What’s the Deal with Real?

I have made mayonnaise from scratch a few times, using different basic recipes, and making some modifications. Mayo is generally made with an egg yolk, some lemon juice, a bit of dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and a distressing amount of salad oil. As you’re constantly whisking the base ingredients and pouring a steady tiny stream of the oil, you find yourself saying things like, “am I really going to put this in my body?” When you’ve finished, you have a light, fluffy concoction that is much more delicious than the store-bought variety, even the “real” stuff.

Helmanns

Sealed in an air-tight jar, the home-made stuff will remain fresh in the fridge for a few days. Meanwhile, I have a jar of Hellmann’s in there that I bought in April! So the obvious question is: what is in that store-bought stuff that can preserve it for months?

Ever since I first made my own mayo, I haven’t made a habit of eating it. Every time I see it, I think of all that oil. It’s not like I’m going to eat the entire jar, but still. The plus side of making your own is you can use any oil you like, or blend them. Olive oil is healthier than some oils, but it has a strong taste. Canola oil is a popular choice, but there is so much disagreement about whether canola oil is healthy, or whether or not it is safe, I could not make a decision either way. Therefore, I just avoid it for the most part.

I tend to make certain things myself. I make laundry detergent due to sensitive skin. I also make my own shaving cream and shampoo. Admittedly, making your own products is time-consuming, and I have to shake the shampoo bottle every time I use it, because the ingredients tend to separate without an emulsifier, like the egg yolk in the mayonnaise. (I have heard of eggs used to shampoo hair, but I didn’t think people in this century did that.)

I’m not here to brag. But I think it is important that we remember where we are and how we got here. When we think of things that are “real” we all might imagine different things. For some, real food might mean something home-cooked. For others it could mean something entirely different. We might disagree on “real” cheese, but the USDA has its own definition. Some countries, like Germany, have strict purity laws, where products like beer must be made within certain standards. Champagne, for example, is sparkling wine from a particular region in France. Bourbon, Scotch, and other types of whisky are made according to certain specifications, and there are rules according to geography as to how they can be labelled and marketed. And don’t get me started about the recipe for Coca Cola.

You could make your own cola. There are recipes all over the internet, and many of them, according to some, taste like the “real” Coke. I remember when Coca Cola released the “New” Coke, which was a bit of a disaster. Rumor had it that it was intentional, a PR stunt. (A very expensive stunt). It actually wasn’t bad, a little like RC Cola. The “real” Coke returned months later in the form of Coca Cola Classic. We may never know what really happened. Billions of dollars and decades later, the company is more profitable than ever.

The next time I make a salad involving mayonnaise, like Waldorf Salad, I will probably make the fresh stuff from scratch. I don’t know if anyone will appreciate the effort, and I don’t know if they will be able to tell the difference. Still, I’ll probably do it anyway. I like making fresh-squeezed lemonade. There’s really nothing like it. I guess I can’t go back to the fake stuff. And I’m okay with that, even if no one else cares.

 

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The Possible and the Probable

The other day someone mentioned that it was possibly going to rain. I asked if they meant probably, and that person asked me what was the difference. I explained that many things are possible, but not all things are probable. For example, it is possible that lightning will strike multiple times in the same place. This, of course, is highly unlikely; but it has actually happened, as this video demonstrates.

Yes, the tower in the video is likely to be hit by lightning over and over because it is the highest structure in the area, and it is just begging to be electrocuted. But there are more examples where lightning has struck repeatedly. The possibility is infinite, even if the probability is extremely low.

I was in Las Vegas recently, and I saw something that has become a trend in human perception. In close proximity to tables where there are games involving random number, like roulette, you will see these displays indicating how many spins of the wheel have occurred without hitting a particular number. For example, one roulette table was advertising that the number 17 had not occurred in 20 spins. The typical response to something like that is that the number 17 has to come up soon. And people flock to put their bets on 17. In reality, the odds of hitting any particular number are 35:1. While it is improbable to never hit 17 in a night, it is possible.

In the 1940’s, two students, Al Hibbs and Roy Walford, researched and then put into practice methods for predicting roulette results with great success. According to some theories, many events in the physical world are in varying degrees deterministic. Deterministic means that, provided that the environment and all conditions of a test can be set, the results will be predictable, even pre-set. So if you could know the speed of the roulette wheel, the precise speed and angle of the ball entering the track, and any imperfections on the wheel’s surface, you could be assured the ball would land on 17. Casinos caught on to Hibbs’ and Walford’s findings and began to make things a little more unpredictable. But it is still possible is not probable to have a winning streak.

