A Modest Proposal for Engineering Better and Faster Fast Food Consumption

Fast Food in America

America is well known for its fast food culture. So well known, in fact, that it may only be second to its best-in-class health care, phenomenal education system, and overall can-do attitude. Rarely does a day go by without one seeing or hearing a few disparaging words from the mainstream media about what we choose to put into our mouths and whether those items become lodged permanently in some cases. A Google search begun with the first letters “ob…” immediately has Google guessing what we want and prompts a potential search not just for “obesity” but for the very specific phrase “obesity in America”§ and the resultant search displays just under 73 million results in about half a second.

Our obsession with fast food is legendary. Books are written about the subject, movies are made, and we support a multi-billion dollar fast food industry. But how much time do we individually spend really thinking about what we’re doing? The answer hinges on one of our favorite pastimes and is one in which the root of our obesity problem sprouts: “laziness.” (For those incapable of doing the work of thinking for themselves and who just want the quick answer to the previous question given to them, it’s: “none”.)

“Americanizing” your Fast Food Experience with Some Simple Engineering

Given that we love our fast food so much that we can’t even be bothered with thinking about it for a few minutes (otherwise how does a book entitled Wheat Belly become a best seller and major fad?), I’m always surprised that the simple engineering concept which follows isn’t more widely known. If it were, it would be right at home in our gourmand, “have-it-your-way, right-away” culture.

The simple idea follows:

In some fast food restaurants (think Burger King and In-n-Out), instead of (or in addition to) the ubiquitous ketchup packet, they allow you to fill your own container with the condiment of your choice.  But what container do they provide you with? Obviously, in keeping with the assembly line beauty and grace of our ultra-modern food manufacturing empire and our disposable home furnishings industry, it’s something simple, something very cheap, and something immediately disposable: the small paper cup! (Even legal departments could get behind this one – as long as the industry wasn’t putting any hot beverages into it, and, in part, because the patent protection had expired.)

Standard empty ketchup condiment container on left juxtaposed with same container full of ketchup on the right hand side.

But it’s no ordinary paper cup! It’s an honest-to-goodness feat of American ingenuity and engineering design! (At least from a time when America had those things – you remember… way back before we gave them up for the improved qualities like laziness and obesity. And everyone knows the American engineering motto: “Quality is Job #1!”)

Standard ketchup condiment container "spread out" on left juxtaposed with modified container full of ketchup on the right hand side.
A feat of American ingenuity! (Who cares if these are called souffle cups?)

This high quality paper cup has pleats! And with a small bit of pulling around the edges of the cup, it opens right up – or “blooms” if you will.

In this process, the top edge of the cup comes down just a tad, but in exchange, the sides expand out toward the horizon in glorious near-infinite beauty. This simple effect allows one to put a significantly larger quantity of ketchup into it–particularly because the ketchup has such a high viscosity! (While I’m thinking about it has anyone considered liquefying ketchup so we could just drink it out of our big gulp cups? Maybe a French fry shake with ketchup blended in to make things easier all around?)

The Benefits of our Engineering Trick

“But it takes so much time and energy to expand out the sides of my cheap paper cup! Why should I bother?”

I know many of you are asking yourself this question because in a rapidly evolving and improving society it’s often the dichotomy of American life to maintain the status quo.  This simple expansion procedure allows you the following clear benefits:

  • You can put a lot more ketchup onto your plate and therefore ultimately into your gullet. Besides, everyone in America knows “Bigger is Better!” right? Why fill up two or three of these small cups, when one big expanded one will do? Or better yet, three big ones! (Let’s not forget our gourmand cultural heritage.)
  • It makes it easier to carry a  lot more ketchup in fewer trips from the condiment bar to your table. American pride in concepts like capitalism and increased efficiency at all costs dictates that we take fewer trips. The reduced amount of exercise is also a positive side-benefit here.
  • It makes ketchup easier to share. (I know this sharing concept is antithetical to the current American ethos, but maybe someone from one of those poor countries outside of America might be reading this? Maybe it’s a strong enough idea to quell the strife in Ukraine right now?)  No more approaching the cup at excessively steep angles to get your fries into it.  Now you can approach from a lower angle with your fat fist-full-of-fries and still hit your target.
  • Not only can you now dunk your fries, but you can actually dunk your majestic hamburger! Why waste time trying to open up that ketchup packet and squeeze some on while you’re making the effort to balance your heavy burger in your other hand? Just smash it into the ketchup and then smash it into your face! “Yipee-ki-yay Mother French Fry!”
  • Those suffering from diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts no longer have to worry about being able to get their French fry into such a tiny paper cup anymore, the size of the target is now bigger by almost an order of magnitude.
  • Use of these paper cups helps to support the American paper goods industry which churns out highly recyclable products which also have the benefit of being Green and therefore unquestioningly good for the environment. No one knows what those alternate ketchup packets are manufactured from or if they’re recyclable or not. Some fabricated laboratory studies indicate some of those packets may have heavy metals in them, which we all know are mined/sourced primarily in China.
  • And perhaps best of all, in the true spirit of America largess – there’s huge return for a very little effort! Everyone is looking for a get-rich-quick-scheme which doesn’t involve actual work, right? This is the closest you’re likely to come to it, and my friends who know a thing or two about the second law of thermodynamics agree. In fact, it might even qualify for the ethereal and long-fabled “free lunch” because, hey, most restaurants aren’t going to charge you for condiments are they?

Ketchup and the Economy

I have a deep, abiding suspicion that far too many Americans haven’t been taking advantage of these pleats in their condiment cups, and that, in fact, the marginal utility lost in manufacturing the extra unused paper when this isn’t done is very likely the root cause of the world economic crisis which began in 2008. The plummeting American efficiency numbers just weighed too heavily on our economy, but that’s a longer and more analytical story than I have space or phony facts to back up with here. (If you’re a talking head political pundit on a major cable news network, call my publicist and let’s talk.) Needless to say, if we can work this simple trick into the second grade core curriculum, I think our long term efficiency numbers will perk up and the savings realized could mean saving the beleaguered Social Security program until at least 2079.

Standard ketchup condiment container on left juxtaposed with modified container full of ketchup on the right hand side.
Super Size Me!

Footnotes:

§ Obamacare was a close second.

† I was too busy lounging on my couch watching Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on TV and eating a bag of Doritos and Twizzlers to come up with other examples like Supersize Me.

♦ Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan admits almost as much in his book The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting (Penguin Press, 2013) where he indicates real estate as a leading cause of the downturn. Each of these condiment cups has a square inch of space hiding in its pleats and when multiplied over tens of thousands of cups per fast food location multiplied by thousands of fast food locations in any given year it becomes a lot of real estate rapidly, and the effect can become crippling.

‡ This also reminds me of a treatise I was reading last week called a Modest Proposal written by a political hack/wannabe writer named Swift. It wasn’t the sharpest thing I’ve heard recently, but with a few tweaks, I think his idea could make a huge dent in third world hunger and poverty and speed us along towards the goal of realizing Soylent Green in the marketplace.

New Routledge Text on Systems Theory

Over the holiday I ran across a press release, which follows with web links added, for a new book on systems theory. It promises to be an excellent read on the development and philosophy of systems theory for those interested in cybernetics, information theory, complexity and related topics.

Book cover image of Traditions of Systems Theory: Major Figures and Contemporary Developments

MIAMI, Fla., Dec. 19, 2013
Dr. Darrell Arnold, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Institute for World Languages and Cultures at St. Thomas University, has published an edited volume with Routledge entitled Traditions of Systems Theory: Major Figures and Contemporary Developments. Hans-Georg Moeller, of University College Cork, Ireland, notes that the book “provides a state-of-the-art survey of the increasingly influential and fascinating field of systems theory. It is a highly useful resource for a wide range of disciplines and contributes significantly to bringing together current trends in the sciences and the humanities.” The book includes 17 articles from leading theoreticians in the field, including pieces by Ranulph Glanville, the President of the American Society for Cybernetics, as well as Debora Hammond, the former President of the International Society for Systems Sciences. It is the first comprehensive edited volume in English on the major and countervailing developments within systems theory.

