The U.S. Army has a new campaign -- a free, downloadable game posted on the Web (www.americasarmy.com). Called America's Army: Operations, it's a first-person action game that has the player engaging in operations against hostile forces of unidentified nationality. This 220-megabyte download is the first installment of a video-game experience the Army has dreamed up to build interest in military careers. An expanded version -- also free -- is scheduled for release later this summer and will expand the action part of the game and incorporate elements of military career management. Reflecting choices available in the Army, players can opt to train for a variety of roles -- for example, infantry soldiers or avionics technicians.
Home runs and home pages
The big-league baseball season reached its midway point Tuesday with the 70th annual All-Star Game -- the first with an Internet connection. Two players, Boston's Johnny Damon and Atlanta's Andruw Jones, were named solely through Internet voting, as 3.6 million ballots were cast on MLB.com over two days to fill the final two All-Star slots.
The only surprise about this, however, is that it's taken baseball so long. This statistics-heavy national pastime might be better suited to the Internet than any other sport, and nearly a dozen sites cater to baseball fans with headlines, scoreboards, stats and live reporting of games.
Leading the pack of sports sites offering in-depth baseball coverage, according to ComScore Media Metrix's rankings, is ESPN.com. The cable network's comprehensive offering serves up plenty of columns and analysis for baseball addicts, plus a scoreboard that updates automatically and a nicely designed play-by-play report that tracks every ball and strike in a game. CBS Sportsline (cbs.sportsline.com), fourth on ComScore's chart, provides a similar feature, except its play-by-play and scoreboard features occupy one window, making it easy to switch between games.
For thorough baseball coverage, however, it's best to start at Major League Baseball's site (www.mlb.com), which ranks third on the ComScore rankings. (AOL Sports ranked second, though not so much for original content as the sheer number of AOL users.) MLB.com's play-by-play game coverage is the most thorough, showing exact pitch locations and where each ball is hit. The site offers tons of searchable stats and information about teams and players. But most of its sports stories have a rah-rah feel to them -- if you want to read insightful commentary about how steroids are destroying the sport, you'd best look elsewhere.
The site is also the only place you can hear live Internet radio broadcasts of every game -- at a cost of $14.95 for the season. If you can forget that individual radio stations' sites carried the games free 1 1/2 years ago, it's a pretty good deal.
MLB.com also offers the closest thing to online video coverage with its $4.95-a-month condensed-game package, which provides 20 minutes of highlights from up to 35 games a week.
One of the most absorbing baseball sites, however, owes nothing to multimedia magic. The die-hard fans of rotisserie-league baseball know to head to SportingNews.com for its witty daily updates on the rising and falling fortunes of players.
FAMILY TREES QUICK & EASY, Individual Software
Starting up Family Trees Quick & Easy can be amazingly slow and difficult for its target audience of computer-shy and neophyte genealogists. Loading the program onto your computer involves reading baffling computer jargon, and there is no paper guidebook, just an electronic manual on the CD-ROM to read on-screen or print out. Once installed, a misplaced priority is quickly apparent: When you start listing people in your family tree, the program offers the option to request confirmation of each name after you type it in, a repetitious and annoying practice. But it doesn't always try to confirm your deletions -- if you accidentally click "cancel," you'll immediately lose all data about a newly entered name.
On the positive side, there are (mostly) informative pop-up boxes on how to use the software and nicely detailed formats for family group records and pedigree charts. And, unlike my experience with other genealogy software, the fact that I had two great aunts married to the same man at different times did not confuse the program. Family Trees could be appealing to the very experienced computer user and genealogist seeking alternative ways to display information, but beginners should stick with a user-friendly product such as Broderbund's Family Tree Maker, well worth the higher price.
Cheap, but new users may pay their own price in confusion.
Win 95 or newer/Win NT 4 or newer, $20
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