Looking for net profit: entrepreneurs are now cruising the Internet


Many firms are exploring the commercial possibilities of doing business on the Internet. Although, veteran Internet users are trying to keep commercial interests off the computer network, corporations now comprise more than 50% of users.

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Jerry Tucker, proprietor of Seaside Book and Stamp in Halifax, is on the technological cutting edge of commerce, not that the edge is immediately obvious. Seaside is a comfortable storefront operation on Spring Garden Road in Halifax, where customers can drop in for the latest offering from new wave science-fiction author William Gibson or a friendly chat about stamp collecting. There are rows of bookshelves, stamps pinned to the wall, and a few plants–for Tucker’s real dream was to have a combination greenhouse and bookstore. Only a computer terminal on a cluttered desk hints at Seaside’s technological secret, which is found out on the byways of the information highway. Tucker is one of a growing, but still small, number of Canadian business people, often motivated as much by dreams of future profits as present earnings, who have taken their companies onto the Internet, the global web of computer networks. “I really do believe that this is the way of the future,” he says.

Unfortunately for Tucker, the future is also where any profits of cyberspace lie. His presence on the Net brings him about $100 a week of business, against $300 a month in direct costs. His outpost on the information highway is a spot on the so-called Cybermall, a listing of commercial services put together by NSTN Inc. of Dartmouth, N.S., one of Canada’s largest providers of Internet service. So, while Tucker still calls his Net experiment “a very good opportunity,” he may eventually have to bail out if sales do not improve.


The problem, one that he shares with other Net retailers, is that direct advertising is banned on the Internet–a holdover from its origins as a communications tool for university professors and American defence researchers. Anyone placing a blatant appeal for business on the infobahn risks being immediately flamed–that is, bombarded by countless messages from irate users bluntly pointing out the breach of protocol. That means that Seaside’s commercial postings–like those of anyone trying to attract customers–have to be subtly worded to sound like information, not commerce. What is more, retailers cannot even post anything in the system to point the millions of Net browsers towards their entry among countless available pieces of information. And, unlike commercial computer services such as Compuserve or America Online, the Net, for the most part, does not greet users with opening menus to guide them to their destination of choice–NSTN’s Cybermall, perhaps–which makes it hit-and-miss whether anyone will ever stumble across it. But there is one way open to drum up business. Tucker cruises the Net’s news groups–places where people can leave messages about particular topics–set up for science-fiction fans. He leaves messages on these bulletin boards, all ending with a note explaining what his store is about and where in cyberspace it is located. But even these modest commercial postings have to be handled with discretion because Net veterans hate the idea that cyberspace is becoming commercialized. “The fear of many who use the Internet is that business/commercial interests will ruin the Internet for the rest of us by charging and making the service profitable for the few and expensive for the many,” says David Mattison, one of the organizers of the community-based Victoria Free-Net.

The purists fighting to preserve the counterculture aspect of the Net, however, are clearly losing, drowned in a deluge of business interest, with companies now making up more than half of new Internet connections. But if the Net is a market waiting to be exploited, it is also a market in its infancy, making it an attractive but dangerous place. Cathy Munn and partner John Boyce of Vancouver have calculated the risks and decided to take them with a start-up they call the Electric Mail Co. It is based on an idea that allows small and medium-sized companies without a computer services department the possibility of Internet e-mail with few of the technical hassles. So far, Munn and Boyce have a good idea, one test site, and no paying customers. “There’s a real risk in coming in too early,” says Munn.


It is not just start-ups and small companies that are breaking business ground on the Net. Canadian Airlines has set up a pilot project that allows people to look at a picture of Vancouver, aircraft statistics, and arrival and departure information updated every 30 minutes. With the right software, users can also examine the airline’s schedule. But Grant Fengstad, the project director, says it will be some time yet, years perhaps, before customers can buy their tickets on the Net. The problem is money–how to securely send credit card information over the Net without the data falling into the wrong hands. “There is no guarantee of security on the Internet,” Fengstad says. But for all the Net’s shortcomings as a marketplace, companies are still signing up. What drives them is simple, says NSTN’s Lana Wood. “It’s the fear factor. If you’re not on, your competitor might be.”

>>> View more: Net mania 1996: will the internet grow out of control?

Net mania 1996: will the internet grow out of control?

