I want a pork-belly-backed currency, before it’s too late!

It annoys me that it’s taken me this long to start figuring out, I think, why and how money works.

I started writing a long rambling post here on the subject, but it’s too much of a mess so I’ll just skip to the punchline.

Our modern currencies are so-called “fiat currencies”. It used to be that, for example, “a dollar” actually represented and could be traded for a specific amount of refined metallic gold. Now, it’s not really redeemable for any pre-specified amount of anything. I don’t really see this as a huge problem unlike some people, but there is a lot of noise lately about how we need to go back to “the gold standard” (i.e. back to the time when a “dollar” was directly redeemable for some fixed amount of gold). My problem with this is that gold is mostly useless, really. If there were really some sort of horrible society-destroying catastrophe, about the only thing you’d be able to use the gold for is as a bludgeon to club people with (gold is quite heavy, at least), or maybe as radiation shielding if you’ve got enough of it stacked around your basement. If we’ve got to go back to an “asset-backed” currency, I think it ought to be pork-bellies. Or wheat. Or maybe heads of lettuce.

Better still, make it a “basket” of all three, so that fluctuations in the value of one of those three things doesn’t screw up the value of the currency. Plus, then you could redeem 3 $1US bills for a BLT sandwich.

What prompted me to start typing, though, was the thougts of how badly at the mercy of economic parasites we are in the modern world though – I’m thinking here mainly of abusers of “intellectual property” monopolies like broad idea patents and eternal copyrights, who demand tribute before you’re allowed to participate in just about any modern activity using the internet or other digital medium. And then the shocking, horrifying thought came to me: “mp3-download-backed currency”.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over there in the corner, curled up in fetal position, rocking back and forth, and whimpering occasionally.

As if I didn’t have enough to worry about already…

Apparently, the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee thinks I don’t have enough to do.

A very small, young orphaned kitten.
Why me? Don’t misunderstand, he’s an adorable little wretch, and there’s no way I’d have suggested the Minister of Rocktology abandon an orphaned kitten, but I still think we are well beyond Maximum Safe Cat Density already.

Here’s some trivia I read somewhere: supposedly, most felines have pretty much the same general behavioral responses and temperament. This means a housecat (Felis catus) is about as amenable to being a pet as, say, a tiger (Panthera tigris).

A very small, young kitten sitting on a faux-fur blanket with a printed picture of a tiger on it
As I remember it being described, the only real difference is that when a specimen of Panthera tigris decides to dart out from behind the couch to attack your ankle for no apparent reason, the effect on your ankle is somewhat more severe, hence the relative popularity of less-bodily-harm-capable Felis catus as pets.

I rate “Kodama” (as we’ve named him) here at around one picotiger worth of ferocity, though that seems to be increasing rapidly as he gets proper feeding and play.

Still…why couldn’t it have at LEAST been a puppy, if it had to be anything at all?…

Into the Outdoors with Dog and Camera

I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t just give in and write a program to auto-generate and post complaints about not having enough time to get anything fun done for me, since I don’t seem to have enough time to do it myself. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write such a program…

I did manage to at least get out to spend some time exploring wooded sections of The Big Room with my pathfinder dog last weekend though. I’ll have to map it out when I get a chance, but in the meantime I’ve been posting pictures to the piwigo page I set up on my server here.

Can anybody spare a life?

I could use a life, if anyone has a spare one lying around.

a lake inlet in the woodsI do try to get out and wander around in The Big Room once in a while on weekends, though even then I don’t do enough of it. One might occasionally see pictures uploaded via my twitter feed when I am out wandering. Also occasionally my flickr page.

I really need to get some time when I’m not so dang tired to work on things. I’ve got a lot of projects I’d like to work on. I’ll try to post something more this weekend, but now, once again, Sleep calls me.

Good night, y’all.

A bad case of “Now What?”

