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A Computerized Dart

A Computerized Dart?

Second only to the Asian chick, Lola, on Temptation Island the hottest topic these days is the super-secret invention, code-named "Ginger," set to be unveiled to the world in 2002 by its multi-millionaire inventor, New Hampshire's Dean Kamen.

According to the investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston the invention is so incredibly revolutionary that it will make Kamen "five times richer than Bill Gates" within five years. Yep, Kamen might soon be worth a TRILLION smackers which, now that I think about it, is just about how many shots it usually takes me to close the double one.

Speculation about just what Kamen's mystery invention might be runs the gamut. Said to take just a few minutes to assemble with little more than a screwdriver and a set of socket wrenches, and from just a couple thousand dollars worth of parts easily contained in a gym bag, a majority of thought seems to suggest that the thing is some sort of high-tech personal transportation device. A sort of "wearable car," as Joel Garreau of the Washington Post postulated, that will fold and unfold into a space the size of a briefcase, be fueled without petroleum, whisk people along magically like some sort of "60 mph wheeled witch's broom," and obviate forever the need for parking spaces.

Or maybe it's a time machine -- a shower stall-like contraption that we can step up into, just like Jeff Goldbloom, be broken down into tiny invisible molecules, and "fly" back in time so we can pound the British over and over again because they're just too bloody daft not to stop walking in a rigid little conga line through the forest in coats the color of a fire engine. Blimey! That'll teach the blighters, with their frickin' 40 points per dart averages.

Or MAYBE it's x-ray glasses that actually work! About forty years ago, when I was seven, I saved up Bazooka bubble gum wrappers and sent away for a 1960's vintage set of these lenses. To make them work what you had to do was hang a big white sheet on your mother's clothes line. Then you needed to wait for the sun to cast it's rays "just right" on the sheet. The final part of the process was to convince your well-endowed sixteen year-old baby-sitter to walk directly in front of the sheet while you and all of your buddies, wearing your googly-eyed x-ray specs, nonchalantly tried to figure out if she was wearing underwear. Well, Bazooka owes me about a billion bubble gum wrappers because the suckers DIDN'T WORK. Shucks.

When I first started hearing rumors about the new invention I was CERTAIN it was a new kind of dart -- one that flies straight, extracts itself from the board, chalks up the score and buys a beer before returning to your hand. Now, THAT would truly change the world. But, alas, I was wrong. In a private conversation recently with Kamen I was assured that such a dart was simply not possible to construct "given the laws of physics as we know them" today. "The problem, Paulie, ain't the extraction part; we can do that with magnets. The scoring's not a biggie; we can imbed a computer chip in the barrel. With miniature sensors we can make the dart fly to the bar and even shove a quarter in the juke box before settlin' again in your pocket protector. What we CAN'T do is make the little buggers fly straight. You'll need to talk to a Brit about that."

Whatever it is, Ginger has definitely got the big honchos droolin'. Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr have invested millions in it.

Ginger "will sweep the world and change lives, cities, and ways of thinking," it is said. It will "profoundly affect our environment and be an alternative to products that are dirty, expensive, sometimes dangerous and often frustrating, especially for people in the cities." Ginger will be more "revolutionary than the Internet, the personal computer, the light bulb or birth control." It will put billion-dollar corporations in the crapper.

I suppose, as another Washington Post Staff Writer, Linton Weeks, put it the other day, the real question is whether Ginger is "civilization's last best hope or just the latest, greatest hype?" If there is a key to this answer it has to be found in Kamen's own career.

Deep within the secretive halls of his DEKA Research and Development Corporation in Manchester, New Hampshire, Kamen's been inventing breakthrough products since the early 1970's. Life-changing stuff like the first portable insulin pump and the Independence 3000 Ibot Transporter, a high-tech wheelchair with "onboard sensors, gyroscopes and computers that allow the device to place its wheels, almost like feet, so as to climb stairs and travel over curbs and rocks." Just this past November Kamen was named by the White House for a National Medal of Technology.

So Kamen's not just some bull-doody artist. He's a smart guy. And, according to Wired magazine, he's a pretty regular guy too; he once held a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the "longest span of time spent dressed in denim." Or maybe he's just nuts. Clearly, when it comes to investing, guys like Jobs, Bezos and Doerr are worth paying attention to.

So Ginger's no hoax. Whatever it is, it's the real megillah.

This is why I'm getting ready to plunk down the big bucks the moment Ginger goes public. I missed the chance to cash in on Microsoft because I listened to my buddy Tommy Molina. "Dude, I ain't never met no chick who dug it either 'micro' or 'soft'. That stock's a loser."

Well, let me tell you, I've been following this fascinating story with an eagle-eye. I've been reading the fine print in the newspaper. Clipping the articles for my broker. Studying the little nuances in the language used to describe this mysterious new invention.

I've got this baby pegged.

Consider the clues: Ginger will not be expensive. Ginger will not be frustrating. Ginger will change lives!

Come on! Kamen's been playin' with us. The high-tech press has got its knickers in a twist. They're flailin'. They're guessin'. Is it a flying saucer? Is it some new fuel source, like maybe Marmalite (which has no other discernible use), that will put the Middle East out of business? Consider the old bar trick. As you take out four or five cigarettes and, one by one begin to place them on the table, you challenge the group around you to discern what numbers, from one to ten, the "code" you are "demonstrating" suggests. Carefully -- very studiously -- you arrange and rearrange the cigarettes. You set them up in a straight line. You make a rectangle. A triangle. You stick a cigarette in your nose.

And each and every time you organize the cigarettes you hold up any number of fingers, from one lonely digit to two full hands, in clear sight, for everyone to observe.

The "code," you see, that you are "demonstrating," has NOTHING to do with the cigarettes. The code is as obvious, and as simple, as the number of fingers you are holding in the air each time you rearrange the cigarettes. But seldom, even though the clues were as clear as a pilsner in a glass, does anyone crack the code quickly. They're always too focused on the distraction.

So think about it again. Kamen's invention is inexpensive. It never frustrates. It can be "ready" in minutes. It will change the word as we know it.

Yep, it's as clear as a troop of red-coated Brits prancing through the trees. Dean Kamen has invented a New Woman.

From the Field,

Dartoid

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