Web's weird labors of love can entertain

March 14, 2002|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

I SPEND A LOT of time griping about the Internet - about pop-up ad windows that turn your PC into a porn billboard, about "spyware" that lets people you don't know put your surfing habits under a microscope, about spam, about e-mail virus attachments that can turn your computer into a doorstop.

But now and then I stumble upon Web sites that remind me of what the Internet is all about - people trying to share what's important to them with the rest of the world. I call them "labors of love."

Of course, what's important to me may not be important to you. In fact, when you visit some of these labors of love, you may wonder whether technology has placed too much electronic publishing horsepower in the hands of people who aren't wired according to code. You may think they're obsessed, or loony, or have entirely too much time on their hands - all of which may be true.

But if you have a true sense of the absurd, you'll enjoy taking the road less traveled, which led me one day to Rob Cockerham, a 32-year-old "Internet geometrist" from Sacramento, Calif., who's fascinated by the question, "How much is inside?"

Surely, in reflective moments, you've wondered about this yourself. How many french fries are in that cardboard sack that comes with your Big Mac? How far would the ketchup in the packet you squeeze on the fries stretch? How many Cheerios are in that box on the shelf? How many square feet of Doritos in that bag? How much toothpaste is in a tube? How much lipstick is in a tube? How much paper is in a newspaper?

OK, you've wondered about this kind of thing, but who'd be obsessed enough to figure it out? Cockerham believes it's time to stop guessing. So he devises insane-but-scientific ways to measure this stuff - the sort of thing the National Institute of Standards and Technology would do if somebody spiked the water coolers.

Even more amazingly, he convinces otherwise normal family members and friends to take part in his bizarre experiments. They're all hilariously documented and lovingly photographed at www.cockeyed.com, a monument to the happy lunacy of the Web.

An example: Before you plunk down your money on a Plent-T-Pak of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit, you undoubtedly want to know just how much gum you're getting. Cockerham took a Plen-T-Pak, measured its dimensions precisely inside and out, unwrapped the gum and stuck the pieces together lengthwise with scotch tape (producing a strip just over 48 inches long at a far lower cost per inch than prepackaged BubbleTape).

Then he formed the pieces into a rectangle to measure the surface area (36 square inches) and stacked it to measure its unchewed volume (2.6 cubic inches). Finally, he sank his teeth into things to measure its chewed volume, which reduced the entire pack to a sticky cube small enough to fit in a single gum wrapper - or really mess up your shoe, depending on what you do with it afterward. He tried both (all documented with photos).

Having accomplished this feat, Cockerham and his friends spent a couple of days answering the Cheerios question. As a visitor, you get to guess how many Cheerios there are in a 15-ounce box (more than you think). But having counted them, Cockerham decided that the real question isn't how many Cheerios there are, but what you can do with them. So with his friends, he strung them together. Did you know that from a single box, you can make a Cheerios necklace 73 feet long?

"The recommended serving size is about one cup of Cheerios," Cockerham notes. "That is about 5 feet worth, so if you eat your height in Cheerios, you are getting 50% of your RDA of Folic Acid."

Now where else could you learn that?

If you've ever wondered why you spend so much on printer cartridges, Cockerham can tell you: By volume, the ink is as expensive as Chanel No. 5 perfume, although only half as costly as Louis XIII Remy Martin Grand Champagne Cognac. But you can get a lot more prints out of the ink cartridge. How many? Visit his site and find out.

Sure, sure, you're saying. This guy has too much time on his hands. But I'm glad he does. I had a blast at his Web site (although the Reddi-Whip and EZ Cheeze experiments were a bit gross), and I learned enough about arcane subjects to bore people at cocktail parties for months. Thanks, Rob.

Now on to Luc Vanhercke, a Belgian network engineer who assumes several aliases on www. elve.net. This is an eclectic site where, among other things, Vanhercke poses this question: Do international road signs perpetuate gender stereotyping among children?

I'll bet that question has been keeping you awake at night. But Vanhercke makes an excellent, tongue-in-cheek case for concern.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.