If Only It Would Be Edible …

So I once said when I laid down the scythe, looking at the heap of green. Then I realized that most of the plants in the garden are edible! Most are bitter and intense, very much to my liking! In preparation for this hunter-gatherer’s season I am going to create this cheat sheet – not to pick anything toxic Field Fennel Flower. One of my former decoration-only plants. The seeds of the cultivated variety are used to spice pita bread – but these wild seeds should be used sparingly because they contain a toxic alkaloid.

Nigella arvensis sl12

Nigella arvensis, Field Fennel Flower, once a decorative plant in Victorian gardens. Image by Stefan.lefnaer, Wikimedia.

The seed capsules look like alien space probes:

Nigella arvensis fruit,. Image by Luis Fernández, Wikimedia.

Daisy Fleabane – my favorite daisies on sticks, to be used for tea and salad. It had been imported to Europe from America in the 17th century as an ornamental plant.

20120626Berufkraut Hockenheim

Erigeron annuus, Daisy Fleabane. The German name translates to Magic Spell Herb. Image by AnRo0002, Wikimedia.

Normal (short) Daisies: the 2nd most common plant in the ‘lawn’ after yarrow. I find they taste similar to spinach.

Daisies in our garden

Bellis Perennis, Daisies. Historical view of our garden without the solar collector, but with tall trees. Daisies liked the forest-like climate even better.

Daisies, solar collector

Or maybe I am romanticizing the past – still lots of daisies today.

As a child I ate loads of green woodsorrel despite the oxalic acid. Our peskiest bravest weed belongs to the same family: Creeping Woodsorrel, beautiful but capable of slowly destroying any structure of stone with its innocuous pink roots:

Oxalis corniculata, Creeping Woodsorrel. One German name translates to Red Jumping Clover – referring to its catapulted seeds. Image by TeunSpaans on Wikimedia.

Dandelions – I usually uprooted them. The leaves taste like rocket salad with a touch of nuts, and the buds can be used like capers. After World War II people had used the roasted roots as a replacement for coffee.

Dandelions at Home

Taraxacum, Dandelion. The German name means Lion’s Tooth – just as the English one, as I learned from Pairodox’ post. (Image stumbled upon when browsing our our photo folders).

I uprooted this one, too: Chickweed, showing up in early spring. It tastes a bit like fresh corn kernels.

Stellaria media 04

Stellaria media, Chickweed. One German common name translates to Chicken’s Colon. Not sure if this is related to chickens’ craze for it or to the white rubber-like, elastic strand inside the stem. Image by Sanja565658, Wikimedia.

Purslane. Another Plant I had promoted it from weed to decoration. It should taste like pepper, and can be eaten fresh or cooked. Its Wikipedia page features the nutritional merits extensively. In contrast to pepper it survives in our colonies of slugs. Generally, wild edible plants go well with our No Pest Killers / No Fertilizer policy.

Portulaca oleracea stems

Portulaca oleracea, Purslane. The wild variety is creeping as this image shows. We will also try to grow another kind that grows upright.

White Stonecrop. Also resembling green pepper, but more sourly.

sedum album

Sedum Album, White Stonecrop with reddish leaves, growing near the supporting construction of our solar collector. (The smaller, greener one is toxic Sedum Acre – Yellow Stonecrop).

White Yarrow – the perfectly scythe-able, drought-resistant replacement for grass. Great for tea, and perhaps salad in small quantities.

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Achillea millefolium, Yarrow. It grows (even) more extensively after the trees had been removed. Image by AnRo0002, Wikimedia.

Fireweed – the plant flooding our office with cotton-like fluffs every year as I let a few of them grow, for their ornamental merits. Dave from Pairodox Farm had once published a stunning image of similar seeds of Milkweed. You could use leaves and stems and the young sprouts are said to taste like asparagus. My expectations are high!

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Epilobium / Chamerion Angustifolium, Fireweed. This image showcases its resilience. Image by Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia.

Violets. Young leaves are edible and the fragrant sweet blooms seem to be somewhat famous. I think I will not eat them though!

