Monday, October 30, 2006

An Evening with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show

A little less than a month ago, I felt glad for the first time* that I am living in Ohio instead of somewhere, you know, interesting.** There was this election or something two years ago that a lot of people cared about, and the general consensus is that since the votes in Ohio were the last ones to be counted that it matters more than other equally divided states with more efficient vote counting techniques. But whatever the cause, Jon Stewart is hosting the Daily Show in Columbus, OH (specifically on Ohio State's campus, maybe?) for the next two weeks. Indecision 2006! ... The Midwest Midterm Midtacular!!!!

Of course, by the time this was officially announced (i.e., when I first heard about it), tickets for the actual taping of the Daily Show itself were already sold out.*** So, instead, they decided to have "An Evening with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show" in the large basketball arena/colliseum on October 28, free and just for students. I've had my ticket in my desk drawer for weeks, totally stoked and completely convinced that it was going to be downright awesome.

It wasn't.

The basic format was "moderated." Jon Stewart did make fun of this a few times, granted. The dean of the College of the Arts asked some questions from the thousands that had been emailed in, and there seemed to be only two types of questions. There were the lame questions that just wasted everyone's time and weren't even funny, like "How do you think the world will end?" Then there were the really good questions that were mostly sidestepped by the cast because there was no good way to answer it in a short (moderated) format. The only decent question receiving a decent (i.e., actually funny) answer was: "Do you want to see Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld remain in the political scene so as to provide your show with more content?" After a curt "No," it was explained to the audience that everything Cheney has ever said publicly is simply ... wrong. And he shot a guy in the face for crying out loud.

The most annoying part was that acoustics in the building were horrible. Everyone kept asking each other, what'd he just say? What was that? Oh, and the dean doing the moderating clearly didn't know how to use a microphone. At some point handheld mics were finally brought out, but even then, it was very difficult to follow the conversation. And what's it say when the dean is introduced and there is a lot of booing from the crowd? And how come she got that gig anyhow, instead of someone who would have been more comfortable? There were large screens (... like you'd see at a basketball game ...), but the lighting was so poor that it wasn't any easier to see what was happening by looking at the screen than by looking directly at the very far away stage.

No, that actually wasn't the most annoying part. The most annoying part was that they clearly hadn't prepared anything of any value. Most of the entire hour and a half was filled by showing any clip pertaining to Ohio. Now, I'm a pretty big fan of Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, well, I like them, see, but I don't own a television and have never had access to cable, so I'm more of a fan who never watches the show per se, see, but at least the clips were new to me. But I could watch them on my computer at home and actually hear what was being said instead. And I'm certain that most of the people there had actually seen most of the clips before.

No, that's not true either. The most annoying part of the evening was the fact that I was in a very large room with thousands of Ohio State undergrads. And, oh yes, Saturday was also homecoming and *gasp* there was a home football game involving the Buckeyes slaughtering Minnesota 44-0. Now, there's this ... cheer? ... where someone will yell, "O! H!" and people will yell back, "I! O!" It's one thing during the game, but people will do it freaking walking down the street and then they'll give you nasty looks and accuse you of being from Michigan if you don't yell back. So put thousands of undergrads in a very large room still high from a wholly expected win, and they'll start doing this odd yelling thing. Jon Stewart commented, "I do not understand this ritual, but it seems comforting to you ..." Pretty much the entire evening, every answer to a question involved either saying the magic word, "Ohio," which would in turn elicit raucous cheers from the sharp-thinking crowd, or mistakeningly admitting that there are other states in the Union and getting lots of boos.

Ugh. I may be surrounded by cows and Ohioans, but at least my vote will count this year. And I'll still be watching the Comedy Central election day coverage with an odd pride about me.

