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October 29, 2007

Brijit — not just a French actress


No, it's the new new thing in getting smart — or at least giving the appearance of intelligence — fast.

Long story short: Brijit.com is "... a Web site that creates 100-word abstracts of articles from dozens of magazines and rates them," wrote Frank Ahrens in today's Washington Post Business section front page story, which follows.

    Brijit Cuts Magazine Pile Down to Bite-Size Pieces

    The magazines stack up, unread, on your coffee table: the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair. You subscribe to them but don't have time to read them. So there they sit, a glossy pile of guilt.

    Where you see wasted money, Jeremy Brosowsky saw a business opportunity.

    The Washington publishing entrepreneur recently rolled out Brijit, a Web site that creates 100-word abstracts of articles from dozens of magazines and rates them. Brijit, Brosowsky said, aims to be "everyone's best-read friend."

    Now on Brijit are summations of articles in current issues of GQ, Wired, Mother Jones, ESPN the Magazine, the Economist, Smithsonian and more than 50 other magazines. Even if you never read the entire article, just scanning Brijit could make you the smartest person at your next cocktail party.

    But the Internet is littered with good ideas that turn out to be bad businesses, and online publishing can be especially tricky: Do you go mass-market or niche? Subscription-based, or free and ad-supported? Original content or aggregation of other content?

    Further, at just 34, Brosowsky already has one failed publishing venture under his belt.

    But Brosowsky's latest idea is attracting interest and nearly $1 million in venture capital from about 10 investors, including Norman Pearlstine, former editor of Time magazine and now with Carlyle Group.

    Brosowsky's inspiration came in part from being a father of two children with twins on the way. He said he tries to be an avid reader, but the many demands on his time have led to the creation of his own pile of unread, paid-for magazines.

    "I wished there was someone who would tell me the five stories in that pile I have to read," Brosowsky said.

    There are precedents for the idea. Reader's Digest became America's most popular magazine for decades by condensing content to short, easily readable articles. And magazine analyst Mark Edmiston notes that "The Week," the National Review's weekly magazine summary of news, written with attitude and wit, has made a solid business.

    "I think [Brijit] makes a lot of sense," Edmiston said. "I think that's where the Web is going."

    The Web is moving toward the combination of human reviewers with Internet search. WebMD founder Jeff Arnold has said that if the latest evolution of the Internet, Web 2.0, was about the consumer — meaning user-generated sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube — then Web 3.0 will be about the editor.

    Search engines are proficient at quickly returning a big pile of results to a query. But what's the best stuff in the pile?

    Increasingly, sites such as Brijit, Mahola (which calls itself "human-powered search") and ConsumerSearch, a product-review site, are adding the man to the machine to create comprehensive search results that are edited for quality.

    In addition to Brosowsky, Brijit has three full-time editorial staffers. Brosowsky depends on freelancers for reviews of most articles. His editors assign magazine articles that they want reviewed by posting them on the site, and seek three reviews for each article. Users can claim an assignment and write the synopsis. If Brijit accepts a freelance review, the writer is paid $5. If the editors don't like any of the three reviews, the article will be reassigned.

    Web site Associated Content has a similar formula for soliciting user-generated content.

    Like Associated Content, Brijit will aim to make money by selling advertising, Brosowsky said.

    So far, Brijit is reviewing magazine articles and some television shows, such as PBS news programs. Brosowsky said Brijit is adding 60 to 75 abstracts per day.

    Many of the 100-word abstracts allow readers to click directly to the article on its publisher's Web site. But some do not, because some magazine Web sites require users to pay to read their articles online. But that's less of an issue now than when Brosowsky dreamed up Brijit months ago. For instance, the Economist recently took all of its online content dating back one year out from "behind the wall" — an Internet publishing term for making paid content free.

    Brosowsky, a former research analyst for Goldman Sachs, is no stranger to local publishing startups.

    In 1999, he launched Business Forward, a monthly glossy based in Dupont Circle that covered local business. Brosowsky had hoped it would be a Forbes or Money for Washington, and it enjoyed some critical success during its short life. But the bursting of the first tech bubble and the local real estate plunge killed Business Forward in 2002. Brijit is Brosowsky's first start-up since then.

    His partner in the effort is Benjamin Dorr, who worked with one of the venture's investors, Carlyle's Edward Mathias, and who was one of Brosowsky's partners at Business Forward.

    Brosowsky said the site's name was influenced by a couple of desires.

    Brijit rates magazine stories with a series of three red circles -- three empty circles means the article is worth passing up, three full circles means it's a must-read. Brosowsky wanted a name for his site that had three letters topped by red dots (which limited him to "i" and "j") in a row, to echo the three-circle rating system. Also, he wanted it to be a woman's name or sound like one.

