Rhonda Gone Wild

Posted March 29, 2005 at 6:19 pm | No Comments

Admittedly, the inside-joke factor on this one is pretty high, but a few of you readers out there might appreciate a website that I recently created.

Ice Luge

Posted March 28, 2005 at 6:17 pm | 26 Comments
My quest for an ice luge was not without its pitfalls. After calling all of the major ice suppliers in the bay area, I determined that ice sculptures do not come cheaply. “We have a fixed rate on sculptures,” said the guy at the San Francisco Ice Company. “For $300, we make absolutely anything you want from a 300-pound block of ice.”This was an interesting piece of information to file away, should I ever need to order, say, a gigantic frozen phallus for a swank bachelorette party. However, it was of little use to me in planning the weekly CS Department social event, since $300 is well outside of our weekly budget.

Our Ice Luge, or S'liquor Slide, is a must for a truly great party At this point, perhaps I should explain the concept of an ice luge for those unfamiliar with frat parties (or Hollywood portrayals thereof). An ice luge is a large banked ramp of ice with a narrow channel carved through it. A measured quantity of liquid, typically liquor, is poured into a channel at the top of the luge, and a few seconds later an icy cold drink is dispensed at the bottom, directly into an awaiting open mouth. Awesome.”Maybe I could just carve my own ice luge,” I thought. “There aren’t any chainsaws in the Graphics Lab tool room, but a chisel and a heat gun might do the trick.” Unfortunately, it turned out that even that approach was too expensive — the best price I could find for a large carving block of ice was $75.

Not to be deterred, I fell upon the idea of freezing my own ice block. I explored the kitchens of various academic buildings, selected the largest freezer I could find, and measured its dimensions: 12″x24″x16″. After a quick trip to Home Depot for a plastic storage container and several lengths of PVC piping, I was ready to construct my very own ice luge.

Some back-of-the-envelope calculations determined that the 12 gallons of water would take several weeks to freeze. This was far too long, so I prepped the container by first filling it with four 20-pound bags of ice cubes. I filled the remainder with water, burying the pipes underneath to create hollow channels through the ice.

I left for the weekend anticipating returning to a beautiful ice luge. Unfortunately, my frozen creation was not welcomed by the inhabitants of the Packard Building. On Saturday I received the following email:

> Whoever put the science experiment ( the plastic box full
> of water slush and pipes) in the freezer on the second
> floor of Packard needs to identify themselves and their project
> pronto or, even better, remove it. It is  creating a heavy energy
> drain on the appliance and will be removed on Monday.

I began searching for a new home for my “science experiment,” feeling a sudden solidarity with the many “scientists” before me who had faced similarly imposing challenges. I soon discovered that if I slid the center shelf out from one of the freezers in the Gates building, it could just barely accommodate the storage container. I carted our partially-frozen ice block over to the Fujitsu Lounge kitchen and hoisted it into its new resting place, where it comfortably remained for two more days.

