Must-Bookmark Web Sites From Hassle-Free PC

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In one of my first Hassle-Free PC how-tos I talked about some terrific Web sites offering free tech support and toll-free support numbers that companies don't want you to know. Fast forward a half year or so, and I'm back with even more must-have Web sites for your bookmarks list.

Find Out How to Do (Almost) Anything at WikiHow

More and more these days, I find myself wanting to learn new things (probably a byproduct of turning 40) and wanting to save money on other things (definitely a byproduct of the financial apocalypse).

Consequently, I'm spending more and more time at WikiHow, which could best be described as a how-to encyclopedia, Wikipedia-style.

The site has amassed thousands of how-to manuals, authored by your fellow humans, covering an endless range of subjects. In the Computers and Electronics section alone, for example, you'll find guides ranging from Bypass DRM-Enabled Music to Make Laptop Screens Readable Outdoors. Good stuff, right?

Of course, the scope and quality of the information varies widely--not everything on WikiHow is gold. (Indeed, when you're in the market for computer-specific how-tos, you should always look to PC World first. Yeah, that's right, I said it!)

In fact, I daresay the site does better with non-techie stuff, like How to Unclog a Toilet and How to Make Focaccia Bread. Obviously you can find similar info at plumbing- and cooking-oriented sites, but the beauty of WikiHow is the way you can browse the guides to find something that piques your interest.

Use iGoogle to Keep Track of 'Days Since'

I hang my home-page hat on iGoogle, which I like for its huge library of gadgets (little add-ons you can use to customize your pages) and easy integration with various Google apps (like Gmail and Google Docs).

I think the single most useful gadget on my iGoogle page is the Days Since Counter, which solves the problem of trying to remember how many days it's been since I did something.

For example, I have to replace my home's water filters every 90 days. So I created this entry: "I replaced the water filters." Whenever I load my iGoogle page, I check to see how many days it's been. When the counter hits 90, I know it's time to swap the filters--at which time I reset the counter to zero.

Before I started using this tool, I'd put recurring reminders in my calendar. But, procrastinator that I am, I'd usually dismiss the reminder once it appeared and then forget about it. With the counter, I see a running tally of "days since," which I find a much better motivator. ("Dang, it's been 100 days, no wonder the water tastes terrible!")

I also use the Days Since Counter to track rebates I've mailed. Once I hit, say, the 56-day mark on a rebate that was supposed to arrive in 6 to 8 weeks, I know it's time to follow up with the fulfillment company.

Four Online Alternatives to Microsoft Encarta

As you may have heard, Microsoft plans to pull the plug on the Encarta Web sites and software later this year. Bummer! I can't say I used the service all that much, but I'm saddened to see the demise of such a well-known reference resource.

Of course, there are alternatives--lots of them (which may help explain Microsoft's decision). Here's a list of four other places you can learn about Ghandi, the Revolutionary War, the Eiffel Tower, and other encyclopedic subjects:

Britannica: You can browse loads of content here, but expect a lot of pop-ups entreating you to sign up for a Premium Membership ($69.95 annually). Thankfully, there's a free 7-day trial. A search engine that culls from over 100 sources, including The Columbia Encyclopedia, The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English, and A Dictionary of Food Nutrition. Search results can be a little busy, but you can't argue with the price: It's all free.

Wikipedia: I have to admit, this is usually the first place I turn when seeking information, despite frequently being disappointed with the results.

World Book Online: Unlike Britannica, WBO offers 3-day and 1-month subscriptions in addition to the annual option; prices are $3.95, $9.95, and $49.95, respectively. Alas, you get very little free material, so subscribing is all but mandatory.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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