Woman on computer
Photo: Jupiterimages
New technology can be confusing. We're constantly bombarded with upgrades and updates, and it's hard to tell what's useful and what's superfluous. On the one hand, you probably don't need that iPhone app that simulates a stapler. On the other hand, it's easy to miss out on the stuff that actually can make your life simpler, easier or more entertaining. To prevent that from happening, I've compiled a list of some basic go-to gadgets, websites and applications.

RetailMeNot.com: If you're like most online shoppers, you probably zip through checkout without a glance at the coupon code box. From now on, don't. Check this site first and find coupon codes for dozens of stores, like free shipping or 10 percent off. It's great for people who want to become slightly less riddled with debt.

Windows 7: If you're a PC user and have yet to upgrade, you're just being wacky. Windows 7 outperforms the debacle that is Vista in speed, features, interface, browsing and everything else.

Iomega Prestige 1 TB USB External Hard Drive: It's important to back up your files. Otherwise, the day will come when your computer crashes and you lose something precious, like the sad journal entries from that month you tried to diet (no one understands the pain!). Now that you can get an entire terabyte (i.e., too much space) for around $100 bucks, there's no reason to risk it.

The Pogoplug: A sort of companion product to the above, the Pogoplug allows you to save the contents of your external hard drive in a cloud server. We're not talking cumulonimbus, here. That means you can access the files remotely, even from your iPhone, and instantly share them with anyone you want. Pretty cool.

Skype: Finally gaining in popularity, this super-useful program lets you call anywhere in the world from your computer. The software's free, and if the person you're talking to is also on Skype, so is the call. That includes talk, IM and video chat.

Kodak Gallery: Upload all those digital photos you've taken to a central site and share them with your friends and family so they can stop hassling you about what's going on in your life (latest update: Just ate a brownie). You can also get lab-quality prints for a few cents per photo.

Google Calendar: Keep all your important dates in one place, along with your vastly more abundant unimportant dates, and get reminders for upcoming events/appointments sent direct via email or text. It's truly useful for staying organized and on top of things.

Pandora.com: Stream music right to your computer, smart phone or Blu-ray player over an Internet connection. Pandora's intuitive algorithm lets you create playlists based on your favorite music while ruling out the songs you hate. Other cool Internet radio sites include Last FM, Grooveshark and Slacker.com.

Hulu.com: Still one of the best (and only) reliable sites for streaming video, Hulu lets you watch thousands of movies and TV shows online for free. You'll still be subjected to the occasional commercial, but at least you can click over to neurotically check your email for the duration.

Flip Video Camcorder: Remember the bulky '80s camcorder? By the time you got that bad boy into position, most magical moments were long gone. Thankfully, the 2-inch-wide Flip lets you capture memories on the fly. It shoots in HD for up to 120 minutes of recording time, and you can even design your own.

The Martin Jetpack: Okay, so a jetpack is somewhat less practical than the other examples, but it's included here for sheer awesomeness factor. After ages of dreaming of ways to fly away from the people who annoy us, mankind has finally been gifted with the world's first "safe" and "affordable" jetpack. If you happen to have an extra $90,000 lying around, your morning commute could get a lot more interesting.

Katie is an Emmy-nominated tech host for A&E's We Mean Business. She can also be seen as a tech expert on CNN, The Style Network, AOL and others. She holds a degree in information technology new media from RIT. You can find her on the Web at KatieLinendoll.com.

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