Top how-to tech videos that won't cost you a dime

Tips ranging from enabling wireless security to building a PHP calculator -- and how to find more

Recall e-mail sent by mistake

Here's an instructional video from VideoJug.com that is part comic relief, part serious guide. I like how the video pokes fun at the concept while inserting a few gems, such as the ability to delay sending mail for a few seconds so you can rethink that message to the boss or block a mass e-mail that was supposed to use a blind copy. Those tips are usually buried in a manual or help file; here, they are just part of a goofy video.

Speed up Windows

This Tinkernut.com video -- which is a little longer and more advanced than some of the previous how-tos -- goes into great detail about defragging Windows, deleting Internet history and beefing up performance by shutting down unneeded programs on a system that has started to show its age. Like most of the videos on the WonderHowTo.com site, the quality is good and focuses just on the computer screen without the superfluous jokes or talking head -- it means you can learn just the specific steps required.

Use PHP to make a calculator

Ramping up the complexity even more, this video from PHPSquad.net shows you how to make a calculator using PHP, the ultrasimple programming language for the Web. It's good because it gives you a basic introduction to PHP and helps you create a useful program that you could tweak and update. Also, many how-to videos for programming assume that you're already familiar with the basics, but not this one.

Live trace with Adobe Illustrator

This thorough and slightly more advanced video tutorial from Adobe Creative Suite Podcast.com shows you how to do a live trace in Adobe Illustrator CS2. You start with a raw video file, then trace the edges of it and make an animation that you can adjust and tweak using all of the tools in Illustrator. The audio instruction is quick and to the point, without being so dull that it should have been included on a classroom DVD.

Record with GarageBand '08

Budding musicians will appreciate the helpful video guidance in this tutorial from Apple.com that teaches you the basics of recording with GarageBand '08. You can also learn how to use guitar effects and other software effects on recorded instruments.

How-to Web sites

Both VideoJug.com and WonderHowTo.com are chock full of instructional videos, ranging from the helpful to the comedic -- and everything in between.

It's easy to search by category or keyword to find that one tutorial that you need that is not listed in the manual or help file.

Although it is not a video site, also try Wikihow.com -- it has text tutorials for just about every topic under the sun.

Even if you know the sites that host video tutorials -- such as Veoh.com and YouTube.com -- the best way to find a video is just by searching for them. Type "video how to connect an HDTV" into the search field of your browser, and you'll be amazed how many videos show up -- some good, some bad. If you find a really good how-to video, post it in the forums for everyone else to see. And keep on learning (and saving trees).

John Brandon is a freelance writer and book author who worked as an IT manager for 10 years.

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John Brandon

Computerworld

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