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March 19, 2008

Who died and made North Face God? Or, since when did zipper pulls go on the left?


Look at the photo above.

What do you see?

I couldn't figure out what was wrong with my spiffy new ultralight (2.9 oz) North Face wind jacket (above) — all I knew was that I was having trouble zipping it up.

Then I looked down and twigged: they put the zipper on backwards!

The pull thingie's supposed to be on the right so the (usually) right-sided dominant hand can grasp it.

You could look it up (and down, below).


What gives?

Yes, I know that women's and men's shirts button oppositely, but zippers are always the same.

I checked to make sure I wasn't having a Philip K. Dick fever dream or Leonardo moment or somehow still in the Bizarro World from my trip there while I was sleeping but no — I was here and now in our consensus reality and the zipper pull was mos def on the wrong side.

I went and checked all my other jackets and they were still okay.

This reminds of when knife blocks suddenly rotated their slots 90° — if you didn't have one of the pre-rotational iterations like I do (mine's pictured below),


you'd think people like me were just not with the picture.

That may well be true — but I know a hawk from a handsaw and I know a zipper that's not right when I see one.

March 19, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Porta-Jump: Car Battery-in-your-Pocket


What's this, joe: nanotech in the automotive space?

Not exactly — though I do find the idea of a device that looks and functions like a car battery yet is about the size of a Rubik's Cube worth a second look.

From websites:


    Jump start your car without opening the hood

    The Porta-Jump is a small (about 3” x 3” x 2-1/2”), portable battery designed as a multi-use emergency jump starter when your battery has run too low.

    It comes in a nylon pouch — place it in your glove compartment or trunk until you need it.

    Porta-Jump arrives fully charged and is ready to use immediately; just plug it into your cigarette lighter or power port, wait for the green light, and start your car.

    A “smart chip” battery tester is built in to let you know if your low battery will accept a charge.

    Porta-Jump is also rechargeable — leave it plugged in for 30 minutes while driving and it’s ready to use again.




Note that this item comes with the exclusive bookofjoe guarantee™®, to wit: If for any reason it fails to start your car, email me and I will drop everything and drive to wherever you're stranded to give you a jumpstart.

Bonus: I have jumper cables.

March 19, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Should I stop allowing readers to comment?


In Lee Gomes's March 12, 2008 Wall Street Journal column he explored why it is that the web is so endlessly alluring.

He noted in passing Andrew Sullivan's recent reader poll asking if he (Sullivan) should allow comments (currently he doesn't).

The result: readers responded 60-40 against allowing them.


If it's good enough for Andrew Sullivan it's good enough for me.

Should I continue to allow unfiltered comments or should I bag this feature?

Here's the WSJ piece.

    Why We're Powerless To Resist Grazing On Endless Web Data

    While there is a certain grand mystery to some aspects of human behavior, others can be easily explained. Just find yourself a garden-variety house cat, along with a $10 laser pointer.

    Many cat owners know that the lasers are the easiest way to keep the pet amused. The cats will ceaselessly, maniacally chase it as it's beamed about the room, literally climbing the walls to capture what they surely regard as some form of ultimate prey.

    Obviously, cats are hard-wired to hunt down small, bright objects, like birds. But since nothing in nature is as bright as a laser, they are powerless to resist its charms.

    Cats and lasers are useful in explaining some of the more addictive aspects of Web use, including a recent occurrence on the site for Andrew Sullivan, a popular political blogger. Mr. Sullivan's blog doesn't follow the standard practice of making room for readers to add their own comments after each blog item. Curious if he should change his policy, he put the question to a vote.

    Readers responded 60-40 against allowing comments. Even more striking than the fact that these readers were denying themselves a voice was the reason some of them gave for declining the offer: Like cats chasing a laser, they wouldn't be able to stop themselves.

    "In truth we would rarely opt not to read them," said one reader. "Blog comments have the power to hammerlock one's attention.... We'd be impotent to resist looking over the rantings and counter-rantings.... Not only would comments be an incredible drain on one's time (especially if we check your blog several times a day from work), but it also exposes readers to the nasty underbelly of blogging."

    What is it about a Web site that might make it literally irresistible? Clues are offered by research conducted by Irving Biederman, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, who is interested in the evolutionary and biological basis of the human need for information.

    Dr. Biederman first showed a collection of photographs to volunteer test subjects, and found they said they preferred certain kinds of pictures (monkeys in a tree or a group of houses along a river) over others (an empty parking lot or a pile of old paint cans).

    The preferred pictures had certain common features, including a good vantage on a landscape and an element of mystery. In one way or another, said Dr. Biederman, they all presented new information that somehow needed to be interpreted.

