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April 5, 2008

Tech, G.P.: Surf to many good technology sites


When I was (ahem) young, I never had much interest in anything Belgian.

I never identified with Belgium at all.

Now that I'm not-so-young, I've come to appreciate Belgium a little more.

I've grown to have quite an attachment to Belgian beer, thanks to our neighbor up the road, Brewery Ommegang. It takes a little getting used to, if you've been drinking American beer all your life, but after you develop the taste for it, it's fantastic.

One of my favorite detective characters, penned by Agatha Christie, is Belgian, and proud of it. That would be Hercule Poirot.

And last, but no means least, the very first Web surfer in the world was Belgian. This I can certainly identify with. His name is Robert Cailliau. I bet you didn't know that.

He worked with Tim Berners-Lee, an Englishman, developing the ``World Wide Web," and by the way, that would be SIR Tim Berners-Lee to us common folk.

Anyway, that's ancient history, 17 years ago.

I guess it would be kind of an understatement to say that a lot of websites have been created since then, some good and some not so good.

It seems like I've surfed to a lot of them at one time or another, and I've developed quite a list of bookmarks (that would be "favorites" to you Internet Explorer users) in my browser.

I won't profess to knowing all the good sites, but I think I have a pretty good selection of technology-related places. Maybe I should let you in on them. Twist my arm.

OK, here goes.

No. 1 is Slashdot: http://slashdot.org. Its motto is ``News for nerds. Stuff that matters.''

Slashdot would be considered a news aggregator. It offers up-to-the minute headlines and summaries about everything important to people like me (and possibly you, if you're reading this), and a link to the whole story, wherever it is.

It's constantly being updated with new story items, so I look at it at least a couple times a day. After Google, it's probably the site I look at most. Slashdot gets about 800,000 people looking at it every month.

If a site has an article that is popular on Slashdot, it had better be ready with a stout webserver. When all those hundreds of thousands of users click on the same link, the website on the receiving end can be a victim of what's known as "The Slashdot effect." In other words, it can get overwhelmed and slow to a crawl, if it doesn't have a powerful enough computer behind it.

Google, although it's not really a tech website in particular, is also way up there on the scale. It's the place to go when you have a technological question and you need an answer. When someone around the office is wondering how to do something, if a colleague can't provide the real answer, you usually get "Google knows" as a suggestion. And it's true. You just have to know how to phrase the query to get what you're looking for.

Many times, the answer you get from a tech question from Google points to Microsoft's website. Now Microsoft's site in general isn't really fun to peruse, but it does have a great depth of technical expertise, if you can find what you're looking for. That's why when looking for an answer to a Microsoft question, I usually go to Google first, and let it point the way.

If you want a site that reminds you sort of mainstream TV news, but is only concerned with tech, try ZDNet.com. It's really pretty good, slick-looking, and has good writers and sources. It's concerned largely with Microsoft, including the latest rumors, but also has a good portion of other tech news.

Another of my favorites is an English site, The Register. At www.theregister.co.uk, it's got an edgy, in-your-face attitude. Sort of a tabloid take on tech news, but with a large dose of intelligence, too. As well as collecting news stories from other sources around the world, it actually supplements it with some good reporting of its own, when it think it needs to.

Its headline writers are good, too. If it has a link to a story about Yahoo!, for instance, every word In! The! Headline! Ends! In! An! Exclamation! Point! It's fun to read.

If you're a Linux fan, a great site is Linux Today, www.linuxtoday.com. Another news aggregator, it will bring a lot of Linux articles your way and is constantly updated.

Groklaw, www.groklaw.net, is a real oddity. It started out when SCO began its ill-conceived fight with IBM about software legal issues. In case you didn't know, to "grok" something is to understand it.

Groklaw's intent is to bring understanding of legal happenings to tech people. It has expanded its scope somewhat to include legal ramifications of other technological issues. It makes a point to include all the dry legal papers, so you can read them if you want, but it also gives you a plain language analysis of what all the dry stuff means.

If you're looking for software, a good place to go is sourceforge.net. It bills itself as "the world's largest Open Source software development website." Open source software is free, both in the sense of "free speech," in that the source code is open for all to see and modify; and usually free of charge, as in "free beer."

There is a lot of good free software out there in the world, and Sourceforge has much of it. The last time I checked, it had more than 170,000 different software projects available.

If you have a need for some education, but are not in a position to go back to school, you can learn online. My favorite site for this is Mindleaders.com. It has all kinds of courses, not just technical stuff. It's a commercial site _ you have to pay for the lessons, but as far as education goes it's not really too expensive.

It has subscriptions to groups of courses at fairly reasonable rates. The links to its site are too long to list here, so if you're interested, drop me an e-mail and I'll send you a link.

For reviews of computer hardware components, of all kinds, the top of the heap is Tom's Hardware Guide, tomshardware.com/us/. This site has in-depth reviews of motherboards, graphic cards, and other things you find in the guts of computers. Warning: not for the faint of heart. This is a hardcore nerd site.

Before I run out of space, there is one more place that's fun to visit. It's thinkgeek.com. This is a store for geeks. It specializes in the oddball, fun things the geekier of us find interesting. A good place to look for Christmas presents and such for that nephew of yours. Want some 1.3 megapixel spy camera sunglasses? Or a do-it-yourself neon sign kit? How about a USB-connected microscope? They're on the home page.

Happy surfing.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@dailystarmail.com.