Monday, December 19, 2005

Barry Halper, Yankees Memorabilia Collector, Dies

Barry Halper, noted memorabilia collector, dies at 66

LIVINGSTON, N.J. -- Barry Halper, owner of one of the most extensive collections of baseball memorabilia and a limited partner in the New York Yankees, has died at 66.

Halper, who died Sunday at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, was bedridden for nearly a year because of complications of diabetes, said Marty Appel, a longtime friend and former Yankees spokesman.

A portion of his Halper's collection was acquired by Major League Baseball and donated to the Hall of Fame in 1998. Halper also fetched $21.8 million -- a record for sports memorabilia -- during a weeklong auction at Sotheby's in 1999. Included in that sale was a game-used Mickey Mantle glove, purchased by actor-comedian Billy Crystal for $239,000.

"Barry was a dear friend, a valued partner for many years and a decent, genuine person," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "What a great baseball fan he was. I'll miss him dearly."

Halper amassed some 80,000 items, including uniforms of many Hall of Famers, an original ticket from the first World Series in 1903 and the jersey Lou Gehrig wore in his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939. Halper also owned oddities such as the false teeth worn by Ty Cobb, baseball's career batting average leader.

The New York Daily News reported that during a news conference in Dallas in 1995 to announce Mantle's successful liver transplant, the Hall of Famer spotted Halper in the audience and joked, "Hey, Barry, did you get my other liver?"

Also in Halper's collection were uniforms worn by Cobb, Walter Johnson, Cy Young and Mantle, during his rookie season in 1951. Halper also had the contract finalizing the sale of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees, and a Honus Wagner baseball card.

Survivors include Halper's wife, Sharon; sons Steven and Jason; and daughter, Marnie Stark.

Funeral services are Tuesday at Temple B'Nai Jeshurun in Short Hills.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Teen Webcam Porn Exploitation


December 19, 2005
Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World

The 13-year-old boy sat in his California home, eyes fixed on a computer screen. He had never run with the popular crowd and long ago had turned to the Internet for the friends he craved. But on this day, Justin Berry's fascination with cyberspace would change his life.

Weeks before, Justin had hooked up a Web camera to his computer, hoping to use it to meet other teenagers online. Instead, he heard only from men who chatted with him by instant message as they watched his image on the Internet. To Justin, they seemed just like friends, ready with compliments and always offering gifts.

Now, on an afternoon in 2000, one member of his audience sent a proposal: he would pay Justin $50 to sit bare-chested in front of his Webcam for three minutes. The man explained that Justin could receive the money instantly and helped him open an account on, an online payment system.

"I figured, I took off my shirt at the pool for nothing," he said recently. "So, I was kind of like, what's the difference?"

Justin removed his T-shirt. The men watching him oozed compliments.

So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images of his body on the Internet over the course of five years. From the seduction that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn into performing in front of the Webcam - undressing, showering, masturbating and even having sex - for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Justin's dark coming-of-age story is a collateral effect of recent technological advances. Minors, often under the online tutelage of adults, are opening for-pay pornography sites featuring their own images sent onto the Internet by inexpensive Webcams. And they perform from the privacy of home, while parents are nearby, beyond their children's closed bedroom doors.

The business has created youthful Internet pornography stars - with nicknames like Riotboyy, Miss Honey and Gigglez - whose images are traded online long after their sites have vanished. In this world, adolescents announce schedules of their next masturbation for customers who pay fees for the performance or monthly subscription charges. Eager customers can even buy "private shows," in which teenagers sexually perform while following real-time instructions.

A six-month investigation by The New York Times into this corner of the Internet found that such sites had emerged largely without attracting the attention of law enforcement or youth protection organizations. While experts with these groups said they had witnessed a recent deluge of illicit, self-generated Webcam images, they had not known of the evolution of sites where minors sold images of themselves for money.

"We've been aware of the use of the Webcam and its potential use by exploiters," said Ernest E. Allen, chief executive of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a private group. "But this is a variation on a theme that we haven't seen. It's unbelievable."

Minors who run these sites find their anonymity amusing, joking that their customers may be the only adults who know of their activities. It is, in the words of one teenage site operator, the "Webcam Matrix," a reference to the movie in which a computerized world exists without the knowledge of most of humanity.

In this virtual universe, adults hunt for minors on legitimate sites used by Webcam owners who post contact information in hopes of attracting friends. If children respond to messages, adults spend time "grooming" them - with praise, attention and gifts - before seeking to persuade them to film themselves pornographically.

The lure is the prospect of easy money. Many teenagers solicit "donations," request gifts through sites like or negotiate payments, while a smaller number charge monthly fees. But there are other beneficiaries, including businesses, some witting and some unwitting, that provide services to the sites like Web hosting and payment processing.

Not all victims profit, with some children ending up as pornographic commodities inadvertently, even unknowingly. Adolescents have appeared naked on their Webcams as a joke, or as presents for boyfriends or girlfriends, only to have their images posted on for-pay pornography sites. One Web site proclaims that it features 140,000 images of "adolescents in cute panties exposing themselves on their teen Webcams."

Entry into this side of cyberspace is simplicity itself. Webcams cost as little as $20, and the number of them being used has mushroomed to 15 million, according to IDC, an industry consulting group. At the same time, instant messaging programs have become ubiquitous, and high-speed connections, allowing for rapid image transmission, are common.

The scale of Webcam child pornography is unknown, because it is new and extremely secretive. One online portal that advertises for-pay Webcam sites, many of them pornographic, lists at least 585 sites created by teenagers, internal site records show. At one computer bulletin board for adults attracted to adolescents, a review of postings over the course of a week revealed Webcam image postings of at least 98 minors.

The Times inquiry has already resulted in a large-scale criminal investigation. In June, The Times located Justin Berry, then 18. In interviews, Justin revealed the existence of a group of more than 1,500 men who paid for his online images, as well as evidence that other identifiable children as young as 13 were being actively exploited.

In a series of meetings, The Times persuaded Justin to abandon his business and, to protect other children at risk, assisted him in contacting the Justice Department. Arrests and indictments of adults he identified as pornography producers and traffickers began in September. Investigators are also focusing on businesses, including credit card processors that have aided illegal sites. Anyone who has created, distributed, marketed, possessed or paid to view such pornography is open to a criminal charge.

"The fact that we are getting so many potential targets, people who knowingly bought into a child pornographic Web site, could lead to hundreds of other subjects and potentially save hundreds of other kids that we are not aware of yet," said Monique Winkis, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who is working the case.

Law enforcement officials also said that, with the cooperation of Justin, they had obtained a rare guide into this secluded online world, whose story illuminates the exploitation that takes place there.

"I didn't want these people to hurt any more kids," Justin said recently of his decision to become a federal witness. "I didn't want anyone else to live the life I lived."

A High-Tech Transformation

Not long ago, the distribution of child pornography in America was a smallish trade, relegated to back rooms and corners where even the proprietors of X-rated bookstores refused to loiter.

By the mid-1980's, however, technology had transformed the business, with pedophiles going online to communicate anonymously and post images through rudimentary bulletin board systems. As Internet use boomed in the 1990's, these adults honed their computer skills, finding advanced ways to meet online and swap illegal photos; images once hard to obtain were suddenly available with the click of a mouse.

As the decade drew to a close, according to experts and records of online conversations, these adults began openly fantasizing of the day they would be able to reach out to children directly, through instant messaging and live video, to obtain the pornography they desired.

Their dream was realized with the Web camera, which transformed online pornography the way the automobile changed transportation. At first, the cameras, some priced at more than $100, offered little more than grainy snapshots, "refreshed" a few times per minute. But it was not long before easy-to-use $20 Webcams could transmit high-quality continuous color video across the globe instantly.

By 2000, things had worked out exactly the way the pedophiles hoped. Webcams were the rage among computer-savvy minors, creating a bountiful selection of potential targets.

Among them was Justin Berry. That year, he was a gangly 13-year-old with saucer eyes and brown hair that he often dyed blond. He lived with his mother, stepfather and younger sister in Bakersfield, Calif., a midsize city about 90 miles north of Los Angeles. Already he was so adept at the computer that he had registered his own small Web site development business, which he ran from the desk where he did his schoolwork.

So Justin was fascinated when a friend showed off the free Webcam he had received for joining Earthlink, an Internet service provider. The device was simple and elegant. As Justin remembers it, he quickly signed up, too, eager for his own Webcam.

"I didn't really have a lot of friends," he recalled, "and I thought having a Webcam might help me make some new ones online, maybe even meet some girls my age."

As soon as Justin hooked the camera to his bedroom computer and loaded the software, his picture was automatically posted on, an Internet directory of Webcam users, along with his contact information. Then he waited to hear from other teenagers.

No one Justin's age ever contacted him from that listing. But, within minutes, he heard from his first online predator. That man was soon followed by another, then another.

Justin remembers his earliest communications with these men as nonthreatening, pleasant encounters. There were some oddities - men who pretended to be teenage girls, only to slip up and reveal the truth later - but Justin enjoyed his online community.

His new friends were generous. One explained how to put together a "wish list" on, where Justin could ask for anything, including computer equipment, toys, music CD's or movies. Anyone who knew his wish-list name - Justin Camboy - could buy him a gift. Amazon delivered the presents without revealing his address to the buyers.

The men also filled an emotional void in Justin's life. His relationship with his father, Knute Berry, was troubled. His parents divorced when he was young; afterward, police records show, there were instances of reported abuse. On one occasion Mr. Berry was arrested and charged with slamming Justin's head into a wall, causing an injury that required seven staples in his scalp. Although Justin testified against him, Mr. Berry said the injury was an accident and was acquitted. He declined comment in a telephone interview.

The emotional turmoil left Justin longing for paternal affection, family members said. And the adult males he met online offered just that. "They complimented me all the time," Justin said. "They told me I was smart, they told me I was handsome."

In that, experts said, the eighth-grade boy's experience reflected the standard methods used by predatory adults to insinuate themselves into the lives of minors they meet online.

