Eye on the Web, with Mary Westheimer


rear vision


"Perhaps you enjoyed these sites in a past KNLS, broadcast, thanks to our sponsor, sculptor Kevin Caron, and we hope you enjoy them again through this Eye on the Web Archive.
                    --Mary Westheimer


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If you'd like to contribute sites for possible inclusion in future shows,
please e-mail Mary at mary@kevincaron.com. Thanks!



DECEMBER 2008

R eady? Get set ... GOOOO! You'll probably find yourself saying those very words when you visit TypeRacer. Still in Beta testing mode when I visited, TypeRacer lets you let your fingertips fly ... on the keyboard. When you first visit the site, a window pops up to let you sign in or sign up, or you can opt to take a run as a guest. Taking that fast route let me try a practice run, and after finding out I wasn't as fast a typist as I thought (only 69 words per minute - yikes!), I wanted to sign up so I could race against my own past scores, which are only saved for registered users. You can also race against others, see the latest high scores and the fastest typists (wow! more than twice my speed!), race against friends, match up with a stranger, or just poke around the site and see what other typists are doing. As for me, I'm ready to get set and go at it again!

S ee the light. That's just what you'll do when you visit the site of Livermore's Centennial Light. Actually, make that "light BULB." Yes, this is an entire Web site devoted to a single light bulb. The amazing part is that you very well may have already heard about this lightbulb, as it has been burning for more than 100 years! If you think that makes the site a flash in the pan, think again. There's a lot here, including sections devoted to facts, articles and coverage by national TV and other media, a celebration of the bulb, awards, tributes to other long-burning bulbs, links and a guestbook. There's even a bulbcam so you can watch ... a light bulb that has been lit pretty much constantly since 1901. And photos, lots and lots of photos of the bulb itself and activities at the Livermore, California, fire station where the light burns brightly. All in all, this site shines a light on the value of building things to last.

F inally, you can tell your mom you took courses at MIT. No kidding! You can now take classes at the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology from anywhere in the world at MIT Open Courseware. There are 1,800 classes, including audio and video courses and ones in Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese and Thai. You can find the most popular and newest courses and be notified of updates. Once you pick which ones you want to take, you can work at your own pace, using all the materials available to people who actually attend MIT. There are lecture notes, syllibi, readings, assignments and course materials all there for you, for free, from one of the world's top universities. Of course, you don't get a degree or credit, but you can really take the courses and learn - and make your mom proud, too!

G et out! That's just what you'll be able to do after visiting Free-Attractions.com. Its handy database showcases free things to do in all 50 U.S. states and more than 1,500 U.S. cities. You'll find free museums, parks, concerts, parades, festivals and zoos. You can simply search, or click on its handy map to find things to do in specific states. Each listing has a brief description and a phone number as well as a link to more information about the city it's in. But while the information and the admission are free, there is a price of sorts for visiting the site. There are ads, lots of ads, including, when I visited, Google ads, a pop-under ad and an annoying sound ad informing me (several times) that I'd won a game player. Considering the benefits, though, the site seems worth these distractions. So get going!

P ow! Slice! Duck! These are just a few of the things you might do when you visit Kongregate.For those who love video games - playing them, making them, sharing them - this is an amazing place to, well, gather. There are more than 8,200 free games to play online. Even a total computer game novice like me is able to get into the action using the tutorials, but I suspect this site is the most fun for real gamers. In the games section alone there are eight categories, including Adventure, Strategy/Defense, Puzzle and Action as well as Top Rated. There's also an area for developers, a whole area where you can keep track of your own achievements, and a community with more than 17,000 subjects and 350,000 posts. So run! Play! Visit Kongregate for barrels of online action.


NOVEMBER 2008

Do your homework." If you're a parent of a schoolchild, you probably have said this, oh, a million times (or more). Now you as a parent can do your homework on making your job easier at the wonderful site parent hacks. The use of the word "hack," which, according to the LSU Grok Knowledge Base is "a well-crafted piece of work that produces just what is needed," suggests this is site is especially for parents whose kids are in their formative years, so plenty of advice is needed. And here are more than 2,000 suggestions, most of which have been submitted by parents themselves. New hacks are on the homepage, and past ones are organized by age group and subject, or you can just search by keywords. Of course, you can get free updates, participate through all sorts of social networking tools, and you can shop at the parent hack store, helping the site keep up the good work.

