Monday, November 30, 2009

Nudge

After reading The Guinea Pig Diaries, I read a book that helped inspire an essay from it: Nudge. In The Guinea Pig Diaries, there is a chapter on thinking rationally. Since it's hard to explain, please enjoy this description directly from A.J. Jacobs' website:
The Rationality Project:
I tried to retrain my brain to be something more than an ad hoc collection of half-assed solutions that have built up over millions of years of evolution. I attempted to eliminate every irrational bias using the insights of behavioral economics. And in doing so, I permanently changed the way I make every decision, from the simplest (what toothpaste to buy) to the biggest (how to raise the kids).
Basically, it comes down to making decisions based on absolute logic, without letting your pesky brain get in the way. Quick example: saying that a certain surgical procedure results in "1 out of 10 patients dying" sounds worse than "9 out of 10 patients survive," even though they mean exactly the same thing.

Nudge is a book which explores behavioral economics, and how to basically "nudge" people into making the right decisions by changing how options are presented to them. It's very psychological. The first half of the book demonstrates the theories, but the second half got kind of boring. They described long case studies, such as one about companies' 401k programs: many employees are apathetic about joining such programs, but by making it easier for them to join and have the plan grow with them ("nudging"), more people would participate.

I wanted to mention it because it was very interesting overall, and really makes you think about how you actually think. I give it 3 1/2 things.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Roads

Theres construction everywhere. Here in New Jersey, it is due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which can be loosely translated as "Let's do lots of construction right now that we were planning to get around to eventually anyway." This also means painting white lines everywhere, such as six lane highways that were just repaved LAST WINTER. This does NOT include painting white lines on roads where the lines are so worn out they are barely visible. Everywhere you go, there are traffic cones and workmen slowing you down. It's really kind of a pain. And it's only going to get worse: Less than a block from me is a highway overpass, which they will be "rehabilitating." The initial demolition will have "a considerable amount of noise associated..." That's just great. But at least they sent us a letter, warning us so that we can "make alternate plans for those weekends."


I guess it IS good that people are getting put to work though. Even if it's not me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Has a Pomegranate

I made juice!

Now what? I'm not sure I like the crunchy seeds; that surprised me, I was prepared to enjoy the pomegranate unconditionally. Most recipes I've found use the seeds whole; baked goods have them mixed in, and pies and parfaits have them sprinkled on top. I actually tried some in a parfait of Crispix cereal (DO Crispix stay crispy in milk? Stay tuned to find out!) and Greek yogurt. The yogurt was honey-flavored, so mixed with the pomegranate it wasn't the best combination. The little bursts of flavor from the seeds popping was fun though.

Eventually I decided to just juice the whole thing. I did this by putting the seeds in a blender a couple handfuls at a time, then straining them into a cup. To get every last bit of flavor out, I put the strained mess back in the blender with some water and repeated the process. This actually worked pretty well. The juice is strong so adding water really helps it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cake Pops

I finally made Bakerella's infamous Cake Pops. Hers are always amazingly adorable; I could not even get mine into "smooth coating" territory. Plus, I think I used too much frosting.

Bakerella's

The idea here is you take some cake, crumble it, and mix it with some frosting. This makes the cake pliable so you can make it into a ball and dip it in chocolate. Presto! Cake Pops. As you can see from Bakerella's site, there's a multitude of applications for these. I will try them again someday, and hopefully they will work out a little better!

Mine

I'm keeping this short, as I am sick as a dog.* I was feeling fine for a while yesterday, then it hit me hard with the congestion and coughing and whatnot. And I had to go to a job interview. Fabulous.** You don't want to hear me talk, it sounds terrible.

*I hate that phrase. What does it even mean anyway? What dog? How sick is this dog? Is it time for me to be put down, since that's what they do with sick dogs? I also hate when people say "Cold as hell." That doesn't even remotely make sense.

**Turns out it was a part-time job. Bump dat.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Books I've Enjoyed

I have been using my library card to its fullest potential lately, and thought I would share a few of the books I've read. Usually I'll browse and find ones that look interesting; other times I will find a subject I want to learn more about, sometimes that comes from reading, which leads to more reading. Of course there have been the obligatory fiction novels as well. I will use my patent-pending system of Number of Things to rate each book.

Confessions of a She-Fan, Jane Heller.
Loved it. This is the story of Jane's search to find what it means to be a true Yankees fan. She followed the team around the country for half the season to do so. I think guys would enjoy this as well, but I've heard they don't always.

Note: Helps to know something about baseball, but it is not neccessary.
Note Note: It also helps to know something about the Yankees.

I give it: 5 things


Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa, R.A. Scotti.
This one grabbed me because it is based on a true story which I had never heard: in 1911, someone had the audacity to steal the most beloved painting in France. She went missing for almost two years before she was recovered. Now, the story is all but forgotten. This book is written almost like a novel, and gives the history of all the main characters (including da Vinci). It starts slow, but finishes well. Fun fact: Pablo Picasso was considered a main suspect!
I give it: 4 things



Sleep: the Mysteries, the Problems, and the Solutions, Carlos H. Schenck, M.D.
This book was really interesting from the first page till the end. It went over all the various issues that can come from sleep, like sleepwalking, night terrors, narcolepsy, etc. They illustrated the concepts with interesting case studies. I think I finished this book in a few days, it was a quick read.

I give it: 4 1/2 things




The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, A.J. Jacobs.
This is a humorous collection of essays by A.J. Jacobs, who contributes to Esquire magazine. He tried things like outsourcing his personal life to assistants in India, and practicing Radical Honesty and saying exactly what is on his mind all the time. I am also going to read his previous books, wherein he follows the teachings of the Bible for an entire year and reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (not at the same time).

