Monday, November 22, 2010

Of sleep and dreaming

So, lately I've been dancing around the issues of sleeping and dreaming. I've been putting up vague dreams and trying to somewhat interpret them without any real research other than that from my psyc classes and a few tid-bits picked up here and there, mostly from Freud, friends, and my father. I thought it might be interesting to ask the question and research the current scientific understand to why we dream, why do we dream about what we dream about, and moreover, why do we sleep at all?

I'm going to rely very heavily on the radiolab radio cast of this, cuz I think it's great and they are geniuses. Also, it'll provide some focus. This is meant to be an overview and if feel I need to add something and go back, I will add something and go back. This isn't brainiac mansion.


Ok, first of all, I'm going to assume that dreams don't not serve a purpose.. errr.. I think there is a purpose to dreams and dreaming. Evolution doesn't tend to do things for fun, and I think there must be some sort of connection from sleeping and dreaming to the grand scheme of things evolutionarily.

So, let's start at the beginning; sleep. Why do we need to sleep? All mammals do it. All known animals actually do it.. cockroaches too. And it's not a voluntary thing; sleep will be forced upon you at some point whether you like it or not. Sort of analogous to Shakespeare describing sleep as death. He also described orgasms as death* so... you know Shakespeare!

*A recent study of brain activation patterns using PET give some support to the experience of an orgasm as a small death:
"To some degree, the present results seem to be in accordance with this notion, because female orgasm is associated with decreased blood flow in the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is crucial for behavioural control."[1]
Anyway, back on topic. We now know this is very far from the truth. Sleep is not death, it's not even the opposite of awake. Our brain is still working hard as we sleep, going through cycles of different types of activity.

I'm not going to go through or define these cycles cuz I think they're not important for this overall current examination, but maybe another time cuz it is interesting.*

*As a quick aside one of my favourite Northern Exposure episodes, Ursa Minor, involves Chris, the dj guy, making a sleep contraption that fits on to his head like goggles. In the goggles there are motion sensors that read his eye movements. When his eyes move as he sleeps, this indicates REM sleep (err, Rapid Eye Movement), which coincides with our dream cycle. Anyway, these motion sensors, when they detect eye movement would set off blinking red lights onto Chris' eyelids. He trained himself (and apparently it's pretty easy to do - there's software out there now that will help you, and yes, there's an app for that) to recognize the flashing red lights in his sleep, and those lights would cue him that he was in a dream, and hence provide the opportunity for lucid dreaming. Really, really awesome.

Ok, so yeah, there is a ton of brain activity when we sleep, we know that. I'm sure you've also heard that dolphins only sleep with one half of their brains at a time. Because they are conscious breathers (they need to actively think about breathing) and because they breathe air (and not through the water), the need to stay relatively awake and at the surface of the water as they "sleep". So, half their brains show classic sleep brainwave patterns for a few minutes while the other half shows classic awake patterns, and then vice versa (this will flip back and forth) as they lie like logs on the surface of the water. Uni-hemispheric sleep. Also, of note, they end up sleeping eight hours a day. Most aquatic mammals do this, but other animals do this as well.

For example, ducks are really interesting.

They tend to sleep in rows, like let's say five to a row. The inner three centred ducks all sleep with their eyes closed, but the outer most ducks sleep with ONE EYE OPEN. I bet you can guess which eye too.. yeah, the outer eye. They, the outer ducks, have even been observed to rotate their bodies 180 degrees as they sleep to allow for the other side of their brain to sleep! How cool is that. (link you need a subscription, but if anyone really wants to read the article and doesn't have a subscription, let me know and I'll just forward it to you. Alternatively, Scientific American back issues to 1993 are available on this torrent)

Now, this brings up an interesting evolutionary adaptation. We haven't really looked at why we need to sleep yet but, because we do, certain adaptation have evolved in animals because of the potential fear of predation.

Sleeping is dangerous. For dolphins, they don't want to drown. For ducks, there are always foxes and wolves. Lizards do this too. In lizard sleep studies, the introduction of a snake into the room overnight brought on the exact same one eye open sleep behaviour.

Uni-hemispheric sleep. Aquatic mammals have it. Birds, avians have it. Reptiles have it. But we, and all terrestrial mammals don't.