T hink snow. If you think of Alaska, snow may indeed be the first thing that comes to mind. After all, the U.S.'s most northern state gets plenty, with snowpack up to 150 inches annually in some places. You can learn all about Alaskan snow at Alaska Snow, Weather and Climate Services. This is an official government site, run by Data Collection Officer Rick McClure of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. And boy, will you find data! Much of it is in PDF documents, so it's easy to download and print. You can get reports about snowpack, precipitation and snow courses, and, frankly, a bunch of other data about snow, precipitation and water that a layperson like me may not understand. There are links, too, to other Alaska data, such as river forecasts, fire weather, and - score! - Web cams so you can do more than think about snow in Alaska.

Q uack! Mother Goose rhymes may have never lowered themselves to such basic invectives, but they do have a lot to say, as you'll learn at Rooney Design's Goose Gallery. The Gallery reveals that timeless rhymes like "Jack Sprat" and "Jack Be Nimble" actually had deeper meanings. The talented folks at Rooney, who design posters, brochures, reports and interactive media for a living, tell the stories behind 15 well-known rhymes, sharing a classy graphic, the rhyme itself, and the story behind the story. While most of the explanations reveal political underpinnings, others, like "Hickory Dickory Dock" and "Humpty Dumpty," appear to be cultural. Either way, the stories, images and the comments sent in by readers are fascinating. After all that learning, you can also take a break and play some of Rooney's Flash Games - you'll take to them like a duck to water!

I t's a plot! Or maybe not ... You'll know for sure when you visit The KnotPlot Site. This curious collection of knots - the kind with a "k" - were largely created with a program called KnotPlot, which looks at knots from a mathematical perspective. With just a bit of clicking, you can see a dizzying number of knots in brilliant color and minute detail. I particularly enjoyed the ability to load some of the pictures into Java, which let me manipulate the images by rotating and scaling them, and changing their dimensions on the fly. There are all sorts of interesting little treasures here, including a section titled "Pages with little or no interesting content" (although I disagree with this designation). This entire fascinating collection is the work of one Robert Scharein, who created the KnotPlot program as part of his PhD thesis. Whatever the reason, the site is indeed a fun part of the tangled World Wide Web we've woven.

S pill this! You no longer need to wonder what it would be like if someone spilled, say, a truck full of glue. Now you can read all about it - and see - that and more than 50 other major messes at TruckSpills.com. The pictures could say it all, but the text helps explain what you're looking at and why as you survey the disasters of tipped trucks of molasses, quarters, potatoes, oranges, beer, lumber, red dye, Jello, fireworks, squash (which became - you guessed it! - squooshed) and even an ICBM rocket booster. There's also a list of items that are dumped too often to be interesting any more, and a photo gallery of truck and car accidents that, while they didn't drop anything in the process, are worth seeing. The site owners also urge you to submit your own photos, spilling the beans on someone else's large scale misery.

M y name is Mary, and I like going barefoot. There! I've said it! And it's true. If I don't have to wear shoes, I don't, and now, thanks to the Web, I've found out I'm not alone! In fact, the site of The Society for Barefoot Living, says the organization boasts 1,179 members who reside in 50 U.S. states and territories and 52 other countries. There are articles about going shoeless, posts from the society's members (many of whom are listed on the site), as well as information about barefootedness and OSHA rules, jobs you can do barefoot, tips for hiking barefoot, photos of barefoot people, barefooting in the news, details about going barefoot around the world, and a shop with T-shirts, caps and other barefoot paraphernalia. Finally, I've found my people! Goodbye, shoes!


OCTOBER 2008

P erfection isn't everything. You can still do a pretty darn good job with domestic pursuits, even if you're not Martha Stewart. Indeed, Not Martha is just the site for those of us who need to cook (and eat), wear clothes, keep our houses maintained and even fix them up without having to be a domestic goddess. Our lovely hostess Megan has been keeping us, our families and friends spiffed up with tips and ideas for good living since 2001, so there are lots of tips, with 27 helpful categories, including the intriguing Mumbling and Yikes. There's a whole section on stuff to make, such as shoe racks for tight spaces, bacon cups for hors d'oeuvres and tiny pinata gift container thingies. Indeed, there's plenty here to make your life just a little more, well, perfect.

