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April 3, 2005

We get email: From Christian Fabre, CEO of Fashions International and bookofjoe's 2004 CEO of the Year


Last December 30 I wrote about this singular man (above, in the saffron robe).

This morning I received an email from him gently correcting a few errors I'd made in my post.

Without further ado, here are the words of the master, exactly as they appeared in my mailbox.

    Aum Namah Shivaya

    Dear Joe Self,

    My Personal secretary stumbled upon your "bookojoe" and I would like to thank you for having posted your writing on your servant. However, there are few discrepancies which I would like to point out to you.

    Our Company does not manufacture and does not export a single piece of garment.

    Instead, Fashions International represents Brands who would like their product manufactured in India. For this purpose we have our Head Office in Chennai with branch offices in Tirupur, Bangalore and Delhi.

    It is true that I have not signed any contract with my two Indian associates with whom I have a friendly relationship since now more than 30 years. However, it should be added that I have not signed any contract with any of our staff/collaborators who are part of our team for now more than 18 years that Fashions International exists.

    Also, I feel it is of importance to add that over and above their comfortable salary our Staff and collaborators get a percentage on the INCOME... NOT PROFIT varying according to their position in our company.

    With much love

    Swami Pranavananda Brahmendra Avadhuta

April 3, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

TireStep™ — 'Makes reaching easy!'


This innovative device elevates you using your vehicle's tire as an attachment platform.

"Slips over your vehicle tire making it easy to reach luggage racks, tie down cargo, wash the roof and change wiper blades on taller vehicles."

Requires no assembly — simply unfold and fit it over your tire.


"Adjusts to 3 tire widths and 3 height positions, fitting tires up to 37" tall and 12.5" wide on an 18" rim."

$49.98 here.


Though the website makes no mention of it, I recommend you not use the TireStep™ while your vehicle is in motion.

April 3, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

bookofjoe now free


From time to time I hear from readers who resent what I charge to read my exclusive material.

Frankly I think it's cheap at twice the price but I would think that, wouldn't I?

Nevertheless, I do listen to you, you know: after all, if I didn't I'd be the only one here.

And then who would I think was talking to me?

"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well, I'm the only one here."

But I digress.

Though I do think that scene


in "Taxi Driver" is one of my all-time Top 10 favorites.

Anyway, starting right now, with this post, bookofjoe is abandoning all requirements for payment.

This is, for the time being at least, a cost-free environment.

What occasioned this new policy?

A fascinating piece by Rebecca Mead I read in "The Talk of the Town" section of the March 18 New Yorker.

She wrote about a new Indian restaurant called Babu on Macdougal Street in New York that opened earlier this year.

For its first few weeks the restaurant had no prices on its menus.

Guests were invited to eat and then pay what they thought the meal was worth.

The restaurant's owner, Payal Saha, told Mead, "I'd rather work out the kinks in the kitchen first. It leaves a bad taste in people's mouths if they have to pay and things don't go right. I have assumed that everyone will pay me zero."

Turns out the pay-what-you-like policy caused anxiety among diners so it was scrapped in late February in favor of the usual style of listing the price of things.

I like this experiment not because it caused anxiety but, rather, because it created uncertainty.

Anything that takes routine and ordinary things and suddenly renders them unpredictable gets us closer to a sense of what the universe, life, and meaning are about.

I will do my level and unbalanced best to make the experience of visiting bookofjoe as disorienting for you as it is for me to create it.

To attempt any less would be to value you less than I do myself: such lack of respect for you and all you are and do is something you might experience elsewhere — but it will never happen on my watch here.


And that's all I have to say about that.

April 3, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ray Kurzweil believes he is immortal


Kurzweil (above) has said so before and now he's said it again, this time in an interview with The Economist that appeared on March 12.

Think he's nutso?

You'll be somewhat less sure after you've read the story, which follows.

    The Future, Just Around the Bend

    Ray Kurzweil is an accomplished inventor, but he is best known for his wild prognostications about the future. Is he as crazy as he sounds?

    Blame it on Tom Swift.

    For it was Swift, the fictional teenage genius who repeatedly saved the world with his scientific savvy, who inspired Ray Kurzweil to become the inventor, engineer and prognosticator he is today.

    "I started reading those books when I was about nine years old, and couldn't put them down," he says.

    It wasn't just the solartrons, diving seacopters and triphibian atomicars that mesmerised him; it was the way the irrepressible Swift applied his mind, and the technology it conceived, to solve human, often personal, problems.

    "I was smitten by the power of ideas to change the world," says Mr Kurzweil.


