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December 20, 2004

Tofu T and Edamame Wrap - Soy clothing is the newest thing in eco-friendly fashion

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From China comes soybean clothing.

Yes, they've created a new fiber made from the leftover dregs of soybean oil and tofu production.

Soy-based yarn is being exported by Shanghai Winshow Soybeanfiber Industry Company.

Many hip clothing companies are rolling out soy lines, among them Of The Earth, of Bend, Oregon, which will offer in its 2005 catalog a line of "soy yoga" clothing. (That's their Yoga Top heading this post.)

Mei Fong wrote an informative story for last Friday's Wall Street Journal.

Here's the article.

    Soy Underwear? China Targets Eco-Friendly Clothes Market

    As a boy in China, Li Guanqi used to feed his family's pigs the byproducts of their soybean crops.

    Five decades later, Mr. Li has put the dregs from soybeans to a whole different use: making underwear for people.

    Thousands of urban Chinese are sporting soft, silky underwear spun out of a soybean fiber Mr. Li invented in 1999.

    The cloth, touted as a more ecologically sound alternative to traditional cloth, is starting to hit European and U.S. markets.

    Next spring, the U.S. catalog giant Spiegel plans to feature soybean-fiber halter-top dresses in mocha and pink.

    Pei Haimin, 40, a bank clerk who lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, bought some of the soybean underwear out of curiosity - and liked the lustrous feel so much he splurged on soybean socks.

    "Though they still don't have various colors, styles or products to choose, the material itself is wonderful," he says.

    China is already the world's largest textile manufacturer and exporter. Its $60 billion garment industry is set to grow bigger once international apparel quotas end Dec. 31, when many apparel makers are expected to shift more production to China and India from more costly manufacturing centers in other parts of the world.

    Now China hopes to tap consumers' growing interest in eco-friendly textiles, part of a wider trend in the U.S. and other Western countries to embrace naturally derived products, from foods to cosmetics.

    It's hard to determine whether soybean-fiber garments have real breakout potential.

    The fabric is still new and is mostly sold in China.

    But several designers are already part of the organic clothing trend.

    Giorgio Armani launched an eco-friendly Armani Jeans Collection nine years ago, which now accounts for 15% of his world-wide business.

    Katherine Hamnett uses organic cotton and wool in her collections and the trendy discount-clothing chain Hennes & Mauritz AB is introducing every season about 10 new pieces made of organic cotton in its H&M stores.

    Trade group Organic Trade Exchange of Greenfield, Massachusetts, estimates that the organic clothing industry - clothes made under strict industrial environmental guidelines, such as from pesticide-free crops - takes in some $85 million a year in the U.S. alone.

    China's involvement in the organic textile trade is likely to push down prices for these premium-priced products globally and help take them mainstream, textile producers say.

    Price differentials could narrow to the point where it becomes less of a niche product, says Dodie Hung, spokesman for Chinese apparel company Esquel Group.

    Esquel's cost for organic cotton, which must be handpicked, is about half of what it costs to grow organic cotton in the U.S., currently one of the top exporters of the material in the world.

    Starting next year, British retail giant Marks & Spencer Group PLC says it will buy one-fourth of its organic cotton from China, instead of almost exclusively from Turkey.

    The company's U.K.-based fabric buyer, Graham Burden, says it is anxious to buy more in China since much of its manufacturing is based there.

    Other apparel companies like Hong Kong-based Quick Feat International have also started up farms and factories producing organic cotton, soybean fiber and hemp in China to cater to clients like Marks & Spencer, Nike Inc., and Donna Karan, a unit of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

    China has ramped up production of eco-friendly fibers made from hemp and bamboo, durable crops that require little pesticide.

    The Chinese government, meanwhile, is funding research on fabrics made from byproducts of major crops like peanut and rapeseed.

    China's eco-friendly kick could also help improve the nation's environmental record, rated one of the poorest by environmentalists.

    Greenpeace estimates that as much as one-third of China's cotton crop is genetically modified, which it says perpetuates farmers' reliance on pesticides.

    Cashmere, another popular fabric from China for which Mr. Li hopes his soybean fiber can serve as a substitute, is made from fine hairs gathered from the underbelly of certain goats, an industry that has resulted in overgrazing in China's northwestern plains.

