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December 8, 2004

U.S. Government Issue Navigator Pilot Wristwatch


From the website:

Type 6, genuine GI quartz tritium vial watch.

Swiss-made heavy-duty full quartz movement.

Water-resistant to 196 feet.

Altitude performance to 35,000 feet.

Case is nylon-fiberglass composite - very durable, nearly indestructible.

Second time zone rotating bezel.

Stainless-steel back has engraved full military markings.

(NSN 6645-01-364-4042)

June 2004 contract.


Nuclear Regulatory Commission Compliance Notice: All gaseous tritium luminous timepieces entering the United States must pass stringent testing in accordance with guidelines set forth by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

All watches sold by the County Comm have been tested at an independent testing facility and cleared.

At present, only Marathon Watch Company holds the contract to supply gaseous tritium luminous timepieces to the United States Government.

So it would appear, at least to this observer, that these are the real thing.

A note on tritium luminous watches: a few years ago, I purchased one from some catalog outfit.

Then, along with the watch came a disclaimer that the watches were "erroneously" advertised as containing tritium when, in fact, they didn't.

Why is this so important?

Well, tritium is the gold standard, as it were, for luminous dials.

As such, and because it's dangerous stuff if not used in minuscule quantities and concentration, you want to have tritium providing your night-time illumination and yet not go the Pierre/Marie Curie route and die an agonizing death from radiation poisoning and cancer.

December 8, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Bruxism (you call it teeth-grinding)


Millions of people suffer from this condition, which can lead to all sorts of major problems.

Among them:

• Terrible headaches which are often mistaken for things like brain tumors and worked up at great trouble and expense

• Earache

• Sore, painful jaw

• Damage to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) sometimes requiring reconstructive surgery

• Loss of the biting surfaces of molars resulting in very expensive restorative dentistry and unending time and money spent in the dentist's chair

• Anxiety, stress, and tension

• Insomnia, depression, eating disorders

• Disruption of the sleep of others who happen to be in the same room

The problem is easily treatable; however, if you ask your dentist to deal with it, prepare to spend hours in the office and a couple hundred dollars.

Then there are the "dentist-designed-and-approved" versions you find at Walgreen's and Kroger for $25-$50 a pop.

I've got a dirty little secret to tell you: my solution (below) is exactly the same thing except without the fancy packaging (and price).

I'll treat you here for two dollah.

Yes, you heard me right: $2.

That's the expensive solution; I also offer one for under a buck.

The treatment for bruxism is a dental appliance you wear at night in bed while you sleep.

It provides an absorbent barrier for the immense force exerted by your jaws against the chewing surfaces of your teeth.

Your dentist will make a fancy-shmancy plaster mold of your teeth and bite, then ship it off to a lab where they'll make the plastic device.

Then you'll return to your dentist's office, where it will be fitted and finished.

That'll be $200, please.

Pay the receptionist on the way out.


Or you can do it the way I do.

Do as I do, not as I say, is my advice.

There's a button in the ashtray of my car that says,

    Take my advice, I'm not using it

But I digress.

Here's where to buy the high-end bookofjoe night-bite (that's the name my dentist who made my first one, back in LA, gave it).

It's pictured up top this post.

Comes in black, red, yellow, blue, or clear (pictured).

Costs $1.99.

I like the clear one.

If $1.99 is too rich for your blood, try this one:


It's 95 cents here.

The difference between the two is in the thickness of the plastic.

The expensive one is thicker and easier to work with.

Both were designed to be used by football players.

Simply follow the instructions on how long to boil them before inserting into your mouth.

Remember, though, that you put the device on your LOWER teeth, not the uppers as the instructions direct for football.

If you're religious about using yours, it'll last about a year or two before you wear through it.

Then you buy another one.

Well worth the investment.

Or you can go the route that runs through your dentist's office and bank account.

Don't be dopey.

December 8, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Walking Sushi


People at your next party will wonder what you put in the punch bowl when the sushi gets up and starts to walk around.

Grace Slick, call your office. But I digress.

You get a set of six including, among others, salmon, shrimp, and egg custard.

$18.95 here.

Just wind 'em up, and off they go.

December 8, 2004 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Use the CIA's search engine


The Washington Post's David Vise wrote last Friday about Convera, a relatively small, low-profile provider of search software to the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, Departement of Homeland Security, and the Pentagon.

The company's signature product, RetrievalWare, is used by thousands of analysts at these agencies as well as over a dozen foreign intelligence services.

