Sunday, September 02, 2012

My Recipe for Yogurt

I've never liked yogurt. Actually, it wasn't that I didn't like it as much as that I never gave it a chance. Curdled milk?! Yuk!!

Then I got older and the doctor sent me to a dietician, who suggested I eat yogurt. I found that I kind of liked the Yoplait custard style yogurts so I settled on that. Then one day someone had me watch a documentary about high fructose corn syrup, which prompted me to check the ingredients in the Yoplait custard style yogurt I'd been eating. Sure enough...

So I switched to something else, and somewhere along the way took an interest in making my own yogurt.

As it turns out, before too long I was making yogurt that I liked pretty well and that was a hell of a lot cheaper than buying it at the store all the time.

I started out by buying a yogurt maker, which is just a set of seven glass jars and a thing to incubate them in. The instructions were to not touch the thing while it was incubating because you'd cause the stuff not to firm up as well as it would if you left it alone. This did not involve draining off any whey, obviously.

I didn't like that yogurt very much, so I started incubating it in as large a plastic dish as would fit in the yogurt maker, and then draining off some of the whey, adding some Splenda and whipping it with an immersion hand blender kind of like this one. I was draining off about a third of the total volume in whey before adding the Splenda, whipping the stuff and putting it in the jars that came with the yogurt maker.

Then I decided the little yogurt maker didn't make enough yogurt in one batch, so I started looking around for a way to make bigger batches. At about that time, I had also taken an interest in sous vide cooking, but you have to maintain precise temperatures in that process, and the sous vide machines are therefore much more expensive that I could justify spending. Figuring I could make something myself, I checked into various temperature controllers but didn't find any that I thought had a suitable combination of price and precision. Eventually, I found a number of sites where people had used an inexpensive PID temperature controller to achieve the temperature aims of sous vide cooking, and found the PID temperature controller they'd been using at Amazon. I figured I'd take a chance on the thing, and ordered the controller, a thermocouple and a solid-state relay plus a heat sink for it (probably not needed for this small a load).

I have not yet done anything with the sous vide cooking idea, but wound up using the controller to make a yogurt incubator large enough for bigger batches. It's really crude, but it works like a champ. Here are a few pictures.

I did say "crude". That's a cardboard banker's box, a computer fan, some duct tape and a 100 watt halogen light bulb.

The round piece of wood shown below is just something I had laying around on which to mount the power strip and other pieces of this precision, custom-made incubator. The power strip supplies electricity to both the PID controller and to the heater (light bulb). The controller (black box at the right) provides a voltage signal to the solid-state relay (light colored box with the red light on it), which, in turn, operates the light bulb.  The thermocouple (that tells the controller what the actual temperature is) is sticking into the box through a hole in the cover, which you can see in the upper right-hand corner of the cardboard box.

Here's a similar view showing the face of the controller. I did say "crude" didn't I?

The thing in the lower right of the picture above is just a switch to isolate the light bulb from the solid-state relay. I don't think it's necessary, but it's harmless enough, and might be a good place to put a temperature limiting safety device of some sort. Nothing wrong with belt and suspenders.

Here's how I make the yogurt. Greek style yogurt, which, as far as I can tell, simply means that you drain off more of the whey.

I dump a gallon of milk into a stainless steel pot and heat it to a boil, stirring constantly. The recipes I see all call for heating the milk to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, but for some reason I decided to boil the milk. Works fine.

I cool the boiled milk in a water bath until the temperature drops to about 115 or 120 degrees. No hotter or I might kill the yogurt culture. Maybe not, I don't know, the whole process seems very forgiving.

I mix in some yogurt from the previous batch as a starter to introduce the bacteria that do the actual work. It doesn't much matter how much starter goes in. Thoroughly stir in the starter and stick the covered pot into the incubator, with the controller set to 115 degrees. Like this:

I usually let it incubate for about 12 hours at 115 degrees F, then drain off about a quart and a half of whey, add a cup and a half of granulated Splenda (or the generic equivalent), whip it, whip it good, pour it into suitable individual containers and into the fridge.

As I already mentioned, the whole process is pretty forgiving and open to experimentation. I made one small batch with some sugar-free smooth orange-flavored Metamucil mixed in at the last minute. Turned out pretty good, actually, although my wife won't eat it. It thickened up the yogurt a bit more than it would be on its own, and it tasted OK. One time I added some vanilla extract, which was OK but my wife didn't like it. She, like I, has never been a yogurt eater, but she likes the stuff I make as long as I don't fiddle with it beyond the Splenda.

I've found the easiest way to drain off the proper amount of whey is to dump the stuff just out of the incubator into a large-enough container lined with sack cloth, or some other light fabric such as a large handkerchief (wash it first!), then hang the yogurt in the cloth over the dish until sufficient whey (about one third of the total volume), has drained off. At that point, take the curds from the sack cloth to a dish, add the Splenda (or whatever you like), and whip it. Whip it good.

Fun activity, cheaper than store bought and just as good if not better. Now if I could find a good use for the whey...

Some final thoughts...

  • Incandescent light bulbs are not intended to be cycled on and off continuously, and I've expected this bulb to fail for a long time. It keeps on working, though, which may be because the controller cycles it quickly enough to avoid the worst of the thermal shock. Obviously there is a great temperature difference between incandescence and dark, but at least the filament doesn't get cold during the off portion of the duty cycle. Some of the unexpected longevity is probably because I used a halogen bulb, in which tungsten that boils off of the incandescent filament is mostly re-deposited on that filament instead of on the bulb's glass (or so I understand). Eventually, though, a different heater is probably in order.
  • A cardboard box is probably not the safest thing to use for this purpose. It's safe enough, but one of these days I'll find something more suitable.
  • The controller, solid state relay and such should probably be enclosed. As it is, there's no shock hazard (well, not much), but UL certainly wouldn't approve what I've done. I'll do something about that eventually.
  • I learned today that if the thermocouple comes out of the box, it's going to get quite a bit hotter than intended inside the incubator. That won't happen again. 
  • Learning to use the PID temperature controller actually required reading the manual, and reading the correct manual. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

To Wash or Not Wash Old Slides

My sister sent me some old negatives and slides to scan. These slides and negatives date back as far as the 1940's, and some of them are in pretty bad shape, contaminated with dust and mold.

The obvious question was whether or not I should wash the more valuable negatives and slides in order to improve the picture, or simply rely on the scanner software to do what it can to reduce the effects of age.

I selected one slide that probably dated back to the early 1950's, but with a quite common image less likely to be missed if I destroyed it. I removed it from its cardboard frame and washed it with warm water and some dilute dish soap, rubbing it gently on both sides with my fingers for a few seconds. Then I rinsed the slide thoroughly in warm, running water, and followed that up with a drenching spray of distilled water on both sides, then hung it up to dry.

I did not destroy the image, but I did have to use tape to fasten the slide to the remnants of the old cardboard frame in order to get the PC's scanner driver to recognize the image for some reason. (The scanner's driver worked fine, and is the better choice anyway, I've learned).

Here's an animated GIF of before and after the wash (click on it to see its full width, and sorry for the jumpiness between images). I think it was worth washing the slide, although I don't know how well the scanner's driver would have done cleaning up the unwashed slide in software. I'll have to make that comparison with another "less-precious" slide.

It seems there are a few spots that appeared after the wash, but all in all I think it worked.

I've since read that one should not use the method I used because, apparently, water is bad for some film emulsions (no harm done here, apparently). The recommended methods include a light swipe with a soft cloth and alcohol, or special cleaning fluid one can buy. I picked up a bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol at Walgreen's and will try that next. (The liquor section had a stock of 190 proof Everclear, which is 95% alcohol, but it cost much, much more than the non-drinking stuff.)