"In these cases, there are problems in their own lives that make them predisposed to" manipulation by adults, Lawrence Likar, a former F.B.I. supervisor, said of children persuaded to pose for pornography. "The predators know that and are able to tap into these problems and offer what appear to be solutions."

Justin's mother, Karen Page, said she sensed nothing out of the ordinary. Her son seemed to be just a boy talented with computers who enjoyed speaking to friends online. The Webcam, as she saw it, was just another device that would improve her son's computer skills, and maybe even help him on his Web site development business.

"Everything I ever heard was that children should be exposed to computers and given every opportunity to learn from them," Ms. Page said in an interview.

She never guessed that one of her son's first lessons after turning on his Webcam was that adults would eagerly pay him just to disrobe a little.

The Instant Audience

It was as if the news shot around the Web. By appearing on camera bare-chested, Justin sent an important message: here was a boy who would do things for money.

Gradually the requests became bolder, the cash offers larger: More than $100 for Justin to pose in his underwear. Even more if the boxers came down. The latest request was always just slightly beyond the last, so that each new step never struck him as considerably different. How could adults be so organized at manipulating young people with Webcams?

Unknown to Justin, they honed their persuasive skills by discussing strategy online, sharing advice on how to induce their young targets to go further at each stage.

Moreover, these adults are often people adept at manipulating teenagers. In its investigation, The Times obtained the names and credit card information for the 1,500 people who paid Justin to perform on camera, and analyzed the backgrounds of 300 of them nationwide. A majority of the sample consisted of doctors and lawyers, businessmen and teachers, many of whom work with children on a daily basis.

Not long ago, adults sexually attracted to children were largely isolated from one another. But the Internet has created a virtual community where they can readily communicate and reinforce their feelings, experts said. Indeed, the messages they send among themselves provide not only self-justification, but also often blame minors with Webcam sites for offering temptation.

"These kids are the ones being manipulative," wrote an adult who called himself Upandc in a posting this year to a bulletin board for adults attracted to children.

Or, as an adult who called himself DLW wrote: "Did a sexual predator MAKE them make a site? No. Did they decide to do it for themselves? Yes."

Tempting as it may be for some in society to hold the adolescent Webcam operators responsible, experts in the field say that is misguided, because it fails to recognize the control that adults exercise over highly impressionable minors.

"The world will want to blame the kids, but the reality is, they are victims here," said Mr. Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

But there is no doubt that the minors cash in on their own exploitation. With Justin, for example, the road to cyberporn stardom was paved with cool new equipment. When his growing legion of fans complained about the quality of his Webcam, he put top-rated cameras and computer gear on his Amazon wish list, and his fans rushed to buy him all of it.

A $35 Asante four-port hub, which allowed for the use of multiple cameras, was bought by someone calling himself Wesley Taylor, Amazon receipts show. For $45, a fan nicknamed tuckertheboy bought a Viking memory upgrade to speed up Justin's broadcast. And then there were cameras - a $60 color Webcam by Hawking Technologies from banjo000; a $60 Intel Deluxe USB camera from boyking12; and a $150 Hewlett-Packard camera from eplayernine.

Justin's desk became a high-tech playhouse. To avoid suspicions, he hid the Webcams behind his desk until nighttime. Whenever his mother asked about his new technology and money, Justin told her they were fruits of his Web site development business. In a way, it was true; with one fan's help, he had by then opened his own pornographic Web site, called

His mother saw little evidence of a boy in trouble. Justin's grades stayed good - mostly A's and B's, although his school attendance declined as he faked illness to spend time with his Webcam.

As he grew familiar with the online underground, Justin learned he was not alone in the business. Other teenagers were doing the same things, taking advantage of an Internet infrastructure of support that was perfectly suited to illicit business.

As a result, while it helped to have Justin's computer skills, even minors who fumbled with technology could operate successful pornography businesses. Yahoo, America Online and MSN were starting to offer free instant message services that contained embedded ability to transmit video, with no expertise required. The programs were offered online, without parental controls. No telltale credit card numbers or other identifying information was necessary. In minutes, any adolescent could have a video and text system up and running, without anyone knowing, a fact that concerns some law enforcement officials.

There were also credit card processing services that handled payments without requiring tax identification numbers. There were companies that helped stream live video onto the Internet - including one in Indiana that offered the service at no charge if the company president could watch free. And there were sites - portals, in the Web vernacular - that took paid advertising from teenage Webcam addresses and allowed fans to vote for their favorites.

Teenagers, hungry for praise, compete for rankings on the portals as desperately as contestants on TV reality shows, offering special performances in exchange for votes. "Everyone please vote me a 10 on my cam site," a girl nicknamed Thunderrockracin told her subscribers in 2002, "and I will have a live sleep cam!"

In other words, she would let members watch her sleep if they boosted her up the rankings.

Fearing the Fans

Justin began to feel he belonged to something important, a broad community of teenagers with their own businesses. Some he knew by their real names, others by the screen names they used for their sites - Strider, Stoner, Kitty, Calvin, Emily, Seth and so on. But collectively, they were known by a name now commonplace in this Internet subculture:

They call themselves "camwhores."

Justin chatted with the boys online, and sometimes persuaded the girls to masturbate on camera while he did the same. Often, he heard himself compared to Riotboyy, another young-looking teenager whose site had experienced as many as 6,400 hits in a single week.

In conversations with Justin, other minors with for-pay sites admitted to being scared of certain fans. Some adults wrote things like "It wants to possess you." They had special wardrobe requests for the adolescents: in jeans with a belt, without a belt, with a lacy bra, showing legs, showing feet, wearing boxers with an erection, and others.

One 16-year-old who called himself hot boyy 23 finally found the entreaties too much. "Hey guys," he wrote when he shut down his site, "I'm sorry, there are just too many freaks out there for me. I need to live a more normal life, too. I might be back someday and I might not. I'm sorry I had to ruin all the fun."

It was not only the minors operating Webcam sites for pay who faced frightening adults. Earlier this year, a teenage girl in Alabama posed seminude on her Webcam in a sexually charged conversation with someone she thought was another teenage girl. But her new confidant, it turned out, was an adult named Julio Bardales from Napa, Calif., law enforcement officials said. And when the girl stopped complying, she received an e-mail message from Mr. Bardales containing a montage of her images. Across them was a threat in red letters that the images would be revealed unless she showed a frontal nude shot over the Webcam. Mr. Bardales was subsequently arrested. The police said he possessed images of more under-age girls on Webcams, including other montages with the same threat.

Justin says that he did not fully understand the dangers his fans posed, and before he turned 14, he was first lured from the relative safety of his home. A man he met online hosted Justin's Web site from Ann Arbor, Mich., and invited him there to attend a computer camp. Justin's mother allowed him to go, thinking the camp sounded worthwhile.

Another time, the man enticed Justin to Michigan by promising to arrange for him to have sex with a girl. Both times, Justin said, the man molested him. Transcripts of their subsequent conversations online support the accusations, and a video viewed by The Times shows that the man, who appears for a short time in the recording, also taped pornography of Justin.

From then on, Justin's personality took on a harder edge, evident in the voluminous instant message traffic he made available to The Times. He became an aggressive negotiator of prices for his performances. Emboldened by a growing contempt for his audience, he would sometimes leave their questions unanswered for hours, just to prove to himself that they would wait for him.

"These people had no lives," Justin said. "They would never get mad."

Unnerved by menacing messages from a fan of his first site, Justin opened a new one called, an online acronym that loosely translates into "just messing with you." This time, following an idea suggested by one of his fans, he charged subscribers $45 a month. In addition, he could command large individual payments for private shows, sometimes $300 for an hourlong performance.

"What's in the hour," inquired a subscriber named Gran0Stan in one typical exchange in 2002. "What do you do?"

"I'll do everything, if you know what I mean," Justin replied.

Gran0Stan was eager to watch, and said the price was fine. "When?" he asked.

"Tonight," Justin said. "After my mom goes to sleep."

As his obsession with the business grew, Justin became a ferocious competitor. When another under-age site operator called Strider ranked higher on a popular portal, Justin sent him anonymous e-mail messages, threatening to pass along images from Strider's site to the boy's father. The site disappeared.

"I was vicious," Justin said. "But I guess I really did Strider a favor. Looking back, I wish someone had done that to me."

By then, fans had begun offering Justin cash to meet. Gilo Tunno, a former Intel employee, gave him thousands of dollars to visit him in a Las Vegas hotel, according to financial records and other documents. There, Justin said, Mr. Tunno began a series of molestings. At least one assault was videotaped and the recording e-mailed to Justin, who has since turned it over to the F.B.I.

Mr. Tunno played another critical role in Justin's business, the records show. When he was 15, Justin worried that his mother might discover what he was doing. So he asked Mr. Tunno to sign an apartment lease for him and pay rent. Justin promised to raise money to pay a share. "I'll whore," he explained in a message to Mr. Tunno.

Mr. Tunno agreed, signing a lease for $410 a month for an apartment just down the street from Justin's house. From then on, Justin would tell his mother he was visiting friends, then head to the apartment for his next performance. Mr. Tunno, who remains under investigation in the case, is serving an eight-year federal sentence on an unrelated sexual abuse charge involving a child and could not be reached for comment.

The rental symbolized a problem that Justin had not foreseen: his adult fans would do almost anything to ensure that his performances continued. At its worst, they would stand between him and the people in his offline life whom they saw as a threat to his Webcam appearances.

For example, when a girlfriend of Justin's tried to convince him to shut down his site in December 2002, a customer heaped scorn on her.

"She actually gets mad at you for buying her things with the money you make from the cam?" messaged the customer, a man using the nickname Angelaa. "Just try and remember, Justin, that she may not love you, but most of us in your chat room, your friends, love you very much."

A Life Falls Apart

In early 2003, Justin's offline life began to unravel. A former classmate found pornographic videos on the Internet from Justin's Web site, made copies, and handed them out around town, including to students at his school. Justin was taunted and beaten.

