ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
BOOKS & E-ZINES
Gulf Conflict at Jane's
With weapons flying above and into the Middle East yet again, what better
place to visit than Jane's. Long considered the authoritative guide to
military hardware, Jane's was founded by Fred T. Jane ("He can be expected
to go a long way," observed one of his masters at Exeter, "in one direction
or another.") who turned a magazine assignment to sketch the German and
English fleets into the definitive guide to the world's fighting ships.
Today, Jane's keeps track of military and intelligence affairs around the
globe. Click on the Defense link for a special feature on the Gulf crisis -
a refreshingly military-focused alternative to the anemic major media
coverage. Serious war hardware buffs may also want to check out the
phallically significant Jane's Missiles and Rockets. And all who think Iraq
is just an innocent victim of Clinton's desire to remain president ought to
read "How Saddam Almost Built His Bomb".
President Clinton Impeached, Speaker Elect Livingston Resigns
There's nothing we could add to this story that you haven't already heard
so we're not going to waste your time. The media coverage is overwhelming.
Yahoo has links to just about all the major domestic coverage on one page.
The official US House of Representatives Web site, with the roll call of
who and how they voted, can't be reached.
In a nice piece of investigative journalism, Wired has uncovered some
pretty strong circumstantial evidence that Circuit City or someone
associated with them may have created a bogus "fan" site for the Divx video
technology. Circuit City backs Divx, basically a DVD video disk with a
time-out feature - you can only view the disk for 48 hours after you buy it
unless you pay-per-view again. From the customer's point of view, it's a
solution in search of a problem, with some privacy implications thrown in.
Not surprisingly, consumers aren't buying it. Wired found two Web sites
ostensibly created by Divx fans, but suspiciously corporate in mindset.
Content that could only have been created by a clueless marketing
department, an address suspiciously close to Circuit City headquarters, and
over-inflated claims of site popularity - backed by some anonymous hacking
- make a pretty good case for some underhanded marketing. It's an
Disney and Infoseek's Go Network Available for Preview
This portal site resembles any other, except that Disney backs it up and
it's decorated in a blue motif. Infoseek provides the back-end Net search
engine for this venture, while Disney children ABC and ESPN provide the
usual shallow news headlines. It comes together as kind of a combination
between the front page of a newspaper and a compilation of major commercial
links. So what distinguishes the Go Network from Yahoo, Excite, and others?
Like we said, nothing but the colors and the massive Disney marketing
machine - which may make a difference. Is it only us or did all those
portal sites have their soul sucked out of them by men in grey suits?
Mars: NASA Runs Contest to Name Polar Lander Probes
The assault on Mars continued with last week's launch of the Climate
Orbiter. This spacecraft is part of the Mars Surveyor 98 mission, which
includes the Polar Lander scheduled to blast off Jan. 3. The Orbiter will
map the atmosphere and serve as a communications relay for the Lander. The
Lander contains several neat payloads. A microphone, funded without cost to
NASA by the Planetary Society, will record atmospheric sounds which will be
posted on the Web. The Lander will also release two microprobes on
approaching the planet. The probes will crash into the Martian surface at
about 200 m/s and penetrate a couple of meters into the soil. NASA is
running a contest to name the probes - you have until Apr. 30 to enter.
Palm Pilot Cracks Cars, Hacks Phones
New Scientist magazine reports that PalmPilot PDAs with an infrared port
can unlock certain keyless-entry car doors. And Wired brought to our
attention a Canadian hacking site, Hack Canada, that has posted a red box
program for the PalmPilot. A red box is a device or program that lets you
make free phone calls from certain public phones by fooling the phone into
thinking you've deposited coins. It looks like a fine demonstration of the
old adage we just made up: Computing power is real power.
Number 46 with a Bullet!
Yahoo Internet Life, a paper mag, published its list of Best of the Best
Sites '98 in its January 1999 issue. We found ourselves 46th on the list,
tagged as the Best Way to Keep Up With New Sites. The issue's not online,
but you can find us on page 142.
Cleaning out the Mailbox Again
With this last issue of 1998, we have an ecology-inspired Letters to the
Editor. See ya next year.
