Posts Tagged ‘geeky science blogging’

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What am I embroidering?

March 13, 2019

The Embroidered Computer by Irene Posch and Ebru Kurbak doesn’t look like what you might expect when you think of a computer. Instead, the work looks like an elegantly embroidered textile, complete with glass and magnetic beads and a meandering pattern of copper wire. The materials have conductive properties which are arranged in specific patterns to create electronic functions. Gold pieces on top of the magnetic beads flip depending on the program, switching sides as different signals are channeled through the embroidered work.

“Traditionally purely decorative, [the work’s patterns] defines their function,” explained Posch on her website. “They lay bare core digital routines usually hidden in black boxes. Users are invited to interact with the piece in programming the textile to compute for them.”

The piece is a reference to the historic similarity between textile creation and computing, for example the Jacquard loom being an important influence on the evolution of computing hardware. Posch is a researcher and artist with a background in media and computer science who explores the how technological seeps into the fields of art and craft, and Kurbak is an artist and designer who investigates the hidden politics of everyday spaces and routines. You can learn more about their work and partnerships here or here.

from  Colossal

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What am I watching this time?

February 20, 2019
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Why am I saying, “by Jupiter*?”

February 13, 2019

*An ellipsis of a full oath of the form “I swear by Jupiter that…”. (wiki)

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Why am I dizzy?

January 14, 2019

 

Warning:  planets are not to scale!

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What am I drinking?

January 9, 2019

Several years ago, while Marianne Eaves was in the midst of renovating Castle & Key Distillery outside of Versailles [note: it is pronounced Ver-Sales], Ky., she came across an antique bottle of Old Taylor bourbon.

The distillery grounds had originally belonged to Col. Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. (known in the whiskey world simply as E.H.). Taylor was a leader in industrializing bourbon production during the early 20th century.

After Taylor died in 1923, the distillery passed through several owners, but eventually fell into neglect for 40 years. The grounds became a tangle of foliage and the exterior of buildings began to crumble.

Then in 2015, Eaves — who is the first female Master Distiller of Kentucky bourbon since Prohibition — along with her business partners, Will Arvin and Wesley Murry, began to bring the distillery into the modern age of bourbon production.

But that antique bottle of Old Taylor, which was originally released in 1917, inspired Eaves — whose background is in chemical engineering — to use new technology to examine the bourbon’s past.

“The most dominant flavor in that 1917 bourbon was the butterscotch note,” Eaves says. “That’s something that bourbon aficionados and the ‘dusty hunters‘ recognize about historic Old Taylor bourbon is this beautiful, rich, creamy, sweet butterscotch note — and the mouthfeel of that particular bottle was really unique for a historic whiskey.”

That taste was something Eaves wanted to incorporate into Castle & Key’s bourbon, but she was at a dead end of sorts. While modern bourbon brands keep meticulous notes on measurements and processes, pre-Prohibition brands, such as Old Taylor, were built largely on oral histories.

“They were just going all on flavor. They had these processes that had been handed down for hundreds of years, so they were just doing things the way the guy before them had — just knowing it would make alcohol,” Eaves says.

And while she didn’t know Taylor’s exact process, Eaves had both tradition and science her side.

Susan Reigler, a bourbon historian and biologist, explains that in order for a distillate to be considered bourbon, it must meet a few basic requirements: the spirit has to be grain based; the mash bill (mix of grains) has to be 51 percent corn; it must be aged in new, charred-oak barrels; and it must not be introduced to the barrel at higher than 125 proof.

After the grain mash is cooled at Castle & Key, it’s placed in a large tub where it begins to ferment. During alcoholic fermentation, yeasts convert the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

“Because of this, certainly, the process that goes on in the still is basically the same — the chemistry is the same,” says Reigler, who is also the author of The Bourbon Tasting Notebook. “And the compounds in the spirit are something that can be assessed.”

Which is exactly what Eaves did.

“We decided to use a good old-fashioned ‘GC’ — gas chromatography,” she says.

Chromatography is a process used by scientists to separate a mixture of chemicals, in liquid or gas form, into components by running it over the surface of another substance, typically a liquid or solid. A visual example often used in classrooms is pouring a water droplet onto an ink mark on a piece of paper. The ink — which is a liquid mixture of several dyes — will separate on the paper into distinct, colored streaks.

