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The 5 Best Websites To Find A Virtual Assistant

<firstimage=”//static.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/VirtualAssistant01.png”>virtual assistantA virtual assistant is a real person that supports you or your business remotely from their home office. They can virtually be anywhere and the services they provide range from professional administrative, technical, personal, or creative assistance. Since virtual assistants are entrepreneurs and freelance workers, you as their ’employer’ do not have to worry about employee-related costs.

The best way to find a virtual assistant obviously is the Internet. In this article I will show you five different websites that will help you track down the perfect candidate. All of these services are free, until you decide to hire a virtual assistant who meets your criteria.

Twitter

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Virtual assistants looking for work will find you, if you post a brief request and job description on Twitter. You can virtually extend the 140 character limit by adding a link to a more through description of what you are looking for. Moreover, you may want to search Twitter for virtual assistants yourself and get in touch with them directly.

Here are some Twitter tips:

CraigsList

virtual office assistant

If you would like to post an anonymous job offer or add a few more details than what will fit into 140 characters, CraigsList is an excellent alternative to Twitter. Moreover, you can find an assistant who lives in a desired location, including your own city. The advantage with CraigsList is that you are in direct touch with the candidate without a middle man to worry about.

Curious about CraigsList?

VA Networking

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VA Networking is a social network for virtual assistants. It provides people starting out in the business with resources to improve their business. If you are looking to hire a virtual assistant, tap into this network and find the perfect match. You can submit a ‘request for proposal’ (RFP) to hire a VA and your RFP will be posted on the virtual assistant job board of VAinsiders.

Elance

virtual office assistant

Elance is a platform for online employment. You can post a job offer for free and candidates will apply or rather bid on your project. The chief attraction with Elance is that you can review the profiles and portfolios of applicants and evaluate how they have performed previously.

Guru Employer

virtual assistant

This service is similar to Elance. You post a project, receive offers, and can browse the profiles and websites of candidates. When you select a freelancer, you deposit the funds for the project with Guru. Once the agreed work was received, you release the funds and your assistant gets paid. You can also browse all virtual assistants that offer their services through Guru by keywords or country.

Conclusion

There are many free and creative ways to find employees online. You will find that people with various backgrounds, skills, and from around the world will apply to your job posting. Candidates will quote hourly rates from as low as $5 or as high as $50. Keep in mind that there are no educational standards for virtual assistants. Moreover, you may encounter language or cultural barriers. It’s your job as the potential employer to evaluate whether an applicant will be able to perform the duties you expect and is worth the pay they request.

Have you ever hired someone online? What website or service did you use and what have your experiences been?

Image credits: sellingpix

Free PSP Downgrading And Upgrading Guide

For those of you who are new to the concept of hacked PSPs, custom firmware might not sound so familiar. Custom firmware allows you to run homebrew software developed by the vast user community.

This guide is available to download as a free PDF. Download Free PSP Downgrading and Upgrading Guide now. Feel free to copy and share this with your friends and family.

Enabling this homebrew allows you to add apps, add additional functionalities and do a lot more with your PSP!

MakeUseOf proudly presents you a simple step-by-step PSP Downgrading and Upgrading Guide guide.

LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Review And Giveaway

LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Review and Giveaway lego mindstorms reviewLEGO is a product that transcends generations – I still have a few boxes in the loft. It is one of those few brands that has adapted well to the changing times – introducing themed sets and more recently expanding to create the LEGO Mindstorms line. Sitting on the premium end of their products, Mindstorms extends the LEGO Technics series with electronic circuits, motors, sensors and a visual programming tool. Today we’ll be reviewing LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0, the next generation, version 2.0 of the core Mindstorms product. And we’ll be giving this $280 set away to one lucky reader.

I admit – $280 for some LEGO sounds like an awful lot, but comparable Robot kits can go for as much as $1500. Although this is a premium LEGO item, it’s also quite an inexpensive introduction to the even more premium hobby of robotics. In addition to the superb LEGO components – which can of course be added to with other Technics kits – you’re also buying the programming software. Is it all worth it? Read on to find out.

