Several times recently I have squeezed a large number of oranges, enjoyed some of the delicious fresh-squeezed juice, and then been disappointed by the rest the next day. It tastes bitter, and becomes worse rapidly. This turns out to be the result of naturally occurring limonoate A-ring lactone (aka "LARL," a tasteless substance) breaking down into limonin, which is very bitter tasting. The amount of LARL varies between oranges and throughout the growing season. If there’s any way to arrest the conversion of LARL to limonin in the home-squeezing process, I don’t know about it. →
I’m more interested in orange juice than is probably healthy for somebody who doesn’t work in the industry and, as such, I’m excited to see Bloomberg Businessweek shining a spotlight on the horseshit that is "fresh squeezed," "not from concentrate," and "all-natural." These are all lies. It was squeezed months ago. It was concentrated to a point a hair’s breadth from the legal definition of "concentrated." It’s not natural, it’s created in a lab in a process more complicated than Coca-Cola. If you drank the stuff as its stored in giant vats, you’d spit it out—it’s flavorless at best, disgusting at worst. It’s only through adding a cocktail of lab-created flavorings that it takes like something that came out of an orange. Because those lab-created flavorings are based on molecules that are found somewhere—anywhere—in nature, they can be labelled "natural flavors," instead of "artificial flavors." →
I just discovered NPR’s “Americandy: Sweet Land of Liberty,” a series of stories about regional candies from around the U.S. Some obvious ones make the cut—GooGoo Clusters, Valomilk, Idaho Spud, Cherry Mash, Nut Goodie, Rocky Road—but I’m excited to learn about a bunch of others that I’d never heard of. Chukar Cherries, Chewie Pecan Praline, Melty Bar, Chocolate Charlies, Red Coconut Balls, Needhams, Modjeskas, sponge candy…these are all news to me. Every time I travel someplace new, I scour corner stores for regional candies. Now I’ve got a bunch of new candies to be on the lookout for. →
Using public records of grocery store locations and vehicle ownership, the USDA has mapped the locations of “food deserts,” regions where people lack access to decent food. Such areas have been popular to talk about and speculate about, but this is the first effort that I’m aware of to actually locate and measure them. →
Remember that blog entry I wrote last month about trying to make a cheeseburger from scratch? Scientific American has a short article based on it in their February issue. Page 24. I haven’t picked up a copy yet, but I’m sure going to. →
- Planet Money: Why Burn Doctors Hate Instant Soup
Styrofoam "Cup Noodle" style containers turn out to be wildly dangerous. They spill easily, and hospitals throughout the country get a never-ending series of little kids who have been burned as a result of these things falling over. Companies that make short, squat containers don't have any problem—it's the tall, thin containers that are really hazardous.
- Marc Newlin: You should probably start burning your mail—What I learned from the DARPA Shredder Challenge
Last month DARPA sponsored the Shredder Challenge, an open competition to develop software that can take crosscut shredder scraps and reassemble them. Marc Newlin, who came in third place, wrote up this helpful description of how his program worked. It functions just as I had sketched out my own idea for it, proving yet again that any dope can come up with ideas, but real developers ship.
- The New York Review of Books: Defending an Anthology by Rita Dove
Some pretty great spats have been played out in the pages of the New York Review of Books, and Rita Dove's rebuttal to Helen Vendler's review of her her poetry anthology for Penguin should certainly be categorized as such. Rita is an acquaintance, and I'm inclined towards siding with her in the first place, but I really think she lands some pretty good punches on Vendler.
A few years ago, I decided that it would be interesting to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Not just regular “from scratch,” but really from scratch. Like, I’d make the buns, I’d make the mustard, I’d grow the tomatoes, I’d grow the lettuce, I’d grow the onion, I’d grind the beef, make the cheese, etc.