    On the site, Brijit is described as "smart, sexy, fun, helpful, well-read."

    A button allows users to send the Brijit URL to others. "Yes, Brijit's engaging ... but she's not engaged," the site cheekily reads. "So introduce Brijit to friends."

October 29, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Silicone Pizza Wheel


From the website:

    OXO Silicone Pizza Wheel

    Four-inch plastic wheel is study enough to cut thick pizzas and hard-crusted desserts yet completely safe to use on nonstick pans and other nonstick cookware.

    Tapered edge enables effective cutting through pizzas and soft fruits as well as bar or pan cookies.

    The slick surface prevents cheese and other delicate foods from sticking.

    Thumb guard and soft grip protect fingers and lessen hand stress.

    Handle is 4.75" long.




October 29, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

'I am a Neanderthal'


Not me, booboo: the person above — who bears a remarkable resemblance to actress Julianne Moore.

Long story short: DNA isolated from the bones of two Neanderthals contained a gene which would have resulted in at least 1% of Neanderthals having "classically Irish looking red hair and pale skin," according to a report in last week's Science.

Here's Paul Rincon's BBC story about the unexpected finding.

    Neanderthals 'were flame-haired'

    Some Neanderthals were probably redheads, a DNA study has shown.

    Writing in Science journal, a team of researchers extracted DNA from remains of two Neanderthals and retrieved part of an important gene called MC1R.

    In modern people, a change — or mutation — in this gene causes red hair, but, until now, no one knew what hair colour our extinct relatives had.

    By analysing a version of the gene in Neanderthals, scientists found that they also have sported fiery locks.

    "We found a variant of MC1R in Neanderthals which is not present in modern humans, but which causes an effect on the hair similar to that seen in modern redheads," said lead author Carles Lalueza-Fox, assistant professor in genetics at the University of Barcelona.

    Though once thought to have been our ancestors, the Neanderthals are now considered by many to be an evolutionary dead end.

    They appear in the fossil record about 400,000 years ago and, at their peak, these squat, physically powerful hunters dominated a wide range spanning Britain and Iberia in the west, Israel in the south and Siberia in the east.

    Our own species, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa, and displaced the Neanderthals after entering Europe about 40,000 years ago. The last known evidence of Neanderthals comes from Gibraltar and is dated to between 28,000 and 24,000 years ago.

    Until relatively recently, scientists could turn only to fossils in order to learn what Neanderthals were like. But recent pioneering work has allowed scientists to study DNA from their bones.

    Genetics could shed light on aspects of Neanderthal biology that are not preserved in fossils. These include external appearance — such as hair, skin and eye colour — cell chemistry and perhaps even cognitive ability.

    This will help scientists address key questions, such as why we inherited the Earth and not them.

    Genes for skin colour and hair colour are obvious early targets for scientists engaged in these efforts.

    In modern people from equatorial areas, dark skin and hair is needed to guard against skin cancer caused by strong UV radiation from the Sun.

    By contrast, pale skin — along with red or blond hair — appears to be the product of lower levels of sunlight present in areas further from the equator such as Europe.

    "Once you go out of Africa, the selective pressure from UV radiation disappears. So any mutation that falls into the MC1R gene is allowed to survive and spread through a population," said Dr Lalueza-Fox, speaking at the Climate and Humans conference in Murcia, Spain.

    But people with fair skin are able to generate more vitamin D, which may have given them an evolutionary advantage in northern regions.

    The latest research suggests that similar adaptations were evolved independently by Neanderthals and modern Europeans in response to similar environmental circumstances.

    All humans carry the MC1R gene, but modern redheads possess an altered, or mutated, version of it.

    This rare variant doesn't work as effectively as more common forms of the gene. This loss of function alters the chemistry of the cell, producing red hair and pale skin.

    In the latest study, the authors retrieved fragments of the MC1R sequence from Neanderthal bones found at Monte Lessini in Italy and from remains unearthed at El Sidron cave in northern Spain. DNA is notoriously difficult to obtain from very old specimens such as these.

    "This was a bit like finding a needle in a genomic haystack. I couldn't believe we found it the first time. I asked my friends to repeat the results. Eventually the variant was found in two separate Neanderthals in three different labs," said Dr Lalueza-Fox.

    The researchers found that Neanderthals carried a unique variant of the gene not present in modern humans.

    In order to test what effect it had on hair and skin colour, the researchers inserted the Neanderthal variant into a human cell called a melanocyte.

    Melanocytes produce the dark pigment called melanin which gives skin, hair and eyes their colour.

    The researchers saw the same loss of function in the Neanderthal form of MC1R as they did in modern variants of the gene which produce red hair.

