Introduction: How to Keep From Being Bored Online- Live TV, Webcams, Games, Websites, and More
Beat the end boss at the end of the internet already (boy, wasn't he tough!) and need something to do? Want some ideas and fresh online activities to enjoy? Well, you've come to the right Instructable! Too many of us are locked away in cubicles, tethered behind desks... our computer screens are our only Windows and the view is often quite boring. I mean- Solitaire, again?!
My goal is to introduce you to at least a few good time wasters you didn't know about. This compilation in no way lists every great site or activity on the web. Not only would that be impossible, but everyone's tastes are different. So here's some fun online tips, tricks and interesting sites that should keep you entertained for hours while stuck at work surfing all day. Because isn't that what we're paid to do? ;)
Page 1. Google hacks to view and control webcams all over the world.
Page 2. The wonderful time-wasting world of online web comics.
Page 3. Online games... just don't get caught at work, mmmkay?
Page 4. Watching TV online! ...without getting scammed!
Page 5. More random timewasters, and other idea sites.
Page 6. Final tidbits...
Step 1: Google Hacking to View and Control Webcams All Over the World
White Mountain (New Hampshire USA, I believe) - Beautiful view, especially this morning. Also, if you aim the camera correctly (move it to far right and zoom in), there's an upstairs window where I watched a man prepare his breakfast and eat. I know, how voyeuristic! Well, people fascinate me. Especially since he has no idea he's being watched... it's like a little peak into the everyday life and routine of some random person somewhere I'll never meet.
BeyondBikes Store (San Diego, CA USA) - Take a peek inside this bicycle shop! When it's open, you can watch bikes being assembled, or spy on customers. At night you get to play security guard ;) See that guy walking by outside? Suspicious looking character... well, to be fair, it is California! I've been there recently and have seen the interesting folk there.
WBU FeederCam - Watch birds eating from the comfort of your cubicle. Now you, too, can have a window (of sorts)! Almost as fascinating as people, the birds have plenty of food but still fight over it. There's room for a poignant statement about the similarity in humanity here, but I'm going to let that pass by. We're trying to avoid boredom here...
A few things worth mentioning. Does everything look dark? Congratulations, you're likely peering into the other side of the world where it's still night (Such as this garden from Yamada Farm, Hiroshima). In contrast, if you bookmark those for later, before you go to bed you'll often see a nice sunrise wherever it is. If the view is moving, then some other net user is in control, looking around. When taking control of the Cannon cameras, it gives a countdown anywhere from three minutes to thirty seconds for you to play. This can be a real challenge when trying to figure out where (geographically) the camera is based! Some are conveniently named, but quite often they are unhelpfully termed "Camera 1" or nothing at all. Zooming in on billboards or business signs will usually give you something to Google. Here is a short-control-timed view of a foreign city; see if you can discover in a mere 30 seconds where it is!
There's several other Google camera-searching tricks, such as Sony cams, WebEye, Network cams, Sony (different method), this, and even this. Depending on your net connection speed, some are nearly live-motion, while others are one frame per 15 seconds. You really never know what you'll find... which I guess is half the fun of looking :)
Step 2: The Wonderful Time-wasting World of Online Web Comics
Remember reading the Sunday comics as a kid- the laughs, the storylines, the ink all over your hands? Welcome to 2008, where the ink is virtual and the strips are called webcomics! Even if you aren't a regular webcomic reader, finding a good one and reading them all in order entertains and makes time fly by. I've listed off some of the ones I visit here, and given a brief description:
Sluggy Freelance ( first comic ) - Sluggy is one of the most popular webcomics. Featuring evil mutant Santas, mad scientists, alternate dimensions, killer bunnies, love interests and sugar-high ferrets. It has excellent humor and a huge cult following (called Sluggites). It also just celebrated its 10th year, so there's a slew of nifty archives to enjoy! Just skip 'Oceans Unmoving' (aka, Plotline Unmoving) if you want to stay awake. Updated daily, even weekends.
Megatokyo ( first comic ) - Considered by some to be the webcomic with the best artwork. Stars two main characters as they get stuck in and work/live Japan. Kind of a soap opera these days; I think I prefer the early stuff. Or I'm just spoiled on Sluggy's faster-paced storytelling. Either way, this is definitely worth a read-through. Updated when the author feels like it.
CTRL+ALT+DEL ( first comic ) - This could be a bit much for some prudes. Occasional swearing etc. Loosely based on video game commentary, it also delves into relationships, robots, and insanity. As with a lot of online strips, as time went on it got much more polished. I may not check it daily, but I check when I remember to. Pretty sure it's updated each weekday.
Penny Arcade ( first comic ) - Nine-year-old webcomic about gaming... mostly. These guys are popular enough that this is all they do. Really, this is their day jobs. Almost as popular as the comics are the bizarre intellectually crude rants on various games, companies, obsessions, etc. Unfortunately only updated now twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday.
