Archive for January, 2011

I had to work in the concession stand tonight, and I’m tired.  Here’s the best I’ve got today.  The subject of this week’s random Wikipedia article is:


I’m sure this post will draw tons of Google searches.

I’m starting to realize that there are a lot of articles on Wikipedia that contain very little information.


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I was asked the other day why the moon appeared larger on the horizon than it does when it’s overhead.  My answer, that it’s an optical illusion created by having nearby objects of reference on the horizon, was met with surprised incredulity, so I thought I might go into a little more detail, or at least point you toward some good references.

Wikipedia has a whole page just for the ‘moon illusion’, and the possible explanations.  It seems that, while everyone agrees that it is an optical illusion, there is some debate over why we perceive it that way.  The most common is the ‘apparent distance hypothesis’; the moon looks larger on the horizon because it appears farther away.  The writer of Discovers Bad Astronomy blog is an adherent to the apparent distance hypothesis, and claims it is a form of a Ponzo illusion.  He argues that it’s not due to “foreground objects making it look big by comparison”, but our perception that it’s farther away.  He uses the following picture as a good example of the Ponzo illusion.

The red lines are very nearly the exact same size.  Pull out a ruler and measure them if you don’t believe it.

I tend to side with Wikipedia’s ‘relative size hypothesis’; that the surrounding objects (houses, trees, etc.) in comparison to the moon make it seem much bigger than when it’s overhead and you have nothing to compare it to but empty space and tiny stars.  This is a type of Ebbinghaus illusion, demonstrated by the circles below:

The center circles are identical to one another.  Again you can pull out a ruler if you find it hard to believe, or just use your mouse cursor for comparison.  I tend to think this is the better explanation.

Of course I also think it’s the best explanation for why the red line on the right appears longer in the Ponzo illusion above; your brain is comparing it to the tiles it’s lined up with.  The left-hand line appears to be the length of one tile, while the right-hand line appears to be the length of five tiles.

Whatever the correct reason why, the moon really is the same size no matter where it is in the sky.  An easy way to test this is to go out during the next horizon moon and hold a small object next to it for comparison, wait until the moon is overhead, and then take your object out and compare again.  Or you could get a cardboard paper towel tube (or your hands will work fine), and block out all the objects surrounding a horizon moon, and it will appear the same as it does when it’s overhead.

Or maybe we’re all wrong,  the moon is crashing to Earth, and we only have three days to stop it.

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You may remember from earlier in the week a post in which I extolled the wonders of our weekend at Big Cedar Lodge, but lamented the loss of my pillow. By the end of the post, it seemed my life-long fate was to lay my head on a flat lump that only qualifies as a pillow in the most technical sense, and the world wept with me.

But the next day brought with it new beginnings, and with them a comment from a representative of Big Cedar who offered her help.  I was surprised and elated.  But could they really find my pillow?  I emailed her some information Tuesday morning when I saw the comment – when we stayed, room number, that sort of thing – and I got a reply telling me she would see what she could do.  I tried to suppress it.  I didn’t want to be disappointed.  But I started to feel it…hope.

By that afternoon I had another email; they found the pillow, and it was in the mail.

Now that it was no longer my pillow, but a temporary pillow, the thing that may as well have been a piece of cardboard in a linen case didn’t seem so bad and I rested easy for the next few days.  And today when I got in from work, there in the driveway waiting for me to come home was my pillow.

It was in a box, of course, delivered by the mailman.  It would be gross and a little creepy if my pillow had just been sitting in the driveway.  But I was still happy to see it, and just in time for the weekend to.

I would like to thank Dorothy Worman for commenting on my post and helping track down my pillow.  Now along with the fantastic food, relaxing atmosphere, and beautiful grounds and rooms, Big Cedar Lodge also has amazing customer service.  If you ever need a quote from a satisfied customer to go in a brochure or advertisement, I would be happy to oblige.

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We had Smokey and his lovely family over for a gumbo dinner tonight, and this is what I made for dessert:

For those of you unfamiliar with crème brulée, you should make its acquaintance at the soonest possible moment.  The word decadent was coined for desserts like this.  It’s rich, silky smooth, and the crunchy shell of caramelized sugar on the top adds the perfect contrast.

