Save Money, Take a Poll, and Send Notes to Yourself

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This week I found a few ways for you to save your dinero (or moolah, if you're from Moolah); if you're a bona-fide student, you can also save some bucks on Microsoft's products. Plus I have free polls and surveys, and a free portable, private secretary--oh yeah, and the usual "Dig This" nonsense.

Shipping Lanes

I'm always looking for a bargain. So when I have to ship something, I used to go to four shipping sites--FedEx, UPS, DHL, and the U.S. Postal Service--and compare rates. That took too much time.

Last week I told you about RedRoller, a site that lets you compare shipping rates. After the newsletter was posted, I was inundated with messages from readers telling me about sites that put RedRoller to shame.

One reader told me about iShip, which handles DHL, UPS, and the USPS. That's better, but like RedRoller, it's missing FedEx. I suspect that's because iShip owns UPS.

I tried Shipping Sidekick because it handles the four services I use the most: USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL. The site is easy to use.

But of all the Web services I've tried, ShipGooder is, hands down, the fastest and easiest of the bunch to use; it also handles the four services I choose from the most, plus a couple more. Loyal reader Mande Gianfala told me about ShipGooder and said, "As a programmer, I also love the AJAX interface; the courier rate quote results are instantaneous." I agree. And thanks, Mande!

Dig This: If you follow the directions carefully at (they're right below the image), you'll experience a slick optical illusion, one you've probably never see before.

Dig This, Too: Guess the Spot is challenging--unless you know your landmarks. [Thanks Brad.]

Take a Note

You get those brilliant ideas while walking the dog.  By the time you get home--poof--the thought's gone. (Okay, maybe not you, but I'm certainly losing gray cells.)

Well, last summer I told you about Jott, a free service that lets you call a toll-free number, dictate a message, and then see it in e-mail, transcribed into text. (Read "Nifty Web Services" to jog your memory.) I use Jott regularly with my cell phone, but haven't been to the site in some time.

I logged into the Jott site recently and was surprised by two things: First, there was a log of all my previous Jotts. Not earth-shattering, I suppose, but handy for reviewing what I wanted to remember. The second thing is something I'd overlooked when I signed up: It's easy to add other people to a Jott contact list. I've often wanted to Jott a quick note to my wife, Judy, but had to send it to myself, and then forward the message. Silly me.

Dig This: Remember the 1950s car that turned into a boat? My friend Bill Webb dug up a video of it. Too old-fashioned, you say? Watch a video of the new and improved WaterCar amphibious vehicle.

Dig This, Too: You've heard of cluster ballooning, right? There's a sense of anticipation as the balloons are attached to you, and you grow lighter and lighter. Wave goodbye to terra firma.

Free Microsoft Products for Students

If you can jump through a bunch of hoops and prove you're a student, Microsoft will let you download Visual Studio 2008, Expression Studio, Windows Server 2003, and Game Studio 2.0.

Microsoft's DreamSpark program also gives you seven other products to download such as Visual C# 2005, Visual Basic 2005, and others (old versions, actually).

Don't believe me? Read "Microsoft Gives Software to Nurture Future Coders."

Dig This: I LOLed watching the "Top 10 Sports Most Awkward Interviews."

Free and Low-Cost Polls

The other day a buddy asked if I'd take a survey. It got me to thinking how effective these free online surveys are for getting quick and valuable feedback.

I've created polls and surveys a couple of times. While they're definitely not scientific (neither am I, for that matter), they give me a sense of what readers think.

For instance, I like to use PollDaddy--it's free and its latest iteration is a snap to use.

My buddy Suzanne L. likes polls that she can put right on her own site, so she uses I like it, too, because it's quick to produce a poll and easy to embed. Suzanne also uses Mister Poll.

If you're a member of the Twitter generation, my buddy Bill W. suggests you try StrawPoll. Me, I don't Twitter. (Never heard of it? Read "The Right Social Network for You.")

For a more sophisticated survey, rather than a poll, you might want to try SurveyMonkey. The free version limits you to 100 respondents--but you can do lots with it, such as collect responses by e-mail, customize reports, and validate responses.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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