Since Convera doesn't carry ads, it has to make its nut by selling the software.

So far, it's not done all that well: the company reported losing $4.5 million for the quarter ending October 31, compared with a loss of $3.3 million for the same period last year.

Revenue in the period fell from $8.7 million to $6.1 million.

The software has special features: for example, it automatically notifies users at the FBI when a new document matching a previous search query is added to the bureau's database.

Hey, almost sounds like RSS.

But I'm sure it's much better.

But maybe not.

After all, the government is known for being way, way behind the curve when it comes to computer technology.

For example, before 9/11 the FBI couldn't even communicate urgent intelligence agency-wide due to its primitive operating systems.

The company's also developing software that will let military and intelligence agencies search the public Internet in a way that cloaks their activities from potential eavesdroppers.

More interesting is the fact Convera's planning to offer its specialized Internet search engine to the public next year - for free.

They're going to sell advertising for that function.

The company says its search results, because they're based on an entirely unique algorithm and the company's proprietary technology, will be different from those provided by Google and Yahoo.

Memo to Convera: I don't care if the results are different, as long as they're more on point and focused.

In my limited experience, Yahoo's and Microsoft's search results are indeed different from Google's: they're much more limited and less comprehensive.

Who needs those kinds of differences?

Here's the Post story.

    Agencies Find What They're Looking For

    Intelligence community embraces search software

    When computer users hunt for information on the Internet, they typically turn to Google or Yahoo.

    When analysts working for U.S. intelligence look for documents and data stored on computers inside their own agencies, they often turn to software made by a little-known firm from Northern Virginia.

    While the high-profile battle between the major search engines that scour the Web rages on, Convera Corp. quietly has carved out a niche for itself: selling software that helps U.S. and foreign intelligence agents search their databases.

    The Vienna company is like a lot of small companies that are attempting to compete with the search engine giants, not by out-Googling Google, but by offering specialized services to organizations that are drowning in electronic data.

    "It is another whole level of search people don't consider," said Andy Beal, vice president of KeywordRanking.com, an Internet marketing firm.

    "It is a way to sell search technology piecemeal rather than mass branding.

    There are comparatively few companies doing it well."

    From the FBI to the CIA to the National Security Agency, and from the Department of Homeland Security to the Pentagon, thousands of analysts use Convera's software, which bears the moniker RetrievalWare.

    More than a dozen foreign intelligence services use it as well.

    "Who needs search more than these agencies?" asked Convera president and chief executive Patrick C. Condo in an interview.

    "As new foreign agencies cooperate with the U.S. in the war on terror, we are a source for products."

    Convera takes a different approach to the business of online search than the major players.

    For starters, Google Inc. gives away its search technology in more than 100 languages and pockets hundreds of millions of dollars by selling ads.

    In contrast, Convera depends on getting government customers to pay for its specialized technology.

    Regular profits so far have been hard to come by.

    Convera recently reported a $4.5 million net loss in the quarter ended October 31, compared with a loss of $3.3 million in the same period last year. Revenue in the period fell from $8.7 million to $6.1 million.

    The company is trying to rebound financially from years of unsuccessful efforts to expand into the business sector, Condo said.

    The company added too many employees in anticipation of new business and is now cutting back.

    Condo said the company is beginning to regain momentum, in part because its search technology has special features not readily available elsewhere.

    For FBI analysts, among the most popular features of Convera's software is that it automatically notifies them when a new document matching a search query is added to the bureau's database.

    The software also searches for patterns within data, identifying relationships buried in thousands of separate documents.

    And it allows analysts to save and retrieve search results easily for future review.

    In August, the FBI, which has struggled for years with handling data, chose Convera to provide it with new software systems to search internal documents and information agency-wide, including the capability to search audio and video archives in more than 45 languages.

    The FBI awarded the contract after relying on Convera for a year to manage its new "investigative data warehouse," which the bureau created after September 11, 2001.

    Since Convera software is used by numerous law information and intelligence agencies, it also offers the potential to address some of the major problems cited by the 9/11 Commission, including the failure to analyze and share important data gathered by different federal departments.

    Outside the intelligence community, RetrievalWare is being used at the Food and Drug Administration, as officials search medical research and other data when problems arise with existing medicines or drug companies seek approval for new products.

    While versions of Convera software have been used by some inside the FDA for a number of years, officials recently decided to make it available across the entire agency after converting about 20 years of documents into digital files that can be accessed electronically by those with proper clearance.

