Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Blog

Oh yes, just in time for the new year:

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Put a fork in it's done.

Most things, good or bad, typically come to some kind of end, and this blog is no exception. Like plastic bags, toothbrushes, DVD cases, and those six-pack rings, this blog will not really ever go away-- undergo silicodegradation, whatever-- but will instead settle into its place in the giant electronic midden of The Internet.

As an upper-level graduate student, I feel like more should be expected of me (see the last image in the previous post). More logic, more cohesive thinking, more brow-furrowing. Like, I should really hate myself if I put some toast in the toaster without having thought to see if there is soft butter under the dish. Double the hatred if I find that there is none, and I have no alternative hypotheses as to what my snack might be. Thinking isn't just for fun anymore, it's my job.

Thus, my next blog will include the following: a common theme (i.e., all posts will fall under the umbrella topic of, say, "Dogs of the World"), and scientific rigor (i.e., small animals and serious quantification will be involved). As soon as the groundwork has been laid, I will post the new link here.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Lab mates

Monday, December 31, 2007

Something I didn't get for Phartoona

Now that I'm back in filthy snow-encrusted Waltham I can truly begin to reflect on Phartoona in its entirety.

...Or can I? Is it over? How am I supposed to know? What did I even do this week? Was it necessary to string all those cranberries? Did the girl at the craft store think awful things about me when I put that fake banana down on the counter, laughed, and said that I didn't know why I was buying it either? I'm not even close to being done asking these kinds of questions, let alone answering them. I need more time to reflect.

There is, however, one thing I am sure of. I did not get a T-shirt that has "Mary Todd Lincoln" printed on the front in rhinestones.

Uh-oh. You're thinking Lena's getting to be that kind of weird where it's just mostly annoying. Do you remember those people in elementary school who would say something random like "I want a T-shirt that has 'Mary Todd Lincoln' printed on the front in rhinestones" to no one in particular and everyone in earshot would cringe and ignore it because all the person wanted was a really sad form of attention? Well I wasn't one of those people-- I was homeschooled. And now I celebrate fake holidays and keep a blog.

And I'm serious about the T-shirt. Mary Todd Lincoln happens to be a very popular first lady, and it looks like someone who probably attended elementary school and had big dreams is trying to beat me to the finish line on this one:
I'm a fan of the redundant use of both the word "love" and the big red heart, but I guarantee you if Mary Todd googled herself today and found this shirt she would be asking where the rhinestones were.

(There happens to be quite a few websites where one can order customized rhinestone t-shirts-- like this one, for example. I'm just saying.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Phartoona 2007 preview

Instead of doing Christmas this year, my mom and I did something else and we called it Phartoona. Yeah, it involved drugs. In the coming days I'll figure out a way to explain it, but here's a simile for now:

Phartoona is like this egg timer I bought my mom for Phartoona. The egg timer ticks and counts down the time normally enough, but it also does a lot of sporadic pre-emptive dinging. So it ticks and it dings every so often, and when it gets to "0 minutes" it stops doing both of those things. It's like the opposite of an egg timer-- it rouses your attention by going silent.

Really, this has nothing to do with Phartoona, I just felt like complaining about having bought a broken egg timer...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wine Review

Name: Cono Sur
Date: 2006
Origin: Chile
Alcohol content: 14%

About a year ago, Pearl and I had a bit of a falling out with our natural gas provider, Keyspan. They just stopped sending us bills. Was it something we'd said? They'd been sending us bills that we paid every month-- things were going well. We pretended Keyspan's frosty behavior didn't bother us, but it did. The last bill we'd gotten had been for $0.00, and there was $200 worth of credit noted on the bottom. Were they hinting that we should buy something nice for ourselves and stop calling? That's exactly what we did. We pretended that we'd never signed up with Keyspan. For some reason, we kept getting gas deliveries but not a single bill.

As the months went by and spring approached, the pings of our baseboard heater stirred up pangs of anxiety and guilt regarding our failed relationship with Keyspan. Eventually, we would have to call and figure out what had happened. We needed closure.

What we ended up with was a bill for $1200. We knew something like this was bound to happen as a result of our cowardice, but we still felt entitled to a certain bitterness. Keyspan had been a real d-bag to us.

This year, in a lame kind of protest, Pearl and I decided to keep our heat off for as long as we could stand it. This meant getting into bed at around 8:45pm and falling asleep within 15 minutes as our metabolic activity ground to a near halt. If you didn't sleep perfectly still, you risked touching a part of your bed that hadn't been warmed by your precious body heat. Then you would wake up, slightly panicked, with all your limbs clenched up close to the tense core of your body.

