Sunday, January 31, 2010

Football Helmets and Alzheimer's in NFL Veterans

Time Magazine is out with a story on concussions in football. Surprisingly, 1.7% of NFL football players get Alzheimer's disease before age 50, compared to 0.01% of non-football players. There are scary descriptions of brown dead brain matter.

This leads me to wonder about whether a better helmet would matter. The language of helmet design is in terms of g-forces that the helmet insulates against. This article on bicycle helmets illustrate the issues.

What would a better helmet look like or is it even possible to make such a helmet? Presumably it would need to be larger with both soft foam and hard foam to protect against slow impacts as well as severe impacts.

Safety experts say the soft foam needs to be on the outside of the hard polycarbonate layer. This helmet is less durable and less attractive -- more importantly it doesn't go CLACK when you hit someone with it. On the other hand the CLACK is a sign the G-Force is too high. Procap and Gladiator helmets have these soft layers. One blogger said that the Procap helmet looks ragged by the end of the season.

Another approach is to step back from foam and augment the polycarbonate shell with mechanical shock absorbers, as discussed in the Xenith design by Vic Ferrara. The shock absorbers could absorb a greater range of impact than foam could.

Tech company Simbex offers electronic monitors built into its helmets that let doctors and worried Moms know how hard Johnny is getting hit.  The Revolution helmets are $1000.

I don't think football is going away, so it is a matter of time before some clever lawyer figures out a way to sue the NFL or big college school, and soon every kid in the country will need a fancy oversized helmet.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Happiest News Story of the Week

This story from Michelle Kozinski of NBC is a positive side of the Haiti tragedy, and perhaps about people generally.

Click here.  (Sorry about the Special K commercial.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I love this picture of the Übermensch.

The Übermensch is Nietzsche's ideal person, and in my view he is intended to be like Christ but for atheists and nihilists -- the perfect person who leads the way to atheist salvation -- whatever that means. 

"Übermensch" is translated as "Overman", but "Superman" is probably better. This site says "Transhuman."

This picture is such a cross of cultures with Nietzshe's mustache pasted on the popculture comic Superman clothing. So courageous and heroic.  

"I teach you the Übermensch. Man is something to be surpassed. What have you done to surpass mankind?"

— Friedrich NietzscheAlso Sprach Zarathustra

Sorry I don't have a source on the art work. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Quicken Online Turns into Mint

I got a big surprise on the Quicken Online website because the offer to new subscribers was Gone! Instead there was a link to arch competitor Mint! 

I am a big fan of Quicken Online - the free online version of Quicken the desktop software. I started using it because Intuit's TurboTax Online was so useful.  I went online before most people because I am a Mac user, and desktop finance software is not good on the Mac.

Quicken Online is a zombie today, because its parent Intuit bought its competitor Intuit kept the management, and will be "migrating" all the Quicken Online people over to Mint. Hopefully the "migration" will be peaceful and not a "death march."

Quicken Online never lived up to its potential. For example one could not import tax deductions into Turbotax like one could with the desktop version. I kept hoping for that. I was an early subscriber to the old pay-subscription version. It was interesting watching the development team add features and blog about it on the site's blog. The subscribers kept asking for more and more features.

A lot of the community disappeared when the service went free about two years ago. The development team must have changed as well. The whole site became more impersonal. No one moderated the forums and or updated the blogs. On the other hand the free version of Quicken Online was a much better service. The functionality improved, the bugs faded away, and they added a lot of java-based animations to make it cool to look at.

For those of you who don't use online finance software, the appeal of it is quick and (generally) trouble-free downloading of transactions. This is EASIER than downloading to a desktop version, or especially putting it all in Excel.

The slow development of Quicken Online probably killed it. Both and Quicken Online had 1.7 million subscribers, but 700,000 are active each month on, and only 100,000 are active each month on Quicken Online. Quicken had links to more banks, 12000 with Mint at 8000--reflecting the weight of Intuit in the desktop market. People tried both services and liked the service better, and this despite the advantage of the Intuit name.

