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Super-Useful Web Services

Get names and addresses from the Web, research practically anything, and learn about a new input device.

If you dig around the Web long enough, you're bound to find things somebody might not want you to know. (Maybe, like me, you hang your laundry out in the backyard.) This week I have a bunch of sites to help you dig up the dirt and do some serious research.

Find the Dirt on Your Neighbor
With two free Web services, I found the address of a neighbor, his first and last name, his phone number, and how much his home is worth. If Zillow would only update its images, I could even tell you if he hangs his laundry out in the backyard.

I met a neighbor while walking the dogs, and we chatted a while. When I got home, I decided to pop something in the mail. (It was some census tract stuff if you must know.) He lives about two blocks down the road, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember the guy's name or his street address. Okay, sure, I could've just dropped by his house. But what would I have to write about today, eh?

I popped open Zillow and searched on my neighborhood until I found the image of his house, then clicked on it. Zillow told me lots of stuff about the value of his home. What I needed--and got--was his street address.

Now that I had his street address, I went to the Reverse Lookup tab at 411Locate, entered info in the Reverse Address Lookup section, and got lucky. In a second, I had Jess's name. You might not be so fortunate--411Locate doesn't always come up with the right name.

Dig This: Tempted to buy a set of those newfangled color-pencil input devices? Be sure to read the review first--it details advanced features, usability, and, no surprise, bugs.

Trulia's Hindsight: Watch Cities Grow
If you enjoyed Zillow, you might also like Trulia. But there's more to this real-estate site than you might expect. I was poking around the other day and discovered Trulia Hindsight, which shows annual population growth in most parts of the U.S.

Once you're on Trulia Hindsight, click on Plano, Texas. You'll see a city map paint on the screen and a timeline at the bottom of the page will begin to advance. The map begins to populate, showing how the area developed over time.

Use the contrast slider on the bottom right to adjust how much of the background you want to see and the slider on the bottom left to zoom in or out of the map.

Once you get your bearings, grab the timeline slider, move it to the left, then slowly move it to the right. Type a city and state into the search field at the top to find your home town. Unfortunately, the site doesn't have data for every area. If your town isn't on Trulia's radar, try downtown Los Angeles.

Dig This: You've gotta watch The Front Fell Off. My editor started kvetching that while hilarious, it also looks quite plausible. And she complained that the actors aren't getting credit even though there are lots of clips floating around the Internet. Okay, so here goes: The guys are Australian comedy team Bruce and Dawe.

Top 5 Little-Known Research Web Sites
AskNow lets you ask a librarian a question. If they ask you where you live, say California.
OWL, the Online Writing Lab, lets you look up the whys and wherefores of grammar.
The Phrase Finder is a handy thesaurus for phrases.
Need a fact checker? Refdesk.com has all the facts--or links to them--you'll ever need.
Visiting the LibrarySpot is like walking in to the local library and walking into the reference room. The site's part of the StartSpot Network, which includes HomeworkSpot and MuseumSpot.
Dig This: Whenever I go to CES in Las Vegas, my first stop's the craps table for some fast action--and maybe a chance to make a couple of bucks. Yet after watching these videos of Texas Hold'em--the game that "takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master"--I may have to find a low-stakes game.

Dig This, Too: Need a change of pace? Try Reel Fishing. You'll need patience and a steady hand.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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