Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Musical Exhortation

Get it right!

In some parallel universe, I am a radio announcer for a classical music station.  In this universe, I'm not, for several reasons:  insufficient breadth of musical knowledge due to an education based primarily on the liner notes from LP's, an inability to correctly pronounce umlauts, and I would probably quit on-air rather than play Pachelbel's Canon or Ravel's Bolero are among these.  But, perhaps because of that parallel-universe Appleman, I get irked when announcers screw up something that they really should get.

So, the other day the announcer queued up some music, and told us it came from Richard Strauss' opera about the question of which is more important in an opera--the words or the music.  He went on about some of the details of the opera, Capriccio, and how it elides the question, and then played the music: selections from Ariadne auf Naxos, which if it is about anything, is about the difficulties of creativity in the real world and just how pelvic new love is.  I had a bit of whiplash, as it was kind of like hearing somebody talking about a good friend of yours, and then pointing them out--and it's somebody else entirely.

Oh well, not really a big deal.  But, since he didn't play it, here is some of the best music ever--the opening sextet from Capriccio.  Enjoy.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Enzymes and Food

I spent the afternoon teaching a class on cheesemaking for the Douglas County Master Food Preservers.  It went quite well; they are a group that knows about food, fermentation, some biology and food chemistry, and yet for most of them dairy products were terra incognita.  This made them ideal students, engaged, intelligent, and naive.

An essential part of making most cheeeses involves rennet.  One can use animal rennet, which is a crude extract of the stomach lining of a young ruminant.  One can use (as I do) a microbial rennet, which is a single enzyme extracted from the fungus Mucor miehi.  One can use an extract from the flower of the cardoon thistle, which doesn't work as well as normal rennet and is only used in a handful of unusual cheeses.  Or, these days, one can use recombinant rennet, which is an enzyme extracted from bacteria that have been given the genes that are expressed in the stomach lining of a young ruminant.  In all cases, the active ingredient in rennet is a specific protease.  This enzyme cuts proteins between two specific amino acids, and in a specific amino acid context (to make an analogy to language, it would be like a text editor that only cuts between the letters "x" and "t" but only if they occur at the end of a word--not very common).  Almost all the protein in milk is casein, which happens to have the target for rennet; and when rennet cuts casein at that spot, the casein sticks together so that cheese can be made.  No rennet, no fromage. All praise to rennet!

This set me to thinking.  Are there other examples where a specific enzyme, with a specific target, is absolutely essential for making a food?  Here's all the others that I can think of, after mulling on and off for a day.  

1.  Candy with syrupy centers.  How do they put liquid in a chocolate shell?  They don't.  They put a solid disaccharide sugar and an enzyme, invertase.  Invertase cuts the disaccharide into two monosaccharides and a molecule of water; the sugars dissolve into the water, and there you are.  The ingredients on the package will say "invert sugar."  
2.  Chicha. This is a maize-based beer like product from the Inca empire.  Beer requires some sugar to ferment, but corn, which the Inca grew, only has starch.  Fortunately, starch can be hydrolyzed to glucose by the very specific enzyme amylase.  Where would an Inca find amylase?  In spit.  There were people whose job it was to chew corn; the amylase in their saliva would act upon the starch in the corn, and they would spit the pulp into a jar.  The pulp of chewed-up corn, spit, and glucose liberated from the starch by saliva amylase would then ferment into a beer, which the Inca would drink.  Yum!  (You can do the same trick; put a little bit of raw potato in your mouth, and eventually it will start to taste sweet.)
3.  Not essential, but interesting--papain and bromelain for a tender steak.  There's a couple of enzymes, derived from papayas and bromeliads (pineapples), that like rennet, are proteases.  However, their specificity differs from that of rennet, and it turns out that they are really good at breaking some of the tougher fibers in muscle proteins.   It's not essential for preparing meat, but if you buy meat tenderizer, most likely you'll be getting one of these two plant enzymes.

I would love to hear of other examples of specific enzymes, independent of an organism, being essential for the production of a particular food.  There's zillions of examples of specific species being required for a food, but a single cell brings hundreds of enzymes to bear.  A single, purifyable enzyme?  That's much rarer.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wednesday Wordage Rough 'n' Tough Stuff Edition

German may be difficult for a foreigner to learn, but at least making the move from written word to spoken language is uncomplicated:  if a letter is there on the page, it is pronounced, and only in one way.  English?  Good luck.  A friend of mine had a visitor from Germany who suggested that they go out for some "coffee and duffnuts."  Perfectly understandable, given the myriad ways that "-ough" can be pronounced.

This is a curse for radio announcers, who have to read wire reports and record labels and try to guess at names.  For instance, I have a bunch of albums by Stephen...well, here's a challenge.  How do you pronounce the following?

1.  Hough (Stephen, outstanding British-Australian pianist/composer/blogger)
2.  Gough (Gough Whitlam, Australian Prime Minister 1972-75, famed for wit)
3.  Pough (Richard, founder of the Nature Conservancy)
4.  Brough (a town in Cumbria, England; also, a brand of motorcycles named after a racer)
5.  Blough (a town in southern Pennsylvania)
6.  Sough (a rather poetic verb describing the movement of wind through trees)
7.  Chough (a corvine bird)
8.  Lough (a body of water)
9.  Slough (a body of water)
10. Slough (to shed skin, or the shed skin of a reptile)

Answers will eventually show up in comments, where you are also free to add your own ways to confuse those for whom English is a second language.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday Fauna Green and Blue Edition

This guy was in one of the goat's water buckets--he's got a bug in his maw, yum!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wednesday Wordage Inadvertent Oxymornic Edition

The Real Doctor, explaining why she was printing out the NY Times crossword puzzle, which she does in pencil using her left hand:  "I'm trying to build up my left-handed dexterity."

Thursday, June 8, 2017

mixed gratitude

A thank you to James Comey, late director of the FBI, for coming out and plainly stating that the president is a liar.  Not that the president misspoke, fudged, shaded the truth, or spun.  Not that the president lied, as a one-time thing that could be an anomaly.  He said the president is a liar, one who lies, and that lying is essential to his nature.

Why couldn't this be said by any other similar serious person any sooner?  Why was it not something that was in every report about the president before the election?  It is as plain and honest a statement as pointing out that he's got weird hair and wears his necktie too long.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday Wordage time to retire a word edition


Now, the Real Doctor is an ophthalmologist, so optics is a real thing that is wonderful.  However, that poor word has become abused, dragged into political arguments.  Firing your FBI director while he's investigating you is "bad optics."  Having zero women on your panel trying to devise health care policy is "lousy optics."  Meeting with Russky bigwigs while you are being investigated for unseemly doings with the very same bigwigs is "questionable optics."  I think it's time to come up with a better word; these things have nothing to do with refraction or reflection or interference or angles of incidence; they are, really, about morality, and so should be framed in such language.  They are "villainous" or "immoral" or "stupid"--so please say so.