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March 4th, 2011

01:15 pm - Britney Spears' Guide to Semiconductor Physics - Lasers and Optoelectronics

Quoth the author of the pedagological masterpiece
that is the page you see under review My class photo

"It is a little known fact, that Ms Spears is an expert in semiconductor physics. Not content with just singing and acting, in the following pages, she will guide you in the fundamentals of the vital semiconductor laser components that have made it possible to hear her super music in a digital format."

Yeah. Did I mention that life can get very lonely in the lab? In our electrical engineering department, there were only four possible women out of a pool of over 400 students. We weren't completely sure of the gender of one of them, so maybe it was three, but out of those who remained, two of them were dating each other, and the fourth was "Katie the laser lady", an absolutely brilliant, angelically sweet and blisteringly hot girl from Texas, her every classmate's fantasy, who of course had to be dating one of the MBA students, helping us in our education as we became accustomed to the one basic truth of life for an engineer in America.

There is no hope. But then, we were mostly a bunch of Indian and Jewish guys, so we basically got that from the beginning, anyway. So blessed, we instinctively understood the need to wash early in the day, before the dorm's cold water supply ran out and the shower got to be even hotter than Katie. Seeing this site, I see the authors probably shared our fondness for diving naked into snowdrifts and wriggling until some of our more troublesome parts turned agreeably numb, all the while reminiscing nostalgically about those crazy party times we had as Math majors, once, oh so very long ago.

But I digress.

On skimming this page, I see what looks like a very cursory introduction to a few topics in semiconductor processing and device design mixed with some Britney Spears fan material (photos and song lyrics) which the author is using to bribe people to read about his real subject matter. I think somebody is a little desperate for visitors, but we all understand how that goes and so I guess we might as well wish him such luck as he can get.


01:14 pm


March 2nd, 2011

11:36 am - Steak ... Love ... / Cooking-RibEye Steak with Gordon Ramsey in 1 Min

I immediately liked this video ... briefly ... before I took a closer look at it, and found it to be more showmanship than cooking. Consider the fact that the man puts the artichokes on a stovetop grill pan, which presumably will be raised to a high enough temperature for something akin to grilling to occur, and he has coated the pan with olive oil.

Olive oil, as a cooking fat, isn't even recommended for anything resembling a stirfry because its smoking point is too low; those artichokes end up with an attractive deep brown color because they're coated in carbon from the broken down oil. More or less the same thing that happens when you season a cast iron pan, right? Would you really want to eat some of that seasoning? Which seems to be a recurring problem on this video. Consider the beginning, when he heats the olive oil the steak is cooked in until it is sizzling hot, producing this admittedly promisingly appetizingly dark initial searing of the meat

Image hosted at Tinypic

Not bad for the one minute mark, but not where one wants to be, yet, which isn't a surprise; one has to work a little more to get meat to get brown and crisp surfaced in oil than one does with butter, a point which does not seem lost on Ramsay, who soon introduces a small stick of butter into the pan with the steak. Very soon, and that's where trouble arises with this concept.

Image hosted at Tinypic

What sort of pan are we to use to make this? The pan Ramsay uses looks a little too bright to be cast iron, not quite bright enough to be stainless steel, so I'm going to guess that it's aluminum. Not bad for making rice or cooking vegetables, in fact quite excellent for either purpose, but is it really the thing to use for steak? For steak (and many other things as well), one wants something that will hold and distribute the heat evenly, hence the strange fascination many of us have with something as heavy, brittle and rustprone as cast iron. It's a pain to work with, but it gets the job done. It also has the virtue of being easily found and relatively inexpensive. The answer to our question is to be found in the thickness of the pan he uses - it's a nice, heavy professional use restaurant skillet, which is why he is able to get away with doing that step, and why you probably can't do the same in your own kitchen, if you try to follow what he has been doing.

