Halloween Special: How to Carve a Jack-O-Lantern

Jack-o-Lantern - Cat

Jack-o-Lantern - Cat

Pumpkin Carving Tutorial

((PDRater and Jay Shergill are not responsible for any use or misuse of these instructions.  Please only attempt in well lit, well ventilated, area in the presence of trained medical professionals.  In fact, its really just better if you don’t do this at all.))

Last night I carved our Jack-O-Lantern.  It seemed a waste to not use the rest of that pumpkin real estate, so I carved one side into a cat and the other side as a skull.

Tools of the Pumpkin Carving Trade:

  • Apron
  • Sharp large kitchen knife
  • Sharp small kitchen knife
  • Wide rounded cheese knife (looks like a paddle)
  • Plastic bag (for pumpkin guts)
  • Chopsticks
  • Washable markers
  • Sandwich bag and flashlight or
  • Candle
  • Adult supervision
Jack-o-Lantern - Skull

Jack-o-Lantern - Skull


  • Wear apron.
  • Put pumpkin in sink.
  • Cut top out using large knife.  I prefer to make a jagged gut around the top.
  • Use wide paddle-knife to scoop out the insides into the plastic bag.
  • Draw your design on the pumpkin using the marker.
  • Cut out your design using the small knife.
  • Use the chopsticks to punch out any small pieces that don’t easily fall out.
  • When done carving, wash off any excess marker (you’re still in the sink, remember?).
  • Put flashlight in the sandwich bag, put the sandwich bag inside the pumpkin.


  • If you look at the skull carving, you’ll notice that both the skull and jaw appear to be free-standing.  The skull is still attached at the top and the jaw is attached at the two sides.  All you need to do is only cut part-way into the pumpkin in those areas – the light source will make it appear to be free-standing/floating.
  • Using the flashlight is probably significantly safer than a candle.
  • Consider adding water and dry ice to the pumpkin for a mist-like effect.
    • If you do, you’ll have to use the flashlight-in-the-sandwich-baggie trick.  As the dry ice sublimates, it will extinguish any flame by depriving it of oxygen.1234


  1. What, you didn’t know the word sublimate??? []
  2. Sublimate is the name for the process of a solid material converting directly into its gaseous state. []
  3. Since dry ice is just solid (frozen) carbon dioxide, it would basically starve any flame of oxygen. []
  4. Many fire extinguishers actually work by simply shooting carbon dioxide onto the target flame/heat source. []

Review of Barak Obama’s 10-29-2008 Speech

Billy Mays for President

Billy Mays for President

Obama’s campaign purchased several primetime television slots on the major networks for a half hour broadcast.  Those in the Obama campaign have called this program his, “closing argument,” and critics have called it an “infomercial.”1


Obama hit all the high points with this program:

  • “The American Dream”
  • Eight years of failed policy
  • “Middle class”

He reiterated his campaign pitches:

  • Strengthening the economy
  • Green technologies
  • Tax cuts for 90% of Americans
  • Affordable health care
  • Affordable higher education

No political speech this year would be complete without your own “Joe the Plumber” story.

  • Rebecca’s husband who works with a torn ACL because his family cannot afford for him to take time off.
  • Larry and Juanita Stuart a couple who are still working at 72 even after taking out a reverse mortgage because their planned retirement cannot help with their medical costs.
  • A special needs schoolteacher working two jobs.
  • Melinda and Mark, who are third generation Ford factory workers who don’t know what to do now that she lost her job and he only has work every other week.


A long time ago I had an internship with the local cable access company.  I took a lot of courses in video editing, lighting, and camera work.  I even worked one of the floor cameras on a live broadcast once.  Some of the course I took involved planning out how to produce a television program.

The production costs on this program must have been astronomical.  Even if you didn’t care for the content, it was beautifully edited and scored.  During last night’s “Joe the Plumber” stories you could hear a low dreary soundtrack in the background.  When Obama was talking the music would swell as he built his arguments.

If this was an infomercial, its was best goddamn infomercial I’ve ever seen in my life.  We should all thank our lucky stars Billy Mays2 doesn’t have this kind a production crew.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, believed that persuasive arguments could be broken down into three categories: ethos, pathos, and logos.3  Ethos is based on credibility, pathos on emotion, and logos on logic or reason.

As a piece of persuasive rhetoric4 that program had it all.  The endorsements from various public figures lent their ethos to Obama.  The “Joe the Plumber” pieces about American families certainly provided enough ethos.  And, Obama himself laid out his strategic vision for fixing the problems facing those same families.

Obama’s program reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin enjoyed listening to sermons. Franklin wrote in his autobiography about one such sermon from a Mr. Whitfield.

I happened soon after to attend one of his sermons, in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me, I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles in gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and concluded to give the coppers. Another stroke of his oratory made me asham’d of that, and determin’d me to give the silver; and he finish’d so admirably, that I empty’d my pocket wholly into the collector’s dish, gold and all.

I imagine Benjamin Franklin would have been willing to empty his pocket all over again for Obama.

