Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nut flours

L. and I were having dinner the other night, and noticed that the salad dressing we were using was much lower-fat than we expected for what we thought was a peanut butter-based dressing. This turned out to be because it used roasted peanut flour instead of peanut butter.

Since then I've been intrigued by this ingredient and its fellows (apparently it's the remaining cake from producing expeller-pressed oils, so pretty much any nut that's pressed for oil can potentially be flour) I'm still thinking about what I'd like to do with these flours, should I find them reasonably-priced. Obviously I'll have to experiment a bit to determine properties and texture, but I'm inclined to try making, for example, peanut butter cookies using them might be very tasty. I'm thinking that they'll get in the way in anything that really requires gluten development, but a coating for chicken or fish would seem to be quite reasonable. The lack of gluten development could also be put to good use in applications where it's undesirable, like cakes or streusel.

I've turned up a couple food journal articles on the subject, but mostly it's food chemists suggesting the use of these flours to bump up protein content. As for recipes, I seem to be mostly striking out -- the top hits all seem to be those obnoxious recipe aggregator sites, the ones that serve up a ton of links to semi-relevent recipes and a ton of banner ads.

The other obstacle I'm finding is that things like hazelnut meal are being mislabeled as flour. They do look tasty, but that makes it a little harder to find the real thing (which appears to frequently be much cheaper, but less common)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Is Pluto a planet?

No, because Pluto is a [expletive].

The Gross Food Movement

I'm surprised not to have seen an article on this subject before: The combination of Web 2.0 and the eternal appeal of, well, gross food has blossomed (eructated?) into an identifiable trend that we've probably all seen part of. These are the sites that get forwarded around, after all. Quick quiz: which of these links has been forwarded to you most often? Which are you more likely to forward to someone? Exhibit A, or Exhibit B?

Favorite quote from the article: "It’s a middle finger to the Michael Pollan and Alice Waters types, an assertion of the American birthright to consume in deadly quantities."

My own experience with the, er, movement, is more hands-on than some of you might expect. Never mind that I am still utterly convinced that my idea for deep-fried butter is a good idea [1], I am more reminded of my adventures in grad school with deep fat frying. The pinnacle of that was my lab's Iron Chef contests, particularly the "Fake Cheese Battle", which I handily won. I have to admit, though, that it's not the only bad culinary idea I've benefited from.

So that's my confession. Surely some of you can top that?

[1] The idea of deep fried butter is this: you freeze half-sticks of butter, then dust in flour or corn starch, batter, and deep fry. Then you set it on the table at dinner, and crack it open to spread on bread. Then pretend not to notice when people start snacking on the leftover breading.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cheap epoxy resin?

Quick question for anyone who works with electronics: I need to find a decent non-conductive water resistant epoxy resin for coating small circuit boards -- ideally, something I could dip the board into and let dry without too much running off. (Painting on is also an option)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

M-O-O-N spells decent sci-fi

Apparently Hollywood doesn't see the need to advertise the movies that I actually would be interested in seeing. I heard of Moon purely by word of mouth, and went to see it because it sounded interesting.

Anyone with a conscience will not tell you about the plot of this movie. It's got Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey, it's the best SF that's come out in a long time, and you can yell at me when you get back if for some daft reason you didn't like it. Oh, and Sam Rockwell says "fuck" a lot. But if you can't handle the word "fuck", stop reading my blog.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wireshark

Wireshark is a much nicer tool than I remember it being. I have memories of sitting and separating out hex digits and manually figuring out which bits of the protocol were which. I used the most recent version this morning, though, and I was pleasantly surprised that it auto-interpreted a somewhat obscure protocol, labeling and translating the fields quite nicely.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Like barber college, but not as useful

One of the things that has always bothered me about the process of getting a PhD is that there were very few opportunities to get teaching experience for many departments. And despite the fact that many graduate students are better teachers than the professors, the stigma of "being taught by a grad student" remains. At the same time, students on both sides of the desks are wary of lazy professors dropping their grad students into the deep end, which is what often happens in those cases where students do teach.

