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January 1, 2005

Inflatable Pub - 'I was just gobsmacked'

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So said Avril Baker, who raised a pint or two at the inflate-a-pub's debut at a festival in Bristol, England this past September.

It was designed by Airquee, a Welsh company that specializes in blow-up creations (they previously made a 47-foot-tall Gothic cathedral).

Here's how it works:

1) Find a flat surface and two small fans

2) In six minutes, you'll have a full-blown, 760-square-foot structure that can accomodate a fully stocked bar and 30 people

The pub features traditional British decor like a framed painting of Big Ben and a stuffed fish over the mantle.

Airquee chair Andi Francis says the PVC pub allows for smoking, dart playing, and even literal bouncing off the walls.

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The pub's faux hearth/"Fire[place] Exit" (above) doubles as an escape hatch.

I've heard of taking your party with you, but this takes things to a whole new level.

[via Wired magazine]


January 1, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Headboard Reading Light

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This one made me wince.

From the website:

    Read comfortably in bed without straining your eyes.

    Our Headboard Light has a fabric shade that diffuses light perfectly for night time reading or stitch work.

    Uses bulbs up to 40W.

    Fits headboards up to 1.5" thick.

    Available in Cream, Burgundy, or Hunter Green.

If I walked into a room with one of these up on the headboard, the first thing I'd do is remove it and stick it in a closet or under the bed.

Talk about depressing.

On top of which, they tout the ability to read "without eye strain."

Excuse me, but "up to 40W" isn't gonna do it.

How about we start at 100 and go from there?

joeheads ask from time to time what my criteria are for good design.

Now I've got an excellent illustrative answer: the opposite of this device.

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For sure, a winner of a Bizarro World bookofjoe 2004 Design Award.

January 1, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sound Soother - the only Sharper Image product I've ever found helpful

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I've spent humongous amounts of money on stuff from the Sharper Image over the years, and all of it's long since been discarded or tossed into my attic, closets, or basement.

Except for the Sound Soother (above),

which I purchased about three years ago and still find an excellent addition to my life.

What it is: a $99.95 machine that plays various sounds, among them oceanside, rain, steam train, ebb tide, fireside, wind chimes, summer night, brook, aviary, foghorns, everglades, dockside, heartbeat, rain forest, Yosemite Falls, "surf's up," thunderstorm, north woods, city, a total of 20 different sonic environments.

Many therapists use the device in their offices, on its "white noise" setting, to mask outside noise.

I use it when there's a barking dog outside: I put it on "rain" and all of a sudden I can get back to my reading in peace.

The round shape radiates amazingly realistic digital sound in all directions.

Rotary volume control, headphone jack, and a 60-minute sleep timer that gently ramps down to total silence.

Very easy to use, runs on 6 AA batteries (not included) or plugs in with the optional ($9.95) AC adapter (item #SM902).

The company's created a number of variations on the original theme, including this

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"über-soother" ($199.95), with not 20 but 50 different sounds, the original 20 plus such things as brass chimes, crickets, buggy ride, etc.

Then there's this tricked-out one ($199.95),

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with a CD player and radio built in, as well as stereo speakers and a digital alarm clock.

It's got the original 20 sounds.

There are also two smaller versions, each with 20 sounds.

This one,

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the smallest, weighs 6 oz., costs $69.95, and features a radio and clock.

Finally, there's this number ($99.95),

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which lets you plug in your iPod to enjoy your own music or use the built-in clock radio.

It's on sale at 50% off ($49.98) if you buy any other item from Sharper Image.

Heck, you could order it along with the $9.95 AC adapter (item #SM917) and still come in under $60 total.

When you're in a hotel room, and there's vacuuming and TV from other rooms and traffic and all manner of noise, and you want to take a nap, one of these machines is invaluable.


January 1, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Creative Eye: Artists View the Rockefeller Collection of Asian Art

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Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd gave their superb collection of Asian art to the Asia Society in 1978.

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In late 2001, the Asia Society created an exhibition of selected masterworks from the collection, chosen and with commentaries by a number of artists in a wide variety of disciplines.

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Among the 25 artists: Bill T. Jones, Laurie Anderson, Ping Chong, Francesco Clemente, Milton Glaser, Pico Iyer, Maya Lin, Mary McFadden, Gita Mehta, Joel Shapiro, Tan Dun, Bill Viola, and Xu Bing.

