General Archive

Friday, July 9, 2010

New Comments

Well, I don't have anything really substantive for this week. I did leave two decent comments, though, in response to visitors. First is a discussion of why humans should be considered apes. Second is a bit of politics in response to a guy who didn't like my response to Gary Hubbell's anti-liberal article.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Interstellar Potatoes

Alien FoodI like potatoes. A lot. I half jokingly tell people that I'm glad I was born after Europeans discovered the New World, or else I wouldn't get to eat potatoes. But, if I'd been born a thousand years ago, I wouldn't have known what I was missing. And that got me to thinking - what foods might we discover in the future that I'm missing out on, now. Most of the surface of Earth has been explored (if not by Europeans, at least by other cultures), so most of the good foods on this planet have probably already been discovered. But what about if we ever start exploring other planets? What might we find then? And that got me thinking some more - would we even be able to eat what we found on other planets. Of course, we'd probably be able to chew it and pass it through our digestive tracts, but how nutritious would it be? I don't know enough about biology to know the answer, but how flexible are our digestive systems? Are they tuned to the molecules created by the DNA based life here on Earth? I know that we need to consume certain molecules, such as vitamin C for example, because our bodies can't synthesize them on their own (so we'd probably need Earthly supplements for those). But for the molecules that we can synthesize, can we just use matter in any form, or does it already need to be assembled in a form that we can use?

Maybe this doesn't really matter for my culinary question. Since we're talking about the future here, by the time that humans have the technology to travel to other planets, we'll probably have the technology to engineer gut microbes to digest that food for us. Maybe I should go crygenically freeze myself, and get thawed out every thousand years or so to see what new and delicious foods are in humanity's pantry.


Added 2010-03-09 After I wrote this entry, I sent off the same question to a friend of mine who happens to be a biologist. Here was his response.

Good question. Actually its funny that you asked me this now because my lecture on Monday is on digestion. My short and unsatisifying answer is it depends. First, it would depend on whether alien life is carbon based. If it is, I think that there is a very good chance we could digest it unless it is in forms that our digestive enzymes cannot break down, like cellulose. In order to use the nutrients that are in the food we eat, we must break them down into molecules that are small enough that they can be absorbed. In other words, we can't directly use proteins, lipids, and complex carbohydrates, but if we break them down we can reassemble their components into the forms that we need. The enzymes we use to break down what we eat (like amylase that breaks down starch and glycogen) ARE tuned in, as you put it, to the types of food that we eat. So if alien life had some sort of complex chemistry that we do not have the enzymes to process then we would not be able to digest it. The second issue is whether it was somehow toxic, which seems to me to be reasonably likely. If alien life had a different balance of elements, which I assume it would (unless it is derived from the same origin as life on earth, which is possible) I think the chances are good that some of them would be toxic to our systems.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fastnacht Day

Well, it's that time of year again - Fastnacht Day is tomorrow. Since I don't have anything new to say from last year, I'll just quote last year's blog entry.

Doughnut Picture from Wikimedia CommonsDepending on where you are in the world, you may call tomorrow something else, like Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. But from where I'm from in Pennsylvania, it's called Fastnacht Day. Traditionally, you make potato based donuts, called fastnachts, supposedly as a way to empty your larder of all the fatty, sugary foods in preparation for the Lenten fast. My elementary school even used to give out donuts with the lunches on this day. So, in celebration of Fastnachts, here's a recipe on my main site on how to make fastnachts, and a link to the (not so thorough) Wikipedia article.

You're supposed to wake up early to make the fastnachts on Tuesday morning (they're freshest that way), but I usually make them the night before. They keep pretty well in a brown paper lunch bag. I also like to put a little bit of powdered sugar into a ziploc bag, and a mix of granulated sugar and cinammon into another one, to coat the fastnachts just before eating them.

Doughnut Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm Back

Boy, have I been I busy for the past month and a half. With the new contract at work, we had a ton of work to do to get ready for a big meeting. I was so busy I didn't even get a chance to do Christmas shopping, let alone keep up with this blog. Then, with Christmas and traveling, and then another big project when I got back to work, I just didn't have time to write any blog entries in December and the first couple weeks of January. Well, I'm pretty much caught up, now, so it's hopefully back to blogging as usual.

I mentioned that I did some traveling for Christmas. We flew up to Maryland/Pennsylvania to visit with my family for a few days before Christmas. We got there just in time for a big snow storm that dumped over a foot and a half of snow. Living in Texas, I thought that that was exciting enough, and that even though we wouldn't be up north for Christmas Day, at least we'd gotten to see snow during the Christmas season. When we flew back to Texas, it was 70ยบ when we got off the plane, and we had a bit of a laugh at how different the weather was. That was before Christmas Eve. We had a freak snow storm hit us - a lot of snow. I know the official reports were for 4 to 6 inches, but it sure seemed like more. Maybe some of that had to do with snow drifts, or the ice that was already on the ground from a previous ice storm. The roads were horrible. A lot of people say the drivers down here aren't used to the snow, but I think it's much worse because the counties just don't have the equipment to handle the snow. The drive from Ft. Worth to Wichita Falls, which usually takes us a little less than two hours, took 9 hours that Christmas Eve. And we were lucky. Some people got stuck in a huge traffic jam that kept them in their cars for over 24 hours.

Here are a few pictures from my holidays - the first is from Pennsylvania, and the second two are from Texas. I had a white Christmas all the way around.

Snow in Pennsylvania
Snow in Texas
More Snow in Texas

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween Recap 2009

Jack O'LanternI grew up in the country. Halloween for me was getting in the car, and driving around to friends' houses. A few friends lived on streets with enough houses that we could go up and down a bit, but not very much. This also meant that we were never visited by many trick or treaters, nor were the houses I knocked at, so I always got an entire handful of candy at every place I visited, and we always had plenty of left over candy at our house.

As I've gotten older, I've moved into progressively more urban environments, so I've gotten used to the more traditional Halloween. However, nothing prepared me for what to expect in the neighborhood I live in now. Somehow, the neighborhood has acquired a reputation as the place to go for trick or treaters. Our first year in the neighborhood, we were completely unprepared, and ran out of candy very early on. Last year, we did a bit better, but still ran out before the crowds had died down. This year, we were prepared. We started stocking up on candy about two months ago, so that we'd have enough to go around.

We still rationed our candy. For most of the night, we gave out between 2 and 3 pieces per kid. Only after 9:00 did we start to give out a bit more, around half a dozen pieces per kid. We ran out around 9:30.

Anyway, I weighed the candy at the start of the night, to have an idea of how much candy we gave away - 40 lbs. That's a bit of a rough estimate. I didn't subtract the weight of the plastic container, and a few kids we had over divied up the last dregs before we had a chance to give them away, but we also had a few people over who dumped in a few bags of candy after I did the initial weigh in. Anyway, it was a lot of sugar and chocolate.

I have no idea how many kids actually came by, but a family in another house on our street who had bought 1600 pieces of candy (rationed at 2 pieces per kid, i.e. 800 kids worth), ran out at 8:30. So, I'd guess that we had somewhere around a thousand kids come trick or treating at our house.

For the most part, it was fun. We decorated the house up pretty good, hung a plastic monster from a tree branch so that we could drop it on unsuspecting passers-by, and I dressed up like the grim reaper, scaring quite a few older kids and adults.

We did get a few teenagers in less than creative costumes, and around 10:30, when I went to see some friends out to their car and turned the porch light back on, a car immediately pulled up to our house hoping for candy. But, like I said, everything was fun for the most part.

Anyway, in addition to the jack o'lantern picture up above, here are a few more pictures of how we decorated the house. We didn't think to take any the night before in the dark, so these are all from the next morning. They're not quite as spooky, but at least they give a sense of what the house looked like.

Entryway

Hippy Bus

Hippy Bus

Hippy Bus Michael Meyers


Updated 2009-11-05: Two new pictures added

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