That's really smart!" That's just what you might find yourself saying as you browse through the hundreds of ideas at Dumb Little Man. Host Jay White started the site after his second child was born, just to try to reclaim his life. Now the site is filled with, as he says, "tips that will save you money, increase your productivity, or simply keep you sane." Many of them are now written by contributors, giving Jay even more time back and further widening the realm of expertise. You'll find articles in more than 70 categories, including Careers, Health and Making Money, and, of course, you can contribute articles, too. Some of my favorites include "Arguments for Embracing Hard Work and Avoiding Laziness" and "How to Shut Off Your Job for a Weekend (or vacation)." Of course, you can get your tips by email or RSS, saving you time and trouble. Talk about smart!

Y ou can count on the site Mathway to help you handle your numeric questions. I have to admit I'm much better with words than numbers, so I hesitated a bit before even clicking on a link to this site, but boy, I'm glad I did! Mathway is the mathphobe's friend! In fact, the day I visited, they'd already solved almost 1 million problems! I immediately bookmarked the site. They've kept the interface simple, offering Basic Math, Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus and Calculus. Each section offers icons of possible problem components you can choose, then a big fat button to click on for an answer. There are example problems, a glossary, and even the offer of free, live help through tutor.com You can bet the next time I have a math problem, I'll be counting my blessings for Mathway!

I t's on the tip of my tongue. That's what we say when wracking our own brains when we're reaching for a word, but we'd probably be better off visiting MetaGlossary.com. The concept of this site is elegantly simple: harvest definitions from the entire Web and deliver them on a single screen. And deliver the site does, beautifully. It's indexed more than 2 million terms, updating them as the Web - and language - changes. You get the meaning of the word or if it's a reference to, say, a book, movie or song, its context; a link to its source; and the ability to email the information to a friend. You can also rate the offering and even submit your own definition if you think you are smarter than everyone on the entire Web. And if you're using MetaGlossary.com, you just might be!


SEPTEMBER 2008

Y ou can find everything on the Web. And if the folks at the Encyclopedia of Life have their way, you'll be able to find every species on Earth on their amazing site. Fortunately, they haven't set their sights too high. Their goals are simply to create a "comprehensive, collaborative, ever-growing and personalized" ... "ecosystem of websites that makes all key information about all life on Earth accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world." They are doing with the help of scientists and, eventually, regular folks, hoping to "transform the science of biology and inspire a new generation of scientists" by "aggregating virtually all known data about every living species." Well, sign me up! And they really want you to. So far, nine major data partners have already helped created far more than 1 million species pages. With its photos and text in a clean and lightning-fast format, this is the sort of site we all are a part of.

H ungry? Don't go to Recipezaar - it will only get worse! This delightful site is a bulging buffet of information about cooking, liberally spiced with the lively character of its creators. You can browse through more than 300,000 recipes in more than 450 categories by course, ingredients, cuisine, diet, occasion and preparation, check out the week's top 10 searches, get cooking tips, tell your own story, ask a burning recipe question, and, of course, you can contribute recipes, too. One really cool section helps you find all sorts of specialty cookbooks as well as recipes from them. The amazing cornocopia of information on this site is sliced and diced in a dizzying number of ways, yet its clean design makes it easy to find what you want, the way you want it, whether it's raw, boiled, baked, fried or vegan. Right now, though, I gotta go - I'm starved!

G et out your virtual scalpel. That's all you'll need to get the most out of The Virtual Body, which opens up the human brain, skeleton, heart and digestive tract to Web surfers throughout the world. With Spanish and English versions, the site offers plenty of images and text to help you navigate through the human body. There's a narrated tour of the each part of the body, as well as an in-depth, illustrated tour of the brain from different views, a cool game that lets you build your own skeleton, an animated version of the human heart, and a build-a-digestive system puzzle. The whole body is brought to you by MEDtropolis, which offers health information to educate and entertain kids and adults. So dig in, to learn more about, well, yourself!

W We finally know what came first! A visit to the site of The Ova Prima Foundation finally answers the age-old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Wonder no more! Here at this simple yet focused site you'll find the history of this organization's important research, harkening back to its founding in 1865, complete with footnotes. There's a section devoted to education, with teacher's workshops and lesson plans, information about ongoing research projects, publications and the foundation's own grant program. After reading through much of the site's fascinating text, you begin to realize that something smells, well, let's say sulfury (after all, we're talking eggs here, not fish). Indeed, despite its lofty tone, it soon becomes evident that the whole site is a half-boiled hoax, which confirms that what really comes first is a good sense of humor.


