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November 1, 2004

BehindTheMedspeak: Can money make you sick?


We already know information can: quirky novelist Ted Mooney, in his wonderful 1981 book


"Easy Travel To Other Planets," coined the term "information sickness," long before the internet was conceived by Al Gore. But I digress.

We're talking here about infection with bugs - bacteria and viruses that travel on the paper money in countries "where personal hygiene is accomplished without the intervention of paper products."

In such countries, wrote Joe Sharkey in his New York Times article last Tuesday, quoting one Donna Mastrandrea, "paper money becomes a breeding ground for some truly nasty germs."

Ms. Mastrandrea and her husband learned from friends living in Egypt that "paper money is always considered a possible culprit" when turista strikes.


She said, "Apparently, this is well-known among the people who live there [Egypt] temporarily. But I've never seen anything in a guidebook about that."

She went on to note that her friends, academics studying ancient epigraphy, told their two small children, "We bringing you to live in a place called Luxor for six months. If you bite your nails there, you will die."


I guess mom was right after all, when she said about money, "That's dirty - you don't know where it's been."


'Course, you could say that about people too. But I digress.

The Times article's worth reading in its entirety, so here it is.


Filthy Lucre in Luxor, or Why King Tut Stuck With the Gold Standard

Given an abiding belief in the virtue of possessing a large sum of money, I have never been inclined to blithely slap the adjective "filthy" onto the noun "cash."

That is until I received an e-mail message from Donna Mastrandrea in response to a recent column on travel and food poisoning.

A frequent world traveler from New York City, Ms. Mastrandrea wrote that in countries "where personal hygiene is accomplished without the intervention of paper products (to put it delicately), paper money becomes a breeding ground for some truly nasty germs."

In her e-mail message and in a subsequent telephone conversation, Ms. Mastrandrea, a graphic designer, recalled two recent trips to Egypt with her husband, Joe, a strategist for a computer security company.

Each of the trips was highlighted by shivering bathroom-trotting bouts of the sort of bacterial illness that is commonly regarded as food poisoning.

Spoiled food, or food handled by someone with dirty hands, was of course the prime suspect, as it always is when travel and wrenching gastrointestinal illness happen to coincide.

But the Mastrandreas learned, from friends living temporarily in Egypt, that there can be other suspects.


"They said that paper money is always considered a possible culprit," she said, adding:

"Apparently, this is well-known among the people who live there temporarily. But I've never seen anything in a guidebook about that. They always tell you about, you know, peeling the fruit, and in some cases not using the water to brush your teeth, not even to let any water get into your mouth when you're showering - but who ever heard about getting sick from money? Although, when you look at it, some paper money in Egypt looks like it's been around for hundreds of years, even though they could have just issued it last week."

This is not to single Egypt out for vilification, though Ms. Mastrandrea did say that their friends, who are academics studying ancient epigraphy, did tell their two small children: "We're bringing you to live in a place called Luxor for six months. If you bite your nails there, you will die." Fingernails, evidently, are especially good places to coddle bacteria.

Still, even the good old American greenback has been implicated.

In a study presented in 2001 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Microbiology, researchers collected and tested 68 one-dollar bills.

Nearly 90% of them were found to harbor bacteria that can cause illness.

Furthermore, the researchers pointed out, paper currency travels.

It moves rapidly from person to person and can go great distances in a few days.

Experts I spoke with about food-borne and related illnesses said it did not particularly matter - if you caught one, you were going to feel just as bad whether the bug arrived via a spoiled egg salad sandwich or a filthy euro.


When traveling to exotic locales, precautions are advisable, among them using commercial sanitary hand wipes and gels, authorities on travel illnesses said.

In the previous column, Dr. Ewen C. D. Todd, the director of the National Food Safety and Toxicology Center at Michigan State University, suggested that travelers also needed to be more aware of the potential for getting sick from something as innocuous as a piece of fruit, and that sometimes a well-cooked piece of chicken from a storefront counter could be a safer bet than a fancy salad bar.

David J. Smollar of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., concurred.

He said he had spent three months doing research in Vietnam in 1995, and the only time he got food poisoning was from a buffet at a luxury hotel.

Yet he never had a problem eating at Hanoi's open-air markets.