Violets, Daisies, Stonecrop, Yarrow

Viola, Violets – in our ‘lawn’ of yarrow, daisies and yellow stonecrop.

I add two classical plants in the herb garden because I had just found them as alleged wild flowers in our garden: Oregano. I recognized it as an edible herb when spotting a blooms on a salad served in a restaurant. Until writing this post and comparing close-ups of blooms I was sure it was marjoram.

Origanum vulgare Prague 2011 1

Oregano, Origanum vulgare. Surviving in our winter and in summer without extra watering. Image by  Karelj, Wikimedia.

Lemon Balm. Great for tea, but I like the green leaves especially as a replacement of jam in pancakes Austrian style. I don’t like sweet taste too much – perhaps that’s why I enjoy all these bitter herbs!.

Melissa officinalis2

Melissa officinalis, Lemon Balm – hard to get rid of it if you don’t want it. Image by KENPEI, Wikimedia.

The first harvest:

Edible wild flowers, first test in spring 2015

Dandelion, daisies, white stonecrop, and chickweed.

Edit on May 25, 2015: More than a month after starting extensive and regular harvesting, I notice I missed an extraordinary plant:

Meadow Goat’s Beard. The leaves can be used like spinache – cooked with olive oil and garlic, very tasty – but German articles suggest the roots are the real delicacy, similar to Black Salsify.

meadow-goats-beard

Tragopogon pratensis, Meadow Goat’s Beard. Blossoms and also leaves are somewhat similar to dandelions, but leaves are thicker, and they come in different textures and colors – a bit ‘hairy’ versus smooth.

Kicking off the ILFB Award: Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere

As announced in one of my recent off-the-wall posts I have been pondering about founding an award of my own. I am on a mission this week – now I need to get it done!

My goals are as follows:

  • Create rules that are self-consistent, loophole-free, but nonetheless rather simple to describe and to follow.
  • Don’t try to control something that will get out of hand anyway, such as the mutation of blog award logos. Since I am not exactly a graphic designer or other visual arts genius I would be more than happy if the logo I have created would evolve into something better.
  • Don’t put unnecessary pressure on the nominees to come up with thousand facts about themselves and nominate hundreds of other blogs. This just decreases the quality of the replies and the nominations. Exponential inflation of nominations should be avoided.
  • We don’t want to end up with questions like “What is favorite color?” and facts about me such as “I like posting cute cat videos on #caturday”, don’t we?
  • We do not want thoughtful, serious bloggers to deny awards because these are silly chain letters and/or a waste of time

These is the award description and the rules. SHOULD, MAY and MUST are written in capital letters – this is not shouting, this is following conventions used with internet standards.

Actually, I wanted to call it the Unaward (as an allusion to Lewis Carroll’s celebration of the unbirthday), but you already find related awards on the net. Any allusion to 42 and the like has already been seized (or invalidated) by a blogger who called himself an ‘award grinch’ in the comments on my most recent blog nomination party.

——- [description start] ——-

This award is called

ILFB Award: Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere.

0. It rewards bloggers who are able to cover diverse subjects in a thoughtful and entertaining way. There are no other constraints such as a maximum number of followers.

Rules:

  1. You are bestowed upon this award no matter what you do. You MAY deny passing on the award, the award will die out – as many life-forms did. You SHOULD nominate at least one blogger, you MAY nominate two bloggers. There is no deadline – you MAY wait for years if you pass on the award, but you MUST NOT nominate somebody if you haven’t been nominated. The founder of the award is exempt from the latter.
  2. You MAY nominate the blogger who has nominated you – the award MAY bounce back and forth between two bloggers forever. However, you MUST change the reason for the nomination every time.
  3. You MUST explain in more than one full sentence why you have nominated the nominee. You SHOULD reward bloggers who are able to write about at least two seemingly diverse subjects.
  4. You SHOULD reblog or pingback one of the nominee’s posts that has been published within the past year. The linked post SHOULD reflect key characteristics of the nominated blog.
  5. You MUST display the award’s logo, and you MAY change the title of the award as well as the logo. They would mutate anyway.
  6. If you find any inconsistency or loophole you SHOULD amend these rules to fix them.
  7. If the award title results in copyright infringements or any violation of any rights you MAY modify it. You MUST NOT hold the award’s founder liable.
  8. You MAY modify and amend rules 1.-7. to your liking as long as the changes
    – reflect your being an intelligent life-form in the blogosphere
    – are in line with the Prime Directive of this award – item no.0.
  9. Include this set of rules 0.-9. in your nomination speech post.