AUGUST 2008

N umber 1 thing to do: Remember the Milk. Not the drinkable kind from the cow, but the Web site Remember the Milk. When it's at the top of your list, everything else can fall into line. This free service is essentially the mother of all to-do lists. It lets your organize your activities by categories such as home, work and study; and by tasks, such as take out the garbage. What sets Remember the Milk apart from paper and pencil or even PDA is its ability to connect technologically to others and your own devices - such as your phone - no matter where you are. It helps you keep track of what you need to do and when, locate the places you need to be and people you need to see, and share the information with others by RSS, email and instant messenger, all easily and quickly - and in 26 languages. Now this is a site worth remembering!

A vast ye, mateys! The world of the pirate lives on in the Pirate Soul Museum in Florida and on its site online at Pirate Soul. There you can learn about the museum itself - the inspiration, the original setting of Port Royal, Jamaica, and its collection of weapons, treasure, writings and the tools and maps these raiders used in their heyday. You can also learn a lot about pirate life on the site itself. There're stories about the start of piracy and its golden age, and the places where the buccaneers plied their trade, such as Tortuga, Madagascar and the Florida Keys. There's even a cool map to help you actually see various pirate points of interest and understand their significance. You can learn about famous pirates, and even capture your own plunder in the site's shop. Yes, me mateys, this is definitely a chestful of pirate treasure!

P Put it in the budget. Or, in the case of BudgetPulse, you may well want to put your budget in it. If there were ever a service that most people need, it's the ability to track their money. Yet most of us cringe when we think about it because it's just too darn hard or the software costs would, well, blow the budget. Enter BudgetPulse. With its elegant interface and truly helpful screens, this free service helps you manage your personal finances by allowing you to track income, assets, loans, expenses and investments in multiple accounts. You can plan your budget as well as interactively analyze and chart your information and, of course, get comprehensive reports on everything. You can even read the latest financial news. BudgetPulse makes financial tracking and planning easy, even for those of us who shy from numbers. Yes, this is one site you can, well, take to the bank.

T his is bad, really bad. ... but in a charming sort of way. At least that's how I felt after visiting the site Bad Gift Emporium. Think of it as a way to celebrate tackiness. Yes, you finally have something you can do with the velvet painting of Elvis in his latter years. Just post it here at the Bad Gift Emporium and tell its story. You can even put it up for, uh, adoption. Or just visit the site, read the stories, see the photos, then rank the gifts or even send their photos as e-cards. You can browse by the highest (or would that be lowest?) ranking, see the most recent additions, see what's available in case someone you know has a special occasion coming up, or just click through the more than 150 selections. Keep an eye out for the tongue scraper from "Gene Simmons" and the crystal hermit crab, two of my favorites. Talk about bad!


JULY 2008

I I'm glad someone thought of this! That's what you may find yourself saying as you browse through InventorSpot. Billed as "Serious fun for the inventor in all of us" the site is really for people who want to invent, but there is fun for everyone, including those of us who just like clever ideas. For inventors, there's information about research, developing your ideas, producing and protecting them, publicity and various groups and events you might want to know about. There are articles, a forum, an inventor's store, helpful books, an event calendar and service provider resources, many of which help aspiring creators get their ideas to market. Then, for those of us who just want to know what inventors have cooked up, there's the Invention Gallery. You'll find ideas that seem kooky (well, except to the inventor!) as well as those like the World's Smartest Beach Bag, that make you think, "Why didn't I think of that!"

C an you believe it! I thought I'd seen and heard everything until I visited eAmazings. This site zeroes in on incredible photos and facts that will make you shake your head in wonder. I loved the top 10 photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been sending us pictures from out-of-this-world since 1990, as well as photos of rare flowers that saturated me in color. Nature weighs in again with pictures of awe-inspiring dust storms, and then there is silly fun, like a huge urn built of beer cans. And that's just the photos! In the Knowledge Base, there are also 25 pages of amazing facts (which are unattributed, so you can only trust they are true), and there are links to other sites that may be of interest. Is this site a slice of fun? That you can believe!

L et the sun shine on! That's just what people who visit Build-It-Solar want to do by putting the abundant resource to work. There are plans, tools and information for hundreds of renewable energy and conservation projects, from changing a light bulb to building a solar home. You'll find do-it-yourself information for solar kilns, solar hot water heaters, passive cooling, food preparation, lighting, hydropower, solar for kids, and so much more. There is also an experimental section for backyard inventors and intriguing information on cutting your energy usage in half. But where do you start? Well, the Getting Started section, of course, which helps you figure out which sorts of projects are right for you. You can also ask any remaining questions about solar and other energy saving projects, as well as click to other sites that will help you use all the sun that shines on you.

