Monday, May 28, 2007
  NYTimes - The Real Owner of All Those Planes
When Steven Udvar-Hazy was a teenager in New York City, he would often head after school to Idlewild Airport, as Kennedy International was known then, to watch planes take off and land.

Airplanes symbolized freedom to the young Mr. Hazy, whose family moved from Hungary when he was 12. For hours, he would spot different aircraft and pore over timetables to figure out where they were coming from, or headed to.

Today, if anyone were to watch planes taking off at Kennedy — or at most airports around the world — they probably would be looking at planes owned by Mr. Hazy, a billionaire three times over and one of the most powerful players in commercial aviation.

As founder and chief executive of the Los Angeles-based International Lease Finance Corporation, Mr. Hazy has a fleet of 824 Boeings and Airbuses, with 254 more on order, that dwarfs any airline’s in the world. He owns more planes than the industry leader, American Airlines, which has 679, and more than the combined holdings of Air France (265), Lufthansa (245) and British Airways (239).

But Mr. Hazy prefers to keep a low profile, a rarity in an industry that has attracted more than its share of big egos. He rarely grants interviews, and is more than happy to let his 157 customers — airlines like Cathay Pacific, Air France and American — paint their names and logos on his jets.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, but in our industry, Steve Hazy is God,” said Edmund S. Greenslet, editor of “No one has more influence than he does. He has an enormous impact on how manufacturers design their planes. He’s the financial engine for airlines around the world.”

Airlines lease airplanes for the same reason that cash-short consumers lease cars — they can get new models for lower payments.

Nearly half of the airplanes flying today are leased by the airlines, and Mr. Hazy, with his $45 billion portfolio, is the biggest player, as measured by dollar volume, followed by General Electric.

  CNN - Biting gnats bug people, kill chickens in Midwest
Kyle Winkelmann has learned in the past two weeks that if he's going to get into the cab of his tractor, he had better do it in a hurry.

"I run really fast and get in quick, or else they'll get in with you," said Winkelmann, who farms near Tallula, about 15 miles northwest of Springfield.

"They" are buffalo gnats, a type of black fly that has hatched in unusually high numbers the past two weeks in west-central Illinois.

The females bite. They're parasites, spending most of their roughly three-week life looking for blood to provide the protein needed to lay eggs. Their saliva causes an allergic reaction, leaving big, red, itchy welts on people and animals.

In the 10 or 12 days since the little bugs -- about the size of the exposed lead at the end of a pencil -- hatched, they've irritated farmers like Winkelmann and driven golfers and gardeners indoors in scattered spots between Springfield and the Mississippi River. They apparently have also killed some poultry.

The state Department of Agriculture received reports from several people who lost birds from backyard flocks and tested the poultry for bird flu and other ailments, spokesman Jeff Squibb said.

"There is no test per se for buffalo gnats in a necropsy," he said. "It's a process of elimination, and all other causes have been eliminated."

The birds could have died of blood loss, allergic reactions to the bugs' saliva or even asphyxiation, with their airways clogged with gnats, said Colleen O'Keefe, manager of the department's food safety and animal protection division.

Illinois doesn't have much of a poultry industry, and its few big farmers raise their chickens indoors, safe from the gnats.

  ZDNet blogs - Retailers haven’t learned from TJX - still running WEP
Many big name retailers still using WEP. Sad. Just stay away or use cash only.

  Toronto Star - Dwight Wilson, 106: WWI veteran
Then there was one left.

A private funeral with military honours is being arranged for World WarI veteran Dwight Wilson, who died at Sunnybrook hospital yesterday at 106.

His passing all but eliminates the possibility of a state funeral for the last surviving Canadian veteran of the conflict, a proposal the House of Commons endorsed unanimously in November.

With Wilson's death, the distinction of being Canada's last living veteran of the Great War belongs to John Babcock of Spokane, Wash.

"That means that I'm it," Babcock told Canadian Press from his home, after expressing his regret at Wilson's death.

Babcock became a U.S. citizen 60 years ago and has made it clear he doesn't want a state funeral in Canada, an honour usually extended only to prime ministers and governors general.

Lloyd Clemett was the most recent World War I veteran to die. He passed away at Sunnybrook in February at the age of 107.

Like Wilson, Babcock also escaped combat because he was underage. By October 1918, the then 18-year-old was awaiting training that would send him to France but Germany's surrender in November ended the war.

Some 650,000 Canadians served in World War I, of which about 66,000 were killed and another 172,000 were wounded.

With the war over, Wilson took a job with Bell Canada, holding numerous positions in several communities and rising to manager of the phone company's Stratford operation. He retired in 1966.

Throughout his life he also sang.

"I love to sing and I'll sing anywhere," he said last November.

