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February 12, 2005

'Out of my Head' — by Didier van Cauwelaert


Martin Harris returns home after a short absence to find his wife doesn't know him, another man is living in his house under his name, and the neighbors think he's a crazy person.

Worse, not one single person — family member, colleague at Yale University (where he's a botany professor), or doctor — can vouch for him.

Worse still, the imposter living with his wife has all of Martin's memories, experience, and knowledge, down to the last detail.

In fact, he's a more convincing Martin than Martin himself.

What has happened?

In this slender 164–page novel, translated nicely from the original French by Mark Polizzotti, you find out.

A clue: nothing supernatural, nothing that couldn't happen, given enough time, money, and effort.

After you've finished the book you might enjoy watching "The Conversation," Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 masterwork of conspiracy theory.


Gene Hackman stars and he's simply magnificent.

If you like that movie, you're ready to be mesmerized by Alan J. Pakula's film, "The Parallax View," starring Warren Beatty and released that same year.


These movies take the same point of view as van Cauwelaert, the novel's author: what if someone decided it was important to create a different explanation for something fundamental and seemingly ordinary — what would it take to make it so believable that trying to convince someone of its untruth would become, for all practical purposes, impossible?

February 12, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Magnifier Watch — It could save your life


This cool device has a 5X magnifying glass that fits over the watch face.

No one will know you're carrying.

But like a latter-day Jane or James Bond, you'll look around, check your perimeter, then flip open the top to activate your secret magnifier.

"Glows in dark."

Available in both men's and women's styles.

$29.98 here (item # 23301).

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot — "It could save your life."

What's that all about?

Well — imagine you're out in the wilderness, and your matches just got soaked.

You flip open your handy magnifier watch and voila, you're using it to magnify the sun's rays into a hot point, starting the fire that'll save your life.

February 12, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Big excitement in the Dairy State: Wisconsin quarter sprouts extra leaves


Why, there hasn't been this much interest in anything Wisconsin–related since the huge battle years ago about taking the three games a season the Packers played down in Milwaukee back up to Green Bay.

Turns out that an unknown number of Wisconsin statehood quarters that went into circulation late last year as part of the 10–year, 50–state quarter program contain flaws.

The quarters, which appear to have an extra leaf on the left side of an ear of corn — hey, gimme a break, it's Wisconsin, OK? — are being sold on eBay and in coin shops for hundreds of dollars apiece.

In some of the quarters, the extra leaf is tilted up; in others, it's tilted down.

Adding fuel to the bonfire out back in the cornfield is speculation that the variations were created intentionally.

The U.S. Mint is investigating.

Collectors estimate approximately 1,000 of the flawed quarters have turned up, out of a total of 453.2 million minted.

So you can see how they'd be considered valuable.

Up top is the photo that accompanied Barbara Hagenbaugh's informative article from the February 8 USA Today.

The quarter at the top of the three is correct. The other two feature the extra leaves: the one in the middle has the leaf tilted down; the one at bottom has the leaf with the upward tilt.

It's very subtle.

Check your pockets: you might be in luck.

Oh, yeah, the Packers — they moved the games back up to Green Bay.

As it should be.

There's no frozen tundra like the Lambeau Field frozen tundra.

Although, strictly speaking, "frozen tundra" is redundant, since tundra is, by definition, frozen.

But we'll let it pass.

February 12, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MorphWorld: Mona Johannesson into Kate Moss


This season's hottest new model, 19-year-old Swede Mona Johannesson (above and just below),


bears an



resemblance to


Kate Moss.

So much so, she's been nicknamed Baby-Kate.

I think Mona (below)


also looks a lot



another Kate: Beckinsale (above and below).


You decide.

February 12, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Hello Kitty MP3 Player


If you simply can't stomach the idea of


becoming one of the Pod people,


then this kitten's for you.


Hope you understand Korean.

February 12, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Functional Chocolates?


So now they're taking the fun out of chocolate, and inserting function instead.

You knew it was only a matter of time, didn't you?

Candy giant Mars for years has been quietly funding scientists looking for beneficial effects from its products.

They appear to finally have hit a sweet liquid center.

Recent work published in peer-reviewed journals has demonstrated, for example, that two of the company's CocoaVia™ bars a day can significantly reduce cholesterol levels.


The bars are currently only sold online, and touted to "promote a healthy heart."

Coming soon are cocoa powder and beverages with similar ingredients.

Then there's Bissinger's, which makes Spa Chocolate.


They advertise them as helping to prevent heart disease, enhance short-term memory, and slow aging.

There are also claims from other manufacturers that their chocolate products will smooth skin, improve sleep, reduce stress or alleviate symptoms of PMS and menopause.

Why am I not convinced?

Perhaps I'm just not easily swayed by sweet talk.

Here's Robert J. Davis's article on the subject from the February 8 Wall Street Journal.

    Health Claims for Chocolate

    It's probably not the most romantic Valentine's gift: chocolate that fights PMS.

    But there are a growing number of such healthful-sounding chocolate products, sometimes called "functional" chocolates, that carry promises to do everything from smoothing skin to preventing heart disease.

    Though there's preliminary evidence that certain forms of chocolate may offer some health benefits, most of the product claims are questionable.

    The strongest evidence for chocolate's possible benefits concerns heart disease.

    Research shows that a main ingredient of chocolate -- cocoa -- is high in antioxidants known as flavanols, which are also found in red wine, fruits, beans, nuts and certain teas.

    Some test-tube and human research suggests that flavanols in cocoa may have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health by making vessels more flexible and blood less likely to clot.

