Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mardi Gras prelude

Mardi Gras is officially nearly upon us (February Fifth). This is the earliest date for Mardi Gras since 1983, and it does feel like the city is not quite ready, pardon the expression, for the inundation. Just in case you are not Catholic and were wondering what this whole holiday is about, Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday. It is 47 days before Easter Sunday (41 if you don't count the Sundays... ask a Catholic), and represents the last sinful behavior before the start of the somber Lent season. Colin and I have so far been to one parade that went through the French quarter, the Krewe de Veiux. It was lewd, hilarious, and creative. The costumes were amazing and the floats, (mule powered only!) were really cool. Colin and my favorite float in the Krewe de Veiux parade was the one sponsored by the Krewe de Pan, which featured the following artistry depicting New Orleans reporter LaFcadio Hearn:

The quote reads: "Times are not good here, The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to be here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio." This is from a letter that Hearn wrote to a friend of his in California in 1879. I guess that is the sentiment that many of us here in New Orleans feel, that despite everything, this city remains one of the most unique and genuine places in America. An amazing article about Hearn's life and times can be found here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Happy to be a Hodag

While we are on the topic of the fuzziest member of the family, I should also point out that Hodag is becoming famous in yet another corner of the internet: Jill Kuczmarski, the author of the Happy the Hodag books, now features Nora's photo of Happy and Hodag.

Hooray for circular references.


Friday craft blogging

This week we are featuring Hodag in his new knitted cat bed which I made him for Hanukkah. Hodag kept sleeping in discarded boxes and looking cold, so Colin suggested I knit him a cat bed. After some serious crafting this is the result. The bed was knitted out of merino yarn and then felted in the washing machine. (I used this pattern) Hodag seems pretty pleased with the results, even if he prefers to sit on it rather than in it. On Wednesday I decided to use the left over yarn I had from the cat bed to make a knitted iphone case for my friend Michael Gillette. Michael kept leaving his iphone laying about and then panicking that he had lost it. So I made him a gadget case complete with an idiot string to prevent him leaving his expensive toy laying around. the string can be clipped to either a belt buckle or to the strap of his messenger bag. Between these two recent endeavors, I am feeling pretty dang crafty.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

In which I get better at homework

As mentioned before, the math methods class I have this semester is a continuation from last semester. It's taught by the same professor, so we still have homework due every Friday. Our first assignment is due tomorrow. I just finished it, and I have to say that it feels really good to be on top of things. I hope it lasts.

I have a schedule too

  • Statistical Mechanics -- Tue, Thu 11:00-12:15

  • Math Methods II -- Mon, Wed, Fri 10:00-11:00

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics -- Mon, Wed, Fri 9:00-10:00
Math Methods II is a continuation from last semester. It promises to be mostly special functions and differential equations. It will be a lot of review of material I've seen before, but not so explicitly. There is a good chance that we will be doing Group Theory later in the semester, which would be pretty interesting.

Stat Mech is also required, and is unlikely to be too surprising. Some of the applications can be pretty interesting. The base material is pretty dry.

Atomic and Molecular is likely to be John Perdew talking about density functional theory, which is his area of research. It's going to be heavy theory, and unlikely to be at all useful to my own research, but it's interesting stuff to study.

I'm also continuing research for Wayne Reed, and TA'ing. I have the same TA assignment as last time: one section of the 101 lab, and grading papers for one section of 101 lecture.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Monday food

Today Colin and I cooked the archetypal Monday New Orleans recipe, red beans and rice. This dish is typically made using red kidney beans, stewed with onions, green bell peppers, celery, garlic, pork and spices cooked together for several hours before eating. It is served over a mound of white rice. Monday was red beans and rice day because you could incorporate the left over ham from dinner Sunday night. Also, Mondays were the traditional wash day in New Orleans, and this is a dish that could be simmered for hours without needing constant attention. We used the Uglesich's Cookbook 'red beans over white rice', which is as follows:

  • a green pepper
  • three celery stalks
  • a yellow onion
  • four cloves of garlic
  • one pound of ham (we used andouille sausage, so any type of pork will do)
add to:
  • beans that have been soaking overnight. (one pound of beans in a pot with an inch of water covering them.)
season with:
  • one eight ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Bring to a boil, then reduce to below simmer and cook for two to three hours. Just before serving, add a whole stick of margarine or butter into the pot. Serve over white rice.

mmm, creamy red beans and rice.

