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Monday, August 26, 2013

The Most Valuable Uses for Facebook


Facebook is a known productivity killer. However, it has one advantage over other apps: everyone uses it. You can use it for more than just cat memes and baby pictures. Here are some of the most useful things you can do.P

As a side note, many of the features we'll talk about are available on different versions of Facebook, but we'll be looking at them in the newest layout featured here. If we discuss something that isn't available to you, sign up for the wait list and the redesign should roll out to you before long.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Make the Ultimate Pizza at Home with a $5 DIY Brick Oven


Pizza stones (or, alternatively, unglazed ceramic tiles) give pizzas, breads, and much more a marvelous crust. Use two layers of pizza stones or tiles and you can turn your oven into a brick oven of sorts.P
A pizza stone distributes the heat evenly in your oven, and with the pizza on top of the stone, your homemade pizza will have a great crust. As Instructables user NHLavalanche shows, however, an upper layer helps trap more heat, browning the top of the pizza. Here are some tips if you're using ceramic tiles instead of pizza stones:P
You'll need either 2- 12" pieces of UNGLAZED Ceramic quarry tile or 8 pieces of 6" tiles. Again- they ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO BE UNGLAZED. I purchased mine several years ago from a very well known chain (big box) hardware store for 50 cents a piece. That's $4+ tax for the whole thing. ...

We want to arrange the tile in the oven in two layers. The base layer will create the amazing crust we want, while the top will help increase the temperature within the pizza's area by creating radiant heat from the stones above. It will also aid in getting a beautiful, lightly burned top crust.

Place the stones into the oven while it is cold and bring up to the highest temperature possible... 500 Degree F is mine. I let the over preheat for about 45 minutes to get the stones very hot. P
While you probably won't be able to achieve true brick oven temperatures with this method, $5 is all it takes to get more evenly baked, closer-to-perfection pizza and other baked goods.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Choosing the Best Blogging Platform for Your Needs



Have you been thinking about starting a new blog? If you have, then you know there are quite a few blogging services available these days. So which one do you choose? The answer to that will depend on the type of blogging you intend to do, whether you are looking for a free service, the options available for each platform, and more. To help you choose the best one for your needs, The Next Web has put together a terrific list of fifteen blogging platforms with pros, cons, and a verdict for each one.

Note: There are additional services mentioned in the comments, so reading through them is a good idea in case you find the one that is best for you listed there.
[The Next Web]

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Make (and Take) Great Coffee Anywhere


The Basics


For grinders, your best bet is to go with Hario, a Japanese company whose engineering is unrivaled. The Skerton (shown above) is what we personally use. You can manually adjust the settings depending on what size grounds you're seeking, and since it's a burr grinder, you can depend on it to grind your coffee evenly. Best of all, it's durable.
To make sure our coffee stays fresh and that it doesn't get damaged during travel, we like to use a dry bag similar to those offered by Outdoor Research. Unlike a Ziploc, or—God forbid—the bag your coffee actually came in, the roll top stays closed even under pressure, which will make sure your clothes don't end up smelling like coffee. On the other hand, if smelling like coffee is your thing, who are we to stop you?
Rounding out the basics is an OXO jigger which we use to measure our coffee beans. One and a half ounces weighs about fifteen grams ( one and a half ounces by volume equals fifteen grams by weight), so with this figure in mind you can scale up or down depending on how much coffee you'll be making. For added convenience, the jigger fits neatly inside the canister of the Skerton grinder. It's the perfect compromise between precision and portability.

How to Make (and Take) Great Coffee Anywhere

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Guide to Cleaning Your LCD Monitor Screen


Whether you’re trying to get the dust off your monitor or your kid’s fingerprints off your gorgeous new HDTV set, removing dust, dirt, and oil from the plethora of screens around you requires the right tools and the right touch. Read on as we show you how to safely clean your expensive screens.

Why Do I Want to Do This?

