20 December, 2009


It's about time I reworked the blogroll on this site and prettied it up all nice-like. So who am I missing out in my blogroll, and who is sick of being affiliated here?

18 December, 2009

Upon Intelligibility

I struggle sometimes to be comprehensible. Not in text when the letters and words are nicely kerned and standardized for you to see here and let scramble into your brain, but in person, in speech, over the phone and in front of people.

It's as if I speak like:


when I know I should be speaking more intelligibly, like:

but at the same time I know I should slow down enough that I can be understood:

so that the full meaning of my words doesn't get garbled together at the back of my throat before they ever have a chance to fly to your ears.

There are always so many thoughts fighting to tumble out all at once in a spastic flood, my mind whirring several paragraphs and tangents ahead at the same time even as the words around me filter in and touch off their own cascades. I have to stop and force myself to slow down, and the entire time I'm speaking slowly I can feel my mind tugging at the reins, revving to go faster, grumbling like dropping a manual transmission into 2nd gear at 80kph. It is frustrating to not be able to just blow my mind out of my ears onto projection boards like Kleenex and show those with whom I need to communicate everything at once.

Part of this is exacerbated by having had grown up learning a lot of my English from books instead of speech and from my father, whose English is good, but still heavily accented (according to other people, I cannot hear any accent at all). Even now I'm still re-learning words that I had learned to speak improperly and had been using for years. I learned the word "jalopy" to be spoken as "yah-loupe-ooh" from my father, and until I got into an argument with a salesperson about paint I thought that the "e" in "matte" was meant to be spoken.

At the same time, there are people with whom I can blaze away at a conversation, sentences whirring past like bullets. In the last lab that I worked, one of the other staff once remarked to me that she stopped even trying to listen or comprehend when my boss and I would start slinging ultra-fast science at one another and my boss in this lab is the same way (we practice speaking slowly at one another in our meetings). Many friends can also communicate this fast, which makes it all the more frustrating when I bang up against someone in the current of my thoughts that can't listen as quickly as I can deliver.

Nonetheless, these aren't acceptable excuses. If I believe I have something worthwhile to say, then the burden to speak it intelligibly is upon me and not upon my listener.

16 December, 2009

Toaster's Stewing Stew

I woke up this morning with an iron wrench knotted around my pancreas as my bowels squirmed and writhed, desperately lamenting the mounting loss of their comfortable microbiome blankets. The peritonsillar abcess I posted about recently came back at me again, and this time after a much more painful drainage procedure I was put on a more aggressive course of antibiotics with a broader spectrum to kill off all the problematic bacteria. Problematically, however, was the addendum that this course of antibiotics was essentially going to kill off all my gut microflora at the same time and that I should expect some uncomfortable adjustments to this. This morning was an example of that, with nausea and a feeling that my upper bowels were somehow melting like Jello left outside on a hot summer day. It took me a while to get going, and the attendant headache didn't help. However, this is preferable to my tonsils being so swollen as to almost close off my throat and render speaking difficult and most eating very painful.

I am not writing this panning for sympathy or support. I find it objectively interesting even as I am subjectively very annoyed by it all. Not only that, but I'll also get to completely re-engineer the ecology of my microbial gut flora! I am aware that Bacteroides and Lactobacillus species are by far most prevalent in most cases, but I am curious what effect an equal proportion of Firmicutes species would have upon my metabolic processing. I would also really like to know how the ecological profile of my microbiome is changing as I continue to take these antibiotics, but sadly I don't have the tools readily available. Over the past several months, I am aware that I had inadvertantly shifted the profile of my ecology by switching from easy, meat-heavy and blank cooking to mostly meatless (eggs, though) cooking with lots of flash spices, hot sauce, and whiskey. I wonder if I'll be able to jump right back into burritos, cookies, orange juice, Tabasco, and Jameson being my major food groups?

Anyway, in light of this rather unpleasant digestive shift, I am going to share with you one of the recipes I have recursively crafted myself:

The Stew!

