it crashing to the ground or just refuse to go the direction I told it; sometimes it was possible to land safely when this happened, sometimes not.

parrot ar drone 2 review

The indoor hull – which I kept on all at all times in order to protect the blades and motors – does get damaged easily. I apologise in advance for some slight chips that occurred during testing. Replacement hulls are available, but at $40 (or even £40, if you’re in the UK) they seem a little expensive. Either way, I wouldn’t dare flying with the outdoor hull.

Another test flight:

I’m just one guy though; if you want a good idea of how successful others have flown their AR Drones, check out the best of selection from real user videos.


When inserting the battery, the device creates it’s own ad-hoc WiFi network to which you must connect. You’re then free to launch the FreeFlight software.

parrot ar drone 2 review

The main screen of the software is a little deceptive; the Academy hasn’t even been implemented yet, and instead takes you to a sign up form to be notifed when the feature is available. Other buttons offer web integration to user videos or the (also non-existant) games apps, and quick access to your own media. The main part of the app you’ll be concerned with is Piloting, which is where you fly the thing!

Open up Piloting, and you’ll immediately see a video feed of the device:

parrot ar drone 2 review

Takeoff and landing is done by simply tapping the green button in the bottom centre. I suggest you adjust the options before taking off for the first time though. There are two control sticks on the left and right of the screen. The left one controls pitch and roll and is used in conjunction with tilting your smartphone or tablet – so you need to push the stick forward, and tilt your device forward – in order to move in that direction. I found this to be counter-intuitive, but its stick movement only can be enabled with Joypad mode from the options screen. The right stick controls altitude, and yaw (lateral rotation). If you’ve ever tried to control a helicopter in Battlefield, it’s a similar concept, but a lot more forgiving; without your input, the device hovers, so you’re free to take things slowly and explore the controls.

Absolute Control is a beginner friendly mode that adjusts the steering to be from your perspective rather than the drone itself. In the default mode, if the drone is facing you, pushing left on the control will move the drone it’s left – your right – so you either need to navigate using the camera feed on-screen, or imagine yourself from the device’s perspective. In Absolute Control mode, pushing back will always bring the drone back to where you are; pushing left will always move it left; regardless of what direction it’s pointing currently.

Flip is a new feature for the Ar Drone 2.0 as well; a double tap on the right control stick will make the drone instantly do a mid-air somersault. It’s a crowd pleaser, basically – though I did find that even flipping from a height of about 3m, the drone would drop down to the floor and bump the ground at the end, which you can see in the videos.

The flight options are incredibly customizable – there are default settings for indoor and outdoor flights, but you can adjust everything from altitude to tilt angle and rotation speed.

parrot ar drone 2 review

With the device is placed flat in front of you, Flat Trim from the options screen resets the on-board sensors, so you should always run this before a flight, especially if you’ve just had a knock.

Though the box indicates that additional “games” are available to download, these are not configured to work with the AR Drone 2.0 yet. Expect compatible games to be released over the coming months. Interestingly, the device has a full SDK available, which means enhanced flight controllers are also available; though I haven’t tried this, check out the demo video of Drone Ace 2.0, which adds tons of features.

Battery and specs

The stated battery time is 12 minutes, which I found was accurate. This is undoubtedly a limiting factor, and could really be a downer if you’ve driven a long way to a special location just to film. It takes 1.5 hours to fully charge, but you can purchase additional battery packs for $40 each to get the most enjoyment, as I suspect most owners do.

When the battery falls really low, the emergency cut off will kick in, which is supposed to land itself to avoid damage. In practice I found that with about 10% battery left, the drone would refuse to take off again; running longer flights is the only way to use up the last ebbs of battery power.

The WiFi has a 50m range, but interference will occur in built up areas can occur; if you fly out of range, the link will be cut and the auto-pilot will stabilize the drone in place, waiting until you come back into range.


This is going to happen a lot at first, but an emergency cut out will occur at the first signs of a motor jam or full on crash; this avoids the motors trying to continue spinning and burning out or damaging themselves. Recovery is usually as simple as placing it flat and taking-off again, but one on occasion it refused to take off again due to “angle error” and a full reset was required – here’s a guide from the AR Drone flyers forum on how to do that.


As well as relaying the video feed to your controller, there are two options for recording.

First, you can stream video and record directly to your mobile device; this is by far the easiest option – just hit record and you’re sorted. However, the video quality as you can see from the sample flights can be sketchy at times when WiFi signal isn’t ideal.

parrot ar drone 2 review

For best recording quality, you can attach a USB stick directly to the drone, just above the battery. This is difficult to get working though, and there’s no way to check if it worked correctly until the recording is completed. The USB stick needs to be formatted as FAT32, shielded with a metal case, and furthermore the case needs to be grounded to the correct pin on; one forum user tried 5 different metal-cased USB sticks, and only one of them worked correctly. You also need to allow time for the on-board embedded computer to save the video file – this takes roughly as long as the video itself. During this time you can continue flying, but just not be recording any longer. Ideally therefore, you want to take your video for the first 5 or 6 minutes, then turn off recording, and continue flying until the battery dies. None of the sticks I tried worked correctly, if you’re going to take professional quality films with the drone, you’ll need to seek a memory stick that’s proven to work.

Should you buy the Parrot AR Drone 2.0?

Despite having an indoor hull, you’d be hard pressed to find a house big enough to fly this in. A hall or hangar perhaps, but the average family home won’t suffice. I also can’t suggest flying with the outdoor hull at all – with all the blade protection removed, you may quickly find the motor gears are broken.

The ideal environment for flying this is a windless desert, but honestly you’re going to have a great time with it and be turning heads anywhere you fly. As long as you avoid windy days, and give yourself plenty of space, you should be fine. Take things slowly and don’t assume the onboard flight assistance is going to mean you never crash. You’re going to have a lot of fun with the AR Drone 2.0; if you can stop worrying about breaking the most expensive toy you’ve ever owned, that is.

MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it, but be careful!

We’re giving this review unit away to one fortunate MakeUseOf reader! If you enjoy high-flying, join the giveaway to win this Parrot AR Drone 2.0!

How do I win the Parrot AR Drone 2.0?

It’s simple, just follow the instructions. Exchange your MakeUseOf points for an entry into the competition. It’s really simple: create a MakeUseOf account, earn points and exchange your points for an entry! Learn more about our Game system and Rewards program.

To exchange your points for quick entry, you must be logged in

This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, August 10th. The winners will be selected at random and informed via email.

Spread the word to your friends and have fun!

Interested in sponsoring a giveaway? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us via the form at the bottom of this page.

May 03 2012


Egofly Hawkspy LT-712 Helicopter with Spy Camera Review and Giveaway

Geeks will go crazy over anything that can be remotely controlled. So I am fairly certain that this is up a geek’s alley. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Egofly Hawkspy radio-controlled helicopter (LT-712) from Xenon Project which retails for $69.99. They also carry an entire line of remote control helicopters which is worth a look. What sets the Hawkspy apart from other RC helicopters is the addition of an onboard camera that can be triggered from the transmitter.

I have to be honest here, I haven’t reviewed many RC helicopters — none, in fact. But if you’ll bear with me, I’ll try my best to go over the Hawkspy. We’ll also be giving this review unit away to a MakeUseOf reader so be sure to join the giveaway and be in the running to win it.

hawkspy review

For $70, you’ll get the Hawkspy, its remote control (transmitter), a 1GB MicroSD card, a (very bright orange) MicroSD card reader, a spare tail blade, 4 landing skid rubbers, a wall charger and the user manual. The first I did was throw away the user manual — it was most probably written and printed in China and therefore extremely confusing. I learnt more about flying an RC helicopter by browsing on YouTube for instructional videos. There was however, one important fact about the Hawkspy that did come through the user manual — it shouldn’t be charged any longer than an hour to 75 minutes. That was about it.

The helicopter unit is smaller than I had anticipated; measuring at 12.5 inches, which is roughly the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger on an average human. It’s also extremely light, being made out of mostly plastic trim and an aluminium frame.