Truly random results are hard to come by. A few years ago I listened to a story on the radio – I couldn’t find the story for this post – about how people perceive randomness. There was an experiment where a group of people were divided into two teams. Team A were instructed to flip a coin 100 times and record the results. Team B were told to simulate the coin toss, deciding among themselves which result to record, 100 times. The results revealed something interesting. Team B – the team with the simulated coin toss – reasonably assumed that a result of three or four consecutive heads or tails would be possible. They recorded that in their log. Team A, who had an actual coin, discovered that the occurrence of seven, nine, and even 11 consecutive heads or tails was not only possible, but entirely likely given the number of tosses.

That’s the real crux here, that over time, probability starts to increase where possibility is a constant. When you toss a coin, the possibility is that it can be heads and it can be tails. Einstein would have liked is to accept that quantum physics is not so random; but, there are so many variables, too many, for that to be true. I will leave that to the physicists. Meanwhile, that coin has landed, but with predictable results. (After reading that Forbes article above, my head is still spinning.)

The fact that there us serious scientific research surrounding randomness and probability is a sign that we’re on to something. I’m not sure where it will take us. Will we discover cures for AIDS or Parkinson’s? Will we find a way to prevent economic disasters? Will we reach the stars? Given time, anything is probable, provided it was possible to begin with. And who knows what is or is not possible? For centuries many believed heavier than air flight was impossible. A 20th Century Fox studio executive, Darryl Zanuck, famously predicted in 1946 that “television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months.  People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”

If we tell ourselves that something is impossible, we run the risk of that coming true, but some outcomes are just bound to happen eventually, like that roulette table. Ooh, it’s been another 11 spins!

 

 

At What Cost?

I believe you get what you pay for. Case in point: I have a pair of shoes I purchased in 2004, Rockports, and they’re in pretty good condition. Now, sometimes you might get a bad specimen, but for the most part, I’ve been pleased with this brand. I do not recommend buying shoes at Walmart. You will pay significantly less, but the quality is so bad, the shoes will only last about three months. The same could be said for almost anything.

In 1993, I bought a large frying pan, Revere with a copper sandwich plate on the bottom for heat distribution and to help the pan retain its shape. It was my go-to pan for decades. Then, a couple years ago, the welds holding the handle started coming loose. Eventually, the handle broke off completely, and the pan was rendered useless (at least for my purposes). I suppose I could have taken it to a metal shop to have the handle reattached. But I had the thing for nearly 25 years. The cost of the repair would far outweigh the benefits. Besides, a new pan with more modern materials and better construction was on sale, and I couldn’t resist.

But repairing that old beat-up frying pan could have helped someone other than myself. A local artisan might have appreciated the business. I’m sure $50 or thereabouts might not have made a difference in the local economy. But what if everyone went with a similar alternative every once in a while?

Ouch!

Sometimes you really have to spend the money. One of my lenses was almost destroyed when it fell out of my camera bag about five years ago. Thankfully, I had spent about $30 for a protective filter, seen above. The filter took the brunt of the impact and was completely smashed, beyond repair. But I was grateful my lens was undamaged (visibly). It still works just fine. I later purchased another protective filter. It’s like paying for insurance. You hope you will never need to use it, but shit happens.

Back to the shoes. Another pair of Rockports hasn’t held up as well as the first. Actually, I wear them all the time. They’re perfect for work, and they’re also good all-around shoes for any occasion. Unfortunately, the uppers have torn away from the sole, and my initial thought was that I needed to replace them. I did, with a pair in brown, which I wanted anyway. But I hesitate to throw out the now defunct pair. My thoughts went to finding a cobbler in my city. Surely I could find someone who specializes in shoe repair. Surprisingly, there aren’t as many as you would expect. I guess part of the problem is we tend to throw away things that have lost their usefulness. That’s unfortunate.

I make attempts to reuse things, or at least I make the things I have last longer by protecting and maintaining them. I still have cookware I purchased in 1991, when my wife and I first moved in together. We also still have the plates, cups, and bowls we started out with. They’re decent dishes. One reason we hang onto them is also their sentimental value, I admit. But why get rid of them? They’re quite functional, and they serve a purpose.

