January 31, 2008

Awful Infomercial Of The Week

The infomercial is entertaining enough, but the Ellen Degeneres show piece is priceless.

January 30, 2008

Proof that the Mars photos are fake (and that bigfoot is real)

1. Go and grab the Mars panorama from NASA.
2. Open it up in Photoshop or equivalent.
3. Delete the black background:

4. Crop out the obviously fake spacecraft:

5. Now you have nothing but land and sky.

6. Use "Auto Levels" to fix the obvious problem with the white balance and contrast.

7. Yes, that's right, the sky turned blue! Zoom in (left foreground) and check out Bigfoot.
Clearly these pictures were taken in the Canadian desert, then manipulated to look like they were taken on the Red Planet.

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January 22, 2008

You too can have great espresso at home

Around Christmas, my household got a super-auto espresso machine. For the uneducated, that's a machine that takes coffee beans and water in one end, and produces espresso at the other end (it also complains occasionally about being dirty; cleaning is easy).
The machine in question was a Saeco Incanto Sirius (no link provided, because I don't want to encourage you to buy it). After making a few adjustments, it was producing respectable shots of espresso. The cleaning process wasn't too bad. It produced tolerable hot water and steam when requested. Unfortunately, it had a bad flow sensor (apparently a common problem on this model) which made it refuse to do anything at all for days at a time. Thankfully Costco has a no-questions-asked return policy, and back it went.

I went back to researching machines, since this model was no longer available for the crazy-low price I paid. Eventually I decided that an old-school machine would suffice. The grinding and tamping thing isn't that bad, you know. I settled on a Rancilio Sylvia with accompanying Rocky grinder. I got them from Great Infusions in Santa Cruz (Sebastian, the owner, offers a load of useful free stuff if you buy both machines).

What I found interesting is that the coffee I get from Sylvia is consistently better than the best shot I ever got from the super-auto. I'm using the same beans (Peet's Espresso Forte) but the shots are hotter, better extracted, and have better crema. I have yet to learn to produce art-quality foamed milk, though.

The amount I paid for the Sirius was about the same as my new setup (within $10) so I am convinced that the convenience of a super-auto is not worth the quality and reliability penalty. Sylvia's electronics are simple and reliable (3 thermostats, 4 switches, a heater and a pump) but a super-auto has all kinds of sensors and computer controls to go wrong.

And, to top it all, Sylvia appears to be very hackable.

Update: a coworker tells me I should roast my own coffee too.

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January 10, 2008


GREYCstoration lets you remove unwanted objects from photos, and magically infills the gaps. Also does noise reduction. Good for removing zoo cages.

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