Monday, December 11, 2006

Product Review: Coca-Cola Blāk

Rarely do I get the pleasure of reviewing new products, because, let's face it, I'm a very critical man, and nobody in their right mind would ever send me anything to review. Furthermore, I'm so disconnected from reality that I'm sure most products that I become aware of have been out for at least a year.

I think at some point we all saw a billboard advertising this concoction while driving eastbound towards Rosemead on Del Mar (which, incidentally, terminates at Del Taco), so I'm embarrassed to say that billboard advertisement does actually work, as per the following example. Last night, on his return trip from Walgreens, my roommate syruptitiously brought home a four-pack of the delightfully new Coca-Cola Blāk, which I promptly discovered in the refrigerator this morning. I yelled at him from the kitchen, saying, "What the hell is this crap in the fridge?"

My roommate confessed that he wanted to try something new. Of course, I came screaming back in the work room bearing three bottles of this odd elixir. "Chug it!" I hollered at my co-workers, handing them the new, mildly effervescent beverage.

All three of us business partners opened the queerly curvaceous containers, and sipped. The drink seemed benign enough, and I took a larger "chug." And then it hit. The aftertaste... gah! All of us grimaced at the same time, wondering what kind of crimes against God and Nature were committed by the chemical factories that effused this disgusting, highly-trumpeted, over-produced elixir. Great. I just swallowed a mouthful of industrial waste.

Shortly after this horror, I scrutinized this beverage's label, and I found my sensibilities assaulted. Up until that point, I didn't notice the letter "ā" in its name. The beverage, according to Coke marketing goons, is pronounced "black." According to the label, the macron character (-) above the "a" should be pronounced like the "a" in "bake." We call this a "hard vowel" sound in English. So now we have confirmation that 1. a Coke taste tester is an oxymoron, and 2. Coke's marketing department doesn't understand how dictionary pronunciation keys are supposed to work. I'm not sure how important this is to you, kind reader, but I should have never quaffed this beverage based solely on literary principles, and now I feel dirty and betrayed.

Some additional trivia about Coca-Cola Blāk:

  • According to Marc Mathieu, vice president of global core brands at Coca-Cola, "Coca-Cola Blāk is not just a flavor extension. It is a blend of unique Coke refreshment with the true essence of coffee and has a rich smooth texture and has a coffee-like froth when poured. We believe we have created a new category of soft drink – an adult product in a carbonated beverage – and a whole new drinking experience. This brand is ideal for any part of the day when people are looking for renewed energy or simply to take a break."

  • According to my roommate, "Coca-Cola Blāk tastes like those nasty little fake-tasting coffee candies dissolved in Coke."

  • According to Consumer Reports, Blāk is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and two artificial sweeteners: aspartame and acesulfame potassium. Per volume, it has twice the caffeine of Coca-Cola Classic.

So, what is the future of Blāk? Wikipedia used to mention that Blāk will be discontinued in the United States and Canada in early 2007 (gee, I wonder why.) However, this information was edited out of the article on Dec 23. The French version of Blāk supposedly tastes better... but is made using cane sugar, so we will never see it in the United States.

At our apartment, the future of Blāk was much more decisive: the remainder of the noxious material was poured out into the lawn. I just hope that the grass won't die.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Toshiba A75-S209 Saga Ends Happily with "Undervolting"

Back in the beginnings of our company, my roommate and I had equivalently large and clunky laptops. His was a Dell Inspiron 5150 which experienced frequent heat problems. His video failed on him (fortunately under warranty) and he sent his laptop RMA'd to Dell. Dell repaired the laptop and shipped the repaired product -- not to the return address on the RMA, but to the address that the laptop was originally shipped to. Good one, Dell. Our old company refused shipment of his 5150, and it ended up somewhere in the bowels of Dell's shipping department. Fortunately for him, six months later, he called Dell, and his problems were solved by a particularly talented service rep with a thick Indian accent. My lucky roommate was shipped a brand new Dell laptop with the highest resolution display that I have ever seen on a laptop.