I think I’ll call a couple shoe repair shops in the morning. I’d like to know how much it would cost to fix those shoes. I’m curious if it might be more expensive than buying a new pair. But what if it’s about the same cost? My shoes would be as good as new, and I could support a local business in the process. It seems like a win-win. If it turns out to be more costly to repair them, I’ll consider that, but I might just spend the money anyway. What could it hurt?

 

A Long, Long Time Ago Very Soon

 

New_Planet

Two weeks ago, astronomers made a huge discovery: for the first time in human history, we are able to witness the birth of a planet. The new planet, named PDS 70 b, is about 370 light years from earth. That means it is so far away, that what we’re seeing today actually happened 370 years ago, long before the foundation of the United States, before the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach. Centuries of human history transpired in that time. And yet, it will be billions of years before that planet is fully formed.

Scientists have discovered more than 1,000 of planets outside our solar system. Most of them orbit bizarrely close to their star. Others are super gas giants, many times the size of Jupiter. The methods used to discover these planets might explain why we have almost no found worlds that are potentially hospitable to human life. Eventually, we may have the ability to locate more planets outside our solar system, ones that are more like earth, with similar gravity. Perhaps someday we can determine whether a planet has a breathable atmosphere and similar diurnal cycle. Getting there is another issue altogether.

Assuming we could travel to the stars, as Carl Sagan hoped, we might decide to plant colonists on those worlds. Humans are fairly adaptable, so we could adjust to a different planetary rotation, where a day is 30 hours or 15 hours. The gravity could be weaker, like on Mars, or stronger. There might not be seasons. For the most part, those varying conditions occur on earth (except for the gravity bit). Residents north of the Arctic Circle experience long periods of daylight and darkness, depending on the season. People in tropical regions experience summer all year. People living in Nepal and Bolivia breathe thinner air than most of us.

With the turmoil of our current world, it’s easy to feel like we can’t possibly survive long enough to find our way out there. Some might question why we should even bother, with all the problems we’re facing here. We can’t seem to resolve our own conflicts without killing each other, not to mention that there are people literally dying to find a better life for themselves and their families. Refugees are turned away. Families are separated. Humanity isn’t looking like it’s worth saving.

But we could start over. Travel across the galaxy to a new world. Do it right this time, we’ll tell ourselves. This world will possess none of the negative things we left behind on earth. How will we overcome our human nature? Will we have rid ourselves of our greed, our need for revenge, our taste for violence? How will we end bigotry and xenophobia? How will we rid ourselves of the worst parts of our nature?

It seems that the only way we can make it to this bright future is that we evolve. Traveling outside our solar system will require collaboration on a global scale. We will have to overcome many obstacles that currently plague humanity. Until we conquer these negative aspects, we are grounded. Our best chance is to work together. Human development has a long way to go. It might be thousands of years before we are capable of achieving this.

In the meantime, we’re stuck with each other. We will see changes in our world that would stupefy our ancestors, and our grandchildren will come to accept things that would leave us speechless. Our world will change dramatically in that time, a thousand generations from now. Languages will shift (modern English is less than 1000 years old), attitudes will change, cultural norms will be unrecognizable. A thousand generations ago, humans had just migrated to North America. The Great Pyramid would not be built for millennia. So much can change in that time. Everything will change.

Really, the thing I am concerned about is not whether we blow ourselves up. I am more concerned about a stray asteroid or a mutated virus. If we can survive these things, I’m sure we can travel to the stars. When we get there, I’m not sure we will still be human.

Now You See Me

I like my privacy. I do have a Facebook presence, and I use my real name there, but lately, I have drawn back from that existence in the name of privacy. It all started a few months ago when someone I work with was perusing Facebook (while at work), and I asked him to look me up. He and I have no connection outside work, so I was confident what he was going to see was what any stranger would also be able to pull up on me. So there I was, toothy grin of a man who recently had braces removed in his forties.

Surprisingly, my public profile was oddly, well, public. I had things out there that I wasn’t comfortable with strangers knowing about. Furthermore, if I went looking for a job, prospective employers can and do look at our social media posts to collect as much information about us as they can before spending precious time in interviews. I was fully aware of this prior to my experiment, but I wasn’t prepared to realize how politically vocal I was in 2012.

