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14 Totally Free Things on the Internet Everyone Should Take Advantage of

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By Wil Fulton

The wunderkinds over on reddit took a break from uncracked safes and banana-based measurements to post a mega-thread addressing the best of the best of all things free on the interwebs, and I couldn't help but share some of the highlights with you all. If you're savvy, you might recognize a few of these bad boys already, but don't spoil the Supermarket Sweep-style fun for the rest of us, OK?

1. COLLEGE COURSES, NO TUITION

Is the fear of smothering, unbearable student debt steering you away from the path of higher education? Class Central exposes hundreds of online class courses from the likes of Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, without that pesky tuition nonsense. This means you can educate yourself in subjects like Molecular Biology, Advanced Operating Systems, or The Rise Of Superheroes And Their Impact On Pop Culture. It's all the information you need to become a fully functional adult in today's global economy, without the loans, leftover futons, and career-debilitating Facebook photo rolls.

2. SELF-DESTRUCTING EMAIL ADDRESSES

With 10 Minute Mail, you can create an extremely temporary email address that will automatically self-destruct in 10 minutes, allowing you to sign up for sites, lists, and deals without the unbearable spam cannon that normally accompanies your quiet compliance. Also good for anonymous threats and insults to friends/family members. Not that I'd do that, of course.

3. AMBIENT SOUNDS FOR ANY OCCASION

If you simply can't work/sleep/make love without some kind of comforting white noise cascading over your eardrums, A Soft Murmur has you covered with all the classic ambient noises, and the somewhat odd ability to play a bunch of them at once. DJ Careless Whisper? You had me at "singing bowl" and "fire."

4. LEARN EVERY LANGUAGE ON EARTH 

If you've ever felt devastatingly isolated at your Swedish cousin's wedding to her Argentinean lover in Seoul (due to the triple language barrier), Duolingo might be right for you. Touted as the free Rosetta Stone—and some consider it to be even better—Duolingo softens the blow of learning another language by taking the pressure off your wallet. You'll be ordering with cultural authenticity at Taco Bell en un santiamén, muchacho.

5. UNLIMITED ACCESS TO A MEGA-LIBRARY OF DOCUMENTARIES

Documentaries have been experiencing a recent boom thanks to their accessibility on Netflix, but one can only watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi so many times, and there's no chance in hell I'm buying a DVD again. With Documentary Heaven, you have access to an endless river of reality piping through your computer monitor, like trout swimming upstream during their annual mating season (watch the documentary, you'll see what I mean).

6. SOMEONE TO SPILL YOUR GUTS TO

Everyone needs somebody, sometime—as Dean Martin once famously crooned, and most of the time, you don't have the funds or time to drop on a therapist or high-end escort. Welcome to 7 Cups of Tea, a completely free way to connect live with a "listener," with a bounty of free counseling options available. It's all anonymous too, so you don't have to worry about any of your dirty little secrets becoming public. What an age to be alive. 

7. AUTOMATIC ALERTS OR ACTIONS FOR EVERYTHING YOU CARE ABOUT

While it's been notorious on the Internet for quite some time, If This, Then That is one of those sites that's bound to blow up one day (in a good way). Once you log in, you can create a "recipe," programming an alert or action that will happen anytime two correlating actions occur on the web. For instance, you can automatically push photos posted on your Facebook to a secure Dropbox, the second they are posted. Or, have an email sent to you anytime someone mentions "Cat," "Shaving," and "Wanted by Authorities" on all your local news sites. The possibilities are endless.

8. FREE USED SH*T 

Craigslist, the domain of questionable career opportunities as well as questionable sexual opportunities, has become a digital smorgasbord of totally free sh*t. If you select your appropriate region, you’ll see a “Free” section under the “For Sale” category (confusing, I know) chock-full to the innuendo-soaked rim with perfectly good items folks are just begging to give away. Check out what you can snag sans payment in NYC alone. Pro Tip: Avoid any cloth-based furniture (for obvious, soiled reasons) as well as any intimate products, also for obvious reasons.

9. OLD-SCHOOL VIDEO GAMES 

For my generation, some of the best childhood memories consist of gathering around a glowing TV screen, slowing rotting our minds with video games while vehemently ignoring the shining sun and temperate climate outside. Man, those were the days. For a quick blast of nostalgia to the face, hit up this SNES, NES, and SEGA emulator to relive your pasty glory years. All you have to worry about is your boss catching you playing Castlevania in between TPS reports. Unless you don’t have a job. Then you probably shouldn't be playing SNES emulators, anyway.