    Findings from large population studies -- most of which have involved foods other than chocolate -- have been mixed.

    Some have found an association between high flavanol intake and lower cholesterol and blood pressure, along with a lower risk of early death among people with heart disease.

    Others have found no relationship.

    The level of flavanols in chocolate varies widely, depending on where the cocoa comes from and how it's processed. In general, raw cocoa is high in flavanols.

    But common techniques to enhance the flavor of cocoa, such as fermentation and roasting, can substantially decrease flavanol levels.

    Milk chocolate tends to have lower flavanol levels than dark chocolate because it contains less cocoa.

    For years, the candy giant Mars Inc. has been working to come up with high-flavanol cocoa products.

    So far it has introduced Dove Dark, for which it makes no health claims, and CocoaVia bars, which are sold only over the Internet and touted to "promote a healthy heart."

    The company says it plans to soon introduce a similar cocoa powder and beverage.

    To develop these chocolates, the company has funded research, some of which has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

    There's less research behind other products, such as Spa Chocolate made by Bissinger's.

    It includes dark and sugar-free chocolates combined with antioxidant-rich fruits or beneficial nuts.

    Consumers are urged to eat one piece daily, each of which is touted to help prevent heart disease, enhance short-term memory or slow aging.

    But many nutrition experts say there's no evidence for these claims and scoff at the notion that you can derive a benefit from the level of ingredients in a single piece of chocolate.

    They're equally skeptical of claims for chocolate bars, sold by various manufacturers, that supposedly smooth skin, improve sleep, reduce stress or alleviate the symptoms of PMS and menopause.

    Many experts say there's nothing wrong with treating yourself to chocolate now and then.

    If you prefer something that's flavanol-rich or has added ingredients, fine.

    But remember that chocolate is high in calories, so don't overdo it. However it's made and whatever it contains, chocolate is, after all, candy -- not medicine.

February 12, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

James Turrell — 'Painter in Light'


That is how the artist describes himself.


His latest show is up in Valencia, Spain at the Institut Valencia d'Art Modern, and will remain there through Sunday, February 20.


The exhibition consists of four installations, each isolating a different type of light.

The Economist, in its January 20 issue, described the work in more detail.

Here's that story.

    Seeing the Light

    A painter who projects moonbeams and catches starlight

    He bears an uncanny resemblance to God, at least God as he appears through centuries of art history.

    Perhaps it is his long, silvery beard, his sphinx-like expression, his cryptic utterances about seeing the light.

    He is otherworldly, but not nearly as otherworldly as his art.


    James Turrell (above) calls himself a painter in light and has spent his career creating an objectless art that seems to be made of solid light.

    He is now exhibiting in Valencia, where one of the four installations is a bright red circular room, the sort of space you might find in Star Trek, except that you see only a thick red haze.


    Every sound you make echoes so that even your breathing reverberates.

    If you try to touch the walls, your hand disappears into the red. But nothing is there except light.

    "I am interested in light as something that has density and presence when you are in it, not something transparent," says the artist.

    He sees light as a nourishing force which we need in both physical and spiritual ways.

    Each of the Valencia installations isolates a different type of light.

    One appears dark grey, like a cinema before the film comes on. But as the eyes adjust, the room turns green and the screen seems to follow viewers as they move around.

    A third room creates a crepuscular light, becoming gradually foggy and then clear in an all-enveloping space.

    The last chamber glows a dense violet blue.

    Mr. Turrell's art is total abstraction and yet evokes aspects of nature—sunset, dawn, the heavens—with extraordinary intensity.

    If all this sounds a bit Californian, it is.

    Mr. Turrell began a movement in the late 1960s known as the California Sublime.

    With other local artists, he sought to make an art that reflected the atmosphere, light and wide open spaces of the west, and to use the elements of nature in new ways.

    Flying, which he learned as a teenager, helped Mr. Turrell to appreciate the quality of light.

    Instead of going to art school, he studied perceptual psychology.


    "I needed to go somewhere where they dealt with what seeing actually is. Perceptual psychology has to do with how we form reality."

    He cites his Sky Spaces, meditative chambers that he builds in areas of outstanding natural beauty, whose ceilings are open to the sky.

    "People think that I change the colour of the sky, but I don't, I change the context of vision so that we see the sky more intensely."

    His biggest Sky Space is the Roden Crater in the Arizona desert, with a 1,000-ft (300-metre) opening to the sky


    that lets him use the sun, moon and stars as raw materials for his art.


    In 1977 he bought the crater, with outside help, and has now formed the Skystone Foundation to run it.

    He is still trying to raise the $12m-15m necessary for the crater to open to the public by the spring of 2006.

    This would be in time for the next "moonstrike": the moment, reached every 18.6 years, when the moon reaches its southerly orbital position and will cast a beam of light through a tunnel, projecting, as a huge camera obscura, a lunar image inside the crater.

    Mr. Turrell looks into the sky and sees things that others don't.

    "As you walk through the crater up into the sky, you can see your shadow in the light of Venus. In another chamber I catch starlight that is several years old. I want people to experience vintage light, not just sunlight, which is only eight and a half minutes old. I want people to realise that light is precious."

February 12, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Motion-Sensitive Fiber-Optic Doormat Greeter


Let's deconstruct that mouthful of a description.

Start with a doormat, measuring 30" x 18".

Then festoon it with fiber-optic lights that spell "WELCOME."

Trick it out further with a built-in motion detector which turns on a flashing "WELCOME" greeting before your guests even knock on the door.

Now that's a real light show, as they used to say back in the day.

A whole lot of technology for $39.98 (item # 22832).

February 12, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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