    Eco-friendly textiles have another plus for retailers: They command a premium of one-fifth more or so over apparel made from traditional fabrics.

    Cloth made from hemp fetches about $4 to $6 per yard, compared with $3 to $8 for conventional cotton.

    Mr. Li's soybean fiber costs $16 per kilo, or roughly $8 a pound, about 20% pricier than wool and on par with silk.

    Mr. Li, a wiry, 58-year-old businessman from Shanghai, was among the first in China to spot opportunities in eco-textiles.

    Thirteen years ago he read an article on how soybean protein could be spun into fiber.

    The idea seemed simple enough: Take leftover dregs from soybean oil or tofu production, extract protein, and spin the fiber into cloth.

    But figuring out the actual process took more than a decade and gobbled up some $4 million in bank loans and from Mr. Li's savings.

    Mr. Li, who never went to college, consulted with local academics and experimented in his own lab.

    A self-taught scientist, he found that turning soybean protein extract into fiber was easy but creating a fiber strong enough to spin into quality cloth was problematic.

    The soft fibers kept snagging and breaking, and the material spun was porous and difficult to dye.

    In 1999 he finally created a fiber strong enough to spin into cloth by fusing it with organic compounds, and he started mass-manufacturing soy-based yarn.

    Mr. Li's company, Shanghai Winshow Soybeanfiber Industry Co., posted some $7 million in soy garment sales domestically last year and is jointly producing garments with manufacturer Erdos Group Co., based in the town of Erdos in Inner Mongolia.

    Shanghai Winshow - which also makes socks, bras, scarves and sheets - exports finished garments to South Korea and plans to start exporting to the U.S. and Europe next year.

    Numerous foreign companies that supply retailers like Spiegel buy soy yarn from Mr. Li's company and weave it into finished garments.

    Still, Mr. Li is fighting his product's reputation as a tofu waste product. Distributors in the U.S. and Australia are experimenting with various ways of marketing the textile, dubbing the product "soysilk" and "vegetable cashmere."

    "I really wish 'soybean clothes' sounded sexier," says Richard Ziff, who runs Of The Earth, a Bend, Ore., company rolling out a 2005 line of soy yoga clothing.

    Still, giving his products exotic names like Tofu T and Edamame wrap - named after a popular Japanese soybean appetizer - should stoke consumer appetites, he reckons.

December 20, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

'Scar Tissue' - by Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers

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The singer/lyricist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers has just come out with his autobiography, and I must say it is one amazing book.

The reason I find it amazing is that it exists, sort of like Samuel Johnson's appreciation of the dog that walked, albeit poorly, on its hind legs.

You know how it's always about sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll?

This book is about sex, DRUGS, and rock 'n roll.

Because Kiedis' whole life, since he was a teenager (he's 42 now), has been an ongoing search for a drug high, only occasionally interrupted by the requirements of being in a big-time band.

What makes this book fascinating to someone as straight as me is how a person can manage to survive the drug-crazed binges and behavior that recur again and again and again.

What makes the book readable and engaging is the author's personality, very self-deprecating and aware of his failings and never attempting to hide behind or blame others for the disasters that repeatedly befall him.

Kiedis basically says, "I'm a screw-up, but I'm really trying hard not to be."

The "trail of tears," as it were, of destroyed relationships both with his bandmates (themselves no novices, by any means, when it comes to self-destruction) and lovers is just endless.

I've always heard that druggies will do anything for a fix: this book makes that crystal (perhaps the wrong word...)-clear.

Consider the following anecdote:

    On one of these benders I ran out of drugs at four-thirty in the morning. At that point in time, I wasn't dialed in to ATM technology; when I needed money, I'd go to a bank and take out a chunk of money on a credit card, or I'd visit an American Express office, where I could take out as much as ten thousand dollars at a shot. But for now I had no money, no stuff, and was in a frenzy to get high.

    What I did have was a beautiful white Stratocaster guitar signed by all of the Rolling Stones. Tommy Mottola had given it to me when he was trying to sign the Chili Peppers to Sony/Epic.

    I figured I could go downtown and get at least a couple hundred dollars' worth of dope for that guitar. So I went down to those dimly lit back alleys where the men sell their wares, but there was only one guy working the street at that late hour.

    "What can I get for this?" I asked him, proffering the guitar.

