March 02, 2005
Hey, whoa, Ingrid Newkirk, step down for a moment, and hold back your PETA pals — it's really gonna be OK.
Take a deep breath, now let it out slowly.
We can now begin.
"This incredible Hamster Clock... is by far the most remarkable clock we have ever seen."
From the website:
- The colorful Hamster Clock features a furry, mechanical hamster inside of a hamster exercise wheel.
Once every minute, THE HAMSTER RUNS and the hamster wheel goes around one revolution.
The wheel is connected to an intricate series of 12 gears (below).
When the hamster wheel goes around, it makes the clock's minute hand move forward one minute.
But we've saved the most astounding fact for last.
The entire clock is DRIVEN BY THE HAMSTER.
The timing mechanism is INSIDE THE HAMSTER itself.
Each minute, when it starts to run, it forces the wheel around, setting the clock in motion.
The only drawback is that when the clock starts spinning each minute, it is kind of noisy.
But what can you expect — you have a running hamster robot, 12 gears, and a spinning exercise wheel — it's gonna make some noise.
Comes in an illustrated box with complete instructions.
Runs on 4 D and 2 AA batteries (not included).
Bike Chain Opener
You look at it and say, wait a minute: that thing's not gonna work.
This funky bottle opener, made from a recycled bike chain and another random used part, reminds me of Indian Larry's Chain-Frame bike, the last one he built, the one featured on the Discovery Channel's Biker-Build-Off that also chronicled his untimely death last year at the North Carolina build-off venue.
Graham Bergh and his team of artisans in Portland, Oregon each month collect 1.5 tons of used bicycle parts from 150 shops in 17 states.
They use the found materials to build a huge range of household items, among them this opener.
vFinance.com: Turn $350 into $500,000 — overnight!
That's what Chuck Abate of PlantFind.com did, according to a New York Times article by Elizabeth Olson that appeared in last Thursday's Business section.
PlantFind.com is an online company that connects buyers and sellers of landscaping and nursery goods.
When Abate joined the company last fall, his job was to raise capital.
He went to vFinance.com to find investors, spending a total of $350 to connect with individual investors who provided $500,000 in funding for his company.
Abate said the process was relatively simple.
He told the Times, "It was pretty easy to navigate."
Maybe I need to wander over to vFinance.com and have a look.
Waiting for the virtual Godot doesn't seem to be having much of an effect on my bank balance.
Here's the Times story.
- The Quest for Financing Can Start on the Web
When Chuck Abate joined PlantFind.com, an online company that connects buyers and sellers of landscaping and nursery goods, one of his first tasks was to raise some capital for the company.
So he turned to vFinance.com.
Mr. Abate, who had been a stockbroker for a decade, had heard from a colleague that vFinance.com could help him find financing from individual investors.
VFinance.com started in 1997 when Timothy Mahoney and a partner bought the Web site from its original owner.
Since then, the parent company, vFinance Inc., based in Boca Raton, Fla., has acquired six brokerage and investment banking firms in New York, New Jersey and Florida.
It now offers a broad array of investment and other services, including drawing up business plans.
But its calling card is vFinance.com, where entrepreneurs and small businesses can match their ideas and business plans with investors, whether venture capital firms or individual investors known as angels.
The service is inexpensive - PlantFind.com, which is based in Boynton Beach, Fla., spent about $350 to connect with individual investors who provided a total of about $500,000 - and the process is relatively simple.
"It was pretty easy to navigate," Mr. Abate said.
VFinance.com has revenue of about $450,000 a year from the annual subscription fees that investors and venture capital firms pay to be listed on the site and the fees that start-up companies pay to find capital.
But there are rivals, from longstanding angel investor clubs to the newly emerging blogs and expanded Web sites of some venture capital firms.
"About 90 percent of the Web sites I've looked at now give an opportunity for entrepreneurs to submit information and business plans online," said Suzanne Cantando, the communications director for Intersouth Partners, a Durham, N.C., venture capital firm, who recently oversaw the redesign of its Web site.
VFinance.com has online rivals as well, including NVST Inc., at www.nvst.com, and Venture Capital Access Online, at www.vcaonline.com, but many competitors were wiped out when the Internet bubble collapsed.
"They didn't have the capital behind them," said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association, a trade group for 400 firms nationwide.
Raising seed money in cyberspace was hampered by lack of physical contact, he said.
"Venture capitalists want to see the entrepreneur face-to-face to see what he's thinking and how good is his business sense," he said.
"Web sites act as a kind of dating service, and a lot of it is gut reaction."
Guy Kawasaki, chief operating officer of the venture capital firm Garage Technology Ventures in Palo Alto, Calif., said he abandoned the matchmaking model in 2001.
