Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Trying to Get Attention

Sean Carroll posted a link on Google+ that caused me to have an epiphany. It's a blog post where fantasy author Michele Lee interviews her 7 yr old daughter about a new DC comics version of one of her daughter's favorite characters, Starfire.
Now I don't read comics, didn't know who Starfire was until now, and don't care that much that DC comics just pimped out some old characters to make pornos with them. But what this child says crystallizes for me something that has been bothering me forever in a nebulous way. (There's more pictures and background and links in the original article or this repost since her own blog seems to be down. Sorry it's a gawker site.) Apparently the little girl likes and admires this character -- the original one who was apparently in a TV show in the early 2000s. And she knows exactly why she likes Starfire. Brilliant.

"She's like me. She's an alien new to the planet and maybe she doesn't always say the right thing, or know the right thing to do. But she's a good friend, and she helps people. She's strong enough to fight the bad guys, even when they hurt her. Even her sister tried to kill her, but Starfire still fights for the good side. And she helps the other heroes, like Superboy and Robin and Raven.
"She's smart too. And sometimes she gets mad, but that's okay because it's okay to get mad when people are being mean. And she's pretty."
I think I like this kid. And Starfire sounds relatable. Michele asks her daughter about pretty.
"Does that outfit make her pretty?"
"Well, no. It shows lots of her boobs though."
"What does make her pretty?"
"Her long, pretty hair."
Oh, I wish that weren't true, but the kid is being truthful. I am personally annoyed with the idea that hair makes somebody pretty because it hurts my head to have long hair and it's very dangerous when working with machinery and I had a very bad experience when I let a man talk me into growing my hair long. I'm suspicious that long hair makes people think of you primarily as a pretty person with voluptuous hair and not a real person. Although apparently in Starfire's case she had enough personality to go with that much hair.
"Do you think the Starfire from the Teen Titans cartoon is a good role model?"
*immediately* "Oh yes. She's a great role model. She tells people they can be good friends and super powerful and fight for good."
"Do you think the Starfire in the Teen Titans comic book is a good role model?"
"Yes, too. She's still a good guy. Pretty, but she's helping others all the time and saving people."
"What about this new Starfire?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Why not?"
"Because she's not doing anything."
YES! This child is amazing. She gets it. Looking pretty is fine, but what can you DO?

"What about this Starfire? What do you think about her?" (Referring to image from DC's reboot Red Hood and the Outsiders)
"I can see almost all of her boobs."
"And?"
"Well she is on the beach in her bikini. But…"
"But?"
"But, she's not relaxing or swimming. She's just posing a lot." *my daughter appears uncomfortable*
"Anything else?"
"Well, she's not fighting anyone. And not talking to anyone really. She's just almost naked and posing."
And there you have it. THAT is what is wrong with objectifying women. A child can see it. You take a perfectly respectable character with admirable qualities and you reduce her to somebody that doesn't even act or dress appropriately for her environment. That's a shame.

I want to be really clear that I am have no problem with women posing. I have a friend who does some marvelous fine art photography of nudes. Posing for a picture to make the female form as attractive as possible is an admirable artistic pursuit in my estimation. What I mean is when you try to take a situation that requires a complete person and they blow it with their physical appearance -- I don't like that. They cross the line from making art to... I don't know. Help me out, 7 year old girl.
"Is this new Starfire someone you'd want to be when you grow up?"
*she gets uncomfortable again*"Not really. I mean, grown ups can wear what they want, but…she's not doing anything but wearing a tiny bikini to get attention."
Exactly. She's not doing anything but trying to get attention. I have never ever understood the idea of trying to get attention. I HATE attention. I am criticized by my stylish friends for being a boring dresser. I am just trying to blend. I want to look nice, but not striking. I want to be the kind of person that people ask for directions on the Metro in Paris, not the kind they try to photo bomb at the beach. I want to look like the kind of person that knows how to read a map. Not the kind that would have a map of the world tattooed across her breasts. (Although I do like the idea of a hemispherically accurate Mammagraphic Projection)

It is nice to know that I'm not the only person who feels this way. Clearly nobody at DC Comics does, but  at least there's a 7 year old girl somewhere who is uncomfortable with it too. I'm trying to get into the geek culture more because I think there might be friends to be made there. That's kind of why I had my own comic hero drawn on commission.
But I'm not 7. It would be stupid for me to imagine somebody I aspire to be when I grow up. So I made up a hero that I already grew up to be. I don't read comics at all, I don't play video games, I'm not really into sci-fi or fantasy, so I was probably unqualified to write the specifications for a comic hero. But I think I tapped into the sensibilities of my new favorite 7 year old and made a good hero who does something. She would appreciate that you can't see any of my boobs. I think she would be disappointed in my hair, but life is like that.

