Winds, snow lead to perfect storm of sites

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      The series of storms that accompanied the transition from 2006 to 2007 had a lot of effects. Stanley Park lost trees, BC Place deflated, and I lost all cable-TV and Internet access for nearly an hour one day. So between being snowbound (in a pretend way) and also freshly reminded of the delicate sanctity of network connections, I indulged in a little more Web surfing than usual once the system was back up. Here are some of the sites that stood out.

      By now, millions of Mac and Windows people have opted to use Firefox as their Web-browsing software. Why not? It’s free (www.getfirefox.com/?) and is the most rapidly updated of the major browsers. And besides being easy to use, it’s also very configurable, with scads of available add-ons and extensions. The easiest way to navigate through all the offerings is Firefox Facts (www.firefoxfacts.com/), which has instructions on the many hidden tricks already in the software, plus reviews and links to the various add-ons you might want to install.

      In the broader realm of technical support, Zolved (www.zolved.com/) claims to be the resource “supporting your digital life”. What that means is that it tries to provide answers to the whole range of “why doesn’t this work?” problems that technology often generates, from iPod freeze-ups to the configuration of wireless networks. The site is free, there are about 57,000 support articles already in the database, and you can also ask a question and wait for a “guru” to answer it.

      Unless you’re a big fan of architecture, are planning a vacation in the U.K., or are writing an elementary-school history report, there’s probably no reason to visit Castles of Britain (castles-of-britain.com/). I am none of the above yet still find the site rather compelling. For one thing, it’s full of pictures of castles, and it also tells you which ones reportedly have ghosts. It’s part of a bigger conglomeration of sites under the History UK banner (www.history-tourist.com/) designed to encourage visits to the country to look at old stuff.

      Bored and frustrated at work? Then Anxiety Culture (www.anxietyculture.com/?) is the place to visit. It’s a Web magazine with “a wealth of ideas & gimmicks for navigating the crazy, paranoid, work-obsessed, media-crapulent times we live in”. Thus, it combines everything from news stories the mainstream media missed and a glossary of corporate/government doublespeak to essays on why you should phone in sick and how to avoid responsibilities. And it includes lots of things about how work is hell. It’s clever enough to have earned site editor Brian Dean a regular column called Office Slave in the Guardian newspaper.

      Although there are many sites with information for stock-market investors, Investopedia (www.investopedia.com/) offers a considerable amount of entry-level information and instructions, including a dictionary, tutorials, and a stock simulator for testing strategies. There’s also exam-preparation help for major Canadian and U.S. securities licences. Overall it’s a good site, but you have to look carefully in places to separate some of the advertising from the content.

      Similarly, there are a lot of sites with pages of quotes from historical personages and popular entertainment sources. Quotiki (www.quotiki.com/) is better than most, with a decent search engine, mini biographies, and descriptive tags applied to the quotes to make browsing by subject easier. And, while we’re mentioning biographical material, check out Biography Base (www.biographybase.com/), which has about 5,500 people in its database so far.

      There’s no database over at FullBooks.com, but there are thousands of full-text books on-line for free, grouped into over 50 categories, alphabetically by title. There’s all the usual classics and public-domain stuff, along with a sprinkling of more modern self-published stuff of the “generally not very good” variety.

      There’s an interesting on-line game over at NationStates (www.nationstates.net/?). Inspired by Max Barry’s book, Jennifer Government (apparently he inspired himself, because the site was started by him to promote the book), this is a place where anyone can build a country—there are almost 92,000 so far. Most are humorous in design, as evidenced by the list of “rudest citizens”, which includes the Dominion of Complete Bastards (motto: “We Don’t Want the World, We Just Want Your Half”) and the Capitalistic Queendom of Isle of Hags (motto: “Spreading Malice and Ill-Feelings Throughout the World”). It’s a refreshingly honest approach to diplomacy.

      Want to make a movie but don’t have time to attend filmmaking school?

      Well, it probably won’t make you an auteur overnight, but Video101Course (www.video101course.com/) might just help with effective lighting and sound techniques, finding the right equipment for specific tasks, and tips on how to storm onto the set and fire the caterers when they put too much pepper in the soup. Yeah, I made that last part up, but what are you going to do about it? I’ll fire you too—don’t think I won’t.

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