The subject of today’s review is … cupcakes. Not any particular recipe or any particular chef’s rendition. Just cupcakes. Mmmmm … cupcakes.

If you have a Western upbringing, you’ve seen them I’m sure. For everyone else, cupcakes are cake-like, but not cakes. They typically don’t have layers, yet they’re taller than a sheet cake. The texture is more cake-ish than the muffins they resemble, but they are less likely to be allowed to mushroom out of their containers and are also usually iced or frosted. They are never frosted on the sides. Cups don’t feature at all unless you go for the stretch that the little accordioned paper condom that keeps them from sticking to the muffin tin they’re baked in could possibly be called a cup. They are cup-sized, however–anywhere from demitasse up to soup mug.

Almost any form of cake can have a cupcake analog except coffee cakes and Bundt cakes. Just face it. Cupcake variants of coffee cakes are muffins. And Bundt cupcakes are fragile-ish flat-bottomed donuts. You people trying the fancy stuff aren’t fooling anybody.

Physical characteristics

Cupcakes are usually served at room temperature. Their bottoms are like an oily, crumbly sponge and their tops are coated with a sticky paste. Under approximately fifty pounds of pressure, they squash completely flat and stay that way. If you’re the type to distinguish the quality of a dessert by whether it sticks to the wall when you throw it hard, then it rates somewhere between pudding and brownies. For benchmark purposes, cupcake weights are measured in ounces or grams, at least with respect to more successful recipes.


The texture associated with cupcakes I’ve already described above. Being a dessert, though, the most vital component of the cupcake experience is flavor, followed possibly by aroma. Texture remains important, though. If your cupcake is unexpectedly crunchy or slimy or chewy or powdery, it could negatively expect your enjoyment.

Flavors tend to follow the dessert/candy standards, typically with less emphasis on fruit flavors that you would have with, say, hard candies or gelatins. Vanillas, chocolates, and dairy-derived flavorings (except for cheeses) are popular. Fruits and nuts are largely accents.

While I am fond of fruits and nuts, artificial fruit and nut flavorings are frequently nothing short of heinous. I studied organic chemistry in college and I recall having to synthesize the ester that is the principal component of artificial banana flavoring. It’s tricky. And now that I know what that chemical-tasting taint is that most artificial flavorings have, I’m not interested in consuming it voluntarily. Like with any sort of cake or pastry or dessert, if you’re going to have a flavoring added, it should be distilled from the actual substance–whether it’s vanilla or banana or chocolate or pork. Artificial is not the way to go. It will only end in tears unless you are twelve years old or younger. If you are prepubescent you almost certainly have some mysterious immunity to heinous artificial flavorings. Enjoy it while you can. It makes your desserts much cheaper. Which brings us to…

Market data

Cupcakes are, if you are purchasing them for personal consumption, a far better option than purchasing a whole cake, whether sheet or layer. A whole full-sized cake can cost plenty of money–up to tens of thousands of dollars for some cakes. A whole cupcake has a much more reasonable price cap. Also, if you get a slice of normal cake, there’s always that nagging knowledge that there is more cake that you could have eaten. Only freaks eat part of a cupcake, so when you’re done, you’re done. The temptation to consume more is greatly reduced, so your costs aren’t likely to change unexpectedly.

If you are making cupcakes, then you are probably making more than one–unless your oven is one of those designed to cook things with the heat of an incandescent light bulb. In any case, the cost of making six to ten cupcakes is equivalent to making a two-layer nine-inch cake or a 9″ x 13″ sheet cake, whether using a mix or working from scratch. All told, your buy-in is between a couple of bucks and maybe up to twenty to thirty US dollars if you insist on premium ingredients and flavorings.

Cupcakes do not age well and thus do not make good long-term investments.

Overall Impact

Cupcakes are better than dental surgery, yet not as desirable as a winning lottery ticket worth thousands of dollars. Given such an open ended scale in either direction, cupcakes as a stand-alone concept wouldn’t earn much more than a C+. Rated strictly against other desserts, however, they score a bit higher. They come in easily regulated doses. They don’t require the risk of wielding sharp implements to serve them. They are frequently eaten using no utensils or tableware at all, and, as such, don’t require that you be seated at the time. And they are available in a wide range of flavors. On the negative side, trying to preserve the frosting on top makes them difficult to transport, and that’s a definite minus. There is also usually a nasty paper wrapper (the aforementioned “cup”) that needs discarding afterwards, but that’s not really worth losing any points. If it weren’t for the tendencies towards artificial flavorings and the difficulty of transport, they’d certainly get an A+, but docking them twice, we’re left with a firm A-.


