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April 29, 2005

BehindTheMedspeak: Poison Goes Glossy

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The new (May) issue of National Geographic centers on poison: the cover story is entitled "Poison: 12 Toxic Tales."

The magazine devotes 30 pages to the article, with the usual superb graphics, photos and what–not.

Now that it's sold at bookstores by the copy, I better stop by Barnes & Noble before they're all gone.

Peter Carlson of the Washington Post wrote an excellent piece for this past Tuesday's paper about the Geographic story: it follows.

    Deadly Poisons and Their Known Anecdotes

    National Geographic Explores a Quieter Way to Kill

    The guy doesn't feel good.

    He complains that his stomach hurts.

    His doctors at the University of Virginia can't figure it out.

    They keep running tests.

    Meanwhile, the patient's wife visits faithfully, feeding her husband homemade banana pudding.

    Finally, the doctors do some toxicity tests. Turns out the guy is full of arsenic.

    And so is the banana pudding.

    But by the time the mystery is solved, the patient is dead.

    "We called the wife Banana Pudding Lily," says Marcella Fierro, the Commonwealth of Virginia's chief medical examiner, who cracked the case.

    When it comes to murder weapons, poison just doesn't get enough respect.

    It's overshadowed by noisier, bloodier, less artful methods of eliminating unwanted humans -- guns, bombs, that sort of thing.

    Fortunately, the gloriously ghoulish cover story "Poison: 12 Toxic Tales" in the May issue of National Geographic reminds us of the huge role that poison has played in the long, colorful history of man's inhumanity to man.

    Socrates was executed with a cup of hemlock.

    Medieval Tatars catapulted plague-infected corpses over enemy walls to spread disease.

    Hannibal's sailors tossed pots of venomous snakes onto the decks of enemy ships.

    The British gave blankets infected with smallpox to Indians during the French and Indian War.

    At the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps during World War II, the Nazis killed more than a million people with a cyanide-based gas called Zyklon B.

    In the 1960s, the CIA planned to poison Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's cigars or his scuba gear.

    In 1978, a Bulgarian dissident was assassinated in London with a poisoned umbrella tip.

    In 2004, Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, which failed to kill him but caused his face to erupt in hideous lesions.

    He won anyway.

    But the heyday of poison as a political tool was in Renaissance Italy, where, as Geographic senior staff writer Cathy Newman writes, "poisoning was as much an art as painting, architecure or sculpture."

    Pope Alexander VI, of the infamous Borgia family, would appoint wealthy men as bishops and cardinals, encourage them to become wealthier, then invite them to dinner.

    "The house wine, dry, with overtones of arsenic," writes Newman, "neatly dispatched the guests, whose wealth, by church law, then reverted to their host."

    Humans are not the only animals who poison their victims.

    Poison is, as one scientist puts it, "animal chemical warfare," used as a defense mechanism by 400 kinds of snakes, 200 spiders and 75 scorpions.

    Among the 700 varieties of poisonous fish is the fugu, an ugly puffer fish considered a delicacy by brave (or stupid) Japanese gourmets, who pay $500 a plate to enjoy the pleasant tingling that fugu makes as it anesthetizes the tongue.

    Alas, sometimes the anesthetizing gets out of hand and the gourmet stops breathing -- resulting in one less customer for fugu.

    Fear of poisoning has created one of the world's least appetizing jobs: food taster for politicians with enemies.

    Newman quotes a man who worked as a food taster for the very careful lord of Castle Mandawa in the Indian desert:

    "When the food was ready, some from each dish would be fed to a dog," recalls Mathura Prasad.

    "Next I would taste, then the guards. The food would go to table under armed escort. Several trusted generals would test it. Finally, the lord and his guest would exchange bits of each dish. Just in case."

    The Geographic's beautifully illustrated, 30-page poison package is divided into 12 reader-friendly pieces.

    Perhaps the most edifying is an interview with Fierro, Virginia's medical examiner, and her colleague, Alphonse Poklis, who offer insights into the personality of the poisoner.

    People who poison their victims are different from folks who shoot, stab or strangle their victims.

    "Often you are dealing with a family situation," says Poklis.

    "It happens over a period of months or a year. The perpetrator is taking care of the victim, watching him die. Poison is the weapon of controlling, sneaky people with no conscience, no sorrow, no remorse."

    American murderers tend not to be fans of poison.

    "It's not in the American character," says Fierro.

    "If you are going to kill someone and you are a true American, you shoot them."

    There you have it, another reason to break into a rousing chorus of "God Bless America."

April 29, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

This is your pink flamingo on crack

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Yes, the epidemic appears to have spread to the lawn bird kingdom: witness the sad fate (above) of an ordinary, unassuming pink flamingo that decided that life out front was just too boring.

A cautionary tale if ever there was one.

One just like it can be yours for $29.95 here.

"The flamingo's neck and legs are accented with copper wire and acrylic beads (did someone just say 'flower power?'), and the metal body is finished in antiqued bronze."

24"H x 13"W x 6.5"D.

Two sturdy prongs hold your objet in place.

April 29, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'We have impact' — July 4, 2005

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That's the day NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft is scheduled to release an 800–pound metal projectile aimed squarely at the heart of comet Tempel 1, cruising unawares out in deep space some 83 million miles from Earth at 65,000 miles an hour.

The wine–barrel size impactor will separate from the larger flyby portion of the spacecraft and accelerate to a speed of 22,800 mph at the time of impact.

See why it's called "Deep Impact?"

The impactor will hit with a force of 4.5 tons of TNT.

Earthlings are expected to be able to witness the blast, which will carve a crater up to seven stories deep.

During the 15 minutes of photographic and instrument exposure to the results before the flyby craft becomes hidden in the comet's tail, some 365 MB of data will be generated for return to Earth.

This past Monday, April 25, Deep Impact got its first picture of Tempel 1 (below, the brightest object),

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from a distance of 39.7 million miles.

It's closing fast.

T minus 65 days and counting.

Ground control to Major Tom: begin preliminary preparations on my mark.

The Planetary Society is sponsoring a contest for anyone willing to guess the actual size of the crater–to–be.

Hint: it can't be larger than eight miles across: that's the size of the comet.

[via Noah Shachtman and Wired magazine]

April 29, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Life Lynx Safety Key — Paranoia Strikes Deep

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And so it has, with the new Life Lynx Safety Key (above), "designed as an aid in finding missing children."

Into your life it will creep.

The company touts multiple applications:

    Print ID cards (below) right on your printer.

    Store vital information and photos on your children and other family members — even pets — all on one key.

    Maintain important medical information on your children and other family members.

    Prepare up–to–date documents and identification cards needed for school records, field trips, medical emergencies, and vacations.

"What really separates this identification tool from any others on the market: the Life Lynx Safety Key enables the quick release of up–to–date photos and other identifying information in the event your child is lost or missing."

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That's what this invention is all about, really: fear.

Post 9/11 the unthinkable is now closer to the surface.

Companies are prepared to take advantage of this.

It starts when you're always afraid.

To this end, the Frontgate catalog revisits the Life Lynx Safety Key as follows:

    Prepares you for instant action should your child become missing

    With over 2,000 missing person cases in the U.S. daily, this unassuming key chain lets you take immediate action if someone you love goes missing.

    It's actually a data storage device for your children's vital information and photos, always with you in a pocket or handbag and ready to be instantly shared with authorities, if needed.

    This invaluable digital device was developed with input from safety and missing persons professionals.

$35 here.

You step out of line, the man come and take you away.

April 29, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

5th Annual Duck Tape 'Stuck@Prom' Contest

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It's on, bigger and better than ever.

Nearly 2,000 couples have entered during the five years the contest has existed.

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Entries are still being taken and will be until June 10, 2005.

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Then the judging begins.

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"First, second and third place winners will be chosen by a panel of judges including Jim & Tim, the famed Duct Tape Guys, and Todd Scott, duct tape guru and sculptor."

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"Winners will be judged on a number of criteria, including workmanship, originality, creative use of accessories and quantity of duct tape used [more is better]."

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Just so you have an idea of what you're getting into, note that last year's winning dress (top), made and worn by Caitlyn Waters of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, weighed 30 pounds.

Caitlyn said, in a story about the contest that appeared in this past Sunday's New York Times, "... It was extremely hot and uncomfortable."

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But the $2,500 scholarship she won, with an equal amount to her partner, Kris Murray, led her to conclude, "It was worth it."

Want to see what it takes to be a winner?

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Have a look here at the previous champions, some of whom are pictured above and below.

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There are two basic ways contestants approach the contest: one is to affix duct tape to existing prom dresses and suits, the other to create a new fabric de novo, as it were, by putting the sticky sides of two pieces of tape together.

[via Abby Ellin and the New York Times]

April 29, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Invisible Swimming Pool Cover

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Huh?

"The pool cover you can't see... but it's there reducing evaporation to keep the water warm."

How's that?

"Ecosavr™ replaces conventional pool blankets by creating a transparent, 'liquid' cover that goes unnoticed while your family frolics in the water, but then re-creates itself when the water is still."

Why, that's amazing.

Tell us more.

"Reduces evaporation up to 40%, keeping the solar energy trapped, so the pool stays warmer longer."

Wow.

I'm impressed.

"Ecosavr™ dispenser 'fish' (above) sinks to the bottom of the pool, and the valve in its top 'fin' slowly releases the liquid into your pool."

I've never heard of anything like this.

"It's transparent, odorless, tasteless and undetectable to swimmers."

Why, you'd almost think there wasn't anything in it, wouldn't you?

"Ecosavr™'s molecules are attracted to water at one end and repelled by water at the other; they also tangle together in all directions."

Sounds very intricate.

"This enables a biodegradable, micro–thin liquid blanket to cover the surface of your pool, forming a barrier that slows the evaporation of water molecules."

Cool: not just water, but "water molecules."

You get not one, not two, but three Ecosavr™ fish for $39.99.

And if you, or anyone, actually buys this, well, all I can say is, you're dumber than I look.

I mean, come on.

If I didn't know better I'd think this was originally intended for the Sharper Image until their Ionic Breeze™ blew up.

April 29, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Vitamin C Hand Shower

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"Pharmaceutical–grade Vitamin C."

From South Korea comes this remarkable development (above) in handwashing technology.

From the website:

    The Features of Vitamin C Hand Shower

    • Perfect Chlorine Removal

    • Change the Water (weak acid)

    • Water Saving (50%)

    • Convenient to use in low water pressure

    • Anion radiation

Many of you can benefit from this 21st–century technology.

Vit_benefit

More from the website:

    Vitamin C Hand Shower is effective for:

    • Atopy skin and allergy sufferers

    • Infant and children

    • Asthma sufferers

    • Irritated–eyes after shower

    • Shining your hair

    • Women and children with sensitive skin

    • Skin disease

    • Who dyes hair often

Well.

I don't know which is more exciting: the fact that my now near–daily blonde hair rinse on my way to that Billy Idol look I've always dreamed about will suddenly become less painful or the promise of "anion radiation."

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Regardless, this is some product.

[via AW]

April 29, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Skamper–Ramp® — 'It could save your dog's life!'

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What if, just suppose, your dog dives into your pool one hot summer day to cool off, or happens to fall in?

Sure, dogs can swim — but how's the poor pooch supposed to lift himself out of the pool?

That's where this ingenious invention can save the day.

"When Fido starts to panic in the water, he'll scamper up this perforated ramp to safety!"

$39.99 here.

"He who saves one life saves the world" — Maimonides

April 29, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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