Category Archives: Lost in Cyberspace

El Niño El Schniño 12/4/1997

For once my predictions were accurate. El Niño never drew much cyber interest, commercial or otherwise, as evidenced by the fact that in 2021 the domains and had no content and were for sale. The El Niño websites that still exist do not appear to have updated their content or design, so they look much the same as they did in 1997.

El Niño El Schniño 12/4/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

As the 1997-98 version of El Niño [periodic warming of surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean] threatens to become the Comet Kohoutek of global weather phenomenons [dubbed the “Comet of the Century,” Kohoutek was not nearly as dazzling as predicted when it passed by the Earth in 1973], it’s having a similar impact in cyberspace. There are more than 800 El Niño Southern Oscillation or “ENSO” websites. But so far they aren’t making many waves either.

The latest evidence of El Niño on the Web is at “The Future Global Web Site of” “It’s Coming,” the screen is titled. Salinas [CA] entrepreneur Bruce Armour created the site in September, and plans on adding El Niño links and weather forecasts in the next week or so. Although his background is advertising and radio, not meteorology, he hopes to get the National Weather Service to help provide content.

Another new El Niño site,, focuses on El Niño’s impact on California. Launched last week, it is owned by the San Diego Daily Transcript, a business newspaper, with much of the content provided by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC-San Diego. Like a lot of the sites, has news clippings about the effects of El Niño, including “San Diego Roofers Not Fiddling Around Business Way Up,” and “Ziebart Offers Tips for Winter Vehicle Preparation.”

Many of the sites provide reasonably lucid explanations of the weather phenomenon, including the “El Niño Online Meteorology Guide,” Put out by the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois, it has such basic information as that El Niño is Spanish for “the male child” (other sources say “Christ child”), and initially referred to a weak, warm ocean current that appeared each Christmas season along the coast of Ecuador and Peru. There is also a La Niña (female child), which is unusually cold sea surface temperatures that occurs about half as often as El Niño, the last being in 1995-96.

Pacific trade winds generally drive surface waters west, warming them. El Niño occurs when the easterly trade winds weaken, allowing the warmer waters of the western Pacific to move east to the South American Coast, replacing the cool nutrient-rich sea water with a warmer water depleted of nutrients, resulting in dramatic reductions in fish and plant life.

Every three to seven years there is a stronger El Niño that sometimes has major economic and environmental consequences worldwide. In the 50 or so years they have been keeping more accurate records, there have been 10 major El Niño events, the strongest previous being in 1982-83, which wreaked a lot of havoc along California’s coastline, and is the source for much of this year’s concern. This year’s El Niño mania began this spring, when instrument buoys placed off the coast of Peru after the 1982-83 El Niño picked up the highest sea temperatures ever recorded there.

A site with El Niño predictions about California is “El Niño and California Precipitation,”, put out by professors John Monteverdi and Jan Null of the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University. Noting that media reports this summer predicted a “spectacularly wet winter” for California, it forecasts “greater than normal” precipitation, but nothing of Noah’s Arc proportions. It adds that, “not all flooding events in California occur during El Niño years, and not all El Niño years produce widespread flooding.” The site also lets you view a Quicktime movie of global sea temperatures from NASA showing the progression from La Niña last November to the current El Niño conditions, which looks like a fast-motion acne attack.

The website of the masters of disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has El Niño survival tips including buying flood insurance, moving valuables, appliances, electric panels and utility meters to upper floors, having a family disaster supply kit in your home and car, and having “plenty of spare cash.” The site also has information on the Oct. 14 El Niño Community Preparedness Summit FEMA held in Santa Monica, which focused on ways to prepare for El Niño. FEMA broadcast the summit live over the Internet, and archived sound bites at its website. With RealAudio software, you can hear El Niño comments from such stirring speakers as FEMA Director James Witt and Vice President Al Gore.

Other informative El Niño sites include the Nationa Weather Service’s San Francisco Bay Area El NiñoPage,, and the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies Library, which has links to several El Niño newspaper cartoons.

