Thursday, May 2, 2013

How to Make an AT-AT Cake

On the ice planet Hoth,
the Galactic Empire used manned AT-AT walkers
 to crush the Rebel Alliance's Echo Base.
A version of this article originally appeared on in the Holidays & Celebrations section.

All Terrain Armored Transport – or "AT-AT" – walkers are massive tanks in the fictional universe of the Star Wars series of science fiction movies. They resemble giant, robotic beasts because they have four legs and an articulated cockpit that extends from the front of the body of the tank like a quadruped's head. The challenge in making an AT-AT cake is supporting the heavy torso on the creature's slender legs, and creating a head light enough to extend from the torso without falling off. Use cake pillars and make a head out of paper and cardboard to solve these structural problems.

Things You'll Need

  • 2 loaf pans
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Craft knife
  • Glue
  • 2 C-clamps
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cardboard toilet paper roll
  • Construction paper
  • Tape
  • 2 craft sticks
  • 2 portions cake batter for a two-layer cake
  • 3 portions white frosting for a two-layer cake
  • 10-by-14 baking pan, or similar size
  • Black icing coloring
  • Icing bag
  • #3 round icing tip
  • 5- or 7-inch cake pillars, 4


  1. Make the base for the AT-AT's torso. Trace the bottom of a loaf pan onto corrugated cardboard. Cut out the shape with a craft knife. Repeat with a second piece of cardboard. Glue the two pieces together. Clamp with two C-clamps until dry according to the glue manufacturer's instructions. Remove the clamps. Wrap the base in aluminum foil.
  2. Prepare two portions of cake batter for a two-layer cake according to the recipe or mix of your choice. Bake one portion in a 10-by-14 or similar-sized baking pan. Divide the second portion between two loaf pans.
  3. Frost the sheet cake -- the cake baked in the large, shallow pan -- with white frosting. This is the base of the cake and represents the snowy fields of the plant Hoth, where the Empire deployed AT-AT walkers in the movie "The Empire Strikes Back."
  4. Color two portions of frosting for a two-layer cake metallic gray. Stir a tiny portion of black icing coloring into white frosting. Mix thoroughly before adding more. Add coloring until you've attained the desired shade.
  5. Frost the loaf cakes as a two-layer cake, with the larger sides facing inward, using the foil-covered cardboard as the cake base. This is the AT-AT's torso.
  6. Cut and tape construction paper into an oblong box about four inches square on the small sides and 4-by-7 inches on the long sides. The exact measurements aren't important. This is the head of the AT-AT. Cut an opening into one of the small sides. Insert a toilet paper roll to a depth of about two inches and fasten it securely with tape. This is the neck. Tape craft sticks to the front of the head so they stick out like tusks.
  7. Frost the AT-AT head and tusks with gray frosting. Insert the toilet paper roll into one of the small sides of the frosted torso to a depth of about two inches. Frost the exposed length of toilet paper roll "neck."
  8. Cut four holes in the sheet cake the diameter of the end of a cake pillar. Position the holes so the pillars can support the torso. Insert the cake pillars in the holes. Frost the pillars with gray frosting. These are the AT-AT legs.
  9. Carefully place the AT-AT torso and head assembly atop the legs. Get a friend to keep the legs stable while you position the torso.
  10. Fit a decorating bag with a round tip and fill with gray frosting. Pipe short, straight lines, squares, rectangles and dots all over the torso and head of the AT-AT. These are bolts and controls and other robotic features. Pipe rectangles on the head to form the cockpit's eye-like windows.

Tips & Warnings

  • You may cut a piece of wood to size instead of using cardboard for the torso base.
  • You may buy a sheet cake frosted white instead of baking the snow field base yourself.
  • Buy cake pillars at craft or baking supply stores


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fast Facts for Kudler Fine Foods

A version of this article appeared on, in the Business section.

