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November 17, 2006

BehindTheMedspeak: The Price of Piercing


Above, a superb graphic that accompanied Sandra G. Boodman's November 7, 2006 Washington Post Health section front-page story.

Here's the article.

    The Hole Truth

    When it comes to body piercing, the formerly fringe procedure that has moved into the mainstream, medical experts have a message: Don't try this at home. Or maybe at all.

    Those warnings by groups representing dermatologic surgeons, dentists and other medical authorities have acquired new urgency after two cases in which teenage girls nearly died as a result of infections they developed from botched piercings.

    Three weeks ago Indiana surgeons removed the breast of an 18-year-old diabetic whose torso was invaded by flesh-eating bacteria surrounding the nipple rings she acquired at a salon to celebrate her birthday. A few days later a Boston mother was sentenced to 18 months in prison for failing to seek medical attention for her 13-year-old daughter, who suffered major organ damage from an infection that resulted after the girl pierced her own belly button.

    Other reports in medical journals include a sewing needle that disappeared during a do-it-yourself tongue piercing and had to be extracted by oral surgeons; a variety of serious, drug-resistant bacterial infections; hepatitis and tetanus; fractured teeth and nerve damage from tongue studs; as well as permanent scarring.

    "People think it's hip and cool, but they don't realize that it's not like getting your ears pierced," said Eugene Giannini, president of the D.C. Dental Society, who, like the American Dental Association, opposes oral piercings. Giannini said he has seen gum damage and speech problems among his nearly two dozen patients who have tongue studs. "I think people need to be informed consumers if they're going to have it done."

    For nearly half a century, earlobe piercing — one hole in each ear — has been a rite of passage for American teenage girls. In the past decade, the practice of using a needle to make tiny holes in the upper ear, nose, tongue, lip, eyebrow, nipples or even genitals for the purpose of wearing body jewelry has become more common, doctors say, particularly among those under 30.

    For some wearers, piercing is a statement of rebellion or of self-expression; for others the adornment is purely decorative. Body piercing is widespread in some cultures.

    It's impossible to determine how many Americans have piercings — or how many have problems as a result. A study published two months ago in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology involving more than 500 participants between 18 and 50 found that 24 percent had tattoos and 14 percent had piercings other than in an earlobe. Piercings were more common among women.

    "It's become remarkably popular," said Jeffrey S. Dover, a dermatologic surgeon in Boston who says he routinely sees patients, most of them young and female, sporting hoops on their upper ears, barbell-shaped tongue studs or jeweled navel rings. "A lot of my nursing staff have them," he added, attributing the popularity in part to the influence of numerous celebrities with piercings, among them Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Tommy Lee and Dennis Rodman.

    Twenty years ago, observed Dover, who is affiliated with the Yale University School of Medicine, it was rare to see a man wearing an earring. These days many professional football players sport at least one glittery diamond stud the size of a nickel.

    Those under 30 are not the only devotees of piercing, said Doris J. Day, a cosmetic dermatologist who practices on Manhattan's posh Upper East Side. "I do skin cancer checks on my patients every year, and some of the most buttoned-down CEO types — people you'd never expect to have piercings — have them where you least expect it," said Day, who estimates that at least 50 of her patients wear jewelry in places other than the earlobe.

    Donna I. Meltzer, an associate professor of family medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, said she became interested in the subject about seven years ago after treating a spate of pregnant women with infections from navel rings — and could find virtually nothing in the medical literature.

    "I sort of became an expert by default," said Meltzer, author of a widely cited article about the complications of body piercing published last year in the journal American Family Physician.

    Meltzer, who said she is "neither for it nor against it," said she believes many patients don't appreciate the risks of piercing — or realize that it leaves a permanent hole in the skin that doesn't close even after jewelry is removed. Most piercings are performed with a needle and without anesthetic, although sometimes a topical numbing agent such as lidocaine is used.

    Doctors say that while pierced earlobes sometimes become infected, other sites are more often prone to complications because they tend to be subjected to friction or continuous moisture, which can contribute to the growth of bacteria. In other areas, such as the cartilage in the upper ear, the lack of blood vessels can retard healing. And the mouth is teeming with bacteria.

