TECHNOFILE

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This week, Technofile visits the world of policing, as made explicit on the Net; there are galleries of weaponry, tales of derring-do from the States which feature cop-show music and pictures of their real-life collars, and homepages from all over which memorialise the men, women and dogs that went down in the line of duty

EVENING, ALL

Meet Likey of the Met, a latter-day Dixon of Dock Green who speaks to the public via the Web. You'll want to linger on his page of links to official UK police websites, while you listen to background music on the digital equivalent of the Mighty Wurlitzer. The choice of Dire Straits' "Brothers In Arms" seems a little premature, but as Likey illustrates with the list of weaponry in which he is proficient, the British police has plenty of options before going ballistic. He provides links for these devices - batons, CS spray and rigid handcuffs - the latter represented by a huge gallery of pictures of restraints, including slave irons. This collection is curated by someone in San Francisco called Yossie, for whom handcuffs appear to relate to lifestyle rather than law enforcement. Back at Likey's site, there are pictures of his wedding and his Jack Russell puppy, Molly.

HOME PAGE COP SHOWS

On-line LEOs - Law Enforcement Officers - just love background music. On the face of it this may seem surprising, since unlike so many other personal homepage authors, they often have a story to tell that requires no embellishment.

State Trooper Anthony Tollett needed nothing more than silence and plain default grey to present the story of how he shot a youth on Interstate 40 in Tennessee, but he has laid it over a background of police uniform patches (above), with musical accompaniment. There are also press clippings (below) to back up his account of the day that he pulled over a Jeep doing 82mph in a 65mph zone, to find a boy of 16 at the wheel, accompanied by a girl two years younger. He and the boy, Brandon Frame, were chatting amiably when the results of his ID check came back over the radio. The teenagers were wanted for murder: the Jeep belonged to Frame's father, shot dead two days earlier.

The boy pulled a gun; Tollett beat him to the trigger. As Brandon lay on the ground with six bullet wounds in him, the boy put his pistol to his head and delivered his own coup de grace. His girlfriend told the trooper that Frame's dream had been to die in a shootout with the police.

So Brandon Frame got to act out his script. And the LEOs are in their own movies, too. That's the point of the background music: these sites are cop shows whose stars are cops themselves, and proud of it.

Some don't just work on their material off duty, but actually gather their content on the job. Mike Stark of Atlanta, Georgia, likes to tape suspects in the back of his car; the Supreme Court, he reassures his audience, has ruled that this is legal. Some are crazy, some intoxicated, some terrified, and the results are a sorry affair. When LEOs start mounting digital camcorders in their cars, the courts will have to decide whether the captives' faces can be shown on the homepage video shows. Meanwhile, on Stark's audio files, a woman wails interminably as snatches of an electronic "Sweet Home Alabama" come and go.

YOU JUST CAN'T KEEP A GOOD OFFICER DOWN

The links lists for American police Web rings are dotted with tribute pages commemorating officers killed on duty. "m2atrooper" is typical of the genre, with poems by the page's author and the line from John 13, 15: "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." There are a few verses from Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door" (misattributed to Eric Clapton) but no account of how Police Officer Colleen Waibel met her death on 27 January this year.

Instead, there is a link to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a site which aims to honour all police officers who have died on duty in the United States. That means from 1794 onward - and there's even a side chapel for policedogs which have made the ultimate sacrifice. At the top of the 1998 page is a running tally for "total line-of-duty deaths": over 100 by late September, nearly 50 caused by gunfire, almost as many in road accidents, seven heart attacks, seven drowned, one in a bomb blast. The link to Colleen Waibel's file reveals that she was shot with an assault rifle during a drugs raid in Portland, Oregon; a colleague was seriously wounded. A month later, the suspect hanged himself in his prison cell.

On a linked page, "Reflections", a Portland radio dispatcher mourns the 44-year-old officer. Although dispatchers are only voices that send officers out on calls, writes Kathy Vanecko, that does not stop them thinking of their colleagues as family.

TO IRELAND, AN APOLOGY

Technofile's world most certainly does include Ireland, although our map two weeks ago left it unshaded. Maybe the orange colour didn't take. Ireland has as firm a grasp on the number 3 spot, after the UK and the US, as it once had on Eurovision. And since the map was drawn, four new domains have visited: Russia, Japan,Thailand and Bermuda.

TECHNOTIP

From the BBC Gardeners' World Magazine Garden Manager CD-ROM (Windows 95/98, pounds 30): now is the time to finish lifting and drying summer-flowering bulbs for storage. Get all your spring bulbs planted by the end of the month, except for tulips, which are best planted during November.

OBJECT LESSON

BRAUN VITALSCAN BP1500

Following its stylish and efficient ThermoScan instant thermometer, Braun has developed another boon to home health: a neat and reliable blood- pressure monitor. Wrap the Velcro cuff around your wrist and press the buttons; half a minute later, the large LCD screen displays upper and lower readings of your blood pressure, together with a measurement of your pulse. During those 30 seconds the cuff pressurises and depressurises, which is a little disconcerting at first, but quickly becomes second nature. The memory function retains the last seven readings so you can measure your blood pressure repeatedly, and it'll even calculate the average value of all the figures in its memory. If you want the VitalScan for particular heath concerns, it will probably answer your needs happily, but the truth is that everyone in the office who saw this device wanted to satisfy their curiosity as to whether their pressure was "normal", "borderline" or "high", as diagnosed in the booklet. Perhaps it's just because it makes you feel as though you're in control. Whatever, there was a queue round my desk. The VitalScan normally costs pounds 79.99, but is currently available at an introductory price of pounds 69.99 from Argos, Index and John Lewis, or call Braun on 0800 783 7010. David Phelan

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