TECHNOFILE

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
NEAT BEARDS, DUDES

You've seen sites designed to be viewed with Netscape, you've seen ones designed to be viewed with Explorer, and now here's one designed to be viewed by men with beards. Yes, it's Taliban Online, home page of the ultrafundamentalist movement which controls most of Afghanistan. According to Abed, compiler of the Online Concise "Encyclopedia" of Afghanistan, Taliban Online shows signs of influence from "alien groups and people who do not represent the spirit of traditional Afghan Talib [sic] movement."

Taliban Online is more colourful than you might expect, and speaks the idiom of the Net. "Hey Dudes!" begins a message in the Guest Book from Karachi, going on to declare that "If anyone contradicts taliban, he opposes the PROPHET MUHAMMAD. If any one says this is not Islam, he must open the holy book 'QURAN' to see what is Islam." There's no singing or dancing, of course: for information about Afghan music (though no audio samples) the Online Encyclopedia is the place to go. Not all the advertised features are available, either. Click on the "Women's Rights in Islam" link, and you get the message "File Not Found".

ALTERNATIVE AFGHANISTAN

The address says www.afghan-government.com, and the front page announces itself as the Online Embassy of the Islamic State of Afghanistan. Closer inspection reveals that it represents the government whose forces were driven into the northern mountains by the Taliban, and are in rather worse array than this smartly turned out site.

TICKING METER

A taxi driver writes: "In this business you have to be careful not to have a full-time girl because you end up wasting your nights servicing her instead of the vehicle. Sounds cold, I know, but it's all about timing and the money you can bring in during the next 10 hours. Any time wasted had better be worth it in some way." Captivated, the webzine that brings reflections like these from diarist Bud Carson to the world, describes them as "everything you did and didn't want to know about being a cab driver in San Francisco." That's exactly right. Carson is endlessly complaining about customers, kickbacks and tips. He is resentful that he doesn't know how to get out of cabbing, but he can't rewind the tape to before he got into drugs and dropped out of college. The nearest thing to intimacy or companionship in the string of entries titled "Stormy Days" is a night of sex with a prostitute acquaintance who seems to have taken a liking to him. The account is prefaced with the thought above, and the payoff line is "Oh yeah, I also had to watch Brenda do her daily heroin fix." Carson is not so much captivated as trapped. He knows his meter is running, and that's what makes his diary pages worth the next click.

The other specimen in Captivated's "chronicles from the fringe" is incarcerated. R J Hawkins is doing six months (or was; his missives are being retained after his release) for drug offences, and has been sending letters to Captivated about rights, wrongs and his future prospects. Several visitors to the site have wrongly assumed he has his own computer in the county jail, not to mention some slick Web authoring kit. In fact, the transfer of his diary to Captivated's stylish pages takes them dramatically out of context; as does the presentation of Carson's entries, which really ought to be picked off the floor of a cab at the end of a nightshift for full effect. One thing to be said in favour of this process is that, like Internet personae in general, it escapes the prejudices that come with seeing a person. Their words are what they are judged by - and some of Hawkins' correspondents are a lot tougher on the criminal than on the causes of crime.

FIT FOR A KING

KV5 doesn't exactly have a majestic ring to it, but its website does justice to the tomb of the sons of Pharaoh Ramesses [sic] II, which is being excavated by the Theban Mapping Project near Luxor. Indeed, it's a model site all round, with graphics that are lavish but earn their keep, and text that is kept concise without being dumbed down. Among the features are views that you can pan around using virtual reality software - which may be rather better than being there. One page sombrely notes that two Egyptians connected with the Project were shot by the terrorists who massacred tourists in Luxor last year.

TECHNOTIP

Once upon a time, utilities were simple. The gas board supplied gas, the electricity board provided electricity, and the water board took care of water. With the long-awaited onset of competition in the domestic gas market, however, utilities are going to make the privatised rail network look positively rational. Londoners recently got a taste of things to come, in the form of leaflets from the water company offering a special deal on gas sold by the electricity company. Ofgas, the gas regulator, has pages of information about the new market on its website, but not the bit you most want: the prices. Those are available at a site called Pricecheck UK, which carries tables comparing the costs of gas from the 17 different suppliers. But remember, the flood of complaints about new suppliers have been about the service, not the prices.

Comments