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January 10, 2005

Talking Watch


Pretty amazing, wouldn't you say?

From the website:

    Ideal for anyone who has difficulty reading their watch or being on time, this precision-made watch actually talks to you.

    Just press the button and the friendly voice tells you the time.

    If you wish, you can set the watch to announce each hour or tell you the time the alarm will go off.

    A cheerful rooster alarm will wake you in the mornings and remind you of important appointments during the day.

    Unisex styling is great for men and women.

Sounds pretty darn good for a lousy $6.99, what?

I like the idea of never feeling like you're totally alone on the planet, with a "friendly voice" there for you at the push of a button.

I had a little trouble with the idea of a "cheerful rooster alarm"; sounds kind of annoying, actually, more than cheerful.

Of course, if you're already up, you'll be hugely amused by its effect on the sleeper.

I also like that it says "TALKING" right on the watch face, so as to dispel any confusion about what exactly it is you're packing.

January 10, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: 'This is your brain on... meditation'


The brain is a two-way street: yes, thoughts create actions, but actions can also create thoughts.

And both thoughts and actions can change the actual physical anatomy and function of the brain.

Andy Warhol famously said, back in the 60s, "It's all chemicals."

He was right, as far as he went.

But he didn't go far enough.

Because psychotherapy alone, without chemicals, without SSRIs, can cause changes in brain chemistry and function as recorded by functional MRI.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, Dr. Richard Davidson (below, with an electrical geodesic net used to record brain waves)


has been collaborating with the Dalai Lama and eight of his most accomplished meditation practitioners to learn more about what happens in the brain when monks meditate.

The results of the most recent experiments show unambiguously that the brains of trained monks are activated much differently than those of student volunteers with no previous meditation experience except for one week of training prior to entering the study.

The monks' brains showed much greater activation of fast-moving, unusually powerful gamma brain waves, and their wave movement was far better organized and coordinated than in the students.

Davidson concluded that meditation not only changes the workings of the brain in the short term, but also quite possibly produces permanent changes.

Here's Marc Kaufman's story, from this past Monday's Washington Post.

    Meditation Gives Brain a Charge, Study Finds

    Brain research is beginning to produce concrete evidence for something that Buddhist practitioners of meditation have maintained for centuries: Mental discipline and meditative practice can change the workings of the brain and allow people to achieve different levels of awareness.

    Those transformed states have traditionally been understood in transcendent terms, as something outside the world of physical measurement and objective evaluation.

    But over the past few years, researchers at the University of Wisconsin working with Tibetan monks have been able to translate those mental experiences into the scientific language of high-frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, or coordination.

    And they have pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the left forehead, as the place where brain activity associated with meditation is especially intense.

    "What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before," said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the university's new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior.

    "Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance."

    It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine.

    Scientists used to believe the opposite - that connections among brain nerve cells were fixed early in life and did not change in adulthood.

    But that assumption was disproved over the past decade with the help of advances in brain imaging and other techniques, and in its place, scientists have embraced the concept of ongoing brain development and "neuroplasticity."

    Davidson says his newest results from the meditation study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in November, take the concept of neuroplasticity a step further by showing that mental training through meditation (and presumably other disciplines) can itself change the inner workings and circuitry of the brain.

    The new findings are the result of a long, if unlikely, collaboration between Davidson and Tibet's Dalai Lama, the world's best-known practitioner of Buddhism.

    The Dalai Lama first invited Davidson to his home in Dharamsala, India, in 1992 after learning about Davidson's innovative research into the neuroscience of emotions.

    The Tibetans have a centuries-old tradition of intensive meditation and, from the start, the Dalai Lama was interested in having Davidson scientifically explore the workings of his monks' meditating minds.

    Three years ago, the Dalai Lama spent two days visiting Davidson's lab.

    The Dalai Lama ultimately dispatched eight of his most accomplished practitioners to Davidson's lab to have them hooked up for electroencephalograph (EEG) testing and brain scanning.

    The Buddhist practitioners in the experiment had undergone training in the Tibetan Nyingmapa and Kagyupa traditions of meditation for an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 hours, over time periods of 15 to 40 years.

    As a control, 10 student volunteers with no previous meditation experience were also tested after one week of training.

    The monks and volunteers were fitted with a net of 256 electrical sensors and asked to meditate for short periods.

    Thinking and other mental activity are known to produce slight, but detectable, bursts of electrical activity as large groupings of neurons send messages to each other, and that's what the sensors picked up.

    Davidson was especially interested in measuring gamma waves (below),


    some of the highest-frequency and most important electrical brain impulses.

    Both groups were asked to meditate, specifically on unconditional compassion.

    Buddhist teaching describes that state, which is at the heart of the Dalai Lama's teaching, as the "unrestricted readiness and availability to help living beings."