You click on an artist or a particular work on the homepage, and take it from there.

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A nice place to while away a few hours while you wait for the festivities to resume Friday night.

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Of particular interest to me is when two or more different artists chose one piece: their tremendously different takes can be hugely amusing.

For example, Milton Glaser and Xu Bing had decidedly different reactions to this

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ancient Chinese painted earthenware storage jar (3,000-2,000 B.C).

Glaser wrote:

    When we see objects of such primal power and expressiveness, we are forced to question any notion that art improves in quality as we progress historically.

    Quite the contrary, this dynamic prehistoric storage jar puts most of the ceramics created in our time to shame.

    The painting of the swirling forms at the top of the jar are executed with a virtuosos skill and daring.

    Although there is a functional reason for the bottom of the vessel to be left unpainted, the compression and activity at the top is enhanced by the contrast of the unadorned base.

    In a time of technological obsession, this piece reminds us of the fact that astonishing objects can be created out of the most fundamental means.

    Clay, water, fire, and the human imagination.

Xu Bing was not nearly as impressed:

    In the past, there were many ceramic jars of this type buried in the loess of northern Shaanxi.

    Most of them had been used for funerary purposes.

    Therefore, there was a custom among the local farmers to smash the jars immediately upon discovering them.

    If they did not, it was considered unlucky.

    It was only when outsiders began to come to look for the jars that the local people started valuing them.

    However, most of the jars in the fields had been discovered by that time.

    Oh well, museums are already full of them anyway.

I noticed, as I chose works to illustrate this post, that it didn't really matter which ones I selected; nor did the order I put them in affect how they looked as a (vertical) group.

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The works are of such excellence and self-sufficiency that each creates its own ordered - and orderly - space around itself, even reproduced in cyberspace.

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Harmony is not sought but, rather, inherent.

January 1, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Intellectual Arbitrage - What makes differences so fascinating?

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Arbitrage is taking advantage of simultaneously different prices for the same thing, then buying and selling both at the same time, keeping the the price difference as profit.

Done on a large enough scale, it can make one wealthy, beyond comprehension in some cases.

This, though, is about an entirely different form of arbitrage, which I've arbitrarily named.

Often, we read about practices in other countries and can't imagine why they exist.

I'm sure that in Japan, for example, where it is all but impossible for a civilian to possess a firearm legally, they cannot for the life of them understand how it is that almost anyone can own a gun in the U.S.

And we have difficulty with seeming oppressive Danish laws on permissible names for children.

Thus, Sarah Lyall's New York Times story from last Tuesday, about the annual BBC license fee of $233 for each television owned in Britain, seemed to illuminate a somewhat Draconian streak in that country's approach to use of the media.

Reading on, when I found that anyone found illegally harboring a television can be fined $1,923 or wind up in jail, I really sat up and took notice.

Turns out even if you own a TV and don't watch it you still have to pay the fee.

Fee-evasion cases make up 12% of the caseloads in magistrates' courts.

Last year, 20 people were imprisoned for nonpayment.

Read the fascinating story.

    No Telly in the House? Expect an Official Warning

    In Paul Oldham's bathroom is a cartoon that sums up his attitude toward the role of television in modern life.

    It shows a couple slumped together in their living room, staring at a beaten-up old supermarket carton.

    The caption reads: "Let's stay in and watch the box tonight."

    A 44-year-old Web site designer, Mr. Oldham is not now and never plans to be a member of the television-owning public, having given it up in exasperation when "Inspector Morse" went into reruns.

    But for more than a decade he has been enmeshed in a bizarre pas de deux with the agency that polices television ownership in Britain, and that seems intent on proving him a liar.

    No matter how much Mr. Oldham protests, he said, stern letters come inexorably in the mail, informing him (in case he has forgotten) that he has not paid the £121 BBC license fee (that's $233) required annually of every owner of a "telly."

    If indeed he is found to be harboring a television illegally at his home in Milton, just north of Cambridge, the letters remind him, he could be fined £1,000 ($1,923) or wind up in jail.

    "They really are quite odious letters," Mr. Oldham said. "They work on the assumption that you are a criminal."

    Each time, Mr. Oldham writes back to declare that he has no TV.

    But in its most recent notice, the agency told him that he should be prepared to prove it to the enforcement division, whose officers planned to drop by for a little television-hunting expedition at his house.

    While not commenting on Mr. Oldham's case, Chris Reed, a spokesman for the agency, called TV Licensing, outlined its general policy.

    "We wish we could believe everyone who tells us they have no TV," he said.

    "But unfortunately, last year just under half the people who claimed not to have one were found to be using one, and therefore needed a license, when we checked the premises."

    License fees date from the 1920's, when the British Broadcasting Corporation charged its first customers 50 pence a year for the privilege of owning a radio.

    For decades, the BBC was a monopoly and the fee - expanded to include television in 1946 - was easy to justify.

    But the broadcasting landscape has expanded beyond all expectation.

    BBC television has now been joined by hundreds of commercial stations that compete for advertising and viewers but do not receive a share of the license fee.

    The government has pledged to keep the current system in place when the BBC's charter is renewed in 2006.

    The fee is very much a part of British life.

    It is a criminal offense for anyone with a television set not to pay it, whether they watch the BBC or not.

    Fee-evasion cases make up 12 percent of the caseload in magistrates' courts.

    Although most evaders are fined, 20 people were imprisoned for nonpayment last year.

    The BBC took in £3.9 billion ($7.5 billion) from the fee in 1993, but 5.7 percent of television owners still failed to pay.

    TV Licensing regularly carries out campaigns to warn them about the consequences of inaction that say, for instance, "Get one or get done" - "getting done" being slang for getting caught.

    Enforcement officers visit homes and businesses about three million times a year.

    They have a variety of weapons at hand, including a law that requires retailers to notify the government whenever someone buys a television; a database with TV-owning information about 28 million Britons; and specially equipped vans and hand-held devices that can detect unlawful television-watching.

    The final step is a home visit, whose purpose, Mr. Reed said, is "to identify genuine non-users of television so that we can minimize future contact with them."

    Homeowners are not obliged to let the agents in, but the agents can get search warrants if there is sufficient evidence of television viewing.

    Every day, more than 1,000 people - 380,000 in 2003 - are caught watching television without a license.

    But in its enthusiastic execution of its appointed task, the agency can sometimes be overzealous.

    It often seems unable to recognize the distinction between shirkers and non-television-watchers, like 28-year-old Graham Smith, from Southampton.

    Like Roald Dahl's Matilda, Mr. Smith was traumatized by a childhood in which the television was never off; his family had four people and five televisions.

    "We used to joke that one of the TV's was like a dog," he said.

    But Mr. Smith's decision some years ago to renounce television ("At first it was like a withdrawal from drugs," he said) did not persuade the licensing agency, which began exhorting him to pay the fee shortly after he moved into his house several years ago.

    At one point, he was getting a letter every couple of weeks - up to 30 in 10 months, he said.

    "After about four or five months, my partner caved in a bit and sent four of the notices back, saying that we didn't have a TV," Mr. Smith said.

    "But strangely enough, they kept coming and coming."

    He began throwing the letters in the garbage, only to receive an "official warning" of a home visit in a much sterner tone, containing alarming allusions to legal activity and potential prosecution.

    When he complained, the licensing authority apologized - then sent him another warning a few days later.

    "I can understand why they want to ensure the maximum number of people possible have a license," Mr. Smith said, "but I don't see why I should be essentially persecuted for not having a television."



January 1, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Eat-Halal.com and SederOlam.com - 'Why can't we all just get along?'

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Perhaps someday Rodney King's poignant lament will take hold.

In the meantime, at least in the virtual world, different world views exist side-by-side - or is that not really a good metaphor anymore? - quite nicely, thank you.

Lisa Alcalay Klug wrote a most informative article for last Tuesday's New York Times about the recent appearance of religion-centered food websites.

There's SederOlam.com, which helps you find kosher sushi restaurants when you're traveling.

For Muslims, there's Eat-Halal.com and Zabihah.com.

I've written previously about vegetarian websites, among them VegDining.com and HappyCow.net.

Here's the story.

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    Keeping Kosher, and Doing It With Some Style

    In Genoa, Italy, his plate arrived with octopus.

    In Cologne, Germany, it was filled with bloodwurst.

    And in Mykonos, Greece, Yaniv Madar, an Israeli entrepreneur, was served starfish.

    Mr. Madar keeps kosher, so these and other forbidden foods remained untouched on his plate.

    His observance of kashrut, Hebrew for Jewish dietary laws, does not get in the way of conducting business.

    But it can limit his fine dining options while traveling abroad.

    "Tuna fish and crackers - that is the equipment for kosher travelers," Mr. Madar said from his office in Rishon L'Zion, south of Tel Aviv.

    "You really want to leave that behind, eat normal meals and enjoy your stay."

    With that aim in mind, Mr. Madar, his brother and a handful of fellow high-tech colleagues joined forces several years ago.

    On their frequent business trips abroad, they began collecting listings of kosher restaurants, hotels and Orthodox synagogues to help prevent future issues involving gastronomy, ritual and conscience.

    And in 2001, as a hobby, they devised a Hebrew-language database of kosher resources overseas.

    Word soon spread and demand for their free listings became so strong that they started a comprehensive online service, complete with multilingual interface, earlier this year.

    Called Seder Olam, which roughly translates to world order, the company now operates parallel sites in English and Hebrew, SederOlam.com and SederOlam.co.il.

    A French version is also in the works. In November, hits exceeded three million.

    "Travel always comes with some doubts and worries: 'Where shall I eat? Where shall I pray?' " Mr. Madar said.

    "And sometimes you face these questions at the most unexpected times."

    Before Seder Olam, a travel agent booked Mr. Madar in a hotel believed to be in close proximity to Cologne's Jewish community.

    When he realized the mistake, hotels closer to the synagogue were already booked with convention-goers.

    Mr. Madar said he ended up walking five hours through freezing weather to attend synagogue on the Sabbath, when halacha, Jewish law, prohibits driving or riding in a cab.

    A play on Hebrew terminology for appropriate times to pray, Seder Olam also echoes the name of a Jewish text called Seder Olam Rabbah, believed to date from the year 240.

    The text records historical events from the start of creation according to a predetermined 6,000-year plan.

    Its contemporary namesake offers assistance planning trips from here to eternity.

    Seder Olam features more than 10,000 kosher and Jewish facilities, 3,500 kosher restaurants, 4,450 synagogues and Jewish community centers, 370 kosher hotels, 920 ritual baths and 800 kosher shops and businesses.

    There are also addresses and phone numbers of Israeli consulates and embassies, candle lighting times for the Sabbath and holidays and loads of other information of use to kosher travelers.

    In the question-and-answer section, a rabbinic authority answers questions relating to Jewish observance and travel.

    Seder Olam even provides ratings, to move beyond mere survival tactics.

    "It's not enough to simply find kosher restaurants," Mr. Madar said.

    "You also want to enjoy your meal."

    This summer, Seder Olam began placing advertising from a number of companies, including Koshertreks, Royal Kosher, Tour-Olam.com, Kibbutz Lavi Hotel, Diesenhaus Masoret and Natour, Israel's largest tour operator.

    Besides Mr. Madar, the site has two silent investors.

    It has yet to make a profit.

    Seder Olam stands among a cornucopia of sites catering to the needs of niche travelers.

    Other sites catering to Jews, for example, include TotallyJewishTravel.com and JewishRoutes.com.

    Driven by advertising, these sites are filled with material from retail vendors booking the gamut of Jewish travel, from kosher resorts with Jewish entertainment, visits to Israel and short-term apartment rentals in the Holy Land, to vacations for Jewish students and singles, Passover getaways, family trips for bar and bat mitzvahs, even gatherings of Holocaust survivors.

    Jewish travelers seeking kosher hospitality for Shabbat, Hebrew for Sabbath, can visit Oneg-Shabbat.org, founded by Moshe and Ruth Harizy.

    Mr. Harizy owns Ali Baba, a Manhattan restaurant serving kosher Yemenite food.

    A leading site for Christians is Christian-Travelers-Guides.com.

    Begun by Irving Hexham, who teaches in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Calgary, it features suggested itineraries like German cities where Martin Luther lived and worked, travel tips for Christians and links to related sites.

    These include travel agencies like Journeys of Faith Christian Tours (JofTours.com), or ReformationTours.com, as well as GoCatholicTravel.com.

