Blog Archives

How To Keep Your iTunes Library When It Won’t Fit on Your Hard Drive [How To]

Ultraportable notebooks are finally fast enough that we can use them as our main machines. But damn, the SSDs they pack are small—how are you supposed to fit your entire music library on one of these? You're not. More »







Give Your Computer and Peripherals a Spring Cleaning [Computers]

Most of us are more concerned about the tidiness of our directories and files than we are about our physical computer. A dirty computer is a failure-prone computer, so let’s dig in with some spring cleaning tips. More »







Crashplan

As an alternative to the previously reviewed Mozy, I prefer CrashPlan for offsite data storage. It’ll back you up to external hard drives, or computers on your network, or flat-rate cloud storage, but its great innovation is the ability to back up over the internet, with permission, to another CrashPlan user. This is terrific for maintaining your own automatic offsite backups between work and home, or spreading backup religion to friends and family. All you need is broadband and spare disk space.

You need a backup buddy (which could easily be yourself, if you have computers in different locations) if you want to use the offsite backup features. If you don't have a buddy, it won't find you one anonymously, though you can pay $55/computer/year (or $100/household/year for unlimited computers) to back up to Code 42’s cloud storage, which they say lives in a converted bank vault. There is no obligation for backups to run in both directions. The advantages of a "peer to peer" backup are cost, control, and reciprocity. With a Drobo or a big RAID I can hold secure backups for my whole far-flung family, at no additional cost per year. It’s a feature that turns two (or more) people who weren’t backing up at all into people with offsite backups they never have to think about. I think that’s as close to magic as software gets.

Bandwidth and disk storage are conserved through compression, data de-duplication, and block-level file access (for efficient handling of large monolithic data like virtual machines). All data that leaves your system gets encrypted, and sensitive details such as filenames and backup logs are not visible to your backup partner. CPU and bandwidth usage can be throttled, and ramped up when the computer goes idle.

While Mozy or BackBlaze expect you to make your initial backup over the net, CrashPlan encourages backing up quickly to a USB or FireWire disk, then carrying or mailing the disk to its destination, where incremental backups over the internet pick up where the local backup left off. Without this feature, one’s first complete backup of tens or hundreds of gigabytes could take weeks.

All of the above features are available for free in an ad-supported version of CrashPlan. The $60 paid version, called CrashPlan+, removes the ads and grants more control over data retention, hours of operation, and backup frequency (15 minute intervals by default, daily in the free version). Computers acting as CrashPlan servers, and not themselves being backed up, don’t need a license. And because it’s platform independent, including Linux support, your backup partner’s choice of OS doesn’t matter.

I’m the IT director for an 80-person company, where we’ve been using the business version, CrashPlan Pro, for a little under a year. The Pro version is centralized, allowing IT staff to keep tabs on clients’ backup status and lock down settings. Along with a number of ad-hoc restorations of employees’ accidentally deleted files, we've restored four or five entire home directories, without a glitch. When a person sees Word’s auto-saved files return from 10 minutes before their disk ate itself, we look good.

Pricing for CrashPlan Pro starts at $70/seat and falls slightly with quantity discounts, plus $15/seat/year for support and maintenance; server seats are free. CrashPlan doesn’t restore entire hard drives to a bootable state, so it sensibly defaults to backing up just home directories. I wish it could back up varying sets of files to different destinations (like a bigger set to a local disk and a smaller set offsite); the developers tell me this is planned. Its optional pruning of deleted files from the backup archive is aggressive — it prunes on a schedule you can set, but just-deleted files are removed on pruning day, unlike Apple’s Time Machine, which only deletes the oldest snapshots in its archive.

But these gripes are trivial where CrashPlan makes its strongest case, which is as an offsite complement to local backup strategies like Time Machine, or as a seamless solution for users who otherwise wouldn’t back up at all, let alone offsite. It’s great software.

Nathaniel Irons

CrashPlan
Free for basic use; prices vary for Pro use

Photo Friday’s Monitor Calibration Tool Makes Easy-on-the-Eyes Monitor Tweaks [Monitors]

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to adjust your monitors without a lot of fussing with multi-step processes, the calibration tool at Photo Friday can help you tweak your monitor.

