Lost in Cyberspace
Internet World
© 1998 by H.B. Koplowitz

Ever notice how those big computer shows are like Renaissance Faires for nerds? Recently I attended one called Internet World <www.internet.com> at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Produced by Mecklermedia, an Internet media company, it was geared toward business, or what they call "e-commerce."

Like Disneyland, which has Frontierland and Fantasyland, Internet World had sub-worlds, only with names like Executive Insights and Strategies, IP Infrastructure, and Enterprise Networking Applications. They tried to liven things up with comedians, music and giveaways, but I didn't stay long, and here's all I remember:

A guy dressed like a safari guide, replete in khaki and pith helmet, warning that the Internet was a jungle, but a company called AMPeMERCE could "commerce enable" my website. I figured they needed to enable their name first.

A fellow with a ski mask hiding his face trying to explain an integrated analog router and four-part Ethernet hub (which is kind of like a cable TV splitter for the Internet). He said his name was Vinny and that he ran a "small lending institution," where he was "well connected." He once got so mad at one of his "business associates" for borrowing his computer to surf the net that he had him "permanently downloaded and compressed." I moved on before he offered me a deal I couldn't refuse.

The exhibitor at Aplio <www.aplio.com> was selling a contraption you hook up to your telephone to make "free" long distance phone calls over the Internet, if both you and the person you are calling have the device, which costs $199.

"Let me get this straight," I challenged the exhibitor. "For $400 I can make a free phone call?"

"Three-hundred-and-eighty dollars," he said, nonplussed. "You get $10 off on two or more." 

Sun Microsystems <www.sun.com> didn't just have a booth but a whole pavilion dedicated to what it calls its "singular vision," which is to crash my computer with its infernal Java script. The pavilion was crawling with website developers trading tech talk about the latest Applets and JavaBeans. I had a technical question of my own, so I went up to one of Sun's perky representatives and asked her why Java sucks so bad.

She looked at me like I was the Unibomber and said that was too technical a question for her to answer and that I needed to speak with one of the Java specialists around the other side of the pavilion. When I was finally able to drag one away from his adoring fans, instead of answering me directly he suavely inquired as to my computer memory and modem speed. Sure, I thought, blame the victim.

I said he knew darned well what I was talking about; Java websites take too long to load. He gave me the company line: it's still a new technology, it's constantly improving, yah dah dah. But when I pressed him on when Java wouldn't suck anymore, he shrugged and said he couldn't give me an exact date.

My mood darkened as I waded through the teeming Microsoft Pavilion, in futile search of an Apple Pavilion, or at least an Apple booth, which was inconspicuous by its absence. I got a perverse thrill out of letting exhibitors tantalize me with all their software's features, then asking them if they had a Mac version. Just like the Java guy, they'd assure me, "we're working on it."

Log-On Data Corp. was offering $50 to visitors who could find cyberporn websites not blocked by its censoring software, X-Stop <www.xstop.com>. Its patented "Mudcrawler" technology scours 1 million websites an hour, searching for cybersmut. According to its publicity materials, the company has but one mission: "to find every possible pornographic Web site and stop that content from reaching our children." But as X-Stop's ad in the official Internet World show directory reveals, the software makes the Internet safe for children of all ages, including working age.

The Internet is "the greatest breakthrough in communications since the printed word," the ad states, then adds, "it's also the greatest purveyor of pornography, filth, hate and bigotry the world has ever known. And it's all protected by the United States Constitution." It goes on to say employers "are potentially liable for any offensive material that may find its way into the place of business," and that X-Stop is the best defense.

"Do you have X-Stop for Mac?" I asked spokesman Greg Young.

"We're working on it," he said.

And then there was WristGliders <www.wristgliders.com>, the latest solution for repetitive motion injuries caused by prolonged typing and mouse use. Unlike stationary keyboard wrist rests, WristGliders look like little hockey pucks that slide beneath your wrists as you move about the keyboard and mousepad. A set of three cost $24.

"We're the low end of the show," spokesman K. Roger Dean conceded. "But at least people understand us."

And they even work with a Mac.

© 1998 By H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.