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May 26, 2005

Email Pulitzer Prize–Winning Playwright John Patrick Shanley: shanleysmoney@aol.com — He looks forward to hearing from you

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Jeez, sure hope Shanley (above) doesn't hate me for this post.

But why should he, considering that in this past Sunday's New York Times Arts section story he had the reporter include his email address?

Shanley gives his email address in the Playbill for "Doubt", his prize–winning drama currently playing in New York City.

He told reporter Eric Grode that the play is something people want to talk about, so he'd just as soon have them talk (virtually, at least) to him.

He says he gets about 15 messages a day and responds to each one.

Hey, just like me — I respond to every one too, though I get a lot more than 15 daily.

You don't want to know how many. But I digress.

Shanley told the Times reporter that the feedback is 99 to 1 positive, which he finds odd.

"A couple of priests have sent little costume details. And some people can't handle the uncertainty and are angry that I haven't answered the question for them," Shanley said.

The central question: whether or not a priest got too close to one of his students.

"Couples often disagree," he went on.

"I'm getting a lot of husband–and–wife emails: one thinks he did it, one thinks he's innocent, and they want me to settle it."

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"'Doubt' is the fourth of Shanley's plays to feature his email address in the program," wrote Grode.

How refreshing, to find an individual who's not trying to avoid his audience but, rather, to embrace it.

My periodic emails to New York Times executive editor Bill Keller urging him to append the reporter's email address at the end of each article have so far met with no response.

But wait and see: it will happen.

I guarantee it.

Or your money back.

May 26, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Teleblaster

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Designed by media artist Aristarkh Chernyshev, this souped–up 7" TV transforms the picture into psychedelic eye candy.

Pixels change color and pictures twist into spheres, zigzag patterns and waves.

The effects are synced to a show's audio track, which emerges from built–in 16–watt stereo speakers.

$1,999 here.

Funny — I could've sworn there were drugs for this.

[via Wired magazine]

May 26, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Reflex Tester

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Very, very cool.

[via CSS]

May 26, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Do David Hanson's Robots Dream of Philip K. Dick?

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They might be Philip K. Dick before too long.

Recall the famous test of Alan Turing: if you can't tell if the source of an answer is human or not, then the source is intelligent.

David Hanson is one of the world's greatest robot builders, specializing in heads.

If you have any doubt as to his bona fides you won't after watching the videos on this website.

Hanson (above, with one of his heads) has created his most sophisticated head yet for the upcoming Wired magazine NextFest 2005.

The new head looks exactly like Philip K. Dick.

It relies on 36 tiny servomotors to mimic Dick's facial expressions and features a polymer called Frubber that looks and moves like human skin.

The headbot uses motion–tracking machine vision to make eye contact with passersby and artificial intelligence and speech software enable it to carry on complex conversations.

Said Hanson in the latest (June) Wired magazine, "It invents new ideas using a mathematical model of Philip K. Dick's mind extracted from his vast body of writing."

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Philip K. Dick himself would be enchanted.

May 26, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Blogwise.com — The blogosphere by country and keyword

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Though Blogwise.com is relatively new (witness the fact it currently lists just over 23,000 blogs based in the U.S. out of what must be millions), the relative proportions of blogs by country is probably representative of the larger picture.

They also classify blogs by keyword.

Nice place to while away some time, assuming you have time to waste.

As if.

May 26, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Magic Finger

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"Turns your finger into a magnet."

Sounds attractive: tell us more.

"Snug and stretchy, Magic Finger conceals a powerful little disc magnet in the tip."

Seems almost irresistible, what?

"Use it to hold nuts and screws, or to retrieve something you might have dropped into a tiny space."

Couple one with these giant tweezers

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and you'll be ready for some fun forays into the dark depths of the engine bay.

$19.95 here for a set of two Magic Fingers.

More and more it's becoming a

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digital world.

May 26, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A. 'Frequent–dier programs,' the 'death phone' and the 'travel agent for the dead'

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Q. What are little–known aspects of the funeral business and airlines that give big perks to funeral directors?

Anne Marie Chaker lifted the lid off last week in her May 17 Wall Street Journal front–page article on the questionable practices of funeral directors who earn free plane trips through affinity programs that reward them for the number of dead bodies they ship.

The families pay for shipping but the free miles and tickets go to the morticians.

Here's the eye–opening story.

    Shipping News:

    How Funeral Directors Earn Free Flights

    Carriers Offer Incentives To Transport Deceased;

    'Travel Agent for the Dead'

    On a recent Friday morning, a long white box was carted to a refrigerated room at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

    It contained the body of Murray Belkin, who was scheduled to embark on his final journey on JetBlue Airways Flight No. 14 to New York later that afternoon.

    Mr. Belkin, of course, didn't qualify for any frequent-flier points on this trip.

    But the Florida funeral home that scheduled the shipment did.

    That's because mortuaries that book corpses on the New York airline are entitled to a free round-trip ticket after about 15 "ship-outs."

    Airlines have always made their money by putting bodies in the seats. Increasingly, they're also turning a dollar by putting dead bodies in cargo, as carriers pursue the funeral-home and mortuary business.

    "The yield on transporting human remains -- I want to be sensitive when I say this -- is definitely worth our while," says Dale Anderson, director of mail and cargo for JetBlue.

    "I have to move close to 1,000 pounds of general cargo to equal the revenue of one human remain."

    Last year, JetBlue had an exhibit at the Association of Independent Funeral Directors of Florida conference at Walt Disney World, where airline representatives passed out luggage tags and bags of their trademark blue potato chips.

    A US Airways representative made a presentation on shipping bodies to students at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science last winter.

    Continental Airlines has flown about a dozen Florida funeral directors to its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport "to show us how they track and handle the deceased," says Bart Way, director of operations at Southerland Family Funeral Homes in Panama City, Fla.

    The funeral directors and their wives stayed free of charge at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and were treated to dinner and a show.

    The most coveted airline perks are what some in the industry refer to as "frequent-dier programs": the free flight coupons funeral directors earn after a certain number of body shipments.

    Delta's SkyMiles frequent-flier program lets funeral directors charge the shipments to their SkyMiles credit cards and rack up extra miles.

    The flights are paid for by the families of the deceased.

    Art Holloway, the president of Holloway Funeral Home in Oldsmar, Fla., says the programs are "a large factor" in his choice of US Airways as his preferred carrier.

    "I've sent my mother-in-law to North Carolina and back on coupons, friends from church on coupons, brothers, nieces and nephews," Mr. Holloway says.

    Under US Airways' "TLC" program, funeral directors receive a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the continental U.S., Canada -- and in some cases the Caribbean -- after 30 shipments.

    The funeral home gets a point whether it ships or receives a body.

    Mr. Holloway gets between 20 and 30 coupons a year for the more than 1,000 bodies he typically ships.

    Most years, he is able to give his secretaries and other employees two free round-trip travel coupons each.

    And the coupons have allowed him and his wife to see the U.S.A. -- "not including Alaska or Hawaii," he says, because they aren't valid destinations in the program.

    That exclusion is the reason Frances Gesing, general manager of a Cleveland funeral shipper, jumped at the chance to use two Delta Air Lines coupons that allowed her and her sister to fly free to Alaska.

    Once there, they stayed at a "crazy little bed and breakfast in the mountains" and did a lot of sightseeing, she says.

    Shipping bodies is a growing niche for airlines, in part because so many families these days are spread out in different parts of the country.

    That includes retirees who live in warmer climes but still want to be buried back home. Delta, for one, says its business recently has been growing about 10% a year.

    The charge for shipping a corpse is determined by such factors as distance, weight and the market.

    Carriers watch one another's prices very closely.

    A Florida to New York shipment generally costs between $250 and $380.

    Remains make a particularly profitable form of cargo, airline insiders say, because unlike shipments that come in big quantities -- such as flowers and the mail -- there's only one piece to track, so it is less labor-intensive.

    With airline margins squeezed by high fuel costs and brutal competition, it becomes "extremely important what you put in the bins of the aircraft," says Mr. Anderson at JetBlue.

    Shipping corpses "makes up a significant portion of our domestic revenue," says US Airways' Tony LeFebvre, managing director of the airline's cargo operations.

    "It's a very important product for US Airways."

    JetBlue, the upstart economy carrier, began accepting U.S. mail as cargo in 2000 and, a year later, flowers.

    By 2002, it was accepting human remains, and around that time began a loyalty program.

    The airline has "really focused" on beefing up the business, says Mr. Anderson.

    Besides introducing its loyalty program, it has set up a toll-free hotline that allows funeral homes to make travel arrangements at all hours of the day and night.

    Dave Eaton, mail and cargo supervisor, calls it the "death phone."

    Sales agent Cheryl Silvey, who answers the line, calls herself "the travel agent for the dead."

    Mr. Anderson says that bodies now account for 18% of JetBlue's cargo revenue, compared with less than 10% a year ago.

    Delta says that human-remains shipments represent less than 10% its cargo shipments -- which still translates to 50,000 corpses a year.

    Florida is an important market for airlines looking for business.

    Of the 170,000 people who died in 2003 in the Sunshine State, 14% -- or more than 23,000 -- were shipped to another state. In Texas, only about 5% of bodies were shipped elsewhere.

    In Michigan, only about 1% get shipped.

    The funeral business has long been a focus of consumer advocates, concerned that it's easy to take advantage of bereaved families.

    The frequent-flier programs could offer potential for abuse, says Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general, who notes that the shipping cost ultimately is borne by the decedent's survivors.

    Mr. Blumenthal, whose office has gone after funeral homes that charge consumers for unnecessary services, says the practice of rewarding funeral directors with loyalty programs "may raise concerns" if funeral directors are choosing higher-priced airlines because of frequent-flier kickbacks.

    Some families aren't distressed that undertakers are reaping the reward miles.

    Charlotte Mager's deceased father, George Braun, was scheduled on a JetBlue flight on the same day as Mr. Belkin.

    She understands that "business is business."

    The funeral homes, she says, "are the frequent customers, and as long as the service is good -- it was smooth and there were no problems for us -- why shouldn't they get the points?"

    America West Airlines did away with its "Special Care" frequent-flier program to funerals in 2003.

    The fact that the families pay the freight while the funeral directors reap the perks made Ron Cook, director of cargo sales, uncomfortable.

    Besides, he adds, he wasn't convinced the program was bringing his airline more business.

    Other airlines are contemplating new programs.

    Continental says it is considering putting together "some sort of loyalty program... that might include discounts for directors that offer repeat business," says Rahsaan Johnson, spokesman for the airline.

    Airports are also getting into the act.

    Cheryl Lankford, a funeral director in DeLand, Fla., subscribes to an incentive program run by Daytona Beach International Airport that awards funeral directors 500 Delta miles for each body they ship from there.

    In 2003 alone, Ms. Lankford shipped 32 bodies from Daytona, earning 16,000 frequent-flier miles.

    But while Ms. Lankford says she has received coupons, she wants SkyMiles credited to her Delta frequent-flier account as well.

    A Delta spokesman said the airline won't combine miles from the separate programs.

    "At this level, I should be on Platinum Status, Crown Club status and the whole thing," Ms. Lankford says.

May 26, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Yoshitomo Nara 'Walk On' Flip Clock

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"Mischievous, menacing and wise well beyond their years."

So does the website describe the children depicted on this quirky clock ($199) by Tokyo–based artist Yoshitomo Nara.

The clock contains 84 different sketches: 60 for the minutes in each hour and 24 to mark every hour in a day.

Available in blue, white and beige.

Clear plastic cover.

Requires one C battery (included).

"PLEASE NOTE: Yoshitomo Nara uses 'colorful language' in his artistic expression in one particular sketch and therefore this clock is not recommended for children."

As I think about this warning I'm wondering if perhaps this item is not suitable for bookofjoe Version 2.0.

It's a close call.

I'm gonna let it pass and wait to see what develops.

As always, though, the bullet that kills you comes from a place you'd never have considered dangerous.

"Mischievous, menacing and wise well beyond their years."

Sounds like a girl I once knew... or am I caught in a time warp and that's one I've yet to meet?

[via AW]

May 26, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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