PS: Your bonus one-line review

Eyebrows: A wonderful invention for keeping sweat out of your eyes. The painted-on ones are no good for that. Accept no substitutes.


January 31, 2007 · Posted in reviews  
January 29, 2007 · Posted in Everything Else  

As a long-time connoisseur of breathing, I’m uniquely qualified to give my viewpoint. My lungs and attendant respiratory plumbing, while not those of an athlete or meditator or other kind of breathing specialist, closely resemble those of the average consumer of air. Also, over my multiple decades of breathing I’ve obtained a broad range of experience air-wise and have paid careful attention to my breathing experiences. This allows me to tender opinions and judgments relevant to the largest segment of the reading, air-consuming market.

Category: Physical characteristics

Reviewing air based on physical characteristics is kind of like reviewing wine based on its ability to fill a glass and keep a level surface as it sits there. Does it fill the glass from the bottom to its meniscus evenly, without leaving any unsightly gaps? Is it suitably liquid and not in any way solid or gaseous or plasmid? What’s its peak frequency of transmitted light? Specific heat? Who the hell cares! What you want to know is will you gag when you drink it and will it give you a buzz that’s worth the price of the bottle and tomorrow’s hangover. (If you were wine connoisseurs, even amateur ones, you might be interested in color and bouquet and finish and suchlike, but I’m sure I know my audience here. Qualities like those I just listed are for wine collectors, not wine drinkers. People like that would spit it back into the bottle and sip it again later if that would work. Thank To Whom It May Concern that it doesn’t. Especially if they ever invite you over for dinner.)

However, there are some physical characteristics of air that are relevant to the air consumer versus the air collector. These are things like temperature, density, and composition–including oxygen content and humidity. Does it effectively deliver oxygen and dissolve the carbon dioxide you try to give it? These things are extraordinarily relevant to one’s enjoyment of a lungful but are only worth brief discussion.

Category: Sensoria

The breathing experience is not just limited to brute physical characteristics. Under the subcategory of composition, strictly speaking, we have aroma, flavor, and/or particulate materials that contribute to the digestion of the air and the enjoyment of it. Much can be said about the sensory impact of a lungful. As a reader of reviews, you are most likely looking for an informed evaluation of the subjective experience and here is where most of those details fall.

Category: Market data

This is simply pricing and availability, with modifications as necessary by region. For deeper market investment information such as air futures please look elsewhere.

Category: Overall impact

We’re still talking air here. There really aren’t an awful lot of details that are relevant to the average consumer’s interest other than the ones above. I understand, however, that some readers won’t want to give a lot of time to a lot of hot air about air, so this is where the more impatient of you should skip to for the punchline. I don’t mind. Seriously.

Now onto the current lungful.

I obtained this air at the juncture of my backdoor (which is in my kitchen) and the outside landing, roughly ten or twelve feet above ground-level with respect to my backyard. This includes the distance from where I was standing to my nose, which is only fair. Sometimes I experience air from a sitting or prone position, which is occasionally relevant. The wind was blowing in through the door, so this lungful contains many more outdoor elements than kitchen taints. For geographical and seasonal data, you should know that my house is in a forty-year-old neighborhood, lightly wooded, in unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia, on the outskirts of Atlanta, perhaps a thousand yards from Sunday morning traffic on I-285. The time obtained is January 28, 2007, around 10:30 AM EST.

Physical characteristics

Temperature: Cool, but not icy.
Composition: Low humidity, but not abysmally so. It had rained last night, but winds have been strong and are picking up speed, carrying some of the moisture away with it. Decent oxygen content, as is common with cooler air. No detectable levels of macroscopic particulate content like dust or pollen.


The principal aromatic characteristic of this lungful is a side-effect of owning three dogs and a fenced-in backyard. As most dog-owners know, the size of the odor of a dog is completely independent of the size of the dog itself, which is just the same as saying a little dog goes a long way. However, the dogginess and doggy-by-productness of this lungful aren’t in any way overwhelming.

