2/14/2010

50+ Fun Things to do on the Internet

So, you've finished checking your email and your Facebook account ... what now?  You have the world's largest source of entertainment literally at your fingertips, but how to take advantage of it?  Here's a list of activities I initially compiled for myself, but which I am now sharing with the world in hopes of enabling others to waste as much time on the net as I do!
  1. Enter contests.  What's better than getting something for free?  So activate the "autofill" app on your computer and start entering some of the thousands of contests and sweepstakes available online.  To simplify the search, start at a sweepstakes metasite like Online-sweepstakes, which sorts the contests into useful categories like as "value of prizes," "types of prizes," and "entry frequency."
  2. Submit reviews for books, movies, video games, or products.  Lots of sites depend on people like you to provide your opinions.  Amazon.com is a great place to start, since they allow you to review pretty much anything.  If you have a passion for a specific media, however (movies, video games, etc.), there are sites that specialize in reviewing just those.
  3. Create or edit a Wikipedia entry.  It's easier than you think!  They provide the html coding, you provide the content.  The trick is that you have to have something worthwhile to contribute. 
  4. Google yourself (or stalk old friends/colleagues).  Amazing what's available in the public domain!  Good places to start "stalking" include social networking sites like Facebook or Myspace, business networking sites like Linkedin, or school/alumni sites like Classmates.com
  5. Play games.  There are about a billion game sites on the net (that may be a slight exaggeration, but only slight).  In the extremely unlikely event that you can't find one, here are some of the more popular gaming metasites: Yahoo games, Games.com, and Shockwave.  Or, try something a little more cerebral at IF Archive, a treasure trove of text-based adventure games.
  6. Join a group or chat room (favorite hobby, TV show, or pet peeve).  Lots of metaproviders out there: go to Yahoo Groups or Google Groups, enter a search term(s), and hook up with groups talking topics of mutual interest.
  7. Create a blog.  Blog about your life, a hobby/interest, or the world around you.  There are no blog police, so, no, you don't have to feel guilty about not blogging every day!  (Goodness knows I don't.) Many sites host free blogs; some of the most popular just now are Blogger.com and  Blogspot.
  8. Read other people's blogs.  Be a voyeur and peek into someone else's life, learn more about a mutual passion, or discover new passions you never knew existed.  Blog metasites (sites that catalog bunches of blogs in one place) like Blogpire, Pajamasmedia, and Writerswriteinc (my personal favorite) are a great place to start. 
  9. Visit stupid websites.  Think you've seen the worst the internet has to offer?  Not even close.  Check out Stupidness.com, pointlesssites.com, or any of the other metasites that collect and disseminate the detritus of the digital domain. 
  10. Watch television on demand.  Are you on the computer because TV isn't an option?  It is now!  Visit the following sites for full episodes of your favorite shows: Yahoo TV,  Hulu, wwiTV, or Crackle.
  11. Watch a documentary.  Documentary Heaven has tons of amazing documentaries available online for free.
  12. Explore new music.  At Pandora Radio, enter the name of a musician you like and the site will build a radio station that plays music chosen by other listeners who chose the same musician. By clicking the "like" and "unlike" buttons, you can further customize your station.  Or, give other music discovery sites such as Musicovery a whirl.
  13. Explore new books. Do the same thing for books at WhatShouldIReadNext.
  14. Donate to a worthy cause. Too tired earning that hard-earned money to visit dozens of websites in search of a worthy cause? Metadonation website such as Make The Difference Network or Network for Good allow you to explore dozens of charitable organizations and decide which one deserves your donation.
  15. Sign petitions.  Want to make the world a better place without (a) donating, (b) volunteering, or (c) writing a letter to your Congressman? Frankly, doesn't get much easier than signing an online petition.  At sites such as The Petition Site and Web Petitions, you can lend your signature (and support) to a truly staggering array of causes worthy, unworthy, or just plain bewildering.
  16. Download apps.  Who says apps are just for iphones? Your computer covets cool apps too!  Visit CNET or Brothersoft for apps to help you organize your photos, download games, finish your homework, listen to radio online, or lots (lots) more.
  17. See if you have any $$ being held for you.    Are you one of the estimated 30 million Americans owed money or property by companies, banks or the government? Each state has a procedure for checking to see if they are holding any unclaimed money or property (ex: tax refunds, dividend payments) in your name.  Visit this metasite hosted by About: Unclaimed Property and find out if you're one of the lucky ones!
