Friday, January 16, 2015

Civil Forfeiture Takes One in the Teeth

Civil forfeiture - if you're not familiar with it - is a US procedure that allows particularly rapacious police departments to confiscate your property even when you have not been convicted of any crime. And it's up to you to prove your innocence to get it back. If you do get it back, years later, it's often worth less than the money you've expended. It has ruined people's business and their lives, and it is used (surprise!) disproportionately against non-whites.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Travel (Poster) to Another Planet

JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has commissioned some artwork - travel posters to some recently discovered exoplanets that might support life.

Kepler 186f orbits a red sun...



HD 40307g is eight times Earth's mass...




And Kepler 16b orbits a binary star.




You can download the full posters here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

"I Do Not Agree With What You Say-"

"-But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It."

This week, this line seems particularly apt. It's frequently attributed to Fran├žois-Marie Arouet, a.k.a. Voltaire, one of the founders of the French Enlightenment. As it happens, Voltaire never said it himself; his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, wrote it as a summation of Voltaire's beliefs.

Either way, I agree with that sentiment; and I loathe those who claim the right to shut people up with violence and threats.

Perhaps it's time we staged a Voltaire-a-thon.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Bone Marrow Donation: Scary No More!

If you've heard about BMD, it's likely included stories about giant needles, general anesthesia, and pain that lingers for weeks.

Apparently, that's not true anymore.

So don't be afraid to be a donor!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Disco Clam

Disco Clam - aka Ctenoides ales, aka the Electric Flame Scallop - has tiny, shiny bits of silica in its mantle that shine and flash brightly in sunlight or the artificial lights of divers. Boogie down, baby! Boogie down!

Burn, baby, burn - disco inferno...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Can It Be True? Shall "Babylon 5" Return to Us?

Well, that's the word from Blastr.com, anyway. Seems that J. Michael is working on a movie screenplay; it will be a "reboot," not a continuation of the series. He hopes to use some of the same cast members.

Medieval Recipe Day - Merry Twelfth Night

January 5 is Twelfth Night, the Eve of the Epiphany. It commemorates the Adoration of the Magi (or kings). It marks the end of the Christmas season and was a big deal in Medieval Europe. One of the traditions was (and still is) baking a "king's cake" or galette du roi. The cake is ring-shaped, to represent a crown; and small items are baked inside it, like coins, rings, and a bean. If someone finds a coin, it signifies wealth; a ring, marriage; and whoever finds the bean becomes the king of the feast, the Bean King. Tolkien wrote a novella around the king's cake called Smith of Wootton Major. And here's a recipe for it (the cake, not the story), from Elizabeth Bissette at BellaOnline:


Kings Cake


2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 pd (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c warm milk
5 large egg yolks, room temperature
4 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
4 c confectioner's sugar
1 bean, 1 ring, 1 coin
5 tbsp. milk, room temperature
3 tbsp. lemon juice
Purple, green andd gold or yellow srinkles

Combine yeast and granulated sugar in bowl of mixer. Add melted butter and warm milk. Beat at low speed 1 min. With the mixer running, add egg yolks, then beat for 1 minute at medium-low. Add flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon peel, beat until well mixed. Increase speed to high and beat until the dough pulls away from sides of the bowl & forms a ball. Remove dough, form into smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with vegetable oil. Place dough in the bowl and turn to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, (about 2 hours).

Make filling: combine the cream cheese and 1 c confectioner's sugar. Blend. Set aside.Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board, pat into rectangle about 30 in. long and 6 in. wide.

Spread filling over the bottom half of the dough, flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching together. Shape into a cylinder and place on prepared baking sheet seam side down. Shape into a ring and pinch the ends together so there isn't a seam. Insert objects into the ring from the bottom so they're completely hidden.

Cover and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Brush top with 2 tablespoons of milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove and let cool completely.

Make icing by combining remaining 3 tablespoons milk, lemon juice, and 3 c confectioner's sugar. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread evenly over the top of the cake. Add sprinkles, alternating colors around the cake.

Traditionally cut into 2-inch-thick slices with all guests present.