A concoction most foul

The building I work in threw a building BBQ last week. There were hot dogs that were actually pretty tasty, diagnosis there were tough hamburgers that made me think of beef recalls, and there was Tropicana “Lemondade” Juice Drink that made me rethink all the connotations that Tropicana had for me.

It used to be that the Tropicana brand meant some combination of pure, natural, and juice. Indeed if you go to their web site, there are real people who make their juice talking to you about how great it is, and I think everything there is 100% juice. Unfortunately there’s a seamy underside to the brand. I present to you, Tropicana Brand Lemonade Flavored Juice Beverage.

Only after drinking a third of the bottle did I stop to ponder the label. 260 Calories per bottle (cleverly divided up into 8oz servings that no one ever actually drinks), lots of high fructose corn syrup, and my favorite: glycerol ester of wood rosin. If that doesn’t quench your thirst, I don’t know what will. Oh there’s some lemon juice in there too, just one of thirteen ingredients.

The tropicana web site fails to acknowledge this line of delicous and nutritous beverages, which is a real shame. There’s only an entry here at a PepsiCo FAQ.

I just think its a shame when companies whore out their relatively good name like this.

99 Percent Honesty

It finally comes out that John Edwards cheated on his wife who had cancer at the time. His official statement about it since don’t do much for me but dig the whole deeper. From his official statement:

Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public. When a supermarket tabloid told a version of the story, I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it. But being 99% honest is no longer enough.

I don’t think denying an affair because some of the details are inaccurate is being 99% honest. More like 1% honest.

The other gem of a comment from the Times’ coverage is this:

The network said that Mr. Edwards “made a point of telling Woodruff that his wife’s cancer was in remission when he began the affair with Hunter.”

I guess cheating on your wife is cool if her cancer is in remission.

RCN “Analog Crush” slow in coming to Somerville

Just called RCN to ask when their vaunted “analog crush” all-digital upgrade is going to arrive (so we get more HD channels). Turns out Somerville is last on the list in Massachusetts, with an ETA of Jan 2009.

The backstory is that Somerville is apparently a really antiquated system so we already get less HD channels than RCN subscribers in Boston, who pay the same amount as we do across the river.

And we’re not getting the special NBC Olympics Basketball and Soccer channels.

Consumer product review sites

All of a sudden, the Boston area is lousy with teams creating web-based applications to allow people to review all kinds of products based on not only the quality of the product itself, but various facets of the corporate social responsibility shown by the manufacturers of the product as well.

Listed by order in which I heard about them

  1. Buy it like you mean it (non-profit) covers the full spectrum of corporate responsibility from the environment to labor relations. The content is generated by the community, and they allow consumers to weight the different areas so the site can offer tailored scores based on ones interests. Looks like their current plan is depth-first, so the community’s focus is specifically on the chocolate industry.
  2. IzzitGreen (for-profit) Consumer-created reviews on products and services specifically focused on (as you might expect from the name) environmentally friendly products.
  3. Zeer (for-profit) More consumer related content. This one seems focused more on does it taste good/work well/good for me type reviews than the others. Impressive population of product images and names, they stated this was a “core competency” of theirs in their presentation at the last webinno conference.
  4. Citizen’s Market (non-profit). Seems very similar to buy it like you mean it, but with a broader focus. Looks to be the newest of the group (heard about them on the Boston ruby group list where they’re looking for volunteer programmers) Strangely enough, the founder of buy it like you mean it is an adviser of Citizens Market

I think these are all great ideas, especially the ones focused on the global impacts of the products. I just wonder how much room there is in the market for all of these operations to succeed.

But for the tax code, lonely

I got a kick out of a quote from the NYT magazine article on up and coming F1 race driver Lewis Hamilton. He moved to Geneva for “tax reasons” and so the author mentions that Geneva seems like a tough place to live for a single young man.

“I wouldn’t say I have much of a life here, ” he said. “You can’t have millions of people come over. Who do you invite?” He went on: “I can’t just wake up on Sunday morning and go golfing with my dad and my uncle. I have to get up really early here and fly over to England for the day, and then come back. So that’s more traveling.”

I guess that’s tough, moving to evade taxes and then having to fly your private jet over to play golf with your family. boo hoo.

Ben Fry Guest Lecture

A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune of sitting in on lecture of a scientific visualization class* at Tufts at which Ben Fry, creator of many great works of visualizations that can even be called information art as well as the visualization toolkit, steroids Processing, was guest speaking. The talk was great, spanning lots of work and interesting commentary.