I paid a visit to It is a better service than it used to be with investment services now. It also has a lot of new colorful animated graphs. Mint's reviews are good too.

I am hoping that the migration to is painless, or at least not too painful. I suppose I can't complain since it is free.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bis-Phenol A Update

Here is an update on last August's post on bis-phenol A: there are two pieces of news on BPA, the chemical used in almost all food packaging and many reusable food containers, first the FDA has reversed course and is now opening a new study on BPA and its potentials harms.

Second, homestate Wisconsin is preparing a Canada-style ban on BPA in reusable food containers like baby-bottles and water-bottles. They would be the third state to enact a ban. While Wisconsin is a small state, industry can't develop special products for each state, and these bans have outsized influence.

In my view there are two things going on, first is Bisphenol A has a documented physiological effect on people and animals. Significantly, the effect is on sexual development -- so it gets more press than otherwise. Second, polycarbonate is not quite as stable as people thought it was.

Bis-phenol A is used in epoxy liners for food cans and beverage cans. These appear to be more stable, and there is much less clamor to change.

If there is a third thing, it is the change in political administration. The FDA review of BPA represents a reversal of the Bush Administration's decision in 2008. I can't find any objective journalism on the politics involved, but it is likely that politics is involved in one administration or the other.

In the meantime, do I like I do, and don't put polycarbonate bottles in the dishwasher or the microwave. The heat degrades them slowly back to bisphenol A, which leaches into the contents.

The more I think about food packaging, the more I like glass.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Play ball.

Happily it is photoshopped picture.

Se my previous post on eyeball tattoos.

Eyeball Tattoo - New and Especially Freaky Body Mod

Here is something I never saw before -- eye tattoos. It amazes me what people do to their bodies -- the only body they have. Eyeball tattooing is entering a new horizon.

MSNBC has a video on it. 

Here is a disturbing photo someone doing it.

Click here for my followup post on eyeball tattoos.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

DecaBrom, the Fire Retardant in TV's Finally Banned. Environment Wins. Firefighters Lose.

DecaBrom is a fire retardant used in electronics housings. There has been a battle between environmentalists who want to ban it for safety and fire marshals who want to prevent house fires.

Burning TV set in a test:

DecaBrom has been under environmental pressure for years since it doesn't degrade and similar materials are toxic. Decabrom is decabromo diphenyl ether, and as the deca prefix should lead you to believe, it has ten bromines. The analogs with six or eight bromines cost less, but they are toxic to the liver and thyroid. They were banned years ago. The biggest crime of decabrom is its analogy to these materials. Those materials are retained in the body for years. Its second crime is being the brominated analog of PCB's or polychlorinated biphenyls. PCB's really are toxic.  (Regulators can't tell difference between halogens. ) Research shows that decabrom largely passes thought the body unaltered. Of course you can't incinerate it because it is a fire retardant.

Decabrom was banned in Germany in the 80's. Some conjectured that it degrades into the more toxic, nonabromide or octabromide.

No one would care about this if the fire retardant did not save lives. There are 325 TV fires per million TVs in Europe where decabrom is banned, and there are only 5 fires per million in the USA. Secondly, few old TV's end up soaking in the river, where it might get into the biosphere. Most are landfilled, and some are recycled.

Nonetheless, the US producers of decabrom, Chemtura and Albemarle have agreed to stop making it. There are alternative fire retardants, but one needs to use a lot more. I am sure the decline in sales of CRT TV's maybe a factor since LCD TV's are safer.

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 Tomatoes

Its seed catalog season, and I've got my favorites. It is time to order seed, because I want to have plants with flowers before I put them in the ground.

At right is the Tye-Dye from Burpee. It is on the winter catalog cover. It is supposed to taste good, but its claim to fame is the mixed orange and red color. I am skeptical about vegetable that only look good.

Orange color or even albino tomatoes come from breeding varieties that don't have a lot of lycopene, the carotenoid that gives tomatoes their bright red color. (I put the structure at the bottom of the page for the chemistry geeks.) Lycopene is a quencher of singlet oxygen, and many anti-aging and anti-cancer benefits have been suggested, though not proven to my satisfaction. Nonetheless, I'd rather have tomato with more color than less color.

