How To Bake Industrially

Got a big baking spree coming up? Be it a Christmas dinner, a local bake sale, or anything else, if you need to do a lot of baking in a short amount of time, this post will tell you how to do it. Even if you have a more moderate amount of baking to do, following these tips will make the entire process that much more effortless, so you can make perfect, delicious cookies every single time.

Here are my baking credentials. First, I worked in a restaurant for three years, and during that time, I baked more pies, cakes, and cookies than most people will probably ever bake in their lives. Furthermore, every year, my family bakes an absolutely absurd number of cookies for Christmas. I’m taking 12+ batches, each of which makes multiple dozen cookies. We give bags of assorted cookies to coaches, teachers, and instructors of all varieties, then have enough left over to feed our household of seven for over a week.

To start you off, here’s your minimally adequate amount of equipment for any industrial baking spree. You can always have more than this, but here’s what you need to get started.

  • Electric mixer
  • Two sets of beaters for it, optionally also a whisk but you can whisk almost anything except meringue by hand without much difficulty
  • Four cookie sheets: at any given time, there should be two in the oven and two out of the oven being prepped with more cookies
  • At least two of each measuring implement (cups, spoons, etc.)
  • Sifter
  • Large bowls, a few of which are microwaveable
  • Other miscellaneous kitchen necessities: plastic and rubber spatulas, wooden spoons, oven mitts, cookie sheets, etc etc.

For any large baking spree, preparation is of the utmost importance. You need to make sure you have enough of all the ingredients, preferably on only one grocery store run. In order to do this preparation efficiently, run through every recipe you’re making (being sure to double, triple, quadruple, etc. the recipe as you’re planning on making it), note down every ingredient in its correct amount, and create a comprehensive tally. Then, take that list and check it against what you have in your house. Making conservative estimates, subtract the amount you have from the amount you need, and note down the delta. Create a shopping list from all those deltas for the ingredients, then shop from that list.

Great! You’ve prepared your ingredients, now prepare yourself.

First, make sure you have the right attire. You’ll want a short-sleeved shirt, a decently sized apron, and close-toed shoes. Here’s why, in order. You don’t want batter on your sleeves and you don’t want sleeves in your batter. Flour always makes a gigantic mess and there’s nothing you can do about that, also, it’s more convenient to have a place to dust off your hands. You will absolutely spill something or other on the floor and you don’t want to have the impulse to wipe off your feet, thus dirtying your hands.

After you’re wearing the right stuff and you’ve washed your hands, consider putting on some kitchen gloves. If you’re making multiple hands-on recipes (that’s any recipe that requires you mould dough with your hands), it’s way easier to change pairs of gloves than to wash your hands thoroughly.

Finally, set out all the ingredients for your first recipe. Organize primarily by the order the ingredients are used in the recipe and by what tools are required to complete that portion of the recipe. For example, all the ingredients which need to be sifted together should sit together next to the sifter itself; all the ingredients which need to be directly mixed together using the electric mixer should sit next to the mixer and the outlet it plugs into, and all the ingredients for the icing should sit off to the side with the piping bags.

I’m not being so anal about all of this for no reason. You’re going to run out of both time and counter space really fast, so it’s important to be hyper-efficient with both while you still have the mental bandwidth.

We’re ready to start baking now! Here are a few tips for preparing your recipe, before it goes in the oven.

When I worked as a prep cook in a restaurant, I had a tiny room—about the size of a home kitchen—to prepare nearly every dish that went through the restaurant. This is what I had. A counter along two walls with a sink and a gigantic electric mixer, a shelf containing dishes and measuring implements, and two 1.5*2.5 foot tables. I got really good at space efficiency. The biggest thing I learned, in addition to what I said earlier about grouping ingredients together, was that no matter how many recipes you have going at the same time, whether it’s one or ten, organization matters. If you’re not using an ingredient, put it away. I don’t care if you’re getting it right back out in an hour for your next set of recipes. Put it away.