It didn’t happen that summer, by the following summer, my wife and I had built a new house, started raising chickens, and established a pretty good-sized garden. I realized that my prior plan hadn’t been ambitious enough—that wasn’t really from scratch. In fact, to make the buns, I’d need to grind my own wheat, collect my own eggs, and make my own butter. And I’d really need to raise the cow myself (or sheep, and make lamb burgers), mine or extract from seawater my own salt, grow my own mustard plant, etc. This past summer, revisiting the idea, I realized yet again that I was insufficiently ambitious. I’d really need to plant and harvest the wheat, raise a cow to produce the milk for the butter, raise another cow to slaughter for its rennet to make the cheese, and personally slaughter and process the cow or sheep. At this point I was thinking that this might all add up to an interesting book, and started to consider seriously the undertaking.
Further reflection revealed that it’s quite impractical—nearly impossible—to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in spring and fall. Large mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year, and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive—requiring a trio of cows—and demand many acres of land. There’s just no sense in it.
A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society. It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors—in all likelihood, a couple of dozen—and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh. The cheeseburger couldn’t have existed until nearly a century ago as, indeed, it did not.
* * *
The weekend before Thanksgiving, my wife and I had some friends and family members over to the house to slaughter turkeys. We’d raised eight of them from poults, letting them free range around our land for most of their lives, and their time had come. It took the bulk of the day to slit their throats, bleed them out, pluck them, gut them, and put them on ice. Everybody got to take home a turkey that, by all accounts, was delicious. (Nearly everybody has already asked us to do this again next year.) Accompanied by cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and apple pie, it was a meal that could have been produced almost entirely at our home (and very nearly was). There was no mining of salt, of course, but it proved to be a meal that made sense for the place and the time. It’s really the only such ritual meal in the U.S. for which that’s true.
The Pilgrims established this standard, although in their case they probably had their meal in early October. The Thanksgiving menu at Plymouth Plantation was described by William Bradford:
They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercising in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.
There’s some fundamental good in eating honestly, I think. Of knowing where your food comes from—raising it yourself, when you can—and trying to eat foods that could theoretically have existed a century ago. But you can’t take that but so far, or else the whole thing breaks down. As Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
- Christian Science Monitor: Way cleared for horse slaughter to resume in US after 5-year ban
Congress has passed a bill, and the president has signed it into law, that re-legalizes the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Banning that practice was a huge mistake, for reasons that were obvious at the time, but it took a five-year ban to show that to be so. Even PETA supports the change. The problem was that horses were either being abandoned to starve to death or shipped in crowded trailers to Canada or Mexico, where they were slaughtered (under terrible conditions in Mexico) and their meat sent back to the U.S. It actually increased animal suffering. Good for Congress for making a necessary—sure to be unpopular—change in the law.
- ACLU of Virginia: Norfolk Man Who Refused to Stop Videotaping Police at Demonstration Is Not Guilty of Disorderly Conduct
A Norfolk man was charged with disorderly conduct for videotaping an on-duty police officer back in April. I'm glad to see that he's been found not guilty by a Norfolk General District Court judge. There's been a strange rash of arrests, all around the country, for the non-existent crime of videotaping police officers. Decisions like this will help bring this to an end.
- Print Free Graph Paper
Just what it says on the tin.
- Wikipedia: Point Roberts, Washington
A tiny exclave of the United States is found off the coast of Washington State. "Point Bob," as it's known, is the southernmost tip of a Canadian peninsula, which extends just barely south of the 49th parallel that defines the U.S./Canadian border. To get there by land, one must go through two international border crossings. There are just over 600 households there, and one elementary school. After third grade, kids have to take a bus through Canada and back to the U.S. to get to school.
- Nieman Reports: A Local Newspaper Endures a Stormy Backlash
This is the story of how the tiny Idaho Falls Post Register bravely uncovered a series of cases of pedophiles acting as leaders in area Boy Scout troops, as told by the managing editor of the paper. In the face of an angry public very much in denial and personal embarrassment heaped on the reporter (a closeted gay man, he was outed), they pushed on, eventually getting state law changed to help the victims and and winning the Scripps Howard First Amendment prize.
