Tuesday, October 31, 2006

No funciona la computadora

My regular schedule has been slowed due to a catastrophic failure in my laptop's backlight, making it very difficult to do things like see what I'm clicking. Instead, I have to use my lab computer as if it were my own, which is ok, I guess, but it makes me feel like one of the foreign people who basically lives in their offices, like the tall Sikh or the Chinese girl who has a boy's haircut but is still somehow kind of cute. I'll bet they know how to make good food, though.

Anyway, I'm sitting in my lab, trying to justify my time here by looking for articles on how to improve the vacuum seal of my project, but really, I don't think there's any search terms that will give me any sort of useful journals, since "vacuum seal" is pretty generic. It's like the mechanical engineering equivalent of searching for something like "existential angst" in an English database; it's not the most common thing, but you have your hands full looking through the results.

As you can probably imagine, at 8:15, I'm not making a lot of progress. I'm pretty sure the answer is that my setup won't work, so I'm not really that concerned anyway. I'm in here by myself rocking out to Pet Sounds. Actually, there may or may not be a post doc in the next lab over, listening to me harmonize. But who is he to judge?

Anyway, I didn't want to lose my surging fanbase of 6 because I have been having trouble updating. I expect to resume my normal level of output sometime next week, after I steal my little brother's hand-me-down, which is a little shaming for an engineer to admit.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


There is something inherently fascinating about the vending machines where things fall down after you select them. Like candy bars or gum, after the strange circular springs (which look like dough hooks) rotate and advance them and they fall into the ingeniously designed chamber that prevents you from reaching your hand up to pluck them from their resting places. There was an episode of The Critic where guns did that.

I purchased an individually sized, overpriced bag of potato chips in this manner today to eat with my lunch. (It was a chicken sandwich with swiss cheese, mayonnaise and honey mustard, if you're curious. It was average.) Some of the chips were smashed when I ate them, and that is really unfortunate. Is there anything less desirable, chipwise, than broken pieces? No.

This isn't revolutionary news, I'm aware, because chips are frequently broken at the bottom. However, I also noticed that the potato chips are on the top level of the vending machine. What a disastrous placement of such a fragile food! Especially when there are heartier things in there, like Snickers and granola bars small tubes of Pringles. I want to share with you a design to help minimize the tragedy of chip breakage in vending machine falls. Observe:

I can't say for certain that the chips weren't broken before the fall, but really, I don't want to take that chance, either. Hopefully, together we can keep other chips from suffering a similar fate. The gum can go screw itself, though.

Friday, October 20, 2006

My clothes sometimes smell like wood. That's not an innuendo. (Inyourendo.)

My dresser, as most dressers are, is made of some variety of wood. I purchased mine about five months ago, and it still sometimes transfers the odor of wood to my shirts and pants. On its face, that is not any real problem, since wood usually smells nice. However, it kind of plays with your head when you smell it on clothes, like if you were to drink a glass of milk and it tasted like celery. It's not inherently bad, it's just weird enough that it catches you off guard and feels wrong.

So, after I do my laundry and stick my clothes in the dresser, it collects the sent of cheap pine. After a few hours of everyday wear, though, it just starts to smell like regular clothes, so it's not a big deal. The big news is I started using a new laundry detergent last time I went grocery shopping, and the combination of cheap pine and Cheer is a smell as foul as any I have ever experienced, save a fat guy waiting in line on Summer day at Disney world. I mostly notice it in my towels, which makes me really excited to dry my hair with them. I worry that my head is broadcasting all sorts of stink rays, some ruthless combination of Cheer and pine, that makes my otherwise dapper appearance seem completely offensive.

I think I'm just going to have to wait it out, though, use up all of my laundry detergent and go back to an odorless soap once its all gone. I didn't realize at the time that I was buying an scented one, or that the previous one was in fact odorless. I just knew that my clothes didn't smell like the underside of the Loch Ness monster's flippers. Maybe I should just do what I used to do, and leave my clothes in piles on my floor. I never had unfortunately smells in my shirts when I did that.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I can think of something you probably don't care about

Every once in a while, I'll notice that my profile is next to empty, and say, "You know, I should add stuff to it, because the whole thing about Capricorn seems to give the wrong impression of me." Even though it does it automatically, being a Capricorn isn't all that important to me. I don't really even know what it means to be a Capricorn, but it is kind of a funny idea to make a goat that's also a fish.