When you improperly clean your screen, be it your computer monitor or your television, it’s only a matter of time before you damage it. Modern HDTV and computer screens are brighter, sharper, and more responsive than ever before, but they are also more delicate. It takes quite a bit of manufacturing magic to create a razor sharp image in such a slender form factor, and brute polishing it with a bottle of Windex and a rag you grabbed from the kitchen is a sure fire way to shorten the life of your screen and ruin the image.
It doesn’t cost much to clean it right and the keep your screen from hitting the dump prematurely.

What Shouldn’t I Do?

Normally, we start off How-To Geek tutorials by introducing the topic, listing off the tools you’ll need, and getting right down to emphasizing the “How” in How-To Geek. However, since so many people have been cleaning their screens incorrectly for so long, we’re taking a different tact today by starting off with a list of the things you shouldn’t do, because there’s a good chance we’ve all done them before.

Now, before we start listing off all the things you shouldn’t do to your poor screen, let us cut any protest off at the pass. Already, we can sense many a reader about to shoot back with “But How-To Geek! I use X on my monitor and I’ve never had a problem!” In that same vein, you can go ten years without changing the oil in your lawn mower. That doesn’t mean that just because your lawnmower didn’t seize up or otherwise fail on you, that going ten years without changing the oil is a good plan (or even remotely recommended by the manufacturer or any mechanic). We’ve all done dumb things with our gear but that doesn’t mean we weren’t lucky to avoid ruining it or that we should continue to abuse it in the future.

Never apply cleaning fluid directly to the screen. Spraying cleaning fluid directly onto your monitor or HDTV is an absolute recipe for disaster. Even though it has never been recommended to spray a cleaning product directly onto a monitor or television set, historically the CRT component of monitors and television sets was essentially a giant glass vessel that was, at least when approached from the front with a spray bottle, water tight. The chances of you damaging a 2″ thick  1980s-era glass  monitor screen with a quick blast of cleaning fluid and a wipe with a rag were as close to zero as you can get.

That’s absolutely not the case with modern screens. Flat screen monitors and HDTV sets are made with layer upon layer of material including various plastics, glasses, adhesives, arrays of display elements, and other fine and very thin materials. When liquid touches the edge of these finely layered screens that liquid can very easily wick, via capillary action, right up inside the layers just like water quickly moves across a piece of cloth that touches it.

The photo at the start of this section, with the horrible black blob in the corner of the monitor, is an example of what happens when liquid reaches the edge of a monitor’s display panel and wicks up inside. Although the damaged spot may shrink slightly, the chances of the liquid evaporating are next to zero and the chances of it evaporating without leaving residual damage are zero.

Never use alcohol or ammonia-based cleaning fluid on your screen. We understand why many people use window cleaner on their monitors, many high-end flat screen computer monitors and HDTV sets have a nice glossy glass screen. The problem, however, is that both ammonia-based cleaners (e.g. window cleaners like Windex) and alcohol-based cleaners (diluted rubbing alcohol or specialty alcohol cleaners sold in electronics stores) can strip anti-reflective coatings off screens, cause clouding, or otherwise damage the screen. Even if you have a glossy glass screen, that screen is most likely coated with things that aren’t as durable and chemically resistant as glass. Don’t risk using using alcohol or ammonia-based cleaning fluids.

Never use paper towels or general purpose cleaning rags. At the risk of sounding like we’re repeating the same caution over and over again–modern displays are very delicate. Paper towels are not designed for cleaning delicate surfaces, they’re designed for wiping up bacon grease and hairballs; the surface of paper towel, on a microscopic level, is fairly abrasive and can lead to buffed spots and scratches on your monitor. In the same league as paper towels are general purpose rags from around the house. 

A single tiny spec of anything abrasive in the rag (e.g. a tiny sliver of metal from the garage or a hitch hiking grain of sand from a beach trip) will wreak complete havoc on your screen. By the time you’ve made a pass or two with the tainted rag, you’ve already left a scratch in the screen.