Real Life, Real Stories, RealVideo
Real life imitates Hollywood. The recent "The Truman Show" told the story
of a man whose entire life was broadcast on television. RealNetworks took a
slice from show business and ran a contest in which people vied to be
subjects of the camera's never-blinking eye for a day. RealNetworks has
chosen the three winners and posted the short video clips they submitted on
its Web site. The grand prize winner, a blind computer programmer from Las
Vegas who does stand-up comedy and gets into sword fights at the local
Renaissance Club - we're not making this up - gets $50,000 and maximum
online exposure in RealVideo format. His day-in-the-life video will be
broadcast online Jan. 1.
Greeting Card Wars: Blue Mountain vs. Microsoft
Every other day somebody seems to file a new lawsuit against Microsoft.
Normally, the suits are about as exciting as the fine print on a software
license, but this one has a certain seasonal touch that piqued our
interest. Blue Mountain publishes electronic postcards online, big business
this time of year. Microsoft also recently entered the business of sending
electronic postcards. When Microsoft released the beta of Internet Explorer
5.0, its e-mail client was set up to classify Blue Mountain cards as "junk"
and toss them automatically into the "junk mail" folder. Around the same
time in November, WebTV, a Microsoft subsidiary, suddenly blocked
subscribers from receiving Blue Mountain postcards. Coincidence? Are Blue
Mountain cards spam or not? And should Microsoft decide for you? Enjoy the
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Look, Don't Read
Joseph Cornell has a lot to answer for. The aesthetic of his boxes, filled
with fragments of maps, stuffed birds, and jars of sand, have had an
inadequately examined influence on the imagery infusing CD-ROMs and
artistic Web sites - conceptually, the same sort of box. Cornell had no
access to RealAudio, so his objects, perhaps wisely, remained silent.
Studio Cleo, with its scraps of faded handwriting, Dead Can Dance sound
clips, and textured rock walls, is a pixelled epigone of Mr. Cornell. Stay
away from any of Studio Cleo's text - no one who thinks the Latin tag "et
in Arcadia ego" refers to happy days gone by is to be trusted - and stick
with the images. Even so, there's a lot of solid work here, both digital
and physical. The designer looks like a talented worker in a number of
materials, and much time can be spent peeking into the various compartments
of her online box.
Colorful Cartoon Characters
To lure a small person away from trashy TV, try some genuinely fun,
creative learning. The people at Educational Web Adventures have designed
interactive games to teach art to kids age 8 and older. Cartoon characters
have adventures which introduce great artists and their masterpieces. One
page explains the color wheel and explores color theory, leading a player
to use that knowledge to click on the correctly configured wheel from among
a group. Lesson plans are posted for teachers. Great fun, whether you color
inside or outside the lines.
BOOKS & E-ZINES
Netsurfer Book Recommendations
Books our staff likes and you might too. Click on the cover or title to order
the books at a hefty discount from Amazon.com and send a few pennies our way
Virtual Unrealities: The Short Fiction of Alfred Bester
Alfred Bester, Robert Silverberg (Introduction), Byron Preiss, Keith R.
Vintage Books; ISBN: 0679767835
Take a rip-roaring romp through the mind of one of the best stylists of
early science fiction. Alfred Bester (1913-1987) was by far the most
inventive of the first wave of SF writers, deservedly winning the very
first Hugo award for his seminal work, "The Dem
olished Man". These stories dazzle you with fast wit and sharply etched
images, and never let you catch your breath. Some aspects of the stories
appear a bit dated now - and more charming for it - but these tales,
state-of-the-art writing 30 years ago, still manage to enthrall. Lots of
Secrets of Successful Web Sites: Project Management on the World Wide Web
David S. Siegel
Hayden Books; ISBN: 1568303823
The prolific David Siegel gives us another great book about the harsh
realities of creating complex and successful Web sites. The book dissects
15 high-profile Web projects and extracts hard lessons about immature
technology, the perils of unreliable contractors, clueless clients, and the
finer points of bidding for projects. If you're anywhere beyond "Hey, we
know HTML - let's start a Web page business," you need this book.
Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ
Uni/Geffen; ASIN: B000000OR5
Need an alternative to the annoying holiday music you hear in department
stores, elevators, and interminable family gatherings? Try this inventive,
passionate, atmospheric, and occasionally disturbing work. Turn down the
ligths, gaze at the stars, and become haunted. Your religion is irrelevant
to the enjoyment of this album - this is high art.