    The researchers chose that focus because it does not require concentrating on particular objects, memories or images, and cultivates instead a transformed state of being.

    Davidson said that the results unambiguously showed that meditation activated the trained minds of the monks in significantly different ways from those of the volunteers.

    Most important, the electrodes picked up much greater activation of fast-moving and unusually powerful gamma waves in the monks, and found that the movement of the waves through the brain was far better organized and coordinated than in the students.

    The meditation novices showed only a slight increase in gamma wave activity while meditating, but some of the monks produced gamma wave activity more powerful than any previously reported in a healthy person, Davidson said.

    The monks who had spent the most years meditating had the highest levels of gamma waves, he added.

    This "dose response" - where higher levels of a drug or activity have greater effect than lower levels - is what researchers look for to assess cause and effect.

    In previous studies, mental activities such as focus, memory, learning and consciousness were associated with the kind of enhanced neural coordination found in the monks.

    The intense gamma waves found in the monks have also been associated with knitting together disparate brain circuits, and so are connected to higher mental activity and heightened awareness, as well.

    Davidson's research is consistent with his earlier work that pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex (below)


    as a brain region associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions.

    Using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) on the meditating monks, Davidson found that their brain activity - as measured by the EEG - was especially high in this area.

    Davidson concludes from the research that meditation not only changes the workings of the brain in the short term, but also quite possibly produces permanent changes.

    That finding, he said, is based on the fact that the monks had considerably more gamma wave activity than the control group even before they started meditating.

    A researcher at the University of Massachusetts, Jon Kabat-Zinn, came to a similar conclusion several years ago.

    Researchers at Harvard and Princeton universities are now testing some of the same monks on different aspects of their meditation practice: their ability to visualize images and control their thinking. Davidson is also planning further research.

    "What we found is that the trained mind, or brain, is physically different from the untrained one," he said.

    In time, "we'll be able to better understand the potential importance of this kind of mental training and increase the likelihood that it will be taken seriously."

January 10, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Google España


Also Chinese,










and many other versions.

Just scroll down to the bottom of the Google News page to see for yourself.

Still in Beta, and really interesting, seeing the news as it's viewed by people in various places around the world.

Of interest to me, for example, is that the international news as reported on the Chile and Argentina versions differs in content and emphasis.

As it should, if done right.

This Google feature is a nice way to get acquainted with an area before traveling or moving there.

Read the local news, see what matters to people where you're going.

Remember Aristotle Onassis's remark, "The secret of success in business is knowing something no one else knows."

I suspect a secret of success when doing business somewhere other than your home turf is knowing what everybody else there knows.

Google rules.

I wonder if anyone at Google reads bookofjoe?

I haven't heard from them yet, if they do.

In that respect, Google is like China.

January 10, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

bookofjoe in USA Today today


So I was just going through today's papers, and lo and behold, there I am, in Kevin Maney's Technology column in USA Today.

Amazing: of all the blogs out there (Technorati's tracking over 5.8 million currently), Kevin picks mine out as a poster child. He writes:

"These days any schmoe can publish a blog or put up a web site."

I'm down wit dat: after all, my mom used to call me "Joe Schmoe from Kokomo."

But I digress.

Here's his next paragraph:

"That's given all kinds of people a new way to say something. Thousands of people, for example, can regularly tune into the thoughts of Book of Joe, who bills himself as the world's only blogging anesthesiologist."



Here's the column in its entirety:

    Tech show expects video to flourish on Net the way words have

    Most people come to the Consumer Electronics Show looking for cool new products.

    Wandering the floor of the show, which ended Sunday, it's certainly impressive to see high-definition TVs that would take up a wall — in Versailles.

    Or a pink Hummer filled with beer-keg-size speakers that could vibrate the aluminum siding off every house it passes.

    But there's more here than a gizmo bacchanal — more than just products being pitched by athletic young women who, while working the booths, also seem to be testing new fabrics to see how far they can stretch.

    CES is a good place to find some pretty cool ideas about bigger trends that will unfold in coming years.

    One trend, for instance, means that individuals will no doubt make and post amateur TV shows as easily and regularly as people now post blogs.

    Another suggests that you should clear a spot in your living room for a big honkin' console like the TV-record player-speakers combo your parents had in the 1970s.

    The third leads to the prediction that Microsoft's Windows will eventually really DO windows.

    Let's take those one at a time:

    • The deconstruction of entertainment.

    Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, TiVo CEO Mike Ramsay and a number of visionaries here say that homes in coming years will have faster Internet connections and some kind of media machine that has nearly infinite disk storage and can feed video to big plasma screens.

    In that world, an increasing amount of what we think of as TV will be delivered over the Internet.

    Either you'll see a live stream of video, or you'll download a movie or show to a hard disk to watch later.

