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September 6, 2004

Pure Digital Disposable Digital Camera - $19.99

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What I find amazing is that it even has a color 1.4" LCD preview screen.

It comes with a fully automatic flash as well, and a 10-second self-timer.

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Here's how it works.

1) You buy the camera at CVS

2) Take your pictures (up to 25 total)

3) You bring it to CVS for processing

4) They give you back a free picture CD along with your actual prints

September 6, 2004 at 09:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's First Portable Toilet

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Today's New York Times "Patents" column by Teresa Riordan brings us news of the invention we've been waiting for since forever: a toilet that folds up to look like an attaché case.

Said inventor Susan Perry Hinton, a pharmacy professor at Xaviar University in New Orleans, of her creation (U.S. Patent No. 6,782,565), "No one would ever know you're carting a toilet around."

Nuff said.

Hinton's husband Calvin has found a couple companies interested in producing the seat, which they've named the Perry Potty portable toilet seat.

As always, necessity was the mother of invention.

Hinton said, "We were traveling and had to go to a family reunion in Chicago. All the public bathrooms were atrocious. The idea just popped out of my head."

When can I get one?

Here's the Times story.
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A Truly Portable Potty

Since the porcelain high-pressure flush toilet came into use about a hundred years ago, thousands of inventors have tried to improve upon it.

Recent contributions to toilet innovation include urinals designed for women, male urinals with built-in TV screens, automatic seat lifters, talking toilet paper dispensers, toilets that automatically weigh the user and toilets that take urine samples.

Last month alone, the United States Patent Office granted about 60 toilet patents.

One of them, No. 6,782,565, went to Susan Perry Hinton, a pharmacy professor at Xavier University in New Orleans for her portable toilet seat.

"We were traveling and had to go to a family reunion in Chicago," Professor Hinton recalled. "All the public bathrooms were atrocious. The idea just popped out of my head."

When she got back to Louisiana, Professor Hinton sketched some plans for a personal bathroom seat that the hygienically minded can tote from toilet to toilet.

The hinged seat folds in half and has four telescoping legs packed inside it, so that when it is closed it is a self-contained unit that looks like an attaché case with an indentation in the bottom.

All told, it weighs about 6 pounds.

"No one would ever know you're carting a toilet around," Professor Hinton said.

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The legs, which support the seat, have three different settings.

When extended to their full length they allow the seat to hover about an inch above the real toilet seat.

To fit over a seat in a temporary toilet like the plastic booths that are ubiquitous at rock concerts, sporting events and construction sites, the legs are pulled out only a few inches.

For users who find themselves in al fresco situations, the seat legs can be pulled out to their middle setting.

Professor Hinton says that her invention can be used by drivers at rest stops, by campers, by travelers in remote areas and by those attending outdoor concerts.

She thinks her toilet, which can be fitted with disposable plastic bags to trap waste when it is not used directly over a toilet, may be appropriate for military use during warfare.

Her husband, Calvin Hinton, has found a couple of manufacturers who are interested in producing the seat, which the couple have named the Perry Potty portable toilet seat.

Among the other toilet innovators who won patents last month were Harry Hepfner of Marktoberdorf, Germany, who designed a tulip-shaped toilet seat with matching lid (Patent No. D495,040).

He is certainly not the first innovator who has tried to beautify the toilet.

Water closets from the 19th century were enclosed in ornate cabinetry.

"The woodwork trapped water, sheltered rodents, and was nearly impossible to keep clean," observed Maureen Ogle, the author of All the Modern Conveniences: American Household Plumbing, 1840-1890 (Johns Hopkins, 1996).

Mr. Hepfner's toilet seat appears to be functional as well as decorative.

The tulip-petal flanges could replace side rails used by the handicapped or the elderly to push themselves up from the seat.

While certain people advocate training a cat to use a human toilet, Chui-Wen Chiu, an inventor in Toronto, Canada, has designed a flush toilet specifically for dogs.

On Aug. 3, he received patent 6,769,382 for his invention, which is basically a walled basin, with a tank of water above and a drain below.

The dog would be led into the structure and then restrained with a bar which positions the dog near the drain opening.

Mr. Chiu, who works full time as an inventor, is something of a visionary.

