May 30, 2015

The chemistry of gin

Filed under: Randomness,Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Compound Interest looks at the chemical make-up of gin:

Click to see full-size graphic

Click to see full-size graphic

For the fifth in the ‘Alcohol Chemistry’ series, we turn to gin. As with other types of alcohol, there are a huge number of different chemical compounds present, but it’s possible to identify a range of significant chemical contributors to its aroma & flavour. Here, we take a look at those compounds and where they come from.

Gin is a spirit that we’ve been making for centuries; although Franciscus Sylvius, a Dutch physician and scientist, is often credited with its discovery in the 17th century, references to gin (or genever as it was also known) exist as far back as the 13th century. Sylvius originally conceived it as an concoction for the treatment of kidney and bladder problems, but its popularity as a recreational drink later soared.

Its popularity in England was spurred by heavy government duties on imported spirits, as well as the fact that gin production was not required to be licensed. This growth in popularity was also accompanied by a gradual decline in its reputation, however, with it being blamed for a range of issues, from social problems such as public drunkenness, to increases in death rates. Gin’s reputation has since largely recovered, although some references to these associations still survive in English parlance – ‘Mother’s Ruin’ is still a widely known alternative name for the spirit.

April 21, 2015

The statistical anomalies of sex

Filed under: Health,Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

As the old saying has it, “everyone lies about sex“:

Straight men have had twice as many sexual partners, on average, as straight women. Sounds plausible, seeing that men supposedly think about sex every seven seconds. Except that it’s mathematically impossible: in a closed population with as many men as women (which roughly there are) the averages should match up. Someone is being dishonest, but who? And why? These questions, along with many others, are explored in Sex by numbers, a new book by David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge.

“Sex is a great topic,” says Spiegelhalter. “There’s lots of it going on, but we don’t know what goes on or how much of it, because most of the time it goes on behind closed doors. It’s a really difficult topic to investigate scientifically, and a real challenge for statistics.” Spiegelhalter’s aim is to get people interested in a critical approach to the numbers they hear about in the news and give them the tools to figure out if they can be believed. “It’s really a book about statistics, using sex as an example.”

Statistics about sex are not all equally good. Some, like the number of births in a given year, are cast-iron facts, but others are much harder to come by. The number of sexual partners is a good example. The mismatch above comes from the third The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal), conducted between 2010 and 2012, in which men reported having had 14 sexual partners, on average, and women 7. Studies have suggested that women give lower numbers when they fear the survey isn’t entirely confidential, something that doesn’t seem to affect men (contrary to my expectation, it doesn’t induce them to exaggerate). So that’s one possible explanation for the mismatch: sadly, women still need to fear social stigma.

But there are other explanations too. One is that men (more than women) may have some of their sexual experience with sex workers. These aren’t included in the surveys, so their experiences are missing from the female tally. Another is that there are different attitudes as to what counts as a sexual partner. If a woman feels she’s been coerced by a man, for example, she may not want to count him.

March 30, 2015

Wooden Boat Building – White oak vs Red oak with Louis Sauzedde

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 6 Jun 2014

Shipwright Louis Sauzedde shows you how to tell the difference between white oak and red oak for proper wooden boat building. Produced by Fish Hawk Films.

March 21, 2015

I know several people who’d want one of these

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Want a new exotic toy to show off to your buddies after you say “Here, hold my beer”? How about a personal flamethrower?

Personal flamethrower 1

Personal flamethrower 2

Personal flamethrower 3

QotD: The modern snob

Filed under: Europe,Quotations,Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Walking through Amsterdam recently, a paradox that I had long noticed in an inchoate way formulated itself clearly in my mind. It was this: A century ago, there would have been one clothes shop for every hundred well-dressed people. Nowadays there is one well-dressed person (if that) for every hundred clothes shops. What accounts for this strange reversal of ratios?

Beyond the fact that clothes are now mass-produced rather than made individually, there is an act of will involved. Practically everyone now dresses not merely in a casual way, but with studied slovenliness for fear of being thought elegant, as elegance is a metonym for undemocratic sentiment or belief. You can dress as expensively as you like, indeed expensive scruffiness is a form of chic, but on no account must you dress with taste and discrimination. To do so might be to draw hostile attention to yourself. Who on Earth do you think you are to dress like that?


