Monday, 22 December 2008

The Feel Good Factor: 10 Simple Actions

Daily habits can affect our well-being. Here are 10 simple actions that research has shown makes people feel good.

In the last few years, psychologists and researchers have been digging up hard data on a question previously left to philosophers: What makes us happy? Researchers like the father-son team Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, Stanford psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, and ethicist Stephen Post have studied people all over the world to find out how things like money, attitude, culture, memory, health, altruism, and our day-to-day habits affect our well-being. The emerging field of positive psychology is bursting with new findings that suggest your actions can have a significant effect on your happiness and satisfaction with life. Here are 10 scientifically proven strategies for getting happy.1. Savor Everyday Moments
Pause now and then to smell a rose or watch children at play. Study participants who took time to “savor” ordinary events that they normally hurried through, or to think back on pleasant moments from their day, “showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression,” says psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky.
2. Avoid Comparisons
While keeping up with the Joneses is part of American culture, comparing ourselves with others can be damaging to happiness and self-esteem. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, focusing on our own personal achievement leads to greater satisfaction, according to Lyubomirsky.
3. Put Money Low on the List
People who put money high on their priority list are more at risk for depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, according to researchers Tim Kasser and Richard Ryan. Their findings hold true across nations and cultures. “The more we seek satisfactions in material goods, the less we find them there,” Ryan says. “The satisfaction has a short half-life -- it’s very fleeting.” Money-seekers also score lower on tests of vitality and self-actualization.
4. Have Meaningful Goals
“People who strive for something significant, whether it’s learning a new craft or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations,” say Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener. “As humans, we actually require a sense of meaning to thrive.” Harvard’s resident happiness professor, Tal Ben-Shahar, agrees, “Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable.”
5. Take Initiative at Work
How happy you are at work depends in part on how much initiative you take. Researcher Amy Wrzesniewski says that when we express creativity, help others, suggest improvements, or do additional tasks on the job, we make our work more rewarding and feel more in control.
6. Make Friends, Treasure Family
Happier people tend to have good families, friends, and supportive relationships, say Diener and Biswas-Diener. But it’s not enough to be the life of the party if you’re surrounded by shallow acquaintances. “We don’t just need relationships, we need close ones” that involve understanding and caring.
7. Smile Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
It sounds simple, but it works. “Happy people…see possibilities, opportunities, and success. When they think of the future, they are optimistic, and when they review the past, they tend to savor the high points,” say Diener and Biswas-Diener. Even if you weren’t born looking at the glass as half-full, with practice, a positive outlook can become a habit.
8. Say Thank You Like You Mean It
People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis are healthier, more optimistic, and more likely to make progress toward achieving personal goals, according to author Robert Emmons. Research by Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, revealed that people who write “gratitude letters” to someone who made a difference in their lives score higher on happiness, and lower on depression -- and the effect lasts for weeks.
9. Get Out and Exercise
A Duke University study shows that exercise may be just as effective as drugs in treating depression, without all the side effects and expense. Other research shows that in addition to health benefits, regular exercise offers a sense of accomplishment and opportunity for social interaction, releases feel-good endorphins, and boosts self-esteem.
10. Give It Away, Give It Away Now!
Make altruism and giving part of your life, and be purposeful about it. Researcher Stephen Post says helping a neighbor, volunteering, or donating goods and services results in a “helper’s high,” and you get more health benefits than you would from exercise or quitting smoking. Listening to a friend, passing on your skills, celebrating others’ successes, and forgiveness also contribute to happiness, he says. Researcher Elizabeth Dunn found that those who spend money on others reported much greater happiness than those who spend it on themselves. [via]

Free Windows Downloads: Top 10 of 2008

In the past year we've highlighted hundreds of Windows apps aimed at making your life easier, boosting your computer productivity, and powering up your PC.
For those of you who weren't able to keep up, here's a look back at the most popular Windows downloads of 2008.
Keep in mind that this list is based on the popularity of posts we've published in 2008 only, regardless of the original release date of the app. Many were brand new this year, while others were solid updates to popular software. Here's the full run-down of the 12 most popular Windows downloads of 2008:

Firefox 3 Is Released, We Download

Firefox 3 was easily one of the biggest events in software in 2008 regardless of what platform you run. We may be well on the way to Firefox 3.1 now, but if you're looking to brush up on your Firefox 3 chops, be sure to check out the top 10 Firefox 3 features and our power user's guide to Firefox 3.

