Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 15th, 2021

Foolproof guide to making good tempeh: An article in Medium

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I just published an article in Medium on how to make good tempeh, based on the experience I’ve gained over the past couple of years.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2021 at 3:41 pm

“Leaving burnout behind: the pain and pleasure of starting a new career in my 50s”

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Lucy Kellaway has in the Guardian an extract from her book Re-educated: How I Changed My Job, My Home, My Husband and My Hair:

I spent 30 years as a journalist before deciding to become a secondary school teacher. While a complete career change is rare, it is one of the best moves I ever made

I had my first midlife crisis in 2006. It started at 7am on a cold January morning when my mother got out of bed, made herself a cup of tea, had an aneurysm and died.

I was a 46-year-old married newspaper columnist with four children, who appeared to be living a more than satisfactory life. But as the sudden axe of grief fell, I looked at my career, which was going better than I’d ever thought possible, and thought: I don’t want this any more.

Mum had been a brilliant teacher at Camden School for Girls (where I also went in the 1970s), and even though the idea of teaching had always seemed horrible to me (too much work, too little money, no glamour, no recognition, really nothing to recommend it at all) I started to research postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) courses. I was greeted by the smiling faces of 22-year-old trainees and thought: damn, I’ve left it too late. So I banished teaching from my mind and went back to doing what I had already been doing for 20 years: writing sarky columns and interviews for the Financial Times.

My next crisis, the one that brought the whole thing crashing down, happened 10 years later. This time it was my father’s death that started it.

In the raw days after Dad’s funeral I once again found myself Googling PGCE courses and was again greeted by pictures of twentysomething teachers. This time, instead of thinking I was too old, I thought: I don’t care, I’m doing it anyway. A couple of months later, I marched into the FT editor’s office and told him I was leaving to be a maths teacher – and setting up a charity to encourage other people my age to do the same thing.

“You sure about that?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

When I told people what I was planning to do, they all either said I was mad or (which amounted to the same thing) brave. But jacking in journalism to become a teacher so late in life wasn’t brave – it was desperate. Though I didn’t admit it at the time, I was entirely burnt out – I had been at the same place for an interminably unimaginative 32 years – and was showing the classic symptoms. I was cynical about the value of what I did and of journalism as a whole – what was all this crazy chasing of ephemera really for? I also felt the columns I was writing were rubbish. The very thought of writing another one was making me feel so sick I had to find a way out and do something else entirely.

Secondly, there was little financial sacrifice in quitting. Even though my new salary as a trainee would be barely a fifth of my old one, I owned my house and had savings as I had never spent anything like the money I earned. I also had a pension that would start in five years’ time.

It would have been much braver (and much madder) for me to quit at 47 when my children were all at school and required a certain amount of policing, feeding, homework assistance and financial support. Back then, I was still in thrall to the status of what I did (though at the time I would have denied that). The Financial Times was part of my identity – it was the impressive part. I feared that without it people wouldn’t want to know me any more. I wouldn’t be asked to things. There would be no more invitations to the champagne opening evening of the Chelsea flower show. Ten years on, the appeal of status had worn very thin – I knew my close friends would still like me if I was a teacher, and if I wanted to go to the Chelsea flower show that badly I could always buy my own ticket.

In the end, leaving wasn’t hard. There was almost no jeopardy. The only risk was one I had manufactured myself: having set up a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2021 at 2:08 pm

Yesterday Never Existed: Osip Mandelstam

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Sophie Pinkham writes at Poetry Foundation:

Osip Mandelstam once started a poem with the line, “No, I have never been anyone’s contemporary.” He was born in 1891 but inhabited a poetic world in which he had conversations with Dante and sat at the seaside with Ovid, in which he was as much Greek, Roman, and Florentine as he was Russian. Born in Warsaw to a Jewish leather merchant and his music teacher wife, Mandelstam grew up in St. Petersburg, where French governesses taught him about Napoleon and Joan of Arc; as a teenager, he studied in France, Germany, and Italy, where he experienced the first twinges of what he later called “nostalgia for world culture.” His tender, aching preoccupation with the past set him apart in an era obsessed with the future.

Mandelstam’s poetic career was launched under the aegis of Symbolism, a movement that treated the poet as a medium offering access to the distant world of the real, which could be perceived only through the veil of paraphrase. For Symbolists, language was a mere approximation: a means rather than an end. Like other Russian Symbolists, Mandelstam was much influenced by the 19th-century poet Fyodor Tyutchev, who wrote highly ambiguous metaphysical poetry devoid of lyric heroes. (One of Tyutchev’s most famous poems begins, “The mind cannot grasp Russia.”)

