• U.S.

Techwatch: Jan. 26, 1998

3 minute read
Kathleen Adams, Daniel Eisenberg, Jon Goldstein, Tam Gray, Anita Hamilton, Janice M. Horowitz, Nadya Labi, Michele Orecklin and Alain L.Sanders

SECRETS AND LIES: ONLINE PRIVACY UNDER FIRE

Had it not been for a single e-mail message sent to a Navy crewmate’s wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Timothy McVeigh might still be the top enlisted man on his nuclear submarine. But his choice last fall of the electronic screen name “BOYSRCH” on America Online snowballed into a military investigation of his AOL profile, which listed his marital status as gay, and a call to AOL, which promptly confirmed his identity. Now facing honorable discharge for homosexuality, McVeigh (no relation to the Oklahoma City bomber) has taken his case to federal court. His argument: the Navy broke both its “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy by scouting out his online profile and the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act by failing to obtain a court order before asking AOL for his name. “I’m shocked that the Navy can violate Department of Defense and Navy regulations, as well as federal law,” says McVeigh, whose dismissal is on hold while his case is under review.

Neither the Navy nor AOL admits any wrongdoing, although the Navy quietly allows that its investigator may have made a procedural error.

HUMAN TOUCH: PIXAR BRINGS LIFE TO SCREEN

Kids and parents alike marveled at the computer-generated antics of Buzz Lightyear and his floppy rival Woody. But that was child’s play compared with the technological high jinks Pixar is cooking up for its upcoming Disney movies, A Bug’s Life (due this fall) and a sequel to Toy Story (1999). Next on the 3-D animation studio’s plate are convincingly rendered humans, the first of which appears in an imaginative short called Geri’s Game. Director Jan Pinkava used powerful new software tools to create the skin and facial expressions of an old codger battling his alter ego in a to-the-death chess match. Heightening the realism is a program that simulates the physics of cloth so that the creases and folds of Geri’s jacket follow his every move. “This is about getting ordinary bits of the real world into machines,” says Pinkava. In a most extraordinary way.

SPORTSWARE

MATCH POINT Hard to believe it’s legal, but Prince’s 29-in. titanium-and-graphite Thunderstrike racquet ($325) just makes the cut. The oversize head (13% larger than that of older racquets) and lightweight frame give players extra reach and up to 20% more power.

CAR TECH

SHOCK THERAPY With all the politicians getting tough on crime, it was only a matter of time before car-theft victims got into the act. Now Air Taser’s Auto Taser, a $250 steering-wheel lock, lets vengeful car owners dole out their own brand of punishment against would-be thieves. If break-in artists ignore the Auto Taser’s wailing alarm, they’re greeted with a 50,000-volt “nonlethal” electric shock. Talk about a sting operation!

WIRED UP

CALL ME SoloPoint’s M-200 Mobile Phone Companion routes incoming calls from your desk to any cell phone, allowing you to listen in on messages being left on your answering machine while you’re on the road. Want to talk to Mom today? Your call.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com