He met his wife Eleanor Dean, a singer and pianist, while studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music. They wed in 1927 and remained together until her death in 1993 at 94. They had two sons, Dean and Paul.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Wilson tried to enlist but at 38 was deemed too old. Instead, he joined Stratford's 7th Perth Regiment Reserves, rising to the rank of captain.

  NY Times - Mr. Right, It Turns Out, Does Not Take Classes
AFTER more than two years of disheartening online dating, Charlotte Kullen resolved to spend less time pursuing men and more time pursuing her hobbies. She plunged into tennis, running, sailing, horseback riding, fitness boot camp and scuba diving classes, assuming that somewhere between the situps and the strapping on of fins she might meet some eligible prospects.

She did. They all just happened to be women.

“You would think you would meet some good men,” said Ms. Kullen, 34, who lives near Union Square in New York and is the vice president of marketing for Bellmarc Realty. “But there just aren’t any.”

“I’ve been in tennis for four months and there’s maybe one guy out of six people,” she said. “They start getting cute because there’s no one else to look at.”

Conventional wisdom for singles has it that taking a golf, cooking or music class is not only fulfilling, but also an unpressured way to meet like-minded members of the opposite sex. “Put yourself out there!” the dating gurus say.

Yet in New York City, in many (if not most) adult courses, the women are numerous and the men are few — for approximately the same reason that men behind the wheel don’t ask for directions. It goes against the male grain to acknowledge ignorance about a subject, said professionals who organize classes.

The women who take such courses are often successful, bright and adventurous. And plenty of them forge powerful alliances. Yet eager students hoping to find both enrichment and romance say their classes suffer from a dearth of testosterone.

Professionals who oversee classes in New York suggested that men have a tendency to avoid group instruction, particularly beginner classes, because they think they should already know all about, say, sports or wine. Those who do seek instruction, they said, generally prefer private lessons.

“It’s mostly women,” said Jennifer Brown, the director of the Midtown Tennis Club, which will offer more than 50 group classes each week this summer. “Eighty percent women.”

At JackRabbit Sports, the running, swimming and triathlon classes are filled mostly with women, said Lee Silverman, the owner. At the Brooklyn store, for example, the beginning running class has 18 women and 2 men, and another running class has 13 women and 2 men.

Thomas Dare-Bryan, the manager and a wine buyer for Morrell & Company in Rockefeller Plaza, said that the makeup of the shop’s wine-tasting classes changes weekly but that they, too, mostly comprise women, some of whom have told him they wish there were more men. “They have actually come out with that statement,” Mr. Dare-Bryan said.

He offered this explanation for the disparity: “It’s argued that women are better tasters of wine than men. A higher percentage of women have more taste-bud receptors.” So maybe they are getting more out of the class. But, echoing others who lead classes, he added: “It may also come down to the fact that men think they know more about wine anyway, so they don’t need to learn more about it.”

The imbalance of the sexes in personal growth classes of all kinds reflects the demographics of New York City, where women outnumber men in categories including never-married, separated, divorced and widowed, according to the 2005 census. Over all, the city is home to about 4.2 million women and 3.8 million men. And nearly all of them have opinions on just how conducive the city is to dating.

  Globe and Mail - At the heart of BMO's crisis, a 'smart and cautious' trader
A story about some of the people behind a >$600M loss at Bank of Montreal.

The way former colleagues see it, David Lee is the sort of guy any bank would love to hire: intelligent, hard-working, loyal and - a rarity in the brutally competitive trading world - downright modest.

Certainly, none of them envisaged this father of two would be ousted from his senior trading post at the brokerage arm of Bank of Montreal amid a spiralling scandal that has dented the company's reputation, resulted in more than half a billion dollars in losses, and prompted a wide-ranging internal investigation.

"It's completely against what I ever would have guessed," said one former co-worker, who was clearly dumbfounded by the controversy. "He's smart and cautious, so I can't imagine him setting himself up for such a loss."

No one has accused Mr. Lee of any wrongdoing, and he could not be reached for comment. An acquaintance said last week Mr. Lee was in Florida with his family.

Last week, Mr. Cassidy stepped down as Optionable's chief executive officer, amid news reports that he had received jail sentences for fraud and tax evasion.

BMO, which is still trying to unravel what went wrong, has not levelled any accusations at its former traders or at Optionable, but sources within the bank said investigators can't reconcile the books kept daily by BMO traders with the quotes delivered by Optionable at the end of each month. That is an about-face from last month, when the bank pinned the losses on market factors.

Another article from NY News, Losses at Optionable customer mount:

Kevin P. Cassidy resigned as chief executive last Saturday after the New York Mercantile Exchange pulled its representative from Optionable's board. Records show that in 1993 Cassidy was sentenced by a federal judge in White Plains to six months in prison for income tax evasion. In 1997, he was sentenced to 30 months by a judge in Florida for credit card fraud.