Compliance with the three MUST conditions as stated in 1., 2., and 5. will be checked by the founder of this award using his/her infamous googling skills at random. Any violation will be prosecuted and punished by a making the guilty party subject to a satirical blog post. Any blogger who had once been bestowed the award and who has proved to be compliant with the rules is entitled and encouraged to do the same (Google for non-compliant nominees and ridicule them)

——- [description end] ——-

Now I am nominating the first blog ever. Listen, life-forms in the blogosphere:

  1. The initial ILFB Award – Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere goes to Pairodox Farm. I swear that I did not cross-check / cross-google this award’s acronym before I made this decision. This blog award is not in any way related to or affiliated with the Illinois Farm Bureau – ILFB.org.
  2. Not relevant yet.
  3. Dave from Pairodox Farm is capable of combining the following in his posts:
    a) Artistic photography, and his photos are always linked to stories. Very often these stories are not what you would expect from looking at the photos.
    b) Interesting details on agriculture in general, rural living – sheep breeding and antique farming equipment in particular.
    c) Interdisciplinary posts on the intersection of various sciences – such as mathematics and biology.
    d) So in summary, this blog manages to be entertaining, visually appealing, interesting and geeky at the same time. In particular, it combines the sublime and intellectual with the hands-on and down-to-earth.
  4. My previous post was a reblog of a Pairodox post that showed off 3.a)-d) – especially 3.c) and 3.d)
  5. Here is is. Yes, I am not a designer, I warned you. The icon is from Microsoft Office 2010 cliparts, you I guess we won’t be sued unless you create a business from the award (maybe).

    ILFB-Award-Intelligent-Life-Forms-in-the Blogosphere

    This is the official logo for the ILFB award: Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere. The intelligent black life-form in his/her black ship is exploring a new blue world while the innocent, white blogosphere is rising in the background.

  6. Not relevant yet
  7. Not relevant yet / I didn’t care.
  8. Not relevant yet / I am not creating a multiverse yet to change my rules in the other instance of the universe.
  9. See above.

Now I would kindly ask for feedback from all those logicians, corporate policy enforcers, internet protocol geeks, chain-letter-award skeptics, and other allegedly intelligent life-forms out there. Is there any loophole left?

Trading in IT Security for Heat Pumps? Seriously?

Astute analysts of science, technology and the world at large noticed that my resume reads like a character from The Big Bang Theory. After all, an important tag used with this blog is cliché, and I am dead serious about theory and practice of combining literally anything.

[Edit in 2016: At the time of writing this post, this blog’s title was Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Just Anything.]

Recently I have setup our so-called business blog and business facebook page, but I admit it is hard to recognize them as such. Our facebook tagline says (translated from German):

Professional Tinkerers. Heat Pump Freaks. Villagers. (Ex-) IT Guys.

People liked the page – probably due to expecting this page to turn out as one of my experimental web 2.0 ventures (I am trying hard to meet those expectations anyway).

But then one of my friends has asked:

Heat pumps instead of IT security – seriously?

Actually this is the pop-sci version: The true question included a lesser known term:
Heat pumps instead of PKI?

(1) PKI and IT Security

PKI means Public Key Infrastructure, and it is not as boring as the Wikipedia definition may sound. For more than ten years it way my mission to design, implement and troubleshoot PKI systems. The emphasis is on ‘systems’: PKI is about geeky cryptographic algorithms, hyper-paranoid risk management (Would the NSA be able to hack into this?) as well as about matching corporate politics and alleged or true risks with commercially feasible technical systems. Adding some management lingo it is about ‘technology, people, and processes’.