E-Mail We Process So You Don't Have to - But Here It Is Anyway
"Dear Sirs; I would like to submit a short science fiction story of 5 women
who attempt to colonize a star and solve a problem with rheumatoid
arthritis with potassium supplements." Take a stiff drink or three and
If you've ever wondered about science fiction, fantasy or horror writing,
then Event Horizon will fill in any gaps with its provocative analysis and
challenging commentary. Lucius Shepard's views on recent SF offerings
("generally speaking these novels are populated by characters with no more
personality than styrofoam peanuts"), for example, look into the
development of thriller/detective novels from traditional SF. Interviews
and online chats with prominent writers (Neil Gaiman, Kim Stanley
Robinson), a healthy slab of reviews, online fiction, and info on authors
and publishers make you wonder why you ever bothered reading anything that
even vaguely resembled sober reality.
Gertie Was Quite a Gal
"I am writing for myself and strangers. This is the only way that I can do
it...." The World of Gertrude Stein Web site pays tribute to the author
extraordinaire. Learn about Gertrude's response to the fame that came with
"The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas", savor clever quotes about her life
with Alice ("Alice does know how to make everything be something, we get
along fine."), and remember, "a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."
Striving for the Show
Most e-zines have a section called Rant, or something similar. Impression
is no different, but it would be a mistake to think that rants are confined
to the section by that name. Someone's always discovering that this
season's sitcoms suck, or that good bands are inadequately appreciated,
while bad ones are overhyped. Impression, funded by the University of
Missouri School of Journalism, even has someone who does Mark Leyner lite
for the Web. There's more promise than performance here, but, hey, how much
are you paying for it? In Impression, you'll find about 40 percent rock
criticism, ten percent coming-of-age angst, 30 percent kvetching, and 20
percent stuff that might lead to something. Who among the writers will make
it, so that you can say you read them when? Who will vanish like an
unarchived Web page? You puts down your clicks and you takes your choice.
The Wright Brothers' Flights of Inspiration
"We had taken up aeronautics merely as a sport. We reluctantly entered upon
the scientific side of it." So say the Wright Brothers about their early
efforts to perfect a flying machine. The richly detailed and superbly
illustrated story of their work is part of this new Franklin Institute
online exhibit. The thrifty brothers used scraps of wallpaper to jot down
notes, and here are the fragments, pasted as pictures on the Web. Images of
their notebooks complement the excerpts woven through the exhibit's
narrative. While no blueprints of the Wright's flyer exist, their early
sketches - difficult to display in a museum due to their fragile condition
but easily distributed online - survive. There's much more, including
excellent resources for teachers and students. It won't take you long to
cruise through this fine site, but we guarantee that you'll enjoy it.
Baxter Embiggens Breasts
You say you've always wondered how, exactly, they make breasts bigger? Let
Dr. Richard Baxter talk you and your strong stomach through an edited movie
of an actual breast augmentation surgery, originally sent out live over the
Web. His discussion is succinct and informative. Hear Dr. Baxter describe,
in a benignly sorrowful tone, how the pre-op breast "wouldn't fill an A
cup". Then, watch the incision along the edge of the areola (conceals the
scar), the insertion of the bag under the muscle (Dr. Baxter's preferred
placement), and the slow inflation of the breast as saline is pumped in.
Weirdly miraculous - this particular segment is probably on infinite loop
on a screen in a club somewhere. In a few minutes, you're eye to eye with
two perky hemispheroids. Reflect that you live in the most wondrous of
Bone up on Your Dinosaurs
The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History's
Department of Paleobiology has put together a Web site to serve as a
virtual tour of the museum's dinosaur collection, now on exhibit. The site
displays less than 40 of the 1500 specimens, but it offers a solid overview
of the collection. You can choose to view the fossils grouped by time
period, by alphabetical listing, or by body type. Check out the most common
misconceptions about dinosaurs and be sure to peek behind the scenes to get
a glimpse of what it's like to be a paleobiologist.