Nothing is a true substitute for hardware calibration, but if you're not working in the print industry or as a professional photographer, you don't need to calibrate your monitor to match the physical world—you need to calibrate it so that the contrast is correct and you can use the monitor without straining your eyes.

Over at photography site Photo Friday, they’ve created a simple calibration image you can use to adjust the brightness and contrast on your monitor to an optimum level. Visit the link below and follow the simple instructions to tweak your screen.

If you like your calibration tools to have a few more sliders, bells, and whistles, check out previously reviewed Online Monitor Test. Have a favorite software or hardware tool for monitor calibration? Let’s hear about it in the comments.






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.






How to Put Your PC to Good Use While You’re Sleeping [Hack Attack]

The great part about your computer is that—unlike you—it doesn't require any sleep. Take advantage of your PC's insomnia by automating time- and processor-intensive tasks while you're counting sheep.

Photo remixed from Remko van Dokkum and Ian Wilson.

Note: We’re all for powering down your PC to save energy overnight, but you can easily schedule your computer to shut down at specific times using several methods, so there's no harm in putting your PC to sleep an hour or two after you doze off—or an hour or two after you leave for work, or whatever times you might want to take advantage of a few extra CPU cycles while you're away from your PC.

On Tuesday we asked you what apps and maintenance tools you run while you’re sleeping. Below we’ve aggregated our favorite overnight computer uses, including some of your favorite methods of squeezing a few more overtime hours out of your computer along with ours.

Backup, Update, and Clean

Ah maintenance; it's the stuff that boring work is made of. Rather than incorporate it into your regular computing hours—and staring listlessly at your computer while your maintenance tasks complete—make computer maintenance an overnight task that your computer performs without you.

Note: All of the below suggestions, naturally, can be set to run on a schedule.

Backup your hard drive: We’ve emphasized the importance of backup time and again, and even if you’ve already got some form of backup in place, there’s still a good chance that you’re doing it wrong.

The bummer about backup: It can take a very long time, especially when you’re performing an off-site backup over the internet (which you should be doing!). We’ve detailed how to automatically backup your hard drive to an external drive and/or FTP server in the past. Backing up to a second local hard drive—like a connected USB drive—is the most important of these two, since most people don't necessarily have an off-site FTP server they can back up to.

Instead, for your off-site backup needs, we’d suggest signing up for a service like Mozy. An annual subscription to Mozy will cost around $55 a year for unlimited backups (free for up to 2GB), but let’s say worst comes to worst and your computer is robbed, lost to a fire, or your hard drives up and crash. That small cost for insurance will likely seem very much worth the money. I personally use and can vouch for Mozy, but you might want to read up on it and other options in our recent Hive Five Best Backup Tools.

Some command-line savvy readers also opt to do their backups using the venerated rsync command line tool. If you’re interested in taking the rsync route, check out our guide on how to mirror files across systems with rsync.

Make your hard drive repair itself: You can't do much to save a hard drive from dying if it's fated in the stars, but you can do your part to keep your disks healthy—specifically by regularly defragmenting and checking for and repairing any disk errors. Our oldie-but-goodie guide to the self-repairing hard drive will allow you to schedule this maintenance once or twice per week, while you’re sleeping, so you can rest easy that you’ve done all you can to keep your disks running in tip-top shape.

Keep your computer up to date: This one’s kind of a no brainer, but still very worth the reminder. Granted, some power users would prefer vetting each and every Windows update before it’s applied, but for most folks, there’s not much of a reason not to automate this process while they’re out. To schedule updates via Windows Update, just launch the Update tool from the Control Panel, click the Let me choose my settings link, and choose your preferred automated update settings.

OS X users, your Software Update tool isn’t quite as friendly about setting specific times for checking for and downloading updates, but Macworld’s Christopher Breen has some clever tips for scheduling Software Update that’ll do the trick.

