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I am currently mesmerized by these mimosa jello shots, served in the peels of the oranges juiced to make them. They are absolutely ridiculous and I love them. A little something for New Year's Day?
Winter is here. Which means it's time once again to start science-wanking the climate of George R.R. Martin's "Game of Thrones" series. Back in May, i09 had a great piece on possible astronomical explanations for Westeros' weird seasons, where Summer and Winter can each last a decade. The hard part (which prompted lots of great conversations here) is that the lengths of the seasons are apparently totally unpredictable. Here's an eight-year-long Summer. There's a Winter that lasts five years and another that lasts a generation. The implications for food storage, alone, are enough to drive one batty.
Word of Martin says this is magic. But it presents so many science-related questions that it's really, really fun to speculate about how you might explain the differences between that world and ours in purely naturalistic terms.
Now, at The Last Word on Nothing, Sean Treacy brings up a different sort of food-related problem that I'd not even considered while I was busy trying to figure out the volume of the average Westerosi grain silo. How do you grow wine grapes without predictable seasons?
... grapevines have a life cycle that depends on regular seasons. In winter, grapevines are dormant. Come spring they sprout leaves. As summer begins, they flower and tiny little grapes appear. Throughout the summer the grapes fill up with water, sugar and acid. The grapes are finally ready for picking in early autumn, then go back to sleep in winter. This cycle is why wineries can rely on a yearly grape yield. Obviously, in Westeros, something must be different about how grapes work.
But it turns out there is a real-world way to produce wine throughout an endless summer. São Francisco Valley is a wine-growing region in tropical Brazil that is only about 600 to 700 miles south of equator. Despite the constant warmth, they pump out two and sometimes three grape harvests a year. How? By depriving the vines of water and removing their leaves after every harvest, which forces them to hibernate. “They trick the plant into thinking it’s wintertime,” Busalacchi said.
The whole post is really interesting and you should read it. Who knew that the Arbor would lead me to be more educated about real-world booze?
Tom Megginson posted this 1930s Labatt Employee Drinking Songs book to Retronaut. It looks like it'd improve drunkenness immensely.
I found this artifact at an antiques sale in Kingston, Ontario. I estimate its age based on the label on the IPA bottle on the front cover, as well as by the design. Note that many of the popular folk and drinking songs have had their lyrics modified to make in-jokes about beer, brewing, and the Labatt family. Also, cringe at the casual racism (“darkies”) of the time. An interesting peek into early 20th century morale-building HR campaigns from one of Canada’s major beer brands.
After you drink some Scotch, there's usually a thin film of the liquor left clinging to the bottom and sides of the glass. If you leave it out overnight, it'll dry and be a pain to wash off in the morning. But the same dried booze leavings can also be the beginnings of some really lovely art.
Ernie Button takes photos of the waving, swirling patterns left behind on Scotch glasses. This one — part of a series called Vanishing Spirits — is a picture of glass that once held a nice measure of Balvenie.
The idea for this project occurred while putting a used Scotch glass into the dishwasher. I noted a film on the bottom of a glass and when I inspected closer, I noted these fine, lacey lines filling the bottom. What I found through some experimentation is that these patterns and images that can be seen are created with the small amount of Single-Malt Scotch left in a glass after most of it has been consumed. It only takes a very thin layer of Scotch to create; the alcohol dries and leaves the sediment in various patterns. It’s a little like snowflakes in that every time the Scotch dries, the glass yields different patterns and results. I have used different colored lights to add 'life' to the bottom of the glass, creating the illusion of landscape, terrestrial or extraterrestrial.
Interestingly, there was a recent article that was published in the Journal of Nature (I think) by Dr. Peter Yunker on the Suppression of the Coffee-Ring Effect by Shape-Dependent Capillary Interactions i.e. how are coffee rings made. I contacted him to see if he could see any obvious connection between the two liquids and the rings / patterns they create. He got back to me and unfortunately could not explain what was happening with the Scotch.