The first weekend of December had particularly cold temperatures in its forecast, but I ignored this fact and made plans to buy some heavy red wine and cook up some fresh pasta for dinner-- obviously making sure to be in bed with my socks on no later than 8-8:30pm. But when I walked into the apartment and realized that I basically shouldn't remove my coat for at least an hour, my will faltered a bit. Then I saw this note on the table:
Turn on the heat? Admit defeat? Alone? Absolutely not. I cracked open the bottle of wine I'd chosen and took a whiff of its metallic vapors for strength.
Cono Sur translates to "The Southern Cone," which surely must refer to someplace warm, but me and my dripping nose didn't really think about it too much. Its deep red color made me think of something else that was warm and probably a lot closer than the Southern Cone of wherever-- my Carhart union suit.
Yes, this wine is best enjoyed in a union suit. Also, it is highly recommended that instead of pairing Cono Sur with fresh pasta, one takes the time to boil dried pasta to a slightly beyond al dente state (10+ minutes). Fresh pasta only takes about 3-5 minutes to cook, which means you have less time to huddle pathetically near the stove burner.
Ultimately, this was not a spectacular wine. Its high alcohol content helped me forget how cold it was for the night, but when I woke up at 7am on Saturday morning with a nosebleed and numb toes, I was mostly unimpressed. And also freezing. I turned on the heat for the first time that morning, and came to terms with the fact that our awkward relationship with Keyspan would be starting up again.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Plain Yogurts of the World

I have recently come to a wonderful yet horribly limiting conclusion about yogurt-- plain yogurt is the best yogurt. And not just plain yogurt, but plain yogurt from foreign places.

Upon sampling several plain yogurts of the world, I have come to the conclusion that ubiquitous corporate "Big Yogurt" yogurts like Yoplait and Dannon are essentially unbearable. I can't believe there was a time when I both purchased and enjoyed them. Below is a list of demerits deserved by Big Yogurt:

1. The flavors they are offered in are absolutely ridiculous. Key lime pie? Chocolate mousse? Mixed berry? Boysenberry? Banilla?

2. The "fruit-at-the-bottom" concept is ill-conceived and poorly-executed. Yogurt should never serve as a vehicle for the consumption of low-quality high-fructose corn syrup-laden fruit. Who knows what is happening to the bacteria at the cellular level in the presence of such a concentrated carbon source?

3. The vivid colors are unnecessary. I've never eaten a boysenberry, let alone spent any time thinking about what color they might be-- so I won't be disappointed if it's not really lavender. Also, again stop to consider the potential consequences of exposing the bacteria populating this "live and active culture" to the chemical compounds used for artificial coloring. I'm thinking lots of random genetic mutations that could eventually result in a strain of L. acidophilus that secretes anthrax toxin.

4. Yogurt should not exist in certain textures. In my opinion, textures like "custard style" and "whipped" should be eyed with great suspicion. If you are uncomfortable eating mouthfuls of living cells, you should be eating custard anyway-- stop kidding yourself.

I think that about covers it. Now I'd like to describe the plain yogurt of the world that I am currently enjoying.

First of all, they spell it "yoghurt." The brand name is Fage [pronounced fah-yeh] and it's made in Greece. Unlike Big Yogurt, which tries to distract you from the fact that you are eating bacteria, the people at Fage offer a detailed description of how their yoghurt is cultured right on the container:

Cows are milked at various farms across Greece and milk is delivered to FAGE controlled collecting stations

Cows' milk is delivered to FAGE’s factory in Athens

Milk and cream are pasteurized and then cooled prior to the addition of the live cultures lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilitus.

Yoghurt is then incubated at 40 °c for 5-6 hours.

The whey is strained from the yoghurt using a separating process. This process makes the product a suitable cooking ingredient as it does not curdle at high temperatures.

Yoghurt is then filled into pots, lidded and date coded. Pots are then stored in a computer controlled warehouse ready for shipment to the UK in temperature controlled lorries.

That's right, in a computer controlled warehouse. I took some pictures of the yoghurt this morning while I was studying its unique material properties.
Notice that the label indicates that it is "strained yoghurt." This gives the yoghurt a silky yet strangely dense consistency that adheres with great strength to both its container and foreign objects [in this case, granola].

It has a very mild taste for a plain yogurt-- not tart at all. It is a pleasure to eat, and I recommend that you give it a try. Just understand that going back to Big Yogurt might not be easy, and that it shouldn't be easy. Embrace your opportunity to eat millions and millions of living cells, and appreciate what they taste like.