Box Disappointment

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Despite the nicely engineered outer box with flip up contents, the inside is a complete mess and there seems to be a lot of wasted space. Especially given how large the outer box is, I was expecting perhaps a cardboard or plastic tray that everything can slot into. If you’ve ever built LEGO, you’ll understand the frustration of having search around for pieces when they’re inside a bag, but spreading them out on a table makes them very easy to lose. Sigh, first world problems.

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There’s nothing to help with organising all the bits. Instead, there’s a chaotic collection of non-reusable bags and a flimsy bit of card for actuators and sensors. Once this has been opened, storing anything in the box without losing small pieces is going to be impossible, so be sure to buy some separate storage boxes or trays.

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What’s included?

There’s a lot in there, so I’m certainly not going to break down every component, but here goes:

  • A set of tracks and wheels
  • 2 touch sensors
  • 3 motorised joints
  • 1 ultrasound distance sensor (the eyes)
  • 1 multifunction RGB light and colour sensor unit
  • Various lengths of comms cabling (like telephone wire)
  • Hundreds of plastic components (Technics, if you’re familiar)
  • CPU / control box / battery unit (Batteries not included)
  • Starter pack
  • Test track (~A1 sized)
  • Instruction manual
  • Software CD

Getting Started

Helpfully, a complete getting started kit is provided in a separate bag, with all the bits you need to “build your first model in 30 minutes!”. I put this to the test.

Note: in the video, I ended up opening another bag because I couldn’t find a few pieces; I later found them hidden under something else.

The build was finished in 24.5 minutes, though I’d say I have some experience. I’m not including the time it took to install the software on my Mac (there is a version for Windows included too).

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After the initial build instructions, the manual goes on to explain all about the various components, and then tells you the CPU brick needs batteries. Might have been nicer to explain that first! It gives a good introduction to the software and basic operation.

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Helpfully, the software can also be downloaded from the web, so no worries if you lose your CD. It is however a 624 MB ISO file.

More Models

Though the box itself shows a variety of models, printed instructions are only included for the “Getting Started” robot. If you want to build the others, you need to download additional instructions from the online support site, or use the build instructions included with the LEGO Mindstorms software (more on that later). There are an additional 12 official models available online, but it would have been nice to include these on the CD for anyone without Internet access. There are also third party books sold with additional designs and ideas, like The Unofficial LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Inventor’s Guide by David J. Perdue and The LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots by Laurens ValkLego Digital Designer, which examines the model and dynamically generates build instructions for you. Clever.

In fairness, these additional models are so complex that you really shouldn’t expect them be provided in printed form; the Rubics Cube Solver (yes, I did just say that) alone weighs in at 104 pages. And I’m pleased to say I built that too, but unfortunately my cube was too new. If you want to try this, you’ll need to sand down and lubricate your cube so it doesn’t get stuck when turning.

lego mindstorms nxt 2.0

Programming and the LEGO Mindstorms Software

Programming is performed using LabView technologies, a well-developed educational and engineering product that makes learning programming fun and easy with a visual designer. It’s a Java application, so compatible with either Mac or Windows – but this does mean the interface is a little quirky.

You can download a completed program to your NXT devices using either wireless Bluetooth or the supplied USB cable. Alternatively, you can run it immediately as long as a connection is maintained, so it’s very easy to test bits.

The visual designer allow you to drag and drop many different programming blocks:

  • Threading and branching
  • Movement and motor control
  • Sound and display output (you can upload custom files)
  • Waiting until conditions met
  • Reading sensors
  • Logging data
  • Type conversions (numbers to text etc)

You can even save blocks of code for re-use later (aka functions). The software is admittedly rather daunting at first, even (or should I say especially?) for a seasoned programmer like myself. If you just try to jump straight in, you’re going to get frustrated easily and soon give up. Make sure you run through all the included models in the tutorial system, and you’ll end up with a solid grounding to start programming your own.

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There are no official mobile apps, though LEGO have promised something for later this year with the launch of new NXT 2.0 kits.

