Internet, schminternet. Good thing or bad thing? You decide. I've been through the mill on this one. One of my contacts at the World Bank, for whom I do a little import and export, invited me to visit his ranch in the Dominican Republic. Fine I thought. No Internet, no dodgy phone connections, just palm trees and plenty of pina colada. I accepted, but my mistake was to spend time on the Net checking out my new found paradise.
You know the kind of thing; you fire up Altavista and search on said country only to find a list of human rights violations, stories of prison breakouts and tales of police corruption and hassling of tourists. OK, we all know the Dominican Republic has a rather bloody history (breaking away from Haiti, who wouldn't?), but why did I have to go there just when the US decided to deport some of the DR's most notorious drug dealers?
On a lighter note, I also found out that down in the capital, Santo Domingo, the zoo had lost its favourite chimpanzee only to find it had been shot in the neighbouring housing estate by someone who obviously thought it bore a likeness to the infamous Francis Drake. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the Internet ain't no holiday brochure. If you just want the upside of wherever you're going, stick with the Thomson's tour guide.
Two weeks in the Caribbean is no preparation for London with its record June/July rainfall. The only good news comes from press releases which show that at last the world is becoming a safer place. For example, the most successful site known to man - and a few women - (Playboy.com) is now digitally watermarking its much sought after pin-ups. This may cause alarm to hard drives around the world that have illegally amassed massive pin-up collections, but the Playboy empire must be applauded for its forthright protection of its assets.
Perhaps just as encouraging is the explosion of friendly Internet kiosks everywhere you look. I am partial to dipping my toe in the water at my local swimming pool and noticed with amusement that BT had installed its own version on test a few months ago. It was entertaining to see snotty schoolkids giving it the once over, pressing everything in sight just for a chance to see their favourite team on screen. The BT version even has a cash slot showing that Iain Vallance (BT's top dog) and co. have big plans for public terminals, but I never saw anyone put anything in this one - not even a piece of old chewing gum.
Now we're being told that a company called 3C Communications has installed its 1,000th credit card Internet terminal in posh sites like hotels and airports across Europe. 3C obviously thinks my local swimming pool's a bit downmarket, but with Internet access reaching into every sphere of human life it won't be long before someone realises that these days we have the most free time when clearing our bowels. A tasteless thought I know, but it's only a matter of time before someone launches the world's first high-speed "Net convenience".
This month's Netragnome marketing award goes to Stockport-based KMP Internet Solutions which has solved the perennial problem of tech support with its very own virtual techie called Mystic Bob. What I like most is that KMP sent us a picture of the aforementioned asking us to blank out the background, "placing Bob on a completely white background". Clearly Bob's mystical powers are stronger when placed thus, but for you dear reader, for the first time ever we show Bob as he really is, background and all.
Talking about mystical types, I got a call from a very charming TV researcher at a cable channel in Brighton. "Netragnome," she said "you know a lot about the Internet ..." I was putty in her hands. "So tell me, do you know of a community on the west coast in the States that lives together and designs Web sites?" Despite my vast knowledge (which fits on the back of a postage stamp), all I could think of was that bunch of weirdos that committed suicide because they had friends waiting for them behind the Hale Bopp comet. "Why not get that into your programme?" I suggested. She wasn't impressed, but rather insisted on phoning me every couple of days to see if I had any other ideas. TV people, don't ya just love 'em?
But hey, I should start charging these TV people for my thoughts. I've just read that a guy in the States was fired for having an idea which he developed in his spare time. The company is now taking him to court claiming it owns his thoughts and thus the idea. So next time you have an idea about anything like putting Internet terminals into your local public convenience, check your contract before you shoot off and set up your own Net toilet empire.
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