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December 5, 2007

Are you an expert? Take the test and find out


A sidebar to Ian Ayres's August 31, 2007 Financial Times story headlined "How computers killed the expert" offered a test entitled "Are you an expert?"

It follows.

    Are you an expert?

    The human mind tends to suffer from a number of well-documented cognitive failings and biases that distort our ability to predict accurately. We tend to give too much weight to unusual events that seem salient. And once we form a mistaken belief about something, we tend to cling to it. As new evidence arrives, we’re likely to discount contrary evidence and focus instead on evidence that supports our pre-existing beliefs.

    In fact, it’s possible to test your own ability to make unbiased estimates. For each of the following 10 questions, give the range of answers that you are 90 per cent confident contains the correct answer. For example, for the first question, you are supposed to fill in the blanks: "I am 90 per cent confident that Martin Luther King’s age at the time of his death was somewhere between ___ years and ___ years." Don’t worry about not knowing the exact answer — and no using Google.

    1. What was Martin Luther King Jr.'s age at death? Low __ High __

    2. What is the length of the Nile river, in miles? Low __ High __

    3. How many countries belong to OPEC? Low __ High __

    4. How many books are there in the Old Testament? Low __ High __

    5. What is the diameter of the moon, in miles? Low __ High __

    6. What is the weight of an empty Boeing 747, in lbs? Low __ High __

    7. In what year was Wolfgang Mozart born? Low __ High __

    8. What is the gestation period of an Asian elephant, in days? Low __ High __

    9. What is the air distance from London to Tokyo, in miles? Low __ High __

    10. What is the deepest known point in the ocean, in feet? Low __ High __

    Answering "I have no idea" is not allowed. It’s also a lie. Of course you have some idea. You know that the deepest point in the ocean is more than 2in and less than 100,000 miles. The correct answers are given at the end of this article — so you can check to see how many you got right. You can’t win if you don’t play. If all 10 of your intervals include the correct answer, you’re underconfident. Any of us could have made sure that this occurred — just by making our answers arbitrarily wide. I’m 100 per cent sure Mozart was born sometime between 33BC and say, 1980. But almost everyone who answers these questions has the opposite problem, one of overconfidence — they can’t help themselves from reporting ranges that are too small. People think they know more than they actually know. In fact, when academics Ed Russo and Paul Schoemaker tested more than 1,000 people, they found that most people missed between four and seven of the questions. Fewer than 1 per cent of the people gave ranges that included the right answer nine or 10 times. Ninety-nine per cent of people were overconfident.

    The answers:

    1. 39 years

    2. 4,187 miles

    3. 13 countries

    4. 39 books

    5. 2,160 miles

    6. 390,000 lbs.

    7. 1756

    8. 645 days

    9. 5,959 miles

    10. 36,198 feet

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

It's Jellyfish Week at bookofjoe: LED Jellyfish Mood Lamp

No sooner did Flautist wax eloquent last evening about her newly hatched lust for a taste of jellyfish ice cream than my crack research team happened on this little number, which might be just the ticket for creating the perfect ambience for your jellyfish ice cream fete.

From the website:

    LED Jellyfish Mood Lamp — Dancing Desktop Jellies

    Blackbeard was just about the most ruthless pirate ever. His management style was unique, to say the least. If one of his crew misbehaved, he would drop them in a large tank full of jellyfish and delight as the jewels he kept at the bottom of the tank reflected different colors into the ballet of agony that played out before him. According to the infamous pirate's diaries, it really calmed his nerves, too. Wow. Well, while we don't recommend all that for your office, there is something we can take from this story: colorful jellyfish are relaxing.

    This desktop tank holds three jellyfish which "swim" around the tank (thanks to a gently contrived current). In the top of the tank are 6 bright LEDs, which let you set the mood. You can either have them blend softly from one color to the next, or stop on your favorite color. Either way, the jellies are happy to frolic in their kaleidoscopic, quiet menace. And if one of your subordinates ever acts up, just remind him or her about the Blackbeard story... and let them know there's room in your jellyfish tank for a hand or two. Sometimes threats are all you need. Arrrgh.


