Want to dig really deep into your favorite sci-fi or fantasy world? Need to study xenobiology in the Delta Qudrant or catch up on current events on Earth-616? In the old days, your resources might be limited to the few texts that got published (often without authorization from the creators of the TV show, movie, or book). But in the age of online, user-generated content, sci-fi and fantasy fans themselves can contribute to the extensive store of knowledge about their favorite fictional universes—and do they ever. Here are seven encyclopedic resources for fictional worlds so richly detailed that they rival the one you're sitting in right now.
How many different ways are Jack and Kate connected? What do we know about Richard Alpert’s history? If these are the kinds of burning questions that keep you wide awake and staring at the ceiling as we embark upon the last season of the tortuous narrative that is Lost, then you’d better set aside a hefty chunk of time, because you’re about to find yourself pulled into the jungle that is Lostpedia. Every episode, every character—and, after all, there are truly no minor characters where the Island is concerned—are all here. If it’s speculation you’re after, there’s no shortage of that, either: Got a theory on what the smoke monster is? Where the island is located? You’ll find a willing audience to entertain your thoughts on the matter.
Among the most painstakingly constructed sites I’ve ever seen, Memory Alpha is a comprehensive catalog of everything in the mainstream Star Trek canon, from the Prime Directive to the last episode of Enterprise
. All five live-action series are covered, along with the animated series and all the movies, including the recent reboot. If you want to go beyond that to the novels and other media, though, you’ll need to check out a second wiki called, naturally, Memory Beta.
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We all have our own opinions about politics, sports, and even technology. We all occupy our own particular neighborhoods, income brackets, and sections of the iTunes store. But the one thing we all have in common is that—whether we’re buying necessities, splurging on luxuries, or dealing with everyday financial challenges—we’re consumers.
As it has in so many other parts of our lives, the Internet has transformed the way we consume. We can now look up reviews, compare prices, and check on a vendor’s reputation, all before we pull out our credit cards or sign on the dotted line. The Web has given us voices we didn’t have in the past, to talk back to vendors and tell our fellow consumers what we think. Here are five of my favorite sites for consumer information, advocacy, and savings.
The Consumerist blog, which covers a wide range of pro-consumer issues, started as a cog in the Gawker Media machine. But it eventually became so popular—and so respected—that the site was purchased by Consumers Union, the organization behind Consumer Reports. Among the most popular articles are reader reports about companies that mistreat their customers; the site has become a sort of crowd-sourced Better Business Bureau. But it also covers personal finance, the banking industry, and maintaining good credit. How influential is The Consumerist? In the past year, the site’s editors have twice had sit-down interviews with White House officials about economic and consumer issues. And horror stories about vendors are often followed up with posts along the lines of, “After The Consumerist posted my letter, the CEO of Company X contacted me directly…”
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Growing up around Stanford University and the greater Silicon Valley (before it was Silicon Valley) I encountered my fair share of electrical engineers—a brilliant bunch who, to a person, lacked any discernible sense of humor. Today’s crop of propeller heads are a wittier (though occasionally cruder) crew, as evidenced by some of my favorite Websites and Twitter streams:
A pseudonymous goof on Apple, its CEO, and its passionate fans and detractors, Dan Lyons’ fake diary (Twitter: @fsjblog) can be funny, obscene, insightful, inspirational, and irritating—often all in the same post. Lyons started the blog while he was still a technology writer for Fortune. But even with his identity exposed, Lyons rarely pulls his punches: Companies, corporate heads, publications, politicians, journalists, and celebrities all suffer the wrath of Lyons’ faux CEO.
Another fake techno-celebrity site. Walt Mosspuppet (Twitter: @mosspuppet) is a cantankerous puppet-version of Wall Street Journal technology columnist Walt Mossberg. I’ve met Mossberg, and the puppet’s caustic personality is nothing like his. But that doesn’t make the videos, the blog, or the Twitter stream any less of a hoot. As with Fake Steve, the puppet’s humor often transcends mere jokes to offer real insights into technology and journalism.
