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Gadgets for God
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(In case you're joining the Witness
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Find out whether that weird story you
received via e-mail (or read in Off-Kilter) is true or
The gods of satire.
Separated at Birth?
By Roy Rivenburg
Scientists have detected an alarming
genetic similarity between Phil Spector...
and this kidnapped Bichon Frise canine:
(Editor's Note: We
interrupt this website to set the record straight about
"linguist to the stars" Michel Thomas and his bogus World
War II claims.)
Spam for the Soul: Who
would have dreamed that spam holds the keys to
enlightenment? Like many ignorant humans, I used to
consider junk e-mail a nuisance. But once I opened my
mind as well as my inbox, I discovered an amazing truth:
All I really need to know I learned from those weird
proverbs and quotations in spam messages.
A few examples:
-- "Never play leapfrog with a unicorn."
-- "If thine enemy offends thee, give his child a
-- "If you can't be happy where you are, it's a
cinch you won't be happy where you ain't."
-- And the mystically enigmatic, "You've built a
miniature city out of little plastic stirrers."
It's chicken soup for the Internet user's soul.
Although skeptics insist these axioms are a ploy to help
junk e-mails sneak past spam filters, I believe spammers
are digital prophets, guiding the faithful to cheap
pharmaceuticals, incredibly low mortgage rates and
smokin' hot housewives seeking companionship while their
husbands are out of town...
To keep reading, send me a note at roy.rivenburg (at)
latimes.com. The Los Angeles Times, in its infinite
wisdom, has asked me not to post full copies of my
articles on this site.
* * * * *
Predictions for 2005:
Excerpts from the Jan. 6, 2005, Los Angeles Times:
Martha Stewart is caught trying to
tunnel her way out of prison. Officials say the escape
plot would have succeeded if Stewart hadn't spent so much
time decorating the tunnel with imported Italian tiles,
woodland accent pillows and festive wall sconces made
During the Super Bowl halftime show, Paul
McCartney sings "When I'm 64" (soon to be
retitled "When I Was 64"). Everything
proceeds smoothly until Justin Timberlake appears onstage
and inadvertently causes a "wardrobe malfunction"
that reveals the ex-Beatle is wearing Depends.
Reconnaissance planes spot Osama bin Laden
riding a white camel through southern Afghanistan. When
ground forces move in, Bin Laden leads U.S. troops on a
slow-speed camel chase before finally surrendering.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to fix the
state's budget crisis by mailing a "Deficit
Reduction Chain Letter" to 10 other states, asking
each to send $500 million. The letter notes that bad luck
has befallen states that broke past chains.
Author Mitch Albom publishes "The
Five People You Meet in Hades." The list: Albom,
Albom, Albom, Albom and Albom.
L.A.'s King/Drew Medical Center comes under
fire again. State investigators link the troubled
facility to global warming, the War of 1812 and poor gas
mileage in SUVs. Another report says the hospital was on
the grassy knoll when President Kennedy was assassinated.
The sixth "Harry Potter" book is
released. Titled "Harry Potter and the Accelerated
Aging Potion," it explains why the actors in future
movie versions of the book will appear to be 30 years old.
The WB television network finally hits No. 1
in the ratings, thanks to a reality-show adaptation of
Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" in
which annoying celebrities are beaten and scourged. The
first episodes are titled "The Passion of Paris
Hilton" and "The Passion of Donald Trump's Hair."
In the biggest technological breakthrough of
the century, Ronco introduces the Crawl Blocker, which
erases all those news tickers that crawl across the
bottom of the TV screen when you watch CNN, MSNBC, Fox
News and other stations. Viewers who use the device are
shocked to discover that Fox host Bill O'Reilly wears no
Shortly after scientists at Caltech invent
the world's first time machine, Chrysler rolls out a
sport-utility version that gets 14 years per gallon. Many
buyers use the vehicle to live in other eras and commute
to work in the present. Some live in the 1950s because
housing is cheap and schools are safe. But during rush
hour, it can take them years to reach today's world,
especially if there's an accident in the space-time
continuum. When a time-traveling big rig overturns in the
year 1985, traffic is forced to detour through the Middle
At his trial, Osama bin Laden pleads not
guilty to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, insisting he was
chipping golf balls outside his cave in Afghanistan at
A Moment of Silence for Vanishing Sounds:
From the Dec. 19 Los Angeles Times:
Back in the prehistoric 1970s, one of life's little
pleasures was the ability to slam down a telephone on
annoying callers. Now, thanks to the rise of cordless
phones, the best you can do is fiercely poke the off
button or, if money is no object, throw the
receiver into a wall.
The slamming phone, like dozens of once-familiar sounds,
is headed for extinction. As technology advances, more
and more noises the pop of flashbulbs, the gurgle
of coffee percolators, the clatter of home-movie
projectors are fading into oblivion.
While audio junkies scramble to preserve samples for
future generations, psychologists debate the consequences
of this noise exodus. Some foresee a sonic revolution
one that could launch a surprising wave of silence
and perhaps force Hollywood studios to rethink the way
they tell stories.
Inside a bombproof vault a few blocks from the White
House, Dan Sheehy is surrounded by audio ghosts: the
clicketyclack of typewriters, the tumble of glass bottles
inside a soda machine, a 1960s-era telephone ring.
Here, sonic blasts from the past are entombed in a
hodgepodge of vinyl records, compact discs and reel-to-reel
tapes. "We are a museum of sound," said Sheehy,
whose job is to preserve America's acoustic heritage for
an obscure branch of the Smithsonian Institution.
Sounds are like smells, he says. They can transport the
listener to another time and place. The buzz of an
airplane propeller sends Sheehy's mind back to hot
afternoons in 1950s Bakersfield, playing in the yard
while aircraft sputtered overhead. "The sound
immediately triggers memories of time and temperature,"
A handful of obsolete noises are so ingrained in our
consciousness that filmmakers and advertisers still use
them to evoke audience reactions. In the 2002 movie
"Undercover Brother," for instance, a
phonograph needle scraping across a vinyl record signaled
an abrupt halt to the action.
The emotional power of vintage sounds might explain the
popularity of cellphone ring tones that mimic rotary
telephone bells. "It's one of the biggest ring tones
we sell," said Tom Valentino, president of Valentino
Production Music, the nation's oldest sound-effects
warehouse. In a similar vein, slot machines that pay out
vouchers instead of cash often play a recording of
cascading coins because research found customers missed
the jackpot noise.
To keep reading, e-mail me at roy.rivenburg (at)
latimes.com. I cannot post the full article here.
Election Outrage: They melt in your
mouth, not on the campaign trail. In a nationwide
election to choose America's favorite product mascot, the
M&M characters finished first with 22% of the vote,
followed by the AFLAC duck (14%), Mr. Peanut (10%),
the Pillsbury Doughboy (9%) and Tony the Tiger (6%).
The Governator: Relive
California's wacky recall race with Recall Madness, the 2003 humor
column we wrote for the Los Angeles Times. Below is our
MasterCard ad spoof, which was written by Susanna Timmons
and Roy Rivenburg:
Copyright (c) 2003 Los Angeles Times
What Would Jesus Drive?: Here's the column that got ripped off and
circulated all over the Internet. From Sept. 6, 2000.
Medi-California Girls: The oldies get
updated for aging baby-boomers. Click here.
A Politically Correct Oz: What would
happen if the classic film were made today?
Off-Kilter Meets Cupid: Our Valentine's
Day dating debacle. From the Los Angeles Times.
Copyright © 2000-2008 by Roy Rivenburg
E-mail: Roy (at) offkilter.org