Jon Singer (jonsinger) wrote,
Jon Singer

A [Thanksgiving] Day in the Life of a (sorta) Mad Scientist

[[I think I’ve already addressed the fact that I woke up with a migraine on the day after Thanksgiving, 5 years in a row, after which I tried a fancy organic turkey and did not have any trouble with it, so that’s what I buy now. Lately I’ve been getting them from Maple Lawn Farms, and they’ve been just fine.]]

I brined the turkey, as I have done for lo, these many y’ars. (Well, okay, perhaps 5 or 6 times. Before that I had no idea about brining. Then I was fed a brined chicken, and everything changed.) I have found that if I use the amount of salt that is usually called for, the drippings from the bird are too salty to use as gravy. This is deprecated, so I now keep it down to a dull roar, perhaps half the suggested amount. (I say “perhaps” because I almost never measure anything when I’m cooking.) The brine still works, although it is probably slower to penetrate, and if time & tide permit I let it go longer.

This time it was: salt, acacia honey, tarragon, cinnamon, a few bay leaves, and lots and lots of caraway seeds. I grew up with caraway seeds on rye bread and in Cabbage Noodles, and I really love them. (If you look at Eastern European cookbooks, you may have to go through 6 or 8 recipes for Cabbage Noodles before you find one that calls for kimmel. I have no idea why this should be.)

I only had time to let it go overnight in the fridge, less than 24 hours, but it worked well anyway.

Then I overcooked it. This is annoying, on several counts. For one thing, it’s not the first time. For another, although I was running the oven a little hotter than 325, I did check it more than an hour before I thought it would be finished. By that point, however, it was already badly overdone. Sigh. (You would think that I’d have a firm protocol in place after even a single experience of this sort, but no. However, there is now an Event in my calendar, on a certain Thursday in November of 2014, cautioning me to check the temperature of the turkey at the [expected] midpoint of the roasting process.) It tastes about as good as it can, though, considering. In addition, the drippings are pleasant enough that I’ve been using them as gravy without adding anything to them or even bothering to thicken them. (I added some water to the roaster when I covered it, and apparently used just about the right amount. Too bad I didn’t think to check the temperature inside the bird right then.)

I made a stuffing/dressing [some in the bird, some in a separate pan] from medium-width (about 1 cm) rice noodles (hydrated in lukewarm water until they were soft), 4 Chinese sweet sausages (sliced, precooked for 48 seconds in the microwave oven, and squeezed in paper towels to get rid of some of the grease), a quince that I sliced and partly precooked (also in the microwave oven), a bunch of dried barberries, tarragon, cinnamon, a little dried ginger, and lots of caraway seeds. It’s rather pleasant, but the noodles have a tendency to dry out if they are exposed to the air, and some of them ended up being inedibly crunchy. Next time I will use a pan with a lid that can be put in the oven. I should have been on top of this, but as you will see in a bit I was distracted by other events.

My usual cranberry glop is not cooked; after I sort the berries the usual way in cold water, I run them through the blender with some [fresh] satsuma mikan, a little honey, and what Rafih Benjelloun calls “a maizy pinch” of salt. I usually add frozen raspberries, but I didn’t happen to have any on hand this time, and forgot to acquire them on Wednesday.

I think I want to put in a word here, in favor of “biologique” cranberries: near as I can recall, this was the first time I have ever failed to find a single bad berry in a container’s worth. No sinkers, no squishies.

The real fun [ahem] began somewhere in the middle of the day...

The kitchen sink has not drained properly since I moved into this place. I tried infusions of hot washing soda solution (originally suggested by the late and deeply lamented Scott Scidmore) and drain cleaners, but nothing made a dent in it, which should have told me something...

It seemed to be taking essentially forever to empty while I was cooking, and I finally got to the point where I was not going to put up with it any longer. Not the greatest timing, but it was making an already complex day significantly more difficult. I ended up taking out all of the removable sections of pipe from the cabinet under the sinks [it’s a dual] and clearing those; clearing the pipes that come down from the sinks to those removable sections; and even clearing about a foot of the pipe that goes back into the wall. (If anyone is nuts enough to want to see that, I have a single blurry photo of the end of the pipe.) In all, there must have been at least 3 feet of total blockage (!). None of it was particularly difficult to remove, mind you, but I was more than a little surprised to encounter that much of it. In fact, I cleared what I thought was the blockage and reassembled the piping at least twice, before I got the message.

The sink drains beautifully now, and I have even seen the vortex that develops when the outflow is rapid.


Eine Kleine verrückte Wissenschaftler musik, as it were

During the evening I went downstairs to play with the violet laser diode in the basement, which I am hoping to use for holography,...

