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October 4, 2004

'Kind of Blue'

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Me today.

So, though I really didn't feel like writing anything, I decided to put on this CD and see what happened if I just kind of looked at my email and suchlike.

And wouldn't you know it, after about 15 minutes of listening, my mood caught up with the music, itself kind of blue, and I felt a lot better, enough so that I felt like working on bookofjoe for a while.

Anything that costs only $11, is legal, and is that effective should be outlawed.

Highest possible recommendation for this wonderful music, by a strange, other-worldly man.

October 4, 2004 at 09:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Fighting Lice

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Head lice are a plague, not just in disadvantaged areas but in the toniest preschools in Manhattan.

The old stand-by first-line treatment, Ovide, contains malathion, which may cause long-lasting neurological damage if overused.

Now Dr. Dale L. Pearlman, a Menlo Park, California pediatrician, has invented a new lotion that takes a very different approach to killing the nasty things.

Dr. Pearlman reported his work recently in the journal Pediatrics.

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His study involved children who were referred to him by other pediatricians after standard treatments either failed to work or were refused by parents worried about possible side effects.

95% of the children he treated were cured of their head lice, an excellent result with this difficult problem.

Dr. Pearlman said his lotion is completely nontoxic.

After application, it is allowed to dry on the hair, then heated with a blow dryer.

As it dries, it forms a shrink-wrap-like film that covers the louse, shutting off its air supply.

The dried lotion is removed by simply shampooing eight hours after application.

Dr. Howard Taras, another lice expert, said he thought the suffocation approach would eventually better treatments than the current ones.

Already, he said, informal reports are showing positive results from using mayonnaise, Vaseline, and olive oil to coat hair and cut off air to lice.

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I'll opt for the olive oil, please, preferably a light, fruity, mildly peppery Spanish one.

October 4, 2004 at 06:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Kon-Tiki 2: Tangaroa

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In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl sailed his Kon-Tiki balsawood raft, with the most basic of equipment, 4,900 miles across the Pacific Ocean on a 101-day journey to prove his theory that prehistoric explorers from pre-Inca South America may have migrated across vast stretches of ocean to settle the South Sea Islands.

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Heyerdahl, who died in 2002 at 87, documented his harrowing voyage in the best-selling book "Kon-Tiki" (which absolutely captivated me when I read it as a boy) and an Oscar-winning documentary film.

Now a new team, including Heyerdahl's 27-year-old grandson, Olav, is about to take to the sea to recreate his epic voyage.

Their raft, Tangaroa, is named for the Polynesian god of the ocean.

The team leader is Torgeir Saeverud Higraff, a teacher and journalist based at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway, where the original raft is on display.

As on the first trip, the crew will consist of five Norwegians, a Swede, and a parrot.

The Tangaroa's sailors will have a few new features not available in 1947: solar panels to generate electricity, satellite navigation and communications systems, and internet access which will let them transmit updates throughout the voyage.

The epic sail begins on April 28, 2005.

Five of the six team members have been assembled; they lack only one more, "A Norwegian to handle navigation and sails. A real Old Salt."

October 4, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Why, when we wake up in the morning, are we the same person as the night before?

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It has mystified me since I was a teenager that I am who I am (and that's all that I yam, I'm Popeye the Sailor Man, toot toot... but I digress) when I open my eyes each day.

How is it that we don't start fresh each morning?

It makes no sense to me.

Why should the persistence

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of identity survive the shuck and jive of sleep, REM dreams, and the like?

Why aren't we some random new person every day?

Or are we?

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Perhaps those who exhibit these characteristics are institutionalized, medicated, or condemned to horrific lives of fear and paranoia, a la the holy man Philip K. Dick.

October 4, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Clearing land mines - for $7 a day

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I finally figured out why the Washington Post's superb weekly feature, "The World At Work," highlighting an unlikely, unpleasant, or dangerous job that someone somewhere in the world does as a matter of course, appears on Mondays.

It's to make Mondays a bit easier for those who think they've got things tough.

For example, Craig Timberg's report from Angola about one Antonio Cambanda, who clears land mines for a living (he gets $163 a month, about $7/day), which appeared last month.

One short lesson learned from the story: when you're trying to find mines, never, ever, dig downward: always approach gently, from the side.

Here's the chilling, sobering article.
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A Job That Concentrates the Mind Wonderfully

As Antonio Cambanda dug into the dry, red dirt before him, he had the look of an unusually intense and wary gardener.

