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January 28, 2005

Answers.com - a challenger to Google?

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The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, the best tech writer in the world, yesterday devoted his "Personal Technology" column to Answers.com, a new search engine that responds not just with links, but also data.

Answers was created by GuruNet, an Israeli company.

GuruNet also happens to power the reference section of the A9 search function on Amazon's website.

Mossberg was very impressed with Answers, which - in and of itself - I guarantee you will keep people up even later than usual tonight at Google.

Mossberg wrote, "Answers.com is a start toward a new search paradigm where the object is to provide real instant information, not just links to pages where that information may, or may not, be found. I urge you to try it."

Well, I do everything Walt tells me to do, just like with my Rice Krispies.

Full disclosure: I have never met Walt Mossberg. I have, however, exchanged email with him and, on occasion, given him medical advice. No fee was charged, no bill was presented, no money - or any other sort of consideration - changed hands.

So anyway, I went to Answers.com and put - what else? - www.bookofjoe.com into the search box.

And all manner of interesting stuff came back.

Try it for yourself and see.

I found out all kinds of things about bookofjoe.

Including a place where people can even write reviews of bookofjoe.

Imagine that.

What will they think of next?

Here's a link to Mossberg's column; it's well worth reading.

January 28, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Brion Gysin's Dreamachine - still legal, but not for long...

Iygyuig

In 1959 Brion Gysin, of whom William Burroughs said, "he was the only man I have ever respected," invented the Dreamachine. Timothy Leary called it "the most sophisticated neurophenomenological device ever designed."

Burroughs experimented with the machine for nearly four decades.

Gysin attempted to commercialize the Dreamachine during the 60s and 70s without success.

David Woodard, who now makes Dreamachines to order at his LA studio, learned about the device from a friend of Gysin's a few years after his death in 1986.

Woodard borrowed the original Dreamachine templates, and built his first one in 1989.

Within a few years word of mouth and modest advertising led to a full-fledged business.

He made two for Burroughs (below is a photo of the author [on the right] and Woodard in 1997)

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and many more for other celebrities including Iggy Pop, Beck and Kurt Cobain.

The price?

$500 for the basic, entry-level model with a cylinder of acid-free matting board.

Custom models with cylinders of steel, copper or cocobolo wood, or even covered in ermine fur, like the one pictured below,

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which Woodard made in 1999 for Burroughs' memorial service, can run as much as $3,000.

Mark Allen tried out a Dreamachine and reported on his experience in a superb New York Times article which appeared on January 20.

It's fascinating - not least because the machine actually appears to work.

The reason I'd advise buying yours now is that anything that creates pleasure is - by definition - a threat to the established order, and will ultimately become outlawed or regulated.

Just like with Prohibition, Wilhelm Reich's orgone box, and now the drug war, there's a never-ending need to stamp out sources of possible deviation and self-indulgence before they become entrenched.

Here's the Times story.

    Décor by Timothy Leary

    At first glance it looked like something in the window of a TriBeCa furniture store, an oversize lamp from the early 60's maybe.

    But when Kate Chapman [pictured at the top of this post with her Dreamachine] flicked a switch and the three-foot high latticework cylinder in front of me began to spin, it was clear that we were dealing with more than just another piece of midcentury flotsam.

    The machine started to cast strobelike patterns of bright light on our faces, and when I closed my eyes as instructed, there they were, the dazzling multicolored forms that I'd been told about: mandalas and crosses and even Mandelbrot fractals, dancing across my eyelids.

    I was sitting on the floor of Ms. Chapman's Brooklyn loft, and she was demonstrating her prized household appliance, a 1996 Dreamachine originally made for William S. Burroughs.

    Besides the trippy visual effects the device is said to induce an "alpha state" - a state conducive to lucid dreaming or intense daydreaming - in people who face the cylinder with their eyes closed as it spins around a bright light.

    Dreamachine enthusiasts - whose ranks have swelled recently thanks to chat forums and a book published last year - claim that it promotes a trancelike serenity, intensifies creativity and insight and even uncovers suppressed memories.

    Ms. Chapman's Dreamachine is one of more than a thousand that have been manufactured since the early 90's by a California composer and conductor named David Woodard.

    One is on display this month at the Clair Obscur Gallery in Los Angeles along with an exhibit of photographs of Burroughs taken by John Aes-Nihil, an underground filmmaker, and the premiere at the gallery of his film, "William Burroughs in the Dreamachine."

