Tagged: geeking out

Cheap Kablet for your Kitchen Cabinet

It’s been some time since we’ve had a kitchen technology update, not since the the two-port usb kitchen, in fact. So pull up a chair and I’ll tell you more than you wanted to know about how I installed a dedicated kitchen tablet.

My people call them "tomahtoes"Every now and again, via some design, gadget or kitchen blog, I read about some fabulous new gizmo for using your ipad or other tablet in the kitchen. By and large these things make me laugh.

Specialized kitchen tablets seem foolishly overpriced and not all that specialized. Kitchen ipad holders are not so different from old-fashioned cookbook holders, just more expensive and sometimes far less well designed. Maybe these work for some folks, but I just don’t see it – mostly they seem to be terrible wastes of that most precious of kitchen resources, counter space.

If you’re going to have a tablet in the kitchen, it seems to me it should be mounted on the fridge or a wall or a cabinet, roughly at eye level as you work.

Hypothesis

So I hatched a plan: try out the idea of a kitchen tablet with a cheap android tablet and mount it to the cabinet door with by some means that will leave no trace when I move out. This device will carry a handful of apps that will make cooking and cleaning up in the kitchen a little more convenient and pleasant.

Hardware & Installation

I hit a minor snag as a surprising number of “white” tablets (of course it has to be white, the kitchen cabinets are white) have black bezels on the front. Ultimately, I settled on the expansively-named iRulu X1s -Quad Core 7″ Google Android Tablet, HD IPS Screen, Quad Core (4* 1.4Ghz), 1G RAM, 8G NAND Flash, Bluetooth, Android 4.4, Google Play Preinstalled, Hottest tablet for 2015 -(White) for $66 and picked up some Command Picture Hanging Strips too. These things, by the way, contain some seriously weird and wonderful material science.

These Command Picture Hanger things are amazing.

Knowing that I wasn’t likely to actually experience the advertised 3 hour battery life on this device, I planned to keep it plugged in at all times. Luckily, I found an open outlet inside a nearby cabinet – if you have a microwave or convection oven mounted above your cooktop, there’s a good chance it’s plugged in to an outlet installed nearby for that purpose. Unluckily, the white iRulu X1s comes with two white micro-usb dongles and one black micro-usb AC charger. At some point I’ll have to paint it white or cover it up with some white electrical tape or something.

Lucky for me there was an outlet in the upper cabinet

So there you have it, a small and cheap but fully-functional tablet just about at eye level above my primary prep space, the two feet or so of counter between the oven and the sink.

Breakfast of champions: toast with avocado and chia seeds, served with iced coffee in a peanut butter jar

Software & Apps

As cheap as this tablet was, it contains a slightly more recent version of Android than my phone, which cost a bit less than 10x as much. It also has a refreshing lack of the crud that mobile phone carriers glom on to their Android devices. These are the apps I’ve installed for kitchen use:

Kitchen Timer. There are a lot of timer apps, and I didn’t spend too much time shopping around. This one’s free, has two timers you can configure with different sounds, and if you ignore the ton of buttons on the left, it looks nice enough.

Kitchen Timer App

There are a ton of recipe and nutrition apps, but for now I’m skipping them. I downloaded Chrome (why is Google Chrome not installed by default as the browser on Google Android devices?) and will most likely view recipes and other info there.

Colcannon in Chrome (it was delicious)

For shopping list management, I was already using Wunderlist on both my laptop and phone so that whenever I actually remembered something I needed, I could quickly add it to the list and have that list in my hand at the store. Accessing the list in the kitchen seems like good sense.

The other killer kitchen app, at least for me, is audio. There’s already a radio in there perma-tuned to NPR, but sometimes what’s on is not what you’re in the mood for. I added Google Play Music and NPR One. I thought the hardware would let me down on audio, especially since the tiny speaker is on the back of the device that I just mounted to the cabinet door, but the air gap created by the mounting strips seems to be just enough. It’s not hi-fi but it’s good enough for the setting.

Kablet Home Screen

And finally, in case my meal plans go down the drain, perhaps literally, there’s Foodler. I made a point of not setting up mail and instant messaging clients, but of course one could.

Summary of Findings

For well under $100, I’m pretty proud of this kablet. I can definitely see how a larger screen would be helpful, as scrolling while cooking is a bit of a drag. The cheap tablet is, well, cheap, and I’d be a little worried about how well it would hold up as a child’s tablet – neither build quality nor computing horsepower would likely be up to the task – but it seems quite sufficient for the limited role I’ve assigned it.

Having the grocery list always right there in the kitchen might be the most life-changing part of this install, since I’m prone to completely forgetting that I used the last egg the instant I leave the kitchen.  I’ve cooked up a few meals already with the recipe on screen while using the timer and music apps, and it’s working well. It turns out that music helps make washing dishes easier, too.

If I were the owner of this kitchen and handier with tools, I could see possibly mounting the kablet permanently in the cabinet door, and definitely running the power cable through some holes to get it out of sight.

