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January 22, 2005

Strap-on Duck

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Now, don't go getting your knickers in a twist thinking I've reverted back to Version 1.0.

This is a perfectly G-rated strap-on, suitable for use by children and goofballs of all ages.

And if you don't fit in one - or both - of those categories, well, then....

But I digress.

Argentinian inventors created this stylish strap-on rubber duckie to fight fatigue.

The Duckmaster fastens around the user's neck and starts quacking if the owner's head slumps forward.

Costs £7 ($13) here.

The inventors say it's "an ultra-efficient anatomical wake-up device" which means "being sleepy won't get you into trouble."

Sounds good to me: I think I'll wear mine along with my Drive Alert Master when next I take a road trip; you know, a kind of "belt + suspenders" approach.

You know what they say: "If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, and quacks like a duck...."

[via Ananova]

January 22, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Is Lou Gehrig's Disease Infectious?

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The above question occurred to me while I was reading Suzanne Leigh's moving story, which appeared in this past Thursday's USA Today, about neurologist Richard Olney, an expert in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, after the great New York Yankee first baseman who contracted it in the 1930s and was struck down at the height of his career.

Not only had Olney treated ALS patients for 25 years, he was the founder of the ALS Center at the University of California-San Francisco.

In May 2003 he noticed the onset of weakness in one knee; in June 2004 the diagnosis of ALS was made.

The basic pathophysiology of ALS consists of the death of motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord.

This results in inability to control muscle movement.

People become progressively paralyzed.

Death usually occurs when the chest muscles can no longer enable the lungs to achieve sufficient oxygenation.

Use of a ventilator can prolong life.

ALS is a brutal disease: it physically incapacitates a person while usually leaving mental faculties intact.

Life expectancy averages 2-5 years after diagnosis.

Olney has an especially aggressive form which finds him now, at age 57, seven months after being diagnosed, in a wheelchair, with slurred speech.

Though increasing efforts and funding have been focused on ALS, there is still little treatment beyond supportive care.

The drug riluzole has been shown to slow the disease's progression by 2-3 months; other than that, there is nothing in the pharmacologic arena.

Having said that, I can say with certainty that it will become treatable and/or curable within the next 50 years.

It could be tomorrow, too: you simply never know when a breakthrough will occur.

But back to the thought that occasioned this post, the possible infectious nature of the disease.

It has not escaped my notice how, over the past few decades, one disease after another long considered noninfectious has proved to be just the opposite.

Ulcers and coronary artery disease are the two most prominent, but others lurk just this side of definitive: multiple sclerosis and arthritis are but two examples.

I have always been struck by the odd conjunction of healer and disease healed when reading obituaries of research scientists and physicians.

It has always seemed to me odd that an individual dies of the very thing he or she has spent their life working on.

When I say infectious, by the way, in the context of ALS, or other diseases which seem to afflict those who spend a lifetime studying them, I mean not in the sense of someone coughing on you, and you catching the flu or a cold.

Rather, it's a kind of slow, chronic exposure which seems to me to make individuals more susceptible.

Cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ALS, I can recall dozens of occasions over the years where an association has caused me to raise an eyebrow, and wonder if, just possibly, long exposure to something not considered infectious can render it contagious.

Just so with Olney and his ALS.

Yes, I'm aware that Suzanne Leigh's article states, "The irony is not as stunning as it seemed given the incidence of the disease and the number of caregivers in the field. ALS is not contagious."

In the U.S. the chance of getting ALS is 1 in 1,000, about the same as multiple sclerosis.

Each year 5,000 new cases are diagnosed in this country; approximately 20,000 people have it.

It occurs more frequently in men, and typically strikes those ages 40-70.

Some 5%-10% of cases are inherited; this subset is known as familial ALS.

Thus, there must be some genetic component to the disease, which offers a way in, perhaps, to a more precise understanding of exactly what triggers the disorder.

Is there an aberrant protein? Too much of something? Not enough?

For the other 90%-95% of patients, no genetic linkage is apparent; thus, researchers focus on environmental or so far undetectable DNA-related causes.

