Archive for March, 2007

El Morro’s twisty ternary bastions


While vacationing in San Juan, Puerto Rico this week, I came across a tricky triangular staircase. It’s in a bastion of the Spanish fort El Morro. Military engineers, evidently well-versed in geometry by the late 16th century when these fortifications were built, favored polygonal designs because the oblique angles resisted cannon balls. Triangular outworks provided fields of fire along adjoining walls. In the jargon of fortress design these are called “demilunes” if inside the surrounding ditch or moat, and a “ravelin” if outside. I think even the 5th graders who outsmarted their adult contestant in knowledge of a trapezoid would be challenged to identify all the shapes in a fort like El Morro.

“Sometimes things happen in the world that we are not capable of understanding.” “Yeah, like geometry.” 3/23/07 comic strip Baldo

It turns out that the only one to successfully take over El Morro was Sir George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland. His English predecessor Sir Francis Drake failed to defeat the Spanish in San Juan three years earlier. Perhaps Clifford’s solid education in mathematics helped him formulate a successful strategy. However, although he was fearsome on a horse — being one of the top jousters of the age, Sir Clifford struggled on foot. While suited up in his legendary armor, he slipped while bridging a moat and nearly drowned. After traversing the pictured triangular stairway (termed “ternary” as explained in my previous blog), I cannot see how anyone could manage this in full armor. Perhaps by then Sir Clifford had achieved victory and stripped down to his Bermuda shorts to sip on one of San Juan’s famous pina coladas.

For more on El Morro and its place in the battle against pirates of the Caribbean, see this blog by scholar Jon Beasley-Murray.

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Pairing foods and beverages to please the palate

Fish is white. Meat is red. That color pairing helps me decide which type of wine to order. It also sums up my interest and ability as a gourmand! For example, today we had a family brunch to celebrate my oldest daughter’s birthday and I ended up with two pitchers, one with grape juice and the other orange. Each had about a third of the juice remaining and the refrigerator could accommodate only one pitcher. Hmmm, what could I do? Eureka, a thought came to me: Mix the grape into the orange juice to combine it all into one container! Unfortunately, the resulting mixture looked so unappetizing that only my son Hank, an engineer like me (him software, me chemical), would drink it. Also, Hank admitted to having one or two beers –maybe more, while watching the Gopher hockey game last night at the corner pub. The Gophers unexpectedly lost, so I’m thinking my son may’ve drowned his sorrows. Therefore, I think that his positive review of my “orangerape” juice must be considered an outlier. 🙁

So far as beers are concerned, I’ve done equally bad, for example, by seeing what would happen if I mixed cream into it (detailed in my 1/14/07 blog “Mixing beers — synergy of zymurgy?”). One thing I never considered pairing with beer is chocolate, but, according to this article by J.M. Hirsch of Associated Press, Boston’s brahmins attend classes on this! An obvious combo is Belgian chocolate with Belgian abbey ale. However, I prefer to continue studying only beer. Any time our chemical engineering society sponsors a brewery tour and tasting, I am there!
Teen Beans
My favorite pairing is apples with cinnamon. For example, this applesauce recipe looks very a pealing (pun intended!), in part because it’s so amazingly simple. I once tested my Stat-Ease colleagues by asking them to rate on a 1 (worse) to 10 (best) scale their taste preference of apple, cinnamon and lemon jelly beans and combinations thereof. The results are detailed in DOE Simplified in the chapter on mixture design, but the ternary diagram *, tells the story: Pairing apple with cinnamon creates a taste sensation (over 7 on the tasting scale) –- they are synergistic. However, putting the two fruits together (apple and lemon) created a sour reaction from our sensory testers (rated less than 3 on average) -– these two ingredients interact in an antagonistic manner. The trick when pairing foods and beverages is to avoid antagonism and seek synergism.

“Look for those opposites that attract. For example, sweet and acidity, sweet and spicy, hot and cold, salty and sweet.” David Kamen, chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).

*(Source of primer on ternary diagram: Lynn S. Fichter, Department of Geology and Environmental Science, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.)

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Do narrower columns hold up better for body of written work?

Pat Whitcomb came across a very intriguing article in the February ’07 issue of Training & Development magazine that says keeping line lengths shorter makes text easier to read and remember.* (Hmmm – did this asterisk cause you to reflexively glance to the footnote and interrupt your train of thought? Sorry about that!) IBM researchers evaluated paragraphs at 40 percent screen width versus 80 with a device that measures eye-gaze tracking. They found that narrow columns were more comprehensible and required less re-reading. However, this came at the cost of “paragraph abandonment,” a shift by readers to skimming completely over segments of text.

What’s telling to me, is that the IBM web page on this research (linked above) displays text in a single, wide column. I like this wider style for displaying text on my computer because I can then scroll line-by-line and not be forced to go back up again as required with two columns side-by-side. For example, see this latest edition of the Minnesota Section ASQ newsletter. Notice how it shifts format from one column to two. Observe how you read these. Which do you prefer?

My preference is to print pieces written in two-column format and then use my finger as a guide to maintain focus on the line of text. I picked this up from a business colleague years ago after he took a speed-reading course.

* “The Long and the Short of Learning” by Peter Orton, David Beymer and Daniel Russell.

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