Cassidy served as chief executive from March 2001 to March 2004 and then again from September 2005 through last weekend. The company has said in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that Cassidy served as managing director of Capital Energy Services LLC, an affiliated company, since December 1996. Capital Energy is described as an energy options brokerage firm on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and used to be called Orion Energy Services LLC.

But records from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons show he started serving a sentence in October 1997 and was not released for good until March 1999, getting credit for time he spent in custody during his court proceedings. He spent the last five months of that sentence in a halfway house.

The suit also says Optionable did not reveal that the Bank of Montreal was connected to more than 80 percent of Optionable's revenues, not the 20 percent to 30 percent that was reported.

  NYTimes - Bilking the Elderly, With a Corporate Assist
Sick bastards who perpetrate this scheme should be shot into space.

The thieves operated from small offices in Toronto and hangar-size rooms in India. Every night, working from lists of names and phone numbers, they called World War II veterans, retired schoolteachers and thousands of other elderly Americans and posed as government and insurance workers updating their files.

Then, the criminals emptied their victims’ bank accounts.

Richard Guthrie, a 92-year-old Army veteran, was one of those victims. He ended up on scam artists’ lists because his name, like millions of others, was sold by large companies to telemarketing criminals, who then turned to major banks to steal his life’s savings.

Mr. Guthrie, who lives in Iowa, had entered a few sweepstakes that caused his name to appear in a database advertised by infoUSA, one of the largest compilers of consumer information. InfoUSA sold his name, and data on scores of other elderly Americans, to known lawbreakers, regulators say.

InfoUSA advertised lists of “Elderly Opportunity Seekers,” 3.3 million older people “looking for ways to make money,” and “Suffering Seniors,” 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. “Oldies but Goodies” contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece. One list said: “These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change.”

As Mr. Guthrie sat home alone — surrounded by his Purple Heart medal, photos of eight children and mementos of a wife who was buried nine years earlier — the telephone rang day and night. After criminals tricked him into revealing his banking information, they went to Wachovia, the nation’s fourth-largest bank, and raided his account, according to banking records.

“I loved getting those calls,” Mr. Guthrie said in an interview. “Since my wife passed away, I don’t have many people to talk with. I didn’t even know they were stealing from me until everything was gone.”

  NYTimes - Solar Flashlight Lets Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poorest Villages
Since August 2005, when visits to an Eritrean village prompted him to research global access to artificial light, Mr. Bent, 49, a former foreign service officer and Houston oilman, has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture a solar-powered flashlight.

His invention gives up to seven hours of light on a daily solar recharge and can last nearly three years between replacements of three AA batteries costing 80 cents.

Over the last year, he said, he and corporate benefactors like Exxon Mobil have donated 10,500 flashlights to United Nations refugee camps and African aid charities.

Another 10,000 have been provided through a sales program, and 10,000 more have just arrived in Houston awaiting distribution by his company, SunNight Solar.

The inspiration for the flashlight hit him, he said, while working for Perenco in Asmara, Eritrea. One Sunday he visited a local dump to watch scavenging by baboons and birds of prey, and came upon a group of homeless boys who had adopted the dump as their home.

They took him home to a rural village where he noticed that many people had nothing to light their homes, schools and clinics at night.

With a little research, he discovered that close to two billion people around the world go without affordable access to light.

He worked with researchers, engineers and manufacturers, he said, at the Department of Energy, several American universities, and even NASA before finding a factory in China to produce a durable, cost-effective solar-powered flashlight whose shape was inspired by his wife’s shampoo bottle.

The light, or sun torch, has a narrow solar panel on one side that charges the batteries, which can last between 750 and 1,000 nights, and uses the more efficient light-emitting diodes, or L.E.D.s, to cast its light. “L.E.D.s used to be very expensive,” Mr. Bent said. “But in the last 18 months they’ve become cheaper, so distributing them on a widespread scale is possible.”

The flashlights usually sell for about $19.95 in American stores, but he has established a BoGo — for Buy One, Give One — program on his Web site,, where if you buy one flashlight for $25, he will buy and ship another one to Africa, and donate $1 to one of the aid groups he works with.

  Toronto Star - Hydro pay packages unplugged
Due for release in the coming days is an eagerly awaited report on executive salaries at the government-owned electricity companies. It could cause big trouble for the Liberal government.

The report has been prepared by a panel chaired by James Arnett, a former CEO of Molson Inc. who was appointed by the government in January after NDP Leader Howard Hampton raised a stink over "hydro fat cats" in the Legislature.