- Bret Victor: A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design
Whether or not you care about the phrase "interaction design," you'll probably be interested in these thoughts about the poverty of our methods of interfacing with gizmos when compared with the rest of our interactions with the world.
- Food Safety News: Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey
Anything related to honey is filtered out of most honey, leaving a sugar solution. Why? In part because it allows Chinese businesses to dump their antibiotics-laced honey on the U.S. market without any pollen left that would allow the honey to be IDd as Chinese. If you want real honey, just buy it from a local producer or from a health food store.
- Chattanooga Times-Free Press: 96-year-old Chattanooga resident denied voting ID
Dorothy Cooper even managed to vote under Jim Crow, but the Tennessee Republican Party has proved to be one obstacle she can't overcome. She's never driven, so she has no driver's license. She tried to get a photo ID, but she has to present her marriage certificate, and she got married a long, long time ago, and doesn't know where to find that. I guess the new photo ID laws are working just as intended.
- Flickr: Fed Up with Lunch
A Flickr stream of nothing but photos of what passes for school lunch in the Chicago Public Schools. Parents never see what the kids get for lunch, but this teacher did. I'd love to see somebody do this in area schools. Heck, the schools should be willing to do it themselves.
- New York Times: After Ruling, Hispanics Flee an Alabama Town
Alabama's new immigration law has left crops rotting in their fields, farmers unable to find workers. Business at grocery stores and restaurants has evaporated. Hundreds (thousands?) of people working perfectly legal have gotten the message loud and clear: Latinos are not welcome in Alabama. So they're packing up and moving.
- Cult of Mac: How the Editor of Windows Magazine Became an Apple Fanboy
A lot of us Mac users started off as hardcore DOS/Windows fans.
- Wikipedia: Full moon names
There are special names to refer to the full moon in every month. August's is the "grain moon," April's 's the "egg moon," February's is the "snow moon," etc. Different cultures have different names. Then there's a "blue moon," which once referred to a fourth full moon in a given season, but has come to refer to a second full moon in a given month; either occurs every 2.7 years.
- The Guardian: Paris gets its first 24-hour baguette dispenser
The machine stores partially cooked baguettes and, upon the insertion of €1, it spits out a hot, fresh(ish) baguette.
- New York Times: Nutrition Label Gets a Design Overhaul
Some of the ideas to overhaul food nutrition labels are pretty clever.
- New York Times: After Aiding Republicans, Business Groups Press Them on Debt Ceiling
The Chamber of Commerce threw the full weight of their support behind getting Democrats replaced by Republicans in last year's congressional election. Now those very Republican Congressmen are refusing to raise the debt ceiling—or support anything that Democrats or the president would agree to—and that's making the chamber crazy. (Businesses know it's essential to raise the debt ceiling.) The chamber has nobody to blame but themselves.
- The Brads: This is Why Your Newspaper is Dying
Nine examples of obvious mistakes that nearly every newspaper is making online. And, no, "paywalls" are not on the list.
- New York Times: At Preakness, Not Everybody’s Idea of Fun
It sounds like the Preakness has gone to shit. Their new mascot is "Kegasus," half horse, half beer-bellied man. His slogan is "a ten-hour party to celebrate a two-minute race." That's an event you won't be catching me at.
- Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel: Walker seeks to stop defense of state’s domestic partner registry
Gov. Scott Walker wants to eliminate hospital visitation rights for gay couples. What a horrible human being. What was that about "family values" that Republicans used to prattle on about?
- The Globe and Mail: Why you should eat horsemeat—It’s delicious
There are very few logical arguments against eating horse meat, and a great many in favor of it. Though I personally don't care to do so (I own chickens, ducks, and a horse—my experience with each leaves me happy to eat the former two), it seems terrible that so much horse meat goes to waste every year, especially in the U.S., where a patchwork of laws and court decisions make it difficult to turn into food for humans.