    • Lifelike jellyfish movement

    • 6 bright LEDs — cycle through colors or select your favorite one

    • Includes tank, 3 jellyfish, power cord (110V) and instructions

    • Dimensions: 7" x 10" x 4.5" (with 3" long jellyfish)


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

bookofjoe Legal™: New tactic unveiled


A world premiere today of my newest feature, in response to the many cries (and not a few whimpers... but I digress) from my legally inclined readers around the globe.

Long story short: It turns out that for the past six years — since the 2001 anthrax attacks, when the Postal Service began farming mail out to the suburbs after two workers died at a Northeast D.C. facility — only 10% of the mail sent from within the District of Columbia has been postmarked "Washington, D.C."

The rest bears postmarks from suburban Maryland.

Read Darragh Johnson's great investigative report from today's Washington Post to learn about a hack which guarantees a Washington, D.C. postmark, following which — if you're still so desperate for something to do that you're still with me — I will unveil the brainstorm of my crack legal team, whose existence prior to today had been on a "need to know" basis."

Here's the Post article.

    D.C.'s Identity Lost in the Mail

    City Using Md. Postmark After '01 Anthrax Scare

    Take 235 letters. Drop them in mailboxes throughout the District.

    Send them from iconic places, such as Congress, the Supreme Court, Union Station and The Washington Post.

    Then look at the postmarks.

    Do they arrive waving a WASHINGTON, D.C., banner? Do they proclaim their origin as the capital of the United States of America?

    Try: SUBURBAN MD. Or, in a few cases, SOUTHERN MD.

    The Washington, D.C., postmark is fading into oblivion, a casualty of the anthrax attacks of 2001. After two postal workers died at a Northeast facility, the Postal Service began farming mail to the suburbs.

    Now the only way to guarantee a D.C. postmark is to take it in person to a post office and ask a clerk to cancel it by hand. Otherwise, it's a spin of the roulette wheel.

    In an experiment conducted by The Post, 235 envelopes were mailed from every quadrant in the District -- from 22 Zip codes, from post offices and blue boxes, from the mail slots of corporations and apartment buildings.

    Twenty-four letters were delivered with a Washington D.C. postmark. A measly 10 percent.

    Some shrug at the loss of the postmark, but most in Washington take any slights, real and perceived, acutely. Even those who hadn't noticed the postmark was all but gone expressed fury when informed of the symbolic omission.

    "We don't have a postmark?" asked WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin. "Oh my God! How did I miss this?" He bellowed with a full-decibel rage that almost made him sound sarcastic. But he was serious. Asked whether a Washington, D.C., postmark even matters — he admitted that he had not noticed its absence — and he howled:

    "Everything matters! We don't have a coin! We're not on the back of a quarter yet! Anytime they can delete, omit or erase or belittle us, they take the opportunity to do it!"

    Add it to a long list of affronts, he said. First, it was disenfranchisement. Then, the lack of recognition on the quarter, which all 50 states will have by next year. Also the fact that not a single D.C. person stands in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall. And that's not all:

    "The post office is here, in Washington, D.C. How dare they do this to us," Plotkin said.

    It's "salt on the injury," said Aviva Kempner, a board member of DC Vote, an advocacy group pressing for the city to have full voting rights in Congress. "I think it's a metaphor for the fact that they consider us an invisible colony."

    Ahem, said Deborah A. Yackley, a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman.

    "Do you think people care?" Yackley asked. "I mean, really. It's been this way for... years" — six, in fact — "and we haven't gotten a lot of feedback from people."

    After the anthrax attacks, the Brentwood post office reopened as the Curseen-Morris center, in honor of Thomas L. Morris Jr. and Joseph P. Curseen Jr., the postal workers who died after processing contaminated mail at the facility.

