Interesting Articles: Dec 20th-26th 2005

* Study Shows the Superrich Are Not the Most Generous (New York Times). Interesting. And neat that they got access to unpublished tax reports. The article, though, has even more data than I'd prefer (and I'm a data junkie). (Addendum: shortly after reading this article, I read the article Hey, Bartender, Can You Break $1,000? (New York Times). It provided a nice echo, though it's unclear whether those ordering those expensive drinks are super-rich, rich, or just upper-middle class.)
* Just Another Displaced New Yorker (New York Times). An informative tale about how the story of Santa Claus has evolved over time.
* Health Care for All, Just a (Big) Step Away (New York Times). I didn't realize that employer-provided health care was so subsidized, and that nearly universal health care could be so reachable (from an economic viewpoint at least).
* Is Teddy a pollution magnet? (Science News). In short, stuffed animals attract environmental pollutants. Probably not a good thing. More details in Brominated flame retardants and organochlorine pesticides in children's stuffed toys (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry).

Feel Like A Food Processor? Here's How To Buy One

After reading the Consumer Reports blender/mixer/food processor buying guide and, based upon my needs, ordering a blender, I decided not to buy a food processor. If the blender fails to help me cook what I need, then I'll reconsider that decision. In case I do, here are the sites I had found during the time I was pondering purchasing a food processor.

Buying guides (in addition to above Consumer Reports link), all heavily redundant:
* Amazon food processor buying guide
* Reluctant Gourmet food processor buying guide
* food processor buying guide
* John Lewis food processor buying guide
* Love to Know food processor buying guide

Not surprisingly, the most detailed and systematic reviews (Consumer Reports on food processors and Cook's Illustrated (search for food processors)) require a subscription. However, Consumer Search (on food processors) comes through again! They summarize reviews from both of those publications as well as others and synthesize the results. It should be my primary starting reference point if I start thinking about buying one.

Want A Blender? Here's How To Buy One

I got a great new cookbook as a present (thanks!) and immediately realized I needed a food processor or blender. (Many dishes have sauces that require one.) Not sure which type of item I needed, I did a bit of research on the web and found this Consumer Reports blender/mixer/food processor buying guide that explains everything fairly well. Deciding I needed a blender, I did some more research.

Here is a list of handy (though heavily redundant) sites for background on blenders:
* Amazon blender buying guide
* Reluctant Gourmet blender buying guide
* bar blender buying guide
* epinions blender buying guide

As for individual blender reviews, Consumer Reports does them, as does Cook's Illustrated (search for blenders). However both of these require a subscription or registration to view the reviews.

Happily, Consumer Search summarizes both these blender review results along with a number of others and synthesizes conclusions. I found these pages to be a very informative read.

The end choice wasn't too hard. Given that I don't need an expensive top of the line professional blender, Consumer Reports and Cook's Illustrated agree that the best choice is the Braun PowerMax MX2050 blender. It's around $50, and Consumer Reports recently re-endorsed it as one of its best gifts under $100. I called up my local stores but, failing to find one that carries that model, ordered it online.

Additional keywords: blenders, choose, choosing, select, selecting, review, reviews, buying tips, advice

Berkeley Transcript Bureaucracy

I was on campus recently and offered to drop off a small pile of transcript request forms for a friend who is applying to graduate school. However, the registrar refused to let me drop them off for her. The registrar said in-person transcript requests must be by my friend in particular. Her signature on the check for payment of the request doesn't count. Getting her on the phone doesn't count. But guess what the registrar said I could do? The registrar handed me an envelope and told me to put the request forms in the envelope and drop them in the dropbox. Then they could process them because then they'd have been considered to have come in my mail.

Need New Tires? Here's How To Buy Them

The best sites for tire reviews are:
* Tire Rack: yes, they sell tires too, but they have many reviews, both from experts and non-experts
* Consumer Reports (Tires): most parts require subscriptions, but the summary tire ratings are reprinted elsewhere
* Consumer Search (Tires): a meta-review site

I bought new tires by first calling a number of auto service and tire shops in my area and asking them what tires they had in the size I needed (and if they didn't have certain tires, if they could order them) and how much they cost. (To do this, you first need to figure out what size tires you have on your car. First, look at the tires that are on your car. Then go to the tirerack web site or a tire manufacturer web site. They should be able to tell you what tires fit your car. Make sure it agrees with the size of tires you actually have on your car. I needed 205 65 15R (radial) H (speed).)

