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Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Click on picture for a larger view tools

 

As a mother of three boys, I was always put into a faraway room during my sons’ brit milah. So I’m not familiar with the actual procedure, just the after-effects. I had another family doctor attending my third pregnancy (long story not relevant here) who unlike my previous doctor was not Jewish. After successfully delivering my third son, this doctor when finding out we were passing on circumcision at the hospital, shyly asked if he could attend our son’s brit. Of course, I said yes (this was already my third and it was “old hat”).

I understand that during the brit ceremony my doctor unlike the other men, did not look away – he stayed back to be polite but was very attentive during the procedure. Afterwards, my doctor was so excited he related how “our way” of circumcision is almost foolproof as it is so uncomplicated compared to the modern surgical way of doing it with the Gomco clamp. He said that there were often many complications and whoopsies with the clamp method. I, of course, replied that we’ve had time to work out the kinks. This brit took place in the late 1980s and I am sure techniques in both the Jewish world & the medical world have changed and evolved, as things like this do.   

Releasing the Soul of Chocolate — Through Science!

beautiful chocolate

When this pandemic started, it seems like everyone on the internet immediately began baking. We snapped up all the flour and yeast, and manufacturers and sellers are only just starting to catch up with our taste to stay home, nurture sourdough, and eat many delicious carbs.
 
I felt the impulse too but was briefly stymied by the shortages. So, I thought of an alternative sweet treat I could make that would be just as soothing, but wouldn’t use the elusive ingredients: Chocolates! And I found inspiration in internet security expert and culinary enthusiast Samy Kamkar. He has developed a home version of a process that makes a gorgeous iridescent coating on tempered chocolate — using nothing but the chocolate’s own reflective properties.
 
Kamkar made his futuristic chocolates by enlisting his home 3D printer to make a precise acrylic mould, and his engineering know-how to develop an even-pressure vacuum.
 
“To make the chocolate, Kamkar created a mushroom-shaped mold with multiple ridges micrometers apart. He tempered the chocolate, poured it into the mold and then put it in a vacuum chamber to prevent air bubbles on the surface. […]

As Renusha Indralingam explained in Yale Scientific in 2013, iridescence occurs ‘when an object’s physical structure causes light waves to combine with one another, a phenomenon known as interference.’ In the natural world, hummingbirds, beetles, butterflies, peacocks and many other living organisms exhibit iridescent traits, which they can use to choose and attract mates or evade predators.”
 
The pretty phenomenon results from forcing the chocolate into the diffraction grating (which is used in other, less delicious, applications like telescopes and X-rays). This allows the light rays that hit the moulded chocolate’s surface to scatter, making an iridescent rainbow sheen. The chocolate must be very cold in order to produce the interference — so the confection’s beauty is enhanced by the fact it quickly fades.
 
A Swiss manufacturer, ETF Zurich, has spearheaded industrial method to making this iridescent chocolate and is planning on scaling it up to general manufacture soon. I await their efforts: Even though I am so looking forward to witnessing this optical phenomenon in person, it still takes too many resources for me to do in my home kitchen!

A Tribute to Jill, a Great Dog

Usually, I start thinking about what to write as an introduction at the start of the weekend…however I did not have to do that this week. On Friday the day that every pet owner dreads came upon us – we had to say goodbye to Jill. 
Jill’s mobility wasn’t going in the right direction and I was getting worried about her. I was also being wary with the weekend coming up that something extreme would happen to Jill and I’d have to find an emergency vet during these COVID times or deal with it myself. To make a long sorrowful story short, Jill’s heart (the organ, not her spirit) was failing and her muscles were not getting the nourishment they needed to move her around. So because of these Covid times, we sat on the large porch outside of the veterinary clinic and spent time with Jill giving her lots of liver treats…the girl went out in style!
Now that it’s Sunday evening the house is still too quiet and too big, but that raw sting of sadness is ebbing away and I’m starting to remember the stories and antics of which there are plenty of! Here is a picture of puppy Jill with her sisters (she’s in the middle), big sister Jill when Samson was new to the family, Jill barking at cows, and the grande-dame of Perth Road. 

