Giveaway: Win 1 free month of PlayStation Plus

After I was banned from the PlayStation Network and forced to create a new account, Sony made it clear that they still appreciate me as a customer. What does that mean for you? It means I have two one-month trials of PlayStation Plus to give away.

I’ve covered PlayStation Plus before, and while I’m not wild about it myself, everything tastes better when it’s free. PlayStation Plus offers free games and nice discounts on a ton of content – it’s like free money in your pocket.

Before you enter, there are a few of stipulations:

  • The PlayStation Plus code must be redeemed by March 31st, 2012. If you spend too long waiting for the right discounts and free content to start your trial, you may be out of luck.
  • You are required to have a valid credit card linked to your PSN account to use the free trial.
  • If you don’t cancel your free month at least a day prior to the end of the trial, Sony will automatically bill you $17.99 and convert your membership to a 3-month plan.
  • Once your month is up, your free games will no longer be playable until you sign up again. Any discounted content you purchase (read: with REAL money) is yours to keep forever.

To grab one of these free codes, please leave a comment on this article about your favorite downloadable PSN game, and why it’s your favorite, by 12:00 PM CST on December 22.

Two lucky winners will be picked at random and will receive their code via email or direct message. Be sure to post with a valid account so we can get your code to you. If you post as a “Guest” we have no way of reaching you.

Midweek Fun! Unleash Your Inner Speed Demon In ‘Proun’

A popular trend emerging in the world of independent gaming is the idea of gamers paying what they want for a game. It’s a daring move, but can pay off big for the developers. The Humble Bundle, which has gone through three iterations to date, has raised millions of dollars for developers and charities alike. The latest big name independent game to employ this strategy is the high speed racer Proun.

Proun takes a few cues from popular high speed racing series like F-Zero and Wipeout while also managing to inject some charm of its own. Controls are extremely simple; up makes you go fast, down makes you go slow (but really, who’s ever going to use it?), left and right steer, and shift activates a turbo boost. Instead of racing on a traditional track, Proun takes place on a cylindrical track with various geometric objects serving as obstacles.

As you steer you wrap around the track, which can be a bit disorienting at first as obstacles fly wildly around the screen. There are other competitors as well, but it’s impossible to interact with them. No knocking your opponents into walls here.

Like most racing games, Proun is all about racking up fast times. There are only three tracks (plus a bonus track), but Proun can be played at four different speeds. The lower speeds are nice and leisurely, perfect for learning the tracks and game mechanics. Supersonic will have you tearing your hair out in no time. After each race your time gets posted to the online leaderboards, where you can see how you stack up against the rest of the world.

Best of all, Proun can be had for whatever price you decide. Download the full game (minus a bonus track) without paying a cent. If you like it, I strongly suggest supporting awesome independent game developers and paying whatever you think is fair.

Proun is still a bit rough around the edges (there doesn’t seem to be a way to change the resolution, and there have been a few issues with the high score server), but overall it’s a brilliant concept that’s a blast to play, and well worth your time and money.

If for some reason you still can’t decide if you’re interested, check out the game’s promo video below.

Free Online Sites that Help You Get Organized

Since everything is online and available through our phones, USB flash drives and pens may as well be obsolete.  There are hundreds of online services nowadays available for free to help you productively organize, access, and share aspects your life.  Here are just a few that you may find useful:

Mint: Organize your finances

I’ve been using Mint for over two years now and they have by far surpassed any other personal finance software I’ve ever used.  Once you create an account, you can log in and enter the information for all of your accounts, including checking, savings, credit card, loan, and RSP accounts for almost any bank or financial institution.

Mint securely accesses and retrieves your balances and spending activity on all of your added accounts to help you review, analyze, and plan your spending. It will also notify you of when you are charged fees, and when you have payments due.

Box.net: Organize your documents

Box.net offers a service similar to Google Docs (and actually integrates with Google Apps as well) with some enhanced features such as mobile access, task management, data synchronization, and collaboration control.  While there are paid plans for businesses, it’s free for personal use.

Remember the Milk: Organize your to-do list

Forget something?  Try keeping your to-do list online with Remember the Milk, where you can create task lists and share them with others, sync them to your phone, or get IM or SMS reminders.

TripIt: Organize your travel plans

TripIt is known as an online virtual travel assistant.  When you book hotels, flights, or other travel accommodations online, simply forward your confirmation emails to TripIt and it will generate a master itinerary with everything you need for your trip. You can access the itinerary online or through your mobile device, and sent copies to others.

This mini-list is just the tip of the iceberg for the vast number of free services online that are available to help you organize your life.  Know of any more services you use in your day-to-day activities? Let us know in the comments section below (no rhyme intended)!

Sparkfun’s Free Day: A Giveaway Meets a Server Stress Test

Two hours – that is all it took for $150,000 to be given away on the internet.  Now for most of us, it seems very foolish to let $150,000 just be burned off like the fuse on a stick of dynamite.  But for the electronics prototyping distributor Sparkfun, it was a calculated, well-planned charity.