Make sure you follow the recipe exactly. If it says to put the eggs in one at a time and mix well after each addition, you had better do that. The recipe isn’t telling you to do it for no reason. Note that I’m not trying to say you can’t experiment yourself and change the recipe—actually, you should absolutely do that, because what works for everyone else might not work for you, and further, the person who made the recipe might have some kind of an agenda (the recipe for chocolate chip cookies that you find on bags of Nestle chocolate chips requires far more chocolate chips than you should justifiably put in, because that’s what they’re trying to sell you). I’m trying to say that your reason for changing the recipe should be something better than “eh, it can’t be that important”. I make the best chocolate chip cookies anyone I know has ever had and the only reason is because I follow the damn recipe.

To conserve measuring implements, measure out dry ingredients before wet ones. Measure baking soda before vanilla extract, flour before milk, etc. As a special rule, if you’re measuring molasses for your recipe (ex. if you’re making ginger snaps), swish a bit of vegetable oil around in the cup measure before you put the molasses in. It will make the molasses stick to the cup measure less.

Here’s my final prep tip: take a sizable swath of counter space and lay out some parchment paper. If you’re like most normal people, you have nowhere near enough counter space for even a few dozen cookies on cookie sheets. Further, you probably don’t have enough available cookie sheets for that. However, if you snug the cookies up next to each other once they’re cool enough to scoop off the cookie sheet, you can fit a ton more in the same amount of space, and you don’t use up your cookie sheets.

While the first batch of cookies are in the oven, prep the next two sheets. I promise, the bake time is long enough for you to be able to do this. I’ve made two sheets of cookies in less than six minutes before. See, nobody cares what the cookies look like so long as they’re tasty, so you can be fast. Your literal only constraint is to make sure all the cookies in the oven at any given time are roughly uniform in size.

When you take a batch out of the oven, cool them on the racks for only a few minutes, then scoop them off and stick em on that parchment paper you laid out earlier. They’ll cool the rest of the way there, and you’ll have the trays freed back up to put more cookies on.

The baking is always the hectic part, since the perpetual cycle of bake-cool-transfer-prepare takes up every available moment. If you’ve done the previous organizational and preparation steps correctly, though, you can minimize the hecticness.

That’s it! My comprehensive list of steps for industrial baking. May your endeavors be successful, and your cookies be sweet. Good luck!

PDP 1

(Professional Development Project. Week 1: first update.)

Over the past year, as I finished up my AS in Computer Science, as I’ve been a participant in the Praxis program, I spent a good deal of time gaining entry-level skills in a variety of technological areas: SQL, systems analysis, web development skills including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, etc. After all that, I wanted to pick something to focus on for continuing professional development.

As I considered what I should do next, I realized that while I have some decent skills in web development, I have a stronger aptitude in analytical areas. Further, I really enjoy solving problems and doing analyses, so I decided that I would go ahead and start doing that.

Ultimately, I decided on a data science course from Udemy, which I’ve now been working on for a week.

So far, I’ve completed about 130 out of 470 total segments (each includes a lecture and an accompanying quiz). This was basically the first two major sections: an overview including definitions of industry jargon, and an in-depth section on descriptive and inferential statistics. Given that I just finished a class in statistics as one of the final classes for my degree, I was able to skim through the second section.

Besides the refresher on statistics, what I basically learned this week was a lot of jargon and technical terms. I learned the distinctions between analysis and analytics; between business analysis, systems analysis, and data analysis; between neural networks and deep learning.

From here on out, you can expect weekly updates every Sunday, detailing what I’ve done that week. When it becomes applicable, I’ll be doing some coding projects as demonstrations of what I’ve learned by that point. I’ll post those here too, giving each project its own write-up, and I’ll then link back to those project posts at the end of each week in the wrap-up post.

r e l a x


At last, another art post. I was listening to some data analysis lectures to add data science to my repertoire, and since I need something to do with my hands when I listen to audio, I doodled this.

