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May 19, 2005

Anonymous sources and bookofjoe


New York Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent has been thrashing the grey lady for some time now over its propensity to quote anonymous sources in news stories.

He deplores the practice and believes it lessens the credibility of the information presented.

The Times knows it's got a huge problem and commissioned a major internal investigation of the paper's practices.

You can read its report here.

I really enjoy Okrent's column, which runs every Sunday in the editorial section of the Times.

Also, Okrent or his assistant respond to my emails, an ususual event for those associated with the Times.

As I think about it, Okrent's pieces are the most blog–like of anything in the Times in that they are the only writing in the paper not subject to editorial oversight.

Perhaps the less intermediation by editors and institutions the better.

Okrent's space this past Sunday consisted of letters from readers, addressing the subject of anonymous sources.

One letter began, "My reaction to any article that does not name the source is to stop reading."

You know, I think I'm going to adopt this approach as of five minutes ago: unnamed source = time to move on.

The writer of the letter continued, "When I read an article with unnamed sources, I reflexively accuse the paper, reporter and source of being dishonest."

Me too.

I just never took the next step the way Frank Leister, the author of the above–quoted letter, did.

But better late than never, say I.

I don't think I've ever used an anonymous source in bookofjoe.

I've put my name on everything that's ever appeared here.

If someone gave me an anonymous tip I don't know that I'd use it.

Now, when a reader emails me from a real email address and asks that I not use her or his name or even initials as is my wont if not otherwise requested, I'm happy to comply.

That's not anonymous to me, though it is to you, I guess.

I guess I'm gonna have to fall back on my old saw:

"Trust me — I'm a doctor."

Caveat emptor.

May 19, 2005 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Grass Lawn Chair


World's most elemental chair.

From the website:

    Grass armchair for outdoor use.

    Die–cut cardboard pieces fit together to make the form of an armchair.

    Fill and cover with dirt, sprinkle with grass seeds and water.

By the time the grass sprouts the dirt has settled and your new chair can support your weight without collapsing.

Assembly required.

Power mowing not recommended.


$115 here (grass seed not included).

Redefines the term "lawn chair."

[via thewavemag.com]

May 19, 2005 at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

World's Coolest Keyboard


Game over – it's not even close.

Das Keyboard's slogan is "ÜberGeeks only."


From the website:

    Only for the best.

    If you are an elite programmer who can write sophisticated code under tight deadlines, someone who makes impossible projects possible; or a Silver Web Surfer your colleagues turn to when they need IT advice: this keyboard is for you.

    A precision keyboard that says who you are.

    Shouldn't your keyboard reflect your status as one of the elite? We think so!

    Das Keyboard is an enhanced 104–key USB PC keyboard equipped with 100% blank keys mounted on precision, individually–weighted key switches.

    Type up to 100% faster in a few weeks!

    Since there is no key to look at when typing, your brain will quickly adapt and memorize the key positions and you will find yourself typing a lot faster with more accuracy in no time.

    It is amazing how slow typers almost double their speed and quick typers become blazing fast!

    Individually weighted keyswitches

    Most keyboards use a standard 55 grams of force to register every keystroke.

    Das Keyboard has 5 different levels of force.

    The keys are divided into groups and their feedback springs are weighted differently, from 35 grams to 80 grams, which corresponds to the strength of the finger that touches the keys.

    The result is more comfort for your hands.

    Windows, Linus and Mac OS

    Das Keyboard is compatible with all modern operating systems and has a Windows menu key that also works under Linux.

    Macintosh addicts will be happy to know this keyboard works well for them too.

$79.95 here.

Two thoughts:

1) The variable key weighting might be very helpful for those with/prone to carpal tunnel syndrome or other neurological/functional impairments

2) I would love to see a typing teacher conduct a study of this keyboard v. a traditional one in students taking Typing 1.

I would bet the company would furnish free keyboards for such an undertaking.


Any joehead typing teachers up for some fun?

[via RT]

May 19, 2005 at 02:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's best temperature conversion website


It doesn't get any simpler than this.

May 19, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

84,759 calls were received by Israel's bomb squad in 2003


That's 232 a day every day of the year.

Israel's bomb squad has 12 members.

Let's do some more math.

Let's say that 4 members each work one of three 8 hour shifts a day.

That means that the 4 active individuals handle a third of the day's calls, or 77 calls per 8 hour shift.

Let's say they divide them up: that means each of the 4 people on a shift is responsible for deciding how to handle 19 bomb threat calls during their 8 hour working day.

And we haven't even factored in vacations, illness, etc.

I'd say that the Israeli bomb squad is probably, by far, the world's best.

So it's no wonder that members of New York City's bomb squad go to Israel for weeks at a time to learn from the masters.

The numbers in the headline come from Judith Miller's fascinating article from this past Sunday's New York Times on Mordecai Dzikansky (above, in the center in a suit, with the badge and sunglasses), a NYPD detective who works in Israel with the Israeli Police Department as a liason officer.

May 19, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Global Digital Atomic Travel Alarm Clock


Translated into plain English, this is a new travel alarm clock from the masters, Seiko of Japan.

It's the first travel alarm clock to automatically synchronize world–wide with radio transmitters broadcasting time signals in the U.S., Europe and the Far East.


Accurate to within one second in a million years in case you're Ray Kurzweil and plan to stick around a while.

Even adjusts automatically for Daylight Savings Time.


Soft backlighting, snooze function, calendar, travel pouch, and a very clever, almost origami–like folding/rotating stand (see photos above and below).

Takes two lithium batteries (included).

4.25" x 2.75" x 0.75"; weighs 4 oz.


$39.85 here.

May 19, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Restless Legs Syndrome


Jeanne Whalen wrote an excellent article about the history and current state of treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) for this past Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.

In a sidebar she wrote:

    The syndrome was first documented by English physician Thomas Willis in the late 1600s.

    He said patients would experience "leaping and contractions of the tendons and so great a restlessness... that the diseased are no more able to sleep than if they were in a place of the greatest torture."

    In 1923 German doctor Hermann Oppenheim was the first to describe the syndrome as a neurological disorder.

    He also noted that the condition can "last for years and decades and can be passed on and occur in other members of the family."

    Swedish neurologist Karl Ekbom coined the name Restless Legs Syndrome in 1944.

    The disorder is sometimes called Ekbom's Syndrome in his honor.

Whalen also provided links to the following related websites:

www.rls.org — The RLS Foundation

www.wemove.org — We Move, a support group

www.restlesslegs.org.uk — The UK website

Here's the story.

    Drug Approved for Restless Legs

    Patients with Restless Legs Syndrome often have a hard time describing the symptoms.

    Some say they feel a creeping, crawling sensation or an irresistible urge to move their legs.

    Others liken it to having a bottle brush twisted up and down inside their calves.

    Most agree that the symptoms worsen at night.

    Walking or pacing a room can provide temporary relief, as can rubbing or hitting the legs.

    But patients say the uncomfortable prickling can take a real toll, leaving them unable to sleep or to sit still to watch a movie or read a book.

    Severe symptoms may cause long-term sleep deprivation that can shave years off a person's life, researchers say.

    Patients say the disorder is made worse by the skeptical looks others give them.

    The very name Restless Legs Syndrome makes many people snicker, says Ann Battenfield, who says she has lost work and one relationship because of the syndrome.

    "You hear, so what, so your legs are a little fidgety, so what?" says the 45-year-old Chicago resident. While Restless Legs Syndrome, or RLS, is far from a household name, neurologists estimate that 7% to 10% of Americans and Europeans have some form of RLS, and that 2.7% to 3% have severe symptoms.

    Of late, RLS has been getting more serious attention.

    In April, scientists at the University of Montreal identified a cluster of genes that they believe is responsible for passing on the disorder from generation to generation.

    The researchers reported their findings in the Archives of Neurology after studying 19 French-Canadian families whose members had a tendency to develop RLS.

    And this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug for the syndrome, a pill called Requip from GlaxoSmithKline PLC. Although the exact cause of RLS is unknown, scientists believe it may be caused by poor transmission in the brain of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for controlling body movement.

    Requip is a dopamine agonist that stimulates the brain's dopamine receptors.

    A more potent version of the drug was already on the market to treat Parkinson's disease, which is caused by insufficient levels of dopamine in the brain.

    The FDA approved Requip for RLS based on three studies involving a total of 930 patients who took either Requip or a placebo for 12 weeks.

    In all three studies, Requip produced a significant improvement in motor symptoms, sleep patterns and mood, according to GlaxoSmithKline.

    A longer-term 36-week study showed that patients who continued on Requip had a significantly lower relapse rate than those taking the placebo.

    Joan Jobbins, a 53-year-old French teacher in New Jersey, has been taking Requip for a little over a year and says it has relieved most of her RLS symptoms.

    The illness hit her eight years ago, when what she calls a "very, very deep nervousness in the legs" began keeping her up all night, either pacing or doing leg lifts on the floor.

    Ms. Jobbins went to half a dozen doctors before she was diagnosed with RLS. She was then prescribed a series of different drugs -- many of them treatments for Parkinson's disease that doctors would prescribe "off-label" for RLS.

    Some provided relief for a while but would then stop working, or would produce side effects such as drowsiness, Ms. Jobbins says.

    "This is the longest I've been on a drug without it stopping working, and with there being no side effects," she says of Requip.

    Pickett Guthrie, a 65-year-old from Atlanta, says Requip has reduced the frequency and severity of the attacks that she says used to leave her "twisting on the floor." Ms. Guthrie has been taking the drug about a year.

    "It's not a magic bullet, but it's a huge improvement in the quality of life," she says.

    GlaxoSmithKline declines to forecast potential sales of Requip.

    Analysts estimate Requip sales for RLS could reach several hundred million dollars.

    Not everyone responds to medication.

    Ms. Battenfield of Chicago has tried Requip and other Parkinson's medicines but found them ineffective.

    She says some even made her symptoms worse, a side effect that physicians call "augmentation."

    In the mid-1990s, Ms. Battenfield's kicking was keeping her partner awake so many nights that he decided to sleep in a separate room.

    The problem eventually killed their relationship, she says.

    These days, Ms. Battenfield takes Mirapex, a Parkinson's drug from Pfizer Inc. and Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, not because it helps much but because she fears stopping the drug would make her feel worse.

    She and other patients also take iron supplements, which many doctors recommend, as poor iron metabolism in the brain can cause the dopamine abnormalities that appear to cause the disorder.

    Many RLS patients use a variety of homegrown treatments to try to treat their symptoms, and swap ideas on RLS Web sites.

    They wrap heating pads around their legs in bed, run hot or cold water over their legs and even place bars of soap under their bedsheets according to an old wives' tale, which RLS patients swear helps ease their twitching.

    Clete Kushida, a neurologist and director of Stanford University's Center for Human Sleep Research, says one of his patients, a traveling salesman who spent much of his day behind the wheel, would hit his legs with a baseball bat while driving.

    Dr. Kushida, who helped conduct the clinical trials for Requip, believes the medicine will prove a better treatment for many patients.

    "The bottom line is that it's very effective," he says.

May 19, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Folding Water Bottle


The Platypus® water bottle is made of a tough plastic laminate which flattens down and folds up when empty.

Holds 1 liter.

Guaranteed not to leak or flavor your water or other beverage.

Push–pull top.

Measures 11.75" x 6" before folding.

Weighs 2 oz.

Two for $12.85 here.

Water not included.

May 19, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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