“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.

“Open Thread”

Too tired to do a real post at the moment. I’ve seen other bloggers do this “Open Thread” thing, inviting readers to post comments about whatever the heck they want so as to make the blog look more active without actually having to post anything. So what the heck. Real post in the next 24 hours hopefully, but in the meantime, what’s on everyone’s minds?

Oh, yeah, and am I right that typical cola drinks are about 3 mM phosphate (as phosphoric acid)?

New toy: “Twitter”

Wow – Celestron takes 8 business days to get me a terse one-sentence answer. BigC responds in one. Impressive. Apparently their technical people are all at trade-shows at the moment so my bigger question will have to wait until they get back, but they were at least able to answer my question about their “tabletop” digital microscopes magnification (answer: the “600x” really is optical magnification, not digital.)

Another digital microscopy WANT/DO NOT WANT post to follow when I get the followup reply. Meanwhile, after hearing about it on the This Week in Tech podcast for a while, I finally talked myself into signing up to play with the coincidentally named Twitter system.

Twitter logoIt sounds like a really stupid idea – “Oh, goodie, now I can broadcast ‘text messages’ no more than 140 characters long about trivial events in my life to the whole world! Whoopee!” “Wow! I can find out when random strangers are drinking coffee AS IT HAPPENS!” Thrills! Excitement! Adventure!…

On the other hand, having the messaging system watch for particular words might be a handy way of monitoring current events. Plus, there seems to be a lot of potential for fun, off-the-wall uses, even if many of them are kind of silly.

It DOES seem like kind of an ideal context to play with that “geostrings” concept I’ve been toying with. A terse, easily-machine-parsed format for geotag data that can fit into a “twitter” post and still leave room for a sentence or two to go with the geographic information seems like it might be useful. If you’re so incredibly bored that you want to see some examples, you can check out my own Twitter posts, several of which I’ve embedded geostrings into.

Drugs make you stupid. And so does fear.

Ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds terrorism. Terrorism breeds interruption of homebrewing. There was a disturbing article that came up today. Evidently, someone’s burglar alarm went off, so the security company drove by to check it out. They opened the garage (where I guess the alarm indicated an attempted break-in or something) and thought they saw a “still”. Naturally, anything that looks science-y with copper tubes or whatever can only be for one thing: drugs, right?

A bunch of police officers in both marked and unmarked cars AND the fire department later, somebody finally finds out it’s just somebody’s (completely legal!) homebrewing setup. Of course, officials describe the panic as “an appropriate response”. You might think this was in notoriously over-reacting Boston, but no – it was Hamilton, New Zealand.

My first thought was that it probably wasn’t even a “still”, which due to unrepealed prohibition-era laws is still treated pretty much the same that meth-lab equipment would be in terms of legality here in the US. I kind of assumed it was probably just the owner’s fermentation container, or possibly a wort-chiller (see image – click for context). Without some apparently-rather-expensive permits, it’s extremely illegal to have distillation equipment in the US, and I’m under the impression that most places around the world still criminalize home distillation. It’s worse, though – apparently New Zealand repealed the ban on home distillation for personal use over a decade ago. Even if what the panicky security guys saw really WAS a “still”, it’s STILL a completely legal piece of equipment there. And yet, surrounding the guy’s house with marked and unmarked police cars and firefighting equipment was “appropriate response.” Because somebody said “drugs”. The original article may be found here.

In fairness to the public officials, it sounds like once the police and fire department showed up, they actually talked to someone at the house (no tasing or teargas required) and had no trouble figuring out that nothing illegal was actually going on, so the damage was pretty much limited to the time wasted by the police and fire-department in responding. What I want to know is why the “security” company gets a free pass on causing all this fuss by reporting a completely legal piece of vaguely science-like equipment as a “clandestine drug lab”? At the very least, I’d expect people to want to know which “security” company is supposed to be protecting their houses but cannot tell the difference between legal homebrewing equipment and real criminal activity.