I Is that kale or a kumquat? If you want to know more about edible plant life, FruitandVeggieGuru.com can definitely help. You can simply search for your favorite (or unknown) produce - despite the segregated search engines, you'll find fruit and vegetables in both of them. When you drill down to each fruit or veggie, you'll find lots of information, including a color photo; the history of the item; its varieties and availability; handling, preparation and serving instructions; equivalents, fun facts and resources. There's additional information about produce and your health, produce and kids, organic produce and produce in the news. You'll find help on preserving nutrients in these delicious nuggets as well as recipes for kids and ways to get them to eat more of these natural goodies, no matter whether they're leafy as kale or sweet and sour like kumquats.


JUNE 2008

F Free movies! After many years of expectations, it's finally happened. Anyone can now get free movies and TV shows online, uh, legally. Yes, there have been other sites where you could see some movies or TV shows, but usually they were older offerings. Now hulu brings current shows like "30 Rock" and "The Simpsons" as well as sports and political videos. There are also classics to enjoy and there are plenty of choices. There seem to be more - and more current - TV shows than movies, but you won't lack for something you really want to see. You can sort by popularity, clips, genre and alphabetically. You can also browse movies by studio and TV shows by network (now that's loyalty for you!). And you can embed the videos, email a link to friends, share the videos, make them full screen and otherwise adjust the display. How do they do it? Advertising. But it's not much of a price for movies and TV!

W ill search for food. That's just what you can do at Foodio54. This wonderful free site is yet another example of the Web at its best. Sure, you can search for a restaurant in any U.S. city, but you can also log in and add your own restaurants, rate them and make corrections, so the site is really the work of everyone who contributes. And, boy, do they contribute! There are 520,000 restaurants on the site, with each listing offering an address and map, phone and directions. You can also rate them, and therein lies the real beauty. As you indicate what you like, the site uses the magic of "collaborative filtering" to then predict what other restaurants you'll like. So you don't just get listings and reviews, you get recommendations based on your own preferences! It's easy to sign up using the OpenID password system, then participate. Now that's the way to work up an appetite!

F lashy slashes! Barcodes never looked better than at BarCodeArt.com. The fun starts on the splash page, where, instead of your standard counter, you see a giant barcode that updates as people enter. Inside, there's plenty more fun. I loved building my very own barcode, which I can then have imprinted on a T-shirt or a coffee cup. You can also buy barcode tattoos, flipbooks, postcards, dog tags, baby bibs, armbands and other distinctive products. Or you can just browse through the amazing art that barcode wizard Scott Blake has made with these simple patterns, or learn about the science behind the codes themselves. There's an exhibit space, a bio of Blake and, of course, links. You definitely won't get bored poking around between these lines.

T alk about exciting! The epitome of time wasting has traditionally been watching grass grow. Now you can do it no matter where you are at Watching Grass Grow. This is definitely a, uh, homegrown site, but there's a lot here that will make you laugh. There's the Web cam, of course, that shows, well, grass growing (unless it's night time). There are some hilarious time lapse videos of positively bracing activities like watching grass grow over an entire year and Mr. Grass shoveling snow, as well as multiple instances of interactions with the Hulk on the famous patch of green. There's a grass blog with more than 3,000 entries, and there are lots of other comments, photos and quirky touches, too, including the lawnmower that follows your cursor, and a section on watching paint dry, although I could do without the nonstop background music. There's nothing that would raise my blood pressure, though, making this site just sheer fun.


MAY 2008

H appy Big 5-0, Alaska! Yes, in 2009, the state of Alaska will mark its 50th year as one of the united states, and Alaska: History and Culture Studies is a great place to begin celebrating. You'll find a timeline that stretches from before 1740 to today, and sections on geography, culture, government, modern days and its time as a Russian colony and American territory. They all have detailed articles about their history and people as well as photographs, maps, letters and other excellent resources. There's a clickable map, too, that lets you think about Alaska in relation to its four main geographic sections, or you can be lazy like me and just use the site's search engine to find what you want quickly. There's a teacher's guide, and a special section on the upcoming big birthday, too, so put on your party hat and get ready to celebrate!

