Friday, January 18, 2008

Sturdy skirt a hit with Swedish workmen

Published: 17 Jan 08 18:38 CET


Mechanics, carpenters and plumbers who have tough physical jobs need strong, functional clothing. But that doesn’t mean they have to wear boring, old-fashioned overalls that their grandfathers might have worn. A kilt for professional men recently introduced in Sweden features roomy pockets needed to carry necessary tools and allows the worker to make a striking fashion statement at the same time.

This men’s skirt in heavyweight cotton has other advantages. It is undoubtedly refreshing – or at least mildly alarming – to feel a cooling breeze running up your legs during a long, sweaty day hammering in plasterboard or installing a new floor.

“We initially launched the kilt as a sort of experiment. We thought only a small number of daring men would wear it. But it proved to be surprisingly popular,” says Susanne Kristianson of Blåkläder, the company from Svenljunga, western Sweden, behind the unconventional work wear.

The trendy kilt has attracted a following among self-confident young Swedish men who are not afraid to challenge conventional gender stereotypes - although, as any Scotsman would tell you, there was never anything girlie about wearing a kilt.

The unconventional garment is especially popular among carpenters: it features two reinforced nail pockets, a loop for carrying a hammer and a knife holder.

One of Sweden’s largest manufacturers of heavy-duty and protective clothing for men, Blåkläder sells its new workingman’s kilt nationwide; it is also listed as a regular item in its product catalogue. The garment was lauded as “Fashion Product of the Year” in late October 2007 by TEKO, the Swedish Textile and Clothing Association.

The company, whose name means “Blue Clothing,” has been making work clothes since 1959.

Where's Bobby Fisher?

The genius who re-invented chess
By David Edmonds
Co-author of Bobby Fischer Goes To War

Bobby Fischer. Photo: 2005
Bobby Fischer's IQ was estimated at over 180
Bobby Fischer was the man who put chess on the map.

After he beat Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972 to become world chess champion, the game would never quite be the same again.

A lone American had defeated the might of the Soviet chess machine.

Chess was suddenly on newspaper front pages across the world. In New York a reporter went from bar to bar and discovered that of the 21 he visited, 18 had their televisions tuned to the chess - and only three to the Mets baseball game.

'Communism vs. capitalism'

Why such unprecedented attention to this ancient board game?

It is really the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians
Bobby Fischer on his match against Boris Spassky in 1972

1972 saw the height of detente, but Mr Fischer portrayed his match as a proxy for the Cold War.

"It is really the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians... This little thing between me and Spassky. It's a microcosm of the whole world political situation," he said.

Mr Fischer hated the Soviets with a passion - they had conspired against him for years, he claimed.

For the Soviets, chess was a vital propaganda tool. Their superiority at the game proved communism's superiority over capitalism - or so they thought.

There were literally millions of registered Soviet chess players, and the elite grandmasters were privileged members of society.

Kissinger's calls

Then there was Mr Fischer's eccentric - to put it mildly - personality.

Bobby Fischer (left) plays a practice match against Soviet grand master Tigran Petrosian in 1958
Bobby Fischer (left) became a grand master at the tender age of 15

Since the age of six chess had been his life. He spent hour after hour, day after day, studying the game.

At the age of 11, he - in his own words - "just got good". By 15, he was a grand master, the youngest in history - and it dawned on the Soviet chess authorities that their pre-eminence was finally under threat.

An evident genius - his IQ was estimated at over 180 - Fischer had no interest in school work and his solitary nature, and brusque manner, was already landing him in trouble.

Twice prior to 1972 he had dropped out of the game - as his demands to tournament organisers became ever more extravagant.

He complained about prize money, about the lighting, the size of the board and pieces, the noise from audiences.

It was unclear whether the 1972 match - the so-called match of the century - would ever take place.

It took a couple of calls from Henry Kissinger, the then US national security adviser, to persuade him to continue.

"This is the worst player in the world calling the best player in the world," one of these telephone calls was reputed to begin.

Total recluse

Victory in Reykjavik should have transformed Mr Fischer into a multi-millionaire. Offers flooded over. A million dollars alone was offered if he would endorse a chess set.

But Mr Fischer would not sign contracts, and within a year he had disappeared, almost without trace.

In 1975, he refused to defend his title against Anatoly Karpov, though the International Chess Federation had conceded to all but two of his 179 demands.

He became a total recluse - his life a fertile ground for rumour.

There was a bizarre episode in 1981 when he was picked up by the police apparently mistaken for a bank robber, and thrown behind bars for two days.

He later published a pamphlet, graphically depicting the indignities he suffered: "I was tortured in the Pasadena jailhouse."

Icelandic sanctuary

Then, in 1992, he defied US sanctions and played a re-match against Mr Spassky for $5m.

At a press conference he spat on a warning letter from the US treasury department.

He proceeded to beat Mr Spassky again - but from this moment on, he was on the run.

