Archive for March 2010

Another Tilt-Shift Mini: Dartmouth IM Hockey

March 31, 2010

click image to view a larger version; I think the "mini-ness" is much clearer in the larger view.

POTW #11: Miniature Beth Flying a Kite

March 31, 2010

We have a pretty involved model railroad setup in our basement…

Not all home made sweaters are itchy: Mo Rocca learns to Knit

March 30, 2010

Thanks to Suze for posting this:

I completely remember when Mo Rocca said that all home made sweaters were itchy, and I thought, “How many homemade sweaters does he have? My favorite part was the discussion about whether there are still lollipops at the bank. I can confirm that they are indeed still there. I got a cream-soda dumdum when making a deposit just a coulple weeks ago.

If you got lollipops at the bank when you were a kid, what was your favorite flavor? My favorite flavors were rootbeer and cream soda, but I also liked the blue kind because they turned my tongue blue.

My very own bowling shoes!

March 29, 2010

Beth and I have been bowling with friends once a week for about five or six weeks now. I’ve been saying since maybe the second week that we should really buy our own bowling shoes.  I figured it should only take a few months for the shoes to start saving us money, and even if we started bowling less frequently, my feet are no longer growing, and I’ll definitely bowl enough to justify the investment over the rest of my life (unless I get hit by a car or a stray airborne bowling ball or something like that).

Tonight we went a little early and I stopped into the pro shop at the Dover Bowl. They were really nice and helpful in there. Many bowling shoes are pretty inexpensive. Beth found a pair of last year’s model that were only $25. Sadly, they were just a little to big. But I found the above specimens, which were $40. These were the second pair I tried on. The first pair were the same price and just about equally comfortable, but looked like retirement sneakers or scientist shoes.  Now, now, I know that I am a scientist. But I do not wear scientist shoes, and I never will. I shudder at the thought.

At $3/week for shoe rental, it’ll only take 13 more bowling sessions (or three months) for these bad boys to pay for themselves and start saving us money. Additionally, they are way more comfortable, and glide considerably better than the rental shoes. Now I’ll just have to start bowling well enough to be “that guy” who has his own bowling shoes.

Rugelach רוגעלך

March 27, 2010

black cherry walnut rugelach

The name of these cookies basically means “little twists” in Yiddish. I cannot express how delicious I think they are. I try to only bake them when I can share them with many other people because otherwise I will eat ALL OF THEM. They are very easy to make. The best recipes I’ve found are by Eileen Goltz and can be found on the Orthodox Union website, here. Try them! The cream cheese dough puffs perfectly, always has the perfect flakiness, and is just too delicious.

My favorite fillings are apricot-walnut, cherry-walnut, and black currant. I use the recipe for the apricot ones, and just substitute different kinds of jam—normally Polaner All Fruit, which I like because it’s sweetened with only fruit juice, no evil HFCS. I’ve tried using lekvar (prune butter) as a filling; I like it in hamentaschen, but not as much in these. I’d really like to try making them with nutella filling one of these days. I’ll post those if they turn out well.

The recipes explain the whole method, but I’d emphasize that you want the layer of jam or preserves to be really thin—as thin as you can make it. Otherwise it will ooze out all over your baking sheet and burn, which is a horrible mess to clean up. Baking them on a silicon mat also helps protect against any little bit of oozed jam getting stuck to the baking sheet:

Mom’s (Christmas) Socks Finished!

March 27, 2010

Okay, so, I know you’re thinking, “Christmas!? It’s past St. Patrick’s Day already, Brian!” But fear not, these socks have been done for weeks and the pictures were just stuck on an SD card while I was SD-card-readerless. But here they are:

Tech specs: The pattern is Sugar Maple from the book, 2-at-Once Socks by Melissa Morgan-Oakes. All the socks in the book are top down patterns and use the magic loop method of knitting two socks simultaneously on one long (~40″) circular needle. The instructions are pretty clear. I knit the socks in  Berroco-Ultra-Alpaca-fine in the Redwood mix colorway on a US1 (2.5mm) needle. They required considerably less than one 400 meter skein.

Lessons I learned while knitting these:

  1. The first week of December is too late for me to begin knitting Christmas-gift socks on size 1 needles.
  2. Don’t try grafting toes for the first time when you are in a moving car and taking to your wife (or anyone else). Graft in a well lit room by yourself with a glass of wine or a cup of tea (or both; I like both).
  3. It’s easy to make sock blockers from coat hangers.
  4. I like two-at-a-time sock knitting. This method prevents “second sock syndrome” wherein the knitter loses interest after finishing the first sock. (I’ve knit several pairs of one-at-a-time socks and always finished my second socks, but I do get bored when I’m a few inches into the second sock.)
  5. I prefer toe up socks over top down socks.
  6. I’m not very good at avoiding tangles when I’m knitting from both ends of a ball.

    Rhianna likes the socks (and laundry):

    Hopefully Mom will like them, too (as a very late Christmas present; sorry, Mom).

    Sun Rips Tail Off Comet

    March 24, 2010

    The video below shows the process that I study (magnetic reconnection) in the context of solar plasma. The narration is a bit cheesy, but I think the observation (0:48-1:08 in the video) is pretty impressive.

