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High-Profile Cooking

Kat and I were watching “Good Eats” the other night, and as Alton slid a dish into a nice toasty warm 350-degree oven, I suddenly sat bolt upright.

“Hey, that’s our oven!” I blurted out.

Kat and I (okay, mostly Kat) recently decided that enough was enough, and that our old oven had to go.  It was a Jenn-Air that came with the house, and frankly, it was either not very good in the first place or else had just been beat all to hell.  Cramped, dark, and uncalibrated—and with an unreadably worn set of control dials to boot—it was time for the warhorse to go.

After a good deal of research, Kat settled on a GE JK955 electric double oven, which we were relieved to find fit almost exactly into the space where the old oven was, once we removed a couple of drawers.  It’s got all kinds of toys and features that would send any food-porn addict straight into overdrive, including a built-in probe thermometer.  It even has a nice warm proofing function, which is one of the reasons Kat picked it.

There is one thing about it that cracks me right up, and that’s the Sabbath mode.  Seriously.  When you put it into Sabbath mode (the display reads “SAb bATh” when you do so), it will help you observe Orthodox Jewish law as regards the Sabbath.  Really!  See, you’re not allowed to do any work on the Sabbath, which includes things like turning lights on and off.  Ovens fall under that restriction as well, which makes cooking dinner a bit tough.  However—and here’s the funky part—you get off the hook if you don’t directly cause the work to occur.  If the work happens indirectly, then you’re okay.

So when the oven is in Sabbath mode, you input the temperature and cook time you want.  Then you press start, and for a random amount of time that ranges from 30 seconds to a minute, nothing happens.  Then the oven kicks on.  Ta-daaa!  Indirect action!  Sure, you pressed all those buttons, but the random time delay is enough to get around your religion’s restrictions on Sabbath work.  It’s all, pardon the term, kosher.  Check out the Wired article about the man responsible for Sabbath mode, if you don’t believe me.

I’m still trying to decide if this letter-of-the-law approach lessens my respect for Orthodox Jews’ conception of religion, or if I have more respect for their pragmatic willingness to hack the problem.  I think it’s the latter.  Apparently there’s still no progress on a molecular screen that will prevent the insertion of porcine products into the oven, so I guess some things are still up to the individual.

So not only do we have a frum oven, but without realizing it we had settled on the same model that A.B. himself uses, which is about as weighty an endorsement as we can imagine.  (Of course, his is the larger unit, but that’s okay—ours fills its space very nicely, thank you.)  The degree to which this makes us feel all smug and superior is probably cause for alarm.  If you hear our friends are getting ready to stage an intervention, well, that’s probably why.

Jackals and HYDEsim

Long-time readers (and Jeremy) probably remember HYDEsim, the big-boom ‘simulator’ I hacked together using the Google Maps API and some information in my personal reading library.

Well, with North Korea setting off something that might have been a nuclear device, it’s starting to show up in the darndest places.  Everyone’s favorite millenial talk show host, Glenn Beck, not only mentioned it on his radio program this past Monday, but also put a link on the main page of his site for a couple of days.  Then it got Farked.  I suppose it’s only a matter of time now before it gets Slashdotted as well.

With the increased attention, some old criticisms have arisen, as well as some misunderstandings.  For example, on Fark, someone said:

I thought it was funny how people are playing with this and think they were “safe” if they weren’t in the circle.

Here’s a mockup I did of the kind of blast damage you could expect from a single 1980’s era Russian ICBM carrying 10 MIRV warheads, each capable of 750KT yield.

Oh my yes.  That’s something that the HYDEsim code can theoretically support, since every detonation point is an object and there’s no limit on the number of objects you can have, but I never managed to add this capability.  That’s because trying to figure out the UI for placing the MIRV impact points broke my head, and when I considered how to set all that in the URI parameters (for direct linking), a tiny wisp of smoke curled out of my left ear.  Still, one of these days I should probably at least add a “MIRV ring impact” option so the young’n’s can get an idea of what had us all scared back in the old days.

The interesting challenge is that a strategic nuclear strike of that variety is going to involve a whole bunch of optimum-altitude air bursts.  HYDEsim takes the simpler—and also, in this darkened day and age, more realistic—approach of calculating the effects of a ground burst.  The difference is in no sense trivial: a ground burst has a lot of energy, both thermal and radiological, absorbed by the ground (oddly enough!).  On the other hand, its highest overpressure distances are actually greater.

