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Good move, it turns out. Here, at www.irsa.ie/News/Presentation/Presentation.html, 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 www.linkexchange.com, which delivers me to Launchbot (www.launchbot.com). 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 (www.barbecuen.com).

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” (www.findgreatstuff.com/uglylamp.html), 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 www.thepoint.net/ ~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 www.ana-morph.com/docs/ 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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