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CYBURBIA

THE GOODS : Elvis Is Alive and Well and Cruisin' the 'Net

July 15, 1994|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

I saw Elvis on the Internet, and I have the printouts to prove it. Scoff if you like. I now know the exact street corner in Toronto where velvet Elvis paintings are sold, that a CD-ROM tour of Graceland is soon to be released and that there are 126 books about Elvis' life currently in print, including "The Elvis Presley Encyclopedia," "The Official FBI File on Elvis" and "God's Work Through Elvis."

I stumbled across this information--and I do mean stumbled--in the course of learning about the legendary research capabilities of the Internet, the international network that combines the forces of thousands of computers accessible by millions of users.

To those skilled in the use of the Internet for research, there are vast amounts of information available in the form of text, photographs, artworks, sounds and even videos that can be downloaded to the home computer.

But the Internet is decidedly not, in its purer forms, user friendly. Full access--whether gained through a university (many offer free use of the Internet to students and staff members), an employer or a paid service--requires patience and one of the many thick guides you can find in your bookstore's computer section (good luck--I have not looked at all of them, but I have yet to find one that gives easily understood how-to instructions).

Navigating around the full Internet still requires a bit of knowledge of the UNIX computer language that was the standard long before Macintosh and Windows icons made desktop computers practical for the masses.

My access to the Internet is through the heavily advertised, relatively easy-to-use Delphi service that is owned by Rupert Murdoch (maybe he uses it to track killer bee invasions) and based in Boston. Delphi charges by the hour, but gives new users the first five hours free.

You'll spend most, if not all of that time tearing at your hair in frustration and calling Delphi's 800 number to plead for assistance. But eventually, even a techno-klutz like me can learn to use at least some of the Internet's research tools, such as FTP, Gopher, Newsgroups and, my favorites, Archie and Veronica.

Armed with a dangerously small amount of knowledge, I went in search of Elvis.

First stop was Newsgroups, the hundreds of on-line interest groups that can be found covering topics ranging from computer languages to exotic sex rituals.

Using the book "Net Guide" (Random House, 1994) that lists Newsgroups by topics, I found one called alt.elvis.king. There were currently 26 messages listed in that area (as messages get old, they are erased), which is a tiny number for a Newsgroup. Some get thousands of messages each week.

But the faithful of alt.elvis.king had left heartfelt messages about favorite songs and new products, such as the upcoming Graceland CD-ROM. One knowledgeable user posted the disappointing news that the CD-ROM tour would not include the upstairs of the mansion.

"It is off limits, just like at the real Graceland," posted a user who calls himself Clayface.

Velvet paintings were a hot topic, with exact directions given to those in search of textured images of the king of rock 'n' roll. One user offered for sale a velvet painting of Elvis depicted as a bullfighter. I was tempted.

But it was off to Veronica, Archie and other search tools used to track down computer file titles containing the word "Elvis." Even as a novice researcher I got well over 100 hits.

Many led to highly technical computer applications named in honor of Elvis. But there was also the White House photograph of Elvis meeting President Nixon that could be downloaded into my computer. And a bibliographic guide to Elvis' recordings, movies and TV appearances ran to 267 pages of text.

One user, in a text-file on the parallels between the lives of Elvis and Jesus, pointed out:

"Fact: Jesus was resurrected."

"Fact: Elvis had his comeback special in '68."

In several files, lyrics to Elvis song hits were listed. And one enterprising user had translated Elvis' songs into the Swedish-inflected talk of the Muppets character, the Swedish Chef.

"Yuoo een't nutheen' boot a huoond dug,

"Cryeen' ell zee teeme-a."

He used a program created by a computer whiz to translate any normal English into Muppet Swedish Chef talk. Shall we notify the Nobel Committee? Maybe next year.

Finally and best of all, I downloaded a little sound bite heard at the end of an actual Elvis concert. Using one of the many sound manager programs available, I made it part of my computer shutdown sequence.

Now, every time I turn off my Macintosh it says, "Elvis has left the building."

* David Colker's Internet address is CYBURBIA@delphi.com.

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