    "It has helped us in our regulatory review and research responsibilities," said Helen Mitchell, head of enterprise search for the FDA.

    Mitchell cited one researcher doing a fertility study who used RetrievalWare to identify all on-going and previous studies done by the FDA.

    "Before, people couldn't find everything if things were misfiled or they didn't have the time or resources," Mitchell said.

    "With the Convera software, and the technology for searching documents and patterns, they can find documents even with misspellings."

    As it refocuses its energies on the government sector, the company has plenty of money on hand as a cushion until it begins to turn a consistent profit, Condo said.

    Convera raised $10.3 million through the private sale of stock earlier this fall and recently reported $22.7 million in cash on its books.

    The company has been slashing costs and booked a restructuring charge of $518,000 in its most recent quarter.

    Convera's stock closed yesterday at $4.79 a share on the Nasdaq Stock Market, up 11 cents.

    The stock has traded as high as $5.72 and as low as $2.16 over the past year.

    Convera got its start as a small research and development firm named Excalibur in 1980 and developed software for identifying patterns among computer data.

    In 1994, the company bought another technology firm named Conquest that had created software to do word searches on databases used by the intelligence community.

    The acquisition gave the combined company greater access to government customers.

    Nevertheless, Convera has struggled financially in part because the flow of revenue has been erratic, Condo said.

    Some quarters showed major surges from sales tied to new government contracts while other periods showed steep drops.

    For example, Convera's recent decline in third-quarter revenue was mostly because of a comparison with a successful quarter last year, when it won a $3.4 million federal software contract.

    "The government business has its ups and downs but continues to grow," Condo said.

    "You will see us focusing more and more on that segment."

    The company is also seeking to profit by building on its core strengths.

    Convera is developing software that would allow military and intelligence agencies to search the public Internet in a way that would cloak their activities from potential eavesdroppers.

    The Pentagon has set aside funds for the program, and Convera is busily indexing Internet pages in hopes of snaring that money.

    In addition, Convera plans to make its Internet search engine available to regular computer users for free sometime next year.

    In that business segment, Convera would seek to profit through the sale of online advertising, which is growing.

    Convera's search results, based on proprietary technology, would be different from those provided by Google and Yahoo, Condo said.

    "We have applied technology we built for the intelligence community to an advanced development project to index the Web," Condo said.

December 8, 2004 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bible-2-Go - The Word comes to your palmtop


Now available for your Treo, Zondervan Publishing's "Zondervan NIV Study Bible Suite."

Works with Palm OS and Windows Mobile operating systems and includes Zondervan's New International Version Study Bible and five other translations.

Bonus: 20,000 contextual footnotes and 100,000 hyperlinked cross-references.

$30 here.

Here's Tim Gnatek's New York Times story, which appeared December 2.

    A New Bible, Palmtop Version, Can Keep Track of Studies

    Bible readers who study scripture on hand-held devices have a new version - in fact, six versions in one - to consider for their palmtop library.

    Zondervan Publishing, Laridian Electronic Publishing and Mobile Digital Media have together released the Zondervan NIV Study Bible Suite, software for the Palm OS and Windows Mobile operating systems that includes Zondervan's New International Version Study Bible, a popular edition of a 1978 translation that presented the text of the Bible in contemporary language.

    The Zondervan software also presents 20,000 contextual footnotes and 100,000 hyperlinked cross-references.

    Readers can add notes, highlight text and bookmark particular passages, or customize their screens for font, size or color (setting it to display the words of Jesus in red type, for example).

    Besides the New International Version, the program includes five other translations: the American Standard and King James versions, Young's Literal Translation, Darby's New Translation and the World English Bible. Switching among versions is a quick affair, making it useful for in-depth passage comparison.

    With the $30 software suite (available from the publishers and online at sites like www.handango.com) comes two programs for Bible learning: a tool allows readers to collect, memorize and review passages, while a daily reader helps plan study goals.

December 8, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Gift Card Follies


Michael Barbaro wrote a story about the booming business of gift cards for last Saturday's Washington Post Business section.

What a crock.

"Would you want to give someone $1,000 cash or this?" said Marie Toulantis, CEO of Barnesandnoble.com. "This is a much nicer alternative."

She was referring to the company's pricey new gift card package, consisting of a $1,000 gift card together with a pair of stone bookends, each etched with an image of Shakespeare, all delivered in a leather box with satin lining.