...and with the new pulser for the blue laser diode, which goes into a different project. While I was tweaking on the violet laser, the furnace [which is in an alcove, next to my chair] started to turn on. It spooled up its first fan, which draws air through the combustion chamber, and then lit its igniter after a suitable delay. Then there was a longer pause than usual, after which it started the flow of gas through the burners, ...and mere moments later, just as the gas ignited, it turned off the fan. The flames promptly stopped going into the combustor and wandered out to play. Oopsie! There are, fortunately, several thermal cutout switches just above the burners (hmmm!), one or another of which shut the system down quite promptly.

I tried the reset switch a few times, in case the controller was merely a bit confused; but the cycle proceeded to repeat, with minor variations — sometimes the fan would stay on for a few tantalizing seconds after the flames appeared. Once it even ran long enough for the main air-circulation fan to start, but then it turned off. Feh.

Welcome to the Diagnosis and Repair section of the evening... It Wasn’t What We Had In Mind, But We Didn’t Seem To Have Much Choice.


The furnace crapped out last March, with somewhat different (but related) symptoms: it was okay through the initial parts of the cycle, but the gas never began to flow, so it timed out. Lather, rinse, repeat. When I opened up the enclosure and looked at the control board, I noticed an electrolytic capacitor with one “lead” that was a little pile of brown dust (it’s the dusty purplish cylindrical object toward the upper right in the photo):

I cleaned the board a bit and replaced the capacitor, and the problem resolved — it seems that the cap is part of the timing circuit for one of the relays, and without it the relay doesn’t do much of anything. I’m not sure why they used an ordinary electrolytic for this purpose, but presumably they had their reasons.

To return to the evening at hand:

I decided that I could reasonably regard both problems as timing issues. There are several relays on the board, and (as you can see in the photo above) there was a second electrolytic capacitor just below the one I swapped last time, somewhat suggestive. Resistors are fairly stable, and can last for a very long time. Relays, if they are properly designed and built, and if they are not abused, can last quite a while. Electrolytic capacitors, on the other hand, are known to have degradation mechanisms that cause them to fail over time, and I think they fail faster when they aren’t in use. All of these factors pointed to the cap as a likely candidate, and even though it looked okay I decided to replace it. As with the other one it had a common value but at a relatively uncommon voltage rating, so I was obliged, once again, to do something rather ungainly; the controller is even more of a Frankenboard now. It worked like a charm, though: when I powered up the system again the house came right back up to temperature, and I was able to go back to messing with my little laser projects...

The pulser I’ve been working on runs a 1.4-Watt blue laser diode, for perhaps 275 nanoseconds at a time:

[[For those who care, this trace shows the voltage at the top of the laser diode. It is nice and clean, with no strange ripples and only modest droop. The scope is set to 5V/div vertical and 100nsec/div horizontal. I think the peculiar “1 120” number on the readout may refer to the delay time, which I’m not actually using at the moment. I fretted about it, though, because I really don’t want to be running the laser diode for more than about 300 nsec, so I checked the sweep speed against a 30.000 MHz oscillator (made by Ecliptek, the usual little 5V device in a little rectangular can); the scope is less than 2% off.]]

The repetition rate of the pulser is adjustable; I think I have it set to about 8500 pulses per second at the moment. Although the circuit puts more than the maximum rated power through the laser diode, it does so for such a short time, and so seldom, that the chip doesn’t have a chance to overheat. In fact, the average power dissipation is so low that I don’t even need to put a heatsink on the laser. (This is a known technique that I found in the literature a few years back, when it occurred to me to wonder whether it might be possible. It is.)

Until yesterday, this laser was making a pair of beams, so:

I would expect to get an odd number of beams from a multimode laser diode of this sort, but for some reason both of the blue laser diodes that I have operated in pulsed mode produced this 2-stripe pattern, consistently,... until last night. I continued to fuss with the driver, and this laser is now putting out three beams:

I have a vague notion as to what may have made the difference, but I am far from certain. Not that it matters much — for my purposes a strong central beam is better than a pair of stripes even though I lose some power into the two satellite beams, and I’m not complaining.

That photo, btw, does not do justice to the brightness: I had the phone set its exposure from the hottest part of the image so that the beam structure would show up well. Visually, it looks a bit more like this:


We’ll see how I do with these projects as time goes on. If I actually succeed in making any holograms with the violet laser I’ll post photos of them here, but don’t expect anything fancy, especially at the outset. The first ones are going to be quite trashy. That’s how it is at first; takes a while to get all the parameters nailed down. As to the pulsed blue laser, that project is somewhat more involved, and will probably take a bit longer. If I get it to fly, though, I will have things to say about it.
Tags: brining a turkey, caraway seeds, clogged sink, diode lasers, holography

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