Unfortunately, during the RMA process, my roommate confused the power supply for his 5150 with my laptop's power supply, and sent it to Dell alongside his 5150.

As I had mentioned previously, we both had large and clunky laptops; his power supply was a 120 watt Dell, and mine was a 120 watt Toshiba. Earlier, I had tried a replacement power plug from Radio Shack, which was small and of terrible quality. After two years of procrastination, I finally ordered a replacement plug from All Electronics Corp. Last night I got around to soldering the plug onto the truncated Dell 19-volt output leads.

That brings us to the subject of undervolting. My illustrious
Toshiba A75-S209 was purchased along-side a Best Buy service agreement. The A70 and A75 laptop families were completely defective and they suffer from an electrostatic discharge issue that requires motherboard replacement. In fact, a class-action lawsuit against Toshiba on behalf of the owners has resulted in a settlement, and after showing the Best Buy employees the Toshiba service bulletin, they took it under their wing. I retrieved my repaired laptop from Best Buy a month later, and to my surprise they had even fixed the damage that I had done to the unit by a four-foot drop onto concrete (ouch!), and had even upgraded the laptop's hardware by adding an integrated five-function digital media reader (score!). By that time, I had purchased an IBM ThinkPad T42 (which I HIGHLY recommend). So there my poor Toshiba sat on the shelf for nearly a year, condemned to a lonely existence befitting a loud, inefficient, hot, unreliable piece of hardware.

Until last night. A while back, I had read an excellent article on Nordic Hardware talking about "undervolting". "Undervolting" reduces the power consumption and heat output of a computer. Over a year ago, I had successfully manipulated the CPU core voltage on my IBM laptop with great success. Remembering that one of my biggest issues with the Toshiba was that it produced a huge amount of fan noise under normal operating conditions, I realized that it may be possible to rectify poor thermal dissipation by reducing power consumption.

A few tidbits of interest to the Toshiba "undervolter:"

1. The latest RMClock utility, version 2.2, is completely useless because modification of the P-State Transition tables is impossible. It is important that you download RMClock version 2.05 or earlier.

2. Very few hardware monitoring programs work on this poor laptop. I was able to find a single program -- hmonitor -- that can display the CPU temperature.

3. A useful tool to help stress test your machine is the Video Card Stability Test from the FreeStone Group. I have noticed that my systems, when deemed reliable under heavy load executing the Prime95 torture test, will abort when exercising the graphics card.

I was exceedingly surprised to discover that I could reliably reduce my core voltage on the Toshiba's 3.06 GHz Pentium 4 Prescott D0 from 1.35V to 1.175V -- this is the largest reduction in core voltage that I have witnessed; consider that the vmin for this CPU is 1.150V. Under maximum load, the laptop makes an elevated fan noise. Now, under normal load, the laptop is very quiet.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

A wonderful day

Just spent a wonderful evening with Dr. R and N. Watched The Big Lebowski. They cooked an amazing dinner, and we all enjoyed spaghetti and meatballs. Desert was very delicious and unique. It reminded me of Chendol at Kuala Lumpur. It contained various gelatin including grass jelly, water chestnut, a sweet coconut milk liquid, and various fruit flavors. Dr. R and N have a gigantic house with a wonderful view near Alhambra.

Also played table tennis, as C, one of S's friends, came over today. He is a sweet and gentle man with intelligent eyes, a youthful countenance, and winsome laugh. Perhaps this vitality proceeds from his occupation as an animator.

Incidentally, this weblog is inspired by a recent Christmas present idea. I thought I'd give Blogger a try before I inflict it upon my sweetheart. I believe her authorship and popular appeal are expected to exceed anyone's expectations; analysis of information from her website indicate the visitor spent, on average, over 4.5 minutes reading her advertisement.

Perhaps I will find some space and time to compose my own thoughts. I think that this may be the preferred format for me to explore my faith, as well.

I definitely need to have more extra-curricular activities such as this evening. I envy N's ability as a hostess. It seems as though I haven't scheduled enough time to be with old friends in the past two years' worth of running full-blast. I seem to have isolated myself inside of my own sphere.