I ♥ the Minister of Domestic Affairs

The Minister of Domestic Affairs has given the go-ahead to find myself a netbook to take the place of my gigantic beast of an aging laptop. Now I just have to figure out which one to go for.

A white 'Sylvania G Meso' netbookI’ve got the selection narrowed down to four possibilities. Irritatingly, I cannot seem to find Linux-based netbooks in retail outlets thus far. I tend to prefer to get things like this retail, so that if I start them up and find they’re defective (or if they die in the first few days), I can just take it back and exchange it, rather than calling some call-center halfway around the globe, sitting on hold for an hour, dealing with some schmuck going through the “did you plug it in? Did you turn it on?” script, finally getting an RMA#, and then paying to ship the thing back and being without a computer for 2-4 weeks until the replacement arrives.

Currently, my first choice is the Sylvania G Meso Linux version, which seems to be a very good value and is well-supported by Linux – plus for a computer that I have to order, I should be able to get it shipped quickly. My second and third choices would be either a Dell Mini 9 or HP Mini 1110NR. Those give me more customization options (and the HP keyboard is perhaps one of the most usable “small netbook” ones), but Dell and HP would take almost 2 weeks after taking my money to finally get the thing assembled and sent to me.

The last option would be to go to Wal-Mart® or similar cheap-electronics place and get an Acer Aspire One crippled with a “Windows XP Home” OS, and take it home in a lead-lined box until it can be overwritten with a real OS (and then perhaps argue with Acer about getting a refund for the unused and unwanted Windows license.).

Some people probably think I’m insane for wanting a tiny little netbook (and I do specifically want the smallest netbook I can reasonably use – I’ll actually take the 8.9″ version over the 10″ version) to replace a laptop. Thing is, Intel Atom 270N-based netbooks should be somewhat better-performing than my old full-size laptop with its old “Turion 64 ML-30” processor (same clock speed as the Atom, with less than half the bus speed and an order of magnitude higher power consumption…) and will have a much better-supported graphics chipset. My view of Google Earth might be a bit more constrained than on my big 1280×768 giganto-laptop screen, but it ought to be smoother…

Anybody have any suggestions? The actual distribution of Linux that it comes with is essentially irrelevant, as I’ll almost certainly replace it with either Gentoo (if it has a large, standard hard drive) or Arch (if it has a solid-state drive).

Another Asterisk post to follow, later, too. Keep watching…

Nerd Reading Spasm!

Did I mention the place I work has some amazingly spiffy perks for a nerd like me?

Last night, I was poking around pubmed looking for references to yeast and erythritol (namely, do yeast interact with it, and will they metabolize it?) I found precisely one relevant reference. From 1975. In a Czechoslavokian microbiology journal. A no-longer-existent Czechoslovakian microbiology journal. Even though it was a journal published in English, I didn’t figure I’d be able to find the article I was looking for. It did turn out that the greedy (insert long string of profanity here) anti-open-access “SpringerLink®” Netherlands organization has an electronic copy of the article…which I can get limited access to for a short time for a mere $34.00. Not going to happen, obviously.

Just in case the college had a subscription that would let me get to the article at no extra cost, I checked. No such luck. But…

…The campus medical science library just two buildings over from where I work has dead-tree editions of essentially the entire journal! Im name des Nudelmonster! Instead of paying $34.00, I got a photocopy of the article for about $0.50. Bonus: As I had hoped, the article[1] reports that erythritol is not metabolized by yeasts, although it is taken up to a small extent. That means I can add erythritol (or xylitol or sorbitol or whatever) to must or wort, and it’ll still be there when the yeast finish, leaving the resulting beverage still sweet. Hooray!

Plus, I was also able to get access to an electronic copy of a review of the uses of poly-?-glutamate[2], which I was bemoaning not having access to over on an interesting Small Things Considered post recently.

Speaking of reading, one thing I really could use are any worthwhile books on the general subject of applied/industrial microbiology, bioprocess engineering, fermentation, and so on. “Worthwhile” here means practical texts that are A)primarily about microbiological processes (as opposed to, say, bioengineering of plants) B)Reasonably technical, and C)Either “not very old” or “very old indeed” (I collect old science books).

I’m not a fan of Amazon.com’s abuses of the patent system, but I’m in a hurry since it’s past my bedtime already. Therefore, purely as a sampling of the kinds of books that sounded interesting to me, here is a selection in more or less random order of books that came up in a quick search on amazon.com. Anybody out there have any other suggestions?

Continue reading Nerd Reading Spasm!

“They laughed at me! But I’ll show them all! AH, HAHAHAHA!”

Another T-shirt to add to my list of T-shirts I want.