Around 1912, Mandelstam renounced Symbolism and joined the short-lived but long-remembered Acmeists. Central members included Anna Akhmatova, who became his lifelong friend, and her husband, Nikolai Gumilev. Acmeism sought to use poetry to bring words to the pinnacle—the acme—of their being, encompassing all the cultural history that language carried with it. From that point on, Mandelstam’s aim was not so much to create something new as to achieve heightened perception of what already existed. In “Tristia,” a poem from 1918 named for the verse epistles Ovid wrote in exile on the Black Sea, Mandelstam proclaims, “All has been seen, all will be seen again, / only the moment of recognition is sweet.”

As Mandelstam pondered eternal return, many of his contemporaries sought to cast off what they saw as the shackles of old language. The artistic experiments of this period were largely iconoclastic—throwing the classics from the ship of modernity, as the Futurists’ 1917 manifesto “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste” put it. Avant-garde writers sought to invent a new kind of language, sometimes quite literally, as in Velimir Khlebnikov and Aleksei Kruchenykh’s transrational language, zaum (sometimes rendered in English as “beyonsense”), which they hoped would achieve a universality that could put an end to all human discord. Neologism thrived. But for Mandelstam, “old” versus “new” was a false dichotomy, and language’s endurance was the source of the power and pleasure of poetry. In his 1921 essay “The Word and Culture,” excerpted in Peter France’s excellent new translation Black Earth (New Directions, 2021), Mandelstam writes

Poetry is a plow, which turns over the earth so that the deep layers of time, the black earth, come to the surface. But there are periods when humanity, not satisfied with the present and nostalgic for the deep layers of time, longs like a plowman for the virgin soil of past ages. Revolution in art leads inevitably to classicism.… You often hear people say: That’s fine, but it belongs to yesterday. But I say: Yesterday has still to be born. It has not yet really existed…. What is true for one poet is true for all. There is no need to set up any schools, no need to invent one’s own poetics.

For Mandelstam, the avant-garde was “calculated suicide out of curiosity.” He likewise rejected the teleological orientation of the Soviet project. The fantasy of conquering time, of arriving in the glorious future ahead of schedule, was central to early Soviet culture—whether in the form of quasi-scientific schemes for human immortality or in “production novels,” such as Valentin Kataev’s Time, Forward! (1932)literary accompaniment to the five-year plans that Stakhanovite workers sought to fulfill in record time. As Mandelstam observed, things actually worked the other way round: “Time wants to consume the state.” He was right, too, about revolution leading to classicism. In the 1930s, just a decade after Mandelstam made his claim, Soviet culture beat its great retreat from the avant-garde and embraced socialist realism, a kind of aspirational Marxist-Leninist classicism.

One of Mandelstam’s most famous poems, which France translates beautifully, opens with this stanza:

The thread of golden honey flowed from the jar
so weighty and slow that our hostess had time to declare:
Here in melancholy Tauris, where fate has brought us,
We are not bored at all—and glanced back over her shoulder.

The readerly jaw may drop at the year of composition: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2021 at 1:57 pm

Self-Medicating Chimps, Pugilistic Shrimp, and Other Remarkable Animals: An Illustrated Guide

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MIT Press Reader has an extract from Emmanuelle Pouydebat’s new book. It’s worth clicking the link for the images. Here’s some of the text:

“Ifeel that there’s nothing more important than to pass on, to my son, the little piece of nothing and everything that I’ve observed — the happiness that comes from watching a dragonfly, spider, frog, lizard, elephant, parrot, mouse, orangutan, or ladybug,” Emmanuelle Pouydebat writes in her new book, “Atlas of Poetic Zoology.” “Each individual creature enriches my own existence boundlessly.”

For Pouydebat, a researcher at the French Museum of Natural History, animals are lyric poets; they discover and shape the world when they sing, dance, explore and reproduce. They are also highly adaptive, having weathered many crises of extinction over millions of years. Her book, a lively and idiosyncratic collection of meditations on 36 extraordinary creatures, invites readers to draw inspiration from their enduring vitality.

In the excerpts featured below, accompanied by striking illustrations by artist Julie Terrazzoni, Pouydebat guides readers through just a fraction of the natural world — one occupied by flightless birds, soaring turtles, self-medicating chimpanzees, pugilistic shrimp, and venomous octopuses.