* Not the first-first time, but just got along with the story, okay?
** Sure, the cost of living is extraordinarily less than anywhere Interesting, but isn't that the kind of thing you only actively notice if you're living in the expensive place with no residiual money to take advantage of the interesting stuff?
*** Seriously people, don't tell someone that if they email such&such address they can get tickets when there are already no more tickets left. It won't put anyone in a better mood.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

AstroVino #5: Syrah and Shiraz

This week was the first of a two week tour of France's Rhône River Valley. Red wines of the Rhône Valley are principally made from the Syrah wine grape. I personally was not captivated by any of the wines we tried, but most of them did improve as the night went on.

We had two French Syrahs: a 2003 Côtes-du-Rhône, E. Guigal, (S. Rhône, France) and a 2001 Crozes Hermitage, Les Jalets, Paul Jaboulet Aîné. Côtes-du-Rhône is supposed to be a "safe" French red wine, but I found it to be somewhat bland and uninteresting. The Hermitage was brown, it finished quickly (i.e., left no aftertaste), but it was better later in the evening than at the start.

The most memorable wine we tried was from South Africa, and had nothing to do with the taste, though apparently it was one of the top 100 wines on some wine list sometime recently. No no, it's memorable because of the name: Goats do Roam in Villages (2004), from Fairview Estate in Paarl, South Africa. It was quite purple and rather dry, but but Goats! The same winery also offers Bored Doe, Goat Door, and The Goatfather. Because bad puns and good wine belong together.

We had two Californian Syrahs as well: a 2004 Cline Cool Climate Syrah, from the Sonoma Coast and a 2004 Qupé Central Coast Syrah. These are supposed to be incredibly fruity "fruit bombs," but I was having to fend off the free association of the individual on my right who was insisiting that the Qupé had an undertone of play dough, so the fruitiness didn't really come through for me.

Now, just to be confusing, Syrah is known as Shiraz in Australia. The Syrah grape is native to France, but the French didn't know this until 1998, as the Syrah wine was introduced by a former crusader Guy De'Sterimberg, who claimed that he had found this fantastic exotic wine grape in Shiraz, Persia, when in fact he had found it in his backyard. But, hey, Australia can still get away with sounding exotic, so Shiraz it is. The one we tried was a 2002 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz.

Speaking of goats, all of these wines kind of began to taste like one another after a while. This was partially, I think, because we didn't have very good cheese this week: if you're going to have goat cheese, have goat cheese, not the processed stuff from a canister. Really.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


My blog wants to have a non-lame title, but I haven't got any ideas. Do you?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fun with ApJ Week

This past week I received the proofs for the galaxies paper I submitted to the Astrophysical Journal (aka ApJ) in June. "Proofs" include to two versions of the paper: the actual proofs as well as the redlined manuscript. The proofs are an example of how the paper will look when it actually appears in the journal, tables and figures and everything. When verifying that the editors didn't ruin my figures, for instance, I look at the proofs. The last page of the proofs also includes a list of "Author Queries," which is where they explain that they have rearranged such & such sentence and ask if the rewording maintains the intended meaning of the sentence.

The redlined manuscript is a wholly different matter. In this case, while the proofed version was 15 pages, the redlined manuscript was 40. The two aspects of publishing a paper in an honest-to-goodness peer-reviewed journal are first the science editing (which includes the process of peer-review) and the secondly the manuscript editing. This second stage is so that all of the papers will conform to the same set of standards, so that they will all "look" the same. This is also the stage where an editor sits down with the paper and corrects all of the grammar and spelling mistakes. As you can imagine, this is the stage at which a well-written paper will sail through the process much more quickly than a poorly written one.

The redlined manuscript is the means by which the editors let the authors know of all the changes they made: every hyphen added or removed, every comma added or removed, every rewording and every cleaned-up equation. Well, not every-every. For instance, I prefer the word "barstrength" to "bar strength" when referring to the strength of a galaxy's bar; every instance I had of "barstrength" was changed to "bar strength," but this was only explicitly pointed out in the title. Some authors therefore sit down with their original manuscript and the new version and compare the two word-by-word, searching for inconsistencies and unremarked-upon switches of "which" and "that". Before electronic submissions, careful comparison was a much bigger deal: what if numbers were mistyped in a table? Now, though, such egregious errors are much less likely.