Modern scruffiness, then, is a manifestation of egotism. Outside one of the shops in Amsterdam was a large plasma screen showing models wearing the kind of clothes to be had within. They were precisely the insolently ragged clothes that the great majority of people in the street were wearing anyway. This was a form of flattery of the public, for it implied that its members had nothing to aspire to in the matter of dress higher than that which they themselves were already wearing — that in the matter of appearance they had already reached acme of the possible.

There was yet more. The models, in their T-shirts, baseball caps, sneakers, and so forth, as uniform as any army, walked with the kind of vulpine lope that one associates with the less law-abiding young males of the American ghettoes. But even more striking was the expression on their faces, which were cachectic in the case of the women, androgynous in the case of men: a fixed, determined, humorless stare that indicated a hatred of the world and all that was in it, including their fellow-beings. If one saw such a person at a social event, one would go to some effort to avoid or to flee or not to talk to him or her. The models’ faces were vacantly earnest, as if they wished for annihilation of everything around them for some personal reason, no doubt trifling.

This is the first age in which people do not dress to please others, but dress to displease others, to make sure that everyone knows that I’m not going to make any effort just for you. And this, no doubt, is because I am as good as anyone in the world, bar none: His Majesty, myself. And what starts out as an attitude becomes an unexamined and ingrained habit.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Slobbery as Snobbery”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-06-15.

March 19, 2015

I know it’s been cold around here this winter …

Filed under: Cancon,Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

… but I hadn’t heard that Hell had actually frozen over. Because that’d be the only possible explanation for a headline like this one:

Is Scarborough, Ontario the dining capital of the world?

Wednesday night I was taken on a restaurant tour of Scarborough — four different places — plus rolls from a Sri Lankan locale, consumed in the office of the Dean of UT Scarborough and with the assistance of Peter Loewen.

After that eating, and lots of driving around and looking, I concluded Scarborough is the best ethnic food suburb I have seen in my life, ever, and by an order of magnitude. I hope you all have the chance to visit Scarborough, Ontario.

Update, 20 March: The Toronto Star‘s Lauren Pelley reports on Tyler Cowen’s recent visit to Scarborough and his discovery of the area’s impressive range of high quality ethnic food.

Over the phone from his office at George Mason University in Virginia, Cowen noted that people in Toronto seem to perceive the new, hip restaurants to be elsewhere. “But it seems to me, you don’t come close to this part of town,” he said.

Rick Halpern, dean of UTSC and Cowen’s tour guide last Wednesday, agreed that most people are fixated on the downtown core. “No one goes east of the DVP,” he lamented.

Cowen’s post is making the rounds online, and sparking discussion on blogs and Reddit. Scarborough is “a foodie’s best kept secret,” as one commenter put it, though it’s no secret to locals.

“I would say that people who are into food, and who have a car, explore Scarborough and other suburbs,” said Jennifer Bain, the Star’s food editor, who has highlighted many of the area’s offerings over the years — including Uighur fare from Scarborough’s Chinese Muslim community, sweets from local Filipino bakeries, and the global flavours of Hakka Chinese food, to name a few.

March 14, 2015

BAHFest West 2014 – Catherine Hofler: Why Cats Sprint Out of the Room for No Apparent Reason

Filed under: Humour,Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 31 Dec 2014

Catherine Hofler, the Director of Research at Emerald Therapeutics, explains the regression toward cardiovascular mean in Felis catus via sporadic locomotion.

BAHFest is the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, a celebration of well-researched, logically explained, and clearly wrong evolutionary theory. Additional information is available at http://bahfest.com/

BAHFest West was a part of the 2014 Bay Area Science Festival http://www.bayareascience.org/

March 2, 2015

Food naming oddities

Filed under: Cancon,India,Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Warren on the oddly named “Digby Chicken” and “Bombay Duck” along with a paean to the joys of food shopping in Parkdale:

Parkdale, which is to say, the inner core of the Greater Parkdale Area, in which the High Doganate is located, is a melting pot of innumerable overlapping ethnications. Among our most exotic immigrants are those from the far east: Nova Scotia, for instance, and Newfoundland. Shopping, at least for food in Parkdale, is a treat. We have every sort of specialist grocery, and in effect, groceries within groceries. One gets one’s Tibetan yak sausage, for instance, from a Serbian butcher whose store is cowboy-themed; ingredients for one’s Somali maraq from the Sinhalese grocery (via their Maldivian connexion); but the exhilarating, cardamom-infused gashaato instead via the Sikh Punjabis, as supplement to their Bengali sweets. Note, this culinary cross-dressing is the opposite of multiculturalism. Rather I would call it, “downmarket fusion.”

This being Lent, I try to avoid fish on Fridays. There’s enough of that for the other days, beans on rice will do, or perhaps sinfully on the last two Fridays, I indulged a craving for sweet potato in a Siamese red sauce. I woke this morning with a craving for salt, as well as protein, and as God is merciful, recalled to mind a little platter of Digby chicks in my fridge — obtained some days before from the Maritime ethnic section of a cheap local supermarket.

Digby Chicken has long been Nova Scotia’s answer to Bombay Duck. The latter, also salty, and so powerful in flavour and scent that it requires careful packaging, is actually a fish, the bummalo. Gentle reader may already be trying to construct an etymology from that, but there is no hope for him. The fish is actually harvested from the waters off Bombay. It was transported from there by rail, in the good old days of British Imperialism, aboard the Bombay Dhak (i.e. the Bombay Mail), which gave rise to such expressions as, e.g. “You smell like the Bombay Dhak.” Surely, that will be enough to go on.

February 23, 2015

I thought I was a fan of the old TH&B Railway…

Filed under: Railways,Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

I mean, after all, I founded a historical society based on the study of the railway … but Mel McInnis puts me into the shade with his dedication to the old Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway:

Mel's Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo tattoo

February 22, 2015

On a lighter note…

Filed under: Humour,Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Scott Alexander rings the changes on the “x walks into a bar” joke … but it’s not a bar, it’s a coffee shop:

Gottfried Leibniz goes up to the counter and orders a muffin. The barista says he’s lucky since there is only one muffin left. Isaac Newton shoves his way up to the counter, saying Leibniz cut in line and he was first. Leibniz insists that he was first. The two of them come to blows.

* * *
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel goes up to the counter and gives a tremendously long custom order in German, specifying exactly how much of each sort of syrup he wants, various espresso shots, cream in exactly the right pattern, and a bunch of toppings, all added in a specific order at a specific temperature. The barista can’t follow him, so just gives up and hands him a small plain coffee. He walks away. The people behind him in line are very impressed with his apparent expertise, and they all order the same thing Hegel got. The barista gives each of them a small plain coffee, and they all remark on how delicious it tastes and what a remarkable coffee connoisseur that Hegel is. “The Hegel” becomes a new Starbucks special and is wildly popular for the next seventy years.

* * *
Adam Smith goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a muffin,” he says. “Sorry,” says the barista, “but those two are fighting over the last muffin.” She points to Leibniz and Newton, who are still beating each other up. “I’ll pay $2 more than the sticker price, and you can keep the extra,” says Smith. The barista hands him the muffin.

* * *
Ludwig Wittgenstein goes up to the counter. “I’ll have a small toffee mocha,” he says. “We don’t have small,” says the barista. “Then what sizes do you have?” “Just tall, grande, and venti.” “Then doesn’t that make ‘tall’ a ‘small’?” “We call it tall,” says the barista. Wittgenstein pounds his fist on the counter. “Tall has no meaning separate from the way it is used! You are just playing meaningless language games!” He storms out in a huff.

* * *

Ayn Rand goes up to the counter. “What do you want?” asks the barista. “Exactly the relevant question. As a rational human being, it is my desires that are paramount. Since as a reasoning animal I have the power to choose, and since I am not bound by any demand to subordinate my desires to that of an outside party who wishes to use force or guilt to make me sacrifice my values to their values or to the values of some purely hypothetical collective, it is what I want that is imperative in this transaction. However, since I am dealing with you, and you are also a rational human being, under capitalism we have an opportunity to mutually satisfy our values in a way that leaves both of us richer and more fully human. You participate in the project of affirming my values by providing me with the coffee I want, and by paying you I am not only incentivizing you for the transaction, but giving you a chance to excel as a human being in the field of producing coffee. You do not produce the coffee because I am demanding it, or because I will use force against you if you do not, but because it most thoroughly represents your own values, particularly the value of creation. You would not make this coffee for me if it did not serve you in some way, and therefore by satisfying my desires you also reaffirm yourself. Insofar as you make inferior coffee, I will reject it and you will go bankrupt, but insofar as your coffee is truly excellent, a reflection of the excellence in your own soul and your achievement as a rationalist being, it will attract more people to your store, you will gain wealth, and you will be able to use that wealth further in pursuit of excellence as you, rather than some bureaucracy or collective, understand it. That is what it truly means to be a superior human.” “Okay, but what do you want?” asks the barista. “Really I just wanted to give that speech,” Rand says, and leaves.

