Tag Archive | "free services"

Free Online Typing Tutors


Wanna have a little bit of fun and improve on your typing speed too?  Check out these two typing test/tutor websites.

10 Fast Fingers

speedtest-ten-fast-fingers-interface

Ten Fast Fingers Speedtest is a great way to quickly challenge yourself.  The site simply gives you some random works to begin typing.  As soon as you do, the clock starts ticking down from 60 seconds.  Once your time is up, you’ll be ranked among all the typists before you.
The site has support for multiple languages and claims that the most commonly used words are what is being randomly presented for you to test against.

speedtest-ten-fast-fingers-score

Accuracy counts – you get a better ranking with less of a speed penalty if you just slow it down a bit and make less mistakes.  I ranked better among the others typists and only incurred a two word per minute penalty by slowing it down.

TypingWeb

typingweb-homepage

If you are looking for something a little more advanced, you can also try TypingWeb.  TypingWeb allows you to create an account where you can store your typing data/progress (but this is not required).

typingweb-interface

TypingWeb has lots of different activities to help you improve your typing skills,  including training courses and typing games.  If you setup an account, you can also track your stats to see how your improving.

Keep your skills sharp and head over to these sites when you get a free moment.

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Trade Stuff You Have for Stuff You Want


Online trading sites are attracting a lot of attention right now. People are starting to become more aware of what they are spending and are looking to trim their entertainment budgets by swapping their stuff.  Book, DVD, CD, etc… swapping services that allow you to trade what you already have, for something you don’t are becoming increasingly popular. Two major players in this space are Swaptree.com and Paperbackswap/SwapaDVD/SwapaCD.com.   These services are very similar in that they allow you to post the items you want to trade and also browse for items you would like to own.

Swaptree

swaptree_logo Swaptree.com is an all-in-one trading service for books, DVDs, music, and video games. The service allows you to post any of these items by simply entering the barcode or ISBN number (it it is a book) that is associated with the item. Swaptree attempts to look-up the item in its vast database and provide you with a photo and description of the item. Once you confirm the information is correct (and add a few details about the condition of the item), it will be posted to your “items i have” list.

Swaptree also allows you browse for items that you want and add them to your “items i want” list. Depending on what you have added to your have list, and what is currently available, you may already be able to swap something you have for an item in your want list.

Since the Swaptree system relies on its users to post items for trade, the more in your “items i have” list, the more options you have for trading. Swaptree looks at the items you posted and finds other users who want those items. Swaptree has a useful feature that shows you to see all the items you can get “right now”. These are items not necessarily on your want list, but are available to you if you swap one of your items with another user. The reason the number of things you can get right now is so high is because of Swaptree’s three-way trading system.

swaptreebooks

Three-way trading works like this. Say Mike has a CD that he is willing to swap. Joe has a DVD that Mike wants, but Joe doesn’t want the CD that Mike is willing to trade. Joe  instead wants a book. Swaptree introduces Jane into the mix. Jane wants Mike’s CD and is willing to send Joe the book he wants (because she is offering it for trade). I send Jane the CD, Jane sends Joe the book, and Joe sends me the DVD. All this happens in tandem – so I don’t have to wait for Joe to get his book before he sends me the DVD I want. It may sound confusing, but you will see how easy it is once you start using the service.

Who pays for it all?

You have to pay shipping on anything you send. If you use the postage center on the site, Swaptree only charges you a small fee to print postage for each item you are sending. When you sign up for the service, your credit card is used to print postage only when needed. If that doesn’t suite you, then just simply pay for your own postage somewhere else, and drop it in the mail. Since they have an extensive database of sizes and weights for each item, it makes it really simple to just print postage through the Swaptree site and drop the item in the mailbox.

Swaptree also has a comments and feedback section where you can see other users ratings and decide on whether to swap with them or not. Most have a good reputation and are genuinely fast to ship and accurate on their items’ wear and tear descriptions.

