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December 5, 2004

'I can't give it away on 7th Avenue'


Is it true that advice is worth what you pay for it?

Then maybe I should switch to a subscription model.

Friday's Wall Street Journal had an article about how doctors are charging serious money to advise hedge funds and other big-time, deep-pocket investors about their stakes in health-related ventures.

Seems the companies put some on retainer, while other doctors charge $200/hour to chat on the phone about this and that.

You can't buy me that cheaply.

Besides, I already give tons of useful investment advice, often quoting from the masters.

For example, Bernard Baruch; asked how it was that he was so consistently successful in the stock market, he replied, "I always sold too soon."

Here's the eyebrow-raising story, by Gregory Zuckerman and Greta Anand.


    The Doctor Is In And, Increasingly, Advising Investors

    Caring for patients isn't enough for some doctors.

    Leaders in the field of medicine are tending to a new group of clients: big health-care investors.

    Eric Topol, a vocal critic of Merck & Co.'s Vioxx arthritis drug and chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, recently quit as an adviser to a hedge fund after news emerged that the hedge fund made big money betting against Merck shares.

    Dr. Topol's involvement with the hedge fund is just one example of a little-noticed phenomenon that has been going on for years, but now seems to be picking up, say people in the health-care and investment worlds.

    Increasingly, hedge funds and other investment firms are turning to well-respected medical experts to help them with their investment ideas.

    At times, doctors interact directly with hedge funds and others, charging them for a short phone chat about a product, or serving as on-call advisers for the investors.

    Dr. Topol dealt directly with the hedge fund, Great Point Partners LLC of Greenwich, Connecticut.

    Dr. Topol says he didn't invest in the hedge fund and never discussed Merck with the fund.

    Some fast-growing brokerage and consulting firms, such as Leerink Swan & Co. in Boston and Gerson Lehrman Group in New York, specialize in introducing doctors to investors, or asking doctors a series of questions on behalf of investors.

    Large securities firms also link doctors with investors.

    There is nothing illegal about giving guidance to an investment firm, and many doctors have been doing it for years to pick up a few extra bucks.

    Many investors take steps to ensure that the doctors don't know about their investment positions, and simply ask the doctors for their views about industry trends or drugs on the market.

    Dr. Topol emphasizes that his concerns about Vioxx, which eventually were borne out, weren't influenced by his relationship with Great Point.

    He also says he wasn't aware the hedge fund was short-selling Merck's shares.

    Great Point didn't return calls requesting comment.

    But the growing contacts between top doctors and big investment firms raise potential conflicts of interest.

    For example, a doctor might be tempted to be more negative in his public comments about a company's drug or medical product if he is on retainer or is an investor in a firm that he knows has been betting against the company.

    Such negative comments could affect the outlook for the drug as well as the stock of the company in question.

    At the same time, leaders in the field of medicine sometimes have early and confidential access to the views or leanings of the Food and Drug Administration.

    For instance, members of FDA advisory committees get agency analyses of key products weeks before the regulators' findings become public.

    The physicians being paid by investors might feel tempted to hint at their knowledge, or share their own leanings before a FDA committee vote.

    Turning to doctors for investment ideas comes as some big firms have soured on research by Wall Street's analysts, and have started to do more of their own digging.

    Talking to a doctor, much like speaking with executives in other industries, allows an investor to better understand trends in the health-care business.

    On the heels of investigations into the securities business, analysts no longer receive early word from companies about how they are doing.

    Meanwhile, health-care stocks, especially smaller companies and many biotech shares, have become among the most volatile in the market, adding pressure on investors to get the first word on developments.

    At the same time, the growth of managed care can limit how much some doctors make from their practice or research, increasing the inclination to moonlight as an adviser to investors.

    "It's much easier to get doctors on the phone," says Samuel D. Isaly, a health-care investor at OrbiMed Advisors LLC in New York, which has an advisory board of doctors and speaks to other physicians from time to time.

    Those companies that act as matchmakers between doctors and investors are hotter than ever.

    Gerson, a closely held research boutique backed by Bessemer Venture Partners that specializes in linking experts in medicine, technology and other fields with investors, has discussed putting itself up for sale for several hundred million dollars.