This massive event is known as Sparkfun Free Day, a day unto which the distributor from Boulder, CO decides to give away rewards to its customers in order to show appreciation and support.  For each person that logged in or created an account, they got the opportunity to spend up to $100 of in-store credit on anything in Sparkfun’s store by answering technical trivia while they were shopping.  Furthermore, they donated up to $30,000 to local charities while the event was happening.

In 2010, the number of participants completely disabled Sparkfun’s servers and had the goal of $100,000 in freebies get consumed in just 1 hour and 44 minutes.  This year, the results were no less different.

From its opening at 10am CST on January 13th, some of my colleagues and I attempted to get in to get our share of free Bluetooth modules, calipers, and accelerometers.  This is how far we made it: the option to take the quiz or take a loyalty benefit (based on how many years you have been a Sparkfun customer).

But unfortunately for us, any attempts to get further than this caused a boatload of problems.  Like this:

And this:

And most often, this:

So what happened to our browser refreshed attempts to gain freebies?  Well, you can thank the sheer number of participants for these images.  What Sparkfun basically did to themselves for two hours is an unintentional DoS; a Denial of Service on their own servers.  So not only did Free Day benefit their consumer base, it also tested their servers to the utter limits.  Now that’s what I call a very expensive (but quite clever) test.  

Here is a full recap of the stats from Free Day 2011, and it is pretty interesting to see the results.  Regardless of how everyone fared during those tumultuous two hours, one has to give Sparkfun a ton of credit.  And like all contests, there’s always the hope of next year.

Ninite: Easily, Sliently Install Free PC Software

A newly installed computer is a great thing – it offers a clean slate, making your computer faster with no unnecessary software, no messed-up settings and no viruses.

One thing that can be time consuming with your new computer is installing all of your favorite software applications.  Going out and downloading all of the individual software applications and installing them can easily take the better part of an afternoon.

Ninite offers a solution to this problem by allowing you to install your favorite applications silently while doing other work.  During installation, all defaults are chosen and none of the toolbars or other just software is installed.  Ninite will also install the 32-bit or 64-bit version of the software, whichever is best suited for your PC.

Using Ninite

To start using Ninite, visit http://www.ninite.com.  Select the software applications you wish to install by clicking the check box next to it.

Once you have selected the software you wish to install, click the Get Installer button at the bottom of the page.

Download your custom software installer and run it to start the installation. The size of the installer will not increase if you choose more applications.

Each software application will be automatically downloaded and installed in the background.

Ninite offers a wide choice of software applications to install – web browsers, messenger clients, media players, security software, administrative utilities, and developer tools.

Let us know what you think about Ninite by commenting below!

Great Deal: Buy Office 2007 Now, Get Free Upgrade to Office 2010 in June

Microsoft Office 2010 is scheduled to release in June, but there’s no need to hold off from purchasing Office 2007 in the meantime.

Microsoft recently announced free upgrades to Office 2010 if you purchase and activate an Office 2007 product between March 5, 2010 and September 30, 2010.

Several qualifying Office 2007 products are listed below, and you can check out the complete list at the end of this post.

  • Office Home and Student 2007
  • Office Small Business 2007
  • Office Professional 2007
  • Office Publisher 2007

Microsoft Office 2010 is looking very good so far, and if you want to try it out before it officially releases you can download and install the free Office 2010 beta.

For more information check out the official Office 2010 upgrade page and FAQ.

Eligible Upgrades to Office 2010

Using Speedfan To Check Your Computer’s Hardware Status

I previously wrote how to use Speedfan to check your hard drive’s S.M.A.R.T information, but checking the health of your hard drive is actually a secondary feature of the Speedfan software.  Its main purpose is to provide you the real-time statuses of your hardware.

Speedfan is free software for Windows that allows users to access real-time hardware information that would otherwise be unavailable.  Metrics monitored with Speedfan include fan speeds, CPU and GPU temperatures, and component voltages.  Depending on your motherboard, it may also be possible to control fan speeds.

Note: If you are able to control fan speeds, be careful not to turn them down too low, as you may cause components to overheat and fail.

Depending on your computer, you may not have fans connected to all of the possible ports.  Clicking the Fans tab of the Configure menu will allow you to select which fans appear on the main window of the program.  The same is true for temperatures.

Clicking the Options tab will allow you to configure various settings for Speedfan.  Settings include tray settings, sensor detection methods, and what temperature scale to use.

A great feature of Speedfan is the ability to generate time-based charts for the different metrics.  This is a plus if you want to see any of the metrics over a long period of time.

Although Speedfan will detect fans and sensors, there are some that are not supported.  A complete list of supported hardware can be found on the software’s website.

Speedfan is a simple way to keep an eye on your hardware’s vitals and help prevent any serious hardware problems.  Check out Speedfan and let us know what you think!

Create Custom Application Groups in Windows 7 with Jumplist Launcher

One of the most noticeable additions to Windows 7 is the new Windows taskbar.  Not only does it group multiple application windows together, it also features “Jump Lists” which are quick-access menus that can be activated by right clicking a program’s icon.

