Cutthroat Chopped!

The boys have been watching a lot of Food Network lately, such that #3 named himself Ted Brown and decided to host a combo of Cutthroat Kitchen and Chopped for dinner tonight.

Ted Brown got 62 dollars of play money out of his Allowance board game, and divided it equally between the contestants.

The theme was “Elevated Sandwich”. The contestants both faced a basket containing blueberry bagels, cream cheese, turkey lunchmeat, and leftover cous cous (full of dried fruits and nuts).

Mom got quickly to work on mixing cream cheese into the cous cous and forming patties that she started frying in the nonstick pan (which she was quick to grab before Dad had a chance!), and popped a bagel in toaster oven.

Dad assembled turkey, cream cheese, and jelly sandwiches on inside out bagels (except for one bagel half was not inside out), cracked an egg, dipped the sandwiches in and started frying his inside-out french-toasted Monte Cristo.

Auction one was to have to incorporate bagged iceberg salad. Dad figured he had no clue what to do with the cous cous and could make a combined salad with the lettuce so he didn’t bid it up too high.

Auction two was to do no cooking at all for 5 minutes. Dad let himself lose this one too because he was able to flip his sandwiches and put the pan on low, so they could survive for 5 minutes.

During the 5 minutes, Mom added some turkey to her pan to heat up, and then added turkey and cheese to her bagel halves in the toaster oven.

After the timeout was over, Dad made a bed of lettuce, and topped it with cous cous mixed with the fresh-chopped apple and balsamic vinaigrette; also he made a small bowl of dipping sauce with strawberry jelly and a touch of Log Cabin (to play off the French Toast theme). Unfortunately, due to cooking, the bagels were tough, and the cream cheese was slippery, so quartering the Monte Cristos was a massacre.

Mom plated her bagels as open-faced turkey melts with the cous-cous patties on top.

Since #3 was the host, #1 and #2 were the judges. As all the food was delicious, it was a tough decision. The sweet blueberry bagel was not the best for pairing with its savory toppings, but otherwise the patty was very good. The butchered Monte Cristo was seriously docked for presentation, and some judges found the whole thing too sweet. Also, the cous-cous salad was overdressed. It was for those reasons that Dad was Chopped, and Mom walked away with a $21 prize!

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How to Publish a Book in 10 Easy Steps

Step 1: Wait for Gutenberg to invent the printing press, which kicks off centuries of progress in printing technology, culminating in fast, cheap laser printers.

Step 2: Wait for Donald Knuth to write LaTeX and METAFONT, which allows digital typesetting to be beautiful.

Step 3: Wait for the internet to be invented, allowing easy transfer of information, and the establishment of internet print-on-demand services like lulu.com.

Step 4: Have a friend publish a fantastic book using Lulu, so you can see a little from the outside how it works, and ask for advice.

Step 5: Have another friend with a complete book all typed up, ready to be published (her father’s memoir).

Step 6: Dump the Word docs to plain text; write perl to insert LaTeX formatting codes for chapters, blockquotes, leading verse for each chapter, etc.

Step 7: Follow advice for creating a Lulu-ready PDF (page sizes, embedded fonts, etc.).

Step 8: Upload the PDF to Lulu — boom, now it’s for sale!

Step 9: Use latex2html to generate a HTML version of the book; use Calibre to convert HTML into both .mobi (Kindle) and .epub (all other) e-book formats.

Step 10: Create a WordPress blog to advertise the book and disseminate e-books.

Roy G. B’v visits Narnia

I know, things have been quiet around here lately. Nowadays, I mostly post at The Confessional Outhouse, but this little tidbit I thought was cool enough to share, and not really aligned with the mission of the ‘house:

Young kids are often taught about Roy G. Biv, a hypothetical gentleman who helps them remember the seven colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Even kindergartners tend to rebel at the mysterious ‘I’ in Mr. Biv’s name, however. What the hell is indigo? It has to be explained to them that indigo, halfway between blue and purple, is actually a very different, super-important color, trust us.

