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Illusions and real cinema
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Illusions and real cinema on the Web
 

Bit Player for Feb. 9, 1997
This is an expanded version of the column that appears in print.

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers


Sometimes I tempted to think the entire World Wide Web is just an illusion, that it will go away when I open my eyes. But reality intervenes each time I visit one of the most fascinating sites on the Web—the IllusionWorks Home Page. It has the largest selection of visual puzzles and illusions you can find in front of your computer.

IllusionWorks, at http://www.illusionworks.com/, and has won many Web awards both for its design and its content. Not all the puzzles and illusions at IllusionWorks are online; some are available in books, slides and posters you can order from the site's Web-based store.

The site is ideal for families and schools. One of its pages shows experiments and demonstrations that work well in a classroom, and some of the best illusions are perfect for children because of the way they challenge perception. When we learn as children that things are not necessarily what they seem, we're better prepared for some of the real-life experiences that will come our way later.

IllusionWorks uses many colorful, animated images on its pages and some of the puzzles and illusions require either Java or Shockwave, so you may want to upgrade your browser before visiting the site. If you use AOL to get onto the Internet, you'll definitely need a better browser than AOL's standard one. (See this week's Dr. Gizmo for the download address for Internet Explorer.)

Another reason to get a modern browser is a Web destination that heralds a trend—the OnLine Cinema site, for both PCs and Macs. It is the first Web site to show full-length movies, but it won't be the last. As higher-speed connections become common, sites like this will appear by the dozens.

Did I say full-length movies? You read that right. But there's a catch. So far, the movies run about 20 minutes. Or, um, the movie runs that long—because as of last week OnLine Cinema was showing only one movie, Charlie Chaplin's "The Rink," a silent film. A Buster Keaton film is listed as a coming attraction.

I watched "The Rink" twice. The film appeared in a small window in the middle of the Web page, flickering just like the silent films do when you watch them on TV. Occasionally, the picture froze as the Internet feed slowed down. By right-clicking on the movie screen, I was able to adjust a setting in the playback projector to give it a larger buffer.

OnLine Cinema uses VDOLive to display the movies, and it has a link that provides a quick download of the VDO player if you don't have one already. My Internet Explorer already had the VDO software, so the movie cued up as soon as I got onto the main page.

The Windows cinema site is at http://www.afionline.org/cinema/olcwin.html and the Mac cinema is at http://www.afionline.org/cinema/olcmac.html.

Oddly (or perhaps not so oddly, considering how computers work), when I visited the Mac version of the site with my Windows browser, I was able to view the film without a problem. The two differences I noted were that I had to manually start the projector (by clicking on a link) at the Mac site and was not able to view the film as part of the main Web page; instead, a new page opened with a small window in the center where the film began to show. The rest of the page was blank.

I suppose this is, again, an example of how poorly served Mac owners are these days. Surely a Mac would be able to automatically show the movie instead of forcing the user to click on something first. Surely a Mac would be able to show the film within the main Web page, instead of showing it on an otherwise blank page.

I could be wrong, of course. My experiences with Macs on the Web have been limited to a uniformly uninspiring Mac Performa with a dismally small screen and a woefully underpowered PowerPC processor and a bevy of more modern Macs with larger screens and equally underpowered processors. Mac owners have good reasons to be happy with their computers, and I'm not going to preach to them about what they are missing, but if they could only see what a fast Pentium and Windows 95 can do with multimedia! Ah, I'm starting to preach. I'll cut it out.


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