Cultivated Cheesiness

September 29, 2011

Believe it or not, but there was a time when I would almost literally drool at the thought of putting Easy Cheese on Cheese Nips or Cheez-It crackers (which are essentially the same thing, just like Smacks and Golden Crisp). And on a daily basis a primary source of nutrition was Kraft singles on Saltines. Other than that, I would eat cream cheese and that was it for my cheese intake (and only the cream cheese was actually cheese).

These days I’m a little bit more sophisticated, and the guys at Stuff You Should Know have inspired me to expand my cheese horizons beyond my current deli-American (which in most cases is actually a form of cheddar), sharp cheddar, sharp provolone, fresh mozzarella (with fresh tomatoes), feta (awesome on a burger), cream cheese (still), anything that comes on a toothpick at parties, and the shredded cheeses I use to make pizza and quesadillas at home. Thought these, I’m sure I’m eating more than my share of cheese (the average for Americans is 31 pounds per year) and might even be a match for the average Greek (59 pounds of cheese a year).

The question is where to go next on my cheese journey. There’s a dizzying array of cheeses, and even a lot of categories of cheese: fresh, soft-ripened, washed-rind, natural-rind, blue-veined, uncooked pressed, cooked pressed, and processed (hey, maybe my old cheeses count). The SYSK guys recommend finding a local cheese monger and explain my current still-novice status and ask for a recommendation. I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.


My precious

September 24, 2011

Today I went swimming for the last time this summer (at least in a pool, I hope to swim in the ocean one more time). Since my recovering Achilles prevents me from getting much cardiovascular exercise, swimming is especially enjoyable for me so I swam 30 laps. As I started swimming freestyle I experienced the phantom sensation of feeling a ring on my finger and the urge to make sure it doesn’t fall off. Since I haven’t worn a ring in quite a few years now it’s interesting that I still feel that (if I swim breast stroke it’s not as strong – less chance of losing the “ring” I suppose). It’s a very strong sensation – if I didn’t know better I’d swear that I could feel it there.

My phantom jewelry got me thinking about phantom limbs that amputees feel. Sadly, the sensation they feel is often quite painful, but there has been some recent progress in alleviating that pain in recent years. It seems the pain is not transmitted from the nerves in the area of the missing limb – it is generated on the receiving end. Because of this, there has been some success with techniques like the mirror box, which visually simulates the painful missing limb as present. The patient can then “unclench or  untwist” the limb into a non-painful state in some cases.


Disaster Duel

September 20, 2011

When I was a kid I remember being very interested in two disastrous ships – the R.M.S. Titanic and the Hindenberg. Both were from “the olden days” since the footage of them was in black & white. But I was recently was telling a friend about the destruction of the great German airship and realized I didn’t remember all the facts. So here goes.

The Hindenberg was destroyed trying to land in New Jersey on May 6, 1937, just a couple of years before WWII and a full 25 years after the Titanic sunk. The Hinderberg actually has swastikas on both sides of the tail, a byproduct of needing Nazi funding for completion. It was designed for commercial transatlantic travel from Europe to NJ or Brazil, which took less than three days (much quicker than the fastest naval ships of the day). It could carry up to 75 passengers along with 50 or so crew members. Apparently, travel about such a ship was extremely comfortable, with some travelers failing to even notice the “takeoff” of the journey.

The Hindenberg was very big at just over 800 feet long and with a diameter of 135 feet (similar in size to the Titanic, which was 880 feet long, 175 feet tall and 92 feet wide). It used hydrogen gas to lift its weight, though interestingly it was designed for the heavier helium gas. It turns out that the U.S. had a near-monopoly on helium production at the time and refused to export it to Germany. It had four large engines that propelled it to speeds over 80 mph.

As you could tell from the video, the demise of the Hindenberg was swift, taking less than a minute (Titanic sunk in just under three hours). To this day the exact cause of the fire is unknown since there’s no footage of the start of the blaze, and the disaster marked the end of Zeppelin as a form of commercial travel (airplanes didn’t achieve this quantity of passengers until the 1950s). Amazingly, 62 of the 97 people on board somehow survived to tell the tale.

USRDA of Radium?