Lady Longleaf protects the forests. She defends diversity against invasive exotic species. Her weapons are the pinecones of Pinus palustris, the Longleaf pine. She wears stout gloves to protect her hands from the sharp spines on the pine cones when she throws them at her foes. The ripe pine cones are for warnings. She uses heavy, hard green pine cones like armor-piercing rounds. (I became aware of their power during Hurricane Frances listening to them hit the metal roof of the porch. It was like mortar fire.) She can release thick clouds of yellow pollen to make a dramatic entrance. She only tolerates attention because it helps her save the ecosytem. (Lady Longleaf is not really into people that much. Sorry, kid. I had no Starfire role model growing up.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

First Aquarius Map


The first map of ocean salinity as measured by the Aquarius satellite was released today. (NASA link.) I like that I can look at this and know what I'm seeing. Usually oceanographers specify salinity as a ratio to a standard KCL solution (potassium chloride.) This is called the Practical Salinity Scale. It is used for any measurement based on conductivity and has no units. I think they are making the assumption here that grams per kilogram is the same as PSU, for practical salinity units, which is of course a silly name, because it's unit-less. g/kg is a compromise I'm willing to accept.

Anyway, 35 is what oceanographers consider nominal for PSU. Green is normal sea water. That blue band across the Pacific? That's an equatorial counter current moving towards South America. When it's blue like that it's called La Niña. You can equate lower salinity with lower temperature in this case. If it was an El Niño year there would be a red band across the Pacific indicating hotter, saltier water from increased evaporation. The side effect of that low evaporation in the Pacific is Texas is very dry. Dry earth heats up more than wet earth, and I am here to testify to it. The lowest high temperature in September in Austin so far is 90°F. There might be two more of those days and this is not one of them. It's going to be 101°F this weekend.

I'm not sure what the Gulf of Mexico salinity looks like in a normal summer (No La Niña or El Niño.) Looks to me like the lack of fresh water from Texas and Mexico is making it pretty salty on the West. I'm glad my Georgia home is producing lots of water. That blue and purple area in the aptly named Florida Big Bend is from fresh water input from the Appalachicola and Mississippi Rivers. That's what makes it oyster friendly.

The other big purple and blue blotch off the Venezuela part of South America is the Orinoco and the Amazon comes out of that notch farther south. You can see it runs north and heads across towards Africa in the Equatorial Counter Current. I love that I can see features in an up-to-date salinity map that I had to memorize off lines and arrows on maps.



I'm not sure what to make of all that detail of differences down around Antartica. That's kind of fascinating.

And you can tell a lot of sea ice is melting up in the Arctic adding all that fresh water to the surface.

Thanks Aquarius! Fun times!

Push Notifications Boost Perceived Popularity

I don't have a lot of personal interaction in the course of a day. I don't see people. I don't talk on the phone. Some people send me text messages when they have an anecdote they think will amuse me. I rarely get personal email. My primary form of communication is instant messenger with about 6 people.

Because of this overall low noise floor I've become quite sensitive to any incoming signals. On the rare occasion when I do hang out with another live person I'm somewhat overwhelmed by how often their phone makes a noise and it's something they have to pay attention to right then.

In those conditions I found that I was grateful that my own phone would sound off from time to time. It was typically just automatic email from the CFI Meetup Group or some advertisement, but I could get out my phone and look at it and pretend to be engaged with it. My phone makes a different noise when somebody plays their turn at Words With Friends or if I get a text message with a picture of some herpetological specimen I'm meant to identify for my friend who apparently goes for walks in a severely fragmented ecosystem in Dallas. According to my phone I'm in big demand!