He clipped weeds, softened the soil with water and then, with a short-handled shovel, delicately scraped his way forward.

He was searching not for bulbs but for land mines.

After four decades of nearly continuous war, an estimated 500,000 mines remain sown in Angolan soil, still waiting to detonate with an unlucky step, as if the fighting here had not ended in 2002.

Most Angolans try to keep their distance from mines.

But for $163 a month, or about $7 each workday, Cambanda seeks them out, inch by perilous inch.

His is one of the few readily available jobs in a postwar economy that employs fewer than half of Angolan adults.

"I'm not just here making money," said Cambanda, 30, a slim, serious man who is married, has two children and dreams of becoming an engineer. "I'm also saving lives."

His gear is minimal: a shovel about the length of his forearm, a second one the size of a beach toy, a black water bucket, pruning shears and two sticks to measure the width and depth of the shallow trenches he digs in the minefield.

For protection, he wears Kevlar body armor over a blue jumpsuit and a clear plastic shield to safeguard his face.

His hands, which come closest to the mines themselves, are covered in nothing more than white cotton gloves.

Most of the mines here were supplied by Cuba, remnants of the support given by that country to the Angolan government - then avowedly communist - in one of the Cold War's longest and least-noticed proxy conflicts.

The Cubans laid the first mines in this field in 1980, when they had a military base here, according to the Halo Trust, an aid group based in Scotland that employs Cambanda and 530 others doing similar work in Angola.

The Angolan military added more mines to this field in 1988 and 1992, according to the trust.

Even small land mines contain enough explosives to kill or maim.

The Angolan government says 700 people were killed and 2,300 injured in land-mine accidents over the past six years.

Aid groups say the numbers are higher.

Most of the victims are men, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In towns and villages throughout central Angola, it is common to see men hobbling on crutches, their pant legs empty below one knee.

Workers such as Cambanda employ a rigorous technique to find the land mines without detonating them.

The pressure plate that triggers a mine is on top of the device.

Hitting a mine from the side or from below poses little danger, unless it has been dislodged, perhaps by unusually heavy rains, from its original position.

Cambanda never digs downward.

He squats on a patch of soil already cleared of mines and leans forward, scraping the wall of a shallow trench in front of him.

With each pass of the shovel, he moves gradually forward.

About an hour into his work on a recent day, Cambanda's shovel hit a piece of plastic with a thud so soft that he could only feel it, not hear it.

It was different, he said later, than the sharp clink of a rock.

Cambanda stood up and gestured for a supervisor to examine it.

It turned out to be not a mine but the melted remnant of one that had been burned - and most likely detonated - during a brush fire set by villagers to chase off snakes, Halo Trust workers said.

The supervisor tossed the piece of black plastic aside. Cambanda again lowered himself to a squat and resumed digging beneath the hot Angolan sun.

Workers generally each clear an area 16 feet long by 3 feet wide in a full day of work.

In that time, they might find 10 mines - or they might find none.

In Huambo province, a rebel stronghold and the scene of some of the most intense fighting during the war, Halo Trust has identified 289 mine fields.

Each field has about 50 mines, discouraging thousands of Angolans from returning home to replant their fields or resume school.

This minefield is among the worst.

Since clearing began here in September 2001 - several months after an accident blasted a man's arm off - workers have unearthed more than 1,000 mines.

Work is due to continue until February.

The area includes a schoolhouse, crumbling old colonial buildings and a line of new mud-brick homes.

The structures are so close to the minefield that the workers shout at the villagers to go inside during the frequent controlled explosions.

About an hour after Cambanda found the burned remnants of a mine, he again felt the thud of plastic.

He put down the short-handled shovel and grabbed the smaller one to clear away the dirt more gingerly.

Soon he could see an intact mine about two inches below the surface.

Cambanda marked the spot by pounding two crossed sticks in front of the mine.

Between the sticks, he wedged a red sign bearing a skull and crossbones and the word "Danger" in Portuguese and English.

Mines are detonated during the 10-minute breaks that safety regulations require after each 30 minutes of digging.

During one such break this day, a supervisor laid a charge that resembled a doubled-over sausage beside Cambanda's mine and lit a white, three-minute fuse.

The supervisor retreated 300 feet, then counted down the last few seconds until the charge and the mine exploded together in a concussive boom that sounded like fireworks.

