Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Monday, January 10, 2021

What’s your sign? If you’re going by the age-old Zodiac calendar, then you’re off by a planetary wiggle-wag:

The ancient Babylonians based zodiac signs on the constellation the sun was “in” on the day a person was born. During the ensuing millenniums, the moon’s gravitational pull has made the Earth “wobble” around its axis, creating about a one-month bump in the stars’ alignment.

The result?

“When [astrologers] say that the sun is in Pisces, it’s really not in Pisces,” said Parke Kunkle, a board member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society.

Basically, a presumed Pisces is really an Aquarius — the traditionally preceding sign. You take a step back to get to your “true” astrological essence. Or something.

So then, I’m not really a Gemini? This revelation would shake me to my self-identifying core, except that it’s not 1977 and I’m not hitting any discotheques tonight.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/10/2021 10:38pm
Category: Pop Culture, Science, Society
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Wednesday, January 05, 2021

Yes, I give a species-squashing name to the recent wave of fin-and-feathered demises:

Ever since residents of Beebe, Ark., woke up on New Year’s Day to thousands of blackbirds that had dropped mysteriously from the sky, other sudden animal deaths have been reported furiously around the world. In a nearby Arkansas town, thousands of fish washed ashore on Monday. On Tuesday, another 500 blackbirds were found dead in Baton Rouge, La.

Then the story went international. Sweden reported dozens of birds falling out of the sky and New Zealand reported hundreds of dead snapper washing ashore. The Chesapeake Bay has 2 million fish estimated dead. Around 40,000 crabs died on the coast of Kent in Britain.

I’m sure there’s a perfectly rational, non-Mayan explanation for this die-off. Meanwhile, I’ll be switching the carnivorous portion of my diet to beef and pork, until further notice. Or until the cows and pigs start flinging themselves off cliffs.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 01/05/2021 11:14pm
Category: Science
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Sunday, December 26, 2020

Argentina is far from the only country to experience political and economic instability over the years. So there must be some other reason for the ingrained national obsession with psychoanalysis:

Buenos Aires is one of the world centres of psychoanalysis and has been since the earliest days of Freud’s work.

Unlike in many countries, where psychoanalysis was, and remains, a psychology for the rich, the practice took off in Argentina during the 1960s to the point where is is common for everyday folk to see an analyst. The Wall Street Journal cites a recent survey suggesting that 32% of Argentinians have seen an analyst at some point in their lives.

Indeed, there are more psychologists per capita in this South American country than anywhere else in the world. One big reason for that seems to be some doubling-up on therapy:

Meanwhile, on TV, a drama series called “Tratame Bien,” (“Treat Me Well”), focuses on the travails of José and Sofia, a husband and wife, each of whom has an analyst. Facing midlife crises, the two make a momentous decision: retaining a third analyst they can see together for couples’ therapy.

Argentine psychosis is obviously big business. They’re practically begging to be the backdrop for the next Woody Allen movie.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/26/2010 01:04pm
Category: Movies, Science, Society
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Monday, December 13, 2021

If you’re tired of exposing yourself to sun-shiney solar radiation while vacationing on some beach, perhaps you’d prefer the man-made irradiation to be had with an officially-sanctioned tour of Chernobyl:

While the area remains heavily contaminated, a ministry spokeswoman said, tourism routes had been drawn up which would cover the main sights while steering clear of the dangerous spots.

Wandering would not be encouraged, Yulia Yershova said: “There are things to see there if one follows the official route and doesn’t stray away from the group.”

It is already possible to visit the area with private tour firms, usually operating from Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, 60 miles south. The country’s government, however, says these are illegal and tourists’ safety cannot be guaranteed.

If you want a preview of this wasteland excursion, you can always track down a copy of Andrey Tarkovskiy’s 1979 eerie classic Stalker. Not that the Ukrainian Board of Tourism would endorse it, as it’s clearly one of the illegal jaunts through the exclusion zone.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/13/2010 09:33pm
Category: History, Science, Society
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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

The late Carl Sagan was way off with his “billions and billions” spiel: Astronomers now estimate a grand total of 300 sextillion stars in the universe.

