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September 3, 2004

Hans Wegner's Wishbone Chair

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Created by the great Danish designer Hans Wegner in 1949, this chair remains a steady seller after 55 years.

In celebration of Wegner's 90th birthday this year, the iconic chair is being reissued by Carl Hansen & Son in eight lacquer colors (yellow, green, blue, black, white, and three shades of red) that haven't been available since the late 1950s.

The standard natural wood finishes (beech, oak, and cherry) are still available as well.

Prices start at $550 here.

Full disclosure: I'm sitting in an original Wegner Peacock chair,

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supremely comfortable and elegant to look at.

September 3, 2004 at 09:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Indian Larry is dead at 55

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Larry Desmedt - known nationally as Indian Larry - who dedicated his life to becoming "the best chopper builder in the world," died Monday of injuries suffered two days earlier while doing a stunt in Charlotte, North Carolina.

His wife, Bambi the Mermaid of Coney Island, said the stunt that killed him was not a particularly dangerous maneuver.

Read Wolfgang Saxon's superb New York Times obituary of this one-of-a-kind artist of "the big roar."
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Indian Larry, Motorcycle Builder and Stunt Rider, Dies at 55

Larry Desmedt, a New York-based custom motorcycle builder and biker better known nationally as Indian Larry, died on Monday in Charlotte, N.C., of injuries he suffered doing a stunt on Saturday at an appearance there.

He was 55 and lived in the East Village.

His death was announced by Timothy White, a photographer and friend.

He said Mr. Desmedt had gone to Charlotte for the filming of a new segment in a series shown on the Discovery Channel, "The Great Biker Build-Off."

Indian Larry, who had his workshop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was a legend among biking enthusiasts and other custom builders.

He regarded his craft as a form of art and, Mr. White said, got his nickname from the classic brand of a motorcycle he rode years ago.

He had gone to Charlotte for the shooting on Saturday of an episode of "Biker Build-Off," in which he has successfully competed with other riders of custom-made two-wheelers.

The accident happened afterward in a parking lot, with a crowd of thousands watching.

Mr. White said Indian Larry, wearing a protective suit but not a helmet, was standing on his bike as he went down the parking lot in a crowd-pleasing routine and may have been blinded by the sun; he fell and hit his head.

He died early Monday at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

Larry Desmedt was born in Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y.

His wife, Bambi, and Mr. White described him as a lone wolf, who was a familiar figure to fans across the country but never joined a motorcycle gang.

He was known among bikers as a metal sculptor and highly skilled mechanic.

His first motorbike was a 1939 Harley Knucklehead he bought for $200 when he was a teenager, he said in a Rolling Stone interview.

Within hours, he had taken it apart, and it took him nine months to put it back together.

Later he went to California to apprentice himself to one of his heroes, the hot rod builder Ed (Big Daddy) Roth.

He spent a wild youth and was a frequent subject of his friend the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who was attracted to his "crash and burn" way of life.

But in 1991 he decided to become "the best chopper builder in the world,'' according to a autobiography scheduled for publication by Crown in 2005, and devoted himself to becoming what he called a motorcycle artist.

His most famous motorcycle, called Grease Monkey, was named Easy Rider magazine's chopper of the year.

Besides his wife, a performer billed as Bambi the Mermaid of Coney Island, Mr. Desmedt leaves his mother, Dorothy Desmedt, and a sister, Tina Wells, both of Middletown, N.Y.

It was not a particularly dangerous maneuver he performed on Saturday, Bambi Desmedt said.

"It was showing off, his way of blowing off steam after the bigger stunts," she added, "winding down."
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Note: on February 12, 2005 I finally watched the "Biker Build-Off" episode featuring Indian Larry v Mondo.

It was filmed during the summer of 2004, with filming for the episode as originally envisioned ending on Saturday, August 28.

Later that afternoon, after the voting was completed, Indian Larry went out and demonstrated some stunt riding.

He fell, hit his head, and died two days later.

My thoughts on watching this show for the first time are noted in this February 13, 2005 entry.

September 3, 2004 at 06:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (361) | TrackBack

King of Remotes - Philips ProntoPro NG

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William Grimes of the New York Times is fast becoming one of my favorite writers in his new subspecialty of reviewing cutting-edge electronics as a regular guy, a technodolt (I have retired "technoretard" after Lindsay Lohan's contretemps with her choice of words recently... but I digress) like moi.

His article in yesterday's paper on his experience with the new Philips ProntoPro NG (for "next generation") all-in-one remote was just great, funny as all get out.

Before you drop $1,000 on the device (yes, that's the price, not a misprint), I'd read his story, below.
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King of Remotes, but Try to Grasp It

I am not a collector.

My possessions do not include Depression glassware, Art Deco matchbooks, vintage postcards or Hummel figurines.

When I die, I will not bequeath any coins, stamps or rare editions.

What I do have, arrayed on the coffee table that stands between my sofa and my television set, is a fabulous set of remote controls: one for the television, one for the cable box, one for the DVD, one for the VCR and two for the stereo system.

