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November 23, 2005

Is your mother an alien?

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What do you see above?

It's how a newborn might see a female face, according to psychologist Frederick Malmstrom.

What do you see below?

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That's right.

There's a similarity.

In fact, Malmstrom believes that the characteristic description of aliens by self–proclaimed abductees is Mommy – the image of a prototypical female face that's hard–wired into a baby's brain and helps newborns instantly respond to their mothers.

Richard Morin, for his "Unconventional Wisdom" column in Sunday's Washington Post, wrote about Malmstrom's work and interviewed him; the piece follows.

    Your Mama Looks Like E.T.

    Accounts of people who claim to have been abducted by aliens have one eerie similarity.

    When serious researchers like psychologist Frederick V. Malmstrom have asked self-proclaimed abductees what their out-of-this-world kidnappers looked like, they inevitably describe beings with large heads, big eyes, gray skin, smooth features, a barely visible or absent mouth and smallish bodies.

    Malmstrom, a visiting scholar at the U.S. Air Force Academy, now thinks he recognizes that face.

    It's Mommy -- or at least the image of a "prototypical female face" that's hard-wired into a baby's brain and helps newborns instantly respond to their mothers.

    Scientists have known for years that animals are born with certain visual recognition "templates" that help them survive.

    In one famous study, a scientist found that newly hatched chickens automatically cowered from shadows in the shape of a predator (such as a hawk) while the shadow of a non-predator -- a goose -- elicited only yawns (or the chick equivalent).

    There's similar evidence that human babies are programmed to react to a generalized face.

    Studies show that up until 2 months of age, an infant will react favorably to anything resembling a human face -- even a Halloween mask -- while showing little consistent interest in other shapes.

    The key, researchers have concluded, is the eyes and nose.

    A newborn's blurry vision tends to soften facial features and smudge the eyes into large dark blobs.

    In fact, when Malmstrom optically altered a photo of a woman in a way consistent with the characteristics of a newborn's vision -- astigmatism, an extremely shallow focal plane -- the resulting face looked remarkably like those big-eyed aliens drawn by self-declared abductees, he reports in the latest issue of the magazine Skeptic, which features scholarly articles on the paranormal and other extraordinary claims.

    Okay, professor -- two questions.

    First, why do these adults who claim to be abducted "see" their mothers, or at least this prototypical female face, and not some other important figure, say a prototypical pacifier?

    The answer, he asserts, has to do with another familiar feature of alien-abduction accounts.

    Virtually all of the cases considered credible enough to study occurred when the abductees reported they were either falling asleep or were "remembered" while the subject was under hypnosis.

    The feeling of being halfway between wakefulness and sleep is called a "hypnagogic dreamlike state" and shares many of the same characteristics of being hypnotized.

    Malmstrom suspects that "the alien face perceived in hypnagogic dreamlike states is also produced from the same primitive facial recognition template."

    In this state, the mind reverts to basics to make sense of its imagined out-of-this-world surroundings, in this case summoning up the image of the archetypal mom, says Malmstrom.

    Well, maybe. Your Unconventional Wiz isn't quite convinced, and even Malmstrom says his theory merits "further research."

    Oh, my other question: If they're seeing Mother, then why do these descriptions of close encounters with aliens often sound so unpleasant, as in those ghastly accounts of anal probes or forced sexual relations?

    Do we have issues with Mommy Dearest even at birth?

    "There does seem to be a sexual element to it, but I don't know," Malmstrom laughed.

    "That's an excellent question for a doctoral dissertation."

********************

So now you're all excited and want to find out more.

OK, I understand — that's why I'm providing this link to Malmstrom's article in Skeptic magazine, which extends and elaborates on his thinking.

Very interesting guy.

November 23, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

iPod Lamp?

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Don't get your knickers in a twist — it's not what it appears (above).

Yes, it's a lamp.

Yes, it has "a cradle for charging your iPod."

But guess what?

The "charging cradle" is as much a charger as a carrot or your bathroom sink.

All it is, is a place for you to put your iPod down.

"Just thread your charging cord through the opening and plug into the 110V outlet on the back of the lamp."

What a crock.

They throw in "accent caps" in six colors (below)

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"to match your decor or iPod!"

Puh–leeze.

$79.95 here. (iPod not included.)

November 23, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

joeTV — the rough beast draws nearer...

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Yesterday's USA Today featured a nice update on the current state of video posting on the web.

Jefferson Graham, the paper's very good tech reporter, summed things up as, basically, not ready for prime time — but definitely moving along quite nicely in the right direction, at a quickening pace.

Here's his story.

    Video Websites Pop Up, Invite Postings

    Digital cameras spread capability

    Guillermo Garcia of Montreal recently took his digital camera to New York's Empire State building, shot a video clip and posted it on the new YouTube website for friends to see.

    That simple transaction is something Garcia couldn't have done a year ago, unless he knew computer code and was willing to post it on a personal website, or he coughed up a monthly subscription fee for the handful of video sites that charge for their services.

    Big changes in the way people shoot video — increasingly on small digital cameras instead of camcorders — and lower costs for website operators have enabled a host of start-up video sites to pop up in the last few months.

    YouTube, Vimeo, Sharkle, ClipShack and Blip.tv all aim to be video versions of Flickr, the Yahoo-owned site that has drawn millions of people who post photographs, then discuss them.

    Google's new video.google.com has even bigger aspirations: to become a TV network of sorts on the Internet, offering personal footage that can be shared and TV programs that can be purchased.

    Of YouTube, Garcia, a 28-year-old video-game tester, says, "I love how you can watch videos from all over the world, taken by people from almost any nationality."

    The free video sites are similar to photo-sharing sites such as Flickr, Kodak Easyshare Gallery and Shutterfly, but with a big difference. The photo-sharing sites exist to sell prints and gifts.

    The video sites, for the most part, haven't settled on how they're going to make money.

    Sharkle runs ads; the others are ad free.

    "We put up the site to see what would happen," says Jakob Lodwick, the 24-year-old co-founder of Vimeo.

    He also runs the ad-supported and profitable Collegehumor.com site.

    Vimeo averages 20,000 users daily.

    Like Sharkle, it wants to generate revenue through advertising and eventually offer "pro" subscriptions for those who want to post more than 20 megabytes a week (one or two digital camera video clips, at about 30 seconds each).

    "People have a lot of different experiences out there, and they want to share them," says Chad Hurley, who started YouTube in Palo Alto, Calif., with two friends, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim.

    "That's what we're about. We're the ultimate reality TV, giving you a glimpse into other people's lives."

    The video sites are all so new that they have yet to be tracked by Nielsen//NetRatings, which monitors online traffic.

    But YouTube, by far the largest of the independent video sites, says it has more than 200,000 registered users and is showing more than 2 million videos per day.

    YouTube recently raised $3.5 million in funding from Sequoia Capital.

    While the sites are free, there are limits to how much video you can put up.

    YouTube won't accept clips bigger than 100 megabytes — about 30 seconds of camcorder footage or 10 minutes of video from a digital camera.

    This differs from paid video subscription sites such as Phanfare ($6.95 monthly) and Streamload (starts at $4.95 monthly), which offer either unlimited or more liberal usages, catering primarily to camcorder users.

    What's made these new free video sites possible is a dramatic change in the way consumers make videos.

    Small digital cameras have greatly improved video-capturing capabilities, and the video files are smaller and easier to share.

    Thanks to digital camera video features, consumers are now shooting much more video — 34 million gigabytes' worth this year, vs. 24 million gigabytes last year, says research firm IDC.

    Still, IDC analyst Chris Chute thinks it will take years for these sites to take off.

    He estimates that less than 10% of digital camera owners are savvy enough to take the time to sit in front of the computer and transfer video footage.

    For most consumers, "It's just too time-consuming and complicated."

    He says companies such as Microsoft or Google could solve those problems if they make it a priority.

    But, he says, "I don't see it happening for quite some time."

    Google Video accepts home video clips from consumers, although it's also been working with Hollywood and independent producers to put up content.

    Google recently struck one deal with the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to run oral histories from TV legends such as Andy Griffith and Barbara Eden alongside the amateur travel clips that make up the majority of the Google Video site.

    Posting personal video footage on Google takes a lot more effort than using one of the video-sharing sites.

    First, users must download transfer software, then upload the clip and fill out reams of data, including the video's title, description and genre.

    Then Google must approve the clip, which can take a few hours — or a couple of days.

    With YouTube, users sign in, type in a video's title and description, and upload.

    The clip goes up instantly.

    The main difference between the Google Video site, and sites such as YouTube, Sharkle and Vimeo, is the community aspect.

    Friends can e-mail and instant message each other, and most sites have tools that make it easy to post clips to blogs.

    “Blogs took off because people have something to say,” says Trevor Wright, 34, Sharkle's founder.

    "Now, with video on blogs, we're finding that some of these amateur videographers are also pretty darn good."

    The free sites have policies against pornography and copyrighted material.

    But since they don't screen clips, they still end up with video some might find objectionable.

    YouTube and Vimeo have a lot of what Lodwick calls "amateur strip-tease."

    Other clips feature people lip-synching songs in their own music videos, using copyrighted material.

    “I don't have time to watch every clip,” Lodwick says. “My policy is, if someone complains, we'll deal with it.”

    Wright, who gets 50 clips submitted daily, does watch them.

    He removes those with nudity.

    "We have advertising and don't want to offend our sponsors," Wright says.

********************

So — you want to see what's out there as of this moment?

There goes the afternoon; don't say I didn't warn you.

All six of these sites are free:

YouTube

Sharkle

ClipShack

Vimeo

Blip.tv

Google Video

November 23, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

They're back!

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Part of being an adult — at least, this is what I was told when I was growing up — is facing things you'd rather ignore.

Like the dinnerware above, which stared me in the face when I turned the page of the Sur La Table catalog yesterday.

But then I thought, wait a minute — why should I be the only one to have to wince at this cheesy 70s stuff?

Why not share?

So here it is, gang: a 7.5" plate, 20–ounce cereal bowl and a 12–ounce mug in dishwasher–safe, German–made ceramic, for the people on your holiday gift list you have to find something for, but would much rather not.

What better way to combine those sentiments than by giving this annoying stuff to them as presents?

The plate and bowl are $11.95 apiece and the mug is $9.95, all here.

November 23, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Implantable Miniature Intra–ocular Telescope

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It exists and it's in human trials right now.

It was created to help people with age–related macular degeneration (AMD).

Made by VisionCare of Saratoga, California, the device (above and below)

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is 4.4 mm long — about the size of a ladybug — and is implanted into the eye by an ophthalmic surgeon in an outpatient procedure.

Ranit Mishori, in yesterday's Washington Post Health section story, wrote that it "functions like the telephoto lens of a camera, enlarging an image threefold while projecting it onto undamaged parts of the retina."

A study of the device's effectiveness, recently published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, showed it was effective in over 90% of recipients.

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Above and below,

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how the telescope functions.

Final results and hoped–for approval by the FDA could come as early next year.

November 23, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jurassic Salt

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What — you don't think T. Rex just ate creatures as is, do you?

Wake up and smell the Triceratops, baby.

From the website:

    Jurassic Sea Salt — Rich In Flavor And Texture

    During the Jurassic period (150 million years ago) when dinosaurs roamed the earth, much of Utah was under water.

    As the waters receded, a huge natural formation of salt was left behind.

    Now unearthed, this sea salt from another period is rich in flavor and the colored crystals full of trace minerals.

    Use for cooking or in a salt mill.

Next thing you know this'll be on all the tables in the theme park restaurant.

Oh, wait a minute — that's not opening until 2077.

Sorry about that.

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$9.99 for a 10 oz. jar here.

November 23, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Breaking news: Air Canada now charges $2 to rent a pillow

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Well, you knew the pendulum wouldn't simply stop in the middle of its swing back from the days of full service — didn't you?

Still, one must wince just a wee bit at the news that what was once free, then no longer available, is now reappearing — for a price (above).

There's more: United now charges between $24 and $99 on top of its regular ticket price for a seat in an exit row, with the additional leg room.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's only a matter of time before they rip out all the seats and put metal benches along the sides, call them first class, and let everyone else fend for themselves — first come, first served, like one of those frenzies when they open up the department stores the day after Christmas to hordes of crazed, bargain lust–filled, blood–on–the–lips shoppers — on the floor of the plane.

Here's Scott McCartney's "The Middle Seat" column from yesterday's Wall Street Journal reporting on all the new fees and charges the airlines can't roll out fast enough.

    Latest Inflight Fee: $2 for a Pillow

    Fuel Costs, Competition Spur Airlines to Yank More Perks And Add Even More Fees

    The fee frenzy at many big U.S. airlines is increasing: as of this month, a pillow on most Air Canada flights costs you $2.

    And a seat in the exit row (with more leg room) on most United flights now has a price tag of between $24 and $99, unless you're an elite-level frequent flier.

    That isn't all.

    It costs $2 (plus tip) to use the services of a skycap to check a bag at some airports on American Airlines, UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, Northwest Airlines, US Airways and Alaska Airlines, a division of Alaska Air Group Inc.

    Northwest is charging $1 for some trail mix to go with your beverage.

    Both American and Northwest have stopped serving pretzels to coach passengers on many domestic flights.

    And keep your wallet handy when you head to the airport this Thanksgiving -- several carriers recently started charging $25 to confirm a seat on a different flight if you want to get home early.

    Big carriers once positioned as full-service providers have slashed amenities for coach passengers and found more services for which they can charge added fees.

    With fuel prices high and fare prices low, big airlines have continued to pile up billions in losses despite slashing billions of costs from their operations through lower pay, less-expensive airplane leases and more productivity.

    So they are seeking added revenue wherever they can.

    As a result, the legacy airlines have become no-frill airlines while the discounters such as Southwest Airlines and jetBlue Airways now offer more perks and free services.

    For example, most domestic flights on American, Northwest and Delta Air Lines don't have pillows anymore.

    But Southwest does.

    "We're not a full-service society anymore," says Tim Wagner, a spokesman for AMR Corp.'s American.

    "We're allowing the customer to choose services, like an a la carte menu."

    So far, carriers have been able to keep adding fees without alienating customers.

    Most customers just shrug, especially since elite-level frequent fliers are often immune to fees and are plied with added perks like first-class upgrades and preferred seating.

    "With fuel prices what they are, all one should feel entitled to for the price of many flights these days is a seat," says Steven Allen, an elite-level frequent flier on Northwest.

    "That everything else costs extra only makes sense."

    Airlines know they risk irritating customers.

    Continental Airlines, for one, is trying to stand apart by continuing to serve meals and supply pillows and free curbside baggage checking.

    Airlines say the added fees are helping their bottom lines.

    United says selling upgrades to Economy Plus, which has more legroom than regular United coach seats, has generated millions of dollars in revenue.

    "At the end of the day, the customer who pays more, and even flies more miles, gets more in return from United," spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said. Dumping pillows saves American $600,000 a year, according to Mr. Wagner, and American's passenger surveys show that its frequent-flier program is a far bigger factor in buying decisions than pillows.

    Air Canada, which recently reorganized in bankruptcy itself, went further when it began selling "comfort zone" kits for $2 on Nov. 1.

    Passengers get an inflatable plastic pillow with a cloth covering, and a blanket, both of which they can keep. (Buying a kit is the only way to get a pillow onboard for flights in North America.)

    "It's all about providing options," said spokesman John Reber.

    "Customers can choose what they value."

    That's fine with discount airlines, which have seized a competitive advantage with amenities like live satellite-fed television and radio.

    Who would have thought Southwest's two packs of peanuts would look downright deluxe?

    There is a danger of angering customers who pay premium prices for a ticket, and then get nickel-and-dimed at the airport.

    Robert Miller, who lives in São Paulo, paid Delta about $5,000 for his family to visit the U.S. in July.

    The family's baggage weighed in under Brazilian limits of 70 pounds per bag, but on the return trip leaving the U.S., Delta hit him for $25 extra on each of four bags declared overweight at about 65 pounds.

    Ultimately, he got revenge.

    He complained to Delta both in the U.S. and in Brazil.

    Delta's frequent-flier program officials in Atlanta got $100 refunded to his credit card.

    Then Delta's Brazilian operation also refunded $100.

    "I kept both refunds," said Mr. Miller.

November 23, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Hummer Koozie

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Come on, enough with the cheapo, cheezy 7–11 versions.

Time to get serious about your cold libation.

From the website:

    One-of-a-kind, 12-oz. beverage holders/coolers are made exclusively for us by LaCrosse Footwear Co.

    They're made with the same rubber and thermal lining materials that go into their premium rubber boots and have a non-skid bottom that has the same tread pattern as their famed Iceman boot.

    Great conversation piece and collector's item, plus it will keep your favorite drink cold.

$9.99 here.

November 23, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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