July 30, 2006
Jelly Belly Sweet Rocks

At the supermarket, I spied a box of Jelly Belly Sweet Rocks, and I had to buy it for a Cruft Labs review. A few years ago, we reviewed Bott's Beans, the candy based on the Harry Potter books.

The Sweet Rocks are a tie-in to the Ant Bully movie. Evidently the ants eat jelly beans and call them 'sweet rocks'. Whatever.

The whole point of the Sweet Rocks is really down to the four special flavors. Alka Root, Ant Hill, Caterpillar, and Grass Clippings.

We sorted out the jelly beans from two boxes and here is the total amount of the desired ones to test. I wish they put a bit more in the box. The regular Jelly Bellys are good, but we are really after the special flavors.

On to the testing:

Alka Root - Tasted like root beer to me. Didn't get any subtle nuance of something else. Everyone else agreed.

Ant Hill - This is dirt flavor. Not kidding, tastes like dirt. I was able to eat and swallow it, but Mom & Dad both spit it out.

Caterpillar - Several of us tried to figure this one out. Just tasted sweet. We expected something bad like vomit flavor, but it didn't taste bad. I'm sure the flavor scientists at Jelly Belly put effort into this, but we didn't find the flavor distinctive in any way.

Lawn Clippings - Again, this really tastes like grass. Mom said, "Subtle and delicious. Do we have more?" Michele said, "Disgusting!"

In summary, Ant Hill and Lawn Clippings tasted exactly like Dirt and Grass jelly beans from Bott's Beans. Nothing new there. Alka Root was root beer and Caterpillar was nothing special.

A bit of a disapointment compared to the strong flavors like Black Pepper and Vomit from Bott's Beans.

Cruft Labs will continue to bring you any advancements in jelly bean flavor technology as we find them.

Posted by michael at 05:58 PM | Comments (2)
July 28, 2006
Good Day

Today is a good day.

In addition to today being my birthday, today I received my new business cards.

Not bad for a guy that had a 2.3 GPA in college.

Thanks to my Dad for buying that Atari 800 back in 1981 and launching my ascent into geekhood.

Posted by michael at 11:31 AM | Comments (11)
July 22, 2006
Only in LA: a free over-the-air Anime TV Channel 24/7

Thanks to a tip from Art at the office, Cruft Manor is now a viewer of Funimation Channel, a free 24 hour a day anime channel.

Here you see a typical anime scene with a father, ready for work in tie and sunglasses, talking to his daughter in bed while the kimono-wearing mother drives by in a mini-car.

Anime has become quite popular with young Zoe and this is viewed as a huge step forward in increasing the amount of TV watched.

With the transition to digital television, many new channels are enabled. The Funimation Channel is channel 18.3 with a digital tuner if you live in Los Angeles.

Don't know about digital TV? The government's explanation ain't exactly clear.

Here's the basics:

Our beloved FCC decided to move us all to digital over the air television. What that means is that local TV stations are given a new, digital channel to use to prepare for the turn off on analog TV in 2009.

Right now, a TV broadcast uses up 6MHz of bandwidth, what you think of as a channel, to distribute the signal. We don't use adjacent channels to help avoid interference. That's why there is usually (but not always) a gap between channel numbers on the dial.

With digital TV, a station gets the same 6MHz of bandwidth, but due to digital magic, 19.3 Mb/s of data can be transmitted. To put that in perspective, it's roughly the same as 10 broadband DSL lines at the same time.

The TV station can break up that bandwidth any way they want with different channels. Here in LA, KSCI puts their main Asian TV broadcast on 18.1 and the Funimation Channel on 18.3. Other stations do similar things. In Los Angeles, KABC puts their High Defintion (HD) broadcast on 7.1, a news feed called ABC News Now on 7.2, and a 24/7 weather radar map on 7.3.

What most people don't realize is that you don't need a HDTV to get digital television.

All you need is an ATSC digital tuner to receive the new digital TV signals. They are much cheaper now, going for under $100 for a set-top type or for the computer saavy, an ATSC tuner for your computer.

Makes sense?

Posted by michael at 09:15 AM | Comments (5)
July 18, 2006
The problem with movie critics

In today's New York Times, A. O. Scott writes about why critics often conflict with the public on whether a movie is good or not. After lamenting the success of Pirates and the Davinci Code, A.O. wonders why critics don't line up withe the public.

A.O. gets it fundamentally wrong here, "That, however, is the job of the Hollywood studios, in particular of their marketing and publicity departments, and it is the professional duty of critics to be out of touch with — to be independent of — their concerns."