Full-blown PKI projects are for large corporations – so I was travelling a lot, although I was able to turn my services offerings from ‘working on site, doing time – whatever needs to be done’ (which is actually the common way to work as an expert freelance in IT) to ‘working mainly remote – working on very specific tasks only’. I turned into a PKI firefighter and PKI reviewer. If you really want to know it all in detail, click here (I also gave a lecture on PKI for five years in this MSc program).

There was nothing wrong with PKI as such: I enjoyed the geeky community of like-minded peers, and the business was self-running. The topic is hot. Just read your favorite tech newspaper’s articles on two-factor authentication or the like – both corporate compliance rules and new security threats related to cloud computing make PKI or related technologies being in demand a sure bet.

(2) Portfolio of Passions

I would like to borrow another author’s picture here: In The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living Randy Komisar – Silicon Valley virtual CEO – expounds how he dabbled in some creative ventures after having graduated, and how he finally embarked on a career as a lawyer. And how he saw his future unfolding before him – Associate, Senior… Partner. He could see the office doors lined up neatly, reflecting the ever progressing evolvement of what we call career, and he quit his career as a lawyer.

In particular, I like Komisar’s definition of passion  that should not at confused with the new age-y approach of following your passion.

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It is not about the passion, but about a portfolio of passion – don’t drive yourself crazy by trying to find THE passion once for all.

My personal portfolio had always comprised a whole lot – this blog has its name for a reason. Probably I will some day blog on all studies and master degree programmes I had ever evaluated attending. When I was a teenager there were times when philosophy and literature scored higher than anything sciencey.

So I had ended up in an obscure, but thought-after sub-branch of IT security. I have gone to great lengths in this blog to explain my transition from physics to IT. However, physics, science and engineering never vanished from my radar for opportunities.

I wanted less reputation as the internationally renowned high-flyer in IT, and more hands-on down-to-earth work. Ironically, the fact that security is hot in the corporate world started to turn me off. I felt I stood at the wrong side of fence or of the negotiation table – as an effectively Anti-Security Consultant who helped productive business units to remain productive despite security and compliance policies. Probably worth a post of its own, but my favorite theory is: If you try to enforce policies beyond a certain limit, people will pour all their creativity into circumventing the processes and beating the system. And right they are because they could not do their jobs otherwise.

 For many years a resource-consuming background process of soul-searching was concerned with checking various option from my portfolio of passions. I was looking for a profession that:

  • is based on technology that is not virtual, but allowing for utilizing my know-how in IT infrastructure and security as an add-on.
  • allows for working with clients whose sites can be reached by car – not by plane.
  • allows for self-consistency and authenticity: Practice what you preach / Turn your hobby into a job.
  • utilizes the infamous physicist’s analytical skills, that is combines (just anything): Theoretical calculations, hands-on engineering, managing the design of complex technical systems, dealing with customer requirements versus available technical solutions.

The last item is a pet topic of mine: As a physicist – even as an applied physicist – you have not been trained for a specific job. Physics is more similar to philosophy than to engineering in this respect. We are dilettantes in the best sense – and that is why many physicists end up in IT, management consulting or finance for example.

There are interdisciplinary fields of research that utilize physics via sort of mathematical analogs – just consider Bose-Einstein condensation in networking theory. According to another debatable theory of mine we have nearly blown up the financial system because of many former scientists working in finance – on the physics of wall street – who were more interesting in doing something that mathematically resembles physics than in the impact on the real world.

Solar collector. Image credits: punktwissen

Solar collector, optimized for harvesting ambient heat by convection in winter time. Image credits: Mine / Our German blog.

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(3) And Now for Something Completely Different: Heat Pump Systems and Sustainability

Though am truly interested in foundations of physics, fascinated by the LHC, and even intrigued even by econophysics, I rather prefer to work on mundane applications of physics in engineering as long as it allows for working on a solution to a problem that really matters right now.

Such as the effective utilization of the limited resources available on our planet. Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist (Kenneth Boulding). I do not want to enter the debate on climate warming and I do not think it makes sense to attempt evangelizing people by ethical arguments. Why should we act in a more responsible way than all the generations before us? My younger self, travelling the globe by plane, would not have listened to that arguments either.