Real Life Comics ( first comic ) - Another one that's come a long way in the past eight years- from black and white, to color, then even texture and shading. Lately it often reflects its title, modeling strips after the artists' real life events. IMHO, however, some of the best storylines came from the impossible/outrageous inventions and adventures that have nothing to do with reality. Pretty much updated each weekday.
PvP ( first comic ) - Don't worry, the initial horrible artwork got so good eventually they did an animated series. PvP stands for Player vs Player; the comic portrays the interactions and adventures of friends working at a gaming magazine by that name. Also lately very heavily into relationships, but the author still keeps the gaming geek quality intact. Updated daily.
xkcd ( first comic ) - "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language." The artistry (if it can be called that) is just stick figures, but that isn't the point. This is the webcomic of a geeky intellectual, and true geeks will laugh three times... once at the strip itself; secondly at the fact that they found something so geeky funny; and thirdly when you notice the alt-text embedded on each strip image. Updated randomly.
Cyanide and Happiness ( first comic ) - Often crude, obscure, completely offbeat or random- and very funny. Written by multiple authors with limited artistic talent, there is no theme or ongoing storyline. The humor is frequently dark, even pretty disturbing for those that normally read Peanuts or Family Circle. Of course, cheesy one-liner word-play gags are popular as well. Updated frequently.
User Friendly ( first comic ) - Another geek strip. Has gaming elements, but is a good hardcore IT / programmer's strip. The drawing is rather painful, and average laypeople don't get all the jokes so it isn't as popular as some others. In a month and a half it will celebrate a ten year anniversary, though, so there's a ton of archives to read through. Updated everyday.
There's a slew of others out there, obviously, like Something Positive, Mac Hall, The Perry Bible Fellowship, etc., etc... but I can only vouch for what I know, and these are the ones I personally keep up with. If just one looks interesting enough to explore, before you know it the hours have flown by and you've escaped one more day of boredom, huzzah! ;-)
Step 3: Online Games... Just Don't Get Caught at Work, Mmmkay?
Here's something I think we've all dabbled in- online webgames! When the thought of more Solitaire, Freecell, and Minesweeper make you want to scream, use your browser for something more entertaining... such as these examples:
Reflections. A laser/prism/mirror game of bending and splitting light beams. 25 levels, each level completed gives you a password in case you need to resume later. Some levels may stump you for a while, but it is winnable; I've done it in an hour or two.
Gravity Pods. 50 levels. All you have to do is aim and hit a target- sounds easy, right? Except you have gravity to contend with. This one took me more than one day to finish and did cause some frustration. Don't give up, though! Great time-waster.
Online Scrabble. I find this an addictive online game, though unlike the others you actually interact with real online opponents. The more you win, the higher your ranking gets. Games can be paused and saved till later, but it's impolite to do so constantly.
A variety of good online games (Popcap). My favorite is probably Bookworm. Bejeweled is another widely known popular one. Popcap excels at little habit-forming games like these, and if you find a favorite you can usually download a copy.
There's many other great little addictive games, like Castle Smasher and Tangerine Panic... I sometimes find the mini-games more amusing than the longer involved ones. If none of those took your fancy, here's some general online game sites: Find your own favorite!
Whether you browse from game to game, or spend hours satisfactorily conquering one, boredom is once again defeated! Or at least put off for a little while.
Step 4: Watching TV Online! ...without Getting Scammed!
A fun way to survive boredom is watching TV online! There's a lot of scams surrounding this, so I'll show a few different methods and explain how not to get suckered in. Tons of software is available to those who pay, but even the pricey ones usually aren't worth it. So why not go with free? It's hard to be screwed over when you haven't paid anything.
First, let's decide what category you fall into. Can you install software on the computer you're using? If yes, try out TVU Player. It's certainly not a substitute for cable or satellite, but it provides live entertainment at work. The channels of most interest are CBS, SpikeTV, Comedy Central, Sci-Fi, Fox, Nickelodeon, and currently HBO. The other streams are pretty much available for free elsewhere on the web. This is one of the biggest tricks or scams on the web; all those ads saying "Watch Satellite TV for Free on your PC!" just centralize the thousands of public streams already available for free, then charge for it. They make false claims ("We just added Cartoon Network, FX, etc etc!"), but after paying and installing you find only several hundred public access channels and free foreign content.
Can't install programs on your work PC, or don't dare? Ok, try TV Life. It's not perfect- links go dead and it can be awhile before they are fixed. I was able to watch about a season's worth of Robot Chicken, though, and had more than enough Family Guy for my six hour shift the other night. They also have all the new and classic Doctor Who episodes! No matter what your taste, they likely have a few shows you'd enjoy. Oh, and they're free as well, which makes it pretty easy to forgive the dead links ;-) Another good very similar site was TV Links, but they look to be currently down. And for even more TV shows check out All U C.
