Friday, February 25, 2011

The physical state of pizza

Spoiler: It’s solid.

So determined Chester County President Judge James P. MacElree. In order to determine whether a thrown slice of pizza counted as a "solid object" under the law, His Honor undertook scientific observation of a pie:

MacElree said that to confirm his assessment, he bought a pizza and tested its physical properties. Unlike a gas, the pizza did not take up the shape or volume of the container in which it came, i.e. a cardboard box. When he sliced it into six pieces -- ''because I was not hungry enough to eat eight pieces," he said in an aside - the slices did not reform to take the shape of the container, and thus it was not a liquid.

To confirm that a slice was a solid, MacElree said he picked one up and noted that it retained its basic shape, "although it did droop a bit at the end.

"Further, I was able to bite off one piece which required some chewing before I could swallow it," he continued. "I put the remainder on top of a paper towel and observed that it stayed in place, did not spill onto my desk, and held its shape (less one bite)," he wrote. "I therefore concluded it was a solid."

I’m a bit disappointed that Judge MacElree did not rule out plasma or Bose-Einstein condensate.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Gaga-Burroughs movement [Gross]

Slonkast Episode 24

I was once again privileged to be a guest on the Slonkast this week. Kevin Slonka, Ryan Lantzy, Jim Jacoby, and I discussed Watson on Jeopardy!, Apple’s 30% cut of content sales, and more.

Download Slonkast Episode 24 (MP3, 93.7 MB)
The articles we discussed are linked in the "talking points" at the episode page.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

iAd ante drops 1 octave; 12 to go

Apple has reduced the minimum buy-in for its iAd mobile advertising platform from $1,000,000 to $500,000 to attract “smaller” campaigns.

I’m astonished that it was, and is, so high. Since one of the advantages of the platform is location-based targeting, I would expect small local businesses like restaurants to want to advertise. But the buy-in has to be realistic for small businesses—more like $100 to start. And the iAd platform is well below capacity; the fill rate has been under 10% recently.

Google’s AdWords platform, by contrast, has no minimum campaign budget. I’ve played around with it for $10 or $20, just to learn how it works. I wonder why two smart, successful companies chose such different approaches for this parameter.

Beavers finally on top, as Oxy goes down

It came down to the last shot of the season, but the Caltech men’s basketball team snapped a 310-game conference losing streak that dated back to 1985. ESPN reports:

PASADENA, Calif. -- The Caltech men's basketball team ended a 26-year conference losing streak Tuesday night after posting a 46-45 victory over Occidental in the team's regular-season finale on senior night.

By my count, Caltech faculty won 9 Nobel prizes between the Beavers’ last two conference victories. I boldly predict that that’s an NCAA record that will never be broken.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The miseducation of American pallets

The Johnstown Galleria's Tonic Grille, when not calling young professionals the B-word, has an interesting suggestion:


I concur. Education of this overlooked demographic is a major problem facing America.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quote of the day: “Professionalism” edition

There are fields where professionalism is important. There are others where it is not. It’s always funny watching “professionals” react to those for whom professionalism is not an essential virtue.

Via Letters of Note, Warner Brothers on the Grateful Dead:

It's apparent that nobody in your organization has enough influence over Phil Lesh to evoke anything resembling normal behaviour…. It all adds up to a lack of professionalism.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

PLCB: You will be happy when we tell you to

Via Dad, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports “Greater flexibility proposed for happy hour time”:

Under current law, happy hour—defined as a time period during which a bar offers discounted drinks—can be held for two hours a day.

I’m used to most of the alcohol-related nonsense in this state, but the fact that happy hours are regulated was a new one for me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Frontiers in Space: Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories

I recently won an eBay auction for a vintage publication of the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, Frontiers in Space. This black-and-white 48-page volume was one that I had not come across in previous auctions, and I have not found any information about it online. There is no date or copyright notice in the book, just a statement that “Additional copies of this book can be ordered from the Bookstore, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, 65 cents postpaid.” Since it seems to be an unusual book, I have scanned the book to PDF and made it available here, for educational and research purposes.