The main attraction of the Hawkspy is most definitely its onboard “spy” camera which is mounted at the bottom of the unit. The fixed forward-facing camera is activated by a button on the transmitter and once enabled, it records video only at a resolution of 720×480 in MJPEG format directly into the MicroSD card.

hawkspy review

Where the MicroSD card slots into the camera unit is pictured below. There’s also an LED light to indicate when recording is in progress. Although the camera isn’t capable of recording in high definition, I found the quality of the video to be acceptable even in low light conditions. There are quite a lot of videos recorded by the Hawkspy on YouTube so I won’t bore you with any of my test footages. The only thing that’s missing from the entire setup is a way to remotely view the captured video without actually having to remove the MicroSD card and inserting it into the reader. It would have been nice to actually see what’s being recorded in real-time. But then again, for a $70 toy, that is probably asking too much.

hawkspy review

Now, operation. The mode-2-ish transmitter requires a whopping 6 AA batteries to operate. The retractable antenna is able to control the helicopter up to 90 meters away. On the left, you’ll find the throttle control (makes the helicopter fly higher or lower). The rudder and the forward/backwards flying directions are controlled on the right. The power slider is smack right in the middle, which an LED indicator right above it. RC helicopter hobbyists will probably point out that the cyclic controls are sort of inadequate — the right/left cyclic controls are missing so the helicopter isn’t able to pitch to the left or right.

There is also an additional slider below each control toggle. The one of the right is the ST trim slider, which needs to be adjusted if the helicopter spins to the right or left on its own while in the air. Unfortunately, the slider on the left is a dud and the transmitter is missing throttle and pitch trims.

The two additional buttons on the left and right of the power slider controls the landing and rudder LED lights on the helicopter and the 2-speed mode (which didn’t make any difference during testing) respectively.

hawkspy review

On a full charge, the Egofly Hawkspy provides you with 10-15 minutes of flying fun. The included 1GB MicroSD card is more than sufficient to record your entire flight session.


The Hawkspy is a novelty toy with the added capability of recording video. It’s certainly a fun toy to have around. It’s small, light and pretty durable. If the flight time could be improved, I’d easily recommend it.

We’re giving one away this week! Join the giveaway below to be in the running to win a free Egofly Hawkspy.

How do I win it?

It’s simple, just follow the instructions.

Step 1: Fill in the giveaway form

Please fill in the form with your real name and email address so that we can get in touch if you are chosen as a winner. Click here if you can’t view the form.

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Fill out my online form.

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You’re almost done. Now, all that’s left to do is to share the post!

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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, May 11th. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email.

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January 22 2012


Garden Plan Pro – The Best iPad Gardening App Yet

ipad gardening appGrowVeg.com, a subscription based online garden planning tool, has recently launched an iPad app based on the service. It costs $9.99 (no subscription) during the introductory period. It’s possibly the best tool I’ve found yet for planning your vegetable plot or allotment, with a fantastic advanced feature set such as square foot gardening and space requirements for individual varieties.

I must admit I’ve been searching for a decent vegetable plot planner for a while – I did a round up last year and only one of the apps actually lets you map out plots, while the others were just glorified grow guides. Having recently acquired an allotment of 125 square meters, the need to actually have some kind of system to manage it all and the release of this app has worked out nicely. We don’t normally review premium apps here at MakeUseOf, but in this case there are very few alternatives at all – and I feel this is an app definitely worth paying for. Click here to view it on the app store.

Core Functionality

Garden Plan Pro allows you to define your growing areas to scale, then plan out what you wish to grow there. Each plant includes seasonal growth info that’s nicely plotted on an easy to understand graphical planting calendar, as well as indicating spacing and area requirements. Let’s look in detail at some of the features that make this iPad gardening app so unique though.

ipad gardening app

Laying Out Your Plot

This app has by far the most powerful layout options I’ve found yet. While other apps limit you to simple rectangles, Garden Plan Pro lets you define custom shapes, rotate them, and even create curves.

best ipad gardening app

On the downside, things can be a bit fiddly once you start rotating them, which is something they need to refine. Once rotated, it’s nearly impossible to move the shape, and resizing by dragging the corners still functions as if it weren’t rotated. It’s disconcerting, and sometimes you may resort to just deleting the shape and trying again.

It’s not impossible though, and bear in mind you only need to define the basic shapes once, as any subsequent years are copied over. It’s currently limited to geometric shapes (and colors), straight lines and curves – but typical garden objects etc. are promised for the future.

Crop Rotation

Having made a complete garden and planting plan for a year – what happens the next? In Garden Plan Pro, the garden shape will all be saved for next year – though of course you can still edit it if you make changes from one year to the next. Even more useful is that when adding plants for the next years plan, areas of your garden will be shaded to show where those plants were placed last year, thereby encouraging you to rotate crops. The app apparently remembers 5 years, with older years shaded lighter each year. A minor feature perhaps, but one that gardeners with large allotment plots will really appreciate I think.

best ipad gardening app

You can also edit plans by month if you wish, ready for you to add something else for quick successional planting. There is also an option to split the growing into two entirely separate plans if you have a long growing period, which really shows how much thought the designers have putting into making this a Pro level app.

best ipad gardening app

Another unique feature is the inclusion of a square foot gardening mode, whereby instead of laying out rows and entire beds of a specific variety, you interplant things into 1 foot areas – supposedly resulting in greater overall yields in more useful small batches. Helpfully, a small number in the box indicates exactly how many of that particular item you should fit into a single square foot, as well as allowing for larger items such as courgettes that need more than a single square foot to grow in.

gardening app for ipad

Plant Selection

A good amount of plants are included in the database, from both generic varieties to specifics; covering both vegetables, fruiting trees, and herbal/medicinal flowers. Compare this to the SmartGardener online plot planner, which limits the seed selection to specific seeds from affiliated companies - all of whom are American with no generic types for us Brits to use.

The varieties included with Garden Plan Pro are also American based I believe, but with both generic types and the ability to add custom varieties (including the planting schedule and spacing requirements), it’s not a bother at all. In fact, adding custom varieties alone will make this a godsend for organic and heritage growers who tend to save and share seeds that simply aren’t grown commercially.

gardening app for ipad


This the first release, but there seems to be some glaring bugs. Firstly, it’s impossible to delete plans created in error. You can edit individual plots on the plans easily, but you can’t actually delete the entire garden to start again.

gardening app for ipad

The planting calendar also displayed an obvious bug for me whereby the label was moved forward 7 months – so although the graphical planting guide was correct, it said I was currently in July. This doesn’t affect functionality as far as I can tell – if you assume the blue line is the current date, the planting guide will still be accurate.

ipad gardening app

The date selections also seem to be a bit peculiar. Pressing the minus button will set it to 2201 or something ridiculous.

Worth It?

Despite it’s buggy release lacking such basics as deleting gardens, Garden Plan Pro really still shines as the best garden planner for the iPad, period. It has by far the most advanced feature set (online sites included), catering for both casual gardeners who want a little structure, and serious allotmenteers who want fine grained control over the growing season plan.  can forgive it’s shortcomings in knowing that these will be dealt with in time, and I can offer nothing but a 5-star heartfelt recommendation for this iPad gardening app.

iTunes Store: Garden Plan Pro – $9.99 introductory price, normally $19.99

I’ll try to answer any app specific questions in the comments if you like, or feel free to give us your own quick review if you’ve purchased it. What features do you feel are missing still?

January 12 2012


5 Fantastic Resources On The Web For Ukulele Players

ukulele resources onlineMany people will have a new (or used) ukulele sitting in their house, either received as a gift or bought by themselves. As a proud new owner of a ukulele myself, I straight away headed online to find the best ukulele resources for new owners. Thankfully there are some great destinations on the Web to help new and experienced uke players alike.

The ukulele is considered the easiest stringed instrument to play. With just four strings the ukulele has an incredible range of chords but only a few which are essential to learn in order to produce music. Ukuleles are therefore a good entry-level instrument for those who want to play guitar or another stringed instrument, but don’t have the confidence to start on something so complex.

Ukulele Tuner

ukulele resources online

Ukulele Tuner is first on the list as tuning your ukulele is the first thing you’ll need to do. Get-Tuned offers an online ukulele tuner which is simple yet very effective. You get a choice of five presets, including standard, full step-up, and full step-down, as well as a complete set of notes to choose for yourself. You can also choose between a ukulele sound and a sine wave depending on your preference.

Get-Tuned also has tuners for guitars, banjos, violins, and other stringed instruments, articles such as introductions and how-to’s pertaining to these instruments and even a Java-powered virtual metronome with different sound effects and tempo options.

Uke School

ukulele resources

Uke School, or Pineapple Pete’s Uke School to give it its full title, is a great place to head after your new instrument is tuned to perfection. The bulk of the site is dedicated to simple and intuitive lessons broken down into Beginner, Basic, and Advanced, and further into individual drills and instructions. The lessons are perfectly pitched, being easy to follow and detailed.