Last year he received a Canadian patent for a commercial jet that, in the event of a fire, a mechanical failure, or a missile attack, would automatically break into sections that would parachute safely down to Earth.

Mr. Chiu has not yet built a prototype of either his parachute-equipped jet or his dog toilet.

Ms. Ogle, the plumbing scholar, questions whether toilet innovation is necessary.

"These inventors have an entrepreneurial bent, a creative mind," she said. "But are these things necessary? Of course not."

Ms. Ogle reserves her praise for the flush toilet, which she says was developed by dozens of anonymous inventors tinkering with the same problem.

"The porcelain flush toilet," she says with a sigh, "now THAT was a great invention."

Patents may be viewed on the Web at www.uspto.gov or may be ordered through the mail, by patent number, for $3 from the Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, D.C. 20231.

September 6, 2004 at 06:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: 'The hospital where former President Bill Clinton awaits bypass surgery has the highest death rate for the operation in New York State.'

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I don't know about you, but if I were Bill Clinton, I'd probably have spilled my morning coffee when I read this, the first sentence of Lawrence K. Altman's story in this morning's New York Times.

How can this be?

Why would Bill Clinton, who could go anywhere, go to a place that has a risk-adjusted 3.93% death rate for coronary artery bypass surgery, when the state average is 2.32% and the best hospital - Staten Island University-North - has a death rate of 0.34%, less than one-tenth that of the one he's chosen?

The answer is simple: he's a victim of V.I.P. medicine.

V.I.P. medicine is where you're treated not like the average Joe - or bookofjoe - but, rather, differently from normal.

And that's when bad things start to happen.

People go out of their way not to inconvenience you or hurt you, and the end result is that you end up dead more often than the anonymous John Doe.

At least they treated him like anyone else in terms of scheduling his surgery.

At first, the news reports said he'd get his operation last Saturday morning; then, when it became clear that the "A team" had Labor Day holiday plans, and wasn't changing them for Clinton, the surgery suddenly wasn't urgent anymore, and could wait until this morning.

Of course, that raises the question, was it really necessary at all?

September 6, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Parkour - skateboarding without the skateboard

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This sport is still unknown to most American teenagers.

It was invented in the late 80s by two suburban Paris teenagers, Sebastien Foucan and David Belle, who began experimenting with obstacle-style exercise courses taught them by Belle's father, who served in the military.

Parkour (pronounced par-KOOR) derives from the French word parcours, or obstacle course.

Parkour athletes use whatever's around - stairways, benches, even rooftops - as obstacles and springboards to vault and jump off of in a series of moves called "runs."

Urban Freeflow is a London-based group with a website that serves as the sport's hub, message board, and all else.

Foucan said in an email interview that "It's a mix of animal, water and Spiderman."

French filmmaker Luc Besson featured the sport in a 2001 film called "Yamakasi."

Parkour is now slowly making its way into the U.S., helped along by word up on the web and Nike, which has used parkour in some of its recent shoe ads.

[via Doug George and the Associated Press]

September 6, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'I don't consider it my violin. Rather, I am its violinist; I am passing through its life.'

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Ivry Gitlis, speaking of his 1713 Stradivarius violin.

This, from a nice piece in the September 2 Economist about Toby Faber's new book, "Stradivarius: Five Violins, One Cello and a Genius."

Here's the article.
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Lord of the strings

Even a tone-deaf trucker knows that the most famous, the most expensive, the most desired violin in the world today is a Stradivarius.

But why should these 300-year-old instruments be so sought after?

And why have they never been eclipsed?

These two questions lie at the centre of Toby Faber's enlightening book about a man with magical hands.

When Antonio Stradivari set up his workshop in the small northern Italian town of Cremona in the 1660s, the best-known violins were being made by the Amati family.

Small, yet beautifully inlaid, the Amatis' sweet, contained tone was ideally suited to music for the court or the drawing-room.

The violin, so human in range, so female in shape (as epitomised by Man Ray's 1924 photograph of a woman with a pair of S-shaped soundholes painted on her back), had already become the king of the orchestra.

Catherine de Medici, who ordered a set of 38 stringed instruments, was an early buyer.

But by the 18th century, music-making was beginning to change.

