August 20, 2005
Louis Vuitton Toilet Paper
Just when you thought it was safe to go to the bathroom....
Already in Spain all–black Renova Negro toilet paper is available and selling for ten times the price of the average European tissue.
In Japan a new brand is infused with pineapple enzymes to counteract odor.
In Germany Charmin comes in black and charcoal–gray packaging "with a Gucci look and feel," according to Procter & Gamble's European division.
I'm sure Gucci's delighted with the association.
In Canada a premium triple-ply toilet paper named "Cashmere" has become that nation's number one brand.
It's only a matter of time.
Speaking of which, you've been in there an awfully long time.
Airider — Hovercraft Vacuum Cleaner
"Using hovercraft technology to float off the floor, the Airider becomes virtually weightless during operation."
The website contains video clips, technical details, reviews and an online purchase option.
Makes Dyson seem so 21st–century.
Perfect for your heirloom kilim.
"Because the only thing cuter than a baby is an iPodified baby."
- From the website:
High quality 100% cotton Hanes onesies in three colors: white, blue and pink.
Each is equipped with a touch sensitive scroll wheel; responsive to your every nudge, tickle and squeeze.
Available in 3 sizes: 6 months; 12 months; 18 months.
They've sold over 1,000 outfits since launching a couple weeks ago.
World's best 13" TV
It's the Sony KV–13FS100 pictured above.
It costs $180 here.
Mine is not two feet from where I type these letters; I'm watching the Vikings–Jets preseason game on CBS.
It's a gorgeous picture.
You could, if you were as dumb as me, get all excited about the new flat TVs such as this 13" LCD number
It's model LC–13S1U and it cost me $430 here.
I no longer have it: when it came time to give someone a TV recently I gave her that one and kept the Sony.
She couldn't believe it, thinking — as I did when I drank the flat TV Kool–Aid — that the Sharp was a far superior device.
I mean, it cost nearly three times as much so it should be that much better, right?
The picture on the Sharp, even after many hours spent tweaking all the various settings and experimenting, is the equivalent of what you get on analog cable compared to the crispness of satellite's picture.
Good riddance to a loser TV.
What occasioned this post, though, was the ad I saw in yesterday's New York Times for Sony's LF–X1 LocationFree™ TV (below).
It takes the flat LCD screen TV to the next level by including a WiFi connection that lets you carry your TV around and watch it anywhere — completely unplugged.
It costs $1,200 here.
When I first read about this TV I was amazed.
Then I started reading reviews and my excitement kind of fizzled out.
It was extinguished when I went up to Crutchfield a couple months ago and saw it.
The picture was dreadful even under controlled conditions.
I carried it over to where the Sharp was on display and put them side–by–side.
Both were receiving the identical in–store feed.
The Sony's picture was so much worse than the Sharp's it was laughable.
So don't waste your $1,200.
Instead, spend $180 on the TV up top, get a fabuloso picture and put the remaining $1,020 in your rainy day fund for when I start to charge.
What would you say if I told you the tube–style Sony can be purchased here for $119?
Better for both of us: that leaves $1,081 for when the time comes to charge you what this is worth.
How the early universe looked — the view from Ulastai in Western China
I hate to beat a broken drum but Lenin's observation that "Quantity has its own quality" may be the single most useful thing he ever produced.
Right now on the high plateau of Ulastai in remote Western China a new radio telescope observatory is being constructed out of 10,000 ordinary TV antennas (above) just like the ones sold at Radio Shack.
When they're turned on they'll be bringing in not "The Real World" but something far more interesting: the earliest images ever of our universe.
Wrote W. Wayt Gibbs in the August Scientific American, "Telescopes are just like time machines: the farther out in space they look, the further back into the past they peer."
Here's his story.
- Cosmic CAT Scan
Observing the early universe — with 10,000 TV antennas
In the beginning, the universe was a void full of energy but without form.
And so it remained for many millions of years — exactly how long is still a major mystery of cosmology — until the first stars condensed from the fog of matter and lit up with a blue nuclear glow.
Telescopes are just like time machines: the farther out in space they look, the further back into the past they peer.
But even the best optical telescopes cannot make out what the universe was like at an age of less than one billion years.
Before that time, a haze of neutral hydrogen gas shrouded these first beacons in the infant cosmos.
A new radio observatory under construction on the high plateau of Ulastai in remote western China may soon yield images of this formative epoch, however — and for a bargain price, too, because the sprawling instrument is built almost entirely from parts that one could buy at RadioShack.
Even though it will cost just $3 million, the Primeval Structure Telescope (PaST) is one of China’s largest investments so far in experimental astronomy.
The project was launched in 2003 by Xiang-Ping Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, Jeffrey B. Peterson of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Ue-Li Pen of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto.
