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September 25, 2008

18 Words — Part 2


An adaptation of David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon College Commencement Address appeared last Friday, September 19, 2008 in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The next day (September 20, 2008) I linked to it in a 4:01 p.m. post, adding "It is the best thing I have read this year."

That evening Laura Camacho emailed me as follows:


    I loved the article you linked to, but it states that it is "adapted" from his commencement speech. I found what claims to be a transcription of the actual speech here: www.marginalia.org/dfw_kenyon_commencement.html. It doesn't mention the shooting oneself in the head (not sure where that came from, but I do think it a bit macabre of someone to ADD IT IN after he's killed himself!!!!!!!).


That got my attention, and so I went to the link Laura so kindly provided and read the transcription for myself, very carefully, with the same result.

I then emailed Bill Stilwell, who hosts the above-referenced transcription, and asked if he could help unravel the mystery.

He replied Sunday morning, September 21, 2008, as follows:

    Hi Mr Stirt,

    I can only really lay claim to hosting the transcript — I don't have an original recording. You can see the original posts on the wallace-l mailing list.

    I suspect that the WSJ published something adapted from the actual published version, from "The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006". I don't have a copy to verify this though.

    It could be that Wallace diverged from his written remarks, or reworked them slightly for publication. I agree that it would be horrible if the line was added by someone, but I think it's unlikely.


I posted the results of my inquiries at 10:01 a.m. the same day, noting that I'd gone to the link Mr. Stilwell provided and read the transcription as posted there, without finding a trace of the 18-word sentence ("It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head") that triggered this investigation.

I emailed the WSJ, asking about the source of its published adaptation, and posted a comment in the comments section below its September 19, 2008 piece to the same effect.

The next day (Monday, September 22, 2008) Marshall emailed me as follows:


    According to page 363 of the copyright 2006 version of "The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006" on my wife's night stand, "The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to thirty, or maybe even fifty, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about the real value of a real education, ...."

    This appears to be a reference to a previously mentioned tidbit on page 358 that states, "... It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms nearly always shoot themselves in ... the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger."

    And the sentence [in question] appears to have been omitted in that linked transcript. I have no idea what was actually said at the commencement — I just happen to have a copy of the book and wanted to verify and share what it said. Not sure if this helps anybody.


Marshall, it helped a lot.

In a follow-up email 10 minutes later Marshall wrote:


    Oh, and in the book's CYA copyright pages it states, "Kenyon Commencement Speech" by David Foster Wallace. Copyright 2005 by David Foster Wallace. Reprinted by permission of the author."


And that was where things stood until Tuesday, September 23, 2008.

Two things happened that day:

1) My copy of "The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006" arrived via Amazon Prime (I'd ordered it Sunday after Bill Stilwell suggested the WSJ might've used that version in its adaptation).

2) My comment on the WSJ article disappeared from the newspaper's website. In fact, the entire comments section


for that particular article vanished into the memory hole. At the top of this post is what you'll see when you click on the link that up to Tuesday held about eight comments, of which mine was the most recent before the paper's web team pulled the plug. Guess Rupert's minions know better than to tolerate people like me questioning the provenance of their content.

I should have known better and made a screen grab of the comments section.

I mean, I noted earlier this year Patrick Radden Keefe's advice on the importance of printing out and making files of documents and web pages that might "disappear."

I wrote in my September 21 blog post, "... I put this question to the WSJ: Who wrote those words — and where may we find proof that they are in fact Wallace's rather than those of an anonymous staffer seeking to heighten the heart-rending impact of Wallace's suicide nine days ago at the age of 46?"

Seems like a reasonable question, doesn't it?

Especially since the WSJ didn't cite any source for the adaptation it published?

But what do I know about journalism, anyway?

Anyway, I read Wallace's essay as published in the 2006 book, where it occupies pride of place as the final piece in the volume, and the facts are precisely as noted above by Marshall.

Which leaves the question of who edited Wallace's address into the shape in which it finally appeared in the WSJ on Friday, September 19, 2008?