How big is that number? It’s a 3 followed by 23 zeros. Or, to put it into an earthbound perspective:

“It’s fun because it gets you thinking about these large numbers,” [Harvard astrophysicist Charlie] Conroy said. Conroy looked up how many cells are in the average human body — 50 trillion or so — and multiplied that by the 6 billion people on Earth. And he came up with about 300 sextillion.

So the number of stars in the universe “is equal to all the cells in the humans on Earth — a kind of funny coincidence,” Conroy said.

In other words, that’s a hella-big number. Oh wait, it’s actually smaller than that.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 12/01/2021 09:44pm
Category: Science
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Monday, November 29, 2021

When you attempt beekeeping in New York City, you have to expect the bees to pick up some less-than-natural local color:

A fellow beekeeper sent samples of the red substance that the bees were producing to an apiculturalist who works for New York State, and that expert, acting as a kind of forensic foodie, found the samples riddled with Red Dye No. 40, the same dye used in maraschino cherry juice.

No one knows for sure where the bees might have consumed the dye, but neighbors of [Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Company factory on Dikeman Street in Red Hook] reported that bees in unusually high numbers were gathering nearby.

The result is red bees, living in red hives that are filled with a decidedly unhoneylike metallic-sickly-sweet red nectar. Kinda gross. But at least there’s an aesthetically pleasing side effect:

“When the sun is a bit down, they glow red in the evenings,” [beekeeper David Selig] said. “They were slightly fluorescent. And it was beautiful.”

I guess that visual showcase lessens the sting of failure.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/29/2010 11:19pm
Category: Food, New Yorkin', Science
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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Villainize that Comic Sans all you want, but it may have an educational-retention advantage over prettier typefaces:

[Princeton University] researchers found that, on average, those given the harder-to-read fonts actually recalled 14% more.

They believe that presenting information in a way that is hard to digest means a person has to concentrate more, and this leads to “deeper processing” and then “better retrieval” afterwards. It is an example of the positive effects of what scientists call “disfluency”.

“Disfluency is just a subjective feeling of difficulty associated with any mental task,” explained psychology professor Daniel Oppenheimer, one of the co-authors of the study. “So if something is hard to see or hear, it feels disfluent… We’d found that disfluency led people to think harder about things.

Along with Comic Sans, the other intense-comprehension fonts tested were Bodoni, Haettenschweiler, and Monotype Corsiva. All these were versus the “easy” Arial — admittedly, as generic a baseline font as there is.

The concept makes sense: If you expend more mental energy toward something, you’re likelier to remember it, just due to the effort. The biggest challenge is achieving balance — using a font that’s distinctive enough to stick in memory, but not so stylistically out-there that it’s an indecipherable chore to read.

And while this information delivery method is ideal for receptive learning, it’s not a good idea for other media messaging:

The traditional strategy is to design all of the information you’re presenting in a way that is as clear and easy to read as possible. This makes sense, I think, because most often designers are tasked with delivering information to an audience that is assumed to be at worst hostile and at best indifferent to the message. But this policy may be self-defeating in non-advertising contexts.

So if the message is meant to be rapid-fire and not particularly deep, then clean font design is the way to play it. For deeper mental penetration, the funkier designs work. I’m not sure all advertising needs to adhere to the former; you want the sales pitch to stick, after all. If anything, the “easy” fonts are best applied to video-based delivery, where just getting the exposure counts. Anything meant to be more lasting, like print and archived text, can go with the complex serifs/sans serifs.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/27/2010 05:11pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Creative, Science, Society
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Sunday, October 17, 2021

White collar workers certainly spend enough time with their butts planted in the office chair, so toiling in an erect position might seem odd:

In the past few years, standing has become the new sitting for 10 percent of AOL employees at the firm’s Dulles campus, part of a standing ovation among accountants, programmers, bureaucrats, telemarketers and other office workers across the nation. GeekDesk, a California company that sells $800 desks raised by electric motors, says sales will triple this year. It has sold standing desks to the Secret Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Many firms and government agencies require standing setups in new contracts for office furniture.

