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Most Popular Explainers Of 2010

We move fast at Lifehacker, but sometimes we like to take the time to answer a question, explain something in the news, or get just plain geeky on a topic. Here are some of our best explainer posts from 2010.

This is our first year rounding up “explainers”, mainly because this is the first year in which we all started contributing them. We’re glad we did, though—some of our explanatory posts rank as our finest work, and it’s more than a little gratifying to take out the time and words to really tackle a topic that’s been chewing at our brains. But enough of that — on with the details:

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

Caffeine and productivity are inseparably married in the minds of many, but it’s far from a simple pick-me-up. We dug into what caffeine really does to your brain, the limits of its effects, how you can work off a tolerance, use it as an optimal pick-me-up, and fend off headaches. Image via rbrwr.

What Alcohol Actually Does to Your Brain and Body

It’s not as wise to try and “use” alcohol like you would caffeine—its effects are wide-reaching and not as obvious as the tales you’ve heard. We dispelled some myths, offered a few tips, and explained how it causes all those stadium fights, doesn’t really help you sleep, and likely extends your life, but not the way you think. Image via TheDeliciousLife.

How and Why Chrome Is Overtaking Firefox Among Power Users

Since our founding, we’ve been fans of Firefox, and still are today. But using Chrome for more than a year, the majority of Lifehacker editors have made the switch, and Adam sought to explain why. It’s about little things, near-total syncing, Google integration, and no-restart-needed extensions — but mostly, it’s about speed, and the perception of speed.

What ‘Free Public Wi-Fi’ Is and Why You Should Avoid It

It’s everywhere, it doesn’t work, and it’s not going away until Windows XP dies off. It’s “Free Public Wi-Fi”, and it’s almost like an in-joke among veteran Wi-Fi searchers — except the joke’s not all that funny. With some help from NPR, we told the tale of the zombie network that lives on and on.

You Don’t Need to Regularly Reinstall Windows; Here’s Why

It seems obvious that Windows slows down over time, and that a brand-new, freshly installed Windows is faster. But A doesn’t always have to lead to B, as the How-To Geek explained for us. Certain kinds of regular maintenance and occasional batches of cleaning can restore your system to nearly just-installed status.

Why You Shouldn’t Switch Your Email to Facebook

We took both sides of Facebook’s declaration of a new kind of messaging service: one suggesting a warm embrace of the “new email”, the other (more popular) advocating that Facebook is not a place you should do your typing and sending — it’s walled off, not in your control (or at least less so than IMAP-based email), and, more practically, banned at a lot of workplaces.

Why Is Wi-Fi Coverage So Bad in My House, and How Can I Fix It?

Wi-Fi signal seems like downright voodoo sometimes. Sometimes you can grab a signal from the neighbour two houses down, but most of the time, your living room router might not reach your upstairs bedroom. We walked through all the issues that could affect your coverage, and even came up with a spiffy VOICE acronym for troubleshooting. Also: chicken wire. Image via blmurch.

Android Task Killers Explained: What They Do and Why You Shouldn’t Use Them

When Android first came out, the multi-tasking, anything-goes app system seemed in need of a firm hand to hold wayward programs in check. But these days, nobody should be opening a task killer as often as their email, and Whitson explained why.

Is Hiding Your Wireless SSID Really More Secure?

The How-To Geek explained for us all the many, many ways that a “hidden” wireless broadcast name, or SSID, can be discovered, worked around, and otherwise made to seem silly. If hoping nobody finds your router is your only defence, keep working at it.

What’s the Easiest Way to Share Large Files and Media with Friends?

I know, I know — you’re thinking, “I bet Lifehacker said Dropbox”. But we didn’t! It’s actually another program, one with the advantage of allowing files larger than 2 GB, and which can start sharing files instantly, rather than waiting for them to upload to a remote server.

What’s the Registry, Should I Clean It, and What’s the Point?

The short version of the How-To Geek’s run-down: cleaning and fixing your registry will never leave you with a desire to phone up your friends and relatives and extoll the virtues of this amazing Windows tip you just discovered, and explain just how radically it has changed your life.

What Should I Do to My Work Laptop Before I Leave My Job?

Whether you’re working for a large company that’s likely to wipe and re-image each and every hard drive before re-assigning it, or a small firm that likely hands out the HR department’s secrets unwittingly, it’s a good idea to think about what you might have left sitting around on the hard drive. Jason offers tips on searching down and securely wiping out your stuff.

Why We Hack: The Benefits of Disobedience

“How do you relate to a serial killer like Dexter? You do it because he murders other serial killers-read: bad people. He does something wrong because good behaviour won’t accomplish what needs to be done. (See also: Batman.) It’s this same mentality, this same brand of unrest, that fuels all kinds of disobedience. In particular, it’s why we hack.”

What’s the Best Way to Share Files with a Nearby Computer?

Rather than trade files over a USB key, and wait for the file copies to happen two times, here are the ways you can set up two computer to quickly trade files between one another at speeds much faster than you’re used to on the internet. When all else fails, there’s always a direct cable connection between the two systems.

Nine Common Myths and Misconceptions About Viruses, Examined and Debunked

The bad news is that firewalls won’t protect you. The good news? Viruses can’t cause your hardware to die—or infect alien spacecraft, for that matter. Step back from the standard stuff you hear about viruses and get a gimpse of the truth. Image via TedRheingold.

How Do You Know If Your Download Really Has a Virus?

In which we detail the sad number of false positives that pop up across most major commercial virus detection apps — especially as it applies to Lifehacker-created software, or anything utilising the awesome automation software AutoHotKey. The How-To Geek recommends running VirusTotal to get a bigger picture of any file that supposedly contains malware, as well as doing crazy things like asking the developer if he’s seen that kind of warning before. Image via Daquella manera.

Google Buzz Explained

It seems so long ago that Buzz just suddenly jumped into all our Gmail inboxes, ready to connect us to our friends (even if the people we email aren’t always friends) and eager to get us talking. We took an early view of Buzz and explained where it was coming from, what it was trying to do, and some of the issues we had right up front.

There you have it — hopefully we’ve offered a more explanatory look at something new, or something so often taken for granted. If you have a favourite explainer from the past year, or would like us to target something for 2011, tell us so in the comments.


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