Posts Tagged ‘internet’

An editorial: Is it time for totalitarianism?

November 9, 2011

Much is made by some conservatives of the assertion that President Obama is actually a communist, a would-be dictator along the lines of Josef Stalin except with a better three-point shot.

While it might be true that the state apparatus has necessarily grown during his tenure as a response to the economic crisis, most regard this charge as an exaggeration. Bailouts and stimuli have worked to restart the economy but, at best, it’s only lumbering along. Liberals call for even more intervention, while the right wing counters with claims that the poor could learn better grooming techniques in unused prisons and that masturbation is a sin.

If an activist federal government is the answer to our current malaise, maybe we just haven’t taken it far enough. Instead of heeding calls to move to the political center, perhaps what is needed is even more control by the feds.

With this editorial, I’m calling for the institution of a complete and brutal autocracy here in the U.S. We’ve tried just about everything else; let’s give totalitarian tyranny a shot.

Total control of all aspects of society by the government has been attempted in the past with limited success. The French monarchs of the late 18th century tried it, but few people could take them seriously, what with their immense powdered wigs and totally gay wardrobes. Hitler eliminated the bad fashion sense and gave it another go in the 1940s, yet he too failed. Stalin in Russia and Mao in China staged purges and cultural revolutions to force their personality cults into every aspect of every citizen’s life, and ultimately all it got them was a lot of headaches.

So why might authoritarian rule suddenly be effective at rebuilding America’s fortunes and getting its people back to work? What is it that we have now that we didn’t have in the past that will suddenly make despotism a practical alternative to democracy?

The answer lies, as it usually does, in computers and online social networking.

Smart phones and Facebook and Twitter and interactive video gaming have given us the infrastructure that will make a dictatorial one-party state work more effectively than it ever could before. Mussolini had to stand on a balcony and rant for hours to get his point across to fascist Italy. President Obama would merely have to post a daily video on YouTube, maybe send out a few threatening tweets and organize the occasional flash mob to inject his agenda into every corner of our daily life.

Imagine, if you can, a utopian paradise where you didn’t have to make any personal decisions for yourself, where you were told what to eat for breakfast, how to get to work and when meet in the central square to worship our mighty leader. You don’t have to decide what shirt to wear today; there’s an email waiting each morning describing which jumpsuit is prescribed for that day. You don’t have to debate the merits of Burger King versus Wendy’s at lunch time; an order has already been placed by a government bureaucrat for your required combo meal. If you need to take a leak, simply consult the appropriate website (WhenToPee.gov) about your appointed schedule in the john.

And it could all be monitored with existing webcams, security cameras, Skype and the Kinect for Xbox 360.

Unemployment would be a thing of the past, as the government at all levels went on a hiring spree to find enough people to monitor everybody’s every move. Foreign threats would be neutralized when the likes of al-Qaida got an eyeful of what the all-powerful state does to crush its own citizenry. The baser elements of popular culture would be eliminated by fiat. Real Housewives are herded into federally run re-education compounds and entertainers like Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne are given new jobs in the propaganda ministry, writing dancebeat-heavy regulations on the operation of the heavy construction equipment.

True, there might be some opposition to my plan from the more libertarian elements in the Republican Party. I can imagine the objections they might raise to the perceived assault on certain basic liberties we’ve enjoyed for over two centuries. Too bad for them. They’ll all be rounded up and sent off to the gulag, where they can do all the complaining they want as long as they do it in solitary.

This might seem like a radical proposal to some, but I would counter that it’s the kind of fundamental change needed for desperate times. We might not like it when our Big Brother is constantly borrowing our stuff and always getting to sit in the front seat and punching us in the shoulder and holding his hand two inches from our faces while claiming “I’m not touching you.” Yet deep down inside, we know he cares for us and will provide us everything we need, as long as we submit to his authority.

Now that we have the technology to put the total in totalitarianism, let’s give it a try.

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My deepest sympathies on your loss, delivered via new media

August 17, 2011

After five people were killed in a freak accident at the Indiana State Fair Saturday, condolences came pouring in from around the nation. First among these was a message from Sugarland, the country music act whose stage it was that fell on dozens of fans.

“We are all right,” band members tweeted somewhat self-centeredly. “We are praying for our fans and the people of Indianapolis. We hope you’ll join us.”

Other show business figures were quick to join in acknowledgement of the disaster, as long as they could do it via the convenience of Twitter.

Kelly Clarkson tweeted “oh my gosh that is maybe one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen.” Singer Michelle Branch said “just heard about Sugarland and the stage collapse in Indy.” Ryan Seacrest added “saw the vid of the stage collapse in Indiana … unbelievable.”

While these messages may be lacking in empathy for the victims — containing instead personal impressions upon hearing the news — they can’t be faulted for the speed with which they were delivered. Twitter has made it possible for us to be remorseful at the click of a button.

I don’t know much about Sugarland, other than the fact that they’re not the same as Lady Antebellum, which I had previously believed. But if someone as backward as country musicians can use social media to convey their regrets, I guess all of us can now enjoy the ease of modern communications to express our grief at a time of loss.

This is great news to me, as someone who always felt awkward hobnobbing with survivors. I am lucky not to have known many dead people in my life. I’ve attended only a handful of funerals in my 57 years, and therefore never quite developed the knack for conveying sympathy, much less genuinely feeling it.

As a child, the only funeral I remember attending is that of Uncle Buck, my grandfather’s brother. He passed when I was about 13. My only recollection of the memorials that followed was how appalled I was at the concept of a “viewing,” our visit to the funeral home to look and point at the lifeless body.

People in attendance seemed to be having a wonderful time, munching on snacks, laughing, seeing still-alive friends and relatives, and working into conversations as much as possible what a good guy Uncle Buck had been.

“This cheese dip is really good,” I think I recall a cousin saying. “And you know what else was good? Uncle Buck.”

I doubt I offered much comfort to the widow, Aunt Ethel. As a teenager, I didn’t really know what to say, and have long suspected that my “hey, how’s it going?” did little to soothe her raw emotions.

It’s a shame that my late uncle didn’t die in 2011, and not just because he would be world-famous for having lived to the ripe old age of 140. Here in the twenty-first century, we use high-tech communications to offer sincere-if-electronic condolences.

And it’s not just Twitter that allows us to instant-message our deepest regrets as long as they don’t exceed 140 characters. Now, you can even sign a virtual guest book and thereby avoid setting foot in those houses of death known as mortuaries.

Most local newspapers now offer a link from their obits page to a site that will record your thoughts. In days past, guest books made for wonderful keepsakes that families could take home after the funeral and peruse for comfort in the coming days of agony and despair. The electronic version is presumably just as soothing, assuming you know how to use the “print screen” feature on your computer keyboard and don’t use the back of recycled spreadsheets to print your hard copy.