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Arlington, VA–After arriving at her office in the Pentagon, security chief Janis Smith logs on to her computer. Instead of asking for her password and security code, her computer hesitates. A series of strange, rapidly moving codes appears. Janis senses something is terribly wrong. The security firewalls are down. Detailed maps of strategic military facilities and other top-secret information flash across the screen. A mysterious message forms on her monitor: “United States-your secrets are ours.” The nation’s security has been broken. Janis alerts the president immediately. A bold attempt to infiltrate the Defense Department’s top-secret internal computer system has succeeded! The entire country is at risk.

The Internet

The inner defense of the United States hasn’t really been broken –yet. But computer experts warn that the Internet is growing at such a rapid pace that just about anyone may soon be able to access information–even top-secret information. Security for the government, businesses, organizations, and private citizens is now a major concern.

The Internet began in 1960 as part of a government experiment. Four Defense Department computers were linked together so that they could share information.

Today, the Internet has grown into a high-speed computer network system that allows millions of computer users around the world to communicate with one another. A recent study reports that more than 24 million Americans are currently using the Internet. Studies show that the number of people using the Internet doubles every 53 days. Two million of those users are under the age of 18, and it is predicted that, by the year 2000, the number will increase to 15 million.

Many say the Net is one of the most important and far-reaching technological inventions to date. The Internet provides limitless opportunities in communication and education. E-mail messages can be zipped across the street or around the world. The Internet enables groups of like minded people all over the world to freely organize and share ideas and information. The educational applications of the Net are limitless, providing students endless amounts of information at their fingertips.

However, many people question whether the potential dangers of the Internet outweigh the net’s educational advantages. Some say this new technology is growing so fast that new problems arise before old ones can be solved. Experts say that issues of overuse and addiction, technical overload, and an increase in computer crime are just some of the many problems the growing number of computer users will have to face in the years ahead.



Some scientists refer to the Internet as the “techno-drug of the nineties.” Many worry that over-reliance on the net threatens to depersonalize people’s lives, encouraging them to withdraw from outside world.

“It’s easy to get addicted,” says Zachery Kessin, an Internet service provider, “especially if you have this type of personality that gets easily distracted. It’s hard to know when to stop.” High-school student Todd Kane admits to spending more than 90 minutes a day on the Net, as do many of his friends.

According to University of California computer science professor Tom Keenen, “Addiction to the Internet is real and can cause serious isolation, especially among teens.”

A study at New York’s Alfred University cites the Internet as a reason for an increase in the number of failures and dropouts at the school. A study showed that almost half of students who failed at the college used the Internet when they should have been studying. Many of the students reported long hours logged on and too many late-night sessions in chat rooms. “The computer rooms have resulted in more students being failed than membership in fraternity and sorority houses,” says school official Richard Oft.


Many in the computer industry wonder if the increase in new users and the increase in the amount of time spent logged on will overload the Internet Despite faster modems and telecommunications, using the internet is becoming slower rather than faster. Owners of popular Web sites are noticing that it already takes longer for users to receive information from Web sites than it did even a few months ago.

More and more businesses are relying on the internet for E-mail communication and research. When America Online (AOL), the nation’s largest computer network service, went off-line unexpectedly last August, more than 6.2 million users were left floating in cyberspace for more than 19 hours. Program bugs and human error were to blame for AOL’s temporary shutdown. Although it isn’t likely that the entire Internet will ever totally crash, the Internet is prone to bugs and glitches. Experts note that eventually the Internet will be able to accommodate the increase in use. But, for now, “There’s no relief in sight,” says Milo Medlin, Internet expert. “As fast as we add more capacity, there are new problems.”


Another growing concern among Internet users is the possible invasion of privacy. While the high speed of sending information is part of the Net’s appeal, it is also one of its dangers. Personal, confidential, or high-security documents can rapidly be made public. Once a user hits the send button, a message can end up anywhere, bounced from site to site in minutes. Anything posted on the net is highly public. Some groups, such as Usenet, even document and archive information posted in chat rooms.

Most Web sites keep track of their visitors, making anonymity on the Net difficult. Visitors leave behind “digital footprints,” which can reveal information about the computer user.


An increase in computer viruses also poses a challenge to the Internet. A virus is a hidden program in a computer that can destroy data and software. Because of the increase in Internet users, computer viruses are more common than ever before. Viruses are deliberate attempts by hackers to infect a computer’s system. Before the Net, they were spread by passing disks from computer to computer. “On the Internet, viruses are spreading ten times faster than they ever have before,” says Peter Tippett, a professional “virus hunter” who works to prevent and destroy viruses. Spreading much as does a human virus, a computer virus can infect any computer that comes into contact with it. While many viruses cause little permanent damage, others can erase information or shut down computers.


