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November 2, 2005

Jet–Powered Street Luge Sets World Speed Record

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Extra, Extra: Bob Swartz (above and below), a 46–year–old married father of two, by day is an engineering technician for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

By night, though, it's a Spider Man–like transformation: he becomes the driver of the world's only jet–powered luge.

He set the jet–powered luge world record of 77.76 mph recently and will attempt to shatter it this coming Sunday, November 6, at approximately 3 p.m. at Maryland International Raceway.

Tickets are still available.

Swartz's ultimate goal?

Breaking the once–thought–unreachable 100 mph barrier.

He plans to advance his technology next year to incorporate a twin–jet engine design to reach this mark.

Tell you what: moving 77.76 mph on a street luge, flat on your back two inches off the pavement (below), has got to be some feeling.

World's lowest–flying jet engine, that's for sure.

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Dan Morse wrote about the amazing Swartz in a great story that appears in today's Washington Post.

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Some highlights:

• His recently acquired $5,000 jet engine was originally designed for unmanned military aircraft.

• Asked why he does what he does, he replied, "To draw attention to gravity sports."

• Swartz, who holds safety clinics for new riders, himself broke his right tibia during a New Hampshire race in 2002.

• "At a subsequent July Fourth barbecue at a friend's house, he used a small electric saw to remove the cast, affixing a smaller one so he could compete in a key race he'd qualified for in Kaunertal, Australia. 'It was obvious to my family that I was just obsessed,' he said. 'I couldn't let it go.'"

• His wife of 25 years left him as a result.

• He then stopped luging, started attending church and eventually the couple reunited.

• Last year, when he found the jet engine for sale online, he dove back into the sport, focusing on power and speed rather than race competition, though he still races on occasion.

• His luge carries two on–board computers to regulate the engine.

• He uses his feet to brake, generating so much smoke and heat that he's had to glue strips of motorcycle tires to the bottom of his racing shoes.

• He's currently considering a match race with a man in Tennessee who's attached a cluster of rocket engines to the back of a street luge.

Swartz's website is jetluge.net: it's got tons more information, pictures and some very cool videos.

Here's the Post story.

    The Lowest-Flying Jet Engine

    Charles Man Takes Luge to the Next Level

    There is a popular image of the extreme sports guy: roughly 19 years old, baggy jeans and frequent use of the words "dude" and "stoked" while flipping up and down on big ramps.

    Bob Swartz doesn't fit it.

    He's 46.

    Married with two kids, he lives on a wooded cul-de-sac in Waldorf.

    He is an engineering technician for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, where he helps build classified antenna and computer systems around the globe.

    But his sport of choice is street luge.

    He lies on his back on an elongated skateboard two inches from the ground.

    Feet first, he flies down roads at more than 60 mph.

    He recently finished second at a race in Upstate New York.

    To stop, he uses his feet, generating so much smoke that he's had to glue strips of motorcycle tires to the bottom of the wrestling shoes he wears while racing.

    Over the years, Swartz has swallowed whole the challenges of this small corner of extreme sports, where participants have no dedicated place to practice.

    Cars pull out of driveways.

    Residents sometimes call the police.

    Cats and squirrels become hazards.

    When Swartz zips down hills in Charles County subdivisions, his wife, Cathy, often sets up midway down to serve as a lookout.

    She holds up signal flags and talks with him by two-way radio.

    Like other things he does, Swartz's plan to take the sport more mainstream begins to make sense only after he's had a long time to explain it.

    In this case, he recently bought a $5,000 jet engine -- one designed for unmanned military aircraft -- and attached it to the back of a luge.

    He gives exhibitions at major drag races, having thus far hit 77.76 mph. He aims to break the coveted 100 mph barrier, perhaps by advancing to a twin-engine design next year.

    "What possessed you to do this?" Swartz was asked last weekend over a drag-strip public address system in Rockingham, N.C.

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    "To draw attention to gravity sports," he told the crowd, referring to how he races down hills without jet power.

    Then he shot down the track.

    As part of Rockingham's pre-Halloween nighttime races, Swartz donned a glow-in-the-dark skeleton suit over his thick, protective leather racing uniform.

    He also wears a motorcycle helmet.

    Swartz grew up the son of a wallpaper hanger and a nurse in southern New Jersey.

    As a 7-year-old, he remembers, he fashioned a go-cart out of wood scraps and a set of small wheels his grandfather gave him.

    He rebuilt bikes and lawnmowers.

    His parents thought he'd be a scientist or a doctor.

    He didn't like classrooms, though, and enrolled in electronics vocational school.

    Along the way, he rode dirt motorcycles.

    He and Cathy also went scuba diving.

    In 1994, Swartz was flipping through TV channels when footage of street luge riders in Seattle stopped his fingers.

    "Uh-oh," his wife said.

    What followed were 10 years over which Swartz rode the crest of the sport and then wiped out along with it -- both professionally and personally.

    Street luge can be breathtaking, especially when filmed by tiny onboard cameras.

    Riders steer by leaning left or right.

    They draft behind one another, like stock-car racers, which allows them to build up momentum to zip by the rider in the lead.

    In 2000, Diane Sawyer climbed aboard a street luge for a gentle spin through Manhattan's Riverside Park on "Good Morning America."

    Before she did, Swartz helped teach her.

    But the sport couldn't sustain itself.

    To put on races, organizers had to convince local officials that it was a good idea to close off long sections of their roads and lay down hay bales so errant riders wouldn't fly into signs, trees, guardrails or spectators.

    Promoters fell away.

    The sport was dropped from ESPN's vaunted X Games in 2001.

    Swartz kept at it.

    He held safety clinics for new riders, preaching the art of using the luge as a shield in the event of trouble by holding it and turning away from an oncoming object.

    "Riders young and old: Listen to Bob," racer Richard Hodkinson, a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, once posted on a street luge message board.

    "He's saved my limbs at least six times with his advice."

    Yet Swartz pushed his own limits.

    In 2002, he broke his right shinbone during a New Hampshire race.

    At a subsequent Fourth of July barbecue at a friend's house, he used a small electric saw to remove the cast, affixing a smaller one so he could compete in a key race he'd qualified for in Kaunertal, Austria.

    "It was obvious to my family that I was just obsessed," he said.

    "I couldn't let it go."

    After nearly 25 years of marriage, Swartz said, Cathy moved out.

    He halted luging.

    "My whole focus was getting her back," he remembered.

    The two one-time Roman Catholics began attending a nearby Baptist church and eventually got back together.

    But Swartz never lost his need for speed.

    Last year, while tooling around the Internet, he found a jet engine that offered intense power at only five pounds.

    Putting it together fit his new priorities to spend more time at home, rather than drive off in search of hills in western Virginia or a race in South Africa.

    His plan, chronicled on http://www.jetluge.net , alarmed such friends as Darren Lott, author of the "Street Luge Survival Guide."

    Lott's concerns eventually were allayed when he learned of the luge's safety features.

    One of the two onboard computers automatically helps shut the vehicle down, for example, if overheating or other problems are detected.

    "It was the old Bob," Lott remembered thinking.

    "And Bob hadn't lost his mind."

    For this, drag-racing fans can be thankful.

    "Take a look at the starting line, folks. You're not going to believe this," Aaron Polburn, president of the International Hot Rod Association, announced on a recent Friday night at Maryland International Raceway in St. Mary's County.

    Swartz tore down the raceway.

    "I have now seen it all," Polburn said, cracking up.

    He expects to hire Swartz for at least four national dragster shows next year, hoping to draw out Swartz's articulate nature with more interviews over the PA system.

    "When his mouth opens," Polburn said, "it is the complete opposite of what he does."

    Swartz still pursues traditional gravity luge and hopes to well into his fifties -- even if he often has to do so on the relative flat terrain of Charles County.

    On a recent Sunday afternoon, a luge rider half his age, Justin Crenshaw, arrived at his home from Fairfax.

    Swartz has taken the former top-level soapbox derby rider under his wing.

    The two climbed into the Swartzes' big blue truck.

    Cathy drove them to a nearby subdivision off Bensville Road.

    On the way, Swartz turned to the second seat inside the truck's cab, offering safety tips to Crenshaw.

    If you veer off the road, lift your feet.

    "They continue to try to brake," he said of other luge riders, "and that's what breaks feet."

    Cathy dropped them off atop a hill and drove down to take a spotting position.

    "Wait, wait," she said into the two-way radio, sticking a warning flag out the window. "A guy's coming up the hill... Okay, you're all right."

    Moments later, the two whizzed by, smoothly negotiating a hairpin turn.

    Cathy hit the gas, pulling in behind them to guard against cars approaching from behind and to haul them back up for more practice.

    Swartz said he stays in his lane and follows the rules of the road, like a fast cyclist.

    And on this day, he hit only 35 mph.

    No residents complained, and one even offered to help.

    "Car behind you, guys," Yvonne Clements said atop the hill, standing on a driveway.

    "Thank you," Swartz said from inside his helmet.

    He waited for the car to pass.

    He and Crenshaw headed down.

    Later that day, he and his wife were back home, working at adjacent desks in their study.

    Cathy worked on finances for their church.

    Swartz (below) looked up Internet video of a man in Tennessee who had attached a cluster of rockets to the back of his luge, a man Swartz has been in touch with.

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    "It would be a neat show," he said. "Rocket versus jet."

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THIS JUST IN

Be still, my heart: One of the coolest people on Planet Earth just emailed me to correct an error in my post above.

Who might that be?

None other than Bob Swartz, "The Jet Luge Guy" as he introduced himself in the following email, which came in at 11:20:50 p.m. (Time here at bookofjoe World Headquarters is 11:09 p.m. so I guess Bob, out back in his skunkworks, has cranked up his next–gen version to trans–light speed or something 'cause he's getting back to me from the future.)

But enough of my nonsense: let's see what the man has to say.

    Hi, This is Bob Swartz........the Jet Luge Guy.

    I like your blog entries.... some good detail but I have a problem with just one statement:

    "The sport of street luge was dropped by ESPN's X Games in 2001 because the injury rate was so high."

    Where did you get that info?

    This is not true and not in the article.

    Dan Morse checked his info with ESPN and the reason it was dropped was because of the cost of the logistics for closing a road and covering the event with an 18–man camera crew.

    You or whoever told you this info paint the wrong general picture of the sport........... yes, it is crazy and fast and you can get hurt......... but the rules and safety measures actually make it safer than snow skiing.

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Bob, I apologize for assuming rather than knowing.

I pride myself on accuracy and am both humbled by your correction and simultaneously delighted that you took the time and trouble to let me know so I could go back and make it right.

I know my readers expect better from me as well.

bookofjoe is now enhanced not just because you exist but also because you reached down from Olympus and gave me a nudge.

I'm loving it.

Good luck Sunday afternoon, Jet Luge Guy.

To better mind–meld with you, in your honor I'm gonna get out my old in–line skating helmet and wear it on Sunday when ignition time approaches.

November 2, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Left–handed double–hole wooden cake batter mixing spoon

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Amanda Hesser raved about this signature spoon (above) in her column in this past Sunday's New York Times magazine.

From her piece:

    ... It is worth noting that not all wooden spoons ... are created equal.

    The two–hole wooden mixing spoon made by ECM Woodcrafts in Pahrump, Nevada is designed for folding, beating and mixing ingredients and it works splendidly — and much more effectively than a rubber spatula — on... cake batter.

    The spoon comes in left– and right–handed versions.

$5 here.

November 2, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

joeTV — The view from the bridge

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As the good ship bookofjoe makes its way at flank speed through the uncharted virtual waters ahead (how's that for a mixed metaphor?), the constant flow of information streaming into our World Headquarters is all good.

It's like being an investor in a roaring bull market where's there's no downside.

And there isn't: if this whole thing crashes and burns I'll simply retreat back to my cozy reading spot (below)

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and the many score wonderful books just waiting to be opened and reveled in.

But for now all our wood is behind the internet/joeTV arrow.

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That's mm #2.

I hope we're not working under a "three strikes and you're out" policy here 'cause if we are I'm deep in the hole.

But I digress.

Today's Financial Times brings the news that the number of broadband internet connections — the key to bringing internetTV and with it my own private Idaho of a channel to life (uh, oh — I believe that's #3...) continues its steady increase, most rapidly in the Netherlands and Switzerland but elsewhere around the world as well (top).

South Korea continues to be the most connected country on the planet.

FunFact: None of the major industrialized countries (the U.S., Japan, U.K., Germany or France) appear in the world's Top 10.

No matter.

As I look at a pie chart (below)

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showing the global distribution of my readers, I am struck by the fact that the U.S. contingent (in green), while representing (depending on the time of day) at least a third and up to three–fourths of my audience, still emanates from only 5% of the world's population.

So this relatively small fraction of humanity makes up a disproportionately large chunk of my audience.

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I want that other 95% and I'm going to get it.

November 2, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mighty Morphin' Mood Couch

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That's what Brendan I. Koerner, in his October 16 New York Times story, called the eyecatching piece of furniture pictured above and below .

Designed by Amit Axelrod of Israel's Animi Causa, it's called the Feel.

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Axelrod noted in Koerner's story that people adore touching it.

It's comprised of 120 fabric–covered foam balls, linked by strings.

You can make of it whatever you choose.

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It comes in blue, red, green, gray or a multicolored mélange.

The original Feel, with dimensions similar to those of a queen–sized mattress, costs $2,950, which includes shipping from Israel.

A newer version, roughly 50% smaller, is on sale through Christmas for $899 plus shipping.

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Get yours here.

November 2, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

DogCatRadio.com

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Dinitia Smith wrote a most entertaining story for today's New York Times about DogCatRadio.com, the new new thing in the booming world of pet entertainment.

Adrian Martinez started DogCatRadio last June.

He runs it out of a customized RV parked in his office lot at Marusa Records (an independent label — he's president) in the Eagle Rock section of Los Angeles.

Martinez owns six dogs and two cats.

He told Smith he founded the radio station because "my cat, Snickers, asked me to do it."

That's good enough for me.

Here's the wonderful article.

    Jumpy Enough to Chew a Chair? Try DogCatRadio

    "Remember, be kind to your mailman," said Jane Harris, a disc jockey.

    Then she softened her voice until it was a little insinuating: "He only wants to deliver the mail."

    It is a message that many of her listeners need to hear.

    Ms. Harris is a D.J. on DogCatRadio.com, a new Internet radio station for pets.

    Now dogs, cats, hamsters and parrots can keep the anxiety, the loneliness, the restlessness at bay while their owners are out.

    It is radio just for them, live 17 hours a day, 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. Pacific time, and podcast for the rest of the 24 hours.

    Those who listen to DogCatRadio will find that there is generally an animal motif to the playlist, like "Hound Dog": "You ain't nothin' but a hound dogcryin' all the time."

    This Elvis song is a frequent request from listeners (presumably the owners), as are the Baha Men, singing: "Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)."

    And Dionne Warwick is also popular, especially her soothing song "That's What Friends Are For": "Keep smiling, keep shining,/Knowing you can always count on me."

    Since many pets are apparently bilingual, DogCatRadio also has a "Spanish Hour," 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific time daily, with Hispanic commentary and music, like Luis Miguel's "No Sé Tú": DogCatRadio.com was started last June by Adrian Martinez, who is also president of Marusa records, an independent record label in Los Angeles.

    He runs the station out of a customized RV parked in his office lot in the Eagle Rock section of Los Angeles.

    Mr. Martinez, 34, who owns six dogs and two cats, said he founded the station because "my cat, Snickers, asked me to do it."

    One day, Snickers was pacing the floor restlessly and meowing.

    "I said, 'What do you want?' " Mr. Martinez recalled in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

    "I turned up the music, and she was fine."

    He discovered that Snickers likes 80's rock, particularly the Eddie Money version of the song "Take Me Home Tonight:" "I feel a hunger /It's a hunger that tries to keep a man awake at night."

    Mr. Martinez added, "I wanted to do something for the pet community."

    The first week that DogCatRadio was broadcast, the local CBS television station showed a feature about it.

    As a result, so many people tuned in, 130,000 in one day, that the server crashed, Mr. Martinez said.

    "We had to get a bigger server to accommodate more listeners."

    Now, he said, "We average close to 8,000 hits a week. We have a meter that tracks it."

    "People are just e-mailing us," calling from all over the world, Mr. Martinez said.

    "I love what you are doing, but please don't forget our equine friends," an e-mail message from Australia said.

    When Mr. Martinez gets requests, he springs into action. "We go to Tower Records within the hour," he said.

    "Since we're conquering the globe, we want to make sure we can accommodate these people."

    Sometimes Mr. Martinez broadcasts from the field.

    DogCatRadio showed a segment on people walking their dogs first thing in the morning outside the Rose Bowl in Pasadena - a very popular early morning route for dog walkers, bikers and joggers - with interviews (with the owners).

    It reports on animal charity events like "Walk for Paws," recently sponsored by the group "Nuts for Mutts."

    Internet radio, which claims about 20 million regular listeners, is still in the early stages of development and has a relatively small number of fans who use their laptops, desktops or hand-held computers to tune in.

    Mr. Martinez said he believed he had latched onto something unique with his little station: "With all the news you hear on Iraq, it's something to balance the bad news."

    Meanwhile, the broadcast has received some notice.

    Dr. Larry Family, who has a talk show program, the Pet Vet, on WROW-AM in Albany, recommends DogCatRadio to his patients' owners.

    "It's of interest to those people whose pets have certain phobias or anxiety issues," he said in a telephone interview from the outskirts of Schenectady, where he has his practice.

    "I have recommended it to those whose dogs are having certain problems behaviorwise in the home environment," he said.

    "It might be helpful with dogs with separation anxiety issues," Dr. Family went on.

    "Dogs, especially, are interested in watching TV with their owners and listening to music."

    Mr. Martinez said that at the moment, the station has no advertising and is making no money.

    But, he said, "I'm not in it for the money."

    He added, "Eventually, I'm sure, people will advertise."

    That is not such a leap, since it is estimated that American pet owners will spend $35.9 billion this year on everything from electric toothbrushes for dogs to bird pedicures to self-flushing litter boxes for cats, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

    So far, the six people associated with the station, four of whom act as D.J.'s, are paid only a small stipend to cover expenses.

    "I'm so involved with the pet community," said Ms. Harris, the D.J. and an owner of five dogs.

    "I'm looking to this as an avenue to open something up."

    When Ms. Harris isn't broadcasting on DogCatRadio.com, she works as a market researcher.

    "How are all my furry friends doing out there?" Ms. Harris asked her listeners recently.

    "We hope you're doing great and not chewing on anything but your toys."

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Below, Martinez with his dog Juna.

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Who knew that good old Eddie Money would inspire a communications revolution in the world of pets?

What I'm thinking about now, inspired by the example of DogCatRadio, is GoldfishRadio.

Because just last night I heard my goldfish saying, "Joe, I'm bored."

Sounds like a job for my crack research team, what?

November 2, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

DeFeet Duraglove™

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My favorite cold–weather running glove.

Back when I was doing some serious in–line skating I discovered these and found them perfect under my wrist guards.

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Now that I've hung up my wheels they're still my glove of choice for winter running.

Very technical yet reasonably priced.

• Tough Cordura® outer shell

• Softer, wicking CoolMax® inside

• Fun textured palm with rubber "sole" pattern for grip and durability

• Nice colors

• Snug, cozy fit

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Sizes S, M, L.

In red, powder blue, black and white.

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$15 here.

There's also a black Merino wool version for $18.

November 2, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The end of 'appointment viewing'

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That's a term I'd never heard before I read it in a recent Wall Street Journal article about how TV viewing is starting to shift from the old "we schedule it, you watch it" model to the "anytime, anywhere, on any device" reality of the near future.

The Video iPod is but the first stirring of the drink.

As this shift occurs the networks will become even more irrelevant than they already are.

But even more profound will be the tectonic shift that will occur in advertising.

The "cram–down" style we've grown accustomed to, with the same brain–dead ads being shoved down our eyeballs over and over and over again — often during the same show — is bankrupt.

As will be the advertising agencies that attempt to continue their assault doing the same old same old.

And the companies that pour many millions of dollars into these annoying, useless ad campaigns.

Google is already frightening every type of conventional media with the sweep and power and effectiveness of its targeted ads: the fun is just beginning.

Ads on bookofjoe?

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Never say never but I think it's fair to say it won't be, as they say in Silicon Valley la–la land, "real soon now."

November 2, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

World's best CD box

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It's from MUJI, a company both Kevin Kelly and William Gibson find sublime.

That ought to be enough for anyone.

I purchased two last week: as soon as I unpacked them and put my CDs in, I ordered two more.

Perfect in every way.

Just like you — if only you'd wake up and realize it.

The exquisite acrylic CD box, which holds 26 CDs, is $18 here.

November 2, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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