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July 5, 2007

Bithlo, Florida — Home of Figure 8 School Bus Racing

Sure, you could read all about it

but — trust me — it's much more entertaining

to watch the videos.

July 5, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Virtual Typewriter Museum


Adam P. Knave sent along this interesting site.


"The typewriter is one of the great inventions of 19th century communications technology.


"Between the 1860s and 1920s engineers, inventors and even carpenters invested all their creativity in the development of the ultimate writing machine.


"This virtual museum, based on private collections of antique typewriters from around the world, is a tribute to their ingenuity."

July 5, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Ratcheting Can Opener


This is a breakthrough.

I can't believe I'm seeing a ratchet mechanism in a can opener for the very first time, because it's so obvious once it's in front of your eyes.

The problem with ordinary can openers like the classic Swing-A-Way (below)


is the razor sharp lid edges which result from their use.

When you move to devices which leave smooth edges, like my excellent Rösle (below),


you have to work pretty hard to move the thing around the can, since you're simultaneously folding the lid's edge over as you make the cut.

This new ratchet-driven iteration would appear to make it easy to operate and leave a safe edge.

Version 2.0 needs a vertical handle so that the ratcheting motion is up-and-down, enabling one-handed operation.

That's as sure a bookofjoe MoneyMaker™ as you're ever going to get.

From the website:

    Safety I-Can Opener — Easiest Can Opener Ever

    Clamps easily on any can with your right hand or your left, while the ratchet arm opens the can top with simple back-and-forth motion.

    Open your cans using less power, without twisting and turning your wrist with stubborn can tops.

    If arthritis causes you hand pain, Safety I-Can Opener is the answer.

    Prevents sharp edges for your ultimate safety.

    Ratchet motion reduces hand and wrist strain.



July 5, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Gucci's 'Indy Bag' — Does Parker Posey know about this?


Somehow, I don't think so.

$3,890 at Gucci stores everywhere.

July 5, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Google Code


Great stuff.

Greek to me but maybe not to you.

July 5, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Medical students visit 'The Real World' — Insurance company visit forces a look in the mirror... and it ain't very pretty


John Dorschner's June 10, 2007 Miami Herald article was about a look behind the curtain by one-fourth of the third year class at the University of Miami Medical School, who spent a day at AvMed, a nonprofit insurer which covers 200,000 people.

All I've ever heard is my crowd's point of view, which consists of "mostly say, hooray for our side."

These visits to what many physicians consider "enemy territory" should be mandatory for medical students.

When – not if — the U.S. finally revamps its health care system, you can bet that the insurance companies will have a seat at the table hammering out the details.

It may not happen this decade, but I'm betting on this century.

Or your money back.

As always, the FerrousClad™ bookofjoe guarantee applies.

Here's the Herald story.

    Medical Students Get a Dose of Reality

    UM med students took a break from their textbooks and traveled to insurer AvMed for a day to learn about the financial realities of U.S. healthcare.

    For one day at least, Miami med school students took a break from learning about illnesses and healing — and got a hard dose of the financial realities of health insurance.

    The place: The Kendall headquarters of AvMed, a nonprofit insurer that covers 200,000 people. The audience: About 35 third-year students from the University of Miami med school. The result: Key insights not only into the insurance system but also what young doctors-in-training think about it.

    Some students don't like the message any more than some patients do. At the opening morning session, a female student frowned as Marc Rivo, a physician who's AvMed's corporate medical director, described how new consumer-driven policies emphasize higher co-payments to help patients understand how much healthcare costs.

    ''So you're being accused of being greedy,'' the student asked, "if you want an MRI after you hurt your knee?''

    Well, not greedy, said Rivo, but the theory is that if patients don't pay something for their own care, they won't care about how much the treatments cost and whether they are worth it.

    What about an annual physical, another student asked. If a higher co-pay caused someone to avoid a physical, that might lead to more expensive complications later. Interesting point, said Rivo. "This discussion will be going on for the rest of your professional life.''

    For a decade now, third-year UM med students have spent a day at AvMed to learn about health plans, which control the purse strings of funds that doctors want to spend.

    ''They'll be MDs 12 months from now, and they don't understand... all of this systems stuff,'' said Mark O'Connell, senior associate dean at the med school who oversees the seminars.

    The tension between doctors and insurance companies has been going on now for perhaps a quarter of a century. In fact, O'Connell said, students are less suspicious of insurers today than previous generations.

    At the seminar, none of the students knew immediately which President started Medicare (it was Lyndon Johnson), and Rivo gave them a quick history lesson, starting with the ''golden age'' of medicine in which "doctors do what they want and charge what they want.''

    That led to soaring medical costs, in part because advances such as MRIs gave physicians more options to spend money. Insurers have been clamping down with various strategies ever since.

    One way to save money is by moving to electronic records, which eliminates duplication of many tests. Students were surprised the industry hadn't moved faster in this and that Jackson Memorial was still mired in paper records, requiring a lot of shuffling to find a record.

