« January 17, 2008 | Main | January 19, 2008 »

January 18, 2008

New York City's Hotel Carter Named 'Dirtiest Hotel in the USA'


No, I didn't read it in a magazine but, rather, in today's USA Today travel section item by Kitty Bean Yancey; her piece follows.

    A dirty list, but some hotel has to top it

    The winner of a dubious honor — the dirtiest hotel in the U.S.A. — is the Hotel Carter in Manhattan, according to TripAdvisor's just-released annual list.

    The 700-room hotel on West 43rd Street in the Times Square area tops TripAdvisor's filthy list for the third year, based on member reviews.

    It gets hair-raising ratings from travelers on TripAdvisor.com, with tales of bedbugs, yucky bathrooms and lurking ladies of the night. In August, a housekeeper found a woman's body under a bed, the New York Post reported. Calls to the hotel for comment were not answered. Go to TripAdvisor.com/dirtyhotels for the full list of lodgings where cleanliness has been an issue.


Ms. Yancey's blog has more.

Here are TripAdvisor's 2008 Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels, "chosen by our members as beyond scummy... prepare to be utterly disgusted."

Hotel Carter, New York, NY

Ramada Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls, NY

Nashville - Days Inn Vanderbilt / Music Row, Nashville, TN

Red Carpet Inn, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Regency Inn & Suites, New York, NY

St. Augustine Beachfront Resort, Saint Augustine, FL

Travel Inn Civic/Medical Center, Miami, FL

Eden Roc Motel, Wildwood, NJ

Days Inn Lancaster, Lancaster, PA

Pacific Sands Motel, Santa Monica, CA

January 18, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Screwdriver Holders


No question, two holes are better than one: I've got my screwdrivers lined up in a piece of wood I cut, sanded and drilled, then nailed to my shop wall.

There's just one hole for each screwdriver, and they're always loose and crooked.

From the website:

Screwdriver Holders

These versatile screwdriver holders grip all types of screwdrivers with shanks from 2mm to 12mm (3/32" to 1/2") in diameter, either round or faceted.

Since they grip firmly with stacked sets of six-finger grippers, about 2cm (3/4") apart, they are able to hold drivers vertically or horizontally.


For drivers with handles up to 4cm (1-1/2") in diameter, an interlocking base feature makes spacing easy.

For larger-handled screwdrivers, the spacing can be increased as needed.

Mounting screws for 3/4" material included.


A set of 12 (4 each in red, blue and yellow) costs $5.90.

January 18, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'I'm in search of a lifestyle that does not require my presence' — Kinky Friedman


That line stopped me in my tracks when I read it many years ago in a Washington Post Style section interview with the Kinkster.

I've never seen my ethos stated more perfectly.

Now comes Markus Frind, grand panjandrum of the online dating site Plenty of Fish who, in a January 13, 2008 New York Times article/interview with Randall Stross, estimated that he puts in — on average — about 10 hours a week on his site, which last year had a net profit of $10 million.

That's the way you do it.

Here's the Times story.

    From 10 Hours a Week, $10 Million a Year

    Markus Frind, a 29-year-old Web entrepreneur, has not read the best seller “The 4-Hour Workweek” — in fact, he had not heard of it when asked last week — but his face could go on the book’s cover. He developed software for his online dating site, Plenty of Fish, that operates almost completely on autopilot, leaving Mr. Frind plenty of free time. On average, he puts in about a 10-hour workweek.

    For anyone inclined to daydream about a Web business that would all but run itself, two other details may be of interest: Mr. Frind operates the business out of his apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia, and he says he has net profits of about $10 million a year. Given his site’s profitable advertising mix and independently verified traffic volume, the figure sounds about right.

    There’s much to be admired in Mr. Frind’s entrepreneurial success. But his site, now almost five years old, has some unfinished patches and irritating quirks and seems to come from the Anti-Perfectionist School of Design.

    Mr. Frind built the Plenty of Fish Web site in 2003 as nothing more than an exercise to help teach himself a new programming language, ASP.NET. The site first became popular among English-speaking Canadians. Popularity among online daters in many United States cities followed more recently, and with minimal spending on advertising the site. According to data from comScore Media Metrix for November 2007, Plenty of Fish had 1.4 million unique visitors in the United States. In December, Mr. Frind said, the site served up 1.2 billion page views, and page views have soared 20 percent since Dec. 26.

