Archive for February, 2011

For Lunch Today We Had Science!

February 16th, 2011 2 comments

At lunch today a few of my friends and I were sitting around in the conference room talking, and someone mentioned that they had been listening to a podcast about the recipe for Coke.  The topic led to the merits of Coke over Pepsi (or vice versa, if that’s your taste), which led naturally to wondering if we could tell the difference between the two in a double-blind taste test.

“Wait,” Ian said after a second, “We have Coke and Pepsi here, and glasses.  Let’s test this.”

We all quickly agreed, and the test was on.

Ian went and scrounged up the requisite soft drinks, some styrofoam cups, a pen (to label the cups), and his thinking cap and we went to work.  We even went so far as to make it an official double-blind test, with Ian pouring the drinks in secret, then handing me the drinks in one room, and I in turn delivering the mystery drinks to our taste testers.

What followed was nothing short of completely expected: Nick and Sam were both able to identify the correct sodas with no problems.

Hey, science doesn’t always have to be hard. 🙂

We then reversed roles, and Ian and I took a turn as tasters.  Despite how sure Nick and Sam had sounded about their choices, and my confidence that I could accomplish the feat easily, I was actually surprised by how similar the two sodas tasted.  It’s easy to say you prefer the taste of one thing over another, but when faced with both at the same time with no other clues it’s hard to really nail down which is which.

In a bit of an unexpected twist, we all found that the deciding factor was actually smell.  To my nose (even being a bit stuffy from the tail end of a cold) the Pepsi had a stronger, sweeter smell, but with a “flat” characteristic that is hard to describe.  “Not very complex” might be a better description.  The Coke, on the other hand, had a much more subtle smell with a lot of things going on.  It took a while to puzzle the different aromas out, but I could distinctly smell vanilla, cinnamon, citrus, and caramel.  [If you’ve never tried it — and I’d be surprised if you had — I’d definitely recommend pouring an inch or so of Coke into the bottom of a glass, swirling it around a bit, and spend a minute or two paying attention to the smell.  I think you’ll be surprised.]

Conversely, the tastes actually seemed fairly similar.  I suspect that has a lot to do with the carbonation and the acidity, which would tend to dominate the other flavors.

In the end Ian and I were also both able to identify the correct sodas, thus giving reasonable weight to the argument that yes, people who have a preference for Coke or Pepsi know what they’re talking about.  So the next time you’re at a restaurant and ask for a Coke, when the server asks if Pepsi is okay you can go ahead and point them at this rigorous study and confidently declare, “No, that’s not alright, thank you very much!  I’ll just have water.”  Or some such silliness. 🙂


After we’d settled down a bit from our sugar-caffeine-science high, we talked a bit about doing other such tests.  I was playing around with the leftover samples, and noticed that the colors of the beverages were slightly different.  Coke (like its label) was much redder in color than the Pepsi, which was more of a neutral brown.  We didn’t bother doing a double-blind test this time, but I was able to tell the sodas apart by sight when Ian showed me two.  So there you have it… you can tell them apart by taste, smell, and color.


Categories: Create Every Day Tags:

What’s Ryan Been Reading?

February 14th, 2011 2 comments

Well, I’m glad you asked. 🙂

I’ve been reading a number of photo books lately, and have some comments, good and bad.  So here are my reviews for anyone who might be interested:

Understanding Exposure by Brian Peterson, 3rd Edition

After reading a number of reviews and recommendations for this book — the photography hobbyists of the Internet simply gush about this book — I have to say I had pretty high hopes that this book would have that “aha” spark of wisdom that would make my photos pop.  Unfortunately, I seem to have fallen into the ever-present fallacy that buying just one more “how-to” book will make you better.  It’s the hobbyist’s curse, I think.  This book does not contain ancient Zen secrets of perfect photos.

But that’s not to say that the book was all bad.  I did revise my opinions on a few tricks — like pushing all the way out to f/22 when the situation calls for it — and Peterson’s discussion on the concept of the “creatively correct” exposure solidified and put into words something I’ve been grappling with for a while.  But sadly it doesn’t go much further than that.

All in all the book would be very good for someone that hasn’t studied the technical side of photography extensively and would like to understand how to move beyond the camera’s automatic camera modes.  The pictures are generally pretty good illustrations of the point that is being made, but at the same time I don’t feel like I’m being beat over the head by the concept.  Peterson likes to present two (or more) images that would all be pretty good, and it takes a bit of critical thinking to see why one might be better than the other.  The examples, while numerous and colorful, are also arranged such that they don’t completely overpower the narrative’s flow.  That’s a good thing for me, as I get very distracted when books throw thousands of pictures in my face.  (I’m looking at you, DK Publishing!)

One nagging detail I found is that there are several places where example photos are out of order and math details are incorrect (f/32 is two stops from f/64, not one) but these can generally be overlooked unless you’re a stickler like myself.

Overall a good guide, but very little here is earth shattering.  More of a good retelling of things that have been said elsewhere.

I’d recommend borrowing this from the library or a friend.

The Photographer’s Eye by John Szarkowski

An interesting review of black and white photography since its inception by one of the big names in photography.  (Szarkowski was the Director of Photography at the MoMA for many years.)  The introduction essay is pretty good (if a bit lofty) and gives a nice historical overview of the concepts presented.  (I recommend taking it in chunks that correspond to the different chapters.)  The photos chosen come from a wide background and several will probably be familiar to anyone who has done a lot of looking at famous black and white photographers.