A mystery, for now - but not forever.

January 22, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Booktastic!

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"Read any good games lately?"

That's how the website for this new game starts out.

It's a family game that combines strategic and competitive play with modern literary information.

"Designed for readers, book collectors, their friends and family."

Because the casual reader questions are opinion-based and have no wrong answers anyone - including children and non-readers - can play.

Sample questions:

"Name a book you would not allow into your home under any circumstance."

"Do you think characters ever surprise the authors who created them?"

Available at stores across the country, or you can order it online.

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Jacqueline Blais wrote a nice story about the game for this past Wednesday's USA Today.

January 22, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

DisputeMyCharge.com

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From Glen Bolofsky, the guy who brought you ParkingTicket.com to help you fight parking tickets, comes this new site, "which guarantees that you will win - or you pay us nothing."

Sounds pretty good, huh?

Just launched three days ago, the site charges a fee of half the disputed amount on your credit card.

They return their take if you don't end up saving money.

You have the option of paying a $29.95 flat fee to cover large amounts, but that doesn't include the money-back guarantee.

I think this new service offers nothing but more headaches: more of my time, more email, more aggravation.

Remember Voltaire's observation: "I have only been ruined but twice in my life - once when I lost a lawsuit, and once when I won one."

On a related topic, you should know that if your credit card is used fraudulently, your liability is limited, by federal law, to a maximum of $50.

So don't waste your money on those ridiculous offers that come attached to the return envelope for your credit card payment, the ones that offer you "credit card insurance."

Because it's a total bogus deal - you don't need credit card insurance: the federal government already gives it to you gratis, for life, with a $50 deductible.

Here's Jennifer Saranow's Thursday Wall Street Journal article about DisputeMyCharge.com.

    Web Site That Helps You Fight Card Charges Meets Skepticism

    A new Web site aims to make it easier for consumers to dispute improper credit-card and debit-card charges, but some consumer advocates and card companies are skeptical about the site's claims.

    DisputeMyCharge.com, which was launched yesterday, says it can help people with card-billing errors settle the matter with the merchant first.

    "If you go to your credit-card company, it's an all-or-nothing proposition," says Glen Bolofsky, president and founder of DisputeMyCharge.com, based in Paramus, N.J.

    "You are either going to lose 100% or gain 100%, but if you work with the merchant, you have a chance of different options."

    Mr. Bolofsky earlier founded parkingticket.com, which helps consumers fight parking tickets.

    DisputeMyCharge.com's fee: half the cost of the disputed amount, which is returned if the site doesn't save the consumer money. Users also can opt for a $29.95 flat charge to cover larger disputes, but that doesn't include a money-back guarantee.

    But some consumer groups and card companies say there is no reason why consumers should have to pay to get disputes settled.

    Visa USA Inc. recommends that consumers first go to merchants on their own for disputes over the quality of goods and services and then, if the dispute is not resolved, call the card issuer.

    In cases of fraud, Visa recommends going to the card issuer immediately.

    American Express Co., on the other hand, suggests consumers first come to it because of the nature of its merchant network.

    MasterCard International Inc. says it is best to go to the issuer first to get the dispute on record.

    "It seems extremely expensive for something that you can do yourself," says Linda Sherry, editorial director of Consumer Action, a consumer education and advocacy organization in San Francisco.

    There is no reason, she says, why consumers can't just go to merchants first themselves and if that doesn't work, then go to the card issuer.

    An exception: She says consumers should always go to issuers first if they believe the charges to be fraudulent.

    Laws govern how issuers must respond to a cardholder's complaints about billing errors.

    Generally, consumers have 60 days after they receive a statement with an error to notify the issuer.

    For credit cards, consumers don't have to pay the disputed amount until the issuer finishes investigating it, and then only if the issuer sides with the merchant.

    For debit cards, if the dispute investigation takes longer than a certain period, issuers generally must put the money back into a consumer's account until the investigation is finished.

    Mr. Bolofsky says criticism of his site from consumer advocates misses the point.

    He says that most consumers don't call the merchants because they don't want to confront them or don't know what to say.

