December 24, 2006
BehindTheMedspeak: Is obesity an infectious disease?
They laughed when Barry Marshall said ulcers were caused by bacteria and curable with a week or two of antibiotics, but by the time he won the Nobel Prize in 2005 for proving it, the laughter had long since stopped.
Now comes a group of scientists from Washington University in St. Louis with the same hypothesized cause for the epidemic of obesity that's sweeping the developed world.
Two studies describing their experiments were published last week in the journal Nature.
Here's a link to three videos about the findings, narrated by Dr. Jeffrey I. Gordon, the scientist who led the work.
Here's the first paragraph of one of the studies.
- Microbial ecology: Human gut microbes associated with obesity
Two groups of beneficial bacteria are dominant in the human gut, the Bacteroidetes and the Firmicutes. Here we show that the relative proportion of Bacteroidetes is decreased in obese people by comparison with lean people, and that this proportion increases with weight loss on two types of low-calorie diet. Our findings indicate that obesity has a microbial component, which might have potential therapeutic implications.
Here's the abstract of the second.
- An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest
The worldwide obesity epidemic is stimulating efforts to identify host and environmental factors that affect energy balance. Comparisons of the distal gut microbiota of genetically obese mice and their lean littermates, as well as those of obese and lean human volunteers have revealed that obesity is associated with changes in the relative abundance of the two dominant bacterial divisions, the Bacteroidetes and the Firmicutes. Here we demonstrate through metagenomic and biochemical analyses that these changes affect the metabolic potential of the mouse gut microbiota. Our results indicate that the obese microbiome has an increased capacity to harvest energy from the diet. Furthermore, this trait is transmissible: colonization of germ-free mice with an 'obese microbiota' results in a significantly greater increase in total body fat than colonization with a 'lean microbiota'. These results identify the gut microbiota as an additional contributing factor to the pathophysiology of obesity.
More on this work here.
Self-Charging Smoke Alarm
Clever; ingenious; what took so long?
I mean, it's so obvious once you see it, like so many wonderful inventions.
From the website:
- DuPont™ Self-Charging Smoke Alarm
Never worry about changing batteries again.
This unique smoke detector screws into any ceiling light fixture and operates off your home electricity.
Reinstall the light bulb into the alarm, and now you’ve got a light source and smoke alarm in one!
Great protection for high-risk areas such as laundry rooms, garages, and workshops.
Fully-charged, it will operate for up to 30 days in the event of a power loss.
Recharges itself every time you turn the light on.
85 dB alarm can be heard all over the house!
Works even if the temperature drops to 5°F.
5"L x 3"W x 3"D.
This is one of those "eat your spinach" gifts: nobody wants it but everybody needs it.
'Times Square is becoming, in a way, a publishing platform'
So said Peter Stabler, director of communication strategy for Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, an advertising agency which is part of the Omnicom Group, in a December 11, 2006 front-page New York Times article by Louise Story.
Stabler's comment was based on recent events centering on Times Square, among them:
• Nascar's recent display of race cars, videos of which have been viewed on YouTube over 1,800 times, with over 60 blogs (not including this one) having noted the event and at least 60 people having featured pictures from it on Flickr
• Charmin's recent display of public toilets, used by thousands in Times Square and viewed by 7,400 Web users on one site alone
• Magician David Blaine, suspended four stories above Times Square (top) care of Target for two days during the week of Thanksgiving, with videos shot by viewers posted on YouTube and viewed more than 19,300 times.
Okay, I'm convinced: I'm setting up a card table and creating bookofjoe in Times Square when my World Tour hits Gotham.
But I digress.
Here's the Times story.
- Hottest Ad Space in Times Sq. May Be on Tourists' Cameras
Advertisers have long been drawn to Times Square as a valuable place to reach consumers, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for space on billboards and blazing video screens.
But recently they have discovered that down on the ground, new technology has given low cost, face-to-face marketing campaigns something of a cutting edge as consumers spread their messages on the Internet.
Take the recent display of public toilets set up by Charmin bathroom tissue: Used by thousands in Times Square and viewed by 7,400 Web users on one site alone. Or Nascar's recent display of racecars; videos of the event have been viewed on YouTube more than 1,800 times. More than 60 people wrote about the event on their blogs and 60 more spread the word — and pictures — on the Flickr Web site.
''The great thing about the digital world is you can capture these events,'' said Christian McMahan, brand director for Smirnoff Ice, owned by Diageo. ''People can see them whether they were there that day or 3,000 miles away.''
As a result of the growing popularity of consumer-generated pictures, videos and e-mail messages on Internet sites like YouTube and Myspace, advertisers are getting consumers to essentially do their jobs for them.
