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The Gustav Mahler Virtual Shrine challenges two widely held cultural assumptions. One is that the people who use the Net to share erratically- spelled exclamations about the objects of their fanaticism are not all obsessed with Spice, drugs or rock 'n' roll. The other is that Wagnerians are the crankiest of all the sects devoted to composers with Romantic affiliations.

Mick Bauer, who humbly styles himself "the Attendant", welcomes visitors to the Shrine with the observation that Mahler suffered tribulations which have been compared to those of the saints. The Faithful, invited to "testify", need no further prompting. Many actually rank the Master higher than saintly, capitalising His pronouns and declaring that He is "a God". The Attendant appends playful notes, in cod-Gothic style, that keep the disciples from taking themselves too seriously. Not the sort of thing one tends to find on Wagner home pages.

Occasionally controversy breaks into the hosannas. Apparently some on- line Mahlerites have claimed that horn players only like the Master because he lets them really blow. At that, the horn players blew their tops. "Yes, I am a Horn Player," declared one. "But if I hear one more accusation that I only enjoy Mahler because of this fact, I am sure to KILL AGAIN!!!"

As always, the Attendant's careful words healed the wounds. Revealing that he too sat in the horn section, he observed that "only a Remarkable Simp would confuse love of Mahler with love of the Horn - we love Mahler's music precisely because it Transcends our struggles with that ridiculous mass of coils. For what is less significant or noticeable than missing a low D in the third horn part of the Symphony of a Thousand? Music that incredible can't be ruined by even the most egregious Clambake!"


YOU CAN almost hear the sound of clockwork as you load the Spumco Home Page, which opens a window into "the only Hollywood Cartoon Studio that's actually run by cartoonists". Naturally, the site features animations and noises, but the current state of the Web doesn't allow the effects to merge like the frames of a cartoon film. Usually this is simply irritating, but at Spumco it has a certain charm. When you finally get the sample cartoons to chunter into action, you enjoy a visual experience that harks back across the decades, to the days when movies were called "the flicks".

Spumco cartoon characters also evoke the past; the Golden Age of Tex Avery and the other great animators, seen through the disruptive prisms of psychedelia. This is the home of John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren and Stimpy, and there are more creatures where they came from. Here you may meet Cigarettes the Cat, Jimmy the Idiot Boy and George Liquor, American, who barks the greeting: "Cartoons for Real Men - but Moms like 'em too." The colours are lurid and the tone is coarse: this is not filtered material. The point of the site is that after falling out with the industry execs, the cartoonists are now free to publish whatever they want. And it looks as though they'll do just that.

The first complete Spumco Web cartoon is due to premiere on 15 October


TO A JOURNALIST, a review copy of a book about information overload is pretty much like getting a pair of socks at Christmas. But David Shenk, author of Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut (Abacus, pounds 9.99), is keenly aware of the need to position himself as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. The trick that he has perfected is to allow himself to feel good, instead of guilty, about resenting information.

Shenk on the will to upgrade: "'Did you ever notice how, for anything else, $300 is a lot of money?' a friend remarks as we drool over CD-ROM drives in a computer store. 'But in the computer universe, we don't think twice about spending it.'" So, if you've ever wondered about those computer ads for "fantastic bargains" at only pounds 1499 plus VAT, now you understand how they work.


DK MULTIMEDIA claims to be so confident about its new acquisition, Acacia's Revise CD-ROM series, that any customers who fail their GCSEs can claim their money back. Closer inspection of this offer reveals that it applies only to hapless students who don't even achieve Grade F, rather than the real pass grade of C. All the same, it seems like a risky tactic. If anybody gets wind of this in the United States, the entire educational publishing system could collapse in a blizzard of product liability lawsuits.

GCSE Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography (PC/Mac pounds 19.99)



If pedalling a steep gradient by bike seems an uphill struggle, Sir Clive Sinclair has a solution. With the Zeta, he developed a simple motor which powered the front wheel of a bicycle. Now, with the Zeta II, that idea has been refined to make the motor smaller and the price lower (pounds 95). It's easy to assemble - although the 20 minutes suggested in the promotional literature is wildly optimistic; allow an hour - and it does mean that you need to pedal less when going uphill. Well, just a bit less. What they don't tell you is that the motor makes such a din that strangers stare at you in the street, although I am told it gets quieter when it beds in. The design is a triumph of simplicity, but when you don't need its motorised help (such as if you go over 15mph when it can't keep up), you have to lift it away from the wheel by means of a switch on your handlebars. The switch can, however, slip back. Until the motor is improved (and muffled), this remains an entertaining gimmick for the gadget-lover after a little light exercise. Available from Vector Services, 01933 279300. David Phelan