PaperbackSwap/SwapaCd/SwapaDVD

paperbackswap swapacd swapadvd

These three sites, Paperbackswap.com, SwapaCD.com and SwapaDVD.com all have the same look and feel work slightly different from Swaptree. The difference here is that you can only swap a book for a book, a DVD for a DVD, or a CD for a CD, and each site is run independently (meaning you have to create a user account on each site in order to use the service). Also, each site is run on a “credits” based system.

Paperbackswap/SwapaCD/SwapaDVD are each run the same way, so for ease of typing, I’ll just use Paperbackswap for illustration purposes from here on out.

Paperbackswap requires you to post 10 books online to receive your first two credits. Credits are gained by posting 10 books, sending a book to another user, or buying them outright from the site (credits are $3.35 each as of this writing).  Most people have at least 10 books they are willing to part with, so this doesn’t seem to be an issue for the most part.

One of the big differences with this Paper/DVD/CD swapping service is that you don’t have to spend any out of pocket dollars to get a book. If you have earned credits, you can request a book.  On, the other hand, if someone requests a book from you, you will have to front the dollars in order to ship the item to the requestor.  Similar to Swaptree, you can print your postage online through the site.

Paperbackswap.com Wrapper Paperbackswap’s postage feature is similar to Swaptree’s in that you can print postage directly from within the site, but also includes something called a wrapper. It is the postage printed on a larger sheet of paper that you can wrap the book in and drop in the mail. No need to find a large envelope or box. Simply use the printed wrapper the book, tape it up.  and off to the mailbox you go.

Both Swaptree.com and Paperbackswap/SwapaDVD/SwapaCD.com have an extensive database of available media to from which to browse. There will be no shortage of items from which to choose.

I like the convenience of having DVDs, CDs, Books and video games available to swap in one place. Swaptree has Paperbackswap beaten in this arena whereas Paperbackswap offers a nice wrapper feature to make mailing more efficient.

If your looking for a cheap way to consume more music, movies, books or video games – these two services have you covered.

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Download Free Laptop Tracking Software


Laptop Tracking Software Prey is Free and Open Source

I’m certain that at least a few of you have been victim to a stolen laptop.  With reports indicating that a laptop is stolen every 53 seconds and that 12,000 laptops a week are are lost in US airports (source Fast Company), it almost seems inevitable that we will suffer from this loss.

preySince these reports also indicate that only about 3% of these laptops are ever recovered, you may wonder if there is anything that can be done to help increase the odds of yours being recovered.  Of course there are many laptop tracking solutions available to report on your laptop’s location. One such solution is software based Prey.

Prey is free, Open Source software available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Prey works by sending your information about your laptop at scheduled intervals to an email address you configure.

Prey can also be configured to only send the information when you have determined that the laptop has been lost or stolen.  You achieve this by configuring Prey to check for the existence of a URL before it sends the information (see their FAQ for more on this).

Of course, Prey requires that the laptop have an active Internet connection, so you can’t guarantee that you’ll recover the laptop, or even that Prey will report anything if it can’t get to the Internet. But as pointed by the developers of Prey, most thieves like to look around at the data on the laptop before completely wiping the hard drive, and that leaves some room for a short window for Prey to do it’s magic.

Prey is definitely worth a look.

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How To Do A Free Online Virus Scan


Use Free Tools Provided by Anti-virus Companies

Do you think your computer might have been compromised? No anti-virus, no problem. You can do an online virus, spyware, and malware scan using some free tools on the web.

Housecall – Mac, PC and Linux

housecall online virus scanner

Housecall from Trend Micro will do an online scan of your computer. Tell you what it found and makes recommendations for keeping your info private, like removing cookies and temporary Internet files. Housecall is also capable of spyware and malware detection and removal.

Kapersky Online Scanner – PC and Linux

kapersky online virus scanner

Kapersky’s scanner also scans for malware and spyware. Seems to be a bit slow as it needs to download about 52MB virus definition files before it actually starts the scan.

BitDefender Online Scanner – PC only and must use Internet Explorer

bitdefender_online_scanner

Bitdefender also detects spyware and malware on your computer.

All of the above do not prevent viruses, spyware, or malware from infecting your computer. They are tools used to detect and clean an infected machine.

