No matter what the goal might be, from financial management and vacation planning to finishing homework and keeping in touch, there are quality Web resources available for free that can help individuals and families—if they know where to look. But who has time to find and evaluate them? This comprehensive, handy guide offers an easy shortcut to all the websites, blogs, online tools, and mobile phone apps that help real people make wise decisions in many aspects of modern living. Each chapter addresses real-life family dilemmas such as how to fix a car, how to find the best price for baby diapers, and even how to find a clinical trial that might save a life. As the country climbs out of recession, this affordable handbook of free Web services is the lively, indispensable reference sure to find a home next to every household computer.
About the Author
Irene E. McDermott is the author of The Librarian's Internet Survival Guide. She lives in Pasadena, California.
Read an Excerpt
The Internet Book of Life
Use the Web to Grow Richer, Smarter, Healthier, and Happier
By Irene E. McDermott
CyberAge BooksCopyright © 2011 Irene E. McDermott
All rights reserved.
The Basics:Quick Lookups and Computer Tips
Go ahead, ask me anything. Because that is my job at the local public library: to answer any question that is asked of me, as factually and completely as I can.
You can imagine how tough this was before the age of the internet. We librarians would flip through card catalogs or volumes of indexes, year by year, to find citations for books or magazine articles. We then followed these pointers to the shelf, where we paged through books or journals to see if they held the needed information. Bingo? We would scratch the result on a piece of paper.
We librarians keep a shelf of books near our desk labeled "Ready Reference." These are books that offer quick answers to frequently asked questions: dictionaries, maps, encyclopedias, phone books, and almanacs.
Today, the Ready Reference bookshelf gathers dust, because when someone comes into the library and asks me a question, I almost always swivel to my computer to look it up. When I find the answer, often in seconds, I send it to the laser printer and then hand the printout to my satisfied customer. Next question?
Librarians have favorite websites that we use all the time to quickly answer patron questions. First among them, of course, is Google.
There's a reason that Google became a verb: It makes the vast web usable. Here are some tips to make it work even better.
When those clever Stanford boys, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, found a better way to trap relevant search results on the internet, the World Wide Web beat a path to their door. Now, their invention has grown so clever that it even compensates for typing errors and completes our questions, like a spouse.
Still, librarians know that Google can work even better with a couple of tweaks. My favorite is to clump a search phrase together with quotation marks. For example, sometimes I remember one line of a poem and want to know the rest of it. So I go to Google and type, "I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth." (I put it in quotes so that Google searches the phrase as a piece.) Sure enough, when I click the search button, up pops the poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee Jr.
If you use Google but are not getting the results that you want, try using its Advanced Search page (www.google.com/advanced_search). Here you can restrict your query to specific sites (like YouTube) or leave unwanted words out of a query. For instance, if you want to know more about cats called jaguars, you can ask Google to refrain from searching for the car of the same name.
Google can also work as a dictionary. When I don't know the meaning of a word, I sometimes go to Google and type define: and then the term. I get a list of definitions from various sources.
Here are a few specialized online dictionaries, including one from Google.
All of the most necessary writing and reading tools are here: your plain vanilla English dictionary, a thesaurus, a Spanish-English dictionary, and one that defines medical terms and then pronounces them aloud. I keep MerriamWebster in all my internet shortcut lists for easy access.
Conan O'Brien recently described someone as "crunked up." Crunk? What does that mean? Search the Urban Dictionary to find the definition of slang terms. In this case, crunk is a combination of the words crazyand drunk. Be aware that this is one of the least vulgar definitions in the Urban Dictionary.
Google Language Tools
Here's Google again, this time with tools for translating text. Need to understand a French web page? Want to know how to say something in Spanish? Just want to know what a "Buchladen" is? Google Language Tools offers a machine translation on the fly. The translated prose isn't always smooth, but it is usually clear enough to make out the meaning. It even translates Chinese!
Who uses telephone books anymore? If a person owns property, has a listed land line phone, or has a presence on the web, it is easy to find him or her using these free tools.
The Official WhitePages
Find listed phone numbers for people and businesses in the U.S. The WhitePages also does reverse searches with phone numbers and addresses. When I entered my address, I got my name, my number, and a map to my house!
Calling Europe? India? Search telephone directories across the globe through this site.
This site not only searches phone books and property records, but also Facebook and MySpace. It finds email addresses and mentions of a person's name in blogs and news stories. 123people.com can find obscure references on the web, but the correct results are often mixed with lots of false hits. I found several women with my exact name across the nation.
To find evidence of ancestors is to feel a deep link with your family across time. Although many genealogical databases charge for searching their records, there is much information that is available for free. Here are some starting points for building your family tree.
