How To Reduce Sugar Intake In 4 Simple Steps – Youqueen

Are you ready to take the steps necessary to conquer your sugar addiction once and for all? Here’s how to reduce sugar intake in 4 simple steps and live a healthier, more balanced life!

Research confirms time and time again how addictive sugar is to both the human body and mind. It has the ability to send you on a roller coaster of cravings and mood swings in addition to making it easier than ever to gain weight, ultimately leaving you with poor health as it increases your risk of diseases such as diabetes and even cancer.

However, giving up sugar “cold turkey” can not only make your taste buds willing to do just about anything to experience its sweet and soothing flavor, but it can also give you headaches and make you grumpy with the people around you. So, how to reduce sugar intake without driving yourself and everyone around you insane?

It isn’t the easiest process in the world (just like kicking any addiction has its struggles), but there are four rather simple steps you can take that will increase the likelihood of your success. Once you learn how to reduce sugar intake, you’ll live a healthier and more balanced life.

#1 Remove the Sugar from Your Drinking Glass

Pouring a glass of cola with ice cubes

A large number of popular drinks have high sugar content. Soda is one of them with this particular beverage containing approximately 66 grams of the sweet stuff per serving. To help you visualize how much this is, a 12 ounce can of Coca Cola has the equivalent of roughly 10 sugar cubes, which is more than enough to satisfy your sugar quota for the month, let alone the day.

Admittedly, this is one of the toughest habits to break, especially if you’ve been doing it for any length of time, so you’ll want to take it slowly. For example, if you normally drink three cans of soda per day, aim to consume just two per day for the next week and then one per day the week after that before eliminating it completely. Go slower if you need to.

Fruit juices and other “healthy” beverages like energy drinks are just as high in sugar, if not more so, so you’ll want to avoid those as well. And choosing drinks made with artificial sugars isn’t good for you either as several studies have found that they promote weight gain more than loss. So, you’re best off nixing them completely.

Of course, the best drink for your body is water, but that can get boring so you’ll want to do things to spruce it up. Add cucumber slices or mint leaves to create a refreshing beverage or put in some strawberry slices or watermelon cubes if you prefer a fruity taste instead. Play with it until you find the concoction that is most appealing to you.

#2 Eliminate the Sugar from Your Fridge and Cupboards

Young hungry woman in front of refrigerator craving chocolate pastries

Once you’ve successfully removed sugar from your beverages, you’re going to want to begin to eliminate it from your fridge and cupboards, too. This means ditching desserts, candy, and any other sweet treats you like to stay stocked up on because if it is there, you’ll likely end up eating it.

If you’re not the type of person to throw “good food” away, then give it away instead. Not that you need to encourage anyone else’s unhealthy sugar habit, but if they’re going to eat it anyway, at least you’re getting it out of your grasp.

Give it to you neighbor as a gift if you’ve not yet opened it. Take it to work and hand it out to your co-workers or clients. Do what you have to do to get it out of your home and away from your mouth. The easiest way to reduce your sugar intake is to stay far away from it, don’t tempt yourself by having it in your fridge.

#3 Increase Your Intake of Complex, Unrefined Carbs

While the previous two steps dealt with removing things from your diet, this third step is all about adding. Specifically, you want to increase your intake of complex, or unrefined carbs. What are those?

Complex, unrefined carbohydrates are carbohydrate sources of food that don’t create the blood sugar highs and lows that other refined, simple carbs are known for. They are usually very close to their natural state (which means that they are less processed) and they include foods such as whole wheat, barley, oatmeal, and brown rice.

Create meals and snacks that include these types of carbs and you will give your body energy without giving it too much sugar in the process. Add different spices and herbs to them to keep your taste buds entertained while supplying your body the critical vitamins and minerals to function effectively and efficiently.

#4 Watch for Foods with Hidden Sugars

happy young mixed race woman enjoying frozen yogurt with blueberry and strawberry fruit toppings outside

The fourth and final step to kicking your sugar habit is to learn to recognize when hidden foods exist in all of the food that you eat after completing the previous three steps. These are foods that contain sugar-based ingredients like glucose, fructose, sucrose, agave nectar, fruit juice concentrate, and several others.

What types of foods should you pay the most extra attention to, especially when you’re grocery shopping, so you don’t even bring them into your home? Here are some of the most common “health foods” that usually contain a fairly high amount of sugar:

  • Pasta sauce
  • Condiments like ketchup and barbeque sauce
  • Salad dressings
  • Yogurt (especially if it has fruit in it or is flavored)
  • Dried fruit
  • Granola bars
  • Cereal
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned fruits and veggies
  • Canned soup

Can you eliminate all sugar from your diet? It’s not likely as you would have to remove almost all of the food that is available to you today. Even if you don’t take this fourth step and just implement the first three, you’ll still benefit health-wise because you will have cut your sugar intake tremendously.

They key to surviving this transition is to pay close attention to your body and how it responds to sugars. If you are in touch with how you feel after you ingest them, then you will likely realize that while they have the tendency to give you an initial high, the following low (and poorer health) is no fun at all.

You’re much better off eating a diet that keeps you stable both physically and mentally so learn how to reduce sugar intake and increase your health. Yes, it really is that simple. Not easy, but simple. Just say “no” to sugar and “yes” to health.

Calibre: Hands-down, The Best Ebook Manager Available

ebook managerElectronic media is no doubt more prevalent today than it ever has been. The Internet is at the core of it all, and because of it we have eBooks, web articles, and news from electronic magazines and newspapers. With all of this content that we are taking in, how can we manage it all?

