Thursday, October 29, 2009

COLUMN: Things to do on Twitter when you're dead

If you’ve had even a fleeting experience with the Internet, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “Is there anything Twitter can’t do?” You’ve also probably wondered why there are so many videos of cats, but also the Twitter thing.

For the uninformed, Twitter is a service that allows people to post messages in 140-character “tweets.” It’s revolutionized the way people use the Web, in that it’s forced millions of users to come up with shorter ways to call everyone else on the Internet a moron.

But the latest Twitter development should really push the service to the next level. Just in time for Halloween, a UK psychic is mounting the first-ever Twitter séance, which she’s referring to as a “Tweance.” Most Twitter activities start with “Tw,” which is a practice referred to, in marketing circles, as idiotic. I’m sorry, “twidiotic.”

The psychic, Jaynce Wallace, is seeking suggestions at for famous dead people to contact on Oct. 30, which of course makes some pretty large assumptions:

1) That dead people know how to use Twitter. I know enough living people who can’t figure it out that it’s safe to assume Mahatma Gandhi’s not sitting around in his little dhoti, typing out 140-character messages on his afterlife-issued BlackBerry. (“Violence still sux!” etc.)

2) Even if dead people DO know how to use Twitter, is that really how they’d want to communicate with us over the mysterious expanse that divides us from the netherworld — the same way that Paula Abdul told us she wasn’t coming back to “American Idol”? It seems unlikely, especially given how satisfied the deceased seem to be communicating through decks of cards and Whoopi Goldberg.

That said, given the suggestions that have come through so far, it appears that most Twitter users aren’t interested in asking, say, Albert Einstein about the discrepancies between atomic and subatomic physics. People would much rather talk to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain — “How are you NOW?” one user asks him, apparently suggesting that he just get over his own grisly suicide already.

People also would like to hear from recently deceased actor Patrick Swayze, presumably to find out if being a ghost is anything like being in “Ghost,” or is it, you know, different? If there were any justice, Swayze would decide that this was the time not to be nice and beat all the Twitterers with ectoplasmic beer bottles.

Granted, there are some people interested in talking to more high-profile historical figures. For instance, one suggests, “You should ask Hitler if he feels sorry for everything he did.” I’m not sure what he’d answer, but it seems to me that if after everything that happened he still thinks he was on the right track, there’s no getting through to that guy.

All I know is, I think this whole Tweance concept could wind up being the start of a disturbing trend. One day you’re using Twitter to communicate with spirits, the next day you’re using it to put spells on people and steal their immortal souls. It flies in the face of what Twitter was invented for: real-time minute-to-minute progress of the Balloon Boy. Instead I prefer to subscribe to the opinion of nikiandrea16, who declared in a succinct but effective tweet, “NOOOOO TWEANCE!!! IT’S A TERRIBLE IDEA!!!”

Then she posted a video of her cat.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm too sexy for my costume

I'm glad people are finally starting to take notice of the crazy sexy costumes they're selling for little girls. (And when I say "crazy sexy" I am not referring to a TLC album. Wait, did I just date myself?) The adult costumes are insane enough as it is -- head down to Salem, Mass., around Halloween and you'll see bustiers, fishnets, short skirts and high-heels galore. And that's just the men.

Take these following actual costumes for sale this year:
  • Sexy Cheshire Cat. As you'll recall from Alice in Wonderland, the real Cheshire Cat looked nothing like this. He was fat and male, and often invisible.
  • Sexy Every Character from "The Wizard of Oz." Every year as I gather my family around the TV to watch this children's classic, I think to myself, if only this movie had more bosoms.
  • Sexy Plus-Sized Nurse. See, just because a nurse has a little more of a figure doesn't mean she can't be just as slutty as all those skinnier nurses.
  • Sexy Ghostbuster. I've seen that movie about 100 times, and I'm pretty sure none of the Ghostbusters looked like this. Not even Annie Potts.
I guess if grown women want to let it all hang out one day a year that's OK, but let's keep it out of the elementary schools. The youngsters should take a cue from Taylor Swift and dress like Chewbacca in head-to-toe fur so that people won't even know they're human, much less female. Or barring that, there's always the poncho that ties in the back and a plastic mask. What? It was good enough for the '70s.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Disney To Offer 'Fast Pass' For Swine Flu Vaccine

ORLANDO, Fla. (CAP) - Citing the growing sense of concern over the availability of the H1N1 or "swine flu" vaccine, Walt Disney World has introduced a "Swine Flu Fast Pass" that will allow Disney patrons to step ahead of others to receive their inoculations.