Hampton pointed out that 15 executives in Ontario's public energy sector make more than the top person at Hydro Quebec (about $470,000). Topping Hampton's list is Jim Hankinson, president of Ontario Power Generation (OPG), at $1.48 million. In appointing the Arnett panel, Energy Minister Dwight Duncan seemed to agree with Hampton's analysis. "We've asked the panel to recommend compensation arrangements that are more in line with comparable public energy organizations in other jurisdictions," he said.

The solution seems simple, then. Cut the top salaries down to Hydro Quebec's level. But then the government will encounter Newton's third law: to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Hankinson and his executive team might quit, and OPG's board of directors might go with them.

William Sheffield, a member of the OPG board and chair of its compensation committee, defended the salaries in an appearance before a legislative committee in February. He said that OPG executives make "about half" of what they could get in the private sector.

"Our people are well-paid, yes," said Sheffield. "Are they paid above market? No. They're paid below private-sector market but at the top of the utility sector because it (OPG) has the most complex and important assets in the business."

Eventually, at the lowest level of management, OPG will encounter a "pay compression" problem: management will be getting less than the highest-paid unionized employees. (Of the 5,518 OPG staffers on this year's list of public-sector employees making more than $100,000, a staggering 4,525 of them were unionized.)

In other words, a seemingly simple reduction in Hankinson's salary could start a chain reaction of events that would cripple Ontario's major supplier of electricity.

On the other hand, if the government doesn't cut the pay of executives, it will open the door for Hampton to rail against "fat cats" in the fall election campaign.

  Globe and Mail - Burnout Buster
Related to the article about fear of failure - the stress of failure or less than stellar success is bad for one's health.

Not long ago, seeking out a shrink after a bad deal or a few rough days on the market would have been tantamount to a hockey goon crying to mommy after a poke check. But e-mail, BlackBerrys and a flattening world of international commerce have placed new pressures on high-fliers. Work stress is no longer a 9-to-5 affliction. Today, the strain verges on trauma.

Eight years ago, Dr. Cass published a clinical study of Wall Street traders that found 23 per cent of them diagnosable with major clinical depression. That stress, he believes, is only growing.

So these days, on Wall Street and Bay Street, captains of industry and finance are making a serious investment in help for their overworked psyches. They're going where their predecessors didn't dare: the shrink's office.

"Business right now, it's surpassing all my expectations," said Dr. Cass, who writes a column for "Everything from here on in is gravy."

"The stigma is lifting," agrees one of his Bay Street counterparts, Brian Shaw. "It's something we've been fighting for a long time."

Their clientele is a rarefied breed: One patient sought out Dr. Cass after his salary was cut from $500,000 (U.S.) a year to $300,000. "It's a little hard to stomach hearing someone say that kind of thing, I know," Dr. Cass says. "But you have to understand that this person is deeply frustrated and they need some empathy."

  CNet - Electricity crisis hobbles an India eager to ascend
India is in denial about its lack of energy resources and infrastructure. I don't see how it can compete effectively with China with this handicap.

This being India, a country of more than one billion people, the scale is staggering. In just one case, Tata Consultancy Services, a technology company, maintains five giant generators, along with a nearly 5,300-gallon tank of diesel fuel underground, as if it were a gasoline station.

The reserve fuel can power the lights, computers and air-conditioners for up to 15 days to keep Tata's six-story building humming during these hot, dry summer months, when temperatures routinely soar above 100 degrees and power cuts can average eight hours a day.

The Gurgaon skyline is studded with hundreds of buildings like this. In Gurgaon alone, the state power authority estimates that the gap between demand and supply hovers around 20 percent, and that is probably a conservative estimate.

Back then, electricity was in short supply, but she was fully confident things would improve. The advertisements at the time described Gurgaon as the best address south of Delhi. It was pitched as a millennium city.

Today Tandon says she prefers to think of it as a medieval city. The day before, the power went out for roughly 11 hours. Her power inverter, which is basically a series of rechargeable batteries--a household necessity here--failed after four hours.

For respite, some of her neighbors drove around in their air-conditioned cars. Her own children lingered outside and finally, when they nodded off to sleep, they lay on the living room floor, the coolest spot in the house.

This summer, Tandon said, the family will have to choose between buying a generator and going on vacation. "We're living in the Dark Ages," she said.

In Gurgaon, for instance, transformers routinely blow out because of heavy loads. Voltage fluctuations damage electrical appliances of all sorts.

What the state cannot provide efficiently, many take for themselves. The World Bank estimates that at least $4 billion in electricity is unaccounted for each year--that is to say, stolen. Transparency International estimated in 2005 that Indians paid $480 million in bribes to put in new connections or correct bills.

