Monday, April 30, 2012

From the Files of "You've Got to Be Kidding Me"

... comes the headline, "PepsiCo Stops Using Aborted Fetal Cell Lines to Test Flavor Enhancers".

What were they thinking in the first place? 

First of all, how could they not see that this kind of callous attitude towards human remains is really not that different from what motivated Himmler to have a chair made from human remains?

Secondly, even if they failed to pick up on point one, how could they not see that lots of customers would reach that conclusion?

Thirdly, they are in the soda pop and fast food business.  These are luxuries; they do not merit the kind of careful moral consideration that is needed for some vaccines.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Matthew 24:31

And he shall send his angels with a trumpet and a great voice: and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them. Douay-Rheims Bible
And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. KJV
I find this verse quite interesting in the context of space travel.  If we set up a colony on Mars, what would happen to those settlers at the Second Coming?  Already, some of the mortal remains of Eugene Shoemaker have been "buried" on the moon, and some of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh are headed for Pluto in about 3 more years and from there out of the solar system.

Not a problem.

Fig Preserves

I just spoke with my dad, and he was able to confirm some things I had said and correct some others.

The way to make fig preserves is basically this.
  • Get enough figs to fill a pot.  (He was a bit vague on the size of the pot and how full it should be.  I think this is one of those things that can be adjusted by tasting and experience.)
  • Wash and clean the figs and return them to the pot.
  • Cover the figs with sugar (1/2 to 1 cup).
  • Set the pot in the refrigerator over night.  The sugar will draw moisture out of the figs and create a syrup.
  • The next morning, put the pot on low heat and cook the mixture down until it tastes right to you.  
The thing he was not very successful with was canning the preserves, so he would just make what he could eat within a few days.

For those of you who want something less vague, the recipe over at looks just about perfect, only neither side of my family put lemons in the fig preserves.  Well, I can't be sure they didn't use lemon juice, but certainly there were no visible lemons like in's recipe.  Lemons occur in most of the recipes I've seen online (cooks.comfood.cometc.), but they seem not to really be essential.

It's A Long Way to Tipperary -- And More Than A Billion Times Farther to Alpha Centauri

There was a question to my first post regarding the distance between stars.  I'll try to answer that now.

I think that the problem is that people build up the scale something like this.  A plane flight from New York to Los Angeles (or something similar) is probably about the longest single trip they've taken.  They know the distance from earth to the moon is a lot farther than that, so they think, "OK, multiply by 20."  They know Mars is a lot farther away than the moon, so they multiply by 20 again.  They know the nearest star (not the sun) is a lot farther away than Mars, so they multiply by 20 one last time. I'm not saying they do this on purpose; it's just that this is about as good as the human imagination (as opposed to human mathematical reasoning) can do. If we take the New York to California distance to be 3000 miles (it's just a little less), we end up with a distance to the nearest star of about 24 million miles in our imagination.  That's less than the real-world distance to Mars when it's closest to earth. The real distance to Alpha Centauri (a little farther than the dwarf Proxima Centauri) is one million times farther away.

In order to do justice to what a distance like that means in practical terms, I'll have to figure out a way to include equations in this blog posting.  I'll get back to that later this week.

Update:  So much for "later this week."  Well, at least I did get around to it eventually.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Good Southern Breakfast

My favorite breakfast of all time is grits and tomato gravy with biscuits and fig preserves.   I only get it a couple of times a year, but nothing says "home" like that!

Apparently tomato gravy is "Depression" food, but it's as good as it gets.  It's based on that true cornerstone of Southern cooking: bacon grease.  Red-eye gravy, which is based on ham grease, seems to be more common, but to my taste it can't hold a candle to tomato gravy.

The biscuits are great by themselves, which is how I usually eat them, but for a special treat pull them open put a dab of butter and some real fig preserves in them.  I've tried the store-bought fig preserves, and they're OK if that's all you can get, but really not better than jelly.  The ladies of my family used to make fig preserves, but the current generation doesn't seem to have the knowledge or materials. 