  18. Post your resume to a jobs site.  Even if you're happy in your job, shouldn't you know what you're missing?  There are probably hundreds of job sites, but some of the most popular right now seem to be Monster and Careerbuilder
  19. Post your profile to a dating site.  Though I'm personally a fan of such old-fashioned methods as meeting potential mates through clubs and activities, online dating does, in some cases, work.  Given the associated perils, however, probably better to stick with widely known (and therefore, presumably, legitimate) sites like Match and eHarmony
  20. Talk to a therapist.  You can talk online privately with a trained active listener or therapist at 7 Cups of Tea.
  21. Look up diseases to see if you have them (or, if you already have a condition, look up clinical trials that you might want to join).  A good place to start are health metasites such as Yahoo Health, Healthline, and ClinicalTrials.com.
  22. Use Google Earth to see a satellite photo of your community/neighborhood/house. It's creepy cool!
  23. Read (or listen to) a book.  For free books that you can read online, try Project Gutenberg (30,000+ free books), OnlineBooks (10,000+ free books), Books-on-Line (53,000+ free books) ... or, go to Lirivox, site of an organization that records thousands of public domain books for the visually impaired and other users.
  24. Look up recipes (or post your own to recipe websites).   Allrecipes is a great metasite for almost every recipe imaginable; or, if you're a foodie, go directly to Epicurious, which is hosted by the publishers of Gourmet and Bon Appetit.
  25. Send ecards.  Ecards are a great way to acknowledge special moments without the hassle of cards and stamps.  The sites I use most frequently are Blue Mountain, 123Greetings, and Hallmark.  (Tip: Be sure to include a personal message when sending so the recipient knows they're legitimately from you and not a virus dressed up as a greeting card.)
  26. Order a free copy of your credit report.  Just try getting a house, car, job or girlfriend/boyfriend without a good credit score.  Is yours healthy enough?  Visit AnnualCreditReport and find out where you stand.
  27. Sign up for RSS feeds.  Why search for interesting news when it can come to you?  Visit Bloglines or Google Reader to sign up to receive updates from your favorite websites.
  28. Laugh.  It took John Stewart to make most of us understand that nothing's as tragically funny as the nightly news.  However, editorial cartoonists have known it for years. Here are two of my favorite political cartoon wesbites: EditorialCartoonists, Cagle.com
  29. Download coupons.  Why sort through the Sunday paper when you can download only the coupons you need?  Check out sites like RetailMeNot for store coupons (Kohls, Victoria Secret, Borders, etc.), or Smartsource for service (roofing, rug cleaning) & product (food, toilettries) coupons, handily sorted by zip code.
  30. Research your family tree.  You don't have to scour the archives and graveyards of the world to discover your geneology because, chances are, someone's already done it for you.  Simply enter your family information at sites such as Family Search, Ancestry.com or Genealogy.com and be amazed at the research that pops up.
  31. Listen to old radio shows.  Melodrama, cheesy sound effects, vintage commercials ... what's not to love about old radio shows?  1000s of downloadable dramas (Lux Radio Hour), mysteries (Philip Marlowe, Sherlock Holmes), comedy hours (Burns and Allen), westerns (Gunsmoke), superhero (Green Hornet), childrens (Orphan Annie) and big band (Glenn Miller) radio shows are available completely free of charge at sites such as Internet Archive and Old Radio World
  32. Learn something.  Didn't go to Yale, Dartmouth, Oxford? You can now!  Coursera, MIT, and Khan Academy all offer free online courses that cover just about everything. Visit Academic Earth to view lectures by professors from the world's greatest universities; or, if you'd like to learn something a little bit more practical - like how to fix or leak or bottle your own beer - visit "how to" metasites such as Expert VillageSo You Wanna, or Howcast
  33. Praise (or haze) your school.  Did you love your high school? Hate your college? Loath your chemistry teacher? Share your school reviews with others at  GreatSchools.com (K-12) or StudentReview (college).
  34. Download cool fonts.  Maybe you have to be a font freak like me to think this is worth the time ... but if you are a font freak like me, trust me, you'll can spend hours at 1001freefonts
  35. Check out the extended weather forecast.  If you don't have much time, visit Weather.com, the "CNN Headline New" of weather sites.  But if you want the whole story, get your geek on at a real weather site like Wunderground.com.