There is also a section talking about the ukulele, including the types available and the history of the instrument, a section featuring songs, and even a section dedicated to getting babies playing the ukulele. The site is free to use thanks to unobtrusive advertising and a donation page.

Ukulele Underground

ukulele resources

Ukulele Underground exists to help the next generation of ukulele players, dispelling the notion that the instrument is just a toy. There are lessons and tips presented in the form of videos, and even the occasional video collaboration by members. There is also the opportunity to form or join a group, and to read or contribute to the forum.

The basic lessons are free, again supported by advertising and the chance to donate. There is also a paid option called UU+ for those who can afford it. This offers more-detailed lessons, live seminars, downloads, and giveaways.

Easy Ukulele

ukulele resources

Easy Ukulele is another site built for newcomers to the instrument. There is a wide range of content on the site, from tips for tuning and strumming right through to video lessons and chord charts. The passion the site’s owner Kainoa has for the instrument is obvious and empowering, and it makes it a lot easier to listen to what he has to say on the subject.

As well as the lessons there are also reviews of different ukuleles, basic information on uke musicians and festivals, and links to a multitude of other websites ukulele players will find useful.

Ukulele Songs

ukulele resources online

Ukulele Songs is the place to visit after you have learned the basics and want to do more with your uke. There are pop songs available to play, with all the chords needed to perform tunes from ABBA to U2 all laid out neatly. There are also videos and chord charts. Worth it simply for the tablature needed to play The Wind Cries Mary by Jimi Hendrix.

Uketoob isn’t quite worthy of a full entry on this list, but it’s a fantastic site nonetheless. It isn’t a resource as such, instead being a ukulele video blog, featuring a new clip which includes a uke or ukes on a daily basis. But it’s a must-visit for all ukulele players both new and experienced.


These five fantastic ukulele resources on the Web will provide new and established ukulele players with tips, tricks, chords, tabs, lessons, and much more besides. If you play the ukulele then please feel free to share other (preferably free) resources you have found on the Web.

If you don’t play the ukulele then why not? Do you prefer another instrument? Do you think the ukulele is nothing more than a trendy toy? The video embedded above should hopefully help dispel that myth.

Image Credit: Monsieur Gordon

August 01 2011


5 Book Websites That Give You Sample Chapters To Read Online

How useful do you think Google Books is? Personally, I find it really useful -  not only for discovering new books and reading books that are  in the public domain, but also for getting limited previews of books that aren’t yet open for free reading. We have seen how you can make use of limited previews in a previous post on 10 Ways to Use Google Books for Lifelong Learning and Research.

Any self-respecting online book site should have that feature. Editorial reviews aren’t enough. A book lover needs to know if the author’s writing style goes with the reader’s reading style. We also need to know if the content really matches the hype surrounding the book.

So, let’s not judge a book by its covers. Here are five websites that let you read sample chapters and excerpts.

Google Books

Google Books like the other services from Google is almost in your face. So, why not use it its preview (limited or full) feature to the hilt. Google Books has a great full-text book search and its Library Project where it partners with some of the best libraries in the world will make book search only better. There are nearly 20,000 publishers and authors under the umbrella of Google Books and most titles give you a handful of pages to check out before you decide to buy the book or save it for a better one.  Also, from what’s being heard, very soon out-of-print books will also be made available for preview and purchase through Google Books. Not all books will give you a preview, but the ones that do are worth a turn of the page.


The other great name when it comes to books and sundry other items. Amazon has turned an upward curve with Kindle and eBooks. If you are a regular on Amazon’s online bookstore, you couldn’t have missed the “Look Inside” link just above the book covers. The little sticker is a part of Amazon’s Search Inside program. The tool allows you to search and browse millions of books across Amazon.com. You can set up a search based on every word and key phrase inside a book, not just for the book title or the author. As the screenshot shows, there are many ways to look into the content of a book. Then you can dive into Amazon Reader, and preview publisher-provided sample pages, go to linked book sections, or look for all references to a term or phrase.

Book Daily

Book Daily is specifically about book samples for book lovers. With 80,000 books and their first chapters on offer, I would say that this is a great site to bookmark if you want to grab hold of clues on what to read next. One of our readers mentioned it in the comments on my previous article – 5 Websites That Alert Book Lovers About New Book Releases. The site is slick and uncluttered, so grab a mug of coffee, open up a book and read the first chapter. By the end of it, you would have found that if it’s a page turner.


DailyLit is another book site you should bookmark, not only because it is one of the few that lets you read books by email, but also because the book site also gives you many titles for free. Their sponsorship program enables them to do that and send you scheduled emails so that you can finish a copyrighted book from your inbox. Unlike book sites with sample chapters, DailyLit really takes you through the whole hog of finishing a book in installments.

Harper Collins

Try before you buy, goes the catchphrase of this well-known publisher’s Browse Inside service. The sneak peek tool lets you flip pages starting from the table of contents, search inside,  and also share it with friends if you like the book. The tool is just as cool as the one from Amazon – in fact I found it to be slicker.

Online previews replicate the feeling of paging through a book in a bookstore. Well, not exactly, because sometimes you have a cup of coffee to go along with it. I am not complaining because online book stores give you some social joys but they can’t win all the battles when it comes to the convenience of buying and reading books. If you are a book lover, what’s your take on this? Do you know of any other book preview websites?


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July 25 2011


6 Great Contemporary E-Books You Can Read By Email Via DailyLit

I admit it. I check my email inbox way more than I should in any given day. I can’t seem to shake the behavior, yet I can’t find time to sit down and read a good, not-for-school book. That’s why I’m smitten with the concept behind DailyLit.

For the uninitiated, DailyLit is a brilliant service that helps you read books by email or RSS. You basically choose a book, how often you want your emails to be delivered and how large the installments should be. You can change your settings anytime. You can even suspend the delivery if you’re going on vacation, and resume your reading when you’re back.

DailyLit offers lots of titles that are on the public domain, like Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, and other popular classics books. DailyLit also works with sponsors and publishers to make select contemporary works available for free. Here are a few titles that you should totally check out this summer!

Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan

With the permission of Kogan’s publisher, DailyLit is able to offer selected essays from Lisa Kogan’s book, which is a hilarious account on contemporary living, single motherhood and more. Who is Lisa Kogan exactly? She’s a columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine, with a tremendous wit and lots of unique stories. Her book has gotten 4.5 stars as rated by 34 customers on Amazon, while the collection of selected chapters on DaillyLit has gotten 4.5 stars from an average of 16 ratings. This funny, poignant item is the reason that brought this MakeUseOf article to life – I actually look forward to getting the installments from DailyLit in my email inbox. There are 20 installments, which are bound to make you laugh.

Fetching Raymond by John Grisham

Fetching Raymond is one of the 7 unrelated short stories that comprises Grisham’s 2009 book, Ford Conty: Stories. This tale deals with a woman who visits her brother who’s been locked away on death row for more than a decade. DailyLit offers this contemporary short story on 13 free installments.

The Little Big Things by Tom Peters

This self-help, management book is currently rated 4.5 stars from 10 reviews on DailyLit and 4.5 stars as well from 28 reviews on Amazon. Unlike the previous two items on this list, which were extended excerpts, this book is offered in full at DailyLit in 164 installments. Even the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says you will learn lots from this book, in particular if you’re looking to improve your business (either as a boss or employee). Additional self-help/management books include The Boostrapper’s Bible by Seth Godin and The 50th Law by 50 Cent (yes, the rapper) and Robert Greene.

Emeril at the Grill: A Cookbook for All Seasons by Emeril Lagasse

DailyLit offers 15 recipes from celebrity chef Emeril’s full book, which is available on Amazon. Though this series doesn’t contain pictures, it is certainly timely for the summer. You can get this delivered to your inbox (or get the RSS feed) in 15 installments. Check out additional books in this genre here.

MBA Mondays by Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson is a venture capitalist who’s known for sharing advice in his blog. He started sharing concepts he learned in business school every week on Monday on his blog, giving birth to this series, which is available on DailyLit in 51 installments. This might be a good read for those of us that want to understand the investment jargon, applying a buy and hold strategy, etc.

With A Little Help by Cory Doctorow

This sci-fi book consists of 12 short stories, and has earned 4.5 stars both on the DailyLit community and on Amazon. The Canadian author has released the book under a Creative Commons license so he also offers the book in several different mobile-friendly formats, as well as the audiobook on his website. If you’re into the futuristic, sci-fi genre, you should definitely check this book out.