Feeling embarrassed and unable to continue at school, Justin begged his mother to allow him to be home-schooled through an online program. Knowing he was having trouble with classmates, but in the dark about the reasons why, she agreed.

Then, in February, came another traumatic event. Justin had begun speaking with his father, hoping to repair their relationship. But that month, Mr. Berry, who had been charged with insurance fraud related to massage clinics he ran, disappeared without a word.

Despairing, Justin turned to his online fans. "My dad left. I guess he doesn't love me," he wrote. "Why did I let him back in my life? Let me die, just let me die."

His father did not disappear for long. Soon, Mr. Berry called his son from Mazatlán, Mexico; Justin begged to join him, and his father agreed.

In Mexico, Justin freely spent his cash, leading his father to ask where the money had come from. Justin said that he confessed the details of his lucrative Webcam business, and the reunion soon became a collaboration. Justin created a new Web site, calling it mexicofriends, his most ambitious ever. It featured Justin having live sex with prostitutes. During some of Justin's sexual encounters, a traffic tracker on his site showed hundreds watching. It rapidly became a wildly popular Webcam pornography site, making Justin one of the Internet's most sought after under-age pornography stars.

For this site, Justin, then 16, used a pricing model favored by legitimate businesses. For standard subscribers, the cost was $35, billed monthly. But discounts were available for three-month, six-month and annual memberships. Justin used the cash to support a growing cocaine and marijuana habit.

Money from the business, Justin said, was shared with his father, an accusation supported by transcripts of their later instant message conversations. In exchange, Justin told prosecutors and The Times, his father helped procure prostitutes. One video obtained by the F.B.I. shows Mr. Berry sitting with Justin as the camera is turned on, then making the bed before a prostitute arrives to engage in intercourse with his teenage son. Asked about Justin's accusations, Mr. Berry said, "Obviously, I am not going to comment on anything."

In the fall of 2003, Justin's life took a new turn when a subscriber named Greg Mitchel, a 36-year-old fast food restaurant manager from Dublin, Va., struck up an online friendship with the boy and soon asked to visit him. Seeing a chance to generate cash, Justin agreed.

Mr. Mitchel arrived that October, and while in Mexico, molested Justin for what would be the first of many times, according to transcripts of their conversations and other evidence. Mr. Mitchel, who is in jail awaiting trial on six child pornography charges stemming from this case, could not be reached for comment.

Over the following year, Justin tried repeatedly to break free of this life. He roamed the United States. He contemplated suicide. For a time he sought solace in a return to his boyhood Christianity. At one point he dismantled his site, loading it instead with Biblical teachings - and taking delight in knowing the surprise his subscribers would experience when they logged on to watch him have sex.

But his drug craving, and the need for money to satisfy it, was always there. Soon, Mr. Mitchel beckoned, urging Justin to return to pornography and offering to be his business partner. With Mr. Mitchel, records and interviews show, Justin created a new Web site,, featuring performances by him and other boys he helped recruit. But as videos featuring other minors appeared on his site, Justin felt torn, knowing these adolescents were on the path that had hurt him so badly.

Justin was now 18, a legal adult. He had crossed the line from under-age victim to adult perpetrator.

Opening a Hidden World

In June, Justin began communicating online with someone who had never messaged him before. The conversations involved many questions, and Justin feared his new contact might be an F.B.I. agent. Still, when a meeting was suggested, Justin agreed. He says part of him hoped he would be arrested, putting an end to the life he was leading.

They met in Los Angeles, and Justin learned that the man was this reporter, who wanted to discuss the world of Webcam pornography with him. After some hesitation, Justin agreed. At one point, asked what he wanted to accomplish in his life, Justin pondered for a moment and replied that he wanted to make his mother and grandmother proud of him.

The next day, Justin began showing the inner workings of his online world. Using a laptop computer, he signed on to the Internet and was quickly bombarded with messages from men urging him to turn on his Webcam and strip.

One man described, without prompting, what he remembered seeing of Justin's genitals during a show. Another asked Justin to recount the furthest distance he had ever ejaculated. Still another offered an unsolicited description of the sexual acts he would perform on Justin if they met.

"This guy is really a pervert," Justin said. "He kind of scares me."

As the sexual pleadings continued, Justin's hands trembled. His pale face dampened with perspiration. For a moment he tried to seem tough, but the protective facade did not last. He turned off the computer without a final word to his online audience.

In the days that followed, Justin agreed in discussions with this reporter to abandon the drugs and his pornography business. He cut himself off from his illicit life. He destroyed his cellphone, stopped using his online screen name and fled to a part of the country where no one would find him.

As he sobered up, Justin disclosed more of what he knew about the Webcam world; within a week, he revealed the names and locations of children who were being actively molested or exploited by adults with Webcam sites. After confirming his revelations, The Times urged him to give his information to prosecutors, and he agreed.

Justin contacted Steven M. Ryan, a former federal prosecutor and partner with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in Washington. Mr. Ryan had learned of Justin's story during an interview with The Times about a related legal question, and offered to represent him.

On July 14, Mr. Ryan contacted the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Justice Department, informing prosecutors that he had a client with evidence that could implicate potentially hundreds of people. By then, Mr. Ryan had learned that some of Justin's old associates, disturbed by his disappearance, were hunting for him and had begun removing records from the Internet. Mr. Ryan informed prosecutors of the dangers to Justin and the potential destruction of evidence. Two weeks passed with little response.

Finally, in late July, Justin met in Washington with the F.B.I. and prosecutors. He identified children who he believed were in the hands of adult predators. He listed the marketers, credit card processors and others who supported Webcam child pornography. He also described the voluminous documentary evidence he had retained on his hard drives: financial information, conversation transcripts with his members, and other records. But that evidence would not be turned over, Mr. Ryan said, until Justin received immunity.

The meeting ended, followed by weeks of silence. Word came back that prosecutors were wrestling with Justin's dual role as a victim and as a perpetrator. Justin told associates that he was willing to plead guilty if the government would save the children he had identified; Mr. Ryan dissuaded him.

By September, almost 50 days had passed since the first contact with the government, with no visible progress. Frustrated, Mr. Ryan informed prosecutors that he would have to go elsewhere, and contacted the California attorney general.

That proved unnecessary. Prodded by the F.B.I. and others in the Justice Department, on Sept. 7, prosecutors informed Mr. Ryan that his client would be granted immunity. A little more than four weeks after his 19th birthday, Justin became a federal witness.

A Final Online Confrontation

Five days later, on the third floor of a lakeside house in Dublin, Va., Greg Mitchel - Justin's 38-year-old business partner on his pornography Web site - rested on his bed as he chatted online with others in his illicit business.

Ever since Justin's disappearance weeks before, things had been tense for Mr. Mitchel. Some in the business already suspected that Justin might be talking to law enforcement. One associate had already declared to Mr. Mitchel that, if Justin was revealing their secrets, he would kill the boy.

But this night, Sept. 12, the news on Mr. Mitchel's computer screen was particularly disquieting. An associate in Tennessee sent word that the F.B.I. had just raided a Los Angeles computer server used by an affiliated Webcam site. Then, to Mr. Mitchel's surprise, Justin himself appeared online under a new screen name and sent a greeting.

Mr. Mitchel pleaded with Justin to come out of hiding, inviting the teenager on an all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas with him and a 15-year-old boy also involved in Webcam pornography. But Justin demurred.

"You act like you're in witness protection," Mr. Mitchel typed. "Are you?"

"Haha," replied Justin. Did Mr. Mitchel think he would be on the Internet if he was a federal witness? he asked. Justin changed the subject, later asking the whereabouts of others who lived with Mr. Mitchel, including two adolescents; Mr. Mitchel replied that everyone was home that night.

In a location in the Southwest, Justin glanced from his computer screen to a speakerphone. On the line was a team of F.B.I. agents who at that moment were pulling several cars into Mr. Mitchel's driveway, preparing to arrest him.

"The kids are in the house!" Justin shouted into the phone, answering a question posed by one of the agents.

As agents approached the house, Justin knew he had little time left. He decided to confront the man who had hurt him for so long.

"Do you even remember how many times you stuck your hand down my pants?" he typed.

Mr. Mitchel responded that many bad things had happened, but he wanted to regain Justin's trust.

"You molested me," Justin replied. "Don't apologize for what you can't admit."

There was no response. "Peekaboo?" Justin typed.

On the screen, a message appeared that Mr. Mitchel had signed off. The arrest was over.

Justin thrust his hands into the air. "Yes!" he shouted.

In the weeks since the first arrest, F.B.I. agents and prosecutors have focused on numerous other potential defendants. For example, Tim Richards - identified by Justin as a marketer and principal of - was arrested in Nashville last month and arraigned on child pornography charges. According to law enforcement officials, Mr. Richards was stopped in a moving van in his driveway, accompanied by a young teenage boy featured by Mr. Richards on his own Webcam site. Mr. Richards has pleaded not guilty.

Hundreds of thousands of computer files, including e-mail containing a vast array of illegal images sent among adults, have been seized from around the country. Information about Justin's members has been downloaded by the F.B.I. from, the company that processed the credit cards; Neova and its owner, Aaron Brown, are targets of the investigation, according to court records and government officials. And Justin has begun assisting agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who hope to use his evidence to bring new charges against an imprisoned child rapist.

Justin himself has found a measure of control over his life. He revealed the details of his secret life to his family, telling them of all the times in the past that he had lied to them. He has sought counseling, kept off drugs, resumed his connection with his church and plans to attend college beginning in January.

In recent weeks, Justin returned to his mother's home in California, fearing that - once his story was public - he might not be able to do so easily. On their final day together, Justin's mother drove him to the airport. Hugging him as they said goodbye, she said that the son she once knew had finally returned.

Then, as tears welled in her eyes, Justin's mother told him that she and his grandmother were proud of him.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Teenage Charlie Brown show


December 16, 2005
Aargh! The 'Peanuts' Gang Hits a Rocky Adolescence

Even the most devoted fans of the comic strip "Peanuts" must wish that Charlie Brown would just once change out of that yellow, jagged-striped shirt. Or shave his string of hair, kick that darn football or do something - anything - different.