Since motivation unfortunately never comes pre-packaged with inspiration, I needed some of the latter. In my search, I came upon this excellent prompt site. If you so happen to be an advanced artist looking for inspiration, this may be for you. I selected an “elaborate” prompt; these seem to give you not only ideas about subject and/or situation, but also hints about color schemes and/or art style. I’ve never seen something so cool (or useful!) from an art prompt generator before. Anyways, the prompt I was given went something like this: “Reflect the emotion of rolling thunder in the distance. Use a Renaissance art style.”

Well, for the emotion, I’m honestly not sure how I went from “distant rolling thunder” to “rooftop swimming pool at dawn”, but heck, they convey the same emotion to me, anyway.

For the art style, though, I’ve never tried to do anything “Renaissance” before. My standard art style is vaguely Impressionistic but mostly anime, so I was wondering what the hallmarks and techniques of Renaissance painting were. After I figured that out, I’d figure out how on earth I was going to do that using markers.

It seems to me that the end result was vaguely Impressionistic, mostly anime, and with a hint of Renaissance. Some of the hallmarks of Renaissance paintings are strong dark/light contrast and several layers of glazes to create fuzzy outlines around things. I tried pretty hard to use a consistent color scheme but to use contrast as much as possible. The subject is mostly light-colored, with the exception of his hair and eyes, which are dark. A strip of light, washed-out yellow contrasts the warm greys of the surrounding pool deck. The opaque glass in the railing contrasts with the dark rails. Then, those rails contrast with the bottom of the sky (light), which itself contrasts with the top of the sky (dark). Even the water, which might otherwise be uniformly colored, contains shades from pure white to prussian blue. (Note: I used no black in this piece, just very dark greys, blues, and browns. This is in keeping with the style of most classical painting.) Lastly, for the fuzzy outlines, I simply didn’t bother to outline each form in pen (technique for cartooning called “inking”). I allowed the marker colors to bleed lightly into each other.

The end result was a kind of post-modern realism with a charming conflict of light source. Enjoy.

Value Proposition: Innovu

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m participating in the Praxis internship program. As a part of that, I’m creating value propositions for potential employers, under the theory that they’re not hiring me because of some vague skills list I have, they’re hiring me for what specific things I can do for them.

The first company I chose to do a value proposition for is Innovu. Essentially, they collect and analyze data related to benefits and risk programs (such as employee healthcare and workers’ compensation), so that businesses can make sure that they can create the best possible programs for their employees and avoid fines from accidental non-compliance with Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) regulations. Here’s where they talk about that.

As I was sifting through their website initially, though, I had a difficult time figuring out what exactly it was that they did. The first thing you see on their homepage is a giant picture of something unrelated to their product coupled with some words about benefits and risk programs, and a link. The link took me to a page that presumed I already knew what they were doing. Overall, their marketing copy was very vague everywhere, and my basic understanding after I’d been on their site for half an hour was “something involving healthcare?” Now, this is at least partially because I don’t know their industry, but still: I decided their marketing copy could be improved, not only to better pitch their product, but to better explain it.

The best explanation I found was on the page linked above, which you find if you get onto their homepage and, instead of clicking either of the links in their neat little scroll bar, you actually scroll down past the screen-filling image, then scroll even further past the three links to their different solutions (which will all take you to pages filled with vague copy), then click on the “Read More” link after the heading “Data Transparency In Benefit And Retirement Plans”.

On top of the unintelligible marketing copy, there were a large swath of images on the website which, though they had been recolored to match the color scheme, didn’t reflect the product at all. There were random pictures of strangely-cropped bar charts, blurred streetlights, collections of hazy colored dots and lines, and one picture of some peoples’ arms. They didn’t help explain what problem their business was solving, they didn’t complement the already-unclear text they were associated with. They basically existed for no reason other than to make the website look modern, because modern websites are supposed to include lots of images.

As I explored further into the site, I started finding some genuinely good marketing copy, but it was buried in strange places. Further, on their careers page (where I also happened to find out that they were looking for a JavaScript developer, a skill I have, though not to the level they want: they wanted two years’ professional experience and knowledge of full stack development), I noticed a very nice slideshow with that explained its points will and contained images that worked well with the text. This stood in stark contrast to the rest of the website, what with its vague text and mostly-unrelated images.