Why not put together an after-hours community outreach teaching program, then? There's always a market for basic courses like introductory programming, mathematics, basic sciences, and languages. Many other courses, it seems, would be useful for high school kids looking to get an edge getting into college, retirees looking for something interesting, and college kids looking for something to do or for a head start on an upcoming course. I'd certainly be interested in filling in some of the gaps in my education, either by picking up Japanese courses again, taking some history courses, or making another attempt at learning optics. (It never quite took, the first time around.)

The college, then, would provide the facility, some organizational help, and some assistance in course development. In exchange, the college would split any proceeds with the teacher(s). (The plural is for the likely case of one student not being confident enough to take on a class alone, but being willing to team up with a fellow student). The classes themselves should be long enough to require meaningful planning, but not so long as to make it difficult for potential students to commit. Homework and exams should be included -- they help ensure participation, and are good practice. A final grade, however, would probably not be helpful: it might be better for both student and teacher to have a mediated exit interview.

I'm looking into typing this up as a proposal to send to the Dean of the school I just graduated from. Any suggestions would be welcome.

I should note that Dartmouth already has something kinda-sorta like this, the "Miniversity" courses. These are taught by students, staff, and professors, and tend to be along the lines of cooking, dancing, language. However, they're often somewhat expensive, and are not usually academically-oriented -- they're often quite good, but not what I'm thinking of.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A giant leap for self-absorbed apathy

I'm getting very tired of the recent Apollo 11 navel-gazing. "It was wonderful", goes the chorus, "it's such a shame that we haven't gone back!" It is a shame, yes -- in the original sense, of being shameful.

But then they go on to say that the moon program was a victim of its own success, that it had served its purpose of beating the Russians and so our government closed it down. People like Tom Wolfe confidently say that "everybody from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson on down looked upon the so-called space race as just one thing: a military contest." It was politicians, they say, who didn't see re-election opportunities in continuing to support an expensive space program.

You want to know who to blame for the US not being on the moon or Mars today? Every single American who says today "I remember Neil Armstrong walking on the moon". These are the people who had their opportunity to make this an election issue, who could have written to their Congresscritters, who could have, y'know, bothered to tune in to the telecasts of the later Apollo missions. And maybe they had good reasons for getting distracted: Vietnam looms large in their memories too. But when it comes down to it, a generation of Americans lost interest and changed the channel, and their government obliged them.

That's what's happening now too. For all the handwringing and "It's a shame" mantras, this generation seems to have also convinced itself that space exploration is a luxury, something that can be done tomorrow. After all, we have so many other things to do, and Michael Jackson is so much more interesting.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fun Robot Facts

(There are real robot facts available here. This page is just lame jokes)

The movie "The Terminator" is actually a modern day remake of "Old Yeller".

Speaking of movies, did you know that the original ending to "The Matrix" trilogy was just two hours of robots beating up Keanu Reeves, with no dialog? In retrospect, they should have stuck with that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Education

The Senate confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court Justice play an important role in a new Justice's education: they underscore, for the good of the nation, the fact that Congress is chock full of idiots and assholes who like nothing better than to hear their own voices. They divide the world neatly into good guys, to be supported at all cost (but tested rigorously for ideological purity!) and bad guys, to be torn down at all costs.

This is important, because otherwise Supreme Court Justices might be tempted to respect Congress, to consider Congressional approval a thing of consequence, not to be overturned lightly. Thank goodness the Senate takes the time and effort to disabuse any crazy ideas of Congressional competence or good faith before those assumptions might do damage!

Repeat after me: the title "Doctor" does not make me a physician

So, I preordered Tyler Cowen's new book, and started reading it last night. The basic principle of the book, as I see it, is that the cognitive methods of autistic people make them well-suited to the emerging information economy. It's an interesting idea, and I can see the point he's making, and also the point (made by others) that autism is not an on-off thing, but rather a spectrum. But he enthuses a little too much, it seems to me - autistics, to his mind, seem to not merely be "not disabled" but practically ubermensch, the cognitive giants on whose shoulders the future will rest.