"As incidence of the disease becomes more prevalent, parents are growing increasingly anxious," said Karl Metterschmidt, Disney's vice president of health and human services. "By using our Swine Flu Fast Pass, you can ensure that your child gets this potentially life-saving vaccination, and create magical memories in one of our theme parks at the same time!"

The Swine Flu Fast Pass is available to anyone who purchases at least a Five-Day Park Hopper Bonus Ticket and stays in a Disney resort classified as "moderate" or better. This means visitors who stay in the value resorts or the campgrounds are not eligible, noted Metterschmidt.

"But we guarantee you'll be glad if you choose to stay in some of our more luxurious accommodations," he said, citing Disney's Polynesian Resort and the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa as examples. "It may cost a little more, but isn't it worth it for your child's well-being? Hmm?"

As an added bonus, to allay the fears of young visitors, all shots "will be administered by beloved Disney characters, like Winnie the Pooh and Pumba from The Lion King," said Metterschmidt. All will be trained by licensed Disney health professionals, he added, and the syringes will be soldered to their hands, paws and/or hooves to ensure maximum stability.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wait, does 'Bio-Dome' count as a biopic?

Given the less than spectacular reviews for the new Amelia Earhart biopic, it's entirely possible that Monday's Variety headline will be "Amelia crashes and burns at the box office." And that would be their right.

Still, if nothing else it inspired me to take a walk down biopic lane over at, revisiting some more successful biographical films, and some, well, like The Doors:
Ah, The Doors. How could it have been any worse, really? By the fourth or fifth time a suicidal Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) was shown hanging out of a window or off a fire escape, I felt like yelling, “Just let go already!”
Read the rest over at Popdose.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Bob

Does Dylan's gravelly voice go with Christmas? Yes, there are times when it sounds patently, hilariously ridiculous, but for the most part, to me, it seems heartfelt, nostalgic, mournful, hopeful and funny – actually, sometimes all at once. Unlike some other holiday albums from singers with more traditional (read: good) voices, he seems to really be feeling “The Christmas Blues,” not just showing off his pipes.
Read the rest at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Tuesday: Amelia Earhart Turns Up In Richard Heene's Attic

FT. COLLINS, Colo. (CAP) - Authorities conducting a follow-up search of "balloon boy" father Richard Heene's Colorado home have turned up missing aviatrix Amelia Earhart living in a box in his attic, where she'd apparently been since her legendary disappearance.

Earhart, well over 100 years old, was none the worse for wear, according to authorities.

"She said she'd been in tighter spots than that," said Sheriff Jim Alderden. "She's a tough old bird."

Alderden said his men hadn't thought to look in Heene's attic for Earhart, because they assumed she had crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

The discovery has led many to believe that Earhart's disappearance was an elaborate, attention-grabbing hoax planned by Heene, who caused an uproar last week when he erroneously reported that his son Falcon had been carried away by an experimental balloon he had tethered in his backyard.

"That stupid jerk - I was worried sick about that woman!" said Art Federburg, 81, of Hackensack, N.J., upon hearing about Earhart. "There's 72 years I'm never gonna get back."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Sunday, October 18, 2009

COLUMN: This column gives you the straight poop

I received an e-mail this week that started, “Hello Peter. Two advanced biofuels companies are announcing today that they can turn poop into petrol, and I thought you’d want to know about it.” My first thought in response to this was: Apparently my reputation has preceded me.

So how is it that I was the one who got flagged as the resident poop correspondent? If anything, I’ve been notoriously anti-poop — scour my published works and I guarantee you will find them almost exclusively poop-free. Taken as a whole, my body of work would seem to indicate a massive poop cover-up.