    When he hooked up volunteers to a brain-scanning machine, the preferred pictures were shown to generate much more brain activity than the unpreferred shots. While researchers don't yet know what exactly these brain scans signify, a likely possibility involves increased production of the brain's pleasure-enhancing neurotransmitters called opioids.

    In other words, coming across what Dr. Biederman calls new and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.

    It is something we seem hard-wired to do, says Dr. Biederman. When you find new information, you get an opioid hit, and we are junkies for those. You might call us 'infovores.' "

    For most of human history, there was little chance of overdosing on information, because any one day in the Olduvai Gorge was a lot like any other. Today, though, we can find in the course of a few hours online more information than our ancient ancestors could in their whole lives.

    Just like the laser and the cat, technology is playing a trick on us. We are programmed for scarcity and can't dial back when something is abundant.

    The same happens with food: Because at one time we never knew when the next saber-toothed tiger might come along for food, it made sense to pack on the calories whenever we chanced upon them. That's not much help in today's world of snack aisles and super sizes.

    Using computers traditionally has been associated with Mr. Spock-style cerebration, the ultimate kind of left-brain activity. But Dr. Biederman is just one of many researchers now linking it with some of the oldest parts of the human brain.

    A group of Stanford University researchers, for example, recently found gender differences in the brains of computer gamers. Males showed more neural firings, suggesting that they were physically experiencing the game in a manner different from women.

    Watching a cat play with a laser, you realize the cat never learns there is no real "prey" there. You can show the cat the pointer, clicking it off and on, and it will remain transfixed.

    Indeed, while cats find a causal link between the pointer and the shimmering light, they come to a wrong conclusion. They believe the pointer is the container that holds the prey, and that the critter is released once the cat's owner gets the pen down from the shelf and starts to wave it around.

    People presumably are smarter than cats, and as we become more familiar with the Web and its torrent of information, maybe we'll do a better job learning what is useful and what isn't.

March 19, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

'Mei' (Beauty) — by Han Jiaying


Above, his 1997 poster for Frontier magazine.

You can see it along with other masterworks in "China Design Now," a show which opened last Saturday at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, up through July 13, 2008.

March 19, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Beyond Thunderdome — The Rise of 'Smart Poo'


Except this isn't some post-apocalyptic fever dream — it's really happening in England as you read these words.

Long story short: "A British businessman fed up with being targeted by vandals has installed a 30-foot Roman-style catapult on the premises to hurl bucket loads of chicken manure at culprits attacking his rural offices."

Here's Al Webb's story about this throwback weaponry, from the March 17, 2008 Washington Times.

    Ex-stuntman targets vandals with nasty catapult

    A British businessman fed up with being targeted by vandals has installed a 30-foot Roman-style catapult on the premises to hurl bucket loads of chicken manure at culprits attacking his rural offices.

    Former stuntman Joe Weston-Webb [above, with his catapult] thinks the vandals are in cahoots with competitors of his company, aptly named Grumpy Joe's Flooring Sales, in the River Soar valley of Nottinghamshire, England.

    The defense arrangements, which include priming the catapult with chicken droppings from a nearby farm, include 32 closed-circuit TV cameras, security fencing and motion-sensor lights — all guarded by a no-nonsense sign that reads:

    "WARNING: These premises are protected by smart poo"

    His company, at Kegworth, in Nottinghamshire, has been hit by a string of raids by hoodlums.

    But Mr. Weston-Webb's fury really exploded when arsonists struck at his company buildings, causing $4,000 worth of damage, and slashed car tires and smashed windows with paving slabs at his daughter's home nearby.

    The 70-year-old entrepreneur says he thinks jealous business rivals may be responsible. The attacks, he says, started earlier this year, after Grumpy Joe's won a lucrative contract to supply a British TV show, "Strictly Come Dancing," with portable flooring.

    "It's too much of a coincidence," Mr. Weston-Webb told reporters recently. "We are pretty certain it was a rival company, but I can't prove it."

    He thinks the police are little, if any, help. "There's no way anyone will get caught" by the authorities, he said. "So I thought I would set up my own defense."

    He then rolled out the catapult, a remnant of his days as a traveling showman, which he used to shoot his wife, Mary, across a small stretch of the River Avon and into a net.

    Mary Weston-Webb defended her husband's decision to lace the place with his rather odd booby traps.

    "We just feel so helpless," she told the Times newspaper in London. "We feel very vulnerable."

    The local police authorities in Nottinghamshire — the legendary home of Robin Hood, where the flooring company is located — are less than amused.

    They have warned Mr. Weston-Webb that "a crime-prevention officer will be making contact" with him, "to offer some practical security advice" — as well as a few well-chosen words on just what constitutes "reasonable force" in deterring would-be criminals.

    "The reasonable force must be proportionate to the threat," said police Inspector Jeff Haywood."The setting up of booby traps is outside the scope of the law and is something Nottinghamshire Police would advise against."