As well as providing a programming environment, the LEGO Mindstorms software also has build and programming tutorials for additional models. I was quickly able to adapt the basic introductory model to the “bedroom defence” robot that seeks out intruders and shoots them.

lego mindstorms nxt 2.0

There are four core robot shapes are included, the first of which has a few variations that increase in difficultly, culminating in that pictured above. The build instructions can be made full screen, and are just as clear as any printed manual, so you should have a good amount of fun with this before even needing to approach the user submitted designs.

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I felt the programming aspect of the tutorials could do with some work; it basically consists of screenshots for you to follow and copy into the main window without really explaining what you’re doing – there is actually explanation text, but it’s small, and far too easy to ignore. What would have been nice is some more complex code to download, along with a step by step walkthrough showing what the code does at each stage and why it’s grouped as it is.

There is a built-in help system – I suggest you go through that after building and programming the first few demo projects. That said – the blocks of logic, control flow, actions and sensors you build from are relatively simple, so it certainly does teach the fundamentals of programming from simple steps. I think the visual designer would be great for children or early teens to pick up if they perhaps don’t have actual programming experience, but I don’t have children to test on. Personally, I found myself wanting to type in regular code with variables and function name – and as it turns out, there’s actually quite a few open source NXT programming projects, so you’re not limited to just the visual designer. When your daughter is bored of LabView, introduce her to C!

Should you buy the LEGO Minstorms NXT 2.0 kit?

At $280, LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 is expensive, but like all LEGO products it’s a gift that will last for generations. I would say get this for your children, but I’m a 30ish year old guy and this has been so much fun. Perhaps you’re also harbouring dreams of competing on Robot Wars with your own Arduino-based fire breathing death machine named The Squigglator, but LEGO Mindstorms is a more realistic way to get started and you’ll be really surprised at what you can achieve in very short time. Building your own robot and programming it would be lasting, bonding experience with your son or daughter – whilst still satiating their generation’s desire for everything to be computer based. I guarantee you’ll have fun with this, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Our verdict of the Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0:
Buy!
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How do I win the LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 kit?

The giveaway is over. Congratulations, Anne Tomma! You would have received an email from jackson@makeuseof.com. Please respond before August 11 to claim your prize. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.

Why Does My Xbox One Turn On By Itself?

Seeing your Xbox One turn on randomly? This could be happening from several different causes. While it can be a bit hard to diagnose, we have several elements to check to pin down why this is happening. Try each of them and you should be able to stop it.

Why Does My Xbox One Turn On by Itself?

Check the following settings and elements if your Xbox One turns on by itself:

  • Wipe down the front of your console near the Xbox logo power toggle.
    • Since the Xbox One doesn’t have a physical power button, its capacitive button triggers when touched. A bit of grime, your pet’s tail, or even a static discharge can turn the system on inadvertently.
  • If you have a Kinect, saying Hey Cortana, Xbox on or Xbox on will turn on your system with voice commands. It’s finicky, so you may be turning on your system by accident with a similar phrase.
    • You can disable this by visiting Settings > Power & startup > Power mode & startup and disabling Wake up Xbox by saying “Hey Cortana, Xbox on.”
  • Pressing the Xbox button on a controller will turn the system on. Thus, your controller could be faulty.
    • Try removing the batteries from your controller to test this.
  • With some Samsung TVs, turning on your TV may also turn on your Xbox.
  • Try plugging your Xbox into another outlet, or directly into the wall if you have it plugged into a power strip.
  • Restart your Xbox by holding the Xbox power button on the front of the system for about 10 seconds. Then unplug the Xbox’s power supply for another 10 seconds.
  • Make sure you’ve applied all Xbox system updates.

Chances are that one of these is causing your console to turn on by itself, and it’s probably not haunted! Check out more useful Xbox One settings for additional tweaks.

Did one of these solutions fix your Xbox turning on by itself? Which one was the fix? Tell us in the comments and leave your solutions if none of the above worked!

Image Credit: Marco Verch/Wikimedia Commons

Kayla’s Epic Coyote Prank

When Kayla Eby pulled a prank on her husband where she convinced him that she had brought a coyote inside to hang out with their toddler, she had no idea when she posted the screenshots that they would go viral.  Take a look at the hilarious exchanges between them and see if you don’t laugh your keister off!

