The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee


Just when you thought you had mastered cross-browser testing…

Just when you thought you had mastered cross-browser testing, emoji come along

Just when you thought you had mastered cross-browser testing, emoji come along


What disqualifies a Priority Mail flat-rate envelope?

A USPS Priority Mail flat-rate envelope will ship for a fixed price, regardless of its weight, "up to 70 pounds".  Neat.  But hold on:  seventy pounds?  How much can those things hold?

I checked the Domestic Mail Manual.  You are allowed to reinforce the seams and the seal with tape, but unless the envelope is slim enough to seal with its own adhesive, it is ineligible for flat-rate service.  So what's the maximum volume you can fit in there?

I estimated with a stack of copy paper.  The envelope will close around a 1.9cm stack.  Any more than that, and it's too thick.  But Priority Mail envelopes are slightly longer than a sheet of copy paper.  As a rough (but generous) estimate, if you are constrained to a rectangular prism, you can maybe fit something that is 1.9cm x 22cm x 30cm into one.  That's 1250cc, or 0.00125 cubic meters.

That's 0.00125 m3 that is allowed to weigh 32kg, mind you.  This means that the item you are mailing can have a density of 25,600 kilograms per cubic meter and still be permissible.

So I turned to The Engineering Toolbox, copied the alloy density table, pasted it into Google Sheets, and sorted it.

A slab of solid aluminum has a typical density of 2712 kg/m3.  But forget that.  Aluminum is light.

How about steel?  7850 kg/m3.  That's more than a factor of four.

Copper?  8940 kg/m3.  Still a factor of four.

Fine, let's pull out the big guns.  I want to mail you a slab of lead in a Priority Mail envelope.  That would be 14kg, or 31 pounds.

OK.  Gold.  A hefty 53 pounds.

Let's scroll to the bottom.  There we go:  iridium!  I want to mail you a 1.9cm x 22cm x 30cm slab of prone-to-shattering iridium in an unpadded cardboard-and-plastic-tape envelope.  So I go out and pay the seventeen thousand dollar spot-price for a slab of iridium, stick it in a Priority Mail envelope, add some packing tape to reinforce the seams (better safe than sorry), insure it for the maximum $500 (because I'm not an idiot, obviously), and take it to the Post Office.  They place it on the scale.  And it would weigh ... under 62 pounds.  It's mailable.  I could even include a little thank-you-for-your-business note and it wouldn't take it over the seventy-pound mark.

So watch your mailbox.  It's possible that you'll be getting a seventeen thousand dollar slab of iridium in a Priority Mail envelope from me.

I mean, it's not likely.  But it's definitely possible.


chime: Have your remote server make a bell sound in your local terminal

I needed notification, in my local terminal, when a remote process was finished executing.  I also thought it would be nice if I could wait for multiple notifications and tell them apart by the number of bell sounds I heard.  I came up with this.

On your remote server, copy the following to /usr/local/bin, rename it chime, and make it executable:

If your remote server runs Ubuntu, then this slightly longer script will install the needed dependency (tput) and install the script for you:

To have your local terminal chime once, run chime in your remote shell:


To have your local terminal chime five times, run chime with an argument of 5:

chime 5

... and you should be good to go.


Spiced Sourdough Pumpkin Popovers

These spiced pumpkin popovers with a subtle sweetness and tang are delicious served straight out of the oven with butter and maple syrup.



  • 120g reduced-fat milk
  • 110g cooked pumpkin puree
  • 3 large eggs
  • 130g unfed sourdough starter
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 120g all-purpose flour


  1. Preheat oven (with muffin tin inside) to 450°F.
  2. In the microwave or in a small saucepan, heat the milk and pumpkin puree together until the mixture feels slightly warm to the touch.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin/milk mixture, eggs, sourdough starter, spice, and salt.
  5. Mix in the flour.  Do not over-mix — a few small lumps are OK.
  6. Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, and spray alternate cups, in a diamond pattern, with non-stick spray (you should end up with six sprayed cups). Quickly pour the batter into the cups, filling them to the top.
  7. Bake the popovers for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until popovers are golden brown.
  8. Remove the popovers from the oven and serve immediately with softened butter stirred with maple syrup.

Yield: 6 popovers.