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

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.

Colleges Online 11/20/1997

XAP has been involved in education technology since 1988.

When I wrote about being able to apply to college online, I had no inkling that college classes themselves would someday be taught online.

Colleges Online 11/20/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

Applying to college keeps getting easier, as higher education takes the competition for students into cyberspace. On the West Coast, for example, the nine-campus University of California system and the 22 Cal State University schools recently opened separate websites that let students fill out and submit admission forms online. The websites take a lot of the drudgery out of applying for college, enabling students to edit applications without the use of white-out, and apply to multiple schools without filling out multiple forms. Online applications also benefit the schools, saving data input time and storage space, not to mention trees.

Reflecting the patchwork of online college admission websites nationally, the two California university systems offer similar online services, but UC’s is managed in-house while CSU’s is provided by an outside company. As some schools have created their own online admission forms, others have signed on with private companies that let students use the same forms to apply to participating schools across the country. Most online application services are free to students, and some schools even waive their application fee if you apply online.

Cal State University’s online application website, “CSUMentor” <>, is operated by L.A.-based XAP Corp. Owner Allen Firstenberg said he got the idea for online college applications several years ago when he walked into his youngest daughter’s bedroom and nearly tripped over a dozen stacks of paper. Each was an application packet for a college. It occurred to the then-director of Rockwell International’s Science Center that there had to be a better way.

“My mission was to make things easier for students and their families,” Firstenberg said. “To make it easier for them to understand the admissions process and the application process.”

In addition to the online application, “CSUMentor” has information on the different campuses, admission requirements and financial aid eligibility, and lets applicants communicate with CSU campuses via e-mail. A unique feature to XAP’s “datacheck” software is that it idiot-proofs applications, helping students submit — and schools to receive — accurate forms.

XAP’s website <> also provides online applications for a sprinkling of schools in Florida, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington. And recently it signed up the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, including USC, the California Institute for the Arts and CalTech.

Firstenberg said Cal State and AICCU have agreed to share a common database, so that ultimately, students will only have to enter data once to create an application for any of the 71 independent colleges and 22 state universities in California.

When asked about the University of California, Firstenberg chuckled and said, “We’d love to have them.”

But UC has its own application website called “Pathways” <>.

“Basically it boils down to should we do it ourselves or pay an outside proprietor,” said UC spokesperson Terry Colvin. “Inevitably, it is cheaper and better if we do it ourselves.”

Colvin said that with assistance from IBM, the University of California began piloting “Pathways” with 58 California high schools four years ago. “Pathways” has information about UC campuses, financial aid, resources for transfer and foreign students, and high school and college courses that meet UC requirements. During its first year, UC anticipates 7,000 online applications, about 10 percent of its annual “crop,” Colvin said.

He added that in the future, UC would like all its applications to be online, and not just for the convenience of students. UC prints 200,000 applications a year. It gets back 70,000, which must then be retyped into a computer, stored, and eventually disposed of.

He said there have been discussions about a one-size-fits-all application for all California colleges and universities. As for creating a national form, Colvin said “we’ve never felt an urgent need to recruit out of state.”

Outside California, “Collegescape” <>, based in Cambridge, Mass., has online applications for more than 200 schools, big and small, and including such heavies as Harvard and Radcliffe, Oberlin, Reed College and New York University. Many of the schools waive their application processing fee if you apply online.

Another online admission website is “College Board Online” <>, which is operated by the folks who administer the SATs among other tests. The website has computerized applications (you have to download the software) for more than 800 schools including the State Universities of New York, Yale, Sarah Lawrence and the Fashion Institute of Technology. It also offers career and financial aid search software, advice on writing college admission essays, and, of course, information on those dreaded college entrance exams.

© 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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Streaming Video 10/16/1997

Although I did an early review of streaming video, it must be said that I grossly underestimated the potential for the new technology.