Then there are the various "grammar" rules set by the Journal. For example, apparently ApJ doesn't like it when sentences start with numbers larger than 9, so a sentence that I began with "Forty-eight of our 75 galaxies ..." was summarily changed to "Of our 75 galaxies, 48 ...". Then there are the rules that seem to change over the years: if it is consistency they want, then the rules should remain consistent. If an equation had brackets in a paper published four years ago, it should still have brackets in a paper published today.

For this paper, there weren't terribly many changes, and we didn't protest about any of them. At this stage, all I had to do was read through the manuscript carefully several times and email the editors back with a go-ahead. It felt very rewarding for so little work, but then, all of the real work had already been done. The maunscript editing stage is simply much easier than the scientific editing stage, which we're going through with the peanut star paper right now: the referee has sent back comments, and now I have to put actual effort and thought into incorporating and responding to them.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Telescopes after an Earthquake

It seems that while the telescopes on Mauna Kea were certainly affected by Sunday's 6.5 magnitude earthquake, nothing Really Bad happened, where by Really Bad, I think I mean, mirrors cracking and the like. My spy network at Caltech informs me that Keck headquarters had "moderate" damage (like things normally found on the ceiling being found on the floor), but all of the computers and such made it through fine. As for the telescopes themselves, it seems that the physical parts of the telescope in charge of making the telescope move in a smooth and predictable manner are somewhat damaged, especially on Keck II.

And as for the other telescopes on the mountain? Apparently, the world's largest telescope for observing at submillimeter wavelengths, the 15 meter James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), was doing a routine inclinometry check. This is another way of saying they were carefully measuring how much the telescope was tilted when the earth began to do the hokey pokey, as is clearly shown on the plot to the right. The vertical spread here is about 0.05 degrees. Clearly visible is the main quake, followed by a 5.8 magnitude aftershock and then power loss.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

AstroVino #4: The German Whites, Riesling & Gewurztraminer

This week we tried out the German white wines, specifically, four Rieslings and two Gerwürztraminers. In general, while all of the wines were good, the ones from Germany were by far the best. I think I'm coming to the realization that it's not that I dislike white wine, but that I dislike the white wines I've had before this class.

German wine names are ... long. The four Rieslings we had were: a 2004 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Urziger Würzgarten Rielsing Kabinet from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany; a 2005 Wente Riesling (made in the Kabinet style) from Monterey, CA; a 2004 Pikes Clare Valley Dry Riesling from South Australia; and a 2004 Willi Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Spätlese, also from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. With the two hailing from Germany itself, the long part before the word "Riesling" (a type of grape) is a name, probably of the winemaker, and the part after "Riesling" tells you about the style of wine. A Kabinet (from the winemaker's "cabinet") wine is a dry wine with less sugar than the Spätlese ("late vintage"). Other such adjectives include "Auslese," or "selected." The take-away message from the possible list of modifiers is that if anyone ever offers you a "Trockenbeerenauslese," take it and do whatever they say. A very rare, very expensive, deep golden wine, it's "the elixir of the gods."

All of the wines this week were slightly fizzy (or even spritzy!). The two wines from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer were quite excellent and somewhat sweet. The Australian one ... was fizzy, with a hint of rock. We tried all of the Rieslings with Granny Smith apples since the combination of sugar and malic acid often conjures up fruity connotations. If I had ever wondered what granite would taste like in liquid form, now I know it tastes exactly like the Pikes Clare Valley Dry Riesling after a bite of apple.

