Brominated Vegetable Oil

I was reading through some ingredients today, this time on a can of Sparkling Black Cherry Fresca. I came across one called “brominated vegetable oil”. Concerned after my last experience, I went to Google to find a Wikipedia article about it. Although it is apparently banned in some countries, it doesn’t seem harmful except in their example where a man drank eight liters of Ruby Red Squirt (containing “bvo”) a day and came down with a case of bromoderma which turned his skin red. Given that many servings of Squirt, it seems lucky that’s all he came down with.

Fresca is an amazing witch’s brew of other funky ingredients. Sure there are the regulars: potassium citrate, potassium benzoate, and EDTA, but it also has carob bean gum, glycerol ester of wood rosin, and acacia, though I imagine most soft drinks refer to these only as “natural and artificial flavors”.

Color Wheel

I have inherited webmaster duties for a DOT employees organization. For the most part the site is very neglected, somebody put a lot of effort into it one time and then nothing really came of it. It also uses frames. The problem I have with frames is you never really know where you are and in this case there are eight different local branches of the club, plus the statewide organization. The colors and buttons are kind of simple. I thought using I could use a format kind of like what the blogs use where there are two columns, one for links and one for content. But I’m terrible with colors and didn’t just want to use Vicksburg Olive like my blog does, even though I like the way those colors work together.

I found a neat website that offers a color wheel. It may be in different places because they guy says he will let you put the source on your own page (with ads), but this is where I found it:

Colour Scheme Chooser

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Nick Lowe

This past weekend, Susan and I saw Walk the Line, the movie about Johnny Cash (it got a good review from me). As such things do, it got me doing some research about Johnny Cash. I had been kind of disappointed with the greatest hits CD I had gotten several years ago. It had “Ring of Fire” and “Boy Named Sue” (which I don’t even like, though it’s a good story), but seemed lacking. A lot of the songs in the movie were from his earliest days at Sun records and were more appealing to me. So I went off looking for some of that music and bought a few songs from iTunes, plus a good duet with June Carter they played at the end of the movie. Then I decided to make a virtual CD in iTunes of the new stuff from iTunes and the good stuff from my CD, filtering out songs I wasn’t crazy about. I was trying to figure out what would be good from my old CD and in the liner notes saw that one of the later songs was by Nick Lowe with Nick Lowe on guitar. I don’t know if I’d never made it that far on the CD, but I’d never noticed it before and it was a pretty good song (“Without Love,” the CD also has Cash doing a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman” which Jeb would probably like, but didn’t make my cut). I’d seen Nick Lowe’s name come up a lot before and I just had to figure out who he was.

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Sony MDR-EX81 Headphones

My review of my new headphones on Amazon.

Four stars

I read the reviews here, and decided to get these headphones anyway. Essentially they are pretty good: they are comfortable and sound good. I hoped for more though.

The sound can be good just by itself, but on the iPod I have to crank it up to about 80% for it to sound its best. While I disagree with people who said the buds have no bass (they must not have the fit worked out), I do agree that especially with rock music the sound can be tinny. Using the iPod equalizer setting called Treble Reducer seems to help, but then if you play the iPod over a car or home stereo you have to remember to turn the equalizer off again or the iPod sounds muddy.

mdr-ex81.jpg

The buds are very comfortable, but they do go pretty far in your ear. They block out a lot of noise (I couldn’t hear my cell ringing until I got to a silent part between songs), but not everything. I’m not sure the ear hooks are even necessary since the buds fit in the ear pretty snugly. Plus the hooks tangle like crazy, catching on every cord they come across. I didn’t like the asymetric cords until I realized the longer cord was supposed to go behind your neck instead of under your chin. That way if you need to talk to someone you can take the earbuds out and they hang around your neck. That’s a nice feature.

