"Porn in a cup"

File this one under "bad idea"... or perhaps "lawsuit waiting to happen"?

A Brooklyn coffee shop owner has "invented" a deci-shot (20 oz) espresso, with the explanation that sounds like it was copied directly from a 12-step meeting:

"Sometimes I'll drink a double espresso and say to myself, 'I need another double.' And then another double will turn into another double. And I was like, why not drink a full cup?"


Memory Card Recovery

I haven't had a memory card die on me yet, but I got concerned the other day that I really had no idea how to get my pictures back if my camera did something crazy when I was at a wedding or something like that.

The basic idea is that flash memory has a limited number of write cycles. So "deleting" a file really just means that the file system forgets where the file was, rather than actually writing zeros or random numbers over the location. Overwriting would made the chip last half as long. As with any other storage media, if the directory dies though, you lose everything because you can't find the files anymore. With a hard drive, you then typically overwrite the file you want to recover and it's lost permanently (unless you're the NSA).

With flash memory though, because of the limited number of possible writes, there's a chip in the memory to try to make sure that each possible area of the memory gets used equally, so one part doesn't wear out before the rest. This means that typically the part of the chip with the most recent pictures on it won't be overwritten until the entire rest of the disk gets filled up. It's sort of a best case situation for data recovery.

Thus, to recover files, you just run through the entire card and find things that look like image files (or any other kind of file).

The entire point of this post is that you can spend $50 on fairly poorly written software to do the recovery, or you can just download PhotoRec which is open source and does exactly the same thing. I did a test run on one of my cards and pulled 4 GB of perfectly valid files from it, pretty nifty if I ever run into a problem.

This brings up another issue too, flash memory is completely insecure. Incriminating/trade secret files/messages/whatever could be lurking on any memory card or thumb drive. So, if you have one that you're done using make sure you either physically destroy it or actually wipe it.


Crazy British Coinage

The last couple evenings, I’ve been listening to a recording of Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw. (Incidentally, if  you’re tired of watching Hulu, but feeling too lazy to read a book, you can listen to recordings of public domain works for free at librivox.org; the funny thing about this parenthetic comment is that I was inspired to read Pygmalion by a reference to it in one of the 30 Rock live episodes that I was watching on Hulu over the weekend).

The play is pretty funny, and extremely similar to the musical version, My Fair Lady. I’d seen the film of My Fair Lady many times growing up, but never read or saw the non-musical original.

One element of the play, however, confused me: the many references to different denominations of old British coinage. Frankly, these references have always confused me whenever they came up in any British literature or films, but this time, I finally did a little research. Let me tell you, there’s a reason I was always confused. The old British system was pretty arcane. Here’s how it breaks down:

Prior to 1971 there were 240 pence in a pound. This dates back to Henry II, who based the monetary system on the Troy system of weights, which is used to measure precious metals. There are 240 pennyweights in a Troy pound. A penny coin was made of silver, and weighed, logically, a pennyweight. Two hundred and forty of these coins then gives you one pound of silver. A Pound Sterling was a unit of money worth a pound of sterling silver. So Mr. Darcy’s income was worth 50,000 pounds of silver a year! Currently silver goes for about $25 an ounce. There are 12 troy oz. in a troy pound (vs. 16 in our usual pounds, great). So $300 per pound gives Mr. Darcy $1.5 million a year, assuming similar valuation of silver.

So far this is pretty straightforward, but Eliza, Professor Higgins, and Col. Pickering  were talking about crowns, farthings, shillings, sovereigns, guineas, and ha’pennies. What’s going on?! Sometimes Higgins even says “Seven and six” with no units at all.

Well, it’s not terribly different from our system in which there are 20 nickels, 10 dimes or 4 quarters in a dollar. A shilling was a 20th of a pound, so when you hear shilling, think nickel. Two shillings make a florin, which is a tenth of a pound. A crown was a quarter pound, which I think should therefore have been called a burger, but if you hear crown, think quarter. There is a problem with this parallel, which is that a pound is worth more than a dollar, and used to be worth WAY more than  todays dollars, but it’s all relative.

The biggest complication is that there are many more ways to evenly divide a pound based on 240 pence than one based on 100, and a pound was actually worth so much more than a dollar that sub-penny coins were still worth minting. So the full spectrum of coins include:

1 farthing = 1/4 penny = 1/960th of a pound.  (It’s a fourth-ing of a penny).

ha’penny = half a penny = 1/480th of a pound.

penny = 1/240th of a pound.

thru’pence (3 pence) and sixpence coins also existed, plus a 4 penny coin called a groat. A silver sixpence was called a ‘tanner.’

shilling = 12 pence = 1/20th of a pound. (also, ‘bob’ is slang for shilling)

florin = 2 shillings = 1/10th of a pound.

half crown = two shillings and six pence = 1/8th of a pound

crown = 5 shillings = 60 pence= 1/4th of a pound

A sovereign was a coin worth one pound, but made of gold, and here’s something really weird, a guinea was one pound plus one shilling, or 21 shillings, or £1.05. Apparently (according to this page) guineas were considered more gentlemanly than pounds. So a tradesman like a bricklayer would be paid for his services in pounds, but a gentleman artist might more likely be paid for his services in guineas.

Prices would be given in pounds-shillings-pence format for amounts more than a pound, and shillings-pence format for amounts less than one pound. ‘s’ stands for shilling (although it comes from the Latin solidus, and ‘d’ stands for penny (from the Latin denarius, of course).

So when Higgins says “Seven and six” that would be written 7s-6d, and he means 7 shillings and six pence, which is £0.375 or three half-crowns.

People eventually figured out that this was all way more complicated than it needed to be, and they switched to decimal pounds with 100 pence per pound. This was called decimalization and took effect on “Decimal Day“, Feb 15 1971. Pounds stayed the same with the new decimal pence to be called ‘new pence,’ but as far as I can tell, everyone just calls them p (“pee”) now, as in 50p is half a pound.