Biblical Units and Measurements

length

Talmudic into modern-day measurements – making sense out of what those rabbis were talking about

Talmudic Measure
Modern equivalent
Equivalent to
Also equivalent
Familiar equivalent
Thumb-breadth 2cm Cherry
Handbreadth 8cm 4 thumb-breadths Credit Card
Handspan 24cm 3 handbreadths 12 thumb-breadths 11 Piano Keys
Cubit 48cm 2 handspans 6 handbreadths Ruler
 4 Cubits 192cm 75 inches 6.25 feet bed or grizzly bear
Dry Measures
Chomer 220 litres 200 dry quarts Coleman chest
Eipha 22 litres 20 dry quarts Backpack
Omer 2.2 litres 2 dry quarts Large matzo meal canister (almost) 
Kav 1.2 litres 1.1 dry quarts Quart of fruit
Liquid Measures
Cor 220 litres 55 US gallons 30 se’as 55 gallon drum
Bath 22 litres 5 US gallons Potable water jug
Se’a 7.3 litres 1.9 US gallons Stock Pot
Log 0.31 litres 310 millilitres 1/12 of a hin Drinking glass

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Talmud incidences of measure (a visual concordance)

Talmud measure
Daf reference
Approximate equivalent
Pictorial reference
1 handbreadth Shabbat 22, 54, 85, 92, 138 8cm/3.1” Credit card
4 x 4 handbreadths Shabbat 4, 76, 79, 91, 100, 101 32 x 32cm/12.6” Chess board
10 handbreadths Shabbat 4, 21, 91, 92, 96, 97, 99, 100, 101, 117 80cm/31.5” Long shoehorn
Multiples of Log Shabbat 76, 77, 78, 79, 82, 95, 109, 129, 132 310 millilitres/10.5 fl oz Drinking Glass
Kav (of dough, etc) Shabbat 15, 103, 140 1.22L/1.1 dry quart Flower pot
4 cubits Shabbat 5, 52, 53, 57, 61, 62, 73, 82, 96, 97, 98, 100, 101, 102, 110, 118, 127, 130, 141, 146 192cm/6.25’ (feet) Bed or Grizzly Bear
10 cubits Shabbat 92, 98 480cm/15.7’ (feet) Conference Table
20 cubits Shabbat 22 960cm/31.5’ (feet) Powerboat
Multiples of cor Shabbat 435,127 220L/200 dry quarts Coleman cooler
se’a Shabbat 59, 119, 142 7.3L/1.9 gallons Stock Pot
40 se’as Shabbat 35, 44, 46, 84 288L/76 gallons Hot water heater (tank)
1 mil Shabbat 34, 88, 109, 129 960m/0.6 mile Free suspension part of Sutong Bridge

Will Your Pet Cat Help You Become An Entrepreneur?

bias towards cat behaviour

As dog people, we at DFC remain in opposition to our mortal enemies, cat people. Among the many reasons dogs are better than cats is the fact that, while yes, cats will poop in a box so it’s nice and convenient for you to scoop it, and so you don’t have to go hunting in your yard with a long shovel and a flashlight, or maybe an ice pick depending on the weather — dog owners don’t have to worry about catching toxoplasmosis from said poop.
 
Toxoplasmosis is a disease that results from infection by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, which lurks in cat feces, and can cause flu-like symptoms. It’s also long been known to spark a range of behavioural differences, both in cats’ human “staff”, and in their prey. In mice, toxoplasmosis has been found to cause a loss of fear in mice of cats — even when the infection itself has cleared.
 
An international group of researchers have just discovered a fascinating consequence to toxoplasmosis infection in humans: an increase in entrepreneurship. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense — what turns off fear and increases risky behaviour, fatal in mice, could actually be positive for human business! From the study’s abstract:

Using a saliva-based assay, we found that students (n = 1495) who tested IgG positive for T. gondii exposure were 1.4× more likely to major in business and 1.7× more likely to have an emphasis in ‘management and entrepreneurship’ over other business-related emphases. Among professionals attending entrepreneurship events, T. gondii-positive individuals were 1.8× more likely to have started their own business compared with other attendees (n = 197). Finally, after synthesizing and combining country-level databases on T. gondi infection from the past 25 years with the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor of entrepreneurial activity, we found that infection prevalence was a consistent, positive predictor of entrepreneurial activity and intentions at the national scale, regardless of whether previously identified economic covariates were included. Nations with higher infection also had a lower fraction of respondents citing ‘fear of failure’ in inhibiting new business ventures.

