August 16, 2010

The Mosque

I rarely tell my parents this, but I am often very thankful for my upbringing. Do all people feel they were "raised right?" I don't know, but I am frequently thankful for the example of trusted family members, and for the experiences my parents gave to my sister and myself. My memory is full of formative experiences.

In one such memory is of a trip to Morocco with my sister, parents and aunt and uncle. I remember wandering around looking at the beautiful tile work near some sort of mosque. At the time I only barely understood what a mosque was; I was 6 or 7 years old. But I did know that the people who built the mosque were not the same religion as we were. Despite that, my mother's fascination with everything we saw helped to instill in me an appreciation for the beauty of inspired human accomplishments, no matter what inspired them. I credit that experience with strengthening self-awareness of subjective judgment. But, really, I thank my parents for allowing me to see more things by looking past certain obstacles that society installs in our brains.

This idea of an Islamic community center within blocks of the site known as "Ground Zero" has caused many to balk, to comment on the craziness of the modern world, to cry out with offense, and to claim insult.

Were the 9/11 attacks carried out by an entire religion? I think that if we begin to attribute the motives of some who call themselves religious to all who share their name, we have a lot of tiring work to do condemning people.

That said, people clearly are offended, insulted and hurt. Some of these people are folks I care about. Some ascribe nefarious motives to the builders of the center; they lament that some will interpret its existence as a sort of triumph. Those feelings are real. But what, in the end, is the consequence of them? That is a decision we must make between our desire to save our feelings and our desire to stand by American principles. Is it important to deprive some extremists a thing they will see as a symbol (when extremists snap their fingers, do we jump?) or is it important to show the majority of Muslim Americans that we really are a nation of laws and principles?

We do not have a right not to be offended or hurt. This is fortunate, even though we and our friends will be unhappy at times because of it. It's fortunate because the principles at stake are much more important than the whim of personal feelings, even if those feelings are strong and shared by many. An ability to see past feelings to principles makes us better than extremists and shows that we believe in our principles; we don't just spout them meaninglessly.

Some people risk their very lives and even die for these American principles. Others of us make a different sort of sacrifice when we bear the brunt of an offense in the name of a difficult to defend principle. Both are noble.

Posted by James at 1:14 AM | Comments (8)

August 6, 2010

Rendering Equations in GMail and Elsewhere

I just found out this workaround for rendering equations in GMail and it was so awesome that I felt I had to share it. Even if you don't use GMail, you might find this useful, if you ever have to work with equations online, because I'm going to show you 2 tools that help you with mathematical equations.

First, the "problem."

Have you ever wanted to send someone an email with an equation? This happened to me today when I wanted to send Dr. McCabe some math I was working on for a problem he threw at us on Wednesday. He likes to pop by the office and give us math problems to keep us on our toes. I'll give you guys the math problem when I find out for certain that I have the description correct.

Anyhow, I wanted to add a couple of equations to the email, but I wanted them to look nice. Let's say these were the equations:


(x/2)/1997 = 43/56+x

It's much nicer if they look like this:



Lots of word processors have equation editors, but GMail does not. There is a cool workaround that's also very easy to use.

You have to enable the ability to insert images into your GMail messages (it's a Google Labs feature) and then, instead of inserting an image from your hard drive, you choose to insert an image from a url. Here's the cool part: there's a website that will generate an equation image from a URL. It's called

If you type your equation using LaTeX syntax in place of the angle brackets in the following url, you'll get the rendered equation:<>.gif

The cool part is that if you type the above first and then add the equation, GMail gives you a live preview as you're typing.

The first equation looks like this in LaTeX: x=\sqrt{34765}-65

My web editor messes up the link, but you can take this URL:\sqrt{34765}-65.gif

...and paste that in your address bar and you'll see that it renders the equation. Neat! For documentation on how texify works, check out

But what if you don't know LaTeX? There are some good online editors that will generate the LaTeX for you, and show you what the syntax is. This is a good one.

Even better, if you don't use GMail, that equation editor will render the image for you and allow you to download a gif and paste it into any application. So, just for fun, you should go send some mathematical equations and expressions to people.

Credit: I found the idea in this thread of people making suggestions for GMail features.

Posted by James at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

August 1, 2010

Better than a Coolatta

For a few years I've been trying to duplicate the Dunkin Donuts Coolatta at home so that I can have one whenever I like, but also so I can make one with a lot less sugar. the real Coolattas are the liquid equivalent of cheesecake.

I've made a few attempts and got pretty close, but have always been somewhat disappointed, especially with the texture. You need a powerful blender. Trying to get the crushed ice just right is tough. Also, the milk will tend to go foamy on you. I suspect that the filler they use in the "for recipes" Splenda was contributing to foaminess.

The closest I've come was when I used a recipe out of one of Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes books: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked. Todd found that one of the distinctive flavors in the Coolatta is hazelnut. If you don't order a hazelnut Coolatta, you still get hazelnut flavor in your Coolatta. Even with that knowledge, I didn't love my recipes.

Finally, I've got a substitute I like, but it's nothing like an actual Coolatta. It's essentially like an iced latte, but I like it better than the slushy drink I used to buy at Dunkin Donuts. I make these without measuring, but I am giving you a recipe below so you can try to recreate it for yourself if you care to (and so I can remember). My recipe is low calorie, but you can make an even yummier one if you use real sugar and whole milk. It's up to you.

Also, this is fairly sweet because that's what a Coolatta is like. If you don't like your coffee sweet, omit the Splenda altogether, taste, then add one packet at a time to your taste. Remember, the flavored syrups are sweetened.

DrMomentum Low-Cal Hazelnut Latte


  • 20 ounce cup or larger
  • 3 or more ounces of very strong-brewed coffee. (Preferably espresso or Italian coffee made in a bialetti stove-top pot. Espresso roast. Fresh beans ground just before brewing. Chilled if you have time, use extra ice if not.)
  • small ice cubes
  • skim milk
  • Fat free half & half (optional)
  • 2 packets of Splenda
  • Torani Hazelnut flavor syrup
  • Any vanilla flavored syrup for coffee (I use sugar-free, Torani or Archer Farms from Target)

Half fill cup with ice.

Empty 2 packets of sweetener onto the ice.

Add 1 tsp of each of the syrups (eyeball a splash of each).

Pour 3 oz (that's essentially 2 shots) of espresso onto the ice. If your cup is >20 ounces, add another ounce or half shot. If your coffee is not that strong, you need to use more of it.

Add a splash of fat free half & half if you've got it. We've always got it because Maggie uses it every day.

Top up with skim milk and stir.

The important thing here is the strong coffee. Remember, you're diluting it with the milk and ice. If you want a milkier latte, use less ice so you have room for more link.

Brewing strong coffee / espresso substitute

To brew really strong coffee, I use a Bialetti Moka pot on the stove and I take it off the heat before it's done brewing so that the coffee in the pot is concentrated (the coffee that comes out later in the brewing process is less strong). I stop the extraction by running cold water over the bottom of the pot, or wrapping the pot in a frozen kitchen towel.

How do you make really strong coffee? let me know in the comments.

Posted by James at 2:14 PM | Comments (3)