Archive for May, 2009

Lord Vader

Posted in Movies, Random Musings with tags , on May 31, 2009 by Aaron

I was listening to NPR on the radio the other day and they had a story about the new “Night at the Museum” film. It takes place in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. They have all sorts of thing coming to life in the museum and one of them happens to be Darth Vader.

Me and the big guy have a checkered past. Twice I tried to download the Imperial March to have as my ring tone and it didn’t work.

Anyways, I guess the people from Lucas Films wanted to make sure that he was portrayed properly. So they sent a representative to make sure that he behaves himself. Apparently this person was glued to Vader. She would go everywhere with him. If the director wanted him to do something they would have to check with her. If she didn’t like it (I picture standing with her arms crossed and saying it calmly but stern) “Lord Vader wouldn’t do that.”

You can listen to the story here.

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Twitter

Posted in Random Musings with tags on May 29, 2009 by Aaron

I don’t understand the mass appeal of Twitter. Why would the average person feel the need to write up to 140 characters of seemingly random information?

I do understand it in certain circumstances. For instance, if you work in an office and everyone needs to keep informed of what their coworkers are up to. Or if you do something really awesome (this is subjective) that the public wants to know about, like being NASA and getting ready to go to space or a favorite writer giving updates on the next book. Maybe even if you are about to do something bad and you feel like getting caught.

Although, as I write this and think about more and more uses for it, it seems to begin to make sense. I guess I don’t have anything important enough for me to announce to my “followers” that can be expressed in short form. Who knows, I felt the same way about having a blog until I started one…

Robots vs. Dinosaurs

Posted in Books, Movies, Random Musings with tags , , on May 28, 2009 by Aaron

Monkeys.

The first time  I saw the film Project X, with Matthew Broderick I fell in love with monkeys. Especially monkeys who know sign language. I don’t think I even began to understood until recently why this idea is so intriguing. Basically I think that if a monkey can learn to “speak”, that means that we, as intelligent beings, aren’t all that exciting. I always wanted to know what two monkeys who can use sign language would say to each other. You could even take it a step further, what would they talk about with their monkey babies?

projectx_fenceObviously if you have read any of Carl Sagan’s books you can tell that I just did as well. If you haven’t, Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence is a fantastic read.

Carl says that monkeys are able to tell the grammatical difference between “Monkey likes banana” and “Banana likes monkey”. Think about that for a minute.

The inherent difference between those two phrases is nil. I am not an English teacher and I was never very good at grammar but this leads me to believe that if they can understand this that means they can comprehend complex language rules. If this example is understood by a prepubescent  (according to Sagan, they euthanize the monkeys once they reach puberty as they become too dangerous to work with) genetic cousin of ours, what is to stop them from gaining a firm grasp on language? And then what is to stop them from taking over the world? That seems to be pretty much how we did it.

Unfortunately most of my current research online about the subject (Dragons of Eden was written in the 1970’s) seems to be very unsure if any language is actually being spoken by the animals. A lot of the criticism seems to think that they aren’t truly speaking language but have been conditioned to be able to use sign language. I still want to know about the babies.

Scottish Folk at The Royal Oak

Posted in Travel with tags , , , on May 27, 2009 by Aaron

It was my last night in Edinburgh by myself and I decided to go out for a drink. I knew I didn’t want to go to a pub near the touristy part of town so I head over towards Edinburgh University looking for a place. Walking around Edinburgh is a pleasure as the city is so beautiful. Even in January the city is awesome.

Almost the first place I saw was a pub called “The Royal Oak” and the sign outside said “Live Music 7 Nights A Week”. I didn’t want to pay a cover but I figured there might not be one yet since it was early in the night still. When I walked inside the door, I noticed three things.

One, the place was tiny, twenty people would be totally pack the place. Two, all five people at the bar just stopped talking and turned around to look at me. Three, there was something else really weird about this place. Undaunted I walked up to the bar and ordered a Guinness (The Guinness in the UK is 1000 times better than the already really good Guinness here in the United States). The the guy I am standing next to says something incomprehensible to me and I can’t tell if it was the accent or if he was speaking Scottish Gaelic. I look at him with a confused look on my face and he repeats himself. This time I get that he is asking me about a name and wants to know if it belongs to me. I let him know that it’s not me. To my relief he tells me that they all stopped talking when I came in because someone had called looking for that person right before I walked in, and not because I walked in.

Sipping my beer on the other side of the room (7 feet away, they use the English system of measurement there too) I sat and listened to these guys talking about all kinds of things. Really just mainly enjoying their accents and their banter. Obviously these guys were in here almost every night and knew each other only from the bar and not outside it. The whole time there was this sneaking feeling that something was really off in this room. 

All of a sudden the bartender picked up a guitar from behind the bar and started playing a song. She was fantastic. Her voice was really amazing and I had never heard one carry so loud in my life. I guess I am used to people singing into microphones or not being real singers in the first place. Her song was awesome and it seemed like it an original that she had written. I thought, “So this is the kind of live music bar it is… the bartender plays songs throughout the night … this is awesome … I am really glad that I stumbled on this place …” and then when she finished her song I figured out what was so strange about the whole thing. 

