What's in a pint?

Posted in Beer on March 19th, 2015 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
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Clearly marked pint lines on one of my favorite glasses: Great British Beer Festival 2013

Clearly marked pint, half-pint, and third-pint lines on one of my favorite glasses: Great British Beer Festival 2013

In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to sell a pint of beer with less than 568mL of liquid. This corresponds to 20 imperial ounces, which is about 19.2 US ounces. Similarly, "half pints" must contain no less than 284mL, and "third pints" no less than 189.3mL. To enforce this law, pubs in the UK serve beers in marked glasses, with clear lines that show at what point a pint has been reached. There are inspections. There are regulators. There are customers who politely ask for a "top up" when this line isn't met. And as a result, this line is met. Customers who expect a pint receive an imperial pint at a minimum.

The United States Treasury, through powers granted by Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, defined, in 1832, a gallon as 231 cubic inches. As part of the US Code obligations, every state has, on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce, a complete set of "weights and measures," that include a gallon and divisions thereof: half gallons, quarts, pints, half pints, and gills. Thus, a pint, according to US law, is 28.875 cubic inches, or precisely 16 US ounces (473mL).

And yet, when you buy a pint of beer in this country, there is no guarantee that you will get those 16 ounces. In fact the opposite is true: thanks to under-pouring and misleading glassware, you are likely to get much less.

The "standard American shaker pint" glass, the kind you probably think of as a pint glass, holds exactly 16 ounces. Exactly. No room for spillage, and in fact, pour a tall boy of beer into one and you'll note a "reverse miniscus" of liquid, as surface tension keeps the liquid from pouring over the side. But when was the last time you were served, at a bar, a nearly-overflowing glass of beer? When standard shaker pints are used, you're much more likely to receive around fourteen ounces of beer, accounting for head and empty space to prevent (or caused by) spillage.

And yet the problem compounds further: bantam-weight shaker pints, which have thicker walls, a much thicker floor, and are commonly used with a stainless steel Boston shaker to shake cocktails, hold a maximum of 14 ounces of liquid. Again, this is exact. Any more than 14 ounces, and that surface tension will break, sending liquid spilling over the side. And today, many bars have switched from the already questionable American shaker pint to that bantam-weight shaker pint, meaning that once you account for head and spillage, you're likely receiving only around 12 ounces when you ask for a pint. A 25% discount in liquid that surely is not represented in the price.

As it happens, the State of Texas actually does have a law that deals with this, but the Department of Agriculture, responsible for its enforcement, apparently focuses entirely on its application to fuel pumps. The relevant section that should be applied to bars and restaurants that under-serve is Section 13.035(b)(2): "A person violates this chapter if the person represents the price or the quantity of a commodity, item, or service sold or offered or exposed for sale in a manner intended or tending to mislead or deceive an actual or prospective customer."

I think it's time for this state, and any other state that has similar laws, to begin enforcement of this. The law provides for a fine for every infraction, and I think it's time that those fines be levied. States that don't have similar laws ought to legislate thusly. The customer is being cheated, lied to, and this is a disgrace. I'd like to see marked pint glasses that clearly and correctly show where liquid reaches 16 ounces. I'd like to see the demise of both the American shaker pint and its even more devious bantam-weight cousin as serving vessels. And I'd like to see establishments stop cheating customers, be it through good conscience or through proper application of consumer protection laws.

But it also requires action from the customers. Demand a full pint. Demand top-ups to get to 16 ounces when American shaker pints are used, and stop patronizing establishments that cheat you out of volume. Order cans or 12-ounce bottles and ask for a pint glass, to demonstrate the embarrassing pour that occurs when bantam-weight shaker pints are used. This cheating needs to end, but it'll take a lot of work for us to get our full pour.

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The Wonderful World of Stadium Naming Rights!

Posted in Sports and Games on February 13th, 2015 by Nathan – 1 Comment
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When I was a kid, the Astros and Oilers played in the Astrodome, and the Rockets and Aeros played in the Summit. Today, the Oilers are no more, the Aeros are no more, the Astros play in Minute Maid Park, the Rockets play in the Toyota Center, and the Texans play in NRG Stadium.

In between my childhood and now, Houston has been graced by even more names: the Astros went from the Astrodome to the Ballpark at Union Station to Enron Field to MMP. (Those last three being the same location.) The Rockets and Aeros went from the Summit to the Compaq Center to the Toyota center. (Those first two being the same location.) And the Texans began life at Reliant Stadium before NRG Stadium. (Yes, those are also the same location.)