T Three pairs of socks, my camera and an umbrella. This is how I used to get ready for a trip. Then I discovered the Universal Packing List. It's not surprising that this incredibly useful site was created by a programmer. Mats Henricson was going from Sweden to Africa when he made UPL 1.0, but with the help of lots of research and input, it's come a long way since then. First, you answer some questions about the trip, such as when the trip begins and ends, whether children are going, what your accommodations are, and how big your suitcase is. Is it an international trip? What activities will you enjoy? What do you want to see? What sort of transportation will you be using? Then, using nearly 500 possible items, the UPL gives you an amazingly detailed - and helpful - list of what to take and do, not only on your trip but also before it. When I travel, now the first thing on my list is using the UPL!

N ow you see it ... or at least you will if you visit The On-Line Museum and Encyclopedia of Vision Aids. And just what you'll see at this amazing site is everything you'd ever want to know - and then some - about antique vision aids. More than a thousand people and nearly 600 organizations have created this comprehensive celebration of spectacles. There are more than 4,000 images on the site's nearly 250 pages. There's news about vision aids, conference and events; a timeline and other history, information about identification and preservation, a glossary, slide shows of entire collections, stories about the spectacles of well-known historical figures, educational tools and games, and 430 links to related sites. Of course, you can search for what you want, but the site is quite well organized, too. This is one site clearly put together by people with great vision.

M aybe I do, and maybe I don't ... think ChangingMinds.org is a fascinating site. No, no, I'm sure of it! After all, it has 2,500 pages! And it says it's the world's largest site on all aspects of how we change what others think, believe, feel and do. Say you're a salesperson. Or a mother. Or a teacher. Or just a person who wants to persuade - or resist the persuasion of - other people. Well, this site details the Disciplines, Techniques, Principles, Theories and Explanations related to this beguiling art. Most interesting to me are the techniques. For instance, you can learn how to use more than 50 closes, or ways to seal deals, including the Courtship Close, the Embarrassment Close and the IQ Close. I learned about each approach and then how to use it. So I can now assure you that this is, indeed, the best site ever on the entire Internet! (So, really, do you believe me?)


APRIL 2008

I f things look strange to you you may well be at StrangeUSA.com, which prides itself on consolidating a vast amount of strange stuff into one easy-to-use site. Here you'll find information about haunted spots, urban legends, cemeteries, ghost towns and other weird and cool places. You can click on the U.S. map and drill down to see strange places in every state, including nearly 50 in Alaska alone. If you keep digging around - like you might in the kind of places you'll find on this site - you'll find much more, including investigators' instructions, with all sorts of gear you should take with you. In fact, if you like poking around in spooky and scary spots, it's free to become a member and add to the incredible amount of information here. There's strange news, strange links and random strangeness, and you can even hang out on the chat board and talk strange. Yes, at this site, strange is looking good!

H up, one, two, three! Hup, one, two, three! If you're ready to get your brain in shape, hustle on over to SharpBrains, which bills itself as "Your Brain Fitness Center." Indeed, you can really exercise your gray matter with the tremendous - and varied - information on this site. There are articles and papers, brain teasers, a glossary, a free brain fitness guide, books about brain sharpening, links, archives, comments, a blog and a great media area, as well as details about the site owners' speaking and consulting. My favorite part of this site, though, is that it is substantive, with solid and relatively deep information in each area. It truly feels like it was conceived by, well, smart people, the sort with whom you'd want to do business. If your only goal, though, is to get your brain into its finest condition, you'll feel just as welcome - and fulfilled. So give us 50, brain soldier!

F asten your seatbelts and get ready for Turbulence. Since 1996, this site has commissioned artists to create more than 150 innovative works by using existing technologies as well as developing new ones. It's also hosted more than 20 multilocation streaming performance events and showcases new work and conversations with creators through its Artists' Studios, Guest Curator and Spotlight sections. The result is a tumult of sound, color, light and action that excites, fascinates and sometimes befuddles. Some of the work is online only, like Alan Bigelow's charming MyNovel.org, which conveys three classic books in images and four sentences. Other pieces straddle the Internet world and our real one, such as several projects that meld Second Life and, well, physical reality. So buckle up and get ready for something entirely new.

