tidbit

Lesser-known pizza cuts

Everyone who has eaten pizza is familiar with the wedge cut and tavern cut (aka party cut). But those aren’t the only ways to slice a pizza. For a variety of reasons, the following cuts have never caught on.

The Spiral Cut

Laborious and extremely difficult to do correctly, this is currently only available from Monello’s in Fort Lee NJ when Sal is on shift. Even allowing for its novelty, it is not very popular, because all the crust winds up at one end. Rumor has it that Sal once attempted a double spiral and spent a week in a treatment center as a result.

The Jigsaw Cut

Another laborious cut. The value of this pattern is questionable since no one has ever wanted to assemble a pizza from pieces.

Xeno’s Pieradox

A project begun by Original Ray’s Famous Center for Advanced Studies in Brooklyn, this is an ongoing project to slice a pizza in which each slice is half the width of the previous slice. Begun in 1998, the project is currently raising the funds needed to split a neutron into its component quarks.

The Sierpinski Pie

A shameless attempt at one-upsmanship by Ray’s Famous and Original Research Institute also in Brooklyn, this was an effort at slicing a pizza into a Sierpinski gasket. The project was begun in 1999 and abandoned in 2003 due to the exponentiating slice length.

The Voronoi Cut

A pattern developed by a family of bickering geniuses in Beloit WI to ensure that each slice contained exactly one complete piece of pepperoni, it has found no traction in the wider world.

The Planar Cut

First attempted not at a pizzeria but at a silicon-ingot foundry, this cut slices through the thickness of the pizza rather than across its diameter. Has found increasing popularity with the growth in gluten-free and low-carb diets.

Clearing out the cobwebs

I almost never use bookmarks in my browser. I can get to the sites that I visit regularly by typing a few letters into the URL field of my browser. For the most part, if a site interests me and I might want to come back to it in the future, I add it to my RSS reader. And that means that there are some sites lurking in my list of feeds that haven’t been updated in years, but are still out there. And they’re still pretty cool, so I thought I would share them.

Most of these are visual, and are easy to dip in and out of; a few require some commitment.

Object Lessons
A blog about the design of things.
Agence Eureka
Scans of French ephemera
Between Mirrors
Morbid artwork
Bibliodyssey
Scans from old illustrated books, with related scholarship.
Concept Ships
Features spaceship artwork; links to related blogs for concept land vehicles, robots, etc.
North Korean Interiors
What it says on the tin. Either inspired by or inspiring to Wes Anderson.
Scales of Perception
Images that play with your sense of scale.
Type Hunting
“Found typography,” mostly on old packaging.
Typeset in the future
Deep dives into the typography used in SF movies. One of those “blogs that became a book” sites.
WTF, Evolution?!
Another one of those “blogs that became a book” sites.
Bret Victor
An amazing technologist. I am guessing he is too busy with work to update this much.
Néojaponisme
Very deep dives into Japanese pop culture in the postwar era.

Montopolis tunnel

Every weekday as part of my commute, I ride across the old Montopolis Bridge, which is closed to motor traffic but still open to bikes and pedestrians. The city is restoring the bridge, and have built this tunnel to shield passersby from the work going on above.

When I ride through it in the morning, heading east into the sun, with my sunglasses on, I can’t see anything immediately around me and I feel as if I’m floating.

Good reads, 2013

The following are some of the best stories, articles, essays, blog posts, etc, that I read during 2013. They weren’t necessarily written in 2013. I’m including them in roughly the order I encountered them.

Circle of Useful Knowledge

Gwen’s parents brought her a book from a library sale in their small town, The Circle of Useful Knowledge, published in 1888. It’s filled with bizarre recipes for cocktails mixed in 10-gallon quantities, tips on animal husbandry, etc.

I’m posting extracts from it in a separate blog, titled Circle of Useful Knowledge. I’m going to try to post a couple of entries a day. Enjoy.

Bird down

This morning while Gwen was puttering in the back yard, a juvenile bluejay landed on the ground, near our back door. He looked like he had his flight feathers, but the feathers on his head were still downy. He wouldn’t or more likely couldn’t fly away; he could hop, but mostly stayed put.

Not knowing what else to do, we set out a shallow pan of water for him. He made no effort to get away from us, but did hop into the pan of water.

