Sage-y Cornbread

Got to the grocery store too late the day before Thanksgiving, and discovered that they're out of Stove Top Stuffing Mix? Need an emergency back-up plan? (Originally posted to Facebook ~ Thanksgiving 2016, only now getting around to posting it to the blog.)

Part 1
  • 1.5 cups corn meal
  • 0.5 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder (4 tsp)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 0.75 tsp salt
  • ~ 2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
Mix dry ingredients thoroughly in a mixing bowl.

Part 2
  • Cooking oil
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
Pour about a tbsp of cooking oil (canola, etc) in a 9x9 pyrex baking dish. Use a paper towel to thoroughly coat the inside of the dish with oil.

Put a stick of butter in the dish and
  • microwave it for 3 minutes on 10% power (soften it, don't liquify it)
Add one raw egg and one cup of milk
  • to the dry ingredients and mix them thoroughly
Add the softened butter
  • to the mixing bowl and mix it some more

Part 3

Notes:
  1. I wait to preheat the oven since that gives the batter more time to rise.
  2. I preheat the (greased!) Pyrex dish with the oven to keep the cornbread from sticking later.

Stick the empty Pyrex dish in the oven and
  • preheat it to 350 degrees
Once the oven has preheated
  • remove the Pyrex dish
  • pour/scrape the batter into the dish
  • pat it down so it's basically flat
Put the dish back in the oven and bake the cornbread
  • at 350 degrees
  • for 40 minutes

Let the cornbread cool for a few minutes.

Notes
  • Typically white flour is used as the second ingredient in cornbread, but I always use spelt, which is pretty similar to ordinary whole wheat flour.
  • If you want to do a gluten-free variant, I have successfully used cornflour (more finely ground than cornmeal). My recollection is that it was somewhat crumblier than normal, but otherwise OK. I have not tried it but I suspect that rice flour would work about the same.
  • I'm not sure what would happen if you just used two cups of cornmeal. I expect the result would just be really crumbly cornbread, but if you're planning to use it as a substitute for turkey stuffing, that's probably OK.
  • The batch I just made came out pretty crumbly anyway.
  • I just eyeballed the sage. It might have been closer to 3 tbsp, I'm not sure. You could substitute dry sage, and if you do you will need a lot less, but I don't know how much exactly.
  • This should go without saying, but you can leave the sage out if you just want regular cornbread.
  • You can use less butter, no butter, or substitute canola oil if you're looking for something a little more healthy.
  • My batter comes out pretty thick, especially with the whole stick of butter. You can just add a little more milk if you find the thick batter to be an issue.
  • Astute readers will note that since I softened the butter in the pyrex dish, I could just have used butter residue to grease the dish. Usually I don't use butter at all (certainly not a whole stick) and just use a little canola oil to grease the dish.
  • As mentioned above, I wait until the batter is ready before I even start to preheat the oven. This gives the cornbread batter more time to rise, which makes a difference in my experience, but seems to be a problem that other people don't have. (Maybe my baking powder is old?)
  • Also as mentioned above, I preheat the greased pyrex dish as well as the oven. This keeps the cornbread from sticking to the dish after it's done and makes it much easier to clean the dish afterwards. However, you have to remember that the dish is still hot when you're pouring the batter into it!
  • If you're feeling ambitious, you could use the butter to saute garlic, chopped celery, chopped onions or other stuffing-like ingredients to add to the batter.
  • No matter how hard I try, I can never cut the cornbread into equal sized pieces. This bothers me more that it should.

Someday Soon "Chemtrails" May Be Real

Airplane contrails are real, but we know what they are: water vapor and small amounts of other combustion products created by jet engines.  The other pollutants may be somewhat harmful, but they are basically the same thing as produced by any other form of combustion.  So what are chemtrails?  Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

The chemtrail conspiracy theory is the unproven belief that long-lasting trails, so-called "chemtrails", are left in the sky by high-flying aircraft and that they consist of chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed for sinister purposes undisclosed to the general public. [1]

When I say chemtrails may be real in the future, I'm really only making the claim that high-flying aircraft will be deliberately spraying chemicals that are not simply a normal by-product of jet engine operation.  However, it won't carried out for "sinister" reasons and it won't be done in secret.  Instead it will only be done after a great deal of public discussion and scientific deliberation.

The chemical in question?  Sulfur dioxide. 

