We've heard it all before: The Internet is oh-so-useful and will save everybody hours and hours every day. Of course, anyone who's used the damn thing for longer than 15 minutes has likely realized this is a bold-faced lie, created by a cruel, technocratic system more obsessed with shiny bells and whistles than actually getting anything done. Between filtering mountains of spam and jumping through hoops created by marketers intent on making the online experience a perpetual pain in the ass, there's not a lot of time left for being productive. Luckily, the Gauntlet is here, full of useful tips to help save internet abusers everywhere time, money, and above all else, headaches. This week, we examine five of the most useful free tools.
Internet junkies have all had to face restricted access while trying to read a news article or download a piece of software, confronted with a happy little message saying an account is needed before they can actually get to what they want. Not only is this an obnoxious marketing habit, it's psychologically cruel, the same as yanking a carrot away from a cute little bunny. BugMeNot is here to wage war against these sadists by creating a free database of login accounts for major sites. Firefox users can download an extension that allows them to fill in forms on-the-fly using the BugMeNot database.
Of course, there'll be the rare occasion where BugMeNot doesn't have an account, leaving users stuck entering an email address to access content. However, savvy web surfers can minimize the amount of information a company gets about them, and consequently, the spam they receive, by using an anonymous email service such as Spambob.
Spambob easily deals with these requests in several different ways. The easiest is to give any email address at Spambob.org (for instance: email@example.com) as all mail to that domain is instantly deleted. Spambob.com allows users to create a temporary, publicly-readable webmail account for those pesky messages that require confirmation. Lastly, users can create a Spambob.net address to forward to a real account.
Those ignorent of Wikipedia either just got online or are 73-years-old. While it's probably not the best source to cite in papers, it's awesome for finding random trivia about, well, anything. However, most don't know that Wikimedia, the group behind Wikipedia, also has several other projects. Foremost among these is Wikibooks, containing dozens of community developed textbooks, both complete and in-progress. Particularly awesome are the books on cooking and bartending. Another project, Wikisource, has a wide range of books by famous authors that have become public domain-which can be quoted from in papers.
At risk of sounding like a total nerd, if you ever need a piece of software that you'd normally have to pay for, chances are somebody's written a similar program and released it as open-source. Open-source software is distributed free of charge and despite some programs being difficult to use, most mature projects rival their commercial counterparts-even exceeding them in aspects. Sourceforge is the primary place for open-source software, as many of the development groups host their projects there. Users can browse by category and operating system (useful, since the majority of open-source software only runs on UNIX), as well as see which projects are the most developed by looking at their activity indicator.
Lastly, no longer do rez rooms need to look yawningly bland, for the Rasterbator is here! Rasterbator is an online program that can take an image of any size and blow it up to ridiculous proportions by recomposing it into a greyscale halftone pattern, printable on standard-sized paper. This means you can take that cool black and white photo of Bob Marley smoking a doobie and make it fill your entire wall for the cost of printing a few pages of text. The end result looks like Roy Lichtenstein-esque blown-up comic books. It can also do colour if you have the ducats for that kind of printing.
Despite being ultimately useless, the Interweb still occasionally has beams of productivity, shining down through the spam-laden clouds. You just have to know where to look.