21st Log: His was the mouse that roared

Published December 1, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

Thirty years ago, several thousand hackers gave Doug Engelbart a standing ovation after he demonstrated for them his vision of what a computer could do. That vision included such things as a mouse and multiple windows on a monitor -- commonplace enough today, but in 1968, they seemed like revelations. Engelbart invented them.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, Engelbart's accomplishments will be celebrated at an all-day event at Stanford University -- "Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution." Tickets are $20 a pop and include the privilege of seeing some of Silicon Valley's biggest (or most hyped) names stand up and honor Engelbart. Among those presenting will be Engelbart himself, Marc Andreessen, Stewart Brand, Eric Drexler, Alan Kay, Jaron Lanier and Ted Nelson.

Engelbart is still hard at work pursuing his plans for the "augmentation" of humanity's "collective I.Q." Next Wednesday will be a fine opportunity to give him credit for what he's already done.
-- Andrew Leonard
SALON | Dec. 4, 1998

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New York Times falls for an old Net gag

It seems that the Gray Lady needs a little lesson in Internet humor. A Nov. 15 feature in the New York Times Week in Review section headlined "Lost, and Gained, in the Translation" chronicled humorous ways Hollywood movie titles are translated overseas. In Hong Kong, the Times reported, "the demand for literal descriptions has produced some jarring results. The Cantonese title for 'Leaving Las Vegas' translates to 'I'm Drunk and You're a Prostitute.' 'Field of Dreams' was 'Imaginary Dead Baseball Players Live in My Cornfield.' For truth in advertising, you could not beat the title for 'The Crying Game' -- 'Oh No! My Girlfriend Has a Penis!'"

Funny stuff -- so funny, in fact, that it couldn't possibly be true. And, in fact, it's not. The Chinese "translations" came from the humor site The Top 5 List, which posts daily Letterman-inspired lists culled from contributors. Their "Top 15 Chinese Translations of English Movie Titles" parody ran in late August 1997; at some point, site founder Chris White has discovered, someone tacked the Top 5 list to a copy of a story from the Wall Street Journal about movie translations, and it soon was traveling its way around the Net.

"My guess is that someone saw a copy of that and assumed that if it appeared in the Wall Street Journal it was legit," says White. "But really, anything you see in an e-mail you should think about twice."

The fallacious Times story has appeared in a multitude of papers across the country, as well as on NPR, and although White and others have contacted the editors at the New York Times, thus far the paper hasn't acknowledged the goof. But in the meantime, the folks behind TopFive are now having fun at the newspaper's expense. Today's TopFive list was "The Top 13 Signs Your Newspaper Isn't Telling the Truth." And just to make things clearer, the site now has the header: "Note for Journalists -- EVERY WORD IS TRUE!"
-- Janelle Brown

SALON | Dec. 3, 1998

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Diamond bites the RIAA back

It's not every day that the Recording Industry Association of America gets publicly accused of conspiracy. Two months after the RIAA filed a lawsuit against Diamond Multimedia, accusing the company of encouraging music piracy with its new Rio MP3 player -- and one month after a judge tossed out its demand for an injunction preventing the Rio's distribution -- Diamond is fighting back.

On Tuesday, Diamond countersued the RIAA, claiming that the music industry group is violating antitrust laws by trying to put a stop to a legitimate MP3 market, and demanding punitive damages for the slander Diamond says it's endured as a result. (The RIAA, Diamond spokesman Ken Wirt believes, is "smearing us in the court of public opinion" by associating the company with piracy.) And as for the conspiracy, Diamond says that the RIAA is conniving to prevent manufacturers from releasing MP3 devices until it suits the record industry's pocketbooks.

Diamond's actions have, not surprisingly, already elicited cheers from MP3 fans, who have open animosity for the RIAA's anti-MP3 actions. Most seem to agree with Wirt's assessment of the situation: As he puts it, "We don't think the record industry gets to fire the starting pistol or decide what is legitimate -- we believe in a free economy, not the RIAA."
-- Janelle Brown

SALON | Dec. 3, 1998

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"Microsoft File" notes surface online

When I reviewed "The Microsoft File" -- Wendy Goldman Rohm's compilation of inside dirt on Bill Gates' rapacity -- I criticized the book's lack of footnotes or other material that might help the reader judge whether to trust the author's account of events. Other reviewers offered the same objection, and Microsoft condemned the book.

Rohm and her publisher, Times Books, have now posted a lengthy Web page full of notes chronicling the sources for "The Microsoft File." It provides considerable detail, though it rarely names individual sources.

At the book's site, its editor explains that the author's notes were originally omitted from the book to protect confidential sources -- and they've now been "worked up" to answer criticism while still protecting Rohm's anonymous sources. Which makes you wonder why Times Books couldn't have "worked up" such a version of the notes to include in the book itself.

Still, there's no question that book publishers today are highly resistant to footing the bill for lengthy footnotes in original works of nonfiction. Perhaps the Web can move in to fill that gap.
-- Scott Rosenberg

SALON | Dec. 2, 1998

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CyberPatrol blocks a bookstore's catalogs

The business of Internet censorship is proving, once again, that it knows no bounds: Nature photographer Ansel Adams has become the latest victim. A Web user searching for an online catalog of Ansel Adams art books at Moe's Books found access to the site blocked by CyberPatrol. Why? According to Moe's Books webmaster Robert Eliason, CyberPatrol's overeager filters had been triggered by a separate catalog on the site: "The Nude in Art."

So CyberPatrol blocked access to every one of Moe's nearly 200 catalogs. When Moe's complained, CyberPatrol lifted the restrictions -- but then turned around and imposed blocks on all 3,000 book jacket illustrations on the venerable Berkeley, Calif., bookstore's Web pages.

Eliason says that CyberPatrol's actions are hurting Moe's business. Moe's specializes in antiquarian used books, and the quality of those books, as proven by the photographs of the book jackets, is a key consideration for potential purchasers.

Eliason says CyberPatrol told him it was "more effective" to block everything than to simply pick and choose which illustrations were actually "obscene." They also informed him, he says, that CyberPatrol's job would be easier if Moe's could separate out all their potentially controversial content and place it one directory -- for more convenient blocking.

But such self-censorship to make the job of the censors easier isn't sitting well with Eliason. He has sent protests to the Learning Company, which owns CyberPatrol, and is contacting the ACLU and other civil liberties watchdogs.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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