In order to make the violin project a rich, full tone to the very back of a music room and, eventually, of a concert hall, violin-making had to change too.

Stradivari became the master of that metamorphosis, perfecting the varnishing of his instruments, seeking out better and bigger pieces of maple from which to cut violin backs in a single piece, and experimenting with incremental changes to the length of the soundbox and the arch of the belly.

As George Eliot once wrote: “Tis God gives skill, but not without men's hands. He could not make Antonio Stradivari's violins without Antonio.”

The real delight of Mr Faber's book lies in his decision to tell the Stradivari story through the lives of six of the master's best-known instruments.

One of them, known as the Messiah, a violin with a magnificent tiger-striped pattern on its back, was found in Stradivari's studio when he died in 1737.

A century later, it was in the hands of Luigi Tarisio, a peasant's son who, despite his humble background, was then in Paris telling the leading instrument-makers of the day, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume and his son-in-law, Delphin Alard, about the existence of a perfect Stradivarius from the master's golden age.

"So,” the exasperated Alard replied, “your violin is like the Messiah, always expected but never appearing." Thus its name was born.

Vuillaume never forgot Tarisio's claims-of a Stradivarius violin that had not been altered or even played.

When, by chance, he heard of the Italian's death, he collected together as much money as he could before heading for Italy and the smallholding where Tarisio's heirs lived.

Guided by Tarisio's sister, Vuillaume began opening drawers in a piece of rickety furniture.

There, in addition to five other masterpieces, he found the Messiah, which today is in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where it is the only instrument to have its own showcase. It has never been played.

The other instruments in Mr Faber's book have, however, been played - by Paganini, Yehudi Menuhin and Tasmin Little (pictured above) among others.

Each musician has tried to explain what they feel for them.

But it is Ivry Gitlis, a less well-known name, who has perhaps put it best: “I have a violin that was born in 1713,” he wrote four years ago. “I don't consider it my violin. Rather, I am its violinist; I am passing though its life.”

September 6, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What's wrong with this picture?

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It's of the new Bose Wave® Music System.

Hint: what do you think of the way they've handled the buttons?

Because I think they've gone and created a perfect nightmare of a product.

I mean, among their chief advertising points is "No buttons!"

"It is completely and conveniently controlled by a small, elegant remote control."

I am reminded of the University of Virginia's bold plan a couple years ago to stop sending paper mail notices out for anything.

Everything would be done online, including course registration, submission of documents and fees, the whole shebang.

Any announcements would be emailed.

UVA made a point of stating that nonreceipt of an email announcement would not be accepted as an excuse for late payment, registration, or similar problems.

How long do you think that plan lasted?

Similarly, what happens when you misplace your "small, elegant remote control?"

Maybe there's a CD in it you want to play in your car.

Or maybe it's not even your CD, but a friend's.

Whatever, you can't remove it, can you?

Nor can you change the station, the volume, or do anything but unplug the machine to turn it off.

Unbelievable to me that there aren't rudimentary manual controls just in case.

That's what happens when engineers take over.

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In some ways, it's even worse than if the robots did, 'cause supposedly the engineers are on our side.

September 6, 2004 at 06:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

1 800 BEST DDS

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Genius.

That's the best short description of this company's founder, Dr. Baldev Sandhu.

He's a former Park Avenue plastic surgeon who took control of the company called 1800 BEST DDS in July 2003.

He'd been an early investor when it opened in late 2002, and when he took over, there were hardly any callers to the toll-free number, which refers people to cosmetic dentists.

That was because the company had no money for advertising.

Without the means to match 1-800-DENTIST's barrage of TV ads, Dr. Sandhu needed a low-cost Plan B.

He came up with the idea of stocking dental offices with free samples of whitening toothpaste displaying his company's name.

Then he decided to sell the toothpaste to stores, and succeeded in getting it into Duane Reade drugstores last November.

The chain now sells 1,000 tubes a month.

Dr. Sandhu says his toothpaste is making money, and he's expanding into other chains soon.

He's also planning a 1 800 BEST DDS mouthwash and other dental-related products.

Each box of toothpaste contains a coupon good for $50 off a first appointment at a participating cosmetic dentist.

So now he's advertising, and the customer's paying for the ads.

