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December 1, 2004

World's best carry-on bag


Not even close: it's the SwissWerks 22" by Victorinox, makers of the better of the two approved brands of Swiss Army Knives (Wenger's the lesser manufacturer).

I bought this bag when it first came out a couple years ago, for $275.

That was when I decided never again would I check a bag on an airplane.

To do so certifies you as a masochist.

You don't need more pain, there's plenty already without seeking it out.

Here at bookofjoe, we're focused on one thing, and one thing only: less pain, more gain and, above all, a minimum of energy spent creating these conditions.

So losing the checked bags is paramount.

But then you had better make sure that the carry-on you choose is bulletproof.

This bag is it.

1) It's small enough - 22" x 14" x 10" - to pass any airline's carry-on size standard

2) It's nice-looking

3) Comes in red, blue, or black - I bought the red 'cause it's so easy to spot if it's in a pile or queue; the blue's good too. Don't bother with the black, it'll only lead to heartbreak when someone takes the wrong bag - yours - by mistake

4) It's tough, made of abrasion, moisture, and puncture-resistant nylon ballistic fabric

5) The telescoping handle is a thing of beauty, swiveling to let your palm face your body when you're racing down the movable walkway trying to get to your gate

6) The zippers are huge, very easy to grip, and accessible

7) It has a removeable and adjustable add-a-bag strap

8) The two carry handles - top and side - are very comfortable and overbuilt

9) The bag's got heavy plastic over all its contact points, making it very shock-resistant

10) It's very nicely designed inside as well, with a removable tri-fold garment carrier

11) It has 80mm in-line skate wheels with stainless steel ball bearings and axles

12) It's so solidly built you can use it as a seat when you're waiting in line

13) The price has come way down, to $194 (free shipping) at the site above

Super bag, well worth the money.

It also comes in 24" and 27" versions at the same website, but why would you buy one of those when they may or may not make it on as a carry-on because of their dimensions?

Remember the old Holiday Inn ad tagline, "The best surprise is no surprise?"

Well, it's as true and insightful now as it was back in the day.

You don't need to get into an argument about whether or not your bag's too big when you're exhausted and frazzled.

Even though it's a great bag right out of the box, like almost everything it can be improved, especially if you're me and prone to never accepting things as they are.

So I removed the standard-issue wheels and ball bearings, then substituted my best, hardest durometer inline skate race wheels and ABEC 7 skate bearings.

Ooooh - with my little finger I can now pull this baby like it's on ice.

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

'How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb'


Now here's something that makes me happy.

U2's new CD arrived this morning in the mail, and it's as if their past few disaster albums had never happened, and they'd picked up right after "The Joshua Tree."

The wonderful noise they make - "beautiful noise" was Neil Diamond's album title but it better describes U2, to my mind - suffuses this album.

The trickling guitar, the clarity of the instruments, the tricky rhythms, I've got them all going as loud as the Harmon Kardon Soundsticks can go.

This baby's playing on "Repeat All" until bedtime, is how I see it.

For once, the reviews were right.

Amazing what enjoyment a mere $10.99 can buy in this foolish day and age.

December 1, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Bird Flu could kill one billion people


So said Dr. Henry L. Niman, a medical researcher in Pittsburgh, in a story in yesterday's New York Times.

Now that's pretty scary, considering there are six billion people on our blue planet.

One in six people on Earth dead.

That would be beyond devastating.

Dr. Klaus Stöhr, the top flu expert at the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), said of Niman's prediction, "That estimate is unscientific, unjustified, and an inaccurate extrapolation from the current situation."

He added, "No one knows how many are likely to die in the next human influenza pandemic," or even when it will occur.

One of his colleagues at the W.H.O., Dr. Shigeru Omi, the organization's regional director for Asia and the Pacific, said a pandemic, which he termed "very, very likely," could well infect 25%-30% of the world's population, and that the death toll may be much higher than the W.H.O.'s previous estimate of 2 to 7 million people: "20 million or 50 million, or in the worst case, 100 million."

Hey, 100 million is 1.5% of the planet.

Bird flu is the popular term for the A(H5N1) strain of avian influenza virus.


Though originally a disease found only in birds, it has shown the potential to jump to people, where it is exceedingly lethal, killing more than 70% of its human victims to date.

Omi said that when the pandemic strikes, governments should be prepared to close schools, office buildings, and factories to slow the rate of new infections.

Jeez, I sure hope I'm not working when that happens: you'll recall that in China, when bird flu struck hospitals were locked down, with armed soldiers preventing doctors and nurses from leaving until the epidemic was over.

It was like a grown-up version of musical chairs - you had to stay where you were when the music stopped.

Oh, yeah - that flu shot you got?

Doesn't work against this virus.

Just thought you should know, in case you were feeling especially safe.