    He shrugged. "Nothing."

    "No, no, you don't understand," I pressed on. "This guitar is signed by the Rolling Stones."

    "Dinero, señor, dinero," he kept repeating. He was fresh up over the border, and he obviously couldn't speak English and didn't give a rat's ass about the Rolling Stones.

    "But this is valuable," I protested.

    He finally offered me the tiniest amount of heroin I'd ever seen.

    "No, more," I begged, but he indicated it was that or nothing. I was so desperate that I bartered the signed guitar for some drugs that would get me high for about ten minutes.

Interspersed with crazyness like that were constant stays in rehab centers to clean up: I'd estimate Kiedis describes at least eight one-month stays, with many shorter visits.

Nothing worked for any length of time.

He did manage a five and a half year period of staying clean in the early nineties but fell back into his habit.

After more years of insanity, he managed to get clean again in 2000, and as of the book's publication this fall, had stayed drug-free for some four years.

But he's all too aware of how tenuous is his grip on sobriety.

Anyway, apart from this dominant theme, his book's full of wonderful anecdotes about his dealings with just about everyone who's anyone now or in the past twenty years in pop music.

They're all here: Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Gwen Stefani, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, and on and on.

Here's Kiedis on being the opening act for the Rolling Stones:

    But opening for the Stones is a crummy job anyway. I can't recommend it to anybody. You get the offer and you think, "Historically speaking, they're the second most important rock band in the history of music, after the Beatles. So we should have a brush with history."

    But the fact is, the Rolling Stones audience today is lawyers and doctors and CPAs and contractors and real estate development people. This is a conservative, wealthy group. No one's rocking out. The ticket prices and merchandise costs are astronomical. It's more like "Let's go to the Rolling Stones mall and watch them play on the big screen."

    The whole experience is horrible. First you get there, and they won't let you do a sound check. Then they give you an eightieth of the stage. They set aside this tiny area and say, "This is for you. You don't get the lights, and you're not allowed to use our sound system. And oh, by the way, you see that wooden floor? That's Mick's imported antique wood flooring from the Brazilian jungle, and that's what he dances on. If you so much as look at it, you won't get paid."

Bonus: The book's chock full of great pictures of the band, Kiedis from the time he was little on up through his formative teen years with the band, Kiedis' ex-girlfriends - among them Ione Skye, Jaime Rishar, and many others (suitable for my previous Version 1.0), and friends, family, and the like.

This book is as close as I ever want to come to being in a big-time rock 'n roll band.

Highly recommended.


December 20, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (36) | TrackBack

Homeland security : ships and planes

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Every day, it seems, there's a story in the paper about yet another crippled grandmother or four-year-old child being frisked by airport security.

The stories become much more troubling when placed in the context of the country's overall approach to securing its borders.

Among the biggest holes is the enormous amount of shipping that makes it way into seaports along the coasts.

Consider the ship pictured up top: it's the OOCL Shenzhen, the world's biggest container ship.

Its cargo?

Over 8,000 20-foot-long shipping containers.

That's a lot.

Currently, 48 such ships around this size sail the seas; there are another 954 on order between now and 2008.

Among them are some which will carry over 12,000 such containers.

I saw some movie recently, a thriller, in which a shipping container was used as a kind of mobile spy base/mission control type of thing, with a false wall and all.

I find it hard to believe that security guards have the time to look carefully inside of each and every one of the containers on a ship this large once it docks and unloads.

I'll bet it's just a spot check and "sign here, please," to the captain.

So that's why I have trouble with the over-the-top stuff that goes down at airports.

Last Friday's Financial Times had an interesting story by their transport correspondent, Robert Wright, about the coming of the megaships.

It follows.

    Age Of The Mega-Ship Is Sailing Into View

    At a Vancouver container terminal, a crane as tall as a four-storey building is being cut up for scrap.

    Towering over the crane at the Centerm facility are even larger cranes, needed to handle a new generation of large container ships.These ships, which went into service this year, promise to revolutionise container trade between Asia and the US and Europe.

    They are over 300m long, more than 40m wide and can carry more than 8,000 20ft-long containers.

    The few large ports with the cargo volumes and handling capacity to accommodate such ships look set to gain still more importance compared with smaller rivals.

    Shipping lines will also have to reorganise their services to reflect the longer times larger vessels will have to spend in port.

