Coca-Cola C2, a first taste

My friend Megan recently gave me a bottle of Coca-Cola’s new C2 which she picked up in Tokyo. This was a wonderful gift; I love Coke and the chance to try a new favour was very exciting.First of all, you should know that I had heard nothing about C2 beyond what Megan told me (it’s a new flavour which Coke has not yet been introduced outside of Japan). Since I couldn’t read very much of the label, I decided to preserve the surprise I would try it before researching it any further.

First impressions: the label is good. Even aside from the Japanese stuff (which is inherently cool to my western eye) the black on red C2 logo is pretty slick.

In preparation for the first taste, I put it in the fridge for a whole day, with a final 30 minute blast in the freezer just before lunch so it was good and cold. The first taste was slightly disappointing really. My initial reaction was “hmm. tastes like diet coke. But slightly less foul”. It had that same odd (and not very pleasant) aftertaste.

A bit of research later, and I knew why it tasted of sweeteners: it’s one of these new trendy not-quite-diet middle of the road drinks. It’s a half-the-sugar, half-the-calories, half-the-carbs drink, and, unfortunately, it shows. It appears that half-and-half drinks are quite the rage though, with Pepsi Edge also set to hit the shelves soon.

You have probably realised already that I am not a fan of diet drinks. Diet Coke is awful. Pepsi Max is by far the most foul drink I have ever tasted. Although C2 is better than either, and might well represent a happy middle ground between diet drinks and the full sugar real thing for some people, I must say I am not convinced it will earn a place in my fridge.

You might like it more than I did of course. Especially if you’re like Jack Black:

Now if you could take a Coca-Cola, and just go half Coca-Cola, half Diet Coke… cos I’m tryin to watch my figure… Tryin to loose some of the weight.
Tenacious D – Drive Thru

This, of course, is pretty much that.

Megan, a million “thank you”s for giving me the chance to try this before most other Brits get their paws on it.

Here. Have some links:

Arty stuff: Inkscape, Dia and Artrage

Inkscape is a free SVG editor for Linux and Windows (an article about it was linked from Slashdot today) which spun off from Sodipodi. Dia is another related project; designed to be more of a diagramming tool (a bit like Visio). Dia (like Sodipodi) requires GTK.
ArtRage is more of a realistic painting simulator than an art package. It’s very intuitive and works splendidly with a graphics tablet. It’s free. Sadly it only works on Windows, but since that they were developing primarily with the TabletPC in mind I can just about forgive them that.

Home from Raleigh

I’m back in the UK. I’m tired, and working from the comfort of my bed today. I’m jetlagged (though that’s getting better).

Sunset over Raleigh airport Flying home from Raleigh

Update: It turns out that my wife not only had the same flight numbers and the same meals as me when she flew out last month (not that surprising, since AA don’t have many flights between Gatwick and Raleigh and they probably only serve 3 different meals) but we were one seat apart on both journeys. Her seat was 31A for the outbound journey and 37J for the return, while mine was 31B outbound and 38J return. I wonder if we were on the same triple-7?

Fire Alarm

Still at the conference. The fire alarm went off at around 6:30 this morning. A lovely wake-up call and, since the conference is also in the hotel, the first time that many of us have been outside since we arrived on Sunday.There way, of course, no fire and we were back inside within 5 minutes. The conference is going well so far. Lots of interesting talks to attend and people to meet. The food is good too. Well, it’s not good, it’s fatty and sugary but there’s lots of it and it tastes nice.

Software Group Technical Conference – Raleigh

A big conference in Raleigh (North Carolina) starts today. I got in yesterday and will be back in the UK on Thursday morning.

The flight out was OK. AA seem to be skimping on the food and entertainment budget but I had a book so I was happy.

The hotel (the Sheraton Imperial) is great – good food, OK rooms.. the best bit is that the rooms come with free broadband. ADSLguide’s speed test tells me it’s about 250k upstream, 600k downstream, so my connection here is (slightly) better than what I get at home. w00t

Grandpa

Within a month I have lost both of my grandfathers. Three weeks ago my dad’s dad (“granddad”) gave up a difficult struggle against a chest infection. We buried him and grieved and everything was getting back to normal. On Sunday morning my mum’s dad (“grandpa”) died. It was, unlike granddad’s death, with which everyone had a few weeks of varying degrees of critical hospitalised illness to get used to the idea, shockingly sudden and unexpected.

