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Today Is National PC Cleanup Day, So Let’s Tidy Up Your System [Computers]

The Web Worker Daily blog reminds us that today is National Clean Out Your Computer Day. Want to do some serious PC cleaning but not sure where to start? We’ve got your back, so let’s get with the purging.

Photo by karindalziel.

Clean Out Your Inbox

One of the first places you’ll probably find bogged down with a bunch of junk you don’t need is your email inbox. If you use Gmail to manage your email, follow these simple steps to free up loads of space without losing important emails. Once you’ve wrestled your inbox into submission, assign a Trusted Trio of three folders to keep your inbox clean: Follow Up, Archive, and Hold.

Daring productivity mavens may want to take this tip a step further and try out our own Gina Trapani’s idea and eliminate the Archive folder:

Gmail comes with an archive area built in: click on the “All Mail” link to see it. When you archive a message in Gmail (either by clicking the Archive button, selecting the menu option or hitting the E key), the message gets yanked out of your inbox and archived in the “All Mail” view. That means there’s no need for the Trusted Trio’s Archive folder. That is, you only need Follow Up and Hold buckets.

Give Your Filesystem a Thorough Once-Over

Now that your inbox is looking svelte, let’s move on to the stuff going on around your PC’s system. If you think your computer may have been infected with some form of malware but have been putting off hunting it down, you’ll want to find a solid, deep-cleaning malware-removal tool and get rid of what ails you. Once you’ve done that, get a better deadbolt on your system with some reliable antivirus software. (In fact, around Lifehacker HQ we tend to think that Windows security tools are pretty great.)

Even after you’ve removed the malware, you may still have quite a few uninstalled-then-forgotten apps sitting around cluttering up your system. To completely get rid of your unwanted apps, try previously mentioned Revo Uninstaller (we’re happy with the free version).

Once you’ve relieved your PC of all the garbage that was weighing it down, make sure it stays in pristine condition with an automated Windows file cleaner like CCleaner (which you can automate to run nightly), and keep your oft-used folders organized with Adam Pash’s Belvedere. Use Windows’ built-in Scheduled Tasks, to make sure your hard drive performs regular health maintenance tasks.

Clean Out Your Hardware Dust Bunnies

Now that your PC’s brain is purring along, let’s give its innards a good cleaning, too. Don’t be intimidated at the thought of opening its case to evacuate PC dust bunnies. Grab a Phillips head screw driver, some mechanical oil with a dropper, and a can of compressed air, then get to work.

These are a few of our favorite ways for cleaning up our PCs in honor of National Clean Out Your Computer Day, but we know you’ve got your own great suggestions, too, so let’s hear them in the comments.

BackOff Shortens Long iPhone and iPod touch Sync Sessions [Downloads]

iPhone/iPod touch: If you carry a ton of stuff around on your iPhone or iPod touch, you know syncing it can take forever. BackOff turns off iTunes’ automatic backup process so you can sync faster.

Okay, before you go galloping off to download this slick free utility, let’s go over the most important point one more time. BackOff prevents iTunes from making a backup of your iPhone or touch to speed up syncing. That may not be a big deal once in a while, but most of us may want to have a recent backup of your device in case something goes kablam! one day and you lose your device’s data. Still, since most of what’s synced to the phone lives on your computer, some users would happily go without the backup in favor of quicker syncs.

BackOff is a pretty bare-bones utility and doesn’t really do anything beyond disable automatic backup. If you need to do more than speed up your sync sessions, check out how to sync an iPhone with multiple computers.

BackOff installs in a flash, and turns on and off in one click. It’s available on Windows and Mac, and it requires iTunes 9.0.2 or higher. What tricks do you rely on to speed up your iPhone or touch syncing? Let us know in the comments.

Ben Color Capture Finds the Perfect Paint Color Match with iPhone Pics [Downloads]

iPhone only: How do you know if the color you want so much for your kitchen renovation is sea foam green or surf green? Let the Ben Color Capture App for iPhone help you figure it out.

Inspiration strikes at the strangest times. You’ll search for the perfect paint color for weeks, only to stumble across it splashed on the side of a city bus advertisement as you’re heading to lunch. Whip out your iPhone, snap a pic, then fire up the Ben app. Open up the picture you just took, tap anywhere on the image that displays the color you like, and the app will name the closest match available in a Benjamin Moore paint color. Alternatively, you can use a picture you’ve already got stored in your camera roll.

A store locator feature lets you know the nearest place that stocks Benjamin Moore paint, so you can run right over and grab some. Once you’ve settled on a paint color you like, the app also clues you in on what other colors will compliment your selection and keep you from making eye-burning choices like purple walls with fuchsia trim.

If you’re planning on doing some repainting, there’s really no reason not to grab this handy and free little app.

Real Estate Search for iPhone Helps You Find Your Dream Home by Location [Downloads]

iPhone/iPod touch only: The next time you’re driving around a nice neighborhood and wonder if there are any homes for sale in your price range, whip out your iPhone and check with to find out.