I’m not a very messy cook and the tablet is probably far enough from the stovetop and sink to get splashed or spattered, but maybe a layer of plastic wrap would be a smart addition to the setup. I’m not about to buy a fancy kitchen ipad stylus, but I will report back at some point if vegetarian sausage can activate a capacitive touch screen.

Fun-sized statistics that melt in your mouth

I’m told that there are treatments available for those of us who are compelled like to count and sort our candy by color before eating it. I can stop any time I want, of course, but today’s fun-sized pack of M&Ms gave me pause.

This Unit Not Labeled for Individual Retail Sale

No yellow. There’s a yellow guy on the package, but he’s a peanut M&M. Do the regular chocolate ones still come in yellow? Yes, they do, but not in this pack. What are the odds?

Well, assuming that the little packages are filled from an effectively bottomless vat of M&Ms representing the official color distribution (24% blue, 14% brown, 16% green, 20% orange, 13% red, and 14% yellow) and that every fun-sized pack has 17 candies like this one, the odds of no yellow should be (1-p(yellow))^17, or 0.84^17, which is about 5.16%.

In a much more rigorous and costly investigation, the estimable Josh Madison bought 48 packages (larger than mine, each had an average of 55 candies) of M&Ms and ran the numbers. No word on the number of pepcid tablets he needed, but not one of this 48 bags was bereft of any single color. Madison did, however, find that the actual distribution in his sample was not so close to the published ratio, with a lot less blue and more of all the others, especially green.

On the off chance that you’re still with me, I bet you’re wondering, “ok, professor chocoholic OCD, is there something I can use here?” Well, I think there are two ideas worth remembering if you’re in the business of counting or estimating or forecasting things:

Size Matters. Sample size, that is. If you based your view of the M&M world on my single 17-candy packet, you’d have a pretty messed up view of reality. If you used one of Josh’s 55-candy packs, you’d be a lot better off, but even with 48 such packs, you’d have only partially cracked the code.

Seemingly Rare Events aren’t always as rare as you think. Intuitively, a small pack of M&Ms missing a color feels like a rare thing – how often have you seen it? But the math puts it at 5%, one pack in 20. Huge businesses are built on the preferences of market segments smaller than 5% of the population. The United States contains about 4.5% of the world’s people.  And sometimes rare events are even rarer than you think. What are the odds of picking up a fun-sized pack that’s all blue (the most common color by the official stats)? Do you think that would be 100 times rarer, maybe 10,000 times less common than no yellow? How about 0.0000000029% or about 1 all-blue pack in 34 billion, compared to 1 pack in 5 for yellow-deficiency? If all 400 million M&Ms made each day were put into 17-candy packs, they’d make only 8.5 billion packs a year. That would be a rare event.

The odds of a rare event happening are 1.0 after it happens. No matter how crazy it might seem, events with long odds can happen, and once they happen, they have happened. You could choose to believe something’s not right in your calculations or in the world, and you’d probably be smart to check. But once the all-blue pack is in your hands, there it is. Just remember that the odds of getting another one are just as small as they were before.

So think hard next time you put M&Ms into some kid’s trick or treat bag. Who knows what might happen?

Three and a half hours in a single step, more at the pole

We all know that parallel lines never meet, and it’s convenient to think of the lines of longitude and timezones as parallel, but they really aren’t. The former because they’re inscribed on the (more or less) spherical Earth, and the latter because they’re entirely made up, a construct of how we measure time. This trippy insight, acquired whilst contemplating the stunning entirely of Bruce Myren’s 40th Parallel project at Gallery Kayafas, led me to some interesting trivia about time zones.

Also, I was trying to sort out lead assignment for various shifts of telesales reps, but that’s a lot less interesting.

Leaving aside the puzzlement that is the International Date Line, it turns out there are places where you can travel more than one timezone at once, and relatedly, places where three timezones converge at a single point.

Take for example the convergence of Norway, Finland, and Russia. At that point you can hop from UTC +1 in Norway, UTC +2 in Finland, and UTC +3 in Russia, if the border guards let you. There are some similar spots in the middle of Russia, if you want to do the Time Warp without crossing international boundaries. The CIA has an awesome timezone map available in PDF, from which these are clipped:

Three timezones in the North Lots of timezones to the West of China

China has just one time zone from end to end, even though in neighboring counties, that span covers several time zones. So when leaving China to the West, you can go jump back two hours to Kazakstan, three to Kyrgyz-, Tajiki- and/or Pakistan, or even three and a half hours, to Afghanistan via the treacherous Wakhjir Pass. The web of timezones that are more or less than a whole hour from their neighbors make South and Central Asia even more confusing.

I thought that 3.5 hours was the biggest jump possible, and wikipedia says it is in the above linked article, but I think it’s more complicated that that. Around the South pole, in Antarctica, in theory all time zones would converge on that point, but that would be very tricky on a practical level.

It turns out that various parts of Antarctica observe a range of time zones from UTC -6 through UTC +12, and the borders of these zones could cause some even bigger jumps in time for people there, if they were ever to traverse those frozen boundaries.