  WSJ - Managers Struggle to Locate Cheap Stocks
Just last week, the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index came close to topping its record closing level of seven years ago. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has set numerous records this year and the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index has been at its highest levels in six years.

The advances have made things tough for "value" mutual-fund managers, who look to grab stocks on the cheap. "It's very difficult to find truly bargain-priced issues in the large-cap U.S. markets," says Ty Nutt, a senior portfolio manager and leader of the large-cap value team at Delaware Investments in Philadelphia.

Still, most value managers are managing to keep their cash busy. While it's hard for them to find stocks they consider "deep value," or trading deeply below the value of their assets or operations, they say there are "relative values" to be found, meaning stocks that appear cheap relative to the overall universe of stocks.

There's no doubt that value managers have to look harder now than they did a few years ago.

Says Mr. Tjornehoj of Lipper: "I think there are so many [value] managers turning over rocks on that same path that all the big ones have been flipped over and now they're looking for smaller or less intriguing value plays than they did years ago. As well, they're holding on to their winners because they have to."

Nevertheless, investors should have exposure to the area, Mr. Tjornehoj says. At some point, he says, the market will weaken and "the private equity or hedge funds or whoever is adding a great deal of value to the market is not going to feel that way, and people are going to seek safety in firms with steady dividends and low debt on the balance sheet -- the typical characteristics that make a value play attractive."

  Toronto Star - Did Pakistani gang steal captives' kidneys?
The urban legend comes to life.

Pakistani police have arrested nine people, four of them doctors, for abducting people, drugging them and stealing their kidneys for transplant operations, police said today.

Selling kidneys from living donors is not illegal in Pakistan, which medical experts say has a reputation as the world's "kidney bazaar".

But police said those arrested in the eastern city of Lahore tricked people then drugged them before removing their kidneys.

"These poor people were given tranquillisers and were deprived of their kidneys without their consent," Lahore police chief Malik Mohammad Iqbal told Reuters.

Hundreds of rich foreigners come to Pakistan every year and buy kidneys from live, impoverished donors, in a business thought to be worth millions of dollars.

  WSJ - Fewer Firms Offer Big Dividend Payouts
The old-style companies/industries still pay out dividends, it's the new tech companies that are so stingy, thinking they are still a growth company.

Some strategists and institutional investors believe that corporations fail to recognize that dividends are increasingly popular with individual investors, and that ample payouts can be just as good -- or even better -- for stock prices than big buybacks.

"A lot of corporations are missing the seismic shift in retail demand for yield," says Henry McVey, chief investment strategist at Morgan Stanley. A key to this trend: As tens of millions of baby boomers near retirement, the demand for high-yielding investments is rising.

Record-Low Payout

Companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index are expected to disburse just 30% of their 2007 earnings in dividends, a record-low payout. The dividend yield on the S&P 500 is just 1.8% and the yield on the Dow Jones Industrial Average isn't much higher at 2.1%.

As recently as the 1980s, companies regularly paid out half or more of their earnings in dividends. Within the S&P 500, 387 companies, or 77%, currently pay dividends, down from 94% in 1980.

Stock repurchases by S&P 500 companies totaled $494 billion last year, more than double the $233 billion they disbursed as dividends.

Yet given the strength of corporate balance sheets, companies could pay 50% of their earnings in dividends. Such a payout ratio would lift the yield on the S&P 500 to 3%, making stocks a better yield alternative to bonds.

Higher dividends also could be good for stock prices. Some of the strongest sectors of the market in the past few years carry ample dividends -- including electric utilities, telecom providers, cigarette makers and master limited partnerships that invest in energy pipelines and oil and gas reserves.

  Washington Post - How the Pentagon Got Its Shape
Nice story of how fast the govt can act when it has to. The original site for the Pentagon was an asymetrical 5-sided area. So the original design was 5-sided. When the site was moved due to aestethetic reasons, there wasn't time (original timeframe called for 1 year to build the Pentagon) to redesign the building.

The War Department needed a new headquarters, Somervell said. The building he wanted to create was too big to fit in Washington and would have to go across the Potomac River in Arlington. It would be far larger than all the great structures of the city, including the U.S. Capitol. Somervell wanted a headquarters big enough to hold 40,000 people, with parking for 10,000 cars. It would contain 4 million square feet of office space -- almost twice as much as the Empire State Building. Yet it must be no more than four stories high -- a tall building would obstruct views of Washington and require too much steel, urgently needed for battleships and weapons.

The War Department would occupy the new headquarters within half a year, Somervell instructed. "We want 500,000 square feet ready in six months, and the whole thing ready in a year," the general said. Somervell ended the meeting with orders to have the basic design plans for the building by Monday morning.

