Category Archives: Culture

Cyber Thanksgiving 11/27/1997

Wampanoag Chief Massasoit visits the Pilgrims. — The Atlantic (Bettman / Getty)

Before it became fashionable to bash holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, I looked for some dissonant Turkey Day narratives online. There are more today than there used to be.

Cyber Thanksgiving 11/27/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

For most Americans, Thanksgiving means turkey, football, family, God and country, and children acting out skits dressed as Pilgrims and Indians. I don’t mean to sneeze in anyone’s candied yams, but for Native Americans, Thanksgiving is kind of like Woodstock, i.e., the last time they experienced three days of peace and love with whitey. Not that Squanto, that Uncle Tom of the Wampanoags, doesn’t get a featured role in those grade school skits. But here’s several Turkey Day Web sites that separate Thanksgiving facts from fiction.

What better place to start an online Thanksgiving pilgrimage than “America’s Homepage!! Plymouth, MA.” Co-produced by the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, the site is heavy on travel, lodging and visitor information, but also has a link to America’s oldest public museum in continuous operation, the Pilgrim Hall Museum owned and operated by the Pilgrim Society.

There’s also information on the history and people of the area. For example, an article on the Wampanoag tribes by Jacqui Hayes of Plymouth South High School notes that the Wampanoags protected the English settlers from more hostile tribes and taught them to plant corn and other crops, and in return the Europeans gave them deadly diseases.

Although their language and culture were nearly obliterated, the 700 or so surviving Wampanoags began to revive their tribal customs during the 1960s and ’70s, and on Thanksgiving Day 1970 about 200 tribe members gathered at Plymouth to protest the European conquest. A “Day of Mourning” protest has been held every Thanksgiving since.

Perhaps the most comprehensive — if somewhat Eurocentric — Web site on Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims is “Caleb Johnson’s Mayflower Web Pages” <>. Johnson is a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and claims to be related to half the passengers on the boat, including Miles Standish and John Alden. Currently an Intranet coordinator for a company in Vancouver, Wash., he has been researching the history of the Mayflower for the past six years and been a consultant on Thanksgiving-related news stories and documentaries by The New York Times, BBC, CBS and Disney among others.

A self-taught genealogist, his site includes family trees, biographies and texts of early Plymouth writings, 17th century Pilgrim letters, and other contemporary documents. There are sections about the girls and women who traveled on the Mayflower, the clothing worn by Pilgrims, the history of the Mayflower ship and the Thanksgiving holiday.

A section on “Common Mayflower Myths” says that the original Pilgrims were not Puritans but “Separatists,” did not wear big buckles, were not mostly old men (their average age was 32), and did not celebrate Thanksgiving as an annual event. Johnson also asserts that it’s a myth that the Pilgrims stole land from the Indians and mistreated them, because the Indians were wiped out by smallpox in 1614. So there.

For a Native American perspective on Thanksgiving, there’s “Thanksgiving Information,” a report by the Fourth World Documentation Project, which is part of The Center For World Indigenous Studies. In an introduction written by Native American school teacher Chuck Larsen of Tacoma, Wash., he notes that each Thanksgiving he faces the dilemma of how to be honest with his students without passing on historical distortions, then proceeds to examine a few myths of his own.

Mayflower replica at Plymouth Bay.

For example, he says the Puritans were not just simple religious conservatives persecuted by the King and the Church of England, but “political revolutionaries who not only intended to overthrow the government of England, but who actually did so in 1649.” Nor were the Wampanoag Indians invited to the first Thanksgiving “in a demonstration of Christian charity and interracial brotherhood,” but to negotiate a treaty securing lands for the Pilgrims.

To show how the Pilgrims felt about Squanto and the other Indians who helped them through that first winter, Larsen quotes from a 1623 Thanksgiving sermon delivered at Plymouth by Mather the Elder. In it, he thanks God for the smallpox that wiped out most of the Wampanoags and for destroying “chiefly young men and children, the very seeds of increase, thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth.”

As for Squanto, the Indian hero of the Thanksgiving story, Larsen says he had a “very real love for a British explorer named John Weymouth, who had become a second father to him.” Take that any way you’d like.

But the school teacher concludes that although what is taught about Thanksgiving is a mixture of history and myth, “the theme of Thanksgiving has truth and integrity far above and beyond what we and our forebearers have made of it.” And of that first Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, Larsen says, “the friendship was guarded and not always sincere, and the peace was very soon abused. But for three days in New England’s history, peace and friendship were there.”

© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

Doomed Startups 11/13/1997

For my 13th column, I pulled from my pile of press releases two Internet startups that (unbeknownst to me) were doomed from the start. MusicMaker, which offered to make customized music CDs, started around the same time as home CD burners became affordable and media piracy was about to disrupt the entire entertainment industry. FindaVideo wanted you to search for videos online before searching for them at the video store, which was also doomed to extinction.

Doomed Startups 11/13/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

For a unique gift for many an occasion, imagine creating a customized personalized music CD to send to a friend or loved one. Imagine picking and choosing from your favorite records to create your own CD. That’s the nifty concept behind, a new Web site created by the [music-trade magazine] Music Connection, one of the established CD retailers on the Web.

