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Why physicists shouldn’t cook June 11, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking.
Tags: chocolate, , yogurt
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Now that summer has arrived and I can eat berries again, I have been looking forward to one of my favorite summer time foods: yogurt smoothies.  I decided a while ago, however, that I didn’t want to keep buying yogurt from the store.  I’m cheap and hate paying as much as I do for yogurt.  What bothers me more, however, is the huge number of plastic tubs that we go through.  I also understand that they add a lot of thickeners rather than fermenting it completely, stuff I wouldn’t have to worry about with homemade yogurt.  So I bought a yogurt maker and started experimenting.

It turns out that yogurt making is very simple, and even the process of making Greek yogurt only adds an additional step.  (You have to strain the yogurt to make it Greek, but I advise doing this when the yogurt has already been cooled or it becomes yogurt cheese.)  You can make thicker yogurt by adding gelatin, but I prefer just straining it.

I’ve been doing it for a month now and have a system down.  So far, so good.

And then I got the bright idea of making chocolate yogurt, which I attempted yesterday.  I looked around on the web but didn’t find anyone else who’d attempted this, just talked about how it was a good idea.  I was so looking forward to trying it last night because it smelled wonderful.  I imagined it would be just like eating chocolate mousse.

I should have been clued in that something was up when I realized that it was done after only about 5 hours.  Usually it takes 6 to 8 hours to make a batch.

Then I tasted it, and it was incredibly sour…moreso than any other yogurt I made.

After about ten minutes, I realized that I had overlooked something obvious: the little beasties that convert lactose to lactic acid probably acidify sucrose, as well.  Sure enough, I found an abstract that says they’re even better at utilizing glucose and fructose than they are at lactose.  In fact, that’s exactly how soy and coconut yogurt are made.

Of course, if I were a biologist, maybe this would’ve been obvious before I’d ever made the mistake.  However, I’m still taking my very sour chocolate milk yogurt and see how it does as a base for smoothies.  I imagine it’ll taste awfully good with bananas and berries mixed in.

Stupid mistakes January 24, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, physics, research, societal commentary.
Tags: , ,

I used to be one of those people who beat myself up whenever I found a mistake I’d made.

Okay…who am I kidding?  I still do that.

In fact, I just did it.  I’ve been sitting here for about 2 days, trying to figure out why something I was programming wasn’t scaling correctly.  I was trying to add a little bump to something big…but my bump was a lot bigger than the stuff I was adding it to.  When I finally found the problem, it turned out that my scaling factor had been multiplied by the big thing, not the bump.


First and foremost, this is why I can’t code at 11 p.m. when I’m about ready to pass out.  These things happen a lot more often.

However, the bigger issue is that my automatic reaction to these things is that I must be really stupid to make a mistake to begin with.  I’m trying to train myself out of that particular thought process.  I try to think instead that I’m obviously not stupid or I would have taken what I did and run with it.  Instead I did notice there was a problem and I fixed it.

This is particularly important when you’re doing simulation work.  I found this out working on my master’s thesis: if you see a problem with your results, dig into it immediately.  Look at everything and make sure that no numbers are off.  This is where the notion comes from that you should have a good idea what sort of results you expect before you get them.  Now, that won’t always happen.  And, in fact, getting results that are ‘off’ is sometimes good as it can lead to new areas of research.  However, more often than not, it can also be a result of bad input.

I’m not sure where  this comes from, although I have some rather perfectionistic tendencies.  I also believe some of it comes from the fact that, as a kid, I was often ahead intellectually of where I was placed academically.  I was able to get everything right, so I always assumed that being smart meant getting things right all the time.  If I got things wrong, I never was told that maybe I just needed to be more careful or slow down or spend more time on something.  I’d been told that I got things right because I was smart…leading me to believe that when I got things wrong, I must be stupid.

Now, however, I try to remember that it’s not as important to get it right the first time as it is to be able to find my mistakes and correct them.  Therefore, I need to check over my work thoroughly, and when I’m done with that, I should have someone else check it over.  (I’ve often found, though, I’m more likely to find my own mistakes than others because I know what I’m looking at.)  What would be stupid is to not correct the mistake or to not identify it when it’s glaringly obvious.  Still, I find the impulse is there to berate myself for making a mistake to begin with, especially when I’m short on time (which is always).

Going so wrong that it has to be right August 11, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, research.
Tags: , , ,

 The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it) but ‘That’s funny…’   – Isaac Asimov

I’d have to say that one of the most interesting things that’s happened to me at work was a simulation I ran recently.  I got this jaw-dropping awesome result.  Then I went back to look at my device I’d modeled and discovered I’d modeled it incorrectly.
I was very disappointed because I was really hoping this idea would work, but it didn’t.  When I made the corrections, things had still improved, but not nearly as much as when I’d done things wrong.
A week or so later, however, we got the idea of, “What if we could make this device?”  And it turns out that we probably can, only using a very non-standard method.
I have to admit that I like to have my work planned out so that I can approach it in a methodical pattern.  I like to do this so that I can make sure my results are very consistent, and it’s easier to tease out problems when things don’t look right.  (I learned that the hard way.)
This is the first time in my experience, however, where a mistake ended up being a good thing.  I wouldn’t mind having more experiences like that.
So have you ever made a mistake only to discover that it wasn’t?

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