Standers have various reasons for taking to their feet: it makes them feel more focused, prevents drowsiness, makes them feel like a general even if they just push paper. (Former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld works standing up. So does novelist Philip Roth.) But unknown to them, a debate is percolating among ergonomics experts and public health researchers about whether all office workers should be encouraged to stand — to save lives.

My own preference during the workday is to stand around and pace whenever possible. I don’t have the office ergonomics to match this preference, so indeed, I do spend more time sitting than I’d like. Physiologically, I try to compensate for all that derriere time by standing up during the rest of the day, especially on the subway — with the justification for passing up an empty seat by noting that I “sit all day”.

So I’m onboard with this upright-and-locked workplace trend, should it really catch on. I guess periodic sit-downs will become the new smoke/coffee breaks…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/17/2010 01:34pm
Category: Business, Science
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Friday, October 08, 2021

I’m not really rolling-on-the-floor-laughing over Rolfing, a post-yoga therapy technique that’s catching on:

Rolfing is named after its creator, Ida Rolf, a biochemist from New York City who studied alternative methods of bodywork and healing beginning in the 1920s. She died in 1979 at the age of 82.

Dr. Rolf developed a theory that the body’s aches and pains arose from basic imbalances in posture and alignment, which were created and reinforced over time by gravity and learned responses among muscles and fascia — the sheath-like connective tissue that surrounds and binds muscles together. Rolfing developed as a way to “restructure” muscles and fascia.

But, in this age of rampant leet-speak, I just can’t read the word “rolf” and not have it register as ROFL. So much for taking this revived body-working at all seriously…

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 10/08/2021 10:08am
Category: Internet, Science, Society, Wordsmithing
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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

If you’re staying at the Vdara resort in Las Vegas, be sure to stock up on triple-digit SPF sunscreen, lest you fall victim to the pool’s “death ray” sun-refracting effect:

Chicago visitor Bill Pintas experienced Vdara’s “death ray” recently… He was sunning on a recliner. He was on his stomach, relaxed, eyes closed. But suddenly, the lawyer became so uncomfortably hot that he leaped up to move. He tried to put on his flip-flop sandals but, inexplicably, they were too hot to touch. So he ran barefoot to the shade.

“I was effectively being cooked,” Pintas said. “I started running as fast as I could without looking like a lunatic.”

Then he smelled an odor, and realized it was coming from his head, where a bit of hair had been scorched. It was about 12:20 p.m., as best Pintas can recall.

Taking brief refuge at the pool’s bar area, Pintas chatted with employees. He said they chuckled when he described what had happened. “Yes, we call it the death ray,” he says they told him. Sometimes it causes disposable drink glasses to melt, a cocktail waitress added.

Apparently the hotel’s curved glass-and-steel facade is the culprit. Somehow, the place hasn’t been sued yet; but I’m sure that’ll happen sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, this being Sin City and all: What’s the over/under on how many tourists get solar-torched in the month of October? I’d like to get a piece of that action.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/29/2010 10:39pm
Category: Science, Society
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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Despite all the buzz, the geolocational social media features offered by Foursquare and other sites are slow to catch on with privacy-wary mainstream audiences.

And somehow, I don’t think that offering up an MTV-sponsored check-in badge for every visit to the STD clinic is going to hasten adoption:

The badge itself is lime green and black, with the letters “GYT” emblazoned in the middle.

Foursquare users can go to their own health care providers, or they can find nearby clinics by visiting [the Get Yourself Tested website] and entering their ZIP code. Once they’ve checked in, users will have to post — or “shout” in Foursquare lingo — the letters “GYT” to their friends.

