A phone call from Jim Bartlett in Zagreb
points up the frailty of laptops in wartime.

Jim Bartlett called this morning. We knew it was him right away by the tell-tale beep that preceeds most calls from Croatia. Our Man in Berserkistan sounded more than glum. He was heartbroken. He had been gunning out of his room at the Astoria, heading for the Intercontinental Hotel to transmit a batch of stories and pictures to Berserksitan. That's when it happened.

The Astoria isn't the Intercontie, as it's known. The Astoria has hot water, though, and it just got televisions and new phones, thanks to the torrent of hard currency flooding into Croatia. But it's nearly impossible to use the Astoria's phones for a modem link to America Online in Zagreb and EMail back to Venice, California—Berserkistan's home base. That's why Jim was heading for the uptown hotel.

The Astoria is jumping with all kinds of refugees who've fled from Bosnia over the years. They're hanging out at the Astoria, whole families of them. The place is packed with naturally hyperactive kids who have the run of the joint. Jim would say it's a twisted version of the little girl in the childrens' books who lives at New York's Plaza Hotel. As he rounded the corner stairs, two of the hotel's brat pack blindsided Jim, sending him tumbling down the stairs, his aging laptop in his hands. The enemy came not from a fox hole, but from the back stairs of the Astoria. They were about 10 years old.

Jim was unhurt but the laptop was a total loss. The kids' parents were in shock. An American! Here to Help Us! You have broken his computer! It's worth more money than we've made in the last decade! Stuff like that. Jim had to pull one boy's dad, who'd nearly gone homicidal, off the kid. Jim was in tears. The kid was in tears. The desk clerk was in tears. Ah, tea time at the Astoria in Zagreb.

The word has spread around Zagreb's refugee community. On his rounds throughout town, old "Babushka Women" come up and place an understanding, wrinkled hand on Jim's shoulder and shake their heads sadly. C'est le guerre.

That leaves Jim without a laptop for the moment, but his tale of woe inspired this idea. If you make computers, digital cameras or satellite telephones, think about field testing your gear in Berserkistan. We guarantee we'll put your stuff through hell and swear by—it if it keeps on ticking. Interested? EMail Berserkistan

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