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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

20 Things You Didn't Know Your PC Could Do
Teach that old machine new tricks--from the amazingly practical to the practically amazing.

Eric Dahl

1. Turn On in Less Than 30 Seconds

Each morning when I get into the office, I hang up my coat, drop my bag in a corner, and start the process of turning on my PC. Five minutes later, I'm ready to work after waiting for the machine to boot, typing in my network password, waiting for plug-ins to load, and finally opening all the applications I use each day. Who needs all that waiting?

Try this little experiment if you'd like to save some time: Go to the Start menu and click Shut Down. Choose the Stand By or Suspend option (depending on your version of Windows, it may be in a drop-down list), and click OK if necessary. If the room just got quieter, congratulations--you have a new way to turn off your computer. If you didn't find that option, or if your PC's fans kept whirring, read on. You aren't out of luck yet.

If the option did work, your PC should quickly return to the state you left it in--with applications open, MP3s playing and everything--when you press the power button again. This feature, called Suspend to RAM, saves almost as much power as turning off your computer, by shutting down nearly every PC component and storing the machine's state in system memory.

Not all systems support Suspend to RAM, and some that do support it don't come with the option enabled. To begin with, you need to be running Windows 98 SE, Me, 2000, or XP. If you are and things still don't work as expected, check your machine's hardware support by rebooting and then entering your PC's setup utility. (Watch the screen as the PC boots; it should tell you which key to press.) The labels mentioned below will vary, but they should be typical.

Look for a power-savings or power-management category. Search there for settings related to suspend modes. Enable any setting labeled 'Suspend Mode' or 'ACPI Function'. If you can choose different types of suspend mode (my home PC has a setting called 'ACPI Suspend Type'), select Suspend to RAM by choosing S3 or STR. Save your changes, exit the setup utility, and boot into Windows.

If you're running a pre-XP OS, double-click Power Options in the Control Panel and click the Advanced tab. If possible, select the Stand By option. That should enable Suspend to RAM. For more on speeding up PC start times, see Home Office.

2. Put You on the Evening News

You won't exactly be making news with your PC, but with a Webcam, a green backdrop, and Serious Magic's $100 Visual Communicator software, you can create a convincing imitation of the nightly news. Visual Communicator combines a TV prompter-style interface with a feature called V-Screen that replaces a green backdrop with an image or a video clip in real time. The process, known as chroma-keying, is the same one that puts the weather map behind the forecaster on the evening news.

Visual Communicator comes with plenty of professional-looking effects, transitions, and overlays that you can add to your presentation. Use it to put that annoying accounting guy's PowerPoint presentation to shame, or pull in video clips from your child's soccer game and produce a home version of SportsCenter.

3. USB Power: Charge Your Cell Phone

Don't bother packing your cell phone charger the next time you head out on a business trip. If you're carrying a laptop, or if there is a PC equipped with USB at your destination, you can use a simple USB adapter to charge your phone. Adapters like APC's USB Mobile Phone Chargers and SMC's EZ Connect USB Phone Chargers are available for most popular phones and cost from $10 to $30. Best of all, they're easier to coil and carry than your average phone charger.

4. Get You a Beer

Strap a notebook PC to Evolution Robotics' $500 ER-1 Personal Robot System chassis, and you have a toy that can put Sony's robot pet, Aibo, to shame. The ER-1 uses a Webcam to help it spot objects that you've programmed into its software. An optional gripper arm lets your ER-1 lift and carry objects. While it can't host your next party, the ER-1 can make a unique upgrade to an old notebook. Mobile computing, indeed.

5. Maintain Perfect Time

Don't be surprised if you occasionally end up late for a meeting when you rely on your PC's clock. Most computers do a poor job of keeping time, losing as much as a couple of seconds a day. That may not seem like a big deal, but let it go on for a few months and it's more than enough to put your PC's clock several minutes on the slow side.

Windows XP users can solve this problem easily. Simply right-click the clock in the corner of the taskbar, click Adjust Date/Time, select the Internet Time tab, and check the Automatically synchronize with an Internet time server box. When your computer connects to the Net, it will periodically check in with an atomic clock and make sure that you have the correct time.

A free program like Thinking Man Software's Dimension 4 can perform the same task for PCs running earlier versions of Windows. Dimension 4 can operate in the background, syncing your clock every few minutes, or the application can do its thing as soon as it detects a Net connection, and then shut down and get out of your way. On a broadband-connected PC, it often can correct your time and exit before all of your plug-ins load. Download a copy.

6. Make a Cup of Coffee

Nick Pelis has built what looks like the ultimate power user's machine--a computer with a built-in coffeemaker. Pelis's custom-modified case, or case mod, includes a dual-processor Pentium III system, 1GB of memory, and a White-Westinghouse four-cup coffeemaker.

Case modders like Pelis use Dremel tools and ingenuity to add all sorts of stuff--from useful tweaks like increased cooling to crazy stuff like cold-cathode lighting, clear acrylic windows, and, well, coffeemakers--to their anything-but-beige PCs. In a sense, case mods are like an external version of desktop customization. As people spend more time with their PCs, they're finding new ways to make them look and feel like their own.

Premodded PCs from companies like Voodoo Computers and CyberPower are starting to appear in our Top 100 section. And kits from companies like have made modding a PC easier than ever.

7. Give You a Little Peace and Quiet

Don't you occasionally wish that your PC would just shut up already? The job of cooling hot CPUs, high-rpm drives, and heat-pumping graphics cards in current PCs has become a noisy affair--to the point where shutting down your PC can make sense if you need to think clearly.

But it doesn't have to be that way, as Mike Chin, editor and publisher of Silent PC Review, found out after he moved a third PC into his home office and got fed up with the noise. "That's when I started tearing them apart and trying to make them quieter," Chin recalls, and that's how his Web site got started. Now Chin tests PC parts from fans to hard drives to power supplies, trying to find the quietest components.

If you want a quieter PC, you need to find and replace the loudest part in your case, and then work from there. As a quick test, open your case and carefully cover each fan, noting any change in noise. When you identify a particularly loud component, look for a replacement.

Silent PC Review features a section that recommends parts it has noise-tested, but those parts can be hard to find. Online specialty stores such as Directron and Silicon Acoustics are your best bet.

According to Chin, one of the loudest components is usually your CPU's fan and heat sink. A replacement heat sink like the $45 Thermalright SLK-800 or one of Zalman's Flower models can run with a nearly silent fan. Be careful when unclipping and removing your heat sink, and install its successor according to the manufacturer's directions to avoid damaging your CPU.

Hard drives are another likely culprit. Most of a drive's noise comes from the vibration produced by constantly spinning the discs at high rpm. If you have an extra 5.25-inch drive bay, you can use a product such as NoiseMagic's $30 NoVibes III drive enclosure to suspend the drive in rubber O-rings, drastically reducing noise. As for noisy CD and DVD drives, there isn't much you can do beyond running a software utility to slow them down.

Finally, look at your power supply and at the other fans in your case--especially small ones, which can emit a high-pitched whine. Some, like the fan on your motherboard's chip set, can be replaced with noiseless heat sinks. Graphics cards require extensive cooling, making quiet replacements tough to build. One made by Zalman includes a top-mounted fan and covers an adjacent PCI slot.

What does all this work get you? Chin says it goes beyond a more enjoyable computing experience: "My ability to concentrate on my work is about twice what it was when I had noisy PCs. It's not just about making it pleasant, it's about productivity."

8. Look at Least as Cool as a Mac

Is the latest crop of Mac ads getting to you? If you're tired of the taunts of your Mac-loving friends, take heart in a few tweaks that can make your PC look almost as slick as one of those overpriced desk lamps.

Want a more Mac-like desktop? Stardock's $50 Object Desktop provides all kinds of enhancements to the plain-vanilla Windows you're used to--and it can deliver a reasonable facsimile of OS X's Aqua interface to your PC with a plug-in called ObjectDock. Add a Macintosh desktop skin from to complete your PC's transformation.

If the sleek-looking case is what you really desire, take some inspiration from the "Rotten Apple" case modification that hobbyist Brian Holmes built for Holmes took a G4 case, gave it a custom paint job, and built a superfast Athlon system into it. Now that's a switch I can deal with.

9. Print Digital Art on Canvas

Specialty-paper vendors--for example, Burlington--can help you change things up on your ink jet printer with an array of different media. Meed a new mouse pad? Print one yourself on some silk fabric. Want a snazzy CD label? Try one of the metallic holographic backgrounds included in Burlington's $17 Silver Spectrum CD label kit. Have a great digital art project? Get it down on canvas the easy way with some treated canvas media at $9 for six sheets. And to think, all these years you've been printing just on paper.

10. Follow You Anywhere

Everyone knows how long it can take to get up to speed on a new machine. Organizing your desktop, storing your files and e-mail in the right place, and setting up your favorite bookmarks can take hours each time you migrate to a new PC or have to use an unfamiliar one on a business trip. Fortunately, there are some ways you can speed up the process.