I give it: 5 things



More Information Than You Require, John Hodgman.
This sequel to The Areas of My Expertise brings us more "World Knowledge" from the Daily Show's Resident Expert. It contains such useful information as 750 Molemen names, which US Presidents had hooks for hands, and a new "Today in the Past" feature. A few chapters did move a little slowly, but Hodgman's (mis)information always entertains.

I give it: 4 things





Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Evidence

Something has been brought to my attention by a detail-conscious reader that even I didn't notice when reasearching for the Rice Krispies post. Mainly, this:


They are not "Jumbo Rice Krispies," they are "Jumbo Multi-grain Krispies." Somehow this is worse for me; now instead of admitting it's a completely different cereal, they are hiding under the trendy guise of "multi-grain." Multi-grain is usually BS when it comes to cereal, but that is a different post.

This makes a big difference. In all my investigating of the physical properties of the cereal, I overlooked the basic marketing of the name on the box. I did what most humans would: breezed over the smaller word, and inferred "krispies" to mean "rice krispies." That really tells you something about how far implanted into our brains the original Krispies are.

As for my own misconception, I blame the commercial, where I was first introduced to the product: a woman is giving her little girl the Jumbo Krispies, and the girl is amazed at how big they are! Thereby implying "whoa these are huge Rice Krispies!"

To sum up: I am angry at Kellogg's. But I still love their delicious breakfast foods.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's Veteran's Day

Time to....



Thanks Cayk Recks!

Monday, November 09, 2009

An Investigative Investigation of Things

Cereal: Part Two
Faux Pops


There is a recent trend in cereals which coincides with American's general liking of all things gigantic: make things bigger. Ok, those Little Mini Wheats are an exception. But go with me here.

I give you Jumbo Rice Krispies (Figure 1). Compared to regular Rice Krispies, yes, they are jumbo. About three times the size, I'd say. But are they Krispies? A quick visual inspection shows the relative shape to an original. But you will notice: each Jumbo is about uniform in size and texture, not bearing any of the puffy, bubbly qualities of the original. Hmmm.


Figure 1. Jumbo Krispies.

What do you suppose makes up a Rice Krispie? From the ingredient list:
Rice, sugar, salt, malt flavoring, high fructose corn syrup, ---Whaaa?? That was unexpected. The rest is vitamins, I think.

Now the Jumbo Krispies:
Rice, flour, sugar, whole wheat flour, yellow corn meal, oat fiber, polydextrose, salt, honey, palm oil, natural and artificial flavor, etc...

My baking experience tells me that these must be baked with flour and cornmeal, and are NOT just rice made all poofy and crackley.

Figure 2: Jumbo Krispies Treats
Finally, the taste test. Of course, one cannot ignore the classic snap, crackle, pop sound either. It is not there! I was hoping for a three times as large snap as well as size. When eating, you will see that the texture is not that of original Rice Krispies. It is lighter, smoother. And the taste? Well, they are good, to be sure. But with a corn flavor and touch of sweetness not unlike Cap'n Crunch (without that roof of the mouth pain). I guess the final experiment is to try using them in a classic recipe: Rice Krispies Treats. They turned out sweeter than regular treats, even without the extra chocolate and caramel on top (Figure 2).

FACT: Jumbo Krispies are not actually giant mutant rice genetically engineered by Kellogg's.


Chocolate Peanutbutter Corn Pops
Oh how I wished this to be what it looked like. Corn Pops with a sweet chocolate coating? Sign me up! We brought this cereal home and opened it within a day or two. Basically, they are round balls of chocolate peanut butter. Tasty on their own, but not exactly Corn Pops as we know them. See below.

Figure 3
Figure 3: an original Pop; notice the awkward shapes and glossy yellow sweetened coating. Each Pop has its own unique shape, like snowflakes. Pouring them out is like creating a blizzard of flavor in your bowl, and the puffy texture is reminiscent of childhood, not having changed in 87 years or so.

See the large size of the Chocolate Pops, which is a plus. However these are missing the signature puffiness we've grown to love from Pops, as well as the abnormal shapes. If you didn't know better, without a size comparison, this could be Cocoa Puffs, just substituted because we already finished the box of Pops when I needed to take this picture. You'd never know (they're not).


In conclusion, I would suggest to cereal companies forego the need to reinvent the classics. If you have a new cereal, just market it as a new cereal! Piggybacking something new onto something that is already successful might save a few dollars, but in the end it just leaves us breakfast lovers disappointed.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Goodbye, Farm

Ploch's Farm is closed for the winter. They actually closed a couple weeks before Halloween, which was kind of early for them. I think it was a bad year for produce. Even what I got from there was just ok, not great. Disappointing season for all, I suppose.

This little video was my project for the entire summer. I took a sunset picture every couple days, just ending last week, from the front steps of our building. These 31 frames are the best pics from those days, overlaid in Photoshop. I loved seeing how the difference in the location of the sun changed how the leaves on the trees looked; and the signs on the fence ("Oh! New signs! I better take a pic tonight!"), and the sunflowers. This was a nice project, I might do something similiar in the future.

video*

*Sorry about the poor quality...I can't figure out how to make it better through blogger.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Alpha Follow-up

Last night I had a very big bowl of Alpha Bits (finishing them), and found one each of these letters, which I did not have initially:

T
E
M
H

Astute readers will notice you can spell METH now. Not sure what my Alpha Bits are trying to tell me.