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April 10, 2005

Salmon Fraud: Farmed Fish Masquerade as Wild


In an exclusive story that appears on the front page of today's New York Times, Marian Burros exposes rampant — and very costly to you, the duped consumer — fraud by New York City's finest fresh fish markets.

23 of 25 stores checked by Burros last month said they had fresh wild salmon (above and below) from the West Coast, even though very few such fish are caught between the months of November and March.

Burros then visited eight of the very highest-end stores, paying as much as $29 a pound for what the stores sold as fresh wild salmon.

The Times then sent the fish to Craft Technologies in Wilson, North Carolina, which analyzed the fish for natural and artificial pigments, a method used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to identify fresh and wild salmon.

The results?

Fish sold as fresh wild salmon at six of the eight stores proved to be farm raised.

Farmed salmon, available year round, are much cheaper, running $5 to $12 a pound.

As always, the excuses given by the stores when confronted with their fraud were priceless.

Basically, the dog ate their homework.

Here's the Times story.

    Stores Say Wild Salmon, but Tests Say Farm Bred

    Fresh wild salmon from West Coast waters used to have a low profile in New York: it generally migrated eastward in cans.

    But a growing concern about the safety of farm-raised fish has given fresh wild salmon cachet.

    It has become the darling of chefs, who praise its texture and flavor as superior to the fatty, neutral-tasting farmed variety, and many shoppers are willing to pay far more for it than for farmed salmon.

    Today, "fresh wild salmon" is abundant, even in the winter when little of it is caught.

    In fact, it seems a little too abundant to be true.

    Tests performed for The New York Times in March on salmon sold as wild by eight New York City stores, going for as much as $29 a pound, showed that the fish at six of the eight were farm raised.

    Farmed salmon, available year round, sells for $5 to $12 a pound in the city.

    For shoppers, said David Pasternack, the chef and an owner at Esca, a theater district fish restaurant, buying authentic wild salmon "is like a crapshoot."

    The findings mirror suspicions of many in the seafood business that wild salmon could not be so available from November to March, the off-season.

    Wild and farmed salmon fillets and steaks look similar because farmed fish are fed artificial coloring that makes them pink, but that coloring can be measured in laboratory testing.

    With East Coast wild salmon all but extinct and West Coast wild catches restricted by quotas, farmed fish constitute 90 percent of this country's salmon sales.

    Yet last month, when fresh wild salmon should have been scarce, 23 of 25 stores checked by The Times said they had it in stock.

    The Times sent random samples of salmon bought on March 9 to Craft Technologies in Wilson, N.C., for testing and comparison of levels of natural and artificial pigments, a method that scientists at the Food and Drug Administration have used to identify wild and farmed salmon.

    The Craft scientists analyzed pigments known as carotenoids.

    Only the sample bought at Eli's Manhattan on the Upper East Side ($22.99 a pound) tested wild.

    Salmon tested farmed at six stores: Dean & DeLuca in SoHo ($16.95); Grace's Marketplace ($28.99) and Leonard's ($19.95) on the Upper East Side; M. Slavin & Sons wholesale market at the Fulton Fish Market ($4.50 a pound for whole fish) and its Brooklyn retail store ($5.99); and Wild Edibles at the Grand Central Market ($20.99).

    Officials at Craft Technologies said that a sample from Whole Foods Market in Chelsea ($14.99) seemed to show that the fish had been farmed at one time and had escaped into the wild.

    Storms or holes in the netting are some of the opportunities that fish exploit to make a break for it.

    Figures for the number that flee their pens are hard to come by, but it may be in the millions yearly.

    A researcher at the F.D.A., who reviewed the results only on the condition of anonymity, said that Craft Technologies "had used a method that is accepted," and that he agreed with its findings.

    In the last two years two scientific studies have reported that farmed salmon contain more PCB's and other contaminants than wild salmon, and numerous studies have called farming practices an environmental hazard.

    When told of the results of the fresh salmon tests, Gretchen Dykstra, New York City's commissioner of consumer affairs, said, "Labeling any item to be something it's not is a classic deceptive practice."

    She added that her agency would "be investigating whether these stores are in fact improperly baiting their customers."

    Mislabeling food is against federal law.