That's six, plus two more downstairs for the television and the cable box in the kitchen. The situation was getting out of hand.

Then I heard about ProntoPro NG. Made by Philips, ProntoPro NG (for "next generation") is a touch-screen device that promises to take couch potatoes to the promised land of truly universal remote control.

With the right customizing, using the ProntoProEdit NG software, the device can communicate with all the equipment normally found in a home theater, as well as with electronically controlled lights, curtains and garage-door openers.

Users can program a single button to set off a sequence of electronic events, like turning on the television, tuning it to a specific channel, muting the sound, turning on the stereo to top volume and dimming the lights.

With a radio frequency extender, the ProntoPro can send its signal all around the house.

This sounded like the solution: the Tito who would bring order and stability to my electronic Balkans, the Esperanto for my Tower of Babel. The price was breathtaking.

At $1,000, the ProntoPro costs more than a lot of the equipment it talks to.

But factor in the lost hours spent hunting for the DVD remote that someone kicked under a chair or the television remote wedged deep in the sofa, and the ProntoPro might pay for itself in, say, a quarter-century or so.

On the debit side, there are the untold hours spent mastering the thing.

About an hour into the instruction booklet, I realized I was in deep water. Like other universal remotes, the ProntoPro has to learn the infrared codes for each device that it will be communicating with.

Philips has programmed the ProntoPro with codes for more than 500 brands but, to my dismay, only a limited cluster of commands for any given remote.

The rest of the functions must be taught to the ProntoPro, one by one. This is tedious but doable.

The real fun begins when it dawns on you that the many functions on the typical remote control exist on one page, so to speak.

That is, all the buttons are present and accounted for on one plane.

With the ProntoPro, the commands for each device are spread over several pages, with the user scrolling up and down to reach the desired button.

That makes for a lot of thumb work, and a lot of time looking at the remote screen instead of the television screen.

It's possible to reconfigure and reorganize the pages, but that requires a long programming session with the ProntoProEdit NG software.

It was at this point that I demoted myself to the ProntoNeo.

With a list price of $200, the Neo is Philips's entry-level universal remote.

The screen is black and white, which did not bother me.

I care about color on my television, not my remote control.

The layout can be reconfigured in only a limited way, and the device does not come with a rechargeable base.

But it performs most of the same functions as the ProntoPro.

With my very limited stores of patience and determination, I managed to transfer most of the commands from my various remotes to the Neo, which, like the Pro, lets you relabel buttons on the touch screen and maintains a page of blank buttons on the last page for each device, so that you can find a place for, say, the zoom button on a DVD remote.

The Neo also allows you to program multiple commands into a single button - as many as 250 of them.

But I found myself stymied when I tried to make it turn on my DVD player, then my television, and then run down a small menu on the television screen to reach the proper setting for playing a DVD.

Each step involves a slight delay. The television takes a little while to come on. So does the menu.

Clicking from one menu choice to the next takes about a second, but wait too long, and the menu disappears from the screen.

In theory, this is no problem. The Neo allows you to add a delay between steps. But I never succeeded in getting the delays to coincide with my television.

I did feel that the Neo and I were developing a relationship. And then I dropped it on the floor. It has not spoken to me since.

If you can't drop a remote, or even kick it once in a while, what good is it?

Practice on the Neo gave me courage to tackle ProntoProEdit NG.

I was overconfident.

Working through the editing program is like studying for an exam that you know, deep down, you are going to fail.

Disorientation sets in fast.

Simple words lose their meaning.

I could feel the goal of universality recede from my little world of remote devices.

Help came from David M. D'Arche, a service sales consultant for Hewlett-Packard.

Mr. D'Arche spends a lot of time on a Web site called remotecentral.com,

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where remote-control buffs trade tips and agonize over problems.

User comments convinced him that a lot of people were having difficulty with the ProntoPro user manual and accompanying software.

He wrote his own 138-page manual, "Ultimate Pronto Guide," and began selling it on the Internet (www.prontowizard .com) for $16.95.

Yes, it is absurd to buy a guide to be able to understand another guide.

But it is also necessary.

Mr. D'Arche's guide, essentially a Pronto for Dummies, begins with a chilling thought.

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"Creating a configuration in the Pronto is not an event," the author writes. "It is a journey."

He encourages prospective users to get on the Internet and join "Pronto communities," sites where the befuddled and the perplexed gather to exchange tips, share sorrows and feel the communal bonds of Pronto ownership.

Pronto, I was beginning to feel, was not merely a device.

It was a life commitment, a philosophy, a way of being.

Would I be up to it?

Yes.

The guide leads even the dimmest technorube (that would be me) through the thickets of Pronto prose, clearing away the underbrush and letting in the light of understanding.

As always, there are distinct phases in one's mastery of the fundamentals.

First, blank incomprehension, like that felt by the cave man surrounded by flint and stone, yet unable to create a spark.

