A Flag for North Dakota

Copyleft C008-2015 j5mc.org.  CC-BY-SANorth Dakota’s flag got some rather unsightly changes a few years back.  The long and short of it was the switch to unheraldric blue-on-red lettering and mandatory fringing.  To this day, you can’t find a correctly proportioned 33:26 copy of the flag on store shelves, but to be honest, North Dakota’s flag hardly stands out among the 56 territories and hardly says anything besides “Hey, we’re American too!”

In the 1950s, the North Dakota National Guard stated about as plainly as possible that the North Dakota flag was properly an army unit banner.  They made a Coat of Arms of North Dakota, which they hoped would form the basis for a new state flag, but that didn’t go according to plan right away.

That doesn’t mean that it was a bad idea, though.  My design inherits the core symbolism of the Coat of Arms, on a Canadian pale, adding a nod to North Dakota’s friends and neighbours.  It also looks like a Big N, which is sure to clear up any ambiguity.  The change to green or yellow alone will pop out from the bizarre uniformity of blue state flags.

Vert on a Canadian pale or a bend of the first charged with three mullets of the second

Fantasy Coverage Plots: Greyscale Edition

North Dakota Television has caught Greyscale, as it were, so here’s a fantasy coverage map moving the towers and transmitters of KXJB to Pembina, KXND to Bottineau, and KNDX to Killdeer.  Stations placed in these locations would reach Manitoba and Oil Country.  With thanks, as always, to Industry Canada.

Gruel for hipsters

After much fanfare in the nerdosphere, Soylent hit the market this month at the astounding cost of $255 per month.

Its proponents talk it up as if it were the foodstuff to end all, but Soylent is extraordinarily expensive compared to standard staples.  A 30 day supply of red beans, rice, and canola oil runs about $45 from your area bulk foods dealer or maybe $75 from the corner store.  There are an extraordinary number of ready-to-eat processed foods available in any supermarket that cost far less than $3 a meal.

Though Soylent has been painstakingly enriched to provide just enough in the vitamin department, its protein balance is lacking, escaping lysine deficiency only through brute force.  Its use of maltodextrin instead of starch is perhaps its fatal flaw, dooming the formula to its ridiculous price point.

Soylent can perhaps best be described as gruel for hipsters, its primary benefit being that it confers some element of status and edginess to the thousands-year-old experience of silting up your liquid of choice with flour for added nutrition.  Any futurologic claims about revolutionary diet magic or affordability are not supported by the available evidence.

NYC Resistor pretty darn cool

NYCResistorI had a chance to attend one of the open houses at NYC Resistor — Thursday Craft Night — and it was loads of fun! I had a chance to bounce ideas off other members and attendees, as well as learn a little about knitting! The group has all the shop tools you could want, and huge expertise in LED signage.  All in all, a top-notch group!

The promise and peril of Gittip

Gittip is an interesting and expanding financial experiment in the open-source community.

Though I’ve yet to receive a single dime through the site (and appear to be the first person in all of North Dakota to have signed onto it) – I think it’s a great idea for two main reasons:

  1. It’s focused on long-term support, rather than fire-and-forget fundraising.
  2. It anonymizes donations, which is a key concern for independent journalism and open-source design.

In my view, here are some key improvements Gittip can make:

  • Eliminate registration for donors

Online retailers found out a long time ago that requiring registration sends your customers elsewhere. Asking potential donors to register when they have their wallet open is a roadblock.

  • Add monthly and biweekly giving periods

Most people have monthly budgets.  They may take weekly trips to the grocery store, sure, but if Gittip is there to “pay a mortgage”, then its weekly structure should be supplemented by more traditional finance periods – on both the donor and recipient side.  Biweekly ought to be easy to implement.  Monthly could be kludged onto the “Nth week of the month.”

  • Integrate incoming lump-sum payments with user-defined outgoing stability

Gittip seems to editorialize too much on the donor side, when it ought to be focused more on the recipient side.  Lump-sum donations could be integrated into a sustainable structure by setting a minimum lump sum, say $120.

On the disbursement side, recipients ought to be able to customize the fraction of fixed donations they get every period, for example, the option to spread any lump sum over the next N number of periods, whether that be 52 weeks, 36 months, or even 1 if the user wants one-offs immediately.

A complicated SHOGUN 2 trainer

editsf108If you find yourself wishing for a sandbox mode in a TOTAL WAR game, try using EditSF to fill your coffers.


Then just change the top number, the System.Int32 value, to anything just under 300000 or so. (I haven’t had much luck setting it higher than that).

You can download EditSF from the Total War Center forums.

What day is it on Mars?

There are many schemes to produce a viable calendar for Mars, perhaps the best known of which is the Darian calendar, which I’m working on my own alternative to.

The alternative starts with the biggest problem I have with the Darian calendar, its week cycle.  It assumes that people who live on Mars are going to want their own names for days of the week, and want every month to start with the same day.

I think that’s preposterous.

I believe most humans are comfortable with the names they already have for seven days in a week.  Since the abolishment of the French Republican calendar, the French have been keen to have a Vendredi following every Jeudi.  For us English speakers, there is a certain expectation we have going to bed on Saturday that tomorrow will be Sunday.