In this guide, I’ll introduce you to a program called Jumplist-Launcher which allows you to create custom application groups using Jump Lists.

Using Jumplist-Launcher

Jumplist-Launcher is a free download for Windows 7 and requires no installation.  Even better, Jumplist-Launcher doesn’t even have to be running once you’ve created your custom application groups!

When you open Jumplist-Launcher, you’ll see a screen where you can create Groups which will become the subsections of your custom list.  You can create multiple groups with folders and files just like in Windows Explorer, and you can also simply drag and drop shortcuts into the program.

Once you’re finished creating your list just click the Update Jumplist button and you’ll be set.  Right clicking the Jumplist-Launcher icon in the taskbar will display your custom list, and you can select Pin this program to taskbar to make sure it’s always available.

The only small problem I’ve had with Jumplist-Launcher is that some of the menus are in German and haven’t been translated to English.  When in doubt, click Abbrechen (cancel)!

[Download Jumplist-Launcher] (Note: the download file is compressed as a .RAR so you’ll need a free program like 7-zip to open it)

Make sure to check out the rest of our Windows 7 articles for more great tips!

Looking for Free Virus, Spyware, and Malware Protection? Try Microsoft Security Essentials

ms-security-essentials-scanningsmallrightWindows only:  Microsoft has just released the public version of their free virus, spyware, and malware protection suite dubbed Microsoft Security Essentials (the successor to their lesser-known Live OneCare product which offered similar features).  Security Essentials is a quick download and simple installation, giving users clear and easy-to-use indications whether your PC is secure or not.

Installing Security Essentials took approximately 60 seconds (not including updating the virus definition files) and my first Quick scan was completed in about 5 minutes.  The Full Scan took significantly more time, but this will be dependent on your processor speed and the size of your hard drive.  The software itself used around 60 MB of RAM while performing a virus scan, which is fairly light compared to other commercial anti-virus products.

ms-security-essentials-scanning

Security Essentials offers a simple interface, allowing users to select Quick scan, Full scan, or use custom settings from the Home screen.  Updating the software can be easily done in the Update tab, and the software also utilizes your system’s Windows Update service to stay up-to-date.

ms-security-essentials-home

Since Security Essentials only offers virus, spyware, and malware protection, this software isn’t intended to compete with full-fledged commercial security suites.  Security Essentials provides good basic protection for normal use and is a great contender in the free protection market.

Microsoft Security Essentials is a free download for Windows XP, Vista, and 7 (but you will have to validate your copy of Windows before installation).  [Download]

How to Partition Your Hard Drive with Easeus Partition Master

harddrive_blue_featMost hard drives come with multiple partitions – which can be thought of as individual hard drives within your main hard drive – to separate a hard drive into multiple sections.  Partitions are very useful if you want to separate your operating system from your documents (allows for easier OS reinstallation), and most manufacturers include a recovery partition in lieu of a recovery disc with new computers.

If you want to create, delete, format, or resize hard drive partitions, Easeus Partition Master lets you do this quickly and for free.

Before you begin: As with any software that modifies your hard drive, partitioning can cause data loss if something goes wrong. Be sure to backup any important data before following this guide.

Step 1: Download and install Easeus Partition Master.

Step 2: Open the program.  You will see a horizontal image corresponding to your hard drive’s current partitioning, as well as a detailed list of the current partitions.  From here, you can select any partition and use the buttons at the top of the screen

partition-easeus-buttons

Resizing Partitions: If you have multiple partitions and want to make one larger, you must first reduce the size of one by clicking the Resize/Move button and select a smaller size.  To enlarge the other partition, select it and select Resize/Move again and increase it to fill the extra space you created by shrinking the other.  The graphical sliders can also be used to adjust the partition’s size.

Be sure to note that the partitions are listed in MB, so if you want to calculate how many gigabytes you will have, divide it by 1024.

partition-easeus-resize

Deleting a Partition: If you have multiple partitions and want to remove one, just select it then click the Delete button.  Remember that deleting a partition removes all data stored in it, so be careful with this one.

Creating a Partition: To create a partition, select any unpartitioned space and click the Create button.  If you don’t have any unpartitioned space, you will first have to resize or delete an existing partition.

Formatting a Partition: Easeus Partition Master only lets you format partitions as NTFS or FAT32, so if your intention is to create a Linux partition (with the ext file system), you’ll want to use free software like GParted which can be used as a LiveCD  and also comes included with the Ubuntu LiveCD.

partition-easeus-applyStep 3: Once you’ve configured your partitions, you must click the Apply partition to actually make the changes.  You will have to restart your computer, and while it is restarting you may see several screens regarding the partitions being modified.  Once it restarts, you should have your partitions configured to your liking!

Easeus Partition Master is free for personal use and supports Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP 32-bit, and Windows Vista 32-bit.  If you’re looking for 64-bit support, it’s offered in the Professional and Server editions of the software.  I have tested Easeus Partition Master in Windows 7 and have experienced no problems.

Have a different method of managing your computer’s partitions?  Share it with us in the comments.