    But all outgoing mail is shuttled to a plant in Gaithersburg and, to a lesser extent, to the Capitol Heights processing center in Prince George's County.

    On a recent day, Yackley walks among whirring processing machines in the Gaithersburg facility, a warehouse the size of 4 1/2 football fields, lit by orange fluorescent lights and whooshing with the sounds of envelope-spewing machines — one of which is purple and called, in homage to a certain dinosaur, the Barney system.

    Eight machines print postmarks as letters sluice through winding tracks at the rate of 600 envelopes a minute. More than 800 employees work with 650,000 pieces of stamped mail every day — a volume that during holiday season reaches 1.2 million a day.

    Three of the eight machines release the Washington, D.C., postmark, and the other five use the suburban Maryland stamp. That corresponds to the proportion of mail that comes from the District and Montgomery County.

    Operations specialist Philip Stanley, walking with Yackley, is asked why, in The Post's unscientific experiment, only 10 percent of the D.C. mail got a D.C. postmark, but nearly every other piece was branded as coming from suburban Maryland.

    "Did you get it back on time?" he asks.

    "We figure," Yackley says, "our customers are more interested in speed than they are in seeing a certain name on the postmark So we go that route."

    Those set on a postmark attesting that they mailed something from the capital can go to any D.C. post office and have it handstamped.

    Otherwise, Yackley said, it helps to be a VIP like U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), whose outgoing Christmas mail gets flagged to ensure that, when it heads for cancellation in Gaithersburg, the postmark says Washington, D.C.

    Even a certain George W. Bush, said Robert Spagnolia, manager of maintenance operations at the Gaithersburg center, has been known to obsess about postmarks. Spagnolia just moved to the area from Austin, where "Mr. Bush wants all his holiday Christmas cards [to get] a Crawford postmark" — a mark that even those dropping mail at the Crawford post office cannot obtain. Crawford "is not a mail-canceling facility," meaning that pieces are shipped out to be postmarked, just as in the District.

    "The president," Spagnolia said, "wants to be associated with Crawford, Texas. Not Washington, D.C."

    "Or Suburban Maryland," Yackley added.

    Some envelopes in The Post's experiment did have a happy ending.

    A letter dropped into a blue box at 14th and U streets arrived with a Washington, D.C., postmark. As did pieces sent from mailboxes in front of the Environmental Protection Agency, Metro's Farragut West stop and 1st and Q streets SW.

    There were cases of serendipity.

    Two envelopes were mailed at the same time from the same box at 2nd Street and Maryland Avenue NE. One envelope got a Washington, D.C., postmark; the other was stamped with the suburban Maryland marker.

    In another instance, the male half of one couple dropped a letter into a blue box outside their Connecticut Avenue apartment building. His envelope was stamped SUBURBAN MD. The female half mailed from inside the building. Her piece got a D.C. postmark.

    "I had no idea about this," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city's nonvoting congresswoman. "We don't like being wiped off the map, unless there's a very good reason."

    But, she and the Postal Service said, there is a good reason. Other cities have lost their automated postmarks because of post office consolidations.

    Places such as Steubenville, Ohio; Greensburg, Penn.; Waterbury, Conn.; Mojave, Calif.; and Olympia, Wash., are no longer memorialized in mail. Some cities have protested, enlisting the help of senators to try to save their postal identity. Congress even threatened hearings.

    Washington's situation is different.

    The lost postmark is "not a case of wiping D.C. off the map," Norton said. "It's a case of wiping most of the region off the map." Not only Washington shares the suburban Maryland postmark with Olney and Damascus — Bethesda and Chevy Chase do, too.

    "Times are changing," Norton said, "and we have to recognize what we can fight about and what we can let change."