But, alas, the world created by Charles M. Schulz hasn't changed much since it first appeared in 1950, which makes the premise of the disposable parody "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead" so irresistible: what would happen to Charlie Brown and his friends if they grew up?

It's 10 years later, and - prepare yourself - Snoopy has been put to sleep after killing Woodstock. Linus has become Van (Keith Nobbs), a stoner who smoked the burned remains of his security blanket. Pigpen has cleaned up into a violent jock (Ian Somerhalder, from "Lost"). Lucy, known only as Van's sister (Eliza Dushku, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), is a lithium-addled pyromaniac who has slept with, believe it or not, Charlie Brown, or CB (Eddie Kaye Thomas), as he's called, a popular kid with a mean streak.

If nothing else, Bert V. Royal's scenario is a welcome antidote to the notion that the "Peanuts" gang provides merely a slice of American cuteness, perfect for Hallmark cards or Broadway musicals. For while there are plenty of winks to fans, the spirit of the play has as much in common with "Peanuts" as it does with the view of high school as a Darwinian hell (presented in movies like "Heathers" and "Mean Girls"). Turning Schulz's world into the hormone-infused disaster area imagined by overprotective parents and teenager movies makes for an occasionally funny joke, but it is a cheap one. And when Mr. Royal tries to blend serious, darker issues in with the shockers, he misses as badly as Charlie Brown does with the football.

This is the third incarnation of this black comedy (it opened at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival), and the cutie-pie young actors in the new cast are the kind of marginal celebrities who make audiences wonder, "Isn't he the guy who starred in ... ?"

For those still wondering, yes, Mr. Thomas was the kid with bowel issues in "American Pie." He plays CB as an empty slate who goes along with the crowd. That might not be a problem if the part didn't call for him to express some emotion. In an unexpected plot turn, CB falls in love with Beethoven (think Schroeder), the pianist who has been long abused by the popular kids. Just as in a real Hollywood teenager movie, the nerd is played by someone so handsome - Logan Marshall-Green (from "The OC") - that he must overdo his awkwardness, adding a pair of glasses to really prove the point.

The director, Trip Cullman, applies a light touch in some of the romantic scenes - a tender respite from the more hard-edged satire, which doesn't send up so much as retrace steps. How many times have you seen someone parody a performance artist?

The show works best when it maintains the crass and footloose feel of a guilty pleasure, the kind of play in which it's all right to talk back to the actors. As Tricia and Marcy - Peppermint Patty and Marcie, as if you needed to know - Kelli Garner and Ari Graynor deliver big, broad laughs as scantily clad girls so tipsy that they cackle at their every joke. Best of all is Mr. Nobbs, whose pothead Van shades his flaky character with a sharp intelligence.

When Mr. Royal shifts his comedy toward melodrama, wading into more introspective themes that touch on free will, it's abrupt and unconvincing. "Do you ever feel like you're not a real person?" CB asks his sister. "That you're the product of someone's imagination and you can't think for yourself because you're really just like some creation and that somewhere there's people laughing every time you fall?"

Whatever happened to "Good grief"?

"Dog Sees God" is at the Century Center, 111 East 15th Street, Manhattan, (212) 239-6200.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Restrictions on Meth Ingredients


December 15, 2005
Restrictions on Meth Ingredients Are Sought

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced an agreement on Wednesday to restrict the sales of cold medicines that can be used to manufacture the illegal and highly addictive drug methamphetamine.

Under the proposal, Sudafed and similar medicines would have to be under lock and key in stores. Buyers would have to sign a sheet and show a driver's license. Purchases would be limited to one box a day and three boxes a month.

The legislation is attached to the renewal of the USA Patriot Act, which passed in the House on Wednesday but whose prospects in the Senate are uncertain.

Thirty-four states have enacted similar restrictions, and these sorts of controls have long been advocated by officials of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who argue that controlling the supply of the medications is the best way to reduce abuse.

But officials at the Food and Drug Administration have quietly fought such proposals, arguing that most methamphetamine is imported and that restricting cold medicines would lead to unneeded suffering among patients in need.

The fight, pitting government law enforcers against drug regulators, extends beyond cold medicines to steroids and painkillers.

On Wednesday, the enforcers won a crucial battle. Representative Mark Souder, Republican of Indiana and sponsor of the methamphetamine legislation, said the F.D.A. was wrong. "Yes, consumers will have less choice," Mr. Souder said, "but it will have a minimal effect on sinus relief and pain relief."

Dan Troy, former general counsel of the food and drug agency, countered that cold sufferers would have a harder time getting relief as a result of the legislation. "I think it's very sad when you punish the good and the needy because of a few bad actors," Mr. Troy said.

A casual poll of a handful of internal medicine doctors who routinely treat cold sufferers found unanimous agreement that the legislation was needed.

"The restrictions on Sudafed, although somewhat onerous, aren't that bad," Dr. William Schreiber, an internist in Louisville, Ky., where such restrictions are already in place, said, adding, "anything that goes about limiting the production of meth probably has to be done."

Dr. Mary Klotman, chief of infectious diseases at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan, called the restrictions "reasonable."

"I don't think anyone should stockpile these medicines," Dr. Klotman said.

Officials of the two federal agencies would not speak for attribution about the dispute between them. But Rogene Waite, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the legislation would "help the D.E.A. force more methamphetamine traffickers out of business."

Kristen Neese, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration, said, "We are concerned about the problems of abuse and are committed to finding the right balance between access and safety."

But the battle between the agencies was confirmed by legislators and others. "That's true," said Senator Jim Talent, Republican of Missouri, adding that officials of the food and drug agency "were not able to come together and support our bill, which was very frustrating to me."

An official at the Drug Enforcement Administration appeared at the legislative announcement in the House, and more than a dozen representatives of law enforcement and the judiciary appeared for the Senate announcement. No public health officials appeared at either event.

The legislation is intended to reverse a growing epidemic of methamphetamine abuse that started a decade ago on the West Coast and has gradually spread East. There are an estimated 1.4 million methamphetamine abusers in the United States, many in rural communities.

The drug's arrival in small towns often leads to crime sprees and crowded jails. A recent survey of 500 local law enforcement officials found methamphetamine to be their No. 1 concern. Methamphetamine can be manufactured in kitchens using hundreds of pills containing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, decongestant ingredients in Sudafed and other over-the-counter cold and flu treatments.

Americans suffer an estimated one billion colds each year. There is no cure, but Sudafed and similar drugs offer safe and effective palliative treatment. Sales of pseudoephedrine products topped $580 million in 2004 and have not grown appreciably in recent years, suggesting that any diversion of the product for methamphetamine production is a relatively small part of overall sales.

Sudafed and similar medicines are widely sold in convenience stores and pharmacies. The new legislation will probably mean that far fewer stores will offer the drugs, said Steve Francesco, an expert in over-the-counter drug marketing.

"Most stores are not structured" to have products under lock and key, Mr. Francesco said. "This bill is a disaster for anyone with a cold."

The methamphetamine legislation creates a new class of "behind the counter" drugs in the United States. Many European countries have this class of medicines, and the creation of such a class in this country has long been debated. But the Food and Drug Administration has argued that it does not have the power to mandate such sales or to enforce the restrictions.

Indeed, the agency recently rejected a proposal to allow the sales of an emergency contraceptive, known as Plan B, as a "behind-the-counter" drug for precisely these reasons. Some agency observers suggested that the methamphetamine legislation might make it easier for the agency to approve the emergency contraceptive application.

"This could make Plan B more palatable," said Dr. Eric Brass, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A 1995 Congressional study of "behind the counter" programs in 10 other countries found that these programs provided few protections and failed to reduce access to the medicines in the programs significantly. Some states have found, however, that restricting access to cold medicines leads to a sharp drop in the number of methamphetamine laboratories discovered by law enforcement officials. Whether these laws also result in reduced use of the drug is not known, several legislators said.

Backers of the methamphetamine provision say that should the Patriot Act fail to pass this year, they will attach it to another piece of legislation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Champagne NYTimes review


December 14, 2005
Wines of The Times
Champagne: How Low Can You Go?

FOR lacy, effervescent moments, prosecco has its special place. Sparkling Vouvray is certainly distinguished, and I recently enjoyed a superb crémant d'Alsace from Barmès-Buecher. I'm always happy with a bottle of Schramsberg, Iron Horse or Roederer Estate from California, less so with fizzy wine in a pink can like Sofia Mini blanc de blancs, though I don't meet Niebaum-Coppola's target audience of young women for that product.

But when talking about sparkling wine, let's be honest: There is Champagne and there is everything else. The others are good, but they're not Champagne.

Which raises the question, is Champagne always Champagne?

No wine region in the world has done a better job than Champagne of creating a mystique about itself. Whether Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa or Tuscany, consumers are aware of an upper echelon of high-quality wines, separated from a larger pool of mediocrity. But Champagne? The mere mention of the word connotes joy and celebration. Most people need only to know that they are drinking Champagne to be happy. Slightly more discerning types prefer one brand to another, possibly - to be cynical about it - because of the superior marketing of that particular brand.

The truth is that in Champagne, as in every other wine region in the world, the wine made by producers who are passionate, committed and skilled can be transcendent. As for the others, well, the best thing those bottles have going for them is the name Champagne on their labels. The trick, obviously, is separating the good stuff from the bad.

In quest of a few good bottles, the Dining section's wine panel recently tasted 25 Champagnes at the lowest price level, which nowadays can rise up to $30. Contrary to the blithe image that a tasting like this may bring to mind, it was no easy task. Champagne, especially cheap Champagne, can be harsh and acidic, and with 25 glasses before you, before long the tongue seems to swell and the inside of the mouth feels rasped by steel wool. Nonetheless, we were relieved and happy to find some Champagnes that we could recommend enthusiastically.