  36. Find out more about the day you were born. Find out more about what was going on in the world on the day you were born.  WTPS hosts a great metasite of links, or visit This Day in Music to find out what was playing on the car radio as your dad raced your mom to the hospital.
  37. Share your photos.  Share your current or vintage photos with the rest of your family by posting them to a photo sharing site such as Flickr, Snapfish, Picasa, Photobucket or Shutterfly.
  38. Share your deepest, darkest secrets with complete strangers.  Offload your conscience without the inconvenience of church or the cost of alcohol at Postsecret, the big daddy of all the (many) online confession sites.  (Feel free to try another confession site if your conscience still troubles you, but be aware that most of the others are strictly 21 and over.)
  39. Vent.  Too many complaints and not enough friends in the world to hear them all?  Share your life/relationship/career horror stories online at Job Schmob or the disturbingly-named I Wish I Spit In Your Food.
  40. Take a quiz or test.  There are zillions of test/quiz websites, most of them featuring ads that jump and blink.  However, if you can live without knowing "How well do you know Corey Feldman?", you'll find a great selection of psychological and intelligence tests at Testdex, PsychCentral, and SimilarMinds.
  41. Check to see if any sexual predators live in your neighborhood. Are there any sexual offenders in your 'hood?  Find out by visiting the National Sex Offender Registry.
  42. Check out what other countries are saying about us.  If you think our U.S. "world news" TV programs are doing a good (or even satisfactory) job of keeping us abreast of the world's news, think again ... and then visit sites like Online Newspapers (for newspapers in their national language) and Inkdrop (for English language editions) that allow you to read 100s of foreign periodicals yourself.  Surprisingly illuminating.
  43. Help other people find the answers they seek.  Several search engines have begun offering browsers the opportunity to post specific questions; then, they invite other browsers who may possess the requested information to post answers.  So, go ahead, help out your fellow humans by visiting Answers.com or Yahoo Answers.
  44. Opt out of stuff.  Tired of getting junk calls? Junk email? Just say no by adding your name to the opt-out registries at DoNotCall.gov (junk calls)and DirectMail Optout (junk mail).
  45. Change your wallpaper.  Metasites such as Interfacelift and Customize offer literally 1000s of choices.
  46. Never miss another birthday!  Load all your important dates (not just birthdays) at BirthdayReminders and get a useful reminder email a few days before - just enough time to buy a card or make a restaurant reservation.
  47. Get rid of your junk.  Thanks to the internet, there are so many ways to dispose of your old junk ... er, momentos.  You can put it up for auction at Ebay, offer it for sale at Craigslist ... or if you don't want to be bothered with selling, offer it free to the folks in your community via your local Freecycle network, a marvelous (and virtually hassle-free) way to save usuable items from becoming landfill.
  48. Figure out how much time you have left.  I love Deathclock, a site that calculates - based on various risk factors - your expected time on this Earth.  According to Deathclock, I probably need to be generating these lists at a brisker clip if I hope to be done in time ....
  49. Stockpile memes. (A meme, for the tragically uninformed, is a bit of memory, an experience, a piece of knowledge.)  Ever get the feeling that you don't seem to have the same background knowledge as all your "connected" friends? Visit sites like KnowYourMeme to keep up-to-date on all the viral "memes" being shared and discussed by people hipper than you.
  50. Bone up on history. The problem with those historical markers that line the highways is that you're always rushing past them at 55mph. Visit Historical Markers and find out what was happening in your community the past 200yrs or so, without the risk of injury or death.
  51. Read magazines.  Do you have a favorite magazine? Chances are, you can read a lot of the content online.  Some popular magazine websites include Vanity Fair, National Geographic, Time, Sports Illustrated,Rolling Stone ... even Martha Stewart Living, if you're in the mood to feel inadequate.
  52. Hook up with a prison penpal.  Meet-An-Inmate is an online penpal service for the currently incarcerated.
  53. Learn a Language.  Duolingo offers free language learning in Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese.
  54. Learn how to code.  Learn coding for free at Code Academy. They offer interactive lessons in several computer languages, such as HTML and Python.
  55. Stumble.  Forget the other items on this list! Stumble, by itself, can suck up hours of time. Simply click on the button labelled "stumble" and the application will take you to a random website. By clicking the "like" or "unlike" buttons, the app gradually learns what kind of sites you like and starts directing you towards those. Completely addicting!