At the site you can create your own personalized CD of five to 15 tracks, up to 70 minutes of music. Each CD comes in a “jewel box” with a personalized label. Original, “hard to find” CDs are also available through the site. Taking full advantage of the data sorting capabilities of the Internet [sic], the site lets you search for songs by title, composer, instrument, orchestra, even sideman. And with RealAudio software, you can hear 30-second streaming audio samples of every track available for sale.

The rub, of course, is the part about “available for sale.” The company is initially offering 30,000 jazz, blues, rock and roll and classical selections, with plans to have 100,000 tracks by the end of the year, and more than 1 million songs within two years.

Securing music rights can be tricky, but The Music Connection was created by former senior executives from such record and entertainment giants as PolyGram, BMG, Warner and RCA.

According to Irwin Steinberg, Music Connection vice chairman and and former chairman and chief executive of PolyGram USA, the world’s largest music company, “this is an ideal solution to a significant issue for the major music companies — having assets in music libraries they have developed for decades, potentially worth billions, but with no distribution channels because retailers and even record clubs can’t afford to stock and market anything that isn’t current or exceptionally popular.”

So far, has compilation rights from more than a dozen labels, including Fantasy, Alligator Records (a leading source for Chicago Blues), 32 Records (Landmark and Muse Labels), Newport Classics and Seventh Wave Productions. Artists include John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, John Lee Hooker, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Otis Redding and Sonny Rollins, plus a large selection of up-and-coming bands.

The company is negotiating with major record companies as well as independent and specialty labels for compilation rights to their libraries and expects to add one or two labels a month. For now, however, for every Miles Davis, Jerry Garcia or Credence Clearwater Revival available for sale, there is a Beatles, Elvis or Dylan that is not. Still, there is much to choose from, and the personalized label is a really nice touch.

“One of the things we expect is for customers to produce ‘gift’ albums, personalized between the buyer and someone special,” said Raju Puthukarai, Music Connection president and former head of Warner Music Media and RCA/BMG’s music and video clubs. “We also expect people will create sets, or their own libraries, organizing their music in their own way for the first time.”

The custom CDs cost $9.95 for five tracks plus $1 for each additional track ($14.95 for 10 tracks, $19.95 for 15 tracks). Online as well as telephone (1-888-44CDS4U) orders can be billed to most major credit cards.

Those dreaded words: “Hon, on your way home, could you pick up a video?” will not get you out of going to the video store. But it attempts to make the chore easier by listing and reviewing videos you are likely to find there.

The idea is that before you go to the video store you go to the video site, where you browse through the new releases, find out what are the most popular video rentals and sales, search for movies by title, actor, director and genre, and check out the movie reviews. When you find a video you’d like to rent, you click on a button and the Web site compiles a shopping list you can print out and take to the video store.

The database is well organized and relatively quick to load, but one trade off is that there are no pictures, even though when choosing a video, pictures often play as big a role as descriptions. And just because you find a video at the Web site doesn’t mean your video store carries it, or that they aren’t all checked out. The bottom line is which you find the bigger chore: browsing through a video store or browsing through a Web site. But the next time you hear those dreaded words you can reply, “Sure hon, I’ll pick up a video, as soon as you pick it out on the Web.”

© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

BMI’s MusicBot the RoboCop of Cyberspace 10/30/1997

For my 12th column I did more entertainment-related pickups, meaning I picked them up from press releases or other news outlets. I led with a local Southern California story about a snake that ate a Chihuahua. As usual, I missed the real story, which was that BMI’s MusicBot was an early effort by the music industry to regulate the use of copyrighted music on the internet, and that Kinky Friedman’s reissues were on N2K’s Music Boulevard website, which was among the first to offer piracy-protected music for download.

BMI’s MusicBot the RoboCop of Cyberspace 10/30/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

The owner of a Chihuahua-eating snake is appealing for donations over the Internet to bring his pet Colombian red-tailed boa back to his home in the San Fernando Valley.

In August, Alisss slithered away from Angus Johnson’s West Hills home and ate Flossie Torgerson’s dog, a long-haired Chihuahua named Babette, as Torgerson watched in horror. And took photos. She sued Johnson for damages and they appeared on the new The People’s Court TV show, where the judge, former New York Mayor Ed Koch, ruled in favor of Torgerson.

Meanwhile, Johnson has been fighting a separate battle with authorities to regain custody of the snake. After devouring Babette, Alisss was taken to the West Valley Animal Control shelter in Chatsworth. When the city refused to issue Johnson a wild animal permit so he could get his snake back, he claimed discrimination and threatened to sue.

Now the snake is in San Bernardino County, staying with a friend of Johnson’s. But the city won’t let him bring his snake home until he pays $70 for the permit, plus $150 in court costs and fines, and Johnson says he doesn’t have the money. His Web page seeks donations for the Free Alisss Defense Fund, although it is more like the Bring Alisss Home Fund, since the snake is no longer in a shelter.

Johnson is an aspiring hard rock musician. He has used Alisss, which is named after Alice Cooper, in his act. He says he rescued Alisss from an abusive owner eight years ago, and that the snake usually sleeps under his pillow.

The music cop, BMI, has unleashed a new Web robot that monitors music in cyberspace. “MusicBot” combs the Web, quantifying the use of music on different sites.