That was the year of the general election, where Mitt Romney was challenging Barack Obama for the White House. Things got really heated, and the political landscape was being marred by a deepening divide between two opposing camps. Misinformation was the weapon of choice, and it separated families and friends. In many cases, healing has yet to commence, some 6 years later.

For my part, I decided to rid my Facebook feed of all political detritus. I began purging my profile and news feed, but it took a long time to clean it to my satisfaction. Now, my Facebook presence to an outsider will appear spartan and unadorned, all in the name of privacy and security.

facebook

When I think about keeping my information safe, I imagine it being locked away in a fireproof lockbox I keep in my house; my insurance policies, passport, and other difficult-to-replace documents and items I dare not lose. On the contrary, our information is quite public. Anyone can look you up, based on your license plate number or facial recognition, or any other data you and I might not be able to conceal from strangers. On the other hand, the Maryland newspaper shooting investigation was partially aided by facial recognition software which, though controversial, was very helpful in identifying the suspect, who was not cooperating with police.

So where is the balance between privacy and security? When I flew recently from Las Vegas to DFW, I was subjected to an uncomfortable array of security measures; I performed the requisite shedding of hat, shoes, belt – anything that might pose a threat, I suppose. Then I removed all items from my pockets and allowed myself to be bathed in radiation while a giant all-seeing robot looked into my soul. Now the TSA knows one of my testicles is larger than the other. I hope it was good for them, too.

These things I have come to expect, actually with some acceptance because I know that there are people who do want to harm innocent people. In order to assure the public of a sense of security, we put ourselves through this, even though there have been some pretty alarming mistakes. Still, I think we’re safer than we were before 9/11.

We allow authorities to have a look into our private lives. We accept it as citizens, but we rarely speak up when the gradual intrusion becomes too much, probably because by the time we notice it, it’s too late, like that proverbial frog in the boiling bath.

Do yourself a favor from time to time, and take a look at what the public can see of your social media presence. In Facebook, from your own profile page, click on the ellipsis next to the “Activity Log” button. Select “View As…” to see what strangers can see. Over the last few months I have been systematically removing old posts. It might be a bit obsessive, but I feel a little safer knowing some things are not out there for anyone to see. Do I worry about slipping into the oblivion of anonymity? Perhaps, but not enough for me to blast my opinions recklessly around the internet. I just hope no one mistakes my desire for privacy for a defiant stance against authority.

Envelope or envelope?

Texture: Envelope - Green
Flickr Photo by: Jeric Santiago

I sometimes listen to a show called A Way With Words, which I usually catch on Sunday afternoon. Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett host the hour-long program, covering topics like regional sayings, idiomatic expressions, word origins, and so on. They invite listeners to call in with their stories or questions about language. I’ve never gotten a response, but I wonder about word pronunciation.

For instance, I hear some people pronounce envelope like ahn-ve-lope, while others pronounce is with a short ‘e’ sound at the beginning (ˈen-və-ˌlōp). It’s the same with enclave. I never hear anyone pronounce entourage with a short ‘e’. I wonder why we don’t pronounce courage the same way. Either, neither, be-lie-ver?

I asked once whether Caribbean should be pronounced with stress on the ‘i’ or on the ‘e’. (kə-ˈri-bē-ən vs. ker-ə-ˈbē-ən). The person simply answered, “it depends on whether or not you’ve been there.” (Not helpful, even if it was just a sarcastic jab.)

I’m pretty annoyed with malapropisms. That’s when a person uses one word in place of another similar word, or maybe not so similar. For example, well, here. People say things like “for all intensive purposes” and “he told me pacifically.” I’ve heard someone use the word “jubilee” when talking about jambalaya. One surprising one to me was that apparently “another think coming” is correct. I’ve heard people say (evidently incorrectly), “she has another thing coming”. I believe most people were unaware of this.

English is hard for many reasons, but mostly because it has been adulterated over the centuries. Modern English does not resemble its ancient roots any more than Icelandic resembles Japanese. Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration. Every language has its problems. French is described as having a few rules and the rest is idioms. I’m reminded of a Star Trek TNG (The Next Generation) episode, Darmok. Here, Captain Picard is stranded on a planet with an alien adversary whose language is incomprehensible to anyone in Star Fleet. Picard and the other captain finally do work out their communication obstacles, but at great cost. It’s one of my favorite episodes, and I recommend watching it. I believe Netflix is still streaming the show.

