Tuesday, May 09, 2017


Cloudless Caramel Coloring (I): When it is perfectly understood that in the manufacture of caramel, sugar is to be deprived of the one molecule of its water of constitution, it will be apparent that heat must not be carried on to the point of carbonization. Cloudy caramel is due to the fact that part of the sugar has been dissociated and reduced to carbon, which is insoluble in water. Hence the cloudiness. Caramel may be made on a small scale in the following manner: Place 4 or 5 ounces of granulated sugar in a shallow porcelain-lined evaporating dish and apply either a direct heat or that of an oil bath, continuing the heat until caramelization takes place or until tumescence ceases and the mass has assumed a dark-brown color. Then carefully add sufficient water to bring the viscid mass to the consistence of a heavy syrup. Extreme care must be taken and the face and hands protected during the addition of the water, owing to the intensity of the heat of the mass, and consequent sputtering.
Henley's 20th Century Formulas &c, 146 (1914 edition)

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Sunday, May 07, 2017


Artificial Butter IV: 'Ankara' is a substance which in general appearance resembles a good article of butter, being rather firmer at ordinary temperatures than that substance, approaching the consistency of cocoa butter. It is quite odorless, but in taste it resembles that of a fair article of butter and, what is more, its behavior under heat is very similar to that of butter—it browns and forms a sort of spume like that of fat. Ankara consists of a base of cocoa butter, carrying about 10 per cent of milk, colored with yolk of egg.
Henley's 20th Century Formulas &c, 142 (1914 edition)

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Saturday, May 06, 2017

Cheesy Fake

Roquefort, Imitation: The gluten of wheat is kneaded with a little salt and a small portion of a solution of starch, and made up into cheeses. It is said that this mixture soon acquires the taste, smell, and unctuosity of cheese, and when kept a certain time is not to be distinguished from the celebrated Roquefort cheese, of which it possesses all the peculiar pungency. By slightly varying the process other kinds of cheese may be imitated.
Henley's 20th Century Formulas &c, 177 (1914 edition)

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Friday, May 05, 2017

Colours In The Steel

Alloys for drawing Colours on Steel: Alloys of various composition are successfully used for drawing colors on steel. To draw to a straw color use 2 parts of lead and 1 part of tin, and melt in an iron ladle. Hold the steel piece to be drawn in the alloy as it melts and it will turn to straw color. This mixture melts at a temperature of about 437°F. For darker yellow use 9 parts of lead to 4 parts of tin, which melts at 458°F. For purple, use 3 parts of lead to 1 part of tin, the melting temperature being 482°F. For violet, use 9 parts of lead to 2 parts of tin, which melts at 494°F. Lead without any alloy will draw steel to a dark blue.
Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas &c, 80 (1903, revised).


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Blood Oil

'Shio Liao': Under this name the Chinese manufacture an excellent cement which takes the place of glue, and with which gypsum, marble, porcelain, stone, and stoneware can be cemented. It consists of the following parts (by weight): Slaked powdered lime, 54 parts; powdered alum, 6 parts; and fresh, well-strained blood, 40 parts.
Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas &c, 32 (1903, revised).


Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Atlantean Cosmogony: The Ancient Dragon

I live in Atlantis, where centuries have boiled away to leave a bare-husk residue with entailments and derailments, amusements and bemusements. It is as if you had thrown random ingredients into the village's common pot and offered the soup to all and sundry, until the bones were left—and then you added water and began the process again.

But the oldest maps we have tell us of the Gate of the Dragon's Teeth. It is a portal through which men have sailed both ways, this ancient fossil whose prominences remain elided, eroded, or abridged into larger masses. If the teeth were this huge, imagine the size of the monster!

It may not be long before imagination is no longer needed. The ancient dragon is long gone, but her gigantic heir has stirred to life. One by one, the tiny islands in the Dragon Sea are being devoured. Soon, the dragon will return to the Dragon Gate, and we will either be its prey or its doorkeeper.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Smallest System

I remember being interrogated by an old family friend and former babysitter. This eminent professor of the dark arts asked me, "Why is hydrogen so important for our entire discipline?"

At that time, I had no idea, so I blathered on for a while.

Eventually, he got frustrated enough to say this: "Because it's the simplest atom. Just one proton and one electron."

And thus did the young man of three decades gone become the old man of today.

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Monday, May 01, 2017

Labour Day

As T S Eliot puts it,
The lot of man is ceaseless labour,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.
Since the last time I posted here, two years have passed. In that period, I've entered an enterprise, missed two St David's Days, taught countless classes (by which I mean I haven't counted them) in literature, history, and hard sciences. I have read many books, wearied of many writers, and settled into a life of comfortable obscurity—only to be unsettled by various events.

I have walked as much as ever, but covered more ground. Whereas in the past I walked the same blocks, the same corridors, again and again in each interminable day for twelve years, I have been walking the streets and the drains, the hills and the hawker-stalls, and the small corners of the wide earth for almost a decade since.

Time wounds all heels, as an old saying goes. Your sole is hardened by much beating against the ground, like wheat threshed to remove chaff, or iron pounded in a flame.

And here it is Labour Day, and the idea of retirement irks me. After all, it was an idea invented by the Iron Chancellor, Bismarck of relatively ancient fame: he decided it would be good to support the infirm and insane in their old age. He excluded those still fit for work, which for the largest span of human history has been the norm. My forefathers trod their winepresses till they could tread no more, and I dearly wish to do the same. When a person will no longer work, there is no need for that person to eat.

But that state is, God willing, decades hence. And even if not, I'm happy to go when properly gone. For now, I'll just think my thoughts and measure out my life in coffee spoons.

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