Electric Word

New Scapegoat:The Internet

In the wake of Oklahoma City, anti-/violence/pornography/bomb downloading rhetoric is becoming the stock-in-trade of pandering politicians who wouldn't know a modem if it hit them in the head.

Evidence: on the right, we have self-proclaimed "moderate" Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) calling a hearing of which the subtext was how the Internet, somehow, represents a clear and present danger to the American way of life, threatening innocent citizens and children.

On the left, we have supposedly liberal Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) rebuking a panel of experts who pointed out that the First Amendment was designed to protect uncomfortable speech, even "bomb-making information" located online. (She failed to mention that this same information is available in most libraries or that it is actually being published by the USDA Forest Service in a guide.)

The ignorant posturings of these and other politicians and Congresscritters would be ludicrous if they weren't so dangerous. Waiting in the wings, ready to eviscerate civil rights in cyberspace, are the FBI and NSA, with their agenda to tap every phone in America and make effective cryptography illegal.

Little wonder that in a Time/CNN poll, conducted eight days after the Oklahoma federal building blew up, 52 percent of respondents agreed that "the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses a threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens."

- Levi Rizetnikof, with a tip of the hat to Brock N. Meeks and Jon Katz


America Online foe Da Chronic is the mastermind behind AOHell, an outlaw program designed to exploit bugs in the online service, making it easy to forge messages in chat rooms, download files for free, and even create pirate accounts. To keep his identity secret, Da Chronic hides behind an anonymous remailer in Finland.

Da Chronic says he is a 17-year-old high school graduate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and claims he wrote AOHell for one reason: revenge. He explains how he grew up in a family affected by child abuse: he's furious that, as he sees it, AOL's staff can shut down chat rooms for software pirates but permit rooms used by "pedophiles and child abusers."

He adds, "AOL would also like you to believe that AOHell is a virus. AOHell poses no harm to anyone except America Online."

AOL says it will close the accounts of anyone using AOHell.

- Simson L. Garfinkel

Lost in Jeff's Basement

I'm jealous of the sixth-grade students at Gladstone Atwell Intermediate School 61 in Brooklyn, New York. Their teacher has a spaceship in his basement.

And it's not just any old spaceship. Jeff Story, a 36-year-old math teacher and founder of the Lost in Space fan network Alpha Control, has reconstructed the cockpit of Lost in Space's Jupiter 2 from the original props. He says he called "every prop house in Southern California" to find the components. Hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars later, the complete cockpit is installed in his basement, "with about an inch to spare."

"When you look at it, it's like walking onto the Fox soundstage in 1968," beams a proud Story. For information about Alpha Control, e-mail: alphacontrol@delphi.com.

- Mark Frauenfelder

Entangling Alliances

Marc Andreessen, vice president of technology at Netscape, becomes rather petulant when asked why his company chose to invest in Terisa Systems last April. The alliance seemed odd because the two companies had been engaged in a heated battle over how to make the Net secure from eavesdroppers. Netscape was promoting a technique known as SSL, while Terisa was backing S-HTTP. But according to Andreessen, the investment in Terisa was more of a public peace offering than a sign of surrender. "We didn't want to get involved in a pissing match," he insists.

Besides, combining the two standards makes sense. While S-HTTP secures only World Wide Web messages, SSL encrypts an entire conversation, whether it is Web or file traffic.

The result is a system that allows private messages - such as your credit card number - to be sent without fear of interception. And the implications are more significant than simply making life difficult for hackers. The Net is finally open for business. Terisa Systems Inc.: +1 (415) 617 1836, http://www.terisa.com/.

- Steve G. Steinberg

Urban Desires

We're trying to stretch the metaphor of what an online magazine is," says Urban Desires editor Kyle Shannon. The bimonthly chronicle of "metropolitan passions" has plenty of the sleek writing and design you'll find at any of your trendier newsstands. It also makes grunting sounds when you click on a Lance Ito reference and offers photographic "LoveGrids[TM]" to romp through, as well as Tracy Quan matching wits with Camille Paglia.

Shannon, a New York actor and screenwriter who "does Mac stuff instead of waiting tables," launched the site late last year with his wife, Gabrielle, as a reaction to the glut of technology worship on the Web. "We thought it would be fun to put up a site that was just about culture," Shannon says. "It struck a chord."

