Monday, August 23, 2010

A word about eggs...

Hi all sorry it's been a few, but, well, summer.

I have been following the egg recalls very closely as we still eat eggs in our house and as we don't own our own chickens.  I can say that I'm very happy how low our exposure is and that we buy local.

We have boiled eggs in egg, and tuna salads or poached for breakfast.  I haven't baked with an egg in ages.  This tends to confuse the non-veggie people, and challenge novice veggies and vegans when they first crack into baking.  I thank goodness my mother is a baker and I came armed with some simple, yet magic, info for vegan baking.

Ground Flax seed, corn starch, and tapioca flour.

These three things are all you will ever need to bake with instead of eggs.  It's a simple basic ratio of one tablespoon alternative = one egg.

How do you know which one to reach for?  It helps if you know why eggs are in a recipe.  Eggs do two jobs in baking, either the yoke adds fat to bind the ingredients or the whites add lift (the fluffy), sometimes its a bit of each.

This too just takes some simple thought about your particular project.  I've listed the alternatives from "heaviest" to "lightest".  If you have a pretty fatty recipe like peanut butter cookies odds are you can skip the egg all together, but otherwise I usually go with flax in a cookie.  Making a cake?  Reach for the tapioca flour.

Play with it a bit but with this simple info you can convert any baked recipe that's been handed down from the ages or found online to a veggie friendly, salmonella free treat.

Also, save money on flax by buying it whole in bulk.  It keeps in the freezer [forever practically] and you can just slap it in the coffee grinder to make your own small batches of flour.  

Friday, August 13, 2010

Computer program deciphers a dead language that mystified linguists

Computer program deciphers a dead language that mystified linguists: "Computer program deciphers a dead language that mystified linguists

By Alasdair Wilkins

Originally posted on

The lost language of Ugaritic was last spoken 3,500 years ago. It survives on just a few tablets, and linguists could only translate it with years of hard work and plenty of luck. A computer deciphered it in hours.

The computer program relies on a few basic assumptions in order to make intuitive guesses about the language's structure. Most importantly, the lost language has to be closely related to a known, deciphered language, which in the case of Ugaritic is Hebrew. Second, the alphabets of the two languages need to share some consistent correlations between the individual letters or symbols. There should also be recognizable cognates of words between the two languages, and words that have prefixes or suffixes in one language (like verbs that end in '-ing' or '-ed' in English) should show the same features in the other language.

That might seem like a lot of information for the program to require, but even all that is no guarantee of decipherment. After Ugaritic was first discovered in 1929, it remained untranslatable for years. It finally revealed some of its secrets to German cryptographer Hans Bauer, who was only able to make substantial headway when he guessed the drawing of an ax was next to the Ugaritic word for 'ax.' Even this breakthrough wasn't a complete success, because although Bauer's guess was correct he matched the wrong sounds and letters together, resulting in a mistranslation.


The results were stunning. Of the thirty letters in the Ugaritic alphabet, the computer correctly identified twenty-nine of them. Of the roughly third of all Ugaritic words that share Hebrew cognates, the program figured out sixty percent of them, and many of the errors were only off by a letter or two. These results are particularly encouraging because the program still doesn't use any contextual clues, meaning it can't differentiate between the different uses of a Ugaritic word that means both 'daughter' and 'house', something that is (thankfully) pretty easy to identify in context. The program also wasn't able to use the 'ax' coincidence that had made the human decipherment of the language possible. Best of all, the program did all this in only a few hours.

Ugaritic itself is an awesomely fascinating language. Spoken 3,500 years ago in the city of Ugarit, located in modern Syria, the language is a Semitic relative of Hebrew, although its alphabet closely resembles the cuneiform used in ancient Sumeria. The surviving Ugaritic texts tell the stories of a Canaanite religion that is similar but not identical to that recorded in the Old Testament, providing Bible scholars a unique opportunity to examine how the Bible and ancient Israelite culture developed in relation to its neighbors.