Clearly the American public agrees with her, considering that this holiday season alone, U.S. consumers are expected to spend $17.3 billion - yes, the story in the Post said billion, not million - on gift cards.

This is so beyond bizarro to me.

I mean, I would so much prefer the $1,000 cash to the gift card with its tacky packaging.

I'd dump that in the trash as soon as the giver left.

I'm reminded of that hilarious segment on Fox Sports this past Thanksgiving Day during the football game.

Every year, announcer Cris Collinsworth awards some player a goofy-looking trophy of a turkey for being the best player in the Thanksgiving Day game.

It's truly grotesque and ugly.

He gave it to Emmitt Smith once, and the Fox camera showed Smith dumping it in the trash can on his way back to the Dallas Cowboys dressing room.


That's what I'd do with the garbage packaging of the BarnesandNoble.com gift card.

A gift card is annoying because you have to use it at one place when what you really would like to buy is at another store.

That's why this


is the gift card of choice.


1) Never expires

2) Never loses value

3) Most importantly, works everywhere, in any store in the country

Why are gifts cards "much nicer" in the view of a great majority of Americans?

Because money is, at bottom, dirty, evil, and just plain obscene in the Puritan-derived substructure of American society.

It's like sex: pretend it's not what you're interested in.

You know how it goes: when someone says, "It's not the money," it's always about the money.

Here's the story.

    Pushing the Envelope

    Retailers Design Gift Cards to Pack More Presence

    Blanketing the checkout aisle this holiday season: the guilt-free gift card.

    Best Buy is rolling out a card that plays movie previews.

    Barnes & Noble is pairing one with a set of stone bookends.

    And the Container Store is offering an entire line of decorative gift-card holders.

    From department stores to discounters, retailers are using innovative technology and clever packaging to give gift cards a more giftlike form.

    The goal: to make shoppers feel good about giving the gift of plastic - a present that, despite its popularity, has yet to shed its reputation as an unimaginative substitute for a traditional present, industry analysts say.

    Gone, for many retailers, are the days of a simple plastic card presented in a simple paper envelope.

    "That wasn't always enough for consumers who are hesitant to give a gift card," said David Gaston, president of Chicago-based Gaston Advertising Inc., which helps retailers design gift-card programs.

    "People want to make an impact with presentation."

    Gift cards are hardly hurting for customers.

    U.S. consumers are expected to spend $17.3 billion on gift cards this holiday season, up $100 million from last year, according to the National Retail Federation, a Washington-based retail trade group.

    Intense competition for consumers' gift-card dollars is spurring this year's innovation.

    With credit card companies, malls and even restaurants now offering gift cards, retailers say a boring card is a big risk.

    A smattering of options during Christmases past has now mushroomed across the industry.

    "Having the right assortment is very important," said Anne Pratt, director of gift-card services at Best Buy.

    Shoppers say they want gift cards to pack more punch. Alexandria resident Kathy Smarrella, 37, "hates" giving members of her family a gift card in an envelope.

    "It doesn't seem to involve any thought," she said.

    So like many other gift-card givers, Smarrella discovered her own fix - packing the card inside a big box or affixing to a traditional gift.

    "It means more to people that way," she said.

    Retailers picked up on the trend.

    Godiva created a four-piece box of chocolates with a slot, tucked beneath the lid, designed to hold a gift card.

    The chocolates are sold separately from the gift card (for about $5), but the idea has caught on.

    J.C. Penney this year rolled out a series of stuffed animals, each designed to hold a gift card ($1.99 with a gift card over $10).

    So did Hecht's, which added its own twist: cosmetic pouches and compact mirrors with pockets to place gift cards (It charges between $5 and $6 for the plush toys, and $2.50 for the pouch and mirror case.)

    The Container Store this year introduced a variety of gift-card holders, priced from $1.79 to $4.99.

    There is the Polka Dot Gift Card Box, a Perforated Gift Card Pouch and Mesh Gift Card Box.

    Audrey Robertson, a Container Store spokeswoman, called the new line a chance "to further personalize a gift card."

    Why do gift cards - which are, after all, just cash loaded into a piece of plastic - suddenly require so much personalization?

    Linda L. Dunlap, chairwoman of the department of psychology at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said gift givers want gift recipients to remember their gesture.

    Trouble is, when the gift is a gift card alone, the money runs out and card is tossed.

    But when the gift card comes with, say, a stuffed animal, there is a "constant reminder that a gift was given," Dunlap said.

