Monday, January 23, 2012

Perusing the arXiv

Remember a couple months ago the announcement of OPERA's faster-than-light neutrino experiment? Boy, it seems like only yesterday; insert witty time travelling neutrino joke here. Something that's overlooked in that story is that news outlets did a run for the endzone with that headline before the paper had actually been officially published -- it was a pre-print slated for peer review, not a set-in-stone finding! Very unscientific of them, but that's the ambulance-chasing media for you. Where they found it, and where I imagine a lot more science reporters and laypeople are now paying attention to, is, the open access repository of pre-print (or, as they call them, "e-print") scientific papers currently operated by Cornell University.

ArXiv -- pronounced "archive" -- is a fascinating place where the contributors represent the bleeding edge of what I like to call the Awesome Sciences (physical sciences and mathematics, even though I'm just terrible at the latter). It's neat just to browse the archives, reading the titles and taking in the abstracts. Doing that feels to me like a big whiff of smelling salts that snaps my mind into remembering we live in a universe of sheer wonder, even when this world of Starbucks on every corner and football games with fifty goddamn awful commercials for American Idol try to lull us into mediocrity.

There are people out there, now -- right this very instant! -- who are peering into the secrets of the quantum foam and peeling away the 'branes of reality. What a thing of beauty.

It can even make you laugh every now and then. Boing Boing had a link today to Backreaction, the blog of two physicists who've collected their favorite silly arXiv e-print titles. It didn't take much deliberation on my part to name 22 and 23 my favorites.

I'm a fairly silly fellow.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bend Like a Reed

Tomorrow I channel my inner Jacob Riis and see how the other half lives: tomorrow I try yoga.

It's a really, really good thing I have little sense of shame or propriety in public, because somebody with either of those would surely think different of trekking up to El Cerrito to contort my body in unnatural ways, in front of the Beautiful People that frequent upscale yoga joints around these parts. I won't be alone, thankfully, as Akane and a troupe of future people-that-know-a-dark-secret-to-blackmail-me-with are coming along for what will no doubt be an experience for the books.

My opposition to yoga is longstanding and well-known. Frankly, I am still not convinced that what essentially amounts to advanced stretching can have the health benefits that its supporters claim. I'm going to expand my horizons. I'm going because there will be an extraordinary amount of women in tights in one room. I'm going because I could use the touted stress relief.

Oh, and I'm going because the gang's hitting up a brewery afterwards and I'll take any excuse to guzzle some beers.

Did I mention it's Bikram, the infamous "hot room" yoga?

Stay tuned for embarrassing photos and commentary.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Attack of the Red Pearls

If foreign cuisine were partitioned archaeological dig sites, you may be surprised--despite having lived there for three years--that there are many, many layers in many, many grids of Japanese food that I haven't drilled down to yet. And I'm not talking the semi-exotic stuff like hachi-senbei (crackers with bees baked inside) or suppon (a range of dishes made from the Pelodiscus sinensis turtle), which a lot of Japanese haven't eaten either. No, there are plenty of "common" flavors I simply never got around to trying or only sampled in passing and promptly forgot about. Ikura is one of them.

You can find them in virtually any Japanese restaurant: the pearl-sized mostly translucent red eggs of salmon. From what I've heard they're a nice bonus for salmon fishermen who make their catch in the fall as the fairly large egg sacks that contain hundreds, if not thousands of individual eggs, fetch something like fifty dollars per pound. It's fascinating to me the price gap between all the different types of fish roe, really. Black and Caspian Sea sturgeon roe (caviar) can fetch a hundred times this price, for example. I'm guessing there's a market-driven purpose for this, but would't be surprised if those little obsidian-colored balls are the proverbial diamond of the sea.

Still, good ikura can be mighty pricey, but in this case Akane and I lucked out big time. Her friend, Gosei, got his hands on some of the raw egg sacks from his wife's friend who finds the stuff just completely unpalatable (a not uncommon opinion of ikura), and after curing the eggs with the perfect amount of salt and secret Japanese hobo spices we got the call to come over and dig in. I've never had these kinds of heaping amounts of salmon roe before.

Whether I like them or not I can't quite say yet. I'm getting used to the flavor, that's for sure, but what I'm now trying to push past is the crunchy popping sensation that accompanies each rhythmic chewing action. It's like a slightly salty, wet, warm firecracker going off in your mouth. Am I the only human that finds that sensation disconcerting?

All in all, I'm pleased with my gastronomic choices today--kabocha pancakes by morning, heaping mounds of salmon roe and sashimi by night. That and thanks to our after dinner entertainment I found out that the country that uses the most toilet paper is Russia, the country that consumes the most instant noodles is Korea and the country with the highest alcohol consumption per capita is Estonia (if the variety show's statistics were correct, those Estonians must be drunk eighteen hours a day!). Facts are fun!