Update: If you want to watch the entire broadcast (minus the live 3-4 minute segment at the end), here’s the video:

  1. Photo from MacResource forums.  If you own this picture, please let me know so I can attribute you. []
  2. Of the OxyClean fame. []
  3. Mom, Dad, that dual major in Philosophy and Rhetoric and Communications finally came in handy!!! []
  4. Rhetoric in and of itself is not bad – its just a means of communication. []

NaNoWriMo is around the corner!

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month

Some days I have a ton of ideas and will put together two or three posts.  Other days I’m far less prolific.  I’d say on average I put together one post a day and jot down two other ideas.  Forcing myself to write a little bit every day is probably good training for NaNoWriMo.

That nigh unpronounceable word is short for National Novel Writing Month.1 This free website connects people across the United States World2 with the goal of having every participant write a 50,000 word (about 175 pages) novel from November 1 through midnight on November 30.  While you don’t need their website to do this, it acts kind of like a support group for those participating.  Not everyone finishes, but as their website says, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?”3

This is something I’d love to do, but I really doubt I’m going to have the time any time soon.  Apparently, the secret is to write like crazy, leaving all the editing for later.  After all, its NaNoWriMo not NaNoEditMo.   :)

  1. I suppose it really is pronounceable.  “Nah-No-Rye-Moe” []
  2. Via the Internets, of course. []
  3. They say so here. []

Don’t Knock It Until You’ve Tried It

It doesn't smell that bad!

It doesn't smell that bad!

…but once you’ve tried it, feel free to hate it.1

My favorite pizza is Hawaiian – ideally with red pepper flakes.  Don’t turn up your nose quite yet.  If you like pizza, ham, pineapple, and spicy food – why not try all these things at once?

Obviously, not everything that tastes great separately also tastes good all mashed together.  Actually, a friend of mine has vowed never to eat at a Chinese-Japanese-Italian-American-BBQ buffet ever again for this very reason. 2

A few weeks ago I decided to try a new pizza… which lead me to compile this short list of the oddest foods I’ve tried:

  • Baby octopus. I’ve had the chance to eat baby octopus at several different restaurants – sushi and Chinese places.  Interestingly, each time the baby octopus had the very ends of their tentacles chopped off.  What’s up with that?  They were a little too chewy for my tastes.
    • Verdict: They were okay, nothing to write home about.
  • Peanut butter and baked potato. Admittedly, I ate this in order to make the point that anything tastes good with peanut butter.  Fortunately, I was right.  Actually, my theory is that anything tastes good with enough peanut butter, ranch dressing, or barbecue sauce (but not all at once).
    • Verdict: Great!
  • Frog legs and snails. They were both on the menu and I’ve never tried either one before, so why the hell not?  The frogs’ legs tasted like chicken and the escargot tasted like garlicky scallops.
    • Verdict: Tasty!
  • Anchovies and pineapple pizza. I like Hawaiian pizza, so why not try a pizza with anchovies instead of the ham?  Well, that’s what I thought.  Not terrible, but clearly not me at my culinary-decision-making-best.
    • Verdict: Extremely salty, but edible.
  • Blood sausage and dandelion greens pizza. We were eating at a very “upscale” restaurant in Chicago and this was the only thing on the menu which looked somewhat familiar.  We settled on this restaurant based upon the recommendations of a friend of a friend.  Everyone shared their dishes, so I got to sample a little bit of everything.  Unfortunately, my selection out the large list of unacceptable options, was the blood sausage and dandelion greens pizza.  It tasted much worse than it sounds.
    • Here’s what I learned from that last item on the above list.
      1. I strongly suspect that the friends of our friends did not like our friends very much at all.
      2. I do NOT recommend trying pizza with blood sausage.
    • Verdict: Skip this restaurant and thank me later.

I’m not saying that this restaurant is totally without merit.  My experience was probably simply just the result of poorly trained waitstaff, the most uncomfortable seating arrangements I’ve ever encountered, bad ingredient choices, the inability to cook things properly, and extremely severe lapses in judgment.  You know, that’s all.

Too harsh?

Look – that was the only time in my life that I left a restaurant still hungry.  We went back to our hotel room and got room service.  I ordered a platter of nachos so big I was unable to see it with both of my eyes at the same time.

  1. Photo courtesy of Piez. []
  2. Ray: No one made you eat all of that stuff at once… []

Two More Calculator Features!

Not a new calculator

Not a new calculator

Last week, at the request of a paid subscriber, I added a new permanent disability rating calculator feature.1 2 Prior users had asked about incorporating an automatic dollar value of permanent disability or “money chart”  For the reasons I described in that prior post, I just couldn’t think of a good way to incorporate an automatic calculation of the monetary value of permenant disability.

New Paid Subscriber Feature

New Calculator

New Calculator

Once I added this feature, I realized there were at least two more instances when an automatic calculation of dollar value of permanent disability might come in very handy: when calculating the Multiple Disabilities Table3 or Combined Value Chart4 values from combining one or more permanent disability ratings.

Now, when a paid subscriber calculates the CVC or MDT of multiple ratings, the calculated combined rating is fed to the dollar value of permanent disability calculator and the dollar value calculated.

  1. Old calculator photo courtesy of ansik. []
  2. New calculator photo courtesy of dan taylor. []
  3. 1997 Permanent Disability Rating Schedule []
  4. 2005 Permanent Disability Rating Schedule []

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