When Target, the discount store operator, suspended the magician David Blaine above Times Square for two days during the week of Thanksgiving, videos shot by viewers were posted on YouTube and viewed more than 19,300 times.
''Times Square is becoming, in a way, a publishing platform,'' said Peter Stabler, director of communication strategy for Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, an advertising agency that is part of the Omnicom Group. ''What happens in Times Square is no longer strictly the province of location. You can experience things that are happening there, even if you're not there.''
On sites like YouTube, Flickr and MySpace, an army of tourists and residents are spreading advertisers' messages well beyond Manhattan, using their cell phones and video cameras as they walk through the marketing crossroads of the world.
Consumer brand companies are taking advantage of that by hosting elaborate events, fully aware that those events are great fodder for footage. Hosting events in Times Square, advertisers said, is like buying product placement in a TV show or a movie — except the cameras are held by consumers and the placement is on the Internet.
Experiential marketing, as the ad industry calls such campaigns, is intended to give people something they can tryout and photograph. Companies are holding such events in cities around the world, but advertisers said Times Square was unparalleled in its reach. People around the world recognize Times Square in photos and videos online and are more likely to view them, marketers said.
Charmin's bathrooms, which opened on Broadway near West 46th Street on Nov. 20, generated traditional coverage with more than 100 articles published about the fancy toilets. But consumer videos posted on YouTube alone have been viewed more than 7,400 times.
Hundreds of other people each week post photos and videos on their blogs and MySpace pages. One blog post last week, ''Der New York Trip Part II'', written in German, shows a young couple posing with the Charmin bear. Charmin is a brand of Procter & Gamble.
Another post about the Charmin toilets last week on a Web design blog wondered, ''Could this be too much marketing?'' Christian Montoya, the site's author, videotaped the bathrooms when he visited Times Square on Thanksgiving so that he could post the footage online for his roughly 700 daily readers. Though Mr. Montoya, a senior at Cornell University, said he was skeptical of marketing but thought the Charmin bathrooms were effective.
''It was more than a billboard because you could actually try the product,'' Mr. Montoya said.
It is difficult to count exactly how many people pass through Times Square each day, but foot traffic by some measures has nearly doubled. In 1997, the Times Square Business Improvement District counted 8,702 people an hour passing through the most crowded parts of Times Square during the busiest times of year. This year, the Times Square Alliance found that nearly double that amount — about 15,000 people — passed the Virgin Megastore on Broadway during busy hours.
But, advocates of experiential marketing say headcounts in Times Square underestimate the district's impact. Face-to-face interaction with customers is more powerful than traditional ads, they say.
''What people do is geometrically more powerful than what they are told,'' said Brian Collins, chief creative officer of Ogilvy and Mather Brand Innovation Group, a part of the WPP Group. ''Feeling something, picking it up in your hands, walking into an environment is a far more powerful brand promise than anything you are simply told through traditional media alone.''
On the day after Thanksgiving, Diageo's Smirnoff Ice brand held a tongue-in-cheek rally featuring about 30 paid actors as ''core protestors.'' The theme was ''save the mistletoe,'' a slogan for a holiday campaign for Smirnoff Ice. Smirnoff estimates that 60,000 people passed by its four-hour rally.
''When you go into an arena that is so iconic like Times Square, people are looking to be entertained,'' said Christian McMahan, brand director for Smirnoff Ice. ''And they're looking to be part of it.''
In April, General Electric rented nine digital billboards in Times Square and displayed photos of people passing by. People on the street photographed themselves standing below the billboards when their images appeared. Soon, those images were circulating online.
''It's much more interactive,'' said Judy Hu, the global executive director for advertising and branding at G.E. ''You've got people who are e-mailing, sending messages, they're involved with your brand personally as opposed to just viewing it.''
G.E. and other companies that hosted recent events would not divulge their costs, but they said the total came out surprisingly low compared with other forms of marketing.
The mayor's office said permits to use Times Square areas started at $25,000 but often cost $50,000 or more for a day, and that 112 marketers had paid for permits this year.
The amount of marketers in Times Square has soared this year in large part because three traffic islands there were made available on a regular basis this year for the first time as part of Mayor Bloomberg's broader initiative to attract more tourists to New York City.
In February, Walt Disney World sent Hans Florine, the X-games gold medal climber, scaling up a billboard to promote Expedition Everest, a new Animal Kingdom park ride. Mickey Mouse was also there, but he stayed on the ground.
In early December, MasterCard carolers sang holiday songs and passed out hot chocolate; street vendors sold coffee in Ann Taylor Loft paper cups; and a Sovereign Bank team rode red Segways passing out shopping bags and subway maps.