September 18, 2011

The Radium Girls sounds like some sort of girl-power cartoon for kids, but as I have learned it’s actually the nickname for five women who sued their former employer (United States Radium Corporation – USRC) for the health problems caused by the instructions given to them by their supervisors.

Back in 1918, USRC used the radioactive element radium to illuminate the dials of watches and clocks, and hired young women to hand-paint the dials. In order to keep their camel-hair brushes sharp, they were instructed to lick the tips after every second or third application. Radium had been poorly understood for a while, and was often prescribed by doctors and even featured in a popular “energy drink” of the times, Radithor.

But USRC had become aware of the potential health problems caused by exposure to radium yet covered up the fact and made no changes to on the floor policy. The ensuing court case established legal precedent and was highly publicized. The case was settled, though sadly most of the five died within a few years. One managed to live to 50 somehow.


Mining and Hiding

September 13, 2011

Back to the 19th century! I listed to a Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast yesterday that enlightened me about the era of the Copper Kings in Montana. Butte was known for mining silver and gold, but became even richer in the 1880s when it became the world’s largest producer of copper, which was in high demand due to the proliferation of electrical street lights and the telegraph during this era.

Like most boom periods, it was a ruthless battle between the three players involved. This one eventually resulted in a monopoly (the Anaconda Copper Mining Co.). One of the three “Copper Kings,” William Andrews Clark, even managed to buy his way into a U.S. Senate seat once Montana became a state in 1889. One of his daughters just recently passed away this year at the age of 104. Amazingly, the last known photograph of Huguette Marcelle Clark was from the day of her divorce in 1930 (can you think of a worse day to be photographed?). She was a recluse and was rarely seen even by her household staff, which is only really possible if you live in a  $100 million, 42 room, 15000 square foot apartment.

Luxury Cavedwelling

September 7, 2011

One of the magazines I subscribe to through the Zinio app is National Geographic Traveler. Though I sadly haven’t done any traveling for a couple of years now I still crave information for the time when I can resume seeing more of the world (hopefully I can make career #4 happen and then I’ll be traveling often). In the September issue I learned about albergo diffuso when reading about a small town in Italy (I always read anything about Italy first) named Matera. Albergo diffuso means dispersed hotel, and the idea is that old abandoned villages are re-made into hotels that capture the essence of living in that place in the past except with a bit of hidden luxury to make it a more pleasurable experience (after all, there must be a reason the towns were abandoned in the first place). Matera is on the southern coast in the arch of the boot of Italy, and its “Sassi” cavelike homes date back to prehistoric times, when they were carved from the volcanic stone. The town has that lovely “carved into the hillside” look many coastal places on the Mediterranean feature (geeks should picture a scaled down Minas Tirith from “Lord of the Rings”). A stay at the Albergo Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita isn’t inexpensive ($250-$400 a night) but I think I would find it very relaxing indeed.

Blindsided Bucks

September 4, 2011

Last night I watched The Blind Side. The movie is about Michael Oher, a black teenager who is taken in by a white family and ends up a star football player. It’s a semi-true story (they changed it up a bit to make it nicer – in real life Michael is already playing football when he moves in with the family). The film is based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, though a focus of the book that didn’t play much of a part in the movie is the evolution of professional football. The book posits that the dominance of Lawrence Taylor as a defensive player in the 1980s (I watched most of his games – no doubt it’s true) resulted in the emergence of the left tackle as a position of great importance. Today, the left tackle, who protects the quarterback’s “blind side” is the second-highest paid position on the field. Lewis also wrote “Moneyball”, which was highly influential on professional baseball. That book is being released as a movie starring Brad Pitt, no doubt because of the success of the football film (and which earned Sandra Bullock an Oscar).

Mars vs. RI

September 1, 2011

Now that I can drive again, I’ve been catching up on my podcast backlog (for some reason I only listen to them in the car). The Missed in History Class ladies did an episode on the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast. I was fairly familiar with the story, but didn’t realize how heavily the H.G. Wells novel on which it was based was modified for radio. I also didn’t realize that in 1974 WPRO aired a local version on Halloween using their news team. Amazingly, it fooled a lot of people even though the Orson Wells “hoax” (they actually stated several times that it was fictional) was so well known at the time. Nearly 100 Ocean State residents called the police in their excited state while listening.