Recommend running a full scan from different anti-virus companies just to be safe. Instead of buying a product, this online solution fits well.

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How Good Is Your Password?


Instantly Check Your Password Strength and Complexity

Online passwords are now just a part of our daily life. Many of us don’t really consider how important it is to have a strong password or what it takes to make a strong password. Most of our online activities require us to provide a password in order to use them. A weak password can really cause a lot of trouble if it gets cracked or guessed. The weaker the password, the easier it is for automated programs to crack your password with a “brute force attack”.  Here is a easy, visual way to check your password strength.

The Password Meter offers a password tester. You can quickly see if your password’s complexity is too low and what you can do to make it stronger.

password_meter

Enter your password in the password field and immediately get feedback as you type every letter, number or symbol. As you progress to a more complex password, the items in the Additions Pane will start to turn colors and you’ll see the symbols start to change as well.

password_meter_additions

The Password Meter calculates your password score by adding points from the Additions items and Subtracting points from the Deductions items. It is pretty hard to get all of the deductions to zero, but it’s fun trying. I was able to get a perfect score with the following xBc1$3Dy4=.

password_meter_deductions

Give it a try at http://www.thepasswordmeter.com.

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Add A Calendar To Any Desktop Background


Your Wallpaper + Calendar = Cool Desktop Background

Have you ever found yourself fumbling around on your computer for a calendar?  Are you opening up Outlook or Google Calendar (or some other calendaring program) to see on what day the 23rd falls?  No need to go to those extremes for a simple date look up.  Now you can turn any background or image into desktop wallpaper with an added month calendar.

calendar_wallpaper BigHugeLabs has a cool tool for turning your favorite photos or backgrounds into more useful desktop wallpapers.  Browse over to their Wallpaper tool to get started.

Choose a photo from your computer, paste a link to a cool photo, or link your Flickr account so you can use your own Flickr photos if you like.

The tool allows you to pick a few more aesthetic options and takes only a few seconds to spit out a nice background.

Save the file, share it, email or upload it to Flickr right from within the tool.

Here’s the background I’m using right now.

pastiche_wallpaper

My current desktop wallpaper

More Fun

Also check out BigHugeLabs for other fun photo tools.

Magazine Cover or Movie Poster

  • Puts your face or other photo on a magazine cover or movie poster. Create your own titles and taglines.

Motivational Poster

  • Create your own motivational posters from your favorite photos.

Framer

  • Adds a border or frame around you picture.  Choose from over 20 different kinds.
pastiche_stamp

Framed using the stamp option

Captioner

  • Allows you to add up to 4 captions on your photos.  Choose from thought bubble, speech balloon, or single line.  Place them in the right spots for the perfect effect.

There are a whole bunch more to check out, so don’t forget to visit  BigHugeLabs.

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Microsoft Plans to Give Away Anti-Virus Software


Free Core Protection Software to be Offered by Microsoft

Microsoft has recently announced their plans to release free software to protect against viruses, spyware, and malware.

anti_virus_scan

The word from Microsoft’s press site:

Code-named “Morro,” this streamlined solution will be available in the second half of 2009 and will provide comprehensive protection from malware including viruses, spyware, rootkits and trojans. This new solution, to be offered at no charge to consumers, will be architected for a smaller footprint that will use fewer computing resources, making it ideal for low-bandwidth scenarios or less powerful PCs.

Microsoft has also stated that they will stop charging for their Microsoft Live OneCare Solution in favor of the free “Morro” solution. Beginning June 30, 2009 you will no longer be required to update your subscription to OneCare. You can read more about OneCare on the OneCare blog.

The “Morro” solution will be a downloadable package and will not be bundled with a new PC or OS purchase.

Will this mean doom for other anti-virus software vendors?

Probably not – Most vendors have both a business version of their anti-virus software and a home user version. Companies like Symantec and McAfee can continue to offer their products to enterprise clients. In fact, Microsoft will continue to charge for their business version of anti-virus software.

These vendors typically bundle additional “non” anti-virus services with their products that consumers feel is a value add. “Morro” will provide only core protection and won’t include some of these additional features.

Really Free?