Though formally a telescope, PaST is better thought of as an experiment.
"We’ll get enough data from it to answer our principal questions within a couple weeks of turning it on" next year, Peterson says. (Analyzing those data may take years, however.)
That is because the instrument is essentially a giant, incredibly sensitive television receiver.
PaST will combine radio signals picked up by 10,000 high-gain antennas arranged in lines up to three kilometers long.
The logperiodic antennas, similar to those sold by the millions for rooftops, cost just $20 each.
Household coaxial cable splitters, installed backwards, combine the signals from multiple antennas and feed them into a bank of 320 ordinary Pentium PCs, running free Linux software.
The computers merge the data to produce a high-resolution picture of a 10-degree patch of sky centered near the North Star.
Actually "picture" is not the right word, because PaST will record thousands of simultaneous signals within a broad swath of the VHF spectrum.
The scientists are writing software to sift out uninteresting signals — such as those from television stations, meteors and black holes at the centers of distant galaxies — to reveal a kind of three-dimensional CAT scan of the early universe that theorists predict lies buried within the noise.
As the first stars flickered on, their ultraviolet light excited neutral hydrogen atoms around them, causing the gas to emit a faint radio signal at 1,420 megahertz.
As the starshine intensified, it eventually stripped electrons from the hydrogens, ionizing the atoms.
But over time the expansion of the universe stretched the ancient radio waves, lowering their frequencies by an amount proportional to their age.
Astronomers can thus see a particular moment in time and location in space by "tuning" their receiver to the appropriate frequency.
"It’s a bit like archaeology," says Abraham Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
"We can slice the universe and see more and more ancient layers as we go deeper."
Astronomers expect that PaST will reveal a uniform haze of bright neutral hydrogen at about 200 million years after the big bang that became increasingly punctuated by bubbles of ionized — and thus dark — hydrogen surrounding the first stars.
Simulations suggest that these shells then connected, like the voids in a Swiss cheese, to form tunnels.
The neutral hydrogen fog gradually dissipated into stray wisps and vanished forever within the first billion years, leaving us with the transparent space we see today.
This story will remain fuzzy until PaST or a competing observatory delivers more clarity.
Let there be light.
Mini Gearless Ratchet
Richard Griot of Griot's Garage writes, "I've been selling the coolest tools for the last 15 years and these belong in the top ten out of the thousands of tools I've sold."
High praise indeed.
An almost unbelievably small one degree of travel before the drive hooks up again, which makes the up–to–now state–of–the–art five degree ratchet they've been selling for years "archaic."
The 1/4" drive is 3" long and costs $22.99; the 3/8" drive is 4" long and costs $26.99, both here.
IPTV is DOA
The funniest thing I read in the papers this past week was Leslie Cauley's USA Today Money section cover story on August 17 about Internet Protocol TV (IPTV).
Now, the story was deadly serious, don't get me wrong.
What I found particularly amusing was this quotation from technology analyst Rick Thompson, which appeared in large print above the illustration accompanying the story:
"IPTV is quickly becoming the final battleground between telecom operators and cable companies."
Telecom operators and cable companies are all zombies, already dead but simply not yet aware of the fact, along with their hapless stockholders who, reading stories like the one in USA Today, root harder for their team to win.
Between VOIP and Skype and WiMax the entire communications infrastructure is being turned upside down.
Voice communication will be free.
Anywhere, anytime, to or from anywhere.
No wires, no fees.
Sure, you'll be watching TV on your computer — likewise anywhere, anytime and wirelessly.
Not free — but the people making money won't be the cable companies.
Because it's hard to be a cable company and make money if no one needs a cable.
Unless I'm missing something.
I mean, I know I lack a lot of things but I think I can see the picture coming into focus OK.
bookofjoeTV won't be delivered over your telephone line or cable modem — trust me on this.
After all, I'm a ....
Gamma Centerpoint Scale
True confession: I bought this scale years ago, the first time I saw a picture of it in a catalog.
I mean, look at it.
Guess what: it's even more stylish in person.
And built: this baby is heavy metal and thick tempered glass.
"Strain gauge technology and a load cell calibrated for off–center loading."
"Accomodates for vibration, out-of–level conditions and other interference."
Extra–large 1"–high LCD readout displays weight measured to 0.1 lb.
Yes, it's accurate and all but who really cares?
I haven't used mine in years but I still like the way it looks.
There's something to be said for things whose surface allure continues to appeal after the passage of time.
Made by Soehnle, a German company which also manufactures my trusty postage scale (below).
It costs $29.99 here.
Very, very accurate.
Just because it's advertised as a food scale for the kitchen doesn't mean you have to use it that way.