And don’t worry if you can’t come up with just the right words. Instead of going to all the trouble involved in typing your own message, you can click on one of 47 “suggested entries” to locate exactly the right sentiment you’d come up with yourself if you weren’t such heartless, vocabulary-challenged soul.

Some examples:

“May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow” (or, for agnostics, perhaps something like “may the dark void of eternal nothingness somehow manage to bring you comfort”)

“As the days and weeks pass, and as you return to life’s routine, may you continue to feel comforted by the love and support of family and friends” (or, the more-practical “hope you get a good insurance settlement”)

“Take comfort in knowing that now you have a special guardian angel to watch over you” (and the implied “hope you’re not afraid of ghosts”)

“Grief can be so hard, but our special memories help us cope” (or “might I offer an Ambien? — it’s a great amnesiac”)

You can even offer a poem or song as long, as the small print warns, you don’t use copyrighted material. So Longfellow’s “Nature” with its “So nature deals with us/And takes us away” refrain would be okay, while Lady Gaga’s “Disco Heaven” and its lyrics “Oh Disco Heaven/Get back Bunny!/It’s getting cold in here little honey” would be inappropriate.

There’s even a place that suggests what not to say, complete with testimonials from people who’ve had to endure the heartfelt but misstated wishes of certain block-headed relatives.

“I went to my ex-boyfriend’s funeral. We had broken up but kept in touch,” wrote Susan. “A neighbor asked me if his wife was pretty.”

“I am an only child, and I lost my mom in 2001 and my dad in 2004,” recalled Victoria. “A relative said to me, ‘So you’re all alone now, right? What a shame.’ ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”

“My aunt told me at my husband’s funeral that I am young and will find someone else,” wrote Sandra. “Holy crap! I could’ve slapped her.”

Besides Twitter and online condolences, there are other modern choices for sending your sympathies winging through the ether.

Facebook is popular with some. Loving survivors can create a “death page” that mourners can “like” as a way of showing respect. I imagine there are also some Skype, LinkedIn and Groupon applications, though I don’t know how appropriate it is to offer coupons toward discounts on Last Rites. You could even use my personal favorite — Words With Friends — to send one-word Scrabble-like messages such as “SORRY,” “SAD” or “REGRETS” (bonus points for using all seven letters, not counting possible triple-word-play!)

I would assume simple texting is also acceptable. This might be another choice for those who have difficulty coming up with the right words, and prefer instead to send memorial emoticons, like:

😥 — crying, with an apostrophic tear

>:o — surprise or shock

D:< — horror or sadness, with a giant “D” pasted to your forehead

<°))>< — a fish, as in “he sleeps with the fishes”

Whatever media you choose, the benefits of not having to deliver your message of remorse in person are a welcome part of our new Digital Age.

And I look forward to the day when the showing-up-at-the-funeral part can become as optional as our communications. Imagine how impressed the deceased will be in that not-too-distant day in the future when you send either your own personal robot, or a hologram of yourself wailing inconsolably.

Talk about heaven.

 

Revisited Website Review: NoNoHairRemoval.com

July 15, 2011

No no no no no no no no no no,
no no no no no no no no no no no no no no
Nobody can do the shake like I do
Nobody can do the boogaloo like I do
–”Nobody But Me” by The Human Beinz (1968)

We’re at an awkward moment in the long history of humankind. We’ve mastered the land, inventing agriculture to free us from all that tedious hunting and gathering. We safely harvest critical resources from the sea (sort of). We fly through the air with the greatest of ease, the rocketpacks and balloons and zeppelins and superheroes nearly blotting out the sun at times.

And yet we still face this issue of unwanted hair. Fashion magazines have made it abundantly clear that hair is to exist only in a luxuriant and lustrous state flowing out of the top of our heads, and in smaller strips in and around the eye, on the brow and lash. Our ancestors from millennia past needed all kinds of body hair for protection from the elements, but now that we have condos and ballcaps and the cutest tops from TJ Maxx, the remaining fur is vestigial and has almost left our bodies entirely. Except for some embarrassing patches that we hope evolution will eventually get to, though frankly we have a date at 7 tonight and can’t wait much longer.

For these people, commerce has developed a number of caustic solutions and tiny gouging devices that will remove unwanted hair, if you don’t mind unbearable pain and a moderate fee. They work pretty well, as do most torture regimens eventually. However, the modern consumer longs for a more high-tech approach, i.e., one they can order over the internet.

So in today’s Website Review, I’m going to tell you about a product called the “no!no!’. Deliberately lower-cased to distinguish it from the industrial-strength “NO!NO!” being used at secret CIA rendition centers, the no!no! is a small machine offering “professional hair removal at home … finally, a pain-free long-term solution for hair removal!” Offering no hair and no pain, it virtually named itself.

Using the Thermicon™, a thermodynamic wire to transmit heat to each individual hair, the shaft becomes superheated, basically crystallizing the follicle. This both pulverizes the part of the hair that shows above the surface and cripples the cell communication below the skin that grew the hair in the first place. A buff, which comes “free” with your $284.40 purchase, then turns your skin from a bombed-out Dresden to a soft, barren desert. Self-tasering has never been so easy.

The home page of trynono.com is packed with moving graphics, pink backgrounds and a spray of bullet points that would make an armed and disgruntled former employee proud. The “smart skin solutions” people at parent company Radiancy tout the no!no! as “•cordless and convenient,” “•cord-free operation,”  ”•removes embarrassing facial hair too!” and  ”•great for men and women.” It’s InStyle magazine’s 2008 beauty product of the year, and has also been seen in Vogue, Shape and Self magazines, because that’s what happens when you pay them money to run your ads. There’s also a tease of some of the other heartfelt testimonials to follow elsewhere in the site:

“As someone who struggled with unwanted hair, it is so wonderful to sit here proud and hairless,” writes one satisfied customer. “Thank you no!no! for coming into my life!”

Under the “How It Works” section, there are more details about the three distinct processes involved in permanently mutating your pores. During “First Contact” (not to be confused with the 1996 Star Trek movie), a super-heated wire separates the hair shaft at the point of contact. At the “Crystallization” stage, the uppermost part of the hair becomes coarse and prickly, and you can stop at this point if you’re into that. Most, though, want to proceed to the “Disruption” phase, where the actual “miscommunication between bulge and root” takes place, slowing future hair growth. A phase four, as-yet undiscovered but certain to be announced in the next year or so, gives you fatal melanoma.

