Wednesday, August 30, 2006

thisEurope on!

What is, you might well ask? Click here to find out, and to sign up for updates on our progress. Or, if you're a myspace kind of person, check out thiseurope on

Thursday, August 10, 2006

My Other Blog

Expatriate Act has updated for the first time in months. Curious?

Europe's Greatest Speeches

Another bimonthly issue of e!Sharp magazine means another chance for me to conjure up a completely subjective Top Ten list. This time around I look at great speeches in European history. You can read the article (in .pdf format) by clicking here. Click here to take a look at the revamped e!Sharp website, which allows you to flip through the pages of the mag with a mouseclick. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Laser Beam Next Door

Here's the text of my Wall Street Journal Europe article on secret laser projects around the world. Enjoy!

Laser Tag

August 4, 2006

I recently started my own blog because, like most normal people, I wanted to share various random and mundane thoughts -- as well as any Internet links to which they might correspond -- with anyone interested enough to stumble across them. Little did I know that some crude yet effective blogging technology would help me uncover a terrorist threat simmering simultaneously on every continent in the world.

You read it here first: A disturbing number of people are trying to build a laser gun.

It all began when I was still learning how to blog, tweaking the various features of my Web site to make them more attractive to the online passerby. Just for fun I posted a link to a page I'd come across that includes instructions for building a laser.

In case the existence of such a site worries you, rest assured that the required components for this particular model include a chain saw, a moped, 20 gallons of Vitalis and three cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. It's likely to cause very little damage to anyone but the person attempting to build it. (The Web site, by the way, will also show you how to teach your monkey kung fu, build a time machine and, perhaps most usefully, make fruit salad.) I found it funny and figured others would, too. Hence the link.

Months went by without much happening -- at least in the way of people other than myself visiting my blog. Then, as I was figuring out how to configure my new Site Meter, a Web site hit counter, so that it would ignore my (quite frequent) hits on my own blog, I discovered something else. I could track individual visits to my page, discovering where the surfers were and what search terms they were using to reach me.

A few people were looking for strings of words I'd happened to have posted as titles with various articles I'd written. For example, researchers looking for the "top 10 European movies of all time" have been linking to a magazine article I wrote on the subject and subsequently stuck on my blog. Someone at the University of Leuven in Belgium was seeking "opinion on Interbrew choosing Stella Artois as a flagship brand"; typing those words into Google conjures my blog, where I'd posted a newspaper feature on beer marketing that provides said opinion.

Needless to say, I became obsessed with the people who were reading my site. I was stalking my would-be stalkers. Occasionally someone even searched on my name. That's always a bit spine-chilling -- but not as scary as what I found next. By far, the No. 1 search term bringing people to my Web site, thanks to the abovementioned blog entry, is "how to build a laser gun."

The first such link was from a browser in Terry, Mississippi. No big deal. Probably just some overachiever fed up with having to study intelligent design in school all day. But the next person was in Amman, Jordan. This caught my interest. We've become conditioned to fear the WMD-focused ambitions of people in the Middle East.

Then the next day there was a Web search from Madrid, Spain, where there had been a terror attack a few years ago and where there are still suspected al Qaeda cells. I was beginning to suspect a network. More hits followed, all looking for information on how to make laser guns.

Here's a partial list of hits and their origins: Kingston, Jamaica; Pierre, South Dakota; College Park, Maryland; Pendle Hills, Australia; Brooklyn, New York; Stafford, Virginia (home of Quantico Marine Base); Allahabad, India; Sao Paolo, Brazil; Kelaniya, Sri Lanka; Qiryat Gat, Israel; Lebanon (!), Tennessee.

Every day I check my site stats. About every third day I find someone looking to build a death ray.

Site Meter offers a few other intriguing clues about these would-be mad scientists, occasionally providing more detailed information. A visitor to my site from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, in the U.K., was searching from the premises of Research Machines, an educational software company. Another wasn't just from Maine: He or she was from the Maine Bureau of Taxation, raising disturbing questions about regulators run amok.

By the way, these people are not just searching "how to build a laser." They want to know "how to build a laser gun." The former search string will get you a couple of junior-college FAQ Web sites that tell you how to rig up a crude laser. Add "gun" and you get the original site I found so funny, a few online gaming forums and my blog.

You may say I'm crazy to be worried. But I'm stocking up on Vitalis and Pabst.

Mr. Winneker is a writer in Brussels. Check out his blog at If you want to know how to build a laser gun, visit

Copyright 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Friday, August 04, 2006

How to Build a Laser Gun II

My piece on the worldwide laser gun conspiracy is published in the Wall Street Journal Europe today. You can read it at WSJ Online. I'll post the text on this site soon for those who don't have a WSJ Online subscription. (Updated: click here to read article.) If you've linked to this site via WSJ Online, welcome! And check this out!