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June 30, 2006

Names don't hurt — but they can kill


Once again Judson Frondorf, of ackackack.com fame, sums it up in a nutshell.

June 30, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A room of one's own — $12,500 and up


Holly Hayes wrote about Modern Cabana's eco-friendly little pre-fab cabanas in a June 25 article syndicated by Knight-Ridder.


Long story short: for $12,500 they'll ship you a 10 foot by 10 foot fully-equipped cabana in a flat pack that "do-it-yourselfers using basic tools" can put up.

Here's the story.

    Earth-friendly cabanas can add private space just about anywhere

    While other builders are exploring ways to incorporate green building materials and techniques into big mainstream projects, Casper Mork-Ulnes and Nick Damner are thinking smaller.

    Much smaller.

    Their Bay Area-based business, Modern Cabana, sells little prefab structures that are made of sustainable, Earth-friendly materials. Even the insulation in the walls is made from cotton recycled from old denim jeans. Shipped in a flat pack, the cabanas are designed to be put together by do-it-yourselfers using basic tools on a simple post-and-pier foundation.

    "We're striving for more sustainability all the time," said Damner, 31, a licensed contractor. "Each one we build gets greener and greener."

    People are buying and using the contemporary cottages as home offices, yoga studios, craft rooms, kids' playhouses, garden sheds, poolside changing rooms -- and "just little getaway spaces," said Mork-Ulnes, 33, an architect and designer.

    The smallest of the cabanas is 10 feet by 10 feet and comes with standard features: dual-pane glass sliding door with screen, two rear screened windows that open for a breeze and light-filtering polycarbonate panels on the two side walls. It costs $12,500. A slightly larger version, at 10 feet by 12 feet, costs $14,500.


    Upgrade options abound. Buyers can choose thicker rigid-foam insulation in the ceiling (an inch and a half is standard). Insulated clear glass panels can replace the polycarbonate. French-style doors can replace the slider. Sustainable bamboo flooring is a choice over the standard oriented strand board. There's even a small heat pump that can be installed to warm the cottage in winter and cool it in summer.

    "The inspiration for this came when we were working on a project for a custom home in Marin County, and the client needed a little space to live in while the project was being permitted," Mork-Ulnes said. "We started looking for prefab small structures that we could get our hands on right away and found no good alternatives in the market."

    Said Damner: "Most of the shed structures we looked at were not very aesthetically appealing, to say the least. They were utilitarian. We were looking for something that had a more residential look."

    Last June, the two men -- they're brothers-in-law -- launched Modern Cabana in a 4,500-square-foot warehouse on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. After a mention in the ultra-hip, green-focused Dwell magazine, the business started to take off. And then thousands of visitors to this year's San Francisco Flower & Garden Show stepped inside a Modern Cabana -- a 10-by-12-foot cutie tricked out with all the available bells and whistles -- in a garden by East Bay designer Daniel Owens.

    At the show, San Jose designer Alrie Middlebrook took one look at the structure and knew it would be perfect in the backyard of a native-plant garden she was working on in Willow Glen. She bought it on the spot. Her client -- Middlebrook says he is "really committed to living lightly on the Earth" -- intends to use it as a martial arts studio.

    "This one was a little unusual in that the homeowner wanted it built on top of a semi-underground storage area," said Damner, who oversaw the dismantling of the cabana and its "deployment" and rebirth in San Jose after the storage area-foundation had been built. Today, the cabana perches over the garden, reachable by a short flight of steps made of recycled-plastic lumber.

    Outside the Bay Area, Modern Cabanas have been "deployed" as far away as Austin, Texas. Mork-Ulnes said the company has had inquiries from a man in Colorado who wants to have one installed at 11,000 feet in the Rockies. ("We need to calculate some snow load issues," he said.) The team also is in discussions about installing them in the Lake Tahoe area, Baja California and even the Marshall Islands.


    They've also had calls from people interested in having a cabana installed on a roof, "but so far, no one's been gutsy enough to actually do it," said Damner, who also would like to try planting one with a rooftop garden.