My parents had tried to reach me on Sunday to let me know but we were out all day and, even on Monday morning, had not got round to checking our phone messages or emails. Dad phoned me at work on Monday morning at maybe around 10am. “Bad news mate. You won’t believe this but grandpa’s died”.

Grandma and grandpa had moved from London to Dorset when he retired at 50. Their house gradually went from being a lovely new-built home for a newly retired couple to being, 25 years later, a very unsuitable place with a staircase they couldn’t really climb and in a town with a hill they couldn’t really face. In 1998 (soon after I had left home) my parents bought a house with a garden big enough to support an amazing idea. Between them they designed and built a purpose built bungalow where there had once been a double garage. The two houses had their own entrances (and even their own separate utility bills), so everyone had their own space, yet they were so close that my grandparents had the security of the family being literally on the doorstep. As they became increasingly frail and old, and occasional illness meant they needed extra care and attention, the benefits of this arrangement were demonstrated many times over. The other rather obvious effect was that my parents and my brother and I remained incredibly close to my maternal grandparents.

Terrible news tends to sink in slowly. The worst news seems to make me laugh when talking about it. Not a funny, enjoyable laugh but an irrepressible nervous grin that is made even more worse by the idea that the other person might think I’m finding this funny. As I took in what my dad had told me, and retold it to friends passing in the office, things gradually dawned on me. The first (which I had known while still on the phone but had not acted on at the time) was that I wanted to be there with my family. A few emails and phone calls later and this was sorted out. By 2pm I would be on my way back to Dorset.

It was an emotional afternoon for everyone. When we got to my parents’ house my mum’s brother R was already there and my own brother was on his way. Grandma looked vacant and numb. It was not until she and mum started recounting how he had died that I realised how traumatic it had been.
(Please do skip the next couple of paragraphs if you don’t want to know.)

Through Saturday night and Sunday morning he had had migraines and diarrhoea and had needed help from grandma in getting to the bathroom. Eventually, she became so worried by his odd symptoms (including seeming to find walking very difficult) that she went across the drive to get help from her daughter. She, in turn, went to call a doctor, and by the time she returned to the bungalow grandpa had pitched forward and crashed into the side of the bath. He proceeded to bleed heavily and slowly gasp while dad (and later an ambulance crew) tried to resuscitate him. If it sounds disturbing, imagine hearing it from a helpless old woman who is telling you how she saw this brutal thing happen to her husband of 60 years and it was so horrible, so horrible, and that she’ll never forget it. Well I didn’t see it but I’ll never forget being told about it. Talking about it, even for me writing about it now, is hard but I think it helps, so I’m glad to have been there to help comfort her.

His death certificate says “cerebrovascular accident”, which seems to mean a stroke. Everyone holds on to the idea that the end would have been quick – probably even before he hit the floor.

On Monday afternoon I helped move grandpa’s bed up to my parent’s loft and rearrange grandma’s bedroom. I’m very proud of her; after just one night in with mum and dad she returned to her own place to sleep. She is still a little way off being able to clear out his clothes. She keeps seeing his teeth in the bathroom and wants to throw them away, but can’t because it feels like he’ll be back soon and will need them. She did start to talk about charity shops and people who might need pillows though, so she seems to be doing amazingly well.

On Tuesday I took the day off work and showed grandma how to use the TV and VCR. It was something that grandpa had always done so now she’ll be in charge of it. She has also turned the thermostat down to the level she’d always wanted. This makes everyone smile.

In the afternoon the minister who will lead the funeral came over to discuss the arrangements for Friday. I sat with mum and grandma as they discussed flowers and donations and hymns for the short service. They decided what the minister should say about grandpa. That was hard, but only because he was such a good man and he is missed so badly. When grandma was talking about their old flat in London, I kept expecting to hear his gentle interjections, adding some interesting historical point or other. I think everyone felt the same thing.

The grieving process seems to demand lots of tea and tears.

Since you won’t be there on Friday, you’ll want to know a bit more about him. It’s not exactly a eulogy but it’s a few of the important points with my own memories thrown in.

