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February 9, 2005

DeadCompanyFlying: American Airlines

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Hey, I'm not exactly telling you something you haven't heard here before — probably often enough to last you a lifetime.

Nevertheless, it's always interesting to chart the progress of an industry circling the drain.

The vortex picked up a bit more speed with today's USA Today story by Marilyn Adams about American Airlines' decision, annnounced yesterday, to eliminate pillows from most of its domestic flights.

First punctuality, than attitude, then food, then leg room, now pillows: what's next, one wonders?

Perhaps the seats?

They could reconfigure their planes to carry passengers like the giant troop transports used by the military: that'd save a bundle.

What I especially like is the amount American's going to save annually by dumping the pillows: $375,000.

I suspect that's about what the soon-to-be departing CEO's "golden parachute" lists as his annual "consulting fee," payable — with allowance for inflation — for the rest of his life.

Sweet.

DeadIndustryFlying is more like it.

Here's the story.

    American Tosses Pillows Off Most Domestic Flights

    Flying is about to get a bit harder. Literally.

    Airline pillows are soon coming off most of American Airlines' domestic flights to cut costs.

    Estimated savings: $375,000 a year.

    The world's largest airline, American said Tuesday that pillows will be removed from first-class and coach cabins on all domestic flights except transcontinental trips and flights to Hawaii starting Feb. 15.

    Pillows will disappear from all Boeing 737s and 757s and Airbus A300s, spokesman Tim Wagner says.

    International flights will not be affected.

    American, which averted a bankruptcy-reorganization filing in 2003, lost $761 million last year.

    The new pillow policy was first reported by the Dallas Morning News.

    American pulled pillows from its MD-80 fleet in November to save $300,000 a year, then decided to widen the action.

    It costs money to replace pillows when they get soiled.

    "We had some resistance from customers initially, but complaints dropped off," Wagner says.

    Blankets will remain on all flights to keep passengers warm when cabins get cold. They can serve as pillows if necessary, he said.

    American is hoping most passengers won't care that pillows are gone.

    "I have never used pillows on American or any other carrier," says James Espy, president of a Christopher, Ill.-based company that makes Christmas decorations.

    "Have you looked at these specimens? How often are they cleaned?"

    But not all passengers will bid farewell to pillows lightly.

    Dallas-based flier Kathy Anthon has back trouble and already misses pillows on her American MD80 flights.

    "I hate to have to bring one with me, but a rolled-up blanket just doesn't work as well," says Anthon, who works for Iwatsu, the phone system maker.

    Business flier Tom Taylor of Lansing, Mich., uses pillows to add cushion to rock-hard airplane seats.

    "Two of them on the seat makes it a bit more comfortable," Taylor says.

    Washington-based frequent flier David Blanchard says he'll never substitute a blanket for a pillow because airplane blankets collect germs, too.

    "I can't tell you how many times I've seen people wrap their feet in them," he says.

    American isn't the only big airline making pillows scarce.

    Starting last week, Delta Air Lines moved pillows to the back of all planes on flights from its Atlanta home base to speed up boarding and improve on-time performance.

    Pillows take up valuable space in overhead compartments, where carry-on bags need to go, Delta says.

    Delta passengers will have to ask a flight attendant for a pillow.

February 9, 2005 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Why there'll be no bookofjoe Podcast

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Today's USA Today has not one but two front-page stories about the rise of Podcasting.

Featured in one story are Drew Domkus and Dawn Miceli (above), stars of the world's top-rated Podcast, "The Dawn and Drew Show."

Before getting into the subject, let's perhaps take a moment to consider, at the dawn of the new age, whether it should be "podcasting", as USA Today terms it, or "Podcasting."

Me, I like the capital letter because it pays a nice, low-key (but upper-case, granted) homage to Steve Jobs, who is remaking the world using Apple as the instrument of his drive toward world domination much as Alexander and Napoleon used their armies.

During World War II Stalin famously remarked to Molotov, when told that the Pope opposed his plans, "How many divisions has the Pope?"

Steve has legions of divisions.

They come armed not with guns but with code. But I digress.

The reason there'll be no Podcasts emanating from bookofjoe World Headquarters — or anywhere else, for that matter, so if you happen on one you'll know it's a spoof (of course, there are those who believe the same is true of this website and its creator [but we won't go there] — is that when I read the "Podcasting Basics" sidebar to one of the USA Today stories, it was clear that it was far, far above my technology pay grade.

Now, PW, my nonpareil tech engineer, is right on top of things, and has been creating Podcasts for some time: he even sent me a link to one.

It was really good.

I was impressed.

I wondered, in fact, why he continued to labor in the silicon vineyards when a media career was clearly his for the asking.

But hey, the world's a mysterious place.

Anyhow, I need him to keep things humming around here.

So, read the stories via the links in the opening sentence of this post, and see what you think.

I will say I am mightily impressed by the success to date of "The Dawn and Drew Show."