Miramar's $39 Desktop DNA Professional software can collect and save all your critical files, desktop settings, and application preferences in a single, self-extracting "DNA" file that you can take with you. Desktop DNA can't pack up your software, but it can store your software preferences in case the machine you migrate to has the same apps. Install the DNA on a new computer, and it's almost like you're using your home PC. An undo file lets you restore the PC to the state you found it in.

Pair Desktop DNA with a key chain--size USB flash-memory device for a neat way to carry your PC in your pocket. USB memory keys can store up to 2GB these days--more than enough to hold application settings and critical files for a typical PC.

If you're concerned about privacy on the PCs you'll be using temporarily,'s $20 P.I. Protector 2 software can redirect your Web history, cache files, and other browser-generated data to your USB memory key, leaving no trace of your surfing on the hard drive. See Privacy Watch, February 2003, for more details.

11. Burn a Movie Without a DVD Burner

If you aren't quite ready to shell out the money for a rewritable DVD drive, the CD-RW drive that you probably already have can tide you over. Almost every CD-burning package includes an option to burn Video CDs that will play in most DVD players. Check the section on supported formats in your DVD player's manual to confirm that VCD will work on yours. If you see listings for CD-R and VCD or Super VCD (SVCD) formats, you're good to go.

Fire up your CD-mastering software and look for a Video CD project option. Roxio's Easy CD Creator keeps it in the 'Make a photo or video CD' section. In Ahead's Nero, it's in 'Other CD formats'. To compile a disc, drag video files into the CD project. Most software will convert video files to the correct format for you. Finish your project, pop in a blank CD, and test it out.

Just don't expect VCDs to look as good as DVDs. A VCD stores video at about half the resolution of a DVD to help make up for the difference in capacity. It also uses MPEG-1 encoding, an earlier version of the MPEG-2 compression used on DVDs, and it maxes out at 74 minutes of VHS-quality video per disc. An SVCD disc uses a better encoding scheme to record video at closer to DVD quality. Either Video CD format looks good enough for general purposes--such as archiving shows recorded on a TV-tuner card.

Note: If you plan to burn SVCDs, you may have to resize your video beforehand so that it will display correctly; click here for further details.

12. Quick Recovery: Reboot After Crashing

A crash-free PC may be impossible, but you can have a PC that restarts automatically if it freezes up. Tripp-Lite's Watchdog system works with several of the company's uninterruptible power supplies (such as the $160 SmartProd 550 USB). WatchDog monitors your OS and reboots the PC if it stops responding, ensuring that any critical PCs you have will remain up and running while they're unattended. Download a copy.

13. Stream Your Collection of MP3s to You Anywhere

If you have a broadband connection and $13 (for a yearly subscription), your PC can play your MP3s for you anywhere.'s software agent catalogs the songs stored on your PC and streams them to you on demand at any other PC connected to the Net or to your home network. You access your collection through a slick browser-based interface that permits you to create playlists and initiate playback on any Muse-enabled PC. Some configuration hassles await if you're operating behind a firewall; but once that's sorted out, your celestial jukebox can be just a few clicks away.

14. Reminders: Wake You Up lets you schedule all kinds of reminders, from wake-up calls complete with a weather report to simple meeting alerts. A $10-per-month subscription fetches you up to 70 calls each month, and a downloadable plug-in for Outlook makes scheduling an IPing call even quicker.

15. Control Your Stereo System

I hate having to do the multiremote shuffle just to watch a DVD on my home theater system. That's why Philips's Pronto-series remotes--touch-screen LCDs that can learn the codes in your existing controls--are so attractive, though their $400-to-$1000 prices aren't. But if you have an infrared-equipped PDA, a download can turn it into your dream remote. For Palm OS devices, try Pacific Neo-Tek's $25 OmniRemote Pro. For Pocket PCs, try Griffin Technology's $30 Total Remote, which includes an enhanced IR transmitter, or's $15 TV Remote Controller 5.1. Also, watch for new PDAs using a technology called Nevo that come with remote enhancements built in.

16. Understand Your Body Language

Computer mice have been around for ages, and (apart from the addition of scroll wheels) we're still using them the same way we did 20 years ago. Isn't this getting a little old? Don't we need some new ways to interact with computers?

Conventional wisdom has held that voice recognition would be the answer, but out-of-the-box accuracy isn't improving, and training such software takes time. That's why many developers are now turning to gesture recognition as a means to boost our PC control options. Opera, a free Web browser, incorporates mouse gestures that automate common tasks. For example, you can right-click and flick your mouse right or left to move forward or backward in your browser's history. Other commands let you easily reload a page or open a new window. A planned add-on will work the same for Mozilla in the near future.

Jeff Doozan's freeware plug-in, StrokeIt (we don't name them, we just write about them), extends that functionality to the rest of Windows, letting you bind simple mouse gestures to almost any command you can think of. Download a copy.

Gestures made an appearance in one of last year's popular PC games: In Lionhead Studios' Black & White, players can draw simple shapes like spirals and stars to cast spells. Microsoft has gotten into the act, too--its new Tablet PC operating system recognizes more than 40 gestures that a user can make with the stylus.

17. Program Your New Phone

PDAs and PC clocks aren't the only things you can sync. Thanks to Future Dial's $30 SnapSync software, you can sync your cell phone, too. SnapSync can help you transfer your contacts from your computer to your phone--a welcome innovation, as anyone knows who has bought a new cell phone and then spent hours programming the numbers stored on the old phone into it. A service called MightyPhone lets you do the same for address books and calendar information if your phone supports a standard called SyncML (few do currently, but more are on the way) or if you have a PDA-style smartphone that supports the BREW standard.

18. Just for Laughs: Rip an LP With Your Scanner

This one may be a little nutty, but you have to admit nobody knew PCs could do it. In fact, I'm still not sure they can. This clever but crazy hack runs a virtual needle around a scanned image of an LP to create a .wav file of the recorded music. You won't want to rip your old LPs this way, though. Programmer Ofer Springer's demonstration file, a reconstructed recording of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," sounds like it's being played at your neighbor's house--across the street. Still, it's good enough that you can recognize bits of the melody. See this Web site for more, or download and compile the Digital Needle source code, fire up your scanner, and try it yourself.

19. Heat a Small Room

Between my 19-inch monitor and my 300-watt tower system, it never feels like winter as long as my PC's on. All those drives, chips, and add-in cards generate lots of heat inside today's PCs, to the point where a couple of them can effectively heat a small home office. Here's a look at how much some typical PC components can change the temperature of a small room.

20. Revisit Software of Yesteryear

Take your PC on a trip down memory lane by running a 20-year-old program or two. Software emulators harness the power of your PC to run a virtual version of an older machine. Sites like can point you to a downloadable emulator for virtually any antiquated computer, from the TRS-80 to the Commodore 64.

For a retro gaming fix, check out ClassicGaming's selection. The site's extensive collection of emulators and ROMs (downloadable versions of the old game cartridges) includes a multitude of favorites from such antediluvian systems as the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision.

One caveat: While some early programs such as VisiCalc and a handful of games are available for free, in most cases you must own a physical copy of the software to be legally entitled to run it. You knew you kept those old boxes of cartridges for a reason, didn't you?

Carrey: 'Sunshine' Helps Couples
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Jim Carrey says his last movie is a good prescription for squabbling lovers.
Carrey plays a man who has the painful memories of his girlfriend erased from his mind in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." At a party for the DVD release of the film on Thursday, he offered this promise about the hard-knocks love story:

"I guarantee you, couples who see this movie — and it's not gooey, it's not romanticized in anyway — but couples who see this movie will love each other after," he told Associated Press Television News.

"They'll go, 'Awww, what the hell ... you're not so bad!' It supports love."
Joining Carrey at the party was co-star Kate Winslet, who plays the multi-colored-hair love interest Clementine. Clementine starts a battle of memory erasure when she scrubs him from her mind first. The DVD is set for release Tuesday.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and actor Mark Ruffalo, who plays the brain-erase technician, also attended the event.

Beck performed "Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime" from the movie soundtrack, accompanied by composer Jon Brion on keyboards and director Michel Gondry on drums.

59 Jaw Dropping Road Side Attractions
Our top reasons—from giant mazes to outdoor churches to the world’s largest ball of twine—to pull off the side of the road and visit a while
By David LaHuta

October issue, Budget Travel magazine - Everyone loves a road trip, and we’re no exception. But it’s not the driving that makes for great memories, it’s the stops. Here are 59 of our favorites.

The Northeast

Louis’ Lunch
As the story goes, in 1900 a man requested that the luncheonette’s owner make him something to eat on the go—the result was a broiled beef patty in between two slices of bread. Voilà! America’s first hamburger. Louis’ still serves them the same way, and don’t even think about ketchup—condiments are forbidden. 261-263 Crown St., New Haven, 203/562-5507,, hamburger

Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson
Your hog need a tune-up? Pull into this Harley-Davidson service station, then head into Mike’s Warehouse Grill for a bowl of Mike’s Famous chili, served with jalapeño corn bread. At I-295 and Rte. 9, south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, Mike’s is also home to the Museum of the American Road. Don’t miss the tribute to Dave Barr, a double-leg amputee who rode his Harley around the world. 2160 New Castle Ave., New Castle, 800/326-6874,, bowl of chili $4.25.