About half the time I go down to visit my dad, who still lives in my hometown area, I either go down or come back up via Tuscaloosa, where I got my bachelor's degree (Roll Tide!!!).   When I do, I have to check out the Bama Nut Shop in Brundidge.  They've always got boiled peanuts (a weakness of mine), and sometimes they have homemade fig preserves.  They had them a couple of months ago when I stopped by on my way back from Spring Break, and I was seriously tempted to buy all the jars.  I restrained myself and only bought 4 jars, leaving about the same number for someone else to buy.

At any rate, here are the recipes:

1 cup self-rising flour
1 Tbsp cooking oil
Buttermilk to feel (somewhat sticky, probably about 2 or 3 Tbsp)

Mix the flour and oil and add buttermilk until you achieve the right feel.  Shape the biscuits in a floured sheet of wax paper and place into a pan that has been sprayed with Pam or some other non-stick cooking oil.  Each biscuit should be a little more than 2 inches in diameter -- the size of the middle part of the palm of your hand.  Cook at 500 degrees F for 15 to 17 minutes.

Grits and tomato gravy:
1 12-oz can of peeled tomatoes
5 strips of bacon cut in half
A few tablespoons of flour
Quick Grits

Fry about 5 full slices of bacon (or 10 slices cut in half by length).  Scrape the pan, but leave the scrapings in the pan.  Add 1 12-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes.  Cut up the tomatoes while they're in the pan.  (Use a can of diced tomatoes if you have a teflon pan.  Better:  Don't use a teflon frying pan.)  Let the tomatoes simmer for about 5 minutes; add flour to thicken as it simmers.

Follow the instructions on the bag of grits.  As soon as they are done, spoon out enough to cover about 3/4 of a plate for each person being served and pour the tomato gravy over the grits.  They will need stir the gravy in immediately.  Grits will clump if allowed to cool, which is not good; do not delay!  Any excess gravy, however, can be refrigerated and used again later, as long as it is not kept too long.  It works on toast, too!

By the way, I checked "tomato gravy" on Wikipedia, and they seem to be talking about something else entirely.  I can't imagine putting onions or peppers into tomato gravy, let alone serving it over pasta. 

The UFO I Saw

Once, in the early 2000's when I lived in east Texas, I was outside in my front yard chatting by phone with a friend when I was astonished to see a UFO.  It was early dusk, and a bright, saucer-like shape appeared to be hovering noiselessly over or beyond a stand of trees about 300 yards away.

I was more surprised than I can say.  Because I teach physics, I have a better feel than most for
  1. the real distance between stars, 
  2. how hard it would be to travel from one star to another, and
  3. how unlikely it would be for any creature to travel from one star to another and behave the way the crews of flying saucers are said to behave. 
So interstellar travel made no sense, but most of the other explanations you can find on the Internet for flying saucers were just as unreasonable.  There are no other planets in our solar system with intelligent life; the earth is not hollow; and the idea that they are from "another dimension" or from the future is less convincing than an appeal to pure magic.  Yet there it was, as large as life and twice as natural, as Lewis Carroll said, but defying my ability to explain it. I knew I would have to watch it in the hopes of some satisfactory explanation.

While all this was going through my mind, the saucer appeared to be slowly coming closer, and gradually I became aware of a low, buzzing sound. And then, suddenly, I saw exactly what it was, and the flying object ceased to be unidentified.

It was a powered paraglider.  The canopy was illuminated just for show, and in the twilight the pilot and paramotor were not visible until they were quite close.

Paraglider Motor

Before I get all kinds of angry comments:  No, of course I am not saying all UFO's are powered parasails.  On the other hand, I remain convinced that they are not space ships from other planets, either.  In any event, if I had not stayed to watch or if the "saucer" had not come my direction, this easily could have become yet another sighting by a "credible witness".