Sadly, most of us don’t. We forget that one article that we wanted to read or lose the eBook we downloaded to our computer (of course that is more about file management). Or perhaps we just don’t have a tool to easily take care of all the information, despite our efforts to be organized. Thankfully, Calibre takes care of all of those problems and more.

ebook manager

First off, there is an abundant amount of articles about Calibre on MakeUseOf. This is because the entire eBook manager cannot be contained in one article – there’s so much it can do and so much to cover. Simon wrote an excellent article regarding the first initial steps of using Calibre from creating and managing your library using Metadata to converting different eBook formats. That’s one thing I want to briefly say – Calibre supports pretty much every eBook format imaginable.

Go Portable

ebook manager software

We all know that Calibre is a great program for all platforms, but maybe you don’t know that you can throw it on a flash drive and bring your library with you – brilliant. What’s even more brilliant is using it along with PortableApps, which if you don’t know what that is, I highly recommend you check it out.

It is important to note, however, that the portable version only runs on Windows. Again, this is only the case for the portable version – the normal version runs on Windows, Mac and Linux.

ebook manager software

Also, another great way to go portable is through Dropbox, which Justin wrote an extensive piece on.

Go Plug In

ebook manager software

Calibre has an abundant amount of plugins available to your disposal. There’s practically everything you could want, so keep that in mind as I touch upon some of the neat ones that I like. Perhaps the one you are looking for won’t be covered in this article, but that doesn’t mean that Calibre doesn’t have it.

Calibre: Hands-Down, The Best eBook Manager Available Calibre Preferences Plugins

The first thing I really like is quite simple, but important – the plugin database is integrated within Calibre. There’s no going to several different third-party sites, scouring through forums or performing Google search after Google search in the hopes that you will find what you’re looking for. Now, I’m not saying you will never have to do that because frankly that’s not a promise I can keep, however I am saying that there are a lot of plugins available that will likely quench your customization thirst.

ebook manager software review

Another great thing that I like is the options which you are given even for adding a plugin. At first you might think, “What do I do?!” But as you actually read through each option, it becomes apparent that Calibre is giving you control of where you are able to access the plugins at. It’s really quite nice.

Calibre: Hands-Down, The Best eBook Manager Available Calibre Plugins Add Options

Now let’s get down to a couple different plugins that I think are fantastic.

Remove DRM From eBooks

ebook manager software review

Why would you want to remove DRM (Digital Rights Management) from your eBooks? Simply to read them on any device of course.

Remember when I said that you rarely have to find plugins from other websites, etc. for Calibre? This is an exception. The plugin to do this isn’t in Calibre itself, however it is still easily accessible since I will provide the link. Basically this process isn’t incredibly complicated if you can follow directions. If not, it might be a bit difficult.

After reading how to do this, I specifically found articles for the Kindle and Nook, being the two most popular models, however it seems the process would be similar for other eReaders as well. To explain the whole procedure would literally require a whole other article, therefore I will simply point you in the right direction.

The Kindle and Nook directions (which I’ve linked to) are both similar and Windows-only. However, there are directions to do this on the Mac as well. The name of the plugin is Apprentice Alf which is on a WordPress-hosted blog, that covers lots of information regarding DRM and how to get around it. Thankfully, you’re not left hanging to figure this out on your own as they have included directions to add Apprentice Alf to Calibre too.

Merge & Split eBooks

ebook manager software review

I was stoked whenever I discovered the ability to do this. Have you ever wanted to combine more than one publication, perhaps from the same author or source? Now with a plugin you can. Or how about splitting a book into two? You can do that too! There might be several plugins that can do this, but the two I am most familiar with are aptly named “EpubMerge” and “EpubSplit”.

Calibre: Hands-Down, The Best eBook Manager Available EpubMerge

Calibre: Hands-Down, The Best eBook Manager Available EpubSplit

Remember that if the format isn’t in ePub, you must first convert it, which Simon covered in his article on Calibre.

Sync With Goodreads

If you aren’t familiar with Goodreads, it’s a social book reading site that allows you to connect with other authors and readers alike, track reading progress and rate the books you’ve read. Instead of rating, organizing and setting dates which you’ve read the book both in Calibre and Goodreads, this plugin allows you to do it in one and sync to the other. Quite handy if you already use Goodreads, and who knows, if you don’t, maybe you’ll find it useful.

Calibre: Hands-Down, The Best eBook Manager Available Plugins Goodreads Sync

Go Customize

Calibre: Hands-Down, The Best eBook Manager Available Go Customize

Customizing Calibre is a breeze. To access the different options, click on the big Preferences button (with the gears). A window will appear with several different categories – Interface, Conversion, Import/Export, Sharing and Advanced. At the bottom there is one more feature and that is a button to run the welcome wizard. This is great if you quickly breezed pass the installation and wanted to take time to look more into other options later.

Here you can choose/change the library folder…

Calibre: Hands-Down, The Best eBook Manager Available Calibre Welcome Library

The eReader device…

Calibre: Hands-Down, The Best eBook Manager Available Calibre Welcome Device

And set up Calibre to send books to your Kindle wireless – awesome!

