Flow, Turkey, Flow

I have family coming up for Turkey Day, so I need to get my act together. Everybody seems to like a good flowchart, so it seemed a natural to create a Turkey Dinner chart for this week’s blog and publish it a few days early. By Wednesday morning, I’ll be deeply involved in planning the tryst between turkey, stuffing, and butter. (Hmmm, should that really be menage?…)

Turkey cooking flowchart
Turkey specific flowchart, by kajmeister.

Clearly, everyone has their own T-day traditions, whether it’s deep-frying the turkey (dangerous but popular) or serving crab (very San Francisco) or canned cranberries (really?). I have aimed to map out the standard meal with the basics: a stuffed turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, yams, and cranberries. Our household variation is to brine the turkey–which has its supporters and detractors I know–and to saute green beans and mushrooms, rather than to bake them in a soup. Plus deviled eggs because it’s not T-giving without deviled eggs. By the way, if you don’t waste spend loads of time watching cooking shows like I do, you should know that “sous chef” is my short hand for all the prep work that you do which doesn’t involve heating or freezing the food–chopping, measuring, mixing, etc.

The simplest chart would have only a few steps, and I show it above to use as a building block for what is to come because if I showed you the full, unadultered version at this point, your head would explode.  Bear with me.

(Also, I had to adjust the chart image size after the fact. If you have an email version that won’t show images, then try the website version, or enlarging the charts on your devices. Charts, like life, are complex.)

Turkey recipe acc to kinder kids.
How to Cook a Turkey, courtesy of Blessed Trinity Regional Catholic School by Mrs. Pfeiffer’s kinder kids.

Recipe vs. Flowchart

First, let’s be clear about the difference between a recipe, a list of steps in a process, and a flowchart. The list of steps is a simple verbal sequence, amply illustrated by Mrs. Pfeiffer’s Blessed Trinity kindergarten class above. Their recipe’s inclusion of french fries and the magic appearance of the mashed potatoes and corn at step 10 are a nice touch. A flowchart, in contrast, is a picture; if it’s just boxes and arrows with the steps in it, I’d agree that it adds little more than just the recipe. The magic comes by augmenting the flowchart with other visual cues as I will now show off… er … illustrate.

Thanksgiving flowchart
Basic Thanksgiving flowchart, by kajmeister

For example, dimensional flexibility. We have at least three dimensions or attributes which we might want to show. Without any other visual cues, the flowchart ends up full of notes,  just a recipe in pictures. Consider that there’s (1) How you cook the various ingredients as well as (2) When you cook them. Thirdly, there’s the (3) Variety of ingredients themselves. We can start using rows, columns, colors, and other visual cues to let the chart show how to proceed. (Is my Edward Tufte-obsession showing yet? ) What’s the Wild Card for? Just wait.

Color-code flowchart
Color-code Ingredients, by kajmeister

Turkey Cooking Methods and Swim Lanes

Aside from color-coding the food, we can divide our chart up into rows for the cooking methods. The technical term is swim lanes (my flowchart program uses the one word label “swimlane” which I don’t think is correct). (Of course I have a flowchart program! )  This is also known as a cross-functional diagram and can be very helpful for showing you problems with a process. For example, if you charted a process across different people, this might help show who has to do most of the work or where the bottlenecks are.

Turkey cooking method chart
Turkey flowchart with Swimlanes, by kajmeister

So far, this is fairly simple. Handling the turkey itself doesn’t create too many bottlenecks. We thaw and brine our turkey in an ice chest in the garage because it is a cool, dry place. I am aware that fresh turkey is always better than frozen. However, good luck getting a fresh turkey the size you want a few days before T-day, if you live in a populated area. Not only can you not squeeze into a grocery store on Tuesday or Wednesday night, but you can’t drive down the street in less than two hours. This necessitates buying the turkey days in advance. That brings up another key dimension we need to add: time.

Logarithmic Time Scales

As soon as you factor time into the picture, you realize the scale needs to be logarithmic. Now, I say that with the advanced warning to the sticklers and mathy people out there who will point out that my next diagrams aren’t truly to a logarithmic scale. I am mainly trying to make a point, but I admit in advance that this is Not Mathematically Accurate. I apologize. Meanwhile, to those who don’t know what I mean by logarithmic–and, yes, I do like just typing the word logarithmic, which rolls off the tongue like quintessential and antediluvian–anyway… the point is that the time in the kitchen has to be illustrated on a sliding scale. More to the point:

The last 30 minutes in the kitchen is where chaos ensues

Because of this chaos, the last 30 minutes carries as much activity, which must be shown in as much detail, as the previous 90 minutes or three hours or day and a half. As I’m hinting, I decided to use roughly a rule of three. The size of the last 30 minutes on the chart is about the same as the size of the previous 90 minutes, three hours, nine hours, and three days. (Yes, I know, it’s not exact, and it hurts me, too. 3×90=270 which is not three hours. Also, the rule of three isn’t really logarithmic. Again, the fuzziness is painful. You get the gist.)

