Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sourdough urad ("black lentil") pancakes

This is a cross between an Indian dosa and an American(?)-style pancake. Proportions are from memory, and you may need to adjust the flour or liquids a little to get the standard pancake batter consistency.

First, the initial batter:
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour.
  • 1/3 cup urad flour, available at your local Indian grocery.
  • 2/3 cup water.
  • Tablespoon sourdough starter.
Mix all of the above, and leave out overnight to ferment. The next day add:
  • 0.5 teaspoon salt.
  • 0.5 teaspoon baking soda.
  • 1 beaten egg.
Mix gently; as with standard pancakes, don't overmix or you'll lose more of the carbon dioxide and the pancakes won't be as fluffy. Fry on a griddle using butter, as you would with standard pancakes.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The founding story of scientific management

If you've heard of Frederick Taylor, you've probably heard the foundational story of scientific management: Taylor observes workers moving pig iron, applies his superior intellectual capabilities to redesign the process, and by motivating one of the workers with pay achieves a four-fold increase in productivity. As it turns out, however, this story was "erroneous", or perhaps "more fiction than fact". The authors of these two papers are overpolite; in practice Taylor's experiment was a failure, and he lied about the results so successfully that it took 75 years before anyone called him on it. More here if you don't want to chase down JSTOR access (your public library will likely have a subscription you can use).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

On the edge of the storm

Satellites are astonishing: right now it's merely cloudy, but I can see that the clouds here are at the edge of the giant storm. My father is one block away from the NYC evacuation zone, so he may be heading out of the financial district and to my grandmother's place in upper Manhattan as I type.

Economic disasters are harder to see, especially if everyone involved has a motivation to pretend it's not coming. But if you pay attention, you can see some of those coming too... like the collapse of the housing bubble in Australia, perhaps finally about to arrive.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Lessons of War

I've been reading Beatrice Webb's autobiography, "My Apprenticeship", and came across this astonishing quotation she includes from Charles Bradlaugh, who wrote this in 1872:

"These bodies which now we wear belong to the lower animals; our minds have already outgrown them; already we look upon them with contempt. A time will come when Science will transform them by means which we cannot conjecture, and which if explained to us we would not now understand, just as the savage cannot understand electricity, magnetism, steam. Disease will be extirpated; the causes of decay will be removed; immortality will be invented. And then the earth being small, mankind will emigrate into space and will cross airless Saharas which separate planet from planet, and sun from sun. The earth will become a Holy Land which will be visited by pilgrims from all quarters of the universe. Finally, men will master the forces of Nature; they will become themselves architects of systems, manufacturers of worlds. Man will then be perfect; he will be a creator; he will therefore be what the vulgar worship as God."

She explains however that this religion of science is no longer conceivable: "In these latter days of deep disillusionment, now that we have learnt, by the bitter experience of the Great War, to what vile uses the methods and results of science may be put, when these are inspired and directed by brutal instinct and base motive, it is hard to understand the naive belief of the most original and vigorous minds of the 'seventies and 'eighties that it was by science, and by science alone, that all human misery would be ultimately swept away."

And yet, this "naive belief" survived well into the 20th century among Science Fiction writers. Are SF writers just behind the times? Personally I suspect it's more that so many of the writers were Americans, and the impact of World War I, and later World War II, was never really felt in the same way in the US. Wikipedia suggests almost 10 million combat casualties in WWI of which only 116,000 were Americans; if the US had some proportion of casualties to population as the rest of the combatants, it would've been more like a million US casualties, ten time as many... and that's even before civilian deaths.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A bunch of quacks

Kragen hates object-oriented ducks:

"The problem with examples like `Duck extends Bird` is that it gives you no understanding of the kind of considerations you need to think about in order to decide whether the design decisions discussed above are good or bad.

In fact, it actively sabotages that understanding.

You can’t add code to ducks.

You can’t refactor ducks.

Ducks don’t implement protocols.

You can’t create a new species in order to separate some concerns (e.g. file I/O and word splitting).

You can’t fake the ability to turn a duck into a penguin by moving its duckness into an animal of some other species that can be replaced at runtime."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Oh dear

The always excellent "Behind the News" interviewed Yanis Varoufakis a few weeks ago on the crisis in Greece (the second half of the show). Short story: if Greece leaves the Euro, bank runs in other periphery countries on expectations of devaluation (e.g. Ireland), and Germany will leave the Euro so it doesn't have to bail them out; the Euro monetary union will be gone within days. At that point Germany and other surplus countries will have a deep recession as their new currencies appreciate and their exports become expensive.

More at Varoufakis' blog.