It's summertime, and these Web sites are an easy way to avoid that menacing ball of fire in the sky. It's an eclectic list, so hang on.
You want class? Let's get it out of the way right up top. There's a sackful of couth and education to be had at Artcyclopedia: The Fine Art Search Engine (www.artcyclopedia.com/). Some 125,000 artworks are searchable by artist, museum, or title, and you can browse at length by art movement (there's a very detailed breakdown by genre), creative medium, subject, nationality, or artist name.
Some art is pretty and hangs on the wall; other art is illegal because of copyright, y'all. Ever wonder what a gas mask shaped like Mickey Mouse's face would be like, or Pez dispensers to commemorate dead rappers? Check out Illegal Art (www.illegal-art.org/) for a collection of creativity (in video, still-image, and audio form) that tests the limits of acceptable use. This site is run by an American nonprofit society and is one of the few places you can buy a copy of Todd Haynes's famed film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.
Among the many experimental offshoots of photography is the stereo-imaging concept. A special camera takes pictures through a pair of lenses at once, and the images are viewed with some device that directs one photo to each eye, producing a 3-D effect. The noble View-Master is probably the most popular incarnation of this technology, although stereoscopic images date back to the 19th century. (The first such device, invented in 1838, actually predates photography.) Naturally, the format still has enthusiasts, and they are well-represented on the Web. The home page of the National Stereoscopic Association (www.stereoview.com/) is a good place to start.
What else is edifying? Public radio, of course. You can access program schedules and links for hundreds of such stations from around the world at PublicRadioFan (www.publicradiofan.com/). As a bonus, the site is cleanly designed and somewhat configurable, has an excellent list of favourite stations, can show you what's on now or is coming up soon, and offers very powerful searching features.
Moving on to literature with big pictures, the International Children's Digital Library (www.icdlbooks.org/), a project of the University of Maryland and the Internet Archive, has a five-year mission (well, five years of funding) "to create a collection of more than 10,000 books in at least 100 languages that is freely available". There are nearly 500 titles so far, and the site's designers also work with children to design easily navigable interfaces for reading and searching, presumably after they teach the sprogs how to say "easily navigable interfaces".
She's not well-known anymore, but Louise Brooks was one of the biggest stars of silent and early-sound cinema. Naturally, there's a home for her fans on the Net (www.pandorasbox.com/), but the site also has a lot of incidental information about that era of moviemaking as well. Alas, there still isn't a good site devoted to Myrna Loy. Or Joel McCrae, for that matter.
Listology: Lists Galore (www.listology.com/) is a user-driven site that compiles and publishes all kinds of book, film, television, and music lists: best, worst, longest titles, et cetera. Another Internet mainstay is the Web log (or blog), on-line diaries and link recommendations written by ordinary people. Daypop Top Word Bursts (www.daypop.com/burst/) can be used to search those blogs and news sites, or you can see what sites bloggers are linking to, but the best feature is the "burst" list, a tracking of words and phrases that spontaneously appear in multiple sites.
Back in my childhood, one of the coolest toys was the glow-in-the-dark Moon Ball. I think they were made of radium. Perhaps not. Anyway, in the modern world, your glowing-product needs can be met at Extreme Glow (www.extremeglow.com/), which sells all kinds of self-illuminating sticks, jewellery, blinkies, gloves, and so on. It's like a crash course for the ravers.
And while we're buying silly things, Seattle's renowned Archie McPhee store ("Outfitters of Popular Culture Since 1980") has an on-line presence (www.mcphee.com/) that can bring Tiki cocktail napkins, giant hand chairs, realistic replica otter skulls, brain-shaped gelatin moulds, librarian action figures, Sparkzilla, or rubber-chicken key rings into your home pretty damn fast. This store, to me, is what heaven must be like.
In case your shopping experiences (on-line and off-) have been unsatisfactory, remember that the Net has magnified the power of individual consumers to complain about shoddy products and poor service. A lot of those comments may be found at Rip-off Report (www.ripoffreport.com/). There's a search engine, category classifications, and, if you look hard enough, more then a couple of scathing statements that are potentially libellous.