Though I’m still a die-hard dog fan, I find it fascinating that one of the major downsides of cat ownership has such an unexpected benefit for human behaviour. Good thing cat people are valuable, in that they are warm places to sit and have opposable thumbs — and aren’t edible!
 

Garlic is not just garlic!

garlic

Ever since we watched the garlic episode on the Netflix documentary, Rotten, we made a vow to only use locally sourced garlic in our BBQ sauces (and upcoming new flavour sauce). One of our customers in Perth, ON supplies us with garlic but we are always looking for new suppliers – thus our foray to the Verona Garlic Festival on Saturday. We met with a potential supplier who gave us samples of five different varieties of garlic: Music, French Pink, Mild Marbled Purple, Ivan and Romanian Red. Our favourite is the Romanian Red because it’s the spiciest and strongest in that garlic flavour, however, the most popular variety grown here is Music. And these aren’t the only varieties…who knew?!? So, thanks to Netflix we will never buy the imported garlic again and will continue to enjoy the robustness of local garlic!

How Much Do You Love Tortillas?

tortillas

It took me a good couple days to believe this in-development appliance was real, and not from The Onion – but once I did, I was staggered by it. The tubby little box follows a proven kitchen appliance formula: it lives on your counter, accepts single-use pods into its top, and in a few seconds, dispenses a fresh, hot … tortilla?
Dubbed the Flatev, the tortilla maker was developed by Carlos Ruiz, who was confronted by a dearth of authentic Mexican cuisine when he moved to Switzerland. He attempted to make tortillas by hand with his mother’s recipe, with Infomercial-Fail-like results. A fan of the Keurig, Carlos envisioned a tortilla maker that would take the mess and labour out of the whole process, much like the revolutionary coffeemaker. 
Unlike the Keurig, the Flatev’s website assures us, the used dough pods will be recyclable. In addition, the dough inside the pods will be organic and preservative-free – which, the developers enthuse, produces a significant difference in flavor from pre-made supermarket tortillas.
Gee-whiz factor aside, I have a bit of a mental block about this. This is a gadget for a very specific sub-set of the population: people who a) eat lots of tortillas, b) are hung up about the freshness of said tortillas, and c) have enough money to not just purchase this one-purpose machine, but to afford a home with a kitchen big enough that it doesn’t take up all the counter space! (I may be biased, I also loathe Keurigs.)
But I also think of what users of the Flatev might miss out on by letting a machine take over. Progress is great. But it’s one thing to have your weekly trip to the creek with a washboard and lump of soap replaced by a washing machine; it’s another entirely to miss out on the fascination of trying a new skill, and the pride when your unbalanced, weird looking tortillas start getting better and better!
However, I would not turn down a tortilla, whether hand- or machine-made. Here’s hoping the Flatev crew gets lots of pre-orders: It would be worth seeing if this little guy lives up to the dream.

The Strandbeest — A New Form of Life

strandbeest life form

Dutch artist Theo Jansen has created what he posits is a new group of living creatures through his art: the Strandbeests, walking sculptures of lightweight plastic tubing, that “feed” off windpower and spend their natural lives frolicking in the tidelines of northern beaches! 
 
Strandbeests can be quite complicated in structure, but their operation is straightforward: wind caught in the sail-like fins on the sculptures’ backs oscillates their (many!) legs and allows for side-to-side movement. The Strandbeests live on the damp sand of beaches; intake pipes detect when they venture too far into dunes or water, causing them to careen the other way to keep themselves safe.
 
The creations really need to be seen in action: check out the artist’s website here for video evidence. They do look very much alive — and that is what intrigues me most about this project. Jansen envisions creating whole herds of these sculptures, and setting them free on beaches where they will live out their natural “lifespans” feeding and journeying. He also considers them to have a primitive “brain:” the step counter that helps a Strandbeest remember where it last encountered water. Could these sculptures actually be considered living things, by this definition? It would be a different kind of artificial life than that which we are used to contemplating — and perhaps dreading — more peaceful, and environmentally attuned, perhaps?  It’s interesting to contemplate, and life-form or no, admire as sculptural art.

