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Love it or hate it, the Internet is like what the North Pole and the moon used to be - a great, unexplored terrain with all sorts of life-changing phenomena, just waiting to be seized and used for the betterment of life.
Of course, it depends on how you define "betterment." For most people that probably means having the computer spit out a can of Coke because they're too lazy to get up and fetch one from the fridge themselves (and if you're in the neighborhood of MIT, you can use your computer to conjure one up at http://www-swiss.ai.mit.edu/htbin/coke).
Of course, if you want your kids to get some fresh air, you might consider the Internet to be the second most useless invention in human history, a close runner up to TV. But forget TV; the miracle of the Web is that there are sites that are not only fun, but useful too.
And lots of these sites are actually part of the Google family. Google, of course, has cornered the market on Web searching, and has proclaimed that it wants to index all the electronic knowledge in the world. To that end, it has developed various tools, like indexed searches of tens of thousands of publications (http://news.google.com http://news.google.com/), on-line versions of millions of print books (http://print.google.com), and even a compendium of the world's mail-order catalogs (http://catalogs.google.com/), among many others (http:// www.google.com/intl/en/options).
But the really interesting stuff is on the Google Labs page (http://labs.google.com). Labs has a service called Google Suggest (http://www.google.com/webhp?complete=1&hl=en); you start typing in a term, and the service will "autocomplete" your request, based on common searches by other users. In other words, you don't have to figure out what you're searching for; Google can do it for you!
Add to that the always entertaining Google Video Finder (which finds online home and professional videos posted on the Web at http://video.google.com), and the Google Ride Finder (where you can order a taxi online in several US cities at http://labs.google.com/ridefinder), and you might as well add a G. as a middle name.
Then there are the "undocumented" Google features. Home chefs, for example, are gurgling about Googling for recipes. To find out what's for dinner, go to Google's home page and type in the word "recipe." Then, type in the ingredients you have lying around, e.g. "chicken, potatoes, vinegar," and Google googles a bunch of recipes featuring those ingredients - like Roasted Chicken Breasts with Roasted Onions, Potatoes and Balsamic Vinegar Recipe, my first selection on the list.
I, of course, tried to fool Google - I typed in the words "kosher" and "ham" in one search; but the thing was too smart for me, and I got a list of ham recipes using kosher salt (apparently non-kosher keepers are allowed to use it).
I don't mean to focus exclusively on Google, because there really are lots of other interesting sites and services out there. There are even search engines other than Google; for example, ixQuick (http://www.eu.ixquick.com) is a powerful metasearch site that gleans the cream of the crop from 10 search engines. And iTools (http://www.itools.com) has search boxes for the Web, newsgroups, dictionaries, quotations - even for Google Video, all on one convenient page.
With all this searching, you might get carried away and forget to do something really important. Don't let this happen to you! If you've got something important to do or something you really want to make sure you remember, send yourself an e-mail - in the future! At http://futureme.org you can send yourself a note that will be delivered to your e-mailbox tomorrow - or in 10 years, sort of like a "time capsule" of current events. Eerie!
But not nearly as eerie as the "Internet dump" at http://dump.grendosa.com. Let's say you need to send a file to someone whose e-mail doesn't let them send attachments. The "dump" lets you upload files up to 10 MB in size, which your friend can then download. The thing that makes it super-eerie is that this is a public download site - meaning anybody can browse and even download files! Many of the files are pictures (not all family-friendly, so beware), but there are programs, text files - you name it. It's like a look into 1,000 demented minds. Make sure you have your virus protection on for this one!