Here's a more detailed March 5, 2008 Times of London article about this 21st-century Druid of Nottinghamshire.

    I have a 30ft catapult filled with chicken droppings — and I’m not afraid to use it

    The headquarters of Joe Weston-Webb’s portable flooring empire is protected by security fencing, motion-sensor lights and CCTV cameras.

    None of these conventional measures has deterred arsonists, however, and in desperation, Mr Weston-Webb has now fortified his defences with less orthodox technology left over from his time as a travelling showman.

    A 30ft Roman catapult, loaded with chicken droppings from a nearby farm is primed each evening. And a cannon, which Mr Weston-Webb once used to shoot his wife across the River Avon, will fire a railway sleeper if triggered by an intruder.

    Mr Weston-Webb was yesterday erecting a sign outside his business, which stands at the end of a farm track in the lower valley of the River Soar in Nottinghamshire — a place known locally as Soar Bottom. It reads: “Warning: These premises are protected by smart-poo and railway sleeper projectiles.”

    He told The Times: “I have an exploding coffin too. The intruder would have to climb into the box in order to be blown out of it and I don’t expect anyone would be stupid enough to do that, but I’m working on it.”

    Mr Weston-Webb, 70, fears that his company, Grumpy Joe’s Flooring, has been a target for rivals in the portable flooring industry ever since it won a lucrative contract to supply the BBC show Strictly Come Dancing.

    In the early hours of February 2 arsonists started a fire that caused £2,000 worth of damage. On the same night, four cars outside his daughter’s house had their tyres slashed and windows smashed.

    “My daughter lives 12 miles away,” he said. “It’s too much of a coincidence. We are pretty certain it was a rival company, but I can’t prove it.”

    He says he did not build up his flooring business in order to let his rivals walk all over him, nor have years arranging to fire his wife, Mary, over rivers in cannon and catapults left him shy of other experiments.

    “She’s 54 now and far too big to fit into the cannon in any case,” he said.

    Mrs Weston-Webb was one of Mr Weston-Webb’s squad of “Moto-Birds”, travelling the world driving motorcycles and cars over ramps and water features. While injured with a broken arm, she climbed into the catapult her husband is now employing to defend his warehouses, before an expectant crowd of 30,000. “I flew across 160ft of the Avon,” she said. “Unfortunately the net was set at an angle and I bounced into the river.”

    Mrs Weston-Webb stood by her husband as he attempted to build a car with wings that would fly from the edge of a quarry (it didn’t) and a ramp that would take a double-decker bus across the Avon.

    And she stands by his decision to lay booby-traps. “We just feel so helpless,” she said.

    Nottinghamshire Police said yesterday that they would send an officer to offer advice on “conventional security techniques” and on the use of “reasonable force”. Mr Weston-Webb promises to be reasonable. “We are putting a rubber block on the end of the railway sleeper,” he said. “It should just knock an intruder down.”

March 19, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

March 19, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: What's on your anesthesiologist's monitor — Your vital signs... or YouTube?

It could well be YouTube or its ilk up on the screen rather than your EKG and end-tidal CO2.

A study presented at the 2008 meeting of the Society for Technology in Anesthesia (STA) in San Francisco "... found that slightly more than half of Web visits recorded on 15 OR computers at the facility [Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP)] were made with no clear connection to work — links like Amazon.com, Travelocity.com and eBay.com," wrote Adam Marcus in the latest (March, 2008) issue of Anesthesiology News.

But wait, it gets better.

"The number of visits to sites unrelated to work rose by half a percent after computer users were explicitly warned that the OR machines — which [also] hosted the hospital's information management system — were being monitored.

And before you say that the anesthesiologists at CHOP must not be very bright, know this: CHOP is considered one of the premier children's hospitals in the U.S., with fellowships there among the most prized in the nation.

Both the case load and degree of difficulty of patients presenting for anesthesia there are extreme.

So if this kind of thing is going on at this high-powered tertiary-care center, one can imagine what's happening at more typical community hospitals with more "ordinary" cases.

Marcus continued, "A major limitation of the study, the researchers acknowledged, was that it did not record whether patients were in the ORs when the staff were using the computers.... 'Even so, the utility of Internet access in the operating room is demonstrated by the fact that nearly half of browser events were [work-related],' they wrote."


I see no reason — zero, nada, zilch — why Internet access should be available to an anesthesiologist in the OR.

The possibility of gaining information that might aid in caring for the patient on the table is far smaller than the chance of that individual being harmed as a result of misdirected attention to Google News or YouTube.

March 19, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Hussein Chalayan ain't heavy — but his clothes can be


What I call the "Rock Frock" (above) appeared during Paris Fashion Week.

March 19, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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