But then I realized that when I'm home alone I get excited by the email noise. Stop what I'm doing to see that Cooking.com wants me to buy a cupcake maker. Or I'm at the grocery store and I have to get out the phone to see that Delta has a new vacation package to somewhere I can't afford to go. It seemed like it was skewing my reality. It would raise my hopes that somebody wanted to tell me something but it was always something I didn't care about, like a new line of running shoes at Zappos. I mean, I really don't need anything from Victoria's Secret. There's no reason for me to look at those ads every day, let alone the instant they arrive. But what if I DO need something from Victoria's Secret? It could happen! They put the coupon codes in those ads. Well my friend that encouraged me to shut up the constant email from the CFI Meetup Group had an idea for the advertisements I actually might be interested in. Filter them out but archive them so I can look at them on purpose when I actually need something. As for CFI I can go to the website and look at the news there. Also for Google+ I turned off email notification because they put a little number in a red box at the top of Gmail to tell me when I have a message and in a red circle on the icon on my phone. That's plenty of notification for me. I'll look at it when I'm out having a coffee trying to look busy and popular with my phone.

For the last week I've been on a mission to unsubscribe to email lists I really don't care about and filter the ones I might be interested in. It's amazing how much junk mail I was deleting without really paying attention. I thought I would share the procedure in case anybody else wants to try to adjust their email volume so the signal to noise ratio makes actual communication possible. Most automatic ads and newsletters have an unsubscribe button at the bottom. Click that thing and unsubscribe early and often. For the things you actually care about, but not as often as they want to tell you, follow this procedure to filter them. These instructions are for Gmail. We all use Gmail, right?

Start in the Inbox. Pick a message you'd like to filter. Pull down the "More" menu and select "Filter messages like these."

You don't really have to do anything here. It fills in the From: and that should take care of all email from that advertiser. Go to the Next Step.



Next Choose action.  Check "Skip the Inbox (Archive it)." Labels are up to you. I did one just for an example. Be sure to select that box at the bottom to apply filter to all the similar messages in your inbox. This is going to automatically get 300 Adorama ads out of my inbox.


Click "Create Filter" and wait for all of your dreams to come true!

Now if you want to see the things you filtered out you can click the label on the side or click All Mail instead of Inbox. Here's what happens when I select my label for Sales. I get just the daily ad email for the vendors I actually use sometimes.


I have filters that don't skip the inbox as well, like the YouTube label gets automatically applied to comments on my rocket video and Bill gets applied to email from the addresses that send me my monthly paperless statements. The automatic email with job listings get that Job Search label to help me fill in my spreadsheet of weekly search efforts. Filters and labels are handy, and the skip the Inbox feature is extra useful.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I have never lost a pair of sunglasses

Brett Arends of Wall Street Journal online says Luxottica makes most of the designer sunglasses so they really are all the same, except for the fashion statement you choose to make based on the designer brand. He says it's a waste of money.

If you make your shades last for many years, that would be one thing. But who does that? The people who want designer items want the latest fashion each year. And then there are the pairs that get lost. Scratched at the beach. And sat on. Personally, I have come to consider sunglasses a disposable item, and I suspect I am not alone.

Yeah probably not. But I am. I bought a pair of Serengeti drivers when I was about 14 years old with money I saved up from sweeping the warehouse and sorting screws and bolts and washers in the stock room at my dad's construction company. I wore them through college and then got a prescription pair of Serengetis for driving when I got my first consulting job. In 2000 I bought some expensive frames on the Champs Elysees and had prescription polarized lenses put in them back in Atlanta. When I moved to Tallahassee and had to work in the field they were too small for the bright light there. I bought some big wraparound Maui Jims specially made for working on the water and had those French frames converted to computer glasses. In the field I was looking far away and writing on paper up close so the prescription wouldn't have worked anyway.

I still have all of these glasses and every other pair I've ever owned. I broke a temple on the Maui Jims swimming underwater with them. I sent them to the service center and they replaced the temples for free. And I ground them down with my Dremel tool again to fit my freakishly small head. I guess I've gotten the cost of those $200 glasses down to about $0.02 per hour of use over the 6 years I've been wearing them. They never were in fashion so they aren't going out. Also I'd argue that Maui Jims aren't the same as the drug store glasses at all.