(Recipe based on Sourdough Popovers from King Arthur Flour)


Are Brussels sprouts stalks edible? I cut to the pith.

When I was a kid, I imagined Brussels sprouts as little cabbages with their heads growing out of the ground, carefully picked in Belgium by ... children, maybe? ... and sent to us in the States.

That's not how they grow.  They grow like this.


  You've seen this before but you're still slightly creeped out by it, right?

It's quick and easy to go down the stalk and twist-and-snap off the little sprouts.  So easy, in fact, that it's baffling that you usually pay much less (per sprout) if you buy a whole stalk of them.


  They're not uniform in size, but that just gives you more ideas of what to do with the different sizes.

But that stalk!  Aye, that stalk!  It's heavy.  It's like a baseball bat.  And I feel so wasteful every time I compost one or (with no compost bin these days) throw one in the trash.  Can a Brussels sprout stalk be eaten?  Is it edible?

So I turned to Google, and someone else had asked the question on Chowhound — in 2003, it turns out, so I'm not exactly the first one to ponder this.

The comments are fascinating.  Some people said "yes".  Others said "no".  Some said they took a lot of peeling and weren't worth the effort.  Another emphasized their woodiness by noting that other cultivars have stalks that are used as walking sticks.  Many pointed out that the shoots were edible and tasty.


  And soft, and lovely.  I might put them into a stir-fry.

But one person said the trick was to "hack them" into six-inch segments and steam the pieces.  They would crack open when they were "done".

Aha.  A lead.

But as to that verb "hack": yikes.  I don't own a cleaver.  I'm never going to own a cleaver.  I'm terrified of cleavers.  But my stalk seemed pretty fresh, and I thought really leaning down on the blade of a sharp, heavy knife would work.  So I went up the stalk, counting in six-inch increments, and wondering if the Brussels walking stick was ruining my $54 J.A. Henckels santoku.

Turns out you don't have to cut all the way through the stalk.  If you score it about 1/4" deep all the way around, you can break it into segments.  No hacking and less knife-dulling.

Awesome.  Now I could see what was inside.


  This was inside.

Steam them until they're "done", huh?  You could hammer in nails with the core of that stalk.  I could see someone going through this exercise and thinking "Forget trying to get food out of it.  Next time I'm just using it as a walking stick."

But into the steamer basket they went.  And I wondered how long "done" would take to reach.


  Bye, guys.  See you in ... fifteen hours?

I started to check every five minutes.  After fifteen minutes, there was not much progress.


  You about to split?  Guys?

Same at half an hour...


  Starting to wish I had gone the walking stick route.

At an hour, aha!  Cracks in two of them!


  That guy on Chowhound might not just be messing with the readers.

At 1:45, I could press my thumbnail into the core of the stalk (but could still have used the outer ring as a bludgeoning weapon).


  You guys are ... done, maybe?

So, the moment of truth.  What treasure was inside, assuming I could open them?


  This was the treasure.

It was coarse.  It could easily have handled more time in the steamer — maybe another half hour, or hour even.  But it was soft enough to scoop out with a spoon.


  The marrow was no match for the mighty teaspoon.

Aaaand now I had a bowl full of coarse, warm brassica pulp.  I tasted it.  It wasn't bad at all.  Maybe a cross between a broccoli stem and an undercooked artichoke heart.  Puree it, maybe, I thought.  Get some fat and liquid into it and see if I can spread it on some home-baked sourdough.  A touch of parsley, perhaps, to make it look like it was worth three hours' time. 

I put the pulp into the mini-prep; added mayonnaise, kosher salt, freshly-ground black pepper, rubbed sage, and (a little too much) fresh lemon juice; and I gave it a whirl.  Then I removed the lid and added a little more mayonnaise, and whirled it some more.  Then I stopped it, scraped down the sides, engaged it in a staring contest to convince it to become a puree, and ran the mini-prep one more time.

And this delicacy is what I ended up with.


  A bit too much lemon.  Whoops.  But you can't tell that from the picture.

So, in short:

  1. Yes, (portions of) the stalks of Brussels sprouts are edible
  2. Yes, they are palatable
  3. Yes, you can use them in recipes
  4. Is it worth a few hours of cutting, steaming, scooping, seasoning, and pureeing to make a cup of spread?  You'll have to judge that one yourself.