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Ah, the Internet. It’s one of those things that regularly inspires awe in me, even though I spend several hours a day interacting with it (both professionally and recreationally).
But with such an immense amount of information, it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. While there are many fantastic websites chock full of accurate data and intelligent ideas, there are probably 100 times more that are pretty much useless. A sad fact, but a fact nonetheless. Which is why it’s so important, if you spend any amount of time poking around the web, that you have a few oases – diamonds in the rough, if you will.
In my many, many hours of perusing the Internet, I’ve come across my fair share of websites. I’ve selected a few that I consider to be the least likely to rot your brain (but be warned, all of these can very easily rob you of an entire afternoon if you’re not careful).
- How Stuff Works – Just like the name implies, this is a site dedicated to explaining the inner-workings of things that we come in contact with every day (and a whole mess of things we’ve never seen nor heard of). Wondering about the internal combustion engine? How about the Internet itself? From televisions to tattoos, this site is a gold mine of useful information.
- Merriam Webster – Yeah, yeah, I know, just a dictionary, right? Well, perhaps, but it’s one of those places that I visit almost on a daily basis. The search functionality is pretty great, and many of the words you’re looking up have a nice little sound file you can play to hear the correct pronunciation! Definitely the “sleeper” of the list, but spending a couple of minutes a day there will grow your vocabulary like you wouldn’t believe.
- Project Gutenberg – Probably the least known among those in this list, it has a gigantic collection of free electronic books (ebooks) that you can read on your computer, Palm device, whatever you’d like. A great way to get acquainted with some classic literature, and did I mention it’s free?
- MIT Open Courseware – Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, I’d have a pretty uphill battle if I wanted to attend MIT. Well, thanks to their generosity and willingness to share their knowledge with the world, you can read through course materials, lectures, even experience audio and video from the classroom. All for the price of a hot cup of jack squat. Run, don’t walk – especially you science geeks!
- Metafilter – A “community weblog” that features all manner of topics relevant to today’s world. Politics, art, culture, technology – this one really runs the gamut. It also features a podcast, as well as my personal favorite section, Ask Metafilter (or AskMeFi, for those in the know). Works just like a discussion forum – you ask a question, and the “hive mind” will, generally, answer. Take a gander at the variety of questions that are asked and you’ll begin to understand how I can easily wile away a couple hours there.
- Wikipedia – Pretty much the grand-daddy of all informational websites, this one probably doesn’t require much explanation. Over 2.2 million articles as I write this, and it’s updated and refined almost constantly by a community of dedicated staff and volunteers who make sure things stay in ship shape. If you want a little extra bang for your non-buck, check out the mailing list that will deliver that day’s Featured Article right into your inbox. Perfect for scanning while you’re having your morning coffee at your desk. And don’t even get me started on the insane cross-referencing…
I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface here. Where do you like to fill up on the smarts? Got a favorite site? Let me know in the comments!
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