Fred Transplant: Success!

A Gram-stained view of yeasts and bacteria in a sourdough culture named 'Fred'.

I had to do a Fred Transplant last week. A grey fuzzy mold had taken up residence in on the sides of the jar above Fred’s liquid culture, so I set up a fresh container with fresh water and flour, and dipped a spoon down the center of Fred to the bottom, pulling up just a tiny amount of the stuff in there. Then I mixed it into the fresh stuff and covered it with plastic wrap (instead of a paper towel this time.)

Fred smells like Swiss Cheese Feet right now, but he’s obviously still growing, as you can see from last night’s “Gram Stain” microscopy. The slightly blurry light-red-brown lumps are, I believe, yeast cells, possibly Saccharomyces boulardii, since I dumped a capsule of supposedly-still-viable “probiotic” yeast of that species into Fred previously. I have no idea who the bacteria are in here at the moment. I did also see a small number of longer, thinner bacterial cells in there (presumably Lactobacillus) though most of them are the ones you see here.

Meanwhile, I’m about to dig out the still-unused Hillbilly Autoclave and try it out on the media I’m mixing up to try to obtain a culture of genuine wild “native flora” vinegar/kombucha yeast-and-bacteria to play with from the local wildflowers that are just now getting into full bloom.

My starting recipe goes something like this: I mix up about 2 Liters of distilled water with about 100g of glucose (“Dextrose”/”Corn Sugar”), 100g of sucrose, 500mg of L-Arginine, and enough phosphoric acid to drop the pH down to about 5.5 to 6.0. That is intended to be then poured into small “canning” jars in about 100ml amounts and pressure-cooked for at least 15 minutes to sufficiently sterilize and seal them. Meanwhile, a single generic-brand children’s chewable vitamin is crushed up and dumped into a 4-oz bottle of cheap vodka and well shaken.

Then when it comes time to go bioprospecting, I’ll pop open the jar of acidic sugar solution and add about 5ml of the cheap-vitamin-vodka to it to give me about 2% ethanol, and then go find some flowers to cut off and dump into the jars, which will be loosely covered with foil (to let air in but keep dust out) and put in a nice quiet cupboard to grow for a few days.

Hypothetically, the only things that are likely to grow in that will be microorganisms associated with vinegar-making. At some point I’ll also make up a batch of sweet black tea and see if I get a kombucha-like culture going in it, and make up some solid media to try to isolate individual microbes from it.

Even Scanning Electron Microscope manufacturers have marketers…

I got an unsolicited email asking for help boosting search-engine rank. Me! Complete with the particular phrase they wanted linked and everything. Normally, I’d be inclined to sneer and make mocking comments about marketers…except in this case it’s actually for something completely relevant…and kind of nifty, so I’m going to do it…

A tiny Scanning Electron Microscope manufactured by ASPEX A company called ASPEX makes what they’re calling an “Affordable Desktop SEM”. Not having a gigantic corporate budget, government grants, or wealthy patron/matron backing me I’m having trouble thinking of ANY Scanning Electron Microscope (there’s that phrase and link…) as being “affordable”, but I’ve got to admit I want one now.

That’s not all, though – ASPEX (no, I don’t know why they capitalize the whole name) has a mind-blowingly cool offer going on right now as part of their promotional campaign. “Send Us Your Sample” – just like the name suggests, they’re soliciting samples to image and post. I know I’m planning to go for it. It’d be nice to have both old-school light-microscopy images AND Electron microscopy imagery of Fred (my sourdough culture in progress) to post.

I’m not sure what kind of magnification they can offer – The submission form is pretty simple but doesn’t say – but I’d be really interested to know if I’ve got any bacteriophages in my sourdough slowing down the lactic acid bacteria growth…

I would like to add that I’m getting no particular compensation for this post, but if anyone from ASPEX corporation wants to upgrade me to “paid shill”, I wouldn’t say “no” to an SEM of my own…

No? Dang.

Anyway, for anyone who hasn’t given up on my blog despite the slow updates lately, thanks. There will be more photos, along with other impending microbiological nerdity. And food – sadly, I have not managed to get time to actually make the first of the new pie that I’ve invented in time for Pi Day (“3.14″…March 14…”Pi day”. Insert joke about doing something at 1:59am and laugh track sound here…), but “pigsfly pie” will actually exist soon. Honestly.

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

Cookies as an antidote for Yule Poisoning

(Oops, quick edit: the references on erythritol toxicity – or rather lack thereof – are now actually included…)

Crowds, Crass Commercialism, and Crappy Christmas Choruses give me a nasty case of Yule Poisoning, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I spent the afternoon/evening prepping for and performing some cookie experiments again, and I feel much better. Yes, my cookies are that good.