That paper Button mentioned was published in 2011. It explores the physics of particles suspended in liquid — not just coffee, but lots of things. Turns out, if you put a drop of liquid on a solid surface, it will tend to dry in a circular shape. As it dries, anything suspended in the liquid will migrate to the outside of the circle. If you put a drop of coffee on a table and leave it to dry, what you'll get is a round spot ringed by a narrow band of dark coffee gunk.
Why does the gunk form a ring, instead of evenly covering the whole circle? Yunker's research showed that it has to do with the shape of the particles that make up the gunk.
Read the rest
Jeffrey 'Toast' McGrew sez, "The ever-amazing Long Now Foundation hired us to help them transform their somewhat-boring bookstore / gallery into an amazing library / event space / coffee & cocktails bar. But the really cool part is that they are selling bottles of fancy spirits to raise the money. Gin made from 5000 year old pine needles, from the clock site itself! Whiskey you'll get to taste over the next 15 years! It's crazy and we're honored to have been part of it, and thought y'all might want to know about it too."
St. George Spirits in Alameda has created two exclusive spirits for Long Now, each truly a distillation of long-term thinking. The first is an aromatic gin made with juniper berries harvested by hand among the 5,000-year-old bristlecones from our site in eastern Nevada.
The other spirit is a whiskey made from a tailored selection of grains, fermented and distilled in such a way that it will be delicious without aging, while growing more intricate and complex every year. We will bottle a small amount each year for the next 15 years, allowing you to taste its annual progression.
When scientists from the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Germany sequenced the genome of barley, they were thinking primarily about the impact on food. Understanding the genetics behind certain traits could help us breed barley varieties that have built-in resistance against disease, or that contain more fiber. (Contrary to popular understanding, there's actually a lot of overlap between what we might think of as genetic engineering and what we might think of as breeding. Crop researchers can use genome maps to select specific plants to cross pollinate, enabling them to reliably breed a trait into a new variety much faster than was previously possible.)
But, this is barley. And we don't just eat barley. With this plant, sequencing the genome also has implications for the way we brew beer. At Popular Science, Martha Harbison explains what we're learning about barley's genetic code and why it matters in beer making. In particular, she says it's significant that the researchers sequenced the genomes of more than one variety of barley.
Why should aspiring homebrewers care? Because two-row and six-row barley behave slightly differently in the mash, which can have profound effects on brewing efficiency and characteristics of the finished beer (a complex phenomenon I'll get into in a future column). I figured anyone nerdulent enough to want to know about genetic differences of cultivars would be curious as to which kind of barley was used in the single-nucleotide-variation study.
In "The Plot to Destroy America's Beer," Businessweek's Devin Leonard chronicles the rapacious AB InBev, a multinational, publicly traded giant corporation that is buying up American (and European, South American and Asian) family owned breweries, cutting them to the bone, lowering the quality of the ingredients used, shutting down breweries that have been running for more than a century, laying off thousands of workers who've given their lives to the companies AB InBev acquired, and changing the recipes to make all the different sorts of beer once on offer taste more or less the same.
InBev was never a sentimental company. Shortly after the merger, it shuttered the 227-year-old brewery in Manchester, U.K., where Boddingtons was produced. It encountered more resistance in 2005 when it closed the brewery in the Belgian village of Hoegaarden, from which the popular white beer of the same name flowed. InBev said it could no longer afford to keep the brewery open. After two years of protests by brewery workers and beer aficionados, it reversed itself. Laura Vallis, an AB InBev spokeswoman, says Hoegaarden exports spiked unexpectedly. “The brand’s growth since is positive news for Hoegaarden and for consumers around the world who enjoy it,” she says.
