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November 7, 2004



What's a googlewhack?

"It's what you get when you type two words into the Internet search engine Google and it comes back with only one entry."

So wrote Jason Zinoman in his entertaining article in Friday's New York Times about Dave Gorman, an Englishman who turned wasting time on the internet into an art form.

You think you're a master?

Just check out this guy.

Here's the story.


Search-Engine Serendipity and Frequent-Flier Miles

Dave Gorman is an inspiration to lazy writers everywhere, and not just because he's a David Sedaris-like storyteller with uncanny timing.

What might be most impressive about this often-exasperated Englishman is that he has turned the most mundane and common activity - wasting time on the Internet - into an art form.

"Dave Gorman's Googlewhack! Adventure," an affectionate ode to distraction written and performed by Mr. Gorman, who insists that every word is true, begins with an early midlife crisis.

After turning 31, Mr. Gorman concluded that it was time for him to grow up and be taken seriously.

So he set out to do what he considered to be two very mature things: grow a beard and write a novel.

The beard turned out great.

Initially, Mr. Gorman's novel was sidetracked by minor distractions - e-mail messages, Internet surfing, getting drunk - but he soon stumbled upon a gloriously pointless diversion that would take over three months of his life: the googlewhack.

If you've never heard this funny-sounding word and your job productivity is high, you might want to ignore the next paragraph.

A googlewhack is what you get when you type two words into the Internet search engine Google and it comes back with only one entry.


Finding these random pairs is not easy, but while some people might squander a few minutes searching for googlewhacks, Mr. Gorman, a strange, deeply obsessive man, traveled more than 90,000 miles, around the world several times, in a googlewhack quest that is the subject of this hilarious show.

In his last performance piece, "Are You Dave Gorman?" Mr. Gorman, who describes his work as "documentary comedy," told the story of his attempt to find 54 people with his name. (He met more than 100.)

His new lark is even more random: an attempt to meet the owners of 10 consecutive, connected googlewhacked sites.

Mr. Gorman contacted the owner of a googlewhacked site, tracked this person down in France and asked him to find another googlewhack. Once that man discovered a site and contacted its owner in Washington, Mr. Gorman was on a plane to find him - and, of course, the next googlewhack. And on and on he went.

Mr. Gorman relates this picaresque tale with the help of an excellently produced slideshow, which includes Mr. Gorman's smiling mug in, among other places, Washington, Paris, Australia and Columbus, Ohio.

He appears to have a real affection for the people he meets, which is not surprising since many of them are obsessives just like him: they include a man who collects photographs of women with dogs, a single-minded creationist and a closeted gay man who might be Kylie Minogue's biggest fan.

Mr. Gorman describes each of them as "lovely, lovely people" - except the creationist, whose lack of interest in finding a googlewhack draws Mr. Gorman's ire.

Mr. Gorman delivers his half-embarrassed tales with the precision of Mussolini's trains, and his magnetic performance displays some of the oddball intensity of the early routines of Steve Martin (one of Mr. Gorman's heroes); his stories, filled with quirky observations and unpredictable turns, have many laughs but few jokes.

So what if his novel never comes out (although a book about his googlewhacking has)?

Mr. Gorman, the Picasso of procrastination, proves that much can be accomplished by avoiding that next deadline.

Here's hoping that he doesn't try to be taken seriously again.

"Dave Gorman's Googlewhack! Adventure" is at the Village Theater, 158 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, (212) 253-0623, through December 4.

November 7, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Dot-Com Bombs


I never tire of reading stories about the crazy schemes people actually invested in back in the day of the Dot-Com bubble.

Ellen McCarthy wrote a great story about "Dot-Com Bombs" for the October 28th Washington Post Business Section.

In it, she touched on a few of the more bizarre schemes of the Kool-Aid-drenched era, like KaoticSpace.com - its pitch was that it would string together a network of powerful telescopes and beam live images of deep space onto the internet.

Now, they didn't explain how the viewer could tell it was anything other than a still photo - I mean, not a whole lot changes in deep space in real time that an Earthling can observe.

But no matter.

The view would be free for you and me, but advertisers would pay - so said the KaoticSpace.com prospectus - big bucks to have their logos displayed over the view of the heavens.

They raised $30.8 million in venture capital before they crashed and burned.

Now there's a website that contains a digital database of companies that imploded between 1997 and 2002.

It's at www.businessplanarchive.com.

The site's creator, David A. Kirsch, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, has also created a second website to allow individuals to share their stories from the bubble.

Called CreativeDestruction.org, it lets anyone who worked for an internet company during the 1990s write about the experience.

So far, he's got about 200 people who've contributed.

Here's the Post story.


Dot-Com Bombs Get Dissected by University of Maryland Professor

This was the pitch: String together a network of powerful telescopes and beam live images of deep space onto the Internet.

Don't make users pay to see the universe, but attract advertisers who want their logos displayed alongside the glorious (real-time) heavens.

Raise about $30.8 million in venture capital, create a global monopoly on outer space imagery and cash out by holding an initial public stock offering on Nasdaq.

Today the Web site of KaoticSpace.com is gone.

Years from now, few are likely to remember the company's rapid, meteoric if you will, rise and fall.

And David A. Kirsch thinks that's a shame.

For more than two years, Kirsch, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, has been frantically collecting business plans of the dot-com era.

To let these documents lie idle and scattered is to risk losing an important piece of American business and cultural history, he argues.

"How will future historians be able to understand the texture of this time? What information will they have access to, to understand the highs and lows?" he asks.

"We can't wait 100 years for documents to wend their way into historical archives. We've got to act now."

Kirsch and a rotating staff of loyal students have created a digital database - available at www.businessplanarchive.org - that lists more than 2,300 companies so far, mostly from 1997 to 2002.

It is a painstaking process, and the records are far from comprehensive, Kirsch acknowledges, but he hopes the archives may someday prove useful in capturing the craziness of the Internet boom.

For instance, how could a scholar 50 years from now capture the brazen self-confidence of dot-com entrepreneurs?

Chapters of exposition might not match two paragraphs in KaoticSpace.com's 2001 business plan that lay out the company's public relations strategy:

"We won't have to bribe or pay any media providers for promotion. It is in their users (investors) interest to know of us. By not providing their users with the most current information on us, they (media providers) would be doing their viewers a disservice, and risk losing said viewers."

Or consider the founders of FreeProductSamples.com.

They identified at least 21 other companies trying to make a profit giving away beauty products and household items but were confident they could become cash-flow positive in 12 months and hit the $100 million revenue mark in five years.

Executives of ThatNew.com sought to help users keep track of all the exciting Web sites popping up on the Internet by filtering them into categories like "thatnewbusiness.com" and "thatnewshow.com."

"Accordingly we believe the 'thatnew' brand is a strong one and ripe for immediate growth and commercial exploitation," the company's executives explained in an e-mail appealing for an investment.

Alumni of the era and pop culture junkies could easily spend hours perusing the documents Kirsch has assembled on the project's Web site.

Just skimming the company names is a journey to the past.

Of the firms listed, 18 have names beginning with the word "Free."

Nine start with "Hot," and 24 begin with the prefix "Web."

A few Washington-area companies are enshrined on the site.

The business plan of Mom.com Inc., an Owings Mills company, spells out its game plan for becoming the "top Internet destination for everything about being a Mom."

Herndon-based SingleShop Inc., which sought to organize product sales on the Web by allowing consumers to buy products on different sites and pay for them in one transaction, projected it would have $31.17 million in revenue by 2003.

The company started laying off staff by 2001 and has vanished .

The intention of RevElution.Com was to "allow consumers (and businesses) to sell their purchasing loyalty" to the highest bidders in online auctions.

At the end of an e-mail introducing the company, Reston-based RevElution.Com's founders included a quote that could sum up the philosophy of an era: "In a world filled with dogma, the future of business belongs to the heretics."

Kirsch said some of the plans were sent to him as people found out about the project.

Others came from executives he and his assistants sought out.

Some of the contributors are happy to unload their files, dumping whole disks and folders of documents on Kirsch's desk, but many are much more reticent.

For a few, the pain that came from the era's implosion is still raw, so putting their own folly on display seems a bit ridiculous, he says.

Many others are reluctant to expose documents that were created under attorney-client privilege.

"I get a lot of people saying, 'I've got tons of stuff, but I don't know if I can give it to you,' " Kirsch said.

But the most important thing, he argues, is to make sure the documents exist in 50 or 100 years.

"I don't know how to communicate that with people. I call it 'Open Source' History - history that is to be written by the people who lived it."

To capture more of that history, Kirsch recently launched a second project that allows individuals to share their stories from the bubble.

At CreativeDestruction.org anyone who worked at Internet technology companies during the 1990s can log on and write about the experience or take a survey about what the period was like.

"History tends to be from the voices of the elites," Kirsch says. "I want to know what the receptionist was thinking, not just the chief executive."

So far about 200 people have contributed their stories, and Kirsch says their themes read like a broken record.

"They all say it was about the people. The people, the people, the people," he says.

"They were trying to do well by doing good."

The Library of Congress recently gave Kirsch a $235,000 grant to continue the work, funding that is being matched by the university and other partners.

Eventually, the business plan and personal history databases will be merged, Kirsch says, and the boxes of files that now approach the ceilings of several offices at the University of Maryland will be handed over to the Library of Congress.

I've never forgotten the wonderful epigram of legendary financier Bernard Baruch.

Asked how it was that he was so successful in the stock market, he replied, "I always sold too soon."

Anyone reading this and owning Google stock would do well to consider his advice.

November 7, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Shanghai - 'It's the most vibrant city in the world'


Last Friday's USA Today Life section cover story was all about the exploding playground of the world's most dynamic country.

You know I don't like to let more than a week or so go by without posting something China-related; this story'll do just fine, methinks.

Some highlights from the article by Veronica Gould Stoddart:

• In the past decade, a forest of skyscrapers - nearly 3,000 buildings over 18 stories tall - have sprouted along the banks of the Huangpu River

• 2,000 more are in planning or under construction

• At one time, over 25% of all the world's construction cranes were busy in this boomtown of 20 million people

• The city has been nicknamed "The People's Republic of Starbucks," it has so many coffee shops

• Chinese editions of Elle, Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Claire sell like hotcakes

• The city now has the world's tallest hotel - the 87-story Grand Hyatt

• It boasts the world's fastest train - a 270 m.p.h. mag-lev bullet that takes passengers from Pudong Airport to downtown and back

• Future landmarks include the world's tallest building and the world's largest Ferris wheel

Evian has just opened its first-ever spa outside France in Shanghai.

Philippe Caretti, general manager of the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel, who's worked all over Asia for the past 21 years, said in the story, "Shanghai is becoming the in place to go and be seen. It's the most vibrant city in the world."

Here's the USA Today story.

Shanghai's sizzle makes it China's new glamour spot

In a recent balmy weeknight at the Shanghai Grand Stage, pop icon Elton John - flamboyant in a floor-length red satin skirt and trademark shades - takes to his piano.

For the next 2½ hours, he pounds out one classic tune after another for 10,000 Chinese fans who crocodile-rock in time to his infectious rhythms.

Over on the city's fabled art deco banking strip, called the Bund, Chinese yuppies and expat dealmakers fiddle with their Blackberrys over foie gras brûlée with pistachio coulis in the hushed recesses of the city's latest dining sensation: the Jean Georges restaurant (yes, that Jean Georges).

And all week long, the city buzzes with euphoria at having that most elite of sports, the Formula One Grand Prix, make its Chinese debut that weekend for a sold-out crowd of 150,000 at a new $315 million track built just for the occasion.

This, despite the fact that there are no Chinese Formula One drivers.

No matter. As this sprawling, nominally communist city of 20 million races into the future at F1 speed, it is embracing the symbols of capitalism with decadent abandon.

China's richest, hippest, most sophisticated metropolis, it seems, has been Shanghaied by the West.

Start with the skyline, as tall and flashy as Houston Rockets star Yao Ming, who hails from here.

In the past decade alone, a forest of space-age skyscrapers - nearly 3,000 over 18 stories tall - has sprouted along the banks of the Huangpu River in a scene straight out of The Jetsons.

They pierce the sky with their globes, rockets, spires, crowns, ziggurats and crescent peaks in a jaw-dropping showcase by the world's top architects.

With a staggering 2,000 more in planning or under construction (at one time, the city had one-quarter of all the world's cranes), residents struggle with an ongoing sense of disorientation.

Not so, however, the willowy fashionistas in their Gucci and Prada (or knockoffs, at least) who strut along Nanjing Road, Shanghai's Fifth Avenue, or sip mocha lattes in one of Starbucks' ubiquitous cafes, prompting the nickname People's Republic of Starbucks.

They peruse newsstands overflowing with Chinese editions of Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Marie Claire, Bride's and Good Housekeeping.

Or shop at Lancôme's first-ever "concept" store or the three-story mega-Benetton or the just-opened Armani flagship on the Bund, where model-chic English-speaking salesgirls hover discreetly.

It's not just the caffeine kick or high-fashion passion that has turned Shanghai into New York on steroids, either.

"Shanghainese like everything new, they go crazy over that," says attorney John Sun, one of the new generation of Shanghai movers and shakers.