I already mentioned that the two scans in the animated GIF above were made using the PC's scanner driver (because I had not realized that you have to fill a checkbox in the software for it to use the scanner's drivers). I'll try to make the next test, wash-don't-wash-with-alcohol, a little better and more complete.

My conclusion, so far, is that washing a precious slide that's been contaminated with dust and damaged by mildew can be worthwhile, but it's too much trouble to do routinely. I should probably mention that the scanner I'm using is a Canon CanoScan 8800F. Here's a review if you're interested. I'm not competent to recommend once scanner over another, but I like this Canon. It's done a fine job for me.

I should also mention that the image above was taken at my Grandparents farm, Finca San Rafael, on the outskirts of Guatemala City, where I did some of my growing up. It was a beautiful place, and I was extremely fortunate to live there for some of my formative years, but now it's all bulldozed and subdivided.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Well, this is kind of roundabout.

This morning I pearled an article I thought was relevant to bitcoin, and then G+'ed it from PearlTrees. Since it's already on Google+, why put it all here on Blogger? Here.

Damn! Next thing you know I'll be tweeting!


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Change the Same

It shouldn't come as any surprise that the White House would come out with loads of steaming dung in response to some of the most popular petitions on their We The People site, those having to do with cannabis. Check it out.
So our concern about marijuana is based on what the science tells us about the drug's effects.
Oh, please!

On the other hand, how could they respond otherwise in an election year, or even during a first term dominated by serious issues and partisan, win-at-any-cost opposition? Maybe, just maybe, something can be done during the second term of an Obama administration, but I'm not holding my breath.

It's completely clear that Federal drugs policy is a failure when viewed from stated aims. It is equally clear that Federal drugs policies serve special interests very well, and the public interest not at all. Civil liberties and respect for law give way to profiteering and corruption.

Possibly the most damaging aspect of Federal drugs policy is the undermining of respect for the law. The term "scofflaw"came about during the first Prohibition that so greatly increased their numbers in society. Now, Prohibition 2 accelerates the effect because when the law in an ass, people treat it accordingly.

When I try to look ahead, I'm afraid I see present trends continuing, with the result that a few years from now we'll see Prohibition continuing to facilitate all kinds of corruption, diminution of civil liberties, violence and cynicism, while becoming even more important economically. How can it be otherwise?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Not Wil Cardon for Senate

I received an email from Wil Cardon (at) politicalmediainc dot com.

Dear Fellow Conservatives, it began. It went on say why I should support him for Senate and not Congressman Jeff Flake, to whom he refers as Mr. Amnesty. (Strike 1)

The email was, essentially, an appeal for money ("$1000, $500, $250, $100 or even $25") wrapped up in an anti-Jeff Flake message. Jeff Flake, Republican Congressman from Arizona, is a conservative who gets some points from me for being strong on earmarks, but when Cardon writes that the election doesn't belong to "liberals like Barack Obama or Jeff Flake", Mr. Flake either laughs out loud or considers it blood libel. Probably the former. Jeff Flake, liberal? That's over the top.

The email doesn't say much, so on to Mr. Cardon's web site, will cardon dot com.

Standard stuff. Red, white and blue theme, with some orange thrown in for Arizona. Scrolling banner at the top. First scrolling banner says "Tell Jeff Flake to sign the Arizona First Pledge." Strike 2.

Enough on the banners. Standard right-wing political stuff. On to the "Issues" link.

Jobs & Economy. Secure the Border. Size and Role of Government. Healthcare/Repeal Obamacare. Unsurprising right-wing stuff.

Arizona Values. Family values. Uh-oh...

...father of five young children... I'm sure his five young children are in good hands, but Strike 2.5. Dude's part of the problem. That it's five and not one or two children plainly illustrates that Cardon is oblivious to the root cause of the globe's ever-sorrier state.

Social conservative. Pro-life. Supports pro-family policies. From conception to death. Strike 2.75. I take that to mean he's a "my way or else" religious nut.

