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June 4, 2008

PODS: Quick — and not that dirty — lodging on the cheap

Reading Jay Romano's May 22, 2008 New York Times article about Portable On-Demand Storage (PODS) containers, it occurred to me that they would make very convenient, inexpensive lodging for unexpected and/or unwanted guests.

"Monthly rental charges range from $100–$200. Customers can keep the container on their property for as long as they like...."

Yes, I know that it's probably illegal to live in the containers but hey — you rented it, it's on your property, so who's gonna know?

Unless you stagger out of one in your pj's in the morning in full view of the neighbors.

Here's the story.

    More Space, Delivered to You

    Nearly everyone needs more space for storage, but there’s an alternative to renting a truck and carting the excess to a rented unit: the storage space can come to you.

    Portable On-Demand Storage, a nationwide storage service based in Tampa, Fla., will deliver a storage container to the home, where the customer loads and locks it before the company returns it to its warehouse.

    Tom Ryan, the president of PODS, said the warehouses are climate-controlled to prevent excess humidity and freezing. The company uses a specially designed machine to lift the container vertically, which keeps the contents from shifting.

    Monthly rental charges range from $100 to $200, depending on the size of the containers, which are 8 feet high and wide and 7, 12 or 16 feet long, he said. Customers can keep the container on their property for as long as they like, but the rental clock starts ticking when the container is delivered. Drop-off and pick-up fees are $60 to $100.

    PODS has dealers in every state except Alaska, Wyoming and North Dakota, “but we do not service Manhattan,” Mr. Ryan said. Traffic, construction and narrow streets make it “just too difficult.”

    There are other options for city residents. Mobile Self Storage in Brooklyn specializes in the New York City area, including Manhattan.

    “Our boxes are 5 feet wide by 8 feet long by 7 ½ feet high,” said Stacey Perlzweig, office manager for the company. Ideally, she said, the customer will have a driveway or other parking area where the container can be dropped off. (Customers should check with local authorities or their building manager to find out if permission is required.)

    But in the city, the driver may have to settle for the street. “The container can easily fit in a parking spot,” Ms. Perlzweig said. “A lot of people who live in apartment buildings think they can’t use our service because there’s nowhere to put the container,” she said. “But as long as the driver can find a spot on the street, he can wait there until the container is loaded, and then take it back to the storehouse.”

    Mobile Self Storage charges $79 a month to store the container, which holds “about one room’s worth of furniture,” Ms. Perlzweig said. Delivery to Brooklyn and Queens is free, but Mobile charges up to $125 to deliver to other areas, depending on the distance, she said. The return fee is $125. Most companies use containers that are made of galvanized steel, which does not rust, and that have sealed plywood floors.

    Bill Norris, president of Go Mini’s, based in Jacksonville, Fla., provides portable storage service in 46 states. His company’s containers are 8 feet wide, 8 feet high, and 12, 16, or 18 feet long and are “completely weatherproofed and vented,” he said.

    Monthly storage for a 16-foot container is $135, and delivery and pickup fees are $80 to $120 each.

    Storage containers can be used during renovation or even for moving, Mr. Norris said.

    "We drop them off in your driveway, and you have 30 days to load and lock them," he explained. "It’s a convenient way to move because you can load the container without the clock of a rental truck ticking away."

    A container can also be moved to a new home, with delivery charges depending on the distance traveled.

    Because many real estate agents advise sellers to de-clutter before putting a house on the market, a storage container can come in handy before a home is sold, too. Loading extra possessions into the container and putting it in storage until it’s time to move out eliminates one step, Mr. Norris said. "You move out the clutter, and you don’t have to handle it again until you get to your new location."


Remember — you didn't read it here.

This article will self-destruct within 3 seconds of your reading these words.

It didn't?

Back to the code drawing board....

As if.

June 4, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

June 4, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: 'Can a heart be hacked?' — Episode 2: 'You bet'


When we first touched on this fascinating development in Episode 1 back on March 13, 2008, it was noted that many heart specialists were upset with the research group led by Harvard cardiologist William Maisel having gone public with its findings.

