Tuesday 19 August 1997
By today, flautist Jan Hendrickse should have reached the mid-point of his "epic quest" across Central Asia, an ambitious exploration of the musical cultures of the Silk Route and beyond. As wandering minstrels go he's a little encumbered, with dishes, laptops, digital cameras and a production team, all aboard a "nomadmobile". The trip is an increasingly familiar type of multimedia caravan, in this case with a World Service programme and video documentary attached.
But there are really two epics here: that of a region coming to terms with its post-Soviet identity, and the logistical drama of trying to upload copy each day, faced with arbitrary local politics and dodgy satellite links. The latest plug-ins import the authentic sounds of dombras, shetigens and animal-hoof castanets, and instruments can even be custom-mixed by site visitors. Meanwhile Jan's own musings note the ironies involved as well as his sheer delight in being invited to jam sessions with the traditional players he meets on the way. The saga continues its daily updates for the next three weeks, and the team will respond to e-mails.
Soundscapes from The vOICe: Seeing with your ears?
This scientific site aims to develop a vision substitution device for the blind, translating images into sounds with a technique which is part- sonar, part the "synaesthesia" beloved of neurologists and French Symbolist poets. The latest update is a clever bit of Java programming allowing visitors to draw onscreen pictures that are then turned into digital bleeps. The result apparently can create complex chords which indicate distance and spatial positioning quite precisely to a trained ear - a music with which to describe the world. Fascinating stuff for those with time to download it.
Pinnsvinenes Velforening: the Norwegian Hedgehog Page
Forget Tamagotchi, and throw out those old editions of "Modern Ferret". This year's cool pet is the humble hedgehog, as celebrated at this bilingual site. Both the African Pygmy type found in pet shops, and the wild variety, are present here, with a catalogue of appearances in literature and song, and links to other barely believable pages such as the International Hedgehog Registry. At the US sites, the hogs (and hoglets) tend to be more outgoing - "Hi! My name's Velcro!" - whereas our own Cleveland Hedgehog Preservation Society Homepage (http://www.doned. demon.co.uk/) has a Wind-in-the-Willows-ish graphic and some advice on feeding the furtive guest at the bottom of the garden: don't put out a saucer of milk, it could well be fatal.
InterFACE: Internet Fractal and Chaos Education
Fractals are a Web cliche, but this site, one of a series created by 12- to 19-year-olds in pursuit of an award from the US "ThinkQuest" competition, goes into the theory behind it all and includes a set of "lessons" and a quiz. The design allows users to personalise the site for return visits, and the information is presented in no less than seven languages. An Exploratory section sweetens the pill with videos and even a Fractal symphony, but the "new Internet style of learning" attempted here won't help anyone avoid the maths
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