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imminent farewell to MESSENGER

messengerFor this Throwback Thursday, I want to share a photo taken of me giving a presentation on the MESSENGER spacecraft at Dorkbot DC in February 2008. At that point the spacecraft had just flown by Mercury along a trajectory that would allow it to enter into orbit a few years later. Now, in the final days—or, optimistically, weeks—of this spacecraft's life before it crashes into the planet, I wanted to reflect on its long and productive life. Years prior to this talk, I'd cut my embedded programming chops on the processor controlling the spacecraft's X-ray spectrometer, whose software I wrote in a strange and wonderful language called Forth. Now I can point you to papers written about the scientific findings from "my" instrument: Variations in the abundance of iron on Mercury’s surface from MESSENGER X-Ray Spectrometer observations, Evidence for geochemical terranes on Mercury: Global mapping of major elements with MESSENGER’s X-Ray Spectrometer, and High-resolution Measurements Of Mercury’s Surface Composition with the MESSENGER X-ray Spectrometer. I'd go on to a minor stint on the mission's real-time operations team and get one of the planet's craters named for Sen no Rikyū, but my largest role was as an instrument software developer.

Dorkbot DC is now defunct, but around that time a besuited fellow by the name of [twitter.com profile] Nickf4rr showed up to one of the Dorkbot meetings to tell us about a new hackerspace, the first in DC. A few months later I checked it out, became a member, and spent most of the next seven years serving on the board of directors in various positions. I stepped down from the board earlier this year and am now concentrating my efforts on starting another DC-area hackerspace, this one with a feminist foundation, drawing my inspiration from Nick and my experience from those years helping run HacDC.

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/60544.html.

an entirely cloudy day

Yesterday I set up a cloud chamber at Spanning Tree's Make Afternoon gathering,


broke into the cloudberry liqueur I brought back from Finland last year,


and watched Cloud Atlas. Or at least a significant part of it, before I fell asleep.



I admit that the latter two events were coordinated, but the first was coincidental, and I only recognized it a day later.

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/60088.html.

a tale of two vegan vanilla ice creams

It's 9°F/-13°C outside now, with a wind chill of -3°F/-19°C, and a snowstorm's coming tonight. Perfect weather for ice cream!

In my last ice cream post, I described making a decent soy-based chocolate vegan ice cream. There are various approaches when it comes to vegan ice cream bases, and I wanted to try some of the others. How to Make Great Vegan Ice Cream makes a convincing argument that coconut cream-and-milk makes the creamiest base for vegan ice cream, so I found some coconut cream at my local H-Mart and tried out Max Falkowitz's Foolproof Vegan Vanilla Coconut Ice Cream recipe to bring to a weekly dinner night among friends.

nut-based vegan vanilla "ice cream"As I mentioned in that last post, coconut products don't agree with my vegan sweetie, so I made a second vegan vanilla ice cream to bring, this time exploring the world of nut bases. Primal Palate's Vanilla Cashew Ice Cream recipe uses almond milk and soaked-and-pureed cashews for a base. It uses maple syrup as a sweetener, and golden raisins as... well, I don't know. It doesn't use enough of them to affect the flavor or the texture. ::shrugs:: If I made it again, I'd skip 'em.

At the aforementioned dinner night, I arrived just as the people already there were finishing dinner, so I opened my container of coconut-based ice cream, set out an ice cream scoop, and grabbed myself some dinner. By the time I was finished, the coconut-based ice cream was no more. Reports confirmed my impression from the licks I'd gotten off the churning paddle: it indeed creamy, with a detectable but not cloying coconut undertone. People loved it. One person asked for the recipe. Since it was consumed so quickly I don't have a photograph for you, but I'll definitely be making this one again, it's just a matter of choosing a flavor.

Next I opened up the nut-based ice cream. The texture wasn't creamy or even scoopable, but grainy and crumbly. The few of us who tried it agreed that it had a pleasant, subtle nutty flavor, so how much you enjoy it probably depends on how important you consider a creamy texture to your frozen dessert experience. It's important to me, so I wouldn't make this again for myself, though of course I'd make it again for others who don't mind the texture. I wonder whether a consumer-grade food processor just can't make a smooth cream out of whole nuts no matter how long you keep it going. If I find any coconut-free vegan ice cream recipes based on nut butter (without bananas, which I personally dislike) I'd try them, but nut-based ice creams may need a binding agent in addition to a smoother base in order to get a good texture.

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/59634.html.