There are probably plenty of other contemporary titles that I couldn’t possibly all list in this article, but if you know of one, feel free to share it in the comments!

Image Credit: Aha-Soft Team

6 Great Contemporary E-Books You Can Read By Email Via DailyLit is a post from: MakeUseOf

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July 18 2011


5+ Awesome Food Blogs That Will Tantalize Your Senses & Might Even Inspire You To Cook

Cooking for ourselves is not always a top priority for most of us. We know we should, we know it’s healthier. But when we come back home from work, hungry, we just want to put something in our mouths and get it over with, even if it’s just cereal and milk.

Food blogs can provide some excellent inspiration and many times I found myself cooking simply because I found a recipe I really wanted to try. To be really inspiring, a food blog should look good, have a lot of good, informative pictures, and of course, interesting recipes! Below I mention several of the slickest, most inspiring food blogs I know. I hope these help you find some motivation!

The Pioneer Woman Cooks

For all you cowboys and cowgirls out there, The Pioneer Woman Cooks might be the last cooking blog you’ll ever have to visit.

Along with numerous (really, there are lots of them) pictures and mouthwatering recipes, The Pioneer Woman provides stories about living in a remote farm somewhere in the US, and I found that her blog helped me pass long boring days at the office, and then inspired me to cook when I got back home. As I mentioned, each recipe is accompanied by a lot of pictures, so if you need someone to hold your hand while you cook, here you’ll get a picture of every single step.

The blog is very stylish, and there is a very accessible bar at the top that lets you browse between specific categories – even ‘Cowboy’ or ‘Cowgirl’ approved recipes! So even if you’re a real cowboy, The Pioneer Woman has some good original recipes for you. Don’t miss the holiday section for some specialized holiday cuisine, and the 16-minute meals for some swift cooking suggestions.

Noble Pig

Not as styled as Pioneer Woman, Noble Pig is for those of you who want to cook, but are deterred by all those fancy blogs out there that make you feel like everything is really complicated.

Using simple pictures and lots of good humor, Noble Pig provides some awesome recipes, and some of the best recipe names I’ve seen out there. I mean, how can someone not make something called “Ridiculously Addictive Lemon Squares” or “Hello Belgium, You Had Me At Waffles”.

It seems to me that as time went by, the writer of Noble Pig got more serious, and a lot of the really fun recipes are older ones (make sure to browse through those!), but the recipes are still inspiring, and there are quite a bit of wine reviews as well, if you’re a fan. All in all, a good catch for some good food!

2 in 1: Cherry Tea Cakes and Hot Polka Dot

I initially meant to mention only one of these blogs, as they are both mainly aimed at desserts and are in general similar in feeling. But both these blogs are so fetching and so inspiring, I simply had to mention both of them, even if together.

If you are very visual, you are going to love these two blogs. Cherry Tea Cakes even offers an all-picture index, so you can look for that special recipe while browsing food pictures. Both these blogs offer mainly dessert recipes, but very interesting and imaginative ones, and if you’re looking for a recipe for a birthday cake for someone special, or simply for a way to be a hit in tomorrow’s party, chances are you’ll find it in one of these two blogs.

Hot Polka Dot is probably one of the best looking blogs I’ve ever laid eyes on, and it looks like someone is putting a lot of hard work into it. I just can’t wait to make some Heebee Jeebees!


Yes, there is actually a website by that name. And if you don’t know it yet, you’re looking at your favorite new time-waster (if you’re even somewhat a foodie). FoodPornDaily is not your traditional food blog – there are no actual recipes. But there are pictures. Beautiful pictures, and lots of them.

All you have to do is click the picture, and there comes a new one! You get the name of the dish laid out nicely over the picture, and many times there will be a link at the bottom that will lead you to the recipe.

Aside from being a time-waster and a great inspiration, FoodPornDaily is also a great way to discover new and interesting food blogs. Click. Drool. Repeat.

Bonus – Pimp That Snack!

While not being a food blog, and not even aimed at inspiring you to cook, I couldn’t write about good food websites without mentioning Pimp That Snack.

If you ever aspired to re-create your favorite snacks in giant form, you’ll find all the advice and inspiration you need at Pimp That Snack, because this is a site that is dedicated to people who do just that. Aside from the sheer fun of seeing people’s adventures recorded, I actually found myself considering if I should make a giant version of a Cream Egg. There are actual recipes and methods of preparation, so maybe this could be a good activity for your next party!


Just writing this post made me want to make so many things. Even if these blogs don’t initially attract you, give them a spin, and browse a little bit. I’m sure you’ll find something in one of them that will make you get off the couch and run to the kitchen (and if not, you can always order in).

Let us know in the comments how you faired!

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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5+ Awesome Food Blogs That Will Tantalize Your Senses & Might Even Inspire You To Cook is a post from: MakeUseOf

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July 17 2011


Manage Your Real Life Vegetable Plot Online For Free With VGA Live

garden plannerOne of the key factors in growing your own vegetables is ensuring you rotate your crops every year to avoid a build up of disease and prevent a complete depletion of nutrients. In fact, some species of plant put certain nutrients back into the soil, so by rotating things around you can ensure optimum and healthy conditions.

But even with a small plot of land you may have lots of growing beds, and keeping track of what’s been growing where is one particular daunting task I am certainly not looking forward to.

Let me introduce you to VGALive, a 100% free (now and forever) online vegetable plot management system and encyclopaedia.

What is it?

The name isn’t particular descriptive, but it’s main function is to keep track of your yearly crop growing cycle – as much or as little as you wish. You can record what crop you have planted, where and when it was put in and harvested, and keep a complete history of that zone. When considering what to plant next year, it’s easy to see what you can safely put in there next, and the built in seed catalog makes it easy to plan ahead before the busy spring season comes.

Head on over to thevga.co.uk and click on sign up to begin. It’s painless and you’ll be able to log-in immediately.

garden planner

Create a Plot and Some Beds:

Once logged in, your first step should be to create a plot as well as some beds. If you’re not sure what these means, your plot would “garden” or “allotment”, while beds will be the individual sections of the garden that you’re going to cultivate.

You’ll need to create a plot before creating beds, so go ahead. From My Plots, select New. Next you’ll create beds. One thing to bear in mind is that beds cannot be deleted once they’ve been created (not sure why), but you can alter the name etc at a later date. This could pose problems for me next year, as it’s painfully obvious this year that my beds are far too close together, so I’ve ended up with a pathway less than 20cm across!

vegetable garden planner

Having created some beds, go ahead and upload pictures so you don’t forget which ones they are.

vegetable garden planner

Grow Something:

To add something to your garden, click My Crops – Sow New Crop. This is where the magic happens – when you select a particular bed to plant in, any family of crop grown there in the last 2 years will be greyed out, letting you know what you can safely plant. It’s a great at-a-glance feature, but I would personally appreciate bigger pictures, or more functionality from them – like even a simple tool tip when you mouse over that lists the plants of that family.

vegetable garden planner

Another of my favorite features is the crop finder, which lists loads of crops that can be planted month-by-month, so if you’re trying to plan in advance or just have a spare bit of ground which you’re not sure what to do with, it can be a great resource for ideas.

The visual cues for where to plant are a nice touch too, but I see room for improvement – even though there’s a small button next to each crop showing the symbol for sow, it takes you to the Sow New Crop form but doesn’t actually pre-fill the crop name for you.

garden planner

There seems to a few key points about the system, like deleting beds, that are noticeably missing. As something that is 100% free though, I don’t really feel I can complain too much, as the sheer level of functionality that you do get is far better than anything I could find elsewhere – paid or not.

Another point to keep in mind is that the site seems to be somewhat dying. The forums are completely inactive, and the Live Help! page seems to be selling an offline version of the software, yet half the images are broken. I’ll be in contact with the owners of site to see if it’s still being actively maintained, but it’s difficult to tell at this point.

I realize this is quite a niche topic, but I had a lot of difficultly finding a system that suited my needs when I moved into my house in February. If you’re curious as to how I’m doing so far, my wife and I have actually kept a Tumblr photo diary of everything we’ve harvested, but bear in mind we are complete beginners with a small garden. I began this year by germinating as many seeds as I could all at once – but I think that’s something everyone does when they first start. I really appreciate a free system such as VGA Live to help beginners such as myself, but I do feel like a lot of functionality is going to waste. There’s much more that could be improved and done with this fantastic resource and free web application.

If you interested in seeing what else is out there, I asked for suggestions myself on our community support site before, so be sure to check those out too.Also, check out our previous post on how to start a garden with the help of the internet and let us know about any other app you use to care for your garden.

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Manage Your Real Life Vegetable Plot Online For Free With VGA Live is a post from: MakeUseOf

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June 28 2011


5 More Cool Things To Do With An Old Computer

old computersDon’t chuck out your old computer, just yet. Though it may not seem like it, there are still some jobs it can serve. It’s not obsolete just yet, whatever the tech companies would rather have you believe. In the fast-moving world of technology, a year may seem like a decade. Gadgets are thrown out every year, sometimes with little consideration for whether they are still useful or not.

That 5-year old computer may seem like a snail, but even a snail can get to the other side.

1. Turn It Into A Web Server

Many of us here probably own a website. Well, if you’re up to the challenge, you can set up your own server to serve your websites from. Having your own server gives you the advantage of controlling what software to use, as well as the freedom to upgrade flexibly. Running out of server space? Just add another hard drive!  Are the pages loading too slowly? Just add more RAM!

old computers

Dave has previously detailed how to build a Linux web server in two parts.

2. Experiment With Viruses

things to do with an old computer

If you can’t turn it into a web server, you can use it as your torture machine. Abuse it anyway you want, install anything and everything. If you ever saw some free app you like the look of, but aren’t sure whether it’s a virus or not, you now have a sandbox to test it in. This is a real sandbox, not those fancy software sandbox techniques that are so common nowadays.

It doesn’t even have to be a virus. If you’re experimenting with dangerous software, you can do all your damage here. Just make sure to keep a Windows install disc handy.

3. Modify It

things to do with an old computer

The next thing to try is to turn it into art. At least you can appreciate the supple curves of your computer as it sits there collecting dust. There are many mods on the Internet, such as these ones here. Some mods also serve a purpose. For example, you can turn the computer into a photo frame. If it’s new enough to have a built-in WiFi card, you can also connect it to your Flickr feed, or something similar.

4. Destroy It

Failing any useful task that the computer can handle, you can enjoy watching it die. Why just throw it away? How about destroying it?

If you haven’t got a new computer yet, your old computer may help you raise the cost of the new one. It may not be worth the new one, but the amusement of blowing it up certainly is, as this YouTube user has proven.

5. Recycle it

old computers

For the more environmentally-conscious, there’s always the option to recycle it. First, make sure all the useful and surviving parts are out. This could be used later. You never know, your new computer’s RAM may fail and 2GB of working RAM is better than 8GB of non-working RAM. Before you attempt that though, make sure your new computer can take your older one’s RAM.  Also make sure that any personal sensitive information has been securely wiped from the hard drive.

There are many computer recycling programs around. You can go to a manufacturer or to your region’s local recycling program. Here’s Apple’s recycling page, which also holds a list for some US states. Saikat wrote a great post last year detailing 10 websites that help you recycle or reuse old stuff.

So do you know of any other possible uses for an old computer that we haven’t listed here?  Or have you tried one of the above?  If so, how did it go?

Image Credits: Monochrome, zdw, Enric Martinez, The Official CTBTO Photostream, SobControllers

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May 13 2011


Shortwave Numbers Stations & The Conet Project: An Online Education In Espionage

shortwave numbers stationsThere are some thought-provoking subjects that just don’t get enough attention from the offline media. Many such phenomena are picked up by enthusiasts, and documented in their spare time as a hobby (or the next stage; obsession).

Shortwave radio is known as the global band – despite poor sound quality (hiss, pop, crackle), it travels well and is still a popular choice in many countries around the world. So-called “numbers stations” have been heard on the shortwave radio band since the 1950s, leaving many to question their purpose and origin.

Of course the enthusiasts have well and truly done their research, and put most of it online. There is now an incredible amount of information, evidential audio and expert insight into the world of unlisted shortwave broadcasts. Read on to find out more, if you dare…

What Are Shortwave Numbers Stations?

A “numbers station” refers to a radio station usually broadcasting on a shortwave frequency of unknown origin. This is to say that numbers stations are generally referred to as unidentified broadcasts that do not fall under the category of commercial or public radio.

Over the years, the evidence has stacked up and many are convinced that these broadcasts are being used to send messages to spies and government agents around the world. This isn’t yesterday’s news either – many numbers stations are still alive and heard today.

shortwave numbers stations

As recently as 2009 the United States charged an individual – Walter Kendall Myers – with spying charges related to numbers stations. The US accused Myers of receiving and decoding messages from shortwave broadcasts believed to be operated by the Cuban Intelligence Service. Of course, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the US is also playing the shortwave numbers stations game (just like everyone else).

Messages can be delivered by a synthesized or human voice, often preceded and followed by a distinct melody. Sometimes other methods are used, such as morse code or noise. There is evidence to suggest that many numbers stations are designed for use with a one-time pad, an unbreakable method of encryption (provided only the desired audience has the key).

conet project

Something’s going on – these broadcasts are clearly not intended for public consumption. Luckily there’s a great little collection of numbers stations broadcasts, available to download for free.

The Conet Project

Named after the misheard Czech word “konec” (meaning “end”) which would often mark the end of an Eastern European broadcast, The Conet Project is a swelling collection of questionable shortwave recordings.

conet project

There are more than 150 separate tracks, some of which could be heard 24 hours a day and others at regular intervals. The collection includes recordings in many languages, including the famous German “Swedish Rhapsody” station which delivered an encrypted message in a (chilling) female child’s voice.

The project is available for purchase, but is also available online from the record label and is hosted at The Internet Archive. The collection is an absolute must for anyone with an interest in numbers stations, espionage or radio transmissions.

Download: The Conet Project [Irdial: CD1/CD2/CD3/CD4 | The Internet Archive: Stream/Download ]

Further Reading

The Internet is full of additional resources for those of you itching to find out more, and here are a few online hotspots to get started:

The Conet Project Documentation [PDF]

As well as recordings, The Conet Project comes with some detailed documentation which is also available for free online. As well as an introduction to numbers stations, personal accounts and the founding of the project there are also logs of included recordings. A great place to start.

Numbers & Oddities

N&O is a monthly newsletter for those interested in numbers stations and other interesting bits and pieces heard on the airwaves. You can subscribe to the mailing list and have the newsletter delivered in a PDF document, which contains the past month’s findings. These include changes in broadcasts, new stations and disappearing frequencies in an easy to read format.

conet project

You can download fairly up-to-date logs here, as well as updated control lists in case you fancy checking out a few frequencies yourself. Be sure to check out N&O Links – a long list of smaller resources that are worth a look if you’re becoming obsessed!


Another great resource and home to a fantastic searchable database of numbers stations. SpyNumbers also has an auto-updating page that lists frequencies of current known broadcasts. If you’re scanning for stations, SpyNumbers makes it that much easier to drop in.

shortwave numbers stations

Message Boards: Enigma2000 / UDXF

Hobbyists and enthusiasts alike gather on both of these Yahoo boards to discuss, report, log and immerse themselves in the world of high frequency radio.

Enigma2000 is specifically aimed at numbers stations, whereas UDXF refers to “utility” frequencies. Members often find and report shortwave numbers stations, but also military and other sensitive intercepted transmissions (from ongoing conflicts, oh yes).


If you’ve got an old shortwave radio in the attic, then it might be time to dust it off. Remember you’ll need good reception, a well-designed custom antenna (or an expensive one) and some top notch scanning equipment to get the most out of shortwave radio.

If that sounds like too much money and effort then be sure to check out and follow the numbers station scene online. Don’t have nightmares…

Image Credits: Grundig Satellit 750, Shortwave Antenna


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April 22 2011


Learn How to Make Paper Airplanes With These Five Paper Craft Websites

craft websitesPaper airplanes have been as much a part of our growing up as has been the dream of flying. Many among us have taken this up further into a lifelong hobby. Learning to make paper planes is not just about creasing the paper at the folds and throwing it up in the air. It is aeronautical science at its most fundamental.

Making paper airplanes may also be about wasting time and having fun, but a general browse through the web shows that making paper planes is also a serious education. In fact, NASA uses it to teach kids all about aeronautics. Many other sites apart from NASA also have downloadable paper plane activities for kids. You also know that paper planes are right up there as a hobby when you have an iPad app called the Paper Plane Project on it.

Not all of us have an iPad. So, these five craft websites have to do for learning how to make paper planes.

