Vanilla Milkshakes

I've been drinking a lot of vanilla milkshakes recently. So we're clear, I'm from New England and I'm not talking about frappes. My vanilla milkshake recipe is very simple, very quick to make and very good:

  • glass cold milk
  • couple or few teaspoons sugar
  • tablespoon or so of vanilla extract

Stir ingredients with a spoon. Drink.

One central element of the recipe is that precision is not important; sometimes I completely leave out the sugar. Another thing worth noting is that while real vanilla extract is fairly expensive, artificial vanilla is really cheap, especially if you get it somewhere like CostCo. Do not dismay at using artificial components, vanillin is incredibly easy to synthesize with no loss of flavor. I find it to be an incredibly tasty beverage, in addition to being good for you (it is milk) and easy to make.


What makes something alive?

I realized, this morning, that I objectify yeast. Sure I objectify meat, vegetables, trees and, heck, even some people but, even when I'm doing so, I don't lose sight of the fact that these things are or were living beings. Yeast, however, I treat a great deal more like a chemical or tiny machine. Yeast is something that I add to wort to make beer; sure I need to temperature control it and keep things clean but that's the case with lots of wet chemistry. If I didn't know better, I might think of yeast as little more than a catalyst for converting sugar to ethanol and carbon dioxide; there are nuances and yeast imparts other processing to the wort but those are minor details. Continued thinking, combined with various old thoughts of mine and some of my personal philosophies led me to question the nature of life.

If I could replace yeast with a single chemical or mixture of a few chemicals that were capable of converting wort to beer, would that mixture be alive? By most definitions, probably not, but what then makes yeast alive? Is it perhaps that yeast separates its innards from the outer world? What if I made membrane bubbles filled with wort-to-beer chemicals that let reactants in and products out, would that be alive? Perhaps it's self-replication that makes yeast alive? What if I put nano-machines in the membrane bubble that were capable of duplicating themselves and the chemicals in the bubble as well as increasing the bubble size and splitting it in half? Now we've probably stepped well past the gray area and have either made something that is either alive or nearly impossible to distinguish from something alive.

What if we extend our self-replicating ethanol bubble notion? Would a self-replicating mining robot be alive? Are computer worms alive? Is a lathe that can be used to make more lathes like a virus in being almost alive, save for its need of host (lathe operator)? If I write a piece of software that simulates yeast at an atomic level, is that piece of software alive?

Of course, already following pathetic and weakly emergent hylopathism, I'm of the opinion that every example I've given, from enzyme to yeast, from lathe to myself, is alive. My hylopathic view of aliveness, however, is quite at home coexisting with conceptions of other people's definitions of aliveness in my head. I find that allowing contradictory and, possibly, mutually exclusive memes to live side by side in my head makes for some very interesting philosophizing and internal dialogs.

I'm wondering though, Internet, where do you draw your lines? What makes something alive?

Coffee: Experiments in Constitution

This morning, I purchased a cup of coffee, a Café au lait to be specific. What makes buying a cup of coffee noteworthy is that it's the first cup of coffee that I have purchased, or even consumed for that matter, in about 3 years. I don't normally drink coffee for reasons that date back to my Junior year of high school.

I found high school exceedingly easy and, as a result, I was almost constantly bored. In spite of the fact that I usually did my homework during other classes so as to avoid doing it at home, I rarely slept sufficiently--a habit that I've carried with me since. The not sleeping meant I drank coffee in the mornings, rather a decent amount. The boredom, and who I am, led to experiments of all sorts. Eventually, the logical happened, I combined my coffee with my experimenting. I usually made coffee with our Moka Express--a phenomenal device for making good coffee by the way--so that served as the platform for my experimentation. Mokas produce rather tasty and very potent coffee. My first experiment involved the production of three Mokas worth of coffee, which were then boiled down to the volume of a single mug; the boiling down concentrated the caffeine but absolutely ruined the flavor. Experiment one was a resounding success; I was alert, wired and full of energy all day, though I did crash at the end of the day and become quite exhausted. At the time, I had a bit of a penchant for consuming cake frosting (if only I still had my teenage metabolism) and I suspect the container I ate that day helped maintain blood-sugar levels against the energy draining effects of caffeine. Obviously, my second experiment, which occurred a number of weeks later, involved the same process and four Mokas; again there was cake frosting and it was quite a success, though I did suffer some jitters and stomach discomfort. Worth noting, I estimate a caffeine content of approximately 200mg per Moka, with acute overdose levels starting somewhere around the 300mg range, modulo tolerance; hospitalization can be necessary for as little as 2000mg. Not willing to be deterred, or perhaps just being a complete idiot, later on came experiment three: five Mokas boiled down to one cup. Experiment three was a complete failure, perhaps there was too much caffeine, perhaps it was a lack of cake frosting; whatever the reason, I was done in. I couldn't focus; my hands shook to a large degree; I was nauseated to the point of vomiting; it took a substantial portion of my willpower to hide my situation from my teachers and peers, eventually making it through the day, collapsing in bed and sleeping for an excessive period of time.

