NOTEBOOK/TECHWATCH NOVEMBER 24, 1997 VOL. 150 NO. 22


THE GREAT TERM-PAPER FLAP

BY JOSHUA QUITTNER


You've probably heard by now about the charming and increasingly wealthy Kenny Sahr. During the past year, he's been in dozens of newspaper, radio and TV stories. I can't believe, frankly, that I'm writing about him too. I mean, it's just so wrong. But like a lemming scampering toward the cliff, following in the giddy tracks of my brethren... I just can't stop myself. The story is too good.

Creator of the Website School Sucks, Sahr is kind of the poster boy of the whole term-papers-for-sale flap on the Net. The issue resurfaced with fresh hysteria a few weeks ago, when Boston University filed a lawsuit against eight outfits that actually sell papers, via the Web, to students too lazy or dumb to write their own. Sahr, you should know, is not a defendant in that suit since the thousands of papers at his site--on every subject from "The Tragedy of the Black Death" to "Why Nuclear Fusion Is So Cool"--are yours to download for free. (Help yourself.) But he runs the biggest of the term-paper sites, so everyone wants to interview him about this trivial and silly controversy. "I've never spent so much time on the phone with the press," he says happily.

Of course he's happy! Sahr's sole income ("easily above five grand a month") comes from advertisers who pay $20 for every 1,000 times their ads are shown on the site. School Sucks now generates 40,000 page views a day--it goes up every time a story like this one (sound of lemming splatting) appears. His site is such a gold mine for SAT-prep outfits and other companies that market to student slackers that a venture-capital firm has been talking with Sahr about taking it to the next level, whatever that is. School Sucks erasable shirt cuffs, I suppose, and special mirror glasses that let you sneak a peak at your neighbor's civics exam...

But I should let Sahr defend himself; his sound bites are the reason, after all, the press finds him so irresistible. School Sucks is actually a public service, he says. He's solicited all those term papers from students and put them up on the Web to show the world just how ghastly the U.S. school system is. Get it? Besides, you'd be a fool to turn in one of his papers as your own work because the collection is out there on the Web for everyone to see. Even your teacher.

Did I mention that Sahr is opening up a School Sucks Israel? "The plan now is 15 languages ready by next September," he says. Israel is where the 26-year-old Miami native learned to work the press while he served as a spokesman for the Israeli army during the Gulf War. "I learned so much. It was a real eye-opener," he says. When he returned to the U.S., he became fixated on the Internet. "I kept thinking to myself that what the Internet is about is faucets," he says. "He who has his hand on certain faucets of information is going to do very well." And kids, take it from Kenny: You'll never learn that in school.


TOY TECH
GIRL TALK
You thought Barbie filled her days dreaming about boys and trying on new outfits? Mattel's new Talk with Me Barbie talking doll and CD-ROM ($89) is surprisingly hip. She chats about sports, spends hours writing letters at her Barbie PC and dreams not only of Ken but of starting a business too

VEND-IT
CHA-CLINK
If they can vend Coke, candy and condoms, why not printer paper and ink cartridges? Hewlett-Packard is testing its new system nationwide

CAR TECH
FILL 'ER UP
Too pressed to pay cash or even to swipe a credit card? With Mobil's Speedpass, launched last week, drivers can now fuel up without cracking a wallet. The car tag stuck to the rear window wirelessly activates the pump and automatically debits any major credit card