Technofile: A Boy's Best Friend

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The secret of my success in keeping bright and keen about new media is that I don't surf. Judicious digression, that's the trick. Too much aimless meandering and you feel like you're watching television, but in a less comfortable position. Somebody has to do it, though, and Jon Casimir's Postcards from the Net is an entertaining and unpretentious series of glimpses into life by modem. In his second collection, A Boy and His Mouse (Allen & Unwin, pounds 8.99), Casimir reveals his touchingly naive belief that the Web is dotted with women who like to show the world photographs of themselves in flagrante for the purest of exhibitionist motives, with no consideration of financial gain. He should definitely get out more.


Technofile is obliged to Jon Casimir for leading the way to Killer Fonts, a source of alphabets based on the handwriting of notorious murderers (Macintosh or PC, $9.95 each or $19.95 for three). "What better way to let your boss know your true feelings than by resigning with the help of Charles Manson?" ask the typographers. A good question, but perhaps you should stick to Times New Roman if you want a reference. Should your fancy not be tickled by the idea of sending "Dear John" letters in Jeffrey Dahmer's hand, or writing to the folks back home in the style of Lizzie Borden, there's also a selection of Dictators (Napoleon and Genghis Khan), Dead Presidents, Cowboys and miscellaneous notables such as Edgar Allen Poe. In a concession to good taste, the fontmeisters have omitted the zigzag spasm that can be seen at the Imperial War Museum, on the infamous piece of paper brought back from Munich by Chamberlain. Instead of Adolf Hitler, there's Helen Keller.


Incautious exposure to the Web may cause ennui, but a few minutes with Usenet news groups is liable to induce fear, loathing and tinnitus. Charles Cameron is made of stern stuff, however, and is capable of discerning "the poetry of the thing". A leading player in the Glass Bead Games that Technofile featured recently, Cameron is also involved with the Center for Millennial Studies, and has produced a series of "Millennium Concentrates" of Net links that run the gamut from UFOs to cargo cults. The latest surveys the incandescent fantasies inspired by "the one known to you as Diana, Princess of Wales", as she is styled by a commentator who identifies her as a transdimensional being and Faerie Queen. Another blames her death on the transfer of the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey to Scotland. The pick of of the bunch connects her with Druids and the Mayan royal family, both of whom are descended from the High Priests of Israel, and culminates by quoting the entire lyric of "Oh What A Circus", from Evita.

Cameron notes the sudden flash of lucidity, and he's right. The mourners at the Sacred Grove in Kensington Gardens were crying for their own families' bereavements as well as the Royal Family's, and it was their perception of Diana as the People's Princess which made it possible for them all to become royal for that enchanted fortnight. "... I am ordinary, unimportant/And undeserving of such attention/Unless we all are, I think we all are/So share my glory, so share my coffin."


Among the links in Charles Cameron's Millennium Concentrates is one to a news story about the waning influence of the Jon Frum cargo cult in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu (right). The cult arose in the wake of contact with American forces, and the masses of material goods they brought with them, during the Second World War. Cargo cults maintain that such goods properly belong to the islanders who follow them, and one day they will be returned; in this case by the US soldier Jon Frum. Islanders put on imitation US uniforms, build imitation airstrips and issue radio messages - "You have landing clearance ... Roger ... Over and out". But Frum's plane still doesn't land. Cult leaders on the island of Ambae attempted to revive their movement by prophesying the return of Moses and Abraham. When the Biblical figures also failed to appear, the cult chiefs were beaten up.


Call up I, Rearrangement Servant, otherwise known as the Internet Anagram Server. Enter your name, or that of a partner, esteemed colleague, politician etc, and sit back. The results tend to be a bit like all those cherished number plates which don't quite spell names or amusing words. For Technofile, "Clone Thief" has appropriate hardware over-tones, unlike "Leech Of Tin" or "I Left Enoch". "Echelon Fit" sounds like some sort of high-tech military code, while we could have done without "Infect Hole". However, I was relieved to see that the Servant stopped just one letter short of rejigging this page's title into a practice not mentionable in a family newspaper.


Tired of downloading files from a website, only for your browser to tell you that you don't have the software to run them? The helpful people at a site called CrankClub have provided a test area where visitors can check they have all the various accessories needed to bring the site's features to life, and download them if necessary. Brief explanations of the programs make a refreshing change from the widespread assumption that if you aren't fluent in C++ and Java, you don't belong on the Net.

An American soldier on overseas service watches a porn video with his colleagues, in which a masked woman cavorts with a succession of partners. At the end she takes off the mask, revealing herself to be the soldier's wife. Turning to the camera she says, "I want a divorce."

Just a folktale, according to the Urban Legends site. There's even more of a mythic quality about the story of the GI in Germany who presents his wife with her lover's head, just as she is about to give birth, but tragically that one is true. The legends and true stories come thick and fast on this fascinating site, which sends out e-mail announcements of recent additions, such as a rumour about how intimate moments can be translated to new heights of ecstasy by the use of strong mints.