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Please stay out of trouble

www.WindowsUpdate.com

What do you give the Windows user who has everything? A rap on the knuckles if he or she isn't visiting this site weekly. The site will install bug fixes and upgrade your Microsoft software. Because most of what's here is security related, it's a good one to remember. Apple users on Mac OS 9 and above have a control panel called Software Update that connects directly to Apple Computer. And don't even get me started on virus protection. You do have virus protection, right?

Technobabble

www.WhatIs.com

You know a site is valuable when it's equally useful to hard-core geeks as well as those with less of a bent toward the technical. This site continues to be high on my bookmark list as I find myself using it at least once a week. If some technoid throws acronym soup in your direction, bash the list of words and letters in here and all should be clearer. A dictionary is a lousy way to learn a new language, though it is better than total confusion.

Blasting the competition

www.MapQuest.com

If you want to get around in a new area of town or are traveling to an unfamiliar one, this site is your best friend. Perhaps the best thing is it doesn't require you to create an account to use it as competitor MapBlast.com does. In addition to drawing nice maps of your trip, it will give you step-by-step directions in a most detailed fashion. North America is covered as well as Europe. It's great for vacation planning.

Safe shopping

AmericanExpress.com/privatepayments

Those cuddly folks at American Express offer this free service to existing card holders. It allows you to create a different credit card number for each online transaction, which makes it perfect for sites you're not too sure about. Say, for instance, you want to buy a pair of woolly leggings from Jules' Hardly Used Sock Store but aren't sure about the site's security. You buzz over to AmEx, create a new card number, and copy and paste it into the site when it asks for payment. If the site's credit card database is compromised, the virtual card number has a limited life because it always expires at the end of the current month. It's a little extra work but well worth it for the extra protection.

Who and where

www.AnyWho.com

Call me cheap (because I am), but I have an issue paying for something I can get for free. And it's not just the amount, however small, but the principle that makes me bookmark sites such as this instead of calling directory assistance for a phone number. Powered by telecom giant AT&T, the white pages section of this site does a fine and speedy job of finding phone listings. You also get addresses, if published, and an odd feature that will show you all the people who live on the same street. It's great for impromptu block parties I suppose. The Yellow Pages section does a good job, too, but doesn't allow you to prop up short-legged coffee tables like the real world version does.

_ Jules Allen writes the Site Seeing column of interesting Web sites in Tech Times.

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