Science & Technology


Absurd news bites, served fresh every day.


Thanks to the Internet, the telling of urban legends has been recharged. Along with resurrected old favorites (e.g., rings of organ thieves, fingers in soft drink cans), we now have e-mail tall tales about underarm antiperspirants causing breast cancer, an endless parade of imaginary sick kids whose dying wish is that you forward their treacly messages to 15 people, and, of course, the specter of Y2K.

Amid the myriad computer-virus warnings, for example, was the Net rumor that the Russians would use the confusion around Y2K to launch a first-strike nuclear attack against the U.S. and then say, "Oops! It was an accident." Another warned that the Christian Rapture is scheduled for sometime in 2000, and all sinners should beware.

A persistent and popular rumor asserted that the government planned to impose martial law on January 1, whether or not the Y2K bug shut down systems, and that this was true because somebody's uncle or brother or dog had seen an undercover shipment of plastic road signs in a truck somewhere. Naturally, the first thing a government does when it imposes martial law is to put up road signs that say "No Civil Rights Past This Point."

But even if that rumor turns out to be fake, it doesn't mean it's time for easy breathing. According to another e-legend, if the Y2K bug didn't shut civilization down, the Feb2K bug will. That's because 2000 is supposed to be a "super" leap year. The "science" behind the super leap year is a bit dense, but it has something to do with a supposed accumulation of seconds over the past 400 years that will finally catch up to us and add not one but two extra days to the year. The effect on computers will, of course, be catastrophic, particularly to day-book planners, and the glitch will likely–no, certainly–launch nuclear missiles across the planet.