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14 Web Toys to Fill Your Day

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No matter whether you stay on the internet all day working or log on to catch up on the news, it’s always nice to take a left turn for a mindless break for something different. Here are 14 more places you can go to do that.

1. Endless Interestingness

The screen fills up with hundreds of thumbnails. This is Endless Interestingness, a collage of Flickr photos. Click on any of them to go to the photo page. The photos open in new windows so you can easily go back and click another.

2. Into Time

Rafaël Rozendaal presents Into Time, a plain-looking colored screen with a gradient. But click on it, and it subdivides. How many times can you subdivide? Until you run out of patience or have to break away and do something else.

3. People in Pizza Slice Costumes Becoming Pizza

This is a toy that takes longer to say than to generate, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. A person wearing a pizza slice costume turns into a pizza by a kaleidoscope effect. That’s it. You can click to get a different person. My favorite is the baby bunting.

4. Clean Your Window

The little dog will clean your window as long as you let him. He’ll go on for days if allowed.

5. Leekspin

Leekspin is a looping animation featuring the 2006 meme Loituma Girl. The song is "Ievan Polkka" by the Finnish group Loituma. The video is a clip from the anime Bleach featuring the character Orihime spinning a leek. Why did this become such an internet hit? Because it was amusing, and the standards for “amusing” on the internet were a lot lower in 2006.

6. Man In The Dark

Man In The Dark is a classic web toy that’s been around for ten years now, and has been imitated and cloned in numerous versions. A human form is suspended in the dark, and you can drag him around by the top of his head with your cursor. Simple, but still mesmerizing.

7. Sprite198

Sprite 198 is an example of another iteration of Man in the Dark using an orca.

8. Neon Flames

Neon Flames is a drawing toy that generates wispy shapes that resemble flames or distant astronomical nebulae. You can select a color, and control the generation by holding your mouse button down. Open the control panel on the right to change parameters for a variety of effects.

9. Patatap

The screen shots above don’t do justice to the web toy Patatap, because the images fade too quickly to capture at their best. Just load Patatap, and start pushing letter keys. You’ll hear sounds and see colors and shapes and flashing effects. The space key will change the color scheme. Even your cat can play! With a little practice and experimenting, you just might become a virtuoso and create something spectacular.

10. No Moving

No Moving is some type of Coca Cola ad, but that’s minor compared to the visual adventure. The idea is that you are supposed to stay very still and keep staring at the red dot. Forget that, when it asks for access to your webcam, just deny it. You will still be taken on the journey. However, if you move your mouse or click, the visuals will be over, and you’ll have to start the slow journey again from the beginning. The easiest way I found to see it was to leave my browser alone and type on a document while this played in the background. It goes for a few minutes, and of course, you’ll be shown a bottle of Coke at the end.

11. Burgers

Burgers is a page full of hamburgers, with a few chicken and fish sandwiches thrown in for variety. Mouseover to multiply them, and click to take a bite! This web toy was conceived and built by artist Guthrie Lonergan.

12. Listen to Wikipedia

The music generated at the site Listen to Wikipedia may sound random at first, but what you're hearing is real data. Wikipedia has a feed that records recent changes, which generate tones and colors. Bells indicate information added, and strings indicate subtractions. Small edits produce high-pitched tones and small circles, while larger edits produce deeper tones and larger circles. Colors indicate who the edits come from. When a new user joins Wikipedia, you’ll hear an orchestra swell. Altogether, it’s impressive how much is going on behind the scenes at Wikipedia, no matter what time of day it is. It may be soothing music, but you might also be sucked into the thrill of watching the encyclopedia of the internet being built in real time.

13. Zombo.com

Although not technically a toy, Zombo.com deserves a mention if only for its longevity. It was created in 1999 as a parody of annoying and unnecessary Flash introductory pages for websites. The design makes it appear to be loading, but nothing is happening. A voice assures you that your wait is worth it, but it takes quite some time to load any options. One option finally loads, but even after 15 years, it is not ready. The next time you are perturbed by introductory splashes or links that stay under construction for years, remember they cannot hold a candle to Zombo.com.

14. Tone Matrix

You can create some really nice music at Tone Matrix without any musical skills at all. Click the squares to design patterns that play music. I prefer to leave the first and last columns blank to frame a musical phrase. Gradually adding and removing tones makes for a nice beginning and ending to your musical interlude.

Thanks to everyone for the suggestions! See also: 17 Web Toys for Your Procrastination Pleasure and 11 Web Toys and Generators to Waste Your Time.

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Mike Nelson, Getty Images
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10 Internet Etiquette Tips From the 1990s
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Mike Nelson, Getty Images

In the mid-1990s, the World Wide Web offered its users a new way to communicate. It also paved the way for a whole new era of social faux pas. Internet etiquette, or "netiquette" as it came to be known, dictated that decent manners still had a place in the digital sphere. While many of the early web tips published in books, articles, and memos still apply today, some are best left in the age of dial-up.

1. KEEP SIGNATURES SHORT.

Needlessly long email signatures were even more obnoxious in 1995 than they are today. That's because in the early days of the internet, every line of text took up precious processing time which was equivalent to money out of the pocket of the person reading it. "Remember that many people pay for connectivity by the minute, and the longer your message is, the more they pay," Sally Hambridge of Intel Corporation wrote in Request for Comments (RFC): 1855, a netiquette memo published in 1995. For web users compelled to include a signature, she suggested shaving their information down to "no longer than four lines."

2. DON'T EXPECT IMMEDIATE RESPONSES.

The internet made it possible to have a long-distance written correspondence with someone in practically real time. But even though emails could be sent in an instant, that didn't stop some people from taking their sweet time to respond. For a story published in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1996, one web user told reporter Ramon G. McLeod, "I had my own mother flame me for not answering her quickly enough ... People really expect an answer—and fast."

For someone used to talking on the phone or in person, the online waiting game could be infuriating. But most netiquette guides stated that a delayed response was no reason to be offended, especially if the two parties were living in different time zones.

3. TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.

Like using their indoor voices in the real world, polite citizens of the web know to use mixed case in typed communication. But not everyone was quick to catch on to this practice 20 years ago. (According to The New York Times, former president Bill Clinton became an early offender when he sent an email written in all caps to the prime minister of Sweden in 1994.) In his Chronicle article on netiquette, McLeod wrote that live chatting with caps lock on was like "yelling in a restaurant."

4. LIGHTEN THE MOOD WITH EMOTICONS.

Looking for a way to express playfulness or sarcasm to a web user halfway across the world? Netiquette guides from 1995 recommended using a novel invention called the "emoticon." In The Net: User Guidelines and Netiquette, author Arlene H. Rinaldi wrote, "Without face to face communications your joke may be viewed as criticism. When being humorous, use emoticons to express humor." But Hambridge warned readers to use the sideways smiley face with caution, fearing it might become the "no offense" of the internet age. "Don't assume that the inclusion of a smiley will make the recipient happy with what you say or wipe out an otherwise insulting comment," she wrote.

5. TAG SPOILERS.

On top of spam and viruses, the internet introduced a whole new type of threat to its users: spoilers. Today's bloggers know to preface spoilers with warnings (for the most part), but before this became common protocol, logging onto a film or TV message board was a risk. Netiquette experts like Chuq Von Rospach helped write spoiler tags into the internet rule book. In his online guide A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community, he wrote, "When you post something (like a movie review that discusses a detail of the plot) which might spoil a surprise for other people, please mark your message with a warning so that they can skip the message ... make sure the word 'spoiler' is part of the 'Subject:' line."

6. DON'T ASK STRANGERS HOW THE INTERNET WORKS.

Using the web in the 1990s meant possibly attracting unwanted attention from newbies begging you to lend your tech expertise. Hambridge did her best to discourage this: "In general, most people who use the internet don't have time to answer general questions about the internet and its workings." Instead of relying on strangers to teach them about the internet, she told readers to refer to one of the many books and manuals written just for that purpose. If web users neglected this important piece of netiquette, they risked getting called out on it. Hambridge wrote, "Asking a Newsgroup where answers are readily available elsewhere generates grumpy 'RTFM' (read the fine manual—although a more vulgar meaning of the word beginning with 'f' is usually implied) messages."