Clean house: Whether you’re talking antivirus, crap cleaning, or other general PC cleanup, there’s no better time to run those scans and maintenance tools than while you’re catching some Z’s. It may depend on your antivirus application of choice, but you should have some sort of built-in scheduling option for running antivirus and spyware scans. And for the CCleaner crowd, the How-To Geek details how to set up CCleaner to run automatically every night.

Download, Encode, and Fold

Now that you’ve got your PC taking care of its most important maintenance tasks overnight, let’s look at a few other common overnight uses.

Downloads: When we asked about overnight PC use, downloading using tools like BitTorrent ranked very high among those who responded, and for obvious reasons: Downloads can take a long time, and those hours you're sleeping are hours that big downloads can be completing. But rather than keep your PC on all night long—even after it completes your download—most popular file downloaders have built-in options for shutting down, hibernating, or otherwise powering off your computer when the download in question completes. Everything from the popular BitTorrent client uTorrent (whose options are pictured above) to download managers like DownThemAll have these options built in.

Video encoding: Many of us will never know the time it takes to do some seriously heavy video encoding (we’re none of us Pixar), but if you’ve ever tried ripping a DVD (here are five of the best ripping tools out there), you know how much time and CPU cycles video encoding can take. Outsource your ripping and other encoding jobs to the night so you can actually use your computer the next day.

Share your computing power with researchers: Distributed computing tools allow researchers across the globe to use your extra CPU cycles to run a few algorithms of their own in the background using your computer. That might not seem like much, but with enough computers, researchers can do some serious work with distributed computing. (Wikipedia notes that Folding@home, the most popular distributed computing network, has up to 400,000 active machines running at a time and has reached computing speeds of over 5.0 native petaflops.) If you’re interested in putting your PC to use to help the world while you’re sleeping, you’ve got plenty of options:There’s Folding@home (a project to understand protein folding), BOINC, the World Community Grid, and LHC@home, to name a few popular options.

And a few other smart ideas

Clever (or just less common) overnight uses for your PC suggested by Lifehacker readers included:

  • Updating your applications: Reader Matthew Giacomazzo uses previously mentioned software update tool Ketarin to check for and download software update packages for installed apps. Rather than automatically install them, he has Ketarin output updates to a text file on his desktop so he can review the downloaded updates and decide whether or not to install them in the morning.
  • Compiling code: Compiling code from source can be an intensive process, and reader perlhacker uses his overnight cycles to update and compile software on his Mac and OpenBSD machines.
  • Renaming files: Lifehacker reader prupert runs scripts on his home theater PC to rename and copy television recordings on his MythTV setup, then scans the recordings for advertising, removes them, and converts the files to MKV.
  • Creating local backups for data in the cloud: Reader mojo schedules a Google Docs backup to give a little redundancy to data in the cloud.

Just Turn It Off Already

Okay, fine. Sometimes the best thing you can do with your computer is simply turn it off. You save on electricity, you lose one extra hum and a few flashing lights in your home at night, and you may stop thinking, “Oooo, maybe I should google that” while you’re laying in bed with your pre-sleep mind wandering. Remember, though, very few of the options highlighted above should require an entire night’s worth of your powered-on computer. Check out our guide to automatically shutting down your computer at a certain time for more ideas on how you can make the most of some after-hours computing power without keeping your computer on all night long.


Got a favorite that didn’t make the list above, or want to expand on what we already mentioned? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments.

Adam Pash, editor of Lifehacker, enjoys the god-like power of automation more than is healthy. His work can be found every day on Lifehacker, and he’s listening on Twitter.






Build a Wall-Mounted Kitchen Computer [DIY]

If you’ve been dreaming of having a computer in your kitchen but don’t like the idea of hanging it from a cabinet or having it clutter up the counter, this guide can help you build a sleek in-wall computer.

Putting a computer in your kitchen and having it look natural and part of the design is a big challenge. Ryan’s wife had been bugging him to put a computer in the kitchen so she could use it to access the internet, manage recipes, generate shopping lists and so on. She also had a pretty tall order when it came to the machine, she wanted it to be discrete, have a touch screen, be internet-enabled, with wires hidden and equipped with a barcode scanner for her to scan products and manage a kitchen database. Not dissuaded by such an ambitious list, Ryan set to work and built an in-wall computer that looks like it was designed and installed by a professional.

The build sports a touch screen, runs Windows XP with an interface cloned from the iPhone for easy finger-based navigation and use, and can do everything from displaying the weather to organizing the pantry. You can check out his build guide for detailed information including how he created the iPhone interface from scratch using the active desktop feature in Windows and coding a custom web page using icons he made and linking them to online services and software on the computer.






Most Popular DIY Projects of 2009 [Best Of 2009]

We love DIY projects here at Lifehacker. Whether we’re building computers, backyard projects, or turning office supplies into artillery, we’re always tinkering. Today we’re taking a peek at the most popular DIY projects of 2009.

Create Your Own Sun Jar: Lifehacker Edition


Inspired by a tutorial we posted last year, we decided to make our own DIY sun jars. The trendy summer time lighting accessory retails for $30+ but we were able to make ours for around $10 each. The sun jars proved to be our most popular non-computer DIY of the entire year and readers shared their own creations with us.

The First-Timer’s Guide to Building a Computer from Scratch


Building your own computer is a great way to get exactly what you want, the way you want it, without being constrained by the limits and high-prices of mass produced computers. We showed you how to build a computer from start to finish and have fun doing it.

Turn a Sharpie into a Liquid Fueled Rocket


What’s standing between you and some office mayhem? Certainly not a lack of Sharpie markers and keyboard dusting spray. Combine the two with this fun DIY project and you’ve got one of the most awesome pieces of office-machinery we’ve ever featured.

Properly Erase Your Physical Media


You need to be properly erasing your physical media: all the time, every time. Our guide will show you how to get the job done and done right whether you use software to scrub your disks or you send them to the great data mine in the sky with a 21-gun salute.

Turn an Old Laptop into a Wall-Mounted Computer

Why settle for a digital picture frame when, in the same wall space, you could mount an entirely functional computer/slideshow player/TV tuner? One Lifehacker reader turned an old laptop into a super-charged digital frame.

$8 DIY Aluminum Laptop Stand

We’ve always been keen on DIY laptop stands, but reader Aaron Kravitz—inspired by an attractive $50 stand—went above and beyond, creating one of the most attractive DIY laptop stands we've featured to date.

Build an IKEA NAS On the Cheap


If the Hive Five on best home server software got you excited about setting up a home server but you’re not keen on another unsightly PC in your home, check out this DIY IKEA NAS.

Build a DIY Portable Air Conditioner


We’ve shown you how to make an air conditioner (even for as low as $30), but what if you wanted something you can put in your car and take with you? While it’s no substitute for a fully-charged and factory-fresh AC system, it’ll keep you cool.

Turn a Bookshelf into a Secret Passage


Who hasn’t dreamed of having a mystery-story-style secret passageway? While a trick bookshelf is pretty awesome in itself, this secret passage hides a home office with clever style. One industrious Lifehacker reader and his girlfriend had grown tired of seeing their office from their living space, so they hid it behind a wall of books.

Wire Your House with Ethernet Cable

You’ve ripped a movie on your laptop, and now want it on that fancy new home theater PC next to your TV. If you’ve got the time, wiring your house with Cat-5e cable could make transfer times a distant memory.

Rain Gutters as Cable Management Tools


We’re all about creative cable management here at Lifehacker, so we were instantly drawn to reader Seandavid010‘s rain-gutter cable management setup. He was awesome enough to send detailed photos and step by step instructions to help other readers recreate his setup.

Build Your Own DTV Antenna

The lights went out on analog television this year and we were there with a guide to help you build a great DIY antenna for boosting your reception and getting that crisp digital picture you crave.

DIY Laptop Rack Hack Turns Your Monitor into an iMac


Lifehacker reader Matt Lumpkin saw our monitor stand from door stoppers post and thought we might like his laptop rack hack as another space-saving desktop solution for laptop-lovers. He was right.

Build Your Own Pizza Oven


Suppose you were inspired by the cheap DIY home pizza oven—but weren't so sure your home insurance would cover oven modifications. It's time to build a safer, more eye-pleasing oven, and we've got a thorough guide.