We also had two Gerwürztraminers: a 2005 Fetzer Valley Oaks Gerwürztraminer from Mendocino, CA and a 2003 Machmer Bechtheimer Stein Gerwürztraminer Spätlese from Rheinhessen, Germany. "Gerwürztraminer" literally means "spice from Tramin;" it forms a rich, spicy wine that apparently stands up well to food. (It definitely did a good job cutting through the heaps of goat cheese I was filling up on.) Especially recomended was Gerwürztraminer with fatty poultry, such as duck or turkey. As for the two we tried, again, while the Californian variety was quite potable, the German one was intensely interesting (in a good way). The Californian was an interesting example of achieving tartness without simultaneously screaming, acid!!

Bottom line: German wines are better when from Germany, even if you can't make heads from tails of the label.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Spectrographic Anecdotes

I spent most of today trying to compile a list of all of the spectrographs in the world (and in space). The primary conclusion I have come to thus far is that for the vast majority of observatories' websites, it is incredibly difficult to get a simple list of instrument specifications (e.g., what wavelength range does your spectrograph cover?). What especially amazes me is that this problem holds true for webpages that superficially look well thought and laid out. Yes, I'm naive, but life is quite cozy here under my little rock.

Then there are the webpages that simply won't load. The little wheel goes around and around and I wait and wait and eventually the connection times out. Shortly after I gave up on trying to access the Keck and the CFHT websites, Google headlines started including the Hawai'i 6.6 magnitude earthquake ... apparently power outtages and rampant destruction lead to webpages being down. Much much more importantly is the question of how those telescopes are doing: some of the largest telescopes in the world are on Mauna Kea, and Mauna Kea is frightfully close to the epicenter. I have not yet been able to glean any information from the web on how these telescopes are doing.

In happier news, apparently the Discovery Channel is in the process of constructing a telescope at Lowell Observatory. Also, there are apparently telescopes in/near Coonabarabran, Australia, which is excellent because "Coonabarabran" is a fun word to say. In fact, a quick Google search reveals that Coonabarabran is the "Astronomy Capital of Australia." Isn't that just hilarious??

Saturday, October 14, 2006

AstroVino #3: Zinfandel and the Italian Reds

I've been craving goat cheese all day. I don't have any goat cheese. Clearly, this means I should write up a little something about this week's wine tasting. Luckily, we are given comprehensive handouts with plenty of anecdotes, descriptions, and pictures, so I can manage to reconstruct the night five days later. We have bread and crackers and cheese (both hard and soft) to go with the wine, mild and unflavored to denumbify the tongue between successive tastes. I had volunteered to bring the bread and cheese this week, and I was quite pleased with the chèvre the cheese guy at North Market recommended. We also brought some sort of hard Spanish cheese, like manchego, but not, which also went over well.

This week was the first red wine week. We started with two Zinfandels: a 2004 Ravenswood Old Vines and a 2003 Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys, both from Sonoma, CA. Zinfandel wine primarily hails from California, and as such, the Zinfandel grape has often been referred to as "California's grape." The California Senate even went so far as to pass a bill declaring Zinfandel to be California's "historic wine," but the bill was terminated by the governor ...

There was long a question as to exactly from where the Zinfandel grape originates; it had to be imported from somewhere, back in the day. Zinfandel wine first appeared in California in the 1800s; an "old vine" wine is in fact made from grapes grown on re-grafted vines that survived Prohibition. Back in the 19th century, a shameless self-promoter by the auspicious name of "Count" Agoston Haraszthy claimed to have brought Zinfandel over from Hungary, specifically, vine stock of the Croatian Plavic Mali. Rumor had it that Haraszthy was eaten by alligators in Nicaragua; rumor also had it that Zinfandel was actually the Primitivo grape from Puglia, Italy. The first rumor grew up into a legend, as the Count was an ... interesting fellow, but the second rumor was generally disregarded, as wine made from the Primitivo is fairly disgusting.