    That's part of the logic behind a pricey new Barnes & Noble gift-card package.

    The store is offering a new $1,000 card.

    It comes with a pair of stone bookends, each etched with an image of Shakespeare, all delivered in a leather box with satin lining.

    "Would you want to give someone $1,000 cash or this?" asked Marie Toulantis, chief executive of Barnes & Noble.com.

    "This is a much nicer alternative."

    Not all of this year's gift-card innovation is focused on packaging.

    Best Buy and Target say they have turned the card itself into an interactive toy.

    Both retailers have introduced a gift-card CD-ROM, a miniature, rectangular version of a standard CD.

    Like traditional gift cards, they can be swiped at a cash register, but when placed inside a computer, they launch video games and movie clips.

    Best Buy's card contains a preview for the upcoming Disney film "Chicken Little" and a short video game featuring Aladdin. Target's card contains two video games.

    The game's main character: Bullseye, Target's canine mascot.

    Another Target gift card is equipped with a sound chip.

    When the SpongeBob SquarePants gift card is squeezed, the Nickelodeon cartoon character begins to laugh - loudly.

    "Kind of gimmicky" was the verdict from Clinton Farrand, 24, a Target shopper who lives in Arlington.

    But Farran's girlfriend, 24-year-old Dresden McIntosh, said the bright yellow laughing gift card is a relief "from all the ugly ones with the name of the store on them."

    Some who receive the dressed-up gift cards say they prefer them over the ho-hum presentation of the same card in a store-branded envelope.

    Noelle Dominguez, a 23-year-old who works on Capitol Hill, received a Best Buy gift card last Christmas from a co-worker.

    For the past several years, the electronics retailer has sold its gift cards in a CD case, making them easier to wrap and, in some cases, tricking recipients into thinking they're opening a music album.

    "I thought it was cute," Dominguez said, "because I like opening presents."

    December 8, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Doux Me - 'Cosmétique Ecologique et Biologique'


    Doux Me makes organic cosmetics.

    The French company, created in November 2002, bases its products on essential oils, floral waters, and vegetable oils all originating from organically grown plants.


    It's among the first labels to have obtained certification as such.

    And that sly name....

    What's not to like, beautiful?

    December 8, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    'Predictable Surprises'


    The subtitle of this new book is "The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming and How to Prevent Them."

    The authors are Max Bazerman, a Harvard Business School professor, and Michael Watkins, who runs a strategic consultancy.

    The book's published by the Harvard University Press, so it's got all the proper bells-and-whistles credentials of an "important" business book.

    The authors define a predictable surprise as "an event or set of events that take an individual or group by surprise, despite prior awareness of all the information necessary to anticipate the events and their consequences."

    Or, as Stefan Stern of The Financial Times put it in his review of the book, "this is a more elegant formulation of 'I might have known this would happen.'"

    The book's authors concede that "people tend to believe in retrospect that an event was far more predictable than reality dictates."

    Or, as bookofjoe might put it, echoing others far wiser, "hindsight is always 20-20."

    Why do businesses and people not act on what they know to avoid predictable surprises?

    The authors identify five "cognitive biases" which cause this.

    1) We tend to have positive illusions that lead us to conclude that a problem does not exist or is not severe enough to merit action. (I call this hope)

    2) We interpret events in an egocentric manner, allocating blame and credit in ways that are self-serving. (I call this denial)

    3) We discount the future because it is easier to put off daunting measures today to prevent "far-off" disaster. (I call this laziness)

    4) We cling to the status quo. (I call this insecurity)

    5) We only start fixing problems when we have personally suffered harm or can see that danger is heading our way. (I call this expediency)

    The authors also note the tendency to try to identify a single cause to complex problems, when there are probably several factors.

    The authors don't simply look back and cluck about what should've been done, but put forth their predictions of big, highly unpleasant predictable surprises looming in our collective future.

    Among them: the international pension shortfall; world farming crop shortages; and most seriously, global warming.

    Business types have an insatiable appetite for books like this: witness last year's iteration, "Inevitable Surprises" by Peter Schwartz.

    When I was still teaching residents the art and science of anesthesiology, I could predict which residents would be nightmares and which ones stars after doing one case with them.

    Too bad that even after predicting which ones would be crummy, I still had to work with them for three years till they graduated.

    That's one big reason I don't teach anesthesiology any longer.

    [via Stefan Stern and The Financial Times]

    December 8, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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