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August 16, 2006

Tangula — World's Highest Train Station

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Above, a June 20, 2006 photograph taken by Joe Chan for Reuters.

The Atlantic magazine thought so highly of this picture that it devoted two full facing pages to it in its current (September) issue.

Below, the station.

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Sina.com's legend for the top photo: "A man walks on the platform of Tangula Railway Station — the world's highest railway station at 5,068 meters (16,628 feet) above sea level — along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, west China's Qinghai Province, June 20, 2006."

August 16, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Official bookofjoe Wheeled Duffel Bag

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From the website:

    Heavy Load? Get the Wheeled Duffel

    Don't throw your back out.

    It doesn't impress anyone.

    Just get one of our Wheeled Duffels and maneuver heavy loads with ease.

    Large main storage space zips on three sides for wide-open access to contents, plus it has nearly unbreakable in-line skate wheels that'll handle almost any abuse and keep right on rolling along.

    Rugged locking retractable handle.

    1680-denier nylon with heavy-duty fasteners and zippers.

    34"L x 15"W x 15.5"H.

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

When it's time for a journey to Richmond to pass gas I want packing to be as painless as possible, just like the patients I'll be putting to sleep.

I use four of these bags and throw in everything but the kitchen sink — and that's only because it's hard to get it off the wall.

Sometimes brute force has a place in the luggage space and when that's the case these bags are it.

Bonus: the nice bright red color makes them easy to spot in the chaos of an airport baggage carousel.

Also in Navy.

$79.50.

Eddie Bauer offers one that's about the same size (34"L x 15.25"W x 17"H) for $128.

But it doesn't come in fire engine red.

Why pay more?

August 16, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

We get email: From reader Tamra Donovan

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It came in early this morning while I was sleeping.

Note to file: consider for a movie title.

At 1:27 a.m. ET, if you require more information to grapple with the facts so far presented.

But I digress.

The email is reprinted below in its entirely.

Not one word has been omitted*
....................

    Oh, Thank you, thank you!

    Hello Joe up there on Mount Olympus.

    Once again you are my hero!

    Thanks to your posting on Monday about Picsearch, I went to the site and input the names of a few old friends with whom I'd lost contact.

    I couldn't believe it when up popped a recent picture of an old friend and mentor, linked to a parrot lover's magazine. (Don'tcha just love the internet?)

    This was someone I had worked with for many years but lost touch with when he moved to San Francisco.

    I had tried to look him up in the past, when I moved to the Bay Area myself, but with no success.

    Because he's a graphic artist, Picsearch had some of his work posted as well, and a website with a phone number!

    I am so freakin' jazzed to be back in touch with my old friend after 11 years!

    We're getting together for coffee next week to catch up on the last 11 years.

    Woot! (by the way, how do you type that woot thing?)

    Thanks again and wishing you the greatest of Karma!!!!!

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

Sweet, eh?

Especially if you contrast it with the email I don't show you, some of it so mean-spirited I actually feel bad for the people who wrote it, that they have to endure with so much bile and bitterness burning them alive from within.

But I digress again.

"That woot thing" [sic)] is typed as follows:

1. lower case w

2. two consecutive zero's — NOT capital O's

3. lower case t

The exclamation point is optional.

For a detailed explanation of the origin of w00t!, you can't do better than Wikipedia's entry.

*Though this is true, I reserve — as always — the right to edit any submission for spelling, grammar, syntax and whatnot.

Especially whatnot.

The goal here is to present you in the best possible light.

I will stop at nothing to achieve that.

I'm just saying.

August 16, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

ButtKicker Gamer

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Winner of a 2006 bookofjoe Product Name Award.

Awesome.

From the website:

    ButtKicker Gamer

    Experience Video Games' Realistic Bass and Special Effects Without Raising Volume

    Works with XBOX®, PlayStation® 2 and GameCube™ game consoles.

    Add a level of realism to your video games with the ButtKicker Gamer.

    This low-frequency transducer attaches easily to almost any home or office chair with a center post, allowing you to experience powerful bass and realistic special effects through your entire body without turning up the volume.

    Ideal for use with headphones, the ButtKicker Gamer works with all popular game systems and also connects easily to iPods or other digital music players.

    This kit has everything required to connect your ButtKicker to your chair and your system, including a 100-watt power amplifier.