I doubt the piece would've appeared had he not committed suicide on September 12, 2008.

So that leads me to the conclusion that someone at the WSJ took Wallace's 2005 address as published in the 2006 compendium and edited it to make its impact even greater than if it had appeared as published in 2006.

I still would like to see the WSJ acknowledge that their journalist(s) were responsible for the final cut — but with the deletion of the paper's comments section on the piece as the only apparent response to my inquiry, I'm not holding my breath.

Still, you never know — it's amazing how often little birdies tweet stuff to me when I least expect it....

September 25, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

HI MARK 3D Tactile Pen — Label and identify by feel


Very, very cool.

From the website:

HI MARK 3D Tactile Pen

New and improved 3-D writing tool creates raised lines, dots and shapes for thousands of practical purposes for the blind, those with low vision and general users.


Raised writing dries to a non-toxic plastic-feel finish for easy tactile reading.

Wonderful art medium for children.

Make letters, line art, small shapes, dots, maps, designs.

Great to use for identifying clothes and many other items.

1 oz. tube.


Black, White or Orange: $3.95.

September 25, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sergey Brin needs to rotate his wheels


Look at the photo above, which appeared in yesterday's New York Times accompanying a story about Google's introduction of its G1 mobile phone.

What do you see?

Forget the phone — focus on the inline skate wheels of Sergey Brin, the guy on the right.

He needs to rotate his wheels in the worst way.

The inside edge needs to be dominant and in his case both skates' wheels are far more worn on the inside (below).


Takes about five minutes with an Allen wrench or skate tool to optimize wheel orientation.

Maybe I should apply for a job as Brin's wheel rotator — might be more challenging than the one I have now.

Larry Page, Google's co-founder, who's on Brin's right (the picture's left), has his wheels properly aligned, the inside edges ready for a good double-push technique.

Nothing escapes us here.

September 25, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Biombo Chair — by Daniel Milchtein Peltsverger


"Daniel Milchtein is a 24-year old industrial designer living in Guadalajara. His furniture design, the Biombo Chair, is a perfect expression of functional art. The wood veneer chair, built over a hinged wood structure, when not in use is a folding screen (Biombo)."


"The surface of the seat can be engraved with a graphic image that transforms it into a decorative object when folded flat. Awesome."



[via design-milk, Gadget Garden and monogocoro.jp]

September 25, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Fecal Transplants


No, you haven't accidentally strayed through a wormhole into the Bizarro World.

Rather, you've just been introduced to the new new thing in hospitals' war on 'superbugs' — dangerous and virulent bacteria resistant to almost all antibiotics.

Long story short: "One controversial strategy: fecal transplants. For one patient with recurrent C. diff, Kettering [Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio] suggested a stool transplant from a relative, to help restore good bacteria in the gut. But Jeffrey Weinstein, an infectious-disease specialist at the hospital, says the patient 'refused to consider it because it was so aesthetically displeasing.'"

The quote is from Laura Landro's excellent September 17, 2008 Wall Street Journal story about the rise of killer bacteria — and the extreme measures being drafted to combat them.

    Rising Foe Defies Hospitals' War On 'Superbugs'

    Shortly after being admitted to a Cleveland-area hospital with severe abdominal pain, 52-year-old Maureen O'Hearn was transferred to intensive care. An intestinal infection had distended her abdomen so badly she appeared to be six months pregnant. To save her life, a surgeon had to remove her colon.

    The cause of Ms. O'Hearn's illness was an epidemic strain of Clostridium difficile — C. diff for short — that is fast emerging as one of the most dangerous and virulent foes in the war against antibiotic "superbugs." C. diff is spawning infections in hospitals in the U.S. and abroad that can lead to severe diarrhea, ruptured colons, perforated bowels, kidney failure, blood poisoning and death.

    Even as hospitals begin to get control of other drug-resistant infections such as MRSA, a form of staph, rates of C. diff are rising sharply, and a recent, more virulent strain of the bug is causing more severe complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 500,000 cases of C. diff infection annually in the U.S., contributing to between 15,000 and 30,000 deaths. That's up from roughly 150,000 cases in 2001.

    "We've been trying to sound the alarm repeatedly since 2004 that the trend is continuing upward," says Cliff McDonald, a CDC epidemiologist. He adds that C. diff, once mainly a concern for older patients, is now a growing risk for pregnant women, children and healthy adults.

    Many patients get C. diff infections as an unintended consequence of taking antibiotics for other illnesses. That's because bacteria normally found in a person's intestines help keep C. diff under control, allowing the bug to live in the gut without necessarily causing illness. But when a person takes antibiotics, both bad and good bacteria are suppressed, allowing drug-resistant C. diff to grow out of control.

    As a result, hospitals are more closely monitoring and limiting their use of antibiotics. It's a strategy that also has shown some success in preventing the spread of other drug-resistant bacteria. Once patients do contract a C. diff infection, hospitals sometimes can treat them with certain "last ditch" antibiotics, such as vancomycin, but many patients relapse after treatment.

    Other efforts to stop the spread of C. diff include isolating infected patients; suiting workers and visitors from head to toe with scrubs, masks and gloves; and blasting patient rooms with super-strength bleach solutions. Milder "green" cleaners don't kill C. diff, undermining some hospitals' efforts to use these products.

    One problem: C. diff produces spores that can dry out after cleaning and hang around on hospital cart handles, bed rails and telephones for months. Hand cleaning with alcohol, many hospitals' standard practice for keeping staff from spreading infection, can actually help disperse C. diff spores. Many hospitals now have special rules requiring staff to wash their hands with antibacterial soap when dealing with C. diff patients.

    Clostridium difficile spores can last a long time and make the bug hard to kill.

    Katie Lancey, lead environmental services aide at SSM St. Joseph Hospital West in Lake Saint Louis, Mo., says she spends up to an hour cleaning a room after a C. diff patient leaves. She wears protective garments and wipes down everything in the room with a bleach solution, including the TV, pillows, mattress and lower structure of the bed. "Anything you can think of, you make sure you wipe it down thoroughly," she says.

    If a patient coming in to SSM St. Joseph is suspected of having C. diff infection — severe diarrhea is one symptom — they are put in isolation even before lab tests come back, says James Hinrichs, the infectious-disease specialist charged with the hospital's C. diff-prevention program. He says that when C. diff patients are discharged, he advises them to eat yogurt with so-called pro-biotics to help restore a healthy balance of bacteria in their intestines. He also tells families to follow strict cleaning and hand-washing rules at home.

    The efforts, along with more careful use of antibiotics, have helped SSM St. Joseph reduce the rate of C. diff infections to 0.5 cases per 1,000 patient days currently from 2.5 cases in 2006, Dr. Hinrichs says.

    C. diff was first recognized in the 1970s, when it was readily treatable. The more virulent strain was first identified at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2000, killing 18 patients. By 2004, the new C. diff strain was reported elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world, and studies showed it was producing 20 times more toxin than older strains.

    Carlene Muto, medical director of infection control at the University of Pittsburgh, says the hospital was able to reduce its C. diff infections by 50% after the 2000 outbreak and has sustained that rate since then. It instituted strict cleaning practices, restricted its use of antibiotics and began relying on its electronic medical-record system to quickly flag lab tests of patients most at risk so they can be isolated. "You have to be constantly vigilant," Dr. Muto says.

    Only 3% to 5% of healthy, non-hospitalized adults carry C. diff in their gut, but that rate is much higher in hospitals and nursing homes, where carriers can spread the bacteria to others. Studies at several hospitals in recent years have shown that 20% or more of inpatients were colonized with C. diff, and a 2007 study of 73 long-term-care residents showed 55% were positive for C. diff. Even though the majority had no symptoms of disease, spores on the skin of asymptomatic patients were easily transferred to the investigators' hands.

    The CDC is launching a national surveillance effort to gather more precise data about the prevalence of C. diff. It is working with states to identify local outbreaks. It also is working with Medicare and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new guidelines for fighting C. diff.

