Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Great Blizzard of 2010 Part 2/3

Continuing the snowstorm blogging, we also got quite a bit of snow. This was one of our neighbor's cars (ours was in the garage):

Also, as with last year, I set up a time lapse movie of the snowstorm:
Check it on YouTube for the full HD version.  You'll notice the snow piled up on the window this year, blocking the shot.  I needed to knock some away at around 10:30PM.

Also, our hilarious friends drove out in the blizzard to make a cameo appearance and dance in the movie.
See if you can find them!

And, while I'm not sure if we got as much snow as Aryeh and The Parentals,
everyone helped out with the shoveling:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Great Blizzard of 2010 Part 1/3

This past Sunday and Monday saw the Eastern Coast of the US hit with a huge snowstorm.  By me the snow was probably about 2 feet deep on average, with drifts resulting in snow up to 2.5-3 feet deep in places.  Once I had managed to dig my way to my car, it took me and my father 25 minutes to dig it out.  This would have happened quicker if the snow blower had started, but it didn't (it did eventually, but not until I was almost finished with clearing snow for the day).  The wind caused the already deep snow to eat my car.  The only bits sticking out where the passenger side mirror and the antenna.

When I first started digging into the snow, I had no idea where most of my car actually was in the pile. 

At the point these pictures where taken my father had gotten to the side of the car and I had almost made it to the front bumper.  Once I made it to the car I had to shovel it off.

Before I pulled out I had rotated the wheels a bit and when I did get out it had left this impression in the snow.  From this picture you can see the mold of my car in snow, and you can also see just  how deep the snow could get.

This is my father working to clear the stairs up to my house and once again you can see just how deep the snow got.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales and the press

Many of you have probably noticed the charity appeal that has been appearing on Wikipedia for the last few weeks. Tech-crunch aptly notes that the ads ironically highlight their no-ad policy. If you have a chance I certainly recommend donating to this most useful cause here, as I did last year.

This year though, they started using a picture of Jimmy Wales
in some of the ads with a link to his personal appeal. Instead of reading what he wrote I decided to read his appeal straight from the picture. I've posted the appeal as I read it so you guys can read it too:
"Hi I'm Jimmy Wales, I'm really upset that you don't recognize my face even though I created one of the biggest websites in the word. Really I should be a humongous celebrity by now so I'm going to post my picture up here so that I can become as famous as I deserve to be."

Anyway, its obvious that putting a picture of a pretty girl or some babies up there, would be a much more effective way to convince people to donate.

Supposedly "Jimmy was a bit uncomfortable with having his face on Wikipedia for millions of people to see and ridicule" (source). But I highly doubt that statement is true given that he he has no problem getting paid to have his face other places, like in this watch advert.

Now for the ridicule from the uncyclopedia. Amongst the many, my favorite are the divine appeal from Wikia Adam, and the Open Contemplations from Wikia Maiden with the great photoshop-jobs below.

Anyway, other than this intresting personality quirk, he does a good job talking about wikipedia with journalists. This interviewer was particularly ignorant its pretty funny how he kind of blinks like he can't believe what he's hearing.

The news is generally misunderstanding "Pending changes" which is actually a large improvement over the previous method of locking contested pages.

"People used to have to register to make these sort of changes to high profile Wikipedia pages and then wait a few days. Now they can upload the changes without registering and wait to see if they are uploaded.” --J. Wales

About wikipedia losing users:
To hear about the guy himself who did the research. It wasn't really a mistake on his part, but on the part of the press who misinterpreted the results (surprise!) you can go here.

He links the wikipedia page on it here:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Laser Safety

Today the kid didn't go to daycare, so I brought him to the lab.
One of the benefits of having two monitors, it turns out, is being able to put the Muppets up on one, while doing work on the other:
Still, LEGO is more interesting.

He was very excited to go inside our clean room
and see the cool glassware we use in the back.

And, it's never to early to get started with laser safety!

