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The history-making impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton comes
at a time when the Internet and e-mail theoretically provide a unique
opportunity for virtually all citizens to voice their opinion to their
senators. Diligently though we may take advantage of that opportunity,
however, some of us question whether the e-mails we take the time to
write and send to their senators are ever read or even received. We may
be right: recent studies (like
this one
and this
one) bear out the intuition that, among the different methods of
constituent communication, e-mail has the smallest impact upon a member
of Congress. Why?

Those of us who habitually spend lots of time online live life with a
kind of extra dimension that we take for granted. Online speech, online
events, online technological developments constitute a reality to us
that, if not quite seamlessly joined to the reality of our ordinary
lives of flesh and grass and concrete, holds none the less water for
that. We tend to forget that, for those on the outside — even for many
who are technically but not spiritually online, as it were — cyberspace
itself could vanish utterly in the next five seconds without leaving
much of a void. The offline, whose ranks include many members of
Congress and their office staffs, do not ascribe the same reality we do
to online phenomena. To these people, a piece of e-mail — a mere
passing rush of electrons, sent or deleted with one keystroke,
offensively newfangled and notoriously abused by the vaguely despicable
– simply lacks the heft, the seriousness, the adult,
attention-demanding quality of a letter printed on paper or even a phone
call.

The question becomes: in an era when many influential men and women
have yet to integrate the Internet into their mental landscapes, how
does one endow the raw communicative potential that is unquestionably
conferred by the Internet with actuality — with real-world weight and
efficacy in offline circles?

Enter SenateVote.com, a Web-based
forum through which people can make known their opinions on the
impeachment trial to their senators. SenateVote.com collects messages
that constituents post on their senators’ pages, prints them, and
delivers them directly to the senators’ offices throughout the trial,
ensuring that all opinions registered at the site get to their intended
destinations in the Senate. Besides collecting and delivering messages
to the Senate, SenateVote.com serves as a resource for up-to-date news
and information about the impeachment trial; after it’s all over, the
site’s content (including all posted messages) will be recorded and
stored on CD-ROM for posterity. So take a moment now to salt the
hard-copy dispatch that’s about to find its way to your own senator with
your thoughts. This time, they’ve a fighting chance of actually reaching
their target.

Yes, Virginia, the Internet really can give the individual a voice
that counts — particularly, as now, when someone savvy and creative
steps in to soup up the real-world interface a bit, embodying all that
information flowing in so that it can stand and walk among the offline
and, maybe, make a difference there.

Tea Party logic

Scientific American’s January issue
features
technology consultant Peter de Jager (author of the original
Computerworld essay ‘Doomsday
2000′
as well as
two recent Y2K books, Managing ’00 and Countdown Y2K) exploring the
difficulties posed by attempts to eliminate the Y2K bug. De Jager
explains Y2K’s genesis by a keen allusion to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
in the popular children’s classic Alice in Wonderland:

MAD HATTER:

Does your watch tell you what year it is?

ALICE:

Of course not, but that’s because it stays the same year for such a
long time together.

Early programmers’ failure to take the change of century into account
constitutes what de Jager calls “Tea Party logic” — i.e., why store
more than two digits when the century stays the same for such a long
time together? Unlike most coverage of Y2K, de Jager’s article goes on
to explain many of the specific programming problems involved and to
describe potential approaches to their solution. A useful Y2K
bibliography and related links follow.

On the ‘zine scene: Tweak

The brilliantly designed little Web ‘zine
Tweak is worth a stopover the next time
you’re fooling around on the Web at midnight with that strange
reluctance to log off and hit the sack.

There are things at Tweak that make you wonder whether Java shouldn’t
be classified as a Schedule I drug — like the cheesy travelogue “Floppy
Goes to Las Vegas: A Rabbit’s
Journey to the Heart of the
American Dream,” by Floppy (just click on the title to start the
Javascript rolling). If Floppy’s precious meanderings repel you, though,
rest assured actual writers do find a forum at Tweak. Witness Chris
Ridder’s “Dreams of a Non-Smoker,”
exploring the uneasy
nights of the recovering nicotine addict in a not-incidentally superb
utilization of the medium, juxtaposing dream sequences with commentary
(now THAT’s what Java is for, Floppy!).

Then there’s Stephen C. Bloom’s spot-on discussion of the oxymoron
that is EuroDisney: “Disneyland is Kid Heaven, and that’s why
EuroDisney is
positively, absolutely anti-French. How can a nation genetically opposed
to indulging children get away with the biggest childhood indulgence of
all? How can the average droll Parisian, who chain-smokes Gitanes in a
Left Bank cafe . . . and reads Descartes on the metro, possibly enjoy –
even tolerate — Mickey Mouse?” Prowling around Tweak yields lots of
tiny pop-culture epiphanies of that sort, like an interview with the
Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano
(“on being Christian, confused, and not as angry as everyone thinks”).
Much here for the insomniac with a few wee hours to while away.

High-end calculator for Windows — free

If the simple calculator that comes as a Windows accessory isn’t
meeting your needs, you can download the CDML Advanced
Calculator

at no cost. Its functions include an annotatable tape display, memory
functions, multiple English/Metric conversion modes, and a scientific
expression evaluator. Ideal for calculations of payments and dividends
such as those concerning mortgages, credit cards, and stocks, it’ll work
with Windows 95, 98, or NT.

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