It’s time for bed now. I tend to dream in English, but sometimes also in Spanish. Perhaps that’s why I find all this so interesting. Language is entirely too complex a subject for me to tackle in this publication. I’m looking forward to hearing back from “A Way with Words” soon. By then I’ll probably have 100 more questions.

 

Vikings in Oklahoma?

We recently went camping in Oklahoma in the Ouachita National Forest near the town of Heavener (pronounced “heave-ner”). The town has a nice little diner called the Southern Belle, an old passenger rail car converted into a cozy eatery. I had the S.B.C. (Southern Belle Chicken) sandwich. For dessert, we shared a slice of cherry cream pie. While we2018 04 23_5043 enjoyed our food, we struck up a conversation with a few of the locals who told us about the “Heavener Rune Stone”, but they were hesitant to say much more. We were intrigued, so we went in search of this mysterious thing from the past. We drove for what seemed to be much farther than “just up the road”. Eventually, we saw signs for the “Rune stone” with unclear directions about which way to turn. Finally, there is was, a former Oklahoma State Park, now the park is privately run. There was no entrance fee, but the gift shop is a pleasant place to spend some money. One of the volunteers (apparently, they don’t make enough money to pay for staff) was pretty enthusiastic about the stone, reportedly carved in the 7th or 8th century by Viking explorers to North America. While many scholars have come to acc

ept the notion that Vikings visited as far west as modern day Canada (Newfoundland), it seems very unlikely they would have ventured to the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence River, then somehow past Niagara Falls, eventually making it to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, connecting to the Arkansas River, and into Oklahoma. Possibility and probability are two very different things. I suppose it’s possible that Native Americans traveling up and down the Mississippi could have come into contact with these Norse explorers. It is also possible that these or similar Native Americans could have copied Norse runes and etched them onto the giant monolith. Regardless, we were there, gawking at the enormous stone, with the faint runic message of “glome”. It is a matter of intense debate, not just the meaning of the supposed runes, but also the probability of Vikings ever having visited Oklahoma. The site was cool, with a “waterfall” and a treacherously slippery stone path. There is a handrail on some of the steps (but not all). And there is a precipitous overlook. The gift shop/museum store sells souvenirs and books, especially regarding all the evidence of the Viking presence here.

We recently went camping in Oklahoma in the Ouachita National Forest near the town of Heavener (pronounced “heave-ner”). The town has a nice little diner called the Southern Belle, an old passenger rail car converted into a cozy eatery. I had the S.B.C. (Southern Belle Chicken) sandwich. For dessert, we shared a slice of cherry cream pie. While we enjoyed our food, we struck up a conversation with a few of the locals who told us about the “Heavener Rune Stone”, but they were hesitant to say much more. We were intrigued, so we went in search of this mysterious thing from the past. We drove for what seemed to be much farther than “just up the road”. Eventually, we saw signs for the “Rune stone” with unclear directions about which way to turn. Finally, there is was, a former Oklahoma State Park, now the park is privately run. There was no entrance fee, but the gift shop is a pleasant place to spend some money. One of the volunteers (apparently, they don’t make enough money to pay for staff) was viking4 pretty enthusiastic about the stone, reportedly carved in the 7th or 8th century by Viking explorers to North America. While many scholars have come to accept the notion that Vikings visited as far west as modern day Canada (Newfoundland), it seems very unlikely they would have ventured to the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence River, then somehow past Niagara Falls, eventually making it to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, connecting to the Arkansas River, and into Oklahoma. Possibility and probability are two very different things. I suppose it’s possible that Native Americans traveling up and down the Mississippi could have come into contact with these Norse explorers. It is also possible that these or similar Native Americans could have copied Norse runes and etched them onto the giant monolith. Regardless, we were there, gawking at the enormous stone, with the faint runic message of “glome”. It is a matter of intense debate, not just the meaning of the supposed runes, but also the probability of Vikings ever having visited Oklahoma.

The site was cool, with a “waterfall” and a treacherously slippery stone path. There is a handrail on some of the steps (but not all). And there is a precipitous overlook. The gift shop/museum store sells souvenirs and books, especially regarding all the evidence of the Viking presence here.

Whether you believe any of it or not, it’s a beautiful site. They even have led-lighted viking helmets. Say hi to the staff at the Southern Belle, and order the cherry cream pie. You will have a good time. You just have to kind of roll with it.