Archive for the ‘Strange Observations’ Category

Abomination or Marketing Breakthrough?

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

So I’m in the grocery store in the orange juice section. Specifically, the Tropicana orange juice section, (and section is the right name because there are 14 distinct varieties of Tropicana orange juice) when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a new variety labeled “Trop50”.

The label says prominently “50% less sugar and calories than orange juice”.

“Huh”, I wonder, “how do they do that? Is it some chemical process like de-caffeination where they somehow extract part of the sugar?”

So I pick up the bottle and look at the back and check out the ingredients. Whubbah-wha? The first ingredient is “FILTERED WATER” followed by “NOT FROM CONCENTRATE PASTEURIZED ORANGE JUICE”. Wait, there’s more WATER than ORANGE JUICE? Yes, this is, in fact, completely true. Elsewhere on the label it states “42% juice”. So ok, they took some OJ, and cut it 50/50 with water. Fine, this stuff must be cheaper, right?

Nope.

Same _exact_ price[1] for the full 100% pure orange juice and the watered down 50% orange juice beverage. So wait, does it taste (and feel) like watered down orange juice? I’m guessing not, since Tropicana has conveniently added “MODIFIED FOOD STARCH”, “NATURAL FLAVORS” and “REB A” to make the beverage presumably thicker, more flavorful and sweeter than watered down orange juice would otherwise be.

In the interest of full disclosure, I often drink “orange-ade”[2] consisting of 1 part OJ to anywhere from 1 to 5 parts water depending on thirst. But when I drink this… I DON’T PAY FOR THE WATER.

My open letter to Tropicana:

With respect to your Trop50 Some Pulp Orange ‘Beverage’ which I recently discovered on the shelf of my local grocery:

You should be ashamed selling watered down OJ for the same price, and in the same section as your trademark “Pure Premium” orange juice. It exploits consumers who expect the product directly between varieties of actual Tropicana orange juice to actually be <gasp> orange juice. Kudos to your production team, however, for significantly increasing throughput without adding significant cost. Unfortunately, this product damages your reputation for a premium, great tasting, high quality pure orange juice. It certainly has damaged your credibility with this consumer.
– Sincerely, Chris Schierer

(Note: After multiple attempts at receiving a 500 server error at the Tropicana website, I was unable to send this comment through. I’ll try again later.)

  1. Based on a single sample of our local Tops grocery store []
  2. Shout out to Aunt Ann and the Schierer cousins for introducing me to this. []

8 Days of Windows 8: Part 1: Quiet, too quiet?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I installed Windows 8 on my game computer. A few weeks prior, the Win8 pro upgrades were on sale for $40. Inevitably, they were on sale for even less (perhaps $25?) a week or so later. In any case, I’m sure that over the long run they’ll cost more. So I picked up to upgrade licenses, one for my machine, and one for another of the three Win7 boxes we have in the house.

I also picked up a free (until the end of January) Windows Media Center add-on since this is a feature we use on K’s machine currently to record broadcast TV.

The install was, well, mostly-harmless. Not exactly a glowing review, but I think appropriate so far. Details on the install follow. More on what works and what doesn’t work (so far) tomorrow.

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Scrabble Challenge

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Ok, I know I have many Scrabble geeks amongst my friends and family. Here is a challenge for you:

What is the largest contiguous block of letters (e.g. a rectangle with no empty spaces or extensions) that can be formed in Scrabble with only legal moves?

Anyone?

PS: I found these two discussions with a search, but they didn’t seem ‘conclusive’. I’m not sure if a ‘proof’ is possible here.

“Me!”

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

“Me!” is the latest in the additions to R’s vocabulary. She and I were looking at the family pictures and the conversation went something like this:
“Who’s that?”
“Mommy.”
“Who’s that?”
“Daddy.”
“Who’s that?”
“Nate.”[1]
Finally, “Who’s that?”
“Me!”

This just astounds me. Not only does it show that she recognizes herself, but that she’s naturally mastered such an abstract concept as the personal pronoun. It’s not like anybody else calls her “me”; we call her “Rachel”, “Rach-ee” or “Raych”. However, she’s certainly seen other people refer to themselves as “me”, so I assume she’s figured out how to project other people’s self-reference to herself. So: self awareness, self recognition, and the ability to observe others and project their behavior onto herself. What’s most amazing is that this came first… not as a replacement for her name. As far as I’ve noticed she’s yet use her name in any way.[2]

This is the sort of self-organizing behavior that just drives programmers nuts. As far as I know, we have no idea how to make a machine observe and learn behaviors like this… completely on their own. For her, it’s just automatic. Those circuits are just building themselves faster and faster… she’s just about in the word a day realm now. Awesome.