So looking at the things to add to my profile are a bunch of things that I really can't imagine the average visitor caring about. I try to entertain you for a few minutes with these delightful blogs, and the best that Google can offer for the profile is the generic list of movie, music, etc. They try to be cute with their random questions, but they always suck. They try to be off the wall, and it's obvious that they're trying too hard and it comes off weak. At least that's how I see it. For example, the current one it's asking me is: " When your science teacher smashed a frozen rose with a hammer, did you warm the petals to bring them back to life?" I can only assume they're talking about the liquid nitrogen demonstrations where you can freeze the water in stuff to make it really rigid in this case, and the best part is the liquid nitrogen, which they don't even mention. Also, the use of the hammer takes away from the demonstration; it's great because you stick a flower or a whatever into the nitrogen and slam it on the table and pieces go everywhere and nobody in the seventh grade is expecting it. Also, when you pluck the flower, it's already dead.

But really, most people who write these blogs are so self-centered that they're writing about themselves anyway and will probably talk about movies and music they like in the text of the writing itself. Many of those self-centered people aren't interesting enough to write about other stuff too, so by taking away the music and movies they like, what are you leaving them, Google? You're not going to force us to read about what people ate for lunch, are you?

I guess the idea is that people can read the profiles and see "Oh, this person is interested in politics and cats and loved Hitch. I think I'll read this blog." The about me is also a puzzler. I'm either completely anonymous or you already knew me. If I'm anonymous, why do you want to know if I prefer Coke to Pepsi or like sour cream and onion potato chips? If you already know me, then you already know me. Maybe this irritation is one of the personality traits that a goat would have if it were also a fish.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Let it Rain

I haven't gone into the lab yet today because it's raining. Really. I woke up this morning, heard the rain falling down, and said to myself, "It's rainy and probably cold. I don't feel like putting on shoes yet." My job is either awesome or terrible, it's hard to say.

I am probably going to go in after I finish lunch, though. It's still raining, but I don't really have anything else to do this afternoon anyway, other than play Xbox, and that seems kind of depressing. What I really wanted to write about today is the food I'm eating for lunch. I've already told you that I'm pretty awesome with food, but I want to take it a step further. Over the weekend, I decided to recreate a Cuban dish I had in Miami that was stellar. It's called ropa vieja, which means old clothes. Nothing as delicious as a shredded t-shirt seasoned with cumin.

It got that name because it looks like shredded clothes, which is kind of weird, because I don't know how carrots fit into a fashion ensemble. The meal involves flank steak, a tomato based sauce and vegetables over rice. It's the sort of meal I should carry around with me in a small pan and portable stove, to get people to do my bidding. I need to recruit a chorus of women to eat my food and then sing me praises in three part harmony.

I have a very general theory of food that coastal cultures in general produce better food than mainland cultures. Peoples like Cuban, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Thai, etc, do good work, particularly when contrasted with the trainwreck that is German or Slavic cuisine. (Chorizo, a Spanish sausage, is infinitely better than any sausage to come out of Germany.) There are, of course, exceptions; for example, my very own peoples, the British and the Irish aren't really spectacular at food making, and they're both islands. (They seem to have brewing and distilling down pat, though). People seem pretty excited about the French, too, but other than their cheeses and breads, I'm not all that familiar. Actually, looking at the geography, maybe it has something to do with warm weather being better; because Scandinavian food is really confusing, and they have all those fjords up there. So the theory needs revision, that's what you people are for.

The US kind of wins, though, because we just steal everyone else's and make it our own. Pizza? Made in New York. General Tso's Chicken? Had to be our influence, after all, we have Colonel Sanders, too. French Fries and French Toast? All American, and we name it after another the French to stick it to them, because you know they hate to think of that they'd be responsible for those. I guess I'll make the chorus sing patriotic songs, too.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A group of people whose priorities are in perfect order

When you see a title like that in a blog like this, you would probably be wise to detect a level of sarcasm in the tone. After all, the most serious topic I've tackled since I've been writing this has been facial hair in sports (not counting the actual serious one). Not to trivialize the importance of ridiculing the ugly, but this is something deserving of all of our attention.

