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April 12, 2005

BehindTheMedspeak: Sharper Image Ionic Breeze Air Purifier May Cause Lung Damage

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Who knew?

Certainly not the hundreds of thousands of people who dropped $450 a pop for a big, fancy-looking silent device (above) purported to clean their air.

Now Consumer Reports tells us in its current (May) issue that not only does the Sharper Image product not work as it's supposed to but instead causes indoor air pollution by releasing unhealthy amounts of ozone.

The Environmental Protection Agency website in its discussion of ozone states, "Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation. Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.... Healthy people, as well as those with respiratory difficulty, can experience breathing problems when exposed to ozone."

January W. Payne's story in today's Washington Post explores the issue thoroughly, presenting both sides of the burgeoning controversy.

The Sharper Image has got its baggies* in a twist over the new report.

You could see how that could happen, considering that about 30% of the company's income derives from sales of this one product.

Consumer Reports in October 2003 published a report stating that the Ionic Breeze performed poorly at removing dust and smoke particles from the air.

Sharper Image sued them for libel but got slapped in the face by a federal court, which dismissed the lawsuit and fined the company $520,000 in legal costs for bringing the suit.

Ha.

No wonder the Sharper Image is spluttering and circling the wagons: federal courts do not take kindly to being trifled with and the company knows better than to take its failed complaint back for a second doomed round of litigation.

What fascinated me after the initial report in 2003 is that the devices sold like hotcakes anyway.

I guess if you spend enough for advertising, newspapers and magazines won't harp on stuff that's not to your advantage.

However, the company's not faring so well this time around, after this second knockout punch: the stock lost 9% in one day last week after the new Consumer Reports study was announced; that brought the NASDAQ-listed shares down near their 52-week low of $14.08.

Let me clear the air a bit for you: I have created an air cleaner which works better than the Ionic Breeze and I'm going to offer it to you, my readers, at no charge for a limited time.

It's a shoebox.

Yes, a plain, ordinary, empty shoebox, just like the ones in your closet.

Put it out in a place where it comes in contact with the air circulating through your apartment or house.

It is silent — just like the Ionic Breeze.

It has no moving parts — just like the Ionic Breeze.

It is free — unlike the $450 Ionic Breeze.

It does not produce health-damaging ozone — unlike the Ionic Breeze.

The choice is yours.

*Jamaican patois for knickers

April 12, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

OXO Time Squared Double Timer — As Featured on the Holodeck

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Even when you're traveling at warp speed you need to keep track of how long to boil your egg.

To that end OXO's created the official timer (above) of the starship Enterprise.

It spans the generations and the galaxies, featuring an old-fashioned one-hour analog timer just like the one mom uses with a 100-hour digital timer for those exquisite marinades your dinner guests rave about.

It also allows you to time two events at once, like your hair drying and your fingernails growing.

Easy-to-read graphics and an angled face for visibility.

Here's the bad news: it's vaporware.

Yes, OXO announced it last month at the International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago, but with an estimated availability date of May of this year.

I just visited the company's website to find out more and saw that the date has now been pushed back to July — and that's only an estimate.

I suspect OXO's hired one or more people from Bill Gates's Longhorn team.

They've been talking about that new operating system for years now, and it grows less full-featured and more distant with every passing month.

Thank God I won't ever have to use it.

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

'Textiles for This World and Beyond'

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Turns out you aren't the only person who wonders, "what's it all about?"

The headhunters of Borneo did as well and the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. has a new exhibit offering bloody proof of it.

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The show features the first exhibition of a group of 19th- to early 20th-century Southeast Asian textiles acquired by the museum over the past 25 years.

Among the items on display are pua, the special cloths that wrapped newly severed heads as they were carried up a ladder to a tribal longhouse.

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The museum has cleaned the cloths as best it could without damaging them, but as curator Mattiebelle Gittinger said in Linda Hales's April 2 Washington Post review of the show, "Some of them are pretty messy."

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

Furnature — Organic Furniture

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This Massachusetts company makes upholstered furniture and bedding free of common fabric and agricultural chemicals, from formaldehyde to chemical fire retardants.

All the stuffing, upholstery fibers and wood in the furniture are certified to be chemical-free.

But purity doesn't come cheap, in furniture or in life.

Some of the company's "organic couches" sell for nearly $4,000.

A hand-made organic hemp couch from another organic furniture maker, Bean Products, runs $5,200.

That's a lot of granola.

So far organic furniture sales are just a fraction of the $12 billion organic industry.

The future looks very bright: sales of organic mattresses and pillows, which topped $1 million last year, are expected to increase nearly 15% annually during the next five years, estimates the Organic Trade Association.

Why is organic so hot?

Chuck Blumenthal, founder of Bean Products,

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told USA Today's Bruce Horovitz, in a story that appeared last Thursday, "We're living in chemical soup. People do not want toxic stuff in their lives."

That gives me an idea: maybe I should create a link on bookofjoe that would take you to my organic blog, certified chemical-free.

Think I could charge a premium like Furnature and Bean Products?

[via Bruce Horovitz and USA Today]

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

World-Class Cooking Ingredients - Shop Like a Chef

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High-end products intended mainly for chefs are gradually becoming available to civilians like me and you.

Excellent sources follow.

Fine cheeses, game, imported condiments and fruit purées — www.chefswarehouse.com; www.chefshop.com; www.earthydelights.com

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Baking ingredients — www.bakerscatalogue.com

Spanish food and ingredients — www.tienda.com

French — www.lepicerie.com and www.frenchfeast.com

Italian — www.gustiamo.com

Japanese and Chinese — www.pacificeastwest.com

Thai — www.importfood.com

Various Asian countries — www.ethnicgrocer.com

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[via Florence Fabricant and the New York Times]

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

PB & J Wars — Smucker's goes down firing

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Smucker's, seeking to expand its patent on Uncrustables — frozen, disk-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — presented its case last Wednesday before three judges at the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals.

Smucker's lawyer, Robert Vickers, argued that Smucker's Uncrustables are not simply "smushed," as Judge Raymond Clevenger III declared but, rather, "sealed by compression."

On such fine points do the fates of nations, much less nations' lunch box contents, hinge.

At one point another judge, Arthur Gajarsa, said his wife often squeezes together the sides of their child's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to keep the filling from oozing out.

"I'm afraid she might be infringing on your patent!" exclaimed Judge Gajarsa.

Lawyers in the case thought the case might take several months to decide.

Here's Sara Schaefer Muñoz's entertaining story on the case, from last Thursday's Wall Street Journal.

    Patent Case Turns Sticky for Smucker

    Three federal judges yesterday questioned whether the method for creating a crustless, peanut butter and jelly sandwich is unique.

    The hearing, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, was the latest round in J.M. Smucker Co.'s attempt to expand its patent on Uncrustables, frozen, disk-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that have been among the Orrville, Ohio, jam-maker's most successful products.

    The three judges explored the difference between bread that is "smushed" versus "compressed," and pondered the idea of jelly "encapsulated" in peanut butter.

    One even questioned whether his wife violated Smucker's patent when she made lunch for their child.

    There is no deadline for the court's decision, but lawyers in the case said it could take several months.

    Smucker obtained patent rights on the sandwich in 1999, and set out to expand them with new applications before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

    But a patent examiner handling the case rejected the company's requests.

    The Patent Office's appeals board upheld the decision, declaring the sealed sandwich wasn't new, and citing, among other things, a pastry cookbook that shows how to seal the edges of tarts and stuffed pasta.

    Yesterday, Smucker lawyer, Robert Vickers of Fay, Sharpe, Fagan, Minnich & McKee LLP of Cleveland, argued that the sandwich's edge isn't made like the tarts or raviolis shown in the cookbook.

    Instead, he said, the bread retains its original characteristics but its edges are compressed.

    "So it's smushed!" Judge Raymond Clevenger III declared,

    "It is sealed by compression, but it is not smushed," Mr. Vickers explained.

    Mr. Vickers also said the sandwich is novel because the filling "encapsulates" jelly between two larger layers of peanut butter.

    But the judges weren't sure how the "encapsulated" filling makes the Smucker sandwich different from other versions.

    At one point, another judge, Arthur Gajarsa, said his wife often squeezes together the sides of their child's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to keep the filling form oozing out.

    "I'm afraid she might be infringing on your patent!"

    A statement handed out by company representatives at yesterday's hearing says, "It wouldn't be fair to let another company simply copy the product and benefit from the hard work our people have invested."

Well.

I was expecting not to revisit this matter until summer but I guess it wasn't as sticky a case as the lawyers in the case thought, because the judges, instead of taking "several months" to come to a decision, cut right through the matter and delivered their verdict last Friday, less than 48 hours after closing arguments.

And the verdict is... no expanded patent.

Smucker's did not find the result toothsome, to be sure.

Here's last Friday's Wall Street Journal story.

    J.M. Smucker PB&J May Be Good, But Gets No Patent

    There's only so far you can go in trying to patent the ever-popular peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

    On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected an effort by J.M. Smucker Co. to patent its process for making pocket-size peanut butter and jelly pastries called "Uncrustables."

    Smucker 's peanut butter and jelly pockets are enclosed without a crust using a crimping method that the Orrville, Ohio, company says is one of a kind and should be protected from duplication by federal law.

    Patent examiners at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office disagreed, saying the crimped edges are similar to making ravioli or a pie crust.

    Smucker already owns a general patent, which it purchased from Len Kretchman and David Geske, two Fargo, N.D., men who came up with the idea in 1995 and had been baking the products for school children.

    The two cases before the appeals court involved two additional patents that Smucker was seeking to expand its original patent by protecting its method.

    The company had appealed the initial rejection to the patent office's Board of Trademark Appeals and Interferences, but that body upheld the decision to reject the patents.

    Smucker then took the case to the appeals court, which entered a judgment Friday, without comment, affirming the patent office's decision.

    Brigid Quinn, a spokeswoman for the patent office, said the Smucker case is one of several that seek to test the limits of what federal law has determined can be protected by patents.

    "There's always more than one view on how it can be interpreted," Quinn said.

    "They're intellectual judgments that are crossed with scientific knowledge, and it's not black and it's not white. They're judgment calls."

    A spokeswoman from Smucker couldn't immediately be reached for comment Friday.

    In a statement released earlier, the company said it had purchased "a unique idea for making an everyday item more convenient" and made a significant investment in a "unique manufacturing process" for making the product.

I'm sure Smucker's lawyers will urge the company to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If I were Smucker's I'd do it, but not primarily in hope of winning; rather, the publicity for Uncrustables generated by the case will be worth untold millions in free advertising.

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

FindAGrave.com

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7.3 million listed — and counting.

"Find the graves of ancestors, create virtual memorials, add 'virtual flowers,' and add a note to a loved one's grave, etc."

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"Can we find one for you?"

April 12, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Rem Koolhaas's Casa da Musica — 'One of the three most original concert halls of the past 100 years'

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So wrote New York Times architecture critic Nicholas Ouroussoff in his effusive story in this past Sunday's paper about Koolhaas's new building (above) in Oporto, Portugal.

The online Times story is accompanied by a slide show with various views of the building, narrated by Ouroussoff.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot: the other two of the three most original concert halls.

Ouroussoff chose Frank Gehry's 2003 Walt Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles and Hans Scharoun's 1960s-era Berlin Philharmonic.

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

Bottom Reformulator: Your Dream Buttocks are Within Reach — Just Sit

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"Designed by a team of plastic surgeons to enhance the shape of your buttocks and make them appear more toned and tight."

What's this?

"Now you can more easily achieve the buttocks you envision."

Huh — and all this time I've been envisioning whirled peas.

No wonder things haven't worked out like I'd hoped they would. But I digress.

From the website:

    Designed to enhance the shape of buttocks and to make them appear more toned and tight

    Vigorously tested and proven to work

    Women across the nation can be found at fitness centers using stairmaster machines and engaging in aerobics and Pilates to achieve a slender body and to make their bottoms look firm.

    Now you can more easily achieve the buttocks you envision, on top of your physical training, by using the Bottom Reformulator.

    It's been designed by a team of plastic surgeons from Taiwan to enhance the shape of your buttocks and to make them appear more toned and tight.

    These doctors concluded that body pressure on a curved memory-foam pillow can, after an allotted period of time, reshape your bottom.

    Use our memory foam cushion to curve your bottom just the way you want it to be shaped.

    You'll be on your way to attaining that starlet figure with the Bottom Reformulator.

    It's been vigorously tested and is proven to work.

    You'll see results within 90 days.

    If you're not satisfied, you can get a full refund within that time.

    Directions for use: just sit on it at home or the office, it is comfortable and doesn't have any side effects.

    A wonderfully-shaped bottom will do wonders for your world.

Measures 16" x 12"

Weight: 2.5 lbs.

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$29.95 here.

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

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