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March 26, 2005

'The Art of Worldly Wisdom' - by Balthasar Gracián

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Written in 1637 by a Spanish Jesuit priest, it was soon translated from Spanish into eight major European languages.

Among its enthusiasts over the centuries have been La Rochefoucauld, Joseph Addison, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer, the latter having translated it into German.

Much of what passes these days for profundity and wisdom is contained in this little book, written 368 years ago.

For example, as a boy I read an interview with Jack Kent Cooke in which he said his philosophy was, "Never complain, never explain."

I thought that was pretty good advice back in the day and I still do.

But after I read Gracián's book I got the feeling Jack Kent Cooke had been there before me.

Consider the following maxims:

    129. Never complain.

    To complain always brings discredit. Better to be a model of self-reliance opposed to the passion of others than an object of their compassion. For complaining opens the way for the bearer to act like those we are complaining of, and to disclose one insult forms an excuse for another. By complaining of past offenses we give occasion for future ones, and in seeking aid or counsel we only obtain indifference or contempt. It is much more politic to praise a person's favors, so that others may be obliged to follow suit. To recount the favors we owe the absent is to demand similar ones from those present, and thus we sell our credit with the one to the other. The shrewd will therefore never publish to the world his failures or his defects, but only those marks of consideration that serve to keep friendship alive and enmity silent.

    253. Do not explain too much.

    Most people do not esteem what they understand and venerate what they do not see. To be valued things should cost dear; what is understood becomes overrated. You have to appear wiser and more prudent than is required by the people you are dealing with if you want to give a high opinion of yourself. Yet in this there should be moderation and no excess. And though with sensible people common sense holds its own, with most people a little elaboration is necessary. Give them no time for criticizing — occupy them with discerning your meaning. Many praise a thing without being able to tell why, if asked. The reason is that they venerate the unknown as a mystery, and praise it because they hear it praised.

The Shambhala edition pictured above ($6.26 at Amazon) measures only 4.6" x 3.0" x 0.7", perfect for taking just about anywhere.

It contains Gracián's 300 maxims along with his brief exegesis on each.

The book has endured over the centuries and belongs in the company of such classics as Machiavelli's "The Prince" and Sun-Tzu's "The Art of War."

March 26, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

VOIP made easy

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I-VO is a $30 internet phone you plug into your computer to send or receive free calls anywhere in the world.

Works with Skype, Vonage and all the rest.

Compatible with PC and Mac.

Looks simple enough for even me to set up.

Maybe I'll get one when they go on sale here next month.

March 26, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Some would argue that Martin Margiela is the coolest man in fashion'

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So wrote an anonymous writer for the New York Times Magazine

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in the first sentence of a March 13 article about the

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elusive Belgian designer.

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He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and became closely associated with the deconstructionist fashion movement of the 1980s.

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Since he set up shop in Paris in 1988 at age 29, no one has ever seen a photograph of him nor has he once granted a face-to-face interview.

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Margiela sees himself as a philosopher, rethinking the basic premise of clothing.

March 26, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Computer Mouse Adapter for Essential Tremor

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An I.B.M. researcher has created a commercially available, relatively inexpensive ($100) motion filter, pictured above, that allows people with essential tremor to use a computer mouse.

You simply connect the device, which is the size of a hand-held calculator, to the computer and the mouse.

You can switch it off for those who don't need it so they can use the mouse the standard way.

The adapter also has a control which rejects unwanted extra mouse clicks from overly twitchy fingers and another to make it easier to double-click, often difficult for those with motor-control problems.

Long story short: people with essential tremor, when they grasp a computer mouse, cause the cursor to shake and dance all over the screen, making it virtually impossible to direct precisely.

Most difficult is clicking on the tiny boxes and circles often required by various pages and programs: it becomes frustratingly vexing.

Estimates of Americans with essential tremor range between 3 million and 10 million people.

The average age of onset is 45; as people age the tremor worsens.

Many children have the problem as well.

The tremor is inherited in most cases as an autosomal dominant trait, which means that children of an affected individual will have a 50% chance of developing the disorder.

Anne Eisenberg wrote an interesting article about the invention of the adaptive mouse for this past Thursday's New York Times Circuits section: it follows.

    Motion Filter Eases Troubles With Mouse

    Moving a mouse with precision is difficult for those whose hands shake because of motor impairment.

