Sunday, August 15, 2010

Clouds, sideways

(It looks better in a wider view on the vimeo site: Clouds sideways).

This is a slitscan manipulation of timelapse clouds by Matt Conroy. Time runs left to right across the frame; the black stuff at the beginning is a pine tree at the left side of Matt's video.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pumpkin liqueur

I'm trying a pumpkin liqueur -- we ended up with a vast pumpkin from Gathering Together farms, and it's got to be et.

I found this pumpkin liqueur recipe and tried to follow it, but it makes all kinds of no sense:

  • How the heck much is 24 ounces of pumpkin? I chopped it raw and used 4 cups.
  • Boil four cups of pumpkin in the juice of one lemon? Not possible. So I kept adding enough water to keep it from burning. It probably spent a half-hour on the stove total.
  • I tried straining it, but it seemed like a waste of effort -- every other recipe I've used involves big chunks of stuff soaking in the liquor, then you strain at the end. So I just dumped it in there, pumpkin, lemon peels, and all.
  • Instead of 6 oz of sugar, I used "some" sugar. Probably less than that; I'll add syrup when I'm done.
  • I don' t know how much rum I used. probably a little more than they called for.
I'm not optimistic about this one, but we'll see.

UPDATE: I gave it a couple weeks, then strained it and added sugar water to it. The result was something like limoncello. No pumpkin flavor at all. Not great limoncello, but not undrinkable; I kept in in the freezer and drank it in small amounts as an after dinner sippy drink. If I were to try this again, I'd use a pie pumpkin (they're sweeter), maybe add some sugar during the first stage, and of course no lemon. Maybe add pumpkin pie spices after it's done, but I'd want to taste it without them first, because I think they'd overwhelm the pumpkin.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Concord Liqueur Experiment

I'm trying a liqueur making experiment, and I'm blogging the recipe so I don't forget what I did in case I like the result. I didn't find a good recipe on the internet anywhere so I'm just making this up. Any advice is appreciated.

  • 3 cups (loosely packed) of Concord grape skins
  • 2 cups Everclear
  • 2 cups distilled water
The plan is to let it sit about a month, then strain it and add sugar and water (maybe 2 cups sugar, 1 cup water, premade into syrup), and let that sit for another few weeks.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A frozen old friend

So I was just googling people I haven't seen in a long time, and I found an article about some friends of mine, Mary Margaret and Jim Glennie, who I knew when I was in college. Jim died of a brain tumor, and had his brain cryopreserved in hopes of reanimating it some day; and Mary Margaret is signed up for the same treatment.

I don't know enough biology to say anything intelligent about whether this process could work. Seems far-fetched. But Mary Margaret's logic was sound: she pays some amount of insurance to Alcor, for a few decades, and gains some probability, however small, of a long, interesting, unimaginable life in the distant future, by the side of loved ones you're guaranteed to lose otherwise. If you can afford it, and you don't believe in any metaphysical afterlife, then why not? It's a bit like a materialist's version of Pascal's wager.

All the same, I don't see myself signing up. I have faith that, a society that had the technology to revive me wouldn't need me. They'd be bringing me back out of nostalgia or contractual obligation, and in a society with that kind of technology, I'd basically never die. I'd be the same kind of quaint annoyance as the crappy old buildings you can't knock down when historical preservationists take things too far. I mean, I like to think of myself as a beautiful and unique snowflake, but one coffee table book of snowflake pictures is about all anyone can appreciate. I'll let Jim and Mary Margaret fill that role. They'll make fine ambassadors to the future.

(Thanks mysza831 for the photo)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lazy Substitutiony Vegetarian Mofongo

I got envious of Andrew's culinary adventures without me in Oregon, and decided to make one of my own favorite things, Mofongo.

I did it extremely lazy, and made lots of substitutions, and it still came out really good. I think the mofongo recipes you find out there are way too fussy. Or maybe I just have tin taste buds...

Anyway, here's what I did:

Lazy Substitutiony Vegetarian Mofongo

  • 2 green plantains
  • 1 package of LightLife SmartStrips, the tasty vegetarian meat substitute with the stupid name. If you like to eat pigs, put bacon or pork in instead as a meat substitute substitute.
  • 5 guks of olive oil (turn the bottle upside down and listen: guk guk guk guk guk STOP)
  • Too much garlic powder
  • One package of shrimp ramen
Peel the plantains. They're awkwarder to peel than bananas. Chop them into pieces like half an inch thick. Fry them on medium heat for a while in a little too much olive oil. If your frying pan isn't small and stupid like mine, then you'll probably need more guks. Anyway, turn 'em and don't burn 'em. They don't even have to brown, but you want to make sure they're mostly cooked inside.

Lift them out of the frying pan with a holey spatula so most of the grease is left in the pan, and put the strips in the there and start them frying.

While they're frying, mush up the plantains. Mine were kinda crusty from cooking, so it wasn't easy, and like I said I don't have any kitchen equipment to speak of, so it was a little spoon and a too-small bowl. Maybe you have an electric plantain-o-matic you got at your wedding and haven't used, but don't go crazy and overmush them; you want tasty chunky texture.

Next you're supposed to prep a cup of bouillon. Like I have bouillon. Instead I used half of the flavor packet from the shrimp ramen, too much garlic powder, and maybe a little less than a cup of water. I know what you're thinking, but shut up, it came out good.