    Spending time at Plenty of Fish is a visually painful experience. Wherever a row of members’ photos is displayed, which is most pages, many of the faces are elongated or scrunched because Mr. Frind has not taken the trouble to write the software code that would automatically resize frames or crop photos to prevent distortion. When I asked him why he had not addressed the problem, he said it was a “trivial” issue that did not bother users.

    A blasé attitude is understandable, given that Plenty of Fish doubled the number of registered customers this past year, to 600,000, Mr. Frind said, despite the fact that each month it purges 30 percent of users for being inactive. Somehow, the site instantly replenishes the lost customers and attracts many more to boot.

    No one heads to Plenty of Fish for the customer service, which is all but nonexistent. The company does not need a support structure to handle members’ subscription and billing issues because the service is entirely advertising-based. Its tagline is: “100 percent free. Put away your credit card.” For hand-holding, users must rely on fellow members, whose advice is found in online forums. The Dating & Love Advice category lists more than 320,000 posts, making up in sheer quantity what it lacks in a soothing live presence available by phone.

    The principal customer service that Plenty of Fish provides is responses to complaints about possibly fraudulent identities and to subpoenas and search-warrant requests. Last year, Mr. Frind hired his first, and still only, employee to handle these requests, freeing him to attend to adding new servers when required and tweaking code. “Most of the time, I don’t need to do anything,” he said.

    To keep his site’s forums free of spam, Mr. Frind has refined a formula for analyzing customer feedback and arriving at a determination of whether a given forum post is spam and should automatically be deleted. He has also devised some new software twists that enable him to offload work to his customers, letting users review the photos that are uploaded to the site.

    Mr. Frind says that close to 50,000 new photos come in every day, each one of which needs to be checked to verify that it is an actual person and that it does not not contain nudity. The work would be costly if Mr. Frind relied on a paid staff to do it.

    Fortunately for him, there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of humans eager to look at pictures of other humans, and Mr. Frind taps his customers to carry out the reviewing, gratis. Some have made it their principal pastime. Among Plenty of Fish’s volunteers were 120 who last year evaluated more than 100,000 images each. He explains his volunteers’ enthusiasm for the work as an expression of gratitude: “Lots of people feel like they want to give back to the site because it’s free.”

    Plenty of Fish displays banner ads, Google-supplied ads and, most profitable of all, “affiliate” marketing links that send users to other dating sites. For example, Mr. Frind said, when one of his customers clicks on an advertisement for a book titled “Double Your Dating” and, after being sent to the publisher’s Web site, ends up buying it for $40, the publisher pays Plenty of Fish a commission — of $40 — for the sale, glad to have landed a customer that past experience shows is a good prospect for “upselling” other goods and services related to dating.

    For all that Mr. Frind has accomplished, his site looks puny when compared with Craigslist, which has built a mighty automation engine tended by only a handful of people. Craigslist’s personals draw about six million unique visitors a month, more than any other dating site, and its listings for all categories generate 10 billion page views a month. It covers 450 localities in 50 countries around the world — with only 25 employees. It is among the top 10 busiest English-language sites, but the customers who enjoy its free listings, like Plenty of Fish’s, must serve themselves or seek assistance from others. “Anything that represents customer hand-holding represents a failure of site design,” said Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist’s chief executive. “We try to make changes to the site to make the problem go away.”

    Both Plenty of Fish and Craigslist have created sites that run almost completely on their own, but in different ways. Craigslist has no commercial messages other than listings, and it collects fees only for a minuscule slice of its posts. It charges employers for jobs listings in 10 of its 450 cities, and brokers for apartment listings in New York City. All other listings are free. “To most of our users,” Mr. Buckmaster said, “it’s a mystery how we make money.”

    At Plenty of Fish, there is no mystery: a large square of advertising sits in the middle of most profile pages. Its success demonstrates that many consumers will tolerate, and even embrace, advertising when a site offers a free service for which others charge membership fees.