Granted, the minute kids enter your life becoming a poop denier becomes much harder — first when they’re babies and you find yourself praying that the bulk of the pooping will happen when you’re at work, and even worse during the potty-training stage, when you spend your days following your child around looking for any outward sign that it might be time to find a rest room — they’re like a tiny, poop-filled explosive device ready to go off at any moment.

One thing I didn’t anticipate, though, is how significantly the word “poop” would figure into my son’s vocabulary long after the potty-training stage was behind us. Turns out that to an 8-year-old boy, “poop” is the ideal expression: It works as a noun, a verb, an adjective and, of course, an interjection. Ask any 8-year-old and he’ll cite the word’s versatility, its utility and its sheer elegance, mainly by yelling “Poop!” at the top of his lungs.

All that is fine (I guess), but what bothers me is that somewhere along the line, poop went mainstream. Take the aforementioned biofuels companies, Qteros and Applied Clean Tech, which apparently spent six years developing their integrated sewage recycling solution: “We ate, slept and breathed poop for six years!” they declared. Well, they didn’t say that exactly, but it seems to be what they’re trying to get across.

And granted, it sounds like a pretty good idea — making electricity out of “recyliose,” an element extracted from human wastewater, in an effort to make the environment cleaner and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Even Republicans should be able to get behind this idea, given what they seem to think people who believe in global warming are full of.

There’s not just that, though: A Google search on “poop” turns up more than 1,000 current news stories, including one about the growing problem in Florida of manatee poop (otherwise know as “reason No. 5,674 not to live in Florida”), the popularity of elephant poop among gardeners and the disturbing tale of radioactive rabbit poop found around a nuclear waste dump in Washington state. Presumably this means there are also radioactive rabbits, which scientific experience would indicate are probably 40 feet tall and capable of breathing nuclear fire from between their nubby little front teeth.

Even the Ig Nobel awards, the much-less-serious answer to the Nobel Prize sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research, spotlighted a poop-related development. Apparently, researchers in Japan found out that panda poop can break down bacteria, as long as you’re willing to slather it all over your kitchen, which of course doesn’t seem like a much better alternative. This is what scientists refer to as “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” although instead of “bathwater” they say “panda poop.”

(Incidentally, these same awards honored the invention of a bra that doubles as a gas mask — actually two gas masks — which you have to admit could come in handy, especially if you happen to work in the recyliose plant.)

In short, there’s poop everywhere you turn, and I’ve decided to do something about it. It’s time we got back to the days when we pretended that unpleasant bodily functions didn’t exist — the days when there were no children’s books about gas-passing, and cartoons featured good, old-fashioned dwarves, not flatulent rodents.

I plan to begin by banning the word in my house, in exchange for something more socially acceptable, like “horsefeathers.” It’s a long shot, yes, but I figure I’ve got to start somewhere, and who knows? If I’m successful you may never have to open the newspaper and see the word “poop” again.

Er … After today.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Jimmy Carter Blames Obama Nobel Prize On Racism

PLAINS, Ga. (CAP) - Former President Jimmy Carter says the unexpected awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama may be the direct result of lingering racism on the part of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

"It took me more than 20 years of diplomatic work after my failed presidency to get my Nobel Prize," noted Carter. "President Obama is only 10 months into his failed presidency, so there's no other logical explanation."

Asked who the Norwegian Nobel Committee might be exhibiting their racial prejudice against, Carter said he "hadn't worked that part out yet."

"But let's just say that if Israel is behind this, I wouldn't be surprised," he added.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Monday, October 12, 2009

If you’ve ever had danishes attached to the side of your head, click here

I loved "Star Wars" as a kid, because frankly, what was not to love, with the possible exception of the Ewoks? That was before George Lucas released the three "prequel" movies, in which we find out that Darth Vader was, in reality, this pouty guy from "One Tree Hill." I'm pretty sure that's how it went.

This wouldn't have made a difference to me, except that I had a son who was Star Wars-obsessed from the ages of 5 to 7, to the point where I had to memorize each character's lightsaber color. (Mace Windu: Purple!) He's 8 now and is obsessed instead by the Red Sox. Insert your own burning lava planet joke here.