This is because shock energy drops with distance, of course.  An optimum-altitude air burst would be a mile or two above the ground, so the highest pressures would be directly beneath the explosion, and would be smaller than if the same weapon exploded on the ground.  With an air burst there’s less ground and man-made clutter to attenuate the shock waves as they spread out, so the total area taking some degree of damage due to overpressure is actually greater.  (There are also very complex interactions between the shock waves in the air and those reflected off the ground, but those are way beyond my ability to simulate in JavaScript.)

Also, direct thermal radiation is spread over a much greater area with an air burst than with a ground burst—again, there’s less stuff in the way.  The amount of fallout depends on the “cleanliness” of the warhead, but for an air burst it can actually be expected to be less than a groundburst.

People also claim that radiological energy (X-rays, neutron radiation, gamma radiation, etc.) will be the deadliest factor of all.  Actually, it’s just the opposite, unless you’re discussing something like a neutron bomb.  The amount of harmful direct-effect radiation that comes directly from the explosion is far, far smaller than the thermal energy.  And yes, I know thermal radiation is direct-effect, but there’s a large practical difference between heat and other forms of radiation.

Put another way, if you’re close enough to an exploding nuclear warhead that the amount of radiation emitted by the explosion would ordinarily kill you, the odds are overwhelmingly high that the amount of shock wave and thermal energy arriving at your position will ensure that there won’t be time for you to worry about the radiation effects.  Or anything else, really.

Remember: I’m talking there about direct radiation, not the EMP or fallout.  That’s a whole separate problem, and one HYDEsim doesn’t address, to the apparent disgust of another Farker:

The site is useless without fallout and thermal damage.

Well, I don’t know about useless, but it’s admittedly not as representative of the totality of nuclear-weapons damage as it might otherwise be.  Of course, HYDEsim is not specifically about nuclear detonations, as I showed when I mapped the Hertfordshire oil refinery explosion and djsunkid mapped the Halifax explosion of 1917.  But I certainly admit that the vast majority of explosions in the range the tool covers are going to be from nuclear weapons.

The problem with mapping fallout is that it’s kind of weather dependent, just for starters; just a few miles-per-hour difference in wind speed can drastically alter the fallout pattern, and the position of the jet stream plays a role too.  Also, the amount of fallout is dependent on the kind of detonation—anyone who was paying attention during the Cold War will remember the difference between “dirty” and “clean” nuclear warheads.  (For those of you who came late: to get a “dirty” warhead, you configure a device to reduce the explosive power but generate a lot more fallout.)

Thermal effects are something I should add, but it’s trickier than you might expect.  There’s actually an area around the explosion where there are no fires, because the shock effects snuff them out.  Beyond that, there’s a ring of fire (cue Johnny Cash).  So it’s not nearly as simple as charting overpressure, which is itself not totally simple.

And then there’s there whole “how to combine thermal-effect and overpressure rings in a way that doesn’t become totally confusing” problem.  Get ambitious, and then you have the “plus the show fallout plume without making everything a total muddle” follow-on problem.  Ah well, life’s empty without a challenge, right?

Okay, so I went through all that and didn’t actually get to my point, which is this:  I’ve been rather fascinated to see how the tool gets used.  When it was first published, there was a very high percentage of the audience who just went, “Cooool!”.  That’s still the case.  It’s the same thing that draws eyes to a traffic accident; it’s horrible, but we still want to see.

However, I also got some pushback from conservative types:  how dare I publish such a thing, when it could only be useful to terrorists?!?!?  Rather than play to the audience and inform them that I simply hate freedom, I mentioned that it was desirable to have people like you and me better understand the threats we face.  It’s not like the terrorists can’t figure this stuff out anyway.

Now I’ve seen a bunch of people from the same ideological camp use HYDEsim to mock the North Koreans’ test, which apparently misfired and only achieved a yield of about 0.5KT.  Others have taken that figure and plotted it in American cities, giving some scale to the dimension of this particular threat.  Still others have done that, but with the yield the North Koreans had attempted to reach (thought to be 4KT), or even with yields up to 50KT.  In most cases, these last are shown in conjunction with commentary to the effect of “now do you understand why this is a problem?”.

This is why I do what I do, whether it’s write books or publish articles or speak at conferences or build tools or just post entries here:  to help people learn more about their world, and to help them share what they know and think and believe with others.  Sometimes that’s worth saying again, if only to remind myself.

The Silence of the Lamb’s Blood

With Passover recently concluded and yet another viewing of The Ten Commandments under my belt, a question has occurred to me.