Calibre: Hands-Down, The Best eBook Manager Available Calibre Welcome Email

Now back to the main interface, I won’t go into all of the options here, however I will say you won’t be disappointed. There could likely be a whole other article just on the options of Calibre. As you can see, it’s all very customizable from the position of the buttons on the toolbar (Interface > Toolbar) to tweaking how Calibre works with your eBooks (Advanced > Tweaks)

Conclusion: Go Read

Calibre: Hands-Down, The Best eBook Manager Available Go Read newspaper

No not that way! (although we have shared on MakeUseOf – also by Justin – how to send entire newspapers to your eBook Reader With Calibre).

This way:

ebook manager

Honestly, I’m not sure what enticed me to put “go” in front of everything or use miniature all-white people with no face, but it seems to work. The bottom line is that you should use Calibre. Why? Because although it is chock-full of features and customizations and it’s actually incredibly easy to use, allowing you to spend less time learning how to use it and more time managing and reading your books.

With that said, what are your thoughts on the Calibre ebook manager? Have you tried it? Will you? In my opinion it’s the best eBook manager available. Do you agree? Disagree? We’re looking forward to your thoughts in the comments below!

Image Credits: 3D Character With USB Flash Drive via Shutterstock, 3D Character With Electric Plug via Shutterstock, 3D Character With Gears via Shutterstock, 3D Character Reading Newspaper via Shutterstock, 3D Character With Tablet via Shutterstock, 3D Character With Key via Shutterstock

What Is Mrsa?

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a strain of staph bacteria that is resistant to the antibiotics normally used to treat such infections.

In the 1940s, some 60 years after the discovery of the bacterium S. aureus, doctors began treating staph infections with penicillin. But the overuse and misuse of the drug helped the microbes evolve with resistance to penicillin by the 1950s.

Doctors then started using methicillin to counter the growing problem of penicillin-resistant staph infections, and the new drug quickly became the common treatment for S. aureus, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In 1961, British scientists discovered MRSA; the first case of this "superbug" in the United States occurred in 1968. Over time, strains of MRSA developed resistances to other penicillin-related antibiotics.

In fact, MRSA is now resistant to an entire class of penicillin-like antibiotics called beta-lactams, which includes amoxicillin, oxacillin, dicloxacillin and many others.

Experts used to think MRSA only affected people in health care settings, particularly patients with weakened immune systems or those who had recently undergone surgery. But in the 1990s, a different strain of MRSA emerged outside of the hospital. This "community-associated MRSA" predominantly affects people who are frequently in close, physical contact with others, such as athletes, inmates, soldiers and childcare workers.

Today it's quite common — and normal — to have staph bacteria on your skin or in your nose. Indeed, about one-third of the world's population have S. aureus bacteria on their bodies, and about 2 percent of people carry MRSA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Usually, the staph on a person's skin doesn't cause an infection or disease symptoms, but problems can arise if the bacteria gets into the body. Staph skin infections start off as a small, red bump that resembles a spider bite — these infections can progress quickly, turning into swollen, painful abscesses, which doctors need to surgically drain.

If the bacteria burrow deeper, they can cause infections throughout the body, including in the bloodstream, heart, bones, joints, lungs and surgical wounds, which can result in chest pain, fever and even death.

As a last resort, life-threatening MRSA infections can still be treated with the antibiotic vancomycin. However, new treatments may eventually be needed, as a few cases of vancomycin-resistant S. aureushave already been reported.

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Todoist Launches Integrated Outlook, Gmail And Postbox Plugins

The team at ToDoist just announced a new plugin for Postbox, and a full rewrite of the ToDoist Outlook plugin. This brings ToDoist email integration support to four of the largest email platforms, including Gmail and Thunderbird.

ToDoist email integration support brings one of the more popular productivity managers directly to the user’s email through ToDoist’s plugin offerings, which makes it faster and more convenient to add and manage tasks directly from an email client.

Since people tend to spend so much time every day on their email client, the ToDoist team hopes to capture some of that massive market — upwards of over 400 million Outlook users and over 420 million Gmail users — with its email-integration products.

ToDoist Email Integration — What’s New?

In addition to launching the new Postbox plugin, the ToDoist team made “bug and performance” fixes to the Outlook integration. In its press release, ToDoist promised that the Outlook integration would have the same “smooth task management experience” as users might find on the full web or Windows application.

ToDoist spokesperson Brenna Loury told MakeUseOf that, “We’ve removed nasty bugs in our Outlook and Thunderbird apps to provide the same zen-like Inbox Zero experience across all 13 platforms.

The integration allows users to actually see and manage the todo lists in the email window itself.

todoist-screenshot1

Some features that users can access through these email client plugins include:

  • Save emails as a new task in ToDoist.
  • View the ToDoist task list from inside the email window.
  • Convert emails to a new to-do list.
  • Access recurring tasks, projects and priorities.
  • Collaborate with other ToDoist users who use the same email client as you.

Full integration into the email client means no need to open a new browser window or a new application to access your ToDoist account. All of your projects and tasks are within reach.

todoist-screenshot2

 

In its press release today, CEO Amir Salihefendic reported that the move was very much an effort to tap into the massive user base of these major email clients:

“Outlook, Postbox, Gmail, and Thunderbird represent a huge market with extremely broad appeal– people spend so much time in their email and this kind of productivity support is essential. We’re very happy to now offer the same rich task management experience across all of our available platforms.”

The plugins bring all of the features of ToDoist right into the email client in a panel that provides task management, project management, comment threads for your team, and more. With the new launch for PostBox and the bug fixes for Outlook in place, ToDoist is now well positioned to continue growing its own user base.