Dr. Arnold writes on 19th century German philosophy, contemporary social theory, as well as technology and globalization, with a focus on how these areas relate to the environmental problematic. He has translated numerous books from German, including C. Mantzavinos’s Naturalistic Hermeneutics (Cambridge UP) and Matthias Vogel’s Media of Reason (Columbia UP). Dr. Arnold is also editor-in-chief of the Humanities and Technology Review.

For additional information on St. Thomas University academic programs and faculty publications, please contact Marivi Prado, Chief Marketing Officer, 305.474.6880; mprado@stu.edu

Dr. Darrell P. Arnold
Dr. Darrell P. Arnold

I’ve ordered my copy and will be providing a review shortly.

Brief Notes on “Consider the Fork”

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson was one of my favorite Christmas presents this year. It covered my loves of history, gadgets, food, technology, entomology, popular culture and even evolution and anthropology. The major broad themes were very interesting and enlightening while being very well researched.

There were a few short sections on individual technologies which did feel a bit throw in almost as afterthoughts or which were related to the bigger topics, but just didn’t stand up on their own. Fortunately these didn’t detract from the overall work, though I did feel a bit more on these could have been written.

This is one of the most interesting books on food which I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

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Brief Book Review: James Gleick’s “The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood”

Overall James Gleick’s book The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood is an excellent read. Given that it’s an area with which I’m intimately interested, I’m not too surprised that most of it is “review”, but I’d highly recommend it to the general public to know more about some of the excellent history, philosophy, and theory which Gleick so nicely summarizes throughout the book.

Book Cover: The Information

There are one or two references in the back which I’ll have to chase down and read and one or two, which after many years, seem like they may be worth a second revisiting after having completed this.

Even for the specialist, Gleick manages to tie together some disparate thoughts to create an excellent whole which makes it a very worthwhile read. I found towards the last several chapters, Gleick’s style becomes much more flowery and less concrete, but most of it is as a result of covering the “humanities” perspective of information as opposed to the earlier parts of the text which were more specific to history and the scientific theories he covered.

Review originally posted at GoodReads.com.

Response to “Path: A Twenty-First Century Geotagging Journal”

Replied to Path: A Twenty-First Century Geotagging Journal by Adeline Koh (ProfHacker | The Chronicle of Higher Education)
Below is my response to Adeline Koh‘s article “Path: A Twenty-First Century Geotagging Journal” which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Prof Hacker Blog on August 29, 2012.

path-image-242x300-scaled500

Adeline, Path might be a reasonable tool for accomplishing what you’d like, but it’s original design is as a very small and incredibly personal social networking tool and therefore not the best thing for your particular use case here. Toward that end, it’s personalization ability to limit who sees what is highly unlikely to change as they limit your “friends” to less than your Dunbar number in the first place. Their presupposition is that you’re only sharing things with your VERY closest friends.

For more functionality in the vein you’re looking at, you might consider some of the Google tools which will allow you much more granularity in terms of sharing, tracking, and geotagging. First I’d recommend using Google Latitude which will use your cell phone GPS to constantly track your location at all times if you wish of the ability to turn it on and off at will. This will allow you to go back and see exactly where you were on any given day you were sending them data. (It’s also been useful a few times when I’ve lost/left my phone while out of the house or in others’ cars and I can log in online to see exactly where my phone is right now.) Latitude will also allow you to share your physical location with others you designate as well as to export portions of data sets for later use/sharing.)

Unbeknownst to many, most cell phones and increasingly many cameras will utilize GPS chips or wifi to geolocate your photo and include it in the EXIF data imbedded into the “digital fingerprint” of your photo (along with the resolution, date, time, what type of camera took the photo, etc.) For this reason, many privacy experts suggest you remove/edit your exif data prior to posting your photos to public facing social media sites as it can reveal the location of your personal home, office, etc which you may not mean to share with the world.) There are a number of tools you can find online for viewing or editing your exif data.