The overly punctuated “Why no!no!?” pulldown uses an easy-to-read spreadsheet to dissect the problem women everywhere face about what methods to use on their face. Current techniques all have their shortcomings. Short-term solutions like razors, depilatory creams and electric shavers get a “no” in the pain column but a “daily” in the frequency column and all kinds of nasty stuff in the “side effects” column including razor burn, cuts, odor and allergic reactions. For mid-term remedies like “epilation (rotary)” and the tasty-sounding “wax-sugaring,” you can trade painlessness for bi-monthly convenience, though now you’re also looking at burn potential, a mess, and a lot of time and money. The long-term effects of the laser include pain, skin inflammation, odor and a costly, long-term commitment, but on the plus side you’ll be recognized by most grocery store bar-code scanners.

The no!no! option is not a miracle cure and does require commitment. For your effort, you’ll “make the dream of less unwanted hair a reality.” The simple and pain-free technique involves “no pulling, tearing or scraping, just a slow, smooth slide”. There is something called the “hot blade” involved but it’s encased in a cate little handheld device (comes in pink or silver) that you can take with you almost anywhere. And, that convenience means you can no!no! “at home or wherever,” sitting on the side of your bed, after a workout at the gym, or while running for statewide office in California.

There are some Testimonials included in one section. Frankly, they’re rather lackluster. “I will definitely recommend this to girlfriends with thick, stubborn hair,” says one woman, about to find herself seriously defriended on Facebook. “I first saw no!no! in a magazine, then heard rave reviews from a friend,” says Kennedy of Omaha. “I thought what the heck, I’ll give it a whirl. The no!no! did not disappoint. I love my no!no!” (Imagine this woman’s poor dog, trying to be a good boy but constantly hearing “no!no!”)

The best testimonial of all comes in a video format from “celebrity” Kassie DePaiva, a daytime TV star who loves her no!no! She prattles through about a dozen different 30-second clips showing her compensated enthusiasm for the product. “I’ve got a great body, it’s just the hair I don’t like,” she says. “I might’ve shaved in the morning but by 5 o’clock I’m doing a love scene and the actor says ‘gee, Kassie, do you ever shave your legs?’ I was mortified,” she confides. “It’s taken care of a huge issue in my life, a universal problem that people don’t want to talk about,” she adds. “The pain (before no!no!) stopped me from living,” she says. “I was tired of being the hairy girl I’ve been all my life.”

Finally, Kassie DePaiva has been liberated to pursue a Hollywood career that has her IMBD STARmeter rating up 22% in just the last week. After a long career on “One Life to Live,” she got her own show called “Knit & Crochet Today,” thanks in no small measure to her reduced bushiness. After being universally panned by critics — “she asks silly questions and makes comments I would expect from a ditsy teenager,” wrote one — she was canned, but not because wool-knit scarves and afghans didn’t glide smoothly across her skin.

The last piece I’ll cover is the standard “Frequently Asked Questions” section. “Does it really work?” is answered “Yes, it really works.” The question “Is the no!no! treatment safe?” brings the confusing but definitive response “Yes, no!no! is safe.” Someone asks “Can I use it with other hair removal products at the same time?” It seems you can throw the whole inventory of procedures at your upper lip if you want to — lasers, tweezers, waxes, acids, a make-out session with Zach Galifianakis — but these could interfere with no!no! benefits, so don’t come asking for your money back.

There’s a handy online order form for a deal that’s only available through June, so try to claw your way out of your hirsute prison and type on a computer if you can. They accept all major credit cards and you can make three easy payments. Obviously, certain billing information is also required but they’re polite enough to exclude a pulldown requiring you to categorize your hairiness on a scale that ranges from Alec Baldwin to Robin Williams to the Wolfman.

One final important point about the no!no! that’s contained in the fine print at the bottom of the website. “The no!no! is not recommended for use on the genitals.” I myself can’t imagine that possibility even entering my mind, though I understand that desperate people may consider desperate measures. My response to the thought, however, is much like those timeless words from the Human Beinz — “No no no no no no no no no no!”

Revisited Website Review: CompostingToilet.com

July 14, 2011

Sure, you recycle. Maybe you’re in a carpool or use public transportation. Perhaps you’re even part of that growing segment of the environmentally aware who have started skipping every other breath, thereby halving the amount of greenhouse gases coming out of your piehole.    

But what about that biggest of all contributors to your carbon footprint? (Hint: It’s not coming from your feet but about a third of your body length higher, and in the back).    

Unless you’re among the dedicated few who package their bodily wastes in sealable containers, patiently awaiting the opening of the Yucca Mountain Repository, you may not be doing enough to reduce your harmful impact on the planet. You could either die right now, and do us all a huge favor. Or you could invest in the green technology of a composting toilet.    

These modern miracles of sanitary convenience are now available through a company called Sun-Mar, subject of this week’s Website Review.    

Sun-Mar.com has a very busy home page, as one might expect of a firm dedicated to how you do your business. There are links and pulldowns out the ying-yang, far more than I can cover in a single post. I’ll try instead to focus on the product and the people standing behind it, who hopefully avert their eyes as we symbolically take their futuristic commodes for a whirl.    

There’s a great introductory video that explains how the water usage of conventional toilets has a tremendous negative impact on our oceans, streams and wetlands. We see scenes of Niagara Falls as we learn that up to 7 billion gallons of otherwise drinkable water is flushed down the crapper every day. This doesn’t have to be. With the waterless device patented exclusively by Sun-Mar, you can now rely on a three-step composting system to save our world’s precious lifeblood while enjoying the convenience of using the bathroom in almost any semi-private setting.    

“Install one anywhere plumbing is not available,” we’re told. “In your closet, your boat house, your country cabin, your barn, even in a guardbooth.”    

(So the next time you pull up to the turnpike toll-taker’s cubicle and it appears to be unattended, maybe you just need to wait a couple of minutes for the worker to rise up and appear.)    

The home page also contains a lengthy essay on the history of the composting toilet and the company that makes it. It was founded almost 40 years ago by Hardy Sundberg, an enterprising Canadian who gave the firm half its name. His first effort was a primitive device that used a large fan, a top-mounted heater and mechanical mixers to agitate and dry what is euphemistically called the “waste pile.” Presumably the size of an Oldsmobile, this beast used only a single compartment for the three required steps of composting, evaporation and finishing and had numerous shortcomings, not the least of which was an earth-shattering stench.    

A second generation introduced in 1977, breezily dubbed “The Tropic,” dried the waste matter with a heater sealed in a compartment in the base. This solved the challenge of keeping the “waste cake” moist, so it wouldn’t dry to the consistency of an “adobe brick.” (Somehow, the appeal of both baked birthday desserts and Southwestern-style architecture have suddenly become diminished). A third prototype a few years later saw the advent of the “Bio-drum,” which further isolated offending matter from the production process, and of the so-called “central composting toilet system” that allowed numerous seats to feed a single vat kept yards away from the bathroom. Even though odors were now completely controlled on site, this was the model for people who couldn’t bear the thought that decomposition was happening in the same room they were brushing their teeth.    

