After sites warning about drink and drugs, the latest Shockwave-Flashy production from the Health Education Authority turns its attention to young smokers. In some ways, the approach is quite traditional: uncompromising close-ups of affected heart and lungs, fearful statistics, sometimes rather vaguely sourced, but also spinnable in positive directions: if, every day, 300 people die from smoking, another 1,000 give it up for good in the same period. Interesting facts - cigarette smoke includes formaldehyde and ammonia, as well as the usual suspects - and little animations, both twee and sinister: viewers can move an
X-ray scanner the length of a human form to see various cancers and diseases outlined for each region of the body. An interactive game, Finger Fiddler, is meant to keep habitual hands otherwise occupied, but perhaps the best idea here is the chance to "commit to quit" online, and subsequently receive supportive personal e-mails at key points in the giving-up process.
Perhaps also a lifesaver, but certainly a face-saver, this invaluable site offers crash courses in practical and social skills. There are three pages here on "How to Boil An Egg", including such detail as the effects of altitude change on cooking time. Other "2torials" are designed to fend off social embarrassment (how to lay the table for a dinner party), practical disaster (how to change nappies), and domestic technofear (how to connect that external SCSI drive). Each little course comes with an estimate of the time needed to work though it - half an hour for an introduction to wine - and can be printed out for ease of reference. A showcase for a Californian multimedia company, this resource has scored highly in several of those "useful site" rankings, and will come in handy for anyone who needs to write a speech. Or darn a sock. Much of the wisdom is heavily American (how to keep food supplies away from marauding bears while hiking in the back country), but there are also meticulous instructions on how to make a perfect cuppa.
CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
Ironically, this site has itself come under digital surveillance of a kind: users of Cyber Patrol, one of those Web censor programs, have found the site "blocked" on the grounds of its (non-existent) sexual content. The victims suggest that this may be libellous: the site itself is distinctly unerotic. But the frame-based, largely textual clutter does ask important and overdue questions about the accountability, or otherwise, of CCTV camera systems, neural network facial recognition, and other means of monitoring the public. The issue is increasingly urgent, given advances in high-definition, remote-sensing and targetable cameras, and new potential abuses implied by webcam technology. Big Brother is rather relentlessly invoked, but there are other concerns - are banks of possibly unattended monitors being used as substitutes for expenditure on policing? Other discussions are on the use of digital images as evidence, the selling on of CCTV material to commercial concerns, and the inadequacy of current data protection law in this sector. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to video you.
A new dawn for struggling rock'n'rollers, or the musical equivalent of vanity publishing? Unsigned bands seeking their first break may be tempted to take part in this UK-based site which, come September, plans to present streamed video and audio tracks by new artists seeking exposure. The "channel" will be available as a continuous output, or with songs selectable by artist or genre. Three months on the site will cost the performer pounds 250: listening and viewing will be free, but so far the operation has the air of a business rather than an entertainment site, complete with online contract all ready for printing out. A handful of hopefuls are already present in audio form - power popsters, sensitive singer-songwriters, some Canadian soul, and a Franco-American New Age pianist.
Corbis Picture Experience
Bill Gates unlocks his image-hoard and distributes it free to the public in this new venture from the picture database Corbis, in association with Altavista. The generosity is limited - the shots are in the form of online "postcards", and are restricted to 500,000 of the 23 million pictures stashed away for paying, usually professional, customers. The innovation here is the search facility - typing in the required subject or topic can reveal hundreds of thumbnail possibilities, among them Corbis favourites such as Albert Einstein pulling faces, the Hindenburg explosion, and the Mona Lisa. Refreshingly, a search for "Monica Lewinsky" reveals nothing whatsoever. As always, the recipient is notified by e-mail and must visit a specific URL to collect their greeting. Other consumer utilities, including download and purchase options, will follow.
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