Barbara Kantrowitz

Stories by Barbara Kantrowitz

  • Crystal Clear 3-D Memory

    AS HARD DRIVES GET MORE and more cramped, digital space is running out. For decades, researchers have hoped that holograms created in the subatomic structure of crystals might hold an answer. Stanford University physicists have demonstrated the first fully digital model of such a device, storing and retrieving the "Mona Lisa." The crystal held only 163 kilobytes of memory comparable to some early home computers but researchers think holographic units could hold a million megabits. Crystals store in three dimensions and could be 10 times faster than today's fastest systems.
  • Garage-Band Programmers

    At the Macworld Expo held each August in Boston, software developers try to dazzle each other with technology that pushes silicon chips to the limit. This year, one of the bigger draws was Jump Raven, a sci-fi game with movie-quality sound and images -- clearly the work of master programmers. The crowds were entranced by mutant villains racing across a futuristic New York City streetscape in a plot that's a cross between the cult-movie classic "Blade Runner" and vintage James Bond flicks. Was it the latest hit from one of the powerhouse developers? Hardly. In fact, a guy from one of the best-known names in the industry stood at the Jump Raven booth for 15 minutes and then hum-bly asked, "How did you do that?" ...
  • Eye I.D.

    Forget about the lowtech retinal scanner that unlocked Arnold and Tom's secret headquarters in "True Lies." Kids' stuff. Two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have come up with a way to identify people by patterns in the colored part of the eve, the iris. They say these permanent designs differ from individual to individual. The new device collects about 2,000 times as much information as a scan of the retina, a structure on the back of the eve, so it's harder to fool. And users don't have to stare into a visor for their eyes to register they just peer into a screen.
  • An Evolving Technoculture

    Photography has always been as much artifice as art. But software that seamlessly meshes images from unrelated settings has escalatead the debate over the validity of photographic reality. "Metamorphoses: Photography in the Electronic Age" (Aperture, $18.50) is a state-of-the-art look at the evolution of electronically altered images through the eyes of photographers and curators. The pictures range from serene to disturbing. In a series inspired by old family albums, Martina Lopez places stark turn-of-the-century poses in a vivid modern landscape. Pedro Meyer juxtaposes religious symbols (an angel, Jesus) with pictures of everyday Mexican life. Shelly J. Smith creates montages from a wide variety of sources. The overall effect is of a technoculture in transition. Someday, these pictures may seem as primitive as the ghostly prints of a pinhole camera.
  • Renaissance Man

    It's no easy task to do justice to Leonardo Da Vinci, but "Leonardo the Inventor," a CD-ROM from InterActive Electronic Publishing, is an outstanding new entry in the rapidly growing field of multimedia biographies. The screen that introduces the inventions features a cleverly animated Mona Lisa. There are animations of each invention and videos of modem versions of his visionary creations (the helicopter and tank, among others). A multimedia kind of guy himself, Leonardo would have loved it.
  • X-Phile Alert

    Will mulder and scully go out on their own? Has Deep Throat really kicked the bucket? Aficionados of the Fox TV show "The X-Files" will have to wait until the Sept. 16 premiere of the second season to answer these pressing questions. In the meantime, fans should check out the Usenet newsgroup called alt.tv.x-files, where there's an entertaining set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Delphi Internet Services, owned by News Corporation, Fox's parent company, also has an "X-Files" forum; users can order merchandise with the show's logo.
  • Try 411

    The infobahn is supposed to make it easier for people to talk to politicians. But an Arizona State University study indicates that a lot of voters still like to do business the old-fashioned way. Earlier this year, the school set up a gopher site with position papers for three Arizona congressmen. But the most useful data, according to records of nearly 7,000 inquiries, were district maps and the congressmen's phone numbers.
  • Which Way To Neptune?

    The dispatcher's name is Rita, and she speaks in the dulest tones of deepest Brooklyn. But the hacks in Voyager's "Planetary Taxi" are ready to whisk passengers to the farthest reaches of the solar system. This Macintosh CD-ROM is an astronomy lesson cleverly disguised as an interplanetary quiz show. Drivers pick up fares who ask to go to the planet with, say, water and ice (Earth) or the highest gravity (Jupiter). For players who don't know Io from Europa, there's an easy-to-use on-screen reference panel. "Planetary Taxi" is also a great introduction to electronic modeling; planets close to the sun whiz by, but it's a long haul to Neptune. It is most likely to appeal to kids in the fourth grade and up (as well as stargazing adults). One caveat: "Planetary Taxi" works best with a fast CD-ROM drive. Otherwise, you'll feel like you're stuck in a cosmic traffic jam.
  • Face 2 Face In Realtime