  1. This is actually a fairly recent development also, up until a few days ago N was indicated by a custom sign where R flicked her left pointer finger away from her mouth. We have no idea where this came from, but that’s what she’s used for the last 3-6 months. []
  2. K adds that she is also using “mine”, which is about as abstract AND adds the concept of ownership. []

Randomly Overheard at Work

Friday, August 19th, 2011

“If I can get on my Megatron and ping Pegasus, but can’t get on, something is seriously wrong.”

Hmmm… Yeah. Something IS, because I’m pretty sure I understood that.

Public Service Announcement

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Now having the benefit of a fully awake brain (and the appropriate precautions and concerns of our friends and family), I feel obligated to remind everyone that if you should ever find a bat in your house, do not release it. The animal should be captured (if this can be done safely) and provided to an appropriate authority for rabies testing.

Unfortunately, my instinctive desire to protect the poor critter from our cats prevented me from even considering that some harm could (or had) come to us. What was an amusing sleep-deprived anecdote has the potential to be a legitimate health concern. Come to find out, there are reported cases of people being bitten in their sleep and not even knowing it. This is extremely unlikely mind you, and by my unpracticed eye the animal seemed to behaving normally (for a small creature trapped in a foreign environment being chased by predators).

So we will resist the desire to freak out while we consult with the appropriate health service agencies to determine the appropriate course of action.

Newegg rocks.

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

We do almost all of our electronic purchases online and the vast majority of that goes through Newegg. We have purchased literally thousands of dollars of computer and related equipment from them in the last 3.5 years.

Our last two purchases are typical examples. On the morning of the 23rd of February I ordered a new UPS. A big, bulky, heavy piece of electronics. The price was the best I could find anywhere and the shipping was free: standard 3-day UPS. My confirmation email shows that they processed the order at 10AM Eastern Time (Wednesday). The unit was on my front steps by 4PM on Friday. It came from California. UPS rocks too.

Yesterday afternoon Kristin’s mouse gave up the ghost. She ordered a new one at ~2:30 PM (according to when the order confirmation was received). It was on the steps at 2:30 PM today.[1][2]

Tonight as I read my email, I noticed a special “e-blast” coupon for 15% off any mouse. I get on their live chat support, tell them what happened and bang, $6 credit. No begging, no pleading, just done.

This is how to get repeat business (and a nice testimonial on a random blog).

  1. Time according to UPS tracking, we found it at 5PM. This item came from New Jersey. []
  2. This item was $1.99 for the standard “3-day” UPS shipping. Still the best overall price. []

Fun with LED Christmas lights.

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

LED Christmas lights have been around for several years, but seem to have become particularly popular this year. They have many advantages over conventional incandescent bulbs including better life, more vibrant colors (and the paint doesn’t chip off) and considerably less power for the same light. (The incandescent lights in the star on Nate’s tree below draws as much power as all 200 LEDs on the tree.)
However, there is one annoying drawback. They flicker.

I assume most people either don’t notice this, or aren’t bothered by it, but it seems to jump right out to me. I find it particularly bad when the lights are on trees blowing in the wind (moving) so the flicker becomes apparent due to persistence of vision effects.

Technical details and fun Christmas tree pictures below the fold.
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Jetta TDI vs. Acura Integra

Friday, November 5th, 2010

So I mentioned my shifting issues in my previous car related posting. Although I’m doing much better, I’m still working on getting the feel[1] for the new drive train.

Generally speaking, the TDI provides more torque at low RPM with proportionally less power at high RPMs. The red line is at 5000, and for the ‘break-in’ period I’m trying to keep it under 3000. The 1997 Integra LS by comparison, engages the rev-limiter at 6800 RPM and one can easily get up into the 5-6000 range in road driving.

Much more car stuff, including musical engine comparisons, below the fold…
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  1. Literally, because I think one feels shifting from their backside and ears rather than by watching the tachometer. []

Nate has the shutterbug.

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

So Nate recently inherited my in-law’s old point and shoot digital camera. The LCD doesn’t work anymore, so he fires away old school by looking through a tiny grungy viewfinder with absolutely no feedback on what he’s managed to capture. I’m not sure he cares. Here are some of my completely unedited favorites from the Nate’s eye view of the trip to Maine.

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For more, check out Nate’s new gallery in Impressions.

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