The Great Hoverboard Turnover

Hoverboard


You may call them “hoverboards,” or “smart balance wheels,” or another catchy name – whatever they are, on my last foray into downtown Toronto I witnessed a flock of people wheeling up the sidewalk on these colourful, seemingly physics-defying things as though they had been born wearing them.  I was so astonished at the futuristic sight I stopped dead!

At the time, I attributed my lack of familiarity with these hoverboards to my simple country living. But, as this report from Cory Doctorow indicates, even in jaded urban centres folks are gobsmacked at this technology’s overnight appearance — and subsequently diving into purchases, especially for the holidays. Doctorow theorizes that hoverboards — popular with Chinese youth and Vine and Youtube celebrities worldwide — are an early real-world example of a brand new manufacturing model: one that we are going to see a lot more of in the developing economic climate.

Tech reporter Joseph Bernstein dubs the process “memeufacturing,” which speaks to the almost biological propagation of these items and the idea behind them. The manufacturing infrastructure and social network in southern China (and mostly in Shenzhen) is so responsive that, as soon as a new media star features a novel piece of technology on, say, Instagram, thousands of factories can convert almost instantly to produce that item, using components of the products they used to make. And, most interestingly to Doctorow, they are using the format of “copying” — without an original to copy. This leads to infinite variation, and a quick overwhelming of the market:

“ I remember visiting China in 2007 and seeing a million bizarre variants on Ipods, which were the hot category at the time. That story was easy to understand: Apple spent a fortune opening a market for music players of a certain size and shape. China’s entrepreneurs, living in a bubble where Apple’s patents and trademarks were largely unenforceable, set to copying that design, and (this is the important part) varying it. […]

But hoverboards are different: they are knockoffs without an original. The copies of the ‘original’ hoverboard (if anyone can ever agree on what that was) created the market, and they were already varied and mutated. There was never a moment at which all the bus-shelters and billboards touted an ideal, original hoverboard that the bottom-feeders started to nibble away at. […]

They’re part of a new category of hyperspeed gadgets — like ecigs and LED lightbulbs — that have no authoritative version. Products that start life as commodities.

A fun science fiction exercise is to imagine things that are hard and formalized and regulated being replaced with things that are fluid and bottom up. Imagine what a car would look like if it were made this way. Imagine prefab buildings.

Cranes.

Airplanes.

It’s a funny old, new, world.”

Over the course of the last six months the supply chain in China has completely flooded; and with hoverboards that retail in North America, Australia, and Europe for the equivalent of $1000 per unit, who knows how long the demand will last? But, it is central to Doctorow’s and Bernstein’s arguments that this method of trade is not going away. When the new hot item makes itself known, the infrastructure will turn on a dime again, and the hoverboard will be left in. I’ll be keeping that in mind this shopping season!

A New Tractor Beam at the Speed of Sound

Tractor beam

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in this space before, I’m quite fond of pointing out all the ways we are now living in the future Star Trek predicted. From our handheld communicators (cellphones), to PADDs (tablets), to heck, warp drive, we’re reaping the real-world results Gene Roddenberry’s imagination sowed.

And now, we may actually be developing a practical tractor beam! A team out of Spain’s Public University of Navarre and the University of Bristol has published the results of their experiment, in which they arranged tiny transducers to emit inaudible sound waves in several different patterns, called “traps.” The most effective traps created sound waves that actually lifted Styrofoam beads off the experimental surface.

The experiment is a game-changer in that

“‘[a]ll previous levitators had to surround the particle with acoustic elements, which was cumbersome for some kind of manipulations,’ says study leader Asier Marzo. […]‘Our technique, however, only requires sound waves from one side. It’s like a laser—you can levitate particles, but with a single beam.’[…]

‘Basically we copied the principle of light holograms to create these acoustic holograms,’ says Marzo.”

With this easier-to-manipulate (and, let’s face it, a smaller and therefore less expensive) set up, we could soon see the tractor beam applied to laboratory contexts, or even medicine and space travel. But for the latter, we definitely need to get on that warp drive first.