    The firm says it has a network of 60,000 doctors world-wide that it hooks up with investors.

    Almost a dozen other boutique firms also do work linking medical experts and investors, and large brokerage firms also are doing more of this work.

    Some hedge-fund managers lock the doctors up with exclusive contracts to make sure they talk only to their funds.

    Some funds try to mask their investments from the doctors they hire, to remove any bias from their advice.

    At the same time, Dr. Topol and other doctors say discussions with well-informed investors can be helpful to their own work.

    "Investors have always wanted to talk to doctors; we provide them a platform to do it efficiently," says Alexander Saint-Amand, president and chief operating officer of Gerson.

    The six-year-old firm works with mutual funds, venture-capital firms and hedge funds, and typically pays a doctor about $200 an hour to work with the investors.

    "There are no financial incentives for doctors to be pro or con" about a product or health-care company they discuss with an investor, Mr. Saint-Amand says.

    "They usually are just talking about a drug that's in the marketplace."

    Some doctors say they are wary of potential conflicts.

    Robert Califf, a cardiologist and professor of medicine and director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, says he consults with many drug companies developing new medicines.

    But Dr. Califf says he stays away from advising hedge funds.

    "Advising hedge funds is the ultimate in risk," he says.

    "If you reveal something proprietary, that's treacherous if somebody trades on it."

December 5, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Panic Mouse


"The world's greatest cat toy!"

"Panic Mouse provides hours of fun for both cat and owner."

Inside the little device is a built-in computer and battery-powered motor which create random, unpredictable "mouse-like" movements.

"The plastic wand bends and contorts, bouncing back to its original form."

There's an "artificial fur pouch that feels and acts like a real Mouse," which becomes "an elusive object of cat curiosity."

"The speed settings make this toy compatible for cats of all ages."

"The base of the Mouse has an adjustable lever to set different height positions and the Pink Nose adjusts the speed movements to allow slower speeds for kittens and faster speeds for adult cats."

Requires 3 AA batteries (not included).

£24.99 ($49) here.

Or perhaps you'd like something a bit more interactive and a bit less pricey?

They've got it: Turbo Mouse (below),


for £12.99 ($25), is a radio-controlled, interactive play toy for your cat or kitten to chase around.

Comes complete with remote control which you can use to boss your mouse around and includes the required 3 AA batteries.

(Both toys are about half-way down the page linked above)

December 5, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Zembla magazine


Now why did I just drop $40 on a one-year subscription to this magazine, which I've only read about in The Financial Times but never actually seen?

Because I fell in love with the website, especially the quote that heads this post.

I liked the one below too.


Any magazine that would prominently feature a comment like that from Travis Bailey on its website is one I could really get to like.

Besides, look at the cover (below) of the current issue.


What's not to like?

Can't wait to get my first issue.

December 5, 2004 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack



It's been termed "the mother of all sports bras," and far be it from me to argue with that description.

The Triumph Pulsebeat is what it's called.

Inside the bottom band is a space designed to hold a heart rate monitor/chest transmitter.

Caramel Quin of ShinyShiny.com put it through its paces.

She used the Pulsebeat in conjunction with the Polar S610, a very sophisticated, high-end heart rate monitor designed for runners.

It worked.

You can buy the bra (£25 [$49]) here.

The Polar S610 monitor (£200 [$389]) is the pricier part of the deal.

However, you can get the monitor, at least, much cheaper Stateside at this site.

December 5, 2004 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack



Just a four-letter word.

A sort of silly word.

But lint is serious stuff.

FunFacts about lint:

• In the U.S. alone there are almost 15,000 clothes-dryer fires every year

• These fires result in around 300 injuries and about $90 million in property damage (plus you've gotta go shopping and replace the clothes you burned up)

Apart from these statistics, small accumulations of lint in your dryer's outflow path limit airflow, making drying time longer and using more fuel and raising your electric or gas bill.

Moderate lint accumulations cause dryers to overheat, shortening their lifespan and risking wiring and motor damage.