In 1991 Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines produced the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.  Besides massive amounts of volcanic ash, Pinatubo injected an estimated 17 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.  This caused measurable global cooling of about four-tenths of a degree Celsius from 1991 to 1993.  The effects of the eruption lasted for about three years. [2]

The Mount Pinatubo eruption and its worldwide effect on the climate has raised the possibility that we could intentionally inject sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to counter-act the effects of global warming.  This kind of large scale intentional intervention is frequently called "geoengineering" although Wikipedia prefers the term "climate engineering". [3]

Seventeen million tons of sulfur dioxide might seem like a lot, but over one one-year period in 2013 and 2014 U.S. airlines alone consumed about 50 million tons of aviation fuel.  If jet aircraft were burning fuel (at altitude) as sulfur-heavy as marine bunker fuel (3 or 4%) then we could be talking about the equivalent of a Mount Pinatubo eruption every couple of years. [4][5][6]

A massive climate engineering project to inject sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere is clearly plausible, but is it a good idea?  We can do it, but should we?  There are two big questions we need to answer.  How useful is it? And: How risky is it?

Earth's surface has warmed by about 0.85 degrees Celsius from 1880 to 2012.  In comparison, the effects of the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption lasted for a couple of years and caused global cooling that was estimated to be about 0.4 degrees Celsius.  Pinatubo-scale sulfur dioxide injection -- if sustained -- could offset a large proportion of the global warming that we've already experienced.  Of course sulfur dioxide injection only treats the symptoms of global warming, not the root cause.  But it sure looks like it could provide some real value as an intermediate stop-gap solution while other more permanent solutions are brought online. [7][2]

The data from the Mount Pinatubo eruption tells us that sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere can cause cooling comparable to the global warming we've seen so far.  But it tells us something else as well: The effects of stratospheric sulfur dioxide have a limited lifetime, on the order of just a couple of years.  This is bad in the sense that to be useful, the injection program has to be sustained.  But it is good -- very, very good -- in the sense that it reduces risk.  The program could be scaled up, the impact could be measured, and, if the side-effects are too serious, it can be scaled back down again very rapidly.  This greatly reduces the risk of the undertaking.

Global warming melts polar ice packs and ice sheets, exposing darker water and land underneath.  The reduction in reflectivity results in more of the sun's energy being absorbed by the earth, resulting in warmer temperatures, resulting in more ice melting, resulting in more land and water being exposed, resulting in even warmer temperatures.  This is often incorrectly referred to as a "negative feedback loop".  In reality it is a positive feedback loop with negative consequences.  There are other feedback loops of great concern.  For example, as arctic regions get warmer, methane that has been trapped in permafrost and undersea clathrates is released.  And since methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, it too can cause a positive feedback loop. [8][9]

The offset cooling provided by stratospheric sulfur dioxide injection would interfere with these feedback loops.  This could be particularly valuable in the case of methane, which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide but which also has a quite short lifetime in the atmosphere.

Stratospheric sulfur dioxide injection is not a panacea.  But what it can do is buy us time.  It can buy us time to replace fossil fuels with cleaner sources of energy that don't release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It can buy us time to replace less energy efficient technologies with more efficient ones. It can buy us time to deploy large scale climate engineering projects that do remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It can buy us time to deal with the immediate consequences of global warming and climate change (and we are simply going to have to deal with some of them), and indeed it can buy time for developing economies to, well, develop.  Because everything we need to do is going to be easier if everybody has more money.

Now, to get back to my original point.  I don't know for sure that we're going to be using jet aircraft to inject sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, and I'm no expert anyway.  But I think we're going to do it.  And if we do, the result will be, quite literally, "chemtrails".