10. ALL THE FONTS YOU COULD EVER WANT 

Normally, finding the right font for your situation isn't a huge problem. But that's probably because you don't know the dizzying heights design has reached in recent years. You are in for the shock of a lifetime, pal, because Lost Type has you covered from stylized head to sans-serif toe. With psychoactive billboard sets and funkadelic superfly stylings, your eyes will be widened to the magical world of spectacular fonts, all free to use in any way you wish. But please, type responsibly.

11. PHOTO EDITING WITH PANACHE 

For those who want their photos to shine a little bit brighter or to casually drop themselves into Ariana Grande’s vacation pics (no judging), but balk at the big bucks for Photoshop, the photo editing app Pixlr is available for your computer and smartphone for the low price of absolutely nothing. Though it doesn’t have the absurd level of customization and features that Photoshop so smugly touts, it's a very serviceable application for amateur to mid-level Instagrammers who are sick of using Valencia as a crutch.

12. PILES AND PILES OF VALUABLE COUPONS 

Carol Pyles, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This is extremely relevant for those who not only want free swag, but want their free swag to turn into other free swag. RetailMeNot is an aggregate of comped codes, coupons, and other door-busting deals for both online services and brick & mortar outfits—with offerings varying from H&M to Domino's. So, you can get those organ-constricting skinny jeans on the cheap, with money left over to get cheese-soaked, grease-stuffed sugar sticks to ensure you will never fit in them again.

13. MANAGE YOUR FINANCES AND YOUR FUTURE 

Living paycheck to paycheck? Can't afford to buy milk for your nonexistent cereal? Is your life literally crashing down around you as we speak? The sleek, financial management site Mint is a payment-free resource that allows you to check your credit, pay bills, and manage your bank accounts on a safe, well-designed platform. It will pretty much handle everything that has to do with your hard-earned bacon, aside from actually earning it for you. Still waiting for that upgrade, slackers...

14. HELP FEED THE WORLD 

Meet the only thing on this list ideal for those instances when you are trying to actually give the world something, instead of just reaping the bounty of comped items and services like a cyber-glutton. With Freerice, you can exercise your noggin and help feed hungry humans all over the world, without sparing a dime. The site presents you with a series of questions in subjects like English grammar and basic chemistry, and for every correct answer, the World Food Programme will donate 10 grains of rice to the global cause. You can rack up the grains pretty quickly, though -- and all for a worthwhile cause. It's trivia that can make an actual difference. Unlike Trivial Pursuit, which just tears families apart. Trust me, I haven't spoken to my sister in years. Denise, if you're reading this, please call me.

All images courtesy of Shutterstock unless noted otherwise. 

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9 'Scientific Mysteries' the Internet Loves, Debunked
John Fielding, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
John Fielding, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Whether it involves aliens, moving rocks, or crop circles, no one loves a scientific mystery like the internet—even if that "mystery" was solved years ago using all of the rigors of science. Here are 10 so-called mysteries that the global online community can't bear to part with, debunked once and for all (we hope).

1. KUMMAKIVI BALANCING ROCK // RUOKOLAHTI, FINLAND

The "Mystery": This so-called "strange rock" is a balancing act comprised of two rocks, one teetering precipitously on top of the other. Locals of ancient yesteryear, apparently perplexed to discover that the top rock was in no danger of sliding off the bottom rock despite the extremely small point of contact between them—and was, in fact, too heavy to be moved at all—decided giants tossing boulders explained the phenomenon. "And it's true," one theorist wrote: "There is still no exact scientific explanation, but contrary to the laws of physics, the stone stands quite firmly and human strength is not enough to move it."

Science Says: It's not true, actually. Geologists put forward a much more likely cause for this balancing rock and the countless others that exist worldwide: Melting glaciers deposited them where they currently squat.

2. FAIRY CIRCLES // NAMIBIA

geographic features called fairy circles in namibia, created by termites and plants
iStock

The "Mystery": Are they footprints of the gods? Barren patches caused by a dragon's fiery breath? Marks left behind by UFOs? All of these ideas were perpetuated by the internet after tour guides in the region passed them on to tourists, according to The New York Times. The scientific community was pretty sure the dirt circles found in the Namib Desert were none of those things, even though they were hard-pressed to come up with a more logical explanation—until recently.

