Gas station without pumps

2020 April 30

Persian Naan

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:56
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I decided that tomorrow’s bread would be an unambitious one again (not the brioche I’d been considering).  My wife suggested that I look through Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan, as it has some interesting bread recipes.

I settled on Persian Naan (pp. 147—149), but I’m going to cut the recipe in half, because I still have most of a loaf of not-bread-machine bread and half a dozen bao in the freezer.

1¼ cup tepid water
1 teaspoon yeast
2½–3 cups bread flour
½ tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Mix water and yeast in large bowl. Add 1½ cups flour, half a cup at a time, stirring with wooden spoon to blend.  Beat for about a minute, sprinkle in the salt, and start adding the remaining flour, half a cup at a time.  Stir until the dough is very firm—too stiff to stir.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for about 10 minutes, until it is smooth and easy to handle.

Rise at room temperature in a lightly oiled bowl covered with plastic until doubled (about 2 hours).

Cover the center rack of the oven with quarry tiles (leave room around the sides of the oven for air to circulate) and preheat to 500°F.

Punch down the dough and divide into 3 parts.  Make each part into a flat oval, about 5″ by 7″, cover them with plastic and let them rest fo ra few minutes.

Dip your fingers in cold water and press lots of deep, closely spaced dents into the ovals.  Keep your fingers wet the whole time—the top surface of the dough should get wet, not floury.

Lift the dough, drape it over your hands and stretch it in one direction so that it ends up about 4″ wide and 13″ long.  Sprinkle the top with sesame seeds, and use both hands (or a peel) to transfer the dough to the baking stones.  Bake about 5 minutes until the bread has golden patches on top and is crusty and brown on the bottom.   Bake only one at a time, shaping the next one as each bakes.

Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then wrap in clean dishtowel to keep it soft and warm.

Update 2020 May 1:  The bread was easy to make and came out looking good, but it is a rather boring white-bread flavor.  The baking time was more like 8 minutes than 5 minutes, and I probably could have left the bread in the oven for another minute to get a darker color.

I tried taking the photos with my phone and editing with Gimp, rather than using my camera and Photoshop Elements.  Gimp is a lot harder for me to get good results with, and I think that the camera is easier to take pictures with than the phone, so I’ll go back to my old tool chain.


After poking deep dents and sprinkling with sesame seeds, but before stretching.


After stretching one loaf.


The three loaves cooling on a wire rack.

Update 2020 May 2: The naan are much tastier after toasting in a toaster oven—perhaps they needed to be baked longer.

Improved 3D-printed nose clip for fabric masks

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:54
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I posted earlier about the nose clip I designed to keep my cloth masks from fogging up my glasses, based on the design from Prusa.  The nose clip was not as good a fit to my face as I wanted, and it seemed a little more complicated than necessary.  So I redesigned the clip to be easier to reshape, using parameters that could be more easily specified with OpenSCAD’s Customizer.  I tweaked it until it fit my face reasonably well.

The clip viewed from inside the mask—there are only two clips resting on the cheeks—nothing on bridge of the nose.  The band is now constant thickness except at the clips, which are longer than before, because they now lay more-or-less flat on my cheeks.

The outside view shows just a simple band.

I reduced the amount of “stringing” I got from the printer by changing the Z-seam settings to  “sharpest corner” and “expose seam”.  This change reduced the amount of trimming and filing needed to get a smooth surface on the clips. I’m still printing at 0.07mm resolution, though that is very slow, in order to get a smoother surface.

I have uploaded the new nose clip design to

2020 April 29

Charming ‘1-meter hats’ to practice social distancing

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:43
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According to an article in Goldthread (Coronavirus: Chinese students return to class with ‘1-meter hats’ to practice social distancing), a school in China has come up with a historically inspired way to teach social distancing: 1-meter hats.

One of the 1-meter hats from Yangzheng Elementary School. Picture copied from

There are several other cute pictures in the original article, which explains that hat designs are based on hats worn by government ministers during the Song Dynasty (supposedly to keep them from whispering to each other in morning meetings).