    Officials at the stores had a variety of explanations.

    Peter Leonard, an owner of Leonard's, said that his records did not go back as far as March 9, but that his sales clerks "must have gotten the salmon from the wrong pile in the back."

    William Lettier, the vice president for retail operations at Dean & DeLuca, said four of his vendors could not provide him with their paper trail.

    He said he now wanted proof of the source of the fish from his vendors and would have his salmon spot-tested.

    Jonathan Meyer, a partner in Wild Edibles, said he had narrowed the source of his fish to two Northwest vendors and had suspended business connections with both.

    At M. Slavin & Sons in Brooklyn, the store manager, Phil Cohen, said: "Our salmon is from Canada. All wild salmon in Canada is farm raised."

    But it can't be both.

    A whole salmon sold to this reporter as wild from Slavin's in the Fulton Fish Market was pulled from a box marked "farmed Canada."

    "I know you are looking at the label, but believe me," the clerk at Fulton said.

    "Don't pay any attention to the label."

    When his remarks were repeated to Herbert Slavin, an owner of M. Slavin, he said: "How do you know he is an expert? We do not misrepresent."

    The Times tested two salmon fillets sold as wild by Grace's Marketplace, one labeled "Rainforest," indicating it came from Washington State, the other "Columbia River."

    Joe Doria Jr., an owner of Grace's, said that one of his suppliers, Alaskan Feast, had sold wild Alaskan troll king salmon to the store.

    But Daniel Kim, an owner of Alaskan Feast, said he had not sold the store Rainforest or Columbia River wild salmon, adding that it would have been almost impossible to buy any fresh wild salmon from either source in March.

    Mr. Doria offered another explanation: "Sometimes when these fish come off the boat they get separated, and I got sent the wrong salmon from my supplier."

    In addition, Mr. Kim called to say that a whole salmon one of his salesman at the Fulton Fish Market sold to this reporter as wild was actually farmed.

    He said his salesman had "made a mistake."

    The fish was not analyzed.

    Margaret Wittenberg, the vice president for marketing and public affairs at Whole Foods, said its wild salmon was properly labeled and came from the trolling of California's wild king salmon.

    The Times's findings were confirmed by two Norwegian researchers, Dr. Bjorn Bjerkeng, a leading researcher in the analysis of salmon carotenoids at the Institute Aquaculture Research in Sunndalsora, Norway, and Dr. Harald Lura, a fish biologist and expert in salmon reproduction, who said of the study, "The methodology and results are convincing."

    Wild salmon become pink by eating sea creatures like krill, which contain a carotenoid called astaxanthin.

    Farmed salmon are naturally grayish but turn pink when they are fed various sources of astaxanthin, including one that is chemically synthesized and others that originate from yeast or microalgae.

    During Craft's two-week testing, it determined that the controlled sample and the one from Eli's had more than 60 percent of the form of astaxanthin that occurs naturally, within the range of 50 to 80 percent typical for wild salmon.

    All the other samples except the one from Whole Foods had 30 percent or less of the form dominant in wild salmon. The sample from Whole Foods had 37.9 percent.

    The farmed samples tested high in either the synthetic or the yeast forms of astaxanthin.

    Laura Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, a state agency that promotes wild seafood, said, "The symptom is not confined to Manhattan."

    She added, "We've had calls from various places around the country over the last several years from indignant fans telling us that stores are promoting product as wild Alaskan salmon when in fact it is not wild salmon at all."

    "The extent of the problem is certainly surprising," Ms. Fleming said, "especially in a place like New York, where the most sophisticated consumers in the country live, people who really scrutinize a purchase."

    Federal regulations governing country-of-origin labeling took effect on Monday.

    They require fish to carry a paper trail back to the source, but they apply to full-service markets like grocery stores, not to fish markets.

    Joseph Catalano, a partner at Eli's and the Vinegar Factory who is responsible for the fish those markets sell, said he was not surprised by the test results.

    "The bottom line on all this is money," he said.

    Faced with fillets of wild and farmed salmon, even renowned chefs like Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin and Mr. Pasternack of Esca, who pay top dollar for the choicest seafood, could not visually distinguish one from the other.

    After the fillets were cooked, however, they could taste the difference.