“BMI is working to make it easy to add the value of music to Web sites,” said BMI Senior Vice President of Licensing John Shaker. “At the same time, we want to make sure that music rights holders are encourage to let their music be performed online with the confidence that they will be properly compensated.

MusicBot is an automated tracking and database technology. It tracks the use of BMI-licensed music 24 hours a day, seven days a week, doing the work of 20 full-time employees for a fraction of the cost. Preliminary returns from MusicBot suggest that about 2 percent, or 26,000 of the 1.3 million sites on the Web, use audio files.

BMI distributes royalties to songwriters, composers, and music publishers for the performance and copying of their works. MusicBot is the latest BMI initiative to protect the rights of the more than 200,000 copyright holders it represents.

The organization has created three new licenses (Web site wide license, music area license and corporate image license) for Web sites to get the rights to music. The license applications can be downloaded at BMI’s Web site, which also has information on licensing music on radio, TV, cable, businesses and the Internet, and a huge Internet song title database searchable by song title or writer, with writer and publisher information on songs licensed by BMI.

Two classic CDs from irreverent musician, author and raconteur Kinky Friedman are for sale online exclusively at N2K’s Music Boulevard Web site. [In 1999, Music Boulevard was purchased by CDNow, which was acquired by Amazon in 2002]. The Internet release of Old Testaments and New Revelations and From One Good American to Another coincides with the release of Friedman’s latest mystery novel, Roadkill.

Old Testaments and New Revelations includes 21 songs spanning 20 years of road grit and flat beer. The set includes such classics as “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” recorded live in 1992 on the Don Imus radio show, and “The Ballad of Charles Whitman,” featuring the legendary Texas Jewboys.

In From One Good American to Another, Friedman explores his folk/country roots. The CD features Dr. John and members of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder revue as well as The Texas Jewboys, classics such as “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and “Hobo’s Lullaby,” and a moving rendition of “Old Shep.”

The Kinkster has parlayed his singing career into a new incarnation as a mystery writer and super sleuth of his own novels. Roadkill features himself as a country music singer/ace detective coming to the aid of friend and country music star Willie Nelson.

Know of a “Kinky” site? Send your questions, comments or suggestions to

© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

Cyber Concerts 10/23/1997

Bridges to Babylon Tour recorded in 1997 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Running short of ideas after just 10 columns, I returned to old reliable — press releases. Note that in 1997 I compared the Rolling Stones to the iron man of baseball, Cal Ripkens, whose career lasted 21 years. The Stones were still rocking 24 years after I’d compared them to Ripkens. Drummer Charlie Watts died Aug. 24, 2021, at age 80.

Cyber Concerts 10/23/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

Rolling Stones Cyber Concerts: The Cal Ripkens of Rock, The Rolling Stones, are touring again. They are also letting netizens help determine their play list. At the official “Rolling Stones Web site” <>, you can cast your cyber vote for which song you would like the band to play at its next concert, and then hear it cybercast. Visitors to the Web site can pick from a list of 20 Rolling Stones tunes not on their set list. At each concert, the band plays that day’s “people’s choice,” which is also cybercast live, starting at 7 p.m. Some of the choices are obscure tunes the band hasn’t played (or rehearsed) in years.

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“We’ve always been fascinated by the interaction the Internet makes possible between artists and fans,” Mick Jagger said in a press release. “So this is an experiment, really, to see if there is a really inventive way that we can make the Internet become a part of our show, and make our show a part of the Internet.”

If the experiment works, the band will add the Web component to every stop on the tour, including a Nov. 9 concert with the WallFlowers at Dodger Stadium. But there’s already been incidents of cyber ballot stuffing in Chicago.

Synth Museum: The Rolling Stones and other bands are going retro, returning to analog synthesizers and drum machines. Where can you learn more about this vintage gear? At, which claims to be the largest online museum of vintage electronic musical instruments.

The site has pictures and information on more than 275 analog keyboards, drum machines, modular systems and other instruments, from household toy keyboards to one-of-a-kind wonders that fill up a whole room. Photos and histories of the instruments are provided by people who create, repair or play electronic musical instruments.

The site contains such helpful nuggets of information as that the Moog synthesizer was invented in 1963 by a PhD candidate in physics, Robert A. Moog, with assistance from Herbert Deutsch. According to the narrative, “Moog” is pronounced wit a long “o” sound, loke rogue or vogue, not like fugue.” The narrative does not say how to pronounce the other guy’s name.

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Vampires and Violins: Just in time for Halloween, “Leila Josefowicz — Violin for Anne Rice” is the featured recording this month at “Classical Insites” <>, a Web site for classical music lovers. The CD was conceived when Josefowicz, a violin virtuoso, learned that her recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was a major inspiration to “Interview with the Vampire” author Anne Rice, when Rice wrote her latest novel, “Violin.”

Spanning 19th-century Vienna to present-day New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, “Violin” is the story of two charismatic figures bound together by their obsession with music, yet locked in a supernatural battle. The CD features Rice’s favorite selections from Josefowicz’s recordings.

The Web site has a three-minute video clip of Josefowicz and Rice, and background on how the CD came together. Two complete tracks can be heard in streaming audio, including a new arrangement of Sting’s “Moon Over Bourbon Street,” which was inspired by Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire,” and 30-second sound samples from the rest of the recording. Not coincidentally, the book and CD were both released this week.

