I have a profession built around deadlines. I’m on the internet all day every day, but as a tool, not as entertainment. As a result, I have to be very careful of my time. I keep a healthy distance from the Facebook event horizon, for example. I congratulate myself for being economical in my use of Twitter. And yet…
And yet, I can drop by xkcd.com and lose an hour. Or more. For those not in the know, it's a web comic that's as much about physics, programming, and language as anything else. I am absolutely addicted to it. Any artist who can riff on imaginary numbers, equivalent resistance, and floating-point handlers is my idol. At a time that the newspaper comics seldom even make me smile, xkcd makes me laugh so hard my husband elbows me to find out what's so funny. The mouseover text, in particular, is priceless.
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I love the fact that most of the content has technical underpinnings. I adore the fact that a large segment of the population wouldn’t even get the joke if you explained it to them. It’s like a little party for geeks. Since I discovered it only a few months ago, it’s been easy to spend time sifting through the archives, telling myself, “just one more,” and then sneaking in one more click, and one more, and one more… (It’s a sickness, I tell you.)
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Yep, we all have them, our guilty pleasures, those places on the Internet that are time vortexes. I have a few others. During hurricane season, especially during the approach of storms like Sandy (who at the time of this writing is bearing down on the eastern seaboard of the United States), I can hit the NOAA website
two or three times a day, studying wind-speed charts, satellite imagery, and track projections like I know more about meteorology than what I learned in a survey course my freshman year.
Speaking of updates, another site that regularly sucks me in is the NASA site, especially the mission page for Curiosity. I remember interviewing one of the mechanical engineers on the project last year at this time, thinking that the assisted landing was the longest of long shots. They pulled it off, though—I know that because I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to watch, and spent countless hours in the ensuing days monitoring progress.
Anyway, these are a few of my vices – how about you? What sites draw you back over and over, even when you know you should be spending your time doing something more constructive? Come on, 'fess up. We’ve all got our guilty pleasures.
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