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November 23, 2004

Satellite phones - almost ready for prime time

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In the 1990s these were the next big thing, but after Motorola could only sign up a handful of subscribers, the venture crashed and burned into bankruptcy.

Now, like a phoenix risen from the ashes, satellite phones are back, costing no more for either equipment or airtime than cellphones in the early days.

The Globalstar GSP-1600 costs $645 on the above website, with calls costing as little as 17 cents a minute.

They've got over 120,000 subscribers now, up from 58,000 at the end of 2001 and 77,000 in 2002.

People who travel internationally find satellite phones are often more reliable than cellphones and even landlines.

Bet a satellite phone wouldn't cut out, as my cellphone does, a mile away from my house, itself only a couple miles from downtown.

November 23, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's best miniature screwdriver set

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Last week, I went to Wal-Mart for a few odds and ends, among them a small - real small - headed Phillips screwdriver.

Every now and then you need one, most often to remove the battery cover on poorly designed devices that require an extraneous tool to change batteries.

I came across this smartly packaged set and couldn't believe the price: $5.88.

For six screwdrivers: 0-point and 1-point Phillips and 1.4, 2.0, 2.4, and 3.0 mm slotted.

They have nicely-shaped, ergonomic shafts and rubber-cushioned grips for traction and maximum power.

Bonus: the clear-plastic-covered container is beautifully designed to let you slide the tool tray out.

But wait - there's more.

The top of the container pivots and tucks back under the tray.

A bookofjoe Design Award 2004 winner.

Even better: amazon sells it for $4.99.

Just put "Stanley 66-052" in the Google search box, and you're there.

I bought three sets: one for my car, one for my workshop, and one for my office.

Superb stocking stuffer for your techie friends.

November 23, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

(Only) some like it hot, so scientists take the bite out of the Habanero pepper

Habanero

Great story in yesterday's New York Times about the successful creation of a mild habanero pepper (pictured above).

The habanero, also known as the scotch bonnet, is the world's hottest pepper, measuring 300,000-400,000 units on the Scoville scale of pepper heat.

For comparison, a bell pepper scores 0 units.

The new pepper, called the TAM Mild Habanero after Texas A&M, whose scientists created it, scores 2,300 units, not even 1% of the heat of its fiery parent.

It's the result of four years of painstaking cross-breeding and backcrossing to get flavor without heat.

Here's a useful fact from the article: the most potent antidote for hot pepper ingestion is ice cream.

Milk is second best.

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Ralph Blumenthal's story follows.

    Some Like It Hot, but a New Pepper Is Bred for the Rest

    It's a burning issue for some hot-pepper lovers: Whatever possessed Kevin M. Crosby to create the mild habanero?

    For Dr. Crosby, a plant geneticist at the Texas A&M Agricultural Experiment Station here near the Mexican border, the answer is simple: "I'm not going to take away the regular habanero. You can still grow and eat that, if you want to kill yourself."

    But for those who prize the fieriest domesticated Capsicum for its taste and health-boosting qualities, Dr. Crosby and the research station in the Rio Grande Valley have developed and patented the TAM Mild Habanero, with less than half the bite of the familiar jalapeño (which A&M scientists also previously produced in a milder version).

    With worldwide pepper consumption on the rise, according to industry experts, the new variety - a heart-shaped nugget bred in benign golden yellow to distinguish it from the alarming orange original, the common Yucatan habanero - is beginning to reach store shelves, to the delight of processors and the research station, which stands to earn unspecified royalties if the new pepper catches on.

    "I love it," said Josh Ruiz, a local farmer whose pickers this week filled some 200 boxes of the peppers to be sold to grocers for about $35 a box.

    "It yields good and I'm able to eat it."

    As for the Yucatan habanero, he said, "My stomach just can't take it."

    By comparison, if a regular jalapeño scores between 5,000 and 10,000 units on the Scoville scale of pepper hotness based on the amount of the chemical capsaicin (cap-SAY-sin), and a regular habanero averages around 300,000 to 400,000 units, A&M's mild version registers a tepid 2,300, or barely one-hundredth of its coolest formidable namesake.

    A bell pepper, by the way, scores zero.

    Not everyone hails the breakthrough.

    Dr. Crosby, 33, a native Texan and a distant relative of the crooner Bing, said "chili pepper fanatics" have called with rude questions about what he was thinking and why he was wasting his time.

    A Mexican voiced complete bewilderment.

    Why, he asked Dr. Crosby, would you want a habanero that's not hot?

    Dr. Crosby said he sympathized.

    He had, after all, seen Mayans in the Yucatan eating their way through plates of habaneros dipped in salt. "I've heard it said it's addictive," he said.

    But he said most people should not try this at home, not even with the most potent antidote at the ready, ice cream. (Milk is second best.)

    The center's director, Jose M. Amador, said people in Mexico had called wondering if A&M was out to "ruin" the habanero, and asking, "What are you, crazy?"