There was no music playing in the background, the place was really tiny compared to the average pub and there were no televisions in sight. These things together tugged at my subconscious until I figured them out.

This place was totally fantastic. A little while passed while the talking resumed until two more guys walked into the bar with a few instrument cases. One of them had a guitar and a violin and the other guy had a drum. They took a little while to set up in the corner and a few more people started coming in. When they started playing I was blown away. They played Scottish Folk songs. The music all by itself was good but that wasn’t what so impressed me.

What impressed me was the guys voice, along with the fact that everyone in the bar seemed to know all the songs. I don’t know if this was a special case and just weird or not but here I know that most people don’t really know American Folk songs anymore. Most people might know a verse or two of some of them but  barely anyone knows even 3 complete american folk songs. I mean songs like “Oh! Susanna” or “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” or, I can’t even name one more…

Everyone in the bar knew almost every song and was singing along. In between songs some old guy from the audience would just start singing and either every one would sit politely listening or they would join in. Someone else might go over and borrow the guitar for a song. Apart from being slightly drunk I had never experienced anything like it before. When the guys went out to take a cigarette break mostly the bartender but some some others too filled for them.

I stayed at the bar late listening to music with a big grin on my face all night. Eventually I went back to the hostel that I was staying in for the night as I had to catch a train in the morning. As the bartender in London told me, if you are ever in Edinburgh and need a place to stay you should go to the Cowgate Hostel on the street called Cowgate. There are two hostels there, it is the one more towards the middle and off the main street. She was right. Now believe me, if you are looking for a good night out with something awesome and unique, check out The Royal Oak.

Avocado sandwiches are good for your belly

Posted in Recipes with tags , , on May 27, 2009 by Aaron

Mmmm. Try making this really easy sandwich that is really awesome. Get or make some really good bread to toast and put on some avocado, tomato, some goat cheese and a little bit of spicy mustard. The scientists have figured out that this sandwich actually improves the spacial reasoning functions of your brain.

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Ash Caves

Posted in Travel with tags , , on May 22, 2009 by Aaron

So I went to a cave today instead of going to work. Here are some pictures… (click on them to make them bigger!)

Make Dandelion or Rhubarb Wine This Year!

Posted in Beer and Wine, Recipes with tags , , , on May 20, 2009 by Aaron

I feel that wines like this are meant to be made without all the extra specialty ingredients. They are simple country wines that are meant to be homemade and good, but not too good. In the past I have made Dandelion wine which is just 2 gallons of dandelion flowers and 10 lbs. of sugar to make 5 gallons. You can use raisins, orange zest and lemon zest to make it a little more tasty. Simple, cheap and good enough to drink.

2 Gallons Dandelion Flowers
10 lbs white granulated sugar
Zest from 2 Lemons
Zest from 2 Oranges
2 Cups White Raisins
2 Servings Bread Yeast

Pick off all the stems from the dandelion flowers and discard. In a large pot with 2 gallons of water dissolve all the sugar while you bring it to a boil. Boil for one hour and then turn off the heat. Pour into a 5 Gallon Carboy or Bucket. Add Raisins and Zest from Lemons and Oranges and water to bring it up to 5 Gallons. Once it has cooled to about 85 degrees F add the prepared yeast and seal the container with an air lock.

It will take about 1-2 months to ferment and then you can age it in a bottle for at least a year. It is much better if you wait at least a year to drink it.

 

If I can get my hands on enough rhubarb this year this is something that I would love to try. There are a lot of specialty ingredients in this recipe but you can simplify it and not use them all. Most important is the Rhubarb, the sugar, the yeast and yeast nutrient. You can even use bread yeast if you don’t have access to wine yeast. The following recipe is from the book “Mary’s Recipes” by Jerry Uthemann

For 1 gallon of Rhubarb Wine:

2 1/2 lb to 4 lb Rhubarb
2 1/2 lb white granulated sugar
1 tsp Acid Blend
1 tsp. Yeast Nutrient
1 Campden Tablet
1/2 tsp Pectic Enzyme
1/4 tsp Grape Tannin
1/4 tsp Yeast Energizer
Water to make 1 gallon
Wine Yeast

Hints: Because of the oxalic acid present in rhubarb, it is best to ferment just the juice, not the pulp. Never use hot water with rhubarb. Cut up rhubarb and freeze for at least a few days, it will yield more flavor.

Method:
Thaw out rhubarb. Pour sugar and pectic enzyme powder with the crushed campden tablet over the rhubarb in the primary fermenter to extract the juice. Cover with a plastic sheet. Let stand for 24 hours, then strain out the fruit and press very dry. Mix all other ingredients except wine yeast in primary fermenter. Gently add the yeast to the must. Cover with plastic sheet. Ferment for 5-6 days, or until specific gravity is 1.030. Rack into secondary fermenter and attach airlock. When wine
is clear and stable, it’s ready bottle. Use 1/2 tsp of potassium sorbate and 1 additional Campden Tablet to stabilize. Sweeten with simple sugar syrup if desired. It’s recommended that 1/2 tsp of ascorbic acid anti-oxidant be added at bottling time to preserve color.