A plume of black smoke rose above the minefield and lingered for several minutes before drifting away.


Cambanda pulled the plastic shield down over his face again and returned to work.

Where the mine had sat, there was now a harmless pile of dirt.

He picked up his short-handled shovel, cleared away the loose earth and resumed scraping.

October 4, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Craigslist - where 14 people run a $100 million business

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That's the single most amazing financial fact I've read this year.

It was in the New York Times last month, in a story about this astounding company, which had revenues of $10 million last year as it expanded to 57 cities.

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eBay recently purchased 25% of it, not to take it over but to learn from the master and founder of Craigslist, Craig Newmark,

how to stay welcoming and authentic while becoming ever more huge, popular, and successful.

Here's the breakdown of the Craigslist employee roster:

Craig Newmark

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is the founder, chairman, and chief customer service representative.

Jim Buckmaster is the president, chief executive, and chief financial officer.

There are seven programmers and systems administrators.

There are three customer service representatives.

There are two accountants.

That's it.

1+1+7+3+2=14

Amazing.

October 4, 2004 at 06:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The internet and the new math

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I read recently that 80% of all internet queries are about sex.

Then, in last month's Washington Post, I read where NIH officials, pushing to put all their sponsored research online at no charge, stated that 40% of all internet queries are about health.

80% + 40% ≠ 100%

Is it?

So what's going on?

Or are 20% of all internet queries about both sex and health?

That would make the math come out right.

As long as no one ever searched for anything else.

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As Mark Twain wrote, there are three kinds of lies: "Lies, damned lies, and statistics."

FunFact: the quotation above is frequently misattributed to Benjamin Disraeli.

October 4, 2004 at 03:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kirk Jones - the only person ever to survive an unprotected trip over Niagara Falls

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Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press wrote an extraordinary article recently about Jones.

What's happened to him since Sunday, October 18, 2003, when he decided to ride the big one?

Here's the story, with the answer.
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Niagara Jumper Finds Lasting Fame Elusive

With hopes but no job, he tries to turn infamy into cash

On the first night he thought could be his last, Kirk Jones ate a burger and fries at Denny's and drove around Niagara Falls, Ontario, trying to convince himself to take an unprotected plummet 167 feet into one of the world's largest waterfalls.

On the second night, he went to a strip club.

If he didn't survive, he told himself, he'd at least die with a little smile on his face.

Jones drove to Niagara Falls last October to change his life - by ending it or improving it.

An estimated 5,000 people have died going over the falls.

No one had ever survived without a barrel or any other protection. Jones did - and promptly was arrested.

He spent the next three days in a psychiatric ward, was released and immediately charged with performing a banned stunt and criminal mischief.

He pleaded guilty, paid a fine - $5,000 Canadian - and agreed to banishment from the Canadian side of the falls for life.

It was a small penalty, the Canton native said, for what followed: He met his boyhood idol, rock legend star Alice Cooper; he talked with ABC's Diane Sawyer, and he signed a $100,000 contract to join a circus.

"I never imagined anyone would ever be interested in me," Jones said.

Eight weeks before the jump, Jones - never married, unemployed and full of regret - drove to the Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side of the waterfalls, with his parents Ray and Doris, whom he had lived with in Canton for most of his adult life.

Though he says now that he got the idea to test the falls as a boy, it wasn't until that trip with his parents that he began to seriously consider it.

His parents planned to retire to Oregon when they returned from Niagara Falls, so the journey had a melancholy feel for Jones.

He had lost his job working at their gauge-manufacturing business when they sold the plant.

Now, he was losing them.

Jones spent the time with his parents ruminating about what he hadn't done in his life, how he hadn't ventured much beyond their home.

"He always wanted to do something spectacular," Ray Jones said.

His son was affable and polite, and his father said he used those traits well as a salesman.

But he had no other skill.

He knew he would need luck to leave his mark on the world.

As a child, he almost drowned in a lake.

He thought the mystery of that survival foreshadowed something bigger.

Two months after his initial trip to the falls with his parents, Jones returned with Bob Krueger, an unemployed friend, and $300 that his parents had wired him.

On October 18, he checked into the Alpine Motel, ate the burger and fries and went to bed.

His plan was to wake up and slip into the river.

When he awoke Sunday, he had doubts.

He drove along the Horseshoe Falls, scouting.