    The nearby VA Medical Center has electronic records. ''Easier to find things,'' said one student, but several observed that, with doctors reading computer screens and entering information, "it definitely minimized patient interaction.''

    AvMed is now developing its own electronic record program and also perfecting disease management programs to improve care and cut costs.

    One example: With congestive heart failure patients, fluid retention is an indication of problems. So AvMed bought scales for those patients who didn't have them and asked the patients to weigh themselves once a day. If they gained more than three pounds, they should check with their doctor. After the program was introduced, hospital admissions of these patients dropped by 85 percent in the first six months, Rivo said.

    He said doctors and their staffs needed to be alert about what different insurers offer. For example, AvMed programs might pay for a smoking cessation program, but the doctor must know about it and write an order for the patient. Other insurers might have other procedures.

    A male student noted: "Only 10 percent of my patients might be AvMed. Why should I pay attention?''

    ''Good question,'' said Rivo. But that's the way the system is. He suggested a doctor's office manager ''needs to flip through the Web pages of each insurer each morning'' for changes.

    O'Connell, the UM professor, said ''it's really a monstrous issue — this fragmentation. It's expensive'' for providers to deal with many different plans.

    The 35 students who attended the recent seminar — one-fourth of the third-year class comes every three months — said they understood the basic mantra of American healthcare: The country spends about twice per capita as do other industrial countries, but U.S. patients live no longer, at least partly because 45 million or more Americans don't have health insurance.

    But still, that abstraction is different than the reality of an insurer trying to find ways to curtail costs and not paying for some treatments. Student Kathleen Brookfield said she viewed insurers as "a necessary evil.''

    Most students, however, were glad to get an opportunity to hear how insurers worked.

    ''I still feel lost,'' said Charles Stewart, the son of a Boca Raton orthopedic surgeon who hopes to follow in his father's footsteps.

    Stewart had sat at the dinner table many nights listening to his father complain about healthcare economics. But in classes, he heard about diseases and treatments, not business. "Very little of what we've learned is about the real world.''

    To keep costs down, Rivo explained how insurers are emphasizing ''evidence-based medicine,'' finding the best practices for doctors. He pointed to the Dartmouth studies, which found that doctors' predilections caused one town to have three times the rate of hysterectomies of a nearby town.

    He said one doctor might get 41 percent of patients needing mammograms to have them done while another doctor gets 90 percent compliance. Under the concept of pay-forperformance, perhaps one doctors should be rewarded more than another.

    One student immediately objected: ''It's not your fault,'' he said, defending the doctors. Patients should be held responsible for doing what's right, not doctors.

    ''So you should drop bad patients?'' Rivo asked. The student didn't answer.


Well, at least I knew Lyndon Johnson started Medicare.

[via Shawn Lea, head of my crack research team, who's recently been wondering out loud if she can have the painting over my living room couch. Jeez, Shawn, the body's not even cold yet! I've heard of alpha females in the abstract but let me tell you, if she's an example of what's going down out there, I'm staying inside on my treadmill.]

July 5, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

First birth of a manta ray in captivity

It took place on June 16, 2007 in the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan.

Long story short: The female ray was born with its wings folded: they gradually unfurled to a span of 1.9 meters (about 6 feet).

Here's Rick Weiss's July 2, 2007 Washington Post story about the event, which was broadcast live nationwide in Japan on NHK television.

The video above is 59 seconds long; that below lasts 32 seconds.

    Death of Manta Ray Sheds New Light on Species

    So you're a pregnant manta ray, and you're about to give birth to a baby with, oh, a six-foot wingspan. How on Earth will you manage that?

    Now, for the first time, scientists can answer that question: You gently flap your glorious, 13-foot-wide wings to swim to the bottom. You rub your swollen belly on the ground for a while. Then you gain a little altitude and, with a forceful push, you eject your precious bundle as a rolled-up, burrito-like tube, which promptly unfurls to begin its new life as one of the strangest and least-understood marine animals on the planet.

    Those are a few details that have come to light from the first birth of a manta ray in captivity, on June 16 at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan.

    While America was tracking Paris Hilton's jail routine, Japan was enthralled with video coverage of the birth, which was broadcast nationwide on NHK television.

    Unfortunately, the baby ray died five days later — in part from injuries inflicted by its father for unknown reasons before it was moved to a separate tank. But short as its life was, the newborn added some data points to the largely blank page of what is known about this largest species of ray.

    Until now, for example, no one knew how long the gestation period is for mantas. In the Okinawa aquarium's huge tank, where the mother was observed mating on June 8 last year, it was 374 days, or one year and nine days.

    That long developmental period strengthens scientists' fears that a combination of slow maturation to adulthood, infrequent pregnancies and long gestation means manta ray populations can only slowly replenish themselves. Although the creatures are found worldwide in tropical and temperate waters, can live for decades and are not considered endangered overall, populations have failed to recover in some areas that have been overfished or degraded environmentally.