"It is growing so fast because it's not China's Shanghai anymore. It's the world's Shanghai."

And to make its mark, it's demanding superlatives: the world's highest hotel (the 87-story Grand Hyatt), longest suspension bridge and fastest train - a magnetic levitation wonder inaugurated this spring to speed passengers from Pudong Airport to downtown at 270 mph.

At the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, a 100-foot-long scale model of the city (the world's largest, of course) shows what Shanghai will look like in 2010.

Future landmarks include the world's tallest building with its doughnut-hole top, the world's largest Ferris wheel and the high-tech complex of the 2010 World Expo.

"Everything is exploding here," says Eleen Chua, head of Hertz for China.

"The people want to learn fast."

At the same time, "appearances count a lot."

Hilda Looi, spokeswoman for the year-old Four Seasons hotel, agrees.

"Young people associate themselves with the West," she says. "They want to be hip."

That may explain Plaza 66, a gleaming five-story chrome-and-glass emporium of virtually every high-end designer on the planet - from Armani to Zegna.

Or the 6-month-old feng-shui-perfect Evian Spa, the first outside of France, where New Age music wafts through a soaring sky-lit atrium while patrons luxuriate in the latest holistic treatments.

"When I arrived three years ago, people didn't know what a spa was," says Malaysian Veronica Ann Lee of the Westin Shanghai hotel.

"Now they're popular."

The changes - whether great leaps forward or not - have so far bypassed pockets of old Shanghai.

Remnants of its days as a mercantile powerhouse and louche playground for European colonialists remain.

In the leafy French Concession - one of three independently run foreign enclaves until the communist revolution in 1949 - broad avenues, stately mansions and some of the city's best restaurants recall the days when Shanghai was known as the Paris of the East.

In the Old Town, side streets are as chaotic as ever.

Lined with shabby walk-up tenements, they teem with vendors hawking live chickens, hanging ducks, squirming eels, jumping frogs, baskets of crabs and clams, unidentifiable roots, tubers and herbs - and even tubs of coagulated pig blood.

Like much of the city, the neighborhood is loud, boisterous and pungent with the exotic odors of outdoor cooking.

But it's being bulldozed with the speed of a Chinese pingpong game, displacing thousands.

In no danger of the wrecking ball, thankfully, are the Yuyuan Garden, one of the best-preserved Ming dynasty gardens in China, and the 400-year-old Mid Lake Pavilion Tea House, the city's oldest.


With their traditional Chinese architecture, they offer a quiet oasis just steps away.

"On the surface, it's very Westernized," says Lee.

"But underneath, the Chinese aspects come out."

They make for jarring juxtapositions: a new Rolls-Royce surrounded by a phalanx of the city's 9.5 million bikes; an antiseptic Häagen-Dazs parlor near a hole-in-the-wall food stall displaying pig snouts and chicken feet; restaurants that fly in live lobsters from Boston not far from squatting street peddlers hunched over bowls of noodles, chopsticks in hand.

In this land of the double-take, elderly Chinese practice slow-motion tai chi in quiet parks while an office tower blasts frenetic video images from an oversized neon screen.

Most ironic of all, the room where Mao founded the Chinese Communist Party in 1921 now anchors a yuppified entertainment complex of restored traditional houses called Xintiandi.

It was designed by American architects, no less.

Tourists, expats and moneyed Shanghainese, palming cell phones, pack its hot jazz clubs and cooler-than-cool eateries to dine on risotto of mud crab with black Chinese truffles. What would Mao think?

"The people here are party animals, because of its history of being open to foreign influences," says Lee.

They're also friendly, energetic and driven, as they return to their roots as an international trading center.

The Pudong area on the east bank of the Huangpu, for example, was nothing but farmland a little more than a decade ago.

Today, it's a high-rise financial district on its way to becoming the next Hong Kong or Wall Street.

And the hotel industry eagerly has extended two white-gloved hands to the business crowd.

Nearly 20 luxury lodgings now welcome visitors, including a Ritz-Carlton and a St. Regis.

"Shanghai is becoming the in place to go and be seen. It's the most vibrant city in the world," says Philippe Caretti, general manager of the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel, who has worked all over Asia for 21 years.

"The people want only the best."

That's just what's on display at the Shanghai Museum, an elegant repository of the finest Chinese porcelains, jades, bronzes and paintings (all with good English signage).

Symbolically shaped like a giant rice pot, it's considered one of the best museums in Asia.

Chinese goods of another sort beckon at the Xiangyang Market, the mother of all knockoff bazaars.