2/04/2010

11 Disruptive Events That Could Alter Earth's Future


Think tanks and futurists call them "Disruptive Event" - events on a scale so global and so cataclysmic, they have the potential to irrevocably alters the future of humanity. 

Do the people who run our world have contingency plans for these, I wonder?  Since the U.S. government doesn't even have a contingency plan for a big snowstorm, as this past winter just proved, I have my doubts! 
  1. Asteroid Strike.  Scientists estimate an asteroid a mere 10km in diameter was responsible for the destruction of 70% of species inhabiting the Earth at that time (including those lovable dinosaurs).   The good news is that we now have the smart folks at NORAD scanning the skies for potential threats; and researchers from federal labs actively have been brainstorming ideas for ways to deal with this type of  extraterrestrial threat.
  2. Plague. Apparently it's not going to be swine flu that takes us out, but one thing the swine flu outbreak did teach us is that we are still a long way from ensuring we have effective containment plans that account for the realities of the world today, including illegal immigration and air travel. Isn't it comforting to know that we're basically one genetic mutation away from annihilation?
  3. Climate change.  The effects on humanity would be dramatic enough (near-term, think starvation, civil unrest, and property destruction; long-term, expect massive global population shifts) - but that doesn't even begin to contemplate the impact on flora and fauna, which don't have the adaptability of humans, creating the potential for massive species extinction. 
  4. Nuclear War.  As anyone who'se watched a Godzilla movie knows, it isn't necessarily the bomb that kills you: it's the radiation it leaves in its wake that renders the environment unstable (aka nuclear winter), land uninhabitable, and DNA unstable.  Assuming some nations survive the apocalypse, prepare for global civil unrest, environmental disaster, and roaming zombie hoards.
  5. Volcanic Eruption.  Geologists believe a massive volcanic eruption may have been the cause of the "Great Permian Extinction," the greatest mass extinction in Earth's history.  It's not the eruption that kills you; it's the decades of perpetual twilight and buildup of greenhouses gases caused by the quantities of ash flung into the atmosphere that ultimately leads to extinction.  People with solar powered homes should expect to be eaten first.
  6. Genetic Modification/Cloning.  It took nature several millions of years of experimentation to come up with DNA sequences capable of producing living creatures.  Alas, we humans don't have that kind of patience - it's likely we won't fully comprehend the consequences of our genetic tinkering until it's too late to undo whatever it is we've done.  It's possible that these impacts may be positive, enabling humanity to eliminate disease and create new food and energy sources.  It's also possible that genetic modification may wreak havoc by creating fatal superviruses, undermining the human immune system, or fundamentally recalibrating the value we place upon life. (Repeat after me: "Soylent Green is people!")
  7. Artificial Intelligence. It's only a matter of time before AI becomes capable of genuine cognitive independence.  After that, Darwin's theory of evolution suggests that AI will turn its attention towards perpetuating its own survival.  Are we ready to coexist with a species smarter than we are? I have my doubts.
  8. Energy Crisis. Whoever controls the energy, wins. The end.
  9. Natural Disaster That Destroys a Major Country/City.  The nature of the disaster (earthquake, flooding, tsunami, tornado, megastorm) doesn't matter.  What matters is that, as 9/11 and the recent economic recession have taught us, the people of the world are - for better or worse - irrevocably interconnected, and a disaster striking any significant appendage of that body threatens the political, financial and social survival of the rest of the body.
  10. Cyberwarfare. One minute you're googling "funny babies" - the next, it's a world-wide power outage that never ends.  All the wealth stored in the form of stocks, bonds and other financial constructs, destroyed.  Virtually all transportation and communication systems, unusable.  Safety features at water purification plants, nuclear power plants, prisons, and dams, disabled.  You may want to start now on your list of stores to loot first. 
  11. Alien Encounter.  Doesn't have to be an invasion a la "Independence Day" - basically, any encounter with intelligent life forms is going to irrevocably alter humanity's future.  Let's hope the folks at Area 51 are ready.

2/01/2010

Fun Things To Do in the Snow

In honor of the big blizzard expected to start later this afternoon (aka "Snowmaggedon," or so the weather forecasters would have us believe), here's a list of fun things you can do in the snow:
  1. Make snow angels (better yet, make a whole host of them)
  2. Build a snowman (variations: snowman army, snow family, snow animals, snow monsters)
  3. Build a snow structure (variations: fort, catle, igloo, Seven Wonders of the World)
  4. Make the world's largest snowball
  5. Create & consume a delicious snow confection (variations: snowcream, snow candy, snowshake, snownog, snowcones)
  6. Take photos of the snow
  7. Shovel someone's driveway, car or stairs, just to be nice ... or
  8. ... Earn some pocket $$ by offering your shoveling services at a price
  9. Go sledding, skiing, snowboarding, snowshooeing, snowmobiling or snowtubing
  10. Take a walk and enjoy the quiet
  11. Catch snowflakes on your tongue
  12. Shake the snow off of trees
  13. Roll down a hill, just for the fun of it
  14. Fill spray bottles (or water guns) with colored water and paint snow pictures
  15. Leave corny messages in the snow for your loved ones, family, or neighbors (ex: "I'm snow in love with you!")
  16. Using a sprinkler, turn your snowy lawn into an ice skating rink
  17. Set up a hot chocolate stand & sell the toasty beverage to your neighbors
  18. Spread birdseed & snacks for the critters
  19. Create a snow maze
  20. Make snow lanterns
  21. Play snow football or baseball - the snow adds a whole new layer of fun!