    There was even a move afoot in Mexico, he said, to trademark the Yucatan habanero in the same way, say, that the French protect Champagne and Cognac, but he shrugged off its prospects.

    Actually, Dr. Amador said, he came from Havana, for which the pepper is named, but had never eaten it there, Cuban cuisine not being known for its spiciness.

    With the same confusion, Dr. Crosby said, the habanero's scientific name became Capsium Chinense, although the pepper undoubtedly reached China via the tropical Americas.

    Last week, Dr. Crosby was among 225 scientists, growers and processors who gathered at the 17th International Pepper Conference in Naples, Florida.

    Business was booming, a conference announcement said: "In recent years, interest and demand for peppers has increased dramatically worldwide, and peppers are no longer considered a minor crop in the global market."

    Specialty peppers, including hot peppers, were a particularly fast-growing part of the market, perhaps increasing by 5% a year, said Gene McAvoy, the conference organizer and a regional extension agent at the University of Florida in Labelle.

    Dr. Crosby, who delivered a paper on breeding peppers for enhanced health through plant chemicals like carotenoids, flavonoids and ascorbic acid, said capsaicin was being studied as a stroke preventive.

    Other chemicals in peppers were potent antioxidants and protected against macular degeneration.

    The process to produce a more palatable habanero, he said, began with cross-breeding a regular hot variety with germ plasm from a wild heatless pepper from Bolivia.

    "We took pollen from the hot to pollinate the heatless to create a hybrid," he said.

    The hybrid was then self-pollinated, fertilized with its own pollen, to inbreed desired qualities and then, Dr. Crosby said, "backcrossed to the hot to recover more of its genes for flavor."

    That was repeated for eight generations, or four years at two growing seasons a year, to produce the TAM Mild Habanero.

    He was breeding it in yellow but could also produce it in white and red, he said.

    "It's a pretty fruit," said Dr. Crosby, taking a bite and chewing without flinching. "It's got the flavor but it doesn't kill you."


November 23, 2004 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fiskars - World's Best Garden Tools

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Yesterday my Fiskars PowerGear Pro Bypass Lopper (above) arrived from amazon.

Two weeks ago I went out to cut back the hedges that had grown so close to the front of my house I had trouble getting my ladder in there to go up and clean the leaves out of my gutters.

When I came back inside, I was cut and bleeding from all four extremities, so difficult had the task been using my old hedge shears and a pruning saw.

There had to be a better way, I thought.

Then, last week, Kevin Kelly's weekly Cool Tools email newsletter arrived.

Full disclosure: I am not now, nor have I ever been, an employee of Kevin Kelly.

Nor have I ever met or spoken with Kevin Kelly.

Anyhow, the Fiskars loppers ($44.99) were featured along with an enthusiastic review from the submitter.

I bought them on her recommendation.

Then, when I went out last night to test them on my industrial-strength hedges, I was dumbfounded and amazed.

They cut through one-inch-thick branches without any effort.

I could not believe it.

I couldn't stop cutting.

Not only that, the cut is clean and if you make sure the cutting edge is up and moves down as you cut, there is no pressure exerted on the remaining branch.

Amazing tool.

I immediately ordered the $35.99 hedge shears (below)

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from amazon.

Both tools use an elegant gear design

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to multiply your strength and force many times over.

Truly awesome products.

Both win the bookofjoe 2004 Design Award for their superb function and elegant design.

To make it easier for you if you want to have a look at these tools on amazon, the product ID numbers are 91546935 for the loppers and 91896935 for the shears.

November 23, 2004 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BellyBra

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What's this?

Next to my post on Indian Larry's death, nothing that's appeared here has elicited a greater response than my piece on Parents of Invention.

Who knew so many moms read bookofjoe?

Well, now I do, so when I find something of interest to moms or moms-to-be, it's going up here.

Things like the BellyBra.

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Recommended for the third trimester.

Hey, be good to yourself, take a load off.

From the website:

    Designed to provide substantial support to the abdomen and lower back, it's not a back brace, it's a feminine support garment.

    Think of it as a maternity belt with class!

Comes in nude, black, or white Spandex.

Lycraa

$39.95.

November 23, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Oracle of Baseball

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Very cool website by the creator of The Oracle of Bacon.

It links any two major league baseball players by the shortest possible list of teammates.

November 23, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

USB Glowing Snowman

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Plug and play.

The LEDs cycle through four different colors.

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Works with PC, Mac, Sun, and PlayStation2.

No software or battery required.

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$12.99 here.

[via Popgadget]

November 23, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

iDrops

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"To protect and polish"

That's the slogan for iDrops, which keeps your iPod, iBook, eMac and iMac G5 looking beautiful by restoring the acrylic plastic housing's original factory finish and shine.

$14.95 here.

[via Popgadget]

November 23, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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