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Nashville Scene Revving Up

I2 is on the horizon.

By James Hanback Jr.

APRIL 27, 1998:  Johnny get your wrench and crank that sucker out. The Information Superhighway may finally be earning its name. Apparently, our government--like everybody else who jaunts into cyberspace for work, play, or just a little bit of escapism--is dissatisified with the rate at which electronic data are transmitted over the Internet in its current incarnation.

The Internet originated in ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a research project ordered by the Department of Defense in 1969. But now that it's available to the masses--and now that more people are sitting with their chins propped on their fists while they await the download of their favorite World Wide Web sites--it appears that someone has decided it's time the Internet was upgraded. The way some observers see it, the 'net needs to be better equipped to handle its workload, at least so that researchers and educators can get a headstart on cyberspace traffic.

Vice President Al Gore last week promised Americans that a new Internet is on the horizon, one in which data transmission speeds will be 100 to 1,000 times faster than the current Internet. Internet2, or I2, as it's being called, is not for the private user, but for educational systems, and government and research entities currently suffering from Internet clogs.

Gore's speech was prompted by corporate America's $500 million donation to help research as part of the government's Next Generation Initiative, described by President Clinton in his State of the Union address in February.

"By expanding the boundaries of our scientific understanding, we will unleash breakthroughs that will power American industries for years to come and give us all a higher quality of life," Gore said during an April 14 news conference.

Some theorize that, on the new Internet, data sent across the wires will be sorted by priority. Higher priority data will naturally be sent to its destination faster than lower-end e-mail, Web pages, and video or sound feeds.

This means that Internet2 may be a vital tool for doctors examining patients hundreds of miles away (just the sort of experience television commercials have been depicting for a while now), without worry that someone who happens to be downloading the latest, fattest version of Netscape or Internet Explorer will bog down the system, costing both doctor and patient precious time.

That's the upside. The downside is the question of whether typical computer-science laws apply to the Internet, and, if so, whether Internet2 will only maintain its speediness for a short period of time.

Many are the consumers who've been frustrated to learn that their computers have become obsolete, just moments after they've set them up on their desks. Two computer-science laws--"Moore's Law" and "Parkinson's Law of Data"--explain that phenomenon.

According to Moore's Law, the amount of information storable on a given amount of silicon (the material used in the construction of microchips) has doubled every year since the technology was invented. That's why computers that were once the size of a room and couldn't do much more than add two numbers now fit in the palm of your hand and can do everything but clean your bathroom.

In other words, technology is constantly making greater leaps at regular intervals. Good for technology, but bad for the consumer who wants to keep up.

Parkinson's Law of Data states that "data expands to fill the space available for storage," which is why the massive hard drive you bought is suddenly full a year later, or the new memory you bought a year ago doesn't seem to be big enough now to do what you need to do.

It's Parkinson's Law of Data that will probably be problematic for the next generation of Internet. For, if the 'Net is finally able to move at faster speeds and handle larger amounts of data, won't the data catch up to it in exactly the same way it's filled up our hard drives and random-access memory?

Even if the general public never becomes involved with Internet2, which is unlikely considering the natural course of events that led to public access to the original Internet, the amount of data generated by government, research facilities, and education will be tremendous. According to Gore's theory, the technology developed for Internet2 will "trickle down" to the older Internet, which is to remain the area for the private user. If anyone can bog down the Internet, it's us private users.

Perhaps it's time to research ways of reversing Parkinson's Law, or new ways of compacting data, rather than simply attempting to keep up with it.

For those of you who are fascinated by the short but rich history of computer science and the Internet, there's a nicely detailed history available on the Web at http://www.isoc.org/ internet-history.

More information on the Internet2 project is available at http://www.internet2.edu, http://www.ngi.gov, and http://www.darpa.mil.


In the flesh

Fans of the computer games Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider 2 may be in for a Hollywood-style treat when their game-hero Lara Croft makes the leap from virtual reality to the flesh in a film based on the two successful games.

Reports on the Internet indicate that Hollywood is hard at work creating film versions of Tomb Raider, Wing Commander, and Duke Nukem, one of the most popular 3-D games out there.

While rumors circulate in the gaming world that French model Vanessa Demouy may play the role of Lara in Tomb Raider, several choices have been tossed around for the role of the politically incorrect, blast-'em-up Duke. Among the names being bandied about are Arnold Schwarzenegger (natch), Howie Long, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Willis.

Aside from the fact that she's made of smooth flesh rather than blocky computer pixels, Demouy looks remarkably like Lara Croft. And as long as actors can spit, cuss, and fire a weapon, they'll have no problem casting Duke.

Wing Commander has already been cast. It will be directed by game creator Chris Roberts and features Freddie Prinze Jr. (I Know What You Did Last Summer), Matthew Lillard (Scream), Saffron Burrows (Circle of Friends), Malcolm McDowell (Star Trek: Generations), and Jurgen Prochnow (Air Force One).

Where will Microsoft take me today?

Rumors abound that Microsoft Corp. is planning a media campaign to soften its image in the midst of its battle with the Justice Department.

According to a report at cnn.com, the computer-industry giant plans to create a media campaign full of opinion pieces and letters to the editor commending the way the software company conducts business. The pieces were allegedly to be presented as "local testimonials," but would actually be written by Microsoft hirelings.

Some rumors indicated that the corporation hoped to soften its image with the attorneys general investigating anti-trust allegations against it.

Microsoft reportedly responded by saying such a plan had been discussed but was not being implemented.

James Hanback Jr. is systems administrator for the Scene. You can reach him by e-mail at james@nashscene.com.

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