Also, a reminder to vote for my "Holiday Spikey" once a day through Jan 3rd.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wild Wacky Winds

The other day I was walking a path I often walk, when I noticed something.  The wind in a corner of the outside of the engineering building was really whipping around.  Then I actually looked.  I have been walking past this point for more than five years and this is the first time I really looked.  It is amazing how much you don't see if it is around you all the time.  Let me show you what I mean...

You can see a mostly circular patch of earth, with a mound in the center.  This location is home to an almost permanent whirlwind.  Walking past there are almost always leaves being whipped around in the circle.I wont bore you excessively as to why I think this exists, but I feel I should give a brief explanation.  When a fluid passes by, or around an edge such as this one it wants to follow the path that expends the least energy.  The flow does not want to make a 90 degree turn, so it just breaks away from the wall.  The sheer stress on the air inside that pocket causes the air to spin forming an eddy. This particular eddy is a rather strong one and this is due to a ton of factors, precise geometry, predominant wind directions, vegetation and any number of other things.

Here is is up close.  You can really see the power of wind erosion in this image. Incredible to think that I just really noticed and looked at this for the first time recently.

If you happen to be passing by one day take a look for yourself.  It is located inside the red circle.  The red circle is located in front of the Rutgers Engineering Building between the B-wing and the A-wing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Combinatoric Lunch

In this post I will describe the perfect method for taking a varied and healthy lunch to work each day with very little time, thought or money invested.

The combinatoric lunch!

In its most basic delicious form it consists of 4 ingredients
  1. Pasta/Rice that you cook at home and bring in a Tupperware
  2. Beans from a can, you can keep many cans in your office
  3. Cheese, if your office has a fridge you can keep it there
  4. Fresh greens, cilantro for example, you can bring these in the same container as the pasta/rice
The directions are simple
  1. Spread the pasta/rice on a plate
  2. Spread the beans on the pasta/rice
  3. Spread the cheese on the beans
  4. Microwave for about 3 mins
  5. Add the greens and eat!
"But won't this get boring?" you ask. To answer lets calculate how many different lunches you can have.

A few good pasta/rice types
  1. Long grain rice
  2. Brown rice
  3. Basmati rice
  4. Short grain rice
  5. Wild rice
  6. Spaghetti
  7. Rotini
  8. Ziti
  9. Macaroni
  10. Linguini
  11. Penne
A few good bean types
  1. Black beans
  2. Red kidney beans
  3. Pinto beans
  4. Lima beans
  5. Roman beans
A few good cheese types
  1. Muenster
  2. Cheddar
  3. Extra sharp cheddar
  4. Mozzarella
  5. Fresh mozzarella
  6. Monterey jack
  7. Gouda
And a few good greens
  1. Cilantro
  2. Basil
  3. Dill
  4. Oregano
These lists are certainly not exhaustive, but nevertheless, one can get up to 11*5*7*4 = 1,540 unique lunches with this model. If you eat lunch 5 days a week then you can eat a different lunch every day at work for almost 6 years. Tell that to anyone who thinks you eat the same thing every day. I know I do.

Gourmet options:
If you have a lot of extra time, you can microwave the rice in some tomatoe sauce, this adds some nice color. You can also cut in some tomatoes (as shown in the above photo) and/or mushrooms.

Pushing the limit
We can leave out any of the main ingredients if we wish. In our model that involves adding an invisible type of pasta/beans/cheese/green. This invisible food will increase each number by one. Under the assumption that we must have at least something to eat we need to subtract 1 for the case where all of the food you eat is invisible.
(12 pasta)*(6 beans)*(8 cheeses)*(5 greens)*(2 mushrooms)*(2 tomatoes)-1 = 11,519 unique lunches.
This means that if you ate the combinatoric lunch for breakfast lunch and dinner every single day, you could go over ten delicious years without duplicating a single meal. Of course you might die of an iron deficiency before this point...

