Modernist Cookware

Posted in Cooking, Startup, tech with tags , , on March 26, 2015 by Genius

I was checking out Y Combinator’s recent batch and was surprised (and elated) to see two low-temperature cookware devices in it! As someone working on a product in the space it’s good to see the segment of the market heating up. Pun intended.

For those who don’t know, low-temperature cooking is a new(ish) method of preparing food. The old style of cooking (we’ll call it high-temperature cooking, for lack of a better term) had a good run. It had a near monopoly from the dawn of humanity until about ten years ago. The idea is that you throw food onto or into something much hotter than the desired final temperature of the food (a grill, a pan, an oven, etc.) and then pull it out when the center of the food has reached your desired point. For instance if you’re trying to cook a steak to medium rare (130F) you toss it on a 500F grill and pull it off when the center reaches 130F.

The downsides to high temperature cooking are numerous. For one, it’s extremely easy to overcook your food. I’ll spare you the thermodynamics, but suffice it to say that while it may take 10 minutes to get your juicy rib-eye to medium rare, it may only take one more to get it to well and still one more to be burnt to a crisp. The chef must play what Modernist Cuisine calls “the role of human thermostat.” This is why you’ve probably eaten more food in your life that was overcooked than properly cooked.

Worse yet, the heat in the final product is distributed unevenly. Even if you cook a steak to perfect medium rare, cut it open and look at the inside. You’ll see a ring of well-done meat around the outside. It’s because heat is overcooking the outside as it diffuses toward the center.

Because of this there’s also something chefs call carryover cooking. Carryover cooking is just heat that continues to diffuse from the outside in after you take the meat off the hot surface. If the outside of the steak is 500F, and the inside is only 130F, it’s easy to see that heat will transfer toward the center, cooking it more. So a chef must actually guess at what temperature to pull the steak off (probably more like 125F) based on the cooking that will happen afterward.

With low-temperature cooking, things are much simpler. Thanks to accurate temperature control technology, which is now very cheap, it’s much better to just cook the steak at 130F. Now you no longer have to guess when to pull it out. A simple formula (don’t worry, you can just use a chart or app because nobody wants to do that math) tells you how long it will take to get your steak to the same internal temperature as the heating element. Because you’re cooking it at the final temperature, if you wait a little too long nothing bad happens. The steak will never get hotter than the 130F.

Your food is cooked to one internal temperature throughout. Here’s a graphic from Cooking Issues (thought I’d replicate it here before that blog’s takeover by Viagra spammers is complete) showing you the difference.

So low-temperature cooking is considerably better. You’ve probably had a ton of food cooked sous vide (one type of low-temperature cooking) and didn’t even know it. Chipotle cooks their barbacoa and carnitas that way. Panera cooks their steak, turkey, salmon, and even their oatmeal that way. High-end restaurants cook many things sous vide, in fact you’d be hard-pressed to find a Michelin-starred restaurant without a rack of immersion circulators.

So needless to say, Y Combinator made a smart move investing in the space. I don’t know much about the two specific companies but am excited to see them.

The first was Nomiku, which is a decent home immersion circulator. An immersion circulator is one type of device for cooking sous vide. Sous vide is a form of low-temperature cooking in which food is (almost always) sealed (sometimes in a ziploc bag, sometimes a vacuum bag, sometimes in its own shell like an egg) and cooked in an accurately-controlled water bath. If you’ve watched shows like Top chef, you’ve probably seen contestants cook in something that looks like this:

That’s sous vide. You can see the carrots are bagged (probably with a little oil) but the eggs shells serve as sufficient packaging. 

I actually pre-ordered Nomiku’s upcoming Wi-Fi model months ago on Kickstarter. I’ve been cooking sous vide for years, having built my own from some schematics I found online. Back then the Polyscience models shown above were the primary option and cost close to $1,000. In recent years we’ve seen the prices on immersion circulators fall to $200, and I think they will drop all the way down to $100 in the near future. (More on that later.)

More interesting, though, was Cinder. Cinder is kind of a cross between a George Forman grill and a low-temperature cooking machine. It’s not really sous vide at all, despite using the term many times on its website, it’s low temperature cooking. I have a lot of questions as to how exactly this thing works for many types of meat. But it does look like an incredibly simple way to cook a steak or pork chop! That thing would be really awesome for someone in a situation where a full stove is impractical too. Imagine having that in your college dorm.

I have a lot of thoughts about the space in general, having been doing this for a few years. I’ll get more into depth on that in the not-too-distant future.