Turkey Logarithmic flowchart
Turkey Flowchart with Logarithmic Time Scale, by kajmeister

The turkey alone, even placed in the context of the cooking method and time scale, is easily handled. Notice how there’s also that relatively long time stretch between when you stick Gervaise (what we always call our turkey) in the oven, and when he comes out to rest. That’s when you cook everything else, hence the craziness of the last half hour.

It looks so easy when it’s all done, right? Well, here we go:

T-day flowchart
Full T-Day flowchart, by kajmeister

(If that’s not visible when you enlarge it, here is a pdf version:   20181118 Big T Chart

Where the Cooks Bump into Each Other

Here is where all hell breaks loose, in my diagram labeled “All Hell Breaks Loose.” Notice, in the enlargement below, that even though I created ample visual space for that last 30 minutes, it’s almost not enough for what has to take place on the stove and oven. The Wild Card is typically where a guest shows up and says, “Oh, I just need to pop this in the oven for 30 minutes…” well, do you have room in the oven? What if it’s 45 minutes? Turkey’s still in there… and when do you make dessert?

Turkey dinner last 30 minutes
T-Day chart, last 30 minutes, by kajmeister

 

All process variations can be handled with proper advanced planning. You probably have a microwave; encourage guests to use that for heating. Microwaves don’t tend to be needed for most of the traditional foods, so any wild cards must be accommodated there.

Desserts are best made the night before, as are cranberries made from scratch or gelatinized. Notice that there’s a flurry of activity in that time swatch as well!

Turkey day the Night before
T-Day flowchart the Night Before, by kajmeister

Right after the turkey goes in the oven is a good time to create a few munchies and deviled eggs.  Do that before you start peeling potatoes because once you start smelling roasting turkey, you will go slightly mad. The block of time after that is good for pulling out dishes, cleaning the carving tools and giant forks, and going on a treasure hunt for the gravy boat. It’s on the top shelf in the back, probably.

This is a working draft that I’m going to print out and use this week. I probably will need to make adjustments.  If you have suggestions, please include in the comments. Flowcharts always improve with input by the users.

One of my guests told me her traditional dish involves pearl onions and cheese. I hope it doesn’t need to bake more than 30 minutes. Plus, I think I’m going to need to find another color.

To Freeze or Not To Freeze

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
–Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”

With election trauma behind me and turkey recipes in front of me, I needed a little nudge in writing today’s entry, and my friendly neighborhood bloggers suggested Daily Word Prompts of chemical and freeze. Put them together and voila! today’s topic: cryonics.

Alcor cryonics
Cryonics seems to involve lots of ducts, pipes, and ladders. Alcor.org marketing photo.

Get Your Batsh*t Crazy Freezing Definitions Straight

First off, learn the distinction between cryonics, cryogenics, suspended animation. Cryonics is the science of freezing bodies with the hopes of future re-animation, after medical technologies have advanced to reverse aging or cure whatever ailed the body. Cryogenics is the branch of physics dealing with low temperatures. Suspended animation is inducing a cessation of body functions, perhaps through a low metabolic state, that preserves the body over an extended period of time. Suspended animation has been successfully extended to mice for a few hours, but not on anything as big as sheep or pigs, so unless you squeak, this is not a viable option yet.

 

Cryonics has caught the imagination of scientists in earnest since the 1960s, when cancer-stricken James Bedford became the first to have his body frozen at the Alcor Institute.  As Wikipedia points out, there is a lot of positive thinking involved here. It seems like the ultimate merging of faith and science: folks having faith that the crappy science today which can’t cure their disease will nevertheless sustain them into the future at which point they can be revived perfectly well and on they go with their lives.
Cryonics operates under a fundamentally distinct paradigm from suspended animation in that it depends on future technology as part of its premise for working. It is not currently possible to preserve mental capacities and memories by this method and only currently to cells and microorganisms.
–Wikipedia
On the other hand, they’re dying. What have they got to lose?
Cryonics Institute ad
Cryonics Institute Ad “Life is priceless: Imagine a world…”

Scottsdale, Clinton Township, and Sergiyev Posad

Well, dignity perhaps might be lost. Lots of money. It costs hundreds of thousands to get frozen–though the companies say that life insurance will “easily cover it”–and thousands annually to be maintained.  Yet, there are  institutes which are deep into the cryonics business, with bodies numbering in the hundreds so far, as a character on TV once said, “stacked like cordwood.”  For example, the Cryonics Institute is northeast of Detroit, and KrioRus is in Sergiyev Posad, outside of Moscow.  Clinton is near Flint, the town where the government allowed the core water supply to be poisoned.
Alcor, the granddaddy of companies, is in Scottsdale. Alcor was in Riverside, but ran into some legal and storage issues which prompted the move to Arizona. They do seem to prefer locating their refrigeration-based company inside a desert comwhere, which creates cognitive dissonance. Michigan or Russia makes more sense.
KrioRus cryonics publicity
KrioRus publicity photo promoting cryonics. Photo at Kriorus.ru.

