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This past week, a particular potted plant on my deck has been an unwelcomed source of stress.

Before leaving for a week’s vacation on Cape Cod, my mom flagged me down as I was on my way out the door.

“Villiam, vater da plants dis time,” she reminded me in her thick Italian accent. Last time she left me to tend the garden, she returned to a barren wasteland. But this time, she took precautions by installing a trusty timer in our sprinkler system and left me only one task: to water one potted plant on my deck every other day.

This green shrub peppered with the occasional goofy, over-sized pink flower was her pride and joy. A few days before leaving, she asked to borrow my digital camera and proceeded to document the plant from its roots to the tips of its branches with the meticulousness of a crime scene photographer.

Hibiscus 003

One of my mother's photos

Determined to atone for my lackadaisical caregiving, in the next week I proceeded to be the most diligent plant-sitter since Gregor Mendel. I watered it precisely every 48 hours using only the purest and coldest waters available. I even sat out on the deck for hours and spent time with it.

Despite all this, every morning when I went to water it, several shriveled pink flowers lay scattered around the base of the pot. It was shedding flowers and I could not get it to stop!!! It drove me insane for a week. I didn’t want to upset my mother, but most of all; I had been determined to prove to myself that I was capable of performing this very banal and supposedly simple household task.

The mysterious epidemic

The mysterious epidemic

Every time my mother called to ask about her baby, I lied enthusiastically. “It’s beautiful,” I told her.” One day I was feeling cocky and offered to send her more pictures of it, claiming it was looking even fuller than before. She didn’t call my bluff and take me up on the offer.

Days before her return, the bastard had gotten even worse. Though I still watered it every morning, it made me feel so futile I could barely stand to look it straight in the petals.

Finally, I worked up the courage to come clean to my mother just one day before she returned. “Mamma,” I confessed. “Something’s wrong with your plant. It’s losing its flowers and I don’t know what to do. I swear I’ve been watering it.” Expecting a shrill “Villiam!” I was surprised when she chuckled. “It’s a hibiscus, the flowers die after two days. But they grow back” I breathed a huge sigh of relief and scurried out to the deck to verify this important, albeit delayed piece of information. Low and behold, I realized that I had been too upset about the dead petals to notice the new buds forming. Apparently, in a couple days my mother’s hibiscus should be in fine form.

As I often do when I feel stupid, I surfed the web to see if any other urbanite suffered so needlessly by the flowers of their hibiscus. Low and behold, an entry by i_am_kuku7 on Yahoo Answers reads:

How long do Hibiscus flowers last?? or how long are they supposed to? i have a hibiscus plant, and the flowers all die after 24 hours 😦 is this normal? or should i be concerned?

His fears were quickly laid to rest by Wize_woman, who responded:

The flowers last from a few hours to several days depending on the species of Hibiscus (200-220). I hope it helps. Source(s): Wikipedia.”

Next time, I will be sure to consult with the Internet’s not-so-bewildered herd on all matters horticultural.

P.S. Check out the pen I used to write the first draft of this post.

pen

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Thanko's EMP-708LITE Vonia earbuds

Thanko's EMP-708LITE Vonia earbuds

These new Thanko earbuds may look fairly standard, but wait ’til you hear how they work. Unlike regular headphones and speakers, which produce sound by using a small expanding and contracting electromagnetic coil to pump sounds out through a cone, these EMP-708LITE Vonia earbuds emit vibrations at a frequency that actually reverberates through your skull, thus literally turning your skull into the speaker. They can even work up to fifteen feet underwater.

This “bone conduction” technology is not exactly new (the first gadgets hit the market around 2005), but Thanko’s model is the first evidence that its reached reached a level where practical design is possible. Compare Thanko’s to these more primitive bone-conduction apparatuses:

Tecmos bone conduction headset. It looks a little scary.

SMP3

Audio Bone 1.0 looks like a mini cochlear implant

The first one is the Finis SwiMP3. Apparently geared towards swimmers, it can be attached to their goggles (as if those aren’t dorky enough). And no, it cannot straighten your teeth, but it supplements regular headphones by sending vibrations through your cheekbones. The center one is the Audio Bone 1.0. Unfortunately, it looks like a mini cochlear implant. Finally, Tecmo’s rather sharp looking bone conduction headset.