Alex’s Paper Airplanes

craft websites

This is a great step-by-step guide on how to craft paper airplanes, paper helicopters and gliders. The paper planes are categorized as – easy to make, medium difficulty, and hard to make. The 25 varieties on view should keep you folding and flying away for ages. The site also contains a lot of YouTube video instructions on how to properly make the flyable models. Alex Schultz also has put up a page of other sites on paper planes; not all the links are on paper planes though. Some links are also broken.

Origami Kids

paper craft websites

If you want your child to start off building some paper planes on his own, then this colorful site for kids could be the destination. The step-by-step instructions with clear illustrations are kid-friendly. Some of the paper plane instructions are accompanied with video demos. Start of from the simpler models like Vortexes (or even a simple paper helicopter) and graduate upwards to a barracuda. There’s also an interesting section on Flight Simulators which are a collection of free online games.

Best Paper Airplanes

paper craft websites

The ten designs on view on this paper airplane site are copyrighted original designs. You will not come across names like Tumbler, Canada Goose, Duck etc on any other paper plane website. What I like about this site are the clean-cut instructions which take me from a simple origami design like the Zump to a complicated one like the Katydid.

The OmniWing

paper craft websites

The OmniWing is one of the first airplane designs I was drawn to. It is a basic airplane but a high performance one that can fly for a length of time in a straight line rather than a loop. It’s also a perfect office stress buster because it can be crafted from a single sheet of standard typing paper, and a little transparent tape. The site contains all the construction details on the plane along with videos. Later, feel free to graduate to the more advanced versions of this cool paper plane.

Airplane Collectible Net Resource

craft websites

This site is more like a directory which you can dive into for more links. It’s not only about paper craft but also about the complete universe of airplane modeling. The site lists free airplane collectible items on the web such as free airplane photos, free paper model kits and free online flight simulators. The paper plane design page has links and available PDF downloads (World Record Breaking Paper Airplane designs originally folded by Ken Blackburn). You might want to check out resources like the one on How to Make your Paper Airplane Fly Better that grounds you on the basics.

The five craft websites websites on view may not be visually appealing to those of us attuned to slick Web 2.0 interfaces, but when it comes to following a hobby, it’s the content that appeals. Are these some of the best on the web, or can you provide me and other paper airplane enthusiasts a few more?

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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Strip Generator – Create Free Highly Customizable Web Comics In Minutes

create web comicsIf you’re a fan of web comics then chances are you’ve had a few ideas for your own in the past. The only problem is you need some drawing skills, plenty of patience and a fondness for Photoshop, GIMP or other imaging software if you want to start from scratch.

We’ve had Strip Generator in our MakeUseOf Directory for a while now but the site has gone through a number of changes over the years with new features and the introduction of a cleaner, easier to use interface. It really couldn’t be simpler to drop in some characters, objects and text down before sharing it with your friends. No artistic skills required, simply let your ideas take shape!

Uses For Strip Generator

Artists and those blessed with the ability to draw will probably look down on Strip Generator for its drag-and-drop simplicity. This makes it perfect for those with an idea, a punchline or a joke between friends to bring their ideas to 2D life in minutes.

create web comics

Even those who draw their own strips from scratch may find uses for the website; as a storyboard or a plan for larger projects. If you’re interested in transferring your comics from pen-and-paper so you can design offline, check out our guide.

There are also more ambitious Strip Generator comics floating around the website, which show off some of the more off-beat community creations (like this Helicoptero strip). Using objects and tools in ways other than they were intended requires a bit of experimentation, but is testament to the adaptability of the sandbox you have in front of you.

You don’t need to register to use Strip Generator, so to get started simply visit the homepage and click Create New Strip. You’ll be asked once your strip is complete to register, so you can save your creations and re-edit ongoing projects.

The Workspace

When starting your strip, you are presented with the simple 3 frame comic format, which you can change by clicking on Frames at the top of the strip. Here you’re presented with lots of options, including 1 or 2 rows, full page designs and custom frames you define yourself.

create webcomic

You should always choose your frame first, and be sure of your decision. Changing the frame after beginning your strip will delete the lot, something you’ll be hoping to avoid. Once you’ve decided on a frame the rest is experimentation.

create webcomic

Characters and objects are handled by Strip Generator in the same way, and are highly transformable. Once you’ve chosen something from the appropriate tab, drag it into one of your frames. Clicking the item will highlight it, and display the scale and rotate controls – simply click and drag.

create webcomic

After selecting an object, the area to the right of your comic strip will display the various manipulations you can perform. These include sending the object forward and back (layers), adding blur and transparency and moving the object between frames, or detaching it altogether. If you’ve ever used photo manipulation software in the past then it should all be fairly familiar.

web comic generator

Text is handled similarly and whilst there’s no font options you can adjust size, placement, bold and italics and justification. Text can also be blurred, much like objects and the speech or thought bubble’s roundness can be user-defined too.

Sharing Your Creations

Once you’ve completed your strip hit Finish at the bottom. You will be taken to a page where you can define a thumbnail, add tags so your comic can be found and last of all give your strip a name. Hitting Publish will publish your work as an anonymous user, and on the next page you will be prompted to either log in or sign up to claim the credit.

web comic generator

You don’t have to register however, and you can remain anonymous if you please. If you do choose to register you will be given a Strip Generator blog, the URL of which will be username.stripgenerator.com.

web comic generator

There are all manner of social buttons and sharing options afoot your new creation, you can even print it out or simply save the image in your browser as you would normally.

create web comics


Strip Generator is a lot of fun, partly because it’s so easy to use and partly for the near-instantaneous results. If you’ve not got the patience to draw a full strip, have a spare 5 minutes and a great one-liner then Strip Generator is calling for your contributions.

Have you tried Strip Generator to create web comics? Fancy linking your strips? Any other good comic generators you use? Let us know in the comments below!

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April 20 2011


Organize & Create Your Short Stories & Novels With StoryBook

Have you ever had the idea to finally sit down and write that great novel you’ve always wanted to create, but you kept putting it off because the whole process just felt too complicated?  If you’ve ever read a Tom Clancy novel, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Some novels have dozens of main characters and several threads of storyline all going on at the same time. How does the author keep it all straight?

Here at MUO, we love writing and have always tried to bring you tools that will help with your writing, such as Nancy’s guide to inspiring apps for writers, Jeffry’s list of Firefox addons for writers, and Karl’s review of VocabGrabber. Today I’d like to offer an impressive open source application called Storybook, which can automate the entire writing process for you. This way, you can focus on what you do best – writing stories.

Writing A Novel With Storybook

What impressed me the most about this organizational tool is that it is capable of helping you sort out and organize even the most complicated novel with multiple storylines. The software comes loaded with tools to create, sort and connect the chapters of your book with individual scenes, your list of developed characters, and you can even “strand” together your scenes into a sequence that forms individual storylines that you can link together.

To get started, just click on New and name the novel or story that you’re working on. The main screen is divided into a left panel for the development of your strands, and the right panel where you can explore your entire story by individual elements like characters, locations and more.

To create a new scene (strand), just click the green plus icon, assign a date and title to the scene, and then write a quick summary of what you want that scene to entail. Don’t worry about the strand you’ve assigned the scene to – you can change it at any point, and you can also link it to other strands later.

You can create new characters and locations from the main screen, or from the individual strand creation window. Name your character and note all of the characteristics. The software will keep track of everything for you, so any time you need to remember how old your character is or what they do for a living, you can just go back to your explorer and click on the character.

For each scene, you’ll link together characters and fictional locations that are involved in the scene. This builds the storyline database that will help you keep everything organized. This way, later when you’re trying to remember if a certain character ever interacted with another character or visited a certain location – you’ll have a way to double check.

As you build story strands and link them together, you’re essentially building the outline of your larger story or novel. As the plot gets larger, this becomes an amazing tool that keeps everything organized for you so that you don’t have to rack your brain trying to keep everything straight. No more risk of inadvertently creating an impossible plot – for example, like having a character accidentally meet another character for the “first time”, multiple times in your story.

Of course, Storybook does provide the basics. You can form a general outline of each chapter by clicking on “New Chapter” from the menu and quickly describing what the chapter is going to be about. This is a good first step before you start digging into the plot and building your individual strands.

My favorite part of this software is the “Novel Explorer” bar where you can see every element of your entire story at a quick glance. Characters, locations, strands, chapters and even subsections of your chapters are all available from this one spot. This makes it a total breeze to research your planned storyline while you’re in the midst of writing your current chapter.

Another of my favorite parts of this software is the “idea” feature. Click on the lightbulb at the top of the main window and the “Ideas” tool will pop up. Here you can jot down a quick idea that you don’t really know what to do with yet. You’ll never forget a great idea again, and you can just come back later to figure out where you want to work it into your plot, and track the status of each of your ideas by moving them into the started, completed or abandoned categories.

You can really see the power of the software when you check out the charts and tools section. The software lets you see every aspect of your story in a chart format that connects characters and strands by date or scene. It’s an amazing thing. There’s even a Gantt chart for your characters!

If you’ve ever thought writing your own novel but were afraid the process would be far too complicated – you no longer have that excuse. Storybook takes all of the complexity out of character profiling, plot layout and creating your story outline. It’s the easiest way to manage the technical aspect of writing while you focus more of your time on the more creative act of actually writing the story itself.

Give Storybook a try and let us know if it simplified your writing process. How did you make use of Storybook for your project? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Image Credit : Churl

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March 02 2011


10 Websites For Reading Children’s Stories Online

childrens stories onlineFor children, stories are the window to the outside world. Stories continue to tell generations that the world outside is filled with great adventures, heroic princes and beautiful princesses. It also has ogres and monsters that we must battle to keep it that way.

I bet all of us have our own favorite stories from childhood. Most of us also have fond memories of hours spent in storytelling. The digital avalanche may have hit the generations that have followed us. They may be growing up too soon. But stories continue to hold their place in the imagination of a child.

Hollywood and Disney may also be coloring TV and the movies. But thanks to interactive websites, children’s stories have got a wider canvas to tell their tales. From classical literature to folk tales, and even modern children’s fiction, today’s child can take his pick to read, listen, and watch.

Storyline Online

childrens stories online

Do you act out the stories to your child? Maybe you haven’t been able to yet, but famous actors from The Screen Actors Guild certainly can as it is their bread and butter. Actors (how about Elijah Wood or Hillary Duff) read aloud stories in their own voice and your child can listen in thanks to the streaming videos. The nicely designed interactive children’s story site is free and is a wonderful initiative made possible by the participation of SAG.

Mrs. P’s Magic Library

childrens short stories

The magic of stories is in its storytelling. Kathy Kinney as Mrs. P really brings back the fun in “story time”. Most of the stories are targeted for children between the age groups of 3+ to 6+ with a few for 9 and 11 year olds. The books narrated by Mrs. P are all old classics across genres. You can check out the video selections and use the dropdown filters to select the ones you want to watch.


childrens short stories

There’s nothing like a good audio story played back for your child before he or she drifts to sleep. Storynory could be your download source as it has a huge bank of free audio stories and poems for children. You can choose from fairytales, classics, Bible stories, educational stories, and also quite a few original ones. Storynory is also available on iTunes in the Kids and Family Podcast section.

Story Cove (Classroom)

childrens short stories

Story Cove brings you stories from around the world arranged under the names of the continents. You can open up the “story book” in your browser and let it playback the story for you. You can even play an animated version of the story. Teachers can download lesson plans and use the stories for some tutoring.

International Children’s Digital Library

childrens stories

The online children’s library has a single purpose mission of providing free access to children’s literature from around the world. The site is well organized and you can explore the library by searching for books by country, doing a simple search, or by using the many other methods listed. The site supports quite a few international languages. A free registration allows you to save favorite books, set your preferred language, and also bookmarks pages of books you plan to come back to.


childrens stories

It’s not a problem putting kids in front of a camera and telling them to read out stories which other kids can listen or watch. Smories is a just that: original stories for kids, read by kids. On this site, you can expect to get stories that won’t be found anywhere else. There’s also a special version of Smories for the iPhone and iPad. Here’s a more detailed look into this nice children’s website.


childrens stories

This site gives you shelves of books you can download or read in your browser. Most of the books are for children of various age groups. You can download books in many formats starting with the basic epub type. Options are available for iPad/iPhone, NOOKcolor, Literati/Kobo, and devices like Amazon Kindle and Android phones.  You can even use this website as a publishing platform for your own children’s books.

Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s fables have been traditionally used to teach kids about morals. This site perhaps houses the largest online collection that you can read or listen to. There are 655+ fables, some with illustrations and audio.

Magic Keys

The site has books for young children, older children, and young adults. All books are illustrated and some have embedded audio. Check out The Farm Animals which is a ‘Click-a-Word Talking eBook’ of animal sounds.


childrens stories online

MeeGenius is a reading application for the iPhone, iPad, iTouch, Google TV, Google Chrome Web Store, and the Web. The iPhone/iPad app is free as are the introductory books. The collection of free ebooks, just six strong, are a reading pleasure. The books are superbly illustrated and the site can read them out to you or you could read it yourself. To make them easier to follow, audio playback comes with word highlighting. You can also personalize the book by giving your own names (or your child’s) to the characters in the books.

In this age of pixels, it might be a tall order to tell children about pixies and fairies. But a good imagination flowers with a developed reading habit. The web isn’t a book but it has cool resources for children like the ones we have covered earlier :

How to Publish a Children’s Book with StoryJumper – Beth
Put Your Child Into The Middle of A Story With Story Something – Saikat
7 Online Magazines for Kids That Are Worth a Read – Saikat

Do your children prefer digital stories to the ones they hold in their hands?

Image Credit: Shutterstock



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February 22 2011


7 Websites For Those Who Want To Solve The Rubik’s Cube With A Bit Of Online Help

rubiks cube solutionIt’s a toy puzzle whose solution is defined by a mammoth number – forty-three quintillion. If you have ever tried to solve the Rubik’s Cube and succeeded, you got one out of those quintillion combination’s right.

The Rubik’s cube is said to be the world’s most popular toy; but like no other toy, it can drive you up the wall, reveal the shortcomings of your intelligence, or give you a pumped up chest in case you manage to crack it. There’s small chance of the latter because Rubik’s Cube does not give away its secrets that easily.

The number of websites that show the Rubik’s Cube solution attests to the last fact. It also shows the popularity of the toy across the world and in our popular culture. The puzzle created by the scrambled twenty-six miniature colored cubes has led to many records and competitions.

In case you are unable to solve the Rubik’s cube, here are seven websites that can help you cheat your way to the solution.


rubiks cube solution

The official website of the Rubik’s Cube is a one stop resource for everything and anything that has to do with the toy. You have the store where you can buy products designed around the puzzle. But if you are looking for hints to solve the Rubik’s Cube, head for Rubik’s Solving Center. You have video help for solving everything from 2×2 cubes to the 5×5 ones. A very colorful step-by-step guide is also provided that takes you to your goal. If you are really into the Rubik’s mindbenders, head for the Forum where you can discuss solutions and tips.

Rubik’s Cube Solution

solving rubiks cube

This is a ‘fansite’ by Ryan Heise who takes you through many animated instructions that show how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. The solutions stress on doing it without memorization. Beginners or those stumped by the cube can start with the Beginner’s Rubik’s Cube Solution. The site also goes into the theory behind the cube that helps you to understand the method in the solutions. You can also go against the score of others in the three virtual Rubik’s Cube games (like the Rubik’s Cube Simulator) on the site.

Rubik’s Cube Solver

how to solve a rubiks cube

Using the six colored ‘cubelets’, you have to enter the configuration of your cube in the grids provided. A click on Solve gives you the sequence of moves needed to solve the scrambled Rubik’s Cube. You also get a visual step-by-step guide of the moves. A previous post goes into the details of the cheat methodology used by this solver.

Andy Klise’s Rubik’s Cube Guides

how to solve a rubiks cube

The site hosts a few printable guides which you can download and use to solve Rubik’s Cube. The visually rich guides are single page PDF sheets which can be easily printed out and used to memorize the algorithms necessary to solve the various formats of the puzzle.


how to solve a rubiks cube

The discussion board’s chatter revolves around speed solving puzzles with special focus on the Rubik’s Cube. The threads and posts are on the latest puzzles, speedcubing techniques, and competitions that are held around the year. There are sub-forums on blindfold cubing and various how-to guides that discuss various methods of cracking the cubes. The Speedsolving.com Wiki is also a useful place to start out with its well organized index of information.

You Can Do the Cube

rubiks cube solution

This beautifully colored side reflects the fun you can have unlocking the secrets of the cube. The site is the online face of a campaign to inspire the young to take up the toy and solve its puzzles. It seeks to promote the educational objectives and the benefits that can be had by learning the Rubik’s Cube solution. The useful tool is a colorful infographic that helps to Unlock the Secret of the cube. The solution guide in PDF can also be downloaded in English or Spanish.