As a fairly hardcore nerd with an interest in intentional food microbiology (brewing, cheese, etc.) this kind of thing worries me. I intend to build myself a fairly decent science-lab setup for doing food microbiology. I’m already planning to label everything as though it were part of a public museum exhibit, just in case some idiot happens to see it and assume it’s some kind of terrorist drug lab or something.

Here in the US, I consider “amateur” science and technology to be part of the very foundation of my country’s greatness. Think Thomas Edison. Nikolai Tesla [yes, he was a naturalized American citizen]. Benjamin Franklin. And no doubt many, many others who are less famous but nonetheless made major contributions to the advancement of their country. When we set about attacking that, we’re harming our country – yes, you people outside the US, this applies to you, too.

The moral of the story is this: Please, people – science and technology are fun. Yes, there are many of us out here who quite happily set up “science-lab stuff” to play with food, or rocks, or plants, or electronic circuits or whatever else in a completely safe and legal manner. Sure, it’s a good thing when good police-work closes down some drug-crazed freak’s meth-production setup – I don’t want some idiot blowing up my neighborhood with unsafe chemical activity nor attracting violent criminals anywhere near where I live. All I’m asking is, will people please stop panicking and screaming “drugs!” or “terrorism!” every time you see some glass tubes or blinking lights? Please? Thank you.

This Public Service Announcement has been brought to you by the popular drug 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. We now return you to your regularly scheduled (and, it should be emphasized, completely legal) nerdity.

I want to geotag something besides photographs!

Cornelia - Queen of the Snow!For no particular reason, here is a picture of The Dog in her natural habitat. This picture really has nothing to do with today’s blog post, but since this is supposed to be a happy time of year, I suppose a happy picture is in order.

In case anyone is wondering if I’ve forgotten the supposed microbiological emphasis on this blog, the answer is no. In fact, I’ve got a post on amateur yeast culture brewing, but I’m still researching it a bit.

Meanwhile, it seems reasonable to post about geolocation, which after all is an important and useful trick for associating information with its place in The Big Room.

Geolocation of photographs is well established, at least for JPEG images. There are standard ways of tagging a JPEG file with an ICBM address, and I’ve been having a lot of fun doing this with my own pictures. (If you’re bored, you can browse them on Panoramio, and perhaps in a few weeks may stumble on some of them in Google Earth.)

There doesn’t appear to be any standard way of tagging other forms of media files, though. What if I want to geotag an .mp3 or OGG/Vorbis audio file recorded at a particular spot? Or a “DivX/Xvid” or OGG/Theora video?

Irritatingly, it seems as though a few people have mused about it, but nobody seems to have addressed it. There are projects like The Freesound Project which does geolocate sounds, but the geographic information is not actually embedded into the sound files in any way. As far as I can tell, the location is tracked in their own server’s database only. A Google search turned up a post on the “Random Connections” Blog musing about this, but the only application mentioned is adding georss tags to the RSS for a podcast feed, not to the podcast’s audio file itself. Even the otherwise excellent Mapping Hacks book (written before O’Reilly’s current decline into yet another “Proprietary Product® How-To Guides” publisher over the last couple of years) mentions the topic in Hack #59, but disappointingly appears to have really had nothing to do with tagging files so much as “interpolating a position from a GPS track, given a timestamp”.

This all comes up because we’re about to go on a roadtrip to check out a part of the country where we seem likely to end up living next year. I’ve been told I’ve got a pretty good voice, so I was considering generating a travelogue series along the way. It appears to be relatively easy to generate a “narrated picture” as a standard mp3 file, the picture being loaded as though it were “album art”. The only aspect of the whole thing that’s missing is geolocation. For now, just being able to easily obtain the ICBM address associated with the file while playing it so that one could plug the coordinates into Google Maps to see where the recording was done, but ideally I’d like to do it in a way that could be considered standardized, so that later on people might be encouraged to add geolocalization plugins to their media-playing software.