Paranormal State billboard in SoHo. Take a look at the audio transmitter on top of the building to the right

Paranormal State billboard in SoHo. Take a look at the audio transmitter on top of the building to the right

While bone conduction is definitely handy for people in noisy, windy or aquatic environments, I think it will perhaps head in another direction. For example, to advertise their new series Paranormal State, TV channel A&E erected a billboard in NYC in 2007 that used bone conduction technology.  Manufactured by Holosonics, a narrow ray of subsonic waves was aimed at the street right in front of the billboard (called an “audio spotlight”). As  pedestrians walked through the spotlight they heard a panicked whisper: “Who’s there? Who’s there?” Then a few seconds later, “It’s not your imagination.” Of course, nobody else could hear it because the subsonic waves were resonating only in their head. Talk about schizophrenia. At least one person every day must have wet their pants.

While advertisers are drooling over this idea of “highly directional sound advertising,” a similar audio spotlight could have very cool implications for home entertainment and private listening. Imagine an audio spotlight aimed at your favorite armchair, so that when you sat down only you could hear the transmission. Finally, I could sit at listen to the game in peace as I pretended to watch a chick-flick with my girlfriend.

Fellow techno-enthusiasts, what do you think? Possible? Probable? Or not so much?

NBC News correspondent Dan Abrams

Veteran journalist and former NBC News legal correspondent Dan Abrams is jumping ship after 15 years in the industry and moving to the private sector. His newly formed media consulting firm, Abrams Research, is actively recruiting working journalists, bloggers and radio and news personalities as “media experts” to advise their corporate clients.

In a New York Times article, Abrams said there is “an enormous number of very talented, experienced media professionals around the world who would be ready, willing and able to advise businesses on media strategies” and bragged that in just five days, Abrams Research received over 600 applications, many of them household names in journalism.

Having endured the treachery of home town heroes as a sports fan, I understand loyalty only goes so far and sometimes you need to think with your wallet. As the economy worsens, journalists, especially print journalists, aren’t going to pass up the opportunity to make some money on the side as consultants. The real problem here is that instead of defecting completely, they’re becoming double agents, cutting through the spin as journalists during the day and helping companies dish it out as consultants by night.

In his Gawker post “Dan Abrams’ Ring of Media Informants,” Ryan Tate sums up the issue at hand: “But a general magazine editor, or blogger… really should not be getting paid to answer questions about how a publication — like, say, his — might cover something when he may well have to decide how to cover that very thing a short time later, with the added complication of having been paid/bribed by the subject.”

Abrams insists that his company’s ethics guidelines include “a ban on full-time journalists consulting with companies in their area of coverage.” But consultants need to be familiar in the area they’re advising on. This becomes a difficult line to toe: an expert must be familiar enough with a topic to know what they’re talking about, but also be sure that they will not to be asked to cover it.

Conflict of interests aside, I’d say it’s impossible to be a media consultant for corporations and a good journalist at the same time. Call me naïve, but hopefully a good journalist is motivated by the belief that a healthy and free press is important to a democracy and a public service to the electorate. A media consultant, on the other hand, helps companies skew media coverage to their favor. It views media is a tool to increase business. Aren’t these two attitudes mutually exclusive? Could they both exist in one person?

According to former Washington Post VP Ben Bradlee, a good reporter has “got to love what they’re doing; they’ve got to be serious about turning over rocks, opening doors. The story drives you.” This type of doggedness only graces those who actually believe in what they’re doing. I think it’s safe to assume that those journalists applying to Abrams Research don’t fit into this category.

(Photo from Fox News Channel)

Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren had beef with this portion of Howard Kurtz’s Nov. 13th column for The Washington Post about her latest interview with Palin.

[Balitomore Sun TV Critic David] Zurawik calls the Van Susteren interview “beyond friendly,” saying: “Greta Van Susteren is totally sympathetic to her and makes no secret about it.”

In the blog post (which was removed shortly after it was posted, here is a screenshot), Greta complains that Kurtz didn’t give her the opportunity to defend herself against Zurakwik’s criticism, even though Kurtz had called her about another topic the day before. Fox News’ mantra “fair and balanced” must be going to her head. Kurtz is under no obligation to provide all sides of every single assertion in a column and should feel free to quote a prominent TV critic without the journalists reference complaining.


