TECHNOFILE

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A POLYHEDRON IN YOUR LAP

You don't need a 3D graphics accelerator for Life, the Universe and Mathematics (Virtual Image, pounds 24.95), the latest in a series of mathematical CD-ROMs developed by Norton Knatchbull School maths teachers David Benjamin and Justin Dodd. You need Windows, a 486, a Super VGA card, and a pair of cardboard 3D specs: the disk comes bundled with the latter. It's a model of simplicity that the incorrigibly baroque software industry would do well to follow. How about a real propelling pencil in the Word 98 package?

KEY QUIZ

Does it support the National Curriculum Key Stage 3? Has it got anything to do with Carol Vorderman other than having her picture on the box? Is it edutainment? Score three points if you answered yes, no, and yes. The Geography edition of the Test For Success series (Win/Mac, DK Acacia, pounds 19.99; also includes Maths and Science) is a package of test questions slick and smart enough to double as a game. Its distinguishing features include the design excellence for which Dorling Kindersley is well known, the extensive use of graphics, such as satellite images, and a fondness for facetious options in the multiple choices. "No, Darren, the correct term for the movement of people is not `jogging'." This kind of thing has traditionally provided a thin consolation for embittered teachers, and translates readily to a genre influenced by the trivia quiz.

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`Abolish the environment. It takes up too much space, and is almost impossible to keep clean'

Ladies Against Women, who have taken to the Internet in their "quest for a child-proof America - all over the globe" n

TECHNOTIP

The UK Street Map Page, from a software house called Btex Ltd, delivers local maps on screen. Actual street maps are confined to London at present, but patches of road-atlas map for the rest of England, Scotland and Wales can be requested by keying in postcodes, place names or grid references.

SHANGHAI ANGELS

According to her byline picture, May-May is a China doll with a cigarette between her fingers and a knowing wink, regular as clockwork. The image is Thirties, the digital animation is Nineties, and that goes for Shanghai- ed as a whole. May-May contributes a guide to modern Shanghai's nightlife, but she's an old-fashioned girl at heart. Any businessman hoping for an online directory to providers of executive relief will be disappointed. Operating as she does in a domain that, like Old Shanghai, is neither one thing or the other, May-May is a model of discretion. Her bar listings refer to boites catering for "those who don't necessarily agree with the pro- position `Vive La Difference'". What she means by this delicate circumlocution is made quite clear, however, by the graphic for one of these establishments, featuring a well-muscled specimen of Chinese boyz-hood.

May-May affects the idiom of the cocktail lounge, but she can't get round the truth that New Shanghai is not in the same class as its legendary ancestor. She deserves a medal for her efforts to make silk purses out of bubble- gum, though: "After dinner I went for a drink at Shanghai Sally's and saw for the first time a new all-female band!!!! Three girls, Shirley, Molly and Angel (it appears there are as many girls called Angel in Shanghai as there are boys called Tony!!!). They were just lovely and they sang harmonies just wonderfully well. Their rendition of `Sugar, Sugar' sent shivers up my spine!! I complimented Shirley particularly on her sparkling eye-shadow. So original!!!"

Unlike so many oversold Web "resources", this is a site which contains much more than the casual visitor expects. Shanghai-ed's treasure-chest is its history section, crammed with period photographs, cartoons, book extracts and newspapers. "Reds In Shanghai Suburbs" announces a Daily Graphic front page from 1949 (above right). To read Shanghai-ed, you'd think that was still the case: the country may be ruled by the Communist Party, but as far as the downtown New Shanghailanders are concerned, Communists don't get any closer than the suburbs. For their amusement they have Angels singing "Sugar, Sugar", a song that hit the Western charts at a time when the young people of China were either Red Guards or being persecuted by them.

Among the treats in the Library are the "Unexpurgated Diary of a Shanghai Baby", a cynical view from an infant's eye of life in an expat household in Old Shanghai's heyday. For a distinctly adult perspective, there's a guide to Old Shanghai pleasures from two of May-May's predecessors. The intro- duction notes that one of them was a pilot who once wrote the Chinese character for "long life" across the sky above Shanghai in honour of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. On the ground, he retained his gentlemanly touch. Even when speaking of bordellos, he retains a degree of decorum. According to his remarks on the social rituals of dancing and other ways of acting out "La Difference", as May-May would put it, the women of Old Shanghai were proud individuals who expected high standards of behaviour from their consorts, whatever the basis of the relationship. Under the strobe lights and video screens, the Angels of the New China will be lucky to maintain a similar dignity.

CHINESE CHAT

Learning Chinese may not be your idea of fun, but the CD-ROM version of Routledge's Colloquial Chinese course (Windows, pounds 39.99) turns out to be unexpectedly entertaining. From the first "n hao" - "hello" - the disk proves itself streets ahead of other media as a vehicle for basic language instruction, the key to its success lying in the ease with which the student can click between speech, transliterated Chinese, and Chinese characters. The other courses in this first batch of CD-ROM releases are French, Spanish and Portuguese.

YOU'LL FIND LINKS TO THE WEBSITES MENTIONED IN TECHNOFILE AT: http://www.poptel.org.uk/technofile

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