    Now an I.B.M. researcher has invented an inexpensive adapter that minimizes the impact of such tremors.

    Tens of millions of people worldwide experience involuntary hand movements because of conditions like Parkinson's disease and essential tremor.

    The adapter, which is the size of a hand-held calculator, plugs in between the mouse and the computer.

    A microprocessor within the device takes the motion data that normally goes to the computer and applies an algorithm that filters out all the high-frequency motion caused by the tremor.

    "It leaves the steady part of the motion alone," said James L. Levine, the research staff member at I.B.M. who invented the device.

    The adapter can be switched off so that others can use the mouse in the standard way.

    The mouse filter is being offered on the Web for about $100 by a small British electronics firm, Montrose Secam (montrosesecam.com).

    "I was trying to find a solution for my own tremor, which I inherited from my father, " said James Cosgrave, a director of the company.

    "When I switch on this adapter, I can use the mouse as well as the average person."

    The mouse adapter has several controls, including one that rejects the extra mouse clicks of twitchy fingers.

    Another control makes it easier to double-click, a motion that can be difficult for many people with motor-control problems.

    Dr. Levine became interested in the problem of using a mouse about three years ago at a workshop on information technology for older people.

    "I remembered an incident with an uncle of mine who tried to use our computer, and he couldn't do it because he had so much tremor," he said.

    Dr. Levine is an experimental physicist with a specialty in instrumentation.

    "That's exactly what this problem required - measuring something when there is the noise of hand tremor - so it was natural to think of applying a digital filter," he said.

    To test the device, Dr. Levine called on Cathy Bodine, who directs a program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver that works with people with disabilities.

    Dr. Bodine contacted a local tremor group as well as a national support group to recruit people who could identify crucial properties they wanted in the prototype, and then test these properties.

    "The participants had to click on buttons on the screen," she said, opening and closing programs, as well as drawing the letter X with the device, both with the filter on and off.

    "There was a huge difference between using the filter and not using it."

    Meanwhile, in England, Mr. Cosgrave was trying to find a solution to his own difficulties with a computer mouse.

    Mr. Cosgrave, a retired airline pilot who continues to fly a small airplane, said his tremor had not interfered with his abilities in the cockpit.

    "But it causes the cursor on my computer to dance around the screen with a mind of its own," he said.

    Clicking on small boxes is particularly difficult.

    "The little points you have to click on, I can't find those," he said, "but when I switch on the adapter, it's a different matter altogether."

    It was Catherine Rice's bulletins on the I.B.M. prototype that first caught Mr. Cosgrave's attention.

    Ms. Rice is executive director of the International Essential Tremor Foundation in Lenexa, Kan.

    "Jim Levine had contacted us, asking could we help him find someone who'd be willing to manufacture it," she said.

    Ms. Rice sent letters and put notices in a newsletter.

    "That took about six months," she said.

    Then Mr. Cosgrave saw a reference and followed up.

    "I called the foundation because I was thinking of myself, and not from the point of view of manufacturing," he said.

    But because his company was involved in electronics, he decided to pursue producing the device himself.

    About 10 million people in the United States have essential tremor, Ms. Rice said.

    The average age of onset of tremor is 45.

    "As you age, the tremor gets worse, but we have a large number of children affected, too," she said.

    Some people with a gene predisposing them to tremor may not develop it until they are in their 70's; others will be affected far earlier.

    "It's a misconception that it affects only the elderly," she said.

    Unlike some conditions in which a tremor may come and go, essential tremor is always present, she said, except during sleep.

    "It doesn't start until you start to do something," she said, and then is especially prominent when people extend their hands for fine motor movements like using a mouse.

    "They can't get the cursor to sit still."

    Dr. Bodine says people have been calling since the trials, asking when the mouse will be on the market.

    "The results of our tests showed that it helped people, minimizing the impact of tremor on the use of the computer," she said.

    No additional software is required with the device, called an Assistive Mouse Adapter.

    Richard F. Doherty, research director of the Envisioneering Group in Seaford, N.Y., said the I.B.M. device was highly promising.

    "We have ultraprecision mice for video gamers and for graphics designers laying out movie special effects," he said, but only limited choices in adaptations of mouse controls for people with tremors.

    Some options, like eye tracking, are relatively cumbersome and expensive.

    "There's nothing as adaptable and robust as this solution," he said. "It's rugged enough to handle a wide degree of motor skills disorders."

