The World Wide Web is a wonderful way to waste time. But it's also packed with tools you can use to map a route, look up a word, convert to metric, consult the weather forecast, find out when a movie starts, get a quote from a classic and perform dozens of other tasks.
Think of the list that follows as essential bookmarks, an Internet Swiss army knife stocked with sites you can put to work with no more heavy lifting than a bit of typing and a few mouse clicks. Some of the sites are international in scope and others local.
All are free to anyone with Internet access.
Area Codes: Type in a city and state at http://www.555-1212.com/geo.jsp to get the area code.
Currency Converter: To change dollars into euros, lira, pounds, yen or any other of more than 180 currencies, go to the continually updated converter at http://www.xe.com/ucc.
Dictionary: Several are available online. At http://www.dictionary.com are definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary and Webster's Revised Unabridged. At http://www.m-w.com you'll find the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.
Earthquakes: If a local earthquake hits and you still have electricity, you can check its intensity at http://pasadena.wr.usgs.gov/shake/ca/index.html.
Encyclopedia: The most complete compendium of general knowledge on the Web is the Encyclopaedia Britannica, at http://www.britannica.com, and it's all free. Microsoft's Encarta, at http://www.encarta.com, is not as comprehensive and parts of it are open only to paid MSN subscribers.
Federal Legislation: The Library of Congress site, at http://thomas.loc.gov, provides a searchable database of bills for the current congressional session. Text, sponsors, voting outcomes (if any) and status are provided.
Game Cheats: Tired of spending hours trying to make your way through a computer or video game? Make it easy on yourself. Cheat. Tips and walk-throughs for hundreds of games are available at http://www.gamefaqs.com.
IRS Forms: Not what you wanted to think about this summer, but in case you got an extension or need to make mid-year filings, you'll find forms to print out at http://www.irs.gov/forms_pubs/index.html.
Literary Classics: Looking for some beach reading you can take with you a few pages at a time? Or do you need to quickly look up a Shakespeare passage? Project Gutenberg, begun in 1971, now contains more than 4,000 downloadable fiction and reference books, all in the public domain. The site is at http://www.gutenberg.net.
Maps: For driving directions or to pinpoint an address in the U.S., go to MapQuest, at http://www.mapquest.com, or Maps on Us, at http://www.mapsonus.com. At MapQuest, you can get an aerial picture of many locales.
Metric Converter: In this era of globalization, an instant converter to change, for example, feet into meters or Fahrenheit to Celsius is one of the handiest of all Web tools. Some of the easiest online converters to use are at http://www.worldwidemetric.com/metcal.htm and http://www.admiralmetals.com/metric_conv.htm.
Movies: Search for information on the Internet Movie Database, at http://www.imdb.com, by titles, actors, writers, directors, producers and crew members. Loads of links make this an invaluable research tool for cinemaholics. For current local show times, enter your ZIP Code under Find Showtimes at http://movies.yahoo.com.
Quotations: A 1919 edition of Bartlett's Quotations, the classic in the field, is available online at http://www.bartleby.com/100. For more contemporary quotes, Simpson's Contemporary Quotations, at http://www.bartleby.com/63, covers 1950-1988.
Restaurants: The popular Zagat guides to 45 locales, including the Los Angeles area, are now online. You can search by cuisine, quality, price, neighborhood and other factors at http://www.zagat.com.
Road Conditions: This is rarely a big deal in Southern California except for wintertime, when some mountain highways can be closed because of snow or require the use of tire chains. To check conditions, go to http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/roadinfo and enter the state highway number.
Smog: To get current readings for areas in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, go to the clickable map at http://www.aqmd.gov/smog/areamap.html.
Sports Scores: For the latest, go to the ESPN site, at http://www.espn.com, and click on the sport of your choice in the left-most column. Alternatively, at http://cbs.sportsline.com, you can find scores by clicking on a sport at the top.
State Legislature: To identify your state representatives, enter your address at http://www.assembly.ca.gov/acs/acsframeset9text.htm for the name of your Assembly member or at http://www.sen.ca.gov/~newsen/senators/yoursenator.htp for your senator. For more information on the Legislature, go to http://www.state.ca.us and click on Government.
Stock Quotes: At http://www.yahoo.com, click on Finance/Quotes (under Media) and enter the stock symbol. If you don't know the symbol for a company, you can get it by using the Symbol Lookup feature.
Sunrise/Sunset: The U.S. Naval Observatory provides sunrise and sunset times for any day from the years of 1700 to 2100 at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneDay. The listings are for more than 22,000 cities and towns; if you're in a rural area or foreign country, you can get the times if you know your longitude and latitude.
Surf: For links to conditions, forecasts and beach Web cams in Southern California, go to http://www.surfrider.org/Cal5.htm, sponsored by the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation. A government site with a less detailed forecast is at http://www.nwsla.noaa.gov/LAXNSHLOX.
Telephone Directory: At http://www.switchboard.com you can enter whatever information you have about a person's name and address to look up a telephone number. If that doesn't work, try the similar service at http://people.yahoo.com.
Television: As if you didn't waste enough time on the Internet. You can check out customized TV listings at http://www.tvguide.com. Just type in your ZIP Code.
Thesaurus: Roget's famed reference book is at http://www.thesaurus.com.
Time: To look up the time in another part of the world, go to http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock. The correct time (give or take four-tenths of a second) anywhere in the U.S. is at http://www.time.gov.
Traffic: You can check out traffic maps of Los Angeles and Orange counties and the Inland Empire at http://traffic.tann.net/Frame05.html. The maps show the general traffic speed on freeways and the location of "incidents" that are slowing it down. Moving your cursor over an "incident" gives you a brief explanation of what's going on there.
Transportation: The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority sponsors a highly useful site at http://www.mta.net with a Trip Planner for bus trips, subway information and links to community bus systems throughout Southern California. The downtown L.A. DASH bus system is explained at http://www.ladottransit.com/dash. For Metrolink commuter train schedules, go to http://www.metrolinktrains.com. Finally, Amtrak schedules and reservation service are accessible at http://www.amtrak.com.
Weather: The home pages sponsored by regional offices of the National Weather Service are far from elegant, but they provide localized forecasts. For Los Angeles and Ventura counties, go to http://www.nwsla.noaa.gov/zones/LAXZFPLOX. Orange County and Inland Empire forecasts are at http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/afos/LAX/ZFP/LAXZFPSGX. For national weather, satellite pictures and radar images, try http://www.accuweather.com or http://www.intellicast.com.
World Facts: Few have access to CIA files, but everyone on the Internet can obtain the agency's highly useful basic research on countries around the world. The latest edition of the CIA World Factbook is at http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook.
ZIP Codes: The Postal Service ZIP Code finder is at http://www.usps.gov/ncsc/lookups. It's not the most user-friendly tool available on the Web--the directions are in governmentese--but it does the trick.
Times staff writer David Colker covers personal technology.