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eyes

So I have contacts now! Or... again. I'm nearsighted by roughly four diopters in each eye; I've needed vision correction since pre-adolescence. At first I went for glasses, but in high school I tried rigid gas permeable contact lenses and stuck with them for several years. I had no problem inserting or removing them, but the nightly cleaning process, my enjoyment of impromptu naps, and the extreme discomfort whenever some little particle got into my eye gradually led me back to the ease of eyeglasses.

no glasses!Over the years various disadvantages of eyeglasses arose: when my friends went snorkeling spur-of-the-moment in Hanauma Bay, I had to stay behind. In public bathhouses my glasses were completely obscured by condensation, and without them I had a hard time reading signs or clocks or recognizing people I'd come with. In chadō, the lack of peripheral vision led me to bend my neck to see things that would be below the lower edge of my eyeglasses if I kept my neck straight and properly in line with my back. More trivially, a pretty metal filigree masquerade mask I picked up on Etsy looks ridiculous with eyeglasses. More abstractly, eyeglasses, especially sunglasses but also regular eyeglasses, seem like an interpersonal barrier in photos or when I'm talking with people face-to-face.

So I decided to try modern soft lenses, with a little hesitation because I knew their larger size and lack of rigidity makes them harder to insert and remove. (For reference, rigid lenses are inserted by placing them directly on the cornea, and they're removed by pulling the eyelid tight and then blinking.) And I couldn't forget that my decades-ago first attempt to put lenses in my eyes led to a vasovagal response. Wikipedia and the technician teaching me describe this as the process for soft lens insertion:
Soft lenses may be placed on the sclera (the white part of the eye) and slid into place. The other hand may be used to keep the eye open. Alternatively, the user may close their eye and then look towards their nose, sliding the lens into place over the cornea.
I had a lot of trouble with this technique. After forty minutes of practice, I managed to get a lens in each eye, but I couldn't get them out, which involves squeezing the edges of the lens together against the eye. I called it a day and returned the following week to try again with what turned out to be a different technician, who demonstrated a far simpler insertion technique: just put the lens directly on the cornea. The end. Just like with rigid lenses. I mastered that pretty much instantly. Placing it on the sclera and then sliding it into place on the cornea just doesn't make sense to me. With practice I eventually mastered lens removal, too. They're very comfortable so far. I haven't gotten anything bothersome in my eye in the week I've been wearing them—I don't know whether that's because I just haven't gotten any significant particles in my eye in that time or whether it's because it's much less irritating with soft lenses than with hard ones. I still have to clean them nightly, which is slightly easier due to the all-in-one solution but slightly harder due to the tint being so faint that the lens is essentially invisible when it's in the solution. For the record, they're daily wear disposable lenses designed for 4-week replacement.

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/59157.html.

more ice creams

How has it been five months since I last posted about my experiments in frozen desserts?

apple calvados sorbetLast fall I was casting about for some frozen dessert ideas that would be both seasonal and edible by my vegan sweetie. It turns out there's a page of delectable-looking autumnal sorbets out there. Though I'll also want to try making the Cardamom Pear Sorbet, I went with Calvados and Apple Sorbet this time. The recipe is simple, and the flavor was crisp and refreshing (in an autumnal sort of way :) ) with both apple and Calvados flavors coming through along with the lemon juice and zest called for by the recipe. The texture was too hard and icy to be scoopable, so it was a step backward texture-wise from the raspberry sorbet I'd made following America's Test Kitchen's carefully calibrated instructions. ATK's tips suggest that adding corn syrup and/or more sugar would have produced a softer texture.

chocolate soy vegan "ice cream"Next I wanted to delve into the world of vegan "ice cream." Many vegan ice cream recipes call for a base of coconut milk and/or cream, which unfortunately doesn't agree with aforementioned sweetie. I found this chocolate vegan ice cream recipe and between the top photo on that page and the soy base, I was sold. Also, using tofu to make ice cream sounded intriguing. I didn't care for the "diet-friendly" aspects of the recipe, so I used regular instead of light soymilk and sugar instead of stevia. Also, because apparently I just can't leave a recipe alone once I start tinkering with it, I used Dutch-process cocoa powder instead of regular cocoa powder to intensify the chocolate flavor. The result turned out with a rich chocolate flavor and an acceptable—if not as creamy as dairy—texture. I'd make it again.