Free anti-virus software is nothing new. The current home user can download free anti-virus programs from AVG, Avast, Avira, Trend Micro and others. Most free anti-virus programs will try to up-sell you additional products or have some functions disabled. “Morro” is free, and from all reports Microsoft won’t try to up-sell you products that can provide additional protection.

I like the fact that Microsoft is offering the software for free. It allows users who wouldn’t ordinarily be protected from malware and viruses to have at least a small level of protection. I think the average user will feel more comfortable opting-in to a service that is provided by Microsoft rather than some other third party.

Consumers will ultimately decide whether or not “Morro” will be of value. Will it detect malware or spyware as efficiently as other products on the market? Or will users simply continue to use their McAfee, Symantec, etc… subscriptions?

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Seamlessly Synch Files Between Computers


Get Your Files On Multiple PCs and/or Mac’s

For some time now I have stopped carrying around a USB thumb drive or portable hard drive.  I used to use them to transfer files between my computers.  I started using a couple of free services to sync my files between multiple PCs and/or my Mac.

Dropbox

Dropbox provides both Mac and PC clients for use with their Dropbox service.  Once you setup and account, you can download and install the client and begin transferring files to your Dropbox.

The Dropbox client places a small icon in your system tray (for Windows) and the Notification Area (on the Mac) and also creates a new folder with the Dropbox icon.  You can browse the folder like any other and drag and drop, cut/paste files in and out.  Once files are placed in the Dropbox folder, they begin synchronizing/transferring to the Dropbox website.  Once the upload has completed any other clients that you have installed Drobox on will also have their Dropboxes updated.  In a matter of a few minutes all your computes will have synchonized.

Access Anywhere

Dropbox allows you to get to your files from anywhere you have an Internet connection.  Simply log in to your account at getdropbox.com to view and download your files.

Dropbox browser view

Dropbox allows you up to 2GB of storage for free with more storage available at a small cost.

Live Mesh

Microsoft’s Live Mesh works similarly to Dropbox.  Sign up for an account with your Microsoft Live ID (if you don’t have one, you can get one for free at live.com) and you can begin using the service.

Once signed in to Live Mesh, you can download the client to multiple computers.  You can then create and choose a folder to use with the synchronization.  The folder will turn a blue color when you are signed into Live Mesh and will look like a normal folder when not signed in.

Live Mesh browser view

Drag and drop files into the folder to have them synchronized.  You can access you files from any Internet connection by logging in to www.mesh.com.

Currently Live Mesh allows for 5GB of storage for free.

Final Thoughts

Both services are free and easy to use, offer access via the web and folders on  your computer, but I believe that Dropbox has the upper hand in the simplicity department.

System Tray Icons

Live Mesh will have a greater integration with home.live.com and therefore may offer more services in the near future.  Including 25GB of free storage and creating and sharing photo albums from your shared documents folder.

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Download Hundreds of Free Microsoft Office Templates


Manage your money, create seasonal memos, organize your schedule, and more with free Microsoft Office templates.

Microsoft has a number of free templates that you can download to help you with all sorts of things. Visit Microsoft’s Template site to start your search. Read the full story

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Don’t Forget It – Kwiry It


Update (June 1, 2009): The Kwiry Service has been saved.  Here is the latest from the Kwiry blog:

On April 13th we shared the unfortunate news about kwiry’s impending shutdown. Since then, Wabo, LLC has purchased the kwiry service and will continue to maintain and improve it.

We are happy to relay this news and hope you are as well. While the founding team/management will be moving on, we are glad the kwiry service will continue to grow.

The service is being transitioned and should be fully functional again very soon, even within a few days.

Thanks also for all your messages of support during the past few weeks,
-Ron, Steve & Nabil

Update: The Kwiry Service is now shutdown.

Here is the news from Kwiry:

Dear kwiry Community,

It’s with heavy hearts that we send this note. On April 23, 2009 (12AM PDT), we will be discontinuing the kwiry service. As of today, the service will no longer accept new sign-ups. We have very much enjoyed getting to know many of you and working to build features to help you get things done and simplify your lives. We appreciate all of your help, feedback and patience as the kwiry service evolved. Unfortunately, due to economic realities, we can no longer maintain the service.