Taking the 'objective approach' to reviewing films is exactly the problem. People go to a film because they want to like it. People do not randomly select films. People enjoy watching trailers because they help create expectations about what the film is about. To ignore the hype is to intentionally avoid being interested in the film's premise.

Critics should be fans of what they review or at least go into the movie viewing it from a fan's vantage. Not everyone likes horror films, in fact some people abhor them. If you don't like horror films, then they are all crap no matter how much a true horror fan loves them.

This is the place where most film critics fail. There are certain genres of films they love and others they hate. They won't tell you this, but you know it's true. No one you know likes all film genres. Critics that say they do are lying. Critics needs to stick to the genres they enjoy and review from a fan's point of view, not an objective point of view.

Action movies fans value aspects of a film that comedy fans hate. Critics try to rate a film on how both will like it. This is a fool's errand that can never succeed.

Posted by michael at 10:18 PM | Comments (3)
Usernames are bad for the net

Last night I tried to order a pizza from Pizza Hut via their web page. If any industry was perfect for the web, it's food delivery. Pizza Hut made me create an account and a username before I could order a pizza. If I want to order another pizza there, I have to remember my fucking Pizza Hut username again.

This is just getting ridiculous.

Do the people at Pizza Hut really expect me to remember a specific username to order pizza with?

In fact, the use of usernames to log into web sites is completely and utterly wrong.

Every time you create an account somewhere, they need your email address, mainly for the purpose of having a way to contact you. Many times they also insist on creating a username that you use to log in with as well. There is no reason at all for the creation of a username.

Let’s think about this for a minute:

Cons about usernames for people

    The username you want is already taken
    You need to remember a gazillion different usernames
    If you forget your username, you need to wait for an email to be sent to you
    It leads to using the same username/password everywhere

Pros about user names for people


All a login username does is create yet another roadblock between you and the information or task you want on the net. Why can’t all sites use your email address as the login name? It can’t be fore security reasons, web sites trust the email address implicitly and will send your username or password to you via email without hesitation. It can’t be for identity reasons, logging in with a email address still allows for displaying a username.

Cons about using email address to log in


Pros about using email address to log in

    You only need to remember your password
    Someone can't take your email address

Web designers are you listening? Stop with the usernames already. They are a huge pain in the ass to everyone and serve no benefit. Just stick with email addresses and be done with it.

On a side note, the wings from Pizza Hut sucked as well. I should have gone with Papa Johns. Not only is their food better, they let you log in with your email address.

Posted by michael at 05:59 PM | Comments (13)
Getting scratches off my iPod

When I received my video iPod last year, people warned me, "Put a screen protector on your iPod." Of course, I didn't listen.

Sure enough, the face of my iPod got covered in scratches and gouges in short order. Daily life in a pocket or briefcase is far too tough for a dainty iPod and I doubt anyone can avoid scratches without protecting it somehow. The iPods scratch so easily, there is an entire industry devoted to protecting them from the harsh world.

With several large marks on the screen, I decided to do something about it. I knew that I could polish the clear plastic with a gentle abrasive and remove the scratches and get back to a clear face. The question was which polishing product to use. Google searches ended in a confusing knot of conflicting advice between household products and specially made iPod polishes. Overwhelmed, I dropped the idea for a bit.

A couple weeks ago, when on vacation, I had some time to spare and discussed the idea with Cousin James. We agreed that most light polishes would work. On a trip to the nearby Walmart, James grabbed a bottle of Kit Scratch Out for $2. I think the polishing cloths were another $2. Much cheaper than the special iPod polishes going for $20-30 on the net.

When we got back to the beach house, I started polishing the iPod. There were several significant gouges that you could feel on the surface. I rubbed and rubbed and rubbed. And sure enought the scratches started to come out.

I probably spent 2-3 hours polishing the screen. This is process takes some time. My fingers were hurting and at points I thought that maybe all the scratches wouldn't come out. But sure enough, in the end, the screen looked great.

There is a limited to the Kit polish I was using and it would not get the screen completely flawless. To get it flawless, I'd probably need to get a even lower abrasive plastic polish. But since the screen scratches so easily, trying to keep a screen flawless is the road to insanity. Even if you get the screen flawless and cover it in a protection of some sort, the protection will get scratches. What are you going to do, polish the protector?

To protect my work, I've order a screen protector and skin from Gelaskins. Their use of art on the skins looks great.

When the protector arrives, I'll probably do a quick repolish to pick up the scratches that have appeared on iPod when a gentle breeze blew across it. Once looking good, I'll put on the protector, like I should have in the beginning, and be done with this silliness.

