Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I know it's almost two months after Christmas, but this is still a story worth sharing. Long story short (because words can only do so much to tell this story), as part of my Christmas gift for my girlfriend, I decided to make her a cake. I enjoy* cooking and baking, and having fun with recipes, putting my own creative spin on them. In the end, I decided that I would try to make her a cake in the shape of a snowman. But this wouldn't just be a two-dimenisional outline of a snowman flat on the counter, this would be an upright snowman, with three large "snowballs" for the body and a carrot nose and whatnot.

The plan was actually to make a series of three different flavors of cake and stack them to make somewhat of a tower. Then, I would round off the edges of the cakes to have the shape of a snowman. In theory, this would have been a great plan. Could have. Should have. It should have been a great plan.

In any case, it's time to go to some healthy visual aids. In this first shot, we see four cake pans (two chocolate, two vanilla) before the cookie sheet on which the snowman would be assembled.

In addition to using three flavors of cake (the third, strawberry, was cooling in another room), I also wanted to use three flavors of frosting, one for each layer of cake. I was hoping to use some sort of whipped cream frosting, but wanted to make it from scratch, rather than buying it from a plastic tub. After searching for a bit, I found a nice-looking double-boiler recipe, but I lack a double-boiler. A trip to the library led me to a book with a ton of frostings, and one recipe looked simple enough to be used and modified with the different flavor concentrates. The name of the recipe: Emergency Frosting.

For the first batch of frosting, I used a "tutti frutti" concentrate, which I'm still not quite sure if it qualifies as a legitimate flavor or not. In any case, I whipped up the first batch of frosting... and noted that it was still rather runny. Maybe it'll thicken a bit on the cake, I said to myself.

I finished the first layer of the cake, chocolate with tutti frutti icing, and continued on to the second layer, vanilla with creme de menthe flavored icing. (Honestly, I'm not quite sure where I chose these flavor combinations. They at least made sense in my mind when I picked them out.) After completing putting the vanilla layer on the cake and carving the edges to make it round, I added the frosting, but felt something sticking to my hand on the outside of the bowl. I put the bowl down and went to the sink to wash my hands. Then I heard a very strange sound, sorta like a "fwap" mixed with a bit of "foof. A "fwoopf?"

At this point, it was clear that this snowman wasn't gonna fly. Nonetheless, with the stubborn intent of giving my girlfriend some sort of cake, I picked up the two layers of vanilla cake off the ground, threw away the layer that had touched the ground, and slapped the other layer back on the cake. A few hasty moments later of not really caring anymore, the strawberry layer went on top (with strawberry-kiwi frosting, a semi-logical choice), and...


Needless to say, this was not my proudest baking moment. (I'd actually rank this event below the time my sister and I made sugar cookies that were so burnt, they tasted like bacon.) In any other case, I took the cake to my girlfriend's house, thinking that at least some of it was salvageable. Ish.

The weird part was, despite how generally crappy it looked, she loved it. And she could even see how it was originally intended to be a snowman. (Quite unlike her mother. "Oh, I see the snowman!" "No you can't." "No really, that's the nose right there, and there are the eyes..." "That's the torso." "Oh.") She invited me to sample my work, and much to my surprise, it didn't taste too* terrible. The individual cakes and frostings actually mixed well, and what I had been jokingly calling "The FailCake" actually was a moderate success.

Morals of the story: Nobody's perfect. And things don't have to be perfect to be good. Even one's failure's can be enjoyed, so long as you don't put too much of the flavored concentrates into the frosting. And I have one amazing girlfriend. Love you, Beth!

Monday, February 2, 2009

I Still Love Riding the Kangaroo

I'm not gonna lie, doing this Facebook status statistics thing is kinda fun. It's not so much that you get a "better feel" for the way your friends think about certain momentarily relevant issues, but more about how much they're willing to show it. I spent much of last night gathering data based on my friends' Facebook statuses (statii?) and put them once again into delicious pie form. Problem is, Excel '07 is a tremendous pain in the butt (as is the entire Office '07 line, but that's another rant for someone else who cares to obsess over that sort of thing), so things will be out of alignment and generally ugly, and without the subtle selection of colors from last time.

I should probably mention, for those who are curious, I consider myself a Steelers fan, although a very passive one. A good chunk of my family lives in the Pittsburgh area, so I practically grew up in Kennywood. On the whole, I'll generally vote for any Pittsburgh team (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates), but I'm not obsessive about them. I don't own any jerseys or go to any games, nor do I clear my schedule to watch the games. But I'll gladly support them, because Pittsburgh's been a big part of my life.

Anywho, on with the show. The data for these first three charts was taken between 10:15 (A couple of minutes after the game ended) and 11:30 last night. It should be noted that in all of these data samples, multiple status updates from the same person were all considered in tallying the data. The first chart shows what was on everyone's minds all day yesterday:

Interesting... a dead-even split, 41-41. Let's move on to the game itself, shall we?

It seems less people are posting about the Super Bowl here, but then again, it makes sense. I could only imagine that most of the people who were watching it didn't have the time or felt the necessity to go onto Facebook to talk about it.

I should probably confess that I actually didn't catch much of the Super Bowl, as I was working last night. Luckily, we closed early (for some reason, no one was coming into the restaurant that night, how strange), but I just came home, checked the score, then continued upstairs to my computer. I did, however, watch the last five minutes or so of the game (two commercial breaks' worth, if that helps approximate the time), then quickly ran to the computer again to start watching for more statuses. Here's what came up next:

Worth noting:
--Number of people who posted within the first minute of the official end of the game: 3
--Number of people who posted within the first 20 minutes: 13
--Number of people who posted a message about the Steelers winning before the game actually ended: 1, and you know who you are. Shame on you for almost jinxing it.

I figured I'd keep in the great tradition of the first 20 posters' data being recorded. After recording this data, I went to bed, woke up, went to the grocery store, came home, and checked Facebook once again, to find this:

I never really thought about it before, but there was probably a bit more on the line for Pittsburgh this time around, given that win or lose, Pennsylvania would be the center of national attention once again, with Phil (that jerk) once again being pulled from his hole to once again tell us we're stuck with crappy weather until mid-June. I didn't see any of the footage from this morning, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few Terrible Towels floating around in the background.

Nonetheless, after the initial victory and they day wore on, less people were talking about the Super Bowl anymore, and life returned to normal. That's just how Facebook statuses go, I guess. If anything, it's somewhat of a reflection on how quickly society moves, going from one state of mind to the next phenomenon around the corner. We live in a busy world, with a lot of things aiming to grab our attention and opinion. That's why statisticians have so much fun!

Edit, 2/3: Definite props to kfunque for sending me a link to a New York Times article which did a similar thing during the game, but with Twitter posts. Check it out!