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© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 1999

Tastes familiar

I'm not big on percentages, but I'd say every fourth or fifth new Web site I visit these days tastes like a design rip-off of Yahoo or, increasingly, C/Net. I suppose imitating somebody else's design is the highest form of flattery. So who would have thought you could build a vertical industry portal around the beverage business? And make it look like C/Net? It's not "beverage" in that trite way I refer to alcoholic drinks, but the real thing. It's weirdly addictive, just like the carbonated sugar water it's built around. Beverage reviews, stock trackers, classifieds and a peer-to-peer forum thirstily await your visit.

Half useful spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are kind of ho-hum to me, probably in the same way that a word processor makes my accountant yawn and probably why I paid way too much for my iBook. Numbers are fun when they're attached to phones or IP addresses. But when they're attached to other things, I drift into some kind of digit dyslexia. Perhaps's free online spreadsheet can undo the psychological damage done by my second-grade math tutor and make me like figures again. I especially like knowing what a joke my net worth is compared with Bill Gates' and watching how pathetic my portfolio is with real time stock calculations. On the plus side, it's all HTML with no Java applets to download. On the negative side, it's Windows-only HTML so my Mac wouldn't work with it. A Mac version apparently is under development.

For addicts

Do you fear going outside because you might miss something interesting on the Web? When tired, do you mistakenly dial IP numbers instead of phone numbers (I did this once)? Then is your kind of site. In addition to the requisite "are you addicted?" quiz, there are some genuinely funny bits, such as a 12-step program for Web junkies, and some useful areas, such as daily Net news. Why you would use a laugh-a-minute site instead of somewhere like for your news is beyond me, but addiction manifests itself in strange ways.

Time to update

I harp on about keeping your software current and probably go over the top when talking about browsers. And for good reason: Accidentally click into a malicious site and who knows what could be sucked out of your PC. So if you're a Windows Internet Explorer user, do yourself a huge favor and update yourself to version 5.01. It has various must-have security fixes, important if you use shopping sites and banking.

Face rings a bell

Biometrics, the technology that allows a computer to recognize a living being by fingerprints or eye scan, is a fascinating subject. Imagine not having a bazillion passwords. No more ATM PIN numbers to forget and no more pesky password changes. Technology is neither evil nor benign, but its application can be both. Law enforcement champions the increasingly popular yet buggy face recognition systems as discussed in this excellent article. Privacy advocates see it as a slippery slope. Until the software improves by an order of magnitude, so do I.

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