Social Security Death Index
This site finds birth and death dates for those who collected payments from Social Security and then passed on.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints runs this search site that pulls biographical information from their church files as well as the Social Security Death Index.
Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation
Did your ancestors come to America via the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924? In return for free registration, find their entry records on this free database.
Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet
Do you want to delve deeply into your family's history? Start with Cyndi's List, a directory of links to genealogical databases. Browse her categories (everything from "England" to "Baptist") or just search her site by word. If you are unsure how to begin, start with Cyndi's "Beginners" guide (www.cyndislist.com/beginner.htm).
Where am I? How do I get where I'm going? It's easy to find out with these tools.
It's hard to beat Google Maps for plotting a journey. Get directions for driving, walking, biking, or even taking public transit. Google Maps shows views from the satellite and the street. It even gives information about real-time traffic problems. Download the free Google Earth program (earth.google.com) for even more dramatic mapping possibilities. Use Google Maps on your Android, BlackBerry, Nokia, or iPhone with a free app (www.google.com/mobile/maps).
Bing, owned by Microsoft, offers driving and walking directions along with satellite and street views. Install the "3D" software to get a topographic view of your journey, similar to that in Google Earth.
Get your movie and TV trivia questions answered here!
IMDb: The Internet Movie Database
What else has that actor been in? Who directed that film? What was that funny line in that Monty Python movie? Your questions about movies, television, and actors are answered free at IMDb.
Here's a movie review aggregator with the marinara metaphor. A good review gets a fresh tomato. Bad reviews equal rotten tomatoes. When a film receives more than 60 percent positive reviews, it is rated "fresh." Otherwise, it goes into the compost. "Certified Fresh" films have been positively reviewed by at least 75 percent of 40 or more critics; the wisdom of crowds implies that these movies are worth seeing. Track box office here, too, and find showtimes. Or, publish your own thoughts about movies on The Vine. This is a great all-around movie website.
If you love to read, you will adore these sites designed to help you get your hands on your next good book.
At the library reference desk, we use Amazon.com as a kind of Books in Print. It not only gives publication information, but also book reviews from reputable sources along with those from the general public. Find new releases and best sellers here, along with subject category lists (e.g., "Science" or "Crafts"). My favorite thing about Amazon is its search engine. It is very forgiving of misspellings.
Why buy when you can borrow? If an item is held in any of more than 10,000 libraries around the globe, it will appear in the WorldCat online library catalog. Search for a book or a movie and then punch in your ZIP code. WorldCat will list the libraries near you that own the item and then link you through to the library catalog of your choice. Once you've pulled up your local library catalog, explore all that's available to you there, which often includes full-text magazine or newspaper articles in addition to book listings.
Use WorldCat on your mobile phone browser (www.worldcat.org/m). Android smart phone users can download the free WorldCat app from this site. iPhone owners can scan a book barcode (in the store, for example) with the 99-cent RedLaser app, which will use WorldCat data to find that same book in a nearby library.
Do you want to buy an old book that is no longer in print? Or perhaps you want to find the value of a book in your collection. Search the used book sellers on this site to see what your book is going for. There are textbooks for sale here, too.
"A little fact is worth a whole limbo of dreams," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. The web is that limbo, populated with fantasies as well as facts. Know which is which with these sites.
Hmm, I just got an email that says that the Olive Garden restaurant chain is giving away $100 gift certificates for becoming a fan of its Facebook page. Can this be true? I'll look it up on Snopes.com. David and Barbara Mikkelson are the California couple who turned their myth-busting hobby into this trusted fact-checking site. They debunk chain letters and offer links to back up their claims. Sadly, they confirm that the Olive Garden rumor is false.
When the political races are on, the rhetoric heats up. The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania separates truth from fiction on this site. No computer handy? Get your facts on your web-enabled cell phone (m.factcheck.org).
Did a politician make a sweeping pronouncement that sounds kind of fishy? The reporters from the St. Petersburg Times will research it and slap it up on their "Truth-O-Meter." See whether a statement is true, half true, or simply a "pants on fire" blatant lie.
Do you need to hire professional help for a family legal matter? Here are sites that can help you to answer that question and to find an attorney, if necessary.
Nolo: Free Legal Information and Solutions
Need help with a common legal problem? Nolo Press publishes books that explain the law in clear, everyday language. Visit this site to find hundreds of free articles about legal situations. Topics include wills, bankruptcy, and traffic tickets.
Find a lawyer fast at Lawyers.com. The site also offers short articles about family law.
When it's that time of year again, turn to these sites to find your tax forms.
Find federal tax forms and instructions at the site of Internal Revenue Service. You may be able to file electronically for free using this site, too.