None of these gourmet items can be purchased
at a Kudler Fine Foods location near you.
Kudler Fine Foods is probably the most famous gourmet food shop that's never sold a single morsel of food: nary a wheel of cave-aged Tuscan cheese, tub of cranberry tapenade, nor soy-ink-printed box of hand-rolled, Earl Grey-scented, sea-salt-dusted chocolate truffles. That's because, despite its being the subject of thousands of marketing analyses available on the Internet, Kudler Fine Foods is fictional.

Textbook Exercise

In the "Marketing" textbook by Roger Kerin, Stephen Hartley and William Rudelius, a fictional chain of gourmet markets named Kudler Fine Foods serves as an example for study. A variety of hypothetical situations facing the company is posed for students to solve and analyze. Thousands of papers written in response can be downloaded from the Internet.

Fast Facts

The fictional Kudler Foods has three locations in southern California. The first shop was opened in La Jolla in 1998 by one Kathy Kudler, a visionary woman who wanted one spot where she could buy everything she needed to make dinner and believed launching a chain of gourmet markets was the solution. The Del Mar and Encinitas locations were underway within five years, and the quest for the perfect location for a fourth shop is left as an exercise for students.

Possible Inspiration

Josef von Kudler was an influential economist in the Smithian cameralist tradition. In the 1850s and 1860s, his works were standard reading in Austrian universities. Kudler's belief that value is not inherent in goods, but arises from the intensity of people's desire for them, seems to fit nicely with the concept of a purveyor of expensive versions of ordinary food items. Using the name Kudler for a gourmet shop in a marketing textbook may be a tribute to this historical figure.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Types of Financial Software Other Than Excel

A version of this article originally appeared on in the Computer Software section.

Excel, a spreadsheet software program from Microsoft Corporation, is so well known that, because it can be used for financial calculations, some might think Excel to be the only financial software available. The truth is that spreadsheets are only one of many types of software used for finance, and Excel is only one of many brands of spreadsheet.

Spreadsheets Other Than Excel

Spreadsheet programs are computerized versions of the paper ledgers people used to laboriously construct manually, using adding machines or calculators to figure the values to write in the cells formed by the intersection of rows and columns. VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 were the first commercially available spreadsheet programs, starting in the early 1980s. Spreadsheets available today include Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice Calc, Abykus, Numeric, CleanSheets, Apple's Numbers for the Macintosh and Google Calc, an online spreadsheet to be used through a Web browser.

Bookkeeping and Accounting Software

Bookkeeping and accounting software helps small business owners track the finances of their companies. Features may include bill pay, inventory, invoicing and transaction entry based on the double-entry bookkeeping system that is the standard debit-asset balancing model for business finance. Programs include QuickBooks, Peachtree Accounting, Microsoft Dynamics, MYOB, Advantage Business Software and many more. More elaborate programs exist for larger companies as well.

Personal Financial Software
Personal financial software is designed for managing household finances, allowing users to track transactions in checking and savings accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s and other accounts home users are likely to have. A few examples are Quicken, Moneydance, Microsoft Money, Debtonator and Money Manager, but there are hundreds of different programs.

Tax Preparation Software

A variety of tax preparation software programs are available to help people prepare their own taxes, or organize their taxes in anticipation of taking them to a professional tax prep service. TaxAct lets you do your taxes entirely online, while programs such as TaxCut and TurboTax are installed on your personal computer. Tax prep software typically gives you the option to submit your state and federal returns over the Internet directly from the program, saving you the steps of printing and mailing returns. The United States Internal Revenue Service provides a free tax prep software program, Free File, for users who can file relatively simple tax returns.


Techie Buzz: Free Microsoft Excel / Spreadsheets Alternatives
Apple: Numbers '09 A Brief History of Spreadsheets
IRS: Free File Home --- Your Link to Free Federal Online Filing


Accounting Softwares Directory: Small Business Software
Microsoft: Microsoft Dynamics Tax Software
Accounting Softwares Directory: Personal Finance Softwares