Under “The Company” pulldown, there are links to articles written in the popular press about the advantages of Sun-Mar’s toilet/composters. As you might expect, most have clever headlines hinting at the hilarity involved in passing solid matter from your digestive system. “This Toilet is On A Roll,” says The Globe and Mail newspaper. “When Nature Calls” is from CottageLink magazine, “Head of a Different Blend” is from DIY Boat Owner, and “People of the Loo” is a review in the Toronto Star. Perhaps most intriguing of all is “Introducing Audrey” from County Life, a 1991 article about “people who give their toilets affectionate names like Audrey or Puff the Magic Dragon. What will you call your Sun-Mar?” Personally, I’d go with “John”.    

In the “Products” section, you can read about all the variations possible in the 22 different models offered. A caption next to several photos encourages shoppers to “pick the category at right that best suits your needs,” even though the pictures are actually to the left. (Obviously, the layout artist didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground). There are low-flush models that use a small amount of water as well as completely dry systems. Some are electric, some are non-electric and a few are even solar-powered. There’s the luxurious ”family” model complete with a footstool, there’s the slightly smaller “compact,” and finally there’s the “spacesaver” for the tiniest butts and the tiniest rooms.    

All of them look pretty much like conventional toilets, though a little beefier around the base. In the “Technology” portion of the site, we learn more about what’s going on down there. Fresh waste, provided by the user, is combined with a peat-based bulking material, provided by Sun-Mar. These then begin an “aerobic breakdown” — which is a chemical process, not a hip-hop-inspired exercise routine – in the Bio-drum. This drum is periodically turned by a hand-crank to aerate the mixture. The 90-plus-percent of poop that is water recedes into an evaporating chamber while the solids gradually accumulate in a finishing drawer. Every three to four weeks, odor-free compost can be removed from this drawer and put into your garden, shared with your neighbors or, if you’re like me and can’t understand any of the previous paragraph, flushed down your regular toilet.   

This section also includes the Frequently Asked Questions, of which there are quite a few. Do I add any chemicals? No, you don’t. What happens in the winter? The compost freezes. Does the fiberglass used in the commode smell? You’re worried about how the fiberglass smells? Do animals harm the system? “Compost is not something that is attractive to animals,” though you might want to build an enclosure in case your local bears never heard that saying about what they do in the woods. Is the fan noisy? They’re not as bad as they used to be, “just another example of how we are always improving your composting toilet experience.” Should males still urinate outside? No. In fact, the liquid is beneficial to the composting process.   

Finally, we’ll look at a very impressive collection of satisfied customers in the “Testimonials” section. Jacquelyn Morgan, owner of an “Excel” model that I hope no one mistakes for a spreadsheet, writes that she thinks of the company “as friends.” Russ and Heather Bencharski have a Centrex 2000 that they claim works much better than the propane (!) toilet they used to own. James Mauger says of his Compact version that it costs a fraction of a well and septic system, and that “using the bathroom at night no longer involves shoes, a coat and a flashlight” (!!). 

Some people are so happy with their toilets that they’ve sent in pictures of them, though thankfully while they’re not in active use. Kathy Escott says her unit inspired her to write a “snappy poem” that informs guests how to use it. The “whole Ryan clan” gathered around their prized possession to offer toothy smiles and a thumbs-up on their model. Robert Gagnon of Quebec sent a simple photo with the inexplicable caption “Notre premiere testimoniaux en Francais!” I’ll pardon his French and assume the best, that he’s going to see a movie premier at Notre Dame. 

Sun-mar.com is a well-constructed if somewhat over-produced site that contains a lot of information on a subject that I always presumed the less we knew about, the better. I’m vaguely aware that what’s being flushed down the can today goes through a sewer to a treatment plant where it’s processed before eventually ending up in my morning coffee, but most of that happens out of sight. When that same process is occurring right there in my home, and instead of going into my coffee becomes part of a tomato sandwich I’ll eat later this summer, it’s somehow a bit more disconcerting. I definitely appreciate that there people who can stomach this concept and do it with a smile. However, I think I’ll choose to save myself costs starting at $1,400, and stay with my traditional dump. 

Proud owners Susan and Patrick Radtke stand next to their composting toilet, whom they call “Arthur”

Revisited Website Review: Jetpack.com

July 13, 2011

Yesterday was Ascension Day, the occasion on which the world’s Christians note the ascent of  a back-from-the-dead Jesus Christ into Heaven. I thought it might be a good opportunity to look into the state of the modern jetpack, and where you might be able to get one.  

Though the Gospel according to Mark makes little mention of a mechanically aided lift (other than a vague reference to “a mighty whooshing sound and the blessed fragrance of diesel”), it only stands to reason that He may have needed some powered assistance. It wasn’t until the Nazis strapped the Fieseler Fi 103 flying bomb to the back of an unfortunate “himmelsturmer” during World War II that modern technology made use of escaping gases that allowed a single user to fly.  

Ever the practical race, the Germans weren’t really looking for a short-cut to the afterlife. They simply wanted a way their engineering units could cross minefields or barbed wire obstacles that didn’t involve training for the long jump. After the war, the technology fell into the hands of the U.S., where test pilots offered a gracious “thanks but no thanks” to the prospect of developing the concept further.  

Although we’ve since seen jetpack demonstrations at spectacles like the Olympics and the 2005 confirmation hearings of chief justice John Roberts, most sources say the only current practical use of the machine is for astronauts doing extravehicular activity in space. A Mexican company reportedly offers a tested rocket belt package, though most who’ve seen the equipment call it more of a “backpack helicopter” (wonder how you say DUCK! in Spanish).  

Jetpack deniers and their can’t-do attitude fortunately haven’t been heard in far-away New Zealand. There, a small firm called Martin Jetpack is currently taking orders for what it calls the world’s first practical personal aircraft. I’m visiting martinjetpack.com to learn more about this breakthrough for this week’s Website Review.  

The home page for this domain is as sleek and futuristic as the six-foot-by-five-foot 535-pound device it offers. In other words, it’s a bit clunky. Clicking on the “See It Fly” video doesn’t do a lot to counter that first impression, as the short film of a guy wearing what looks like the rooftop HVAC unit at your office confirms. He’s flying just above the ground around a warehouse until the whole website freezes up about 45 seconds in. I only hope the same thing didn’t happen to the jetpack, or the pilot might have skinned his knee in a 3-foot plummet to earth.  

The pulldowns across the top of the page focus more on the company itself than its product. We learn that this particular jetpack design was first developed in 1981 by company founder Glenn Martin, a pharmaceutical salesman who wanted to get even higher than his painkiller samples could take him. He and his family turned what was a garage-based obsession into their life’s work.  