* * *
Voltaire goes up to the counter and orders an espresso. He takes it and goes to his seat. The barista politely reminds him he has not yet paid. Voltaire stays seated, saying “I believe in freedom of espresso.”

* * *
Thomas Malthus goes up to the counter and orders a muffin. The barista tells him somebody just took the last one. Malthus grumbles that the Starbucks is getting too crowded and there’s never enough food for everybody.

February 20, 2015

My Twitter word cloud

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

If you’d like to generate one of these for your own (or someone else’s) Twitter account, the instructions are here.

Click to see full-sized at imgur.com

Click to see full-sized at imgur.com

Because I use my Twitter account primarily for auto-posting links to my blog, the word “post” is by far the most common word, followed by “qotd” for my daily quotation posts. After that, it seems pretty representative of what I’ve been blogging about for the last year or so.

February 16, 2015

How Neal Dewing copes with those irritating “dry spells”

Filed under: Humour,Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In The Federalist, Neal Dewing explains how he uses woodworking as a helpful method of getting through certain marital disputes:

There comes a time in every marriage when a man finds himself banished from his lady’s bedchamber for some perceived offense. A trifle, nonsense in most cases, but God help you if you argue with her until she realizes you’re right (which, of course, you usually are). If you successfully dispute her irrational arguments, the trap is sprung and she’ll proceed to catalogue every single one of your past lapses. At this point, my friend, you’ve entered what we in the marriage game like to refer to as the normal state of things a dry spell.

The most important thing to remember about dry spells is that they happen to everyone. This is the case even if you have married an infinitely patient woman who doesn’t find fault in every piddling thing you do and certainly never expects you to tidy up the bathroom counter every day, because she knows fully well you’re just going to use all that stuff again so it just doesn’t make sense.


Any man who sticks to his guns will experience a dry spell sooner or later, but there are ways to cope. In fact, it can be a tremendous opportunity for self-improvement.

What better activity for a man with some unanticipated free time than carpentry? There are few better ways to relieve stress than taking a length of wood into your hands and manipulating it until you’ve achieved the desired result. It can really clear your head. With a few practical guidelines you’ll be up to speed and navigating dry spells with practiced ease.

The first order of business is to identify a project. For this exercise, we’ll go with something fairly easy that will take up some time. You like to sit around, as your wife never fails to tell people loudly enough for you to overhear. So how about a bench? I’ll run you through the steps of this basic woodworking project, which should be enough to carry you through until she works up the nerve to apologize.

Step 1: Materials

It’s important to have all your materials in place before beginning. You can obtain these from a lumberyard or one of the big home improvement stores.

  • (1) 2×10
  • (2) 8’ of 2×2
  • (2) 8’ of 1×4
  • (2) 2×4
  • Wooden dowels
  • Wood screws (1.5” & 3” length)
  • Paint or oil-based stain

You’ll also need some tools. If you are missing a few of these, go borrow one from an older neighbor. He’ll have them. He’s been there. Plus, at this point you should take advantage of any excuse to get out of the house.

  • Drill
  • Measuring tape
  • Circular saw or compound miter saw
  • Swanson® Speed® square
  • Pencil
  • 2 sawhorses
  • Safety goggles
  • Dust mask

Depending on how much time you spent hiding planning, visiting the lumberyard, and jawing with the neighbor, you may well have eaten up most of a day. Don’t feel like you need to finish this up in an afternoon. She probably hasn’t let it go yet, knowing her, even though this is obviously a ridiculous thing for her to be mad about.

You can pick this up tomorrow. Have a beer. Stay strong.

January 21, 2015


Filed under: Humour,Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

James Lileks takes a nap. It therefore (of course) provides the basis of a “Bleat” posting:

Another item of no surprise to any readers of this site is my enjoyment of, and insistence upon, and devotion to, difficult sentence structures. Also naps. I love naps. Didn’t use to; then we had a child. At first I napped on the floor, thinking it Spartan and manly, but eventually I saw the case for sleeping on a surface that did not leave flat indentations on my skill if I slept for more than 20 minutes. I don’t believe in napping on the sofa, Dagwood style; I don’t believe in napping while reclining in a chair. There’s a reason we sleep in beds. No one ever says “I don’t know how much sleep I’ll get tonight, so maybe I’d better sit in a chair and see how it works.” Bed. The humidifier for white noise. Phone on Airplane Mode. Set the alarm, and see you later.