Desert of Maine
Geologists say that nearly 11,000 years ago, a glacier deposited sand that was only discovered when poor farming techniques led to topsoil erosion. The result is a 44-acre desert with 12-foot dunes—not exactly the standard New England attraction. Guided safaris and gemstone hunts are available—the staff throws semiprecious gems in the sand daily, so the odds are good. Open May–October. 95 Desert Rd., Freeport, 207/865-6962,, $7.75, teens $5.25, kids $4.25.

The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum
To save money, founders Elmer and Joanne Martin originally purchased white mannequins and added black heads and hands. Today, over 120 figures are on display, including Dred Scott, Billie Holiday, cowboy Bill Pickett, Osborne Payne, and Harriet Tubman—all now proudly custom-made for the museum. 1601-03 E. North Ave., Baltimore, 410/563-3404,, $6.80, seniors and college students $6.30, kids $4.80.

Museum of Bad Art
Clashing colors and poor perspective—described in tongue-in-cheek captions—are on display in a museum “dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition, and celebration of bad art in all its forms.” Much like fine art museums, the curator at MOBA—eight miles south of Boston—selects paintings that are original in style and content, like Sunday on the Pot With George, an Impressionist view of an overweight man on a toilet. As the title of the museum’s book says, it’s Art Too Bad to Be Ignored. 580 High St., Needham, 781/444-6757,, donations accepted. Book: $15.

New Hampshire
Strictly Moose
The moose lover in you will want to spend a long time browsing this store. There’s a wide selection of moose-related products, such as moose nuggets—balls of moose dung implanted with biennial flower seeds. To see the real thing, the store can tell you how to sign up for a three-hour bus tour organized by the Gorham Parks and Recreation Department. 129 Main St., Gorham, 603/466-9417,, tour $15, kids 5–12 $10, kids 4 and under $5. Pet “Moose” Nugget: $2.99.

New Jersey
Lucy the Elephant
Sixty-five feet tall and constructed entirely of wood and tin, Lucy the Elephant is so, well, elephantine that she was once converted into a four-bedroom summer home. Built in 1881, the pachyderm was intended to draw developers to South Atlantic City and has since withstood demolition, hurricanes, and countless visitors poking around the inside of her stomach. 9200 Atlantic Ave., Margate, 609/823-6473,, $4, kids $2. Colorful elephant erasers: $1 each.

New York
Jell-O Museum
Long before Bill Cosby starred in the company’s advertisements, Jell-O was paving the way for modern American merchandising. To build his brand, patent owner Orator Woodward advertised in Ladies’ Home Journal in the early 1900s, gave free samples to housewives a few years later, and even had it served to immigrants on Ellis Island. Among other items, the gift shop sells boxer shorts ($16) that read watch it wiggle see it jiggle. 23 E. Main St., LeRoy, 585/768-7433,, $3, kids $1.50 (includes box of Jell-O per family). Spoon: $4.50.

The Shoe House
This three-bedroom, ankle-high-shoe-shaped house was built in 1948 by Mahlon Haines—a self-made millionaire nicknamed the Shoe Wizard of York County. The Shoe House is open Thursday through Sunday for tours explaining its construction. No old women reside there, in case anyone was wondering. 197 Shoe House Rd., Hellam, 717/840-8339,, $3, kids $2.

Rhode Island
World’s Largest Bug
A 59-foot-long termite named Nibbles Woodaway sits atop the three-story New England Pest Control building in Providence (and is easily visible from I-95). Nearly 1,000 times bigger than an actual termite, Nibbles often gets dressed up for holidays. Fans of Dumb and Dumber may recall the bug’s big-time movie debut. 161 O’Connell St.

Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard
For every popular flavor—Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey—there are those that don’t survive, and the folks at Ben & Jerry’s have given at least some of them a proper burial. The cemetery in Waterbury features headstones for flavors such as This Is Nuts and Miz Jelena’s Sweet Potato Pie. Still awaiting burial: Hunka Burnin’ Fudge and Economic Crunch. Rte. 100, 866/258-6877,, free.

The South

Ave Maria Grotto
Built by a Benedictine monk named Joseph Zoettl, the Ave Maria Grotto is four acres of biblical history, with more than 125 miniature replicas of holy sites, such as St. Peter’s Basilica and the city of Jerusalem. They’re not perfectly set to scale—Brother Joe eyeballed his designs—but historians and architects have marveled at his accuracy just the same. 1600 St. Bernard Dr., Cullman, 256/734-4110,, $5, seniors $4.50, kids 6–12 $3.50.

Cotham’s Mercantile and Restaurant
Before it opened as a restaurant in 1984, Cotham’s had served (sometimes simultaneously) as a general store, jail, and commissary for nearly 70 years. The Hubcap burgers—big enough to feed four—were a favorite of then governor Bill Clinton; as its website says, Cotham’s is “Where the Elite Meet to Eat!!” in Scott, about 15 miles east of Little Rock. FYI: It’s pronounced “Cottum’s.” 5301 Hwy. 161, 501/961-9284,, Hubcap burger $8.

Coral Castle
After his fiancée, Agnes Scuffs, canceled their wedding the day before the ceremony, Ed Leedskalnin began constructing a titanic tribute to his lost love. For over 28 years, Ed dug up nearly 1,100 tons of coral, then placed and carved each block by hand to create Coral Castle. The castle, about 30 miles south of Miami, features a nine-ton swinging gate and the Great Obelisk, 25 feet tall and weighing 28 tons. Agnes never visited. 28655 S. Dixie Hwy., Homestead, 305/248-6345,

Drive-In Christian Church
The congregation at Daytona Beach’s Drive-In Christian Church has been pulling up for prayer since 1953. Offering two services on Sundays (8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.), the Christian church—it was converted from an old drive-in movie theater—has more than 1,300 members and encourages visitors to join in its unique outdoor worship. Pull up, grab a Communion wafer at the gate, then tune in to 88.5 on your FM dial. No worries about drinking and driving—this church uses juice instead of wine. 3140 S. Atlantic Ave., 386/767-8761,, free.

Georgia Guidestones
No one knows who erected the 19-foot-tall granite Guidestones—picture the Ten Commandments inscribed on Stonehenge—which list instructions for the preservation of mankind in 12 languages, including Sanskrit and Swahili. Here’s one: “Avoid petty laws and useless officials.” The folks at the Elbert County Chamber of Commerce say that the best way to find them is to drive on Highway 77, between Elberton and Hartwell, and look for the lady’s house that resembles a spaceship. The Guidestones are across the street. Elbert County Chamber of Commerce, 706/283-5651,, free.

Penn’s Store
In 1992, America’s oldest country store, family owned since 1850, got its first bathroom: an outhouse (before that it just had “plenty of trees”). Now, every fall the store hosts the Great Outhouse Blowout, a festival with music, food, and outhouse races (in 2004, Oct. 2). Contestants head to Gravel Switch—50 miles southwest of Lexington—and race human-powered dragsters, some made to resemble that lovable lavatory. 257 Penn’s Store Rd., 859/332-7715,

Bayou Pierre Alligator Park
With gator sausage and kebabs in the food court and gator wallets and boots in the gift shop, you’d think the Bayou Pierre Alligator Park was killing off its main attraction. Not so. All of the park’s hundreds of gators are for viewing only (the others come from local farms). Watch these thousand-pounders wrestle over chicken parts, or hold a baby gator in your arms for a Cajun-style photo opportunity. It’s 75 miles southeast of Shreveport, off Highway 1. 380 Old Bayou Pierre Rd., Natchitoches, 877/354-7001,, $6.50, kids $4.75. Baby gator head: $9.99.

The Crossroads
According to the song “Crossroads Blues,” by legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, this is the spot where he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his skills as a guitar virtuoso. At the intersection of Highways 161 and 49 in the town of Clarksdale, the spot is marked with a guitar-shaped sign. Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce, 662/627-7337.

North Carolina
Furnitureland South
The world’s largest highboy—an 85-foot-tall dresser with three foot-wide gold-leaf handles—stands in front of the world’s largest home-furnishings showroom. Built in 1999, it towers over its rival (the world’s largest bureau, also in High Point) by more than 45 feet. 5635 Riverdale Dr., 336/841-4328,, free.

