A Place for Some Ideas and Ramblings to Reside

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Moving is for the Birds

We've pretty much completed our second interstate move and it's been awful. Nothing really went wrong, but we definitely can't say that it was nice or fun. At this point we've got all of our boxes and furniture in the house despite the spiral staircase impeding progress to the second floor (what were we, or the builders, thinking!).

I've finally sorta got the office set up and the kitchen unpacked. I actually cooked some breakfast this morning beyond toast and coffee, which was very nice. The mid-sized city that we've moved to is really accommodating. On the outskirts of our small neighborhood we have several options for restaurants, groceries, coffee, bars, and small businesses that we've missed having access to in Missouri. We're also much closer to our old community and the friends that we left behind there. I haven't seen many of them yet, but I know that I will from time to time. It's not super close (around 1.5 hours), but hopefully it works out to still be a portion of our social life.

That brings up the future of our existence here in Southern Mid-Sized City (SMSC). We need to start work and connect with new friends. While we were in Missouri, this turned out to be really easy. That still surprises me, in hindsight. I befriended the department chair of the Chemistry department in the Small State University (SSU) that I worked for and many of my wife's friends in her academic department as well. I get the feeling that we may be relying a little on new "work friends" over the first few months after we start working, which won't likely be before August.

I'm hoping that I can 1) get a job pretty quickly (I have had one very good interview, so my fingers are crossed!) and 2) turn over a bit of a new leaf and form friendships with work colleagues. I avoided that to a degree at my first jobs and I don't think that was a great idea. Now that I've gone from those appointments, I find myself wanting to stay in touch with those people and I think that's an indicator that they would have been good friends outside of work all along.

In any case, to end this long-overdue post in my neglected personal blog, that's where we stand. Let's hope that we find the inspiration to unpack all of these boxes in the next few days.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

New Cider - Quebrada del Chucao, Chile

Over the years of moving, traveling, going out to eat, and cooking at home, I ended up getting introduced to a variety of cuisines. I enjoy trying new foods and drinks, so it's been pretty fun. Among my favorite things to sample when I'm in a new place or see something unique on a menu or just at the grocery store, is often a beverage. I have to say beverage because I'm up for anything. I love beer. All styles. I love ciders. I love wines. Cocktails. Sodas. Tea. Coffee. You can find nuance and creativity in the breadth of drinks available in almost any area.

While spending time in Spain I ran across their version of cider. My wife has an aunt from Valladolid, which, for her southern family, qualifies as the north of Spain. Not everyone will agree with that, but it's definitely far enough north to enjoy a different selection of food and drink than you would commonly find in the south. On one Dia de los Reyes, while visiting her house, I saw her pouring a drink out of a bottle about head high while she stretched to put the glass down below her waist. She looked drunk. I couldn't figure out why anyone would be pouring something like that. I work in chemistry and have met some people that were fantastic at pouring liquids, but this was weird. I asked what she had and was told that it was "sidra" and that it needed to be poured that way for the drink to aerate properly. It's definitely tradition, I've learned, but I haven't done enough comparisons myself to determine if it changes the taste much. What I did learn that day, was that I love sidra.

I'll be calling Spanish cider "sidra" in this post (and maybe subsequent posts?) to save a word and to indicate that it's a little different than hard apple juice from other places. I might be being a snob, but I'm not trying to. I have read and heard sidra described as funky by different people, both reviewers and servers. I can remember getting a bottle of Isastegi (a nice Basque cider that I'd recommend if you haven't already tried it) at a "pub" in Durham, North Carolina and being warned that it was not a normal cider. Luckily I already knew. Sidra isn't normally sweetened or carbonated. It's closer to an apple wine if I'm not mistaken. I don't really know if there's anything special about the fermentation that gives it a funkiness, but I haven't read anything about bacteria being added to the process for that purpose. It does, however, get a pretty distinct flavor and ends up being pretty different from the cider selection at most American grocery stores.