With that list of available tires, I looked over the tire web sites and prices and chose a manufacturer, model, and store. I chose the Yokohama AVIDs. Your mileage may vary (as well as your tire size requirements, driving needs, and local availability and local prices for various tires).

Additional keywords: choose, choosing, review, reviews, buying tips, advice

Berkeley Thai Temple: Second Visit

This was my second visit to the Thai Temple; read my first visit first.

On December 18th 2005, a rainy Sunday morning, I decided to drive down to the Thai Temple to pick up some lunch for takeout. Upon arriving, I was happy to see they were open (-I wasn't sure because the food is served outdoors in the backyard under tents-) and a few brave souls were there eating at the covered tables. Admittedly not all the counters were open, but I had already decided to have some buffet-type items so that didn't matter to me.

I grabbed a three item combo for lunch.
* The best item was the green beans with tofu. They and the spicy red chili curry sauce was quite spicy and good. (And the sauce wasn't as heavy as many Thai curry-ish sauces usually are.)
* The pad thai was okay, though a little more soggy than it should have been (probably because it was sitting in heating tray for so long).
* The chicken drumstick was also okay. Coated with and served with a sweet(-and-sour, I suppose) sauce, it was just too sweet for me.

I also grabbed a little box of spring rolls for later. Perfectly fine and average. Surprisingly filling given how light the ingredients are.

Interesting Articles: Dec 13th-20th 2005

What an odd week.. all the articles are science-y

* Internet encyclopaedias go head to head (Nature). Finally a reasonable study comparing (scientific) articles in Britannica and Wikipedia.
* Danger Mouse: Deleting a gene transforms timid rodents into daredevils (Science News). Yet another article in my series that demonstrate simple genetic control over complex behavior. Article available: stathmin, a Gene Enriched in the Amygdala, Controls Both Learned and Innate Fear (Cell).
* Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don't. (New York Times). Thought provoking.
* Letters to Science News: You be the judge (Science News). A few comments on the article I mentioned in this old post.
* Scientists Find A DNA Change That Accounts For White Skin (Washington Post). Unsurprising.
* Unway Sign: Ant pheromone stops traffic (Science News). Can you see a new product coming? I can. Another reason the article is interesting is because it contradicts prior notions and gives the researchers a chance to say, "Hah! It turns out I was right." From the article:

There has certainly been resistance to the idea over the years, says Nigel Franks of the University of Bristol in England. In the 1990s, he and his colleagues mathematically modeled ant trails. Complementing attractants with a hypothetical repellent to block useless trails in a model system "vastly increased its efficiency," he says, but other scientists' reviews of that model were "scathing."

Article abstract: Insect communication: 'No entry' signal in ant foraging (Nature).

Berkeley Thai Temple: First Visit

On Sunday, December 11th 2005, I biked a mile or two south for the Berkeley Thai Temple's (Wat Mongkolratanaram) brunch. Although everything was supposedly decent or good, I had a small list of chowhound endorsed items to seek out and try.

I followed advice and arrived at 10:30am, before the crowds that supposedly start arriving at 11:00am. I needn't have worried; the day was a little overcast and, although it got a bit more crowded over time, it never was packed. (I was slightly surprised about this, as it was warmer (50s) than the previous week and the sun did come out for little while. It was nice when that happened. Ah, radiant heat!)

After peeking at everything and trading in my money for chips to pay with, I went to grab the first item on my list: fried chicken with sticky rice. The woman preparing the chicken was impressive. She took a cleaver and hacked a small cooked chicken in half and then chopped a half into smaller pieces/slices. Wow. And it was certainly good fried chicken! It didn't need the little bowl of a sweet sauce that accompanied it. The sticky rice though was thoroughly unexciting, but then I just don't generally appreciate sticky rice. The sweet sauce made the rice slightly more interesting but it was too sweet for me. Instead I just threw out the plate of sticky rice, saving my calories to try better (and more nutritious) dishes.

The next item on my list was the papaya salad (som tum). This was another item that gets prepared far away from the long table of hot tray of curries. Preparation of the papaya salad was also quite artful. The little man asked me how spicy I wanted it and then proceeded to pull spoonfuls of dried shrimp, papaya, ground nuts, and many liquids and more out of nearly a dozen different bowls. After mixing it all together, he laid a little bed of lettuce on the plate and poured the salad over it.