    The largest cabana to date is being built in South San Francisco. When complete, the 350-square-foot structure will adjoin a deck and pool area. That one required a building permit because of its size; most cabanas don't.

    The prefab panels are manufactured with spaces for wiring to add electrical and phone lines. For permanent wiring, homeowners must contract with a licensed electrician to have that part of the project completed to meet local codes.

    The "Cabana Boys" say that business is brisk and that customers continue to dream up novel uses for their little buildings.

    "One guy told us his wife wanted to put his billiards table in one," Damner said, "and another one is being used as a cigar room.

    "A lot of this seems to be about getting the husband out of the house."



Here's where you can get one.

June 30, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: We are not men — we are... bacteria?


Consider that 90% of the cells making up a human being are bacteria.

You read correctly.

The reason you don't look more like an E. coli is that bacterial cells are much smaller than the human version, such that the total weight of the bacteria in your body is only about three pounds.

Rick Weiss wrote about the growing awareness of how interconnected we are with the vast web of life around — and inside — us in a June 5 Washington Post story, which follows.

    Legion of Little Helpers in the Gut Keeps Us Alive

    So you think you are the self-reliant type.

    A rugged individualist.

    Well, give it up. You'd be nothing without the trillions of microbial minions toiling in your large intestine, performing crucial physiological functions that your highfalutin human cells wouldn't have a clue how to do.

    That's one of the humbling truths emerging from the most thorough census yet of the bacterial tenants homesteading in our bodies. The new view, made possible by cutting-edge DNA screening methods, shows that the vaunted human genome -- all the genes in our cells -- is but a fraction of what it takes to make a human.

    In fact, it's time to stop thinking of yourself as a single living thing at all, say the scientists behind the new work. Better to see yourself as a "super-organism," they say: a hybrid creature consisting of about 10 percent human cells and 90 percent bacterial cells.

    "The numbers might strike fear into people, but the overall concept is one we have to understand and adjust to," said Steven Gill, a microbial geneticist who helped lead the study at the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville.

    A better understanding of the bacteria colonizing our bodies could have far-reaching medical implications. In the not-too-distant future, Gill and others predicted, doctors will test for subtle changes in the numbers and kinds of microbes in people's guts as early indicators of disease. Doctors may prescribe live bacterial supplements to bring certain physiological measures back into normal range. And drug companies will invent compounds that mimic or amplify the actions of helpful bacteria.

    "These microbes are master physiological chemists," said Jeffrey I. Gordon of Washington University in St. Louis, another team member. "Understanding their biosynthetic capabilities and following the pathways by which they operate could be the starting point for a 21st-century pharmacopoeia."

    Scientists have long recognized that the number of human cells in the body is dwarfed by the 100 trillion or so bacteria living in and on it. It's a daunting reality obscured by the fact that human cells are much bigger than bacterial cells. For all their numbers, bacteria account for only about three pounds of the average person's weight.

    Just how important those three pounds are, however, has been difficult to appreciate until now. Most bacteria are too finicky to grow in laboratory dishes. As a result, little was known about who these majority shareholders really are and what, exactly, they are doing to and for us.

    The new study, described in last week's issue of the journal Science, took a novel approach. Rather than struggling to grow the body's myriad microbes and testing their ability to perform various biochemical reactions -- the methods scientists traditionally use to classify bacteria -- the team used tiny molecular probes resembling DNA Velcro to retrieve tens of thousands of snippets of bacterial DNA from smidgeons of the intestinal output of two volunteers.

    By comparing the DNA sequences of those snippets with those of previously studied bacteria, the team was able to sort many of the invisible bugs into known families.

    Hundreds of others, it became clear, belong to microbial families unknown to science until now.

    But the team members went further. By comparing the genetic puzzle pieces with similar sequences stored in databases, they were able to determine what biological functions many of these microbes are performing in the gut. And, as it turns out, no small number of those functions are crucial to human survival.

    Some of the bacteria have the genetic machinery to make essential vitamins that are not found in the diet and that human cells can barely manufacture, including several B vitamins. Others make enzymes that can break the chemical bonds in plant fibers, or polysaccharides, where a plant's nutritional energy is stored.

    "We have very few of those linkage-busting enzymes encoded in our own genome, but these microbial genomes have a whole arsenal of gene products to degrade plant polysaccharides to energy," Gordon said.

    Some bacteria in the gut break down flavonoids and other chemicals made by plants that could cause cancer or other illnesses if they were not neutralized in the intestines.

    Others have the genetic capacity to scavenge hydrogen gas from the gut -- a byproduct of digestion that can kill helpful bacteria -- and convert it into methane. That makes the intestines a more biologically friendly place, while contributing in sometimes embarrassing moments to Earth's accumulation of greenhouse gases.

    And in one especially touching example, bacteria in the gut make generous quantities of an enzyme that facilitates the production of butyryl coenzyme A, a fatty acid that is a favorite food of the cells that line the colon.

    "We provide them a great place to live," study author David A. Relman of Stanford University said of the bacterial cells, "and they are feeding the lining of our gut."

    The new work does not purport to be a complete survey of all microbes in the human gut. And it did not even take a stab at the body's other pockets of microbial diversity -- primarily the nose and mouth, the vagina, and the skin. But it demonstrates that the DNA-based approach has the potential to reveal at last the metabolic details of our many mini-mes, said Claire M. Fraser-Liggett, president and director of the Institute for Genomic Research.

    With the technology improving and getting cheaper, she said, it won't be long before it is easy to monitor a person's microbial changes from day to day -- or compare bacterial population structures among individuals who have different diets or health histories.

    "One question we need to tackle is: Is there such a thing as a core microbiome, a set of organisms or bacterial genes you find in most or all individuals?" Fraser-Liggett said. "It may be that microbes are very stable and diet doesn't play a huge role. Or it may be that this is a snapshot in time reflecting something they ate in their last meal."

    With that kind of information in hand, doctors could think about prescribing particular "probiotic" foods or supplements to change a patient's microbiome in healthful ways, or adjusting a patient's diet to make a better fit with the bugs that the patient is saddled with.

    "To ignore our microbial side would be to ignore an important contributor to our health and our biology," Gordon said.

    Edward DeLong, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has used similar techniques to study marine microbial diversity, said he was not completely comfortable with the idea that people are super-organisms. "I'm not sure where the super-organism ends and the environment begins," he said.

    But he said he appreciated the focus on the positive side of bacteria.

    "We typically think of microbes as being associated with human disease," DeLong said. "But they are always with us and are associated most of the time with human health."

June 30, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Water Bottle Chiller


Good idea.

Everyone's carrying a bottle of water these days; I mean, I see them on the witness table when people testify at Senate hearings.

But guess what?

From the moment you take the bottle out of the cooler or fridge it's beginning its inexorable temperature rise to that of the room or outdoor environment in which it finds itself.

Not if you've got one of these puppies.

From the website:

    Colder Holder

    Now you can keep a cold bottle of water at your desk!

    Designed to contain condensation drips — and to keep drinks cold for hours.

    The Colder Holder's clever screw-on lid adjusts to fit most standard 16 oz., 20 oz. and 500ml bottles, leaving the neck free so you can drink.

    It's double-walled and thermo-insulated and the surgical-grade stainless-steel body is dishwasher-safe.

    An anti-skid pad keeps bottle from slipping.

    3-1/2" diameter x 8" tall.


$9.95 (water not included).

There's some serious money to be made here in the personalization space; wonder who'll twig first?

Official Water Bottle Holder of the Ned Vizzini Fan Club.



June 30, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

So Many Books — by Gabriel Zaid


From this brief (144 pages), wonderful book:

The reading of books is growing arithmetically; the writing of books is growing exponentially. If our passion for writing goes unchecked, in the near future there will be more people writing books than reading them.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, our universal graphilomania produces a million titles a year, in printings of thousands of copies. Very few books are reprinted; even fewer are translated.

The freedom and happiness experienced in reading are addictive, and the strength of the tradition lies in that experience, which ultimately turns all innovations to its own ends.

The truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.

Almost all books are obsolete from the moment they're written, if not before.