All of this brought me to the realization that they probably had an awesome web developer who had just been given very little in the way of images or marketing copy to go on, and thus had done the best they could with what they had. After that, I presumed, they had continued to build the site, around what they already had. It was probably on somebody’s to-do list to fix the marketing copy and images on the main parts of the site.

Taking things off businesses’ to-do lists is always a great thing to do, so I decided to use that as the meat of my value prop. I wouldn’t have a terribly strong case as a JavaScript developer alone, but if I combined it with a demonstration of my ability to diagnose business problems and my drive to fix those problems, I could have a unique and nice value prop where I could create value for them from day 1.

Here’s my current value prop. I’m planning on adding some images and doing some nice formatting in InDesign so it’s more visually appealing!

How I Accidentally Ran a Small Business For Six Months

Every year since I was very young, I’ve volunteered at the Schenley Park Learn-to-Skate program that my skating club runs. Even for the four years I wasn’t skating, if purely because the entire rest of my family did it.

Nearly every year, the program has had an experienced coach take on the role of program director. The program director’s job is to organize just about everything to do with the program, from creating name tags for students and coaches to tracking the finances to organizing everyone physically on the ice sheet during classes, and much more. Fortunately, just as in any business, the director delegates some of these responsibilities, but even so, it’s a very big job.

This year, almost by accident, I was the one to take it on. 

My mother, who organizes how Schenley Park runs as a subsidiary of the Pittsburgh Figure Skating Club (our home club), couldn’t find anyone to be this year’s program director. Since she was swamped with other work, she managed only to delegate the marketing responsibilities. With two days until the first class, we were freaking out: we still didn’t have a program director, and fortunately for the club’s coffers but unfortunately for our sanity, our marketing person had done an astounding job, and we had literally twice our usual number of students signed up. 

Faced with this situation—twice the standard signup numbers, no program director in sight, and two days to deadline—my siblings and I were all given a prompt order to get everything ready. At first, it seemed it might be working, but eventually, between the sheer amount of work, the stress of trying to coordinate multiple people as efficiently as possible, and other miscellaneous factors, it became apparent to me that this wasn’t working.

I evaluated the situation and decided the most reasonable plan would be for me to simply take everything over. I had the most experience with the system overall; and primarily because of my good handwriting, I was always the first choice for the largest task, namely, creating student name tags. Because of the color-coded system we used to group name tags by level, the process went something like this. First, large quantities of colored card-stock had to be precisely cut via guillotine and sorted. Then, the names of all hundred and twenty some-odd students had to be written with Sharpie onto the cards, and the cards had to be put into name badge holders. Finally, the cards had to be put into gallon plastic bags, sorted by level, and organized cohesively into large bins so that the volunteers could hand them out to the students on class day.

For two days, I did nearly nothing else. Not only did I do the name tags, but I also organized the student names and other information into a database, deposited all their checks, acquired cash for the concessions stand, and organized our volunteer instructors. 

Honestly, I’m very happy with how it all turned out. Everything was ready for the first class, my siblings and my mom didn’t have to worry about it, the kids and instructors got organized well, and the rest of the year ran pretty smoothly. On the day of class, since I knew everything about how everything had been organized, I also became kind of the go-to for volunteers with questions.

After a few weeks of this, on the drive home from class, my mom asked me, “So, you kinda seem to be running Schenley this year. Do you want to be program director?”

And I said, “Meh, sure. Seems like I already am.”

How To Make A Resolution

I have never once made a New Year’s resolution. I have never decided to change something significant about my life, starting on January 1st.

That isn’t to say that I’ve never decided to change something significant about my life. I decided I was sick of being overweight and out of shape, and I started hitting the gym. But I did that in April. I decided that I wanted to learn how to speak Japanese. But I did that in September. I’ve resolved to do a lot of things, but I never hung around twiddling my thumbs until January to start actually doing them.