  Lifehack - How fear of failure destroys success
Nothing terribly new - just a reminder - don't be afraid to fail - or the appearance of failure, as long as you learn something from it.

Monday, May 14, 2007
  Yahoo Finance - Reaching the $5 Million Club Takes an Open Mind
Getting rich also requires a certain amount of stubbornness and clarity of purpose. Consultant Joel Kurtzman, who evaluated 350 startups for his book Startups That Work, found that successful outlets usually have a team of two or three founders who share a common vision; the success rate for this model was a remarkable 50%. The odds for solo founders were more like the oft-quoted one in 10, in part because they often found themselves working at cross-purposes with hired guns who see things differently.

  NYTimes - Faster Fashion, Cheaper Chic
A USA company to compete in the same space a Zara, H&M, and Mexx.

  NYTimes - Easy, Mr. Fix-It
Painful stories from do-it-yourselfers.

  The Problems of Perl: The Future of Bugzilla
Geez, these guys seem to pick the worst of the best available scripting languages - first TCL, then Perl. What's next? PHP?

Perl is crap for anything large. There's a reason Bittorrent is written in Python and not Perl. And Perl 6 development is going to last longer than the x86 instruction set or until Duke Nukem Forever comes out.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007
  Wired - Hacking Your Body's Bacteria for Better Health
Modern humans are bacteria-killing machines. We assassinate microbes with hand soap, mouthwash and bathroom cleaners. It feels clean and right.

But some scientists say we're overdoing it. All this killing may actually cause diseases like eczema, irritable bowel syndrome and even diabetes. The answer, they say, is counterintuitive: Feed patients bacteria.

"Probiotics (pills containing bacteria) have resulted in complete elimination of eczema in 80 percent of the people we've treated," says Dr. Joseph E. Pizzorno Jr., a practicing physician and former member of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. Pizzorno says he's used probiotics to treat irritable bowel disease, acne and even premenstrual syndrome. "It's unusual for me to see a patient with a chronic disease that doesn't respond to probiotics."

"After the Second World War, when our lifestyles changed dramatically, allergies increased. Autoimmune diseases like diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease are increasing," says Kaarina Kukkonen, a University of Helsinki allergy expert. "The theory behind (what causes) the diseases is the same: Lacking bacterial stimulation in our environments may cause this increase. I think this is the tip of the iceberg."

In a recent study, Kukkonen and her colleagues gave a probiotic containing four strains of gut bacteria to 461 infants labeled as high risk for developing allergic disorders. After two years, the children were 25 percent less likely than those given a placebo to develop eczema, a type of allergic skin inflammation. The study was published in the January issue of Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Microbial exposures early in life, scientists believe, cause mild inflammation that calibrates the body's responses to other pathogens and contaminants later in life. Without exposure as infants, researchers say, people can end up with unbalanced immune systems.

"Many of the most difficult problems in medicine today are chronic inflammatory diseases," says Blaser. "These include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, atherosclerosis, eczema and multiple sclerosis. One possibility is that they're autoimmune or genetic diseases. The other possibility is that they are physiological responses to changes in microbiota."

  Observer - - Names really do make a difference
Parents are being warned to think long and hard when choosing names for their babies as research has discovered that girls who are given very feminine names, such as Anna, Emma or Elizabeth, are less likely to study maths or physics after the age of 16, a remarkable study has found.

Both subjects, which are traditionally seen as predominantly male, are far more popular among girls with names such as Abigail, Lauren and Ashley, which have been judged as less feminine in a linguistic test. The effect is so strong that parents can set twin daughters off on completely different career paths simply by calling them Isabella and Alex, names at either end of the spectrum. A study of 1,000 pairs of sisters in the US found that Alex was twice as likely as her twin to take maths or science at a higher level.

Part of the reason is that names provide a powerful image of a person and influence people's reactions to them. An Isabella is less likely to study maths, according to the theory, because people would not expect her to. 'There are plenty of exceptions but, on average, people treat Isabellas differently to Alexes,' commented David Figlio, professor of economics at the University of Florida and the author of the report. 'Girls with feminine names were often typecast.' Figlio pointed to the controversy that arose over the first talking Barbie's phrase, 'math is hard'. 'It is a stereotype, and girls with particularly feminine names may feel more pressure to avoid technical subjects,' he said. Not that they were any less capable. When the Isabellas, Annas and Elizabeths took on their tougher-named peers in science, they performed just as well.

To carry out the study, to be published in the Journal of Human Resources, Figlio calculated a linguistic 'femininity' score for each name. It was arrived at by using 1,700 letter and sound combinations that could be associated as either female or male and matching them against the names on 1.4 million birth certificates.