    Mr. Frind has found that rare business in which the profits gush in, whether or not he leaves his hammock.

January 18, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Boosted Tin Can Speaker Set Vol. 1


From the website:

    Boosted Tin Can Speaker Set Vol. 1

    Mobile phone carrier Boost Mobile has teamed up with artists Mint and Serf (from the East Coast) and Mainframe (from the West Coast) to produce these very cool, functional and great-sounding desktop speakers.

    The design of the desktop speaker set represents what may have been all of our first experiences with communication — just two tin cans and a string.

    One can has been designed by Mint and Serf; the other side of the string by Dean Bradley.

    Compatible with MP3 player phones, iPods, desktop computers, DVD players, laptops, game consoles, etc.

    Product Specifications:

    • Power Output: 1 Watt per channel max at 6V

    • Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.3% typ at 0.5W

    • Channel Separation: 40dB typ

    • Audio Input: 3.5 mm stereo jack (2.5 to 3.5 mm adapter included)

    • 4 AA batteries required (not included)

    • Optional AC/DC power adapter

    • 5" tall.


January 18, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Anything that represents customer hand-holding represents a failure of site design' — Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist


As quoted in a January 13, 2008 New York Times story, that's it in a nutshell.

When someone says "you aren't understanding what it says," that means it wasn't said properly.


No exceptions.

The TechnoDolt™ is always right.

January 18, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'Turn your TV into a Giant Etch-A-Sketch'


Very cool.

From the website:

    Deluxe TV Etch-A-Sketch®

    Relive the childhood fun of Etch-A-Sketch by drawing on your television!

    Simply plug the controller into your TV and explore 4 activity modes — Cool Drawing Tools, Trace A Pic, Super Sketch and Connecting The Dots.

    The image you draw with the controller magically appears on the screen and you just shake the controller to make the image magically disappear from the screen!

    All ages will enjoy the fun!

    Includes AC adapter.

    Or use 4 AA batteries (not included)


$12.98 (TV not included — wat choo tink, mon?).

January 18, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Morgellons


Also called Morgellons Syndrome, it's a mysterious new entity in which — among other signs and symptoms — mysterious fibers (the black threads seen above and below in human tissue) break through the skin.

The condition acquired its name soon after biologist Mary Leitao in 2001 noticed "bundles of fibers" beneath the skin under the lip of her then 2-year-old son.

Though it sounds like something out of a David Cronenberg movie, it's real enough that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is embarking on a year-long study to characterize it.

Here's an article from the Canadian Press website to introduce you to the subject.

    CDC to study Morgellons, ailment in which fibres said to erupt from skin

    It sounds like a condition ripped from the pages of science fiction. Mysterious threads or fibres breaking through the skin or the sensation of insects crawling under it. Sores that won't heal. Impaired concentration and short-term memory loss.

    But over the past few years several thousand people in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe apparently have suffered from this puzzling constellation of ailments, which has come to be known as Morgellons Syndrome or just plain Morgellons.

    Now the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, aided by a major U.S. health insurance provider, is embarking on a study to try to get a handle on a condition skeptics dismiss as a delusion and the agency itself isn't yet ready to call a disease.

    "What I can tell you is real is the suffering these patients are experiencing," Dr. Michele Pearson, the CDC scientist who will head the project, said Wednesday during a teleconference announcing the launch of the study.

    "I cannot characterize this as a syndrome, as a disease. I can tell you it's an unexplained illness. That clearly the suffering that these patients experience is real."

    While the preponderance of reports of Morgellons have come from the United States, public health authorities in Canada - particularly British Columbia - have been contacted occasionally by people who say they suffer from it.

    Alain Desroches, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said the agency is monitoring scientific research on the topic and will keep an eye on the CDC efforts. He said the agency has received a couple of communications from people who say they suffer from the condition.

    Morgellons sufferers and activists have also homed in on the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver.

    "It's a quandary," said Roy Wadia, the agency's director of communications.

    "Because you don't want to discount personal suffering and anguish. At the same time, science and medicine demand certain protocols be followed when it comes to investigating anything."

    "At this moment, we really have no answers."