South Carolina
South of the Border
With its 200-foot-tall Sombrero Tower and smiling mascot, Pedro, this monument to Mexican kitsch has attracted road-trippers since 1949. What started as a small beer stand has expanded into an amalgamation including 15 shops, an amusement park (called Pedroland), six restaurants, campgrounds, and a hotel. I-95 at Hwy. 301, Hamer, 843/774-2411,

The Parthenon
In 1897, to commemorate 100 years of statehood, Tennessee built a full-scale replica of the Parthenon just outside downtown Nashville, in Centennial Park. It houses the city’s art museum, as well as plaster casts of the Elgin marbles (the real ones, which date from around 440 b.c., are in the British Museum). Like the original in Athens, the Parthenon focuses on a 42-foot statue of the goddess Athena—by all estimates she’s wearing size-177 sandals. 2600 West End Ave., 615/862-8431,, $4, seniors and kids $2.50.

Route 11 Potato Chip Factory
The Route 11 Potato Chip Factory prepares, cooks, and bags all 13 varieties of its chips by hand. The Chesapeake crab chips are a regional favorite: They’re flavored with the same salty, spicy blend fishermen use to season their Chesapeake Blues. 7815 Main St., Middletown, 800/294-7783,, 11-oz. bag $4.

West Virginia
Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold
Billed as America’s Taj Mahal—don’t tell Trump—Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, in Moundsville, was constructed by monastic volunteers to be the home of spiritual leader Srila Prabhupada. When he died before its completion, the gilded palace became a pilgrimage center and tourist attraction. The elaborately decorated rooms have marble and onyx floors, crystal chandeliers, and silk tapestries. Palace Rd. Exit off Hwy. 250, 304/843-1812,, suggested donation $6, kids $3.

The Midwest

Bill Shea’s Gas Station Museum
Back in 1946, when Bill Shea started pumping gas on legendary Route 66, a car would go by every 10 minutes. Now, he says, it takes 10 minutes just to cross the road. Stop in for an earful of stories and a look at Shea’s gas station memorabilia from nearly 60 years on the Mother Road. 2075 Peoria Rd., Springfield, 217/522-0475, $2, kids $1.

World’s Largest Catsup Bottle
Once America’s best-selling catsup, Brook’s Old Original Tangy Catsup was so popular that the company’s owners built themselves a massive landmark. The bottle—12 miles east of St. Louis on Route 159—is really a 170-foot-tall water tower, but it’s definitely more fun to pretend otherwise. 800 S. Morrison Ave., Collinsville, 618/345-5598,

Bluespring Caverns
Living in perpetual darkness, the fish in Bluespring Caverns have evolved to a state of blindness—see for yourself on the one-hour boat tour. In the winter months, Bluespring runs organized caving tours for groups of kids, with an overnight stay in a limestone cave, where hibernating bats also make their home ($23). 1459 Bluespring Caverns Rd., Bedford, 812/279-9471,, $12, kids $6.

Grotto of the Redemption
Father Paul Dobberstein’s geological tribute to God is one of the largest collections of precious stones and gems in the world. The nine grottoes tell the story of redemption through Christ; its curators estimate its value at $4 million to $5 million. In December, if the pond freezes, there’s ice-skating. 300 N. Broadway, West Bend, 800/868-3641,, suggested donation $5, kids $2.50.

Dorothy’s House and the Land of Oz

Tours of the cottage, carefully done up to resemble the one in The Wizard of Oz, are led by one of 18 Dorothy look-alikes—they’re dressed in pigtails, blue gingham, and ruby slippers. Strangely enough, the house is on Yellow Brick Road—and you thought that was in Oz! 567 Yellow Brick Rd., Liberal, 620/624-7624, $5, seniors and kids $3.50. Toy ruby slippers: $13.

World’s Largest Ball of Twine
Made from over 7 million feet of sisal twine, the World’s Largest Ball of Twine measures 40 feet in circumference and weighs almost nine tons. Housed under a canopy in Cawker City on Highway 24—100 miles northwest of Abilene—the ball is a work in progress, so bring some twine, wrap it around, and consider yourself part of the record books. Cawker City Hall, 785/781-4713, free.

The Van Gogh Project
Part of an ongoing venture to reproduce all seven of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings in seven countries around the globe, this 768-square-foot reproduction of Three Sunflowers in a Vase is easy to spot. It stands on an 80-foot easel along I-70, in the town of Goodland. Artist Cameron Cross painted the work—the other two completed paintings are in Canada and Australia;

Henry Ford Museum
When Thomas Edison was dying in late 1931, Henry Ford decided he wanted to capture the inventor’s final gasp—so he had him breathe in a test tube and corked it for posterity. It’s now part of the Henry Ford Museum’s permanent collection, along with other pieces of American history, including the Rosa Parks bus, Kennedy’s presidential limousine, and Lincoln’s blood-stained chair. 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, 313/982-6001,, $14, seniors $13, kids $10. Ford Model A toy: $32.

Jolly Green Giant
Ho, ho, ho! The 55-foot-tall statue of everybody’s favorite Jolly Green Giant—at the midpoint of Minnesota along I-90, America’s longest interstate—has a smile that’s 48 inches wide and a shoe size that’s somewhere around 78. He was erected in the town of Blue Earth back in 1979 to celebrate the area’s longtime affiliation with canning—Green Giant was once the Blue Earth Canning Company. Intersection of I-90 and Hwy. 169, Blue Earth Area Chamber of Commerce, 507/526-2916.

Lambert’s Cafe
Beware of flying objects. Raise your hand at this Sikeston restaurant and a server will toss a wheat roll from across the room. Credit the practice to owner Norman Lambert, who was once so busy he couldn’t bring the rolls to a table—so he threw them. No injuries have been reported. 2305 E. Malone St., Constructed of 38 cars from the ’50s- and ’60s—mirroring both the number of boulders and the diameter of the circle at the original in England—this Stonehenge replica was dedicated on the summer solstice in 1987. Just north of Alliance, the structure was conceived by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father, who once lived on the field where Carhenge now stands. Hwy. 87, Alliance,, free.

North Dakota
The Enchanted Highway
A 32-mile county road connecting Gladstone and Regent, the Enchanted Highway off I-94 is proof that if you build it, they will come. To boost tourism, local artist Gary Greff began erecting weird roadside structures, including a towering family made of tin, the world’s largest grasshopper, and a flock of oversize pheasants. His next project: a giant bass. Exit 72, 701/563-6400,, free.

World’s largest basket building
Weighing 9,000 tons and standing seven stories high, the home office for the Longaberger Company, in Newark, was built to resemble Longaberger’s most popular item, the Medium Market Basket. The building houses Longaberger’s 500 employees and is visible from State Route 16. Walk in to admire the seven-story atrium; the glass ceiling allows you to see the handles from inside. 1500 E. Main St., 740/322-5588,, free.

South Dakota
The Corn Palace
Covered entirely with thousands of bushels of corn, grasses, and grains, the Corn Palace in Mitchell—with turrets, onion domes, and minarets—is America’s answer to the Kremlin. The exterior of the palace is refurbished annually during harvest time (August through September), but its interior features year-round corn murals depicting the history of Native Americans and the white man. 604 N. Main, 866/273-2676,, free. Key chain: $2.50.

Wall Drug Store
For more than 70 years this landmark has wooed visitors with countless roadside billboards (“Have You Dug Wall Drug?”). They arrive to find much more: Now an attraction in its own right, the store boasts an 80-foot-tall brontosaurus, an art gallery displaying western art and artifacts, and strange mechanical people like Dr. Feelgood, who for 50¢ will tell you about the benefits of snake oil. 510 Main St., Wall, 605/279-2175,, free.

WisconsinWorld’s Largest MuskieThe National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, about 70 miles south of Duluth, Minn., is home to the World’s Largest Muskie. It’s four stories high and half a city block long. The belly holds freshwater fishing exhibits and the mouth opens up to a 20-person observation deck. 10360 Hall of Fame Dr., Hayward, 715/634-4440,, $6, under 18 $3.50, under 10 $2.50. Snow globe: $3.25.
The House on the Rock Perched precariously atop a tall rock spire, the House on the Rock, in southwest Wisconsin, mixes architectural enthusiasm with an eclectic collection of just about anything you can imagine—suits of armor, model airplanes, pipe organs, and even a pyramid of life-size fiberglass elephants. The most identifiable feature of this attraction is the Infinity Room—a 200-foot-long glass and steel promenade cantilevered over the valley. And for the kids, there’s the world’s largest carousel, insured for $4.5 million. 5754 Hwy. 23, Spring Green, 608/935-3639,, $19.50, kids 7–12 $11.50, 4–6 $5.50.

The Southwest

Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch

Between Tucson and Phoenix, near Picacho Peak, the largest ostrich ranch in the country has more than 1,100 ostriches, and they’ll eat the $2 feed right out of your hand. Stock up on infertile eggs, for eating ($15); feather dusters ($7 and up); and ostrich oil (four ounces for $30), said to be good for cracked heels, dry skin, acne, and eczema, or as an aftershave lotion. Exit 219 on Interstate 10, 520/466-3658,, free. Empty ostrich egg: $10.