My schedule means I have virtually no time to do anything but work (including the commute) during the week, and increasingly the two days of weekend that I have tend to have an overflowing list of “stuff I’ve been wanting to do – often for quite a while – but can’t possibly do much of in the time I have this weekend”

I’ve got a minimum of two different podcasts/oggcasts that I can be working on (Episode 4 of “Stir-Fried Stochasticity”, regarding Tuberculosis and “heat-fixing” [and ninjas], should be ready to post soon. I also have plans to do an intermittent computer-nerd podcast, perhaps also to be submitted for “Hacker Public Radio“.) I have a bit of relatively minor but useful hardware-hacking to do (make a cable allowing me to plug an external microphone into my Android phone for potentially recording podcast/oggcast material and other things). I have work to do on www.dogphilosophy.net (which I plan to turn into the main podcast/oggcast distribution site). I have vague ideas of general creative endeavors that I could work on developing. I have a seemingly endless mass of domestic chores that could be attended to (it’s quite frightening to think of myself as “the neat one” in this house…).

It’s grotesquely hot outside as usual (why is it that no matter what part of the country I live in, the temperatures seem to spend most of their time 5-10°F above supposedly “normal” for the last decade or so? My hypothesis is that the universe dislikes me for some reason), so outdoor activities are currently lacking from my list.

I need one of those “life” things I keep hearing about. I’ve heard they’re kind of fun.

Any suggestions from anyone (anonymous or otherwise)?

P.S. Motorola corporation sucks. Thankfully it turns out HTC (unlike Motorola) actually knows what “geotagging” means…

Also P.S.: only one post and one off-blog comment letting me know the “Breakdancing Ghost of Narada Falls” post actually worked. Did anyone else listen to it (or try to and find they couldn’t)? If so, how did it sound? Thanks…

I’m back…

I’m still around, honest.  Just got back from a semi-business trip involving way more sitting-in-a-car than is comfortable.  I have a few pictures from the trip, which I’m working on getting uploaded to my Panoramio page.  A few are up now, a few more will follow soon.  See anything you like?

Meanwhile, I’m way behind on sleep.  Good night, y’all.  More in the next day or two…

Pigsfly Pie!

Drawing of a flying pigI’ve been talking about it for months, now I’ve finally done it: I’m calling it “Pigsfly Pie”…and it’s awesome.

If you’ve not run into it before, there’s a classic Pennsylvania “Dutch” recipe called “Shoofly Pie“, which is more or less a dense molasses cake in a pie crust. It’s quite good…but I’ve improved on it. As the name implies the secret ingredient is the semi-official food of the Internet…Bacon.

Here’s the secret recipe:

    Dry(ish) Stuff:

  • About 155g all-purpose flour
  • About 28g (2 Tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
  • about 114g “dark brown” sugar
  • about 300mg (around 1/8-1/4 tsp) salt
  • about 10 slices of crunchy cooked bacon, finely chopped.
    Wet(ish) stuff

  • About 3/4 teaspoon (Google says this is about 3.6g) baking soda
  • About 177g (3/4 cup) of boiling water
  • About 128g (4.5 ounces) of Maple Syrup
  • About 115g (about 4 ounces) Blackstrap Molasses
  • About 5ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract
  • One whole beaten egg
    Oh, yeah, and:

  • A 9″ radius pie crust

  1. If you’re using a frozen pie crust, thaw it then poke holes in it with a fork and bake it at about 200°C (around 400°F) for about 10 minutes to prepare it for the wet filling.
  2. Mix all of the “dry” stuff besides the bacon together well – I actually used a potato masher to thoroughly mash together the butter/sugar/flour until it was homogenous. Then, take out about a quarter-cup worth of the mix and set it aside as a topping, then mix the chopped bacon into the rest. (edit 20100602 to remove the extra “until”…)
  3. Put the baking soda in a bowl, and pour the boiling water on it.
  4. Mix in the syrup, molasses, and vanilla, and stir well.
  5. Beat the egg, then carefully mix it vigorously in (hopefully the liquid will have cooled sufficiently that it won’t curdle)
  6. Quickly mix the main portion of the dry stuff with this wet stuff. Small chunks will be no big deal. The texture should be roughly similar to waffle or pancake batter.
  7. Pour this into the pie crust. A typical “deep dish” crust will leave some room left over. A “regular” pie crust will be filled to the top and leave you with a few tablespoons left over. Don’t worry about filling the crust to the very top – it tends to harden up as it expands so it doesn’t overflow in my experience.
  8. Sprinkle the about-a-quarter-cup of dry stuff that you saved over the top
  9. Bake 40-45 minutes at 175°C (about 350°F)
  10. Let it cool at least an hour before cutting
  11. Eat with an optional topping of whipped cream.
  12. Make ecstatic “MMMMmmmmmm” noises in appreciation of my culinary genius.

