Data Doctors Have Rx for Your Internet Health

Net Log John Makulowich

Data Doctors Have Rx for Your Internet Health

A few years ago I adopted an Internet ritual that I now follow religiously at the end of each month. It is to spend an hour or so poring over the potpourri of postings collected, filtered and distributed by David Farber. He's the Alfred Fitler Moore Professor of Telecommunications Systems at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering and Applied Science.

He's also the man who serves as moderator, or gatekeeper, of his own discussion group, known as IP (for Interesting People).

The URL for his home page is It's a productive, efficient and effective way of keeping up on Internet policy issues, as well as maintaining perspective as a trade journalist about what's happening of importance in cyberspace, both in the United States and beyond.

It's also a fount of article ideas and resources, since many of the messages come to Farber from Internet cognoscenti across the globe.

As more and more data populate the world and then find a home on the World Wide Web and the Internet, such moderated lists by what one might call Data Doctors - multidisciplinary experts who combine a broad vision and a keen eye for details with a flair for the newsworthy - will become more critical to keeping an open and balanced viewpoint. It's akin to the role of the Cybrarian in Neal Stephenson's science fiction work, "Snow Crash."

These Data Doctors will harvest the antidote to the intellectual malady identified by noted historian Daniel J. Boorstin, in his book of essays, "Hidden History":

"All of us are in danger of being suffocated by our own tastes. Moreover, these devices [television, cellular phones, Walkmans, cable stations] that enlarge our sight and vision in space seem somehow to imprison us in the present. The electronic technology that reaches out instantaneously over the continents does very little to help us cross the centuries."

What threads or themes appeared among the 83 messages distributed during March from IP? While there was, as expected, a heavy dose of policy (from position statements on supercomputers delivered by the president to protests from the Electronic Frontier Foundation about closed-door meetings at the Justice Department), the e-mail ranges over the spectrum of the news.

You find everything from Farber's diary notes on his recent trip to Tokyo and his comments on the latest computer technology from Sony, to the perennial jokes about Microsoft and the eyewitness report, "Computer Science and Engineering Research in Poland," from Bruce H. Barnes, distinguished visiting research professor of the Department of Information and Software Systems Engineering at George Mason University in Virginia.

Among the more memorable topics in this month's e-mail bag was an item my wife described as spine chilling. It was the post about "The Hot Zone" author Richard Preston, and his article, "The Bioweapon-eers," that appeared in a recent issue of The New Yorker. It sparked a few other posts about bioweapons Web sites and commentary on their accuracy.

You can send John e-mail at; his Web address is

John Makulowich writes, talks and trains on the Internet. You can reach him at His Web address is

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