Streaming Video 10/16/1997

by H.B. Koplowitz

While typing these words into my computer, I’m watching astronauts aboard the Russian spacecraft Mir give a press conference. [Mir “deorbited” in 2001.] The image on my computer screen is tiny, blurred and jerky, and the sound fades in and out. Still, without being an Internet wiz, I’m able to see and hear a live feed from outer space on my modest home computer. What makes this possible is a new technology called “streaming” audio and video, and NASA TV is but one of the kewl ways pioneers have been using this new medium.

Streaming video has greatly improved over the past year, but it may never be more than a novelty [sic]. By its very nature, it will always look more like a small fuzzy slide show than TV, because streaming video is compressed video, [meaning the video data has been compressed to save bandwidth so it can be sent over wires, which means the quality of the video goes down]. But until they increase the data capacity on the information superhighway, and start making bigger and faster home computers, streaming video is the closest thing to moving pictures and live video that can be transmitted through cyberspace.

A nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles called Billboard Live used streaming video to “cybercast” floor shows over the Internet. [Billboard Live closed after a brief run, and Billboard magazine, which owned the nightclub, used the Web address to launch an interactive music site.]

The Billboard Live streaming video required the StreamWorks Player from Xing Technology. In May, StreamWorks presented “Cinemotion – Cannes ’97,” live audio and video from the Cannes Film Festival. Other sites that use StreamWorks to show video online include Capitol Records, HerbaLife live broadcasts from L.A., and the Central Baptist Church from Little Rock, Arkansas, which cybercasts Sunday Services.

The Web site of the American Film Institute offers entire one-reel silent movies and clips from student films. Conventional media like radio, TV and even newspapers and magazines provide streaming news, weather and sports, and studios and record companies use it to sell their movies and CDs. Other industries also use streaming video to promote products. And then there the porno industry, which uses it to deliver pay per view digital sex shows.

For streaming video you should have at least a 28.8 speed modem, and a computer with 16 megabytes of RAM and a 486/66 processor (Apple users should have a PowerPC). You also need an Internet service provider, and a Web browser like Netscape Communicator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. One more thing you need is a streaming video player or plug-in, of which there are several competing brands. Most let you download their players for free from their Web site and have a “gallery” with links to streaming video sites.

To pick up the NASA channel you can use the RealPlayer from RealNetworks <>, which became  the first Internet broadcaster with RealAudio in 1995.  Today, 90 percent of streaming audio is RealAudio, including 400 radio stations. In February, the company introduced a RealPlayer for both audio and video, and now there are more than 1,000 RealVideo sites, including CBS, ABC, MCA, Warner Bros., FOX, ESPN SportsZone, Atlantic Records, MSNBC, MGM, Geffen, Sony and Merrill Lynch.

To view the American Film Institute’s classic silent movies,  use the VDOLive Player from VDONet <>. You can also use VDOLive to see streaming video from NASA, CBS News, PBS and MTV. Last month, VDONet created VDO-Movies <>, which shows streaming video previews of new films from major Hollywood studios, and in July it set up the Web site  VDO-Indies <> showcasing independent film producers, and exposing their films to potential investors and distributors. Along with streaming video previews of indie films, the Web site has information about independent movie companies, the films they are planning and those in production.

One problem with streaming video is that your computer tends to run out of memory if you try to view it with your Web browser. But that’s because Web browsers take up a lot of memory, not video players. So here’s a trick:

When you click on a streaming video “channel,” sometimes a screen appears that says you can’t view the channel, but may instead download a tiny file. The file is like a bookmark that lets you view that channel without your Web browser. So download the file, close your Web browser, open your streaming video player, and use that application to open the file you downloaded.

Another trick is to figure out the address of the streaming video channel. A streaming video player can read certain addresses the same way a Web browser can read an “http” address. So to see the NASA channel with RealPlayer, you can tell it to open the location <pnm://>.

To give an idea of just how much memory is saved by not using a Web browser, I was able to have the RealPlayer playing NASA, StreamWorks playing Billboard Live, and VDOLive playing AFI’s silent movie, all at the same time.

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

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.