Overall I’d say that this book offers a good overview of the art, but is a little too broad in its sweep.  A number of the pictures seem like they would be better interpreted in the context of the particular artist’s body of work, as opposed to standing by themselves.

I would rent this from the library, but wouldn’t buy it again.

William Eggleston’s Guide by John Szarkowski and William Eggleston

I can’t praise this book enough.  Simply wonderful.  This is the type of photography that I aspire to do.  Eggleston’s photographs are simple, unrestrained, and utterly effortless, while at the same time obviously executed by a master.  Flipping through the pages of this book is almost like looking at a family photo album, except that every single print is perfect.  There just aren’t any times where I look at a photo and say, “I would change this” or “I would move that.”  They’re all just right, just how they are.

The color reproductions are also very nicely done (which is good, considering that Eggleston is one of the first major color photographers).  If you haven’t seen good, subtle color reproductions in a book before you’re in for a real treat.

As if that weren’t enough, I thought that Szarkowski’s introduction was right on the money, and was a really good read without being too “artsy.”

Highly recommended.

Uncommon Places by Stephen Shore

In a similar vein to Eggleston’s work, Shore’s photographs are quiet and colorful, but the colors are realistic, as opposed to the over-saturated, in-your-face colors that are so prevalent today.  Unlike Eggleston’s work, however, I found that Shore’s work took a lot longer to appreciate.  The length of the book is really necessary to get to understand these photographs and the mindset behind them.  But that is a pleasure in itself, as the immense detail captured by Shore’s 8×10 camera (yup… the negatives were 8″x10″!) makes for images that you can really explore.  Despite its larger size, the book holds well and is a pleasure to leaf through propped open on a lap or table.  The paper is nice and thick and the color reproductions very well printed.

Unfortunately the introduction essay for this book is terrible.  It’s full of bombastic, pretentious art-speak that is painful to wade through and does little for framing the viewer’s understanding of the work.  I get the distinct impression that the author doesn’t understand Shore’s work well enough, and because of that is unable to communicate with the audience.  That’s sad, because a good introduction essay can really help to guide you through the central themes of a body of work.  Here I felt more or less on my own.  And with photos this enigmatic that will lose a lot of viewers.

But on the whole, even if you aren’t into “artsy” photos, Uncommon Places is a gorgeous cross-section of 70’s America, and as such should please most audiences as a coffee table book.

Highly recommended, well worth the price.

Categories: Create Every Day Tags:

Colds Suck

February 13th, 2011 2 comments


I’m down with a cold today, and let me tell you: it sucks. I’m not sure what’s worse — having a constantly running nose, or one that is raw from tissue.


Categories: Random Tags: , ,

Tying It All Together

February 13th, 2011 No comments

I’ve been on somewhat of an optimization kick lately.  I’ve been looking at some of the things that I do on a regular basis, and trying to make those things more streamlined.  I started with a couple of Python scripts to make importing and managing my photos a bit easier.  Neither script is very fancy, but they save me a minute or two each time I use them, which adds up considering that I copy photos about once a week.

Today I took on another mini-headache: controlling Netflix from across the room.  Dore and I don’t have any fancy-schmancy video game consoles that have built-in Netflix apps, so we have to watch movies online the “old fashioned” way: by lugging our laptop next to the TV and plugging in an HDMI cable.  I know… primitive, right? 😛

Well, as relatively simple as this is, it does pose one nagging problem: whenever we want to pause the video for a second one of us has to jump up, run across the room, and hit the button.  And then we have to go through the reverse hassle to start playing again.  Over the course of a long movie it gets annoying.

Now I could buy a cheap Netflix box with a remote or a wireless mouse, but the last thing I need is yet another gadget.  So I decided to do it the nerdy way: by figuring out how to remotely control my laptop using… another laptop.  I’ve got a couple of those lying around the house.  Why not put them to good use?

So off I went to the Internets, and downloaded fresh copies of Synergy for both computers.  I’ve used this program before at work and highly recommend it.  Basically, the program allows you to control several computers with one mouse and keyboard.  It’s a bit tricky to set up, but once it’s there it just works.  Nice!

I did run into a couple of stumbling blocks:

  • To my mind, the “server” and “client” labels that Synergy uses are confusing.  But once I figured out that the keyboard and mouse I want to use are the “server” it all made sense.
  • For some silly reason you have to configure both forward and backward links between the computers.  It’s not enough to say “ComputerA” is to the left of “ComputerB”.  You have to tell it that “ComputerB” is to the right of “ComputerA”.  As if it would be any other place!  (I suppose that the program will work great in non-Euclidean geometries, but honestly, isn’t that just a bit too much flexibility?)

After a bit more struggle I got it all set up, and hooray!  I can now use my netbook to control Netflix on the computer across the room.  Success!

But not to rest on my laurels, I decided to go one step further.  Dore and I recently got new Virgin Mobile Android phones, and I wanted to see if I could use that to control playback.  And it turns out that you can using a slick little app called RemoteDroid.  This app was a breeze to set up, and does pretty much exactly what I want.  The only drawbacks I see with it so far are that it seems to be built for phones with slightly different buttons, so I can’t use all of the features.  That doesn’t affect my original goal of controlling Netflix (since that only needs basic mouse support), but might limit the number of things I can do with the app as a general computer remote control.

Anyway, back to bumming around on my Sunday afternoon.

Categories: Create Every Day Tags: