Having an undercover online hack as his Pop, my son Vermel has learned two great lessons in life. One: switch your mouse hand every week to avoid repetitive stress injuries, and two: Don't believe everything you download. Vermel has learned quickly to question the source of everything, including the meatloaf I cooked last night. The kid learns fast. For some people, every day is April Fools' Day on the Internet. Just ask Pierre Salinger. Pierre was not so lucky when it came to checking his sources.
Somebody tell Pierre that another hoax is on his way, no doubt destined to become another Net legend for outraged newbies to forward to friends and colleagues. The email details how Capitol Records is putting the clamps on music-related Usenet groups, and it's making the rounds faster than the Chipmunks at 78 RPM. ("What's RPM, Pop?" Vermel just asked as he watches over my shoulder. I'll answer that one offline.)
The evil Capitol wants to charge Net users for every lyric, guitar chord, or even song parody swapped digitally. Notice was served to the owner of a Crowded House listserv in the form of a very official reprimand and subsequent price list from "Sandra W. Allan, Vice President for Copyright Control, Department of Accounting."
The first tip-off that the letter is a fake is Allan's email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Capitol doesn't use the domain "caprec." The second tip-off is that noone actually listens to Crowded House anymore, let alone spends hours online discussing the Finn Brothers' early-90s pop bland, um, band. The instigator of the 4/1 prank evidently had no idea how rumors spread over the Net. You can read his apology by sending email to email@example.com and putting CAPITOL CORRESPONDENCE in the subject line. While you're at it, warn your friends about that pesky "Good Times" virus.
One Skinophile wrote to ask if he was being foolish, or does Wired News trap you on their site? Using Internet Explorer, our dear reader described horrible tales of disabled back buttons. I asked Vermel to check it out. Vermel noticed that the frames-based Wired site, which pushes ads to a separate frame in the left-hand corner, adds a new URL to the user's navigation history with each new ad. Several ads often cycle through per minute, which means each back-click goes to the previous ad, not the previous Web page. Nine ads served while you're reading? Click back nine times before you leave Wired's page. You're not exactly trapped, but type-A folk won't feel good about clicking so many times. It doesn't seem to affect Netscape Navigator.
It makes you wonder who benefits from all those ads crammed into a short span of time. The reader? Not unless you enjoy back-clicking like mad amid the distraction of dancing text and dissolving graphics. The advertiser? Not unless they enjoy less screen time per ad. Web-ad insiders say less screen time, less reader click-through. The publisher? Not unless they can't serve enough pages to get all their advertisers on the site, a problem common to many online publishers these days.
According to one reader, joining Microsoft's SiteBuilder program for Web designers means never having to be alone. My Skinside source says he signed up for a "guest" membership, then received email from Microsoft encouraging him to add an ActiveX control or "Best Viewed with Internet Explorer" icon to upgrade to a level 1 or 2 membership. Ground rules for Level 1 and 2 members specify that Microsoft can check sites to make sure they qualify, but there's no mention of monitoring sites of guest members, says my pen pal. Microsoft's monitoring and aggressive tactics may not be a breach of privacy as my despondent correspondent claims, but it's a revealing look at how the war of the browsers is being fought, one Web designer at a time. I may be reporting from the trenches of a war, but my life is in immediate danger only when I miss my deadlines. Keep my neck out of the editor's hands by emailing me your rumors.