Being ridiculous
Taking Euphman's suggestion you can actually have more than one item from all the classes. For example you can have both dill & cilantro with black beans & kidney beans. The number of combinations in this case is equal to (2^10)(2^4)(2^6)(2^3) where I have subtracted one from each number so that we ensure a hearty meal with at least one from each category. With this strategy - you could feed everyone in America 7 days a week for over 13 years without repeating a single lunch!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vote for my Spikey!

I've entered the Wolfram|Alpha Holiday Spikey Contest!  Last Friday I got a package in the mail from Wolfram Research. Inside was this:
A paper sculpture Spikey kit.  Inside that was this:
So, after a bit of folding and so on, I was ready to drop in the last piece:

The instructions said to take a photo of Spikey in a place I might need facts.  So, here it is in the softwall cleanroom on an optical bench in my lab:
But, more often than not, I'd be needing facts at my desk, here:
Note: Mathematica open on the left monitor, Wolfram|Alpha on the right.  Ready to go...

But now, it's time for me to ask all blog readers to: Vote for my Spikey! (even though there are other really impressive Spikeys on the site.)  You can vote once a day from now through January 3, 2011. And I can win prizes!  And you can win prizes! So, vote early! And vote often!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Aryeh Cooks: Eggplant Parmesan

Over the years there have been a number of food related posts.  So, I have decided to add a new segment to The Lansey Brothers' blog, Aryeh Cooks.  About once every other month I will cook something, that I would never normally even consider.  The kind of food you would only think to buy, never to make from scratch.  Additionally, I will give some quick tips and other things that I learn while cooking and if the recipes are good I will post them.  Finally, I will take suggestions as to what foodstuff to make for the next segment.

This past week I decided to make Eggplant Parmesan.  I know that this is something that lots of people do make, but to me its something to be bought, so I cooked it instead.

Eggplant is basically a culinary sponge, it soaks up any liquid you put near it; then it goes mushy.  So the first step in many eggplant recipes is to cover it in kosher salt to collapse cell walls.  In the background I have diced onions on the stove sauteing for the sauce.

I have my breading station all set up, flour, eggs and then bread crumbs mixed with spices.

There is a lot going on in this picture.  In the back I have some breaded eggplants slices ready to pan fry.  then in the middle I have some slices pan frying and the sauce pot.  In front I have one layer of sauce, then eggplant, then more sauce, then cheese.  The second layer of eggplant is in the middle of going on top of that.

The final product ready to go into the oven.  After the second layer of eggplant goes more sauce and then cheese.

In my opinion the final product did not come out as well as I would have liked.  I sliced the eggplant into 1/2 inch slices, if I was going to make this again I would use 1/4 inch slices.  Additionally, I would have put the cheese on top later in the baking so as not to overcook it.  Finally, I need to get more practice coating things in bread crumbs.  This is the conclusion to the first Aryeh Cooks post, please give suggestions as to what I should make for the next one.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Birds of America Bargain

A book "Birds of America" by the naturalist and painter J. J. Audubon recently sold for over 10 million dollars. You can download the pdf for free from google here. It gives you a great book experience complete with the imprints of other pages on the first pages. If you just want to take a peek, you can do so here.
Just think, you save over $18,000 with each page you read ...even the blank ones!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Unclear on the concept

After Stacy bought me a pi plate, our personal info was apparently sold to a nerdy mail-order catalog mailing list.  While browsing one of the catalogs, Stacy came across this gem:
In case you can't read the text from the picture:
A must-give to an eco-conscious engineering friend, these miniature models of the towering wind-farm giants are precision engineered to rotate at authentic speeds using solar power.
That makes about as much sense as a geothermal-powered hydroelectric dam model.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Whats Inside a Water Fountain Project

The only water fountain in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Rutgers is broken.  It has been broken since the summer.  This has resulted in the water fountains innards being exposed.