I’m spending more hours shoveling my way through the books and papers and crap we’ve got up here at House v1.0, since if all goes well I’ll be making a brief run back down to Southeast Texas so we can sign the papers for House v2.0 down there, at which point we’ll be able to start actually moving. I sure hope this one goes through. Not only is it our third attempt to buy a house down there, but I’ve already identified a convenient location to build my “Intentional Food Microbiology” brewlab in it.

Since there’s no way I can afford to buy a -80°F freezer, I have an obvious interest in alternate means of preserving the yeast, mold, and bacterial cultures that I want to keep. To me, drying seems like the most desirable method when it’s feasible, since dried cultures should require the least amount of maintenance. After a several-month delay, I’ve finally gotten around to getting back in touch with the archivist at Brewer’s Digest to see about getting an old article on the viability of dried yeast cultures[1].

Speaking of old but useful scientific papers, there’s an extremely nifty challenge going on through the month of May (deadline: May 31st) over at “Skulls in the Stars” blog: find a classic scientific paper, read it, and blog about it.

“My “challenge”, for those sciencebloggers who choose to accept it, is this: read and research an old, classic scientific paper and write a blog post about it. I recommend choosing something pre- World War II, as that was the era of hand-crafted, “in your basement”-style science. There’s a lot to learn not only about the ingenuity of researchers in an era when materials were not readily available, but also about the problems and concerns of scientists of that era, often things we take for granted now!”

I think this is a brilliant idea – the classic papers often seem to be forgotten and often explain things that people seem to take for granted these days. I already mentioned my post about the Gram Stain (original paper published in 1884), though that post really talks more about what has happened with the Gram Stain over the last 125 years rather than only being about the original paper. There are a couple of other classic microbiology papers that I’m going to try to get to if I have time before the May 31st deadline arrives.

I also need to get some yeast activated and get my must processed – I’m hoping a brief boil will reduce the amount of a yeast-inhibiting substance in it. I’ll post more detail after I get it going.

[1] Wickerham LJ, AND Flickinger MH:”Viability of yeast preserved two years by
the lyophile process.” 1946; Brewers Digest, 21, 55-59; 65.

Fermentation: not just for alcohol

What does gluconic acid taste like, anyway?

Well, that was an interesting reminder. I’m tracking “fermentation” on Twitter, and caught a random reference to an interesting fermented beverage being made in Germany. The “reminder” I drew from this serendipitous reference was that “fermentation” doesn’t necessarily mean alcoholic fermentation.

“Fermentation” seems to be slightly tricky to define accurately. Most definitions seem to directly mention alcohol production from sugar, but this is only an example and not a definition. I’ve also seen the term used to mean simply “to grow a culture of microorganisms” (because the tank they are grown in can be referred to as a “fermentor”.)

Properly speaking, fermentation is what you get when you have microbes growing under conditions where the elelectrons that get sucked away from “food” molecules like sugars ends up on another, simpler carbon compound rather than something like oxygen, and therefore fermentation is implicitly anaerobic although that’s not the same as saying that fermentation cannot happen in the presence of oxygen (e.g. the Crabtree Effect, and of course fermentation of ethanol to vinegar requires oxygen). The end product is generally assumed to be organic acids (like acetic acid [vinegar]) or alcohols, and carbon dioxide. So, making beer and wine is fermentation. Making vinegar is fermentation. Making yogurt (lactic acid) is fermentation. Citric acid can be made by fermentation of glucose by Aspergillus molds, as can malic (apple) acid (see US Pat#3063910). You can make tartaric (grape) acid from glucose by fermentation as well (see US Pat#2314831).

I am familiar with the flavors of all of those products. One I’ve never directly tasted is gluconic acid, which is the main product of the fermentation process used to make “BIONADE®” (it seems to be written in all-caps everywhere).

According to their English-language page discussing their process – linked from the image at right, click to view – they are starting with malt, just as one would for beer, but instead of Saccharomyces yeasts, they are fermenting this wort-like liquid with “acid bacteria”. I’m going to hazard a guess that the bacterium in question is a strain of Gluconobacter oxydans or one of its close relatives. This group of bacteria is in the Acetobacteraceae family of bacteria which is involved in turning your wine into vinegar. It would appear that under the right conditions, the enzyme Glucose Oxidase (EC produced by G.oxydans converts glucose to a compound which reacts with water to form gluconic acid. BIONADE® then adds flavor extracts and juices to the filtered fermentation product, carbonates it, and bottles it.

Not being familiar with the flavor of gluconic acid, I’m aching to get my hands on some of this stuff and try it.

For another example of a relatively non-alcoholic fermented beverage, see also Kombucha, which is essentially sweetened tea fermented by acetic-acid bacteria and non-Saccharomyces yeasts…which I also have yet to taste.

geostr:50.4600,10.2208:200804110105-06:geostr (at least if Google Maps interpretation of the address I could find at the moment is correct, and assuming the information I dug up and my interpretation of it is correct, this should be the approximate location of the brewery responsible for BIONADE® production.)