Urgent young touts, barking "Gucci, Prada ... very good price," drag shoppers through a maze of stalls overflowing with faux Rolexes, Hermès scarves, Vuitton bags, Dior sunglasses, $1-apiece pirated DVDs and more.

Style-conscious Shanghainese who can't afford the real deal at least want to appear like they can.

After all, this is glam central for China.

Singaporean Jereme Leung, one of Asia's hottest chefs, knows about glamour.

After cooking for the elite in virtually every Asian country, he chose Shanghai for his swanky new Whampoa Club restaurant.

"It's dynamite," he explains with a grin.

"This is really like a playground."

November 7, 2004 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Special Bizarro World Edition - 'How To Remove Your Own Brain Tumor'


I happened to see an ad for this book in Friday's New York Times.

I told my research team to get to the bottom of it, and bring back the facts.


You can buy the book here for $3.95 in electronic format or $19.25 for the paperback ($15.50 at amazon).

And get this: the free preview is about what to do re: anesthesia for your self-surgery.

FYI, the Times ad read:

Already! The Central Document in the National Health Care Debate

November 7, 2004 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Beam me up' - Air Force report requests $7.5 million for teleportation experiments


Physicist Eric Davis of Warp Drive Metrics in Las Vegas - is that a great name for a company or what? - was paid $25,000 by the Air Force for his "Teleportation Physics Report."

In it, Davis says psychic teleportation - moving yourself from place to place through mind power alone - is "quite real and can be controlled."

His 88-page report also reviewed a wide range of teleportation concepts and experiments.

• Quantum teleportation - a technique demonstrated in the last decade that shifts the characteristics but not the location of sub-atomic particles at great distances

• Wormholes - a highly theoretical possibility whereby the intense gravitational field near black holes could rip open entrances to distant locales

• Psychokinesis - psychic teleportation. The study cites UFO reports, Soviet and Chinese studies of psychics, and U.S. military studies of spoon-bending phenomena.

Said Air Force Research Lab spokesman Ranney Adams, quoted in Friday's USA Today on why the lab sponsored the study, "If we don't turn over stones, we don't know if we have missed something."

[via Dan Vergano and USA Today]

November 7, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Michelin Bobblehead


Cayce Pollard, leave the room right now.

You may recall that the coolhunting heroine of William Gibson's book "Pattern Recognition" became physically ill when she saw the Michelin Man.

The rest of you, better hurry, 'cause the Michelin website says their bobblehead tableau of the Michelin Man and his faithful dog is not gonna be around long.


"Get this rare Michelin bobblehead while supplies last."

$17.75 from Michelin, or pay through the nose on eBay in a few months.

The choice, as the Fram guy used to say, is yours.

November 7, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Beat the heat - on the cheap


From time to time I get a snarky email or comment about my million-dollar tastes.

Hey, I don't care if something's expensive or not: it's whether it's cool, innovative, or clever that interests me.

I mean, consider the subject of this post: the Glove.

The Glove is a device invented by two Stanford University doctors - Craig Heller and Dennis Grahn - to implement their concept of Rapid Thermal Exchange.

They spent 10 years working on an efficient way to quickly remove excess body heat from the interior.

Fans, spray mist, these help but not a whole lot.

Elevated core temperature degrades the performance of muscle and brain significantly.

Their invention works like this: you put your hand through a cuff that seals around your wrist.

You grip a pillar filled with chilled water.

As the water warms, it's removed from the unit and replaced with cold water.

A vacuum is maintained within the compartment to increase circulation to the hand to create a greater surface area for blood flow/heat exchange.

Very nice.

Costs a couple thousand dollars, but if you're the San Francisco 49ers or some other big-time pro team, it's a trivial expense if it gives even the slightest edge to your players.

Now consider bookofjoe's low-tech solution to the problem.

It's a piece of blue ice.


I like Rubbermaid's No. 1026, about 3" x 5" x 1", for about a buck apiece.

Go ahead, buy a couple.

Stick 'em in your freezer overnight.

Then, when you need chillin', just put one in your hand - use one in each hand if you really wanna get down.

Works as good the Glove.

Bonus: my way has the advantages of

• no moving parts

• easy availability

• no maintenance

Now, what was that about my expensive tastes?

I take the Oscar Wilde approach.

He said, "My tastes are very simple - I like only the best."

If you think you fit the bill, well, you know what to do.

November 7, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Best cartoon of the week


By the great Jack Ohman of The Oregonian.

November 7, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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