    "The most obvious clue is flavor," said Ms. Fleming of the Alaskan agency, "but by that time it's too late."

[via Marian Burros and the New York Times]

April 10, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's best explanation of quantum theory


Brian Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, is the world's best writer on quantum physics.

Einstein once said that if you really understood something you should be able to explain it to a child.

Greene explains quantum physics in a way even I can understand.


This past Friday the New York Times gave Greene 80% of its Op-Ed page — not even the long-winded Henry Kissinger gets that much space from the Grey Lady — for an essay celebrating the hundred-year anniversary of Albert Einstein's "annus mirabilis."

In 1905 Einstein wrote and published a series of four papers "that each resulted in deep and formative changes to our understanding of the universe."

Here is Greene's superb piece.

    One Hundred Years of Uncertainty

    Just about a hundred years ago, Albert Einstein began writing a paper that secured his place in the pantheon of humankind's greatest thinkers.

    With his discovery of special relativity, Einstein upended the familiar, thousands-year-old conception of space and time.

    To be sure, even a century later, not everyone has fully embraced Einstein's discovery.

    Nevertheless, say "Einstein" and most everyone thinks "relativity."

    What is less widely appreciated, however, is that physicists call 1905 Einstein's "miracle year" not because of the discovery of relativity alone, but because in that year Einstein achieved the unimaginable, writing four papers that each resulted in deep and formative changes to our understanding of the universe.

    One of these papers - not on relativity - garnered him the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics.

    It also began a transformation in physics that Einstein found so disquieting that he spent the last 30 years of his life in a determined effort to repudiate it.

    Two of the four 1905 papers were indeed on relativity.

    The first, completed in June, laid out the foundations of his new view of space and time, showing that distances and durations are not absolute, as everyone since Newton had thought, but instead are affected by one's motion.

    Clocks moving relative to one another tick off time at different rates; yardsticks moving relative to one another measure different lengths.

    You don't perceive this because the speeds of everyday life are too slow for the effects to be noticeable.

    If you could move near the speed of light, the effects would be obvious.

    The second relativity paper, completed in September, is a three-page addendum to the first, which derived his most famous result, E = mc2, an equation as short as it is powerful.

    It told the world that matter can be converted into energy - and a lot of it - since the speed of light squared (c2) is a huge number.

    We've witnessed this equation's consequences in the devastating might of nuclear weapons and the tantalizing promise of nuclear energy.

    The third paper, completed in May, conclusively established the existence of atoms - an idea discussed in various forms for millenniums - by showing that the numerous microscopic collisions they'd generate would account for the observed, though previously unexplained, jittery motion of impurities suspended in liquids.

    With these three papers, our view of space, time and matter was permanently changed.

    Yet, it is the remaining 1905 paper, written in March, whose legacy is arguably the most profound.

    In this work, Einstein went against the grain of conventional wisdom and argued that light, at its most elementary level, is not a wave, as everyone had thought, but actually a stream of tiny packets or bundles of energy that have since come to be known as photons.

    This might sound like a largely technical advance, updating one description of light to another.

    But through subsequent research that amplified and extended Einstein's argument (see slide show), scientists revealed a mathematically precise and thoroughly startling picture of reality called quantum mechanics.

    Before the discovery of quantum mechanics, the framework of physics was this: If you tell me how things are now, I can then use the laws of physics to calculate, and hence predict, how things will be later.

    You tell me the velocity of a baseball as it leaves Derek Jeter's bat, and I can use the laws of physics to calculate where it will land a handful of seconds later.

    You tell me the height of a building from which a flowerpot has fallen, and I can use the laws of physics to calculate the speed of impact when it hits the ground.

    You tell me the positions of the Earth and the Moon, and I can use the laws of physics to calculate the date of the first solar eclipse in the 25th century.

    What's important is that in these and all other examples, the accuracy of my predictions depends solely on the accuracy of the information you give me.

    Even laws that differ substantially in detail - from the classical laws of Newton to the relativistic laws of Einstein - fit squarely within this framework.

    Quantum mechanics does not merely challenge the previous laws of physics.

    Quantum mechanics challenges this centuries-old framework of physics itself.

    According to quantum mechanics, physics cannot make definite predictions.

    Instead, even if you give me the most precise description possible of how things are now, we learn from quantum mechanics that the most physics can do is predict the probability that things will turn out one way, or another, or another way still.

    The reason we have for so long been unaware that the universe evolves probabilistically is that for the relatively large, everyday objects we typically encounter - baseballs, flowerpots, the Moon - quantum mechanics shows that the probabilities become highly skewed, hugely favoring one outcome and effectively suppressing all others.


    A typical quantum calculation reveals that if you tell me the velocity of something as large as a baseball, there is more than a 99.99999999999999 (or so) percent likelihood that it will land at the location I can figure out using the laws of Newton or, for even better accuracy, the laws of Einstein.

    With such a skewed probability, the quantum reasoning goes, we have long overlooked the tiny chance that the baseball can (and, on extraordinarily rare occasions, will) land somewhere completely different.

    When it comes to small objects like molecules, atoms and subatomic particles, though, the quantum probabilities are typically not skewed.

    For the motion of an electron zipping around the nucleus of an atom, for example, a quantum calculation lays out odds that are all roughly comparable that the electron will be in a variety of different locations - a 13 percent chance, say, that the electron will be here, a 19 percent chance that it will be there, an 11 percent chance that it will be in a third place, and so on.

    Crucially, these predictions can be tested.

    Take an enormous sample of identically prepared atoms, measure the electron's position in each, and tally up the number of times you find the electron at one location or another.

    According to the pre-quantum framework, identical starting conditions should yield identical outcomes; we should find the electron to be at the same place in each measurement.

    But if quantum mechanics is right, in 13 percent of our measurements we should find the electron here, in 19 percent we should find it there, in 11 percent we should find it in that third place.

    And, to fantastic precision, we do.

    Faced with a mountain of supporting data, Einstein couldn't argue with the success of quantum mechanics.

    But to him, even though his own Nobel Prize-winning work was a catalyst for the quantum revolution, the theory was anathema.

    Commentators over the decades have focused on Einstein's refusal to accept the probabilistic framework of quantum mechanics, a position summarized in his frequent comment that "God does not play dice with the universe."

    Einstein, radical thinker that he was, still believed in the sanctity of a universe that evolved in a fully definite, fully predictable manner.

    If, as quantum mechanics asserted, the best you can ever do is predict probabilities, Einstein countered that he'd "rather be a cobbler, or even an employee in a gaming house, than a physicist."

    This emphasis, however, partly obscures a larger point.

    It wasn't the mere reliance on probabilistic predictions that so troubled Einstein.

    Unlike many of his colleagues, Einstein believed that a fundamental physical theory was much more than the sum total of its predictions - it was a mathematical reflection of an underlying reality.

    And the reality entailed by quantum mechanics was a reality Einstein couldn't accept.

    An example: Imagine you shoot an electron from here and a few seconds later it's detected by your equipment over there.

    What path did the electron follow during the passage from you to the detector?

    The answer according to quantum mechanics?

    There is no answer.

    The very idea that an electron, or a photon, or any other particle, travels along a single, definite trajectory from here to there is a quaint version of reality that quantum mechanics declares outmoded.

    Instead, the proponents of quantum theory claimed, reality consists of a haze of all possibilities - all trajectories - mutually commingling and simultaneously unfolding.

    And why don't we see this?

    According to the quantum doctrine, when we make a measurement or perform an observation, we force the myriad possibilities to ante up, snap out of the haze and settle on a single outcome.

    But between observations - when we are not looking - reality consists entirely of jostling possibilities.

    Quantum reality, in other words, remains ambiguous until measured.

    The reality of common perception is thus merely a definitive-looking veneer obscuring the internal workings of a highly uncertain cosmos.

    Which is where Einstein drew a line in the sand.

    A universe of this sort offended him; he could not accept, as he put it, that "the Old One" would so profoundly incorporate a hidden element of happenstance in the nature of reality.

    Einstein quipped to his quantum colleagues, "Do you really think the Moon is not there when you're not looking?" and set himself the Herculean task of reworking the laws of physics to resurrect conventional reality.

    Einstein waged a two-front assault on the problem.

    He sought an internal chink in the quantum framework that would establish it as a mere steppingstone on the path to a deeper and more complete description of the universe.

    At the same time, he sought a grander synthesis of nature's laws - what he called a "unified theory" - that he believed would reveal the probabilities of quantum mechanics to be no more profound than the probabilities offered in weather forecasts, probabilities that simply reflect an incomplete knowledge of an underlying, definite reality.

    In 1935, through a disarmingly simple mathematical analysis, Einstein (with two colleagues) established a beachhead on the first front.

    He proved that quantum mechanics is either an incomplete theory or, if it is complete, the universe is - in Einstein's words - "spooky."

    Why "spooky?"

    Because the theory would allow certain widely separated particles to correlate their behaviors perfectly (somewhat as if a pair of widely separated dice would always come up the same number when tossed at distant casinos).

    Since such "spooky" behavior would border on nuttiness, Einstein thought he'd made clear that quantum theory couldn't yet be considered a complete description of reality.

    The nimble quantum proponents, however, would have nothing of it.

    They insisted that quantum theory made predictions - albeit statistical predictions - that were consistently born out by experiment.

    By the precepts of the scientific method, they argued, the theory was established.

    They maintained that searching beyond the theory's predictions for a glimpse of a reality behind the quantum equations betrayed a foolhardy intellectual greediness.

    Nevertheless, for the remaining decades of his life, Einstein could not give up the quest, exclaiming at one point, "I have thought a hundred times more about quantum problems than I have about relativity."

    He turned exclusively to his second line of attack and became absorbed with the prospect of finding the unified theory, a preoccupation that resulted in his losing touch with mainstream physics.

    By the 1940's, the once dapper young iconoclast had grown into a wizened old man of science who was widely viewed as a revolutionary thinker of a bygone era.

    By the early 1950's, Einstein realized he was losing the battle.

    But the memories of his earlier success with relativity - "the years of anxious searching in the dark, with their intense longing, their alternations of confidence and exhaustion and the final emergence into the light" - urged him onward.

    Maybe the intense light of discovery that had so brilliantly illuminated his path as a young man would shine once again.

    While lying in a bed in Princeton Hospital in mid-April 1955, Einstein asked for the pad of paper on which he had been scribbling equations in the desperate hope that in his final hours the truth would come to him.

    It didn't.

    Was Einstein misguided?

    Must we accept that there is a fuzzy, probabilistic quantum arena lying just beneath the definitive experiences of everyday reality?

    As of today, we still don't have a final answer.

    Fifty years after Einstein's death, however, the scales have certainly tipped farther in this direction.

    Decades of painstaking experimentation have confirmed quantum theory's predictions beyond the slightest doubt.

    Moreover, in a shocking scientific twist, some of the more recent of these experiments have shown that Einstein's "spooky" processes do in fact take place (particles many miles apart have been shown capable of correlating their behavior).

    It's a stunning finding, and one that reaffirms Einstein's uncanny ability to unearth features of nature so mind-boggling that even he couldn't accept what he'd found.

    Finally, there has been tremendous progress over the last 20 years toward a unified theory with the discovery and development of superstring theory.


    So far, though, superstring theory embraces quantum theory without change, and has thus not revealed the definitive reality Einstein so passionately sought.

    With the passage of time and quantum mechanics' unassailable successes, debate about the theory's meaning has quieted.

    The majority of physicists have simply stopped worrying about quantum mechanics' meaning, even as they employ its mathematics to make the most precise predictions in the history of science.

    Others prefer reformulations of quantum mechanics that claim to restore some features of conventional reality at the expense of additional - and, some have argued, more troubling - deviations (like the notion that there are parallel universes).

    Yet others investigate hypothesized modifications to the theory's equations that don't spoil its successful predictions but try to bring it closer to common experience.

    Over the 25 years since I first learned quantum mechanics, I've at various times subscribed to each of these perspectives.

    My shifting attitude, however, reflects that I'm still unsettled.

    Were Einstein to interrogate me today about quantum reality, I'd have to admit that deep inside I harbor many of the doubts that gnawed at him for decades.

    Can it really be that the solid world of experience and perception, in which a single, definite reality appears to unfold with dependable certainty, rests on the shifting sands of quantum probabilities?

    Well, yes. Probably.

    The evidence is compelling and tangible.

    Although we have yet to fully lay bare quantum mechanics' grand lesson for the underlying nature of the universe,

    I like to think even Einstein would be impressed that in the 50 years since his death our facility with quantum mechanics has matured from a mathematical understanding of the subatomic realm to precision control.

    Today's technological wizardry (computers, M.R.I.'s, smart bombs) exists only because research in applied quantum physics has resulted in techniques for manipulating the motion of electrons - probabilities and all - through mazes of ultramicroscopic circuitry.

    Advances hovering on the horizon, like nanoscience and quantum computers, offer the promise of even more spectacular transformations.

    So the next time you use your cellphone or laptop, pause for a moment.

    Recognize that even these commonplace devices rely on our greatest, yet most puzzling, scientific achievement and - as things now stand - tap into humankind's most supreme assault on the idea that reality is what we think it is.

April 10, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Milk Chocolate–Covered Oreos


Can something perfect become more perfect?

Or is that an oxymoron?

Nabisco's going to find out with the latest in a seemingly endless series of variations on their classic Oreo theme.

The Nestlé milk chocolate-covered version has just been introduced into the U.S. via a multi-million dollar ad campaign that began with full-page color ads in today's papers.

Interestingly, the company first tried out this product in South Africa, introducing it there in mid-February of this year.

When it hit big in New Haven, as it were, well, it was on the "The Show."

To stimulate demand Nabisco's ad copy says at the bottom — but not in tiny letters — "Available for a limited time only."

At least they didn't say "One package to a customer."

Don't feel like making a trip just to find your local grocery either has never heard of these cookies or already has sold out its allotment?

Me neither.

That's why you come here.

Because I send you to this website where you can buy four pounds of these new delectables for $23.72.

Ain't it sweet?

I must say that this chocolate-covered version will require a patient rethinking and undoubtedly many pleasant hours of experimentation to determine precisely the best way to eat them.

As it is now, my default Oreo strategy is — and has been, for many years — to first carefully separate the halves (not as easily done without cracking one of them as it might seem), then eat the bare half (the filling usually adheres completely to one or the other cookie half if the separation is performed with the same care a neurosurgeon might use in disconnecting the contiguous cavernous sinuses of conjoined twins), followed by a scraping off of the filling with teeth and tongue, concluding with the creme-free second half.

So, to come back to the question that opened this post, can something perfect become more perfect or not?

Perhaps it's best to avoid the question.

Maybe we should simply regard the original Oreo as great.

That way, if we find the chocolate-covered version better, we can say, correctly, that it's "greater."

Or "greatest."

But then what happens when they add a layer of strawberry filling atop the vanilla creme?

April 10, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MorphWorld: Mariah Carey into Beyoncé


Preparing yesterday's post on Mariah Carey's upcoming personal appearance at Best Buy, it occurred to me that Mariah's people seem to have decided to reposition her and her image (above) in a different space.

I'd never before thought of her as resembling Beyoncé (below)


until I saw a few other photos from the session that resulted in Mariah's new album cover (below).


Sometimes a big voice can create big headaches for its possessor.

April 10, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ReligiousTolerance.org — 'Religions of the World'


"There are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups. 34,000 separate Christian groups have been identified in the world."


This website explores the incredibly diverse world of religion.

April 10, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Scharffen Berger Nibby Bar — Shortage Looms


Nibby Bars (above) are one-ounce bars of semisweet chocolate mixed with bits of cocoa nibs.

Nibs are pieces of the roasted cacao beans that Scharffen Berger uses to make its chocolate, considered by most chocolate mavens the best made in the United States.

To create the Nibby Bar the company mixes the coarsely ground nibs into semisweet chocolate.

Wrote Candy Sagon in her Washington Post Food section front-page story of last Wednesday, April 6, "The result is an intense, one-two punch of the gritty, almost coffee-like nibs and the smooth semisweet chocolate."

The Nibby Bar was introduced in 2000 and has become the company's top-selling mini-chocolate bar.

They are almost impossible to find, wrote Sagon, in Balducci's, Whole Foods, and Dean & DeLuca in the Washington, D.C. area.

Tip to Candy and everyone else: Foods of All Nations in Charlottesville, Virginia has plenty of Nibby Bars.

They're located in the fine chocolate section, to your immediate left as you enter the store.

John Scharffenberger, the company's eponymous founder, told Sagon, "Nibby is a cult favorite. It sells out all the time."

All joeheads who make the pilgrimage to bookofjoe world headquarters here in Charlottesville will receive in their gift bag — what, you thought I don't watch the Academy Awards? — several Nibby Bars, among other delights.

Here's the Washington Post story.

    It's All in the Nibs: How the Cookie Crunches

    There are Nibby people and there are the rest of you.

    For the Nibby lovers, I have some dire news: Nibby Bars are getting hard to find.

    Nibby Bars, made by Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker Inc. of Berkeley, Calif., are one-ounce bars of semisweet chocolate mixed with bits of cocoa nibs.

    What exactly are nibs?

    Nibs are pieces of the roasted cacao beans that Scharffen Berger uses to make its unique line of chocolate.

    To create the Nibby Bar, the company mixes the coarsely ground nibs into semisweet chocolate.

    The result is an intense, one-two punch of the gritty, almost coffeelike nibs and the smooth semisweet chocolate.

    Nibby Bars, so named by co-founder John Scharffenberger "because I liked that word," were introduced in 2000 and have become the company's top-selling mini-chocolate bar.

    They are so popular, they sell out quickly at stores such as Whole Foods, Balducci's and Dean & DeLuca.

    I should know.

    I've been searching for them for weeks without luck.

    "Nibby is a cult favorite. It sells out all the time," says Scharffenberger.

    "The problem is, the stores wait until one of the other flavors [of Scharffen Berger's one-ounce bars] sell out as well before they reorder. That's why you can't find it."

    Ironically, Scharffenberger initially had to convince stores to carry the Nibby.

    "When we explained what it was, they thought people wouldn't like it. I told them to think about Nestle's Crunch. I told them people like a little texture."

    Ardent fans of the gritty Nibby don't hesitate to express their feelings about the hard-to-find bar.

    Scharffenberger says the company frequently gets letters, including one from the woman who wrote him that she keeps a stash in her desk drawer and allows herself "one small piece every two hours."

    Another reason the Nibby is scarce right now is that it's available only in the one-ounce size.

    Other flavors, such as the Mocha Bar, made with micro-ground Sumatran coffee, also can be found in a three-ounce size. Not the Nibby.

    "The machine that molds the chocolate can't deal with the nibs. They clog the nozzle. But we're having new machines built, and there should be three-ounce Nibbies by fall," Scharffenberger assured me.

    And, of course, they can be ordered through the company's Web site.

April 10, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pierced Glasses


This morning I opened the Washington Post and was greeted by a story about the new new thing in body modification: "pierced glasses."

Dallas artist James Sooy (above), 22, was getting tired of his glasses always sliding down his nose.

His solution?

He pierced the bridge of his nose with a barbell and attached his glasses to the bar.


Pure genius.

Nothing rubs against the ears.

No frames or stems that cost an arm and a leg and are vulnerable to breaking.

"It's neat sometimes when you're talking to someone and they pop their head to the side and notice something is not quite right."


Exploring further I learned that Sooy hopes to offer his creation (patent pending) by June for $75 to $100 a pop (lenses not included).

His website, www.piercedglasses.com, has all the latest.

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

Video Tombstone: Dead Can't Dance — But They Can Talk


Robert Barrows has a patent pending for a weatherproofed, hollowed-out headstone that will house a microchip memory system and flat-screen TV.

People will be able to film "talking tombstone" messages before they die, sharing highlights of their lives or whatever else they choose.


"I envision being able to walk through a cemetary using a remote control, clicking on graves and hearing what the people buried there have to say," said Barrows in Jeffrey Zaslow's Wall Street Journal story that appeared this past Thursday, April 7.

Talk about night of the living dead.


I like this idea very, very much.

If a person doesn't make a tape in advance — and doesn't insist on "no video tombstone!" in her will — production will be left up to loved ones.


Barrows estimates his "Video-Enhanced Grave Markers" will cost around $4,000 above and beyond the price of an unenhanced marker.

April 10, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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