Why relieved? Because this category of Champagne is no sure thing. Producers tend to baby their more expensive vintage Champagnes. Those wines receive the best grapes, grown in the best sites, and in the cellar these bottles are attended to like favored children. The basic Champagnes, for the most part, receive far less consideration and consume fewer resources. They are made from purchased grapes, or often enough from wines that have been purchased, already made. The best wines are not likely to go into the blend that will result in the final nonvintage product, which can differ from year to year depending on which wines are available. These are cash-cow Champagnes, intended to maintain a steady flow of income.

Of course, some Champagne houses are far more serious than others about their basic bottlings. Brands like Bollinger, Louis Roederer and Billecart-Salmon are just a few of the bigger houses that make superb nonvintage Champagnes, and many other labels do, too. Smaller houses like Gosset, Alfred Gratien and Bruno Paillard also make excellent nonvintage Champagnes. But you are not likely to find any of these bottles for $30 and under, certainly not anymore.

That leaves an assortment of brand names - some familiar, some not - along with cooperative brands, which buy and blend the grapes for a number of growers, and a few small growers who produce Champagnes from their own grapes. Alas, most in that last, highly interesting category don't quite meet the $30 cutoff.

In the Champagnes we tasted, I was first of all looking for a sense of liveliness and vivacity, the sort of taut energy that keeps you refreshed and coming back for more. Our favorite wines had that quality, and even a modicum of complexity, though intense minerality and the sort of baked bread and occasional berry flavors that you find in better bottles were hard to come by, as was the exquisite texture of a fine Champagne.

"I think you have to go to the next level for that," said Evan Spingarn, a wine salesman and an author of "The Ultimate Wine Lover's Guide 2006" (Sterling Publishing), who joined Florence Fabricant and me on the panel, along with our second guest, Rebecca Foster, the wine director at Cookshop, a new restaurant in Chelsea.

The tasting reminded Ms. Foster of how difficult it is to grow grapes in Champagne, which is the northernmost of any fine-wine region. Historically, growers struggle each year to ripen their grapes sufficiently in the region's chill, and, naturally, grapes from the best plots - those designated premier cru and grand cru - are generally reserved for the better and more expensive Champagnes. "This tells you they have those designations for a reason," Ms. Foster said.

Yet, our No. 2 wine, the Louis de Sacy Brut, full-bodied and rich with a creamy texture and dry, toasty flavors, was labeled a grand cru, highly unusual for a $27 bottle. (This may have been shopper's luck. The importer says the price is scheduled to rise soon.) The other wines we tasted, like our No. 1, the Lanson Black Label, had no such designation. Nonetheless, I felt the Lanson was the classiest of our tasting, lively with a juicy, lip-smacking acidity, and mineral and citrus flavors. If it had a bare hint of sweetness, the overall sensation was dry because it was so well balanced by the acidity.

In some of the other bottles, a sense of sweetness was apparent, too. Whether this was intentional or not is hard to say. Some Champagnes are meant to be a little sweet. Moët & Chandon's White Star is a rich, full-bodied Champagne that is very popular in the United States. It is specially formulated for the American market, which is thought to prefer some sweetness, and is labeled Extra Dry, which paradoxically is a step sweeter than brut. We judged it too sweet for our tastes. Similarly a bottle of Heidsieck & Company Monopole Extra Dry was somewhat sweet and didn't make our list.

Does this mean the two are bad Champagnes? No. We simply preferred a drier style. A much more serious issue in some of the Champagnes that didn't make our list was the high level of sulfur that had been used as a preservative. Sulfur, in the form of sulfur dioxide, is almost universally used by winemakers at various stages of the production process. But if too much is added, it mars the wine, resulting in an off-putting aroma of burned matchsticks. This made it impossible to enjoy several of our Champagnes.

Two of our top 10 were blanc de blancs, which means the wines were made entirely of chardonnay, rather than of the usual blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. These blanc de blancs are not necessarily lighter than conventional Champagnes. Indeed, some can be full bodied. But they often have a creamy texture, surprising complexity and, depending on where the grapes are from, precise mineral flavors. The Paul Goerg, our No. 3 wine, had a toasty quality that we all enjoyed and also a complex combination of floral and fruit flavors.

The other blanc de blancs, from Pierre Gimmonet & Fils, is a different kind of Champagne. It had great mineral flavors as well as apple and herbal aromas that seem more characteristic of conventional wine than of Champagne. That vinous quality is typical of a grower-producer Champagne like this one. It's not a Champagne style that appeals to everybody, but it did to me and the rest of the panel.

Over the last five years I have found Nicolas Feuillatte to be a particularly reliable Champagne, a good value at almost every price level. The brut was full bodied, with lingering flavors and, if not completely dry, was well balanced. It was also the least expensive in the top 10 at $24.

Some well-known names - Piper-Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Perrier-Jouët and Mumm's - were among the Champagnes we tasted that did not make our list.

It shows how dicey this category can be. For $10 more, you can buy Champagnes that are not only more reliable, but offer more dimensions of aroma, flavor and texture.

If you choose wisely, at $30 and under, you can certainly find satisfying bottles. But too often, the result is Champagne on the label, but less than you hope for in the bottle.

Tasting Report: Lively, Energetic, and Under 30

Lanson Black Label Brut NV
Dry and refreshing, with snappy acidity and mineral and citrus flavors. (Importer: Caravelle Wine Selections, Avon, Conn.)

Louis de Sacy Brut Grand Cru NV
Toasty and full bodied with a creamy texture and persistent flavors. (House of Burgundy, Port Chester, N.Y.)

Paul Goerg Blanc de Blancs NV
Yeasty, toasty aromas, with persistent, complex floral and fruit flavors. (U.S.A. Wine Imports, New York)

Pierre Gimmonet & Fils Brut Blanc de Blancs NV
Unusually complex and persistent flavors of apples, minerals and anise. (Michael Skurnik Wines/Terry Theise Estate Selection, Syosset, N.Y.)

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV
Bright and substantial, with citrus and floral flavors; not quite bone dry. (Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.)

Pannier Brut Sélection NV
Rich and full bodied, lively and fresh, with yeasty, floral flavors. (Martin Scott Wines, Lake Success, N.Y.)

Pommery Brut Royal NV
Rich, with mineral aromas and nutlike flavors. (W. J. Deutsch & Sons, White Plains)

Jacquart Mosaïque NV
Toasty caramel aromas with creamy, tropical flavors. (Tri-Vin Imports, Mount Vernon, N.Y.)

Deutz Brut Classic NV
Straightforward, but lively and refreshing. (Maison Marques & Domaines, Oakland, Calif.)

Charles Lafitte Brut NV
Full bodied and fruity with intriguing fruit flavors; slightly sweet. (Vranken America, New York)

Learning: Children vs. Chimps


December 13, 2005
Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don't.

I drove into New Haven on a recent morning with a burning question on my mind. How did my daughter do against the chimpanzees?

A month before, I had found a letter in the cubby of my daughter Charlotte at her preschool. It was from a graduate student at Yale asking for volunteers for a psychological study. The student, Derek Lyons, wanted to observe how 3- and 4-year-olds learn. I was curious, so I got in touch. Mr. Lyons explained how his study might shed light on human evolution.

His study would build on a paper published in the July issue of the journal Animal Cognition by Victoria Horner and Andrew Whiten, two psychologists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Dr. Horner and Dr. Whiten described the way they showed young chimps how to retrieve food from a box.

The box was painted black and had a door on one side and a bolt running across the top. The food was hidden in a tube behind the door. When they showed the chimpanzees how to retrieve the food, the researchers added some unnecessary steps. Before they opened the door, they pulled back the bolt and tapped the top of the box with a stick. Only after they had pushed the bolt back in place did they finally open the door and fish out the food.

Because the chimps could not see inside, they could not tell that the extra steps were unnecessary. As a result, when the chimps were given the box, two-thirds faithfully imitated the scientists to retrieve the food.

The team then used a box with transparent walls and found a strikingly different result. Those chimps could see that the scientists were wasting their time sliding the bolt and tapping the top. None followed suit. They all went straight for the door.

The researchers turned to humans. They showed the transparent box to 16 children from a Scottish nursery school. After putting a sticker in the box, they showed the children how to retrieve it. They included the unnecessary bolt pulling and box tapping.

The scientists placed the sticker back in the box and left the room, telling the children that they could do whatever they thought necessary to retrieve it.

The children could see just as easily as the chimps that it was pointless to slide open the bolt or tap on top of the box. Yet 80 percent did so anyway. "It seemed so spectacular to me," Mr. Lyons said. "It suggested something remarkable was going on."

It was possible, however, that the results might come from a simple desire in the children just to play along. To see how deep this urge to overimitate went, Mr. Lyons came up with new experiments with the transparent box. He worked with a summer intern, Andrew Young, a senior at Carnegie Mellon, to build other puzzles using Tupperware, wire baskets and bits of wood. And Mr. Lyons planned out a much larger study, with 100 children.

I was intrigued. I signed up Charlotte, and she participated in the study twice, first at the school and later at Mr. Lyons's lab.

Charlotte didn't feel like talking about either experience beyond saying they were fun. As usual, she was more interested in talking about atoms and princesses.

Mr. Lyons was more eager to talk. He invited me to go over Charlotte's performance at the Yale Cognition and Development Lab, led by Mr. Lyons's adviser, Frank C. Keil.

Driving into New Haven for our meeting, I felt as if Charlotte had just taken some kind of interspecies SAT. It was silly, but I hoped that Charlotte would show the chimps that she could see cause and effect as well as they could. Score one for Homo sapiens.

At first, she did. Mr. Lyons loaded a movie on his computer in which Charlotte eagerly listened to him talk about the transparent plastic box.

He set it in front of her and asked her to retrieve the plastic turtle that he had just put inside. Rather than politely opening the front door, Charlotte grabbed the entire front side, ripped it open at its Velcro tabs and snatched the turtle. "I've got it!" she shouted.

