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March 16, 2006

Why bloggers should not read blogs

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Not doing so instantly solves one problem: that of attribution.

Because if you don't read blogs then it's hardly likely you'll be using material from them without noting it.

I am fanatical about citing and linking to my sources whenever possible; they're invariably print–based but, on average, once or twice a day items appear as a result of joeheads sending me links to websites or blogs which I think might be of interest to you.

Sure, Shawn Lea emails me once a week or so noting that I've just featured something she covered a month or a year ago: she kindly encloses the link to prove it.

But she knows full well that my post didn't result from seeing it in her estimable blog, everythingandnothing.

She — and I - chalk it up to synchronicity.

Mark Twain remarked, "Always tell the truth. That way, you don't have to remember what you said."

This is wonderful advice, never more applicable than when you're on the witness stand in court under blistering cross–examination by a blood–on–the–lips plaintiff or defense lawyer who'd like nothing better than to show the jury that you're an out–and–out lying fraud.

I've been there and done that (the witness stand, under oath) on more than one occasion and I'm here to tell you that:

1) You don't ever want to go there (your shirt and pants stick to your skin as the sweat pours out).

2) You must never, ever let them see you sweat (I recommend a dark suit).

3) The truth is the only thing that sets you free from anxiety about what you're saying being accurate.

4) An anesthesiology residency does wonders for your ability to think quickly and clearly under enormous pressure.

Twain's quote is a precious jewel, a pearl of wisdom that will enhance your life forever if you incorporate it into your everyday way of doing things.

Sure, the truth hurts sometimes, but that pain is long since forgotten when you need to recall it and it returns to your consciousness just as clear as the day you first uttered it.

What does telling the truth have to do with not reading blogs?

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Simply that doing the latter lets you do the former effortlessly.

I can't speak for you but me, I sleep much better that way.

Twain also wrote, "A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval."

One last note: I read recently that Kevin Kelly, the estimable seer of things to come that matter, spends a goodly portion of his waking life online looking at blogs and websites, feeling for the faint pulse of what's about to become everyday reality.

March 16, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What's different about Katie Couric?

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Me, I never see her on TV so when I saw her photo in today's USA Today (above) I did a double–take: that's not the Katie I once knew.

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Looks like she had some serious plastic surgery on her face — by the same surgeon who did Mary–Louise Parker.

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Just goes to show you how out of it I am: when I had the crack research team look into this they informed me that Couric's operation occurred in early 2004.

We're slow here but, like the proverbial tortoise, we eventually do arrive.

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Both Couric (above, since her cosmetic work) and Parker now have that same generic All–American girl "pretty" look without the individuality that made them who they were.

Time passes, doesn't it?

Below, Couric before she went under the knife

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and way before:

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Hard to believe that in less than a year she'll be 50.

FunFact: Every plastic surgeon has a signature look such that a connoisseur of the art can instantly identify who performed the work at a passing glance.

Plastic surgeons bristle at this statement but in their hearts they know I'm right.

March 16, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

'Airlines Prepare For Cellphone Calling'

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This past Tuesday airline industry reporter Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal, in his column "The Middle Seat," wrote about the possible imminent approval of cellphone calling during flight.

Of course, many people already talk on the phone while they're in the air in violation of the current industry–wide ban.

McCartney noted that on average "... one to four cell calls were surreptitiously made on each flight studied."

Then, of course, there are the early adopters of VOIP, who've been legally making calls from 30,000 feet via their laptop computers for years.

Here's the Journal story.

    Airlines Prepare for Cellphone Calling

    Service Could Begin Next Year, But Safety Remains an Issue; Fliers Sneaking Calls Now

    With technology and regulators moving rapidly, passengers could be making and receiving cellphone calls aboard airline flights next year.

    But a new study raises questions over whether that will be safe for airplanes.

    The study arrives less than two months before crucial government decisions about inflight wireless communications are set to be made.

    On May 10, the Federal Communications Commission will auction radio spectrum that will allow telecommunications companies to operate wireless Internet and cellphone services for air travel.

    Already, several companies, including Verizon Communications Inc., AirCell, a closely held Colorado company, and AeroMobile, a joint venture of ARINC Inc. and Telenor ASA, are lining up to bid.

    The FAA recently approved a Verizon Wi-Fi system that lets laptops connect to the Internet from airplanes. (If Verizon wins spectrum at the May 10 auction, the company says the system could be up and running in 2007.)

    Some companies are also unveiling new technology they say will make inflight calling less disruptive and safer.

    The problem with using cellphones on airplanes is that the devices can interfere with Global Positioning Satellite systems, researchers say.

    These systems are increasingly being used on commercial airplanes for navigation.

    Interference could cause an airplane to lose the GPS signal or even make a flight veer off course.

    Currently, federal rules prohibit the use of personal electronic devices onboard airplanes unless airlines can prove they are safe to operate.

    In the new study, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University rode 37 passenger flights on three airlines with a device that measured radio-frequency emissions from personal electronic devices, like cellphones, BlackBerries and laptop computers.

    The study found emissions from cellphones that could interfere with GPS systems.

    It also revealed that some fliers are already making phone calls in defiance of an industrywide ban: Indeed, one to four cell calls were surreptitiously made on each flight studied.

    Inflight cellular calls cause other problems, too.

    Since calling from high up in the air can tie up a big chunk of capacity, wireless users on the ground can be blocked from service.

    The FCC had banned cellphone use on planes because of this problem.

    But now communications companies are unrolling new technology to address that issue.

    Some companies are preparing to equip airplanes with "pico cell" cellular antennas that will allow as many as 100 cellphones at a time to work without disrupting cell service on the ground.

    Since pico cells are installed on airplanes are thereby close to the cellphones of passengers, the phones operate at low power and won't produce interference with instruments, companies say.

    Because of the pico-cell technology, which has been successfully demonstrated with calls to and from an American Airlines flight and Boeing's recent long-distance record-setting 777 trip, the FCC has dropped its objection to using cellphones on airplanes.

    Now the Federal Aviation Administration must make its own decision.

    The agency has deputized a nonprofit advisory group called the RTCA Inc. to study the use of personal electronic devices aboard airplanes and to recommend policy, and the RTCA expects to issue a final report in December.

    The report will likely outline specific procedures for companies and airlines to prove that devices are safe to use, said Dave Carson, co-chair of the RTCA committee and a Boeing Co. official.

    Both the Wi-Fi network and the cell service will use radio spectrum that the FCC will auction on May 10 for air-to-ground communications.

    The spectrum had been reserved for telephones installed on airplanes.

    But since those expensive, static-filled phones never took off, the FCC decided to reallocate it.

    Two licenses will be awarded, FCC spokeswoman Chelsea Fallon said.

    But the researchers at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh say they believe more study is needed before allowing inflight cellphone calls.

    The researchers found that even though cellphones and laptops communicate in radio bands that are separate from those used by GPS instruments, emissions were still found in the GPS spectrum.

    That is because emissions from several cellphones can mix together and migrate to different frequencies, a phenomenon that is called "intermodulation."

    "There is a clear and present danger: cellphones can render GPS instruments useless for landings," the authors said in an article published in IEEE Spectrum.

    Carnegie Mellon's research was funded by the FAA.

    Mr. Carson said the RTCA is looking at intermodulation and the Carnegie Mellon results.

    The university research "does lend some empirical support to what we knew from the beginning," he said.

    The RTCA has also found evidence of possible GPS receiver interference.

    But the committee also believes technical dangers can be overcome, he said.

    One certainty: Phone use, like use of computers and other electronic devices, will only be allowed when planes are above 10,000 feet, and will be prohibited during takeoff and landing.

    Sometime within the next year, airlines will likely being training flight attendants on how to instruct passengers on proper seat chatter procedures and etiquette.

    With the background noise of an airplane in one ear, users tend to talk loudly into a cellphone.

    But yelling only makes the transmission worse (and neighbors angry), experts say, and phones don't pick up loud voices clearly. (Headphones may help.)

    Do travelers really want to gab inflight?

    Of 8,000 comments to the FCC when it proposed dropping its ban, only two or three were in favor.

    The rest, except for the 50 or so technical reports, were from travelers vociferously opposed, arguing that airplanes should be a refuge from calls and emails.

    Flight attendant unions are also opposed, fearing obnoxious phone habits could lead to air-rage incidents.

    If cellphones are allowed on airplanes, Granger Morgan, head of Carnegie Mellon's department of engineering and public policy, would like to see one other change: Flight-data recorders to track electronic emissions should be modified so that crash investigators can document a problem if trouble develops.

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Just one more reason not to fly.

Did you notice, by the way, that Northwest Airlines is now going to charge you an extra $15 for an aisle seat?

I'm just saying.

March 16, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Marston & Langinger Bucket Bag

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Lucia van der Post raved about this garden bucket bag in the March 3 Financial Times "How To Spend It" supplement.

    She wrote:

    It is the sort of eminently useful acquisition that every household, no matter how minuscule its surrounding green space, requires — a strongly–made heavy–duty green and black gardening bag.

    What I like about it is the sturdiness of the canvas and the ample pockets which take the small tools that light gardening requires — the trowel, the fork, the mini hoe, etc.

    In the middle is room for a bucket into which milady, as she drifts through her vegetable patch or rose garden, places the newly gathered baby vegetables, herbs or flowers.

    For those of us who have to make do with tiny urban patches or even merely window boxes to satisfy our horticultural urges, the bucket bag comes in mighty useful.

From the website:

    This bag is designed for use as a lightweight bucket, with pockets for gardeners tools and accessories.

    Made in strong nylon fabric, it can be used for weeds, carrying produce or similar tasks in the garden.

True, it costs nearly nine times as much as the collapsible bucket featured here on March 8 but then, that one didn't come highly recommended by Lucia van der Post, did it?

$130.

March 16, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Black–Market Kidney

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I read an article this morning in the new issue of VICE magazine that made me sit up and take notice.

I suggest that the reason it's not on the front page of the New York Times is because it's simply too hot to handle.

Or it's fiction.

Long story short: Toby Andrews, an American diagnosed with acute renal failure in 2003, learned that his chances of getting a kidney transplant and freeing himself from dialysis the conventional way — by getting on the UNOS waiting list — were essentially nil, what with the fact he was about 6,000th in line.

So, like approximately 3,500 or so other Americans who annually decide to take an alternative approach, he obtained a transplant on the black market.

The details are fascinating, whether or not you think Andrews did a terrible thing.

Before you unload on him, consider what you might do were you to find yourself in his situation.

Here's the story.

    Black–Market Kidney

    It cost $7,000 to buy the actual kidney, $1,000 to fly round-trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where the operation could be done legally, and $1,200 to fly the Brazilian bricklayer whose kidney is now inside me to Cape Town from São Paulo.

    Oh, and $1,422 all told for my hotel and $732 for his.

    I’m leaving out incidentals like food and cabs.

    So… hold on, let me just pull up my little calculator widget here (have you checked out these widget things? They’re addictive as hell)… crunching these numbers here… so that’s $11,354 to save my life and spare my wife and daughter unbelievable misery.

    Doesn’t seem like a lot to me.

    I suffered acute renal failure in August of 2003.

    I found out that the waiting list for a new kidney was about 3,000 people long.

    Then I found out that the waiting list for a new kidney that matched my blood type was about 6,000 people long.

    Dialysis would have kept me alive — barely — at the cost of being hooked up to a series of machines and tubes for the rest of my life.

    I won’t even go into how much money either of these options was going to set me back.

    So, like 3,500 other Americans this year, I dug around Google and finally came up with a Cape Town surgeon who specializes in transplanting kidneys into wealthy foreigners (he told me that most come from Mauritius).

    At first he was put off that I didn’t have a relative lined up, but after a few more calls he gave me the number of a Brazilian man who runs what they call a "compensated gifting" service.

    It took that guy maybe four minutes to call me back with the name of my donor.

    Seriously.

    My doctor here forwarded all my records to the hospital in South Africa, they did a crossmatch test on the Brazilian guy to make sure my body wouldn't shit out his kidney right after the op, and within five days I was on a plane heading down.

    At the hospital they gave me an enema and a sedative then wheeled me up to the window of the OR so I could watch the doc pulling out my new kidney as I went under.

    Now that the American Medicare system has flopped and nobody in Canada can help you out, it’s time to take the Hippocratic oath into our own hands.

    So I went to South Africa, closed my eyes, and waited to be saved.

    When I came to, I dry-heaved so hard that I passed out.

    This, they said, was from coming off the anesthetic while starting the cyclosporine, the antirejection drug.

    When I came back to, however, I felt like I’d woken up back in my body at age 20.

    And all this for the cost of a Geo.

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There are already a number of comments on the VICE website; they appear below the article.

Is it true or is it realistic fiction?

I honestly don't know.

I've given anesthesia for removal of donor kidneys from people declared dead as well as for kidney transplants and there is nothing in the descriptions by Andrews — cursory as they are — that conflicts with reality.

Nor are the costs noted out–of–line with might be expected if his story is true.

So let's just say that even if it's not true, it could be.

I think that says it all.

And let me reiterate, though I know it won't lessen the inevitable flaming–to–come, that I don't advocate what Andrews did: I'm simply reporting what he wrote.

One other thing: since I began receiving VICE free a few years ago, I've found it to be consistently surprising, original and absorbing.

How is it possible for a magazine whose main business is clothes to put out a free product that's better than 99% of the magazines on the newstand?

One of the enduring mysteries of the universe and one it would behoove publishers of that 99% to look into before they join the burgeoning ranks of the defunct.

March 16, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (63) | TrackBack

Faucet Brush

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Say what?

From the website:

    You know the problem - nooks and crannies in your faucets and spouts collect grime that most sponges and rags can't reach.

    But this long skinny brush cleans plumbing the same way floss cleans teeth — just wrap it around and work it back and forth.

    Firm plastic bristles clean without scratching.

    25"L overall.

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You know how to floss, don't you? You just... wait a minute....

Originally $4.99, now reduced to a sweet $2.99 — while they last.

March 16, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

NOVEL (New York Online Virtual Electronic Library) now up — 'An empire of free, full–text materials'

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Here's one reason it's good to be a New Yorker.

Anyone with a valid New York state driver's license or ID card now has free, unlimited access to thousands of subscription–charging newpapers, magazines, extensive reference works and cutting–edge research — from the comfort of their very own home or laptop anywhere in the world.

That's huge.

NOVEL went live this week, though it's not yet been officially announced.

joeheads get an advance heads–up.

I mean, you certainly pay enough for this kind of information — don't you think?

NOVEL provides the full text of scholarly articles rather than the summaries or abstracts usually available online.

Also included are hundreds of children's magazines and thousands of business references.

If you aren't a New Yorker maybe you know someone who is who'll let you use their access ID and password.

Did I say that?

Here's a link to a story in yesterday's MIT Technology Review about this signature achievement of the New York State Library.

FunFact: the Empire State boasts the nation's largest state library system.

March 16, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Insufficient evidence

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March 16, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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