21st Log

Brief reports and tidbits from the info-sphere.

Published October 12, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

Block that filter!

Now that the CDA II has sailed through Congress and awaits the president's signature to become law, brace yourself for a new wave of protests and activism online. At Peacefire, Bennett Haselton's teen-oriented anti-censorship Web site, it's already begun: The site now features a set of instructions for how to disable Net filtering programs such as Cybersitter, Cyber Patrol and Net Nanny.

Haselton has long been a thorn in the side for the entire Net-filtering industry, especially since April 1997, when he released a list of the Web sites blocked by Cybersitter -- including such sites as those of the National Organization for Women. But he's taken the battle a step forward this time by providing detailed technical "work-arounds" for disabling the programs, and even a special "cracking" utility that will decode access passwords to Cyber Patrol.

"This is kind of my own protest of CDA II," said Haselton. "What people need to realize is that laws like the CDA II are connected to programs like Cyber Patrol. What people don't realize is that these laws proposed by the government rely a lot on blocking software."

Haselton added that despite the popular conception that computer-savvy kids would easily get around the restrictions imposed by blocking software, the programs are in fact fairly difficult to disable.

"It's wasn't as easy as people were thinking," said Haselton. "But now it is."

Susan Getgood, a spokeswoman for CyberPatrol, said the company was aware of Peacefire's activities, but had no plans for taking action against the site.
-- Andrew Leonard
SALON | Oct. 16, 1998

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Zap to Web: Fuggedaboutit

Like a comet burning brightly as it crosses the starry night sky, so is the swift but sweet life of a neophyte portal. Fare thee well, Zap.com: The newly minted online powerhouse had bolted onto the Net earlier this year with newspaper ads that shouted "ZAPATA WILL BUY YOUR WEB SITE!" and a takeover bid for Excite that was laughed off the table. But Thursday it decided that it preferred fish oil to Web sites after all, and unceremoniously dumped the dozens of sites it had begun to acquire.

Zapata's reasoning, apparently, was that the market was too volatile for such a sensitive venture. Forty-year-old fish oil manufacturer Zapata has watched its stock tank since it reinvented itself as Zap.com in April of this year. Of the 31 Web sites that Zap.com collected, only the newly relaunched Word and Charged will remain. The rest, which had only received letters of intent to acquire, have been set adrift. The Web site Zap.com has already been shut down, and the smirking press is having a field day with headlines (Wired News: "Zap throws 'em back"; News.com: "Zapata reels in Net efforts").

Though Word had no comment on the day's events, its editors cannot be cheered by their new owner's abandonment of their medium. Says Dave Thau of the nearly acquired Bianca's Smut Shack, with a shrug, "They were going into assembly line mode with acquisitions, and the machine was halted. But I don't think anyone was jerked around ... After having worked on the Web, I've learned to take such negotiations with a grain of salt."
-- Janelle Brown
SALON | Oct. 16, 1998

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Congress' roster of hypocrisy

When the House of Representatives rushed the Starr Report out of its cartons and onto the Web, we were one of several sites to point out the hypocrisy of the act -- since this was substantially the same Congress that passed the notorious Communications Decency Act in 1996. Under the CDA, which was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court, the Starr Report's sexual content would quite likely have made it illegal to publish online.

Pointing to hypocrisy is one thing; detailing it is another. Keith Dawson, who runs the useful technology-news site and mailing list known as TBTF, has done the hard work of compiling the precise members of Congress who voted for both the CDA and the Starr Report release. They're listed, with much loving care, on a page titled "The 284 Most Hypocritical U.S. Representatives." The lengthy roster include not only conservative Republican stalwarts like Speaker Newt Gingrich and Reps. Henry Hyde, Tom DeLay and Dan Burton but also Democrats like David Bonior, Richard Gephart, Charles Rangel and Charles Schumer.

Of course, now that Congress is en route to passing a new version of the CDA, who knows what fresh opportunities for hypocrisy will present themselves?
-- Scott Rosenberg
SALON | Oct. 14, 1998

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Lego robots for Mac addicts

Last week, we reported that Lego Mindstorms, an addictive system that lets you build and program your own Lego robots, was available only for PCs. But Mac owners need not lament: We have since discovered that a Mac-compatible version is available through Dacta, Lego's educational arm. Called "Robo Lab," the software has nearly identical interfaces and functions. But instead of Mindstorms' Logo language, it utilizes a more complex programming language called Labview, which is often used in high school educational environments.

Assembling a Mac version of Mindstorms isn't cheap, though. In addition to the $25 Robo Lab software, you'll need to pay $25 for the documentation and $15 for a Mac cable. You'll also need to buy the $200 Mindstorms set, since the Robo Lab software does not come with the robot building kit.
-- Janelle Brown

By Salon Tech Writers

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