This nifty app for the iPhone and iPod touch taps directly into the listings at to give you all kinds of information on nearby homes for sale. You can search by town, state, zip code, price, or the amenities you’re looking for. You can even search by Multiple Listing Service (MLS) number assigned to a specific property if you happen to know it.

The app also checks your location and lets you know about any open houses going on in the area so you can scope houses from the inside out. If you want to know everything going on in the housing market in your area, save your searches and will email you every time there’s an open house or new listing. Be advised, the app updates every 15 minutes, so you may get a lot of alerts if you’re searching a major metropolitan area.

Each listing contains tons of information about the home for sale, including the asking price, property details, agent information, and pictures if there are any. You can view the property on a map, email it to someone else, and even contact the listing agent, all without leaving the app.

If you’re in the market for a new home, or just want to daydream about what’s out there, then this app is a good start. It’s a handy way to carry around a comprehensive overview of the housing market right in your pocket or purse.

VUE Turns Your Mind-Mapped Ideas Into Presentations [Downloads]

Windows/Mac/Linux: Sometimes the easiest way to make sense of a big project is to get its details out of your brain so you can visualize it. Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) helps you map your ideas, then make presentations out of them.

Mind-mapping tools are great for corralling snippets of information and brainstorming details into one place so you can see how they fit together in the big picture. If this is your first foray into the world of mind-mapping apps, you’ll find VUE easy to set up and use. (Our previous guide to mind mapping is a great resource to help you wrap your head around mind maps.)

You’ll need to register at the app’s web site for a free account before you can download the Windows, Mac, or Linux version of VUE at no cost. Once installed, you get get started right away setting up nodes containing ideas or concepts, then linking them with arrows to form relationships between them. You can also include clickable URLs, images, files, and more. Want to include videos and documents? Just drag them over and drop them on your map.

Unlike many other mind-mapping tools, VUE can go a step beyond the mind map, turning your brainstorms into slide presentations so you can share them with others. They’re laid out so viewers can walk through the information contained in your map in a way that helps them understand how the concepts are laid out. VUE has tons of features that are likely to appeal to novice and expert mind-mappers alike. Check out this demo video to get a better idea of what VUE can do for you.

VUE is a free download for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

What’s the Best Way to Share Files Across Multiple Home Computers? [Ask Lifehacker]

Dear Lifehacker,
We’re a large family with several computers in our home. What’s the best way to share files across our home network rather than putting them on thumb drives and running from PC to PC?

With much love,
Out of Touch with My Family

Photo by Marshall Astor.

Hi Out of Touch,

The number of homes with multiple computers is rising, so you’ve got a pretty common problem. Fortunately, we’ve got plenty of good solutions. The first option most people would probably point to is setting up a simple home network (or workgroup) to allow file access and sharing among computer users on your LAN (just enable your operating system of choice’s file sharing features across all your computers). That works fine, and it’s certainly a good option. For our part, though, we’d also suggest a few other alternatives that may be quicker and easier to set up for all the members of your family.

Our favorite option for serious file sharing (lots of files shared, especially large files): setting up a home server. Windows Home Server, for example, is one of the few Microsoft products that everyone who uses it seems to universally love. Jason detailed how to set up WHS to automate your backups and corral your media, but it’s basically one always-accessible repository that your family can use to easily and seamlessly share files. If you don’t want to shell out for the WHS operating system (it’s $92), you could also put together your own network-attached storage (NAS); FreeNAS is an extremely popular free and open-source NAS worth checking out.

One of our absolute favorite ways to swap files is with Dropbox. For the low cost of free, you can install a folder on any Window, Mac OS X, or Linux-based computer, then just drag and drop files right into it that you want to share with others. Once you stick a file into the folder, it instantly syncs to Dropbox’s server and is available to the rest of your family on their own computers in just a couple of clicks.

Set up a single Dropbox account and password with private folder access your whole family can share, or grab a personal account for each user and designate a shared folder that all family members have access to. Each account comes with 2GB of storage space, but there's an option to buy more if you need it. By the way, with Dropbox, you don't have to worry about your shared files getting stuck in the ether if you lose your internet connection—synced files remain on your computer's hard drive for easy access. Also, Dropbox's LAN sync feature means that rather than making the round trip to the Dropbox servers and back to all the other machines in your network, the files quickly propagate to all the computers on your local network directly—so even big files should make their way to everyone's computers very quickly.

Finally, note-taking application Evernote is another option for sharing small files with friends and families. The free version lets users upload up to 40MB of files each month, but you're limited to audio, images, or PDFs (you'll need a premium account to upload Microsoft docs, videos, and so on). Evernote is a great choice if you want to make separate folders—or, in this case, notebooks—for each family member to help keep files organized and orderly.

Happy sharing!


P.S. Got your own preferred methods that you use to share files at home? Let’s hear them in the comments. Thanks, Matthew!