Following evolution, it figures we lost it somewhere along the way. To recap, sleep is necessary (we don't know yet why), but because it is, there are certain predatorary dangers involved. We may at times feel unsafe and insecure, for good evolutionary reason only hopefully, while we sleep.

So, the theory goes that the first terrestrial mammals were big hole diggers, and dug themselves underground to sleep, where they were safe and in the dark. They hid in caves, etc... Finally, safely hidden away from predation, the evolution and ability to sleep with both eyes closed developed/evolved. Not sure about the exact theory, but the simple idea is this: predation risk. If you feel safe and there is little risk of being killed, you can sleep easier. The obvious benefit is that you are then awake longer with both sides of your brain working.

How does this translate to humans? Well, there are sleep studies that people in novel sleeping environments (sleeping on a friend's couch for example, or a hotel for the first night) tend to have less deep sleep brainwaves. There is evidence that the sleep isn't as good, and that we are more alert sleepers when in novel environments. Buried deep in our reptile brain is some sort of predator alert system. A sort of fear radar when uncomfortable with our surroundings. Pretty neat stuff here. Evolutionarily, anxiety will translate into your sleep.

Alright. So, we've established that sleep is dangerous, evolutionarily, and that it can rightly cause us anxiety. If there was some way to circumvent it, wouldn't nature have allowed that/put pressure on that to happen? Or is there a requirement, an essential benefit to sleep that is so crucial to ALL our lives that these benefits outweigh the potential for death? Basically, what I'm asking here is why do we need to sleep.

Well, I couldn't find any Canadian numbers (surprise, surprise) but let's take a look at the 40+ million Americans, about 15% of the population, who can't sleep.

What happens when you don't sleep? You feel tired. Why do we feel tired? I mean, what happens chemically in our brains and bodies?

Dr. Allan Pack is perhaps the leading sleep biologist (he's up for a lifetime achievement award this year). He has been looking at sleep at the cellular level, and one of the things he’s found over and over and over — shown in mice, shown in rats, shown in the fruit fly — is that certain cells in all those different types of animals, when they are sleep-deprived, is that you don’t get proteins properly folding.

This is a phenomenon called the unfolded protein response. This is basically your worst nightmare (sorry, couldn't resist). Why do you need proteins to “properly fold”? Well, you’re made of proteins. Proteins are the essence of you. If your proteins are misshapen, if they’re not folded properly, if they don’t have the right three-dimensional structure, they start accumulating inside the cell, broken. Then these unfolded proteins can start to aggregate together and form clumps inside the cell and essentially clog it up, slow it down, and it’s really quite toxic. Clumpiness equals tiredness!

But when you get sleep, a group of "cleaner-uppers" go through your cells and removed these misshapen proteins so that, in effect, sleep is a housemaid, just in the hotel of you.

(This upcoming paragraph gets a bit technical, so skip it if you like; it's not essential.) Specifically, our body's unfolded protein response (UPR) are these "cleaner-uppers"(haha, "technical"), and they have two primary goals: (i) initially to restore normal function of the cell by first halting protein translation and (ii) activating the signaling pathways that lead to increasing the production of molecular chaperones involved in protein folding. If these objectives are not achieved within a certain time lapse or the disruption is prolonged, the UPR aims to initiate programmed cell death (apoptosis).

Honestly, there are no simple pictures of the UPR system. Seriously. If there were, I would put one here.

Blah, blah, blah... Ok, so what does this all mean? Well, sleep activates the clean up system and is really the main point here. Because not only are these cleaner uppers really really essential at preventing cancer, among other things, there is a theory that these cleaner-uppers could translate into learning.


Ok, so anyone who's played an instrument knows the score here, so to speak. You're practicing this one difficult section, or this one difficult drum rhythm, and you just can't get it... you keep on trying and trying until you finally give up for the night. You just can't nail it down.

So, you go to sleep.

Then, the next day, what inevitably happens is that you wake up, inevitably, and you go to the instrument and you try again. And what happens? You get it. You get that difficult parsing, or you get that rhythm down cold. Why? What happens?

Dr. Giulio Tunoni believes this is what happens as you sleep. Sleep helps you remember, by forgetting.