    Burroughs, along with other figures from the Beat Generation like Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary, was fascinated, even at times obsessed by the Dreamachine, which was invented in 1959 by their fellow Beats Brion Gysin, an artist, and Ian Sommerville, a math student at Cambridge.

    Mr. Leary called it "the most sophisticated neurophenomenological device ever designed"; Mr. Burroughs experimented with it for nearly four decades. (The film shows him using his Dreamachines at his home in Lawrence, Kan., shortly before his death in 1997).

    I had come to Ms. Chapman's loft to see if the machine lived up to the hype, but I didn't get very far in my first session.

    The colorful undulating patterns that I began to see almost at once were intriguing: far more vivid than the fuzzy images you see when you rub your eyes, although just as hard to focus on.

    But as far as I could tell my state of consciousness barely changed during the 20 minutes that I sat cross-legged in front of the spinning cylinder.

    When I opened my eyes, Ms. Chapman seemed to sense my disappointment.

    I had been somewhat skeptical, but was still hoping for more, given what I had learned about the machine and its history.

    Mr. Gysin and Mr. Sommerville built the first Dreamachine after learning of research by John Smythies and W. Grey Walter, scientists who had noted in experiments that light flickering at 8 to 12 flashes a second against a subject's closed eyelids seemed to slow the electrical pulse rate of the subject's brain to a state of semiconsciousness known as the alpha state and produce rich dreamlike imagery.

    Although his fellow Beats were excited about using the device, Mr. Gysin had broader ambitions for it and tried to distance himself from their enthusiasm, says John Geiger, the author of "Chapel of Extreme Experience: a Short History of Stroboscopic Light and the Dream Machine" (Soft Skull Press, 2004).

    "He was focused on its commercial potential," Mr. Geiger said.

    "He imagined a Dreamachine in every suburban home, in the spot formerly occupied by the television set, but broadcasting inner programming. He really saw this idea as his ticket out of bohemia town."

    Mr. Gysin's attempts to commercialize the Dreamachine during the 60's and 70's never got very far.

    He met with corporations like Philips, Columbia Records and Random House, but they did not share his vision of the Dreamachine as the successor to TV.

    They were also worried about lawsuits resulting from seizures caused by the machine.

    "For the high majority of people this is a completely safe device," Mr. Geiger said.

    But Dr. Robert Fisher, the director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at Stanford, said that 1 in 10,000 people is likely to have a seizure in reaction to the its stroboscopic light, and that children are about twice as susceptible.

    David Woodard, who now makes Dreamachines to order at his studio in Los Angeles, learned about the device from a friend of Mr. Gysin's a few years after his death in 1986.

    Mr. Woodard was able to borrow the original Dreamachine templates from the friend, and built his first one in 1989; within a few years word of mouth and modest advertising led to a full-fledged business.

    He made two for William Burroughs and has made others for celebrities including Iggy Pop, Beck and Kurt Cobain. ( Rumors circulated that Cobain had been using the device heavily in the days leading up to his suicide, although later reports contradicted this.)

    Mr. Woodard charges $500 for a basic model with a cylinder of acid-free matting board. (The cylinder surrounds a 150-watt bulb, which is mounted in the center of a wood base holding a motor that spins the cylinder at 80 r.p.m.)

    Custom models, with cylinders made from steel, copper or cocobolo wood - or even covered in ermine fur - can cost as much as $3,000.

    After the mixed success of my first experiment with the Dreamachine, my hostess urged me to try again.

    Ms. Chapman, 30, is a former neuroscience researcher for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit organization that sponsors "scientific research designed to develop psychedelics and marijuana into F.D.A.-approved prescription medicines," according to its Web site.

    "I'm just an artist now," she said.

    Ms. Chapman thought it might be helpful if my body were more relaxed, so I lay down on a sofa, and she put on soothing music.

    She flicked the machine back on as I shut my eyes.

    A moment later there they were, the same flashing patterns as before.

    After a while I became bored and my mind began to drift.

    That's when it happened.

    I didn't "see" as much as I strongly imagined a campfire in a clearing in a dense forest at night.

    My boyfriend Jim was sitting to my left, laughing.

    Later I seemed to find myself in a large empty auditorium, walking toward some chairs arranged in the middle of the room.

    In one creepy moment I was in a basement hallway, following closely behind someone walking ahead of me, whose face I couldn't see.

    I was imagining these scenes so vividly that it was almost as if I were seeing them.

    The thoughts had a kind of slow-motion jump-cut feel, just like dreams, but because I was fully conscious, I was able to contemplate all of this as it was happening.

