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February 12, 2007

Come the revolution — Nintendo's Mighty Wii

Mike Musgrove, in his February 4, 2007 Washington Post "@play" column, wrote about the Nintendo Wii's unexpected — and unintended — use: as an aid to weight loss and improved physical fitness.

Musgrove spotlighted Mickey DiLorenzo, a Nintendo fan in Philadelphia who's created his own website, Wiinintendo.net, to showcase his video clips, fitness progress graphs and the like.

Most interesting.

I may bag the treadmill if the Wii continues its steady climb toward world domination.

Here's Musgrove's story.

    Exercise That's All Fun and Games

    Tom Klimchak says he has been overweight for most of his life — but figures he might slim down this year with a little help from Nintendo.

    The latest Nintendo game system, the Wii, has gotten a lot of publicity for its innovative use of game controllers. Instead of sitting on a couch and mashing away at buttons, Wii players move their arms and wrists as if they were actually, say, swinging tennis rackets.

    Play the boxing game that comes with the system for a few minutes, and you can feel your heart rate climbing. Play a little longer, and you might even break into a sweat.

    Some owners of the console, like Klimchak, are taking this a step further and turning the Wii into their workout partner. Every morning before work, Klimchak fires up the Wii and punches and swings at the television for about 30 minutes. To increase the effort he expends on the games, he straps on wrist weights.

    So far, it seems to be working. "I feel better and my arms are tighter," he said. Since beginning his regimen as a New Year's resolution, he has lost about 16 pounds, though he also credits changes in his diet. Klimchak, who started at 269 pounds, never owned a Nintendo before and picked up the Wii mainly in hope of getting some exercise.

    Nintendo says it didn't really see this coming. Sure, it was hoping the system would appeal to baby boomers who might see it as a way to help stay physically and mentally alert, but this is a little different, said Perrin Kaplan, vice president of marketing.

    "We saw it as a form of entertainment," she said. "We did not see it as a form of exercise."

    Video games usually get knocked for their part in turning us into a nation of couch potatoes. But maybe there's a slight change afoot here. About a month ago, I met Nintendo fan Seth Dubois while researching an unrelated story. Dubois's girlfriend had given him a Wii for Christmas, and he quickly discovered the workout value. "I'm overweight," he told me. "So I try to play everyday."

    Mickey DeLorenzo, a Nintendo fan in Philadelphia, turned his passion for the console into an experiment: For six weeks, he played the Wii's sports games every day but made no other alteration to his diet or exercise habits.

    He lost nine pounds, down from 181.

    At his personal Nintendo fan site, Wiinintendo.net, DeLorenzo posted graphs and funny video clips documenting his experiment. In one, he runs through the streets of Philadelphia with his Wii controllers in hand and jumps up and down on the top steps to the city's art museum as the "Rocky" theme plays. In another, he and a friend box, bowl, play tennis and swing the baseball bat in front of a TV.

    He's even partnered with Traineo.com, a Web site that helps people track their weight-loss and fitness goals, to create the Wii Workout, which debuted on the site last week.

    A scientist at the Mayo Clinic recently conducted a study about the calorie-burning effects of "activity-based" video games and found some encouraging results for game fans.

    Obesity researcher Lorraine Lanningham-Foster said that she couldn't comment on DeLorenzo's personal experiment but that she had found that kids playing the popular game Dance Dance Revolution [top], in which players jump around on a dance mat and hit buttons in time with music, can burn as many calories as if they were strenuously exercising.

    So popular is the dance game among kids that some schools have worked it into their physical education programs. At Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring, "DDR" is a regular part of the exercise offerings for students.

    "It gives them a really, really good workout," said Linda Barrett, head of the school's PE department.

    Generally speaking, Barrett would prefer sports that teach teamwork and sportsmanlike conduct. But, for this age range, she's happy enough just to have students moving their bodies. "My perspective is: Whatever they do, if it's physically active, it's a plus," she said. "If they're up off the couch and they're moving and physically active, that's what we want."

    Barrett was so excited about the game when she first saw it that she ran out and picked up her own copy the same day. She now mixes it into her own workout schedule on days when she doesn't feel like hitting the treadmill.

    In Dance Dance Revolution SuperNova, the latest version in the series, the calorie-burning aspect has been built into the game, offering players a "workout" mode that lets them set goals on how many calories they want to burn. Personally, I think playing 20 minutes of DDR gives you more exercise than the Wii sports games would, but DDR also requires a tolerance for Kelly Clarkson and other pop music that I don't quite possess.

    For everyone out there rolling eyes at the prospect of people sweating away in front of their TV sets, here's a thought. Some tiny portion of this living room activity will inevitably lead to some "real" exercise — just as the hit game Guitar Hero has prompted some kids to ask for real guitar lessons.

    No, seriously. Each time my fiancee and I pick up the Wii's controller for a few rounds of virtual tennis, she says the same thing: "We should go out and play tennis for real. Wouldn't that be fun?"

    Hasn't happened yet — but when spring comes around, who knows?

