by Mark Hill
You probably spend a fair bit of time on the internet. In fact, we have a sneaking suspicion that you’re on the internet right now. You’re smart enough to understand the culture, avoid malware, and hide your dark and terrible browser history from those it would haunt forever. But there are tools out there to make your internet experience even better, and we’ve picked out a select few to eliminate hassle and inconvenience from your life. With our help you’ll be able to focus on what really matters, like finally finishing that epic Game of Thrones/Peanuts fanfiction.
The Wayback Machine Extension
We like to think of the internet as a place where information lasts forever. But, in reality, entire websites, from beloved cultural institutions to Crazy Carl’s Cabernet of Conspiracy Theories, can up and vanish at a moment’s notice. That’s why we have digital libraries like the Internet Archive, which routinely saves websites for history and posterity.
You may be familiar with their Wayback Machine, which lets you look at older versions of nearly every website out there. It’s pretty cool, regardless of if you’re doing serious research or just want to see how ridiculous Pepsi’s website looked in the mid ‘90s.
In case you're wondering: Yes, the graphics do flash.
But what you may not know is that they also have a browser extension that further simplifies the process. The moment you visit a dead link, the extension will offer to take you to an archived version of the site with a click of a button. It’s perfect if, say, Wikipedia is referencing an old, no longer active article you’d like to read, or if you want to go back and discover that, in 2005, the Modern Rogue URL was owned by an Asian makeup company that misspelled rouge.
You can also use the extension to immediately capture a copy of a website as it currently exists. So if, for example, your friend tried to tweet “I made some delicious penne tonight!” but instead accidentally said “I made some delicious penis tonight!” you can immortalize their typo before they delete it. Or you can save a serious, thought-provoking piece of art that you’d like humanity to always have access to. You know, whichever.
F.lux is a program that adjusts your monitor’s color temperature based on the time of day. It’s invaluable if you have the habit of “surfing the net,” as we believe they still call it, at night. In its simplest form, it softens the glow of your monitor once evening rolls around to help reduce eyestrain. It also keeps you from being wide awake after you’re done using your computer in the middle of the night, because you won’t have been sitting in the dark and looking at a blaring white light for several hours. Conversely, if you’re a blurry-eyed early morning riser, you won’t blind yourself when you try to squint at the morning’s email.
Google's homepage is so bright, it should be classified as a torture device.
F.lux also comes with a multitude of options based around both your sleep schedule and your lighting preferences, and you can adjust it for certain tasks, like gaming or photo editing. It’s a simple adjustment that you won’t be able to believe you lived without.
You probably have way, way more tabs open than you need right now. That’s okay, we’re not here to judge. Our browser windows look like the digital equivalent of those corkboard and string charts that conspiracy theorists make in their basement to prove that Elvis invented cancer. We totally believe you when you say you’re getting around to reading that New Yorker story any year now. But, until you do, there’s an easier way to organize the madness.
One Tab consolidates as many tabs as you want onto a list stored on -- wait for it -- one tab. You can consult the list and bring back tabs either individually or all at once whenever you’d like. In addition to giving your browser a cleaner look and allowing you to actually tell what you have open at a glance, it also massively cuts down on the memory that your browser uses, which helps limits crashes and slowdowns. Plus, it makes you look like you’re an organized and with-it person who’s carefully planning out what they want to read in their spare time, instead of someone who just clicks on anything with “cats” in the title and then lets it sit for five years.
You’re familiar with URL shorteners, like TinyURL, bit.ly, and goo.gl, right? They take long, unwieldy URLs like www.totallynormalpicturesofsheep.ca/photos/may2013/categories/sheepthatarejuststandingaroundandtheresnothingweirdaboutenjoyingthat.com and turn them into more manageable links, like http://bit.ly/2FBblUg. Maybe you need to cut a long link down to get under Twitter’s character limit, or maybe you’re just doing it for aesthetic purposes. Whatever the reason, shorteners are handy tools ... but they’re also exploited by spammers, hackers and other sketchy types.
I'm not clicking that. It's obviously Goatse.
You might be told that a bit.ly link is going to send you to thesepicturesofsheepsareprettyweird.ca, but it could actually be directing you to allthemalware.biz.ru, and you’d have no way of knowing for sure until you click the link and discover that your computer is being forced to blast racial slurs out of your speakers until you give away your credit card number.
Unshorten.link solves that problem by allowing you to preview the destination of bit.ly style links before you commit to visiting one, like peering into the windows of a sketchy looking house to make sure there isn’t a meth lab in there. It’s a super simple way to make your browsing much safer and to allow yourself to click on links without wondering if they’ll lead to a digital pipe bomb.
Let’s say you’ve loaded up a massive gallery of image thumbnails of potential fanfic book covers. You’d like to look at and enjoy all of them in detail, but it’s a huge pain to click on an image, wait for it to load, then click on the arrow to bring you to the next one, wait for it to load and continue to do so hundreds of times in a row.
Hover Zoom eliminates all of that tedium by blowing an image up to full size in the current window whenever you hover your mouse over it and ... wait, hang on, isn’t that the opposite of zooming? Whatever. The point is that whether you’re on Facebook, Flickr, Reddit, or thesesheepshouldneverbeseenandnowtheyllneverbeunseen.com, it’s a huge time saver.
It’s hard to stay productive on the internet. You sit down to do some serious work, and four hours later all you’ve done is browse Twitter, Reddit, and countless sheep pictures. Don’t be embarrassed, we’ve all been there. You need willpower to get stuff done when there are so many distractions at your fingertips, and sometimes your willpower needs a helping hand. Or a full-on boot in the ass.
Enter StayFocusd, which allows you to block all those distracting websites. It’s extremely flexible -- you can block or allow anything from certain pages on a site (so you can read select Wikipedia pages you’d like to study without getting distracted and falling into a rabbit hole of articles about wrestlers' real names) to the whole damn Internet.
You can schedule it for certain times of day, for a number of hours after you activate it, or to give yourself a specified amount of goofing off time before the curtain comes down. And if you’re worried that your willpower is so weak that you’ll just disable the blocks and deal with the shame later, there’s the “Nuclear Option.” Once you click the button to nuke, say, theressomethingwrongwiththesesheeppicturesonadeeplyunsettlinglevel.ca for eight hours, nothing short of an act of God can reverse that block until the time is up. So then you can finally put aside all those distractions and focus on the task at hand, whether it’s writing an essay or winning a comment section argument about who's the hottest cartoon character.
Noisli (which, like most web services, is apparently obligated to be a wacky misspelling of a normal word) will be useless to some people but a lifesaver to others. If you’re the sort of person who can work in total silence or can listen to podcasts, music or movies without getting distracted, you might not see the benefit. But if you find that simple background noise helps you focus, Noisli is kind of a godsend.
It offers a variety of background noises that play right in your web browser. There are nature sounds like wind, rain, rustling leaves and crackling fire. Man-made sounds, like fans, trains, and the hubbub of a coffee shop. And of course, plain ol' white noise. There are some built-in combinations of sounds at various volumes for productivity or relaxation, or you can mix and match to create your own combos for different situations, like working, sleeping and pretending you care when your friend blabbers on about about how "The Undertaker" isn't his real name.
It's "Mark Calaway". That's actually not a joke.
You can create a windy summer rainstorm with a hint of thunder in the background, or you can make the thunder loud and put a babbling brook in the distance. You can pretend it’s summer in the dead of winter if that will snap you out of a funk, or you can go weird and make it sound like a train is plowing through a burning coffee shop. Because if the patrons don’t seem concerned enough to interrupt their conversations, surely you should be okay just focusing on the work in front of you.
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