HIGH-TECH'S MISSING LINK

IS JAMES J. DILETTOSO A TECHNO GOD OR JUST ANOTHER FLOPPY DISCIPLE? EVEN HE CAN'T SAY FOR SURE.

A University of Hartford professor who served as Dilettoso's mentor simply says, "It's part of his being exceptional that all of the columns don't add up."

It's as if there's only so much room in a persona and if more space is devoted to intellect, then there's less left over for social convention. And clearly the capacity for abstraction and creativity comes out of open-mindedness. Another local computer graphics artist simply says, "All those superbright computer guys are into weird mystical stuff," as if they're bored with the merely terrestrial and looking for more complex puzzles to ponder. Dilettoso certainly darts back and forth across the borderline between hard science and paranormal research, between the bastions of conservative science and the fringes.

He worked for NASA out of a Phoenix office, and claims to have worked on top-secret projects for the agency out of Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena. Other former NASA employees have confirmed that claim, but calls to JPL to verify it sound like Monty Python routines: "Who do you think he is? Do you think he's telling the truth? I'm not going to tell you."

His invention of colorization is disputed, as well. American Film Technologies, the company that holds the patent on the process, claims that his work was "a failed R&D attempt," while Dilettoso swears his technology was ripped off and he was paid mostly in worthless stock. However, the company executive who fired Dilettoso from the project confirms the importance of his contribution--though he stops short of confirming the allegations of theft for fear of legal retribution.

"He's fun to be around," says Michael Malin, a NASA scientist whom Dilettoso consulted while analyzing photographs of UFOs. "He's not at all crazy, but about half of what he says is bullshit and half of it is probably not far from the truth. The problem is trying to figure out which is which. He does tend to get involved in more fanciful notions than you or I."
Indeed: Dilettoso wonders if the iron in human blood contains human memory like a magnetic floppy disk, then posits at how to feed data into that memory. He claims that a Filipino faith healer once cured him of a deadly lymphoma by magically passing his hands through Dilettoso's skin and pulling out the tumors without leaving wounds.

The cast of characters that wander in and out of his home and his studio are equally peculiar: a retired Air Force colonel who has the walk and affect of a spook; a blind TV director who has a show about UFOs.

Jeff Harris, chief sound engineer for a major Hollywood recording studio, recalls going to Dilettoso's ranch to meet a former Navy SEAL who claimed he had guarded alien spacecraft.

"When I got there, the man had his ear pressed up against the wall to hear if anyone was coming. He had weapons strapped all up and down his legs," Harris says.

Dilettoso keeps current with every government conspiracy to cover up UFO research that "would change the meaning of life." His girlfriend, Susan Gordon, claims to be a UFO contactee and lectures nationwide as to whether extraterrestrials are really angels. One visitor on a recent afternoon is a man researching ways of electronically communicating with the dead--but he won't explain how, because the world isn't ready yet.

"Sounds funny, huh?" Dilettoso asks, straight-faced, almost as a dare. It raises a question as to where the line falls between genius and lunacy.

"I wish I knew," he answers. He thinks a minute: "I'm not marching to a different drummer," he continues. "Maybe I just have an octave on my piano that you don't."
@rule:
@body:Dilettoso began his career as a piano player. He was a musically precocious Connecticut punk who spent his high school weekends playing with bar bands in Greenwich Village; since he wasn't old enough to drive, let alone drink, his stepfather would drive him into Manhattan and wait as he performed.

He already had a flair for scientific sleight of hand; his mother remembers the robot he built as a child, but Dilettoso admits it was merely a vacuum cleaner adorned with various gadgets. In high school, he won science fairs with night-before throw-togethers that were supposed to be the culmination of a semester's research.

What better place to combine gadgetry and music than in the rock scene of the late 1960s? "By the summer of 1967, I had become a hippie," he says, living full-time in the Village. He toured with the Box Tops (My baby, she wrote me a letter") and other rock groups, until he realized he was draft bait, and enrolled in college, bouncing from school to school and taking courses he knew he could pass so that he could keep his college deferment.

He eventually wound up in Hartford and worked in a psychology lab at the university, dabbled in video production. In the mid-'70s, he opened a pair of nightclubs in run-down Hartford movie palaces, but when the IRS read about their success, it realized he hadn't been paying taxes and brought him to court. The judge was lenient with the young entrepreneur, but when he was caught violating the terms of his probation by promoting concerts in Massachusetts, Dilettoso landed in jail.

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