February 12, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Bespoke Kleenex Box

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What took them so long?

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Get yours for $4.99 right here.

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Bruce Horovitz, in today's USA Today Money section front-page story, provided the details; the article follows.

    Here's a new way to keep photos under your nose

    Next time you blow your nose, you may find yourself thinking about your girlfriend. Or your kid. Or your dog. Or so Kleenex hopes.

    Today, paper-products giant Kimberly-Clark will unveil plans to sell customized Kleenex boxes. Each oval-shaped, cardboard pack can be adorned with photos of just about anyone or anything folks want.

    With the $7.2 billion household paper products market stalled — and Kleenex sales off last year — the brand is embracing personalized products. In a world where consumers can customize their Nike shoes, M&M candies and even their Heinz ketchup labels, the Kleenex box is jumping into the fray.

    "It's the brand as me," says Grant McCracken, a cultural anthropologist. For an emerging generation of YouTube enthusiasts who prefer to blaze their own paths, reducing consumer-created content to the tissue box might work, he says.

    But not without sticker shock. A conventional box of Kleenex costs about a buck. But the newfangled "My Kleenex" box, sold online at mykleenextissue.com, sells for $4.99 — plus roughly $3 shipping.

    That's about $8 for one box.

    "This strikes me as the height of idiocy," says Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. "It says to me that we have too much stuff and too much money."

    Kimberly-Clark thinks otherwise. It's already tried goosing sales by infusing perfumes, lotions and germicides into Kleenex. Now this.

    "People love to express their own personal style," says Peggy Nabbefeldt, marketing director for Kleenex. "Now, you can take the special moments of your life and commemorate them on a Kleenex box."

    She suggests weddings. Or graduations. Or special vacations. During a test among company employees over Christmas, one worker placed a personalized marriage proposal on a Kleenex box, Nabbefeldt says.

    There is a limit to what can go on the box. The company will not print hate messages, violence, nudity or unapproved company trademarks, says Rob George, associate marketing manager.

    At a time when generics are cleaning Kleenex's clock, the company hopes its personalized boxes nudge people to "bond" with the brand, Nabbefeldt says. In an ultra-visual pun, the site even advises folks: Let out your creative juices.

    What to do with an empty box?

    That's a bit of a sticky wicket. "Now you're getting into the area of throwing away memories," warns Steven Addis, a branding expert.

    Not to worry. Kleenex is hot on the trail, George says. The website will suggest uses for empty boxes — such as pencil holders or a spot for potted plants. But not, heaven forbid, a place to stuff used Kleenex.

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

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But wait, there's more!

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Kimberly-Clark, Kleenex's parent, last month started a Kleenex blog, called — catchily enough — "Let It Out."

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You could look it up.

February 12, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The girl is the mother to the woman

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How else can we understand the resonating power of then 9-year-old Catherine Drew Gilpin's February 12, 1957 letter to President Dwight D. Eisenhower that began, in careful block letters, "Dear Mr. Eisenhower, I am nine years old and I am white, but I have many feelings about segregation."

Jay Mathews, in today's Washington Post, uncovered the long-ago document and its surrounding circumstances in a story which I found extraordinarily compelling.

Now known as Drew Gilpin Faust (above), that child was named yesterday as the next president of Harvard University.

The Post article follows.

    Seeds of Leadership on a Virginia Farm

    As a Girl, Harvard Chief Urged Change

    Exactly 50 years ago, a Girl Scout living on a farm near this Clarke County town 60 miles from Washington penned a letter to the White House. It was a time of rising racial tension in Virginia and the country. Drew Gilpin, without telling her parents, decided to seek help from the president.

    "Dear Mr. Eisenhower," she wrote in careful block letters, "I am nine years old and I am white, but I have many feelings about segregation."

    The child's plea for an end to the separation of the races, so at odds with what she heard at home and at her all-white Millwood school, was forever fixed in her memory as she became a leading scholar on the Civil War South and an advocate for a bigger role in national life for minorities and women.

    She has reflected on the Feb. 12, 1957, letter often in speeches, books and articles as one of the first signs that she was instinctually opposed to the social and political conventions of her day and felt a lifelong need to change them. It is only a coincidence that Sunday, now known as Drew Gilpin Faust, she was named the first female president of Harvard University, but much of what she has written about that letter and her childhood in rural Virginia fits with the leader she has become.

    Harvard officials said Sunday that Faust, who is married with two daughters, was not available for comment, but she talked about the source of her thoughts in the letter in the preface to her 1996 book "Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War." She wrote: "My professional interest in the South grew out of those early years.... for I lived in [segregationist U.S. Sen.] Harry Byrd's home county during the era of Brown v. [Board of Education of] Topeka and 'massive resistance' to school desegregation.... It was not until I heard news about the Brown decision [in 1954] on the radio that I even noticed that my elementary school was all white and recognized that this was not an accident."

    When, having decided as a historian that she ought to track down that childhood letter to the president, and having found it at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kan., she realized it was probably inspired by something about the battles over Virginia school desegregation she had heard on the radio while being driven home from school by her family's black handyman, Raphael Johnson.