The Thing?
Along Interstate 10, 40 miles west of Tucson, billboards about every quarter mile will lure you toward The Thing? There’s no charge for checking out the taxidermic armadillo holding a beer (it’s in the gift shop), but to discover what exactly The Thing? is—we’re not telling—you have to fork over a buck. No photos allowed. Exit 322 on I-10, 520/586-2581, $1.

New Mexico
Trinity Site
Now a National Historic Landmark, Trinity Site is where the first atomic bomb was tested in 1945. On the grounds of the White Sands Missile Range, the site is only open for bus tours twice a year—the first Saturday in April and October, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.—and is marked by a triangular stone tower and commemorative plaque. Walk the giant crater, still littered with Trinitite, the green-colored, glassy substance formed by the explosion’s heat. Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce, 800/826-0294,, free.

The Blue Whale
The 80-foot cement whale, built by Hugh Davis as an anniversary present for his wife, Zelta, has been smiling at motorists on Route 66 for more than 30 years. About 15 miles east of Tulsa, the Blue Whale—with its walk-in mouth (you can’t go farther, not that you’d want to)—is beached alongside a small pond right next to the highway. Catoosa Chamber of Commerce, 918/ 266-6042, free.

Cadillac Ranch
Off I-40, just west of Amarillo, 10 Cadillacs are half buried, tail fins up. Created in 1974 by a collective of artists called Ant Farm, it’s a tribute to America’s once-most-beloved cruiser. For the true artistic experience, bring spray paint; Ant Farm encourages audience participation. Free.

The West

Santa Claus House
Every day is Christmas at the Santa Claus House, just south of Fairbanks in the town of North Pole. Stop in for a look at Dasher and Blitzen—the two on-site reindeer—or a visit with Santa himself (Wed.–Sun.). For $7.50, you can purchase a square inch of land in North Pole or send a pre-written letter from Santa—with a North Pole postmark—to anywhere in the world. 101 St. Nicholas Dr., 800/588-4078,

Exotic World
Once the home of dirty dancer Jennie Lee—known in her heyday as the Bazoom Girl—this burlesque museum houses a collection of pasties, lip prints, and bejeweled G-strings. Curator Dixie Evans leads tours through the Striptease Hall of Fame, where she is also proudly enshrined. The Striptease Reunion and Miss Exotic World Pageant—the best in burlesque, past and present—is held annually on the first Saturday of June here in Helendale, 15 miles southwest of Barstow. 29053 Wild Rd., 760/243-5261,, suggested donation $5. Sticker: $3.

The World’s Tallest Thermometer
Standing 134 feet tall—a tribute to the hottest temperature ever recorded in North America, on the floor of nearby Death Valley—the World’s Tallest Thermometer displays bright digital readings to motorists going in both directions on I-15. Willis Herron, former owner of the Bun Boy Restaurant, also in Baker, had the Popsicle-stick-shaped tower built in the hope that folks would pull over for a slice of Bun Boy’s famous strawberry pie ($4). 72155 Baker Blvd., 760/733-4660.

Calico Ghost Town
Ten miles north of Barstow is a throwback to the Old West, complete with Lil’s swinging-door saloon and a sheriff who regularly rounds up “lawbreakers.” If you’re lucky, you may see a real western-style wedding held at the one-room schoolhouse; there are also nighttime ghost tours through spots where spooks have been sighted. Be alert: Gunfights can break out at any time—or, actually, every hour on the half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Exit Ghost Town Rd. on I-15, Yermo, 800/862-2542,, $6, kids $3.

UFO Watchtower
No abductions have been reported—yet—at the UFO Watchtower, a man-made lookout for anything and everything extraterrestrial. After hearing countless references to the San Luis Valley in The X-Files and on the SciFi Channel—the area is well known for having very little light pollution—founder Judy Messoline created the watchtower, about 200 miles south of Denver. Bring a tent and stay the night or head straight to the gift shop, where you can buy Judy’s favorite bumper sticker ($2): Buckle up! it makes it harder for the aliens to suck you out of your car. 2502 County Rd. 61, Hooper, 719/378-2271,, free.

The World’s Largest Maze
The two-acre garden maze at the Dole Plantation in Oahu was recognized in 2001 by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s biggest. The hibiscus hedges are seven feet high, and at its center the maze resembles a giant pineapple. There are guides to help those who get lost. 64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/621-8408,, $5, kids $3.

Idaho Potato Expo
Off I-15, 25 miles southwest of Idaho Falls, is the Idaho Potato Expo, a museum filled with a two-foot Pringle (the world’s largest), potato hand lotion, and even a spud signed by grammatically challenged former vice president—and good sport—Dan Quayle. Bonus: Each pair of visitors gets a free box of dehydrated hash browns. 130 Northwest Main St., Blackfoot, 208/ 785-2517,, $3, seniors $2.50, kids $1.

Lincoln’s World Famous 10,000 Silver $ Bar and Casino
Actually, it’s more like the 43,000-and-Counting Silver $ Bar and Casino: In 1952, Rex Lincoln cut a round hole in his bar, pounded in a silver dollar, and inscribed his name below it. Patrons have wanted in on the fun ever since. Each year visitors to this I-90 landmark, halfway between Missoula, Mont., and Spokane, Wash., donate nearly 1,500 coins to be mounted on the walls. Bring your own or buy one at the bar, then come back next year: Coins are mounted in January. Exit 16, Haugan, 406/678-4242.

Little A ‘Le’ Inn

Along Highway 375—better known as the Extraterrestrial Highway—this restaurant/bar/gift shop/motel is the only trace of civilization outside the ultrasecretive Area 51, just south of Rachel. Owner Pat Travis will be happy to entertain you with stories of actual alien sightings (“They came in the form of humans…”). Browse the aprons and tote bags in the gift shop, and order Travis’s famous Alien Burger. “It’s out of this world,” she says. 775/729-2515,, burger $3.75. Alien salt and pepper shakers: $8.99.

The House of Mystery and the Oregon Vortex
Self-described as “an area of naturally occurring visual and perceptual phenomena,” the Oregon Vortex, near Gold Hill, in southwestern Oregon, has been defying the laws of physics since 1930. Balls roll uphill, brooms stand on end, and the mass of objects—including people—has been known to mysteriously change. Bring a camera. 4303 Sardine Creek Rd., 541/855-1543,, $8, seniors $7, kids 6–11 $6.

Hole N’ the Rock
Forty-thousand visitors come annually to see this 5,000-square-foot house carved from a huge sandstone rock 12 miles south of Moab. It has 14 rooms, including an art studio and lapidary, where cocreator Albert Christensen once polished his rocks. All that’s missing: Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles. 11037 S. Hwy. 191, 877/686-2250,, $4.25, kids $2.25.

The House on the Rock
Perched precariously atop a tall rock spire, the House on the Rock, in southwest Wisconsin, mixes architectural enthusiasm with an eclectic collection of just about anything you can imagine—suits of armor, model airplanes, pipe organs, and even a pyramid of life-size fiberglass elephants. The most identifiable feature of this attraction is the Infinity Room—a 200-foot-long glass and steel promenade cantilevered over the valley. And for the kids, there’s the world’s largest carousel, insured for $4.5 million. 5754 Hwy. 23, Spring Green, 608/935-3639,, $19.50, kids 7–12 $11.50, 4–6 $5.50.

World Famous Bob’s Java Jive
This Tacoma dive, where bands play nightly, has a jungle-theme interior—and it once featured live, swinging monkeys. Even stranger, it’s shaped like a giant coffeepot: Built in 1927 as a coffee shop, it was once surrounded by other buildings that imitated their purposes (such as a gas station shaped like a pump). It’s the only one left. 2102 S. Tacoma Way, 253/475-9843,

The Douglas Jackalope
The town of Douglas—130 miles north of Cheyenne—is absolutely devoted to the rare jackalope, a cross between a rabbit and an antelope. Self-proclaimed as the Home of the Jackalope, Douglas erected an eight-foot statue in what’s known as Jackalope Square. To solidify its place in jackalope lore, the town had hoped to build another statue (this one 80 feet tall and made of fiberglass), but the plans fell through. Jackalope hunting licenses are available, but no one has ever bagged one of the wily creatures. Douglas Chamber of Commerce, 307/358-2950,, free.

epicenter of marine biodiversity

By Diana A. Uy

Among other things, the Philippine islands can boast about its wealth of biodiversity — that is, marine biodiversity.

At the recent seminar titled "Center of the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity: the Philippine Islands," held at the Tambunting-Villonco Hall Museum of the Filipino People, Dr. Kent Carpenter, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Old Dominion University, Virginia, hypothesized that the Philippines has the most diverse habitat in the Indo-Malay-Philippines archipelago.

According to his study, the Philippines has the richest concentration of marine life in the entire planet.

His study that lasted more than 10 years resulted in almost 3,000 maps and counting of marine species for the Western Pacific Ocean challenging the idea that it was Indonesia who holds the record.

"Scientists have long known that the area in Southeast Asia that includes Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines holds the richest marine biodiversity. I was amazed to discover that the extreme center of this biodiversity is in the Philippines, rather than closer to the equator," according to Dr. Carpenter in an interview.