This seems, at least to me, to be the reasonable course of action. If something about your life needs changing, it makes sense to start changing it as soon as possible. If you decide you want to quit smoking, program in Python, speak Mandarin Chinese, lose thirty pounds… start right now, not at year’s end.

Now, perhaps people make resolutions on New Year’s because the start of a new year prompts people to look over their life and actually make the decision that they want to change their lives. This seems like a reasonable argument at first, but then you have to consider that the culture of making resolutions on New Year’s is really more a method of putting people under the gun and demanding that they find a Grand Way To Change™, rather than a way of sparking consideration or discussion on the possible ways one’s life could change direction.

Furthermore, a lot of people don’t even keep their New Year’s resolutions. Actually, a frankly huge number of people don’t keep them, to the extent that I frequently wonder whey people even bother setting them. (I read a statistic around 8%, which seems likely, but I can’t find the original research, so I won’t tout that as fact.)

What’s wrong with people? Why do we have a societal expectation where, once a year, people will set goals, then fail to follow through with them? Why do we harbor a culture of annual disappointment?

Part of the reason people don’t keep resolutions is that there is no actual change happening between December 31st and January 1st. They’re two days which are right next to each other, just like March 18th and March 19th. The only significance to that particular collection of days is the cultural expectation we’ve attached to them: that is, a new year should be a quantum shift of progress.

The cultural expectation of some kind of quantum shift, coupled with the fact that no such quantum shift actually happens, leads otherwise reasonable people to set incredibly unrealistic goals for no good reason. People who, if they made this kind of goal in mid-March, would say “I’m going to try and start hitting the gym once a week on Sunday afternoons”, suddenly go off on ridiculous moonshots like “I’m going to start hitting the gym every single day as soon as I get home from work, and I’m also going to cut my carbs in half and become a vegan” as soon as December 31st rolls around.

As such, my best recommendation for how to set resolutions and then follow through on them is to not set them on New Year’s. Any other time of year will have much less pressure attached to it.

Actually, I amend that statement. Don’t set resolutions at all. Just decide that you want to improve in an area, and get started with the baby steps right away.

A big goal like “I want to become conversationally fluent in Mandarin Chinese”, even if you have a pretty good idea what ‘conversationally fluent’ means, can be incredibly daunting. That kind of thing will absolutely take you years, maybe decades, and looking at the whole thing at once can just make you want to quit outright. On the other hand, googling “beginner Chinese lessons” and watching a handful of funny animated Youtube videos on the subject is easy.

This works with every big goal. “I want to lose thirty pounds”. Okay, how about we start with keeping track of what you’re eating? “I want to find a life partner.” Okay, how about we start with making a list of qualities you find attractive in another human? Break it down until you’ve found a thing you can do right now. Then do it. Right now.

These kinds of “resolutions”—goals with no particular time limit that you’re setting purely for self-improvement—should theoretically be the easiest kinds of goals you set. Whereas in the work world, you have specific deadlines and deliverables, you don’t have any of those in your personal life. You don’t need to learn Chinese in five years. Maybe you want to, but that’s not actually the same thing. Personally, I’d like to learn Japanese in less than a decade. But I’m not going to be fired from my job if I don’t achieve that goal on schedule.

A resolution should be a matter of fun, personal self-improvement, not of disappointing annual self-loathing. So, even and especially if you’re not reading this on New Year’s – what’s your new resolution?

Speset.com: The Process

You know that thing you used to do as a kid in elementary school, where you learned handwriting by copying boring phrases and sentences over and over? That has a name. “Copywork.” And several years ago, my mother decided she wanted to make it interesting. How? Instead of those boring phrases and sentences, she would create copywork books with quotes from great fiction, literature, and even U.S. presidents.

Here’s the story of how I helped make that into a company.

Growing up homeschooled as the kid of an entrepreneur, I ended up using a lot of resources that were created by my mother. I took whole classes that my mom made up, start-to-finish. (These, of course, were in her areas of expertise.) One of these resources that she created early in my homeschooling life was copywork books.

If I hadn’t stood in awe behind her red patchwork recliner as she typed up a line in one of them, I would never have known that she created the books. They were professionally formatted and bound—my dad is a graphic designer, so I imagine he did that part— and there was even one of those little promotional blurbs on the back.