These great apes are primates, like us. Sure, they’re a little hairier, but they’re hominids. Like us, these creatures are amazing. Like us? It’s a risky comparison. In many respects, chimpanzees are more accomplished. One talent they possess would benefit us, too: they know how to take care of themselves. Since the 1970s, researchers have known that chimpanzees — especially those in Tanzania or Uganda — use medicinal plants. They consume fruits with antimicrobial properties; sometimes they combine them with other substances to reduce the toxicity. Other chimpanzees eat flowers with antibiotic properties or leaves with antiparasitic ones, which act as laxatives or even induce uterine contractions. Chimpanzees also tear off bark and lick the resin to kill internal worms; the compounds, tests in vitro have shown, slow the growth of cancerous cells.

Significantly, practices of self-medication vary between chimpanzee populations. When chimpanzees feel sick, they seek out a particular tree and ingest a few leaves. The bitter leaves contain molecules that are quite effective against plasmodium parasites, which cause malaria. But chimpanzees also consume about ten other kinds of plant to combat these organisms. Thus, in contrast to human beings (who use a small number of substances for warding off malaria), chimpanzees diversify their medical arsenal. What’s more, when making their bed for the night, chimpazees in Uganda do so in areas where there are fewer mosquitos. Do they choose plants based on their potential for repelling pests, or is softness — and resulting comfort — decisive? We’ll see.

For some time now, chimpanzees’ pharmacopoeia has been the object of study. Indeed, research by Jane Goodall in the 1960s even prompted scientists to reexamine traits thought to be exclusively human. In fact, chimpanzees use an array of tools for different purposes: branches for digging out termites, honey, or marrow; sticks and stones for cracking nuts; and sharpened pieces of wood for spearing galagos (bushbabies); they even make “shoes” to protect their feet when climbing thorny trunks. Using these tools can be complex and require training; some mothers actively show their young the right way. Pedagogy, then, is a practice we share with chimpanzees. Another exciting finding: techniques differ from one population to the next (Uganda, Ivory Coast, Guinea, etc.). Many writers on the subject don’t hesitate to speak of “traditions” and “cultures.” This observation raises another set of questions. Do chimpanzees invent? In Tai National Park, Ivory Coast, generations of chimpanzees were known to use branches to break extremely hard nuts (dura laboriosa). One day, a female member of the group, Eureka, employed a stone for the same purpose and continued to do so in the presence of her companions. And then? Other chimpanzees started doing the same. After a few generations, the entire population had switched tools for cracking nuts, from sticks to stones.

Chimpanzees devise tools, but they’re even better at something else: memorization. The same chimpanzees in Ivory Coast have a geometrical understanding of their territory, which spans twenty-five square kilometers; they move from one spot to another in straight lines, more or less. Even with a limited range of vision — thirty meters, at most — they know where to go to find ripe fruit and avoid danger (including rival chimpanzees!). By remembering topographical features of the landscape and picturing abstract space, they can calculate distance and direction, no matter where they are.

And that’s not the only proof of chimpanzees’ cognitive abilities. In a computer-based test of spatial memory, researchers compared young chimpanzees and university students. The experiment involved clicking numbers one by one, in the right order. At an ulterior stage, the task became more complicated: as soon as subjects clicked the first number, a white square blanked out the other ones; the point was still to press the right series, in order to receive a reward. And the results? The chimpanzees pulled it off 80 percent of the time — that is, twice as often as the students. From an early age, these animals demonstrate highly developed visual memory; it’s almost photographic. This is what enables them to memorize where the best fruit is growing and determine the best path to take. Whenever they don’t prefer to break our cameras, instead — or throw all kinds of stuff at us.

Allow me to introduce another evolutionary and adaptive marvel: the parrot that doesn’t fly. The kakapo — which means “night parrot” in Maori — is the heaviest parrot in the world; it can weigh up to 4 kilos and has short wings and feathers that keep it grounded. But birds haven’t always flown. In all likelihood, feathers didn’t develop in order to enable flight so much as to facilitate individual distinctness and communication. In this regard, the kakapo isn’t an anomaly; it’s a living reminder of extinct birds that never flew in the first place.

The kakapo doesn’t fly; it walks. And thanks to its steely claws, it has no difficulty climbing trees. Yet survival proves difficult, despite a lifespan of ninety years and great skill in the art of seduction. What’s this skill? Males make a real impression by “booming.” Picture the kakapo digging a hole in the ground, inflating a sac in its chest, flapping its wings, and bringing forth inimitable screams — plus a mighty, exploding sound to attract the ladies…. It works! The basin Mr. Kakapo has made amplifies the noise. To this end, he has removed any twigs that might get in the way and carefully chosen a resonant location — for instance, a spot between rock walls or tree trunks. For about eight hours, he makes one “boom” after another night after night, for three or four months straight. In the process, he can lose up to half his body weight. Depending on the winds, Madame Kakapo will hear these booms as far as five kilometers away; wherever she may be, the sound reaches her, for her beau makes sure to boom in every direction. Females journey to meet their suitors who will fight to the death to parade around, click their beaks, and brandish outstretched wings.