Perhaps we all need to make and wear hats like this.

2020 April 26

Idea Fab Labs masks

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:21
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Because Idea Fab Labs can’t do their normal business of providing tools and a place for makers to gather, they have been producing PPE for local healthcare and have started a new online business providing fabric masks. The mask sales are being done from the Chico branch of Idea Fab Labs, as the Santa Cruz branch is concentrating on manufacturing PPE for local healthcare.

There are many places selling masks online, but IFL have an added twist: design your own mask print:
The $40 setup fee is fairly normal for custom prints, but would make getting just one or two masks rather expensive ($60 for one mask, $80 for two). But if a store wanted to make 100 store-logo masks for all their employees, the cost would be only $16.40 each.

Idea Fab Labs also has artist-designed mask prints (which many places also provide) for $25 each, hand-sewn fabric masks for $30/3, and economy masks for $50/10 or $400/100.

If you want to design your own print and make several masks, you could use to make custom-printed fabric.  They are still shipping from North Carolina.  You can find a couple of patterns from Idea Fab Labs at


2020 April 25

Worse than flu?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:26
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When people write about COVID-19, they often compare it to influenza—either to the annual flu season or to the 1918–1920 pandemic of “Spanish flu”.  There is often a underlying motive in what comparison they make—comparing to the annual flu, which is deadly but not scary, is used to push back against shelter-in-place restrictions, while comparison with the 1918–1920 pandemic is used to support increases in the restrictions. Some people have even been conjecturing that all the hand washing and social distancing would reduce normal flu deaths to the point where there would be less mortality than usual.

While we don’t know yet how bad COVID-19 is going to get, we can certainly look at how bad it has gotten so far.  Does it look more like Spanish flu or like seasonal flu?  First, we can look raw numbers.  The latest number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the US is 52,356, and going up at about 2,000 deaths per day, while Spanish flu killed about 675,000 in the US [] over its two-year course and seasonal flu kills 12,000–61,000 per year in the US [].  So right now, COVID-19 looks worse that the worst flu season in the past 10 years, but perhaps not as bad as Spanish flu. Even if all the precautionary measures completely eliminated flu, COVID-19 is still going to cause more deaths than the any savings we might see.

We should also be aware that the first spike of Spanish flu was not nearly as bad as the second wave, and we are still in the first spike of COVID-19, so there is plenty of time for COVID-19 to get worse.

For recent years, we can also look at death rates per week.  The New Atlantic has done a comparison of COVID-19 with recent flu seasons and with the main causes of death:

COVID-19 causes more deaths per week in the US than any other cause. The 2017–18 flu season used for comparison was the worst in the past decade. Copied from

On problem with many of the plots of deaths due to various causes is that reporting of deaths is often delayed and the cause of death recorded on the death certificate is often inaccurate. Different places are recording COVID-19 deaths differently, with some underestimating the numbers substantially by only counting deaths in hospitals of patients who had a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 virus. To correct for this sort of error, some statisticians like to look at “excess deaths”—the number of people dying per week compared to the number who normally die in that week of the year. Plotted over a few years, excess mortality plots usually point out particularly bad flu seasons or natural disasters (like hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017).

One site that plots excess mortality (for Europe) is, which has the following graphs:

The recent spike in excess deaths is clear in this plot copied from The dip at the very end is probably due to delays in getting data, rather than an actual dip in deaths.

Death rate per week tells you how bad things are at the moment, but a short spike of high death rate may not be as bad as much longer one of more moderate death rate, so it is useful to look at the cumulative excess mortality:

Cumulative excess deaths in Europe, copied from We can see that the cumulative effect of the spike so far is already as bad as a really bad flu season, and the spike is nowhere near over.

The euromomo site allows you to look at individual countries (not all are seeing that excess mortality—just the ones with bad COVID-19 infection rates). They also break the numbers into four different age ranges—the spike is occurring in adult deaths, but not child or teen deaths.

I have not yet found a recent plot of excess mortality in the US—the ones I’ve found all end in early April, before many COVID-19 deaths had occurred.

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