If you can steadfastly obey these three rules: never spray on the screen itself, never use harsh ammonia/alcohol-based cleaners, and never use paper towels or household rags, you’ll automatically avoid just about every cleaning-related tragedy that could befall an unsuspecting monitor.

 

How to Safely Clean Your Screen


Now that we’ve made you terrified of Windex and rags (as, on behalf of your beautiful widescreen monitor, you should  be), it’s time to get down to the business of properly cleaning your screens.

Before we proceed, it’s worth noting that the best way to clean your screen is to avoid having to clean it in the first place. This means training your kids not to smash their snack-covered hands against the television set in an attempt to high-five Bob the Builder, and training your spouse not to tap on the laptop screen with the pad of their finger to emphasize what they’re trying to show you. 

The less you have to clean your screen the better, and things like skin oil and other stuck-to-the-screen stuff is so much harder to get off than simple things like dust particles. That said, in even the tidiest of households, a little cleaning must occur now and then.

The following cleaning instructions are meant to be followed in order from start to finish; stop at the step that gets the job done and only proceed if there is still dust or oil on the screen that needs removal.

Prepare the screen. At minimum turn the device off, but ideally you should unplug it. Do not clean a screen until it is cool to the touch. Cleaning warm/hot screens (like those found on plasma HDTVs) makes them more difficult to clean at best and can damage them at worst.

Dust the screen. Your step in cleaning a screen should always be to remove as much from the screen as possible without actually touching it. To this end a can of compressed air (held upright and at least a foot or more from the screen) can be used to dislodge most electrostatically-adhered dust particles. More ideal than a can of compressed air (which can potentially blast your screen with residual propellant from the can) would be to use a simple rubber dusting bulb (much like the kind we used to clean out a DSLR camera). Remember, the less you touch your screen the better.

Lightly wipe the screen with a dry and clean microfiber cloth. Microfiber is a miracle of modern technology; put it to good use. No paper towels, no kitchen towels, no household rags; only microfiber should touch your screen. For stubborn dust that won’t blow off the screen and the occasional fingerprint, a simple pass with a clean and dry microfiber cloth is  usually sufficient.

When wiping the screen, always avoid making circular “buffing” motions. Clean with a slow and light touch moving in as broad a motion as you can either left to right or up and down across the screen. Although the microfiber should pose little to no risk to the screen, by avoiding cleaning in small circular motions you avoid the risk of creating buffed out spots or whorl marks on the surface of the screen. Light pressure and wide movements are the safest.

Lightly wipe the screen with a microfiber cloth dampened with distilled water. While microfiber is usually quite good at lifting up the dust and oil on its own, if you need some extra cleaning power feel free to slightly dampen the the cloth with distilled water (avoid tap water as it can leave mineral deposits and film on the screen).

Distilled water is available at your local grocer and is commonly used for humidifiers and irons. The cloth should be damp enough that it feels wet to the touch but not so damp that any water could be wrung out of it. Remember: you don’t want a single drop of water running down your screen and getting inside the bezel. 

Lightly wipe the screen with a microfiber cloth dampened with a 50/50 distilled water and white vinegar mixture. For 99% of your everyday dust and finger prints, a damp microfiber cloth will save the day. But let’s say that’s not cutting it because your kid tried to feed Big Bird a piece of peanut butter coated toast through the television set. This is where having an additional cleaning agent to cut through the grime is necessary. Alcohol and ammonia are out, but a mixture of 50% distilled water and 50% white household vinegar is in.

After diluting the mixture down and lightly dampening your microfiber cloth, use the same light pressure and wide movements we previously discussed. There’s no need to follow the vinegar mixture with plain water or a dry microfiber cloth (unless of course you made the screen too damp — wipe up any excess moisture with a dry microfiber cloth immediately).