Other cybercrimes are also more widespread. The Internet provides a whole new vehicle for “hackers,” vandals, thieves, and even terrorists. Since the Internet is relatively new, computer scientists and legislators are working on security measures and possible ways of detering crime in cyberspace.

In early August, a computer hacker broke into the homepage of the United States Justice Department. Replacing the page’s information with photos of Adolf Hitler and writing antigovernment slurs, the hacker renamed the site “The Department of Injustice.” In this case, however, no real damage was done, and all the government’s private information remained intact, protected by complicated security systems.


The Future

The Internet is still in its infancy. The Internet of today is just the beginning of what people are calling the “information highway.” Even computer scientists are unable to forecast where the Internet and computer science will lead society.

With any new technology, there is an inevitable downside. Technology in modern life is almost a force of nature that can’t be stopped. With many new technologies there are complications, fears, and uncertainties. But, more importartly, there are improvements, adaptations, and opportunities.

Netting a Victory

“Cybernauts” around the country are celebrating a Philadelphia federal Court’s overturning of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Congress had passed the CDA in order to protect children and young adults from offensive or dangerous material on the Internet, making it a crime to display “indecent” material on-line. The court system said the act was too vague and unconstitutional. The Philadelphia judges described the net as “a never-ending worldwide conversation” that should be protected under the Constitution’s first Amendment, which guarantees Americans free speech. The judges ruled that it is a parent’s duty, not the government’s’ to restrict what a child sees on the Net. Now, issues concerning the internet are on their way to the United States Supreme Court.

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To touch the sky


Engineers James DeLaurier and Jeremy Harris have designed an ornithopter, the first engine-powered, flapping-wing aircraft that is able to fly. The scientists’ research has provided computer models about how birds fly.

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Mankind was fascinated by flight long before the Icarus of Greek mythology flew with wings of feathers and wax more than 5,000 years ago. But like the daring Icarus, who defied his father and flew too close to the sun, where his waxen wings melted, efforts to imitate the flapping flight of birds have crashed in failure. When Orville Wright made his maiden flight near Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 1903, it was aboard a fixedwing aircraft. And most inventors have long since given up trying to create an airplane that flaps its wings. But James DeLaurier, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies, and Jeremy Harris, a principal research engineer at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, have spent two decades trying to solve the riddle of bird flight. And this fall, they succeeded. Their 8.8-lb. remote-controlled ornithopter, powered by a one-horsepower piston engine, flapped aloft from a hill near Bond Head, north of Toronto, flew for 1 1/2 minutes and touched down into aviation history. Declared DeLaurier: “As far as we are aware, it’s the first engine-powered flapping-wing aircraft to fly.”


The violent flapping motion of DeLaurier and Harris’s invention makes it unlikely that a larger model would ever ply the commercial air routes. But the two scientists’ research provided computer models that have helped to shed new light on how birds fly. They have already put those programs to use: they tested the flight-worthiness of a model pterodactyl that California-based Aero Vironment Inc. built. And the ornithopter has capture the immagination of aviation enthusiasts. An IMAX crew filmed the plane’s first flight, and the two scientists plan to display a larger, sleeker version of Expo 92 in Seville, Spain. Said Aero Vironment vice-president Ray Morgan: “It was an interesting and very difficult problem to solve, and says a lot about the perseverance and ingenuity of its inventors.”

The ornithopter’s successful debut, in fact, followed 20 years of tests, crashes and almost insurmountable problems. In the late 1960s, Harris said, he was convinced that most of the fundamental work behind fixed-wing and helicopter flight had been exhausted–and he decided to pursue uncharted territory. When DeLaurier went to work at the Battelle institute in 1972, Harris found someone who shared his interest, and the two began their long collaboration.

Their hobby soon took up most of their spare time and, eventually, about $6,000 of their own money. “We had a real tiger by the tail,” said DeLaurier. The men abandoned their slide rules and developed a computer program to juggle the many variables that went into the design. They tested their first models in a miniature wind tunnel in Harris’s basement. After DeLaurier went to Toronto in 1974, the men continued their research long-distance. Harris worked on a drive mechanism while DeLaurier tested various wings at a larger wind tunnel in Toronto. Then, with each design, Harris travelled to Ontario for test flights.

They faced many obstacles. “Things would break,” said DeLaurier. “Shafts would twist, belts would strip and things would go flying off here and there.” There were times when the two despaired of ever solving the problem. Declared Harris: “The amount of our lives that it soaked up got a little out of hand. When that happens, you have to make a choice: drop it and let that investment go, or hang on by your fingernails. We chose to hang on.”


