Tips & Tweaks: Essential Web Sites
There are the things you need; and then there are the things you didn't know you needed until you bumped into them on the Web. Here are a slew of sites I've come to love.
Customer Service Deluxe
Hello, Amazon? Have you ever been frustrated when trying to find someone--anyone--to talk to about an Amazon order? I found a site with contact details rarely seen on Amazon's Web site. Oh, no, you're not dreaming. That's right, you're seeing actual phone numbers for customer service. There's also a nifty rant on the site that'll make your blood boil. You'll find contact info for EBay's customer service, here, too. (At press time, the site vanished, so I'm pointing to a cached page on Google.)
Find a Corporation: Do you need the e-mail address for Jaguar? (I don't; this is just a dramatization.) How about the toll-free number for the California Public Utilities Commission so you can complain about your phone bill? You'll find tons of contact info on the Federal Citizen Information site.
Find-a-human: Here's a list that's going to come in handy one day. You'll find out how to bypass and defeat voice-mail hell with ways to, well, find a human. For instance, when you call Bank of America, hit zero twice after the menu choices play. Call American Airlines, press zero twice, then say "agent." Get right to the CEO at Bass International by, wait, I think that listing's just been deleted.
LiveManuals: If you need a manual for an appliance or electronic device, you may get lucky and find it on the LiveManuals site.
Dig This: You're going to watch this short video a couple of times, I promise, because it's so, well, remarkable. The guys' timing and aim are amazing; and if you think this footage has been tinkered with, notice how the woman rubs her head after the swoosh. [Thanks, Alex.]
Find What You Need
Info.com: The site is sort of a meta-search engine in that it grabs data from Altavista, Ask Jeeves, Google, Yahoo, and others. Info.com differentiates itself by providing extra links that are relevant to the search topic. For instance, I searched on "RoadTrek," a small RV I'm looking to buy (and yes, send me your advice if you want), and Info.com came up with links in a format that was easy to access.
Soople: Swing by Soople to browse all of Google's features in one, easy-to-use spot. I've mentioned Soople before; the site's added a few things since then, such as an improved way of handling Topics and a handy My Soople tab.
UpSnap: Say you're on the road and need to dig up a few local auto repair shops. If you have a phone with SMS text messaging (most do), try UpSnap's free directory assistance lookups. Send a text message to UpSnap's phone number with the product, service, person, or company name along with the zip code or telephone area code for your location. In a flash--sometimes within seconds, occasionally a minute--you'll get a text listing of results. If the results include merchants, you can choose one and opt to have them call you back. UpSnap charges merchants for the service, so you're off the hook for fees (except for your phone carrier's messaging charges).
Still More Hidden Gems
I'm not done yet--in fact, I could probably go on with more sites for another dozen pages. (Don't furrow your brow, I'm stopping soon.)
Spyware News: Spyware's a plague affecting practically everyone who surfs the Web. Make sure to visit Topix.net's site for your daily help of spyware news. If it's easier, you can subscribe to the daily or weekly e-mail news alerts or sign up for RSS feeds.
VCR Repair: One day my VCR started gobbling up and destroying tapes. I foolishly paid $45 to have it fixed, which turned out to be a 10-minute job and a $2 belt. The Fixer site explains how many common VCR repairs, like dirty heads and worn-out capstan bearings, can be tackled and fixed, even by dummies like me. You can also find manuals for more than 60 brands.
OmniMedicalSearch.com: Are you wondering if there are alternatives in case the flu vaccine becomes scarce again? Or maybe you're looking for the latest ways to treat a migraine. I trust my doctor, sure, but I also like to do my own digging. OmniMedicalSearch.com is a meta-site that keeps me updated on the medical track. It scours 15 medical search engines as well as data from publications including those from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health. If you plan to do lots of medical searches, grab the site's free, handy toolbar.
Dig This: Here's a small video that shows how difficult Wednesday, aka Hump Day, is for everyone. (Okay, I know, the video really looks like it's meant for a Monday; but this column is released on Wednesday. If that bugs you, just save it until Monday and stop giving me a hard time.)