He also showed how harmful giving your child a 'chav' or lower-status name can be. In a study of 55,000 children, the exam marks of those with 'lower-status' names - often spelled in an unusual way or including punctuation - were on average 3 to 5 percentage points lower than siblings with more traditional names. One of the reasons was that teachers had lower expectations of them.

  MSNBC - Doctors Change the Way They Think About Death
As recently as 1993, when Dr. Sherwin Nuland wrote the best seller "How We Die," the conventional answer was that it was his cells that had died. The patient couldn't be revived because the tissues of his brain and heart had suffered irreversible damage from lack of oxygen. This process was understood to begin after just four or five minutes. If the patient doesn't receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation within that time, and if his heart can't be restarted soon thereafter, he is unlikely to recover. That dogma went unquestioned until researchers actually looked at oxygen-starved heart cells under a microscope. What they saw amazed them, according to Dr. Lance Becker, an authority on emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "After one hour," he says, "we couldn't see evidence the cells had died. We thought we'd done something wrong." In fact, cells cut off from their blood supply died only hours later.

But if the cells are still alive, why can't doctors revive someone who has been dead for an hour? Because once the cells have been without oxygen for more than five minutes, they die when their oxygen supply is resumed. It was that "astounding" discovery, Becker says, that led him to his post as the director of Penn's Center for Resuscitation Science, a newly created research institute operating on one of medicine's newest frontiers: treating the dead.

With this realization came another: that standard emergency-room procedure has it exactly backward. When someone collapses on the street of cardiac arrest, if he's lucky he will receive immediate CPR, maintaining circulation until he can be revived in the hospital. But the rest will have gone 10 or 15 minutes or more without a heartbeat by the time they reach the emergency department. And then what happens? "We give them oxygen," Becker says. "We jolt the heart with the paddles, we pump in epinephrine to force it to beat, so it's taking up more oxygen." Blood-starved heart muscle is suddenly flooded with oxygen, precisely the situation that leads to cell death. Instead, Becker says, we should aim to reduce oxygen uptake, slow metabolism and adjust the blood chemistry for gradual and safe reperfusion.

Researchers are still working out how best to do this. A study at four hospitals, published last year by the University of California, showed a remarkable rate of success in treating sudden cardiac arrest with an approach that involved, among other things, a "cardioplegic" blood infusion to keep the heart in a state of suspended animation. Patients were put on a heart-lung bypass machine to maintain circulation to the brain until the heart could be safely restarted. The study involved just 34 patients, but 80 percent of them were discharged from the hospital alive. In one study of traditional methods, the figure was about 15 percent.

Becker also endorses hypothermia—lowering body temperature from 37 to 33 degrees Celsius—which appears to slow the chemical reactions touched off by reperfusion. He has developed an injectable slurry of salt and ice to cool the blood quickly that he hopes to make part of the standard emergency-response kit.

  NYTimes - From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine
The syrupy poison, diethylene glycol, is an indispensable part of the modern world, an industrial solvent and prime ingredient in antifreeze.

It is also a killer. And the deaths, if not intentional, are often no accident.

Over the years, the poison has been loaded into all varieties of medicine — cough syrup, fever medication, injectable drugs — a result of counterfeiters who profit by substituting the sweet-tasting solvent for a safe, more expensive syrup, usually glycerin, commonly used in drugs, food, toothpaste and other products.

Toxic syrup has figured in at least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past two decades. Researchers estimate that thousands have died. In many cases, the precise origin of the poison has never been determined. But records and interviews show that in three of the last four cases it was made in China, a major source of counterfeit drugs.

Panama is the most recent victim. Last year, government officials there unwittingly mixed diethylene glycol into 260,000 bottles of cold medicine — with devastating results. Families have reported 365 deaths from the poison, 100 of which have been confirmed so far. With the onset of the rainy season, investigators are racing to exhume as many potential victims as possible before bodies decompose even more.

Panama’s death toll leads directly to Chinese companies that made and exported the poison as 99.5 percent pure glycerin.

  The Long Tail - The Awesome Power of Spare Cycles
In the next issue of Wired we've got a great story about a woman who cyberstalked the lead singer of Linkin Park. She correctly guessed the password to his cellphone account. The rest was easy. She was a technician at a secure military facility, the Sandia National Labs. When eventually confronted, she explained that her job only took her half an hour a day. The rest was spare cycles. She used them to stalk the lead singer of Linkin Park.

  Globe and Mail - Warners cuts promo screenings over movie piracy worries
I can't see this making a big dent in piracy. The internet is pretty fast.

Frustrated with what they see as the world's biggest piracy nation, Warner Bros. Pictures announced this week an immediate ban on promotional and word-of-mouth screenings in Canada.