"They feared that it would needlessly worry people who had defibrillators and pacemakers or, even worse, scare off people who should get them," wrote Carrie Peyton Dahlberg in a May 17, 2008 Sacramento Bee story.

The question in the headline up top appeared over yesterday's republication of the Dahlberg's story in the Washington Post Health section.

Word travels slow to the hinterlands.

But I digress.

Long story short: Maisel's group, using off-the-shelf equipment, was able to hack pacemakers wirelessly from an inch outside the body.

"... team members... declined to comment on whether they're trying to alter the device from farther away."


My best guess is that DARPA and the skunk works crews at the CIA, DIA and innumerable other intelligence agencies both here and abroad already have the capability to stop a pacemaker from across a room and perhaps from up to a mile away.

Look for very, very deep black ops to enable first unmanned aircraft (UAVs) and ultimately orbiting satellites to do the same thing.

Talk about no fingerprints....

Here's Dahlberg's story from the Bee.

    To make a security point, hackers tweak an implantable pacemaker

    It's not something your doctors want you to worry about. Really.

    Still, it's unsettling: With enough time, energy and expertise, a pacemaker can be hacked.

    Implanted devices that keep ailing hearts beating steadily need better protection, the team that hacked into one is telling regulators and manufacturers.

    "This is not an important risk for patients right now," said Dr. William Maisel, a Harvard cardiologist who specializes in heart rhythms. "We just want the industry to be thoughtful about where we as a society are going with these devices."

    Maisel worked with computer experts from Amherst and the University of Washington to demonstrate that an implantable defibrillator could be altered remotely to deliver a dangerous shock, or withhold a potentially lifesaving one.

    The group will present its findings Monday [May 19, 2008] in Oakland, at a symposium on security and privacy being put on by IEEE, a technology association.

    It's a timely subject. The electronic gear that can be put inside the human body is becoming more versatile and easier to operate from afar. Pacemakers can send signals to bedside monitors that then send data to doctors. Some devices can be quickly detected and reprogrammed in an emergency room, potentially saving an unconscious patient's life.

    Along with pacemakers, implanted since the 1960s to generate electrical pulses that regulate heartbeats, newer devices include defibrillators that can reset a dangerously fluttering heart, nerve stimulators for pain control and deep brain stimulators to treat some movement disorders. All are inserted surgically, but can later be reprogrammed from outside the body. That adjusting usually happens in a doctor's office or hospital.

    Yet some remarkable changes are on the horizon, said Dr. Larry Wolff, a UC Davis Medical School professor who specializes in implanting defibrillators. "I believe over time we could make programming changes on the telephone," he said, although that's not possible now.

    There is no known case of malicious tampering with a device inside someone's body.

    The Medical Device Security Center, a collaboration of researchers from three universities, tinkered with one on a lab table, after buying $30,000 worth of commercially available equipment to assist the hacking.

    Researchers ran tests that deduced how a particular defibrillator worked. They used that information to alter it from less than an inch away. Potentially, they said, an attacker could disrupt heartbeats, dangerously drain a battery, or even extract private medical information.

    "We know that a doctor is capable of doing this," said Kevin Fu, a computer science professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "Experts like ourselves know how to do it. The question is, what's the lowest bar?"

    While the initial work was done at very close quarters, team members doing additional studies declined to comment on whether they're trying to alter the device from farther away.

    Dr. David Steinhaus, medical director for the cardiac rhythm disease branch of Medtronic, a leading implant maker, said his company's engineers are looking hard at security issues, but there's a trade-off.

    "These are lifesaving devices" that must be quickly and easily accessed in emergencies, he said. "Anything I do to make it more secure, makes it less usable."

    The medical security group suggests various strategies, including making implants better able to recognize unauthorized signals and capable of alerting patients to unwanted interference.

    Last month the group discussed its findings with the federal Food and Drug Administration and a trade association for implanted devices.

    In March, when the group posted its paper online, most doctors Maisel spoke with were "upset that we were doing this kind of work and reporting on it."

    They feared it would needlessly worry people who had defibrillators and pacemakers — or even worse, scare off people who should get them.

    Today, he said, he senses people coming around to what he's been saying all along: The time is now to build in better security, before even more sophisticated equipment is deployed.