Science Says: Research published in 2017 suggests that they're the work of colonies of termites, which clear circular patches around their nests; the barrenness of these shapes is possibly enhanced by plants as they stretch their roots to reach scarce water—which prevents other plants from growing in the process.

3. KLERKSDORP SPHERES // OTTOSDAL, SOUTH AFRICA

klerksdorp sphere
Robert Huggett

The "Mystery": These grooved spheres have been the subject of many strange theories, most revolving around the existence of intelligent aliens who made the pod-like trinkets—which apparently can rotate on their axes—using intelligent alien technology and otherworldly metals some 3 billion years ago. Virtuescience.com has proposed a whole host of theories about the spheres' uses, including ancient ammunition, messages from space, and currency.

Science Says: Geologists have a more tempered explanation for how the spheres came to be: They're concretions—little balls of rock that have grown around a core object—of the minerals hematite, wollastonite, or pyrite that have hardened over time in nests of volcanic ash or sediment. The myth of alien metalworking skills was debunked back in 1996, but it still resurfaces every once in a while.

4. WEBDRIVER TORSO // YOUTUBE

The "Mystery": The Webdriver Torso YouTube account has been freaking out the internet with its videos for several years. Commentors posited that the videos—which were usually 11 seconds long and featured colored rectangles moving around on a white screen—were spy code, alien code, or recruitment searches for expert hackers. At the channel's peak, videos were uploaded as often as every two minutes.

Science Says: Google revealed in 2014 that they were simply video clips the company had created to test the quality of YouTube videos. "We're never gonna give you uploading that's slow or loses video quality, and we're never gonna let you down by playing YouTube in poor video quality," the company told Engadget in a statement/Rickroll. "That's why we're always running tests like Webdriver Torso." Conspiracy theorists, however, pointing out that videos had been uploaded elsewhere before Google took credit for the channel, continued to suspect darker intentions. One reddit user posited in 2015 that Google "could … have a secret agenda." Maybe Google wants this chatter to continue: Even today, googling "Webdriver Torso" will yield an easter egg.

5. SAILING STONES // DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA

Sailing stones of Death Valley National Park
Thomas Hawk, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The "Mystery": Known alternately as sliding, walking, or moving rocks, for more than 100 years these so-called "living stones" have seemingly slid across the floor of a dry lake bed all on their own, leaving trails of their movements—and causing plenty of speculation. Magnetic force is one popular theory, along with psychic energy and the interventions of alien spacecraft. Some claim a 700-pound stone named Karen disappeared for two years, only to somehow reappear again.

Science Says: In 2014, scientists studied the situation and discovered that the stones move when the lake bed they rest on becomes covered with rainwater that freezes overnight into a sheet of ice; when the ice melts, it pushes the rocks here and there—assisted by Death Valley's powerful winds. (No word on what Karen's been up to, though.)

6. NAZCA LINES // NAZCA, PERU

Aerial view of a geoglyph representing a Duck or a Dinosaurius at Nazca Lines
Martin Bernetti, AFP/Getty Images

The "Mystery": If conspiracy theorists like aliens, they love ancient aliens. When it comes to the Nazca lines, they speculate that ancient astronauts from outer space drew almost 1200 geometric, animal, and plant shapes in a vast, arid plateau on Peru's Pampas de Jumana. Ranker.com also purports that the designs were made by humans, "most likely to signal extraterrestrials," and possibly to provide a runway for their space ships.

Science Says: The truth—which has been known since at least the 1940s—is that the figures were created 1500 to 2000 years ago by the Nazca people, who removed rocks and/or a portion of topsoil to create an image in negative. At first, scientists believed the figures were astronomical symbols, or an early sort of calendar, but later research indicated the drawings were used ritualistically, in ceremonies involving the quest for scarce water.

7. BERMUDA TRIANGLE // ATLANTIC OCEAN

aerial view of bermuda

Peter Burka, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The "Mystery": Three hundred ships and planes, all supposedly sunk or gone missing in the same general area in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: The Bermuda Triangle (so-named by pulp writer Vincent Gaddis in 1964) has had conspiracy theorists of all stripes spouting endless theories for years. Atlantis! Alien interventions! An opening in the fabric of the universe! Attack by sea monsters! A popular theory in the 1970s involved magnetism wreaking havoc on navigational devices, and one more recent theory suggested that bursting bubbles of methane gas were responsible for missing craft. Online speculations, like this one from BuzzFeedBlue, attempt to stoke the (nonexistent) fire.