At Thanksgiving I solicited requests from my family for a Christmas-time ice cream and got one for chocolate hazelnut ice cream. Most recipes for this start with Nutella, but this one starting with whole hazelnuts promised it was better. Plus, bins of whole, in-the-shell hazelnuts had appeared at my local grocery store. Here's where I have to admit that I'd never cooked with hazelnuts before and assumed the recipe would tell me whether and when to shell them. Luckily my folks were visiting and clued me in before I pressed the button on a food processor full of hazelnuts still in their shells. That was close! I started shelling and soon found that I now had well under the pound of hazelnuts called for. Do you know how long it takes to shell enough hazelnuts to produce a pound?

The recipe instructs, "In a food processor, grind hazelnuts until they form a paste, about 5 minutes. Hazelnuts will first grind into tiny crumbs, then clump into an oily ball, then break down into an oily paste." The small food processor I was borrowing didn't have an on/off switch, just a pulse button, and I was probably afraid of burning it out by running it too long continuously (I was borrowing one because my previous one met its demise when I overtaxed it). So I don't know if the pulses added up to 5 minutes, but I did it for what felt like a long time and never came up with anything like a "paste," just an oily clump of tiny crumbs. Though I would later press the base through a strainer, many of the crumbs were too tiny to strain out and ended up affecting the texture. The resulting ice cream was rich with chocolate and hazelnut flavor, but what would have been a smooth texture was compromised by the ubiquitous tiny hazelnut crumbs.

This recipe never asked me to get in-the-shell hazelnuts. I'd figured they must be like chestnuts, available for a short time of the year, not available packaged in an equivalent form. Wrong. So I don't blame the recipe for that or my near-miss in the shelling department. But the difficulty of transforming hazelnuts into a smooth paste would keep me from trying this recipe again. For the love of everything that is cold, creamy, and delicious, next time I'd just start with Nutella.

rosemary walnut ice creamThat brings us to my latest batch. Having made ice creams and sorbets for other people for so long, I wanted to get back to trying something I thought I would really like. Thinking back to my early experiments with thyme and lavender, I tried this recipe for rosemary walnut ice cream. Its use of cornstarch seemed a little unusual, but especially compared with the previous ice cream experiment, it was refreshingly straightforward. The result is creamy with a pleasant rosemary flavor and crunch of walnut pieces. I'd certainly make this again.

Updated to add: I forgot to mention the maple-fig ice cream I made for a friend for Halloween! I skipped the toasted pine nut garnish. I don't really go for figs, so I didn't try the ice cream, but I solicited reviews from its partakers. From the recipient:
I thought it tasted great! I love maple syrup/sugar and thought that worked really well with the figs. I thought the sauce was really good, but worked best in moderation. Too much sauce was overwhelming, like too much sugar or something. Texture was great- it was definitely a softer ice cream, but some of that may have been how much my freezer door was open around Halloween. There were some seeds, especially in the sauce, but that's not a big factor for me. If anything, I kind of like seeds, especially if they add flavor. Because it was softer, it was pretty easy to scoop, but I guess it didn't make for a nice tidy discrete little ball of ice cream- might have been difficult to get in a cone, I guess is what I'm trying to say, if that kind of thing matters at all. It didn't bother me much since I was usually just attacking it with a spoon. I think the ice cream could have stood for more fig. The maple can be too sweet, almost cloying and figs are sweet-ish already, so I'd go more fig, maybe a little less maple, were you to make it again. Please?
And from another taster:
I liked everything about the maple fig. Wasn't as big a fan of the sauce, but the ice cream was good on its own. I'm not really sure what I didn't care for about the sauce. It wasn't horrible. Just a bit much on the ice cream?


So that was a success!

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/58199.html.

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Why I Donate to The Ada Initiative

Because women shouldn't need to grow a "thick skin" to participate in the hackerspace community.

Because "be excellent to each other" is not a sufficient code of conduct.

Because telling girls to pursue STEM fields while failing to address the problems faced by women in those fields is unethical.

Because calls for increasing hackerspace diversity are being trolled.

The Ada Initiative puts on AdaCamps, works to prevent harassment, provides skills workshops for allies, trains people to recognize and overcome imposter syndrome, and performs countless other services toward make geekdom a place for women. Please join me in supporting The Ada Initiative. Donate now.

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/56395.html.