    Meltzer said she is particularly concerned about the lack of sterility in some tattoo parlors, where many piercings are performed; the proliferation of teenage "piercing parties" where booze is used as an anesthetic; and, in most states, the lack of regulation of an invasive procedure capable of transmitting HIV and other blood-borne diseases. (The District has no regulations governing piercing, officials say. Virginia prohibits piercing of minors without parental consent, while neither Virginia nor Maryland requires routine inspection of shops performing piercing.)

    John Rowan, a registered nurse who owns Rendezvous Tattoo and Body Piercing, one of at least five such shops in Blacksburg, Va., home of Virginia Tech, said he thinks the dangers are exaggerated.

    "I don't think there have to be any medical risks at all if it's done correctly," said Rowan, who charges $50 for a nostril piercing — one of the most popular adornments — and has several piercings himself. "You've got to remember that the medical community only sees the downside. For every one infection they see, there are 1,000 that are trouble-free. Nobody comes into the ER to tell you how great their piercing is."

    Rowan, who said he has pierced the navels of girls as young as 12 who were accompanied by their parents, said he thinks more regulatory oversight is needed. Many piercers, noted Rowan, a member of the nonprofit Association of Professional Piercers, learn the craft by apprenticing at a studio. And in Virginia, he notes, body piercers come under the jurisdiction of the board that regulates barbers, not the health department.

    Lax regulation and potential risks were not uppermost in the mind of 19-year-old Sarah Mutnick, a sophomore at George Mason University, when she had her navel pierced at 17 in a nail salon near Potomac Mills Mall. After developing an infection caused by friction from her spandex high school field hockey uniform, she removed the jewelry. She got her second navel ring for her 18th birthday.

    Body piercing, Mutnick said, is "a fashion statement -- something for the here and now -- not when I'm 30." Among her friends and classmates, she said, it is widely accepted and popular among the sorority girls at her school. Her boyfriend had a tongue stud, she said, her roommate just got her nose pierced, and her older brother wears an earring.

    Mutnick said her parents were not opposed to her navel ring, "but my grandma doesn't understand it. She said, 'Didn't it hurt?' " Mutnick, who also has multiple ear piercings, said the major discomfort she experienced occurred when she caught the ring on her car trunk.

    "I fell on the ground crying" because the pain was so intense, she recalled.

    Alicia Funderburg, 18, said she decided to have her tongue pierced last year while attending John F. Kennedy High School in Montgomery County. She didn't go to a studio, but arranged with a friend to have a man who had pierced many of their classmates do it at a friend's home.

    She said she had a few reservations, "but my friend and I sort of interrogated him and he said he'd done over 1,000 people," recalled Funderburg, who now attends Marymount University in Arlington.

    The procedure, she said, was performed without anesthesia, took about 10 seconds and didn't hurt at first. The pain came later.

    "My tongue swelled up and then turned black and blue, and it was very hard to talk," she recalled. "I had to chew all the way in the back of my mouth for weeks."

    Funderburg said that when her mother spotted the tongue stud several months later, she was upset.

    "I told her I was thinking of getting one on my nose, but she said, 'No more piercings,' " Funderburg recalled. "I know my mom thinks it's a form of mutilation, but it's not. It's a matter of self-expression." The only downside of her eyebrow ring is that she had to remove it for her job, which has a no-facial-piercings policy.

    Funderburg said she has not had problems with her tongue stud but occasionally catches the barbell-shaped jewelry on a fork while eating.

    There is one area Funderburg said she has no intention of piercing: her genitals, as one of her friends did.

    "No way," Funderburg said. "Absolutely not."

November 17, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Digital Zen Alarm Clock


Can Zen be digital?

What is the sound of one byte?

But I digress.

From websites:

    Digital Zen Alarm Clock

    The Zen-like way to wake up and track time

    This clock allows you to wake up gently and naturally to the beautiful sounds of a gradually increasing Tibetan bell-like chime.

    When the clock's alarm is triggered, a long-resonating chime is struck from inside the solid hardwood case.

    It then begins a pre-programmed, 10-minute progression, which is said to improve dream recall and diminish grogginess.

    As a timer, it can be set to make a single strike that will repeat at set intervals between 10 seconds and 19 hours a gentle yet persistent signal for meditations, meetings and yoga practice.

    Uses household current with included AC adapter or two AA batteries (not included).

    Adjustable volume control.

    2"H x 7-1/2"W x 2"D.


A woman with one Digital Zen Alarm Clock always knows what time it is; a woman with two is never sure (see above and below) — but if she's got three, well, she's got a problem.

In Walnut (top) or Maple (below).



The more I study the graphic below,


purporting to explain the progressions, intervals, cycles and chimes of this clock, the more distant seems ever-elusive satori.

After considering this instrument for several months, during many, many sleepless nights, I am forced to declare it persona non grata for TechnoDolts™ like me.

But don't let that dissuade you: I'd estimate no more than 2%-4% of joeheads are down here with me in the hopeless hotel.

Everyone else, get your gong on.

Oh, jeez, I almost forgot: there's just no way you can integrate this clock, in its natural wood incarnations as described above, with your Yohji Yamamoto/Rei Kawakubo ethos, is there?

Not to worry, I've got you covered.

The crack research team found it in Black Lacquer:


$99.95 here.

November 17, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How to guess a computer password


Ken Munro, managing director of SecureTest, tells you everything you need to know in an article which appeared in the November 8, 2006 Financial Times; it follows.

    How to guess a password

    Given the number of combinations that can be used for even a simple password, you could be forgiven for thinking that guessing one is virtually impossible.

    It would take 65,780 guesses to guarantee finding the correct moniker for even a basic, five-character, lower-case-only password. A strong password of eight characters including letters, numbers and other characters (!ӣ$% etc) provides a barely calculable number of combinations.

    But beware those that advise you to incorporate substitutions of certain letters with numbers, for example a 3 for an “s” and a 1 for an “i”.

    Far from making your password stronger, this can actually make it weaker, if you are subjected to a hybrid attack. This type of attack will automatically try out these substitutions, sharply increasing the likelihood of success.

    Having said that, cracking both a good username and password concurrently is very difficult. But if you can guess the username, it is often possible to crack the password.

    User names and passwords are often highly predictable because they need to be easily remembered. Our business has lost count of the number of times we have found the username and password to be “test” and “test” or “admin” and “password” when testing a client’s network.

    Lazy password practices can even see some servers, routers, firewalls and DSL modems left with their default passwords. Try Googling “default password list” to see these.

    Finding the username is the key to a successful attack. The attacker systematically tries default passwords, then common username and password combinations, before using a dictionary attack (which entails running through common words). Finally, there is the brute force password attack, which attempts to crack the code much like a safe, bombarding it with different character combinations.

    Companies would be well advised to record attempts to log into their systems, whether over the internet or against the internal network. By logging failure attempts and setting alarms to go off when there have been a certain number, it is possible to detect automated attacks such as brute force.

    When it comes to choosing a user name, most are far too predictable — jdoe, johndoe, doej, etc — and allow an attacker to concentrate just on the password.

    Useful sources of information about company workers and their user names can be gained from Google Groups, where users often make postings, sometimes IT-related. It is simply a matter of searching for the organisation you are interested in. Google is a useful tool for finding passwords: try searching for “inurl:service.pwd”. This will provide a list of usernames and passwords for websites created by Microsoft Frontpage, where the creator has accidentally left the password files readable. Crack the contents of the file and you have the passwords!

    A more sophisticated attack is based on “enumeration” of user names and passwords. Enumeration describes the process of looking for differences in the response from a system or application when submitting valid and invalid user log-ins.

    For example, an application log-in might respond with “invalid password” which suggests the user name is correct. Similarly, “forgotten password” features often only ask for a user name or e-mail address. And whenever bad user names get one response, and valid user names a different response, it allows the attacker to deal with one field at a time: first the user name, then the password.

    Furthermore, while many organisations correctly offer secure (HTTPS) connections – for example, to their e-commerce stores – they forget to disable the insecure (HTTP) connection. If a “phishing” e-mail with a link to the insecure site is clicked on by the end-user, the attacker can see the unencrypted login information, provided they can “sniff” the network traffic.

    But probably the easiest route to finding out user names and passwords is simply to pick up the phone to the organisation’s help desk and ask.

