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December 21, 2004

BehindTheMedspeak: WiFi Heart Monitor


The über-WiFi application is here, the mother of all things WiFi: the personal wireless EKG monitor (above, worn by James Welch, chairman of US biotech firm Welch Allyn, the device's manufacturer).

You wear it around your neck like a lucky charm, 'cause it might turn out to be just that.

When you flatline, the news goes right to the 24/7 surveillance center, where the person who's supposed to be watching the screen is out getting a bag of Doritos from the vending machine down the hall.

By the time he returns, it's over.


That's because it's about five minutes from cardiac arrest until you're brain-dead.

Just the thing for the aging mega-mogul who's got everything and wakes up every morning wondering, "Is this my last day?"

John Kluge, Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone et al, you need to get on the horn to Welch Allyn or the University of Ulster (Ireland), where the thing was invented, and order yours instanter.

Better hurry, though.

It's always fascinated me that all the billions of dollars in the world can't buy you one extra heartbeat.

There's a lesson there somewhere.

[via redferret and ubergizmo]

December 21, 2004 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Feral Cities


Richard Norton of the Naval War College has written about this new menace.

He defines a 'feral city" as a metropolis with over a million people in a state whose government has lost the ability to maintain the rule of law within the city's boundries yet remains a functioning actor in the greater international system.

He offers Mogadishu as the world's first such place, and points out that many other urban areas are on their way to such devastation.

Margaret Atwood, in her superb, breathtaking novel "Oryx and Crake," takes you into a feral city, in an imagined dystopian future that seems increasingly likely to occur.


Her book is riveting and compelling.

I suspect it didn't do all that well commercially precisely because it seems all too likely to occur, and was therefore too frighteningly realistic to become a best-seller.

We like our fears best when they seem unlikely to really take place.

Yesterday's Washington Post Travel section Q&A featured a response to a reader thinking about a trip to Rio.

From the "A":

    Rio de Janeiro saw a wave of bold attacks against tourists in November, including the shooting of a Spaniard during a mugging, the stabbing of a Japanese woman in front of the well-known Copacabana Palace hotel and the robbery of 20 Angolans on a group tour.

    Peter Tarlow, an international travel security consultant, recently returned from Rio, where he gave a lecture to the city's police officers.

    Tarlow said Rio's favelas, or slums, in the past had been contained to the hills above Rio but are now creeping closer to the city's popular tourist areas.

    Tarlow suggests that you don't walk anywhere alone and always carry enough money to satisfy a robber if you're approached.

    On the beach, don't leave anything unattended; if you want to swim, have one person stay on shore to watch your possessions.

    The State Department also warns Americans to avoid city buses, to be cautious when using ATMs and not to venture into the favelas.

Ken Stier of the New York Times wrote about these frightening places in the December 12 New York Times magazine; his story follows.

    Feral Cities

    This year, the American military was forced to relearn painful lessons in urban warfare.

    Insurgents in Falluja and Najaf were able to neutralize much of America's technological superiority and inflict costly casualties.

    It remains to be seen whether the retaking of those Iraqi cities proves to be a Pyrrhic victory.

    But renewed urban combat is hardly the only global urban crisis.

    In a World Policy Journal article published this spring, the national security experts Peter Liotta and James Miskel argued that the ''failed state,'' which received so much attention in the 1990's, is being supplemented by the emergence of failed cities, where civil order succumbs to powerful criminal gangs.

    From Brazil to South Africa, these gangs pose a variety of nontraditional security threats - from unchecked black-marketeering and the smuggling of people, guns and drugs to public-health breakdowns and alliances with terrorists.

    Richard Norton, a Naval War College scholar who has developed a taxonomy of what he calls feral cities, says that there are numerous places slipping toward Mogadishu, perhaps the only fully feral city nowadays.

    As public services disintegrate, residents are forced to hire private security or pay criminals for protection.

    The police in Brazil have fallen back on a containment policy against gangs ruling the favelas, while the rich try to stay above the fray, fueling the busiest civilian helicopter traffic in the world (there are 240 helipads in Sao Paulo; there are 10 in New York City).

    In Johannesburg, much of downtown, including the stock exchange, has been abandoned to squatters and drug gangs.

    In Mexico City, crime is soaring despite the presence of 91,000 policemen.

    Karachi, Pakistan, where 40% of the population lives in slums, plays host to gangland violence and to Al Qaeda cells.

    As cities around the world descend into disorder, the United States may have to step up training local militaries to undertake armed interventions.

    Writing in The Naval War College Review last fall, Norton warned that ''traditionally, problems of urban decay and associated issues, such as crime, have been seen as domestic issues best dealt with by internal security or police forces. That will no longer be an option.''


