Until a few years ago, the Internet was pretty dumb.
There was plenty of information there, but finding what you needed was a real pain that sometimes involved visiting dozens of different sites before you got the right answer.Even today, the search engines - which let you enter keywords to find specific information - can lead you astray. For instance, if you search for "Georgia," you might find information about the song "Sweet Georgia Brown," the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
One of the most promising techniques for making information easy to find is the so-called "knowbot" or "gobot" that learns about your information needs, like a good assistant would, and then searches out the data that makes the most sense for you.
If you want a free demonstration of how this technology works, and if you have access to the Internet's World Wide Web, go to the home page of a Cambridge, Mass., company called Agents Inc. (http://www.ffly.com). It'll learn your tastes in music and recommend new albums and artists.
You'll have to sign up to use the service, but there is no fee. You'll be interrogated about your tastes in music, and then the system will do its best to recommend artists that suit your taste. The more questions you answer, the more accurate the recommendations.
The music service is just the first use of the Firefly technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It could, and someday will, recommend restaurants, nightclubs and even doctors.
Sharpening the big picture
Projection televisions were the very first to offer big pictures in the home.
But early models had a lot of problems, including the fact that the projected picture was so dim that you needed to watch in darkened, movie theater-like lighting. Also, because the projected picture could be enormous, the inherent fuzzy quality of any video picture was enlarged along with the picture itself.
Now, Sharp Electronics claims to have solved the problems with a new model that uses a technology Sharp calls Super High Aperture Liquid Crystal Display. That technology is incorporated into the Sharp XV-S95U, which can project a picture up to 200 inches across diagonally - 10 times larger than a 20-inch screen. The brightness level - for those who like all the specifications, it's 4,000 lux - should be sufficient to produce a picture that can be seen in a room with normal lighting.
The company also has added what's called a line doubler. Because a TV picture is made up of individual scan lines, the line doubler crams more information onto the screen, producing a less fuzzy picture. The set that has it, however, is aimed at the high-end home theater market and has a suggested retail price of $10,000.
For those who want a big picture without that kind of price, Sharp makes the XV-P15U, which sells for about $2,495 and can project an image of up to 100 inches diagonal. Instead of the 500 lines offered by the more expensive model, the XV-P15U offers 350 lines of resolution, which is still more than ordinary TV sets.
If you have access to the Internet's World Wide Web, you can get more information about the sets at Sharp's home page (http://www.sharp-usa.com).
Getting the edge
For folks who think a little high-tech help could improve their writing, a new program called Writer's Edge may be of interest.
It works a lot like a sophisticated electronic thesaurus, suggesting new ways to express a thought. For instance, the program can suggest up to 672 ways to say "red" and 1,402 ways to say "love."
Writer's Edge installs directly into most word processors, so you'll get its help without the need to open a second program. It installs seamlessly into Microsoft Word, WordPerfect and Lotus WordPro. There are versions of Writer's Edge for both Apple Macintosh and IBM-compatible computers.
The program sells for $39.95 and should be available at most software dealers. If you need help finding the program, or just want more information, you can contact its publisher - IdeaFisher Systems - at 800-289- 4332.
If you're in the market for a new modem, but hate to spend the money because you may eventually want a high-speed ISDN data line, U.S. Robotics has an answer.
The Skokie, Ill.-based modem maker will introduce the $895 Courier I-Modem in March. The unit will serve as an ISDN terminal adapter, but it also has a built-in 33.6k bps modem for use with regular telephone lines. When using an ISDN connection, it can transfer data at speeds of up to 128k bps.
As with most modems sold these days, it also supports faxing at speeds of up to 14.4k bps.
If you'd like more information, you can view the product at the U.S. Robotics home page on the World Wide Web (http://www.usr.com).