Tag Archives: food

Lo, The Squirrels Are Ravenous

As if the East Coast needs a further harbinger of bad weather . . . I’ve captured on film an indication of just how severe this coming winter will likely be:  never-before-seen-animal-behavior.  Saving up for winter, certainly Not Quite Right, I give you . . .

Squirrels.

Feeding.

Viciously.

On our Jack-O-Lanterns!

Caught, red-pawed.

Mugshot of the offender.

Close-up of the damage.

 

 

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Improbable Research – Kansas vs. Pancake

Reblogged from:  http://www.improbable.com/airchives/paperair/volume9/v9i3/kansas.html

 

Kansas Is Flatter Than a Pancake

by Mark Fonstad 1, William Pugatch 1, and Brandon Vogt 2

1. Department of Geography, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
2. Department of Geography, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

In this report, we apply basic scientific techniques to answer the question “Is Kansas as flat as a pancake?”

Figure 1. (a) A well-cooked pancake; and (b) Kansas. 1

While driving across the American Midwest, it is common to hear travelers remark, “This state is as flat as a pancake.” To the authors, this adage seems to qualitatively capture some characteristic of a topographic geodetic survey 2. This obvious question “how flat is a pancake” spurned our analytical interest, and we set out to find the ‘flatness’ of both a pancake and one particular state: Kansas.

 

A Technical Approach to Pancakes and Kansas

Barring the acquisition of either a Kansas-sized pancake or a pancake-sized Kansas, mathematical techniques are needed to do a proper comparison. Some readers may find the comparing of a pancake and Kansas to be analogous to the comparing of apples and oranges; we refer those readers to a 1995 publication by NASA’s Scott Sandford 3, who used spectrographic techniques to do a comparison of apples and oranges.

One common method of quantifying ‘flatness’ in geodesy is the ‘flattening’ ratio. The length of an ellipse’s (or arc’s) semi-major axis a is compared with its measured semi-minor axis b using the formula for flattening, f = (a – b) / a. A perfectly flat surface will have a flattening f of one, whereas an ellipsoid with equal axis lengths will have no flattening, and f will equal zero.

For example, the earth is slightly flattened at the poles due to the earth’s rotation, making its semi-major axis slightly longer than its semi-minor axis, giving a global f of 0.00335. For both Kansas and the pancake, we approximated the local ellipsoid with a second-order polynomial line fit to the cross-sections. These polynomial equations allowed us to estimate the local ellipsoid’s semi-major and semi-minor axes and thus we can calculate the flattening measure f.

Materials and Methods

We purchased a well-cooked pancake from a local restaurant, the International House of Pancakes, and prepared it for analysis by separating a 2-cm wide sample strip that had not had time to desiccate. We collected macro-pancake topography through digital image processing of a pancake image and ruler for scale calibration (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Pancake cross-sectional surface being digitized.

We made another topographic profile from the sample, using a confocal laser microscope. The importance of this research dictated that we not be daunted by the “No Food or Drink” sign posted in the microscopy room. The microscope collects one elevation point every 10 mm and has a maximum surface diameter of 2 cm (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. When viewed at a scale of 50 mm, a pancake appears more rugged than the Grand Canyon.

We measured a west-east profile across Kansas taken from merged 1:250,000 scale digital elevation model (DEM) data from the United States Geological Survey. In general, the spacing between adjacent elevation points on the landscape transects was approximately 90 meters. We extracted surface transects and flatness estimates from the Kansas and pancake DEM data using a geographic information system.

Results

The topographic transects of both Kansas and a pancake at millimeter scale are both quite flat, but this first analysis showed that Kansas is clearly flatter (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Surface topography of Kansas and of a pancake.

Mathematically, a value of 1.000 would indicate perfect, platonic flatness. The calculated flatness of the pancake transect from the digital image is approximately 0.957, which is pretty flat, but far from perfectly flat. The confocal laser scan showed the pancake surface to be slightly rougher, still.