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Autumn Leaves: If you can’t get out to enjoy the autumn leaves, don’t despair. The nonprofit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy claims it has the best colors of the season at its Web site. Rail-trails are multi-purpose public paths created from abandoned railroad corridors. Mostly used for bicycling, walking, horseback riding, in-line skating, cross-country skiing and wheelchair recreation, nearly 10,000 miles of rail-trailers have been created across the country.

I hate to pan the Web site of a group dedicated to such a noble cause. But it doesn’t really have any photography of fall finery, and its one drawing of fall shows a leaf that looks more like it came from a certain herb than a tree. The again, the Web site’s U.S. Trail Information Center has great descriptions of some 700 rail-trails across the country, along with local weather, bed and breakfasts, tourism offices and maps. So if you do want to get out and enjoy the fall colors, this Web site can help you plan your trip.

© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.
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Cyber Bar 10/9/1997

Exterior of Billboard Live with dual JumboTrons after the short-lived club was renamed the Key Club.
— 9039 Sunset Blvd on the Strip – A Brief Photographic History.

Billboard Live was ahead of its time, spending millions of dollars to try to accomplish what most smartphones can do today, which was videoconference from the club. The bar was also kind of creepy, with spycams everywhere. It also had the first JumboTron outside of a sports arena, which loomed over the traffic on the Sunset Strip. The high tech bar didn’t last long; 18 months later it was renamed the Key Club, and most of its cyber-gadgetry was decommissioned.

Billboard Live 10/9/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

Recently, a producer friend and I got a private tour of Billboard Live, a hot new nightclub on the  Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Partly owned by Billboard magazine, and at the former location of  Gazarri’s, one of the Strip’s premier clubs, Billboard Live aspires to be a watering hole for music  moguls and a launch pad for upcoming bands. It’s got all the right amenities — bar, restaurant,  entertainment, dance floor, and a members only club in the basement. It’s also got enough high tech  gadgetry to give new meaning to “cyber bar.”

Of the nearly $9 million it cost to open Billboard Live, only about $3.5  million went for conventional furnishings, fixtures and equipment. Much of the rest was lavished on  lighting, technology and JumboTrons.

“Our goal is to pay homage to music by providing a showcase for new artists to be seen live on the  Sunset Strip and worldwide via our electronic media,” said Billboard Live President Keith Pressman.

The club also books established bands, providing the intimacy of a club with all the gear a top band  would use on a multimillion dollar tour, he said.

The main ballroom has a 10′ x 12′ video projector screen so patrons can see the band if it gets  crowded. And if it gets really really crowded, or you get really really drunk, five-inch TV screens are  embedded in the floor.

Downstairs, members of the exclusive “Board Room” can view the main floor action from wall  screens or computers at their tables. For a limited number of personal and corporate paying members,  the subterranean Board Room furnishes privacy for celebs seeking their space, along with a virtual  cyber office with teleconferencing, Internet access and an e-mail address at the club.

In the mezzanine restaurant, many tables also are equipped with touch-screen computers to watch the  stage show, surf the net or order food and drinks. The table-side computers weren’t working when I  was there, but may be now.

Behind the scenes, a five-camera video production center is used to record shows and broadcast live  inside the club and onto the JumboTrons and Internet. With 35,000 main watts of audio power, and a  monitor system with 52 channels and 18 mixes and wedges, it’s the envy of many studios.

“Everything is set up so that as technology changes, we just re-program what we have,” said Steve  Strauss, vice president of operations, and former general manager of the nearby House of Blues. “We  may not use it all immediately, but we’re having everything wired now, so that when the times comes,  we are ready.”

For example, the stage revolves, so one band can be setting up behind the curtain while another band is on stage performing. But they seldom book more than one band  a night. They’ve also got 44 permanently installed Vari*lites, when it only takes four to light a KISS  concert.

Even by L.A. standards, Billboard Live’s building facade is bodacious, with two 9′ by 12′  JumboTron video marquees projecting movie ads, PSAs, music videos and sometimes simulcasts of  live entertainment from inside the club. Within a mile radius, drivers can hear audio transmissions  from the JumboTrons on their AM radios. The club sells time on the video marquees for music video  promotions and other advertising targeted at the 65,000 vehicles that cruise the Sunset Strip daily.

If that ain’t enough, it’s all fed onto the World Wide Web. With free “streaming video” software  called StreamWorks, you can view on your home computer the same thing that is on the Billboard  Live JumboTron, which sometimes is what’s going on inside the club.

To view Billboard Live’s streaming video ads, music videos and simulcasts (and get concert dates and  Billboard charts), point your Web browser to Click on the “Stage” link, and  then on the big eyeball that says “Live Video.” (If you don’t have the StreamWorks software, you can  download it for free at The StreamWorks Web site also has links to other  streaming video websites.)

Eventually, the owners of Billboard Live plan to have 12 clubs around the globe, and to link them all  by computer. When I asked a manager why, he said that once they have a club in Shanghai, it will be  possible to sit at a table at the L.A. Billboard Live, call up on the computer a live streaming video  picture of the bar in Shanghai, zoom in on a pretty girl, or, ahem, music industry executive, and be  able to buy that person in Shanghai a drink from your table in L.A.


© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

Star Dreck 10/2/1997

Having strayed into the creepy crevices of the internet a bit too often, for my eighth column I decided to go commercial, and pretended that the editors were forcing me to use the press releases they were shoveling my way.

Star Dreck 10/2/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

I try to avoid reviewing “official” Web sites. But how can I expect trade-outs, comps and other perks unless I suck up to promoters? So here’s some Web sites I have been “encouraged” to review. Warning: Some of the following may have been taken verbatim from press releases.

Star Trek: The Ad: “Star Trek: The Experience™” is a 65,000-square-foot attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel. The completely interactive entertainment concept is based on the voyages of the most enduring and extraordinary television series of all time — “Star Trek®”. There’s only one problem: It ain’t open yet.

No matter. You can still visit “Star Trek: The Ad” <>. The Web site has news, tour information and even a so-called “virtual tour,” which gives a sneak preview (mostly descriptions and drawings) of the $70 million attraction.

Once the experience opens later this fall or winter, visitors will be transported to the 24th century and immersed in a futuristic adventure that starts with a museum-like exhibit featuring authentic “Star Trek” stuff from the four TV series and eight movies. Next they get beamed aboard the Starship Enterprise for a deep space adventure that includes an exciting shuttlecraft voyage through space and time. Afterwards, awestruck visitors can hang at the Deep Space Nine™ Promenade and enjoy the galaxy’s finest dining, entertainment and shopping for officially licensed and custom Star Dreck.

“Star Trek: The Experience” won’t have gambling. However, a 22,000-square-foot space-themed casino will serve as the gateway to the attraction. You can’t purchase tickets by phone, mail or Web site, but must get them in person at the Las Vegas Hilton. With 3,174 rooms and suites, the Las Vegas Hilton <> is one of Las Vegas’ most luxurious and exciting casino-resorts. [Star Trek: The Experience closed in 2008.]

Spooktacular Video: Hey kids, join Casper the friendly ghost as Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment launches an out-of-this-world “Casper Web site” <> to support the studio’s first made-for-video release, “Casper, A Spirited Beginning.”

Scroll along the halls of Applegate Manor to access hauntingly fun activities including an interactive concentration game; a timeline to learn about the history of Casper; and behind-the-scenes production information with cool ghostly images. However, the site uses Java and other plug-ins, which means it is slow to load, tends to crash your computer, and unless you have the right plug-ins you can’t fully enjoy all the bells and whistles.

The made-for-video prequel answers the question: How did Casper become the friendly ghost? The video, which debuted Sept. 9 for $19.98, is an all-new adventure starring the same characters as the 1995 dud, “Casper.” Joining the spooktacular fun are two new ghostly characters, Snivel and Kibosh, voiced by Pauly Shore and James Earl Jones. The “fleshie” cast features Steve Guttenberg, Lori Loughlin, Rodney Dangerfield, Michael McKean, Brian Doyle-Murry and newcomer Brendon Ryan Barrett.

Inexplicably, the Web site won’t sell you the video, and doesn’t say where else you might buy it. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment is the worldwide marketing, sales and distribution company for all FoxVideo and Fox Interactive products.

Haggle-Free Car Buying: Car buyers can avoid the haggling process — and save an average of 8 percent on the sticker price of a new car — by buying a car by computer. So says AutoVantage, which sells cars by computer.

At the Houston, Texas, company’s Web site, consumers can browse through car reviews for free and look up new car prices. They also can submit a price request through the Web site or by calling a toll-free number. AutoVantage then does the haggling for them and tries to respond within two hours with a “preferred price” to be honored by a nearby car dealer.

AutoVantage says it has been rated the best interactive car-buying service by Motor Trend magazine, and that 30,000 people a month submit price requests. It is also the featured new-car buying service for netMarket, which claims to be the leading interactive consumer commerce Web site.

AutoVantage offers financing and leasing options, and a national used car database containing more than 50,000 used cars. But before accessing many services you have to join netMarket, which turns out to be a buyers’ club. I never could figure out how much it costs to be a member. But you can join for three months for a mere $1 plus your credit card number.

If you want Blue Book values and used car prices without giving out your credit card number, try the online version of Kelly Blue Book <> or any of the other services listed under the Auto Channel on the search engine Webcrawler <>.

© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

Guerrilla Filmmaking Online 9/25/97

My friend produced live events for Women In Film, and she turned me on to a WIF volunteer, Ken Tipton, who had what was then a novel idea for financing his independent film. Websites like GoFundMe are common today, but Tipton was one of the first to tap into the internet’s fundraising potential. Tipton never made it big in Hollywood, but another of his cyber publicity schemes would later earn him notoriety, although not in a good way.

Guerrilla Filmmaking Online 9/25/97

by H.B. Koplowitz

Ken Tipton wants to make it in Hollywood. With persistence, and creative marketing on the World Wide Web, the 44-year-old entrepreneur turned actor, writer, producer and director, just might.