The bad news is that apparently the storage container didn’t fit into the freezer very well. The freezer door closed fine when I put the container in, but it must have been just large enough to keep the door from swinging shut by itself. Someone must have opened the door and then failed to notice when the door didn’t close properly. As a result, the freezer began dripping condensation on the floor, prompting someone to send an email to fixit@cs, which in turn prompted Christine or Hector to remove the ice container and dump it out back by the shipping dock. Fortunately, Christine was pretty good-natured about the whole thing, but the upshot was that the several weeks of freezer time I had invested in my homemade ice luge were for naught.
The good news, I suppose, is that when I found my poor abandoned ice block, unceremoniously dumped in the day lilies behind Gates, it was quite thoroughly frozen. It looked pretty awesome, and if I had discovered it sooner I might have been able to salvage it. As it was, it was covered in dirt, and the outer 2-4 inches of ice had already melted. But I was heartened to see that my plan had more or less worked. The PVC pipes even slid out smoothly when I pulled on them, leaving some perfect channels through the ice.
This failure left me discouraged, and for a while I gave up on the ice luge. Eventually, though, “science” soldiered on. I decided to use my own freezer for the next attempt, so that I could avoid pissing off any more building administrators. I’m finally beginning to understand why large ice blocks are so expensive.
This time the freezing process completed without incident. Unfortunately, I ran into another problem after carting the ice luge over to a party at Jessica’s place. The PVC pipes had not been properly plugged this time, and they had filled with water and frozen, causing them to stick firmly inside the block of ice.
Everyone had their own ideas about how to remove the stuck pipes, and we tried nearly every idea without success. Bob suggested pouring hot water into the end of the pipes, but we found that the empty space in the pipe was so small that it quickly filled up and the water became cold immediately. After ten minutes of pouring in hot water and tilting the block to pour the water back out again, we had made almost no progress.
Jessica suggested heating a metal coat hanger in the oven and poking it into the pipe to melt the ice. At first this seemed like a good idea, but it turned out that the coat hanger wasn’t sturdy enough to chisel through the ice, and it cooled off very quickly.
We even tried using a hair dryer and a funnel to blow hot air into the frozen pipes, but it didn’t seem to have much effect. Finally, we made a run to the grocery store for some metal barbecue skewers, which we were able to drive gradually into the icy pipes using a hammer. After about fifteen minutes of hammering, pouring in hot water, pouring out cold water, and hammering some more, we were able to make a channel through the pipes.Of course it turned out that because PVC pipes are such good insulators, pouring hot water through the middle the pipes didn’t actually do much to melt the ice around them. But by this time everything had melted enough that a few careful hammer whacks drove the pipes out at last.
The luge operated quite well at first, but it had taken so long to get it working that it was starting to melt, forming unusual holes and channels inside the ice block. After the first hour of shots, we found that when we poured liquor in at the top and it would never come out the bottom; it was being trapped in a cavity somewhere inside the block.
Undaunted, I got out the hammer and a screwdriver and carved some curvy channels along the top of the ice block. This allowed the party to continue for quite a while longer.
The ice luge rounds continued for so long, in fact, that we eventually hit upon the bright idea of administering shots mouth-to-mouth. Though perhaps not the most sanitary practice, I think it imparted a special flavor to the drinks.

Unsafe Search

Posted April 15, 2004 at 6:15 pm | 2 Comments

While â„¢ allows you to filter pornography and explicit sexual content from your search results using their “SafeSearch” feature, they do not provide a means to search exculsively for such adult material.

It’s a shame when someone searching for pornographic material related to, say, llamas, is forced to slog though many pages of perfectly innocuous llama sites before finally hitting upon the llama porn he was looking for.

And nobody who does a â„¢ search for “nice tits” wants to find a site like this one.

That’s why I built the new UNSAFE SEARCH. Go and check it out! The unsafe search works by performing two google queries, a normal query and a query with SafeSearch enabled. The set of “safe” results is then subtracted from the set of normal results to yield only “unsafe” entries.

I’ve found it particularly entertaining to search for something relatively inoffensive, like “cheese,” and see how many “unsafe” sites it produces. For example, did you know that of the more than 681,000 sites about midgets, only 316,000 are “safe”?

In general it’s interesting to compare the “safeness” of various search terms. This page shows some current statistics about Unsafe Search.


Posted April 9, 2004 at 6:14 pm | 4 Comments

Great at hashbrowns, bad at mathematics.

The Waffle House is bad at combinatorics.

Last time I visited the Waffle House in Atlanta, I took a photo of their menu. This section of the menu shows the various ways that they can prepare your hashbrowns. Notice that there are three sizes (regular, large, and triple) and seven options (smothered, covered, chunked, topped, diced, peppered, and capped). That means that the number of possible ways of ordering your hashbrowns is

3 * 27 = 384.

However, as you can see in the photo, they claim that there are 1,572,864, or 3 * 219 ways to prepare your hashbrowns. Where does this number come from? Are there “secret” hashbrown options that aren’t on the menu?

Professor Simpson bungles a counting problem.

Jessica Simpson is also bad at combinatorics.

Jessica Simpson, along with the Muppets, stars in a commercial for Pizza Hut’s new 4forAll Pizza. Here’s a description of the commercial taken from the Pizza Hut press release:

The commercial features The Muppets in a heated debate about which pizza topping to order. For example, Kermit the Frog wants green toppings, Animal wants meat and Miss Piggy is a vegetarian. Jessica Simpson enters the scene and stuns The Muppets with the brainy answer, “Why not the 4forALL Pizza? It has more than 18 possible toppings… which gives you more than six million topping options,” leaving them completely speechless. Awestruck by Simpson’s ironic mathematic acumen, Miss Piggy pretends to have known this all along. The pizza arrives, Jessica reaches for a slice but Miss Piggy pulls the pizza box away from Jessica and says, “Beauty before brains.”