He believes that the space in your brain, what you can learn in a day is limited. And every experience you have in one day takes up space. Every experience uses up a little of what you have, and not only that, all these experiences interact with eachother and start to confuse themselves. Just talk to someone who's sleep deprived. They don't make sense, jumble up words and thoughts, can't concerntrate on immediate information, etc.. So the brain records and tries to learn/incorporate everything, whether you want to or not.

Experiences stick with us, having breakfast, talking to your mom, speaking with co-workers, even reading this; it all forces your brain to make new connections. I mean, think about it. Just the simple fact that you can remember what you read at the beginning of this sentence is proof that there have been new connections formed in your brain. Your brain is being reshaped. I am reshaping your brain right now!!! Ok, sorry, enough of that.

Ok, so now. You sit down with your cello or drum kit for two hours at the end of the day, and you start to play. Because you're concentrating more, perhaps you're making even more connections. Physical movements, proprioception, timings, memorizing. Everytime you do it all makes new connections in the brain.

The same thing with studying or learning. Everytime you think about something, you form new connections. If you think about something intensely, with emotion, the connections formed are going to be stronger and more numerous.

All of these synaptic connections are made during the day, and by the time you're ready for sleep, there is a giant mess in your brain! This is one argument not to have arguments at night, btw! Anyway, this is where sleep comes in, in Dr. Giulio Tunoni's opinion.

Sleep is like your housemaid, once again. Only, perhaps not in the way you think. The brain won't come through and pick and choose which connections should stay and which should go. It simply does an electronic sweep of EVERYTHING. Waves of electrical activity, starting at the back of your head, kind of like slow oscillations, 1000 times a night, will flow over your brain, and ALL of those synaptic connections will get just a little bit weaker. Again, it does not pick and choose which connections get stronger or weaker; this wave of electrical activity weakens all connections.

So, what does that mean? Well, the things you concentrated on most out of your day -- the things you spent the most time on, the things that had a strong emotional impact on you, that thing you couldn't get out of your head all day -- these things are the only things that will survive the general sweep.

Now, come next day, when you pick up that instrument, voila, you got it. Why? Because only those stronger connections survived. Even though they are weaker than last night, they are the only connections that survived. Moreover, because you practice the next day, you think about it the next day, these connections will once again start to strengthen. See the gradual pattern here? The connections that have survived the previous night are heard better because the background has become more silent, in a relative sense.

Once you start thinking about something over and over again, especially day after day, these connections are getting extremely strong. This is the reason (or at least the theory) behind learned behaviours and learning in general.

Of note, the brain learns both good and bad behaviours indifferently, cleans them all equally at night where only the strongest survive. If those behaviours are repeated the next day, they are just bound to get stronger. It really is a great system of reinforcement and temporary space usage!

Learning seems like the process of erosion. The things left standing the next day have an opportunity to be built up upon again.


Ok, so, we've discussed the evolution of sleep and why we need to sleep. Now, why do we dream and what do they mean!

Friedrich August KekulĂ© von Stradonitz, if you haven't heard of him, was the dude who came up with the idea of the benzene molecule being in the shape of a ring in his dreams. 

"...I was sitting writing on my textbook, but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation; long rows sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake-like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the consequences of the hypothesis." 

Ok,... not sure where that takes us. But think about it, it is possible that that is true, as weird as that sounds. I mean, just a few nights ago I had a dream of cottage cheese and gummy worms existing together as a desired, commercially available breakfast food. Weird stuff does tend to happen in dreams.

The stuff that you experienced the day before certainly does have the potential to enter your dreams. Think about playing Tetris. If you played Tetris as a kid and you didn't dream about it that night then you're lying. Even in daydreams, or just before bed, Tetris pieces were dancing on your eyelids.

And funnily enough, someone tested just that. Bob Stickgold of Harvard University sat subjects down in a room, made them play tetris for a good amount of time, then got them to sleep in a sleep lab, and then woke them up during their REM sleep and 60% of his subjects were dreaming about Tetris! Ok.. so, makes sense right!.. I mean, it's a pretty big deal, but whatever; it really isn't the whole answer right? I mean, sure we can dream about what we just experienced; no brainer.

Now here is where Matt Wilson comes into the picture. He studies brain waves from dreaming rats. He hooks the rats up to neural signal monitors and outputs these things, both audio and visual, for recording. What he did was during the day he sent these rats through a maze, and recorded their neuronal activity. Then at night, as they slept, he again recorded their neuronal activity. Guess what he found.