Source: ToDoist | Image Credits: Images courtesy of ToDoist

7 Swift Coding Challenges To Practice Your Skills

When Apple announced Swift way back in 2014, people were rightfully skeptical. Nobody knew if it would catch on, and many questioned the need for yet another programming language to learn.

But then Swift went open source in 2015, and though it didn’t explode overnight, the language has steadily grown. There’s never been a better time to learn! We’ve covered online Swift tutorials as well as mobile Swift tutorials, but where do you go once you have the basics down?

Once you’re comfortable with the language, consider testing your skills with these Swift coding challenges. Not only are they fun and stimulating, but they’ll give you the confidence you need in your own abilities.

1. Codewars

7 Swift Coding Challenges to Practice Your Skills swift coding challenges codewars

Codewars is the best place for practicing coding challenges of any kind, including Swift. The entire system is gamified, meaning you gain experience and level up with every successful challenge. It uses a similar ranking system as Go: you start at 8 Kyu and advance all the way to 1 Kyu.

Challenges (called “kata”) are categorized by their difficulty. Fortunately, there are thousands of challenges available, so even if you level up too quickly, you can always go back and work on the easier ones. Challenge types include algorithms, data types, string and number manipulation, control flow, puzzles, logic, and more.

What I love about Codewars is two-fold: first, finishing a kata lets you see the solutions submitted by other users, and second, users can create their own katas so the collection of challenges grows daily. It’s truly one of the best coding games for sharpening your skills.

2. CodinGame

7 Swift Coding Challenges to Practice Your Skills swift coding challenges codingame

The Swift coding challenges on CodinGame are more involved than the ones on Codewars, and that’s because CodinGame’s challenges are designed as games. For example, the “Power of Thor” challenge has you moving the position of Thor so that he can reach the Light of Power in as few steps as possible.

Challenges are categorized by difficulty, ranging from Easy to Medium to Hard to Very Hard. There are also community-made puzzles that you can try when you run out of the official ones. Beware that CodinGame’s challenges are pretty tough, but you’ll learn a lot in the struggle.

In addition to solo challenges, CodinGame also offers five-minute multiplayer coding battles (where you try to complete as many challenges as possible) and larger community-wide contests (which occur every month or two).

3. CodeChef

7 Swift Coding Challenges to Practice Your Skills swift coding challenges codechef

CodeChef offers challenges that are like coding homework problems. They’re divided into Beginner, Easy, Medium, Hard, and Challenge categories (plus an extra category called Peer for user-made challenges).

Hundreds of challenges are available, and they can get pretty hard. By comparison, most of the Beginner ones have 1,000+ successful submissions, the Medium ones average in the hundreds, but the Challenge ones rarely break 100 successful submissions. It’s good practice for newbies and veterans alike.

CodeChef also has contests. Not all of them offer prizes, but the official CodeChef contests can have prize pools up to $700.

4. /r/DailyProgrammer

7 Swift Coding Challenges to Practice Your Skills swift coding challenges dailyprogrammer

DailyProgrammer is a Reddit community for programmers who want to test their mettle against with of the harder coding puzzles you’ll find on the web. It used to be a daily thing, but laetly it’s been more like every 2-3 days or so.

What’s nice is that challenges are marked as Easy, Intermediate, or Hard. The bad news is that even the Easy challenges, particularly the more recent ones, can be pretty tough for coding beginners. However, you can always dip into the archives and revisit old challenges if you like.

5. Project Euler

7 Swift Coding Challenges to Practice Your Skills swift coding challenges project euler

Project Euler is almost like a self-directed set of Swift coding challenges. The archives contain 600 total challenges (called “Problems”), but they don’t come with any answers or solutions or discussions. Usually it’s easy to know when you’ve solved the problem, but sometimes it isn’t — and that can be frustrating.

Also, Project Euler’s challenges are mainly mathematical and logical in nature. You can solve all of these without any programming necessary. However, as a way to exercise your brain, they’re fantastic. And since programming is all about solving real-world problems with code, this is essentially the same thing.

6. TopCoder

7 Swift Coding Challenges to Practice Your Skills swift coding challenges topcoder

TopCoder‘s challenges are a bit different from the rest in this article, simply because they are multiplayer contests than solo puzzles. You have to register for them ahead of time, and then you have to complete them before time runs out.

The difference is that TopCoder’s challenges come with some hefty prize payouts. See in the screenshot above that, as of this writing, there are four in-progress challenges with thousands of dollars at stake. Not bad once you’ve honed your skills. It’s a good way to test your world-readiness as a Swift coder.

The only downside is that each challenge only supports a specific language or group of languages. While Swift coding challenges do exist, there may only be one every month or so.

7. Coderbyte

7 Swift Coding Challenges to Practice Your Skills swift coding challenges coderbyte

Coderbyte may not be as exhaustive as some of the other challenge sites above, but it’s still an excellent way to practice Swift. The challenges (divided into Easy, Medium, and Hard) come with official and user-submitted step-by-step solutions, plus a discussion area for questions.

What’s unique about Coderbyte is its Algorithms section, where you can learn all kinds of algorithms: tree traversals, range overlaps, stock price maximization, array summations, sorting implementations, and more. Perfect for newbies.

Unfortunately, free users only get access to 10 challenges and solutions. A premium account costs $29/mo (or a much more reasonable $150/yr). Is it worth it? Well, use your 10 free challenges and see for yourself!