Mojo Downloads Music from Your Friends' iTunes Libraries Over the Internet

Mojo makes it easy to download music from your friends' iTunes libraries over the internet. Mojo comes in both free and premium flavors, but the free version offers plenty of functionality for the money.

Free PDF to Word Doc Converter Does What It Sounds Like

It's easy to convert or print Microsoft Word documents to PDF, but what about when you want to go the other way around? The aptly named Free PDF to Word Doc Converter does exactly that.

OurTunes Grabs Music from Shared iTunes Libraries

If the limitations on Mojo aren't for you, the open-source classic ourTunes—which downloads music from any shared iTunes library on your network—made a comeback earlier this year, as a new developer took up the reigns and continues to release updates.

CCleaner Clears the Crap from Your PC

The popular PC colonic CCleaner (the first 'C' stands for Crap) pushed out a 2.0 release earlier this year and you were quick to update and enjoy the crap cleaning goodies.

AVG Free Anti-Virus 2008

AVG Free Anti-Virus 2008 hit the streets in May, and the application that you voted the best antivirus applications for Windows was unsurprisingly popular.

Windows Vista Service Pack 1

Microsoft released the first major service pack for Vista, Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (x64 version), in March, and you were eager to download and update to the latest and greatest from Redmond.

Hotspot Shield Gets Around US-Only Blocks and Content Filtering

Looking to protect your browsing privacy or access US-only content from outside the US? HotSpot Shield received a lot of attention in '08 from users looking to do that and more.

Quick Media Converter Easily Converts Media to Any Format

Quick Media Converterconverts virtually any media file (audio or video) from one format to another. The application has an emphasis on simplicity: Just drag and drop a file you want to convert onto the app, click the icon of the device you're converting for, and let Quick Media Converter take care of the rest.

DExposE2 Brings OS X's Expose to Windows

Freeware application DExposE2is a clone of Mac OS X's Expose feature for Windows XP and Vista, providing an attractive, innovative interface for switching and managing windows in Windows.

Dropbox Instantly Syncs Files Across the Internet

Instantaneous file syncing was huge in 2008, with free, cross-platform application Dropbox leading the pack. Dropbox boasts web-based version control, fast and instant syncs, and a dead-simple setup. Among other things, Dropbox makes for the perfect password syncer.

Executor Challenges Launchy, Impresses

Open-source application Launchy has long been a favorite of savvy keyboarders looking for quick app launching in Windows, but a saucy newcomer called Executor hit the ground running when it was released earlier this year.

Sharepod Frees Your iPod from iTunes

Want to free yourself from the shackles of iTunes but still want full functionality from your iPod? Sharepod is a lightweight iTunes alternative that runs directly from your iPod, so it's with you whenever and wherever you plug in your player.[via lifehacker]