Unfortunately, the heartwarming part of the spectacle stops there. Booming attracts predators, too. Plus,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2021 at 1:50 pm

The Big Bang: What We Know and How We Know It

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8 Gravitons has an interesting article about the Big Bang. The article begins:

When most people think of the Big Bang, they imagine a single moment: a whole universe emerging from nothing. That’s not really how it worked, though. The Big Bang refers not to one event, but to a whole scientific theory. Using Einstein’s equations and some simplifying assumptions, we physicists can lay out a timeline for the universe’s earliest history. Different parts of this timeline have different evidence: some are meticulously tested, others we even expect to be wrong! It’s worth talking through this timeline and discussing what we know about each piece, and how we know it.

We can see surprisingly far back in time. As we look out into the universe, we see each star as it was when the light we see left it: longer ago the further the star is from us. Looking back, we see changes in the types of stars and galaxies: stars formed without the metals that later stars produced, galaxies made of those early stars. We see the universe become denser and hotter, until eventually we reach the last thing we can see: the cosmic microwave background, a faint light that fills our view in every direction. This light represents a change in the universe, the emergence of the first atoms. Before this, there were ions: free nuclei and electrons, forming a hot plasma. That plasma constantly emitted and absorbed light. As the universe cooled, the ions merged into atoms, and light was free to travel. Because of this, we cannot see back beyond this point. Our model gives detailed predictions for this curtain of light: its temperature, and even the ways it varies in intensity from place to place, which in turn let us hone our model further.

In principle, we could “see” a bit further. Light isn’t the only thing that travels freely through the universe. Neutrinos are almost massless, and pass through almost everything. Like the cosmic microwave background, the universe should have a cosmic neutrino background. This would come from much earlier, from an era when the universe was so dense that neutrinos regularly interacted with other matter. We haven’t detected this neutrino background yet, but future experiments might. Gravitational waves meanwhile, can also pass through almost any obstacle. There should be gravitational wave backgrounds as well, from a variety of eras in the early universe. Once again these haven’t been detected yet, but more powerful gravitational wave telescopes may yet see them.

We have indirect evidence a bit further back than we can see things directly. In the heat of the early universe the first protons and neutrons were merged via nuclear fusion, becoming the first atomic nuclei: isotopes of hydrogen, helium, and lithium. Our model lets us predict the proportions of these, how much helium and lithium per hydrogen atom. We can then compare this to the oldest stars we see, and see that the proportions are right. In this way, we know something about the universe from before we can “see” it.

We get surprised when we look at the universe on large scales, and compare widely separated regions. We find those regions are surprisingly similar, more than we would expect from randomness and the physics we know. Physicists have proposed different explanations for this. The most popular, cosmic inflation, suggests that the universe expanded very rapidly, accelerating so that a small region of similar matter was blown up much larger than the ordinary Big Bang model would have, projecting those similarities across the sky. While many think this proposal fits the data best, we still aren’t sure it’s the right one: there are alternate proposals, and it’s even controversial whether we should be surprised by the large-scale similarity in the first place.

We understand, in principle, how matter can come from “nothing”. This is sometimes presented as the most mysterious part of the Big Bang, the idea that matter could spontaneously emerge from an “empty” universe. But to a physicist, this isn’t very mysterious. Matter isn’t actually conserved, mass is just energy you haven’t met yet. Deep down, the universe is just a bunch of rippling quantum fields, with different ones more or less active at different times. Space-time itself is just another field, the gravitational field. When people say that in the Big Bang matter emerged from nothing, all they mean is that energy moved from the gravitational field to fields like the electron and quark, giving rise to particles. As we wind the model back, we can pretty well understand how this could happen.

If we extrapolate, winding Einstein’s equations back all the way, we reach . . .

Continue reading.

See also Kevin Drum’s post “Here’s the theory of relativity in 500 words,” in which he covers both Special Relativity (time and space) and General Relativity (gravitation).

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2021 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Math, Science

Two commute-style breakfasts: Bran Muffins and Breakfast Bites

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I just got a request for these two recipes, so I thought I’d point them out for people interested.

I started making these Bran Muffins for The Wife’s commute. They are made in a 12-compartment muffin pan, and I use those fluted paper cups, so there’s no sticking.

I switched to these Breakfast Bites when we moved to a low-carb diet. I used parchment paper to line an 8″ x  8″ pan, and I later learned that if you wet the parchment paper and wring it out, it is easier to mold it into the pan.

Both recipes become quite easy with practice.