Louisiana State University Government Documents and Microforms: Tax Forms
Find tax forms for your state by clicking through the directory at the bottom of the page, hosted by the libraries at Louisiana State University.
More and more of our computing is moving off of the desktop and onto the cell phone in the form of little programs called "apps." There are tens of thousands of them with more coming out all the time. Here are sites to help you decide which ones will work for you.
New York Times Gadgetwise
This online New York Times column reviews apps as they come out.
CNet Mobile Downloads
CNet's Download.com is a great place to find free software. It also reviews programs designed for smart phones. Select your mobile platform (iPhone, Android, etc.), and CNet will show you reviews of apps designed for your phone.
Wall Street Journal Blogs: Digits
The Wall Street Journal selectively covers emerging apps.
Windows-Based Computer Tools
Linux and Apple computers are great, but most people own the cheaper (and clunkier) Windows-based computers. That is why they are such targets for hackers! Here are three free programs that PC owners can use to help a Windows-based computer run smoothly.
When you first buy a Windows-based computer, it often comes loaded with sample programs that you don't want. Before you start using your new PC, remove those irritating space hogs with this program, which is free for personal use.
You've installed the usual anti-virus software on your PC, and yet it is acting funny. Download this program to a burnable CD or a flash drive, and run it to make sure that you don't have any rogue viruses.
Here is a program that deletes files you no longer use and makes your system run faster. It's like dental floss for your Windowsbased computer.
At the Ready
I hope that these sites help you to find the information that you need quickly and easily. With the internet, help is just a click away! Still, if you can't find what you are looking for, feel free to call your local public librarian. It's our job to look things up for you!CHAPTER 2
Catching Love With the Net:Dating Sites
And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
— "Late Fragment" by Raymond Carver
1988 was the year that my biological clock went "ding!" I had spent my twenties living a static single life in my tiny apartment, getting by with a leisurely part-time job, spending the evenings talking to my cat. Suddenly, it hit me: If I wanted to have a family, I would have to start dating seriously right away!
I did the math: I was 28. It would take me two to three years to find a solid prospect, followed by two years of courtship. After the wedding, we needed two childless years to establish a household. Then we could have a baby or two. According to my calculations, my family would be complete before I turned 40, with a just a bit of wiggle room.
But how to find a mate? I demanded that my girlfriends introduce me to any single men they knew. Some of the guys were nice, but all were (and most are to this day) committed bachelors.
In his book Intimate Connections (Signet, reissue edition, 1986), psychologist David D. Burns recommends drumming up potential matches by placing a personal ad. Burns suggests that advertisers can specify precisely what they are looking for in a date. He was amazed that his ad-placing patients could stipulate "age, intelligence, and looks, and whatever they asked for, they got!" One woman always dreamed of dating a man who owned a yacht. She "included 'must have yacht' as one of the stipulations in her ad," Burns writes. "Twenty-five men with yachts wrote to her, and she went out on moonlight cruises with eight of them."
Excerpted from The Internet Book of Life by Irene E. McDermott. Copyright © 2011 Irene E. McDermott. Excerpted by permission of CyberAge Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Blog,
Introduction: The Librarian's Secret,
Chapter 1: The Basics: Quick Lookups and Computer Tips,
PART ONE: RELATIONSHIPS,
Chapter 2: Catching Love With the Net: Dating Sites,
Chapter 3: iDo: Weddings on the Web,
Chapter 4: UnDo: Web Help for Divorce,
PART TWO: PARENTING,
Chapter 5: In Development: Pregnancy and Parenting on the Web,
Chapter 6: Data Download: Kids and Homework,
Chapter 7: Higher E-ducation: Websites for Teens and College,
PART THREE: MONEY AND HOME,
Chapter 8: E-Buy: Shopping and Saving,
Chapter 9: Hardware: DIY and Home Improvement on the Web,
Chapter 10: Applications: Finding a Job Using the Internet,
Chapter 11: Hard Drive: Buying and Repairing Automobiles,
PART FOUR: AMUSEMENTS,
Chapter 12: Virtual Vegetables: Websites for Growing and Preserving Food,
Chapter 13: Dedicated Servers: Cooking and Dining Websites,
Chapter 14: Remote Access: Travel on the Web,
Chapter 15: Fur E-Friends: Internet Information for Pets,
PART FIVE: STAYING HEALTHY AND HAPPY,
Chapter 16: Anti-Virus: Online Medical and Health Information,
Chapter 17: E-xercise and E-ating Right: Diet and Fitness on the Web,
Chapter 18: Tech Support: Self-Help and Support Groups,
Chapter 19: Latency: Help for Procrastination and Productivity,
Chapter 20: E-Lation: Using the Web to Feel Happier,
About the Author,