Web reviews

Golem@Home

golem03.cs-i.brandeis.edu

The Golem Project is an attempt to get robots to design themselves, and now you can use your computer to join in. From this site you can download the Golem@Home screensaver, which creates random assemblages of parts such as motors and control circuits, then simulates their behaviour on a flat surface. The robots that move the fastest are then selected and form the basis of a new generation, with the goal of allowing natural selection to "breed" the most efficient movers.

The purpose of all this is to find ways to design new machines without having to devote massive human resources to the task. While the goal of the screensaver is modest, the principles on which it is based are very powerful and have far-reaching implications for the future of technology. Golem@Home screensavers on Internet-connected computers will periodically exchange evolved robots with each other, so you never know what might turn up on your screen.

Silly chemical names

www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Chemistry/MOTM/silly/sillymols.htm

The URL for this site almost qualifies as a silly name in itself, but if you have an interest in science and are looking for a laugh, it's worth typing. British academic Paul May has collected a fascinating array of real chemicals with unusual names: Bastardane, Megaphone, Unununium, Moronic Acid, and more. With witty illustrations and clear explanations of the origin and properties of these compounds, it's a fine bit of light reading.

Hot, or not?

www.amihotornot.com

It's fascinating to watch the new social phenomena thrown up by the Internet, and this site has already generated a cult following. Like many Net innovations, it's based on a principle that seems simple and obvious in retrospect, but which has interesting ramifications.

Visit the front page of this site and you're greeted with someone's photo portrait and a menu which you can use to rate their attractiveness. Click on the menu, and you'll see the average scored by that picture, as well as a new one. You can keep doing this until you're tired of it, or you can choose to risk your ego and put your own photo on the site.

On the one hand, it's a way that people can find out the harsh (or not so harsh) truth about their attractiveness potential, but on the other hand it can be misleading. We live in a culture where standards of beauty are set by professional models backed by the resources of skilled photographers and make-up artists, and against these are set blurry, Webcam self-portraits. It's easy to imagine that some people may be seriously crushed by a low score that's largely due to a lack of the resources available to film stars. I hope this site doesn't send any depressed people over the edge - it should come with a warning label not to take the results too seriously.

. . . or Goth?

www.amigothornot.com

Amihotornot has already generated a crop of parody sites. This one is a semi-serious effort to gauge your potential as a member of the subculture of morbid romanticism. Cats and cartoon characters tend to get the highest scores here.

Visual Route Server

www.visualroute.com/server.html

Visual Route is a program which combines the common Internet utility, traceroute, with a geographical database, resulting in the ability to see the path that data takes between two points on the network. Visual Route Server is a remotely-operated version of this software, and its maker, Fortel, provides a handful of servers for public use to promote the product.

This is a Java-based Net toy that's both entertaining and informative. The server shows you a map of the route between itself and any Internet address you enter, as well as a table showing technical data about the points in between. This provides details like the time it takes the data to reach each point, the name and location of the intermediate machines, and some information about the target site.

One minor drawback is that the layout of the Visual Route applet is a little cramped, with some resizing of columns required if you want to read all the information. However, playing with it for a few minutes can be an enjoyable way to enhance your understanding of how the Internet works.

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