Thursday, August 09, 2012

2nd Use Of Water

This week's Change the World Wednesday's Challenge:
This week conserve water by not wasting it. Consider every drop which typically gets poured down the drain and find creative uses for it. Examine your water use and see where, and how, you can make improvements.
Water is something that can often be used a 2nd time before discarding. My favorite 2nd use of water involves coffee. We love our French Press! but getting the grounds out of the bottom is a pain, unless you fill the pot half-full of water and give it a good stir. Now you can just pour the grounds out easily -- but WAIT! DON'T POUR THEM DOWN THE DRAIN! Inside, pour them on the garden. Plants LOVE coffee grounds (and slugs hate them!) I have been feeding our Passion Vine and tomatoes coffee grounds all summer, and they are taking off like rockets!

We also have a limited amount of reuse of rainwater, via a very nice rainbarrel that my father-in-law gave us when we bought this house. I was planning on building a stand and hooking it up to a downspout, but waited too long; by the time I was ready to go, it was full of water ... and VERY HEAVY. I resolved to put that project off until the barrel was empty.
Coffee-Poured Tomatoes
Reuse Rinse Water!
Now that the barrel has been emptied into the garden, I'm delaying mounting the barrel because a bigger opportunity has come along. Since we are "fortuante" enough to live in an area that has a runoff problem, the city is encouraging us to install cisterns and a rain garden. The general idea is taht it's cheaper for the city to encourage 1,000 homeowners to install 500 gallons of cistern, than to build a 500,000 gallon retention pond somewhere ... for one thing, each homeowner donates the land and also gives the water in the cistern a 2nd use before it goes away. Also each solution can be specialized to the particular need of the neighborhood, instead of some larger, less agile solution. We're in the middle of planning, but this sort of thing is a wonderful public-private partnership and I hope to be posting more about our progress soon.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

This Is Spinal Tap: For Science!

If I can't be a Mad Scientist, I can at least be a Crazy Minion!
For nearly a year, I'm been participating in a medical study "Effects of Simvastatin on CSF AD Biomarkers in Cognitively Normal Subjects". In college, I simply lacked the study discipline to do well enough in the sciences to be a scientist, but I like science (...and of course we all have an interest in making medicine work better.) So if I can't be a famous researcher, I can at least be a volunteer for studies ... and other brick in the Wall Of Science!
No Problem! The Needle Goes Right Her!
You can read about the study at the link above, but basically, it's trying to better understand "pre-Alzheimer's" with the hope of ultimately slowing the progress of the disease. Who wouldn't want to help with that!
Most of the study consists of taking a pill every night and logging that I took it (...otherwise, it's just too easy to forget.) The pill is either placebo or Simvastatin, a fairly well understood drug that alters blood cholesterol in fairly predictable ways. Periodically I go in for some blood draws and memory tests; also they occasionally call Kris to ask her about my memory and mood. It's all very sciency.
The difficult part of the study is the two lumbar punctures (a.k.a. Spinal Taps), one at the start and one near the end of the study. There's some proteins in the spinal fluid that they need to measure. All my life I've heard of Spinal Taps as being one of the ultimate measurements of pain, so I was not very enthused about this, but they explained to me that their technique and technology had gotten a lot better. While there is always the risk of something going wrong (...and they carefully went down the long list ...) usually it would be merely a bit painful and then uncomfortable for a day or two.
And in fact, that's just what it was. The needles are long but very, very thing. Actually, there are two hollow needles, one inside the other. The needle that draws the fluid is extra narrow, and its opening is on the side, sort of like the needle you use to inflate a ball. This makes sense, the pointy part pushes the flesh apart and you don't want to jam up the opening. This extra thin need starts out inside a wider needle that gets the process started; it's also easier to see in the picture.
Yesterday (Tuesday) I had the 2nd puncture of the study; while it was annoying, it wasn't really worse than getting stung by a bee. There was an elaborate and careful procedure of explaining things and scrubbing. Really the most difficult part was remembering not to drink coffee beforehand; this is Seattle, and it seemed somehow wrong. I made up for it later!
I don't plan on doing this again but if I were, I would shave my lower back first. There's a lot of procedure involving attaching paper towels (or something like them but more sciency) around the work area, and when the tape came off I felt that - they numb the LP area but not the taped area - what's the sense of that!
The doctor was very cooperative about taking pictures afterwards. I'm afraid it's not my best angle, and the sunburn from Sunday made me a real redneck, but what the heck. It's science!
By the way, if this study just creeps you out, don't worry - there are many many less invasive studies you can get involved with. I've experimented with virtual reality goggles, color sensing, and plenty of other things that didn't involve needles. I find these studies by googling "University of Washington Healthy Volunteer"; if you're outside the Seattle area, try a similar search with your favorite university. You can meet a lot of interesting people working on neat stuff!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

4freeCLE August 5, 2012

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August 5, 2012
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Monday, August 06, 2012

Cheese It!

Make Cheese?
Yes, You Can!
It turns out that making cheese in your kitchen is REALLY EASY!
Now, it's possible to get very complicated and messy, and it's also possible for it all to go wrong. But that said, we stumbled into cheesemaking by chance and could not be happier!
The other week we stopped by a beermaking supply store just to look around, and in the corner was a cheesemaking kit: basically a recipe book, thermometer, package of rennet pills and packet of citric acid pills. Maybe there was some other stuff, but that's what counted.
Well, we sat on that for a while until we decided, heck, let's try it. We got a gallon of milk, taking care to ensure it was not "Ultra-Pasteurized" - according to the book, that would keep it from turning into cheese.
Kris followed the directions, which were basically to heat the milk up to around 90 farenheit, add the rennet, stir, after a while change the heat, stir, as it coalgulated chop it up, add the citric acid, stir and then dry out.
We ended up with a whole lot of whey, and more than a pound of the best mozzarela you've ever had, and this was on our first time!
We used the whey to make pizza dough - the dough was tangy and tasty!
The 2nd time we made cheese it didn't curdle all the way; we used cheaper milk and maybe it was ultra-pastreurized even though the label didn't say so. However, the result was something very much like ricotta; it was tasty on tomatoes we cooked on the grill, so it's hard to say that it was a failure; it was just a different kind of success.
We're looking forward to more cheese fun. I'm not sure whether the result is a big cost savings, since we have to buy milk, but it's a lot of fun and we are assured of very good quality. We plan to try adding herbs we grow in our garden to some locally-sourced, organic milk and see if we can taste the difference. One thing is for sure - you won't get fresher cheese anywhere. Try it!