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I recently wrapped up my second (nearly) annual look at three leading Intel Mac virtualization products—VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop, and VirtualBox—along with an overview piece designed to help you figure out which one best suits your needs.
If you followed my Tweets during the development of these articles, you got a glimpse behind the scense at what went into the project: “Spent 5+ hours yesterday setting up a test that will probably only merit a couple sentences in final writeup. But it had to be done.”
Based on the response to those Tweets and some e-mailed inquiries, it appeared there was some interest in a “behind the scenes” look at just how a large comparison review/roundup like this comes together. So if you’re interested, grab an All Access pass from the bin on the right, and join me on a tour of the virtualization review production studio. I’ll try to give you some idea what it takes to put together a comparison test like this, and why it can take so long for it to finally appear online. (I started this project in mid-October, and it wrapped up in mid-January.)
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After a particularly trying weekend moderating the Macworld forums, it occurred to me that there are a handful of ways to become an Internet pariah in a very short period of time. In the hope that you might not fall into some of these traps, allow me to enumerate those ways.
1. Troll Let’s start with the most obvious. Take up an unreasonably opposing point of view simply to get a rise out of people. This is most effective when you visit a site devoted to Subject A and then state that just about everything related to that subject stinks. For example, visit a Nikon forum and slam its cameras in favor of Canon. Trail over to the Huffington Post and gush over Sarah Palin’s first literary effort. Drop by our sister publication PC World’s site and let them know just how much you love Snow Leopard and despise Windows. Whether your comments are based in fact or not, they’re unlikely to be welcomed.
2. Passionate cluelessness Okay, we get it that you have very strong political/religious/hygienic views. Derailing a discussion of the benefits of a new computer graphics chip to present those views in inglorious detail may not be the best way to make friends and influence people.
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My wife and I recently purchased an iPod touch (8GB, second generation) primarily for our kids to use for games. After setting it up, however, I couldn’t get any sound out of the speaker—audio worked fine in headphones, but not at all when trying to use the speaker. So I made an appointment at the local Apple Store’s Genius Bar to have them take a look.
After a few minutes of blowing compressed air into the headphone jack, and plugging and unplugging headphones, the Genius gave up and handed me a new iPod touch with a functioning speaker. The whole process took about 30 minutes (including my wait time), and didn’t cost me a penny. Well, technically it didn’t cost me a penny.
In actuality, it cost me 17,390 pennies (that’s $173.90 in the more-common dollar units). That’s because I was sucked in by the real genius of the Genius Bar: it puts Apple’s customers in a store filled with desirable Apple products, and with some time to waste while waiting for their appointment at the Genius Bar. In my case, that time gave me a chance to purchase a spare battery for my 15-inch MacBook Pro, and a case and screen protectors for the iPod touch. These were all items on my “I need to get these at some point” list, but the visit to the Genius Bar was the perfect excuse to get my shopping done.
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Several months ago, I wrote about how pathetic my broadband options were in San Francisco and, in fact, how bad things are in the country as a whole.
Since then, I decided to make the switch to something faster. At 7,500 feet from an AT&T central office, the fastest standard DSL speeds I could get were 2.5 Mbps down (about 310 KBps) and nearly .5 Mbps up (about 60 KBps). For things like downloading giant Apple software updates and uploading photos and HD videos, that just didn’t cut it. Although I’ve had a great experience with my ISP, DSL Extreme, over the years, the company simply couldn’t offer me better speeds for a reasonable monthly fee.
After I wrote the original story, Comcast—our local cable provider—expanded its broadband options to our house to include several faster tiers. Although weary of the company’s 250GB-per-month bandwidth cap, I bit the bullet and ordered a 15 Mbps/2 Mbps plan for about $65 a month (I don’t have Comcast cable or phone service, otherwise it would have been less expensive).
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