Random, Ramblin Jack

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Curious Minds… How do people make popcorn?

The scene; a quaint Sunday afternoon preparing a bowl of popcorn with my kids. The popcorn in question is not your typical store bought bag but from a company called Opopop. The tag line…

We’re on a mission to liberate you from boring popcorn. With unexpected flavors, new ways to pop, and a complete reinvention of your favorite snack…

Seems simple enough. Yet, as we opened one of their bags, my daughter asked how do they make popcorn and specifically, why is this different.

This interesting little question comes from a glorious combination of a tasty father’s day treat and my 6 year old daughter. The innocuous question made me think and led to a little research.

First, the difference. For Father’s Day I received a sample pack, their popping bowl, and top. The sample pack was a set of interesting flavors. Cake Pop, Umami, Cinnalicious, Fancy butter, Maui Heat, and so on. The flavors as you can read are not the run of the mill popcorn favors found at the grocery store.

Additionally, what perked my daughter’s interest was that these flavors were for kernels that were not popped. No popping regular popcorn and then flavoring. These came as kernels AND were flavored.

Skeptically curious; we made the Cinnalicious and frankly it was actually very tasty. I’ve since had cake pop which was also more like a dessert and very good. Also had the umami, which with a sprinkle of kosher salt after the popping was really freaking good.

But as my daughter was curious, so was I. What’s the deal?

Side note, this is not to be confused with the POPCORN time phone service. This was brought my attention by a friend of mine who educated me on the number used on the west coast to get an accurate time before the wide availability of cell phone and other automatic time services. The phone number called famously spelled POPCORN.

Regular Popcorn

The first thing we need to know to get us to our answer is…how do we get regular old popcorn. Turns out, there are many different kinds of corn and some are used for making things like cornmeal. This is not where we get popcorn kernels. There are also many varieties of sweetcorn, like what they grow in Olathe, that you throw on the BBQ and devour during the summer. This is also not where popcorn kernels come from.

Popcorn as we know it, comes from a special type of Maize (corn) called Zea mays everta. This corn may look like the usual sweet corn but only this type of corn can yield popcorn. This is due to the unique process by which the corn turns inside out exposing its sweet sweet endosperm.

Popcorn does not go from kernel to popcorn just due to heat. It does indirectly, but the kernel is not being cooked. The Zea mays everta is unique in that is has a starchy endosperm which is contained with the hull at a certain pressure and will expand when the pressure is released. In addition to that killer endosperm is moisture.

When the kernel is in the microwave or similar heating element, the moisture in the hull expands eventually causing the hull to rupture. This pressure burst allows the endosperm to escape the hull.

Now, this is certainly not as fun as the North American tribe folklore that told of spirits dwelling within the kernel of corn. The spirits would become angrier and violent as their “homes” were heated.

Fancy Shmancy Flavor

So we’ve answered the how popcorn can be “popcorned” but the more elaborate question of flavoring the kernels is an interesting one.

A quick google search for flavoring popcorn typically yields pages discussing the ins and outs of spice blends and butters that can be added and tossed with the already popped corn. This is all well and dandy but the Opopop kernels come with the flavor coating already around every kernel. So what’s the deal?

According to a variety of media for Opopop, their kernels are Flavor Wrapped (TM). Funny lil trade mark. Interestingly the corners of the interwebs have a lot marketing fluff for Flavor Wrapping, after all it is “the newest innovation in popcorn in 50 years”.

What I didn’t come to find is what in the hell Flavor Wrapping the kernel actually is. Thankfully, while the google a tron was not able to yield the secret of Flavor Wrapping, I think with a little bit of can do attitude and SCIENCE… we can work through this mystery.

When I received the Opopop popcorn it came cool, as in the popcorn was shipped with cooling packs and the instructions indicate the pouches need to be refrigerated.

Working through this problem, we know that Popcorn kernels do NOT require refrigeration. Nor does oil (used for popping popcorn). However, butter does require refrigeration. Unfortunately for all of us, we can’t use butter to pop popcorn because butter has a lower cooking point than oil so on the stove top or the microwave, butter burns. And its not like Opopop rewrote the laws of butter science (OH it will be a thing!)

Or did they…

Quick side not, a way to really kick up the end of cooking a steak is to use a compound butter. Its a nifty way of saying you took soft butter, loaded it up with a bunch of fixins Cold Stone Creamery style, and then made it cold and sliceable. Delicious.

Back to the program. While compound butter is awesome, it wouldn’t work as a kernel pre-pop flavoring because of the pesky burning situation.

But imagine if we could turn butter into better butter. One with a high melting point. Imagine that type of butter was called clarified butter. Now imagine you could further convert clarified butter into something even more buttery called Ghee.

If you could do all this, you could make Ghee and then add in your fixings, making compound Ghee with which you could then coat your kernels.

I have no idea if this is what Opopop is doing but it makes me hungry and it makes me think I could make some kickass full flavored popcorn at home.

If you try it out, let us know.

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Nobel Pursuits

Trying out some new sections, new contents. Grow or die and all that.

So a prize that:

…have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind

A pretty awesome sentiment. Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, in his last will and testament laid the foundation for an annual prize to be given in physics, chemistry, medicine, and literature and piece.

I thought it would be fun to discuss some of the highs and lows of the most prestigious award for science and for peace. As Nobel wrote in his will:

It is my express wish that when awarding the prizes, no consideration be given to nationality, but that the prize be awarded to the worthiest person, whether or not they are Scandinavian

So, first up, why not one of the first one’s up. Wilhelm Rontgen.

