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Cooking for nerds

You are a nerd. I know that be­cause you are read­ing my blog. You prob­a­bly don't cook. That is stupid. Let me ex­plain why.

Cooking is easy

You may be in­tim­i­dat­ed by those who cook and make it look com­pli­cat­ed. Don't be­lieve a word they say. You can cook a per­fect­ly fine meal for 1 to 4 peo­ple in half an hour.

For ex­am­ple, if you have dry pas­ta, any kind of pro­tein (chick­en, seafood, ground beef, sausages, chori­zo, fish, what­ev­er), a bouil­lon cube (veg­eta­bles, beef, what­ev­er), gar­lic, onion and/or any­thing like it, and a glass of wine (op­tion­al) you can cook it like risot­to

And here's the best part: read that recipe, and here's all you need to know to cook it:

  • Toast the dry pas­­ta in kin­­da hot oil (o­live oil if you have it, or what­ev­er).

  • Add chopped onion­s, gar­lic, pep­pers (or what­ev­er) for 3 min­utes.

  • Add 1/2 cup of wine (it says white, but red wine will work, it will just make it taste "heav­ier" and change the colour). If you don't have wine, use broth. Wait two min­utes or so un­til it's al­­most dry.

  • Add broth slow­­ly while stir­ring.

  • When the pas­­ta is still kin­­da hard, stop adding broth, add pro­tein (chopped small so it cooks com­­plete­­ly) and a bit more broth and lemon juice (or not).

Or you can do this:

  • Sauteé onion­s, gar­lic what­ev­er and pro­tein, then put it aside and save it.

  • In the same oil, toast the pas­­ta. This makes the pas­­ta tasti­er.

  • Re-add the pro­tein and veg­­e­ta­bles, then add wine and broth slow­­ly

  • When the pas­­ta is the way you like it, eat it.

See what I did there? I did it al­most ex­act­ly the oth­er way around. And you know what? It's still go­ing to taste good. Why? Be­cause cook­ing is very fault tol­er­an­t.

Yes, you will hear all the time about the per­fect point for this, and the per­fect sea­son­ing for that, and ... it's 90% bull­shit.

Sure, if you over­cook the pas­ta it's go­ing to be sog­gy crap, but you can avoid that by be­ing min­i­mal­ly vig­i­lant about it and buy­ing a freak­ing $4 kitchen timer

Cooking is fun

Once you get over the no­tion that it's hard, cook­ing is easy to en­joy.

If you have a kid, he can help. If you have a spouse, he/she will like that you are tak­ing care of the meal.

It's great for un­wind­ing af­ter be­ing stressed. Strange­ly, chop­ping gar­lic re­lax­es me.

Have a mi­crowave and a 3 year old? Then you can do this:

In one bowl mix:

  • Two beat­­en eggs

  • Add vanil­la (or don't)

  • Add a bit of but­ter (or veg­­etable oil)

In an­oth­er bowl:

  • 1 cup of reg­u­lar al­l-pur­­pose flour (or whole wheat flour)

  • a bit of bak­ing pow­der

  • a bit of salt

  • half a cup of sug­­ar

In one of those bowls add some­thing else. If it's moist, add it with the eggs and such, if it's dry, add it with the flour and such.

That "some­thing else" can be choco­late chip­s, wal­nut­s, shred­ded car­rot, ba­nanas, sliced ap­ples, jam, what­ev­er.

Once each bowl is mixed, mix them to­geth­er a bit un­til they "mesh". Don't work it too hard or the re­sult will suck.

Then get two (or three, or one, or four) mugs (or cup­s, or muf­fin trays, or any­thing that's mi­crowave-safe) and fill it half-way with the re­sult­ing bat­ter.

Mi­crowave it un­til it looks good, then eat it. If you are not sure if it's cooked, stick a wood­en tooth­pick in it and see if it's dry when you pull it.

Your 3 year old can take care of the dry bowl (he does sim­i­lar things in kinder­garten, you know?) as long as you help with the mea­sures. And most im­por­tant­ly: he can take care of start­ing the mi­crowave, so tec­ni­cal­ly he can say he cooked it (3 year olds are very in­to tech­ni­cal­i­ties).

Again, see what I did with that recipe? You can re­place al­most any in­gre­di­ent with some­thing else (I don't rec­om­mend not us­ing eggs, though) And it will prob­a­bly work.

