It’s always helpful when a high-tech device does double duty: A CD-ROM drive can act as a cup holder, an OS/2 user manual easily serves as kindling and a tape drive can be handy as a paperweight. But as far as we know, a flat-screen monitor has never doubled as a distress beacon.

That

is, until now. According to recent news reports, an Oregon man’s Toshiba flat-screen display inexplicably began emitting the international distress signal on the night of Oct. 2. The signal is usually emitted from locator transponders that help search and rescue workers find overturned boats or crashed planes. But there was nothing wrong in the living room of Chris van Rossman, the device’s owner (except perhaps his choice of wallpaper).

The 121.5 MHz frequency signal was picked up by an orbiting search and rescue satellite, which informed the U.S. Air Force Rescue Co-ordination Center at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Before long, men in Air Force uniforms, a police officer and a Benton County search and rescue deputy turned up at van Rossman’s door.

Apparently, after an extensive search of the property, the device was detected when van Rossman turned off his monitor. He was instructed to keep his monitor turned off or face fines of up to US$10,000 a day for emitting a false distress signal. Wonder if the warranty covers that?

A Toshiba spokeswoman said this bizarre occurrence was a first for the company.

In other news, a transponder in The Queen Mary II cruise ship is rumoured to be playing a 47-page PowerPoint presentation on how great sales of prepackaged bunt cake mix are doing in south Florida.

A taste of your own cyber-medicine

It seems that another new suffix has attached itself to “cyber.” According to a recent British study, browsing medical Web sites can bring on a condition dubbed “cyberchondria,” in which patients diagnose themselves incorrectly and seek treatment they do not need.

Researchers from the University of Derby spent 18 months browsing Internet health sites offering advice on the common symptoms and treatment of a huge range of illnesses, from colds to cancer. They found that misleading or vague advice could lead people to incorrectly diagnose their symptoms.

Unreliable information? On the Internet? No! (Now that’s some good sarcasm . . . )

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