I had a request for Peanut Butter cookies, so I figured I’d do some experimenting with that tonight. In fact, while I was braving the Christmas Consumption Crowds to get my supplies, I happened upon an ingredient that I decided I had to try as a variant.

(The picture, incidentally, is someone ELSE’S peanut butter cookies – “diekatrin” on Flickr – click photo to go to the Flickr page – I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of getting decent photos of my own food yet.)

My initial peanut-butter cookie recipe came out too dry and not sweet enough, but I think adding 50-75g of honey should solve that. That’s not the most successful experiment of the evening though. That’s reserved for the following recipe for…Sunflowerseedbutter cookies.
(Suitably pompous name pending, as soon as I test version 2.0 of the recipe, which will substitute bread flour for the “all-purpose” flour)

(Pompous Name Pending) Sunflowerseedbutter Cookies

Materials and Methods

Powdery stuff

  • 190g “All Purpose”(Around 1 cup) “All Purpose” Flour
  • 3g NaHCO3 (1/2 tsp)
  • 1-1.5g (1/4 tsp) “Baking Powder”
  • 2g (1/4tsp) NaCl
  • 750mg Xanthomonas campestris exopolysaccharide (~1/4 tsp “Xanthan Gum”)

“Wet” stuff and sugars:

  • 150g honey
  • 100g Erythritol
  • 4g glycerol (about 5ml)
  • 50ml double-strength black tea
  • 140g Sunflower Seed Butter (about 1/2c)
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • Contents of 1 Gallus gallus egg, 50-55g (approx 60g with shell… aka “large”)
  • 5ml Vanilla Extract

The “dry” goods were mixed in one container, while in a separate container, the “wet” goods and the sugars were mixed in another. The dry material was then blended carefully into the wet material in a large steel mixing bowl using an electric hand-held mixer until completely homogenized.

Once homogenized, the dough was spread out in the bowl and chilled at ~18°C(O°F) for approximately five minutes to enhance firmness.

The dough was then measured onto a “non-stick” baking sheet in approximately 30ml roughly-hemispherical aliquots using a small disher, and then pressed down with a fork to approximately half their original height. A few shelled, roasted sunflower seeds were pressed into the surface of each to make distinguishing them from peanutbutter cookies easier.

The cookies were than baked at 190°C (~375°F) for approximately 18 minutes, then slid onto a “non-stick” wire cooling rack at Standard Temperature and Pressure until equilibrated with the temperature of the kitchen.


The experimenter believes this batch of cookies emerged a bit too soft – actually sliding them off of the baking sheet to the rack distorted them, and they still appeared (in the words of the experimenter) “squishy”. Once equilibrated with room temperature, the cookies had a texture more in line with what would be expected from a normal “soft cookie”. The flavor was judged to be superb by the experimenter, who happens to like the flavor of sunflower seeds.


The use of erythritol makes this a “reduced calorie” and “reduced-sugar” recipe, though not entirely sugarless or “diabetic safe” necessarily, due to the use of honey. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, or glycerol (“glycerine”), all of which are often used as low-glycemic substitutes for sucrose or other sugars. Sugar alcohols can often cause digestive discomfort, however, because they are poorly absorbed by human digestive tracts, leaving them to be digested by gas-producing gut microbes. Erythritol is unique in that it appears to be well-absorbed by humans, and yet is not metabolized by humans to any substantial degree and is safely filtered out by the kidneys and excreted in urine[1]. Being unmetabilized by humans, it is theoretically “zero calorie”, though the US FDA mandates a calculation of 0.2 calories per gram (compare to 4 calories per gram for sucrose). Unlike xylitol, erythritol is also safe for dogs[2] and ferrets[Sorry, can’t find the citation for this one at the moment…], for whom xylitol can induce fatal insulin shock and/or liver damage. Erythritol, unlike glycerol or sucrose (“table sugar”), is not appreciably hygroscopic, though, so adjustments must be made to recipes using it to avoid an overly dry result.

Glycerol (sold as “Glycerine”, which can be found in cake-making supplies as an ingredient used to keep cake frosting moist) closely resembles erythritol in structure, being (to oversimplify) a one-carbon-shorter version of the same molecule. In addition to hopefully helping to prevent drying out of the cookies, this was included here in the hopes that it would also help the erythritol dissolve. Previous informal testing (unpublished results) appears to support this hypothesis.