Yeah, they matched up. They matched up so well in fact that Matt Wilson was actually able to start to tell when the rats were running in their dreams, when the rats were stationary in their dreams, and when and where the rats were in the maze in their dreams. He started to be able to interpret, based on the lining up of the prior day's events, what the rats were dreaming about.

Specifically, when the rats ran through the maze during the day, let's say it took them 1 minute, they displayed a characteristic neuronal (fingerprint) message during that 1 minute. Well, that exact firing was again acheived while they slept, and Matt was able to line these up and interpret them! The rat was effectively re-running it's maze from earlier in the day. Matt has gotten so good at decoding the neuronal signatures that he can now just listen to the brainwaves, and without looking at the rats, he knows what they were doing.*

*Aside: remember this little fact, cuz it's gonna come up in a post a few days from now. Basically, Matt discovered how to read neuron activity, brain waves and thoughts in GREAT detail by comparing unknown wave patterns with known ones and experiences.

Ok, that is pretty great in and of itself, but, it gets better.

Now, at this point Matt put the rats through two different mazes, let's call them Maze #1 and Maze #2. He found that yes the rats dreamt that they were running in Maze #1 and dreamt separately that they were running in Maze #2 at different times in their REM sleep. But, he also found that the rats would in essence 're-mix' the mazes, and produce new patterns with parts of Maze #1 and parts of Maze #2. So, the implication is that the rat began to invent new mazes.

Sleep therefore seems like the opportunity to basically run through the events of the day and put them together in ways that may not have actually occurred while the animals were awake.

Now, isn't this what learning is?.. or, at least this synthesis is a part of learning? You take two things that are seemingly unrelated, figure out the connections between them, find out the hidden rules and figure out the undiscovered rules that will allow us to create something new and significant that could help us in the future.

Dreaming seems to allow us the opportunity to try out new possibilities and connections that were inhibited by consciousness in the waking hours. Some things end up making sense, some thing don't. But, when it does work, that, my dear, is a new connection and is learning. If it makes sense (even emotionally) and you thought about it, it has the potential to be reinforced.

Ok, so how does the brain decide what to try to connect? As in, what does the brain decide to put into a dream and what to leave out of a dream?


People don't really have dreams about word processing, about surfing the net, about reading a text book. These are debatably things we do the majority of the time during the day, right? So, why aren't these the things in our dreams? Bob Stickgold, the Tetris dude, has a hunch.

Instead of having his subjects play Tetris, he now had a group play "Alpine Racer 2".

A full body game. Also, a stressful type of game. Stickgold has the theory that as you go through your day, your brain will put a sticky note on memories with emotional content and involvement. The brain will flag those things that are significantly involving and that are important to be able to bring them up afterward in dreams. Then, all the brain has to do while in REM is go back and grab sticky notes.

Stickgold had his test subjests play AR 2 during the day, put them to sleep in a sleep lab, then woke them up after about 2 minutes of sleep and found that about 40% reported dreaming about skiing. Like, right away it seems the brain starts thinking about and processing the days events, the sticky notes.

Then, he let his test subjects sleep a little longer; he didn't wake them until 2 hours into their sleep.  After sleeping for two hours, he found almost no replay of the sticky events at all. The replays seems to have dissolved... into a re-mix. He started to get reports like "I was sliding down a hill", or "Rolling".. or "skateboarding".. or, "doing yoga on a ski slope"... So, as the dream goes on the brain seems to start to free associate.

What do I have in my past (so the brain may think) in all my other significant memories that seems to fit thematically or schematically with this major event from today. Sometimes weird stuff happens, sometimes things seem to make sense.

Dreaming then, seems like a time when you can work on the problems you have, allow your brain to start free associating these major significant events in your life, pull them apart, mash them together, and see if any of these almost random connections of important events that you normally wouldn't make during the day, make sense.

Hence, Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz's benzene-snake ring. And my cottage cheese-gummy worm breakfast delight. (I actually woke up the next morning and opened up my container of cottage cheese expecting there to be gummy worms. I was disappointed and I may have been half-asleep.)

Meh, you win some, you lose some. Just gotta keep dreaming it seems like. And reinforcing certain thoughts and dreams during the day to keep them learned! Cool how the mechanisms describing the theory and the practice match up.