Anyway, it appears that the Star Wars craze shows no sign of abating, based on the Star Wars festival on Cape Cod that drew a crowd of young Jedis and, er, Jedettes this past weekend. It looks like fun, but for the record, I think it's cruel to dress a kid up like R2-D2. It reminds me just a little too much of Scout's ham costume.

(Incidentally, if you follow the link you'll notice that Boba Fett is incorrectly identified in the caption as "Bobo Fett," apparently by someone with a life. This could be because Lucas may have threatened the event with a lawsuit if they used the actual character names, or that under the helmet is a monkey that knows sign language.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

COLUMN: I'm leaving on a jetpack

My new favorite band is a group out of Scotland called We Were Promised Jetpacks. Not because of their music, which I haven’t heard yet, but because of their well-placed sense of righteous indignation. We were promised jetpacks, gosh darn it — what the heck are we all still doing down here? It’s frustrating.

So it was with some satisfaction that I read about Mr. Glenn Martin, an inventor who recently introduced a real, working jetpack at the AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh (Motto: “Please Don’t Say Begosh”), Wis. Developed by Martin in his native New Zealand, this jetpack is apparently capable of reaching heights of up to 8,000 feet, which should be plenty high enough to elude the invading Orc armies.

Martin is looking for test pilots for his device, presumably highly trained flight professionals with nerves of steel. So naturally, he offered the positions to the highest bidders on eBay. (That is not a typo.) You may scoff, but if NASA had recruited astronauts that way we’d probably have colonized space by now, although our space stations would be populated entirely by billionaires and members of ’N SYNC.

Besides, Martin is using some discretion: All applicants must have a “current driver’s license,” so there’s really no danger of getting someone who’s not qualified, as long as you don’t mind when grandpa accidentally reverses his thrusters and flies into a water tower. As the eBay listing says, “This is … your own ‘Wright brothers’ moment,” assuming the Wright brothers had exploded in a tremendous fireball 8,000 feet above Wisconsin.

Regardless, it sounds hopeful, but I have my doubts. I’m concerned that instead of buzzing around in jetpacks, we’re much more likely to wind up saddled with the latest invention by Honda: an electric unicycle. This was apparently developed for that coveted market share of drivers who felt the Segway scooter was just a little too cool for them. You know who you are.

According to the BBC, the unicycle uses technology from Honda’s Asimo robot to stand upright, meaning riders don’t have to balance it themselves. This gives them a big advantage over, say, street performers, whose unicycles must be powered strictly through their own dorkery. Unfortunately they only run for an hour — this means you can anticipate a landscape dotted by electric unicycle docking stations, where the electric unicyclists can hang out with each other drinking fake Romulan Ale and talking about why Hurley is the best character on “Lost.”

And if the unicycles don’t work out, it seems Nissan has yet another option for our future transportation needs: robot cars that drive independently and never crash into anything. They do this by constantly sharing their position with all the other cars, primarily through honking, swearing and obscene gestures. Wait, sorry, that’s how we do it now.

According to CNET, the robots are modeled after schools of fish and follow the “three rules of fish movement”: avoiding crashes, traveling side by side and keeping close to each other. The one drawback is, whenever you get to the top of a hill, your car will spawn.

Personally, I’m hoping transportation engineers will be able to combine the best elements of all these ideas and give us the truly futuristic travel devices we (meaning I) have dreamed of for years, namely auto-piloted self-balancing jetpacks that travel like fish. Then, and only then, can We Were Promised Jetpacks even think about changing their name.

I would suggest We Were Promised Lasers. Now that’s something I’d download.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England; this column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Thursday, October 08, 2009

AT LARGE Thursday Link Roundup

Wacky news, fake news, and other stuff the Internets were invented for:

• The end goal of technology: "The 19 Craziest Craigslist Ads." We're putting newspapers out of business for this?

When geek worlds collide.

Actually shooting people in Arizona bars sadly still illegal: "Guns allowed in Arizona bars starting Wednesday."

My alma mater, ladies and gentlemen: "Tufts: Sex Allowed Only If Roommate Is Probably Asleep."

How long do you think it will be before Sarah Palin shoots Levi Johnston from a helicopter?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Catholic high school girls in trouble?