Great minds had already tried to solve the riddle. In the 15th century, Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci made elaborate drawings of a flapping flying machine. And in the late 1800s, designers built tiny ornithopters powered by rubber bands. But no one had been able to create a heavier, engine-powered model. Fixed-wing flight is easier–the wings only have to provide the lift to keep the plane aloft, while the power to drive it is supplied by propellers or jets. “If we do it bird style,” said Harris, “we have to combine the lifting and the propelling in the same motion by flapping the wings.” Harris and DeLaurier finally designed a 10-foot wing made up of three panels. On the downstroke, the middle parcel over the plane’s back moves up, causing the two outer panels to pivot down. On the upstroke, the centre panel moves down and the side panels pivot up. The countermovements of the panels proved key to keeping the plane aloft.

The ornithopter is unlikely to revolutionize aeronautical theory. But it has generated much interest. “It is humanity’s age-old dream of flapping-wing flight,” said DeLaurier. “It touches something inside of people which says, ‘Yeah, that’s what we really had in mind.'” Five millennia after the mythical Icarus fell into the sea, science has finally caught up with legend.

>>> View more: Apple’s Steve Jobs, a Pioneer In Education Technology, Dies

Apple’s Steve Jobs, a Pioneer In Education Technology, Dies

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Steven P. Jobs, whose creativity in shaping new platforms for technology has influenced teachers, students, and their schools for more than 30 years, died last week after a battle with cancer. He was 56.

The consumer-electronics and computer-hardware and -software company that Mr. Jobs co-founded in 1976, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, has long had devotees in the world of education. Its early Apple computers and subsequent lines of desktop computers, laptops, and mobile devices changed both knowledge sharing and knowledge consumption for students and adults alike.

Apple’s iPad tablet computer has exploded on the education scene since Mr. Jobs introduced it in early 2010. In the third quarter of fiscal 2011, the iPad surpassed the combined sales of Apple’s educational Macintosh desktop and laptop computers. Its popularity with educators is due to a combination of its portability, long battery life, and intuitiveness of use, especially for young students and students with disabilities.

The iPhone, meanwhile, has helped inspire an education-app culture that has led a growing number of educators to advocate allowing students to bring their own mobile computing devices to class as educational tools.


Apple Computer, now Apple Inc., started aggressively marketing its Apple II line of personal computers to K-12 schools in the early 1980s. The Apple II was largely designed by company co-founder Stephen Wozniak. Mr. Jobs’ Macintosh desktop computers followed, with more-flexible graphic interfaces that became darlings of design classes, math and science labs, and student newspapers.

Mr. Jobs left Apple in 1985 amid disagreements with other company leaders, but was later brought back to the then-struggling company and became chief executive officer in 1997. Widely lauded as much for his business savvy as his design skill, he turned Apple around.

Though Mr. Jobs, who stepped down as CEO in August but remained chairman of the board, was not as visible a donor to education causes as some other technology moguls, his company has consistently offered educational services and discounts to schools and educators.


In 2007, Apple unveiled iTunes U, a channel on its media-player computer program devoted to housing educational resources from colleges and other educational institutions. Both California and Texas established iTunes U channels for K-12 content last year.

Apple has manufactured other products with education in mind, including its MacBook laptop, which it has continued to produce for educational purchases despite phasing it out in other markets. Tim Cook, Apple’s former chief operating officer who served as Mr. Jobs’ deputy for several years, is now the company’s CEO.


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In October, man and machine will again compete at chess. This time, says Raymond Keene, the playing field will be level

IN Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, the astronaut faces HAL, the chess-playing computer. Push each letter of HAL forward by one and you’ll soon see where the name HAL originates. In October of this year — 2001 itself — the new world chess champion, Vladimir Kramnik, will face a challenge from Deep Fritz, the world’s best chess-playing computer program. The contest will take place in Bahrain, with a prize fund of $1 million provided by the Emir’s government. No such clash between the supreme human and silicon brains has taken place for four years. Then, in 1997, Garry Kasparov lost narrowly to IBM’s Deep Blue in New York, in a match which set a record for Internet fascination. Fans of the game itself, followers of the development of artificial intelligence and those who were just plain riveted by the psychological drama of the occasion, accounted for no fewer than 22 million website hits in the final hour of the final game. This made the 12 million hits for the entire three weeks of the previous year’s Atlanta Olympics look utterly puny. Those who want to follow the games this year can do so on the website www.braingames.net.