    Designed to be responsive and aggressive, the ButtKicker Gamer answers the need for both accurate low-frequency response and maximum tactile effect.

    The Easy Clamp™ mechanism allows you to attach and detach the ButtKicker Gamer to/from your home or office chair quickly.

    Ideal for apartment or dorm use, the ButtKicker Gamer lets you turn down or turn off your subwoofer and still feel all the bass you want.

    • 100-watt power amp

    • 2 standing feet

    • 13.5-foot quick-release cable

    • RCA adapter

    • Mini Y adapter

    • 5-foot RCA to RCA cable

    • 5-foot RCA to mini cable

    • 2 Velcro cables

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

I wonder if I can hook this puppy up to my treadmill?

$119.99.

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

scoopt.com — Make it big with your cellphone camera

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This British-based website calls itself a "'citizen journalism agency,' connecting camera phone reporters with newspapers," wrote Andreas Tzortzis in Monday's New York Times story about the new "bottom-up" direction of information flow.

Now a front-page or cover image is just as likely to have been taken by a random passer-by as a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer employed by Newsweek magazine or the New York Times.

Here's Tzortzis's most interesting article.

    Amateurs Get in on the Paparazzi Beat

    A few days before he planted his head into the chest of the Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final, ensuring an inglorious end to a stellar soccer career, Zinédine Zidane stepped out onto the balcony of his Berlin hotel and had a cigarette.

    From an office building nearby, someone whipped out a camera phone and took a picture. A couple of days later, the snapshot, in all its grainy sensation, was in the pages of Bild, the top-selling German tabloid.

    The reader-reporter had struck again.

    Bild’s Leser-Reporter, or reader-reporter feature, introduced during the World Cup, brought its audience daily photos of celebrities, politicians and soccer stars — taken from the cellphone cameras of quick-thinking passers-by and sent to the paper.

    “Before, readers saw something in the street and called it in to the newspaper,” said Christoph Simon, a Bild editor. “Times have changed.”

    The paper paid 500 to 1,000 euros for photos printed in the reader-reporter pages, and, by the end of the World Cup tournament, as many as 1,000 pictures were arriving daily.

    Bild has decided to extend the venture and join a growing number of European publications that are taking advantage of cellphone technology to reach new levels of reader interactivity and, some say, invasion of privacy.

    News organizations like CNN and The Guardian have been using reader-generated photos and video files since the Asian tsunami in December 2004. But the Norwegian tabloid VG and, recently, the regional Saarbrücker Zeitung in Germany were pioneers in mobilizing readers with regular reader-reporter sections. Bild and a Swiss tabloid, Blick, have followed — bringing millions of readers into the new age of “citizen journalism.”

    “The important events of the future will be documented by amateur photographers,” said Nicolaus Fest, a member of the Bild editorial board. “We knew that early on, but didn’t have the technical possibilities to do it.”

    Improved cellphone camera resolution enables the printing of clearer photos in larger formats. Bild has followed its soccer and celebrity photos in recent weeks with sensational car fires, weather pictures and photos of car models not yet on the market. Mr. Fest says it will not be long before a reader-generated picture of a newsworthy event will run on the front page.

    “Amateur photographers are omnipresent,” he said, “and that’s an interesting development. Whether you see them with fear or hope, that depends on your point of view.”

    Christian Schertz, a lawyer to the stars, is clearly in the first camp.

    “I’m reminded of George Orwell. The normal citizen is encouraged to watch a fellow citizen,” said Mr. Schertz, who counts Bild among his consistent sparring partners. “And he even gets money for it.”

    Since Bild introduced the feature, Mr. Schertz has represented three celebrities — former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany, and two players on the national soccer team, David Odonkor and Lukas Podolski. All captured the attention of the new amateur paparazzi.

    Mr. Schertz persuaded a judge to order Bild to erase from its archives a photo of Mr. Odonkor seemingly urinating in a parking lot. He says he expects the same result for the photos of Mr. Fischer leaving a French bakery and Mr. Podolski standing on a Majorca beach.

    “The restriction in the private lives of celebrities is already at the point where you can talk about a human rights violation,” said Mr. Schertz, the walls in his elegant office decorated with gifts from his prominent clients.

    Indeed, lawyers like Mr. Schertz have the backing of the European Court of Human Rights in their quest to shield the private lives of their clients.