Any erstwhile mystery writers out there, here's your twist: run with it.

Ricin-tipped umbrellas are so last century.

Maybe I should've trademarked or copyrighted "Heartbeat-B-Gone" when it occurred to me back in March.

Oh, well.

You do it.

Pretend you thought it up, I'll confirm it.

Bizarro World, indeed.

June 4, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Visual Anaesthesia — by Tina Roeder


A 2004 creation of designer Tina Roeder, who calls it "Naked Couch/ With Hidden Details."

Chrome-plated steel, belt buckles and skin tone leather.

180cm x 55cm x 56cm.


[via James Thornburg]

June 4, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Google Desktop for Mac


What's this?

Alas, it's way above my TechnoDolt™ pay grade but not yours.

Maybe one day Google will take pity on me and my ilk and come out with a DoofusPak™.

June 4, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Becoming a chick magnet — Grace Slick was right: 'You're only pretty as you feel'


That's the lesson to be drawn from a study published yesterday in the journal Current Biology, in which researchers demonstrated that by darkening the chest feathers of male New Jersey barn swallows with a $5.99 marker (above), the birds not only became more attractive to females but also, within one week of the color enhancement, had testosterone level increases of up to 36%.

Where can I get one of those markers?

But I digress.

Here's today's Associated Press article by Seth Bornstein about the new new thing in avian attraction.

    Marked-up birds become sexier, exude testosterone

    A little strategically placed makeup quickly turns the wimpiest of male barn swallows into chick magnets, amping up their testosterone and even trimming their weight, new research shows.

    It's a "clothes make the man" lesson that — with some caveats — also applies to human males, researchers say.

    Using a $5.99 marker, scientists darkened the rust-colored breast feathers of male New Jersey barn swallows, turning lighter birds to the level of those naturally darkest.

    They had already found, in a test three years ago, that the marked-up males were more attractive to females and mated more often.

    This time they found out that the more attractive appearance, at least in the bird world, triggered changes to the animals' body chemistry, increasing testosterone.

    "Other females might be looking at them as being a little more sexy, and the birds might be feeling better about themselves in response to that," said study co-author Kevin McGraw, an evolutionary biology professor at Arizona State University.

    McGraw said the findings are surprising, in part because the hormonal changes occurred after only one week.

    The study was published in Tuesday's edition of the journal Current Biology.

    In the 30 male barn swallows who were darkened, testosterone was up 36 percent after one week, during a time of year when levels of that hormone would normally drop.

    At the same time, testosterone levels in the 33 birds that didn't get the coloring treatment fell by half, said lead author Rebecca Safran, an evolutionary biology professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

    "It's the `clothes make the man'" idea, Safran said. "It's like you walk down the street and you're driving a Rolls Royce and people notice. And your physiology accommodates this."

    Before you feel superior to these birds, Safran cautioned, people's mating systems are more similar to birds' than we might like to admit.

    Barn swallows are "socially monogamous and genetically promiscuous, same as humans," she said. "There are some interesting parallels, but we do need to be careful about making them."

    In people, hormonal changes have been observed after changes in behavior. A 1998 study found that loyal male fans of sports teams experienced a 20 percent rise in testosterone when their teams won.

    The researchers aren't certain how the testosterone boost happens. It could be that because of the darkened color, the birds mate more often and that changes their testosterone levels.

    It could also be that because of the darkened color, other males think the pecking order has changed and that boosts the darker swallows' hormone levels. Or it could be both. The authors said figuring out which theory is right is the next step.

    The birds' weight loss is more easily explained, Safran said. The more macho swallows could be spending more time mating than eating or working off the calories, she said.

    Most of the time it's the hormones that change the behavior or appearance, but this work shows "it can go more than one way," said study co-author James Adelman, a Princeton University researcher.

    "It certainly is a very new and interesting finding," said Cornell University psychology and neurobiology professor Elizabeth Adkins-Regan, who had no role in the study.


I'm hearing a lot of chirping out there.

Your wish is my command.

Here's the abstract of the Current Biology paper.