It was quite tasty and definitely amply spicy. I've only have papaya salad two or three times in my life -all in the last year- and this was the best of the lot. It seemed more complex and flavorful. That said, this might only be good in contrast to the few others I had, which I don't think were any good.

Having nearly eaten the equivalent of two full meals, I gulped and looked at my food item list. The next heavily endorsed item was the kanom krok, a sort of coconut and green onion mini-pancakes. Smiling, I realized this suggestion also seemed to be a secret item requiring separate preparation and distinct from the main lineup of foods. But I also gulped once again when I noticed this suggestion was more fried food to clog my veins on top of the fried chicken.

Two fried dishes -the kanom krok and the kanom-something (I forget the name)- are prepared in the back left of the area. The kanom krok are little dollar coin sized pancakes, slightly hemispherical. They are cooked in a large machine much like a waffle maker (i.e., the machine closes on the top and can rotate to flip over) with many tiny divots for the batter for each mini pancake. Meanwhile, the other kanom- dish was simply deep fried coconut flour in little patties three inches across. It was relatively scary watching these float around in the oil as they cooked.

I got a little plate with some of both of these dessert-type items and walked a few doors down the street and sat in the grass in front of the library. The rest of the grass was also occupied by thai temple eaters, but were mostly high school students. Meanwhile, the crowd eating at the picnic tables by the thai temple proper (I observed as I ate my first two dishes) was a wide variety of Berkeleyans, with a distinctive presence of twenty-sometimes likely using the food to re-energize after a late party on Saturday night. Indeed, two conversations I heard support this.

In any case, these items were pretty good. The chowhounds have apparently not lead me wrong in their suggestions. The kanom krok was better than the other dish. The kanom krok were served sliced in half. If one puts the outer side on one's tongue, one gets a nice fried coconut flavor; if one puts the inner side on one's tongue, one gets a warm and mushy coconut and green onion batter that slowly dissolves. I preferred the latter method of eating. The other kanom- dish was simply like coconut pancakes (a la potato pancakes) was good but a bit too deep fried for my tastes. But really I was just running out of the willingness to eat more fried food. Still, I forced myself to finish this dish of both kanom-things. Actually, since the kanom krok outnumbered the other part by quite a bit, forcing myself to finish wasn't hard work on the taste side, only the rational healthy brain side.

I sat, digest a bit, and then biked home. And that was my first trip to the Thai Temple. My second would be turn out to be more efficient, less tasty, and also less artery clogging (or at least less obviously so).

Interesting Articles: Dec 6th-12th 2005

* This Season's War Cry: Commercialize Christmas, or Else (New York Times). A brief history of the commercial aspect of Christmas. Posted because the article has a smattering of interesting facts (that I didn't know).

* Goodbye, Moon (New York Times). A cute little piece of satire. F is the best.

* Are Lawyers Being Overbilled for Their Test Preparation? (New York Times). There's something oddly circular about this whole situation...

* State of the Art (New York Times). Commentary on modern art. An article that was interesting to me only because it cited many pieces of controversial "art" that I never knew about.

Science & Nutrition:
* Lines Are Drawn for Big Suit Over Sodas and Federal Advisory Group Calls for Change in Food Marketing to Children (both New York Times). I'm not sure where I come down on this issue. Thoughts? Feel free to comment.
* Monthly cycle changes women's brains (Science News). A good study, if only for its straightforward design: "One to 5 days before their periods, the women were asked to read words with connotations that were positive (such as "safe" or "delighted"), negative (such as "fault" or "death"), or neutral (such as "bookcase" or "clarinet"). They repeated the task 8 to 12 days after their periods started. ... During the premenstrual period, part of the volunteers' orbitofrontal cortex, an area involved in regulating emotion, was more active in response to negative words than to positive or neutral words. This difference decreased after the women's periods." Original paper available: Orbitofrontal cortex activity related to emotional processing changes across the menstrual cycle (Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences).
* Dairy fats cut colon cancer risk (Science News). Hmmm... A benefit of milk that requires the fat. Original article available: High-fat dairy food and conjugated linoleic acid intakes in relation to colorectal cancer incidence in the Swedish Mammography Cohort (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).

Interesting Articles: Nov 29th-Dec 5th 2005

Maybe I'm picker this week, or maybe the news is lighter, but this is all I seem to have in the queue this week:

* Moody? Cranky? Tired? Feed Me! (New York Times). The second page is more interesting than the first, discussing some scientific studies on the relationship between the sensory system and hunger.