Bits & Bytes
3-D MAPPING FOR SKIERS--OR CRIME STOPPERS
EVER SKI DOWN A SLOPE AND wonder just how fast you went and how far? Skiers at Vail this season aren't guessing anymore. The resort is leasing lightweight fanny packs stuffed with the latest in global-positioning-satellite mapping software, developed by MapInfo Corp. in Troy, N.Y., to plot skiers' movements on a digital map.
After a run on the slopes, a skier can have his or her information downloaded onto a disk. Within an hour, users can receive a static, three-dimensional map. Or they can get an interactive CD-ROM that profiles their entire ski adventure, broken down by speed, ski runs, and miles--both in vertical drop and linear distance.
And skiers aren't the only takers. The New York City Police Dept. is using the software to create profiles of the city's high-crime areas by type of crime and frequency. The U.N. is using a similar GPS mapping system to pinpoint land mines in Bosnia. And Blockbuster Video Inc. is employing the technology to scout high-traffic areas where it can locate new stores. MapInfo is cashing in: first-quarter revenues were up 30% over a year ago, to $13.1 million.EDITED BY MARCIA STEPANEKReturn to top
INTEL WANTS TO BE YOUR HELP DESK
TIRED OF BEING PUT ON hold for what seems like hours? Fed up with unavailable, haughty, or ill-informed technical-support staff? Intel Corp. wants to help. On Mar. 11, the Santa Clara (Calif.) chip giant unveiled its Answer Express Support Suite, a package of online subscription services, diagnostic tools, and a CD-ROM filled with antivirus protection and tutorials on more than 100 popular software packages.
Answer Express is a virtual toolkit and help desk wrapped into one for small businesses and individual PC owners--and the Internet makes the combo come alive. Human Intel experts will be online to answer pressing customer questions, and users also will be able to back up any sensitive data on their PCs to a secure location via the Internet.
The cost: $50 for the package, which includes the first three months of service, then $15 per month.Andy ReinhardtReturn to top
THE LAND OF PORK DROWNS IN SPAM
NOT LONG AGO, ALL the Capitol Hill lawmakers with a public E-mail account or a Web site would have fit into a small elevator with room to spare. Now, it's hard to find a politician without both. Lately, though, some are starting to regret their move into cyberspace.
For some members of Congress, Web-site maintenance is proving too costly and time-consuming. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) hasn't updated his site since January, 1997. Others admit their sites are so content-bare that they'd probably turn off even the most loyal of constituents. "Some sites are pathetic displays of public-relations drivel," says Gary Ruskin, director of the nonprofit Congressional Accountability Project.
For others, the Net is bringing people a little too close to government, and vice versa. Chris Casey, Capitol Hill's in-house online-support expert, says a sharp rise in unsolicited E-mail is spawning a mini-backlash in Congress, chiefly among the Hill's most electronically challenged members. Whether it's unwanted ads for miracle hairpieces or "Dear Congressman" tirades from thousands across the globe, the E-mail glut is growing. "It's now easier to persuade some members of Congress to build a home page on the Web than it is to get them to have a public E-mail address," says Casey, author of the book, The Hill on the Net: Congress Enters the Information Age.
Moans Ken Johnson, communications director for House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.): "We don't mind getting opinions from constituents. But the same opinion 500 times from the same person? It's damn frustrating. There are days when I definitely want my typewriter back."EDITED BY MARCIA STEPANEKReturn to top