    That's a warning sign, scientists said, that these close relatives of sharks could benefit from some of the attention and respect that their cousins routinely attract.

    "Everybody always loves the big, toothy things, but there are more species of rays than sharks, and they are often overlooked," said David A. Ebert, who studies rays and related species at the Pacific Shark Research Center at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California. "You look on television, it's always 'Shark Week.' It's never 'Ray Week.' "

    Of the many species of rays — including the infamous stingray that last fall killed television naturalist Steve Irwin — mantas, which differ from other rays because their mouth is at the front of their body rather than on their underside, are especially unstudied. With enormous wingspans that can exceed 20 feet, they require more space than most aquariums offer.

    Yet in recent years, researchers have begun to unveil some of the manta's secrets.

    Rachel Graham, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, has attached small sound-emitting "pingers" to several manta rays in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the Gulf Coast of Texas. Three underwater receivers, each 12 to 40 miles apart, have allowed her and others to get a sense of how widely mantas travel.

    Some, it turns out, are homebodies, spending virtually all of their time in a few local spots. But at least one manta left the area for two years, then came back to hang around again, said sanctuary superintendent G.P. Schmahl, who hopes to find funding to attach more receivers on some of the many oil rigs in the Gulf.

    The fact that at least some individuals apparently migrate widely — perhaps to favorite mating or feeding grounds — may help explain another recent finding about rays: Despite their huge geographic range and their great diversity of skin color (some have white underbellies, others black, and many have mottled patterns that make them individually identifiable), genetic tests indicate that all manta rays belong to the same species.

    In between feeding forays, which amount to cruising with their mouths open to catch tiny plankton, mantas like to hang out at "cleaning stations" — reefs where small parasite-eating fish congregate and offer their services.

    "They'll pull up and kind of hover there, and the little fish will come up and poke around on their skin... giving them a once-over," Schmahl said. Once their cloaks have been cleaned ("manta" shares linguistic roots with the Spanish word for "cloak"), they are off again, their frontal fins pointed characteristically ahead of them, helping to direct plankton-rich water into their gaping maws.

    For the most part, mantas are friendly giants, known to brush up against divers like snuggling cats. In fact, a manta's brain is about the size of a cat's, and most of it appears to be devoted to sensory perception, said Alan Henningsen, a research specialist at the Baltimore Aquarium.

    They have an excellent sense of smell, Henningsen said, mediated by two nostrils, or "nares," which detect amino acids, hormones and other chemicals in water. They have great night vision, too, and can even detect electromagnetic fields — a sixth sense that may aid in food detection or navigation.

    Friendly though they usually are, these 1,000-plus pounds of pure muscle can wreak havoc. Not long ago, a manta got tangled in the surface-based hose that was supplying air to a Gulf of Mexico diver.

    "It swam to the surface, pulling the diver up too quickly," Schmahl said. "It gave him a severe case of decompression sickness," known as the "bends."

    Back in Okinawa, there are hopes for another pregnancy and birth so more can be learned about the reproductive biology of mantas. In some rays, the mother's uterus secretes a milk-like substance for the developing baby, while in others, the fetuses have structures resembling placentas and umbilical cords. Those systems are more reminiscent of mammals than fish, although details — especially for mantas — remain obscure.

    Once the newborn is waterborne, mom doesn't look back. From there, it must depend on its own wits — and on the good will and good sense of humans. In some areas, such as around Indonesia, fishermen have wiped out populations to feed the growing trade in dried manta ray "horns," or brachial elements, which are a prized component in traditional Asian medicine.

    Those horns have earned mantas the nickname "devil rays." Time will tell who the real devils are.


July 5, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's First Remote-Controlled Dragonfly


Okay, so it's not smartdust but hey – one small flap for insectkind, what?

From the website:

    World's First Remote-Controlled Dragonfly

    Winner of the Popular Mechanics Editor's Choice Award at the Consumer Electronics Show, this remote-controlled ornithopter replicates the rhythmic flapping and flight pattern of a dragonfly to stay aloft without the use of propellers or gas engines.

    The device has four Mylar wings that flap 500 times per minute, generating enough lift to send the ornithopter up to 50 feet in the air.

    The remote control has two toggle sticks and a trim dial that provide precise control as the ornithopter flutters, soars, dives, and glides indoors or outside.

    The durable carbon fiber body can withstand turbulent landings.

    The device has a beginner mode for basic flying and an expert mode that allows hairpin turns and aerobatics, and the ornithopter can be launched from flat ground or by hand.

    Unit recharges via connection to remote control and runs for 10 minutes after a 20-minute charge.

    Dragonfly measures 4.5"H x 16.5"W x 12.5"L.

    Remote requires six AA batteries.

    Includes rechargeable battery.

    For ages 8 and older.


Our motto: "Ain't it great to be 8?"



I must say that I am blown away by the fact that such sophisticated technology is available for a relative pittance.

July 5, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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