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June 13, 2009

Fish Pedicure — Episode 4: Banned in 14 states and fighting for its life

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Shock and awe greeted the advent of this practice last year in the U.S., the first known use of a live animal to exfoliate feet in this country.

Episode 1 back on December 16, 2006 introduced the technique, at the time confined to Japan.

Episode 2 on May 15, 2007 examined the Chinese iteration (below).

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Episode 3 explored the origins of the "Doctor Fish of Kangal" in central Turkey.

Alas, it was too good to be true — or least safe, in the eyes of legislators around the country.

Here's Philip Shishkin's March 23, 2009 Wall Street Journal front page story with the details.

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Ban on Feet-Nibbling Fish Leaves Nail Salons on the Hook

Mr. Ho's Import From China Caught On, But Some State Pedicure Inspectors Object

There's more than one way to skin a foot.

In his beauty salon wedged between a pizza parlor and a taco shop in a strip mall here, John Ho is letting small fish eat dead skin off his customers' feet.

"Feels like a bunch of ants running across your feet," said Bill Piatt, a Marine gunnery sergeant from nearby Fort Belvoir, after dipping his feet in a Plexiglas tank for 15 minutes of a fish-assisted pedicure. His wife, Leah, reclining on an adjacent chair, said the nibbling tickled -- "a very odd feeling."

Until Mr. Ho brought his skin-eating fish here from China last year, no salon in the U.S. had been publicly known to employ a live animal in the exfoliation of feet. The novelty factor was such that Mr. Ho became a minor celebrity. On "Good Morning America" in July, Diane Sawyer placed her feet in a tank supplied by Mr. Ho and compared the fish nibbles to "tiny little delicate kisses."

Since then, cosmetology regulators have taken a less flattering view, insisting fish pedicures are unsanitary. At least 14 states, including Texas and Florida, have outlawed them. Virginia doesn't see a problem. Ohio permitted fish pedicures after a review, and other states haven't yet made up their minds. The world of foot care, meanwhile, has been plunged into a piscine uproar. Salon owners who bought fish and tanks before the bans were imposed in their states are fuming.

The issue: cosmetology regulations generally mandate that tools need to be discarded or sanitized after each use. But epidermis-eating fish are too expensive to throw away. "And there's no way to sanitize them unless you bake them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees," says Lynda Elliott, an official with the New Hampshire Board of Barbering, Cosmetology and Esthetics. The board outlawed fish pedicures in November.

In Ohio, ophthalmologist Marilyn Huheey, who sits on the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology, decided to try it out for herself in a Columbus salon last fall. After watching the fish lazily munch on her skin, she recommended approval to the board. "It seemed to me it was very sanitary, not sterile of course," Dr. Huheey says. "Sanitation is what we've got to live with in this world, not sterility."

Mr. Ho, a wiry 39-year-old, hopes the bans will lure pedicure tourists from fish-hostile states to the two Virginia locations of Yvonne Hair & Nails, which he owns with his wife, Yvonne Le. The salons charge customers $35 to have their feet nibbled by fish for 15 minutes.

When Mr. Ho was 5, his father put the family on a fishing boat, and like many others fleeing Communist Vietnam, floated out into the high seas, hoping to find a ship to rescue them. The Hos succeeded, and eventually settled in Virginia. Mr. Ho married his high-school sweetheart and the couple opened the Alexandria salon in 1997, while Mr. Ho continued to run a home-building business.

By 2007, they were looking for an alternative to pedicure razors, which are banned in many states as too prone to making dangerous cuts. Ms. Le heard from a customer about skin-eating fish in Asia, and Mr. Ho started doing research.

What he discovered, among other things, was an old Turkish legend about a shepherd who injured his foot and stuck it into a hot spring teeming with small fish. The foot healed. Word spread. A treatment center for skin ailments grew around the springs near the Turkish town of Kangal. From Turkey, the practice spread throughout Asia, employing garra rufa, toe-size carp that live in warm water, have no teeth and, according to those in the business, like to suck off dead skin. Another fish sometimes used to treat feet, called chin chin, is bigger in size and grows tiny teeth.