Large accumulations can block the escape of lethal exhaust gases (from gas dryers) and kill you.

Convinced yet?


'Cause I've got what you need right here.

A dryer vent brush (top) and lint trap brush (below) prevent lint build-up and keep your dryer outflow and vent duct clean.


Who wouldn't want them in their armamentarium?

Besides, it's strangely satisfying to see masses of lint emerge.

I'd pop for the set myself: you could find a lot worse use for your $22.

Full disclosure: I have no relationship - past or present - with the company selling these tools, nor do I benefit in any way if you buy them.

Except perhaps by keeping you alive so you can visit with me here.

FunFact: Madonna, in a People magazine interview, said that one of her favorite things to do is to clean her lint trap.

Mike McClintock, who writes a weekly column for the Washington Post Home section, covered the topic of lint this past Thursday, which is what brought it to mind and then here.

Here's his excellent article.

    The Perils of Taking Lint Lightly

    Lint, that fluffy mix of textures and colors, is not mentioned on care labels of clothing and other textiles, yet it's the inevitable byproduct of just about everything that comes out of a clothes dryer.

    Lint is so common - and potentially dangerous - that every dryer has a filter to catch it.

    Typically, it's a somewhat awkward pullout screen that gathers fuzz even from items that have been washed many times.

    Manufacturers and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommend cleaning lint traps before or after each load.

    But even with diligent maintenance, some lint slips through.

    Typically, it lodges in the exhaust line just inside the exterior outlet or at an elbow fitting along the way.

    Worse yet, it may lodge in or near the dryer itself, where a backup of this nearly perfect fire tinder could ignite.

    The safety commission estimates that each year there are almost 15,000 clothes-dryer fires resulting in 300 injuries and about $90 million in property damage.

    But the Washington-based Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) says that many incidents reported as appliance-related do not actually occur in appliances.

    The association says "the alleged clothes dryer safety-related incident numbers issued by CPSC are significantly overstated."

    Whatever the precise statistical risk, lint accumulations typically cause three types of problems:

    Small blockages reduce the dryer's efficiency by limiting airflow, which makes the appliance take longer and use more fuel to dry clothes.

    As lint blockages further reduce the exhaust path, dryers may overheat, shortening their lifespan and risking wiring and motor damage.

    Large accumulations can eventually block the escape of lethal exhaust gases (from gas dryers) and also start fires.

    Safety commission data records 11,500 fires with electric machines and 3,100 with gas models.

    But one type is not inherently safer than the other.

    The number of incidents reflects the annual ratio of electric versus gas machines sold.

    With either type, problems typically stem from improper installation and maintenance.

    The AHAM and the CPSC stress cleaning to help prevent fires and not one fuel source over another.

    Venting a dryer can be difficult, particularly in basements where the exhaust line has to twist and turn before reaching an exit point above a masonry foundation.

    Ducting also forces the dryer away from the wall.

    Some installation schematics allow nearly a foot of space for ductwork behind the dryer.

    But few homeowners are willing to give up that much floor space - or deal with such a huge black hole for stray socks.

    One result is that many dryers are connected to flexible ducts and jammed into place.

    That can crimp the exhaust line and greatly reduce airflow even without any lint in the system.

    AHAM says that none of its member manufacturers recommend these flexible hookups, typically made of accordion-folding metal foil or the kind of coiled-wire plastic tubing used to vent bathroom fans.

    The safety commission says consumers should "replace plastic or foil, accordion-type ducting material with rigid or corrugated semi-rigid metal duct."

    Flexible plastic or foil ducts can more easily trap lint and are more susceptible to kinks or crushing.

    For gas dryers, the National Fuel Gas Code requires rigid sheet metal or corrugated semi-rigid sheet metal ducting.

    Professional installers can use an angled fitting at the back of a machine to minimize wall clearance.

    For electric dryers, the International Residential Code allows flexible, or transition, ducts that conform to Underwriter's Laboratories standards (UL 2158A) in single lengths not exceeding eight feet and not concealed inside construction.

    AHAM and the CPSC recommend gas-type metal ductwork even for electric dryers.

    If you choose to use flexible duct, check with your local building department about code compliance.

