Correction to Prof. Tokaji's post "Provisional Voting in Illinois"

elections, reform, standards, news, politics, problems, research

In a recent post at the new site for his EqualVote blog, Dan Tokaji said:

Provisional Voting in Illinois

Wide disparities in the percentage of provisional ballots counted occurred in Illinois, according to this Chicago Tribune report. As an example, the Tribune notes that only 26% of provisionals were counted in DuPage County, compared to 61% in Chicago.

Such disparities reflect the lack of any uniform standards across the state for determining which provisionals should count. [...]

I talked to Prof. Tokaji offline and said the following:

Joe Hall from Berkeley here (and no, I was not associated with the Hout study!)... :)

I was wondering... in your recent post on provisional ballot counting in Illinois you say, "Such disparities reflect the lack of any uniform standards across the state for determining which provisionals should count."

How confident are we that this variation wouldn't still be there (in some form) if we recounted the provisional ballots using a uniform standard? It would seem we won't know this until someone actually does this, right? Is there historical data (even with provisionals being so new) where a uniform standard was applied in the counting of provisional ballots across all counties in a state?

Prof. Tokaji said that no, in fact, no such study had been done so there could most definitely be other effects that cause this disparity. For example, if 527 groups improperly registered people in certain places (like Cook County -- Chicago), this would show up as a spike in invalid provisional ballots.

I, Pizzaiolo

recipe, research, food

pizzaiolo - n. 1. One who creates pizza. 2. An individual pizza maker that strives to make the best pizza that (s)he possibly can.

I've been meaning to do a post on pizza sometime... this article in a recent edition of the Sunday New York Times is a good excuse ("Brooklyn Pizza to Go"):

Finding Patsy Grimaldi's name on a pizzeria out in Phoenix, amid all that sun and desert, is weird. [...] So far there are just a precious few other Grimaldis out there and Patsy says he insists on personally training this new generation to make pies the way his late uncle, Patsy Lancieri, taught him 60 years ago in Harlem - with the special dough recipe and only fresh ingredients from Italy, of course, but always in an oven built the old way from brick and fired the old way by coal, not by gas as most modern pizzeria ovens are.

I need to confess: I am a pizza freak. I made pizza at Dion's in high school. I aim to one day achieve pizzaiolo status; when I can focus on the art of making the best pizza in the world. I am not a pizza snob... I'll eat it any way I can get it. But there's nothing like a well-loved, well-made pie... and you can do it too!

What have I learned about making pizza?

Use High-gluten flour

High-gluten flour is used in bagels, pretzels and pizza to give a chewy, well-developed body to the end result. In the case of pizza, most pizzerias use high-gluten dough for a tasty pie with a tasty crust that develops nice, large bubbles while it rises.

an image of the label of a bag of Dominick's High-Gluten Flour Unfortunately, it is difficult to find high-gluten flour in small quantities. It just isn't sold retail in sizes smaller than 25, 50 and 100-lb. bags. Fortunately, you can by it (and a whole lot of other pizza-related gear) via mail order from Dominick's Creative Pizza Company in 3-lb. bags.

If you make pizza often (like 2-3 times a month) I suggest finding a local source. Finding a local source is as easy as walking down your favorite shopping street and stopping in every bagel, doughnut, etc. store to ask if they could sell you a few pounds of high-gluten flour. I did this recently walking down Piedmont Ave. here in Oakland and, after about six tries, stumbled upon Cafe Valerian. The nice folks at Cafe Valerian make a great, reasonably priced pizza and will sell you 5 pounds of high-gluten flour for $10. (Even though you could get that much for less, you should support your local independent pizza maker and realize that they order flour without thinking about pizza dorks like us.)

Use a Mixer

an image of a KitchenAid Mixer in my kitchen Especially when you're using high-gluten flour or bread flour, kneading the dough with your hands is a pain in the ass, and you can't do it as well nor as consistently as a mixer can. A mixer is a big investment; the KitchenAid Mixer I have at left runs about $200, but you'll be amazed at how much you use it from dough, to cookies to anything whipped. If you do use a mixer, make sure you let the dough rest for a few minutes after it initially combines... dough, when mixed to fast or rough, will become chunky and weird as the strands of gluten in the dough are torn.

Let the Dough Rise Overnight

You should allow your dough to rise in the refrigerator overnight (or freeze it right after you make it and then let it thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours). Also, make sure you take it out and let it warm up to room-temperature about 2 hours before you plan to form it into a pie.

I know this sounds snobby. However, it is important that you use as little yeast as necessary and that you let it do its thing over a long period of time to really allow the flavor of the dough to develop.