Aside from the negative effects immediately following experiment three, I developed a strong psychosomatic allergy to the flavor of coffee, as indicated by an inability to stomach decaffeinated coffee, coffee ice cream or anything with a hint of coffee flavor while still being able to consume large quantities of caffeinated soda. Every so often, I have tried to consume something coffee related, usually trying for very minimally coffee options, and I have slowly found myself more capable of stomaching them. Most recently, I think that I had a bottled Starbucks frappachino drink thing and was only somewhat nauseated by the experience.

Today, however, I would say that I have only been minimally nauseated; to such a minimal extent, I would say, that I may see about bringing coffee back into my life. My psychosomatic coffee intolerance is a weakness of constitution that I would really like to kick. Further testing is clearly necessary but I am cautiously optimistic.

D.C. vs Marvel and the movies

For rather a long time, I've been a stalwart Marvel comics fan but upon seeing the Watchmen movie trailer, I find myself re-evaluating my stance a little. I've always liked the X-Men; Thanos, Galactus and Magneto are awesome villains; Superman is super lame; and there are so many other reasons to love Marvel, like all the cartoons. However, all that neglects some of the great things D.C. has been involved in, for instance, pretty much everything Batman except the movies between Batman Returns and Batman Begins. The Batman books are gold, the Batman cartoons have all been gold, Jack Nicholson's Joker was gold, Batman Begins was gold and I am so psyched about The Dark Knight that it's not even funny. On top of that, there's a bunch of other things D.C. has done right, including Watchmen and Transmetropolitan, probably the two greatest graphic novels of all time.

Marvel, however has been putting out movies best classified as bad followed by worse, with the notable exception of Iron Man, which was pretty ok. Why then does Marvel deserve my praise? Their comics are still pretty decent but they certainly aren't Dark Horse, though really, nobody else is. Are the X-Men really that great or is it that they were really cool when I was a kid and I haven't come to realize how simple they really are?

You know, I think I'm switching my allegiances. As of now, I officially like D.C. more than Marvel, though I still prefer Image, Dark Horse and a few indie publishers more. Seriously though, The Dark Knight looks awesome as all get up and so does Watchmen.

Ok, I'm going to watch the Watchmen trailer one more time and then I'll be done geeking out.


Yesterday, I went and picked up my new puppy. My puppy is a purebred Saint Bernard with strong champion ancestry from Conifer Creek Farm in Rough and Ready, CA.

After a great deal of consideration, I have decided to name my puppy Baldr, after the Norse God commonly associated with light and goodness. I had previously been considering Heimdallr and Odin but Heimdallr sounded too cumbersome and the breeder, a very friendly man by the name of David McKague, related to me the story of a Saint Bernard named Odin who had been nothing but trouble. As much as I like to be contrarian and see Baldr as a bit like the Jesus of the Norse, it really is a good name. Baldr was often called Baldr the Good for a reason and I think that it's a very respectable and good sounding name for a dog.

I will post pictures as soon as soon as I get an xD card for the camera a friend gave me or am able to get someone else to take some pictures for me.

R.I.P. Browder

I am very saddened to report that my family dog, Browder, had to be put down. Browder was a yellow Labrador and had reached the ripe age of 13. Browder developed cancer in his abdomen about a year ago, which he recovered from after surgery. A month or so ago, the cancer came back and it was, once again, removed, though it was more invasive this time around. Sadly, it was not fully removed and, about a week ago, it started to make a really strong push forward. The cancer rather thoroughly overwhelmed poor Browder and he had to be put down yesterday.

When I last saw Browder, in early May, he had just had his most recent surgery and he seemed quite a bit more lively than I'd seen him be in years. It is my belief that, after the last surgery, he knew that he was on the way out and figured that he might as well live things up a bit with the time he had left. I'm so glad that I managed to get back east and see him one last time.

