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WEB SCOUT / DAVID SARNO

See aliens play chess on Google, then Plurk it?

June 04, 2008|DAVID SARNO

Those Times readers more accustomed to the soothing, unhurried feel of this column in newsprint may have yet to discover that we here at Web Scout headquarters also maintain an eponymous blog. Our online incarnation is a lean, mean potpourri of news, culture and cat videos from across the World Wide Web, and these last few days have been particularly oddity-filled ones online.

Though I'd like to say our most widely read Web Scout blog entry was the meditation on Net neutrality or the breaking coverage of an online security breach at telecommunications giant Comcast, the numbers tell a different story. By far our biggest traffic-getter was a post about aliens.

Denver's Jeff Peckman made headlines last week when he revealed to the world that he had what could be the first ever video of a living, breathing extraterrestrial. Anticipating the leeriness such a claim would invite, Peckman recruited Jerry Hofmann, a professor at the Colorado Film School, to authenticate the footage. Hofmann, a skeptic until the moment he saw the movie, was an instant convert. As he told ABC News: "This is a world-changing type of thing."

The Web's truly unique visitors

No one seemed too bothered that Peckman's main corroborating witness was a guy who specializes in . . . movies. Never mind consulting those overqualified forensics experts or NASA scientists -- they would just get bogged down in the details.

Peckman wisely opted not to put the footage on YouTube so that the people of Earth could form their own opinions. Instead, he invited a group of journalists to a closed screening of the video in Denver. According to ABC, no fewer than 50 journalists showed up, with at least 20 TV cameras in tow -- a fine measure of our media's priorities. (Aside: Obviously, I exempt myself from my own criticism. I may be writing about it now, but I would never fly to Denver for that!)

Though Peckman hadn't initially intended to circulate any images from the video, he quickly gave in and released a handout photo to the assembled journalists. It showed the grainy silhouette of an oval-faced, big-eyed visitor, engaged in no less alien an activity than peering into the photographer's window.

Still not convinced? Log on to latimes.com/webscout and see it with your own eyes.

Chess for flexin' ya mentals

Monday saw the launch of WuChess.com, a hip-hop chess community and brainchild of Robert Diggs, a.k.a. RZA of the famed Wu-Tang Clan. Acolytes and experts alike can join to test their wits with "RZA, other Wu-Tang members and stars from across the planet."

"Play in tournaments for prizes," reads the site's description, "or just for the joy of flexin' ya mentals."

WuChess is not cheap, however. If you want to battle rap stars and chess masters, you have to shell out $48 for a year's subscription. To some chess or Wu-Tang lovers, this might seem like a bargain, but to the rest of us, that half a Benjamin means three-quarters of a tank of gas, and besides, there are plenty of free chess services online, even if you can't play against Bobby Digital.

In my blog post on the subject, I mused that, though I knew of the Wu-Tang song "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'," I had not realized that RZA was a chess aficionado.

My ignorance did not go unnoticed.

"If you didn't know that RZA and the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan were chess enthusiasts," wrote commenter glgarfield, "then you were never a fan. They rap about it, talk about, feature chess in videos" and even have it on album covers. "How anyone who knows anything about Wu didn't know this is just strange."

Touche, sir. Perhaps you'd accept a draw?

Wipe us off the map, please

The town of North Oaks, Minn., was not happy when it realized that vans from Google had been cruising its streets and methodically photographing the neighborhood. For about a year, Google Maps has had a nifty feature called "Street View," which lets you zoom in to see what a neighborhood looks like as though you were standing right in it. The feature has been controversial since it started -- in their mission to canvass every streetscape in the U.S., the roving Maps vans have captured images of things like a man wandering into an adult bookstore, a ne'er-do-well scaling the fence of an apartment complex, a cop pulling over a hapless motorist and enough other candid moments and recognizable faces to spawn a website called gstreetsightings.com.

North Oaks residents complained that the vans had no right to be trespassing in the neighborhood, let alone be snapping unwarranted photos of their houses. And perhaps they were right.

Google finally removed the photos. But as with so many privacy outcries, the town's reclusive impulse to keep itself off the radar had the opposite effect. Now more people have heard of North Oaks in one week than in the last 10 years.

Twitter this and Plurk that

Shorting out the buzz-o-meter this week was a site called Plurk.com. Plurk, whose name is a fusion of "people" and "lurk," is the latest nanoblogging sensation. To nanoblog is to broadcast one-sentence messages to friends and readers, a concept pioneered by the now-famous Twitter: "On my way to work," writes a Twittering suburbanite. You don't say? Across the world -- and the interest spectrum -- an anti-poaching ranger in Kenya reports: "The great migration has started in the Mara; Zebras from the Musiara plains have made the first entrance."

Plurk's spin on this genre is to make a visual timeline of reports. So now you can see at a glance when your favorite nanobloggers get up in the morning, how much coffee they drink, what they think of last night's showing of "Sex and the City" and/or the difficulty of disarming illegal wildebeest traps.

--

david.sarno@latimes.com

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