Wilhelm was an engineer and physicist born in Germany but raise in Holland. Wilhelm had a tough go as a student, being expelled from high school for drawing a cartoon of one of the teachers. While many of the schools of the time required a high school diploma, Wilhelm was able to attend the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich through the passage of entrance exams. This is where he studied and eventually received a PhD in mechanical engineering.

Wilhelm had a variety of appointments throughout his life but it was 25 years after his graduation that he would work with cathode ray tubes and make a series of interesting discoveries regarding a previously unknown range of electromagnetic radiation wavelengths.

While his new discovery would come to bear his name in many languages, the Rontgen rays, most know them as the pseudo name he gave them during his testing. X-Rays (the X coming from mathematics as something “unknown”. His discovery of the X-Ray would lead him to the receiving the first Nobel prize in physics in 1901.

Fun Fact… During his experiments with the the unknown X-rays, Wilhelm was testing different materials and their ability to stop the rays and one such material, a small piece of lead was moved into a position during a discharge of X-rays. There on the barium platinocyanide screen was his own skeleton making it the first every radio-graphic image.

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Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics…

I know that it’s easy to shove our giant thought melons into the proverbial sand and ignore all the craziness that floats on by. However, if the pandemic has brought to light anything that people should be able to get behind is the scary and corrupt nature of big tech companies that want to be peddlers of news but also don’t want to play by the usual rules.

Bill Maher, someone I don’t always agree with but respect the hell out of, went off on Google and Facebook this past week for their suppression of content related to the Wuhan lab leak.

From his HBO show, Maher:

“Facebook banned any post for four months about COVID coming from a lab. Of course now, even the Biden administration is looking into this,” Maher said to his panel of guests. “Google — a Wall Street Journal reporter asked the head of Google’s health division — noticed that they don’t do auto-fill searches for ‘coronavirus lab leak’ the way they do for any other question and the guy said, ‘Well, we want to make sure that the search isn’t leading people down pathways that we would find not authoritative information.’

Now whether you are democrat, republican, purple alien or other, how scary is the notion that the forums, the town squares of the 21st century, are making decisions for you on what is and isn’t authoritative? What information they have “deemed” worthy of being valuable.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been absolutely inundated with scandals including budget inconsistencies, payoffs, and transparency issues. Yet Google decided for YOU that they should be the authoritative god of Covid information.

The town square just told you that the Northwest corner was off limits because “IT” decided so… we should all find that incredibly scary.

World of AI

And Let’s Get Visual?!

(source: @RiversHaveWings on Twitter)

This week these two areas are brought together because of a growing popular pastime, machine learning and art! The image above, believe it or not, is a fun expression of a nighttime city sky line “drawn” by a machine learning algorithm.

This type of art has exploded due to the release of CLIP and a growing library of AI and ML models.

For more information, check out AIArtists.org


Olympics are coming up. Opening ceremony is July 23rd! Exciting times.

Yet, this year the Olympics seems to be mired in the news. This year is noted because the Olympics will have its first Transgender athlete competing.

Laurel Hubbard, originally Gavin Hubbard, will be competing in female weightlifting, representing New Zealand. Many people on both sides of this issue are up in arms, taking up sides and coming to the condemnation or defense of Laurel depending on their chosen narrative.

As we get closer and this continues to be prevalent in the news, here is a data based look at this hotly discussed subject.

Laurel is being allowed to compete because Laurel’s testosterone levels have remained at or under 10 NMOL/L for the previous 12 months as per IOC guidelines. The mean range for testosterone in men is 10.07 - 38.76 while the mean range for women’s testosterone is .12 - 1.79. 10 NMOL/L is on the bottom range of men and 4X above the top of the range for women.

2017 World Weightlifting Championships, where Laurel competed, provides an interesting look into the differences in men and women’s weight lifting.

Women’s 90 kg

  • Gold - Sarah Robles Total, 284 kg.

  • Silver - Laurel Hubbard Total, 275 kg

  • World Record - Tatiana Kashirina, 348 kg

Men’s 85 kg (closest equivalent), 5 kg less then women’s category

  • Gold - Arley Mendez Total, 378 kg

  • Silver - Krzysztof Zwarycz Total, 359 kg

  • World Record - Kianoush Rostami, 396 kg.

% difference of Gold - 24.9%
% difference of silver - 23.4%
% difference of World Record - 12.1%

Consider, if the world record holder in women’s weight lifting competed using her world record against men in a weight class 5 kg less, she would have been tied for 7th in 2017.

If Laurel competed in a men’s class, she would compete in the 105+ kg category, being a body weight of 131kg. In this weight class, Laurel’s 275kg total would have been 19.4% less lift than the lowest total lift in that weight class.

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Quote of the Week

Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.

-Paulo Coelho


Exciting items of note this week. Episode 108 of Tech Trek just dropped today and its guest is none other than lil ole me!

Had the opportunity to talk shop a bit with Amir Bormand over at Tech Trek, discussing on boarding and providing context to engineers about the business they develop for.

Listen to the episode >>https://eleva.no/jasonw


Photo of the Week

It ain’t easy being squeezy! Everyone welcome Zyan to the world. He’s awesome…and I can write that having been violently vomited on by him only hours ago…

Good news! Move is done, baby is born (and healthy) and we are on our way! I know I’ve been away a touch but getting back into the groove. If you come across a topic you think deserves a little deep diving, let me know!

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