    Aside from cleaning the lint trap, clothes dryers seem to be maintenance-free.

    But there are a few things to do - and not to do - including the obvious advice of following manufacturers' instructions.

    The main deterrent against problems is cleaning, including a check outside while the dryer is operating to make sure exhaust air is escaping.

    Also clean behind the dryer where lint can build up.

    If you notice that drying time is longer despite cleaning, consider a service call to have the entire vent system (inside the machine, too) checked and cleaned.

    To clear lint from a long vent yourself, consider a tool such as the LintEater system (www.linteater.com), made by the Connecticut-based Product-Worx Inc.

    The flexible rods and brush attachments (about $40) connect to any cordless drill and twist lint out of exhaust lines.

    As to installations, use metal tape and not sheet metal screws to secure sections of metal ducts.

    The protruding points of screws make perfect lint traps.

    Safety groups warn against other fire hazards as well, for instance, drying clothes soiled with volatile chemicals such as gasoline, and suggest washing them twice before drying.

December 5, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Batukaru Temple - what to know before you go


Batukaru Temple is a holy place, a Balinese national temple.

As such, it is pure and will remain so.

You have been put on notice.

December 5, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MorphWorld: The Edge is morphing into... GuitarBot?


Well, have you seen the two of them in one place lately?


I rest my case.

GuitarBot is a robot guitar.

As its creator, Eric Singer, told writer Michael Beckerman for his story in last Tuesday's New York Times, "We weren't interested in making robots that played musical instruments. We wanted robots that were musical instruments."

And so they created one, on the seventh day, while everyone else was flaked out.

GuitarBot's been wowing 'em at it recitals at the Julliard School.

That's violinist Mari Kimura, who's been performing a duet with GuitarBot, up top with the ["not-heavy"] metal.

Bonus: you don't have to have a dedicated person backstage to pluck the brown M&M's out of the bowl.

Here's the Times story.

    The Guitarist Is Metal. No, Not Heavy Metal.

    After the violinist Mari Kimura's concert at Symphony Space last week, I went to Starbucks with the composer J. Brendan Adamson, the inventor Eric Singer and a "friend" who had played in the concert.

    "What's that?" asked the woman behind the counter, looking at the friend.

    "A robot," I said with the sense of cool that comes only when you accompany a robot to Starbucks.

    "What does it do?" she continued, awestruck, since if truth be told, the bot looks something like a blocking dummy on a football field.

    "It plays music," I said smugly.

    Our companion, GuitarBot, might have been pleased, but it wasn't connected.

    And besides, none of its circuits are wasted on pride.

    "We weren't interested in making robots that played musical instruments," said Mr. Singer, of Lemur (League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots), in the subsequent conversation.

    "We wanted robots that were musical instruments."

    GuitarBot will appear again tonight - thrilling the audience as four moving bridges zing up and down its four strings like in a racehorse game at a carnival - in a concert by Mr. Adamson at the Juilliard School.

    "Robo Recital," it is billed.

    "No Human Performers."

    This kind of "posthuman" hype creates everything from shivers of delight (Robots, how neat!) to shivers of fear (What? They don't need us humans anymore?), which have been part of the response to robots since they first appeared in fiction at the beginning of the last century.

    The delight is richly nuanced: thousands of Web sites tout an array of products like robot pets and robot household servants.

    You can even rent a robot to make presentations at your next business meeting.

    The current Sharper Image catalog leads with a classic illustration of the two main types of robots: a humanoid one, which amuses because it does "human" things like grunt and burp, and a household robot vacuum cleaner, which roams self-propelled through your house, picking up dust.

    A furniture store in SoHo boasts a huge assortment of brightly colored tin robots made in China.

    And few human characters in recent years have brought more chuckles than the robot duo from "Star Wars."

    Then there is the dark side of robots, which first appeared in the play that gave them their name, Karel Capek's "R.U.R." (Rossum's Universal Robots).

    The work, first performed in 1921, deals with a robot factory run amok, much the same plot as in the recent film "I, Robot," based loosely on a book by Isaac Asimov.