Now, let’s carefully consider the total number of options. Each of the four pizzas is allowed up to four toppings, and there are a total of 18 toppings to choose from. Assuming no repeated toppings, there are 18 choose 4, or 3060, possibilities for each individual pizza. Since there are four pizzas, the total number of overall options on the 4forAll is 3060 choose 4, or approximately 3.6 trillion. This is assuming that no two pizzas are identical and that no pizzas have repeated toppings (e.g. extra cheese, double pepperoni). If we discard these two assumptions the number of possible combinations is even greater! So although Jessica was technically correct when she stated that there were “more than six million topping options,” this is a pretty crappy estimate — it’s off by six orders of magnitude. This is particularly embarrassing given that the commercial’s main “joke” was Jessica’s “ironic mathematic acumen.”

Product Reviews

Posted November 30, 2003 at 6:10 pm | No Comments

Lately I’ve been getting really into product reviews, both reading them and writing them. What an interesting form of self expression. You should check out my amazon.com reviews of the One-of-a-Kind Pearl Necklace by Yvel (cached version here) and the Couture Moonface watch.

Maybe I can’t compete with Leon’s product reviews, but you gotta start somewhere. Oh, and for another review that made me chuckle, check out this product and scroll down to the review titled “the marriage bed is undefiled.”

Amazon also has a recommendation feature that lets you recommend alternatives to a product. For example, if you go to the page for this book you’ll notice that someone suggested this one as an alternative.

Slurpee Adventure

Posted July 11, 2002 at 5:58 pm | 5 Comments

I’ve been a Slurpee aficionado for ages. Why, a quick scan through the monzy.com archives turns up no fewer than three slurpee-related updates (1, 2, 3). So you can imagine my excitement when I heard of 7-11’s new free Slurpee promotion. To commemorate its 75th year in business, 7-11 provided free Slurpees to all of its customers on one very special day, 7/11.

There’s nothing more alluring to the impoverished college student than the possibility of free food. This food foraging instinct dies hard — even though I’m making enough money this summer to afford to order pizza for myself, I can’t fight the impulse to run to the office kitchen when someone announces that some leftover sesame chicken is congealing on the counter.

Another aspect of my training as a college student is a desire to game the system. When KFC ran their free popcorn chicken promotion, we figured out a couple of tricks. First, when you’re going to the drive-through, they can’t see how many people are in your car, so if you tell them there are five people in there, you can get five free boxes of popcorn chicken. Next, if you go through the drive-through again, but have a different person drive and order, they probably won’t notice. And finally, once you’re exhausted your drive-through options, you can still go in and order more free popcorn chicken from the counter, since different people are working there.

All in all it’s been a great summer for Slurpee innovation. In the course of only a few months, we’ve seen a new round of Slurpee straw colors (more pleasantly subdued, in contrast to the traditional neon hues), the invention of the remarkable “Slurp & Gulp” (22-ounce Slurpee + 32-ounce beverage in one cup with separate straws for each), and the advent of the Vanilla Coke flavored Slurpee, perhaps the pinnacle of Slurpee achievement.

The new straw colors (right) are a welcome change
from the traditional colors (left).

The Slurp & Gulp, a
remarkable new innovation
in beverage technology.

The only thing better than a Slurpee is a free Slurpee, and the only thing better than a free Slurpee is many free Slurpees. The problem was that only one free Slurpee per customer was permitted. This would not do. I decided to take full advantage of the promotion by visiting as many 7-11 stores as possible. I recruited Jon (my roommate) and Quinn (my officemate) and we embarked on a quest for free Slurpees.