    Ever wonder what a hacker looks like? There will be at least several hundred gathered in New York City this weekend for a 48-hour convention called H.O.P.E., Hackers On Planet Earth. "This is the first time something of this magnitude has happened in the U.S.," says co-organizer Emmanuel Goldstein. Round-the-clock events include: a keynote address by a former CIA agent, panel discussions on topics like whether hackers threaten Net security and how-to sessions on hacking Unix workstations. There will also be a committee to "crack" the New York City subway card. Goldstein says, "By the end of the conference we'll know if it's a good system or not." Walk-in registration costs $25; send e-mail to info@hope.net.
  • Apple Bites

    Meet the John C. Dvorak of cyberspace. He's Adam C. Engst, the 26-year-old editor of a free electronic newsletter about "the world of the Macintosh and electronic communication" called TidBITS, one of the most popular publications on the Net. TidBITS's 100,000 readers depend on Engst for the latest news about Apple, Inc., Macintosh hardware upgrades and insider information from industry sources. Engst, who just released issue No. 237 of the weekly newsletter, is the author of three books on the Internet -and he's quick on the draw "My deadline is about an hour before it goes out Monday night." For more info send e-mail to info@tidbits.com; back issues available at ftp.tidbits.com.
  • Beware Of Im-Posters

    Most people on the Internet are who they claim to be. But recording-industry sources confirm that music companies pay people to talk up new bands on the Internet and commercial services by posing as ordinary consumers. This can exact swift punishment: one cybersleazoid got repeatedly "flamed" (received hate e-mail) when he was found out.
  • Create Your Own Internet Hype

    Pick one word from each column to form your very own Net Hype Term. Use it liberally in conversation and in magazine articles. Make it into an acronym. Call up customersupport lines and ask about it. Post it on irrelevant Usenet newsgroups. Pretend that you know what it means. Bonus points if Wired magazine writes a gushy article about it. ...
  • Home Is Where the Money Is

    IT COULD BE THE PLOT OF A HIGH-tech horror movie. The company that brought you MS-DOS, arguably the world's most awkward operating system, now wants to invade the home. Anyone who has spent time trying to untangle MS-DOS (a.k.a. messy doss) probably won't expect much from Microsoft's new Home line. The surprise is that while Microsoft still has a lot to learn about marketing to the average consumer, the company has made a decent start. Here's a sampling: ...
  • Dissent On The Hard Drive

    The no-frills brick building in downtown Hackensack, N.J., is an unlikely setting for an attack on censorship around the world. But entrepreneur Howard Jonas thought it was the perfect place to start an electronic bulletin board that puts banned books on line. The building is actually the home of Jonas's company, IDT, which provides discount telephone service. Since he already has plenty of computers and telephone lines, Jonas says, it wasn't hard to set up the Digital Freedom Net, which uses the Internet, the international computer network, to circulate material outlawed in the authors' home countries. ...
  • Multimedia's Latest Hits

    GAMES NOW AVAILABLE FOR 3DO'S Multiplayer are part of a virtual tidal wave of interactive games that have come out in the last year for both videogame players and personal computers. Some are just for fun, but many belong to the fast-growing ""edutainment'' category -- they're meant to have some educational value. The array of choices can be dizzying, starting with the hardware. In terms of price, the Multiplayer ($499) falls between most videogame players (generally under $200) and multimedia personal computers (more than $1,000). If you just want to have a little fun zapping bad guys, the game boxes are fine. Some game developers have also come out with children's programs that have a little more content. Many of these are in fact video-game versions of popular computer games, such as the Carmen Sandiego series, a geography game. ...
  • Computers as Mind Readers

    THE MARRIAGE OF MAN (OR WOMAN) and machine is one of the most intriguing images in science fiction. From the Bionic Woman to RoboCop, these creatures are blessed with bodies that just won't quit and brains at the top of the evolutionary scale. You ain't seen nothing yet. To some futurists, the most alluring possibility is what science fiction calls ""wetware,'' the linking of the human brain and computers. The word ""wet'' refers to the brain; it's a play on hardware (computer equipment) and software (computer programs). In this vision, humans would be connected directly to the machines. The computer could literally read your brain waves, your thoughts -- all your thoughts, mundane and majestic. Need a phone number for a friend named Joe? There it is on the screen, called up from your private database, which also lists Joe's other vital stats. That novel in your head? It's all typed out for you on the screen, right down to that embarrassing little fantasy you'd prefer no one knew...
  • MEN, WOMEN & COMPUTERS