In fact, indigo is a bit of a fraud. The other six “colors of the rainbow” are the long-enshrined primary and secondary colors of art theory. Indigo only got shoehorned into the rainbow because Isaac Newton, who originally saw five colors in the spectrum, decided decades later when he wrote his landmark treatise Opticks that seven would be a more elegant number. He believed the seven colors should harmonize somehow with the seven classical “planets” in the night sky and the seven notes on the diatonic scale. So he added orange, along with indigo, an important dark blue dye since ancient times. In reality, most observers have a hard time seeing indigo as a separate band of the spectrum, and it’s not usually included in modern color theory.

If indigo is iffy, how many colors are there really? Well, the human eye can distinguish between about a million different hues, but a real rainbow displays its shades in one continuous spectrum, not the neat stripes of a Care Bears cartoon. In the Iliad, Homer refers to a one-tone purple rainbow, because the ancient Greeks didn’t have words for the full spectrum of color. Later classical and medieval thinkers agreed with Aristotle that the rainbow had three shades; in Islamic thought, there are four, corresponding to the four elements. So it’s largely a cultural call. Many Asian languages, even today, use the same word for “blue” or “green” — someone in China might describe the rainbow very differently from someone in Finland, or Papua New Guinea. Let’s just say there’s a wide spectrum of possibilities.

Although this is cool and neat by itself, what really caught my eye was that we owe our 7-color rainbow to Newton’s dependence on the medieval seven-planets as an organizing principle for other (all?) areas of life.

Have you ever asked yourself why there are seven Narnia books, and what holds them together, though they all seem so very different? It turns out that C.S. Lewis scholars have been trying to answer that question for over 50 years, and after many unconvincing attempts to systematize Narnia (plays of Shakespeare, days of the week, …), Anglican priest and Lewis specialist Michael Ward had an epiphany that Lewis was (just like Newton) using the seven medieval “planets” (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Sun, Moon) to organize his creative vision — and even subversively using the Narnia series to attempt to re-interject awareness of the seven medieval planetary ideals into the modern consciousness.

For more information, you could go read Ward’s book for lay readers, The Narnia Code, or his academic book (Warning! English professors only beyond this point!) Planet Narnia, or listen to him talk about it on Mars Hill Audio Journal #90, or hear the extended discussion from Mars Hill Audio: Conversations. Or you could just go poke around the man’s website.

And while you’re doing so, you can be listening to this cute song from my favorite band, even though it is now obsolete (maybe they’ll write a new song, like they did when this song had to be corrected).

Logos for Hoagies & Stogies

Say that ten times fast! My buddy Court is such a great friend of H&S, not only has he opened up his house to 7! debates, he is an excellent graphic designer, and has come up with a few possibilities of an official logo for Hoagies & Stogies, so I can get some business cards made. I’m always running into guys and telling them about H&S, so I’m really looking forward to having something to hand out whenever the need arises — especially because I know that with Court’s skills, it will look great!

So at this point, I am stuck with an embarrassment of riches. Below are four potential logos Court has come up with (five, if you count the reversed version of the second). You can click on any one for a full-res look at it. Help me choose the best! Vote for your favorite in the poll (after waiting for it to load…), and drop a comment to say why you like it.






I’ve never done this built-in poll thing, but let’s give it a whirl. The poll should appear here:

Mario Kart Wii Choosinator!

Hey there, race fans! As you all know (or at least should know), Mario Kart Wii is the most awesomest video game ever made. One of the difficulties, however, of trying to shave a few thousandths of a second off of your time trial, or of trying to beat your 10-year-old son, is knowing what is the best kart (or bike) to use (for your particular driving style, and the peculiarities of the course you want to run)? Indeed, which character to drive it, as each gives a subtle boost to some of the vehicle’s innate characteristics, in their own character-specific way.

To try to take some of the black magic out of the kart/character-choosing process, I created a spreadsheet. For the raw data, I am indebted to some other Nintendophile who goes by the handle of ‘ark42’, and who painstakingly gathered these tables. (I can only imagine that he grabbed screenshots like this one of all possible character/vehicle combinations, and measured the pixels in every yellow bar!)