Gorillacam Brings Timers, Burst, and More Extra Features to Your iPhone’s Camera [Downloads]

iPhone only: The iPhone’s built-in camera is capable, but its features (or lack thereof) aren’t exactly electrifying. Gorillacam adds all the tools you wish the default Camera app had and then some, including timed shots, time-lapse, burst mode, and more.

If you've ever watched the perfect shot pass you by because you're stuck waiting for the last photo you took to save to the Camera Roll, then you'll love Gorillacam's Auto-Save—it works in the background to save pictures while you keep taking more. If you want to take your pics at set intervals anywhere from one second to two minutes apart, then fire up the Time-Lapse feature. Alternatively, you could use 3-Shot Burst to take three rapid-fire pics in succession.

Gorillacam’s got enough features right there to make this free app well worth the download, but Gorillacam does even more. A countdown timer lets you take self-portraits, and Grid Overlay helps you line up and compose shots like a pro. Add to that a shot-leveler and a toggle that turns the whole screen into a shutter button and you’ve got yourself a must-have app to enhance your iPhone’s camera.

Gorillacam comes from the same company that brought you this awesome mobile phone tripod and the classic Gorillapod, and the app really goes to the heart of several missing features in the iPhone’s camera app. What dream feature would make your phone’s camera perfect? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Gorillacam [Joby]

Cook Pasta Faster and with Less Water [Food]

Most people use six or more quarts of water to boil pasta “because that’s how it’s always been done.” What if you could get by with a lot less water and still have great noodles? Here’s how.

Photo by Jakob Montrasio.

Grandma was a smart cookie, but she might not have given you the best advice when it comes to cooking pasta. Turns out it’s not really necessary to use enough water to fill a bathtub just to make a couple servings of spaghetti.

Food science wizard Harold McGee did some experimenting and discovered a pound of spaghetti cooks in as little as 1 1/2 quarts of water, as long as you start with cold water and stir the pot more often. He also has a theory on why this works:

Because the noodles absorb water only very slowly at temperatures much below the boil, so little happens to them in the few minutes it takes for the water to heat up. And no matter how starchy the cooking water is, the solid noodle surfaces themselves are starchier, and will be sticky until they’re lubricated by sauce or oil.

Standard spaghetti noodles take 18 minutes to cook using McGee's methods, but noodles of a different thickness—angel hair pasta, for instance—will take less time, so you'll need to tinker a little bit to figure out what cooking times work for your favorite pasta. Once you get it right, you'll save some time and dimes not boiling up a huge pot of water that just gets dumped down the drain.

Bucking the system to make noodles in only a few inches of water is pretty heady stuff, but that’s not the only kitchen trend that’s not really a hard and fast rule (did you know you don’t have to refrigerate ketchup?). What rebellious kitchen habits do you have? Talk about them in the comments.

Beef Label Decoder Clues You in on How Your Meat Was Raised [Food]

Labels on fresh supermarket beef have all sorts of stamps and and certifications on them, but it’s hard to guess what they all might mean. Here’s an interactive beef label decoder to help you figure it out.

Whether you want to know where your beef’s been for philosophical or health reasons, this web-based tool will give you some insight. For instance, if the package bears a stamp reading “USDA Organic,” you know the cow was fed only 100% organic grass, grain and corn.

A quick tour through all the labels gives you a great overview of how to tell if your steak comes from a cow that may have been given growth hormones, or if your burger could contain the remnants of antibiotics given to an ill animal.

If you want to dig a little deeper into how the way a cow was raised impacts your diet, be sure to take a look at what the Decoder has to say about things like why the type of feed cows have access to is important.

Conventional cattle are fed on a diet of corn and grain, both of which contribute to common and painful health problems and can lead to higher levels of E. Coli bacteria in meat. Grass, however, is healthier for cattle and for meat eaters. Compared with grain- and corn-fed beef, grass-fed beef has less fat, less cholesterol and fewer calories. Grass-fed beef also has a higher concentration of vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids.

Sure, this isn’t the most appetizing thing to think about before your next cookout (or, in the more northerly parts of the world right now, fancy steak purchase) but it’s good information to have. Got any good resources for learning more about what’s in the foods we eat? Share them in the comments.

App Store Expense Monitor Keeps a Leash on Your App Store Purchases [Downloads]

Mac: With iPhone apps so accessible and perfectly within impulse-buy pricing, it’s easy to spend a ton of money without realizing it. App Store Expense Monitor tallies up the price of all your apps so you know how much coin you’ve dropped.

This cool tool teases out all the apps stored in your iTunes folder, grabs their prices from the App Store, and gives you a complete overview of how much you’ve spent. It scopes out the iTunes folders of all the accounts on your systems, so you can even break down how much less you spent than your spouse (so you can catch up, of course).

The Expense Monitor uses the current price of apps in the iTunes store so there’s no way for it to tell if you bought something on sale, or got it free before it became a premium app. Fortunately, you can easily edit prices in the Expense Monitor in just a couple of clicks.

Do you really want to know how much you’ve spent on apps since getting your iPhone or touch, or is ignorance bliss? Tell us in the comments.

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