By this time he had descended into an abyss of unreality, the world of Holocaust denial, persecution complexes and conspiracy theories.

He raged against the Jews, though his mother was Jewish, and - as released FBI documents later showed - his biological father probably was Jewish too.

His anti-communism transmuted into a rabid anti-Americanism. America, he said after the 11 September 2001 attacks, had got what it deserved.

Finally picked up in Japan, this by now sad, forlorn, ragged character eventually found sanctuary in Iceland.

After all, many Icelanders remembered him with affection. He had not only put chess on the map. For a short period, in 1972, he put this tiny country of only 250,000 people on the map too.

Chess legend Fischer dies at 64
Bobby Fischer in 1992
The US-born player was a fierce critic of his government

The controversial former world chess champion, Bobby Fischer, has died in Iceland at the age of 64.

The US-born player, who became famous for beating Cold War Soviet rival Boris Spassky in 1972, died of an unspecified illness, his spokesman said.

He was granted Icelandic citizenship in 2005 as a way to avoid being deported to the US.

Mr Fischer was wanted for breaking international sanctions by playing a match in the former Yugoslavia in 1992.

They [media] constantly use the words eccentric, eccentric, eccentric, weird. I am boring. I am boring!
Bobby Fischer

He also had alienated many in his homeland by broadcasting anti-Semitic diatribes and expressing support for the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York.

The reclusive player - who had renounced his US citizenship - had lived undetected in Japan for a number of years before moving to Iceland.


Mr Fischer died in Iceland on Thursday, his spokesman Gardar Sverrisson said.

The nature of the illness was unknown but Mr Fischer had been reportedly seriously ill for some time.

Spassky said he was "very sorry" to hear of Mr Fischer's death, the Associated Press reported.

Russia's Garry Kasparov, a former world champion, said that Mr Fischer's ascent through the chess world in the 1960s was "a revolutionary breakthrough" for the game.

'Match of the century'

Mr Fischer was born in Chicago in 1943, but was brought up in New York's Brooklyn.

He should be remembered for his wonderful 1972 victory over Spassky, rather than the sad and prolonged end-game of his personal life
Philip Hollywood, UK

He became a US chess champion at 14 and then the youngest grandmaster a year later.

He achieved world fame after playing a world championship match in Iceland in 1972, beating title-holder Spassky.

The so-called chess "match of the century" came to be seen as a proxy for the Cold War, as the Soviets had held the world title since World War II.

Mr Fischer, the individual who had triumphed over the might of the Communist system, became an American hero.

The 1972 match made chess fashionable, even sexy, some experts say.

He lost the world chess crown in 1975 after refusing to play against his Soviet rival Anatoly Karpov.

US critic

The eccentric US genius then simply disappeared, declining all lucrative sponsorship deals.

He resurfaced briefly in 1992, to play a re-match with Spassky in Yugoslavia in defiance of international sanctions.

Mr Fischer then vanished again, though it later became clear he had been living for a number of years in Japan.

He hit world headlines again after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US.

In an interview to a radio station in the Philippines, he described the attacks as the "wonderful news".

In another interview Mr Fischer accused the media of trying to "poison the public against me".

"They constantly use the words eccentric, eccentric, eccentric, weird. I am boring. I am boring!" he said.

He had also been strongly criticised for making anti-Semitic comments.

Mr Fischer was granted Icelandic citizenship in March 2005, after spending several months in detention in Japan.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Top 10 Telephone Tricks

When getting things done involves making phone calls, you want to spend the least amount of time and money on the horn as possible—and several tricks and services can help you do just that. With the right tones, keypresses, phone numbers, and know-how, you can skip through or cut off long-winded automated voice systems and humans, access web services by voice, and smartly screen incoming calls. Check out our pick of the 10 best telephony techniques for getting more done in less time over the phone.

10. Avoid the cost of calling 411 with GOOG 411.

Instead of calling regular 411 to get information (and an extra charge on your phone bill), Google by voice by calling 1-800-GOOG-411 to get a street address or phone number. Some Lifehacker readers say GOOG 411 works better than others; if you haven't tried it, here's a YouTube clip (courtesy of Google) on how to give it a try.

9. Get out of annoying calls and meetings with sounds and the Popularity Dialer.

Interrupt a long phone call or meeting (or date!) with two interesting services: (original post) offers a myriad of sounds you can play while you're trapped on an endless phonecall that give you the perfect excuse to hang up. (Like, someone's at the door, or you're out of change to feed the naggy public phone.) Along the same lines, schedule an interrupting call with the Popularity Dialer (original post) an incoming calling service that can make you seem "in demand." (Do we actually recommend these two services? Maybe not, but it's nice to know they're out there when you're desperate.)