The water fountain seems to work exactly as air-conditioners work.  The black container at the bottom is a compressor, which compresses a coolant gas.  The high pressure gas is then run into the condenser which is the fan and radiator on the right side.  The condenser cools the coolant gas that was heated by the compression and allows it to condense into a liquid.  The liquid coolant is then pumped to a evaporator.  I believe the evaporator is inside the cold water storage container, which is at the top of the box insulated by what appears to be Styrofoam.  As the liquid coolant comes to the evaporator it is allowed to evaporate which results in a cooling process.  In much the same way sweat evaporating cools you down.  The gas is then pumped back into the compressor and the cycle repeats.  The cool water then stays insulated and when you push the button is pumped right to you.

Here is a better image of the compressor and condenser.  Additionally, there is a valve on the left side of the image, however I cannot recall if it is on the high or low pressure side of the cycle.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Chanukah on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving this year fell out less than a week before the start of Chanukah and that got me thinking: Have Thanksgiving and Chanukah ever coincided? At first, I tried this nifty online tool: but the problem is that the date of Thanksgiving has changed (see Wikipedia):
  • From 1863-1938 Thanksgiving was on the last Thursday of November
  • From 1939-1941 Thanksgiving was on the 4th, 3rd and 3rd Thursdays for some of the country ("Democratic Thanksgiving"), and on the last Thursdays for other parts ("Republican Thanksgiving").
  • From 1942-current Thanksgiving is on the 4th Thursday of November for almost the entire country (execpt Texas, which still celebrated "Republican Thanksgiving" in 1956)
So I whipped together a quick Mathematica notebook to do it (you can download it here). If you want to skip to the results, you can skip this whole description:
Basically, after assembling all the Thanksgiving dates in a list thanksgivings, I used the CalendarChange function to map them from Gregorian dates to dates in the Jewish calendar:
jewishdate = CalendarChange[#, Gregorian, Jewish] & /@ thanksgivings;
Then, I calculated the number of days between Thanksgiving and the first day of Chanuka (note, that Mathematica uses the Biblical month numbering system: Nisan is 1, Tishrei is 7, Kislev is 9, etc.)
daysbetween = DaysBetween[{#[[1]], 9, 25}, #, Calendar -> Jewish] & /@ jewishdate
and extracted the dates corresponding to non-negative days between:
coincideJewishDate = Extract[jewishdate, Position[daysbetween, _?NonNegative]]
which can easily be mapped back to Gregorian dates:
coincideGregorianDate = CalendarChange[#, Jewish, Gregorian] & /@ coincideJewishDate
I did the same thing, to see when the first night of Chanuka ({year,9,24}) falls out on Thanksgiving.

So, enough technobabble, here are the results of when Thanksgiving falls out relative to Chanukah.
1888 First Day
1899 Fourth Day
1918 First Night
1945* First Night
1956* First Day
2013 First Day
2070 First Night
2165 First Night
The two *ed years correspond to Republican Thanksgivings. So, in Texas 1945, Chanukah started the evening of Thanksgiving, and "Black Friday" was the first day of the holiday.

Also, these are the only predictable times it will ever happen. The Jewish calendar drifts around 4.3 days later every 1000 years, and I checked dates for next 10,000+ years. Chanukah does not even fall out in November after 2887. At some point [definitely by the year 15115, when Passover falls out in the summer] the Jewish calendar will need to be corrected/replaced; until such a time these are the date.

So, in 2013 Chanukah and Thanksgiving will fall out on the same day! Ladies and gentlemen, when, in three years, lots of people start talking about this incredibly rare occurrence, remember: You saw it here first!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Packing Heat

Last Sunday some friends and I went paintballing.  The largest game we have ever put together with 22 players in total.  In the past whenever I went paintballing I had to pull the barrel of my gun off to fit it into a bag.  I have always found this annoying, because I have to also pull off my sling, and then putting it all back together is always a pain.  So this time I searched for a convenient alternative

I found it in my guitar case.  It fits the gun perfectly and this does make sense, because guitar cases are shaped almost exactly the same as rifle cases.  Since I am already posting about my paintball gun, I might as well give a good pictures of my setup.