    With my eyes still shut and my mind now very relaxed and slightly adrift, I started to notice that the wall of flashing patterns was receding backward and developing a dark border around its edges.

    It was at that moment that I sensed someone to my left, sitting beside me, watching what I was watching.

    This figure was not in the room with me, but in my head, which had now turned into a little theater.

    I felt that if I turned my head, I would be able to look over at this person.

    I opened my eyes, and reality rushed back in, to my relief.

    That last vision hadn't really been frightening, but it wasn't exactly heartwarming either.

    But I was impressed.

    As I talked to Ms. Chapman about my experience, I became aware of an unusual serenity and mental clarity, as if I had just waked from a refreshing nap.

    Days after my experience with Ms. Chapman I found myself craving the Dreamachine and the vivid imagery and sense of calm it had produced.

    I'm not sure I would part with $500 to bring one into my life.

    But having lived through the experience, it was hard not to think about Mr. Gysin's vision of an alternate-universe America in which every home would tune into internal landscapes instead of commercial programming.

January 28, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

ANT's Not Television

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The first publicly available beta version of ANT's Not Television (ANT)- an RSS video aggregator and viewer - was released last Friday, January 22, at the first-ever videoblogger's conference, Vloggercon.

Sheesh - and to think I thought "blog" was a terrible word.

Vlog is even worse.

Yesterday's press release noted that ANT was created by Jay Dedman, Joshua Kinberg, and Daniel Salber, people who are well known to techies, even if I've never heard of them down here in TechnoDoltville, where I hang out.

ANT Beta is is freeware and you can download it here.

As joeheads may recall, I have stated from the beginning that this blog is but a waystation en route to 24/7 bookofjoeTV.

Hmm.

I wonder if I should take a cue from the ANT guys and call mine BTV.

Nah - that's not a very good name.

I'll just stay with bookofjoeTV - bojTV?; no, that's a loser too - for the time being.

January 28, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fried rabbit ears - wait till PETA hears about this

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Melissa Clark wrote in this past Wednesday's New York Times Dining In section about the many strange things she saw and tasted in Madrid at last week's Third Annual Madrid-Fusión gastronomic conference.

Among them were de-furred, deep-fried rabbit ears, which some chefs there called the best chicharron (cracklings) ever.

Wrote Clark, "I kind of missed the familiar porky tang."

She also noted that the hottest new chef on the Spanish scene, Angel León of Casa del Temple in Toledo (scroll down to #7 here), was now using fish eyes - the whites only - to add body to sauces.

For contrast, León used dried, powdered fish scales as a thickener in another dish, which "added collagen for a thin, shiny, gelatinous consistency."

Yum.

But wait - there's more.

Exploding desserts were said to be the next big thing, with celebrated chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli in Rosas demonstrating how to take a fresh strawberry milkshake and make it effervesce into a cascade of pink, flower-like bubbles after being mixed with dry ice.

January 28, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hotel 1929 in Singapore - where I'm staying when the bookofjoe World Tour hits town

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After reading Tibor Krausz's story in last Sunday's Washington Post, I was so excited I almost booked a trip just so I could spend a couple nights there.

Attention Singapore posse, especially my head girl:

Joyce

this is home base for all World Tour-related activities.

Although, inviting as the hotel's Restaurant Ember sounds, I'm gonna depend on my many cool acquaintances and suchlike from the hood to take me out and about for what I've been led to believe is the world's best street food.

I love great street food.

Back to the hotel: it's got 32 rooms, for only $67 (singles) or $78 (doubles).

Amazing.

The second-floor suites run $110 single/$122 double and open onto private roof terraces, along with an antique cast-iron tub bedside.

Splish splash, I was takin' a bath.

How do you spell Par-tay?

January 28, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'It wasn't unusual for strangers to be assigned to share double beds' - Does Google know how to throw a party, or what?

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The quote above comes from Ariana Eunjung Cha's fascinating front-page story in this past Tuesday's Washington Post.

She wrote about Google's employee get-together at Squaw Valley, California last week.

From the story:

"Google employees, all of whom said they are prohibited from speaking with the media without prior approval, jokingly grumbled that the mandatory event was somewhat like camping."

Jeez, I don't know about you but when I used to go camping, at least I got my own sleeping bag. But I digress.

I mean, having to share a bed with a stranger would not guarantee a good night's sleep for moi, I'll tell you that.

It sounds like something Megan Smith, once of PlanetOut Inc., might have dreamed up.

