As I mentioned in an earlier column, I am looking for some software which will help prolong my children’s innocence. But preventing undesirable words or images from entering our family computer from the internet is not easy. So far I haven’t found a programme which will screen them out. In the meantime you might like to hear about a crude early programme which requires the user to enter all the words considered offensive. Fair enough. Some poor chap bought the software and put “breast” on the forbidden list. His wife went on the net a few days later, looking for new ideas for a dinner party. No recipes made it to the screen which required her to buy “breast of chicken,” “breast of duck” and so on. Another example of the doctrine of unintended consequences, or just stupidity on the part of the programmer?
On a recent trip to the US, while walking through a shopping mall in Santa Monica, California, I spotted an advertising hoarding in the middle of the walkway. You know the sort-they are common enough over here: triangular pillars fronting on to glass displays which, in this case, advertised Burger King, a local florist and a web site for a firm which made household furniture. The furniture company did not have a shop in the mall; all it seemed to have was a site on the internet. I suppose that as you are rushing through the mall with your shopping falling out of your bags, trying to stop little Duane from murdering Peggy Sue, you are supposed to stop and make a quick note of the http://www details, then check it out later.
Encyclopaedia Britannica is now available on-line. I don’t know when it first went live but it is currently advertising like mad in the US. It’s a subscription service, but a small demo is available at http://www. eb.com. It says that it has 65,000 entries on-line, and it is building on these all the time. Encyclopeaedia Brittanica has taken 225 years to evolve to this point-but evolve it has….