For a bit of video instructions, we land on How to Solve a Rubik’s Cube – a Seven Step Tutorial after a search. YouTube has loads of videos which demonstrate the methods and techniques involved. You can use the suggestions given on the right or click on the tags to get many more videos on the cube. Expect funny results like the Rubik’s Cube Rap.

Solving the Rubik’s Cube may take days or with the help of these online resources it can be cut to seconds. Either way, you can loads of fun in the process. If you have never taken up the ‘Magic Cube’ ever, it’s not too late. But if you have, then do let us know if you are among the few who manage to get to the solution (without cheating).

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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January 28 2011


5 Offbeat Useful Websites For Booklovers & The Social Joy Of Reading

The web isn’t really helping us curl up under the quilt with a favorite book. Not directly at least; but it is giving the booklover immeasurable pleasure in a whole lot of other ways. While we still have to shell out a pretty penny for a bestselling hardcover, we are starting to discover new authors, new genres, and new books thanks to the viral spread of online recommendations.

Even as tablets and eBook reading apps come into our hands, ‘novel’ book services are giving us new ways to look between the covers and spur our reading habits. The range of book web apps is very wide – you can download free eBooks; you can compare prices of books across online retailers; you can organize your books online; you can get recommendations from likeminded readers. Think of something and you can bet that it’s being covered by some book app.

Here are five fresh websites for booklovers that are helping me read books with a new light.


Information wasn’t so rampant when some of our favorite authors lived. But Infloox tries to bring a bit of it back by helping us find the reading habits of our favorite authors. It’s about those who shaped us with their books…and the books that probably shaped them.

For instance, Agatha Christie used to like the works of Charles Dickens. The site is like a ‘collective search engine’ too, giving us insights into the favorite reading habits of entire countries, regions, job types, cultural movements or groups in general.

The Book Cover Archive

The domain name, the homepage, and the tagline are all self explanatory. Book covers are the first thing that draws you to the shelves holding them, and this website is a tribute to some cool book cover designs. The book mentions are linked to Amazon, but I think you can stay awhile on this website and just admire the art.

Also, check out the different ways you can go through the collection by using the dropdown.


BookGlutton is like an online book club where you can read and talk about books in real time, connected through the web. The social book reading community is very interactive as you can not only chat virtually with others but also share passages in a book by annotating, commenting, and bookmarking them. Right now, the community has 2,151 books in its collection.

BookGlutton can also be used as an education tool as groups can discuss books and teachers or students can use the markup features for topics (see the Directory mention).


The book web service positions itself as the ‘Pandora’ for book lovers. Just like the music service tries to match listeners to new music according to their tastes, BookLamp tries to do the same for book lovers. Think of it as an automated book recommendation service which can correlate the book you like with another one that has a similar writing style and features like pacing, density, description, dialog, and action.

BookLamp removes the subjectivity of other recommendation services and gives more objective results based on their own comparison engine. You can recommend your favorite books for a comparative ranking by giving the title, author, and ISBN. Some of the results were hit and miss, but it’s still fun to try out because you do discover gems.


ReadFeeder recommends books by their popular mentions in well known blogs. Expert blogs across topics are scanned and books mentioned there are sorted according to how many posts have been written about the book. So, expect to find books that may miss any of the bestseller lists but get words of praise from enthusiastic bloggers. The book ‘feeds’ are arranged neatly according to the topics covered by the expert blogs. Each recommended book gets its own page with excerpts from the blog mentioning it.

Of course, you have to buy the books to read them, but that shouldn’t stop you from finding out what the blogosphere is raving about.

Just like the turn of a page, the web also turns over. Some of these websites may not survive the digital churn that usually gobbles up promising startups. If they do, we book lovers are the winners. If they don’t, they at least give us a chance to enjoy the world of reading in a new way.

Which is your favorite online book app? We have covered a lot of book apps ourselves. Browse through them too. Some are with a bookmark.

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December 07 2010


The 10 Best Sites To Go On A Star Trek & Become A Trekkie

star trek onlineWhy are we talking about an entertainment series here?

Well, if you like sci-fi and love anything that has to do with space exploration, there’s a fair chance the seeds of it were sown by this icon of pop culture. Then, if you like gadgets, you might have heard about Star Trek and the technology ideas it spawned which we take for granted today: from the cell phone to the iPad.

Star Trek is a cultural phenomenon. Its impact on interstellar exploration can be compared with the moon landings. NASA named its first Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise, after the starship in the show. Among Star Trek fans or Trekkies you can count astronauts, astronomers, inventors, and of course dreamers like you and me who still hope of going where man has never gone before.

Outer space is still far away. Let’s live the dream within the other universe we know – the World Wide Web and see what it offers the Trekkie and their love for Star Trek.

Star Trek Official Site

star trek online

If it’s official Starfleet business, then you know that you have to head here. The official website covers everything on Star Trek’s six television series and eleven movies. The site encourages participation and you can go from an ‘Ensign’ to a ‘Fleet Admiral’ depending on your level. You can take part in the message boards, upload images, or comment on various posts.

The video section has lots of exclusives on behind the scenes work as well as scenes that never got to the screens. You can also watch full episodes in HD. The site is really a fan’s delight and did I forget to mention that it’s designed on the lines of the touch screen interface (PADD) from Star Trek.

Memory Alpha

star trek online

Memory Alpha is a seriously authored and moderated wiki on everything and anything that’s Star Trek. Think of it as a collaborative encyclopedia (32,427 pages) on Star Trek. The name is taken from the Federation’s library of knowledge. You can browse the different portals that cover people, technology, arts…the entire Star Trek universe.

Memory Alpha also publishes breaking news and if you aren’t careful, you may be hit with a spoiler or two.


star trek online

Going back to 1996, it is one of the oldest Star Trek fansites on the web. The site has episode information, galleries, biographies, polls, breaking news, merchandise information, reviews of all kinds, and one of the largest gatherings of Trekkies you can find in one place.

Being one of the oldest sites, it also has one of the largest collections of original interview features with the famous Trek personalities, the Mission Logs. You can also chat with other Trekkies.

Ex Astris Scientia

online star trek games

The phrase stands for – From the stars, knowledge. The site’s main focus is on the technology that propels Star Trek (Treknology) as well as the other creative aspects of the franchise. So, you get to go through a Starship Database, Starship Articles, Fleet Charts, Treknology Encyclopedia and the treatises on Time Travel and Investigations.

Some of the pictures and scans are exclusively available on this website. You can also take a detailed look at all the classes of starships in the fleet.

Star Trek Minutiae

online star trek games

The Star Trek fan site is a compilation of little known nuggets of Star Trek information along with regular doses of articles. Check out The Humor Archive which looks at the funny stuff inspired by the series.


This Star Trek website is the ultimate resource for HD screencaps (300,000+), sounds, and other multimedia tidbits. Check out the Specials section for offbeat and rare photos related to Star Trek. TrekCore also has a YouTube channel with loads of episode trailers.


star trek websites

With an AOL or AIM account you can join The United Space Federation, a Star Trek based role playing and SIM group. You basically play by ‘simulating’ yourself as a Starfleet officer on a ship and live the experiences. The SIM game has 20+ separate Star Trek simulations that you can take part in. The SIM guide takes you through all the role playing requirements.

Star Trek Freedom

star trek websites

Like the earlier chat based role playing game, this one uses email for the role-play. Five ships with ten people each interact in the role of characters from the Federation. Initially, each new user is assigned to the Star Fleet Academy were grammar skills are checked.

Hailing Frequency

star trek websites

The podcast site covers all industry related news on Star Trek gaming. Catch the trailers and sneak previews covering the Star Trek MMORPG happenings. The podcasts are released every two weeks. But every day you can catch news and interviews with personalities from the Star Trek universe.

Star Trek Animated

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The animated series has a fan following among the younger Trekkies. This site is worth a look for the free Star Trek greeting cards you can send and the five little Star Trek games you can play online.

The Star Trek universe is a gigantic federation of likeminded souls. We have two Trekkies amongst us who brought out Star Trek themed posts a while back. Check them out too –

Watch Full Star Trek Episodes Online on YouTube
Get Yourself Star Trek Computer Sounds

Also, if just one social network is a measure, Facebook alone has nearly 600,000 Trekkies.  Are you one of them?  Make it so!

Image: andrewrennie

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