    In 2004, the court’s judges ruled in favor of Princess Caroline of Hanover, who brought a case against German publications that had printed unauthorized photos of her and her children.

    But a decision a few months later by the German Constitutional Court limited the reach of the European court’s decision. Muddling the issue further are the different approaches to celebrity privacy in European countries — from the strict, celebrity-friendly laws in France to an anything-goes attitude in Britain.

    Judges in Europe “made note of the ’Caroline decision,’ ” said Wolfgang Schulz, media expert and director of the Hans Bredow Institute at the University of Hamburg. “But I don’t think we can yet talk about a movement toward more protection of celebrities.”

    Bild certainly does not seem worried. What Mr. Schertz calls “daily calculated legal violations,” Mr. Fest calls freedom of the press. He says the paper is diligent about checking all sources and the circumstances in which a photo was taken — a practice he says it has extended to its reader-reporters as well.

    Similar care is taken by Scoopt.com, a British Web site that sees itself as a “citizen journalism agency,” connecting camera phone reporters with newspapers. The site’s founder, Kyle McRae, a former freelance technology writer, counts the major British dailies, along with newspapers on the Continent and in the United States, as his clients.

    Unlike Bild, Scoopt’s reader-reporters license their photos for three months to Mr. McRae’s organization, and in return receive 50 percent of the sale price every time Scoopt sells a picture.

    The Web site has members in 90 countries, and Mr. McRae talks of a day when a global legion of bloggers and camera phone reporters replaces journalists in covering major news events.

    “Being the first on the scene is valuable,” he said. “It’s thousands of times more valuable than the quality.”

    But a cursory click through Mr. Simon’s reader-reporter inbox at Bild shows that Mr. McRae’s vision may be years away. For every newsworthy accident or fire, there are several comical road signs, pet portraits or celebrity photos where nothing is happening.

    As he scrolls down the pictures on his screen at Bild headquarters in Hamburg, Mr. Simon clicks on one of the race car driver Ralf Schumacher beaming at close range into the camera.

    “This is nice,” he said. “But where’s the news here?”

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

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that my position on privacy in public is that you have none nor are you or I entitled to any.

That's precisely the position taken by the United States Supreme Court over the years and I hope it doesn't get eroded as has happened in Europe.

Everything out in the open, I say.

Or, far better, in the words of Justice Louis Brandeis: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

August 16, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bees on a Plane — 'They like yellow and jet fuel and are riled by black'

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This is no movie but, rather, happening in real life: Africanized honey bees — the infamous "killer bees" — are the new [feared yellow and] black.

Nick Timiraos, on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal, takes us into the busy, buzzy world of aviation's newest flight hazard.

Here's the article.

    Bees on a Plane Are A Real-Life Problem Vexing Some Pilots

    They Like Yellow and Jet Fuel And Are Riled by Black; Big Buzz in the Southwest

    As pilot Brian Murphy prepared for a quick flight from Burbank's Bob Hope Airport to San Francisco in May, his ground crew alerted him to a problem on his Beechcraft King Air 200: A five-foot-wide blanket of bees was draped over the plane's left engine cover [above]. And many bees were finding their way into an engine compartment and even into the cockpit.

    "I was just shocked," says the 36-year-old charter pilot, who raced to shut the cockpit's open vent windows. "Within just 20 minutes there were thousands of bees that had moved onto the exhaust area." He considered turning on the engines to shoo away the swarm but decided that that might make matters worse by agitating the bees.

    The bewildered crew didn't know what to do, either, but the Burbank Airport Fire Department knew the drill. "I could hear them yell down into their fire shack, 'It's time to go spray the bees again,' " recalls Steven Schell, the general manager for Mercury Air Center-Burbank.

    Firefighters hosed off the King Air 200 with an insecticide foam that suffocates bees. "They were dropping straight to the ground, whole big chunks of them," Mr. Murphy remembers. The bees inside the engine cover, meanwhile, came crawling out through the inner lip once the foam hit the plane. "Once they started spraying, those bees weren't ever able to fly," he says. Then the pilots vacuumed up three dozen bees that had entered the cockpit.