    A retired pastor operates ChristianTravelers.com to book hotel and travel arrangements for attendees of the annual Southern Baptist Convention.

    Muslims can visit Zabihah.com, Halalapalooza.com and Eat-Halal.com for information on halal meals that follow Islamic dietary laws.

    OneHajj.com, IslamiCity.com, Barakahhajj.com and a host of other sites offer Hajj pilgrimage packages to Saudi Arabia.

    VegDining.com and HappyCow.net offer meat-free listings for vegetarians.

    And 12-step travelers can turn to Alcoholics-Anonymous.org, GamblersAnonymous.org, NA.org (for Narcotics Anonymous) and OA.org (for Overeaters Anonymous) for support.

    Seder Olam links travelers with news from CNN, BBC and The Associated Press as well as Israeli sources like Haaretz, Arutz 7, Kol Yisrael and The Jerusalem Post.

    It also offers information about mass transit, car rentals, exchange rates and global temperatures; provides links to travel-related publications, digital maps, driving directions and "Time Out," a popular guide to entertainment in 33 urban centers, and has news about Jewish holidays, exhibitions and conventions.

    Much of the information about Jewish communities abroad comes from travelers who feed it into the site, whose three employees and six volunteers then confirm it.

    Ed Frank, an international marketing consultant and former New York City resident who is based in Herzilya, Israel, says Seder Olam provides relief from "briefcase meals" of instant soups, energy bars and pop-top cans of hummus.

    Still, there are occasional challenges.

    On a November trip, Mr. Frank frequented his favorite kosher restaurant in Istanbul, dining each time with a different Turkish business colleague.

    By local custom, each host felt obliged to explain the menu to him and to recommend dishes.

    "We were there three times in three days and had to pretend it was the first time each time," Mr. Frank said.

    On another recent foray, Mr. Frank spent three consecutive days in three European cities.

    On Monday, he mined Seder Olam for a kosher Parisian dinner and croissants.

    He bought additional pastries for Tuesday, when he had no time for meals in Geneva.

    He supplemented that with fresh fruit, kosher "triangle cheeses" requiring no refrigeration and crackers from home.

    That night, he used Seder Olam to locate a hot meal at Arche Noah (Noah's Ark), a Glatt kosher meat restaurant in the Jewish community center in Berlin.

    And, on Wednesday, he found a dairy lunch at Beth Café in the middle of town.

    Yair Danziger, co-owner of a tour company called Kosher Holidays, based in Ra'anana, Israel, which advertises on Seder Olam, says the site allows him to escape his old routine of carrying kosher food on overseas travels.

    He recalls taking matzos, kosher wine and chrain - Yiddish for bitter herbs that recall the bitterness of slavery in Egypt - on a business trip to Rimini, Italy, a few years ago.

    A customs officer confiscated these unfamiliar items, which Mr. Danziger intended to use for the Passover Seder, or ritual meal, suspecting that he planned to sell them.

    Exasperated, Mr. Danziger persuaded the official to taste the chrain - raw horseradish root.

    "From the look on his face, it was clear that it was not for commercial purposes and only for ritual and nothing else," Mr. Danziger said.

    The official relented and allowed Mr. Danziger to take his supplies, bitter herbs and all, with him.

January 1, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Furniture Footwear

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Hey, in winter you're not the only one whose tootsies get chilly.

Think of your poor furniture down there on the floor, catching all those drafts every time you open a door.

Now there's relief: Furniture Footwear banishes chilly table legs forever.

Sure, that's not the ostensible reason these wonderful things were created but hey, if we actually started talking about your furniture having feelings and all, you'd be calling for the therapists and maybe worse.

From the website:

    Tired of scratched or gouged floors?

    Use Furniture Footwear for all furniture legs.

    Just slip over each leg.

    Made of 100% knit cotton with elastic tops.

    Washable and better than coasters or pads.

    They help to prevent vacuum damage.

Comes in your choice of three fashionable colors: brown, tan, or white.

$9.95 for a set of 8.

Sometimes all it takes is one small thing, one seemingly insignificant decorative touch, to transform a room.

I've heard Mario Buatta say just that.

Also useful as an emergency iPod sleeve in a pinch.

January 1, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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