The oddest aromatic component of the current lungful is the essence of fish, which is tough to explain for this locale. It wasn’t the odor of cooking fish, but of live (or recently live) fish.

This fishy odor came nowhere near my personal low point of air-consumption experience: a lungful obtained interior to the Tokyo fishmarket during a warm springtime afternoon in 1973, where the other dominant aromatic component was diesel exhaust–an overall “F-” experience if there ever was one that was not at the same time also poisonously lethal.

Also in the definitely-present-yet-not-cloyingly-so category are the scents of damp earth and damp greenery, somewhat at odds with the dryness of the air and the lateness of the season. Plenty of the tress and shrubbery haven’t given up their leaves yet, but they’ll probably think about it more seriously tonight when it gets into the low twenties.

Market data

This air, like many lungfuls, was obtained free-of-charge. Right now, should I desire it, I could go obtain another one almost exactly like it. For yourself, however, you should consider the cost of travel to my house, whether you could get here in time to experience a similar lungful, and whether you’re in the category of acquaintance I would allow admittance to my house or yard without charging admission. But hey, it’s free for me–ignoring mortgage and maintenance costs of being allowed to live here, which I calculate to be roughly $.04US per minute, or a penny for every five breaths.

Overall impact

I hesitate to use a term as worn as “crisp”, but it fits. I’m sure that’s fine, though, for people who enjoy chugging whatever it is that’s their favorite as much as–or more than–trying something exotic. Crisp is what you can expect for this time of year in this region, and it beats the hell out of the “sharp” stuff you’ll get from points farther north today and the warm wet sponge you try to get oxygen out of here in the summer. Basically this lungful gets a B- without even trying even considering the dogginess. Points were taken off for the bizarreness of the fish taint, even though it wasn’t as harsh as it could have been. Overall: satisfactory, in every connotation of the word.


PS: Your one-line bonus review

Diet Berries & Cream Dr Pepper: Flavorwise, a fistfight in a can. Think twice. Check your insurance.


January 28, 2007 · Posted in reviews  

A friend of mine, niakarima, posted the first link to this that I’ve seen:


Genetically modified pets. They glow in the dark. (Not such a big deal in itself. Quite a number of lifeforms do.) But these are mass-market GM merchandise. At $5 a pop.

You’re not allowed to breed them because you have to have a license for that.

I bet they taste funny.


January 26, 2007 · Posted in Everything Else  

Say you’re up in space looking down at the night-side of earth. Due to a few quirks of orbital velocities, you only get to look at earth’s night-side, perfectly eclipsing the sun forever.

It could happen.

With the naked eye, you can make out lit-up areas on earth and see how they change with time. You nail down the rotation of the earth with no problem. Axial tilt too. Sure.

We’re ignoring the rest of space for the instant, but you’ll see it makes no difference in this example.

You have materials and know-how, however. You make telescopes. It takes you no time to start making out that the bright smears you’re seeing are made up of lots of tiny little lights.

Your scopes get bigger and tighter, and you figure out spectroscopy. Pretty soon you can make out manufacturer labels on the lightbulbs. You work out LEDs. The spectral lines of incandescent tungsten are no stranger to you. Mercury vapor? Sodium? Neon? Carbon arc? Child’s play. Lightning? Bonfires in people’s back yards? Absolutely. Combustion, incandescence, fluorescence, laser emissions—and eventually you can throw in radio, microwaves, X-rays … you can see and catalog every single antenna and cell tower and their emissions. You’ve discovered mirrors down here and you use the knowledge to improve your telescopes. Eventually you can make out, by carefully blocking out the glare of the bulbs, little illuminated patches of ground, of pavements, of rooftops….

You know it all now, right?

Not a chance. You don’t know about anything in houses or underground. You don’t know about whales or anything that lives in jungles. You’d only know a giraffe if it was on fire. Obviously there’s something about mountaintops and glaciers and the middles of oceans that repel lightbulbs. But yeah, you know everything about light there is to know.

That, my friends, explains Dark Matter. Feel free to take the capital letters off at any time.


January 23, 2007 · Posted in Everything Else