If you want more lycopene, then you should try a black tomato, which are not black because gardening catalog writers have notoriously poor color vision. (previous post.)

At right are Black Cherry Tomatoes from Pinetree Seeds. They are browner in real life than in my picture, which I took last summer. They taste great, but the skins are a little thick. Some catalogs claim these are disease resistant. I had pretty good luck with them last year. They grow fast enough to stay ahead of the mold.

Some people claim the open pollenated, so-called heirloom variety Pruden's Purple is a black tomato, but it is not a very good variety to me. The plants are all-over the place. The tomatoes crack and the yield is fairly low.

A promising variety is Black Truffle from Burpee, which is a hybrid, but Burpee does not claim any disease resistance. Supposed to be a version of Black Pear. It is a Burpee exclusive and the seeds are $0.13/each which for Burpee is not too bad.

There are several more black tomato heirloom seeds here. Many of these are Russian heirlooms. No one is claiming any mold resistance for these seeds. If you gardened last year, you know that the wet spring wiped out many tomato crops. I don't have a big enough garden to experiment with questionable disease resistance.

One of their seeds is called Black, and here is a flavor review from Hanna, the Illegal Gardener.

I am tempted by this seedless tomato (available from Burpee but not exclusive.)  The question is "How do you get a seed from a seedless tomato?" The answer I suppose is hybridization. The hybrid is seedless, but the parents are not. Seedless tomatoes are not new, but the seeds do make the flavor more bitter -- probably more nutritious too.

The award for ugliest tomato picture is this, Ananas Noire; it must taste good or no one would offer the seed. It is supposed to be black tomato too, but obviously it is especially color-blind catalog writer.

!!See my previous tomato posts: Feb 09 on the 2009 Garden, and black Kumato tomatoes.!!

Lycopene - Here is a 1933 reference.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Google Chrome Comes to Mac - Greg's Review of the Chrome Beta

The buzz about Google Chrome has been deafening, so when I saw a news item about how Chrome is now a more popular browser than Safari, I decided to check it out. The author speculated that this was because of the new Chrome for Mac Beta.

I downloaded it and started it up, and the installer worked fine including installing my Safari favorites. The interface is similar to Firefox or Safari with tabbed browsing and a favorites bar. The favorites bar is clunker than Safari with default icons that can't be customized.

Chrome offers everything that I expected it to. It runs the Blogger site software better than Firefox, and the same as Safari. I did not notice that it downloaded sites any faster than Safari did, despite claims otherwise on the PC version. Safari is 64 bit whereas Chrome is supposed to be 32 bit.


The big advantage is that one can type a search or a site name into the address bar and get results. This little thing is actually pretty convenient.

Chrome handled complex pages by opening two  "Google Chrome Helper" programs that together took up 35-30% of CPU cycles, when I was not using it, and actually typing this review in Safari. [This was on the site which has a lot of java.] When I hide the problem tab, the cycles go down. This is not much different than Safari.

An advantage is the "developer view" that lets you look at a web page source code in blocks by type and color coded -- much easier than in Firefox or IE.

Chrome loads the Quicken site properly, which Firefox (Mac) can't do.


The killer for me is that Adblock for Chrome is not out yet for the Mac, although they are working on it. One reason why Chrome took up more resources on the fantasticcontraption site is that it was loading the ads. [While I was proofreading this paragraph this some ad grabbed control of the audio processer and said "Congratulations You Won!" I closed Chrome.]

There are some details that will probably be fixed by the 1.0 release, for example the context sensitive menu and preferences panel do not have many options in it.


Chrome seems to offer a competent browsing experience, and I may try it again when the 1.0 release comes out. I don't expect to run it again until then.

More: All of this is prelude to the prospect of the Chrome Netbook, that is a PC that runs a "Chrome OS" rather than Linux or Windows. It might sell a lot on the low end of the market and disrupt Microsoft dominance. Interesting.