So, take home messages:

Sleep is really important. Crucially important. It helps you clear your mind, quite literally, of unimportant thoughts and connections, jumbled ideas, and jumbled, broken clumped proteins. It's evolutionarily binding; no animal goes without this stuff. It is fundamental to survival and to learning. However, there is a fear of predation element involved, and hence the push and pull of evolution. Because most animals need to spend a third of their day sleeping, it seems like a pretty importnat thing.

Dreaming seems to be a free association of important emotional events. The longer you sleep, the more free association with past events takes place. However, this is probably a good thing as new connections can and will be formed, and eventually reinforced if thought about significantly and sufficiently throughout the next day. If they are garbage associations, they may not be thought about again. However, my cottage cheese-gummy worm idea is obviously not a garbage idea, so I will obviously continue to have this seed grow stronger and more salient in my mind, day after day, night after night, whether I like it (lucky I like it) or not.

Also, sleep and dreaming are both like housemaids looking after different parts of your brain. The sleep houemaid is responsible for removing clumps,the dream housemaid is responsible for eroding synapses and memories.


Here's Sloan - Keep on Thinkin', from the totally underrated Navy Blues.

Also, of note in this clip, Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright cooking with Sloan?!?! Awesome. I'm not even being cool; they are actually cooking.

Christmas in Kingston, sort of

This past Saturday, the Kingston annual Christmas parade at night. That's right, we gotta be different.

 Not to be confused with the line up outside of Stages.

 Yeah, there really was no po-po presence.

 Here it comes!

Kingston is home to the World Champion Town Crier, dontcha know. Apparently his official duties have taken him to Australia, Belgium, England, Ireland, across Canada and the US to cry in praise of Kingston. I'm not sure if that posse follows him around permanently, but if I were him I would probably force them to.

Apparently his promotional duties did not include looking at the camera. Fucker.

The historical costume society (I'm not capitalizing that... ) followed by the RMC's flotilla device.

 Not RMC's flotilla device.

 They're everywhere, probably because they get free money and a place to drink beer.

 Most floats looked like this: a big truck hauling a trailer full of garbage and people.

Not sure what this thing is doing here. The #4 runs like this all year around here in Kingston. Also, an extremely drunk/high guy got out of this bus in front of us; apparently Bagot and Princess was his stop.

That's a good costume. 

Big trucks with Christmas lights. At least there was an effort. The mayor of Kingston drove through in a black Chrysler with a magnet on his door stating that he was in fact the mayor. He did not wave his hands and was alone in the car. I will not speculate as to what he was doing with his hands alone in the car.

The abrupt stop this thing made was pretty hilarious...

Not officially part of the parade. This is how the Kingston kids dress these days. 

And of course you have the Harry Potter float. 

We skipped the lighting of the tree, mostly because we were freezing and relatively bored (really, an hour of this is more than enough once a year), and instead opted for beer and burgers at the Kingston Brew Pub. Walking back, we found evidence it was in fact lit, and found its obvious sponsorship partner next door.

Glowing full moon between the best tree silhouette I could find.

Want to enter next year? Of course you do. And so do I. Julia looked up the application process. Official entry fee is $150, but you can easily work it down to $80 with a little creativity.

I already got some ideas.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anton Kuerti Albert.

In an effort to not be stuck behind a computer screen nearly 20 hours a day, Albert and I (Jesus I love the name Albert... I'm not sure why. High up there in the alphabet, nice and simple, yet complex... There's something intelligent, noble about it. There's also this amazing song:

Unfortunately it's incomplete here... like this blog post. Anyway, so yeah, Albert and I are heading to see Anton Kuerti tonight. Whatever, let me get back to Albert for a second. So, we go to this party for first year law schoolers. Not only does he make springrolls for everyone, but he plays piano for half the night! And like, not annoying piano either! Apparently I got a man crush.

Anyway, what was I saying?.. ah yes, Anton Kuerti is playing tonight, yada yada yada. Read this:

I wonder if Albert will accompany me on cello for Lawlapalooza. We could make sweet, sweet music together, me and that man....

Umm, why didn't anyone tell me about this sooner?

This is pretty awesome. I'm kinda wanting to set up my own competing google maps website just to have to do this.