    It is as good a way as any to explain how a shy boy growing up in a financially pinched household in Queens, New York, managed to transform himself into a restless thinker who has since founded nine businesses, written five books (with a sixth on the way), won the American National Medal of Technology and the Lemelson-MIT prize for invention and innovation, and who relentlessly preaches the gospel of accelerating technological advance that will soon strain our ability to comprehend what lies ahead.

    Like his boyhood hero, Mr Kurzweil cannot seem to keep his fingers out of the future.

    He keeps venturing on to the bleeding edge—his critics say the lunatic fringe—of science to imagine futures where computers are as intelligent as we are, millions live in virtual reality and immortality is not only possible, but likely.

    It will all unfold, he says, over the next 25 years as overlapping technological revolutions in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics render the world radically different from the place it is today.

    The futuristic landscapes that Mr Kurzweil paints have often been derided as outlandish.

    Nevertheless, he says he stands by his record.

    In his first book, “The Age of Intelligent Machines”, published in 1990, he predicted that in just a few years a global computer network would emerge.

    In late 1993, the web hit the mainstream and never looked back.

    He also predicted that a computer would defeat a chess champion by 1999: sure enough, IBM's Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997.

    "Well," shrugs Mr Kurzweil, "I was off by a couple of years."

    Making predictions, particularly about the future, is a dangerous business, of course: long-awaited technologies such as flying cars, space hotels and videophones have yet to materialise (or, in the case of videophones, they have arrived, but nobody wants to use them).

    But Mr Kurzweil insists he is not trying to oversell the future.

    He works with a team of ten people, researching big technological trends, examining them closely, and then methodically plotting where they will lead.

    "I'm an engineer," he says. "I like to measure things."

    And if those measurements lead somewhere improbable, so be it.

    He is just passing the news along.

    He is not outlandish; the future is.

    His predictions may sound wide-eyed, but Mr Kurzweil himself is not.

    As he sips a cup of green tea, his calmness makes it easy to imagine the shy, solitary boy who grew up reading books and tinkering with electronic circuits.

    And while he relishes wandering into controversial areas where he can play the role of agent provocateur, he maintains he has arrived at his conclusions scientifically.

    Being an inveterate measurer, he says he has looked back not decades, but eons, and has found that the organisation of information has been accelerating at an exponential pace for millions of years.

    We are just beginning to see the results of this effect now, he argues, because we have reached the “knee of the curve”, where a slowly rising trend line suddenly rockets upward.

    That is why many of his predictions seem so implausible, he says: the notion that “exponential change is subtle” is what most futurists and scientists miss.

    Mr Kurzweil calls it the Law of Accelerating Returns, and it underpins most of his predictions.


    "Ray takes ideas everyone accepts, and follows them to logical conclusions that almost no one accepts," says Neil Gershenfeld, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Admittedly, at times Mr Kurzweil goes "a bit far" for specialists versed in the limitations of a particular field, "but he does it with care, and he does his homework," says Dr Gershenfeld.

    "He filters out the clutter and identifies important trends with remarkable accuracy," says Ralph Merkle, director of the Georgia Tech Information Security Centre and an expert in nanotechnology.

    Yet while accuracy is important, Mr Kurzweil's supporters say that his most important role lies in driving home to as many people as possible the idea that radical change lies just around the corner.


    "He plays at a valuable boundary between working scientists and futurists, visionaries and science-fiction kooks," says Dr Gershenfeld. "It's useful to have such ‘points of infinity'."

    From the age of five, Mr Kurzweil says he knew he wanted to be an inventor.

    By the age of 12 he was building and programming computers, and as a young teenager he appeared on "I've Got a Secret", a popular American quiz show.

    Mr Kurzweil walked on to the stage, played a classical piano piece for the celebrity panel and then shared his secret with the host and audience: the piece he had just played was written by a computer, and he had programmed the computer that created it.

    By the time he was an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying computer science under artificial-intelligence guru Marvin Minsky and creative writing with playwright Lillian Hellman, Mr Kurzweil was finding ways to profit from his programming prowess.

    In 1967, he hatched an idea for computer software that would help high-school students find a college that matched their interests and skills.

    Students filled out a form with 200 questions, and Mr Kurzweil's program compared their answers with a database of 2m facts about 3,000 colleges, all compiled by five Harvard students he had hired as researchers.

    After selling the resulting company in 1968, Mr Kurzweil went on to found Kurzweil Computer Products, where he developed breakthrough optical character-recognition technology that led to the world's first reading machine.

    Mr Kurzweil sold that company to Xerox in 1980.

    Then came Kurzweil Music Systems, the result of a collaboration with Stevie Wonder, a blind musician who was the first private customer to buy one of his reading machines.

    Mr Wonder contacted Mr Kurzweil after he heard about the machine in news reports, and asked if there might be some way to apply the power of computer technology to music.