His firm still has a Web site, www.garage.com, but it does business only for Garage Technology.
"For smaller investments, sites like vFinance.com can work," he said.
"But the key variable is the size of the investment. When you hit about $2 million, it is extremely difficult after that point to get investors over the Internet."
Mr. Kawasaki said he had found that securing larger investments required five or more face-to-face meetings.
"This is not just, 'Send me an e-mail and I'll send you a check for $50,000,' " he said.
Bill Ericson, general partner at Mohr, Davidow Ventures in Menlo Park, Calif., agreed, noting that such financing "is built on relationships, and often the first screen is having the entrepreneur referred through people we deal with regularly, such as a lawyer or an accountant or an angel investor."
He suggested that fledgling businesses may have a better shot at raising money through angel networks, which meet several times a year to hear entrepreneurs' business plans.
That gives investors a chance to evaluate plans as a group, and sometimes to invest jointly to spread the risk.
A high-tech alternative to such networks has begun emerging in the form of blogs, Mr. Heesen noted. One such blog was started a few months ago by Allen Morgan at the Mayfield Fund in Menlo Park.
The blog, www.allensblog.typepad.com, gives entrepreneurs a place to bat around their ideas with Mr. Morgan, and try to entice his company to invest.
Mr. Abate said he planned to return to vFinance.com when PlantFind.com starts its next round of private financing as it expands.
On his initial vFinance.com search in 2003, Mr. Abate sought individual investors with $1 million in net worth, and then checked their previous investments, looking for track records in computer software or services firms.
He selected 100 accredited angels at $1 a name.
A second search last year cost $250, at $1.25 a name, for a list of 200 individuals with higher net worth (from $1 million to $3 million).
The two searches connected Mr. Abate with a group of investors who provided a half-million dollars.
Even with the leads from vFinance.com, raising money is not a walk in the park, Mr. Abate acknowledged.
The Web site provides the names and addresses of investors, but, to avoid annoying investors, no telephone numbers.
Clients must track those down themselves.
VFinance.com has to screen its pool of prospective investors to ensure they meet the Securities and Exchange Commission's accreditation rules.
That means collecting and verifying information on net worth, income and investment history.
This information also allows for more sophisticated searches, down to specific net worth by ZIP code, but more detailed information comes at a higher price, up to $13.50 a name, Mr. Mahoney said.
Typical searches are less detailed, and can cost as little as 20 cents a name.
VFinance.com does not track the amount of money that changes hands through online connections, but it says that revenue from its Web site is a small part of the parent company's $25 million in annual revenue.
Mr. Mahoney said he was not worried about competition from blogs.
"One of the things entrepreneurs need to be wary about is keeping their ideas proprietary," he said.
"On a blog, how do you know who you are talking to, and that they will protect your intellectual property?"
Also, he said, vFinance.com, unlike the more interactive blogs, does not judge entrepreneurs' ideas.
"You can't tell somebody their baby is ugly," he said.
From one of my stylish readers comes this to-die-for movie-in-a-bed.
Made in Germany, it's called "RUF-Cinema."
Hey, they can call it whatever they like, just don't call me after the movie starts 'cause I'm not home.
From the website:
- To go to the cinema in your pajamas, stretch out your feet as much as you want and snuggle down into your pillow.
That's not a vision with RUF-Cinema, the first multimedia bed of the future: it's every evening's reality.
Looks just as good from the rear as from the front.
A home cinema rack
fitted between the two headboard bolsters offers enough space for items such as a remote control, DVD player and game consoles, and has a back-lit frosted-glass top with infra-red touch sensor.
The foot section has an aluminum-colored cover which conceals the screen, which self-assembles via the remote control.
Headboard padding is adjustable for viewing comfort.
Simply practical: when the film is over, all you have to do is touch a button on the remote control and the screen disappears into the foot section.
That's all it takes to turn your home cinema back into a bedroom.
I want one.
BehindTheMedspeak: Bruxism II (Teeth-Grinding)
On December 8 I dealt with this issue, but I see more and more catalogs offering high-priced solutions that aren't one iota better than the old tried-and-true, low-cost remedies I suggested last year.
So, to avoid you spending inordinate amounts of your hard-earned cash on some nonsense, let me say the following:
The $69.99 device pictured just below
is less likely to solve your problem than the $2 or $1 iterations I advocated previously.
It's got moving parts (below)
and is far too complex (below),
besides which it will be impossible to keep clean and odor-free.
I use the $2 one (top of this post), but you know I tend to have expensive tastes.
I used the $1 version (below)
for many happy, grind-free years.