8. PayPal money via voice call.

phone-paypal.png When you owe your buddy 12 bucks on the dinner bill and you're out of cash, call 1-800-4PAYPAL (1-800-472-9725) to send him the money on the spot. (Your phone must be activated on your PayPal account for this to work). Here's more on how to send and receive money via phone with PayPal.

7. Email yourself reminders, blog, and set Google Calendar appointments by phone with Jott.

"Do everything you'd ever want from the phone" service Jott supercharges your ability to leave yourself a reminder voicemail. Jott will transcribe your voicemail to self and email it to you, as well as post to your blog, add events to your Google Calendar, and more. See Kevin's full rundown on how to get things done over the phone with Jott.

6. Avoid annoying calls with a custom silent ringtone.

If your cell phone supports per-caller ringtones, reader Jim suggests selectively silencing the low-priority incoming calls with a dead air ringtone. Here's how to make a ringtone from any MP3 on your mobile.

5. Ring all your phones from one number with GrandCentral.

grandcentralonenumber.png Sick of missing calls to the office while you're home or vice versa? Set up a free GrandCentral number that can ring all your phones at once from one number, or selective phones based on the caller—like your cell phone, office phone, and home phone. GrandCentral's got scads of neat customized phone features; see Adam's tour of how to consolidate your phones with GrandCentral.

4. Skip the greeting and get right to the beep with one keypress.

Long voicemail greetings are tedious to sit through, but on many services, specific keypresses can skip you right to the beep. Hit 7 or # to bypass that long greeting, and save time and money on your cell phone bill.

3. Name that tune.

411song.png Dying to know what song that is playing on the car radio? Call 866-411-SONG and hold your phone up to the speakers. Just 15 seconds (and a small fee), and 411 SONG will send you a text message with the song name and artist. (This only works on cell phones with SMS capabilities.)

2. Swear like a sailor to skip directly to a human operator.

When that Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system's making you navigate an endless menu of options, put your potty mouth to good use. Some IVR's are programmed to listen for naughty words and speed you along to human help when they hear them. Adam gave this trick a try and dropping the F bomb did indeed zap him right through to a human. We suggest using this trick when you're not within earshot of your co-workers.

1. Trick automated phone bots into thinking your line's dead.

If you've got automated phone marketers or political campaigns or debt collectors ringing your phone at all hours, trick the system into thinking your phone's dead. Add the U.S. Special Information Tone signal for "vacant circuit" to the beginning of your voicemail greeting to automatically unsubscribe your phone number from bot call lists.

How do you save time and money getting things done on the phone? Let us know in the comments.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

PETA and Parenting

PETA launched a new "Sex Talk" commercial Monday drawing a link between unwanted teen pregnancies and animal spaying and neutering...and they're airing it in Jamie Lynn Spears' hometown.

The 30-second ad features parents who encourage their daughters to become sexually active. When one daughter asks her mother, "What if I get pregnant?" she responds with "pop out all the kids you can" and says, "If it has a pulse, you should be wrapped around it!"

The ad will air twice a day through Friday during "Good Morning America" in Kentwood, La., where the Spears family resides.

Click here for the PETA press release on the ad

Spears, the 16-year-old sister of Britney and star of "Zoey 101," sparked controversy last month when she announced she was pregnant.

PETA's president Ingrid E. Newkirk said in a statement, "Just as Lynne Spears is under scrutiny because of her underage daughter's pregnancy, people who fail to spay and neuter their animals should also be feeling the heat."

The commercial concludes with, "Parents shouldn't act this way. Neither should people with dogs and cats. Always spay or neuter."

On its Web site, PETA points out the reason for the human-animal link, stating "one female cat can create 420,000 cats in just seven years, and an unneutered male cat can father limitless litters of kittens.

"Unwanted dogs and cats who never make it to animal shelters are abandoned and left to fend for themselves on the streets, where they are often subjected to cruelty and suffer from starvation, diseases, or injuries."

Anti--Sex in the City Superheroine

Meet the Anti-Sex in the City Superhero
Terrifica, N.Y.-Based Costumed Protector of Women, Is Targeting Lonely Lotharios

NEW YORK, Nov. 5, 2002 --

New York's comic book alter-ego Gotham has its Dark Knight in Batman, but it turns out the real city has its own caped crusader. Lotharios everywhere, beware, because Terrifica, scarlet-costumed avenger and protector of women, is on the prowl on the city's party scene.

All was calm on a brisk 40-degree Saturday evening around Bar 4 in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. The only things stirring were the breeze-driven mocha-colored leaves skipping and scratching across the concrete and the light traffic along Seventh Avenue.

But skidding leaves soon gave way to the deliberate clacking of red heels. It was a little early for Terrifica to start patrolling; it was only 8:30, and the social scene was hours away from awakening. However, with her red cape, matching leotard and skirt with red boots, she managed to open the eyes of a few onlookers and elicit a whisper or two as she strode into Bar 4.