He said he knew that the food was fresh on the day he bought it "precisely due to the lack of refrigeration" available to "the average Vietnamese peddler."

Not everybody agreed with that sentiment, by the way.

"In third world countries, where refrigeration and sanitary concerns are often quite iffy, spoiled meat is seldom discarded, but rather cooked to the extreme and mixed with spices, garlic, peppers, etc. to hide a rotten taste," wrote Lewis Regenstein, who described himself as a world traveler.

In mid-October, reacting to what the World Health Organization called "an increasing global burden of food-borne illnesses," more than 300 food safety experts from 100 countries met in Bangkok and called for better worldwide coordination and communication on the problem.

In Asia alone, about 700,000 people a year die from food poisoning, the agency said.

In the United States, an estimated 5,000 people a year die from food poisoning, which affects a total of about 76 million people each year, according to federal statistics.

Karin Payson, an architect from San Francisco, said that five years ago, she and her husband traveled through India for five weeks.

They avoided raw food and used sanitary hand wipes. "Neither of us got sick," she wrote.

"One year later,'' however, she said, "I became violently ill from a meal at an Indian restaurant in my neighborhood."

"In my previous life as a New Yorker, I regularly got food poisoning whenever I ordered anything containing mayonnaise at almost any deli, particularly near my office in the Flatiron district," she said, adding, "Often the danger is closest to home, when we're not paying attention."

Ms. Mastrandrea, who shivered her way through Luxor with food poisoning in Egypt, seconded that.


"I've also gotten really sick from bad tomatoes, several times - in New York City," she said.

November 1, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dilbert Mints


If you like Dilbert, you'll love these mints.

Choose from









or Pay-Mints.

Me, I'll opt for the last.

Just last week, I received a medical record from an attorney for review.

My usual and customary exorbitant retainer check was not enclosed.

I called the attorney's office; his secretary said, "Oh, I'm so sorry; we forgot to enclose the check. I'll get it right out to you."

That sort of thing happens pretty routinely.

I'm still waiting for a check to arrive but no accompanying medical record.

Hasn't happened yet.

Probably just a matter of time, though.

How do you spell "eternity?"

November 1, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Think-A-Move creates a tongue-controlled computer


This bleeding-edge company specializes in technology that uses the human ear as an OUTPUT device.

Yes, you read correctly.


Not input, but output.

Their patented InnerVoice technology is put into use via three innovative routes:

• Virtual Mouse - translates tongue movements into computer commands to perform tasks

• Think-A-Move - translates thoughts into commands to command computers and other operating systems

• InnerVoice Pro - uses the ear canal as a conduit for the human voice in discrete communication

In all three technologies, the main hardware is a non-invasive hearing-aid-type device placed in the ear.

Coming very soon - well before spinal cord anastomosis and restoration of function in paraplegics and quadriplegics - will be the liberation of the spirits currently trapped in their useless meat shells.

Just as wheelchair users using Dean Kamen's revolutionary iBot,


which raises them to normal eye level, suddenly felt empowered, so will they soar on the wings of these wonderful innovations from Think-A-Move.

November 1, 2004 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



A bookofjoe exclusive.

The website selling it calls it "perhaps the dodgiest item on our entire site."

I find it hard to disagree, though I haven't explored their entire site.

I don't need to.

The Toastabag is a "thick black plastic bag."

With little built-in handles.

Here's the fun part: what you do with it.

The Toastabag allows you to cook things in your toaster.

Throw away your microwave, stove, and convection oven.

You stuff the ingredients in the bag, pop it down the toaster, and wait.

The people selling it said they cooked up a "perfectly palatable omelette" with it.

The instructions say you can prepare salmon fillets or chops.

Beans turned out nicely.

$12.70 for two.

"Toaster not included," says the website.

Make sure you read the hilarious user comments and reviews on the website, and enjoy the pictures


submitted by happy Toastabag chefs.

November 1, 2004 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Flatulence Deodorizer™


Hey - I don't make this stuff up, I just bring you the news the matters.

And this apparently matters, judging by the roaring success of this business.

The Flatulence Deodorizer™ - U.S. Patent No. 6,313,371 - is "guaranteed to eliminate embarrassment from odors associated with flatulence - forever - or your money back."

Says the site: "Try it, you'll like it - and so will the others around you."