The goal is laudable, of course. And at least Foursquare isn’t offering up mayorships for frequent testers — I imagine such a crown would cure this targeted younger generation of its inherent open-book lifestyle attitude (and lead to a lot fewer dates).

Although I guess that, if this confluence of digital and biological intimacy somehow catches on, it might revive the now-obsolete term for sexually-transmitted ailments. Thereby giving “social” a whole new meaning altogether.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 08/31/2010 10:58pm
Category: Science, Social Media Online, Society
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Monday, August 02, 2021

Corning has gone through its R&D vaults to unveil something called Gorilla Glass — a super-strong yet flexible material ideal for televisions, touchscreens and other electronics.

Corning set out in the late 1950s to find a glass as strong as steel. Dubbed Project Muscle, the effort combined heating and layering experiments and produced a robust yet bendable material called Chemcor…

In 2006, when demand surfaced for a cell phone cover glass, Corning dug out Chemcor from its database, tweaked it for manufacturing in LCD tanks, and renamed it Gorilla. “Initially, we were telling ourselves a $10 million business,” said researcher Ron Stewart.

Interesting that Corning felt the need to re-brand an industrial component with a snappier name. Does “Gorilla” sound more appealing to manufacturers than the technical-sounding “Chemcor”? Should that matter, when it’s performance that counts? This hints that business-to-business marketing resorts to the same tactics used for consumer-facing selljobs.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/02/2021 11:35pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Science, Tech
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Sunday, August 01, 2021

You can now buy it pretty cheaply by the roll, but once upon a time, aluminum gave precious metals a run for their money:

In fact, aluminum became more precious than gold and silver in the 19th century, because it was harder to obtain. The French government once displayed Fort Knox-like aluminum bars next to the crown jewels, and the minor emperor Napoleon III reserved a prized set of aluminum cutlery for special guests at banquets. (Less favored guests used gold knives and forks.) The United States, to show off its industrial prowess, even capped the Washington monument with a six-pound pyramid of aluminum in 1884.

But the aluminum market suffered a mighty crash shortly thereafter. Entrepreneurs in the United States and Europe finally figured out how to separate aluminum from minerals cheaply and also how to produce it on an industrial scale… In the mid-1800s, the first aluminum ingots on the market went for $550 per pound. Fifty years later, not even adjusting for inflation, it cost 25 cents for the same amount.

Presumably, had this elemental ore maintained its rare status, by now we’d be chugging down our beverages from pop-top cans made of tin, and oohing-ahhing whenever somebody whipped out a no-credit-limit American Express Aluminum Card.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/01/2021 03:30pm
Category: History, Science
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Sunday, July 18, 2021

If the prick of the flu vaccine keeps you from going through with inoculation, a few hundred tiny microneedles on a medicated patch might be more palatable:

The business side of the patch feels like fine sandpaper, [Georgia Tech researcher Mark Prausnitz] said. In tests of microneedles without vaccine, people rated the discomfort at one-tenth to one-twentieth that of getting a standard injection, he said. Nearly everyone said it was painless.

Some medications are already delivered by patches, such as nicotine patches for people trying to quit smoking. That’s simply absorbed through the skin. But attempts to develop patches with the flu vaccine absorbed through the skin have not been successful so far.

In the Georgia Tech work, the vaccine is still injected. But the needles are so small that they don’t hurt and it doesn’t take any special training to use this kind of patch.

Ingenious. But a micro-pricking is still a pricking, and so some selling might need doing:

Asked if the term “microneedle” might still frighten some folks averse to shots, Prausnitz said he was confident that marketers would come up with a better term before any sales began.

Leave it to the marketers to sugarcoat the medicine. How about “friction patch”?