"However, a geographical information system analysis of this extensive database clearly shows this pattern," he added.

Ergo, his goal is to understand the natural forces, such as lithospheric plate movements, prevailing currents, and the geography and geology of the area, that contributed to the evolution of the biodiversity.

"This discovery poses some very interesting questions about the origins of marine life in our oceans. Perhaps the Philippines hold the key to unraveling mysteries about how marine biodiversity patterns change through space and time," he explained.

However, his study showed that "with the comparatively high number of species that are only found in the Philippines, there is the real threat of extinction, including some species that have yet to be discovered by scientists."

In another interview, Dr. Carpenter stressed, "this area is highly threatened and a number of destructive fishing practices, including dynamite fishing, contribute to the decline. The biggest problem in terms of coral reefs is in run–off from poor land use that results in heightened erosion. This run–off goes into the rivers and out to sea covering the coral in sediments that are detrimental to their survival."

Because of this, he plans to support conservation efforts in the Philippines to preserve and protect these "endangered" inhabitants and those yet to be discovered.

UNESCO Secretary–General Preciosa Soliven supports this endeavor.

"The UNESCO has a marine science committee. It is such an important aspect of our country. So, we will pick up the suggestion of Dr. Carpenter," Soliven said.

"First we, will work on the curriculum on sciences to enrich it for the elementary school. Secondly, we’ll get together all these university professors, who have been part of the study on the rich biodiversity in the Philippines, so they can be engaged in our education of the stakeholders —the fisherman, their families, the mayor there, the teachers. In every island, community we are already doing that. But with the information that we are the bullseye or the center and the richest biodiversity of fishes in the Asia pacific region, so that's a booster."

She added, "because when people understand they will care more. You know, there's always a controversy and a dilemma between preserving life in our oceans and at the same time the poor fisherman who needs that badly for livelihood? So, we have to reconcile the fact that they need these fish to sell but we will help them be more selective and perhaps preserve the sanctuary. They can fish outside the sanctuary."

Furthermore, according to the Secretary-General, this study, she thinks, has stimulated our marine biologists —researchers here. "And that it makes us feel that there is more to life than money as source of everything."

"We're surrounded with the blessings of nature. But we are also responsible to take care of it so that it will continue to give us life."

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Dale Jr. says dad helped him out of fiery wreck
Associated Press
Posted: 6 hours ago

NEW YORK - Dale Earnhardt Jr. has trouble remembering those frantic seconds when he escaped from his burning racecar. He believes, however, his late father figured in his survival.

"I don't want to put some weird, you know, psycho twist on it like he was pulling me out or anything, but he had a lot to do with me getting out of that car," the NASCAR star said. "From the movement I made to unbuckle my belt to lying on the stretcher, I have no idea what happened."

Earnhardt recalled that perilous July day in Sonoma, Calif., during an interview with correspondent Mike Wallace for 60 Minutes that will be broadcast Wednesday on CBS.

Earnhardt's father was killed three years ago during the final lap of the Daytona 500 race. The son insists he felt his father's presence on the day when he scrambled out of his flaming car and was left with second-degree burns on his legs, neck and chin. In fact, he said, when he reached safety, he began inquiring about the "person" who helped him from the car.

Earnhardt told 60 Minutes he grabbed one of his representatives by the collar, "screaming at him to find the guy that pulled me out of the car. He was like, 'Nobody helped you get out,' and I was like, 'That's strange because I swear somebody ... had me underneath ... my arms and was carrying me out of the car."'

Wallace asks if that was his father.

"Yeah, I don't know," Earnhardt said. "You tell me. It ... freaks me out today just talking about it. It just gives me chills."

* Pictures of the car crash here and post wreck appearances here.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Nap time returns, for a price
Has a late night out or a bad night's sleep left you yawning at the office? You're certainly not alone. There's a cure, and people are willing to pay for it.

by Melissa Lee

In New York City, the city that never sleeps, there's a business that caters to the sleep deprived.

"I came up with idea when I was working here in New York as a banker," says Arshad Chowdery, who founded MetroNaps. "I thought about a lot of my colleagues falling asleep during the day, and people would even sneak off to the bathrooms and take a nap. And that's when I realized MetroNaps is perfect for New York."

MetroNaps, located in the Empire State Building in Manhattan, provides the sleepy with something better than a bathroom stall to discretely catch some ZZZs.

Its customers are people tired of holding back yawns at important meetings or feeling like a drag during a night on the town. It's clear that napping is no longer the domain of the pre-school set.

Sleep only a pod can deliver
"I would come every day, and I wish I had a pod in my apartment because nothing helps me as much as the pod," says Elizabeth Cole, a MetroNap regular.

But at $14 a nap, can this really be better than your own bed?

The pods block out sound with white noise and encase you without enclosing you to protect against distractions. The pod inclines forward so you can get in it and then reclines to the perfect position for a power nap. Twenty minutes later, the pod wakes you up. (To see a pod, click here.)

A pod looks like it's something out of science fiction, but it was actually born of science. Two years of research at Carnegie Mellon found that a midday power nap can increase productivity and memory.

Spreading pods
"We expect to expand to bringing the nap pod's to wherever there are sleepy people," Chowdery.
In October, travelers passing through the Vancouver airport will be able to siesta in a pod. MetroNaps also is hoping to pawn its pods to highway rest stops and even corporate offices. And it's looking for franchisees to set up pod shops across the country.

But MetroNaps is finding that it's not quite as easy as, if you build pods, they will nap.

"The challenge is letting people know that taking a nap mid day is acceptable," Chowdery says. "There is no correlation between napping and laziness. In fact, it's quite the opposite."

There even are frequent napper programs at MetroNaps that'll bring the cost down. And MetroNaps best customers are daily napper, a group that includes MetroNap's employees.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Mexico churches wage war on cell phones
State-of-the-art technology used to stop calls

MONTERREY, Mexico - Some Mexican churches are using state-of-the-art technology developed by Israeli electronic warfare experts to silence cell phones that ring during mass, church officials said.

Four churches in the northern city of Monterrey, which lies some two hours by car south of the Texas border, are using equipment made by Israeli telecoms equipment firm Netline Communications Technologies to block incoming calls during services.

The Tel Aviv-based company was set up in 1998 by former military and defense industry specialists to develop mobile telephone jamming systems, mainly for the security industry.

"Before we had the system, it was very uncomfortable hearing calls coming in during the celebration of mass. But now it’s 95 percent quiet," said Bulmaro Carranza, a caretaker at the city’s Baroque-style Sacred Heart church.

The signal-jamming equipment is packed into two wall-mounted boxes the size of small hi-fi speakers, with one beside the altar and the other at the church entrance.

Switched on just before the start of every service, the system causes a "no signal" message to be displayed on worshipers’ phones, but causes them no lasting damage.

"We believe that we were the first church in Mexico to use this technology," Carranza said.

"Now we are getting calls from all over the country to see how it can be installed."

A laptop that runs off of spinach?
MIT researchers use photosynthesis to power electronics
By Mark Pratt

BOSTON - "Eat your spinach," Mom used to say. "It will make your muscles grow, power your laptop and recharge your cell phone... "

OK. So nobody's Mom said those last two things.

But researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have used spinach to harness a plant's ability to convert sunlight into energy for the first time, creating a device that may one day power laptops, mobile phones and more.

Photosynthesis, the process by which plants use light beams for energy rather than eating food like animals, has been known to scientists for decades.

But attempts to combine the organic with the electronic had always failed: Isolate the photosynthetic proteins that capture the energy from sunlight, and they die. Inject the water and salt needed to keep the proteins alive, and the electronic equipment is destroyed.

That was until Shuguang Zhang, associate director of MIT's Center for Biomedical Engineering, discovered that protein building blocks called detergent peptides could be manipulated to keep the proteins alive up to three weeks while in contact with electronics.

"Stabilizing the protein is crucial," said Zhang, who collaborated with researchers from MIT, the University of Tennessee and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, including electrical engineers, nanotechnology experts and biologists. "Detergent peptide turned out to be a wonderful material to keep proteins intact."

The scientists, whose findings were first reported by in NanoLetters, a publication of the American Chemical Society, then created a "spinach sandwich."

Why spinach?

In reality, any number of plants could have been used. But the researchers chose spinach because "it is cheap and is easily available from the grocery store," Zhang said.

The spinach was ground up and purified to isolate a protein deep within the spinach cells.

A top layer of glass was coated underneath with a conductive material and a thin layer of gold to aid the chemical reaction. In the middle, the spinach-peptide mixture sits on a soft, organic semiconductor that prevents electrical shorts and protects the protein complexes from a bottom layer of metal.

By shining laser light on the "sandwich," researchers were able to generate a tiny current. While one device by itself can't generate much energy, billions of them together could produce enough electricity to power a device.

"It's like a penny," Zhang said. "One penny is not much use, but 1 billion pennies is a lot of money."