I was absolutely charmed by USA Today's picture of their world headquarters, a farmhouse in Wayne, Wisconsin.

With a laptop, a microphone, and two headphones, they've achieved world domination and are ranked #1 Podcast in the world.

All possible power to Steve, Dawn and Dave.

I wonder if the old-media dinosaurs who so belittled bloggers as a "bunch of people at home in their pajamas" will take any comfort from the fact that Dawn and Dave appear to get out of their pajamas and get dressed to do their show.

True, it might be that they got all gussied up for the USA Today photographer.

Still, I just can't envision Brian Williams with magenta hair — can you?

February 9, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's most exquisite brooms

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Not only are they spectacularly beautiful, they're priced unbelievably low —

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the ones shown above and below run $25-$29.

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At SweepDreams.com.

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Nice name.

[via KC]

February 9, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Meet Paris Hilton

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You know you want to.

You know that if you could be sure no one you knew would be there, you'd go.

Well, then.

It's on — tomorrow afternoon in New York at Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue (at 39th Street; 212-391-3632).

Beginning at 10 a.m., the first 200 people to make a purchase of her new Paris Hilton fragrance in the Main Floor women's fragrance department will receive a special wristband entitling them to a spot in line for her appearance from 1–2 p.m. on the Second Floor.

No wristband, no getting in line.

No photos with Paris.

One autograph per customer — "only authorized materials will be signed."

That means don't bring your video, 'cause it ain't gonna happen.

In fact, just last week Paris was apprehended by the New York City police for tearing down a poster advertising her video.

February 9, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Ian Wilmut is 002 — License to Clone

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Yesterday Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the cloned sheep (above), was granted a cloning license by British regulators.

He's now going to study how nerve cells go awry to cause motor neuron diseases, in the hope of unraveling the mysteries of muscle-wasting illnesses such as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Predictably, members of all the anti-cloning groups produced their expected chorus of boos and antipathies.

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But you know what?

Let one of them or a loved one contract Lou Gehrig's disease, and begin the terrible descent into a living hell and a painful, agonizing, drawn-out death, and then be given the option of an injection of clone-derived stem cells proven to cure the disease, and what do you think they'd say?

Thought so.

Wilmut's is the second cloning license to be granted by the British government.

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Last August the first — "001" — was given to a team that hopes to use cloning to create insulin-producing cells for diabetics.

Here's Thomas Wagner's Associated Press story, which appeared in this morning's USA Today.

    Creator of Dolly the Sheep Will Clone Human Embryos for Research

    The British government Tuesday gave the creator of Dolly the Sheep a license to clone human embryos for medical research into the cause of motor neuron disease.

    Ian Wilmut, who led the team that created Dolly at Scotland's Roslin Institute in 1996, and motor neuron expert Christopher Shaw of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, plan to clone embyros to study how nerve cells go awry to cause the disease.

    The experiments do not involve creating cloned babies.

    It is the second such license approved since Britain became the first country to legalize research cloning in 2001.

    The first was granted in August to a team that hopes to use cloning to create insulin-producing cells that could be transplanted into diabetics.

    Dr. Brian Dickie, director of research at the London-based Motor Neuron Disease Association, said the latest decision by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority means "we are a step closer to medical research that has the potential to revolutionize the future treatment of neuron disease," an incurable muscle-wasting condition that afflicts about 350,000 people and kills some 100,000 each year.

    While the latest project would not use the stem cells to correct the disease, the study of the cells is expected to help scientists develop future treatments, according to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which regulates such research and approved the license.

    Stem cells are the master cells of the body.

    They appear when embryos are just a few days old and go on to develop into every type of cell and tissue in the body.

    Scientists hope to be able to extract the stem cells from embryos when they are in their blank state and direct them to form any desired cell type to treat a variety of diseases, ranging from Parkinson's to diabetes.

    Getting the cells from an embryo that is cloned from a sick patient could allow scientists to track how diseases develop and provide genetically matched cell transplants that do not cause the immune systems to reject the transplant.

    Such work, called therapeutic cloning because it does not result in a baby, is opposed by abortion foes and other biological conservatives because researchers must destroy human embryos to harvest the cells.

    Cloning opponents decried the license Tuesday, saying the technique is dangerous, undesirable and unnecessary.

    "What a sad and extraordinary volte face (turnaround) for the pioneer of animal cloning," said the London-based Comment on Reproductive Ethics.

    "Wilmut has always been the loudest voice in recent years warning of the dangers of mammalian cloning. And we remember how in the years following the birth of Dolly the Sheep, he assured the world he would never go near human cloning."

    Wilmut has repeatedly condemned the idea of human cloning to create babies, but not so-called therapeutic cloning.

    "We recognize that motor neuron disease is a serious congenital condition," said Angela McNab, chief of Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority.

    "Following careful review of the medical, scientific, legal and ethical aspects of this application, we felt it was appropriate to grant the Roslin Institute a one-year license for this research into the disease."

