Powerpack to the people

Dude, where’s my jet pack?
Years ago, people pictured a future in which jet packs played a role, cutting commuting time to work and making it a hop, skip and jump to the mall. Okay, people didn’t, I did.

Insider was young then, and wasn’t yet aware of a fact that all adults know: No one knows how to drive but them. Now that I know what I didn’t know then, the jet pack doesn’t seem like such a great idea. Bad drivers would be dropping out of the sky like a plague of frogs, and might just land on me.

However, reports Ananova.com, the day is here: A Mexican inventor is offering the first commercially available rocket packs. They’re powered by hydrogen peroxide fuel and can hoist the wearer 300 feet in the air at a rate of 60mph.

No need to worry about sky rage just yet though. You won’t see them in every garage with a price tag of US$250,000.

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Fake products you’ll want to buy

April Fools may be over, but its legacy lives on. Thinkgeek.com hoodwinked more than a few news organizations into representing this fake stuff as the real goods.

Insider’s favourite is probably the WiiHelm. Tired of waving your arms around like a demented lemur guiding planes down a runway? Then strap on the WiiHelm! Let your neck go and waggle your noggin to increase the on-screen action!“Frees your hands for other important tasks like eating, scratching, beer drinking, petting your dog or cat, nose picking and unwrapping birthday gifts,” promises the site. Dang it, why can’t this thing be real? Insider loves petting animals and unwrapping things. If he can do it while Wii Bowling, so much the better.

Possibly the most transparent of these April Fools appliances is the “Vilcus Plug Dactyloadapter.” Insert two fingers into this metal and plastic appliance, then insert said appliance into any wall socket to see if it’s still working. If you feel a slight tingle (or you’re having a seizure) it means the socket’s A-OK.

Bear in mind that this thing doesn’t actually exist, but Thinkgeek wisely added the following disclaimer: “While we at ThinkGeek are completely convinced of the health benefits of finger contact with high-voltage electricity… not all of our living test subjects for the Vilcus felt the same way. Playing with electrical sockets is damn dangerous and our attorneys don’t recommend it. In any case ThinkGeek, Inc. and all of its myriad subsidiaries are in no way responsible for your stupidity if you stick your fingers in a high-voltage wall socket and harm yourself in any way.”

Words to live by. Have a great Easter/Passover/Chocolate binge and remember, folks, let’s be safe out there.

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Bully for you
Every once in a while, you hear of an application – for example, distance learning for children in developing nations – that makes you say, “That’s what the Internet is really for.” This isn’t one of them.

Media Awareness Network education director Cathy Wing points out that children are increasingly using computers, text messaging, video phones and Web cams to extend bullying hours beyond the schoolyard. Even more timid kids are piling on, encouraged by the anonymity of the technology.

Some things even technology doesn’t change, though – victims are typically targeted based on racism, sexism, homophobia and general xenophobia, says McGill University’s Shaheen Shariff.

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PowerPoint = PowerSnooze
Apparently, there’s a physiological basis for that numbing feeling one gets from those vendor PowerPoint presentations. The human brain doesn’t like absorbing the same information in visual and verbal forms simultaneously, researchers say.

And here I thought it was just a pet peeve of mine, but the deadliest scenario is one that I’ve seen far too many times: Reading text directly off a PowerPoint slide. It’s not just boredom-inducingly inept presentation, it dangerously overloads the brain and impairs its ability to take anything in.

You’ve been told. Now, there’s no excuse.
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You will not impart drivel to the masses
We are not naïve when it comes to the business of sport. We don’t buy the love-of-the-game nonsense; we know it’s a mathematical impossibility to give 110 per cent; we’re aware that professed loyalty to the fans is a veneer that cracks with the next multi-million-dollar job offer. Sports is a business first, even if we can remember a time when there were no ads on the boards at NHL rinks.

However, a proposed gag order preventing blogging by athletes, trainers, coaches, massage therapists, dog-walkers etc. involved in the upcoming Pan-American Games, and the tight control the International Rugby Board is exercising over the posting of photos of this fall’s Rugby Cup online, both step waaaaaaay over the sports-versus-business line in terms of “protecting potential revenue.”

This is an egregious violation of the right to free speech and a transparent effort to control the media. Next they’ll be talking about shutting down the Manchester Guardian’s minute-by-minute football match reports, which are sometimes the only thing that gets us through the day.

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You will impart drivel to the masses
Rather than banning blogging, record company Sony BMG U.K. has made it obligatory for all senior staff at its Columbia and RCA labels to blog. There has got to be a happy medium.

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Beam me up that bag of cash, Ted
Professional toupee model William Shatner was in Toronto today to shill for Rogers Wireless.

