Those speakers in your living room, sitting there, like dull hunks of furniture? What if, instead of just playing music, they became a pair of fire-spewing dragons? You'd play a tune, and the pulsing sound waves, usually invisible, would become bursts (or absences) of flame. Walk around the speakers, and not only would you hear the peaks and troughs of the music, you could see them — like fiery breaths coming at you.
Your insurance company might not be pleased, but such speakers exist. They're called "Pyro Boards" — or, if you like, "2D Rubens' tubes." Physics explainer Derek Muller found one in Denmark, built by a team of science demonstrators who call themselves Fysikshow. At the start of this video, project leader Sune Nielsen shows Derek a series of single tones (ewwww... too loud. They hurt my ears). But then, like dragons high on propane, at about 3:40 in, Derek and Sune put some music on — and get jiggy with it ...
As their name suggests, Fysikshow's mission is to keep Danish chemistry and physics students awed, entertained and delighted as they plod through their basic school curriculum. Their pyro board has 2,500 holes. Sound waves move through flammable gas to create alternating high- and low-pressure zones, which, in turn, produce the flame pattern. At their site, you can see other things they've built: their "exploding hydrogen balloon," "nitrogen bomb," and, of course, a "vacuum cannon" that shoots CDs from one dormitory to another through the air.
Derek, meanwhile, just wanders the planet being always awed, entertained and delighted. He used to report mostly from Australia, but thanks to a new sponsor, he's become a world-traveling hobo. When his camera is on, he's Veritasium.
President Obama, at the start of a four-stop trip to Asia, sought to reassure Japan that the U.S. is on its side in a dispute with China over the tiny Senkaku islands chain, which has led to bluster and naval jockeying between the two countries in recent years.
In a letter to Japan's Prime Minster Shinzo Abe that was published in the leading daily Yomiuri Shinbun, Obama said that the U.S. security policy with Tokyo "is clear."
Obama wrote that he opposes "unilateral attempts to undermine Japan's administration of these islands" and said the disputes need to be resolved "through dialogue and diplomacy, not intimidation and coercion."
"The challenge for Obama during his week-long, four-nation tour will be to convince Asian partners that Washington is serious about its promised strategic "pivot" towards the region, while at the same time not harming U.S. ties with China, the world's second-biggest economy.
"The difficulty of Obama's balancing act was underscored hours before he arrived on Wednesday night when Chinese state media criticized U.S. policy in the region as 'a carefully calculated scheme to cage the rapidly developing Asian giant.'"
The trip, with stops also in Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea, was rescheduled from October, when the government shutdown forced the president to stay in Washington.
"On one level, the president has a long list of tasks awaiting him: He will try to make headway on trade negotiations with Japan, work to ease tensions between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, foster a closer alliance with the government in Muslim-majority Malaysia, and shore up support for Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
"But it is also, by its very nature, an interim step in the administration's larger project of seeking to 'rebalance' its relationship with the most economically and socially dynamic region of the world at a time when China continues to expand its influence there."
Growing up in West Virginia in the 1960s and '70s, Susan Brown would have a slice of salt rising bread, toasted, for Saturday morning breakfast. Her grandmother baked the bread with the mysterious and misleading name.
There's little or no salt in the recipe. No yeast, either. The bread rises because of bacteria in the potatoes or cornmeal and the flour that goes into the starter.
The taste is as distinctive as the recipe. Salt rising bread is dense and white, with a fine crumb and cheese-like flavor.
"Indeed it is, when at its best, as if a delicately reared, unsweetened plain cake had had an affair with a Pont l'Eveque cheese," wrote J.C. Furnas in The Americans: A Social History of the US, 1587-1914.
Today, Brown herself bakes the bread. So does her
friend, Jenny Bardwell, who owns Rising Creek Bakery in Mt. Morris, Pa. And the two have become experts on this unusual loaf.
Like the neo-butter churners and the cacao bean grinders, Bardwell and Brown are keeping a labor-intensive culinary tradition alive. And they're giving some members of their community who grew up on the bread a nostalgic taste of childhood.
Their research hasn't yielded the definitive origin story. The best guess is that salt rising bread dates to the isolated Appalachian region in the late 1700s, where enterprising women who did not have access to yeast figured out a way to make a yeast-free bread.
The origins of the name are also unclear. One explanation is that pioneer women who crossed the country kept their starter dough warm in the salt barrel, kept atop the wagon wheel.