The ban includes Warner Independent Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures, and will affect the studio's next release, Ocean's Thirteen, as well as the summer release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

  WSJ - You're a Nobody Unless Your Name Googles Well
...or maybe you need to do/say something that's worthy enough for Google to list your name on the first page.

Before Abigail Garvey got married in 2000, anyone could easily Google her. Then she swapped her maiden name for her husband's last name, Wilson, and dropped out of sight.

In Web-search results for her new name, links to Ms. Wilson's epidemiology research papers became lost among all manner of other Abigail Wilsons, ranging from 1980s newspaper wedding announcements for various Abigail Wilsons to genealogy records listing Abigail Wilsons born in the 1600s and 1700s. When Ms. Wilson applied for a new job, interviewers questioned the publications she listed on her résumé because they weren't finding the publications in online searches, Ms. Wilson says. (See Google results for Abigail Garvey and Abigail Wilson.)

Friday, May 04, 2007
  Toronto Star - Doan not to blame, official tells MPs
Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said yesterday it was not Canadian-born Shane Doan who insulted a francophone linesman in 2005 but a foreign-born player on the Phoenix Coyotes.

Doan has denied the linesman's claim, saying he told goalie Curtis Joseph: "Four French referees in Montreal ... figure it out." The comment came after a controversial call during a game in Montreal.

The NHL cleared the Coyotes forward of the allegation, but last month linesman Michel Cormier testified in a court hearing that he was skating right next to Doan when he heard the slur.

"There is no question those words were said on the ice," Nicholson said. "The NHL's investigation clearly shows that that was stated, but it also clearly shows that they felt that it wasn't Shane Doan.

Cormier's post-game report does accuse Czechoslovakia-born Ladislav Nagy of having made the slur in the second period of the game.

Doan's insult came at the end of the third period after the Coyotes bench had already been warned not to repeat any anti-French epithets, Cormier wrote at the time.

Nicholson said it was unfair to hold Doan up to public ridicule because of baseless accusations when the evidence shows he did nothing wrong.

Nicholson said he has known the star forward since he was a teenager and described him as gentle-hearted, devout Christian who doesn't even swear.

"You can talk to all of his teammates that have played with him. He says `fudge,' a lot if he gets upset. He's a Christian and a person that I am proud to know," Nicholson said.

Thursday, May 03, 2007
  Toronto Star - Hockey captaincy row called 'embarrassing'
I guess the Bloc Quebecois didn't have anything better to do than play keep-away with the ball. I can't believe these guys. Losers.

The NHL calls the Shane Doan controversy "embarrassing" but Hockey Canada officials will appear before a parliamentary committee today to explain why he was named captain of Canada's team at the World Hockey Championships in Moscow.

Colin Campbell, the NHL's executive vice-president and director of hockey operations, said yesterday he is mystified that politicians have revived the Doan controversy.

The league cleared the Phoenix Coyotes forward and captain of allegations that he made a derogatory remark to a French-Canadian official during a 2005 game in Montreal.

"It's rather embarrassing to all Canadian hockey fans we're rehashing this again, particularly when Hockey Canada and Shane Doan are representing and working hard in Moscow right now, competing for our country. It's ridiculous," Campbell told The Canadian Press.

  Dim sum at Casa Imperial Chinese Restaurant on Steeles Ave.
Here's the eastern part of the building:

The central part of the building looks like the entrance to the restaurant. But no...

The actual entrance is at the western side of the building

There's a large eating area when you enter the restaurant. It can get pretty loud during lunchtime.

There are three smaller eating areas in other parts of the restaurant. Walls are covered with lots of large mirrors throughout the restaurant.

There are also chandeliers in the eating areas.

Here's the fancy dim sum setting. With such a fancy setting, you know the bill will be larger than the typical plastic-covered-table-dim-sum-restaurant.

It seems strange to drink Chinese tea from a Western-style tea cup.

Here's something I haven't seen in other Chinese restaurants. A combination soup spoon holder and chopstick rest.

Without the soup spoon:

No ladies wheeling around the dishes on carts in this fancy place.

They hand you a piece of paper with the available dishes. You write how many of each that you want and hand it back to them.

A few minutes later, food arrives:

Minced beef in rice noodle

Siu mai

Har gow

Egg roll

BBQ Pork buns

Deep-fried taro

Deep-fried pastry with pork and corn

BBQ pork in rice noodle

Beef dumpling

Pork wrapped in bean curd

The manager came by and offered his business card. Very Hong Kong-like.

They didn't have egg custard tarts on the menu :(.

The dishes are more expensive than other Chinese restaurants. The size of the dishes was about the same as other restaurants, except the Har Gow which was much larger (and you pay for the larger size).

Prices range from ~$3 up to ~$7 for the larger dishes like Har Gow. So expect to pay about double what you would pay at one of the cheaper dim sum places.

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