Practical Web Sites and Services

The hot story on PC World these days is a humongous collection of "100 Incredibly Useful and Interesting Web Sites." I'm still wading through it, and it got me thinking about my faves--you know, spots that I keep going back to. Here are some really practical Web sites that I've come to depend on.

Terrific Reference Tools

OWL, the Online Writing Lab, gives you a way to look up the whys and wherefores of grammar.

The Phrase Finder is a handy thesaurus for phrases.

Need a fact checker? Refdesk.com has all the facts--or links to them--you'll ever need.

Visiting LibrarySpot is like walking in to the local library and walking into the reference room.

Let's say you've got 15 barrels of oil and need to know how many gallons that is. Digital Dutch Unit Converter can tell you it's 630. The site covers just about everything anyone could need to convert... you've just got to see for yourself.

One thing that Digital Dutch doesn't handle, though, is money. You'll need to go to XE for your currency conversions.

Handy Sites for Shipping Rates

RedRoller compares shipping rates of the Post Office, DHL, Overnite Express, and Eastern Connection.

Iship handles DHL, UPS, and the Post Office. That's better, but like RedRoller, it's missing FedEx.

Shipping Sidekick handles the four services I use the most: The Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and DHL.

ShipGooder is the fastest and easiest of the services I've tried, and handles the U.S. Post Office, FedEx, UPS, and DHL.

Free Disposable Phone Number

Here's a way to play it safe when you put your phone number into a Craigslist ad or give it out to a salesperson. Grab a free, temporary, disposable, and entirely anonymous phone number that forwards calls to your real cell or landline. If you start getting calls from the pesky salesperson or are inundated with spamming telemarketers, just disable the number.

The Web service is provided by Numbr, and there's no charge.

Numbr gives you lots of options. For instance, you can set the expiration time for the number for an hour, day, week, or month; extended the number's expiration date even longer is a simple matter of changing the expiry date on the site. You can expire the number at any time by pressing "0" when you receive an incoming call. And it's good to know that the number isn't reused even after you stop using it.

The screening features are terrific, too: You can send all callers to voice mail, screen callers (the caller records a brief greeting that you listen to), and set Numbr to reject telemarketing calls. And if you live in one of over 23 metropolitan cites, Numbr will supply you with a local number.

This Week's Roundup of Time Wasters

Have you ever dreamed of being a stunt pilot? Here's your chance. Use the arrow keys to guide the airplane through hoops and perform other tricks.

Remember that "Drainage Fail" YouTube video I mentioned a couple weeks back? It's from a site called FailBlog that's packed with terrific still images too, like the recent Sign Fail. Go to the site and check 'em out.

I just love physics games--you've figured that out by now, I guess--and this one's a real winner. Pull out your Magic Pen and draw things that make your little circle hit the flag and score points. (Be sure to clear your schedule first.)

When you were a kid, did you ever play with a See 'n Say? You know, you move a pointer to a funny animal on a dial--say, a purple cow--pull a string, and voila! the cow moos. These pre-PC gadgets are still around... and they have no batteries, no computer chips, no nada. How do they do it? See for yourself.

Steve Bass is the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available from Amazon.com. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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