OFFBEAT: Some sites to see

Every week, I write an Internet column for my old newspaper in Oklahoma. I've discussed hundreds of Internet sites. W
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

Every week, I write an Internet column for my old newspaper in Oklahoma. I've discussed hundreds of Internet sites.

Why shouldn't share some of that with you? I'll briefly discuss some of my favorite sites, and perhaps many readers can learn about one or two that are useful to them:

n Get a cheap hotel room. My wife and I have found that using Priceline (www.priceline.com), we can stay in a very nice hotel room but pay the price for a budget room. We have saved hundreds of dollars in lodging costs using the site.

Users placing a bid can't choose which hotel they will stay in, but they can choose the quality of the hotel and the general area where the hotel is located. The site sells cheap plane tickets, too. To study bids that have been placed by other users, visit biddingfortravel.com.

n Start a blog. Want to share your brilliant thoughts with the world? Blogger makes it easy to start a blog. You don't have to be an Internet guru to have you own site up and running within a few minutes (blogger.com).

n Get free wireless Internet. If you own a laptop (or another device that can pick up wireless Internet signals, such as an iPhone), you'll want to bookmark the handy directory of free wi-fi sources at wififreespot.com.

n Use secure e-mail. I recently wrote about how to keep your e-mail account secure, if you happen to use Gmail (see my blog at this newspaper's Web site). But if you are really paranoid, or just want to be extra careful, you can use particularly secure, free e-mail accounts at hushmail.com and cryptomail.org.

n Google documents. Even if you don't need Gmail, take the time to register at Google so you can use Google's wide range of services. Google docs (documents.google.com) is an online word processing and spreadsheet service. Use it to write the Great American Novel and be able to access it from nearly any computer around the world. Or use it to open a spreadsheet file or document if you are using a computer that doesn't have a copy of Microsoft Office.

I keep my most important bookmarks at my personalized Google page (google.com/ig), where I can access them from any computer.

n Use a thumb drive. If you don't want to drag a laptop computer around on the road, you may be able to get by carrying around a thumb drive, which can be used to take computer files with you everywhere you go; I always keep a USB drive on my keychain.

If you use a USB drive, check out PortableApps.com, where you can download a variety of small but useful computer applications, all of them free.

n Groove to EMusic. My favorite music downloading site on the Internet is not the better-known iTunes, but EMusic (emusic.com), which carries music from independent record labels. It doesn't carry most of the best-known artists, but if you want to build up a collection of jazz, or classical music, or any other kind of music that isn't currently hot, you'll love the cheap prices.

n Track your money. You can track your debt, savings, budget and investments, all in one place, at a money site called Mint (mint.com). Each week, the site e-mails me where I stand with my IRAs and 401-K. Lately, the news has not been great.

n Get new ideas. I get many ideas on what to do with my computer -- and even with my life -- from reading Lifehacker, a site that describes itself as "tips and downloads for getting things done." It offers exclusive software, including a Firefox extension called Better Gmail that makes my Gmail account work even better than before (lifehacker.com).

Swap something. If you are like me, you have books in your house you will never read again, movies you'll never watch again and CDs you'll never listen to. Why not swap them for something else? (www.paperbackswap.com, www.swapacd.com, www.swapadvd.com).

Read a magazine. Slate, the Internet magazine, leans neither far to the right nor to the left and covers arts and politics in a consistently interesting way (www.slate.com). If you are a serious reader, try also www.artsandlettersdaily.com.

Go into space. Even if you aren't a huge science buff, you'll see amazing photographs when you venture over to www.nasa.gov.

Listen to the radio. There are lots of Internet radio sites on the Web. Forget the others and try www.slacker.com.

Follow the campaigns. There are a huge number of political sites on the Web, but one of the best for simply obtaining information is at www.realclearpolitics.com. Lots of news and commentary, and a handy electoral map that keeps you up with the state of the presidential race.

Visit our site. Yes, I know it's self-serving to mention www.sanduskyregister.com, but if you haven't been there lately, you may be surprised at how often we update it with breaking news, or with how much original material we put there that you can't get in the daily newspaper.