    One long-predicted result is that TV will become more like the Web: You'll find what you want to see when you want to see it, and the choices will explode.

    Video "channels" will be as numerous as Web sites and will cater to ever-smaller niches.

    The Squirrel Hunting Channel.

    The Ned Beatty Movie Channel.

    As Gates points out, that will have a profound effect on how video gets created.

    It's exactly what the Internet did to publishing.

    Before the Internet, to reach a big audience you had to own printing presses and a distribution system.

    These days, any schmoe can publish a blog or put up a Web site.

    That's given all kinds of people a new way to say something.

    Thousands of people, for example, can regularly tune into the thoughts of Book of Joe, who bills himself as the world's only blogging anesthesiologist.

    Imagine that happening to TV.

    A suburban woman gets a handheld digital video camera and editing software and creates a version of Desperate Housewives about her own cul-de-sac, posting it for an audience around the world.

    A high school could post football games so alumni anywhere could watch. Everything that has happened to words and photos the past 10 years will happen to video in the next 10.

    "It's going to open up creativity — the same kind we've seen on the Internet, but for TV," Gates says.

    Some products that would help make that happen were introduced at CES.

    One company, Serious Magic, unveiled software called Vlog It that creates video blogs — which it's calling "vlogs."

    As the software gets better, maybe users will be able to make full-length movies, or "cinema blogs."

    We could call those "clogs."

    Similarly, the trend of allowing anyone to create media is happening to music.

    An example was unveiled at CES: UmixIt, which is being hawked by Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler.

    It lets artists release songs with every sound — vocals, guitar, bass, etc. — on a separate track. Fans can then alter the mix, or even take out, say, Tyler's vocal and insert their own.

    • Ahead to the past.

    A number of tech companies are introducing technology that removes a problem that technology created in the first place.

    Like, anyone who has digital cable knows that there's a several-second delay every time you change the channel.

    Before digital cable, you clicked and the next channel came on instantly.

    "That (delay) drives me insane," talk show host Conan O'Brien said at CES.

    "You can change the channel, go make a sandwich, and come back and it's still not there."

    Phone company SBC and Microsoft showed technology that gets rid of the delay.

    During an on-stage presentation, it got big cheers.

    Then there's the problem created by plasma TVs, surround-sound systems, TiVo devices and other video technology: Most anyone who tries to make it all work together will either lose his mind or grow violent.

    Guitar-maker Gibson thinks it has a solution, borrowed from the Carter era.

    Gibson is building the whole video enchilada into a single cabinet the size of a dresser.

    Out this summer, it will cost $10,900.

    "Yeah, it is a lot like those old consoles," says Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz.

    "We're excited about it."

    • Microsoft's next target.

    Thursday, Gates roamed the vast CES floor. Deep into one corner, past the humongous, flashy booths of Samsung, DirecTV, Motorola and other tech giants, Gates found the bathroom-size booth of iRobot, maker of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner.

    He stayed for quite a while, asking questions about iRobot's products, including the PackBot, which is helping soldiers in Iraq search buildings and look for bombs.

    He seemed intrigued that iRobot has sold 1 million Roombas and that future home 'bots will do other housework.

    Gates didn't say what was on his mind, but the folks at iRobot's booth put the equation together: a freshly emerging segment of home robotics plus computer-driven products that don't use Microsoft products equal a market Gates will someday want to target.

    Since these 'bots run on artificial intelligence, maybe we'll see Windows AI.

    "If I were Bill Gates, I'd be looking at it that way," says iRobot CEO Colin Angle.

    "Though I can't imagine having to boot a Roomba up."

January 10, 2005 at 12:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Soft machine


Designer Reinhard Zetsche created this silent, soft-bladed Verilux fan for Next.


Comes in green, pink, fluorescent orange, silver, and anthracite (no red); anodized aluminum base.

[via redferret and mocoloco]

January 10, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'The British disease' - obsession with official secrecy


The late Richard Crossman coined the term, and it would appear the path to a cure is now illuminated.

On January 1 of this year, Britain's Freedom of Information Act took effect.

The law was first promised in 1974, and took over twenty-five years to become law and four more to fully come into force.

Under the act, anyone, of any nationality, living anywhere in the world, can request information held by more than 100,000 public authorities and other designated non-governmental organizations in Britain.

An answer can be expected within 20 days, free except for the cost of copying, printing, and postage.

The act also created an independent commissioner to rule on questions of security exemptions and the like.

Richard Thomas, the commissioner, says he will err on the side of the public's right to know.

Unlike in the U.S., where the public can only turn to the courts for enforcement, Thomas is the ultimate authority.

He can order unlimited fines or prison terms for noncompliance on the part of government officials.

Sunlight truly is the best disinfectant.

Here's the story, from the Economist's December 29, 2004 online edition.

