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Third time a charm?

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 18, 2000
(Issue 1833, Internet Grab Bag)

He's the columnist who wouldn't die, who every time you thought you were done with the man – finally – came sneaking back again.

"He" would be me, back for my third stint writing a column for ComputorEdge about the online world. Started off back in '92 writing about the local bulletin board systems (or BBSs) in the venerable but retired Online San Diego space in these pages. After a few years, I handed it off to Brad Fikes, who brought us into the Internet age, then I ran with it a second time until January of '98.

In the two and a half years since I was last here, the Web has grown exponentially – and it was huge then. I mean, there are billions of Web pages right now, with millions more being added every single day. As a sign above my desk says, quoting the introduction to the Osborne Internet Complete Reference, "Not only is there no one who understands all of the Internet, there is no one who even understands most of the Internet." Harley Hahn and Rick Stout wrote that in 1994 when the Web was still a baby.

Which means that this column can be no more than a basic beginning point to help you find good places to start looking for information online, and to point out the weird and fun sites you might otherwise miss, the kind of places that don't show up in search engines but are often more rewarding than those that do.

Have sites you want to pitch or think I should visit? E-mail address is at the bottom of the column. (And to answer the first question: Yes, it is fun getting paid to browse. Get in line ... and it might be a longer wait before I leave this time ...)


Encyclopedia Britannica
For looking up just about any fact you might need for a homework assignment, Encyclopedia Britannica's online edition,, is almost unbeatable. There are other online encyclopedias, but none with the depth of information here. There was all that hype when they first opened the site because the traffic crashed the servers, but they've sorted out all the technical issues and the site is now as fast as it is useful.
For a quick look-up of words, try and They're free, fast and easy to use. The dictionary gives ordered definitions, pronunciation and etymology – with links to more information sprinkled throughout. Better than a printed book, no?

The online thesaurus is a Roget's, and is run by the same folks who operate the site. It's not as in-depth as the dictionary, but still very useful when you can't quite remember the right word – type in something similar and odds are you'll jog your memory. Beats calling your brother at 3 a.m. because you can't remember "embellish."


Roadside America
All of the above is very nice for those little nerds who actually look forward to their SATs (okay, I was one of those nerds, but I outgrew it ... probably why I never got an engineering degree and fat salary ...). But if it's a real education you want, then you must stop by Roadside America

Where else can you learn about America's great roadside attractions – stuff like Ashton, Ga.'s World's Largest Peanut? Or Cave City, Ky.'s Wigwam Village Motel, right out of the 1950s? Or Clinton, Ala.'s, Giant Peach Watertower? This is the kind of folklore perfect for sharing whenever guys get together without the sanity-preserving presence of women.

Loose Associations
Want something more cerebral but still, well, interesting? Try Brenda Fine's Loose Associations site. One of the most independent thinkers you'll ever run across, her site is organized like it's named (there is a site map for the timid and/or pathologically organized.), and she's got something to say on just about everything. But she writes as good an essay as you'll find – don't have to agree with her to appreciate how she says stuff.

Memorable Quotes from Professors
And a site to make you question our entire higher education system is the Memorable Quotes from Professors page. Students and graduates have contributed the most inane things they've heard handed down as wisdom or learning, and it's as stupefying a list as Richard Lederer's collection of student gaffes, "Anguished English."