About an hour later, I looked in on him. He was still in roughly the same spot. I refilled the pan of water and set it next to him. He looked at me and opened and closed his beak a few times as if silently chirping or begging for food. He flapped his wings for a moment and flipped over on his back. The nictitating membranes blinked across his eyes and he died.

When we looked at his corpse, we saw a spot on his back where he had been attacked.

Getting the message

New technology creates new social phenomena, etiquette problems being one of them. Caller ID is not a new technology, but at some point in the past few years, its ubiquity—especially with cellphones, which have better text displays than landline phones—has created one of these etiquette problems.

Traditionally (where by “traditionally,” I mean “ten years ago”), when Alice calls Bob and gets Bob’s voicemail, Alice leaves a message at least saying “it’s Alice, call me back.” But over the last few years, we’ve seen a different approach. Charlie calls Bob, gets Bob’s voicemail, and just hangs up. Charlie knows that Bob has caller ID and will be able to see that Charlie called—Charlie figures that’s all the information Bob needs to return the call.

Bob may have the same approach as Charlie, in which case this is fine. But Bob may figure that if Charlie had anything that needed a response, then Charlie would have left a message. Bob doesn’t return the call and eventually hears again from Charlie, who indignantly asks “why didn’t you call me back?” There’s a mismatch in expectations. Neither one is right or wrong, necessarily, but the mismatch can create friction.

I’m reminded of the distinction between ask culture and guess culture, although in this context, it might be more accurate to say it’s a difference between tell culture and guess culture.

Or perhaps it’s just a matter of etiquette that we as a society haven’t quite sorted out yet. I was talking about this at dinner with some friends who are all around my age—we all agreed that people should leave messages. There might be an age component to this.

This modern world

I had a strange experience when I went out and about visiting studios on the East Austin Studio Tour. When I looked at the map, I was gratified to see quite a few artists in my immediate neighborhood, and one studio only a block away, so I decided to make that my first stop.

As I’m slowly riding my bike down the driveway to the garage studio in back, one of the two residents says “Are you Adam Rice?”. Taken aback, I confirm that I am, and ask “…How do you know?” Despite their proximity, I’m sure I’ve never seen either of these people before, and it’s not like I’m famous.

She explains that she has seen me pop up as a “recommended friend” on Facebook because we apparently have a lot of friends in common.

Still, that doesn’t explain how she knows that Gwen has a letterpress, or that it came with our house.

Do not patronize World Secure Channel

Today, this site (and some others that I manage on the same server) was hacked by world-secure-channel.com, or more likely a piece-of-shit script-kiddie they contracted with, making me an unwilling part of a link-farm. World Secure Channel supposedly offers VPN services for anonymous browsing, but considering the respect they show for the integrity of my website, I can only wonder what they do with the data you would route through their servers.

The Porch Swing

Gwen has invented a new adult beverage. We call it the Porch Swing. It’s very tasty. Here’s how to make it.

First, infuse some vodka with tea. Get some vodka and put in in a mason jar with a couple bags of earl grey tea (Gwen found some earl grey with lavender, which was actually very good). Let it go overnight. Remove tea bags and chill afterwards.

Second, make up a strong batch of lemonade. The lemon-to-sugar ratio should be normal (whatever “normal” means to you), but use just barely enough water to dissolve the sugar—heat it up to help it dissolve. You don’t want to water down the drink unnecessarily.

Third, mix 3 parts vodka with 2 parts lemonade. Shake with ice. Pour through a strainer into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon slice. Make plenty, because you’ll be drinking a lot. Experiment a little with the ratios, as there’s a fine line between just right and a little not-right.

Stand mixer showdown

Bosch Concept 7 & Kitchen Aid elevator bowl mixers

Gwen has wanted a stand mixer for a long time. She’s worked in commercial kitchens before, and harbors the frank desire for a gigantic Hobart.

That’s not in the cards. We’ve both been researching stand mixers for a while. Barring a Hobart, Gwen was interested in a traditional Kitchen Aid with an elevator bowl, which basically looks and runs like a tiny Hobart. I had come across the Bosch Concept 7, which is about as unlike a Kitchen Aid as a stand mixer can be. Costco had a special on some 475-watt Kitchen Aids, so we got one of those. We also got a Bosch mail-order. Today, Gwen made a couple of recipes on each, so we could decide which one to keep.