Frontiers in Space (38 MB PDF)

The book covers the general operating principles of a research telescope of the first half of the 20th century, including mount design and the movement of the telescopes; the use of photography for imaging and spectroscopy; and the various focal configurations (prime focus, Cassegrain, Coudé, Schmidt cameras). The histories of George Ellery Hale, Mount Wilson, and Palomar are presented, including the discovery of the expanding universe (with Edwin Hubble's name nowhere to be seen). A “night's work” for an observer is described, and the book concludes with an overview of the hot research topics of the day.

The book likely dates from soon after the completion of the Hale Telescope in 1948. There are numerous historical details up to that time, but little mention of events that followed.

The PDF was made searchable using the excellent WatchOCR software, which I described in detail yesterday. Final bleg: Can anyone point me to some free software that will let me adjust the logical page numbers in the PDF so that they match the page numbers in the original?

Discovery of a hitherto-unknown male subpopulation

Via FlowingData, the dating site OkCupid has found innocuous questions that have interesting correlates. For example, you can ask your date if he or she “likes the taste of beer”:

What struck me about this graph is how big the difference is between “all” men and men “who like the taste of beer.”

For the difference to be so large, there must be a large population of men who do not like the taste of beer. Furthermore, most of those men—who are, remember, quite numerous—would not consider having sex on the first date.

Who the hell are all these beer-hating, sex-averse men?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Awesome tool: WatchOCR LiveCD


You have a PDF consisting of scanned images (e.g. from an old book). You would like to make it into a searchable PDF, so the text can be searched and copied-and-pasted into other documents.


WatchOCR LiveCD


This was going to be a footnote to an upcoming blog post, but I was so impressed with this tool that I wanted to give it a moment in the spotlight. (Scotch Tape & Duct Whisky is more like a Maglite. The AA size. But still.)

Caption contest: “Big Ben’s meat” edition


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Eating Parker: His middle name is Stu

For more about our 4-H lamb, Parker, see the first installment of Eating Parker.

For an early Valentine’s Day dinner, I made an Irish stew, using a 3.5-pound lamb shoulder. I followed this recipe from PBS, adding one head’s worth of whole peeled garlic cloves to the pot with the liquid. I used a bottle of Yuengling Black & Tan for the beer. The stew turned out really well, with tender, flavorful meat and a nice broth. There were ample leftovers, some of which we’ll eat tomorrow, and the rest we’ll freeze.


The wine was 1986 Ridge York Creek cabernet sauvignon. Based on CellarTracker notes, we should have opened it five years ago. Unfortunately, I only bought it 6 months ago.

Clear medium brick-red. Mature nose of crushed fall leaves, sour cherries, tobacco, cedar, thyme. Quite mature on the palate, with much of the fruit faded. Slate, forest floor, tobacco. Thin mineral finish. Hint of grilled meat and redcurrant. A little over the hill. (87 points)

Quote of the day: Lady Gaga puking edition

Lady Gaga, via Bill Marler’s food safety blog:

And I don't want them to think I am human, let alone drunk.

Friday, February 11, 2011

More people line up for iPhone in Johnstown than at flagship Manhattan store

CNN Money:

The line of waiting buyers held just eight people 15 minutes before it went on sale at Apple's flagship New York City store near Central Park.

Johnstown Tribune-Democrat:

Ceroni – scanning the 20 customers in line a half-hour before the 7 a.m. store opening – said, “The customers have been asking for it and we finally delivered. We bonded our relationship with Apple.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On cosmetology and cosmology

Via See the Invisible Hand, the Wall Street Journal reports on the escalating licensure requirements for many jobs:

Texas, for instance, requires hair-salon “shampoo specialists” to take 150 hours of classes, 100 of them on the “theory and practice” of shampooing.

By way of comparison: I have a bachelor’s degree in physics and a Ph.D. in astrophysics. Shampoo specialists spend more lecture hours learning “the theory and practice of shampooing” than I did on thermodynamics and solid state physics, combined.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Obsessive possessive

Many businesses are named after their proprietors, using a possessive: Larry’s Auto Body, Audi’s Olde World Restaurant, Krisay’s Appliance and Bedding. Others, however, are not.

Growing up, my parents and I would fuel the car at Sheetz, and note with amusement that one of my uncles would instead go to “Sheetz’s.” But at least Sheetz is the name of the chain’s founder, so even if the sign says “Sheetz,” it is indeed Sheetz’s chain. So, okay, I guess. It still sounds better than Wawa.

The local Mexican restaurant, Rey Azteca (“Aztec King”) is a popular lunch spot for the guys at work. When I first started, they kept talking about “Rey’s.” I was briefly convinced that Original Famous Ray’s Famous Original Pizza had opened in Johnstown.

Since I reviewed a new restaurant, Ambrosia Fine Dining, one of the top search queries bringing visitors to my blog is [ambrosias johnstown pa]. (I have to assume it’s meant as a possessive, since pluralizing ambrosia makes even less sense.)

Is this insistence on possessivizing business names a local phenomenon, or more widespread? I don’t recall it happening when I lived in California.

Scare quotes are the “cool” new thing

The New York Times on Unisys’ new data center in St. Louis:

“We wanted a ‘cool’ building,” Mr. Davies said. “We are hiring a lot of younger folks, and they like the look and feel of being downtown.”

Yeah, any “younger folks” reading that will realize Unisys offers the “look and feel” of a hip new startup.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Long Tail


Click to embiggen. Requisite affiliate link, in case you’re in the market. Three great models to choose from!

Students improve estimation skills; mental health experts distraught

Via the Penn State Daily Collegian:

Unless the students attend Lake Wobegon University, I commend them for converging on an unbiased estimate of their happiness.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sentence of the day: “All that glitters is black and gold” edition

The New York Times, “Hip-Hop Comes to the Super Bowl:”

The song [Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow”] works just fine for the Pirates and the Penguins, too, it should be noted: Pittsburgh is a chromatically narrow town.

Tucson is chromatically narrow. Pittsburgh is beautiful.

Pittsburgh Moonrise 5713

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Comment of the day: Super Bowl edition

At Volokh Conspiracy, commenter DonBoy writes:

Well, as we see, many lawyers don’t care about professional football; and in return, many professional football players don’t care about the law. So it all evens out.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sentence of the day: Cutlery edition

From Cooking for Engineers:
A potato was first cut in half along its major axis.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iThing

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It’s got a NASA motor

A 440 cubic inch plant. It's got NASA tires, NASA suspensions, NASA shocks. It's a model made before catalytic converters so it'll run good on liquid hydrogen.

The NASA Dryden police-issue Dodge Charger HEMI ER-2 (civvie U-2) chase car. Not sold in stores.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spoiler Alert

The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat on St. Groundhog’s Day:

In reality, Pennsylvania’s prophetic rodent doesn’t see much of anything. The result is actually decided in advance by 14 members of the club’s Inner Circle, who don tuxedos and top hats for the event.

I can’t wait for their big Santa Claus exposé next December.

Slonkast Episode 21

Last night I was privileged to be the guest of Kevin Slonka and Ryan Lantzy on episode 21 of the Slonkast, a podcast devoted to technology, social networking, computer security, and mobile technology. I had a great time on the show, and it reminded me of the glory days of the SACS Report. Except you can’t see my socks.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Technological progress in cookery

There’s a been a blogospherical discussion about the level of recent technological progress in home cooking. Krugman and Cowen have written on the topic, but I found Megan McArdle’s contribution to be most interesting thus far, perhaps because she’s an avid home cook. Most of her post rings true to me, especially this:

I’m not sure that constitutes a “material financial impact”

Maximum PC, on Intel’s Sandy Bridge recall:


(The article was later corrected to $700 million.)

Sentence of the day: “Wait, what is snow made of?” edition

The Consumerist:

Salt only melts ice, by the way, it does not melt snow.