Toaster's Fast Bacon Stew

500ml volume chopped carrots
750ml volume chopped potatoes, unpeeled
250ml volume chopped green onions
250ml volume chopped celery
0.5kg chopped bacon
0.5kg can of red kidney beans, drained
Handful of noodles (optional)
Spices (see below)

1) Boil carrots in small saucepan until forky but not squishy. Fry chopped bacon in its own fat in skillet and set aside.
2) Meanwhile, combine potatoes, green onions, and celery in large saucepot and add a bit of oil.
3) Saute potato mix with continual stirring until potatoes are sweaty but not yet flaky. During this time, add generous salt, thyme, ancho chili powder, and black pepper as well as conservative coriander and basil.
4) Dump forky carrots in with potato mix. Add drained can of beans and stir in.
5) Add bacon and stir in.
6) Add in dry pasta and stir in.
7) Add just enough water to cover ingredients in pot, cover and boil hard with occasional stirring for 10min. Will still look soupy, but remove from heat and uncover and a stew will emerge in about 5min as the proteins released from boiling up the beans in the prescence of potato starch complex with excess water into a tasty sauce.
8) Subtract desired portion from pot and consume with tasty!

Note: You could add scrambled sausage or sauteed leek to this recipe and it would still be delicious.

09 December, 2009


A recent All Hands Active (the hackerspace) clean-up/reorganization night. That wall to my right is entirely covered in whiteboard, and it is awesome.

Every once in a while it's a good idea to be reminded that electricity, while awesome and good, can also be very painful. Turns out that the lamp in my left hand there had frayed and exposed wires wires up top, so when I plugged it in with the other hand it gave me a nice shock. This is not at all the first time I have been electrically shocked and it was by no means the worst, but it's still a good reminder that voltage is not just an abstract number.

I have been shocked with 120V many times. The worst was when I was in a music supply store testing out a nice little used Fender tube amp. It had nice tone, but the 2 10" speakers at 250W just didn't provide the grumble that I wanted (I later got a 400W 1 15" speaker with tweeter amp to satisfy this, which later was stolen from me and I do often miss it because that thing could roar). So I reached to the back of the unfamiliar amp to turn it off, and promptly found that the exposed vacuum tubes had been engineered right next to the on/off switch and, lucky me!, they were loose and kindly delivered a searing shock that knocked me flat on my ass and out of breath. Unfortunately, so far as I am able to discern, this did not result in the development of any superpowers. Maybe I need more volts?


06 December, 2009

Fragments of Toaster's Mind Blather 3

1) I am currently wearing a pair of suspenders. The straps keep slipping down my shoulder and have been all night. While the suspenders are very good at holding my pants up, this is really really annoying. While it is entirely possible that I'm wearing these wrong or missing some kind of special trick, I cannot help but hypothesize that I will not be able to wear suspenders until I acquire an impressive pot belly to frame with them. I think this is a shame, and not just because there exist pictures somewhere of me dancing at a string party in just suspenders and jeans, because these are some damn snazzy suspenders.

2) It is probably bad manners to debone your dinner in front of vegetarians. However, I tried to be a vegetarian for 3 years so I do know empirically that not eating meet does not result in the development of an obstreperous sense of moral and social superiority.

3) I have taken this joke, stretched it everywhichway, smashed it, lit it afire, microwaved it, fumigated it, irradiated and blended it, grown moss upon it and then titrated it with exotic aromatic hydrocarbons and bacon, but still I find it hilarious.

4) The hackerspace is differentiating. Like how embryonic stem cells gradually specialize as they grow out in new spatial/cytokine niches, there has recently been a major explosion of stuff. New parts, tools, and supplies have been appearing daily. This is excellent as it allows us to expand beyond the range of just soldering electronics boards together. However, it contains 2 problems: A) I can't find anything anymore. I spent 40min looking for a bag of assorted resistors I'd left there and never found them, and when I found the bag of capacitors they were sitting right in front of my face on a workbench instead of in the various boxes I was hunting through. Recently someone else mislocated their fancy wire strippers and we rediscovered somebody else's big box of phototransistors and LEDs. And B) plastic chassis are bulky. We have salvaged several old Super Nintendos, tape decks, VCRs, etc and stripped them for parts and used them to teach people about electronics (including me), but the plastic cases they come in take up a lot of space and aren't nearly so useful as I'd have imagined. I am mostly convinced that the solution to this is to build a MakerBot 3D printer and grind them up to use as printy goop.

5) Speaking of 3D printers, there are several web-based businesses that will laser-cut or 3D print stuff one-at-a-time for you because the initial investment for either piece of equipment remains high. Ponoko is good for laser-cut materials and Shapeways is good for 3D printed stuff. I'm still trying to figure out what exactly I'm going to do with them, but once I do build something with them, I'll post pics.

6) I was empirically reminded tonight that it is a singularly bad strategy to play tetherball with your face.

7) I made for you a mix of music because I like blues and I like rock and roll and I especially like when they've been smashed together with a double bass.