Here's the full story, by Keith Bradsher and Lawrence K. Altman, from yesterday's New York Times.

    W.H.O. Official Says Deadly Pandemic Is Likely if the Asian Bird Flu Spreads Among People

    A pandemic of human influenza could kill up to 100 million people around the world in a worst case, a World Health Organization official said Monday, significantly raising the agency's earlier estimates of the potential number of deaths in such a catastrophe.

    The W.H.O., a United Nations agency based in Geneva, has been warning about the potential for the A(H5N1) strain of avian influenza virus (known popularly as bird flu) to mutate and cause the next pandemic.

    The virus has spread widely among bird populations in Southeast Asia.


    Dr. Shigeru Omi, the W.H.O.'s regional director for Asia and the Pacific, said that if a pandemic should strike - an outcome he termed "very, very likely" - governments should be prepared to close schools, office buildings and factories to slow the rate of new infections.

    They also should work out emergency staffing to prevent a breakdown in basic public services like electricity and transportation, he said.

    Such arrangements may be needed if the disease infects 25 to 30% of the world's population, Dr. Omi said at a news conference.

    That is the health agency's current estimate for what could happen if the disease, now found mainly in birds, developed the ability to spread easily from person to person.

    While the agency has previously said that the death toll would be from 2 million to 7 million people, Dr. Omi said the toll "may be more - 20 million or 50 million, or in the worst case, 100 million."

    W.H.O. officials in Geneva said later that they had not received an advance copy of Dr. Omi's remarks and did not know the basis for his estimates and why he believed a pandemic was so likely.


    The agency previously has expressed concern that the avian strain has become a more dangerous threat as it has jumped species.

    But Dr. Omi's estimates are not based on any new scientific information about the virus's ability to cause human disease or ways to assess the odds that the virus will become readily transmissible among people.

    In sounding the alarm about avian influenza, "W.H.O. is trying to raise concern because we're concerned, but W.H.O. is not trying to scare the planet," Dick Thompson, a spokesman for the agency, said in a telephone interview.

    "No one knows how many are likely to die in the next human influenza pandemic," or even when it will occur, said Dr. Klaus Stöhr, the agency's top influenza expert.

    "The numbers are all over the place."

    Dr. Malik Peiris, a top influenza researcher at Hong Kong University, said Dr. Omi's range of possible death tolls was realistic and consistent with research into the A(H5N1) avian influenza virus.

    "H5N1 in its present form has a pretty lethal effect on humans," he said.

    A few analysts have suggested that the death toll could be considerably higher.

    Henry L. Niman, a medical researcher in Pittsburgh who is a strong critic of the W.H.O. for being too conservative, said that with more than 70% of the human victims of the disease dying so far, the death toll could in theory exceed a billion people if the disease were to spread rapidly, with little if any reduction in current mortality rates.

    "That estimate is unscientific, unjustified and an inaccurate extrapolation from the current situation," Dr. Stöhr said.

    No significant quantities of vaccine are likely to be available until five or six months after the virus becomes a pandemic, Dr. Omi said.

    The virus is constantly evolving, and manufacturers will not want to commit themselves to large-scale production of a vaccine that may prove worthless if the virus evolves further before starting a pandemic, he said.

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

Faith-Based Beauty


"It was all directed from the Lord," said Gail Johnson, referring to the success of Blessed in Jesus Enterprises, her evangelically-themed beauty website.

"I've actually had a lot of customers who've purchased from me just because of the name of my business," she said.

She's not the only one to get on board the internet faith train: there's AHeavenlyBasket.com,


which offers items like the "Pamper Her Body and Soul" gift basket.

[via Ruth La Ferla and the New York Times]

December 1, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's best tiny pen


My attention was drawn to this subject by an item in the latest iteration of Kevin Kelly's "Cool Tools," a weekly email newsletter featuring all manner of interesting, oftimes very useful things you never knew existed.

The "Ever Ready" pen (above), from the Derringer Wallet Pen Company, was what caught my eye.

The fellow recommending it said he found it really handy, and that he always had something to write with since he'd started carrying this pen.

He said the really good thing about it was that it clips into his wallet so he never has to remember where he put it.

I investigated, and learned that the 4" long stainless steel Derringer wallet pen, available with black ink, sells for $6 on the company's website.

Wait a minute.

I went downstairs and got my wallet, and measured it: it's 3.88" long.

So this pen would protrude from my wallet.

Unlike the pen I've got in my wallet already, which is almost invisible unless you know it's there.

I use - and have done so for many years - a Swiss Army Knife pen refill, Victorinox model number 30422 (below).


It costs $1.95 here.

It's a replacement pen for the one that comes as original equipment in Swiss Army Knives.