    Out of the Darkness

    The Freedom of Information Act heralds a big change in the relationship between citizens and the state in Britain

    Want to know how many accidents involving nuclear weapons have occurred in Britain over the past 20 years?

    Or where police speed-cameras are?

    Or how many patients have died from the MRSA “super-bug” in your local hospital?

    The Freedom of Information Act, which comes into full effect on January 1st, gives you the right to know all this, and much more.

    It could mark the end of what the late Richard Crossman called "the British disease" - an obsession with official secrecy.

    Most developed countries - more than 50 in all - have freedom of information laws.

    Britain's was first promised in 1974 by the then Labour government.

    It took more than a quarter of a century to reach the statute book and a further four years to come fully into force.

    Although some local authorities are still scrambling to get their houses into order in preparation for the expected influx of information requests, most central government departments are now well geared up, with a mass of easily accessible information already on their websites.

    Under the act, anyone, of any nationality, living anywhere in the world, will be able to request information held by more than 100,000 public authorities and other designated non-governmental organisations in Britain, and expect an answer within 20 working days, usually free of charge save for the cost of copying, printing and postage.

    Only where the costs of retrieving and collating the information are above £600 ($1,160) for a central government department (the rough equivalent of three-and-a-half days' work) or £450 for other public bodies (two-and-a-half days) can a full charge be made or the request refused on the ground of expense.

    There are, of course, exemptions.

    Anything relating to national security, most personal data, court records, information subject to parliamentary or legal privilege, or information likely to "prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs" is subject to an "absolute" exemption which cannot be overridden.

    But most exemptions are subject to a public-interest test.

    Although "public interest" is left undefined, Richard Thomas, the independent information commissioner set up by the act, has made it clear that he will be tempted to err on the side of the public's right to know.

    Mr Thomas's views matter, for all appeals will be made to him.

    In the United States, where Mr Thomas has no counterpart, aggrieved members of the public can seek enforcement of their "right to know" only through the courts.

    In Britain, Mr Thomas will be able to take up their cases.

    Authorities who refuse to comply with his demands face unlimited fines; individuals face prison sentences.

    Civil-rights groups are nevertheless worried that a right of ministerial veto, included in the act, could be used to block any information deemed too politically embarrassing or sensitive by the government of the day.

    The present government's abysmal record of compliance with the non-statutory "open government" code, in force for the past decade, certainly does not bode well.

    But Mr Thomas points out that in New Zealand, on whose freedom of information legislation Britain's act is closely modelled, the ministerial veto has not been used once in the 17 years since the present system was brought in.

    After January 1st, it will become a criminal offence to destroy data for which a valid request has been made under the act.

    In the run-up to this deadline, according to newspaper reports, Whitehall's shredding machines have been working overtime in a last frantic bid to destroy the most sensitive records.

    But Mr Thomas remains sanguine about such claims.

    He reckons that shredding is probably mostly about "good record housekeeping" and the removal of unwanted trivia.

    Computer files, in which most information is kept these days, are notoriously difficult to destroy.

    Mr Thomas is not expecting any kind of "big bang" on January 1st.

    He says that a cultural change in the relationship between citizens and the state was already under way.

    He expects this now to accelerate, with lobby groups and journalists leading the charge with some big test cases.

    No one knows for certain how many requests the act will attract, but they are likely to number thousands, if not tens of thousands, a year.

    Mr Thomas expects that his office may have to deal with around 2,000 appeals in the first year.

    Tony Blair has described the Freedom of Information Act as one of the lasting achievements of this government.

    He could well be proved right.

January 10, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Jonah™ - world's first ingestible thermometer


From Mini Mitter in Bend, Oregon, comes Jonah™, a pill-sized, swallowable thermometer able to accurately measure body core temperature.

It transmits readings wirelessly to a handheld you can wear in a waist pack or carry in your pocket: transmission range is about 40".

Jonah™ (small purple capsule above), made of medical-grade plastic, weighs 1.6 grams and measures 8.7 mm diameter x 23 mm long (that's a little less than an inch).

Once activated and swallowed, transmission of temperature data begins immediately.

Mean transit time for Jonah™ is 2.0 ± 1.5 days, with a range in most cases of one to five days - depending.

While originally intended for military and sports use, the capsule may find wide application in hospitals.

Sure beats a thermometer up the wazoo.

[via Wired magazine]

January 10, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Biblical Astronomer


Long story short: this society insists that the sun goes around the Earth.

It was originally founded in Canada in 1971 by the late Dutch-Canadian educator Walter van der Kamp.

Under the guidance of Dr. Gerardus D. Bouw, a Dutch-born astrophysicist, the society has grown into a world-wide phenomenon, with its quarterly magazine,


The Biblical Astronomer, reaching readers in 26 countries.

There are many ways to look at the world: this is just one of them.

But it has resonance for many people.

January 10, 2005 at 03:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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