Honey was used as a second sweetener so as to include a “real” sugar and to help counter-balance the lack of hygroscopicity of the erythritol. The experimenter also notes that he believes mixing sweeteners tends to provide a better-tasting sweetness than relying entirely on one sweetener, particularly when including less sweet “sugar substitutes” in the mix. Honey was also chosen to provide additional moisture, as a previous batch of peanut-butter cookies (the recipe from which this recipe for sunflower-seed butter is derived) using ordinary sugar and “brown sugar” had turned out excessively dry.

“Xanthan gum” is a polysaccharide (as are cornstarch and pectin, for example) produced by a natural fermentation process from the γ-Proteobacterium Xanthomonas campestris. Along with a wide variety of exotic industrial uses (such as oil-well drilling “mud”), Xanthan gum is also used as a safe food ingredient to help hold water and keep soft foods from being too runny. It helps protect ice-cream from becoming grainy during possibly partial thaw-and-refreeze cycles during shipping and storage. It’s also used to hold “gluten-free” doughs together, which is nice for people who may be allergic to gluten proteins but who still would like to eat bread…

As far as the potentially excessive softness of the cookie, the experimenter believes that substituting bread flour for “all-purpose” flour and baking for up to 20 minutes should solve the softness problem, resulting in a chewier texture which the experimenter believes will be more appropriate.

The experimenter also notes that a second batch of the same recipe, cooked for approximately 20 minutes at ~205°C (~400°F) were nearly burned, though they did come out firmer but drier in texture. The flavor was still judged superb, other than the slight burnt note. Subsequent versions of this recipe will revert back to the original 190°C cooking temperature.

Obviously, further research is needed to determine the correct modifications to achieve perfect texture, and of course, to broaden the sample size of of the taste-testing group, and the experimenter should be given a sizable grant and a nobel prize for this research. Well, a grant at least.

Or at least some praise or something. Or a cookie, except that the experimenter obviously already has some.

[1] Munro IC, Berndt WO, Borzelleca JF, Flamm G, Lynch BS, Kennepohl E, Bär EA, Modderman J:”Erythritol: an interpretive summary of biochemical, metabolic, toxicological and clinical data.”;Food Chem Toxicol. 1998 Dec;36(12):1139-74.
[2]Dean I, Jackson F, Greenough RJ:”Chronic (1-year) oral toxicity study of erythritol in dogs.”;Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 1996 Oct;24(2 Pt 2):S254-60.

Dangit, I’m out of time. I was going to try out some crazy ideas with my Ginger Cookie recipe, too, and see if I can develop a Kombucha culture from scratch. Guess that’ll have to wait, because it’s bedtime now. Back to work in the morning…


Looks like the truckloads of candy-seeking larvae are done finally. Wretched little urchins now get driven from block to block rather than walking the neighborhood like we did.

(It doesn’t actually bother me as much as that makes it sound, I just like having an excuse to say “wretched little urchins”…which reminds me – I have only about a month to get a cheerful flashing “Bah! Humbug!” sign built…)

The only thing that really annoyed me is the fact that having to be ready to be interrupted by another horde of costumed consumers meant I couldn’t really spend any of the evening getting into anything requiring any real attention…which means the 113g of CaCl2.2H2O I’ve got sitting here now to go with my Xanthan Gum has been left neglected, and I still don’t know if I can make Xanthan Gum gel into beads the way you can with sodium alginate. I figure it must be possible, given that both Xanthan gum and Alginate (among others) were all formed into little “bio-booger” beads using the same kind of process in the paper I discussed in Episode 2 of my little audio oggcast. Perhaps I’ll have time to find out tomorrow.

For now, it’s time for bed. Daylight Losings Time starts tonight, so if the critters allow me to actually sleep, I ought to be well rested to attempt some serious lake-spanking in the morning – there’s supposedly a resort on the shore of the lake that has a sushi bar, and the idea of being able to paddle out for sushi amuses me. It looks like it’s at least 9-10 miles away, though, so it’ll be a long trip if I attempt it. Hopefully I’ll have time left after that.

Also, the developer of the libdmtx datamatrix barcode encoder and decoder software posted a recent comment on my previous post about the software and its potential uses – looks like some interesting projects going on there, including one intended to generate ID cards that only legitimate authorities could read (so as to prevent identity theft).

P.S. Anybody know how to build a really good (but simple) ozone generator for sanitization purposes? Or the effective pore sizes of commonly available materials like plastic wrap? Or if a corporate entity can be a shareholder/partner in a Limited Liability Company?

Don’t forget to feed and walk your mitochondria

Yes, I’m still here – though I don’t know if any of YOU are.