Tara Parker-Pope answered a reader's question about bruxism in her Wall Street Journal feature, "Health Mailbox," yesterday.
Here's the Q & A.
- Q. I have started grinding my teeth at night this past year.
My wife hears me at night and wakes me up.
My dentist showed me where the top and bottom teeth meet and formed a smooth surface.
Is there a reason why out of the blue I started this?
Besides those night guards I see at the local pharmacy can anything be done?
A. Bruxism is the medical term for grinding and clenching of teeth, usually while sleeping.
It's a common problem -- as many as half of adults do it to some extent -- and it isn't at all uncommon for the problem to show up seemingly "out of the blue" in adulthood.
Often it's triggered by stress or frustration.
Sometimes pain from another health problem or a sleep disorder might trigger it.
Alcohol and some types of medicines, such as antidepressants, might make it worse.
So the first step is to assess your life.
Ask yourself if your stress levels have changed recently.
Some people have solved clenching problems by exercising more, by starting a yoga class or by reducing alcohol intake.
If better managing your stress doesn't help solve the problem, you should consider a mouth guard to protect your teeth.
Teeth clenching and grinding puts enormous force on your teeth and can lead to jaw pain, headache and other problems.
A custom-made guard from your dentist might be more comfortable than an over-the-counter guard, but insurance reimbursement for the guards varies.
Some of the most serious cases of bruxism have been treated with Botox injections.
'Modigliani: Beyond the Myth'
This show opened last Saturday at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and will be up through May 29.
The first exhibit of the artist's works in Washington in over 20 years, it features nearly 100 paintings, drawings and sculptures, including five of the approximately two dozen stone heads he created in Paris between 1909 and 1914, after he'd come under the strong influence of Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi.
Tickets are required: buy them here.
The artist's sculptures have always interested me more than his paintings, and being able to view five in one place makes this exhibit a must-see for me.
born in 1884, stopped making sculptures in 1915 to concentrate entirely on painting until his death on January 24, 1920 at 35.
The shift occurred as a result of his ill health, market pressures and a shortage of materials.
During his brief lifetime few apart from his fellow artists appreciated his gifts.
Lighters and Airplanes: Part III
Boy, this just won't go away.
But no, here it's March and like a bad penny it just keeps turning up.
On December 17, 2004 President Bush signed into law the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which contained a provision banning cigarette lighters on U.S. airplanes after February 14, 2005.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) couldn't get its ducks in a row quite that quickly, it turned out: the ban was pushed back, to begin this coming April 14.
The TSA planned to prohibit matches as well (current policy allows a passenger to carry on up to four books of matches).
However, the TSA was unsuccessful in banning matches: the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) resisted the inclusion of matches in the prohibition (matches were not addressed in last year's law banning lighters).
The OMB said the TSA needs to complete a cost-benefit analysis of banning matches first.
Starting April 14, lighters will be confiscated by screeners.
Lighters have long been prohibited from being packed in checked luggage, since they contain flammable liquid; matches are also banned from checked bags.
The question of what to do about smoking lounges has arisen, what with the coming tightening.
Should matches be banned as well, some have proposed wall-mounted cigarette lighters.
Why not wall-mounted cigarettes?
You'd have puffing stations, where you'd insert your cigarette of choice and light it, sort of like with a car lighter.
The question about what to do with foreign travelers transiting the U.S. who have legally brought lighters from abroad has also arisen.
The confiscation of swish Dunhill and Cartier lighters will light a real fire should they pick the right — or wrong — person.
Can you imagine Catherine Deneuve being hauled off for intensive questioning?
Oh, yeah, in case you want to buy the lighter pictured in this post: it's a Dunhill 1920s sterling silver sports watch lighter.
All original parts, matching numbers on the case, door and watch back.
The watch works.
Do a reverse American Express with this baby, to wit: "Don't leave home (if you're flying) with it."
No, this isn't a nickname for the girls who hang out at the beach on the Mediterranean coast but, rather, a new fruit out of Israel.
It's the result of hybridizing a Pomelo and a white grapefruit.
The resulting fruit — with a vibrantly green skin when fully ripe, shaped like a grapefruit and just as juicy — has the sweetness of a Pomelo.
Why, pray tell, when my local market has every weird fruit under the sun, haven't I seen this one?
Jaffa has been exporting the fruit for 10 years, mostly to Japan, with increasing amounts to European markets and North America.
The Sweetie's varietal name is Oro Blanco (Latin for white gold) but Jaffa, the company that created it, named it "Sweetie" because of its exquisite, sweet taste.
The sweetness results from the fruit's low acid content, thus making the sugar more prominent.
The Sweetie has no more sugar than a grapefruit: it just tastes like it does.