Love the idea of a Catholic Church iPhone app -- if we're going to have ones that make fart noises, we might as well have one that offers a little spirituality. Sure, it's ironic given the fact that iPhones are EVIIIIIIIIIIIIL! But hey, baby steps.

What I'm not so sure about is the video ad for the service, featuring the prancing, vogue-ing Catholic high school girls and the stern nun who winds up having an iPhone under her habit -- it all seems vaguely like a lost Zalman King movie. Is it me?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What Michael Moore needs in his next movie is a giant robot

In my latest for, I offer a random list of five business movies I deem worthy of the key to the executive washroom, in honor of the release of Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story. (Which I'm sure is more depressing than any of them, since Michael Douglas doesn't get arrested at the end.)

Among them is probably the greatest boardroom drama of the last 25 years. Yes, I'm referring to Robocop.
Robocop is a lot of things: ultraviolent action flick, cynical yet increasingly prescient futuristic satire, the last great Nancy Allen movie. But when you get right down to it, it’s a boardroom drama, featuring a boardroom where there was a very good chance you’d be shot 4,000 times by a killer robot. (Show of hands: How many of you have been in a meeting where you were secretly hoping that robot would turn up and put you out of your misery? Thought so.)
Read the whole thing at Popdose.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

COLUMN: All's fair in love and pumpkins

All over New England, farmers spend months preparing their soil, cultivating specially bred seeds and gently tending their crop with high-tech lamps while protecting it from the ravages from the sun. They do this so they can, at the end of their labors, deliver the perfect giant pumpkin to their county fair, at which time my kids can declare, probably in unison, “Ew! That’s gross!”

And of course they’re right, because it is gross: It looks like something the dog might have heaved up onto the rug, if the dog was the size of Cleveland. But we’ll go see it anyway, because it’s fall in New England, and it’s the law. Sort of like how everyone in Minnesota has to visit the giant ball of twine.

Because as anyone knows who’s been to an agricultural fair like Springfield’s Big E or the Topsfield Fair, these gatherings evoke our nation’s rich agricultural heritage, assuming that heritage included citizen farmers who got up early each morning to tend to vast, rolling fields of Italian sausages and fried dough. How they got through the great powdered sugar drought of ’06 is still beyond me.

In reality, these events are an exercise in contrasts. For instance, my wife and I like to go to see the livestock, because we find the cows relaxing — they sort of make you want to curl up next to them, like they’re giant Labrador retrievers with udders. (Memo to scientists: Don’t get any ideas.)

Suggest that prospect to my kids, though, and they’re incredulous — why would anyone visit one of the nation’s oldest agricultural and livestock fairs to see agriculture and livestock, when you can be riding the “Crazy Bus”? Yes, it’s the same Crazy Bus that we rode in our town carnival last month, run by the same carnie who takes all his personal hygiene and wardrobe cues from old Hollywood movies featuring carnies. But there’s one key difference: At the fair, the wait’s longer. Plus, while you’re waiting, you can spend $8 to have your face painted like a Power Ranger.

But you can’t say these fairs aren’t adept at merging the agricultural with the, well, non-agricultural. Things like the racing pigs — somehow I doubt America’s hog farms are full of farmers setting up pigs at a starting line. (“OK, if you lose, we eat you. If you win, we eat you too. You’re all getting eaten. Get ready, get set …”)

There’s also a trailer with bears in it — I’m not aware of many ranchers out there raising herds of bear, although there is probably a hefty government subsidy available for anybody willing to try it. I’ve never actually been in the bear trailer, probably because my mother always told me: Don’t go into a trailer full of bears.

And yet despite these issues — the crazy exhibits, the greasy food, the fact that you have to park in what I’m convinced are ancient Indian burial grounds — at the end of the day these fairs are really a microcosm of America: They’re good but gaudy, large but deformed, cute and cuddly but if you get too close they may bite your finger off.

Or I suppose they could just offer a chance to get the family out of the house to an event where every single member is bound to find something to enjoy. Personally, I plan to keep that in mind this year when I’m on the Crazy Bus — I think if I really crane my neck from up there, I can see the cows.

This column appeared originally in West of Boston Life magazine. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”