Aluminum releases its heat quickly, but the kind of aluminum cookware you're probably going to be able to buy on the budget most of use have to work with will not closely resemble the kind of professional quality kitchenware Ramsay is using. The aluminum one sees in a home kitchen are those thin walled utensils that are, as I said, good for cooking rice or vegetables, but will tend to toughen red meat when used for dry cooking heats (sautes as opposed to braises). On the other hand, if one is using cast iron and tries to slip the butter in as quickly as he did, one gets a quick reminder of why clarified butter is so popular as a cooking fat as one watches the milk solids in the butter burn.

Did you notice the little burst of flame in the griddle at 0:53 as you watched the video? Notice that no brandy was present; that wasn't flambeeing, that was little brief burst of grease fire, because the cook oiled the grill instead of the artichokes, leaving the oil to overheat in a place where the evaporative cooling from the water released by the artichokes would not be able keep the oil's temperature down below the smoking point. What is interesting is not that we see the flame - one can see that beside any number of overvigorously shaken skillets (go to Little Joe's on Broadway in San Francisco at night, and you'll see that a lot), but that the burst took place inside the skillet, where food is taking on flavor, not outside, as a little pan juice and oil escaped into the flame.

This video seems designed to send the message to the home cook "look at this beautiful thing you can do at home" (yes, Gordon, we all get to cut up our own meat) leaving the home cook to wonder what he did wrong when he can't get the results he hoped for, when the answer to that question is the use of special, professional grade equipment (seen but not mentioned in the video) is essential to getting the results, which probably look far better than they taste. Whether this ommission was due to Ramsey or the Youtube user who uploaded the segment, we can only guess, but one needn't guess as to why Ramsey is cutting his cooked meat diagonally across the grain at the end of the piece. It's a cheat.

It's a way of making tough meat seem more tender than it actually is, and impressing the gullible along the way. The problem with cooking beef over heat that intense is that the fibers inside the meat don't really have enough time to break down, one of the reasons why I may have seemed less than completely enthusiastic about that idea of using a vegetable pan to cook one's meat a few paragraphs back. Ramsay cuts through the fibers his much too brief and rapid cooking failed to break, hoping that the resting he gives his cut of meat will reduce the loss of juice such a cutting will inevitably produce. Properly prepared, good (or even average) quality meat neither requires nor benefits from such a pretentious presentation - it need simply be brought to the table intact, with appropriate garnitures and sauces. The West abstained from adopting the chopstick for a reason. The diners have knives. One might break down and decide to let them be used.

Or, one might do as Ramsey does, ending up with something that looks spectacular and at best tastes tolerable (if one doesn't notice the faint flavor of burnt olive oil), something which will go cold on the plate rapidly if not wolfed down. That the diner will do so might well be Ramsey's hope, since the finer nuances of what he carbonized are likelier to be overlooked when food is passed too quickly over the tounge for those nuances to be detected and the blame for them properly affixed. Which, given Ramsey's own fondness for boorishly mistreating others without provocation, one should do without hesitation or any undue feelings of regret.

Typical of the commentary found on Youtube on that last video I linked to was this bit of wisdom, and I wonder how much it explains of this Gordon Ramsay phenomenon I was lucky enough to have not heard of prior to the time I started writing this blog.

Gordan KNOWS his (expletitive deleted).

So less about "oh he's so arragant/rude/cocky"

HE KNOWS how to run a restaurant. He makes like £500MILLION A YEAR.

I guess high school never ends for some of us. Such a comment as the one above puts on display the same depth of reasoning one sees out of a herd as it begins to stampede, or in a group of yuppies who huddle in long lines during a midwinter night outside of a tacqueria no different from the many on the same street, merely because so many others are waiting as well.

"Everybody else is spending their money here, so this must be a good place to spend one's money", the person who advances this argument never stopping to think that the "everybody" who came before him might have had the exact same non-thought, and the success he bases his purchasing decision on is a reflection of that kind of snowballing, self-creating consensus than any sort of merit on the part of the lucky establishment and owner so favored. The impression left by this video is that Gordon most assuredly does not know his [excrement], not even on a level that would be fitting in a five year old newcomer to the kitchen, and has been getting by on his own overconfidence and the desire of others to follow the herd for years.