Wait a minute - it says in the very same Post story that Megan Smith now works in business development for Google.

Huh - well, that explains it.

The more I read about all the "free" Google amenities provided at their headquarters - lunch and dinner prepared by world-class chefs, on-site doctors and massage therapists, snack rooms stocked with "... healthy treats such as yogurt, nuts and string cheese; there are some sweets, but employees have to hunt for these as they are often placed in more remote locations." - the more I get the sense that the company is quietly hugging its employees to death.

Basically, it becomes easy to work an 80 or 100-hour week if you don't watch yourself: there are on-site sleep rooms as well.

More from the article: "The company also encourages bonding by requiring that workers – even managers – share hotel rooms when they travel."

I don't know about you, but when I travel and have to stay in a hotel, one of the few pleasurable parts of the experience is being able to cut a fart without anyone noticing.

Sometimes I even laugh.

Guess that wouldn't go over very well at Google.

Let me tell you a story - you like a story now and then, don't you?

I thought so.

Once upon a time, in a medical center not all that far away - in fact, four miles from where I sit this very moment - I worked in a very high-powered academic anesthesiology department.

Every year our department held its holiday party at a nice place on the University of Virginia campus: the Darden School, the law school, the Colonnade Club, Alumni Hall, etc.

It was always around mid-December, on a Friday night.

Now, I can't speak for you, but me, I couldn't imagine a group of people I'd rather have been around less when I wasn't working than my fellow anesthesiology faculty members.

I mean, doctors are boring to start with and anesthesiologists are boring squared - maybe cubed.

Look, you're falling asleep - that proves it, doesn't it?

'Course, it could be the gas....

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, the holiday party.

I'd been told right after I started working at UVA that attending the party was mandatory unless you were on call.

One year, I decided to skip it.

Because one of the exquisite pleasures of life when you're teaching anesthesia 70 hours a week is Friday night, on no call of any type.

You sit, you have a beer, you read, you chill, it's just heaven.

So I figured I'd do that instead of go to the party.

The next week, on Monday, I got a message from the principal's - oops, I meant my chairman's - secretary that he wanted to see me.

Don't have to be an academic anesthesiologist to figure out why, do you?

He said he'd "missed me at the party - was anything wrong?"

I made my first step toward leaving "to pursue other interests" when I replied, "No, I just decided to stay home and read."

He made a very unhappy face, which I translated as, "Don't let it happen again."

Guess what?

I did - let it happen again.

But not too many times more, if - as the chairman used to say - "you get my drift."

So that's why I find Google's approach to togetherness so troubling.

I guess I just wouldn't work out very well there.

Oh, well.

Maybe I could try blogging.

I wonder what that's like.

January 28, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Using a cargo container as a Trojan horse

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Last month I mused about the giant ships carrying thousands of cargo containers, ceaselessly making their way across the oceans and seas.

I noted my skepticism about how secure these containers were, and their possible use as a Trojan horse for those who don't have our best interests at heart.

I was, therefore, most interested in Anne Eisenberg's January 20 New York Times article about this very subject.

She noted, among many other things, that seven million containers enter the U.S. every year.

Should you happen to see the excellent film "Spartan" - you'll have to buy or rent the DVD - you'll see just what can be done with a shipping container.

It's not comforting, I'll tell you up front.

Here's the Times story.

    Cargo Containers' Electronic Sensor Says 'Do Not Disturb'

    Millions of cargo containers full of toys, TV's and other consumer products stream into United States ports each year.

    But security experts fear the metal boxes could also be used to transport dangerous freight: terrorist weapons.

    Researchers are working on modifications to the rugged containers, adding electronic monitoring that can keep track of intrusions once the boxes are sealed at a factory and on their way by train, truck and ship.

    General Electric is testing a palm-size security device with a built-in microprocessor and radio.

    The device, which has been tried out on a handful of containers traveling between China and California, generates a magnetic field.

    If the doors of the container move, the field changes, and the microprocessor keeps track of the disturbance.

    At a port or loading dock, the containers can be queried by radio, delivering a record of any intrusions.

    ''The microprocessor is always monitoring the sensor,'' said James Petrizzi, a vice president for engineering in General Electric's security business, who helped develop and test the wireless system.

    In trials, the device communicated with fixed dockside readers, as well as with hand-held readers that could communicate wirelessly.

    ''The system creates a large wireless network where we can interrogate the security device on the container,'' Mr. Petrizzi said.

    The reader notes the time and date of any incursions since the container was sealed.