Naming rights are fascinating to me when I consider this: as a child, every stadium I knew was unnamed, an advertisement for sports only, yet today, I see cars, juice, and electricity. And in traveling, I find that there's fewer and fewer unnamed sports complexes. My uncle once took me to see games at both Cowboys Stadium and the Ballpark at Arlington, but those are now gone, and their teams instead play at AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park in Arlington. Even while in college, I watched as Shea Stadium was replaced by Citi Field. The unnamed building is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Given this, I decided to do some simple research to answer some questions. What industries are most prevalent in naming rights? Does that differ by sport? What stadiums/arenas/ballparks still don't have paid naming rights and what are they named for? Etc. Here's what I've found:

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Links to full size images: MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, Overall. And the data I used (excel format).

  • Outside of the MLB, there's very few places that haven't sold naming rights. Fully one-third of MLB ballparks have avoided doing so, but the other three sports combine to produce the same number (ten: two in the NBA, six in the NFL, and three in the NHL).
  • Financial institutions hold the most naming rights (twenty-one overall), followed closely by Tech/Communications (fourteen), Insurance (eleven), and Retail/Consumer Goods (eleven).
  • There are two Casinos, one in the NBA and one in the NHL, that have naming rights, yet sports gambling is illegal in most of the country.
  • There's something called a Scotiabank Saddledome.
  • When the Dallas Mavericks played the Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals, American Airlines won. Both teams play at AA-branded arenas.
  • Of the twenty venues without naming rights, six are named for a team owner, six are named for the team itself, three for a place, three as a memorial, and two just as a pleasant flourish (The Palace of Auburn Hills and Arrowhead Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs play).
  • There are some interesting choices in the non-Finance/Retail/Insurance sectors. For example, four NBA stadiums/NHL arenas have airline naming rights, yet there are no airlines in any other sport. Similarly, the MLB has five Food/Beverage ballparks (Coors, Minute Maid, Miller, Busch, Tropicana), whereas the other sports combine for three (NBA: Pepsi, NBA/NHL: Smoothie King; NFL: Heinz).
  • And finally, in case you were unsure just how much of a scam for-profit colleges are, in 2006, University of Phoenix (which, it should be noted, has a higher student-loan-default rate than graduation rate) paid $154.5 million for twenty years of naming rights for the Arizona Cardinals' stadium.
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If I were to apply for a Stanford MBA

Posted in Ridiculum on January 7th, 2015 by Nathan – 1 Comment
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"What matters most to you, and why?" – Stanford MBA Application

Triumph over social injustice is a theme that is often discussed in response to questions such as these; many think that equality begins with equal treatment, that acknowledging privilege can go a long way toward solving incongruities between groups. Personally, I agree with this, but believe privilege extends beyond just action or behavior and into language itself. Take for instance the words "savage" and "barbarian," both often used in the past to disparage groups (often groups native to an area reached by conquering peoples) and therefore to view them as "lesser" not only within the confines of action (imprisonment, enslavement, etc.) but also within language itself.

Language is of course crucial to the development of culture, society, and behavior; the way people talk informs their attitudes. Thus the label "barbarian" allows one to justify maltreatment. While on its face it only means "someone from a foreign land," the implication, and therefore the accepted and understood meaning, is one of low intelligence, one who is rude and wild. In short, a "barbarian" would lack the social graces to answer this question eloquently, or perhaps would even lack the complexity of thought to formulate any response at all.

But I personally believe that such labels are not only unreasonable (and perhaps an indication of rude, wild thought themselves) but a relic of an archaic time in which social injustice was not only omnipresent, but acceptable as well. Today, I believe, while injustice persists, the desire to stamp it out is nearly universal. Allowing labels to persist through our language is not only hurtful toward those that are labeled but toward this goal as well. We have, as a society that desires equality, an obligation to drive these labels out of our language, out of our speech, out of our minds, and perhaps to honor those who have been unfairly labeled in the past.

So, "what matters most to you, and why?" I think it's time to give voice to the answer provided by a great man who was himself thusly labeled.

"Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women." – Conan the "Barbarian"

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How I Ordered Taco Bell on My Phone

Posted in Reviews on October 30th, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
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The glorious tacos & cinnamon twistsOrdering food online is not a foreign concept to me – I've ordered pizza delivery à la Sandra Bullock in The Net and I've used the Seamless app on occasion. A phone call and a web interface are nearly the same when the end result is food delivery coupled with payment via credit card.