    That led to the creation of electronic keyboards able to imitate the sound of a grand piano.

    Mr Kurzweil sold the company in 1990 to Young Chang of South Korea, the world's largest piano-maker.

    The list goes on: Kurzweil CyberArt, Kurzweil Educational Systems, Kurzweil AI, the Medical Learning Company.

    All are run out of an unspectacular four-storey building in the picturesque town of Wellesley, Massachusetts, the products of Mr Kurzweil's Swift-like curiosity and enthusiasm.

    Mr Kurzweil's most active current venture is FatKat, which uses pattern-recognition software to spot trends and automate stockmarket transactions.

    As wide-ranging as these enterprises appear, one common theme unites them: a fascination with pattern recognition, which Mr Kurzweil argues is at the heart of human intelligence.

    Many of his inventions—from optical character-recognition software to CyberArt's paintings to FatKat's transaction engine—attempt to imbue machines with something like human intelligence, and often blur the line between art and science.

    Perhaps the most unorthodox example is Ramona, a computer-generated female singer who is also Mr Kurzweil's virtual alter-ego.

    Not even Tom Swift could have come up with this.

    At the TED (technology, entertainment, design) conference in 2001, Mr Kurzweil wanted to demonstrate how virtual reality can allow people to reinvent themselves.

    "That is one of the benefits of virtual reality," he says. "You don't have to be the same boring person all the time."

    Motion sensors tracked his movements and linked them to Ramona, whose image was projected on a large screen as Mr Kurzweil put on a show, complete with a rock band.

    "As I moved, Ramona moved in exactly the same way in real time, and my voice was transformed into Ramona's voice. We got a standing ovation," he says.

    A team from Warner Brothers saw the performance and, says Mr Kurzweil, used it as the inspiration for "S1m0ne", a movie about a Hollywood director who creates a virtual actress who takes on a life of her own.

    The way Mr Kurzweil sees it, Ramona is a glimpse into the future.

    In ten years or so, he imagines that millions of people will spend large chunks of their time interacting in virtual worlds with other people masquerading as whoever they choose—a kind of elaborate masked ball in cyberspace that will eventually evolve into a full-blooded parallel universe. (Already, millions of people play online games, which are becoming ever more elaborate.)

    "We will have full-immersion virtual reality by 2010," Mr Kurzweil predicts.

    "The images will be written directly to your retinas from your eyeglasses or contact lenses."

    By the late 2020s, he expects virtual reality will be implemented using nanobots injected directly into the brain that will bypass the input from the outside world and generate the signals needed to create an alternative reality.

    If all of this seems too outlandish to be believed, Mr Kurzweil doesn't care.

    As unnatural as these ideas may seem to others, he says they are just part of a natural evolutionary progression.

    Apes would have seemed impossible to the first lungfish.

    A civilisation of humans literally melding with their technology may seem impossible as well.

    But, he argues, that does not mean it will not happen.

    All of which leads to the 57-year-old Mr Kurzweil's most outrageous prediction: immortality.

    In his new book, “Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever”,


    he and his co-author argue, in sometimes dense scientific detail, that death no longer need be a fact of life.

    Current advances in medicine, they say, will lead to major breakthroughs in genetics between 2015 and 2020 that will extend life spans.

    Then, by the late 2020s, advances in nanotechnology will make possible truly radical life extension and rejuvenation.

    So to achieve immortality, people alive today merely need to survive long enough to reach the first of these breakthroughs, which will in turn enable them to benefit from the second.

    Mr Kurzweil has no time for sceptics who argue that human immortality is impossible, or that mortality is what makes life precious.

    "That's nonsense," he says. "What makes the human species unique is that we insist upon going beyond our limitations. We are not staying within the limits of our biology. Life expectancy was 37 in 1800, 45 in 1900 and now it's over 80. Ageing is not a graceful process and death is a great tragedy, a profound loss of knowledge, skill, experience and relationships."

    When asked if he expects to live forever, Mr Kurzweil answers without hesitation: "Yes. I expect I will."

    After all, when you have as many ideas as Tom Swift, you need all the time you can get.

April 3, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Surrealism USA' — Who knew?


Not me and, I'll bet, not you.

Turns out American Surrealism was a school of its own, alive and well in the 1930s, long before Matta met Gorky.


A new show, curated by Isabelle Dervaux, formerly of the National Gallery of Art in Washington and entitled "Surrealism USA," attempts to shine a bright light on this little-known area of American art.

The show, at the National Academy Museum in New York, features 120 works of over 60 American artists and fills five good-sized galleries.


Among those artists whose names you'll recognize are Joseph Cornell, Isamu Noguchi, David Smith, and Philip Guston.

Some you might not: Charles Howard, Malcolm Roberts, Peter Blume, Walter Quirt, Boris Margo, Lucien Labaudt, Knud Merrild, George Ault, Charles Rain, Federico Castellon, and John Wilde.


Roberta Smith wrote a useful, informative review which appeared in this past Thursday's New York Times.

The museum is at 1083 Fifth Avenue (89th Street); tel: 212-369-4880.

April 3, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Visor Sunglasses


Hey, anyone can put on mirrored sunglasses — no one but you will be sporting this number.


No more dorky sun visor — now you can wear these dorky glasses ($19.98 here) instead.




(*What would Chili Wear?)

April 3, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Insanity — World's Scariest Ride?


Atop a 900-foot-tall building, Insanity (above and below) uses centrifugal force to turn passengers nearly face down while traveling in a circle at 40 m.p.h. over the city of Las Vegas.


Better double-check that seat belt before the ride starts or


you'll be doing a human cannonball down the Strip.


The ride is advertised as being "For riders whose minds are already blown."


Tickets cost $8.

Click "Insanity" at the bottom of this page for more information.

I'll tell you what: watching the video is as close as I ever want to get to this attraction.

If it's not the scariest, it's definitely in the top three.

April 3, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Surrealist Comedian Mitch Hedberg is Dead at 37


I got really angry when I read his obituary in last Friday's New York Times.

Then I got sad.

Angry because the Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minnesota, his hometown, reported that Hedberg (above) had died of a heart attack.

Angry because as I read the details of his life and learned of his struggles with alcohol and drugs, including a 2002 arrest for heroin possession, it became clear to me that he did not die of a heart attack.

Angry because this death didn't have to happen.

Sad because the first I ever heard of him was when I read his obituary.

Sad because now the only way I'll ever get a sense of why he'd become a cult figure on the national comedy circuit is to buy his two CDs — "Mitch All Together"




"Strategic Grill Locations."

Sad for his wife, comedian Lynn Shawcroft, and his parents and sisters.

Daniel Neman interviewed Hedberg for a story which appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on March 24 of this year.

It was the last interview he ever gave before he died on March 30.

Here's Jesse McKinley's New York Times obituary.

    Mitch Hedberg, a Comedian Who Performed Surreal Routines, Dies at 37

    Mitch Hedberg, the lackadaisical, longhaired comedian whose surreal routines made him a cult figure on the national comedy circuit, died on Wednesday in Livingston, N.J., said his father, Arnold. He was 37.

    The cause was not immediately known, said Michael O'Brien, his publicist.

    The Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minn., his hometown, reported that Mr. Hedberg had a heart attack.

    A shy, self-styled outsider, Mr. Hedberg carved a career out of casual observations delivered in a mumbling drawl.

    "I'm against picketing," he would say with a sly smile. "But I don't know how to show it."

    Comedy was not a natural choice for Mr. Hedberg, who battled stage fright, and sometimes closed his eyes as he performed.

    Alcohol and drugs, however, played a large role in his on- and offstage routines.

    According to a profile in The Los Angeles Times, he was arrested in 2002 for possession of heroin.

    "I used to do drugs," went one of his most quoted jokes. "I still do drugs. But I used to, too."

    In recent years Mr. Hedberg had shown signs of breaking into the mainstream, thanks to appearances on "The Late Show With David Letterman" and Howard Stern's radio show. Mr. Hedberg started performing comedy in 1989.

    His first gigs were at open-mike nights, but within two years he was touring comedy outposts across the United States, sometimes sleeping in his car.


    In 1996 he earned rave reviews for a performance at a comedy festival in Montreal, which led to appearances on Mr. Letterman's show, MTV and several sitcoms.

    The next year Mr. Hedberg wrote, directed and starred in a film called "Los Enchiladas!," about unhappy employees at a Mexican restaurant in Minnesota.

    The film played at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. He also released two CD's of his comedy.

    Despite his personal struggles, Mr. Hedberg worked regularly, recently as part of a tour for Comedy Central.

    According to his Web site, he was to have performed last night at the Improv in Baltimore.

    In addition to his parents, Arnold and Mary Hedberg of South Maplewood, Minn., Mr. Hedberg is survived by his sisters, Wendy Brown of Woodbury, Minn., and Angie Anderson, of South St. Paul, Minn.; and his wife, the comedian Lynn Shawcroft.

    Mr. Hedberg spoke often of his love for the road, on which he lived for nearly half his life.


    "My theory is not to stop and smell the roses," he told the Wisconsin State Journal in September.

    "My theory is to find the roses and then go find more roses in another city."

April 3, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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