April 23, 2007
What's in your dog's DNA? MetaMorphix can tell you
MetaMorphix is a small biotech company in Beltsville, Maryland.
For $65 they'll send you special long cotton swabs in a test kit.
You swab your dog's mouth, then mail the swabs back to the company and they send you your dog's breed heritage.
Meredith Vieira will feature the test and company next month on NBC's "Today" show but I see no reason why you should have to wait till then.
Michael S. Rosenwald wrote about the company in an April 16, 2007 Washington Post Business section story, which follows.
- Independent Biotech Follows DNA to Dollars
MetaMorphix Banks on Dog, Cattle Tests
Edwin C. Quattlebaum, who is mostly bald, has been chief executive of a small biotech company in Beltsville for eight years. He insists he used to have more hair, though that is just shorthand for saying what many CEOs of start-up biotechs quickly learn on the job — that to survive in this business you may find yourself tearing your hair out.
Like many biotechs, Quattlebaum's company, MetaMorphix, has been using genomics for the better part of a decade, but not to develop drugs. It uses DNA to predict for ranchers which of their animals will produce the best meat. And lately it has taken to identifying the exact breeds of dogs, offering pet owners a chance, for $65, to learn just what species lurk inside their mutts.
Through it all, Quattlebaum has on several occasions told his 40-odd employees on a Wednesday that there wasn't enough money to pay them on Friday. MetaMorphix is more than $40 million in debt; as of the end of last year it had just $277,000 in cash, according to regulatory filings. Quattlebaum has lent the company $264,000 and relied on his board for a couple of million dollars more. And MetaMorphix, still a private company, owes more than $2 million in past-due payments to Celera Genomics, from which it purchased its key technology.
But now, Quattlebaum said, "we can see light at the end of the tunnel and we know the light is not my house burning down."
That's because MetaMorphix has recently launched tests that predict whether beef cattle will produce the tastiest, highly marbled meat. If old Bessie is going to be a winner, ranchers know to feed her the best grains. If she's going to be a loser, and end up at a drive-through, the rancher can offer her the cheapest possible lunch, shifting the entire cost structure of the meat business.
MetaMorphix's corporate partner Cargill will soon begin using the tests in its feed lots. Monsanto is using the company's products for pig breeding.
MetaMorphix has also in the past month started selling its dog-breed DNA test, Canine Heritage, which came about through a bit of serendipity after an off-the-books research project by one of the company's scientists. A bit of luck can go a long way in some businesses. Already, 10,000 people have requested kits to swab their dogs' mouths with long cotton swabs, which they send to the firm's lab in California for analysis. How big could that business get? With 74 million dogs with residences in the United States, big enough to become a very meaningful contributor to the company's bottom line.
The test and the company are scheduled to be featured next month on NBC's "Today" show. Meredith Vieira, the show's co-host, has been curious about the genetic makeup of her dog Jasper and is having the little guy tested. MetaMorphix is also touting the test for rescue shelters and veterinarians.
"We are starting a major ramp-up of revenue," Quattlebaum said last week. "This is the year that we are transitioning from a research and development company to a commercial company."
"Virtually anything that is an issue with this company is cured with money," he added.
Money is both curse and cure for many a start-up, particularly biotech firms, which typically rely on frequent investments from venture capitalists to finance what on paper appears to be a pie-in-the-sky enterprise. In return for the money, control of the dream typically shifts from the original dreamers to the venture capitalists. Quattlebaum, 56, decided to go a different route, however. No venture money for him. He decided to rely on large numbers of wealthy individuals. "If I'm going to put my lifeblood into the company, I don't want some VC controlling it," he said.
Quattlebaum, who owns 10.7 percent of the company, has instead raised more than $100 million from about 900 different investors. But because of the expensive nature of scientific research and development, Quattlebaum has to raise about $150,000 a week, a task that takes up 50 percent of his time, with dozens of calls weekly to serial investors. Sometimes he has to call and say, "I need $100,000 to make payroll this week."
His chief financial officer, Thomas P. Russo, said: "We are experts in just-in-time financing."
Sean Bishop, a former fighter-jet pilot who flies for Delta Air Lines, said he has invested five separate times, for a total of $400,000. Quattlebaum has never come straight out and asked for a check; rather, he asks Bishop whether he knows anyone who is interested in investing.
"It's motivated me to talk to some of my friends," he said. "It's also motivated me to take a look at my bank account. I say, 'I've got this money here. I could apply it to taking a cruise or buying more mutual funds from Schwab, or I can send it over to Ed.' Judging by how things have gone, my default has been to send money to Ed quite a few times."
Bishop, who with his wife has several hundred thousand dollars in mutual funds and a 401(k), conceded that he was either "going to look like a visionary or a fool." But he said he had a high tolerance for risk because he works for Delta, which is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. "I'm quite familiar from a personal point of view of what it's like to be under the gun financially," he said. "That's the nature of a start-up. That the nature of a biotech company."
Christopher Mestl, who works for Aperion Management, a leveraged buyout firm in New York, knows the company's books are in somewhat gloomy shape, but that hasn't stopped his family from investing a couple of times, for amounts totaling six figures.
"It's been a mess since we've been involved," he said. "You have to look at it in a different way. Biotechs get financed whatever way they can long enough to stay alive."
Mestl and his fiancee have two dogs. He plans to have them tested and looks forward to seeing one of the company's products in action. Most of all, he's looking forward to the company finally turning the corner.
"I hope that happens this year," he said.
Newton — 'A milk & sugar set which proves gravity'
Just awarded the coveted bookofjoe 2007 Best Breakfast Accessory Award.
From the website:
- Newton — the clever mechanism keeps the bowl still while you tip the pitcher
Newton is a new way of serving sugar and milk.
The mechanism of Newton is based on gravity: you can pour the milk without removing the attached sugar bowl.
While you tip the milk jug, the sugar bowl remains level.
Newton is designed so that the sugar bowl can be easily removed for refilling the milk jug and also stays securely locked in place while pouring.
Everyone knows "it's all about the accessories."
'Steal this wallet!' — Kyle Gardiner tries (and fails) to become a pickpocket victim in Europe
Kyle's mother Jenny wrote an entertaining piece that appears in today's Washington Post about what happened when her teenage son Kyle (above, at the top of the Eiffel Tower with his wallet sticking out of his pocket in plain view to entice a criminal) tried to prove the truth of what he'd read in a Rick Steves tour book about the ubiquity of pickpockets and the inevitability of having one's wallet pinched while traveling in Europe.
See — I can write a sentence longer than ten words.
But I digress.
Here's the Post story.
- He Made Himself a Target, But Pickpockets Didn't Bite
On a Trip to Europe, A Social Experiment Concluded: People Are Pretty Good
My jaded teenage son learned the hard way the grim truth about humanity: People, it seems, are good.
Before a trip to Europe a few years back, Kyle had read ominous warnings in a Rick Steves tour book about the ubiquity of pickpockets and the inevitability of having one's wallet pinched. Jazzed as only an adolescent boy could be at the idea of being able to claim to have had the Total Experience of travel abroad, he bought a cheap wallet for the express purpose of losing it to a nimble-fingered thief. He even penned a "gotcha" note that he tucked inside, complete with his address, hoping the pickpocket would have a sense of humor (not to mention command of the English language) and return the wallet for future pilfering opportunities.
With that goal, Kyle was hepped about our trip. Forget the usual European folderol, England's crown jewels, the glorious works of the Renaissance, the site of the Berlin Wall: He was going to have a purloined pocketbook.
At first Kyle's strategy was to position the wallet barely peeking out from the upper edge of his back pocket: a little wink to the multitude of lurking pickpockets by whom we no doubt were surrounded. Come on, pull me out, it seemed to tease.
With no nibbles on that lure, the wink was replaced with a outright dare, a wallet protruding so far from the pocket it practically screamed, Hey! Steal me already!
Finally Kyle decided he had to broadcast his wallet's availability. "Uh, Mom, do I still have that hundred-euro in my wallet or did you take it?" he hollered as we walked amid the throng near the Spanish Steps.
Nada. Or I guess I should say niente.
Kyle traveled in five countries, attracting not a single specimen of the undesirable element.
It vexed him that try as he might, he was incapable of finding someone bad. Not a one. Well, maybe that icky little guy at the Trevi Fountain who sidled up to him and rumbled a creepy tiger purr of desire into his ear.
In fact, Kyle's tepid gratitude soon evolved into overt annoyance when one person after another would venture over to alert him to the vulnerability of his wallet. Thanks a lot, he would grumble with an air of resignation to the men, women, children and even sketchy-looking pickpocket types who offered their warnings to him.
He returned home unrobbed but undaunted.
On our most recent holiday overseas, Kyle gamely attempted to achieve lift-out yet again.
In a steamy and beyond-capacity Paris Metro, Kyle positioned himself near anyone who looked most auspiciously suspicious, to no avail.
The wallet also remained intact through four World Cup matches in Germany, including the pregame mad crush of revelers known as Fan Fest, in which we were pressed claustrophobically in a human hoagie with thousands of other celebrants.
The wallet endured overflowing subways, train stations (including that notorious pickpocket headquarters, the Termini in Rome), bus rides, packed gondolas en route to the Alps.
All in all, Kyle's wallet survived three different forays through major cities in England, France, Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy (he'll add Vatican City, as technically it is its own country). Oh, and a Tyrolean town in Austria.