For those of you who know something about paintball.  I have a Tippmann 98 Custom (pre anti-chop), a five point adjustable stock, a weaver rail with red dot scope, a barrel mounted rail with bi-pod, a three point tactical sling, in this picture I have my 14 inch barrel mounted, but I also use a 21 inch and I run a remote line.  For those of you who don't know anything about paintball, Blah blah blah blah gun blah blah.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My penguin autostereogram was featured in a forum

My autostereogram made out of penguins was featured about a month ago on this forum.

Now most people find it really difficult to recognize what this is a picture of but these internet-forum-people had an especially hard time. The directions given didn't really help:
"Squint into the image, you will see a 3D effect....."
They had some great comments, I copy a few of the best ones here below:
  • All I can see is penguins and splodges.
  • Now I'm seeing Dracula.
  • Now it looks like a building, castle maybe?
  • I couldnt see anything at first apart from penguins, but now I can see aliens!
  • Quote:
    Originally Posted by blackdahlia View Post
    I see naked women dancing.
    Yes, but concentrate on the picture now.
  • Quote:
    Originally Posted by Syl View Post
    Hey Glen, you're not subliminary trying to show us the artwork that got taken off last week are you?
    No , it looks like a camel or something.... You can't mistake the two...!

  • I see a tropical fish.
  • OK, just had anther look in the hope that being tipsy might give me a second sight....nope, just penguins and smudgy marks still.
  • I can see Michael Jackson... I think

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Does read this blog?

A while ago I blogged about's emails, specifically the "We've found your relatives in other trees" emails.  I suspect they read this blog, since now those emails announce "We've found your relatives in other family trees" [emphasis mine].
Shame, though. Could have been really neat to find my orangutan relatives!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Iron Overdose

I have recently been watching a ton of Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef.  This has led me to two conclusions.  First, some of these people can really cook and second, I could could do some of that.  So this had led to some experimentation.  I have decided to begin trying to make things from scratch that I would have normally just buy.  I got inspiration from an episode where a chef was making Ravioli.  So I made some pasta dough and started rolling.  If I had a pasta machine this would not have taken that long, but since I don't skip ahead an hour and a half.

 I rolled the dough thin then cut out circles using a small bowl as template.  The dough circles have a diameter of about three inches.  In the end I got 33 circles, about twice what is in this picture.

 The filling was ricotta cheese and basil.  In retospect I wish I had added some spinach, but I didn't know that there was spinach in the house.

 I spooned some filling into the dough circles and by hand crimped them.  This took a while, but by the end i had developed a decent technique to get as much filing in as I could.

Here is a tray of finished ravioli, it is rather obvious that they are hand made but I don't really care.  I made a simple tomato based sauce, cooked the ravioli in water and presto.  I did not cook all the ravioli at once, and I cooked the last couple in the sauce itself.  All very tasty, but they really sucked all the moisture out of the sauce and it was a bit try.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ants! (Update)

First of all, my grand ant plans from last week will have to wait for another location. It turns out that Aptima has a clause in its employee handbook explicitly prohibiting employees from fostering ant mills...
I was able to study them further with the help of white poster-board making ants very visible. Here are a few things that I learnt:
  1. Their nest is about a 3 minute ant walk from my office. I know this because from the time the first ant noticed food it took about six minutes before he returned and a few ants ventured out attempting to follow the first ant's trail.
  2. Ants like things they can chew quickly, like reeses peanut butter cups, not things that are harder to chew like hershey's milk chocolate. This "like" manifests itself rather indirectly as follows:
    -Food chewed off quickly allows each ant return faster to the nest, bringing out more ants at a much faster rate than food chewed slowly.
  3. These ants do not follow their trails very closely. Since the food source is very spread out, it makes sense for the ants to diverge a bit from their trails in order to get more food. Army ants (the kinds that can make ant mills) target more precise areas and so need to follow their trails very closely.
  4. These ants cannot swim. This is great because it means that my ant-moat works! (see photo). I will next try to make a dry version of ant protection so that I don't need to keep cleaning out the dead ants every week.