    In a 2003 article in Harvard Magazine, Faust said, "I asked Raphael if what I had just understood was true, whether I would be excluded from my school if I painted my face black. I came and wrote these very words in my letter, not now as a question but already transformed into a declaration of outrage to the president. 'If I painted my face black I wouldn't be let in any public schools etc. My feelings haven't changed, just the color of my skin.'

    "What I remember is that Raphael did not answer my question. My probings about the unarticulated rules of racial interaction made him acutely uncomfortable; he was evasive. But his evasion was for me answer enough. How was it possible that I never asked that question or saw those realities until I was nine years old? How could I have not noticed before?"

    In February 1957, she was a fifth-grader at the school — now an antiques store — in this tiny village. Her father was a leading figure in the horse breeding business of Hunt Country. They lived at Lakeville Farm eight miles from the county seat in Berryville. They had no television set, but Faust said she listened to the radio. She also remembered seeing The Washington Post, which had regular reports on the civil rights movement but also had help wanted ads that specified "Colored Men" or "Men, Over 18 (White)."

    "This was not the Deep South, and I remember no signs designating water fountains or waiting rooms as Colored or White," she said in Harvard Magazine. "But it was a community of rigid racial segregation nonetheless, with lines drawn by custom and common understanding. . . . In our own house, the black cook and handyman had a separate bathroom. When I once used it, my mother reprimanded me for invading their privacy."

    When Faust opened the copy of the letter sent from Abilene, she was surprised at the religious arguments she used, because she did not remember her family being such serious Episcopalians. Jesus Christ, she informed the president, was born to save "not only white people but black yellow red and brown."

    If anything, she said, the instruction she remembered at church seemed to reinforce the old values with which she was so uncomfortable, in regard to both race and gender. She remembered the Sunday her father had to substitute for her Sunday school teacher. After a discussion of the story of Samson and Delilah, he asked the class what was the moral of the tale. When none of the children spoke up, he gave his view: "Never trust a woman."

    There was in the letter a sign of her future embrace of feminism. Everyone called her Drew, her middle name. Her letter to Eisenhower revealed that, as an afterthought, she stuck her first name, Catherine, in front of Drew. It looked out of place, "but I wanted to be known not just as nine and white but as a girl," she said. She was to have many family arguments that ended with her mother saying, "This is a man's world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that the better off you'll be."

    She grew up in a man's world and a white world. She said in the magazine that the letter was perhaps one indication of her beginning to see the connection between those two limited views, "and the sense of my own place in my family and in the Virginia social order did make me sensitive to the place of others."

February 12, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hamburger Press

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From the website:

    Hamburger Press — Shapes Perfect Patties!

    Turns ground beef, turkey or chicken into bun-sized burgers ready to cook or freeze.

    Simply put meat in, then press down on plunger — out comes a perfect patty!

    4-3/4"H x 3-3/4" diam.

    Durable plastic.

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

$4.98 (Ground beef not included. Normally. But anyone who furnishes Proof of Purchase will receive direct from the bookofjoe® skunk works™ freezer one [1] pound of freshly-ground Wagyu beef. Flautist, you get two [2] pounds).

February 12, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Omerta isn't what it used to be — The mystery of why I. Lewis Libby Jr. didn't go quietly

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How is it that Cheney's consigliere, faced with an all-out frontal assault from Patrick J. Fitzgerald, didn't simply plead out and go to a country-club prison for a few years for his stipulated crimes?

You know that the White House would prefer to have never seen this parade of witnesses, both past and upcoming this week, spill the beans and the unpleasantness of what really happens when U.S. executive branch sausage is made.

But then, you consider the old question, "Who benefits?"

Remember that interview with a burglar, where he said that the key to protecting major assets is to hide a goodly amount of money in more or less plain sight, so that the thief believes he's achieved his aim and leaves?

I can't help but believe that the Libby trial, with all its headline-grabbing boldface names coming and going and the fireworks on the witness stand as great attorneys whale away at each other via their hapless cross-examinees, is serving as a superb piece of headline chaff, diverting us from much that would be of potentially far greater import should it become public.

But then, I'm just a brain-dead anesthesiologist who's worked in too many unscavenged operating rooms for too many years.

What do I know?

February 12, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Just so cartoon

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[via Tom Toles — the best editorial cartoonist in the U.S. — in today's Washington Post]

February 12, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

ScienceBlogs.com — '57 blogs; 27,216 posts; 265,398 comments

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All manner of stuff.

February 12, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

OBD II Port — Episode 2: No more 'Check Engine' light blues

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Phillip Torrone, in MAKE magazine (Volume 3) raved about the AutoTap Diagnostic Scanner, which attaches to your car's OBD II port and displays "Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) and what it means."

Compared to $100 a pop to have your "Check Engine" light turned off — and that's not counting the time and trouble involved in taking your car in — $199.95 might not be unreasonable.

February 12, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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