For the past seven years Terrifica has been patrolling New York's party and bar scene, looking out for women who have had a little too much to drink and are in danger of being taken advantage of by men. She says she has saved several women from both themselves and predators who would prey upon their weaknesses — both from alcohol and a misguided notion that they have to go out drinking to find a companion.

"I protect the single girl living in the big city," says Terrifica, sporting blond Brunhild wig with a golden mask and a matching Valkyrie bra. "I do this because women are weak. They are easily manipulated, and they need to be protected from themselves and most certainly from men and their ill intentions toward them."

Terrifica does not claim to have superhuman powers or to be from a planet like Krypton. By day, she is Sarah, a 30-year-old single woman who works for a computer consulting company. (Sarah prefers not to reveal her last name so that she can protect her anonymity and still lead some degree of a normal life.)

To some, Terrifica may not seem all that imposing — she does not have the bulging muscles of your typical superhero. But she has a superhuman sense of purpose and belief in herself. Terrifica unfailingly refers to her non-costumed alter-ego, Sarah, as if she were another person. The heroine refuses to answer any questions about Sarah while she is working as Terrifica, saying "You are talking to Terrifica, not Sarah."

Sipping a Shirley Temple, Terrifica's voice is strong and forceful. Her brown eyes pierce through Bar 4's red lights as she talks about her mission.

"My inspiration is the need people have in the city to be protected from themselves. That is my inspiration," the heroine says. "I have to act in the most extreme situations. I'm on the front lines, in the danger zone, in the wee hours of the night. There's nothing happening here right now; it's way early. But if I come back here at 2:30, 3 o'clock in the morning, there are people drunk, making out with other people, going home with other people. They don't know what they're doing. They're drunk.

"To feel like you have to go to a bar, to put yourself out there, feeling like you have worth only when you're married, engaged, or have a boyfriend, that's weakness," Terrifica says. "People are happiest when they're alone and living their solitary lives."

To Serve and Protect the Single Girl Living in the City

However, Terrifica's mission is really twofold: she seems driven by both a need to protect all women and her alter-ego, a single girl living in the city. According to Sarah, Terrifica was spawned by a combination of heartbreak and her need deal with her own feelings of vulnerability.

Before moving to New York from Pittsburgh seven years ago, Sarah was heartbroken when she and her boyfriend broke up. Terrifica, Sarah says, was created out of her need to deal with her own anxiety of being a single woman suddenly living in a new city.

"I was living in New York, 23, feeling sort of vulnerable. I created Terrifica I guess to deal with my feelings of vulnerability being young and single in New York City," Sarah says. "I had a couple of run-ins with men that really shocked me, left me feeling confused and really hurt. … To come from a small city where I knew everyone to a bigger city where I did not was quite overwhelming and scary."

However, at some point, Terrifica became more than Sarah's personal therapeutic tool. Her purpose grew to include the protection of all women from the men who would manipulate them — emotionally and sexually.

"The reason why Batman was dark was because he kept seeing his demon [the murder of his parents and his need to avenge them] every time he did what he did," Sarah says. "I guess that is essentially the same thing with me. I experience the same hurt and pain over and over again [as Terrifica]."

Patrolling a Potentially Dangerous World With No Superpowers

Terrifica did not want to reveal how often she patrols or how she decides where she is going to go out on duty. However, different nights have different party scenes.

"Thursday nights are good nights for college students," she says. "Thursdays and Friday night are good nights for the after-work crowd down in Wall Street. Saturdays are good nights for the East-West Village where you have people coming in from the other boroughs."

Despite her persistence and dedication, a costume can be a hindrance to a passionate crime fighter like Terrifica. After all, how many real-life Batmen and Spider-Men does the average person encounter every day? Terrifica's costume could attract gawkers, a degree of ridicule and distract from the seriousness of her task, but she says that's a tactical choice.

"I have undercover clothes that I wear so that I can blend in," says Terrifica. "I wear this costume to bring attention to myself. Imagine yourself the perpetrator, one of the evil men in the world, and then you see a woman in a leotard and she's beautiful. You're going to stop focusing attention on the woman you're trying to seduce and going to try to get Terrifica to pay attention to you. So, it's a diversion tactic."

Still, Terrifica acknowledges that her vigilantism puts herself at risk. She admits that she has found herself in situations that involved physical run-ins with people who did not appreciate her interference. Her sobriety and wits have remained her greatest assets in those situations.

"I really only have my utility belt. I'm not superstrong. I'm from this Earth," she says. "I know I have to be very cautious. But the difference is I'm sober. And drunk people who are hostile are still drunk people. I have a degree of control, and my mission and purpose can usually get me out of dangerous situations."

However, Terrifica does carry pepper spray in her utility belt, which also includes a cell phone, lipstick, a camera to take pictures of alleged male predators, a logging book, Terrifica fortune cards and — last but not least — Smarties candies.

Why Smarties?