Crack a Master Combination Padlock Redux


Two years ago we highlighted how to crack a Master combination padlock for those of you who may have lost the combination to your bulletproof lock; now designer Mark Campos has turned the tried-and-true instructions into an easier-to-follow visual guide.

DIY Invisible Floating Bookshelves


We’ve covered the invisible floating bookshelf once or twice before, but if you liked the idea but weren’t keen on ruining a book in the process, weblog May December Home’s got you covered.

DIY Inverted Bookshelf


Instead of storing your books upright on top of the shelf, the inverted bookshelf holds all of your books in place using elastic webbing so you can hang them below the shelf—all the while allowing you to still take them out and put them back on as needed.

Build an Under-the-Cabinet Kitchen PC from an Old Laptop


Inspired by our guide to giving an old laptop new life with cheap or free projects, Lifehacker reader Brian turned his aging Dell laptop into an incredible under-the-cabinet kitchen PC.

Turn Storage Containers into Self Watering Tomato Planters


If you’d like to have delicious home-grown tomatoes but lack a garden to grow them in, you’ll definitely want to check out this ingenious and inexpensive self-watering system.

Deter Thieves by Uglifying Your Camera


A few years ago, blogger Jimmie Rodgers’s camera was stolen while volunteering in an impoverished Brazilian community, so he did what any sane person would do: He bought a new camera and made it ugly. With his uglified camera, Rodgers was able to snap pictures freely during the rest of his trip without worrying too much that his ostensibly crappy camera would end up stolen.

DIY TV or Monitor Stand from Door Stoppers


Nothing adds space to a desk or home theater setup like a simple monitor or TV stand, and weblog IKEA Hacker details how to build your own stand on-the-cheap with a few inexpensive items from IKEA.

Repurpose Your Analog Television


You don’t need to run out and buy a new TV because of the DTV switchover. If you did anyways, Make Magazine has put together quite a guide to giving old TVs new life.

Use Ping-Pong Balls to Create Diffused Party Lights


If you need some cheap and novel ambient lighting for your next party, you’re only a box of ping-pong balls and a string of lights away from solving your lighting worries.

Build a Custom-Made BoxeeBox


DeviceGuru blogger Rick Lehrbaum, inspired by the cheaper set-top boxes, made his own higher-powered “BoxeeBox” for the free, open-source media center. He posted all the parts, the how-to details, and lots of pictures.

Build a Sturdy Cardboard Laptop Stand


You already shelled out your hard earned cash for a swanky laptop, why drop more cash on an overpriced laptop stand? Cardboard alone can do the trick, as detailed in this step-by-step tutorial.

Install Snow Leopard on Your Hackintosh PC, No Hacking Required


Earlier this year we put together a wildly popular guide to building a Hackintosh with Snow Leopard, start to finish, and then followed it up with an even easier guide to install Snow Leopard on your Hackintosh PC, no hacking required. Computers + DIY is all sorts of geeky fun waiting to happen.


Which Is Your Favorite Lifehacker DIY Project of 2009?(polls)

Have a favorite DIY from 2009 that wasn’t highlighted here? Sound off in the comments with a link to your favorite project. Want to see more popular DIY guides courtesy of the ghost of Lifehacker past? Check out our huge DIY guide roundup from 2008.






Clean Your Laptop to Keep It Running Smooth and Cool [Cleaning]

Taking time out to evacuate your PC’s dust bunnies is a must for keeping your computer running in tip-top shape. If you’re not the desktop sort, DIY site Instructables details how to banish dust from your laptop.

The more dust that collects inside your computer, the hotter it'll run. The hotter it runs, the sooner it'll die. What's more, that accumulated dust has probably caused your fan to run more often and louder than it needs to. As you can imagine, then, a clean computer is a happy computer—which is where this Instructable guide comes in handy.

Granted, the inside of one laptop may vary greatly from the inside of another, but—as the author of this Instructable points out—the same basic ideas apply, so if you practice a little common sense you should be fine. While you're at it, if you feel your desktop computer is in need of some serious cleaning, check out how to clean your PC for more.





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