    Unrelated, catching that on camera was probably about as likely as getting the “Battle at Kruger” on camera (a battle between a pride of lions, a herd of buffalo, and 2 crocodiles):

    What I do: Plasma Physics

    March 22, 2010

    I’ve been meaning for a while to write about what I do. For work, I mean. Usually I am happy blogging only about my hobbies, but I went to a “winter school” in January, a week long workshop in Los Angeles, and I was thinking to myself, “you know, this stuff actually is pretty cool. I should tell people about it.” Additionally, I just fixed the USB ports on my computer, so I can get photos off my camera again. Hurray; an end to my blogging hiatus! So here it goes:

    I study plasma physics. Usually if I say this to non-physicists, they ask me, “you mean like in blood?” No, that’s not what I study. This is what I study:

    The Aurora Borealis, an example of plasma. photo credit: Nick Russill (link at end of post)

    So, what is plasma?

    The plasma I study, (which actually is named after the blood stuff), is ionized gas. Let me explain a little about what that means. Think about an ice cube. If you heat up the ice cube, it melts, changing from solid to liquid. If you heat up that liquid water it boils, becoming steam: a gas.

    Now as you continue to heat that gas, all those H2O molecules flying around in the steam move faster and faster. These molecules tend to crash into each other as they fly around. Eventually, at a high enough temperature, they crash violently enough that they break apart. They break into ions—charged particles. Even some of the electrons that normally orbit around the atomic nuclei are stripped away. These electrons are then freely flying around in the gas just like the heavier ions; they just weigh a lot less.

    Neglecting a few technical details, this gas of charged particles is a plasma. (Those technical details explain why a candle flame or a camp fire is not plasma even though it is an ionized gas).  Because of the little thought journey we just took from ice cube to plasma, people sometimes call plasma “the fourth state of matter” (1: solid, 2: liquid, 3: gas, 4: plasma). In actuality the line between gas and plasma is a little blurrier than that between say solid and liquid or liquid and gas, but that detail is unimportant for the purposes of my blogging. Examples of plasmas you may have seen include: the sun, lightning, neon signs, the aurora, and the pixels in plasma TVs.

    One of the remarkable things about plasma is that because the charged particles are roaming around freely, the plasma conducts electricity. Incidentally, this is the same reason that most metals conduct electricity: some of the electrons in a copper wire or an iron slab are freely roaming around, not tied to any particular atomic nucleus.

    Why should we care?

    Why do we care about this stuff? Well, almost everything we can see in the universe is plasma: stars, most of the space between stars, nebulae, supernovae and their remnants. All these things live out their lives in the plasma state. So from a fundamental point of view, if we wish to understand the universe, then we need to understand plasma.

    Plasma glowing inside the Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak (MAST), an experimental fusion reactor in Culham, Oxfordshire, England. Photo credit: Andrew Back (link at end of post).

    More practically, my interest in plasma involves two principal applications. The first is the production of energy by nuclear fusion (above). The second is the prediction and understanding of violent magnetic explosions that occur on the sun (below), and sometimes lead to magnetic storms and auroral activity on earth. I’ll explain each of these in more detail in my next two posts.

    x-ray image of solar coronal loops (magnetic field structures on the sun) taken by NASA’s TRACE satellite

    photo credits:

    aurora image:  Nick Russill

    MAST spheromak image: Andrew Back

    EXFOLIATE!! Dalek Washcloth

    March 10, 2010

    This one’s for Scott.

    Apologies for the primitive photo. My sd card reader is broken; so I had to resort to using my built in iSight camera.

    There’s knitting geekery, then there’s geekery that expresses itself through knitting. This object represents an instance of the latter. Daleks (in case you non-geeks don’t know what you’re looking at here) are perhaps the most famous evil alien race from the British SciFi TV series Dr. Who:

    The pattern (which is not my design) is available here, and if you know how to knit, it can probably be completed in the space of two to three Dr. Who episodes. This was probably the only project that could persuade me into knitting anything with bobbles.

    Cigar Box Guitar

    March 3, 2010

    I’ve decided I want to build me a cigar box guitar. I don’t remember where I first saw one of these; but I think there was a man playing a cigar box tenor guitar on stage with Joan Baez at a concert Beth and I went to two years ago. Basically, it’s an ersatz guitar made from a cigar box. Some of them sound pretty good. I especially like the sound of resophonic models like this one:

    I’ve learned from a bit of internet research that cigar box guitars have become pretty popular of late, but they have a fairly long history. (According to wikipedia, cigars have only come in boxes since the 1840s, having been shipped in barrels before that!) There is an etching that shows a Union soldier playing a cigar box fiddle in the 1860s (shown below). Legend has it that the blues guitarist, Blind Willie Johnson built himself a cigar box guitar when he was five (in 1902).

    Etching by French Artist Edwin Forbes (1839-1895), showing a Union soldier playing a cigar box fiddle in camp.

    A couple weeks ago I stopped in Dave’s Cigar Shop, just down the street from our apartment. I was not surprised to find that Dave had quite a selection of nice, empty cedar cigar boxes in the corner. He was offering them for $3.50. I chose this handsome black one:
    Dave makes key chests out of some of his old cigar boxes, which he sells in the store. He mounts a strip of brass hooks inside, so you can keep your keys organized. He said some girls buy cigar boxes and make purses out of them, and he has some old ladies that come in and buy them to make jewelry boxes. With all these cigar box crafts going on, I was surprised to find that he’d never heard of a cigar box guitar (CBG).

    For my first attempt at building one of these, I’ve decide to do a four string model (probably to be strung like a tenor guitar, or the top 4 strings of a 5 string banjo in G tuning), and to follow the basic design by Ivan L. Sucharski, which is shown in the free plans at, and can also be found at

    I have cut out a recess in the poplar 1×2 that I’m using as a neck, and a rectangular hole in the box itself to make a half lap joint between the neck and body:

    It may take me a while to get some fretting wire and geared tuning machines. But I will do another post with video or audio when the CBG is finished.

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