The whole point of Passover is to commemorate the events that freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt, and the English name of the holiday comes from the fact that the Angel of Death passed over the Jews as it slew the first-born of Egypt as the final plague.  So why is it that the very act that caused the Angel to pass by a household and spare any first-born within, the smearing of lamb’s blood on the doorway, is not part of the Passover seder?  You’d think that would be a central act, a way of asking that the Angel of Death pass by the house for another year, in much the same way Jews ask God to inscribe their name in the Book of Life for another year during Yom Kippur.  If I were designing the seder, I’d make the smearing of the blood the opening act of the entire ceremony.

Never mind that lamb’s blood can be hard to come by and disquieting for some to handle; it could be symbolically represented with paint or red wine or some other substance.  Most of the seder consists of symbolic representations anyway.  Why not the Pesach blood as well?

Japanese Color Blending

What is it about the Japanese that they loooove to blend colors?

Lest you think I’m indulging in some sort of bizarre racial stereotyping, I submit for your consideration the Technorati search results for blogs and other sites pointing to my Color Blender.  The Blender been moderately popular ever since its release, but so far as I can tell, the Asian market is just eating it up.  If I see a new Japanese site appear in my egorati feed, the odds are 49 out of 50 that it’ll be linking to the Blender.

So what’s the deal there?  Anyone have insights, specuation, or even translations that might shed some light on this little enigma?

(Note: it turns out that these are Chinese blogs using Japanese fonts, and not Japanese sites as I originally thought.  I’m leaving the original entry intact rather than update it.  Still, this means that the essence of the original question remains, even if the geography was off by a bit.)

Premium Channels Just Aren’t

With the finishing of the basement and the installation of the new TV, it was time to dump the cable company.  As a result of the feedback I got from people, I ended up choosing Dish network.  (Thanks to everyone who commented!)  Oh, did it feel good to jettison at least one localized monopoly.  I never liked Adelphia, not from the day they arrived in town.  The criminal indictment of their founder and some of his family members didn’t do much to improve my perception, either.

Of course, when you sign up for any new media service these days, you get swamped with a zillion deals and promotional packages.  I ended up with three free months of movie channels—HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and a variety of offshoot niche channels.  There’s something like twenty-five of them.  At the end of the three months, I have to cancel or else they start charging me for the movie package.

I’ll be cancelling.  It’s kind of handy having all those movies available, and I’ve caught a few I wanted to see in theaters but didn’t.  However, there is something about these “premium” movie channels, every last one of them, that kills the deal for me.

They all broadcast pan-and-scan formatted movies.  Not a letterboxed, widescreen showing to be found anywhere.

Last night, I found myself gritting my teeth over the ruination of several shots in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a movie I was only half watching as it was.  Characters just vanished from shots that were, of a sudden, horribly balanced.  I can only imagine what outrages would be perpetrated on some of the classics of cinema.  I mean, come on.  The frickin’ SciFi channel shows letterboxed movies on a regular basis.  If the geeks over there can figure it out, you’ve got no excuse.

In short, there’s no way I’ll be paying to have mangled movies delivered to my home.  Fix that problem, and I might be tempted to sign up.  Otherwise, I’ll spend my movie-related money elsewhere, thank you very much.

The Pooh Progression

On Friday, the voice of Tigger died.  Then on Saturday, the voice of Piglet died.

What I want to know is whether Disney security protecting the people who provide the voices of Winnie-The-Pooh, Eeyore, Owl, Gopher, Kanga, Roo, and the rest—or is Disney security, or possibly rogue elements within it, actually behind it all?

Dark times in the Hundred Acre Wood… dark times indeed.

Scientificologically Speaking

And I know that– psychiatry is– is a pseudo science.
— Tom Cruise

Considering that deeply informed opinion was delivered by an adherent to a pseudo religion, I think that we as a species need to take it very seriously indeed.

But I still want to see his new star vehicle.

At The End

Terri Schiavo, as you’re no doubt aware, died this morning as the result of twelve days of starvation and dehydration.

I am not qualified to judge the actions of anyone involved in the situation, nor do I have a clear sense of what the “right thing” to do was in that particular case, but I know this much for myself.  If it is acceptable to end a life, then it should be mandatory that the ending be as quick and painless as possible.  Withholding sustenance strikes me as a horrible form of euthanasia.  An overdose of painkillers, or a painless poison, would be far more merciful.

Years ago, long before she was diagnosed with cancer, my mother made me promise that, given certain circumstances, I would help her by ending her life.  Those circumstances didn’t come about; instead, an aggressive, pervasive malignancy destroyed her body and took her life.  But had those circumstances come about, no matter how much keeping that promise might have meant to me and to her, I do not think I could have starved her to death.

Again, this is in no way a comment on whether or not Mrs. Schiavo should have been allowed to die.  It is simply a wish that we might make termination procedures more merciful, or else stop them altogether.

December 2014
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