But it's his own self-identification with them leaves a sour taste for me. How would you react to someone who said to you,
"Hi, I spend all day every day sitting down. My chair has wheels on it. I have therefore diagnosed myself as paraplegic. Although I am a popular author and tenured professor, presumably with decent health care and income, I have not had an actual medical professional confirm my self-diagnosis. Having invested so much time and energy into researching and enthusing about paraplegia, it would be a shame to turn out to not be paraplegic. Did you know, lots of people through history were probably secretly paraplegics? (For example: There are lots of pictures of Jesus being carried around by other, bigger people or propped up on inanimate objects so that he didn't have to use his feet. Seems conclusive to me.) And now I'm going to tell you, as a paraplegic myself, that life as a paraplegic is not nearly as bad as everyone thinks. For one thing, we can walk."

OK, maybe I'm laying it on a bit thick. He's done his homework, and Temple Grandin apparently was happy with the book. And it is honestly an interesting read. But seriously, the first dozen or so pages would have been immensely improved by the line, "I consulted a medical professional, who confirmed the diagnosis of Asperger's." Instead, his narrative sounds like someone suggested he might have it, he researched it, and thought it was awesome.

Anyway, still reading (it really is a good book, snark aside, and his actual research-based points on the nature of autism and Asperger's are important and interesting) so I'll have to post later once I have something more concretely positive to say.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Time Travel, Cont. Or: Maybe they just suck too.

I had a conversation with a friend this afternoon on the same theme as earlier, but with a twist. A similar challenge came up, essentially, "We know that either there is no time travel, (or else the time travel thing does cause time-line splits or other shenanigans) because Hitler was not assassinated, strangled as a baby, taught pacifism, etc."

I think, though that this still isn't counter-proof. After all, how many people today would go back in time to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte, Genghis Khan, or Oliver Cromwell? Sure, they were bad guys, but traveling back in time to kill them just seems somehow excessive at this remove.
And as bad as they were, each in their own way helped pave the way for the world we're living in now. It won't take that much time until people think of Adolf Hitler as just another jerk.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I-eighteen-n

Any of you resistentialists out there have much experience with internationalization? It looks like I'm the point man for it for our next software release, and I wouldn't mind chatting with someone who's done it before. (No right-to-left translations, thankfully, but we are adding Chinese and Japanese language versions)

Or maybe we just suck

I recently read Michio Kaku's "Physics of the Impossible" - quite a good book, I highly recommend it. One of the sections was on time travel, and he repeated Stephen Hawking's observation that if time travel were ever to be possible, then why aren't we awash in time-traveling tourists now?

This is sort of taken for granted in this book, as elsewhere. And yet I cannot help but think that there are some assumptions there that ought not go unchallenged. It seems to me that there's a limitation on how long anything in the present day is going to be interesting to people in the future. There's really very little going on - it all seems important to us now, but in fifty years people will probably be mostly interested in a relative handful of things. In a hundred years, it seems to me that maybe only a few dedicated historians would come here, maybe to watch Obama's inauguration in person.

But it seems more likely to me that it'll take several hundred years, or thousands of years, to develop a working time machine. Who knows how long it would take to make the technology available to more than a lucky few. It took fifty years for low-orbital space travel to become available to a half dozen wealthy tourists, who had to train hard on the ground, then keep out of the way during a short mission. Who are their equivalents, I wonder, who are also more keenly interested in events of 1000 years ago than 2000 years ago, or 500? Why come back to the early 21st Century when there were such interesting things happening in Rennaisance Italy or in Roman-occupied Judea? (After all, a time machine, a camcorder, and an Aramaic-to-Chinese dictionary could clear up more than a few obnoxious arguments)

Let's face it, we're boring, and that's a strike against us. Speaking from a tourism point of view, we're the temporal equivalent of Ohio. Sure, we've got Obama's inauguration and the Iranian election, but in the thousand-year view of things they don't even amount to that huge ball of yarn.

On top of that, we're watching for time travelers. Or at least, we've managed to build ourselves a neat little surveillance society with lots of cell phone cameras, the concept of time traveling tourists, and "healthy" doses of novelty-seeking and paranoia.

Finally, it takes a special kind of mind to see today's successful experiments with visible-light invisibility and other negative-optics shenanigans, hypothesize a future civilization capable of time travel as a leisure activity... and still think that we'd actually be able to tell when the handful of bored tourists actually does show up.