And you will end with a flour-­cov­ered kid, which is a bonus, be­cause then he won't make a fuss about his bath.

Cooking is good for you

I have high blood pres­sure and I'm fat. But you know what? I have not gained any weight since I start­ed cook­ing for my­self, 10 years ago. I gained a lot be­fore that, though.

Now I can cook semi-healthy food for me, and do it with the low sodi­um I need. Sodi­um is a habit, so af­ter you are eat­ing low sodi­um for a few weeks you don't re­al­ly miss it.

If you are a nerd, you prob­a­bly are a bit too seden­tary, so eat­ing "right" will help you.

And most im­por­tant­ly, you know what you eat. Sure, you al­so need to take care of what in­gre­di­ents you buy, but did you know that piz­za has a like 400% markup? And that you can do a rea­son­ably healthy piz­za in, like, 40 min­utes of work?

The on­ly trick is start­ing 3 or 4 hours ear­ly.

But if you use home­-­made dough, chopped toma­toes for sauce, gar­lic, pep­per­s, and not too much cheese... it's not a ter­ri­bly un­healthy meal.

And of course, you can al­ways do a sal­ad. Come on, how hard could that be? It's chop­ping things up and pil­ing them, dude!

And it can be tasty and fill­ing. You just need to do a lot of it ;-)

Cooking is cheap

A mi­lane­sa (sort of a bread­ed steak?) in a cheap restau­rant wil cost you about $25. For that mon­ey you can make 7 or 8 at home.

A good piece of prime meat in a restau­ran­t? $50. That buys 2 pounds of prime meat in the mar­ket for you to cook.

A rea­son­able lunch menu for of­fice work­ers costs about $30. For that mon­ey my fam­i­ly of 3 eats twice. And bet­ter. And more.

You can make your­self the most awe­some sand­wich in the world for un­der $10, with any­thing you imag­ine in it and take it to the of­fice.

And, most im­por­tant­ly...

Cooking is Applied Nerdiness

Cook­ing gives you a way to eas­i­ly ex­per­i­ment with re­al-life chem­istry, gives you some­thing con­crete to show for your ef­fort af­ter a whole day cod­ing things you can't re­al­ly show your fam­i­ly.

Why does ham taste well with apri­cots and not with ap­ples? Or does it? How about chili? Does it go well with sour cream? How about pep­per on a straw­ber­ry?

But for­get about adding: What can you re­move from a recipe and still make it work? What can you re­place? If you can make ba­nana bread, can you make ba­nana crois­sants? (no you can't, they taste awe­some but they look ghast­ly)

How can you go through life with­out won­der­ing if you can re­al­ly cook fish with just lemon juice? Ex­act­ly how long do you cook rice in your mi­crowave so it looks creamy and taste great with­out re­mov­ing ex­cess liq­uid? Did you know you can steam 2 pounds of pota­toes in 10 min­utes with a plas­tic bowl and some plas­tic film, and they will make the most awe­some mashed pota­toes you ev­er tast­ed?

Your kitchen is an awe­some place. In­stant noo­dles suck.

Mind blown!

There's a re­al­ly awe­some thread at Red­dit called "What's the most mind-blow­ing fact you heard/read in your life?" where com­menters are post­ing well... that.

It's a great read! But there are a few here and there that are a bit un­de­serv­ing of the ti­tle, be­cause they are just wrong :-)

Here are a cou­ple from the be­gin­ning of the thread (it's got over 4000 posts now).

"There has been no ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing the uni­verse is not fi­nite. If we as­sume the uni­ver­site is in­finite, then it is cer­tain that ev­ery sin­gle pos­si­ble com­bi­na­tion of events has hap­pened some­where in the gal­axy. In an al­ter­nate area, all of hu­man his­to­ry is the same, ex­cept you don't de­cide to post this thread. With cer­tain­ty."


Be­yond con­fus­ing the gal­axy with the uni­verse, let's think this a bit.

It's fun­ny, but I re­mem­ber read­ing some­thing like "if the uni­verse is in­fi­nite then ev­ery­thing that is pos­si­ble has cer­tain­ly hap­pened some­where" in a cheap sci­fy book­let maybe 30 years ago.