    I am continually amazed by the willingness of help desks to reveal sensitive information without validating the identity of the caller.

    Consider this: when a bank calls, it expects its customer to identify themselves through various questions, but how does the customer validate the identity of the caller? Can they be certain it was the bank calling?

    An unattended, unlocked PC is also vulnerable: it is depressingly easy extracting useful passwords and user names from unlocked PCs.

    Yet preventing password cracking is not difficult. Organisations should ensure that default user names and passwords are removed; that applications do not allow user name enumeration; and that excessive log-on attempts, typified by a brute force attack, alert the IT department.

    Locking accounts for a short period, using “time-outs”, prevents brute force attacks, yet ensures that valid users can get in without significant interruption.

    But a complete lock-out is inadvisable: a malicious attacker who saw that accounts were locked out after a few attempts could script an attack to run known bad passwords against random user names in a cunning Denial of Service (DoS) attack that could leave users completely locked out of systems.


Wasn't that fun?

Want more?


On October 8, 2006 I featured a previous Financial Times column by Munro on password security.

November 17, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

'The world's most beautiful maps'


That sums up the Wall Street Journal's review of Raven maps.

This small Oregon-based company has been publishing spectacularly arresting and informative wall maps for twenty years.

There is nothing like them anywhere, especially at their reasonable prices.

I'm still startled to see the garbage renderings festooning modern-day classroom walls when Raven's, which cost less — in some cases, much less — exist.

Browse their website to get a feel for what they do — but, as Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang, ain't nothing like the real thing.


A tip: spring for the laminated version, which costs $20 more: people can't not touch large maps when they get up close and personal with them, and even if you're not a fingerprint freak like me, you'll be glad you can wipe the detritus away once everyone's departed.

November 17, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



"Schedule text messages to have them delivered at a specified date and time — or now."

• Remind anyone about an event at a specific date and time

• Queue up birthday reminders for the next several months

• Have your "to-do" items sent to you throughout the day to keep yourself on schedule

Not for TechnoDolts™ but that doesn't mean it might not be for you.

No registration.

No user name.

No password.

No cost.

Love their color palette.

November 17, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Hoodini — Virtual Hoodie


So far beyond kewl it's warm.

From the website:


    Soft, warm fleece keeps your neck, ears, head and chin warm even if your coat has no hood.

    Put it on underneath your outer layer; it fits easily under coats without bunching or feeling bulky and its wide yoke keeps drafts off your neck.

    Pull the hood up when you need it, or just let it drape around your neck.

    Works with any outfit.


    100% polyester.


Black or Camel.


N.B.: You snooze, you lose on this one — I predict it will sell out in a New York minute once word's up here.

Fair warning.

November 17, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'NFL Kickers Are Judged on the Wrong Criteria'


Above, the headline of the most interesting sports story I've read so far this month.

Aaron Schatz, in the "Keeping Score" feature in last Sunday's (November 12, 2006) New York Times Sports section, took what — at least to me — was an novel perspective to examine the performance of the league's elite and not-so-great placekickers over the past six seasons.

Long story short: You're much better off using kickers' average kickoff distance than their field goal percentage when you assess them.

Most interesting.

If you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe the graphic (top) which accompanied the article, which follows.

    N.F.L. Kickers Are Judged on the Wrong Criteria

    When the Dallas Cowboys signed Mike Vanderjagt to a three-year, $5.4 million contract, it was supposed to solve the field-goal problems that had plagued them in 2005.

    Last season, Dallas used three place-kickers. In three games they eventually lost, the Cowboys had a missed field-goal attempt that would have given them the margin of victory. Who better to solidify the position than Vanderjagt, who came into this season with the highest career field-goal percentage in the N.F.L.?

    But Vanderjagt has not solidified the position. Last Sunday, he had a 35-yard field-goal attempt blocked in the final seconds, costing the Cowboys a win over one of their National Football Conference East rivals, the Washington Redskins. It was the third attempt Vanderjagt missed this season.

    Game-winning field goals are what make kickers famous, but from season to season it is impossible to tell which kickers will be the most trustworthy in the closing seconds. Instead of wasting money on high-priced field-goal kickers, teams would be better off signing kickers who can be counted on to help their teams consistently by affecting field position with long kickoffs.

