Edited by Kristin Spence
Granted, the Net houses far more information than the TB Blackstone Memorial Library on Chicago's South Side ever could. But Blackstone had something the Net still does not - Mrs. Hawthorne, Blackstone's former librarian. A plump, stern woman, Mrs. Hawthorne spent much of her day shushing noisy kids or exiling boisterous bullies to remote corners of the reading room. But when it came to reference material, if I needed to find anything, I'd corner her. Within minutes, the book would be in my hands.
Mrs. Hawthorne retired last year, and I miss her, especially after fruitless hours of online fact hunting. Seems the Net has it backward: go online, and you can make all the noise you want, but it's almost impossible to find anything.
You can imagine my reaction when I heard about the Internet Public Library. It sounded like the answer to all my researching prayers. Who could resist the promise of an online reference desk? The instructions invited me to leave a question and assured me that a trained professional would e-mail me a partial answer, along with pointers to even more details. I instantly memorized the URL.
The system worked, though not very quickly. It took two days to get a full explanation of the differences between RISC and CISC processors, so it's likely the library won't be much use in settling barroom arguments. At least not until they get a lot more librarians. Right now, the reference desk is covered by 35 students at the University of Michigan School of Information and Library Studies - a pittance compared with the droves of online info-hounds.
The Internet Library was dreamed up by Assistant Professor Joseph Janes in a moment of desperation. "I was scheduled to teach a seminar on the impact of technology, which I'd taught twice before. I wasn't sure I could face it again," Janes recalls. To stave off death by ennui, Janes proposed the Internet Public Library as a class project. Fifty-five students applied - far more than he'd expected. "At the beginning, I always felt the IPL was some kind of Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie - 'Hey, let's put on a library! I've got some costumes in the barn!'"
The library home page took about 26,000 hits in its first two weeks, mostly from visitors to the reference desk. But, says Janes, it's just a matter of time before net-surfing parents discover the library's youth division. There, you can download entire childrens books, complete with original illustrations and audio narration.
As a student-run operation, online library's well-being is at the mercy of graduations and summer breaks. So, Janes is trolling for sponsors to fund the library permanently. But Macphile Janes won't take just anybody's money. "I don't want to become the Microsoft Internet Public Library," he said. "But I could live with being the Apple Internet Public Library."
To speed up service and beef up staff, Janes is also looking for volunteer librarians willing to work the reference desk. About 60 have responded thus far, some from locales as far away as Australia. (Alas, still no word from Mrs. Hawthorne.)
Web reference hounds should point their browsers to http://ipl.sils.umich.edu. Those without browse capability can send e-mail to email@example.com. No cards required.
- Hiawatha Bray (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A conceptual offering of philosophic technoshamanism, the site known as The Deoxyribonucleic Hyperdimension is the last word on evolutionary ideas and knowledge. In cyberneuro reflections of visible language and virtual reality, the glittering Web strands of Hyperdimension resonate with octaves of energy approaching satori. Terence McKenna Land, Gaian Cybernetica, and, our favorite, It's Time to Mutate, are among the many interconnections of this global telepathy rave. Have a hyperdimensional mind meld at http://www.intac.com/~dimitri/dh/deoxy.html and engage in the revolution of the human being.
Sure, it's a blatant product promotion, but the new Apple Computer Web site, Quicktime Continuum, is a worthy Web shore regardless. In support of Quicktime technology for Mac and Windows, Continuum's banks hold a brimming stream of resources: sample code, Quicktime architecture, and codecs are among the topics discussed, while a press-release index and the latest news on Quicktime VR is a tantalizing source of pleasure for any multimedia junkie. The movie-and-music archive highlights everything from Ray Lynch to REM, and a multitude of links to other Quicktime sites heightens the rush. Get lost in the continuum at http://quicktime.apple.com/.
We've all gotta go sometime, so when you're ready to meet that Big Kahuna in the sky, why not turn to the friendly folks at the Carlos A. Howard Funeral Home Page? Their motto is "The Priority of People Taking Priority over Profit," and the staff at Carlos Howard really does care. With a colorful online catalog of products and services, planning for the dirt nap is now faster, easier, and more fun than ever! No more need to deal with the smarmy condolences of a jaded, real-life undertaker. With Carlos Howard, funeral arrangements are a simple point 'n' click away.