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more adventures in frozen desserts

I started out this month with a lime ice cream, my first ice cream using citrus juice, so I was interested to see how to combine the ingredients without curdling the milk. I reduced the amount of sugar by about a quarter; I haven't eaten enough of this batch to have decided whether I'd repeat that reduction in the future. I would make sure I had something other than a hand-held juicer for this one. The result was face-puckeringly tart. I recommend pairing it with graham crackers, but even then I could eat only a little of it.

homemade ほうじ茶 ice creamHōjicha soft-serve was a favorite of mine in Japan, and of course it isn't available where I am now, so it was on my to-make list. Some of the online recipes I found involved incorporating a strong infusion of hōjicha in hot water, while others blended "hojicha powder"—which I'd never seen before—into the base. I figured I could make "hojicha powder" from tea leaves using the spice grinder I'd bought for making pink peppercorn ice cream, and for good measure I added both the ground tea leaves and an infusion of whole leaves to my standard custard base (2 cups each whole milk and heavy cream, 1 cups sugar, 5 egg yolks), substituting a cup of the infusion for one of the cups of whole milk, IIRC. I didn't measure the tea leaves I used in either form. As you can see in the photo, the ground tea leaves didn't all dissolve into the custard, so the texture isn't as smooth as it could be, but the flavor's very nice.

The next two I made were gifts, for which inexpensive, disposable ice cream containers come in really handy. I made dulce de leche ice cream for a local friend who has taken of my cats while I was out of town. This was the first Philadelphia style (eggless) ice cream I've made, and I liked the simplicity of it. The texture was smooth and creamy, the flavor sweet and caramel-y. I would make this again, and I might experiment with adding something like cardamom (inspired by Basundi) for more complexity.

homemade raspberry sorbetI'd been holding off on this post because I haven't yet given the raspberry sorbet (subscription-only link, sorry) I made to its recipients. But, having missed their housewarming party, I finally figured it'll be okay if they see this before they receive it. This was another first in the frozen-desserts-I've-made department in the lack of dairy, which was deliberate due to lactose intolerance. One of the keys to this recipe is the use of pectin as a stabilizer, and I'm happy with the resulting texture. (As a semi-vegetarian, I'm pleased America's Test Kitchen found pectin superior to gelatin for making sorbet.) I've never been a big fan of raspberries, and it turns out I don't love them even when I've strained out their seeds and added sugar. So I'm not disappointed to have made this as a gift, and I'm especially not disappointed that the dulce de leche ice cream uses more than one but less than two cans of dulce de leche, meaning I have leftover dulce de leche.

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/55125.html.

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well, that was unexpected

So I did the Day 2 workout from Couch-to-5K this evening. And it went so much better than Day 1, which is an identical workout. I mean, it wasn't enjoyable by any stretch of the imagination, but I never felt on the verge of collapsing or unable to speak. When the app told me it was time for the cool-down, I said, "Wait—what? Really?" Who knows what it was that made the difference. Given that the conditions I'll usually be jogging in will be these rather than my Day 1 conditions, this gives me some hope.

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/54565.html.

stepping out of Facebook

Heya world, I'm going to try avoiding browsing my Facebook news feed for the near future, so here's some warning for you—and a commitment device for me. Note that my public blog posts (like this one), Flickr uploads, and some tweets automatically get posted to my Facebook wall, so you'll probably continue to see some activity from me, and if you comment on it I'll engage with you. Likewise, I'll respond to Facebook messages, event invitations, and mentions. Theoretically you'll see more status updates from me on Twitter and Dreamwidth/Livejournal, where I'm bokunenjin.

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/54127.html.

temporary tea spaces

I'm planning on doing a public chado event or two this year at Burning Man, tentatively in the base of Cosmic Praise, a climbable 50-foot tower with a spark chamber in the cupola that will be located at the 6-o'clock keyhole overlooking center camp. It won't be in the printed program—which filled up faster than I could find a venue—but I'll add it to the online event directory once I figure out when it'll be. The bottom of the tower will have a 12-foot diameter open space with a single doorway and 14-foot tall cloth walls, for reference. xuth, who will be part of the build team, points out that I may get too many people if I do this in such a central location, so I'm thinking about how to delineate the space so it isn't too inviting to casual passersby.

This challenge has me reviewing temporary tea spaces that others have built, and I'm so impressed by their creativity and beauty that I wanted to share:



more photos beneath the cutCollapse )
Incidentally, I'm trying to think of a name for my tea event. It should distinguish this from other on-playa tea events by referencing chado / chanoyu / Way of Tea. It isn't going to be ceremonial, so I think "tea ceremony" would be inaccurate. And ideally it would tie into cosmic rays. Any ideas?

This entry was originally posted at http://bokunenjin.dreamwidth.org/53973.html.