The U.S. company has hired two young cyclists to ride through gardens, historical sites and other pedestrian-only areas on the device to take thousands of digital photos.

"The idea is to be able to offer 360-degree images of places that were inaccessible before," Google spokesperson Anne-Gabrielle Dauba-Pantanacce said in an interview.

Update: Oh yeah, so in my excitement about this idea, I forgot to mention how I fell into this tidbit. I met up with Julia at the Toucan; thank you!!! I blew her mind discussing the implications of the 1927 Solvay conference on the Heizenberg Principle, and she blew mine telling me how disappointed she is in her high school friends. Post coming up on that soon. In all seriousness, it was fun and will be needing to do it again shortly, and she's generally brilliant.

Joel Plaskett's rider, etc..

What’s on your rider? Evian, potato chips and a bottle of Jameson.

What are your favourite and least favourite venues? My favourite I’ve played is Massey Hall in Toronto. Incredible. My least favorite is the Big White Ski Resort outside Kelowna, British Columbia.

What’s your crowd-pleasing number? (Can I Go) Nowhere With You?

What’s the most you’ve paid for a gig ticket? Springsteen two nights in Philly last year. Couple hundred bucks.

See full list of Irish times questions here:

Thursday, November 18, 2010


So I checked out the Leonids, and with a clear sky in the middle of nowhere, I managed to get a few shots, which I posted below... really, really nothing bad shots though, mind you.

The Leonids are a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Tempel-Tuttle. The Leonids get their name from the location of their radiant in the constellation Leo: the meteors appear to radiate from that point in the sky.

Earth moves through the meteoroid stream of particles left from the passages of a comet. The stream comprises solid particles, known as meteoroids, ejected by the comet as its frozen gases evaporate under the heat of the Sun when it is close enough – typically closer than Jupiter's orbit.


So, last night there was a Clerkship informational session with Justice Gilles, and beyond that it was really interesting (and something I'm thinking of trying for), the idea of SPACE LAW came up. Yeah, there is such a thing, and it is sounds awesome. "Yeah, I work at the The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs." I also love their first side-bar link, casually (and incorrectly, I guess...) "Whats new".

Space law encompasses national and international law governing activities in outer space. International lawyers have been unable to agree on a uniform definition of the term "outer space," although most lawyers agree that outer space generally begins at the lowest altitude above sea level at which objects can orbit the Earth, approximately 100 km. The inception of the field of space law began with the launch of the world's first artificial satellite by the Soviet Union in October 1957, named Sputnik 1.


Ok, then I started reading a bunch of articles on the moon (one thing lead to another) and I got onto helium 3.

Scientists estimate there are about 1 million tons of helium 3 on the moon, enough to power the world for thousands of years.

As reported in an Artemis Project paper, about 25 tonnes of helium-3 -- or a fully-loaded Space Shuttle cargo bay's worth -- could power the United States for a year. This means that helium 3 has a potential economic value in the order of $3bn a tonne -- making it the only thing remotely economically viable to consider mining from the Moon given current and likely-near-future space travel technologies and capabilities.

There's a pretty great and highly recommended 5 minute video here which will make you an expert on helium 3 mining on the moon.

In 2006 Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of the Russian space corporation Energia, was reported to have said that Russia is planning to mine lunar helium-3, with a permanent Moon base to be established by 2015 and industrial-scale helium-3 production to commence by 2020. The Americans also have plans, with NASA having announced its intention to establish a permanent base on one of the Moon's poles by 2024, and with helium-3 signalled as one of the reasons behind this mission.

A few weeks ago China launch a moon orbiter that has already sent back pictures. As reported by China View (because I obviously read China View), China is also in the race, and plans to put a man Moon by 2017. One of the goals of the mission will be to measure the thickness of the lunar soil and the amount of helium-3 on the Moon. There have also been reports that India, Japan and Germany are taking an interest in lunar exploration linked to helium-3 as a potential future nuclear fuel.


Anyway, apparently I'm already too late to the party; however, there is an actually fantastic Discovery Channel videogame -- that I blew about 2 hours playing last night waiting for the moon to fully set to watch those Leonids -- about rival nations mining Helium 3 on the moon.

\Ok, on with the Leonid pictures!

 Out to see the stars!
 Originally I thought I'd be able to see them from McBurney Park just down the street, but didn't realize it was so lit up.

Walked down by the water to Douglas Fluhrer (yup, that's how you spell it) Park... much more remote and darker, but as you'll see, probably not quite dark enough.
 Ok, so in this test shot (down by the lake), you should be able to make out the big dipper.
 Alright, the circled area above is the bottom end of Leo, where all the action happens. Compare the above and below images in that area...
See the difference? There's an meteor in there!

Here's a closer look.

Ok, so, maybe I had my camera settings off, maybe the "shower" was a bit/quite underwhelming, and just maybe it was too bright to take any decent photos. But, that's a meteor!

I ended up seeing maybe 15-20 shooting stars: 6-7 bright ones, 6-7 medium, 4-5 faint/non-existant/floaters. Basically a few less than what you would see on a summer cottage night. 

 pUniverse's augmented reality blows me away everytime. Basically, you point it at the sky and it tells you exactly what you're looking it, you name it. As long as you name stars, constellations, and the odd planet.

This isn't the augmented reality part, but it will still move the image as you move around the phone... really, really great.  

Remember this building Changer?

Alright, well, that's it for now, but look for posts on John Mighton, 4'33", and hummus making this weekend. Or not... you never know.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sheezer - El Scorcho

ah Weezer.

I'll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The pierogi incident


Long time no talk eh?.. why, I've been busy, reading, making cuff links, writing blog posts and never finishing them or posting them, you know, the ush... well, actually, a couple days ago I made pierogies, from scratch!

So, a bit of backstory, I emailed my mom asking her for my aunt's recipe... it went pretty much like this:

Can you send me out a good recipe for pierogies (maybe cocia's? (ed: aunt's)). And what kind of sauerkraut and mushrooms she uses? I want to try to make them!



M** P** to


i JUST finished talking w Ciocia,she wants to know when u coming?she will make for u to take .We both agreed that is time consuming plus needs practice,may be one day we will make them all of us together?


Geez, that email makes me feel like the biggest momma's boy loser ever. Maybe one day, Mom??!! I just want to make pierogies!

Also, I love how they both agreed (read: decided) that I should wait for them.... lol!

Just kidding mom, I love you. Actually, re-reading that email, it's kinda sweet, but if you're going to play a new character in this blog you're going to have to roll with the obnoxiousness. Just hold your head high and look where it got Spenny.

Anyway, so I pretty much took this as a personal challenge. I mean, I have this potluck on tuesday and I volunteered to bring some food (I suppose that's what one does for a potluck), and I didn't just want to bring something like a bag of chips and vodka (all the girls are used to that already). So, I narrowed it down to my vegetarian lasagna or ... I pretty much got nothing else. I searched the internet for a bit, and thought, meh, pierogies.

I'm not about to buy pierogies from No Frills. I mean, really? Also, being the only Polish person within 200 kilometers limited my options. So, after getting some huge help from home (I'm kidding! :), I ventured onto this thing called the internet and found this recipe:

Ok, it go good reviews, and looks legit. I'm not about to make potato pierogies. I don't like them and they can go fuck themselves.

I also made a few amendments to the sauerkraut mix. I doubled the onions in the filling and added 1/3 cup diced mushrooms. I ended up making one spicy batch and one garlic batch. The spicy batch actually weren't originally supposed to be spicy... I got a few peppers from Derek and Lisa's garden during a visit down to T.O. and decided to throw a few in... and man were they HOT!.. like, I like spicy food, and yeah, these were hot.

Kneading. Kneading is possibly the worst cooking experience in the world. You mix eggs, sour cream and flour, and you actually have to fight with your new creation for 20 minutes. Almost literally. It sticks to everything. I can't believe people still do this by hand. I have a new found respect for kneading machines. I now realize why they exist. Kneading totally sucks.

HAHA!.. my first dough roll! Four!... four pierogi! This was not going well. After about 20-30 minutes of preparing the dough, I got an output of four dough holes. ok. hmmm... what you want to do, those doing this for the first time, is try to get the dough thinner.

Here are those four pierogi.

This is all trial and error. They turned out fine.. well, perhaps not really. Perhaps they were a bit on the doughy side, and perhaps they were a tad waterlogged. Make sure you close up your damn pierogies, otherwise water gets in and they taste like garbage.