The pay at my job is somewhat low for the skillset it requires, but makes up for that by having a very reasonable workload, a pleasant work environment, and certain perks – like access to the electronic journals that my employer subscribes to. I added an RSS feed from pubmed intended to cover my main interests – basically edible and industrial microbiology and biotechnology. Every day, a list of 300-600 or so new scientific articles pops up in my feedreader and I scan through the titles looking for anything interesting to me. Unintentionally, my selection appears to also result in quite a bit of diabetes, obesity, and sports medicine research. Lately I’ve taken a moderate interest in our own most blatantly bacterial components, the mitochondria.

Mitochondria are kind of like a nearly 2-billion-year-long case of typhus (or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, if you prefer). After infecting our ancestors (and now us) for so long, they’ve been reduced to dependency on living in our cells. Perhaps a bit like the progression from wolves to Chinese Crested dogs. On the other hand, having thoroughly domesticated them, we get a lot of use out of them, and couldn’t live without them. Their ability to harness the electron-sucking power of oxygen means we get almost 20 times more energy out of our food than we otherwise would, which is a good thing since biologically speaking, keeping the hideously complicated mess of biochemistry that makes up a human body takes a ridiculous amount of biochemical energy compared to that of normal organisms (i.e. prokaryotes).

Lately in the stream of new publications I’ve been seeing a number of papers suggesting that a lack of proper mitochondrial activity might be related to obesity and related problems (e.g. “metabolic syndrome”, type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, obesity-related “inflammation”, and so on) and even some age-related problems, both physical and mental. There is some seriously interesting research going on into treatments to potentially stimulate mitochondrial activity and whether this might help solve a number of health problems.

So…take good care of your mitochondria. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to pay special attention to properly feeding my mitochondria and making sure I take them for regular walks (and paddling trips and so on). It could, of course, be purely psychosomatic, but right now I feel better than James Brown

There’s a fair amount of rational skepticism over using drugs or nutritional supplements to stimulate mitochondria, but here’s a tip that I suspect everyone’s doctor would accept: make sure you take your mitochondria for regular walks. Frequent exercise (particularly endurance exercise) seems to be a scientifically well-accepted way to induce production of more mitochondria.

But now I have to go to bed. My main complaint with work these days is that it eats up essentially my entire day, leaving me with just enough time for some household chores between getting up in the morning and going to bed in the evening. Not their fault I live almost and hour and a half from work, though (and at least the commute is through relatively low-traffic and scenic terrain.). Still, it makes it hard to get blog posts and podcasts done (episode 4, on the subject of “heat-fixing” of bacteria for microscopy – particularly Mycobacterium tuberculosis – will be out as soon as I can manage. Still pondering the subject of Episode 5. I’m saving the “Two Mass Spectrometers, High Performance Liquid Chromatography, and a Female Donkey” episode for later when I manage to surpass the “nearly 3” listeners that I seem to be stuck at…)

Firefox, Bacteria-snot, and job-hunting geologist

'Human Statue' striking a constipated looking pose on a toiletI have to say that suffering through periods of chronic blogstipation is seriously annoying.

There have been a number of things I’ve been wanting to post about, but I’ve been way too loaded down to have time to sit down and compose them. Therefore, lest anyone think I’ve abandoned, I’ll throw a few of them out here in shortened form.

First, a public service announcement: HTML 5 is not just about turning the internet into Television. I keep seeing articles about “HTML5” and they all seem to focus obsessively on the <video> tag. The same is largely true of articles about the recent Firefox 3.5 browser release, since arguably the biggest feature of the new version is HTML5 support. Although there are quite a few other new features, the main one I wanted to briefly remind everyone of is that there’s also an <audio> tag. I think audio is important, because it’s a lot simpler for people to generate audio for the web than to produce a video. Also, the “Vorbis” audio codec is a definite step up in quality from the de-facto “mp3” codec. The latest Opera, Google Chrome, and Firefox browsers all support the <audio> tag with “Ogg Vorbis” files. Apple’s Safari browser doesn’t by default, but that’s easily fixed. If you install the free QuickTime® component from Xiph, it teaches QuickTime about Ogg files, allowing you to watch and listen to the same HTML5 audio and video that everyone else (aside from Microsoft, as usual) can. It apparently also allows you to create Ogg files through QuickTime, so you can make your own content available for everyone else to watch and hear if you want to.