    "Snakes on a Plane" may be the hot horror movie of the summer, but bees on planes are creating the most buzz in some aviation circles. Africanized honey bees -- the infamous "killer bees" -- are increasingly making unscheduled layovers at airports across the Southwest. The aggressive bees, which entered the U.S. from Mexico in the early 1990s, like to travel across open spaces and stop to rest whenever the queen gets tired. Airports have few trees or other natural rest stops. That makes planes, jetways, baggage-loading equipment, terminals and parking garages popular for stopovers.

    Consequently, pilots and mechanics sometimes find thousands of bees burrowing in engine covers, clinging to cockpit windshields or swarming in the luggage compartment.

    "The Africanized honeybee changed everything," says David Marder, the owner of Bee Busters, a Laguna Hills, Calif., pest-control outfit. He says that his exclusive deal with Orange County's John Wayne Airport, in Santa Ana, which he has serviced more than 20 times this year, is a big reason business has soared since the Africanized honeybee arrived in Orange County in 1996.

    Thousands of honeybees made an impromptu landing in May on the engine covering of this King Air 200 at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif.
    That is creating scenes like one that unfolded at Love Field in Dallas last April. Gordon Guillory, a 39-year-old Southwest Airlines mechanic, knew something wasn't right when he arrived at the hangar for his shift: A buzzing noise was coming not from the engine but from the tail of the Boeing 737-700.

    "You really couldn't see them, but you knew there were tons of them in there because there were so many that would fly out," he says. "I've been working on airplanes for 15 years and I've never, ever seen anything like it."

    The mechanics watched from a safe distance as the beekeeper smoked out and vacuumed up the bees. When the beekeeper started banging on a compartment in the tail to chase out the swarm, the mechanics became even more agitated. "The guys started yelling at him. You just can't do that. You could damage the plane," Mr. Guillory explains.

    Scents and colors also attract the bees. At an airport, that can lead bees to cluster on a turboprop that's been recently cleaned with lemon air-freshener. "For whatever reason, they seem to like the smell of jet fuel, and especially the yellow color of the Southwest airplane," says Judy Alexander, senior director of operations at Tucson International Airport.

    Authorities there became proactive in 1995 after a swarm on the outside of the air-traffic control tower led some stragglers into the command center. The problem "had to end there," says Ms. Alexander. "You just can't evacuate the tower." The airport installed traps that emit a bee-attracting pheromone. They capture between 60 and 80 swarms every year.

    Africanized honeybees are hybrids of the African honeybee, which were imported to Brazil in 1956 by a scientist who let them escape. The bees got into the U.S. through southern Texas in 1990 and have spread throughout all of Arizona and the southern parts of California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. Northern expansion of the bees has slowed as they encounter colder temperatures on the high plains, but they are expected to grow along coastal corridors.

    In the southwest, "they're here to stay," says Mr. Marder. And as urbanization spreads through the countryside outside Las Vegas, Phoenix and Southern California, human interaction with bees is bound to increase.

    The Africanized hybrids are dangerous because they are more easily provoked and attack in large numbers. But while beekeepers warn of the dangers of disturbing a colony, they say that the idea of "killer bees" has been exaggerated. "To hear the news media, we were going to be enslaved," says Lewis West, an Anaheim, Calif., hobbyist beekeeper.

    Last year, he responded to a call from a World War II aviation club that couldn't fly out of Ontario International Airport near Los Angeles because an invading swarm of 30,000 bees had invaded the gun turret in the nose of their restored B-29 bomber.

    While bees don't pose a serious threat to planes, bee experts advise against the temptation to use the engines to suck in and kill a swarm of the uninvited passengers. Bees carry a small amount of honey with them when they travel, and if a jet engine ingested a swarm, "it could do some damage," says George Botta, a Las Vegas exterminator who serves on Nevada's Board of Agriculture. "It's not as bad as hitting a flock of birds, but it'd be like pouring a tank of honey into the engine."

    Two years ago, he was called to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas to spray bees off the windshield of a Hawaiian Airlines plane that had been preparing to taxi for takeoff. Another time, he watched a swarm attack the conveyer belt as baggage handlers were unloading suitcases. The color black, he explains, can agitate bees, and he sprayed them off the luggage equipment. "People down at the carousel were left wondering why their luggage was wet and soapy," he says.

    While the problem is mostly limited to the Southwest, the bees, as stowaways, can become an issue for everyone. In 2001, a ground crew at an airfield in Greenfield, S.C., discovered an Africanized honeybee colony inside the wing of an aircraft that had just arrived from Arizona.