Planning is an important part of an adventure like this, so I began by plotting out all of the 7-11s in the Redmond/Bellevue/Kirkland area. Yahoo Maps has the convenient capability of showing you the locations of local businesses near a mapped location. It does this for only two businesses, however: 7-11 and State Farm. Nevertheless, this feature is indispensable if you find yourself in a situation where you need to locate a Slurpee and some life insurance on short notice. Recklessly ignoring the potential of stopping at State Farm for brain freeze insurance, I mapped out only the 7-11 locations, creating the following route plan:

Trip Activity Log:

10:56 AM: And we’re off! Jon and I look excited in the front sear of our phat summer ride, a green Oldsmobile Alero. Note the snazzy monkey heads in lieu of fuzzy dice. With any luck the man won’t notice our long lunch break.
11:02 AM: 7-11 Number One

Flavor: Mountain Dew, one of my favorites. Might as well start with the good stuff.

Mood: Excited.

11:04 AM: Cheers! Jon and I partake in the ceremonial first free Slurpee.
11:21 AM: 7-11 Number Two

Flavor: Lemonade. Nice and tart. Thirst-quenching.

Mood: Confident. This is easy.

11:48 AM: 7-11 Number Three

Flavor: Cherry. I usually mix this with Coke Slurpee. It’s awfully sweet all by itself.

Mood: Cautiously optimistic. Getting a bit full.

12:12 PM: 7-11 Number Four

Flavor: Blue Raspberry. A common Slurpee flavor, but not a very good one, in my opinion.

Mood: Confidence flagging. Consumption rate is slowing down.

12:32 PM: 7-11 Number Five

Flavor: Mountain Dew Blue Shock. Doesn’t taste any different from normal blue raspberry Slurpees. I am not impressed.

Mood: This time I didn’t finish before arriving at the next 7-11. Definitely slowing down. Also feeling jittery.

Don’t these bacon cheese fries
look appetizing? They can’t be easy
on the digestive tract.

12:56 PM: All the Slurpee drinking was tiring us out. We decided we needed a short break. At the risk of taking up valuable stomach space, we stopped for some food at Jack in the Box.
1:49 PM: 7-11 Number Six

Flavor: Banana. Horribly disgusting. I only selected it on a dare from Quinn. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Mood: Stomach churning. Sweaty. Strangely giddy.

2:11 PM: 7-11 Number Seven

Flavor: Pepsi. Interesting… I didn’t know you could get both Pepsi and Coke Slurpees.

Mood: Reeling from banana. Very queasy. Ugh.

2:30 PM: 7-11 Number Eight

Flavor: Sour Apple. Wow, that’s tangy.

Mood: Wondering what effects this is having on my body. Have to reassure myself that this is actually worth it.

7-11 had special commemorative cups just for the occasion. We kept every single cup on the floor in the back of the car for a photo at the end.
2:49 PM: 7-11 Number Nine

Flavor: Pina Colada. I don’t think it’s all that bad, but Jon and Quinn seem to be choking on it.

Mood: Each sip is difficult. Good thing it’s a hot day. Almost done. We can do this.

3:02 PM: 7-11 Number Ten

Flavor: Coca-Cola, my old standby.

Mood: Exultant. Like a marathoner on the home stretch.

A bittersweet victory. The triumph of our success (left) was mingled with some pretty wicked indigestion (right).

Burned Out Signs

Posted April 25, 2002 at 5:57 pm | 2 Comments
Lately I’ve developed a strange obsession with photographing burned out signs. I think it started when I was taking the train to New York last weekend. I was watching the scenery go by out the window, and I saw that someone had knocked out a bunch of letters on a Home Depot sign so that it said “HOMO.” It struck me as an awful lot of work to do for such a stupid word, especially since it was separated by a huge space in the middle. I speculated that perhaps some of the letters were already missing. That got me thinking about better words to spell within “Home Depot,” but I couldn’t really think of any. For the rest of the weekend, though, whenever I saw a lighted sign, I tried to come up with interesting words that could be created by selectively blacking out the letters.
Actually, I sighted one of my favorite such signs a couple of years ago, on a trip to New Orleans. We got lost in a bad neighborhood, and we saw a Shell gas station with the S burned out. It seemed oddly appropriate.

Lately I’ve been going running along the river in the evenings, and tonight I brought my camera along. I decided to take a tour of the burned out signs of Boston by night.