Sure, I can just generate a .kml file with a track of where we were, with markers containing picture and audio links. In fact, I probably will, but I don’t want people to have to use Google Maps or Google Earth to make use of the geolocation information associated with the audio.

Any suggestions, anyone?

Make it stop!

Specifically, I think I’m getting a severe case of Noel poisoning.

One of the things I hate most about Christmas is the incessant “re-imaginings” of the same handful of accursed songs, generally done in the same awful forced pretend-emotional tone.

They’ve got “The First Noel” playing in the style of a late-1950’s/early-1960’s Disney Choir style. On a loop. For the last half hour so far.

Ugh. Make it stop…

Thank the Noodly One for headphones, Amarok, and the collection of hard bouncy techno music that happens to be on Igor here…

I’m down to the last class of the last week prior to next week’s finals, so I should have time for a real post again soon…

’tis the season to be greedy

Members of my immediate family start asking around this time of year about what kinds of things I’d like for Christmas presents this year.

This strikes me as a good way to break the week-long bout of blogstipation I’ve been having. Here, then, is what I want for Christmas, Xmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Cephalopodmas, or whatever gift-giving winter holiday you prefer (each category is sorted roughly in order of desire at the moment):

Ridiculously Expensive Stuff

Which I only list on the off-chance that someone wins the lottery or happens to find an amazing bargain on “e-bay®” or something.

Relatively Expensive Books

Other kinda-expensive-but-maybe-you-can-find-it-at-reasonable-price stuff

Relatively Cheap Stuff (but still spiffy)

I know there was more, but my brain seems to have gone on break right now…

#1 on Google!

Over on scienceblogs.com’s The World’s Fair, the author has started an amusing meme.

It goes like this: the challenge is to find 5 sets of search terms for which your own blog or site is the #1 hit on a Google search. Note that it is acceptable to quote specific phrases but of course it’s more impressive if you don’t. Here are 8 that (as I type this) for which this blog is the #1 hit (links go to the blog address that is the hit):

There was at least one other which I’m having trouble remembering at the moment. Perhaps I’ll update later if I remember what it was.

My server’s going to walk funny for a week after this…

Someone posted a link to the “No, You Can’t Have A Cookie” image I put together a while back.

On Fark.com.

In a comment thread for an article that seems to involve the suggestion of a nude college girl.

The server logs have been scrolling by rapidly for quite a while now. Ow.

Incidentally, if you’re coming here from Fark.com, do me a favor and click on the “vote for me” image thing below. I promise if I win, I’ll use some of the money to get a TotalFark account…

UPDATE: The thread seems to be FINALLY winding down. Thank you, Farkers who noticed my plea and voted for me, I’m rapidly gaining on the 4th Loser position!

Hey, it beats last…and voting goes through Sunday this week, as I recall…

Wow, I guess everything IS bigger in Texas…

…including, at least for today, my audience.

After being linked to from The Tangled Bank I’ve gotten hits from all over. Mostly using Firefox, I notice, and a large number of Mac users (plus at least one and possibly two fellow Penguinistas.)

Hits coming from all over – A few from Canadian colleges, Michigan, California, New York, the U.K., the Sydney, Australia area [update: Oh, and now India – Hello, India!]…and a surprisingly large number from Texas.

Interesting selection of institutions, too. Colleges, research institutions, government agencies…I just want to assure the readers from the disease and mental-health organizations (there was at least one from each) that I’m perfectly healthy and sane. For certain values of “perfectly”, anyway. At least, I’m not 5150 nor afflicted with any sort of terminal condition.

Since at least a few people seemed to come back and look at the rest of the site, I’ll endeavor to put up a post tomorrow on what exactly I’m trying to do in this blog and such (in case anyone’s thinking “that’s nice, but does this get better?…”).

But for now it’s bedtime – early morning Pathogenic Microbiology Lab tomorrow. Goodnight, all.