My brother buys expensive polarized anti-reflective sunglasses too, as he should, working outside in South Florida. But he loses them something awful. What makes me different? Is it that I started out so young with glasses that represented about 6 months income? Is it because I am a girl and get to carry a purse? I think both. I established muscle memory for putting them straight in the case when I take them off. I couldn't lose them or get them scratched at this point in my life any more than I could forget to put the gas cap back on my car. Even when I have that moment of panic pulling out of the gas station where I think, "Did I put the gas cap back on?!" I remind myself that it would be nearly impossible to stop the automatic motion of screwing that thing back on until it clicks about five times and closing the door. No, I don't remember doing it. Why would I? I don't think about it anymore. Muscle memory.

I'm trying to think about what I think of as a disposable item. Dishes. When I started living in my tiny house I bought melamine plates and polycarbonate glasses. It was easier to wash them by hand and store them in a drawer. I liked that process so much even when I got a dishwasher and more space I put my set of 12 dishes up on a high shelf and bought two of each size plate or bowl that I wanted in melamine. They cost about $4 each at Target. When I move I'll throw them away.

I've also switched from heavy furniture for clothing to individual polyethylene drawers. When I sold my house in Atlanta the buyer requested that I leave behind the solid wood "chester draws." How could I refuse? I got so many good laughs out of that! What if I'd had a bureau and a chifforobe, too?

Now I'm hooked on the plastic drawers with the convenience of being able to move everything in manageable, contained units. I try not to own anything I can't pick up by myself. When I was building my little house I had to carry everything out in the yard every weekend. I guess those plastic drawer units are disposable, albeit long lived and very moving-day friendly.

I can't think of a single other multi-use item that I consider disposable. I guess I just like nice things and am prepared to take care of them. Oh, non-stick frying pans. Totally disposable.

Only a matter of time for the remaining pair of spectacles.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Good ol' bike

Update: Just sold this bike Saturday October 8 to a nice Texas A&M student who had been looking for a good old bike for over a month. He loves how it rides. It's a good day for good machinery!

Time to admit I'm not going to ride this bike. If my social anxiety is about an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 my anxiety about traffic is an 11. For some reason Craigslist won't show this ad in the searches, probably because I changed it too much. I found out I was calling it the wrong thing. All this time I thought it was a Continental but it's a Deluxe Varsity. I'm posting it here so I can tag it for all the internet. I'll deliver this bike within 100 miles of Austin, TX if the buyer pays for gas.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Does Anybody Collect Pins?



I'm using my free time to photograph and try to sell stuff I think other people might want. My research leads me to believe that my collection of pins from the Atlanta Olympics might be useful to somebody who wants to trade pins at the London Olympics next summer. So I'm just going to let these languish on Picasa with good metatags and see if anybody wants to offer me something for them. There are tons on eBay with no bids. That looks tedious.

I'm glad I finished this project in time to watch the Soyuz landing in two hours! I'm going to watch it online and hope they get some good pictures.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Feathers" by Thor Hanson: an illuminated review

I found out about Feathers when I was playing with my non-contact IR thermometer testing the temperature of different colored things in the sun. I wanted to know how black birds could stay here in Austin all summer. (Thermodynamics of Ducks and Tees) I found out that my corner library had the book but I had to sign up on a waiting list to get it. (I actually didn't have a library card before this. I went in there once looking for a book about snooker and they didn't have a single billiards book. I went away in disgust humming songs from The Music Man.) I went ahead and emailed the author to see if there was anything in his book about hot black birds. He said there was a little bit, but it could be studied further. By the time the book came in I had already finished experimenting with hot colors and I had moved on to thinking about evolution. The full title of the book is Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle so it was kind of perfect. I will go ahead and say if you are remotely interested in birds you should get this book. If you are too busy to read this whole review I don't see how you're going to read the book either, so let's press on.
This bird right here is a snowy egret. When I was a little girl we would drive from Georgia down to my great-grandmother's house in Deland, FL. We'd see these egrets in the ditches on the side of the road. I can remember my mother explaining how they almost went extinct because of their feathers. Their breeding plumage (not seen here) is long and flowing. These feathers were so popular in women's hats in the late 1800's that men would go to the breeding colonies and just kill every single bird, leaving their nest of chicks to die. By the time the Migratory Bird Treaty was signed in 1916 there were only a few breeding colonies left in the deepest part of the Everglades. That means when my grandmother was little there were none of these birds. But by the time she was my age she could see them coming back. And now they are downright common. It's kind of a nice testament to what happens when humans stop doing too much of something.