A chimp couldn't have done better, I thought.

But at their second meeting, things changed. This time, Mr. Lyons had an undergraduate, Jennifer Barnes, show Charlotte how to open the box. Before she opened the front door, Ms. Barnes slid the bolt back across the top of the box and tapped on it needlessly. Charlotte imitated every irrelevant step. The box ripping had disappeared. I could almost hear the chimps hooting.

Ms. Barnes showed Charlotte four other puzzles, and time after time she overimitated. When the movies were over, I wasn't sure what to say. "So how did she do?" I asked awkwardly.

"She's pretty age-typical," Mr. Lyons said. Having watched 100 children, he agrees with Dr. Horner and Dr. Whiten that children really do overimitate. He has found that it is very hard to get children not to.

If they rush through opening a puzzle, they don't skip the extra steps. They just do them all faster. What makes the results even more intriguing is that the children understand the laws of physics well enough to solve the puzzles on their own. Charlotte's box ripping is proof of that.

Mr. Lyons sees his results as evidence that humans are hard-wired to learn by imitation, even when that is clearly not the best way to learn. If he is right, this represents a big evolutionary change from our ape ancestors. Other primates are bad at imitation. When they watch another primate doing something, they seem to focus on what its goals are and ignore its actions.

As human ancestors began to make complicated tools, figuring out goals might not have been good enough anymore. Hominids needed a way to register automatically what other hominids did, even if they didn't understand the intentions behind them. They needed to imitate.

Not long ago, many psychologists thought that imitation was a simple, primitive action compared with figuring out the intentions of others. But that is changing. "Maybe imitation is a lot more sophisticated than people thought," Mr. Lyons said.

We don't appreciate just how automatically we rely on imitation, because usually it serves us so well. "It is so adaptive that it almost never sticks out this way," he added. "You have to create very artificial circumstances to see it."

In a few years, I plan to explain this experience to Charlotte. I want her to know what I now know. That it's O.K. to lose to the chimps. In fact, it may be what makes us uniquely human.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ray Ozzie at Microsoft -- strategy


December 11, 2005
Can This Man Reprogram Microsoft?

Redmond, Wash.

THINK back to Round 1 of the Internet, when things really got rolling in 1995. The computing landscape was shifting, and a cool, fast-growing young company symbolized the new order: Netscape. At the time, Microsoft looked to be a lumbering old war horse, trapped in the yesteryear of desktop personal computer software, word processors, spreadsheets and operating systems. It seemed, in other words, so 1980's.

But, of course, Microsoft emerged a winner. It embraced the Internet and vanquished the Netscape threat with hard work, ingenuity and strong-arm tactics that a federal court ruled violated the nation's antitrust laws. Microsoft's shares soared to a record high at the end of 1999.

The Internet, Round 2, is now under way. Again, the computing terrain is changing remarkably, helped along by free software like Linux and the spread of high-speed Internet access. Today, all kinds of computing experiences can be delivered as services over the Internet, often free and supported by advertising. Clever Internet software can now turn flat, view-and-read Web pages into snappy services that look and respond to a user's keystrokes much like the big software applications that reside on a PC hard drive. New companies are even sprouting up to offer Web-based word processors and spreadsheets, products long regarded as mature - and long dominated by Microsoft's desktop programs.

Champions of the Internet services model range from I.B.M. to start-ups. But the totemic company in this next big evolutionary step in computing is Google, the Internet search power whose ambitions appear to be growing as fast as its profits.

And Microsoft? It once more finds itself surrounded by doubt and dismissed as a laggard. Some of its own senior engineers have defected to Google and elsewhere, and its stock price has barely budged in three years, despite solid earnings growth, because others appear to be winning the race for the future.

The familiar pattern of a decade ago begs the question that Bill Gates was asked when he met last month with a group of executives and journalists from The New York Times: Will you do to Google what you did to Netscape?

Mr. Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and chairman, paused, looked down at his folded hands and smiled broadly, as if enjoying a private joke. "Nah," he replied, "we'll do something different."

The man whom Mr. Gates is counting on to make a difference is Ray Ozzie, a soft-spoken 50-year-old who joined the company just eight months ago. He has the daunting task of galvanizing the troops to address the Internet services challenge, shaking things up and quickening the corporate pulse.

The forces arrayed against Microsoft, analysts say, may well prove more formidable than ever. "The problem Microsoft faces today is that there is a totally different model emerging for how software is created, distributed, used and paid for," said George F. Colony, the chairman of Forrester Research, a technology consultant. "That's why it's going to be so difficult for Microsoft this time."

Yet there are optimists. Big industry shifts, they say, create opportunity. Inevitably, they note, Internet computing erodes Microsoft's power to set technology standards, but the company can still benefit as the overall market expands. That's what happened in the 1990's. They say that if Microsoft shrewdly devises, for example, online versions of its Office products, supported by advertising or subscription fees, it may be a big winner in Internet Round 2.

"There's a tremendous opportunity for Microsoft to expand its business," said Richard Sherlund, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, who has a buy recommendation on the company. "But Microsoft had better be sure it is the one that capitalizes before others cannibalize their business."

AT first blush, Mr. Ozzie, whose title is chief technical officer, seems an unlikely person to meet the threat of Google and its brethren. He has only a small staff and no direct control over Microsoft's vast product groups. "It's soft power," Mr. Ozzie said in an interview here last week, referring to the foreign-policy concept that influence need not be measured in bombs and battleships.

And few doubt Mr. Ozzie's influence. "Ray Ozzie is someone with a tremendous technical reputation and an outsider, who Bill Gates trusts, and he's come in and said things have to change," said Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mr. Ozzie is a software wizard whose geek gene was evident early. Growing up in suburban Chicago, he had a passion for Heathkits, which were do-it-yourself projects for electronics hobbyists. He was constantly building radios, tape players and other electronics gear, recalled Jack Ozzie, his younger brother. "There was always a smell of solder in the back bedroom," said Jack, who is a software engineer.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the early 1970's, Mr. Ozzie wandered into the building that housed Plato, a computer system with terminals linked to a mainframe in a network that, remarkably for its time, had instant messaging, e-mail and online discussions. Mr. Ozzie became a senior programmer on the Plato system.

Mr. Ozzie recalled that he was "forever changed" by his experience with Plato. It gave him, he said, "a peek at what the Internet would ultimately become. It was a microcosm, an online community in an era when there weren't online communities."

In the 1980's, Mr. Ozzie applied that perspective to the new technology of the day: personal computers. At the time, PC's were mainly stand-alone machines for word processing, spreadsheet calculations and desktop publishing. Mr. Ozzie recognized that PC's could also be powerful tools for communications and collaboration. He led the team that created Lotus Notes, an early program for corporate e-mail and sharing information in digital workspaces, anticipating the kind of computing that would become commonplace only later with the rise of the Internet and the Web. In 1995, I.B.M. paid $3.5 billion for Lotus Development Corporation and the prize was Lotus Notes.

In 1997, Mr. Ozzie founded Groove Networks to make advanced collaboration software using Internet peer-to-peer technology, well before the arrival of Napster and peer-to-peer networks for sharing music. Groove was a technological triumph, but not a big commercial success. Microsoft bought Groove this year to pick up its technology - and Mr. Ozzie.

Years ago, when Mr. Ozzie was a Microsoft competitor, Mr. Gates called him one of the world's great programmers. So, in Microsoft's engineering culture, Mr. Ozzie brings a lot of clout to his job.

He hit the ground quickly after he arrived in April. At first, he said, some executives told him that it was a big company and that he should get to know it for a year or so before deciding what to focus on. "That lasted about two weeks," he said.

In meetings of senior executives, the subject of how to cope with the Internet services shift in computing, how to turn it into an opportunity for Microsoft, was a constant theme - and one that deeply interested Mr. Ozzie. "Within a month, Ray was putting his thoughts on software-as-services on paper," noted Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, which includes the Office products and corporate software.

Mr. Ozzie then spent the next few months meeting with people across the company to see what work was being done in product groups. Simultaneously, he was devising a plan to help Microsoft capitalize on Internet services by blending the new technology - and economic models - with Microsoft's traditional software business.

In late October, Mr. Ozzie presented his ideas in a seven-page, 5,000-word memo, "The Internet Services Disruption." At first, it was e-mailed to fewer than 100 senior managers and engineers at Microsoft. But they passed it along to colleagues, and by early November it had leaked out to the press; copies are now posted on the Web. Microsoft has used such memos over the years to educate its corporate troops and to stir them up to combat major competitive challenges.

In a two-page note that accompanied the Ozzie memo, Mr. Gates compared it to one he wrote in 1995, "The Internet Tidal Wave," which assessed the Internet challenge of a decade ago. Microsoft, he wrote in the introduction to the Ozzie memo, was at similar crossroads. "This coming 'services wave' will be very disruptive," Mr. Gates wrote, and later emphasized, "The next sea change is upon us."

The Ozzie memo analyzes the Internet services trend, the competition and Microsoft's strengths and shortcomings, and it suggests how the company must change. The document is also a call to action: "It's clear that if we fail to do so, our business as we know it is at risk," Mr. Ozzie wrote. "We must respond quickly and decisively."

The memo is peppered with technical acronyms, and rivals are named. While Microsoft is progressing on several fronts, Mr. Ozzie wrote, "a set of very strong and determined competitors is laser-focused on Internet services and service-enabled software."

"Google is obviously the most visible here," he added.

There is an implicit critique of Microsoft's software-building practice of relying so much on product cycles measured in years. The last major release of Windows - XP - was in 2001, while the next one, Vista, has been scheduled for next year after repeated delays. The memo chastises no product by name, but it extols the virtues of speed and simplicity in software design.

"Complexity kills," Mr. Ozzie wrote. "It sucks the life out of developers, it makes products difficult to plan, build and test, it introduces security challenges, and it causes end-user and administrator frustration."