S queeze, please! Or better yet, the next time you're at your favorite fast-food restaurant and you're cruising the condiment table, grab one of packet each for the The Condiment Packet Gallery. If you're at one of the major chains, though, you might have been trumped - they already have more than 700 packets on the site, which shows each of them in its full-color glory. You can see them all at once, creating a riot of taste and color, or sort them by 19 categories, including duck sauce and vinegar. Or sort by one of the 14 brand names so you can see just the varieties each company offers. If you don't find your favorite, you can submit it - the site gives specific instructions on what it's seeking and how to send in your addition. In exchange, you'll get a cool pin ... which might just be great for getting those little packets


MARCH 2008

F our out of five Web sites are more interesting to the people who created them than to visitors. OK, I may have made that up, but it almost sounds plausible enough to be included at RulesofThumb.org, a site devoted to those homemade recipes for making better guesses. What started as a collection generated by letters that author Tom Parker turned into three books before this site was even a gleam in his eye, now is well-served by the Web, where you can search, add, rate and comment on what appears to be thousands of rules of thumb in more than 150 categories. Whether you want to know how to avoid lunatics on city buses, win a duel with pistols, or recognize a rotten egg (it floats), you'll find this information and dozens and dozens of other fun and fascinating rules at this site, which is definitely interesting to its creator and visitors alike.

P lug it in! That's just what you can do at Tesla Downunder, an Australian site detailing nearly 200 high voltage and other projects. Up front I need to confess that I have no idea what much of this stuff is or how it works. But the site's owner clearly does, and he wants to share it with the world. Don't come here looking for cool graphics and fancy Flash. This is a downhome site focused on the experiments, how they were done, and how to do them, complete with photos and descriptions. You can learn how to make everything from lasers to "antigravity machines," can crushers to a Tesla Christmas tree. Even if you don't understand what much of this means, it's easy to get excited by the sheer enthusiasm of the site owner, Peter, who describes himself as a "50-something year old first year university physics dropout." So if you have a hankering to try some of these experiments or just want to live vacariously through Peter, this is the place to plug yourself in.

W hen you buy electronics, you always want good value. One way to get it is to visit Walyou, a site devoted to fun, interesting and easy to read information about technology and the Internet. What started as a site to provide after purchase warranty information has itself found value in a blog that shares news and views about a variety of technology gadgets and geegaws. One day when I visited they reviewed colorful boxes that have their own personalities that give you something you can hug (or juggle if you have a few of them), sort of a friend-in-a-box. More than a thousand visitors have added their own comments to the blog's original reviews and articles, in nine categories that include How to and Hacks, Customer Experience, and Software and Add-ons. There are all sorts of ways you can juggle the information and funnel it to yourself, because, despite its technological focus, the site has the friendly feel of a real community. And that's value - or make that "Walyou."

G rab your shaker! If there ever were a place to get the most out of salt, it'd be the Salt Institute. You may not think much about the sodium you put on your food daily, but there's a whole industry behind this key substance, which the site says each of the earth's 5.9 billion inhabitants use every day. The site has tons of salt facts, from frequently asked questions, to information about the industry in nations around the world, to salt news, to a special area for Salt Institute members only. You can learn how salt is refined, how it affects your health and diet, the difference between table and kosher salt, and just how good salt is as a road deicer. Did you know how salt is used in animal nutrition? Water conditioning? Glass and metal refining? There's a curriculum for teachers, and even an RSS feed for people who want more salt in their Internet diet. With this site at your fingertips, this site can add a lot of flavor to your knowledge about one of the world's most popular commodities.


FEBRUARY 2008

I f you want to find someone on the Web, ask Spock . I stumbled upon this site in its beta state (which means they're letting people test drive it), and have to admit they may be onto something here, because Spock makes it especially easy to tap into networks you may already be using. It's a little spooky, too, but not enough to keep me from signing up. Once you decide to take the plunge, you allow Spock to dip into your Outlook or Outlook Express address book (gulp!) to find anyone at Yahoo, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Gmail, Microsoft Hotmail, AOL or myspace. You choose the services one by one, give them your log in and wait while Spock, well, probes your address book. Then you can choose which of those people you matched in each service to contact, add some information about yourself, and voila! you've been assimilated. Now you, too, can be found more easily online.

C oolsville! Anyone who loves the 1950s will feel that way about Fifties Web, a loving tribute to the era of sock hops and James Dean, "I Love Lucy" and the King (as in the one and only Elvis). Carefully compiled by former journalist Candace Rich, the site is, well, an embarassment of period riches. You'll find '50s slang, lists of the dearly (and not-so-dearly) departed since that era, '50s fashion, TV, music and games; decor, fads, Burma Shave signs and so much more. Rich has been compiling this information and sharing it with a deft touch since 1996, eager to tell the real story of an era of limitless dreams and dynamite ducktails. Along with the now ubiquitous Google ads (after all, there's nothing wrong making a 2008-era buck!), you'll find memories of real depth and appreciation, with photos and text from way-back-when. And that's really cool!