There's other options, not so wonderful but likely more legitimate... like Freetube. As I explained above, they just gather free streams from across the web for you to view in your browser. At least they do it for free. Streamic does basically the same thing as well. If you have Winamp 5.5 installed, you can use the built-in Shoutcast tuner, or use Don't Watch Me; a somewhat badly designed website that lists Shoutcast streams. Channel Chooser does have some live stuff, but too many of the links pop up websites for my taste. If you actually like some of the legit public streams you find, the biggest database of all of them is here. Other random options are PokerGently, ViewMyTV, and AllOfTV. That last one might be a scam... it's hard to tell until you register. Lots of dead links with promises of alternates if you 'Log in.'
Your last option (or first, depending on what you like to watch) is to view full episodes from the company's websites. You're usually stuck watching ads, but your conscience can rest easy as it's 100% legit. Head over to CBS to watch CSI, Numb3rs, or soap operas; stop by ABC to see Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Grey's Anatomy; FOX is now claiming they offer full episodes online as well, though they hide the links pretty effectively.
So fill up your bookmarks with your favorites, put on a set of headphones, and escape cubicle boredom for one more day at least! If your boss catches you and puts a stop to it... well, read on and find something else to do :)
Step 5: More Random Timewasters, and Other Idea Sites.
Step One. If you can, listening to online radio is excellent background noise, and makes any day better. Winamp keeps an updated listing of Shoutcast audio streams, sorted by popularity and genre. If you are on a PC you'll likely need Winamp installed; Macs usually have the proper software already. Live365 is another good collection. Web-Radio has live listings, if you'd prefer to listen to an actual land-based broadcasting station. This can be helpful if you have a favorite DJ or morning show. Another listing which might be more comprehensive is US Live Radio.
Step Two. Now that we have some ambiance, let's add to the tranquility with a new desktop wallpaper. After all, a computer screen is as close to a window as most cubicle-dwellers get; why not improve the view? DeviantART has some amazing images, but sadly nowadays to access everything you need to pay. Still worth a look, though. Desktop Nexus has over nine thousand wallpapers to choose from, and a good resolution selection. Even Google is helpful for finding specific wallpapers, if you tweak the image search.
Step Three. Are we sitting comfortably? Then let's begin. We need websites to browse with dynamic, updated content. Slashdot is a good start. Somewhat heavy on the geek, the reader's commentary is often more interesting that the articles themselves. Fark is another good one in that regard; the Photoshop contests should keep you laughing a while. If shopping (or perusing) is more your style, a routine morning visit to the deal-a-day sites like Shnoop, MidniteBox, and the original Woot, may be in order. For local deals, don't forget Craigslist and your local online classifieds. If you're patient about shipping, there's some wacky and cheap deals over at DealExtreme. IMHO, Think Geek has some awesome products as well.
Nearing the end of your workday and you're through the list? Have some laughs at these sites: Viral Videos - gathers the most popular online clips from various websites. Comedy Central's Random Jokes - clicking Hit Me Again brings up another. Good for a chuckle, and gives you some material for parties, I suppose. And of course we can't do a guide like this and not mention Instructables - interesting, funny, and fascinating. A collection of how-to's ranging from the bizarre to the 'Wow, I've got to try that!'
Step 6: Final Tidbits And... Wow, Look at the Time Already!
Here's two more Google Hacks. As I mentioned before when we were playing with online cameras, these aren't really hacks, but interesting little-known search modifiers that help do/find clever things.
Google as a Proxy: Does your work block your favorite English website? You can set up a proxy (if you can find one) in your browser settings- or you can just have Google load the page for you! We're basically using the translation service to go from Spanish to English when there is no Spanish. Say you want to visit Fark.com, but your evil bosses know what goes on there and won't let you... no problem, point your browser to Fark.com and enjoy! For other websites, just change the url to reflect where you want to go.
More Camera fun: Softwell Technology "Wit-Eye" DVR systems are fully accessible all over the web, and most people don't think about changing the login from the default username/password of "admin"/"admin". Not only can you watch multiple live cameras, but you can rewind and watch prerecorded footage as well! You will need to be in IE to play- it uses ActiveX. Another good IE-only DVR system is from Nuvico. Some seem to require a password, others don't. Bluenet Video Viewer is another ActiveX-based system; not a lot of search results, but they all seem to work. Want to check out server rooms all over the world? Then check this out. Not only will you know the ambient temperature, humidity, and whether the door alarm is activated, but there's a camera view for watching geeks at work. Just for good measure, here's another batch of random live feeds from StarDot NetCams, and some more from Mobotix.
FatWallet is another awesome deal-hunting site, as well as... wait, what time is it? Hey, work's over! It's time to be getting home! Well, I hope this guide has added a few favorites in your browser and cut down on at least couple yawns today. Feel free to share your own favorite time-wasting links by leaving a comment! It'll give us all something to do tomorrow ;)