Netropolis 

Welcome to the first cyber-survey edition of Netropolis. This one is a grab bag, a digital potpourri, a virtual melange of this and that. See, the Web is already galactic in size and is growing exponentially; some weeks there’s simply too much happening to limit yourself to only one cool topic. So this week, I’m covering multiple links, byte-sized for easy digestion.

COOL POLITICAL SITE: With the success and media notoriety of cynical Web scoop-and-scandal sheets such as the Drudge Report (www. drudgereport.com), it’s refreshing when a progressive site such as the Skeleton Closet (www. realchange.org) comes along to put all the others to shame. Specializing in "opinionated character reviews" of current presidential candidates, the Skeleton Closet also has a complete database of dirt, allegations and truly educated character assassinations of such luminaries as George W. Bush Jr., Richard Gephardt and even Sen. John "former POW-turned-news-media-darling" McCain.

But what’s really amazing is how exhaustive the site is. Even quintessential liberal Ralph Nader gets the grilling here. And any self-respecting Web rag can dish out the goods on President Clinton and his now sainted wife. But 4,500 muckraking words on Elizabeth Dole?

"If you think Hillary Clinton is a strong, ambitious woman with some questionable financial dealings," begins the sassy online Dole exposé, "you will get no relief from Liddy Dole."

Based in San Francisco and run by a loose-knit group of politically savvy left coasters, the Skeleton Closet is true independent publishing in action. With no online advertising to speak of, it’s also clearly a labor of love.

Other juicy tidbits found here include: How Dan Quayle pulled strings to avoid the Vietnam draft, Pat Buchanan’s not-so-veiled anti-Semitism, and how Ross Perot became convinced that Woody Harrelson’s father was hired to kill him by drug dealers.

No, I don’t make this stuff up.

COOL WEB ’ZINE: Is there anyone else out there as addicted to Smug (www.smug.com) as I am? Judging by the online magazine’s longevity, I’m clearly not alone. In fact, in the fly-by-night/here today, dead link tomorrow world of Web ’zines, Smug is already sort of an old bird.

Online since ’96 – and the recipient of innumerable "Top Site" awards – Smug is still a great find for the recently wired and definitely worth a return trip by veteran digital hipsters.

Published by former Royal Oak native Leslie Harpold, the now New York City-based Smug is everything a good Web ’zine should be: Cocky, self-possessed, and completely nonplussed by the ever-growing forces of Web big business.

In the latest issue, columnist Gregory Alkaitis-Carafelli has this snide recommendation to budding account execs prowling for still-uncharted advertising real estate: Buy time on 911 calls.

"Clinical research has shown the heightened adrenaline and serotonin levels humans experience during a crisis enhances memory," writes Alkaitis-Carafelli, "making that call to 911 the perfect time to plug your product!"

Other great stories in the latest edition include a high school memoir about bad girls with feathered haircuts, and a particularly touching ode to cargo pants.

COOL EYE CANDY: Forget about those cheesy flying Windows logos that appear when you leave your computer unattended. They might still call them screensavers, but today’s modern computer monitors don’t need saving. (Unlike the fragile video screens of yesteryear, you can now leave a decent monitor on all day without frying the picture tube.) However, one look at the hypnotic Geiss PC screensaver (a free and surprisingly tiny download from www. cis.ohio-state.edu/~geiss/geiss.html) will make you a true believer after all. Geiss creates breathtaking kaleidoscopic computer animation worthy of a sweaty, 2,000-person, abandoned warehouse rave.

The best part? When you pop in an audio CD, Geiss creates its neo-psychedelic imagery in time to the music. Think of it as the ’90s equivalent to those ’70s midnight concert flicks – just add your favorite controlled substance and boogie.

COOL CONFERENCE: Attention Detroit digerati! The inaugural "Digital Detroit" conference is coming to the Novi Expo Center on May 18 and 19, and will feature in-depth sessions on key trends driving the local Internet industry.

Conference organizer and local cyber impresario Tim Rosa believes it’s the first event of its kind in Michigan. Says Rosa, "We’re bringing the global pioneers of the industry to the city." With keynote speakers such as Broadcast.com CEO Todd Wagner and Excite chairman George Bell, the charismatic Rosa may be creating more than just hype.

In fact, Rosa seems to be filling a long-ignored gap in the too-often conservative environs of Detroit business.

"When it comes to digital culture, we’ve been in an insular bubble," says Rosa. "This is the first time many of these speakers have even been to Detroit."

Sponsored by Rosa’s Detroit New Media Association – whose seasonal Nada Salons at area clubs such as Hamtramck’s Motor have pushed the edge of Detroit digital chic – the conference promises to be a much-needed bubble burster, as well as an exemplary schmoozefest. Go Tim.

(Prices for a one-day conference pass begin at $125. For more details, check out the Detroit New Media Association’s Web site at www.detroitnewmedia.org).

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