Sounds good to moi.

And, it's "Doctor Recommended" - so you just know it's gotta work.

Order yours today, and "say good-bye to intestinal gas odor once and for all."


"Now is the time for groin odor control."

Truer words were never spoke.

Only $12.95 here.

If you're the upscale type, the Premium version will set you back an additional $7.

But not to worry: both styles are reusable.

Better buy your own, though; I doubt people will be willing to loan you theirs.



November 1, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Reading in bed - the search for the Holy Grail of reading lights continues...


Ever since I was about six years old, curled up in a little ball and hidden under the covers with my book and a flashlight, I've loved to read in bed.

Decades have passed, nothing has changed.

Except the reading lights have gotten more expensive.

My latest attempt to find the perfect bedtime book reading light is the I-Sight Over-The-Ear booklight ($24.95), pictured below.


Oh, was I excited when it arrived.

Couldn't wait till bedtime to try it out.

Alas, another flop.

Comfortable, yes.

Uses a AAA battery instead of a watch battery, yes.

But only one LED: way too dim for easy reading.

I've found that four LEDs is required for good illumination of my book in bed at night.

Unfortunately, my 4-LED night-time reading appliance turned out to be this one,


From Black Diamond ($29.95).

It's a caver's/hiker's headlight.

And it's as uncomfortable in bed as it looks.

Looks more like a jockstrap than a headlight, now that I take a good look. But I digress.

Black Diamond also makes a lighter version ($16.92) with two LEDs


that's got the same limitation as the I-Sight: too dim.

It does, though, look much less forbidding and bondage-device-like than their 4-LED iteration.

I no longer even bother with the type of booklight that clips to your book: they don't stay put, especially with paperbacks, and they're also way too dim.

Some might say that's a perfect fit for the writer of this dross; but not you... right?

An aside: I'm seriously considering offering the red beanie with the white B-for-bookofjoe worn by the reader pictured leading off this post as the very first item to be offered for sale should I ever get around to opening a bookofjoe online store.

It's a can't-miss must-have best-seller just waiting for launch.

Meanwhile, the search for the perfect reading light continues....

November 1, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

MorphWorld: Ashlee Simpson into Leelee Sobieski


I first noticed the resemblance last week, in pictures accompanying all the stories about Ashlee's Saturday Night Live fiasco.


Judge for yourself.


They both have noses that lesser people would've had remade long ago.


I like them for leaving things as they were.

November 1, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How to avoid overdraft and bounced-check fees


Last Thursday, Check 21 took effect.

It's a new federal law that lets banks transmit images of checks electronically.

Checks are expected to clear faster, so there's a big hue and cry over how people are going to end up bouncing checks more often.

Tips from the Federal Reserve Bank about how to avoid such problems appear at the end of this post.

They're the usual useless pablum.

Before I list them, let me give you bookofjoe's quick and easy way to avoid overdrafts and bounced-check fees:

1) Every time you write a check, subtract it - right then - from your balance.

2) Make life easy on yourself: round up to the nearest whole dollar for your checkbook entries

3) Don't make online or automatic payments from your checking account

That's it.

You'll never bounce a check.

You don't even have to open the envelope with your checks in it each month.

Because even if a check hasn't yet been cashed - or never gets cashed - all that means is you have more money than you think in your account.

And why worry about that?

The issue of a bank error is moot: it's as likely, over time, to be in your favor as against you.

Let nature take its course.

I've been handling my checking accounts this way ever since I got my first one in college.

I remember people telling me how you have to balance your checkbook.

I haven't a clue what that means, nor do I care.

It's irrelevant.

For those who prefer the small tortures of everyday life, here's the Federal Reserve's advice:

Keep track of how much money you have in your checking account by recording checks and other transactions in your check register. Don't forget to subtract any fees.

Pay special attention to electronic purchases. Record ATM withdrawals and fees, debit card purchases and online payments.

Don't forget about automatic bill payments you may have set up for utilities, insurance or loans.

Keep track of your account balance. Remember that the balance may not reflect checks that haven't cleared. You can find out which payments have cleared by calling your bank or by checking online or at an ATM.

Review your account statements each month.

If you overdraw your account, deposit money as soon as possible to avoid additional overdrafts and fees.

November 1, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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