    The CDC study hopes to provide some, though the lead researchers acknowledged this work is only a start.

    "This condition is complex and it may be due to multiple factors," Pearson said. "We are certain that this study will not provide answers to all of the questions. This may be one of many studies that will need to be done on this condition."

    The work will try to gain an understanding of who may be affected with the condition, the range of symptoms they experience and look for clues to factors that might contribute to it, Pearson said.

    The investigation will be conducted in conjunction with health insurance giant Kaiser Permanente's Northern California division of research and the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

    Subjects to be studied will be drawn from the pool of people who sought medical care for Morgellons-like symptoms from Kaiser Permanente in Northern California from July 1, 2006 to the end of 2007.

    Kaiser Permanente serves 3.4 million people in that area, an apparent hot-spot for Morgellons. Dr. Joe Selby, director of the division of research, said the area has one of the highest rates of self-reported cases in the United States.

    People identified will be asked to complete a web-based or telephone questionnaire. Selby said a number of those people with "active symptoms" will be invited to undergo an extensive physical and psychological examination that will include taking skin biopsies, blood and urine samples.

    Pearson said she understands that people who suffer from the symptoms are anxious for answers. But she suggested it would be at least 12 months before any evidence starts to emerge and longer before a fuller picture comes into focus.

    "We are really at the beginning, I think, of a learning curve about what this condition is and all of its potential manifestations."



Here's Jane Akre's story from yesterday's InjuryBoard.com.

    Mystery Skin Disease Has Researchers Stumped

    CDC researchers will spend more than a year looking at the cause of a mysterious skin disease that is a mystery

    The symptoms are consistent — skin lesions that do not heal, a stinging, crawling skin sensation, fibers of foreign material on or under the skin, mental confusion, memory loss, joint pain, among other ailments.

    Medical detectives say they have no idea what is causing the illness called Morgellons illness.

    Some have even questioned whether its symptoms are real or delusional. But with thousands afflicted world-wide, the CDC will launch an 18-month investigation among patients in northern California with help from the Armed Forces Pathology Institute and Kaiser Permanente.

    Dr. Michele Pearson, lead CDC investigator in the study, tells Reuters, “What I can tell you is real is the suffering that these patients are experiencing," Pearson said. "I cannot characterize this as a syndrome, as a disease. I can tell you it's an unexplained illness."

    Morgellons Research Foundation is based in Pittsburgh. Executive director, Mary Leitao believes the condition is an infectious disease.

    The group says more than 11,000 families around the world with at least one person inflicted have the condition. It’s been tracking incidents since 2002. On its Web site the foundation has stories from people who have suffered with this undiagnosed condition.

    Leitano, a biologist named the disease after her 2-year-old son began complaining of “bugs” and sores under his lip. She says they appeared as red, black, blue and white bundles of fibers.

    Eight different doctors were unable to explain the symptoms. She chose the name Morgellons disease from a description of an illness in a 1690 letter by Sir Thomas Browne.

    Some patients have been "diagnosed with a common medical label, Delusions of Parasitosis (DP), the basic tenet being this is a psychiatric illness with the presumption of a purely delusional 'parasite infestation."


Morgellons Watch offers a skeptical analysis of the findings to date.


Here's a link to the January 16, 2008 CDC press conference transcript featuring Dr. Michele Pearson, principle Morgellons investigator for the CDC.

January 18, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Heart-Stopping Wakeup Calls — Episode 2: Fire Alarm Bell Clock


Inspired by this past Wednesday's Screaming Meanie post, James Thornburg suggested an alternative, do-it-yourself solution; his email follows.

    Fire Alarm Clock

    For the really, really, really sound sleeper (or in case you want to wake up the entire neighborhood), Alan Parekh of Hacked Gadgets Forum cobbled together this masterpiece: an alarm rigged up to a fire alarm bell!

    This hack takes a standard cheap alarm clock, some interface components and a fire alarm bell to get the job done right. Normally these small alarm clocks use a piezo buzzer to attempt to wake you up. Here the alarm signal is hijacked from the clock circuit board and used as an input to the interface board.

January 18, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

« January 17, 2008 | Main | January 19, 2008 »