However, I think we are all – green or not – striving for personal and economic independence and autonomy: as individuals, as home owners, as businesses.

That’s what got us interested in renewable energy some time ago, and we started working on our personal pilot project that finally turned into a research project / ‘garage start-up’.

We have finally come up with a concept of a heat pump system that uses an unconventional source of heat: The heat pump does not draw heat from ground, ground water or air, but from a large low temperature reservoir – a cistern, in a sense. Ambient heat is in turn transferred to the water tank by means of a solar collector. A simple collector built from hoses (as depicted above) works better than a flat plate collector that relies on heat transfer via radiation.

As with PKI, this is more interesting than it sounds, and it is really about combining just anything: Numerical simulations and building stuff, consulting and product development, scrutinizing product descriptions provided by vendors and dealing with industry standards. None of the components of the heat pump system is special – we did not invent a device defying the laws of physics – but is it the controlling logic that matters most.

I am going to extend the scope for combining anything even further: Having enrolled in a Master’s degree programme in energy engineering in 2011, I will focus on smart metering in my master thesis. Future volatile electricity tariffs (communicated by intelligent meters) will play an important role in management and control of heat pump systems, and there are lots of security risks to be considered.

It is all about systems, interfaces, and connections – not only in social media and IT, but also in building technology and engineering. Actually, all of that is converging onto one big cloudy network (probably also subject to similar chaotic phenomena as the financial markets). I am determined to make some small contribution to that.

(4) Concluding and Confusing Remark

Now I feel like Achill and the Tortoise in Gödel, Escher, Bach(*) – in the chapter on pushing and popping through many levels of the story or the related dreamscape. I am not sure if I have reached the base level I had started from. This might be cliff-hanger.

(*) This is also a subtle tribute to the friend – and musician – mentioned above.

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111 Years: A Shining Example of Sustainable Product Development?

The centennial light bulb has celebrated its 110th birthday last year and the story has percolated the web. According to its web cam the bulb is still alive.

This light bulb has caused quite a stir when featured in the documentary on planned obsolescence: The Light Bulb Conspiracy.

Actually, the bulb technology is very different from modern incandescent bulbs (that are not so modern any more – after having been banned by the European Union).

Research has been done in order to determine the reason for the bulb’s longevity. Of course not on the precious, centennial bulb, but on an identically constructed one.  The size of the filament has been investigated without breaking the lamp by shining laser light on the dark filament and analyzing the diffraction pattern, recording the distances between the laser spots on a screen positioned behind the lamp.

The filament is about eight times thicker than the filaments of today’s bulbs  –  a solid wire with a diameter about the same as the outer diameter of the modern tungsten filament’s coil. Energy is radiated away from the wire, and it cannot be absorbed by adjacent windings of the coil.

Electrical resistance has been found to slightly decrease with increasing temperature (similar to semiconductors), and the temperature coefficient was large than the value for pure carbon. The exact composition is not known, but the negative temperature coefficient could result in a negative feedback loop: filament is heated by dissipated electrical energy –> filament becomes hotter –> resistance decreases –> less energy is dissipated.

The light is quite faint – today the bulb consumes only 4 W of electrical power (initially: 60W), and the light was basically on since more than 100 years:

Fire Chief Jack Baird said: The light bulb was never turned off, except for about a week when President (Franklin D.)
Roosevelt’s WPA people remodeled the firehouse back in the ’30s and a few times  we had power failures.

Consumers are very often advised not to turn on and off lamps to often to avoid an enormous energy-consuming power surge. There are tests that falsify this theory though we do not know of course how the ancient lamps would stand this stress test.

So, yes (to all critics of the planned obsolescence conspiracy theory): This bulb is not best practice in engineering according to today’s standards so there is no point in trying to force Philips to build lamps like this. But this is not a claim put forward by the documentary anyway.

The light bulb is a symbol and a nice hook for a story. Isn’t it self-explaining that long-lived products would make sense?

Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.
(By economist Kenneth Boulding, quoted in the documentary by Serge Latouche)

Probably I have just posted this because my notebook’s battery has started to bring up an annoying pop-up repeatedly: (Paraphrasing) Please replace me though I may still work!