Next time I make it, I’ll probably use a deep-dish crust, then float pecan halves all over the top before sprinkling on the topping and baking…

All Hail Bacon!

Microscopy Preview

Intentional food microbiology:
Various yogurt bacteria floating amid milk protein and fat globules

UNintentional food microbiology:
Wet-mount photomicrograph showing mold mycelia and a mass that kind of looks like large spore cases or something

I still don’t feel like I got nearly enough productive stuff done this weekend, but I did manage to do a bit of microscopy – plus demonstrating to myself that I still remember how to do a “Gram stain”. Real Post with explanation and more pictures to follow Real Soon Now…

Amateur Soap Microbiology and my new Friend

I thought soap was supposed to be *clean*!

lumpy yellow microbial colonies growing on the soap inside of a hand-soap dispenser
People usually assume soap gets rid of funky microbes that might grow on things, so I was very amused several months ago when I spotted something growing on top of the soap in one of the household hand-soap dispensers. As of today, it looks as pictured at left. That lumpy yellow and brown mass atop the the soap looked to me like some sort of soap-sodden mold, and have been saving the dispenser specifically in the hopes that someday I’d have a microscope and could take a look at it. Meanwhile, the mass spread, and slowly started releasing some kind of yellow pigment into the soap.

Incidentally, I kind of doubt this indicates some sort of failure on the part of the manufacturer of the soap. I don’t recall for certain, but I think I may have opened the dispenser at one point to transfer some of the soap to another nearly-empty dispenser. When the mass started growing originally, it was a single spot, which suggests a single spore or speck of dust floating in and landing on the surface. Hey, it happens. Anyway, I’ve therefore blanked out the name of the manufacturer since I don’t think they really have anything to do with this.

VWR VistaVision Microscope
This mysterious growth upon my soap remained mysterious until today. Thanks to the Minister of Domestic Affairs and VWR (who managed to find me a really good deal), I finally got to actually get a close look at that lumpy mass. Meet my new friend Minnie (pictured at right). I could gaze into those eyes for hours. I couldn’t afford a darkfield condenser, and I sure as heck couldn’t afford to upgrade to phase-contrast gear, but I can add either one later if the opportunity presents itself. I also can’t afford the overpriced proprietary digital camera attachments either, though working around that is a whole other project. Until I identify an affordable model that plays well with Linux or work out how to modify a webcam into an ocular attachment,
I’ll have to settle for a trick…

It turns out if you take a digital camera and set it for close-up photos, you can actually stick the camera lens right up to the eyepiece and often get a serviceable picture.. Now, I had to subject the pictures I got today to moderately heavy processing to bring out the detail a bit better, but at least part of that is just me working on learning how to optimize the camera settings for this kind of use.

