TECHNOFILE

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GRIM UP NORTH

The secret realm of North Korea is empty. There are no cities, no farms, no people; just jagged mountains, forests and sinister military installations. That's how it looks from the cockpit in F/A-18 Korea (left), a combat flight simulator running scenarios in which the Korean cold war turns hot (Windows and Macintosh, pounds 39.99; or download the free playable demo from the Graphic Simulations website). You're in the driving seat of a US F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter, and you can choose from a range of missions to roll back the Reds. Just like old times. It was a tragedy for the home computer flight sim that the Soviet bloc collapsed before the technology was mature.

Getting the Hornet airborne with mouse and keyboard is pretty easy, but staying aloft to complete your mission requires a serious commitment to learning when to use which radar mode, how to evade inbound missiles, how to build situational awareness, and the finer points of on-speed angle of attack. The pilot's operating handbook is 250 pages long, and your guide is Major David "Pooch" Putze of the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He also appears as a persona for the player in the simulation. I killed him off within half an hour.

Another obstacle to a safe touchdown is the enemy air force, featuring strategic bombers and the latest Russian fighters. According to the military file in the North Korean section of the Council on East Asian Libraries website, whose other categories include gender issues and philosophy, North Korea does not possess such aircraft. It does, however, operate large numbers of late-1940s Antonov transport biplanes, which the game designers must have felt were unworthy targets for the Hornet. And there is the North Korean version of the Scud missile, which rejoices in the name "No Dong". Imagine how the Gulf War news reports would have sounded if Iraq had been using North Korean kit.

Inevitably, North Korea's nuclear facilities feature in the target list. You are cleared to use the Hornet's own nuclear capability in this and other missions, but it's only a small tactical nuke, and a definite anticlimax. In the mission dubbed "Green Pieces", the target is a solar power plant, built by "Scientists for Peace", which the perfidious North Koreans have turned into a laser weapon. A look at the Megastories current affairs site (below left) shows that once again, truth is stranger than fiction. Peaceniks and solar panels aren't the real hazard. A consortium of US, Japanese and South Korean companies is building two nuclear power plants for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The truth about the food shortages in the DPRK remains elusive, though the pictures of malnourished children on the Internet Campaign to Help North Korean Flood Victims site tell their own story. The regime's own news service has turned instead to building legends. On the Megastories site you can read the story of how, on the 49th anniversary of the foundation of the DPRK last September, 24 blooms ap-peared on a white apricot tree outside a municipal building in Kaesong. Not only were they out of season, but they only grew on branches facing north. Workers who rushed to the scene drew the appropriate patriotic conclusion. At Mangyongdae, where the late President Kim Il Sung grew up, 1,500 herons visit his house at dawn each day. Witnesses believe this shows that "even the birds miss the president, who descended from heaven".

Unquestionably the strangest North Korean site is the one set up by Tatsuo Sakai, who describes himself as a Japanese businessman. He admits that "you may find meals in North Korea somewhat meager", and notes that the service in the Hotel Koryo is not like that in the South, "where ki-saeng girls (a Korean version of gei-shas) sit by you and engage in hanky-panky". By his own account, the Northern authorities have not always appreciated his efforts on his behalf, at one stage accusing him of being a spy. Yet once they lifted their ban on him, he kept coming back. "Am I crazy?" he asks. "I am 46 years old now and I have decide to dedicate the rest of my life to the cause of North Korea." Not that the DPRK is likely to be around for him to retire there.

TECHNOTIP

Captain Technofile says: On the demo mission, select air-to-ground loadout and turn north after the dogfight. The only defences at the Kaesong airbase are two AAA units. Take them out with your HARM missiles and then you can practice dropping iron bombs on the base. An MiG may come back after you, so try to hang on to an AIM-9 and some flares. Happy trails!

WORLD IN INACTION

According to recent reports, an American couple moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Colchester after watching scenes from the Essex town on a Web camera site (above). They were supposedly lured by the fact that nothing happened, in contrast with their own turbulent neighbourhood. It doesn't ring true. Not because it was Colchester, but because nothing ever happens in front of webcams. This is particularly true of several located in Antarctica (below), but you do get some wonderful sunsets.

CARDBOARDWARE

It could be goodbye to all those zip cartridges and external hard disks if this radical new storage solution from Fusionary Media catches on. The implementations displayed on the website - beta versions, presumably - seem severely under-featured by current industry standards, but the new paradigm has an intuitive appeal. Customers may be tempted to migrate, as long as they can count on 24/7 technical support.

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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