"They taste good," Terrifica says. "I need energy. What I do is very difficult. I need to stay awake long hours, driving around. Sugar helps."

Struggling to Get a Message Across

For the most part, Terrifica says, the women she has saved have appreciated her help. But she hopes to never save the same woman twice.

"That would just be sad," she says. "I get to know some of the women I save and talk to them. … It would just be sad if I would run into some of them again. There is a message I'm trying to get across where I would hope to never need to see them again."

Not everyone is a fan of hers. Some bartenders may hate her heroics, she says, because she potentially drives away their business. However, she conceded that she has some power over bartenders.

"Bartenders tend to be men, and they tend to be attracted to me," she says. "Most men are. That's part of my power."

A ‘Fantastic’ Nemesis

Terrifica has also become somewhat of a nemesis to one alleged Casanova in particular: A man who likes to dress in velvet and prefers to be called "Fantastico." He says that over the years, Terrifica has thwarted his attempts on numerous occasions to get to know women a little better.

"Well, I guess I first met her about seven years ago ... most recently last week in Carroll Gardens [Brooklyn]," Fantastico says. "I was with this woman and she was very lonely, seemed very desperate for attention. We were having a very lovely time, sharing a drink and suddenly I turn around see her [Terrifica] in this ridiculous red cape. She practically drags the woman away."

Fantastico, who says he does not have a day job, says he likes to indulge in the finer, pleasurable things in life and that he likes to bring out the pleasure in people. He is convinced that Terrifica is a miserable, lonely woman who does not want anyone else to be happy.

"She seems to have an obsession with me," Fantastico says. "She seems to have it in for men. I'm convinced she is loveless and would love to have the rest of the city as loveless and miserable as she is."

Fantastico says that Terrifica has never really addressed him directly during their encounters. She has only lectured the alleged would-be female victims about being manipulated and taken advantage of.

"She's just been very cold, very distant," Fantastico says. "But I'm sure if she did address me — her being a pretty attractive woman in her leotard — if she did hear me out, maybe she would change her attitude."

But while Terrifica has never addressed Fantastico directly, her alter-ego Sarah has. Sarah says she was seduced by Fantastico years ago.

However, Fantastico does not even remember Sarah and has no idea that she is Terrifica. He does remember Terrifica, though.

"While I don't know a Sarah, I do know Terrifica. She does exist, and we have crossed paths from time to time," he says.

"What? You mean he doesn't remember me?" Sarah asks, stunned. "You see, that's why Terrifica exists, that's why she's needed."

Fantastico insisted Terrifica has only been an occasional annoyance to him and that he doesn't lose any sleep at night knowing she's out there. "Trust me," he says. "I have no problem doing what I do."

A Heroine’s Advice for Self-Protection

Terrifica knows she can't be everywhere. She prefers to work alone but would not mind if other people donned a costume to help protect others. However, she does have advice to help women help themselves.

"The most important thing is that you do not need another person to give you love," Terrifica says. "And you should not feel that someone who promises love actually loves you, ever. People throw around the term 'love' to manipulate, to get sexual satisfaction. And you should only exist to satisfy yourself, not sexually but holistically. Do not be meek enough to believe the myths society has imposed on us to basically control you.

"And don't get drunk in bars."

Terrifica says she ultimately would like to be able to set up a hotline to help women when they feel like they need advice. It would enable her to more easily spread her message of self-protection and empowerment.

She would also like to have someday have the equivalent of Batman's bat signal. Perhaps, it could be called the "Terrific signal."

"It is my dream to have a 'T' signal going up to the clouds so that I know when I would be needed," Terrifica says.

The End of the Road for Terrifica?

Terrifica says she will continue carrying on her mission as long as there are still women getting drunk in bars, going home with men they barely know and feeling badly in the morning, wondering whether the men will ever call.

However, there are signs that Sarah is wearying of donning the red leotard.

"I'm sure Terrifica would tell you that she is always successful," she says. "But that is not always the case. Dressing in a red leotard, hanging out at bars drinking Shirley Temples is not exciting. It can get pretty dull. … There are nights when not much happens.

"I would love to be able to be at the point psychologically where I don't feel like I have to dress like a superhero to feel safe and empowered in New York City," Sarah says. "It's hard to say under what circumstances [I would stop] with my not looking so hot in a leotard anymore. I had set [age] 30 as the magic number and I'm still doing it. And I'll be 31 soon."

Well, at least one person believes Terrifica/Sarah still looks good in a leotard. As Terrifica left Bar 4, a little girl in a knit white cap and matching jacket saw the heroine and immediately stopped, looked up and smiled.

"You look pretty," the child said with a toothy grin.

"Thank you," said Terrifica, as she allowed herself to smile. "Be safe now."

Terrifica's smile soon faded away as her thoughts turned to the night ahead. "I have to go home now … to my headquarters … to prepare. I have to make some calls and find out where some of the party scenes are tonight."