Yet some Hoegaarden drinkers say the flavor of the beer changed. “I think now it’s not as distinctive tasting,” says Iain Loe, spokesman for the Campaign for Real Ale, an advocacy group for pubs and beer drinkers. “You often see when a local brand is taken over by a global brewer, the production is raised a lot. If you’re trying to produce a lot of beer, you don’t want a beer that some people may object to the taste of it, so you may actually make the taste a little blander.” (Vallis’s response: “The brand’s commitment to quality has never changed.”)
Despite occasional setbacks, Brito’s assiduous focus on the bottom line produced the intended results. InBev’s earnings margin (before taxes and depreciation) rose from 24.7 percent in 2004 to 34.6 percent in 2007. Its stock price nearly tripled. Then he started running out of things to cut. In early 2008, InBev’s results plateaued, and its shares stumbled.
Investors hungered for another deal. Brito complied with the takeover of Anheuser-Busch. He had intimate knowledge of his target: America’s largest brewer had distributed InBev’s beers in the U.S. since 2005. Anheuser-Busch’s CEO, August Busch IV, the fifth Busch family member to run the company, was no match for La Máquina and his mentor, Lemann, who was now an InBev director. Anheuser-Busch’s board of directors accepted InBev’s bid of $70 a share on July 14, 2008.
The Plot to Destroy America's Beer (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Here's a cute way to gimmick a keyboard out of a grid of beercans, using Raspberry Pis and Arduinos:
We did this at Webstock, event which took place in Bucharest in September. Staropramen, one of the sponsors of the event asked us for an innovative way to offer a trip to Prague to one of the event's guests.
So, we came up with a keyboard made out of 44 Staropramen beer cans. Each beer can was a key, and whenever someone touched it, the corresponding letter appeared on a large plasma screen (just like any regular computer keyboard).
And the surprise was fantastic! The user experience and engagement overcame any expectation. Every single person who attended Webstock tried the keyboard and participated to the contest.
Behind the scene, the system is built around an Arduino board and a few capacitive controllers (just like the ones which are inside smartphones' touch screens), connected to a Raspberry PI board which controls the plasma screen display.
Kentucky cops will write you a DUI if you ride a horse drunk. The fellow whose circumstances proved this to the rest of us was carrying a jar of "moonshine" at the time. Lowering the Bar has some legal analysis of the bust. Good thing the horse was sober when he got pulled over, or there would have been an additional count of cruelty to animals.
And things are not looking good for him otherwise. The statutory language is better than the title: "No person under the influence of intoxicating beverages or any substance which may impair one's driving ability shall operate a vehicle that is not a motor vehicle anywhere in this state." Okay, but what is a "vehicle not a motor vehicle"? I think a skateboard or scooter would qualify, or even a Big Wheel. The Flintstones car would count. Surely someone in Kentucky has one of those. But can a living thing be a "vehicle"? Yes, people ride around on them, but to me the common meaning of "vehicle" just doesn't include a horse (elephant, lion, Sasquatch, whatever). A vehicle is a machine.
There is some support for this elsewhere in the statutes. The one above refers to "driving" ability. "Driving" is not the same as "riding" when it comes to animals, according to television. You would "ride" a horse during a cattle "drive," for example; you don't "drive" a horse. And look over here at Section 189.310, "Vehicles meeting other vehicles and animals," which not only distinguishes between "vehicles" and "animals" but also makes the riding/driving distinction. That seems unnecessary if every animal you could ride is also a vehicle, doesn't it?
All very interesting, said no one, but aren't there often statutes that define certain legal terms? Yes, and there's one here. And sadly for Rooster Cogburn, it defines "vehicle" as including "All agencies for the transportation of persons or property over or upon the public highways of the Commonwealth.…" So while I still like my "animal is not a vehicle" argument, Kentucky has precluded it.
