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July 27, 2007

Save the date: August 11, 2007 is National Moth Night in the UK

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The last such event occurred in 2001 and Harry Eyres, in his July 21, 2007 Financial Times "The Slow Lane" column, tells us everything he thinks we ought to know going forward; his piece follows.

    Moth smitten

    I like to think of myself as a champion of biodiversity but I don't always harbour friendly feelings towards moths. There was the infest-ation of clothes moths a couple of summers ago that munched through some of my favourite woolly jumpers and a beautiful old Daks suit inherited from my father. Still less forgivable are the leaf-miner moths that for the second year running are prematurely withering the leaves of the horse-chestnuts in the south of England. Hard to see these particular examples of the order lepidoptera as anything other than pests.

    Yet moths are some of our most underrated creatures. For a start, there are just so many of them, such a mind-boggling diversity of species. Even in benighted Britain, more than 2,400 species of moth have been recorded (compare that with about 280 species of commonly occurring birds). There are more than 800 of the larger species called macro-moths, which is 13 or 14 times our tally of butterflies.

    Maybe because they tend to be secretive and nocturnal and flutter rather than fly, moths get none of the positive publicity garnered by butterflies. The French word papillon can mean moth as well as butterfly, but I'm sure it was butterflies Robert Schumann had in mind when he wrote his opus 2 piano piece (it's difficult to imagine a piano piece imitating the flight of moths, unless written by György Ligeti). And I can't offhand think of a moth poem to set against Robert Graves's "Flying Crooked" about the errant aerobatics of the cabbage white.

    Moths are not just secretive and nocturnal but also mysterious and occasionally sinister. The largest moth occurring in Britain is the Death's-Head Hawk moth (measuring a truly astonishing 12-13cm across the wings, half as big again as our largest butterfly), with its Hammer horror skull pattern on the thorax.

    If butterflies tend naturally towards the elegant and conventionally beautiful, moths (when they are not masters of camouflage) are the macabre Britartists and Vivienne Westwoods of the insect world — surrealists, punks and anarchists. If the gorgeously spotted Leopard moth is like a creation by Schiaparelli, then no fashion designer would dare go as far as the Elephant Hawk moth's combination of pink and olive green.

    A newcomer to moth appreciation, my ears pricked up the other day I heard an extract from the latest and, sadly, the last and post-humous book by the nature writer Roger Deakin. Wildwood is I think even better than Waterlog, Deakin's cult classic about swimming in moats, ponds, lakes, rivers and seas all around the British Isles. Deakin's connection with wood ran just as deep as his love of swimming: he came from a line of Woods, one of whom ran a timber yard, and was himself a carpenter and joiner who lovingly restored all the beams in his 16th-century Suffolk farmhouse.

    In the chapter 'The Moth Wood' Deakin most beautifully celebrates the symbiosis between moths and trees (overwhelmingly a positive phenomenon, despite the depradations of the leaf-miner). He goes moth-hunting at Slough Grove near Little Horkesley with the Essex Moth Group, whose chairman Joe Firmin expects to see from 80 to 100 species on an average summer night's expedition.

    As well as being a delightful vignette of a kind of benevolent English eccentricity (moths, drawn to white sheets by lights, are humanely inspected and identified thenreleased) one might have thought almost extinct in the era of Sabre-Toothed Landcruisers, the chapter succinctly encapsulates the poetry of entomology.

    Just the names of moths are a kind of poetry, stranger by far than the names of any other creatures I can think of. In what other order of creatures can you find a species called the Uncertain, the Anomalous, or the Clifden Nonpareil? Moths, Deakin finely puts it, "are the small print of natural history, something you come to in good time". He recalls a friend's cottage in the Dordogne where at night the moths and crickets used to arrange themselves on the walls "like brooches". It made me remember the dank backyard in Brixton where I used to hang my washing and sometimes find a large Old Lady moth resting in the folds of my swimming towel.

    But moths, as you may have guessed by now, are threatened. Butterfly Conservation (you see, poor moths get left out of the title) reckon that total numbers of moths have declined by one-third in the past 35 years, and are down by a half in some urban areas. When you consider that the bluetit chick population in the UK is reckoned to eat 35bn moth caterpillars a year, you can see how vital moths are to the ecosystem.

    This makes the first National Moth Night since 2001 an event of real importance. On August 11 moth enthusiasts all over the country are invited to record and photograph species. Singled out for special attention are the Chalk Carpet, the Four-Spotted Footman, the Cousin German (rare and confined to the Scottish Highlands) and most beautiful of all, the bright red, black and white striped Jersey Tiger. Lepidopterists, unite and observe!

July 27, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Propane Tank Carrier

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Who hasn't had to carry a dirty, greasy and heavy propane tank all over kingdom come?

Me, for one — but then, nobody asked me, did they?

From the website:

    Propane Tank Carrier

    A full tank is pretty heavy; an empty one can be dirty and greasy from use.

    This handy carrier has sturdy webbing handles to distribute weight evenly — and it protects your clothing.

    Heavy-duty polyester with a vinyl backing is water-resistant.

    Snaps easily onto standard 20 lb. tank.

    Color: Green.

$24.99.

July 27, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

GlobalSpec.com — Search engine for engineers

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According to a July 12, 2007 Economist article about the rise of so-called "vertical" search engines, GlobalSpec.com has 3.5 million registered users and signs up 20,000 more every week.

Charlene Li of Forrester, a consultancy, said, "They own that market."

Here's the Economist story.

    Vertical search-engines

    Know your subject

    Topic-specific search-engines hope to challenge Google, at least in some areas

    Are you a generalist or a specialist? The question can be asked of people, but it is increasingly being asked about internet search-engines, as specialist or “vertical” sites take on generalists such as Yahoo! and Google. Some are already prospering: GlobalSpec.com, for example, a profitable search-engine for engineers, has 3.5m registered users and signs up another 20,000 each week. “They own that market,” says Charlene Li of Forrester, a consultancy.

    This is due in large part to GlobalSpec's definable customer base. Its knowledge about the needs of its users sets it apart from the generalist search-engines, says Angela Hribar of GlobalSpec. Vertical sites, which serve up search results from a carefully selected group of topic-specific websites, can also target advertising at particular audiences more precisely.

    One promising area for vertical sites is health-related search, which provides a microcosm of the threats and opportunities facing specialists. At stake are the online advertising budgets of the pharmaceutical and health-care giants, which are expected to spend $1.4 billion on online advertising in America alone next year, up from $625m in 2005. According to Jupiter, a consultancy, nearly a quarter of American internet users say the web is essential to taking care of their health. “The market opportunity for health-search is very large and growing,” says Alain Rappaport, the boss and founder of Medstory, a health-search site based in Foster City, California.

    Health is a field where consumers do seem prepared to seek out specialist sites that provide more relevant results. According to a new study from Jupiter, to be published on July 16th, 65% of health-search users believe that relevance is the most important criterion when deciding whether to click on a particular result; only 16% rate the trustworthiness of the source as most important. In short, relevance is king, says Monique Levy of Jupiter, which suggests that a vertical search-engine that successfully pairs a broad target market with a complicated topic can do well.

    But that will mean getting consumers to kick their existing search habits. A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a non-profit research group, found that two-thirds of Americans researching health-related topics online started with a general search-engine. Only 27% went on to a medical site of any kind, let alone a health-search site. “The path to general search engines is well-worn and familiar,” says Susannah Fox of Pew. “Dr Google is the de facto second opinion in this country.”

    Even so, there are signs that consumers are warming to the special features that specialist search-engines offer. Healthline, a health-search site with a “symptom search” function, saw its number of unique monthly visitors increase nearly sevenfold during 2006 to around 2.5m. Some sites, such as Healia, can limit results to those written at a “basic reading” level. Others, such as Mamma Health, limit results to pre-screened medical sources. The same sorts of ideas are also being applied in other vertical-search fields.

    At the same time, however, similar features and filters are appearing on generalist search-engines, enabling them to act more like vertical engines. Search for “achondroplasia” at Google or Yahoo!, for example, and you will be steered towards results sorted under the headings of treatments, causes, research and so on.

    All of which suggests three possible fates for vertical-search sites. The strongest may be successful enough to dominate specific categories. The weakest may be picked off by pseudo-specialist features added to generalist search-engines. And there is a third way, namely for specialist sites to be offered under a bigger brand's umbrella. Last month Meredith, an American publisher of magazines such as Fitness and Parents, bought Healia. And Microsoft, which lags behind Google and Yahoo! in generalist search, hopes to use vertical search to fight back. It has bought several vertical sites in recent months—including Medstory in February. Health-search sites suggest a similar prognosis for specialist sites in other fields.

July 27, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's first cooling & heating pet bed

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Nothing but the best for your best friend.

From the website:

    World's Only Cooling & Heating Pet Bed

    This is the only cooling and heating pet bed available, allowing you to provide a comfortable resting space for your pet either in hot or cold, drafty areas such as a porch or garage.

    Recommended by veterinarians, it uses a thermoelectric device to produce either cool or warm air from 60° to 102°F, which is evenly distributed by an internal fan through channels built into the high-density orthopedic memory foam that makes up the bed's cushion, providing consistent, therapeutic cooling or heating for resting pets.

    No air is blown directly onto your pet and the fan is quiet, allowing pets to sleep undisturbed by either noise or vibration.

    The memory foam cushion provides a soft, comfortable bedding area for pets without pressure points and it is housed in a stain- and scratch-resistant microsuede cover that can easily be spot-cleaned, hand-vacuumed or removed for machine washing.

    6' cord plugs into AC power.

    For pets up to 30 lbs.

    32"W x 24"D.

$249.95.

July 27, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Younger people see email as something older people do' — Don Rippert

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Rippert, chief technology officer for Accenture, the world's largest consultancy, was quoted thus by Alan Cane in an interesting July 11, 2007 Financial Times article on future directions in technology.

Rippert continued, "I thought it was a novel, next-generation technology, but to young people it's, "You should post to my page on MySpace, you should text me, you should IM me, why would you want to email me? I don't even check my inbox any more."

Voice mail?

Fugedaboudit!

July 27, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

What is it?

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Answer here this time tomorrow.

July 27, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

bookofjoe World Exclusive: Flautist's Logo

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From out back in her Georgia skunk works comes this singular creation, the product of untold hours, weeks — nay, months — of sweat and toil by Flautist and her crack design team.

Like it?

I know I do.

I've been authorized to act as her exclusive agent should you wish to use her nifty logo in a Super Bowl halftime show or as eye candy at a U2 concert or suchlike — you know how to reach me.

On reflection it becomes clear Roz Chast has been channeling Flautist all these years without even knowing it.

July 27, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Cool Bottle

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From the website:

    Cool Bottle

    Serve your favorite cold beverage in this stylish carafe.

    Double-walled non-reflecting vacuum glass keeps the contents cold up to 12 hours.

    White translucent plastic body and liner allow you to see if it's half full (or half empty).

    Screw stopper; easy pour; large 0.75L capacity.

$29.99.

July 27, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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