Picks and Pans Main: Bytes
Every superheroine has an origin story, and Aliza Sherman began her transformation into Cybergrrl in the summer of 1994. Sherman, then 27 and the director of a small domestic-violence awareness group, was strolling in Manhattan with a friend when three thugs pulled guns on them, then led them to an ATM and robbed them. Unharmed but shaken, Sherman moved to the relative safety of New Mexico, where her life took another unexpected turn. On a whim, she took a $10 class in Web programming. Afterward, she says, "I thought, This is it. This is my medium.' "
Returning to New York City in January 1995, a reborn Sherman founded Cybergrrl, Inc. (www.cybergrrl.com), which has grown into a 14-person new-media firm that sells Web content to clients such as Clinique and maintains several popular women-oriented sites of its own. Its real-world spinoff, Webgrrls, organizes support groups in 107 cities for "both the woman who wants to learn about technology and the woman who wants to network," says Sherman, whose book, Cybergrrl! A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web, hit shelves this month. She says the wacky alias has helped her make a name as a power player and a role model. Top techie women, she says, "need to be visible so other women and girls can say, 'I want that job. That's a cool job—and look, there's a woman there.' "
Ooga-chaka, ooga, ooga..." The computer-animated baby shaking its diapered groove thing on the Jan. 5 episode of Fox's Ally McBeal may have set a new standard for prime-time surrealism, but it's nothing new to the Net. The Dancing Baby, which haunted Calista Flockhart's hallucinating Ally by boogying to the '70s oldie "Hooked on a Feeling" (with that "ooga-chaka" chant), has been entertaining Web surfers for months. First dubbed Baby Cha-Cha, the tot was created in 1996 by Kinetix, a division of the software company Autodesk, Inc., as a demonstration of its animation program Character Studio. Fans copied it and set it shimmying on scores of Web pages. (Some are listed at www.nwlink.com/~xott/baby.htm.)
Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley was writing the episode when an employee showed him the Baby. "He loved it," says co-executive producer Jeffrey Kramer. "It was a perfect illustration of Ally's biological clock." Tinkerers have widened the rug rat's repertoire; it also boogies to the Bee Gees, Prodigy and that less enduring '97 craze, the Macarena.