    The communication between the security device and the reader is encrypted.

    A major manufacturer of containers, the China International Marine Containers Group, incorporated the sensor in 18 of its containers as prototypes to use for the General Electric trials.

    ''We did the trials to make sure that the container and the electronic pack would not be damaged or give false alarms,'' said David Wong, chief technical officer at the company, which is based in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

    ''It can be operated under the most severe conditions in adverse environments.''

    The security devices were originally developed by All Set Marine Security, based in Bromma, Sweden, near Stockholm.

    All Set is licensing the technology to G.E.

    In the future, two versions of the monitoring device will be available, ones built into the doors of new containers and ones that can be retrofitted on an interior door post of old containers, said Walt Dixon, project leader for port and cargo security at the General Electric Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y.

    Stephen E. Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on cargo security, said devices like G.E.'s were essential if containers were to be made smarter.

    Dr. Flynn is a retired commander in the United States Coast Guard.

    There are millions of containers in circulation, he said, any one of which could be used by terrorists as a Trojan horse.

    ''But if I knew a particular container had been tampered with,'' he said, ''I could intercept it without causing problems for everyone else.''

    A suspect container could be identified and isolated for inspection without interrupting regular cargo operations.

    Smart containers would also be important in the aftermath of an attack, he said, for forensic investigation.

    ''If we had an Al Qaeda-style attack at two ports at the same time,'' he said, ''it would create uncertainty about all containers,'' possibly bringing trade to a standstill.

    ''But if you could go back into the data and find where the boxes came from, you could narrow down the set of problems,'' he said, without having to close down the whole system.

    General Electric tested the system in the laboratory and at sea.

    ''The freight can be subject to enormous forces,'' Mr. Dixon said, for example, if the containers are stacked up to eight high on deck and rolling through 40-foot seas.

    The group tried a number of approaches to sensing whether the container doors were open at sea, including a pressure sensor.

    But in one storm the container flexed so much that the pressure between the door and the door frame went to zero.

    ''So we decided pressure was not a good sensor,'' he said.

    ''The zero reading would give us a false alarm in heavy seas.''

    Instead, the device senses magnetic flux density between the frame and the door of the container, said Russell Mortenson, chairman of All Set Marine Security.

    ''When the door moves, the magnetic field changes,'' he said, ''and we can determine the distance between the door and the door frame quite accurately.''

    The device is built to last for the life of the container, typically 10 years, he said.

    To interrogate the sensor, the G.E. group built wireless readers with a 100-foot range at dockside and prototypes of hand-held readers with a 30-foot range.

    ''In the future,'' Mr. Petrizzi said, ''we'd like a hand-held device the size of a flashlight to allow people to arm and read the status of the device.''

    Unisys paid for some of the tests for the new system.

    ''It was an opportunity to look at the competing types of technology,'' said Greg J. Baroni, who is president of the global public sector of Unisys.

    ''This one is relatively inexpensive compared to the alternatives,'' he said.

    One alternative is Global Positioning System-based systems with satellite communication to keep track of goods on route.

    David Schrier, lead author of a report on container security by ABI Research of Oyster Bay, N.Y., said there would eventually be government-mandated rules for smart containers.

    His company estimated that more than seven million containers enter the United States annually.

    ''Once that government mandate comes,'' he said, ''the market will lose its apprehension about the costs of smart containers'' and start providing minimum protection.

    ''That may well be simple devices to tell if the container has been opened or not.''

    Dr. Flynn said money spent on ensuring the integrity of cargo shipments was justified.

    ''The costs to improve the odds of preventing an attack, and, in the worst case, to prevent shutting the whole system down, are a good payment to make.''

January 28, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

John Galliano - 'The master is back'

Diorc

Galliano, the heart and soul of Dior, unveiled his haute couture collection in Paris this past Monday, ditching his Kabuki make-up and skull-cap hair for a sort of "Napoleon in rags" look.

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Femme has returned.

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Galliano, in fact, said that his starting point had been the line from Bob Dylan describing Andy Warhol as "Napoleon in rags."

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As I recall, that line was in "Like a Rolling Stone," which last year was named the greatest rock song of all time.

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Don't know 'bout that, but that's not why we're here, kids.

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But it is amazing, the things you learn if you're into fashion.

Above and below are just a few of Galliano's creations shown Monday.

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Now, take a deep breath and sigh, and regret that you somehow just once can't wear one of his Old Master velvet coats or dresses to see what it might feel like to be a princess.

January 28, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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