NEW YORK – There will be plenty of opportunities to follow the March Madness tournament from your work desktops — CBS is offering free streaming video, and other sites organize office pools and give you the latest scores.
This is the time of year that office productivity hits a low, if you believe the companies trying to sell Internet filtering software for the workplace.
But if you're not a basketball fan, fear not: You, too, could help zap productivity.
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My adventures in goofing off began with Virtual Bubble Wrap, at http://www.virtual-bubblewrap.com.
It's just like popping the bubbles on the wrap used for packaging, just on your computer. Use your mouse to pop all 196 bubbles. It's you against the timer.
Unfortunately four attempts failed to land me in the top 50. My hands are simply too slow. So I opted to pop bubbles in patterns instead — namely, a smiley face.
Fifteen minutes wasted. Woo-hoo!
Next comes PhoneSpell.org, which lets you find easy-to-remember letter combinations to incorporate into your phone number. Such as how the sequence 4628 spells "GOAT."
I spent my time punching in other people's numbers. The first, for a friend from college, spelled out a number that ends in "DOLT" — no comment!
Others had numbers to "HUG" and "BRAG" about, though a few losers had nothing at all — mostly because their phone number contains many zeros and ones, which don't have corresponding letters on the phone pad.
I got bored midway through the B's in my cell phone's contact list, but still managed to waste another 10 minutes, for a total of 25.
Time for a bathroom break.
Back at "work," I turned to SorryGottaGo.com, which offers sound files you can download and play back whenever you need an excuse to get off the phone.
You can choose among sounds of a baby crying, a doorbell ringing, a helicopter whirling outside and more. The ones designed to thwart telemarketers are hilarious.
Forty cumulative minutes wasted.
I spent seven minutes on a trio of "Overheard" sites, in which people can submit stupid remarks they overhear in New York City, at the beach or in the office.
After a break to refill my water bottles, I decided to see what my apartment building looks like from satellites.
From a Google Maps image, I could even see a cab stopped right in front of my building, leading me to wonder why one isn't around when I actually need it.
I saw "bird's eye" aerial photos from four directions at Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) mapping site and could even make out the neighboring laundry service I regularly visit.
Another 13 minutes wasted — for a total of one hour.
Time for lunch.
I resumed this project the following morning, after a dinner conversation ended with several lingering questions, including why individual slices of carrot cake are expected to have their own carrot frosting designs. You don't see bananas etched on every piece of banana bread.
Google (GOOG) searches produced nothing useful, so I posted my first question ever at Yahoo Inc.'s (YHOO) Answers site, in hopes a fellow user would know. (Unfortunately, replies like "Why do they decorate any cake?" don't help).
I then checked out StumbleUpon.com, which asks for your interests and recommends sites you might like.
A number of them proved to be worthy time sinks: A site devoted to continuity problems and other goofs in movies and television shows; photos showing dog owners looking like their pets; and a six-minute, Oscar-nominated animated film about a lonely man who invents a device for producing bliss.
I even stumbled upon a list of 32 ways to tick people off, and I'm proud to have regularly employed one of them: "Holler random numbers while someone is counting."
That's a good two hours wasted — a grand total of three.
I could go on, but I did have to get to the business of writing this column — after reviewing my March Madness picks at Yahoo Sports, of course.
What I did learn from the exercise is the remarkable amount of time people have put in to create diversions, pure and simple, for people like me to enjoy.
And now that I've discovered StumbleUpon, it'll take even more discipline to get the job done.
Disclaimer: I'm not recommending that you try any of these tricks or spend time to discover your own in the office. But should you happen to "hear of" other ways to goof off — you know, from a "friend" — e-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.