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Jeff Schult 9/5/98

The Great Rutabaga Hunt

This item falls less under the category of "news," perhaps, than it does under that of "stupid personal observation" – Nicole and I were sitting around the household Friday night, side-by-side, moving bits around the world, when the subject of rutabagas came up. Specifically, Nicole wanted to know what a rutabaga looked like. "No problem," I thought, and went out looking, because everyone knows you can find anything on the Net. It’s the sum of human knowledge, and then some, just ask anyone at M.I.T.

Well, this may shock you, but there are NO pictures of rutabagas on the ‘Net, and other vegetables, AOL subscribers aside, seem generally under-represented as well. It’s none of anyone’s business why I want a picture of a rutabaga, and it may be a sad commentary on my personal life that I spent 20 minutes on a Friday night looking for one when I could have been, say, manipulating images of eggplants and supermodels with Photoshop, but that’s neither here nor there. I will never again say that you can find anything, anything at all on the Internet. At least until someone sends me a URL pointing to a picture of a rutabaga.

(It's over, my friend Don Sutherland found one here; Metacrawler triumphs. But ... OK, now find me a LIVE rutabaga. Or a rutabaga cam. Hah.)

Feeling Depressed?

A two-year, $1.5-million study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, funded by the National Science Foundation and major technology companies, has concluded that Internet use appears to cause a decline in psychological well-being. The New York Times quoted a director of the study as saying, "We are not talking here about the extremes. These were normal adults and their families, and on average, for those who used the Internet most, things got worse." One hour a week of Internet use led on average to an increase of 1% on the depression scale, an increase of 0.04% on the loneliness scale, and a loss of 2.7 members of the subject's social circle (which averaged 66 people). Although the study participants used e-mail, chat rooms, and other social features of the Internet to interact with others, they reported a decline in interaction with their own family members and a reduction in their circles of friends.

I have to suspect the methodology of the study, though I’m not privy to it. However, it was reported that the 169 study participants, were not chosen in a random selection process and in fact were all from the Pittsburgh, Pa. area.

I went to high school just outside of Pittsburgh and can confirm that there are a lot of external factors that can contribute to depression there ... OK, that was a cheap shot. I *like* Pittsburgh. But on the other hand, remember that Carnegie Mellon also gave us Marty Rimm and the "CyberPorn" scare.

I dunno. I'm happier than I was. Isn't everyone? ;-)


"Reap What Ye Shall Sow"

The Christian Family Network has taken a stand against the company that produces the blocking software CyberPatrol. The Learning Company is now called the "thought police" on the conservative Christian organization’s web site at www.cfnweb.com.

CFN is incensed at CyberPatrol’s blocking of the American Family Association’s web site for promoting hatred of homosexuals, and says it’s worried about being censored itself for taking a biblical view of homosexuality.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear, however, that CFN stops short of backing free speech generally. If you visit the web site, it seems the most pressing issue facing the country is the cable TV show "South Park," and you can order your "action guide" that will show you how to help try to get the show banned.

It’s hard for me to summon up any sympathy for CyberPatrol, however. This is one of those "reap what ye shall sow" kind of things, if you’ll pardon my paraphrase of some biblical verse or the other …

Loud(oun) County

In other censorship news this week, the People for the American Way and residents of Loudoun County, Va., filed a request for a summary judgment to remove blocking software from the public library there. The Loudoun County case is one of the principal legal battlefields over the use of Internet filtering software in public places.

The motion filed this week points out that the program used in Loudoun County’s library blocks sites such as are the American Association of University Women (www.aauw.org), the Yale Graduate Biology Program (www.biology.yale.edu/graduateprogram.html), a Beanie Babies web page (www.a-romantic.com/beanie/header~1), and tax forms for the State of Kentucky (www.state.ky.vs/agencies/revenue/revhome.htm).

In the library's own test of the X-Stop software, they found that 67% of the web sites that were blocked contained no material that should have been blocked under their own policy, according to the suit, which you can find on the People for the American Way web site, www.pfaw.org.


Big Monitor? I’m There …

Looking for a high-tech job? Consider innovative approaches to the interview. A fellow who was just hired as a web programmer where I work didn’t know until after he started that one answer he gave made all the difference in the world.

He had hit that critical point in the conversation where he was asked: "What do you want, to come to work here?" Meaning, most of us I think would imagine, "How much?"

He reportedly hesitated for a second and replied, "Well, I’d like a really big monitor."

At my last job, I only had a 15" monitor."

The guy doing the interviewing thought, "he’s one of us," and the kid got the job … but they couldn’t resist, on his first day, setting him up with a 12" monochrome monitor. The joke lasted until he started stuttering …"b-b-b-b-but you PROMISED …"

He’s working out fine, by the way …


Jeff Schult and Nicole Chardenet can be reached at jeffbot at this domain.