- Jacques Mattheij: Living in the zone
This is an instructive account of what it's like to be a programmer, for those who don't understand why we're working at 2 AM, or why a quick interruption can be so frustrating. I do my best skiing at the very edge of my abilities—it's trance-like, and a distraction would probably send me crashing down. The same goes for programming.
- New York Times: Is Sugar Toxic?
Answer: Quite possibly. This is an important article. It seems probable that what's dangerous about corn syrup isn't anything intrinsically corn-syrupy, but that it is so cheap that it's enabled Americans to consume stunning quantities of added sugar. Ninety pounds per year, in fact. A standard single-serving bottle of cola has over eleven teaspoons of sugar.
- Engadget: Comcast Extreme 105 serves up 105Mbps internet speeds for home users with deep pockets
A 105Mbps connection from Comcast? That's great! Too bad it's still limited to their 250GB cap, a monthly limit that you'd hit on their new service in…uh…five hours and twenty minutes. No thank you.
- Public Policy Polling: Barbour, Bryant lead in Mississippi
Forget the point of this poll—the real news is that half of Mississippi Republicans think that interracial marriage should be illegal. Oh, and Sarah Palin is leading that bunch by a wide margin. Small government what now?
- New York Times: Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears
Don't use food as fuel for cars. This isn't a hard concept.
- Entertainment Weekly: Glenn Beck’s Fox departure—Where will his audience go?
The New York Times reported a month ago that Fox was giving Glenn Beck the boot. Now it's official. Beck's audience has collapsed, a peril of the sky's continuous failure to fall, and he's got to find a new home.
- BBC News: Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics
Seventy ancient books, made out of lead, have been found in a Jordanian cave. The text is in encoded Hebrew, little of which has been translated. Scholars are debating whether they are of Jewish origin or—far more tantalizingly—very early Christian origin.
- Village Voice: Women’s Funding Network Sex Trafficking Study Is Junk Science
I'd read about the exploding rates of forced juvenile prostitution, and like most people, was shocked. It turns out that those numbers are a total fiction, ginned up by an advocacy group in an effort to get more funding. Good for the Village Voice for asking the questions that dozens of other reporters failed to ask.
- New York Times: A Stealth Downsizing, as Shoppers Pay More for Less Food
The U.S. isn't immune from global food price increases. Manufacturers of packaged foods are shrinking quantities while changing the packaging to disguise the increased per-unit cost.
- Wikipedia: Cessna 172
The record for longest manned flight was set in 1959, when two guys flew a Cessna 172 for 64 consecutive days without landing, to raise money for a cancer fund. They'd fly close to the ground to hoist up food and water in a bucket, matching their speed with a car driving below. The same method worked to refuel, only using a hose instead of a bucket. They only stopped because the engine simply couldn't run for that many hours without an overhaul, and it lost power.
- Stack Overflow: Regular expression to search for Gadaffi
How do you identify "Gadaffi" (and its many, many variants) in an block of text? With this regular expression. \b(Kh?|Gh?|Qu?)[aeu](d['dt]?|t|zz|dhd)h?aff?[iy]\b looks like the winner. Bonus points go to the guy who figured out that it can be matched with Soundex, which is probably a better way to deal with this problem.
- xkcd: Radiation Chart
I have frequently linked to xkcd because it's funny. But this time it's straight-up interesting. Randy Munroe has put together a chart that contextualizes the doses of ionizing radiation received from various activities. This provides a perspective that's timely—in light of the Japanese nuclear reactor situation—and also full of comparative values that might make you rethink your notion of what is and isn't safe. Note that what doesn't appear on this chart is radiation from a cell phone. That's because it doesn't produce ionizing radiation.
- Mathematically Correct Breakfast
A möbius sliced bagel. Mmmm…math.
- Wolfram MathWorld: Pi Digits
The first thirty million digits of pi are almost uniformly distributed. That is, 1 occurs with the same frequency as 2, 3, 4, etc. That's consistent with randomness, but hardly evidence of it.