Science Says: This has been settled for decades—there is no mystery. In 1975, librarian turned investigative author Larry Kusche unearthed the actual facts: Some "missing" vessels were simply made up; some sank far from the Triangle; and others along the route—which is still heavily trafficked today—fell prey to the region's frequent bad storms.

8. CROP CIRCLES // BRITAIN

The "Mystery": A lot of otherworldly meaning has been ascribed to these designs squished into fields of wheat, rapeseed, and barley. Once again, aliens—mathematical-genius aliens this time—are said to be responsible for them, hiding complicated messages in the circles' sometimes intricate imagery. Others suggest they're spiritual centers that beam energy. In the video above, a farmer who found an intricate crop spiral in his field says, "I don't know what caused it, but I'm not sure that it was made by people."

Science Says: The truth is simple, and perhaps disappointing, which may explain why the alien theory never seems to die: The circles are made under cover of darkness by people, sometimes with the permission of the farmers whose land they're created on. They use measuring devices, rollers, and other low-tech gear to push patterns into grain.

9. ATA THE MUMMY // ATACAMA, CHILE

The "Mystery": When a small, oddly shaped, strangely featured mummy was discovered in Chile's Atacama Desert in 2003, some on the internet called it proof that beings from space had once lived among humans—and perhaps even mated with them. The mummy had 10 ribs instead of the typical 12; a strangely sloped head; and at just 6 inches long, was fetus-sized, but its bones were as dense as a child's. Some thought that the 9 percent of the mummy's DNA that didn't match the human DNA they compared it to was further evidence of its non-human origins. As UFO/ET conspiracy theorist Steven Greer says in the above clip, "Is that all computer read error? Maybe. Is it what's called DNA junk? Perhaps. We don't know."

Science Says: Testing of Ata's genome destroyed these theories, proving that Ata was 100 percent human and died, likely in utero, from genetic defects. Many of these mutations related to bone development, explaining her missing ribs and thick bones. Exposure to nitrate-contaminated drinking water may have been a factor in her deformations as well. And that 9 percent genetic difference? Standard contamination of a mummy that was exposed to the open air.

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Big Questions
Why Do Memes Usually Feature All-Caps White Font?
By Iamlilbub, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons via MakeAMeme.org

Why is all-caps white font so often used in memes?

Archie D'Cruz:

Because of laziness, mostly. And Microsoft.

A great majority of memes floating around on the internet today are created using meme generators—web tools where you can select an image, add your text, and post it to social media. Easily done in under a minute without you having to fiddle around in Photoshop.

What’s common to just about all of them is the default setting: the same blocky typeface, in white all-caps, and text outlined in black. Those settings make it easy to read on virtually any image, dark or light.

Most of the popular meme generators don’t allow you to change the typeface, the color or the case, but even with the ones that do, these options are downplayed. So when you do run into a meme, you will almost certainly see something like this:

A screen shot of several popular internet memes

But how did this come to become the default? That’s where Microsoft comes in.

The typeface used in most memes is Impact, created in the sixties when the Swiss typographic style—clean, strong, legible—began to dominate graphic design. It was created by Geoffrey Lee, who sold it to British typeface foundry Stephenson Blake, which in turn sold it to Monotype after getting out of the font business.

As the internet gained in popularity in the '90s, Microsoft spearheaded a project to create a standard pack of fonts for the web.

It licensed 11 fonts, including Impact, from Monotype, and published them as freeware. These were included in the Windows 98 operating system, which dominated the market at the time.

Little surprise, then, that the earliest memes—which were created using MS Paint or Photoshop—would feature Impact. Along with Arial Black, it was easily the strongest of the core fonts and the most legible when placed on an image. Unlike Arial, it was also very condensed, which allowed for more text to fit in.

When websites featuring meme generators (or image macros, to use the technical term) arrived on the scene, Impact was an obvious choice: free to use, and easily readable on virtually any image.

Over the years, there have been sites that have tried to be unique—offering different font choices, darkening the image below the type, putting text above and below images, putting text in boxes—but by now using Impact in white all-caps for memes has become something of a meme itself.

The Impact font gets its own meme

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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