Thor Hanson covers this topic in his book, but only briefly. He goes into a lot more detail about the trade in ostrich plumes. That's a pretty good story itself. It's about farmed birds and how the use of feathers in fashion is influenced by powerful businessmen. Unfortunately for the ostrich magnates fashion changed drastically at the turn of the century and big ostrich plumes didn't suit the restrained lines of the fashions during World War I (1914 to 1918. I had to look that up. I can line that up on my personal time scale because my grandmother was born in 1913.) I guess that helped that Migratory Bird Treaty a lot, too.

There's also a section about the modern feather trade where the author goes to Las Vegas to meet the expert in feather bleaching and dying who supplies the big shows with custom feathers. After I finished reading this book I went to a discount store to get an extra cookie sheet and I saw a skirt completely covered in feathers right when I walked in. Maybe they're coming back this year! I decided to do a quick survey (that store and one other one) Sure enough, feathers are huge this year! Here's an iPhone slideshow of what I found on one Friday afternoon at TJ Maxx and the Neiman-Marcus outlet. (Click the icon to go to the album online with more descriptive captions if you want to know more.)



Something I did not know before I read about the visit to the feather dying expert was that the iridescence of feathers cannot be removed with bleaching. She can dye turkey feathers a different color and they will still be shimmery.
Turkey feathers can be dyed a different color but they'll still shine like that.
Prior to WWI women would wear entire taxidermied birds on their hats.
Now horrible as it is, I can imagine a hummingbird on a hat,
but they did whole pheasants! How many women lost an eye from
boys trying to shoot their hats with pop guns?!
Another thing I learned from Feathers is how waterproofing works. It's not oil, which is the old theory. It's the actual microscopic structure of the feather surface. Tiny little points make tiny little bubbles that make the water unable to penetrate the feather. (scanning electron microscope image p. 218) I wonder if that's how Dante Shepard, PhD, made his super hydrophobic surface as seen in this picture? The droplet looks different so I don't think so. 

So some birds are super waterproof, like penguins. The Jackass Penguin has 900 points per millimeter in the feather lattice that touches the water, compared to dozens of points per millimeter for non-water birds. That extreme hydrophobia is important for them to stay dry and insulated living where it's so cold. But at the same time they wouldn't be able to swim underwater and catch fish if they bobbed around on the surface like a duck. The book mentions that loons have denser bones so they can dive more easily, but it doesn't really go into detail on penguins. I figure they don't have to fly, so they could be pretty heavy to make up for that air trapped in their feathers. I looked it up. Turns out penguins are positively buoyant and they even take a deep breath before they dive, which means they have to swim even harder to get underwater. But they do naturally pop back up with no effort, so that's a bonus. The ice cold water keeps them from overheating from all the exertion I suppose. But what about birds that are negatively buoyant? I know these birds.
This googley-eyed Anhinga sinks well under the water.
Anhingas spread their feathers to dry out when they're done fishing.
They don't usually show you their butt like this one, but they do it enough
to be called Water Turkeys by the locals.
Is he fluffing up his head feathers to cool off? Probably.
Here's another diver, a Cormorant. Look at his feathers how they each have a dark edge around them.
Hmmmm, what can this mean?
I learned from Feathers that Cormorants don't actually get wet all the way to the skin. I thought they did! Apparently their feathers get wet just at the edges and the middle part stays dry to keep their down from becoming soaked. Is this true for Anhingas too? I want an Anhinga feather to experiment with now!

Besides learning about the fossil record and evolution of feathers, which I was totally ignorant about, and these other things I've mentioned that I didn't already know I found this book very engaging because of the personal stories. Thor Hanson is a natural history writer with a strategy similar to Bruce Means. He writes stories about things he did, not just a string of facts. It makes it fun to read. The story about his field work with vultures in Africa is just revolting. "The message is clear: feathers may be an evolutionary marvel for flight and insulation, but they're worse than useless when you're neck deep inside a dead zebra."
These New World vultures evolved a lack of feathers on their heads just like the
Old World vultures in Africa: convergent evolution.
Unlike the Old World vultures Hanson studied in Africa,  which are related to hawks and eagles,
our American vultures are more closely related to this Wood Stork.
There's a Marabou Stork in Africa that eats carrion but this one
in Florida likes frogs and other live animals.
Other birds evolved to not have feathers on their heads for other reasons, like the turkey above. That head of his turns bright red in breeding season to attract a mate.