“I was Glenn’s first test pilot,” says wife Vanessa. “I used to run out to the garage, get strapped into the jetpack, test it, then rush back into the house to feed our seven-week-old son.”  

That son is now 16-year-old Harrison, who also works with the family business. He tells how he was “never able to tell my friends what my father did,” supposedly because it was a secret project though more likely he was just embarrassed.  

“My friends work in McDonald’s during the school holidays,” Harrison says. “I have a slightly more interesting job as a jetpack test pilot.”  

What he probably neglects to note, however, is that instead of making $5.35 an hour, he’s paid in Band-Aids.  

You can tell the Martin firm has evolved from those early days into a real company, because it now boasts a chief executive officer and a chairman of the board and everything. It appears most of the top leadership comes from a venture capital firm that has invested heavily in Martin. These bankers can focus on guiding the company through its start-up phase and ultimately bankrupting themselves and all their investors, freeing managing director Glenn to devote his energy and creative force into crashing actual hardware.  

The company page also shows a number of consultants and advisors and designers who help with boring esoterica like avionics. Most of these men are bald, except for engineer Stuart Holdaway, whose missing photo hints that he may have been killed.  

It’s the section of the home page titled “How Do I Buy One?” that draws most of my interest. Martin is “currently accepting enquiries (New Zealandish for inquiries) from commercial customers” and these can be placed through the website. “It is expected that early orders for sales to private individuals will commence late 2010 … We will contact you when pre-orders are being taken.” In other words, don’t hold your breath, unless you plan on flying one of these things over water.  

A small “News and Press” page carries links to articles about test flights and demonstrations that have sort-of wowed the public. One reporter noted after his demo that it felt like “I was carrying a small sports car on my back,” perhaps not exactly the kind of press the firm might’ve hoped for but probably a realistic assessment.  

It’s through a list of pulldowns on the left side of the home page that we get most of our information about the machinery itself. There’s a defensive diatribe titled “What Is a Jetpack?” that aims to address those who contend that a jetpack should weigh less than a quarter-ton and contain actual jets. A carefully parsed analysis of the words “what,” “is,” “a” and “jetpack” claims that there’s a disconnect between science, engineering and common usage, and that if you have a “very narrow view of what is a true jetpack,” then basically that’s your problem.  

“In the end we found that 95% of people call it a jetpack when they see it, so why fight that?” they conclude.  

In “How Do I Learn to Fly?” we see that a required training program will be included with the cost of the machine. You don’t have to have an FAA-recognized pilot’s license, just a really big helmet and some assistants wearing industrial-strength hearing protection. The safety overview notes that all flying entails a degree of risk and that aviation users from airline passengers to parachute jumpers must decide on the degree of danger they find acceptable for themselves. In the end, Martin claims the jetpack is safer than light helicopters because it has a “minimal avoidance curve” which, if you have to have an avoidance curve, is the kind to have.  

Speaking of technical mumbo-jumbo, we see on a specifications page that the first model the company will sell has features like an engine, a fuel tank, a carbon fiber composite structure and, worrisomely, an energy-absorbing undercarriage. It has a range of just over 31 miles at a maximum speed of 63 m.p.h. You have to weigh less than 240 pounds to actually get off the ground, though the morbidly obese still might consider purchasing one to help them off the couch.  

Finally, there’s a Frequently Asked Questions section. Doubts about stability of the aircraft seem to dominate, hinting again at its lack of authentic jetpackiness. There’s the kind of small but observable wobble you might expect from what are basically two really, really, really powerful fans, though with practice pilots can correct this. Asked “is it safe?” the responder notes the presence on the machine of a parachute, not exactly adequate for what would basically be like falling off a ladder. “How easy is it to fly?” Well, you have to know that “yaw” is more than a Southern greeting. “How do I buy one?” You’ll need to make a 10% deposit. “How much will they cost?” Probably about the same as a high-end car. 

“Are we all going to be flying to work on these?” seems like the most obvious question. Martin officials say modestly “some people will use these for work” and I’m imagining how well they might perform for the landscapers at my office park who current use leafblowers and instead could be hovering above the ground. Martin admits that most people will still prefer “the comfort of a car” and that current air traffic control systems don’t lend themselves well to commuting. A “highways in the sky” GPS-based system of 3D roads is at least ten years away, more if scientists can’t figure out how to create potholes in them. 

It’s really not that bad of a website; it’s just that the product it sells seems highly questionable. Since the people of New Zealand are often nicknamed “kiwis” after the chicken-sized flightless bird native to the islands, you’d think a company based there would take the hint, both about flightlessness and about the chicken part. But I guess the entrepreneurial spirit and long-held dreams about human flight make up for the difference. 

Admittedly, it’s a major inconvenience to fly halfway around the world to train for and pick up your jetpack in early 2011, and I wouldn’t want to begin contemplating getting it through airport security and onto a plane for your return trip home. However, if you can find a string of atolls across the south Pacific that are less than 31 miles apart, and you don’t mind having the great whites and other large sharks of the region nipping at your heels as you fly just above the waves, perhaps you could just fly the Martin jetpack back to your home. 

Jetpack pioneer Glenn Martin, apparently hauling a couple of garbage cans

Revisited Website Review: Exterminators.com

July 11, 2011

I am taking my summer vacation this week. (Not really — I’ll explain more next week). Please enjoy this “best-of” series from my Website Reviews over the next five days.

They call it “pest control,” as if managing vermin populations was somehow within man’s power. If only their influence were restrained, we could reason with and civilize the insects and rodents. Maybe if we just allow the roaches to have a legislature, they can become a more responsible segment of our society. Let’s have a town-hall meeting for the ants. How about allowing referendum initiatives to be introduced by silverfish?

I used to work in my company’s quality control department, so I know a little about “control” in this context. As a manager of inspections, I had to make sure we kept our quality under control, so that not too much of it got out there and spoiled the customers. We needed to use it up in small pieces at a time, so we didn’t run out. To control was to restrict, to limit, to preserve.

Pest control companies aren’t really interested in containing or manipulating pests. They’re in business to wipe them out, killing them in the worst possible way, with chemical weapons of mass destruction. These exterminators arrive at a home or business with singular intent. No bug or rat (nor possibly even infant or cat) will remain standing when their ethnic cleansing is through. At best, the victims will be lying on their backs, legs flailing against the sky, white bootie paws twitching spastically.

Maybe if they had proper representation, they could at least lobby for a more merciful way to die. I’m imagining row after tiny row of cross-shaped gurneys, where invertebrates are administered lethal injections only after all judicial appeals have been exhausted.