Equipped with some surplus slides and cover-slips donated by a kind professor who had some extra packages, I opened up the soap container and smeared a little of the yellow crud on a couple of them. One I just slapped a coverslip on for direct observation – the other I smeared over a slide and let dry with the intention of staining using the tiny, previously-unused vial of methylene blue left over from a very old plastic toy microscope. While the latter dried, I took a look at the wet mount hoping to finally see the mold mycelia that I had been expecting…

There wasn’t enough contrast to bother trying to get a photo, but it was obvious at 400x that what I was looking at was bacteria, not mold. Nerdly joy at learning something by looking in the microscope that I wouldn’t have otherwise known ensued, along with happiness as I realized this meant I had a perfect excuse to dig out my recent shipment from the Maker Shed – materials for doing a “Gram Stain”. Incidentally, the “Maker Shed” had the supplies on the way to me within hours of my ordering it, and they have lots and lots of cool stuff. I highly recommend it. Anyway, I got to do a “Gram Stain” for the first time in a couple of years (and the first time ever outside of a school lab). Want to see?

Mystery Microbe, I see you!

Gram-stained bacteria
Here it is – the nasty yellow goo that infected my bottle of hand-soap. My staining technique was a little off since I’m out of practice – the way I interpret the results is that what I’ve got here is neither a member of the Firmicutes (i.e. “Gram positive”) nor – probably – Actinobacteria. I really can’t guess at more than that, though. I think the few “Gram-positive”-looking cells there are artifacts of insufficient decolorization. I know I still had a surplus of the purple “Crystal Violet” stain still on the slide at the end. (How did I know? I’ll show you at the end…). The irregular bluish bits towards the bottom are, I believe, just bits of stuff from the soap itself.

Meanwhile, this pretty much satisfies my curiousity about the Mystery Soap-Infecting Microbe. There’s certainly a lot more I could investigate, but my developing Hillbilly Biotech lab is really intended to support my interest in intentional food microbiology and perhaps evenutally some small-scale non-food industrial microbiology. I have some remaining curiousity about the yellow pigment and whether or not it might be useful for something, but I’m doubting there is any food or beverage I might want to grow this stuff in and therefore don’t have much use for it. Still, I’ll keep the bottle around for a while before I throw it out in case I think of something fun to do with it. If I end up being really interested in the identity of the bug growing on it, I should be able to find a liquid that I can grow a big mess of it in, then run it through a simple DNA extraction process. Then all I need to do is find someone who can supply PCR primers, a thermocycler, and sequencing services cheap. It might sound like I’m being facetious, but I wouldn’t be surprised these days if I manage to find somewhere that’d do it for $20/sample or less. I may eventually do this will the Mystery Soap Bug anyway, since I hope to be running through this process with cultures of sourdough, yogurt, cheese, vinegar, and brewing microbes that I develop myself. For now, though, it’s just nice to be playing with microbiology equipment again. And now fully independently! Wheeeeeeee!!!!!!

Yes, I’m a nerd. And proud of it!

What’s next?

Now that I finally have a microscope, I no longer have any excuse for not getting to work on the rest of my Hillbilly Biotech lab. Just this weekend I was pricing out Hillbilly Autoclaves. I picked up a cheap air pump and air stone
for potentially building an aerobic bubble-column fermenter (for quick growth of yeast starters or a working model of a “Fring’s Acetator®”-style vinegar generator. I still want to build an ozone generator for sanitization and to get a pH meter. I’d like to also get my hands on some wheat, barley, and rye seeds to sanitize, sprout, and grow here as the first stage of developing a truly local sourdough culture, plus arrange to have several pounds of plain flour irradiated to sterilize it.

I’m also like summer to be over. Yes, I’m writing this in Winter, but it’s not until later in the summer to autumn that locally-grown fruits will start becoming available, and locally grown fruits ought to be an ideal source of local brewing and baking yeasts and bacteria. Finally, I’d like to find a wealthy patron (or matron, I’m no sexist…) who would sponsor me so I could just pursue food-microbe bioprospecting and research full-time…

Oh, yes, and I need to get around to finishing Episode 4 of my little podcast project, especially since episode 4’s topic is a fundamental microbiology technique.

Comments welcome below – thanks for reading!

Oh, and as a reward for getting all the way to the end, here’s a picture that I thought was pretty – crystals of “Crystal Violet” and iodine. I told you I had too much left on the slide…
Crystallized dye left on the slide