But some advertising executives wonder if it might be reaching the saturation point.
''It is now getting to the point,'' said Lori Robinson, senior vice president of Hill and Knowlton, the WPP Group agency that helped produce one event, ''where there just might be a little too much going on in Times Square.''
Can your measuring cup do this?
Didn't think so.
From the website:
- One-Stop Measuring Cup
This clearly-marked container will handle measuring, melting, warming, and cooking... all by itself!
Designed to handle stovetop and oven temperatures, the glass is marked in cups, ounces, and metric measurements and has a stay-cool handle.
Dishwasher- and microwave-safe.
Holds over 2 cups.
'Make me move' — Zillow takes it to the next level
Jack Kent Cooke once said, "Nothing is for sale. But everything can be bought."
Which was his way of saying, "Everyone's got their price."
Yes, even you.
But I digress.
Long story short: It lets anyone post a price tag — however far-fetched — for their property.
'This Side Up' Cube Timer
No moving parts makes me swoon.
From the website:
- Cube Timer
It’s preset for 5, 15, 30 and 60 minutes.
To activate, simply turn the cube so the time you want is facing up.
Great for timing phone calls, cooking, meetings, exercise — even a quick power nap!
No buttons to press, no dials to set!
Alarm beeps when the time is up.
Numbers are easily readable.
'Can I get it done while I am still alive?' — Frank Gehry
Akhil Sharma, who interviewed Gehry for yesterday's Wall Street Journal, called it a "relatively dark conversation," and wrote, "the thoughts of death and obsolescence seemed to bother him and make him perhaps slightly melancholy... the topics of age and death never seemed far off."
Here's the interview.
- The Architect
Frank Gehry is 77, white haired, paunchy, and when we talked one afternoon in late autumn the topics of age and death never seemed far off. Mr. Gehry is, of course, one of the world's great architects, creator of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and enough of an icon to have been among the personalities featured in Apple's "Think Different" campaign.
Describing what it takes for him to accept a commission, Mr. Gehry says, "The determining factor is: Can I get it done while I am still alive?" Explaining why he doesn't build houses any more, Mr. Gehry says, "They involve a lot of personal hand holding. I guess at my age I don't have the patience."
Probably more than most architects, one sees Mr. Gehry's buildings — buildings that have been described as resembling ruffling sails or looking like they are melting — and has a sense that there is a single personality behind them.
"I don't know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do," Mr. Gehry says. "Architects have to become parental. They have to learn to be parental." By this he means that an architect has to listen to his client but also remain firm about what the architect knows best, the aesthetics of a building. This, Mr. Gehry says, is what makes an architect relevant in the process that leads to a completed building. "I think a lot of my colleagues lose it, lose that relevance in the spirit of serving their client, so that no matter what, they are serving the client. Even if the building they produce, that they think serves the client, doesn't really serve the client because it's not very good."
Mr. Gehry and I meet in his office in Los Angeles. The office is in a warehouse; the office itself is a rectangular box in the middle of a hangar-like space that is filled with rows of cubicles. The interview takes a little over an hour and Mr. Gehry, wearing jeans and a black T-shirt, drinks one cup of coffee and then asks for a second. We sit at a long rectangular conference table and the only time he requests something be off the record is when he criticizes a museum that he believes is behaving badly towards an architect he admires. About his own clients and concerns he is surprisingly candid.
The idea of an architect having a brand that he can use on a client's behalf is new, he says. "Probably if we were smart about it, we would figure out how to get paid for that service. It certainly is an additional service."
Clients are pushy and ask for things that have nothing to do with architecture. Most recently and most directly in his own experience, Mr. Gehry was asked to put his name on a wine that a client produces. "If I end up selling thousands of cases of wine by just having my name on it, I don't know how I would feel about it. I didn't intend to do that."
Clients seem to like to exaggerate how much something costs; this seems to add drama and glamour to their projects. There are stories, Mr. Gehry says, that when he first began working on the Walt Disney Concert Hall the budget was $110 million and that when the building was finally completed the construction costs reached $275 million. The truth, he says, is that the $110 million was the construction budget in 1989 and when ground was finally broken in 2000, the budget was $210 million. The building was completed for $215 million. "The people that paid for it know the story is not true but they don't care to clarify it."
Because Mr. Gehry's buildings are as much feats of engineering as they are of architecture, it is strange to walk into his office and notice that there are no computers. Mr. Gehry's office is surprisingly spartan. There is a desk and there is a conference table and on one wall are photographs of friends. Sitting at his conference table and speaking of technology, Mr. Gehry volunteers, "I don't know how to turn on the DVD. I barely can use the technology in my car. It's a wonder I don't get into an accident."
