building howbigismypotato

The story of a page and a kitchen tool:

Saturday, October 07, 2006


The original inspiration for this project was an incident at home. My flat-mate Dave wanted to microwave a potato. How long would it take? Handily the mirowave had a baked potato button, but it needed him to type in a mass. With no scales available, he asked for my help and I devised a see-saw like device involving a wooden spoon, a spatula and a block a cheese. We were able to get the potato to balance against the block of cheese and we could measure the distances to the pivot with a tape measure. The final step was to divide a couple of numbers to find the mass we wanted. I turned to my laptop and used its calculator. 346g - success! Ironically the microwave only wanted a measurement to the nearest 100g, so we probably could have just guessed.

This incident was silly in a number of ways, but the thing I found most ironic was that the final step in our low-tech process invloved an expensive computer - not low-tech at all. How many people, I speculated, lacked scales in their kitchen but did have a computer close to hand.

A week later I was showing off to my girlfriend, telling her about my potato weighing skills over a romantic dinner. In the chat that followed, was born. It was going to be fun, very silly, and surprisingly hard work.

Warning! Damage!

Here's a bit of a problem that somebody pointed out to me. Computer screens aren't actually designed to have things held up to them, so there's a possibility that things might go wrong while trying to measure a potato. Just in case, I've decided to put in these warnings. I've also included them in a disclaimer just in case something really bad happens.
I think there are two main things to be wary of:
  1. Scratching or denting the screen. Be careful with the edge of your credit card, and your finger nails when holding it. Only measure relatively clean potatoes; big chunks of earth could be quite abrasive. If necessary, it would be possible to measure a potato wrapped in a clear plastic bag which would be less abrasive.
  2. Damaging other computer components. Laptops are really common these days. Laptop keyboards are notorious for allowing bad stuff to enter between the keys and cause serious damage below (usually the processor is directly underneath the keyboard). While measuring a potato does not involve the worst laptop poison (hot sugary coffee) it's conceivable that earth or even water could find its way between the keys during the process.
So, you've been warned. Please be careful and enjoy a safe measuring experience.