Second site: Cryptic characters

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THE ALLURE of anagrams lies in the illusion of destiny. When the name bestowed on the baby turns out to contain a cryptic comment on the character of the adult, it's like a prophecy come true. Augusto Pinochet, for example, always had it in him to be "One top US CIA thug". Any name may contain a secret observation about what its owner is really like. As with all coded messages, though, anagrams are time-consuming to work out. Automation is the answer, and it is available in the form of Anagram Genius, one of the more entertaining diversions available for the home computer.

The service can be sampled on the Anagram Genius website, which will accept submissions and e-mail you the results later. For instant access, the software (Windows or Mac) can be purchased from Genius 2000 (0870 8422000). At pounds 24.99 it seems steep for a floppy disk, but it's a lot more fun than most CD-ROMs of a similar price. The program allows you to single out anagrams containing particular words. Independent on Sunday produces an unfortunate number of anagrams containing the word "nanny". The pickings from the short form of my own name were slim. I did feel "Ohm Kraken" had a ring to it, but it was one of only a few which appealed from a list of 200.

The website presents edited highlights of others' efforts. The musicians' category contains a couple of bull's-eyes. "Eric Clapton" neatly rearranges itself into "Narcoleptic", a condition characterised by somnolence; while "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince" contains the all too truthful "No first-rate workmanship recently". It's not just about music, though. "George Michael" mischievously rearranges itself into "He come - I gargle".

Applying the Anagram Genius engine to "Gillian Anderson" generates the real answer to the X-Files mystery: "No aliens, darling". Among the cruellest offerings is the verdict that emerges from "Helena Bonham Carter": "No real charm beneath". But an anagram doesn't have to be pointed to be pleasing. Incongruity can be equally effective, and for sheer surrealism, it's hard to beat the revelation that "Britney Spears" unscrambles to "Presbyterians".

Politicians and political buzzwords are also featured. "Positive discrimination" has an apposite alter ego in "I improvise a distinction"; and it is also reasonable to argue that "Equal opportunities" leads to "Quieter populations". Our very own "Liberal Democrats" turn up in several guises. Looked at one way, they represent "Creditable morals"; but in another arrangement, they are "All mediocre brats".

If rearranging words whets your appetite for computerised transformations, Morph Artist (Sierra, Windows and Mac, pounds 12.99) offers a domesticated version of the software most famously used by Michael Jackson in his "Black And White" video to assert the unity of the human race. You choose a starting image and a finishing image, make adjustments to set the course the transformation will take, and end up with a little movie that takes the pixels from A to B. Your cat turns into a tiger, or your children into your parents.

Although the manual suggests printing out the sequences, or making screen savers, Morph Artist is not really a program with applications. It is there to be contemplated for its own sake. A main attraction seems to be that you can own software which cost a fortune just a few years ago, and was the preserve of the technological elite. It also offers a passing illusion of omnipotence. Turning things into other things is fundamental to the magician's art. Morphing software allows the operator to turn the image of anything into the image of any other thing; and in the age of the screen, images are more magical than real things.

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