The first burned out sign I encountered was in front of the Polaroid building. The only reason this one is funny is because they recently declared bankruptcy, which I suppose is why they no longer maintain their sign. Though I guess I could make some sort of joke about them being “po’.”
There’s a giant glowing Citgo sign in Boston alongside the river near Fenway Park. As if to challenge the Citgo sign, Shell put up a sign on the other side of the river. It reminds me of my late night runs along the Mississippi a few summers ago — there are also two competing signs facing off across the river there, only instead of signs for gas stations, they are signs for rival brands of flour — Gold Medal and Pillsbury.This sign has the H burned out instead of the S. I can’t think of what that could mean, except for perhaps a subtle message to stockholders.
The burned out letters on the Marriott sign in Kendall Square struck me as a good way to illustrate the advantage of redundancy in system design. Notice how the sign degrades gracefully; when an R or a T burns out, the sign will still read roughly the same way. They really should have gone all the way and named their hotel the Mmaarriioott.
This one doesn’t require much commentary. I think the lesson here is that you should never purchase a lighted sign if your business is named something like “Glass Wholesalers” or “Hardy’s Clocks.” If there is an offensive substring within your name, people will find it.

Campus Tour

Posted March 18, 2002 at 5:56 pm | No Comments

I needed a break from work, so I decided to go through some of my recent photos. I thought that perhaps you’d enjoy taking a little photo tour of the MIT campus and environs. Let’s go!

A Chi O: Once you pop, you can’t stop.

This poster welcomes new pledges to the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. It was displayed prominently in a central campus corridor. Am I the only one who finds it a bit off-color?”So,” Dennis asked when he saw the photo, “have you tried all 31 yet?”

Perhaps they could combine the Baskin-Robbins reference with a Frito Lay reference and add a catchy slogan at the bottom: “Nobody can eat just one!”

I’m a bartender at the Thirsty Ear pub, where I work every Wednesday night from 10 PM to close. Here’s a shot of me on the job. Sampling such a wide variety of beers has made me quite the beer connoisseur, but it may have somewhat stifled my chugging skill.

OK, so I still have to work on swallowing faster
if I really want to drink from the tap.

When you’re scoping out the sunbathing chicks at BU,
it helps to pretend you’re taking pictures of modern sculpture.

The esplanade along the nearby Charles River is a beautiful place for a walk. The river is filled with sailboats and swans and the Boston skyline looms on the horizon. I took this photo last semester before the winter set in, and now that springtime is near I can’t wait to start running again.

If you want a cheap lunch, the food trucks near the biochemistry building are the way to go, especially if you’re not too afraid of food poisoning. Fiona and I visit the trucks every Thursday afternoon. Usually she orders the curry chicken, but one week she decided to try something new, so she ordered the mustard chicken. Turns out that the mustard chicken is just the curry chicken with a gigantic dollop of yellow mustard squirted on top. So be careful what you order

I love how this little “Sandwiches” box painted on the side of the truck illustrates
the variety of animals that can be killed and put between bread for you.
It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the lamb has a frightened expression on its face.

Ruggles, Haymarket, Wonderland…

The Boston subway, known as the T. MIT and Harvard are one stop apart on the red line, which goes from Braintree to Alewife. Lots of places in Boston have funny names like that.

Energy Drink Evaluation

Posted December 17, 2001 at 5:55 pm | 17 Comments

With a final project due in 14 hours, it was serious crunch time. Since I knew I was looking at an all-nighter, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some caffeine sources. I was amazed at the variety of energy drinks available, and the multiplicity of strange claims they offered and ingredients they contained. “What’s the difference between Panax Ginseng and Siberian ginseng?” I wondered. “Do bee pollen and gingko biloba really sharpen my mind and revitalize my body? And what the fuck is glucaronolactone?”

Someone needed to get to the bottom of all of this, wading through the sea of unsubstantiated claims and separating fact from hype. Someone needed to demystify these strange concoctions by explaining the difference between D-Ribose, L-Carnitine, Taurine, and Inositol.

I am way too lazy to be that person. Instead, with Jen’s assistance, I conducted a comparative taste test. We sampled six different energy drinks and rated their tastes on a ten-point scale. Since I’m inclined the believe that the effects of the peculiar dietary supplements these drinks contain are largely psychosomatic, we also rated the drinks on “Design,” a category that included both the look of the can and the extent to which we were “convinced” of the drink’s effectiveness based on its pseudoscientific pronouncements.