More specifically, he was here to preside over the launch of Rogers’s new video-conferencing cell phone. Given that we’re dealing with cell technology here, Cap’n Shat is a pretty odd choice. Don’t get Insider wrong . . . We love Bill Shatner, honest we do, but he’s hardly the ideal spokesperson for a technology that’s likely to be embraced first by 14-year-old girls who have more in common with Lindsey Lohan than a septuagenarian space cadet. Before you start those e-mails, let Insider reiterate that Shatner is the man. We loved him in that Wrath of Kahn movie. Seriously . . . the one with the ear worms and Ricardo Montalban. So cool. KHHHHHHHHAAAAAANNNNNNNN!!!!!!

Google guffaws? Nope. Crappy humour
OK, where’s the universe’s sense of justice? Surely these putzes who think Internet toilets are funny can’t also be responsible for the most popular Web site on earth? It defies explanation, but apparently Larry and Serge of Google fame perpetrated an April Fool’s joke so scatalogically transparent, it makes Insider look like a genius. Now Insider isn’t a genius, nor is he responsible for the most-hit URL ever (I think we’re No. 27), but even he has better jokes than this. The jovial Google guys thought it funny to post a link on their site to a press release announcing Internet service through your plumbing. In other words, your crapper is also your ISP. Funny stuff, guys, really. Clearly you don’t have Insider’s sense of wit. Shame on you. Making fun of William Shatner is so much classier.

The space race
Finally, in keeping with our “Lost in Space” theme (OK, sort of), an astronaut is running a marathon – in space. The Boston Marathon. No, Boston hasn’t been carved out of the Earth by a giant laser. It’s still very much entrenched in the Eastern Sea Board and home to many a drunk politician. The astronaut in question, Suni Williams, will be running the marathon while strapped to a treadmill which is currently aboard the international space station. The difficulty won’t be running the necessary 26 or so miles while weightless – which in everyone’s vocabulary is a recipe for vomiting – but staying ahead of the fatigue. Apparently weightless marathons aren’t challenging enough. The station is on Moscow time, so this poor woman will have to run the race with a touch of jet lag.

An Insider campaign: May the Force be with Billy D.!
While American geeks prepare to wait in line for weeks outside U.S. Postal Service outlets for the 30th anniversary commemorative Star Wars first-class stamps, Insider would like to point out a glaring omission from the lineup. Billy D. Williams, a.k.a. Lando Calrissian, will not be among those honoured, even though his overall career has been arguably been more successful than Mark Hamill’s and Carrie Fisher’s combined. Bad enough that Billy D. should spend much of his life being confused with 80s pop crooner Lionel Richtie; it’s time to show this man some respect. And nothing spells R-E-S-P-E-C-T than having millions of Americans lick your behind.

Now we’re really screwed
Adult entertainment sites and religious groups are enjoying a post-coital snuggle now that ICANN has rejected the idea of a .XXX domain name for Web porn. This is actually the third time ICM Registry LLC, which originally brought up the idea, has been turned down by ICANN. You would think ICM is tired of being told no, but maybe there’s a whole S&M element there we don’t know about.

Rest assured, though, that Insider plans to stay “on top” of this story. Oh, come on — someone has to be.

Michael Eisner may be long on ugly, but at least his series will be short
It’s been many years since Insider dropped out of high school, but those last few semesters really dragged on. That won’t be the case with Prom Queen, a video series following a group of students during their final two months of senior year. The 90-minute snippets will be broadcast on MySpace as part of a deal struck with Michael Eisner, Prom Queen’s producer. Eisner, of course, is the former Disney exec who looks a lot like the scary dad you’d have to meet before you’d pick up your date for prom. On the other hand, this series will no doubt be a great comfort to all those MySpace users/wallflowers who don’t manage to get dates for prom night.

Makes you wonder what Loser’s security is like
Used to be my greatest worry about shopping at Winners, the cheap and cheesy junior department store, was that my friends might find out I bought stuff there.

Those were the days.

Turns out a data breach at Winners’ parent company, TJX Companies, was worse than announced in January (months after it was discovered). Far. Worse. New estimates of the number of customer records compromised reach almost 46 million in the U.S., Canada, UK and Ireland. In Canada, only credit card records were stolen; in the other countries, debit and credit card information was pinched.

This is some kind of karmic comeuppance for buying a cousin’s wedding present there, I’m sure.

You can’t break up with me ‘cuz I’m breaking up with you

New disturbing trend alert.

There used to be rules about how you broke the news to a significant other when he or she had become, well, insignificant. After a certain number of dates, or a certain period of time, the IO was entitled to a face-to-face breakup, because under the circs, we should be allowed the mewl and whine and shriek and break things and make people stare at you, you heartless –

Um. Sorry. Issues. Right. Less time than that and you got at least a telephone or mail brush-off. Now, Dear John SMSs aren’t unusual. But the new black heart is MySpace, reports The Register.

A doctoral candidate at Berkeley says theorizes that the public record of the breakup is attractive – no questions about who dumped whom.

In a way, I suppose it’s a natural evolution. After all, we meet in the first place online now, don’t we?

The iCult of Celebrity
I hate myself for loving celebrity news. It’s puerile voyeurism, and I can’t understand why anyone could ever give a rat’s patootie about who fathered Anna Nicole’s baby. Yet, on I read.

According to the language in a recent Associated Press report it seems the newest kid on the celebrity block is … Apple’s iPhone. It apparently made a “rare public appearance” at the CTIA Wireless 2007 trade show in Orlando, Fla. “It lasted just moment, but it was easily the highlight of an otherwise uneventful morning,” gushes the story. The room became ablaze with paparazzi flashes, like Gwen Stefani had suddenly materialized on stage.

Soon, we’ll be seeing the iPhone in the gossip pages. It’s already been linked to AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson (they were seen canoodling together at the CTIA show). It’s only a matter of time before we’re reading about it adopting under-spec’d cell phones from developing countries or going through endless bouts of rehab for battery over-consumption. And we’ll eat it up, pathetic lot that we are.

The Return of the King
Seems Sanford Wallace, the very model of a modern major spam artiste, never tires of the game. He’s faced lawsuits from AOL, CompuServe and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (which recently pinned him for $4 million) for his “online promotion” activities. Now MySpace is heaving sacks of lawyers in his direction, reports The Register, over allegations of phishing and setting up 11,000 phony MySpace accounts, groups and forums to blast users with the namesake of a certain delicious-with-eggs spiced ham product that’s very popular in Hawaii. (As I’ve often said, I keep a can in my carry-on luggage so if my plane crashes in the Andes I won’t have to eat a Uruguayan rugby team to Survive!.)

In completely unrelated news, my home e-mail account now boasts 5,357 “bulk” e-mail messages in my spam folder.

Masters of the domain
Religious groups and online porn producers are in bed together in the fight to persuade ICANN not to approve a XXX top-level domain, reports Forbes.com.

The fundies worry it’ll double the amount of porn on the Net overnight (rather than the current online-porn-doubling rate of, oh, about six minutes); pornmeisters worry it’ll “ghettoize sexual information.” (Yes, someone actually referred to it as “sexual information,” like it was a pamphlet on reproductive health.)

Surely, it’s not just because it’ll make it more transparent what is and isn’t pornography, and make it less likely that porn sites can hijack misspelled URLs. Back in the day, Insider’s favourite search engine was Infoseek. Till that time I transposed the “f” and the “o” in the URL. AT work. In front of my boss. And the owner. And the owner’s mother.

My objection? That the proposed domain would be voluntary. Porn sites should be forced to register under the “.xxx” domain. That way, it’s transparent – you type in that URL, it’s because you want porn. No accidents, no luring, no hijacking. Setting up browser filters would be a breeze.

And pamphlets on reproductive health can go in “.info.”

I am Clinton, hear me roar
Now some might say that Hillary Clinton has a wooden personality and a severe, no-nonsense haircut, while others might describe her as a robot with helmet hair. Whichever of these camps you fall into, you’ve probably seen her in a political parody of Apple’s famous 1984 ad, which is currently racking up mondo numbers on YouTube.

It would appear that a Barack Obama supporter is responsible for that ad, which casts Clinton has a talking head who’s enslaved watchers with her monotone drone. Oddly enough, Steve Jobs isn’t threatening to sue the Google TV outlet for a bazillion dollars for some kind of intellectual property rip-off. Does this mean that in 2042 political candidates will be casting themselves in the “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” ads? Insider can see it now: “I’m a Republican who’s going to cut your taxes and represent family values.” “And I’m an alien overlord from Zaxxon 9 who’s going to enslave your people and make you eat nothing but chickpeas! Foolish humans!” That’s Insider’s view of 2042. Bleak, ain’t it? Well, don’t say you haven’t been warned.

And I’m a somewhat misguided parody

Speaking of those increasingly annoying Mac/PC ads, some bright spark at Novell has decided to add Linux to the mix. Rather than go the conventional route (i.e. an open source programmer with a Rush T-shirt, a three Snickers a day habit and a skin condition), this person has wisely chosen to cast Linux as a slim, attractive young woman.

You’ll have to pardon Insider while he gags on his muffin for a moment. Hey, Insider is A-OK with Linux, but Novell really wants their cake and it too if they think they can diss the mighty Microsoft with one hand, but invite a top executive to speak at their keynote with the other. Nice try, guys, but we’re not buying it. Check out the ads, though – they’re better than most of the viral marketing crud you’re likely to find on YouTube.

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