He drove to Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not museum but didn't go in.

That night, he settled into the adult club.

Monday morning, he got up at 6.

He had a pint of vodka and a bottle of Coke.

He downed three drinks.

He wrote a note, urging his friends and family to move on with their lives, and left it in Krueger's car with $30, all that was left of the $300.

"I felt like the loneliest man in the world," he said.

Almost two hours later, Jones ambled over to a railing, which guarded an embankment that sloped to the rushing river.

He wore tennis shoes, jeans, a red shirt and a red jacket.

Downstream, 600,000 gallons per second spilled over the horizon.

Mist rose from the gorge.

It was beautiful.

And beckoning.

He thought about a conversation his fourth-grade teacher once had with his parents.

"Your son is intelligent and bright, but he never completes his assigned work," the teacher said.

Jones flipped one leg over the railing. Then another.

He was standing on the embankment.

He couldn't let go of the railing.

He was about to climb back to safety and forget the whole thing when he heard a woman's voice.

"You're not going to jump, are you?"

The woman near the railing was chuckling nervously.

And when she asked Jones whether he planned to jump, it triggered something.

"I think I will," he said.

He was sucked into the 25-m.p.h. current.

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He rolled onto his back and pointed his feet toward the falls. He heard screams.

"There's a man in the water!"

He refused to look at the shore.

He didn't want the panicked faces in his memory.

He stared at the sky.

And waited.

He had no past; he had no future. It was cold.

Hurtling toward the edge of the water wall, Jones couldn't tell how long he had.

He knew the odds.

"If I become another statistic... so be it."

In a way, that's how he viewed himself anyway.

He began taking deep breaths, inflating his chest, desperate to cram oxygen into his lungs.

He wanted to live.

The water's roar muffled screams from the shore.

Then Jones disappeared, catapulted into the curtain of the falls, flailing in a 6-foot wall of white liquid.

He kept his eyes open, even as he corkscrewed, even as the pressure felt like it would rip his arms off, and for a moment, everything appeared beautifully distorted, as though he were looking through a diamond prism.

He was in the air for four, maybe five seconds, before plunging feet first into the collection pool, which felt like hitting a granite table.

The weight of the falling water pushed him 30-40 feet under and spun him like a top.

He was trapped, tumbling like shoes in a dryer, searching for a way up.

A minute later, he shot up like a cork.

"It felt like a team of people were beating me with baseball bats," he said.

On the surface, away from the falls, he coughed out water and searched through the mist for the shore.

He heard more screams from tourists on the nearby Maid of the Mist boat.

Finally, he saw rocks.

His arms like rubber, he pulled himself from the roiling, frigid river, steadied himself on the rocks, raised his arms and shot an incredulous, devilish smile for the cameras and tourists gaping from above.

Within minutes, Canadian police officers greeted him.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes."

"I guess you're in the record books. You're also under arrest."

Reporters from around the world camped outside the psychiatric hospital.

Jones' father told the press his son's leap into the falls was a lifelong dream.

His brother and mother said he had been depressed. Jones played up the mental instability, thinking it would help his case with the cops. It didn't.

A few days later, a circus promoter with Toby Tyler found him in Oregon, with his parents, where he was struggling with his evaporating fame.

Phil Dolci, the promoter, offered him $100,000 to hit the road and tell his story.

The job was to regale customers with tales of nature's power, pose for photos, sign autographs and lead the llamas during the opening parade, all while dressed in a white suit dotted with gold sequins and rhinestones.

During downtime, he had to groom elephants, break down tents and sleep in the back of a semitrailer.

"Everyone wanted to meet him," said Dolci. "He was a natural."

When the circus came to a town, Jones would sit with local reporters.

He practiced telling his story, reducing it to a few catchy platitudes about overcoming fears, grabbing life and touching the hand of God.

He got lost in his own cliches.

"The animals were great," he said. "But I didn't enjoy the gypsy life."

Jones was relieved when the circus ran out of money.

He returned to Oregon in early April of this year.

His father, 81, suffered a stroke a month later, and the prodigal son, who'd lived most of his life off his parents' generosity, took a few months to help them.

He bathed and fed his father and talked about the book he wanted to write.

He told his father he had another stunt in mind - a world-record jump off a building onto a pile of air cushions.

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"He will do what he sets out to do, right or wrong," said his father.

October 4, 2004 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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