Leonardo DaVinci had a cousin in Peru 1200 years ago

As a nomadic cultural historian, my subjects have led me in wildly different directions. I spent every Friday for five years in a dim, dusty reading room in West Orange, New Jersey, formerly a laboratory on the second floor of Thomas Edison’s headquarters, deciphering the blunt-penciled scrawls of the celebrated inventor. Two years after my biography of Edison appeared, I found myself laboring up vertiginous stairs at daybreak in Mexico, photographing the faded ocher outlines of winged snakes etched into stone temples at the vast ruins of Teotihuacán. The daunting treks led to a book on Mesoamerican myth, Legends of the Plumed Serpent.

Those two disparate worlds somehow collided unexpectedly on a recent afternoon in the hushed, temperature-controlled precincts of the National Museum of the American Indian storage facility in Suitland, Maryland. There, staffers pushing a rolling cart ushered one of the museum’s greatest treasures into the high-ceilinged room. Nestled in an acid-free corrugated cardboard container was the earliest known example of telephone technology in the Western Hemisphere, evoking a lost civilization—and the anonymous ancient techie who dreamed it up.


The gourd-and-twine device, created 1,200 to 1,400 years ago, remains tantalizingly functional—and too fragile to test out. “This is unique,” NMAI curator Ramiro Matos, an anthropologist and archaeologist who specializes in the study of the central Andes, tells me. “Only one was ever discovered. It comes from the consciousness of an indigenous society with no written language.”

We’ll never know the trial and error that went into its creation. The marvel of acoustic engineering—cunningly constructed of two resin-coated gourd receivers, each three-and-one-half inches long; stretched-hide membranes stitched around the bases of the receivers; and cotton-twine cord extending 75 feet when pulled taut—arose out of the Chimu empire at its height. The dazzlingly innovative culture was centered in the Río Moche Valley in northern Peru, wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the western Andes. “The Chimu were a skillful, inventive people,” Matos tells me as we don sterile gloves and peer into the hollowed interiors of the gourds. The Chimu, Matos explains, were the first true engineering society in the New World, known as much for their artisanry and metalwork as for the hydraulic canal-irrigation system they introduced, transforming desert into agricultural lands.

Reflect upon the genius of an inventor designing a device beyond the capabilities of the epoch wherein he lived. Like DaVinci, he or she conceived of a need whose satisfaction was utilitarian – though the technology to achieve broad use didn’t exist.

Still, the best possible device was made and presumably used. Proof of concept existed. Maybe this early can-and-cord phone was used on a regular basis for who knows how long?

With no written language there is no record of the inventor or this phone’s use. 1200 years ago.

Thanks, Om Malik

Oops! Name of rising Republican star in Florida surfaces as client in prostitution case

About 50 pages of evidence released on Monday provide new details about a complex prostitution bust that led to the arrest of an alleged brothel owner who listed State Rep. Mike Horner of Kissimmee as a client.

Mark David Risner, 55, is suspected of employing several prostitutes at an east Orange County home.

Risner’s calendars and client lists, released in newly public documents on Monday, show Horner used the same phone number in his dealings with the prostitution ring that he used for his re-election campaign.

The notes section of the list describes “Mike” as a “Congressman.” A calendar contained in the documents lists Horner for an hour of sex on April 10, at a cost of $200.

The list also references another unidentified “Congressman” from the “West coast of Florida,” with no contact information. That client, the document states, canceled his appointment.

There were no other apparent references to public officials among the dozens of other clients listed in the documents.

Horner…has not been charged or arrested in the case. He abruptly abandoned his re-election campaign last week, expressing regret and apologizing to his family and constituents.

Everyone always expresses regret when they are caught screwing around. I couldn’t care less about someone hooking up with hookers – other than safe and sanitary working conditions for the pros might be nice – but, the rest of it reflects on your relationship with the woman you probably swore to love and share with till death do you part. Or something like that.

I seriously doubt if there are many politicians floating around the great state of Florida – members of the Party-formerly-known-as-Republican – who are publicly committed to unconventional anything much less marriage. So they are liars.