You can then upload those photos to Google Plus which will allow you to limit your sharing of posts to whichever groups of people you’d prefer with a high degree of granularity, including using email addresses for people who aren’t already on the service. (They actually have a clever back up option that, if selected, will allow your phone to automatically upload all your photos to G+ in the background and making them private to you only for sharing at a later date if you choose.) I’m sure that with very little work, you can find some online tools (including even Google Maps perhaps) that will allow you to upload photos and have them appear on mapping software. (Think about the recent upgrade in Craigslist that takes posting data and maps it out onto the Openstreetmap.org platform).

Finally, as part of Google’s Data Liberation initiative you can go in and export all of your data for nearly all of their services including Latitude and from Picasa for photos.I think that playing around with these interlocking Google tools will give you exactly the type of functionality (and perhaps a little more than) you’re looking for.

Their user interface may not be quite as beautiful and slick as Path and may take half an hour of playing with to explore and configure your workflow exactly the way you want to use it, but I think it will give you a better data set with a higher degree of sharing granularity. (Alternately, you could always develop your own “app” for doing this as there are enough open API’s for many of these functions from a variety of service providers, but that’s another story for another time.)

Books have always been digital, not analog

James Gleick (August 1, 1954 — ) American author and historian of science
on Twitter

 

On Telephones and Architecture

John J. Carty (), first head of Bell Laboratories, 1908

 

John Battelle Review of James Gleick’s “The Information” and Why It’s a Good Thing

John Battelle recently posted a review of James Gleick’s last book The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. It reminds me that I find it almost laughable when the vast majority of the technology press and the digiterati bloviate about their beats when at its roots, they know almost nothing about how technology truly works or the mathematical or theoretical underpinnings of what is happening — and even worse that they don’t seem to really care.

I’ve seen hundreds of reviews and thousands of mentions of Steven Levy’s book In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives in the past few months, — in fact, Battelle reviewed it just before Gleick’s book — but I’ve seen few, if any, of Gleick’s book which I honestly think is a much more worthwhile read about what is going on in the world and has farther reaching implications about where we are headed.

I’ll give a BIG tip my hat to John for his efforts to have read Gleick and post his commentary and to continue to push the boundary further as he invites Gleick to speak at Web 2.0 Summit in the fall. I hope his efforts will bring the topic to the much larger tech community.  I further hope he and others might take the time to read Claude Shannon’s original paper [.pdf download], and if he’s further interested in the concept of thermodynamic entropy, I can recommend Andre Thess’s text The Entropy Principle: Thermodynamics for the Unsatisfied, which I’ve recently discovered and think does a good (and logically) consistent job of defining the concept at a level accessible to the average public.

Book Review: Matt Ridley’s “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves”

Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves is going to be my new bible. This is certainly bound to be one of the most influential books I’ve read since Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel — what a spectacular thesis!

I am now going to recommend it to everyone that I meet and have already begun proselytizing its thesis. Certainly worth a second, third, and a successive rereads given the broad array of topics it covers in such a cohesive way. Simply and truly SPECTACULAR!

Dare to be an optimist…

The Rational Optimist

For those interested in short tangential video related to the broader thesis take a look at Matt Ridley’s related TedX talk: [ted id=915]

Reading Progress
  • 06/05/11 marked as: currently reading
  • 06/06/11 10:37 pm Page 98 22.0% “I love the thought of ideas having sex! Evolution in a whole different framework…”
  • Finished book on 07/05/11

 

Synthetic Biology’s Hunt for the Genetic Transistor | IEEE Spectrum

Replied to Synthetic Biology's Hunt for the Genetic Transistor (spectrum.ieee.org)
How genetic circuits will unlock the true potential of bioengineering
This is a great short article on bioengineering and synthetic biology written for the layperson. It’s also one of the best crash courses I’ve read on genetics in a while.

Media_httpspectrumiee_kzdjg

Improved Reading and Workflows with Instapaper and Tab Candy aka Panorama for Firefox

Over the summer, Ars Technica and others reported about the new feature Tab Candy being built into Firefox by Aza Raskin.  Essentially it’s a better graphical way of keeping “tabs” on the hundreds of tabs some of us like to keep open for our daily workflows.  One can now group series of related tabs together and view them separately from other groupings.  Many of us loved the feature in the early Minefield build of Firefox, but the recent release of Firefox 4.0 beta 7 includes the nearly finished and stable version of Tab Candy, which has been renamed Panorama, and it is great.

Though Panorama is a brilliant, one of the functionalities it doesn’t have and which is mentioned in the Ars Technica article, is that of “reading later.” I find, as do many, that the majority of the tabs I keep open during the day are for things I have the best intentions of reading later.  Sadly, often days go by and many of these tabs remain open and unread because I simply don’t have time during the work day and don’t come back later in my free time to give them the attention they deserve.  (It also coincidentally has the side effect of soaking up additional memory, a symptom which can be remedied with this helpful tip from Lifehacker.)

I’ve now got the answer for these unread stories in neglected tabs: Instapaper.com.  Instapaper, the brainchild of former Tumblr exec Marco Arment, is similar to many extant bookmarking tools, but with increased functionality that makes it infinitely easier to come back and actually read those stories.  Typically I use the Instapaper bookmarklet tool on a webpage with a story I want to come back to later, and it bookmarks the story for me and is configurable to allow closing that tab once done.

The unique portion of the tool is that Instapaper provides multiple ways of pulling out the bookmarked content for easy reading later.  For those who are RSS fans, you can subscribe to your bookmarked stream with tools like Google Reader.  But even better, the site allows one to easily download .mobi or .epub bundled files of the stories that can be put onto your e-reader of choice.  (I personally email copies to my Kindle 3 (affiliate link.)) Once this is done, I can simply and easily read all those stories I never got around to, reading them like a daily personal newspaper at my convenience – something I’m much more prone to do given my addiction to my Kindle, which provides a so-called “sit back experience.”

As if all this isn’t good enough, Instapaper allows you to create differentiable folders (along with separate requisite RSS feeds and bookmarklet tools) so that you can easily separate your newspaper articles from your tech articles, or even your communication theory research papers from your genetics scientific articles.  This can allow you to take your daily twitter feed article links and turn them into a personalized newspaper for easy reading on your choice of e-book reader.  With the upcoming pending Christmas of the e-reader and tablets, this is as close to perfect timing for the killer app as a developer could hope.

The e-book reader combined with Instapaper is easily the best invention since Gutenberg’s original press.

(N.B.: One could bookmark every interesting article in the daily New York Times and read them in e-book format this way, but I would recommend using an application like Calibre for reducing the time required for doing this instead. Instapaper is best used as a custom newspaper creator.)

Brief Thoughts on the Google/Verizon Compromise and Net Neutrality in the Mobile Space

This last week there’s been a lot of interesting discussion about net neutrality as it relates particularly to the mobile space.  Though there has been some generally good discussion and interesting debate on the topic, I’ve found the best spirited discussion to be that held by Leo Laporte, Gina Trapani, Jeff Jarvis, and guest Stacey Higginbotham on this week’s episode of This Week in Google.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJQy2R6UT5U?wmode=transparent]

What I’ve found most interesting in many of these debates, including this one, is that though there is occasional discussion of building out additional infrastructure to provide additional capacity, there is generally never discussion of utilizing information theory to improve bandwidth either mathematically or from an engineering perspective.  Claude Shannon is rolling in his grave.

Apparently, despite last year’s great “digital switch” in television frequencies from analog to provide additional television capacity and the subsequent auction of the 700MHz spectrum, everyone forgets that engineering additional capacity is often cheaper and easier than just physically building more.  Shannon’s original limit is far from a reality, so we know there’s much room for improvement here, particularly because most of the improvement on reaching his limit in the past two decades has come about particularly because of the research in and growth of the mobile communications industry.

Perhaps our leaders could borrow a page from JFK in launching the space race in the 60’s, but instead of focusing on space, they might look at science and mathematics in making our communications infrastructure more robust and guaranteeing free and open internet access to all Americans?

📅 DrupalCampLA | September 13-14, 2008

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Dates: September 13-14, 2008; 10am - 6pm, both days Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 South Figueroa Street Los Angeles, California 90015 Still FREE Registration is Open until September 10th, 2008. Please visit our official site for more details and to sign up!
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PESOS post from Lanyrd prior to its shutdown.