Time in Antarctica, via Wikipedia

I got a headache (and maybe brain freeze) looking at this, but I think you can gain or lose at least ten hours going in and out of the inland zone, which is oddly labeled “Vostok” which I’m pretty sure means “East” in Russian (Восток). Which way is East at the South pole?? Without even opening the can of worms that is Daylight Saving Time, let’s just say you’re going to need more watches than you wore back in the 80s.

Not confused enough? Check out the largest island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island. If you’re already there, please send me a postcard!

Rooting for an e-ink tablet

I’ve been a huge fan of E ink for ten years now.  I visited the company’s Cambridge office back when I was in business school and was very impressed with the technology.   So when the original Kindle hit the market a couple of years ago, I was very interested.  Not interested enough at that price, but soon enough competition and innovation brought us the Nook and touch screens and front-lights and more.  But they were still just ebook readers, and readers that locked you into their makers’ stores.  And that’s why their prices have fallen so far, too.

Recent versions of these devices have been based on the Android OS, and that has opened them up to rooting and other monkeying around.  So I figured with the release of the Kindle Paperwhite, I might catch a cast-off Nook GlowLight on the cheap and see what I could hack out of it.

An ebay auction, a few google searches, some downloads, a micro SD card and complete willingness to brick the gadget all added up to this:

Not bad, eh?  Well, there are some clear pros and cons I can see from using the device for just a couple of days:

Pro:

  • I’ve got a wifi tablet running Android for under $100
  • It’s nice and light, easy to hold, and the battery lasts a long long time
  • I can still use the native Nook software, including the GlowLight thing (it works during regular Android operation, not only when reading Nook books)
  • It was pretty easy to do, and if you didn’t ignore the bit about making a backup (I would certainly never do that!), pretty easy to undo if you change your mind

Con:

  • The Android OS is stuck at version 2.1 and not quite all the stuff works
  • Many apps are not available because of the old version, don’t work right for whatever reason, or are simply unusable because…
  • The display is really not good for tasks involving color, scrolling, animation… much of anything besides reading black text on white or vice versa – it’s pretty low-contrast and has a very slow refresh
  • Although it can run the Kindle software (ha!), it won’t run my killer app, Google Books (but you can export Google Books to epub files and pull them into the Nook)
  • Things you’ve come to expect in a phone/tablet – GPS, auto-rotation to landscape mode when you turn the device, sound, vibration for haptic feedback – are just not present

In short, it was a fun project, but it’s not really the ultra-light, battery-sipping, cool monochrome tablet I envisioned when I first got to see e-ink technology.  And I’m guessing that nobody really wants to build such a thing for a few weirdos like me.  After all, you can get a regular  7″ Android tablet with color, sound and an up to date OS for about $200.

Mappy diversion: the 40th parallel, Ana Ng’s Peruvian lover, and globe-spanning sandwiches

I’m back from a trip almost halfway around the world in terms of longitude, but a pretty short hop in latitude. A weather diversion on the way over brought me to Oklahoma City airport, what would have been my second time ever setting foot on Oklahoma soil, but as you may have the misfortune to know, a “diversion” means you don’t get off the plane, at least not until the passenger bill of rights two hour limit expires.

That’s the long way around to say, I thought perhaps I was near the 40th parallel, the subject of the estimable Bruce Myren’s photo project and kickstarter campaign, which is widgetized at right. I was off by at least five degrees of latitude, which shows my level of familiarity with the middle of this country.

Which brings us back to maps. (Bet you didn’t see that coming) Here’s another clip from the Great Circle Mapper, which I touted some time ago. They’ve made some spiffy improvements. I often think of flights to Asia from the central USA as going “over the pole” but it seems that this one didn’t even break the arctic circle. Of course, the great circles mapped are the most direct routes, not necessarily the actual flight paths.

That’s a good 15,000 miles and will likely leave me soulless for almost two weeks. Thoughts of global mapping also bring me back to a vintage limeduck post where I wondered about the places alluded to in TMBG’s Ana Ng:

Make a hole with a gun perpendicular
To the name of this town in a desktop globe
Exit wound in a foreign nation
Showing the home of the one this was written for

These places, I’ve learned, are called antipodes, and it turns out that it’s pretty unlikely that any town in the continental USA has a dry land antipode. If we assume that Ana Ng is in Vietnam, then the song’s narrator could be in Peru. Locating Ana in various other parts of Asia can put the singer in other parts of South America, but with more than 2/3 the globe covered in water, there just aren’t that many inhabitable antipodes. So you don’t have to shoot your globe. Kudos to the smarties at Free Map Tools and Antipode Map for making this sort of cutting-edge research so easy, and also to the ever-alert Strange Maps blog.

In case anybody is still reading, I’ve got to bring up one more map-related wonder, the Earth Sandwich. According to Ze Frank, the creator (discoverer?) of the Earth Sandwich, “An EARTH SANDWICH is created when two slices of bread are simultaneously placed on opposite sides of the EARTH.” An excellent bookend to TMBG’s ballistic approach to antipodes, I think. If you happen to be reading this on a boat in the Indian Ocean Southwest of Australia and have bread and cheese, I propose we create the first Earth Grilled Cheese Sandwich.