Time to get to the point at hand, though: I have got a bottle of Chilean "sidra espumante" that I'm trying and I want to record it. I got the bottle from a wine shop in Columbia, Missouri where I was told that it was a Basque cider. I read that label and the guy then decided that his seller must have meant that it was made in the Basque style. Fine with me. I'm more than willing to give a cider from Chile a go. The bottle cost me about $15, so it's about what you might expect for imported alcohol. The bottle recommends enjoying the cider with pork chops or soft cheeses, so I naturally cooked chili today. Works for me.

Right off the bat, the cider pours with a head. Not a bad thing, and what I would want from a cider that calls itself "espumante" or foamy. I pour it into some recycled glass cups from Spain that some friends gave us a while back. Closest thing I have to a real cider glass. The first taste is effervescent, tart, and a little sweet. It has a good, crisp bite to it. The color is pale yellow. After a couple of swallows I can taste what seems like a Fuji apple as an aftertaste. I only poured small amounts at a time into the glass and I won't lie about smelling anything since we had a fire going outside while I was drinking this. Overall, the cider was good. Nothing incredibly complex, but a simple, "appley" drink with some carbonation that had a good, somewhat sweet taste and went down easily. I enjoyed it with the chili, but I'm not overly upset by pairing strange combinations together. I have mentioned that it's sweet, but I don't know that it has been sweetened beyond the normal sweetness that a cider produces. It certainly is a lower level of sweetness than what you would find in many grocery store ciders. The sweetness is probably closer to what you'd find from a "dry English-style" cider.

I think that the cider is worth recommending, and I can say that I wouldn't mind buying it again. Also, this is pretty fun and I think I might review more things on here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I'm back to reality. The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy. My first academic article came back and was accepted with minor revisions. This means that the reviewers read it and liked the content, but had some questions and suggestions. We then had to respond to the comments, one of which was to make all new figures (yikes!). I did that job, and it was a little tedious, but definitely worth it considering that after sending it back, THE PAPER WAS ACCEPTED! If you're reading this and don't know me then this is much less significant to you, but I'm sure you can understand how big it is. This paper is my first publication as a scientist and I'm quite happy with it. 

On another academic note, I presented a poster at this year's South Eastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society. This conference has talks and poster sessions for most disciplines in chemistry. My poster presented research on developing a method through GC-MS/MS (a very high-powered machine) to detect and quantify chemicals in tobacco smoke. It turned out that more than a few people in my session were interested in what we'd done, so I think that the presentation went well. It was a huge relief to me, as I wasn't sure anybody would care about it. I'm glad they did.

When I reflect on what I've done since starting work as a professional chemist last year, I realize that it's been a privilege to publish my first paper and present an poster during the International Year of Chemistry. I hope that later this year I can possibly go back to Washington High School and talk about my experience with some of the students interested in science. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Buying Cars and Conference Presentation Abstracts

So I've been out of the loop for a little while here. I'll let you in on what I've been up to: I bought a car! On a more professional note, I've also written and submitted an abstract that was accepted for a poster presentation in Richmond for SERMACS 2011 (SERMACS2011.org). Also, my first journal article was edited and submitted to the Journal of Analytical Toxicology. Things have been more than a little hectic!

On the bright side, however, I think that I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel of work. It's not that I'll be finished working, but I think that I'll work a little less hard in the last three months of this year. Hopefully I can use this to organize some things a little. I really want to finish up my home-office setup and get the remaining cords and controllers for my old video game systems that I haven't been able to find.

My girlfriend (I'm not sure that I want to use names on this here interwebs just now) has been doing a little bit of decorating recently. We've got a lot more pictures up now than previously. I'm really happy about it; the apartment really seems to be for real people now.

We also took our first mini-vacation with my grandparents this past weekend up to Asheville. I hadn't been to Asheville in a long time (~4 years), but it was very nice to hang around there and drive the new car. I hope that everybody else enjoyed it as much as I did. It was a really good day or two.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Another Blog? Does This Conflict With My Last Post?