8) There's going to be a real-life, real-time Scientists' Duel right soon where I am. I'm going up against a CMB grad student at a beer hall before a jury of my peers. Neither of us have seen the paper yet, and it's happening on Wednesday.

9) I am teaching a class in the hackerspace on quantum chemistry. I intend to discuss the VSEPR model of atomic structure through the magnety properties of the weak nuclear forces, talk about how it leads to the formation of covalent, hydrogen, and polar bonds and then tie the abstract of each of those into concrete biochemical examples. So far it looks like a dozen people may show up, which makes me somewhat nervous since my attempt to teach molecular biology a month ago quickly devolved into people asking very tangential questions that derailed the points I was trying to make. Apparently it was a bad idea to attempt to abstract the Central Dogma out past cellular anatomy. Retrospectively, I can see how that came across as nothing more than alphanumeric soup.

10) I started wearing contact lenses last summer and was amazed by the phenomenon of peripheral vision. I expected that, and it took about 3 months for me to stop habitually trying to adjust glasses that weren't there. I was not, however, expecting that the winter wind upon my eyes would induce intense watering from underneath my contacts. As it is rather inconvenient, I may have to invest in some clear goggles to keep the brunt of the wind off my eyes.

11) I have been trying, in vain, to digitally replicate the closely syncopated swing beat that appears in polka, Latin music, and blues. So far it doesn't seem that I can program it anywhere, although I have heard it done with MIDI inputs. In any event, I have realized that to make the music I hear in my head come out more effectively, I am going to need some sort of MIDI input into Reason instead of just using my keyboard and mouse pad. I would like to find some way to do this with Gak, as a squishy, oozy, sploppy interface (brightly colored, too!), but I won't be able to do this until I've gotten around to building myself an Atari Punk Circuit. In the meantime, I'm planning on routing a bunch of flex sensors through an ATMega and octocoupler to have a bendy interface. I may sew it into clothes to make a synth suit, depending on how durable I can engineer the copper foil in the flex sensors to be. However, I know myself and as such I know full well that I would be unable to resist pumping a fat fuzz bass through a synth suit most of the time.

02 December, 2009

Cookie Reviews: Erin Baker's Breakfast Cookie

It is a well established fact that Toaster likes cookies quite a bit. You may even go so far as to be able to call him a connoisseur and you'd not be inaccurate. To better guide your cookie eating through his own experience, Toaster offers the following cookie review:

The other day I had missed the bus and I was hungry, so I walked over the the nearby drive-through coffee house looking for quarters and saw that they had a sign for "breakfast cookies". Now, I eat cookies for breakfast sometimes anyways, so this was nothing novel, but the official legitimization thereof was. As the baked goods that this coffee house sells are normally excellent, I figured I'd give it a shot.

I was presented with a pre-packaged choice of Erin Baker's Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Double Chocolate, or Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Cookie. Normally I'd go with an oatmeal raisin cookie over most anything else any day, but figured today I'd go for the double chocolate as I'd only slept 2h the night before and could use the extra sugar and chocolate-borne theobromines as stimulants.

It turns out that Erin Baker's Breakfast Cookies are edible.

The cookie itself was moist, chewy, and firm, almost everything a cookie should be (also needs crumbly), but it managed to get their respective parameters mixed up. It was too moist, too firm, and too chewy. There was no crunch to this cookie whatsoever, not even a hint of that perfect outer crustiness that I seek. It was also very dense. I had expected unusual density because it billed itself as a breakfast cookie meal replacement, but this was pumpernickel in the realm of baguettes. Furthermore, despite this being a Double Chocolate cookie, it still managed to taste like peanut butter and the chocolate chips tasted like soy carob despite the ingredients claiming real chocolate.

Examining the packaging more closely, it turns out that this was the dreaded oxymoron Healthy Cookie. No butter in it at all. Just a lot of molasses, special organic wheats, and weird juice extracts instead of sugar. Now, I can understand using raw cane juice or unrefined sugar in a cookie, but relying solely on cane sap and pear extract as sweetener is contrary to the spirit of cookiedom. And it had fiber. Lots of fiber. Toaster is fine with lots of fiber as most everything that is not a cookie, burrito, Tabasco, or whiskey that he consumes is vegetable or whole wheat, but this was like having an ingot of sawdust sitting in my belly for a few hours.

Erin Baker's Breakfast Cookie:
Texture - D
Taste - C
Idea - B+
Cookieness - D

Note - I am going to review other cookies in the future, and I will strive to only do so with brands available in most of the United States or, if homemade, only when I am also able to post the recipe.