Some More Ways to Practice Swift

If Swift is your first programming language, bear in mind our tips for learning to program without the stress and our tips for mastering a new programming language. It can be tough at first, but stick with it!

Once you’re comfortable with Swift, you can move on with these iOS app project ideas and these general programming project ideas. Nothing instills programming confidence more than pursuing a real project and succeeding at it.

How are you liking Swift as a language? What’s your favorite way to learn and practice programming? Share with us down in the comments!

5 Ways To Make Your Windows Computer Speak To You

Lean back and listen: let your PC do the reading.

Whether you generally dislike reading yourself or simply want to multitask from time to time, letting your computer read documents to you out loud can make life better. Windows comes, built in, with the ability to read text – it’s how anyone blind makes use of the operating system. The computerized voices won’t win awards for their dramatic performances, but they’re perfectly fine if you want a break from reading yourself.

Sadly, how to use this functionality isn’t altogether obvious. Don’t worry, though, because a simple trick can turn Microsoft Word into the ultimate document reader, and a bunch of third-party apps can read any text you paste into them. Let’s take a tour.

Make Microsoft Word Read to You

Here’s something you might not know: the ability to read text back to you is actually built into Microsoft Word itself. The problem: it’s not included in the ribbon interface you’re used to. No matter: here’s how to add a “Speak” button to the top of every Word window.

Above the ribbon you should see a small toolbar, by default containing only the Save, Undo and Redo buttons. This is called the Quick Access Toolbar, and you can add more buttons to it – including one for speaking highlighted text. Click the arrow to the right of the toolbar to get started:

word-speak-custom

Click the “More Commands” button to begin exploring the vast world of Microsoft Word functions. Explore the “Commands Not In The Ribbon” section and you’ll find the “Speak” option:

word-add-speak

Click the “Add” button between the two columns, then click “Okay”. There is now a “Speak” button in your Quick Access Toolbar:

word-speak-button

Click this button and Word will read, out loud, whatever word your cursor is next to. Highlight a block of text before hitting the button and you’ll hear every word in that selection. If most of the reading you need to do is in Word, congratulations: you probably don’t need any other program. Just hit CTRL+A to highlight your entire document, then press play.

Narrator: Built Into Windows

Windows also comes with built-in screen reading technology. It’s called Narrator, and it’s mostly intended for the blind. Start it up and Narrator will immediately begin reading every bit of text on every window that you open – which is great if you’re blind, but annoying if you just wanted Windows to read a bit of text for you.

Happily, Microsoft offers a list of keyboard shortcuts for the software. Check this out if you want to become familiar with it, but honestly, it’s probably better to try some third party software instead. It’s just easier.

Balabolka

If you’re not afraid of a few extra features, check out Balabolka. It’s interface is less straight-forward than other options, but you gain control over things like speed and pitch:

5 Ways to Make Your Windows Computer Speak to You bala1

Balboka is notable for being able to open DOC/DOCX, TXT, PDF, EPUB and ODT files directly – meaning you can open your favorites in moments. It can also convert files to MP3, making it easy to listen to a document on your phone or MP3 player. There’s even batch conversion, if you want audio copies of multiple documents.

Read more about Balabolka for Windows, because it’s probably the app you will want to use.

TypeIt ReadIt

With a simple interface and the ability to export your writing to a text or WAV file, TypeIt ReadIt is a great free program. Paste any text into its window, or open a TXT file directly. If you want something read to you quickly, this is a great app to try.

typeit-readit

The interface is simple yet functional, though it is a little odd how the buttons scale if you make the window bigger. The software uses the voices that come with Windows. Use this app if you want something simple and free.

Natural Reader Free (Windows, Mac)

The free version of Natural Reader can’t export to MP3, but if you want a simpler interface for pasting and hearing text you’re going to like it. Paste any text into this window, then hit the clearly-visible play button:

natural-reader-free

It doesn’t get easier than that, right? If you like the program, but need more features, the Personal version starts at $69. Additional features include exporting to MP3 and additional voices – but it’s probably worth checking out Balabolka before you spend your cash. Still, the free version is attractive and functional so check it out.

eSpeak (Windows, Linux, Mac)

Do you want voices entirely different from those included with Windows? Try eSpeak. This program employs its own engine, and is worth checking out if you dislike Microsoft’s voices:

5 Ways to Make Your Windows Computer Speak to You espeak windows

The program can open TXT files and export to WAV. It’s also got creepy lips that move, so if you like that sort of thing this is perfect I guess. It’s primarily a Linux program, but the Windows version comes with a unique GUI seen above. Read more about eSpeak, if you’re curious.

What’s the Best Option?

If you plan on mostly using this for Word documents, I’d recommend you stick with Word’s built-in solution. Once you’ve set it up it’s always there for you. But if you want a dedicated program to paste text into or open files directly, you probably want to try Balabolka first. It can handle a bunch of different files and can export to MP3.

But, of course, I could be wrong. What program do you use to make your computer talk to you? Share your best apps for the job in the comments below.

Image Credits: Closeup rear view Via Shutterstock

Make Your Own Sticky Notes With Notepad (windows)

Someone had once remarked that simplicity is making the journey of life with just baggage enough. Sometimes, I try to apply the same axiom to my “˜soft aware’ life too. And that involves squeezing the maximum juice out of what’s available in my computer.