And with that, Terrifica turned away, red cape lazily flowing behind her. No one else on Seventh Avenue stopped to stare at her.

SuperHeroes in Real Life

nspired by comic books, ordinary citizens are putting on masks to fight crime
Superheroes in Real Life

By Ward Rubrecht
"We're basically normal people who just find an unusual way to do something good" says Geist. "Once you get suited up, you're a hero and you've got to act like one."
Image by Nick Vlcek

There's more fun with Real Life Superheroes at the following links:

• Visit our SLIDESHOW GALLERY to see many of the Reals in this story.

• Read EXPANDED WEB CONTENT for this story, which features video and links.

• Cruise the REAL LIFE SUPERHERO MAP via Google Maps.

Geist's breath fogs the winter air as he surveys the frozen Minneapolis skyline, searching for signs of trouble. His long duster flaps in the breeze as his eyes flick behind reflective sunglasses; a wide-brim hat and green iridescent mask shroud his identity from those who might wish him harm.

Should a villain attack, the Emerald Enforcer carries a small arsenal to defend himself: smoke grenades, pepper spray, a slingshot, and a pair of six-inch fighting sticks tucked into sturdy leather boots. Leather guards protect Geist's arms; his signature weapon, an Argentinean cattle-snare called bolos, hangs from a belt-holster.

A mission awaits and time is of the essence, so Geist eases his solid frame, honed from martial arts training, into his trusty patrol vehicle—a salt-covered beige sedan. Unfamiliar with the transportation tangle of downtown, he pulls a MapQuest printout from his pocket, discovering his goal is but a short cruise down Washington Avenue.

Soon Geist faces his first obstacle: parking on the left side of a one-way street. "Usually one of my superpowers is parallel parking," he chuckles as he eases his car into the spot, emerging victorious with a foot and a half between curb and tire. He feeds a gauntleted fistful of quarters into the parking meter, and then pops the trunk on the Geistmobile to retrieve his precious cargo. On the street, he encounters businesspeople on lunch break—some stare openly; others don't even notice his garish attire. "It's easier in winter," Geist says with a laugh. "Winter in Minnesota, everybody's dressed weird."

Finally, his destination is in sight: People Serving People, a local homeless shelter. Geist strides boldly into the lobby—a cramped, noisy room where kids and adults mill about chatting—and heaves his stuffed paper bags onto the counter. "I have some groceries to donate," he tells Dean, the blond-bearded security guard on duty, whose placid expression suggests superheroes pop in on a regular basis. "And I have an hour on the meter if there's anything I can do to help out."

Wendy Darst, the volunteer coordinator, looks taken aback but gladly puts the superhero to work. Soon the Jade Justice finds himself hip-deep in a supply closet, piling books into a red Radio Flyer wagon. He wheels it back to the lobby, entreating the children to select a text. But the kids seem more interested in peppering him with questions. "So are you a cowboy or something?" one boy asks.

Geist kneels down to reply with a camera-ready grin, "Maybe a super-secret, space-cowboy detective!"

Another kid, awed by the uniform, just stares silently. "Hi," Geist says with a smile, holding out his hand in greeting. "I'm a real-life superhero."

The kid grabs Geist's leather-clad mitt and grins back. "I'm four!"

Such is the life of Minnesota's only superhero—a man in his mid-40s who sold off his comic book collection to fund a dream borne of those very pages. Unlike his fictional inspirations, he hasn't yet found any villains to apprehend in Rochester, a sleepy city of 95,000 about 80 miles south of Minneapolis. But that doesn't mean he's wasting his time, he says. "When you put on this costume and you do something for someone, it's like, 'Wow, I am being a hero,' and that is a great feeling."

BY MOST OBSERVERS' RECKONING, between 150 and 200 real-life superheroes, or "Reals" as some call themselves, operate in the United States, with another 50 or so donning the cowl internationally. These crusaders range in age from 15 to 50 and patrol cities from Indianapolis to Cambridgeshire, England. They create heroic identities with names like Black Arrow, Green Scorpion, and Mr. Silent, and wear bright Superman spandex or black ninja suits. Almost all share two traits in common: a love of comic books and a desire to improve their communities.

It's rare to find more than a few superheroes operating in the same area, so as with all hobbies, a community has sprung up online. In February, a burly, black-and-green-clad New Jersey-based Real named Tothian started Heroes Network, a website he says functions "like the UN for the real-life superhero community."

The foremost designer of real-life superhero costumes lives in New Brighton, Minnesota. His given name is Michael Brinatte, but he pro wrestles under the name Jack T. Ripper. At 6'2", with bulldog shoulders, he looks more likely to suplex you than shake your hand. It's hard to imagine him behind a sewing machine, carefully splicing together bits of shiny spandex, but when the 39-year-old father of three needed to give his wrestling persona a visual boost, that's just where he found himself, drawing on his only formal tailoring education: seventh-grade home economics. He discovered he had a talent for it, and before long was sewing uniforms and masks for fellow wrestlers, learning techniques to make his work durable enough to withstand the rigors of hand-to-hand combat.