Taking guerrilla filmmaking onto the Internet, Tipton may be the first to use a personal Web page to finance an independent film, Perfect Mate, which debuts at the International Feature Film Market Sept. 21 in New York City. He also used his Web site to recruit the 17,000 members of the Ken and Paul Tipton Fan Club, which wants the Drew Carey TV show to cast the stout Tipton as Mimi’s boyfriend in upcoming episodes.

“Everyone wants to feel like they are a part of Hollywood,” says Tipton, who lives in Toluca Lake. Through his Web page, he wants to help what he calls “movie geeks,” — including himself and his son — to live out their dreams.

Tipton grew up near St. Louis, where he was active in community theater and comedy clubs. He also was a small businessman, starting one of the first video stores in 1980, and in 1991 a paint-ball war game business.

In 1993 he decided to give “the acting thing” one more try. With the proceeds from selling the paint-ball business, and the blessing of his ex-wife, who continues to manage their video stores in St. Louis, he moved to L.A. with Paul, their 12-year-old son, who also wants to act.

He didn’t feel like he was getting anywhere until November 1995, when he attended a screening of Jodie Foster’s Home for the Holidays sponsored by the Independent Feature Project. As Foster talked about having to be “monumentally creative” to raise capital to make movies, Tipton thought back to his childhood in Missouri, staging plays using comic books as scripts. To pay for the productions, they would sell lemonade or toys. It occurred to him to use the same strategy to finance movies, only selling to the world, via the Internet.

Together with writer Carrie Armstrong and director Karl Armstrong, he founded Makers Of Visual Independent Entertainment (M.O.V.I.E.). “The M.O.V.I.E. Web site” <> went online in December 1995 selling mouse pads, hats, key chains and T-shirts with the M.O.V.I.E. logo. Profits were to help pay for Perfect Mate, a 20-minute short by the Armstrongs, in which Tipton had a starring role.

“My goal is to open up new areas of funding for Independent Film Makers,” Tipton wrote in a mission statement. “As the organization grows, hopefully we will develop into a place where talented and underfunded individuals can get a start. . .By buying a hat, or a mouse pad, or even a key chain, you help fulfill the dream that lies in every movie lover.”

No one knew the Web site existed for several months, until a Web reviewer described it as “strange, interesting and unique.” Suddenly, thousands of people a day started visiting M.O.V.I.E., and some — Tipton won’t say how many — bought merchandise.

Even more important than the sales, however, were the contacts. After seeing the Web page, a steadycam operator donated his services. Someone else offered to do animated credits, while others contributed free film. The Web page even helped persuade Disney to donate the use of an AVID digital film editor in exchange for a first look at the completed movie.

Perfect Mate grew from a short into a feature-length romantic comedy about a young woman who holds her party guests hostage while searching for her perfect mate. Tipton said the Web page helped finance much of the film, estimated to have cost $350,000, including the cost of donated goods and services. It will be debuted to foreign film distributors this weekend in New York.

The Web site is also used to recruit members of The Ken & Paul Tipton’s Fan Club, which is operated by a clerk at his St. Louis video store. One incentive to join is that fan club members are eligible to win a speaking part in an upcoming M.O.V.I.E. project.

The online fan club has grown to 17,000 members, which is to say, 17,000 e-mail addresses of supporters. Tipton realized what a powerful tool that was when he asked his fan club to e-mail the Sundance Film Festival with requests to show Perfect Mate. So many did that Sundance’s computer e-mail crashed.

Now Tipton is urging his fans to let the Drew Carey Show know that he would make the perfect mate for the bodacious Mimi character’s boyfriend.

“In this business you have to make your own breaks,” Tipton said. “The only thing worse than failure is never knowing what could have been if only you had tried.”

© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved. 9/18/1997 9/18/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

For my sixth column, I returned to the subject of sex and cyberspace, reviewing kinky newsgroups in an outpost on the internet called Usenet. For some reason I neglected to mention, which was a place to trade dirty pictures, and a precursor to file-sharing networks.

Once upon a time there was a place on the Internet where people with unusual and sometimes unspeakable fetishes could find each other. Where personal ads were placed for sex with animals, or stuffed animals, and others indulged their secret obsessions with spanking, chloroform, even robots.

The pictures, messages, personal ads and stories were sometimes erotic and sometimes idiotic, offensive or even illegal, but nonetheless reflected the startling diversity of human sexual appetites. That place was “,” an unmoderated cluster of Internet bulletin boards or “newsgroups” devoted to all manner of sexual fetishism.

Even more than other Usenet newsgroups, has been obliterated by “spam,” junk email ads, mostly for adult Web sites. Today, little remains except the names of the discussion groups. Below are some examples of what used to be like, and where content that used to be in newsgroups can now be found on the Web:

Furry Friends ( A plushie is a stuffed animal or toy, like a teddy bear. was for people desiring a more than Platonic relationship with a plushie. Some plushophiles have a thing for “fursuits,” which are full-body costumes such as those worn by sports team mascots or amusement park employees, and for “furries,” which are characters with aspects of both animals and humans, like Bugs Bunny. Today, “PeterCat’s Furry InfoPage” <> is the keeper of the FAQ [Frequently Asked Questions], with links to other plushie pages, from stuffed toy lovers to stuffed toy makers like FAO Schwarz.