Dinosaur predators had binocular vision and could see in 3-D. Since the
largest dinosaur carnivores had eyes further apart than ours (and probably
yours), they could see in 3-D at a much greater distance than we can. The
Stereoscopic Dinosaur site has, in thematic reversal, several images of
dinosaurs you can view in 3-D. You have to cross your eyes just right to
make them pop out of your screen. A brief discussion of 3-D visual devices
of the past (Stereopticons! Viewmasters!) accompanies this. All cute, but
the images are huge, so if your pipe is small, you'll be waiting until the
next mass extinction event for a dino to leer at you.
A Spot for Decompression
The Society for Underwater Exploration's Web site teems with information on
underwater excavations. From the front page, you can find out about their
current expedition to the ancient city of Alexandria or a past expedition
to the lost galleon, the San Diego. If you think archaeology in a desert
takes a long time, check out this tidbit from the San Diego section. It
effectively takes one person nearly six hours to clear one square meter of
the underwater site. A diver works 30 or 40 minutes on the bottom, during
which he excavates the meter, then requires an hour of underwater
decompression and four hours of rest before diving again. If you're curious
as to what it's like and have RealVideo installed, you can watch a clip
from the Discovery Channel of divers at work in the harbor of Alexandria.
Living in a Genetically Modified World
New Scientist's highly acclaimed Planet Science site offers a special
report on genetic modification and future shock. "Even though GM
(genetically modified) crops do not spell disaster for wildlife and the
developing world, their impact is unlikely to be wholly benign." Covering
topics as diverse as agricultural biochemistry, resistance genes, and
engineered crops in the Third World, this page provides an exhaustive look
at the issues surrounding genetic modification. Follow the search for the
blue rose and you'll get more than you bargained for, a delightful and ever
present aspect of any edition of New Scientist.
Abby's Keeper's Page brims with wonderful pictures and profiles of zoo
animals, as you might expect, but it also contains much more. Abby's been a
keeper for seven years now, and she has many experiences to share. She has
created a great quiz that tests knowledge of everything from animal
lifespans to country of origin to eyeball identity. We liked "So You Want
to Be a Zookeeper", in which Abby runs down her typical daily schedule.
It's enough to scare off anyone who requires caffeination to move in the
mornings. Just in case the daily schedule doesn't frighten you off, Abby
also posts a list of things you can do to prepare to become a zookeeper.
It's a terrific site with kids in mind.
Corel Releases WordPerfect for Linux
WordPerfect was the dominant word processing program until the formidable
Microsoft marketing machine made Microsoft Word triumphant. In another sign
of how far Linux has come as a viable alternative to Windows, Corel has
made the program available for that platform, offering a free downloadable
version for non-commercial use, a personal use edition for $70, and a
jazzed up server edition for $495. With this release, Corel, one of the big
names in PC software, clearly signals that Linux is beginning to register
on the larger companies' fiscal horizons. If you use Linux and want an
alternative to Emacs and vi, you'll want to check this out.
Symantec Releases Visual Cafe 3.0
The Cafe line is the best selling integrated Java development environment
on the market. Symantec just rolled out a revision of the software package
that features support for Java 2 (formerly known as JDK 1.2). They've also
added support for JFC/Swing, JavaBeans, Servlets, and tossed in over 200
JavaBeans for your development pleasure. If you buy before Feb. 28, expect
to pay the competitive price of $149 for the professional edition and $400
for the database edition. As usual, the Web site has more information.
Team SETI Wants You
This time of year, we get many requests for contributions to one cause or
another. Of all the pleas for help we've gotten this year, this has to be
the coolest. The privately funded SETI Institute took over the search for
extraterrestrial intelligence when the US government cut funding for the
project in 1993. The Institute is asking for your membership to help keep
the search going. Just think how you'll feel when they manage to contact
some intelligent slime mold from Antares and you realize you could have
been a part of it for a measly $35. Do you really want to take the chance
on missing out on such a historic opportunity? We thought not. Besides,
there are pins, clothes, and newsletters to be had. Surely there are many
worse ways to blow 35 bucks.
Ozark Avalon Leaves the Inner Sanctum
We covered Ozark Avalon in 1997's Halloween issue, NSD 3.35. Although the
"pagan land sanctuary" still ies by the Missouri River, its Internet
manifestation has moved.