Nowadays, I follow this whole-food plant-based diet, and my breakfast now is usually three pieces of fruit and a pint of hot tea. “Plant-based” means no food from animals (i.e., no meat, fish, dairy, or eggs), but it does include fungi (which are not plants).

Update: There’s also this whole-food plant-based smoothie recipe.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2021 at 11:48 am

Unpickable locks

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I enjoy watching this guy build staff — and I have to admit I feel some envy. I wish I could build stuff like that (one in a long list of things I wish I could do: play musical instruments well, speaking foreign languages fluently, juggle skillfully, and so on). I blogged earlier a video of his computerized pool cue. Now here are a couple of videos of his unpickable locks.

Lock-Picking Lawyer’s video on picking those locks.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2021 at 11:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Techie toys, Technology

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Grooming Dept Chypre Peach and the new Moisturizing Pre-Shave formula

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I ordered two more tubs of Moisturizing Pre-Shave from Grooming Dept — I don’t want to take a chance on running out — and he included a complimentary Hydrating Gel for my review. I’ll try that tonight as part of my bedtime routine since I don’t quite know how to fit it into the shave sequence.

At the link you can see that the pre-shave is now available in a variety of fragrances: Unscented+Coolant, Bergamot & Ginger, Rainforest, Spa, Citrus, Mojito, and Unscented. Fragrance descriptions are not yet posted, so I don’t know what Spa, for example, smells like.

I used Rainforest this morning. I immediately caught a whiff of vetiver, but there was a lot more going on. Although Grooming Dept’s catalog entry doesn’t describe the fragrance, West Coast Shaving has a description of the fragrance of Grooming Dept Regenwald shaving soap:

The scent is the aroma of tropical rainforest (Regenwald is “rainforest” in German). It boasts notes of tropical fruits, fig, green notes, resins, myrrh, vetiver, musk, ccedarwood, sandalwood, and tonka bean — and just a hint of soil. Earthy, green, good!

When I opened the tub to see and smell the pre-shave, it looked as though it were a liquid, unlike the soft wax of the formulation I already had, but appearances (as you know) can be deceptive. It is technically a liquid, but its viscosity makes it more like a soft solid — like (say) tar that has been warmed. It is less solid than the previous formulation, which holds small divots from where you scooped out a bit. The new formulation will slowly flow to fill divots.

The softness makes it easy to scoop up a small amount with your fingertip, and its viscosity keeps it in place until you apply it to your wet stubble. It rubs on easily and seems as effective as the earlier soft-wax version. I admit that right now I prefer the earlier version, but that’s because I’m used to it. I imagine that with a few days’ use, I’ll find my footing with the new version, and with familiarity will come comfort. (Change is always a little unsettling.)

With stubble now prepped, I moved to lather. I do like this Rooney Super Badger Style 3 Size 1 brush, and the lather it evoked from Grooming Dept Chypre Peach was wonderful. Yesterday’s soap was Grooming Dept Nai formula, a vegan soap, and today’s soap is his Kairos formula:

Water, Stearic Acid, Beef Tallow, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Kokum Butter, Castor Oil, Tucuma Butter, Avocado Oil, Glycerin, Coconut Milk, Goat Milk, Cupuacu Butter, Shea Butter, Safflower Oil, Collagen Peptides, Whey Protein, Betaine, Fragrance, Lauryl Laurate, Jojoba Oil, Lanolin, Colloidal Oatmeal, Rice Bran Wax, Meadowfoam Oil, Linoleic Acid, Ethylhexyl Olivate, Hydrogenated Olive Oil, Isostearic Acid, Allantoin, Sodium Lactate, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Gluconate, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Tocopherols, Silk Peptides.

West Coast Shaving describes the fragrance as “a classic chypre with citrus top notes, middle of labdanum, and a base of oakmoss, but it departs from the traditional with a note of sweet peach.”

Three passes with my Above the Tie R (now called R1, but mine is from before the open-comb R2 was offered) left my face perfectly smooth. When I did the final rinse, I noticed the same thing as yesterday: my face felt as though I had applied a good skin lotion. That’s probably due to the combination of Grooming Dept pre-shave and Grooming Dept shaving soap.

A splash of Floris JF aftershave finished the shave in fine style. Floris notes:

Softly scented, JF begins with an invigorating burst of bergamot, lemon, lime, and mandarin in combination with an intensely aromatic blend with armoise, coriander, and clary sage. Juniper berry, cypress, and petitgrain at the heart give the fragrance its unmistakeable masculine character which is underscored by amber, cedarwood, and a musky base.

“JF” gets its name from the founder, Juan Famenias Floris.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2021 at 9:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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