One thing that has always been available since the last 20 years from the birth of Windows has been the “˜un-noteworthy’ Notepad.  Life with Notepad couldn’t be any simpler. It strips all formatting and keeps data in its plain format. It doesn’t ask for any special Windows resources, comes up in a blink of an eye and doesn’t nag you with any dialog boxes or prompts.

We all use Notepad to store our scraps of data as text files. But with a little bit of tip and tuck it can be made into an effective sticky note.  Here I am going to show you how to make your own sticky notes with just the Notepad and any version of Windows.

(1) The first step – Creating a new file type

  • Open any explorer window.
  • Click on “˜Tools’.
  • Select “˜Folder Options’ in the drop down and select the “˜File Types’ tab.
  • Click on the “˜New’ button and create own file extension by typing it in the “˜New Extension Window’. I called mine – stky (for “˜sticky’)
  • Click “˜Enter’.

make your own sticky notes

The “˜File Type’ box gives us the power to create our own file types. A different file type for our version of sticky note gives us control over the way we handle it. So”¦

(2) Create an action and an application

With the new file type highlighted, click the “˜Advanced’ button. The “˜Edit File Type’ box opens. Click its “˜New’ button and you get to enter a new “˜Action’ and “˜Application Used’ dialog box. Type in “˜open’ and “˜notepad.exe’ respectively in the two fields. Close this box and move on to the “˜Edit File Type’ box.

make sticky notes

(3) Assign an icon

In the still open “˜Edit File Type’ box, click on “˜Change Icon’ and choose any available icon or any of your own. Give a nice and apt name to the icon. I gave mine an unimaginative “˜Sticky Note’. Close all open boxes.

make your own stickers

(4) Create a new registry value

No, this is not as scary as it sounds. Just a simple two step process.

  • Go to Start – Run, and type in regedit, which takes you to the registry editor.
  • Expand “˜HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT’ on the left pane.
  • Scroll down to your file type. (Mine was .stky)
  • Right click on the file type. Select New>Key and input “˜ShellNew’.
  • With “˜ShellNew’ selected, move over to the right pane, right click on an empty area and select New>String Value and enter “˜NullFile’.
  • Exit the registry editor.

Make Your Own Sticky Notes with Notepad (Windows) 4 regedit

(5) Just reboot.

After a reboot, right clicking brings up the context menu with your sticky note file type under “˜New’.

(6) Using it”¦finally.

After all the hard work, it’s time for the fruits. Want to list down a to-do list? Just right click anywhere on the desktop and choose the “˜Sticky Note’ file type under the right click “˜New’ menu. Type in the task under file name and then open the file to write something more descriptive. Create as many “˜Sticky Notes’ as you want and arrange them on the desktop.

your own sticky notes

Thanks to the versatility of the Notepad, ten minutes of mouse work just saved you the bother of installing another piece of software.

Charge Your Iphone With An Onion, And Other Elaborate Youtube Hoaxes

Viral videos are a lot of fun — they give us something to watch over and over, share with our friends, and talk about on Facebook. But not every video is as genuine as we first believe; sometimes we find that we’ve been the victims of elaborate hoaxes.

And even though these aren’t as potentially dangerous or damaging as other hoaxes we’ve seen 5 Internet Hoaxes That Went Viral and Almost Fooled You This Year There were a few convincing hoaxes knocking about the Internet this year; from waterproof iPhones to Christmas Dinner in a tin. Here are some of the best. Read More , it can still be a letdown. Let’s take a look at a few that caught a lot of people.

Charge an iPod with an Onion

YouTube videos detailing surprising science-y things 10 Science YouTube Channels You Can’t Miss The word science essentially means knowledge, and it is this quest for learning and understanding that has driven mankind to the height of its power. The Web offers ample opportunity to disperse that knowledge to… Read More can do really well (I especially like Smarter Every Day). But not every home science project that you see on YouTube works. The guys behind HouseholdHacker have posted a number of hoax videos. The most famous of these, posted in 2007, included instructions on how to charge an iPod using Gatorade and an onion.

Why would you want to charge an iPod with an onion? They don’t say. To show that it can be done, I suppose.

But there’s a problem: it can’t. A Gatorade-soaked onion doesn’t generate electricity. And even if it did, USB cables need to be plugged into USB ports, not jammed into the sides of vegetables. A lot of people were convinced by this hoax, with the video receiving almost 10,000,000 views.

The MythBusters video debunking the project, however, only has 197,000.

The eHarmony Cat Lady

2011 saw one of the most successful video hoaxes in recent memory, with an eHarmony video bio by “Debbie.” Debbie states that she’s making her first video for eHarmony, and proceeds to tearfully elucidate just how much she loves cats.

It’s a lot.

Turns out that Debbie is actually Phildelphia comedienne Cara Hartmann, who doesn’t (as far as we know) have an alarming degree of affection for cats. She does, however, now have a YouTube show called Debbie in LA, which follows Debbie’s move to the West Coast after her online dating profile receives 27,000,000 views (in case you’re wondering, the video actually has over 29,000,000 views at the moment).

Online dating is hard Online Dating: Men Don’t Get It And Women Don’t Understand Do online dating websites work? It’s time for a frank discussion! What I learned from interviews was that online dating is equally painful for men and for women, but for very different reasons. Read More , and fake videos of cat-obsessed singles don’t help the process. But they can be pretty funny.

