Technofile

From disused underground tunnels to private buildings, we find that no corner of the world is safe from the prying eyes of the Web
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The Independent Culture
MYSTERY DRAIN

"Infiltration" is not so much a portal as a manhole site. Hailing from Toronto and dedicated to "urban exploration" (or trespassing), it taps into an international underground to which any tubular item of infrastructure is a challenge. Some favour utility tunnels; others, like Glasgow's Milk Crate Gang, follow the courses of abandoned underground railways. Others are never happier than when they are down a drain. "Why go in drains?" asks the Cave Clan of Australia. "We like the dark, the wet, humid, earthy smell. We like the varying architecture. We like the solitude. We like the acoustics, the wildlife ... " The latter includes rats, bats, birds, turtles, eels - "stroppy if stood on" - snakes, yabbies, cockies and mullets, which are "occasionally wont to hurtle from the water into your face".

The art of drain exploration appears to have been developed furthest in Australia, as has its ideology. "Public Access to Public Works" is its slogan, and the Cave Clan protests its respect for the public sphere - an attitude which has gone underground in other parts of the developed world, too.

SIC TRANSITMOTOR CITY

Like the drain explorers of Australia and Glasgow, Lowell Boileau appreciates the urban enterprise of bygone days, but his homage is legal and above ground. Boileau's photos and paintings are devoted to the "Fabulous Ruins of Detroit", which he compares to Athens, Ephesus and other great cities of antiquity. He honours the history of the motor industry - there are Model T Ford factories still standing - and chronicles the damage wrought by the retreat from public spirit among Detroit's more recent custodians.

TECHNOTIP

Icing for the top of the Mac OS 8.5 cake is available from Apple sites, in the form of little icons representing general and specialised search engines, which can be added to the Sherlock Internet search facility. For users with a lot of files containing text on their computers, the cake itself is likely to be the "Find By Content" option, although it has attracted less attention than Sherlock's Internet element. This internal search engine abolishes the sorry state of affairs in which it is easier to find information on the Web than on one's own hard disk, by allowing all your files - word-processed, e-mail, downloaded Web pages or whatever - to be searched by key word. Vital for those whose memory faculties, for whatever reason, are apt to leave them lost for their own words.

CATALOGUE OF DISASTERS

On this day 48 years ago, two commuter trains collided at Richmond Hill, New York, claiming 79 lives. The Living Almanac of Disasters marks the calendar with records of fires, earthquakes and what Indian newspapers call "transport mishaps". If no disaster is listed on the day in question, it offers links to other sites emitting the warm glow of others' misfortunes.

SHOPPING MORGUE

"We give the dead a voice," boasts 1-800 Autopsy, a mobile service run by Vidal Herrera, the man they call "El Muerto". As American hospitals have reduced the amount of autopsy work they perform, businesses such as this have sprung up to service insurance claims, investigate medical histories and provide relatives information about circumstances of death. 1-800-Autopsy also offers merchandising from its "Casket of Goodies", such as "classic" black coffin-shaped gift boxes which glow in the dark, a life-sized, anatomically correct brain jelly mould, and, of course, skull caps.

OBJECT LESSON

LIBRAVITA Q'LINK PENDANT

It's a dangerous world, we live surrounded by radiation - computer screens, mobile phones, light bulbs, you name it. And as the fear of health risks associated with these magnetic fields (especially mobiles) increases, wouldn't it be nice if there were something to protect us? The Q'Link pendant claims to provide "a guaranteed pure source of subtle energy working like a tuning fork, aligning your bioenergy to its natural phase". Hmm. The idea is that it boosts your energy and forms a protective field around the body. The Q'Link looks like a computer circuit on a leather cord, and seems pretty high-tech itself, but doesn't need a battery to work. Which is good, because after shelling out pounds 95, you don't want high running costs. I've only been wearing it for a couple of weeks so far, and I haven't noticed any extra energy except just after I eat a king-size Mars bar. There was a little discomfort involved, but this was probably caused by my fear that someone might see me wearing the pendant. So far, no real proof that it works then, but maybe it's too early to tell. I'll keep it, I think. Next to my rabbit's foot. Available by mail order on 07000 818 818. David Phelan

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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