    AS A LONGTIME "STAR TREK" devotee, Janis Cortese was eager to be part of the Trekkie discussion group on the Internet. But when she first logged on, Cortese noticed that these fans of the final frontier devoted megabytes to such profound topics as whether Troi or Crusher had bigger breasts. In other words, the purveyors of this "Trek" dreck were all guys. Undeterred, Cortese. a physicist at California's Loma Linda University, figured she'd add perspective to the electronic gathering place with her own momentous questions. Why was the male cast racially diverse while almost all the females were young, white and skinny? Then, she tossed in a few lustful thoughts about the male crew members. ...
  • Child Abuse In Cyberspace

    EVEN THE CHELMSFORD, MASS., POLICE were shocked when they raided a local computer bulletin board called The County Morgue. The operator, John Rex Jr., a 23-year-old engineering student, ran the electronic forum out of the house he shared with his parents and two 15-foot pet pythons. Inside, police say they found firearms with 3,000 rounds of ammunition, explosives, bomb manuals and 43 videotapes, many of them either pornographic or about child molesters. ...
  • Bill And Craig's Big Idea

    IN THE WORLD OF THE START-UPS, THERE are ideas, big ideas and Big Ideas. On that scale, Bill Gates and Craig McCaw have a BIG IDEA. Last week they announced plans to launch 840 small communications satellites, nearly triple the amount circling the Earth today, so that virtually everyone will be able to send and receive video and sophisticated data. Their opening: the year 2001, not as far away as it sounds, especially considering the magnitude of the Gates/McCaw venture. And they want other people-customers, manufacturers, even government agencies-to finance the scheme. If anyone else had come up with such a plan, it would probably be laughed off the drawing board. But as James Moore of GeoPartners Research Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., telecommunications consulting firm, points out: "People become billionaires by taking unreasonable ideas and making them work. These are two people with a track record." ...
  • The Tempest In A D-Cup

    GET READY FOR THE BATTLE OF THE Bras. Last week, Gossard, the British lingerie maker, launched its Super Uplift bra, an engineering marvel consisting of 46 separate pieces of lace, padding. straps and wire that promise to make it possible for "even the most modest of bodices to flash real flesh." In May, Playtex will introduce its entry in the push-Lip sweepstakes, the Wonderbra. Its claim to fame is a testimonial from flat-chested model Kate Moss, who says, "They are so brilliant, I swear, even I get cleavage with them." ...
  • The Information Gap

    JONATHAN HEE, 15, AND MICHAEL Tran. 16, attend the same suburban high school, Montgomery Blair in Silver Spring, Md., outside Washington. Both hope to use computers at work someday. Tran would like to be a programmer or an engineer; Hee wants to be an engineer. But the similarity ends there. Hee is in Montgomery Blair's 400-student magnet science program, which boasts two state-of-the-art computer labs, Internet access and teachers who have been trained in the latest technology. Tran goes to the nonmagnet section of the school. which has 2,000 students, a few dozen obsolete computers and teachers who are struggling with too few resources for too many students. Jonathan has studied binary code and logic; he has his own computer at home. Michael took his first computer class this year: he has no machine of his own to hone his skills. ...
  • Sex On The Info Highway

    MEET THE COUPLE WHO CALL themselves the Roarks. This is how they looked for love on a Florida electronic bulletin board last week: "My fiancee and I have a well-evolved submissive/dominant relationship. She is classically beautiful (former model), quite intelligent (turned accountant) and a warm and loving individual ... She loves to role play-especially damsel in distress-and sometimes likes to be spanked. We often imagine spending an evening with another woman (ideally) or couple where the woman will be dominant over her while I will be ultimately dominant over both ... You should be sensitive, sensual, and sane; 25-40, attractive with an hourglass figure, feminine and busty (a preference we both share)." ...
  • Hey Computer, Do My Taxes

    CANDICE BERGEN MAKES IT LOOK SIMPLE. In the Sprint Foncard ads, she merely tells the telephone to "Call home" without ever lifting a manicured finger. Major computer manufacturers are also touting the power of speech. Apple and Compaq, for example, sell machines that can respond to brief orders, like "Computer off" or "Open file." This is just baby talk compared with what the future could hold: computers that take fast dictation, a microchip in the car dashboard that answers when you ask directions, a calendar you can order to remind you to send your spouse flowers on your anniversary. ...
  • Out Goes The Nouveau

    ONE DAY YOU WAKE UP, TAKE A long look around the living room and decide that the old, familiar stuff looks ... just plain old. There's only one thing to do, really. Chuck it and start again. If you're a living legend like Barbra Streisand, you can't exactly bold a tag sale in your yard, especially when the yard is 24 primo acres in Malibu. When Streisand decided to unload her $4 million collection of art deco and art nouveau furniture and art, she called Christie's, the tony auction house. The vast cache goes on the block in New York this week, but don't expect bargains: a Cartier clock ($100,000 to $150,000), a 1926 Rolls-Royce ($50,000 to $60,000), a Lipchitz sculpture ($150,000 to $200,000). ...
  • The Metaphor Is The Message

    IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS THE word. Or rather many, many words, weird words like edlin or pip. Those who understood what these words meant could get computers to do simple things, like copying data. But it was all too daunting for the average person, and computers remained largely the province of engineers and scientists. Then, a decade ago, Apple Computer introduced the Macintosh, and pictures crowded out words. The screen resembled a desktop with files that actually looked like file folders; discarded items went into an electronic trash can. A new class of users-writers, artists, business executives -embraced computers at work. ...
  • The Butlers Of The Digital Age Will Be Just A Keystroke Away

    Think of the proper english butler. Every morning, long before his lordship rises, the butler is scurrying through the great house, anticipating his master's every need. That's the basic concept behind "intelligent agents," software that travels through computer networks to fulfill users' requests. Agents can make travel reservations, collect interesting stories from news services or sort through electronic mail--while their master is miles from the keyboard. Agents were not much more than a futurist's dream until the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. There, a Silicon Valley company, General Magic Inc., announced the development of software called Telescript that includes features that may someday become the butlers of the digital age. ...
  • Happy Birthday: Still Wired At One

    WHEN WIRED MAGAZINE debuted, it was billed as a Rolling Stone for the computer generation. A year later it appears to have achieved just that. The paper version of the magazine is a required accessory for about 110,000 technotrendies--along with a color PowerBook and access to "the Net." Wired also reaches thousands more readers online, through America Online and the Internet. ...
  • In A Class Of Their Own

    WHILE OTHER 15-YEAR-OLDS ARE struggling through geometry, the periodic table and the agony of high school social life, Gabriel Willow is blissfully pondering the body angles of fish, the mysteries of evolution, origami and anything else that intrigues him. "I've got a pile of about 12 fish books," says the teenager, who lives in rural Maine. "I'm looking for fish with the most exaggerated shapes that I can do in origami, things like puffer fish and angler fish, barracudas." What educational institution allows such freedom? None. Gabriel has spent virtually all of his school years at home. For an exceptionally bright, self-motivated kid, home-schooling is a salvation, he says. "Everything isn't divided up into half-hour learning periods," he says. "I can pursue my own interests as far as I want to take them." ...
  • Who Holds The Key To The E-Mailbox?

    REPORTERS ARE PAID TO BE NOSY. BUT there are limits, at least if you work at the Los Angeles Times. Earlier this month Times editors recalled a reporter in the paper's Moscow bureau because they believed he was repeatedly reading his colleague's electronic-mail messages, according to sources at the Times. The reporter, Michael Hiltzik, was caught in a sting operation using phony messages. Hiltzik, back in Moscow temporarily, would not comment and editors at the paper said they couldn't discuss a "personnel matter." ...
  • It Can Rom, But It Can't Hide

    CLICK. YOU'RE INSIDE A COZY BOOKLINED STUDY. Click. A cartoon fish pops out of a painting of a seashell. Click. A slide show of vintage Vogue magazine covers flashes by. That's just one of 12 rooms in "Alice: An Interactive Museum," where the click of a computer's mouse unleashes a stream of eccentric inventions. Too surreal? Come back to earth with "Capitol Hill" from Software Toolworks, which turns users into freshman legislators. You learn how Washington works--and doesn't work--as you vote on bills, listen to debates and meet powerful wheelers and dealers. Losing faith in the future? Try "Isaac Asimov's The Ultimate Robot," from Microsoft. It tells you everything you ever wanted to know about droids and their kinetic kin; when you've absorbed all the lessons, you can use the on-screen tool kit to build your own mechanical helper. ...
  • Hillary's House

    DAVID LETTERMAN WAS CLEARLY NOT impressed. After viewing pictures of the freshly renovated White House private quarters last week, he concluded that the only thing new in the Lincoln Bedroom was the deep fryer by the bed. Hey, Dave, could we show a little respect here? Bill and Hillary didn't make snide comments about your new digs (and for sure they cost a whole lot more than the $396,429.46 in private donations used to spiff up the White House). ...
  • Failing The Most Gifted Kids

    THEY'RE THE BEST AND THE brightest--and they're bored. That's the conclusion of the federal government's first assessment in 20 years of education for the nation's smartest students. Some gifted students, especially those from poor neighborhoods, are simply ignored. Others spend wasted hours in regular classrooms where teachers go over work that these students have already mastered. Still others try to hide their talents, to avoid being called a "nerd" or a "dweeb." ...