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Good move, it turns out. Here, at, I’ve stumbled upon that rare and precious Web beast: attractive and informative content. A lengthy article is accompanied by bold and easy-to-read graphs showing that fewer and fewer Irish students are choosing to study science. The argument runs on for 5,000 words-far more than I (and I suspect most others) would ever actually read on the screen. It doesn’t help matters that the background is striped blue and yellow, with sidebar material in aqua.

I start hunting for links to allow me to exit without retreating. I have to dive all the way to the very bottom, taking the trap door to, which delivers me to Launchbot ( LaunchBot is an annotated list of Web sites. There’s no here, here-just lots of openings to a myriad of “theres.” It’s like walking down the midway at a carnival. I can almost hear the virtual carnies shouting out from their blue-underlined awnings, evoking aromas of greasy food. Hence my quick dive into a site devoted to barbecue (

One link from Launchbot seems to offer the kind of non-corporate, non-academic funkiness that shrieks: only on the Web. It’s the “Ugly Lamp Contest” (, and it showcases all kinds of hideous instruments of interior illumination-each with a short anecdote to justify (or apologize for) its existence. It also links other sites of similar kitschiness, including a contest to pick the “tackiest place in America,” at ~usul/text/tacky.html. This photo scrapbook includes images of a 30-foot plastic lobster, a building shaped like an elephant, and (my favorite) the house covered in beer cans.

Because these photos are dead ends from a hyperlinking standpoint, I retrace my steps one more time to the mother list at Launchbot. I am using Launchbot as a kind of temporary home base on Planet Web-kind of the way mountain climbers set up a base camp from which they stage assaults on the peak.

This time I am drawn to the “Irresponsible Internet Statistics Generator,” at stats/stats. html, which squashes some of the more overheated projections of Internet growth and should be required viewing for anyone who wants to get a grip on the confusing numbers flying around about how big the Net is. Type in a date, and the site displays a patently ridiculous figure that would result if the Net is growing as fast as some formulations claim. As of May 1, I learn, the Web should comprise 113 billion sites-about 18 sites for every human alive.

That seems a fitting absurdity on which to end the journey. As is my usual pattern, I have set out with an earnest goal and then deviated from it happily in pursuit of the tantalizing distractions that the online citizenry has strewn in my path. Sometimes I feel like a puppy dog pursuing a butterfly, through a meadow bursting with scents, sights, and sounds. I occasionally catch the butterfly-but I usually gain at least as much nourishment from the chase itself.

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