So when my friend Ryan mentioned that Chick-Fil-A had an app, but would not be entering the delivery business, I was confused, skeptical, and intrigued.

In the course of the ensuing conversation, I learned that CFA was not alone: many other non-delivery fast food chains have apps. And Taco Bell became the latest newcomer with their app release yesterday.

After reading about Taco Bell's app concept, I knew I had to give it a whirl. Having not been to a Taco Bell in ages (probably at least a decade), I had even more reason to anticipate the experience: I could finally try the Doritos Locos tacos.

Using the app is a breeze. You have the option of logging in with a new account or connecting to Facebook, but unlike most services, you can also use the app as a "guest," saving no preferences, no favorites, and no payment data. This is a welcome option, and I was happy to use it.

After tapping "guest," I was immediately brought to a screen with a few menu sections: Breakfast (apparently this is a thing Taco Bell now offers), Tacos, Burritos, something called "Cantina Power," etc. I tapped "Tacos" and found myself on a screen with a map of Manhattan, showing me the nearby Taco Bell locations.

I tapped the closest one and was greeted by an unpleasant message: "This location does not offer mobile ordering." I tried the next one and received the same message. Hoping I wasn't doomed to end this experiment prematurely, I tried the last option within a reasonable distance and was rewarded! The taco menu appeared.

Essentially, the menu is a mobile version of the Jack in the Box kiosk I once encountered midway on a trip to San Antonio. You can customize every part of your order – more meat, more sour cream, more tomatoes, pico de gallo instead of cheese, etc. The options are nearly limitless!

I ordered three tacos: Cool Ranch, Nacho Cheese, and "Fiery." All supreme. And, in a nod to my childhood, I also ordered Cinnamon Twists. I put my credit card info in (three supreme tacos and cinnamon twists run you $10.32, which is a stupidly low price and a pretty solid indicator of why obesity is so rampant in this country) and was greeted by a friendly message telling me my food would not be prepared until I was close to the "restaurant."

I left the bar a short time later, hopped on a subway, and as I got off, my phone buzzed. An indication from the app told me that I was within 500 feet and asked if they should prepare my order. I tapped "take out" and a minute later, walked in the door. Ten seconds after finding the "mobile app pickup line" (which consisted of me), I was handed two bags, containing my full order. No receipt – that was emailed to me. Almost no human interaction – just a confirmation that I was indeed the techno-futurist simultaneously ordering food online and hastening the obsolescence of the man handing me the bags.

The tacos themselves were as I'd expect: freaking delicious but basically the worst things I've eaten in a long time. My stomach this morning regrets my decision, and even the excitement of the cinnamon twists (and they were as good as I remember) will make it unlikely that I return anytime soon. Having spent a few hours at a tap takeover before eating probably helped me appreciate the tacos as well – but they were exactly as I'd expected: imagine cheap nachos made with Doritos instead of tortilla chips. And yes, your hands get coated with Dorito powder, which I think we can all agree is a good thing.

I have to say, overall, the app was a great experience: it was easy, it saved time (on the order of many tens of seconds!), and it furthered the inevitable total replacement of human beings by machines. I see a bright future for these fast food apps, regardless of my initial skepticism.

I even felt a moment of pause as my phone prompted me: "Uninstall Taco Bell?"

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The Original db Burger

Posted in Burgers on October 15th, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
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I did not take this picture - this is direct from db themselves. Note the construction is very segmented.When I heard about the "Original db Burger" at db Bistro Moderne in Manhattan, and fairly close to my work, I knew I had to try it. Just look at this description:

Sirloin Burger filled with Braised Short Ribs, Foie Gras & Black Truffle
Parmesan Bun, Pommes Frites

Sirloin, okay sounds reasonable enough.

Braised Short Ribs, yeah, I'm following you.

Foie Gras & Black Truffle? Now you have my attention.

Now, with this weighing in at $35, I was justifiably a bit hesitant. But ultimately, I knew, I had to try this burger. So, one recent Saturday, before hopping a train to Elmsford, NY (home of Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, where a sour beer fest awaited me), I stopped in to db and ordered a burger.

I found myself nearly alone in the front dining room. Two ladies-who-lunch sat at the corner table next to me, perusing the menu and gossiping about friends, drama, celebrities, some recent social event, their mimosas, the waitstaff… Off in another corner sat another woman, awaiting a date who would turn up some twenty minutes later, the lateness apparently expected by the woman who had wisely spent the time reading a book and who seemed completely unperturbed. The rest of the room was empty.