If his column had been specifically about Fox News’ treatment of Palin, then she would have had a point. Kurtz doesn’t give her a chance to respond to 64 words at the tail end of a 1,000 word piece and Greta feels betrayed!? That’s ridiculous. It’s no surprise she took the blog post down, realizing she’d made a mountain out of a molehill.Zurawik’s characterization of Van Susteren’s interviews as sympathetic is self evident to anyone who has seen any of them. In her latest interview, Van Susteren spent the first half of the interview letting Palin address rumors about her $150,000 wardrobe and whether or not she insisted Africa was a country. The interview is so pedestrian and accommodating in these ten minutes that Palin herself looked bored. In Susteren’s previous interview with Palin shortly after her nomination, she played to Palin’s strong suit asking her about sports and Title IX, hardly relevant for someone who’s a heartbeat away from the presidency.

In the rest of her blog post Susteren goes on to defend her treatment of Palin, insisting that “you can get a lot of information out of guests by being polite” and that sympathetic does not equal ineffective. But it does equal useless.

When she’s asked general and open ended questions, Palin never has to venture far from her comfort zone. Anyone can speak generally about anything. Palin needs to be driven off her talking points so she can prove to American that she actually understands the issues and has the ability to think critically about them before there’s any talk of 2012.

Greta Van Susteren’s interviews are like meet and greets when they should be obstacle courses.

Does this seem like a healthy working environment?

On his blog “The Feed” media critic for St. Petersburg Times Eric Deggans wondered how CNBC’s tourette’s afflicted financial “guru” Jim Cramer (host of his show Mad Money) kept his job after telling investors to get out of the market on NBC’s Today show.

On October 7th, Jim Cramer defended his statement on NBC’s Today show, saying he still stands behind what he said. According to anchor Meredith Vieira, his comments caused a “firestorm.” One email likened his comments to “yelling fire in a crowded building.” Another email pointed out that the financial system is based on “trust” and that Cramer was sabotaging it. What makes this all very ironic is that Cramer has been giving bad advice for a while (he told people to buy Wachovia and Bear Stearns stock), but he’s taking criticism for giving good advice this time: SELL!

Jim Cramer and business journalists (not that he is one) are stuck in a very odd position. Because the market is based so much on confidence, their collective coverage can affect the confidence of the market. It’s sort of like the “observer effect” in science that says in some experiments in quantum physics, the very observation of the experiment could change its outcome. Business journalists are in the same boat.

Howard Kurtz’s column “Press May Own a Share in Financial Mess” is about how business journalists failed to foresee this economic crisis. He acknowledges their difficult balancing act: “If these journalists shout too loudly, they can be accused of scaremongering and blamed for torpedoing the stock of outwardly healthy companies.”

Using The Wall Street Journal as an example, he says some stories and opinion pieces did warn about possible collapse, but they failed to paint a full picture of the economic crisis. Basically, they played it down. Some of the journalists he quotes in his piece offer hints as to why:

“…If we had written stories in late 2000 saying this whole thing’s going to collapse, people would have said, ‘Ha ha, maybe,’ and gone about their business.” – Fortune Magazine Managing Editor Andy Serwer.

“When I would cover these very issues about problems with regulation, problems with ‘is this a disaster waiting to happen?’ people would say: ‘Well, young man, you don’t have an MBA like I do. Trust us. We went to business school.'” – David Brancaccio, PBS.

“The business press tends to get in with the people that they cover. They get in the bubble that is Wall Street, just like political reporters get in the bubble that is the White House and the traveling press of the campaign . . . and they don’t see the obvious things.” – Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post business columnist, Pulitzer Prize winner.

This does not sound like an environment where honest journalism can go down. Can you smell filters?! How much does sourcing and corporate ownership contribute to the sunny optimism of business pages, even on the verge of a financial crisis? There is real pressure on business journalists to paint a rosy picture and when they don’t, they’re punished, even when they’re giving good advice at the time (a la Jim Cramer). There needs to be enough distance between the business journalist and the market, so that honest, objective reporting can go down.