I call this ingenious synergy of phone number and product simply... brilliant.

Here's Brendan I. Koerner's story, from yesterday's New York Times Business section.
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A Message in Every Squeeze

Aside from his guest appearance in the 1977 Woody Allen film "Annie Hall," Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian cultural critic, is most famous for coining the phrase, "The medium is the message."

Mr. McLuhan, of course, was referring the corrosive effects of mass entertainment and information.

But the expression could also apply to a whitening toothpaste called 1 800 BEST DDS, a product that blurs - if not outright erases - the line between merchandise and marketing tool.

The name of the product is also the number of a referral service for dentists who specialize in cosmetic procedures, like fixing crooked smiles and bleaching yellowed canines.

Its better-known competitor, 1-800-DENTIST, is a general referral service - without the toothpaste.

Dr. Baldev Sandhu, the chief executive of 1 800 BEST DDS, based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is a plastic surgeon who previously made his living doing tummy tucks for a Park Avenue clientele.

An early investor in the company when it opened for business nearly two years ago, he assumed day-to-day control in July 2003.

At that time, the company had hardly any callers, largely because of an advertising budget that ranged from minuscule to nonexistent.

"We did some print ads in Us Weekly and the women's magazines," Dr. Sandhu said. "But to be perfectly honest, it was never terribly successful."

Without the means to match 1-800-DENTIST's barrage of TV ads, Dr. Sandhu needed a low-cost Plan B.

Aware that dentists often hand out toothpaste samples to patients, he came up with the idea of stocking dental offices with tubes displaying his company's name - and thus its phone number.

He commissioned Sheffield Laboratories of New London, Conn., to make a peroxide-rich toothpaste that gives users a hint of the sparkling smile they can attain, if they're willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to a dentist.

With whitening toothpastes of all stripes taking off, Dr. Sandhu said he decided to sell the product to stores.

According to the American Dental Association, 29.3 percent of Americans used a tooth-whitening product at home in 2003, up from 10.4 percent in 2001.

Otherwise, the toothpaste industry has been in a funk, with overall sales declining by 3.6 percent, to $1.5 billion, from 2002 to 2003.

Figures from ACNielsen, the research firm, show that consumers have cooled to old-fashioned tooth powders and breath-freshening gels.

AT $6.99 a tube, Dr. Sandhu's toothpaste made its retail debut last November, at Duane Reade drugstores; the chain now sells a thousand tubes a month.

That's small potatoes next to the nation's best-selling toothpaste, Crest from Procter & Gamble, which sold more than 15.5 million tubes in drugstores alone last year.

But Dr. Sandhu says his toothpaste turns a profit, and he is discussing expansion to other chains by year-end.

He said he was preparing to introduce a 1 800 BEST DDS mouthwash and was looking into extending the brand to dental adhesives or pain-relieving toothpastes.

The company is not in the manufacturing business, Dr. Sandhu emphasized.

The real beauty of 1 800 BEST DDS toothpaste, he said, is the packaging, emblazoned with the toll-free number.

If you are brushing with a mainstream brand and call the number on its box, you may be "sent to a call center in India," he said.

"In our system," he added, "you call the number on the box, and you get sent to a real dentist, a dentist who knows about the product and can address your concerns."

Or, presumably, schedule a teeth-whitening session, an arrangement made more likely because each toothpaste box has a coupon good for $50 off a first appointment.

Someone from the dot-com era might call the marriage of a money-making product and free advertising a good example of synergy.

How long before Procter & Gamble flips Dr. Sandhu's script and turns a toll-free customer service line into a referral service?

If it does so, maybe it should send a royalty check to Mr. McLuhan's estate.

September 6, 2004 at 03:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'The Man Who Never Was' - Operation Mincemeat's legendary leader is dead at 90

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British submariner Bill Jewell, who carried out one of the most celebrated and macabre clandestine operations of World World II, died August 18 in suburban London.

Read Adam Bernstein's fascinating obituary, which appeared in last Thursday's Washington Post, of a man whose mission - so highly classified it was not revealed until nearly 10 years after the end of the war - was immortalized in the 1956 film, "The Man Who Never Was."

