Monday, October 29, 2007

Funk Shui

Need to do some catching up. This photo is from a couple of weeks ago, after we had finished cleaning up the dining room for a visit by the Parental Units, as my brother put it in a comment on another blog.

I suppose it is obvious that this was not the result of any interior design planning on our part!

The glasses are a relatively new acquisition, intended for beach (or wish-we-were-on-a-beach) use, as is the plant container. I was intrigued by the way they sort of fit into the usual rule of three for fung shui design.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Practical Nobel Prize

It is about time (said even though I am a theorist)!

This is the time during the semester that we get to magnetism and the physics of important practical phenomena such as the Hall Effect (which is used to measure magnetic field strength, characterize the properties of semi-conductors, and, in its quantum version, establish a standard voltage). I always point out to my class that the mundane physics of such things as magnetic disk drives, like the mundane chemistry and physics of batteries, is as crucial to modern technology as the silicon chip ... and much more important to the functioning of our economy (or military) than electro-weak unification and other cool subjects of high energy particle theory that got all the press back when this work was published.

It is great to see a practical discovery related to magnetic data storage rewarded with a Nobel Prize.

This year's Nobel Prize in Physics was given to Albert Fert and Peter Gr├╝nberg for discovery of the Giant MagnetoResistance effect. This effect is used to read the tiny changes in magnetic field that signal the difference between a zero and a one when data are stored on a magnetic disk storage device. It has made possible the rapid (to someone as old as I am, spectacular) decrease in size of computer disk drives. For once, the media are not exaggerating when they say that this recent (late 1980s) discovery from basic research made the iPod possible.

One simple example: We own a half terabyte disk drive that is smaller than a Harry Potter novel. That is 500 gigabytes, for those who don't yet know the nomenclature, essential to backup all the data generated by a digital camera. A bit over 20 years ago, just a few years before the GMR discover was made, I used a computer system that had a terabyte (1000 gigabytes) of storage mixed between disk and automatic tape drives. That terabyte of storage took up a space larger than our house.

I won't elaborate on the physics, which is way outside of my personal expertise in nuclear physics, because general information on the discovery, as well as links to pdf files suitable for the general reader as well as physicists, can be found in the press release from the Nobel committee.

A comment over at Uncertain Principles included a link to an IBM corp article on R and D that puts GMR to work.

When talking about this to my physics class, I remembered that a computer I used for my thesis research had a 1 megabyte (0.001 gigabyte) disk for key programs (operating system, compiler, device drivers) that was a beautifully polished platter about 2 feet in diameter. A factor of a million in data with a reduction in volume of maybe a factor of 10, not to mention an increase in reliability and a drop in cost by what is probably a factor of a million in current dollars.

I also pointed out in the lab how important it is to have reliable contemporaneous lab notebooks in ink to help document your independent discovery that might lead to a valuable patent if not a Nobel Prize.

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Cranberry Relish

Profgrrrrl's sick-bed comment about waiting for cranberry season so she can make cranberry sauce prompted several comments, including one about cranberry relish. That would be the real thing, made with orange rind, not the oversweetened commercial stuff that comes in a can. Tart and yummy (as garnish or spread on toast or waffles) and with enough Vitamin C to cure what ails Profgrrrrl.

The recipe from dear departed Mother of Mrs. Pion follows below the fold.

Cranberry Relish

  • 3 pounds fresh cranberries
  • 6 to 8 large apples
  • 6 oranges
  • 1/3 C sugar for each cup cranberries
Core apples to remove all seeds, chop apples and oranges into pieces, grind all ingredients (including apple and orange peel) into relish with food grinder. Add sugar and mix well. Refrigerate.


This relish is uncooked, so wash everything you use. These days, I'd recommend a second rinse.

This is the original recipe. The reference to "large apples" is maybe 50 years out of date. Back then a large apple would be more like today's normal ones. In addition, she used the thin skinned juice oranges rather than thick skinned navel oranges and removed the seeds while chopping them into a size that will fit in the grinder. If you use oranges with a thick skin, you might want to discard some of the white part of the peel, which can be bitter. You definitely want the yellow peel!

Best used after it has been refrigerated for a few days to blend the flavors.

We use an old hand-cranked food grinder, alternating between berries, orange, and apple as we go. Don't overdo it if using a food processor. It should be fairly coarsely ground, just enough to shred all the skins.

This makes a lot of relish, enough for the entire holiday for a large family! A more plausible size for most of you would use one orange and one apple to a half-pound of berries, which is probably about 2 C (plus or minus). You can vary it to taste, of course, and no two batches (or recipes) are the same. For example, the "Joy of Cooking" uses 1 orange, 4 C berries, and 2 C sugar (a lot more sugar than our recipe, which is tart rather than sweet), while the Mennonite "More-with-less Cookbook" uses 1 orange (seeded), 1 apple (cored), 2 C berries, and 1/2 to 3/4 C sugar or honey, plus (optionally) 1/4 C nuts.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Time to say "hey"

The Great Mofo Delurk 2007

Time to delurk, maybe let me know you should be in my blogroll.

You could also post a topic request. Any physics topics of interest out there?

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