    But shippers hope that, by spreading the costs of running a vessel over more containers, they can bring down the costs for each container carried.

    Drewry, the London-based shipping consultants, estimate that just over 110 vessels of more than 8,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), a standard volume measure, are on order.

    Yet many in the shipping industry doubt the wisdom of introducing the new ships.

    Even larger ones, with capacities of up to 12,000 TEUs are widely expected to follow within the next few years.

    Some executives and analysts question the apparent economies of scale offered by larger vessels.

    To keep to current schedules, larger ships have to move faster to compensate for the extra time in port.

    Even with more modern, fuel-efficient engines, this is likely to mean extra spending on fuel.

    In addition, the savings depend on vessels being full.

    This may be easy to achieve this year and next, when container shipping capacity is likely to grow less rapidly than cargo volumes.

    However, this may no longer be the case in 2006, when most analysts expect ship capacity to increase faster than cargo volumes.

    Ron Widdows, chief executive of APL, a shipping line owned by Singapore's Neptune Orient Lines, says his line has resisted ordering the larger vessels because of concerns it will not be able to fill them after 2006.

    John Fossey, analyst at Drewry Shipping, argues that the new vessels pose commercial risks because they need such large cargo flows to operate and cannot use the Panama canal.

    "With the really big ships, there are really only two trades that can support those vessels in terms of cargo volume," he says.

    "Those are the transpacific trades and Europe-Far East and Far East-Europe. If there's a downturn in the market, there are really not many other routes that these vessels could be deployed on."

    There are also concerns that deliveries from a single large ship could prove far harder to forward than similar amounts of goods delivered by two different ships.

    Back in Vancouver, even as port authorities prepare to welcome bigger ships, there are concerns about whether over-stretched rail lines to eastern Canada would be able to handle the large single loads of containers involved.

    "We don't want these ships in Vancouver," says Dave Bedwell, executive vice-president of the Canadian subsidiary of China Ocean Shipping, a major container line.

    "They're too big for us."

    Yet most large shipping lines remain convinced that bigger vessels will boost their profitability.

    Philip Green, chief executive of P&O Nedlloyd, the world's fourth-largest container line, says the line is using the ships because they will cost less per container carried.

    It took delivery of its first vessel of more than 8,000 TEU capacity this week.

    Some ports also look forward to the new ships.

    John Meredith, group managing director of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Port Holdings, the world's largest container terminal operator, says container-handling equipment can be more efficiently deployed on one large vessel at high-capacity ports such as his own.

    For many in container shipping, however, the most compelling logic may be an inexorable trend, ever since the first container ship sailed in 1956, towards bigger and more efficient ships.

    For the moment, it is a trend they are loath to reverse.

December 20, 2004 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Word Freaks 'Heaven on Earth'

Wordup

It's right here.

Collins Publishing Company of the U.K., a creator of dictionaries and such, has just put up a website featuring new words that may or may not someday make it into their dictionary.

The feature's called "The Living Dictionary."

New entries this week: langer; galactico; bouncebackability

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Jeremy Butterfield, the editor in chief of Collins English Dictionaries, said in Friday's New York Times, "This will completely transform the dictionary scene. It will give language enthusiasts unrivaled access to the words people really use every day and will allow them to keep up to date with new words in a way never possible before."

Typical British understatement, what?

Anyone can submit a word and debate its validity with other site users.

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There's also a nice Scrabble Word Checker, to settle those arguments before the pistols come out.

December 20, 2004 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Glow-In-The-Dark Jacket - perhaps not...

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Marmot's come out with the Phenomenon EL.

It's got five electroluminescent panels on the arms, shoulders and hood that are visible from nearly a mile away.

Just turn on the switch and light up like a jack-o-lantern.

Supposedly useful for rescuers and helpful for reading maps.

For the average jill or joe, I wouldn't advise wearing this garment with the power on at night.

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I am reminded of an evening earlier this year, around 9 p.m. or so, when I was out running in the dark.

I was wearing this passively reflective jacket.

A tricked-out car full of teenagers came roaring down the street in the same direction I was running, then did a U-turn and came back up toward me.

I didn't like the looks of things but I was on the sidewalk, running next to a concrete wall: nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

As the car passed me I felt a powerful impact against my gut, and the car flew on with the kids inside screaming bad words and laughing really hard.