After he posted photos of his masks on the internet, he met his first real-life superhero: Entomo the Insect Man, a crimefighter and "masked detective" based in Naples, Italy. Entomo wanted Brinatte to make him a mask to incorporate into his black-and-olive uniform. A lifelong comic fan, Brinatte took the assignment seriously, and it showed in the stitching. When Entomo showed off his new mask to the community of Reals, Brinatte started getting more orders: a green-and-black bodysuit for Hardwire, a blue-and-white Z-emblazoned uniform for Zetaman. Eventually, Brinatte started a website,, to formalize his business, and now spends 10 to 15 hours each week making superhero uniforms. "They have a good heart and believe in what they're doing, and they're a lot of fun to talk to," Brinatte says.

His super friends are starting to get publicity. Last October, an organization called Superheroes Anonymous issued an invitation to any and all real-life superheroes: Come to Times Square to meet other Reals face-to-face and discuss the future of the movement. The community roiled with discussion of the invitation—was it a trap by an as-yet-unknown real-life super villain? In the end, only a dozen Reals attended, but the gathering attracted the notice of the New York Times and the BBC, which gave the budding league of justice worldwide ink.

"We're basically normal people who just find an unusual way to do something good," Geist says. "Once you get suited up, you're a hero and you've got to act like one."

SO YOU'VE DECIDED to become a real-life superhero. Like Wolverine, you've chosen a secret identity and a uniform. But unlike the X-Man, you don't have retractable claws or a mutant healing factor. How do you make up the difference?

Most Reals use a combination of martial arts and weaponry. The Eye is a 49-year-old crimebuster from Mountain View, California, who wears a Green Hornet-inspired fedora and trench coat. Though he focuses mainly on detective work and crime-tip reporting, he prepares himself for hand-to-hand combat by studying kung fu and wielding an arsenal of light-based weapons designed to dazzle enemies.

"In movies, a ninja will have some powder or smoke to throw at you to distract," he explains. "That's essentially what I'm trying to do."

All superheroes have origins, and The Eye is no exception. He grew up tinkering with electronic gadgetry, first with his dad, then in the employ of a Silicon Valley company (he's reluctant to say which one). The Eye considers himself "on-duty" at all times, so when a co-worker started pimping fake Rolex watches to others in his office, the Paragon of Perception sprang into action. He went into work early, snuck into the watch-monger's office to locate the stash of counterfeit merchandise, and then dropped a dime to Crimestoppers. Ultimately, police wouldn't prosecute unless The Eye revealed his secret identity—a concession he was unwilling to make—but he nonetheless chalks it up as a victory. "We stopped him from doing this," The Eye says. "He knows someone's watching."

For sheer investment in gadgetry, none top Superhero, an ex-Navy powerlifter from Clearwater, Florida. His patrol vehicle is a burgundy 1975 Corvette Stingray with a souped-up 425-horsepower engine. He wears a flight helmet installed with a police scanner and video camera, and carries an extendable Cobra tactical baton, a flash gun, sonic grenades, and a canister of bear mace. Topping off the one-man armory is an Arma 100 stun cannon, a 37mm nitrogen-powered projectile device. His ammo of choice? Sandwiches. "Nothing stops them in their tracks like peanut butter and jelly," he explains in a video demonstration posted online.

Once you've honed your body and strapped on your utility belt, it's time to decide how to focus your heroic efforts. Within the community of Reals, there's a buffet of choices. Some choose mundane tasks—The Cleanser strolls around picking up trash, while Direction Man helps lost tourists find where they're going. Most Reals also lend their personages to charities, donating to food banks or organizing clothing drives.

Other Reals scoff at the idea of being a glorified Salvation Army bell-ringer and instead go looking for action. "I fight evil," says Tothian, the New Jersey crimefighter who founded Heroes Network. "I don't think picking up garbage is superheroic."

Master Legend, a chrome-suited 41-year-old from Winter Park, Florida, patrols the streets looking for crimes in progress, and claims his efforts have paid off. "I've dumped garbage cans over crackheads' heads, I slam their heads against the wall, whatever it takes," the Silver Slugger says with bravado. "They try to hit me first, and then it's time for Steel Toe City."

IN 1986, ALAN MOORE RELEASED his magnum opus, Watchmen, a 12-issue comic series whose conceit was built on a simple premise: What would it be like if superheroes existed in real life? Besides helping to usher in a new age of "mature" graphic novels, the series foreshadowed some of the complications facing real-life superheroes today.