During the war he was in signals, where he tapped endless morse. He was very proud of relaying a message which signalled the ceasefire and effectively ended the war. He kept a copy of it. He was fond of Guinness. While working at Shell, much of his business was conducted on a barstool. As a result, they gave him one when he retired. After retiring he kept a grey cat called ‘smoky’ very fat for many years. He loved the countryside – flowers and bird spotting. He wore a tie, even after retiring, until quite recently. He had three children, one of whom died before him. He always carried two handkerchiefs – a spare one in case a woman needed to cry. As a result he has given a great many away. He was a charming man with an enormous sense of fun. He tried to find something at which he could have a good laugh every day. He was enormously generous and spoilt his wife whenever he could. He was a gentle man and a gentleman.

Later we built a bonfire and burned twigs and leaves. Driving home, I wondered when I would next cry. I still feel a bit sick with shock and grief. Today and tomorrow I’ll go to work but really I’m just waiting for the funeral on Friday.

Seven mice, forced to listen to music by The Prodigy, died

“Seven mice, forced to listen to music by The Prodigy, died” was the wonderful phrase I heard while listening to BBC Radio 4’s news recently.

Cambridge University has received “formal admonitions” from the British Home Office for an experiment it undertook involving 283 mice, some methamphetamine and some music. It seems the scientists at Cambridge were testing the consequences of music on the chemical effects of the drug methamphetamine (or ‘speed’). To this end, the mice were divided into two groups. Half were injected with a methamphetamine preparation, while the ‘clean’ mice were injected only with saline. The two populations were then exposed to different sounds.

  1. Silence (ambient noise of 55 decibels
  2. The Prodigy at 95 decibels
  3. The allegro movement from Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor at 95 db
  4. White noise at 95 db

Apparently, the concerto was chosen because it represented a tune with a similar beat to the Prodigy. They picked four Prodigy tracks, though no one mentions which ones were used.

Results

The paper contains the following results table. It shows what noise the mice were subjcted to, whether they were drug-free (saline) or drugged with methamphetamine, how many died during the 3 hour experiment. It also shows how many died within 1 day of the end of the experiment and how many of the mice exhibited seizure activity during the experiment. (I’ve added percentage figures for the died during and died within 24 hours columns)

  Noise          Drug     Mice   Died (during)  Died (24h)
  ========================================================
  Silence        Saline   30     0              0         
  White noise    Saline   29     0              0     
  Bach           Saline   20     0              0         
  Prodigy        Saline   29     0              0       
  Silence        Meth     49     1 (=2.04%)     0      
  White noise    Meth     30     0              0          
  Bach           Meth     40     4 (=10%)       0          
  Prodigy        Meth     40     2 (=5%)        3 (=7.5%)  


The implications are that something about the beat of the music makes Speed more toxic. To mice at least.

Dr Morton, one of the co-authors of the study, was clearly personally convinced. “I might go to raves, but I wouldn’t take methamphetamine”.

Perhaps someone should tell her that she’ll be pretty safe if she doesn’t do both at once.

Won’t somebody please think of the rodents?

Wendy Higgins, speaking for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), was appalled at the “absolutely despicable” experiments.

“Just because people choose to take drugs and go to raves doesn’t justify subjecting animals to suffering and death in the laboratory in procedures that will tell us nothing we don’t already know – taking drugs and listening to excessively loud music isn’t good for you.”

Whether she had read the results and the conclusions of the experiment is not clear. After all, the study would appear to suggest that a drug which might otherwise not kill a mouse becomes more deadly when the mouse is listening to rhythmic music. 95 decibels, by the way, is only as ‘excessively loud’ as the average personal stereo. (That’s a human personal stereo of course. Mice might prefer a lower volume.) How many humans are performing the same experiment on themselves every weekend?

Why oh why?

The Home Office, admonishing the University for the experiment, reminded them about the rules for animal studies. The Home Office also publicly confirmed that Cambridge University had been given a licence to experiment on animals for studies into Huntingdon’s disease but that the mouse experiment went beyond the scope of the original project licence.

Cambridge University’s Dr Jenny Morton defended the experiment, is quoted as saying “If you have an environmental stimulus that enhances the toxicity of a drug which is taken recreationally, I think that makes the research justifiable.”

Whatever your thoughts on animal research, it’s hard to disagree that the results are interesting.