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Computing with Bifocals - Four Cool Web Sites
by - March 18th, 2005

Today's column will focus on some cool Web sites that beginners might enjoy exploring. Readers are most welcome to recommend their own favorites for future review and inclusion.

20Q.net

I know you remember the game 20 Questions from your (long ago) childhood wherein you chose an object and the players could ask up to twenty questions to help them guess the object. There is an intriguing version of that old standby on the internet at 20q.net. This Web based version has an uncanny ability to ask questions and identify the object based on your answers. Being computer based, it will even analyze whether you answered the questions correctly or not!

To begin you will be asked for your gender, age and country. This helps them identify how different people answer questions. They emphasize that the game is still in development. There is a help area included if you are unsure about an element of the game. The kinds of questions asked include things like: Is it Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Other, or Unknown? Does it get wet? Does it weigh more than a duck?

The beginning instructions are:

Think of an object and the A.I. will try to figure-out what you are thinking by asking simple questions. The object you think of should be something that most people would know about, but, never a specific person, place or thing.

Go ahead and try it out. I think you will be surprised at how often it will guess your object.

Rotten Tomatoes

Consider this scenario. You are having an intense conversation with friends when someone brings up a movie to illustrate a point. The only problem is they remember the star, but not the title of the movie, or they remember the star's wife, but not the star himself, they kinda remember the title, etc.; but, they say, this movie really illustrates their point.

This can go on all night. Or not.

You can quickly refresh their memory with your handy dandy Mac and the Rotten Tomatoes Web site. You can't look up something by the star's wife's name, but can look up a movie by a number of other criteria.

For instance, I was telling a friend about the time, several years ago, that I met the wonderful physician, Patch Adams. Dr. Adams uses humor to treat his patients. At the time I met him he was on his way to give a speech. He was wearing orange clown pants. We were riding through a torrential downpour between Houston and Galveston (Texas) and we struck up a conversation, during the course of which he discovered that I was taking voice lessons as a treat for myself.

He informed me that I would have to sing before he started his speech. (I was in charge of the event.) I said uh huh and forgot all about it. He got up to give his speech and said "before I begin, Nancy will sing for us." I had to do an a capella version of "Someone to Watch Over Me" in front of 200 people.

My conversation with my friend had to do with stark terror. The problem I was having when I was telling my story, however, was a brain freeze. I could see Dr. Adams as clear as day, but couldn't remember his name. I could, however, remember that Robin Williams stared in a movie about his life. We went to the Rotten Tomatoes Web site, did a search of Robin Williams movies, and there it was.

This site will also let you select a specific movie title from a pull-down menu, enter your zip code and see reviews, clips or determine where the movie is showing in your area. It also covers movies released for rentals.

iCalX

This is a handy, free Web site that lets you create iCal calendars that can be stored on the Internet and accessed by others. You can choose to make them password protected. I discovered this when I wanted to set up a calendar to let a group of 8 people have a way to reserve a piece of equipment. Each of the eight can access the calendar and see when it is already reserved and when it is still available.

The equipment calendar actually shows up as another "calendar" in the list found on the right side of the iCal window in the calendar menu. It will have it's own color designator and be a seamless part of the viewers iCal.

Whoever sets up the original account with iCalX has to manage the calendar and enter or delete information. Only one person has that authority, (this is free, remember), but it is not a difficult process and any experienced beginner should be able to follow the directions and do it.

Once it is set up you are given directions to pass on to those who should have access so that they can download the calendar. They can then set their own preferences so that their calendar can be routinely updated.

US Postal Service

The United States Postal Service maintains an excellent Web site that will primarily be of interest to readers in the states, but can also be helpful to readers in other countries as well because, of the varied kinds of information available.

The element that may be the most useful is determining postage, both domestic and foreign. It is quite simple to enter a destination (zip code within the United States, country outside the United States), item weight, length, etc. and find out how much it will cost to ship first class, priority, parcel post, overnight, etc. It is also possible to order priority mailing supplies for free delivery to your door (in bulk amounts), purchase stamps for delivery to your door, change your address, add or delete someone from your address, and have your mail held while you are away from home for a length of time.

What you can't do, just because you are using a Mac, is print online postage and shipping labels. I hope the postal service decides to get with it before long and hire programmers who recognize that we exist. Hello out there!


Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions  for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping.   To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.


Post your comments below.

Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!

A Capacious Catalog Of Computer Tips

Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color, covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.

Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.


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