91mm (2.75") long, with a gray, curved top that fits snugly into the body of a Swiss Army Knife, these handy little pens come in blue or black ink.

There's also an even smaller (2" long) version that fits the smaller, key-chain size knives.

I don't recommend it because it's very difficult to grasp and write with.

Now, you are not going to want to copy out "Moby Dick" with my little pen, but for quick notes, sudden flights of fancy or inspiration, phone numbers, and the like, you can't beat it.

And I always have a pen.

So often no one does, and I don't think I do, until I realize hey, I do have one.

People smirk and scoff but they're very glad when they see it writes just fine.

A life-saver.

I'd always paid $3 or so for one at my local outdoor store until one day I went in to get a replacement and they were out.

It took over six weeks for them to call and tell me that they'd gotten more in.

By then I'd long since discovered I could get it


faster, cheaper and easier online.

I'm gonna send a copy of this post to Kevin Kelly to send on to the guy who tipped him off to the Derringer.

December 1, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Interface - "A 'Manchurian Candidate' for the computer age"


That's what one reviewer wrote about this novel by Stephen Bury, who turns out to be none other than Neal Stephenson, author of "Snow Crash," "Cryptonomicon," "Zodiac," and "The Diamond Age," and his uncle, J. Frederick George.

The book tells the story of William Cozzano, governor of Illinois, who suffers a stroke and is rendered mute and hemiplegic as a result.

A shadowy group of ultra-rich investors decides to offer him a state-of-the-art, experimental computer chip brain implant that may resolve his symptoms.

Governor Cozzano, sitting in his wheelchair drooling, but with his brain intact, says what the heck, what do I have to lose, and signs on.

Only, the chip not only restores his original functioning, it lets the doctors who implanted the chip control his thoughts and actions.

The financiers who paid for his implant then decide to have him run for President, planning to have him pursue policies that will fruitfully multiply their investments for eternity and perhaps beyond.

They then create a kind of political Mission Control, run by one Cy Ogle, who's sort of an amalgam of Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, and Bob Shrum.

He sits there in his trailer, called the "Eye of Cy," surrounded by 100 video screens measuring the responses of 100 Americans chosen for their representative value as embodying a typical subset of Americana, such as "Economic road-kill gravy-eater," "Stone-faced urban homeboy," "400-pound Tab drinker," "Trade school metal head," "Mall-hopping corporate concubine," "Frosty-haired coupon clipper," "Mid-American knickknack queen," "Tube feeder," "Winnebago jockey," etc.

When the screens show a positive response to something candidate Cozzano says (each of the 100 wears a tricked-out watch that measures their vital signs and skin galvanic responses in real time and instantly transmits them to the Eye of Cy), Cy programs his candidate to continue in this vein.

When the screens turn red, Cy/Cozzano quickly changes direction.

The book, peopled with larger-than-life, memorable characters, is often laugh-out-loud funny, so sharp is its dialogue and description of what's going down.

It's a caricature, to be sure, of the Presidential electoral process in the U.S., but considering that it was written in 1994, "Interface" is uncanny in its realistic portrayal of much that has come to pass, most prominently the overwhelmingly media-driven nature of the campaign process as it now exists.

Highly recommended.

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

BehindTheMedspeak: 5 minutes without oxygen causes brain death - or does it?


Alas, if you're human, it does: this sad fact is demonstrated every day when someone intubates the esophagus instead of the trachea and doesn't realize it until cardiac arrest occurs.

Sure, we've got all manner of oximeters and carbon-dioxide detectors, but what if the intubation's in a place like a hospital ward or out on the street at an accident scene, where there aren't such sophisticated monitors available?

Most vertebrates can only tolerate a similar short period of anoxia before cardiac arrest and brain damage ensue.

The graphic that heads this post demonstrates this cruel fact of life only too clearly: it shows that survival after cardiac arrest drops precipitously with each minute that elapses until CPR begins.

But it turns out that the crucian carp (Carassius carassius), a relative of the goldfish, can live with almost no oxygen for five DAYS with a perfectly beating heart.

Scientists reported in the October 1 issue of Science magazine that the fish transforms lactic acid, a damaging metabolic waste product, into much less harmful ethanol - the very same alcohol found in beer.

The researchers believe that the carp's heart helps circulate the ethanol through its gills and out into the surrounding water.

Such an adaptation allows it to survive the Scandinavian winter.

The scientists believe that an understanding of how this alternate metabolic pathway works could help save people who otherwise die as a result of hypoxia during heart attacks or strokes.

Most interesting.

I wonder if the goldfish in my lilly pond, which ices over in December and doesn't thaw until February, use this same mechanism to sustain themselves.

I mean, I can see them under the ice, moving around, yet they can't be getting any oxygen down there, and there sure aren't bugs or flying insects for them to munch on like in summer.

December 1, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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