50 All time best Websites

When it comes to the Internet, we're creatures of habit – Google for search, Hotmail for email, Twitter to stay in touch and maybe the BBC's website for news. This means that we use only a handful of favourite sites, leaving the rest of the Internet unvisited. Let's put that right. By the time you've finished reading, we promise that your list of bookmarked sites will have ballooned and you'll be getting more from your surfing.
Software and tools
1. ThinkFree Office is a powerful suite of productivity apps that includes a robust word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tool. The suite has subtle touches such as an inline spell-checker, and you can work offline if the Internet goes down. There's also support for 11 languages and helpful PDF export capability. Most importantly, you can share documents with other users and work on files collaboratively. The suite is free if you can live with 1GB of storage, or upgrade for a nominal fee to a premium account.
2. Zoho is a highly useful web portal for being productive on the go. More than just a word processor and task manager, Zoho has a multitude of small web apps for taking notes, storing contact information and project management. There's even a web conferencing tool. APIs are available for the web services in Zoho's word processor and spreadsheet, too. There's also a slideshow creator so that you can make calls from another website – for example, an accounting site could read tables from a Zoho spreadsheet. The site is one of the first to support VB macros and the document mark-up language LaTeX.
3. It's time to ditch Microsoft Excel. EditGrid is powerful enough for basic number crunching without the extensive pivot table and worksheet functions. Its main strength, unsurprisingly, comes in how you can format cells, with image includes, JavaScript calls and a data exchange between spreadsheets and even between the spreadsheets hosted by other users. There's a plugin that reads Excel data, templates, mash-up features for integrating data from websites like Yahoo! Finance and plenty of text formatting options. Registration is quick and there are three pricing plans: one free account, a premium account for just a few dollars per month and a multi-user company plan. Unfortunately, it does not work in Internet Explorer 6.
4. Web project management has taken a beating these last few years, especially since tools like stress simplicity over actual features. Clarizen is easy to use and runs fast on a 3Mbps connection on a 64-bit 3GHz Vista PC, but it also has deeper features. For example, you can update your task list by sending an email to the project inbox. (You can also request a daily task list by sending an email.)
5. The original idea for SlideShare came when co-founder Jonathan Boutelle was at a conference and saw how attendees were easily sharing large videos and photo collections online, but had to physically pass around USB keys to distribute sales presentations. He created SlideShare as a way to host and store PowerPoint files. It has became incredibly popular.
6. It may not have the flare and design of Microsoft Visio, but the online flow-charting program known as Gliffy certainly has an expansive set of features. There are icons for networking, office design and organisation charts to help you put some order around any idea. Line connectors automatically snap into place, or avoid certain shapes when you move them around the screen – a powerful programming trick, especially since the site does not use any plug-ins or require you to download any software.
7. Part online presence for slideshows and part client-side tool that helps you create presentations and post them online, has one major benefit: it's lightning fast. In tests with several different PCs at different connection speeds (including one at a public hotspot), we found that we could create a detailed sales presentation with several high-res graphics in no time The site uses Adobe Flex and the AIR client. 'Presentation analytics' (now there's a buzzword) tells you who saw your presentation and even how long they looked at each of your slides.
8. Scribd is not quite a word processor, although it looks like one at first. Instead, it's actually a content creation tool that you could use to publish your own technical papers, schoolwork, or even a novel online. It's also one of the only document management tools we have found that is free and publicly available (Scribd also offers a closed service).
Storage and files
9. Our favourite online storage portal, has the most fascinating social networking features. Other users can tag and comment on your files (if you give them permission). You can use APIs to link the storage (a basic account is free, premium services cost about £4-£10 per month) to popular web services like and If you do go with the premium account, you get 5 or 15GBs and the ability to see version history on files. Alas, there does not appear to be a desktop folder as with Dropbox.
10. It's easier to understand Pando by what it's not: you can't sync files, store them online or make back-ups. Instead, it's the best site we' found for sending large fi les by email. Instead of using attachments, you just send your recipient a Pando link. Max file size is 1GB, and there's a video sharing version for consumers and corporate users – all free.
11. Although it's not what we really want (a full Microsoft Word client on the web), Workspace is as close as Microsoft is willing to get at this point. It's a 'store and share' site that is worth your time because you can archive thousands of Word docs for free and make them fully searchable online – for you or for any user you give permission to access the archive.
12. Instead of just storing your files online or syncing them between computers, MozyHome is both a web portal to view your archived files and a client-side back-up app. Its main feature is the ability to monitor important folders and archive them to the web so that you can restore them at any time, regardless of whether you are even using the same computer. MozyHome is the free version that comes with 2GB of online storage, while Mozy Unlimited costs $5 per month and Mozy Pro is a network back-up utility with several pricing plans.
13. Most photo sharing sites use some combination of web forms, HTML and JavaScript to help you organise your photos online. Zoto uses JavaScript, along with a client-side photo uploader that

