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March 18, 2006

The body as modem


That given, your mind/brain/head might well be considered a "selftop."

Or should I say Selftop™?

If you happen to live in Delft you'll be a Delftop.

Enough foolishness — this is serious business.

As if.

No matter, you can call it what you will and even pretend you thought it up — I really don't care.

But you already knew that.

No, I'm far more interested in the way the world suddenly shifts in meaning and purpose once you envision yourself as a (relatively, in the scheme of things) short–term terminal.

Can computers think?


I think we've just answered that question.

March 18, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Procedural Dating Kit — 'Because romance is a negotiation'


There are those who believe, unromantic as it may be,


that such negotiations are best conducted from a position of strength.


The trouble is that when you're in love the strength you acquire


doesn't translate very well in the "getting to yes" space.



March 18, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

mypublicinfo.com — Because 'privacy is an illusion'



Are you ready to lose your illusion?

For $79.95 mypublicinfo.com will provide you with a one–time data snapshot of yourself, drawn from over 5,000 data sources nationwide.

They call it a Personal Information Profile.

Everyone else can find this stuff out about you so why shouldn't you have a fighting chance?

Don Oldenburg wrote an excellent piece for his "Consummate Consumer" column in the March 12 Washington Post about the company and its founder, Harold Kraft.

FunFact: Kraft is also an anesthesiologist.

Here's the article.

    Everything You Ever Knew About Yourself -- for $79.95

    Firm Picks Through Public Records to Create a Snapshot of Customers' Lives

    Public information is such a misnomer.

    Like foul pole, preexisting condition and reality TV, there really isn't such a thing.

    Conceptually, sure.

    Baseball fans understand the concept of "foul pole" despite the fact that a ball that hits one is fair, and consumers generally understand the idea of public information despite the fact that it isn't all that public if you have to gather it yourself. (Which isn't all that fair.)

    But that's because the big-time data-collecting companies that compile threads and shards of information from your life -- the kind of data that, say, go into a background check -- typically sell it to businesses and government agencies, rarely to individual consumers.

    Enter Harold Kraft, native Washingtonian, anesthesiologist-turned-entrepreneur, now chief executive of MyPublicInfo Inc., the Arlington company he and partner Pat Dane founded in 2004.

    The company launched its personal-information retrieval services to consumers last July.

    "Public information is pseudo-public. It is very difficult to get access to all those public records," says Kraft at his modest offices across the street from the Arlington County Courthouse.

    "Public doesn't mean that it's free, and it doesn't mean that it is easily accessible."

    Kraft first brainstormed the service after getting his hands on his own public data and seeing the paper trail of his life flash before his eyes.

    "Not only was it all information about my life, it was also some pretty detailed stuff that any business could find out about me," he says.

    "We decided to make our mission to bring public information to the public."

    So for $79.95 at MyPublicInfo.com, you can buy a one-time data snapshot of yourself, a detailed portfolio Kraft calls a "Public Information Profile" (PIP), culled from more than 5,000 data sources nationwide. MyPublicInfo taps your info -- plus data mistakenly connected to or confused with your identity -- from the brimming databanks of super-data aggregators such as ChoicePoint, LexisNexis and Acxiom as well as from small and specialized databanks and primary sources such as courthouses.

    Included in your PIP? Criminal records, bankruptcy records, liens and judgments, insurance claims, address and telephone histories, real estate transactions (even aerial photos of your house!), professional licenses, motor-vehicle registrations, unclaimed assets, etc.

    One thing you won't find here is your credit report.

    "You can get your credit report yourself for free now," says Kraft, who thinks checking your public records is as important as checking your credit report.

    But why public records?

    To monitor and protect your identity, says Kraft, to keep a step ahead of mistakes and miscues common in public records, to watch for criminal activity such as "synthetic" identity theft.

    That's when a criminal impersonates your identity using slight variations of your name or Social Security number to buy or rent a house or apply for a credit card.

    Often that goes undetected by the major credit-reporting agencies -- but a wrong address connected to your name or a stranger with a slightly different SSN popping up in public records can be an early warning of bad things happening.

    Not all of the "messy data" included in a PIP relates to criminal intent, however.

    You'd be surprised how many people with the same name as yours have filed for bankruptcy, been arrested or bought property.

    "It is better to know what's out there -- for better or for worse," Kraft says.

    "What we have come to realize is that we are just at the cusp of a huge problem involving public-records mistakes, mistaken identity and identity confusion. Sometimes typos just creep into public records."

    Some privacy experts are comparing the problem to the early days of identity theft.

    "We're seeing almost as much interest and concerns in background checks as we were seeing in identity theft about a decade ago," says Beth Givens, director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a San Diego nonprofit consumer advocacy and education group.

    She says traffic at the PRC Web site's background-checks pages now equals that of its identity-theft pages.

    "We're getting lots of complaints," Givens says, describing cases in which people have been shut out of the workplace from faulty background checks, arrested due to mistaken identity errors and victimized by crooks who manipulated public data.

    "We hear on almost a daily basis stories like this. So much of this information is inaccurate."

    Combine that dreary observation with the estimated 80 percent of corporations that conduct background checks on job applicants, and Givens concludes that "the playing field for consumers needs to be more level than it is now."


    Short of federal regulation, consumers need to have access to their public records.

    But Givens says that access ought to be "free of charge, just like they can get their credit reports for free."

    She thinks MyPublicInfo's $79.95 fee "looks steep if it's not going beyond a quick and dirty database search."

    Kraft says his firm provides a premium, cleaned-up data collection from a myriad of sources while maintaining security and privacy of the personal data.

    This month, he adds, MyPublicInfo will launch another service, Identity Sweep, that for $4.95 a month provides alerts when something's amiss in your public records.

    As for the hacker threat, Kraft says that there's no database kept at the Arlington office and that its commercially managed center in California meets all standards for firewall protection, data encryption and intrusion detection.

    "We're not the only people who have your data," says Kraft, adding that after you've looked over your PIP, you can permanently delete it at the online account page.

    "And it's not just out there one place, it's out there in dozens of places. But we are the ones making it available to you."


Oh, I see you're all revved up now.

OK, then: here's a link to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, which offers a consumer guide to background checks.


Get a free copy of your credit report, as allowed by federal law, here, or call 877-322-8228.

March 18, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World Time LED Wall Clock


This one I just might get — I find it very alluring.

Being able to see at a glance the time in a country whose readers — out of the blue — comprise a quarter of my traffic, or being able to easily see the time in the geographical locus where a comment emanated, is strangely compelling.

From the website:

    World Time LED Wall Clock

    You've traveled the globe on business and for pleasure. Now you can know exactly what time it is virtually anywhere on the planet with our World Time Clock.

    With a single glance you'll be able to know the exact time in almost any country on the planet with the help of our World Time Clock.

    My job takes me all over the world.

    It seems sometimes like I'm in the air more than I am in my home.

    If you are conducting business globally, then you know the importance of having the correct time in other time zones across the globe.

    Just the other day I needed to make a call to one of our offices in China and was unsure of the time of day it was there.

    With a single glance at our World Time Clock I was able to tell the precise time without having to do the math in my head.

    Simply set the time where you are and the clock will automatically set the time for key cities on every continent on the planet.

    It’s guaranteed to be a great addition to your home or office.

    Whether you’re a world traveler or just want to look like one, you’re sure to love our World Time Clock.

    • AC adapter included

    • 21" x 14" x 1.5"

    • 7 lbs.



I'm surprised no one's created a Widget to do what this clock does.

Maybe someone has — I wouldn't know, since I'm still Tiger–less, stalled in the slow lane of 10.3.9 until my next computer.

Even better would be a mashup that sized the time display in proportion to the percentage of readers in that time zone.


March 18, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

10 Best Walking Cities in the U.S.


The envelope, please... and the winner is: Portland, Oregon.

Boy, best bicycling city and now the walking award: they must be doing something right out there.

The list, in order:

1. Portland, Oregon

2. Colorado Springs, Colorado

3. Madison, Wisconsin

4. Boise City, Idaho

5. Las Vegas, Nevada

6. Austin, Texas

7. Virginia Beach, Virginia

8. Anchorage, Alaska

9. Fremont, California

10. Raleigh, North Carolina

But maybe your home town isn't among these star performers.

No matter: here's a link to the top 100; maybe you'll find your city there.

[via the April issue of Prevention magazine]

March 18, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March Madness — Official NCAA Tournament Chairs


See what it feels like to sit on the bench, ready for coach to put you in to take the 3–point buzzer-beater.

"Nothing but net!"

Above, the "2006 NCAA Tournament Men's Preliminary Rounds Chair."

"Made to the exact same specifications and design as the actual seats used during the Opening, First, Second and Regional rounds of the NCAA Basketball Tournament."

Hey, that's the game that's on right now.

Made by SpecSeats, official supplier for the NCAA.


Want the added touch of your favorite team's logo on your chair's seat?


No problema: $150 here.

Choose from 15 schools for that one.

But wait — there's more.

How 'bout taking it to the next level?



the Official 2006 Men's Final Four Chair.

This one'll run you $139.99.

March 18, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How not to communicate with your readers


I've been struck lately by two quite common practices that seem to me eminently useless in terms of their purported purpose of enabling writers (not porpoises) to get feedback on their print or internet efforts.

An example of the first is using a general email address such as food@washpost.com (above) for readers to respond to an article by an individual whose story appeared in the Washington Post's Food section.

This struck me on March 8 when I read a very interesting feature there by Greg Kitsock about Guinness Stout and stout beers in general.

I wanted to email Kitsock to tell him how much I enjoyed his story but the only way to do that was to email the Post at the address italicized above, which is the Food section's general delivery — as it were — in–box.

That's no good: Kitsock then has to rely on the Post's staff to take the time and trouble to forward the email to him.

He writes a monthly feature about beer for the paper and so I wouldn't expect the Post to keep his email forwarding at the top of their to–do list.

I can recall, after my first book was published back in the early 1990s, getting an occasional letter from a reader forwarded by my publisher: invariably it was postmarked months earlier.

Who knows how many never arrived at all?

That's why I made certain to put an email address with staying power on the back cover of my last book.

I would advise any writer who does want to receive feedback to make every effort to get it directly, without third–party interference.

Author Carolyn See, who does a weekly book review for the Washington Post, has it figured out: under her byline it says she can be reached at www.carolynsee.com.

The Financial Times also does it right, simply putting the columnist's name@ft.com at the end of their pieces.

The second DOA approach to feedback is using a form on the web that requires the writer to fill in boxes (below).


These are so brain–dead — as opposed to using a "contact" button that takes you right to email — that I am amazed everytime I see one, even thought they're quite common.

Ring ring, pick up the clue phone: no one wants to fill in your crummy boxes and follow instructions — they just want to get in touch.

Making people work to do something online is a prescription for failure.

Get over yourself and give us an email address, and while you're at it don't make us search your site for it: put it up top on the opening page.


It's not neurosurgical anesthesiology, girls and guys.

March 18, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Can't explain


March 18, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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