TECHNOFILE

VIRTUAL GOLDMINE

David Bowie lost it such a long time ago that it's easy to assume that his new Web venture will be about as inspired as Tin Machine or the "Glass Spider" tour, not to mention "The Return of Ziggy Stardust". By developing his name as an Internet brand, though, the old poser might just be on to something big. Subscribers to David Bowie, the Internet service provider, get e-mail addresses that end in @davidbowie.com. Designed for his fans to communicate with the site and each other, the service will doubtless handle endless traffic between Ziggy this and Ziggy that, but the principle could readily be extended. Other rock stars may be very interested in the idea that modern fans don't just buy the T-shirt, they sign up for the e-mail address as well. It's like writing the band's name on your school-bag, but people on the other side of the world can get the message too.

Football clubs could also do very nicely out of turning their brands into domains, something that Arsenal (AFC Mail, yourname@arsenal-fc.net) and Tottenham Hotspur (Cyber Spurs, yourname@ spurs.co.uk) have realised. The only possible fly in the ointment is that there are also rich pickings in domain names for lampooners, especially if your target is Wired - Retired, Underwired, HowTired, etc - or Slate, all too close to Stale, not to mention the now-defunct Microsnot site. Nobody seems to have registered www.laughinggnome.com. Yet.

BALLCOCK BLITZ

Somebody who can create a website is a geek. Somebody who can build a website and plumb in a washing-machine is a truly multiskilled individual, who should be able to face anything the 21st century may throw at her or him. Approach theplumber.com with suitable awe and gratitude that Hill Daughtry of Seattle is willing to share the tricks of his trade with the rest of us.

Plumbing is plumbing the world over, although there's a lot more of it in some parts of the world than others. According to a report from Time magazine relayed on theplumber.com, the levels of access to the Internet in Latin America and Asia are soaring, but access to adequate sanitation is declining.

In the US, by contrast, there are too many toilets chasing too little water. The big issue in the Frequently Asked Questions is the new, regulation 1.6 gallon water-conserving cistern, a shock which American plumbing has yet to absorb fully (European toilet technology is more mature in this respect, apparently). Daughtry's site also reproduces a photo of a Honolulu man surrounded by obsolete water-guzzler toilets, which he hopes to turn into artificial reefs. Nice for the crabs, if not the divers.

The FAQs run the entire gamut from dishwashers to drains, though if you are solely focused on toilets you may find all the facilities you need at the Toiletology site run by Kay Keating from Maryland. Theplumber.com is more than washers, pipes and international toilet news, however. It has a world- historical dimension, with articles reproduced from Plumbing & Mechanical magazine about plumbing in the ancient civilisations of Babylon, Crete, Greece and Egypt. Indeed, there is so much background material in these pieces that they make quite reasonable general reference sources on antiquity. All that is missing is a link to an Afrocentric site claiming that black Egyptians invented the water closet and Western classicist scholars concealed their legacy (the fringes of Afrocentrism are so far-out that if such a page did exist, it would be almost impossible to tell whether it was a spoof or not).

This site, and others, do address one distortion of toilet history. No, Thomas Crapper did not invent the WC, and he probably didn't invent the siphonic flush either. Nor, apparently, did his name give rise to the vernacular expression. Adam Hart-Davis, one of Crapper's biographers, points out on his Web pages that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of "to crap" to mean "to defecate" was first recorded in 1846, when Crapper was just 10 years old. Though he left his Yorkshire home the following year, and walked 165 miles to London, he wasn't that precocious. He didn't start the Chelsea plumbing business which bore his name until 1861.

If the heroes of toilet engineering remain largely unsung, theplumber.com goes some way to redressing the balance, with a Plumbing & Mechanical article which begins with the words "They were the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of their day." Particularly the latter.

HANG ONTO YOURSELF

A puppeteer (John Cusack) finds his way into an office cupboard where he discovers how to enter the mind of John Malkovich (John Malkovich). Realising the commercial potential, he starts to sell tickets for the opportunity to "be" Malkovich for a couple of hours, much to Malkovich's distress. That's the story according to studio spy Ray Fasolati - doh! A pseudonym! - reporting for Ain't It Cool News about Being John Malkovich, a project supposedly to be directed by hot music video director Spike Jonze for Michael Stipe's production company Soft Cell. If it's not true, it should be. There's plenty more movie gossip, news and giveaways on Harry Jay Knowles's pages: both the site and its proprietor seem to be continually on the verge of exploding as they reel through the reels.

TECHNOTIP

From theplumber.com: if you hear a clunk in a pipe when you turn a tap on or off, 99 times out of a 100 it's nothing more than a loose washer in the tap.

WORLD WIDE WEB

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

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