Now I will show you two videos
This is an ant mill, where the ants follow their scent in a circle. Warning: in the words of a reddit commenter it seems that the cameraman developed spontaneous Parkinsons before taking it. Also, these are probably army ants in this video.

With this one the cinematography is great, but the commentary and soundtrack are ridiculous ... extremely ridiculous. You would think you were watching a special on UFO's. He calls the ant colony a "city state." That said, it is amazing how complex things can be built with collaboration among stupid agents following stupid rules.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We Demand New Variables!!!

This post is something that has been on my mind for a very long time.  In the sciences there are a number of symbols that are used a lot. Here are a few of them. 
αa πnηh µuUψ rγyxzλYXZ2 tτTI1lij νvV ωwW κk φσQθϑ εE ρpPζ   I have grouped them this way to demonstrate my issue with them.  In this pristine setting I have a problem telling some of these apart.  Now think about a classroom with a teacher with bad handwriting, while you try desperately to copy the notes.  Additionally, many of these are used for very different things across disciplines.  On top of that some of these just love showing up intertwined.  Nu and v just love hanging out, as do Rho and p.  As do Epsilon and E in fact σ = Eε.  Now when you add in all the different professors notations for matrices, some like brackets, some like curved brackets and some like parentheses. Then you add in notations for vectors, scalars, time derivatives, partial derivatives, subscripts, and superscripts. I have had these include lines over and under, dots above, apostrophes, and tildes.  I have had problems that have derivatives, partial derivatives, regular and capitol letters of x, y, z, u, v, w and p as well as Nu and Rho.

At the end of the list I have added Zeta, because I have had no two professors every draw it the same and once it took me two lectures to figure out that the squiggly the teacher was drawing was Zeta.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Marshak Elevator Fun

Last week I blogged about the temporary signs in the new Marshak Hall elevators at City College.  In a comment there, Jonathan/Yoni suggested that I make a "very temporary" sign surrounding the existing one.  So, I did.

First, I measured the existing sign, which got me some strange looks in the elevator. Then, I used Inkscape to draw the existing sign, as well as the changes I wanted to make:

Our lab has a big printer for printing posters, and things like that, so I printed the "very temporary" addition out on it and trimmed out the center:

With a few pieces of masking tape on the back, I was ready to go!  I rode up to the 13th floor, held the door open with my backpack, and attached the sign:
My first attempt was a little bit big.  And, what I hadn't noticed at first was that the actual "temporary" signs were a bit off-scale and the bottommost arrows were pointing too high; my sign was closer to the positions of the buttons!

Anyway, I rode the elevator up and down for around 15-20 minutes to see people's reactions.  I don't have the hidden camera/microphone supplies of the Improv Everywhere guys, so you'll have to take my word for the reactions. Most people either didn't notice or didn't react. Some people thought it was funny (one or two camera phone pictures were taken) and some people got very confused.  I needed to leave the elevator eventually because some guy noticed I kept riding the thing up and down (also, I was getting a bit motion sick).

I printed a second sign that got the width right, but I still need to adjust the color and height.
I don't know how long these ultimately stayed up for, because I eventually got a bit dizzy again (and I also had work I needed to do...).

The really strange thing, though, is that I think someone else might have been pranking the system at the same time! I noticed that some floor signs outside the elevator had been covered:
This was on the actual 5th floor. But, if you push the button labelled "5" on the permanent label, the thing will actually take you to the 4th floor, so I guess that's the subtle confusion they were going for.

I'm thinking this might have had a better effect if I covered the existing sign, but that might seriously confuse innocent people and the sign would probably have a mush shorter half life.  Maybe I'll give it a shot anyway, though (April 1st isn't that far away...).  I'd love to hit all 3 elevators at once (maybe I'll rope my labmates into helping out), so, if anyone has any ideas for other symbols to mix up in the labels, let's hear 'em (someone already suggested The Artist Formerly Known As Prince's strange symbol).  Also, if anyone has ideas for a way to cheaply and inconspicuously record people's reactions, let me know, too.