Things to Know (Optional)

There are Things You Need to Know. And then there's a lot of stuff that it's just good to know—stuff that makes your life easier, richer or sometimes a little more fun. Here in the NEWSWEEK Test Kitchen, we came up with a random list of examples through the highly unscientific method of asking ourselves and our friends for examples. There's nothing here that's going to change your life, but a lot that made us smile and in nearly every case we were glad we'd thought to ask the question.

First Aid is the absolute best source of up-to-date medical information on just about every disease or condition, plus any medications you might need to know about. It's one-stop shopping and your tax dollars pay for it, so you should use it!

Eyeglasses have sizes, too. Check the numbers on the inside edge of the temple (also known as the "arm") to figure out length of temple, distance between lenses, and hinge-to-hinge width. While sizing isn't always consistent, it can help to know what your general fit is in order to compare frames you already have with similar styles.

Organize Your Virtual Sock Drawer (and Your Life) contributors are obsessed with things like procrastination and a clean desk, but they also post a lot of advice that ranges from practical (How to Get Water Stains Out of Wood) to fanciful (Eight Cheap Ways to Become Famous Without Killing Anyone).

If you come across a great article online, a recipe, or a hilarious Web video, the best thing to do is bookmark it, right? Nope. Try instead. This social networking site lets you save all your links online, so you can access them from any computer, share them with friends, or organize them in a snap by tagging them with keywords. It's easier than bookmarking and lets you do more.

When dining in a restaurant, signal your server that you have finished eating by placing your utensils across the dish horizontally and face down. If you need to momentarily leave the table and do not want your plate taken away, place both utensils diagonally on the plate, such that they are leaning off the side and touching the table. and, both let you find restaurants in your area that deliver, as well as view menus and place orders online.

The USDA has a health site that automatically calculates the caloric and nutritional value of your daily diet:

If you think of your pet like family, remember this at the end of your best friend's life, when euthanasia is the only option: instead of traumatizing your pet (and yourself) by an end-of-life transport to the vet, you can have a veterinarian come to your home to perform euthanasia for your pet—at not much greater a cost than the doctor visit. If your vet doesn't do in-home euthanasia, there's a good chance he or she knows someone who does.

You can easily check the status of your federal tax refund online at

Getting Through
tells you how to skip the annoying voice prompts you get when you call customer-service hotlines and get right to a real person. the nation's white pages. tells you how to get anywhere by mass transit in New York City, Boston and a few other cities as well. searches hundreds of travel sites (airline's own sites and sites like to find the best deals. It also produces a graph that shows you how much the prices have varied over the past 90 days, so you can see if it looks like that particular day is a high spike. comes out with unadvertised fare reductions and other airfare sales for domestic and international travel. It also fields questions on air-travel problems.

But you'll almost always get the cheapest airfare from an airline's own Web site.

The Web site of the FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command Center shows where flight delays are all over the country.

The best way to cope with jet lag (from an international airline pilot): If you're going on a long trip, get right into the local time zone as soon as you arrive. Do not nap during the day, keep yourself awake until it's night where you are. But if you're going on a short trip (less than three days), try to stay in your own time zone—even if that means you're awake when it's 4 a.m. outside.

Getting Hitched
It's easier than you might think to become an officiant and lead a loved one's wedding. Ask your local county clerk's office for details.

Home Buying
Don't just hire a home inspector when you are purchasing a home or condo—hire a licensed professional engineer (some inspectors are engineers, but not all). It may cost a couple hundred bucks more, but it can save you from paying thousands more for flaws and necessary repairs a home inspector might not catch. Visit

A good online real-estate finder:

Home Cleaning
To unclog your drain without toxic chemicals, pour 1/2 cup baking soda into the drain followed by at least 1 cup or more of white vinegar. Wait until it has bubbled and settled for a minute or two, then pour a pot of boiling water down the drain.

You can put Crocs (the shoes, that is) in the dishwasher.

For everything from bird calls to how to pick out a great pair of binoculars, there is no better site for bird watchers than the Cornell Ornithology Lab's All About Bird's Web site.

Great Seats
To get really good seats to the hottest show on Broadway, try going to the box office two days before the show you want to attend. The producers and stars of shows typically get a pair of seats—they're called "house seats"—set aside for every performance. If they don't use them for any given day, the tickets need to be returned to the box office 48 hours before curtain time. If you time it right, those seats could be yours.

Great Music
There are numerous online sites where one can download free music, but none more comprehensive when it comes to American and world folk music than the Web site of the Library of Congress.

When you're tired of that (fat chance), there's always free stuff at And here. And here.

Great Books
searches online book sites for new and used titles, including Abebooks, Alibris and Amazon, and lists the results by price, low to high

Great Photographs
You can order a lot of things from the Library of Congress but get this: you can order museum quality prints from the original negatives of photographs taken for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression, including work by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. Cost of the print? As little as $50 or up to around $150 depending on size of the photograph, quality of paper and other variables.

Gambling Math
Use the expected-return equation. In four simple variables (if you have them) you can simplify any betting proposition (Heads! No, tails!) to a single value. If the result has a positive value, take that bet. Odds are you'll come out ahead in the long run. If negative, you know you're taking a risk, and how big a risk. To calculate expected return, multiply the odds of winning times the value of a win, then subtract from that the odds of losing times the amount of wager lost. For example, if you bet $100 each time on a long series of bets on the flip of a fair coin, the equation looks like this:

(1/2 x 100) - (1/2 x 100) = (50 - 50) = 0

In the long run, you'll be no richer nor poorer than when you began. Of course, you can get lucky or unlucky in the short run, but not in the long run. For a long series of $1 bets on a single number (35:1 payout) at an American roulette wheel (38 holes, including 0 and 00), the equation looks like this:

(1/38 x 35) - (37/38 x 1) = -2/38 =  -.0526

In this game, the "house edge" equals 5.26 percent. Put another way, for every $1 you put up to wager, you will, in the long term, lose 5.26 cents of it. Got it? Good. Now stop gambling.

Check out more casino math at

How to Get Into a Wet Suit
Wriggling into a wetsuit invariably makes you feel like a sausage being stuffed into a too-tight casing. One way to ease the transition: put your feet into plastic bags (the regular supermarket kind do just fine), pull the bags up to midcalf like socks and then slide your wetsuit on over them. The bags then slip out easily, leaving your wetsuit properly positioned on your shins. And yes, this is better than the popular method of lubing up with a commercial cooking spray, which can degrade the rubber on your suit.