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 07/18/2010 09:12pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Science
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Tuesday, July 06, 2021

If you’re from California, the slang-term “hella” is probably an unlikely candidate for use as a formal unit of scientific measure, i.e. 10 to the 27th power, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000:

“Hella,” a term many Southern Californians find as irritating as teary-eyed renditions of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” is used mainly to make adjectives more intense, as in: “This lentil pizza is hella healthful!” It also can convey simple exuberance: “That party at Sunshine’s house? Hella!”

“Hella” probably derived from “helluva” and, for reasons unknown, morphed into “hella” in the Bay Area before taking wing in the 1990s. In 2001, Gwen Stefani and her band No Doubt — out of Orange County — took it national with their mega-hit “Hella Good.”

“A lot of people around the U.S. know it comes from Northern California, where there have been so many contributions to science at Davis, Berkeley, Stanford and Lawrence Livermore,” [physics student Austin] Sendek says of “hella.” “It would be a really good way to immortalize this part of the state.”

I don’t know that “mega-hit” applies to that No Doubt song. Personally, I first came across “hella” in the 1998 “Spooky Fish” episode of “South Park”, wherein Cartman used it incessantly, to the extreme annoyance of his pals (“Stop saying ‘hella’, fat-ass!!”). Given such pop-cultural linkage, I fully endorse its adoption as a mega-number prefix by the International System of Units.

Besides, we need some sort of shorthand for things like the theoretical diameter of the universe, which, according to “hella” proponent Sendek, is 1.4 hellameters. I mean, how have we gone this long without it, right?

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 07/06/2021 10:12pm
Category: Creative, Pop Culture, Science, Wordsmithing
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Thursday, July 01, 2021

In Afar, Ethiopia, seismic activity will lead to some major map redrawing:

Dr James Hammond, a seismologist from the University of Bristol — who has been working in Afar — says that parts of the region are below sea level and the ocean is only cut off by about a 20-metre block of land in Eritrea.

“Eventually this will drift apart,” he told the BBC World Service. “The sea will flood in and will start to create this new ocean.

“It will pull apart, sink down deeper and deeper and eventually… parts of southern Ethiopia, Somalia will drift off, create a new island, and we’ll have a smaller Africa and a very big island that floats out into the Indian Ocean.”

In this case, “eventually” means 10 million years or so. Practically right around the corner, geologically speaking.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 07/01/2021 11:25pm
Category: Science
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Saturday, June 26, 2021

Budding social researchers need to get out of the classroom and into the high-end nightclub, where bouncers offer an up-close demonstration of the dynamics of power relations:

Through conversations and observations, [sociologist Lauren Rivera] found that bouncers ran through a hierarchical list of qualities to determine in seconds who would enhance the image of the club and encourage high spending. Social networks mattered more than social class, or anything else for that matter. Celebrities and other recognized elites slipped through the door. And people related to or befriended by this “in crowd” often made the cut, too.

Wealth is considered to be one of the strongest indicators of status, yet bouncers frowned upon bribes even though bribes are obvious displays of money. “New Faces,” as the bouncers called unrecognized club-goers, were selected on the basis of gender, dress, race, and nationality. Sometimes the final call boiled down to details as minor as the type of watch that adorned a man’s wrist.

Nothing earth-shattering about these intricacies. You don’t need field research to know that these gatekeepers are charged with maintaining crowd-controlled composition of nightlife enclaves. But who wouldn’t like to run up a bar tab for the sake of advanced people-watching?

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 06/26/2010 02:00pm
Category: New Yorkin', Science, Society
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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Even taking into consideration the eminently-valid reasons for producing the rape-preventative apparatus known as the Rape-aXe, the concept is somewhat mind-boggling:

[Dr. Sonnet] Ehlers is distributing the female condoms in the various South African cities where the World Cup soccer games are taking place.

The woman inserts the latex condom like a tampon. Jagged rows of teeth-like hooks line its inside and attach on a man’s penis during penetration, Ehlers said.

Once it lodges, only a doctor can remove it — a procedure Ehlers hopes will be done with authorities on standby to make an arrest.

