Woolgathering On The Web

With a mouse click or two, you can take a break for a few playful minutes

Taking a little stress-relieving break used to be simple--you'd put your feet on the desk, light up a Lucky, and two minutes later, you were good to go. Or maybe when you worked for someone else, you skipped out for a bit, leaving a jacket on the chair and a spreadsheet on the screen. But does any entrepreneur have time to hike 10 blocks for a Frappuccino? Where is the modern two-minute stress buster, the break that barely dents productivity?

Glad you asked. It's on the Web, where you can find "shareware" sites that help you waste a few minutes without becoming so engrossed that a break turns into five hours of Duke Nukem 3-D. These dadaist programs, which can be downloaded for little or no cost, even let you indulge in the delusion that they're useful for work.

Wracked by a difficult decision? Don't sweat it! Ask a program such as Magic 8 Ball, an electronic rendition of the fortune-telling toy that answers yes-or-no questions. (see table) Can't decide whether you should fire Bob? Click on the Magic 8 Ball, and the answer is revealed ("I say Yes"). Should you replace your Macs with IBMs? ("Ask Later"). Should you invest in your brother-in-law's business? ("No Way Jose"). You can also electronically predict the future with I Ching, tarot, runes, and biorhythms online (www.facade.com). Shall we reveal more time-wasting programs, Magic 8-Ball? ("No Doubt").

INSTANT CLICHES. Are you stressed because clients seem swayed by those loopy mission statements your competitors write? Macintosh owners can spend a few minutes with eMission Statement (users.aol.com/lampreysys/index.html), which generates statements from randomly assembled business cliches. Just press the "new statement" button, and your company is dedicated to "Pursuing enterprise restructuring by first-class human resource allocation, thereby increasing the market strength of this business segment." As a bonus, each new statement elicits a sound clip of a corporate sycophant praising your brilliance with platitudes like, "How do you do it?" and "I wish I'd thought of that!" Or, spice up your business prose by running it through the Shannonizer (www.night garden.com/shannon.htm). It rewrites copy in the style of authors such as Mark Twain and Hunter S. Thompson. Running the mission statement through the Shannonizer set to Dr. Seuss produced: "Pursuing enterprise restructuring by the light of peppermint cucumber sausage-paste butter! Thank goodness I'm a pet, I do not like my little bed. Thank goodness I'm a clam or a shame!" Well, some are more entertaining than others.

Ready to kill that annoying client or goldbricking employee? Programs like MacMurder, Insanity, and Frustration let you go ballistic on any picture with a variety of digital weapons--an Uzi, a saber, or even a cow pie. Just load a photo of your worst client on the computer, pick cow pie, and...splat! All you need is a scanner and a picture. And imagine how flattered your client will be when you ask for a photo. You can also blast reports and E-mail messages. Clever hackers frequently post new weapons to add to your arsenal.

SUDDEN DEATH. If you've ignored our warnings and are three hours into X-Wing, there's help. Turn to a cheat code, which tells you how to reprogram games so you can have unlimited weapons, unlimited ammo, and unlimited lives (www.thecheatersguild. com). Take that, Lord Vader! Now you can zap the Death Star and get back to work.

If you're worried you'll start having too much fun, count on Conan the Librarian for a kick in the pants. This program uses your computer's microphone to sense ambient noise. As the sound level rises, the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger starts with a polite "Shhh!" If the sound increases, Arnold graduates to a loud, Austrian-accented, "Shaat op!" That ought to get you back to work.

By the way, how long have you been reading this article?

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