Ben Peoples Speaks

Eggs in Purgatory (and easy egg poaching!)
April 11, 2011, 10:42 am
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Eggs in Purgatory is an easy, cheap dish.  We found it in a book I stole from my mom called “Good, Cheap Food” — it’s a 70’s book on how to each cheaply, stretch meals, etc.  Includes a section on eating exceptionally cheaply (basically from what you can beg off the butcher).

Eggs in Purgatory, at its simplest, is eggs, poached in tomato sauce, served over toast with a little cheese on top.  We usually dress up a Heinz tomato sauce with some basil, oregano, and garlic, and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.

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Tasty Tomatoey Stuff
March 17, 2011, 10:20 am
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S says this is sort of like bruchetta:

  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • black pepper
  • garlic powder (NOT garlic salt)
  • basil
  • oregano
  • crushed red pepper
  • Red Devil hot sauce
  • red wine vinegar
  • balsamic vinegar
  • butter
  • salt

Dump can o’ tomatoes in small saucepan, heat to simmer.

Add spices & vinegar to taste.  I do about half a tablespoon each of garlic powder, basil, oregano.  A 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and a couple splashes of hot sauce.  And a lot of grinds of black pepper.  It’s up to you.  Add a tiny splash of red wine vinegar, and about a tablespoon of balsamic.

Simmer & reduce until it’s mostly just tomatoes in a thick sauce, salt to taste & adjust seasonings, turn off heat, and add 1/2 tablespoon butter and mix until smooth and glossy.


January 7, 2011, 9:00 am
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  • 8 oz Swiss or Fontina cheese, grated
  • 8 oz Gruyere, grated
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons flour (Gluten free: substitute 1 1/2 tablespoons potato starch)


  • 1 1/2 cup dry white wine (or Riesling)
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • pepper
  • 2-4 tablespoons kirsch or triple sec


Toss the cheese with the flour

Rub the fondue pot with the clove of garlic and leave in the pot.  Heat the dish and pour in the wine.  As soon as the wine starts to bubble, turn the heat down and being adding the cheese, bit by bit, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Within a few minutes, the cheese will blend with the wine to make a smooth sauce.  Grind in some pepper and stir in the kirsch (or triple sec).  Server immediate, accomanied by bread cubes and an assorted antipasto platter.

Serves 4

Notes: While either are good, the Fontina makes for a more mild fondue.  We really like kirsch in it, but we haven’t found any in Pennsylvania yet.

Half-Life thoughts
October 25, 2010, 10:46 am
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The last couple months I’ve been playing a lot of Half-Life multiplayer.  HL is 12 years old, but still has a strong player base.  Mainly because it’s fun, the graphics run great on almost any machine, and… there’s a strong player base.

Anyways, I’m a medium-skilled player– no longer a n00b, but only successful in certain circumstances.  My aim is pretty terrible, and I’m not very good yet at defenses.  But I’m smart, and on certain maps that’s all it takes.

Sunday mid-morning, there wasn’t much going on on my usual servers, but I ended up on a busy server with roughly 20 other people playing (I usually play against 5-6 people), and we ended up on a level with almost no cover, basically just a big open room with some ledges and things around the sides.  On this kind of level, with this many people, there’s no chance of surviving more than a couple dozen seconds before somebody hits you with something that will kill you.  That basically means rockets or the tau (sort of a ray-gun that a good direct hit will kill you immediately).  My aim is pretty bad, so I tried the rockets, to minimum success.  I actually managed to get one of the better players with the crowbar, mainly because he wasn’t looking for it.

So then I realize that this server is basically an “all-weapons” server– they give you max ammo and all weapons to start.  So I have 10 grenades from the machine gun.  These can go pretty far, and explode on impact.  So I just start running around lobbing grenades at anything that moves, and focusing on not blowing myself up.  IT WORKS, amazingly.  Everyone else is running around with the tau or rockets and making kills here and there.  I’m making 2-3 kills before I get killed, and then right back into.  Most turns I managed to get all 10 grenades out before anybody hit me with anything.

So the map/level ends after 30 minutes, or when anyone gets to 60 kills.  I got to 60 kills in like 15 minutes, the next-best score was around 40.

What’s the lesson here?  If you find yourself out of your element, take a moment to look around and see if there’s a strategy that nobody else is trying that might work better.  Give it a go, if it works, keep it up.  If it doesn’t work, change until it does.