Please be advised that some strong language is used, so you may not consider this post suitable for young children.

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Here’s Kayla’s original Facebook post.

Pop Clip: The Missing Mac Utility [giveaway]

PopClip is a small utility for OS X from PilotMoon that gives you an iOS-like multifunctional popup menu when highlighting text, described as a faster, easier way to work with text on your Mac. Having used it for a week now, it seems like a natural extension of OS X and really makes certain tasks easier. It’s hard to imagine ever not having it around. For anyone who spends a lot of copy pasting small fragments of text, web addresses and emails – this is an absolute must-have utility.

PopClip is available from the Mac App Store for $4.99 and will work with Mac OS X 10.6 and above. It adds a small pop-up menu when you highlight text, similar to how it might on your iPhone or iPad. The default actions are Cut, Copy, Paste and Search, but there’s also a number of context-sensitive items that appear depending on the upon the text selected.

Pop Clip: The Missing Mac Utility [Giveaway] popclip websearch1

I’ve found the Search icon to be the most useful to me. Instead of copying the text, opening a new Chrome window, pasting the search term in and hitting enter – it’s just a single click to do it all. This feature alone is worth it for me.

If you highlight a single word, a dictionary icon is also shown. Though OS X Lion includes a lookup function on the option menu, I found the PopClip action to be slightly faster to open the dictionary app, as well as removing the need to right-click to open a context menu.

Pop Clip: The Missing Mac Utility [Giveaway] popclip dictionary

If you highlight something resembling a URL, a link icon is shown – one click and the URL will be opened in your default browser. The link doesn’t even have to include www or http://, as PopClip intelligently works out that something is a URL, even with obscure top-level domains.

Pop Clip: The Missing Mac Utility [Giveaway] popclip link

Naturally, when highlighting an email address, a send email button is displayed!

Pop Clip: The Missing Mac Utility [Giveaway] popclip email

Cut, copy and paste operations are all faster with PopClip; instead of reaching for the keyboard, it’s a short click away so you needn’t lose your focus on the screen. Click anywhere that accepts text input, and the little paste button will appear. Spell-check functionality is also included.

Pop Clip: The Missing Mac Utility [Giveaway] popclip spellcheck1

PopClip also has an user-definable exclude list so you can turn it off on a per-app basis if it’s interfering, though I haven’t found a reason to disable it anywhere yet. Other options allow you to adjust the size of the popup, and disable any contextual buttons you don’t need.

There’s a free trial available so download PopClip and test it out. It’s $4.99 from the Mac App Store if you’re thinking of buying.

Dedicated Rescue Teams Gives Rescue Dog Surprise Of A Lifetime

Seymour is what some might call a “rags-to-riches” story.  Rescued by actress and Hope for Paws CFO, Jamie Ray Newman and Eldad Hagar, Seymour was absolutely TERRIFIED of humans at first.  The rescue on the whole was very successful, resulting in a new home for the dog, but it was definitely NOT the easiest rescue ever.

Any time anyone at all would get close to Seymour, he would bolt.  Talk about frustration.  Try as they might, they just never seemed to be able to get within enough reach to rescue him.  It would take Newman and Hagar quite some time to earn the dog’s trust before any of the real recovery and rehab work could begin.

After a very badly needed bath, and some tended love and care, Seymour started showing real progress.  Soon, his true personality began to shine through, and it turns out that Seymour is a sweet and affectionate dog.  It wouldn’t be long before he was ready to be adopted.

Today, Seymour is a transformed dog.  He is very happy in his new home with a family that has promised to love him and keep him safe for the rest of his days.  Something that every dog deserves, regardless of breed and any unfair stereotypes that may be attached to that designation.  According to his new family, he’s turned into a complete “cuddle monster” and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

5 Children’s Video Games That You’ll Enjoy Too

Just like you enjoy that animated movie as much as the kids it was made for, the world of video games has some great titles that appeal across ages.