Unsurprisingly for those who know him, Kasparov, crowned world champion in 1985, and undisputed king of world chess for the subsequent 15 years, did not react charitably towards his defeat. He became convinced that IBM had cheated. They had done so, according to the Kasparov version, by engaging a team of top-class grandmasters, including his old foe Anatoly Karpov, concealing them in a nearby hotel and beaming their collective tactics and strategies direct to the machine.


Indeed, cheating and illusion go back a long way in chess, certainly to mediaeval hucksters who showed punters trick positions which were capable of more than one interpretation. Perhaps this was one reason why the Church periodically took an anti-chess stance. That did not prevent the chess-loving 16th-century Spanish priest Ruy Lopez, after whom one of Kasparov’s favourite openings is named, advising that one should place the board so that the sunlight shines in your opponent’s eyes.

Illusion and delusion in chess surface again in, of all times and places, the rational 18th-century Vienna of the Enlightenment. Here Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen defeated allcomers with his chess-playing machine, the mechanical Turk. There is even a record of a game won against the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte by this device at Schonbrunn Palace. However, yon Kempelen’s victories owed less to artificial intelligence than to ingenious mechanical technology. The pieces on the board were manipulated by a complicated series of levers and pulleys orchestrated by a hidden chess-expert homunculus.

In the past century the most notorious example of sharp practice was the importation of an alleged Soviet parapsychologist, one Dr Vladimir Zukhar, into the politically charged atmosphere of the 1978 world title contest in Baguio, summer capital of the Philippine archipelago. Anatoly Karpov, the reigning world champion, was the golden boy of the Soviet establishment and a particular favourite of Leonid Brezhnev. Facing him was the Soviet defector Victor Korchnoi, known as the `Leningrad Lip’, famed for his superstition and paranoia as much as for his superlative chess skills. Once the Soviets had realised that Korchnoi thought that their man Zukhar was beaming mind-bending rays at the defector during the games, Karpov was handed an extra weapon in the psywar, winning the marathon match by a single point.

Computers have further complicated the task of the honest chess player. When Kasparov recently espoused the notion of so-called ‘Advanced Chess’ (human-plus-computer faces human-plus-computer in a curious symbiotic match), some cynic announced that this had been going on for ages already and was known as correspondence chess. There is, indeed, no way to police chess from being aided and abetted by computer analysis when it is played by mail, but public tournaments played openly are a different matter. A few years back a young man, going by the name of John von Neumann, whom nobody had ever previously identified as a promising chess player, suddenly leapt into the lead in a strong tournament. He then stunned the onlookers at his crucial game by announcing a complicated checkmate in 27 moves (or some similarly ludicrous number) and officials smelt a mouse. Sure enough, John von Neumann was wired up to a strong computer program which was dictating his moves to him. He was promptly disqualified.


Even chess played on the Web can now be checked for computer patterns in the moves. However, the most pressing question is how to eliminate cheating from the big money match, where a million dollars are at stake. With the flesh-and-blood world champion already facing the inbuilt disadvantage of being pitted against a machine that may see up to 200 million positions per second, it is imperative that he is not handicapped by other factors.

Lessons have been learnt from the Kasparov experience of 1997, where the dice, so to speak, were definitely loaded against the human. To be sure, Kasparov did not actually fear that his arch-enemy and Korchnoi’s nemesis, Anatoly Karpov, was hunched, Turk-like, in a small box under the computer on the stage. Nevertheless, IBM did score cleverly and, I emphasise, legitimately, given the rules in force at that time, on the following points:

IBM’s team changed the program after every game, so that Kasparov was always facing a new opponent; they did not show a single game by the current version of Deep Blue to Kasparov before the match, even though IBM had access to thousands of Kasparov’s games and could prepare accordingly; but the clincher was that adjournments were never permitted. As a consequence, any long game could leave Kasparov exhausted, while the machine happily and without fatigue carried on number-crunching. For the forthcoming clash between man and machine, all these points will be adjusted to secure maximum fairness for both contestants.

IBM executives agreed after their victory against Kasparov that the company had reaped at least $100 million worth of favourable publicity. In Bahrain, though, the playing-field will be entirely level, and it will be fascinating to see what Fritz’s four additional years of computer science can achieve against a human brain that is equally well prepared for the shoot-out. IBM was, of course, invited to enter the qualifying tournament to decide which computer should challenge Kramnik. Doubtless for excellent reasons, the invitation was declined.

Raymond Keene, chess grandmaster and chess correspondent of The Spectator, has been invited to be match director for the Kramnik v. Computer match in October.