United 747 did not almost graze the GG Bridge
October 19, 2010, 2:42 pm
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Sorry, CNN, not even close.

This unattributed video was posted to CNN is now running a story about this plane almost striking the GG bridge.

Here’s a screen cap showing the plane passing well infront of the GG bridge:

Now, it looks like it’s really close, but this video is being shot from Fisherman’s Wharf (lining up the hills behind the bridge and striking a line). At this point the north tower of the bridge is 4 miles away.

So, now we know our distance to the bridge: 21120 feet, the tower above the deck is 500 feet tall and takes up 3/4 of the frame. At the bridge’s distance, we’re seeing about 675 feet of height. That means we have an equivalent 750mm lens on the camera. The vertical FOV (the only one we can calculate with this data is 1.8 degrees). The total image (the screen cap above) is 378 pixels tall, for about 17.1 arc seconds per pixel.

Now comes the fun part — how far away is the airplane? We can pretty accurately measure the height of the fuselage, in the bulge. This comes out to 28 pixels. That’s 25′-10″ tall in real life. 28 pixels = 0.133 degrees. That’s 13.5% of the height of the image. Were that 747 in the same plane as the bridge, it would be 91 feet tall.

I solved it geometrically, rather than breaking out the trig. Drafting the triangle with 0.133 degrees for the near side, and a height of 25′-10″, we get a 11,128′ range, or about 2 miles — halfway to the bridge.

So — in short: the plane was nowhere near the bridge, it was about halfway between Alcatraz and the Bridge, and was never in danger of striking it. This illusion wouldn’t even have looked close were you standing at the Marina Green, as the plane would have been cornering almost right infront of you.


UPDATE: Found the original Youtube Video here:

User says they shot it with a Canon Powershot SX20IX, which has a maximum focal length equivalent of 560mm (100mm on a 1/2.3″ sensor).  So that’s 2.5 degrees vertical over 675 feet.  We get 15460 feet, which is only about 3 miles, meaning they were closer than Fisherman’s wharf.  13.5% of 2.5 degrees is 0.3375 degrees, meaning the airplane was  4384 feet away, or 0.8 miles.  Still, the plane was at least 2 miles from the bridge.

Lots of code
October 17, 2010, 6:55 pm
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I spent the last weekend working on an IMU-based control system for an RC airplane.  I came across several bits of code that could be useful to the masses (at least, the programming masses).
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September 13, 2010, 12:36 pm
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There’s a thing floating around the internet where it asks you a bunch of math questions really quickly, then asks you to think of a vegetable.  It’s here.

I proposed, on Reddit, that this is because 90% of people (a number I made up) think of carrot when asked to think of a vegetable.  I was called out on this number, so I decided to run an experiment.  The hypothesis is that the math questions have nothing to do with it, other than distracting you, so you have a rapid response.  I set up a series of Mechanical Turk hits, in two groups.  Group 1 had a single question: “Name a vegetable”.  Group 2 was a little more complicated.  As with the original, it asked 7 questions, then the 8th “Name a vegetable.”

To investigate the role that the math has to do with it, there were four groups of questions in Group 2.  The first was the same as the questions in the gif above.  The 2nd were historical questions.  The 3rd were different math questions.  The fourth was color questions (often involving fruit, but no vegetables).  It was emphasized that the HITs would still be approved if the questions were incorrectly answered.

Average time for the Group 1 (single question) was 13 seconds, and Group 2 (8 questions) was 43 seconds.  Each HIT was presented to 20 different people.

Results are being analyzed now.  You can download the raw files here.

Except in one group, the most common vegetable was carrot (20-45%), followed by cucumber.

Very preliminary results are:

20 Respondants when asked “Name a vegetable” (alone): 45% Answered “Carrot” 15% Answered: “Cucumber”, “Spinach”, or “Tomato” 10% Answered “Onion” 5% Answered “Broccoli”

Of 80 survey respondants, in all groups: 15% answered “Carrot” 10% answered “Cucumber” 10% answered “Tomato” 8% answered “Onion”

Of the 20 who answered the questions in this image: 25% answered carrot 10% Cucumber 10% Onion 10% Brinjal (a type of eggplant)

Of the 20 who answered the other math questions: 20% answered carrot

Of the 20 who answered color questions (one question was what color is a tomato): 10% answered carrot 20% answered tomato

Of the 20 who answered the history questions: 30% answered carrot All others were 5%