Y ou can change the world. If you ever thought that was just talk, now you can prove it's true through the site Kiva. Devoted to enabling "loans that save lives," Kiva allows anyone who has access to a computer to be part of the powerful microloan movement. As has now been proven over and over, what to some people is a small amount of money - say, a couple hundred dollars - can make a huge difference in someone's life. Working with lending organizations around the globe, Kiva helps regular folks loan money to other regular folks to buy livestock, materials and otherwise elevate themselves to a new level financially and personally. The week I visited, more than 600 loans were established and more than 800 paid back. Now that's power to make the world a better place!

G ot a minute? OK, what about five? That's all it takes to learn some important lessons at 5min Life Videopedia. The creators of the site - some software developers in Israel - believe that everyone is an expert in something, and that that something can be explained in just five minutes through short videos. Part of what makes this site work is its Smart Player, which allows viewers to watch videos in slow motion - even frame by frame - zoom in and out, and more. It also helps the video creator make a storyboard to help others better understand the demonstration. There are 20 categories, including Art, Food, Pets and Wheels, where you can learn - and share - things like how to convert a file to Quicktime or how ot play the drums. Fortunately, there are also lots of videos on running a camera, so the next time I have five minutes ....


JANUARY 2008

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink." Paraphrasing Samuel Taylor Coleridge, water is a major concern in today's world. Fortunately, the site buydehydratedwater.com can help address this serious issue. The site outlines the threats - oil spills, corroded pipes, old bottled water ... hey, wait a minute! Old water? After a few minutes of poking around site sections including Testimonials, FAQ, Free Sample, Franchise Opportunities, Media and Cool Jobs, things become much clearer. The site is fun, but it isn't for real. The online store, though, seems to be. There are products including various packages of dehydrated water, books and guides, mugs and, of course, the ubiquitous T-shirt, and the shopping cart system seems functional - not to mention that they take PayPal (but then, who doesn't?). If you have a thirst for a fun spoof, fun is everywhere on this site.

I don't feel so well. Well, there's no better place than MayoClinic.com to check out my symptoms and find out more about what I can do about them. There's a "Find It Fast" search to let me find out more about symptoms, diseases and medical emergencies, and they throw in a first aid guide for good measure. Women's HeathSource focuses on female concerns, and the Health Tools area has calculators, quizzes, slide shows as well as videos. Of course, there are blogs and podcasts, and you can ask more than 40 Mayo specialists questions. You can learn how to manage conditions you might have, find out about various drugs, and there's even information about avoiding illness in the Healthy Living section. If you want news coming to you, you can sign up for their Housecall email newsletter, too. Gee, I'm feeling better already!

T oo busy to watch a movie? Then considering just going with the audio at Listen to a Movie. The site proudly proclaims its value to "cubicle workers of the world," who presumably can sample the more than 1,400 movie soundtracks, and we aren't just talking music here. There are more than 250 TV episodes, too, including "The Simpsons," the "Ricky Gervais Radio Show" and "Arrested Development." The movies, though, are the centerpiece of the site, featuring everything from "10 Things I Hate About You" to "Zoom." They're presented in a powerful database that lets you search, select alphabetically, then sort by title, year of creation, ratings and genre. There's basic information about each movie, and you can add your own ratings, too. Best of all, though, is the chance to launch that audio player, close your eyes, and sink into the sound of a good movie.

I don't know! I just don't know! It must be time to visit WiseGEEK. With more than 18,300 articles contributed by more than 50 experts, this site must have the answer. A fellow named Denis started it in 2003 to answer real questions concisely and clearly. You can browse through the site's 23 sections, which include Home and Garden, Technology and Gadgets, Sports and Hobbies, and History and Government, but frankly, it might be easier just to search. The site's blog provides a fascinating peek into WiseGEEK's curious pursuits, and the site's opening tiered list of questions adds some random fun. But the best part is the questions (and their answers), which range from the practical ("What's an invoice?") to the fanciful ("What is a snickerdoodle?"). Interestingly enough, I didn't see anywhere to ask a question. Why not? I don't know! I just don't know!





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