Practical applications are still a decade or so away, but the advantages include the technology's lightweight qualities, portability and environmental friendliness. "There is no waste," Zhang said.

The researchers suggest the technology could be used as a backup energy supply for battery-powered portable devices.

"We have crossed the first hurdle of successfully integrating a photosynthetic protein molecular complex with a solid-state electronic device," said Marc Baldo, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

Top 10 Odd College Courses
Information provided by Kaplan Test Prep & Admissions

College courses aren't all Econ 101 and The History of Europe: 1500-Present. A trend among many colleges and universities is to offer courses that are slightly off the beaten track. Many of these courses draw their themes from pop culture or sports, or they may be the brainchildren of professors who want to share their passion with students. They may be no less serious than traditional courses, but they certainly cover new academic ground.

Students take these offbeat courses for a variety of reasons--hoping for an easy A, to try something fun, or to explore a new interest. Underwater Basket Weaving 101 may be an urban legend, but these ten unusual courses are for real:

1) You can boldly go where no other philosophy student has gone before in Georgetown University's "Philosophy and Star Trek" course, where students discuss the nature of time travel, the ability of computers to think and feel, and other philosophical dilemmas facing the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

2) Discover how Brick really felt when Opal left him for his neighbor's best friend's sister in the University of Wisconsin's course entitled "Daytime Serials: Family and Social Roles." Students analyze the plots, themes, and characters of daytime soaps and discuss their impact on modern life.

3) If you've been longing to research how hot dogs, theme parks, and the five-day workweek have impacted American leisure culture, check out the University of Iowa course "The American Vacation." This course pays particular attention to how American families' varying backgrounds shape their vacation experiences.

4) Bowdoin College students can delve into "The Horror Film in Context" in the school's English Department. Students read Freud and Poe and watch Hitchcock and Craven, all while discussing the horror genre's treatment of gender, class, and family.

5) At Williams College, students can learn more about those in the cement shoe industry by enrolling in "Comparative History of Organized Crime," which compares the work of goodfellas from the United States, Italy, Japan, and Russia.

6) If you've got a romantic urge for adventure, check out Barnard College's course on "The Road Movie," which studies Easy Rider and Thelma and Louise, while also discussing the genre's literary precursors, like On the Road and The Odyssey.

7) If hitting the road doesn't satisfy your rebellious streak, sign up for Brown University's course on "American Degenerates," in which students discuss how early British-American writers embraced the grotesque, monstrous, "not our kind" status bestowed on them by the mother country and reflected their zeal for cultural and physical degeneracy in their literature.

8) Those artsy types at the Rhode Island School of Design can put down their paintbrushes and take "The Art of Sin and the Sin of Art," which contemplates the relationship between sin and the art world. The course catalog invites you to "lust with the saints and burn with the sinners."

9) If talking about death several times a week in class sounds like a good time to you, try Purdue University's "Death and the Nineteenth Century" course. Every poem and novel in the course deals with the 19th-century conception of mortality and the world beyond.

10) At Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, students can take "Art of Walking," in which students not only read literature by noted perambulators like Kant and Nietzsche, but go for neighborhood strolls with their professor and his dog.

Most college programs offer interesting courses to introduce you to new and fascinating subject matters. Take advantage of the many possibilities offered to you by sitting down with your advisor to talk about course options and then really thinking about the courses you choose to take.

Corps of Discovery’s descendants reunite
740 gather to celebrate Lewis and Clark bicentennial

Descendants of the members of the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery gather Sunday
for a group photo on the beach at Seaview, Wash. The reunion coincided with the
bicentennial celebration of the journey.

By Joseph P. Frazier

FORT CLATSOP, Ore. - Inside tiny Fort Clatsop, they were together again. The Lewises were there. So were the Clarks, the Floyds, and the Charbonneaus, the Gass family, the Whiteheads and more.

Or at least their DNA was, some diluted across generations, some of it rock-solid.

Descendants of the members of the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery gathered over the weekend on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, the western terminus of the voyage where the party of 33 spent the miserable winter of 1805-1806.

The reunion coincided with the three-year-long bicentennial celebration of the journey. Participants came from as near as nearby small towns and from as far as China and Nigeria.

Genealogist Sandi Hargrove was in charge of tracking all the relations down. "They'd say something like 'We've always been told we were related to so-and-so but they never told us how,"' he said.

Of the 740 people at the weekend reunion, 167 were descendants of Sgt. Patrick Gass, or of his close relatives.

"He lived to be 99, and I would have loved to have met him," said Sandra Shakel, a great-great granddaughter who lives in Placitas, N.M.

Bicentennial celebration
The nation is celebrating the bicentennial of the expedition’s departure from the St. Louis region, when the explorers and a roughly 40-member crew set off to explore the Louisiana Territory and seek a Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean.

The explorers logged about 8,000 miles (13,300 kilometers) as they navigated the Missouri River, crossed the Rocky Mountains, reached the Pacific and returned with knowledge of the land and its natives.

Expedition members were mostly young, footloose enlisted men, and many simply evaporated into history, becoming as anonymous after the 28-month voyage as they were before it started.

Hargrove, who was president of two genealogical societies and taught the subject at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, said she was approached by groups preparing for the celebration of the voyage's 200th anniversary.

Five-year search
Her five-year search included attempts to find relatives of the Indian translator Sacajawea and her infant son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, whose father was Toussaint Charbonneau, hired halfway through the voyage west as an interpreter.

Inside Lewis and Clark's shopping list
Lewis and Clark vacations
National Park proposed
Volunteers retrace the expedition
Families trace Lewis and Clark links
Official site: Bicentennial Commemoration
Whether she has descendants is not clear. Jean-Baptiste died in 1866, and Sacajawea herself had at least one daughter. When and where Sacajawea died, and whether there were other children, is not clear.

In all, the project was able to document 1,669 relatives, using birth, death and marriage certificates, wills and other resources.

Meriwether Lewis, who died in 1809, had no known direct descendants, but 40 descendants of his close relatives were there. There were a few descendants of William Clark.

Larry Whitehouse, of Fort Worth, Texas, a direct descendant of Pvt. Joseph Whitehouse, stuck his head into the cramped rooms of the fort replica rebuilt 50 years ago from drawings and descriptions in Lewis and Clark’s journals.

"It's really neat to imagine 200 years later, here we are," he said. "Can you imagine they were here doing this?"

DNA shoots hole in Captain Cook legend
Long-treasured Hawaiian arrow wasn't carved from explorer's bone

Jude Philp, manager of the Australian Museum's Pacific Collection, holds an arrow with a shaft made of bone. DNA testing has determined that the arrow was not carved from the bone of British explorer Captain James Cook, as had been claimed for nearly two centuries.

SYDNEY, Australia - It was a great legend while it lasted, but DNA testing has finally ended a century-old story of the Hawaiian arrow carved from the bone of British explorer Captain James Cook who died in the Sandwich Islands in 1779.

"There is no Cook in the Australian Museum," museum collection manager Jude Philp said Thursday. He said the DNA evidence proved that the arrow was not made from Cook's bone.

But that will not stop the museum from continuing to display the arrow in its exhibition, "Uncovered: Treasures of the Australian Museum," which does include a feather cape presented to Cook by Hawaiian King Kalani'opu'u in 1778.

Legend lasted 180 years
Cook was one of Britain's great explorers and is credited with discovering the "Great South Land," now Australia, in 1770. He was clubbed to death in the Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii.

The legend of Cook’s arrow began in 1824 when Hawaiian King Kamehameha on his deathbed gave the arrow to William Adams, a London surgeon and relative of Cook's wife, saying it was made of Cook’s bone after the fatal skirmish with islanders.

In the 1890s the arrow was given to the Australian Museum, and the legend continued until it came face to face with science.

DNA testing by laboratories in Australia and New Zealand revealed the arrow was not made from Cook’s bone but was more likely made of animal antler, said Philp.

Hope endures
However, Cook's fans refuse to give up hope that one Cook legend will prove true and that part of his remains will still be uncovered, as they say there is evidence not all of Cook's body was buried at sea in 1779.

"On this occasion technology has won," Cliff Thornton, president of the Captain Cook Society, said in a statement from Britain. "But I am sure that one of these days ... one of the Cook legends will (prove) to be true, and it will happen one day."

France lays royal heart, and mystery, to rest
Organ buried after DNA confirms link to lost boy-king

The president of Memorial de France, Duke de Beauffremont, at left, carries the heart
of Louis XVII, accompanied by Prince Amaury de Bourbon Parme, as they arrive
Tuesday at Saint-Denis Cathedral.

By Joelle Diderich

SAINT-DENIS, France - France's royal descendants and their supporters Tuesday buried the shriveled heart of Louis XVII, the boy king who died during the Revolution, after DNA tests confirmed the organ's authenticity.

Exactly 209 years after the heart was cut from the king’s body, following his death in a grim Paris prison, a crystal urn containing the tiny pickled organ was carried to the cathedral of Saint-Denis outside Paris, burial place of French kings.

