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The Independent Culture
With a bold and steadfast gaze, Technofile takes on some underexamined phenomena - firstly, an encounter with the eccentric Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health, and secondly, the text of the software licence agreements that reveal Big Brother is alive and well and living in cyberspace


Harry Finley (pictured right) describes the experience of being the only man at a conference on menstruation with the kind of pride that Joe Strummer once felt at being the only white man in Hammersmith Palais. This is a role with which Finley has become familiar, in his capacity as founder and curator of the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health. His website conveys a vivid sense of what it must be like to be guided round the museum, which occupies the basement of his house in Hyattsville, Maryland. In the Frequently Asked Questions pages, he faces up to what must be the most FAQ of all: "Aren't you a little strange?" But in truth he doesn't seem weird, just eccentric, although his motivation remains somewhat obscure. Perhaps the fact that he's from a military family has something to do with it. Although his core interest is in sanitary products rather than menstruation itself, his brimming enthusiasm makes this a terrifically diverse site. For the vulgar there are jokes, mostly about vampires, and lengthy explanations of the ones he didn't understand at first. For scientists and those interested in medical matters, there are notes on research reports. And for students of social history, this is the definitive on-line resource for examining the history of sanitary protection advertising. In between medicine and marketing is the 1945 Dickinson Report, in which Dr Robert L Dickinson pointed out the various advantages of the tampon, including the relative lack of contact with erotogenic tissue as compared with the external pad. So this proves that the medical profession did know about the clitoris before Cosmo discovered it in the early 1970s.


According to a widespread superstition, the one software package you really do have to pay for is the utility program which monitors your system, nips problems in the bud, and tunes up the performance of your hard disk. If you pirate a package such as Norton Utilities, you are only getting your just desserts when something truly horrible subsequently happens on your screen. Plus, there is something uniquely reassuring about the sight of that nice animated Mr Norton examining your hard disk, combined with the knowledge that you paid for his services with your own money. Last month, Symantec released a package called SystemWorks (Windows 95/98, pounds 89) which integrates the full Norton kit: Utilities, Uninstall Deluxe, AntiVirus, CrashGuard and six months' access to updates courtesy of Norton Web Services. Also new from Symantec is the 4.0 version of Norton Utilities for Macintosh (pounds 99 plus VAT).


The Museum of Menstruation offers a unique insight into the career of Lee Miller, the most glamorous woman of the 20th century, which is strangely absent from her official archive site. The famous beauty began her career as a model in the US. In 1928, a photograph of her was used in a Kotex advertisement, the first time that an image of an actual person had been used in an advertisement for a menstrual hygiene product. Maybe, suggests the museum, the ensuing stir gave her a reason to go to Europe, where she explored Surrealism, worked with Man Ray, and later took her skills as a photographer into the theatre of the Second World War.


Ever wondered what's on those software licences you're supposed to read before clicking the "accept" button? Just like the software itself, they tend to be overcomplicated; another similarity is their obsessive attention to detail, which occasionally results in some notable features.

l Symantec's licence for SystemWorks is a perfect counterpart to its package, designed to sort out every last corner of your hard disk. It crosses the fine line from belt-and-braces to control freak like this: "You may not use a previous version or copy of the Software after you have received a disk replacement set or an upgraded version as a replacement of the prior version, unless you donate a previous version of an upgraded version to a charity of your choice, and such charity agrees in writing that it will be the sole end user of the product, and that it will abide by the terms of this agreement. Unless you so donate a previous version of an upgraded version, upon upgrading the Software, all copies of the prior version must be destroyed."

l A ban on dismantling the code is standard in software licences, but a company with the whimsically Orwellian name Social Engineering words the clause in a way that suggests it wants to be the Tyrrell Corporation when it grows up: "The Social Engineering Software contains trade secrets, and in order to protect them, you may not decompile, disassemble, or otherwise reduce the Social Engineering Software to a human-perceivable form."

l The licences most commonly ignored are Microsoft's End User License Agreements. Microsoft's liability clauses affirm that even to the world's richest man, five bucks is five bucks: "Microsoft's entire liability and your exclusive remedy under this EULA shall not exceed five dollars (US5$)."

l At the other end of the spectrum, there are the nice geeks, like Aaron Giles, creator of a program for viewing images: "JPEGView is postcardware. The concept is simple: if you like it, you are obligated to send me a postcard of some sort."

l Somewhere in between these extremes, Aladdin Systems strikes a relaxed note, appropriate for a program called Stuffit: "All trademarks are held by their respective owners. Our lawyers are happy."