Home Office: Best Summer Time Wasters

I've learned that late Friday afternoon is the best time to try this kind of shenanigan: "It's August, nobody's working, and I want to write about time-wasting sites for readers to while away the dog days of summer." My editor nodded without even looking away from his Mac. Sweet.

Some Video-Watching Tips

Before I start, though, I think I'll save you a little grief--and me a few e-mails. Some of the files I'm highlighting this week are videos. At last count, there are 1700 video formats. (Okay, so I'm exaggerating, but not by much.) Videos are compressed using small programs, called codecs, and each format needs its own. If you don't have the correct codec on your PC, the video won't play. (I simplified that, I know--so don't start hassling me, okay?)

Given the situation, I've picked out a few articles that'll get you up to speed.

For tools, links, and a tutorial on videos and codecs, start with "Get Those Web Videos to Play," an article I wrote a few years ago. Unfortunately, David Jung's PC Video Tutorial site is toast. Luckily, I archived it for you.

Next, for info about video problems (and some old yet still nifty, relevant, and useful videos of my trip to Canada), read "PC Video Untangled."

Then zip over to "Tips, Tricks, and Cool Utilities" and scroll down to the "Shockwave Replays" heading. Right below it you'll find four paragraphs with info on how to save video you've just played.

Finally, you might want to grab a copy of AVIcodec, a freebie that tells you what codecs your PC is missing.

Videos Worth the Download

If you're on dial-up, you can start downloading these videos--and while you're waiting, dip into the images in the next section.

BTW, when you click on one of these video links, your browser immediately begins playing it. To save the file instead, right-click the link and choose Save As.

Leave work early using this cool fire escape. The boss will never know. [650KB video]

Think you have trouble with your notebook? I'll bet it's nothing like this guy's. [1.5MB video]

Ever wonder what goes on after the boss leaves for the day? [321KB video]

Be careful when inflating your next wading pool. (Not to worry, the guy wasn't harmed. Not surprising, nor were any animals harmed--most likely because there were no animals in the video.) [Caution: My copy editor worries about you and suggests a warning that the video, while make believe, may appear to be a little gory. I think the ending is a real blow-up; I watched it five times to figure out how it was done.] [961KB video]

Watch where you're diving! (Or, the World's Shortest Vacation.) [338KB video]

Pictures to Make You LOL

This is nothing I want on my tombstone.

It's astonishing how inexpensive today's computers are. Consider this ad from 1989. And note that the monitor's not even included.

As a cost-cutting measure, all cubicles will be retrofitted with new, dual-purpose, ergonomic chairs.

Don't even think of trying this at home.

Have a BMW? Do yourself a favor--don't park in front of fire hydrants.

Here's something you can do with Photoshop. (Or is it real?)

And check out a couple amazing images of sharks caught on film, costarring a rescue helicopter and some Florida flood victims.

Sites That Will Keep You Busy

Want to see some amazing satellite photos as well as neat-o shots from space? Go to Space.com and check out "SOHO Cool Gallery" and "Image Gallery: The Very Large Telescope's Greatest Hits," two of my favorites.

Fly a space ship through a Jet Slalom course and race against other online players.

Can't make it to the handball court? Try playing Astroball.

Field scientists have been trying to identify some unusual creatures. No kidding.

Notebook theft is on the rise. Here's one way to protect yours.

Play Twenty Questions against a neural network. Think of something; tell the site if it's animal, vegetable, or mineral; and then start answering questions. Plan an killing an hour with this gem.

If you liked the Crimson and Viridian rooms, you'll get a kick out of "Mystery of Time and Space," a 12-level game of the same ilk as the "rooms."

In addition to writing PC World's Home Office column, Steve Bass is the author of "PC Annoyances." Sign up to have Steve Bass's Home Office Newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.
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