Desires already has more readers than some glossies - averaging up to 100,000 hits a day. Urban Desires: http://desires.com/, e-mail info@agency.com.

- Mary Elizabeth Williams

RealAudio Is the Real Deal

Video didn't kill the radio star, but RealAudio will. The latest bandwidth-hogging killer app plays sound files across the Net in real time, only a second or two after you click on a file icon. A buffered feed lets you stop, fast-forward, and rewind at any time. Spoken word is AM-band quality now, and ABC Radio and National Public Radio are already using it. But who cares about tired broadcast programming anyway? RealAudio lets us kiss radio's stale formats goodbye forever.

For information, and to download the free software, point your Web browser straight to: http://www.realaudio.com/. Progressive Networks: +1 (206) 447 0567.

- Chip Bayers

Opening up the Closeout

Need to get something cheap, but don't have an uncle in the business who can get it wholesale?

Not to worry. So long as you're talking large quantities, all you need is International Closeout Exchange Systems Inc., a New York City firm that wants to be your high-tech middleman. Started last fall, its membership consists of about 2,200 vendors and 15,000 buyers.

The company's online database matches buyers and sellers of closeouts - excess goods such as toys, clothes, and electronics sold for pennies on the dollar.

"We'll allow every little store and vendor to get connected," says the firm's co-founder and president Sam Mizrahi, an old-fashioned middleman himself. "And," he boasts, "we're going to put all those middlemen out of business." E-mail: ices@nyweb.com.

- Ed Silverman

The Helsinki Killer Ball

When Finnish sculptor Markus Copper was a child, he enjoyed playing videogames and watching movies like Blade Runner and Alien. Now, at 26, he's making his own monsters. Copper's most terrifying kinetic sculpture is Juggernaut, an enormous steel ball that weighs as much as two cars. It has a motor, motion sensors, a juicy battery, and the mind of a psycho killer. It hunts you. If you don't jump aside, you'll be trampled under it. And it won't stop until the battery is dead.

Copper says he's not concerned about injuring people. Accidents can happen, but folks know what they're about to face. Juggernaut is stored behind a steel fence in Helsinki, and anybody who wants to play with the killer ball must unleash it first. The message is obvious: this experience might just take your life.

Copper's next project? "Bombs. I want to make bombs."

- Panu Raty

Web Site of Champions

ESPNET SportsZone could become champion of the online sports world. Kicked off in early April, SportsZone is the Web-based progeny of ESPN and Starwave (the firm of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen).

Combining ESPN's sports-media content with Starwave's technology background - along with Allen's additional holdings, Ticketmaster and STATS Inc. - SportsZone offers up-to-the-minute sports coverage, including articles and photos, discussion threads, and libraries of sports statistics. In the future, look for audio and video clips, data-driven graphics that track the progress of a game in real time, and ticketing services. SportsZone will follow a magazine business model, relying on subscription and advertising revenues. It is expected to be available through the Microsoft Network, launching in August. ESPNET SportsZone: http://espnet.sportszone.com.

- Jessie Scanlon

Gigantor with Attitude

BattleTech began as a board game in 1985 and quickly worked its way into almost every available medium: toys, cartoons, a forthcoming feature film, novels, location-based entertainment parlors, and of course, personal computer games.

Activision's MechWarrior 2 CD-ROM offers a 3-D, texture-mapped BattleTech-like world that's rendered on the fly. The US$60 release pits players against computer-controlled robots stomping over post-apocalyptic cities, deserts, and ice canyons. An upgrade in the fall promises a multiplayer version. Activision: +1 (310) 473 9200.

- Mark Frauenfelder

Nobody Wants to Rub GEnie's Lantern

Online service watchers use clichés like "the boat is leaving the dock" to describe GEnie's also-ran status. Changes unveiled in April were intended to reposition GEnie against America Online and CompuServe by targeting user groups and BBS communities to build membership. GEnie also cut surcharges and promised an easier e-mail system to woo users.

However, says Alfred Glossbrenner, a longtime GEnie user, the company can't hide from a track record of announcing new services and not following up. Downloading its new front-end requires 90 minutes at 2400 baud. "GEnie's been dead in the water for the past year or more," he says.

Confidence has plummeted even further - caused by persistent rumors of GEnie's sale and by the departure of president Mark Walsh, who jumped ship for - gasp! - AOL.

- David J. Wallace

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