14. It might be easy to dismiss EyeOS as an attention grabbing alternative OS that runs in a browser. After all, it could be argued Firefox is a kind of operating system that runs JavaScript apps. EyeOS makes easy work of common tasks like file associations and one-click access to your favourite apps. The OS includes 60 popular apps, including word processing and audio players – you can get more at Still in its infant state, EyeOS reveals a tantalising glimpse of what Windows could look like if it ran in a browser.
15. The concept of a 'social database' might seem like a contradiction – but Blist pulls it off. You can enter vast quantities of data – the entire fantasy football roster for all your friends, for example – and then share the data between Blist users. Templates are geared for those who want to weed out duplicate data.
16. The holy grail of file syncing is the ability to drop files into a folder and have that same folder show up on every other computer you own and work exactly like a network drive – except that it's online. Dropbox (still in beta) solves this issue. Just add a folder to your desktop and copy files. You can also share complete folders so that anyone with access to the folder sees and is able to use the shared, synced files.
17. Carbonite is a unique online back-up utility that sits in your system tray and watches important folders, such as those containing 'dev' files or Word documents, automatically archiving them to a secure website as you work. There is no limit to the storage space available, although the program will only upload a couple of gigabytes per day. Strangely, after install, the clientside app reboots Windows Explorer.
18. There are no extra frills offered by – the main draw is that the site houses over 7,000 fonts, all freely available to download for Mac or Windows. Linux users will have to convert the fonts. You can grab every single font in one eMule or BitTorrent file; just go to and look for the 'zip' file links.
19. Part Flickr replacement and part entry-level photo editor, Photoshop Express proves that Adobe is on a clear path toward online apps. It's fairly basic: you can apply a handful of filters for lighting and exposure, rotate and re-size images, embed photos into a web page and share your shots with other users – even those on Flickr. The site shows huge potential: with 2GB of free storage, imagine being able to apply complex editing tasks to a series of photos where 'the cloud' does all the processing for you.
20. There's a plethora of general purpose how-to sites on the web, including the fantastic, but Luxa is for the technical-minded Photoshop user. You may already know how to perform a Gaussian blur, but Luxa teaches you how to make neon glow effects, complex layering, text design within Photoshop and many other skills.
21. Don't avoid Bluestring just because it's owned by AOL: the site is an example of how the web can be a powerful ally in digital media collection. You can upload music, photos, and videos. The handy status bar lets you do a massive bulk upload and switch to a different tab, then check back to see how much data has been uploaded.
22. Ecommerce sites have changed dramatically over the years. Imagekind is a unique site that lets you preview museum art and photos on various picture frames and even different canvas materials before making the purchase. Prints generally cost about £15 each. You can also sell your own prints.
23. Web users are always in a hurry, which is what makes Flauntr so attractive. You can click one option to see multiple views of how a filter will change your photo. Using the 'PicasR' filter, you can pick a work of art from Picasso and apply that technique to your image. The site isn't exceptionally fast, but the drag-and-drop interface and one-click effects are worth exploration.
24. If registering with Simplebucket could be easier, we'd be surprised. To upload photos (2MB max per image), you don't even need an account. You just type in your email, select photos and upload. You can then view those photos associated with your email account by clicking on a secure link the site sends you. Simplebucket is free, although you can buy more 'upload credits' for a few dollars – you get five free per day. If you want a password, you can always upload a photo and then click 'Settings' to create an account.
25. 1001freefonts actually has about 7,000 fonts to pick from, each with a useful preview. You can also perform a 'custom preview' to see how the font looks with the text you intend using. There's also a download option to buy 7,000 fonts all at once, which costs about a tenner.
26. InterfaceLIFT is a vast collection of icons, images, wallpapers and random clipart, which can help you add some flair to a web app or an interface. You can also just download desktop wallpapers — it's an amazingly good collection and all the artwork is free to use.
27. Similar to Photoshop Express, Picnik goes much further with an extensive array of photo-editing effects, histograms, fine pixel alterations and colour correction. You can upload photos from your PC, a webcam and any website.
Research and e-learning
28. Not all sites have to use a flashy interface. Martindale's reference desk is essentially a collection of links to really useful information. There's a huge wealth of reference material on disparate topics such as banjo lessons, world clocks, time and expense calculators, eye tests for computer users, a science database, currency convertors and just about anything you can think of. As the web moves closer to a 'single use' model where one site performs only a simple function, Martindale's throws the book at you – virtually.
29. Ever wonder how to embed a picture to a cell in Microsoft Excel? At eHow, you can find the answer in just a few clicks. They have categories for electronics, careers, health and many others. The site is almost all text, so you can find the answers you need quickly.
30. Mashery is a hosted service for your web API – it allows you to create links between, say, Yahoo! maps and Flickr photos, or plot the location of public parks with disc golf data you pull from a volunteer site. It supports usage tracking, asset management, encryption – everything you need to link data form one host to another.
31. Amazon uses the term 'artificial artificial intelligence' (sic) to define what the Mechanical Turk site is all about. It's actually a site where you can sign up to perform very repetitive tasks, such as typing text transcripts for videos. You pay just a few cents per completed Human Intelligence Task. These are generally things that a computer is not very good at. It's a very illuminating example of where AI is faltering.
