Web Techniques Magazine
March 1998
Volume 3, Issue 3

The Last Page

Birds of Prey

By Michael Swaine

Turning and churning in the widening Web, the falcon loses its religion. There is no falconer to call us back, no home but the fragile nests we build ourselves. We gather twigs, GIFs, and the odd bit of string to assemble these tenuous and temporary structures, these home pages, whose unruly tangles or ruly weaves cradle such bright baubles as we may treasure. But we build not to last but to link: every nest is a doorway, a bramble of branches pointing always outward.

And out there, things just keep getting stranger.

Maybe it's El Nino, and will all dissipate as spring spreads its wings. Or maybe it's the Pokemon fits.

Last December, 573 people were hospitalized after becoming sick and disoriented while watching the animated Pokemon, or Pocket Monsters, characters on Japanese television. Symptoms included temporary loss of vision, irritated eyes, breathing difficulties, and memory loss. They had been watching the cyberspace-dwelling Pocket Monsters fight inside a broken computer using bright "vaccine bombs" and other flashy effects. Surfing the Web and tracking developments on and about the Web are two experiences not unlike watching Pocket Monsters duke it out with flashing lights.

It's Japanese TV out there. It's chaos in the cyberkitchen. What sane chef would serve up a meal of Java, cookies, and Spam? The most popular Internet provider ranks at the bottom of surveys on customer satisfaction.

The U.S. government continues to work to make the Net less free than other media. Copyright law in the United States used to say "Thou shalt not steal intellectual property." New Internet-oriented copyright law says "Thou shalt not open the door for others to steal intellectual property."

Meanwhile, the nanny trials go on.

If the various electronic nannies, sitters, watchers, and other access filters don't do the job of safeguarding little Johnny and Janie from the evils of information, count on politicians and other dubious defenders of the public morals to raise the cry for net censorship. This despite the fact that little J and J can walk into the bookstore's children's section and plunk down their allowance money for Everybody Poops, a title and a subject that, published online, would set the electronic nannies nattering.

One is tempted to suggest that the existence of parents concerned about their children's online experience, yet not taking responsibility for monitoring said experience, demonstrates a ready market for a book on Parenting for Dummies, but you can't make a "... for Dummies" joke without IDG Books taking it seriously as a book proposal.

Microsoft offered its OEM partners two alternative versions of Windows 95. One doesn't boot and the other is two years old. This is Microsoft's idea of complying with a court order. Microsoft chief lawyer Bill Neukom knows how to impress Bill Gates: by coming up with a clever hack. Whether this impresses judges is another question.

Microsoft fills its OEM contracts with clever hacks, too, which can put the OEM partners in a not-unprecedented dilemma. It is precedented by, among others, the mythological Leda, romanced aloft by an amorous swan. "Caressed by the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill," Yeats pictured her, and wondered how she could even imagine shaking off her suitor when to do so was to fall to her death. Was Compaq actually told by Microsoft that if it uninstalled Internet Explorer it would lose its Windows license? Small wonder if OEMs feel themselves caressed by dark Webs, held by an inescapable Bill. It's enough to give you the Pokemon fits.

Mike is an editor at large, contributing editor, and columnist for Dr. Dobb's Journal and Web Techniques. He can be reached at mswaine@swaine.com.

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Last modified: 2/2/98