How To Test If a Battery Is Dead


An Amazingly Simple Way To Test If a Battery Is Dead

It turns out that when the alkaline in a battery wears down, it produces a gas that fills the inside. So if you've got a box of random batteries you want to test, and don't have access to a voltmeter or any other device, you can simply drop them vertically a short distance onto a hard surface. 

A charged battery will make a solid thump sound and often remain standing, while a dead battery makes a muffled sound, bounces repeatedly, and then topples over.




Via: http://gizmodo.com

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Use Chromecast to Play Local Movie Files on Your TV


Chromecast sounds good and all, but not everything you want to watch is on Netflix and Youtube. This won't work for all files by default (notably .avi or .mov, at least on Windows), however Chrome does have the ability to play local H.264 encoded and .mp4 movies and some other formats.
To do this, you can either
1. Ctrl+O > select the file.
2. Drag the movie into a new tab at the top of Chrome.
3. Use the following urls to access your usual Windows or Mac file structure.
For Windows (tested on Windows 8):

For Mac (tested on Lion):



Note: I'm still waiting on my Chromecast; but in theory, this should work...
Also, I'm not a video filetype/codec expert, but I know a few things and I'm having trouble getting .avi movies that I think should play (using the Divx Web Player plugin for Chrome). I look forward to seeing what you fine commenters have to offer as solutions to get Chrome to play your favorite movie filetypes/codecs.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A week's worth of camping synchs internal clock to sunrise and sunset, CU-Boulder study finds


Spending just one week exposed only to natural light while camping in the Rocky Mountains was enough to synch the circadian clocks of eight people participating in a University of Colorado Boulder study with the timing of sunrise and sunset.

The study, published online today in the journal Current Biology, found that the synchronization happened in that short period of time for all participants, regardless of whether they were early birds or night owls during their normal lives.

"What's remarkable is how, when we're exposed to natural sunlight, our clocks perfectly become in synch in less than a week to the solar day," said CU-Boulder integrative physiology Professor Kenneth Wright, who led the study.

Electrical lighting, which became widely available in the 1930s, has affected our internal circadian clocks, which tell our bodies when to prepare for sleep and when to prepare for wakefulness. The ability to flip a switch and flood a room with light allows humans to be exposed to light much later into the night than would be possible naturally.

Even when people are exposed to electrical lights during daylight hours, the intensity of indoor lighting is much less than sunlight and the color of electrical light also differs from natural light, which changes shade throughout the day.

To quantify the effects of electrical lighting, a research team led by Wright, who also is the director of CU-Boulder's Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory, monitored eight participants for one week as they went about their normal daily lives. The participants wore wrist monitors that recorded the intensity of light they were exposed to, the timing of that light, and their activity, which allowed the researchers to infer when they were sleeping.

At the end of the week, the researchers also recorded the timing of participants' circadian clocks in the laboratory by measuring the presence of the hormone melatonin. The release of melatonin is one of the ways our bodies signal the onset of our biological nighttime. Melatonin levels decrease again at the start of our biological daytime.

The same metrics were recorded during and after a second week when the eight participants—six men and two women with a mean age of 30—went camping in Colorado's Eagles Nest Wilderness. During the week, the campers were exposed only to sunlight and the glow of a campfire. Flashlights and personal electronic devices were not allowed.

On average, participants' biological nighttimes started about two hours later when they were exposed to electrical lights than after a week of camping. During the week when participants went about their normal lives, they also woke up before their biological night had ended.

After the camping trip—when study subjects were exposed to four times the intensity of light compared with their normal lives—participants' biological nighttimes began near sunset and ended at sunrise. They also woke up just after their biological night had ended. Becoming in synch with sunset and sunrise happened for all individuals even though the measurements from the previous week indicated that some people were prone to staying up late and others to getting up earlier.

"When people are living in the modern world—living in these constructed environments—we have the opportunity to have a lot of differences among individuals," Wright said. "Some people are morning types and others like to stay up later. What we found is that natural light-dark cycles provide a strong signal that reduces the differences that we see among people—night owls and early birds—dramatically."