In that sto­ry, that rea­son­ing was used to jus­ti­fy a naked cy­clops that walked in space, IIR­C. It was found by a star­ship called SKY-11111. If any­one has read that sto­ry, he has my sim­pa­thy (I should write about how hard it was to read sci­fi when I was a kid, beg­gars can't be chooser­s!)

But the prob­lem here is just a ba­sic mis­un­der­stand­ing of prob­a­bil­i­ty.

Let me ex­plain with an ex­am­ple: Con­sid­er the odds of some­one spend­ing a year flip­ping a fair coin and get­ting "head­s" ev­ery time. That's some­thing very un­like­ly. Let's call that prob­a­bil­i­ty P1.

Now, let's con­sid­er the prob­a­bil­i­ty of "there has nev­er ev­er been a per­son that flipped a fair coin for a year get­ting on­ly 'head­s', and there nev­er will be", and call that P2.

Now, if the uni­verse is large, P1 will grow. As there are more peo­ple, there is a larg­er chance of some­one de­cid­ing to waste a year and then there is a tiny chance of him be­ing in­cred­i­bly ... (well, not luck­y, see how he spent his year!) but let's say, con­sis­ten­t? And get­ting heads all year.

What the heck, let's say P1 is now 50%, so it's not even un­likey.

But that means P2 is al­so 50%, since it's true ex­act­ly as of­ten as P1 is false.

Now, which one of these two things will hap­pen "With cer­tain­ty"? See? Like­ly is not the same as sure, un­like­ly is not the same as im­pos­si­ble, and adding an in­fin­i­ty does­n't do the trick here.

So, re­al­ly, even if the uni­verse is in­finite, and even if it were crowd­ed with peo­ple, there are lots and lots of things that are nev­er go­ing to hap­pen.

I find that more mind­blow­ing than the orig­i­nal, but that's just me.

Here's a sim­pler one:

If you took all of the sil­ver the Span­ish mined from Cer­ro Ri­co, you could build a bridge from Po­to­si, Bo­livi­a, to Spain. If you took the bones of all the In­di­ans (about eight mil­lion) who died in the mi­nes, you could build an­oth­er bridge back to Po­to­si from Spain. Cer­ro Ri­co has been so thor­ough­ly mined that there is an en­tire moun­tain next to it of the rub­ble ex­tract­ed from it. The In­di­ans call this sec­ond one "the moun­tain that weep­s."


Here I am guess­ing he is great­ly over­es­ti­mat­ing the amount of sil­ver ex­tract­ed from Cer­ro Ri­co.

Spain is rough­ly 8800km away from Cer­ro Ri­co. A 2-me­ter wide path, 20cm thick would mean 3520000 cu­bic me­ters of ma­te­ri­al­s. That's much much less than a bridge would use.

Cer­ro Ri­co is about 4800 me­ters tal­l.

So, this means the ma­te­ri­al for that path would be enough to build a col­umn with square base 27 me­ters wide, and as tall as Cer­ro Ri­co, of pure sil­ver.

That would be, con­sid­er­ing sil­ver has a spe­cif­ic weight of 10490... 36924800000000 kilo­grams of sil­ver. That is... well, that's a lot of sil­ver.

How much sil­ver? Well, in dol­lars, that would be $27508976000000000

In any case, the thread is great fun, and ev­ery­one who has, say, a young kid should read bits of it ... with a skep­tic eye open ;-)

No, 10/10/10 is not that special, either

To­day is 10/10/10 (or rather 10/10/2010 which does­n't look so cute, right?) and again there's a flood of "this on­ly hap­pens ev­ery 100 years! OMG!".

At least this time it's cor­rec­t. How­ev­er:

How of­ten is 10/11/10 go­ing to hap­pen? How of­ten did yes­ter­day's 10/9/10? Ev­ery 100 years, too. In fac­t, ev­ery date writ­ten in that for­mat will hap­pen once ev­ery 100 years, be­cause that's the way dates work!

Oh, you may say, the spe­cial part is that the three num­bers are the same, sil­ly!

But then again, last year we had 9/9/9 and next year we'll have 11/11/11 (much cool­er than 10/10/10!) so ... no, not that spe­cial.

OTO­H, to­day (at 10P­M) my kid and I will see the first ev­er episode of Ben10 Ul­ti­mate Alien (hey, 5 10s!) for the first time and that... well, that has nev­er hap­pened be­fore, and will nev­er hap­pen again. That, friend­s, is spe­cial.

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