December 21, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hello Kitty by Judith Lieber


Who would've thunk it?

To celebrate the 30th aniversary of Hello Kitty, ultra-swank handbag designer Judith Lieber's created a limited-edition, handcrafted Swarovski crystal minaudière featuring the fashionable feline.

Each four-inch-long bag takes one master artisan up to a week to hand paint and hand bead.

A rose quartz-adorned kiss-lock clasp opens to reveal a butter-soft napa leather lining dyed a "decadent" silver tone.

$1,800 at Saks Fifth Avenue, but you better hurry: once they're gone, there won't be any more, ever.


If that should be the case, though, not to worry: coming soon are items featuring the Kitty from Baby Phat designer Kimora Lee Simmons and New York fashion team Heatherette.

But perhaps you're not interested in dropping hundreds of dollars for something Kittenish and trés chi-chi.

Well, have I got just the thing for you.

For just $11 you can have your very own Samantha Chang Hello Kitty thong, in your choice of fuchsia/brown, blue/orange, or turquoise.


They also offer matching boyshorts, camis, and cropped pants.

December 21, 2004 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The psychopath as C.E.O.


The B-Scan 360 is a test invented by industrial psychologist Paul Babiak and Robert Hare, creator of the standard tool for diagnosing psychopathology in prison inmates.

From Michael Steinberger's article in the New York Times magazine:

    According to Babiak and Hare, white-collar psychopaths are not apt to become serial rapists or murderers.

    Rather, they are prone to being "subcriminal" psychopaths: smooth-talking, energetic individuals who easily charm their way into jobs and promotions but who are also exceedingly manipulative, narcissistic and ruthless.

    The individual being evaluated does not actually take the test.

    Instead, it is given to his or her superiors, subordinates, and peers.

    They rate the subject in four broad categories - organizational maturity, personal style, emotional style, and social style - and 16 subcategories, like reliability, honesty, and sincerity.

    [Babiak and Hare] point out that the frenzied nature of modern business - the constant downsizing, the relentless merging and acquiring - provides a very fertile environment for havoc-wreaking psychopaths, who thrive on chaos and risk taking.

    As Hare put it in one interview, "If I couldn't study psychopaths in prison, I would go down to the Stock Exchange."

David Hogben wrote an article for the Vancouver Sun earlier this year on the subject; it follows.

    Psychopaths Are Attracted To Today's Business Climate

    The corporate crazy in a suit is rarely the image that immediately comes to mind when the topic of psychopaths is raised.

    But the world of the unfeeling psychopaths is not limited to the popular images of monsters who steal people's children, kill without remorse or plunder pension funds for personal pleasure, according to two leading experts in the field.

    Now those experts on psychopaths have developed a guide for identifying the psychopathic managers increasingly attracted to the fast-paced business world.

    "The psychopath has the ability to look like an ideal leader, because he or she can demonstrate those traits the organization needs and wants," corporate psychologist Paul Babiak said in an interview Friday.

    Babiak and the University of B.C.'s Robert Hare, a professor emeritus in psychology, have developed a 107-point questionnaire for identifying psychopaths in the corporate world.

    Hare has studied psychopaths for 35 years and has also developed a clinical checklist to detect psychopaths that has been used in Canadian criminal trials.

    Hare has argued there are good reasons for psychological screening of corporate leaders, just as there are for psychological screening of police and teachers.

    He told a meeting of the Canadian Police Association in 2002 that such screening of corporate leaders could prevent some of the massive frauds perpetrated in the business world.

    The "B-Scan" is used to assess corporate managers and identify the potentially destructive individuals who, although they have psychopathic traits, can portray themselves as ideal corporate leaders.

    "You can guess that one to two per cent of the people that you work with could have psychopathic tendencies," said Babiak, a New York-based private psychologist with 25 years experience in management development for major international corporations.

    The corporate psychopath is not one that easily attracts attention.

    "The psychopath is someone who comes across as smooth, polished and charming. That is a good thing for most managers, for most people, to be, yet we know that almost every psychopath is charming, smooth and polished.

    "The psychopath is the kind of individual that can give you the good impression, has a charming facade, can look and sound like the ideal leader, but behind this mask has a dark side. And it's this dark side of the personality that lies, is deceitful, is manipulative, that bullies other people, that promotes fraud in the organization and steals the company's money and does not help shareholders at all," Babiak said.


    Babiak said the quickly changing corporate world is increasingly susceptible to the psycho in a suit.

    The old, staid, bureaucratic organization filled with rules, policies and procedures was too frustrating and unattractive to the psychopath, Babiak said.

    "Now, because the pace of business has accelerated so much, only organizations that can move fast can survive. It also makes it more fun to work there, not just for you and I, but for the psychopath as well," he said.