Why read? And why write? After reading one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand books in a lifetime, what have we read? Nothing.

Maybe all experience of infinity is an illusion, if it is not precisely an experience of finiteness. And maybe the measure of our reading should therefore be, not the number of books we've read, but the state in which they leave us.

What matters is how we feel, how we see, what we do after reading; whether the street and the clouds and the existence of others mean anything to us; whether reading makes us, physically, more alive.

Maybe that is what life is: We stand up and say hello and then disappear. But it is difficult to accept that idea. In our hello is a yearning for eternity.

Today it is easier to acquire treasures than it is to give them the time they deserve.

Modern productivity reduces the cost of mechanical reproduction and increases the cost of Socratic reproduction.

Confronted with the choice between having time and having things, we've chosen to have things. Today it is a luxury to read what Socrates said, not because the books are expensive, but because our time is scarce. Today intelligent conversation and contemplative leisure cost infinitely more than the accumulation of cultural treasures.

Reading is useless; it is a vice, pure pleasure.

No experts in technological forecasting are predicting the end of fire or the wheel or the alphabet, inventions that are thousands of years old but have never been surpassed, despite being the products of underdeveloped peoples. And yet there are prophets who proclaim the death of the book. As a technological judgment, it doesn't withstand the slightest scrutiny.

Books can be skimmed.... It is very difficult to get a rapid sense of a temporal sequence (even if it is visual) that must pass through a machine. In order to follow what comes out of a player piano, record player, tape player, film projector, radio, television, videocassette player, computer, telephone, or fax, you must pay close attention to the sequence of images or sounds. To search for something, it is necessary to proceed blindly, stubbornly, clumsily, without being able to see any distance ahead. It is easier to find things in books.

A book is read at a pace determined by the reader. This is a significant freedom. It is so easy to turn back, to reread, to halt, to skip things that are of no interest. With the new media, these can be cumbersome operations.

Time is by far the most expensive aspect of reading. In a wealthy economy, time is worth more than things, and it is easier to buy things than to find the time to enjoy them. Reading is a luxury of the poor.


$9.95 (new), $3.40 and up (used) at Amazon.

June 30, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The future is now: 21st-century fuel cell power for your cellphone or PDA


That's right: not a pipe dream or a "real soon now" thing but for sale right here: for $9.95 you get a zinc air fuel cell (above), the clean energy source of the future, to power your cell phone or PDA.

The bad news: you have to spend an additional $29.05 (bringing your total cost to go green to $39) for a SmartCord (below)


linking the fuel cell to your phone.

Yeah, they also throw in a car charger and USB connector charger and AC adapter but that's not why you're here, is it?

Memo to the company flogging this technology: sell us just the fuel cell and SmartCord — we already have all that other stuff.

Even really clever people occasionally mess up.

I heard that.

[via Stephen Bové]

June 30, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Great domain name — still available to the first person reading this who decides to take it and run with it


That's right.

aproposofnothing.com is taken.

But if the folks at del.icio.us have taught us anything,


it's that creativity and cleverness trump "duh"-type obviousness.

.ng — in case you were wondering — is the Root-Zone country code for Nigeria.

June 30, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Remote Sensing Keychain Thermometer


I like it.

From the website:

    Touchless Keychain Thermometer

    Breakthough technology gives instant temperature readings!

    Just aim and press the button!

    Balance the A/C ducts in your house.

    Find areas that could use more insulation.

    Check your coffee, the bath water, the oven, your computer, engine components... it's useful and, well, fun!

    Works from -27°F to 428°F (±2.5°) and can be switched from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

    Batteries included.


When I first saw a consumer version of these hand-held no-touch thermometers early last year I was so impressed I featured one and then bought it.

I paid $71.84 but I guess Moore's Law is somehow involved 'cause just now when I went to the site where I bought mine (to make sure it was still available) I saw that it's now priced at $37.43.


A couple months ago a pocket-sized version appeared, for $39: I'll bet that's the sort of thing that caused the price drop.

Anyway, the keychain version takes it to the next level in terms of size and usefulness.


June 30, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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