These languid days of summer demand new and novel ways to be unproductive. For those who lack the imagination needed to swing in a hammock while discerning pictures in the clouds, or the stamina to listen to talk radio, the personal computer can be a valuable tool.
A computer can generate anagrams, for example.
An anagram is a word or phrase that is created from another word or phrase containing the same set of letters. The television talk show host Dick Cavett revealed in his autobiography that he has long had the impressive gift of creating anagrams in his head.
As I lack such talents myself, one of my favorite time-wasters is Karma Manager, a program for the Apple Macintosh that automatically makes anagrams. (Karma Manager is an anagram of Anagram Maker, naturally.) I found my copy on America Online, in the software forums, and the only cost appears to be the four minutes it takes to download at 9,600 bits per second.
The program, created by Charles R. Grissom of Raleigh, N.C., is simple to operate. Just type in a word, name or phrase, hit the button, and Karma Manager goes to work. By adding punctuation judiciously, one can have some fun. Peter H. Lewis, for example, becomes, "I slept where?" or "Welsh rep tie."
Be sure to click on "file capture" in the program's simple menu, because there is no scroll button on the window in which the anagrams appear. This is a problem, because Karma Manager generates anagrams faster than one can read them. The more letters it has to work with, the more words and phrases it will generate. For example, the letters in the name of my office assistant, Franklin Lee Wallace, generated 57,696 possible combinations.
The results are often amusing and occasionally profound.
A list of anagrams fashioned from the infuriating phrase "information superhighway" has been circulating on the Internet recently.
As is often the case on the Internet, where gems are passed from person to person countless times, the original source is lost to history.
The top 10 anagrams for "Information Superhighway" are:
10. Enormous, hairy pig with fan.
9. Hey, ignoramus -- win profit? Ha!
8. Oh-oh, wiring snafu: empty air
7. When forming, utopia's hairy
6. A rough whimper of insanity.
5. Oh, wormy infuriating phase.
4. Inspire humanity, who go far.
3. Waiting for any promise, huh?
2. Hi-ho! Yow! I'm surfing Arpanet!
And the No. 1 anagram for "Information Superhighway" is: New utopia? Horrifying sham.
The runners-up include the following phrases:
Fury, morphia, a wise nothing.
Hey, what of inspiring amour?
How pithy -- a finer ignoramus.
I whisper nothing of my aura.
This warning of my euphoria.
Whining, amorphous -- yet fair.
Why shun origin of a primate?
Wishing for a utopian rhyme.
Newt has a horrifying opium.
I'm on a huge wispy rhino raft.
(Actually, the last line has been bowdlerized. "Raft" is an anagram for a PG-rated word that does not belong in a G-rated newspaper.)
Karma Manager, by the way, uses an electronic dictionary that does not include any language that is indecent, filthy, lewd, obscene or dirty. Accordingly, it passes the so-called Exon Test for transmission in cyberspace under the computer decency provisions of the Telecommunications Reform Bill of 1995. One can modify the dictionary easily using a word processor or substitute a dictionary of one's own choosing.
Speaking of bowdlerization, today is the 241st anniversary of the birth of Thomas Bowdler, the good doctor who found Shakespeare unfit to be read by his children and embarked on a project to remove or change every objectionable word in the Bard's works. Judging by the current regulatory climate regarding the Internet, his spirit lives on.
To find out who else is celebrating birthdays today, or any day, for that matter, computer users with access to the Internet's World Wide Web can point their browsers to: http://www.eb.com/calendar/calendar.html
Some people might complain that randomly browsing the Web for such nuggets is useless. A more efficient way to be useless is to log onto the Useless Directory at: http://www.primus.com/staff/paulp/useless.html. There you might find a picture of somebody else's dog, somebody else's phone log, a listing of spy cameras connected to the Internet and other such time-wasters. The FBI 10 Most Wanted List might conceivably have some use, but it seems to include only eight people right now.
The staff at Primus has collected pointers to other useless sites, including Mirsky's Worst of the Web, Mediocre Site of the Day, Geek Site of the Day, Most Annoying Pages and Worst of the Web.
If the summer doldrums have got you down, imagine what it is like on the Shanghai Stock Exchange trading floor, says Randy Cassingham of Pasadena, Calif. According to This is True, an Internet mailing list that disseminates weird and bizarre news items, the Exchange has banned drinking, smoking, gambling, eating, playing cards, sleeping, playing chess, knitting and "joking around."
To receive "This is True" every week free by electronic mail from Cassingham, send an electronic mail message to listserv (at)netcom.com with a message consisting only of the phrase "subscribe this-is-true" but without the quotation marks.