    Sexual signal exaggeration affects physiological state in male barn swallows

    A prevailing view in sexual selection theory is that costly physiological processes underlie the development, maintenance and expression of sexual signals, and that the costs of these signals enforce their honesty. However, this unidirectional view of how physiology governs signal expression is narrow, because many of the putative physiological underpinnings of signals, such as health status, are themselves dynamic. As such, we predicted that physiological parameters should be affected by sexual signal expression. We therefore manipulated a known sexual signal — plumage coloration — in male barn swallows (Hirundo rustica erythrogaster) and measured circulating androgen levels and body mass before and after the manipulation. We found that androgen concentrations increased in color-enhanced males, but decreased in control males, as expected due to typical seasonal androgen declines. Color-enhanced males also lost body mass, whereas control males gained weight between successive captures one week apart. These results indicate the existence of feedbacks between an individual's morphological signals and physiology — a finding that is not currently explained by honest signaling theory.


There's always someone in the crowd who can't get enough.

For you, the entire article — references and all — is here for the taking.

Admit it: the bird on the right in the photo below,


tarted up with a marker, is smokin' compared to its two wallflower compatriots to the left.

June 4, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Was China's earthquake triggered by a nuclear accident? Episode 2: Perhaps


Episode 1 on May 21 has provoked a quiet, growing buzz around the web, with several sites suggesting that there is more here than simply my speculation about this possibility.

My crack research team drilled down and couldn't find much beyond obviously politically charged, not-very-well hidden anti-China agendas.

So I asked the team to spend some time last evening chasing down the graphic and map that accompanied the dead tree edition of the May 16, 2008 New York Times, whose page 12 story by William J. Broad discussed the location of China's nuclear weapons plants and facilities, noting that they are close to the quake's epicenter.

Broad wrote, "China’s main complex for making nuclear warhead fuel, codenamed Plant 821, is beside a river in a hilly, forested part of the earthquake zone. It is some 15 miles northwest of Guangyuan in Sichuan Province. The vast site holds China’s largest production reactor and factories that mine its spent fuel for plutonium — the main ingredient for modern nuclear arms.."

He continued, "Nuclear experts said that closer to the epicenter of the earthquake, in rugged hills a two-hour drive west of Mianyang [top], China runs a highly secretive center that houses a prompt-burst reactor. It mimics the rush of speeding subatomic particles that an exploding atom bomb spews out in its first microseconds."


Mysteriously, the graphic and map appear to have vanished from the Times website, for all practical purposes.

Good thing we're not practical around here, what?

Because both appear above.

The map below


accompanied an earlier Times story which appeared on May 12, 2008.



a shake map of the earthquake.


The concluding paragraphs of Broad's May 16 article:

"North in an even more rugged and inaccessible region, nuclear experts said, China maintains a hidden complex of large tunnels in the side of a mountain where it stores nuclear arms.

"'It’s very close to the epicenter,' said one specialist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because, to the best of his knowledge, the exact location of the secret complex had never been publicly disclosed.

"Dr. Stillman, the former intelligence chief at Los Alamos, said he had immense regard for the Chinese weapons scientists and assumed that many of their nuclear plants had been built to ride out the pounding of an earthquake or other disasters, natural or man-made.

"'All the Chinese I met in the program were really brilliant,' he said. 'So I think they do it the right way. I hope.'"

June 4, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Submergency Ball


From the website:

    Submergency Pool Game

    Our Submergency Pool Game creates a high-energy contest of aquatic search-and-retrieve.

    First, set the depth to which you want the sphere to sink.

    Then compete with friends to see who can find it first.

    Once the built-in timer expires, a bright flashing light activates and the sphere's location is revealed.

    • Adaptable to any level of swimming ability

    • Light blue color blends in with the water and adds to the challenge

    • Sphere can be set to any buoyancy by twisting the top and bottom, and can float, sink, or suspend itself at a chosen depth

    • Timer can be set for up to a 90-second challenge

    • Game entertains any number of players

    • Recommended for ages 6 and over


Now don't get all upset, those of you who didn't make the age cut — we can still have a fine time in the bubble-filled bathtub with this fun toy.

Requires 4 AAA batteries (not included)


June 4, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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