Tuesday, September 1 2020

filming bread, a poop technicality, and real world algebra



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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone. And happy dinsdag. I hope today you’ll join me in welcoming the underwhelming month of September. Here’s to taking your favorite fall hoodie out of retirement and stubbornly wearing it, even though we all know it will be slightly too warm for hoodies all month.

September is a cool month, isn’t it? I’m getting in the mood to watch the seasons change. I can probably start drinking oktoberfest beer too. The way I see it, COVID is going to ensure we feel even more cooped up than we did this summer. We’re in for a maddeningly long and drab winter. Let’s enjoy the brief and lovely season of fall while we can.

So I finished a loaf of bread yesterday. And for this one, I’ve filmed myself performing each step of the process - mixing, kneading, shaping, and baking. I was planning on putting the clips together in a very straight forward video recipe for others to follow along.

In trying to make my own recipe video, I have a new appreciation for those who film food. Filming food is difficult. It turns out that the sound of gas escaping fresh, wet dough as it smacks against our kitchen counter top is not as flattering for the camera as it is in person. On camera, it sounds disgusting, actually. Add to that the churning of our dishwasher, Miles crying, Marissa and I having loud conversations that echo through the main floor of the house. My pale hairy forearms in crystal clear focus over the backdrop of slightly less pale bread dough. I knew this video wouldn’t be pretty, but looking at the raw footage, it’s already a far cry from the other kind of artisinal bread videos you can find on YouTube and Instagram that are put to quiet, contemplative music and look like they were filmed in a luxury apartment yoga studio.

I wrapped up the final shot last night - the one where I pull the pan out of the oven, gently tap it free with a towel, and leave the finished loaf aside to cool. The reveal - arguably, the most important shot.

I watched the oven timer tick down, standing at the ready, donning an oven mitt and a towel. My phone was resting on the lid of my open microwave, pinned underneath my kosher salt dispenser so the camera would point down. I checked the camera focus one last time.

The oven timer rang. I delicately fished out the red hot loaf pan from the back of the oven and set it down, giving the camera time to adjust focus.

Next was the turn - a move I’ve done dozens of times off camera successfully. I covered the pan in a towel and flipped it. It didn’t budge.

I switched to less graceful hand position, gripping the loaf pan with two hands and shaking it. The loaf dropped downward, hitting the top of my oven with a clang. The rest of the video is me, flustered and giggling, fumbling to turn the piping hot loaf right side up.

I showed Marissa the clip in the basement. My face was red from laughter. But still, even after all the disgusting sounds, disorienting camera angles, and awkward loaf pan dismounts, it came out absolutely perfect. And looking at the picture, you would have never known that the preparation of this bread was so fraught with peril. Who knows - maybe the awkward, fumbling footage makes a good argument that truly anyone could throw together bread this good.

2020 09 01 bread

Order from chaos.

Sip. We had a great day yesterday. I had a few meetings in the morning and worked through the afternoon, joining Marissa and Rodney in the kitchen for lunch to heat up some leftovers and make some spaghetti. As I was cleaning up from lunch, Rodney pointed to something in the toilet.

“Hey,” he said, “what’s this?” He pointed to a small fleck in the plastic potty.

“Is that… poop?” said Marissa, squinting.

“Poop in the botty… wanna wanna… so I get a poop prize?” said Rodney, waving his arms, trying to present the argument that was in his head. Marissa and I began to laugh.

“But is it really poop?” I said. I leaned in for a closer look. “It’s kind of hard to tell though. This is a close call, we’ll have to discuss.”

After quick aside to deliberate, Marissa and I decided to credit Rodney with the poop. On a poop technicality, Rodney fished out his very first prize from the poop treasure chest. He selected a rubbery t-rex red dinosaur.

For whatever reason, these rubbery dinosaur toys bring out the rascally side of Rodney. Directing him with his hand like a puppet, Rodney and the dinosaur like to pull pranks on us. He’ll slide my phone out of my pocket or steal things off the counter. Red dinosaur and Rodney swiped a Tupperware lid from the cabinet and ran off into the living room.

For dinner, we made chili. We have a recipe we like to do that involves baking a chili underneath a layer of cornbread and cheese, like a casserole. Rodney and Marissa helped me throw it together after returning from getting groceries.

After dinner as we were fighting off food comas, Marissa talked about her pressing art supply situation. “I’m starting to run down my last stash of 91% isopropyl alcohol,” she reminded me. “Do you think we could figure out how to dilute the other bottles?”

So the situation is this: 91% isopropyl alcohol is concentration she likes to paint with, but it’s hard to find. But she has a few bottles of 99% lying around. We needed to figure out how much water she had to add to dilute it to 91%.

“Let’s see if we can figure this out,” I said, grabbing a piece of paper and pencil. “I need something to help me stay awake after eating all that chili.”

The tricky part of the word problem was that the percentage was by weight. Which meant the final target concentration of 91% was also relative to the amount of water added.

Two sheets of paper later, I finally had it. Two equations expressing 91% and 99% in terms of B, the initial total mass of the solution in the bottle and, w, the amount of water added to dilute it. The trick was to substitute one equation into the other and solve for x. The substitution trick - remember that one?

“Would this be fun for you to turn into code?” asked Marissa.

“Are you kidding me,” I laughed. “That would be awesome. We could even turn it into a dilution calculator for your website and let people pick their initial and target concentrations.”

I remember my less enthusiastic classmates from high school griping about how algebra isn’t really applicable to life. In hindsight, they were right - you don’t often get to use algebra to solve a real world problem. You can get on just fine without it. But when real world algebra does come up? Oh boy, is that exciting.

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a great day, everyone.