By day the sun would warm the salt, which would warm the starter. The bread could be made in the evening.
Another possibility: The starter was placed on a bed of rock salt in a box by the hearth.
Either way, the starter takes a long time to ferment.
"Sometimes it's 9 hours, sometimes it's 11 hours,"
says Bardwell. "You have to be really tuned into this bread. You have to kind of know how to recognize it when it's ready. Not an hour before, not an hour later."
Heat is critical. "Salt rising Bread is primarily wild bacteria you're culturing with heat, about 105 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit," explains
Bardwell. She believes the different bacteria interact when heated, raising the bread and giving it flavor and texture.
To find out more about the process, Brown and Bardwell headed to a lab at the University of Pittsburgh to visit pathologist Bruce McClane, who studies Clostridium perfringens — one of the microbes that makes the bread rise.
"We walk in and [the lab] smelled just like salt rising bread!" Bardwell says
, referring to the strong smell of the starter , which some people liken to rotten cheese.
The microbe is ubiquitous, they learned — and McClane told them it can be responsible for medical conditions such as gangrene and diarrhea. But the strains in the bread do not usually cause food poisoning, he says. And baking the microbes "significantly" reduces their number, "to the point where they should not be a threat."
The two bakers collaborated with
McClane and family medicine professor Greg Juckett on an article for the West Virginia Medical Journal to highlight how SRB has no history of causing any problems.
Meanwhile, the small bakery on the bank of
Dunkard Creek is one of the only places in the country that produces the bread, selling it in the shop and shipping out hundreds of loaves each week. Customers surveys reveal that they like to toast the bread and eat it with butter, or drizzle milk and brown sugar on top, or dip it in sweet coffee.
And for many who grew up with salt rising bread, the bakery offers a welcome taste of the past without having to prepare the time-consuming loaf.
Recipe: Salt Rising Bread
There are a half-dozen or so recipes for the pioneer bread on the Internet. This one is featured on Susan Brown's website and comes from Pearl Haines, a Pennsylvania woman who started making the bread when she was about five years old and baked it for nearly 90 years. (Haines passed away this year.) Her starter, or "raisin," as she called it, uses fewer ingredients than most recipes and has no sugar or salt.
3 teaspoons cornmeal
1 teaspoon flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup scalded milk
Pour milk onto dry ingredients in an ungreased quart glass jar or metal, glass, or pottery bowl that holds about four cups. Stir. Cover with saran wrap — and punch a hole in the wrap to keep it from sinking.
Keep starter warm, at 105-115 Fahrenheit, overnight until foamy. Three suggestions: 1) Wrap the bowl in a heating pad at the lowest setting, then wrap a towel around it. 2) Set the bowl in an electric skillet with about half an inch of water, set at the lowest temperature. 3) Put it in an oven if there's a light bulb inside that's about 60 watts and you can keep the bulb turned on, or if the oven has a "proof" setting.
Brown suggests having a thermometer on hand to check the starter's temperature several times during the rise.
After "raisin" has foamed and has a "cheesy" smell, put it in a medium-size bowl. Add 2 cups of warm water, then enough flour (about 1 ½ cups) to make a thin pancake-like batter. Stir and let rise again until foamy. This usually takes about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Monitor the temperature during this stage as well.
Next, for each loaf you want to make, add one cup of warm water and 2 to 3 cups of flour (enough to be able to form the dough into a ball). Shape the dough into a loaf and place in a small loaf pan (about 8 1/2 inches by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2) greased with butter, Crisco, Pam or oil.
Let rise 2 to 3 hours. (If it doesn't rise at that point, you'll likely have to start over, Brown says.)
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the loaf is a light golden color and sounds hollow when tapped.
The bread has a long shelf life. "It can keep on your counter for a good week ro ten days without going bad," says Brown, "and if you put it in your refrigerator it'll keep for another couple of weeks."
If you encounter any problems, Brown invites you to email her at email@example.com.
Robert Ellis and his road band perform songs from his fine third album, The Lights From the Chemical Plant, in this World Cafe session. After his last record, 2011's Photographs, Ellis wanted to push his music in less of a country-oriented direction, so he worked on the new album with producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Kings Of Leon).
Ellis also discusses his love for the songcraft of Paul Simon and describes how growing up on the industrial south coast of Texas led to these new songs.