I am really going to miss that lazy old layabout. I remember so many times with him; it's hard to accept that he isn't anymore. I remember when he was young and would bring us things he found; he was an excellent retriever in spite of us never teaching him how. He once came home with a live baby owl gingerly held in his mouth; he caused the owl no physical harm, though I'm certain the shock ruined the poor little bird; he brought it in, placed it on the floor and looked at us for approval at the trophy he'd brought us. I remember when my brother, Joseph, was a toddler and he'd climb all over poor Browder, tormenting him as only a toddler can torment a dog; Browder would just lie there, gentle as could be putting up with it all. I remember visiting Tim Jessup place land in Norfolk, CT, taking a Sunfish out on the lake and sailing while Browder chased me around trying desperately to keep up; he wasn't a big fan of saltwater but he was a fantastic swimmer. Sure he'd steal food sometimes, sure his hair was everywhere, but man was he a good dog.

I can't write any more, it's too sad. I'm going to go cry myself to sleep.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not that bad. With the crap that George Lucas has been putting out recently, I'm surprised the new Indiana Jones movie was not worse. The increased use of special effects and CG definitely hurt the movie but not as much as that Gungan idiot hurt Star Wars. Ultimately, the goal and ending of the movie were pretty poor but the early and middle parts of the movie were plenty decent as far as Indiana Jones' style is concerned.

Funny that aliens and flying saucers are less reasonable than the hand of God but I think that's just the way my mind says the world of Indiana Jones is supposed to be.

The Fall

Saturday evening, I went out with some friends and saw The Fall, which was, I must say, a gorgeous movie. The movie is quite artistic, pretty and rather fun. It gets a wee bit on the odd side at a number of points and there are a few WTF?! moments but, overall, the film is quite coherent and a very nice way to spend a couple hours. Unfortunately, The Fall, being thoroughly independent, is suffering very poor distribution and showing up in a rather small number of theaters but, in my opinion, it's worth seeking out one of those theaters and seeing it.

On growing mdadm RAID5

There is a right way and there are wrong ways to add drives to a RAID5 array with mdadm. Annoyingly, I chose one of the wrong ways last week when I went to increase the hard drive space in thevoid. Thankfully, my mistake has proven more bothersome and time consuming than harmful.

Starting out last week, thevoid had 4x 500GB drives in an mdadm RAID5 configuration: /dev/hde1, /dev/hdg1, /dev/sda1, /dev/sdb1. This had me sitting on 1.5TB of space with one drive worth of failability, which was proving insufficient. In order to resolve my space issues, I ordered 3x 500GB drives and proceeded to install them when the arrived: /dev/hdb, /dev/hdc, /dev/hdd.

In my haste to have more space, I proceeded to add them to the array and grow it:

mdadm --manage /dev/md1 --add /dev/hdb
mdadm --manage /dev/md1 --add /dev/hdc
mdadm --manage /dev/md1 --add /dev/hdd
mdadm --grow /dev/md1 --raid-devices=7

This process then got to work and took about 3-4 days to complete. I assume the time was on account of most of the drives being IDE drives, many sharing channels and there being an awful lot of space. Once the growing process was complete, I merely needed to resize the ext3 partition on the array:

resize2fs /dev/md1

This then took an hour or so and I was sitting on 3TB of total space. The only part of the process during which my drive was inaccessible was when I had to turn off the computer to physically install my IDE drives.

Everything is perfect now, right? Wrong. Guess who forgot that you should partition drives before using them? That's right, me. I really wanted to put a linux raid autodetect partition on each of the drives before adding them to the array. Not that it really does much harm to add the drives straight to the array but it's poor form and it might pose problems that I am not aware of in the future so, clearly, it's a thing that should be fixed. Thankfully, being RAID5, my array is able to lose drives and still be fine, thus allowing the solution of failing, removing, partitioning and adding each of the new drives back into the array:

mdadm --manage /dev/md1 --fail /dev/hdb
mdadm --manage /dev/md1 --remove /dev/hdb

partion /dev/hdb and then:

mdadm --manage /dev/md1 --add /dev/hdb1

now wait until the array has rebuilt itself:

cat /proc/mdstat

and repeat for the other drives. Overall, it's not hard but it's annoying and it does take about 1/2 to 2/3 of a day per drive to fix. Thankfully, though, now the endeavor is done and my array works correctly with no lost data and minimal down time. Hooray for software RAID and having 3TB in a single place.

Oh, and you don't want to forget to update /etc/mdadm.conf after every step of the process of you could have some potential problems.