Here are the results of our evaluation. Ratings range from 1 (terrible) to 10 (excellent).

The product: Hansen’s Energy (Original Formula)
The pitch: Catch the Wave! Hansen’s energy supplement is specially formulated with the amino acid Taurine, Panax Ginseng, Ginkgo Biloba, key B vitamins, glucose, and other ingredients, which are intended to provide a positive energy boost.
Contact: www.hansensenergy.com

Mild lemon flavor, not overly sweet, and no aftertaste.

Uninspired writing on can caused Dan to quip, “at least it’s not a negative energy boost.”

“Catch the wave, my ass,” Jen insightfully added.

Rating: Taste 10, Design 1

The product: High Potency Energy Venom With Instant Bite
The pitch: Taurine, Maté, and energy vitamins
Contact: 1-866-22-VENOM

Sweet and lemony like Citra, but with a viciously bitter aftertaste.

Rating: Taste 7, Design 3

The product: Amp Energy Drink from Mountain Dew
The pitch: With MDX5! Turn up your energy with Amp. Only Amp has MDX5: taurine, ginseng, B-vitamins, guarana, and maltodextrin, a complex carb. All in a great tasting citrus fusion. For energy that lasts.
Contact: www.ampenergy.com 1-800-433-2652

Thick, gooey consistency, like a melted Slurpee or fermented Mountain Dew syrup. Make-believe “chemical compound” named MDX5 (which presumably stands for Mountain Dew X 5 ) failed to impress us.

Rating: Taste 4, Design 8

The product: Arizona Extreme Energy Shot
The pitch: Maximum Performance Blend Energy Drink “Bottle Rocket”
Contact: 1-800-832-3775

Nasty nasty shit. Bitter honey-lemon flavor and powdery texture. “Like dissolved Alka-Seltzer,” Jen remarked.

Leaves an unpleasant goo on teeth. Gratuitous plastic top is difficult to remove and lends phallic appearance to can.

Rating: Taste 1, Design 7

The product: SoBe Adrenaline Rush
The pitch: Maximum Energy Supplement. Get it up. Keep it up. Any questions?
Contact: www.sobeadrenalinerush.com 1-800-588-0548

Smells strange, but has an appealing citrus taste similar to Orangina. Difficult to imagine a non-sexual interpretation of unusual slogan on can.

Rating: Taste 9, Design 2

The product: Red Bull Energy Drink
The pitch: With Taurine. Vitalizes body and mind.
Red Bull Energy Drink:
· Improves performance, especially during times of increased stress or strain.
· Increases endurance.
· Increases concentration and improves reaction speed.
· Stimulates the metabolism.
Contact: www.redbull.com

Curiously tangy cherry flavor, somewhat reminiscent of cough syrup. “I don’t like it,” Jen says immediately. Dan is somewhat more enthusiastic: “like medicine, but tastier.”

Rating: Taste 3, Design 9


If you want a drink that tastes good, go with Hansen’s Energy Drink or SoBe Adrenaline Rush. Or just drink a cup of coffee with milk and sugar and you’ll probably get the same effect.

Other Notes

Some of the cans were labeled with amusing warnings:

  • Suggested use: up to four (4) cans per day. Not recommended for children, pregnant women, or people sensitive to caffeine.
  • These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

The caption “NOT GENUINE UNLESS SIGNED” on the Energy Shot can made no sense, since the signature was machine-printed on the can right along with the caption.
When we had finished our taste comparison, I mixed all of the remaining energy drink liquid together into a mixture I called “Maximum Potency Extreme Venom High Adrenaline Red Amped Energy Bull Rush Rocket Shot with Instant Bite.” It wasn’t too bad..

I felt really jittery and weird at the end. Too much glucoronolactone, I suppose.

Monzy or Not

Posted December 12, 2001 at 5:55 pm | No Comments

Probably the last thing the world needs is another HotOrNot knockoff site like all of these ones.

You’re so Monzy and you don’t even know it.

But what the hell, I made one more.  Check out the new:


And hey, if you still have time to kill, you can take a look at the HotOrNot incarnations cooked up by my pals Berson and Jawed.

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