The Curious Case of Dora Kent

Then, there was the case of Dora Kent, the 83-year-old mother of an Alcor board member.  Dying from pneumonia and Alzheimer’s, Dora was put into the freeze–or at least her head was. A Riverside county coroner who autopsied the body ( I wonder who asked for that!) claimed that Dora had died by a dose of excessive barbiturates administered in the process. Riverside charged Alcor with murder and demanded to examine the head. Alcor refused, staff members were led away in handcuffs, and a SWAT team seized records. The legal wrangle ended with a judgment that the coroner’s office had made a mistake. All charges were dropped, and Alcor won a $90,000 settlement against the Riverside coroner. Then, they moved to Arizona.

 

Other court cases also ensued, including a famous dispute over whether Ted Williams, the baseball player, wanted to be cremated or frozen. Ted’s son, a cryonics fan, won the case with a handwritten note that’s still disputed. Today, Ted’s head is frozen and awaiting the rosy future.

 

Jan in the Pan

The website marketing materials of these sites show pictures of young couples embracing on the beach, which is hard to reconcile that with the image of 84-year-old Ted Williams’ frozen head.  But a note buried in said marketing press releases starts to reveal the strategy:
Danila Medvedev predicts that the first head transplant will be performed in the near future, resulting in an ailing rich person’s head being transplanted on to a healthy poor person’s body.
–Courtney Weaver, The Daily Mail on Kriorus.ru
Jan in the Pan
MSTK3K Wiki, “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die”
Mystery Science Theater 3000 once riffed on the movie The Brain That Woudn’t Die and named the character Jan in the Pan. So, while this seems the stuff of many creepy science fiction stories, the reality is that most of the folks being frozen are wealthy white men. Their faith perhaps is not that the science will cure their disease but instead enable a transplant in the 23rd century into one of the other twenty billion schmucks fighting over water and soylent green. Want to learn more? Operators are standing by!
Alcor Customer Service
Alcor customer service operators are standing by. Photo at Alcor.org

Cremation, Please

To quote Freddie Mercury (a little segue from last week’s blog), I don’t particularly want to live forever. Cryonics Institute sounds a little too much like Gizmonics Institute, and I’d rather put my money and faith into life today rather than future re-animation. What also strikes me, as an expert in process design,  is the number of failure points when you evaluate the stories and photos.
Do I trust a company that uses so many pipes, ducts, ladders, and old guys to maintain me for untold centuries?  How do I feel about the governments of Arizona, Michigan, or Russia in providing the legal or physical infrastructure to keep these enterprises running, when they can’t even keep a nearby town’s water safe? Plus, isn’t the world too populated already–do I really need to be adding to it by wanting to live past my body’s Buy/Sell date?
Cryonics
Cryonics marketing photo at Kriorus.ru
Some want their corpses to end with a freeze
Some just their head
From what I know about disease
I’d want my corpse to be in freeze
But if ’twas cancer struck me dead
Deny traitor cells the thermostat!
Keep just my brain inside my head
Within a vat
That’s sure to please.
–Kajmeister, “Body or Head?”
PS: The AI of WordPress is upset with me over this story and refuses to get the spacing correct. My apologies. Meantime, look for an early Thanksgiving-related post possibly on the weekend… the Turkey-cookin’ Flowchart!

Bohemian Rhapsody Still Hard to Pin Down

Freddie Mercury is still an enigma. So is Queen. There’s a danger to pigeonholing the band as either hard metal or popular crowd pleaser, to using Freddie as a poster boy for the gay ’80s or Brian as an emblem for the big-haired glam rockers of the late ’70s. Queen was always hard to pin down.

Hey hey hey hey it was the D.N.A.
Hey hey hey hey that made me this way
–“Sheer Heart Attack” by Queen

Mercury/Malek comparison
Freddie Mercury and Rami Malek at Live Aid. Photo by 20th C. Fox at thenationalae.com.

In the new biopic of the band, “Bohemian Rhapsody,”  Rami Malek is terrific as Mercury, the spark of life and chaos that brings the lush guitar layers of the band’s musicianship to life. Gwilym Lee, Joe Mazzello, and Ben Hardy are lovely as Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor who create the sounds that now rank among the greatest rock songs–the greatest songs–of all time.

What Movie Were They Watching?

The critics have generally panned or dismissed the film. Rotten Tomatoes (a critical compilation) was barely 59% last week. Audience responses, in contrast, have been 94%. One of the greatest curiosities then, as we sat watching, tapping our feet, and singing along under our breath, was why?

The reality was perhaps more interesting, and more nuanced, but in any case the overall narrative architecture of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a Lego palace of clichés. A band strives to get to the top and tastes the sweet and sour sides of success. A misunderstood genius suffers for his art, alienates those who care for him most, and finds forgiveness and redemption. A lot of the story may be true, but none of it feels remotely authentic.–Review from A.O. Scott at The New York Times

A big part of the reason for the negativity is that the film fiddles with Queen and Mercury’s timeline, for dramatic effect. Mercury did not know he had AIDS in 1985 when they performed at Live Aid, the performance that a 2007 BBC poll ranked as the greatest rock performance of all time. One of Freddie’s sustained notes during his a cappella section became known as “The Note Heard Round the World.” Because that performance–in retrospect–looms large in the annals of rockdom and for the history of Queen itself, it would make sense to create it as a climax for their story. Hence, it’s the beginning and end of the movie, hence that glosses over the fact that Freddie lived another six years and that Queen continued to release albums during that time.

Ok, so be forewarned about that lack of historic “accuracy.” Continue reading “Bohemian Rhapsody Still Hard to Pin Down”

The Demise of Ghosts Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

The Puritans killed off the ghosts.

Marcus the Carcass
Marcus the Carcass, the kajmeister Halloween mascot.

Or, to say it more properly, Martin Luther and the Reformation Christians were the ones who turned the dead into the bloodcurdling beings that inhabit today’s stories. Halloween stories being an appropriate topic for today’s blog, I was reading about the history of horror, and I wondered how medieval societies felt about ghosts. When I read about the Dance of the Dead and the role of Martin Luther, it all sort of clicked into place.

In the medieval period, the dead were considered simply another age group. The blessed dead who were consecrated as saints became part of daily ritual life and were expected to intervene to support the community. Families offered commemorative prayers to their ancestors, whose names were written in “Books of Hours,” prayer books that guided daily devotion at home. —[Emphasis mine] from “How the Dead Danced with the Living in Medieval Society,” theconversation.com

Just Another Age Group

Prior to the Reformation, medieval societies had a more platonic relationship with the dead. Maybe not platonic–how about balanced? The dead represented ancestors who could be either blessed or just normal ol’ ghosts. Some spirits intended harm, like demons or tricksters, but not all of the walking dead were malicious. Hence, many medieval paintings, particularly murals, showed the dead dancing among the living. The dance was part of the transition of life as one aged and eventually crossed the line into that other state of being. Continue reading “The Demise of Ghosts Has Been Greatly Exaggerated”

How Many Things Do I Really Need to Do Today?

Has the artificial intelligence singularity already hit? If you’re familiar with the Terminator series, that’s where computer intelligence develops to a point where algorithms are able to learn and improve, which leads to A.I. self-awareness, which leads A.I. to determine that it’s more useful than its human creators. Ergo, humans are unnecessary, and the manifestation of computing power turns into Arnold with the sunglasses, Hasta La Vista, Baby!

Arnold The Terminator
Arnold says complete your five tasks today, please! Google photo of The Terminator.

Maybe we’re already there. There is a raging (interesting) debate between philosophical technology camps about when or if the singularity will occur. In the abstract, perhaps it’s forty years away. In reality, though, aren’t we already shaping our lives around technology rather than the other way around?  My wife likes to joke that we have to “give our lives up to the googles.” But, seriously, haven’t we tacitly agreed to let those little devices run things?

To Do Lists That Don’t Make Us More Productive

I like a good To Do list, although I’m often over-ambitious and put more things on it than I can complete. After I stopped punching the corporate clock, I wanted a program to help me keep track of the projects I want to do at home. I fell in love with ToDoist, but recently the romance has soured.

One of the features of ToDoist is that you define how many things you want to accomplish each day, and it tells you Congratulations when you completed them. Action items are now a game. Hit all the targets, and you win! Or, get a notification, if you don’t. You have only two hours left to complete your five tasks. If you don’t update for a few days or go on vacation, you get a depressingly long Overdue list.

Suppose I have a day where I do One Big Thing that eclipses all others? I still get dinged for not doing four more, and then I lose my “streak” of days which affects whether I’m rated as an Expert or Apprentice. So I find myself doing things like, after the fact, adding “Grocery Store” or “Go to Mailbox” as a task.  I wonder whether this is really adding to my “personal productivity,” and, by the way, when did people need to run themselves like a business, anyway? Continue reading “How Many Things Do I Really Need to Do Today?”