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May 3, 2005

'Leave the driving to Spot' – Funniest item in today's papers


Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher wrote today about his recent cut–rate, unlicensed bus round–trip between Washington, D.C. and New York City.

His piece is side–splittingly hilarious, so much so that I simply cannot pull out a sentence or two, the whole thing's so great.

Here it is.

    N.Y. to D.C. On the Quirky Express

    I knew the Chinatown bus was not going to be like the Delta Shuttle when a woolly old dog made his way down the narrow aisle.

    A buzz of concern swept through the bus, leaving midtown Manhattan momentarily for the four-hour trip to the District.

    The driver came on the PA system: "Ladies and gentlemen, do not be alarmed. That is my dog, Spot. He is the bus dog. We go back a long way. Spot keeps me sane. When I am sad and lonely, he talks to me, telepathically. We are one. Thank you."


    I considered asking for my $20 back, but the silent Hasidic man collecting the fares seemed unfazed, and no other passengers budged, so I settled in for the cheapest ride between Washington and New York.

    The air shuttle isn't a shuttle anymore, now that financially brittle Delta and US Airways no longer roll out another plane on demand.

    The Acela is ailing and pricey.

    But on the roads, there's a wonderfully cutthroat competition going on among Chinese immigrants whose buses will get you from Washington to New York in about an hour longer than the train takes, at about a quarter of the cost.

    This ain't the Acela -- heck, it's not even Greyhound -- but the Chinatown buses, born in the mid-'90s to ferry Chinese restaurant workers from jobs in Washington to families in New York, are an adventure and a half.

    "Be advised the driver may experience fits of road rage or aggression," driver D.L. Monroe, better known as The Bishop, told us as we entered the Lincoln Tunnel.

    "If you feel any bumps, such as manhole covers or body parts, do not worry: It was meant to be."

    There is a seamy underside to the Chinatown bus industry, one in which a driver for one company rammed his coach into a rival's owner (the alleged bad guy was subsequently executed on a New York Chinatown street) and one company trashed another's buses in an effort to get it to raise its fares.

    No need to worry about such antics.

    The ride is excitement enough.

    On the way to New York on Dragon Coach, our driver -- a chain smoker who delivered a one-word answer to a passenger's request that he observe the no smoking sign: "driver" -- saw a traffic jam developing on the ramp to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

    So he eased the bus over the curb, drove up a muddy embankment and squeezed onto the adjacent ramp to Route 50.

    Then he turned to his passengers with a huge smile and said, "Ahh! Better!"

    One driver shaved precious minutes off our journey by using the E-ZPass lane despite the fact that he did not actually possess an E-ZPass transponder.

    Red lights flashed and bells rang, but nobody chased us, and we got to our destination much faster.

    My favorite driver was The Bishop, owner of Spot (aka Fido).

    The Bishop is good to Spot; he even bought the animal an ice cream parfait at our Delaware House rest stop.

    The Bishop did warn us not to agitate Spot.

    "He has specific instructions not to fraternize," he noted.

    The Bishop greeted passengers as we pulled out of New York with this announcement: "This is the Washington Deluxe bus to Atlantic City. We're going to the Taj Mahal. You will receive $15 in casino chips. We'll be returning at 11 p.m."

    A few passengers nervously gathered their things, steeling themselves to tell The Bishop that they needed to get off.

    A few seconds later, he let on that we were indeed D.C.-bound.

    Alas, The Bishop's humor went under-appreciated.

    The primary languages on the Chinatown buses (a list is at http://staticleap.com/chinatownbus) seem to be Russian, German and Chinese. (The buses draw a blend of Chinese workers, European tourists, college students and working-class Washingtonians.)

    Greyhound, miffed that competition has forced it to lower fares, has taken to suing the upstarts for operating without proper licenses.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, a Greyhound executive said in an affidavit that his company can't "tolerate unauthorized operators cherry-picking business on its busiest routes."

    Poor babies.

    I am pleased to report that on Interstate 95, our full-to-capacity Washington Deluxe coach passed two Greyhounds each carrying fewer than a dozen passengers.

    Go Chinatown and leave the driving to Spot.

May 3, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



Once upon a time this site ruled the meat hat world.


Alas, Hatsofmeat.com, like Buffalo Bill, is defunct.


Both the name and concept took things to the abattoir level.


Shines a whole new light on the term


"meathead," what?

[via DesignBoom and RT]

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

Walk Around Manhattan


It's the premier annual event of Shorewalkers, a New York non–profit dedicated to enhancing, enjoying and protecting the parks, promenades and paths throughout the New York metropolitan area.

The 20th Annual Great Saunter takes place the first Saturday in May each year — that's this coming Saturday, May 7 — and consists of a 12–hour, 32–mile stroll around the entire island of Manhattan.


Not up to the full hike?

No problema: you can join in during the day at any of five set locations staggered throughout the borough.

The beginning and finish line celebration take place at South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan.

The walk starts at 7 a.m. at Fulton and South streets.


Sign up here; call 212–663–2167 for more info.

[via the Washington Post]

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

Water—Powered Alarm Clock


"Half fill the right–hand tube with tap water, wait a few minutes, and the display will light up."

Very nicely done.

Who knew cold fusion had made its way into consumer products already?

Not me, that's for sure.

"Use the MODE and SET buttons to set the date and time and alarm function."

Measures 5.5" x 4.5" x 2.5".

"The clock will only need topping up about every two months."

$13.99 here.

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

'Glenn Gould Live'*


On May 19 in Raleigh, North Carolina, Zenph Studios will present the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, who died in 1982, playing Bach's "Goldberg Variations."

"The company has created software that can reproduce every note from scratchy, decades–old recordings, exactly as they were originally made — replicating the original pedal, damper and key positions on an actual, albeit automated, piano," wrote Guy Gugliotta in yesterday's Washington Post.

The technology was described by Mick Hamer last week in the April 22 New Scientist; that article appears below.

    Ivory Encore for Dead Piano Greats

    Next month music lovers in Raleigh, North Carolina, will be able to hear two of the greatest pianists of the 20th century in concert.

    Both the pianists, however, are long dead.

    Zenph Studios, a software company based in Raleigh, has found a way to take a music recording and convert it into a live concert played on real instruments.

    The concert will be a completely faithful rendition of the original pianists' work.

    Zenph resurrected a scratchy mono recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, made by the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould in 1955 and a recording of a Chopin prelude by Alfred Cortot in 1928.

    Cortot died in 1962, Gould in 1982.


    The breakthrough that Zenph has achieved is to extract the sounds from audio recordings and convert them into a high-resolution version of MIDI, the standard way of coding music for computers.

    To do so they had to tackle the problem of polyphonic transcription - distinguishing several notes played simultaneously.

    While researchers have been trying to achieve this for years, previous attempts have managed to identify at best 80 to 90 per cent of notes correctly - with about 10 per cent missing and another 10 per cent wrong (New Scientist, 22 December 2001, p 50).

    Zenph now says it has found a way to do this, although for commercial reasons it won't release the details.

    But the company is confident enough to have organised the concert, at which a Disklavier Pro piano, one of a handful of concert grands that can record and play back high-definition Midi files, will replay Gould and Cortot's work.

    The piano will replicate every note struck, down to the velocity of the hammer and position of the key when it was played.

    "We have only begun seeing excellent results in the past few weeks," says John Walker, president of Zenph Studios.

    "The results are note perfect."

    Walker has an impressive track record.

    Before founding Zenph in 2002, he was a leading developer of VoIP, the system that allows phone calls to be carried on the internet.

    Walker says that the precise timing of notes is almost as important as identifying the correct notes.

    One of Zenph's final checks is to play back the conversion on the Disklavier and to make an audio recording of it.

    The engineers then play back a stereo version of the music: one channel has the original recording, the other has the recording of the conversion.

    "If they're different by even a few milliseconds, the ear immediately identifies that something's wrong - there's a slight echo effect," Walker says.

    "The project at Zenph is definitely very, very interesting," says Anssi Klapuri of the Tampere University of Technology, Finland, who is one of the world's leading experts on polyphonic transcription.

    The company is now working on a recording made at a private party by the jazz giant Art Tatum two years before his death in 1956.


    There are many recordings that have never been released because of some flaw, such as background noise or an out-of-tune piano.

    Zenph hopes that recording companies will use the new technology to make recordings from this type of material, or to clean up noisy recordings.

*Alan Turing devised the Turing Test in 1950 to determine whether or not a computer was intelligent or not.


It would appear to me that, based on the great scientist's criteria, the "Glenn Gould" who will be playing two weeks from this coming Thursday is every bit as intelligent as the original.

Whether the virtual Gould is alive or not I will leave to my betters, a group comprising every other human — or human equivalent — alive (or not) on our beautiful blue planet.


Get your tickets for the recital here.

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

'Grow Your Own' — Marinara


As not featured in Mother Earth News.

No matter, this one's legal in all 50 states, and the DEA won't be checking to see if you're on the buyers list.

You get three bags, one each of seeds for tomatoes, Greek oregano and basil.

"Complete and easy growing instructions included."

Do it in your garden, kitchen or on a windowsill.

"Don't have a lot of space?"

No problema: "They can be grown right in the bag, too."


$25 here.

May 3, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Speak, Memory


A study whose results appear in the latest (March 2005) issue of the Journal of Consumer Research indicates that, at least among older individuals, repeatedly telling them something is false may result in their remembering, after several days, that it is true.

"The more often older adults were told that a claim was false, the more likely they were to remember it erroneously as true after a three-day delay," reported the authors of the study.

The experiment involved 32 men and women ages 25 or under and 32 adults over 70.

They were shown statements about medical claims that were immediately identified as being true or false.

Some statements and their accuracy appeared once, while others appeared three times.


After three days the younger adults were more likely to remember which statements were true or false the more times they'd seen them.

In the older group repetition of the false information made it more likely they would identify it as true than if they'd only seen it once.

What does this mean?

Well, for one thing advertising, especially that aimed at older individuals, may be likely to have an effect opposite from that intended.

I'm reminded, in this vein, of an occasion back in the day when I was instructing anesthesiology residents in the art and science of the specialty, as a faculty member at the University of Virginia.


A resident asked me, while we were at a quiet place during a case, if a paper I'd authored had shown that X resulted in Y (I don't remember the particulars) and what its implications might be for Z.

What I do remember is that for the life of me I couldn't recall if the paper showed that X was good for Y or bad for Y.

I mean, I remembered it was about X and Y, for sure, but I simply couldn't recall the results and our conclusions.

And this occurred no more than six or seven years after I'd written the paper, and I certainly wasn't old at the time.

I told the resident I honestly didn't recall, and he looked at me kind of funny.

So I can see how one could get confused about things.

As long as they spell my name right, I'm good.


Here's the abstract of the paper in the Journal of Consumer Research.

    How Warnings about False Claims Become Recommendations

    Telling people that a consumer claim is false can make them misremember it as true.

    In two experiments, older adults were especially susceptible to this "illusion of truth" effect.

    Repeatedly identifying a claim as false helped older adults remember it as false in the short term but paradoxically made them more likely to remember it as true after a 3 day delay.

    This unintended effect of repetition comes from increased familiarity with the claim itself but decreased recollection of the claim's original context.

    Findings provide insight into susceptibility over time to memory distortions and exploitation via repetition of claims in media and advertising.

May 3, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Clocky — 'Welcome to my nightmare'


Gauri Nanda, a 25–year–old research associate at MIT, has invented Clocky (above and below), an alarm clock that jumps off your nightstand and rolls away after you hit the snooze button, forcing you to get out of bed to shut it off.

If you don't, it travels around the room on its two wheels until it finally finds a resting place.

Ms. Nanda said, "Minutes later, when the alarm sounds again, the sleeper must get up and search for Clocky."


"This ensures that the person is fully awake before turning it off," she added.

Bonus: an internal processor helps it find a new hiding spot every day.

Don't bother trying to buy one: it's only a research project for now and is not commercially available.


I wonder if Version 2.0 might not be programmed to play the Electric Prunes' great blast from the distant past, "I Had Too Much To Dream"?

May 3, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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