"To truly get my head around this diversity of form and function, I decided I needed to dismantle a bird," says Hanson on page 33. He finds a roadkill Winter Wren in his freezer, gets out the Joy of Cooking for reference and set to work methodically tweezing and sorting and counting all the feathers. Now I kind of know where he's going with this. Apparently he's not the bird killing kind. Where I come from people shoot all the birds. I have dismantled plenty, from wild ducks to robins and I vaguely recall that I floured and fried two cardinals and a blue jay my brother shot when he was ten. "...I had failed to achieve the tidy dressed look pictured in Joy of Cooking... It would have left room on a toast point. If you ever find yourself plucking a songbird, you'll be amazed at how little is left when you're done," asserts Hanson. Don't I know it. Look at those pretty little Ground Doves up there in my bird bathtub. Doves are delicious, right? Well one day back in the '70s when one of my cousins got home from middle school he shot a Ground Dove with his pellet rifle. And he plucked it. Then he had that realization like Thor Hanson that there sure wasn't much bird inside that bird. But he was committed once he killed it, so he decided he better cook it up. His mama had just gotten their first microwave oven so he decided that would be a good way to cook this thimble sized bird. Not worth heating up the regular oven. He guessed 30 minutes would do it. Now at this point in him telling me the story when I was a child I just started laughing so hard I don't really remember what happened next. (My father is an early adopter so we'd had a microwave for years already.) But somehow I have it in my mind now that the petrified remains of that Ground Dove permanently reside in the glass cabinet with all the arrow heads and other objet d'arts at my aunt's house. If it's not true it should be.

Is it unusual to have a stock of whole dead animals in your freezer? I only ask because I'm starting to suspect that all kinds of stuff that's normal for naturalists is not normal. I used to think the whole reason my grandmother had a chest freezer on the porch was to put dead rattlesnakes in it. We saved them for Bruce Means to dissect for his research. It kind of became commonplace to put anything in there we thought might be interesting later. I'm glad digital photography came along so now I can take pictures of things instead. I don't have a chest freezer.

High speed video is also helping feather research. The Club-winged Manakin plays his feathers like a violin but nobody knew it until high speed video made it possible to see it in slow motion. Technology helping us understand the fundamentals! I like it! "The exploration of natural miracles is a fundamentally open-ended and curiosity-driven enterprise. It reminds us that science is not always about the answers; it's about the questions." (p. 261)

There's one final thing I want to illuminate about feathers. This wasn't spelled out anywhere in the whole book. In fact I've never read this anywhere or been told it by anyone with authority. But I'm trying to step back and look at things I take for granted and think that other people might be missing out. Has everybody played with a feather? Has everybody that's played with a feather reached the same conclusion I did? The Apple dictionary defines preen as "(of a bird) straighten and clean its feathers with its beak." But I think that's missing the coolest part.

Here's an old Crow flight feather I found on the ground. See how I can stretch it with my fingers?
Can you make out the barbules stitching together to form the vane?
If I keep stretching it then it splits.
Now it's all messed up and the aerodynamics are ruined.
But if I just run it through my fingers like this....
And now it's fixed! It's a wonder it took them so long to invent Velcro.
So here's my assumption. I always figured preening means
 birds are pulling the feathers individually through their beak
and zipping them back together. Anybody disagree?
Did anybody not already know this?
"As a writer, my job is to keep you turning the pages of this book, but as a biologist I encourage you to put it down once in a while. If you do you'll soon find aspects of the story very much alive in the world around you." (p. 10). Done and done.

Get this book. It's good. Here's the link to Amazon.

*Update: They found some early feathers trapped in amber! Neat!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How difficult is it to make your own cheese?

For some reason I have more than one friend who is obsessed with fermentation. It is sort of the most scientific of the culinary arts, so I shouldn't be surprised. Since my friend here in Austin is more advanced in the achievement of fermented food than the one over in South Carolina I decided to documented the cheesemaking process to encourage Meg to stop just letting milk go sour in the garage and get the other ingredients to make actual cheese.