    In these cases, some glitch occurs, a humanlike "ghost in the machine," and all the protections programmed into the mechanical creatures go out the window.

    In "I, Robot," the mechanisms' stomachs suddenly turned red (indigestion?), and they started throwing people around like popcorn.

    The message is clear: like the golem, an earlier nonmechanical creature made flesh, a robot can help you, but it can also hurt you.

    GuitarBot claims its ancestor not in the golem - which, after all, has decidedly human characteristics - but in the ingenious automated machines of the last three centuries.

    In the mid-18th century, the Maillardet brothers created an astonishing writer-draftsman that could write poetry and do amazing drawings of ships and buildings.

    Around the same time, Jacques de Vaucanson created his famous defecating duck, which could eat, digest and all the rest.

    He also created a flute-playing android, which offered 12 tunes, perhaps an ancestor of the robot that recently conducted Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in Tokyo.

    While audiences may be titillated by the prospect of seeing such devices and their descendants do "human" things, Mr. Singer and Mr. Adamson have something else in mind.

    Mr. Adamson, in particular, is more concerned with technical issues and the ability of machines to do things that humans cannot accomplish.

    The flier for his concert prominently displays a quote from the visionary Australian composer Percy Grainger: "Too long has music been subject to the limitations of the human hand and subject to the interfering interpretation of a middle-man: the performer. A composer wants to speak to his public direct."

    So far so good, perhaps, but Grainger went further: "Machines (if properly constructed and properly written for) are capable of niceties of emotional expression impossible to a human performer."

    However calmly put, this statement raises just about every aesthetic question you would care to contemplate.

    Can "artificial" emotions be more real than "real" ones?

    What is a real emotion, anyway? Has anyone ever seen one, and is it different from, say, an "intellection"? And what does music exactly have to do with either?

    At the end of her informative article in support of the concert, "Look Ma - No Hands," in The Juilliard Journal online, Ms. Kimura, who played a duet with GuitarBot at last week's recital, asks about Mr. Adamson's event: "Why is this concert being held at Juilliard, the pinnacle of performing arts studies?"

    It is, suggests Ms. Kimura, who is also a composer, simply a continuation of the healthy, age-old interaction between composition and technology.

    Pushed further, that process represents what the techno-musicologist Thomas Brett means when he speaks of posthumanism: "New musical instruments, sounds and software allow us to radically exceed ourselves, ushering the human into hyperextensions of sound and meaning."

    But there are other interpretations as well.

    Juilliard has sometimes been criticized for its "mechanical" virtuosos, who strive for automatonlike perfection.

    While some of this talk stems from envy and urban legend (and more recently, a species of anti-Asian racism, as the musicologist Maiko Kawabata and others have noted), there has long been a suspicion that certain kinds of virtuosos lack "heart."

    Do these machines simply up the ante?

    Mr. Adamson uses more than Lemur's GuitarBot in his recital, offering several works for Yamaha Disklavier and several studies for a computer-controlled organ.

    Like the compositions of Conlon Nancarrow for player piano, these works transcend certain technical limitations of human performers. (The instruments, liberated in a sense, can play faster, longer and with greater complexity.)

    And unlike other species of computer music, they involve automated acoustic instruments played in real time.

    Though it would be silly to suggest that Adamson's impressive compositions lack emotional subtlety, they do share some of the aesthetics of pieces like George Antheil's "Ballet Mécanique" and Aleksandr Mosolov's "Iron Foundry."

    While these robots may provide more nuance than the music of the Robot Rock Band or the mechanical imaginings of Kraftwerk, it is not clear that they always offer the "niceties of emotional expression" promised by Grainger.


    At least not yet.

December 5, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

FlashStick - Flashing Christmas stickers for your cellphone


Amazing technology, and ever so cool.

These stickers go on the back of your cellphone.

No batteries required.

They receive the impulses from your cellphone's antenna and transmit it to the built-in LEDs, so every time your phone rings (as long as you've got an internal aerial, as do most current phones), the LEDs light up.


I just ordered mine.


At $5.95 apiece, they're cheap at twice the price.

[via sitespecific and shinyshiny]

December 5, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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