Six Flags mounted a disgusting promotion allowing people at their Illinois theme park to get discounts and preferred treatment in line at the rides if they eat cockroaches. Madagascar hissing cockroaches, no less, which are so named because when threatened they, of course, giggle like a schoolgirl. In case you were wondering what this vile creature looks like, here's a link that will answer all of your questions, because I don't want images of these things on my blog. This is a place for comfort and whimsy, not insects that have the potential for vomit inducement.

Now, you might think that I am questioning the priorities of the people who are eating the cockroaches to save 35 minutes in line for a roller coaster. I am not. If you have ever been to a theme park, you have probably considered making deals with God or Satan or cockroaches to get a little closer to the line to get out of the heat or from behind the giant hairy guy in front of you who is wearing a muscle shirt and smells like the bottom of your bathroom wastebasket. The cockroach is probably a fair compromise, all things considered. I do wonder, though, if you swallow it whole, can you still feel it trying to walk around or fly around inside of you? Because if you swallow an ice cube or a chunk of hot food, you can tell where it is in your throat the whole way down. I can only imagine that the little legs of an insect would be fluttering madly down your esophagus. That's pretty gross.

The people whose priorities are in question are those mentioned in this story, and if you had to guess, involve PETA. They are protesting because it seems unfair in their minds that roaches should be eaten alive for such a ridiculous marketing campaign. I think they might get better traction if the folks at Six Flags were eating something like kittens rather than roaches. Kittens don't pose nearly as many health risks and are a lot more helpless than roaches. Unless it's like a Jaguar kitten, then it is probably a little less helpless.

The point is, there are like a trillion causes that are more worthwhile than this one. I personally think that many of the animal rights ones are misdirected effort anyway, since there are still people out there who don't drive Land Rovers. But clearly, I think PETA's time could be better spent on doing something other than trying to halt a marketing campaign involving eating a live cockroach. They could, for example, donate blood, bake cookies, or lick 100,000 envelopes for no reason. Any of those would be more productive and make PETA look less ridiculous.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tree people get up early

This time of year, it's cooling down nicely, so I like to sleep with my windows open. After all, it's fall in South Carolina (the Men of the Square Table won't let you say "autumn"), and even though the leaves haven't started changing yet, it's definitely getting to be a rather nice temperature outside, as opposed to the outrageous scorching that the summer usually gives us. Reminds me of home, really. The only bad part is that women start putting on more clothes, but as I've said earlier (not on this blog, though) women wearing winter clothes pull it off pretty well. (Don't forget: I am a Floridian at heart, and this mid-50s low-60s weather is winter weather in my mind.) I can't say I really get why winter clothes work that way, but there is no question about it. It's a good look for them, and I applaud them for it.

So I've taken to sleeping with my window open, because the fresh air is nice and it will save on the AC bill. I get the go to sleep to the rhythm of the crickets and a nice breeze, without having to deal with the start and stop of the air conditioner all through the night. I had to break out an extra blanket, but all in all, it was an excellent system; I was spending less money and being more comfortable. It was scrumtralescent.

There's just one wrinkle. For some reason, a developer has decided that this part of Central needs to have no more trees. I suspect they are going to build something, but it's a little hard to tell since it's not particularly stellar land on which to build. Nevertheless, they are tearing down trees all around us, which wasn't a big deal until this morning. You see, immediately across the street from our apartment was a small collection of woods and trees and what not. These trees were slated for execution. That wasn't really a big problem for me until they started removing them this morning at 7:30. I mean, good Lord. Even though this street is not predominantly college students, it is still a college town and it should be illegal to operate machinery before 9. They can do it until 2 am if they like, but starting before 9 or so is a bigger tragedy than the Hindenburg and Ricky Martin combined.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The answer, of course, is onions

I'm a little surprised that I went 64 posts without mentioning honey mustard sooner. (This is 65.) Finding a good honey mustard is a tricky endeavor, because there are varying amounts of the two ingredients (let alone spiciness!) that interferes with the inherent goodness of this wondrous condiment. Honey mustard is to condiments what holy water is to water.

I was thinking about it because today I went to the grocery store and realized I needed more honey mustard, especially considering I purchased cheddarwursts. Those two make a stellar combination. I decided on French's, it's not the best honey mustard I've ever had, but for the price it's definitely serviceable. I was thinking of doing a review of good one and bad ones, but really, who cares. The important thing is that honey mustards are like most other gourmet product, and you get what you pay for.

Another interesting variety of mustard I think you all should be aware of is whiskey mustard. It's funny to say those two words in order, because they don't even sound right together. But surprisingly, whiskey mustard is delicious. I learned about its existence from my Irish cookbook (leave it to the Irish to put whiskey in everything) and tried its recipe - mustard chicken. It was great, even though it was Jack Daniels whiskey mustard. Jack Daniels, in my experience, is a rather low ranking whiskey, particularly for the price. There's a reason why you don't see Wild Turkey or Maker's Mark mustard or coffee -- because the liquor is better consumed in liquor form rather than mustard or coffee form.

I sometimes get in arguments with friends over honey vs. spicy; I pretty much have to go with honey on this one. Don't get me wrong, I like the picante as much as the next guy, but I'm really particular about where the spice is applied. For example, I don't like hot Italian sausage in spaghetti, because that's just not a combinations of flavors to which I look forward, even though hot Italian sausage you get at the grocery store isn't really all that hot. In salsa or Chinese food, I want it to burn my esophagus on the way down. I want to have to suck on a fire extinguisher for relief. Just not on a bratwurst.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A little fashion sense even I can understand

People everywhere have very strong opinions about popping the collar. I see signs, have heard people bitch about it, and there are facebook groups about it. The thing is, I've only seen one collar actually be popped. It was at a Ralph Lauren Outlet store, and I'm pretty sure the guy worked there. He looked like sort of guy who would drink a Bud Select while calling it a "brew." Or put rufies in a girl's drink at a party.

So, judging from my statistical sample of one person with a popped collar, I can understand where the opposition comes from. However, I don't really understand how this level of vitriol developed for such an uncommon thing. Something like violent anger directed at CSI is more understandable, because you can't turn around, televisionwise, without running into one of those Jerry Bruckheimer produced pieces of filth. Then again, I don't go to frat parties much and I try to avoid places where crappy beers are the drink of choice, which I guess are really two of the same things, so I might not be in the collar popper's native habitat.

So where does this happen? Is it simply a manifestation of a bad college stereotype, as I suspect? It can't simply be that; people I've run into who never go to those places have formed more intense opinions about this than they have about abortion. I have to say that until I see it pop up (ha ha!) more often, I'm probably not going to care, even though I realize this issue is like two years old at this point. So yes, I'm a little behind. I'm in grad school; time doesn't flow the same way for me.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I don't understand the turntable

There are a lot of things that are puzzling about a microwave. I don't mean how they work, that's not that tricky. A filiment generating EM radiation about the same size of water molecules irradiates the food, vibrating the water to generate heat. What's so hard about that? Also, it doesn't cook from the inside out. That'd be absurd.

The thing that I have trouble with is the timer. I was heating up some stuffed shells for lunch today (they were delicious, by the way) and I accidentally hit 1 - 8 - 0 instead of 1 - 0 - 0 as I was trying to heat them up, when I realized, if I let this go, I have no idea for how long that will go. Will it be 180 seconds? Or 140 seconds, for a minute and 80 seconds? How come, when everything else in our society is base ten, our clocks and microwaves aren't? I also can't believe I actually changed it now, because I want to know how long it would have cooked for.

I also don't know why microwave manufacturers insist on putting in the turntable. Radiation, by nature, is emitted in all directions from its source, so reflections from the walls will cause the variety of angles sufficient to heat it from different directions. The turntable mostly makes my food spill and pulls off the paper towel I put on top to keep my food from spilling.

I also think it's pretty funny that people have discovered all sorts of weird things that will happen when you put crazy things into microwaves. Whoever the first guy was to put a cd into a microwave deserves a medal, because really, why would anyone ever think to do that? I think something crazy happens when you put a peep into microwave, too, but since I hate them I've never done it. I do, however, think it would be pretty fun to put a bottle of shaving cream into a microwave* and let it go for 3 - 6 -0, even though I have no idea how long that would be.

I have also decided that I never want to reheat pizza in a microwave ever again. It ruins the crust. So, really, there are only three options: take the time and reheat it in the oven, eat it cold or man up and finish it the day before.

*Please don't actually try this. I don't want to be responsible for internet kids getting burned by shaving shrapnel.