When the strippies have browned a little, I took a little more than half of them out, because there were too much. Having no containers left, I put them in a tupper, and it started to melt the bottom. So I floated it in the sink in the hopes it would keep the plastic from melting through, ruining my leftovers AND my tupper. You don't have to do it this way, if you have fancy french-chef kitchen stuff like "non-plastic bowls". Anyway, the sink trick totally worked.

Put the mushed plantains back in the pan, and then pour the ramen packet garlic water in there, and it'll make all cooking noises and smell good.

Oh yeah, you should have cut those strips things into smaller pieces before cooking. But it's not too late -- just attack them with the spatula. It'll slip and you'll get grease everywhere, but that's what cleaning up later is for.

Anyway, keep playing with this watery chunky mess, and as the water cooks down, the plantains will kind of soak it up and finish cooking, and you'll want to take it off the heat when it's dry.

It's supposed to be served on a plate in a kind of big snowball-sized lump. Mine is served in a lump that happens to be exactly the same shape and size as my one big cooking spoon. Same shape, you'll notice as the rice, which I did in a pan, not a rice maker, because I don't have one, and it came out perfect even though I was doing two things at once, because I'm master Plastic Chef.

Also? Beer and avocado.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The cost of gay marriage

The Economist's blog reports that the head of the Republican
party, Michael Steele, is saying that gay marriage costs employers money, because more of their employees will have spouses that employers must provide health insurance for.

I'm not getting it. I thought the GOP opposed gay marriage because they think it encourages and increases homosexuality. Of course I think they're mistaken. But if their absurd strategy works, gay employees will eventually give up on being gay, marry the opposite sex, and employers will have to pay insurance for those opposite-sex spouses. (and perhaps they'll even be more likely to end up with children to insure)

But suppose the strategy doesn't work (as I suspect Steele knows that it won't). Suppose people are gay just because they're gay and not because creeping liberalism lured them into it. Then what Steele is saying is pretty explicitly awful: we admit that banning gay marriage doesn't have the positive moral effect we intend, and in fact we're depending on that failure to save money.

It's like if you decided to train a horse to talk by only feeding it when it said "please". Maybe your horse won't learn to talk, but think of all the money you'll save on oats!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A materialist argument for Intelligent Design

From what I know, and I'm no biologist, it seems like we have solid evidence that life evolved gradually, changing from generation to generation because of mutation and genetic recombination, selected by the failure of the least fit to reproduce. Also, from what I've heard, the "intelligent design" (ID) people are almost all Christians who in fact believe in the biblical account of creation, and they're just using the vague ID argument as a backdoor way to eventually teach Bible stories in the science classroom.

Butterfly picture

But I think there's an aspect of their argument that can't be rejected out of hand.

Suppose you hand a responsible, honest specialist some item, and ask them, "Was this designed by an intelligent being, or did it come about through some non-intelligent process?" Let's say, maybe, that it's a kind of square rock that could be an ancient brick, or it could just be a square rock. How would they answer?

I think, to answer responsibly, they'd have to have some clear idea of what constitutes "design" and what constitutes "intelligence". Otherwise they'd just be talking through their hat. Maybe an archeologist could take the rock and X-ray it or something and show that there were systematic chip marks, just the right size to have been made by a human hand. That wouldn't be proof, but it would be a good indication that it was designed by a person, and we know people are intelligent, so: intelligent design.

But it's kind of a cheat answer because it just relies on the common assumption that "humans are intelligent". It doesn't answer the deeper question of what "intelligence" really means, and how it shows up in the design of an object. It wouldn't help us answer the question of some alien artifact, made by a creature whose intelligence was in question. And it wouldn't help us figure out whether life on earth was created by an intelligence or not.

Well, I don't have a good set of criteria, either, that could demonstrate that, say, some crude hand-axe was made by an intelligence, but the human eye was not.

So here's another possibility. Suppose I said that the hand-axe wasn't intelligently designed. Sure, some person made it, but people aren't really intelligent. Actually they're just made of chemicals and membranes that bounce around and react to each other for eighty years or so, and any apparent "intelligence" they exhibit can actually be seen as the sum of a lot of unintelligent smaller things: neurons firing when they get stimulated, muscle reflexes getting triggered by neurons, etc.

Supposing you buy that, then why is it that the emergent behavior of a bunch of dumb neurons is considered intelligent, but the emergent behavior of DNA reactions and natural selection is not considered intelligent? They both produce amazingly complex artifacts. The time scales are wildly different, and humans have lots of other interesting characteristics like language and feelings and elbows, but aren't they both at least capable of creating some pretty brilliant designs?

The ID'ers, I think, would like to take a further leap and say this intelligent process is part of a great mind, that is self-aware, that created the universe, and inspired scriptures, and hears your prayers, and really likes candles and singing. I'd rather not jump to such conclusions, but instead suppose that there can be intelligence without "mind". Maybe intelligence is just a feature of some natural systems, like for example evolution, brains, and maybe other complicated things: an ecosystem? an economy? an anthill? Maybe humans are just unusual in being examples of intelligence that also have self-awareness, minds, and blogs.

Anyway, I think the ID argument poses an interesting problem: if we say the eye is not intelligently designed, then we are making a strong claim that ought to be justified, not about how the eye arose, but about what exactly is intelligence, and what exactly is design.