    Meanwhile, as to the idea that consumers can just go directly to the card issuer free of charge, he says most consumers are not experts on the rules and regulations to ensure that they will win the dispute.

    To use DisputeMyCharge.com, consumers sign on and enter information about the charge they want to dispute including the dollar amount, name of the merchant and the reason they want to fight the charge.

    Then consumers pick from a drop-down menu of dispute codes, which the site claims are the card companies' official codes.

    Before the site takes action, users must pay half the value of the disputed amount upfront by credit card or money order.

    The site then sends a letter demanding a refund to the merchant.

    The merchant is asked to log on to the site within 10 days to either approve or disapprove a recredit, or to communicate online with the customer about the disputed charge and other resolution options.

January 22, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

My Swallows - by Gerald Stern

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For hours I sit here facing the white wall
and the dirty swallows. If I move too much,
I will lose everything, if I even breathe,
I'll lose the round chest and the forked tail
and the nest above the window, under the ceiling.

As far as shame, I think I have lived too long
with only the moonlight coming in to worry
too much about what it looks like. I have given
a part of my mind away, for what it's worth
I have traded half of what I have—

I'll call it half—so I can see these smudges
in the right light. I think I live in ruins
like no one else, I see myself as endlessly
staring at what I have lost, I see me mourning
for hours, either worn away with grief

or touched with simple regret, but free this time
to give myself up to loss alone. I mourn
for the clumsy nest and I mourn for the two small birds
sitting up there above the curtains watching—
as long as I am there—and I mourn for the sky

that makes it clear and I mourn for my two eyes
that drag me over, that make me sit there singing,
or mumbling or murmuring, at the cost
of almost everything else, my two green eyes,
my brown—my hazel, flecked with green and brown—

and this is what I'll do for twenty more years,
if I am lucky—even if I'm not—I'll live
with the swallows and dip through the white shadows
and rest on the eaves and sail above the window.
This is the way I have lived, making a life

for more than twenty years—for more than forty—
out of this darkness; it was almost a joy,
almost a pleasure, not to be foolish or maudlin,
sitting against my wall, closing my eyes,
singing my dirges.

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Treeswallow

January 22, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Veggie Bowls - made from real veggies

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Sculptor Margaret Dorfman builds her bowls slice-by-slice from fresh produce, then presses each one into durable parchment, which she then hand-shapes to resemble bright, undulating flowers.

The bowls are then invisibly coated to maintain their translucent colors.

Meant to be used as votive candleholders, you could just look at them, especially placed on a sunny window sill.

Choose from Zucchini, Mexican Papaya, or Beet/Papaya.

$38 here.

January 22, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

HarmonyCentral.com

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A place for musicians and those interested in music.

Lots of focused user forums, the major groupings being General; Guitar; Bass; Recording/Live Sound; Keys, Samplers, & Synths; Drums & Percussion; Software & Computers; and DJ.

Each major group has a number of more specialized and targeted ones; for example, under Guitar you'll find Guitar Jam; Electric Guitars; Acoustic Guitars; Amps; Effects; The Lesson Loft; and Cool Jam.

The site currently has 54,517 members, 84,945 threads, and 919,473 posts.

I suspect there's a treasure trove of useful information there for the taking.

It's been in existence since 2000.

I believe it's U.K. based as the current time on the site is GMT.

January 22, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Museum of the American Cocktail

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It opened Wednesday, January 13 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Its displays will cover cocktail history and milestones, such as the first time the term was used in print to describe a mixed alcoholic drink.

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The museum occupies the second floor of the Pharmacy Museum, at 514 Chartres Street in the French Quarter.

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Dale DeGroff, universally acknowledged as the world's premier mixologist, and formerly chief bartender at the Rainbow Room atop New York's Rockefeller Center, is a founder and president of the nonprofit institution.

In addition to its displays and exhibits, the museum plans to offer monthly seminars and classes.

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Museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; tel: 504-565-8027. Admission: $5 for adults; $4 seniors & students; children under six: free.

[via Florence Fabricant and the New York Times]

January 22, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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