Michelle sitting in front of two large dough balls... Why? Well, flour is essentially starch (a complex carbohydrate) and protein. Enzymes made in the process of fermentation (think of them as little pyramidal wedges) will wedge themselves into parts of the starches and proteins, break them apart and make sugars (not-so-complex carbohydrates). This process takes a while to go to its course, about 10 hours. When the dough rises in the refrigerator, the yeast fermentation reaction is slowed, but the enzymatic reaction that creates the flavor is not. In the end, you are left with a very good flavor, created by this reaction proceeding at just the right pace. In the case of room-temperature rising, the flavor turns out somewhat bland by comparison as the reaction is not able to go to its fullest extent before the dough is fully risen (full of CO2). (I paraphrased a longer discussion here from Peter Reinhart's "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza.")

Condition Your Pie's Dough

For each 14-inch pizza crust, right after you've formed the pie crust and put it on a cornmeal or semolina-flour-dusted peel or cookie sheet and right before you put any sauce or toppings, make a quick mixture of:

  • about 1.5-2.0 tbsp. olive oil (light not extra virgin);
  • one pressed garlic clove and;
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. sugar.

Mix all this well with a fork and then apply it to the naked pie crust, all the way to the edges. The sugar takes the spicy bite out of the fresh garlic as well as giving a golden yumminess to the crust. The oil plays an important roll in that it prevents the sauce (or other juices) from wetting the top side of the crust; this can cause the crust to balloon or just get plain soggy. Believe me, while this may sound weird, you will not be disappointed... if you're skeptical, do what I did: make two pies, nearly identical, one conditioned, one unconditioned. (This is something I learned from Dominick DeAngelis' "The Art Of Pizza Making: Trade Secrets and Recipes".)

Use a Baking Stone in a Baffled Oven

Of course, who has the $10,000 (and space!) for a Blodgett Pizza Deck Oven? I sure as hell don't (and probably won't for a long time considering my fondness for public-interest work!).

There are ways to accommodate this with your dinky oven... the technique I use is to use a baking stone and oven baffling.

You can go to the hardware store and buy a bunch of unglazed quarry tiles or get a real baking stone (I got one as a gift). It's important that you never use soap to wash the stone, just use water and scrape the bastard for a while... unless, of course, you like soapy pizza.

a picture of oven baffling... that is, an oven rack, covered with foil and a hole cut out for a circular baking stone Baffling is simply covering the rack minus a hole for the stone with foil. This ensures that radiative heat - that is, heat transmitted by the glow of the electric coil or gas flames - doesn't reflect off of the side of the oven and heat the top of your pizza too much. You will have to tune your baffle... that is, simply make the gap between the edge of the stone and the foil larger until your pizza cooks right for your oven. To small of a gap and your pizza will have an over-crispy crust; to large of a gap and it's as if you had no baffling and the top will cook too fast.

Mozarella di Bufula

Something you may not know is that there are actually pizza police. No shit. That is, in Italy, specifically Naples, you cannot make Napoletana pizza and have the DOC designation without following the rules set by the Associazione della Vera Pizza Napoletana (english).

One of the essential ingredients in the official DOC recipe is unpasteurized mozzarella made from the milk of water buffalo, mozarella di bufula. Where the hell do you get that?!?! Well, it turns out that there is a herd of water buffalo in California, kept by Bubalus Holdings, that is milked... and you can get a one-pound hunk of mozarella di bufula FedEx'd to you for about $15. (I actually haven't done this yet... one-pound is a lot of cheese. If someone wants to go halfsies with me, let me know.)

Experiment, research, experiment

It might be because I'm a scientist by training, or it might be because I always feel the need to tweak things... but, you have to continue the process of asking yourself questions about your pizza and testing hypotheses. At first, it might be "Why is my pizza crappy?" but eventually you'll be asking, "Would another half-inch of tuning my oven baffling make the crust better?" Sooner than later, you will start turning out consistent, amazing pizza pies that if you live in the Bay Area will put every place you can think of to shame (The Bay Area has a surprising lack of good pizza considering the pizzaiolos like Chris Bianco and Grimaldi in a hell-hole like Phoenix. Don't try and point me to Zachary's, Arinell's, etc. ... it's just not made by dedicated pizzaiolos.).

Onward pizzaiolos.

Judd: Spam Blocking on Wordpress

blogging, hacks, open source, SIMS


For all the smart people out there that have realized there are very good reasons to choose WordPress over Movable Type... Judd mentions a great spam-blocking plug-in that we both saw first at Alex Halvais' blog:

I recently found a plugin for Wordpress called AuthImage, which adds a simple image-based challenge response mechanism to the comment form. Users just have to type in a short, randomly generated string in order to process the comment. Not too much of a hassle.

Feeling Accepted...

elections, reform, standards, SIMS, research

The OVC architecture paper, "A PC-Based Open-Source Voting Machine with an Accessible Voter-Verifiable Paper Ballot" (PDF), has been accepted to the FREENIX track of USENIX 2005. (a collaboration with members of the Open Voting Consortium (OVC))

I've already heard a few murmurs from CHI peeps in-the-know through the grapevine. I don't expect our paper will get accepted, not a CHI paper, I suppose... if the reviews were any indication.

Dates to Remember for Cocktail Parties (or Our Final Exam in 'Quality of Information')

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