For instance: How to balance crime fighting with family life? Zetaman, a goateed, black-and-blue-clad Real hailing from Portland, Oregon, got married seven years go, but only recently started his career as a costumed crusader. He says his wife's reaction to his new hobby was lukewarm—she made him promise not to go out at night, and told him to focus on charity work instead of fisticuffs. "She thinks it's a phase," he says with a laugh.

The media can be even less charitable, as Captain Jackson, a gray-and-yellow-suited hero from Michigan, discovered in October 2005. That's when a headline appeared in the Jackson Citizen Patriot that could've been penned by J. Jonah Jameson himself: "Crime Fighter Busted for Drunk Driving." The article unmasked Captain Jackson as Thomas Frankini, a 49-year-old factory worker who'd been arrested for driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.135 percent. The story was picked up by the Detroit Free Press and Fox News. Frankini was devastated. "My patrol days are over, I'm afraid," he said.

Unlike in the comics, real-life Commissioner Gordons rarely express gratitude for superheroes' help. One evening when Master Legend was on patrol, he heard a woman scream and ran to investigate. But when he located the damsel in distress, she thought he was attacking her and called the cops. "They wanted to know if I was some kind of insane man, a 41-year-old man running around in a costume," he recounts. "Apparently, they had never heard of me."

Bernard, a sharp-featured, 33-year-old police detective from suburban Philadelphia who asked that his last name be withheld, has become something of a rabbi to the online community of Reals. When he first stumbled upon the phenomenon, he thought, "These people are nuts." But as he learned more, he saw how the costumed do-gooders could make a difference. "They're definitely committed, and their heart is in the right place."

Most Reals are harmless enough, but Bernard worries about the bloodlust displayed by a small segment of the community. A recent thread on Heroes Network debated whether it was appropriate for a Real to carry a shotgun in his patrol vehicle. These aggressive Reals don't realize how difficult it is to apprehend criminals in the real world, Bernard says. "It's not like drug dealers stand around with quarter ounces of cocaine, throwing them in the air and saying 'Here's drugs for sale,'" he says. "Let's imagine that one of them does come across a drug dealer, gives them a roundhouse kick to the head, and finds a whole bag of pot in his pocket. Nobody's going to celebrate that. If anything, now you're going to have a huge fiasco. Let's face it—the world is complicated. You don't solve anything by punching somebody."

Rumor has it that a Real named Nostrum recently lost an eye in the line of duty, and some wonder if it will take a fatality to jolt the community out of its four-color fantasy. Wall Creeper, a 19-year-old who fights crime in Colorado, even seems to welcome the possibility. "To die doing something so noble would be the best thing to happen," he says.

JIM WAYNE KEPT HIS EYE OUT in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona—and the bald 40-year-old didn't like what he saw. "Somewhere along the line we've stopped caring about each other and started caring about ourselves," he says.

Two years ago, Wayne saw a commercial for Who Wants to Be a Superhero?—a reality show in which costumed contestants compete for the honor of starring in their own comic book—and something inside him clicked.

"Ever since I was a kid, if you asked any of my friends or family who they knew that should be a superhero, they'd probably say me," he says.

Wayne dreamed up Citizen Prime, a persona patterned after his favorite comic book character, Captain America. "He, even more than Superman or Batman, epitomizes what a hero is: someone who stands up for their principles and goes out there to help people," Wayne says. To bring his alter ego to life, Wayne spent $4,000 on custom-made armor—everything from a shiny chest plate to a bright yellow cape and a sloping steel helmet. "I made a commitment to make this and wear it and create this presence and see where that takes me," he says.

Initially, it didn't take him far. "There's a reason why police are always coming after crimes," he says. "It's one of those fictions in comics when superheroes are walking down the street and hear a scream. I found out real quickly that patrolling for patrolling's sake seems like a lost effort."

That realization sparked a change in how he thought about his role. "I think even though there's some fun to be had in the kick-ass aspect of comics, it's fiction and fantasy and we know it," he says. "As you translate those icons over to the real world, you have to face truths, such as violence begets violence."

So Prime hung up the bulletproof vest and tactical baton and began volunteering for charity work. He teamed with Kids Defense, an organization aimed at protecting kids from internet predators, and allied with the Banner Desert Hospital pediatrics wing, offering to personally pick up toys from anyone who wanted to donate to the holiday drive. "I want to get people out there to create a presence in the community," he says. "You make a presence of good in the community and the darker elements retreat."

Recently, he started his own nonprofit called the League of Citizen Heroes. The organization, as he envisions it, will draw on an army of volunteers—both masked and unmasked—to contribute to the greater good. "That's the level of sophistication that I think the movement's moving towards," he says, "We don't have to just be patrolling the dark streets."

Superhero, one of the first recruits to the League, shares Wayne's dream, but is less philosophical when it comes to why, when all is said and done, he decided to put on a costume.

"I horse-shitted myself into thinking I was being a symbol for people and all that," Superhero says. "But then I just faced the truth and admitted I do it 'cause it's hella fun."