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Calling All 21st Century Adventurers

Bits & Bytes


THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY--bitten by millennium fever--is going all-out to celebrate the end of the century, including taking its show to the Internet. As part of a countdown to 2000, the 110-year-old society will spotlight six issues over the next two years that it says will "shape human destiny" over the next 1,000--including adventure, exploration, population, and, natch, technology.

The Web site,, is planning Year 2000 features such as a February look at a team scaling the Razor, a towering granite blade in eastern Antarctica, and a behind-the-scenes look in September at the shooting of a new film about the mysteries of Egypt.

Among the site's other attractions are electronic forums on a range of topics, including a discussion kicked off in March by Robert Ballard, who helped discover the Titanic wreck, about searching for ships and treasures from the time of Christ in the Mediterranean. The site also will conduct an online population survey. And it plans to offer interactive games and virtual visits, say a walk across the hot coals of a volcano on the island of Montserrat, or prowling the underground villages of prairie dogs via a digital camera. This could make for one of the more adventurous cybercountdowns.EDITED BY HEATHER GREENReturn to top


IF YOU LOVE ACTION GAMES SUCH AS DARK VENGENCE, Golgotha, or Space Bunnies Must Die, then hold onto your hat: PCs are about to make sounds you've never heard before. New 3-D audio technology from startup Aureal Semiconductor Inc. in Fremont, Calif., is so realistic you'd swear rockets were flying behind your head. On Feb. 25, Dell Computer Corp. became the first PC maker to offer Aureal's A3D technology for consumer PCs. Germany's Vobis and three other major PC makers are expected to follow soon.

What's so special about A3D? Earlier sound technologies such as QSound and SRS could simulate the sensation of, say, being in a room and hearing strings behind you or horns over your head. But the sounds didn't change--increase in volume, for instance--if you moved closer to their source. Aureal's sound chip, by contrast, renders the sounds so they change volume or position as you zoom through virtual worlds. Also available on $100 add-in boards from Diamond Multimedia Systems, Xitel, and Shark Multimedia, A3D is fast on its way to becoming the next PC audio standard. What's next, chips that simulate the smell of rocket fuel?By Andy Reinhardt EDITED BY HEATHER GREENReturn to top


KIDS THESE DAYS KNOW MUCH more about PCs than old fogies like their folks, right? Wrong.

Move over, Gen Xers. If time spent using a home PC is any indication, older folks are much more plugged in than whippersnappers. According to research results from New York-based Media Metrix, The PC Meter Co., home-PC usage actually increases with age. The heaviest users in 1997 were people ages 55 and up. That group spent an average of 2,299 minutes each month using their PCs--nearly 67% more than 18- to 24-year-olds, who logged an average of 1,377 minutes, and more than three times as much as teenagers, with 645 minutes. The 45- to 54-year-old crowd came in second, averaging 2,052 minutes on the PC each month.

To conduct its research, Media Metrix uses a measurement system that's similar to the A.C. Nielsen Co.'s ratings for TV. The company collected usage data during 1997 from 28,000 people whose home PCs were equipped with the company's PC Meter software, which electronically tracks usage.By Amy Cortese EDITED BY HEATHER GREENReturn to top

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