I'm going to gloss over the part about making the molds for draining the cheese. My Austin friend already made these out of 3" PVC pipe painstakingly drilled. He didn't know there is a special tool for deburring the holes. So Meg, if you make some of these, get a deburring bit and make your life easier. The other specialty item you need to get ahead of time is some of that plastic mesh made for cross stitching crafters. (Never use this for cross stitch. Hideous.)

It takes about 4 days to make cheese but most of it is just waiting around. I'm making this blog the second day. This is going to be feta cheese at the end. Use sterile procedures because you want the intended bacteria to grow, not some random spore shaken down from the rats in your ceiling. You aren't going to heat this up enough to kill anything so you have to start by sterilizing a big pot by boiling water in it. Put a slotted spoon in there and the thermocouple for your probe style thermometer too. You might need a binder clip to hold the probe in the right place so go ahead and boil that. If you have a pH meter then you can get more scientific instructions online and see what pH you're going for in each step and get even more control over your finished product.


Here's the equipment in the commercial sterilizing solution. We used a sodium percarbonate and sodium sulfate product from the home brew store.

Pour two gallons of milk in the sterilized pot and get your thermocouple rigged to stay in the middle of the liquid.

Heat milk to 90°F (32°C)

Boil some water to sterilize it then cool it down. Use it to dissolve/dilute the following items in little cups you sanitized in the chemical bath.


1/2 tsp calcium chloride, 1/2 tsp lipase, 4 oz mesophilic starter,
1/2 tsp double strength rennet


I took close ups of the labels of this stuff so I could look it up when I got home. Here's the Dairy Connection website. That Calf Lipase is $7.50 and the Rennet is $6.50. As you can see it doesn't take much to make a batch of cheese so it goes a long way.

The white ice cubes are 1 oz each of mesophilic starter. This is just regular store-bought buttermilk that's been activated by leaving it out overnight. You could do that the night before you make cheese or do it ahead of time and freeze it in ice cube trays. Pop them out into a labeled bag and save them to use for cheesemaking or to make your own buttermilk from regular milk.

Now it's time to adjust the pH of the milk by adding all this stuff except the rennet. Get it back up to temperature if you used frozen mesophilic starter and let it ripen for an hour.

After the hour add the rennet and stir 30 sec to 1 min (45 sec) Test every few minutes for floculation with the spinning cup. This was 10 minutes. Now wait 3x the floculation time. This part is important so I made a video.


Slice the curd in 1/2" columns then sever those again diagonally two ways. This is also video-worthy.



Wait 10 minutes

Stir gently, wait 5 minutes, repeat every 5 minutes for 45 minutes depending on how hard you want the curd to be. The amount of whey on top will keep increasing each time.


Ladle into molds and let drain an hour. Another video step.


The dairy connection sells molds and the draining mesh too but when you see the price you'll think drilling PVC pipe sounds like a lot of fun. The craft stores call that cross stitch stuff "plastic canvas" in case you want to look for it online instead of going to Michael's or JoAnn's. I'm not sure how many lines per inch it is. I think the 10 count or 7 count would work.

Flip the cheese every hour. Put another piece of the plastic canvas over the open end and flip it deftly and put it back down on the drain rack. Do this about 5 times then let it stand overnight. I wasn't there for that part. I just went back the next day and marveled how much it compressed! Those things were full!
Flip them one last time in the morning. Remove the molds and let stand to ferment for a day (8 hrs). Save this whey in the refrigerator.
The rest hasn't happened yet at the time I'm writing this but here's me projecting forward with the remainder of the instructions:
Drop the cheeses in a saturated brine solution made with pickling salt and a little calcium chloride in boiling water, cooled.
Let the cheese soak in the brine for 2 to 4 hrs. Take it out to dry another day (24 hrs)
Make a less saturated brine, about 8% with pickling salt and calcium chloride made with the drained whey and use that to hold the cheese in the refrigerator until you eat it all up! Or you can give chunks of it to your friends just in a storage container dry and it's fine for a few days. You can save the brine to use again the next time.

Thanks for scrolling all the way to the end!