Brief Update on Speeding Ticket

Posted in Politics with tags , on March 17, 2015 by Genius

My first step in fighting the speed trap I mentioned last time was the arraignment. The ticket was in the Village of Oakwood, which has a mayor’s court. For those of you who live in states where mayor’s courts don’t exist, which is most states because they’re ridiculous, they are basically kangaroo courts in which a magistrate appointed by the mayor finds people guilty of speeding violations and misdemeanors to raise revenue for their towns. Ohio has been slowly eradicating them, as they’re a flagrant conflict of interest. If you ever find yourself in a mayor’s court for any reason, and it doesn’t matter at all what it is, plead not guilty at your arraignment and ask for a change to a court of record.

Of course on my way to the courthouse I was blasting Rage Against the Machine, because what else would you listen to when fighting the man? I was singing along, getting hyped up for my encounter with the justice system. Right when I got to the end of Killing in the Name and was screaming “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!” a cop pulled alongside me at a red light. Thankfully it wasn’t yet windows-down weather in Ohio or I probably would be fighting two charges instead of one.

I got to my arraignment early, and was surprised at what I saw. Now, I’m not going to say the justice system is racist. But there were five white people on my side of the room. Other than myself, there were two lawyers (representing black clients) and two white fellow freedom fighters. This is in a room of probably a hundred people. The two white defendants were wearing sweatpants and t-shirts. There were exactly four people wearing a tie in the whole place, the two lawyers, me, and the magistrate, who looked like Doc Brown from Back to the Future. I was waiting for men with machine guns to raid the courtroom but thankfully there hasn’t been a Libyan terrorist in about thirty years.

I sat there for about a half hour listening to the other defendants before I got called. These were the sort of crimes for which people should have an attorney. DUIs. Driving under suspension. Lots of driving under suspension. Minor drug possession charges. People who missed their last x court dates. The magistrate told one girl “I’m going to pretend you aren’t here, because if you were I’d have to take you into custody. Go get a lawyer and send him.”

When I finally got called Magistrate Doc Brown said “A speeding ticket? Haven’t seen one of those in awhile.” I pleaded not guilty and he looked surprised. He warned me that I wasn’t going to win just because there was a typo on the docket. I told him I didn’t know about the typo until he pointed it out. He looked at my quizzically. I asked about getting the venue changed to a court of record. He said “Ok, we’ll get you an arraignment in Bedford.” And that was it.

A few weeks later, I got a letter in the mail about my arraignment in Bedford, of course 5 days before it was scheduled, and of course when I was out of town on business.  I motioned for a continuance, which got denied because I hadn’t waived my right to a speedy trial and we were already 40 days from the date of the ticket. I resubmitted with a waiver, which required some expert Photoshopping from me since I was in Chicago and didn’t feel like going to Kinko’s to print, sign, and scan some forms, and it was granted.

So now I have an arraignment in a few weeks in Bedford. Wish me luck.

Why I’m Fighting My Speeding Ticket, & Think You Should Too

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on February 13, 2015 by Genius

TLDR: Speeding tickets are an unsafe, uneconomical, and unethical way of raising revenues without taxes and by fighting them you prevent that from happening.

A few weeks ago I got pulled over in what could only be described as a routine speed trap. I was on my way to dinner with a friend in a little town called Solon. I got off the expressway, and was on a state route that started off at 35 mph. I didn’t realize it dropped to 25 in a little town called The Village of Oakwood, and of course there was a cop right there waiting to snag me.

This has happened to me (and everyone else) a dozen times, and every time I just called the phone number and paid the ticket. That’s easily the most economical use of my time. A ticket is something like $150, plus probably a couple hundred more when you count in the raised car insurance rate that will result. So let’s say the total cost is $350. It wouldn’t need to consume much of my time to make it not worth fighting, monetarily, even if I knew I would somehow win. And you never know you’ll win. In fact you know you probably won’t.

But I am nothing if not a man of principle, and speeding tickets of this kind are, in principle, abominable. See what happens is little podunk townships like The Village of Oakwood want to have a nice town. They want to have nice schools, and nice parks. They want the garbage collection and snow plows to run on time. But of course the residents don’t want to pay for it, because having a nice town is expensive.

So they erect a speed trap. They drop a speed limit by 10 mph and then essentially tax passing motorists. This works especially well if they’re located between two spots people actually want to be, because then the speeding tickets won’t be issued to locals. They’re almost always on a highway or a state route as a result.

Speed traps are problematic for citizens for a few reasons, the largest of which is that they are a safety issue. It sounds counter-intuitive, but lowering speed limits can make roads unsafe. What causes accidents isn’t necessarily high speed, but high speed differentials. Research conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation showed that the percentage of accidents actually caused by speeding is very low, 2.2 percent. An expressway on which everyone is traveling 65 mph is fairly safe. A road on which half the people are traveling 25 mph and half the people are traveling 40 mph is dangerous.

People tend to drive at a safe speed regardless of speed limit. Studies show that raising the speed limit of a highway, for instance, barely alters the speed at which people drive. Traffic engineers know that know matter what speed is posted, about 85% of people will travel at or below safe speed.

In Ohio (and many other states) speed limits are proscribed by state law. Localities can deviate from them, but to lower them they are supposed to have a traffic engineering study showing that the legally proscribed speed limit is unsafe. This is quite simple, engineers just measure the speeds of passing motorists and set the new speed limit such that 85% of people are at or below it. You’ve probably seen engineers do this on the side of the road with a device mounted on a tripod and didn’t know what it was.

Speed traps cause accidents. Accidents cause injury, and death. Seriously. By setting speeds artificially low to collect revenue, townships are literally maiming and killing people. Let that sink in. They’re funding their schools by physically harming passing motorists. I’m not being hyperbolic.

Then there’s the economic damage. Slowing traffic wastes time, and time is money. The speeding tickets add points to licenses, which is great for car insurance companies, but bad for those of us buying the insurance. Car repair bills from the non-fatal accidents, hospital bills from when people get injured. The economic impact is a multiple of the tax revenue generated. Instead of taxing the citizens for a buck, they’re doing $5 worth of economic damage and getting $1 of it. Why? Because nobody has to vote to approve it, whereas a tax hike is hard to get passed on a ballot.

On top of that, revenue-based speed enforcement fosters a hatred of the police. For most Americans, traffic tickets are pretty much the only interaction they have with cops. There’s a reason even middle-class white people who’ve never had even a misdemeanor say “fuck the police” when I tell them what’s happening. I have a couple cop friends, and they tell me they hate writing speeding tickets for that reason, but their job security depends on it. Most people become officers to protect and serve. Nobody gets into policing because they want to issue tickets and harass passing motorists. But it fattens the town budget, and therefore their police department’s budget and their salary.

Because speeding tickets are entirely about revenue, they rely solely on your compliance. Unless you’re going highly in excess of safe speeds, a ticket doesn’t cost very much. In Ohio they max out at $150 (I think) which has to cover the time the officer spent writing the ticket, the time the prosecutor spends on your case, the time the judge and all of the other courtroom personnel spend, etc. Pretty much by challenging a ticket at all you’ve turned it into an unprofitable venture for the city. If you just plead no contest and pay your ticket, the city makes $150 for very little. (Basically ten minutes of an officer’s time.) If you fight it, they lose money. But you do too, and they know that. They are relying on you to be selfish.

To put that another way, if everyone started challenging their tickets, the whole system would crumble. Hell, if probably ten percent of people challenged the ticket, the system would shut down. Insurance rates will drop. Commute times will be shortened. Accidents will be prevented. Lives would literally be saved. Think about that. If we all challenged unreasonable speeding tickets actual lives would be saved.

So while I realize I’m not exactly Dr. Martin Luther King for fighting this one, I consider it my civic duty. Some day I hope to be in a position to end speed traps and revenue-based traffic enforcement altogether. But for now all I can do is fight this ticket. I’ll keep updating here as I do so about how it went.

I’m Baaaaaaaack

Posted in General Thoughts on February 6, 2015 by Genius

Anyone still here? It’s been a long time, I know. I’ve been doing most of my writing for the last year or two anonymously. It’s been enjoyable to say whatever I want, even if my readership was relatively tiny as a result. I had even hidden this site for a bit. Don’t worry, I’ll bring back the good posts bit-by-bit. I felt the need to more carefully curate what had been over a decade of assorted grabasstic raving. After all, this place has my name in the domain.

This blog has been with me for a very long time. It’s seen a major change of career, from poker player to entrepreneur. It’s seen marriages and other relationships come and go. It’s seen the world change in numerous ways.

Unfortunately my personal blogging had been suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. And as distribution outlets like Google Reader went down one by one, succumbing to things I either barely comprehend (Twitter) or don’t much enjoy (Facebook) it began to feel pointless. There’s a certain dread you can only experience when your blog has just enough readers that you have to be careful what you say, but not enough that it really matters to your life.

I’m trying to avoid the totally cliché metaphor of the phoenix here, but you see where I’m going. I’m ready to start again. I’ll keep some of the more niche items I care about anonymous, like my totally bitchin’ cocktail blog. But the general purpose brain dump will go here.

So it’s good to see you again dear reader. It’s been too long.

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