The Web abounds with valuable free services. Here are some of my favorites, entirely free unless otherwise noted.
Jott.com: You call their toll-free number. A voice says “Who do you want to Jott?” You say “myself”, or a name that you have registed on their web site. The voice says “Jott yourself” or the name of the recipient. You speak a message. That’s it. Jott sends email to the recipient, containing a transcript of what you said, plus a link to the audio recording in case the transcription isn’t good enough. My car has a voice-activated feature to make phone calls — it talks Bluetooth to my cell phone. So when I’m listening to the radio on my commute, and I hear something intersting that I want to follow up on, I just press the “speak” button on my steering wheel, say “Dial Jott”, and talk to Jott. It sure beats trying to scribble notes during red lights.
AdBlock: The AdBlock Plus extension for Firefox really works. I block ads because they take too long to download (making my effective browser response time much worse), and the animated ones are much too distracting. It’s easy to turn ad blocking off selectively.
Google Toolbar for Firefox: This Firefox extension has a command called AutoFill, that can fill in my name and address and such in most web pages that ask for it. It saves a lot of tedium.
Google Calendar: I use this to track all my meetings and appointments. I can get at it from work and from home. Sometimes it seems to be somewhat “down”, not allowing new entries to be made, but this is rare enough to be acceptable. The Ajax UI is done very well. (I used to use the Lightning plugin for Thunderbird, but sharing over the web is important to me.)
Pandora: You tell it what music you like, and it provides a “radio station” that plays the sort of music you like. It’s amazingly good at choosing what to play; I would never have believed it. It has found new artists that I like a lot and otherwise would never have heard of. I almost always have this on when I’m working at home.
Xconomy: A news magazine covering hi-tech in the Boston (and now Seattle) area, with very high quality reporting. I read it every day to keep up with what’s going on around here. (Full disclosure: Xconomy is a Common Angels company.)
LinkedIn: This is the only “social network” that I value. I use it to keep track of where all my old friends and co-workers are, what they’re doing professionally, and what their latest email address is. And when I hear about someone in hi-tech, I often look them up to learn more about them.
TimeBridge: A free service that helps you set up meetings between many people, finding times that are available for everyone. It’s very easy to use.
Carbonite: Automatic backup over the web. It’s very, very easy to use. (Full disclosure: Xconomy is a Common Angels company. The best competitor is Mozy, which my friends say is also very good.) It’s not free, but it’s well worth it.
AxCrypt: Simple file encryption and decryption. I mainly use this to send encrypted email to a friend with whom I share a passphrase. One of these days I’ll learn how to use the OpenPGP facility provided by the Enigmail Thunderbird add-on, if I find anyone else who is using it and with whom I have secrets to discuss.
MPEG Streamclip from Squared 5: This one is a free utility for MacOS X. I use my Mac to edit video (with Final Cut) into DVD’s, for the North Cambridge Family Opera Company. MPEG Streamclip can “rip” video off (unencrypted) DVD’s and produce virtually any format, including the one that YouTube likes.
Kindle tips: There are lots of source of free books (legal) and other resources for the Amazon Kindle on this page. My family is about to leave for a vacation trip in which we can only bring a limited amout of luggage. We usually bring big piles of books on vacations, but it’s impossible this time. So we got a Kindle. In fact, we got two (his and hers).
xkcd.com: My favorite web comic, and the only one I follow. “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” Computer hacking, too. Randall has more profound or funhy things to say about the intersection of science/math/technology and romance/relationships than anyone else. There’s an archive of all the past comics. He has three comics about Lisp, all hilarious. Buy stuff from his store: that’s his only source of income (no ads!).