    She is on Congress's Postal Service subcommittee, and she knows the economic pressures on the agency. "Don't raise the cost of stamps, and don't raise the cost of periodicals and other things that get sent through the mail," Norton said. "We have to watch what other kind of pressure we put on them." The post office, once beleaguered by competition from the fax machine, has suffered even more with the growth of e-mail and online bill-paying.

    "The use of the post office has declined precipitously," Norton said, yet "we insist they deliver every place, and they deliver six days a week, and at the same time we flagellate them for efficiency."

    It's a no-win situation for one of the nation's great institutions, and a predicament for which she has empathy.

    "I'm still trying to get the damn coin," Norton said, laughing. "We get no respect."


Okay, ambulance chasers, here's your Cracker Jack treat: Since the Postal Service itself freely admits that the postmark — at least when it comes to Washington, D.C. — has no relationship to the actual site where an item was mailed, why not expand this uncertainty in a case where a postmark — location, date, all the details are in play, it seems to me — is crucial to the determination of the outcome?

You heard it here first.

As always, though, you can pretend you thought of it.

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

Pet Driver's License — Life in the fast lane


From the website:

    Pet Driver's License

    Pet Driver’s License features your pet on the state license of their — and your — choice.

    Issued for fun, the Pet Driver’s License is also a way to keep your pet’s photo and information close at hand or on the pet if they stray from home.

    Fits in your wallet and is the same size as a real state driver's license.


    • Full color — printed directly on PVC plastic

    • Hi-tech dye-sublimation printing process

    • Waterproof and scratch-resistant

    • No old-fashioned lamination

    • Fun and functional

    • 2-1/8" x 3-3/8"


Friends don't let friends' pets drive without a license.

Think about it.


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

On the Fly — A fast food vendor 'like no other'


It's the new new thing in fresh fast food, featured in a story by Walter Nicholls in today's Washington Post Food section; the piece follows.

    On the Fly Near Gallery Place

    A cute buglike truck with 14-foot-tall "wings" — like no other food vendor vehicle in the District — opened for business two weeks ago on the southwest corner of Eighth and H streets NW, near Gallery Place. Called On the Fly and owned by a group of local investors, it's the first of a planned fleet of battery-powered SmartKarts that will sell a variety of fresh fast food. It's also the latest addition to the District's new vendor program, which earlier this year ended a 10-year moratorium on issuing new licenses in an effort to expand street food beyond the hot dog.

    Some items on the menu will be made by the company's executive chef, Jordan Lichman, a former sous-chef at the Inn at Little Washington. Others will come from area food businesses that have partnered with On the Fly. For example, at the Gallery Place truck, which has a Latin theme, the taco fillings are made by Lichman and the empanadas are made by a local chain, Julia's Empanadas.

    We've had better empanadas than Julia's, but Lichman's soft flour tacos ($2 each) are terrific. Our favorite is the spicy chicken estofado, which is made with breast meat infused with the assertive flavors of four varieties of roasted Mexican chili peppers plus apples, cinnamon and thyme, all further flavored with a tangy chipotle chili aioli. The pork carnitas have a hint of orange and garlic and are topped with a fresh-tasting salsa. A vegetarian taco is stuffed with zucchini, red onion, red bell pepper and black beans.

    On the Fly hopes to have two more SmartKarts operating downtown by the end of the year. One will have an Asian theme and will be partnered with Teaism; the other will sell food by Rocklands Barbeque & Grilling Co. Six more are to open by spring, and by the end of next year, 18 trucks — including one selling baked goods and espresso — will have rolled into position, says co-owner Gabe Klein, 36.

    No small feat for a company that was organized less than a year ago. But as Klein puts it, "We are high-energy."


On the Fly, Eighth and H streets NW. www.ontheflydc.com. Hours: Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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

Kandle Heeter — Invented by a bookofjoe reader so it has to be good


Anytime one of my crowd tells me they've come up with something out back in their skunk works, I immediately sweep aside whatever is scheduled to give their creation pride of place.