Which, I suppose, might raise the question of whether or not that overconfidence worked on me as I gave this video an initial thumbs up over on that social bookmarking site which need not be named. Answer: Not to any serious extent. I'd race through the process of selecting sites to review, giving very hasty ratings so that I wouldn't lose track of a site that looked like it might be interesting in a good or a bad way, and then would come back for a better look later. When you see that positive rating without a review on this blog, take it for what it is - bookmarking without any serious recommendation implied.


11:29 am


11:19 am - A Jazz Anthology MP3 Choose listen download 31847 tunes jazz artists

So I'm listening to Miles Davis on RealMedia, and Annabelle is dancing her tuchas off to the music, as I wonder where that disco ball is hanging from. No matter. She's having a good time and so am I.

Reportedly very large collection of classic jazz with a very nice and impressively sizable assortment of free .mp3s - not being a subscriber, I can't vouch for how many more recordings are available for those who are, but there is plenty there for those of us who aren't. Sampling a few files, I found myself impressed with the sound quality, thinking that the main limitation on my experience was the quality of the speakers on the computer I was using at the time. As for the quality of the artists, who has not heard of Louie Armstrong? At least a few of these names will speak well for themselves, many decades later.

Well worth bookmarking, especially since this site isn't as likely to run into copyright issues as Napster was, so much time having passed since much of this music was made. As always, check with an attorney before taking such advice, but I suspect that one might be able to use much of this as background music on one's sites without having to worry about legal issues arising, something to think about in a time when so many sysops are so quick on the trigger, and in a strange way, more fashionable a choice than one might expect in an era in which the very concept of fashion may end up going out of fashion.


10:40 am - Futurama Point

Re: Futurama Point. I thought about this one, and decided to give it a thumbs up - with a disclaimer. While it's not the sort of site I'd personally spend a lot of time browsing, for what it tries to be, it's almost perfect. I think. If you're into that sort of thing. If the owner cleaned up a few dead links, it would be perfect in its own, probably hygiene challenged kind of way.

This is a fan site for a cartoon series by Matt Groening (Simpsons, Life in Hell) about a clueless pizza delivery boy ("Fry") from the 20th century who is accidentally frozen, awakening a thousand years later in a world where ... and that's about where I'd leave you, with only a little more comment, because I wouldn't want to ruin the pleasantly odd surprise. Losing that would take one right out of the show, which would sort of have us viewing this odd and unknowable universe Fry finds himself in from his point of view, if we didn't almost all seem to have a minimum of fifty IQ points on the guy, even when drunk. A little bit of an acquired taste, it's certainly not the average cartoon. How many shows do you know of that have jokes about wave function collapses?

One quickly sees why Fry is a little lost in this future he has stumbled into.

This may be a reason to hold off a little on visiting the site if one was planning to view the show, especially the "graphic guide", where there are a lot of plot spoilers (entire plot descriptions, in fact) - but very nicely layed out and written in a way that captures the feel of the show - which is one reason I gave a thumbs up: this was nicely done work.

The site has an unusually extensive collection of fan art, maybe taking the fandom a bit further than I would, but it seems to have been done with love, so I guess if somebody enjoyed collecting comic books, maybe he would enjoy this? If you look at some of the ascii pieces, like this picture of Gunther (a character from one of the episodes), there is a kind of modern folk art thing happening, which became a second reason why, however grudgingly, I had to give this site a thumbs up - not my favorite subject matter, but done with love and skill, and I couldn't pretend that I didn't respect that.

Having written this, I wonder if I'll ever have a date, again?


March 1st, 2011

11:53 am - Tesla Down Under / Liquid Nitrogen

"Kids, don't try this at home" ... or anywhere else, either. I'm skimming a promising looking fun with science site when I see this: Liquid Nitrogen. Yes, the man stuck his hand into it - and why not?

You know you're soaking in it! Link to video of old commercial.
"Where did I get the name 'Lefty' from? That's a long story ... if at first you don't succeed and all that ... where are you going?"

Oh, yes - that's why not. The author writes, following the appropriate (?) photo, which you're seeing a thumbnail of above, if you're reading this on my blog:

"I'm not sure I should show this photo but here is me (carefully) throwing all the safety precautions to the wind and putting my hand in liquid N2 (for about 0.5 secs).