As you can tell, I don’t know much about the pest control business. I aimed to learn more in research for this week’s Website Review, at a domain called thebiggreenk.com, internet home of Killingsworth Pest Control. (Killingsworth.com was already taken by an online murder-for-hire operation).

The home page displays basic introductory information, including a picture and audio clip from owners Mike and Debbie. They both smile broadly into the camera, Mike’s arm around Debbie’s shoulders, looking much friendlier than any of the Hitler photos I recall from history, except maybe that one where he’s playing with his dog.

The copy talks about how loathsomely infected your home probably is, how their customer service is second to none, how they train their employees “not only in the science of pest control but also on the science of people.” Sort of like Josef Mengele and his heinous medical experiments on living subjects, I’m guessing. They’re also expanding into lawn care service (Mike and Debbie, not the Nazis).

The first pull-down subject addresses the core of Killingsworth’s business, termite control. We learn that over half a million American homes will suffer major damage from wood-eating pests this year alone, and that repairs will cost $1.5 billion. The K-Men will come to your home and do a ”FREE INSPECTION,” which will doubtless uncover frightening issues requiring immediate payments to the all-knowing exterminator. They realize you’re not going to know enough about the bowels of your home’s foundation to offer any resistance — they could tell you that Danny Bonaduce was living down there, partying up a storm with his termite friends, and you’d have to believe them. Fortunately, annual contracts costing only $30 a month are available

Problems with other types of pests are described in a separate section. Here we see the laundry list of creatures who could be gnawing away on your family at this very moment: millipedes, clovermites, earwigs, springtails, fleas, bed bugs. In the South, these can be active not only in the spring and summer months but also during warm days in the winter, so you might want to consider one of Killingsworth’s year-round packages. Be especially careful to watch for these beasts in obvious places like the kitchen, where they feast on your crumbs, but also in your bathroom, where plentiful moisture and odors can trigger spontaneous generation, creating creepy-crawlies that could emerge from your toilet at inopportune times.

There’s a section on mold remediation, another subject you didn’t even know existed that merits sleepless nights of anxiety once you think about it. They want to “make sure your crawlspace is as healthy as the rest of your house” using expensive installations like the E-Z Breathe Ventilation System, their new Dry-Ice Blasting technology and their “Premier Crawlspace program that offers a guaranty against future fungal growth.” I wonder if I can get a contract on my toenails.

Included under “Lawn Care” are a couple of package offers on mosquito control or, as they cutely label it, “mosKuito” control. (This recurring “K” motif reminds one of a certain organization of hate that also patrolled the South for many years). Another $30 a month gets you a nine-month deal to have your shrubs fogged and larvacide applied to standing water and gutters, so that unborn mosquitoes are also eliminated. Baby Killers!

The company has a special section on its web page devoted to mascot “Mr. K,” a Jack Russell terrier mix who has been trained to detect the scent of termites and bed bugs. Mr. K spent over 400 hours at the Florida Canine Academy which trains dogs to sniff out bombs, drugs, money and weapons as well as termites and mold. He is the founding president of the Canine Accelerant Detection Association as well as the International Termite Detector Dog Association. No, wait, that’s his trainer, Bill. Bill has appeared on several televised segments on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel, and travels on promotional tours to community events around the country, putting on demonstrations for children and sniffing their crotches. No, wait, that’s Mr. K. (I think the fumes are starting to get to me).

A pulldown called the “Learning Center” helps educate consumers on how to identify common pests they may encounter in the middle of a dark, dark night as they stumble about their filth-encrusted homes. We find out about the three types of cockroaches – their size, shape and identifying markings, their ability to fly (yes) and presence of antennae (yes), and how many kinds of bacteria, parasitic worms and human pathogens they’re capable of spreading (33, six and seven, respectively). There are also portraits of flies, beetles, moths and pillbugs with brief profiles of each. We learn that the powderpost beetle “enjoys flying” among its hobbies, and that the merchant grain beetle “likes to attack cereal, cake mixes and macaroni.” There are some supposedly reassuring facts as well, including a debunking of the myth that earwigs will “crawl into sleeping people’s ears and eat their brains at night.” For some reason, knowing that doesn’t put me at any particular ease.

Finally, I’ll cite some of the customer testimonials under the “Why Choose Killingsworth” section. Lois writes “I had a problem under my house with mice nests all under the insulation which they had pushed it all to where it was hanging down, a lot was pushed out on the ground.” Killingsworth workers were able to decipher what she was talking about and fix the problem. Vince praises the two specialists who came to his home: “I learned a great deal about insects and other varmints … (technician) Matt was in motion the entire time spraying.” Sounds like Matt may have been experiencing some side-effects from the chemicals. Darlene notes that her inspector, Phil, took time out during his visit to carry a water jug to her goats and, on perhaps the most peculiar rating scale ever, gives Phil “on a scale of one to six, he’s an 8!” She liked him at least until her goats started drinking the water.

All things considered, thebiggreenk.com is a very informative and helpful website, quick to respond and containing very few bugs (not surprisingly). I learned much about the pitfalls of home ownership and maintenance, and how my biggest investment could be gradually eaten away by unseen forces whose existence I was barely even aware of. But thanks to the Internet, I’ve learned more about how exterminators prey on our ignorance, and will soon be studying how I can get a contract to keep them away from my house.

Let me look again at that Killingsworth.com site.

New social games not so sociable

June 28, 2011

Operating under the belief that online social games have become too benign to accurately reflect our increasingly contentious society, one software maker is hoping to create a new niche in the fast-growing market.

“Angry Words With Friends” is the first release from Ms. Anthropic Technologies. The game combines the crossword-building skills of “Words With Friends” and the playful action of “Angry Birds”.

“Between Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and all the rest of that crap, we thought it was time for more realistic personal interaction online,” said MAT founder Gloria Redstone.

“You’re not friendly with fellow motorists; you give ’em the finger. You’re not friendly with fellow countries; you invade ’em,” Redstone said. “You kick your dog and you bicker with your spouse. Why should you be nice to all those anonymous assholes on the Internet?’

The company’s initial creation hints at what some future releases might come from the start-up firm. In AWWF, players are represented by small birds who are given a collection of seven random letters, and must assemble these into a word that is then hurled at a house built by pigs. The more profane and lengthy the word, the more points a player scores.

“Each letter is imprinted on a ball of animated hog waste,” Redstone said. “The more letters you can use, the bigger the ball, and the more likely it will cause damage to the structure built by the pigs.”

Points are awarded much like they are in “Words With Friends,” a Scrabble-like contest that has grown in popularity in recent months.

“If you can only build a small epithet, like ‘ass’ or ‘dork,’ you might only get 10 or 15 points,” Redstone noted. “Come up with something like ‘jerkwad’ or ‘rectum’ and you can score much higher.”