Animal Lovers ( and A bestialist wants sex with an animal, while a zoophile seeks a relationship, too, according to the FAQ in However, personal ads for canines and other critters appeared in both newsgroups, as did practical advice on how to get physical with the species of your choice. Did some of the people in these newsgroups actually have sexual relations with animals? “You bet’cha!” says the FAQ. Today, links to Web sites, newsgroups, chat rooms and other bestial resources can be found at “Zoophile Server” <>, the original zoophile Web server.

Techno-Sexual ( A.S.F.R. was for people sexually attracted to robots and robot-like beings. “Techno-sexuals” are aroused by depictions of people behaving like or turning into robots, androids, mannequins, dolls, wind-up toys or hypnotized mechanical sex zombies, according to the newsgroup’s FAQ. The ASFR home page, which was created by “Robotdoll,” is not presently online. But Robotdoll’s FAQ has been preserved on “Robo-Lover’s Homepage” <>, along with pictures, stories, and links “dealing with the mechanical maidens and delectable dolls that is ASFR.”

Overlapping newsgroups included, which had stories and pictures about people overcome by hypnosis, chloroform and other mind control methods, and, which was about erotic encounters with drenching rain, mud, quicksand, cream pies and other gooey stuff. On the Web today, “The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive” <> has salacious tales broken into such categories as hypnosis, sudden growth of body parts, lactation, even Star Trek and X-Files characters. Wet and Messy Web sites include the “WAMSAT Project,” with links to sites with names like “Shokolada’s Mess,” “Muddy Melodrama” and “World Wide Wet Page.”

Spanking Good Time ( Today’s fetish websites are far more stylish and better organized than ever was. Still, they cannot replace the intimacy of a discussion group. Even if you aren’t into erotic spanking between consenting adults, to see what some newsgroups used to be like, take a peek at soc.sexuality.spanking.

When got overrun by spam, newsgroup regulars debated picking a “moderator” to screen messages for spams, pictures and other off-topic posts. They eventually agreed on a “robo-moderated” newsgroup, in which posts are electronically filtered by computer, with human moderators only seeing posts rejected by the ‘Bot. As a result, most of the messages in the soc.sexuality.spanking newsgroup are actually about spanking, at least most of the time.

Each summer the newsgroup holds a spanking short story contest, with the entries archived on the “S.S.S. Resource Page” <>. But some of the most compelling stories are the true ones posted in the newsgroup by “delurkers” revealing their spanking fetish, and their relief at finding kindred souls.

What newsgroups have that Web pages don’t is a sense of community. And as stated in the new soc.sexuality.spanking charter, “Regaining the feelings of community and support was the reason for the formation of s.s.s, and in s.s.s., the tradition of welcoming newcomers with open arms continues.”

© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

Princess Di Online 9/11/1997

As this story about the tragic death of Princess Diana illustrates, online trolling did not begin with Facebook and Twitter. It also hints at some of the ways a wired global community was changing journalism.

Princess Di Online 9/11/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

The mainstream media consensus is that the whole world is mourning the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. But on the unfiltered Internet, emotions amongst the cyber commoners are decidedly mixed. Equal venom is being spewed at the “stalkarazzi” and the “people’s princess,” and, as always, at each other.

Princess Di and her beau, Dodi Fayed, died early Sunday morning [Aug. 31, 1997] in Paris (Saturday night in Los Angeles). Fleeing from biker paparazzi, their Mercedes crashed while traveling in excess of 100 miles an hour through a Paris tunnel beneath the Seine. Dodi, 41, and the driver, who was legally drunk, were killed instantly. Diana, 36, was pronounced dead about 4 a.m. Sunday, Paris time.

Some, especially in Europe, first heard about the tragedy on the Internet, from American computer users monitoring TV news reports. An Internet friend visiting Paris said her first awareness that Princess Di was dead was at 6 a.m. local time Sunday morning, when she logged onto her computer and entered a chat room on America Online.

“They asked me what they were saying in France and I did not know what they were talking about,” she recounted. “So they told me what happened. And when I checked the French news, the titles on AOL, there was still nothing about it.”

When big news breaks, chat rooms become like talk radio, only without the radio and without the talk show host. Potshots fly in all directions, with special attention given to sexual innuendo. Typical comments from the AOL chat room “Papparatzi Killed Di” Monday evening included:

MastrBaitz: she knew what the price was when she married prince bozo


EL P0RK: he was spanking himself in the front seat as Di was spanking her man’s meat in the back

EL P0RK: he was spanking himself in the front seat as Di was spanking her man’s meat in the back

MastrBaitz: i think the british intelligence servces probably killed her

SueKewpie: holy smokes, I canot believe the drivel that is filtering thru here. I just can’t…

Jkren: god bles the ignore button

Usenet newsgroups also lit up with messages, not unlike these posted in

“We want to know

MastrBaitz: i think the british intelligence servces probably killed her

We create an industry
To pry and expose
We build them up
We take them down.

Today I cry.
And tommorow I will buy
The newsprint that killed her.
God help me.
And you…
— mrblonde”

“Diana and Dodi’s tragic death was caused by the poor judgement of a drunk driver. They were being followed with cameras, not guns. It is a horrible, horrible accident that should never have happened. If you want to blame something, blame foolish decisions and drunken driving. Beverly”

“Call her Lady, call her Princess, call her whatever you like. Diana was Queen in our hearts!”