This was the more traditional vanilla crème brûlée.  I was kind of experimenting on Smokey’s family, working on proper cooking times and temperatures, how to use whole vanilla beans, and how to get the caramelized sugar just right.  I don’t want to brag, but only because I don’t have to.  I took a picture (see above).  I even got the sugar how I want it, which is something I typically have trouble with; I usually end up with some sugar that doesn’t get toasted, and it doesn’t quite become the shell that I want it to.  My only complaint is that the vanilla flavor wasn’t as strong as I would have liked.  I cut my recipe in half to make four individual desserts instead of eight, so I only used half of a vanilla bean instead of the whole bean that the recipe called four.  Next time I think I’ll just use the whole thing and see what happens.

If you are a budding cook, crème brûlée is actually a lot easier to make than it looks.  You have to be a little delicate when you’re heating your cream and tempering the eggs, but other than that it’s not overly difficult.

And the end result is more than worth it.

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You would think that I’d have a better blog post after taking the day off work to take my son for a wellness check-up.  He’s healthy by the way.  The subject of this week’s random Wikipedia article is:

Disney-ABC Domestic Television.

I read through this article and I was reminded of the fact that I can’t even pretend to understand how business works.  It’s all so inter-connected it blows my mind.  Coincidentally, this is the second time I’ve thought of this recently.  The first was after my brother wrote this post, and I learned that Arby’s and Wendy’s were owned by the same company.

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It’s getting to be that time of year again.  Time for a shadowy organization of powerful men and women to choose for the whole world what they believe are the best movies.

That’s right!  This years list of Oscar nominees is out, and I’ve seen exactly two of the ten nominees for best picture.  Hopefully at least a few of these will be available through Netflix before the awards show so I can get at least a little caught up, but right now I’m pulling for either Toy Story 3 or Inception.

I do take pride in the fact that even at two I’ve seen more nominees for Oscars than I have for this years Razzies.

I enjoy watching the Oscars, if for nothing else than it gives me a nice, concise list of movies to try and watch.  Obviously they are not perfect judges of which movies are good and deserving of awards and which aren’t, but they’re still fun.

I still hold a grudge from when Children of Men didn’t win best picture in 2006.

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Courtesy of a gift certificate my in-laws gave us for Christmas, my wife and I were able to drop Gabe off with them and go away for Saturday and Sunday.  We stayed at Big Cedar Lodge just outside of Branson.  It’s a beautiful resort that sits on a hillside overlooking a lake.  There are little rivers and bridges all over the grounds, the lodges are rustic log cabins with a plethora of animal heads jutting out of the walls, a dusting of snow covered the ground, and the fireplace felt great.  We went shopping in Branson for a couple of hours when we arrived, but really most of our time was spent relaxing in our room, watching a movie or reading books.

And eating.  We did a lot of that.

We had a great lunch on the way up there at Neighbor’s Mill Bakery & Cafe in Harrison.   If you’re ever passing that way, I recommend taking the time to stop.  Their bread is fantastic.  That night we ate at the Devil’s Pool Restaurant at Big Cedar, and it was as good as ever.  But the highlight for me is always the Sunday brunch at Worman House, also on the resort grounds.  As evidence of the wondrous and diverse nature of this brunch, I found the following foods to eat: waffles, sausage, bacon, Caesar salad, fresh fruit, beef Wellington, grilled chicken over rice, boiled shrimp, white chocolate lime mousse, orange cream cheese bites, and waffles again.  They doesn’t even count all of the food I wasn’t able to eat, since I horribly stuffed myself by the end of waffle #2, or the chef cooking made to order omelets.  It’s a transcendental experience.  Weekends don’t really get better than this.

So what, you may be asking yourself, could have possibly dampened such a wonderful experience?

I left my pillow in the hotel room.

That may not sound so devastating to you, but that’s probably because you didn’t have the most perfectly comfortable memory foam pillow in the world.  It was a heartbreaking loss, and the flat, lifeless lump of cotton I condescended to use last night was a poor substitute.  Like having to trade in my friend Smokey for a stuffed giraffe (or vice-versa depending on your feelings towards Smokey and/or giraffes).  In retrospect, had I known this trip was going to cost me my wonderful pillow, I still would have gone.  It was that good of a trip.

But I’ll sure miss that pillow.

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