    And Mr. Murphy, the King Air pilot, found a similar surprise after his trip to San Francisco: Bees had melted to an exhaust stack inside the plane and hundreds more littered the floor of the engine compartment. Only a handful of the stowaways survived. "I couldn't have imagined how many bees were in there," he says. "If I had not been there to see this, I would never have believed it."

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August 16, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Would you eat a garlic chocolate?

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How about chocolate blended with Stilton cheese?

Or Marmite?

If you visit Paul A. Young's chocolaterie (above) at 33 Camden Passage in the heart of Islington in London (England), you can.

Young appears to be the world of fine chocolate's 2006 poster boy for Jeff Bezos's memorable words from back in the day on how Amazon would succeed, to wit: "Get big fast."

He only opened his shop four months ago, in April of this year, and already he's succeeded in getting serious ink, for example being featured in this past Sunday's New York Times "Foraging" feature by Colin Cameron.

Here's the Times story.

    Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates

    “There’s nothing you cannot mix with chocolate,” says the owner of Paul A. Young’s chocolatiers in London. In the basement of a Georgian house on Islington’s Camden Passage, a stretch long synonymous with antiques, Mr. Young blends 15 varieties of chocolate with the unexpected — garlic, for example, or Stilton cheese — to produce bespoke treats. And then there are the brownies — always on offer are classic fudge and pecan mainstays, complemented in season by fruit flavors like summer or winter berries or caramelized pears.

    Before opening his shop in April, Mr. Young, 33, worked as a pastry chef at the fashionable Quo Vadis restaurant in Soho. He then served as a consultant to the nationwide chains, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. He decided the space on Camden Passage, surrounded by shops selling vintage clothes and antiques, was meant for chocolates.

    His blends are similarly instinctive. Mr. Young taps the unusual, such as London Ale, to broaden the appeal of his creations. Perfecting a combination of chocolate and garlic took, he confesses, months of trial and error, as did one of chocolate and Marmite, the yeasty breakfast spread that the British either love or hate.

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    Mr. Young lives above the ground-floor showroom, which has wooden floors stained the color of chocolate. The interior reflects the shop’s location. The flowers are from adjacent Essex Road or, farther afield, the flower market on Columbia Road. The marble serving slabs are from nearby ceramics shops. A chandelier dates from a previous antique lighting store on the premises.

    Mr. Young uses spices such as rose petal masala and black cardamom; their essential oils help in the blending with French Valrhona and Italian Amedei chocolate (Mr. Young argues that there is too much sugar in Belgian chocolates). Out back, rare herbs like sweet Aztec mint grow in the courtyard. “Maybe the basis for the ultimate chocolate, the one,” Mr. Young says.

    The busiest time for chocolatiers is Christmas to Easter. In summer the shop sells ice cream, including cinnamon, served with — what else? — chocolate sauce in plastic bowls to take away. Fall and winter bring chocolat chaud, a soothing mixture of water, cocoa powder, melted dark chocolate and, sometimes, spices.

    Signature handmade chocolates begin at £4.95 for four, or $9.42 at $1.90 to the pound; varieties change every three days. Recipes are secret. Displays are not labeled, though Mr. Young does identify the Marmite variety — round chocolates dusted with an edible bronze mix.

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

Below, Young's

Necklace

Chocolate Pearl Necklace.

Sweet.

Though probably best suited for Hitchcock blonds and their ilk.

FunFact: Once upon a time back in the day Candice Bergen accompanied Alice Cooper's band on tour, taking pictures for Rolling Stone or some such publication.

The band, awed at her icy, jaw-dropping beauty, nicknamed her "Hard Candy."

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You can see how that could happen.

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

Fun with technorati

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Every time I noodle around there I find more graphs and charts measuring just about anything blog-related that can be measured.

Above, for example, a plot of how many blogs have mentioned bookofjoe each day for the past year.

Looks like I'm blogging to stand still, as it were.

You could spend your entire waking life playing around backstage at technorati, generating information about your blogs or those of other people.

Technorati even provides a block of code which you can put on your blog so you can have "an automatically updating chart on your site."

Here's what it looks like:

Technorati Chart

I'll pass.

As Elton John sang, "All this science I don't understand."

August 16, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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