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7 Neat, Free Things You can get on the Internet

10-2-18



Amazing amounts of free things exist out on the internet. Here are the ones I appreciate the most.


Software

I have often found free software on the internet that is functionally just as good as the kind you pay for. The only question is, what websites can you trust for malware free software? For well-known software like Firefox, Chrome, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and Skype, the best place to go is their website. For lesser known software, you can be less certain that the software on the developer's website is malware free. There are also many sites with large collections of free software, and some do a better job than others of keeping their downloads malware free. Here is a list of some of the safest. I try to avoid the software that is merely trialware, rather than true freeware, because there is nothing more annoying than software that you've taken the time to learn how to use, only to find that it doesn't work the next time that you need it. In my opinion, the best freeware is Linux, because most Linux operating system distributions not only come with most of the software that you would use every day, but the major distributions have relatively safe repositories of software that are even more comprehensive.


Ebooks

You can find free ebooks in every genre on the internet. By now everyone should know about the Gutenburg Project, a huge collection of ebooks that are out of copy write. They're in html, epub, Kindle, plain text, and other formats, so you should have no trouble finding an ebook reader or software to read them. What you may be less aware of is that, if you have a Kindle ebook reader, you can also find a very large number of free Kindle ebooks on the Amazon website. Note that I didn't say your Kindle has to be working. As far as I know, you can go online and buy a used, even a broken Kindle, and use the serial number from it to download free Kindle ebooks from Amazon. If you don't have a Kindle reader, or can't get the free Kindle Reader software (which you can now download for free from Amazon) to run on your device, have no fear. My experience has been that, although all the Amazon Kindle ebooks are in the Kindle format (AZM), about half are not DRM'ed (encrypted, so they can't be converted to another format). With non-DRM'ed Kindle ebooks, you can either have them converted with an online conversion website, like online-convert.com, or you can download and use free conversion software on your computer, like Calibre (pronounced, "caliber"). What I don't know, because I've never done it, is whether you can download the Kindle software from Amazon, register it, and then download free Kindle ebooks without a hardward Kindle ebook reader serial number. There are also various other online book sellers that allow you to download small numbers of free sample ebooks.


Podcasts

The biggest discovery I've made lately has been podcasts. I don't know why it took me so long to discover the literally thousands of websites hosting free podcasts. You can find them in all subjects in fiction and nonfiction. Some, like Tanis and Rabbits are like the old-timey radio shows from the '40's but updated for the modern internet age. Others I like are computer consumer related, like Twit. But you can find them in nearly any subject from astronomy to zoology. One of the nice things about podcasts is that if you don't have time to sit down and watch a podcast in a video format, like mp4, you can find them in audio-only formats, like mp3. I have begun listening to podcasts in audio-only format on my smart phone during a large number of my free moments--while cooking, driving, standing in line at the post office, and just about any time when I can listen but can't watch.


Wikipedia

I used to say that I love Wikipedia so much that, if it were legal to marry it, I would. If you're into informal learning, I would be willing to bet that you can get the equivalent of a college degree in many fields just from Wikipedia articles. Seriously, I have found the most esoteric articles on topics that you can probably not imagine that go into some serious depth on Wikipedia. If I remember correctly, there are now something like 80GB of articles on Wikipedia. And if you want, you can even download all or parts of that and peruse it with an offline reader like Kiwix. So, you can carry it around with you on your smart phone and read it anywhere. There are even offline distributions of Wikipedia now that are being used for educating children in third-world countries who don't have access to the internet.


Music

It should not be news to anyone that you can listen to music online for free (in a streaming sense). Youtube has tens of thousand of songs that you can listen to while you're online. There are also websites with collections of music that you listen to more like you do on the radio--without being able to select individual songs, but with several selections of stations. These include Pandora and Slacker, which are, in my opinion, the ones that are most tailorable to individual tastes, although I have by no means had time to try out a large number of the others. However, about two years ago, I noticed that Pandora was tying up a substantial amount of my computer's processing capability. I did not see any legitimate reason for this, so I stopped using it in protest. I hate inefficient websites. In my opinion, they are simply rude. Other music websites exist too. Some are the websites of the artists that created the music, and others have collections of songs from many artists. Almost all of the music is streamed, but you can still find some downloadable songs if you look hard.

Be careful that you only go to legal music websites. Unfortunately, I don't know enough to be certain that any particular website is legal. So, I tend to stick to the more well-known ones.


Movies

As with music websites, it is unclear to me whether the lesser-known movie sites are legal. This is after having spent hours and hours researching this topic. I would assume that the ones that let you watch movies that are only a few months old for free are illegal. But I do not know how you can be certain. Again, I tend to stick to the more well-known free movie websites, like Youtube and ... that's all I know. The depressing fact is that all the rest of the well-known free sites, including Hulu and CBS, have gone to paid subscriptions. Even Youtube now has a subscription service, called Youtube Red (soon to be Youtube Premium), in addition to its free service, and it requires you to rent certain movies if you watch them individually without the subscription service. The exception is websites that stream documentaries. Those include some great websites like freedocumentaries.org, topdocumentaryfilms.com, and openculture.com. Between them, these three websites contain a long list of really excellent documentaries. And to the best of my knowledge, they are legal.


Knowledge in General

It really saddens me that people, especially children, don't take anywhere near full advantage of the amazing opportunities for learning that the internet now affords. As of July of 2016, the internet was estimated to contain at least 4.75 billion pages--and, yes, I found that fact on the internet. Aside from some programming languages, almost everything I know about computers, I learned on the internet. Whereas I used to have to carry around piles of books with me to do my job, I have reduced that to only a few that I use often and know well, because I can look up nearly everything else I need online. That is absolutely amazing to me. When I was a kid, I had to write to the publisher of a book and ask the price before I could buy it. That process could take six weeks. Now Amazon sells about 1.66 million items in just the clothing, shoes, and jewelry categories! And it takes me mere seconds to find the prices of most things I can think of! I can visit, in a virtual sense, any place I've ever lived and look down on it, as if from space, or see it, as if I'm standing in the street. In theory, I can look up nearly everyone I've ever known, communicate with them in real time or in a more delayed manner, and learn at, least superficially, what their life is like now. There is so much knowledge out there on the internet, that I really believe that anyone with the patience could acquire the knowledge (although maybe not the hands-on learning) to get a job and work in any profession--without ever having gone to school after he learned to read well enough to use the internet. The only reasons that I can see that anyone is now enrolled in a high school or university is that he either lacks the self control to learn the material, or he needs the school to verify to an employer what he knows. In other words, after about the third grade, we could all theoretically educate ourselves for free with the internet.

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