I had no idea what I'd been hit by, it was really dark.

Maybe I'd been shot: who knew?

There was liquid running down my body and legs.

When I came to a gas station a mile or so down the street, I saw that they'd scored a bulls-eye with a raw egg right in the middle of my abdomen.

I have to admit, I was pretty impressed at the thrower's accuracy, enraged as I was.

This is how nonviolent people end up in prison, I realized: if I'd had a gun and superpowers, I'd have followed the car and shot out its tires.

I finished my regular five-mile route with the egg coagulating on my skin.

After I showered, I was interested to see that there was a perfect red outline of the egg on my belly.

It lasted for about 3-4 days.

That was the last time I wore my reflective jacket for night running.

And that's why I'd advise against using this tricked-out parka from Marmot if night running or constitutionals are what you're seeking a jacket for.

However, since you insist:

Gore-Tex hard shell, runs on 4 AAA batteries which provide up to 12 hours of continuous illumination or twice that when flashing.

The entire electrical system weighs about six ounces and has sewn-in wiring that disappears between the jacket's layers.

Flexible and shockproof; comes in yellow, red or blue.

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$749 here.

Might be just the ticket for sledding with your new Hammerhead.

December 20, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Markov Chain Theory - your secret weapon for winning at Monopoly

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No doubt at some point in the upcoming weeks the Monopoly board will come out and everyone will gather round for a game or two.

Here's how you can get an edge on the house - as it were.

Simply remember the following rules, derived from applying Markov Chain Theory to the venerable game.

American mathematician Tom Friddell's done all the heavy lifting so you can rest your delicate brain - or at least, what remains of it.

• Despite appearances, the number of moves with each throw of the dice is not random: because two dice are thrown, on average people move by seven squares per throw, as there are more ways of coming up with the number seven from two dice than any other.

• This results in Illinois Avenue (Trafalgar Square in the U.K. version) being the single most-landed on property.

• It also ensures all that the single most visited square of all is... Jail.

• The most valuable properties to acquire are not the most expensive, but the ones lying between Jail and Free Parking, with the orange sites being the best of all.

• Players should focus on developing their properties to three houses per site before going on to build more houses or hotels. This allows investments to be covered by rents relatively quickly, and thus protects against bankruptcy.

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Works equally well with Bible-opoly and NFL Team versions of the game.

[via The Financial Times - and who better to offer such advice?]

December 20, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The truth about Grant Wood's painting, 'American Gothic' - it was painted above a hearse garage

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Grant Wood, painter of "American Gothic," lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at 5 Turner Alley from 1924 to 1934.

There, in 1930, he painted his most famous work, now at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The painting is smaller than you might think: it measures 25" x 30."

Woods (below, in his studio/home), who died in 1942 at the age of 50, was a prominent member of the American Regionalist movement.

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A friend let him live rent-free above his hearse garage.

Wood made the space even more rustic by roughing up the plaster walls.

He enlarged the windows and maximized the space by creating pullout beds, wheeled storage cabinets, and drawers attached to closet doors.

Terence Pitts, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, said in the New York Times, "He made himself a little peasant cottage with sunlight pouring in from all four directions, and he slept practically with his nose to the easel."

The museum owns and has been renovating the studio for the past two years, arranging original and replica furnishings there, including majolica plates, rag rugs and an easel specked with paint.

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The studio is open on weekends; admission is $5.

December 20, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hammerhead Sled

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Last week's post about the Reindeer Sled brought out of the woodwork a reader who said, "Enough of the goody-nice-nice stuff, let's get serious."

She backed up her talk with walk, to wit: the Hammerhead Sled.

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From the name to the look of it, it's clear this is no sissy sled.

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It's for girls with blood on their lips, and those who aspire to such.

$289.99 here, with a limit of two sleds per person.

They're back-ordered for three weeks, so it's clear that word is up on this über-sled.

I mean, any sled that uses crash-test dummies

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in the design process has got to be deadly serious.

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And the accessories - rear-view mirrors, bells, headlights, tail-lights, etc. - are to die for.

What more could a girl want?

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The sled reminds me of an Aeron chair tricked out for speed instead of comfort.

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Made in Vermont by people who know snow.

[via B]

December 20, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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