When you're sticking your hand into a liquid that is just barely warmer than the surface of one of the moons of Neptune, I'm not sure that "carefully" is an adverb that you get to use. Just a thought.

The gas generation keeps a gas layer between you and the liquid and reduces the rate of freezing.

Yes, the concept is simple enough - your flesh is so much hotter than the boiling point of liquid nitrogen that the liquid will explosively evaporate on contact, briefly blowing much of the liquid away. Drop a bead of water onto a hot dry skillet and as you watch it dance, you'll see the same physical principle at work. Without having done the calculations, though, would I know offhand if the liquid N2 would be blown off one's hand quickly enough to prevent tissue damage? No. Would I care to risk my fingers on a guess, or more to the point, on the claims I just saw on the website of somebody I had never heard of before? Definitely not.

An even more enjoyable thought is this: the boiling point of liquid nitrogen is lower than the boiling point of liquid oxygen. Any container of liquid nitrogen will begin to accumulate a layer of liquid oxygen on its surface from condensation, just as moisture will collect on a glass containing a cold beverage. Owing to the greatly increased density of oxygen, post-liquification, even with the reduction in the rate of chemical activity induced by the great cold, liquid oxygen is a very potent oxidant, potent enough to have served for the burning of rocket fuel in the apollo program.

Liquid oxygen is dangerously reactive stuff, so much so that in Thermodynamics class in undergrad a standard warning was given about the explosive consequences of dropping anything made out of plastic into the stuff, producing a rapid, highly exothermic reaction in anything that can be set on fire. Great stuff to stick your skin into, right? Care to take your chances with a trip to the burn ward if you've poured out a little too much N2 and let it sit a little too long? The author continues:

Sensation is like a cold breeze and no discomfort but I am not pushing the boundaries here. Of course touching a solid,

Like, say, the walls of the container - but of course, that would never happen, because nobody ever accidentally bumps into anything, especially if he should be startled by somebody yelling "what do you think you are doing" or something like that

particularly metal, at liquid N2 temperature will give rapid severe frostbite and it might stick to you.

Or if, maybe, you were sweating a little more than you thought you were, and the sides of that container weren't as smooth as you expected them to be. Fun fact: anywhere outside of the orbit of Saturn in this system, water ice is hard enough to qualify as a rock - at temperatures that will, in places, be well above that of liquid nitrogen. Picture yourself bonded to something, your fingers immersed in that lovely fluid, maybe panicking a little as you find yourself needing to either yank yourself off and rip some flesh away in the process ... or, wait ... maybe you could wait for help that you know is coming soon. I mean, what could that do to you?

To treat warts and other skin lesions it is applied with a cotton bud and will rapidly kill tissue.

Oh, right. The skin lesions, on brief exposure, turn into something that crumbles away. The would be daredevil might very well, in a moment of panic induced misjudgment, lose his fingers.

Advice from the 'experts' for this somewhat risky stunt say not to get the liquid N2 in any crevices in your fingers or clothes as the liquid N2 gets forced in contact and freezing occurs."

Look at your own hands. What do you see a lot of, and even more of with age? Crevices. I'm not convinced, at least not on a brief reading, that the author did what he claimed with as little damage done to his person as he says, but I am convinced that this would be a fantastically stupid thing for anybody to do. This isn't "somewhat risky", this is absolutely insane, even as a half second dare, and the author gives us no sign of getting that.

I'll take a look at more as time and resources allow, but on any such page, one does have the question of how good the author will be at alerting the visitor to the possible dangers of what he is about to do. On this occasion, he has fallen distressingly short of doing just that. We would be most unwise to forget that as we read the rest of his site.


11:52 am


11:41 am - B.B. King | Official Site

Links to source of image B.B. King's homepage. Yes, that B.B. King. He's getting on but he still has it, and there's a schedule on his site. If you love the Blues, be sure to listen to get to one of this man's performances while you have the chance. Hoping that he has a lot of good years left in him, but at 80, he has certainly already given to his fans for longer than any of us could have asked. One of these days, he might just retire.