I felt comforted to find that perhaps the world is not such a scary place after all, and that most people go out of their way to be helpful, not hurtful. It may not make an exciting story to tell his friends, but Kyle's experiment had failed, thank goodness.
He didn't share that view.
"That Rick Steves is a dirty rotten liar," Kyle grumbled on the last day of the last trip.
All I could say was: "Cheer up, Kyle. There's always Manhattan!"
JBL OnTour Portable Speakers for iPod or Laptop
Unbelievably great sound from a beautifully-engineered package for an amazingly low price.
They retail for $99.99, Amazon sells 'em for $69.99 and I found them here for $34.99.
Plug them in or run them off 4 AAA batteries: same powerful, undistorted-even-at-max-volume sound.
Makes working on a laptop a whole lot better.
Small footprint, too: 7"W x 3.25"L x 1.25"H.
Here's one from Playlist.
Sure, it first came out in 2004 or thereabouts but it's still my choice.
Now where did I put my Prince CD?
'Elements of E-Style'
Above, the title of Nick Paumgarten's entertaining April 16, 2007 New Yorker piece about a new book by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe entitled "Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home."
Shipley is the Op-Ed page editor of the New York Times and Schwalbe is editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books.
Here's the New Yorker article.
- Elements of E-Style
E-mail isn’t the most self-conscious medium; haste and volume encourage many correspondents to forget themselves. Still, everyone settles on a style. The lower-case non-punctuators, the serial capitalizers, the rhetorical questioners, the subpoena-anticipators, the posterity-watchers: they all have their reasons, and their conceits.
Two years ago, David Shipley, the Op-Ed editor of the Times, and Will Schwalbe, the editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books, were eating oysters in Grand Central Terminal and complaining about ill-considered e-mails they had recently received, and even sent. Before long, they found themselves cobbling together a system of proper usage and protocol. Now, with the publication of their book “Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home,” they have put themselves forward as the genre’s Strunk and White.
Shipley and Schwalbe enumerate six essential e-mail types (the Ask, the Answer, Grovelling, etc.), eight deadly sins (too casual, too vague, too illegal, etc.), and a four-step checklist (S.E.N.D.) that reflects the authors’ broad-ranging e-mail conservatism. “S” stands for simple, “E” for effective, “N” for necessary, “D” for done. Generally, they’d have you hit “send” later and less often. They offer a hermeneutics of the cc, an invocation against the word “please,” and a number of rather chilling but by now self-evident rules (“Never forward without permission, and assume everything you write will be forwarded”). The reader gulps at the thought of unexploded self-incriminations ticking in servers around the world. The authors, astonishingly, come out in favor of exclamation points (“ ‘Thanks!!!!’ is way friendlier than ‘Thanks’ ”), abbreviations (“Is LOL... really inherently more opaque than FYI?”), and emoticons (those smiley faces and the like may “bug many people but they make us smile”).
Each author considers the other to be the best e-mailer he knows. “Talk about a great e-mailer!” Shipley wrote in an e-mail last week. “Mr. Schwalbe is too kind. He’s really the best. On top of that, he always manages to refresh his Subject Lines.” But they acknowledge that they are hardly perfect. Last week, for example, an attempt to reach Shipley by e-mail resulted in silence; he was on vacation in Germany, and his out-of-office autoreply had failed to deploy. Still, summoned by fax, he eventually joined an e-mail three-way, noting, nonetheless, that such an arrangement was perhaps less expedient than a conversation via instant messaging or telephone. Shipley and Schwalbe maintain that different media suit different circumstances. Condolence e-mails, for example, are insufficient on their own. Follow up with a letter. And, Shipley says, “E-mail apologies are inherently lame.” The reader gulps again.
Let the record show that neither man is a proponent of the “respond in portions” approach to answering—that practice of cutting the first e-mail into bits and taking on each item in turn. “One of my problems with it is that it can so easily devolve into barked commands,” Schwalbe wrote. “You start by writing interstitial comments like ‘Good idea, but maybe we should . . .’ and before you know it, you are writing things like ‘No’ or ‘That won’t work at all.’ ”
They both use “Dear ___” unfailingly. Schwalbe is an “All best!” man, whereas Shipley goes with “Cheers.” They hold that you should address recipients by their last names unless invited otherwise, explicitly or implicitly (see “mirroring”), and they disdain intemperance and reprimand. As e-mailers, both men, in keeping with their positions near but not quite at the top of their respective food chains, are cordial and politic, and they were astounded by the lack of tact exhibited by Bush Administration officials in their e-mail discussions over the firing of eight “underperforming” federal prosecutors. What could they have been thinking?
“They were thinking about a lot of things, clearly, but they weren’t thinking about e-mail,” Shipley wrote. “Their brains stopped telling them that they were putting their words and ideas down in indelible digital ink. I can’t think of anything more dangerous.”