Last year, Mr. Ho and his wife traveled to a spa in Chengdu, China, had a full-body fish treatment and liked it. After returning, Mr. Ho wired the Chengdu dealer $40,000 for 10,000 fish.

At the back of the salon, he set up a communal fish tub for customers' feet. The Fairfax County Health Department deemed the tub to be a public swimming pool and ordered it closed on health grounds.

Mr. Ho then designed individual Plexiglas tanks where water is changed after every use and fish can't swim from one pair of feet to another. Since nobody is sharing the water, the county's public-pool ordinance no longer applied. Virginia's Board of Cosmetology has no jurisdiction over skin, unless it's a face. So Mr. Ho was in the clear.

In Derry, N.H., salon owner Kim Ong heard about Mr. Ho on television, and traveled to his spa undercover, posing as a pedicure customer. She liked what she saw and bought 500 chin chin from a dealer in Washington state for about $6,000.

To New Hampshire regulators, Ms. Ong's proposal to use fish for pedicures was nearly as unusual as an inquiry they once had about using snakes for massages. The answer, to both, was no, says Ms. Elliott of the cosmetology board.

Ms. Ong's fish now swim in a decorative fish tank and eat regular fish food -- or each other if they get too hungry. Ms. Ong says she plans to fight the pedicure ban.

State bans have disrupted Mr. Ho's plans to build a nationwide franchise network. Currently, he has four active franchises, in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Missouri. But others have terminated franchise agreements. In Calhoun, Ga., Tran Lam, owner of Sky Nails, says she paid Mr. Ho $17,500 in exchange for fish and custom-made pedicure tanks. A few weeks later, in October, the Georgia Board of Cosmetology deemed fish pedicures illegal. "I'm very mad," says Ms. Lam. "I lost a lot of money and the economy is so bad."

In Kent, Wash., Bamboo Nails, another franchisee of Mr. Ho, is stuck with thousands of dollars of idle fish and equipment following a state ban last fall. The ban stemmed from a spot check of another salon where state inspector Susan Colard says she watched the owner -- demonstrating the technique -- stick her foot in a tank with so many fish droppings it was murky.

Proponents say fish pedicures are safe if the water is kept clean. "It is so out of the ordinary that the first reaction is to say 'no,' " says Kevin Miller, executive director of the Ohio Board of Cosmetology.

In Nevada last month, state Assemblyman Tick Segerblom introduced a bill that would allow fish pedicures. Mr. Segerblom, who represents downtown Las Vegas, says he is acting upon the request of a Chinese constituent with a foot-massage business.

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He made no prediction about the bill's chances. But with everyone in the legislature obsessed with depressing things like deficits and the recession, Mr. Segerblom says, "It's the most popular bill in the building."

June 13, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Asus EEE Videophone AiGuru SV1

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Jonathan Margolis recently reviewed it in his "technopolis" column in the Financial Times "How To Spend It" magazine; excerpts follow.

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Asus EEE Videophone AiGuru SV1

A completely unique product — a computerless computer that does one job only: make video Skype calls on a big 7-inch [color] screen.

The AiGuru is big enough, at 20cm x 12cm x 25 cm (8" x 5" x 10") not to be fiddly, but small enough to be portable as well as a desktop gadget — to which end it works wirelessly around the house.

The device is also nicely rounded and easy to hand around.

The video quality is OK — Skype is never exactly HD — and the sound really good.

This is a product ideal for, say, an elderly relative — but don't let that put you off using it for everyday family (even company) purposes.

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£184.99.

June 13, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Smell of Books — Aerosol eBook Enhancer

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You knew it was only a matter of thyme.

Wait a minute....

From the website:

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Smell of Books™

The smell of e-books just got better.

Does your Kindle leave you feeling like there’s something missing from your reading experience?

Have you been avoiding e-books because they just don’t smell right?