    Wilmut and Shaw plan to clone cells from patients with the incurable muscle-wasting disease, derive blank-slate stem cells from the cloned embryo, make them develop into nerve cells, and compare their development to nerve cells derived from healthy embryos.

    The technique, called cell nuclear replacement, is the same as that used to create Dolly.

    The mechanism behind motor neuron disease is poorly understood because the nerves are inaccessible in the brain and central nervous system and cannot be removed from patients.

    "This is potentially a big step forward for (motor neuron disease) research," Shaw said.

    "We have spent 20 years looking for genes that cause (motor neuron disease) and to date we have come up with just one gene. We believe that the use of cell nuclear replacement will greatly advance our understanding of why motor neurons degenerate in this disease, without having to hunt down the gene defect."

    Genetics expert Peter Braude of King's College, London, who is not involved with the work, said that studying how nerves go wrong in motor neuron disease and how it can be cured is particularly difficult and that cloning is the only way to produce the cells necessary to answer such questions.

February 9, 2005 at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'Stop Naked Shorting'

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Wait a minute — what's naked shorting?

I would've thought it was one of those "Co-ed Naked ..." sports you see on T-shirts in college towns.

But I'd have been wrong.

Yesterday I learned the term, if not its meaning, when I opened my Washington Post to a full-page ad (below)

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from a group called NCANS headlined "An Open Letter on the Abuse of Naked Shorting."

Well.

After reading the very dense text of the letter, addressed to President Bush, William Donaldson of the SEC, Senator Chuck Hagel, and Representative Richard Baker, I wasn't a whole lot closer to understanding why it was important that the practice be stopped.

NCANS, by the way, stands for the National Coalition Against Naked Shorting.

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It was constituted just last month.

You can read more about it here.

Me, I think it's time to move on.

February 9, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dustmop Mitt

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Among the most popular items ever featured here were Dustmop Slippers (below), which allow you to do your dusting while you walk around.

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Now, from the very same people who brought you those classics comes the Dustmop Mitt:

    Mitt goes anywhere to reach out-of-the-way spots.

    Machine washable.

    One size fits all.

The red accents on the fingers elevate these from the merely mundane to the nearly ethereal.

$14.98 here (item # 22831B).

February 9, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Why your brain is not like a camcorder

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Ken Paller runs the Cognitive Neurosciences Laboratory at Northwestern University.

Last October, his group published a particularly timely study of just how imagination can create false memories.

Volunteers lay in an functional MRI scanner and were shown a list of words and told to picture each item.

For half the words, a photo of the matching object was shown.

Afterward, volunteers listened to a random sequence of words corresponding either to photographs they saw, to objects they were only told to imagine, or to items neither seen nor imagined.

The key finding: when volunteers falsely remembered seeing photographs of objects they had only imagined, brain regions critical to generating images became highly activated.

Mental images created by these areas leave traces in the brain that are later mistaken for objects actually perceived.

Let me ask here, how do you spell "recovered memory?"

Or better, perhaps, how can you recover something that never was?

The basis of recollection and, by extension, "reality," is becoming increasingly uncertain: let me be among the first to suggest that substituting "calculating" for "remembering" is not as far-fetched an idea as it seemed even five years ago.

"Very calculating" thus loses its pejorative meaning.

The lab's website is chock full of interesting stuff.

Here's the abstract of the paper from Paller's group.

    Neural Evidence That Vivid Imagining Can Lead to False Remembering

    The imperfect nature of memory is highlighted by the regularity with which people fail to remember, or worse, remember something that never happened.

    We investigated the formation of a particular type of erroneous memory by monitoring brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging during the presentation of words and photos.

    Participants generated a visual image of a common object in response to each word.

    Subsequently, they sometimes claimed to have seen photos of specific objects they had imagined but not actually seen.

    In precuneus and inferior parietal regions of the cerebral cortex, activations in response to words were greater when participants subsequently claimed to have seen the corresponding object than when a false memory for that object was not subsequently produced.

    These findings indicate that brain activity reflecting the engagement of visual imagery can lead to falsely remembering something that was only imagined.

    Authors: Brian Gonsalves; Paul J. Reber; Darren R. Gitelman; Todd B. Parrish; M.-Marsel Mesulam; Ken A. Paller

    Psychological Science, October 2004, vol. 15, no. 10, pp. 655-660(6)

February 9, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Colorful flat-screen iMac — for $39.98?

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Even better: it runs on 3 AA batteries (not included — but hey, at this price it can be excused).

Hope Steve Jobs is sitting down when this one crosses his screen.

Oh, momma.

It's even got the ventilation holes at the top of the half-dome.

As you read this, Apple's lawyers are furiously generating their cease-and-desist letter and court order filing.

"Wireless child's PC gives kids a head start on computer skills while having fun."

For ages five and up.

In stock, and ready to ship.

Order yours before it becomes "unavailable" forever.

$39.98 here (item #23036).

February 9, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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