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Posts from — September 2008

A Couple Cool Gadgets

I’ve come across a couple interesting devices recently.

  • Icop VESA PC, the eBox 2300 and eBox 4300.  These PC’s mount to the VESA mounting holes on the back of most LCD displays.  The Icop models are actually affordable, unlike many mini PC’s. The 2300 is very cheap (starts at about $100), but not very powerful (200MHz or 300MHz CPU).  The newer 4300 is much more interesting, with a 500MHz Via CPU, and a reasonable price (about $250).  If you need a Panel PC, but don’t need a tough industrial case, these can make a great lower cost alternative – just get a regular monitor (<$200 for a pretty nice one) or touchscreen (~$650 for a 17″ Planar touchscreen LCD), and mount the eBox 4300 on the back.  The 4300’s performance should be good enough for HMI use (assuming you’re not running Vista…)
  • The Olympus Micro Four Thirds system could lead to some very interesting cameras – cameras that combine SLR performance, image quality, and interchangeable lenses with digicam size.  Check out the pictures at DPReview.  They won’t replace Digital SLR’s (heck, Leica is coming out with a “super-sized” D-SLR with 30x45mm sensor), but I’m very interested in one as a complement to my D-SLR for everyday picture taking (instead of a pocket digicam).

Comment 8/24/2011: the mirrorless interchangeable lens category is really taking off, with many models from Olympus, Sony (NEX series), Panasonic, Samsung, etc.  However, with a decent zoom lens they’re still a lot bigger than a compact super-zoom.  Sony also has an interesting twist with their SLT cameras: a SLR with fixed mirror that always direct some light for focusing and the EVF (electornic view finder).  The smallest SLTs aren’t much bigger than a Sony NEX. 

September 30, 2008   No Comments

Economic Surprises That Are Predictable

Comments 8/24/2011: this topic also shows some of the problems with the almighty internet.   The Housing Bubble Blog is still active, although I haven’t visited in a long time (IMHO after the bubble really popped in 2007 the commentary often veered off in odd directions).  Housing Bubble Casualty is basically dormant, and a number of blogs (such as ) have totally disappeared.

I’m still going to stay off politics, but it does amaze me that many (most?) people are perplexed by the current financial crisis.  Although the exact details couldn’t be predicted, the fact that the US had a housing bubble in 2004 was obvious to anyone who looked clearly at the facts (house prices were going up faster than the fundamentals, e.g. medium house price versus medium income, house price versus rent, etc).  It was also obvious that many of the loans (e.g. Interest Only, Neg-Am, Option-ARM) were never going to be repaid, as they relied on house prices increasing.

Anyone who has lived in Silicon Valley since 1998 definitely has no excuse for getting caught up in the housing bubble after seeing the rise, the hype (“it’s the new dot-com economy and the old rules don’t apply”), and fall of the dot-bomb bubble.

And, yes, being able to see bubbles has practical applications; for one, chasing the latest bubble isn’t the best career path.

If you want to see the craziness that was going on, and the fact that some people called the bubble in 2004 or earlier , look at the archives at the Housing Bubble Blog or Housing Bubble Casualty.  Christopher Thornberg was one of the few economists to get it right.  Finally, it’s important to note that the housing bubble is in fact world wide (UK, Spain, China, etc) and started first outside the US.


September 29, 2008   No Comments

Good Stuff

My favorite coffee, Lavazza Qualita Rossa, brought back from Italy by a co-worker.  Lavazza does not sell whole bean Qualita Rossa in the US.  They do sell Qualita Oro in whole bean, but I prefer the Qualita Rossa.

A close up of green tea.  A special friend brought back packages of loose green tea and jasmine tea (my favorite) from China.  Part of the tea is very fine, and doesn’t work well in a typical American tea ball.

The solution?  A good tea pot.  Here is mine; it’s a 900 ml Chinese model from 99 Ranch (it was on sale for $5).  It’s not a surprise that it works very well with Chinese tea. The fine mesh keeps the tea in, and I like that the mesh goes all the way to the bottom – I typically only make 12-16 oz of tea at a time; 12 oz of water is just over the bottom of the strainer.  The quality is acceptable – workmanlike, but nothing extraordinary. The handle is a little wobbly, and you can see weldmarks on the strainer. I think it will last at least a few years, but not a few decades.
Assam tea pots
Bodum makes designer tea pots. Most of the Bodum tea pots are actually tea presses designed to work with tea bags (supposedly the Bodum design eliminates any bitterness); I don’t think it would work as well with my Chinese tea.  The holes look a little large, allowing tea leaves to get into the tea drink, and the holes don’t go all the way down.

I don’t care for most of Bodum’s designs, and they can be very pricey (the Bora Bora is nice, but $150 for a tea pot?).  But I do really like the Assam Line I (shown above; photos re-arranged from the Bodum web site).  It’s a nice size for me (16 oz), the quality is definitely better than my Chinese pot, and the price (about $25), while pricey compared to my tea pot, is much less than the others I like (the $50 Classic or the Bora Bora).  From the boxes I’ve been able to examine, it appears the Assam Line I is made in Germany, and the Assam Line III (about $35) is made in China.  If I’m going to buy an expensive, fancy European brand tea pot, I want it to be made in Europe, not China.  I haven’t seen any reasonable prices for the Assam on eBay, so while I might get one (new or used) eventually, it’s not going to be anytime soon.
Bodum chocolate mixer
I do like Bodum’s Chocolatiere.  It’s a simple, reliable, non-electrical design that’s classic. It’s occasionally seen on eBay, at both reasonable (<$15 with shipping) and unreasonable prices.


Notes 8/24/2011: sometime I’ll write more on tea and teapots, but I’ll just add a few quick notes for now.  I’ve had a Bodum Classic teapot for a couple years now.  It really is very nice, with great style, quality construction, wonderful pouring, and a fine mesh that works great with loose teas — but it wasn’t cheap (~$40).  A friend uses a substantially cheaper (~$20) — and more compact — Bodum coffee press with loose teas, and is very happy with it.

September 29, 2008   2 Comments