Petting Zoo Hero

The Internet loves animal videos From Cute To Ferocious: 12 Animal Videos That Are Absolutely Amazing Have you ever seen a video of an animal that just left you in awe? Animal videos are a fascinating showcase of their capabilities as they interact with the wider world we all inhabit. Read More , especially when they involve more than one kind of animal. It’s even better if it involves goats.

This video has all of the elements of a viral sensation. A small pig saves a baby goat from drowning in a pond; what could be more endearing?

The Internet was much less endeared when they found out that the whole thing had been put together by Comedy Central, and some very talented animal trainers, to generate press for a show called “Nathan for You.” The video was huge — it was featured on Time, Huffington Post, Yahoo! News, Gawker, ABC News, and many other major outlets. The crew later released a video detailing how they had trained the seemingly life-saving pig:

This hoax actually generated quite a bit of discussion about news outlets’ willingness to share videos without doing any fact-checking, and whether or not this is ethical. Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at Poynter Institute, called it “embarrassing” and “almost a form of malpractice.”

Nathan Fielder, of Nathan for You, wasn’t phased. He told the New York Times that “[i]f we were trying to pull an elaborate hoax on the news, I think we could have pushed further. But we weren’t. We found it interesting that people were sharing it without us saying anything.”

Golden Eagle Snatches Kid

The heroic pig certainly isn’t the only animal that’s gone viral. This one is a bit more menacing, though. In the video below, you’ll see a golden eagle drop from the sky and attempt to nab a baby—the eagle tries to pick it up and fly away, but drops it shortly after. Considering that golden eagles can have 7-foot wingspans and have been known to kill grey wolves, this isn’t quite as far-fetched as it sounds.

Fortunately, this harrowing incident was a fake; the whole thing had been created as a part of a project for a simulation workshop at the National Animation and Design Centre in Montreal. The teacher told Buzzfeed he was trying to come up with new ways to teach the class.

Students were told that if they could get 100,000 views on YouTube, they’d get an A. One of the students discussed their strategy with the Globe and Mail: “We . . . decided to come up with something that involved animals and babies — those seemed to generate the most hits.”

He was more right than he knew. The video currently has over 44,000,000 views.

Rayman in Smash Brothers

Nintendo’s popular brawler Smash Brothers lets gamers pit popular Nintendo characters against each other in fights —so it was a big surprise when “Rayman Leak Video” hit YouTube, apparently showing that Rayman, a non-Nintendo character, would be included in a DLC pack.

Alas, Rayman fans were let down when they found out that the whole thing was a hoax. The maker of the video posted another video detailing how he created the “leak”, and the amount of work that he went through to make a very accurate menu is pretty impressive.

Twerk Fail

Love it or hate it, twerking has had a fascinating effect on pop culture over the past couple years. YouTube is full of home-twerking videos, but none got as many views as one that shows a woman twerking upside down against a door when her roommate enters, knocking her onto a coffee table and setting her on fire.

The utter ridiculousness of the video made some people suspicious, and it was revealed shortly after that the video had been made by Jimmy Kimmel and a stuntwoman, who then made an appearance on his show. (The video below shows Kimmel coming to the rescue with a fire extinguisher after the stuntwoman ignites.)

Lonelygirl15

In 2006, the world was introduced to Bree, a 16-year-old girl who posted quirky YouTube video blogs 5 YouTube Vlogs To Put On Your Web Video Watching List I know that in the mid-to-late 2000’s, vlogs ruled the Internet with the purest form of free speech in the world. However, even though we’re in a totally different decade, I’m pretty confident that vlogging… Read More and interacted with fans via MySpace under her username, lonelygirl15. There wasn’t anything particularly special about her videos; she just talked about her life, and seemed sweet.

In 2008, it was revealed that “Bree” was, in fact, a 19-year-old actress named Jessica Lee Rose, and that the video blogs were in fact episodes of a fictional show. Many people had suspicions about the videos, citing minor inconsistencies, and it became clear quickly that things were not normal in Bree’s world. Her parents disappeared, there were hints of cult involvement, and things got progressively more weird.

The show, LG15, has continued with a number of spinoffs detailing the exploits of the Order, an evil organization searching for “trait positive” girls — and now includes vlogs from a number of characters.

Facebook Friends Sleeve

Facebook tattoos aren’t super common, but they’ve definitely been done before. YouTuber susyj87 brought it to a new level with an entire sleeve made up of the profile pictures of her Facebook friends.

Of course, this one was debunked fairly quickly, as the owner of the tattoo stop stated that it was a temporary tattoo that would only last a few days. The video was organized by Pretty Social, a company that says people “are proud of [their] (large) social network online, that we carry with us every day through various media. Pretty Social also provides this in an offline format.”

Just to be clear: Pretty Social is not a social-media tattoo parlor.

Sochi Fail Wolf

The popularity of the #SochiFail hashtag brought a lot of pranksters out of the woodwork, with some hilarious — and some not-so-hilarious — results. This video, by US luger Kate Hansen, features a wolf walking through the athletes’ dorm. It was just another example of how things were going wrong in Russia.

Or was it? While this does actually show a wolf walking through the hall, it wasn’t a wild Russian one: it was a trained American wolf named Rugby. This was another video hoax by Jimmy Kimmel (Hansen was in on it),  showed on news stations around the country. Sochi security even got involved.