Fast forward to the 1990s and the joys of genetic testing. Genetic type-matching for grapes was coincidentally developped at UC Davis by Carole Meredith and friends. Turns out, the Zinfandel and Primitivo grapes are genetically identical ... but that's not the end of the story. See, the Primitivo grape was actually introduced to the US after Zinfandel wines started popping up, which would imply that it didn't show up in the US at the same time as the Zinfandel grape. By 2001, Meredith had finally found the answer: Zinfandel is, in fact, the same as the Crljenak Kastelanski grape, which had nearly gone extinct along the Croatian coast of the Eastern Adriatic. And as for Haraszthy's Croatian Plavic Mali? It's actually the genetic child of Zinfandel, and it's still totally unclear as to how Zinfandel ever made it to the Golden State to begin with.

I enjoyed both of the Zinfandels we had. I still have a difficult time differentiating and describing the tastes, but I will remember that I liked the Zinfandels and that they apparently go quite well with food. We also had four Italian red wines: two Barberas, a 2002 Anté Barbera d'Asti (from Italy) and a 2004 Renwood Select Series Barbera (from the Lodi & Sierra Foothills in California); as well as two Chiantis, a 2001 Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva (from Italy) and a 2003 Tamas Estates Sangiovese (from Livermore Valley, CA). I have a smiley face next to the d'Asti, which I take to mean I liked it; the Renwood was a bit too tannic and had a bit too much of a bite for me, but I still found it drinkable. The Querceto was fun because the finish (a more polite word for "aftertaste") was decidably different from the initial taste, and I found the Sangiovese to be a bit fruitier.

But they were all quite good with chèvre.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

MIT Asks For Money

Let me preface this post by stating clearly that my time at MIT was worth every penny, and if I had to make the decision again between where I am now and a debt-free-MITless existence, I would quickly re-choose my current debtridden state.

That said, last night I was called for the second time in a week by "a sophomore at MIT."

The first time, I was in the backseat of a full Jeep about to be dropped off. "Hi! This is Allison, a sophomore at MIT. Do you have a minute to speak?" "If you're asking for money, don't waste your breath, because you're not going to get any." I have to give her credit; she just kind of laughed and tried to convince me that they were just trying to ensure my contact information was still up-to-date. I said it was, and she started to ask if she could just talk to me about my impressions of and time at MIT, and I mentioned that I was kind of busy at the moment, but could I call them back in ten minutes? Well, no, they don't take incoming calls, but someone would call next week. You'd think the fact that I was willing to return the call in ten minutes would imply that I would be able to take an incoming call in ten minutes, but let's not jump to conclusions here.

Apparently last night is next week. "Hi! This is Amanda, a sophomore at MIT. Do you have a minute to speak?" "If you're asking for money, don't bother, you're not going to get any." "Uhm, okay, bye." Apparently we're not even going to pretend to care about all of my delightful insights of my time served at MIT or bother asking why I'm unwilling to give handouts.

I'm not exactly sure just why I get so infuriated whenever MIT asks me for money. A large part has to do with the fact that it will be many many more years before I fully pay for that education, and I will not even consider freely giving them money while I'm still being forced to give them money. A lot of the irritation is because I completely disbelieve that my money will be put to a good use; if I were to ever donate money, I would donate it directly to a student or living group, where I could be more gauranteed of students benefitting from my hard-earned cash.

Then there's that part of my current anger that certainly has to do with the answer another alum got upon asking just why does MIT need "just anything you have": because higher percentages of alumni who donate money translates into higher rankings. What?! Yes, that's right: MIT is claiming to care about rankings. What the hell?! Are we having trouble with name recognition here? Are we actively trying to attract the kind of student who prefers another school simply because a statistically insignificant ranking system based on questionable criteria implies that a small liberal arts school up the river is somehow "better"?? It's not like MIT is trying to crack the top ten or create name recognition that goes hand-in-hand with "research institution" instead of "football."

Ah, well. They'll call again in a year, and perhaps then I will be prepared to explain to the unwitting sophomore why MIT should care about exactly why an alum is unwilling to donate money.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Peanut Star

If this star weren't already named "GCIRS 16SW," I would christen it the Peanut Star. Like a peanut, this star has two nuclei (technically, individual stars, but for some reason astronomers say that the two stars in a binary system form a (single) binary star). The two stars are really really close to one another; so close, in fact, that they share material and have a "common envelope," which you can think of as the peanut's shell. Oh, and they're really big: each one is about 50 times as massive as the Sun with a radius about 60 times as large as the Sun's radius. That's freaking huge, by the way. (The axes in this model on the right are in units of the radius of the Sun.) You can count on one hand (without even resorting to counting in binary) the known number of stars in binary systems with comparable masses.

The aspect of this particular star system that makes it so interesting is the "GC" in "GCIRS 16SW." GC stands for Galactic center; specifically, our Peanut Star is only about a fifth of a light year (that's about 12,000 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun) away from the massive black hole, Sagitarius A*, at the center of the Milky Way. (In the picture on the left, the yellow arrows are pointing at Sgr A*, and the green arrow is pointing at IRS16SW.) For comparison, the star nearest our own Sun is about 4.2 light years away. While there is a lot of other evidence for really massive stars near the Galactic center, astronomers still don't know exactly how they got there. Massive stars don't live for very long, which means that either they were born frighteningly close to the big black hole, or they were born slightly further away and somehow got transported really close in very quickly. The problem with these stars being born so close to the black hole itself is that stars are usually born in a cloud of cold gas: the gas has to be cold so that it will collapse and get dense enough to form stars. But the gas near the black hole is moving really fast: it's not cold! Lots of ideas trying to solve this dilemma have been put forward, but so far, there isn't one terribly convincing explanation.

By the way, the short paper all about this object that I've been working on recently showed up on astro-ph today.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Paper Revision

I spent this week in the "well, we're going to submit this paper tomorrow afternoon, so ..." phase. The paper in question has eight authors, including four faculty members here. I hadn't fully appreciated just how... fun... it can be to have so many authors on a paper. Granted, at least everyone on this list is on speaking terms with one another, and they're all reasonable people with a distinct desire to get this paper finished.

I gave people all of last weekend to get comments to me. A few people actually sent comments, several others acknowledged (in person—their offices are down the hall from mine) that they had received my email, and the rest were silent, but easily tracked down. One person had actually checked most of my references, finding one error that amounted to something like this: "Like Jones et al. (2003), we used the spherical black cow model of Appleseed et al. (1994) ..." But if you go and look in the relevant table of Appleseed et al. (1994), you will find that the cow is actually brown, not black. There's nothing in any of the tables in the entire Appleseed et al. (1994) paper that says anything about black at all. Jones et al. just mistyped something somewhere, it seems. No big deal; we add a footnote saying we realize that Appleseed et al. found the cow to be brown, but since Jones et al. used black, we will too. Meanwhile, one of the authors who felt like they should actually "contribute" in order to be included in the author list, starts considering whether or not the cow prefers greener pastures, and in the process does a simple calculation to reveal that the cow is actually a nice hamburger (with pickles and mayonnaise). Well and good: I type out a paragraph explaining how this is odd, as cows who are hamburgers don't make for very stable cows. But as it turns out, this calulation depends sensitively on what color the cow is. So we redo the calculation using brown instead of black, and find out that the cow is only dangerously close to wanting to be a hamburger, but since this situation is still not very stable, we keep the paragraph in. But now we're making a big deal of what color the cow is! And so the author in charge of running the simulations is asked to re-run the simulations with a brown cow, which, of course, takes another day.

Then there was the author who said, "I don't know anything about elephants, so I won't comment on that section." Said author then came back with a huge list of complaints about how they didn't understand the section about elephants. Unfortunately, some of these complaints were perfectly valid, but others... not so much. And I don't yet have the skill (or tact) to politely explain why certain points simply do not need to be addressed.

I also learned this week to not show coauthors un-proofread versions of a paper. It seems so obvious, when I put it that way, but I didn't phrase it as such last night in my head as I rushed out in order to have dinner with the colloquium speaker. And so the emails started pouring in about repeated words and dangling participles when all I really wanted people to do was to comment on the new science.