HIS comments all but echo those of some estranged engineers who have left Microsoft recently. Mark Lucovsky, a former senior engineer at Microsoft who joined Google, wrote in his blog earlier this year, "Microsoft used to know how to ship software, but the world has changed." The companies to watch, Mr. Lucovsky wrote, have "embraced the network, deeply understand the concept of 'software as a service' and know how to deliver incredible value to their customers efficiently and quickly."

Mr. Ozzie is understandably careful in what he writes and says; his role at Microsoft is mainly to lead and encourage rather than to criticize. He emphasizes the importance of Microsoft's big desktop products like Windows and Office, and he says that Internet services should be seen primarily as a way to continually update and improve its offerings. Those updates and improvements, he said, should make Microsoft software teams happier by moving their work into the marketplace faster.

"People like to have fun doing what they're doing, and people who build software have fun by having people use their stuff," Mr. Ozzie said in the interview.

Yet Microsoft will also selectively offer Web services that do over the Internet some of what Office and Windows do on the desktop. The company took measured steps in that direction last month, when it introduced Windows Live and Office Live. Windows Live lets consumers manage their e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, photos and podcasts in one site. Office Live enables small businesses to set up Web sites and e-mail systems, and to provide collaboration sites for teams. Both will be supported by advertising and perhaps some subscription fees.

In the future, Mr. Ozzie suggests, Microsoft will go further, offering parts of Office - like Word, Excel or PowerPoint - as Web services. "I think there are potentially different or enhanced ways that we can take things that have traditionally been done with the Office suite and offer that to customers," Mr. Ozzie said. "That's absolutely what we're focused on."

The new approach, it seems, is a striking departure from Microsoft's longtime practice of bundling more and more software features into its big integrated products. The bundling has not been merely a design preference, but also a business strategy. With more than 90 percent of the desktop PC market for operating systems and office productivity applications, Microsoft has bundled outstanding programs with mediocre ones, and all of them typically became the industry standards.

But Internet services represent a more open, competitive model. "Software itself is going to be free, and you get paid for services that are supported either by ads or by subscription charges," said Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development who is president of the Open Source Applications Foundation, which develops free software for personal information like calendars and contacts. "For Microsoft, this is a bigger challenge than the rise of the Internet itself in 1995."

RECENT innovations have enabled Web-based software to look and respond more like desktop applications. Offering Internet alternatives to traditional PC programs are a new breed of start-ups, including, for word processing; NumSum, for spreadsheets; and Zimbra and Scalix, both e-mail. I.B.M. has Web-based software called WorkPlace that is used by millions of workers. And has built a fast-growing business by supplying customer relationship management software as an Internet service.

"No piece of software will replace Microsoft's Outlook, Word or Excel, but Web services will eat away at core areas of its Office suite over the next couple of years," said Marc Benioff, chief executive of

If that happens, Microsoft's business could be battered. Mr. Colony of Forrester Research predicts that Microsoft's profit margins, under pressure from Internet services, could fall by 40 percent or so over the next four years. A wild card is the hand that Google will play beyond search and how successful it may be. Mr. Colony, for example, says he thinks that Google will make a big difference. "I believe Google will revolutionize the software business," he wrote in a recent report.

Google has desktop search software and a Web-based e-mail service, two offerings aimed at parts of Microsoft's stronghold. How much further it plans to go in providing alternatives to Microsoft's software is uncertain, though it certainly looks interested.

Google was among the companies that attended a meeting last month at I.B.M.'s headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., of the Open Document Foundation, a group formed to agree on freely available formats for word processing, spreadsheets and other office documents; the idea is to come up with alternatives to Microsoft's proprietary Office formats. And for the last few months, Google has talked with Wyse Technology, a maker of so-called thin-client computers (without hard drives).

The discussions are focused on a $200 Google-branded machine that would likely be marketed in cooperation with telecommunications companies in markets like China and India, where home PC's are less common, said John Kish, chief executive of Wyse. "Google is on a path to developing a stack of software in competition with the Microsoft desktop, and one that is much more network-centric, more an Internet service," Mr. Kish said. "And this fits right into that."

For his part, Mr. Ozzie is curious about the plans at Google but is by no means obsessed by it. Google, he said, is "obviously a very strong technology company, and we'll see what they do with that."

Yet Mr. Ozzie's view is that Microsoft's fate is in its own hands. If it charts its technology and business plans wisely, harnessing the talents of its army of smart people, he said, it should grow and prosper in this next wave of Internet computing. He speaks of a thriving "ecosystem" of open competition in which developers and customers have many choices and in which Microsoft's future is not in crushing rivals but in becoming an attractive choice.

In the past, Microsoft executives have decried free software, with its collaborative open-source development style, as akin to communism, if not downright evil. Not Mr. Ozzie. "I consider open-source software to be part of the environment, like the Internet," he said. "It's not the enemy and it's not going to go away. It's great for developers.

"And if we don't keep continually updating our offerings and develop better offerings," Mr. Ozzie added, "then shame on us."

The Microsoft strategy, he said, has to be to develop tools and technology that make it easier to build software for the Internet-services era and easier for users to have more productive and enjoyable computing experiences. In a sense, it's a reinvention of old Windows vision of computing, but in a very different competitive context from the desktop world that Microsoft ruled.

The new game plan, Mr. Ozzie said, is "obviously not an altruistic thing, but it doesn't even resemble the environment of old."

Friday, December 02, 2005

Non-mainstream places to ski


December 2, 2005
Snow? Yes. Crowds? No.

IT was the last Saturday in January, and the top of every car driving on Route 4 in snowy central Vermont was laden with skis or snowboards, a convoy lengthening by the mile. At moments like these, you realize your plan to sneak up to the mountains for an idyllic getaway weekend has snuck up on no one.

Get away, indeed.

But in the midst of just such a procession to the Killington Resort last winter, a funny thing happened: At the entrance to the milelong access road to the Big K, the Beast of the East, every car from both directions on Route 4 turned in. I did not, the only vehicle to pass by.

I continued two miles down the road to Pico Mountain, Killington's unsung sister, where I had a choice of dozens of parking spots within 50 yards of the base lodge. In minutes, I was headed up the central lift. The snow was abundant, the terrain varied and the trails uncrowded.

A day later, my wife, three children and I went to the Suicide Six ski area, 20 miles to the east. The next day we headed to the Ascutney Resort, 18 miles southeast. Our base of operations was the quintessential picture-perfect Vermont village of Woodstock, about a 25-minute drive from each ski area.

In three full days of resplendent skiing, we waited, in total, about 15 minutes in lift lines. We parked next to base lodges, skied for long periods alone. The snow was great. It was the skiing prime of the season. There was almost no one around, at least by the standards of a major resort in Eastern ski country.


Because the majority of skiers and snowboarders are big-mountain snobs. They flock to the major players in the industry, influenced by mass marketing, their own egos and the sense that a mountain can't be worth visiting unless your friends back home have heard of it.

What this attitude obscures is the hidden gems in our midst - Pico, Suicide Six and Ascutney are three examples. These are places right under our noses. From the top of Ascutney, you can see Okemo, Stratton and Killington. Those mountains are fine choices offering larger trail networks and a greater selection of restaurants and nightlife. But at what cost?

Robert Frost wrote:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

At times like these, go with the longtime New Englanders, like Frost, for skiing advice. And remember that the road less traveled does not mean a lesser destination. Pico Mountain, one of the oldest ski areas in Vermont, is bigger than 80 percent of the ski mountains in New England.

Its 1,967 vertical feet and 50 trails shaped the careers of many racers, including Andrea Mead Lawrence, an Olympic gold medalist, and Suzy Chaffee. The lower part of the mountain is gentler and more family oriented, but the delights of the place are the trails at the top, reached by the Pico Summit-Express Quad.

This is some of the best all-purpose terrain in the state - glades, bumps and cruisers - all with a spectacular view and almost always uncongested. Fortunately, Pico spent the last off-season replacing the lift drive for the quad; breakdowns had been frequent in the past.

But what people seem to like most about Pico is the small-hill atmosphere at a big mountain. All the trails, for instance, funnel toward the same base lodge, something parents appreciate when they let their children go tackle the mountain by themselves. It's a rite of passage for the kids, not to mention a chance for the adults to relax on the sun deck.

One of the things I like best about Pico is that it's across Route 4 from the Inn at Long Trail and McGrath's Irish Pub, which is built into a huge rock outcropping. The stone sprouts into the bar and dining room, forming irregular retaining walls, but it's not an intrusion. It's Yankee ingenuity at work. The owners have thrown a few cushions on the boulders. These become couches guaranteed to rock during the pub's live music on weekends.

If Day 1 of our trip was about finding a gem around the bend from the Beast of the East, then Day 2was about finding another jewel at the heart of skiing's historic soul. Suicide Six is just out of the village of Woodstock, and not scary, as the name implies.

Homey and cozy, Suicide Six is the site of what is called the first ski tow in America. In the winter of 1934, a Ford Model T engine was hooked up to a pulley at the base of the hill. Chair lifts take you to the same piste now, but the descent still has the old-time New England ski feel to it. The 23 trails follow nature's contours, not those wrought by bulldozer.

That means you are either on a flowing, graceful run or on a narrow chute cut through the trees. In the morning, with my 6-year-old son, there were enough moderate, winding trails to keep him calm and interested.

In the afternoon, shooting down the sheer face that has been the cynosure of Suicide Six since the 1930's, there were enough drops and turn-now-or-tumble moments to keep my teenage daughters exhilarated and interested.

In between, lunch in the lodge had an appropriately traditional feel - chili and burgers - eaten on long, wide tables in front of a giant picture window looking up at the slopes. The walls are lined with photos dating to the 1930's and draped with old skis and mementos of the hundreds of skiing weekends Suicide Six has seen. The lodge is small, and you might be shoulder-to-shoulder as you finish your French fries, but crowded together next to a stone fireplace burning massive five-foot-long logs somehow seemed a perfect complement to a day of serene, hassle-free skiing. The two-minute walk back to the car wasn't bad either.

Owned by the nearby Woodstock Inn, Suicide Six has a way of lulling you into a sense of carefree tranquillity. A walk along the picturesque streets and shops next to the Woodstock village green will enhance the mood. Don't miss Vermont's oldest general store, F. H. Gillingham & Sons, opened in 1866, where you can buy everything from snowshoes to banjos - with cheese and a chardonnay in between. The village is also a good place to find a book to read by the giant hearth in the lobby of the Woodstock Inn. Some people, especially those concluding two days packed full of skiing because there were no lift lines, will fall asleep at the hearth before they reach Page 20 of a newly purchased book.

The resort at Ascutney Mountain has been just off Route 91 near the New Hampshire border for 60 years, a sleeper that people pass on the way to better-known Vermont resorts to the north and west. From 1991 to 1993, you had no choice but to pass Ascutney because it was bankrupt and closed. To be sure, it always had some shortcomings. Its nearby village, Brownsville, is not as quaint as others in the region and its lodging and dining options more limited than those at the reigning snow-sports hotspots.

But under new owners, Steven and Susan Plausteiner, who salvaged the ski resort and reopened it 12 years ago, Ascutney has expanded and softened some rough edges. The key was the addition of the North Peak Express Quad, which increased Ascutney's trail count to 56, including some true double-black diamond runs, and upped the vertical drop to 1,800 feet. Ascutney has also shrewdly chased the family market, bolstering up its children's ski school with four ability and age levels. They also placed a cabin just for young people alongside the Wonder Carpet surface lift. The Moose House Lodge serves as an on-slope warming hut and an excuse to get hot chocolate.

There are also abundant cross-country and snowshoeing trails; a movie theater that shows family films; snow tubing; an outdoor skating rink; and a sports and fitness center with pools, sauna, tennis, racquetball and basketball courts.

Why pass all this up? Get off a few exits early on your next trip, and for a change of pace, see how the family likes Ascutney's all-inclusive nature. Ascutney may be less fashionable than some of its competitors - on-mountain lodging is going through necessary renovations and the base lodge is small and utilitarian - but the staff members there will look you in the eye, smile and help you to the wide-open and less-traveled trails on the map. On a weekday last January, there were exactly 14 cars in the parking lot, and the mountain was like a theme park just before the gates opened. From top to bottom you could happily set your own pace.

Which seems to be the point of seeking out the less-discovered ski areas. Skiing and snowboarding are sports designed to bring out the adventurer's soul, or at least that's my theory. We are exploring our surroundings - skis or a snowboard are merely the props to get us where we want to go. But we can't explore if there are thousands of others charging across our path.

It doesn't have to be that way.

There are more than enough overlooked mountains and ski areas waiting for the opportunity to help us expand our perspective. They are everywhere, sometimes small but underappreciated, sometimes big but surprisingly underused. All you have to do is look. You may have to go somewhere your friends never heard of - that could be the definition of a hidden gem.

Pico, Suicide Six and Ascutney are three good places to start, but there are others. New York, for example, has 50 ski areas, more than any other state in the country. There are 18 in Michigan and more than a dozen in Montana. The population of Montana is only about 925,000, so those mountains can't be crowded. It's worth checking out.

You don't have to take my word for it. Robert Frost also wrote:

"There is absolutely no reason for being rushed along with the rush."

The village of Woodstock, Vt., a good base for skiing Pico, Suicide Six and Ascutney, is about a five-hour drive from New York City and two and a half hours from Boston. From Interstate 91 take Exit 10N in Vermont onto I-89 north. Get off at Exit 1 and turn left onto Route 4 west. It's 10 miles to the Woodstock village green. The municipal airport in Lebanon, N.H., 19 miles east, serves the Woodstock area.

For more than 200 years, there has been an inn or a tavern on the site of the current Woodstock Inn & Resort (802-457-1100, 14 the Green; The current structure was built in 1969 under the direction of the owner, Laurance S. Rockefeller. The inn strives for country sophistication, and it succeeds with 142 rooms and suites that are $149 to $664 a night. There is a fitness center a mile from the inn that is free to guests. Spa services are also available.

It would be a terrible mistake to miss the Sunday brunch at the Woodstock Inn. The setting is elegant, the food abundant and the quality refined. Offerings include lump-crabmeat eggs Benedict, blintzes, bananas Foster, specialty salads, fruits, crudités, pastries, baked salmon, duck breast, omelets and prime rib. The cost per person is $24.95.

The Jackson House Inn & Restaurant (802-457-2065, 114-3 Senior Lane; is in an 1890 mansion with 15 rooms furnished with period antiques. Rates are $195 to $380. Quail, lamb and sea bass, among other American dishes, are served under the vaulted ceiling of the dining room. There is a $55 three-course prix fixe menu and a $95 nine-course tasting menu.

Bentleys Restaurant (802-457-3232, 3 Elm Street; is in the heart of Woodstock. There's an eclectic mix of seating and tables, with Victorian sofas, antique lamps and oriental rugs. The menu is also eclectic, and grilled flatbreads are a specialty. There is an extensive selection of microbrews as well as wines by the glass. But you come to Bentleys, especially at lunch, for the atmosphere - a natural, enjoyable gathering spot. Sandwiches are $7 to $9.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Why geeks and nerds are worth it

In the wide world of dating, there are many options. Do you go for the flashy guy with the smooth smile, or the dude in the corner typing away on his laptop? The following are reasons why I think my fellow females should pay more attention to the quiet geeks and nerds, and less attention to the flashy boys.

1.) While geeks and nerds may be awkward, they’re well-meaning 9 out of 10 times. That smooth dude with the sly grin and the spider hands? Wonder what HIS intentions are... plus, I’ve never had a geek guy not call me when he said he would. Score major points THERE.

2.) They’re useful. In this tech-savvy world, it’s great to have a b/f who can make your laptop, desktop, and just about anything else that plugs into a wall behave itself.

3.) They’re more romantic than they’re given credit for. Ok true, their idea of romance might be to make up a spiffy web-page with all the reasons why they love you, with links to pics of you and sonnets and such... but hey. It lasts longer than flowers, plus you can show your friends.

4.) Due to their neglected status, there are plenty to choose from. You like ‘em tall and slender? There are plenty of geeks/nerds who are. You like ‘em smaller with more meat on their bones? Got that too.

5.) They’ve got brains. Come on now, how can intelligence be a bad thing?

6.) Most are quite good at remembering dates. Like birthdates and such, especially if they know it’ll make you happy. Due again to their neglected status, they’re more attentive than guys who “have more options”. Plus, with all that down time without a steady girlfriend, they’ll likely have mental lists of all the things they’d love to do once they GOT a girlfriend.

7.) Sex. Yep. Sex. I’m not really familiar with this myself, but I’ve friends who’ve been intimate with geek guys and it’s raves all around. They say a virgin wrote the Kama Sutra... all that time thinking about sex, imagining sex, dreaming about sex, (they are male after all) coupled with a desire to make you happy? Use your imagination.

8.) They’re relatively low-maintenance. Most can be fueled on pizza, Twinkies and Mt Dew. No complicated dinners needed here, so if you’re not the best cook, eh. Can you order a pizza?

9.) Most frequent bars as often as slugs frequent salt mines. You won’t have to worry much about your geek guy getting his “groove” on with club hotties because, frankly, he’ll be too busy rooting around under his computer wondering where that spare cable went. You won’t have to worry about him flirting with other women because, 9 out of 10 times, he’ll zip right by them in a perfect b-line towards the nearest electronics store. I’ve seen this happen.
Me: “Eww. Victoria Secret’s Models... They’re so skinny. How is that feminine? You can see her ribs!”
Geek Guy: “ooooooo...”
Me: “Hey!” *notices he is staring lustfully towards the computer store*
Geek Guy: “What?”
Me: “Never mind...”

10.) Although he may not want to go to every outing with you, you can arrange swaps, as in, you’ll go to his Gamer Con dressed as an elf princess if he’ll take you to the ballet. Plus, if he doesn’t want to go someplace with you, you won’t have to worry much about what he’s up to. You’ll probably come home to find him asleep on his keyboard in a sea of Mt. Dew cans with code blinking from the screen. It’s ok. He’s used to this. Just toss a blanket over him and turn out the light.

11.) His friends aren’t jerks. I can’t stress this enough. You’ll more likely get “Omg! A GIRL!! Can I see?!” than “Hey hot stuff back that ass up here and let me get some grub on...” They’re awkward geeks too and will, 9 times out of 10, treat you with the utmost respect and, more than likely, a note of awe. A cute girl picked one of their clan to date? It could happen to them! Hope! Drag some of your single girlfriends over, open up a pack of Mt. Dew, crack open the DnD set and get working. Nothing impresses geek guys more than a girl who can hack-n-slash (well ok maybe if she can code... a geek can dream).

12.) They’re rarely if ever possessive. They trust you, so you can be yourself around them. You like to walk around the house in a ratty t-shirt for comfort? He won’t care. He does too! They won’t get pissy if you don’t wear make-up or don’t want to bother primping your hair. If you gain a few pounds, they won’t try their best to make you feel like crap.

13.) They’re usually very well educated. Physics majors and the like. See #5. You won’t have to listen to him blathering on about his car (ok maybe a little), he’ll have loads of other interesting things to talk about. Politics, world events, how much the chicken burgers down at the local place rock, so long as you douse them in hot sauce...

14.) You’ll almost never have to hear, “Yaw dawg whazzap!!” plop out of their mouths. Unless it’s in jest. They spell properly, use correct punctuation, and are able to tell the difference between the toilet and the floor. They almost never get “wasted”, so you won’t have to worry about coming home to find him and his friends passed out on the floor amidst a pile of beer bottles. Mt. Dew cans, perhaps...

15.) And the final reason why geeks and nerds make great boyfriends: They actually give a damn about you. Not how you look (though that’s a plus), not how skinny you are, not how much make-up you primp yourself up with, but they like you for you. That kind of thing lasts longer than “DaMN baby you got a fine ass!!!” Believe me.