The key thing is… How do you decide which days on Mars are Monday or Tuesday?  I feel the best solution is to pick a particular date that the day of the week was the same on Earth and Mars … preferably a great moment in Martian exploration.

I can think of a few possible dates that might be suitable:

Tuesday, 1 Jan 1608, start of Year Zero for the  Darian calendar;
Thursday, 1 Jan 1609, start of Year One for the  Darian calendar;
Wednesday, 14 Jul 1965, the day Mariner 4, the first human space probe to Mars, flew by;
Saturday, 27 Nov 1971, the day that Mars 2 crashed onto the surface of Mars, its first direct interaction with humans;
Thursday, 02 Dec 1971, the day that Mars 3 successfully landed on Mars, the first successful probe landing.

For me, I think that the Mars 2 crash is the best day.  It’s the first time that anything manmade interacted with Mars.

There is a concept similar to Julian Date used by the Mars24 software from GISS  (whose site is unfortunately down at the moment):  The Mars Solar Date.  With some calculation [MSD = (seconds since January 6, 2000 00:00:00 UTC)/88775.244 + 44795.9998] it can be found that Sat 27 Nov 1971 1200 GMT is equivalent to MSD 34804.187.

The Martian day at the Mars 2 site was roughly 1000 GMT to 2300 GMT on 27 Nov 1971.   With MSD 34804 defined as a Saturday, other days may be determined with modulo 7.

34804 % 7 = 0 , indicating Saturday.  So, accepting my premise that the Mars 2 crash should be the day-of-week epoch, then MSDs with modulo 0 are Saturday, 1 indicates Sunday, 2 is Monday, and so on.

So Today? If my numbers are right and the MSD at 2200Z 14 Jan 2013 is 49426, then it’s Friday on Mars!

Update: GISS is back up!  You can download Mars24 here.  You’ll need Java 1.6+ to run it.

Salt potatoes: Cracking the code

I was cooking potatoes earlier today, and remembered a story I once read about salt potatoes, which sound quite a bit more delicious than the merely baked potatoes before me.

Living in Grand Forks, North Dakota, finding potatoes is not such a difficult task (though “bite size” potatoes as described is still a tall order).  Finding salt is generally easy for non-ancient Romans, as well.

But cooking can be so imprecise an art.  What exactly does “1 cup salt to 6 cups water” mean anyway?

Published values indicate somewhere between 273 and 283 grams of standard table salt per cup.  A US cup is 1/16 of a gallon, or 236.59 ml.

This means that the solution is about 3.3 or 3.4 molar.  That’s a value that should satisfy any kitchen scientist with a decent scale.

There’s a second value that can serve as a check, though:  “12 ounces of salt for 5 pounds of potatoes” in the traditional package of one purveyor of salt potatoes.

To start, “12 ounces” means 340 grams of salt.  “5 pounds” means 2.268 kg of potatoes.

But we’re missing the volume of water needed!  No fear, though– without resorting to something as inelegant as laboratory experiements, we can calculate the molarity of the solution with a couple key pieces of data, and a few justified assumptions!

If we assume there’s just enough water to cover the potatoes, and if we know the shape and size of a potato, we can calculate the gaps that the water would fill.

I found data on USDA potato sizes here: Size B potatoes have a diameter of 38 to 57 mm.  So let’s model a potato of diameter 48mm.

To illuminate the shape of a potato, I found this paper on Iranian potatoes.  On average, the ratio of major to secondary to minor diameters is about 1:0.78:0.6.  So our potatoes would measure 48 by 37.3 by 31.3.

The volume of an ellipsoid is (4/3)(pi)abc (where a, b, and c are radii), so each of our potatoes clocks in at a volume of 29.3 ml.  The same paper gives the density of potatoes as about 1.08, meaning we have roughly 2.10 liters of potatoes — about 71 of them– in our as-yet undefined amount of salt water.

Modelling the potatoes as perfect ellipsoids that are hexagonally packed, widest side down, in a cylindrical pot 26cm in internal diameter, with the gaps filled with water.  A bit of experimenting around in Inkscape and we find that not less than three layers of potatoes will be needed to pack in 71 of them.  The minimal height would be about 86 mm.  so 8.6 cm of water in a 26 cm cylinder less 2.1 liters of potatoes gives us 2.46 liters of water.  340 grams of salt in this mixture gives us a 2.36 molar solution!  Hmmmm, that seems to be significantly less than 3.3…

WAIT NOW!  Perusing Wikipedia’s sources, we find that indeed, less salt is actually used in the 1:6 recipe (it’s coarse-grained kosher salt, much less dense than table salt).  And we find some evidence that an alleged quality of salt potatoes — that a “higher boiling point” causes the potatoes to cook differently — is in serious doubt!

A saturated salt water solution boils at about 108 degrees.  And at lesser concentrations, well, the difference is less stark.  For a 2 to 3 molar solution as described in our recipes, the boiling point only goes up by about 1 to 1.5 degrees!

My best guess as to the “difference” tasted in the salt potato, aside from the healthy dose of salt?  A decrease in water concentration inside the potato, caused by osmotic action.  I also wouldn’t discount the possibility of side reactions in the cooking process, with all those sodium and chloride ions floating around.