There are interesting differences in approaches here. I was personally rather annoyed at myself this morning, as most (if not all) of the minutiae pointed out to me I could have caught if I had, you know, just read the paper. This made some of the more pedantic emails all that more annoying: it's not that I don't know what a dangling participle is and that they should be banished, but I simply hadn't yet read the paper and fixed those particular problems. Then there were the emails which implied that I hadn't caught errors such as variables having one value in a table and another in the text because my eyes had "glazed over" upon reading the paper so much. Erm, not really. The most productive approach was taken by the author who simply read the paper, checked for internal consistency and good grammar, and gave it back to me mid-morning with a few scientific comments and suggested citations to boot.

I did finally post the paper to astro-ph this afternoon, and I really do hope all of the co-authors are sated by the current version. I'm still waiting for one of them to send me one-more-sentence before actually submitting it to the journal... but I fully expect to submit it Monday. Hopefully this particular iterative process terminates...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

AstroVino #2: Sauvignon Blanc & Chenin Blanc

Last night was the second class of the wine appreciation course-like thing I'm taking this fall. We're alternating red and and whites; this week was two of the classic whites: Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Both of these capitalized French names are kinds of grapes. One of the complicated things about wines is the naming conventions: in the Old World (i.e., Europe), wines are named after where they are made (e.g, Bordeaux or Burgandy). This is simply due to the fact that these places have been making wine for a long time, and for a long time, wine could not be transported well. The New World, being newer, takes the simpler route, with wines named after the grapes from which they are made.

We had three Sauvignon Blancs: a 2004 La Reine Blanche Sancerre from the Loire Valley in France, a 2005 Casa Lapostolle from the Rapel Valley in Chile, and a 2005 Villa Maria from the Malborough District in New Zealand. Likewise, we had three Chenin Blancs: a 2005 Vallee de Jardins Vouvray, also from the Loire Valley, a 2005 Bonny Doon Pacific Rim from somewhere in California, and a 2005 Coriole McLaren Vale from South Australia.

Now, I'm a scientist. I like trying to find patterns and using these patterns to try to predict the unknown. Luckily, this is a wine tasting course for scientists: what we may lack in taste differentiation, we try to make up in overanalyzing. The obvious comparison to be made with these wines is to compare and contrast the tastes of the two grapes. The much more interesting one, I find, is to examine how three wines made from genetically identical grapes can taste so drastically different... both climate and technique come into play. I found the difference the most obvious between the first two Sauvignon Blancs: the Loire Valley has a much cooler climate than the Rapel Valley, which is sunny, and this plays out in that the Lapostolle has a sweet, even fruity, taste contrasted against the much more acidic Sancerre. The Lapostolle was my favorite of the evening, actually; it was sweet, to be sure, but not overly so. The McLaren Vale was also fun, as the taste changed over the course of the evening. The real let down was the Bonny Doon Chenin Blanc, which just tasted blah (a Chenin Blank?).

All in all, it was another fun evening. I always enjoy watching how groups self-interact. While the bottles of wine were being passed around and everyone is tasting each for the first time, the room is silent except for the *click* of the precision pour. (Precision pours, incidentally, are incredibly ingenious.) But then all the wines are out, and people start discussing how each tastes, and soon the word "pineapple" is quite amusing. Eventually, more bread and cheese is brought out, people are discussing how long it will be until another ultraviolet sensitive satellite flies and the abundance of animals with different male and female names in English, and the glasses scattered about the table are becoming more and more empty. Good Monday night fun; ten points if you can guess why I'm writing this post on Tuesday.

If anyone knows how to take good notes on how something "tastes," by the way, please let me know. I could actually tell the difference between the wines (and, even, after I got the order of the glasses mixed up, I could identify which glass went with which wine), but when I tried to describe what it tasted like? "Uhm, so this one tastes like white wine, see." Even with all of the component tasting of last week, I'm at a loss of how to describe what I'm tasting.