    Ms. O'Hearn, the Cleveland-area patient, says she took an antibiotic for a sinus infection and then visited a nursing home, where she may have picked up the C. diff bug. During her hospital treatment, Ms. O'Hearn says she suffered an irregular heartbeat and dehydration, and required additional surgery to temporarily attach her small intestine to the abdominal wall to bypass the large intestine. "It was the worst nightmare that anyone could imagine," says Ms. O'Hearn, a nurse by training. Though she has returned to work and a more normal lifestyle, she continues to have digestive troubles, and must take medications to regulate her heart.

    Kettering Medical Center near Dayton, Ohio, had 305 cases of C. diff last year and has had 165 cases so far this year. Even newborn babies have gotten the disease from their mother during birth, says Rebekah Wang-Cheng, Kettering's medical director for clinical quality. She says that among other measures, the hospital has cut its post-operative antibiotic doses for all joint-replacement surgeries to two from three to avoid C. diff infections. Patients who come into the hospital with suspected pneumonia now get an antibiotic within six hours, instead of four hours previously, to allow more time to assess the need for drugs.

    One controversial strategy: fecal transplants. For one patient with recurrent C. diff, Kettering suggested a stool transplant from a relative, to help restore good bacteria in the gut. But Jeffrey Weinstein, an infectious-disease specialist at the hospital, says the patient "refused to consider it because it was so aesthetically displeasing."

    The Greater New York Hospital Association in March began a 40-hospital effort to halt the spread of C. diff from patient to patient. This included placing signs on patient rooms with pictures of a bottle of bleach and soap and water to remind staff the room needs special cleaning. The association also asks visitors not to use patient bathrooms.

    Hospitals face growing legal concerns if they don't take such measures; relatives of 16 patients who were infected or died from a C. diff outbreak are suing a Quebec hospital, claiming that infection-control practices weren't followed.

    C. diff infections can emerge days or weeks after antibiotic therapy. Earlier this year, Marcus Glover, a 40-year-old mailroom worker for the Greater New York Hospital Association, was discharged from hospital after a successful rotator-cuff surgery, which included antibiotic treatment. Ten days later, he landed in an emergency room with a C. diff infection that required another week in the hospital. Mr. Glover avoided the worst complications and was successfully treated with strong antibiotics.

    But C. diff can be fatal. Philadelphia radio personality Hy Lit, 73, contracted a C. diff infection at a rehabilitation center after being treated at a hospital owned by Main Line Health System last fall. He died in another Main Line hospital two weeks later. "It was a multiple train wreck, when the bug permeated his bloodstream and his kidneys failed," says his son, Sam Lit. "It was a tragedy to lose him like that."

    Main Line says it can't comment on individual patients but adds that it follows stringent prevention guidelines and is conducting ongoing initiatives to control infections in its hospitals.


September 25, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Motion-Activated Rock


Say what?

From the website:

    Glowstone Motion Sensor Garden Path Light

    By day, this looks like an ordinary garden stone — but after dark, it provides (user-adjustable) 5 to 30 seconds of light when motion is detected.

    Made of tough, weatherproof resin.

    Uses 4 C batteries (not included).

    8"Ø x 4"H.


September 25, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Top 18 search terms at bookofjoe


I don't know whether to be amused or appalled.

September 25, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Harley-Davidson Yahtzee — Weirdest mashup of the year?


You got a better one?

Didn't think so.

From the website:

    Harley-Davidson® Travel Yahtzee®

    Pack light, ride big.

    Hit the pavement with this Harley-Davidson Edition of Yahtzee featuring one-of-a-kind Harley-Davidson dice.

    It's the only game where family and friends can enjoy classic Yahtzee game play with a special Harley-Davidson twist.

    Roll the dice to make a winning combination like "Full House" or "Five-of-a-Kind" — that's a wild Yahtzee, the baddest of them all.

    Includes five custom Harley-Davidson dice, custom Tin Oil Can dice cup, score pad, pencil and rules.

    For one or more players.

    Ages 8 and up.


September 25, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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