Check out the Mediterranean Oak casket with a tasteful light pecan finish, a steal at only US$1,695. With its safety bottom and fail-safe liner, this baby is built to last. For those of you on smaller eternity budgets, the Misty Rose 20-gauge steel model runs a modest $794 (and can probably stave off decomposition for a while, too). Now that's true value! Or, if you really want to go under in style, try the gorgeous Montrachet Mahogany number at a cool $4,100. Its adjustable bed and mattress guarantee you the deepest sleep you've ever had.
The Carlos A. Howard Funeral Home Page is a great quick browse for morbidly curious looky-loos, or, if the Reaper's been scratchin' at your door, just click the onscreen "order" button and have product shipped right to your home. What could be more convenient? Make like Dracula at dawn at http://www.melanet.com/shops/Carlos_A_Howard_Funeral_Home/.
Do you go to cocktail parties and have nothing interesting to say? Do you frequent the punch bowl, or hover over the deviled eggs because you're clueless about the Internet (that hipper-than-hip topic of conversa-tion)? Well, you too can sound cool, win friends, and be the star of the party with WEBster, Tabor Griffin Communications's e-zine, (e-mail magazine, in this case). Get clued on the latest cyber wheelings and dealings; which online service is being bought out, and by whom. Forget the days when you thought a SLIP was something Freud invented. Now you can retrieve articles on the latest Web software and hardware, and speak intelligently about them once you've downloaded the intel to your own neural net. For more information, send an e-mail to email@example.com, and go confidently into that good night.
One of the great things about the Web is that it allows you to check up on old friends - even the occasional antiheroine or two. Dash to http://www.expanse.com/aflux/index.html and catch up with the angular, amoral Aeon Flux, star of many a Liquid Television MTV short. Her cyber hide-out offers character sketches, interviews, and news about the next series coming this fall.
Another interesting inclusion is the original Aeon Flux plot synopsis, as pitched to MTV by its creator Peter Chung, which pushes Hollywood action-film conventions back at us "in the form of absurd heroic entertainment." (And you thought Batman was a problematic superhero....) Related links devout Fluxers will covet include one about French painter Egon Schiele, whose lithe, agonizing figures inspired Chung's animation style. Parlez-vous animé? You will after visiting http://www.labri.u-bordeaux.fr/~goudal/Musee/Schiele/Schiele.html or http://sunsite.unc.edu/louvre/paint/auth/schiele/.
Are the hours you spend in front of the monitor causing anxiety in your love life? Your social life? Are you questioning the troubling nature of existence itself? Judging by the postings on the Usenet newsgroup alt.angst, you're not alone.
Alt.angst doesn't propose any remedies for what the group's FAQ calls "the notion that life is essentially pointless and absurd," but it does offer commiseration in the form of postings from the existentially challenged. The group's posters have identified units of Angst ("angstroms" - even more effective if said with a thick, German accent), as well as Angst-producing agents ("angstogens").
But be warned: smiling emoticons are not tolerated, and uplifting posts are punishable by flames from the angst.cops. (It should come as no surprise that the denizens of alt.angst can be contentious.) "If you have to ask why humans are mean and nasty," explains their FAQ, "you probably don't belong here."
Free Burma is not your run-of-the-mill online tourist site picturing happy natives in quaint costumes. It is a portrait of a country held hostage by a repressive military régime. A lush land, once the "rice bowl of Asia," Burma (now called Myanmar) is now listed among the poorest countries of the world.
Ruled by General Ne Win, a heartless dictator who seized power in 1962, the people of Burma have remained oppressed by his brutal reign of terror. The country's popularly acknowledged democratic leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has been imprisoned since 1989.
Free Burma contains up-to-the-minute news bulletins covering Burmese liberation efforts, an album of photos and sound clips about the country's culture, and a collection of interviews documenting the human-rights abuses that have become part of daily life in Burma. But most important, the site suggests more than a dozen actions you can take to help improve the situation in Burma, from writing the UN to heading off into the jungle yourself. Free Burma has succeeded in pooling information from a variety of sources, including The Carter Center, Amnesty International, and several Burmese activist groups. You can access Free Burma at http://184.108.40.206/freebrma/freebrma.html.
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John Reul JohnReul@aol.com
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