Footnotes
  • [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemtrail_conspiracy_theory
    • The chemtrail conspiracy theory is the unproven belief that long-lasting trails, so-called "chemtrails", are left in the sky by high-flying aircraft and that they consist of chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed for sinister purposes undisclosed to the general public.
  • [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Pinatubo
    • The second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, and by far the largest eruption to affect a densely populated area, occurred at Mount Pinatubo on June 15, 1991.
    • The injection of aerosols into the stratosphere is thought to have been the largest since the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, with a total mass of SO2 of about 17,000,000 t (19,000,000 short tons) being injected—the largest volume ever recorded by modern instruments.
    • This very large stratospheric injection resulted in a reduction in the normal amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface by roughly 10% (see figure). This led to a decrease in northern hemisphere average temperatures of 0.5–0.6 °C (0.9–1.1 °F) and a global fall of about 0.4 °C (0.7 °F).
    • The stratospheric cloud from the eruption persisted in the atmosphere for three years after the eruption.
  • [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_engineering
    • Some proposed climate engineering methods employ methods that have analogues in natural phenomena such as stratospheric sulfur aerosols and cloud condensation nuclei. As such, studies about the efficacy of these methods can draw on information already available from other research, such as that following the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
    • Climate engineering, commonly referred to as geoengineering, also known as climate intervention,[1] is the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climatic system with the aim of limiting adverse climate change.
  • [5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_oil
    • Governing bodies (i.e., California, European Union) around the world have established Emission Control Areas (ECA) which limit the maximum sulfur of fuels burned in their ports to limit pollution, reducing the percentage of sulfur and other particulates from 4.5% m/m to as little as .10% as of 2015 inside an ECA. As of 2013 3.5% continued to be permitted outside an ECA, but the International Maritime Organization has planned to lower the sulfur content requirement outside the ECA's to 0,5% m/m.
  • [6] Math
    • How much sulfur dioxide could be produced by burning 16.2 billion gallons of fuel which is 3.5% sulfur by weight?
      • > 16.2 billion gallons
      • > 61.3 billion liters                   ; 3.78541 liters per gallon
      • > 47.5 billion kg                       ; 775 g/l or 0.775 kg/l, the lower figure for jet fuel
      • > 47.5 million tons                     ; 1000kg per metric ton
      • > 1.66 million tons                     ; tons sulfur, assuming 3.5% sulfur by weight
      • > 3.32 million tons                     ; sulfur dioxide is about 1/2 sulfur by mass (32.06 / 64.066)
    • Answer: 3.32 million tons sulfur dioxide
      • This number is at best an estimate.  Aircraft would only burn sulfur heavy fuels at altitude, so not all fuel consumed would produce stratospheric sulfur dioxide.  On the other hand, average jet fuel density is no doubt greater than 775 g/l, and sulfur concentrations of up to 4.5% have been reported for marine bunker fuel.
      • Most importantly, U.S. air travel only accounts for a fraction of total air travel -- a large fraction, no doubt, but probably less than half.
        • > 3.32 million tons                    ; assume U.S. aircraft inject 3.32 million tons of sulfur dioxide
        • > 6.64 million tons                    ; assume European and Asian aircraft can inject a similar amount
        • > 13.3 million tons                    ; assume a 2 year time horizon
  • [7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming
    • The global average (land and ocean) surface temperature shows a warming of 0.85 [0.65 to 1.06] °C in the period 1880 to 2012, based on multiple independently produced datasets.
  • [9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_methane_emissions
    • Arctic methane release is the release of methane from seas and soils in permafrost regions of the Arctic, due to deglaciation. While a long-term natural process, it is exacerbated by global warming. This results in a positive feedback effect, as methane is itself a powerful greenhouse gas.

Self-sinking capsules and cryobots

Probing Of The Interior Layers Of The Earth With Self-sinking Capsules: http://www.cmp.caltech.edu/refael/league/radioactive-core-earth.pdf

It is shown that self-sinking of a spherical probe in the form of a capsule filled with radionuclides, whose decay heats and melts the rock in its path, deep into the Earth is possible. Information on the formation, structure, and shifts deep in the Earth can be obtained by recording and analyzing acoustic signals from the recrystallization of the rock by the probe.

Similar technology for penetrating ice:

A cryobot or Philberth-probe is a robot that can penetrate water ice. A cryobot uses heat to melt the ice, and gravity to sink downward. The difference between the cryobot and a drill is that the cryobot uses less power than a drill[citation needed] and doesn't pollute the environment.

A cryobot or Philberth-probe is a robot that can penetrate water ice. A cryobot uses heat to melt the ice, and gravity to sink downward.
 

Some thoughts on the Ender's Game movie

From the previews, I expected that Ender's Game the movie had taken major liberties with Ender's Game the novel.  After seeing the movie, I have to say that the liberties taken were surprisingly small.  In fact I'm not sure I've ever seen any movie based on a novel try so hard to be faithful to the source material.

Unfortunately there's a downside -- there were a number of scenes (too many of them) that seemed quite forced precisely because they were trying so hard to cram in themes from the book that there just wasn't time for in a two hour movie.

This is an age old dilemma; What do you want?  A more faithful adaptation of the source material or a better movie?

As a fan of the novel, I have to say I am extremely pleased to see that this movie was made by people who understood and clearly cared about the novel.  On the other hand, I think science fiction cinema really suffered for this choice.  I'm really torn.  I really think they should have taken more liberties with the story and made a better movie.  On the other hand, if they'd done that I'd probably be writing a blog post complaining about the changes.

One last thing to think about -- Ender's Game was originally a short story before it was a novel.  Adapting the short story might have made for a much better movie.  But then you end up with a movie that doesn't address the morality of the xenocide against the Buggers at all, which is an important (and maybe the most important) theme of the novel.