Monday, October 31, 2011

Make candy corn: Done!

Happy Halloween folks! This task wasn't actually on my list of things to do, but I saw an article in Lifehacker last week that showed how to make candy corn. I have no kitchen skills at all, but this seemed so intriguing.
Here are the ingredients I used:

In the bowl:
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup dry powdered milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
In the pot:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter (or use salted butter and don't ad the 1/4 teaspoon of salt)
On the side:
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Red and yellow food coloring (3 yellow drops for yellow; 2 yellow + 1 red for orange)
For some reason, I always think sifting flour/powdered sugar is for sissies, and so I severely underrate the value of sifting. And I always pay for this later. The problem is that I don't cook/bake often enough, so I always forget how much of a hassle it is to fix later. I apologize to the friends who found little lumps of powdered sugar in their candy.

I also undervalue candy thermometers. I've read that you can't make candy without a candy thermometer, and I have no idea why I keep thinking that I can be the first non-expert candy maker to defy that rule. (Other ├╝ber-failed candy attempt: marshmallows.)
Reading the comments from another candy corn recipe, it seemed as though it was harder to fix overdone candy rather than underdone candy, so I erred on the side of lower heat. The comments also provided a link to a Washington Post article that contained temperatures, so I'm bookmarking it here for future reference.

More about the process... Once I had 3 bowls of the taffy-like candy, I rolled out ropes of each color across a cookie sheet and then flattened it. This rolling-out step took way longer than expected, so the softness of the candy was actually advantageous in this case.
Looks like bacon!

Finally, I cut each strip into the familiar triangles.

If I make this again, here are the things I would do differently:

  • Sift the confectioners' sugar
  • Ask friends if they have any powdered milk rather than buy a ginormous box
  • Use a candy thermometer
  • Make thicker ropes of candy. Once I have a triplet of ropes, I can then squeeze them and make the whole thing thinner.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Start a blog called "The Poll Vault": Done!

Whenever I organize an event, I create a Google Form. Whenever I create a Google Form, I come up with a random, multiple choice question. I think I started asking these questions several years ago because 1) I love data, and 2) I'm always interested to see what defines "normal". I know for sure that the combination of growing up with immigrant parents mixed with my own eccentric peculiarities produces skewed views of "normal". When I observe something that doesn't mesh with what I previously thought were absolute truths, I start to wonder, 'Is it the other person, or is it me? There exist people who don't think the best part of a lobster is the tail?? Am I the weird one for assuming that the tail is by default the most desired part?'

I decided a couple years ago that I would one day compile all the results of these polls into a blog called "The Poll Vault". I thought it was pretty clever. I'm going to ignore the fact that googling that phrase shows that ABC News, The Washington Post, Extra (omgzz! totally newsworthy! "Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds: PDA on Set of 'R.I.P.D.'") all independently came up with that pun.

Just wrote my first post yesterday:

graph of pole vault Olympic records
(Graph from

Monday, October 24, 2011

Buy an Arduino and do something interesting with it: Done and done!

I still don't know what an Arduino is. I've been told that it's a microcontroller, but I don't know what a microcontroller is. All I know is that people do cool projects with it. I'm sold.

Because I knew nothing about electronics and had zero electronics parts/gadgets/doohickies, I bought a starter kit that comes with the all the basic things I needed, as well as all the parts necessary for the 11 example starter programs. One of the reviews I read about this kit noted, "This product stinks! No, I mean it literally stinks. I'm not sure what the smell is, but I think it may have been stored in a smoker's lung. On top of a barbecue. Among burning tires." My kit did not smell like a smoker's lung... but I thought it had more of a mothball scent.

The manual was sufficient, but I feel as though it skipped over some basic stuff, like explaining what a breadboard is. Luckily, my friends MU and JM had given me a 30-second crash course the previous week, so I was stuck on the first example for only a mildly long period of time. Once I mastered how to read the circuit in the first example of the manual, I zoomed through the second example and then decided that I wanted to do something cooler than just blinking LEDs.

Flipping through the circuit cards, I saw a project that could play one line of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star using a Piezo buzzer. I can totally one-up TTLS and showcase my blinking-LEDs skillz and get that Baby Monkey song stuck in everybody's heads:

Create a blog: Done!

Most of my friends know that I love doing little projects that utilize no particular skill except creativity. While I was writing my dissertation, these projects were put on hold. To keep myself excited and motivated about finishing grad school, I created a Google Doc entitled "List of things to do after I graduate" and would add projects, goals, and ideas on a regular basis.

To update this blog more often, I might cheat every once in a while by posting a project I did before graduating (or did while I should have been working--some projects are just too good to not do right away). I might use this blog to simply share something I've learned or something I've seen and deserves to be shared. I might use this space to vent about how people don't know the rule of thirds when taking pictures, or use Comic sans inappropriately.  In short, this blog might end up evolving into something it wasn't necessarily intended to be... we'll see...