Don’t Trust Your Eyes

It’s long been an adage that you shouldn’t believe everything you read, especially on the Internet. The same applies to online videos, and to Instagram Stay Secure: 3 Instagram Hoaxes Too Many People Fell For Take a good look at these Instagram hoaxes and make sure you don’t fall for the next one! Read More . Next time you see a video that seems too spectacular to be true, stop and think about it for a moment. It probably is!

Were you caught by any of these hoaxes? Have others been more convincing? What are your favorites? Share your thoughts below!

How To Get Smoother Playback On Plex With A Simple Fix

For those of you who use Plex to manage your personal media, you might often find yourself running into problems with streaming quality, there’s a quick and simple fix that will ensure you’re getting the best quality and the best watching experience.

With Plex, your media is saved on a server, and depending on how you’re going to stream your content, Plex will automatically transcode it and serve it up in the format available to your device, regardless of your server speeds.

With Plex’s Optimizer, you can prepare your files ahead of time so that, no matter where you’re watching from, you’re getting the best quality possible.

To make this happen, you’re going to have to selectively optimize each of the videos one by one, so if there’s something you know you want to watch, be sure to do this ahead of time.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Launch Plex in your browser and either go to the folder where the video is stored, or use the search function to find it. If you hover over the poster image for that file, you’ll see three dots to access the menu. Click on that and choose Optimize. 

Plex1

This will open up a dialog box that has a few different options for how you can optimize the file. You can optimize for watching it on your smartphone, your TV, keep the original quality, or choose custom settings.

Plex2

Custom settings lets you drill down to more specificity – Android, iOS, Windows Phone, XBox One and more. You can also just choose the speed and frame rate yourself.

Plex3

To see a more detailed explanation on how all of this works and to see the optimization process in action, watch the video below:

Do you have any tips or tricks for getting the most out of Plex? Let us know in the comments.

Party Planning Made Easy: 12 Of The Best Resources

party planningAs summer rolls in (and out again, for the famous week long British summer), the time for garden parties is upon us. You’ve set a theme and instructed everyone to come in costume, but as the host your job is the hardest: food, decorations, and then to make it more interesting, perhaps some activities and games.

So here, my fellow party planners, are (at least) 12 party planning sites that should be your first stop for inspirational ideas to help you pull off that perfect party.

Ideas: Pinterest

Pinterest is the ultimate digital scrapbook – a meta-site pinboard of ideas on every topic under the sun, curated by real people and centered on a single topic. Just search for your chosen theme and you’ll find hundreds of people with the exact same objective: finding awesome party planning ideas, costumes, DIY projects, and themed recipes. If you’re still in the research phase, a handy “re-pin” feature lets you grab the ones you like and put them right onto your own board.

party planning

Not everything linked to is free, but the party planning ideas and inspirations you can draw from them certainly are.

Coming a close second on the ideas front is Kara’s Party Ideas, which caters nicely for both child and adult themed parties with curated user submissions. The photography is good quality, so you can have a clear impression of what others have done before.

planning a party

Hostess with the Mostess deserves a mention too, if only for the sheer amount of content. It’s a hit and miss with the user submissions, but sorting by number of likes usually nets you something good from actual party planners. Sadly, the party planning site is strictly ideas only with photos, as any details of parties are pretty scant.

planning a party

DIY: Instructables

For those who like to take a more DIY approach to parties, Instructables is your number one resource. Again, pieces are user submitted so not all are great, but generally each project is full of illustrated build instructions and materials lists. You’ll find all manner of party decorations, costumes and furniture.

planning a party

Like Wikipedia, it’s also easy to get thoroughly lost with Instructables, so you might end up making plans to build a laser maze for Halloween instead. Stay focussed, people!

Printables: UPrintables

Most professional looking printables you find on the web are actually being sold on Etsy, so I was overjoyed to find Rebecca’s site UPrintables, where she has a huge selection of really high quality and free downloads. They’re not quite focused on any particular theme, but rather a random selection of generic vector-style ticket stubs, flowers, and party invites. Many of the downloads include both a JPG for standard printers, and a Cameo Studio file – but you should find something for any party.

party planning resources

CatchMyParty is primarily a commercial site, but they do have a special section of free printables worth checking out too.

Paper Craft: PaperInside

For those with delicate hands, pepper your party with some adorable little paper crafts, like this 10cm high Absolem below. If you have a big enough printer, you should even be able to scale up these nicely.
party planning resources

Recipes: Party Ideas By a Pro

Matt is a professional party planner, and his blog contains tons of ideas grouped by theme; I found the recipe section in this Alice in Wonderland page to be particularly useful. Every page is nicely laid out with hand picked unique ideas, so if he has done your theme, you’re in luck.

party planning resources

Epicurious is also a standard go-to for recipes of all sorts, though you’ll find more around popular holiday occasions than fairy tales.

Party Games: The Party Animal Blog 

A veritable treasure trove of party planning tips, but their games section was what really impressed me – the Wonderland games page here lists no less than 20 Alice themed games!

party-animal

If you have the space and luxury of a forest or meadow to play in, check out some classic wide games that have been tried and tested by Scouts and Guides for centuries.

Bonus: Disney Family

If your party planning theme has been covered by Disney at some point – and let’s face it, they’ve covered an awful lot – then Disney Family has a wealth of printables, recipes, activities and all sorts to make and do. Perfect for kids parties anyway.

party planning

Lastly, if it’s a Halloween party you’re planning, don’t forget to read about these 5 bits of technology essential to any Halloween event. Do you have a favourite party planning site I haven’t mentioned? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear about it.

Image Credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc