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June 14, 2006

Sounds like teen spirit

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What with all the kerfuffle about teens turning the Mosquito sound system — designed to be "the sonic equivalent of a 'no loitering' sign" — to their advantage by using it for stealth ringtones only they can hear, perhaps you're wondering exactly what the source of all this excitement sounds like.

Go here, then click on "Mosquito Tones."

Click on "Mosquito Tone" when it appears in a new column.

"Mosquito Tones" will appear in yet another column: click on it.

A column of frequencies (above) will appear: click to hear what each sounds like.

I can't hear anything above 18,000Hz.

You?

[via Yuki Noguchi and Kim Hart in today's Washington Post Business section front page story]

June 14, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Shrimp Butler

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What's this?

Long story short: turn the handle to devein a pound of shrimp — shell-on or off — in one minute.

From the website:

    Introducing The Shrimp Butler®

    The quick, clean and easy way to prepare fresh in-the-shell shrimp at home

    The Shrimp Butler serves up succulent, perfectly-filleted fresh shrimp in your home that look like they were prepared in a fine dining restaurant!

    This sleek non-electric cook’s tool will make you feel pampered in your own kitchen!

    With just one turn of the crank its patented razor will slice and fillet your shrimp shell and either destroy the vein or expose it for easy removal.

    You can then cook fresh shrimp with shell on or shell off, and serve them as flavorful delights.

    The Shrimp Butler works best with small shrimp (e.g. 41-50 count) to extra large shrimp (21-25 count) — either raw or cooked.

    Benefits:

    • Safety — no more sharp knife

    • Time savings — peeling is much quicker and vein is removed or exposed for quick, easy removal

    • Quality of cut — clean, perfect cut right down the center of shrimp and every ounce of shrimp meat is preserved, unlike the ripping, tearing effect of plastic stick tools

    • Versatility — allows you to cook with shell on or off and you can split raw or cooked shrimp

    Features:

    • Durable ABS plastic

    • Weighs two pounds

    • Dishwasher-safe

....................

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$29.95.

[via Bonnie S. Benwick in today's Washington Post Food section]

June 14, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

GameDay Eye Black — 'Transform yourself'

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If it's good enough for Reggie Bush (above) it's good enough for me.

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So far Peter W. Beveridge's two-year-old Washington, D.C.-based company has sold about 450,000 sets of its patented one-time-use self-adhesive suborbital patches.

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The minimum order is 20 pair, with each pair costing $1.25.

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The price drops as order size increases, down to 62 cents a pair for 25,000.

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Eye Black — now there's something to conjure with.

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Here's a link to Larry Liebert's June 12 Washington Post Business section story about the company.

June 14, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Self-Stirring Mug

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What I can't understand is why they don't offer a matching beanie with a propeller on top.

But I digress.

From the website:

    Self-Stirring Mug

    A favorite gift among our customers, this mug has a miniature battery-operated propeller at the bottom of the well that spins at 3,000 RPM at the touch of a button on the handle, automatically stirring your beverage and eliminating the need to dispose of stirrers or find a place to leave coffee-dampened spoons.

    At your command the propeller re-stirs mugs of hot chocolate, coffee, or tea, preventing chocolate or sugar from settling out of solution and overcoming the traditional challenge of adequately mixing honey in a hot drink.

    The mug includes a lid to keep contents from spilling and retain heat and the lid can be placed underneath the mug's base as an impromptu coaster.

    The mug is lightweight injection-molded plastic sheathed in a stainless-steel exterior.

    Requires two AA batteries.

....................

"Honey-challenged" — I've been vexed by less.

Two for $29.95.

June 14, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

'Everyman' by Philip Roth is '... one of the best books about economics I have ever read' — Ben Stein

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Ben Stein's "Everybody's Business" column in last Sunday's New York Times Business section was one of his very best.

I've always liked Stein not just for his iconic portrayal of a high school teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" but equally because of his deceptively simple writing style, expressing truths of great power in plain prose.

Here's his Father's Day tribute to his deceased dad.

    It Wasn't a Business, but He Left Me Plenty

    Now for a few words about Ben S. Bernanke, inflation, the stock market, economics and fathers.

    I've been amazed at how the stock markets of the world have reacted to Mr. Bernanke's comments about how he would be "vigilant" about fighting inflation. Frankly, I would have thought that the markets would be overjoyed at how resolute Mr. Bernanke, the new chairman of the Federal Reserve, is about taking on rising prices. Those prices, and the ever higher interest rates needed to bring them in check, are a mortal danger to stock markets. And those rising rates drastically hack away at the net present value of future flows of earnings and dividends from stocks, and thus lower stock values.

    If Mr. Bernanke is determined to nip inflation in the bud so we don't get seriously higher long-term rates for a good while, the markets should be applauding. His determination is clearly good news for the long-term, inflation-averse investor. I would have thought there would be enthusiasm and buying on the news.

    But typically, the personalities that run the trading desks can think only a few weeks ahead. If interest rates are not falling by then, they hit the "sell" key. Too bad for the short run, but good news — and a buying opportunity — in the long run. If earnings flows are having an 6-percent-off sale, it looks to me like a decent time to buy — for the very long term.

    But I can tell you a major mistake that Mr. Bernanke has made. (Maybe two: the first one is that beard of his.) He has apparently canceled the annual Fourth of July fireworks-watching party that his illustrious predecessors, Arthur F. Burns and Alan Greenspan, used to have on the Fed's top-floor terrace for fellow economists, legislators, journalists and friends of the family.

    Entirely because my parents were pals with Mr. Burns and his wife, Helen, and with Mr. Greenspan and his wife, Andrea Mitchell, I used to be invited to those parties. They were swell, with wild sights and sounds of the explosions near the Washington Monument, earth-shaking ground fireworks and fascinating chatter with the likes of Lawrence B. Lindsey, the former economics adviser to President Bush, and Lawrence H. Summers, the Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton.

    I hope that Mr. Bernanke will reconsider. Making friends with important people in the capital is not a trivial consideration at any time. Having casual conversation about economics with the best and the brightest in the field is not to be sneezed at.

    And, speaking of economics, I just read one of the best books about economics I have ever read: "Everyman," by Philip Roth. It is a slender novel. Even a dope like me can read it in a couple of hours, tops. I call it a book about economics because economics, as the immortal professor C. Lowell Harriss taught us on Day 1 of "Money and Banking" at Columbia, is about the allocation of scarce goods. Mr. Roth would have made a fine practitioner of the dismal science, because this book is about the scarcest of human resources, and the proper allocation and sad misallocation of that resource.

    That resource, of course, is the love of those we care about and who care about us. Mr. Roth's main character makes every sort of mistake in this allocation, but at the end realizes his mistakes and has one good day, perhaps, where he gets his economics right and appreciates fully the love that made his life possible, the love for him that was in the bones of his parents.

    I've been especially haunted by one part of the book. In it, Mr. Roth's protagonist — who has no name — talks about his dad opening a jewelry store in Elizabeth, N.J., called Everyman's Jewelry Store, specializing in jewelry for working people. He opened it in the depths of the Great Depression — in 1933, the only year on record when the combined profits of all American business were negative. (Some economists also include 1934.) When asked why he took such a risk, he said, "So I would have something to leave my boys." This was a man who understood the allocation of scarce goods.

    My father did not start a jewelry store. He never had any kind of business at all. After he left the Navy in 1945, he never once applied for a job. He was supersmart, and he was sought out to work for the rest of his life, starting at the Committee for Economic Development, a businessmen's group studying economic problems, to serving on the Council of Economic Advisers as a member and, later, chairman under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. My father always told me that he regretted not having had a business, so that he and I would be partners, and he could leave me a place to work where I would not be beholden to a boss.

    He was seriously mistaken, of course. He had plenty to leave me. Father's Day is next week, and for all of my Pop's life, I gave him dinky little presents on that Sunday. Douwe Egberts pipe tobacco. Neckties from Brooks Brothers and Hermès. Sweaters, always from Brooks Brothers. Near the end of his life, I gave him a tallis, a Jewish prayer shawl (which he loathed — he was never big on ceremony).

    But what I got from him was far beyond a name on a pebbled glass door saying "Stein & Son." I got from him a lifetime of teaching by example — that you get the things you want by hard work, not by whining. The inheritance of a name synonymous with integrity on public policy issues, regardless of party line. A name known nationwide for wit and insight.

    Even now, when I stroll around Washington, where I visit a few weeks a year, I meet people who tell me how much they enjoyed working with my father. Lawrence Kudlow, the economist and television host, still calls me "Herb" when I appear on his program (like my Pop, pleading for a fairer tax system and better treatment of those who wear the uniform and carry the weapon to keep us all safe — and, like my father, mocked by many in my party for it).

    People whom I have never met trust me because they trusted my father. (That, by itself, makes Pop and me partners.) It's the way the customers of Everyman's Jewelers trusted Philip Roth's father character to give them a fair shake on their tiny engagement rings.

    Here is what my father gave me: every time I had a childhood chore to do and complained about it — raking leaves, cleaning the carpets, waxing the floors — my Pop would say, "We'll do it together and it'll take half the time." That's a gift. So was the sight of him sitting out on the deck overlooking Sligo Creek Park behind our house in Silver Spring, Md., smoking, drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon, listening to the Senators play ball and realizing that a man was entitled to rest after a day's hard work. There was also his endless gift of gratitude for waking up every morning in America. And the astounding lifetime gift of telling me that no matter what Mr. Nixon or his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, wanted him to do, he would make it plain that helping out "his one and only son" always came first.

    Economics is about the allocation of scarce resources. Life is about the allocation of scarce resources. The love of a father is as precious and scarce as it gets. There is never enough of it. If you are richer than Henry M. Paulson Jr., richer than Warren E. Buffett — and you are if you still have living parents — be thankful today that you can still learn your father's business and grow in it.

    "I grew up in a house my father built," Mr. Nixon wrote to begin his autobiography. I am still living in the house of hard work, gratitude, and study that my father built — and working in it, too. It's a great business and, again, we're partners. In a way, if you play your cards right and have enough appreciation of that scarce good, it's Everyman's Business, and yours.

    June 14, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Portable Emergency Power Pack

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    I like it — tell us more.

    From the website:

      Portable Power Pack

      Backup power wherever you go

      The wheeled Portable Powerpack™ produces up to 1500W of safe, silent household AC power to run a refrigerator or office equipment during short-term power emergencies, or run an outdoor TV or leafblower.

      • Includes a rechargeable battery

      • Built for rugged use

    ....................

    Here's how I see it: the power goes out during a storm a couple times a year.

    OK.

    I've got my laptop with a charged battery and a fully-charged spare, so that gives me 5 or so hours of power.

    I keep my wired phone line and dial-up internet service for just this contingency: it's slow but it works even if the power goes out.

    So adding this wheelie thing might give me a heckuva lot more computer time: I mean, if it can power a refrigerator you've gotta figure it can keep my trusty PowerBook alive for some time.

    And I do like the fact that I won't blow myself up or set the house on fire or asphyxiate myself as TechnoDolts™ are wont to do when they start messing around with Honda-style gasoline-powered generators.

    The Powerpack™ costs $369.

    June 14, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    World's first hypoallergenic cat

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    Look at the pictures above and (way) below: what do you see?

    I see the world's first allergen-free kitties.

    But they don't come cheap.

    Long story short: when the first kittens are delivered next year, sensitive cat people will have paid up to $12,700 for the chance to finally have a kitty that won't make them sick.

    That's nothing to sneeze at.

    Penni Crabtree of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote about them for a June 8 story, which follows.

      Allerca promises sneeze-free cats

      Pre-purchase costs $3,500, takes years

      A San Diego company said yesterday that it had created the world's first cat that is free of the allergy-causing proteins that afflict many feline lovers.

      Allerca, a self-styled "lifestyle" pet company headquartered in San Diego, claims to have produced the world's first hypoallergenic cats.

      If true, the feat by privately held Allerca is a new but low-tech twist on using genomic tools to create so-called "designer" pets, which in recent years have included cloned cats and dogs and genetically engineered fish that glow.

      The sneeze-free kitties will come at a price guaranteed to make a pet lover's eyes water. Customers must fork out $3,500 to "pre-purchase" a 12-week kitten that could take two or more years to actually be delivered. And for an extra $1,950, potential pet owners can be bumped to the front of the list for delivery of a kitten in 2007.

      "We are thrilled and excited about this scientific breakthrough," Allerca chief executive Megan Young said. "For the first time, people who have been unable to own a cat because of their allergies can now enjoy a pet of their own without the associated risks and costs of allergy treatments."

      In October 2004, the company, then in Los Angeles, made national headlines when it announced that it intended to create genetically modified allergen-free cats by using RNA interference to "silence" the gene in cats that produces the irritant.

      Two years later, Allerca isn't claiming to have created true transgenic animals – no DNA was inserted or genes modified to make them less allergenic.

      Instead, the company devised a genetic test to screen the genes of cats for "genetic divergences" in the Fel D1 gene, which is responsible for the allergy-producing protein that is secreted by a cat's glands. Allerca then bred the divergent cats to produce allergy-free offspring, Young said.

      Little is known about Allerca or the validity of its claims, and the company was secretive yesterday about its science and its management. Allerca CEO Young declined to say where she had worked before Allerca, to disclose how many employees the company has or where it is located, or to name any scientists associated with the cat project.

      In 2004, two months after Allerca made its initial media splash with an announcement that it would create genetically modified, allergen-free cats, the company was sued in federal court by New York-based Transgenic Pets.

      Transgenic alleged that Los Angeles businessman Simon Brodie, owner of Geneticas Life Sciences, usurped Transgenic's business and marketing plan, trade secrets and technology, which were used to form Allerca.

      According to the lawsuit, Transgenic's owner, Dr. David Avner, had agreed to create a company called Allerca with Brodie, and Brodie's company, Geneticas, was to invest an initial $2.5 million in the venture.

      Instead, Brodie backed out on the deal and formed Allerca on his own, using Transgenic Pets' business plan, according to the lawsuit. Brodie also contacted Transgenic's cat supplier and the research laboratory that had a deal with Transgenic to develop and produce the cats, according to the lawsuit.

      Allerca began accepting $350 deposits for the yet-to-be produced transgenic cats, which at the time the company claimed it would sell for $3,000 to $10,000.

      In February 2005, Allerca and Brodie settled with Transgenic. Allerca agreed to shut down its Web site and not to re-enter the market for genetically engineered, allergen-free cats until after May 31, 2006.

      Brodie and Geneticas have been involved with other companies with unusual business plans. Among the Geneticas-affiliated companies is ForeverPet, a cloning research and development company.

      ForeverPet, according to marketing materials found on the Internet, also stores pets' genetic material so "ForeverPet clients can fulfill their dream of reuniting with their lost family friend."

      Another firm, Genetiate, proposed to create a fluorescent deer by implanting the gene of a special jellyfish. The project, dubbed the NightSave Deer, aimed to reduce the number of night time deer/auto collisions, saving the lives of both deer and people.

      Young yesterday was vague about the status of Brodie's other companies. She said that Geneticas Life Sciences was "no more," and that other companies previously affiliated with it have "split up and gone on to other things."

      Brodie, who is chairman and founder of Allerca, was not available for comment, she said.

      Asked why potential Allerca cat owners are required to pay now for animals that they might not get for up to two years, Young said the company wants "a solid commitment from customers" because the animals can't be "shelved" once they are bred.

      Young said the company is now building up its "breeding pool" of cats and ensuring the allergen-free genetic code is passed from generation to generation.

      Allerca expects to produce 400 to 500 kittens in 2007, and to build that number to 5,000 by 2008, she said.

      Young said the company plans soon to publish a scientific paper on its research.

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    Jeff Hecht, writing in NewScientist.com on June 9, wasn't as sanguine about the prospects of these cats being truly non-allergenic.

    His article follows.

      Allergen-free cats — a breed apart

      A California company has turned to conventional breeding to deliver the non-allergenic kittens it promised two years ago. But allergists warn the new cats may still be something to sneeze at.

      In 2004, Allerca, then based in Los Angeles, announced plans to genetically engineer cats so they would not produce the most common cat allergen, a protein called FEL D1 (See Doubts over plan for allergen-free cats). Now based in San Diego, Allerca has abandoned genetic engineering to focus on selectively breeding cats that lack the version of the FEL D1 protein that triggers allergic reactions.

      A spokeswoman says the company will deliver the first 400 to 500 "GD" (for genetically divergent) kittens in 2007.

      Allergists consider the approach scientifically plausible. "It's been known for a long time that some cats are very low allergen producers", producing just one-thousandth the FEL D1 of a normal cat, says Robert Wood, director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, US.

      Allerca says that is because those cats lack the gene to produce the allergenic form of FEL D1, and instead produces a different, non-allergenic protein. They genetically screened cats to identify low-FEL D1 animals for a breeding population.

      In a statement, Allerca says "individuals with known feline allergies were fully exposed to the Allerca GD cats without demonstrating any allergic reactions", but that the same people suffered swollen eyes, asthmatic symptoms, and hives when later exposed to ordinary cats.

      Cats are among the most common pets but also among the most widely blamed for allergic reactions because FEL D1 is the most potent pet allergen. Specific to cats, FEL D1 is found in fur, saliva, urine, and skin glands. Worse, it sticks to furniture, carpets and clothing, triggering allergies even when the cat is absent. Allergists typically tell people with severe asthma or allergies to get rid of cats to ease their symptoms.

      But some still want pets. Allerca reports a two-year backlog of orders, with US residents paying $3950, and residents of other countries paying €4950 to €9950 ($6300 to $12,700, respectively). Kittens are to be shipped at 12 weeks old. "It's plausible that some people could benefit – if they have $4000 for a cat," Wood says.

      The original breeding stock was based on the Shorthair breed, but Allerca says the current stock is closest to the Ragamuffin breed.

      But allergies are tricky, and specialists are cautious about the prospects. "This approach is scientifically valid, but that doesn't mean it's going to work," says Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association.

      Although FEL D1 is the dominant cat allergen, Wood told New Scientist that about 10% of people with cat allergies react to cat albumin, a protein released in increasing amounts in the urine as the cat ages.

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      Another concern is that allergic reactions are notoriously sensitive and can vary widely. Wood has found that reducing allergen exposure by 75% does not reduce symptoms in sensitive people. "Individual sensitivity varies well over a hundred-fold," he says, so breeding "may not reduce FEL D1 enough to protect the most sensitive people."

    June 14, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Hairy Chair

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    By Belgian designer Charles Kaisin.

    "Layers of very fine cut paper... on a reused old chair."

    I like it.

    A lot.

    June 14, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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