Thursday, September 06, 2012

Science knowledge of politicians.

Mitt Romney believes in cold fusion
This makes me both amused and nostalgic. I was in the middle of the experiment that would provide the data for my dissertation in nuclear physics when the press release from Fleischmann and Pons came out. There was a big hubbub, and all sorts of impromptu conferences to discuss it.

They did bad science, in the sense that they went ahead and did a press release before getting any peers to review their data. They were so eager to patent, that they forgot the basics of academic research.

The months following were further amusing. Nuclear physicists that I knew weren't touching it. But physicists from other areas were trying to replicate the results. I'll never forget the sight of my roommate, a condensed matter student, setting up a neutron detector next to a electrolytic bath.

"Dave, you do know that if this thing works well enough to set off the neutron detector, you really ought to be wearing lead underwear, don't you?"

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Presidential Effigy

Apparently HBO's Game of Thrones had a copy of GWB's head on a spike. This is wrong, and the immature twits that had a giggle over this should have been fired. That being said, listening to the uproar over this, I have to ask, would they have reacted the same way if it was the current president's image? If not, then this is just more partisan politics, and has nothing to do with respect for the presidency.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Fermented foods, part 2: Kefir

The last post addressed the dearth of information on this blog on my yogurt making habit, which has been going on pretty much continuously for the last eight years. This one talks about my first steps with kefir.

I can't recall how I started getting interested in kefir. Most of the web sites that turn up in a google search turn up vendors. Here is one site that is just useful information.

Kefir is fermented milk (usually) product. I say usually, since the cultures are used to ferment other food liquids, such as sugar water or coconut milk. Unlike yogurt, where I can just inoculate the milk with the culture from a previous batch, I need to use kefir grains, a symbiotic colony of various yeasts and bacteria, to culture the milk.

After a brief search, I could not locate kefir grains, live, dehydrated, or otherwise, in any of the local health food stores. Only premade, flavored kefir beverages. So I was forced to order my grains online. I finally settled on buying from someone in Idaho on eBay.

I order on Friday, they arrived on Monday, pretty sweet. They came in a plastic ziplock baggie, with some milk, inside of another ziplog bag, in a bubble wrap envelope, with instructions, a round coffee filter, and a rubber band.

Now, you might be concerned that milk traveling by snail mail, without any sort of cooling, would be pretty funky on arrival. That was not the case. There was pretty much no odor at all.

As soon as I got home with it, I immediately drained the milk with a strainer, and put the approximately 3 tbs of kefir grains in a 2 cup glass jar with milk from the fridge, covered with the coffee filter, set it on the counter.

The next morning, I lift the coffee filter to check it out. I was warned it would probably take a couple of cycles before I started getting good kefir, so my expectations for drinking anything were low. But what really amazed me is that there were no off-odors when I lifted the lid. If I had left uncultured milk on the counter, it would be pretty nasty by then. (As a side note, I don't know why, but my sense of smell has gotten rather inconveniently sensitive of late.)

Since it looked pretty good, rather than discard the milk and start the next batch (which are typical instructions for reviving kefir grains), I moved it to a larger jar, and added another couple of cups of milk. Since my kitchen is a little cooler than optimal for fermenting kefir, I left it for another 24 hours.

This morning, I was ready to strain out the kefir grains, and sample the kefir. Some writers warn to uses a very fine, non-metalic strainer. This is to avoid losing the very small kefir grains. I used a fine stainless steel strainer, and found that nothing really got through, so I switched to a coarser stainless steel strainer, and still had to shake the mixture about a bit in the strainer to get out the liquid. With that, I started up a new batch of kefir in a clean glass jar. My one concern is that it appears I have to give considerably more attention to care and feeding of kefir than I do for yogurt.

I sampled my first kefir this morning. A half cup, to make sure that any digestive surprises it gave me were minimized. ;-) It was a bit sour, as expected. I added a little bit of sweetener, and found it crossed the line into too sweet very quickly, so I will have to watch for that in the future. It was also slightly gritty, as predicted by Dom above, considering I fermented at about 66 deg F. I'm hoping for a creamier product when it gets warmer. And there was that tail of fizzy flavor that I recall from commercial kefir and kombucha.

The other notable from the experiences is that after drinking the kefir, all hunger vanished, and it was another three hours before hunger distracted me again.

Fermented foods, part 1

Some time back, here or on some other blog, I talked about how easy it is to make yogurt.
See here, and here.
I've got my system down pretty well now. I still have my 1qt Salton yogurt maker.


  • a little less than 1 qt milk, skim, low fat, whole, or supplemented with half and half, depending on taste
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of dry milk powder
  • 1/8 tsp stevia powder (optional, or substitute your preferred non-sugar sweetener)
  • 1-2 tbs plain yogurt
  1. In a glass or stainless steel container mix together milk, dry milk powder, stevia
  2. Place container in a water bath maintained at a slightly less than a simmer, with a digital probe thermometer in the milk
  3. Maintain milk at 180 deg F for 30 min, or 190 deg F for 10 minutes. Don't let it get to 200 deg F.
  4. Remove from water bath, and cool back down to under 115 deg F. 
  5. Mix in yogurt.
  6. Place mixture in container in yogurt maker (following manufacturer's instructions) for 4-12 hours, depending on how you like it.
Some notes on this:
  • I add the dry milk powder because it makes for a thicker, more custardy yogurt
  • Step 3 I learned from Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking. The heating denatures the whey proteins, which also makes for a thicker, more custardy yogurt. It's only really necessary to heat the milk to about 160 deg F to kill off any critters that might compete with the yogurt cultures.
  • For my water bath, I use a slow cooker. It takes a long time, but I don't have to pay close attention to the process, the way I would with a water bath on the stove. I short-cut the process some by boiling the water before I stick it in the slow cooker, and heating up the milk mixture in the microwave. If I wasn't going for denaturing the whey proteins, the microwaving would be sufficient, and I wouldn't need the water bath.

When it works out right, the yogurt has the thickness of greek yogurt, and a texture similar to flan.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Liberal vs Conservative

A piece on a very tailored view on liberal vs. conservative. Have a read, I'm just posting my reaction.

  • The description fits a libertarian much more than a conservative.
  • Both conservative and liberal depend on the context, be it fiscal, social, religious, etc.
  • Religious conservatives insist you worship as they do
  • Moral conservatives want to put tight restrictions on how you live
  • The current crop of neocons want the rich to pay a lower tax rate than the poor, even though the impact on them is much less
There's fair, and there's "screw the poor, they can't defend themselves anyway..."