    A quick look at Vanderjagt’s career should have let the Cowboys know that consistency on field-goal attempts was the last thing to expect from him. He is well known for converting 37 of 37 field-goal attempts in 2003. But the season before, Vanderjagt missed one out of every four kicks. In fact, Vanderjagt’s field-goal percentages since 2002 have been 74 percent, 100, 80, 92 and 77 this season.

    There is one area in which Vanderjagt has been remarkably consistent: no kicker in recent years has been worse at kicking off. Vanderjagt averaged 61.7 yards per kickoff in 2001 and followed that with averages of 59 (2002), 60.2 (2003) and 58.1 (2004). The Indianapolis Colts finally replaced him with a succession of kickoff specialists, but he is back to kicking off with the Cowboys and is averaging 57.3 yards a kickoff. Every other full-time kicker in the league averages over 60 yards.

    This combination of consistency on kickoffs and inconsistency on field goals is not unique to Vanderjagt. Contrary to conventional wisdom, every kicker in the league follows this pattern.

    There is effectively no correlation between a kicker’s field-goal percentage one season and his field-goal percentage the next. But average kickoff distance shows more consistency from season to season than almost any other individual statistic in the N.F.L.

    The inconsistency of field-goal kickers is apparent when looking at this season’s leaders in field-goal percentage. Chicago’s Robbie Gould, who is a perfect 22 of 22, hit a below-average 78 percent of his field goals last season. Only three kickers in the current top 10 for field-goal percentage were also in the top 10 at this point last season: Phil Dawson of Cleveland, Rian Lindell of Buffalo and Nate Kaeding of San Diego.

    On the other hand, the current top 10 for average kickoff distance includes five players who were in the top 10 halfway through 2005. There would be more, but the two kickers who lead the league in kickoff average this year at 69 yards are a rookie, New England’s Stephen Gostkowski, and a player who spent most of last season on a practice squad, Denver’s Paul Ernster.

    No kicker reflects the difference between field goals and kickoffs better than Neil Rackers of the Arizona Cardinals. Last season, Rackers set an N.F.L. record with 40 field goals, and led the league by converting 95 percent of his attempts. But in 2004, he connected on 76 percent of his attempts. This year, Rackers is even worse, making just 67 percent of his tries. His high-profile misses include a 40-yard attempt that probably would have completed an upset and handed the Chicago Bears their first loss of the season.

    Nonetheless, while his field-goal percentages have swung up and down over the past three seasons, Rackers has consistently ranked as one of the league’s premier kickoff men. He led the N.F.L. in average kickoff distance in 2004 and 2005, and is fifth in the league this year.

    This disparity in consistency between field goals and kickoffs means that N.F.L. teams are generally signing and drafting kickers based on the wrong skills.

    The Colts signed Adam Vinatieri to a five-year, $12 million contract based on his history of hitting clutch field goals for the rival New England Patriots. But Vinatieri, like Vanderjagt, has had his field-goal accuracy bounce up and down. From 2001 to 2005, Vinatieri had a field-goal percentage of 80 percent or lower in three seasons and a field-goal percentage of 90 percent or greater in the other two.

    The Patriots replaced Vinatieri with Gostkowski, and New England fans are not happy, especially since Gostkowski had missed 4 of his first 12 attempts. But Gostkowski is averaging 69 yards a kickoff, 1.4 yards more than any kicker in the league except for the altitude-aided Ernster. Gostkowski’s poor record on field goals is likely to change, and his excellent record on kickoffs is not.

November 17, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Neon Night Light


We've seen every other variation and permutation: the only surprise is that this one's taken until now to make its way into the consumer space.

From the website:

    Neon Night Light

    Uses genuine neon to light your way for 12,000 hours.

    Plug it in and forget about it!

    5W neon bulb produces a cool-to-the-touch, soft glow for thousands of hours without burning out.

    You'd need dozens of standard 7W incandescent night lights to last that long.

    Large on/off push button so even a child can work it.

    Neon color matches housing.


"So even a child can work it."

Music to my ears.

A big fat TechnoDolt™ seal of approval for this nice kit.

Blue, Purple or Green.


Two for $16.99.

November 17, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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