“It hurts, he cannot pee and walk when it’s on,” she said. “If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter… however, it doesn’t break the skin, and there’s no danger of fluid exposure.”

Between this device, and those ear-aching vuvuzelas, this has already been a more-memorable-than-usual World Cup. Appropriately enough, for reasons having little to do with soccer…

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 06/22/2010 08:00pm
Category: Other Sports, Science, True Crime, Women
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Sunday, June 20, 2021

eyeballing it
I pretty much get the science and specs behind the iPhone 4′s ultra-high-def display resolution:

By developing pixels a mere 78 micrometers wide, Apple engineers were able to pack four times the number of pixels into the same 3.5-inch (diagonal) screen found on earlier iPhone models. The resulting pixel density of iPhone 4 — 326 pixels per inch — makes text and graphics look smooth and continuous at any size.

Still, did they have to call it “Retina Display”? However accurate it might be, it sounds vaguely creepy to me — like that extreme micro-pixelation is somehow boring into your eyeballs, potentially causing damage. Better to leave the anatomical terms out of consumer technology pitches.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 06/20/2010 10:51pm
Category: Science, Tech, iPhone
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Friday, June 18, 2021

i need somebody
Being a child of the ’70s and ’80s, I was raised to Just Say No to drugs.

But you can make an exception when it’s over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, right? I never was crystal-clear on that whole concept. If so, I’m sure the free samples that Help Remedies just sent me pass muster.

Yep, on the strength of last month’s post about Help’s unique packaging and marketing presentation, the company sent me some freebies. An email from their CEO, Richard Fine, extended the offer and subsequently hooked me up. I had a choice in what to receive; since I don’t have any chronic ailments that need relief, I opted for Help’s preventative measures:

- The help, I’ve cut myself package of 12 large and small bandages

- The help, I have an aching body package of 16 ibuprofen pills

Better safe than sorry, right? I feel compelled to injure myself, just so I can make use of this first-aid windfall. But I’ll keep my self-destructive impulses in check, and likewise keep this minor stash in reserve.

I do appreciate the outreach by Help. Indeed, the unconventional packets are fun to hold and behold, and they conveniently take up minimal space in the medicine cabinet. I have every confidence that their contents will fix me up, whenever I need to crack open their biodegradable shells.

Included with the samples was a thin little booklet that details Help’s business-operating philosophy. I really wish a version of it was online, because it’s a real hoot: Quirky brand messaging that’s reminiscent, in tone, of 19th Century snake-oil medicine sales pitches. Only in Help’s case, it’s utilized to debunk the modern variations of those pitches. Here’s a prime passage:

In the world of drugs and pharmacies there are stories about technologically complicated pills that, after entering your body and gliding aerodynamically down your throat, proceed to detonate and break into thousands of pieces. Those pieces then proceed to seek out the various bodily organs they must attend to, like thousands of tiny intelligent tadpoles (see figure 5-1).

In fact, pills are composed entirely of non-thinking matter, so nothing like this could possibly happen. Our pills are as technologically complicated as a piece of bread.

It’s product language that’s consistent, and adorns Help’s packaging, making for a memorable product. I don’t know if Help really will change the way OTC drugs are marketed toward consumers, but they’re giving it a good go. I still expect to see these little pill-packs spread beyond New York (Help’s home turf, right out of their Broadway HQ), and into the Targets of the world.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 06/18/2010 08:17am
Category: Business, Creative, New Yorkin', Science
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Monday, June 07, 2021

A couple of days ago, I started taking a daily multivitamin. Prescribed by Dr. Yourstruly, of course. I’ve been feeling particularly run-down too often lately, and figured a supplemental boost couldn’t hurt (vaguely geriatric vibe aside).

The early result? My urine has gone from pale yellow to a greenish-yellow hue.

Let’s hope that that’s color-coding for forthcoming revitalization. Good thing green is my favorite color.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 06/07/2021 08:09am
Category: Science
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