March 26, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's scariest employee orientation/training program

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If you're a new employee of Miguel Caballero, a Bogotá, Columbia manufacturer of stylish security apparel, one of your duties is testing out the company's wares — facing live fire from such weapons as nine-millimeter Berettas and .44 Magnums.

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Practically every garment made by the $3.5 million-a-year (with a... bullet) company, from tropical shirts to leather jackets, is guaranteed to withstand ammunition from these weapons or their equivalents.

The company even makes knife-proof undershorts, popular with prison wardens.

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The owner says that his own country's violent reputation vouches quite nicely for the effectiveness of his line.

[via Mark Ellwood in "The Remix" via the New York Times]

March 26, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

My favorite driving shoe is not made by Tod's

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Above, a group of "high-octane driving shoes" from a recent New York Times Magazine feature on men's fashion.

From top to bottom:

1. Bally suede driving shoe, $275. At Bally stores.

2. Cole Haan Collection deerskin driving shoe, $250. Go to www.colehaan.com.

3. Martin Dingman nubuck driving shoe, $245. Call (800) 955-2358.

4. Tod's suede driving loafer, $295. At Tod's boutiques.

5. Bottega Veneta chino suede moccasin, $380. At Bottega Veneta boutiques.

Below, the classic Minnetonka deerskin moccasin, with rubber-pebbled soles.

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$57.95 here.

I've been wearing the Minnnetonka moccasin since forever: so wonderfully comfortable, and just perfect for whatever.

Why anyone would bother paying $245–$380 for a shoe that can't possibly be any more comfortable than Minnetonkas is way, way beyond moi.

Bonus: Minnetonka will throw in a free mini-moccasin key chain (below) with your order.

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Try and get one of those from Bottega Veneta.

March 26, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Word of mouth is the most important factor in making a book successful

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This was among the most significant results of this year's World Book Day survey in Britain.

One in four readers said the last book they read was based on a personal recommendation from someone they knew.

Almost one-third of those under 35 said recommendation was the most important factor in their book choice.

Only loyalty came close: 26% said that they chose a book because they were familiar with and liked the author.

Despite publishers and booksellers spending an estimated $133 million to $190 million annually on marketing and promotion, only 6% cited advertising as the deciding factor.

This doesn't surprise me in the least: the publishing business is completely out to lunch in its business methods and tactics.

First and foremost would be the amazingly brain-dead practice of distributing copies for review, yet not having the books in stores for potential buyers who decide on the basis of a great review to purchase the book. But I digress.

Cover design was the key for 7%, although 16% said the jacket description influenced them to read the book.

11% said a review led them to a book, and 4% said a film or TV adaptation prompted their choice.

Top 10 word-of-mouth best-sellers since 1997, and UK sales to date:

1. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2,211,532)
2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon (1,537,656)
3. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (1,301,876)
4. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernières (1,292,698)
5. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss (944,982)
6. No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith (908,362)
7. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks (850,790)
8. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden (676,492)
9. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho (645,447)
10. Schott's Original Miscellany, Ben Schott (639,636)

[via Paul Owen and The Guardian]

March 26, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: BriteSmile™ Pen — Liquid Paper™ for your teeth

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Look and feel your best even if lunch included red wine and espresso.

"Easy-to-use click-pen applicator delivers teeth whitening without any mess."

You get a two-month supply of powerful tooth-whitening touch-ups in one stylish, discreet purse- or pocket-size applicator.

"Perfect for fast whitening for an important day or meeting!"

$29.95 here.

A bit rich for your blood?

Not to worry: a 3-pack is only $62.95.

That's less than $21 apiece, almost 33% less than the price of a single applicator.

You're still not convinced it's worth the money?

All right, all right.

Buy a party pack here: you get 9 pens for only $119.99 — that's $13.33 apiece.

I mean, you drop that much at Starbucks every week.

Which, though it may rev you up, won't do a whole lot for your teeth.

Come on, already: get a bunch of your girlfriends together, everybody throw in their money and take the plunge.

If I still haven't convinced you, well, I guess you'll just have to stay with old reliable:

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$2 here.

The choice is yours.

FunFact: Bette Nesmith Graham, the single mother and secretary who invented Liquid Paper™, originally called it "Mistake Out."

FunFact #2 about Bette Nesmith Graham: She was the mother of Michael Nesmith of "The Monkees."

March 26, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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