    "In Neanderthals, there was probably the whole range of hair colour we see today in modern European populations, from dark to blond right through to red," Dr Lalueza-Fox told the BBC News website.

    To Dr Lalueza-Fox, the observation that the Neanderthal version of the gene is not found in modern humans suggests they did not interbreed with each other, as some scientists have proposed.

    Dr Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, commented: "It's extremely interesting — it makes us understand a bit more about who the Neanderthals were.

    "It suggests there may be a propensity towards the reduction of melanin in populations away from the tropics. If the Neanderthal and modern variants are different, it may be a good example of parallel, or convergent evolution — a similar evolutionary response to the same situation."

    "Neanderthal genetics is going to give us a lot more information. This is the tip of the iceberg."

    In a separate study, published in the journal Current Biology, Dr Lalueza-Fox and colleagues extracted the DNA sequence for a gene called FoxP2 from Neanderthals.

    Modern people have several changes in this gene that are absent in our relatives the chimpanzees. This suggests that FoxP2 may have been an important gene in the evolution of language, something which separates us from the great apes.

    The researchers found that Neanderthals shared these key mutations in FoxP2 with modern humans, suggesting they had some of the prerequisites for language and speech.

    An ongoing project to sequence the entire Neanderthal genome was recently hit by claims by a group of researchers that samples could be contaminated with modern human DNA.


Below (in the mirror),


how a Neanderthal redhead might have appeared.

Here's the abstract of the paper that appeared in Science.

    A Melanocortin 1 Receptor Allele Suggests Varying Pigmentation Among Neanderthals

    The melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) regulates pigmentation in humans and other vertebrates. Variants of MC1R with reduced function are associated with pale skin color and red hair in humans primarily of European origin. We amplified and sequenced a fragment of the MC1R gene (mc1r) from two Neanderthal remains. Both specimens have a mutation not found in ~3,700 modern humans. Functional analyses show that this variant reduces MC1R activity to a level that alters hair and/or skin pigmentation in humans. The impaired activity of this variant suggests that Neanderthals varied in pigmentation levels, potentially to the scale observed in modern humans. Our data suggest that inactive MC1R variants evolved independently in both modern humans and Neanderthals.


Here's the abstract of the paper that appeared in Current Biology.

    The Derived FOXP2 Variant of Modern Humans Was Shared with Neandertals

    Although many animals communicate vocally, no extant creature rivals modern humans in language ability. Therefore, knowing when and under what evolutionary pressures our capacity for language evolved is of great interest. Here, we find that our closest extinct relatives, the Neandertals, share with modern humans two evolutionary changes in FOXP2, a gene that has been implicated in the development of speech and language. We furthermore find that in Neandertals, these changes lie on the common modern human haplotype, which previously was shown to have been subject to a selective sweep. These results suggest that these genetic changes and the selective sweep predate the common ancestor (which existed about 300,000–400,000 years ago) of modern human and Neandertal populations. This is in contrast to more recent age estimates of the selective sweep based on extant human diversity data. Thus, these results illustrate the usefulness of retrieving direct genetic information from ancient remains for understanding recent human evolution.

October 29, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Surfin' Elvis — The King Shreds!


The rarely-seen legend was photographed yesterday by Branimir Kvartuc at the third annual Halloween Scare N' Tear Surf Contest in Manhattan Beach, California.


USA Today identified him as Tate Misiaszek, "dressed as Elvis Presley."


We know better.

October 29, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'From the bookofjoe we read...'


James Thornburg sent me the following email last Friday morning:

"I found this [above and below] on a coworker's coffee cup today. A side note… asking a coworker if you can scan their coffee cup will always get you a weird look. Always."



We are everywhere.

October 29, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Femur Penholder


45cm (18") wide.

$12 (pens not included).

October 29, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



I almost had a stroke when I happened on this page a few minutes ago.

Close — but no cigar.

October 29, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hero the Hot Dog Steamer — Gives a whole new meaning to 'my dogs are barking'


From the website:

    Hero the Hot Dog Steamer

    Up to six hot dogs are steamed to perfection in approximately eight minutes; when they're ready, Hero barks as the cooker automatically turns off.

    Includes steamer; removable tray is dishwasher safe.




Pardon me for being obtuse but I've spent the past 15 minutes examining the photo just above and I keep getting four, not six, as the total number of hot dogs visible on the steam tray.

Perhaps there's a second level underneath with the absent pair.

Only one way to find out, really.

$34.95 (hot dogs not included — with the exception of Flautist who, should she order this objet d'art will receive, at absolutely no additional expense, a package of Ball Park Franks).

October 29, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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