11:33 am - Free Radio

Keyboard opportunity for the frighteningly untalented - which is most of us. On visiting the site, you are presented with the grid of keys you see in the picture and a suggestive wave rippling along it. You tap on one of the keys and it rises on the screen. Every time the wave comes by, an electronically generated note corresponding to one's choice of key is heard. One punches another key and hear how it sounds with the first, then more until one has inadvertantly composed a brief tune.

An interesting chance to explore an aspect of creativity most of us completely shut out of our lives at an early age; not great music, but it is fun. They should try offering longer boards and an assortment of simulated instruments, and I wonder if they already have. Regrettably, on going to the main page for their site, one doesn't even find a clear path back to the page with the keyboard; this is a moneymaking site on which the toys are difficult to find, so we might as well just appreciate the one we found.


11:01 am - breakfast blogger » Blog Archive » A Jewish Christmas - Dim Sum

Mushroom, pork and shrimp meatballs

Some other Jewish Blogger tells the story of a trayf filled breakfast he enjoyed on Christmas, illustrated with attractive photography of the dim sum he enjoyed. What was that, bubbe? Did I ever eat anything like that? Oh, noooo, of course not ... ... ME? That you would ask. Really, I'm hurt.


10:46 am - Astronomy Picture of the Day

NASA's scrapbook. Images from space probes, views through telescopes, etc., accompanied by brief descriptions of what one is looking at. Far more diversity is present than the selection seen on my blog might suggest; I just have a fondness for nebulae ... visit


09:48 am


February 8th, 2011

10:42 am - Second Life / First Posted Jan 13, 2008, 3:54 am

Lost Gardens of Apollo, near the teleport in location

Very, very strange and very often, not a very good strangeness ... social networking site minus the social networking. Some of the locations are pretty to look at, in a minimalistic kind of way, but after a while it all looks alike. Even worse, perhaps, for a site that claims to have millions of users, Second Life offers a virtual world that seems strangely deserted. One can find oneself visiting location after location trying to find somebody, anybody to interact with, only to find a few and watch them suddenly vanish, one after another after another. Weird. I know that a lot of netizens are shy, but just how timid does one have to be to run in fear from a cartoon?

Pictures first created using the 'take snapshot' function, this one in a virtual shopping center down near the virtual beach ...... and then cut into pieces and trimmed.
Not that being snubbed is a given. Some places in SL seemed friendly, but even in them one is eventually posed with the question "what am I doing here". Picture playing a video game with the monsters removed. What's left? Something that is to chatrooms as the Web is to Usenet, perhaps - something that has been given structure where there was structurelessness and enriched that structure with graphic and sometimes audio content.

That could be cool, if only there was a discussion to be had, but in SL, there almost never seems to be, especially if, out of curiosity, one wanders in with a visibly South Asian looking avatar whose name hints of partially Middle Eastern ancestry to see how the other users will react.

Maybe not entirely out of curiosity - the Second Life system sharply limits the user's choice of username. Just like in real life in the Western World, one has a first name and a last name, but SL limits one's choice of surname to one of a few dozen, with a seeming attempt to cover every culture known to man in that selection ... I think forty family names were available. As there are millions of distinct user accounts on the SL system, this results in some very predictable frustration as the would-be user chooses combination after combination, only to be told that it is not available. Finally, one grabs an exotic name out of the air thinking "I'll bet nobody has this one" and one is right. All users have been through this, and the problem is understood and yet, to my amazement, I could still see other users react strangely to the fictional name of the animated character I guided through a cartoon world, as if they could possibly be endangered by such a thing.

While virtual racism was hardly ubiquitous, some (mostly European and Midwestern US) users being very friendly and outgoing, it wasn't scarce, either. From the Teutonic surnamed icon whose user seemed to be attempting to physically attack me, oblivious to the fact that I was not my icon and my icon couldn't be physically injured even in the virtual sense by anything another user did, to the multitude of young female icons (many of whom, I had cause to suspect, were being run by lonely men in San Francisco's Castro District) whose owners would type expressions of revulsion and older ones which would act as if I had just tried to panhandle as I approached them, Second Life offered me a rich assortment of users who just, really, really badly needed to get a grip. I wondered how they would have reacted had they known that the "Arab terrorist" who they just cold shouldered away was, in fact, a nice Jewish boy from Chicago.