If you’ve seen some of my earlier map-and-pictures posts, you can probably guess that I’m also interested in the new geolocation feature. As far as I can tell, it’s currently natively implemented in the new Firefox, but will be showing up in Safari, Opera, and Chrome (at least) in the relatively near future. My only real complaint is that right now Firefox can only get the location through Google via your current IP address, and that isn’t at all accurate (when it works correctly, the precision is limited to “somewhere around this city” – when it doesn’t, where it thinks you are depends entirely on whose network your internet connection comes from.) It’s still baffling to me why they didn’t include a simple “manual entry” option for geolocation. Anyway, I’ve not had time to dig into this either, so enough said about that. For now.

And now a question of science and microbiology enthusiasts who may read this – I may soon, finally, be able to buy a microscope. Any recommendations on where to get one? The only “special” features that I really want (and can afford) would be a sufficiently bright light source and ability to swap in a darkfield condenser from time to time.

Penultimately, bacteria snot Xanthan Gum is hereby declared my Favorite Food Additive of the Month. It turned out to do exactly what I hoped it would do in the lemon-ginger ice cream I made a couple of weeks ago. I must play with this delightful edible substance more.

Finally, is anybody in California actually hiring geologists? As if marrying me wasn’t proof enough of insanity, my wife really wants to move back there. We can’t stay here forever in Southeast Texas on just my meager academic staff salary, as nice as the job itself is, and although for months she’s been firing off applications all over the country (and even a few beyond the borders) she’d really prefer to take her geophysics experience and PhD in Geology from UC Davis back to California. Although I’m personally a bit less enthusiastic about the idea, the possibility of getting into UC Davis’ Fermentation Science or Food Science graduate programs definitely has some appeal. Plus, I’d be able to listen to This Week In Science live while it’s being broadcast.

Lava is Nifty, but Magellan Sucks

A dead Magellan brand handheld GPS unitHere’s a “fun” situation: take a Magellan-brand handheld GPS unit with a fresh set of batteries on a 10.2 mile hike over very rough terrain, having it record a track so that all the nifty pictures along the hike can be geolocated and the course of the hike can be mapped later. After a gruelling 8 hour trek, tell the unit to save the track. Watch in annoyance as it starts to save to the SD card but then complains “EXTREME LOW BATTERY – SHUTTING DOWN”. Just annoyance though – previously when it has done this, it merely loses the last few minutes of track, and you can replace the batteries and re-do the save when it comes back up. Except this time, when instead of actually shutting down it seems to restart itself, complain of “Low Battery”. Then throw a fit when I try to get the fool thing to actually shut down, watching in horror as it restarts itself a few times for no good reason before finally fading out. Then replacing the batteries and screaming with rage when the unit comes up with the same messages it did the very first time it was turned on…despite somehow keeping a copy of the “Points of Interest” I’d put in before, it has eaten not only all of my settings but also the entire friggin’ 10.2 mile track that I was trying to save!

Moral of the story: Magellan=BAD. Between bad hardware and the newer participant-hostile “consume-only” business model they’ve gone to with the new “Triton” line, I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone (unless I secretly hated them.)

So, I decided to cool off by hacking into NASA’s feed to one of the Mars Rovers to have it take a picture for me:

You don’t believe that I really hacked NASA, do you…well, read on:

Continue reading Lava is Nifty, but Magellan Sucks

What I did on my summerMemorial Day Vacation

Disgusted with my out-of-shape state, lately I’ve been trying to spend time in the Big Room more often. I hate exercise-for-the-sake-of-exercise, but I do enjoy getting out and exploring, so muscle-powered travel around the Big Room is a convenient fitness-improving activity. As we have a spiffy wooden kayak I’ve named “The Ascospore“, and live near a decent-sized body of water that I’ve not sufficiently explored, getting out and doing some lake-spanking was a Moral Imperative.

(If you’re reading this entry via RSS, you probably don’t see the map and the associated photographs below, so please follow the link to view this post directly…)

Also, here’s a direct link to the KML file if you want to pull it into a full Google Earth session for browsing…

Only 9¼ miles, but that’s not too bad. The Memorial-Day motorboaters were making a lot of waves, which were kind of fun but made the paddling somewhat slower and more strenuous than it would otherwise have been.

Oh, yeah, and I discovered that digiKam not only has a set of geolocation functions, but even has a plugin that will generate a KML file out of the track and photos, which I used for this map – I just had to edit the descriptions and picture titles and such to add whatever else I wanted. Very nice. On the other hand now I’m reminded that I need a better digital camera…

Of course, nerd that I am, I spent a good portion of the trip looking at the greenish water and cursing once again my lack of a decent microscope. There must be a huge variety of tiny little things in there. It also occurs to me that I know very little about diatoms, for example. But now my mind is obviously wandering due to sleep deprivation and it’s time for bed. Hopefully the embedded map works right. Let me know if not.