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Amazon.com / Erin McCarthy

10 Totally '90s Books About the Internet

Amazon.com / Erin McCarthy
Amazon.com / Erin McCarthy

The '90s were a heady time: So many laser backdrops in school photos, so many neon accessories, Saved By the Bell, pre-meltdown Britney. The Internet was fun, if somewhat limited—mostly we just browsed Geocities pages and hung out in AOL chat rooms. But authors of the '90s found interesting ways to tap into the fear of the unknown and write Internet-centric fiction as awesome as it was terrible. Here are 10 of those books.

1. Net Bandits (1996)

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Michael Coleman’s mid-'90s teen thriller took chatroom anxiety to new heights when he wove a tale of an anonymous boy who seeks help from his online pals:

Will the Internet help save a life? TAMSYN, GET HELP. The message appears on Tamsyn's computer screen. It's signed ZMASTER, the online name of a mystery kid. Tamsyn doesn't know if she should take the cry for help seriously, but she and her friend Josh soon start to think something is definitely wrong. Can they find out who ZMASTER is in time to help? Electronic messages flash around the globe as friends thousands of miles apart try to find a boy in terrible danger...

2. Romiette & Julio (1999)

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Romeo and Juliet got what may have been their first Internet-centric update in Sharon M. Draper’s edgy urban young adult novel, Romiette & Julio, which explored not only the new and exciting world of online dating, but also the '90s-era social drama of interracial relationships and gang warfare:

Romiette, an African-American girl, and Julio, a Hispanic boy, discover that they attend the same high school after falling in love on the Internet, but are harassed by a gang whose members object to their interracial dating.

3. Interception: An Internet Thriller (1997)

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If you thought email privacy was a modern concern, Graham Watkins’s 372-page thrillride from 1997 should put that idea to rest:

Andrea Lawrence is a recently divorced New York psychologist with a client who abruptly left her husband and children for a man she met on the Internet—and disappeared. Trying to reconstruct the case profile, Andrea finds herself drawn into the electronic world of vicarious relationships, fantasy romance, and Grant Kingsley. After the tragic death of his wife, Grant had retreated to a California ranch, unwilling to engage in even casual social contact. Until he discovered the Internet, which offered long-distance friendships, romances, and virtual sex. The chemistry between the two is immediate. As her affection for Grant grows into love, Andrea comes to understand the power of electronic connection. She and Grant arrange to meet face to face. But their E-mail has been intercepted and doctored by a third party, one with its own terrifying reasons for interfering with a private etectronic [sic] love affair. Things begin to go eerily wrong when both are met by impostors and diverted from their mutual destination. Sensing that the person he met at the airport is not the same one he met on the Internet, Grant begins a desperate search for Andrea, but instead finds himself caught up in a ruthless conspiracy of espionage, kidnapping, and murder.

4. Danger.com #2: Firestorm (1997)

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With “cyberheads” and murder and “webs” of lies, Jordan Cray’s YA net-thriller couldn’t tap much deeper into the fears of Netscapers everywhere:

A wrong turn down the information superhighway. A strange chatroom where users speak in code. Randy Kincaid is suddenly caught in a web of lies—and murder. With the help of cyberhead Maya Bessamer, Randy must find out who's behind the killings. Or the next victim might be him.

5. back\slash (1996)

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William H. Lovejoy jumped right on the new Internet crime political fiction bandwagon with this massive, intricate tale of cyberthieves and Executive Orders:

It starts with unexplained glitches in the U.S. banking system: private funds are transferred and automatic teller transactions are scrambled. It spreads into the business community, first nationally, then throughout the world. A cyber terrorist has done the unthinkable: by seizing control of the Worldwide Information Network, he has the power to close airports at will, paralyze telephone communications across continents, stop the sales of weapons, and put a stranglehold on arms delivery systems on land and sea. As the global community marshalls [sic] its forces against this insidious threat, nations from Israel to Russia, from France to Japan, all join in uneasy alliance. And in the United States, the President issues CIA officer Peter Martin an Executive Order: to use all the means at his disposal to stop this unseen enemy—before it is too late.