The background narrative of the game is about a family of birds that build their nest downwind from an industrial hog farm. The waste from the pigs, normally stored in lagoons, begins to overflow into a local stream which runs near the birds’ nest.

The birds have tried to reason with county zoning authorities over the issue, but soon become frustrated with the slow pace of government bureaucracy. They take over the fight personally, hurling feces at the pigs even as the animals look to expand their facility with new construction.

“We’ll even give players an option to have their words posted directly to Twitter and Facebook, so they can abuse all their so-called friends,” Redstone said.

Sources in the social gaming industry report that several similar products are also in the pipeline for release during the 2011 holiday season. One game will reportedly merge “Hanging With Friends,” a recent offering that allows acquaintances to play a virtual version of the kids’ game Hangman, with the wildly popular “Farmville.”

“Farm animals ready for market will be slaughtered, not with electric stun guns, but instead will be hung by the neck until dead,” one analyst reported. “They’ll already be strung up, so that step won’t have to be repeated at the packing house where the meat is butchered.”

Another concept still being fleshed out would combine “Mafia Wars” with standard text messaging so that players can threaten their friends with being decapitated and dumped in the river, while at the same time inviting them to meet up for a flash mob.

Redstone began her company only last year, claiming she became tired of the never-ending “GG” (for “good game”) and “LOL” messages being exchanged among relative strangers who would never be so kind to live people they actually knew.

“But what pushed me over the edge to start my own company was when ‘Words With Friends’ wouldn’t allow me to play ‘HOBA,’ which I contended was a female hobo,” Redstone said. “I phoned the headquarters of (WWF maker) Zynga and verbally abused the CEO. That’s when the light went off in my head to create something completely new and hostile.”

Rep. Weiner too quick to come clean?

June 7, 2011

New York Representative Anthony Weiner’s confession yesterday that he was using social media to be (very) social was perhaps even more gutless than the fact that he repeatedly lied about the story for over a week.

There’s no pride any more in the skill of spinning a tall tale. Public figures caught in scandal spend at most a few days deceiving friends, family and their constituents before abjectly taking to the podium and confessing everything.

“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Weiner and a thousand others before him told a packed press conference. “What I did was wrong and hurtful toward those I care for.”

What baloney. He might be sorry he was caught, but I doubt he was sorry he had virtual babes from coast to coast admiring his bulging good looks.

His nose was already longer than his schlong. Building an even larger network of lies wasn’t going to make Congressman Pinocchio look any worse.

Here’s the story I would’ve concocted were I his public relations specialist:

The original underwear photo was accidentally snapped while he was brushing his teeth preparing to go to work.

“I try to stay closely connected with my constituents, so I carry my cell phone with me everywhere,” he could’ve said. “I must’ve accidentally hit the wrong button while concentrating on those hard-to-reach back teeth.”

The phone then slipped out of his grip, bouncing off his engorged member in such a way that the “tweet” button was pushed.

“My aroused state was not due to any prurient thoughts,” he’d say. “I just get very excited about the benefits of maintaining proper oral hygiene.”

When additional photos surfaced Monday, only a little additional creativity would be required to explain these.

The picture of him in a T-shirt, sitting smiling next to two of his cats?

“I was just helping Mrs. Bubbles and Kitty Dukakis try to hook up to a cat dating site,” Weiner could say.

The photo of the smiling Democrat holding up a sheet of paper with the word “ME” on it?

“I was just beginning my first draft on the ‘MEDICAL REIMBURSEMENT FOR DISPLACED VETERANS ACT’,” Wiener might report.

The shirtless shot?

“My doctor said he has a new way to do chest x-rays remotely,” he could say. “I meant to send it just to his office, but must’ve hit the ‘ALL’ button by mistake.”

Really, only the two most embarrassing elements of the unfolding story had to be addressed with any element of truth included.

“It’s an email address I’ve had for years, and I didn’t want to lose all the names I had in the address book,” Weiner could say of the humiliating fact that he maintained an AOL account. “I’m trying to migrate over to Gmail but it’s taking some time.”

As for the photo from the congressman’s high school yearbook …

… he could lay claim to a proud family heritage that included several ancestors descended from the Irish side of his family that hailed from County Dork.

“I’m as proud of my Gaelic relatives as I was proud of that Jew-Fro,” he might suggest. “Yes, it could be viewed by some as suggestive. But it gives you a hint at exactly how hairy I am, and how impossible it would be for me to get a clean view of my junk.”

Enjoying “Words” with “Friends”

May 24, 2011

Springtime temperatures are rapidly becoming summer-like. Kids are just about out of school for their annual break.

For the sports-minded, it’s a great time to head outdoors. There’s nothing like the crack of a baseball bat and huge expanses of green fields to fire up the competitive spirit.

It’s the perfect time of year to sequester yourself in a cool, dark room and crank up a game of Words With Friends.

WWF — formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation and, before that, the World Wildlife Fund — is a popular online diversion in which I’m majorly kicking butt. It’s a crossword game just different enough from Scrabble to keep its makers from being hauled into court. (One difference, for example: the words “copyright” and “infringement” are worth a total of 96 points in WWF while they’re worth only 92 in Scrabble.)

I’ve been playing the game on my iPad for several months now. Before that, I got my Scrabble fix in the most pathetic way possible, playing a desktop game alone against computer-generated avatars with names like “Elite” and “Master”. It was so embarrassing, I’d occasionally assume a disguise by creating new players for myself with names like “Davis1” and “Hitler”.

Now, I’m involved in a number of healthy interpersonal relationships with actual online people. We laugh, we chat, we commiserate over lousy racks of Hawaiian words like “EIAOUEU” (a kind of rice and plantain mixture) and “AOEUUUAU” (the last thing you say before being crushed by a tsunami). But mostly, we feign surprise at my extraordinary ability to crush them on a regular basis.

A few of my regular opponents — or “friends,” in the parlance of the game — are people I actually know in real life. “Era101” is a top manager in the New York office of my company who is so addicted to the game that she recently made several moves against me while vacationing in Paris. Another regular is my niece, a med student just back from a humanitarian mission to Uganda during which she helped treat end-stage AIDS patients and played the word “GROTTOS” for 26 points.

Perhaps the most curious relationship I have is with “Puba99,” a young coworker who sits four stations down from me. She’s a shy, quiet type and I’m a taciturn misanthrope so we never speak to each other in real life. In the game, however, we’re best buds, exchanging “GG’s” (good game) and “OMG’s” like a couple of giggly teenagers.

I know little about the rest of my regular opponents other than what I can glean from the name they’ve chosen for themselves. “TheNameIsDude” is, I assume, a Californian, and he offers me the strongest competition. We’re currently locked in a tight 313-303 match in which he’s played words like “DHAK” and “UNDEVOUT” while I’m waiting for my next turn to hit him with a “XGRRWYI” (a sloth-like tree bear from Peru and Ecuador, or perhaps a viral infection).