Posted by michael at 06:49 AM | Comments (4)
July 17, 2006
Mini-review - Buzz Bites

Just a quick post about Buzz Bites. Michele picked these up a few days ago. She rocks and is always on the look out for things I am interested in trying

Caffienated chocolate?

This morning I dragged my tired butt into the office after a long weekend of sun, children, and fixing a faucet. The line for coffee downstairs was long and I decided to give the Buzz Bites a try.

The taste was like a soft Tootsie Roll with a hint of bitterness. Not terrible, but not delicious either. After about 5 minutes, I could feel the caffiene and what not hitting my system and I was buzzing sure enough.

Rarely do these kind of gimmick products live up to expectations, but this things do. So if you need a burst of energy to kick start you, the Buzz Bites do work. You can buy them at Thinkgeek for a bit less than the Buzz Bites site.

Posted by michael at 10:34 AM | Comments (2)
July 13, 2006
Too much email

Too much frickin' email.

Home inbox stuffed with unread and unanswered email.

Work inbox @ 29 unread and 414 read emails in my inbox. Yesterday's incomng email count was 247.

Y'all just stop sending email for a few weeks to give me time to catch up...

Posted by michael at 09:39 AM | Comments (2)
July 06, 2006
Wisdom from our First President

Around Independance Day, I've been reading a bit about America's founding and what the actual founders said.

Here are a few quotes from George Washington, our first President.

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government - lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”

"Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."

Posted by michael at 08:39 AM | Comments (4)
July 05, 2006
Two by Charles Stross

I've been lax in my reviewing duties. Over the last several months I've read several books and only reviewed one. Last night I finished my latest and finally have taken the time to review it. The book, Iron Sunrise, is actually a sequel to Singularity Sky, which I finished back in December.

Singularity Sky by Charles Stross

Charles Stross is Scottish writer that is very tuned in to the ideas and concepts out there being discussed on the intraweb. He has a good idea how to interleave some of these ideas into traditional science fiction stories while acknowledging the long tradition of space opera style fiction.

In Singularity Sky, Stross introduces us into his universe, in which a artifical intelligence know as the Eschaton has scattered the human race around the local part of the galaxy, creating various civilizations on various planets for some reason unknown to Man.

Stross tosses the reader into the deep end without a lot of exposition as to what exactly is going on. A long term sci-fi reader will likely eat up, but a some may find the jargon hard to follow.

The story basically follows the collision of two cultures and our heroine's attempt to avoid disaster. One of the cultures intends to circumvent the Eschaton's rule on not changing the past. To avoid this, it leads the characters on a merry chase across varied planets as various subplots unfold.

This book wasn't what I was expecting and I liked it immensely. Very similar in tone to Vernor Vinge's work regarding post-singularity socities.

Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross

This book continues in the same universe that Stross created previously. In this book, we get a lot more exposition to let us know what is going on. Some good hard SF stuff in the beginning to reel you in to the story. A complete who-dunit from the beginning.

Back, central to the story, are Rachel and Martin the heroic troubleshooter couple we saw bond in the first novel. Along with them are a nice cast of characters that Stross brings together in eventually to a nice climax. Most of the motivations are believable, but the villains in the story are almost too evil. Stross tries to bring them back in toward the end with a speech by one of th ebad guys, but we aren't given enough to understand their twisted motivations.

I liked the surprises that popped up along the way. It was pulled off well, with me saying "Of course!".

The one thing I didn't buy was one of the romances that blossoms late in the novels. It didn't click in my mind.

Other than that, I thought Iron Sunrise was written better than Singluarity Sky and shows Stross honing his craft. I look forward to his new novels.

Posted by michael at 02:13 PM | Comments (1)
Fireworks Remains

Here I am with the remains of the fireworks.

These are the lessons learned this year:

1) Do not let someone place the mortar shell upside down, the explosion is far too close and ruins the launcher.
2) Bring a good flame. Matches, incense, or lighters don't cut it on a windy beach. Next year we are considering a road flare or a butane torch.
3) Individual rockets are a pain. The multi shell mortar launchers are the best. They shoot 25-50 bursts into the air from one fuse. The crowd is happy and it is easy on the fire team.

Some of you are a bit confused. We are vacationing in North Carolina, where fireworks are legal. Also, our dog is in California, far from the display of fireworks on the beach. We love both our pets and the law (although Michele did get a speeding ticket here).

Posted by michael at 07:57 AM | Comments (4)
July 04, 2006
Preparing for tonight

$200 of good, clean, explosive fun!

Posted by michael at 11:58 AM | Comments (2)