Our genes determine our propensity to become night owls or early birds in the absence of a strong signal to nudge our internal circadian clocks to stay in synch with the solar day, Wright said.

The new study, which demonstrates just how strong of a signal exposure to natural light is, offers some possible solutions for people who are struggling with their sleep patterns. For example, people who naturally drift toward staying up late may also find that it's more difficult to feel alert in the morning—when melatonin levels may indicate they're still in their biological nighttimes—at work or in school.

To combat a person's genetic drift toward later nights, exposure to more sunlight in the morning and midday could help nudge his or her internal clock earlier. Also, dimming electrical lights at night, forgoing late-night TV and cutting out screen time with laptops and other personal electronic devices also may help internal circadian clocks stay more closely attuned with the solar day, Wright said.

Via: http://www.eurekalert.org

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Harvard creates brain-to-brain interface, allows humans to control other animals with thoughts alone



Researchers at Harvard University have created the first noninvasive brain-to-brain interface (BBI) between a human… and a rat. Simply by thinking the appropriate thought, the BBI allows the human to control the rat’s tail. This is one of the most important steps towards BBIs that allow for telepathic links between two or more humans — which is a good thing in the case of friends and family, but terrifying if you stop to think about the nefarious possibilities of a fascist dictatorship with mind control tech.

In recent years there have been huge advances in the field of brain-computer interfaces, where your thoughts are detected and “understood” by a sensor attached to a computer, but relatively little work has been done in the opposite direction (computer-brain interfaces). This is because it’s one thing for a computer to work out what a human is thinking (by asking or observing their actions), but another thing entirely to inject new thoughts into a human brain. To put it bluntly, we have almost no idea of how thoughts are encoded by neurons in the brain. For now, the best we can do is create a computer-brain interface that stimulates a region of the brain that’s known to create a certain reaction — such as the specific part of the motor cortex that’s in charge of your fingers. We don’t have the power to move your fingers in a specific way — that would require knowing the brain’s encoding scheme — but we can make them jerk around.

Which brings us neatly onto Harvard’s human-mouse brain-to-brain interface. The human wears a run-of-the-mill EEG-based BCI, while the mouse is equipped with a focused ultrasound (FUS) computer-brain interface (CBI). FUS is a relatively new technology that allows the researchers to excite a very specific region of neurons in the rat’s brain using an ultrasound signal. The main advantage of FUS is that, unlike most brain-stimulation techniques, such as DBS, it isn’t invasive. For now it looks like the FUS equipment is fairly bulky, but future versions might be small enough for use in everyday human CBIs. (See: Real-life Avatar: The first mind-controlled robot surrogate.)


With the EEG equipped, the BCI detects whenever the human looks at a specific pattern on a computer screen. The BCI then fires off a command to rat’s CBI, which causes ultrasound to be beamed into the region of the rat’s motor cortex that deals with tail movement. As you can see in the video above, this causes the rat’s tail to move. The researchers report that the human BCI has an accuracy of 94%, and that it generally takes around 1.5 seconds for the entire process — from the human deciding to look at the screen, through to the movement of the rat’s tail. In theory, the human could trigger a rodent tail-wag by simply thinking about it, rather than having to look at a specific pattern — but presumably, for the sake of this experiment, the researchers wanted to focus on the FUS CBI, rather than the BCI.

Moving forward, the researchers now need to work on the transmitting of more complex ideas, such as hunger or sexual arousal, from human to rat. At some point, they’ll also have to put the FUS CBI on a human, to see if thoughts can be transferred in the opposite direction. Finally, we’ll need to combine an EEG and FUS into a single unit, to allow for bidirectional sharing of thoughts and ideas. Human-to-human telepathy is the most obvious use, but what if the same bidirectional technology also allows us to really communicate with animals, such as dogs? There would be huge ethical concerns, of course, especially if a dictatorial tyrant uses the tech to control our thoughts — but the same can be said of almost every futuristic, transhumanist technology.