When my burger arrived, it was already cut in half, so that I could see the short rib as well as the large portion of foie gras that had been completely encased by the sirloin burger. This fact was not lost on the ladies-who-lunch, who also noticed the burger and felt that it was time to make their presence known to me:

Would you like to give us the name of your cardiologist so we can call him after you finish?

The burger itself was quite tall, which made for a wonderful spectacle, but served to cause problems when I attempted to compress it to take a bite. The foie gras, you see, is more of "seated" inside the patty and thus began to slip out, meaning I would have to eat it earlier than I would have preferred. Not the biggest deal, but by the time I had prevented that havoc, the burger now resembled a much more pedestrian-not-worth-$35 burger.

And this is only where the dismay began. The short rib, darker than the surrounding components, was positioned on both sides of the foie gras, rather than worked into the composition of the beef as ground short rib. This served the purpose of proving that in fact short rib had been part of the composition, but it also made the rather bland sirloin stand alone, as the most substantive part – and only remaining part after a brief period – of the burger.

The black truffle may have been non-existent entirely for all it contributed to the flavor. And the pommes frites? Well yeah, they were fries. Calling something French does not, as I've sadly noted in the past, actually make that thing taste any better. These fries were mediocre at best.

This burger was a novelty. It was pretty. It was,to borrow from Aristotle's Poetics, all spectacle and no story. Sure, it will elicit a reaction from nearby ladies-who-lunch, and sure, it is probably as haute cuisine as you can get in the burger world, but frankly, it was just average at best.

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I just tried Turkish Delight for the first time

Posted in Reviews on July 9th, 2014 by Nathan – 3 Comments
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Turkish DelightI don't remember much about the Chronicles of Narnia; I only read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe once, I believe in early elementary school, and didn't find it very entertaining. But chief among the things I remember is that one of the children is lured by the witch into her van sleigh with his favorite treat, Turkish Delight. I think at some point I watched a movie version of the book, or perhaps just imagined annoying little Edmund speaking in a Oxbridge accent asking for more Turkish Delight. Either way, that connection has been seared into my head, and the two cannot be separated.

So when two coworkers brought some Turkish Delight into work recently, I had no choice but to take a taste and see what Edmund wanted so badly. And I have to say, Edmund is a proper git.

It's chewy, sweet but in an odd and discomforting way, and the pistachios, while they probably mean well, are not helped by being suspended in this odd gelatinous creation. The green color is slightly off-putting, as it's not quite a shade of green you'd expect from normal foodstuffs, and the outer dusting of powdered sugar is a weak attempt to pretend that this goo is candy.

If that witch had tried to lure me away with this stuff, and I don't care how enchanted it's supposed to be, I think I'd get away just fine.

Actually, on that topic, why had Edmund's parents never told him not to take candy from strangers? Oh, I take that back. They probably did. But there's no way anyone of reasonable taste could identify this as candy.


Rockwell Tavern

Posted in Burgers on May 21st, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment
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I've been far out to Rockwell Tavern a few times now but haven't put my thoughts on their burgers here yet. So here goes.

Basically this is a great burger. I've tried a few of their burgers now and my favorite is easily the Sunburn, topped with all manners of heat: pepper jack, jalapeno bacon, chipotle mayo, and their "house hot sauce." I cannot verify the implied claim that it's made in house, it honestly doesn't seem so. But that doesn't matter: the burger is excellent. The meat is fresh and tasty, a good blend of beef that speaks for itself. (This is especially evident if you order the Vintage, a simple bacon cheeseburger.) It's juicy and oozes magnificently, but the sweet cheddar jalapeno bun (standard on every burger) easily stands up to the challenge.

The heat is not overpowering, and the chipotle mayo and jalapeno bacon complement each other to provide a little bit of extra flavor in contrast to the spice-only taste of the "house hot sauce." And to add to that, the hand-cut french fries, though not the best I've ever had, are pretty good, and are easily washed down with any of a very good selection of craft beers.

My only major complaint with Rockwell is the location. Oh and the hours: I find it very strange that a bar closes at 9 pm (and thus frequently empties/cleans earlier than that) on a Thursday night. If you find yourself in Cypress, hungry early in the evening, stop by Rockwell. Get a burger and fries. And enjoy.

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