It’s never occurred to me to study my naps, or chart them, or pick them apart for quality. There are good naps and bad ones. There are short naps that leave you refreshed, and short ones that leave you groggy. Long ones that seem to add a year to your life, and long ones that make you feel as though you emerged from a bog of tar. To be fair, long naps never leave me logy. Short naps can make me feel angry, because they weren’t longer naps.

But. I read a review for an app called Power Nap HQ, and it seemed interesting: it took nap data, based on your movements. You entered how much time you wanted to sleep, set a backup alarm, chose a sequence of sounds, and laid it next to you. It would report back on your movements, indicating the depth of the nap, and it would also record any abrupt sounds you made. Nicely designed, too. A buck. Bought it.

Calibrated the device, set all the options, and pressed the button to start the nap. Laid it next to me.

Got itchy. Dry skin. Scratched a little, and wondered if this would register on the device. This was the signal for my upper lip to report in as “slightly chapped,” requiring more minor motion, and I thought I might be confusing the app, which thinks this is light sleep. Or perhaps it doesn’t take any motion seriously until I’m inert for a long period of time. So I laid still.

Then I thought: now it’s going to think I’m asleep.

This nap wasn’t working out very well. You start to think about napping, napping doesn’t happen. You start to wait for the between-two-worlds moment when you’re aware that you’re having a dream, or are thinking of something you certainly did start but grew out of something you’d already forgotten, then the moment never comes. But the next thing I knew I was awake.

Sort of. Half awake. The alarm had not gone off, so I had not reached the desired quantity of sleep. I was up because my body was done with the noon ration of Diet Lime Coke, and wished to offload it. This I did, wondering how the app would read my absence. It would detect the motion, then the absence of motion, then motion, then – providing I got back to sleep – the absence of motion. I did what a man’s gotta do, then returned to bed to complete the nap. Fell back asleep. No dreams.

Woke, and thought: damn, I beat the alarm. Must be close. If I have one superpower, it is the ability to gauge the passage of time; if I knew what time it was 35 minutes ago, I can tell you what time it is now within a minute or so. This extends to naps: if I wake before the alarm, I usually know what the time will be. I laid there, waking, considering how the rest of the day would play out, then realized that the app would interpret my motionlessness as sleep. THE DATA WOULD BE IMPRECISE.

So I picked up the phone to see how long I’d actually slept.

I had overslept by 40 minutes.

The alarm had not gone off. The backup alarm had not gone off. It had not collected data. Other than that, best dollar I ever spent. Now I can remove it from my phone and sleep without worries.

January 18, 2015

Being an artist requires a fine sense of balance

Filed under: Humour,Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 09:57

January 13, 2015

The oddity that is Denmark

Filed under: Europe,Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:55

In the New York Post, Kyle Smith has a go at de-smugging one of the smuggest countries in the world … no, it’s not Canada (but we’re pretty damned smug ourselves):

Want proof that the liberal social-democratic society works?

Look to Denmark, the country that routinely leads the world in happiness surveys. It’s also notable for having the highest taxes on Earth, plus a comfy social-safety net: Child care is mostly free, as is public school and even private school, and you can stay on unemployment benefits for a long time. Everyone is on an equal footing, both income-wise and socially: Go to a party and you wouldn’t be surprised to see a TV star talking to a roofer.

The combination of massive taxes and benefits for the unsuccessful means top and bottom get shaved off: Pretty much everyone is proudly middle class. Danes belong to more civic associations and clubs than anyone else; they love performing in large groups. At Christmas they do wacky things like hold hands and run around the house together, singing festive songs. They’re a real-life Whoville.

In the American liberal compass, the needle is always pointing to places like Denmark. Everything they most fervently hope for here has already happened there.

So: Why does no one seem particularly interested in visiting Denmark? (“Honey, on our European trip, I want to see Tuscany, Paris, Berlin and … Jutland!”) Visitors say Danes are joyless to be around. Denmark suffers from high rates of alcoholism. In its use of antidepressants it ranks fourth in the world. (Its fellow Nordics the Icelanders are in front by a wide margin.) Some 5% of Danish men have had sex with an animal. Denmark’s productivity is in decline, its workers put in only 28 hours a week, and everybody you meet seems to have a government job. Oh, and as The Telegraph put it, it’s “the cancer capital of the world.”

So how happy can these drunk, depressed, lazy, tumor-ridden, pig-bonking bureaucrats really be?

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