6. Monsters in Cyberspace (1997)

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So here we have a complicated situation: A girl’s toys are not only coming to life—creepy all on its own, really—but they’re also using her computer. And her dad is missing. And she’s 13. This is heavyweight stuff, straight from the pen of Dian Curtis Regan:

Thirteen-year-old Rilla tries to hide the fact that her stuffed toy monsters from the Monster of the Month Club are coming to life, while their use of her Internet account threatens her online search for her absent father.

7. Cyber Bride (1999)

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Annette Couch-Jareb’s Cyber Bride appears to be out of print, which is extremely unfortunate since it’s described as “the best book I’ve ever read” in a review from 1999. We do have the plot summary, though:

A relationship through the buffer of her computer is the only sort of attachment that Kate Delaney seeks. For her, a romantic Saturday night consists of a cup of hot cocoa, her cat at her feet, and a long "chat" with her anonymous internet friend, Cyber Scribe. Kate has unconsciously walled herself off from the outside world. Her only human contacts are with her art agent and her grandfather until Edward Tucker, the handsome man in the coveted terrace apartment floors above her, makes a concerted effort to introduce himself. By accident Kate soon learns that Tucker and Cyber Scribe are the same person. Can she trust a man who conceals his identity and tries to woo her simultaneously as both Tucker and Cyber Scribe?

If you’re really intrigued—and you know you are—new copies are available on Amazon starting at $173.92 CDN.

8. Sleepover Club #17: The Sleepover Club Surfs the Net (1999)

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Fiona Cummings gets risky and tosses aside scary stories of child abductions and international bank heists. The ever-excitable Sleepover girls decide to surf the net, and what do they find? Nary a murder nor duplicitous lover, but a fun-filled land of contests and “coo-el” prizes!

Sleepover Club No 17 in which the girls Fliss, Lyndz, Kenny, Frankie and Rosie hook up to the Internet. High-tech excitement all the way—brilliant! Rosie is hooked up to the Internet on her home computer and she and the rest of her Sleepover pals are totally amazed and impressed! Excitement mounts when Rosie finds a competition to design a Home Page, with fab prizes for the winners and runners-up. The only trouble is, the Home Page has to be for a club that the entrants belong to. Clever Frankie points out that they do all belong to a club—the Sleepover Club! To everyone's great excitement, the girls come second! The prize includes a fully-designed Home Page up and running on the Web. Now that is truly coo-el!

9. How I Spent My Last Night on Earth (1998)

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Internet rumors are not to be believed under any circumstances. These days we have Snopes, but in a gentler time—say, 1998—people just kind of ran with it. So what happens at the (probably) fictional Time Zone High when rumors of the apocalypse start flying around the information superhighway? If your name is Legs Hanover, love happens. Thank you, Todd Strasser, for painting such a stark and realistic portrait of the End Times:

Something strange is happening in the parking lot of Time Zone High: The established cliques aren't in their usual gathering places. Instead, everyone has joined in one large, frantically interacting mass. Why? Maybe it's because the world may end tomorrow. For the attractive, brilliant Legs Hanover, this poses daunting questions: What are the romantic possibilities, given she may only have twenty-four hours to live before a giant asteroid smashes into the earth? Or is it all just an Internet cyberhoax? Either way, it's time for Legs to meet the object of her daydreams—the handsome, frequently truant Andros Bliss. Because during the next twenty-four hours, everyone's life is bound to change. Todd Strasser continues the Time Zone High saga with this hilarious, thought-provoking novel about emotional confusion on the brink of disaster.

10. It Came From the Internet! (1999)

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Few things are more '90s nostalgic than R.L. Stine books, and this one is doubly so because this is the tag line:

Your computer just gave you a virus! Get help from a bizarre teenage computer hacker or a doctor prescribing computer chips and dip...

Your computer gave you a virus. We're betting that many a nine-year-old was afraid to feed his Neopets after reading this.


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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.

1. TONYA AND NANCY.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.

2. HAND-PICKED FOR GOLD.

Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.

4. AGENT OF STYLE.

Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.

5. LADIES LAST.

In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.

6. AGENT OF STYLE, PART 2.

A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.

7. TOO SEXY FOR HER SKATES.

Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal
DANIEL JANIN, AFP/Getty Images

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.

8. MORE COSTUME CONTROVERSY.

For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)

9. IN MEMORIAM.

While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.

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