Mom’s voice works as well as a hug to remove anxiety

“Reach out and touch someone” — good advertising slogan, or evolutionary imperative?

How about both?

What Madison Avenue knew decades ago has been observed in brain chemistry. A simple phone call from mom can calm frayed nerves by sparking the release of a powerful stress-quelling hormone, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Biological anthropologist Leslie Seltzer tested a group of seven- to 12-year-old girls with an impromptu speech and series of math problems in front of a panel of strangers, sending their hearts racing and levels of cortisol — a hormone associated with stress — soaring…

Once stressed, one-third of the girls were comforted in person by their mothers — specifically with hugs, an arm around the shoulders and the like. One-third were left watch an emotion-neutral 75-minute video. The rest were handed a telephone. It was mom on the line, and the effect was dramatic.

“The children who got to interact with their mothers had virtually the same hormonal response, whether they interacted in person or over the phone,” Seltzer says.

The girls’ levels of oxytocin, often called the “love hormone” and strongly associated with emotional bonding, rose significantly and the stress-marking cortisol washed away.

“It was understood that oxytocin release in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact,” Seltzer says. “But it’s clear from these results that a mother’s voice can have the same effect as a hug, even if they’re not standing there.”

The study revealed that the support, diminishing of worry and concern, was lasting.

Mom is as important as ever.

Surprise, surprise! FBI broke law to get phone data

The FBI violated the law in collecting thousands of U.S. telephone records during the Bush administration, according to a report just published.

Citing internal memos and interviews, the Washington Post reported that the FBI invoked nonexistent terrorism emergencies or persuaded phone companies to provide information. The report said the result was more than 2,000 illegally gathered records between 2002 and 2006…

FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni said FBI Director Robert Mueller did not know about the requests until after the inspector general’s investigation had begun.

Caproni told the Post that the bureau will await the inspector general’s report before deciding whether disciplinary action is warranted.

In my life’s experience, this is nothing new. The first major class action suit I was in – along with 2000 other people – was against a city police department, the phone company for collaborating, and the FBI for leading illegal wiretapping.

This was back in the Constitution State. Yes, we won.

Cripes, they even tapped Joe Liebermann’s phone. How’s that for dull?

Move over Google phone – here comes the Google netbook

HP, Acer, Dell, and…Google? That’s right — Google could soon join the ranks of those netbook manufacturers. The rumor mill now suggests that a Google-branded netbook will arrive next year, in addition to the Google phone…The netbook would be branded with Google and sold directly to consumers…

As I’ve suggested with the Google phone, hardware isn’t the important thing. Smartphones and netbooks generally have similar specs. Software is key, but what’s potentially the most exciting about Google’s rumored smartphone and netbook plans is the idea of the company selling them directly.

That means you’re looking at a possible Google Store. It means that Google could advertise its hardware to you every time you do a Web search. As some have suggested, it means Google could maybe subsidize its own tech products with advertising.

It also opens the door to more Google-branded products down the line…I’m getting ahead of myself, of course, but if Google is, in fact, planning to directly market and sell a smartphone and netbook with its brand name, I don’t see any reason why it would stop there. Brace yourself for the day that Google owns your entire computing experience, from power up to shut down.


Yes, Virginia – there really is a Google phone – UPDATED

HTC Bravo – which may be the base for GooglePhone

Om Malik is barely back in the country from attending Le Web in Paris and he’s on the hunt for the Google Phone story. Stay tuned.

Yes Virginia, there really is a Google Phone! And no, I don’t mean all those Android-powered devices, but instead a Google-branded phone that is made by an original equipment maker. The company has started giving away these devices to its employees, who started tweeting about it last night, and the company had to make an announcement this morning.

In a blog post on the Android Blog, Mario Queiroz, Vice President, Product Management writes:

We recently came up with the concept of a mobile lab, which is a device that combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities, and we shared this device with Google employees across the globe. This means they get to test out a new technology and help improve it. Unfortunately, because dogfooding is a process exclusively for Google employees, we cannot share specific product details. We hope to share more after our dogfood diet.