Measuring the flatness of Kansas presented us with a greater challenge than measuring the flatness of the pancake. The state is so flat that the off-the-shelf software produced a flatness value for it of 1. This value was, as they say, too good to be true, so we did a more complex analysis, and after many hours of programming work, we were able to estimate that Kansas’s flatness is approximately 0.9997. That degree of flatness might be described, mathematically, as “damn flat.”

Conclusion

Simply put, our results show that Kansas is considerably flatter than a pancake.

Notes

1. The photograph of Kansas is of an area near Wichita, Kansas. It may be of significance that the town of Liberal, Kansas hosts the annual ‘International Pancake Day’ festival.

2. To pump up our cross-disciplinary name-dropping, we should also mention that recently some quick-thinking cosmologists also described the universe as being “flatter than a pancake” after making detailed measurements of the cosmic background radiation.

3. “Comparing Apples and Oranges,” S.A. Sandford, Annals of Improbable Research, vol. 1, no. 3, May/June 1995.

 

© Copyright 2003 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)


Chocolate Paradise with Animatronic Cows

Ahhh, lovely chocolate themepark place, how I adore thee.

Visiting a theme park, any theme park, something is bound to go wrong.  Too much humanity crowds into too small a space, adrenaline levels rise, people eat bad food, glucose levels spike, trends in wearing identical matched clothing magnify bodily imperfections to frightening levels (whether Youth Group Smiley-Face t-shirts or double velour sequened sweatsuits).

Yet the trip my family took to Hershey Park was almost perfect.  We tasted chocolate, dark, darker, milk, spiced = yum.  We bought chocolate.  We sipped hot coco.  We made our own candy bars.  Double yum.

Candy being specially made-to-order for us at the ‘Make a Bar’ attraction.

Chocolate actually flows through this pipe: I need one of these!

And then we took the little indoor tramcar ride through what we thought would be the machine-shop workings of the ‘real’ Hershey’s plant.  We wanted to see the Kit-Kats and other delicacies in their moment of nugaty, carmely, chocolatey birth.

Wrong.

Cow butts. Weird.

What we got instead were singing animatronic cows, sometimes (oddly enough) with their swishing, dusty butts turned toward us, all amid a flashing frenzy of lights, a Willy-Wonka-Meets-Ann-of-Green-Gables abomination from which all of us (but especially my stout and very nearly manly sons) fled as quick as the seatbelts and lapbars unclicked at the end of the ride.

Go there.  They’ve built it.  See it for yourselves.  And certainly build a candy bar of your own choosing.  But beware the cows.

Scary Dancing Cows . . . not sure if this shows up as a movie, but try to click on it. Animatronics just BOTHER me.


An Incongruous Vehicle

Moments of Not Quite Right can be found anywhere.  Even here, in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s outside Princeton, New Jersey.  Admittedly, this situation is more Jersey (or Jooysie) than Princetonian, since the Boro of Princeton is usually a world unto itself, seemingly unrelated to the state where it has been nestled.

A Very Incongruous Vehicle

Four main points of NQR-ness here:

First, notice that this a HUMVEE, with entry several feet above the ground either driver-side or passenger-side.  Certainly use of this vehicle must be ostentatiously more difficult than average for anyone with the sort of unforunate handicap that might make walking from a parking lot into a store difficult.  Yet the vehicle has a handicapped tag hanging from the rearview mirror (barely visible in the photo) AND is using that advantage to park in the spot nearest to Trader Joe’s main door.

Second, the personalized license plate says “POLKA 1.”  While this might not be out-of-place in my native Wisconsin, the combination of Jersey, Humvee, handicapped, and Polka makes me not only wonder at the strange confluence of forces at work in the personality of the driver, but also brings into question, once again, the nature of the handicap.  Is it a walking handicap?  If so, why the Humvee?  Why the proclaimed preference for polka?

Third, all of this is located at Trader Joe’s, an amorphously upscale, trendy, organic, granola-crunchy supermarket chain.  Something’s got to give in my mental picture of the owner of this vehicle:  tie-died shirt hobbling along with a tennis-ball clad walker, iPhones blaring Roll-Out-The-Barrel while browsing through a muscle-car magazine?

Fourth, and maybe worst of all given the Sandusky affair, the final piece of information conveyed by the vehicle is its support of the Nittany Lions.  What weirdness has brought a fan or alum from Happy Valley this far across the eastern seaboard in his banana-yellow buggy, polkaing, parking in handicap spots, struggling to remount this oversized gas-guzzling giant of a vehicle at every turn?

It’s just odd.  Inexplicably odd.  But it should serve as notice that we Americans have more than our fair share of NQR.


Soft Drink Wars

Just a quick NQR chime-in on the soft drink debate that’s currently raging in New York City (see article on the recent hearing where Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit soda sizes to 16oz in the city is debated).

Personally we’ve taken to ordering kids’ meals when we’re traveling and don’t otherwise have our normal range of options for healthy eating (or at least obtaining healthy portion sizes).  The fries in a kids’ meal are the same size now days as LARGE fries when we were kids.  The burgers are portion-sized, rather than 1000+ calorie behemoths.  And the sodas are in the 8 – 12oz range.  This says alot about America, and American gluttony, that the cheapest and most available sources of food are too large, too sugary, and too fat.  Unlike much of the rest of the world, where the poorer classes are subjected to starvation-level poverty, in America food is an almost unavoidable excess unless you’re rich enough (ala Angelina Jolie) to hire a private cook and nutritionist.

Here’s proof (from what has been, over time, one of our more favored and frequented fast food joints) on the explosion in size of soft drinks.  A REGULAR soda (regular!) came across the counter to me barely large enough to fit in my hand.  The fine print in the lower right corner of the cup reveals its size:  30oz.  It’s stupid big.  And it lends credence to what doctors are saying about these soft drinks, that they’re addictive.  How else can anyone explain drinking, in one sitting, an amount of soda that is equal to half the normal intake of water someone needs during a day?

I say to Mayor Bloomberg:  “Good work.”  If someone has a problem with a 16oz size soda, let them purchase two (or four, if they want the equivalent of a modern ‘large’).

Giant cup of sugar (or worse: corn syrup!)

 


Fugcikles

Grocery list from my refrigerator, addition in bold courtesy my 9-yr old.

Although it’s certainly NQR, without looking at the previous, empty box from the freezer I must admit I had trouble spelling this one too!

Nice try, son, but you’re not taking home the blue-ribbon at the spelling bee this week.


Jersey Fresh (Say What?)

One among many signs at the local Wegman’s Supermarket that announces a “Jersey Fresh” product.

Maybe because I hail from a state that has some claim to actual “freshness,” or maybe because New Jersey seems, still, even after living here for nine months, such a metropolitan and even slightly greasy place, the current  agricultural marketing slogan “Jersey Fresh” makes me chuckle in an NQR sort of way everytime I see it.

Admittedly, not ALL of New Jersey (especially the part where we live) is akin to the infamously trashy setting of the TV show “Jersey Shore.”  That’s up closer to Newark, in the badder ‘burbs of NYC.  Out here things are comparatively rural.  Comparatively bucolic.  But also waaaaay crowded and almost devoid of land actually being used for agriculture.  In fact, in those few places where you see fields (instead of housing developments or strip malls) nicely stencilled plaques usually can be found proclaiming that the land had been specificially “saved” as a rural preservation, like a tourist attraction!

So, while I’m a little ashamed to admit actually buying a few of these scallops (we’ll see how “Jersey Fresh” they actually are when I sautee them in a little herbed and garlicked olive oil tomorrow), the slogan definitely requires an entry here.  Bon apetit!