32. Agreeing on basic business principals often requires written contracts and lawyers. You can skip that chaos by using Mumboe, a site that hosts online applications for business agreements. The free account is quite limited: you can only host up to 10 agreements and only three users can apply. Pricing for premium accounts runs to about £12 to £24 per month for unlimited users, secure and searchable contracts and version control. Registration is a little clunky: you have to agree to the terms twice and the confirmation email took a while to send.
33. Not quite a web aggregator, yet more than a simple search engine, PageOnce lets you add secure sites to one page – you can see your bank balance, airline ticket info, Netflix rentals and a host of other data. Registration was pretty easy: no codes to type in, just a confirmation link sent through email.
Mobile workers
34. The problem with most video chat software is that everyone you chat with needs to have downloaded the client. TokBox works online for two-way chats and multi-point video conferences with no software to download, and the registration is Web 2.0-streamlined to get you talking straightaway.
35. Other online conversion sites show you a laundry list of other options besides currency, for example weight, measurement and even language. Xe focuses entirely on currency, which means that it's easier to navigate and conversion options are all on the main screen.
36. While many online flight search sites are US-only, Skyscanner lets you choose any country as your origin, supports many different languages and presents an uncluttered, mostly ad-free interface for finding the lowest rates on international flights.
37. A web whiteboarding tool, Twiddla lets you visit any site and then host a meeting online where you can chat about the site, host an audio chat and mark it up with shapes and notes to participants. It's very useful for web developers and designers who want to visit a site in production to talk about the look and feel of it. It's also just a good meet-up site for mobile users who need to exchange ideas, and best of all, it's free.
38. Mobile users can watch TV any time they want with Joost - and the service has recently switched to an online viewer instead of requiring that you download a client. With 28,000 shows online, Joost has a leg up on other more 'premium' sites such as Hulu, although don't expect a high bit-rate or HD quality for any of the online streams.
39. Vello is unique. It lets you arrange a phone conference by calling a Vello number that re-distributes the conference call number to anyone that you want. There's no registrationor sign-up for attendees, and the site even offers a seven-day free trial to check it out.
40. Instant messaging aggregators are handy because they put all of your accounts into one page so you can chat with your associates and friends without installing any software. Orgoo is helpful if you tend to visit Internet cafes or use a borrowed laptop from work, or just want one-click access to IM. Still in private beta, it also offers a new video chat service that uses your webcam and is now open for unregistered use.
41. Like an open-source version of Microsoft Exchange, Zimbra is a mail client for business use where you host all of the mail online for every user. You can share all of your personal folders, assign specific tasks to certain people, instant message, integrate IMAP and POP mail as well as use an iPhone client to access the mail repository, and arrange meetings with your team.
42. Note-taking apps are usually small utilities that you download and use on your desktop. Evernote is a webbased version that collects all of your fragmented data into one searchable portal. You can scan documents, send an email to your account and upload photos, videos or just about anything you can think of to your own secure site. Then, when you need to find that one website or phone number, or that hilarious photo from the last business outing, you can fi d it on the free notes database online.
43. Keepm is a business card manager for the web. Adding a contact is very quick: you type the name, then add the phone numbers and address for that person. You can also import data from Outlook or using a the vCard file format and you can export your contacts database for use in other programs as a vCard or CSV file.
44. It's about time someone created an aggregator for video content. OVGuide doesn't actually host any videos, but it helps you find where they are located on the web. It's agnostic about the legalities of full-length feature films, merely pointing you to known locations.
45. Weeding out the undesirables and trolls on Internet forums is a Herculean task. Daniweb is a different kind of IRC chat: only IT professionals can join and the chats tend to be highly technical rather than just mindless chatter.
46. Google searches are a million miles wide and a centimetre thick. Stumpedia only returns the results that other users think are valuable. We searched for virtualisation on both search engines. On Google, we saw millions of links, most of them poorly worded definitions and myopic marketing sites. On Stumpedia there are just three links, including a site entry that does the server technology justice – it's worth a click.
47. The brilliant thing about trip planning site TripIt is that it knows where you are. If you plan a business trip to London, you can load all of your contacts from email clients and then track who will be in the area at the same time as you.
48. Intense – that's the initial reaction we had when using TunesBag (still in private beta – you have to request an invitation). Legal because the site is hosted in Austria, you can upload all of your music files to the site and then listen to the songs from any computer – or share the music with anyone you want. Use it while it's still alive!
49. If you use an RSS reader then it's worth checking out Toluu. The site is an 'aggregator of the aggregators'; you can import multiple RSS feeds from various sources and read them all in one spot before sharing the feeds with other users. Sharing is key: it means that you see what people who have subscribed to the same feeds as you are reading.
50. SoSauce is a catch-all for journaling to yourself (reminders, thoughts for the day), finding travel deals, social networking with other users and sharing photos. We love the area where you can play games like extreme sledding and hyper pong against other SoSauce members. (via tech radar)

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