Amazing, crazy, why? Those were the first things that ran through my mind when I read that Google is actually to make a device. This is very much a page out of Microsoft’s playbook. Microsoft makes specification designs and Google seems to be doing just that…

Reading between the lines, Google’s decision to release a device shows that the company is worried about the fear of fragmentation of the Android ecosystem that we have often talked about. By putting its stake in the ground, the company is hoping that it doesn’t make the mistake that Microsoft made by dragging its feet in releasing Zune and ceding the market to Apple’s iPod.

I think it’s the smart way to deal with open source. Everyone and their dog can have their shot at rejiggering Android to fit their needs; but, it’s incumbent upon the designer of the OS to maintain core standards – and what better way to do so than by offering their own hardware.

UPDATE: A bit more info this morning, including natural tie-in with T-Mobile and the phone being sold only direct retail – no carrier.

Losing your home? Dial 1-800-IGNORE!

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Megan Cavallari looks up from her stack of hundreds of faxes and documents, proof of her efforts to try to save her home from foreclosure. She’s been on hold for over an hour, trying to get details for a loan modification.

Finally, she’s transferred to another line. But she doesn’t get a human. Exasperated, she sighs. Once again, it’s the “automated lady.”

“Every report says the banks are helping, and everything on the radio says they’re helping,” Cavallari said. “You call and call and call; you’re not getting a voice. You’re getting a recording.”

Cavallari, a music composer who does scores for films, is like hundreds of thousands of Americans going through foreclosure. But she says the process of trying to save her home — and her $92,000 down payment — has worn her out. She recently filed for bankruptcy and is moving out of her home with her young daughter.

The entire ordeal has been draining, especially trying to reach somebody at the bank. “You call them. After being on the phone with them, they send you to an automated lady. [Then] they send you to a Web site after you’ve been on the phone for an hour.”

I think the core of the problem is banks tried to make their balance sheet look better by letting go everyone they could think of – including the people who should be answering those phones.

Are times getting better? That’s still relative. It’s not harder to get a home or car loan. Banks are just living up to the standards they ignored for so long. So, for some – yes, it’s more difficult and probably should be.

I asked some of these questions at my locally-owned bank. Their response? They’re going nuts trying to hire capable people – especially to handle the avalanche of home loan refinance applications. Interest rates have never been better and if you’re up to snuff, you can save yourself some money every month.

Estonia to vote by mobile phone in 2011

Victoria Paloe of Estonia in Mobile Phone Throwing World Championship
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Parliament has approved a law making Estonia the first country to allow voting by mobile phone.

Lawmakers have approved a measure allowing citizens to vote by mobile phone in the next parliamentary elections in 2011.

The mobile-voting system, which has already been tested, requires that voters obtain free, authorized chips for their phones, said Raul Kaidro, spokesman of the SK Certification Center, which issues personal ID cards in Estonia.

The chip will verify the voter’s identity and authorize participation in the electronic voting system, he said.

They expect the 2011 vote to be the first of its kind, though neighboring Finland and Sweden possess the software and technical capabilities to conduct a similar “cellular election.”

Estonians have been voting online since 2007 with no validation problems at all.

Hottest new cellphone in the world!

Click on the photo for demo

This thing kills the iPhone, Blackberry, Treo, whatever’s been tripping your trigger – till now.

Let the flash demo load. Run through whichever features turn you on – and there are many.

Click on “I’ve seen enough” when you’ve finished checking out the revolutionary features in this phone. You’ll get up-to-date information on price and availability in your country.

Enter EIDEARDBLOG for a 10% discount.

No brain tumors; but, your mobile phone may cause a rash

People who use their mobile phones for long periods could develop an allergic skin rash, say health experts.

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) said people may develop rashes on their cheek or ear due to the nickel contained in some mobile phones.

The issue came to light after several reports of patients with unexplained skin disorders. Experts found that the reaction was caused by nickel in the casing or on the buttons of some mobile phones.

BAD said doctors and the public should be aware of the risk, with cases estimated to be on the rise. People with a known reaction to nickel – a metal also used in jewellery – are thought to be most at risk.

It’s officially called “mobile-phone dermatitus”.