29th October 2000
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Funny Business

Dotty creatures in Dot Com Land

By Royston Ellis
Although unnoticed as such, a new continent has been added to the world's map of six continents. The seventh is the Dot Com continent, a vast territory inhabited by creatures hooked on the Internet.

In appearance, the inhabitants look like the rest of us, apart from a tendency to utter platitudes, blink in daylight and waddle when they walk. This is caused by lack of practice in intelligent conversation, and by excessive staring at a computer screen while sitting uncomfortably.

Inhabitants of the Dot Com continent could be called dotty. Their life is ruled by the word "Com" preceded by a period or, in English, a full stop like the one at the end of this sentence. Called "dot com" this affix is similar to a surname, although it is not unique to its proud possessor.

All the continent's inhabitants also share a prefix composed of the letters "http;//www." This stands for something arcane not, as I thought, "have the thing printed:// while work waits."

The words between the prefix and the suffix form the Dot Com resident's domain name, and this is often of immense value. Anyone can apply for a domain in the Dot Com continent just by dreaming up a name to insert after "http://www" and before ".com". New cyber settlers must be careful, though, not to choose the name of someone famous, like Madonna, and try to sell it to a real person called Madonna (this raises the question, is Madonna real?).

While some people and companies might be prepared to pay a registered owner for the name they want, others might sue to gain what they believe should be their domain name and not that of the person who managed to register it first. Life is tough in the cyber jungle of the Dot Com continent. 

To find out if anyone is using the dot com name you fancy, enter it into the appropriate Internet search panel on the office computer when the boss isn't looking. 

That is how I discovered to my amazement that there are two gentlemen in Dot Com land with the same name as me. One is an honorary army captain who plays war games in the USA; the other is a mountain biker in Wales. I also found out that I am listed as the author of a Spanish phrase book, which is not one of the 40-odd books I have actually written. Accuracy is not a hallmark of dottines. 

To become a Dot Com Company, rather than simply an individual with a Dot Com home page, is supposed to be a way to instant riches. You dream up a catchy name like "" and sell shares and advertising space on your web site. Then sit back and count the instant riches rolling in. (A web site, by the way, is exactly that: the American spelling for a web that entraps suckers seeking insight.) 

If you want to read what is on a dot com web site, you will first have to watch annoying, blinking graphics which the company has put in to intimidate their rivals. Next you must hack your way through a labyrinth of commands and signs. Obstacles include warnings like "Transfer Interrupted" and "Illegal Operation", although you haven't operated on anyone. As you are on the verge of finding the information you want, you get cut off. 

Since you can't visit anywhere on the Dot Com continent without a telephone connection, you might wonder if the Internet is a ploy by the world's telephone companies to push up your phone bill. 

When you visit the continent, it is important to key in the exact name of the Dot Com denizen you seek. Enter "" in anticipation of reaching Sri Lankan Airlines frequent flyers club and you find yourself lost like Stanley looking for Livingstone in Africa. Because you typed "Skywards" instead of "Skywards" you discover something called "PaC School of Management Systems," when all you want is a free flight. The Dot Com continent is full of such quagmires. 

The influence of this new continent is changing life in the six continents. People, and other children, who become obsessed by exploring the continent on their computers, are forgetting how to converse with their fellow human beings. Not only do they blink and walk like ducks, they can only communicate with the human race through chat rooms and e-mail. 

Frequently, in Sri Lanka, whenever I try to explore the Dot Com continent, power failures or dead telephone lines thwart the attempt. Instead, when my computer doesn't function, I gaze skywards and realise thankfully that, yes, there is another continent and it is beautiful, not dotty.

Backpacking to Gimhathiththa

By Aditha Dissanayake
"The road is better than the inn," said Cervantes. The railway is even better,I tell myself as I stand with the straps of my backpack digging into my shoulders, waiting for the train to Gimhathiththa. Meanwhile, Dawn with her red-tipped fingers brushes the sky above the rooftops in Pettah. I bet Homer would have thought of such a sentence if he had stood beside me today. But he isn't here. There is no one standing beside me. I am alone, alone on my way to Gimhathiththa. 

My father had dropped me off at the station with his customary parting - "Give me a call when you get there" - at 8.30 in the morning. Including the driver, there had been five of us in the car. All the way from home my brother had sat with his phone cradled to his ear, talking to his fiance. His friend had talked with another friend while from the front seat my father was busy arranging a business deal with someone in Delhi. Isolated, I had sat with my chin on my hands and stared ahead, unable to join in any of the conversation flowing around me. Everybody had been talking, but not with me.

The young man at the ticket-counter tells me I am to board my train from platform five. When I ask an officer at the entrance how I could get there he waves his arm vaguely and says, "First go up, and then go down." I am to solve this riddle on my own. I go up by climbing the stairs in front of me and down when I spot a sign board pointing to platform five.

I get on the train and make the only blunder of the day. I sit on the landside. I miss looking at the sea and having the salt wind run amok with my hair. There aren't many passengers in my compartment. The family of four seated in front of me has been eating since I first set eyes on them. They consume giant sandwiches brought from home. Then they eat boiled Kadala, plain vadei, isso vadei, Chinese apples, and mango pickle. All this is washed down with vevara and cream soda. I marvel at the storage capacity of their stomachs. My own stomach begins to grumble. The "sorties" on display in the canteen at the station in Moratuwa look yummy. Pressed against the glass walls of a small cupboard are lumps of yellow cake, vegetable buns and huge slices of bread with chilly paste laid generously in between them. My mouth waters, but I dare not step down from the train to buy them. Besides my mother had forestalled me and packed a bag of sandwiches into my holdall with the warning not to eat anything from wayside snack bars.

The engine is at my back and I find it disconcerting to be travelling backwards. But I realize that travelling by train is far more relaxing than travelling by bus, with a manic driver at the wheel. A train also catches the attention of people it passes by. Those close to the railway track stop whatever they are doing and stare at us till we disappear from their sight. Children come running to wave. I wave back feeling as if I am Queen Elizabeth. 

At Hikkaduwa a Scandinavian couple gets on board. From then on everybody's nostrils are filled with the smoke from their cigarettes and the perfume from their clothes. They seem to be terribly in love with each other. Every five minutes the boy pecks the girl's eyes, her cheeks, her forehead, but never her mouth. He winks at me when he catches my eye. I look away hurriedly, and make it a point never to look their way for the rest of the journey. A few yards past Balapitiya the train comes to an abrupt halt. It stays parked for 45 minutes. The vadai and kadala sellers get off the train and begin to sell their wares to the inhabitants of the houses near the track. Trade is brisk. Before I get tired of the "dunkuda-dukan-dukan" sound, I reach my destination. The time is 12.30 in the afternoon. I begin to search for a pay phone. I must tell my father I have successfully landed at Gimhathiththa! (Galle was known as Gimhathiththa before the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka).

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