As you can tell from some of my previous posts, I’m into productivity tools.  I recently found a site that helps solve a problem – keeping track of my stuff. Have you ever tried to remember something you heard, saw on the net, or viewed on television and didn’t have a place to jot it down?  Remember all those Google searches you were going to do once you got back to your computer?  Of course not, you forget them all.  Well, don’t fret.  If you do find yourself in that position again, you can use Kwiry to help you remember.

What is Kwiry

kwiry_site Kwiry is a web based service that you text or email just about anything you want to remember and have it queried (or kwiry’ed) by the site.  The free service allows you to use your text message/email enabled phone to send short messages to your Kwiry website account so you can recall them later.  Your “kwiry” is displayed on your account page at Kwiry.com with search results from YahooYahoo search is not all that’s available though. Tabs within the kwiry result include Local (with results for your zip code), Shopping, and Amazon (great for that book you want to remember to read) searches too.  Sending text to Kwiry is like doing an Internet search without visiting a browser.

Getting Started

You will need to setup a free account at Kwiry.com in order to start using the service.  Your valid email address (or your phone number, if you have setup the SMS integration) will be what Kwiry uses to determine what content to associate with your account.  For instance, if you register mike@example.com, anything you send to save@kwiry.com from mike@example.com will be associated with your account.  You can also associate more than one email address if you want to send things to Kwiry from say a work email account and a personal email account. Once you register, you have the option to configure SMS or MMS messaging from your phone.

How to Kwiry

If you heard a song you liked (Shake It by Metro Station) and wanted to be sure to remember it so you could buy it later, you would text or email  “Metro Station” to Kwiry.  The term you sent (Metro Station in this example) will be saved for you on the Kwiry site.  You can log in to your account at Kwiry.com anytime to view your results.

Organization

Kwiry also has some organization functionality as well.  You can create folders and move kwirys into these folders for further categorization.  If you’re a task minded person, the service allows you to turn any kwiry into a task with a due date that can then be tracked in a view task_view

If privacy is concern, you can designate any kwiry as private by either preceding the text you send to Kwiry with a “p” (for instance: “p call doctor about rash”).  This will designate the kwiry as a private — for your eyes only.  You can also log into your account set the kwiry as private after the fact.  Kwiry‘s default setting is to have all your kwirys set to view by “Anybody”, buy you can change this in the configuration.

Social

Kwiry is also social.  If you like, you can invite friends to Kwiry.  You can view kwirys from the public community and comment on public kwirys.  Your kwirys can also be designated as viewable by “Friends” only.  So far the three designations are for “Anybody”, “Friends” and “Private”. kwiry_types

Favorites

You can also designate a kwiry search result as a favorite.  A small star icon to the right of the search result can be clicked to add that result to that kwiry’s favorite tab.  The favorite tab is the collection of favorited results from the Amazon, Local, Web, and Shopping tabs.  If you favorited anything from these tabs, it will show up here.

sidebarExpanded Search

You also have the option to do an expanded search.  Links available in the sidebar will send you to pages by Google, Ask, Yelp, Wikipedia, iTunes, and more with your kwiry term in as the search filter.

Integration

Kwiry also does a good job at integrating with other sites and networks.  Here are some features you find quite useful.

  • Tasks can be integrated into your calendar program.
  • The ability to use Twitter to send updates to Kwiry (this is one of my favorites.  Just follow http://twitter.com/kwiry).
  • Show your kwirys on your Facebook page. You can also send kwirys from your Facebook page.
  • Subscribe to an RSS feed of your kwirys.

Conclusion

So far, Kwiry has been quite useful for me. The support forums are monitored by Kwiry personnel and seem to be quite responsive to questions or problems.  I had a small problem with my Twitter integration, submitted it to the support forums, and had it fixed in less than 24 hours.  The friends feature of Kwiry might be a bit more useful if there was a way to setup groups. Besides that, I think Kwiry is a very viable service.  If you decide to try it, add me as a friend.  My username is “michaelhayslip”.

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