It's the least I can do, consider what you pay me.


But I digress.

Doyle wrote, "I have invented a candle heater. It is a steel and ceramic radiator assembly perched above a jar candle flame. It absorbs the heat of the candle and becomes a gentle radiating body giving off dry radiant space heat into home or office."

Almost as good as Humphrey or Gray Cat snuggling in with me for a read.


But I digress again.

The Kandle Heeter™ (pictured above and below with Doyle)


costs $29.95.

December 5, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Walk fast — or die young

What's this, a new Bruce Willis film?

No, it's the conclusion of geriatrician Stephanie Studenski, M.D., a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, recently presented at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.

Sandra G. Boodman's item in yesterday's Washington Post Health section summarized the findings and follows.

    Sometimes Speed Does Not Kill

    How fast an older person walks may predict long-term survival, report researchers at the University of Pittsburgh who found that faster walkers were substantially more likely to outlive the slowest.

    The report, presented recently at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, is based on an analysis of data involving 492 adults. Research data analyst Yazan F. Roumani and geriatrician Stephanie Studenski, a professor of medicine at Pitt, tracked the group of Kansas City, Mo., residents for a decade.

    After nine years, 27 percent of the fastest walkers — those who covered the equivalent of 2 1/2 miles per hour on a treadmill — had died, compared with 77 percent of the slowest walkers, who were able to walk less than a mile and a half in an hour.

    Researchers adjusted for sex, race, age, chronic illness and hospitalization, and found that walking speed appeared to be an independent predictor of longevity.

    "The reality of this pervades popular knowledge," Studenski said, citing the familiar sayings that an older person is "slowing down" or "still has a spring in their step."

    "This is a very simple analysis," she said. "What was astonishing to me was how powerful that simple information was" and how it might serve as an early warning for physicians.

    Walking speed can mirror the health of many body parts — heart, lungs, limbs, circulatory system — and a decline, especially in the absence of a specific diagnosis that would explain it, such as heart failure, might prompt doctors to investigate further.


From the same research group comes a paper published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society concluding that improving walking speed can increase longevity.

Here's the abstract of that report.

    Improvement in Usual Gait Speed Predicts Better Survival in Older Adults

    Objectives: To estimate the relationship between 1-year improvement in measures of health and physical function and 8-year survival.

    Design: Prospective cohort study.

    Setting: Medicare health maintenance organization and Veterans Affairs primary care programs.

    Participants: Persons aged 65 and older (N=439).

    Measurements: Six measures of health and function assessed at baseline and quarterly over 1 year. Participants were classified as improved at 1 year, transiently improved, or never improved for each measure using a priori definitions of meaningful change: gait speed (usual walking pace over 4 m), 0.1 m/s; Short Physical Performance Battery, 1 point; Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short Form Health Survey physical function, 10 points; EuroQol, 0.1 point; National Health Interview activity of daily living scale, 2 points; and global health change, two levels or reaching the ceiling. Mortality was ascertained from the National Death Index. Covariates included demographics, comorbidity, cognitive function, and hospitalization.

    Results: Of the six measures, only improved gait speed was associated with survival. Mortality after 8 years was 31.6%, 41.2%, and 49.3% for those with improved, transiently improved, and never improved gait speed, respectively. The survival benefit for improvement at 1 year persisted after adjustment for covariates (hazard ratio=0.42, 95% confidence interval=0.29–0.61, P<.001) and was consistent across subgroups based on age, sex, ethnicity, initial gait speed, healthcare system, and hospitalization.

    Conclusion: Improvement in usual gait speed predicts a substantial reduction in mortality. Because gait speed is easily measured, clinically interpretable, and potentially modifiable, it may be a useful "vital sign" for older adults. Further research is needed to determine whether interventions to improve gait speed affect survival.

December 5, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mummified Barbie




E.V. Day.


This one


is $3,000.

December 5, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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