- Ludolph Van Ceulen’s Headstone
This Dutch mathematician devoted his life to calculating pi. By the time of his death, in 1610, he had calculated the first 35 digits, a feat that by modern standards is a pathetic waste of a life, but for the time was an amazing accomplishment. He had the numbers inscribed on his headstone.
- Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages
If you ever want to know anything about spices, I see no reason to look any place other than here.
- New York Times: Palin’s Popularity Declines Among Republicans
"[Sarah Palin's] ratings are now in the range of Al Sharpton and Pat Buchanan in the years before they ran for president, rather than those who were considered viable candidates."
I’m putting on an event for Left of Center on Tuesday night here in C’ville. It’s about three topics that are important to me: food, local economies, and sustainability. Here’s the description we’re circulating:
Tuesday, June 2, 7:00pm at Rapture (Facebook RSVP)
Is the local food movement a passing fad for the wealthy, or is it possible that it can permanently alter how we all eat, work, and live? How do we expand it beyond weekly sales in parking lots to something accessible to—and affordable by—everybody? Kate Collier, an owner of Feast! and Founding Director of the Local Food Hub, and Melissa Wiley, Director of the Piedmont Environmental Council’s Buy Fresh Buy Local program, will speak about the direction that the movement needs to take in order to overcome these hurdles. They’ll address how local food initiatives can succeed in having a lasting impact on preserving open farmland, supporting endangered small family farm businesses, and promoting agricultural diversity and sustainable environmental practices.
Come on out, join some friends for a beer and join the discussion.
I’m particularly glad to have Kate Collier and Melissa Wiley speaking. They were my first two choices for speakers, and I feel really lucky that they’re both willing and able to participate. I really hope that y’all who are in the Charlottesville area will come out for this.
All of a sudden, everybody’s getting chickens.
It started before the recession, over the past couple of years, but it’s really taken off in the past six months. Acquaintances talk of how many square feet their new garden plot is or how many varieties of tomatoes that they’ve planted. People under the age of 65 have taken to canning.
Three decades of increasing interest in farmers markets combined with a steady drumbeat of deaths from industrial foods combined with an awareness of one’s carbon footprint and “food miles” combined with the fear of an unknown—could this recession slide into a depression?—have combined to give people a powerful urge to be self-reliant. Newspapers across the country have started interviewing the elderly, to talk about what tricks they learned in order to survive the Great Depression, and many of us are taking notes. I don’t think it’s motivated by fear. Maybe we all want to produce something tangible, to have the satisfaction of contributing to the world something more real than the mortgage-backed securities and the collateralized debt obligations, created by the bankers and the mortgage brokers, that evaporated overnight last summer. Maybe we just want to know that, if all else fails, we can rely on ourselves.
We tilled up another 250 feet of garden weekend before last. Our horse has produced a good batch of manure for us this year, and we’re doctoring the soil with that as we haul it up in the pickup. We’ve got nearly 100 tomato plants, of five different varieties. Onions and potatoes are in the ground. Lettuce, broccoli, and cucumbers are all under grow lights, waiting for the soil to warm up. There will be squash, blackberries, radishes, basil, rosemary, and a dozen other different food crops. Apple trees, peach trees, and chickens are all in the not-so-distant future. We put up about eighty cans of food last year; we’ll certainly do more this time around. We’re learning to make pasta and different varieties of bread. I made tortilla chips this evening.
Last week I attended a local food roundtable held by Rep. Tom Perriello. A few dozen people were invited, all involved in the production, distribution, and promotion of food in the northern end of the Fifth District. Everybody agreed that folks want their food to be local and everybody agreed that’s better for the economy, for our environment, and for our health. And it just doesn’t get any more local than your backyard.
I have to wonder if this is a fad, if this is another round of Y2K preparation for another disaster averted. Or maybe how we’ve been eating for the past sixty years is the fad, a fad that’s now fading.