Design

The Kitchen Aid has the traditional design, somewhat like a crane, with the drive on top and a bowl-lifter on the vertical column. It has an old-fashioned Machine Age look to it, and the exterior made entirely of metal, except for a couple of knobs.

The Bosch is a smooth, low-profile wedge with a vaguely iPod aesthetic (or perhaps the iPod has a Bosch aesthetic). It’s entirely plastic except the drive gears. Power is transmitted through a central shaft that runs up through the middle of the mixing bowl.

Part of the appeal of the Bosch is that it is compact enough that it can be stowed pretty easily—and it weighs less than half as much as the Kitchen Aid, so it’s easier to move around, although it feels solidly built, it has suction-cup feet, and of course, all the weight is at the bottom. Another big part of the Bosch’s appeal is that food-processor and blender attachments are available for it. Our kitchen is short on space, so being able to get rid of a blender base and a food processor (which is disproportionately bulky) is an important consideration. The flipside to this is the all-eggs-in-one-basket problem: if that base ever fails, we’re out three appliances.

Operation

The Kitchen Aid comes with three mixing attachments—a dough hook, a whisk, and a cookie-dough paddle; The Bosch comes with a hook and whisks, and we bought paddles separately. The Kitchen Aid drives all three through an epicyclic motion; on the Bosch, the whisk and paddles have two axes of rotation, but the dough hook has only one—it just goes in circles. It turns out that having two degrees of rotation makes the mixing process much more efficient: using the dough hook on the Bosch does work, but to some extent it relies on friction between the dough and the bowl. Although the Kitchen Aid has a lower-power motor, it was more efficient mixing bread dough. Also, given Gwen’s commercial-kitchen background, operating the Kitchen Aid was basically the same as operating a Hobart—as she says “when the dough starts climbing the hook, I know it’s done.” The layout on the Bosch is so different that it just doesn’t work the same way, and she would need to learn new cues.

For different reasons, we observed that the Bosch was also less efficient making cookie dough. In this case, it came up a little short because the paddles don’t graze the bowl’s surface as closely as the paddle on the Kitchen Aid does, so ingredients that are trapped in that dead zone take longer to mix in. Also, because the Bosch’s bowl is half a torus, scraping down the sides with a spatula takes more work, and leaves a blind spot behind the drive column.

We made about six pounds of bread dough in each of the mixers, and in the end, both did a fine job kneading, and making cookie dough. We suspect that the Bosch would really shine on bigger batches.

The Bosch comes with a lid, which has a chute for adding ingredients. Getting ingredients down that chute was awkward—the opening is just too small to tip in a cup of flour (for example), and removing the lid definitely slows things down a bit. It’s possible to operate it without the cover in place, although a bit messier. Even without it, it’s less messy than the Kitchen Aid.

Cleanup

Cleaning the Bosch’s bowl after kneading dough was far and away easier than the Kitchen Aid’s. The Bosch’s bowl is some kind of slick plastic, and the all dough just pulled away from it in one piece. Cleanup after the cookie dough was harder on the Bosch, because that stuff was more liquid and gluey, and tended to get caught in the gear that is built into the top of the bowl. As to the mixers themselves, the Bosch’s lack of surface features makes it much easier to clean.

Verdict

So which one are we going to keep? We haven’t decided yet. The Kitchen Aid is a known quantity for Gwen (who will do the vast majority of cooking with whatever we keep). The Bosch isn’t, and she wants to make another recipe before we decide.

Update

To reach a decision on which mixer to keep, Gwen made two cakes. Using the whisks on both mixers, the Bosch actually did a better job mixing—its batter was visibly smoother than the Kitchen Aid’s, and it got mixed with less spatula intervention. But the bowl is the Bosch’s Achilles’ heel: it is very large (to accommodate the driveshaft running through the middle), and it has no handle or spout—in fact, the lip of the bowl is distinctly ill-designed for pouring, with a notch for the lid to fit into, and a wide edge above that folding back into a sort of “cuff.” This made getting the batter out of the bowl such a mess that Gwen decided it wasn’t worth it. If she’s going to be discouraged from using it, it’s not worth it.

Victory goes to the Kitchen Aid.

Unbeatable Banzuke

I’ve been working on an ongoing translation project for the past four months. It’s being released in the USA under the title Unbeatable Banzuke on the G4 cable station.

The show was called 筋肉番付 (kinniku banzuke—”Muscle Ranking”) in Japanese, and aired about ten years ago.