I wrote last June about Drugs: Without the Hot Air, the best book on drug policy I've read, written by David Nutt, the UK drug czar who was fired because he refused to bow to political pressure to repudiate his own research on the relative harms from illegal drugs and legal activities. Nutt's book has now been published in the USA. As I said in June, this is a book that everyone should read. From my review:
Like the other writers in the series, Nutt is both committed to rigorous, evidence-based policy and to clear, no-nonsense prose that makes complex subjects comprehensible. He begins and ends the book with a look at the irrationality of our present drug policy, recounting a call he had with then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who was furious that he'd compared horseback riding harms to the harms from taking MDMA. Smith says that "you can't compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal activity." When Nutt asks why not, she says, "because one is illegal." When he asks why it is illegal, she says, "Because it is harmful." So he asks, "Don't we need to compare harms to determine if it should be illegal?" And Smith reiterates, "you can't compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal activity." Lather, rinse, repeat, and you'll get our current drugs-policy disaster.
Nutt has been talking about harm reduction and evidence-based policy for drugs policy for years, and he often frames the question by pointing out that alcohol is a terrible killer of addicts and the people around them, and a disaster for society. But if he was to synthesize a drug that produced an identical high to alcohol, without producing any of the harms, it would almost certainly be banned and those involved in producing, selling and taking it would be criminalised. We ban drugs because they are harmful and we know they are harmful because they are banned. Drugs that we don't ban -- tobacco, alcohol -- are "harmful" too, but not in the same way as the drugs that are banned, and we can tell that they are different because they haven't been banned.
Nutt has choice words for the alcohol and tobacco industries, who often frame their activity as being supported by responsible choice, and claim that they only want to promote that sort of responsibility. But as Nutt points out, if Britain's drinkers hewed to the recommended drinking levels, total industry revenue would fall by 40% -- and the industry has shown no willingness to regulate super-cheap, high-alcohol booze, nor alcopops aimed at (and advertised to) children and teenagers.
Nutt compares the alcohol industry's self-regulated responsible drinking campaigns to a campaign that exposed students in East Sussex to factual information about the industry's corruption of public health messages, its ferocious lobbying efforts, and the cost of drinking to wider society. It turns out that exposing alcohol industry sleaze is vastly more effective at discouraging student drinking than anything sponsored by the industry itself.
From his discussion of legal drugs, Nutt moves on to factual accounts of the impact of illegal/controlled drugs, from "legal highs" like "meow meow" to opiods to cocaine to prescription painkillers and steroids to psychedelics. Each chapter is a bracing, brisk, no-nonsense inventory of what harms and benefits arise from each substance, the history of their regulation, and the ways in which changes to the means of taking the drugs changes the outcome. Laid out like this, it's easy to see that prohibition isn't ever the right answer -- not for science, not for society, not for justice, and not for health.
There's also a sense of the awful, tragic loss to society arising from the criminalization of promising drugs. A chapter called "Should Scientists Take LSD?" surveys the literature preceding the evidence-free banning of LSD, and the astounding therapeutic benefits hinted at in the literature.
The book closes with the War on Drugs, and the worlds' governments own frank assessments of the unmitigated disaster created by Richard Nixon's idiotic decision 40 years ago. Nutt analyzes the fact that policymakers know that the War on Drugs is worse than the drugs themselves (by a long shot), but are politically incapable of doing anything about it, not least because politicians on all sides stand poised to condemn their opponents for being "soft on drugs."
Given a black light, some tonic, some gin or vodka, and pink lemonade concentrate, you can mix a cocktail that looks like the aurora borealis:
Aurora is TCCs black light phosphorescent take on jungle-juice. Originally conceived in 2006, it is a drink that is pink in natural light, but glows aqua-marine in black-light. Thus, it represents the two main colors of the aurora-borealis. So, without further ado here is the recipe. (Originally, the drink was made with just pink-lemonade, but was later modified to use Rose’s Mojito Passion).
An English stick-up artist was foiled in his attempt to rob a cornershop by a manager who flung 12-packs of lager at the crim until he fled the premises. There's an important RPG lesson here about the shortcomings of melee weapons when your adversary has a ranged weapon.