In the case of the Old Taylor bourbon, the liquid was separated into different chemical compounds.

“Then we looked at these chemical compounds and from there, we were able to figure out what grains he was using, [and found] a yeast strain that has a similar flavor profile,” Eaves says. “So that’s how we went about it and constructed our recipe based on it, loosely. We didn’t really want to replicate what he was making exactly, but take those flavor cues from the past, and then model our recipe around that.”

The bourbon is distilled and is currently aging for a minimum of four years.

According to Reigler, many people still don’t recognize all the science and technological innovations that underpin the bourbon industry — from increasingly computerized distilling systems to spirits analytics like what Eaves did with the antique bourbon.

“We have a lot more people in white coats that are involved in the bourbon industry, so I think all of that is very different than what E.H. Taylor would have been familiar with,” she says.

From Ashlie Stevens – NPR The Salt

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What am I growing?

December 20, 2018

from Colossal

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Where am I dining today?

December 10, 2018

Each year on December 10, Nobel laureates gather at Stockholm’s City Hall to feast. Receiving a Nobel prize, whether for literature, science, or advances toward world peace, comes with a significant monetary prize, as well as a gold medal bearing the face of Albert Nobel, the explosives tycoon whose will established the awards. But the Nobel banquet, which has been described as “the greatest dinner party on earth,” is its own reward. You might assume that the highlight is the laureates receiving their prizes. But the dessert course is equally climactic: It’s presented with grand sparklers and a parade. For decades, it featured official Nobel ice cream, too.

The very first Nobel banquet in 1901.
The very first Nobel banquet in 1901. Image provided by the Nobel Foundation

Nobel banquets have been held since 1901, and each year, the menu is exquisite. That’s to be expected: Some of the world’s most lauded people, not to mention Swedish royalty and dignitaries, are in attendance. In the first few years, the food was mostly French-style, the cuisine of the elite. Only later in the century did Swedish dishes and ingredients take center stage, with filet of sole being replaced by filet of reindeer. But until recently, there was one constant: For dessert, dozens of waiters descended the grand staircase with trays of Nobel ice cream and sparklers, a fitting accompaniment to the Nobel Prize’s explosive origins.

The Nobel banquet is always a sparkling affair.
The Nobel banquet is always a sparkling affair. Dan Lepp, © Nobel Media AB

The ice cream did vary from parade to parade. But starting in the 1970s, an ice cream bombe became standard (another strangely appropriate choice considering Albert Nobel’s career). This Nobel ice cream typically entailed layers of ice cream and fruit sorbet, decorated with spun sugar and an edible “N” for Nobel, and it was served every year at banquets until the early 2000s. Though the flavors could vary, from raspberry and vanilla to kiwi and passionfruit, Nobel ice cream became a tradition. One documenter of the Nobel banquets called changing the dessert “unthinkable.” But change it did.

At Bistro Nobel, you too can have dessert like a prizewinner.
At Bistro Nobel, you too can have dessert like a prizewinner.

After 1998, chefs tapped to make the Nobel meals were allowed to eschew tradition. According to Nobel Foundation representative Jonna Petterson, this “let a pastry chef create a new dessert for each year with a modern touch.” Since then, Nobel diners have enjoyed their coffee and special Nobel tea blend with ice cream-less desserts such as “Chocolate silhouette with nougat and sea buckthorn explosion.” Thankfully, the pyrotechnic parade continues to this day.

Though hundreds of guests enjoy the banquet each year, the rest of us can only hungrily watch. Even the menu is kept secret until December 10, supposedly to stop restaurants from throwing their own Nobel banquets on the same day. But below Stockholm’s City Hall, the restaurant Stadshuskällaren will sell customers Nobel banquet meals from any year, on any day other than December 10. Or, if you don’t have Nobel Prize money to drop on a lavish dinner, stop by the Nobel Museum. There, the Bistro Nobel serves Nobel ice cream: a berry and vanilla bombe, with spun sugar and a cloudberry, accompanied by one tiny, foil-wrapped Nobel medal, made of dark chocolate.