I knew I'd want to write some opinions and news about chemistry and science, but I was also pretty certain that not everyone would be interested in those things. For those who would like to see that too, I've separated those posts into another blog that will be found here: The Laboratory's Water Cooler. I'll also follow that blog so that you can find the link without using this post. Hope you guys find it interesting!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Too Many Interests

I'm sure that I'm not the only person that has this problem: I want to do EVERYTHING! When I learn about a new subject or activity, or maybe hobby, I want to participate in it. I can, right now, think of about six things right off the top of my head that I'd like to spend some time doing. There is, of course, an obvious problem with  having such extensive interests. I know that I will likely never do all of the things that I'm interested in. I need to prioritize.

But, how should I prioritize. Well, the act itself should tell me, right? I put the most important or interesting hobbies up at the top, and then the rest follow in decreasing interest or importance. This might work for some people, but I seem to be equally interested in all of these "extra curricular" activities. For example, I would really like to write science fiction. This, in itself, is not really a problem. I don't have any particular experience with writing, but I enjoy reading and analyzing stories so I would think that, with enough time, I could learn what I need to know and practice writing to the point that I enjoy my stories. But this means that I have to take time from another hobby or potential hobby. If I'm using my evening hours to read and practice writing, it's going to be really hard to be outside looking at stars and nurturing my amateur astronomy hobby.

I know that this is not rocket science. I should be able to make these personal decisions personally. It isn't an easy job, though. Some of the hobbies are expensive and get saved for later in life. That aspect makes decisions easier, but the temporal component is always an issue. I've talked with friends (some of you, I'm guessing) about life after starting a job, and we've come to the conclusion that hobbies and hobby management are important aspects of life after employment. Jobs really seem to require use to structure our free time in order to maximize its potential. Otherwise it is very easy to feel like you're just spinning your wheels when you're not on the job.

So, like I said at the beginning, I know that this isn't a unique problem. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts about and solutions to this issue. It's not that I don't think I can get through this problem alone, but I don't like reinventing the wheel, either. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Presumably, this blog post, and those which follow it, will be read by people that already know me. For those that do not, I am a career chemist. I haven't been doing it long but, after several years of study and over a year on the job, it sometimes feels like I at least know what I'm talking about. This blog, however, will not use chemistry or even science as a central topic. I'll likely just be putting ideas and opinions here. Hopefully they'll be a lot like the one that I'm going to spend this brief post on.

I think about glassware a lot. Chemists and scientists use specially designated glassware both to contain and to manipulate the chemicals and mixtures that they handle since it's usually a bad idea for them to use their hands or to get their tools mixed up with those reserved for other purposes. This glassware has come to take many shapes and very specific designs to perform important functions. Some of the pieces of glassware measure things. Others, like funnels and filters, watchglasses, and distillation devices are used to separate substances. This is what I'm often trying to do in the lab.

But this isn't a chemistry blog. It's not even necessarily a science blog. The glassware that separates chemicals is quite important and I've been thinking recently about how important separation can be. At least in my life, I tend towards letting lots of things mix together. I sometimes find that I'm thinking about work while I'm at home watching a movie, or maybe I'm thinking about how to translate a sentence into Spanish when I'm at work trying to prepare a calibration curve. This is distracting and maybe it works for some people but, at least for me, it seems that I need separation.

It isn't the case that I think all separations are good. When I'm separated from certain equipment at work my whole day will become wasted. Similarly, I don't like to be separated from people that I love. Even so, I feel like we should have a healthy amount of separation going on. Sometimes our thoughts and ideas need some rest and we have to move on to another task before we can really use them. This being the case, I'll be trying to separate myself from some of my thoughts and ideas by placing them here. If you'd like to, and I certainly would like it if you did, you can leave a comment about my thoughts. If you know me "in real life" then feel free to let me know what you think through some other means if you prefer. But either way, this will be a way for me to separate myself from some of my thoughts so that they can rest, and in this way I hope to revisit them in an even more productive way.