Some notes:

  • Ben showed quite a bit of his previous work – some of it would be familiar to readers of his book, Visualizing Data.
  • Showed off some of his work that has appeared in movies, highlighting the fact that he is asked to add rows of standard grey computer buttons to his work because it doesn’t look “real” otherwise.
  • Talked about some experience teaching classes, particularly the challenges of classes with mixtures of cs students and artists. Making CS students do projects more artsy and artists do more interactive, technical work can be interesting. He showed off some examples of student work. (One cool student project asked a set of Nobel laureates what type of pets they had. Quite a few found time to respond and the results are here.)
  • The coolest demos were of some of the work he’d done for Oblong Industries (Not a lot of information online now- here’s one cnet article)- they have a working Minority Report-style gesture interface that allows one to control a computer with hand movements. Paired with the right interface, this looks to make light work of navigating through vast amounts of multidimensional data. Ben showed some videos, along with a demo (running on his macbook pro w/o the fancy hardware it was still really cool).

* I’d been asking for a class like this to be offered several times while I as still working on my degree at Tufts, but to no avail. Of course it’s offered right after I graduate!

Barack Obama is 46 and not a Muslim

This week and recieved this troubling (forwarded) email that was for profiling on the basis of age and ethnic backround. It listed a whole bunch of terrorist attacks visited upon Americans, ending each instance with “by Muslim male extremists between the ages of 17 and 40.” at the end of this screed, this gem appears:

And Now:
For the award winning
Act of Stupidity
Of all times the People of America want to elect, to the most Powerful position on the face of the Planet —
The Presidency of the United states of America

A Muslim
the ages
of 17 and 40.

Really? I think the most basic research would show that Barack Obama is indisputably 46 years old! Oh yeah, and he’s not a Muslim. And only an extremist if you think transparent government and access to health insurance for all Americans as extreme.

Are there really people in this country that are this stupid? That’s just really sad.

Dissappointing comments from the Obama campaign on trade

An article in today’s New York times “When a Populist Stance Meets a Complex Issue” left me a little disappointed in the the Obama campaign. The article talks primarily about American trade in beef and automobiles with Korea and other east Asian natious.

The campaign has come out against a free trade agreement with South Korea for what I think are some pretty dumb reasons (there may well be better a rationale hiding somewhere). First up is trade in automobiles. Newsflash: Koreans don’t buy a lot of American cars. The Korean government taxes engines by displacement size for all vehicles (not just imports) to discourage large gas guzzling vehicles. Korean automakers produce (and sell lots of) cars with small engines, responding to these regulations appropriately, as European and Japanese manufacturers do by importing small engined cars (which their home markets probably strongly incent as well).

American car makers, on the other hand try to push their large-engined gas guzzlers and are penalized by these engine displacement taxes. Instead of adjusting to the market conditions compain about nontarrif barriers.

“You can say that people in Korea don’t like American cars, but then you have to say why in nearby places people do seem to like them,” Mr. Goolsbee said. He added, “The Koreans have designed a system that will prevent competition from a segment of the market that is different from what they produce, and that is a nontariff barrier.”

Really – I think they’ve designed a market that is appropriate to meet the demands of a world dealing with the effects of global warming and rising energy costs. Perhaps if American carmakers acted accordingly, they could compete in these much saner regulatory environments then here in America.

The article also mentions beef production. If the US isn’t willing to test more widely for mad cow, then why should these nations agree to import beef again. In 2004 a farm in Kansas asked for permission to test its cows for mad cow so that it could export them to Japan, and was denied

The department refused, saying such testing would “imply a consumer safety aspect that is not scientifically warranted.” American consumer groups were apoplectic, but the beef industry which did not want to be pressured to spend $25 or so testing every animal applauded the move. Creekstone is still suing the Agriculture Department for the right to test.

So American producers won’t (in the case of the car industry) or can’t (in the case of this Kansas beef producer) change in the face of reasonable obstacles to trade. Other nations can, and the American government cries about it, and now the Obama campaign is spouting the same nonsence.



I was thinking about ths some more today, and these failures to compete abroad are failures at home. If we had a truly safe food supply for all Americans, instead of the potemkin system in place now, then no nation would refuse to buy our food.  If we had a government that would disincent large vehicles, then American car companies might finally learn how to make small cars that don’t suck and be able to sell them to Americans at home who currently buy little Japanese cars, as well as legions of people abroad.