Second, a stupefied "Oh," as the obvious becomes, as it should, obvious.

Third, hubris, or the foolish expectation that success at Task A guarantees smooth sailing as Tasks B through Z appear on the horizon.

Fourth, rapid retreat to Square 1.

Step by step, I began to configure my Pronto, practicing, along with Mr. D'Arche, on sample pages, knowing that eventually I would apply those lessons to the real thing.

ProntoProEdit NG, I came to understand, is a marvelous, complex paint-by-numbers kit.

It lets users design their own device on the computer, and then, when ready, to transfer the results to the Pronto itself.

Then I stopped and thought for minute.

Why, I asked myself, am I doing all this work?

For $1,000, shouldn't somebody else be doing this for me?

I felt like a diner who enters a four-star restaurant and looks over a tantalizing menu, only to be told that he has to go into the kitchen and make it himself.

I truly believe that, given enough time, I could make my way - slowly, painstakingly - through the editing process and emerge with a truly universal remote.

But I could also, in the same time, read Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" unabridged, or learn a foreign language.

My Pronto experience, if nothing else, helped clarify my thinking on a couple of important social issues.

In "Bowling Alone," Robert D. Putnam argues that Americans have lost traditional community rituals like bowling in leagues, or going out for a night of bingo.

In so doing, they have become a more fragmented, alienated society.

He obviously knows nothing about the spontaneous communities, or mutual-aid societies, that coalesce around inscrutable consumer goods like the Pronto, whose demands leave little time for more traditional forms of socializing, like hayrides and yo-yo tournaments.

I was also, during my Pronto adventure, reminded of a recent report lamenting the decline of reading in the United States.

While it might be true that the average American no longer reads Milton or Marlowe, the deficit is more than made up for by near-total immersion in the user guides that come with every new piece of electronic equipment.

The good news is that Americans are not reading less - they're reading more, if my experience is anything to go by.

Finally, by laying down my Prontos, like Prospero in the final act of "The Tempest," I may have renounced magic powers, but I have come out ahead.

I now have two stunning additions to my collection of remote controls.

September 3, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

John Pawson's monastary

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It's in the Czech Republic, and it opened yesterday.

You're already too late: it was opened to the public yesterday for the first and only time ever.

Pawson spent a week living with the Cistercian monks in their Sept-Fons abbey in France, learning about their daily lives.

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He said he fully understood the significance of getting everything right the first time: "With a private house, you always get involved with the nitty-gritty. But usually the homeowners go away sometime for the holidays or they eventually sell the house.

"With monks, they are never, ever going to leave, not even to visit town. The monastary is their entire world."

I must say, I believe Pawson's signature ultra-minimalist style far more suited to this building than something like Calvin Klein's flagship Fifth Avenue store, which I found profoundly depressing.

I feel for Pawson's family: I saw a feature in Vogue magazine some years ago on their London home, and could only shiver as I looked at the bathroom, with its huge tub on concrete with nary a rug in sight.

I bet his kids have to bring their Mr. Bubble in with them and remove it after they're done.

September 3, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sideways Bike

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Michael Killian invented it.

If you can dream it, someone will do it.

A tip of the blog (there are those who believe it capsized two weeks ago, but we have no time here on the good ship bookofjoe for naysaying nattering nabobs of negativism) to Michael K.

September 3, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

cb2.com goes live

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For the past four years, Crate & Barrel's cool, hip stuff has been available only at its bricks-and-mortar Chicago store.

Now they've put the store online, with a ton of cool, affordable stuff to browse.

September 3, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Invasion of the T4 Virus - a real-life horror film

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Michael Rossman and colleagues have combined thousands of ultra-high resolution images of the T4 virus to create a movie of the virus as it actually attacks and infects its host.

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Writing in the current issue of the journal Cell, the scientists describe how the virus alters its shape as it latches on to its host E. Coli bacterium with its legs, preparing to inject its infectious load into the body of the bacterium.

Rossman's website has six movies of things happening at the viral level: most fascinating.

This is the kind of work I like to see my tax dollars doing.

September 3, 2004 at 06:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

geographyolympics.com

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Just in time to arrest your post-Athens withdrawal symptoms comes this website, which lets you compete against the world.

The rules are simple, as befits readers of this blog, as well as its writer.

You have 200 seconds (three minutes twenty seconds for those of you without a calculator at hand - we pride ourselves here on doing it all for you... but I digress) to locate 10 countries on a map of the world.

A snap, right?

Maybe you're not as smart as you thought you were, huh?

The U.S., by the way, ranks 26th in the world currently among countries whose residents have taken the quiz.

First place goes to the Aussies, with the Netherlands and Latvia close behind.

September 3, 2004 at 03:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Flatout! - collapsible Tupperware

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I guess even the venerable old codgers are getting hip, what with Tupperware now unveiling its line of containers that compress down flat when not in use.

A set of three 1-quart containers is $17.50 here.

September 3, 2004 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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