Following a two-hour Mass, it was laid to rest in the royal crypt next to the remains of his parents Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were both executed by the revolutionaries.

'Long live the king!'
To a chorus of trumpets, Amaury de Bourbon de Parme, a young boy related to the former child king, brought in the urn draped in a purple cloth and placed it next to a crown on a column draped in the royal fleur-de-lis pattern.

"Finally, he will be able to rest in peace with his parents," said Louis Alphonse de Bourbon, a Spanish banker whose blood ties date back to Louis XIV and who was cheered outside the cathedral by supporters shouting: "Long live the king!"

The ceremony comes four years after DNA tests confirmed that Louis-Charles de France perished in jail of tuberculosis at the age of 10, putting to rest centuries of speculation that he had escaped his captors and was survived by royal heirs.

The heart was removed from its resting place in the Saint-Denis cathedral in 1999 to enable scientists to compare its DNA makeup with samples from living and dead members of his family — including a lock of Marie Antoinette's hair.

Eight-year-old Louis-Charles automatically became King Louis XVII when Louis XVI was guillotined before huge crowds in central Paris at the height of the revolution in 1793.

At the time, the boy was held like a caged animal in the forbidding Temple prison to prevent any monarchist bid to free him, and was forcibly separated from his mother.

At her subsequent trial, a signed statement from the boy was produced claiming that she had forced him to commit incest. Marie Antoinette was executed shortly afterward.

What is believed to be the heart of Louis XVII,
the 10-year-old heir to France's throne who
died in Paris' Temple prison on June 8, 1795, is
seen in a carved jar in this photo released by French
historian Philippe Delorme.

In his sermon, Cardinal Jean Honore said Louis-Charles had been a pawn of sadistic captors. He compared the child’s plight to that of modern-day victims of pedophilia.

"The conscience of a child is sacred. A child is not a toy," said the cardinal. "In the treatment that he was subjected to, there was certainly the desire to eliminate a child who represented something greater than himself."

Though organizers said they did not want the privately funded ceremony to have political connotations, it drew mainly monarchists who want to see Louis Alphonse de Bourbon restored to the throne. No senior government official was present.

"I am grateful toward this family because France gives the impression that it exists only since the Revolution," said Monique Jaeger, 78, one of several hundred people who watched the Mass on a screen outside the church in the scorching sun.

By contrast, 20-year-old salesman Benjamin Zeller said he did not know about the ceremony and did not care.

"Those days are over," he said, referring to the monarchy.

John Kerry’s family traced back to royalty
Kingly connections run thick through maternal blood line, sparking political prediction from Burke’s Peerage

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's mother
Rosemary Forbes Kerry, seen in this family photo from
1940, was a member of the affluent Forbes shipping family
and a descendant of John Winthrop, who helped found Boston in 1630.
She is the candidate's main link to royal personages of the past.

By Kate Kelland

LONDON - When it comes to American presidential elections, blue blood counts.

So say British researchers who predict Democratic challenger John Kerry will oust President Bush on Nov. 2 simply because he boasts more royal connections than his Republican rival.

After months of research into Kerry’s ancestry, Burke’s Peerage, experts on British aristocracy, reported on Monday that the Vietnam War veteran is related to all the royal houses of Europe and can claim kinship with Russian czar Ivan the Terrible, a previous emperor of Byzantium and the shahs of Persia.

Burke’s director Harold Brooks-Baker said Kerry had his mother, Rosemary Forbes, to thank for most of his royal connections.

“Every maternal blood line of Kerry makes him more royal than any previous American president,” Brooks-Baker said. “Because of the fact that every presidential candidate with the most royal genes and chromosomes has always won the November presidential election, the coming election — based on 42 previous presidents — will go to John Kerry.”

Similar research carried out on Bush ahead of the 2000 presidential race showed that he beat Al Gore in the royal stakes, claiming kinship with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as well as with Kings Henry III and Charles II of England.

In the company of kings
Kerry is a descendant of bygone kings of England, Henry III and Henry II, and is distantly related to Richard the Lionheart, who led the third Crusade in 1189, according to Burke’s.

He is also descended from Henry I, King of France, and his wife, Anne of Kiev, giving him kinship with the royal houses of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the House of Rus.

Burke’s research showed Kerry also has historical political connections in the United States.

He is closely related to John Winthrop, the first Massachusetts governor — the state for which he is now a senator — and his maternal grandmother was the granddaughter of Robert Winthrop, who was speaker of the House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849.

Billy the Kid: Case closed
Sheriffs end effort to have outlaw’s remains exhumed for genetic analysis

** FILE ** William Bonney, also known as Billy the Kid, is believed to be depicted in this undated ferrotype picture, circa 1880, provided by the Lincoln County, N.M. Heritage Trust Archive. The Lincoln County sheriff's office has opened an investigation into the escape of Billy the Kid from the Lincoln County jail 122 years ago, hoping to determine whether the Kid had an accomplice and if then-Sheriff Pat Garrett indeed tracked down and killed the escaped gunslinger. (AP Photo/Lincoln County Heritage Trust Archive, File)

By Alan Boyle

Three New Mexico law-enforcement officials on Friday dropped their yearlong legal effort to have the remains of Billy the Kid exhumed for genetic testing, a court official told MSNBC. The officials had hoped to confirm scientifically whether the remains were truly those of the Old West outlaw, but they ran into fierce opposition from officials in the town where the Kid is thought to be buried.

Friday's filing in New Mexico's 10th District Court in Fort Sumner, N.M., marks a surprising end to a case that had been due for its first full-blown hearing on Monday, after months of preliminary wrangling. The case touched on Old West legends as well as the economics of New West tourism.

Billy the Kid, a.k.a. William Bonney, ranked as one of the most notorious figures of the Western frontier, and most historians accept the traditional view that he was shot to death by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881.

However, through the decades, several people have claimed to be Billy the Kid, saying that the wrong man was killed and buried in Fort Sumner. Last year, De Baca County Sheriff Gary Graves, Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan and Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall (who was deputized by Sullivan) announced that they were reopening the 123-year-old case. They petitioned for the exhumation of the remains beneath the Kid's gravestone as well as those of his mother in Silver City, N.M., and planned to have DNA tests conducted to confirm the Kid's identity.

Resistance in court
That idea didn't sit well with the mayors of Fort Sumner and Silver City, who contested the officials' petition. The mayors argued that digging up the graves would ruin the historic atmosphere of their towns' cemeteries, with no benefit other than publicity for the sheriffs. Historians noted that the remains buried in the cemeteries may have been moved through the years, due to construction and flooding — meaning there would be no way to confirm the precise location of the Kid's purported remains or his mother's.

Last November, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson appointed a lawyer to represent the Kid's interests, and that attorney, Bill Robins, joined with the sheriffs in seeking the disinterment of his client. At the time, Robins argued that the genetic findings could affect the Kid's chances of getting a posthumous pardon. But last month, Robins and fellow counsel David Sandoval had themselves dismissed from the case, arguing that their time would be better spent tracking down the historical facts.

On Friday, attorneys for the sheriffs and Fort Sumner filed a document stipulating that they were dropping the case "with prejudice," meaning that the petition cannot be filed again, said Janean Grissom, deputy clerk for the 10th District Court.

"The sheriffs were the only ones left, so now this ends the case," Grissom told A hearing on the matter had been scheduled for Monday before District Judge Ted Hartley, but that court date has been canceled, she said.

Is it really over?
The court documents do not specify why the three officials sought dismissal of the case.

When contacted by, Sheriff Graves declined to comment on the development, other than to confirm that Monday's hearing would not take place. Efforts to contact Sullivan and Sederwall, as well as their attorney in the case, were unsuccessful Friday.

The attorney for Fort Sumner, Adam Baker, said the sheriffs agreed to drop the case in the course of pre-hearing negotiations. Baker's motion to dismiss the case outright would have been taken up on Monday.

He noted that Henry Lee, a forensic expert who is working with the sheriffs, had recovered some samples from a bench in Fort Sumner said to be stained with Billy the Kid's blood. Baker speculated that legal action focusing on the Kid's mother might be renewed, depending on what those samples reveal.

"I have a sinking feeling that we haven't heard the last from these sheriffs," Baker told

But Trish Saunders, who opposed the exhumation as a co-founder of the Billy the Kid Historic Preservation Society, said the sheriffs may have decided the effort was no longer worth pursuing.

"I think all this has just proved an acute embarrassment for them, and they finally realized it," she said.

Graves was hit with a recall petition drive this summer, fueled in part by sharp local criticism of his role in the case. Sullivan is due to leave office at the end of this year. And questions had been raised about Sederwall's standing as a plaintiff in the Billy the Kid petition, Saunders said.

In a news release, Saunders hailed Friday's development as "a victory for common sense."

"This is a great day for anyone who cherishes the wonderful history of the American West," she said. "We were just not going to sit by and let a cherished old landmark be torn apart just for a brief spark of publicity."