If you’ve been hesitant to jump on the e-book bandwagon, you’re not alone.

Book lovers everywhere have resisted digital books because they still don’t compare to the experience of reading a good old fashioned paper book.

But all of that is changing thanks to Smell of Books, a revolutionary new aerosol e-book enhancer.

Now you can finally enjoy reading e-books without giving up the smell you love so much.

With Smell of Books you can have the best of both worlds: the convenience of an e-book and the smell of your favorite paper book.

Compatible with a wide range of e-reading devices and e-book formats and 100% DRM- compatible.

Whether you read your e-books on a Kindle or an iPhone using Stanza, Smell of Books will bring back that real book smell you miss so much.

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"Pick the smell that's right for you: Crunchy Bacon, Scent of Sensibility, New Book Smell, Classic Musty or Eau, You Have Cats."

[via The Presurfer, Neatorama and a reader whose name eludes me]

June 13, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Emergency Yodel Button

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Try it.

From websites:

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Emergency Yodel Button

Nothing lifts the spirits like a good yodel, but most of us don’t have the skill to yodel on cue.

That’s where the Emergency Yodel Button comes in.

Keep this 4" x 3" x 5/8" plastic device with you at all times and when the need arises, press the button to hear the sweet mellifluous warbling of an alpine yodel.

Also includes a hole in the back so you can easily hang it on a wall.

Requires two AAA batteries (not included).

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$7.80.

June 13, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Is marching in place the poor man's treadmill?

I mean, in both cases you're going nowhere fast, right?

Back story short: My beloved Smooth Fitness 5.15 treadmill (above — seen both in the video and my picture in the upper right); long since discontinued) finally died last month, after nearly four years of faithful service, on average 4-6 hours daily seven days a week.

The guy who came by about once a year to replace the odd exhausted component said it was amazing it worked so well for so long — especially since I never lubricated the belt or removed the masses of dog/cat fur + dust he'd find each time he came by and opened up its innards.

Smooth's replacement model, the 5.45, looks a lot nicer but doesn't offer the same bulky frame and console that made the 5.15 such an excellent treadmill workspace armature.

So I've been working here at the computer for the past month atop the treadmill's now still bed, with a gel-filled mat between my bare feet and the machine.

Comfy enough,  but I'm finding working while standing still to be not nearly as energizing as walking at my customary 1.0 mph.

Then the penny dropped: what if I walk in place?

Consider: With "Slumdog Millionaire" still on endless rotation on my boom box there's plenty to march along to; no electricity cost; no need to drop another fat chunk of change on a new treadmill that esthetically doesn't do a whole lot for my living room; and possibly a whole new movement....

I'm all over it.

June 13, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

EyeDentity Temporary Tattoo

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"Easy application temporary tattoo [waterproof; lasts up to 7 days] custom made for children or anyone who may require assistance with recall of emergency data."

English, French or Spanish.

18 for $25.

[via Mary Sue]

June 13, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'What's in your head — throw it away!' — 10th-century Persian spiritual master Abu Said ibn Abil-Khair

More: "What's in your hand — give it up! Whatever happens — don't turn away from it."

A thousand years later, still good advice.

June 13, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Self-Illuminating Webcam

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Just the thing for those midnight confessions.

From the website:

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Self-Illuminating Webcam

This USB web camera has six built-in white LEDs for use in low light conditions.

The LEDs are controlled with a simple dimmer switch that lets you adjust the brightness to suit light conditions.

The auto-focusing 2MP camera with integrated microphone is mounted on a semi-rigid cable that can be bent to any position — even into its own stand.

It can capture video at 30 fps at 640 x 480 resolution (as well as 5 fps at 1,600 x 1,200 resolution), providing a focus range of 2-3/4" for close-ups and a 20" field of view.

Plugs into your computer's USB port for power, and includes software for both Windows XP SP2 /Vista and Macintosh OS 10.4+.

12" long.

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$89.95.

June 13, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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