The actual physics and engineering of Mr. Gehry's buildings are managed by teams of employees. Some 150 people work for him, and when Mr. Gehry talks about what exactly he does that leads to a building, it seems that he is almost more a manager of personalities and processes than he is someone who sits down with pencil and paper. "The building process is complicated. You have an idea, an image, a dream. You start to fantasize. You've got to get that feeling through thousands of hands to build a thing. Meetings, bureaucracy, accounting."
Considering that Mr. Gehry's buildings appear almost completely indifferent to conventions, I expected Mr. Gehry to be something of an egomaniac. Instead he turned out to be surprisingly modest. Describing a hotel in Spain that he just completed, Mr. Gehry said, "the rooms are comfortable," and when talking about the Guggenheim in Bilbao, he said that he was relieved that the people of the city liked it. The only time Mr. Gehry showed strong pride was when he was discussing being a good employer.
Most architects of Mr. Gehry's stature can staff the lower rungs of their office with volunteers and interns. "I am very proud," he says and sits up at the conference table. "Everybody gets paid. Everybody here is paid. There's no freebie interns. I've never done that. A lot of my colleagues do that, but that offends me so I've never done that." Like only one or two other topics in our conversation, this issue of how he cares for the people who work for him is something that seems to get him excited. "I am very proud," he says, again referring to his employees, "that they always get cost of living index raises and bonuses and more."
Another aspect of Mr. Gehry's old-fashioned virtue is his concern for what will happen to his employees once he dies. When I ask him if his age adds greater urgency to picking projects and finishing projects, Mr. Gehry says, "No. I am not that megalomaniac. No, I think the day will come and...."
Then apropos of very little in particular, he says, "What I am interested in is, since it's 150 people here and a lot of people's lives and futures depend on it, how do you create a succession?" Again Mr. Gehry sounds passionate. "There's a way to leave it and pull the plug and I am fine and they" — referring to his employees — "lose." As part of managing for his own death, Mr. Gehry has been trying to build the public personae of the people who work for him, trying to direct some of the limelight that seems always oriented towards him in their direction. In the catalogs and exhibits devoted to his work, he makes sure to mention the people who worked with him on his various projects.
As the interview wound down and the theme of age began to seem a more and more dominant part of our conversation, Mr. Gehry started to talk about some of the problems of getting older. Because he cannot program and has to work through others in order to engineer a building, he said that he is in some ways obsolete. Referring to these computer skills, he asked, "If I knew all that, could I be a better architect?"
* * *
The thoughts of death and obsolescence seemed to bother him and make him perhaps slightly melancholy for, again unprompted, he said, "You know I find solace, like a lot of people do, in Bach and Beethoven. I go backwards and just the things I rail against in architecture people doing, I do in music or literature."
Asked how he handled these limits he saw for himself, he said, "I keep going. Keeping going is important to me and not to get sidetracked and to get caught up in self-pity."
In this relatively dark conversation, one story that Mr. Gehry told me and which made him chuckle was that of a friend who is a chiropractor and who asked him to help her lay out her office. "I love doing that kind of stuff," Mr. Gehry said. The friend came over and brought her floor plans and Mr. Gehry spent several hours noodling over them. "I've always had the fantasy of having a little kiosk in the mall where I could do that. Where people would line up and you would charge them 25 bucks and you would look at their plans. I love doing that kind of stuff. They think you are a genius when you move one little wall and get an efficiency and nobody had thought of that before. Small pleasures."
USB Missile Launcher — 'Finally, WMD* at an affordable price'
From the website:
- USB Missile Launcher
Nobody remembers who started it. Perhaps that guy from HR lobbed a wadded-up piece of paper over the cube wall at you? It could have been one of those accounting dudes with the marshmallow-gun. It doesn't matter, now. You are armed.
The USB Missile Launcher is the latest desktop weapons platform that elevates your status from mere code-monkey or BOFH Sysadmin to a true Digital Dictator. Laugh maniacally while you zero in on your unsuspecting target. Rain down foam punishment upon him with a click of the mouse. Watch as, one by one, three spring-loaded missiles arc 5 to 8 feet gracefully to your quarry. Giggle girlishly at the realistic sound effects with every launch.
This launcher can pivot 180 degrees horizontally, and 45 degrees up. Controlled by the included PC software, point the missiles at your foe, and press the big red shiny delicious button on screen. FOOM.
The gunmetal grey USB Missile Launcher stands approximately seven inches high, with three white foam spring-loaded missiles on top. It requires 3 AA batteries, which are included. Also includes PC Software (currently Windows XP only, but there is third party software available 'out there' for Mac and Linux).
*Weapons of Much Distraction