The brains of Shipley and Schwalbe—or, for that matter, of anyone who reads “Send”—will likely never be so susceptible. As the e-mails went to and fro last week, seeming occasionally even to cross each other on their trip across (or is it under?) the ocean, the correspondents’ attention to indelibility seemed unwavering.
“This is fun but very meta!” Schwalbe wrote:
I realize I’m discussing something while I’m doing that very thing. You know how DVDs come with "Director’s Commentary" tracks. It’s like I’m recording one of those tracks WHILE directing instead of after!
Again, so many thanks!!!
Not to be outdone (yes — I am quite aware that the phrase previous is a non sequitur but I just felt like it — and it's my blog), John Derbyshire — author, most recently, of "Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra" — reviewed the same book in the April 21, 2007 Wall Street Journal.
Derbyshire's review follows.
- To: Emailers
One of the basic rules of good manners hammered into me at an early age was: Don't impose! If one were to see a famous person in the street, for instance, it would be quite wrong to impose on that person's time and privacy by introducing oneself.
It often seems to me that advances in personal-communications technology consist mainly of new ways for us to impose on each other. The cellphone, obliging us to hear one half of other people's conversations, is the most egregious case. Email is not far behind in making new, often unwanted demands on our attention and time.
To be sure, some emails are a proper part of our daily work. Many just replace phone calls or paper mail. Many others, however — especially, as the Journal's own Jared Sandberg has noted in his Cubicle Culture column, those that come to us because our name is on someone's "cc" list or part of a "reply to all" response — are impositions.
In "Send," David Shipley and Will Schwalbe offer us help in separating the useful from the impositional and in making the useful more so. A combination stylebook and etiquette manual for email users, "Send" covers all the human, nontechnical aspects of email, from the use of "emoticons" (those little faces made up of punctuation symbols) to the legal perils of incautious emailing.
All the vexing matters that have crossed the mind of every emailer at one time or another are fully covered here. Should you use "urgent" flags? No, say the authors, nor the highly irritating "notify sender" box. Is it OK to put your entire message in an email subject line, text-message-wise? Yes, but close with EOM — "end of message" — so that the recipient won't waste time opening the empty email. How to apologize for a tardy reply to someone's email? Five different formulas are offered, with some words of encouragement: "Like you, that person [the one you've neglected to answer] probably has an overflowing email inbox.... Enough people are feeling sufficiently overwhelmed that there exists a wellspring of understanding if you have failed to answer in a timely way." Some of the advice is of universal applicability, though it is none the less needed for that. "Once you've made the move to first names . . . it is a mistake to go back to more formal address." And, of course: "Be brief."
Is email having any deep social or historical consequences? I can't say I think so, and "Send" offers nothing that suggests so. Of their "Seven Big Reasons to Love Email," only Reason No. 4 — "Email gives you a searchable record" — offers anything new over phone calls, paper letters and conversation. Even that advantage has a downside, as the chapter on legal perils explains. I note that my own children do not use email much, preferring instant messaging. Perhaps the whole thing is a transient phenomenon.
The "send" button itself is of course the greatest enemy of prudent and considerate emailing; our tendency to click on it without thinking is the source of much annoyance (if we're lucky) and embarrassment (if we're not). At the end of "Send," the authors reveal that their title is intended as an acronym, guiding us to better emailing. Messages should be Simple, Effective, Necessary and aimed at getting something Done. (That last applies to workplace email, not notes to family and friends.)
Not bad advice. I wish that Messrs. Shipley and Schwalbe had not included some brief lessons on how to impose: "When making a large request of someone's time, it can be helpful to propose a much smaller request first." Helpful to whom? I think, too, that their list of "Big Moments in Email History" ought to have noted that computer-science guru Donald Knuth gave up email in 1990, a point in time at which the rest of us had only just heard of it.
Most of us are now beyond giving email up, even if we wanted to. All the more reason to welcome this is a handy little vade mecum, written with concision and good sense.
Cocoon Grass Ball
From the website:
Designed by Sophie Cordey for The Collection.
Felt ball in which you plant grass seeds.
A secret garden to cultivate and nurture.
€40 (Click on "Accessories," then scroll down to "Decorative Accessories").
wordswithoutborders.org — 'The online magazine for international literature'
Evelyn Small, writing in yesterday's Washington Post Book Review, called it "a round-the-world tour of great writers from more than 20 countries, translated for the first time into English."
Take a trip into the minds of people who see the world in a different light.
Teuco Evolution Tonda Shower-in-the-Round
Includes stereo sound, chromatherapy, steam, Scottish shower and body jets.
What's a Scottish shower, anyway?
But I digress.
Ooh, those Italians.