    Babiak said he has dealt with corporate psychopaths who not only demonstrate the defining characteristics of lack of remorse and empathy, but also enjoy causing others pain.

    "Believe me, I have seen individuals fire people and take great pleasure in doing it," he said.

    It's not only business, but fields such as politics, law, policing, religious organizations and news, that attract psychopaths.

    "I would expect more in those areas, because of the money, the faster pace, the excitement and the glamour. Those are the things that attract the psychopath."


    10 Ways to Spot a Psycho Boss

    The 107-question B-scan asks other workers - peers, employees and supervisors - questions such as these to determine whether executives have psychopathic traits.

    1. Comes across as smooth, polished and charming.

    2. Turns most conversations around to a discussion of him or herself.

    3. Discredits, puts down others in order to build up own image and reputation.

    4. Lies to coworkers, customers, or business associates with a straight face.

    5. Considers people he or she has outsmarted or manipulated as dumb or stupid.

    6. Opportunistic; hates to lose, plays ruthlessly to win. 

    7. Comes across as cold and calculating.

    8. Acts in an unethical or dishonest manner.

    9. Has created a power network in the organization and uses it for personal gain.

    10. Shows no regret for making decisions that negatively affect the company, shareholders, or employees.

    December 21, 2004 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    BehindTheMedspeak: Sonocytology


    What's that?

    You're excused for not knowing, since the field was only named this past fall.

    It was begun by Jim Gimzewski (above), a famed nanotechnologist who worked at IBM's legendary Zurich research lab for many years until UCLA made him an offer he couldn't refuse in 2001.

    In Los Angeles he's taken his work into the life sciences, inventing a technique with which to "listen" to living cells.

    Gimzewski theorizes that rapidly dividing cancer cells might produce distinctive rates of vibration and thus distinctive noises, which could then be used in a diagnostic test.

    The first paper ever published about sonocytology appeared this past August in Science magazine.

    [via the New York Times magazine]

    December 21, 2004 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Pickup Hoops - 'Is that a basketball court in your pickup truck, or are you just glad to see me?'


    The former.


    Jason Parr and Jonathan P. VarnHagen received U.S. Patent No. 6,019,690 on February 1, 2000, for their clever folding basketball rim and backboard.


    It's a complete basketball goal assembly that you can throw in the back of your truck, then drive around town with until you find some likely players who've got game.


    Sets up and folds down in minutes.


    Standard rim with breakaway feature, and the rim height's adjustable from 6 feet up to the regulation 10.


    Dave Barry featured it in his annual Christmas special column, and noted that "if you get stuck in traffic, you can set this thing up right there on the highway and shoot some hoops, thus turning wasted time into a fun and healthy workout, at least until traffic starts moving again and the motorists behind you deliberately run you over."


    $975 here.

    December 21, 2004 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Femtoseconds are so last year... or is it last second?


    Who's got time for those grotesquely long time intervals any more?

    Not physicists, that's for sure: they're dealing with "the real time scale of matter," as Paul Corkum, a physicist with the Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences in Ottawa, said in a Discover magazine article.

    That would be the attosecond: 10 to the -18th power, or a billionth of a billionth of a second.

    In comparison, a femtosecond (1000 attoseconds) is way too much time when you're dealing with electrons.


    Sure, for whole atoms and molecules the femtosecond's great, but we're getting down here.

    Even attoseconds are getting old: new up is the zeptosecond, one-thousandth of an attosecond.

    December 21, 2004 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    bookofjoe a USA Today 'Hot Site'


    I stumbled on this fact accidentally yesterday afternoon.

    Hot Sites is a daily feature of the online version of USA Today.

    It started in 1996 when their team of web trawlers started featuring three sites each day.

    Yesterday it was me, and how nice it was to be featured.

    They said things so nice I'd have blushed if I still had an ounce of shame left:


      Joe's blog would still stand out, with prose combining the elegance of a fine writer with the terrific content of someone who's actually got interesting things to say. Joe celebrates life's good small things, and we celebrate this blog.

    I'm almost blushing. Almost.

    Then there's reader Robin, who commented yesterday, "Thanks again for having The Best Page in The History of The Internet!"

    Be still, my heart.

    That's one fine Monday, by my reckoning.


    As the spider said, looking at her feast-to-be writhing in the center of her web, "Let us prey."

    [thanks to The Hot Sites team: Fr. Brian Cavanaugh (FBC), Shannon Gazze (SG), Angela Gunn (AG), Andrew Kantor (AK), Maiya Norton (MN), Karen Schubert (KS) and the Hot Sites support staff (HSS)]

    December 21, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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