From:         Patrick Douglas Crispen 
Subject:      TOURBUS - 08 Sep 2005 - The Top 22 - Part 1


The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved

Howdy, y'all, and greetings once again from deep behind the orange curtain in beautiful Irvine, California, the seventh fastest growing city in west-central Idaho.

On with the show...

Each year or so I create a list--well, it's actually a handout-- titled "The Internet Tourbus Guide to the Most Useful Sites in the World." It's been a while since I've updated my Tourbus Guide, so over my next five posts we're going to stop at 22 of my favorite internet sites and tools.

Here are my top four sites, in no particular order.

1. TinyURL

Back in May 1996, web usability guru Jakob Nielsen listed "complex URLs" as one of the ten biggest mistakes in web design. Nine years later, this "mistake" is more prevalent than ever. Woe betides anyone who wants to share long URLs with others. For example, can you imagine me telling someone over the phone how to get to tohistory=&searchtab=home&address=&city=irvine&state=ca&zipcode=? Worse still, if I emailed that MapQuest URL to someone the URL is so long that many email clients will [incorrectly] break that URL into two distinct lines of text. Not good.

TinyURL solves this problem by automatically squishing any long URL into a permanent, smaller URL that you can easily share with others. The whole process is simple:

1. Copy any long URL [just highlight the URL in your web browser,
right-click, and then choose "Copy."]

2. Point your web browser to

3. Paste [Right-click > Paste] that long URL into the box on the
TinyURL web site.

4. Click on the "Make TinyURL" button.

5. Copy the resulting shortened URL and share it with others.

For example, using TinyURL I can turn that really long MapQuest URL into something MUCH shorter:

Better still, TinyURL also has a free "bookmarklet" that lets you add a TinyURL button to your browser that cuts that five step process down to one step: Anytime you are on a page whose URL you'd like to smush, just click on the TinyURL button in your web browser. No cutting and pasting. TinyURL automatically smushes that long URL. (See "Add TinyURL to your browser's toolbar." on the TinyURL site.)

I probably use TinyURL half a dozen times a day. It has helped me both in writing my Tourbus posts--smushifying really long URLs so that they fit within Tourbus' 70 character margins--and in face-to-face classes where I need everyone in the class to view the same web page at the same time. Without TinyURL, talking about web pages like in an hands-on environment would simply be out of the question.

Related sites:

2. Intel Broadband Download Calculator

Let's pretend I just completed a brand new, 1.19 megabyte PowerPoint file that I now want to share with the world. How long will it take someone to download that file over a typical dial-up modem chugging along at 28.8 Kb? To find the answer, you need to:

1. Convert the file size into kilobytes (1.19 * 1024 = 1218.56)
2. Convert from kilobytes into bytes (1218.56 * 1024 = 1247805.44)
3. Convert from bytes to bits (1247805 * 8 = 9982443.52)
4. Divide by 28,800 to see how many total seconds it will take
that particular file to download (9982443.52 / 28800 = 346.61) 5. Divide by 60 to see how many minutes (346.61 /60 = 5.78)
6. Convert that .78 back into seconds (.78 * 60 = 46.8)
7. Combine our answers to steps 5 and 6.

So, the total download time for this 1.19 Mb file over a 28.8 dial-up modem would be about 5 minutes and 47 seconds. Whew. That is a HECK of a lot of work. Of course, if you are math averse, there's an easier way to find the answer. Just point your browser to

and, using your mouse, enter the appropriate information:

  • Click on 1, ., 1, and 9
  • Click on the "MB" button [for megabytes]
  • Click on the orange = sign button.
  • That's it. Not only does the calculator show you how long it will take to download that file at 28.8 Kb, it also shows you the download times for 33.3 Kb, 56.6 Kb [yeah, I know -- it's really 53.3], ISDN (128 Kb), DSL (512 Kb), and even Cable (1.5 Mb).

    Why is this important? Well, Intel's free Broadband Download Calculator is an essential tool for web designers, educators who post materials online or in WebCT/BlackBoard, or anyone with a dial-up connection because it shows you how long your users will have to wait to download your files. For example, I know of an educator who wanted to put 1.6 GIGABYTES of information into an online learning management system. Using the Intel Download Broadband Calculator I showed him that it would take his students ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY TWO HOURS to download his 1.6 gigabytes of information over a 28.8 modem. There isn't a student in the world that's willing to wait five and a half days to download coursework.

    Related Sites:

    3. Broadband Reports Speed Test

    Talking about speed, how fast is your internet connection? There are a bunch of sites out there that test your connection speed, but my favorite is Broadband Reports' Speed Test at

    The test is completely free, but there is a catch: You have to have the official Sun Java on your computer for the test to work [see for more information.] Just click on the "Start" button to begin the test.

    The test both downloads and uploads test files of various sizes to determine your true internet speed. Don't worry. These files are completely innocuous--Broadband Reports isn't going to install any nasty stuff onto your computer.

    Once the test is complete you'll see a graph showing you both your download and upload speed. Remember, though, that your connection speed varies throughout the day so you may want to re-run the Speed Test at different times to get a good idea of what your true speed really is.

    Related Sites:

    4. Mail2Web

    Mail2Web is a free Web site that lets you check the contents of any POP3 or IMAP e-mail account. In other words, if you use Outlook or Eudora (or any of the hundreds of POP-3 email programs out there) and want to check your email when you are away from your computer, this site will let you do it. And better still, unlike Hotmail, Mail2Web doesn't require you to send scads of personal information to Bill Gates before you can use the service. :)

    Since Mail2Web is only a Web interface -- it shows you the contents of your email inbox without actually "popping" the mail -- you can read your emails on a remote computer and then, when you return to your own computer, download all of those emails just like normal. Mail2Web also lets you reply to and even delete any or all of the emails in your inbox before you ever even download them with your regular email program.

    That last point is important. Using Mail2Web, you can delete any or all emails in your inbox before you ever even download those emails. Why is this important? Well, have you ever had a "friend" send you a 27 kajillion byte uncompressed bitmap of a squirrel drinking a beer
    with a straw? Did the file take 57 years to download? Using Mail2Web, you can keep this from happening again. Just go to Mail2Web and delete that hideously large email. The file goes away, and you never have to download it. Yay! If your ISP or workplace doesn't offer its own webmail interface, Mail2Web is an absolute godsend.

    The Next Best Thing

    Linda from Marlinton, West Virginia recently wrote and said "The next best thing to Tourbus is the Smart Computing magazine that you guys recommend. I've been getting it since last summer and it has solved numerous problems for me and my friends." Thanks, Linda!

    We hope other Tourbus riders will discover the Plain English answers to their computing questions that Smart Computing delivers every month. Do you want to speed up your PC? Eliminate the threat of computer viruses? Get rid of spyware and keep hackers out? Try Smart Computing today -- get your FREE TRIAL issue NOW!

    That's it for today. Next week we'll look at sites 5 through 8. Have a safe and happy week, and we'll talk again soon.

    .~~~. )) (\__/) .' ) )) Patrick Douglas Crispen /o o \/ .~ {o_, \ { / , , ) \ `~ -' \ } )) AOL Instant Messenger: Squirrel2K _( ( )_.' ---..{____} Warning: squirrels.

    The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
    Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved
    The Top 22 Part 1, viruses, hoaxes, urban legends, search engines, cookies, cool sites
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