I can’t strongly recommend these, but I don’t know that I would recommend avoiding them either. And they are certainly better than a lot of things you will find out there.

iPod at its peak

Before Christmas, a co-worker told me he had put iPod nano’s on layway for his two kids as their big Christmas gift. But as Christmas got closer he was talking to his older son (age 15) about iPods and his son said that he would rather have a Playstation Portable (PSP) because it plays music too but also plays movies and the best video games. Upon hearing this, his younger sister (about 10) said that was what she wanted too. So the layaway order for the iPods was cancelled and the kids got PSP’s.

I think that was a really big turning point. The iPod has gone from being so cool that you have to have it, to coming up short on features. Yes, the new ones play video that you download from iTunes, but how long will people be satisfied with something that only plays music and tiny videos?

The Palm went through this. For a while it was the hot thing and every business person needed one. They “couldn’t live” without their Palms. I still feel that way about mine and for a while Palm seemed unstoppable. But then Dell and HP took huge chunks of market share by selling more advanced (and more expensive) handheld devices that were almost like tiny laptops (with Microsoft Windows and Office even). Now some people have Blackberries, some have RAZR phones with cameras. Palm has some phones and has licensed its operating system to other phone makers, but a Palm isn’t a must-have. Having a simple, fairly inexpensive device, that only stores phone numbers and your calendar seems like a waste of pocket real estate.

Take a blackberry, RAZR, or even a Palm and add a tiny 20 GB hard drive and who needs an iPod anymore? Maybe you won’t even need the hard drive, maybe you can just get songs wirelessly from music services, satellite, or even your home computer. Apple is still the top of the heap, but I see them getting left behind. The iPod has been a very successful mp3 player, but I don’t know if people will settle for mp3 players for much longer. And Apple can’t change the iPod too much without it not really being an iPod anymore.

Op amps

At first my Sony MDR-EX81 headphones didn’t seem to get that loud. I thought maybe I needed to get an amplifier. When I built my Band Aids battery pack for the iPod, there were already people putting battery packs in Altoids tins. I soon found out that some people were also building amplifiers in Altoids tins. They have a line in from the iPod and a line out to the headphones and make the sound much louder in headphones that require more oomph than the typical ear buds (or for people who just want their music really loud). Susan even told me that her nephew made some of these Altoids amplifiers. So I started researching them around the Christmas holidays.

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Bad Engineering

Today I was reading articles from space.com on my Palm. One article concerned the Stardust space probe which is due to come back to Earth on January 15th carrying, what else, stardust that it has collected in space.

The mission is similar to the Genesis probe which also collected space dust and returned to earth. The idea was it would re-enter the atmosphere, deploy a parachute, and then be intercepted gently by a helicopter on the way down to avoid breaking the fragile collection plates sealed inside the probe. Well, the parachutes never deployed, the helicopters couldn’t catch it, and Genesis crashed into the ground at high speed in September 2004, ruining a $264 million science experiment.

Other than “the parachutes failed to open” I had never heard what caused the accident. But they did investigate. There were switches inside the spacecraft that would trigger the release of the parachute by detecting g-forces. At three g’s (as the spacecraft first hit the atmosphere) the switch would engage but not release the parachute until the g forces rose to 30 g’s and then came back down below 3 g’s again when it would be safe for the parachutes to deploy. But the designer at Lockheed put the gravity switch in upside down so the switch saw g’s in the wrong direction and never engaged. But they’re not complete idiots: there was a backup switch. It was upside down too. No one ever caught the mistakes. It would be like putting airbags in your headrest instead of the steering wheel.

Stardust was designed by Lockheed too. Watch out for falling spacecraft on the 15th.

FTSE4good

It’s the beginning of the year so I used this past weekend to figure out how my investments did last year and decide where to put my 2006 installment of my Roth IRA. As you will recall, last December and January I had put the 2004 and 2005 contributions into Vanguard’s Small Cap Value Index. Small Cap stocks had a pretty good run prior to that time and this past year continued to (barely) outpace the Dow and S&P 500 (though medium sized companies did better than all of them in 2005). So I was going to leave that money where it was, but thought it was time to diversify the new contribution into something else.

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