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Washpost

WWII Submariner Bill Jewell, 90, Dies

The British submarine skipper Bill Jewell, 90, who died Aug. 18 in suburban London, had a vital role in one of the more macabre and celebrated clandestine operations of World War II - using a corpse planted with fake documents to fool Nazi intelligence.

Mr. Jewell, who died in a nursing home for disabled veterans, had been paralyzed from the neck down since a fall in 1998.

Operation Mincemeat, as the wartime plan was known, was shrouded in such secrecy that not even Mr. Jewell's after-the-fact memoir noted the caper.

Only later did books, articles and a 1956 film, "The Man Who Never Was," detail aspects of the story.

The deceit was intended to distract from the Allies' planned 1943 invasion of Sicily and sweep into Italy - the quickest way for them to reach Nazi-held Europe from North Africa.

British intelligence formed a ruse: to plant on the southwest Spanish coast the body of a sham Royal Marines officer carrying "invasion" plans for Sardinia and southern Greece.

For most of his voyage, Mr. Jewell was the only one aboard his boat, the Seraph, to know about the feint.

He was mum about the contents of a metal container in cold storage: an unidentified corpse from an English mortuary.

This body, renamed Maj. William Martin, was chained to a briefcase containing false invasion plans.

Naval intelligence also decided to add to Martin's portfolio signed letters from ranking officials, two theater stubs and a dramatic love letter from his "fiancee."

In the pitch darkness at sea, as the Seraph hovered in the Gulf of Cadiz a mile off the Spanish coastline, Mr. Jewell ordered the metal container taken to the deck.

It was 4:30 a.m. on April 30, 1943.

He told the crew below he intended to launch a meteorological device.

On deck, with only a few trusted officers watching, he gave a short burial service, reciting Psalm 39.

He heaved the body into the water with a life vest and an upside-down life raft.

Back in London, death notices appeared for Martin, who was said to have died in a plane crash.

As expected, the body made its way to shore - it was netted by a fisherman - and was buried in fascist-ruled neutral Spain.

Although Spanish authorities returned the briefcase to the British, they had given copies of its contents to the Germans.

The German high command took the bait and began arming for an invasion in Corsica and Sardinia, islands west of mainland Italy.

The fortification of the wrong landing points was said to have been a costly error for German defenses.

Hitler also sent Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to Greece and pulled two vital armored divisions from the Russian front.

"Operation Mincemeat had been an unqualified success," World War II magazine reported in 1995.

Norman Limbury Auchinleck Jewell was born Oct. 24, 1913, in the Seychelles, where his father was a colonial officer.

He was educated in England and joined the Royal Navy in 1936, volunteering for the submarine service.

His early duty was spent under the command of a dashing officer who routinely ignored dangers, for example, repeatedly dodging through minefields, but somehow managed to complete the mission at hand.

Mr. Jewell was taken with such raw adventure and soon became known for his own exploits aboard the Seraph, of which he took command in 1942.

According to World War II magazine, Operation Mincemeat almost was scuttled when British pilots initially mistook the surfaced Seraph for a Nazi vessel and strafed it with fire.

Among Mr. Jewell's other missions was to bring French Gen. Henri Honore Giraud, in Vichy France hiding from the Germans, to Gibraltar.

There, it was hoped, he would help rally French forces to the Allied cause in North Africa.

There was one problem: Giraud's intense dislike for the British, enough so that he would not board a British boat.

To lure Giraud, Mr. Jewell's boat set sail as the USS Seraph, complete with American flag and a crew that pretended to speak like Yanks upon meeting the French warrior.

After Operation Mincemeat, Mr. Jewell helped lay marker buoys for the invasion of Sicily in July 1943.

His decorations included the U.S. Legion of Merit, as well as several British and French awards for gallantry.

After retiring from the Navy as an admiral in 1963, Mr. Jewell worked for a brewing company in Birmingham, England, and was named life president of the Submarine Old Comrades Association.

His wife, Rosemary Galloway Jewell, whom he married in 1944, died in 1996.

Survivors include two sons and a daughter.

In 1945, a physical check revealed that Mr. Jewell had broken two vertebrae during a fall down a hatch years earlier.

He had gone through much of the war with a broken neck.

September 6, 2004 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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