In addition to the red beans and rice, I made a King cake. King cakes used to be made on and for Twelfth Night during the Christmas season, but in New Orleans it has become associated with Carnival. Since Mardi Gras is only two weeks away, I thought I should whip one of these up. King cake is named after the three kings who visited the baby Jesus. Epiphany cake or King cake is common in many countries in Europe and was probably introduced into Louisiana by the French and Spanish settlers. My King cake was made from a brioche bread recipe with pecan filling (recipe found here). I did not bother to decorate it in the New Orleans style, (with colored sugars; yellow for power, green for faith, purple for justice) but I think it turned out beautifully nonetheless. Since I was not planning on serving it to a crowd I also did not include the traditional trinket, either a dried bean, or in New Orleans a small plastic baby doll. Whoever receives the piece of cake with the trinket is crowned King or Queen of the party and in some traditions is forced to supply the next year's King cake.

Spring Classes

Here are the classes I am taking this semester. Some of these are Master of Public Health degree requirements (Biostatistics), or department requirements for Tropical Medicine (Entomology, Tropical Medicine Seminar), and some are just for fun (Virology and Immunoparasitology).

SAS programing (statistical programming software) 1/2 semester long class

Immunoparasitology (how the immune system reacts to parasites)
Entomology / Advanced Entomology each 1/2 a semester, successively

Tropical Medicine seminar

Entomology / Advanced Entomology each 1/2 a semester, successively


Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday cat blogging

This week for Friday cat blogging we offer the cats of our respective homes. First there is George, the cat that belongs to Colin's family in Mission Viejo. Below him is Rufus, the cat that belongs to my family in Los Angles.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I got the blues

People (Connor especially) have asked for a more in depth explanation of "Haunt blue".
Haunt, or 'Haint' blue is a color that is used to decorate the underside of porches and window trim on houses all 0ver the Southern United States. Since Haint blue is a historical color, several variations of it exist. It can look like baby blue, but can also range into green blue tones. Below are samples of Haint Blue Light and Haint Blue Dark from the Savanna historical society (1980) for use on historic homes.

The term Haint as used in the Southern United States is thought to derive from the mingling of Europeans and African slaves. For example, the Gullah people of South Carolina refer to a haint as a spirit or ghost. Another occurrence of the term haint is found in the Appalachian mountains, where it likewise means "that which haunts" and derives from Anglo-Germanic myths of spirits. The interaction between slaves and Europeans produced in Carolina people whose religion was Hoodoo but who had incorporated other ritualistic beliefs from Europe, such as the existence of spirits into their mythology. Ok, now that we know what Haint means, what about the blue, and why use it on porches, door and window frames? Blue painted porches are thought to have many purposes, one is to drive away nesting insects (this is probably caused by the lime originally used in mixed colored paints, rather than due to the color itself.) Apparently, painting the ceiling blue also prevents wasps from building nests on it, as they mistake it for the sky. A more relevant reason to paint entryways blue is that it was thought to confuse evil spirits into believing that the surface painted blue was made of water. In Gullah folklore, Haints cannot cross water, and by painting a surface blue you can trick them into not entering a house by a door or window. Similarly, this may have origins in the Mediterranean belief that the color blue protects against the evil eye.

In addition I think I should mention another iconic New Orleans blue, "Commander's blue". This is named after the famous New Orleans restaurant, Commander's Palace, which, as you can see below, is painted an aqua color.

In 1974 when the Brennan family took over the venerable Commander's Palace restaurant, they painted the brown Victorian mansion bright aqua blue, shocking the staid neighborhood which was colored white beige and brown. Now the color is emblematic of the restaurant, and you can request house paint colored "Commander's Blue".

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Home again

Colin and I returned home safely yesterday. Soon we will return to blogging about our life in New Orleans, in the meantime, here are the rest of the fabulous Hawaii creatures that we saw during our vacation.

The endangered Hawaiian Monk seal. The Monk seal is one of only two native Hawaiian mammals, the other is the Hoary bat. This guy hauled himself out onto land to nap for the day.

A green Anole that I caught soaking up some sun.

Kauai moa (feral jungle chicken).

My sister Lia kissing a Cane toad that I caught.

A green sea turtle who swam to shore and napped on the beach right by the condo we stayed in.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Hawaii Edition

At the very least, it's still Friday where we are. We are no longer in Hawaii, but this week's Friday cat blogging will feature the cat we met at the condo we stayed at in Kauai.

She was just a kitten. A neighboring family wanted to take her home with them, but decided that they couldn't. We found out that the kitten was still there the morning we were packing up to leave. We didn't have enough time to figure out how properly to take her home with us, so we had to leave her. It was sad, because she was so cute.

We also have a bonus cat blogging this week. Meet Gary. At least he meows like a cat.

There will be more Hawaii wildlife photos coming soon.