As we all gradually grew out of needing copywork books, she moved on to selling them to other homeschooling parents in our area. And then, one morning when I was around fifteen, she sat me down in the living room.

She talked to me about the fact that she wanted to make this into a real business, which would be able to sell not only her copywork books but also other homeschooling resources that she might come up with in the future. In order to do that, she would need two things: an online presence, and a name. Evidently, she wanted my help with those.

Having only recently started web programming, I decided to tackle the easier thing first, and I started brainstorming names. After a few minutes, I came up with the Latin half-sentence “spes et”, which means “life and”. I figured that leaving the part after “and” blank would let the reader fill in whatever they wanted. My mother and I contracted the phrase into one word, and at last, Speset was born.

Once I had a name, I got started on the graphic design. I sketched out on paper the general idea for what I wanted to do—a young person standing in front of a bookshelf with “S P E S   E T” spelled out on book spines—then imported the image to Adobe Illustrator to create the real vector. I made sure that the image was a web-worthy 960px wide and used the “save for web” function in Illustrator (back when that was a thing, it’s called “export for screens” now) to make sure that everything rasterized nicely.

One of the biggest problems I had when creating the graphics for Speset was the color scheme. My dad’s aesthetic is dark wood and leather, so he created the book covers with that in mind. Unlike a book cover, though, a website looks kind of ugly with a leather texture, so I had to find a way to convey the same idea with only flat colors. I ended up settling on a bright gold, a dark red-purple, and a light reddish-brown. I thought I might add a wood-grain texture to the background of the site, but I decided it would be too distracting and opted for a simple warm grey instead.

After the graphics were finished, I had to get started on actually coding the website. To start with, though at this point I knew almost no PHP, I used the .php file type because there was one thing I’ve always loved to do in PHP: includes. Though I knew how to import an external stylesheet or script, I didn’t know it was possible to import another HTML file. Because I wasn’t a fan of copy-pasting code over and over, or of accidentally failing to copy a closing div tag and thereby ruining everything, I loved to use PHP includes. I still do; though I now know that HTML can do includes, and though HTML5 can do forms now (I used to need PHP for that), PHP is still more powerful than HTML, so I use it to keep my doors open.

I put my nice header image into an include, made other includes for the nav bar and footer, then went about writing content. I already had the blurbs I wanted to include—they were the same ones on the backs of the books—but I needed to figure out how to format them. Given the very small amount I knew about CSS at the time, creating a two-columned list next to an image that used a specified font size and amount of space between columns was a daunting task!

After a lot of fiddling and finnicking, I’d added all our books, the final thing I needed to do was add the mailing list from Mailchimp. The code wasn’t the hard part, since they provided the form and I just had to style it; setting up the account in the first place was a little more challenging. I eventually managed, though, and I set it up to send me emails whenever I gained subscribers to the mailing list.

Over the course of the next few years, I made a handful of improvements to the website, but mostly just added new books as they were published. One thing happened that I wasn’t expecting, though. I didn’t figure it out until earlier this year, when I started cleaning out my inbox, but when I did, I realized I had a lot of emails from Mailchimp.

At that time, I hadn’t sent out a single email to any of the Speset subscribers. I hadn’t even done a single ounce of marketing. Beyond the mere existence of the website, I had done nothing at all. And yet, I kept seeing emails from Mailchimp. After a few scores of them I thought to log in to my account and check the subscriber statistics. I blinked a few times when I saw the number. Over a hundred?! Dude!!

I’ve since realized the probable reason this happened. Before I’d created the website, the books already had a niche following on homeschooling forums: my mom had done a good job at word-of-mouth marketing. But, they were all just floating about in the Amazon aether, without anything connecting any of the books to each other. Once they all had a single home, the people who’d already cared about them were able to get to them more easily, and to recommend our products more easily. The mere existence of the website promoted both brand loyalty and word-of-mouth.

Here’s the website, by the way. Thanks for reading.