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School daze

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 3, 2001

(Issue 1931, Back to School)

Back to school doesn't mean what it once did, as we've learned at our house this year. After give years on a traditional school calendar, we've switched to a year-round schedule and as I write this in early July, have just finished our first week of the new school year.

So instead of our usual mid-summer routine of camps and vacations, we're tackling long division and cursive writing.

And, of course, homework – where the Internet remains a godsend. (Which means if you can't get through to my phone in the evenings, it's because PacBell still hasn't got my DSL up and running and we're doing homework on the dial-up account ...)

Hubble Heritage Project

The best place for finding images taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, this page contains several dozen shots taken from Earth orbit. Without the atmosphere to distort its images, the Hubble Space Telescope gets shots of remarkable clarity. Ranging from Mars, Jupiter and Saturn to neighboring galaxies and nebulae, the photos here are perfect for accompanying science projects and homework.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy

Bill Nye hosts the popular public television program that bears his name, and makes science both more accessible and more interesting for kids (and any adults hip enough to tune in). His Web site has an episode guide, recommended reading lists (although if it was hotlinked to an online bookstore, it would be even more useful), and photos of Bill in science action. The most useful part of his site may be the science experiments you can do at home – more than 40 at last count.

The National Air and Space Museum

Part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the National AIr and Space Museum is home to some of the most historic aircraft in existence. From the original Wright Flyer (the first powered heavier-than-air craft) to the Apollo capsules, the NASM chronicles the short, rapid history of flight better than any other museum. (The only one that even comes close is the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.)

Most of the physical exhibits at the Museum have online counterparts, with photos. Where else are you going to find a photo of a Macchi MC-209 World War II fighter from Italy (for my money, more graaceful than either the Spitfire or Mustang – but decide for yourself at

It's a gorgeous site, well-designed and documented, and bookmark-worthy.

Lost in Translation

This page hearkens all the way back to kindergarten, when Mrs. Simpson would seat us in a circle for a game of "telephone." In this game (which goes by different names in different places), one child would start by whispering a phrase to the next kid, who would then repeat it, all the way around the circle. Invariably, the phrase would get garbled beyond recognition, leaving the whole room howling once the starting and ending phrases were compared.

Carl Tashian's Lost in Translation page does much the same thing, only instead of bouncing the phrase from five year old to five year old, it bounces your phrase from language to language – and the results can be just as funny as they were in kindergarten.

Once you type in your phrase and hit the Babelize button, Tashian's script sends your phrase to the AltaVista Babelfish translation page (, where it translates it from English to French, and then runs it through the French>English filter. Rarely does the phrase come back the same way your originally sent it. After the English>French>English loop, your phrase then gets the same treatment in German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

My phrase – ComputorEdge is my favorite magazine – quickly became ComputorEdge is my favorite store (English>French>English), then ended up at ComputorEdge is my preferential memory.

While there are no great lessons to be learned here (other than the fact that computers are a long way from creating any massive unemployment in the translation industry), it's a fun little site that can burn up a lot of your time if you're not careful.