7. KEEP FLIRTING TO A MINIMUM.

Places to find dates online appeared shortly after the web went public, but that didn't stop people from flirting on unrelated message boards and email chains. Stacy Horn, founder of the web forum Echo, explained to The New York Times in 1995 how some users abused the service's high-priority "yo" tag for this purpose:

"There's a whole etiquette of when to yo, when not to yo. A man new to Echo gets on and yos all the women. That's considered impolite. A frequent thing that men do is, 'Yo, Horn, what are you wearing?' or 'Yo, Horn, do you come here often?' ... I don't know why they think stupid, banal lines are more effective on line than off."

On top of bothering the recipient, inappropriate messages could also come back to haunt the sender if they ever got out. The Chronicle shared this tip: "If you aren't sure about the security of e-mail on either end of such tender correspondence, send a Shakespearan sonnet instead of something more steamy."

8. DON'T LOG IN DURING RUSH HOUR.

In 1995, the World Wide Web consisted of around 16 million users—measly by today's standards but enough to clog networks during peak times. To make virtual rush hour more bearable, Hambridge suggested "spreading out the system load on popular sites" by taking a break when everyone seemed to be online at once. By waiting to log on during off hours, web users could enjoy exhilarating download speeds of 56 kilobits per second.

9. LET GRAMMAR MISTAKES SLIDE.

For web browsers who shuddered at the sight of a misplaced comma or the wrong use of "your," Chuq Von Rospach had some sage advice: Get over it. He wrote in his netiquette manual:

"Every few months a plague descends on Usenet called the spelling flame. It starts out when someone posts an article correcting the spelling or grammar in some article. The immediate result seems to be for everyone on the net to turn into a sixth grade English teacher and pick apart each other's postings for a few weeks. This is not productive and tends to cause people who used to be friends to get angry with each other."

10. AVOID FLAMEWARS.

The sacred tradition of arguing with a stranger through a computer screen can be traced back to the internet's beginnings. The San Francisco Chronicle spoke with one early web user whose advice for avoiding "flames" boiled down to "don't feed the trolls":

"A couple months back, Gregori recalls, an obnoxious chatter who used the nickname 'Dummy' was barging into chat groups. He was 'just ragging on everyone, calling everyone stupid and just being generally a pain,' Gregori says. 'He was just ignored, which is the worst thing you can do to a flamer like that.'"

Feel free to apply that strategy to your modern web scuffles.

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EduardKhilFans, YouTube
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Eduard Khil: The Soviet Union Pop Star Who Became a Meme
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EduardKhilFans, YouTube

If you haven’t seen Eduard Khil in the flesh, you may have seen any number of parody videos acknowledging his internet infamy. Shows like Family Guy and Jimmy Kimmel Live! have referenced Khil’s peculiar 1976 performance, where the Russian singer performs a non-lexical, vocable version of a song—a wordless, carbonated babble baritone that’s better seen than described.

Khil is the recent subject of a Google Doodle, the search engine's landing page spotlight on interesting figures in history, and it's led to another wave of publicity in what could be considered a third act in his long career.

Born in 1934, Khil’s hometown of Smolensk was eventually occupied by Nazi Germany: A budding performer, he sang for wounded soldiers at area hospitals. Though he later studied opera at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory, he fell in love with pop music and pursued it as a career. In the Soviet Union, however, the kind of provocative lyrics and performances being seen in America were simply not possible: Anything even remotely sexual or suggestive would be censored. When he chose to sing about a cowboy riding home to his wife on the farm, he substituted the actual lyrics for nonsense syllables like “tra la la” or “trololo.”

Footage of his 1976 performance—where Khil appears in a muddy brown suit against a pallid backdrop while singing with great enthusiasm—eventually made its way online. Viewers were taken with his stage presence (he sometimes matched his eyebrows to the beat) and the fact that his “trololo” was an anachronistic reference to “trololol,” internet shorthand for trolling. American entertainers like Stephen Colbert latched on to the footage, and Russia even took note of the interest: The song was played during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

In 2010, just two years before his death at age 77, news outlets began to reach out to the now-retired singer to get his reaction to the sudden surge in interest. "I'm very pleased, but I wasn't surprised because it is really a beautiful tune," he told Radio Free Europe in 2010. "I tried to make it cheerful. It's such a radiant song. Even though it was composed in 1966, it doesn't sound outdated."

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