Ok, test number two... starting to slowly get the hang of things..

If that's not a thing of beauty, you are not a person of God.

Second batch!

These were keepers. Things I could feed to other people and not feel bad about. That above is 25 pierogi. I figured I needed to get to 75 to make a decent potluck meal... time to double my efforts. It's cool though.. the first two batches only took 5 hours.

What is that you ask? Why that's just two large bowls of soaking sauerkraut. You haven't seen that before?.. get outta town.

I wanted to get that caustic, stingy taste off them, and as recommended by the web, thoroughly soaking and rinsing a few times does the trick.

Also, on a side note, you'll be happy to know that the Brazilian nut effect also applies to sauerkraut in a liquid. As usual, Sixty Symbols also has a great video about this, err, not specific to sauerkraut however. 

Chopped up sauerkraut. No one like stringy pierogies.

This is one pierogi that didn't make it... it got waterlogged. But, as I was eating it, I got an idea, I never really thought of it before, and not sure if it's standard practice, but why do those burnt up caramelized crisps of onion need to be only the topping to a pierogi. I mean, why can't I just cook them right into the thing?.. And so I did.

Now we're cooking!

So, I went through my entire batch of second filling. 82 pierogi. As I got better economizing my dough and filling the pastries with more substance, I actually went though it quite quickly. I ended up having a load of dough left over, so I decided to take some frozen blueberries out of the freezer...

... doused them with sugar, and add a banana! Exclamation mark!

One thing that was a bit different about these was that they are a lot harder to fold. When you're folding the dough overtop of the filling, it is crucial not to allow any filling to escape through any cracks. Because the liquid sugar does not allow the dough to congeal (something to do with activating the gluten), any liquid that escaped formed a permanent hole in the fold. YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO CLOSE THAT HOLE. opps, caps lock. Yeah, you won't be able to close that hole; the dough won't congeal there. I had to be extra careful with these. There was certainly a higher attrition rate, but some delicious and unexpected desserts were born.

So, in the end, 82 sauerkraut pierogy, 25 of which are extra spicy, plus 26 blueberry and banana pierogi. I'm probably being biased here, but these things are unbelievable. Like, close to the best I've ever had. The sour cream in the dough really made them creamy, very unlike most I've had, and the carmelized onions inside just make the taste jump out. They're great on their own without toppings. Probably not that good for you (I may have added a bit of extra butter), but so delicious. I'll try to save a few for my next weekend visitors. Also, the blueberry banana pierogi are a bit sweet, but out of this world. Like, such an expected but pleasant flavour combination.

Helpful tips:

preamble: Obviously the hard part isn't the filling... it's so easy and so delicious. Just chop everything up real fine, pre-caramelize/crisp the onions, soak and rinse your sauerkraut, cook everything (mushrooms too) in a bit of butter for 15-20 minutes, and you're flying. No, the hard part is of course dealing with the dough. Fear the kneading.

1. Sticky dough? I wish someone told me to use a ton of flour. When kneading it, when rolling it, and especially when forming the pierogi. It really blows when you have shaped a great one only to find that you can't lift it off the counter. Don't use so much as to alter the recipe significantly (so the internet says), but be prepared and willing to coat all surfaces with flour.

2. Dough not spreading right for you? Stick it back in the fridge/freezer for a bit.

3. Make sure your perogies are closed before putting them into the boiling water! Waterlogged pierogies taste like garbage. To close them properly, moisten your fingers before you fold the delicious morcel, and pay special attention to where the flaps join! Yeah, that's right.

4. It is extremely time consuming. It took a good 7-8 hours for 100+ pierogies. This is obviously due to a first time thing, and a general lack of experience working with dough. My second, third and four batches already started to show improvement.

5. Don't eat the nice ones... they'll be plenty of deformed, drowned children for you to eat.

Also, as a bonus, here are two pictures from TEDxQueensU over the weekend. Sara, Jowi and Peter came up on Sunday to present...

Afterward we all went out with a bunch of friends to Curry Original, which, if you find yourself in Kingston for some 'reason', although nice, it is not as good Indian as Cafe India, which incidently is owned and run by Mitali's brother... ahhh, small world indeed.

Anyway, then I come back to this.
Just like home, eh Ma?!