As great as that resource is, I wanted more. So I perled up a spreadsheet that computes the character-boosted stats for each character/vehicle combination, and put some weighting in there to compute a single final SCORE. This way, a player can enter weights that reflect how relatively important he thinks various characteristics are, the SCOREs will recompute, and all of the data can be re-sorted to find out what are the recommended options.

I made a version of the spreadsheet available as a public Google Doc. Click on this link to view it, go to menu item File/Make a copy… and you can have your own copy of the spreadsheet that you can type weightings into. The Google Doc is set up to automatically re-sort whenever the weights are changed. It’s a nice idea, but VERY slow. (Also, there seems to be a bug with Google Spreadsheet at the moment, that when you click on a cell, it actually selects the adjacent cell. You should be able to navigate correctly with arrow keys though)

Another option (and probably preferable given the slowness of the Google doc autosorting), is you could File/Download As… Excel (or OpenOffice), and tweak it for yourself.

So the first lesson is, it takes a LOT of weight on Speed to get the Quacker out of the top spot (I leave the spreadsheet in its “neutral”, equally-weighted state). You should play around with the weights until you start to see vehicles you know to be good come near the top. Maybe for fun, you could try to figure out what weights are necessary to get your favorite combination at the actual top of the list. But when you figure out how hard that is, maybe you can take a look at some of the other options that keep turning up ahead of your preferred combination, and give it a try.

#2 is #1!

Well, SoCal Pinewood Derby has come and gone. #2’s car took 1st place in Group A (1st/2nd grade)!

As promised, here is a picture of all of our cars (click to enlarge).

#2’s car is there again in the middle. #1’s car — the gold bullion on the right — which took 1st in our club derby, wasn’t up to the stiffer competition in Group C (5th/6th). He was one of the last cars that got eliminated on the way down to the final 4, so he was probably 8th or so, out of probably more than 50 in this largest group. My car is the oiled-wood one on the left. Although I was fastest overall in our club meet, I placed only 3rd in the counselor class, behind a winner from another club, and one of my own junior counselors (the #1 son of Blogorrhea’s good friend Kazooless — but I taught him everything he knows, so that’s OK!)

Speaking of, these amazing photos were taken by Kazooless with this technique — any serious photographer will want to try it out! You can reach two slideshows of Kazooless’ pictures from the derby, as well as links for downloading full-res originals, from the Council webpage.

#1 is #1!

High drama at Pinewood Derby last night!

First off, in the Turkey finals, we had to have a race-off between two cadets who had always won (slowest) in each of their heats, except heats in which they were together, which they split 1-1. So we put those two down the middle two tracks, and one car was clearly slower (Turkier). Then we swapped lanes, and the other car was clearly slower (not all lanes of our track drive the same) — BUT, so much slower that this time he didn’t make it to the finish line, thus making that run a DQ and deciding the winner.

Even better though were the speed finals. We winnowed down from our sweet-16 directly to a final-4. There was a clear points-leader (1st place in all his sweet-16 heats), and a tie for 2nd (including our #1), and a 4th. The final-4 consisted of four heats, rotating the cadets through the four lanes of our track (note lane differences above!), and here’s the heat-by-heat:

Heat 1, points-leader first, #1 second.

Heat 2, points-leader first, #1 second. It looks like the points-totals from earlier rounds are bearing out, and #1 is headed for a 2nd place trophy, until…

Heat 3, #1 first, points-leader second!

Coming into the final heat, if points-leader gets first again, he wins. If points-leader gets second again, it’s a 2-way race-off. But what actually happened was:

Heat 4, points-leader derails for fourth! #1 gets first and snatches the trophy!

(#1’s victory was not much tarnished by his decisive loss in the exhibition race-off between fastest cadet car and fastest counselor car)

#2 made a pretty fast car too, he was just out of the finals, tied for 5th in the sweet-16. We’re hoping for a trophy in the all-council derby, where he will be competing only against 1st/2nd graders. That’s coming up Sat Mar 26, 12-4, hosted at our church. If you’re in San Diego, come on out, have lunch at our snack bar, and enjoy the races — it’ll be a blast!

(I’ll post pictures of our awesome cars after the 26th…)