Gun Rights. OK, me too.

Energy Independence. Drill baby drill. Remove EPA regulations. Strike 2.8.

Defense & Foreign Policy. Should not balance the budget on the backs of our armed forces. War on Terror. Blah blah blah. Nothing to indicate substance.

Keeping our Commitment to Veterans. Yes, good, me too.

Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Cardon is really a brilliant guy with a deep understanding of the big (really big) picture. Maybe this political claptrap is just one of the things you have to do to reach office in this country, and he's holding his nose while doing it. Doesn't seem likely, though. Strike 3.

Sorry Mr. Cardon, but no thanks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Instruments of Interstate Commerce

The story is about the first application of federal hate-crime law.

It's an unpleasant story about a bunch of, um, people, some of whom lured another such (who happened to be gay) on a mission to obtain drugs, but which wound up with the gay victim being beaten, apparently with the intent of killing him.

Somehow, during a lull in the beating, the gay victim got away. The attackers were arrested, and two women among them decided to plead guilty in an arrangement to aid in the prosecution of two men who did the actual beating. Something like that.

I agree that you have to try to deal with scumbags somehow, and that hate-crimes warrant special consideration, but there's something deeply wrong with this part:

Prosecutors said the attack on Pennington qualified for federal jurisdiction because Jason and Anthony Jenkins used instruments of interstate commerce in committing the alleged crime.

Those instruments were a Chevrolet Silverado truck and U.S. 119, a federal road.
Commerce Clause? That thing needs to be rolled way back. By this interpretation, absolutely anything falls under federal jurisdiction.

Then again, I'm not a lawyuh. What do I know?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Search Engine Optimizer Spam

I found this in my inbox today:
Jen Rhee via
7:47 PM (12 hours ago)
Hi Steve,

I came across your site while searching for blogs and posts about Mexican drug cartels. That said, I wanted to reach out to see if you'd like to view a graphic that my team and I created which illustrates the benefits of marijuana legalization. Would you be interested in taking a look?

I'd love to get your readers' feedback as well as yours!

Jen R.
"... via"? Hmmm...

This approach is a little classier than posting a vacuous comment containing a string of periods, each of which is a variant of a link to one or more websites, but no thanks.

Sneakiness is off-putting, Jen. Next time, try an honest appeal. Maybe something like, "Hi, I'm trying to boost the search engine rankings of a web site. In order that you receive some value from my intrusion, I've put a nice infographic there which, given the posts on your blog about marijuana legalization, I think you'll enjoy. Please check it out and, if you like it, feel free to link to the infographic."

You might also include a link directly to the infographic rather than, by omission, asking me to reply to you. Why would I want to do that?

Bye Jen.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Rand Paul, the National Pro-Life Alliance and the Life at Conception Act

The other day, Rand Paul, Republican Senator from Kentucky, sent me an email. I know it was from Senator Paul because it said so, right there at the top.

"Dear Friend," he writes in the National Pro-Life Alliance's fundraising email pushing the Life at Conception Act.

Well, Dear Rand Paul and National Pro-Life Alliance:

The Life at Conception Act is a simple-minded and sectarian declaration reflecting a simple-minded religious outlook on a complex and divisive subject, and it will be resisted vigorously by those upon whom you pretend to foist it.

The Life at Conception Act says, with brevity matching substance, "... Congress hereby declares that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being. However, nothing in this Act shall be construed to require the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child."

A Constitutional guarantee without a requirement for enforcement isn't a guarantee at all. It's a fraud, a lie.

The Act goes on, "For purposes of this Act:
(1) HUMAN PERSON; HUMAN BEING- The terms ‘human person’ and ‘human being’ include each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being."

No. It's not like that. Declaring it so doesn't make it so, and your insistence is alienating.

Don't push your religion on the unwilling. You risk a backlash. Convert the unwilling if you can, but don't use the power of the State in a vacuous power play like the Life at Conception Act. Have some respect!