How would their perceptions have been affected as those who held them discovered that they mirrored stereotypes for a group to which the object of their supposedly righteous scorn and rage did not actually belong? Would come to see those perceptions as being something that their expectations had imposed on their supposedly fairminded and objective observations this time? Could they be motivated enough to wonder on how many other occasions they had seen the actions of others through such an easily distorted perspective? Might they consider the possibility that their prejudices might need more careful examination, or would they have clung to their delusional worries for dear life, inventing such facts as they needed to keep their fixations from perishing?

I suspect the latter would have been closer to the truth. Many users seemed to have a real problem in distinguishing between fantasy and reality, actually showing visible signs of feeling threatened by the swarthy giant of a stranger appearing on their screens, and in the process revealed a little more reality than they intended. My personality didn't change just because I created a new cartoon character. I was my usual low key self; their expectations did all of the work for them as they created threatening encounters in their own minds which had never existed in reality.

That's more than a stray nuisance that comes with the experience, it is something that, by its very nature, redefines the experience, and not in a good way. While one may be amused by the thought "by day, he tutors math students at Hillel over bagels and lox, by night he's the most confused operative in all of Al Quaeda", one should come back to what is what should be the basic question of one asks oneself about any social networking effort, online or off in which one participates - "Am I meeting the sort of people who I would be proud and happy to know and be known by, or at the end of the cliched day, am I going to be left wondering why I came, and why I didn't leave a lot sooner?" By now, I think that the question answers itself, and that the reader will not be surprised to hear that I retired my avatar.

Aside from offering me the company of those special souls who made me feel so glad that I had not filled out the "first life" section of my profile, Second Life offered me other delights as well, before I decided that the time had come for that game to be over. I had frequent browser crashes using SL, and this seems to be a common problem, if arguably not much of a loss, given how little of that virtual world one is free to explore - the concept of "private property" having made a major appearance in a setting where one finds people spending real money on fake land and seeing nothing odd about this. What we find is that on a site devoted to "your world. your imagination", what many users like to imagine is a world in which they get to chase everybody else off the beach and little is to be found other than virtual clothing stores and condos, populated by people who, if they can't have the decency to be Anglo-Saxon, can at least be courteous enough to fake it. Welcome to virtual Schaumburg.


10:40 am


10:27 am - Stuck in Customs / New Top Ten - Your End-Of-Year Favorites, 2007

Images of striking subjects, with a slight and what is at first an attractive touch of surrealism, that loses much of its appeal on repeat viewing. Interesting, but it needs work ... visit site


10:22 am - Drawings with LSD :: Chicken ... "excrement"

On this page, we see a series of pictures allegedly made by an artist who has taken LSD, starting with one made before he took the drug, through the course of his trip, to one made after he came down, with comments about what he was saying during the course of this experiment, supposedly carried out during the 1950s. The kindest thing one can reasonably say is that he isn't getting any more creative.

Comparisons to modern day gallery work become inevitable.

Tags: ,


10:10 am - How to hug a baby

Zero points for hipness or print quality, but a very cute, sweet moment on film between a child and a family pet. It does seem an unwise shot to take, however. Even if one can completely trust the dog to not attack, the species is not noteworthy for its gracefulness, and as others have noted, that is a very small baby. If the dog accidentally flops over at the wrong moment, the consequences could be tragic.

Enjoy the photos, but please don't redo the shot.


10:03 am - Gluten Free Recipes - 101 Cookbooks

A thumbs up to a cooking site none of whose recipes I've even kitchen tested yet! How rash!

Maybe, but the recipes looked interesting and photography was certainly appealing, so I'll take a chance for now and come back and revise this listing when I know more ... more



09:51 am - U.S. To Phase Out Incandescent Light Bulbs

Pursued on a national level, this cause is a remarkably stupid one, for reasons I've given in this blog post. Add this one to an already lengthy list of reasons to despise George II even more than George I; guess who signed this silliness into law ... read article


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