SueKewpie: holy smokes, I canot believe the drivel that is filtering thru here. I just can’t…

“Such pious nonsense. She represented nothing and nobody. She was a loose cannon addicted to high living and media attention.”

Trying to start an urban legend, one message writer claimed Buckingham Palace had given permission to sell bone china gilded plates engraved with photos of the crash.

Charlene Vickers of Yellowknife, NWT, announced a memorial Web page , along with a petition to create a permanent memorial for Diana: “It occurred to me that many late members of the Family have had monuments built to their memories in London and at Windsor. I feel that Diana, Princess of Wales, deserves a similar monument, and I am asking you to sign a petition to that effect.”

The official British Monarchy home page has set up an area for people to leave their written condolences, but it is hard to access now because so many people are trying to get in.

Jkren: god bles the ignore button

However, the Unofficial British Royal Family Pages has current information on the accident and aftermath, along with excellent links to other royal Web sites, and a Diana Memorial Page where people can leave condolences. Most of these comments have been more respectful, such as this one from Shannon Tod of Australia:

“Princess Diana, a true legend in my eyes. U are an inspiration to me and a best friend to the world. I will always remember your courage, patience, and mostly love to other people that u showed. Nothing could ever replace the true and wonderful you that I have known. U will live in me forever, and the light that you shone upon this world will always remain. I luv you, Sweet Princess. @}—>—‘— “

© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

Instant Messaging 9/4/1997

Instant Messaging 9/4/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

Nowadays we take for granted the instant messaging software on our smartphones that enables us to avoid talking to each other. The technology has been around since the creation of the internet, but it wasn’t until America Online introduced AOL Instant Messenger in 1997 that it caught on. A press release from a company called Excite prompted me to do my fourth column on the emerging technology, which I subjected to Freudian analysis. (AIM bit the dust on Dec. 15, 2017.)

As I write this column, I am having a private online conversation with a friend. Only I’m not signed on to America Online or in some Web-based chat room. Rather, I am using a simple, free, stand-alone instant messaging software application, the latest conspiracy by the computer industrial complex to turn us all into cybersluts.

Instant messaging (IM) is like a cross between a phone call and a letter. Internet users can communicate with each other instantly and privately, like a phone call, but in written messages on a computer screen, similar to a letter, and with no long-distance charges. The software also lets you know when your friends are online and able to cyberchat.

Denizens of America Online’s chat rooms are already familiar with both features, which AOL calls Instant Messages and Buddy Lists. What is new is that AOL and other companies are making IM technology available to everyone on the Internet. What is amazing is that the preferred mode of communication for cybersex is now being touted as The Next Big Thing in business communications.

Instant messaging is going to revolutionize computer communications. By enabling computer users to communicate with each other in real time, it adds a human dimension to the online experience. If you are not a subscriber to America Online, but are on the Internet, you must get IM software and make sure all your Internet friends have it as well.

About a half dozen companies have come out with instant messaging software. In a recent review by PC Magazine, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) came in dead last. Although it has been released to the public, AIM is still in the testing phase. But AIM has one thing its competitors lack, i.e., 8 million America Online subscribers to communicate with.

Thus, even though I installed a competing software program, the Personal Access List (PAL) by Excite, I couldn’t use it because I didn’t know anyone else registered with PAL. After installing AIM, however, I had a gas contacting my friends on America Online while I was using my Earthlink account and not logged onto AOL.

Easy to install and easy to use, AIM doesn’t take up a lot of memory, so at the same time I was sending instant messages I could surf the Web or run off-line applications like word processing and spreadsheets. I could also message Web site addresses that my friends could click on and their Web browser would take them to those sites.

In addition to cyberchat and cybersex, instant messaging has many practical and business applications. “AOL Instant Messenger improves productivity, helping colleagues get in touch quickly as they exchange important information,” noted David Gang, AOL senior vice president of Product Marketing.

Eric Jorgensen, product manager with Excite, expressed similar sentiments. “There is a huge market with affiliated groups, and one obvious group is businesses.”

One advantage to PAL is you can register under your existing e-mail name, making it easier for friends to find you, while AIM requires you to create a new screen name. Excite also hopes using e-mail addresses frees instant messaging from its sordid association with chat rooms and cybersex.

Jorgensen said Excite plans to keep PAL free to consumers, with advertisers paying for the service. Excite also owns Webcrawler, the popular Internet search engine, which displays ads depending on which keywords you type in. To register for PAL, consumers must provide demographic information including zip code, gender and age, which advertisers can use to place demographically targeted ads onto the PAL screens.

The final version of AOL’s Instant Messenger also will have ads. As for whether America Online plans to ever charge for the service, Gang said rather cryptically that there are no plans “at this time.”

The bottom line is that if you subscribe to America Online you already have instant messaging. If you don’t use AOL, but are on the Internet and have other friends on the Internet, you – and they – should get IM software. For now, America Online’s AIM is the only game in town. It is available at the AOL Web site <>. If you can’t bring yourself to use an AOL product, you can get Excite’s PAL from its Web site <>. Just remember you have to get your Internet friends to use the same software.

© 1997-2021 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.