Yesterday, I caught just a few minutes of a segment I had translated. From what little I saw, the production company hasn’t tampered much with my translation (as edited by my editor at the translation agency). The American version is kind of weird. They’ve got an American doing completely new voiceover, and his pronunciation of Japanese words is as bad as anyone who doesn’t know a lick of Japanese. The show closes with more completely new content in the form of a signoff by a Japanese-speaking announcer named Kei Kato, who was not a part of the original show. I’m not exactly sure what the point of this extra “local color” is. I’m also a little puzzled that they’d want the local color, but stick with such stridently Americanized pronunciation for Japanese words.

They also seem to have deleted all the original telops, including the many advertising the prize money for each event. This is reasonable, but since the contestants frequently make reference to the money they stand to win, I’m guessing they’ve probably edited those parts out. I’ll need to watch more to find out.

Holding up a funhouse mirror up to society

Sitting on an ergometer at the gym yesterday, I was equidistant between two televisions. One was tuned to Bravo, showing “Make Me a Supermodel,” the other on the hilariously misnamed The Learning Channel (seriously, this should be The Endumbening Channel), showing “Fad Diets.”

This juxtaposition all by itself was entertaining enough, but when they got to the part about people who actually do use tapeworms as a weight-loss tool, I was agog. Reality outpaces our ability to satirize it.

My brilliance cannot be contained, episode 2,336

Gwen and I saw something about lap-band surgery on TV recently, and I was struck by an idea. Instead of gastric-bypass, lap-band, stomach-stapling, and other forms of bariatric surgery, which are both risky and prone to complications, doctors should introduce therapeutic tapeworms.

I dedicate this idea to the public domain, in the hopes that someone will take it and run with it. I can’t believe nobody’s thought of this before.

Sacred cows

Submitted for your consideration:

Many religions build up arbitrary dietary rules around them.

Raw-foodism is an arbitrary dietary rule that has built up a religion around it.

Horsemuffin

Folding cards for Gwen

When Gwen and I bought our current house, we inherited a letterpress, vintage approximately 1920, that the previous owners could not take with them when they moved to Spain. Gwen was interested in learning how to use it, but knowing how the best-laid plans of mice and men can go, we agreed that if she hadn’t done anything with it in nine months, we’d get rid of it.

Well, she did do something—a batch of coasters (using type, ink, and stock that was also left behind). Then she made some postcards. My sister, who received one of these postcards and has her own craft business, told Gwen “if you make more like these, I can sell them.”

That got Gwen thinking. She designed a series of cards, got plates burned, bought paper and ink, and got to work. I watched.

It’s fascinating to contemplate letterpress printing. It’s a very fussy process. These days if we want a hard copy (a phrase that suggests how a paper instantiation of information is secondary to the platonic electronic form), we hit command-P and a few seconds later, a page (or many pages) pops out of the printer, perfectly rendered.

It’s a little different with letterpress printing. Assuming you bypass the laborious process of composing type and have a plate burned, you still need to affix the plate in your chase, estimate the correct amount of packing on your platen, estimate your gauge-pin positions, and print some “make-ready” to home in on the correct packing and pin positioning. Once you’re getting a uniform, square impression—a process that can easily take an hour—you can start printing. The packing (extra sheets of paper underneath your printed piece) determine how hard the plate’s impression is, and a single piece of tissue paper in the packing can make an obvious difference in print quality. And if you’re doing a two- or three-color job, you need to do all this repeatedly—and get your registration straight with the previous print passes. The whole process can go wrong in numerous ways, and our eyes are highly attuned to even subtle errors in printed matter. A piece that’s rotated so that a printed line that goes out of parallel with the edge of the card by just 1/30″ over a length of 5″ is an obvious reject.

And while we generally don’t think of printing as physically dangerous, with a letterpress, it can be. Because the equipment is, at root, a press. And it weighs about 1800 lb, running off a large flywheel carrying a lot of momentum. If your hand happens to get in the way when platen and plate are pressed together, you’re going to have a very flat hand.

In spite of the hard work, the finickiness, and the risk of grievous bodily harm, Gwen has produced a line of cards. They’re being sold at Book People, and will be sold on the East Austin Studio Tour and Cherrywood Art Fair.

Oh, and she has a website of course. Horsemuffin.