There are games made for adults that kids particularly enjoy — Mortal Kombat and God of War come to mind first. And the reverse holds true as well. Just because something is made for a kid does not mean it can’t be entertaining for an adult.

In case you dismissed a game with the notion that it’s meant for kids, you might have denied yourself some cool and fun times. But it isn’t too late. Here are some of the best children’s video games that adults will enjoy too.

Lego Batman

Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii

Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the finest games in recent times, and the Game of the Year edition was worth the wait. And that’s because it recreated the dark and gritty nature of the comics and movies. Lego Batman goes the other way and infuses cartoony fun into the Batman franchise, but the gameplay is surprisingly deep and compelling. Both Batman and Robin have a variety of suits with different abilities that you can employ for different tasks, but the cool part is that Lego Batman lets you play as the villains! That’s right, you will be setting up elaborate plans to take out Batman — ultimately unsuccessful, of course, but it is unique and enjoyable. And in case that’s not enough for you, check out the sequel, Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes to play as Superman, Wonder Woman and other cool characters you’ll know and love.

Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7

Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii

The Lego Harry Potter series can quickly become one of your guilty pleasures. The title makes it seem like it shouldn’t be a game you enjoy so much, but play it for a while and you’ll be hooked. Years 5-7 is the second part in the series, but I’d recommend you start here since it has most of the enjoyable elements of the first one (Years 1-4) and adds more. Most of the game is about solving puzzles and beating the bad guys, but there’s one aspect that makes it special: the broomstick levels where you have to collect coins across jolly old England. It’s a major rush!

While it’s tempting to include more Lego games in this article, we’ll stop here. Most of the Lego video games (Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings) are a lot of fun for adults, so don’t be afraid to fight your kid for the controller. Plus, the Lego series is cross-platform, making them among the best Mac games for kids.

Rayman Legends

Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One Nintendo Wii U

There is a manic, frantic pace to the Rayman games that none other quite captures, but the reason that you will end up going back again and again is the music. That Mariachi band with their high-pitched singing is perhaps the best background score in video games — and gets hilarious when they try it out with classics like Eye of the Tiger. This is, at its core, a platform adventure where it’s all about getting from point A to point B in any level, and ideally running at breakneck speed while you do it. Rayman Legends mixes it up with some rhythm-based levels and a few that require you to sneak past traps and lasers, but the most fun part of this game is in multiplayer mode with the soccer mini-game. Except this isn’t any ordinary soccer game, it’s Rayman’s wacky take on soccer, where apart from trying to outscore the opponents, you are also trying to literally beat the opponents so they don’t score against you. Super, super fun! Oh yeah, and its mobile counterpart Rayman Run Fiesta is just as much fun and one of the best Android games of 2013.

Mario Kart Wii

Platform: Nintendo Wii

How can anyone not love Mario Kart? The Super Mario Kart series redefined racing games and made them incredibly enjoyable, and is among the best Mario spin-offs. Mario Kart Wii took this fun game to new heights with better graphics, more players, more cars, Nintendo Wii’s motion-sensitive controller, and a bucketload of new power-ups and boosts. But hey, the classic “throw a banana” is still very much alive so that you can spin your opponents off track! Of course, Mario Kart Wii is now a little old and the new Mario Kart 8 for the Nintendo Wii U is getting rave reviews, so if you have the new console, that’s the game you should go for.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch

Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, PlayStation 4

Octodad made it to our list of the 10 funniest video games of all time, but it’s also immensely enjoyable as a game for the whole family. Octodad is an octopus raising a family in the suburbs and trying to blend in as a human — yup, it’s as funny and crazy as it sounds. Controlling Octodad’s limbs to make him move around is the challenge, and you have to do it in a way so as not to arouse suspicion from onlookers. And all the while, you have to do mundane tasks like going to the supermarket. Best played with a controller, but a keyboard and mouse will do just as well.

Which Kids’ Games Do You Play?

Apart from being informative, this list also made me nostalgic about some of the old games I still play, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on NES emulators or the old Cricket 2007 PC game. So tell us, which made-for-kids games do you still play, or just a game you played as a kid and still enjoy revisiting?

Image Credits: spsarge Via Flickr