Others in my circle of friends include “CoastalHD,” “php67,” “Jack-of-all. No master,” “Mary0121” (who I imagine to be a 90-year-old born in January of 1921) and “Crmj3,” who I playfully refer to as “The 3 Man” though he may in fact be a precocious preschooler.

As for the game itself, it closely resembles conventional Scrabble except for certain letter point values and the position of bonus squares on the board. One quirky difference is WWF’s position on terms of a scatological nature. Unlike desktop Scrabble, it won’t allow words like “cum” and “tit” (I’m guessing it’s because game-makers don’t want to sully up the Internet with obscenities). However, it accepts “shat” and “poop” with no problem, though it shot down my attempt to add a “y” to the end of “poop” with an insincere “sorry, that is not an acceptable word” message.

I’m tempted to complain to World Wrestling’s founder Vince McMahon that if it’s acceptable to hit half-nude mesomorphs with folding chairs, it should be okay to play “poopy.”

If any of my readers our there would care to challenge me to a game some time, just search for “Davis1153” and invite me to play. If you enter a chat message referencing WordPress, I’ll promise not to play a “ZA” or “QI” against you, though I do reserve the right to smack you with a “DJINN”.

Inside bin-Laden’s computers

May 5, 2011

As analysts pore over the captured computers and storage devices found at the Osama bin-Laden compound, they are beginning to unlock a treasure trove of information about the late terrorist leader and his al-Qaeda organization.

The verdict: Far from being a newbie, the world’s most-wanted criminal knew his way around a laptop, especially for an old guy.

U.S. forces brought five computers, 10 hard drives and about 100 storage devices out of the Islamabad suburb where bin-Laden was killed late Sunday. Initial reports that the location had no internet service appear to be true, though that apparently doesn’t mean the murderous madman wasn’t able to go online.

“Surveillance reveals that a man fitting bin-Laden’s description was often seen driving out of the compound to a Panera Bread located about a half-mile away that offered free wi-fi,” said one insider who asked to remain unnamed. “He’d sit outside in the parking lot with his netbook for hours at a time. One witness said he mostly seemed to be hanging out on Facebook, though information still stored in the machine show he also visited the occasional porn site, despite Panera’s stated policy against it.”

“The witness said he didn’t even go to the trouble of buying a cup of coffee, that he just sat there and poached the wireless,” the analyst said. “Truly, he was a man with no sense of ethical behavior.”

Among the discoveries made so far:

  • Not surprisingly, bin-Laden was a big fan of the game Angry Birds. His IT staff had modified some of the features so that instead of launching baby birds against a house of sticks built by pigs, his version catapulted suicide bombers against soft Western targets like train stations, shopping malls and sporting venues. “His tech guys were very inventive and surprisingly responsive to their boss’s requests,” the insider said. “They knew that if they pulled the usual IT garbage of stalling and not returning emails, they’d be beheaded.”
  • Bin-Laden used an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of his extensive family, which included numerous wives and children, not to mention almost a hundred brothers and sisters and their families. “He had it set up in a way that makes us think he was competing with his brothers to have the most kids in the extended bin-Laden family. One bar chart he constructed showed him in third place, but the numbers were constantly changing, and it looks like he eventually turned the project over to an intern.”
  • The hundred or more thumb drives captured by the Special Forces team held information about which of his aides had their thumbs cut off, according to Sharia law, for minor offenses around the compound. “If you stole someone’s lunch from the common refrigerator, or neglected to contribute to the coffee fund, this typically was punished by the removal of a finger,” sources said. “Bin-Laden could then pull out the thumb drives at performance review time, and go over these transgressions with the offenders. It not only affected their ability to grasp objects. It also affected their merit increases.”
  • A PowerPoint presentation bin-Laden had prepared shows that he was indeed “franchising” his terror network throughout the world. But a surprising discovery revealed he also had plans for launching a fast-food sandwich franchise, to be called “O-Sammich.” “We found a very professional presentation he apparently put together for potential investors,” the analyst reported. “He used clip art and everything.”
  • One of the cellphones captured in the raid was an iPhone. CIA forensics experts are still going through the data recorded in the phone’s memory, but can already report Osama played a lot of Words With Friends, the popular Scrabble-like crossword game. “The pattern of fingerprints on the touchscreen show he spent a lot of time dragging letters into play on the board,” sources reported. “It also reveals that he ate a lot of greasy Sammichs.”
  • Bin-Laden was a big fan of YouTube, with his favorites being LOL cats, funny baby expressions, and videos of killer tornado outbreaks. He also enjoyed AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com, which apparently made him feel better about his own complicated family life; EpicFail.com, which comforted him in the days after thwarted attacks by the Shoe Bomber, the Underwear Bomber and the Times Square Bomber; and Sporcle.com, a popular online trivia quiz. “He appeared to do especially well with geography questions,” said the source. “He could name every country in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, but he had a little more trouble with the Western Hemisphere. He kept getting Paraguay and Uruguay confused, for example.”
  • His online banking account showed numerous transfers in and out of Swiss bank accounts over the years, and that he had made enough “Extra Points” with his debit card transactions to earn a $100 gift card, redeemable at any establishment in the Darden family of restaurants, including his favorite, Red Lobster. “Oh, how he loved their cheese biscuits,” revealed one Guantanamo detainee who disclosed the detail only after he underwent enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding.
  • The architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. fashioned himself to be an aspiring screenwriter. His Word files contained the draft of a “fan fiction” treatment he was writing based on Fox’s popular TV hit “Glee.” “He knew there’d eventually be a ‘Glee’ movie, and he wanted to get in on the ground floor with Hollywood producers who would be shopping the concept to the major studios,” one insider said. “Those who have read it, though, called it amateurish at best, with many of the musical numbers replaced by hours of ululation.”
  • An extensive collection of DVDs was also found in the compound. Some were training videos to be used in al-Qaeda camps, but there were also a surprising number of popular Western films, including boxed-set collections of the entire oeuvres of Nicolas Cage, Ben Stiller and Michael Caine. “Because of their size, these catalogs had to be kept in their own dedicated outbuilding at the back of the compound,” a source said. “Many of the security features found at the site — the 18-foot walls, the razor-wire fences, the security cameras — were really put in more to protect these DVDs than they were to protect the terrorist kingpin. He absolutely loved Nic Cage.”

“We expect that once our intelligence experts have combed through all the information, we’ll have an accurate picture of where we need to counter potential threats,” said a CIA official closely involved with recovering all the data. “Until then, we’d advise the public to avoid any rickety wooden structures built by pigs.”